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The Man With the Answers to 'Whatever Became of . . . ?'

December 08, 1986|MIKE WYMA

By its very nature, a publication party for a "Whatever Became of . . . ?" book presents difficulties for celebrity-watchers. A few dozen of them turned up last week at the refurbished Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, standing by the door of the Cinegrill room while partygoers filed in.

"There's Lois Lane," one fan said as a diminutive, white-haired woman walked past.

"No, it's an opera singer, I've forgotten her name," another insisted.

Lights Have Faded

As Richard Lamparski knows, the public has a fascination for the star whose light has faded, for yesterday's nearly famous who today is nearly forgotten, for the celebrity whose name is apt to be preceded by, "Whatever Became of. . . . "

Lamparski has written 10 books with just that title, the first published in 1965 and the latest this month. He has interviewed about 900 people in the course of the series, offering brief updates on the lives of Bob Cummings, the Andrews sisters, Jay (Dennis the Menace) North, Dorothy Parker and transsexual Christine Jorgenson, among others.

In the early days, Lamparski said, celebrities often refused to appear in what sounded like a collection about has-beens.

"When I started, people turned me down right and left because it seemed like an odd concept for a book and they worried about being put down," explained Lamparski, who lives in Hollywood. "But now that the books are successful, it's different. By and large, people don't like to be forgotten. They'll think about other people I've interviewed and say, 'If he's in it and she's in it, why shouldn't I be in it?' "

He said that Thursday's publication party was the first in the history of the series. Crown Publishers, which also put out the eighth and ninth "Whatever Became of . . . " books, picked up the tab. On hand were subjects profiled in the current and previous volumes.

Among them was Noel Neill, who played Lois Lane in television's "Superman" series. She arrived with Jack Larson, the show's Jimmy Olson. The pair were included, along with Tommy Rettig of "Lassie," Will Hutchins, who played Sugarfoot on the Western TV show of the same name, and others in Lamparski's eighth book.

Neill said the 104 "Superman" shows, taped between 1951 and the 1959 suicide of star George Reeves, are being released for the home video market. "I don't know why, though," she added. "It's on television every day."

Neill, who lives in Santa Monica and gives her age as "early 60s," has been promoting the show with Larson, 53, who lives in Brentwood. Last month they traveled to San Francisco, where a local TV station ran a 30-hour marathon of old "Superman" episodes.

'Still Proud of the Show'

"I've seen the ratings, and we went nose-to-nose with the networks. I'm still proud of the show," said Larson, who cut his hair shorter year-by-year through the 1950s to keep his youthful Jimmy Olson look. Recently he has collaborated as a librettist with composer Virgil Thomson. Their opera "Lord Byron" was produced live and for television last year.

One of the subjects in the current "Whatever Became of . . . " is Cecilia Parker, who played Andy Hardy's sister, Marion, in about a dozen movies in the 1930s and '40s. Parker, 72, who is retired and lives in Ventura, remembers her time in the limelight as "lots of fun."

"We were like a family," she said of the actors who did the Andy Hardy films.

But prominence fades--except, at times, in the mind of the performer himself. For example, Alex D'Arcy's career was a long one, but Lamparski writes that the actor never achieved stardom. D'Arcy, 78, recalls things differently.

Reminiscing About Cary Grant

"In 1938 or '39 (actually 1937), I did 'The Awful Truth' with Cary Grant," he said while reminiscing about the late star. "At that time we were a group in Hollywood--Cary, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and myself. We were the leading men of Hollywood."

D'Arcy, who is retired, lives in Europe, like many of the subjects of the current installment of "Whatever Became of. . . . " Lamparski explained that he included a high percentage of Europeans because he wanted the book to be distributed in Britain.

Among them are 1940s heart-throb Turhan Bey, who lives in Vienna and takes erotic photos as a hobby; Honor Blackman of British television's "The Avengers," active in the Liberal Party in London, and Maria Schell, one of Germany's biggest stars who returned to her homeland after a 1950s U.S. career and still does German television.

Lamparski has found his niche with the "Whatever Became of . . . " concept. He hosted a radio show by the same name on the Pacifica network in the 1960s, and has no intention of stopping the series of books at 10. He said he would like to go to 20, at least.

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