Sunday, March 23, 2008

No Lois Nettleton

As a dues-paying member of the Screen Actors Guild, I am entitled to (and duly receive) their quarterly membership magazine. However, because I’m a lazy slug, I don’t usually read it except for the “In Memoriam” page. Every issue of “Screen Actor,” contains a long list of all the SAG members who have died in the last three months (and not just the famous ones). In case you’re wondering, my interest in who’s passed away has nothing to do with my ever-blossoming midlife crisis. I’ve always been into dead people. It was sort of hobby my late grandmother and I shared. So, a few weeks ago, while perusing the list of actors who had recently bought the farm, my eye hit upon a name that caused me a real pang – Lois Nettleton. I’d always loved her so I googled her New York Times obituary. I learned that she’d been a member of the Actors Studio and had enjoyed an impressive stage career that included the original Broadway production of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” and being nominated for a Tony in 1976 for "They Knew What They Wanted." She had made a few, mostly forgettable films, but had done a ton of television starting with early appearances on legendary shows like “The Twilight Zone,” “Studio One” and “Naked City.” Over the years, she’d won two Emmys and had kept doing wonderful work on popular shows like “In the Heat of the Night” and “Golden Girls,” almost until the very end. Her last big role had been opposite Ed Asner in 2006’s “The Christmas Card.” She was a class act who had left behind a prestigious body of work, but oddly that’s not why I remembered her so fondly.

Being over forty, I spent pretty much the entire 1970’s parked firmly in front of my family’s TV set and I had seen plenty of Lois Nettleton in those years. A quick perusal of her IMDB page filled me with nostalgic delight. She had, for a time, been the queen of a 70’s TV phenomenon known as “The Movie of the Week.” Cranked out on short schedules with small budgets, they were a mixed bag for sure. Clocking in at a fast 90 minutes, they usually had plot lines (and titles) designed to keep those Nielson ratings up. I remembered Lois well from her appearances in “Fear on Trial,” “Women in Chains,” “Terror in the Sky,” “The Forgotten Man,” “The Bull of the West,” and “Weekend of Terror” (where she, Jane Wyatt and Carol Lynley played a trio of heroic nuns held hostage by a gang of horny escaped convicts). She also appeared on many of the weekly series my family had watched religiously. I had seen her on “Marcus Welby, MD,” “Hawaii Five-O,” “Cannon,” “Barnaby Jones,” “Kung-Fu” and on one of my favorite shows of all time, “Medical Center” where, during its six year run, (1970-76), Lois had astoundingly managed to guest star on it five times -- playing five different characters! She was that good. Don’t get me wrong. I loved her and certainly don’t judge her for some of the less prestigious work she did. I’m sure she had bills to pay. Lois was (as her obit confirmed) “highly respected,” which means she was probably never highly paid. I can relate. I myself am deeply “respected” here in Hollywood.

As morbid as this sounds, I’ve often wondered how my own obituary will someday read. It has always struck me as grossly unfair that the living get to sum up the accomplishments of the dead. It seems to me we should all get one last shot at explaining what we were up to (or at least what we had in mind) before we are unceremoniously booted off this earthly plane. I've often heard that the best recipe for happiness is to live each day as if it were your last; to smile and appreciate what’s been offered. With that in mind, I give you my “living” obituary – the one I’d write for myself if today were my last day on earth.

Actor, scribe, David Dean Bottrell, finally dead

Actor and screenwriter, David Dean Bottrell has died. Actual date, location and cause of death are, as of now, unknown. Thought to be in his mid-to-late forties, Bottrell liked to believe he looked a little younger. Originally born to a tribe of nomadic hillbillies in eastern Kentucky, Bottrell was a sickly child who preferred watching talk shows to doing homework. After a brief stint in college, he managed to land his first professional job at 19 in the chorus of a summer stock musical. He would later remember, “I wasn’t a particularly good singer or dancer but I knew the director wanted to get into my pants, so I thought I had a good shot.” Moving to New York in the 80’s, Bottrell soon began to book work as a “professional teenager” in stage productions throughout the U.S.; a career that would come to a tragic end when he was stricken with a premature case of “crow’s-feet” in his early 30’s. Forced to work for a living, he took up playwriting and had some minor successes off-Broadway before heading west to Hollywood in the 90’s. Although primarily a screenwriter from this point on in his career, he would occasionally return to acting and is well remembered for his quick, but dynamic guest appearances playing roles such as “Customer # 2” on “Caroline in the City” or “Museum Patron” on “Dharma and Greg.” In late 2006, he would inexplicably land a reoccurring role on ABC’s popular TV show “Boston Legal” which would finally grant him a full 15 minutes of fame. His many, many writing credits include a successful African-American studio comedy and number of films that he was hired to write but were never produced. A fairly resourceful jack-of-all trades, his colleagues in show business frequently assumed he was employed even when he wasn’t. Although often represented by prestigious agents, he generated most of his own work and was deeply jealous of those who had jobs offered to them. Reached at his New York studio, legendary acting teacher, William Esper remembered Bottrell, saying “He was good, but he was no Lois Nettleton.” Assuming a body can be found, funeral services will be held at an undisclosed location on a date yet to be determined.

Copyright 2008 David Dean Bottrell


david cromwell said...

let's get my jaw off the floor to type this: I was similarly affected by the Lois Nettleton obit. I also loved Medical you remember that Kim Stanley, upon hearing that her child-patient wasn't brain-damaged after all, reset her wrist-watch??? Amazingly moving... Lee Strasburg called such things Kim Stanley 'moments'.

My obit, which will come to press sooner than yours, will read: He tried to be Kim. He may not write that he, also, tried to get into your pants...

Theo Greene said...

The Midnight Sun! My most favorite episode of the Twilight Zone had Lois playing the lead character Norma. This is the one where the atmosphere of the Earth has shifted, and two women struggle with oppressive heat in a nearly abandoned city. In the end, the painting famously melts in the infernal sun, and Norma wakes up, only to learn the Earth is suffering from the opposite problem. Not heat, COLD.

Oh Lordy, this was my favorite episode when I was a teenager. I too was moved upon reading of her demise this year. Sam the Butcher from the Brady Bunch was also in that list. RIP Allan Melvin.

Marc said...

I have for quite some time now redefined personal success as rating an obituary in the New York Times.
I don't care what it says. Just that my loved ones don't have to pay for it.
As for Lois, I remember her Master Classes at TV-movie acting at The Valerie Bertinelli Academy of Dramatic Arts. Unsurpassed.

sheriareid said...

I haven't written my obituary but I've been planning my own funeral ever since I watched the 1959 version of Imitation of Life and was entranced by the send off for Juanita Moore's character, Annie Johnson. Alas, Mahalia Jackson is dead but if Aretha out lasts me, she can provide the vocals. I've asked my sister if she would mind running along behind the horse drawn carriage screaming my name; she won't give me an answer.

Great writing, I'll be back.