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.
Arthur Laurents, a Tony Award-winning playwright and director who wrote the books for the classic Broadway musicals "West Side Story" and "Gypsy" and later wrote the hit movies "The Way We Were" and "The Turning Point," died Thursday. He was believed to be 93.
Laurents died in his sleep at his home in New York City after a short illness, said his agent, Jonathan Lomma.
For his work on Broadway over more than six decades, Laurents won two Tony Awards — in 1968 as author of the book for best musical Tony winner "Hallelujah, Baby!" and in 1984 as best director of a musical for "La Cage aux Folles."
But he is best known for writing the books for "West Side Story" and "Gypsy," both of which were Tony Award nominees for best musical and later were turned into movies.
"West Side Story," with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, was directed and choreographed by Jerome Robbins. The contemporary Romeo and Juliet love story involving rival New York street gangs ran on Broadway from 1957 to 1959.
It was followed by the Robbins-directed "Gypsy," with music by Jule Styne and lyrics by Sondheim. "A musical fable suggested by" stripper Gypsy Rose Lee's memoir and focusing on her driven, larger-than-life mother, Rose, played by Ethel Merman, "Gypsy" ran on Broadway from 1959 to 1961.
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.
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.
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 http://www.elizabethtayloraidsfoundation.org.
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.
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."
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."
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.
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).
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.
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).
Putting together the “In Memoriam” tribute for the Academy Awards “is the single most troubling element of the Oscar show every year, because more people die each year than can possibly be included in that segment,” Bruce Davis, executive director of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences told the Associated Press last year in a story on how the segment is produced.
This year's omission that sent the Internet abuzz: Corey Haim, a teen idol from the 1980s who starred in “License to Drive” and “The Lost Boys.” Haim, who struggled with drug addiction, died last March at 38.
Lonnie Burr, an original Mouseketeer on TV's "The Mickey Mouse Club," says he was saddened to hear about the death of former Walt Disney Studios animator and Imagineer Bill Justice, who died of natural causes Thursday in a nursing home in Santa Monica at age 97.
In an e-mail to The Times on Friday, Burr wrote:
"Most people do not know that the warm, funny raconteur Bill knew Walt liked to discover things himself, so when there was need for a 'Pencil Song' on the upcoming Mickey Mouse Club in 1955, Bill had his talented actor/singer/song-writing, tennis buddy, Jimmie Dodd, write the song and had him sing it for some execs and Walt in the latter's office.