Gary Owens: The Voice of ‘Laugh-In’ Signs Off

When longtime Laugh-In announcer Gary Owens died Feb. 13, one of the great voices of the past century was stilled. I was lucky enough to interview Gary in September 2009 about a new documentary featuring his friend Jonathan Winters. Instantly recognizable from his first “hello,” Gary took me on a roller coaster ride of rapid-fire anecdotes, drawing on his 60-some-odd years in show business. From hosting The Gong Show to buying a Quincy Jones album for 11-year-old Michael Jackson, it’s …

Charlie Sifford: the Jackie Robinson of Golf

Struggling to break the color barrier in the Professional Golfers Association five decades ago, Charlie Sifford got a tip from Jackie Robinson, who had done the same thing for Major League Baseball. “You can’t be going after these people who call you names with a golf club,” Robinson told him. “If you do that, you’ll ruin it for all of the black players to come.” That was sage advice because Sifford, who passed away on Feb. 3 at age 92 …

Rod McKuen: 10 Things You Might Not Know About the Pop Poet

Literary critics never had much love for Rod McKuen, who passed away on Jan. 30 at age 81 in Beverly Hills. Not that it mattered to his legions of fans. McKuen’s volumes of poetry, including Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows and Listen to the Warm, sold 60 million copies. In addition, McKuen was a prolific songwriter whose lyrics were interpreted by performers ranging from Frank Sinatra and Barbra Streisand to Johnny Cash. His own gravelly, breathy recording of “Jean,” which he composed for …

Ernie Banks: ‘Mr. Cub’ Was Happiest Man in Baseball

Ernie “Mr. Cub” Banks loved baseball so much that he once famously walked onto Chicago’s Wrigley Field before a game and proclaimed, “It’s a beautiful day, let’s play two!” It became his slogan. Banks, who passed away on Jan. 23 at age 83 in Chicago, was the first African American to take the field for the Chicago Cubs, hit 512 home runs and won the National League’s most valuable player award twice. But it was his irrepressible ebullience, even when …

Tom Verna: He Invented Instant Replay

There was a time when sports fans watching a live game on TV had no choice but to play close attention throughout. If they missed a spectacular play while reaching for the bowl of chips, they didn’t get a second chance to see it. TV sports director and producer Tony Verna changed that. Verna, who passed away on Jan. 18 at age 81, introduced the instant replay in 1963, basically videotaping the game and rerunning key moments to fill time …

Rod Taylor: The Aussie Actor Who Hit It Big in ‘The Birds’

You might remember Rod Taylor as Mitch Brenner, the handsome, stolid lawyer who, despite being something of a mama’s boy, summons up the courage and presence of mind to repeatedly rescue young socialite Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) from flocks of inexplicably murderous avians in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 horror-suspense classic, The Birds. Taylor, who died Jan. 7 at age 84 in Los Angeles, was one of the first Australian-born actors to make it big in Hollywood, following in the footsteps of …