News, notes and follow-ups

Category: Film

Avant-garde filmmaker Adolfas Mekas dies at 85

Adolfas Mekas, a member of the avant-garde New American Cinema movement of the 1960s and a longtime professor of film at New York's Bard College, died Tuesday at a hospital in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He was 85.

Bard College announced the Lithuanian-born artist's death but did not give the cause.

Mekas immigrated to the United States in 1949 after time spent in a Nazi concentration camp and later in displaced-persons camps in Germany.

In the U.S., he and his brother Jonas founded the journal "Film Culture" and the Filmmakers' Cooperative independent cinema-distribution house. His feature "Hallelujah the Hills" (seen in the Vimeo clip above) played at the Cannes Film Festival in 1963.

Mekas founded the film program at Bard in 1971 and taught until his retirement in 2004.

-- Associated Press


Former child actor Jackie Cooper dies at 88

Cooper Jackie Cooper, whose tousled blond hair, pouty lower lip and ability to cry on camera helped make him one of the top child stars of the 1930s in films including "Skippy" and "The Champ," died Tuesday, his agent Ron Leif confirmed.

 Cooper grew up to become a successful TV star in the 1950s, a top television studio executive in the '60s and an Emmy Award-winning director in the '70s. He was 88.

A former "Our Gang" cast member who began his  Hollywood career as an extra in silent movies at age 3, Cooper shot to stardom at 8 playing the title role in "Skippy," the 1931 film based on a popular comic strip about a health inspector's son and his ragamuffin pal, Sooky.

The film, in which Cooper had three signature crying scenes, earned him an Academy Award nomination for best actor in a leading role. Lionel Barrymore won the Oscar that year.

Read the complete Jackie Cooper obituary here.

-- Dennis McLellan



Walk of Fame: Share a memory about Jackie Cooper


Photo: Jackie Cooper. Credit: Associated Press

Hitchcock star Farley Granger dies at 85


Farley Granger, the 1950s screen idol who starred in the Alfred Hitchcock classics “Rope” and “Strangers on a Train,” has died. He was 85.

Granger died Sunday of natural causes at his home in Manhattan, according to Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the New York City medical examiner's office.

Granger was a 16-year-old student at North Hollywood High School when he got the notion that he wanted to act and joined a little theater group.

Photos: The films of Farley Granger

Talent scouts for movie mogul Samuel Goldwyn saw the handsome youngster and signed him to a contract. His first movie was “The North Star” in 1943.

Granger was born on July 1, 1925, in San Jose, where his father was a car dealer. The business went bust during the Depression, and in 1933 the family moved to Los Angeles, where he was subsequently spotted.

His career halted for U.S. Navy service during World War II.  

He made “Rope” in 1948 and “Strangers on a Train” in 1951. In the latter, he plays a tennis star who meets a man on a train. The other man, played by Robert Walker, turns out to be a psychotic who proposes that each of them murder the other's troublesome relative. He tells Granger's character, “Some people are better off dead -- like your wife and my father, for instance.”

Walker's character proceeds to carry out his part of the bargain, killing the tennis star's estranged wife and trapping the Granger character in an ever-tightening circle of suspicion.

Granger also appeared in “They Live by Night,” “Roseanna McCoy,” “Side Street,” “The Story of Three Loves,” “Edge of Doom” and “Hans Christian Andersen.”

He made his Broadway debut in 1960 in “First Impressions,” a musical version of Jane Austen's “Pride and Prejudice.” He later did two years with Eva Le Gallienne's repertory troupe and a considerable stint as the lead in the long-running thriller “Deathtrap.”

Granger continued to make films over the years: “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing,” “The Serpent,” “The Man Called Noon,” “The Imagemaker” and “The Whoopee Boys.” He made several movies in Italy, including Luchino Visconti's “Senso.”

He also appeared in several daytime soaps, including “As the World Turns,” “Edge of Night” and “One Life to Live,” for which he received a Daytime Emmy nomination.

Above is a look at “Strangers on a Train.”  Our news obituary by Times staff writer Dennis McLellan can be found here.

Tell us your favorite Granger role.


Photos: The films of Farley Granger

Hollywood Star Walk: Farley Granger

-- Associated Press

Documentary filmmaker Richard Leacock dies at 89

Richard Leacock, a documentary filmmaker and pioneer of the unobtrusive camera technique cinema verite who followed John F. Kennedy on his presidential campaign and was seen by some as the grandfather of reality television, has died. He was 89.

Leacock died Wednesday in Paris, said his daughter, Victoria Leacock Hoffman. He had been in declining health and had taken several recent falls, she said in an email.

Leacock's technical acumen supplied the likes of Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut with the tools of their trade. His insightful direction laid the groundwork for generations of filmmakers seeking to use their cameras to capture real life as it happened, colleagues said.

"He had a poetic eye behind the camera, which gave him access to anybody because they sensed they could trust him," said documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles, who first worked with Leacock on "Primary," the seminal documentary that followed JFK's presidential campaign in Wisconsin.

"Richard Leacock was one of the true pioneers of documentary filmmaking," director Martin Scorsese said in a statement. "He was instrumental in the development and use of lightweight, portable equipment, which opened the way for genuinely independent filmmaking. And he had a remarkably sensitive, quick camera eye. He paved the way for all of us."

Leacock, born in 1921 and raised in England and the Canary Islands, made his name as an innovator.

"He was the first one to do what we call 'reality TV,' " said Bob Doyle, a Cambridge, Mass.-based inventor who knew Leacock and maintains a website in his honor. "He was famous for making documentary films which captured people being very natural. But he had a critical eye that exposed weakness or insights into people he was filming."

In the post-World War II period, filmmakers were increasingly preoccupied with escaping the confines of the film set and capturing real life as it was happening. But that ambition, known as cinema verite (French for "truthful cinema"), faced a daunting technical challenge: Taking the camera out of the studio made it extremely difficult to capture high-quality sound.

Filmmakers needed to find a way to soak up speech and video independently without letting the pair slip out of sync, and it was Leacock who hit upon the idea of using a system of American-made Bulova watches to keep the two in accordance.

Leacock wrote, directed and edited "Toby and the Tall Corn," a 1954 documentary about a traveling tent theater in Missouri. It aired on television as part of the cultural program "Omnibus."

In 1960, Leacock formed a partnership with documentarian D.A. Pennebaker. Besides serving as cinematographer on "Primary," Leacock had a hand in the documentaries "A Stravinsky Portrait," about composer and conductor Igor Stravinsky, and "Monterey Pop," about the 1967 rock music festival (seen in the above YouTube clip).

He moved to Paris in 1989 after retiring from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he was the head of the film/video section, his daughter said.

A memoir, "Richard Leacock: The Feeling of Being There," will be released this summer as a book and a digital video book.

Besides his daughter, Leacock is survived by his wife, Valerie Lalond, and a son, Robert Leacock.

-- Associated Press

Elizabeth Taylor: donations and memorial

Publicists for Elizabeth Taylor, who died Wednesday at 79, said a memorial service will be announced later, after a private family funeral this week.

Her family has requested that instead of flowers contributions can be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, c/o Derrick Lee, Reback Lee & Co., Inc., 12400 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1275, Los Angeles, CA 90025, or online at

Personal messages can be posted on a Facebook tribute page.

--Elaine Woo


Elizabeth Taylor's obituary: outtakes from a 12-year work in progress

Elizabeth Taylor's death Wednesday moved me in an odd way. Although I never met or spoke to her, I had a "relationship" with her that spanned a dozen years: Hers was the first advance obituary I ever wrote for The Times. The assignment, which I received in 1999, probably was precipitated by one of Taylor's nearly annual brushes with death. I read a mountain of articles and books over a three-month period before writing a lengthy piece. And nearly every year since then I updated the article, adding a worthwhile quote or details about her latest illness. I felt I had come to know her and, unlike many of my subjects, I liked her.

ET More recently, I revisited the obit to shorten it. Some pithy quotes had to go, such as this one from writer Truman Capote, who once said: "Her legs are too short for the torso, the head too bulky for the figure in toto; but the face with those lilac eyes is a prisoner's dream, a secretary's self-fantasy."

And this one from Paul Newman, her co-star in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He called her "a functioning voluptuary."

Elizabeth Taylor: A life in pictures

One of my favorite anecdotes that didn't make the final cut concerned Howard Hughes, the nutty billionaire who tried to run a movie studio after making a fortune building planes. After Taylor separated from her first husband, Conrad Hilton Jr. of the Hilton hotel chain, she was lying by a pool in Palm Springs when Hughes landed a helicopter next to her. "Come on, get your clothes on, we are getting married," he told the raven-haired beauty. She told him he was mad, whereupon he dipped his hand into a coat pocket and scooped out a handful of diamonds, which he then proceeded to sprinkle on her. Taylor roared with laughter and ran into her friends' house, scattering the diamonds behind her.

The diamonds from Richard Burton, the Welsh actor who accounted for two of her eight marriages, were another matter: She kept most of those. I loved his recollection of his desire for a $1.1-million, 69-carat diamond ring from Cartier in New York, which he acquired for Taylor after outbidding Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis. "I wanted that diamond because it is incomparably lovely," Burton said. "And it should be on the loveliest woman in the world. I would have had a fit if it went to Jackie Kennedy or Sophia Loren or Mrs. Huntingdon Misfit of Dallas, Texas." 

I noticed that when Taylor spoke about herself, she rarely took herself too seriously, a quality that made her appealing. "People have called me accident-prone," she told Life magazine in 1997. "That really pissed Richard Burton off. He'd say, no, you're incident-prone."

You can read the obituary here.


The Taylor-Burton Diamond

Paul Newman on Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor on "What's My Line"

 -- Elaine Woo

Photo: Elizabeth Taylor in 2009.

Credit: Los Angeles Times

Houdini assistant Dorothy Young dies at 103

Dorothy Young, the last surviving stage assistant of illusionist Harry Houdini and also an accomplished dancer, died Sunday at her home in a retirement community in Tinton Falls, N.J. She was 103.

Young's death was announced by Drew University, where she was a prominent donor and patron of the arts.

Young joined Houdini's company as a teenager after attending an open casting call during a family trip to New York. During her year with Houdini's stage show in the mid-1920s, she played the role of "Radio Girl of 1950," emerging from a large mock-up of a radio and performing a dance routine.

Young went on to become a professional dancer, performing in several movies. She also published a novel inspired by her career.

-- Associated Press

Michael Gough, character actor who played butler to Bruce Wayne in 'Batman' films, dies at 94

British actor Michael Gough, best known to international audiences as Batman's butler Alfred in the movie franchise, has died, the BBC reported on Thursday. He was 94.

The broadcaster quoted Gough's agent as saying that the actor had been unwell for some time and passed away at home surrounded by family.

He appeared in more than 150 films and television shows during a career that began in the 1940s.

Gough starred in the popular British sci-fi series "Doctor Who" as the Celestial Toymaker, and was something of a cult figure among horror film fans for roles in movies including "Horror of Dracula" and "The Phantom of the Opera."

But it was U.S. director Tim Burton who thrust him into the international limelight, casting him as Alfred Pennyworth in "Batman" in 1989 alongside Michael Keaton in the title role.

He would reprise the part of Bruce Wayne's butler in three more installments, worked with Burton on "Sleepy Hollow" and also provided voices for the director's "Alice in Wonderland" and "Corpse Bride."

Gough also appeared in commercials, including spots for Diet Coke in which he sent up his Alfred character (seen above in YouTube clip).

-- Reuters

One year ago: Peter Graves of ‘Mission: Impossible’ and ‘Airplane!’

 Peter Graves was a television star who made light of his image in a memorably comic movie role.

Graves was known to a generation of television viewers as James Phelps in the show "Mission: Impossible." But he joined other actors known for their serious images—Leslie Nielsen, Lloyd Bridges and Robert Stack—in the 1980 spoof "Airplane!"

He almost didn't do it.

"I read it and thought, 'Gee, this is dangerous,' " Graves told The Times in late 2009. "It was in terrible taste."

But the film's producer, Howard Koch, urged him to meet with the young filmmakers, David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker, who told him that they wanted somebody of stature and dignity to play the role "absolutely straight," Graves recalled.

"They say you are supposed to stretch as an actor, so let's go stretch it," he said.

Graves, who starred in more than 70 television series and feature films, typically playing the straight-laced hero, died a year ago at 83.


--Keith Thursby




Peter Graves dies at 83

Classic Hollywood: 60 years in show business 

Photos: A look back at Graves' career

Hollywood walk of fame







Hugh Martin, who co-wrote 'Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,' dies at 96

The Associated Press is reporting the death of composer and songwriter Hugh Martin, who co-wrote "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "The Trolley Song," of natural causes Friday at his home in Encinitas, Calif., citing his niece, Suzanne Hanners. Martin was 96.

Both songs, written with his partner Ralph Blane, were featured in the 1944 film "Meet Me in St. Louis" starring Judy Garland (seen above in the YouTube clip).

Martin's memoir, "Hugh Martin: The Boy Next Door," was published in 2010.

More later at

-- Claire Noland




One year ago: former teen idol Corey Haim

HaimTwo decades after being hailed as a teen idol and a promising actor, Corey Haim was on a reality television show with a familiar costar.

Haim, whose 1980s roles included "Lucas" and "The Lost Boys," was reunited in 2007 with fellow former child actor Corey Feldman on an A&E reality show called "The Two Coreys." They worked together in "The Lost Boys," among several films.

Haim had a long struggle with drugs. "I lived in L.A. in the '80s which was not the best place to be," he told Britain's the Sun in 2004. "I did cocaine for about a year and a half, then it led to crack."

When Haim died a year ago at age 38, police first said the cause was an apparent overdose. "This is a tragic loss of a wonderful, beautiful, tormented soul," Corey Feldman said at the time on his blog.

Nearly two months after Haim's death, the Los Angeles County coroner's office said the actor died of pneumonia and had an enlarged heart.

Haim was born in Toronto in 1971 and started working in commercials at 10. His role in "Lucas" as a teenager in love with an older girl was "one of the most three-dimensional, complicated, interesting characters of any age of any recent movie," critic Roger Ebert wrote.

Other roles included the movies "Murphy's Romance" and "License to Drive" and the television series "Roomies."


Corey Haim dies at 38

Haim is left out of memorial tribute at Oscars

Photos: A look at Haim's career

'The Two Coreys'

'Lucas' trailer

--Keith Thursby


Photo: Corey Haim in the 1987 NBC comedy "Roomies." Credit: Associated Press

Alberto Granado, Che Guevara’s companion in 'Motorcycle Diaries,' dies at 88


Alberto Granado, who accompanied Ernesto "Che" Guevara on a 1952 journey of discovery across Latin America that was immortalized in Guevara's memoir and the film "The Motorcycle Diaries," died in Cuba on Saturday. He was 88.

Granado Granado, an Argentine who had lived in Cuba since 1961, died of natural causes Saturday morning, according to Cuban state-run television, which gave no other details.

Granado and Guevara's road trip, begun on a broken-down motorcycle they dubbed La Poderosa, or "The Powerful," awoke in Guevara a social consciousness and political convictions that would help turn him into one of the most iconic revolutionaries of the 20th century.

They both kept diaries that were used as background for the 2004 movie, produced by Robert Redford and directed by Walter Salles.

Granado was born Aug. 8, 1922, in Cordoba, Argentina, and befriended Guevara as a child.

As young medical students, the two witnessed deep poverty across the continent — principally in Chile, Colombia, Peru and Venezuela.

They parted ways in Venezuela, where Granado stayed to work at a clinic treating leprosy patients. Guevara continued to Miami, then returned to Buenos Aires to finish his studies.

Guevara would later join Fidel and Raul Castro as they sailed from exile in Mexico to Cuba in 1956. Their small band of rebels ultimately toppled dictator Fulgencio Batista on New Year's Day 1959.

Granado visited Cuba at Guevara's invitation in 1960 and moved to Havana the following year with his family, teaching biochemistry at Havana University. He had lived in Cuba ever since, maintaining a low profile.

Guevara was captured and killed by soldiers in Bolivia in 1967.

--Associated Press

Photo: Alberto Granado in 2007. Credit: Associated Press


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