Sunday, February 23, 2014

My Top 14: Entertainers Who Are 80+

When I heard the news about Shirley Temple Black passing away recently, I began to think about other celebrities who are, well, um, you know... old. And because I love lists, I decided to make a list of entertainers/celebrities who are over 80, who are still with us. (So, obviously, not Shirley Temple Black. R.I.P.)

I started making this list on February 11th, 2014, and on February 12th, one of the people on it died.*


DISCLAIMERS: If any of the following people die within the next few days or weeks, I didn't have anything to do with it. It was just an unlucky coincidence.

And about the rankings -- the numbers below are no reflection on how "important" I think the person is, or how good an entertainer they are, or anything beyond this: They mean something to me. So don't hurt me. Let's do this.

Note: Updated 3/17/19. Rest in peace, Richard Erdman.


Maureen O'Hara
b. 1920
(October, 2015: Passed away at age 95) 

One of my favorite movies as a kid was The Parent Trap, in which Maureen played the mom. She was so beautiful. Others may remember her from Miracle On 34th Street, McLintock!, or How Green Was My Valley. Maureen disappeared from the acting scene for nearly twenty years, but made a minor comeback in the 90s, including a starring role in the much-acclaimed TV-movie The Christmas Box, in which she plays an old lady who helps a young dad figure out what's important in life. 

Betty White
b. 1922

Known for her many TV roles, Betty White has been stealing scenes and splitting sides since the 40's. Still going strong as of this writing, Betty recently starred on the TV series Hot In Cleveland, but is probably best known for playing Rose on Golden Girls. But I hardly ever watched Golden Girls. I know, I know... but I was just a kid when it was on. Still, I've seen her in other things over the years, including her hilarious turn on Community in 2010. Also, she's an advocate for animals, so I gotta love her for that!

Debbie Reynolds
b. 1932
(December, 2016: Passed away at age 84)

From Singin' In The Rain (1952) to In & Out (1997) and beyond, Debbie has been a force of high-spirited entertainment for more than 60 years. She voiced Charlotte in the 1970s cartoon classic Charlotte's Web, which I grew up on (of course, not having any idea at the time that she was famous.) Reading up on her years later, I learned she was married to Eddie Fisher (they had daugher Carrie, aka Princess Leia, in 1956) but that he left her for Elizabeth Taylor, citing true love (ha!). Well, who cares about them, you're the only one making this list, Debbie! (I know you care.)

James Hong
b. 1929

James Hong may be the go-to guy any time any movie or TV show needs an older Asian dude, but it's for a good reason -- he's super good at what he does. James came to my attention appearing on many of my favorite TV shows over the years, including The Pretender, Lois & Clark, The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr., Friends... and only about a hundred others since 1955! He's even spry enough to still attend fan conventions -- I saw him last year at Wizard World in Portland. Not just a "hey, it's that guy!" anymore, James Hong is now a (somewhat underrated) Hollywood legend.

Nancy Olson
b. 1928

When I was a kid, if you appeared in one kids' movie, you were just all right. But if you appeared in two, you were officially awesome. And Nancy Olson was in both Pollyanna and The Absent-Minded Professor, so, of course, I thought she was the cat's pajamas. One of the last surviving actresses from Pollyanna, Nancy earns a place on my list for being an icon from my childhood. (Which is not to say I don't still watch Pollyanna often, because I totally do.)

John Williams
b. 1932

Superman, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Harry Potter, Hook.

Yes, Hook.

John Williams is one of the most well-known film composers in the world, and even though some people will argue that he tends to re-use his own music, I challenge you to find a prolific composer who doesn't. Besides, even though I may slightly prefer the work of James Newton Howard and Alan Silvestri overall, I can't deny that John Williams' work is the most recognizable of any composer currently working today. (Plus, neither of them is over 80, so...)

8. James Tolkan
b. 1931

So, first of all: Mr. Strickland. I loved Back to the Future growing up, and heck, I still love it, and you can't help but love Mr. Strickland. Appearing in all three films in the franchise (in the third, as Mr. Strickland's ancestor, Marshal Strickland), James Tolkan/Mr. Strickland reminded us that we, no matter what we do, are slackers.

A dozen years later, James showed up on The Pretender, which had become one of my favorite shows. The double-length episode he appeared in would, coincidentally, become one of my favorite episodes. And so Mr. Strickland, uh, I mean James Tolkan, goes down in my book as being immensely cool.

Dick Van Patten
b. 1928
(June, 2015: Passed away at age 86)

I never watched Eight Is Enough (on which Dick Van Patten played the dad), but growing up, I knew of him from his small role in Freaky Friday and from his guest appearence on Lois & Clark in 1994. A few years ago, when I found out he'd written a book (Eighty Is Not Enough) I checked it out and really enjoyed it. The man has led a fascinating life, and he seems genuine and sweet.

Sean Connery
b. 1930
(October, 2020: Passed away at age 90) 

Sean Connery may be retired now, but his past speaks for itself: James Bond. Indiana Jones's dad. Surprise cameos in Kevin Costner movies that send me through the roof. And that accent! It's beautiful. He's awesome. Long live Sean Connery.

 James Earl Jones
b. 1931

James Earl Jones and Sean Connery could have a badassery contest, and I really don't know who'd win. But let's talk about James. The man's career has spanned television, film, stage, and, of course, voiceover work (he's both Darth Vader and Mufasa (Darthfasa!)) Other JEJ credits include The Sandlot, Field Of Dreams, and at least five episodes of Mathnet. And if you don't know what Mathnet is, just... go.

  Angela Lansbury
b. 1925

All right, so I love Beauty and the Beast, and Angela having played Mrs. Potts, well, she automatically gets a spot on this list. But I was well aware of Angela Lansbury growing up, sitting in on the old folks' viewings of Murder, She Wrote and catching her in Bedknobs and Broomsticks. I, personally, would love to sit down and chat with Angela Lansbury over a spot of tea.

Dick Van Dyke
b. 1925

Dick Van Dyke first came to my attention playing Bert in Mary Poppins. Some years later, my parents & I watched him on his long-running TV series Diagnosis Murder. (They probably remembered  him from The Dick Van Dyke Show (1961-66)). With his long career of being funny and charming, I can't help but hope that my favorite chimney sweep/sidewalk-chalk artist/kite seller/mystery-solving doctor never goes away.

Alan Young
b. 1919
(May, 2016: Passed away at age 96)

Mr. Ed was before my time, but DuckTales (in which Alan voiced Scrooge McDuck) came at exactly the right time for me to appreciate Mr. Young's talent. I also grew up watching Mickey's Christmas Carol and have seen The Time Machine several times. A few years ago, I found out he'd written a memoir, Mr. Ed and Me (later updated to Mr. Ed and Me and More), which I read, and which I loved. Like Dick Van Patten, Alan's memoir is interesting and funny and just a great read. He's written another book about show business, too, which I'm about to read. And perhaps the coolest thing of all? He voiced Scrooge McDuck in last year's video game DuckTales: Remastered! (Which I totally bought, you know I did.) And you know that adorable Scottish accent? He's still got it.

  Beverly Cleary
b. 1916
(March, 2021: Passed away at age 104)

Oh my freaking goodness, if this woman ever dies, I'm going to cry my eyes out. (ETA: WAHHH.) Even though she hasn't written anything in years, her past work is more than enough to put her at #1.

Reasons I Love Beverly Cleary

1. Ramona Quimby
First appearing as a minor (but hilariously naughty) character in the Henry Huggins books, Ramona soon branched out into a series of her own, and became one of the most relatable, sympathetic heroines in kid literature. She had fears -- of the usual things like dogs and the dark, but also of deeper things, like her parents' happiness and whether or not anyone loved her. She struggled to understand the adults in her life and often found things confusing and unfair. She was every kid, put into typewritten form.

2. Leigh Botts
Beverly Cleary won the Newbery Award for Dear Mr. Henshaw in the 80's, and for good reason -- it is excellent. So is its lesser-known sequel, Strider. Cleary captures the trials and angst of a boy who, over the course of the two books, goes from being a naive little kid, writing to his favorite author, to navigating high school and the world of girls.

3. A Girl From Yamhill and My Own Two Feet
Beverly Cleary's two memoirs are so vibrant, so compelling, so wonderful, that I've read them both multiple times. She was born in rural Oregon at the tail end of World War I. Later, her family moved to the suburbs, where they managed to make ends meet during the depression. In the second book, Beverly is off to college, then taking her first job, and meeting her future husband. Never dull, full of lively descriptions, and teeming with interesting glimpses into the lives of those in the early 20th century, these two memoirs show us that Mrs. Cleary wasn't just a children's book writer. She was a writer.

* * * * * * *

So that's my Top 14. You're probably thinking, hey, what about ---? Well, here's a list of some other people who are also 80+ and cool:

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)
Richard Sherman (1928-)
Fyvush Finkel (1922-2016)
Roy Dotrice (1923-2017)
 Ivy Bethune (1918-2019)
Al Molinaro (1919-2015)
Carol Channing (1921-2019)
Cloris Leachman (1926-2021)
Eva Marie Saint (1924-)
Lauren Bacall (1924-2014)
Ruby Dee (1922-2014)
June Lockhart (1925-)
Richard Erdman (1925-2019)
Katherine Helmond (1929-2019)
June Foray (1917-2017)
Ellen Albertini Dow (1913-2015)
Barbara Hale (1922-2017)
Robert Duvall (1931-)
William Goldman (1931-2018)
  James Garner (1928-2014)
Kirk Douglas (1916-)
Noel Neill (1920-2016)
Ed Asner (1929-)
Jerry Hardin (1929-)
Glynis Johns (1923-)
Florence Henderson (1934-2016)
Christopher Plummer (1929-)
Marsha Hunt (1917-)

Jean Marsh, Maggie Smith & Judi Dench were all 79 when I made this list.

*I started this list on February 11th, 2014, and before I could publish it, my original #13, Sid Caesar, died. :(

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Book Review: Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #4 - Baby Sitters' Island Adventure

Somewhere along the line, the Baby-Sitters Club Super Specials got weird. 

In the beginning, the Super Specials were all about these fun, but pretty believable, vacations or school trips the baby-sitters took. They went to the Bahamas (sure, fine, two of them went as paid mother's helpers and zillionaire Watson Brewer paid for the others to go). Then they went to summer camp. Then a school trip to a winter's lodge (slightly less believable, but I guess it could happen that an entire school gets invited to another state to spend the week skiing and throwing snowballs.) In later books, they went to places like New York (but hey, Stacey's dad did live there) and California (Dawn's dad lived there), Sea City and Shadow Lake. As the series began winding down, they went to Hawaii, on a cross-country road trip, and even to Europe.

Keep in mind that during every one of these excursions, except perhaps for the first one, the girls were in the eighth grade.

When I was in eighth grade, I think my family maybe went camping. Once.

As a kid reading these books, I thought the wild adventures the baby-sitters had were awesome. But as I got older, I began to have less and less patience for them. I always thought it was because the Super Specials were getting dumber. Now I think it was because I was getting older and less tolerant. The books weren't getting dumber; I was getting wiser.

Because when I was nine years old, Super Special #4, Baby-Sitters' Island Adventure, was the most amazing, incredible, fantastic novel of our modern era.

And now... I read it and have to laugh.

Okay, I do have to give this book credit. It is fairly well-written, which is more than I can say for New York, New York!, Super Special #6. But it's still pretty goofy. It was as if the author really wanted to write a survival/Gilligan's Island-type book, but instead of putting original characters in it, she selected two familiar, but still innocent, thirteen-year-old baby-sitters and four of their little friends and marooned them. And while the island/survival story is as dramatic as it can be (for being a G-rated book), the other characters' stories are a bit... well....


In fact, I'd like to talk about the side stories first and get them out of the way, but they don't make a lot of sense without having some context about the A Plot, so we'll start with that:

Claudia Kishi and Dawn Schafer are suddenly all about taking sailing lessons. They get really good at sailing and decide to have a race. The race ends up being a tie, so they agree to have a rematch. They are so good at sailing that their instructors tell them they can now sail without any adult accompaniment (RED FLAG) just as long as they're not sailing alone. The girls think it would be fun to race to Greenpoint Island, off the Long Island sound, and have a picnic lunch there. Since Dawn's brother Jeff will be visiting soon, Dawn wants to include him. To keep things fair, Claudia endeavors to choose a companion of her own, and is encouraged by Jessi to take along eight-year-old Becca (Jessi's sister). Then Becca tells her friend Haley Braddock about the race, and she wants to go, too. Once again, the "teams" are uneven, so for the fourth person they decided to drag along a preschooler, Jamie Newton.

And somehow, every single parent of every child involved is on board with this plan. Jessi & Becca's parents are even leaving town for the weekend, leaving Becca and the girls' baby brother in Jessi's competent overnight care. (Jessi is 11 years old. When I first read this book I just thought, Wow, Jessi is so cool. Now I think, Wow, her parents need to be reported.) Simpler times, friends... simpler times.

So the big boat race begins mid-day Saturday, but halfway to Greenpoint Island, a storm comes up, and one of the boats starts filling with water. Claudia, Dawn and the 4 kids (Jeff, Haley, Becca, and Jamie) wind up on the wrong island and have no idea where they are. They find shelter, begin rationing their food, and make a camp fire.

Meanwhile, back in Stoneybrook, their friends and family members begin to worry. Claudia & Dawn & the kids should've been back by now! A massive search effort begins. The boat that filled with water and got wrecked is found drifting. The other boat, which the girls neglected to pull far enough inland, has floated away and returned to Stoneybrook completely empty. Reporters are everywhere. Searchers are hopeful. Friends of the "disaster victims" are in tears.

When she realizes her sister has not returned in a timely manner, Jessi decides to start calling people on her list of emergency numbers. I don't know why she doesn't just call her parents, who have left town. I mean, even without cell phones, wouldn't they have left another num-- OH WELL -- Jessi phones her Aunt Cecelia, who comes running. Cecelia is described as being a total meanie, but as far as I can see, she doesn't do anything worse than chastise Jessi and her parents for being irresponsible, which, considering the circumstances (11-year-old left at home for 2 days with younger siblings) actually kinda makes sense. You tell em, lady!

Mary Anne is a basketcase, because right before the sailing race, she told Dawn she never wanted to see her again, all because Dawn neglected to give her a phone message from Boyfriend Logan, which resulted in Mary Anne and Logan having a petty fight. Says Mary Anne:

"You know what? I wish I never had to see you again. I wish you would get out of my life -- forever."

 Now that Dawn is missing, Mary Anne is convinced that her cutting words caused the accident/island adventure/storm/whatever, and she's so upset, she can't even bring herself to help search. I really don't like Mary Anne in this book.

Kristy and her softball-playing Krushers are gearing up for a big game against Bart's Bashers. Kristy liiiikes Bart. But after Dawn and Claudia disappear, Kristy wants to cancel the game to help search for them, and Bart thinks Kristy is being a chicken about the big game. Later, Bart apologizes, but tells Kristy that sometimes she exaggerates and that he doesn't always known when she's telling the truth. So Kristy agrees with him and vows to be better in the future.

Stacey is in New York visiting her dad when she learns that her best friend Claudia has gone missing. She begs her dad to let her return to Stoneybrook to help search, but her dad says pish posh, I'm sure Claudia's fine, and he doesn't get to see Stacey that often, oh and also he has tickets to an expensive play that evening, so dammit, young lady, you are staying here. Stacey is pissed.

"I'll get dressed," I said. I bet my lips were white. That's how mad I was. As soon as Dad left my room, I closed the door. I'm sure my father thought I just wanted the privacy, but I was closing him out.

Wow, Stacey, that's... rough?

On Monday, when she finally escapes New York, Stacey writes her father an I'm-upset-with-you letter, which she sends to him to tell him what's what. They work things out. It's all good.

Mallory... doesn't do much. She hosts an Emergency BSC meeting in her bedroom, where there are only four members present (two are lost, and Stacey is in New York) and they all sit around crying. Thank you for your help, Mallory. We all value you! Just kidding. Her family, who I guess is also into boating all of a sudden, take out some kind of schooner to help search for the missing kids.

On the island, the kids worry and fret and hope to be rescued. The younger ones decide to build a little fort. Dawn and Claudia watch.

"[Jeff's] really good with kids," remarked Claud after a while.

"I know," I said. "I discovered that the last time I was visiting in California. Jeff and I got stuck sitting for two kids one night, and the baby wouldn't stop crying. So I took care of the baby and Jeff entertained the older kid. He was great."

"It's good to know," said Claud slowly. "I mean, if anything happens to you or me, I think Jeff could kind of take over."

Wow, Claudia... that just got dark.

Look... Jeff is a mere one year younger than Jessi, she of the overnight-sitting privileges back in Stoneybrook. Why do you guys sound so in awe of Jeff's childcaring competence?

Later that afternoon, Jamie gets sick with a high fever, and the baby-sitters have to take care of him. To prevent everybody from starving, Jeff has figured out a way to catch fish. Claudia invents a way to collect rainwater. On Monday, she finds a piece of a mirror, which the kids use to signal a search plane. And it works! Rescuement!

So after two days on the island, the kids are found and are returned home. Jamie Newton is pretty sick and has to go to the hospital, but he's sprung after a day. Everyone is super happy to see everybody else. Mary Anne cries like a faucet because she is Mary Anne. Logan and Mary Anne make up. Kristy and Bart make up.

Later in the week, a big newspaper article all about the ordeal is published. Says Dawn: The article was pretty impressive. It took up most of what was left of the front page below the enormous headline. Then it was continued inside. That was where the photos were -- a whole page of them. There was a picture of the disaster victims, a picture of Mary Anne and me hugging, and, lo and behold, a picture of the BSC members.

"Ooh," said Stacey. "I know. Let's each cut out this picture from our own copies of the paper, frame the pictures, and hang them in our bedrooms."

"Great idea," said Kristy. "Hey! This article is good advertising for the club!"

I'm not sure which person I want to smack more -- Stacey or Kristy. Could they think of anything dumber to say? Can anyone think of something worse?

Oh hey. Claudia FTW: "Hey!" exclaimed Claudia. "I just thought of something.... We never finished our sailing race. We're still tied, Schafer. We still need a rematch. How about it?"

Isn't that like asking someone who just survived a plane crash if they want to go for a super fun plane ride?

No. Just no.

Well, that's it for the plot. Now, how does it stack up to other BSC Super Specials? It's much better than some, but not as good as others. The parts of the book that take place on the open water and on the island are actually really good. The survival stuff is cool. The scenes that take place back in Stoneybrook are pretty blah.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being a rousing Baby-Sitters Club adventure, and 1 being a book I'd send straight to Good Will, I give this one a 5.5.

But we're not done here, yet... oh no! Let's talk about... THE COVER!

Oh, where do I start?

Claudia looks like she's smacking Kristy.

Kristy just looks terrible.

Stacey looks like Crystal Bernard from Wings.

Mary Anne, who didn't even help search for the missing kids, is apparently enough of a fan of sailing that she has to dress thematically.

Jeff (front center) has brown hair for some reason and kind of looks like a girl. However, I have to give him props for his outfit. Yellow shirt, green shorts, and yellow shoes. That takes courage.

Jamie Newton, while also somewhat feminine-looking, looks mysteriously like Jamie, the boy from Small Wonder

Mallory looks like she's marooned on an island and is trying to flag down a passing ship. I'd say something about her outfit, but she's not the only one who was wearing that kind of getup in 1989. *whistles*

Claudia, Jessi, Becca, and Dawn actually look quite nice. Wonder how they got off so easy.