Congratulations on making it to the end of another week! Unfortunately, these people didn’t. Light a candle for Funeral Friday.
Glasgow-born songwriter Eric Woolfson got his start as a session musician and songwriter for hire, penning tunes for people like Marianne Faithful while working at Southern Music alongside Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice (who were probably terrible office-mates, what with all the touch football games and non-stop coke orgies), before moving rather shakily into the field of artist management. His only achievement there was scoring a young singer named Carl Douglas, whose “Kung Fu Fighting” became a No. 1 hit, yet somehow failed to materialize into a creatively rich career. Fortunately, Woolfson was soon approached by another musician in need of some guidance: Alan Parsons, fresh from engineering Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon—where he was responsible for making sure every song synced up with The Wizard Of Oz in a meaningful way, so that people would be able to appreciate it two decades later, when VCRs became widely available—who was now looking to branch out. Parsons’ idea was to create a group where the engineer and producer were far more important than musicians, and a lot less likely to get stoned and sit around dicking off on a single guitar solo for eight days.
Woolfson not only wanted to represent it—he wanted in, and thus The Alan Parsons Project was born. [Pause for obligatory “which I believe is some sort of hovercraft” joke.] Throughout its 15 years of existence, Parsons and Woolfson were the only permanent members of the studio-only Project, overseeing a rotating cast of musicians through 10 concept albums, the first of which was a Woolfson idea based on the works of Edgar Allan Poe, Tales Of Mystery And Imagination. (As a self-serving side note, this album later formed the basis of a truly pretentious high school dance theater production staged with the help of yours truly, who proceeded to fuck everything up by allowing the CD player to skip during a crucial scene.) Initially, Woolfson would sing vocals on the songs’ demos before turning them over to guest stars, but he eventually bugged Parsons enough to let him sing lead on “Time,” possibly by pointing out that the name of the fucking band was The Alan Parsons Project, and maybe just this once the big baby’s ego could stand to let him have this one tiny sip from the bottle, hmm? “Time” became one of the group’s biggest hits, and from then on Woolfson sang on nearly all of their songs until the two finally went their separate ways in 1990. Afterward, Woolfson wrote several musicals influenced by his work with Parsons, including the bringing-it-all-full-circle Edgar Allen Poe, which is currently being staged in Berlin. He died this week at the age of 64.
For actors, the ability to disappear into a role is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, you’re the backbone of the film industry; on the other hand, everybody wants to see the face, not the backbone. And so it is that Jan Leighton could have been named the actor who had played the most roles (with 3,372 credits) in the Guinness Book Of World Records, yet still probably have trouble getting a good table at the Ivy. Adding to the anonymity was that most of those roles were in commercials, print ads, and industrial films, where Leighton was often called upon to play historical figures and other, more famous people. Among the many roles he inhabited in his half-century-long career: Fidel Castro, George Washington, William Shakespeare, Christopher Columbus, Abraham Lincoln, Clark Gable, Groucho Marx, Robert E. Lee, Henry Kissinger, Johann Sebastian Bach, Babe Ruth, John Wayne, Walter Cronkite, and even Margaret Thatcher. A natural chameleon, Leighton would research his roles heavily no matter how small the part, often painstakingly assembling his own costumes (he reportedly had more than 400 of them in his apartment) and doing his own makeup, his blandly handsome features a natural canvas. The “Man Of 3000 Faces,” as he called himself, only made a handful of appearances on film and television, so few that his most memorable role was as Albert Einstein in the Scott Baio/Willie Ames telekinesis sex romp Zapped!. But who needs fame when you’ve got actual work—and Leighton was unquestionably one of entertainment’s hardest workers, doing everything from radio voices to hand modeling in his off-hours. He died this week at the age of 87, having lived an entire lifetime, as he once said, “in someone else’s face.” (For a look at the many faces of Leighton, go here.)
Have a super weekend!