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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Obituaries

Dick Clark's brief film career: 'Spy Kids,' 'Killers Three' psycho

April 18, 2012 |  6:00 pm

Dick Clark, who died Wednesday at 82, is best known for his starring roles on the small screen from "American Bandstand" through to "New Year's Rockin' Eve," but he did make a handful of appearances on the big screen early in his 60-year career.

Most were dramatic turns, showing Clark's effort to avoid being pigeonholed in the teen music genre. His first film role came in the 1960 youth drama “Because They're Young,” directed by Paul Wendkos, about a young high school teacher who tries to help the troubled students at the school. In 1961, he starred as one of the titular "Young Doctors," alongside Fredric March and Ben Gazzara, in a story about romance and lifesaving decisions at a hospital.

Perhaps his most unusual role came in the low-budget 1968 crime drama "Killers Three," in which Clark played a backwoods psycho killer. He also served as a producer and writer on the film.

PHOTOS: Stars react to the death of Dick Clark

Clark had only one more movie role, which came decades later in 2001's family movie "Spy Kids," in which he played a nameless "financier."


PHOTOS: Dick Clark | 1929-2012

Dick Clark: Chaperone to generations of music-loving teens

Dick Clark: From 'American Bandstand' to 'New Year's Rockin' Eve' [video]

— Ben Fritz and Susan King

Jamaa Fanaka, 'Penitentiary' filmmaker, dies at 69

April 3, 2012 | 11:37 am

FanakaJamaa Fanaka, who emerged as a dynamic young black filmmaker with his gritty 1979 independent film “Penitentiary” and later made headlines with his legal battles alleging widespread discrimination against minorities in the film and television industry, has died. He was 69.

Fanaka was found dead in his apartment in South Los Angeles on Sunday, said Jan-Christopher Horak, a friend. The cause of death has not yet been determined.

The Mississippi-born Fanaka was still enrolled in the UCLA film school when he wrote, produced and directed his first three feature films: “Welcome Home, Brother Charles” (1975), “Emma Mae” (1976) and “Penitentiary.”

In his review of “Penitentiary,” The Times’ Kevin Thomas wrote that Fanaka “has taken one of the movies’ classic myths, the wrongly imprisoned man who fights for his freedom with boxing gloves, and made it a fresh and exciting experience.”

Fanaka went on to write, produce and direct two “Penitentiary” sequels, in 1982 and 1987.  His final feature film was “Street Wars,” a low-budget 1992 action-drama.

A complete obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.


Ben Gazzara, 81, veteran actor of stage and screen

Bingham Ray, 57, leading force in independent films

Peter M. Douglas, 69, California Coastal Commission chief

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Jamaa Fanaka in 1997. Credit: Mary G. Wentz / For The Times

Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra dies at 92

March 23, 2012 | 10:16 am

Italian screenwriter Tonino Guerra dies

Tonino Guerra, an Italian screenwriter who worked closely with Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and other noted film directors, died Wednesday at his home in northern Italy, according to European news reports. He was 92.

Guerra shared nominations for three Academy Awards for screenwriting: “Casanova ’70,” “Blow-Up” and “Amarcord.”

Besides “Blow-Up,” Guerra’s collaborations with Antonioni included “L’avventura,” “La Notte,” “L’eclisse,” “Red Desert” and “Zabriskie Point.”

“Amarcord,” which he co-wrote with Fellini, was named best foreign-language film in 1974.

Guerra’s last film credit was for 2009’s “Everybody’s Fine,” which starred Robert De Niro.

He was born March 16, 1920, in Sant’Arcangelo di Romagna, Italy, and wrote poems, short stories and novels besides screenplays.

In 2011, the Writers Guild of America, West, honored him with its Jean Renoir Award for Screenwriting Achievement.

A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.

— Claire Noland

Photo: Tonino Guerra in 2010. Credit: European Press Agency/Giorgio Benvenuti.

Disney songwriter Robert B. Sherman dies at 86

March 6, 2012 |  7:36 am

Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman
Robert B. Sherman, a songwriter who teamed with his brother Richard to write some of the best known songs for Walt Disney’s classic films, including "Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious" for “Mary Poppins,” has died. He was 86.

Sherman died Monday in London, his agent, Stella Richards, told the Associated Press. The cause was not disclosed.

The brothers also wrote music for other Disney films, including "The Jungle Book," ''The Aristocats" as well as for the 1968 United Artists release "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang."

PHOTOS: Robert B. Sherman's memorable Disney moments

"It's a Small World After All," written for the 1964 New York World's Fair, was another Sherman composition.

"We were struggling songwriters hoping to get a break," Richard M. Sherman told The Times in 2009.  "This was the opportunity of a lifetime. 'Mary Poppins' turned my life around, really."

A musical production of "Mary Poppins" is scheduled for the Ahmanson Theatre this summer.

The Sherman brothers were inducted into the Disney Legends in 1990.

A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.


'Star Wars' illustrator Ralph McQuarrie dies at 82

'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax:' Five lessons from its success

Davy Jones: When it came to Monkee business, he showed up smiling

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Robert B. Sherman, left, and Richard M. Sherman. Credit: Disney Enterprises Inc.

'Star Wars' illustrator Ralph McQuarrie dies at 82

March 5, 2012 | 10:37 am

Ralph McQuarrie

Ralph McQuarrie, an illustrator who was responsible for creating the look of Darth Vader, C-3PO, R2-D2, the Stormtroopers and many other characters for director George Lucas’ “Star Wars” movies, has died. McQuarrie, who shared an Academy Award for visual effects for “Cocoon” in 1986, was 82.

McQuarrie, whose paintings helped persuade 20th Century Fox to greenlight what became the 1977 blockbuster “Star Wars,” died Saturday at his home in Berkeley, said John Scoleri, co-author of a book on McQuarrie’s art. He had Parkinson’s disease and recently had been in declining health.

“Ralph McQuarrie was the first person I hired to help me envision ‘Star Wars,’ ” Lucas said in a statement posted online. “His genial contribution, in the form of unequaled production paintings, propelled and inspired all of the cast and crew of the original ‘Star Wars’ trilogy.

PHOTOS: 2012 notable deaths

"When words could not convey my ideas, I could always point to one of Ralph’s fabulous illustrations and say, ‘Do it like this.’ ”

McQuarrie’s production paintings also were used as the models for many of the sets designed for Lucas’ intergalactic war movie.

A full obituary will follow at latimes.com/obits.


Full coverage: Hero Complex covers 'Star Wars'

Archives: A celebration of McQuarrie's long-lost works

Star Wars: The Old Republic — the story behind a galactic gamble

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Ralph McQuarrie, left, at work, and a concept painting for the first "Star Wars" film. Credit: Associated Press and Lucasfilm.

Gil Cates: Consummate Hollywood professional

November 1, 2011 | 12:35 pm


This post has been corrected. See note at the bottom for details.

Gilbert "Gil" Cates, a consummate Hollywood professional who combined a natural showman’s flair with a scholar’s erudition, and who as a 14-time producer of the annual Oscar telecast brought fresh blood and new energy to the industry’s biggest showcase, has died at 77.

Cates, who also was the founding former dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, was found collapsed in a parking lot on the UCLA campus late Monday afternoon. Emergency medical personnel responded to a call but were unable to revive him. The Los Angeles County coroner is investigating the cause of death.

Cates had undergone heart surgery earlier this month, UCLA sources said.

PHOTOS: Notable deaths of 2011

"Our entire TFT community is overwhelmingly saddened by the loss of our beloved mentor, colleague and friend," Teri Schwartz, dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, said in a statement.

An effusive, outspoken man, Cates maintained a bulging portfolio of job titles that matched his bulging Rolodex of personal and professional contacts. Virtually no one who was anyone in Hollywood didn’t know Gil Cates.

One of his signature accomplishments was revamping the annual Academy Awards telecast. Cates was widely credited with re-energizing a formula that had grown tired by recruiting such comic talents as Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, David Letterman, Chris Rock and Jon Stewart to host the show.

Cates produced the Academy Awards 14 times between 1990 and 2008, more than any other individual.

"So sorry to hear Gil Cates has died," Martin tweeted Tuesday morning. "He was delightful, wise, canny and unperturbed. A great fellow."

In a statement, academy President Tom Sherak said that Cates "gave the academy and the world some of the most memorable moments in Oscar history. His passing is a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry, and our thoughts go out to his family."

Continue reading »

Oscar-winning actor Cliff Robertson dies at 88

September 10, 2011 |  5:33 pm


Cliff Robertson, who starred as John F. Kennedy in a 1963 World War II drama and later won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a mentally disabled bakery janitor in the movie "Charly," died Saturday, one day after his 88th birthday.

Robertson, who also played a real-life role as the whistle-blower in the check-forging scandal of then-Columbia Pictures President David Begelman that rocked Hollywood in the late 1970s, died at Stony Brook University Medical Center on Long Island, according to Evelyn Christel, his longtime personal secretary. His family said he died of natural causes.

Cliff Robertson, who starred as John F. Kennedy in a 1963 World War II drama and later won an Academy Award for his portrayal of a mentally disabled bakery janitor in the movie "Charly" died Saturday, one day after his 88th birthday.

In a more than 50-year career in films, Robertson appeared in some 60 movies, including "PT 109," "My Six Loves," "Sunday in New York," "The Best Man," "The Devil's Brigade," "Three Days of the Condor," "Obsession" and "Star 80."

More recently, he played Uncle Ben Parker in the "Spider-Man" films.

Throughout his career, Robertson worked regularly in television, including delivering an Emmy Award-winning performance in "The Game," a 1965 drama on "Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theatre." 


Obituary: Cliff Robertson, 88, had a more than 50-year career in film

Photos: Notable deaths of 2011

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Cliff Robertson in 1998. Credit: Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

Raul Ruiz, Chilean filmmaker, dead at 70

August 19, 2011 |  9:06 pm

Raoul Ruiz 

Raul Ruiz, the Chilean-born director of scores of films that showcased his painterly eye and literary sensibility -- including the recent 4 1/2-hour period melodrama "Mysteries of Lisbon" -- is dead at 70. He died of a pulmonary infection in Paris, where he had lived after fleeing his homeland in the early 1970s following the violent coup against Chilean President Salvador Allende led by Gen. Augusto Pinochet.

In his movies, Ruiz demonstrated a currently unfashionable affinity for leisurely, densely embroidered storytelling that reflected his lifelong love of literature and his interest in critical theory (he taught for a time at Harvard University). Not surprisingly, several of his best-known movies were adapted from or inspired by books, including "Mysteries of Lisbon," which was based on a novella by the Portuguese writer Camilo Castelo Branco.

Among his other films were "Tres Tristes Tigres" (1968), an adaptation of the book by Cuban writer Guillermo Cabrera Infante, a darkly humorous, montage-like novel set in pre-revolutionary Havana that has been compared to James Joyce's "Ulysses"; "Marcel Proust's Time Regained" (1999); "Three Lives and Only One Death" (1996), with Marcello Mastroianni, based on the short fiction of Nathaniel Hawthorne; and "Klimt" (2006), with John Malkovich starring as the Austrian Symbolist painter renowned for his sensual, Byzantine-influenced paintings, typically of beautiful semi-nude women.

The themes that haunted these movies -- memory lost and retrieved, the seductions of art, the disjunctions of modern urban life -- were to resurface continually in Ruiz's films. Yet his movies seldom sagged under their high-brow aspirations, because Ruiz was foremost a committed entertainer. He loved improbable plot twists, overheated emotions, scandalous revelations -- three staples of Mexican telenovelas (soap operas), which he also directed at one point in his peripatetic career.

All these qualities came together in "Mysteries of Lisbon." In her review for the Los Angeles Times, Sheri Linden wrote: "Through every twist of the kaleidoscope, the delight in storytelling is primary.... Ruiz is as uninterested in solutions as he is in hitting Hollywood-style beats. He constructs a memory palace from an endlessly unfolding paper fortuneteller, choreographing his troupe of note-carrying go-betweens, eavesdropping servants, lovers bent on revenge and those locked in unhappiness."

In a Spanish-language Twitter message today, Chile's president, Sebastián Piñera, wrote that the country was hurt by Ruiz's death, and praised his movies for having "opened the world to us." One of Chile's current crop of young directors, Andrés Wood, told a Chilean newspaper that Ruiz's "inspiration and genius" helped move him to become a director."

"I don't know if it can be said that he is the greatest director of all Chilean filmmakers, because I believe that he goes with others like Miguel Littin," Wood told El Mercurio. "But Ruiz is among the most important, without a doubt."


Movie review: 'Mysteries of Lisbon'

Ruiz's 'Only One Death' a Complex, Delicious Fable

Photo: Raul Ruiz. Credit: Ricardo De Luca / Associated Press

What was Peter Falk's best role?

June 24, 2011 |  2:14 pm

He was best known for playing Lt. Columbo, the rumpled and inquisitive detective who always managed to find the last piece in the puzzle. Of course in a half-century acting career, Peter Falk, who died Thursday night in Beverly Hills, also starred in dozens of movies. With the actor's passing, we present some of his better-known roles and ask which was his best.

"Wings of Desire." He was never given a name, and he could seem almost out of place as he wandered the streets of Berlin, a former angel who chose mortality so he can dwell in this world. But Falk's presence as a film star in Wim Wenders' 1987 classic gave the film a splash of color and cleverly played off his own image of the grizzled Hollywooder.

"The In-Laws." A classic buddy comedy in which Falk plays the wiseacre CIA operative (or is he?) opposite Alan Arkin's tightly wound dentist. His tall tale about baby-napping tse-tse flies is a classic, as his is plea (clip below) for a Central American warlord to avoid shooting the pair to save the bridgework of New York's Latino community.

"Mikey and Nicky." Falk and a buddy again get into trouble, but this time Falk is the helpful do-gooder, always bailing out his mob-running friend (John Cassavetes). Elaine May's film, shot unconventionally, showcased Falk's improvisational skills.

"Husbands." As stagnating suburban husband Archie in a film Cassavetes directed, Falk is off to London, where he and two  pals (Cassavetes and Ben Gazzara) try to shake things up, but their attempts at an affair don't quite work out as planned. Falk showed a dramatic side in the 1970 cinema verite experiment.

"A Woman Under the Influence." Falk continued the drama as Nick, who reluctantly commits his wife to a mental institution and takes over the full-time parenting of their children. Falk demonstrated a vulnerability in this Cassavetes film that marked one of the more ambitious movies of his career.

"The Princess Bride." He didn't get much screen time in Rob Reiner's fairy-tale comedy. But for a generation of filmgoers, Falk will forever always be reading a children's book to Fred Savage.


'Columbo' star Peter Falk dies at 83

Photos: Peter Falk's life and career

An Appreciation: Peter Falk, 1927-2011

Photos: Columbo, Shaft and other fictional detectives

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Peter Falk in 2002. Credit: Ron Frehm / Associated Press

Laura Ziskin, 'Spider-Man' producer and Hollywood trailblazer, dies at 61

June 12, 2011 | 10:55 pm

Laura Ziskin, a veteran film producer who counted the "Spider-Man" franchise among her many credits and was one of the most influential women in recent Hollywood history, has died at 61.

Ziskin, who was working on the reboot of "The Amazing Spider-Man" at the time of her death, had fought a seven-year battle with breast cancer. In 2008, she founded a nonprofit that has to-date raised more than $200 million to fight the disease.

Although she was not well known among average film fans, Ziskin had a profound impact on what contemporary moviegoers watched at the multiplex. Over a three-decade career, she produced or oversaw a wide range of films, including the 1987 Cold War thriller "No Way Out," the 1990 Richard Gere-Julia Roberts romantic comedy "Pretty Woman" and 1997's James L. Brooks' Oscar-contending dramedy "As Good As It Gets."

By far her most significant filmic legacy is "Spider-Man"; she produced all three released movies in the blockbuster franchise. "The Amazing Spider-Man," a reboot of the comicbook series starring Andrew Garfield that is set to be released next year, was her most recent effort in that vein. One person close to the production noted she was extremely involved even as her cancer began to spread in recent months.

Although Ziskin had been based at the Sony Pictures lot for years, during the 1990s she also headed a division at 20th Century Fox, Fox 2000, that was responsible for the kind of serious dramas Hollywood studios rarely make these days, including "Courage Under Fire," "Fight Club" and "The Thin Red Line."

Ziskin also produced two Oscar telecasts, in 2002 and 2007. Her first effort was notable for landing Woody Allen, famously averse to awards-show hoopla. She was the first woman to produce the telecast on her own.

Outside the film world she was best known for her efforts in helping to found Stand Up to Cancer, a research initiative she founded with Katie Couric, former Paramount chief Sherry Lansing  and others. The organization, which held several high-profile Hollywood telethons (her comments to The Times from the red carpet at last summer's event can be seen here), drew on the star power of the media and entertainment world to raise money for cancer research. (For more on her life and legacy, please see The Times' obituary here.)

At the Producers Guild Awards this past January, Ziskin's voice was weak when she received the group’s visionary award. She spoke about cancer’s destructive effect on families and the importance of encouraging cancer researchers to collaborate on their work. "In my world the hero always defeats the villain, the boy always gets the girl, and cancer is no more," she said.

But perhaps her most lasting impact will lie with how she was able to penetrate the inner circle of A-list producers, for decades considered an all-boys club. In Mollie Gregory's 2002 book about women and Hollywood, "Women Who Run the Show," Ziskin had one of the most memorable quotes.

"Men have built the cities, made and defined the culture, interpreted the world. At no time in recorded history have women been culture-makers," she said. "Movies are arguably the most influential, important medium in the world. They have a tremendous cultural impact. Because women are now making movies, then women's ideas, philosophy, point of view will seep into that culture. And that's never happened in history. Ever, ever, ever. We can't even see the impact of that yet."


Laura Ziskin on the red carpet of the Stand up to Cancer event [Video]

Laura Ziskin will receive Producers Guild of America Visionary award

Photos: Notable deaths of 2011

— Steven Zeitchik and Nicole Sperling

 Photo: Laura Ziskin before the 2007 Academy Awards. Credit: Al Seib/Los Angeles Times


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