Suddenly, we are bidding farewell to some celebrities whom it seemed had been around forever and would go on forever.
Olivia DeHavilland, one of the last surviving veterans of Hollywood’s Golden Age, died Sunday at her home in Paris at 104. Last year, she was photographed riding her bicycle at 103. She noted the irony that she was the last living cast member of “Gone With The Wind” when her character of Melanie was so fragile that she was the only one who died in the film.
In addition to “Gone With The Wind,” her five-decade movie career included “The Adventures of Robin Hood” with Errol Flynn (the first big-budget feature in three-strip Technicolor, a year before “The Wizard of Oz”) and “The Heiress,” for which she won the Best Actress Oscar three years after winning it for “To Each His Own,” scoring two wins out of five career nominations. (One was for “The Snake Pit,”also the premise of one of my favorite obscure jokes, when after escaping being thrown into a pit of snakes, Bullwinkle the moose leans over the edge and says, “Goodbye, Olivia!”)
She also made history in a couple of other ways. In 1943, fed up with being forced to take mediocre roles, she sued Warner Brothers and won. The case resulted in a ban on long-term studio contracts that automatically renewed without the actors’ consent, which became known as “the DeHavilland Law.” And in the days when communists were trying to stealthily take power in Hollywood and called anyone who opposed them “fascists” (sound familiar?), she bravely threw out a pro-commie speech written for her by Dalton Trumbo and gave her own speech, denouncing communism. Read the full story here, it will make you respect her even more:
Also, on Saturday, Regis Philbin died at home of natural causes a month before his 89th birthday. He first came to national attention as the announcer/sidekick on Joey Bishop’s late night show that challenged (barely) Johnny Carson. From there, it was on to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Regis & Kathie Lee,” “Regis & Kelly” and countless other shows and talk show appearances.
Coincidentally, Regis died just a few weeks after the passing of longtime TV host Hugh Downs at 99.
Both Regis and Hugh made record albums: “An Evening With Hugh Downs” (1959) and four LPs by Regis, from “It’s Time For Regis” (1968) to 2009’s “Just You. Just Me” with his wife Joy. “The Regis Philbin Christmas Album” (2005) features Donald Trump on “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and an animated Trump appears in the Claymation video: https://youtu.be/U03Q83nl8-4
Regis also broke Downs’ Guinness World Record for the most hours spent on network TV (15,188). Regis was on national TV for about 17,000 hours. That would take being on TV for two hours a day five days a week, 52 weeks a year, for over 30 years. Blogger Mark Evanier recalls meeting Regis once at a Hollywood benefit about 10 years ago, where he happily talked, shook hands and posed for photos with everyone who asked. When Evanier told him that David Letterman must really love him to have him on so often, he replied:
"That's because I'm always available! Someone cancels, it's 'Call Regis!' and I'm there like a trained cocker spaniel! But you know what they say…showing up is 90% of everything! I may not be the funniest guy on TV but I'm really good at showing up."
Regis kept showing up for over 50 years, and we were always glad to see him. TV won’t be the same without him.
Actor John Saxon has also died at 83. Some of his most famous roles included the movies “Enter The Dragon” with Bruce Lee (Saxon was a martial artist himself), “Joe Kidd” and “Raid on Entebbe,” as well as TV roles on “Dynasty” and “Falcon Crest.”
Finally, British singer/guitarist Peter Green died Saturday in his sleep at 73. If you remember when Fleetwood Mac was a blues-rock band, that was under Green. He co-founded Fleetwood Mac but left in 1971, before it morphed into a pop-rock mega-group. Green was considered one of the best British blues guitarists ever. Even B.B. King said he had “the sweetest tone I ever heard. He was the only one who gave me the cold sweats.”