CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN

RECREATING THE CELEBRITY OBIT

 by Katharine Blossom Lowrie

One long, curly strip of dialogue

sleepless02.jpgWho can forget Tom Hanks as Sam Baldwin, the grieving widower in Sleepless in Seattle (1993) as he struggles to find the precise words to describe his late wife to son Jonah (Ross Malinger, shown left with Hanks), who fears his mom is fading from his memory. “She could peel an apple…in one long, curly strip,” Sam finally tells his son, a note of awe in his voice. “The whole apple.”

Obituaries, my stock and trade, rarely make a lasting impression on the living – not in comparison to that “one long, curly strip” of dialogue (thanks to screenwriter Nora Ephron) that resurrects the mother Jonah so longs to remember. Which brings me to a pet peeve: the sameness with which deceased celebrities are paraded past us at year’s end, not to mention the reels of film clips that spool in the midst of every Oscar-type telecast.

Familiarity has bred contempt. And I write this stuff!

Dean of Dirty Words

Continue reading “CHANGE WE CAN BELIEVE IN”

Sgt. William P. Rudd

WILLIAM PATRICK RUDD
1981 to October 5, 2008

Eight tours in service to his country

better-photo.jpg Sgt. William Patrick Rudd, 27, an Army Ranger who planned to go hunting with his father when he flew home to Madisonville, Kentucky for Thanksgiving, died Oct. 5th from wounds sustained while on combat patrol in northern Iraq. It was Patrick’s eighth deployment in support of the War on Terror – his sixth in Iraq. Two previous tours were spent in Afghanistan.

The one thing that sustains his father, William E. Rudd, a Madisonville real estate broker, is that his son loved his job. “When someone loves something so much and something bad happens, we’re at peace with it,” said Bill Rudd, who has been buoyed by “the love and prayers” of his community. “Through God’s strength, we’re able to celebrate his life.”

A lanky young man with the sunny disposition

Continue reading “Sgt. William P. Rudd”

Butch Cassidy

newman.jpg

PAUL L. NEWMAN
January 26, 1925 to September 25, 2008

“There’s a point where feelings go beyond words,” Robert Redford said of the passing of his dear friend and favorite co-star, Paul Newman.  “My life – and this country – is better for his having been in it.”  (The two are shown above in their signature roles as Butch Cassidy (Newman) and the Sundance Kid (Redford) in a still from the 1969 20th Century Fox film.)

paul-smaller.jpg

 An Uncommon Actor

Continue reading “Butch Cassidy”

Cyd Charisse

charisse-and-astaire.jpg

CYD CHARISSE
1921 to 2008


Pure glamour and romantic escapism

If you once sat enthralled by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer musicals, the name Cyd Charisse evokes Technicolor images of pure glamour and romantic escapism, images that have long since passed into film history.  Shown above with Fred Astaire in MGM’s The Band Wagon (1953), Charisse – who was to movie dance partners as rhythm is to blues – died of complications from a heart attack in Los Angeles on Tuesday, June 17. She was 86.

You won’t see her like today.

In contemporary musicals like Mamma Mia (2008) and Hairspray (2007), actors still break into song and dance, but it’s not the same as watching icons of the genre like Singin’ in the Rain (1952) and The Band Wagon. Not that Charisse ever broke into song – unless her voice was dubbed. She could not sing a note, and her acting was at best “on cue,” according to one critic.

The epitome of dance

Continue reading “Cyd Charisse”

Timothy John Russert Jr.

tim-russert-cropped.jpg

TIMOTHY JOHN RUSSERT JR.
May 7, 1950 to June 13, 2008

by Katharine Blossom Lowrie 

Meet the Best

My sister called from Arizona that fatal Friday afternoon. “Tim Russert died,” she exclaimed, the shock in her voice reverberating through the phone. “I’m in my car and just heard it on NPR. You were the only one I could think of to call.”  (Photo: Reuters)

My sister is an educator, and I am a journalist, professions that have something in common, mainly the ability to communicate. Other than that, our lives couldn’t have taken more divergent paths – except for one overwhelming passion: politics. Fortunately, we are on the identical side of the political fence. But even if we were not paired up in terms of party affiliation, watching Meet The Press would have been de-rigueur on Sunday mornings for both of us. That was one of the splendors of Russert’s talent: to serve as an impartial witness to the facts and let us judge for ourselves. Whether Democrat or Republican, you got an unbiased view of the day’s hottest issues – from the host, at any rate.  (Oh, maybe a hint of a lean toward the Dems at times.)

Never mean, petty or disparaging

Continue reading “Timothy John Russert Jr.”

Tony Snow and Clay Felker

tony-snow.jpg

TONY SNOW & CLAY FELKER
July, 2008

 By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

A grief that transcends politics

felker-life-2.jpgTwo partings in July: Tony Snow (above) and Clay Felker (left).  Of different generations, the two had little in common, other than journalism and cancer. Tony Snow, former press secretary to George W. Bush, died of colon cancer on July 12. He was 53.

Felker, the visionary editor whose New York magazine spawned New Journalism in the 1960s, died in his sleep on July 1, according to his wife, author Gail Sheehy.  He was 82 and had suffered from throat cancer for some time.

With the death of Tim Russert in June, one mourns the loss of this distinguished cluster of journalists, a grief that transcends politics. For those of us who go about our daily lives attached to a morphine drip of news – whether TV, newspapers, Internet or radio – such passings affect us deeply. Even with Felker, whose New Journalism heyday had long since been eclipsed by the New Media, his impact on reporting and writing hoists him into the legendary category.

An incestuous family, loners who thrive best in packs of our peers

Continue reading “Tony Snow and Clay Felker”

Sydney Pollack

ap-photo-of-pollack.jpg

SYDNEY POLLACK
July 1, 1934 to May 26, 2008

by Katharine Blossom Lowrie

He seemed taller in person

with-hoffman.jpgI met Sydney Pollack back when I covered Hollywood as a freelancer for the LA Times Calendar section in the early 1980s. He seemed taller in person, distinguished, with a wide, welcoming grin. The event was a Columbia Pictures screening of Tootsie, the 1982 comedy starring Dustin Hoffman, whose character transforms from down-and-out actor Michael Dorsey into actress Dorothy Michaels to boost his sagging career.  Pollack, who directed the movie, plays a featured role as Dorsey’s agent (shown above with Hoffman in a still from the film).   With Tootsie heavy with pre-release Oscar buzz, my intention was to snag a future interview with Hoffman.  Since I knew him from our days as drama students, I wasn’t too worried about approaching him at the screening.  But Hoffman was in absentia, off filming in New York.

After the screening, although I was among those who congratulated Pollack for his directorial efforts and splendid comic turn at acting, I didn’t feel right about mentioning my long-ago relationship with Hoffman or requesting an interview with Pollack.

Not a single unnecessary word is spoken

Continue reading “Sydney Pollack”

The Dave Clark Five – Minus Two

dave-clark-5.jpg

(Shown from L-R: Rick Huxley, Lenny Davidson, Denis Payton,
Mike Smith and Dave Clark)

DENIS PAYTON
1943 to 2006

MIKE SMITH
1943 to 2008


By Nola Leone 

(with Katharine Blossom Lowrie)

R&R Hall of Fame Too Late for Two of the DC5

Back in the mid-60s, the first thing I noticed about the Dave Clark Five was how damn good-looking they were. And such gentlemen! Unlike most groups who wore rebelliousness and bad behavior like a badge of honor, the “DC5,” as they were dubbed in fan shorthand, were well mannered, bright, funny, respectful and fun. In their trademark blazers, coordinated slacks and black boots, Dave Clark, Mike Smith, Denis Payton, Rick Huxley and Lenny Davidson were the complete package: good looks, talent and class. Thrilled to act as one of their publicists from 1965-70, I saw them as British knights in shining armor come to conquer America.

Influenced by everyone from Elvis Presley to Little Richard to Ray Charles, the DC5 became rock royalty, part of “The British Invasion” that included the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Unlike the latter two bands, however, the Dave Clark Five were endlessly passed over for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, an oversight protested by music professionals and fans, particularly after they stalled in the 2006 and 2007 semifinals. Eligible since 1989 (25 years after their first US recording), the DC5 were finally inducted in a moving ceremony on March 10, 2008 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Longtime admirer Tom Hanks did the honors.

Two were missing

Continue reading “The Dave Clark Five – Minus Two”

Arthur C. Clarke

Arthur Clarke and 2001 cover

ARTHUR C. CLARKE
Dec 16th, 1917 to Mar 19th, 2008

by Bill Jordan

He never grew up, and never stopped growing

British born, Sir Arthur C. Clarke, 90, was the kind of person most of us aspire to be and led the kind of rich life most of us would aspire to lead. He was laid to rest in Sri Lanka, attended by his many friends and adopted family.  The entire island observed a minute of silence as friends paid their respects. The event was not broadcast, had no officiant, and was completely secular according to Arthur Clarke’s will. A plaque on his grave will read: “Here lies Arthur C. Clarke. He never grew up, and never stopped growing.”

Most well known for his science-fiction novels, Arthur Clarke was as much a man of science as fiction. He is considered one of the fathers of modern science fiction alongside Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. He wrote more than 30 novels and 13 short-story collections. Many of his works are considered the finest in any genre.

His visionary masterpiece, 2001: A Space Odyssey

Continue reading “Arthur C. Clarke”

Gary Gygax

Gary Gygax

GARY GYGAX
July 27, 1928 to March 4, 2008

By Bill Jordan

Hundreds of millions know his name

A legendary character, whose name will forever ring out in hearty toasts in the festive mead halls of the imagination, joins other demigods in having his image raised into a constellation to inspire future generations. The hand he played in shaping modern culture was as powerful as it was invisible. Most who were not part of a particular subculture will not recognize his name without his creation also being mentioned. Who, for example, knows Charles Darrow—The creator of Monopoly? Who knows Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin—The inventors of the Hula Hoop? Who knows all the other creators of cultural phenomenon? Well hundreds of millions know the name Gary Gygax—The creator of Dungeons & Dragons.

It’s hard to write a tribute to a man who I only saw through the lens of his brainchild. Like legions of others, I was part of that lost generation that spent not hours, but tens and hundreds and probably thousands of hours role-playing. How not to sound like a gushing fan-boy? How not to reduce a man of parts to a single vision? Get the vision out of the way first. Though this is not a passing for the game, it is a moment to mark its importance to many people since it would never have come to be without Gary Gygax.

Make of yourself a hero like Aragorn or Frodo

Continue reading “Gary Gygax”

Heath Andrew Ledger

Heath Ledger

HEATH ANDREW LEDGER
April 4, 1979 to January 22, 2008

By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

heath-and-jake-in-brokeback.jpgHe had a somewhat lumpy face, a bit of a goofy smile and an undistinguished nose.  Yet, something transformative happened when he spoke in that rich baritone, when those young/old brown eyes communicated his complex inner life–a connection happened. No, Heath Ledger was never about surface or superficiality. He came from a deeper place. That depth, which crystallized with restrained brilliance in his Oscar-nominated role as the laconic, gay cowboy Ennis Del Mar in Brokeback Mountain (2005), was not plumbed without great peril to his psyche.  (Jake Gyllenhaal, shown in still above left, costars as Jack Twist, Del Mar’s love interest in the film.)

He fought to keep the private man private

Unlike many of today’s publicity-hungry young stars, Heath Ledger detested notoriety and fought to keep the private man private. Even friends encountered no trespassing signs, many say, and interviewers found him fidgety and walled off. Esteemed in the industry, innately likable on screen, the blond, 6’1″ Australian-born actor, who sought to play against his sex-symbol image, had his demons. Appeasing them with drugs, partying and alcohol spelled his end. Still, the startling details that dribbled out following the shocking news that he had died of an overdose at age 28 in his SoHo loft on January 22nd didn’t seem to fit. The combination of sedatives and painkillers with long generic names that made his heart forget to beat, his lungs forget to breathe, his brain forget to function, seemed no more Heath Ledger than his parting from his wife, nixing rehab and running around with notorious party-girls Lindsay Lohan and Mary Kate Olsen.

His absence is experienced on a different level

Continue reading “Heath Andrew Ledger”

Irv Letofsky

Irv Letofsky

IRVIN MYLES LETOFSKY
1931 to 2007

By Katharine Blossom Lowrie

In the company of an apostle at the LA Times

Journalists who worked for Irv Letofsky during his fifteen years as editor of the Los Angeles Times Sunday Calendar were forever changed—in their personal lives as well as their careers. His piquant personality, the expletive-littered asides, the mood-elevating spirit that made you feel you were in the company of an apostle, well, that was Letofsky, a man who loved writers and never worried about political correctness. He died just before Christmas.

1letofsky1225.jpgSince all the usual suspects have been eloquently presented in a myriad of obits, I’ll touch on just a few statistics here. Born a Taurus in Fargo, North Dakota on April 26, 1931, he graduated with a degree in philosophy from the University of North Dakota in 1954; served as assistant city editor at the Minneapolis Tribune from 1963 to 1976; editor of the arts and entertainment section of the Los Angeles Times until 1991; TV critic for the Hollywood Reporter until 2007, and, in 2003, he co-produced the documentary “All the Presidents’ Movies.”  Married since 1978 to beauteous actress Brian Ann Zoccola; father of four children: Laurie, PJ, Cara and Polly (who walked around the world on behalf of breast cancer, a four-year trek her father championed every step of the way), and grandfather of Rosie and Eamon.

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning

Continue reading “Irv Letofsky”