Film History: Tommy Lee Kirk

“Tommy Lee Kirk as Travis Coates”, “Savage Sam”, 1963, Walt Disney Productions, Cinematographer Edward Coleman, Director Norman Tokar

Born in Louisville, Kentucky in December of 1941, Tommy Lee Kirk was an American actor best known for his performances in films produced by Walt Disney Studios. His teen idol status became closely associated with the clean, wholesome product that Disney Studios produced during the late 1950s and early 1960s. 

One of four sons, Tommy Kirk moved at the age of fifteen months with his family to California where they settled in Downey, a city in southeast Los Angeles. In 1954 at the age of thirteen, he  accompanied his older brother Joe to an audition at the Pasadena Playhouse for a role in Eugene O’Neill’s “Ah, Wilderness”. Although Joe was not cast in a role, Tommy Kirk had his stage debut with a role consisting of five lines of dialogue. His small role was seen favorably by a representative from the Gertz Agency of Hollywood who signed him to a contract. 

Kirk made his first television appearance in an episode entitled “The Last of the Old Time Shooting Sheriffs” for the anthology drama series “TV Reader’s Digest”. He appeared in two more Pasadena theater plays and was cast in small roles on other television productions, including  “Gunsmoke” and “The Loretta Young Show”. In August of 1956, Kirk was given a long-term contract by Walt Disney Productions and became a member of the 1955 “The Mickey Mouse Club” television series. He next was cast as Joe Hardy for the Mickey Mouse Club series “The Hardy Boys” and performed in two serials alongside actor Tim Considine who played his older brother Frank Hardy. Broadcasted in that October, the show and Kirk’s performance were well received and led to his long association as a ten idol with the Disney Studio.

Tommy Kirk’s career accelerated with his casting as Travis Coates in the 1957 Disney film “Old Yeller”, an adventure tale of a boy and his heroic dog. Due to the success of his lead role in “Old Yeller”, Kirk became the Disney Studio’s first choice for future American teenager roles. In July of 1958, he was cast in “The Shaggy Dog”, a Disney comedy about a boy inventor who is repeatedly transformed into an Old English Sheepdog. This film, the second highest grossing film of 1959, teamed Kirk with Fred MacMurray, Annette Funicello and Kevin Corcoran, his former co-star from “Old Yeller”. 

With his Disney contract completed, Kirk went to Universal Pictures where he did English dubbing for “The Snow Queen”, a Soviet animated feature. As revenues increased from the screening of “The Shaggy Dog”, Disney Studios resigned Kirk to a long-term studio contract and cast him as the middle son, Ernst Robinson, in its 1960 family adventure film “Swiss Family Robinson”. This family film was followed by a second huge hit, “The Absent-Minded Professor”, a fantasy comedy starring Fred MacMurray as the professor and Kirk as Biff Hawk. Kirk was next cast in several films in which he costarred with actors MacMurray and Jame Wyman in the 1962 “Bon Voyage”, Ed Wynn in the 1961 “Babes in Toyland”, and Annette Funicello in the 1962 “Escapade in Florence”.

In 1963, Tommy Kirk appeared in Disney’s “Son of Flubber”, a sequel to “The Absent-Minded Professor” which became his last film with MacMurray. He next reprised his role as Travis Coates in “Savage Sam”, a sequel to “Old Yeller” which was not as popular as the original film. In 1964, Disney Studios cast Kirk as the student inventor in “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones” where he played opposite Funicello. After it became an  unexpected box office sensation, a sequel entitled “The Monkey’s Uncle” was released in July of 1965 which was equally successful.

Kirk knew he was gay from an early age; however, due to the public intolerance at that time towards homosexuality, he felt isolated and believed that the exposure of his sexuality would damage his film career. In 1963 while filming “The Misadventures of Merlin Jones”, Kirk began a relationship with a boy, six years younger, who lived in Burbank. The boy’s mother informed the Disney Studio which fired him from his role in the 1965 John Wayne western “The Sons of Katie Elder”. Out of protection for its interests, the Disney Studios released Kirk from his contract. However due to the financial success of the “Merlin Jones” film, he was allowed to return to make the 1965 sequel “The Monkey’s Uncle”.

The news of Kirk’s termination from Disney Studios was not made public: he joined American International Pictures which needed a leading man to play opposite Annette Funicello in the 1964 “Pajama Party”. From 1964 to 1969, Kirk appeared in several popular teen-oriented films, musical stage productions of “The Music Man” and “West Side Story”, and mediocre sci-fi and beach films. Practically blacklisted by an industry which deemed outed gay actors as box-office poison, Kirk returned to the musical theater in his home state of Kentucky with appearances in such shows as “Hello, Dolly” and “Anything Goes”.

In 1970, Tommy Kirk did two movies that were not Screen Actors Guild productions, “Ride the Hot Wind” and “Blood of Ghastly Horror” which caused him to lose his SAG membership.. While loss of SAG membership does not disqualify someone from acting, most film productions hire only union members, thus limiting the opportunities for an actor to be hired. Depressed and angry, Kirk sought solace in drugs and once nearly died from an overdose. After overcoming his drug addiction, Kirk began a successful carpet-cleaning business in Los Angeles which he ran for twenty years. He continued to act occasionally, appeared in films and documentary interviews for the DVD releases of some of his best known films and TV shows, and occasionally made personal appearances at film festivals and nostalgia convention/memorabilia festivals.

Tommy Kirk came out publicly as gay in a 1973 interview with Marvin Jones that was published in the January 31st edition of Gay Today. He was studying acting at that time with the Lee Strasberg Theater and Film Institute while working in a Los Angeles restaurant. Kirk was inducted as a Disney Legend in October of 2006 alongside his former co-stars Tim Considine and Kevin Corcoran. In 2006, the first of the “Hardy Boys” serials was issued on DVD as part of the Walt Disney Treasures series. Royalties from the sales of the “Hardy Boys” serials provided Kirk an additional income. 

Tommy Lee Kirk died peacefully in his Las Vegas, Nevada, home at the age of seventy-nine on the 28th of September in 2021. His neighbor Beverly Washburn, an “Old Yeller” co-star, notified Kirk’s longtime friend and former Disney actor Paul Peterson, known for his role as the son on “The Donna Reed Show”. Peterson posted notice of Kirk’s death on Facebook mentioning in the message that Kirk’s family had disowned the gay actor.

Top Insert Image: Tommy Kirk, “Old Yeller”, 1957, Film Shot

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Tommy Kirk and Tim Considine”, 1956, “The Hardy Boys” Series

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Annette Funicello and Tommy Kirk”, Studio Publicity Photo Shoot

Fourth Insert Image: hotographer Unknown, “Tommy Kirk, Pajama Party”, 1964, Film Shoot

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Tommy Kirk and Dorothy Lamour, Pajama Party”, 1964, Studio Photo Shoot

Ane Brun and Fleshquartet, “The Opening”

Ane Brun and Fleshquartet, “The Opening”, “Wallander”, Season Three Closing Theme, 2012, Vocal Recorded by Conny Wall Gig Studio 

Born Ane Kvien Brunwoll in March of 1976 in Molde, Norway,  Ane Brun is a songwriter, guitarist, and a vocalist of Sami origin, the indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting the northern parts of Finland, Norway, Sweden and the Kola Peninsula of northwest Russia.

The daughter of jazz singer and pianist Johanne Brunwoll and lawyer Knut Brunwoll, Ane Brun studied music and law at the University of Bergen, and, during that time, began writing her own music compositions and lyrics. After playing a few minor shows, she recorded her first demos in Bergen in 1999. After settling in Stockholm in 2001, Brun focused all her energies on her musical career. 

Brun’s debut album, entitled “Spending Time with Morgan”, was recorded in 2002 in both Uppsala and Stockholm, Sweden. It was released in 2003 on the DetErMine label, a company founded by Brun and Ellekari Larsson, the pianist and vocalist of the Swedish band “The Tiny”. Following two years of European concert tours, Brun released her second album, entitled “Temporary Dive”, which was produced by Katherina Nuttall and released worldwide between 2005 and 2007. The album was well received with award nominations from all over Europe; and it was awarded the Spellemannpris, the Norwegian equivalent of the Grammies, for Best Female Artist. 

Ane Brun released her album “Duets” in November of 2005. This album contained duet collaborations with, among others, Canadian singer Ron Sexsmith; French musician and composer Teitur Lassen; Syd Matters, the French band of composer Jonathan Morali; and a collaboration with the band Madrugada on the single “Lift Me”, which earned Brun another Spellemannpris award. As of 2020, Brun has released a total of nine albums, of which two are gold albums, one platinum album, and two albums, “Duets” and “It All Starts with One”, which became platinum twice.

Ane Brun continues to tour and has appeared in  multiple stage arrangements from solo acoustic to a full band with string section. She currently lives in Stockholm, Sweden, where she writes, records and manages her own recording label, Balloon Ranger Recordings.

“The Opening” is a haunting and fitting theme song for the main character in the Swedish television series, “Wallander”, which stars actor Krister Henriksson in the title role. Adapted from author Henning Mankeil’s Kurt Wallander novels. the three-season series is set in Ystad, Skåne, near the southern tip of Sweden, The thirty-two episodes follow the life and cases of Detective Wallander, a man with few close friends and tentative relationships with colleagues, who towards the end of his career suffers memory loss and gradually succumbs to Alzhheimer’s disease. 

“The Opening is a song whose lyrics and melody were written by myself with the music and production handled by the Fleshquartet. I got the script for the very last Wallander film, and wrote these lyrics inspired by the main character. It’s about trying to move forward when you find yourself at a standstill. It’s an encouraging song about daring to take a step in any direction when you feel stuck. Sometimes it’s just a small step or a short conversation – or sometimes just a single word – that can set off the necessary process of change.”  —Ane Brun

Calendar

A Year: Day to Day Men: 26th of August, Solar Year 2018

Fetish

August 26, 1986 marks the passing of American comedic actor Ted Knight.

After World War Two, Ted Knight studied acting in Hartford, Connecticut where he became proficient with puppets and ventriloquism. This led to steady work as a television kiddie-show host at WJAR-TV in Providence, Rhode Island, from 1950 to 1955. In Albany, New York, Knight hosted “The Early Show” for station WROW,  featuring Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movies.

Ted Knight spent most of his early years in Hollywood doing commercial voice-overs and playing minor television and movie roles. He had a small part at the end of Hitchcock’s movie “Psycho” playing the police officer guarding the arrested Norman Bates. Knight guest-starred in the episode “The Defector” of the 1961 season of the syndicated television series “Sea Hunt” which starred  Lloyd Bridges. He appeared frequently in all the popular television shows at that time including “Highway Patrol”, “The Outer Limits”, “The Donna Reed Show’, “Bonanza”, and”McHale’s Navy”, among others.

Probably Ted Knight’s most well-known role was his work on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” which ran from 1970 to 1977.  His role as the WJM newscaster Ted Baxter brought Knight widespread recognition and his greatest success. The Ted Baxter character was the dim-witted, vain, and miserly anchorman of the “Six O’Clock News”. Baxter frequently made mistakes and was oblivious to the actual nature of the topics covered on the show, but considered himself to be the country’s best news journalist. Ted Knight received six Emmy Award nominations for the role, winning the Emmy for “Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in Comedy” in 1973 and 1976.

Ted Knight’s distinctive speaking voice brought him work as an announcer, notably as narrator of most of Filmation Studio’s superhero cartoons as well as voice of incidental characters. He was narrator of the first season of the “Super Friends” and other animated television series. Knight’s work included the voices of the opening narrator and team leader Commander Jonathan Kidd in the animated science fiction television series “Fantastic Voyage”.

A few months after the end of the “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in 1977, Ted Knight was diagnosed with cancer for which he received various forms of treatment over several years. In 1985, the cancer returned as colon cancer which, despite rigorous treatment, eventually began to spread. Knight’s condition continued to worsen and he died on August 26, 1986, at the age of 62. He is buried in the Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. His grave marker bears his birth name Theodore C. Konopka and, at the bottom, the words “Bye Guy”, a reference to his Ted Baxter catchphrase “Hi, guy!”.

Calendar

A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of May, Solar Year 2018

Marked Encounters

May 19, 1971 marked the death of British-American actor, Alan Young.

Alan Young was born Angus Young on November 19, 1919, in North Shields, Northumberland, England, to Scottish parents. The family moved to Edinburgh, Scotland, when he was a toddler, and to West Vancouver, Canada, when he was six years old. Bedridden as a child because of severe asthma, he came to love listening to the radio. By the time he was in high school, Young already had his own comedy radio series on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation network.

After leaving the Canadian armed service, Alan Young moved to Toronto and resumed his Canadian radio career, where he was discovered in 1944 by an American agent who brought him to New York to appear on American radio. He first appeared on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame. This led to his own American radio show, “The Alan Young Show”, a NBC summer replacement for entertainer Eddie Cantor’s show.

Alan Young’s film debut was in the 1946 film “Margie”, a romantic comedy that became a box office hit. Moving to TV, he wrote a pilot for CBS in 1950, resulting in live variety revue “The Alan Young Show” that earned him the 1951 Best Actor Emmy and the nomination for outstanding personality. After that show’s cancellation, Young acted in “Androcles and the Lion”, “Gentlemen Marry Brunettes” and two films produced by George Pal: the 1958 “Tom Thumb” and the 1960 film “The Time Machine” base on the story by H.G. Wells and starring Rod Taylor.

Young was best known, however, for the CBS television show “Mister Ed” which ran from 1961 to 1966. In this series, he starred as Wilbur Post, the owner of Mr. Ed, a talking horse who would not talk to anyone but him, thus causing comic situations for Wilbur Post, with his wife, neighbors, and acquaintances. Young was approached for “Mister Ed” by producer Arthur Lubin, who had created the popular 1950 film “Francis the Talking Mule”. Young initially turned down the part but eventually accepted it. Owning a portion of the show, he made a fortune off the royalties.

During the 1970s he became active in voice acting. He voiced Scrooge McDuck for numerous Disney films, and voiced Haggis McHaggis on “The Ren and Stimpy Show”. With Bill Burt, Young wrote the autobiography “Mr. Ed and Me,” which was published in 1995.

After 1997, Alan Young lived in Woodland Hills, California, at the Motion Picture and Television Country House and Hospital, a retirement community, where he died of natural causes on May 19, 2016 at the age of 96.

Calendar

A Year: Day to Day Men: 7th of April, Solar Year 2018

A Casual Pose

On April 7, 1939 David Frost, the journalist and writer, was born in Tenterdon, England.

David Frost was chosen by writer and producer Ned Sherrin to host the satirical program “That Was the Week That Was” (TW3) after Frost’s flatmate John Bird suggested Sherrin should see Frost’s cabaret act at The Blue Angel nightclub. The series, which ran for less than 18 months during 1962–63, was part of the satire boom in early 1960s Britain and became a popular program.

In 1968 Frost signed a contract worth £125,000 to appear on American television in his own show on three evenings each week, the largest such arrangement for a British television personality at the time. From 1969 to 1972, hosted “The David Frost Show” on the Group W (U.S. Westinghouse Corporation) television stations in the United States. Throughout the years of his show, David Frost, known for his personalized style of interviews, spoke with such personalities as Jack Benny, Tennessee Williams, and Muhammad Ali; he was also the last person to interview Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the deposed Shah of Iran following the 1979 Iranian revolution.

In 1977 “The Nixon Interviews”, a series of five 90-minute interviews with former US President Richard Nixon, were broadcast. Nixon was paid $600,000 plus a share of the profits for the interviews, which had to be funded by Frost himself after the US television networks turned down the program, describing it as “checkbook journalism”. Frost’s company negotiated its own deals to syndicate the interviews with local stations across the US and internationally, creating what filmmaker Ron Howard described as “the first fourth network.”

For the show, David Frost taped around 29 hours of interviews with Nixon over a period of four weeks. Nixon, who had previously avoided discussing his role in the watergate scandal which had led to his resignation as President in 1974, expressed contrition saying “I let the American people down and I have to carry that burden with me for the rest of my life”.

David Frost was the only person to have interviewed all eight British Prime Ministers serving between 1964 and 2014 and all seven US Presidents in office between 1969 and 2008. He was very active with the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. His conversations with Nixon became the subject of Ron Howard’s 2008 film “Frost/Nixon”, nominated for five Golden Globes and for five Academy Awards. David Frost died on August 31, 2013 at the age of 74 on board the cruise ship MS Queen Elizabeth, on which he was engaged as a speaker. His memorial stone is in Poet’s Corner of the Westminster Abbey for his contribution to British culture.

Calendar

A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of March, Solar Year 2018

White Anchors on Black

March 19, 1928 was the birthdate of Patrick Joseph McGoohan, an American-born Irish actor, writer and director.

In 1959, ITC Entertainment production executive Lew Grade approached Patrick McGoohan about a television series in which he would play a spy named John Drake. Having learned from bad contract experiences in the past, McGoohan insisted on several conditions in the contract before agreeing to appear in the program: all the fistfights should be different, the character would always use his brain before using a gun, and, much to the horror of the executives, no kissing. The series debuted in 1960 as “Danger Man”, a half-hour program geared toward an American audience. Production lasted a year and 39 episodes.

Patrick McGoohan was one of several actors considered for the role of James Bond in the movie “Doctor No” and later for the James Bond role in “Live and Let Die”, but turned both of them down. After he had also turned down the role of Simon Templar in “The Saint”, Lew Grade asked him if he would like to give John Drake another try. The show was resurrected in 1964 as a one-hour program, now known by the name “Secret Agent”. The scripts now allowed McGoohan more range in his acting. The popularity of the series led to McGoohan becoming the highest-paid actor in the UK, and the show lasted almost three more years.

Knowing of McGoohan’s intentions of leaving “Secret Agent”, Grade asked if he would at least work on something for him. McGoohan gave him a run-down of what would later be called a miniseries, about a secret agent who resigns suddenly and wakes up to find himself in a prison disguised as a holiday resort. Grade asked for a budget, McGoohan had one ready, and they made a deal over a handshake early on a Saturday morning to produce “The Prisoner”. Apart from being the star of “The Prisoner” in his role as Number Six, McGoohan was the executive producer, forming Everyman Films with series producer David Tomblin, and also wrote and directed several episodes, in some cases using pseudonyms.

Patrick McGoohan appeared in many films and television series: “Ice Station Zebra” in 1968, “Silver Streak” in 1976, “The Man in the Iron Mask” in 1977, “Escape from Alcatraz” in 1979, and received two Emmy Awards for his performances on the show “Columbo”. His last film role was as the voice of Billy Bones in the animated film, “Treasure Planet”, released in 2002. That same year, he received the Prometheus Hall of Fame Award for his show “The Prisoner”.

Calendar

A Year: Day to Day Men: 19th of January, Solar Year 2018

Parallel Fences

On January 19, 1955, the television program “The Millionaire” premieres on the CBS channel.

The Millionaire was an American anthology series that aired from 1955-1960 and  was sponsored by the Colgate-Palmolive Company. The series, produced by Fred Henry and Don Fedderson, explored the ways that sudden and unexpected wealth changed life, for better or for worse. The show became a five season hit during the “Golden Age of Television”. The series told stories of people who were given one million dollars from a benefactor who insisted that he remain anonymous.

The benefactor was named John Beresford Tipton, Jr. Viewers heard his voice, making observations and giving instructions; they saw only his arm as he reached for a cashier’s check for one million dollars each week and handed it to Michael Anthony, his executive secretary. It was Anthony’s job to deliver that check to its intended recipient.

Invariably, The Millionaire began with a very brief opening theme fanfare behind the ascending title frame, followed by the camera’s training directly upon Michael Anthony, played by veteran character actor and radio and
television announcer Marvin Miller. The unseen John Beresford Tipton was played by another veteran character actor and voice artist, Paul Frees.

The series ran for 206 episodes, and Tipton made 206 millionaires. The beneficiaries were not always poor but could be from any social class or occupation, from secretaries and construction workers to professionals like doctors and lawyers. Nor were they always likely to find their lives changed for the better because of their sudden wealth.