In Memoriam...

Hal Goldman

(source Los Angeles Times) Hal Goldman; Prolific Joke Writer for Some of Comedy's Biggest Names 

By MYRNA OLIVER, Times Staff Writer

In the beginning there were Eddie Cantor, Jimmy Durante and Jack Benny. 

And until the end of his career, a mere five years ago, there was George Burns. 

Hal Goldman, the Emmy-winning writer who penned gags for all those stellar comedians and a dozen or so others in between, has died at the age of 81. Goldman, who followed Benny from radio into the Golden Age of that new gadget called television, died Wednesday of cancer at his home in Bel-Air. 

Born Harold Goldman in St. Paul, Minn., and educated at the University of Minnesota, Goldman broke into show business the same way as many in his generation--in the Army during World War II. He began writing while in uniform, for actor Robert Young on Armed Forces Radio Service and for USO shows. At the war's end, Goldman moved to Hollywood, where he landed assignments to write radio scripts for Cantor.  Soon partnered with Al Gordon, Goldman was the urbane and well-read half of the team who typed and polished while Gordon paced and shouted out one-liners.

"Al couldn't type. I don't think he could even spell!" Goldman told The Times in 1996. "Al came up with very good jokes, but I had better judgment."

Through friends, they learned that Benny needed new material for Rochester, the black valet on his radio show, portrayed by Eddie Anderson. With lightning speed, Goldman and Gordon handed Benny a written sketch.  They were soon hired, along with George Balzer and Sam Perrin, as the purportedly penurious comedian's four writers, and they remained with him until Benny's TV show was canceled in 1965. Goldman continued writing for Benny's specials until the star died in 1974.

Two of Goldman's Emmys, in 1958 and 1959, were for Benny scripts in the Best Comedy Series category. Nominated for 10 Emmys during his career, Goldman added a third in 1966 for his work on a Carol Channing special, and also earned a Writers Guild Award in 1986.

Goldman adored Benny for respecting writers and treating them as peers, said Goldman's daughter, Barbara Garry. 

After the Benny show ended, Goldman and his partner wrote for the comedy-variety television shows of Dick and Tommy Smothers, Carol Burnett, Jim Nabors, Flip Wilson, Dean Martin, Tony Orlando and Billy Crystal.  In 1979, Goldman signed on with another durable--and the writer's final--comedy legend, George Burns. Until the centenarian comedian's death in 1996, Goldman wrote for Burns' television shows, Las Vegas acts, the screenplay for the 1980 "Oh, God, Book II," and several of Burns' books--including "How to Live to Be 100 or More" published in 1983, "Wisdom of the 90s" in 1991 and "100 Years, 100 Stories" in 1996.

Goldman is survived by his wife, Betty; two daughters, Barbara Garry and Louise Ackerman; a brother, Hilton Goldman; and two grandchildren. The family has asked that any memorial donations be made to the Cedars-Sinai
Hospice Fund.

Russell Saunders 1919-2001

(source unknown) Russell Maurice Saunders, stuntman: born Winnipeg, Manitoba 21 May 1919; died Los Angeles 29 May 2001.

One of Hollywood's most famous stuntmen, Russell Saunders was a world-class acrobat who could somersault over 14 people. On screen he performed amazing feats in more than a hundred films for such stars as Charles Boyer, Jack Benny (LL:  Anyone know which film?), Gene Kelly and Steve McQueen.  It was Saunders who doubled for Alan Ladd in the famous gunfight scene in Shane and who did the series of stunts which win Don Lockwood (Gene Kelly) a film contract in Singin' in
the Rain.

When doubling for Richard Widmark, he jumped off a 50ft cliff into the sea and broke his arm so badly on a rock that he could never fully straighten it again. It did not deter him from maintaining his acrobatic career, though subsequent partners had to learn to perform with one crooked arm to preserve the important symmetry.

The youngest of eight children, Saunders was born in 1919 on a farm outside Winnipeg, Canada, where as a small boy he would jump off the barn cradling chickens, convinced that the fowls' wings would enable him to fly. He began to develop his acrobatic skills as a boy at summer camp, and in his teens won Canadian championships in diving and gymnastics. After an attempt to enlist in the Canadian Air Force was turned down because he was colour-blind, he moved to southern California, where he was offered diving scholarships by both USC and UCLA but went to Hollywood instead, where he appeared in a water show starring Bing Crosby and began to get work as a movie stuntman.

Inevitably, he gravitated to Muscle Beach, the legendary stretch of shore (initially just a platform) near Santa Monica pier where many pioneers of gymnastics, acrobatics and physical fitness would practise and perform, among them Steve Reeves and  Vic Tanny. It was there that Saunders first demonstrated his ability to somersault over 14 people standing side by side and bending over.

He also began a virtually lifelong practice of teaching at the acrobats' platform, continuing to train youngsters on Sunday afternoons totally free of charge even after Muscle Beach had been officially closed down by the council in 1959 because its Bohemian bent was considered a bad influence on the neighbourhood. The gymnast Jack La Lanne said recently, "Russ is one of the finest gentlemen and all-round acrobats and athletes I have ever known.  He is very unselfish and is always trying to help people he is a role model for young people."

Though Saunders did not practise body-building himself ("He said he'd rather lift girls than weights," said a friend), he had a perfectly proportioned natural physique, and in 1950 he was chosen by Salvador Dali as the model for his painting The Christ of St John of the Cross, which is now in St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art in Glasgow and which led fellow stuntmen to call Saunders "the ultimate double".  "I didn't even know who Dali was at the time," said Saunders, "I was working for Warner Bros Studios and tested in front of this guy with a cane and a waxed mustache. I got paid $35 a day to pose."  

Saunders first performed on screen as part of a troupe of acrobats in The Great Profile (1940) starring John Barrymore, and had one of his first important jobs as a stuntman in Hitchcock's great thriller Saboteur (1942), in which he doubled for Robert Cummings jumping off a 60ft bridge and swimming 100 yards while handcuffed. (If 
watched closely, it is apparent when Cummings jumps from the car in which he is being held  captive and runs to
the edge of the bridge that the man sprinting so athletically is stockier than Cummings.)

Drafted into the US Army in 1942, Saunders was naturalised as a US citizen on 1 January 1944 in a ceremony performed at the US Embassy in London. He dived with a special armed forces acquacade, was decorated by President Harry Truman as an outstanding war correspondent, served in France as well as England and was one of the first soldiers into Berlin.

Resuming his Hollywood career, he became a regular double for Gene Kelly, performing acrobatic stunts in The Pirate (1948), The Three Musketeers (1948) and Singin' in the Rain (1952). One of his most famous stunts occurred in The Three Musketeers, in which he leaped from roof-top to roof-top, caught a waving flag that ripped, then swung on its shreds to land in a window. The trapeze artist Fay Alexander (who himself doubled for Tony Curtis in Trapeze and Doris Day in Jumbo) helped Saunders rig the legendary stunt, and commented, "It took the most co-ordination, timing and ability of anything I've ever seen. He is without a doubt the best all-round acrobat I have ever known one of a kind."

Other stars for whom he did stunts included Gilbert Roland, Red Buttons, Danny Kaye and Lloyd Bridges. He also appeared in such epic action films as The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, Earthquake and Hindenburg. His last film was Mississippi Burning (1988).

The stuntman Gary Morgan, who learned much of his trade from Saunders,  said, "He had an uncommon ability to imitate an actor's precise mannerisms, down to the peculiarities of his walk. He would sometimes work on several movies at the same time on the MGM lot. He would dive through a window for one picture, immediately do a fight scene in another and then race off to do acrobatics for Gene Kelly.

At Muscle Beach in 1940 he met Paula Boelsems, who once taught an elephant how to water-ski. She was to be Saunders' acrobatic partner for over 50 years. "Just hours after we met," she recalled, "I was being tossed through the air for him to catch me."

While in his seventies he was still teaching youngsters on Sunday afternoons on the old Muscle Beach site. In 1976 he said, "This has got to be the only place in the world where someone can just walk up and receive free gymnastic instruction from pros."

During his film career, Saunders had offers to do more prestigious work,  such as directing, but declined. "Russ was like a big kid," said Gary Morgan. "He didn't want to become involved with anything that would interfere with him having fun."

By the time Saunders retired, the sort of daredevil stunts he used to do were becoming less necessary and certainly far less hazardous then they once were. As Gary Morgan comments, "Stuntmen used to face far greater dangers than they do today, when they can use supporting wires that can be digitally removed from the film."