April 6th 2014
One of the most enduring performers in show business, Mickey Rooney died Sunday at the age of 93. He made his debut on the vaudeville stage in 1922 as a toddler and toured into his late 80s in a two-person stage show with Jan Chamberlin, his eighth wife. They were married in 1978 and later separated.
Jokes about his propensity to walk down the aisle were once a staple of pop culture. Even Rooney told them. "My marriage license reads, 'To whom it may concern,'" he chortled to The Times in 1981. The first and most famous of his wives was actress Ava Gardner, whom he married in 1942.
When the 90-year-old Rooney testified before Congress in 2011 about elder abuse, the actor said he spoke from personal experience. A family member who took and misused Rooney's money had left him powerless, he said.
"I felt trapped, scared, used and frustrated," Rooney told a Senate committee. "When a man feels helpless, it's terrible."
In the mid-1970s, Rooney claimed that he found Christianity after a mysterious busboy leaned over in a Lake Tahoe coffee shop and whispered, "Jesus loves you."
At one point, Rooney made $500 a night circulating at private parties pretending to be a friend of the host. Rooney turned to alcohol and played the horses, The Times reported in 1999. He filed for bankruptcy again in 1996.
Rooney proudly declared that he followed W.H. Auden's counsel: "Thou shalt not live within thy means."
Soon after his death, his family began feuding over his burial site leading to his body going unclaimed and remaining at the mortuary of Forest Lawn Cemetery.
July 10th 2013
Chuck Foley, whose Twister party game brought shoeless strangers achingly close to one another and made even the most spirited rounds of Scrabble seem comparatively tame, has died. He was 82.
The inventor, who held 97 patents, died July 1 in a care facility in St. Louis Park, Minn., family members said Wednesday. He had Alzheimer's disease.
Foley came up with a wide variety of gizmos and games, including a hand-launched toy helicopter, soft-tipped darts, plastic toy handcuffs and "un-du," a liquid adhesive remover used by librarians, people who keep scrapbooks, and anyone who wants to lift an uncanceled stamp off a used envelope.
Born Sept. 6, 1930, in Lafayette, Ind., Charles Frederick Foley displayed his inventiveness early. When he was 8, he came up with a latch that would automatically close a gate to keep livestock penned on the family farm.
After high school, he worked on a Ford assembly line and saw many possibilities for innovation. When he equipped his 1952 Plymouth Belvedere with homemade, tricolor taillights — green for speeding up, orange for slowing down and red for stopping — the police officer who cited him also congratulated him.
He is survived by six sons and three daughters; two sisters and two brothers; and 16 grandchildren.
He never stopped inventing, Mark Foley said. At a family Thanksgiving dinner in Dallas a few years ago, he stared into the backyard swimming pool, intently watching a motorized pool-cleaning device on the bottom.
"You know," he said, "if you put a crazy image of a shark with earphones on that thing, it would be fun and cool and people would love it!"
May 20th 2013
Doors co-founder and keyboardist Ray Manzarek died today in Rosenheim, Germany, after a long battle with bile duct cancer. He was 74.
Manzarek grew up in Chicago, then moved to Los Angeles in 1962 to study film at UCLA. It was there he first met Doors singer Jim Morrison, though they didn't talk about forming a band until they bumped into each other on a beach in Venice, California, in the summer of 1965 and Morrison told Manzarek that he had been working on some music. "And there it was!" Manzarek wrote in his 1998 biography, Light My Fire. "It dropped quite simply, quite innocently from his lips, but it changed our collective destinies."
"Morrison required all three of us diving into his lyrics and creating music that would swirl around him," Manzarek told Rolling Stone in 2006. "Without Jim, everybody started shooting off in different directions. . . The Doors was the perfect mixture of four guys, four egos that balanced each other. There were never any problems with 'You wrote this' or 'I wrote that.' But [after Jim died] the whole dynamic was screwed up, because the fourth guy wasn't there."
April 11th 2013
Tallchief, a leading figure in 20th century dance, whose career spanned the years 1942-1965, and who at one time was both wife and muse to choreographer George Balanchine, died of pancreatic cancer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago on April 11. She was 88.
Born Elizabeth Maria Tallchief in Fairfax, Oklahoma in 1925, her mother was Scots-Irish, but her father, Alexander Tallchief, was a chief in the Osage Nation, and her great-grandfather, Peter Bigheart, was crucial in negotiating oil revenues for the Osage tribe.
Although a ballet career was a challenge for a Native-American girl of her day, the Tallchief family moved to Beverly Hills, California, in 1933, and Maria, who also was a gifted pianist, began studying ballet there. At the age of 12 she became a pupil of Bronislava Nijinska, the dancer, choreographer and sister of the fabled Vaslav Nijinsky.
By 17, Tallchief was in New York auditioning. She joined the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and performed with the company from 1942-47, quickly rising to featured soloist. Balanchine joined the Ballet Russe in 1944, and he and Tallchief married two years later. In 1947 she accompanied her husband to the Paris Opera where she appeared in his “Serenade,” “Apollon musagete” and “Baiser de la Fee.” Then, back in New York, Balanchine began creating what would become the New York City Ballet, and Tallchief became his leading ballerina.
In addition to her daughter, Tallchief is survived by her son-in-law Stuart Brainerd and two grandchildren, Stephen and Alexandra.
March 10th 2013
Gerald D. Klee, a retired psychiatrist and LSD expert who participated in experiments with the hallucinogenic drug on volunteer servicemen at U.S. military installations in the 1950s, has died. He was 86.
Klee said soldiers from military posts around the country were brought to the Edgewood Arsenal and Aberdeen Proving Ground installations in Maryland to participate in experiments involving various drugs and chemical warfare agents, of which the hallucinogens were a small part.
"They were mostly enlisted men — there were a few commissioned officers — but they were mostly unlettered and rather naive," Klee said. "Now the people knew they were volunteering, the bonus was leave time — seeing their girlfriends and mothers and that kind of thing. They had a lot of free time, and most of them enjoyed it."
Klee said he and his colleagues from the university tried to explain to the volunteers what to expect.
"They were told it was very important to national security," he said in the Evening Sun interview.
Before the experiments commenced, Klee experimented with LSD.
"I figured that if I was going to study this stuff, then I've got to experience it myself," he told the newspaper. "I felt obliged to take it for experimental reasons and also because I didn't think it would be fair to administer a drug to someone else that I hadn't taken myself."
The LSD was slipped into cocktails at a party in the soldiers' honor. While this approach garnered criticism, Klee said the Army and civilian researchers acted responsibly.
"I was there and I didn't like it, but thought I might be of help to the victims," Klee told the Washington Post in the 1975 interview.
The civilian team quickly learned about those who had experienced "bad trips." He said he did not know of any lasting ill effects on the soldiers but added that university researchers followed the cases only during their month stay at Edgewood.
His four marriages ended in divorce. Survivors include five children, Kenneth A. Klee, of South Orange, N.J., Brian D. Klee of Waterford, Conn., Susan E. Klee of Chevy Chase, Louise E. Klee of Takoma Park and Sheila G. Klee of New York City; a brother; and 11 grandchildren.
February 11th 2013
Eskridge, John W. "Jack" Jack Eskridge, 89 of Valley Falls Kansas, passed away Feb. 11, 2013. Jack was a Marine in WWII, went to Kansas Univ. where he played/coached basketball. He was the Dallas Cowboys equipment manger (1960-1973) where he designed the Star on the helmet. He is survived by sons Butch and Scott Eskridge, and daughters Denise Kobuszewski and Debra Dickson. Funeral service will be at 10:00 am on Feb. 16th at Carson-Speaks Chapel, 1501 W. Lexington Ave., Independence, MO 64052.
January 17th 2013
Pauline Friedman Phillips, who as Abigail Van Buren -- "Dear Abby" — for more than 40 years dispensed advice to newspaper readers worldwide on everything from snoring spouses to living wills, has died. She was 94.
The youngest of four daughters of Russian immigrants, Pauline Esther Friedman and her identical twin, Esther Pauline, who became advice columnist Ann Landers, were born in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 4, 1918. Phillips once said that as children, “We thought all those firecrackers and skyrockets were just for us.”
The improbable saga of “Dear Abby” began in 1955 when Phillips was an affluent homemaker in Hillsborough, Calif., with time on her hands, doing volunteer work and playing mah-jongg. Her twin, who'd just been hired by the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate to take over the Ann Landers column, began forwarding some of her letters to her for replies.
Always extremely close, the sisters were thrilled to be collaborating on an advice column.
Phillips soon started her own advice column for the San Francisco Chronicle.
Her twin sister died in 2002.
January 6th 2013
Howser, 67, an iconic figure in public television, died at home Sunday night, his assistant Ryan Morris said. The cause of death was not released.
"Every night on KCET, Huell introduced us to people we would not have otherwise met, and took us to places we would not have otherwise have traveled," Al Jerome, president and chief executive of KCET, said in a statement. "Huell elevated the simple joys and undiscovered nuggets of living in our great state. He made the magnificence and power of nature seem accessible by bringing it into our living rooms."
Howser's death came only weeks after the announcement Nov. 27 that he was retiring and not filming any more original episodes of "California's Gold."
Despite shifts in TV trends and fashions, Howser's approach never varied — he was merely a man with a microphone and a camera. He played down its simplicity ("It's pretty basic stuff … it's not brain surgery") and said it fit his strategy: to shine a spotlight on the familiar and the obscure places and people all over California.
"We have two agendas," Howser said in a 2009 interview with The Times. "One is to specifically show someone China Camp State Park or to talk to the guys who paint the Golden Gate Bridge. But the broader purpose is to open up the door for people to have their own adventures. Let's explore our neighborhood; let's look in our own backyard."
Howser was born Oct. 18, 1945, in Gallatin, Tenn., near Nashville. His father, Harold, was a lawyer, and his mother, Jewel, was a homemaker. "Huell" is a combination of both their names.
In 2011, Howser announced that he was donating all episodes of his series to Chapman University, a private college in Orange, to be digitized and made available for a worldwide online audience.
November 16th 2012
Bernard Lansky and his brother Guy started a retail business in Memphis in 1946, with help from a $125 loan from their father, Samuel. After World War II, the store started selling Army surplus goods on Beale Street. When the supply dried up, they opened a high-fashion men's store, where Bernard Lansky established his reputation as a natural salesman and storyteller.
By the early 1950s, Lansky's shop was known as a place where a man with a taste for flash could find the styles Lansky referred to as "real sharp."
At the time, Beale Street was a hot spot for blues, rhythm and blues and jazz, and drew a colorful parade of musicians, gamblers and hustlers from the Mississippi Delta.
One of Lansky's favorite Elvis stories was how he first met the future king of rock 'n' roll. Presley was a teenager working as an usher at a nearby theater and liked to window-shop at Lansky's.
"He said, 'When I get rich, I'm going to buy you out,' " Lansky said in a standard version of the story. "I said, 'Don't buy me out. Just buy from me.' And he never forgot me."
Lansky dressed the singer for the "Louisiana Hayride" and his first TV spots on the Tommy Dorsey and Ed Sullivan shows.
Even though his style of dress changed over the years — including sparkling jumpsuits — Presley shopped at Lansky Bros. the rest of his life. Presley died at his Memphis residence, Graceland, in 1977.
Lansky picked out the white suit and blue tie that Presley wore when he was buried.
"I put his first suit on him and his last suit on him," Lansky was fond of saying.
October 22nd 2012
Russell Means, a former American Indian Movement activist who helped lead the 1973 uprising at Wounded Knee, reveled in stirring up attention and appeared in several Hollywood films, has died. He was 72.
Means died early Monday at his ranch in in Porcupine, S.D., Oglala Sioux Tribe spokeswoman Donna Solomon said.
Means was an early leader of AIM and led its armed occupation of the South Dakota town of Wounded Knee, a 71-day siege that included several gunbattles with federal officers. He was often embroiled in controversy, partly because of AIM's alleged involvement in the 1975 slaying of Annie Mae Aquash. But Means was also known for his role in the movie “The Last of the Mohicans” and had run unsuccessfully for the Libertarian nomination for president in 1988.
AIM was founded in the late 1960s to protest the U.S. government's treatment of Native Americans and demand the government honor its treaties with Indian tribes. Means told the AP in 2011 that before AIM, there had been no advocate on a national or international scale for American Indians, and that Native Americans were ashamed of their heritage.
“No one except Hollywood stars and very rich Texans wore Indian jewelry,” Means said. “And there was a plethora of dozens if not hundreds of athletic teams that in essence were insulting us, from grade schools to college. That's all changed.”
The movement eventually faded away, the result of Native Americans becoming self-aware and self-determined, Means said.
September 18th 2012
Steve Sabol was born Oct. 2, 1942, in Moorestown, N.J., and while growing up nurtured two great passions: art, whose appreciation he got from his mother Audrey, who befriended up-and-coming artists and hung their work in the Sabol home; and football, a craving he developed on his own.
So determined was he to succeed as a football player that when he went to Division III Colorado College as a 170-pound fullback, one with little discernible talent, he decided all he needed was some positive publicity.
He took out newspaper ads, had T-shirts, brochures, buttons and color postcards printed, all touting "Sudden Death Sabol, the Prince of Pigskin Pageantry now at the Pinnacle of his Power." He invented a new hometown, Coaltown Township, Pa., then later changed it to Possum Trot, Miss.
He rarely played for two seasons, yet, in the program for the last game of his sophomore season, a full-page ad appeared: "Coach Jerry Carle congratulates Sudden Death Sabol on a fantastic season." And the next fall, an ad in a Colorado Springs newspaper proclaimed, "The Possum Trot Chamber of Commerce extends its wishes for a successful season to its favorite son – Sudden Death Sabol."
Coach Carle, Sabol often said, "looked at me like I was a side dish he hadn't ordered."
And yet, as a junior, having gained 40 pounds, he not only played but was voted to the all-conference team and, he figured, big things awaited him as a senior. Except his father called, saying, "I need you here." So Steve went home, took the only job he ever had and turned it into bigger things than Sudden Death Sabol had ever imagined.
Sabol is survived by his wife, Penny; their son, Casey; his sister, Blair; his mother, Audrey; and his father, Ed, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011.
August 13th 2012
Johnny Pesky, who during a six-decade-long association with the Red Sox as player, manager, broadcaster, coach, and executive became one of the most popular figures in the team’s history, died Monday. He was 92.
A lifetime .307 hitter, Mr. Pesky recorded 200 or more hits in each of his first three seasons, leading the American League in that category all three years. He hit .331 in 1942, his rookie season, finishing second to Ted Williams in the batting title race and was third in most valuable player voting. An All-Star in 1946, he was a fine fielding shortstop, his primary position. He also played third base and second base.
He played in an era of outstanding shortstops, including the Cardinals’ Marty Marion, the Yankee’s Phil Rizzuto, the Indians’ (and later Red Sox’) Lou Boudreau, the Dodgers’ Pee Wee Reese.
And he held the ball.
No Red Sox fan needs to be told what that means. It was during the eighth inning of the seventh and deciding game of the 1946 World Series. The Sox and Cardinals were tied 3-3. There were two outs, with the Cardinals’ Enos Slaughter on first. Slaughter broke for second, attempting to steal, and Harry “The Hat” Walker hit a line drive into left-center field. Slaughter kept on going as Leon Culberson fielded the ball. He kept on going as Culberson made a poor throw to Mr. Pesky, the cutoff man. He kept on going as Mr. Pesky turned around. By the time Mr. Pesky realized Slaughter was heading home, it was too late.
It’s widely believed that Mr. Pesky hesitated before throwing. Films of the play indicate it was more a case of Mr. Pesky simply needing to hitch his shoulder for a stronger throw. Either way, Cardinal catcher Joe Garagiola has stated that with or without any hesitation Mr. Pesky wouldn’t have caught Slaughter because of the head start the baserunner had gotten from the attempted steal.
July 31st 2012
Iconoclastic author, savvy analyst and glorious gadfly on the national conscience, Vidal died Tuesday at his home in the Hollywood Hills from complications of pneumonia, his nephew Burr Steers said. He was 86.
"Style," Vidal once said, "is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn." By that definition, he was an emperor of style, sophisticated and cantankerous in his prophesies of America's fate and refusal to let others define him.
"I am at heart a propagandist, a tremendous hater, a tiresome nag, complacently positive that there is no human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise," he said in "Gore Vidal: A Biography" (1999) by Fred Kaplan.
Despite his crushing forthrightness on many topics, Vidal preferred ambiguity in the personal realm.
Vidal, who was never married and had no children, wrote in his memoirs about sexual contacts with men, including Kerouac, the Beat poet and writer. But, to the dismay of gay activists, Vidal rejected efforts to put him in any sexual category. He was famous for proclaiming that "there are not homosexual people, only homosexual acts."
June 21st 2012
LeRoy Neiman, a globetrotting artist whose celebrity often eclipsed that of the famous athletes and entertainers he portrayed in vibrantly colored, boldly expressive paintings, died June 20 at a hospital in New York. He was 91.
Mr. Neiman’s signature style included sheets of splashy color, yet the central figures of his paintings always remained recognizable and full of vigor. Though seldom loved by critics, his bright, colorful artworks managed to capture the glamour, spectacle and drama of sports.
Of all the sports he was asked to cover, Mr. Neiman said there was only one he refused to paint: professional wrestling. Once, in Canada, he was sketching the wrestler Mad Dog Vachon at ringside, when Mad Dog tore up his drawings.
“Next thing I know, I’m yelling at him and, all of a sudden, he throws me into the ring, then picks me up and starts spinning me over his head,” Mr. Neiman recalled in 1995.
“I’m seeing the arena lights go round and round and round and the crowd is going crazy and then ‘ooof!’ he tosses me out of the ring onto the floor. I messed up my arm.
“That was it. I wanted nothing to do with wrestling any more.”
June 3rd 2012
Dawson died Saturday at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center from complications related to esophageal cancer. The actor, who had been living in Beverly Hills, was diagnosed with the disease about three weeks ago, said his son Gary.
Dawson's key gimmick on "Family Feud" was something that had never been done by a game show host, and is seldom seen today — he kissed all the women players on the lips.
His son said the tradition started almost by accident; "There was a girl on the show who was very nervous, and my dad was trying to calm her down. So he said he would give her a kiss for luck, and he did. Then when he went to the next female player, she said, "Well, don't I get a kiss?' That's how it started and it just became this thing."
The kissing also sparked complaints from viewers who said that Dawson was getting a bit too familiar. He finally asked viewers to write in and tell him whether he should discontinue the kissing. "The mail flowed in, and it was overwhelmingly positive that he keep kissing the women," said Gary Dawson.
Dawson later parodied his game-show image in "The Running Man," a 1987 action movie starring Arnold Schwarzenegger about a game show in which contestants are forced to fight for their lives. Dawson played Damon Killian, the show's Machiavellian host and creator, and rewrote almost all of his lines in the script.