Tuesday, August 12, 2014

What happened to Dr Doolots/ Luis Avalos?

Luis Ávalos, a Cuban-born actor known for his long tenure on “The Electric Company,” the popular PBS children’s program of the 1970s, died on Wednesday in Burbank, Calif at Providence St Joseph Medical Centre on 22 Jan 2014. He was 67.

The cause was complications of a recent heart attack, his friend Gabriel Reyes said.

Mr. Ávalos joined “The Electric Company” in its second season, 1972, a time when there were few Hispanic faces on television. He remained with the show until it went off the air in 1977, appearing in more than 600 episodes.

“The Electric Company,” which taught English grammar and literacy to post-“Sesame Street” viewers, also starred Morgan Freeman, Rita Moreno and Judy Graubart.

A dapper, diminutive man, Mr. Ávalos played several recurring characters. He was known in particular for Dr. Doolots (sometimes spelled Dolots), a white-coated amalgam of the fictional Dr. Dolittle with all three Marx Brothers — boasting the voice of Groucho, the dash of Chico and the hair of Harpo.

Dr. Doolots, quite literally a prescriptive grammarian, ministers to his patients’ sundry linguistic ills with bumbling manic energy.

Mr. Ávalos’s other regular television roles include Dr. Thomas Esquivel on the CBS sitcom “E/R” in the 1980s and Principal Rivas on “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper” in the ’90s.

His film credits included “Hot Stuff” (1979), “Stir Crazy” (1980), “Hollywood Homicide” (2003) and “$5 a Day” (2008).

Mr. Ávalos was born in Havana on Sept. 2, 1946, and moved to the United States with his family when he was very young. Originally trained as a stage actor, he earned a bachelor of fine arts in theater from New York University and afterward joined the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center.

His Broadway credits include a 1970 revival of Brecht’s “The Good Woman of Setzuan”; he also appeared Off Broadway and in regional theater.

He had guest roles on many TV shows, among them “The Jeffersons,” “Barney Miller,” “Hill Street Blues” and “NYPD Blue.”Avalos also went on to appear in 21 episodes of the CBS hospital-based sitcom “E/R” as Dr. Thomas Esquivel and as Principal Rivas on ABC’s “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper.” Some of his other TV credits include “Jack & Bobby,” “Full House,” “Resurrection Blvd.” and “NYPD Blue.”
The Havana native was also featured in several films, including “Jungle 2 Jungle” with Tim Allen and “The Ringer” with Johnny Knoxville. His final film project, “$5 a Day,” was released in 2008.
A resident of Los Angeles, he was the founder and artistic director of the Americas Theater Arts Foundation there, which supports productions of plays with Latin American themes.

Mr. Ávalos’s only immediate survivor is his companion, Angel Febo.

In 1983, Mr. Ávalos starred in “Condo,” a short-lived ABC sitcom about an upscale white family and its Hispanic neighbors. The series, which also starred McLean Stevenson, was faulted by some critics for trafficking in ethnically based insult comedy.

“I think that the greatest enemy to the understanding among people of different backgrounds is not the expression of ideas or the occasional trading of insults,” Mr. Ávalos told The Associated Press in response. “The greatest enemy is invisibility.”

Avalos also often said in interviews that he turned down many roles because they negatively portrayed Latinos. "But I hate to turn down work," he said in a 1987 San Diego Union-Tribue Story,"because the same producer may have a good role next time, and won't offer it to you...Hispanis are an important part of the fabric of this nation, but they have a long way to go. Kids need to see images that are positive, not just to be shown as a a busboy."


What happened to "Hey You Guys!"/ Rita Moreno

U.S. actress Rita Moreno has had a thriving acting career for the better part of six decades. Moreno, one of the very few (and very first) performers to win an Oscar, an Emmy, a Tony, and a Grammy, was born Rosita Dolores Alverío in Humacao, Puerto Rico on December 11, 1931. 

In the Electric Company, Rita was Carmela the singer, Otto The DirectorPandora the Little Girl, Millie the Helper and so many other roles.

She moved to New York City in 1937 along with her mother and  got her first movie experience at aged 11,dubbing Spanish-language versions of U.S. films. Less than a month before her fourteenth birthday in1945, she made her Broadway debut in the play "Skydrift" at the Belasco Theatre, costarring with Arthur Keegan and Eli Wallach. Although she would not appear again on Broadway for almost two decades, Rita Moreno, as she was billed in the play, had arrived professionally.

The cover of the March first, 1954 edition of "Life Magazine" featured a three-quarters, over-the-left-shoulder profile of the young Puerto Rican actress/entertainer with the provocative title "Rita Moreno: An Actresses' Catalog of Sex and Innocence." It was sex-pot time, a stereotype that would plague her throughout the decade. If not cast as a Hispanic pepper pot, she could rely on being cast as another "exotic", such as her appearance on Father Knows Best (1954) as an exchange student from India. Because of a dearth of decent material, Moreno as an actress had to play roles in movies that she considered degrading. Among the better pictures she appeared in were the classic Singin' in the Rain (1952) and The King and I (1956).

Filmmaker Robert Wise, who was chosen to co-direct the movie version of the smash hit Broadway musical West Side Story (1961) (a retelling of Shakespeare's "Romeo & Juliet" with the warring Venetian clans the Montagues and Capulets reenvisioned as Irish/Polish and Puerto Rican adolescent street gangs, the Jets and the Sharks), cast Moreno as "Anita", the Puerto Rican girlfriend of Sharks' leader Bernardo, whose sister Maria is the piece's Juliet.

However, roles commensurate with that talent were not forthcoming in the 1960s. The following decade would prove kinder, possibly as the beautiful Moreno had aged and could now be seen by film-makers, T.V. producers and casting directors as something other than the spit-fire/sex-pot that Hispanic women were supposed to conform to. Ironically, it was in two vastly diverging roles -- that of a $100 hooker in director Mike Nichols brilliant realization of Jules Feiffer's acerbic look at male sexuality, Carnal Knowledge (1971) (1971) and that of Milly the Helper in the children's T.V. show The Electric Company (1971) (1971) -- that signaled a career renaissance.

During the seventies, Moreno won a 1972 Grammy Award for her contribution to "The Electric Company" soundtrack album, following it up three years later with a Tony Award as Best Featured Actress in a Musical for The Ritz (1976), a role she would reproduce on the Big Screen. She then won Emmy Awards for "The Muppet Show" and "The Rockford Files".

In her personal life, Moreno had an eight year long affair with actor Marlon Brando. On June 18, 1965, Moreno married Leonard Gordon, a cardiologist who was also her manager. He died on June 30, 2010. They have one daughter, Fernanda Luisa Fisher, and two grandsons, Justin and Cameron Fisher. In an interview with Good Day LA, Moreno stated that Elvis Presley was not a good lover. They dated for quite some time, but whenever the opportunity presented itself to take the relationship to another level, Presley backed off.

This sexy still of Moreno and Brando during their film The Night of the Following Day was found hanging above Brando's desk when he died

Moreno continues to work steadily on screen (both large and small) and on-stage, solidifying her reputation as a national treasure, a status that was officially ratified with the award of the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in June 2004.

Rita Moreno face.jpg

Other accolades include: 

What happened to Love of Chair/ Skip Hinnant?

Joseph Howard 'Skip' Hinnant (b. Sept 12, 1940) was an actor and voice artist who was born on Chincoteague Island, Virginia. He was a part of the repertory cast on The Electric Company, playing J.J., the boy in "Love of Chair," Frankenstein's Monster, and most notably, bungling detective Fargo North, Decoder. The latter helped Sesame Street visitor Big Bird find his way home in a 1972 cross-over skit. In the special Out to Lunch, he reprised Fargo and others, and in cross-over segments with the Sesame Muppets, he performed a Puppy-Love Dessert Chow commercial with a Muppet dog (Jerry Nelson) and played an extra in Cookie Monster's "Kookamonga Kid" skit.

Skip's first major role was as Cathy's boyfriend, Ted, on the Patty Duke Show from 1963 - 1965 and in 967, he played Shroeder in the original off-Broadway case of Clark Gesner's You're a Good Man Charlie Brown, where his older brother played Snoopy.

Much earlier, Hinnant had been heard on Sesame Street itself, narrating the live-action insert "There Once Was a Hand." (First: Episode 0007).

Hinnant's Electric Company association extended to albums, including the 1977 record Spidey Super Stories (as Fargo and the villains Moleman, Mr. Measles, and the Jester). Prior to that, he had recurred on The Patty Duke Show as boyfriend Ted (1963-1965) and, in 1967, originated the role of Schroeder in the off-Broadway production of You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.

However, most of his career has been spent as a New York-based voice actor, most infamously as the title feline in the 1972 X-rated feature Fritz the Cat and its sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974). He was also heard in the Rankin/Bass special The Easter Bunny Is Comin' to Town (as Sunny the Easter Bunny), and the 1980 stop-motion feature I Go Pogo (as Pogo and the narrator). Further voice work includes episodes of My Little Pony 'n Friends, the radio series The General Mills Radio Adventure Theatre (1977), and commercials ranging from a prominent Air Wick spot to spokescharacter Teddy Snow Crop for Snow Crop frozen foods. His few post-Electric Company on-camera appearances include guest roles on 3-2-1 Contact and Kate & Allie, as well as the 2006 PBS special The Electric Company's Greatest Hits & Bits.

Hinnant is the longest-serving president of the New York branch of the Screen Actors Guild.

What happened to Jennifer of the Jungle/ Judy Graubart?

Born in October 1943 in Fort Worth, Texas. Esther Judith "Judy Graubart  grew up in Chicago as a rabbi’s daughter, Graubart honed her acting skills in after-school improvisational classes and programs from age five.

“It was great for me,” she says over coffee at City Bakery. “I was an overweight kid and extremely nearsighted, and being insecure about all of that, so being involved in these little acting groups just pulled me out of that. It allowed me to think I was funny, and…I just loved being a part of dramatic activities.”

She honed her skills further at sleepaway camps following the death of Rabbi Graubart when Judy was eight, but didn’t get serious about performing until her attendance at the University of Chicago.

 “I did some productions in college, which were fine,” she says, “but my real break came because of a boyfriend I had, who was good friends with David Steinberg, and he was with Second City Comedy Group at the time.

Judith planned to be a French teacher since her major was Romance Languages, but she wound up doing in other roles. She loved doing improvisation and she said, "It’s not easy to do well; I think the ability to improvise successfully is there if actors are willing to relax and use it, but it can be hard to do a scene with somebody if they aren’t skilled in it. There were guys I had to work with who would just butcher what we were doing, and then I remember working with someone like Peter Boyle, who was TERRIFIC. I kept think that working with Peter was like talking with someone from your hometown; someone with whom you just speak a common language."

The tour ended in New York, and Graubart transplanted herself here along with other members of the company. Several plays and commercials continued to put bread and butter on Graubart’s table for a time,  Graubart managed to keep the bill collectors from the door and satisfy her artistic self, including the television version of Paul Sills’s “Story Theater,” shot in Canada, and then one day came the opportunity to audition for the new children’s educational program “The Electric Company,” produced by the Children’s Television Workshop.

She landed the job and would stay with the show for its full seven-year run through 1978, creating characters that would delight children all over the country.

“It was such a wonderful feeling to land a show as a regular, a show that was doing some good instead of just being a sitcom or something.” Again she was in illustrious company; Bill Cosby was a regular for the first two seasons, Rita Moreno would be with the show for some time, and other cast members included Todd Graff, Skip Hinnant, Luis Avalos, Hattie Winston, Lee Chamberlin, Melanie Henderson, June Angela, Gregg Burge, Irene Cara, and then-virtually-unknown Morgan Freeman. “It was marvelous that they welded together this group of different ethnic types and different energy levels. I guess I was the low-energy person in the family, except when I was doing a character like Jennifer of the Jungle, swinging on the vine and doing my “Oyoyoyoyoyoyoyoyoy” yell.”

She is married to Bob Dishy. They have two children.
Judy Graubart


What happened to Crank/ Jim Boyd?

Jim Boyd/ James A. Boyd  (1933 - 2013) was an actor best known for his work on The Electric Company, staying for the entire run from 1971 to 1977. Boyd was at first, a puppeteer on the WPIX-TV series The Surprise Show and was hired by CTW to reprise his puppet character Lorelei the Chicken, perform the suit character Paul the Gorilla, and providing off-screen voice-overs, notably as the angry caller J. Arthur Crank.

Beginning in the second season, Boyd brought Crank before the cameras and expanded his repertoire to include the Blue Beetle, The Wolfman, and the puppet Maurice the Plant. Mr Crank was the perpetually angry middle-aged New Yorker who always finds himself yelling at performers or the audience. The character appeared in all 780 episodes of the original Electric Company (1971-1977), a show that was created for older children who were no longer served by Sesame Street.

Crank remained Boyd's signature character and on one occasion, had the privilege of meeting two Sesame Street Muppets. He proved fairly sympathetic when encountering a tearful Grover at Vi's Diner, but later rejoiced in paying tribute to his mentor and role model, Oscar the Grouch.

Boyd also supplied the voice of Spider-Man in the Spidey Super Stories album based on the Electric Company skits.

Boyd died on January 2, 2013, after a brief illness. He was married to his wife, Kathleen, and was a loving father of Jeanne (Bill) Billings, devoted grandfather of Andrew Billings. J

Saturday, May 10, 2014

The Indochina expats in temporary housing for half a century

The Indochina expats in temporary housing for half a century

Artillery gun at Dien Ben Phu battleground  
Rusting French artillery still lies on the battlefield of Dien Ben Phu

When France lost control of Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos nearly 60 years ago, hundreds of people who had served the French colonial system - and were at risk of persecution - were rehoused in a disused army camp in south-west France. It was meant to be a temporary home, but some are still there.

First a brief history lesson.

In the 1950s, like Britain, France saw its overseas colonial empire begin to unravel rapidly, and its far-Eastern colony, Indochina or Indochine, was no exception.

The French packed their bags and left in a hurry.

However thousands of local residents who had worked for the French colonial administration or had married French citizens were considered traitors by much of the local population and their lives were in danger.

So Paris allowed some of them to come to France. They were called the French expatriates of Indochina.

Some 1,200 of them were brought over by boat and were told they could stay in a run-down former army camp near the small town of Sainte-Livrade.

The living conditions were cramped. Sanitation and heating were nearly non-existent and the new residents faced severe restrictions on their movements - so as not to antagonise the local population.
It was all supposed to be temporary - just for a few months - until something better was found. Except nearly 60 years later they are still there.

To be precise, 30 of the original residents are still there. They are now in the late 80s and 90s. The rest have died and their children have moved on and made their own lives.

The local French population referred to the camp as Vietnam sur Lot - Vietnam on the River Lot.
The camp had its own Asian shops and restaurants on base, and while the children were taught in French, the adult refugees spoke Vietnamese and the remaining survivors still do.

But interestingly, whatever language they used, they all took French names.

The hundreds of families lived in rows of long, narrow, grey, low-ceilinged concrete buildings that resemble farm outhouses more than homes.
Most are now abandoned, except for the last 30 families still there.
And when you go inside the homes, you are hit by two distinct sensations. One, that you are clearly somewhere in Asia, and secondly that you have been thrown back to another era, when France had an empire.
There are photos of French soldiers parading proudly in Indochina, and hats on the wall, of the kind once worn by French colonial officials.

It is the same feeling one gets when visiting say a British expatriate club in some parts of East or Southern Africa, with models of Spitfires and hunting trophies on the wall.

Ninety-one-year-old year old Emile Lejeune, who spent seven years in jail in Indochina for fighting alongside the French, is still bitter about what happened to him.

Surrounded by Buddha statues, he says there was never any effort to integrate the Indochina expatriates into French life.

He told me integration was a dirty word back then and the only solution for them was to adapt to the new situation and not kick up a fuss.

The men went to work in local factories and the women in the fields nearby. Contact with the French was kept to a minimum.

Another of the original survivors is Pierre Charles Maniquant.

When I meet him he is watching Vietnamese TV, thanks to a satellite dish.
When he arrived, he told me, his family of 10 were housed in two rooms and shared outdoor toilets with other families.

Contact with the outside world was strictly controlled until the 1970s.

He tells me the French people are no better or worse than anyone else, but the French state had let down the Indochina expatriates.

Health and safety in the camp had never been a priority until 2004, when one of the elderly residents died in a house fire caused by faulty electrics. The French authorities finally decided it was time to act.

Some of the disused barrack homes have been knocked down, small new houses with an Asian look are going up in their place and the last residents are now being urged to move in.
But the irony is that most do not want to.

Having lived in their homes for nearly 60 years they cannot face the idea of being uprooted again.
"We have had to wait more than half a century for proper housing to be built but all the elderly residents have died. There are just 30 of us left," Pierre Charles Maniquant told me.
"All our children have moved on to make their own lives."

Dien Bien Phu: Did the US offer France an A-bomb?

French soldiers during the battle for Dien Bien Phu

Sixty years ago this week, French troops were defeated by Vietnamese forces at Dien Bien Phu. As historian Julian Jackson explains, it was a turning point in the history of both nations, and in the Cold War - and a battle where some in the US appear to have contemplated the use of nuclear weapons.
"Would you like two atomic bombs?" These are the words that a senior French diplomat remembered US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles asking the French Foreign Minister, Georges Bidault, in April 1954. The context of this extraordinary offer was the critical plight of the French army fighting the nationalist forces of Ho Chi Minh at Dien Bien Phu in the highlands of north-west Vietnam.

The battle of Dien Bien Phu is today overshadowed by the later involvement of the Americans in Vietnam in the 1960s. But for eight years between 1946 and 1954 the French had fought their own bloody war to hold on to their Empire in the Far East. After the seizure of power by the Communists in China in 1949, this colonial conflict had become a key battleground of the Cold War. The Chinese provided the Vietnamese with arms and supplies while most of the costs of the French war effort were borne by America. But it was French soldiers who were fighting and dying. By 1954, French forces in Indochina totalled over 55,000.

At the end of 1953, French commander in chief Gen Navarre had decided to set up a fortified garrison in the valley of Dien Bien Phu, in the highlands about 280 miles from the northern capital of Hanoi. The valley was surrounded by rings of forested hills and mountains. The position was defensible providing the French could hold on to the inner hills and keep their position supplied through the airstrip. What they underestimated was the capacity of the Vietnamese to amass artillery behind the hills. This equipment was transported by tens of thousands of labourers - many of them women and children - carrying material hundreds of miles through the jungle day and night. On 13 March the Vietnamese unleashed a massive barrage of artillery and within two days two of the surrounding hills had been taken, and the airstrip was no longer usable. The French defenders were now cut off and the noose tightened around them. 

It was this critical situation which led the French to appeal in desperation for US help. The most hawkish on the American aide were Vice-President Richard Nixon, who had no political power, and Admiral Radford, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Also quite hawkish was the US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was obsessed by the crusade against Communism. More reserved was President Eisenhower who nonetheless gave a press conference in early April where he proclaimed the infamous "domino theory" about the possible spread of Communism from one country to another.
Red Cross helicopter flies to French positions at Dien Bien Phu
"You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly," he said. "So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences."

Saturday 3 April 1954 has gone down in American history as "the day we didn't go to war". On that day Dulles met Congressional leaders who were adamant they would not support any military intervention unless Britain was also involved. Eisenhower sent a letter to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill warning of the consequences for the West if Dien Bien Phu fell. It was around this time, at a meeting in Paris, that Dulles supposedly made his astonishing offer to the French of tactical nuclear weapons.

In fact, Dulles was never authorised to make such an offer and there is no hard evidence that he did so. It seems possible that in the febrile atmosphere of those days the panic-stricken French may simply have misunderstood him. Or his words may have got lost in translation.
Map showing details of Dien Bien Phu
"He didn't really offer. He made a suggestion and asked a question. He uttered the two fatal words 'nuclear bomb'," Maurice Schumann, a former foreign minister, said before his death in 1998. "Bidault immediately reacted as if he didn't take this offer seriously."

According to Professor Fred Logevall of Cornell University, Dulles "at least talked in very general terms about the possibility, what did the French think about potentially using two or three tactical nuclear weapons against these enemy positions".

Bidault declined, he says, "because he knew… that if this killed a lot of Viet Minh troops then it would also basically destroy the garrison itself".

In the end, there was no American intervention of any kind, as the British refused to go along with it.
 he last weeks of the battle of Dien Bien Phu were atrociously gruelling. The ground turned to mud once the monsoon began, and men clung to craters and ditches in conditions reminiscent of the battle of Verdun in 1916. On 7 May 1954, after a 56-day siege, the French army surrendered. Overall on the French side there were 1,142 dead, 1,606 disappeared, 4,500 more or less badly wounded. Vietnamese casualties ran to 22,000.

In this year marked by two other major anniversaries - the centenary of the outbreak of World War One and the 70th anniversary of D-Day - we should not forget this other battle that took place 60 years ago. In the history of decolonisation it was the only time a professional European army was decisively defeated in a pitched battle. It marked the end of the French Empire in the Far East, and provided an inspiration to other anti-colonial fighters. It was no coincidence also that a few weeks later a violent rebellion broke out in French Algeria - the beginning of another bloody and traumatic war that was to last eight years. The French army held so desperately on to Algeria partly to redeem the honour it felt had been lost at Dien Bien Phu. So obsessed did the army become by this idea that in 1958 it backed a putsch against the government, which it believed was preparing what the generals condemned as a "diplomatic Dien Bien Phu". This putsch brought back to power Gen de Gaulle who set up the new presidential regime that exists in France today. So the ripples of Dien Bien Phu are still being felt.
Dien Bien Phu memorial to French soldiers who died in battle there  
A memorial in Dien Bien Phu commemorates the French soldiers who died there
It was also in 1954 that France began working on its own independent nuclear deterrent.
For the Vietnamese, however, Dien Bien Phu, was only the first round. The Americans, who had refused to become directly involved in 1954, were gradually sucked into war - the second Vietnam War - during the 1960s.