Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Sandra Martin's Year-Ender

Nice thoughts, lively summary of professional high jinks, a few standout stiffs from the past year. Missing only a dirge for those colleagues who've received death notices of their own.

Friday, December 26, 2008

"Santa Baby" singer dies on Christmas.

I realize that Eartha Kitt was much more than a sultry singer who portrayed Catwoman in the campy "Batman" TV series of the 1960s.

But you have to admit that it's significant that the woman, whose biggest hit record was "Santa Baby," should die on Christmas Day - Dec. 25, 2008.

I was disheartened to see that so many newspapers published obits that buried the Christmassy irony toward the end of her obituary. Many didn't connect the dots between the song and the date of death at all.

In some papers, it was left up to the headline writer to put it together.

In his Kitt piece for Obit Magazine, Daniel Patrick Stearns does a nice job of tying together the holiday elements with the Kitt's sexually and politically provocative persona near the top of his story.

He writes:

Sex symbols always confront the world’s morality, but few went to such lengths as Eartha Kitt, who died on Christmas Day from colon cancer at age 81 after some six decades of being a flash point of provocative glamour. Whether asking Santa Claus for a yacht (with an obvious payback in mind) in her hit “Santa Baby” or seductively plying a man young enough to be her grandson with champagne during her nightclub act, Kitt presented herself with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude that defied the judgments of others.


Monday, December 15, 2008

Van Johnson's sexual orientation

Lesli Klaiberg of Orchard Films makes this observation about obits that were written for actor Van Johnson, a movie star of the 1940s and '50s, who died Dec. 12, 2008, at age 92.

"An interesting obit comparison. The NY Times vs The Advocate," Lesli says. "In this day and age, why no mention of Van Johnson being gay in the Times? Hmm??"

Friday, December 12, 2008

My anti-cult cult

I am really sick of the use of "cult" to describe kitsch or obscure. Cult adherents worship. They supplicate. They sacrifice. None of these things are true about the following show biz figures, most of whom are distinctly low-watt. Obit writers: I ask you to use words thoughtfully!

[Bettie] Page, whose popularity underwent a cult-like revival in the last 20 years, had been hospitalized for three weeks with pneumonia and was about to be released Dec. 2 when she suffered a heart attack, said Mr. Roesler, of CMG Worldwide.

[Nina Foch] Despite her obvious capabilities, she became inextricably stuck in B-movies, some of which achieved near cult status. Examples are I Love a Mystery (1945), The Guilt of Janet Ames (1947), The Dark Past (1948) and Johnny Allegro (1949), with George Raft.

[Beverly Garland] She gained cult status for playing gutsy women in low-budget exploitation films such as “The Alligator People” and a number of Roger Corman movies including “Gunslinger,” “It Conquered the World” and “Naked Paradise.”

[Paul Benedict] He was a staple in Christopher Guest's stock company, with roles in "A Mighty Wind," "Waiting for Guffman" and "Spinal Tap." He was also seen in 1970s cult pics such as "Deadhead Miles," "Taking Off" and "Smile."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Jim Morrison, his dad and the owner of the Whisky A Go Go

New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote an interesting column titled A Curious Convergence in which he discusses the recent deaths of rock legend Jim Morrison's father and the owner of the Whisky A Go Go, where Morrison's The Doors came to prominence.

The column ran in print edition of the NYT on Dec. 11, 2008, and in the NYT online on Dec. 10.

Klinkenborg noted that Morrison's name appeared in the two men's NYT obits on the day after what would have been Morrison's 65th birthday.

This is the celebrity version of an obit convergence, but don't you obit writers and faithful obit readers frequently find similar convergences for all sorts of people?

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Sunny von Bulow

In the book "Insulin Murders" (London Royal Society of Medicine Press 2007), co-authors Caroline Richmond, who writes obits for the British Medical Journal and other publications, and Vincent Marks, an international expert on insulin, detail the medical aspects of the Sunny von Bulow case.

Sunny von Bulow, an heiress who spent nearly 28 years in a coma before dying Dec. 6, 2008, at age 76, was the subject of the book (and subsequent movie) "Reversal of Fortune" by lawyer Alan Dershowitz, who represented her husband, Claus von Bulow, in one of two attempted-murder trials. The husband allegedly tried to kill the heiress with an overdose of insulin.

Caroline says: There was no attempt at murder: her coma and persistent vegetative state was a result of abusing medicines, mainly painkillers, alcohol, appetite suppressant and other prescription drugs. There are accurate accounts in Alan Dershowitz's book, my book, and Wikipedia. And plenty of inaccurate acounts.

Caroline's obit for von Bulow was published today - Mon., Dec. 8, 2008 - in The Independent.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Andrew McKie, no longer obits editor at Daily Telegraph

You can tell the newspaper business is cratering and that newspaper execs have poor judgment when an extraordinary obits editor is given his walking papers.

The article "Obits editor among redundancies at the Daily Telegraph" that was published today - Dec. 1, 2008 - in The Guardian of London says:

The Daily Telegraph's obituaries editor, Andrew McKie, is among the first departures in the latest round of redundancies from the Telegraph Media Group.

McKie was given notice at lunchtime on Friday and has already left the Telegraph Media Group building in Victoria.

This is a travesty!