In Memorium

Oddly, every time you hear a cliché you want to dismiss it and then you find out there’s a reason they get repeated often enough to earn the term. I’m reminded of that as three well-respected actors have passed, proving that celebrity deaths happen in threes.

Darren McGavin

He was TV’s first Mike Hammer and maybe more people knew him from The Christmas Story, but McGavin made an indelible impression as Carl Kolchak. I remember being genuinely caught up in The Night Stalker when it first aired. A year later, I loved The Night Strangler, as much for the bitchy camaraderie between McGavin and Simon Oakland as for the chilling story. Kolchak continued my interest in the print media and desire to be a journalist. In high school, a year or so later, I helped a senior investigate a theft and remember walking the halls with that Kolchak shuffle, talking to social circles that normally wouldn’t pay attention to me and had a ball. Wrote it all up for an English essay and got good grades.

McGavin hated doing the weekly series and it was clearly an inferior product but still, I watched every episode.

He was a hard working character actor, at ease on the stage and on the screen, both big and small. His last role that made an impression was the uncredited bit part he played in 1984’s The Natural. I’ll miss him.

Dennis Weaver

Another easy-going actor, much more laid back, was Dennis Weaver. I was too young to enjoy his Festus on Gunsmoke but discovered him on the NBC Mystery Movie as McCloud. Again, his relationship with J.D. Cannon was as entertaining as the cases he solved. Perhaps my favorite episode was the one with the taxis rallying to nail a murderer with McCloud riding his horse through the melee.

His other great role was, of course, in Duel which helped make a name for the director and proved you could still thrill and tantalize audiences with a made-for-television movie.

Don Knotts

Knotts made a career out of playing a particular character type. One I never particularly cared for and endured many an Andy Griffith rerun despite it. At summer camp we were treated to rainy day movies like The Incredible Mr. Limpet and I still never warmed up to him.

I do, though, recognize his talent, his professionalism and the number of people he did manage to reach. His fans span decades and his filmography is impressive. So here’s a tip of the hat to a true entertainer.

2 comments

  • Lance Woods

    Not sure if it was already scheduled or an 11th hour change, but one of the stations that runs THE SIMPSONS on our cable system ran the episode where Dennis Weaver voiced an old cowboy star. Very nice.

    McGavin — what can you say? Life is such a “fra-gi-le” thing. (He played so many cool roles, but it’s always fun to watch him open that lamp in A CHRISTMAS STORY.)

    Knotts, I agree, is an acquired taste. Barney was a sweetheart, but I always enjoyed watching Knotts play the nervous guy in videos of Steve Allen’s man-on-the-street interviews. I thought both were certainly better than his Universal comedies from the ’60s (a taste I never acquired).

    But MR. LIMPET — that’s always been a personal favorite of mine. So much so that Cindy and I have an animation cel from the Warner Bros. studio, signed by Don Knotts, in our family room. Don’t know if Greg will ever watch it (it has no ninja turtles), but it always brings back pleasant memories for me.

    What a sad few days. This has gotta be the fastest celebrity death trifecta I’ve ever seen. Oy.

  • What I didn’t know until someone (Letterman? Evanier?) mentioned it recently was that Don Knotts was part of a great cast of supporting actors on the Steve Allen version of the TONIGHT SHOW (others included Louis Nye, Steve Lawrence, Edie Gorme, and Bill Dana). Knotts was the one who made the biggest impression on me… I grew up watching ANDY GRIFFITH, both in prime time and CBS early weekday morning reruns when I was home sick from school. Dennis Weaver was the one of the three to whom I never really warmed. Show biz, I guess.

    I did mention to the spouse that, over this past weekend, maybe 5% of the entire history of television died, though.