Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle TV Eye

By Margaret Moser

JANUARY 11, 1999: 

NINE TV FACES WE'LL MISS

1. Phil Leeds(1916-1998). At the age of 82, Leeds was going strong playing Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) Kingsley's acerbic agent Sid on HBO's The Larry Sanders Show and a judge on FOX's Ally McBeal. He got his best lines off on Larry but Ally gave Leeds the appropriate sendoff: the judge flatlined in court during a trial.

2. Mae Questel (1908-1998). Some may recall Questel's tenure as "Aunt Bluebelle" fondling toilet paper in commercials while others remember her as the face of Woody Allen's mother in New York Stories (she was also in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?). WhatQuestel deserves to be remembered for is being the voice of Betty Boop in the old Fleischer Bros. cartoons. (My personal fave is "The Old Man of the Mountain," which includes Cab Calloway's "Minnie the Moocher.")

3.Shari Lewis (1934-1998). Hard to imagine that someone could make sock puppets charming but that's just what Lewis did, endearing us to Lamb Chop, Charlie Horse, and others. She was warm, witty, and wonderfully appealing to kids.

4.Phil Hartman (1948-1998). Hartman's horrifying death at the hands of his wife was a stark contrast to the warmth and whimsey he imbued his characters. Most fans loved him from NBC's NewsRadio and Saturday Night Live but I will always think of him as Captain Carl from HBO's original Pee-wee's Playhouse.

5. Flip Wilson (1933-1998). Wilson might have used The Flip Wilson Show on NBC for contemporary humor in the early Seventies. Instead, he dissected the universal quirks of human behavior and lampooned it wickedly. As the cross-dressed Geraldine, he once declared: "If you can land a plane at the L.A. airport in the fog, you can find mah luggage!"

6.Mary Frann (1943-1998). Frann got the break of her career when she was cast as Bob Newhart's wife Joanna on CBS' Newhart. Her blonde, even features gave her a Barbie doll look but her sharp flair for comedy overcame it. I fell for her in the Seventies as the bitchy Amanda Peters on NBC's Days of Our Lives.

7.Lloyd Bridges (1913-1998). Nice guy Bridges was the star of the Fifties show Sea Hunt, one of the first syndicated hits on television. Bridges' lengthy film career included High Noon and Airplane! but he also gets points for being the father of actors Beau and Jeff Bridges.

8. Esther Rolle (1920-1998). As Florida Evans on CBS' Good Times, Rolle's cross to bear was playing opposite co-star Jimmie Walker's obnoxious J.J. Her portrayal of Jessica Tandy's maid Idella in Driving Miss Daisy is a much more dignified role to acknowledge for her.

9.Theresa Merritt (1922-1998). Like Esther Rolle, Merritt was one of the black matrons of Seventies TV on ABC's That's My Mama, and like Rolle, she played a number of other, better parts. Merritt gave life to a legend when she starred in the lead of Ma Rainey's Black Bottom on Broadway. --Margaret Moser



WEEZER'S TOP NINE TV MOMENTS IN 1998

1. "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky": President Clinton readies for his appearance on HBO's Pimps Up, Hos Down II: White House Whipped.

2. The adoption of a seasick, skewed camera style meant to "obscure" the rampant bitch-slapping on The Jerry Springer Show. Unsurprisingly, this new ER-cam does absolutely nothing to affect the guests' decorum, diction, or fashion sense. Who needs the WWF?

3. David Duchovny's exposed nutsac on the finale of HBO's The Larry Sanders Show: "Detesticle."

4. The bone-sharp repartee of David E. Kelley's dueling anorexics, Ally McBeal (Calista Flockhart) and Helen Gamble (Lara Flynn Boyle) of ABC's The Practice, meeting on a recent Ally McBeal episode. Helen: "Maybe you could eat a cookie." Ally: "Maybe we could share it." Meow!

5.Master P and the No Limit Posse's "Make 'Em Say Uhhh!" on the MTV Video Music Awards: Best pro basketball action all year, but why bring Snoop Dogg out and not give him his own verse, byotch?

6. HBO splits off into three channels: If you couldn't get enough of Contact, My Fellow Americans, and Event Horizon before, plus all those adorable hooker documentaries....

7. Cigarette Smoking Man speaking German on FOX's The X-Files' "Triangle" episode: Erschiess ihn!

8. Proof God is laughing more all the time: A telecommunications satellite controlling most of the nation's pagers and cell phones inexplicably shuts down, thus causing crack dealers, yuppies, and baggy-pantsed teenage boys to all freak out at once.

9. The unsettling, Nabokovian thoughts brought on by the continued flowering of Claudia's (Lacey Chabert) and Sarah's (Jennifer Love Hewitt) young womanhood on FOX's Party of Five. --Christopher Gray



TV EYE READERS' TOP NINE FAVE TOPICS

1.Ruff and Reddy. Texas Monthly editor Joe Nick Patoski was among the first to respond to the query about one of TV's early cartoons by calling up and singing the theme song.

2. No more Austin Stories on MTV. But I made friends with Laura House.

3. Mighty Mannfred the Wonderdog/Tom Terrific. Many people responded with the Tom Terrific lyrics but Mighty Mannfred the Wonderdog seemed to hold a special place in the hearts of many -- only graphic artist Micael Priest provided the lyrics to Mannfred's song.

4. Roy Rogers died and Lucinda Williams' "2 Kool 2 B 4 Gotten" seemed like an appropriate way to say goodbye. Y'all liked that.

5. That Dirty Disney Web site. Woo!

6.Warner Bros. cartoons vs. Hanna-Barbera cartoons. A non-controversy I instigated. Just mentioning a cartoon as great as "Old Man of the Mountain" and then thinking about HB's charm-free animation makes me want to cry.

7.Alvin & the Chipmunks/Ross Bagdasa-rian. I figured the Chipmunks rated highly but didn't know how many people loved Clyde Crashcup too.

8. A query about Twinkles the Elephant started the whole animation thing rolling. Twinkles turned out to be a cartoon commercial.

9.Diana, Princess of Wales tribute. Nine women wrote me, one man. It's most definitely a girl thing.--Margaret Moser


Overheard in the Chronicle's kitchen: "That's not sex! Ask me -- I'm Catholic! How do you think we stayed virgins??"


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