Rewatching the original Ultraman a few years ago, I was struck by just how remarkable that original cast was. Maybe assembling the Science Patrol was like catching lightning in a bottle, because while the next three shows in the series assembled perfectly good casts of talented actors, none of them had the fun chemistry and individual, sparkling personalities as the first. When I wrote a little about Masanari Nihei in a 2017 post, I wondered about his post-Ultraman days. He struck me as being really talented, a great physical comedian who makes it all look easy and mastered double-takes and elongated faces, and I hope he had a really successful career beyond silly kids’ sci-fi. Masanari Nihei passed away last week from aspiration pneumonia. Our condolences to his family and friends.
We’re very sad to learn that Una Stubbs, who we know best around these parts as one of television’s all-time greatest villains, has passed away. Aunt Sally could manage to destroy Worzel Gummidge in a way that no other baddie, in children’s entertainment or grown-up teevee, could do to the heroes of their programs, and she did it on a regular basis. She broke his heart, routinely, stomped it completely flat. Unlike her supervillain peers, her grandiose schemes usually succeeded; this was a bad guy who usually won. Aunt Sally was mean, conniving, utterly unscrupulous, and just about the most selfish creature you’ve ever seen, and Una Stubbs was, by all accounts, absolutely not like that at all, an inspirational actress who inspired a thousand loving anecdotes. She was a familiar face on British television for decades, from light entertainment and game shows to sitcoms, including the long-running and influential Till Death Us Do Part. One of her last roles was as Miss Hudson in the BBC’s Sherlock. Our condolences to her friends and family.
The subject of VHS tape trading came up earlier today on a forum that I frequent, and I was reminded of just how awesome Stuart Damon’s fans from General Hospital were when they were looking for his appearances on ITC’s The Champions and copies of my old trade list found their way to somebody. I had some really great swaps with that crowd, memorable because it seemed like everybody else in that hobby was hell-bent on chaos. I guess Stuart Damon just attracted a better class of fan. He was on Hospital for an amazing thirty years, but around these parts, we’ll remember him for all the appearances and voiceovers he did for ITC in the sixties and seventies, a really fun actor I always enjoyed. Our condolences to his family and friends.
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.