Cool Stuff to Check Out in NYC: June 2016

For all you dedicated cinephiles out there, here are some upcoming film screenings and retrospectives that are sure to excite you this June in New York City. Information regarding the theaters and dates/times can be found by clicking the links provided at the beginning of each series or event’s entry.

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Danger lurks behind every corner for Nancy Allen in Dressed to Kill (1980).

“Brian De Palma” at the Metrograph (Wed. June 1 – Thurs. June 30): The new arthouse cinema on Ludlow Street (Lower East Side) will be hosting this look back at director Brian De Palma’s half-century-long career as a master teller of Hitchcockian tales filled with sex and violence, as well as a maker of more commercial, action-oriented fare like The Untouchables and Mission: Impossible. With the exception of Murder à la Mod (1968), Metrograph will be showing Brian De Palma’s entire history of feature films. If you’ve never experienced Sisters, Carrie, Dressed to Kill or the crazy, extravagant mess known as The Black Dahlia, here is your chance to do so.

The Series IncludesThe Wedding Party (released in 1969 but shot in 1963), Greetings (1968), Dionysus in ’69 (1970), Hi, Mom! (1970), Get to Know Your Rabbit (1972), Sisters (1973), Phantom of the Paradise (1974), Obsession (1976), Carrie (1976), The Fury (1978), Home Movies (1980), Dressed to Kill (1980), Blow Out (1981), Scarface (1983), Body Double (1984), Wise Guys (1986), The Untouchables (1987), Casualties of War (1989), The Bonfire of the Vanities (1990), Raising Cain (1992), Carlito’s Way (1993), Mission: Impossible (1996), Snake Eyes (1998), Mission to Mars (2000), Femme Fatale (2002), The Black Dahlia (2006), Redacted (2007), Passion (2012)

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The skydiving sequence in Point Break (1991, dir. Kathryn Bigelow).

“Genre Is a Woman” at Film Forum (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 16): This is the series I am most excited about this June. The retrospective will be looking at films made by nineteen women directors (spanning the early silent era to the present day), none of whom were or are restricted by the usual stereotyped boundaries (e.g., “chick flick” romantic comedies). You will see teen comedies, fast-paced action flicks, sci-fi thrillers, biopics, sexploitation dramas and much more. My personal recommendations among the selections here are Dorothy Arzner’s Dance, Girl, Dance (1940), Ida Lupino’s The Hitch-Hiker (1953), Doris Wishman’s Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965), Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982) and Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless (1981) and Point Break (1991), so you should definitely make time for those.

The Series Includes Films ByAlice Guy Blaché (silent short films including Babies from Cabbages; The Detective’s Dog; The Pit and the Pendulum), Dorothy Arzner (Dance, Girl, Dance), Ida Lupino (Not Wanted; The Hitch-Hiker; two episodes of “Thriller”), Doris Wishman (Nude on the Moon; Bad Girls Go to Hell; Let Me Die a Woman; A Night to Dismember), Barbara Loden (Wanda), Stephanie Rothman (The Student Nurse; Group Marriage), Barbara Peeters (Bury Me an Angel), Kathryn Bigelow (The Loveless; Near Dark; Blue Steel; Point Break; Strange Days), Amy Heckerling (Fast Times at Ridgemont High), Amy Holden Jones (The Slumber Party Massacre), Penelope Spheeris (Suburbia), Mary Lambert (Pet Sematary), Katt Shea (Stripped to Kill II: Live Girls; Dance of the Damned; Streets; Poison Ivy), Sondra Locke (Impulse), Cindy Sherman (Office Killer), Mary Harron (American Psycho; The Notorious Bettie Page), Kelly Reichardt (Meek’s Cutoff; Night Moves), Ami Canaan Mann (Texas Killing Fields) and Ana Lily Amirpour (A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night)

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Kamikaze ’89 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (Fri. June 3 – Thurs. June 9): BAM is showing the final film starring the incomparable German auteur/artiste Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Kamikaze ’89 (1982, dir. Wolf Gremm), for a week in early June. This rarely-screened thriller is set in a dystopian future society and R.W.F. plays a detective; the cast includes roles for Fassbinder’s frequent collaborators Günther Kaufmann (Whity (1971), In a Year with 13 Moons (1978), the miniseries “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980)), Brigitte Mira (Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1973), Mother Küsters Goes to Heaven (1975), Chinese Roulette (1976)), and Juliane Lorenz (Fassbinder’s editor for films and TV, as well as his girlfriend, from the late 70s until his death in 1982), as well as an appearance by international star Franco Nero. Kamikaze ’89 cinematographer Xaver Schwarzenberger also worked with Fassbinder on his own projects, photographing “Berlin Alexanderplatz” (1980), Lili Marleen (1981), Lola (1981), Veronika Voss (1982) and Querelle (1982).

Trivia: Fassbinder was buried in the leopard-print suit he wore in Kamikaze ’89.

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Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung share a quiet, contemplative moment during a rendezvous in In the Mood for Love (2000, dir. Wong Kar Wai).

“Luminosity: The Art of Cinematographer Mark Lee Ping-Bing” at the Museum of Modern Art (Thurs. June 16 – Thurs. June 30): MoMA pays tribute to one of the most talented cinematographers in Asian and European cinema. One of the must-sees is the romantic drama In the Mood for Love, Wong Kar Wai’s take on Brief Encounter set in Hong Kong in 1962.

The Series Includes Films By: Hou Hsiao-Hsien (Dust in the Wind; The Puppetmaker; Flowers of Shanghai; The Assassin), Wang Tung (Strawman), Ann Hui (Eighteen Springs), Tran Anh Hung (The Vertical Ray of the Sun; Norwegian Wood), Wong Kar Wai (In the Mood for Love), Tian Zhuangzhuang (Springtime in a Small Town), Ivy Ho (Claustrophobia), Chiang Hsiu-Chiung and Kwan Pun-Leung (Let the Wind Carry Me), Gilles Bourdos (Renoir), Jay Chou (The Rooftop), Yang Chao (Crosscurrent)

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Silver Screen, Gold Anniversary: Bad Girls Go to Hell (1965)

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On this date in 1965, Doris Wishman’s B-movie classic, Bad Girls Go to Hell, premiered in Fresno, California. Far from being a heartwarming Christmas story, Bad Girls is a drama of predators and prey in the big city. Testing the limits of good and bad taste, Wishman’s 65-minute feature observes the struggles of Meg Kelton (played by Gigi Darlene), a Boston housewife who is sexually assaulted by a neighbor in her apartment building. After killing her rapist during the fight to free herself, Meg runs off to New York, where she continues to be targeted by both men and women. Besides directing and producing this “roughie” (so named for the blend of violent and sexual content), Wishman also wrote the film.

In a 1986 interview with Andrea Juno for Incredibly Strange Films, when asked what Women’s Lib meant to her, Wishman stated that “women are coming into their own – if they can do a man’s job, I feel they should be paid for what they can do. But I don’t always think they can do a man’s job. But then, by the same token, a man can’t always do a woman’s job, so it sort of equalizes.” Wishman did not consider herself a feminist, and one can argue that Bad Girls Go to Hell does not tell a pro-feminism story, but Doris Wishman’s tenacity to succeed in her chosen career, a field dominated by men (many of whom worked with bigger budgets), inspires me every day. Furthermore, when Andrea Juno asked Doris Wishman if she liked her own films, Wishman replied: “Yes, otherwise I don’t make them. I have to think they’re marvelous, great, and wonderful, otherwise I don’t get involved. Of course they may not always turn out that way, but I have to feel that. It’s a challenge, it’s exciting, and I enjoy what I’m doing, and that’s very important.”

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As in all of Wishman’s movies, she lingers on shots of feet and legs, one of her trademark tendencies. (Noted fetishist Quentin Tarantino has nothing on Doris for this particular interest.) She also makes good use of Central Park, which seems to have been her favorite place to film, apart from the neighborhood where she lived in Queens.

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Two of the most iconic performers associated with Wishman’s mid-to-late-60s films are twin sisters Darlene and Dawn Bennett (Bad Girls’ star, Gigi Darlene, chose the last part of her stage name as a tribute to friend Darlene Bennett; the “Gigi” was in honor of the Vincente Minnelli-directed musical). Both twins appear in Bad Girls, but Dawn, who is not credited in the film’s cast list for some reason, has the bigger role as Della, a lesbian character who rents a room in her NYC apartment to Meg. Like many of the women who populate Wishman’s films from this era, Dawn Bennett’s closet includes lacy underthings, including catsuits.

I wish I knew what ever happened to the Bennett sisters, but finding out anything about them – even whether Darlene and Dawn Bennett were their real names – has been impossible so far. If anyone could help me out, that would be excellent!

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Interior design is another noteworthy element of Doris Wishman’s cinematic style. Between the mid-60s and the 1980s, most (if not all) of her films involved scenes shot in her Queens apartment. However kitschy the decor may be, it’s all Doris’s doing.

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Then, of course, there is the question of how Meg (who goes by the pseudonym “Ellen Green” when she comes to New York) deals with the troubles she faces. What’s a girl to do when she must constantly fend off unwanted, violent advances? Where can she go and avoid being groped and attacked by sleazy employers and landlords? Throughout the film, C. Davis Smith’s B&W cinematography lights Meg’s moments of uncertainty and turmoil to great (if occasionally disturbing) effect.

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As Austin Film Society programmer Lars Nilsen wrote about Bad Girls Go to Hell in June 2015: “All the Doris Wishman black and white films are like photo essays of another forever-lost time and place. The high contrast interiors, the shots of walking feet, the disembodied dialogue. Watching a Doris film is like turning page after page of an imaginary Diane Arbus book documenting the struggles of a young woman in the world of plaid-suited, cigar smoking, completely disgusting men. This is my favorite of her films, and a good place to start.”

Go See This: The Third Man (1949) at the Film Forum

When I first saw the Carol Reed film The Third Man (1949) on TCM, however many years ago that was, I was definitely disappointed. It was a film spoken of so highly by so many eminent film critics and I just didn’t get it, whatever that “it” was. Earlier tonight I had the chance to see The Third Man again in a new restoration at the Film Forum, where the film is playing through July 9, and I am happy to say that my opinion has done a 180.

Contrary to what the IMDb and Wikipedia say, The Third Man is not film noir – not from my perspective, anyway. It is such a clever film, always winking and nodding at the audience, particularly in the unsettling, jaunty tone of Anton Karas’s zither score. While doing some searching for reviews of the film, I see that a lot of people can’t stand Karas’s music, which is a shame because it creates such a large part of the film’s atmosphere, along with Robert Krasker’s cinematography (I had forgotten those wonderfully canted angles…) and the ruins of postwar Vienna. The Third Man is not really about trying to solve a mystery; it’s not a whodunit, or even a whydunit. It is an observation of human nature, though not necessarily an explanation. Characters do things, usually to save their own skin, and not because it makes sense or is moral. I think that’s why I like Alida Valli’s performance so much better now; the “Anna Schmidt” character is a complex woman, not easily understood. You can imagine different reasons for why she yet does what she does, yet she is not (pardon the pun) black-and-white. There are exquisite subtleties that I never noticed before.

Now more than ever I also appreciate Joseph Cotten’s performance. I love how he interacts with Valli, with Trevor Howard and especially with Orson Welles. The relationship between Cotten’s Holly Martins and Welles’ Harry Lime is so striking because the contrast in their individual senses of principle is so jarring. Watching these two actors play against each other in the famous scene in the Ferris wheel in the “Prater” amusement park is an exchange as perfectly balanced as the interplay of light and shadow in the film’s cinematography.

I think that sometimes you need to see movies more than once, or maybe the difference is growing older and having more film experiences that deepen your appreciation of the medium. That was true for me with another great British film, Brief Encounter (1945), which was coincidentally also photographed by Robert Krasker. Perhaps the issue was that when I was younger I had the mentality that films needed happy endings, and if they did not have that expected conclusion, the result was dissatisfaction. (I felt the same kind of letdown at the end of Wong Kar Wai’s In the Mood for Love (2000) too, come to think of it. It’s essentially Brief Encounter set in early 1960s Hong Kong.) Now I am able to recognize the value of The Third Man, not because the hero gets the girl or because all of the details in the various characters’ alibis check out, but because now I am aware of the depth and nuance in the filmmaking technique and in the performances. I don’t know if I have precisely or accurately described my reaction to The Third Man, but I know I feel something new when I see the leaves gently falling from the trees that line the road next to the Zentralfriedhof cemetery.

Technicolor Dreams at MoMA This Summer

For two solid months from June 5 to August 5, the Museum of Modern Art will be running a film retrospective titled “Glorious Technicolor: From George Eastman House and Beyond,” showcasing Technicolor movies made between the early 1920s and the mid-50s. Here is a sample of 30 of the feature films, both live-action and animation, that you can see this summer. (Times are subject to change.)

The Toll of the Sea (1922) – dir. Chester M. Franklin – starring Anna May Wong, Kenneth Harlan, Beatrice Bentley – Sunday, June 7 at 2:00 pm and Friday, June 12 at 4:30 pm

Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933) – dir. Michael Curtiz – starring Lionel Atwill, Fay Wray, Glenda Farrell – Wednesday, July 1 at 7:00 pm and Wednesday, July 8 at 4:30 pm

The Garden of Allah (1936) – dir. Richard Boleslawski – starring Marlene Dietrich, Charles Boyer, Basil Rathbone – Friday, June 5 at 4:30 pm and Tuesday, July 21 at 1:30 pm

Nothing Sacred (1937) – dir. William A. Wellman – starring Carole Lombard, Fredric March, Charles Winninger – Tuesday, July 21 at 6:45 pm and Sunday, July 26 at 3:30 pm

The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) – dirs. Michael Curtiz and William Keighley – starring Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland, Basil Rathbone – Sunday, June 7 at 6:00 pm and Monday, June 22 at 4:30 pm

Drums Along the Mohawk (1939) – dir. John Ford – starring Claudette Colbert, Henry Fonda, Edna May Oliver – Monday, July 6 at 4:30 pm and Tuesday, July 7 at 7:15 pm

Gone with the Wind (1939) – dir. Victor Fleming (with others) – starring Clark Gable, Vivien Leigh, Olivia de Havilland – Saturday, July 4 at 6:30 pm and Saturday, July 11 at 1:00 pm

The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) – dir. Michael Curtiz – starring Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, Olivia de Havilland – Monday, June 22 at 7:00 pm and Wednesday, July 1 at 1:30 pm

The Wizard of Oz (1939) – dir. Victor Fleming (with others) – starring Judy Garland, Frank Morgan, Margaret Hamilton – Friday, June 5 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, June 14 at 2:00 pm

Down Argentine Way (1940) – dir. Irving Cummings – starring Don Ameche, Betty Grable, Carmen Miranda – Friday, June 26 at 4:30 pm and Sunday, June 28 at 4:15 pm

Blood and Sand (1941) – dir. Rouben Mamoulian – starring Tyrone Power, Linda Darnell, Rita Hayworth – Friday, July 3 at 7:00 pm and Sunday, July 5 at 6:00 pm

Lassie Come Home (1943) – dir. Fred M. Wilcox – starring Roddy McDowall, Donald Crisp, Elizabeth Taylor – Sunday, July 19 at 3:15 pm and Monday, July 20 at 4:30 pm

Cobra Woman (1944) – dir. Robert Siodmak – starring Maria Montez, Jon Hall, Sabu – Wednesday, July 8 at 1:30 pm and Sunday, July 12 at 3:45 pm

Yolanda and the Thief (1945) – dir. Vincente Minnelli – starring Fred Astaire, Lucille Bremer, Leon Ames – Saturday, June 13 at 2:00 pm and Tuesday, June 23 at 4:30 pm

The Yearling (1946) – dir. Clarence Brown – starring Gregory Peck, Jane Wyman, Claude Jarman Jr. – Wednesday, June 17 at 6:45 pm and Sunday, June 21 at 7:00 pm

Easter Parade (1948) – dir. Charles Walters – starring Judy Garland, Fred Astaire, Ann Miller – Sunday, July 12 at 1:00 pm and Monday, July 13 at 4:00 pm

The Pirate (1948) – dir. Vincente Minnelli – starring Judy Garland, Gene Kelly, Walter Slezak – Saturday, June 13 at 4:45 pm and Tuesday, June 16 at 7:15 pm

Little Women (1949) – dir. Mervyn LeRoy – starring June Allyson, Peter Lawford, Elizabeth Taylor – Sunday, June 14 at 4:30 pm and Sunday, June 21 at 4:15 pm

Neptune’s Daughter (1949) – dir. Edward Buzzell – starring Esther Williams, Red Skelton, Ricardo Montalban – Thursday, July 9 at 7:00 pm and Friday, July 10 at 1:30 pm

Samson and Delilah (1949) – dir. Cecil B. DeMille – starring Hedy Lamarr, Victor Mature, Angela Lansbury – Saturday, July 11 at 8:30 pm and Thursday, July 16 at 7:15 pm

An American in Paris (1951) – dir. Vincente Minnelli – starring Gene Kelly, Leslie Caron, Oscar Levant – Saturday, June 20 at 8:00 pm and Tuesday, June 23 at 7:00 pm

The River (1951) – dir. Jean Renoir – starring Nora Swinburne, Esmond Knight, Adrienne Corri – Wednesday, July 8 at 7:00 pm and Friday, July 10 at 4:30 pm

Scaramouche (1952) – dir. George Sidney – starring Stewart Granger, Eleanor Parker, Janet Leigh – Saturday, June 27 at 2:00 pm and Monday, June 29 at 7:00 pm

Singin’ in the Rain (1952) – dirs. Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly – starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor, Debbie Reynolds – Saturday, June 20 at 5:00 pm and Thursday, June 25 at 4:30 pm

The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T. (1953) – dir. Roy Rowland – starring Peter Lind Hayes, Hans Conried, Tommy Rettig – Sunday, June 14 at 7:15 pm and Wednesday, June 24 at 4:30 pm

Mogambo (1953) – dir. John Ford – starring Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, Grace Kelly – Thursday, July 2 at 1:30 pm and Saturday, July 4 at 3:45 pm

Niagara (1953) – dir. Henry Hathaway – starring Marilyn Monroe, Joseph Cotten, Jean Peters – Sunday, June 7 at 3:45 pm and Tuesday, June 9 at 7:00 pm

Magnificent Obsession (1954) – dir. Douglas Sirk – starring Jane Wyman, Rock Hudson, Otto Kruger – Wednesday, June 10 at 6:45 pm and Friday, June 19 at 4:30 pm

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) – dir. Richard Fleischer – starring Kirk Douglas, James Mason, Peter Lorre – Monday, July 27 at 7:00 pm

The Trouble with Harry (1955) – dir. Alfred Hitchcock – starring Edmund Gwenn, John Forsythe, Shirley MacLaine – Sunday, July 26 at 5:45 pm and Tuesday, July 28 at 4:30 pm

One Last Look

Earlier today I was walking down 7th Ave in Manhattan and so, since I was in the area, I walked over to 53rd St. and 8th Ave to take one last look (to quote the title of Tom Waits’ recent elegy written for David Letterman) at the old Late Show marquee at the Ed Sullivan Theater, which will be dismantled sometime this week.

After walking around under the marquee for a bit, I crossed 8th Ave back over to 7th Ave, took my final look back to take the fourth photo above, then I kept on going on my way home. I regret never going to any Late Show tapings, but I guess I can’t dwell on that for too long. I’ll just have to make up for it by setting aside time to attend an episode of the new show with Stephen Colbert. The landscape of late night TV has been turned upside down this year, but let’s try to look on the bright side: a new era is beginning. I really ought to make the most of how fortunate I am to live in New York.

Saturday Night Spotlight #6: Shirley Clarke

American director Shirley Clarke (1919-1997) worked at the same time as another groundbreaking independent filmmaker, John Cassavetes, and tackled similar issues: racial prejudice, drug addiction, the influence of jazz and generally living in New York City. Born in that metropolis to a Jewish family that included younger sister Elaine Dundy (novelist and wife of theater critic Kenneth Tynan), Clarke was a multitasker on her cinematic projects, editing all four of the films highlighted below and producing the first three. She also received some accolades from the Academy, being nominated for an Oscar for Best Short Subject, Live Action Subjects for Skyscraper (1960) and winning an Oscar for Best Documentary, Features for Robert Frost: A Lover’s Quarrel with the World (1963). Clarke was close to many of the leading figures in New York’s independent film/avant-garde art scenes, like Hans Richter (her mentor at City College), Maya Deren, Jonas Mekas, Lionel Rogosin and Stan Brakhage. Later on, Clarke was a film and video professor at UCLA from 1975 to 1985 and she received the Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Artists Award from the American Film Institute in 1989.

The Connection (1961) – I have a particular interest in this drama about heroin-addicted jazz musicians waiting for their dealer in a seedy Greenwich Village apartment since the second man from the right, with the mustache and balding head, was my great-uncle, Jerome Raphel. (He is featured prominently in the film’s trailer – seen here – and a couple of years later had a supporting role in Clarke’s 1963 film The Cool World.) The drama also features other notable actors from theater, film and TV, including Roscoe Lee Browne, Warren Finnerty, William Redfield and Carl Lee as well as jazz musicians Freddie Redd and Jackie McLean. After premiering at the Cannes Film Festival, the film’s subject matter and “vulgar” language led to a ban from New York screens until 1962. Arguing this issue of censorship, Shirley Clarke and co-producer Lewis M. Allen brought a lawsuit before the New York State Court of Appeals to fight the charge of the film being considered “obscene” (it was finally determined that it was not) so that the film could receive its license for a theatrical release.

The Cool World (1963) – Nominated for the Venice Film Festival’s prestigious Golden Lion award in 1963 and added to the U.S. Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1994, Clarke’s drama of the black community living in Harlem, trying to survive in an atmosphere surrounded by violence, drugs and racism. Again utilizing jazz for the soundtrack, Dizzy Gillespie and his quintet are featured throughout, even showing up onscreen. Besides Carl Lee (who co-wrote the screenplay with Clarke) and Jerome Raphel, who appeared in The Connection, The Cool World also stars Gloria Foster, who later acted in Nothing But a Man (1964) and as the Oracle in the first two Matrix films.

Portrait of Jason (1967) – Certainly unusual among documentaries of the 1960s, charismatic and flamboyant interview subject Jason Holliday speaks candidly of being a gay man, how that intersects with being black, and also discusses his history of work in cabarets and in prostitution. The film is finally coming to DVD and Blu-ray this November, courtesy of Milestone Films.

Ornette: Made in America (1985) – Pioneering jazz musician Ornette Coleman is given the documentary film treatment here, studying his innovations in the field of “free jazz,” which encourages more improvisation than what is often already applied to the playing of jazz music. Some of the film’s talking heads include writer William S. Burroughs, jazz trumpeter Don Cherry, jazz saxophonist Dewey Redman, jazz bassist Charlie Haden and jazz guitarist Bern Nix. The film incorporates an element of dramatization as well, portraying earlier incarnations of Coleman with young actors.

Live from New York, It’s Don Pardo!

If you spent any time at all watching “Saturday Night Live” in the last forty years, you would immediately recognize the voice that proclaimed in the opening credits, “Live from New York, it’s ‘Saturday Night Live!'” That voice belonged to Don Pardo, who passed away yesterday at age 96. For decades he was the heard-but-not-seen presence that announced cast members and sometimes narrated skits. Pardo started working for NBC in 1944 with a “lifetime contract,” a distinction that was only ever given to him and to Bob Hope. Pardo worked for the NBC Nightly News and he was the first news announcer to state that President Kennedy had been shot on November 22, 1963. In 1975 Pardo began his work on “SNL” and he continued working there even after his official retirement in 2004. Through the years he also worked on popular game shows like “Three on a Match,” “Jeopardy!” and “The Price Is Right.” In 2008, Pardo was brought onstage at the end of a “Saturday Night Live” episode to blow out ninety candles on a cake for his 90th birthday.

Let’s remember Don Pardo with his appearance in “Weird Al” Yankovic’s music video for “I Lost on Jeopardy” (1984). We’ll miss ya, Don – “The Man with the Golden Voice.”