Tammy Grimes, Broadway’s Molly Brown and The Last Unicorn’s Molly Grue, Dead at 82

Actress-singer Tammy Grimes died Sunday, October 30, 2016, in Englewood, New Jersey. She was 82.  Her theatrical career spanned — and soared — over half a century.  Her two most celebrated roles were as the unsinkable Molly Brown on Broadway and as the voice of Molly Grue in the animated feature The Last Unicorn.

Tammy Grimes was a star of the legitimate theater, but far from unknown in movies, television, cabaret performances, and doing voice-overs.  She recorded several record albums.  She won two Tony Awards, one for originating the role of Molly Brown on Broadway, a part Debbie Reynolds played in the movie version, and one for starring in Noël Coward’s play Private Lives.  She also won an Obie Award for her performance in Clerambard and a Theatre World Award for her work in Look After Lulu!  She was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame in 2003.

Tammy Grimes worked with a variety of co-stars and playwrights.  Noël Coward discovered her in a New York cabaret, and insisted she star in several of his plays.  She performed in plays by William Shakespeare and Neil Simon.  She guest-starred on TV shows as diverse as Love American Style, Route 66, The Danny Kaye Show, Tarzan, The Love Boat, and The Young Riders.  She turned down the chance to play Samantha Stevens on Bewitched (a role which went instead to Elizabeth Montgomery) to concentrate on her stage career.

Tammy Grimes acted in mystery, horror, and comedy movies, co-starring over the years with David McCallum, Eddie Albert, William Shatner, Steve Guttenberg, Bernadette Peters, Muppets, mice, and unicorns.

Her fantasy/science fiction roles include:

  • Mrs. Pinder in The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)
  • Homily Clock in The Borrowers (1973)
  • Albert in ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas (1974)
  • Narrator in The Lord of the Rings (radio version, 1981)
  • Molly Grue in The Last Unicorn (1982)
  • Catrina in My Little Pony: Escape from Catrina (1985)

Because of her aristocratic accent, she was often cast to play royalty or nobility.  Like Katherine Hepburn, Tammy Grimes was taught to speak in the Mid-Atlantic Accent, the American version of British Received Pronunciation beloved by Hollywood, in a girls’ boarding school.

  • Lady Joan Mellon in Arthur? Arthur! (1969)
  • Princess in The Practical Princess (1980)
  • Princess in The Incredible Book Escape (1980)
  • Queen Mother Estelle in Royal Match (1985)

Although many fans assumed she was British because of her accent, Tammy Grimes was born in Lynn, Massachusetts on January 30, 1934. She attended Beaver Country Day School in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, where she was taught to speak with a Mid-Atlantic Accent, the American version of the British Received Pronunciation that was so popular in Hollywood from the 1930s to the 1950s. She graduated from Stephens College, an all-female school in Columbia, Missouri, before going to New York City to pursue an acting career.

Tammy Grimes was thrice married, twice to actors and once to a composer.  Her marriages to actor Christopher Plummer, CC, and Jeremy Slate were brief, ending in divorce.  Her marriage to composer Richard Bell lasted from their wedding in 1971 to his death in 2005.  She had only one child, award-winning actress Amanda Plummer.  She is survived by her daughter, her brother Nick Grimes, and her nephew Duncan MacArthur.

Tammy Lee Grimes (January 30, 1934 – October 30, 2016)  RIP

Dr. Simon McKay, aka the Wizard

Do you remember a TV show called The Wizard? It premiered thirty years ago, on September 9, 1986. Unfortunately, it only lasted 19 episodes.  It was about a toymaker named Simon McKay and his live-in bodyguard, Alex Jagger.

Why did a toymaker need a live-in bodyguard?  Well, he was in more danger from Moscow than Mattel.  Simon McKay — who patented his first invention at the age of seven — was described as the greatest inventive mind of our time.  Before he went into toymaking, he was a weapons designer and analyst for the Pentagon.  There are people who would happily abduct Dr. McKay to sell his brains to the highest bidder.  Hence, the bodyguard, especially after those six years.

What six years?  Well, after an incident at the Pentagon where a colleague tried to sabotage a project and kill him, Simon decided he needed to rethink his priorities.  So he resigned his position, and disappeared for six years.  CIA, FBI, MI6, KGB — no one could find him, and everyone looked.  He reappeared in Los Angeles, moved into a house on Elm Street (hence the nickname the Wizard of Elm Street), and set up as a toymaker.  The American government was afraid he’d disappear again, either of his own accord or be abducted.  After all, if the KGB or GRU had found Simon, they wouldn’t have let him go.

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Simon McKay (David Rappaport)

Hair: red (halfway between chestnut and auburn)

Eyes:  blue

Height:  3’11”

Weight:  I’m too polite to ask him.  None of my business.

Background:  Born in England.  When his parents realized he would never grow big, they decided it was important he grew up.  About the same age as he patented his first invention, he was apprenticed to a freighter out of Liverpool as a cabin boy.

“When my parents realized I was never going to grow big, they decided I’d need to grow up, and fast. So they apprenticed me onto a tramp freighter when I was seven. When the other kids were going down slides and kicking a ball, I was sailing from Liverpool to Singapore, fetching and carrying every mile of the way.”

How and why a British inventor came to work for the Pentagon was never explained, nor why his enemy Troyan was working on the same project, as he was equally British.  Perhaps Simon was a naturalized American citizen, perhaps it was an international project.  At any rate, Simon worked at the Pentagon, and the last project he worked on was a communications satellite which his colleague Troyan (first name never revealed on the show) had been paid by a foreign power to sabotage.  Simon found out about the sabotage and tried to stop Troyan.  Troyan tried to kill Simon, but was caught in his own trap and subjected to radiation poisoning which has left him in constant pain ever since.  After the incident, Simon decided he needed to rethink his priorities.

“The Pentagon has five sides and I suddenly found myself opposite most of them.”

He spent over a year in Tibet.  Where he spent the rest of the time, he hasn’t said yet.  That’s a question for fanfic to answer.

Occupation:  inventor, toymaker, ex-weapons designer/analyst

Simon McKay was  short in stature, gigantic in brain power, and titanic in imagination.  He celebrated dreaming and imagination. His mantra was that anything was possible, but he wasn’t an idealist.

“An idealist is someone who thinks ’cause a rose smells better than a cabbage it will make better soup. I am not an idealist.”

Alex Jagger was a CIC agent who was assigned as Simon’s live-in bodyguard.  (After 30 years, I don’t remember what CIC stood for, and my Google Fu is too weak to find the information on-line.)  At first, he wasn’t crazy about the assignment, but he and Simon soon became friends.  Alex was the brawn to Simon’s brain.

Alex Jagger:  Douglas Barr

Hair: dark brown

Eyes:  hazel

Height:  6’1″

Weight:  I’m too polite to ask him.  None of my business.

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Tillie Russell:  Fran Ryan

Hair:  red (carroty-orange)

Tillie Russell has been a friend and surrogate mother to Simon since he was a child.  She was the ship’s cook on the freighter where he was a cabin boy.  After Simon rescued her from Troyan in Hong Kong, she became his housekeeper, taking care of him and Alex.

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There is a Facebook group dedicated to attempting to get The Wizard released on DVD.  Feel free to check out their FB page. I also blogged about The Wizard at HubPages in more detail.