Three Hollywood Obits
Eddie Fisher passed away on Wednesday at age 82. He was initially known as a talented recording star, but his musical career was essentially killed by the arrival of rock and roll and the fallout after he dumped his wife Debbie Reynolds for Elizabeth Taylor, the widow of his recently deceased best friend Mike Todd. That scandal was the Brad-Angelina-Jennifer affair of its time. (Decades later, Reynolds and Taylor acted out a thinly disguised version of their story in a subplot of a TV movie.) These days, he was better known for fathering several actors, including Carrie Fisher, who later made some acerbic comments about his parenting.
Arthur Penn was 88 when he died yesterday. He directed Bonnie and Clyde, a film that elevated two rather dimwitted and undistinguished Depression-Era outlaws to undeserved hero status, but also caught the mood of a nation on the cusp of violent social change. He hadn’t directed a movie of any kind since 1989′s Penn and Teller Get Killed, and despite scoring another hit with his 1970 revisionist western Little Big Man, he never again approached Bonnie and Clyde‘s artistic or financial success. As early as his lethargic 1975 thriller Night Moves, you can see the rot setting in. He may have been a one-hit wonder, but when that one hit sells lots of tickets, wins Oscars, and sets off a wave of creativity in Hollywood, that’s pretty good.
Tony Curtis died yesterday. Early in his acting career, his melting good looks caused Hollywood to miscast him in historical epics. It wasn’t until a brief stretch in the 1950s that directors started recognizing his working-class New York background and using it. Some Like It Hot remains his best-known work (for good reason), and Spartacus remains a homoerotic classic, but I’d direct you to the lurid 1957 thriller Sweet Smell of Success, where he gave one of his best performances as a venal Broadway press agent. Curtis looks completely in his element as he pounds the pavement, desperately hustling to make entertainers think he has more clout than he does, while at the same time sucking up to Burt Lancaster’s theater-covering newspaper columnist who’s an out-of-control egomaniac. Like Fisher, Curtis was the father of a famous daughter (Jamie Lee Curtis). Also like Fisher, Curtis bogged down in some severe substance-abuse problems as the initial flush of his acting career wound down. Unlike Fisher, he recovered from them enough to keep busy as a TV actor in the 1970s and start an inoffensive career as a painter. Tony Curtis was 85.