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Life In Legacy - Week ending Saturday, February 23, 2019

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Stanley Donen, director of Hollywood musicalsKatherine Helmond, TV and film actressPeter Tork, second from right, with Monkees Michael Nesmith, Davy Jones, and Micky DolenzMarella Agnelli, Italian socialiteDominick Argento, Pulitzer Prize-winning opera composerMark Bramble, wrote or cowrote two smash Broadway musicalsWallace S. Broecker, geologist who warned of 'global warming'Ethel Ennis, jazz vocalist who walked away from fameFred Foster, record producer who boosted careers of Roy Orbison and Dolly PartonGillian Freeman, British novelistIra Gitler, jazz writerJeffrey Hart, Dartmouth professorBill Jenkins, blew whistle on unethical Tuskegee syphilis studyWilliam J. Johnston, LA Unified's longest-serving superintendentKarl Lagerfeld, Chanel fashion designerDorothy Masuka, South African singer and songwriterAlessandro Mendini, Italian designer, architect, and editorGeorge Mendonsa, sailor in iconic WWII photoToni Myers, Imax filmmakerDon Newcombe, Brooklyn Dodgers pitcherJackie Shane, black transgender soul singerBrody Stevens, self-mocking stand-up comicAlbert Vorspan, Reform Jewish activistPerry Wolff, pioneering TV producer of documentariesLi Xueqin, Chinese historianHilde Zadek, German opera singer

Art and Literature

Gillian Freeman (89) British writer whose claims to fame included a 1961 novel about a marriage threatened by a homosexual attraction and a fictional diary of a woman in Nazi Germany. Freeman, who also wrote screenplays and scenarios for ballets including Kenneth MacMillan’s Mayerling, published her first novel, The Liberty Man, in 1955. Like many of her subsequent books, it dealt with social and sexual distress, in that case a relationship between a middle-class teacher and a sailor of nebulous sexuality. Homosexuality came into play more directly in The Leather Boys, her 1961 story of a heterosexual couple who marry too young and soon find their relationship in jeopardy, in part because the husband develops a close bond with a male biker. Freeman died of dementia in London, England on February 23, 2019.

Jeffrey Hart (88) defender of the Western literary canon and a credentialed but contrarian conservative who bolted the Republican Party to support John Kerry and Barack Obama for president. Hart, who taught English literature at Dartmouth for 30 years, drafted speeches for Ronald Reagan and Richard M. Nixon when they were presidential candidates. He wrote for William F. Buckley Jr.’s National Review, where he was also a senior editor, and was the author of books and a syndicated column. Hart defected to the Democrats largely because of the war in Iraq, which he branded as “the greatest strategic blunder in American history.” He died of dementia in Fairlee, Vermont on February 17, 2019.

Alessandro Mendini (87) Italian designer, architect, and magazine editor. Mendini's best-known creation was the Proust armchair, an over-the-top evocation of something that he thought Marcel Proust might have relaxed in while remembering things past. Like many of Mendini’s works, it mixed two somewhat incongruous influences: it’s an oversize Baroque armchair but decorated in a pointillism reminiscent of artist Paul Signac. Mendini made the chair in 1978, when he was part of Studio Alchimia, a group of designers rebelling against what they viewed as the coldness of modernist design. He died in Milan, italy on February 18, 2019.

Business and Science

Wallace S. Broecker (87) one of the first scientists to sound the alarm about climate change and the researcher who popularized the term “global warming.” A geologist by training, Broecker drew a comprehensive understanding of the Earth’s climate system from research into the oceans, the atmosphere, the planet’s ice, and more. He gave early warning of a planetary crisis if humans continued to spew carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He published a landmark scientific paper in 1975 that asked in its title, “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” He meant that the climate is unpredictable, sensitive to small changes, and susceptible to major shifts with startling speed. Broecker died of congestive heart failure in New York City on February 18, 2019.

Bill Jenkins (73) government epidemiologist who tried to expose the unethical Tuskegee syphilis study in the ‘60s and devoted the rest of his career to fighting racism in health care. Jenkins was working as a statistician at the US Public Health Service in Washington in the ‘60s when he first learned of the infamous Tuskegee study. In that study, the federal government deceived hundreds of black men in Macon County, Alabama, where Tuskegee is the county seat, into thinking that their so-called “bad blood”—they weren’t told they had syphilis—was being treated when it wasn’t. The researchers had wanted to see what unchecked syphilis would do to the human body and used those men as guinea pigs without their informed consent. The disease, which is usually transmitted by sexual contact and can cause brain damage, paralysis, blindness, and death, ran its course in several of the men. Some infected their wives, who passed it on to some of their children. The study lasted from 1932–72. Jenkins died in Charleston, South Carolina of sarcoidosis, an inflammatory disease, on February 17, 2019.

Karl Lagerfeld (85) couturier whose designs at Chanel and Fendi had an unprecedented impact on the entire fashion industry. Lagerfeld’s career spanned 60 years. Although he spent virtually his entire career at luxury labels catering to the very wealthy—including 20 years at Chloe—Lagerfeld’s designs quickly trickled down to low-end retailers, giving him global influence. The German-born designer may have spent much of his life in the public eye—his trademark white ponytail, high starched collar, and dark glasses are instantly recognizable—but he remained a largely elusive figure. Joining luxury Italian fashion house Fendi in 1965 and later becoming its longtime creative director, he led designs at Paris’s family-owned powerhouse Chanel since '83. While at Fendi, Lagerfeld helped to create the notion of fun fur. At Chanel he served up youthful designs and sent out almost infinite variations on the house’s classic skirt suit, ratcheting up the hemlines or smothering it in golden chains, strings of pearls, or pricey accessories. He died in Paris, France on February 19, 2019.


William J. Johnston (92) took the helm of the Los Angeles school district in 1971—in the wake of a five-week teachers’ strike and not long after Latino students had marched out of their Eastside schools, even as black leaders were in court demanding integration. Johnston stayed in the job for 10 years, presiding over a period of labor peace but ongoing political turbulence. No superintendent has lasted nearly as long since. When Johnston became schools chief, LA Unified was clinging to its self-image as a national model. It was a school system in which an insider—typically a white male— would rise to the top and answer mostly to its white middle-class families and an entrenched civic elite. A lifelong Republican, Johnston was perhaps the last superintendent from that mold, but he well understood that the ground was shifting under him. Enrollment was declining in the white middle-class Westside and west San Fernando Valley, and the number of Latino students was growing quickly in neighborhoods south and east of downtown. It was important to Johnston to promote black and Latino leaders and to reach out to overlooked constituencies. He died of skin cancer and congestive heart failure in Redondo Beach, California on February 21, 2019.

Li Xueqin (85) whose political savvy and intellectual brilliance helped to shift the field of Chinese history toward emphasizing the wonders of that country’s past, a traditionalist approach in line with the Communist government’s efforts to identify itself with ancient China. For more than 20 years Li was deputy director, then director of the Institute of History, part of the Chinese Academy of Social Science—positions of unusual influence in a country that has alternately gloried in its history and rejected it as a burden. He headed projects to prove that early Chinese dynasties really existed and were not just myth, as part of a Communist Party endeavor to ally itself with ancient China. Unlike most scholars today, Li wrote about a huge variety of eras and topics, producing more than 40 books and 1,000 articles. He died in Beijing, China on February 21, 2019.

News and Entertainment

Dominick Argento (91) Pulitzer Prize-winning composer who wrote eclectic operas in a conservative idiom that was embraced by audiences but not always by critics. Argento won acclaim for orchestra works, chamber pieces, and incidental music for plays, but he was best known for his 12 operas, several of which have entered the repertory. His success came during decades when many composers found it challenging to reconcile contemporary musical languages with the dramatic imperatives of opera. For Postcard from Morocco (1971), probably his most popular work, he composed a shifting score that matched the surrealist nature of the story, mixing ragtime, blues, American musical comedy, pastiche, and even elements of more “serious,” as he put, contemporary compositional techniques. He died in Minneapolis, Minnesota on February 20, 2019.

Mark Bramble (68) Broadway jack-of-all-trades who wrote or cowrote the books for the hit ‘80s musicals Barnum and 42nd Street, both of which earned him Tony nominations. Bramble’s career on Broadway began in 1971 when he took a low-level position with producer and showman David Merrick. Over the years he worked as a director, producer, and writer. His librettos were usually straightforward scaffolding for extravagant musical and dance numbers. His first success as a writer was Barnum, a show about circus impresario P. T. Barnum that opened in 1980, starring Jim Dale as Barnum and Glenn Close as his wife. It won three Tony Awards, and Bramble’s book was nominated. Barnum ran for more than 850 performances before closing in 1982. 42nd Street, a stage adaptation of the 1933 Hollywood musical, also opened in 1980. Gower Champion’s choreography and direction anchored the show. Bramble died of hypertension in Baltimore, Maryland on February 20, 2019.

Stanley Donen (94) filmmaker, a giant of the Hollywood musical who through such classics as Singin’ in the Rain and Funny Face helped to give us some of the most joyous sounds and images in movie history. Donen often teamed with Gene Kelly but also worked with Cary Grant, Frank Sinatra, and Fred Astaire. The ‘40s and ’50s were the prime era for Hollywood musicals, and no filmmaker contributed more to the magic than Donen, among the last survivors from that era and one willing to extend the limits of song and dance into the surreal. He was part of the unit behind such unforgettable scenes as Kelly dancing with an animated Jerry the mouse in Anchors Aweigh, Astaire’s gravity-defying spin across the ceiling in Royal Wedding, and, the all-time triumph, Kelly ecstatically splashing about as he performed the title number in Singin’ in the Rain. Donen never received a competitive Oscar nomination and waited until 1998 for an honorary award. He died in New York City on February 21, 2019.

Ethel Ennis (86) jazz vocalist who recorded for major labels in the late ‘50s and ’60s. Ennis toured Europe with Benny Goodman, performed onstage alongside Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Louis Armstrong, and appeared on TV with Duke Ellington. She became a regular on Arthur Godfrey’s TV show and headlined the Newport Jazz Festival. In 1961 she won the Playboy jazz poll for best female singer. But Ennis soon grew disillusioned with the demands placed on young divas, and she gave up national celebrity for a quieter life in her hometown, earning the unofficial title of Baltimore’s “First Lady of Jazz.” She died of a stroke in Baltimore, Maryland on February 17, 2019.

Fred Foster (87) record producer and song publisher who championed the emerging careers of Roy Orbison, Kris Kristofferson, and Dolly Parton. Foster’s most enduring early success came as producer of Orbison’s No. 1 singles “Running Scared” and “Oh, Pretty Woman” in the early ‘60s. Along with “Crying” and “Only the Lonely (Know How I Feel),” all Orbison’s hits from that period were issued by Monument Records, the label Foster established in Washington, DC in 1958 and moved to Nashville in ’60. Before Foster became involved with his career, Orbison had released only two minor singles on Sun Records, neither one a big hit. Foster also provided a boost to the fortunes of 19-year-old Parton, whom he signed to Monument in 1965. Dolly recorded her first two Top 40 country hits, “Dumb Blonde” and “Something Fishy,” for the label before becoming a star on The Porter Wagoner Show on TV and with RCA Records. Foster died of a stroke in Nashville, Tennessee on February 20, 2019.

Ira Gitler (90) one of the most respected and prolific jazz writers of the postwar era and an early champion of bebop. Gitler’s criticism appeared regularly in publications like DownBeat and JazzTimes. He wrote two books about bebop, the challenging form of modern jazz that emerged in the ‘40s, and, along with Leonard Feather and Nat Hentoff, he was among the most prodigious writers of liner notes, annotating more than 700 albums. In 2017 he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment of the Arts. Gitler died in New York City on February 23, 2019.

Katherine Helmond (89) Emmy-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress who played two very different matriarchs on the ABC sitcoms Who’s the Boss? and Soap. Helmond’s credits date back to the ‘50s, and she worked steadily in small roles through the decades. But her real fame, and all seven of her Emmy nominations, didn’t start arriving until she was nearly 50. She was probably best known for playing Mona Robinson, Judith Light’s mother on Who’s the Boss?, which also starred Tony Danza. On Soap, ABC’s prime-time parody of daytime soap operas, which ran from 1977–81, Helmond played Jessica Tate, a lovable aristocrat who was one of the show’s main characters. She was a favorite of director Terry Gilliam, who put her in his films Brazil, Time Bandits, and Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas. Helmond won a best supporting Golden Globe for her work in 1989. She died of Alzheimer's disease in Los Angeles, California on February 23, 2019.

Dorothy Masuka (83) vocalist and songwriter who blazed a trail for female pop stars in South Africa and became an advocate of the struggle against apartheid. Masuka rose to fame in the mid-‘50s, becoming one of the first black female recording artists to achieve stardom across southern and eastern Africa. She performed in a jazz-inflected pop style, singing in native African languages, often about politics. Many of her songs were covered by other South African stars. Miriam Makeba adapted Masuka’s “Pata Pata” (originally titled “Ei-Yow”), turning it into her signature song. Tunes like “Kulala” and “Hamba Nontsokolo” were covered by Hugh Masekela, Thandiswa Mazwai, and others. Masuka died in Johannesburg, South Africa of complications from a stroke she suffered in 2018 while touring Europe, on February 23, 2019.

Toni Myers (75) filmmaker who created awe-inspiring images for the Imax screen in documentaries including A Beautiful Planet and Hubble 3D. In her long association with Imax, Myers worked as an editor, writer, and producer before graduating to directing documentaries for the giant-screen format. Her space-themed movies were tremendous technical and logistical undertakings that required the use of complex Imax cameras in zero-gravity environments. In a box-office climate that usually marginalizes documentaries, Myers’ visually stunning movies achieved crossover appeal with audiences worldwide. Her most recent directorial effort was A Beautiful Planet (2016), which featured Imax footage shot by astronauts aboard the International Space Station. The 46-minute movie played in Imax cinemas around the world and grossed more than $24 million. Hubble 3D (2010) did even better, raking in $73.7 million worldwide. That movie featured footage from the space shuttle Atlantis on its mission to repair the Hubble Space Telescope. Myers died of cancer in Toronto, Canada on February 18, 2019.

Antonia Rey (92) in her native Cuba in the ‘50s, Rey was a leading lady of the stage, playing Madge in William Inge’s Picnic, the title character in George Bernard Shaw’s Candida, and Elizabeth Proctor in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. But when Fidel Castro came to power in 1959 and established a Communist dictatorship, Rey and her husband, Andres Castro (no relation), a prominent theater director, were forced to consider their options: Stay in Cuba, secure in their theater world but living under a repressive regime, or flee to the US. They fled, in 1961. Rey later became a busy actress in New York, with scores of small parts on the stage (including in A Streetcar Named Desire), in movies (Klute), and on TV (Who’s the Boss?). But with few leading roles available for Hispanic actresses in the New York theater world of her era, she never regained the stature she had achieved in Havana. Still, she did not regret leaving. Rey died in New York City on February 21, 2019.

Jackie Shane (78) black transgender soul singer who became a pioneering musician in Toronto, where she packed nightclubs in the ‘60s. Shane became a musical mystery after disappearing suddenly in 1971, but her legacy lived on among music historians and record collectors. She lived in anonymity for decades after retiring and was a recluse who didn’t leave her house. A Canadian Broadcasting Co. documentary about Shane renewed interest in the singer and a few years ago, Douglas Mcgowan from Numero Group tracked her down by phone in Nashville, where she was born. Shane agreed to work with the label on a new release of all her singles and live recordings, called Any Other Way, released in 2017. She was found dead at her home in Nashville, Tennessee on February 21, 2019.

Brody Stevens (48) comic who turned his own struggles with depression into a Comedy Central TV series. Stevens was well known in the stand-up world, especially on the West Coast, and to studio audiences of shows like Chelsea Lately and The Burn with Jeff Ross. For those shows he was the warm-up comedian whose job was to get the audience in a laughing mood before taping began. His stand-up style was a seemingly contradictory mix of confrontation and self-deprecation. He would often mock the fact that he was not a household name and had managed to land only small parts on TV shows and in movies. Stevens was found dead, an apparent suicide, in Los Angeles, California on February 22, 2019.

Peter Tork (77) singer-songwriter and instrumentalist whose musical skills were often overshadowed by his role as the goofy bass guitarist in the made-for-TV rock band The Monkees. Often hailed as the band’s best musician, Tork had studied music since childhood and was accomplished on guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, banjo, and other instruments. He had been playing in small clubs in Los Angeles when a friend and fellow musician, Stephen Stills, told him TV casting directors were looking for “four insane boys” to play members of a struggling rock band. When The Monkees debuted in September 1966, Tork and fellow Monkees Michael Nesmith, Micky Dolenz, and Davy Jones (died in 2012) became overnight teen idols. Tork died in Connecticut of adenoid cystic carcinoma, a rare cancer of the salivary glands, on February 21, 2019.

Perry Wolff (97) groundbreaking TV producer whose documentaries took viewers on a tour of the White House with Jacqueline Kennedy and awakened them to widespread hunger in America. Wolff was credited as a writer, director, or producer of some 600 hours of broadcasts over more than 50 years, mostly for CBS News at a time when news documentaries were regular features of the major networks’ prime-time programming. His broadcasts won 17 Emmy Awards, two Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards in broadcast journalism, and an Oscar nomination for best documentary short film, for writing and directing An Essay on Matisse in 1996 for PBS. His 1954 program Genetics I, which used dance and early films to explain science, was featured in a ‘63 retrospective called “Television USA” at New York's Museum of Modern Art. Wolff died in Portland, Oregon on February 17, 2019.

Hilde Zadek (101) German-born soprano, a Jew who fled Hitler’s Germany and began her operatic career in 1947, singing the title role in Aïda at the Vienna State Opera. Although the war had been over for more than a year, the audience for whom Zadek sang, she later recalled, was an unreconstructed “nest of Nazis.” She could see them massed in the opera house, armed with whistles, with which they planned to disrupt her performance. But from the moment she made her entrance and began singing, not a single whistle blew. She was a mainstay of the company for the next 25 years. In the city she feared would revile her, she sang more than 700 performances in dozens of roles, taught for years at the Vienna Music Academy, and presided over the International Hilde Zadek Voice Competition, a prestigious contest for young singers. Zadek died in Karlsruhe, Germany on February 21, 2019.

Society and Religion

Marella Agnelli (91) descendant of Neapolitan nobility who lived a rarefied life of palatial estates, ornamental gardens, fine art, high fashion, and lofty society. With her husband, Gianni Agnelli (died in 2003) of the Fiat car manufacturing empire, Marella Agnelli owned more than a dozen homes, including an estate in Turin, a ski lodge in the Italian Alps, and a Park Avenue apartment in New York. She cultivated a social circle that included the Kennedys, former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, and author Truman Capote. Marella’s beauty captivated the imagination of artists and fashion designers. Andy Warhol and photographer Richard Avedon created portraits of her. Marella Agnelli died in Turin, Italy on February 23, 2019.

George Mendonsa (95) sailor shown kissing a woman in Times Square celebrating the end of World War II. Mendonsa was shown kissing Greta Zimmer Friedman (died in 2016), a dental assistant in a nurse’s uniform, on August 14, 1945—known as V-J Day, the day Japan surrendered to the US. People spilled into New York City streets to celebrate the news. Mendonsa planted a kiss on Friedman, whom he had never met. An iconic photo of the kiss by Alfred Eisenstaedt was first published in Life magazine and is called “V-J Day in Times Square” but is known to most as “The Kiss.” It became one of the most famous photographs of the 20th century. Several people later claimed to be the kissing couple, and it was years before Mendonsa and Friedman were confirmed to be the couple. Mendonsa died in Middletown, Rhode Island, two days before his 96th birthday, on February 17, 2019.

Albert Vorspan (95) Reform Jewish activist who steered the Reform movement and other Jewish organizations toward immersing themselves in social causes, particularly the struggle for civil rights for blacks and opposition to the war in Vietnam. As a senior vice president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, Vorspan led the social justice efforts of a movement with 1.3 million members and another 700,000 adherents. With speeches and essays, he traveled the country urging Reform congregations to partner with local organizations on social action, focusing on civil rights, women’s rights, opposition to apartheid, and poverty relief. Vorspan died of cancer in New Paltz, New York, five days after his 95th birthday, on February 17, 2019.


Don Newcombe (92) hard-throwing Brooklyn Dodgers pitcher, one of the first black players in the major leagues, who later won Rookie of the Year, Most Valuable Player, and Cy Young awards. Newcombe, like Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson, was signed by Branch Rickey from the Negro Leagues and later made a huge mark in the major leagues. “Newk” was a fierce presence on the mound, a 6-foot-4 and 225-pound bear of a man who stared down hitters and backed up anyone foolish enough to crowd the plate. He was a four-time All-Star and won 20 games three different times. He died in Los Angeles, California on February 19, 2019.

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