Monday, March 15, 2010

Recent passings



Hot on the heels of the tragic demise of 80's heartthrob Corey Haim comes news of the death of Peter Graves, 83, the TV and movie actor best known for his role as Jim Phelps on the CBS series "Mission:Impossible." Many trivia players will know that Phelps was the younger brother of James Arness, TV's Matt Dillon on "Gunsmoke." As a youngster, I first became aware of Graves when watching him as the adult star of "Fury," the children's Saturday morning show about the raven-haired horse and his friend Bobby, who lived on the Broken Wheel Ranch. When "Mission: Impossible" first hit the airwaves, it wasn't Jim Phelps who led the Impossible Mission Force, but Steven Hill, whose character was Daniel Briggs. Hill, who would later go on to play Adam Schiff on the original "Law and Order" series for a decade, didn't pass muster with the suits at Desilu Studios back when Lucy and Desi were still at the top of their game. After the first season ended in 1966, they decided to hire Graves to take over as the leader of the IMF and the rest was TV history. Graves, along with then huband and wife team Martin Landau (Rollin Hand) and Barbara Bain (Cinnamon Carter), Greg Morris (Barney Collier) and Peter Lupus (Willie Armitage) were the other original cast members. After Landau left the series, he was replaced by Leonard Nimoy, who had finished playing Spock in another well-known Desilu Studio show. Nimoy played The Great Paris, who like Hand, was a master of disguise. When Bain left the series, she was replaced by a succession of female leads including Leslie Ann Warren and Lynda Day George. But through the rest of the series it was Graves as Jim Phelps who selected the members of his team at the opening of each show and accepted each mission with the knowledge that should any of his IM Force members be caught or killed, the Secretary would disavow any knowledge of their actions. Graves reprised his role as Phelps on an Australian remake of the TV series for a couple of years in the early 1980s, following the tragic death of series creator Bruce Geller in a plane crash. Around the same time he starred in two of the immensely popular "Airplane" movies in which he played Captain Clarence Oveur, a pilot who seemed to have a questionable attraction to young boys ("Joey, do you like movies about gladiators?"). More recently he became the voice of Biography on the A&E Cable Network and did several self-deprecating roles on Mystery Science Theatre 3000. He was featured for several years in the role of Colonel John Camden on the WB Network's "7th Heaven" series. Graves was featured in Otto Preminger's 1953 movie "Stalag 17," in which he was eventually outed as the Nazi spy planted to prevent P.O.W.s from escaping (sorry if I spoiled the movie for those that hadn't seen it). It was only this past October that Graves received his well-deserved star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Reports say he was returning from a restaurant with one of his daughters celebrating what would have been his 84th birthday in four more days when he collapsed in front of his Hollywood home from an apparent heart attack. Graves's rugged good looks and prematurely gray hair made him a standout on the small screen. He received a Golden Globe statuette in 1971 for his iconic role on TV, but never picked up an Emmy, no doubt because the character development on "Mission: Impossible" was specifically kept to a minimum as part of its rapid-fire and action-oriented scripts punctuated by a running soundtrack designed to heighten viewer tension.
Congratulations to the planners of the first annual New Orleans Limmudfest, a two-day event that began Saturday night, but mostly centered on Sunday's all-day schedule of learning sessions on a variety of topics of interest to the Jewish community. Titled "Learning and Lagniapped," a keystone to the program is its commitment to diversity. New Orleans is the 46th city in the world permitted to hold a Limmudfest, which originated in the United Kingdom several years ago. New Orleans follows similar Limmud (Hebrew for "learning") events held in the U.S. in New York, Philadelphia, Los Angleles, Atlanta and Denver and is by far the smallest community sanctioned to hold a festival by Limmud International.