Don Rickles- The King of the Insult

Born May 8, 1926, Don Rickles grew into one of the country’s most famous comedians. Famous for his acidic wit, he went on from his humble Jackson Heights New York beginnings to playing the top stages both domestically and internationally. After graduating from high school, Rickles enlisted in the U.S. Navy and served on the USS Cyrene in World War II. He said later in an 2015 interview with the New York times, he was the class comedian of the ship. When he returned home after being honorably discharged in 1946, Rickles studied and graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. Out of desperation at not getting dramatic work, Rickles began doing stand up comedy. Rickles played anywhere he could- the Catskills and strip clubs. He began to make headway as an “insult” comedian. According to New York Magazine, there was a tradition within Jewish comedy of the “underdog” or the “nebbish”. Rickles fit neither of these molds as he was aggressive from the start. For example, his theme music was Spanish matador music, “La Virgen de la Macarena”. Rickles always said he pictured himself as the matador and the audience as the bull.

He got his big break when he performed for at “Murray Franklin’s” nightclub in Miami Beach in 1959. In the audience was Frank Sinatra and some of his friends blowing off steam. He made some snide comments to Sinatra, notably, “Make yourself at home Frank. Hit somebody.” Sinatra laughed so hard he fell off his chair. From that moment on, Rickles were championed by Sinatra and the Rat Pack, which led to work in Las Vegas. However, it was not smooth sailing and he spent a decade slugging it out in clubs before he came to national attention. In 1965, he made the first of his many Tonight Show appearances, lampooning the guests and Johnny Carson in his bombastic style to their delight.

This led to a television show, which didn’t last, called “The Don Rickles Show”. However, he did hit television success with “CPO Sharkey”, which aired from 1976 to 1978. In it, Rickles drew upon his experiences in the Navy. However, these were short lived and he made his bread and butter on the stage doing stand up. He did experience cinematic success late in life in “Casino” with Robert De Niro and as Mr Potato Head in the “Toy Story” series. He never gave up performing, and continued to make concert and television appearances even after a leg infection in 2014 affected his ability to walk. At the age of 81, he was still performing at least 75 nights a year. However, his health finally got the better of him, and he passed of kidney failure at his home in Los Angeles, CA on April 6, 2017 at the age of 90.

ER

P.S.

Just wanted to add, we didn’t get to see much of Don’s work over here in the UK, however I personally remember him as Staff Sgt Crapgame in one of my favourite films ‘Kelly’s Heroes’. The role played to his strengths of “insult comedy”, one of the things he was best known for.
Sad loss to the world of comedy.

Phoebe.

The Death of Thomas Ince

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Thomas Ince was a member of the early Hollywood elite and considered the “Father of the Western”.  He was also the man who made Mary Pickford’s career, dubbing her “America’s Sweetheart”.  He was the most successful producer in 1924, and worked out of a 20,000-acre studio called ‘Inceville”.  However, his death is one of the biggest mysteries in old Hollywood.

Ince was invited to celebrate his 42nd birthday aboard the luxury yacht of William Randolph Hearst.  Hearst owned ten of the largest newspapers in the US.  On the side, he cleaned up money from the gold, silver and copper mines he had inherited.  The man was swimming in money.  Hearst had been carrying on an affair with actress Marion Davies since she was 14 years old.  He was trying to butter up Ince to let him rent his studios to make Davies’ movies.  Hence the birthday invite to cruise on the Oneida.  

Ince wasn’t the only guest on the Oneida, however.  Famous actor, Charlie Chaplin was also invited along with Aileen Pringle, Seena Owen, Theodore Kosloff, Elinor Glyn and several of Davies’ sisters.  Noted gossip columnist Louella Parsons was also present.  This is a guess as no one really knows the complete or accurate guest list for that weekend to this day.  All we know for sure were there were Ince, Chaplin, Davies, Hearst and Dr Daniel Carson Goodman, a licensed but non practicing physician in Hearst’s employ.

The choice of Chaplin is extremely odd as the New York Daily Times had reported Chaplin was paying “ardent attention” to Davies.  Hearst was insanely jealous and had Davies watched at all times to ensure she was not having an affair.  He was right, but that is besides the point.  Perhaps Hearst was thinking he could catch Davies and Chaplin together or perhaps confront them both.  Who knows?  What is known is the Oneida left Los Angeles on Saturday November 15, 1924.  Ince did not join the party until that Sunday as he had a premier to attend.  What happened Sunday night is a mystery.

The official story was that Ince had a bout of stomach problems and was taken off the yacht that night.  All of the other guests departed at San Diego and Dr Daniel Carson Goodman escorted Ince to the train home.  By the time they reached Del Mar, Ince was worse so they left the train and went to a hotel where Goodman called Ince’s wife, Nell and another doctor.  Ince was then moved to his home in Benedict Canyon, where he passed away on November 19, 1924 of heart failure.  A local coroner signed an incomplete death certificate and Ince’s body was cremated before an autopsy could be performed.  Both of these actions were against California law.  However, as we have seen with previous posts, coroners at that time were political appointees and did not even have to be doctors.  (Please see these posts for more on the reform of the coroner’s office and CSI methods:  http://www.historynaked.com/frances-glessner-lee-dioramas-death/ and http://www.historynaked.com/chuck-norris-prohibition/ )  

However, much of this story has been disputed throughout the years.  One tantalizing story is that Chaplin sent a telegram to his long time valet Toriachi Kono to meet him at the quay in San Diego.  He claims he saw Ince being removed from the yacht into a an ambulance, and later told his wife it looked as if Ince’s clothes were wet and there was a visible bullet hole in his head.  Also, the morning headlines of the non-Hearst Los Angeles papers were “Producer shot on Hearst Yacht!!!”  These headlines were ignored and later all traces of the papers disappeared.  The Hearst papers ran a competing headline “Special Car Rushes stricken Ince Home from Ranch” to reinforce the official story.  Hearst originally did not even want to acknowledge anyone had been on the Oneida that weekend, but Ince was seen boarding her on Sunday so he had to backpedal.  Everyone else backpedaled as well claiming they weren’t on the yacht either, with Louella Parsons claiming she wasn’t even in California that weekend.  They were never questioned by the police or the District Attorney despite an investigation opened- not into murder but into illegal alcohol consumption which might have caused Ince’s “stomach problems”.  Eventually, Chester C. Kempley, the District Attorney of San Diego stated, “I am satisfied that the death of Thomas H. Ince was caused by heart failure as a result of an attack of indigestion….as there is every reason to believe that the death of Ince was due to natural causes, there is no reason why an investigation should be made.”  However, not many people truly believed that.

Ince, Chaplin, Davies, Hearst
Ince, Chaplin, Davies, Hearst

Theories have abounded that Ince was shot by Hearst.  Japanese servants aboard the ship reported Hearst shot Ince after catching he and Davies in flagrante delicto on the deck.  One theory says Chaplin and Davies were talking below deck and Hearst saw them and became insanely jealous.  He went to his room to retrieve his famous diamond studded revolver, which he usually used to shoot seagulls, and headed down stairs.  Chaplin had left by this time leaving his hat.  Ince found Davies alone and was speaking with her, and had put Chaplin’s hat on as a joke.  Hearst shot Ince in the back of the head by mistake thinking it was Chaplin.  Another theory is Hearst shot at Chaplin and missed, and shot Ince in the head through a porthole.  Yet another theory says Ince was breaking up a fight between Chaplin and Hearst and was shot in the scuffle.  All of these stories place Hearst’s finger directly on the trigger.  

Hearst must have been involved in something as he took great care to hush up the whole affair.  Ince’s wife, Elinor, was rewarded with the luxurious Chateau Elysee Apartments.  Elinor Ince lived there until her death in 1950, and was the landlady to such famous tenants as Clark Gable, Carole Lombard and Errol Flynn.  Louella Parsons was rewarded for the story she didn’t write by becoming the chief movie critic for the entire Hearst syndicate of papers.  No matter who she attacked or what she wrote, Parsons had the backing of Hearst, and she became the most hated woman in Hollywood.  As for Hearst, no one was allowed to say the name Ince in his presence, and if anyone did he turned white as a ghost.  It was said by D.W. Griffith years after Thomas Ince’s death, “All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince’s name. There’s plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big to touch.”

The death of Thomas Ince will always remain a mystery.  We do not even know where his remains are.  Witness have reported to seeing Ince’s ghost climbing the stairs in the main administration building towards the executive screening room in Culver Studios.  It is no wonder he does not rest in peace.

ER

Mary Tyler Moore

Tmary-tyler-moore-1980-rolling-stone-interview-9897a1f0-3f90-4b53-82e7-0e8273ba4034he New York Times said she “incarnated the modern woman on TV”.  That is about the best summary I can come up with for this legendary woman.  I can remember as a small child watching my parents watch her antics on the Mary Tyler Moore Show (yes, I am that old) and loving her wit and her grace, without really knowing exactly what that meant.

She was born on December 29, 1936 in Brooklyn, New York and was the eldest of three children.  The family moved to Los Angeles when Mary was eight where she studied acting and dancing.  She got her start in commercials because of her “lovely legs” as “Happy Hotpoint”, a dancing elf, in the mid50’s.  Her big break was in 1961 when she was cast as Laura Petrie, the wife on the Dick Van Dyke Show.  Her talent as a comedian won her Emmys in 1964 and 1966.  When the show ended its run in 1966, Mary focused on musical theater and movies.  It was not until 1970 that she hit big on television again.

With her husband, Grant Tinker, they produced the Mary Tyler Moore Show through their company MTM Enterprises.  I’m sure you remember their logo with the mewing cat in place of the roaring MGM lion.  It’s one of my first TV memories.  Mary produced, wrote and starred in the groundbreaking series about changing attitudes about women in the workplace.  With an all star cast including familiar names such as Ed Asner Gavin MacLeod, Ted Knight, Betty White, Valerie Harper and Cloris Leachman, the show tackled issues such as the wage gap.  Mary’s presence as an anxious but sisterly presence soothed some of the worries about women in the workplace.  The show became a cultural zeitgeist and Mary Richards, Mary’s character, became a feminist icon.  The Mary Tyler Moore Show won numerous Emmys including several for Mary for Outstanding Continued Performance by an Actress.  The show aired it’s final episode in 1977, but the production company went on to produce many other shows.  Hits such as The Bob Newhart Show, Tax, Hill Street Blues, Remington Steele, Cheers are among the notables they were responsible for bringing to the small screen.mary-tyler-moore_from-gams-to-glitz_hd_768x432-16x9

After the Mary Tyler Moore Show ended, Mary went back to film.  She received an Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of an emotionally guarded mother in Ordinary People.  Personally, she endured tragedy as her only son, Richard, died from an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound in 1980.  Around this time, she checked into the Betty Ford Clinic for treatment for alcoholism  This was a disease which her own mother and sister struggled with as well.  She also struggled with diabetes, which caused heart and kidney problems as well as sight loss in later years.  In 2011, Mary had a benign tumor removed from her brain, but was well enough to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2012.

Mary was a devout vegetarian as well as an outspoken advocate for animal welfare.  She passed on January 25, 2017 from complications from pneumonia.  Although she did many roles in her storied career, I like many others will always remember her as the iconic figure depicted in the opening credits on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and enshrined in a statue in downtown Minneapolis.  Head tipped back, huge smile and throwing her hat in the air.  You’re gonna make it after all.

ER

Carrie Fisher

Photo credit-  Epicstream.com
Photo credit- Epicstream.com

This year has taken a lot out of us as a culture. Many of our most beloved icons have been taken from us, the face of the world is changing drastically, and more and more we are faced with truths that are difficult to accept. It seems almost trivial to say that the death of one person represents the culmination of the whole year to me, but that is my burden to bear and my truth to share, and your choice if you wish to keep reading. My guess is if you do, you might feel the same way, or at least are able to understand where I am coming from. What follows may not be the article you wanted, but it’s the one I need to write.

You want a list of facts and dates? Go read the Wikipedia page [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carrie_Fisher]. Better yet, go watch her one woman documentary standup comedy THE TRUTH IS OUT THERE show, Wishful Drinking. If you want an honest and entertaining affirmation of Carrie Fisher’s life, keep reading.

Carrie Fisher was important to me. Not because she was Princess Leia (though that was how I discovered her) not because she was a feminist icon (though she entirely was) but because she was real… people do not talk much about mental health. The subject is bizarrely taboo in most “polite” circles but it is a very real thing. Anyone who tells you differently is lying or kidding themselves.

But, to quote the lady herself: “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that is completely unacceptable.” – Carrie Fisher, Wishful Drinking

Carrie did a lot of work in Hollywood. Actress, screenwriter, singer, wife of Paul Simon, lover of Harrison Ford and PRINCESS FRICKING LEIA. I’m sorry, ask any male with any kind of heterosexual tendency what their fantasies are and gold bikini Leia appears somewhere on that list. It wasn’t just that she was sexy and gorgeous and talented, it was that she was a strong, self-confident woman. She was a damn self-rescuing princess! She inspired little princesses to pick up swords (or blasters, whatevs) and slay their own dragons, and she inspired young princes to treat those little princesses with some damn respect.

When she got older and news of her various addiction and mental health issues came out, she owned it. She acknowledged it. She moved past it. She JOKED ABOUT IT. That takes style, class, and a sense of humor like you wouldn’t believe.

I cannot believe she is gone.

We love you Carrie Fisher.

But you knew that already.

AG

Zsa Zsa Gabor

mte4mdazndewnzc0odiwmzy2Vivacious actress and socialite, Zsa Zsa Gabor was famous for her take no crap attitude and numerous marriages.  

Born in Budapest, Hungary on February 6, 1917, Sari Gabor was the middle daughter of Vilmos and Jolie Gabor.  Jolie was the heiress to a European jewelry business and a Vilmos was a soldier.  She had two sisters, Eva and Magda, and they all lived a luxurious life in Budapest complete with servants, vacations and expensive boarding schools.  Sari began calling herself “Zsa Zsa” at an early age, and the pet name stuck.  She and her sisters were all blonde, lovely and known on the social circuit.  They were rather like the Kardashians of the early 20th century.

After a stint in a Swiss boarding school, Zsa Zsa was discovered by operatic tenor Richard Tauber.  He invited the 13 year old Zsa Zsa to sing in his new operetta Der Singende Traum or The Singing Dream.  From there she spent time at the Vienna Acting Academy and made her stage debut.  There was some controversy as in 1936, she was crowned Miss Hungary.  Her crown and title were taken away as it was found she had lied about her age.  Not long after she married the first of her nine husbands, Burhan Asaf Belge.  Unusually for the time, Zsa Zsa proposed to him.  However, the marriage was not meant to last and the couple broke up in 1941.

In 1941, the Gabor sisters hit the US.  Eva was already there living with her husband and soon Zsa Zsa and her mother joined them.  There she met hotel magnate, Conrad Hilton, and the two embarked on a passionate affair.  Zsa Zsa would claim later the millionaire offered her $20,000 to go to Florida with him the night they met.  Is that what the kids are calling it these days?  Zsa Zsa refused that indecent proposal, but the pair were married four months later on April 10,1942.  This marriage didn’t last either and the two split in 1946 after having a daughter, Francesca.

Marriages came and went in the glamourous Zsa Zsa’s life.  She once quipped, “I’m a great housekeeper — every time I get a divorce, I keep the house.”  She also quipped, “I have learned that not diamonds but divorce lawyers are a girl’s best friend.” When not getting married, Zsa Zsa was also reported to have had affairs with Porfirio Rubirosa, the Dominican playboy, and with Rafael Trujillo Jr., the son of the Dominican dictator.  Other affair rumors include dalliance with Sean Connery, Richard Burton, Frank Sinatra and even Henry Kissinger.

In between marriages and affairs, she did have an acting career making her movie debut in 1952’s “Lovely to Look At”.  She also appeared in “We’re Not Married!” with Ginger Rogers and Fred Allen and in “Moulin Rouge” with Jose Ferrer.  She even appeared in Orson Welles noir classic, “Touch of Evil”.  She also appeared as a villain in the 1960’s version of “Batman” and in “Gilligan’s Island”.  However, she was mainly famous for being famous as the saying goes.  Zsa Zsa’s name became synonymous with the jet setting lifestyle as she appeared with jewels, purse dogs and a habit of calling everyone “dahlink”.  In the 1963 song “Donna the Prima Donna”, Dion sang “She wants to be like Zsa Zsa Gabor.”  Everyone knew that meant Donna liked the high life.  2a9adde94f1836e6b5c74fe2f1172e18

Her multiple marriage and dramatic personality put her in the papers for more than just high living.  Zsa Zsa had her share of scandals.  There was a long standing feud with actress Elka Sommer.  Sommer later sued Zsa Zsa and her current husband for comments they made to a German publication and won damages.  Thank God there was no twitter at that time.  The most infamous incident was in 1989 when she slapped a police officer during a traffic stop.  She was sentenced to three days in jail for the assault.  Proving that she did have a sense of humor, Zsa Zsa parodied the incident in the “The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear,” the film version of “The Beverly Hillbillies” and an episode of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”.

Her last husband was Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt.  This guy is a story in himself.  He claimed to be a prince or Duke of Saxony, however, the New York Times reports he was born Hans Robert Lichtenberg, the son of a police officer.  He changed his name to mirror the title of Princess Marie Auguste of Anhalt, the Duchess of Saxony, after the lady adopted him as an adult.  Zsa Zsa and Frédéric were married in 1986, and the two were together until the end of her life.  Together the tw
o of them fought with Sommer again as well as Zsa Zsa’s daughter, Francesca Hilton.  They accused her of larceny and fraud.  Sadly, Zsa Zsa lost a significant portion of her fortune in the Bernie Madoff scandal in 2009.

Her later life was plagued with ill health.  She had a car crash and numerous falls resulting in broken bones and even a coma in 2002.  Then she had a stroke and a blood clot and had to have her leg amputated.  She finally passed this week of heart failure at the age of 99.

ER

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