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Before They Were Murdered

24 Apr

04.24.16 - QuincyBob Crane – The Hogan’s Heroes star was found murdered in Scottsdale, Arizona in June 1978. The case remains officially unsolved, although incriminating evidence implicates a former friend who was tried and acquitted in 1994. Prior to his death, Crane was primarily working in dinner theater, but he also did occasional TV work. Hogan’s Heroes was in heavy rotation on independent stations all over America, and Crane seems to have been eager to escape the wisecracking Hogan, expanding his range with roles such as the sensitive doctor in this episode of Quincy, M.E. (2:07, “Has Anybody Here Seen Quincy?,” March 1977).

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04.24.16 - SWATSal Mineo – Best known for film roles in Rebel Without a Cause and Exodus, most of Mineo’s credits were actually in television; he appeared in about a dozen anthology dramas in the 1950s and early 1960s. Most of his credits thereafter were guest shots in TV crime dramas like Hawaii Five-O, Columbo and Police Story, and there were plenty of them. Before he was stabbed to death in February 1976, the movie offers had dried up, but new opportunities in theater and television were perhaps better than ever. He landed the leading role in this early episode of S.W.A.T. (1:02, “A Coven of Killers,” March 1975), playing a Manson-like cult leader with memorable intensity.

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04.24.16 - CombatRamon Novarro – Making history as the star of M-G-M’s silent epic Ben-Hur (1925), Novarro remained one of that studio’s biggest stars right to the end of the silent era. After talkies arrived, he continued to play leads, but by 1935 his stardom had waned. Thanks to wise investments, he continued to live comfortably and he only accepted roles that appealed to him. After 1960, those were all on the small screen. They were always meaty, featured parts (Thriller, Dr. Kildare, Bonanza, The High Chaparral, etc.). He played a French count in this episode of Combat (4:15, “Finest Hour,” December 1965), and his French accent is startlingly good, coming from Hollywood’s first Mexican-American star! Tragedy struck in October 1968: Novarro was beaten in his own home by a pair of hustlers, and choked to death on his own blood. The killers served only a few years in prison before being freed to commit further crimes. One of them killed himself in 2005 and the other was returned to prison on a rape charge, where he remains today.

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04.24.16 - Burns and AllenCarl “Alfalfa” Switzer – Hollywood is notoriously indifferent to child stars who’ve outgrown their youthful usefulness. This former Our Gang star remained in the Los Angeles area, and was persistent in looking for acting jobs. He did manage to find quite a few, but most of them were in bit roles, often uncredited.  Somehow, unlike most actors in his situation, he found it easier to get film roles than television work. But he did get to appear with the stars of The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show (5:11, “George Gets a Call from an Unknown Victor,” December 1954). It’s a thankless little role, but it represents one final connection to classic comedy, bringing his professional life full circle. It also marks the beginning of the end of that profession. At the time of his shooting death in January 1959, he was primarily working as a trainer and provider of hunting dogs; he’d had only one known acting role in the previous three years. Meanwhile, his childhood was on view all over America, because the old Our Gang shorts had been sold to television. (Because “Our Gang” was a trademark owned by M-G-M, the kids were presented on TV as “The Little Rascals.”)

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04.24.16 - Beverly HillbilliesSharon Tate – The final tragedy of Sharon Tate’s life is that she’s better remembered today for her horrifying murder than for anything else. But she’d been a promising actress for much of the 1960s, slowly climbing the ladder to bigger roles, and at the time of her death in August 1969 she was on the verge of real stardom. She’d nearly reached it much earlier— she was all set to be one of the original Bradley girls on Petticoat Junction before being replaced at the last minute by Jeannine Riley. However, Petticoat producer Paul Henning gave her a few small roles on his other show, The Beverly Hillbillies, like this one (2:11, “The Garden Party,” December 1963), with Max Baer Jr. Better things would come her way in the future. Unfortunately, so would the Manson Family.

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Posted by on April 24, 2016 in Personalities

 

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