Friday, March 21, 2008

Kinch (or, this week's celebrity death trifecta)

"Open the Pearly Gates, HAL."

Arthur C. Clarke, noted science fiction author, futurist, and ironic air-travel-phobe died this past week. He was in his 90s, so that's not a bad run at all. Hopefully HAL 9000 wasn't controlling access to Heaven when Clarke arrived. "I'm sorry, Arthur, I'm afraid I can't let you in..." Of course, Clarke wasn't really sure what he believed in, so there may have been no Pearly Gates for him at all. Hey - whatever was waiting for him out there - as long as it wasn't that creepy Kubrick "Star Child" - it's cool. Adios to one of the grand daddies of science fiction.

Run away! Run awaaaaaay!
(This movie scared the shit out of me as a kid...)

Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella died, too. Unlike Clarke, Minghella was in the "way too young to die" club. Cancer of the tonsils and neck sounds horrific, and it's an ugly irony that he died from a freak hemorrhage after successful surgery to remove the diseased masses. This goes a little bit beyond rain on your wedding day and a fly in your chardonnay. It's a stinking shame when anyone dies pretty young, and when that young person had creative vision, it leaves you wondering what other masterpieces he should have had the time to leave behind as his legacy.

For the record, I did not enjoy the story of "The English Patient" because I really didn't have sympathy for the Ralph Fiennes character (based on a fairly unpleasant real-life Hungarian guy who spied for the Nazis) or his lover, who spent much of her time banging Fiennes behind her loving husband's back (or up against a wall...) I appreciated the film, though. It was beautiful and lush - a canvas of a film, painstakingly painted in cinematic oils. It was old school movie art, like a David Lean film. "The Talented Mr. Ripley", another Minghella-directed film, had that same feel to me. Wonderful, layered, graceful.

If you want to see a really delightful (and sad) love story, do yourself a favor and rent Minghella's 1990 directorial debut, "Truly, Madly, Deeply". If you have a heart at all, it will make you laugh and cry. It stars the lovely Juliet Stevenson (I got to see her on stage with John Malkovich in "Burn This" in London back in 1990-something - she rocked) and one of the screen guys who makes me swoon, Alan Rickman. Ah loves me some Alan Rickman, yes ah do.

But I have, as usual, digressed.

Clarke and Minghella were not the only celebrities to die this week. There was one more. And this one I saw just about every day growing up in a TV-watching household: Ivan Dixon. Don't know him? He directed hundreds of episodes of TV from 1970 into the 1990s, including gems like "The Rockford Files", "Bionic Woman", "The A-Team"... But from 1965 to 1970, he was an actor. On "Hogan's Heroes".

He played a black POW on "Hogan's Heroes" - the only black POW on "Hogan's Heroes", Sgt. Kinchloe, or, simply "Kinch." Kinch was the communications specialist in Stalag 13, sending out messages to the Allies from the tunnel under the prisoners' barracks, while Hogan and the others undertook secret missions outside the camp, sometimes pretending to be German. Every once in a while, Kinch would say that he wanted to go out on one of these missions, and the whole group would just turn and look at him. No one ever actually said, "But dude, you're black. Aaaaand this is Nazi Germany..." Nope, they'd just stare at him, and then, Kinch would say something like, "Riiight. I'll go contact that submarine now..."

It was an interesting - and frankly, somewhat sad - fellowship on the Stalag 13 set:

The German Kommandant, often shown reading Mein Kampf , was played by the "Halbjude" son of one of the great European orchestra conductors. An Austrian Jew (who lost his whole family in the Holocaust) portrayed the jolly dummkopf, Sgt. Schultz. The French prisoner was played by a survivor of Buchenwald. And the dashing American hero? He was, in real life, a troubled man with a sex addiction, into homemade porn, and murdered by one of his skin flick buddies. And who could possibly forget Richard "Family Feud" Dawson? (BTW, would you believe, Dawson is married to a chick who was a contestant on "Family Feud"? Guess she actually found his trademark spit-swapping attractive. Go figure.) The ensemble was rounded out with the seemingly remarkably normal Larry Hovis. And the equally normal - and clearly talented - Ivan Dixon. The role of Kinch was sometimes a pretty thankless job, but I read a quote from one of his children saying that he appreciated that the sitcom gig opened doors for his directing career. Smart guy. Pretty dang savvy.

When he died this week at age 76 - just a couple of weeks shy of his 77th birthday, Dixon had been married to his wife for 58 years.

58 years. Pretty damn cool. That means, he was 19 when they married. Try to imagine the average modern Hollywood 19-year-old staying married to anyone for 58 years. (Yeah, right. - most of them will have longer-lasting and more intimate relationships with their Crackberries.)

I haven't seen an episode of "Hogan's Heroes" in a gazillion years now. It was part of my afterschool, syndicated TV ritual in grade school and junior high. I wonder how the humor has aged? I'll have to see if Nick at Night or TV Land runs it. Believe it or not, the show is a huge hit on German TV now. Strange little world we live in, no?

RIP, Ivan Dixon. No longer in the tunnel, calling that damn submarine.

1 comment:

Cyn said...

Phew! I've been out of the country and away from the news for the last week and got scared when I saw Alan Rickman's photo there.

Not to disrespect the actual deceased or anything...just glad Mr. R. is still with us! I think he's fantastic -- although I have a dental obsession and the crookedness of his bottom teeth disturbs me. (Aren't you glad I'm back to lend my shallow comments to your thoughful posts? Oh well.)