This would normally be in the Warm-Up, but I left it out, and I want to make sure it is seen. I have written about this pet peeve of mine before, but I see that it was on the old Ethics Scoreboard in 2005, before Ethics Alarms. (ARGGH! I have GOT to get that site back on-line!)
Here is a typical headline I am seeing on the web:
Veteran Actor And ‘Tommy Boy’ Star Brian Dennehy Dead At 81
For the love of God…
Brian Dennehy, who died this week, was one of our finest, most versatile and most enjoyable character actors. His performance as Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of Salesman” on Broadway is considered by critics as one of the very best interpretations of that classic role in what has been called the Great American Tragedy. The performance won him a Tony, as did his turn as Hickey in the other contender for the Great American Tragedy, O’Neill’s “The Ice Man Cometh.” (That one would get my vote.)
Dennehy’s brawny, square-headed Irish bartender looks limited him to supporting roles in films (In “Silverado,” He’s one of my two all-time favorite Western bad guys, evil and so, so engaging!) and while he had many TV roles, Dennehy never found a long-running hit that would make him a household name ( and a gazillion dollars) like so many lesser actors. But Dennehy considered himself a stage actor, and there he excelled.
“Tommy Boy” is a sophomoric gross-out comedy that starred the late Chris Farley. Dennehy was terrific as Farley’s father, but the movie was the kind of throw-away that actors like him do to buy new pools. Citing that as Dennehy’s claim to fame is more than misleading, it’s an insult.
When I wrote about this issue before, it was when actor John Fiedler and Paul Winchell died, both in 2005. Both deceased actors were described in headlines as their “Winnie the Pooh” movie voice performer roles (Fieldler was Piglet, Winchell was Tigger*), and in both cases, but especially Winchell’s, it was like announcing Thomas Edison’s death by calling him the inventor of the concrete house (which he was, you know.)
John Fielder and his strange, breathy, high-pitched voice was featured in many memorable TV episodes (he was the spirit of Jack the Ripper on the original “Star-Trek”) as he guest-starred in dozens of shows, often multiple times, throughout the 50’s and 60’s, including a recurring role as one of Bob Newhart’s psychiatric patients in the first “Bob Newhart Show.” Fiedler only appeared in a few films, but one was as Juror 5 in “Twelve Angry Men,” and another was as the fearsome (if “shrunk”) lawyer J. Noble Daggott in “True Grit.”
Reducing his career to the voice of an animated toy is bad enough, but doing the same to Paul Winchell was almost criminal. In the 50’s and 60’s he was the star of two of the most popular Saturday morning kids shows, sharing the stage with his ventriloquist dummies Jerry Mahoney and Knucklehead Smith. Winchell might have been the best and most innovative ventriloquist of all time: he was to TV what Edgar Bergen was to radio, and as far as technique, it was no contest. Winchell was also an important inventor. He had medical training, and while he was not not moving his lips on TV, he had a parallel career as the inventor of medical equipment, including becoming the first to build and patent a mechanical artificial heart, (US Patent #3097366)
I think I’ll call what was done to Fiedler, Winchell, and now Brian Dennehy, “Headline Depreciation.” It’s misleading, it’s disrespectful, it’s incompetent, and it’s wrong.
* NOTICE OF CORRECTION: I originally wrote Eeyore here, not Tigger. Serves me right for hating “Winne the Pooh”…