Monday, September 20, 2021

The Passing Parade

I’ve been trying for some while now to find time enough to compile one of my lengthy “Bullet Points” posts, in which I could mention a few recent deaths among members of the crime-fiction community. However, those free hours never seem to be available. Rather than wait longer, let me pay final respects here to six different people who have made contributions of one sort or another to this genre.

• Character actor Michael Constantine, who passed away from natural causes on August 31 at age 94, may now be—as Deadline insists—“best known as the fruit- and Windex-obsessed father Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, an indie film that rose out of nowhere to become a smash hit.” However, Constantine’s extensive list of TV and movie credits collected over a more-than-half-century-long career found him in everything from comedies to crime dramas, in both starring and secondary roles. For instance, he featured in films such as The Hustler (1961), The North Avenue Irregulars (1979), and Prancer (1989). On the small screen he played the beleaguered school principal on Room 222; a night court judge in the short-lived sitcom Sirota’s Court; a wannabe private eye in his first of two turns on Perry Mason; and the lovable loser George Edward Mulch in three episodes of Remington Steele. Constantine scored parts as well on The Untouchables, The Fugitive, The Name of the Game, The Streets of San Francisco, McMillan & Wife, Ellery Queen, Quincy, M.E., Crazy Like a Fox, Simon & Simon, Homicide: Life on the Street, and Law & Order. He was born Constantine Ioannides on May 22, 1927, in Reading, Pennsylvania—the same city in which he’s said to have died.

• Art Metrano, born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 22, 1936, evidently made his big-screen debut playing a truck driver in the 1958 espionage/science-fiction thriller Rocket Attack U.S.A. He was later cast in other pictures, among them They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (1969), They Only Kill Their Masters (1972), and a pair of Police Academy comedies. Nonetheless, Metrano is better remembered for his small-screen work, which included roles on The Mod Squad, Mannix, Kojak, Ironside, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Police Story, Baretta, Hill Street Blues, and L.A. Law. In addition, he was a regular on the Ironside spin-off Amy Prentiss, playing San Francisco Detective Rod Pena. In 1989, Metrano tumbled from a ladder while repairing the roof of his Los Angeles home, and broke three vertebrae, leaving him a quadriplegic. That misfortune, says the entertainment Web site Enstars, “did not let it stop him from pursuing his career. Even after the fall, he returned in a one-man play, ‘Metrano’s Accidental Comedy,’ where he performed while riding on a motorized wheelchair.” Metrano perished in Florida on September 8 at 84 years of age.

• It was author Martin Edwards who first brought to my attention the demise, on August 31, of Robert Richardson, an author who served twice as chair of Britain’s Crime Writers’ Association (1993-1994 and again in 2006-2007). “Robert,” Edwards explained here, “was a journalist who moved from writing whodunits featuring an amateur sleuth to novels of psychological suspense.
His first crime novel, The Latimer Mercy (1985), won the John Creasey Memorial Award for the best debut of the year. Firmly in the classic detective story tradition, it benefited from a cathedral setting (in Vercaster, a fictionalised St. Albans), and an amateur detective [and playwright] who rejoiced in the name of Augustus Maltravers. … Maltravers appeared in three more novels before Robert published The Hand of Strange Children (1993), a book nominated for the CWA Gold Dagger. He blended extracts from news agency reports detailing the discovery of two bodies in a wealthy banker’s house with flashbacks so as to build considerable tension. Significant Others (1995), in which he made use of his knowledge of the newspaper industry, and Victims (1997), are also entertaining stand-alone novels.
Shotsmag Confidential adds that Richardson was presented with the CWA Red Herring Award in 2020 “for giving generously of his time and expertise, benefiting not only the CWA but the wider crime-writing community.” Eighty years old, he succumbed in South Yorkshire, England, after what’s said to have been a short, unspecified illness.

The Gumshoe Site’s Jiro Kimura writes: “J. Randolph Cox died on September 14 at a care center in Northfield, Minnesota. The former librarian at St. Olaf College in Northfield served as the editor-publisher of Dime Novel Round-Up for more than 20 years, edited Masters of Mystery and Detective Fiction (Scarecrow Press, 1989), and authored Man of Magic and Mystery (Scarecrow Press, 1989; a biblio-biography of the creator of The Shadow), The Dime Novel Companion (Greenwood Press, 2000), and Flashgun Casey, Crime Photographer (Book Hunter Press, 2005; with David S. Siegel), among other [books]. He frequently contributed articles for many mystery reference books and fanzines and received the 2014 Munsey Award presented by PulpFest.” Cox had achieved 84 years of life before he took his last breath. UPDATE: Mystery*File supplies a bit more info about Cox here.

• Being a regular reader of his eclectic, often humorous, and long-running blog, Matt Paust’s Crime Time, I was surprised, along with so many others, to hear that journalist-turned-fictionist Paust has died from bladder cancer. Or, as he phrased it in an obituary he penned and left behind, “Mathew David Paust has at last slipped quietly away from the furiously whirling social experiment known throughout the galaxy, and perhaps beyond—and not without a chuckle, groan, snort, or perhaps something more imaginative—as ‘Earth.’” The brief biographical sketch explains that Paust—who had retired from the Newport News, Virginia, Daily Press to concoct and self-publish several books, among them the satirical Executive Pink (2010) and Sacrifice (2012)—“was born in Columbus, Wisconsin, two days before Japanese war planes bombed U.S. Naval ships at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.” Which made him 79 years old. The final entry in his blog, which he launched eight years ago, was posted in July.

• Finally, a few words about the late, great Ed Asner. I was introduced to this Kansas City, Missouri-born actor by my mother, who was a loyal fan of The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977), on which Asner played a news producer at Minneapolis station WJM-TV. My interest in him was significantly enhanced when, after that situation comedy’s cancellation, he reappeared on the wonderful spinoff series Lou Grant (1977–1982), portraying the same tough-talking character in a much different setting, as city editor of the fictional Los Angeles Tribune. As David Von Drehle wrote in The Washington Post, Asner became “the first actor to win Emmy awards for the same role in both a comedy and a drama. That tells you something about the depth of the character and of Asner’s portrayal—for what is more true of human existence than its inseparable tangle of comedy and drama?” However, Asner’s TV and movie credits extended well beyond those two landmark series. As The Spy Command recalls, he earned screen time on The Girl from U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West, and House on Greenapple Road, a teleflick that spawned the Burt Reynolds series Dan August. Asner racked up roles, too, on everything from Naked City, Cain’s Hundred, Route 66, The Untouchables, and The Defenders to Burke’s Law, The Fugitive, Judd for the Defense, They Call It Murder (the unsuccessful 1971 pilot for a TV series based on Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby novels), The Mod Squad, Police Story, Roots, The Trials of Rosie O’Neill, and even Mad About You. Asner’s face was hardly less familiar on the silver screen; he was seen in The Satan Bug (1965), Gunn (1967, based on the TV series Peter Gunn), James Garner’s Skin Game (1971), Oliver Stone’s JFK (1991), Elf (2003), and the 2009 animated film Up. Variety notes in addition that “Within the industry he was respected for his activism on liberal causes that were close to his heart and for his service as Screen Actors Guild president from 1981 to 1985. In recent years he had been vocal in his opposition to the current SAG-AFTRA leadership regime. In December Asner was one of 10 actors who filed a class-action lawsuit against the union over changes made to its health care plan.” Ed Asner was 91 when he expired this last August 29, reportedly of natural causes.

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