Tuesday, February 15, 2011


More passings of people I'd always hoped would be around forever.

Betty Garrett, for instance, has died at 91.  She was a mainstay of MGM musicals in the late forties and fifties, but the famously conservative studio cut her loose when her husband, Larry Parks, was blacklisted for pro-Communist sympathies.  (He named names, which made him a pariah of the right and the left.)  Garrett found work at other studios, she and Parks did a ton of summer stock, and she finally became a much-loved character actress.  I couldn't find my favorite moment Garrett had on film (her performance of It's Fate, baby, It's Fate from the otherwise undistinguished Take Me Out To The Ballgame) but this will do nicely, as she effortlessly takes charge of an amazing ensemble including Tommy Rall, Janet Leigh and Bob Fosse in a number from Richard Quine's wonderful 1955 musical My Sister Eileen.

Pancreatic cancer took the great character comedian Kenneth Mars at 75.  Like Garrett, he made anything better simply by being in it, whether it was an episode of Murder, She Wrote, the cult favorite Fernwood 2Nite, or, the roles that granted him immortality, Mel Brooks' The Producers and Young Frankenstein.  That last film, in particular, has a cast full of great comic performers, but Mars, in a relatively small role, steals it from them all.

Finally, heart failure finally took producer David Friedman, the distinguished impresario behind some of the finest films ever made.

That was, of course, Blood Feast, one of several movies Friedman produced for writer-director Herschell Gordon Lewis.  The almost-competent cinematography and dime store effects came courtesy of Lewis, but that patently insincere warning at the top of the trailer was pure Friedman, a master of selling the sizzle without the steak.  So many of his titles--Trader Hornee, The Erotic Adventures Of Zorro--sound entertaining, but most of the inventiveness was spent on the titles and ad campaigns.  Still, they generally at least delivered on their promise to show gorgeous naked babes, so there's that.  Friedman flourished during a more innocent time of exploitation cinema, though he later produced the notorious Ilsa, She-Wolf Of The S.S., from which he removed his name, as well as some hard-core porn.  But he always had a sense of humor about what he did, and never took himself seriously. 

And it was a sense of humor that united Friedman, Mars and Garrett.  The world is worse without them.