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TV Cast Notes    cartoon of Felicia Waynesboro ~FW

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May 8, 2016     photo of actor William Schallert

William Schallert Leaves Us

I don't usually do memorial notices but...William Schallert! WILLIAM SCHALLERT (that is an anguished shout). I hate it when the world has to go on without someone so rich in spirit and artistic contributions as William Schallert (1922 - 2016). But we must.~FW

September 28, 2015     photo of actor Bill Walker     photo of actress Maidie Norman

The Robercon that Was

This past weekend, I attended the first day of the third annual Robercon - the heartwarming science fiction convention at the Roberson Museum in Binghamton, NY. “Let Your Geek Flag Fly" is their motto, and people do. And that's heartwarming.

I sat in the audience of a panel discussion of “The Masks” episode of The Twilight Zone. The moderator screened the segment but turned the show off just before the closing credits – always, for me, one of the best parts of any production! The discussion was of Rod Serling and his writing but the panel did reveal a couple of wonderful facts about the cast that I didn’t know (or had forgotten): The lead actor, Robert Keith, is actor Brian Keith’s father; the hypochondriac daughter, actress Virginia Gregg, was the voice of Norman Bates’ mother.

Had they run the closing credits I would have pointed out for discussion that Bill Walker - who had a substantial role in the small cast as the butler and whose body of work is enormous – wasn’t even credited. Nor was Maidie Norman whose role in the tight cast was much smaller but whose body of work is large and widely encompassing. They are two of the most familiar faces in vintage TV and filmdom – and no credit this time. This is probably due to two factors.

Factor 1: The closing credits of TV shows used to give much more screen time to the names than is given in current times when each name may receive less than a full second of exposure! But they credited far fewer production members.

Factor 2: Maybe a little racism? Maybe just a little?

Highly principled Rod Serling would have hated factor two. I wonder if he, as executive producer of the show, knew? But, guess what - Virginia Gregg was also uncredited in Psycho as the voice of Mrs. Bates. I think it was jazzman Fats Waller who said, "See how they do you?".~FW

Late Summer 2015     cover of James Dean documentary DVD

Fairmount, Indiana Festival - September 24 - 27

I was never particularly a James Dean fan until I researched him for an article in 2012 and read the note he wrote as he left for the trip on which, as it turned out, he died. It was instructions for feeding his cat. For the first time, I really saw his tender beauty; my heart broke and my tears flowed 57 years after his death.

Clearly a mega-star, James Dean may not seem to fit here. But beyond his three break-out movies, you probably know that he did a lot of television in the early days and appeared with some of the most prolific of supporting players. I invite you to read about the annual September celebration of James Dean in his hometown of Fairmount, Indiana in a post I made to HubPages. The details are from the 2012 festival but the event has a basic annual structure and there are links to the 2015 updates. (There’s still time to plan a late September road trip to Fairmount!)

And there’s always time to catch Dean’s television performances amongst some of TV’s most familiar faces such as the omnipresent William Schallert; serious brunette Catherine McLeod; the stoic, weathered Vaughn Taylor; mousy, demure Virginia Vincent, and many more on the 2009 2-disc collection James Dean: The Fast Lane. Rentable from Netflix.~FW

February 2015     photo of Joe Franklin

Joe Franklin in the Labyrinth

Anyone who ever visited Joe Franklin in his office, and found his/her way out again, should tell the tale.

It began for me in a line of travelers waiting for a Greyhound in the dismal departure area of the Port Authority bus terminal in midtown Manhattan. I was returning home from a writer’s conference - and nestling in my carry-on the drafts of some work which I intended to develop into a book but that has, instead, landed on this website. Idly, I noticed a dark-haired man wearing a necktie with a portrait of silent screen star Theda Bara on it. (No, the man was not Joe Franklin.)

The audacious tie was such a welcome sight in the dreary setting that I tuned up my energy toward the man to catch his attention. He looked over. “Great tie,” I said with a combination of words and gestures to make myself quickly understood over the metal bar that divided the passengers into sections. He smiled. “Theda Bara,” I said, nodding my appreciation and approval.

A flash of amazement crossed his face. “How did you know?” he quizzed.

I smiled back and answered, with an off-handed sincerity that would only be appropriate if the world were a perfect place, “I thought everybody knew.”

The guy told me the tie belonged to his father, hinting that his father was someone of note. I asked who his father was but, with a modesty I took for coyness, he wouldn’t tell me. Still chatting while boarding and during the bus ride bound for Upstate New York, our conversation led to his confession that his dad was Joe Franklin and to my admission that it was, of course, a little preposterous to say that everybody would recognize a portrait of Theda Bara on a necktie.

I handed Brad Franklin the early versions of the profiles of Edward Binns, Larry Gates, and John Hoyt. He read them. Then he told me I was an historian and handed me his father’s phone number.

And so my brief and rewarding association with Joe Franklin – TV talk show and radio host, legend, show biz culture historian, New Yorker, and American treasure - began. Franklin was one of those people who reassures you to believe in your work. He invited me to his office in his quest to see how I could kickstart my project and get my stories published.

That’s how I came to enter the labyrinth. Towering stacks of publications, files, books, and various forms of information on paper formed pathways I had to weave through, following the sound of his voice to find him at his old wooden desk. When I found him he looked rounded and lovable. As we talked he began searching for the business card of a west coast publisher to give me. A tiny thing like a business card in this kingdom of paper!

I remember the slight smile on his face as he patted himself down and patted down some of his surroundings in the search, repeating the phrase, “I’m so bad, I’m so bad,” under his breath. I assured him it was fine and bade him to take his time but he seemed to enjoy quietly chastising himself until he did, indeed, find the card. “I’m so bad, I’m so bad.”

I wove my way back out of his office and the project went on to evolve in a way that neither of us anticipated.

Society lost him in January of this year at the age of 88. But you can’t ever really lose someone like Joe Franklin. He was an original personae whose gentle resonance will rebound as long as there is a civilization worth preserving.~FW

Winter 2014 - 2015

Marsha Hunt in 1958 and Laurence Fishburne in 2010 and...

“You know, if you’re not in a scene together you never even see their face.”

That was what veteran Hollywood actress Marsha Hunt (pictured left above) said to me in a recent phone interview when I questioned her about what memories she may have of such staples of the supporting player community as actors Paul Fix - who appeared in two of her films in the 1930s - and Milton Selzer - who shared billing with her in a 1972 made-for-TV movie called Jigsaw. As with many a fan in the street, their names were vaguely familiar to her but, despite their enormous bodies of work, she didn’t know who they were.

Was I unfair to castigate Laurence Fishburne (pictured right above) for referring to actor Larry Gates as just, “some old guy,” when referencing the famous slaps in In the Heat of the Night, and not being able to acknowledge the veteran character actor by name? Well Fishburne, an obviously experienced professional, says that he cherishes that moment which sent a message to cinematic and American history; and Gates was proud of being half of that moment. Yes, I believe Laurence could afford to have the respect – and the curiosity – to link Gates’ familiar face with a name.

So, that’s why I do this – for the Hunts and the Fishburnes, and the Gateses, and for myself. And for you.

(Read recollections of a treasury of supporting players in Your Face is in the Script, a profile of Marsha Hunt.) ~FW

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