Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Kevin McCarthy and Harold Gould, RIP

It hasn't been a good week for character actors -- or for those of us who really appreciate them.

When I was growing up, Kevin McCarthy was seemingly everywhere -- movies and particularly TV. He's apparently best known for his role in the original "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," but I remember him primarily for two "Twilight Zone" roles.

In the original series, he played the title role in "Long Live Walter Jameson" -- a history professor who's lectures are particularly vivid because he literally knows whereof he lectures: He's literally been around for centuries. It was one of the show's better episodes, but though I don't want to play down the quality of the script (by Charles Beaumont), it probably would have been only half as good without McCarthy.

Many years later, I saw "Twilight Zone: The Movie" when it came out. Yes, that's the one where Vic Morrow and two children were killed during the filming of the scene, and I remember feeling maybe a little creepy, and even maybe a little complicit, in going to the movie.

As I recall, the film as a whole didn't have that much to recommend it except for Joe Dante's remake of "It's a Good Life," the story about the kid (originally played by the quintessential kid actor of my generation, Billy Mumy) who could "wish away" things -- and people -- he didn't like.

In Dante's hands, the material became an exaggerated, creepy comedy, material in which character actors (people for whom Dante obviously has much respect) could have a field day, especially William "Patty Duke's Father" Schallert and McCarthy, who played the most hilariously scared-to-death geezer in the history of films. McCarthy later said he based his portrayal on another fine character actor, Frank Morgan....

I suppose Harold Gould was best-known for playing Rhoda Morgenstern's father, but he was another guy who was everywhere on TV in the 1960s and 1970s. Movies, too.

He appeared in my town one weekend within the last few years, touring with a comedy about older people and Viagra. I'm sorry I didn't see it -- or, rather, I'm sorry I didn't see him.

Two movie memories of him:

In "Harper," he plays a sheriff who is hassling the title character, a detective played by Paul Newman. (It's faithfully based by William Goldman on "The Moving Target," Ross Macdonald's first Lew Archer novel.)

Gould's sheriff says, "I don't want to get ugly!"

"You ARE ugly!" Harper says.

In a sadly much less well known movie, "The Big Bus," a satire of disaster films, he plays a scientist. As I recall (I only saw this movie once, on TV; I've never seen it on video), there's an explosion, which leaves him lying on the floor of a parking lot. A phone happens to be next to him.

The phone rings.

He picks it up and cheerfully answers: "Parking lot!"

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