Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Nobody Put These Two in a Corner

Mourning the deaths of two great leading men today...

First, Patrick Swayze (this is a favorite photo of him):
Then I saw this photo taken of him days ago out in L.A. with his wife, and it was very painful to look at. Look if you dare, it is very sobering. Pancreatic cancer sure took its toll on him. He was 57, same age as The Hubster.

I guess everyone has a favorite movie of Swayze's. I liked most everything he did, even the often-panned Grandview, USA he starred in with Jamie Leigh Curtis. Then there was the other movie of his considered a bomb: Red Dawn. I liked that movie a lot...Wolverines! It made a big impression on me at 28 in 1984, because even though I had been in my share of bomb shelter fire drills under my desk as a schoolkid, I'd never before really thought about what it would be like to be invaded by an enemy. Red Dawn brought that home to me.

So, the next year when he played Orry Main in the TV mini-series North and South, I was in looooooovvvvvve. OMGawd. For me, it was Nick Nolte's Tom in Rich Man, Poor Man in the 70's and Swayze's Orry in the 80's that defined awesomeness for a television mini-series. He was perfect in that role and America began to take notice.

Then came Dirty Dancing. Nothing I can say that hasn't been said, except that he made Jennifer Gray sexy. No small task, as she was Jewish cute at best. When Ghost came out in 1990, he was set as a major star, and he made Demi Moore sexy-sensual, not just sexy-cute like she was in St. Elmo's Fire. He also played a great straight-guy to Whoopi's Oscar-winning role. Suffice it to say he made both his leading ladies classy in his presence.

After Ghost, he battled addictions and rehab, but managed to hang in there and give us two more of his best performances: as the awesome, awesome, awesome, did-I-say-awesome surfer-bank robber Bodhi in the ultimate xtreme sport action movie Point Break (with an also awesome Keanu Reeves in his first big break role). For those of you who have never seen this movie, I feel sorry for you. The photo above is Swayze as Bodhi. Here's another:
Oh, man. Hubba hubba and great acting, too. Plus, check it out: Swayze was the better surfer of the two, despite being 12 years older. Yes, they did their own stunts. Ya just gotta rent it if you haven't seen it.
The other great performance was as the sweet and graceful drag queen Vida in To Wong Foo Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar. Wow, what an amazing cast in that movie, and several of them were standouts. Still, Vida tends to be everyone's favorite. Even Roger Ebert's, who remarked that Swayze made a pretty nice looking woman. What do you think?
Swayze, a Houston native who graduated high school with actress Shelley Duvall, was in my opinion a pretty good actor when given decent material who put 200% into every role he played and made several less than decent roles presentable. I believe that he was vastly underrated because of his chick-flick roles, much like a beautiful woman is never believed to be a brain. Those of us who liked him, however, know the truth of his talent.
We also lost actor and Broadway star Harve Presnell this week. Younger fans will know him as the SOB father-in-law in Fargo, or Mr. Brooks in Dawson's Creek. But those of us who grew up watching the color musicals of the 50's and 60's will remember Presnell as Debbie Reynolds' husband Johnny in The Unsinkable Molly Brown movie (as well as on Broadway opposite Tammy Grimes), and in one of my favorite movie musicals, Paint Your Wagon, he sings the song They Call the Wind Mariah (as in Carey, and I betcha $10 bucks that's where her mom got her name from...just went to check and I am correct...yes!). 
Presnell then starred as Daddy Warbucks in Annie on Broadway and in between Fargo and Dawson's Creek, he appeared in the movies Saving Private Ryan, The Legend of Bagger Vance,  Flags of Our Fathers, Face/Off, Patch Adams and Old School. He was 75.
I remember when I first saw Presnell sing Mariah in Paint Your Wagon. I was awed by his rich baritone voice, but I was stubborn in my insistence that was Howard Keel. In fact, the two actors looked like brothers. Here's Keel young and old:

Not only did Harve and Howard look alike, their singing voices were alike, too. Both were rich, deep baritones. I had known Keel from movie musicals like Annie Get Your Gun, Show Boat, Calamity Jane, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and Kiss Me Kate. Later on, he was Miss Ellie's 2nd husband on TV's Dallas.
But I digress. We are here to remember Harve, not Howard. I think it is a compliment to mistake Harve for Howard; that is how good Presnell was in musicals and then later on as a straight dramatic actor. Both Presnell and Swayze did their vocation justice and had many fans worldwide. They both loved to work and were complete professionals at it. Their deaths are our loss. God speed, gentlemen. May you sing and dance all you want to now.