Tribute: Jerry Lewis

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We mourn the loss of one of the great figures of 20th century entertainment, Jerry Lewis, a performer who was at the top in nightclubs, movies, radio, and television. He was a successful and innovative director of film as well.

He was an extraordinarily gifted physical comedian.

He liked to describe his act with Dean Martin as “the handsome man and the monkey.”

After Martin left him, Lewis was devastated. In one of his most successful solo films, “The Nutty Professor,” a sort of reverse Jeckyll and Hyde story, he essentially played both roles.

Lewis became a director who learned every technical aspect of filmmaking, down to loading the camera. He invented the instant video feedback system that is now standard.

He was also a superb dramatic actor, most notably in Martin Scorsese’s “King of Comedy,” playing a kidnapped talk show host, opposite Robert de Niro.

He was also a tireless, if sometimes controversial, fundraiser for muscular dystrophy with annual Labor Day telethons.

Shawn Levy’s insightful book, King of Comedy: The Life and Art Of Jerry Lewis, has the best description I’ve seen of the complicated relationship between Lewis and his audience. His talent could be overwhelmed by his voracious need for attention and his barely hidden hostility. He had a rare combination of ferocious commitment to entertaining, putting everything he had into it, but holding a great deal back, never showing us who he really was, as any truly great entertainer should do.
But at his best, with Martin and working with director Frank Tashlin, he was as good as it gets.

May his memory be a blessing.

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Tribute: Glen Campbell

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We bid a sad farewell to Glen Campbell, who has died at age 81 from complications of Alzheimer’s Disease. The Rhinestone Cowboy was at the top of the country and pop charts and had some success as an actor as well, appearing with John Wayne in “True Grit.” He hosted a popular television variety series as well.

Here he sings one of his hits, “Southern Nights,” with Jerry Reed.

The New York Times wrote:

At the height of his career, Mr. Campbell was one of the biggest names in show business, his appeal based not just on his music but also on his easygoing manner and his apple-cheeked, all-American good looks. From 1969 to 1972 he had his own weekly television show, “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour.” He sold an estimated 45 million records and had numerous hits on both the pop and country charts. He was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2005.

Decades after Mr. Campbell recorded his biggest hits — including “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Galveston” (all written by Jimmy Webb, his frequent collaborator for nearly 40 years) and “Southern Nights” (1977), written by Allen Toussaint, which went to No. 1 on pop as well as country charts — a resurgence of interest in older country stars brought him back onto radio stations.

Like Bobbie Gentry, with whom he recorded two Top 40 duets, and his friend Roger Miller, Mr. Campbell was a hybrid stylist, a crossover artist at home in both country and pop music.

His final tour, as he struggled with memory loss, was documented in the touching film “I’ll Be Me.”

May his memory be a blessing.

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Tribute: Jeanne Moreau

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We mourn the loss of Jeanne Moreau, one of the most enchanting performers in film history, who has died at age 89. The Washington Post’s Adam Bernstein captured her exquisite screen presence, dubbing her “the thinking man’s femme fatale.”

There was the dry, husky voice that hinted at a million smoked Gauloises. There were the dark eyes, carnal and enigmatic. There was the brooding, slightly downward curve of her lips, a sultry pout that could flash capriciously into a beguiling smile. She was playful and dangerous….Critics and audiences found Ms. Moreau spellbinding, particularly in roles in which she embodied liberated sexuality or in which her outward composure masked boundless complexity. Movie scholar David Shipman once described her as the “art-house love goddess.”

She exemplified the French “New Wave” of filmmaking, intimate and provocative. One of her best-remembered performances is in “Jules and Jim,” the story of a love triangle. She enchanted her audience the way her character enchanted her two co-stars.

A.O. Scott talks about the film here, calling Moreau “incomparably alluring.”

May her memory be a blessing.

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Tribute: Voice Actress June Foray

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We mourn the passing of June Foray, just shy of her 100th birthday. You might not have heard of her, but I am certain you heard her voice, or, I should say, her voices. She was one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood history. She provided the voice of Rocky the Flying Squirrel, Natasha the spy, and Dudley Do-right’s Nell Fenwick. She played Tweetie Bird’s owner, Granny and Cindy Lou Who. She appeared in “Mulan,” “The Flintstones,” “Scooby-Doo,” “Rugrats,” and “The Twilight Zone” (playing a creepy talking doll). She was also Chatty Cathy, a somewhat less creepy talking doll. She was Jokey Smurf. Animation expert Mark Evanier wrote:

Most of all, she was June Foray, a talented workaholic who for decades, drove into Hollywood every weekday early in the morning and went from recording session to recording session until well after dark. Everyone hired her because she was always on time, always professional and what she did was always good. It was her good friend, director Chuck Jones who said, “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc. Mel Blanc is the male June Foray.”

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Tribute: George Romero

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We mourn the loss of writer/director George Romero, a towering figure in the history of American film. The influence of his “Night of the Living Dead” is immeasurable. Not only did he invent an entirely new genre of zombie films, but it was a major breakthrough for independent films, and, as “Rosemary’s Baby” would do later, it was an original re-imagining of the horror genre by virtue of its setting, in this case not a spooky castle or a haunted mansion but the American countryside. Equally important, the film, released in 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in American history, was utterly revolutionary in having a black man as its hero. The political overtones in his films continued in, for example, “Dawn of the Dead,” again using the setting, this time a shopping mall, to make some sharp points about mindless consumerism.

May his memory be a blessing.

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