Posts Tagged ‘Hollywood

REWIND: Bizarre Death And Mysterious Burial Of Hollywood Oscar Winner

- June 17th, 2013

 

The best-read Nosey Parker blog post ever — by a long shot — was a piece I did back in May 2011 called The Dog That Cornered Osama Bin Laden on the Navy SEAL war dog named Cairo. I think some very popular dog websites and discussion groups had posted prominent links to the piece, because there was massive readership of that piece for MONTHS. Years even. The story ended up being included in a book about war dogs.

Another 2011 blog post that’s been getting a lot of recent activity — much less than the Cairo piece, of course — is the one I’m rerunning here. Because of the Cairo phenomenon, I was curious if this piece on Gig Young was spiking again two years after it appeared because it was being pointed to by a special-interest network — on old Hollywood this time instead of dogs.

So I added a note at the end of the piece asking readers to tell me how they came to it. Turns out there was no organized promotion going on, just people who had been watching Gig Young movies on DVD or TV and then searching the Internet to find out more about the actor and his films.

There must be an awful lot of people looking at Gig Young movies and then reading the Nosey Parker blog post on him because a Google search for “Gig Young” gives you his Wikipedia entry first (of course) and then, in second spot, the Nosey Parker piece, ahead of even his IMDb link.

Although I’m repeating the blog post here, I’m also including this link to the story as it originally appeared back on March 2, 2011, for anyone who wants to check out the string of comments attached to it.

I’m doing this because I’ll be away for a couple of weeks and out of Internet contact, so I thought I’d leave something fairly interesting on this space while I’m gone. It’s a long piece too, so you can read it in two or three sittings if you’d prefer. Take your time. See you later.

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Almost nobody remembers Gig Young now, but 41 years ago he was the toast of Hollywood.

The Academy Awards for 1969 were presented on the evening of April 7, 1970, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

It was the second year the Oscars were televised worldwide and it was also the second year there was no host — a brief interregnum between the Bob Hope era and most of the 1970s when hosting was done by committee (before one last hurrah for Bob Hope and the beginning of the Johnny Carson era).

Winning the Oscar for Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy, the only X-rated film in the history of the Academy Awards to win Best Picture.

John Wayne got the only Oscar of his career as Best Actor for his role of crusty Rooster Cogburn in True Grit and Maggie Smith won Best Actress as an eccentric Scottish teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Goldie Hawn (in  one of those typical Oscar “huh?” decisions) got the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Cactus Flower.

And the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor goes to … Gig Young for his performance as Rocky, the sleazy and manipulative promoter of a Depression-era dance marathon in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

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It was a popular choice in Hollywood, where Gig Young had established himself over the previous 30 years as a charming, genial party guy who often played the role of a charming, genial lush onscreen  — and on the Tonight Show couch as a frequent, amusing guest of Johnny Carson.

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Young had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice before, for 1951′s Come Fill The Cup and 1958′s Teacher’s Pet, but the 1969 win was the pinnacle of his career — and the beginning of the end.

Actually the beginning of the end for Gig Young began with the birth of Byron Elsworth Barr in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on Nov. 4, 1913.

For most of the next three decades, Gig Young was Byron Barr, a charming, genial kid and aspiring actor.

According to most biographies, Byron was raised in Washington, D.C. (more about that later) before winning a scholarship at the end of high school to the famous Pasadena Community Playhouse in California, where he worked on his acting chops before being picked up as a contract bit player by Warner Bros. in the late 1930s.

The young actor was still known as Byron Barr — and got the occasional screen credit under that name — until his breakout role in 1942′s The Gay Sisters, in which he played a character named … Gig Young.

Warner Bros. decided “Gig Young” was a catchier name than “Byron Barr” (and — unbelievable as it may seem — there was another young supporting actor kicking around Hollywood at the time also named Byron Barr) so “Byron Barr” stopped being a charming, amiable second-string actor and “Gig Young” stopped being a movie character’s name.

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Gig Young, actor, then reverted to Byron Barr, pharmacist’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard, for the duration of World War II.

When the war ended and Byron Barr returned to civilian life, Warner Bros. dropped his contract. But Byron Barr decided to keep his Warner Bros. stage name and Gig Young quickly became a solid, busy Hollywood presence in movies like Wake of the Red Witch, The Three Musketeers and Only the Valiant.

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In the mid 1950s he was hosting the television series Warner Bros. Presents while keeping up his busy movie career and busier social life.

By 1956 he was on to his third wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of famed Hollywood actor Robert Montgomery. Elizabeth Montgomery would go on to superstardom in the 1960s as Samantha Stephens, the nose-twitching hexess in TV’s Bewitched (1964-72).

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But first she had to dump Gig Young. Montgomery divorced him in 1963, citing physical and emotional abuse fuelled by her husband’s alcoholism.

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The Gig Young party gig was starting to run low on steam, but there were still two more wives, a pretty good TV series called The Rogues and that 1969 Academy Award to go before the whole charming, amiable Gig Young persona blew apart in a million pieces.

He married his fourth wife, Hollywood real estate agent Elaine Williams, shortly after the Montgomery divorce and daughter Jennifer — Byron Barr/Gig Young’s only child — came along in April 1964.

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Of course, Williams was divorcing Barr/Young within three years (physical-emotional abuse/alcoholism) and in the subsequent child support proceedings Barr/Young proclaimed that Jennifer was not his biological child and he was not responsible for her upkeep. The court ruled against him, but more about that later.

So Gig Young staggered into the 1970s, clutching his Oscar, with a few more movie roles to come but far more trouble.

Typical was his experience in 1973 when Mel Brooks picked Gig Young to play the Waco Kid — a role ultimately assumed by Gene Wilder — in the groundbreaking western comedy Blazing Saddles.

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Let’s let Mel Brooks tell you what happened on the first day of filming when Cleavon Little’s character Bart and the Waco Kid (Gig Young), a broken-down, drunken gunslinger, meet for the first time in jail:

“We draped Gig Young’s legs over and hung him upside down. And he started to talk and he started shaking. I said, ‘This guy’s giving me a lot. He is giving plenty. He’s giving me the old alky shake. Great.’ And then it got serious, because the shaking never stopped, and green stuff started spewing out of his mouth and nose, and he started screaming. And, I said, ‘That’s the last time I’ll ever cast anybody who really is that person.’ If you want an alcoholic, don’t cast an alcoholic… Anyway, poor Gig Young, it was the first shot on Friday, nine in the morning, and an ambulance came and took him away. I had no movie.”

Gene Wilder flew from New York to Los Angeles over the weekend and was playing the Waco Kid on Monday morning, but that’s another story.

The DTs didn’t deter Gig Young and he was still firmly on his downward spiral when he hooked up with director Sam Peckinpah (another guy on a downward spiral) to make a couple of ultra-violent, nihilistic movies — 1974′s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and 1975′s The Killer Elite.

(It seems to be during the making of these films that Gig Young started collecting guns.)

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There were two more movies after that and one more marriage before Gig Young’s ignominious end.

Young was an invisible presence in a terrible movie, The Hindenburg, also released in 1975, and then he hit rock bottom in 1978 when he was cast in a patchwork reworking of an unreleased kung-fu movie called Game of Death — incomplete footage of which was shot prior to star Bruce Lee’s death in 1973.

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So Gig Young’s last movie had him in a minor supporting role to an action star who had been totally inactive for five years.

Not really a good mental and emotional place to be for his fifth marriage on Sept. 27, 1978, to 31-year-old German actress Kim Schmidt (sometimes erroneously listed as 21 and sometimes erroneously listed as Australian).

I’m not sure why Kim Schmidt married him — maybe it was true love, maybe it was Oscar love, maybe it was just something to do — but it was a bad decision.

Three weeks after the wedding Gig Young ended the marriage in their condo apartment, Suite 1BB of the Osborne Apartments on West 57th Street in New York City, on Oct. 19, 1978.

He ended it by loading a Smith & Wesson .38-calibre revolver — one of many, many firearms he kept in the apartment — and putting one slug through his wife’s head and one slug through the roof of his mouth.

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Exit, Gig Young.

But not gracefully.

Adding insult to felonious injury, his will left the bulk of his estate to his 1970s agent, Marty Baum of CAA, and $10 to his putative daughter, Jennifer Young. (How creepy is that, taking as your real last name the fictional name of a guy who had disowned you as his daughter?)

In the end, it was up to Gig Young’s sister, Genevieve Barr Merry, to bury her brother. Which she did, in the Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, North Carolina.

And that is where Gig Young’s story ends and mine begins.

A couple of years ago, I took an extended road trip down the east coast of the U.S., partly to write travel stories, partly to heal wounds of a dissolved marriage and partly to feed an eccentric hobby of mine — visiting the graves of interesting dead people.

I must admit that Gig Young didn’t meet the main criterion of my search for dead people — for the most past they were people I admired or, at least, could stand in awe of.

People like Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone (a simple stone on a rural hillside in the Finger Lakes district of upper New York); Mark Twain ( a grotesque monument in Elmira, N.Y., erected 30 years after his death by his daughter to jointly honour her dead Russian composer husband); Billie Burke, the actress who played the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz, alongside her previously deceased/bankrupt husband Flo Ziegfield of Ziegfield Follies fame (simple graves on a hilltop outside New York City shaded by a huge statue Burke erected in honour of her mother). People like that.

But my ultimate destination was North Carolina, the place of my birth and the place where I had scattered my father’s ashes over his parents’ graves the better part of a decade earlier.

I was doing some travel writing/gathering up in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains first and that was where I stumbled across the fact that Gig Young was buried in Waynesville.

That was also when I became aware that Young — an actor I was very familiar with from my childhood — had died in a bizarre murder-suicide. And I couldn’t figure out what he was doing buried in a small mountain town in North Carolina , far away from Hollywood and New York City and even Washington, D.C., where he supposedly grew up.

So driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway chasing 19th Century inns, steam locomotives and a moonshiner named Popcorn Sutton, I stopped off at the Green Hill Cemetery on a hot, sunny June afternoon to look up Gig Young.

One major thing that distinguishes American cemeteries from Canadian cemeteries is the number of little flags erected at gravesites. Those flags are usually put there by the American Legion and other post-service fellowships to honour departed members.

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In a normal U.S. cemetery, a third to a half of the graves will be showing flags, in part because of higher American war death tolls in the past half century and in part because mandatory conscription — and thus an extended base of former military personnel — was in effect in the U.S. from the early 1940s through the 1970s.

Then there’s another quirk: The further south you travel, the more Confederate flags you see intermingled with United States flags in cemeteries. Those flags are maintained by organizations like the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy to honour the southern dead of a war fought 150 years ago.

I tell you this because the Green Hill Cemetery is so old it has far more graves sprouting Confederate flags than U.S. flags.

I like cemeteries: They’re calm and peaceful and have interesting stories to tell. And I generally like people who work in cemeteries: They tend to be calm and peaceful and have interesting stories to tell too.

And when you’re looking for a needle — one single grave — in a haystack — a cemetery with anywhere between 300 and 300,000 (Arlington) graves — the people who work there are a good place to start the search.

Since there aren’t usually a lot of living people in a cemetery on a midweek afternoon, it didn’t take long to find caretaker Lonnie Higgins.

Lonnie was a nice guy but a fairly young guy, cemeterily speaking, so he didn’t have quite the sense of historical ownership I was looking for.

Lonnie could direct me to a grist stone once operated by Daniel Boone (everything in the mountains of North Carolina has some connection to Daniel Boone), to the car dealer buried in a Model T Ford and to the grave of the very last serving Confederate officer (Alden Howell, died 1947 age 106), but he had no idea who Gig Young or Byron Barr was or where he was buried.

Lonnie thought a little more.

“And we’ve got that actress here, the one from Bewitched.”

“Elizabeth Montgomery?” I asked in disbelief.

“No, not Samantha. Her mother.”

“Agnes Moorehead?”

“I guess. I heard she was buried here but I’ve never seen her grave myself.”

That was just too weird: The guy once married to Elizabeth Montgomery and the woman who once played her mother on TV buried in the same rural cemetery in the middle of nowhere.

And then, thankfully, Fred Rathbone drove up in his truck.

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Fred was the former Green Hill caretaker, retired now, but the main man for 35 years and the repository of knowledge I had been looking for.

And yes, Fred was related to Basil Rathbone, the Sherlock Holmes actor whose urn crypt in a New York mausoleum I had recently been locked out of.

“He was my daddy’s second or third cousin.”

Well, everybody in North Carolina is pretty much related to everybody else, including Daniel Boone, so the Rathbone connection was no surprise.

With the pleasantries over, I asked Fred about Gig Young.

“Oh, yes, he’s here but not under that name. Under the family name.”

“Barr?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I’ve seen it many times but I don’t remember right where now. Over that way somewhere. There’s a family monument and then the individual markers.”

“And Agnes Moorehead? She’s buried here too?”

Fred looked confused.

“Lonnie told me Agnes Moorehead, the mother from Bewitched, is buried here too.”

Fred’s furrowed brow cleared.

“Oh, no. The Bewitched connection is to Gig Young. He was married to Samantha, you know. Lonnie just got his witches mixed up.”

Lonnie and Fred and I had a good chuckle about that one.

So Lonnie and Fred went on talking and watching birds and listening to the wind in the trees while I went grave hunting.

And about 45 minutes later — after finally turning 90 degrees from the direction Fred had pointed me in — I found the Barr family plot.

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And under the Barr monument there were five gravestones:

John E. Barr 1877-1975

Emma C. Barr 1879-1944

Donald E. Barr 1906-1949

Floyd H. Barr 1883-1969

Byron E. Barr 1913-1978

So there was Gig Young, buried with his family under a modest stone stained with I don’t know what, except maybe shame.

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I went to find Fred and Lonnie and showed them the grave.

Fred told me John and Emma were Gig/Byron’s parents, Donald was his older brother and Floyd was his uncle.

And Fred told me Gig/Byron’s father, John, had served in the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1899-1901) with Fred’s grandfather.

“So the family was here for a long time?”

“Oh yeah, they owned a cannery.”

“Well, all the published information says Gig … um, Byron … was born in Minnesota and grew up in Washington.”

“Well, John and Emma were away for a while but they came back when Byron was six or so and he grew up here. That’s for sure. I grew up with him. I was a lot younger than he was but I saw him around.”

So that’s why Gig Young is buried in Waynesville, N.C. At the end of his sad, broken life, his sister took him home to be buried with his family in the little mountain town where he spent his childhood.

And that’s pretty much it.

Except for the daughter, Jennifer.

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Even though her father had denied her and spurned her in his will, Jennifer Young grew up in Hollywood claiming some reflected glory from her famous/infamous father/non-father.

She has a music career of sorts now and is trying to find backers for a documentary on her father, but she was known as a fixture on the Hollywood party scene for years and made headlines in the past 15 years for two things.

1. Jennifer was BFF and former roommate of Beverly Hills madam Heidi Fleiss, although Jennifer denied persistent accusations that she was one of Heidi’s stable of high-priced Hollywood hookers. Charlie Sheen, a Heidi client, could shed more light on that if he didn’t have troubles of his own that probably outweigh most self-inflicted career setbacks endured by Jennifer’s father/non-father. (I really think Charlie should take a good look at Gig Young’s lifestyle choices. But he won’t. See you at the end of the road, Charlie.)

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2. In the mid-1990s, Jennifer launched a highly publicized campaign to get possession of her father’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar from agent Marty Baum, who had claimed it in a round-about way under the terms of Gig Young’s will. In a tripartite agreement involving Baum, Jennifer Young and the Academy  of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (legal owners of the statue), Baum agreed to turn over the Oscar to Jennifer on his death.

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Well, Marty Baum died in November 2010. Jennifer Young got the Oscar in December and the Academy says she can keep it for 48 weeks of every year until she dies. That’s about as close to a happy ending as this story can get.

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Hang The Pirates — But Start With The Movie Moguls And Record Execs

- January 25th, 2012

Kim-Dotcom-Schmitz

 

Here’s the scene:

 

Law enforcement agents smash their way into a private building with sledgehammers and crowbars as part of a broad organized crackdown on “pirates” and “outlaws” who are brazenly flouting U.S. copyright and patent law, supposedly costing the legitimate copyright and patent holders a fortune in lost — “stolen” — revenue.

 

The legally mandated enforcers cause extensive, malicious damage and confiscate equipment, files, material and money that are the legal property of the building’s owner, who is charged with a variety of offences related to the alleged theft of intellectual property in the form of motion-picture films and technology.

 

Having shut down the business of the building without the necessity of a guilty verdict in court and having appropriated private property, again without a court finding of guilt, the enforcers leave the victim of their legally sanctioned invasion to pick up the broken pieces of his life.

 

Sounds a lot like Kim Dotcom (nee Schmitz), the Internet tycoon currently sitting in a New Zealand jail waiting for the U.S. government and its Hollywood backers to finally, slowly (the U.S. won’t actually produce documents for another month) get around to filing a formal extradition request on copyright infringement conspiracy charges.

 

But it’s not.

 

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The victim could have been Carl Laemmle or William Fox or one of the dozen other independent producers who were later glorified as the founders of Hollywood. The legal enforcers were hired thugs representing Thomas Edison’s motion picture trust, a monopoly combine that controlled almost all aspects of movie technology, production and distribution in the U.S. before World War I. And the time was 1910 — more than 100 years ago.

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Edison considered Laemmle and the other independent film producers and distributors to be “pirates” and filed almost 300 legal actions against Laemmle’s Independent Motion Picture (IMP) Company between 1909 and 1912.

 

The legal manoeuvrings were just the semi-civilized tip of the iceberg. Below the surface, Edison’s gangs of enforcers smashed independent film studios and theatres, stole cameras, projectors and film stock, threatened and beat up cast and crew members on independent productions and, in some cases, burned down buildings and entire city blocks housing the competition.

 

One hundred years ago, Carl Laemmle’s shoes were a very dicey place to be, just as Kim Dotcom’s are today.

 

But Laemmle ultimately prevailed.

 

He held out against Edison’s legal (and illegal) onslaught, he moved his film production activities to the friendlier and safer climes of California, and he was the one who had the last laugh when U.S. federal court, topped up with Teddy Roosevelt’s Trust Buster justices, declared Edison’s Motion Picture Patents Company and General Film Company (distribution arm) to be an illegal monopoly and ordered the trust broken up.

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Meanwhile, Laemmle and the other independents who invented Hollywood (like William Fox, Louis B. Mayer, Sam Goldfish/Goldwyn, Jesse Lansky, Adolph Zuker, Marcus Loew and the Warner boys) thrived, expanded and exerted increasing control over the motion picture “industry.”

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COMPARE THESE TWO LISTS

 

The first list is the membership of Edison’s MPPC cross-licensing trust group: Biograph, American Vitagraph Company, Selig Polyscope Company, Lubin, American Star Films, American Pathe Pictures, Essanay Studios, and Kalem Company.

 

Those companies ruled the motion picture world 100 years ago. How many of them exist now? How many of their names even ring a bell except in some antique, ghostly corner of our brains?

 

Now here’s a list of the “pirate” film companies that were formed by the “outlaws” who fled to California to escape the legal constraints of Thomas Edison back in the eastern U.S.: 20th Century-Fox, Paramount Pictures, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Universal Studios (successor company to Laemmle’s IMP) and Warner Bros.

 

Those five (later joined by Columbia Pictures, United Artists and RKO Radio Pictures) became the undisputed masters of Hollywood’s Golden Age and are still the dominant (monopolistic, some might say) players in the film industry.

 

Don’t believe me about the “monopolistic” part? You think the current film bid-ness is too diversified and freewheeling to be dubbed a monopoly?

 

Consider this:

 

When the Edison Trust was broken up, the U.S. department of justice alleged that the eight corporations participating in the monopoly controlled between 70% and 80% of a $100-million industry.

 

Today, the North American film industry is a $10-BILLION BUSINESS and ONLY SIX CORPORATIONS CONTROL 81.6% OF IT.

(That $10 billion is just “domestic” North American box office. “Overseas” accounts for roughly two-thirds of Hollywood’s business every year.)

 

Here’s a rundown of studio share of the $10,174,000,000 North American box office (Canada is considered part of the U.S. domestic market) for 2011, according to industry scorekeeper boxofficemojo,com:

 

1. Paramount (Viacom) — 19.2% ($1.96 billion)

 

2. Warner Bros. (Time-Warner) — 17.9% ($1.83 billion)

 

3. Columbia (Sony) — 12.5% ($1.27 billion)

 

4. Buena Vista/Walt Disney (Walt Disney Co.) — 12.2% ($1.24 billion)

 

5. Universal (Comcast-GE) — 10.2%  ($1.04 billion)

 

6. 20th Century-Fox (Murdoch’s News Corp.) — 9.6% ($978 million)

 

Everyone else in the world apart from these six companies shares the remaining 18.4%, compared to the 20-30% the independents had in the days of the Edison monopoly.

 

And those six studios have their own exclusive trade association, the Motion Picture Association of America, which looks after their interests — and their interests alone — in dealing with the world outside Hollywood.

 

It’s the MPAA which is currently driving the anti-piracy bus and which is howling the most with self-righteous indignation  and which is using every ounce of its bought-and-paid-for political influence (and that’s a lot) in Washington to pursue Kim Dotcom and other perceived “pirates.”

 

 

Soooooooooooo … Fast-forward 100 years from the Edison Trust’s all-out war to crush the independents to the modern media wars of January 2012.

 

The film corporations that were spawned by the very pirates and outlaws who created a hole-in-the-wall getaway hideout in Hollywood are now leading the charge to eradicate uncontrolled Internet access to works and technology they say they hold copyright and patent title to.

 

And they even use much of the same hypocritical, moralistic language that the Edison Trust used to claim the high ground over the shabby, nasty little rats, weasels, thieves and cheats stealing from them.

 

And it is that high moral tone wrapped in a judicial gown of legalistic rectitude that I find most offensive about this whole war against Kim Dotcom’s MegaUpload, The Pirate Bay and other Internet independents that the movie studios (and record companies) say are stealing milk from their babies’ mouths.

 

Why?

 

Because it is just so much hypocritical bull. The major movie and record companies uphold the law only because in this particular set of circumstances it benefits them.

 

They would (in most if not all cases) gladly bend or circumvent the laws of the United States or any other nation on earth if it better served their purposes — and they could get away with it.

 

That sanctimonious, Bible-spouting predator Thomas Edison, by the way, was not above piracy when it suited him.

 

Here’s part of the Wikpedia entry on Edison:

 

“In 1902, agents of Thomas Edison bribed a theater owner in London for a copy of A Trip to the Moon by Georges Méliès. Edison then made hundreds of copies and showed them in New York City. Méliès received no compensation. He was counting on taking the film to the US and recapture its huge cost by showing it throughout the country when he realized it had already been shown there by Edison. This effectively bankrupted Méliès.”

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Well, Edison’s piracy didn’t actually bankrupt Melies — that resulted from a later, poorly conceived business deal with the Pathe film folks in Europe, but the Edison rip-off sure didn’t help (even though Melies’ American Star Films was one of the corporate cogs in the Edison Trust monopoly.)

 

So there was certainly no evidence of “practise what you preach” in the behaviour of Thomas Edison or the movie-making kingpins who followed him.

 

 FOR THE RECORD

I’ve focused primarily on the film industry in this piece and left the music business aside because, frankly, the major-label recording industry has committed too many sins against music, art, humanity and common sense to fit into the already bursting confines of this space.

 

And, despite the proliferation of independent record labels, the “industry” is still quite monolithic and monopolistic in its traditional distribution practices — thus the panic over the uncontrolled inroads the Internet is making.

 

In terms of control, the cabal of mainstream industry titans is becoming a smaller group every year and none of the current crop of cabalistas is worthy of licking the L.A. grime off Mo Ostin’s shoes.

 

At the end of the 1980s, the recording industry in North America was controlled by the Big Six (BMG, CBS, EMI, MCA, WEA and PolyGram, the last of which deserved to die because it wouldn’t become a three-letter acronym).

 

By the end of the ’90s, it was the Big Five after Sony bought CBS and PolyGram and MCA merged into Universal Music Group (UMG).

 

In 2004, it became the Big Four when Sony acquired BMG.

 

And now, after Universal’s acquisition last year of the struggling EMI Group,  it is the Big Three: UMG, Warner Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment.

 

Consider this list of SOME (only some) of the labels owned and controlled by the Universal Music Group (the largest of the Big Three), once a subsidiary of the Universal movie empire but now a force unto itself owned by the French media (and formerly sewer) conglomerate Vivendi:

 

A&M Records, Geffen Records, Island Records, Def Jam Recordings, Motown Records, Mercury Records, Verve Records, Impulse! Records, Roc-A-Fella Records, Decca Records, Interscope Records, GPR Records, Deutsche Grammophon, Polydor Records, London Records, MCA Nashville Records, Lost Highway Records, Casablanca Records, Fonovisa Records,  Universal Music Classical, Universal Music Jazz, Universal Music Latino, Disa Records, Machete Music, Fontana International. And the list goes on.

 

Sony (second biggest of the B3) has a stable of labels that includes Columbia, Epic and RCA.

 

Warner Music Group is the un-biggest of the Big Three (and apparently suffering the most … And Then There Were Two?) but still controls more than 50 labels, from Asylum to Atlantic to Elektra and from Rhino to Rykodisc to Reprise.

 

So there are a lot of labels out there, but only three conglomerates control primary access to most of the recorded music that is today being purchased (or acquired without purchase, as the case may be).

 

The only thing I will say about the music recording industry and its war on piracy is this: Study after study has concluded that unpaid music downloads do not appear to be a significant factor in the continual decline of CD sales and the slower rise in “legitimate” digital sales.

 

(Don’t get into an argument with me about this: Argue with the smartypants who conducted the studies and came to the conclusions. And if you don’t know which studies I’m talking about, you have no business being in a discussion about the issue in the first place.)

 

Most of the blame is laid at the feet of the short-sighted, arrogant and ultimately self-defeating practices of the recording industry itself: As ye sow, so shall ye reap.

 

 

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY

“If you want to stop piracy, the way to stop it is by competing with it.”

— Steve Jobs

 

 

PERSONAL ASIDE

 

I have never illegally downloaded any music or video from the Internet or willfully bought pirated CDs or DVDs on the street. I know plenty of people who do, but I don’t advocate the practice and, in fact, I find it philosophically objectionable.

 

I believe — strongly — that artists, performers and creators of every type should be properly rewarded for their efforts and unique contributions, which enrich us all.

 

I believe — strongly — that anyone who abuses the rights and intellectual property of those creators, who steals from them and denies them the full fruits of their labours is scum and should be reviled and punished.

 

I also believe — strongly — that major movie studios and record companies have been some of the worst offenders when it comes to abusing the rights of creative artists, when it comes to stealing from and lying to creative artists, and when it comes to disregarding the laws and moral principles that should protect those creative artists, their rights, and their works.

 

Just ask any artist, musician, composer, actor, director or screenwriter who has had serious business dealings with either the film or music industry. If they are being honest, few if any of those artists will say they have not been ripped off (to a lesser or greater degree) in the process.

 

So it’s either laughable or a crying shame that some of the worst offenders when it comes to the abuse of intellectual property rights of others are often the most fervent defenders of copyright laws when it suits their purposes — and only for as long as it suits their purposes.

 

ANOTHER THOUGHT FOR THE DAY:

“If suing customers for consuming pirate copies becomes central to a company or industry’s business model, then the truth is that that company or industry no longer has a competitive business model.”

— Matt Mason, “The Pirate’s Dilemma: How Youth Culture Is Re-inventing Capitalism”

 

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LOOK BEHIND THE PROPAGANDA

 

Let’s get to Kim Dotcom for a moment, shall we?

 

I hate the guy.

 

He’s 6-foot-7, says he weighs 300 pounds (I know 300 pounds, baby, and this guy’s at least 350 — on a good day), and he’s got a high-pitched, annoying voice with a cartoon German accent.

 

Plus he legally changed his last name from Schmitz to Dotcom. What gall! Who does he think he is — Harry Warner (born Hirsch Wonskolaser) or David Bowie (born David Jones) or John Wayne (Marion Morrison) or even Uwe Blab (oh, sorry, that’s the former NBA player’s real name, unfortunately).

 

And he’s rich — filthy, stinking rich — and not even 40 yet. That really ticks off a poor old man like me.

 

He owns very expensive cars — a lot of them — and drives them all fast and crazy (although he’s apparently never had an accident or had his licence revoked). And he owns (or leases) a private helicopter, a jet and a yacht.

 

In short, Kim Dotcom is a greedy, arrogant A-hole.

 

But that’s not a crime.

 

If it was, then ALL of the heads of the major movie studios and record companies would be in jail. A majority of the CEOs of America’s top corporations would also be doing bunkies with Bubba. And I’d probably be convicted too.

 

But, as I’ve already said, none of those character flaws is a crime.

 

So why is Kim Dotcom sitting in a New Zealand jail right now and the rest of us greedy, arrogant A-holes aren’t?

 

Because the MPAA, through the auspices of the FBI and the U.S. government (abetted by the RCMP and the Canadian government and other governments), has ACCUSED Mr. Dotcom of engaging in a conspiracy to pirate the intellectual property of said MPAA members.

 

And Mr. Dotcom’s global Internet business — one of the largest Internet businesses in the world with millions of legitimate, lawful customers suddenly cut off from access to their legitimate, lawful personal data — has been shut down lock, stock and barrel while Mr. Dotcom sits in jail waiting to find out exactly what the details of the charges are and what the evidence is supporting those charges. So he can begin preparing a defence, first against extradition to the U.S. and secondly against the charges themselves in a U.S. court.

UPDATE (from The Wall Street Journal, 5:04 a.m. Jan. 26, 2012): 

“WELLINGTON— A New Zealand judge granted bail to Megaupload.com executives Bram van der Kolk and Finn Batato as they await possible extradition to the U.S. on charges including copyright infringement, after the judge decided they posed a minimum flight risk.

“Mr. Van der Kolk, 29 years old, and Mr. Batato, 38, were arrested (last) Thursday in Auckland along with Megaupload.com founder Kim Dotcom, 38, and Mathias Ortmann, 40, the chief technical officer, after they and four colleagues were named in a Federal Bureau of Investigation indictment.”

Kim Dotcom’s bail application was turned down Wednesday and Matthias Ortmann’s bail application is expected to be heard Friday, Feb. 3 (it has been postponed once).

Hmmm, which ones have cut the deal, I wonder?

And it will be interesting to see which company employee provided the insider e-mails that the U.S. government is using (selectively and out of context) to help make its case.

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Just stop and think about your opinion of Kim Dotcom for a moment.

 

If your opinion is, like mine, a largely negative one, consider the source of the information on which we have based our views.

 

The general picture of Kim Dotcom is, in large part, the result of a co-ordinated, sustained negative PR campaign launched and directed by Dotcom’s enemies in the film and record industry.

 

Of course Dotcom has revelled in his bad boy image and hasn’t helped his cause by flaunting his obscene wealth and apparent disrespect for his elders.

 

But why is it that all of his actions are seen in the worst possible light instead of the best possible light or — even better — in a neutral, unbiased light? Because spin doctors are paid to put the worst possible valuation on Dotcom’s actions, appearance, attitudes and acquisitions. And he’s not even a GOP presidential candidate. Crikey.

 

Everybody seems to be buying into the propaganda and selling the same story when — if you consider the facts without the bias — it would be just as easy to put a less sinister (or even benevolent) spin on the Dotcom story.

 

When Dotcom appeared at a bail hearing in New Zealand on Monday, Crown attorney Anne Toohey even cited Dotcom’s alleged “lack of respect for authority” as one of the reasons why Dotcom posed an extreme flight risk.

 

The Edison Trust carried out a similar damning PR campaign against Carl Laemmle and other “pirates” a century ago, mocking Laemmle’s appearance (he was a wizened little five-foot-nothing gnome with a funny German accent and strange personal habits) and casting his actions in a sinister, conspiratorial, anti-American light.

 

Every story I see about Kim Dotcom’s arrest refers to the fleet of expensive cars he owns or leases.

 

And the crime in this is …? Quick, somebody — anybody — arrest Jay Leno. I think he owns more expensive cars than Kim Dotcom. And I don’t like the way he looks, either.

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Speaking of which, many stories about Kim Dotcom refer to his Hollywood enemies calling him “Dr. Evil.” That’s just for home consumption. Actually, Dotcom is more often compared in Hollywood to another Austin Powers villain, also played by Mike Myers: Fat Bastard.

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See what I mean? There’s no crime in how Kim Dotcom looks or acts, but it certainly helps his enemies if he is seen in the worst possible light. Hang the Fat Bastard!

 

His criminal record? Actually he has no criminal record. Really.

 

Kim Schmitz was convicted of computer hacking in Germany in 1998, fined and given a suspended sentence. In 2002, he was convicted of insider trading, fined and placed on probation.

 

He has never been convicted of a criminal act anywhere else in the world.

 

For the past decade, Kim Dotcom has kept his nose clean, as far as the courts are concerned. Under German law, with its clean slate provisions designed to help convicted felons re-integrate into society, that means Kim Dotcom’s criminal record has been expunged and he now, for all intents and purposes, has no criminal record.

 

I know that sounds like legalistic sleight of hand, but it does make you think a little differently about the man than the pre-packaged Fat Bastard storyline projects, doesn’t it?

 

“He has no criminal record, has never been convicted of a crime of violence, and has never been sent to jail for committing a crime.”

 

Not quite the same picture as the one we’ve been fed, is it?

 

That doesn’t make it right or true or good — and it certainly doesn’t make Kim Dotcom an innocent man — but it does take a little of the sting out of the “guilty by appearance” mudslinging campaign.

 

And why exactly did it take 60-70 New Zealand police officers in helicopters to raid Dotcom Mansion and arrest a man who would have shown up in a Crown attorney’s office with his lawyers if asked?

 

Who’s idea of a Wild West show was that?

 

As many helicopters and twice as many attackers to take down Fat Bastard as the U.S. used to take out Osama bin Laden?

 

Somebody’s been watching too many Hollywood movies — and has their law enforcement priorities seriously screwed up.

 

By the way, when was the last time you saw a story on Dotcom mention the number of cops involved in arresting him? I think a few people in New Zealand are a little embarrassed by the serious overkill and are trying to quietly disengage a bit.

 

How about the gun?

 

Here’s what Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald had to say about Monday’s bail hearing:

 

“(Crown attorney Anne) Toohey detailed how, during the police raid, Dotcom had run from police to a safe room, hiding behind a pillar and refusing to show his hands despite repeated pleas. A gun — believed to be a modified shotgun of a kind illegal in New Zealand — was found in an open safe just metres away.”

 

I am absolutely confident that no charges or criminal proceedings will ever be launched against Kim Dotcom regarding this weapon “believed to be a modified shotgun of a kind illegal in New Zealand.”

 

It suits the purposes of all Dotcom’s accusers much more to leave this vague, threatening image of a murderous, illegal gun floating around out there than it would to have the gun’s particulars examined in court and to examine exactly how the whole invasion of Dotcom Mansion went down.

 

It would probably turn out that the shotgun is perfectly legal and part of a standard New Zealand safe room protection/survival kit much like LOTR director-producer Peter Jackson probably has in the safe room in his New Zealand mansion.

 

These guys are fabulously wealthy and as such are subject to the constant possibility of violent home invasion and/or the kidnapping of themselves or their families.

 

(Kim Dotcom, by the way, has three adoring children and is married to a loyal, loving woman who is now pregnant with twins. They’re all living in New Zealand. The New Zealand government holds all their passports. And Kim Dotcom’s known assets have been frozen. Does this really sound like a man who is an extreme flight risk? Or does it sound like a man who is being put in a position where he looks bad and is least able to defend himself?)

 

Again, I’m not defending Kim Dotcom. He’s more than able to do that himself — if he’s given a fair, fighting chance. But that takes money and Dotcom’s attackers are doing their very best to deprive him of his own money with which he can mount the best possible defence.

 

The FBI and MPAA claim that Dotcom has made something like $175 million from his acts of piracy in the last couple of years. The MPAA represents a business group that made more than $8 billion in North America alone in the single year 2011. Even if Dotcom were allowed out of jail and allowed access to his own money, it’s not really a fair fight — but at least it would be a little fairer.

 

I do not like the way this whole thing has gone down. It stinks.

 

I don’t like the bully-boy tactics. I don’t like the idea that justice has to be bought. I don’t like the idea that crushing one man can become a government priority because he offends the commercial interests of a specific group of well-connected businessmen.

 

And I most definitely do not like the hypocritical, moralistic stance that these self-serving moneymen and their hired vassels adopt when they are, in fact, just trying to eliminate someone whom they perceive — rightly or wrongly, but so far without proving anything — as profiting from the usage of their property.

 

Like I said, they only get up on their high horses and proclaim the sanctity of copyright law and intellectual property rights when it is in their financial interests.

 

Consider this:

 

The Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works was an international copyright agreement signed by most of the major countries in Europe in 1886 and 1887. Since then, roughly 150 other nations around the world have signed on.

 

Canada has been a member of the Berne Union since 1887 (under the auspices of Great Britain) and signed on itself in 1928 in the run-up to full self-government independent of the British Privy council.

 

The United States finally joined the Berne Convention in 1989, only a couple of years before Bill Clinton became president and more than 100 years after the original signatories.

 

Such beacons of artistic enlightenment and human rights as Burkina Faso, Libya and Zimbabwe and 100 other nations had all signed the Berne Convention before the U.S.

 

And before joining the Berne Union, the United States gave copyright protection only to works produced in the United States.

 

A book could be published in France or Japan or Canada and, if there was no deal with an American publisher, anyone in the United States could appropriate the contents of that intellectual property for their own purposes and the U.S. government had boo-all to say about it.

 

Same went for movies and music.

 

There were some individual cross-deals that muddied the water, of course, but the United States in general didn’t recognize the proprietary rights of foreign copyright holders.

 

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ONE FINAL KICK AT THE KIM DOTCOM CAN

 

You’d think Kim Dotcom would have a fair shot at beating the (possibly) bogus extradition case since New Zealand is one of the fairest, most democratic countries in the world, but you would be wrong.

 

The film industry and related businesses (such as Weta Workshop and Peter Jackson’s CGI computer animation operations) form the fourth largest economic sector in New Zealand, after the service industry, agriculture and tourism. And most of that sector is directly tied to the Hollywood status quo represented by the MPAA.

 

So I am willing to bet that pragmatic power politics will play a strong enough role in the New Zealand judicial process to boot Kim Dotcom’s fat ass out of his erstwhile island paradise.

 

I hope I’m wrong — for New Zealand’s sake more than Dotcom’s — but my money, if I was a betting man, would back extradition.

 

I am willing to bet that Kim Dotcom will ultimately beat the pirating charges — much as Hollywood founder Carl Laemmle did 100 years ago — IF he has the money to pursue the court fight through the five years — at least — it will take to resolve.

 

That is why the MPAA (through the FBI and the U.S. government) has done everything it can to seize Dotcom’s assets around the world and shut down every source of income stream Dotcom has available.

 

They — the MPAA and its U.S. government agents — want to choke off Dotcom’s money supply so he can’t afford to pay for the massively expensive top-drawer legal defence that will be necessary to fight the massively expensive top-drawer prosecution being brought against him.

 

Again, my money is on Kim Dotcom.

 

When asked why he had the effrontery to suggest he would one day be richer than Bills Gates, Dotcom said: “Because I’m smarter than he is.”

 

I think Dotcom’s also smarter than the (other) greedy, arrogant A-holes who run Hollywood. So as long as Dotcom has enough money to pay for a level legal playing field, I think he will eventually win.

 

But in the meantime — based solely on accusations — Dotcom’s business, MegaUpload, has been shut down.

 

Why is this any different than the U.S. government seizing the property and assets of an accused Mafioso crime boss?

 

Because the shutdown of MegaUpload affects millions of people — honest, legitimate, law-abiding people around the world who have bought and paid for a legitimate hi-tech data storage and retrieval service.

 

The formal charges against Kim Dotcom — when they finally come — will not say that Dotcom stole anything from anyone; the charges will accuse Dotcom of participating in a conspiracy because the legitimate hi-tech business he created was used by a very small portion of his clientele to share possibly illegal pieces of data.

 

Every legitimate service provider in the world — outside of Hollywood — should pray that Dotcom is ultimately vindicated or else we’re all in danger of being victims of a witch hunt.

 

Consider this fictitious (but imaginable) scenario:

 

Suppose Bell Canada feels threatened by Rogers Communications. Because this fictional Bell Canada suspects that some Rogers customers are using the Rogers telecommunications network to carry out illegal activities and because Bell Canada can make up a convincing (if spurious) case that Rogers is aware of  and profiting from the illegal activity, the Canadian government charges four or five senior Rogers executives with conspiracy — and shuts down the whole Rogers telecommunications network.

 

And closed-for-business the Rogers network remains until the whole nightmarish case can wind its way through the labyrinth of the Canadian judicial system, with the strong likelihood that Rogers will end up winning and be allowed to resume business — five or 10 years after it has been knocked out of the marketplace, its income cut off and its customers long gone.

 

And imagine the millions and millions of legitimate Rogers customers who suddenly found themselves denied the telecommunications service they had paid for and counted on. Their lives would be in chaos, their businesses immeasurably harmed, and important stored data lost forever in a technological lockdown.

 

For this evil, fictional Bell Canada, the process is a success. Rogers doesn’t have to be convicted of anything for make-believe bad Bell Canada to be a winner in that scenario. Just by killing Rogers’ business for five or 10 years, the fictional Bell Canada heavyweight comes out ahead.

 

In the short term, anyway. In the long term, fictional evil Bell Canada would probably go the way of the dinosaurs because somebody else was investing in innovation to take away their advantage instead of investing in retrograde, malicious litigation to sustain a fatally flawed business model.

 

That’s essentially what’s happening in the Dotcom-MegaUpload case.

 

I am not pre-supposing that Kim Dotcom is innocent of everything — or anything, for the matter. But is it really right that he be pre-supposed guilty of everything of which he is accused?

 

Hollywood has already won by the simple fact that MegaUpload has been shut down — at a tremendous cost to both a legal international business and millions of innocent-victim customers.

 

Not one damn thing has to be proved against Kim Dotcom and the other executives of MegaUpload for this attack on their business to be a complete success.

 

That scares me tremendously — and really makes me mad.

 

Should the full might of the American government, the Canadian government and several other governments around the world be brought to bear on a legitimate company that is (possibly) being used for (possible) illegal data sharing to mollify Hollywood?

 

Let’s take a look at what the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty, a 1996 sister agreement to the Berne Convention, has to say:

 

“It is understood that the mere provision of physical facilities for enabling or making a communication does not in itself amount to communication within the meaning of this Treaty or the Berne Convention.”

 

But that doesn’t matter.

 

Hollywood wants to take out the communications enabler — Kim Dotcom and his company, MegaUpload — rather than trying to catch the little fishes one by one.

 

I think we all suffer a far greater loss if this abuse of power and arbitrary authoritarianism is allowed to prevail than any loss we would suffer as free and law-abiding people if we make them actually prove the crimes before administering the punishment.

 

So I’m in Kim Dotcom’s corner because I tend to favour the underdog — even if he is a greedy, arrogant A-hole.

 

UPDATE: Here’s a link to a very informative (and quite short) analysis of the MegaUpload situation by Yochai Benkler, professor of entrepreneurial legal studies at Harvard Law School, from the Bloomberg business news agency. Interestingly, the clip is posted on YouTube, which Prof. Benkler points out could be charged with all of the same conspiracy trespasses the U.S. government is levelling at MegaUpload. The difference, Prof. Benkler says, is that YouTube is now too big and powerful for the U.S. Department of Justice to take on. Plus, the government (and film industry) tried to whack YouTube five or six years ago through civil litigation — and got its ass handed to it on a platter by YouTube.

Here’s part of what Prof. Benkler has to say:

“When a new technology comes along … and destabilizes the way the industries have always made money, the first gut response throughout the 20th century has been: Let’s shut down this technology…

“What’s chilling here is that a company can be served with a one-sided indictment that lists a whole set of quasi-legitimate and legitimate technological components that lots of other companies use…

“By the time it will be finished litigating whether that’s enough or not it is dead, because these procedures for forfeiture during the trial will kill the company.”

In other words, the status quo wins just by tying up the accused offender in court and shutting down the targeted business for the duration of the litigation process — which can be three, four, five, even 10 years.

 

 

The Bizarre Death and Mysterious Burial of a Hollywood Oscar Winner

- March 2nd, 2011

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Almost nobody remembers Gig Young now, but 41 years ago he was the toast of Hollywood.

The Academy Awards for 1969 were presented on the evening of April 7, 1970, at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles.

It was the second year the Oscars were televised worldwide and it was also the second year there was no host — a brief interregnum between the Bob Hope era and most of the 1970s when hosting was done by committee (before one last hurrah for Bob Hope and the beginning of the Johnny Carson era).

Winning the Oscar for Best Picture was Midnight Cowboy, the only X-rated film in the history of the Academy Awards to win Best Picture.

John Wayne got the only Oscar of his career as Best Actor for his role of crusty Rooster Cogburn in True Grit and Maggie Smith won Best Actress as an eccentric Scottish teacher in The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie.

Goldie Hawn (in  one of those typical Oscar “huh?” decisions) got the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Cactus Flower.

And the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor goes to … Gig Young for his performance as Rocky, the sleazy and manipulative promoter of a Depression-era dance marathon in They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

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It was a popular choice in Hollywood, where Gig Young had established himself over the previous 30 years as a charming, genial party guy who often played the role of a charming, genial lush onscreen  — and on the Tonight Show couch as a frequent, amusing guest of Johnny Carson.

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Young had been nominated for Best Supporting Actor twice before, for 1951′s Come Fill The Cup and 1958′s Teacher’s Pet, but the 1969 win was the pinnacle of his career — and the beginning of the end.

Actually the beginning of the end for Gig Young began with the birth of Byron Elsworth Barr in St. Cloud, Minnesota, on Nov. 4, 1913.

For most of the next three decades, Gig Young was Byron Barr, a charming, genial kid and aspiring actor.

According to most biographies, Byron was raised in Washington, D.C. (more about that later) before winning a scholarship at the end of high school to the famous Pasadena Community Playhouse in California, where he worked on his acting chops before being picked up as a contract bit player by Warner Bros. in the late 1930s.

The young actor was still known as Byron Barr — and got the occasional screen credit under that name — until his breakout role in 1942′s The Gay Sisters, in which he played a character named … Gig Young.

Warner Bros. decided “Gig Young” was a catchier name than “Byron Barr” (and — unbelievable as it may seem — there was another young supporting actor kicking around Hollywood at the time also named Byron Barr) so “Byron Barr” stopped being a charming, amiable second-string actor and “Gig Young” stopped being a movie character’s name.

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Gig Young, actor, then reverted to Byron Barr, pharmacist’s mate in the U.S. Coast Guard, for the duration of World War II.

When the war ended and Byron Barr returned to civilian life, Warner Bros. dropped his contract. But Byron Barr decided to keep his Warner Bros. stage name and Gig Young quickly became a solid, busy Hollywood presence in movies like Wake of the Red Witch, The Three Musketeers and Only the Valiant.

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In the mid 1950s he was hosting the television series Warner Bros. Presents while keeping up his busy movie career and busier social life.

By 1956 he was on to his third wife, Elizabeth Montgomery, daughter of famed Hollywood actor Robert Montgomery. Elizabeth Montgomery would go on to superstardom in the 1960s as Samantha Stephens, the nose-twitching hexess in TV’s Bewitched (1964-72).

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But first she had to dump Gig Young. Montgomery divorced him in 1963, citing physical and emotional abuse fuelled by her husband’s alcoholism.

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The Gig Young party gig was starting to run low on steam, but there were still two more wives, a pretty good TV series called The Rogues and that 1969 Academy Award to go before the whole charming, amiable Gig Young persona blew apart in a million pieces.

He married his fourth wife, Hollywood real estate agent Elaine Williams, shortly after the Montgomery divorce and daughter Jennifer — Byron Barr/Gig Young’s only child — came along in April 1964.

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Of course, Williams was divorcing Barr/Young within three years (physical-emotional abuse/alcoholism) and in the subsequent child support proceedings Barr/Young proclaimed that Jennifer was not his biological child and he was not responsible for her upkeep. The court ruled against him, but more about that later.

So Gig Young staggered into the 1970s, clutching his Oscar, with a few more movie roles to come but far more trouble.

Typical was his experience in 1973 when Mel Brooks picked Gig Young to play the Waco Kid — a role ultimately assumed by Gene Wilder — in the groundbreaking western comedy Blazing Saddles.

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Let’s let Mel Brooks tell you what happened on the first day of filming when Cleavon Little’s character Bart and the Waco Kid (Gig Young), a broken-down, drunken gunslinger, meet for the first time in jail:

“We draped Gig Young’s legs over and hung him upside down. And he started to talk and he started shaking. I said, ‘This guy’s giving me a lot. He is giving plenty. He’s giving me the old alky shake. Great.’ And then it got serious, because the shaking never stopped, and green stuff started spewing out of his mouth and nose, and he started screaming. And, I said, ‘That’s the last time I’ll ever cast anybody who really is that person.’ If you want an alcoholic, don’t cast an alcoholic… Anyway, poor Gig Young, it was the first shot on Friday, nine in the morning, and an ambulance came and took him away. I had no movie.”

Gene Wilder flew from New York to Los Angeles over the weekend and was playing the Waco Kid on Monday morning, but that’s another story.

The DTs didn’t deter Gig Young and he was still firmly on his downward spiral when he hooked up with director Sam Peckinpah (another guy on a downward spiral) to make a couple of ultra-violent, nihilistic movies — 1974′s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia and 1975′s The Killer Elite.

(It seems to be during the making of these films that Gig Young started collecting guns.)

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There were two more movies after that and one more marriage before Gig Young’s ignominious end.

Young was an invisible presence in a terrible movie, The Hindenburg, also released in 1975, and then he hit rock bottom in 1978 when he was cast in a patchwork reworking of an unreleased kung-fu movie called Game of Death — incomplete footage of which was shot prior to star Bruce Lee’s death in 1973.

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So Gig Young’s last movie had him in a minor supporting role to an action star who had been totally inactive for five years.

Not really a good mental and emotional place to be for his fifth marriage on Sept. 27, 1978, to 31-year-old German actress Kim Schmidt (sometimes erroneously listed as 21 and sometimes erroneously listed as Australian).

I’m not sure why Kim Schmidt married him — maybe it was true love, maybe it was Oscar love, maybe it was just something to do — but it was a bad decision.

Three weeks after the wedding Gig Young ended the marriage in their condo apartment, Suite 1BB of the Osborne Apartments on West 57th Street in New York City, on Oct. 19, 1978.

He ended it by loading a Smith & Wesson .38-calibre revolver — one of many, many firearms he kept in the apartment — and putting one slug through his wife’s head and one slug through the roof of his mouth.

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Exit, Gig Young.

But not gracefully.

Adding insult to felonious injury, his will left the bulk of his estate to his 1970s agent, Marty Baum of CAA, and $10 to his putative daughter, Jennifer Young. (How creepy is that, taking as your real last name the fictional name of a guy who had disowned you as his daughter?)

In the end, it was up to Gig Young’s sister, Genevieve Barr Merry, to bury her brother. Which she did, in the Green Hill Cemetery in Waynesville, North Carolina.

And that is where Gig Young’s story ends and mine begins.

A couple of years ago, I took an extended road trip down the east coast of the U.S., partly to write travel stories, partly to heal wounds of a dissolved marriage and partly to feed an eccentric hobby of mine — visiting the graves of interesting dead people.

I must admit that Gig Young didn’t meet the main criterion of my search for dead people — for the most past they were people I admired or, at least, could stand in awe of.

People like Rod Serling, creator of the Twilight Zone (a simple stone on a rural hillside in the Finger Lakes district of upper New York); Mark Twain ( a grotesque monument in Elmira, N.Y., erected 30 years after his death by his daughter to jointly honour her dead Russian composer husband); Billie Burke, the actress who played the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz, alongside her previously deceased/bankrupt husband Flo Ziegfield of Ziegfield Follies fame (simple graves on a hilltop outside New York City shaded by a huge statue Burke erected in honour of her mother). People like that.

But my ultimate destination was North Carolina, the place of my birth and the place where I had scattered my father’s ashes over his parents’ graves the better part of a decade earlier.

I was doing some travel writing/gathering up in North Carolina’s Great Smoky Mountains first and that was where I stumbled across the fact that Gig Young was buried in Waynesville.

That was also when I became aware that Young — an actor I was very familiar with from my childhood — had died in a bizarre murder-suicide. And I couldn’t figure out what he was doing buried in a small mountain town in North Carolina , far away from Hollywood and New York City and even Washington, D.C., where he supposedly grew up.

So driving down the Blue Ridge Parkway chasing 19th Century inns, steam locomotives and a moonshiner named Popcorn Sutton, I stopped off at the Green Hill Cemetery on a hot, sunny June afternoon to look up Gig Young.

One major thing that distinguishes American cemeteries from Canadian cemeteries is the number of little flags erected at gravesites. Those flags are usually put there by the American Legion and other post-service fellowships to honour departed members.

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In a normal U.S. cemetery, a third to a half of the graves will be showing flags, in part because of higher American war death tolls in the past half century and in part because mandatory conscription — and thus an extended base of former military personnel — was in effect in the U.S. from the early 1940s through the 1970s.

Then there’s another quirk: The further south you travel, the more Confederate flags you see intermingled with United States flags in cemeteries. Those flags are maintained by organizations like the Sons and Daughters of the Confederacy to honour the southern dead of a war fought 150 years ago.

I tell you this because the Green Hill Cemetery is so old it has far more graves sprouting Confederate flags than U.S. flags.

I like cemeteries: They’re calm and peaceful and have interesting stories to tell. And I generally like people who work in cemeteries: They tend to be calm and peaceful and have interesting stories to tell too.

And when you’re looking for a needle — one single grave — in a haystack — a cemetery with anywhere between 300 and 300,000 (Arlington) graves — the people who work there are a good place to start the search.

Since there aren’t usually a lot of living people in a cemetery on a midweek afternoon, it didn’t take long to find caretaker Lonnie Higgins.

Lonnie was a nice guy but a fairly young guy, cemeterily speaking, so he didn’t have quite the sense of historical ownership I was looking for.

Lonnie could direct me to a grist stone once operated by Daniel Boone (everything in the mountains of North Carolina has some connection to Daniel Boone), to the car dealer buried in a Model T Ford and to the grave of the very last serving Confederate officer (Alden Howell, died 1947 age 106), but he had no idea who Gig Young or Byron Barr was or where he was buried.

Lonnie thought a little more.

“And we’ve got that actress here, the one from Bewitched.”

“Elizabeth Montgomery?” I asked in disbelief.

“No, not Samantha. Her mother.”

“Agnes Moorehead?”

“I guess. I heard she was buried here but I’ve never seen her grave myself.”

That was just too weird: The guy once married to Elizabeth Montgomery and the woman who once played her mother on TV buried in the same rural cemetery in the middle of nowhere.

And then, thankfully, Fred Rathbone drove up in his truck.

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Fred was the former Green Hill caretaker, retired now, but the main man for 35 years and the repository of knowledge I had been looking for.

And yes, Fred was related to Basil Rathbone, the Sherlock Holmes actor whose urn crypt in a New York mausoleum I had recently been locked out of.

“He was my daddy’s second or third cousin.”

Well, everybody in North Carolina is pretty much related to everybody else, including Daniel Boone, so the Rathbone connection was no surprise.

With the pleasantries over, I asked Fred about Gig Young.

“Oh, yes, he’s here but not under that name. Under the family name.”

“Barr?”

“Yeah, that’s it. I’ve seen it many times but I don’t remember right where now. Over that way somewhere. There’s a family monument and then the individual markers.”

“And Agnes Moorehead? She’s buried here too?”

Fred looked confused.

“Lonnie told me Agnes Moorehead, the mother from Bewitched, is buried here too.”

Fred’s furrowed brow cleared.

“Oh, no. The Bewitched connection is to Gig Young. He was married to Samantha, you know. Lonnie just got his witches mixed up.”

Lonnie and Fred and I had a good chuckle about that one.

So Lonnie and Fred went on talking and watching birds and listening to the wind in the trees while I went grave hunting.

And about 45 minutes later — after finally turning 90 degrees from the direction Fred had pointed me in — I found the Barr family plot.

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And under the Barr monument there were five gravestones:

John E. Barr 1877-1975

Emma C. Barr 1879-1944

Donald E. Barr 1906-1949

Floyd H. Barr 1883-1969

Byron E. Barr 1913-1978

So there was Gig Young, buried with his family under a modest stone stained with I don’t know what, except maybe shame.

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I went to find Fred and Lonnie and showed them the grave.

Fred told me John and Emma were Gig/Byron’s parents, Donald was his older brother and Floyd was his uncle.

And Fred told me Gig/Byron’s father, John, had served in the Philippines in the Spanish-American War (1899-1901) with Fred’s grandfather.

“So the family was here for a long time?”

“Oh yeah, they owned a cannery.”

“Well, all the published information says Gig … um, Byron … was born in Minnesota and grew up in Washington.”

“Well, John and Emma were away for a while but they came back when Byron was six or so and he grew up here. That’s for sure. I grew up with him. I was a lot younger than he was but I saw him around.”

So that’s why Gig Young is buried in Waynesville, N.C. At the end of his sad, broken life, his sister took him home to be buried with his family in the little mountain town where he spent his childhood.

And that’s pretty much it.

Except for the daughter, Jennifer.

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Even though her father had denied her and spurned her in his will, Jennifer Young grew up in Hollywood claiming some reflected glory from her famous/infamous father/non-father.

She has a music career of sorts now and is trying to find backers for a documentary on her father, but she was known as a fixture on the Hollywood party scene for years and made headlines in the past 15 years for two things.

1. Jennifer was BFF and former roommate of Beverly Hills madam Heidi Fleiss, although Jennifer denied persistent accusations that she was one of Heidi’s stable of high-priced Hollywood hookers. Charlie Sheen, a Heidi client, could shed more light on that if he didn’t have troubles of his own that probably outweigh most self-inflicted career setbacks endured by Jennifer’s father/non-father. (I really think Charlie should take a good look at Gig Young’s lifestyle choices. But he won’t. See you at the end of the road, Charlie.)

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2. In the mid-1990s, Jennifer launched a highly publicized campaign to get possession of her father’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar from agent Marty Baum, who had claimed it in a round-about way under the terms of Gig Young’s will. In a tripartite agreement involving Baum, Jennifer Young and the Academy  of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (legal owners of the statue), Baum agreed to turn over the Oscar to Jennifer on his death.

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Well, Marty Baum died in November 2010. Jennifer Young got the Oscar in December and the Academy says she can keep it for 48 weeks of every year until she dies. That’s about as close to a happy ending as this story can get.

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