Photo: A 1986 Pontiac Bonneville hearse listed on EBay with bids starting at $3,350.
Queen of the Dead – dateline January 30, 2012
• I was never a Star Trek fan—so pompous so serious. I preferred the high-camp vaudeville antics of Lost in Space: June Lockhart making chocolate cake in the back yard of an asteroid; the nelly, Franklin Pangborn-esque Dr. Smith; rubber-costumed aliens. So I was sad to hear of the death on January 22 of Dick Tufield, 85, who voiced the sarcastic Robot, always sparring with the great Jonathan Harris. Tufield began his career as a radio announcer, moving to TV in the 1950s. He was a newscaster in Los Angeles, padding out his paycheck with voice work on such shows as Space Patrol, Surfside 6, The Judy Garland Show, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Time Tunnel, and others—as recently as 2004, he voiced the Robot on a Simpsons episode. Tufield called Lost in Space fans “unbelievably loyal, impassioned; with a hunger for LIS knowledge, both current and archival,” and in 2005 fondly recalled trading Olsen and Johnson jokes on-set with actor Bob May, who was actually scrunched-up inside the Robot.
• Leading man James Farentino (also known as “the one who wasn’t James Franciscus or Tony Franciosa”) died on January 24 in Los Angeles. He was 73. The tall, dark and handsome actor was ubiquitous from the 1960s-90s on TV (The Bold Ones, Cool Million, Police Story, Dynasty, Blue Thunder, Mary, Julie, ER, Melrose Place) and only slightly less so in movies (Ensign Pulver, The War Lord, The Pad and How to Use It, Me, Natalie, Story of a Woman, Her Ailibi, Deep Down). He also appeared with Bette Davis in The Night of the Iguana on Broadway (1961-62) and in revivals of A Streetcar Named Desire and Death of a Salesman. But what a holy mess his private life was, bless his little cotton socks! In that pre-TMZ era, his resume was dotted with battery, drug and stalking arrests; among his four wives were actresses Elizabeth Ashley and Michelle Lee.
• 114-year-old Oregon resident Delma Kollar died on January 24 (one headline called her “114 Years Young,” which is the kind of thing that makes me get my stiletto out of pawn). One of my biggest fears is living to be that old—I plan to take after my father’s side of the family and drop dead at 70. My luck, I will outlive Delma, bitching and complaining every inch of the way. One paper quoted a recent conversation with her 60-year-old granddaughter, Syd Bergeson. “How old are you going to be Monday?” Bergeson asked her grandmother. “I haven’t hardly paid attention,” Kollar said. “114,” Bergeson said. “Oh, no,” Kollar said. She took the words right out of my mouth.
• And the sad news came in from Epstein’s muddah that Robert Hegyes, who played the Chico Marx-like Juan Epstein on Welcome Back, Kotter (1975-79), died of a heart attack on January 26 in New Jersey. He was 60. Hegyes was a rising young New York stage actor when he auditioned for Kotter, gaining fame as one of the Sweathogs (Juan Luis Pedro Philippo DeHuevos Epstein). Like the other Sweathogs—with the exception of John Travolta—his career coasted after Kotter left the air, but Hegyes kept moderately busy on TV (L.A. Heat, Cagney & Lacey, NewsRadio, Diagnosis Murder). He later became Artist-In-Residence at his alma mater, Rowan University, teaching screenplay writing and acting, also lecturing at Brooks College, in California. Not the first of Mistah Kottah’s students to die, either: remember the late, great Debralee Scott, who played Rosalie “Hotsy” Totsy, as well as Mary Hartman’s sister? She died back in 2005.