Categotry Archives: Actors

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Don Herbert

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Categories: Actors, Education, Hollywood, Media, Scientists

mrwizard.jpgScience is fun for everyone. That’s the message Donald Jeffry Herbert tried to convey to millions of children as “Mr. Wizard.”

Herbert made the subject of science seem both mysterious and magical. His weekly, half-hour educational program, “Watch Mr. Wizard,” which aired in black and white on NBC from 1951 to 1964, introduced young viewers to the joys of conducting experiments with simple household items. With the help of his young assistants, Mr. Wizard explained what makes a cake rise, how water comes out of a kitchen tap and why seashells sound like the ocean. He even showed kids how to cook a hot dog with a battery.

“Watch Mr. Wizard” won a Peabody Award and three Thomas Alva Edison National Mass Media Awards, and was reinvented on Nickelodeon in the 1980s as “Mr. Wizard’s World.” In both programs, Herbert eschewed a lab coat and professorial attitude. Instead his informal approach to teaching made science accessible, and instilled a sense of wonder in his audience. “Over the years, Don has been personally responsible for more people going into the sciences than any other single person in this country,” George Tressel, a National Science Foundation official, once said.

Born in Waconia, Minn., Herbert always had a passion for the theatre. In high school, he played the lead role in the school play; in college, he was the director of the Pioneer Players. He graduated from La Crosse State Teacher’s College with a degree in English and science, then spent the next several years honing his acting skills. He worked as a stage hand and actor for the Minnesota Stock Co., did summer stock with Nancy Davis (Reagan) and performed as magician and master of ceremonies in Winnipeg, Canada. He had just moved to New York City to break into the big time when World War II put a hold on his show business plans.

Herbert enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1942, and graduated from his training as a pilot and second lieutenant. He was shipped overseas, where he completed 56 bombing missions over northern Italy, Germany and Yugoslavia. For courage under fire, he earned the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with three oak-leaf clusters.

Upon his return to the states, Herbert moved to Chicago, where he worked as an actor, model and writer. He taught radio writing at the Chicago Radio Institute, and developed programs based on interviews he captured on his portable audio tape recorder. Many of those interviews ended up on the radio show “It’s Your Life.”

When Herbert created an early version of his “Mr. Wizard” show and presented it to potential advertisers, none of them were interested. Once he turned the program over to producer Charles Power, however, “Watch Mr. Wizard” found both a sponsor (The Cereal Institute) and a home (WMAQ, Chicago’s NBC affiliate). During its first year on the air, Herbert produced 28 live episodes. The following year, 1952, he produced 39 “Watch Mr. Wizard” episodes and began appearing on CBS as a progress reporter for “General Electric Theater.” After profiles of Herbert appeared in American Boy magazine, Science Digest and TV Guide, thousands of Mr. Wizard Science Clubs formed in the United States.

NBC canceled “Watch Mr. Wizard” in 1965, but Herbert continued his campaign to educate the youth of North America. He went to Canada and produced “Mr. Wizard,” a TV show that was carried on the CBC nationwide. He received grants from the National Science Foundation and The Arthur P. Sloane Foundation and used the money to make the “Experiment Series.” Herbert wrote/illustrated articles for the “Science for the Classroom From Mr. Wizard” series, and penned several books, including “Mr. Wizard’s 400 Experiments in Science” and “Mr. Wizard’s Supermarket Science.” He also created more than 100 “How About…” reports that were freely distributed to television stations.

In 1986, Herbert received a Golden Anniversary Award from Ohio State University, and a “Distinguished Television Science Reporting” honor from AAS/Westinghouse Science Journalism Awards. Five years later, he was given the Robert A, Millikan Award from the American Association or Physics Teachers for his “notable and creative contributions to the teaching of physics.” When he received the Council for Elementary Science International’s Science Advocate Award in 2000, an audience of 1,000 science teachers gave him a standing ovation.

Herbert died on June 12 of bone cancer. He was 89. Less than a week after his death, the U.S. House of Representatives honored him for his “profound public service and educational contributions.”

Watch the Opening Credits for “Mr. Wizard’s World”

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Richard Jeni

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood, Writers/Editors

rjeni.jpgRichard Jeni, a standup comedian who regularly toured the country and starred in several HBO comedy specials, committed suicide on March 10. He was 49.
Born Richard John Colangelo, the Brooklyn native graduated from Hunter College with a bachelor’s degree in political science. Growing up in Bensonhurst, he enjoyed making people laugh by doing Redd Foxx routines. In the 1980s, he adopted the stage name Richard Jeni and began performing his act in small bars and comedy clubs in New York City. Recollections of his Catholic boyhood, commentary about political and social issues and sarcastic observations of his romantic difficulties appealed to audiences and soon he was playing to sold-out crowds all over the country.
Jeni came to national prominence in 1990 with “Richard Jeni: Boy From New York City,” a Showtime special that received three nominations for Cable ACE Awards. When its follow-up, “Crazy From the Heat,” aired two years later, it attracted the highest ratings in the network’s history.
In the early 1990s, Jeni began writing and performing comedy specials for HBO. His show, “Platypus Man,” won a Cable ACE Award for best standup comedy special, and formed the basis for a sitcom of the same name. That program, which ran on UPN, was canceled after one season. Jeni’s final HBO special, “A Big Steaming Pile of Me,” aired during the 2005-2006 season.
When he wasn’t on the road, Jeni regularly performed on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, and later with Jay Leno. He made guest appearances on the TV shows “Everybody Hates Chris” and “Married: With Children,” and wrote material for the 2005 Academy Awards. On the big screen, Jeni earned laughs as Jim Carrey’s best friend in the box office hit, “The Mask,” and landed small roles in “The Aristocrats,” “National Lampoon’s Dad’s Week Off” and “An Alan Smithee Film: Burn, Hollywood, Burn.” Jeni also hosted A&E’s “Caroline’s Comedy Hour” for two years, performed at the White House, won an American Comedy Award for Funniest Male Stand-Up and was ranked on Comedy Central’s List of 100 Top Comedians of All Time.
Earlier this year, doctors diagnosed Jeni with clinical depression and suffering from bouts of psychotic paranoia. On the morning of March 10, police responded to a 9-1-1 call from Jeni’s long-time girlfriend, Amy Murphy. When they found the comic in his West Hollywood home, he was alive but gravely injured from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the face. Jeni died less than an hour later at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“He was a beautiful person, an incredibly brilliant and talented man, and in the end, unfortunately, I think his brilliance might have played a part in what happened,” Murphy said. “He said he just didn’t believe anything was going to make him get better; he didn’t see it happening.”
Jeni’s MySpace Page
Listen to a Tribute From NPR
Jeni on Political Extremes

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Walker Edmiston

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood, Musicians

wedmiston.jpgWalker Edmiston, a veteran actor and puppeteer who worked in Hollywood for six decades, died on Feb. 15 of complications from cancer. He was 81.
Born in St. Louis, Mo., Edmiston always had a talent for mimicry. One of the first voices he mastered and performed for his family was that of actor Lionel Barrymore. After World War II ended, Edmiston moved to Los Angeles to study acting classes at the Pasadena Playhouse and break into show business.
Edmiston was performing in a play when someone overheard one of his impressions. The 21-year-old actor was then introduced to animation pioneer Walter Lantz, who needed a replacement voice for the cartoon character Wally Walrus. Through that job, Edmiston met producer Bob Clampett and landed a $75/week gig providing voices and working a hand puppet on the classic kiddie show “Time for Beany.”
Once “Beany” ended its run, Edmiston served as the replacement host on “Fireman Fred.” His witty ad libs and creative puppetry wowed children all over Southern California, and earned him the opportunity to host his own kiddie show. “The Walker Edmiston Show,” which aired on local television in the 1950s and 1960s, featured puppets such as Calli the Cat, Kingsley the Lion and Ravenswood the Buzzard.
Over the next 20 years, Edmiston continued working in children’s television, providing the voices of characters on shows created by Sid and Marty Krofft. He gave voice to Dr. Blinkey and Orson the Vulture on “H.R. Pufnstuf,” Sparky the Firefly on “Bugaloos,” Enik on “Land of the Lost” and Sigmund Ooze on “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.” His first credited role in TV animation was as con man J. Montague Gypsum in a 1962 episode of “The Flintstones.” Edmiston later lent his vocal talents to numerous cartoons and animated films, such as “Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends,” “The Smurfs,” “Jem,” “The Gummi Bears,” “Transformers” and “The Great Mouse Detective.” In recent years, he voiced Ernie the Keebler Elf on cookie and cracker commercials.
When he wasn’t doing voice work, Edmiston acted in a wide variety of TV shows, including “Maverick,” “Green Acres,” “Get Smart,” “Batman,” “The Monkees,” “The Wild Wild West,” “The Big Valley,” “Gunsmoke,” “Mission: Impossible,” “Mary Tyler Moore,” “The Bob Newhart Show,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Dallas,” “The Dukes of Hazzard,” “Little House on the Prairie” and “Knots Landing.” He spent nearly 20 years performing on “Adventures in Odyssey,” a radio series produced by the conservative nonprofit group Focus on the Family, and recorded two records: “Mr. Grillon,” a parody of “Gunsmoke,” and “I Dreamt I Saw Khrushchev (in a Pink Cadillac),” a novelty song released in 1959. Edmiston did half of the song in the Russian premier’s voice and the other half as Barky the Dog.
Watch a Commercial Featuring Edmiston as the Voice of Ernie the Keebler Elf

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Liz Renay

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Categories: Actors, Artists, Criminals, Hollywood, Writers/Editors

lrenay.jpgLiz Renay was a multifaceted woman who experienced life with wild abandonment — and rarely worried about the consequences of her actions.

Born Pearl Elizabeth Dobbins, Renay was raised in Arizona by strict evangelical Christian parents, and a grandmother whom she described as a “hellion.” At 13, Renay ran away from home and hitchhiked to Las Vegas. The voluptuous girl won a Marilyn Monroe look-alike contest and supported herself by working as an underage cocktail waitress, showgirl and size 44DD bra model.

By 18, Renay was supporting her two children, a boy and a girl, as an exotic dancer and movie extra. When Life magazine featured her in a five-page photo spread, she decided to seek her fortune in New York City. There Renay became a high-fashion model, and even appeared on the cover of Esquire magazine. But she fell in with Tony “Cappy” Coppola, the right-hand man of mob boss Albert “The Mad Hatter” Anastasia, and life in the fast lane soon proved a bit too brisk for Renay. When her relationship with Coppola turned violent, she moved to California to become a film star.

Renay appeared in more than two-dozen pictures, mostly B-movies like “Date With Death,” “The Thrill Killers,” “Mark of the Astro-Zombies,” “Desperate Living” and “Dimension in Fear,” and won $1,000 for correctly answering geography questions on Groucho Marx’s TV show, “You Bet Your Life.” In the Hollywood press, she was famed for her beauty and for dating actors and celebrities. The blonde, and sometimes red-headed, bombshell eventually married seven times, divorced five times and widowed twice. She recounted her many flings in the 1992 memoir, “My First 2,000 Men.”

Perhaps her best-known paramour was Hollywood mobster Mickey Cohen. Renay’s relationship with Cohen was closely examined by grand juries on both coasts, and she received a three-year suspended sentence in the late 1950s for perjuring herself at his federal tax evasion trial. When she violated her probation for allegedly disturbing the peace during a photo shoot, Renay was sent to federal prison. During her 27-month incarceration, she ran a prison newspaper and taught art to the other inmates. Renay also painted 150 canvasses in the joint, including one of a centaur surrounded by beautiful women in a garden. The painting sold in 1964 for $10,000.

Renay’s flamboyant nature didn’t fade as she aged. She earned top billing in the 1970s for a string of X-rated pictures, despite the fact that she didn’t participate in the actual sex acts or appear in the nude. Renay penned cookbooks and beauty tips as well as the bestselling autobiography, “My Face for the World to See,” and toured the country in a double striptease act with her daughter, Brenda. In 1982, Brenda committed suicide on her 39th birthday.

In the height of the streaking craze, Renay was the first grandmother to run nude down Hollywood Blvd. The promotional act for a local theatre drew a crowd of thousands, and got her arrested for indecent exposure. Renay was later acquitted when the jury determined that she “was nude, but not lewd.” Several jurors even asked for her autograph after the proceedings ended. During the final years of her life, Renay kept a loaded German Walther under her bed. However, she only shot the gun on the 4th of July to make sure it still worked.

“She was unsinkable, indefatigable, incorrigible, irresistible. Liz was larger than life and had the bust line to prove it,” Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith wrote. “Even as she approached her 80th birthday last spring with her bum hip and other age-related maladies, she still led with her best assets. In the right light, she could still turn heads and charm the chips from casino players’ pockets. It’s hard to believe she’s gone.”

Renay died on Jan. 22 from cardiopulmonary arrest and gastric bleeding. She was 80.

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Peter Boyle

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Categories: Actors

pboyle.jpgPeter Lawrence Boyle, an Emmy Award-winning actor known for playing racists, monsters and curmudgeonly fathers, died on Dec. 12 from multiple myeloma and heart disease. He was 71.
Born in Northtown, Pa., he was the son of Francis “Pete” Boyle, a local TV personality and host of the 1950’s children’s show “Lunch With Uncle Pete.” Educated in Roman Catholic schools, Boyle planned to dedicate his entire life to serving God. He spent three years in a monastery as Brother Francis, an experience he later described as something akin to “living in the Middle Ages,” but left the Christian Brothers order after feeling “the normal pull of the world and the flesh.”
Boyle moved to New York City in 1957 to become a professional actor. While studying drama with Tony Award-winning actress and acting coach Uta Hagen, he supported himself by working as a waiter, maitre d’, postal worker, bouncer and office temp. After five years of classes and numerous appearances in off-Broadway shows, Boyle landed the role of Murray the cop in a touring company version of “The Odd Couple.” Yet when the play reached Chicago, he dropped out and joined the famed improvisational comedy troupe Second City. This decision brought him to the attention of Paul Sills, the founder of Second City, who later cast Boyle in the Broadway show “Story Theatre.”
Boyle appeared in numerous plays and TV commercials before jumping to the silver screen. There he gained notice in the 1970s, first as an alcoholic, murderous bigot in the sleeper hit “Joe,” then as Robert Redford’s campaign manager in “The Candidate.” Boyle became a star, however, when he played the monster in Mel Brooks’ black-and-white horror spoof, “Young Frankenstein.” The scene where mad scientist Frederick Frankenstein (played by Gene Wilder) performed a song-and-dance routine to “Puttin’ On the Ritz” with his creation helped the movie achieve cult status. The American Film Institute ranked “Young Frankenstein” at number 13 on its list of the Top 100 Funniest American Movies of All Time.
Boyle met his future wife, Loraine Alterman, on the set of “Young Frankenstein.” Even though he was still wearing his monster makeup, Boyle immediately asked the reporter from Rolling Stone magazine out on a date. Through Alterman, Boyle became close friends with another famous couple: Yoko Ono and ex-Beatle John Lennon. Lennon served as best man at Peter and Loraine’s wedding in 1977.
For the next three decades, Boyle appeared in dozens of films, including “Taxi Driver,” “Red Heat,” “Honeymoon in Vegas,” “Malcolm X,” “While You Were Sleeping,” “Monster’s Ball” and all three of the “Santa Clause” pictures. He played Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1977 TV movie “Tail Gunner Joe,” and starred in the short-lived 1986 dramedy “Joe Bash,” as a lonely beat cop.
Boyle’s work found favor with critics and colleagues in 1996 when he took home an Emmy Award for his guest-starring role as a psychic in an episode of “The X-Files.” But it was his portrayal of Frank Barone, the grouchy paterfamilias of the popular CBS comedy “Everybody Loves Raymond” that earned him seven Emmy nominations and the affections of millions of fans. Boyle appeared on the series for 10 years, despite suffering a heart attack on the set in 1999.
Described by friends as compassionate and thoughtful, Boyle listed his favorite hobby on the “Everybody Loves Raymond” Website as: “Contemplation.”
“He was a gentle, bright, brilliant actor with great sensibility and caring about the world and was very committed and was a wonderful humanitarian,” said actress Doris Roberts, who played Boyle’s wife Marie on “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

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