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Recalling memorable entertainers

Much homage has been paid to the major TV-related celebrities we lost in 1998 _ and there was a host of them: Frank Sinatra, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Flip Wilson, Sonny Bono, Lloyd Bridges, Robert Young, Roddy McDowall, Maureen O'Sullivan, Phil Hartman, Jack Lord and many more.

But I always like to take time out to remember some of the other lights that winked out during the past year _ the ones whose passing didn't make it to Page One or get a mention on the evening news, but who still added to the rosy glow in our collective TV memory:

+ Dane Clark, 85, the diminutive second-tier star of 1940s films such as Destination Tokyo and A Stolen Life, had a hard time landing leading-man roles, so he switched to TV in the 1950s and starred in two series, ABC's Wire Service (1956-59) playing reporter Dan Miller along with two other 1940s movie names, George Brent and Mercedes McCambridge, and Bold Venture (1958-59), in which he played troubleshooter Slate Shannon, who cruised the seas aboard his boat, The Bold Venture. That syndicated show was based on the radio series starring Humphrey Bogart, an old friend of Clark's who dreamed up Clark's stage name. (His real name was Bernard Zanville.)

+ John Derek, 71, may be best remembered as the actor-turned-photographer-turned Svengali who promoted wives Linda Evans and Bo Derek into international sex symbols, but he also had an active TV acting career at one time. While he was still a young leading man in movies, he did lots of TV anthology shows, including Lux Video Theater, where he played the Monty Clift role in A Place in the Sun in 1954. He played straw boss Ben Travis in CBS's Frontier Circus in 1961-62.

+ J.T. Walsh, 54, was one of those character actors whose name you never remember, but whose face is incredibly familiar. He created scads of characters, mostly bad guys, but was a fun-loving guy in real life. While playing the racist movie projectionist in Hope, Goldie Hawn's first film as a director, he got more laughs from the cast than the comic in charge.

+ Don Dunphy, 90, was a baseball play-by-play man on TV in the early days and did other sports, too, but I think he was the best boxing commentator TV ever had. He was the ringside commentator for countless fight shows, including NBC's Friday night Fight of the Week telecasts from 1960-64, the last regularly scheduled prime-time boxing series on a broadcast network.

+ Mary Frann, 55, who was a vixen on NBC's daytime drama Days of Our Lives in the 1970s, then played Brad Dillman's loyal wife in ABC's short-lived 1982 King's Crossing, one of the first youth-oriented prime-time soaps, is best remembered as Joanna Loudon, Bob Newhart's affable and resilient wife in Newhart. In that laugh-happy company, Frann was the perennial good sport _ and an immensely likable person in real life.

+ Joan Hickson, 92, had made more than 80 movies and appeared in countless stage plays before she found the role that would make her a TV star in her 70s: Agatha Christie's amateur detective, Miss Jane Marple. Immensely popular as a mainstay of PBS's Mystery! series and A&E's mystery lineup, the Marple films finally came to an end when Hickson voluntarily retired from acting. Though Christie didn't live long enough to see Hickson play Miss Marple, the author saw Hickson in a 1946 London drama and sent her a note saying she would be the perfect Miss Marple. Most critics feel Christie was absolutely right.

+ E.G. Marshall, 88, will be best remembered for playing lawyer Lawrence Preston in CBS's The Defenders (1961-65), but he was a consummate character actor on stage, in early live TV drama and in movies. I first met him in 1973 on the set of NBC's The New Doctors and found him smart, easy to talk with and extremely nice. I saw him last at a 1997 party hosted at a Pasadena mansion by Showtime, which had just revived The Defenders as a series of movies. Marshall was ogling the fancy furnishings and winked at me, saying, "Found anything good to steal?"

+ Albert Johnson, 74, was a brilliant Harlem-born academic whose mother had been a dancer at the legendary Cotton Club. Johnson became one of the world's foremost experts on movies and, as artistic director of the San Francisco Film Festival from 1965 to 1972, brought some of the world's most celebrated filmmakers and venerated stars to San Francisco. In 1961, the amiable, witty Johnson also created and hosted one of TV's first movie talk shows for KQED (Ch. 9).

+ Paul Klein, 69, the TV executive who ran programing at NBC in the late 1970s, invented the theory that most viewers watch the "least objectionable program." He led the network to its lowest ratings ebb trying to follow that pessimistic outlook.

+ Korla Pandit, 76, was the mysterious turbaned organist from New Delhi and one of the most distinctive of all TV performers in the early days of the medium and had shows on several local stations, including KGO (Ch. 7). Pandit's trademark style was to gaze deeply into the TV camera with his mesmerizing eyes as he performed, never speaking a word. His final bow on the national scene was his cameo in the party scene at the end of Tim Burton's glorious Ed Wood in 1994.

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