We lost two outstanding, though very different, movie performers today both, coincidentally, from cancer. Both also appear to have been people you might actually want to know in real life.
The extremely well-regarded actor and environmental and antiwar activist Pete Postlewaite was only 64 and leaves us much too soon. His distinctive face was familiar to anyone who went to many movies from the early nineties on and is maybe best known for his outstanding work in movies like “In the Name of the Father” and “The Usual Suspects.” He was in a number of films directed by Steven Spielberg, who essentially called him the best living actor in the world.
Below is his famous speech from the end of “Brassed Off.” I have yet to see this one myself, but check out the many slightly unusual choices here. He’s not afraid to show the combination of nervousness and righteous indignation that might fuel a moment like this.
The beautiful and unabashedly sexy Anne Francis, who has left us at age 80, never became a huge movie star, though she did become a TV icon of sorts as “Honey West,” a private eye with a pet ocelot billed as a sort of female James Bond. To movie fans, she has nevertheless achieved immortality for a few key roles. As all “Rocky Horror Picture Show” viewers know, she starred in “Forbidden Planet” in which, as the extremely innocent daughter of a semi-mad (more like deeply neurotic) scientist played by Walter Pidgeon, she had to pull off asking Leslie Nielsen‘s space-ship captain the immortal question, “What is kiss?” (It wasn’t a band featuring Gene Simmons.) She also had crucial roles in two of the more memorable Hollywood “message” films of the 1950s, Richard Brooks’ “Blackboard Jungle” and John Sturges’ “Bad Day at Black Rock.”
In person, she seems to have no shortage of what movie and TV characters used to call “spunk.” You can see what I mean in this TCM interview clip about how she vehicularly resolved a spat with screen legend Spencer Tracy on “Black Rock.” She also displays no shortage of spirit and personality in this interesting combination of promotional and educational film shot at the Santa Monica Airport and featuring the late columnist, Army Archerd.
No word on whether she ever got her license, but I can certainly imagine her flying solo.
He might have seemed as much of a permanent Hollywood fixture as the Chinese Theater or Musso & Frank, but columnist Army Archerd, for decades the writer of the “Just for Variety” column, past away yesterday from cancer at the age of 87. Growing up in Los Angeles with a permanent eye fixed on the movies, I was nevertheless rarely a regular Variety reader except when I was lucky enough to be working someplace with a subscription, but Archerd’s importance was obvious.
He was a fairly far cry from the muckraking and abrasive Nikki Finke and a much further cry from the punishing, often vindictive, gossip/entertainment columnists of the past like the mean-spirited but powerful Walter Winchell and Hedda Hopper. Indeed, I had kind of forgotten that the younger Archerd had fought the Hollywood blacklist. Winchell and Hopper had done very much the opposite.
When Archerd broke a personal story about a celebrity it wasn’t to try and “destroy” them and, in the most famous instance, it was a social good — though not everyone thought so at the time. For those who can’t remember the news that aging onetime superstar Rock Hudson had AIDS, it’s hard to explain the importance of the event. It was the first time many had even heard of the disease, which was already devastating the lives of untold numbers of people. Even in L.A., where Hudson’s sexual preference was an open secret even outside the show business world, the news raised the awareness of the quickly spreading disease far beyond the confines of the gay community, where it was already a devastating fact of life. Outside of Hollywood, it was also maybe the moment where “middle America” became aware that some of their favorite performers were not heterosexual.
For me, however, however, Archerd was always the pleasant, calm guy I grew up watching at the Oscars or at the Hollywood Christmas Parade. I was never a regular reader of his column, but he was just always there. I don’t know what to say except that I half expect those cement footprints in front of the theater Sid Grauman built might go away, too. Nikki Finke and, of course, Variety have excellent obituaries up.
Also, see Finke’s comments. Starting off with one by actor/activist Mike Farrell (“MASH”), it’s a pretty moving tribute.