Category Archives: Dead Folks

Dead Folks: Film


Dead Folks: Film

Remembrances of notable individuals who passed away in 2009.

January 21, 2010

Jennifer Jones
A dark-haired beauty with prominent cheekbones and perhaps the most expressive eyes ever captured on film, Jones often portrayed mercurial, emotionally fragile characters ideally suited for romance and melodrama. Portraying young women who could gush with joy and plunge into despair in the same breath may not have always been a stretch for Jones. Her private life, which was seldom private despite her resistance to interviews and publicity events, was emotionally harrowing.


Jennifer Jones (click for larger version)





In other words, as went the whims of Hollywood mogul David O. Selznick, so went the career and personal life of Jennifer Jones. As a fledgling actor attempting to find a permanent place in motion pictures, Jones apparently acquiesced to the Svengali-like will of Selznick, carrying on an affair with him while being groomed for roles in the early 1940s. By the time she was wowing audiences in The Song of Bernadette (for which she earned an Oscar), the 25-year-old mother of two was already separated from her husband, actor Robert Walker. Amazingly, during that separation the couple were cast by Selznick as the young, naïve lovers in Since You Went Away, a moving and superbly executed drama about life on the WWII home front. No one has disputed the rumor that Selznick was attempting to emotionally destroy the depressed, hard-drinking Walker, who was ultimately institutionalized after his divorce from Jones. Hollywood lore also suggests a stranger theory, namely, that Selznick—who had been obsessed with Jones from the day he first saw her auditioning for a play in New York—was slyly preparing her for roles that required an intrinsic understanding of overwrought melodrama. That’s easy to believe. Anyone who has seen the romantic mystery Love Letters, the landmark fantasy film Portrait of Jennie, or Since You Went Away recognizes that Jones’ screen presence was both mesmerizing and slightly unsettling.

On the other hand, it was common knowledge that Selznick was fully in love with the real Jennifer Jones; they were married in 1949 and apparently remained happy until Selznick’s death in 1965. Shortly afterward, a comatose Jones was discovered on Malibu beach, having “accidentally” consumed too many pills and too much wine. She recovered from the coma, and over the years more cynical Hollywood gossips wondered if the entire episode hadn’t been pre-directed by Selznick. (90, natural causes) —David Pelfrey

(click for larger version)

Karl Malden
Three generations of TV and movie viewers probably have distinctly different memories of this excellent actor, whose commanding voice and penetrating eyes once made him an impressive screen presence. The youngest may see Malden simply as the voice and face of American Express Travelers Cheques: “Don’t leave home without them.” The persona for that ad campaign (one that remains in the collective mind of another generation) was derived from Malden’s no-nonsense detective Mike Stone in the long-running 1970s TV police drama “The Streets of San Francisco,” co-starring a young Michael Douglas.

All of that transpired in the latter stages of Malden’s seven-decade career. He began with something of a bang, working with the powerful new directors and actors of the 1950s (Elia Kazan, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach, Marlon Brando), very quickly earning accolades for his roles in On the Waterfront, Baby Doll, I Confess, and A Streetcar Named Desire, for which Malden won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. (97, natural causes) —D.P.

Jack Cardiff (click for larger version)

Jack Cardiff
With very few exceptions, the list of films Cardiff directed will have any serious student of cinema wishing that Cardiff had remained strictly a cinematographer. The British filmmaker helmed the risible The Girl on a Motorcycle, a swinging ’60s fantasy with pop chanteuse Marianne Faithfull that attempted to be way out but was merely way out of touch. Still more inept was The Long Ships, a Moor-versus-Viking adventure yarn with Sidney Poitier and Richard Widmark disgracing themselves in the respective roles. The thing is, both pictures were often lovely to behold, if impossible to take seriously.

Cardiff possessed a preternatural gift for appreciating—and controlling—the effects of light and color as cast onto a motion picture screen. When film scholars speak of “painterly” cinematography, they invariably have Cardiff in mind. His Technicolor (and other film processes) wonders include The African Queen, Topaz, Death on the Nile, and Conan the Destroyer. Moreover, the three pictures Cardiff shot for Michael Powell (A Matter of Life and Death, Black Narcissus, and The Red Shoes) have no analog in modern cinema (nor many contemporary equals). Many scenes in those marvelous fantasies still have film students and technicians wondering exactly how Cardiff managed it. His autobiography, Magic Hour, ostensibly reveals certain techniques, but like any good magician, Cardiff ultimately tells us nothing. (94, natural causes) —D.P.

John Hughes (click for larger version)

John Hughes
We can be angry with the multi-talented filmmaker for writing the screenplay for Class Reunion and directing Curly Sue, or we can admire the box office success of the Home Alone films, which Hughes wrote and produced. However, the former National Lampoon staffer and gag writer for Rodney Dangerfield and Joan Rivers leaves behind one undeniable cultural legacy. Behold the Brat Pack comedy/dramas that defined youth cinema of the 1980s. Hughes directed Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, Weird Science, and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and he produced Pretty in Pink. All the screenplays were his as well. Those films made stars and/or pop icons of numerous young actors, at the same time providing the MTV generation with official soundtracks and no small amount of entries into the popular lexicon (Bueller? Bueller?). (59, heart attack) —D.P.

Patrick Swayze (click for larger version)

Patrick Swayze
According to People magazine, Swayze was the sexiest man alive in 1991. For the kind of people who read that publication, he probably was. His leading role in Dirty Dancing made him a household name, and his turn opposite Brat Packer Demi Moore in Ghost established Swayze as a universally recognized heartthrob. His remaining résumé largely consists of roles as macho bad-ass types, which was no mean feat for a 5’9″ dancer. There again, an athletic Texan who raises horses, carries an instrument-rated pilot’s license, and studies martial arts makes good box office as a man’s man. Then there’s Swayze’s sense of humor about his status as a sex symbol and tabloid regular: witness his brilliant self-deprecating skits on “Saturday Night Live,”


Dom DeLuise (click for larger version)

or his irony-rich turn as the scary-as-hell motivational speaker in Donnie Darko. His final days were a grim deathwatch that functioned as tabloid fodder after Swayze was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. (57) —D.P.

Dom DeLuise
A plump, boisterous comedian, DeLuise possessed an overbearing persona that was a favorite of Mel Brooks, who cast him in several comedies, including Blazing Saddles. DeLuise teamed with pal Burt Reynolds in Cannonball Run and Smokey and the Bandit II. He got his start in television during the early 1960s as Dominick the Great, an inept, bumbling magician whose magic tricks never worked. His appearances on “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” and “Hollywood Squares” made him a household name. An accomplished chef, he later performed culinary demonstrations on television as his film career wound down. DeLuise once claimed that the toughest role of his career was being cast as a penny in a school play. “The part called for me to roll under a bed as soon as the curtain went up and stay there until I was found in the very last scene,” he recalled in the book Who’s Who in Comedy. “It was my hardest role to date. I detested having to be quiet and out of the action for so long.” (75, extended unidentified illness) —E.R.

Ricardo Montalban (click for larger version)

Ricardo Montalban
Khan, Captain Kirk’s arch nemesis in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Mr. Roarke on the 1970s TV series “Fantasy Island.” Damon West on the medical drama “Dr. Kildare.” These are just a few of the many roles played by actor Ricardo Montalban throughout his career as one of the most visible Hispanic actors in post-WWII Hollywood. Born in Mexico City, he moved to Hollywood as a teenager to foster his dream of becoming an actor.

Montalban starred in 13 Spanish-language films before breaking into the American film scene in 1947, cast as a bullfighter opposite Esther Williams in Fiesta. He was under contract with MGM at the time, and said he quickly realized the studio’s portrayals of Hispanics at that time were “very insulting.” Montalban took up the cause of changing Hollywood stereotypes of Latinos, one he championed throughout his career by serving as president of Nosotros, an organization he founded for the advancement of Hispanics in the entertainment industry, for two decades. Despite this, Montalban had a friendly rivalry at MGM with Fernando Lamas as the studio’s resident “Latin lover,” a contest Bill Murray immortalized in a “Saturday Night Live” skit.

Known as a distinguished gentleman with a smooth accent, Montalban became the spokesman for Chrysler and Maxwell House coffee. He made guest appearances on countless TV shows, recently doing a voiceover on the animated series “Family Guy.” The deeply spiritual Montalban, a Catholic, was named a Knight Commander of St. Gregory, the highest honor bestowed on non-clergy in the Roman Catholic Church, by Pope John Paul II in 1998. (88, congestive heart failure) —Christina Crowe

James Whitmore (click for larger version)

James Whitmore
Like plenty of young Broadway actors, James Whitmore watched as movie stars took over roles that he created on the stage. He wasn’t a typical leading man, but his own move to Hollywood landed him a few starring roles as a kind of ersatz Spencer Tracy. He was morally sound while getting radio transmissions from God in The Next Voice You Hear, and sadly corrupt as a career criminal in The Asphalt Jungle. He also landed a great genre role when he took on giant ants in 1954′s Them!


Richard Todd (click for larger version)





Whitmore became a constant presence on television through the 1960s and ’70s, and also kept working steadily in films—favoring offbeat roles such as the lead in 1964′s Black Like Me and a simian turn in Planet of the Apes. He managed a final classic with a prominent role in 1994′s The Shawshank Redemption. A lot of people still knew Whitmore best from his years of commercials for Miracle-Gro Plant Food, and the avid gardener frequently used the sponsorship as an excuse to show up at florist events. (87, lung cancer) —J.R. Taylor

Richard Todd
The handsome, stern Irish-born actor was a popular figure in post-WWII British action films. Having distinguished himself as a paratrooper in the Allied D-Day operations, Todd made a believable war hero, most famously in The Dam Busters and The Longest Day. The Scottish burr Todd cultivated on the stage in Scotland, along with his fairly intimidating demeanor, rendered a memorable man’s man who might have been an ideal James Bond. Ian Fleming certainly thought so; Todd was his first choice for the role of 007. (90, cancer) —David Pelfrey


Dead Folks 2006 (Part 8)

January 26, 2006

Politics/World Affairs

Joe T. Smitherman (click for larger version)




Simon Wiesenthal

There are militant Jews, and then there are insanely militant Jews—the latter of which were probably best represented by the NYC group that loved to dismiss Simon Wiesenthal as “Weaselthal” for using legal channels to pursue former Nazis. (They didn’t like his support of Kurt Waldheim, either.) To normal human beings, though, Wiesenthal was a dashing figure as the Holocaust survivor who understood the importance of ensuring that no German monsters got to enjoy their forced retirement. His work in the aftermath of the Nuremberg trials facilitated the capturing of many notorious creeps, and the Simon Wiesenthal Center continued to extradite Nazis while also stopping the pensions of former SS officers. He was also father to a slew of ’70s paperback thrillers that drew upon his pursuits. The covers for a lot of these depicted the White House with a swastika in the background. —J.R. Taylor

Joe T. Smitherman

For years my mother refused to vote for Joe Smitherman, mayor of Selma from 1964 to 2000, because his quick-draw tongue flippantly and all too frequently tossed off racial slurs. (Smitherman can be seen in a 1960s Civil Rights documentary referring to “Martin Luther Coon.”) Nevertheless, our family continued to buy washing machines from his appliance store on Broad Street. He was quite a charmer, a good-looking guy who sort of resembled Johnny Carson.

Smitherman finally accepted that segregation had been declared illegal in Selma—except for the churches and country club. Despite his loose tongue around the neighborhood, as a city councilor he broke ties with white opinion and supported paving the dirt roads on which most of Selma’s black residents lived. He was re-elected every four years for 36 years by wooing black voters. It was never lost on Joe T. Smitherman that Selma’s black population was increasingly outnumbering the whites.

The town’s (whites only) public swimming pool that Mayor Smitherman closed to prevent blacks from swimming with whites became a symbol of Selma’s stubbornness and stupidity. There the pool sat unused for years, filthy and creeping with algae, the water a dismal blend of green and brown slime. Smitherman’s closing of the pool, however, launched a minor boom in the swimming pool industry in Selma. White residents combined resources to construct neighborhood “members only” pools. The one in our neighborhood was less than a hundred feet from Smitherman’s back door. He lived two blocks from our house (as kids we’d yell “Citizens’ arrest!” every time Joe T. ran the stop sign on our corner), and his home was often the target of Civil Rights marches during the mid-1960s. As my parents scowled, my siblings and I would cheer wildly whenever our house appeared on NBC’s “Huntley-Brinkley Report.”

Several years ago, I was in Joe Smitherman’s office, where a Confederate battle flag flanked his desk. He bragged about Selma’s then-recently appointed first black police chief, told me that the city had a couple of Jewish mayors in its history, and then pointed to a photo of himself sporting bright red wax lips once made at Selma’s now-defunct American Candy Company factory. Laughing, he quipped, “I look like a damn New Orleans queer, don’t I?” —Ed Reynolds

James Stockdale

It’s a shame that Admiral James Stockdale, who was Ross Perot’s 1992 running mate, is remembered for opening the vice-presidential debate by asking, “Who am I? Why am I here?” These words were seized upon by the media as possible evidence of senility (Phil Hartman parodied Stockdale on “Saturday Night Live” with Dana Carvey as Perot), but they in fact reflected Stockdale’s deep philosophical bent. His study of the Stoic philosopher Epictetus helped Stockdale endure repeated torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese throughout his seven and a half years of captivity as a P.O.W. His stoicism was resolute: He mutilated his face to foil his captors’ efforts to have him appear on camera for propaganda purposes and slit his wrists to demonstrate that he’d rather die than give in to their demands. These acts of defiance earned him several decorations and brought about better treatment of P.O.W.s by the North Vietnamese. —Paul Brantley

Rosemary Kennedy

Need further proof of how the Kennedy Empire has fallen? Consider that there was a time when Rosemary Kennedy was regarded as the most embarrassing member of the clan. As the retarded sister of JFK and RFK, Rosemary was hidden away after patriarch Joseph P. Kennedy decided that she was best dealt with by administering a lobotomy. The adoring media obligingly ignored Rosemary’s existence for decades. She lived to a ripe old age, too, most likely because she was blissfully unaware of how her brother Teddy had ruined the family name. —J.R.T.

Shirley Chisholm

Emilio Estevez once mistook a poster of Angela Davis for Shirley Chisholm. That’s okay, though. A guy from Mötley Crüe thought it was a poster of Clarence Williams, III. At least Emilio’s mistake was the result of a good leftist upbringing where Shirley Chisholm was an important feminist icon. She made history as the first black female ever elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1968. She promised fireworks and quickly rebelled once the Brooklyn gal found herself being shuffled off to the Agricultural Committee.

Chisholm would go on to co-found the National Organization of Women, which today might very well have less members than the total number of women who’ve ever posed for Playboy. Chisholm’s run for the 1972 presidency was pure showmanship, but she paved the way for genuinely legitimate contenders such as Barbara Jordan. —J.R.T.




Shirley Chisholm





Domino Harvey

The amazing movie star Laurence Harvey left a bizarre legacy, what with sickly sophisticated turns in films such as Walk on the Wild Side and A Dandy in Aspic—not to mention a creepy turn as a “Columbo” villain. Still, Domino Harvey almost topped all of her father’s incredible excesses. She initially took over the international scene as a stunning model, which seemed natural enough for the offspring of Harvey and model Paulene Stone. Then, however, Domino had to become a genuine character by ditching her glamorous world to become a bona fide bounty hunter. She tossed in the added allure of being a lesbian, although that fact was pretty much ignored when director Tony Scott made the big-screen adaptation of her life. Keira Knightley made for a nice Domino in Domino, but the film itself was a hyper-stylized mess—with its storyline further complicated when Domino died of a drug overdose before the 2005 production was even released. —J.R.T.

Ray Holmes


Domino Harvey (click for larger version)

In an incident that was reportedly caught on film, British Royal Air Force pilot Ray Holmes saved Buckingham Palace from almost certain destruction in 1940. The Hurricane fighter plane he was flying had run out of ammunition, so Holmes rammed into a German bomber, slicing off the tail as it headed towards the Palace. Holmes parachuted to safety. —E.R.

Philip Klass

With an exacting, detail-obsessed mind and the skeptical outlook of an unwavering empiricist, it was inevitable that electrical engineer and aviation expert Philip Klass would occasionally irritate his peers. He didn’t merely know everything about aviation technology; he usually knew it first. During the 1950s, he wrote the very first articles on secret inertial guidance technology, infrared missile guidance and detection, and microelectronics. Klass’s book, Secret Sentries in Space (1971), was the first to deal with spy satellite technology. He coined the term “avionics” and in the process created his 34-year position as senior avionics editor of Aviation Week and Space Technology.

But if his colleagues were sometimes miffed, his opponents were constantly infuriated. That’s because a sideline of his research led to Klass becoming the foremost debunker of UFO reports. Klass always offered an unassailable rationale for his investigations: “My sole objective is to either find a credible, prosaic explanation for a UFO report, or, if that isn’t possible, then to write the most important story of my life—about a visitor from another planet—and win a Pulitzer Prize.”

What galled the UFOlogists, “abduction” victims, and conspiracy theorists is that Klass consistently found a credible explanation. Apparently, a lot of amazing things take place in the atmosphere (plasma formations, radar temperature inversions), but the truth about such phenomena is here on Earth, not “out there.” Throw in a few elaborate hoaxes and pretty soon the X-files are rudely supplanted by the ABCs of basic scientific inquiry. That’s no fun.

His research was made public at the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), which Klass helped establish in the mid 1970s, and at SUN (Skeptics UFO Newsletter), a bimonthly publication that Klass operated himself. This information in turn formed the basis of what are generally considered to be the best books on the subject: UFOs Identified, UFOs Explained, and The Real Roswell Crashed-Saucer Coverup.

That last title placed him on the enemies list of major UFOlogists, many of whom describe Klass as a “disinformer” probably working for the government. The book had turned the tables on one of the world’s most durable conspiracy theories. According to Klass, it wasn’t the U.S. government that was involved in a coverup at Roswell and Area 51. It was the pseudo-scientists and tourist attractions who were “lining their pockets” by maintaining a popular myth. —David Pelfrey

John DeLorean

Let’s note that he was acquitted—but John DeLorean still became a major ’70s icon while being videotaped by the FBI discussing how cocaine was going to be the savior of his automobile empire. It wasn’t just excess that he represented with his car line, although those stainless steel cars with the elevating doors would certainly go down in history as a pre-yuppie status symbol. DeLorean the Man was even more of a spectacle with his three-piece suits and aging good looks worthy of a model in a J.C. Penney layout. He would later be usurped by Moammar Gaddafi in the annals of stylish creepiness.


John DeLorean (click for larger version)

In his defense, DeLorean had created the Pontiac GTO, and his jet-set ways allowed him to raise money from the likes of Sammy Davis, Jr. (There would be a Pontiac GTO named “The Judge,” in tribute to Davis’ routine from “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”) DeLorean even had the hot wife who was ready to ditch him once the going got tough. Anyway, DeLorean’s alleged big drug deal never happened, but he still staved off bankruptcy until 1999—and certainly was far from the flophouse when he suffered a fatal stroke in early 2005. —J.R.T

Also Dead . . .

Ed Masry, partner of Erin Brockovich, played by Albert Finney in the film; Eddie Bunker, Mr. Blue in Reservoir Dogs, and real-life criminal; screenwriter Ernest Lehman; Henry Corden, voice of Fred Flintstone; Elmer “Len” Dresslar, voice of the Jolly Green Giant; Thurl Ravenscroft, voice of Tony the Tiger; Musicians Chris LeDoux, Chris Whitley, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Luther Vandross, Justin Hinds, Laurel Aitken, Paul “Wine” Jones, Son Seals, Lucky Thompson, Percy Heath, Tyrone Davis, Link Wray, and Martin Denny; Senator Howell Heflin; O.J. lawyer Johnnie Cochran; architect Philip Johnson; Actors Barbara Bel-Geddes, Mason Adams, and Sir John Mills; Authors John Fowles, M. Scott Peck, Saul Bellow, Hunter S. Thompson, and Shelby Foote; Myron Floren, Lawrence Welk’s “Happy Norwegian”; Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist; Gen. William Westmoreland; feminist Andrea Dworkin; Eugene McCarthy; anchorman Peter Jennings; Prince Ranier; TV host Ralph Edwards (“This is Your Life”) &


Dead Folks 2005, Music

Dead Folks 2005, Music

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.


By David Pelfrey, Ed Reynolds, J.R. Taylor

February 24, 2005
Artie Shaw

Artie Shaw (click for larger version)

Music fans, especially big band enthusiasts, love and respect Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. But if any were forced to take just one bandleader’s work to a desert island, or place the same CD or vinyl album in a time capsule, they might very well choose one by Artie Shaw (94). The clarinet-playing bandleader, in at least three recordings, offered definitive tracks of the swing era: the lilting “Frenesi” (a Shaw original last used to great effect in Woody Allen’s Radio Days), a flowing, magnificent arrangement of Cole Porter’s “Begin the Beguine,” which practically blew Benny Goodman off the charts, and a stunning rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust,” one of the most instantly recognizable recordings in popular music. Another of Shaw’s compositions, “Nightmare,” is a sultry, gloomy three minutes that evolved into the distinctive sound of films noir, as the scores for countless detective thrillers and crime melodramas all hearken, in some way, to Shaw’s 1938 recording. Throw in the fact that Shaw was a virtuoso clarinetist with looks that made all the girls cry, and it’s understandable that in 1939 there wasn’t a bigger star in the music galaxy.

Shaw’s musical ability was not matched by an ability to win friends or influence people; he broke up bands almost as soon as they made the big time. He wasn’t an egotist, but as a pathological perfectionist he was often devoid of patience with anything or anybody. Oddly enough, that in no way prevented the exceedingly handsome musician from being a ladies’ man (Lana Turner and Ava Gardner are numbered among his many brides), nor did Shaw’s irascibility imply insensitivity. It was Shaw’s idea to work publicly with black composers and players (Billie Holiday was the band’s lead vocalist for a short while), and he was an outspoken advocate for black musicians throughout his career.

Nonetheless, he wasn’t called “the reluctant king of swing” for nothing. Shaw regarded celebrity as an impediment to creative excellence, so his public performances temporarily came to a halt just before 1940. He organized several other groups during the war years and began performing again, but he was never completely comfortable with touring. Although he was approaching new heights in the 1940s and 50s by moving away from swing and into jazz, in 1954 he simply walked away from the music scene to take up a number of other pursuits. —D.P.

Elmer Bernstein

Speaking of his collaboration with Bernstein (82), Martin Scorcese said, “It’s one thing to write music that reinforces a film, underscores it. It’s entirely another to write music that graces a film. That’s what Elmer Bernstein does, and that, for me, is his greatest gift.”

The gifted composer didn’t just create marvelous, memorable films scores; he elevated the lyric quality of incidental music in movies. Bernstein’s legacy includes more than 200 movie scores, 50 years in the film industry, and an inestimable influence on three generations of film composers. So engaging and appropriate were his best works that it is difficult to imagine certain films without their scores. The rousing theme to The Magnificent Seven (later the “Marlboro man” theme until cigarettes ads were banned from television) is a textbook example, being cowboy music par excellence; its distinct “great American West” motif derives from Aaron Copland, under whom Bernstein studied. The martial, upbeat march from The Great Escape (1963) is another instance where melody and tone perfectly suit subject and style. Yet if ever there was a movie score that defined a film’s style, it must be the pure jazz score (a first for a Hollywood film) for The Man With the Golden Arm (1955), a downbeat, gritty melodrama starring Frank Sinatra that dared to explore drug addiction. The first minutes of Bernstein’s gripping score pretty much establish that things aren’t going to go well.

Indeed, the composer had a natural ability to convey urban angst and mean-street sensibility, as the jazzy, sleazy themes for Sweet Smell of Success, Walk on the Wild Side, and Some Came Running indicate. Yet for minimal orchestration and gentle, lyric passages, Bernstein also displayed an innate skillfulness; the tender, wistful score for To Kill a Mockingbird is exhibit A in that regard. His music is also associated with Hollywood actors and icons, most obviously John Wayne, for whom Bernstein provided scores for The Sons of Katie Elder, True Grit, and several others. He worked with Martin Scorcese on seven projects, notably The Age of Innocence and The Grifters, the latter being an example of Bernstein’s interest in various offbeat and independent productions such as Rambling Rose, Far From Heaven, My Left Foot, and The Field.

Bernstein’s stunning versatility is apparent from this partial list of compositions: Hud, The World of Henry Orient, Animal House, The Gypsy Moths, An American Werewolf in London, The Carpetbaggers, The Great Santini, the ballet music for Oklahoma and Peter Pan, Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video, “The Films of Ray and Charles Eames,” and themes for “The Rookies,” “S.W.A.T.,” and “Ellery Queen.” —David Pelfrey


Jerry Goldsmith

Last year when the record label Varese Sarabande announced the release of a series of film scores entitled “Jerry Goldsmith at 20th Century Fox,” orders started coming in the next day. The first run of the boxed set sold out nine days later. Put another way, everybody digs Jerry Goldsmith (75). His name might not ring a bell, but the motion picture scores and television themes Goldsmith arranged or composed for more than half a century certainly do. A deadly serious student of music since the age of six, Goldsmith learned classical piano and absorbed music theory before taking a film music class at the University of Southern California (under legendary composer Miklos Rosza, no less). Afterwards he landed a pretty good gig at CBS, where he scored several episodes of a show that was getting a lot of attention called “The Twilight Zone.” Dozens more television commissions came, but Goldsmith’s acquaintance with another famous film composer, Alfred Newman, led to his long career in motion pictures. He began as a contract composer for 20th Century Fox, and then basically established himself as the sound of the movies. Even a partial list of his film scores and television themes is daunting: Alien, L.A. Confidential, Planet of the Apes, Chinatown, Patton, Seconds, Logan’s Run, In Like Flint, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, The Omen, Papillon, Basic Instinct, The Boys From Brazil, Poltergeist, “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” and “The Waltons.” —D.P.

John McGeogh

Like any founding guitarist who’d been in classic—and still listenable—bands such as Siouxsie & The Banshees, Public Image, and Magazine, John McGeogh (48) had both gotten a day job (as a nurse) and was trying to record dance music by the end of the ’90s. That’s kind of a shame since McGeogh was probably one of the rare punks who really had the versatility to thrive as a session man. It’s certainly no secret that he was a huge influence on subsequent generations. At least to those funky punks who don’t try to get away with citing old blues guys as their heroes. —J.R.T.

Johnny Ramone


Johnny Ramone’s headstone (click for larger version)

He didn’t have many songwriting credits, and that’s probably not even him playing guitar on some of your later favorite Ramones songs. Still, Johnny Ramone (55) got to retire as the wealthiest member of the band because he had 100 percent of the merchandising rights. How did that happen? It’s a long story that certain people can’t wait to tell if certain long-awaited books don’t reveal the whole story. Suffice to say that Johnny benefited from being one of rock ‘n’ roll’s proud conservatives, cashing in on the hypocritical peacenik attitude of certain other band members. The greatest testimony to Johnny, however, is that he was always well-loved in the music community, even after expressing his support for President Bush while being inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. We lost him to prostate cancer, which leaves C.J. and Marky to helm various tribute nights in the future. Jeffrey’s somewhere out there, too. —J.R.T.

Elvin Jones

The younger brother of pianist Hank and trumpeter/bandleader Thad was a drummer who changed the way we hear jazz. Jones (77) played with major figures like Sonny Rollins and J. J. Johnson in the ’50s, but it was with the iconoclastic quartet of John Coltrane (1960-66) that Jones’ fluid, polyrhythmic blankets of sound found their ideal setting. Jones’ beat was implied more than defined, and although one always knew where it was, the surrounding percussive accents and colors were endlessly fascinating, opening up the rhythmic options for the other players unlike what any drummer had done before, even since. Coltrane greatly appreciated Jones: “I especially like his ability to mix and juggle rhythms. He’s always aware of everything else that’s happening. I guess you could say he has the ability to be in three places at the same time.” Jones played on Coltrane’s classic albums My Favorite Things and A Love Supreme; he led his own bands from 1967 until his death, incubating such talent as Joe Farrell, Dave Liebman, Nicholas Payton, Joshua Redman, and Ravi Coltrane early in their careers. His unique approach, seemingly limitless ideas, and sheer power led many to regard Jones as the world’s greatest drummer, and following a much-ballyhooed “battle” with Cream’s Ginger Baker in the early ’70s, Jones became something of a celebrity, even appearing in the cult film Zachariah. It’s hard to imagine anyone ever sounding like him again. —B.G.

Rick James


Rick James (click for larger version)

The guy would’ve made an interesting footnote just for signing to Motown with bandmate Neil Young as the Mynah Birds back in the ’60s. Of course, Rick James (54) had to take a stranger path to fortune and disgrace. He finally got to make a record for Motown in 1978 and was a popular R&B star until the release of Street Songs in 1981. “Give It To Me Baby” and “Super Freak” were huge hits that made James briefly seem like another Prince in the rock-crossover sweepstakes. He was a steady performer through 1989—following his move to the Reprise label—but it still felt like nostalgia to the masses when MC Hammer sampled James for “U Can’t Touch This.” By then, James’ drug problems had plunged him into several embarrassing legal situations. He spent the ’90s with critics hoping for a comeback, but James’ last high profile moment was as a punch line in sketches on “The Dave Chappelle Show.” He was probably pretty happy with that, but any future opportunities—say, on VH1′s “The Surreal Life”—were lost after James’ death from a heart attack. At least he got to date Linda Blair. —J.R.T.

Illinois Jacquet

Tenor sax man Illinois Jacquet (82) was one of the jazz piledrivers: he typically hit his solos full throttle, with clearly developed musical phrases based in the sophisticated vocabulary of the great Lester Young, but run through a rough-edged dialect of Jacquet’s own creation. The latter included “honking,” later to be overdone by a multitude of R&B and rock horn players, and squealing in the altissimo range (i. e., above where the tenor is normally supposed to sound), an effect that was also subsequently overdone by lesser players. He became a star at 19 when he recorded a rousing solo on Lionel Hampton’s “Flying Home” (1942), and was a featured player in the Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts in the ’40s and ’50s. He also led a septet in that era that featured the likes of Fats Navarro and J. J. Johnson. After becoming the first jazz musician to serve a long-term residency at Harvard in the early 80s, Jacquet formed a his first big band, which had a big success, recording the irresistible Jacquet’s Got It (1987, Label M). Almost everyone who plays the tenor sax owes something to this guy. —B.G.

Robert Quine

Lefty hipsters were pissed off that Ronald Reagan’s death overshadowed not only the death of Ray Charles but that Robert Quine’s death was completely squeezed out of all the NYC newspapers. To be fair, Quine (61) was an innovative guitarist and overaged punk who—while unable to make Richard Hell & The Voidoids sound interesting—went on to a stellar career enhancing (and occasionally saving) the work of artists such as Lou Reed and Marianne Faithfull. Quine was depressed over the recent death of his wife, but don’t believe anyone who called his heroin overdose a suicide. If you want to see Quine in action, track down the 1983 concert DVD A Night with Lou Reed. —J.R.T.

Barney Kessel

One of the greats of jazz guitar, Kessell (80) was one of the first generation of guitarists influenced by Charlie Christian, and as an Okie from Muskogee (literally), the sole white member of local jazz bands. It was in that setting that he met Christian, perhaps the most influential jazz guitarist of all, and his direction was set. Kessell played in big bands (Artie Shaw’s, Charlie Barnet’s, and even Chico Marx’s), when Gjon Mili made the short film Jammin’ the Blues in 1944, Kessell was again the only white face, but since an integrated ensemble was not to be shown on the screen, he remained in shadow or silhouette.

Kessel became famous after recording with Charlie Parker (1947) and touring with Oscar Peterson (1952-1953), but it’s likely that many more people heard his studio recordings with pop artists, from Julie London’s “Cry Me a River” to his work with Elvis, Rick Nelson, and the Beach Boys, to numerous movies and TV shows. Phil Spector was his student and protégé; Kessel advised the young man to get into record production and later played on almost all of Spector’s big hits (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling,” et al.). He introduced Brian Wilson to the theremin that was used on “Good Vibrations” and Pete Townshend wrote a song in honor of Kessel after the latter’s 1969-70 residency in London. Throughout, Kessel found time to make numerous jazz recordings, and from 1976 on toured with Herb Ellis and Charlie Byrd as The Great Guitars. —Bart Grooms

Randy VanWarmer

There was a brief window of opportunity in the late ’70s when lite-pop songwriters discovered they could put on a skinny tie and seem vaguely cool while turning out mellow sounds. Randy VanWarmer was able to break through with the modest hit “Just When I Needed You Most”—modest in its humble wimpiness, that is. The song still made it to number four on the Billboard charts. The solo career went downhill from there, but VanWarmer (48) was already establishing himself as a hit songwriter for country acts. The band Alabama scored with “I’m in a Hurry (And Don’t Know Why),” one of VanWarmer’s earliest compositions. VanWarmer would spend most of his subsequent career in Nashville—including a brief comeback as a solo artist in 1988—although he was settled in Seattle when he finally succumbed to leukemia. —J.R.T.

Jerry Scoggins

Jerry Scoggins’ (93) rendition of “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song from “The Beverly Hillbillies,” is one of the best known musical motifs in television history. The show originally ran from 1962 to 1971, with 60 million viewers at one point. Accompanying Scoggins on the theme were bluegrass legends Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. —E.R.

Hank Garland

As king of the Nashville studio guitarists, Hank Garland (74) was in constant demand. Switching effortlessly between jazz and country, he played with an impressive list of performers ranging from Elvis Presley to Roy Orbison to Patsy Cline to Charlie Parker. He pioneered the use of the electric guitar at the Grand Ole Opry. A 1961 car wreck left Garland in a coma for months. When he regained consciousness, he received more than 100 electroshock treatments that forced him to relearn not only how to play the guitar, but also how to walk and talk again. —E.R.

Terry Melcher

Many people wanted to kill Terry Melcher (62) for co-writing “Kokomo” with the Beach Boys, but Charles Manson had a personal grudge against Doris Day’s son. As an A&R man in the wake of his early days guiding The Byrds, Melcher passed on Manson as a recording artist. Charlie was also still pissed about the Beach Boys altering his song “Cease to Exist,” so Melcher’s association with the band didn’t help matters. Anyway, Melcher moved out of the house he was renting, Roman Polanski and Sharon Tate moved in, and the speculation continues about how things might have changed if Charlie had kept his address book up-to-date. Melcher kept working with some of the great pop acts of the era, and the ’60s lost a key figure when the California icon passed away from cancer. —J.R. Taylor


Billy May

He could have retired in 1942 as a brilliant arranger, but Billy May (87) was lured away from his staff position at Capitol Records to provide Frank Sinatra with some of his most unforgettable and brassy settings. The association began with “Come Fly With Me” in 1957 and continued to the end of the ’70s. —J.R.T.

Ernie Ball

Every would-be star who has attempted to play a screaming guitar solo is intimately familiar with Ernie Ball Slinky guitar strings and their neon-colored packages. Endorsed by the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and a million other rock stars, Ernie Ball strings are sold in more than 5,500 music stores in the United States and 75 other countries. They were made to be stretched, but, inevitably, they do break, thereby simultaneously rendering them the most revered and cursed guitar string in the world. Ball was 74. —Ed Reynolds.

Jan Berry

As one half of the duo Jan and Dean, Jan Berry (62) and partner Dean Torrence pioneered the surf music sound with hits such as “Dead Man’s Curve,” “Surf City,” and “The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena).” Berry had been in poor health for much of his life after suffering brain damage in a car crash in 1966. —E.R.

Al Dvorin

Al Dvorin was the concert emcee who made the phrase “Elvis has left the building” a staple of pop culture. The 81-year-old Dvorin was thrown from his car following an accident on a California desert highway after delivering his famous line at the conclusion of an Elvis impersonator contest. —E.R.

Estelle Axton

Estelle Axton (85) was the “ax” in Stax Records, which she started with her brother James Stewart (he was the “St”). Otis Redding, Sam and Dave, Wilson Pickett, Isaac Hayes, and the Staple Singers were just a few on the Stax roster of hitmakers. Her son Packy Axton was saxophonist for the Mar-Keys, an instrumental group on the label that often accompanied the singers. She later took over her son’s record label Fretone Records, whose only hit was in 1976 with the novelty “Disco Duck” by Rick Dees. —E.R.

Johnny Bragg

Leader of The Prisonaires, a singing group composed of black Tennessee State Penitentiary inmates that put Sun Records on the map with the hit “Just Walkin’ in the Rain,” Johnny Bragg (79) and his fellow convicts traveled under heavy guard to Memphis to record in 1953. In 1961, Elvis Presley visited Bragg (who had been convicted of rape in 1943), in prison. The Prisonaires were among the first rhythm and blues groups to have hit records in the South. —E.R.

Alvino Rey

As a bandleader who made the steel guitar popular during the swing era, Rey (95) billed himself as “King of the Guitar.” Rey had a hit in 1942 with “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” —E.R.

John Peel

To discerning music fans, John Peel (65) was best known as the legendary BBC radio DJ who promoted any number of really forgettable ’80s acts via assorted live “Peel Sessions” releases. There’s certainly no denying that Peel got really excited about way too many forgettable art/punk/new-wave/grunge acts over the years. In his defense, though, Peel would often just as easily lose interest in the struggling acts that he would grace with needed airplay. At least he was always interested in new acts, which was pretty good for a guy who’d been spinning discs since 1965. Peel could legitimately claim much credit for breaking acts ranging from David Bowie to The Smiths. —J.R.T.

Lacy Van Zant

He couldn’t match the output of Olivia Osmond, but Lacy Van Zant (89) made an impressive musical contribution through his rockin’ DNA. This ultimate band parent oversaw the Southern Rock dynasty of Ronnie, Johnny, and Donnie—which covers two Lynyrd Skynyrd vocalists (one, sadly, deceased) and a member of the underrated .38 Special. Van Zant worked hard to help out his kids in their early musical years, and his home also served as a museum. Lacy looked the role, too, with a long white beard and a penchant for overalls. If his image hasn’t been put on an album cover, it should be. —J.R.T.

Timi Yuro

She was pretty much forgotten at the time of her death, but Timi Yuro (63) cast a striking figure while ruling the early ’60s charts with gloriously overwrought tunes such as “Hurt” and “I Apologize.” Despite the exotic name, she was pure American pop. Still, it didn’t even help her career when Morrissey singled her out as his favorite vocalist in the 1984 tour program for the Smiths’ Meat is Murder tour. While the subject matter helped, Morrissey might have also been influenced by Yuro’s bizarre ability to look androgynous even when dolled up in evening gowns. —J.R.T.

Lizzy Mercier Descloux

She made some forgettable Parisian punk, but Lizzy Mercier Descloux (47) went out as a goddess to French hipsters. The very young gal was hanging out in NYC during the days of the New York Dolls, and she made it back to Paris in time to start up a pioneering punk clothing boutique. Descloux eventually went into the studio with her musician pals to record two fairly useless albums at the end of the ’70s. (This past year’s CD reissues reminded us why she was promoted mainly as a moody sex symbol.) Nobody was paying much attention to Descloux when she suddenly came up with an international chart hit in 1984. “Mais où sont passées les gazelles” was recorded with South African musicians about two years before Paul Simon got the idea, and the World Music genre was suddenly off and running. Descloux didn’t benefit much, though. Her major-label career was over by the ’90s, and she had moved on to a successful career as a painter before succumbing to cancer. —J.R.T

Alf Bicknell

From 1964 to 1966, Alfred George Bicknell (75) chauffeured The Beatles to concerts and other appearances. The inspiration for the song “Drive My Car,” Bicknell wrote the 1999 autobiography Ticket to Ride: The Ultimate Beatles Tour Diary!, in which he recalled the moment John Lennon reportedly snatched his chauffeur’s cap from his head and declared, “You don’t need that anymore, Alf. You are one of us now.” After The Beatles ceased touring, the former circus clown began driving business executives. A chainsaw accident ended his driving career in 1980, and he joined a Beatles convention circuit giving speeches and selling memorabilia. —E.R.

Skeeter Davis

One of the few women who serve as both a footnote and a legend, Skeeter Davis (72) spent her very long career skirting the pop and country markets. She started out as a rockabilly pioneer with her partner Betty Jack Davis, in 1953, before the duo ended up in an automobile accident that left her as a solo act. It took another decade before she finally became a huge solo star with “The End of the World.” Her public profile would later be that of a one-hit wonder. Within the Nashville scene, though, Davis was much admired and often sought out for duets. She aged pretty well, too, as NRBQ bassist Joey Spampinato noticed when he began courting her back in the ’80s. —J.R.T.

Arthur Kane

You can find at least two CD booklets from the ’90s that refer to the late Arthur Kane, while others believed that the New York Dolls’ bass player had simply disappeared after a jilted groupie cut off his thumbs. The only person who seemed willing to insist that Kane (55) was still alive was Keith Richards, and everybody probably thought that was just a hallucination. Anyway, Kane made a triumphant reemergence with his old band in 2004, after Morrissey invited the Dolls to perform at a UK music festival he was curating. Sadly, Kane succumbed to leukemia before the Dolls could follow up with any American dates. —J.R.T

Dead Folks 2005, Television part 2

Dead Folks 2005, Television part 2

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.



February 24, 2005Bob Keeshan

Bob Keeshan, aka Captain Kangaroo (click for larger version)



Far sillier (and better dressed) than Mr. Rogers could ever be, Bob Keeshan, otherwise known as the walrus-faced Captain Kangaroo, ruled children’s television programming on CBS from 1955 to 1984. The “Captain Kangaroo” show, which finished its run at PBS in the early ’90s, followed the Captain and his ragtag cast of puppets and characters, including Mr. Moose, Bunny Rabbit, Dancing Bear, and Mr. Green Jeans (who, despite rumors, was not the father of Frank Zappa) throughout their adventures at Treasure House. Keeshan entertained his audience with cartoons, the mysterious Magic Drawing Board, and sundry other gags. When Mr. Moose told one of his ridiculous knock-knock jokes, a shower of ping-pong balls was inevitable.

Keeshan (76), who started his career armed with a pair of horns and a bottle of seltzer water as Clarabell the Clown on “The Howdy Doody Show” in the late 1940s, couldn’t dance, sing, or even play an instrument, but he always had an eye-popping outfit and a knack for making funny faces. —D.M.

Robert Pastorelli

Robert Pastorelli

He enjoyed a fine career as the housepainter Eldin on seven seasons of “Murphy Brown,” plus successful big-screen turns in Michael and Eraser. However, it seems Robert Pastorelli (49) was speaking a little too soon when proclaiming himself to be a former druggie in recent interviews he gave. In his defense, though, Pastorelli’s heroin overdose may not have been an accident. It turns out the cops were very eager to question the actor about the increasingly questionable “suicide” of his live-in girlfriend back in 1999. —J.R. Taylor.

Jan Miner

Madge: “You’re soaking in it.”

Customer getting manicure: “Dishwashing liquid?!”

Madge: “Relax. It’s Palmolive.”

Viewers who recall those television advertisements, which ran for a stunning 27 years, are all too familiar with stage actress Jan Miner (82). She played Madge the Manicurist, a wise broad (of a certain age) whose mission in life was to alarm customers before spreading the good news about Palmolive dish detergent, those green suds that “soften hands while you do the dishes.” —D.P.

Mary-Ellis Bunim

The next time you witness a drunken hook-up on “The Real World,” thank Mary-Ellis Bunim (57), one of the founding producers of MTV’s original reality series—or just turn off the television. Bunim, a TV “pioneer,” is responsible for changing the face of television in 1992. Bunim/Murray Productions bypassed actors and selected seven real unemployed post-graduates, er, strangers, to get real (eat, sleep, get wasted) while hanging out in a posh pad together for three months—without television—as the cameras rolled 24 hours a day to catch every droll, er, dramatic act.

MTV plans to air five more seasons of the show, carrying “Real World” through its unnecessary 20th season. If being solely remembered for producing the show that married Pedro, kicked off Puck, and let Coral rule as queen bitch wasn’t enough, Bunim/Murray Productions can also be blamed for the Fox Network’s “The Simple Life,” starring Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie. That’s hot. —Danielle McClure

Ed Kemmer

Ed Kemmer (84) appeared as Commander Buzz Corry in the popular science fiction television program “Space Patrol,” broadcast live each week on the ABC network from 1950 to 1955. Kemmer switched from portraying heroes to villains when appearing on “Perry Mason,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Maverick.” He was also featured in daytime dramas “The Edge of Night” and “All My Children.” Lampert once said that of all his roles, he was most proud of “Space Patrol” because engineers told him they were inspired to careers at NASA after watching the sci-fi series as children. A German POW for a year in 1944, Kemmer staged plays in prison camp. —Ed Reynolds

Art James/Gene Wood

It’s sad when a creative voice is stilled, but we’re also losing far too many non-creative voices—specifically, those legendary figures of game shows who didn’t even get to cash in on the genre’s short-lived recent revival. Art James (74) was certainly unique in his field, having served as both an actual host (Concentration and Blank Check) and announcer for shows including The Joker’s Wild and Tic Tac Dough. Gene Wood’s (78) long association with Mark Goodson Productions allowed the legendary announcer to achieve two cultural milestones. His rave-up intro to Family Feud would later be appropriated by the World Wresting Federation, and that was his voice whispering the secret word on variations of the popular Password series. —J.R.T.

Isabel Sanford

As a not-so-young character actress, Isabel Sanford (86) built a fairly amazing filmography, including Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, The New Centurions, and Lady Sings the Blues. The real fame for the former stage actress began in 1971, though, when she made her first appearance as Archie Bunker’s neighbor on “All In The Family.” A quick recast of her husband, and the groundwork was laid for “The Jeffersons.” She invested her money much more wisely than co-star Sherman Hemsley, so it was probably just a good sense of humor that kept Sanford repeating her role long after the series had ended in 1985—including in Denny’s commercials, a “Tonight Show” cameo, and a turn in the big-screen comedy Mafia! —J.R.Taylor

Dead Folks 2005, Television part 1

Dead Folks 2005, Television part 1

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.

February 24, 2005

Tony Randall

Tony Randall (click for larger version)

Tony Randall’s best act (employing a trademark, withering gaze of surprised indignation) in his later show biz years was at feigning impatience with David Letterman, on whose program he made a record 70 appearances, often in cameos lasting only a few seconds. For most of his career Randall (84) was all over television, most effectively as himself during the halcyon era of “What’s My Line,” “The Tonight Show,” and the entire panoply of celebrity television that, in retrospect, seems like the best reality programming ever broadcast. His shining moment, of course, was the five-year run of “The Odd Couple,” in which Randall played the fastidious hypochondriac Felix Unger. The chronic allergies were Unger’s issue, but the fussiness was definitely a Randall matter, so much so that, as an entertainment persona, Randall exists in the gray area between straight and gay.

He’s been known to take a seat before Carson or Letterman and recite some very damp passage by Ernest Dowson, Oscar Wilde, or Gilbert and Sullivan, casting himself as a kind of throwback fin de siecle dandy. In the bedroom farces starring Doris Day and Rock Hudson and similar romantic comedies of the era, Randall was the stereotypical Madison Avenue executive, turned out in a trim-fit suit and skinny tie, relentlessly mixing martinis and chasing girls. It’s just that everyone watching wondered what Randall might do, precisely, if he caught one. Never a sissy floorwalker or a fey decorator (early Hollywood code for homosexual), Randall nonetheless asks Rock Hudson in Pillow Talk, “Need a light, cowboy?” and winds up in a bed with him in Lover Come Back.

Rock Hudson was the fully masculine romantic lead in those pictures, while Randall was . . . whatever he was. Of course in real life, Rock, well, let’s simply observe that human history is a cavalcade of paradox and irony. Let’s also recognize that Randall was never a mincer, nor a prancer for that matter. He was a brilliant whiner. Exactly where he might be placed on a continuum with Charles Nelson Reilly, Paul Lynde, and Rip Taylor is a topic for debate, but it can be safely stated that Tony Randall was flamboyantly theatrical, and very often damn funny. —D.P.

Jerry Orbach

Early in the morning, when our vocal cords are fully relaxed, who among us has not sung in the shower (where voices resonate most effectively) that number from The Fantasticks? We manage a deep baritone or, on a good day, a basso profundo rendition: Try to remember the kind of September . . . Not knowing the full verse, we immediately skip to . . . and fol-low.

There’s no getting around it. “Try to Remember” is Jerry Orbach’s baby, and it always will be. Orbach was a veteran of the stage, most notably for The Fantasticks (the world’s longest-running musical when it closed in 2002), Burt Bacharach’s Promises, Promises, and the original production of Chicago. He’s best known as detective Lennie Bresco on “Law & Order.” He played the same character on “Homicide: Life on the Street” and on three “Law & Order” spinoffs, which must be some kind of record. In motion pictures, Orbach offered excellent portrayals in Dirty Dancing, Prince of the City, Crimes and Misdemeanors, and Last Exit to Brooklyn. That’s also Orbach as the voice of Lumiere the candle, singing “Be Our Guest” in Beauty and the Beast. —D.P.

Jack Paar

Jack Paar (l) with John F. Kennedy (click for larger version)

After Steve Allen and before Johnny Carson there was Jack Paar (85), hosting “The Tonight Show,” that is. When Paar came on board several months after Allen’s departure, the show was in trouble and no one had any ideas about how to fix it. He chose to drop the variety format and simply have guests arrive, sit down, and chat for a while. It worked, especially since some of the guests were Judy Garland, Woody Allen, and Richard Nixon. It was high-profile conversation, even if it was decidedly not highbrow. Many viewers who saw the show during Paar’s tenure argue, often persuasively, that he was the best host the show ever had. Paar’s catch phrase “I kid you not” entered the popular lexicon fairly quickly, undergoing a slight variation in the Marine Corps, where the altered phrase was employed on a full time basis at boot camp. Paar left the show in 1962 at the top of his game. Letterman and Leno should take heed. —D.P.

Alistair Cooke

Alistair Cooke (click for larger version)

As the first trumpet notes of Jean Mouret’s rondeau in B-flat from “Symphonies and Fanfares for the King’s Supper” catch viewers’ attention, the camera focuses on a distinguished gentleman seated in a highback chair with a book in his lap. That’s Alistair Cooke (95), the host of “Masterpiece Theater.” The music, his BBC diction, and the PBS program are inseparable in the public mind. He referred to his role on “Masterpiece Theater” as “headwaiter.” “I’m there to explain for interested customers what’s on the menu, and how the dishes were composed.”

The Cambridge educated Cooke (he became an American citizen in 1941) also produced the world’s longest running radio program (an awe-inspiring 58 years) called “Letter from America,” a 13-minute BBC piece that was nothing more nor less than Cooke offering his random thoughts on the American scene. From 1946 onward, he composed the entire program on a typewriter, exercised total editorial control, and only missed a few weeks during the program’s run. The former London correspondent for NBC worked from memory to provide listeners across the pond with his take on such disparate topics as brunch with Groucho Marx, hanging around a movie set with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, diners, taxi cabs, lunar landings, television commercials, or his presence at the assassination of Robert Kennedy (I heard somebody cry, “Kennedy, shot,” and heard a girl moan, “No, no, not again.”). Someone ought to have all those “letters” organized in a giant boxed set of CDs, as Cooke has provided what may be the most comprehensive personal history of America after the Second World War. It is easily the most erudite and charming. —D.P.

J.J. Jackson

Well, it’s not exactly like counting down Beatles or Ramones. Still, J.J. Jackson (62) set a milestone of sorts by becoming the first founding MTV VJ to pass away. He was the most beloved—or at least the most tolerated—of the original crew, thanks to his prior life as a notoriously knowledgeable DJ. That still doesn’t make up for Jackson trying to convince us that the lyrics to “All Touch” were genuine poetry. Anyway, it was a rare moment in rock when an older guy was actually welcomed as a valuable resource. His token spiritual predecessors would be Dave Kendall and Matt Pinfield. After that, MTV gave up and hired folks with less personality than one of Alan Hunter’s old shirts. —J.R.T.

J.J. Jackson (second from left), surrounded by Alan Hunter, Martha Quinn, and John Goodman. (click for larger version)

Harry Babbitt

Harry Babbitt (90) was the voice behind the infectious laugh of Woody Woodpecker. Prior to his cartoon gig, Babbitt sang with the Kay Kyser big band on hits such as “The White Cliffs of Dover,” “Three Little Fishes,” and “Jingle, Jangle, Jingle.” He also did a Christmas novelty tune called “All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,” complete with a lisp. —Ed Reynolds

Danny Dark

According to the trade paper Radio & Records, the voice of Danny Dark (65) was heard in more award-winning commercials than any announcer in broadcast history. Known as the “voice-over king,” Dark’s unique voice was heard admonishing Charlie Tuna for not being the best-tasting tuna in the sea with his trademark “Sorry, Charlie.” He made the phrase “This Bud’s for You” common even with non-drinkers. Dark was also the voice of Superman in the “Super Friends” cartoon. —E.R.

Jerry Nachman

With his ever-present cigar, charming humor, imposing girth, and commanding grasp of current events, award-winning newsman Jerry Nachman was one of the more appealing television commentators in the business. Nachman (57), the editor in chief of the MSNBC cable network, was also a staff writer and executive producer for “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher.” —E.R.

Jeff Smith

As the “Frugal Gourmet,” Jeff Smith (65) was at one time the host of the nation’s most-watched cooking program. But in 1997, seven men filed a lawsuit accusing Smith of sexual abuse. He left the airwaves soon thereafter. Six of the complainants said that Smith, a Methodist minister, abused them while they worked at his Chaplain’s Pantry restaurant in the 1970s. Smith denied the accusations and was never formally charged. —E.R.

Dead Folks 2005, Cinema part 2

Dead Folks 2005, Cinema part 2

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.

February 24, 2005

Peter Ustinov

Peter Ustinov (click for larger version)

The Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe winning Sir Peter Ustinov (82) is best known as pompous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot in the film versions of Agatha Christie’s Death On the Nile and Evil Under the Sun. He’s also known for turns in upscale sword-and-sandal epics Spartacus and Quo Vadis, the latter being Ustinov’s opportunity to provide us with a definitive Nero. He excelled, in other words, at playing characters imminently full of themselves but just this side of ridiculous. Ustinov’s portly frame was a plus, yet his mellifluous voice carried most of the load; he sounded like an ideal blend of James Mason, Lawrence Olivier, and George Sanders. A master of dialects and accents, and fluent in almost a dozen languages, Ustinov was a motion picture wonder at times, never more so than in 1961 when he wrote, directed, produced, and acted in the stunning naval drama Billy Budd (one of the great underseen, under-appreciated films of modern cinema). —D.P.

Frank Thomas

From 1934 to 1978, Thomas (92) worked at the same company doing the same thing everyday. Since his office was at Walt Disney Studios, that’s not such a bad thing. Indeed, film scholars agree that his long, hard labor was a very good thing, as Thomas was a member of an elite squad of Disney animators known as “the nine old men.” He worked on such iconic animated pictures as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and Pinocchio, later displaying a knack for crafting some unique characters and moments (the Queen of Hearts from Alice In Wonderland, Captain Hook from Peter Pan). That spaghetti dinner scene in Lady and the Tramp was also his idea. —D.P.

Walt Gorney

Walt Gorney achieved screen immortality in Friday the 13th as “Crazy Ralph,” the old hermit who warns those kids to stay out of the woods. “You’re all doomed!” he intones, only to be laughed at by those pot-smoking teens. Crazy Ralph was killed off in Friday the 13th Part 2, but every subsequent rural slasher film would include a similar character. Meanwhile, Gorney lived to the ripe old age of 92 because he didn’t go into the woods! —J.R.T.

Noble Willingham

Along with numerous appearances on “Rockford,” “The Waltons,” “Murder She Wrote,” “Home Improvement,” and several other series, Willingham (72) found plenty of work on the big screen (Paper Moon, Good Morning Vietnam, City Slickers, The Hudsucker Proxy) portraying sheriff’s deputies, congressmen, oil men, car salesmen, and military types. His characters often exhibited a right-wing, menacing, good-ol’ boy demeanor, but occasionally the actor could effortlessly manifest the quiet decency of an American Joe from the heartland (if such a being exists). In short, he seemed less like an actor and more like a fairly interesting “real” person who just wandered onto the set. Such is the magic of Hollywood. —D.P.

Joe Viterelli

The characters he played were always named Salvatore, Vinnie, Fat Tony, or Dominick—their last names ending with a vowel, of course. He had a face that looked like a basset hound wearing a medium pizza for a Halloween mask, thus providing, atop his rotund frame, a clueless visage that might be amusing were it not so damn intimidating. Viterelli (66) was that Hollywood casting creation known as the “mobster meatball,” and as Robert de Niro’s enforcer “Jelly” in Analyze This, he practically defined the dimwitted wiseguy. It was almost as though Joe were bringing past experience to his roles; after all, his former occupation is listed as “New York businessman,” and he died in Las Vegas of “complications after surgery.” There’s no sense in reading too much into that, though. —D.P.

Joe Viterelli (click for larger version)

Spalding Gray

Many a person wanted to kill himself while enduring a Spalding Gray monologue—especially when somebody had the bad taste to put in one of his videos like Swimming to Cambodia or Monster in a Box before letting everybody get really stoned first. His final stage show ended with him celebrating life by jumping around to Chumbawamba, which was certainly so embarrassing that no one was surprised when Gray (62) killed himself by jumping into the East River of Manhattan. Still, Gray had a nice film career going as a George Plimpton type who gave vague class to bad indie films—and How High, too. He also had small parts in respectable films such as The Killing Fields. Let’s also not forget his early X-rated work in The Farmer’s Daughter and Little Orphan Dusty. You can also supposedly spot him in Ilsa, Harem Keeper of the Oil Sheiks. —J.R.T.

Julius Harris

Last year’s “Dead Folks” issue cited how the late dictator Idi Amin claimed that it was God’s will when Godfrey Cambridge died while playing him in the 1976 TV movie Victory at Entebbe. The joke was on Idi, though, since Cambridge was replaced by Julius Harris (71), who’d live long enough to read Amin’s obituary. Sadly, though, this amazing character actor passed away this year, leaving behind one of the best ’70s legacies of all time. Harris’ bulk provided menace and humor in classic blaxploitation films ranging from Shaft’s Big Score! to Superfly to Trouble Man—and that was only 1972. That set him up to take on James Bond in the blaxploitation-themed Live and Let Die. After that, his work in films like Friday Foster would be mixed with big-budget productions including Looking for Mr. Goodbar and the remake of King Kong. —J.R.T.

Carrie Snodgress

Carrie Snodgress became an overnight star when she appeared in the title role of 1970′s Diary of a Mad Housewife. The film bombed, despite her Oscar nomination, and her follow-up, Rabbit, Run, was another disappointing adaptation. Snodgress (57) had disappeared by 1972, and the gossip columns were asking “whatever happened to?” by 1976. The answer was that she’d run off to live with Neil Young and was raising their son Zeke, born with cerebral palsy. She returned to the screen in 1978 in Brian DePalma’s The Fury, which coincided with her having to endure coverage of record producer Jack Nitzsche’s trial for assaulting her. Fortunately, the worst details were too sordid to make the papers. After that, Snodgress worked steadily in both indie and major productions, right up to her death from heart and liver failure. —J.R.T.

Ingrid Thulin

Ingrid Thulin (click for larger version)

Liv Ullman is better known, but Swedish actress Ingrid Thulin almost vaulted to international stardom in the wake of her films with Ingmar Bergman. Her stint with the famed director included 1957′s Wild Strawberries and 1972′s Cries and Whispers. Unfortunately, her bid to win over Hollywood stalled after Angela Lansbury had to dub her voice in the 1962 Glenn Ford film Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. This was still schlock cinema’s gain, since Thulin (77) would later contribute a stunning performance as the madame of a Nazi whorehouse in the fabulously trashy 1976 classic Salon Kitty. Thulin remained one of Europe’s most respected stage actresses after retiring from the screen in 1988. —J.R.T.

Christopher Reeve

In an ironic twist, actor Christopher Reeve (52) went from playing the definitive Superman to living as a quadriplegic after a horseback riding accident nine years ago. Though admitting that suicide was his first thought, Reeve eventually became a champion for paralysis victims, and was determined to one day walk again. He was a willing guinea pig for new medical treatments and eventually was able to partially leave the respirator he had been on after electrodes embedded in his lungs allowed the actor to breathe on his own for an hour or so each day. Reeve said those precious minutes were a highlight in his later years, as he cherished being able to turn off the machine and listen to the sound of his own breath again. Neither Reeve nor his wife lost their senses of humor, however. His wife appeared on Howard Stern’s television show to plug the Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation one evening, and smiled through Stern’s cruel jokes that she should have just let Reeve die. Reeve passed away following a heart attack. —Ed Reynolds

John Drew Barrymore

Drew’s no longer the only Barrymore to escape the family curse. Her father, John—son of acting legend John Barrymore—could claim to have lived for about five more decades than anyone could have ever expected. This notorious Hollywood casualty began his career as a total embarrassment to the Barrymore dynasty, giving horrific performances on stage and screen. He disappeared for a few years, changed his billing from “John Barrymore, Jr.” to John Drew Barrymore (72), and made several bad foreign productions during the ’60s. He was especially suited for historical roles, thanks to his love of long hair and hatred of shaving. There were plenty of drug busts, and the guy ended up living in the woods. Some would call him a dropout, but he was pretty much just homeless and crazy. He was an absentee father, naturally, and his daughter wisely didn’t have much to do with him. A wheelchair-bound Barrymore ended up being provided with a court guardian in 2003. He was certainly very handsome, though. —J.R.T.

Theo Van Gogh

He was a direct descendant of Vincent Van Gogh’s brother, but Theo Van Gogh (47) had made his own fame as a daring filmmaker in his native Netherlands. Sadly, a Dutch television showing of his short film Submission—about the mistreatment of women in Islamic culture—led to Van Gogh’s murder in the streets of Amsterdam. In a typically European display of bravery, the 2005 Rotterdam Film Festival planned to honor Van Gogh by showing Submission as part of a debate on free speech, but then showed submission by canceling the screening after more threats of Muslim violence. —J.R.T.

Dead Folks 2005, Authors, Inventors, and Astronauts

Dead Folks 2005, Authors, Inventors, and Astronauts

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.

February 24, 2005


Susan Sontag

Susan Sontag (click for larger version)

Once viewers catch on that Woody Allen’s 1983 comedy Zelig is a fake documentary about a man who never actually existed, the joke is in how extensively Allen creates a pastiche of the documentary form. The requisite pauses in the story for comments by observers, analysts, and sundry talking heads are the funniest part of Allen’s method, and the funniest talking head is Susan Sontag. That’s not because she has any funny lines. It’s because she doesn’t. So influential, profound, and brilliant are Sontag’s critical views on all matters cultural, that her very presence in the film signifies the ultimate commentary. The scene is equivalent to Gertrude Stein, Edmund Wilson, or Jean Paul Sartre making a cameo appearance in a Bob Hope comedy.

After entering college at age 16 and fairly blowing away everyone at Berkeley, University of Chicago, Harvard, and the Sorbonne, the groovy brunette with a bride-of-Frankenstein streak in her mane decided to share with the world her innumerable ideas about art and life (for her they were indistinguishable). An article published in Partisan Review in 1964 called “Notes on Camp” was, in literary circles, akin to The Rolling Stones appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” or maybe even the premiere of Citizen Kane. With that essay, and subsequent “assaults” in The Atlantic Monthly, Granta, The New York Review of Books, and various other intellectually inclined periodicals, Sontag provided a brand new way of discussing significant ideas in Western culture and minor ideas in popular culture. The new Bob Dylan album, Godard’s latest film, William James, and Freud were all part of the same story—or critique. Each was crucial to understanding the human creative experience. Yet during her explosion onto the arts and literary scene of the 1960s, what was most exciting for the hipsters, bohemians, and New York intellectuals who embraced/feared her was that Sontag made feasible the notion that one could read everything and know everything that mattered. She simultaneously demonstrated that no one could do it better. In that context, it’s extremely revealing that Sontag once defined the term “polymath” as “a person who is interested in everything, and nothing else.”

The publication of Sontag’s collection of essays titled Against Interpretation (1968) was virtually tectonic in its impact. Here she argues that understanding any work of art starts from intuitive response and not from analysis or intellectual considerations. “A work of art is a thing in the world, not just text or commentary on the world.” Other important works such as On Photography and Illness as Metaphor brought challenging ideas about contemporary culture out of the academy and into popular discourse. Not on Johnny Carson’s show, of course, or in the daily newspapers, but Sontag did to some extent prop open the doors to formerly exclusive salons. That’s mainly because her lucid, confident writing style, which is reinforced by a devastating (and yet somehow celebratory) wealth of intellectual inquiry and research, remains free of academic jargon and postmodern tics.

Such a position as a cultural critic implies a certain amount of controversy, which Sontag always could generate with a few comments. The left-leaning, radical thinker might be famously wrong at times, but one feather in her cap was confronting her lefty pals and stating that “socialism is the human face of fascism.” She was also right about Sarajevo. But regarding her notorious claim that September 11 was the result of U.S. international policies and actions, well, remain on the far left long enough and you’re bound to self-destruct. —David Pelfrey

Daniel Boorstin

The Librarian of Congress from 1975 to 1987, Boorstin loved books and couldn’t understand why anyone else might not; he coined the term “aliterate” to describe those who could read but chose not to. During his tenure, appropriations for the Library of Congress rose from $116 million to more than double that figure, the vast holdings were opened to the public, and Boorstin established the Mary Pickford Theater to call attention to (and utilize) the library’s huge archive of motion pictures. He was the nation’s top cheerleader for libraries in general. Boorstin’s deepest interest was in history, although he was fond of pointing out that he was an amateur and not a professionally trained historian. That’s actually not worth pointing out, however, as he taught history at the University of Chicago for 25 years, held a post as director and senior historian at the Smithsonian Museum of History and Technology, and wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning trilogy on American history and a subsequent four-volume history of the world. —D.P.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

“Whoever has seen the horrifying appearance of the postwar European concentration camps would be similarly preoccupied.” That’s Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross (78) speaking of her obssession with changing the treatment of dying patients. Kubler-Ross was greatly disturbed by what she witnessed in New York hospitals when she visited the U.S. in 1958. Her interest in death and her intensive study of the behavior of the terminally ill led to the publication of On Death and Dying in 1969. In less than a decade the book was a standard reference text for medical ethics and hospital policy. Her celebrated theory of the five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance) remains a valuable model of human behavior not only for patients, but also for loved ones, medical professionals, and caregivers. —D.P.

Olivia Goldsmith

The film version of The First Wives’ Club was a jaunty celebration of older women getting revenge on the thoughtless husbands who abandoned them for younger women. There were also plenty of jibes at cosmetic surgery, as also found in the source novel by Olivia Goldsmith (54). Too bad the author didn’t take her pro-aging stance more seriously. Instead, Goldsmith died from complications related to anesthesia during cosmetic surgery. —J.R.T.

Norris McWhirter

Along with twin brother Ross, Norris McWhirter (78) founded the Guinness Book of Records. Its first edition was printed in 1955, and among its earliest records was a Russian woman who gave birth to 16 sets of twins, seven sets of triplets, and four sets of quadruplets from 1725 to 1765. According to its own records, the Guinness Book of Records is the world’s best-selling copyrighted book, with more than 100 million sold. The McWhirter twins personally crammed 70 people into a compact car just to set a record. Ross was murdered in 1975 after posting a 50,000-pound reward for information leading to the arrest of Irish Republican Army terrorists. —E.R.

Inventors and Innovators

Estee Lauder attracts a crowd (click for larger version)

Estee Lauder

Growing up in an apartment above her father’s hardware store in Queens, Josephine Esther Mentzer was a nice Jewish girl with an ambitious spirit and an intense fascination with the lotions and potions her chemist uncle prepared in a little shop. She liked them so much that in 1946 she began selling skin creams at beach resorts and hotels. The determined Esther expanded her product line and practically bullied her way onto some counter space at Saks Fifth Avenue two years later, by which time she and her husband Joseph Lauder had created a “nice little company.” The products were fine, but the sales program was outstanding: exquisitely attired staff, sophisticated sales patter, and, by the way, madam . . . here’s a free sample (a.k.a. “the gift”). By 1953 the company was a well-recognized force in the cosmetics industry.

Its success was due to Lauder’s making certain that those free gifts and samples found their way into the handbags of the hottest celebrities, the social elite, and the otherwise well-to-do. If that meant entertaining guests on a lavish scale (plenty of fine wine, fine cuisine, and cartons of free cosmetics), well, that was just part of the sales game; “If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard,” she was fond of saying. A more famous, and certainly more profit-generating, quote was “There are no ugly women.” It was that attitude, along with Lauder’s sheer force of will, that helped create a $10 billion enterprise with locations in 130 countries and a daunting product line that includes MAC, Aveda, Clinique, Aramis, and Prescriptives, the sum of which currently constitutes a stunning 45 percent share of the cosmetics business in the United States. Estee Lauder is the only woman on Time‘s list of the 20 most influential business figures of the 20th century. She was 97. —D.P.

Al Lapin, Jr.

In 1958, Lapin and his brother Jerry invested $25,000 and founded the International House of Pancakes. “Rooty Tooty Fresh and Fruity” was an early marketing slogan for ridiculously sweet fruit-topped pancakes and waffles drenched in blueberry, boysenberry, strawberry, or maple syrup. Lapin (76) later owned the Orange Julius chain. His first venture was Coffee Time, carts that delivered urns of hot coffee to offices. Attractive presentation was of utmost importance, both in his personal attire and restaurants. Among his favorite sayings were “People eat with their eyes before they eat with their hands,” and “You have to look like a dollar to borrow a dime.” —Ed Reynolds

Francis Crick

Everyone who ever suffered through sophomore biology classes in high school has sketched (or traced) in their lab notebook the double helix, that famous twisted ladder of deoxyribonucleic acid, more commonly known as DNA. Today the term has made a complete transition from scientific jargon to the popular lexicon. Disparaging remarks about the origin of someone’s DNA or gene pool are common, as are police investigations (in the real world or in television dramas) that rely on DNA evidence. The business of bio-engineering and gene therapy is a huge industry now. Half a century ago, however, the very structure of DNA was a great mystery.

Francis Crick (click for larger version)

It certainly intrigued the British-born biologist Francis Crick (88) and his young American-born colleague James Watson, both of whom were grappling with this puzzle at the Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge, England, during the early 1950s. The pair finally concluded with the double helix, although confirmation of their results did not come for years. Crick nonetheless announced to friends at the University that they had “discovered the secret to life.” His approach was more subtle when it came time to publish their results in Nature in 1953, yet one particular understatement may resonate for all time: “It has not escaped our notice that the specific pairing we have postulated immediately suggests a possible copying mechanism for the genetic material.” In 1962 Crick and Watson were awarded the Nobel Prize. —David Pelfrey

Sir Godfrey Hounsfield

In the 1960s, British electrical engineer Sir Godfrey Hounsfield created the computerized axial tomography scanner—the CAT scan. The CAT scan used X-rays to create three-dimensional images of the body’s interior, revolutionizing medical care. —E.R.

Dr. William Dobelle

William Dobelle (62) developed an experimental artificial vision system for the sight-impaired that involved transmission of electrical signals to electrodes implanted in the brain by way of a tiny camera attached to the user’s glasses. A portable computer receives images that are then sent to electrodes in the brain’s visual cortex. Four years before his death, his creation restored navigational vision to a blind volunteer. “I’ve always done artificial organs,” Dobelle told the New York Times. “I’ve spent my whole life in the spare-parts business.” —E.R.

Tom Hannon

The “father of the automated teller machine,” Tom Hannon pioneered the use of ATMs in locations other than banks. In the early 1990s he had machines in four Southern states. By the time he sold his U S. operation in 2002 to enter the British market, he had 2,500 machines in 40 states. —E.R.

Samuel M. Rubin

Popcorn was probably reasonably priced when Sam Rubin (85) began selling it in movie theaters during the Depression. He’d already built an empire with assorted New York City locations, but Sam changed the way we enjoy movies when he took his popcorn stands into theater chains such as RKO and Loews. His empire signaled the end of vending machines as the preferred mode of movie snacking. Rubin can also claim credit for inventing those oversized boxes of candy that sell for five times what you’d pay outside a movie theater. —J.R. Taylor

Red Adair

During the Gulf War in 1991, Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait set fire to oil wells in the high-producing Ahmadi and Magwa fields, creating a potentially monumental economic and environmental disaster. All the task forces and experts, along with the team working for legendary oil well firefighter Paul “Red” Adair (89), agreed that extinguishing these mammoth fires would take three to five years. Thanks to the consultation, logistical support, and special equipment provided by Adair’s organization, the task was accomplished in nine months. This was a stunning feat, but observers familiar with Adair’s history were not really shocked. At the time, Adair already had more than 40 years of experience battling wild wells, blow outs, and other conflagrations in the deserts and on the high seas. (Adair’s amazing story is told in Hellfighters, starring John Wayne.)

Throughout the 1960s and ’70s, any time an oil rig exploded Adair’s team was called into action; the media coverage of these events justifiably portrayed Red Adair as an American hero. One of his more spectacular deeds involved the huge oil flame in the Sahara known as “The Devil’s Cigarette.” Today the highly specialized devices designed by Red Adair Service and Marine Company, Inc., are regarded as the Rolls Royces of firefighting equipment. —D.P.

Space is the Place

Gordon Cooper

One of the original seven Mercury astronauts, Gordon Cooper (77) was perhaps the most controversial for his belief that the U.S. government was keeping secrets about UFOs. In 1951, Cooper was part of a squadron scrambled into the air over Germany after metallic objects resembling saucers were spotted flying in formation. Cooper also maintained that he saw a UFO crash at Edwards Air Force Base in California. He filmed the incident, but the film was confiscated by government officials. While orbiting the earth in Gemini 5, Cooper infuriated federal authorities when he inadvertently photographed the top-secret Nevada military base known as Area 51 while shooting outer space photos as part of a Pentagon film experiment.

Cooper was the first American to remain in space for an entire day when he flew the last Mercury mission in 1963. Despite his controversial UFO fascination and associated conspiracy theories, he was the backup commander for the Apollo 10 mission that flew to within 50,000 feet of the moon. On his Mercury mission, the electrical system failed, and Cooper had to pilot the spacecraft manually back to earth to splashdown. Cooper’s belief in UFOs was so strong that he testified about them to the United Nations in 1978 in hope that the U.N. would become a repository for collecting UFO sightings. He also wrote a book urging the government to tell what it knew about UFOs. Most, however, probably remember Cooper through Dennis Quaid’s portrayal of the astronaut in The Right Stuff. —E.R.

Gordon Cooper (click for larger version)

Maxime Faget

While scientists were designing rockets to launch astronauts into outer space, Maxime Faget’s job was to bring space travelers home in one piece. Designer of the Mercury space capsule, which ushered the U.S. into the age of manned space flight, Faget’s dilemma was to protect a spacecraft and its occupants from heat when re-entering the earth’s atmosphere. (Astronauts return at 17,000 miles per hour in a craft that reaches temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.) Earliest theories called for a needle-nosed spaceship to cut down on air resistance, but Faget (83) scoffed at such Buck Rogers notions and designed a blunt-bodied craft that entered blunt end first to deflect most of the heat away from the craft. —E.R.

Fred Whipple

Originator of the “dirty snowball” concept, comet expert Fred Whipple (97) introduced the idea in 1950 that comets were balls of ice. This broke from the popular notion that comets were wads of sand held together by gravity. Whipple recognized that a comet’s arrival at a particular destination in outer space did not follow the predictability of gravitational pull only. He instead theorized that as a comet approached the sun, sunlight vaporized ice in its nucleus. Jets of particles resulted, functioning as a rocket engine to speed up or slow down the comet. Close-up photos of Halley’s Comet in 1986 proved Whipple to be correct. Whipple was also responsible for coming up with the idea of cutting aluminum foil into thousands of pieces and releasing the fragments from Allied aircraft over Germany. The tiny bits of foil confused the enemy; it appeared that thousands of planes were attacking. Some speculate that this is where the phrase “foiled again” originated. —E.R.

William H. Pickering

Director of Jet Propulsion Laboratories in California from 1954 to 1976, Pickering (93) was in charge of the United States’ first robotic missions to the moon, Venus, and Mars. Three months after Russia put the first satellite, Sputnik, into orbit in 1957, America launched Explorer I, its first orbiting spacecraft. A New Zealand-born electrical engineer, Pickering was a central figure in the Ranger and Surveyor landings on the moon, precursors to the Apollo flights that landed men on the moon. Initially, the Army oversaw Jet Propulsion Lab activity, but turned it over to NASA after the Russians launched Sputnik. —E.R.

Dead Folks 2005, Photographers

Dead Folks 2005, Photographers

A look back at the notable names and personalities who called it quits last year.

February 24, 2005

Richard Avedon

“Sunday by the River Marne, France, 1938″ by Henri Cartier-Bresson (click for larger version)

Summing up Avedon’s career, someone fairly nailed it when they said, “Although his work could be unflattering, at times brutally honest, there was never a shortage of subjects willing to be photographed.” Working at first for Harper’s Bazaar and then Vogue, it was Avedon’s idea to eschew careful lighting, delicate compositions, and choreographed poses in favor of rather drastic authenticity. Photography should be directed by the artist’s vision and not the subject, or so went his theory. It was a groundbreaking, phenomenally successful exercise in style over finesse, and the obvious physical flaws he captured seemed not to disturb his subjects, who might be pop stars, writers, social butterflies, the super rich, or someone famous for being famous. And then there were the supermodels.

Avedon was also the visual consultant for the film Funny Face, the story of a fashion photographer and his muse starring Fred Astaire and Audrey Hepburn (two guesses as to whom that movie was based on). Avedon also published award-winning collections of his unique coverage of the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, and the Trial of the Chicago Seven. For an unflinching visual tour of that tumultuous era, Avedon the Sixties is a required study.—David Pelfrey

Richard Avedon (click for larger version)

Helmut Newton

No doubt about it, Newton turned most of us into Charlotte Rampling fans, and he did so with a single shot. That’s Charlotte, the lithe, ice-cold goddess reclining on the big desk. In the nude. She’s extremely appealing and scary as hell, which seems to be the general theme in Newton’s work. His photographs were quick, disturbing glances into the realm of bondage, sadomasochism, rough trade, voyeurism, and unbridled decadence. Something very naughty or very dangerous (or both) seemed to be taking place, but being mere glances, these shots only suggest narratives rather than provide them. Even in his more straightforward shots of scantily-clad über-babes, Newton seamlessly meshes glamour with sleaze, at least implying that there’s a sordid backstory for every image. Further analysis of Newton’s photography is superfluous. If ever anyone crafted pictures worth a thousand words (the kind of words appropriate for a locked diary, a criminal investigation, or a Velvet Underground song), Newton certainly did. —D.P.

Eddie Adams

Helmut Newton (click for larger version)

A Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist and combat photographer, Adams’ (71) snapshot of a South Vietnamese officer shooting a Viet Cong infiltrator in the head from two feet away was one of the war’s more riveting images. The photographer defended the South Vietnamese Brigadier General’s contention that the Viet Cong had murdered a friend, his wife, and six children, insisting that anyone would react the same way in retribution. Adams’ images of Vietnamese boat people, refugees who were turned away when seeking asylum in neighboring countries, prompted the United States to accept up to 200,000 refugees. “I wasn’t out to save the world,” Adams once said. “I was out to get a story.” Adams covered 13 wars. —Ed Reynolds