3 Celebrity Deaths: Funicello, Ebert, Les Blank; Plus, Pirating ‘Game of Thrones’

Annette Funicello (circa 1975) holding a photograph of herself as a child star on “The Mickey Mouse Club”

A Mouseketeer, A Film Critic & A Documentarian

They say that celebrities die in threes. We’ll leave Margaret Thatcher out of it and instead look at three people who inhabited three very different areas of the entertainment business.

This morning  famed Mousketeer Annette Funicello died after years of living with Multiple Sclerosis. She was in the original “Mickey Mouse Club” of the 1950s and went on to star in four Disney films and then the studio “loaned her out” so that she could make four beach musicals opposite Frankie Avalon.

Her charm on The Mickey Mouse Club made her a household name. And the potential of her brand wasn’t lost on Walt Disney, who discovered her himself at a performance at a Burbank High School. According to The Los Angeles Times, “Mr. Disney, as Funicello always called her boss, also licensed Annette lunch boxes, Colorforms dolls, coloring books, comic books and even mystery novels featuring her in fictionalized adventures.”

As of today there’s at least one Annette Funicello paper doll available on Ebay. Get it before the price goes up.

Documentary filmmaker Les Blank who was honored for his career achievement by the International Documentary Association in 2012 died yesterday of bladder cancer. He was 77. Blank made 42 documentaries over the course of five decades looking at musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Texas Blues man Lighting Hopkins and Ry Cooder. He was also fascinated by food. The Telegraph obit singled out his 1980 film “Garlic is as Good as 10 Mothers.” “He occasionally promoted what he called ‘smellovision’ or ‘aromaround’, cooking up garlic-spiced dishes in the cinema while the movie played.”

The New York Times obituary of Blank quotes the filmmaker as saying: “I’ve seen a lot of cameramen go in and treat the subjects like so many guinea pigs. I think the people pick up on my very protective feelings toward them, and they aren’t self-conscious about what they do or say, and they try to show the inner light about themselves that I find so attractive.”

He made two movies on filmmaker Werner Herzog, who was a guest on KCRW’s The Business in 2011. Herzog talked about Blank’s short “Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe.” In the film, the eccentric German filmmaker literally cooks his boot in duck fat with onions at the famed Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse with owner Alice Waters. He then proceeds to eat it at the opening of Erroll Morris’s first feature film, “Pet Cemetery.”

This morning was Roger Ebert’s funeral, where Mayor Rahm Emmanuel spoke. But yesterday the anti-gay group known as the Westboro Baptist Church made a statement saying that they’d picket the late film critic’s funeral in an apparent retaliation for tweets he’d sent before his death. The critic was a voice– even when he lost the ability to speak– through his active twitter feed and blog until the day he died.

Game of Thrones: An Argument for Piracy?

You can’t stream Game of Thrones— or any of HBO’s original content– on Netflix, Hulu or Amazon. For that, you need HBO GO which you can only get if you pay for the cable subscription to HBO. But not every cable subscriber pays the added fee for that channel and not every household has cable, and the show is highly pirated.

NPR reported that 1 million people illegally downloaded the premiere episode of Season 3 of “Game of Thrones” since it aired March 31st. According to the website torrentfreak.com which tracks the use of sites that create bit torrent copies of movies and TV shows for people to download it was a record. Still, it wasn’t surprising given that the epic series was the most pirated show of last year.

The wide spread pirating of HBO content led some moral audience members to form a web-based campaign called Take My Money HBO in an effort to convince the channel to modify its subscription model. Reportedly all told those who signed up said they were willing to pay up to $12 per month for access to HBO GO streaming. But the company has referred those fans to this  Techcrunch article  about HBO wouldn’t make enough in streaming subscription deals to cover the cost of doing what they do best.

According to The Guardian HBO seems okay with the pirating… for now.