Still Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree
Little Miss Dynamite lived up to her nickname back in the early '60s when the Beatles were her opening act, and several decades later she still does—even though you don't hear much about her. Here, to celebrate her 74th birthday, is more on Brenda Lee and other stars who, for various reasons, are no longer in the limelight.
Only Elvis, Ray Charles and the Beatles had more hits than she did in the '60s. In fact, Brenda Lee began the decade with what would become her signature song ("I'm Sorry"), and the Beatles opened for her when she toured the U.K. in 1963. And the four-foot-nine singer known as Little Miss Dynamite hasn't fizzled. She's set to perform in Nashville soon after turning 74 on December 11, and her recording of "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree" remains a holiday standard six decades after its release.
Olivia de Havilland
Born in Tokyo in 1916, the actress who played Melanie in "Gone With the Wind" has lived in Paris since 1960. Jimmy Stewart proposed to her and Bette Davis was her best friend, but de Havilland feuded for decades with her sister, Joan Fontaine, who said: "I married first, won the Oscar before Olivia did, and if I die first, she'll undoubtedly be livid because I beat her to it!" Fontaine died in 2013 at 96. Olivia de Havilland is 102.
Robert "Rusty" Stevens
You know him better as Larry Mondello. After brilliantly playing Theodore Cleaver's slightly dim-witted pal on "Leave It to Beaver," he seemed to disappear. A private eye tracked him down in the '80s, when CBS wanted Stevens for its sequel "Still the Beaver," but his wife assured the detective he had the wrong house. Stevens, who sold insurance in New Jersey, hadn't told her he'd been a child actor. He reappeared briefly, three decades ago, on the "Beaver" sequel and recently celebrated his 70th birthday.
She was great in "The Avengers," but will always be best remembered as Pussy Galore, the hot lesbian stunt pilot and judo expert in 1964's "Goldfinger." Although Honor Blackman flies under the radar in the U.S., the 93-year-old singer-actress gets more attention in the U.K. In recent years she blasted Sean Connery, the original James Bond, for accepting a knighthood while living as a tax exile in the Bahamas.
"Pete forever, Ringo never!" fans yelled after the Fab Three fired him in 1962. There were reasons—producer George Martin considered the Beatles' original drummer a weak link—but the dismissal was handled poorly. Still, life goes on: Best, 77, supported his family as a civil servant, enjoys touring off and on with the Pete Best Band, and has been married for 55 years. Some say he's the happiest Beatle of all.
The child actor who grew up to star on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis" (1959-1963) is now 84. On that series, Dwayne Hickman played straight man to Bob Denver as Maynard G. Krebbs, TV's first beatnik. Although Denver, who died in 2005, moved on to "Gilligan's Island," the two remained close friends. "In 50 years, we never had a harsh word," said Hickman, who has turned from acting to art and sells his paintings online.
Her haunting "Ode to Billy Joe" soared to No. 1 in July 1967, edging out the Beatles' "All You Need Is Love." Bobbie Gentry, who studied philosophy at UCLA, later settled in Los Angeles, where she avoided the public eye for more than three decades. Now 76, she currently lives in a gated community in suburban Memphis, just a couple of hours' drive from the Tallahatchie Bridge.
As Miss Purdy in Jerry Lewis' "The Nutty Professor" (1963), Stella Stevens established herself as a blond bombshell with a heart of gold. A one-time Playboy Playmate, she was in a vocal group that performed theme songs for "The Flintstones" and "The Patty Duke Show" and appeared in movies and TV shows ranging from "The Poseidon Adventure" to "The Love Boat." Stevens later opened an art gallery and bakery in rural Washington State. Today, at 80, she lives quietly in Beverly Hills.
Max Baer Jr.
Max Baer Jr. (his father was the heavyweight champ portrayed in "The Cinderella Man") bought the rights to "Ode to Billy Joe" and turned it into a movie in 1976, five years after finishing his long run as Jethro on "The Beverly Hillbillies." He later got into the gambling business and in recent years planned to open a "Beverly Hillbillies"–theme hotel and casino in Nevada, complete with Jethro's All You Can Et Buffet. He recently turned 81 and that plan has been suspended.
The Jamaican singer-songwriter's career took off with her 1964 cover of "My Boy Lollipop," which she turned into one of the best-selling ska tunes of all time. But in the early '70s Millie Small moved to Singapore, quit performing and seemed to drop off the face of the earth. Now 72, she lives in the U.K. and not long ago told a London newspaper, "I enjoy cooking—anything with chicken, pork and fish with rice—and watching documentaries. I've got five beautiful cats, too."
He looked and sounded great in "Goodfellas"—but that was actually Bobby Vinton's son Robbie. Not that the original Polish Prince is unable to hold his own. From 1962 to 1972, he had more No. 1 hits than any other male solo artist. Today, at 83, he lives on Florida's Gulf Coast with his wife, Dolly. They've been married since 1962, the year Vinton recorded "Roses Are Red (My Love)," his first single.
The actor who played Gomez on "The Addams Family" was always a class act. Now 88, he's a practicing Buddhist and teaches method acting at Johns Hopkins, where he studied math in the early '50s. Carolyn Jones, aka Morticia Addams, married actor Peter Baily-Britton in 1981 while being treated for cancer. Astin, who had remained a close friend, attended his TV wife's wedding and delivered the eulogy at her funeral in 1983.
Stanley Kubrick gave her the title role in 1962's "Lolita" when she was just 14, after which she sang background on Nelson Riddle's "Lolita Ya Ya." But as Sue Lyon grew older, her parts got smaller. She married a Colorado prison inmate in 1973, but divorced him after he escaped from prison and robbed a bank. All in all, the 72-year-old Lyons has been married and divorced five times. She quit show biz in 1980 and has kept a low profile, living in Los Angeles, ever since.
Busted for marijuana possession in 1962, Billy Gray didn't seem to be taking the straight-and-narrow path you might expect from the boy he played on the wholesome sitcom "Father Knows Best." Maybe just as well. Today Gray, a diehard motorcycle collector at 80, co-owns BigRock Engineering, which markets various products that he invented, including ergonomic guitar picks. His Topanga, California, home has been described as a "motorcycle museum."
Although she's kept a low profile for decades, Doris Day still holds the title of the biggest female box-office draw in Hollywood history. She shared top billing with stars like James Stewart and Cary Grant (but turned down an offer to play Mrs. Robinson in "The Graduate") and recorded 20 albums. At 96, Day enjoys a "que sera sera" life in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California,, where she has adopted countless pets and devotes herself to animal rights.
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