During the first two months of this year, the vintage movie community lost (at last count) four of its more durable members — not necessarily A-list personalities but nonetheless familiar to classic film fans. We would be remiss in not noting their passing.
NANNETTE FABRAY: She was better known for her musical stage and tv appearances — remember her turns on Sid Caesar’s marvelous Caesar’s Hour in the Fifties — than her movie roles. But Fabray did notch at least one beauty on the big screen. She was one of three classic performers made up as a trio of cranky infants highlighted in the 1953 Betty Comden-Adolph Green musical, The Band Wagon, directed by Vincente Minnelli. (The other two? Fred Astaire and Jack Buchanan.) A polished comedienne, Fabray stood out because she was one of the few classic movie actresses (Lucille Ball was another) who could combine real sex appeal with a capacity to make herself look foolish. She was a California girl, born in San Diego in 1920 and she died on Feb. 22 in Palos Verdes. She was 97
.JOHN GAVIN: Anyone who has savored the opening scenes of Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho — the illicit faire l’amour in a sweaty Phoenix hotel room pairing Janet Leigh and some handsome dude — will undoubtedly remember John Gavin without seeing any of his other movies. Yes, he was that handsome dude. Born in Los Angles in 1931, he was once thought to be another Rock Hudson, or at least another James Bond. Gavin was neither but he was a decent actor (43 movie and tv credits), the president of the Screen Actors Guild in the early Seventies, and — after his career ebbed — ambassador to Mexico appointed by another former actor, Ronald Reagan. (Gavin was born John Golenor, the son of a Mexican mother, and was a Stanford grad who spoke fluent Spanish.) He died Feb. 9 at the age of 86.
VIC DAMONE: There was a time in America when most if not all nightclubs and many theaters were owned or controlled by the mob. Vito Farinola — aka crooner Vic Damone — knew the territory. At one point in his complicated love life, the handsome balladeer found himself dangling out of a New York hotel window because he broke off an engagement to a mobster’s daughter. Damone was an immensely popular singer — right up there with Sinatra, Perry Como and Tony Bennett — who recorded some 2,500 sings over a 54-year career. He was very big on tv but had a marginal Hollywood career. Check him out as himself in MGM’s The Strip with Mickey Rooney; and in character in the same studio’s 1951 musical, Rich, Young and Pretty with Jane Powell. He is best recalled in Hollywood circles for the movie he did NOT appear in. Damone turned down the part of troubled singer Johnnie Fontaine in 1972’s The Godfather because the role was considered “not in the best interests of Italian-Americans.” (The role went to fellow crooner Al Martino.) Damone married five times. His fourth spouse was singer-actress Diahann Carroll; his first, actress Pier Angeli, committed suicide a dozen years after the divorce. Damone died Feb. 11 in Miami Beach, Florida. He was 89.
BENNIE JEAN PORTER: She was something of a child prodigy, who arrived in Hollywood at the age of 12 and was “discovered” by director Allan Dwan. Porter was born in Texas, and presumably encouraged by her mother (a music teacher), found herself at 10 hosting a half-hour radio show on Saturdays for a station in Fort Worth. She made her early mark at MGM appearing in Mickey Rooney and Esther Williams vehicles. She developed into a cute, likeable second-rank star. Check her out in Warner Brother’s 1947 drama That Hagen Girl, starring Ronald Reagan and a mature Shirley Temple. Her only marriage was a lengthy one beginning in 1948 to director Edward Dmytryk, one of the blacklisted Hollywood 10. The marriage lasted until his death in 1999. Porter died in Canoga Park, California on Jan. 13 at the age of 95.