Categotry Archives: Hollywood


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.


Basil Poledouris


Categories: Hollywood, Musicians

bpoledouris.jpgBasil Konstantine Poledouris, an Emmy Award-winning film composer, died on Nov. 8 of cancer. He was 61.
Born in Kansas City, Mo., Poledouris began playing the piano when he was only 7 years old. Since modern music didn’t appeal to him, he fully expected to become a concert pianist after graduating from the University of Southern California. Instead, he studied film and music with famed composer Miklos Rozsa, and found his calling.
After college, Poledouris composed music for more than 100 educational films. But his big break came in 1978 when John Milius, an old USC classmate and surfing buddy, hired him to write the score for the movie “Big Wednesday.” His collaboration with Milius continued through four more feature films.
Over the next two decades, Poledouris composed soundtracks and orchestral scores for more than 80 feature-length movies and TV shows, including action films (“Robocop” 1 and 3, “Starship Troopers”), comedies (“Hot Shots! Part Deux,” “Mickey Blue Eyes”), romances (“The Blue Lagoon,” “For Love of the Game”), thrillers (“The Hunt for Red October,” “Breakdown”) and children’s movies (“White Fang,” “Free Willy” 1 and 2). But it was his sweeping score for the 1982 sword-and-sorcery epic, “Conan The Barbarian,” that made him a legend.
Poledouris preferred to create his scores using a pencil, paper and his battered old Steinway piano. “It’s the only way I feel connected to the music. I have attempted to write on the computer and it’s a complete bust. I keep thinking it would be quicker, easier, more fun, but alas. I need to touch the material I’m working with,” he once said.
Poledouris earned an Emmy Award for creating the score for the 1989 CBS miniseries “Lonesome Dove.” Seven years later, he was commissioned to compose the opening fanfare for the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Entitled “The Tradition of the Games,” the 6-minute piece was performed by the Atlanta Symphony and a 300-voice choir.
Poledouris flew to Ubeda, Spain, last July to attend a film music conference. There he was met by hundreds of screaming fans and autograph-seekers. Despite his illness, Poledouris conducted a substantial portion of his “Conan” score, a performance he considered one of his greatest achievements.
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Steve Irwin


Categories: Hollywood, Scientists

sirwin.jpgSteven Robert Irwin, the popular Australian TV personality known as “The Crocodile Hunter,” was killed by a stingray on Sept. 4. He was 44.

Born in a suburb of Melbourne, Steve was the son of naturalists Bob and Lyn Irwin. He was always passionate about the study and care of animals and grew up working at his parents’ wildlife park, the Queensland Reptile and Fauna Park in Beerwah, Australia. As a young man, Irwin made a name for himself in the government’s rogue crocodile relocation program by safely capturing and transporting dozens of “problem crocs” without causing the animals any harm.

The passionate conservationist transformed his parents’ wildlife refuge into a major tourist attraction known as the Australia Zoo. In 1991, while giving a crocodile demonstration there, Irwin met his future wife and co-star Terri Raines. Steve and Terri wed six months later and spent their honeymoon on location, shooting the first episode of “The Crocodile Hunter” series. They had two children, daughter Bindi Sue, 8, and son Robert (Bob) Clarence, 2.

“The Crocodile Hunter” premiered in Australia in 1992 and was quickly picked up by the Discovery Network for its Animal Planet channel. Wearing khaki shirts and shorts and an ever-present grin, Irwin would cut through forests, dive into open waters and trek into the Outback in order to share examples of exotic, and often dangerous, animals. His enthusiasm for wildlife was infectious, as was his catchphrase “Crikey!” which he used whenever one of the animals became a bit rambunctious during filming.

Knowledgeable and ebullient, Irwin was known for jumping onto the backs of untethered crocodiles and poking sticks at venomous serpents to make them more visible to the camera. Even as he enthralled the audience with his seemingly reckless behavior, the blond showman always provided pertinent information about the animals and encouraged viewers to avoid such daredevil antics. Over the next 14 years, more than 200 million people in 120 countries tuned in to watch Irwin’s close encounters with potentially deadly creatures.

In addition to “The Crocodile Hunter,” Irwin worked on “Croc Files,” an Emmy Award-nominated educational program for children, “The Crocodile Hunter Diaries,” a behind-the-scenes look at his daily life at the Australia Zoo and “New Breed Vets,” a show about veterinarians who use pioneering life-saving techniques in the animal kingdom. He also starred in the 2002 feature film, “The Crocodile Hunters: Collision Course.”

To support the protection of injured, threatened or endangered wildlife, the Irwins founded Australia Zoo Wildlife Warriors Worldwide (previously known as the Steve Irwin Conservation Foundation). They also purchased more than 60,000 acres of wildlife-sensitive land so the property would remain undeveloped and in its natural state.

Irwin’s larger-than-life public image was slightly dented in 2004 when a local TV news crew appeared at the zoo and shot video of him feeding a large crocodile while holding his infant son. Irwin took to the airwaves and proclaimed his innocence, saying the boy was never in any danger, and authorities refused to charge him with violating safety regulations or endangering the welfare of a minor. That same year, he was named the “Queensland Australian of the Year.”

Irwin was filming underwater footage in the Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of northeastern Queensland, on Monday when he apparently startled a stingray. The marine animal reacted by swinging its tail at Irwin and embedding a poisonous barb into his chest. Crew members aboard the boat, Croc One, pulled Irwin from the water and administered CPR, but to no avail. Irwin’s manager John Stainton said the fatal blow was caught on camera, however Queensland state police are holding onto the tape as evidence for a coroner’s inquiry.

To honor his legacy, the Discovery Network plans to create a “Steve Irwin Memorial Sensory Garden” in front of its Silver Spring, Md., headquarters, and broadcast a full day of Irwin-related programming later this week. The network also plans to start the Steve Irwin Crocodile Hunter Fund, a.k.a. “The Crikey Fund,” to support wildlife protection, education and conservation at the Australia Zoo, and to fund his children’s education.

[Animal Planet will run a 15-hour marathon of programming devoted to Irwin on Sept. 17. “Croc Rules! Remembering Steve Irwin” will feature some of Irwin’s best programs, interviews with celebrities and crew members who knew Irwin and promotions for his Wildlife Warriors conservation fund.]

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Andreas Katsulas


Categories: Actors, Hollywood

akatsulas.jpgAndrew C. Katsulas, a character actor who appeared in dozens of movies and television shows, died on Feb. 13 of lung cancer. He was 59.
The St. Louis native caught the acting bug at a young age. He performed in community stage productions as a child, took drama as an extracurricular activity in high school, majored in drama at St. Louis University and earned a master’s degree in theatre from Indiana University.
After completing his education, Katsulas worked in the St. Louis, New York and Boston theatre scenes. For 15 years, he traveled around the world with Peter Brook’s International Theatre Company, doing both improvisational theatre and prepared stage pieces. Katsulas acted everywhere he could, his commanding presence and bold voice resonating from premiere locations, like Lincoln Center in New York and The Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., to more humble stages, such as the streets of Europe and remote African villages.
Landing a role in the 1987 film “The Sicilian” brought Katsulas to Hollywood, where he became a familiar face on the big and small screen. He played mobster Joey Venza in “Someone to Watch Over Me,” terrorist leader El Sayed Jaffa in “Executive Decision” and the infamous one-armed man Frederick Sykes in “The Fugitive.” On television, Katsulas appeared in “Guiding Light,” “Max Headroom,” “Alien Nation,” “The Equalizer,” “Jake and the Fat Man,” “Hunter,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Diagnosis Murder” and “NYPD Blue.”
Even though his striking visage was often obscured by latex prosthetic makeup, Katsulas was best known for his work in the science fiction and fantasy genre. He portrayed the red-eyed Narn ambassador G’Kar for five years in “Babylon 5,” and reprised the role in subsequent “Babylon 5” telefilms. Star Trek fans knew him as Romulan Commander Tomalak in “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” and as a Vissian captain on “Enterprise.”
“He lived an amazing life…full of travel and wonder and good work…was part of the world renowned Peter Brook company…he saw the planet, loved and was loved, ate at great restaurants, smoked too many cigarettes. He lived a life some people would die for,” said writer/producer J. Michael Straczynski.
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Alan Shalleck


Categories: Hollywood, Writers/Editors

Alan J. Shalleck, a writer and director who helped bring Curious George to television, was murdered on Feb. 7 during a home invasion robbery. He was 76.

Hans A. Rey and his wife, Margret, created Curious George, the inquisitive hero of a series of beloved children’s books. The couple fled Europe during World War II, immigrated to the United States and began publishing the series in 1941.

The stories of George and his friend, the Man with the Yellow Hat, were an instant hit. In the 65 years since Curious George’s first appearance in print, his adventures have been published 27 million times, and in more than 14 languages.

A native of Westchester, N.Y., Alan Shalleck studied drama at Syracuse University and broke into show business as a mailroom clerk for CBS. He climbed up the network ladder to become associate producer for the children’s TV show, “Winky Dink and You,” then formed his own production company.

Hans died in 1977. That same year, Shalleck approached Margret about bringing Curious George into the television medium. She agreed and together they penned nearly 30 books and more than 100 scripts featuring the mischievous monkey. The five-minute “Curious George” cartoons aired on the Disney Channel.

Curious George debuted on the big screen last month in a full-length, animated movie featuring the voices of Will Ferrell, Drew Barrymore and Dick Van Dyke.

In 1988, Shalleck produced “Pepito’s Dream,” a children’s film based on John and Margaret Travers-Moore’s popular trilogy about a little boy who wants to plead for world peace at the United Nations. After moving to Florida in the early 1990s, he worked in the children’s department of a Borders bookstore. There Shalleck created Gramps, a persona he used when reading aloud to children. He also conducted workshops on how to improve reading skills through the Delray Beach Kids & Cops Reading program.

Shalleck’s bloodied body was found in the driveway of his South Florida mobile home. It had lain there for a least a day, covered in garbage bags, before a maintenance man discovered it. On Feb. 8, Rex Spears Ditto, 29, and Vincent J. Puglisi, 54, surrendered to police and confessed to killing Shalleck. They’ve been charged with first-degree murder, armed home invasion, aggravated battery and dealing in stolen property.

[Update – Dec. 8, 2006: While Rex Ditto and Vincent Puglisi admit to killing Alan Shalleck, each suspect blames the other for the crime. An autopsy found that Shalleck had 83 blunt force injuries and 37 stab wounds to his abdomen, back, neck, groin and tongue.]

[Update – Dec. 14, 2006: A psychiatrist has concluded that Rex Ditto is competent to stand trail. According to Dr. Jonathan Rapp, who testified at a court hearing on Wednesday, Ditto is exaggerating his symptoms. Attorneys in the case are awaiting results from two other doctors.]

[Update – March 20, 2007: Rex Ditto sent the judge on his case a letter, confessing to his involvement in the murder of Alan Shalleck and implicating his lover Vincent Puglisi. The judge did not read the letter, but his judicial assistant did. The document is currently under seal. Both defendants are charged with first-degree murder and robbery with a deadly weapon. The prosecutor is seeking the death penalty.]

[Update – Oct. 18, 2007: Rex Ditto pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and robbery with a weapon for the slaying of Alan Shalleck. He was sentenced to life in prison and will not be eligible for parole. Ditto also agreed to testify, if asked, against his co-defendant and former lover, Vincent Puglisi who is scheduled for trial early next year. Puglisi was also offered life in prison if he pleaded guilty but he turned the deal down.]

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