Saturday, August 29, 2015

In Memoriam, 2015 edition

Writing Simon's birthday posts is always bittersweet, for two reasons. One, he's gone from this life now. Two, the death tribute must be written the very next day.

It's also always hard to know what to say. There isn't a lot of information out there on Simon the person; much of what we know comes from bits and pieces of biographical information (some of which may or may not be entirely correct), a brief interview with Jack Grinnage on our website, and the three or four articles that Crystal and I have discovered over the years. What we know is very positive, and Crystal highlighted some of her discoveries and conclusions in her birthday tribute yesterday.

We would love for someone who actually knew Simon to come forward and bring more information so that we could learn more about this highly talented man and share it with our readers. We would also love for more Simon performances to become available, especially rare gems such as Ready for the People, in which he had a starring role. We would find it epic to witness Simon's violin playing or one of his stage roles. And we would be ecstatic for Simon to be more widely recognized and remembered to the point of even getting a book written about him and perhaps a movie.

Of course, with character actors such things rarely happen. They are remembered fondly, but oftentimes the viewers don't place the name with the person. With the Internet age, hopefully that doesn't happen as much now. But character actors are not the ones who get tributes, biopics, biographies, etc. written about them, except in very rare cases. This is more of a shame than ever since character actors are so incredibly talented that they slip into their parts so totally and completely that they are believable as everything from a callous outlaw to an honest military man. In many cases, they are every bit as talented as the headlining stars, and sometimes even moreso.

This is certainly the case with Simon. Of course, with his humble and unassuming nature, he was probably content to never be in the limelight enough to actually win awards, no matter how deserved. But we still wish he had. Performances such as Frank Epstein on Hawaii 5-O and Captain Beechum on The Twilight Zone are so completely opposite each other yet both are supremely powerful. Frank is a bitter and angry man, and it's hard to fault him for that, after the torture he went through that ruined his life and his friend's apparent betrayal to their captors. Captain Beechum is a stern and no-nonsense commander, but very compassionate and concerned for his men's welfare and also that of strangers he's never seen. Both try to do the right thing throughout their episodes and both are, in the end, good and upright.

Whether aligned with good or ill, Simon's characters were so very human ninety-nine percent of the time. And even the few that did not appear to show any redeeming qualities whatsoever were magnificently played. After all, for such a good person to portray someone as evil as Mel Barnes takes incredible talent.

Crystal and I have a new Simon project this year: a branch of the fansite on Tumblr, where we post weekly pictures and GIFsets and occasionally other material as well. This week it's my turn to do the pictorial tribute and it falls right on the anniversary of Simon's death. I chose to do the tribute on Captain Beechum.

It's hard to believe that this year marks 32 years since Simon left us. But we will continue to remember and celebrate him, and know that the countless people who appreciate Simon's amazing talents are enjoying his performances right along with us.

Even if some of them still haven't put a name to his face.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Happy 100th!

Well, Google is still being belligerent. Now it's not letting Crystal sign in to our shared account to post, so I will put up her tribute for her. Hers was ready even before today, and mine was ready this morning. It is very discouraging that Google has been so stubborn about us using our own account!

~ Lucky_Ladybug

Here we are, once again, on the anniversary of Simon’s birthday, and a very special one—his centennial! Trying to come up with something special for today has been a challenge, but one that I’ve been ready to take on.

Ladybug and I have talked a lot about Simon’s acting abilities in past entries.  And as wonderful an actor as Simon is, I wanted this post to be about Simon the person, rather than just Simon the actor.  Naturally, this was more than a little difficult to find out, due to an inconvenient lack of a TARDIS, but I’ve been able to gather somewhat of a portrait from some archive newspaper interviews that Ladybug and I have found (and all are available for reading as links on our website).

One thing that was evident in the interviews was Simon’s sense of humor.  There’s an article where he relates the numerous times that, as a character actor, people recognize his face but not his name, instead thinking that they met him somewhere before.  After relating the stories, he then goes on to say that he still enjoys them, whether or not the person in question ever figures it out.  The interviewers are always quick to describe Simon as friendly and approachable—indeed, he must have been, for so many people to just walk up to him and casually start chatting about where they’ve “seen” him before!

And, of course, Simon talked at length about the actor’s craft, like how he studies the different facets of their personalities and then portrays them as such.  He described the kinds of roles he likes, and how he will be choosy about them, saying in a 1967 interview that he was “…More interested in getting the right roles than anything else.”  He went on to describe the “right roles” as the memorable ones—which says something about what he must have thought of Tony Vincenzo, as it was a role he would revisit multiple times in the 70s.

More than one of the article writers had pointed out about Simon’s opinions on TV violence.  Simon saw it as a necessary outlet—that it was better for people to deal with their inner anger through that fictional medium, rather than something real.  And though he was aware about the criticisms of TV violence (even getting into a discussion with Jack Lord about whether or not the violence in Psycho led to a real-life case of someone getting killed in a shower), he continued to stand by his views, insisting that it should be realistic enough to make people think before enacting anything in real life, as well as giving young viewers enough of a scare to make sure they won’t try anything of the kind.  Something about this makes me think that if Simon had lived long enough to see the rise of video games in the late 80s and beyond, he probably would have had the same opinions about them, as well; and, who knows—he might have even lent his voice to a character or two.

Gathering all that about Simon from four interviews took a lot of looking just to find them.  There aren’t that many interviews about him—and one of the article writers points out that it is largely due to how humble Simon is, even adding that, in the middle of the interview, Simon would much rather talk about the other people he’d met and work with, rather than just talking about himself.

All in all, the portrait that I’ve managed to put together from these interviews is of a humble, good-natured, and intelligent person who enjoyed what he did, even if he didn’t always get recognition for it.  And while I feel bad that this recognition that Ladybug and I are giving him now is too late for him to read, we both feel very strongly that he still knows exactly what we’re trying to say.

Happy Birthday, Simon.  And thank you for everything that you gave us during your time here.

~ Crystal Rose

Happy 100th Birthday, Simon!

After a long battle with Google to be let back in to our account today, we can finally present our birthday tributes!

2015 is a significant year for Simon Oakland fans. This date, August 28th, would have been Simon’s 100th birthday. He brightened the lives of countless people during his lifetime and even now, 32 years after his death, his legacy lives on and new people are cheered by this man’s amazing talents and his special spirit. He was a great man as well as a great actor.

I’m thrilled that I was able to see several new things with Simon during the past year. Some, such as The Raiders and the pilot for Unsolved Mysteries, Crystal already saw long before, and I believe, has talked about them here. I definitely remember her wonderful words on Simon’s poignant character in The Raiders. Other roles, including his guest-spots on Lou Grant and Tightrope, I was the first of us to see. So I will discuss those.

The plot of Tightrope involves the adventures of an undercover policeman, played by Mike Connors in his first starring role. I have heard it’s based on the real-life adventures of actor Robert Philips, who was a police officer before he became an actor. The episode with Simon has him in the role of a mobster running an extortion racket. Mike’s character infiltrates the group and tries to break it up.

As always, Simon plays the role expertly and makes us believe in the character. He feels real. And while there’s no mistake that he’s the villain, Simon used his special tricks to give the character dimension and depth. He feels human, rather than just a cookie-cutter bad guy. I believe he survives the episode, although it isn’t expressly shown, and I was glad of it.

On Lou Grant, unless something was cut in the version I saw (which is always possible), they seriously underused Simon. He played a retired General who collects butterflies and clashes with one of the main characters, who’s upset that he’s after a very rare butterfly. It is certainly a unique part and character, but then, that certainly isn’t new to Simon. Even with only two scenes that I could find, he brought the character to life. He isn’t just a ornery guy who wants that butterfly; he’s a very three-dimensional character who isn’t trying to do anything wrong and doesn’t feel that he is.

Another thing I finally got to see is Simon’s guest-spot on Marcus Welby, M.D. I thought I talked about it here already, but I can’t find a record of that. It’s an episode from the seventh season entitled, How Do You Know What Hurts Me? Simon plays a gentle, kind man involved in a May-December romance with a younger girl who is very mysteriously ill. They have a lovely relationship and truly care about each other, and it’s one of the few times I’ve seen a May-December romance portrayed in a positive manner on classic television. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen Simon in and I was thrilled that it ended happy, with the girl’s problem discovered and corrected and her marriage stable.

I also saw Simon’s guest appearances on the police show CHiPs. He was excellent both times, but my favorite is the two-part episode from season 3, where he plays the manager of a female racecar driver. He acts gruff and growly and sometimes rude, but he honestly cares about her.

His other guest-spot is from season 5, where he plays a man who runs a car alarm company. He doesn’t want his young daughter joining the business, and she retaliates by disabling the alarms and driving the cars off so they appear to have been stolen! Her actions are truly outrageous and actually cost her father some important business and worse, his reputation. He was much too quick to forgive and put it aside under the circumstances; I really wanted to see him chew her out first. She really deserved it. But it was admittedly sweet to see him embrace her as a loving father.

It was so wonderful to be able to see so many things that I have wanted to see for years. And I was thrilled to see the Tightrope credit go up on, as I don’t think it was there before. Several other new items have been added as well, which I hope to track down before long. Hopefully someday, there will be a complete list of Simon’s works for us to pore over. Meanwhile, the hunt for new treasures and the celebration of ones already known is plenty exciting for Simon fans.

Happy 100th birthday, Simon. I know that wherever you are now, you’re bringing joy to still more people.