Monday, July 16, 2007

How many of you are familiar with the concept of a "tontine"?

As I assume every home in America has, I've also been watching the first round of VH1's World Series of Pop Culture all last week (who's that sharp looking Asian guy on Twisted Misters?). It's obvious that the field this year is even stronger and well matched than the inaugural bunch as evidenced by the glut of tiebreakers thus far. I'm digging it, the matches for the most part are competitive and make for some quality TV. All these tiebreakers also got me thinking of what kind of random lists of things they'd come up with in the next rounds. What director's filmography are they going to ask about? What artist's list of top ten hits will they want? What show's ensemble cast will they want the names of?

That last question also got me thinking about a discussion I had recently with a friend about the Magnificent Seven and how Robert Vaughn, in real life, is the last surviving member of the Seven; thus granting him sole ownership of the Magnificent Seven tontine (assuming such a tontine existed). I'm assuming for most people my age the first, and possibly only time, you heard of a tontine was the, above pictured, classic "Curse of the Flying Hellfish" episode of the Simpsons. Just to make sure, to paraphrase Ox, it's essentially a contract between participants where upon the last surviving participant becomes the sole owner of whatever said agreed upon items, money, etc, etc.

So after considering some of the great ensemble casts of the past in television and movies, here are five random tontines that I think are starting to mature:

Gilligan's Island

Status: As of the writing of this blog it's a three way horse race between "Ginger" Tina Louise, "Mary Ann" Dawn Wells, and "The Professor" Russell Johnson. It was definitely a shocker when Gilligan Bob Denver suddenly died to throat cancer in 2005, up until then he was definitely a front runner. Of course the Millionaire and his Wife: Jim Backus, Natalie Schafer, and the Skipper too, Alan Hale Jr. were definitely long shots to win out. Frankly, I'm surprised the Professor is still going strong although he looks more like the Skipper, lately.

The Prize:
The long sought after solution to finally get off the island.

My Pick: As much as the Professor was my favorite, I've got to play the numbers and go with Dawn Wells. She's technically the youngest and I think she still looks pretty good. Tina Louise is only year or two off but I've always been a Mary Ann man.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: The cast of LOST

The Dirty Dozen

Status: Forty years after its debut, the winner of this star studded tontine's still fairly up in the air. First the former members: John Cassavetes (Franco), Telly Savales (Maggott), Charles Bronson (Wladislaw), Ben Carruthers (Gilpin), and Tom Busby (Vladek). That brings the candidates list to 7, which in actuality for me is 5 with 2 MIAs. The definite five are Jim Brown (Jefferson), Donald Sutherland (Pinkley), Clint Walker (Posey), Trini Lopez...yes that Trini Lopez (Jiminez), and Al Mancini (Bravos). The other two guys Colin Maitland (Sawyer) and Stuart Cooper (Lever) both have very sparse imdb pages and have no credits beyond the 70s. I can only assume they're in hiding from an ambitious Jim Brown looking to cut down the list.

The Prize: I can only assume a fortune in stolen Nazi artwork...and an autographed picture of Lee Marvin with Ernest Borgnine.

My Pick: I've gotta go with classic bad ass Jim Brown. I feel like if he decided to come back into the NFL today he'd still grind out a 1000 yard season. My dark horse candidate would be Trini Lopez though.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: I guess whoever Tarantino casts in the upcoming Dirty Dozen pastiche "Inglorious Bastards".

The Beverly HillBillies
Status: I guess this one's a pretty predictable setup. Although until his death in 2003, Buddy Ebsen (Jed) was really making things interesting by living for so long. The same cannot be said of (Granny) Irene Ryan who passed away in the 1970s. That leaves it a horse race between the two younger actors Donna Douglas (Ellie May) and Max Baer Jr. (Jethro).

The Prize: Obviously the sole title to the vast tracks of land rich with bubblin' crude, oil that is, black gold, Texas tea...

My Pick: I'm going to have to go with Max Baer Jr. He's a little bit younger and if he has half the fighting spirit of his father Max Baer aka the antagonist in Cinderella Man then I'm sold. Also Donna Douglas the hottie who played Elly May and "the really attractive woman who in actuality is considered hideous because every one on her world is a hideous monster thus proving the old maxim beauty is in the eye of the beholder" episode of the Twilight Zone hasn't aged well at all.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: There really isn't any show out there now to match the high concept of this classic. I guess you can compare it to the cast of the 1993 film version.

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World

Status: I suspect director Stanley Kramer's personal intention when making this movie was to have as many old school comedic actors on screen as possible before they all died, mission accomplished. With that in mind it's interesting to see after 44 years who's still in the hunt for the money. Of course if you consider the cameo cast of thousands this would be an entry all to itself. I'm just focusing on the 12 principle actors and actresses looking for the treasure. So from that list the one's who couldn't join us are: Milton Berle (Mr. Finch), Buddy Hackett (Benjy), Ethel Merman (Mrs. Marcus), Dick Shawn (Sylvester Marcus), Phil Silvers (Otto), Terry-Thomas (Hawthorne), and Spencer Tracy (Capt. Culpepper). The fortunate survivors are: Edie Adams (Mrs. Crump), Sid seriously he's still alive (Mr. Crump), Dorothy Provine (Mrs. Finch), Mickey Rooney...yeah he's alive too (Dingy), and Jonathan Winters (Lennie).

The Prize: Three Hundred and Fifty G's buried under a mysterious big W.

My Pick: Forget that all the women actors are younger, forget that he's 87 years old. I'm going with Mickey Rooney, he will out live us all. In the end it'll just be cockroaches and Mickey Rooney.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider:
The cast of the lame 2001 retread, "Rat Race". Breckin Meyer's career died many years ago.

The Golden Girls
Status: One of the great questions of the universe: How does a show featuring four senior citizens from twenty years ago still have no one who's passed on? It boggles the mind how every member of the Golden Girls are still alive and look about the same as they did in the 80s. Bea Arthur (Dorothy), Betty White (Rose), and Estelle Getty (Sophia) with the exception Rue McClanahan... spry 73 (Blanche) are in their mid 80s! I'll be long dead before this is settled.

The Prize: I think it's the secret to immortality and after a while they all just gave up and decided to split it.

My Pick: My pick is irrelevant, I guess I'll go with Rue McClanahan since she is on paper the youngest.

Contemporary Tontine to Consider: I guess the ladies of Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives.


  1. The Professor does NOT deserve it, after all, he totally tried to screw Cal and Ruth in TIE, as you and I know all too well. Snaps go to Brak, for making that bullseye! In any case, I'm sure he's planning some scheme to rub out the other members of the cast first. I'd also like to object to your comparison of the Professor's contemporary appearance to that of the Skipper. He may have silver hair and gained some weight, but he sure as fuck will never have that twinkle in his eye.

  2. What's with this "and the rest" crap?