It was with some small amount of shock that I read that the great Billie Hayes was 96 when she passed away last week, because she’d been convincingly playing women about the age of 96 since the mid-1950s. When she wasn’t playing an old hillbilly, she was, of course, the immortal Witchiepoo, whose first name was usually “Wilhelmina” when it wasn’t “Miss.” I don’t know that any performer has ever let the audience know that they were having such a blast being rotten more than Hayes; Witchiepoo was an incompetent tornado of anger and fury. Watching her bellow and clobber her nincompoop assistants is a joy unparalleled in television, and if I had a great big vulture in the house, I’d smack him with a magic wand right now in tribute to our fallen queen of evil. Our condolences to her family and friends.
We read some other very sad news yesterday. Actor Cliff Simon, best known as the recurring villain Ba’al in the second half of Stargate SG-1, was killed this week in a kiteboarding accident in Malibu, Caifornia. Simon brought a malevolent and energetic sparkle to the character, and made him easily my favorite among all of the program’s many recurring villains. He did several other guest star parts on American TV and hosted Into the Unknown for the Travel Channel last year. Our condolences to his friends and family.
In 1979, a very small company called Westchester got the North American rights to a five year-old Japanese cartoon series called Space Battleship Yamato, and rushed to get in on the science fiction boom where every TV station in America wanted something with laser guns on the air, fast. Pinching pennies, they cast non-union voiceover talent, and students who hoped to one day become voiceover talent, in New York and paid them fast without oncscreen credits. When the hyperviolent, planet-destroying Star Blazers premiered on UHF stations that September, it blew the minds of American kids who had never seen anything remotely like it.
Amy Howard, who was the voice of “Nova,” as the American script renamed her, remembered the job and, about sixteen years later, reached out to say hello to somebody with a Yamato web page. Now that the crowd who thrilled to Star Blazers – and Speed Racer and Battle of the Planets and Astro Boy and Gigantor – were old enough to run their own cons, she quickly found herself invited to do the rounds of anime conventions, often in the company of other veteran voice actors, like the late Peter Fernandez, shown above with Amy in 2008.
And it was at one of those cons that she struck up a conversation with my very old pal David Wilson. Three years later, they married and moved to her home in northern Virginia. Amy did another voice acting job for a Japanese property (The Irresponsible Captain Tylor in 1997), and she identified several other Blazers actors from the 1979 sessions so they could start making the rounds and meeting their fans. Amy and David were guests at seven or eight cons a year. She picked up year-old conversations from the sentence they left off, she kept crowds rivetted to funny industry stories, I don’t believe I ever once saw her without a smile on her face, and she kept my goofy old pal happy and out of too much trouble for twenty-five years. Goodbye, Amy, we’ll miss you a lot.
I am sorry to read that Geoffrey Palmer has passed away. I first noticed him in the sitcom Butterflies, which Atlanta’s PBS station showed in constant rotation in the late eighties, and soon enough noticed him in just about everything else. Equally comfortable as a guest star in dramas like Doctor Who or Doomwatch as taking a starring role in comedies like Reginald Perrin and As Time Goes By, he was simply one of those familiar faces that made me smile whenever he appeared on screen. Our condolences to his family and friends.
I was sad to read that Sean Connery has passed away. He was hugely entertaining as James Bond and Henry Jones Sr., and he also had a small but very memorable appearance in Time Bandits, Marie’s favorite film. I enjoyed him in just about everything I saw him in, which was a lot of movies. Our condolences to his family and friends.
Today, the heartbreaking news that we’ve lost the great Diana Rigg to cancer. Naturally, I was a fan since I was a teenager, and I really enjoyed watching her take over from Vincent Price as the host of PBS’s Mystery!. She got to play a diabolical mastermind in a very good 2013 episode of Doctor Who, which was only fair, since she’d spent the mid-sixties kicking the daylights out of the dozens of diabolical masterminds who threatened Avengerland. Our condolences to her family and friends.
Tonight, I read the absolutely gut-punching news that the talented actor Chadwick Boseman has passed away at far too young an age. He played Jackie Robinson and Thurgood Marshall and James Brown and T’Challa and I wish he could have made a hundred more movies. Our condolences to his family and friends.
Last week, the great character actor John Saxon passed away. We’ve seen him as a villain at least four times in this blog; if we were writing a broader blog about the film and television of the sixties through the eighties, we’d certainly see him many times more. He was regularly cast as villain, a cop, or a heavy, and if you’ve never seen him in Enter the Dragon, you really should. Our condolences to his family and friends.
COVID-19 has taken Tim Brooke-Taylor from us. This one really hurt. It broke my heart to tell our son that we’ve lost one of The Goodies, and so we looked for a smile in the legendary travel agent sketch from Marty, where Tim and Marty Feldman drive John Junkin insane. Tim also featured in At Last the 1948 Show and the radio series I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue for almost fifty years. Our condolences to his family and friends.
She guest starred in both Columbo and Doctor Who, and I honestly don’t believe that anybody other than Honor Blackman can claim that. She became internationally famous for her role as Pussy Galore in Goldfinger, and before that, she was knocking stuntmen unconscious as Cathy Gale in the second and third series of The Avengers. She was an icon of the sixties and stayed busy as an actress for many years after that. Our condolences to her family and friends.
I’m very sad to read that the wonderful character actor David Collings has passed away. An icon of cult TV, he starred in an Asimov adaptation on Out of the Unknown and was in Doctor Who three times. When the BBC dubbed the 1978 Japanese TV series Journey to the West as Monkey, Collings provided the voice of Monkey. (Or Son Goku or Alakazam or Jesse Dart or whatever that character is called in whatever iteration you’re watching.) But he’ll be best remembered as Silver, the devious and friendly technician who showed up in two Sapphire & Steel adventures and downright stole the show from the leads. Our condolences to his family and friends.