The Respectable Career of Mr. Torn: Why You’ll Never Feel Ripped Off Watching Him Perform

As another year comes to a close, I wanted to take the month of December to remember some of the amazing television stars who passed away in 2019. In previous blogs during 2019, we discussed Tim Conway, Katherine Helmond, Peggy Lipton, and Peter Tork. We’ll be learning about Valerie Harper’s career in January.

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We start our tributes with Rip Torn, born Elmore Rual Torn Jr. in 1931 in Texas. Rip was a name that many men in his family used. Torn had an unlikely acting career path. He attended Texas A&M and the University of Texas where he majored in animal husbandry. During his time there, he did study acting with Shakespeare professor B. Iden Payne. His not-well-thought-out plan was to hitchhike to Hollywood, become a movie star, and retire after making enough money to buy a ranch. Although it was a dubious beginning, he would go on to a sixty-year career in the acting profession.

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The Cincinnati Kid

He made his movie debut in 1956 in Elia Kazan’s Baby Doll. In the same year, he married Ann Wedgeworth. They would remain married for five years until he divorced her to marry Geraldine Page. He and Geraldine were married until her death in 1987.

He worked a number of odd jobs and took several television roles. When he got serious about his acting, he moved to New York City to study under Lee Strasberg. Later a relative of his, cousin Sissy Spacek, would also study under Strasberg. Along with acting, Torn studied dance with Martha Graham during his early years in New York. He made his Broadway debut in “Sweet Bird of Youth” in 1959 and was nominated for a Tony. He would continue to weave in and out of Broadway and Off-Broadway for the rest of his career. He didn’t limit himself, continuing to star in Broadway, movies, and television, winning two Obie awards for “The Deer Park” and “The Beard.” He later opened a stage company.

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The Man Who Fell to Earth

Torn never lacked work. His roles varied as lead, second lead, supporting, and character. He took on a variety of roles in his movies. In 1965 he was Slade in The Cincinnati Kid with Steve McQueen. The part of George Hanson in Easy Rider, which was released in 1969, was written for Torn by Terry Southern. However, Rip did not get along with Dennis Hopper and withdrew from the film. Jack Nicholson took over the role, propelling his rise to stardom. Rip portrayed a country and western singer in Payday in 1972. In 1976, he joined David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth. He was a politician 1979 in The Seduction of Joe Tynan with Alan Alda and Meryl Streep. In 1983 he was nominated for a best supporting Oscar for Cross Creek, the true story of how Marjorie Rawlings wrote The Yearling.

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Airplane II: The Sequel

Most of his performances were in dramas, but he could also tackle comedy. Torn accepted the role of airline executive in Airplane II: The Sequel (1982) and as a tourist with John Candy in Summer Rental (1985).

In 1989 Torn would marry Amy Wright whom he was married to until his death this year when he passed away in July.

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Men in Black

Many younger fans associate him with his role in Men in Black and Men in Black II in the late ‘90s and early 2000s where he worked with Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones.

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The Man From UNCLE

Although Torn may be best known for his movie roles, he had a long and prolific television career. In the 1950s he appeared on the small screen eleven times, primarily in the drama and theater series so prevalent at that time. The 1960s found him in twenty series including The Man from UNCLE, Dr. Kildare, and Rawhide. In the 1970s, his television roles were primarily in crime shows with one appearance on Bonanza. While he did not appear in any series in the 1980s, he did show up in many made-for-tv-movies. During his career, he would appear in 32 tv movies and about a dozen mini-series.

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The Larry Sanders Show

As Artie, the television producer on The Larry Sanders Show, he was nominated six years in a row (1992-1998) for an Emmy, winning in 1996.In addition to his time on The Larry Sanders Show, he also accepted eight other tv roles in the 1990s, including an appearance on Columbo. After 2000, he would show up on television six more times, including a recurring role on Will and Grace. He had a recurring role on 30 Rock as the Chief Executive Officer of General Electric from 2007-2009.

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On 30 Rock

Unfortunately, he got into some trouble in 2010. He claimed that got him fired from 30 Rock, but no one at the show ever confirmed that. He was arrested after breaking into a bank office close to his residence. He was charged with carrying a firearm without a permit, carrying a firearm while intoxicated, trespassing, and criminal mischief. He said he broke in thinking the bank was his home. His lawyer told the judge Torn had a severe alcohol abuse problem. Torn was given a $100,000 bail and began treatment. One article I read cited that Torn was arrested three times for driving while intoxicated before this arrest.

I don’t know if he ever bought that ranch, but he earned the respect of generations of actors. He chose roles that interested him and didn’t worry if his part was the lead actor or a secondary role. He was not focused on whether a part would lead to a financial payday, choosing roles that were interesting or challenging to play. RIP Rip.

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Will and Grace

Just “Ellen”: The First Ellen DeGeneres Show

I remember watching Ellen when it first aired. I don’t recall many details, but I remember it being funny and the characters rang true to me. I recently watched the episode about bowling for another blog (see September 3, 2018), and it prompted me to take a closer look at the show.

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Ellen DeGeneres was born in Metairie, Louisiana into a middle-class family. When she was sixteen, her parents divorced and later when her mother remarried, she moved to Atlanta, Texas with her new husband and children. Ellen started college but decided it wasn’t for her and made her living in various jobs before trying stand-up comedy. Only four years after graduating from high school, she was touring the nation with her comedy. In 1986 she would appear on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.

From 1989-1990, Ellen starred as Margo Van Meter in Open House. Open House was about a real estate company. Ellen played the man-hungry secretary. In 1992 she gave sitcoms another try, portraying Nancy MacIntyre on Laurie Hill. This time the show was about the medical profession, and Ellen was a nurse with a great sense of humor.

Ellen appeared in a handful of shows and movies and then received her own show, Ellen, not to be confused with The Ellen Show which debuted in 2001 or The Ellen DeGeneres Show which aired in 2003 and is still going strong. Ellen ran on ABC from 1994-1998. The show was created at an interesting time in her career. Now a household name, Ellen had established herself as a respected comedian but was not the typical star who carried a self-named sitcom. Think of The Doris Day Show, The Jimmy Stewart Show, or The Joey Bishop Show, all well-established stars.

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Ellen was created by Carol Black, Neal Marlens, and David S. Rosenthal. (Black and Marlens had created Growing Pains and The Wonder Years as well. Rosenthal would go on to produce many successful series.) Originally titled “These Friends of Mine”, the show is centered around Ellen Morgan, a bookstore employee and her friends and coworkers, whose lives become intertwined. Like Seinfeld, the show was primarily about Ellen’s relationship with her quirky friends and dealing with day-to-day life and issues. Ellen works at “Buy the Book” bookstore. She lives in an apartment with Adam (Arye Gross), a college friend.  Adam just can’t find the right woman and gets dumped often.

Recurring characters throughout the series were Ellen’s parents, Harold (Steven Gilborn) and Lois (Alice Hirson). Her dad is a bit naïve. Her mom spends a lot of time interfering in Ellen’s life. At one point, they plan on getting divorced but later reconcile.

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Clea Lewis

Ellen’s friend Holly (Holly Fulgar) is only seen in season one. She is very shy and introverted but would like to be an extrovert. Anita is another first-season friend who is not seen in subsequent years. Joe (David Anthony Higgins) is a sarcastic Canadian and the coffee barista at the bookstore café. He becomes closer to Ellen as the series continues. Audrey (Clea Lewis) began as Ellen’s neighbor and eventually becomes a coworker as well. Audrey has a high voice and is extremely perky and cheerful and she loves pink. She was born into a wealthy family but has put her money aside for a job at the bookstore.

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During season two, Joely Fisher joined the cast as Ellen’s friend Paige. She works for a movie studio and is a little arrogant. Paige had previously dated Spence (Jeremy Pivens), Ellen’s cousin, and she leaves her fiancé at the altar to resume the relationship.

The show always did well in the ratings but because some of the characters were more appealing than others, most of the main cast was dropped for the third season.

The theme song from season three on was an altered version of “So-Called Friend” by a Scottish band, Texas. A running gag on the show centered around the altered lyrics which changed from time to time. The lyrics resulted in different opening sequences as Ellen searched for the perfect opening.

During season three, Adam moves out when his character takes a job in England. and Ellen lives alone. Eventually her cousin Spence moves in. Spence has been going to medical school but wrestles with a career decision, going to law school for a bit before returning to the medical profession.

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During the fourth season, Ellen buys her first house. Paige is still having a hard time adjusting to Ellen’s being out of the closet but accepts it at the end of the fourth year. Another change during season four is the arrival of Ed who manages the bookstore. He often disagreed with Ellen on how to run the business.

Of course, you can’t discuss the show without talking about a 1997 episode, “The Puppy Episode” that made television history. DeGeneres revealed that she was gay in real life which the writers and producers decided to carry over into the sitcom, making Ellen Morgan the first openly gay sitcom character who was the star of a show. Other gay characters appeared on shows; e.g., Billy Crystal as Jodie was a gay character in Soap, but he wasn’t the star. Ellen’s therapist on the show was Oprah Winfrey. The revelation caused a lot of controversy and media exposure.

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While the show made it easier for gay characters on television in the future, it didn’t help Ellen. Ellen DeGeneres not only was chastised by members of society who didn’t approve of gay characters, she also was criticized by the LGBT community as well. They were unhappy when she said she never wanted to be a role model for LGBT. “I was looked at as the new leader, and I didn’t want to be a leader and I didn’t want to be political . . . I just wanted to be free from a secret and that’s all I wanted.” She was portrayed as not gay enough for some groups and too gay by others, a no-win situation.

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With so much controversy, I think the powers that be on the show could not make the announcement and then ignore it but to put too much emphasis on it detracted from the relationship all the characters were involved in. Most of the subsequent episodes focused too much on the gay issues, destroying the camaraderie of the group by focusing more on one character. Rather than shows being about the group or even Ellen, it was about being gay. Ratings declined and the show was cancelled, but it had an impact, making way for gay characters in the television community. Despite all the backlash the show received for featuring a gay character, Will and Grace debuted the same year Ellen was cancelled and became a huge hit.

Of course, Ellen DeGeneres would go on to become a superstar with an award-winning talk show and a producer extraordinaire of eclectic shows. She does games shows, she has a line of home goods and shoes on QVC, and she has hosted a design competition on HGTV. Like Oprah, she has the avenues open now to explore whatever types of shows capture her interest. I have not seen Ellen on syndication in years, but episodes exist on YouTube. The DVDs were released from 2004-2006.

It’s too bad the show could not return to its original premise. Like Friends, Seinfeld, Will and Grace, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show, it had a cast of interesting personalities that had a special bond. Ellen DeGeneres received Golden Globe nominations for best comedy actress for the show three of its seasons. Joely Fisher received best supporting actress in 1998. Ellen also received the Emmy nomination for best comedy actress every year from 1994-1998. The show was also nominated for Emmys for directing, writing, and guest stars. It was a hilarious show, and it would have been amazing to see how long it could have lasted if it had not been forced off the air for non-creative reasons.

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As I mentioned, I recently watched the bowling episode which brought out Ellen’s competitive streak. I remembered how funny the show was and what an amazing ensemble cast the show featured. I will definitely watch more episodes.

Decorate With Style

With the Christmas shopping season fully in swing, I thought it would be fun to look at ways to decorate with movie and television collectibles. If you are looking for a unique gift for someone on your list or trying to come up with ideas to share with others, think about personalizing home décor with items that showcase pop culture favorites.

Whether you want to sprinkle a few items in around your house or devote an entire room to a theme, there are a lot of fun ideas to display your passions.

If you are shopping for children, think about purchasing a movie poster from the first movie they ever went to.  Our oldest son’s first movie at 3 was supposed to be an animated Christmas feature, but they had a problem with the film and showed Home Alone instead.  I thought he would be bored (or scared), but he loved it, and we commemorated that memory with a framed movie poster for his room. Maybe your child is older but has a movie she watches over and over.

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Our middle son collected old board games.  We still have a lot of those and play them a lot. You can find games about shows from the 1950s up through the present. Here are just a few of the ones I’ve seen out there:  The Lone Ranger, Happy Days, McHales’s Navy, The Partridge Family, The Patty Duke Show, The Big Bang Theory, Modern Family, The Honeymooners, The Office, and hundreds more.

If you have an avid sports fan to buy for, think about decorating with movies and tv shows about sports. How about the lobby cards for Remember the Titans, a basketball signed by Gene Hackman from Hoosiers, or a Happy Gilmore script signed by the entire cast.

Decorating with western items can also be a fun theme. Consider redoing your guest room with a western flare.  What would you put in it?  How about Clint Eastwood’s hat from The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.  I’ve seen a Roy Rogers bedspread, a John Wayne figurine, a Lone Ranger poster for the wall, and on the night stand place a couple of Bonanza tin cups for morning coffee and a CD player with a collection of Old West radio episodes.

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Maybe you have a family member who loves Christmas.  You can find a variety of Christmas photos from classic television shows.  Or buy a small fake Christmas tree and decorate it with Hallmark ornaments from pop culture.

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Perhaps you have someone who loves fashion.  There are a variety of items you can search for in that category. Many movies had photos taken when they tested their costumes. You can also find clothing, accessories, and jewelry worn on television shows or movies to wear or frame. I have a thirtysomething jacket that was made for the crew and cast and it’s a fun item to hang on the wall.

Someone who likes old advertising can use a variety of collectibles scattered throughout the house.  You can find stars promoting everything from cold cream to coffee.  We have an ad of Ozzie and Harriet Nelson in our laundry room for a Hot Point washing machine.

Do you have a doll collector on your list ?  There are hundreds of dolls out there from television series. I’ve seen I Love Lucy, George Burns, Maxwell Smart from Get Smart, That Girl, and Laverne and Shirley. In movie collectibles, you can find Gone with the Wind dolls, Wizard of Oz figures, and even Rock Hudson and Doris Day from Pillow Talk.

Coffee bars are becoming common in new homes.  If you have someone who loves entertaining that way, you’re in luck.  You can find coffee mugs, serving bowls, and tea sets to display.

Last, but not least, if you know someone who has one show they are drawn to use that as your theme.   The iconic show is The Andy Griffith Show.  You can find blankets, villages, cups, signs, clocks, and even canned food and muffin packages. However, any show whether it be The Donna Reed Show from the 1950s or Last Man Standing currently on television will have a lot of items to choose from. If you are looking for single show themes, consider advertising items–My Three Sons had a wood block invitation made for the press; props –a typewriter used on Will and Grace; tv guides; music boxes; paper dolls and coloring books; lunch boxes; or even light switch plates.

If you can’t find exactly what you’re looking for, make your own.  For example, you could enlarge the sheet music from the theme song and frame it. Or make a shadow box with a few treasured items. You can even make pillows or magnets.

With a little imagination, you can come up with that perfect gift for everyone on your list.  The bonus?  You get to stay cozy and warm inside when the winds are blowing and the snow is falling and watch your favorite shows while you shop for everyone on your gift list.