obit (the dust) of the month: tom sharpe

Tom SharpeTom Sharpe, who has died aged 85, was in the great tradition of English comic novelists and his bawdy style and vulgar approach were said to have made bad taste into an art form. Sharpe did not start writing comic novels until he was 43, but once he got going he gained a large readership. Surprisingly for a comic writer and such a jovial character, Sharpe came to attention first as a hero in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. He had written many symbolic – and unproduced – plays while living in South Africa, which was enough to bring down on him the wrath of the Bureau of State Security, but he was, he said, as surprised as anyone when in just three weeks he wrote the novel Riotous Assembly (1971), a dazzling comic send-up of the South African police. The inspiration for the book came from hearing about the old-fashioned English colonial aunt of a friend of his who lived near the police station and complained that the screams of tortured prisoners disturbed her afternoon naps. In a marvelous piece of irony, Sharpe dedicated the book to “the South African police force whose lives are dedicated to the preservation of western civilization in southern Africa.” Sharpe continued his noble crusade against racism in South Africa with Indecent Exposure (1973) – personally, one of my all-time favorite books. Readers thought Sharpe perhaps a one-subject writer, but with Porterhouse Blue (1974), set in a Cambridge college, he proved that he was a true comic novelist in the great English tradition. Born in Croydon, south London, Sharpe had a most unusual and troubled boyhood. His father, the Unitarian minister Reverend George Coverdale Sharpe, was a fascist, a follower of Oswald Mosley and a great believer in Adolf Hitler. From the start of the Second World War, the family was continuously on the move to avoid the father being interned with other British Nazis. Read the full obituary HERE.

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obit (the dust) of the month: hand in hand to hell

Richard III

A skeleton found beneath a Leicester car park has been confirmed as that of English king Richard III. Experts from the University of Leicester said DNA from the bones matched that of descendants of the monarch’s family. The skeleton had suffered 10 injuries, including eight to the skull, at around the time of death. Two of the skull wounds were potentially fatal. One was a “slice” removing a flap of bone, the other caused by bladed weapon which went through and hit the opposite side of the skull. Other wounds included slashes or stabs to the face and the side of the head. Richard III was portrayed as deformed by some Tudor historians and indeed the skeleton’s spine is badly curved, a condition known as scoliosis. However, there was no trace of a withered arm or other abnormalities seen in the more extreme characterizations of the king. Born at Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire, where Mary Queen of Scots was later executed, Richard had one of the shortest reigns in English history: just 26 months. Appointed as protector of his nephew, Edward V, upon the death of his brother Edward IV, Richard instead assumed the reins of power. Edward and his brother – the famous Princes in the Tower – disappeared soon after, leading to speculation that they had been murdered on the orders of their uncle. Challenged by Henry Tudor, Richard was the last English king to die in battle. He was slain at Bosworth in 1485, leaving Shakespeare the ingredients for a (quite literal) field day. Read the full story HERE.

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frank

Francis Neil Pintauro “Frank” of North Haven and Williston Park died at his home on Sunday, October 7th. He was 61. Frank was born to Anthony and Dorothy Pintauro on June 9, 1951. He graduated from Brooklyn Prep High School in 1969 and Manhattan College in 1973. Frank started working at NBC when he was in college. He became the youngest Vice President in NBC history at the age of 27. He also worked at ABC and Hal Riney before joining Showtime in 1989. At Showtime he rose to the rank of Executive Vice President and Chief Creative Officer of Red Group, where he was instrumental in developing the network’s award-winning branding campaigns, and was responsible for overseeing creative for on-air, editorial production, marketing promotion and graphics, animation, digital content and print. In 2011 Red Group was named Best In-House Agency of the year by PromaxBDA. Frank’s passion was fishing. He started fishing as a kid in Sag Harbor and catching striped bass soon became his favorite sport. He was also a collector of antique fishing lures, and he was one of the founders of the Salt Water Lure Collectors Club. His expertise as both a fisherman and collector were well-known and well-respected. Frank is survived by his wife of 32 years, Kathy, and his two sons, Anthony and David. Frank was not only my boss, he was my friend. He will be missed beyond words.

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obit (the dust) of the month: you’ll never find anyone as good for you as i am

Arthur Laurents, the playwright, screenwriter and director who wrote and ultimately transformed two of Broadway’s landmark shows, “Gypsy” and “West Side Story,” and created one of Hollywood’s most well-known romances, “The Way We Were,” died on Thursday at his home in Manhattan. He was 93. Mr. Laurents once described writers as “the chosen people” and said he was happiest when sitting alone and putting his “daydreams and fantasies down on paper.” He did so in various genres. His film credits include Hitchcock’s “Rope”; “Anastasia,” with Ingrid Bergman; and “The Turning Point,” with Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine. His screenplay for “The Way We Were,” with Robert Redford and Barbra Streisand, was adapted from his novel by the same name. But the stage was his first love, and he wrote for it for 65 years, turning out comedies and romances as well as serious dramas that often explored questions of ethics, social pressures and personal integrity. Early on, he once said, he realized that “plays are emotion,” not simply words strung together, and it became his guiding principle. Read the full story HERE. On a personal note, I knew Arthur and at various times both loathed and loved him. After a long drought on the New York stage, he returned with a play called The Radical Mystique at Manhattan Theatre Club in the early 1990’s.  A thinly veiled satire that took on the Weatherman, Bernstein and the Black Panthers, it was a story rich in both ideas and ideals. Two weeks into the process Arthur inserted himself quite vocally into rehearsals, disapproving the director’s choices and shaping of the story. When the director finally up and quit, Arthur took command. As the AD, I was left to take sides. I had never quit a show before but believed Arthur was artistically misguided on this one and so I, too, left the production. In performance it turned out that his direction of the play was a mistake, undercutting everything I had believed to be good and true about the script. Oh well, it opened and closed with little notice. Years later, however, when I was mentoring a group of up-and-coming musical theater writers, I wrote to Arthur and asked if he would mind sharing his considerable experience with young ears for an afternoon. He agreed immediately, even going so far as to interrupt his summer vacation in Quogue to attend. It made for an insightful and inspiring afternoon, yet before we said our goodbyes I couldn’t help but bring up the first and last time we had worked together. “Arthur,” I told him, “I really loved that play.” I wavered, hesitated, then finally blurted out, “You know you torpedoed it, right?”  He shot me the stink-eye before breaking into a wry smile. “You’re damn right I did, kid.” I like to think he was as pleasantly surprised by my candor as my praise. Chief among Arthur’s many virtues was his near inability to shy away from brutal honesty.

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masaledar in memoriam

When friend and journalist Linda Perney died in late December, she left behind unfillable shoes.  Generous to a fault perhaps, she assigned this unproven writer his first-ever story, calling out of the blue one early December morning with a turn of phrase I will never forget.  I need a favor, she said, could you go to Paris for a week and eat and shop and then just write it all down? All-expense paid, of course.  Uhhh, naturally I said yes.  And yet another travel writer was born. Years later she joked that I’d probably take a press-trip to Perth Amboy if there was a promising spa or restaurant involved and I had to remind her that she more than anyone was responsible for creating the beast.

She loved a good story, and more to the point she recognized a good story – even if it took some serious editing to wrangle it out of a steaming heap of self-conscious, purple prose. (Guilty as charged.) I remember feeling bereft when she left the Daily News.  Not only because my freelance pipeline would most assuredly dry up but because my education under her would be interrupted.  You see, other magazines and papers would print essentially what I wrote, making the occasional edit for space considerations.  Linda would edit for style, substance, and clarity. It didn’t matter how thrilling or brilliant I thought my sentences were, if they weren’t in service to the story they were out.  It sounds trite but it’s true: all the really important stuff about journalism I learned from Linda.

After her memorial service in Manhattan last week, the ushers handed out a program which contained reminiscences by various friends and colleagues, photos, a map of “Linda’s New York.” Inside the back cover was a recipe, which made me smile. (Linda was an amazingly confidant and carefree cook, too.)  Even in death, she had more to share.

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obit (the dust) of the month: what a little moonlight can do

Margaret Whiting, whose career as an interpreter of popular song began in the Big Band Era and was revived in the 1990s when she starred in the Broadway show Dream, died Jan. 10 at the Actors’ Fund Home in Englewood, NJ, her daughter Debbi Whiting told Playbill.com. The singer was 86.

Ms. Whiting came from a musical family. Her father, Richard A. Whiting, was a successful songwriter (“Till We Meet Again,” “Beyond the Blue Horizon,” “Ain’t We Got Fun?,” “Too Marvelous for Words”) and her aunt, Margaret Young, was a recording artist in the 1920s. Both she and her sister, Barbara Whiting, pursued a singing career. Growing up, her home was a gathering place for composers like Jerome Kern and Gus Kahn, and she was often called upon to sing. She was given an early boost when songwriter Johnny Mercer, a collaborator with her father, heard her voice when she was only seven. When Ms. Whiting’s father died, Mercer took her under his wing; when he started Capitol Records in 1942, he signed the teenage Ms. Whiting.

Her early hit recordings included “That Old Black Magic” with Freddie Slack and His Orchestra; “Moonlight in Vermont” with Billy Butterfield’s Orchestra; “It Might As Might Be Spring” with Paul Weston and His Orchestra; “All Through the Day,” a bestseller in 1946; and “In Love in Vain.” “A Tree in the Meadow” was a number one hit in 1948.

As her popularity faded, Ms. Whiting relaxed into a cabaret career, performing at Freddy’s Supper Club, Arci’s Place, The Oak Room and Michael’s Pub. “Ms. Whiting has always been a blunt, no-frills interpreter who remains fiercely loyal to the songwriter’s intentions,” wrote Stephen Holden in a New York Times review. “With that bluntness softened, she allows a pensive vulnerability to peek through.”

The singer was much-married. She wed producer Hubbel Robinson Jr. in 1948; pianist Lou Busch in 1951; John Richard Moore, a founder of Panavision, in 1958. Her most sensational marriage, however, came late in life when she met and married the much-younger, gay porn stay Jack Wrangler in 1994. The union proved her longest. Wrangler reportedly protested, “But I’m gay!,” to which Whiting reportedly replied, “Only around the edges, dear.” He went on to produce and direct many of her cabaret shows. They stayed together until his death in 2009.  READ MORE.

I knew both Margaret and Jack a little from working at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center.  This was way back in the day; I was running the Music Theater Conference and they were master teachers at the fledgling Cabaret Symposium. One summer I heard Whiting sharing an anecdote about the great Johnny Mercer with a handful of over-enthusiastic singers. It stuck with me and I can’t tell you the number of times I asked her to repeat it whenever our paths crossed:  She was all of 19; Mercer had just heard “Moonlight in Vermont” and told her she needed to debut the song as it was perfect for her voice.  “But I’ve never been to Vermont,” she said. “How can I sing a song about a place I’ve never been?”

“I don’t know, I’m from Savannah,” Mercer replied. “We’ll use our imagination.”

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obit (the dust) of the month: ooh ooh akk akk akk

If Tarzan’s co-star had been human, it’s safe to assume that news of his demise would have been greeted with glowing tributes, a Hollywood funeral and perhaps a retrospective season of his greatest cinematic moments. As it was, the death of an 80-year-old chimpanzee called “Cheetah” was announced quietly by the Florida animal sanctuary where he had spent the past five decades in retirement. There was no grand send-off for the venerable Cheetah. Even his purported role as Johnny Weismuller’s regular primate sidekick remains shrouded in mystery. The Suncoast Primate Sanctuary in Palm Harbor claims the primate arrived there in 1960 and was donated by Weissmuller’s own estate. He is believed to have been born in 1930 or 1931 and was one of a number of chimpanzees whose owners vied to have recognized as the genuine movie-star Cheetah. The situation is further complicated by the fact that the original simian star of films such as 1932’s Tarzan the Ape Man and 1934’s Tarzan and His Mate was probably a composite of several animals. According to the sanctuary, Cheetah was an outgoing chimp who loved humans. Yet like many Hollywood stars, he could also be temperamental. Sanctuary volunteer Ron Priest conceded the animal had a habit of throwing his feces when discontent. “When he didn’t like somebody or something that was going on, he would pick up some poop and throw it at them,” Priest said. “He could get you at 30 feet, with bars in between.”

One Hollywood star who did mark the potential star’s passing was actress Mia Farrow, whose mother, Maureen O’Sullivan, played Jane in six Tarzan movies. “My mom, who played Jane, invariably referred to Cheetah as ‘that bastard’,” said Farrow on her Twitter account.

Read the full story HERE.

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obit (the dust) of the month: take a right at michael caine

Elaine Kaufman, who became something of a symbol of New York as the salty den mother of Elaine’s, one of Manhattan’s best-known restaurants and a second home for almost half a century to a bevy of writers, actors, athletes and other celebrities, died Friday at Lenox Hill Hospital.

To the patrons she knew at her Upper East Side establishment, Ms. Kaufman was the quirky, opinionated, caring and imposingly heavyset proprietor who came in almost every night to check on things and schmooze, moving from table to table and occasionally perching herself on a stool at the end of her 25-foot mahogany bar.

With those she did not know, however, her demeanor varied; some accused her of being rude, though she indignantly denied that she ever was. As she put it, she had little time to explain to dissatisfied customers why they were being directed to tables in the back, known as Siberia, or led to the bar or even turned away, when they could clearly see empty tables along “the line.”

The line was the row of tables along the right wall of the main room, extending from the front to the back and visible from the entrance. Those tables were almost always saved for the most valued regulars, with or without reservations. One regular for many years was Woody Allen, who filmed a scene for “Manhattan” at Elaine’s.

Almost from the beginning there were writers, many of whom were granted credit privileges when funds were low or nonexistent. And the writers — Gay Talese, George Plimpton, Peter Maas, Dan Jenkins, Joseph Heller, Mario Puzo, Sidney Zion and others — drew editors: Clay Felker, Willie Morris and James Brady, to name a few.

Then came the theater, film and television personalities, eager to meet literary lights. And they, having added to Elaine’s growing cultural cachet, soon attracted the famous from other arenas — sports figures, politicians and gossip-column society — wanting to be part of the scene.

It became an unspoken rule among the customers never to appear overly impressed or distracted by the famous. But there were exceptions, Ms. Kaufman recalled. Mick Jagger was one. (“The room grew still,” she said.) Luciano Pavarotti was another. (“Everyone stood up and applauded.”) And Willie Nelson proved irresistible. (“He kissed all the women at the bar.”)

Once, when a newcomer asked directions to the men’s room, Ms. Kaufman replied, “Take a right at Michael Caine.”  READ MORE

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obit (the dust) of the month: oh, no! it wasn’t the airplanes

The Italian-born film producer Dino De Laurentiis, who has died aged 91, will perhaps go down in movie history as the last “transatlantic” tycoon. Over a career spanning more than 60 years, producing films on both sides of the ocean, he had as many flops as hits. But De Laurentiis almost always succeeded in staying afloat.

In Rome, he produced Federico Fellini’s Oscar-winning La Strada (1954) and the grandiose spectacular War and Peace (1956), but also made The Bible: In the Beginning (1966) and Waterloo (1970), which never recovered their costs. Relocating to the US, he enjoyed success with Serpico (1973), Death Wish (1974), Three Days of the Condor (1975) and Conan the Barbarian (1982), but had financial disasters including Year of the Dragon (1985) and a failed food emporium, which he opened in New York. De Laurentiis was also a starmaker, both in Italy, where he launched the career of the actor Silvana Mangano, who became his wife, and in the US, where he boosted Al Pacino’s career.

Born in Torre Annunziata, in the province of Naples, De Laurentiis was the son of a pasta manufacturer for whom he worked as a travelling salesman in his teens. While selling pasta in Rome in the mid-30s, he decided on an impulse to enrol at the city’s film school, the Centro Sperimentale di Cinematografia, as an actor. He soon realised that his flair was more for production. He was able to gain experience in most sectors of the industry before producing his first film, L’Amore Canta (Love Song, 1941), at the age of 22.  READ MORE

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obit (the dust) of the month: bang between the pitons

Colin Tennant, 3rd Baron Glenconner, was a tall, quick-witted and handsome member of one of the industrial “good families” dating back to the 17th century. Such families worked their way into the aristocracy, courted royalty and found themselves and their descendants partly eroded by economic pressures and personal tragedies in the second half of the 20th century. In the case of Tennant, who has died aged 83, it was Princess Margaret who was once the reported marital “intended” and who remained a lifelong friend. For years, long after the chances of marriage between them had disappeared, Princess Margaret kept a house on the Caribbean island of Mustique which was his personal property.  He made the island into a holiday destination for the rich, the famous and the louche. He gave fancy-dress parties where the guests turned up in outfits as striking as Tennant’s own jewelled turban. Rock stars such as Mick Jagger and David Bowie rubbed shoulders with Viscount Linley and the Earl of Lichfield and with entertainers and media folk including John Cleese and Sir David Frost. To celebrate his 60th birthday, Tennant held a floating party, for which all the guests had a 100-mile boat trip to St Lucia, where later he would choose to live.  Read the full story on The Guardian website.

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obit (the dust) of the month: the neighbors, they adored him

In this new series of only-just-slightly-morbid, I thought it would be interesting to occasionally focus on the passing of men and women who once ignited a certain spark in the public imagination – even if never having necessarily achieved a star’s magnitude of infamy or indignity.  Alex Higgins, our first subject, certainly fits those parameters. My thanks go out to snooker fan Eamon Lynch, who recently quoted to me a string of Higgins’ epithets that sent me running in search of his obituary in the Guardian, copied below.

The snooker player Alex Higgins, who has died aged 61, led a life clouded by drunkenness, drug abuse, gambling, violence and tempestuous personal relationships. Yet for many of his fellow players and millions of fans, hooked on snooker with the advent of colour television, he will be forever viewed as a flawed sporting genius whose rock’n’roll lifestyle and brushes with officialdom made him all the more appealing, while a sometimes astonishing natural talent allowed him to brush aside more staid opponents and carried him to two world snooker titles.

He was a man who would bet on virtually anything, and frequently did. His prodigious thirst for alcohol took him into more scrapes than he would ever be able to recall, while friends and enemies alike spoke of his volcanic temper, irrational outbursts and dark mood swings as he struggled, in his declining years, to cope with the ravages of throat cancer that had left him an emaciated figure living out his final days where he began, in the snooker halls and bars of Belfast.

Yet most would prefer to remember Higgins as the one-time boy snooker hustler, nicknamed “Hurricane” because of the speed of his play, who became a sporting superstar. In his prime, whomever he might have been playing, he was able to command the spotlight in a manner no other snooker player has – Jimmy White and Ronnie O’Sullivan included. A waif-like figure, with his shirt left open-necked as he openly flouted the rules of the time that insisted bow ties should be worn, with a cigarette and strong drink invariably by his side, when Higgins began a break the nation seemed to collectively hold its breath in anticipation.

In 1986, when asked to take a drugs test during the UK Championship, Higgins headbutted the official who made the request, which earned him a £12,000 fine and five-tournament ban as well as a court appearance, where he was handed a £250 fine for assault and criminal damage. Money worries were escalating as Higgins’s gambling continued unchecked, and he was banned for an entire season after punching another official in the stomach in 1990 after losing a second-round match in the World Championship around the time he threatened to have his Northern Irish Catholic rival Dennis Taylor killed, saying: “I come from Shankill and you come from Coalisland, and the next time you are in Northern Ireland I will have you shot.”

Read the complete story HERE.

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