Classic Hollywood: A toast to 'Cheers' and a bit of Bette trivia

Welcome back to the Classic Hollywood newsletter. I’m Susan King, an entertainment writer at the Los Angeles Times for 25 years and an unabashed lover of everything from the Golden Age of Hollywood since I was a toddler. (Don't worry, I'm a fan of classic TV as well.)

Every week I’ll be your guide into this vibrant world, which seemingly gets more vibrant all the time, with news of everything from masterpiece flicks screening around the city to the latest DVD releases of vintage films and TV series to notable births and deaths. Plus I'll give you a sneak peek at my Classic Hollywood column and movie and TV milestones.

And speaking of TV milestones, this Wednesday marks the 22nd anniversary of the finale of “Cheers.” The Emmy-winning NBC sitcom about the denizens and employees of a neighborhood Boston bar was still one of TV’s top 10 shows when it signed off after 11 seasons with a 98-minute episode that found Sam (Ted Danson) and Diane (Shelley Long) reuniting, albeit briefly, after six years, and Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) eloping with her boyfriend (Tom Berenger).

I was lucky enough to be at the taping of this episode on the Paramount lot that March 31. And if you thought the episode was long when it aired, it was even longer to watch live. The taping started around 7 p.m. and ended after 2 a.m. As crazy as it was, it was a tremendous experience to be part of a historical television farewell. Certainly the ending of some shows today, such as "Mad Men," can create a media stir. But it's not the same as the kind of major national sendoff to a big broadcast hit that shows such as "Cheers" and "Seinfeld" generated. The TV landscape is too fragmented for that now.


DVD vault

Did you know that Bette Davis introduced an Oscar-nominated song in a film? Though the two-time Academy Award winner was best known for her dramatic prowess, she is wonderfully comedic performing the Arthur Schwartz & Frank Loesser tune “They’re Either Too Young or Too Old” in Warner Bros.’ 1943 all-star musical “Thank Your Lucky Stars,” which makes its Blu-ray debut Tuesday.

Sneak Peek

In Sunday’s Classic Hollywood, I sit down with veteran stuntman/stunt coordinator and second-unit director Terry Leonard, who has been making hearts beat a little faster with his death-defying stunts in such classics as Steven Spielberg’s 1981 “Raiders of the Lost Ark" (he doubled Harrison Ford in the iconic truck chase sequence). Leonard also staged the thrilling train crash sequence in Andrew Davis’ 1993 blockbuster “The Fugitive.” He's as colorful as you'd hope -- and he's still doing some stunts, though not quite as wild and crazy as before.

Around Town

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science’s “This Is Widescreen” festival celebrating the large-screen formats of yesteryear continues Friday at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater with two 1955 Paramount movies shot in VistaVision: Alfred Hitchcock’s delicious romantic caper “To Catch a Thief,” with Cary Grant, Grace Kelly and Jesse Royce Landis, and Frank Tashlin’s fast-paced comedy “Artists and Models,” with Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and a young Shirley MacLaine.

Grace Kelly and Cary Grant in“To Catch a Thief.” (Paramount Pictures)

And the Answer Is

Last week I asked what classic NBC comedy series aired its final episode and Oscar-winning actor/singer died on May 14, 1998. The answer: “Seinfeld” and Frank Sinatra.

From the Hollywood Star Walk: Notable births this week include James Mason (May 15); Henry Fonda (May 16); Margaret Sullavan (May 16); Dennis Hopper (May 17); Frank Capra (May 18); James Stewart (May 20).

Yes I Can

Sammy Davis Jr., the consummate entertainer and member of the Rat Pack, lost his battle with cancer on May 16, 1990, at the age of 64. Here is the L.A. Times obit as it appeared in the paper on May 17.

For more vintage Hollywood, go to the Classic Hollywood Los Angeles Times Facebook page and follow me on Twitter at @mymackie