Thursday, February 16, 2017

Michael Zaslow

Michael Zaslow was one of the many talented actors that started on Broadway, had a few guest staring roles in television, then carved his niche in the often underappreciated industry of soap operas. Anyone that witnessed his portrayal of the villainous Roger Thorpe on The Guiding Light is well aware of the charisma, strength and sheer artistry he brought to that role.

That artistry is mastered when an actor has complete control over the tools they use - their body and voice. Sadly, Michael Zaslow lost control of both of those when he was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, which eventually led to his dismissal from The Guiding Light.

That dismissal gave him the opportunity to perform his bravest, strongest and greatest performance of his career - David Renaldi on One Life to Live. He had played that role before and when the producers heard of his predicament they decided to bring back the character and have him face the same ALS challenges that Michael Zaslow was facing.

The result was a courageous, heartbreaking journey which forced both actor and character to communicate without the normal tools an actor uses. Michael Zaslow is remembered today by the villain he played on The Guiding Light, but those of us that have followed his career remember him as the hero he was. And a very talented one at that.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Toni Kalem

In sports when one contributes to the victory without being a superstar they're called team players. In the entertainment world - part of the ensemble. Toni Kalem is a triple threat to that ensemble because she writes and directs as well. She also has an incredible screen presence and instincts, which means the stars have to be on their A game to not be upstaged by this team player.

I first noticed Toni Kalem in 1979 when she co-starred with some other Not Very Famous actors, John Friedrich, Linda Manz and Erland Van Lidth in what would become the cult favorite, The Wanderers. From then on, and even still today I perk up if I see her name in the credits. Although I'm often disappointed by the size of her role, I've never been surprised by the high quality of her performances.

Her highest profile role appears to be her last as the widowed wife and body shop owner, Angie Bonpensiero on the Sopranos, where her talents stood side by side with that phenomenal cast of ensemble actors. She only appeared in eleven episodes of that iconic show, but left a memorable contribution to its success.

Even though she is of Jewish decent, Toni Kalem seems to have been typecast most of her career in the role of the Italian female, which may have something to do with why she's had such limited exposure. Whatever the reason, she has award worthy talent which I hope some day will be recognized.

As I mentioned Toni Kalem also writes and directs and that appears to be where her energies are focused at this time. An internet search says she will be directing Penelope Cruz in Kalem's adaptation of the book, Layover, but haven't been able to verify if production has started or will. In the meantime Ms. Kalem, should you happen to stumble on to this blog, let us know what else you've been up to. Would love to see more of your work whether it's in front of the camera or behind it.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Beah Richards

Any actor that can upstage Spencer Tracy and Kathrine Hepburn is no doubt in a league of their own. Beah Richards was that actor and had she been born fifty years earlier she would definitely be competition for Viola Davis.

Then again, if she were still around today, who in the entertainment world would have provided one of the strongest African American voices of yesterday? It's easy to look at a public figure and say that they were ahead of their time, but had they not lived when they did exactly how advanced would our society be?

This goes for actors as well and like it or not, Beah Richards was at the right place at the right time. This prolific actor through her various roles on the stage and screen fueled social awareness in a time when a black woman's voice was rarely taken seriously. In viewing her many unforgettable performances it is virtually impossible to keep your eyes off of her.

Her impressive body of work, which includes two Emmy's as well as one Oscar and Tony nomination barely scratches the surface of her immense talents. Beah Richards is probably most remembered for her Oscar nominated role in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, but reading up on her and checking out her films and television guest appearances are not only well worth the time and effort, but also the perfect way to keep her and her work alive.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Richard Bright

Richard Bright was a working actor and a very good one at that. His biggest claim to fame was that he appeared in all three Godfather films as Al Neri, the calm and cool bodyguard of Michael Corelone. As an actor in that gangster franchise he will live forever as a member of one of the greatest acting ensembles ever assembled on film.

His casting in those epics was no fluke as this theatre trained professional could hold his own with any actor in any medium. His name usually appeared further down the credits, which makes his work even more impressive since he often didn't have a main character to fall back on. And yet, his scenes in the variety of work he left behind are ideal examples of an actor that was always at the top of his craft.

Although most recognized for The Godfather films, it's really the rest of his work that shows the true power, charisma and subtle intensity that Richard Bright brought to his many characters. His screen time was often short, but always worth checking out. Some of his other memorable performances can be found in The Ref, Hair and Looking for Mr. Goodbar, just for starters.

A true actor is not a star, but rather a small piece of an ensemble telling a story. Richard Bright always contributed that small piece to the whole picture. And those pictures are richer because of his contributions.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

William Kephart

When one thinks of a city that represents true independent movie making, it's Austin, Texas that often comes to mind. Unfortunately, Austin is no secret anymore and history has shown that it's just a matter of time before Hollywood will pounce and ruin a good thing. When it does, the film community of Champaign, Illinois will be ready to inherit the new title.

Known for years as the city that host the annual Roger Ebert extravaganza known as EbertFest, as well as the quickly growing Pens to Lens Gala in which local filmmakers produce films written by kids in grades K through 12, Champaign and its surrounding areas have quickly become the place for filmmakers to hone their craft.

One of the many talented actors that have contributed to that local film community is William Kephart. However, if you don't see his name in the credits you may not believe you are watching the same actor as he seamlessly changes in appearance from the many national commercials, shorts and features he has appeared in.

From various characters in commercials for Snickers, La Quinta Inn and Staples, as well as the web series Up the Creek, where he not only plays Rusty, the main character, but also a rap singing German Wine Inspector and Ben Franklin, this versatile actor is a lot of fun to watch. Not to mention the feature films, Revolting and House of Thaddeus, where he proves he can be the unconventional leading man as well as vastly different roles in numerous shorts like Heartshot that have played in film festivals all across the country.

I'm convinced that a quick watch of any of those titles, plus anything else you can find him in will make you a believer in the talents of William Kephart and why he is my pick of the day for Not Very Famous...but should be.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Joseph Schildkraut

Joseph Schildkraut was not only a major player in the silent era, but also one of the top actors during the early years of television. This true pioneer never got the recognition that he deserved considering he was a major part of many successful movies and classic television.

Even though he won an Oscar for his supporting role in The Life of Emile Zola and an Emmy for a guest starring role in the forgotten court room drama, Sam Benedict, Joseph Schildkraut is probably most remembered today as Anne Frank's father in The Diary of Anne Frank as well as two of the classic Twilight Zone episodes, the haunting, Deaths-Head Revisited and the heart breaking, The Trade-Ins.

His career was far more prolific, however, then just the titles already listed. Starting with the silent era, his performance as Judas in the biblical epic, The King of Kings and his turn as a romantic lead in Orphans of the Storm showed his versatility as well as did some of the sound pictures he made which include Marie Antoinette and The Man in the Iron Mask.

And just as he contributed to the early years of motion pictures, he continued into the new medium of television adding his talents to many of the wonderful anthology shows of that period like Schiltz Playhouse, Lux Video Theatre and The Philip Morris Playhouse.

Joseph Schildkraut was a very good actor. In fact, one of the very best among the talented actors on this site, making him not only my pick for today for being Not Very Famous...but should be, but for yesterday and tomorrow as well.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Marni Nixon

Marni Nixon is most likely the first and last performer profiled on this blog whose biggest claim to fame is that she was a voice double to many of the top movie stars of the time. From Marilyn Monroe to Natalie Wood and Deborah Kerr to Audrey Hepburn, Ms Nixon's singing voice is often the one heard in some of these stars most famous films.

Although Monroe did most of her own singing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, it was Marni Nixon who was brought in to sing the high notes in the song Diamonds are a Girls Best Friend. Natalie Wood's singing voice was actually recorded for West Side Story, but the producers recorded Nixon as well and it's her voice not Woods that audiences hear in the final picture. And that wonderful singing voice that came out of Audrey Hepburn's mouth in My Fair Lady? You guessed it.

Her first on-screen role was that of Sister Sophia in The Sound of Music, where Julie Andrews did her own singing, but not many non-singing roles followed for this gifted performer. She then returned to live theatre during the 1970's and then ended up on the small screen in 1980 as the host of the Emmy award winning children's show, Boomerang.

Hollywood typecast her as the go to person when needing a beautiful voice, but with her impressive musical theatre and opera resume, her career should have lead to more mainstream fame. The music profession knows and respects her talent and she made a pretty good career out of her musical gifts. And the fact that Marni Nixon isn't known among mainstream audiences is both a curse and a blessing for the Not Very Famous...but should be.