News, notes and follow-ups

Category: Movies

Maria Schneider, star of 'Last Tango in Paris' and 'The Passenger,' dies at 58

French actress Maria Schneider, whose role as Marlon Brando's lover in "Last Tango in Paris" won her lifelong fame but also an image that she found difficult to shake off, has died. She was 58.

Le Figaro newspaper quoted her family as saying she had died Thursday morning in Paris after a long illness.

The daughter of French actor Daniel Gelin and a Parisian bookshop owner, Schneider was 19 when she was cast opposite Brando, who was 48.

Director Bernardo Bertolucci's "Last Tango in Paris" was controversial at the time of its release in 1972 for its sexual content, and Schneider later struggled with her image as a sex symbol, refusing to appear in a nude scene ever again.

"I was too young to know better," Schneider said in a 2007 interview with Britain's Daily Mail newspaper. "Marlon later said that he felt manipulated, and he was Marlon Brando, so you can imagine how I felt. People thought I was like the girl in the movie, but that wasn't me.

"I felt very sad because I was treated like a sex symbol -- I wanted to be recognized as an actress and the whole scandal and aftermath of the film turned me a little crazy and I had a breakdown."

Although Schneider appeared opposite Jack Nicholson in "The Passenger" in 1975 (see YouTube clip below), her subsequent acting career consisted mostly of undistinguished, low-budget European films such as "Memoirs of a French Whore" (1979) and "Mama Dracula" (1980).

The complete Times obituary is here.

-- Reuters

Photo: Maria Schneider with director Bernardo Bertolucci, left, and co-star Marlon Brando during the filming of "Last Tango in Paris." Credit: United Artists Corp.



Comedian Charlie Callas dies in Las Vegas

Charlie Callas, a versatile comedian and sidekick whose zany faces and antics made him a regular for more than four decades on television, in films and on casino stages, died Thursday in a Las Vegas hospice, said his son Mark Callas.

Clark County Coroner Mike Murphy said the death was from natural causes.

Callas toured with Frank Sinatra and Tom Jones, and had a screen part with Jerry Lewis in "The Big Mouth" in 1967.

His facial expressions and rapid-fire comedy also made Callas a favorite on the "Tonight Show" with Johnny Carson.

He also worked with Mel Brooks and was the voice of Elliot in Disney's "Pete's Dragon."

The complete Times obituary by Dennis McLellan is here.

-- Associated Press

Bernd Eichinger, German film producer and director, dies at 61

German movie producer and director Bernd Eichinger died after suffering a heart attack Monday night during a dinner with family and friends in Los Angeles, the film production firm Constantin Film AG said in a statement Tuesday. He was 61.

Eichinger, a major Constantin shareholder and one of the firm's leading executives, produced such films as "The Neverending Story," "The Name of the Rose" and "The House of the Spirits."

One of Eichinger's more recent successful productions was "Downfall," for which he had also written the screenplay. The movie depicts the last days of Nazi Germany in Adolf Hitler's massive bunker and was nominated as a foreign language film for an Academy Award in 2005.

More later at

-- Associated Press

Photo: Bernd Eichinger in 2006. Credit: Miguel Villagran / EPA

Character actor Paul Picerni dies at 88

Paul Picerni Paul Picerni, 88, a prolific character actor who costarred in the television series "The Untouchables" and was featured in the 1953 horror movie "House of Wax," died Wednesday of a heart attack at his home in the Antelope Valley community of Llano, said his daughter, Maria Atkinson-Bates. He was pronounced dead at Palmdale Regional Medical Center.

Picerni portrayed Lee Hobson, a federal agent and sidekick to Eliot Ness, played by series star Robert Stack. "The Untouchables" ran on ABC from 1959 to 1963. Picerni joined the cast in its second season.

He was a familiar presence on television with appearances on such series as "Kojak," "Barnaby Jones," "Mannix" and "Perry Mason" and had roles dating to the mid-1940s.

Picerni was born Dec. 1, 1922, in Corona, N.Y. He was a bombardier during World War II and graduated with a bachelor's degree from Loyola University in Los Angeles in 1950, acting in several campus productions.

"House of Wax," which starred Vincent Price, was the first 3-D feature from a major studio, said writer Tom Weaver, who collaborated with Picerni on the 2007 book "Steps to Stardom: My Story." Picerni played Scott Andrews, a young sculptor who was the boyfriend of Sue Allen, played by Phyllis Kirk.

Picerni’s other films included "The Scalphunters" in 1968 and "Airport" in 1970. Picerni was the halftime master of ceremonies at Los Angeles Rams games at the Coliseum for 30 years.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Paul Picerni


Peter Yates, who directed 'Bullitt' and 'Breaking Away,' dies at 81

British filmmaker Peter Yates, who sent Steve McQueen screeching through the streets of San Francisco in a Ford Mustang in "Bullitt," has died. He was 81.

A statement from Yates' agent, Judy Daish, said he died Sunday in London after an illness.

Yates was nominated for four Academy Awards -- two as director and two as producer -- for the cycling tale "Breaking Away" and the backstage drama "The Dresser."

A graduate of London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Art who directed stage greats including "Dresser" star Albert Finney and Maggie Smith, Yates also created one of film's most memorable action sequences -- the much-imitated car chase in the 1968 police thriller "Bullitt," as seen in the YouTube clip above.

Born in Aldershot in southern England in 1929, Yates trained as an actor, performed in repertory theater and did a stint as a race-car driver before moving into film, first as an editor and then as an assistant director on films including Tony Richardson's "A Taste of Honey" and J. Lee Thompson's "The Guns of Navarone."

His first film as a director was the frothy 1963 musical "Summer Holiday" starring Cliff Richard -- a singer billed, optimistically, as the "British Elvis."

Also in Britain, he directed "Robbery," based on a real 1963 heist known as the "Great Train Robbery," which marked him as a talented director of action sequences.

He went to Hollywood for "Bullitt," and went on to make well-received films including the war thriller "Murphy's War," with Peter O'Toole, and the tense crime drama "The Friends of Eddie Coyle," starring Robert Mitchum.

Nothing if not varied, his 1970s movies included crass comedy "Mother, Jugs and Speed," starring Bill Cosby and Raquel Welch, and the critically derided but commercially successful undersea thriller "The Deep."

In 1979, Yates hit another creative high with "Breaking Away," a deft coming-of-age story about a cycling-mad teenager in small-town Indiana. It was nominated for five Oscars, including best director and best picture -- giving Yates two nominations, as he was a producer on the film.

Yates received two more nominations for "The Dresser," a 1983 adaptation of Ronald Harwood's play about an aging actor and his assistant, which he directed and co-produced.

In recent years, Yates had worked mostly in television. His last theatrical feature was 1999's "Curtain Call," which starred Michael Caine and Maggie Smith as a pair of theatrical ghosts.

Yates is survived by his wife, Virginia Pope, a son and a daughter.

More later at

-- Associated Press


British author Dick King-Smith, whose children's book was basis of 1995 movie 'Babe,' dies at 88

British children's author Dick King-Smith, whose novel "The Sheep-Pig" inspired the hit Hollywood movie "Babe," has died in England. He was 88.

His publisher, Random House Children's Books, says the writer died in his sleep early Tuesday morning at his home near Bath, about 100 miles west of London, after suffering from poor health in recent years.

King-Smith was honored by Queen Elizabeth II when he received an OBE last year for his services to children's literature.

The writer worked for 20 years as a farmer before he trained as a primary school teacher. In his 50s, he began to write his first story, "The Fox Busters," about chickens taking their revenge on foxes.

He had since published over 100 books, selling more than 15 million copies worldwide.

-- Associated Press

Agathe von Trapp, member of family that inspired 'The Sound of Music,' dies at 97

Trapp Agathe von Trapp, a member of the musical family whose escape from Nazi-occupied Austria was the basis for "The Sound of Music," has died. She was 97.

Von Trapp died Tuesday at a hospice in the Baltimore suburb of Towson, Md., after suffering congestive heart failure in November, said Mary Louise Kane. Kane and von Trapp lived together for five decades and ran a kindergarten at the Sacred Heart Catholic parish in nearby Glyndon until 1993.

Von Trapp was the oldest daughter of Austrian naval Capt. Georg Ritter von Trapp. His seven children by his first wife, Agathe Whitehead von Trapp, were the basis for the singing family in the 1959 play and 1965 film, which won the Oscar for best picture.

The widowed captain had three more children with his second wife, Maria Augusta Kutschera. They performed together as the Trapp Family Singers.

Agathe, a guitarist, was represented in the film by 16-going-on-17 Liesl, played by Charmian Carr. But Agathe was far more reserved than the outgoing Liesl, Kane said.

Although Agathe admired the movie, she felt it misrepresented her father as too strict and not as the loving, caring parent he was, Kane said.

"She cried when she first saw it because of the way they portrayed him," Kane said. "She said that if it had been about another family she would have loved it."

Von Trapp wrote her memoir, "Memories Before and After The Sound of Music," published in September by Harper Paperbacks, to set the record straight, Kane said.

Johannes von Trapp, the youngest of the children, said Agathe was a private person who also was a talented sketch artist.

He said she will be buried in the spring at a cemetery at the Trapp Family Lodge in Stowe, Vt.

Agathe's death leaves four surviving members of the Trapp Family Singers: Maria von Trapp, 96; Rosmarie von Trapp, 81; Elenore "Lorli" von Trapp Campbell, 79; and Johannes, 71.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Agathe von Trapp, center, surrounded by family members in 1998. Credit: Associated Press

Actor Steve Landesberg, who played Det. Dietrich on ABC's 'Barney Miller,' dies [Updated]



This is a corrected version of an earlier post. See note below.

Steve Landesberg, a comic actor who played Det. Arthur Dietrich on the long-running ABC sitcom "Barney Miller," has died in Los Angeles.

Landesberg's agent, Jeff Leavitt, confirmed the death.

Landesberg was part of a solid crew of actors playing New York Police Department detectives in the ensemble cast that included Hal Linden as Miller, Abe Vigoda as Fish, Ron Glass as Harris, Max Gail as Wojo and Jack Soo as Yemana. Landesberg appeared on the show from 1976 to 1982.

More recently he had a role in the 2008 film "Forgetting Sarah Marshall."

A full obituary will follow at

For the record, 6:10 p.m. Dec. 20: An earlier version of this post and its headline gave Landesberg's age as 65. In fact, there is some uncertainty about his date of birth. We will report that information in a future post.

 -- Claire Noland

Photo: Steve Landesberg, back row center, played Dietrich on "Barney Miller." Credit: ABC

On the set, Blake Edwards' eyes would start twinkling and out came an 'incredible sense of humor'



There was no shortage of Blake Edwards collaborators willing to talk to The Times on Thursday about the director, who died Wednesday at age 88. Here are the recollections of three of them:

Elke Sommer, who starred with Peter Sellers in the 1964 film “A Shot in the Dark": Edwards' talent was "undisputable" but "he was not always easy, as Peter would have told you if he was alive." He "had this incredible sense of humor, which he displayed by directing. It didn’t come out as much if you had dinner with him. He wasn’t funny at all. But on the set, his eyes started twinkling and he would display this incredible sense of humor. He was incredibly blessed with his wife, his talent, with what he did. He was one of the .0001% of us who is really blessed to have it all."

Bo Derek, who found fame after starring in "10":
"He was so brilliant and it was such a wonderful environment" on the set. "It was a shock, after '10' that not all movies are like a Blake Edwards set." Filming "was fun and he was such a dynamic person. He was very genuine. There wasn’t anything fake about him. Being fake sort of goes with the industry normally."

Walter Mirisch, a producer who made the “Pink Panther” movies and others with Edwards: "Aside from his huge comedic gifts, his dramatic pictures, like ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ and ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ are really outstanding and really mark an extraordinary career of one of the really few, great writer-directors of 20th century movies. He was a delight. He was a lifelong friend. He was just a wonderful guy. I enjoyed him."

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Julie Andrews and her husband, Blake Edwards, on the set of "Wild Rovers" in 1971.

Credit: Associated Press

Blake Edwards got in on the gag at 2004 Oscar tribute; director known for his comic touch is dead at 88






















At the 2004 Academy Awards ceremony, actor-comedian Jim Carrey did a little channeling of Peter Sellers before paying tribute to director Blake Edwards while presenting him with an honorary Oscar.

"Through his creative genius," Edwards "heaped joy upon the world," Carrey said. "The 'Days of Wine and Roses' made us cry, 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' made us fall in love and everything else made us laugh like hell."

What followed could have been a sight gag from one of his "Pink Panther" films: After careening across the stage in a wheelchair, Edwards grabbed the statue, crashed into the set and emphatically said: "That felt good."

Edwards, 88, died Wednesday in Santa Monica. Read his obituary here.

-- Valerie J. Nelson

Photo: Blake Edwards zips past Jim Carrey and grabs his honorary Oscar in a stunt at the 2004 Academy Awards.

Credit: Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press


Director Blake Edwards dies at 88

BlakeBlake Edwards, the veteran writer-director whose films include the "Pink Panther" comedies, "Breakfast at Tiffany's," "Days of Wine and Roses" and "10" and whose legendary disputes with studio chiefs inspired his scathing Hollywood satire "S.O.B." has died. He was 88.

Edwards, whose collaborations with his wife, Julie Andrews, included the 1982 comedy "Victor/Victoria," died of of complications of pneumonia Wednesday evening at St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, said Gene Schwam, Edwards’ longtime publicist. Andrews and members of their immediate family were at his bedside.

Edwards scored his first box-office hit with "Operation Petticoat," a 1959 comedy about a World War II submarine crew starring Cary Grant and Tony Curtis. But a turning point in Edwards' film career came in 1961 with "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

The light, sophisticated romantic comedy based on the Truman Capote novella earned Audrey Hepburn an Academy Award nomination for best actress. Composer Henry Mancini also won an Oscar for his score, and he and Johnny Mercer won Oscars for their memorable song "Moon River."

Displaying his versatility, Edwards followed up that success with the 1962 thriller "Experiment in Terror" and, that same year, "Days of Wine and Roses," a grim drama about a young couple (Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick) battling alcoholism. Both Lemmon and Remick received Academy Award nominations, and Mancini and Mercer won Oscars for their title song.

But it's Edwards' comedies for which he is best known.

As co-writer and director of "The Pink Panther" and "A Shot in the Dark" (both released in 1964), starring Peter Sellers as the bumbling French police inspector Clouseau, Edwards earned a reputation as a modern master of slapstick comedy and sight gags.

Other Edwards-directed comedies in the '60s included "The Great Race," "What Did You Do in the War, Daddy?" and "The Party."

A more complete obituary is here.

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Blake Edwards and Julie Andrews in September. Credit: Valerie Macon / Getty Images

One year ago: Roy Edward Disney


Roy Edward Disney, the nephew of Walt Disney, was so committed to his uncle's creative spirit that he mounted revolts that led to the unseating of two of the company's chief executives who he felt were leading the company astray. He died one year ago at age 79.

As chairman of Disney animation, Disney helped guide the studio to a new golden age of animation with an unprecedented string of artistic and box-office successes that included "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast," "Aladdin" and "The Lion King."

But it was a long road to those successes. After 20 years of working on nature films for the studio, he quit in 1977 when he was denied a larger role in the company after the death of his uncle Walt and his father, Roy O. Disney. He remained on its board as a director but was largely a figurehead.

Disney went on to partner with lawyer Stanley Gold and became a successful financier through Shamrock Holdings, where he built up wealth to ease his reliance on his inherited Disney stock.

When he had accumulated enough money and influence independent of Disney, he made his move against the company that had increasingly frustrated him. He quit the Disney board in 1984, causing a stock turmoil that led the unseating of the company's management. Using his influence, Disney was able to bring in a whole new management team led by Michael Eisner.

The victory was short-lived. Tensions began building between Disney and Eisner when the company's president and chief operating officer, Frank Wells, died in 1994, leaving Eisner solely in control of the company. In 2003, Disney called for Eisner's resignation, saying the company had come to be perceived as "rapacious, soul-less and always looking for the 'quick buck' rather than long-term value." Eisner resigned in 2005.

Disney initially fought the hiring of Eisner's successor, Robert A. Iger, but relented when Iger made peace, offering Disney an office at the company's Burbank studios, a consultancy and the title "director emeritus."

Despite wealth estimated at $600 million, Disney remained shy and outwardly unpretentious, according to people who knew him. He also was involved in several philanthropic activities, including serving on the board of trustees of the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, where he helped carry out the dream of Walt and his father to build and sustain a top arts college in Southern California.

For much more on his turbulent career, creative passion and the sometimes tense drama within his family, read Roy Edward Disney's obituary by The Times. Also, view a photo gallery of his life.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Roy Disney, in the Shamrock Center in Burbank on December 1, 2003. Credit: Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times


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