Photo: 1940 Ford Siebert hearse converted to a delivery sedan, $49,000 on Hemmings.com
Queen of the Dead—dateline July 25, 2011
• July 22 saw the death of the first Bond Girl, Linda Christian, 87. Her career was pretty unremarkable; movies like Tarzan and the Mermaids, The Happy Time, Slaves of Babylon, Athena, The VIPs, and Meet Peter Voss. But in 1954, she played Valerie Mathis in a TV adaptation of Casino Royale, making her the first Bond Girl (to Barry Nelson’s James Bond). Christian was married to actors Tyrone Power (from 1949-56) and Edmond Purdom (from 1962-63).
• No one was surprised by the death on July 23 of poor Amy Winehouse, who joined what Kurt Cobain’s mother called “that stupid club,” of rock stars who died at 27. To me, the saddest part of this was her dad, Mitch Winehouse, who was just restarting his own singing career, on his daughter’s coattails. After giving up the show business to raise his family, Mitch was just now cutting his first album, and was appearing at New York’s Blue Note café. He told the Timeslast week, “she said: ‘You know what, Dad? You have to make an album.’ I said, ‘Are you crazy?’ And she said, ‘No, you have a great voice, this is terrific.’ We were thinking about it, and, as is well documented, she went through a very bad period, and we put it on the back burner. Then she got better, and we decided to give it a go.”
• Borders, the 40-year-old book chain, announced on July 18 that it would be closing all 399 stores nationwide, putting 10,700 people out of work. Borders was always kind of the low-end K-Mart of bookstores, but any port in a storm. When I moved to New York 30 years ago, I had Scribner’s, Doubleday, the great Gotham Book Mart to choose from—all gone. Amazon, Barnes and Noble (itself with one foot in the grave) and now e-books have pretty much written the death certificate for bookstores.
• There is nothing funny about this story—but it is insane and noir enough for a James M. Cain novel. It seems that six-year-old Max Shacknai, the son of San Diego zillionaire Jonah Shacknai, died last week after falling down the mansion stairs on July 11 while being babysat by his father’s girlfriend, 32-year-old Rebecca Zahau (and ladies, if you kill your boyfriend’s son—even accidentally—I think the relationship is pretty much over. If nothing else, Thanksgiving will be awkward). But wait! Then Rebecca was found on July 13, naked and bound, hanging from a balcony! Police are investigating, and your correspondent is on the edge of her seat.
• An actress as delightful as her name, Googie Withers, died on July 15, at 94. The saucer-eyed British star of stage, screen and TV had a career going back to 1930s George Formby and Jack Hulbert comedies, and she later appeared in such classics as Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes, Powell and Pressburger’s One of Our Aircraft is Missing, the terrific Dead of Night (in the “haunted mirror” segment), It Always Rains on Sunday, Night and the City—as recently as 1996, she was seen in Shine. Googie also enjoyed one of show business’ longest, happiest marriages: from 1948 till his death last year, her husband (and frequent costar) was gorgeous Aussie hunk John McCallum (look for a copy of his charming 1979 memoirs, Life with Googie). And yes, when you try to Google Googie, Google tries to change Googie to Google.
• And Gloria Clyne, 85, the first female page at NBC’s Rockefeller Center, died on July 20. She was 18 when hired in 1944 (all the boy pages were off fighting Hitler and Hirohito), and she stayed at her job till 1999 (at which time she was earning $47,000/year). Over the years, Clyne led tour groups (as a “Guidette,” a term which later came to describe the female cast of Jersey Shore), and fetched coffee and scripts for NBC stars and news anchors. “I never got rich,” she understated her case, “but it was a priceless experience.”