Categotry Archives: Hollywood

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Maila Nurmi

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Categories: Actors, Artists, Hollywood

mnurmi.jpgMaila Nurmi, an actress and artist who became the queen of the B-movie scene in Los Angeles, died on Jan. 10. Cause of death was not released. She was 85.

Born Maila Elizabeth Syrjaniemi in Petsamo, Finland, Nurmi immigrated to America when she was just a toddler. Although she grew up in Ohio, Nurmi moved to New York in her late teens to try and break into show business. The actors and artists she met in Manhattan persuaded her to change her name and head to Hollywood. For Nurmi, the trappings of stardom were simply too enticing to pass up.

While auditioning for roles, Nurmi worked as a chorus girl and pin-up model. In 1953, she won a costume contest at the annual Bal Caribe Masquerade, an event that brought her to the attention of KABC-TV Channel 7 program director Hunt Stromberg Jr. He tracked her down months later and offered her a job as the host of a late-night horror program.

That’s how Nurmi became Vampira, a gothic enchantress reminiscent of Charles Addams’ New Yorker cartoons. Each week, the Black Madonna of Hollywood would appear on camera wearing a slinky black dress, blood-red lipstick and darkly mascaraed eyes, and introduce fright films like “Revenge of the Zombies” and “Devil Bat’s Daughter.”
Although “The Vampira Show” was canceled after about a year, Nurmi became a cult figure among B-movie buffs. Her legions of admirers launched fan clubs in her honor all over the world. Many felt she inspired the character of Morticia Addams on “The Addams Family,” which premiered about a decade later. Nurmi, however, believed her dark persona was stolen by Cassandra Peterson, an actress who created the horror movie hostess Elvira. She even filed a $10 million lawsuit against Peterson for pirating her trademark image, but lost the court battle.

Nurmi later appeared in several B-movies, including “Sex Kittens Go to College,” “The Beat Generation,” “The Magic Sword” and “The Big Operator.” She also made a memorable appearance in Ed Wood’s 1959 cult classic, “Plan 9 From Outer Space.” But these pictures didn’t pay the bills, and Nurmi was forced to support herself as a linoleum-layer, carpenter, housekeeper, clothing designer and antique shop owner. More recently, she painted pictures of Vampira that she sold on the Internet.

Privately, Nurmi was a self-described psychic with a talent for clairaudience, and a passionate advocate for animals rights. Her life story was chronicled in the 2006 documentary “Vampira: The Movie.”

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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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Bob Clark

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Categories: Hollywood

bclark.jpgBenjamin “Bob” Clark, the Hollywood film director behind “Porky’s” and “A Christmas Story,” died on April 4 in a car crash. He was 67.
Clark was born in New Orleans and raised in Birmingham, Ala., and South Florida. He won a football scholarship to Hillsdale College in Michigan, but turned down offers to play professional football in order to study theatre and creative writing at the University of Miami. Clark worked as an actor and stage director in several Miami playhouses after college, then entered the movie business as a low-budget filmmaker.
Clark originally specialized in horror movies and thrillers, directing pictures such as “Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things,” “Deathdream,” “Black Christmas” and “Murder by Decree.” He switched to comedies in the 1980s, a move that brought him both fame and fortune.
In 1982, Clark directed and produced the sex farce, “Porky’s,” a film based on his experiences with five high school buddies in the 1950s. “Porky’s” earned an estimated $150 million domestically and spawned two sequels: “Porky’s II: The Next Day” and “Porky’s Revenge.”
The following year Clark co-wrote, produced and directed “A Christmas Story,” a coming-of-age film about a young boy’s quest for a Red Ryder air rifle. The picture only earned $19.3 million at the box office, but Generation X loved it. Today, “A Christmas Story” is considered a holiday classic, one that airs for 24 hours straight on TNT every Christmas Eve.
After the huge success of the “Porky’s” franchise and “A Christmas Story,” Clark’s career took a left turn. He spent the next two decades directing nearly a dozen feature films and TV movies, most of which were flops with critics and audiences. He also earned two Golden Raspberry Award nominations for worst director for the films “Rhinestone” and “SuperBabies: Baby Geniuses 2.”
In the early morning hours of April 4, Clark and his youngest son Ariel were traveling in a 1997 Infiniti Q30 on the Pacific Coast Highway in Pacific Palisades, Calif., when they were hit head on by a 2007 GMC Yukon that steered into their lane. Ariel, a 22-year-old college student, musician, juggler, gymnast, actor and part-time card dealer, was also killed in the crash. Both men died at the scene. The driver of the SUV, Hector Velazquez-Nava, and a female passenger were transported to UCLA Medical Center with minor injuries.
“I had the extreme pleasure of working under Bob Clark early in my career,” said producer Peter Billingsley, who starred in “A Christmas Story.” “From that memorable experience, Bob became a great friend and mentor whose influence has guided me both personally and professionally. He will be sorely missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing him.”
Listen to a Tribute From NPR
Watch Clips From “A Christmas Story”
[Update – April 19, 2007: Hector Velazquez-Nava, the 24-year-old illegal immigrant who crashed into Clark and his son, killing them both, was arrested and booked on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol, operating a motor vehicle without a driver’s license and gross vehicular manslaughter. He pleaded not guilty to two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated.]
[Update – April 20, 2007: Clark was slated to receive the 2007 Golden State Award on April 21 for excellence in directing at The California Independent Film Festival. Officials at the festival say they plan to honor Clark’s career by turning the event into a celebration of his film work.]

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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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