Saturday, October 23, 2010


Yes, Superman, who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond mortal bloggers.  Superman (1978) was on TV the other night.  I don't even remember what was late and I made it through about 25% of the movie.

For 1978, I think Christopher Reeve (1952 - 2004), and Margot Kidder (b. 1948) did a pretty good job.  With no CGI work, he flew on a wire and it looked pretty good.  I was amazed at the time that Marlon Brando (1924 - 2004) demanded top billing and a huge salary for such a small part.  Was he worth it?

For some of the smaller parts, everyone knows that Noel Neill (b. 1920) had a cameo.  She was the TV Lois Lane to George Reeves' (1914 - 1959) "Superman" and also in the serial.  You can also see Kirk Alyn (1910 - 1999) who played Superman in the serial release a few years earlier with Neill.  Alyn claims 61 titles on IMDb, and Neill is apparently still working after listing 79 titles.

Any big budget movie will have a large cast, so let's look at some of the interesting parts.  Chief Tug Smith was an Indian chief in Superman.  He has only six credits from 1968 to 1981.  I wonder what else occupied his time.

John Ratzenberger (b. 1947) shows up as a controller.  A few years later he is the mailman, Cliff Clavin, on "Cheers."  He went on to make many TV shows and do a lot of voice work.  If you hear his voice in an animated feature, you'll know it's John.

Paul Tuerpe is a Bit Actor with 81 titles listed.  He has no birth date listed, and no biography or picture on IMDb.  He was in all four Lethal Weapon movies, plus many others.  His last role listed was in 2006.

Can you place the name Marc McClure (b. 1957)?  Marc played Jimmy Olsen in Superman, which was his fourth movie.  He is really little more than an extra, but he has been in many good films, listing 64 titles on TV and in film.  Look for him in Used Cars (1980) with Kurt Russell (b. 1951), Back to the Future (1985) as Michael J. Fox's brother, Apollo 13 (1995) way down the cast list, That Thing You Do (1996) another Tom Hanks (b. 1956) film, Freaky Friday (2003) with Jamie Lee Curtis (b. 1958), and a bunch of good TV series' in addition to the rest of the Superman movies, and Supergirl (1984).

Even Rex Reed (b. 1938) has a cameo in revolving door at the Daily Planet building.  And I just touched the surface!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Richard Denning

I remember when I was a kid in the 1950s that my father would always warn me to avoid movies with Richard Denning (1914 - 1998).  Let's take a look at Denning's career.

Denning started acting in community theater in the 1930s and his first movie was Hold 'Em Navy in 1937 starring Lew Ayres (1908 - 1996).  He was in The Big Broadcast of 1938 with an all star cast.  The next year he was in Some Like it Hot, but the one with Bob Hope, not Marilyn who was only 13 years old at the time.

I saw an interesting title of a short film he made in 1939 called Television Spy, a fiction about the development of TV that was released the same year that TV was introduced to the public at the World's Fair.

Most of his films were not big hits, but he worked with some great stars, including Dorothy Lamour (1914 - 1996), William Holden (1918 - 1981), Buster Crabbe (1908 - 1983), and Barbara Stanwick (1907 - 1990), while starring in a few B-movies of his own.  But, movies with titles like Insurance Investigator (1951) are never going to be big hits.

Denning gets a few WWII movies in and then the sci-fi craze hits, bringing us Creature from the Black Lagoon and Target Earth in 1954.  There were other sci-fis in his filmography, but I won't go there!  I think those were the films my father was talking about.

A big hit was An Affair to Remember (1957) with Cary Grant (1904 - 1986) and Deborah Kerr (1921 - 2007).  Denning also did a lot of regular television work starting in the early 1950s with "Mr. and Mrs. North" also starring Barbara Britton (1919 - 1980).  He was in a series called "The Flying Doctor" (inspired by "The Flying Nun"?) that I have never seen.

Dunning's last film was I Sailed to Tahiti with an All Girl Crew in 1968, but not an all star cast.  He ended his acting career on a high note, as the governor on "Hawaii Five-0" after he basically had retired to Hawaii.  He was there anyway...why not work a little?

Never a big star, even by his own admission, Richard Denning is not an actor to avoid as my father suggested.  His movies can be campy or hokey, and perhaps some of them are dull, but they are a good way to pass a lazy afternoon.  In his own words, "I'm very grateful for a career that wasn't spectacular, but always made a good living or filled in 'in-between'..."

How about a Richard Denning Weekend on TCM?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Suggestions for Weekend Viewing

I have said that the movies of the 1930s and 1940s, especially westerns and detective movies, are filled with some of the best Bit Actors and Actresses.  Here are some suggestions for the next decade.

There were many transitional films being made in the 1950s.  Filmmakers were still using a lot of black and white film to help lower the budget.  There was a plethora of WWII movies, as the war ended only five years before.  Television was really getting started, and some actors were being drawn to it, while others who started in TV were trying their hand on film.

James Garner (b. 1928) has always been one of my favorite actors.  Other blogs will cover him, but let's look at his work from the early days. 

Garner started on the 95 tiles he has listed on IMDb in the 1955 - 1956 TV series, "Warner Brothers Presents."  That show rotated three story lines and had some regular characters for each story.  One of those stories was "Cheyenne" which went on to have it's own series.

His first movie was Toward the Unknown also in 1956, starring William Holden (1918 - 1981), about the early test pilot days of the space program.  Look for a six year old Jon Provost (b. 1950) in it, before he landed his major role as Timmy Martin on "Lassie."  This was Provost's sixth film after starting his career in acting at age two.

Also in 1956 Garner was in The Girl He Left Behind.  Listen to this cast...Tab Hunter (b. 1931), Natalie Wood (1938 - 1981), Jim Backus (1913 - 1989), Henry Jones (1912 - 1999), Alan King (1927 - 2004) and David Janssen (1931 - 1980).  There must have been some bit actors as well!

The next year, 1957, Garner was in Shoot-Out at Medicine Bend starring Randolph Scott (1898 - 1987); Bombers B-52 with Natalie Wood, Karl Malden (1912 - 2009) and Ephrem Zimbalist Jr. (b. 1918); and then in Sayonara starring Marlon Brando (1924 - 2004). 

In 1958 he gets star billing in Darby's Rangers.  In that one we also see Edd "Kooky" Byrnes (b. 1933) who worked with Garner in movies and on TV.  Byrnes has 82 titles on IMDb and is a worthy Bit Actor. 

Two more films wrap up Garner's work in the 1950s, Lafayette Escadrille (1958) also with Tab Hunter, and including a part for Will Hutchins (b. 1930), TV's "Sugarfoot."  Garner is uncredited in Lafayette Escadrille, and then he gets top billing again in Up Periscope in 1959.  Up Periscope also includes Edmond O'Brien (1915 - 1985), Alan Hale Jr. (1921 - 1990) before he was ship-wrecked on "Gilligan's Island," and football great Frank Gifford (b. 1930).

That's a lot of good work for one decade, and if you can find the movies, they are all good to watch.  Just pay attention to the little parts!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Michael Gross

More computer issues today, but it is still running!  A new computer must be in my future.  I have several Google ads on this blog that I am sure you can't miss, and they pay money.  My hit count has been rising, so I figured I'll put those funds toward a new computer.  A quick check of the savings Google has accrued for me shows the princely sum of $1.99...after only six months!  At that rate, I should be able to place my order within 250 years.

A word of advice to my readers.  If you want to write a blog, do it because you love the subject and love to write.  Don't expect to make any money!

Michael Gross (b. 1947) was also in Tremors (1990) with Fred Ward from yesterday's post.  He lived a survivalist lifestyle in the film with his wife, played by Reba McEntire (b. 1955).

Gross is best remembered as the father of Michael Keaton, played by Michael J. Fox (b. 1961), on "Family Ties."  Gross has 76 titles on his list of work, starting in 1976.

Most of his early work was on TV.  He made Big Business with Bette Midler (b. 1945), Lily Tomlin (b. 1939) and Fred Ward in 1988, and I imagine he was being noticed for his work on "Family Ties," which premiered in 1982.

It's interesting that he kept to TV for most of his work, even after tasting what it is like to make movies.  I wonder how those decisions are made, but I guess I'll never really know.  My career is a bit different!

Look for him in True Heart (1997) with Kristen Dunst (b. 1982).  That movie is about a brother and sister who crash land in Canada where they must rely on the help of a native and his bear.  (See what I mean about choices?)

Gross goes on to make several video releases of Tremors sequels, and also appears on "Tremors" on TV in the same role.  That's four movies and one season on TV, and it's enough to make you tremble.

It appears that Tremors was his high mark on film.  He still does well on TV after the last one, Tremors 4: The Legend Begins (2004).  At least, I hope its the last one.  But his movie work is not so hot.

An American in China (2008) with James Snyder, and Stay Cool (2009) with Winona Ryder (b. 1971) round out his released film work so far.  Not big hits, either one.  But, Michael Gross is talented, good looking, has a good voice, and is probably a safe bet for a casting director to look at.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fred Ward, Bit Actor

Yes, I put Fred Ward (b. 1942) squarely in the Bit Actor category.  He doesn't seem to get starring roles, but he is usually at the top of the cast list. 

He started out in 1973 in a few small parts in TV movies, then got a break in Escape from Alcatraz in 1979 starring Clint Eastwood.  He made a coupla movies working with Gary Busey (b. 1944), Jodie Foster (b. 1962) and Keith Carradine (b. 1949) before getting his big role as Gus Grissom (1926 - 1967) in The Right Stuff (1983).  He then was in two more hit movies, Silkwood and Uncommon Valor, released the same year. 

In 1985 he had the title role in Remo Williams: The Adventure Begins.  The adventure actually ended there as well, as no sequels were made, only a TV show which was the pilot for a series that was never made.  His co-star was Joel Grey (b. 1932) which may be part of the reason this action series didn't keep going.  Joel Grey in an action film?  Did they include singing and dancing?  An interesting note, Roddy McDowall (1928 - 1998) played the Joel Grey role on TV.

1990 and he has another good part, and one that shows off his versatility, in Tremors with Kevin Bacon (b. 1958).  Through the 1990s he has quite a few good (not great) movies, including Thunderheart (1992) and Chain Reaction (1996), then another big movie in 2002, Sweet Home Alabama

Ward also made an interesting mix of Hallmark Channel type films.  Movies like Birdseye (2002), Funky Monkey (2004), Feast of Love (2007), and The Wild Stallion (2009) seem to fit in this genre...wholesome, sometimes funny, family movies.  And there is nothing wrong with that, although the money isn't so good. 

He breaks that image in Armored (2009) starring Matt Dillon (b. 1964) and Jean Reno (b. 1948).  I think we will see Fred Ward well into his later years, just as we still see James Garner who is still working at 82 years old.  Fred is an exceptional Bit Actor.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Oscar Winners

To be nominated for an Oscar is always an indicator of how good a movie is.  Last night we watched  Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Clint Eastwood's look at the life (and death) of Japanese soldiers on that island during the attack.  The movie won an Oscar for best sound, and was nominated for best picture and two others.  It was a powerful movie and a worthy sibling to Flags of Our Fathers (2006) which covered the American side of that battle, and was nominated for two Oscars. 

Letters includes a large cast of mostly Asians/Japanese actors.  I looked through some of their filmographies and as I suspected, most of their work (pre-Letters) was done in either Japanese movies or relatively unknown other movies.  I suppose I could write about some of their work, but since I am not at all familiar with it (and you probably aren't either) there is no point.

Flags of Our Fathers has a huge cast.  The movie follows some of the flag raisers and their bond drive in the USA, so there was a need for many people in the cast.  With just a quick look I recognize Neal McDonough (b. 1966) from seeing him in "Band of Brothers" the WWII series from HBO. 

McDonough has 76 titles on IMDb and appears to have a permanent smile in his publicity pics.  He started acting in movies and TV simultaneously.  He played Lou Gehrig in the TV movie "Babe Ruth" and was in the 1994 remake of Angels in the Outfield.  He shows up in Star Trek: First Contact (1996) and is assimilated by the Borg.

Melanie Lynskey (b. 1977) has 41 tiles listed.  She started out at age 16 in movies, and played a princess in the 1998 Drew Barrymore (b. 1975) film Ever AfterEver After was a silly fairy tale that takes place in France and everyone has an English accent.  Lynskey grows up in Coyote Ugly (2000). 

There are many great bit parts in Flags, so please take a look at the full cast for yourself. 

I was also thinking about another Oscar winner, Leaving Las Vegas from 1995.  Nicholas Cage (b 1964) won for Best Actor, and the movie had three other nominations.  The full cast is again, quite long, considering how lonely the movie makes you feel. 

These three movies were all, to a certain extent, disturbing.  I am sure many other Oscar winners are similarly disturbing.  Perhaps that fact is what made them winners.  But without question, the Bit Actors are what made them great.  Even the players with foreign names who you may never see again.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Lassie Come Home

1943 was the first time Lassie appeared in film in Lassie Come Home.  I briefly mentioned Pal (1940 - 1958), the dog who played Lassie, in a post in July called Pete or Pal?

BTW, those dates for Pal are a bit suspect.  It is possible for a collie to live 18 years, but it is unusual.  I am not an expert on dogs, nor have I studied Pal, but I would like to know more.  I have a friend who is involved with a dog rescue group and he met the current Lassie a few years ago.

This was the 25th movie for a 15 year old Roddy McDowell (1928 - 1998) and only the second movie for a new Bit Actress, Elizabeth Taylor (b. 1932), who didn't stay in small parts very long.

In other roles we see Dame May Whitty (b. 1865 - 1948).  Dame Whitty only has 36 roles in her filmography, but they include three silents starting in 1914, then A Bill of Divorcement (1940), Suspicion (1941) and Gaslight (1944)...not bad!  Here is a woman who has seen the birth and first 50 years of movies, and she is only 18 years younger than Thomas Edison (1847 - 1931), inventor of motion pictures, who she outlived.

There were some famous names in Lassie Come Home.  Edmund Gwenn (1877 - 1959) also played Kris Kringle, Nigel Bruce (1895 - 1953) famous as Dr. Watson, Elsa Lanchester (1902 - 1986) the Bride Of Frankenstein, and Alan Napier (1903 - 1988) Batman's butler Alfred in the TV series.

And one last name, Arthur Shields (1896 - 1970).  Shields had 95 roles in film and on TV, which is about twice as many as his older brother, Barry Fitzgerald (1888 - 1961) who has 47 titles.  Look for Shields in Drums Along the Mohawk (1939), How Green was My Valley (1941), National Velvet (1944), The Quiet Man in 1952 with his brother, all the way up to "Bonanza," "Rawhide," "Wagon Train," "Maverick," and "Death Valley Days."

Buy the three movie pack so you get the sequels, Son of Lassie (1945) and Courage of Lassie (1946).