One film journalist’s stream-of-consciousness cinematic journey through the pandemic, Part 31
By Laurence Lerman
I’m taking a step back from my usual genre roundups or the whack-a-moling of films that trickled into my stream, in order to call attention to the passing of a pair of talented performers. Both were well-known, likable, respected, versatile and seemingly always busy, even as they each entered their seventh decade as actors—even working together several times over the years.
I’m speaking first of George Segal, who died in Santa Rosa, Calif. of complications from bypass surgery on Tuesday, March 23, at the age of 87, and Jessica Walter, who died in her home in Manhattan on Wednesday, March 24. She was 80.
Both were born in New York (Walter in Brooklyn; Segal in Great Neck, Long Island) and studied their craft in late Fifties Manhattan—(Walter at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre; Segal at The Actors Studio) before getting their first work on TV and the New York stage, followed not long after in the movies.
Segal spent the majority of his career from the late Sixties through the early 2000s on the big screen, while Walter primarily stuck to television and theater, with both contributing their wide-ranging skills in starring roles and supporting turns in dozens of comedies, mysteries, dramas, thrillers and even a horror vehicle or two. The list for each is formidable—my favorites are, for Segal, No Way To Treat a Lady (1968), Where’s Poppa? (1970), The Hot Rock (1972), A Touch of Class (1973), The Last Married Couple in America (1980), To Die For (1995), Flirting with Disaster (1996) and, yeah, even the idiotically fun Look Who’s Talking (1989).
After scaring the hell out of me as the dangerously deranged Clint Eastwood-stalking Evelyn Draper in Play Misty for Me (1971), Walter engaged in a career of seamless genre-hopping in Amy Prentiss (1974), The Flamingo Kid (1984), Tapeheads (1988), Dinosaurs (1991), Oh Baby (1998), Slums of Beverly Hills (1998) and the bizarre indie comedy The Dummy (2002).
Since the dawn of the millennium, Segal and Walter found their most consistent work on the small screen in a number of television comedy series. Segal provided able support in such entries as Just Shoot Me (1997-2003), Entourage (2009) and, most gloriously, as ‘Pops’ Solomon in eight seasons of the smash hit The Goldbergs (2013-2021). Walter lent her sophisticated sense of sass to numerous projects, including Jennifer Falls (2014), the animated Archer (2009-2020) and as the notorious Lucille Bluth in the snarkingly clever Arrested Development (2003-2013, with a couple of reboots thrown in later).
The sitcom Retired at 35, a forgotten 2011 TV Land entry, holds the distinction of featuring Segal and Walter together as an aging couple living in a Florida retirement community, playing host to their young businessman son (played by Johnathan McClain), who decides to leave the New York City rat race and move in with his parents to reconnect with them. I confess that I’ve seen nary a single episode, but the show’s illustrious pedigree now demands that I take a look.
Before that, though, I plan to revisit an earlier project where the pair’s paths intersected: Sidney Lumet’s 1968 pitch-perfect New York City comedy-drama Bye Bye Braverman.
Written by the great Herb Sargent (of SNL and The Tonight Show fame) from Wallace Markfield’s 1964 novel To an Early Grave, the film begins with the announcement of the sudden death of an idealistic writer from a heart attack at 41. A quartet of the writer’s Jewish intellectual friends, including Sorrell Booke, Joseph Wiseman and Jack Warden, spend the length of the movie travelling to and attending the writer’s funeral, daydreaming, fantasizing, kibbitzing and flashing back to moments from their lives.
Early on, Segal’s character, a PR man named Morroe Rieff from the Upper East Side, goes to his deceased friend’s apartment to console his wife, a leggy Ms. Walter as new widow Inez Braverman, whose mourning finds her sending her young daughter out to a deli to buy candy before passionately embracing Rieff to cope with her “grief.”
It’s a memorable moment in an excellent film featuring two fine performers who would continue to entertain us for another 50+ years.
Laurence Lerman is a film journalist, former editor of Video Business--Variety's DVD trade publication--and husband to The Insider's own Gwen Cooper. Over the course of his career he has conducted one-on-one interviews with just about every major director working today, including Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, Clint Eastwood, Kathryn Bigelow, Ridley Scott, Walter Hill, Spike Lee, and Werner Herzog, among numerous others. Once James Cameron specifically requested an interview with Laurence by name, which his wife still likes to brag about. Most recently, he is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online review site DiscDish.com.