ZAKES MOKAE, TONY-WINNING ACTOR
Published: September 15, 2009
Zakes Mokae, a Tony-winning South African actor whose partnership with his countryman, the playwright Athol Fugard
, in plays like “The Blood Knot,” “Boesman and Lena” and “Master Harold … and the Boys,” brought the insidious psychological brutality of apartheid to the attention of a world audience, died in Las Vegas on Friday. He was 75 and lived in Las Vegas and Cape Town.
Ruby Washington/The New York Times
The cause was complications of a stroke he had on May 6, said his wife, Madelyn. He had previously received diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease, she said.
Mr. Mokae, who was black, and Mr. Fugard, who is white, were part of a drama collective in South Africa in the 1950s. In 1960, when they performed together in Mr. Fugard’s play about brothers with skins of different hues, “The Blood Knot,” it was the first time, Mr. Fugard said in an interview Monday, that black and white performers had appeared on the same stage in South Africa. The play not only defied a national taboo, but also propelled Mr. Fugard to international fame as a playwright and Mr. Mokae to a rich and varied career in theater, film and television.
The play’s local fame persuaded an English producer to open it in London, where Mr. Mokae continued to act in it, though Mr. Fugard did not. It was a sensation (despite a scathing review by Kenneth Tynan). As Mr. Fugard continued to explore the corrosive effects of racial separatism on the individual psyches of both blacks and whites in subsequent plays, Mr. Mokae took on key roles in several of them. In “Boesman and Lena,” about a mixed-race couple migrating from one bleak settlement to another, both emotionally embittered and inextricably yoked by their predicament, Mr. Mokae appeared in the 1970 American premiere Off Broadway, with Ruby Dee
and James Earl Jones
. Mr. Mokae first played an old black man, nearly incapable of communicating, who nonetheless befriends Lena, and later took over for Mr. Jones as Boesman.
In “A Lesson From Aloes” he played a political activist who confronts a white man, a former friend he fears may be a government informer, taking the role in regional theater and appearing as an understudy to Mr. Jones on Broadway.
And in 1982 he won a Tony for his performance as Sam, one of two servants working in a tea room in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, in “Master Harold,” the first of Mr. Fugard’s works to have its world premiere outside of South Africa. In the play Sam looms as a surrogate father for a spoiled white teenager, whose frustrations with his actual parents result in the eventual manifestation of his ugly, racist upbringing. The play had its roots in his own childhood, Mr. Fugard said, and the character of Sam in two men he himself had known.
“I knew I wanted Zakes in that defining role in the play,” Mr. Fugard said.
Zakes Makgona Mokae (pronounced ZAYKES Muh-KWA-nuh Mo-KYE) was born in Johannesburg on Aug. 5, 1934. In vicious times in South Africa, he was jailed several times as a young man. He was playing saxophone in a jazz band in the late 1950s when he was introduced to Mr. Fugard by a black journalist, Bloke Modisane, who was helping Mr. Fugard create a theater that was specifically about South African life, a theater that did not exist at the time. He had had no previous acting experience, but Mr. Fugard, sensing a bond between them, cast him in two plays even before “The Blood Knot.” When “The Blood Knot” was revived by the Yale Repertory Company in the United States in 1985, with Mr. Fugard and Mr. Mokae again acting together, it was, Mr. Fugard said, among the most emotional occasions of his life.
After “The Blood Knot” opened in London, Mr. Mokae was barred from returning to South Africa. He did not return until 1982, when he learned his brother James was to be hanged for murders committed during a robbery, though it was unclear whether James was present during the killings. Mr. Mokae, who learned of the death sentence on the night he won his Tony Award
, returned to Johannesburg in time to witness his brother’s execution.
In addition to his wife, whom he married in 1966, divorced in 1978 and then remarried in 1985, he is survived by two sisters and two brothers in South Africa; a daughter, Santlo Chontay Mokae, of Atlanta; and three grandchildren. Mrs. Mokae said they moved back to South Africa in 2005, while his mind was still mostly intact, “so he could live under freedom there and have some memory of it.”
Mr. Mokae’s many films included “The Comedians,” “Darling,” “Cry Freedom” and “A Dry White Season.” In 1993 he was nominated for a Tony for a supporting role in “The Song of Jacob Zulu,” a first play by a white playwright, Tug Yourgrau, about the South African trial of a black activist. Mr. Mokae played a man who had spent much of his life in prison.
“If you’re a black man in South Africa and you’ve never been in prison there’s something wrong with you,” Mr. Mokae said in an interview with The New York Times at the time, adding that a tirade spewed by his character had grown out of conversations he had with Mr. Yourgrau.
“Tug hasn’t been in prison a lot with black folks, so I had to talk about it with him,” Mr. Mokae said. “It’s true that when they count you at night they walk on your face with their boots. And they do it all night. All night, somebody’s being beaten. Somebody’s screaming. That stuff to me, it’s real. You have to tell a white person, ‘That’s what it is,’ so that he gets it, the filth and the stink, the kind of poetry that comes out of that.”
CRYSTAL LEE SUTTON, THE REAL-LIFE ‘NORMA RAE’
Published: September 15, 2009
Crystal Lee Sutton, the union organizer whose real-life stand on her worktable at a textile factory in North Carolina in 1973 was the inspiration for the Academy Award-winning movie “Norma Rae,” died Friday in Burlington, N.C. She was 68.
Joseph Rodriguez/News & Record, via Associated Press
The cause was brain cancer, her son Jay Jordan said.
Ms. Sutton (then Crystal Lee Jordan) was a 33-year-old mother of three earning $2.65 an hour folding towels at the J. P. Stevens plant in Roanoke Rapids, N.C., when she took her stand. Low pay and poor working conditions had impelled her to take a leading role in efforts to unionize the plant. She was met with threats, she said.
“Management and others treated me as if I had leprosy,” she later said in an interview for Alamance Community College, in Graham, N.C., which she attended in the 1980s.
After months trying to organize co-workers, Ms. Sutton was fired. When the police, summoned by the management, came to take her away, she made one last act of defiance.
“I took a piece of cardboard and wrote the word ‘union’ on it in big letters, got up on my worktable, and slowly turned it around,” she said in the interview. “The workers started cutting their machines off and giving me the victory sign. All of a sudden the plant was very quiet.”
Within a year, the Amalgamated Clothing and Textile Workers Union had won the right to represent 3,000 employees at seven plants in Roanoke Rapids, including J. P. Stevens, which was then the second-largest textile manufacturer in the country.
In 1977, a court ordered that Ms. Sutton be rehired and receive back wages. She returned to work for two days, then quit and went to work as an organizer for the union.
For legal reasons, Ms. Sutton’s name was not used in the 1979 movie “Norma Rae,” for which Sally Field
won the Oscar for best actress, a Golden Globe and the best-actress award at the Cannes Film Festival
, all in 1980.
In a statement on Monday, he said, “The fact that Crystal was a woman in the ’70s, leading a struggle of thousands of other textile workers against very powerful, virulently anti-union mill companies, inspired a whole generation of people — of women workers, workers of color and white workers.”
Crystal Lee Pulley was born in Roanoke Rapids on Dec. 31, 1940, a daughter of Albert and Odell Blythe Pulley. Both her parents worked in the mills and, starting in her late teens, so did she.
Ms. Sutton’s first marriage, to Larry Jordan Jr., ended in divorce. Besides her son Jay, she is survived by her husband of 32 years, Lewis Sutton Jr.; two daughters, Elizabeth Watts and Renee Jordan; two other sons, Mark Jordan and Eric Sutton; two sisters, Geraldine Greeson and Syretha Medlin; five grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
After more than a decade as a union organizer, Ms. Sutton earned certification as a nursing assistant from Alamance Community College in 1988. In later years, she ran a day care center in her home.
Jay Jordan said his mother kept a photograph of Ms. Field, in the climactic scene from “Norma Rae,” on her living room wall.
PATRICK SWAYZE, ACTOR WITH PHYSICAL GRACE
Published: September 14, 2009
, the balletically athletic actor who rose to stardom in the films “Dirty Dancing”
and whose 20-month battle with advanced pancreatic cancer drew wide attention, died Monday. He was 57.
Lefteris Pitarakis/Associated Press
Patrick Swayze in 2005. More Photos »
His publicist, Annett Wolf, told The Associated Press in Los Angeles that Mr. Swayze had died with family members at his side.
Mr. Swayze’s cancer was diagnosed in January 2008. Six months later he had already outlived his prognosis and was filmed at an airport, smiling at photographers and calling himself, only half-facetiously, “a miracle dude.”
He even went through with plans to star in “The Beast,”
a drama series for A&E. He filmed a complete season while undergoing treatment. Mr. Swayze insisted on continuing with the series. “How do you nurture a positive attitude when all the statistics say you’re a dead man?” he told The New York Times last October. “You go to work.”
The show, on which he played an undercover F.B.I.
agent, had its premiere in January and earned him admiring reviews.
A week before the series began, Mr. Swayze was the subject of a one-hour “Barbara Walters
Special” on ABC, in which he talked about his illness. “I keep my heart and my soul and my spirit open to miracles,” he told Ms. Walters. But he said he was not going to pursue every experimental treatment that came along. If he were to “spend so much time chasing staying alive,” he said, he wouldn’t be able to enjoy the time he had left.
“I want to live,” he said.
Shortly after the interview, he was hospitalized for pneumonia. At least one tabloid newspaper ran photographs of him in April with reports that the cancer had metastasized and that his weight had dropped to 105 pounds.
Mr. Swayze rose to stardom in 1987. He had received attention in several early movies and in the mini-series “North and South,”
but the coming-of-age film “Dirty Dancing” established him as a romantic leading man. He starred opposite Jennifer Grey
as a young working-class dance instructor at a Catskills resort who proved to have more heart, integrity and sex appeal than many of the wealthy guests with whom he was forbidden to fraternize.
He exhibited similar emotional intensity in the supernatural romance “Ghost” (1990), an enormous box-office hit. His character, a loft-living yuppie banker, is murdered early in the film and spends the rest of it as a spirit, desperately trying to communicate with his fiancée (Demi Moore
) with the help of a psychic (Whoopi Goldberg
). The film, which also showcased his physical grace, solidified his stardom.
Mr. Swayze was proud of “Ghost,” as he told The San Francisco Chronicle
in 1990. “I needed to do something that will affect the audience in a positive way, make them feel better about their lives and appreciate what they have,” he said.
Patrick Wayne Swayze was born on Aug. 18, 1952, in Houston, the son of Jesse Wayne Swayze, an engineer and rodeo cowboy, and Patsy Swayze, a dance instructor and choreographer. He began dancing as a child and was often teased about it. But he was also a student athlete, and his dancing career was hampered by a football injury.
After attending San Jacinto, a community college in Texas, Mr. Swayze moved to New York to study dance, becoming a member of Eliot Feld
Ballet. He made his Broadway debut in 1975 as a dancer in “Goodtime Charley” and was cast in the original Broadway production of “Grease,”
taking over the lead role. (He returned to Broadway almost three decades later, filling in as the razzle-dazzle lawyer Billy Flynn in “Chicago”
He made his screen debut in “Skatetown, U.S.A.”
(1979), a roller-disco movie starring Scott Baio. Looking back on that film, he told the Toronto newspaper The Globe and Mail in 1984, “I saw that with not too much trouble I could become a teenybopper star, but I knew if I accepted that, it would take years to win credibility as a serious actor.”
His public profile grew steadily, especially with his appearances in “Red Dawn”
(1984), a film about small-town high school students fighting the Soviets in World War III, and in “North and South” (1985), a 12-hour mini-series in which he played a conflicted Southern soldier.
“People don’t identify with victims,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press, discussing his “North and South” character, originally written as a more passive man. “They identify with people who have the world come down on their heads and who fight to survive.”
After that came “Dirty Dancing” and then, just three years later, “Ghost,” with a few largely forgotten movies in between.
His portrayal of a noble doctor in Roland Joffé
’s “City of Joy”
(1992) was not well received. But then, critics rarely praised his acting ability. At best he was commended for his athletic presence and stalwart demeanor.
From 1995 to 2007 he made more than a dozen feature films, including “Donnie Darko”
(2001), in which he played an obnoxious motivational speaker. In 2006 he surprised many by starring in London as the streetwise gambler Nathan Detroit in the musical “Guys and Dolls.”
His last film was “Powder Blue,”
a drama with Lisa Kudrow
that was released on DVD this year. As a young unknown, Mr. Swayze met Lisa Niemi, a fellow Houstonian, in one of his mother’s dance classes. They married in 1975. She survives him, along with his mother; two brothers, Don and Sean; and a sister, Bambi. Another sister, Vicky, died in 1994.
Mr. Swayze said more than once that he was determined not to be typecast. In a 1989 interview with The Chicago Sun-Times, he said, “The only plan I have is that every time people think they have me pegged, I’m going to come out of left field and do something unexpected.”
He also expressed concern about the dangers of Hollywood superficiality. “One of the reasons I bought my ranch was because I didn’t want to hear the hype,” he told The A.P. in 1985, referring to his horse ranch in the San Gabriel Mountains. He added, “Your horses don’t lie to you.”
PAUL BURKE, ACTOR WHO STARRED IN TV’S ’NAKED CITY’
Published: September 16, 2009
Paul Burke, who played the upright, soul-searching detective Adam Flint on the acclaimed television drama “Naked City,” but whose career was halted decades later after he was tried and acquitted on federal racketeering charges, died on Sunday at his home in Palm Springs, Calif. He was 83.
Paul Burke in the ABC television drama “Naked City.”
Also on ABC, Paul Burke was in the series “12 O’Clock High.”
The cause was leukemia and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, said his daughter Dina Burke Shawkat.
Inspired by the 1948 film “The Naked City,” the television series was broadcast on ABC from 1958 to 1963. Noirish and brooding, it was filmed on location in New York and anticipated “Kojak” and “Law & Order” in its gritty yet warm portrayal of the city and its people. “Naked City” also starred Horace McMahon as Flint’s superior officer and Harry Bellaver as a jovial colleague.
The show is also widely remembered for its closing voiceover, delivered by the actor Lawrence Dobkin: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.”
Dark-haired, with large, nearly triangular eyes, Mr. Burke joined “Naked City” in its second season, when it was expanded from 30 minutes to an hour. (The first season, 1958-59, starred James Franciscus as Detective James Halloran.)
Mr. Burke received two Emmy nominations for his work on the show. He later was a star of the ABC series “12 O’Clock High,” about World War II bombardiers, and appeared regularly on “Santa Barbara” and “Dynasty.” His film credits include “Valley of the Dolls” (1967) and “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1968).
Paul Burke was born in New Orleans on July 21, 1926. His father, Martin, a prizefighter, was a regular sparring partner of the heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey. Paul grew up fascinated by the denizens of the nightclub that his father owned in the city’s French Quarter; they would provide the grist, he later said, for many of the characters he played.
After training at the Pasadena Playhouse, Mr. Burke began appearing in small film and television parts. His first starring role was as the veterinarian Noah McCann in the television series “Noah’s Ark,” broadcast on NBC
from 1956 to 1957.
Mr. Burke’s first marriage, to Peggy Pryor, ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, the former Lyn Peters; three children from his first marriage, Paula Burke Lopez, Paul Brian Burke and Ms. Burke Shawkat; six grandchildren, among them the actress Alia Shawkat, who starred in the television series “Arrested Development”; and two great-grandchildren.
Throughout the 1970s and ’80s Mr. Burke had guest roles on many television shows, including “Medical Center,” “Hawaii Five-O” and “Fantasy Island.”
In 1990, Mr. Burke, the New Orleans District Attorney Harry F. Connick and several others were tried on racketeering charges in federal district court there. Mr. Burke was accused of having interceded with Mr. Connick, a childhood friend, on behalf of a Louisiana bookmaker, Walton Aucoin.
The indictment charged that Mr. Burke, an acquaintance of Mr. Aucoin, had helped persuade Mr. Connick to return gambling records seized from Mr. Aucoin in a 1988 police raid. Mr. Burke was also charged with having lied to a grand jury investigating the case.
After a six-week trial, a jury acquitted Mr. Burke, Mr. Connick and two co-defendants while convicting three others, including Mr. Aucoin. Mr. Connick is the father of the jazz singer Harry Connick Jr.
Despite his acquittal, Mr. Burke later said, the publicity surrounding the case seemed to put an end to his career. He retired soon afterward.
“Before the trial I was just getting into roles playing older men, and suddenly I get back to California and there’s no work,” Mr. Burke told The Associated Press in 1992. “I can’t definitely correlate it to the trial, but I couldn’t get a job, so I said the hell with it.”
HENRY GIBSON, ACTOR AND POET LAUREATE OF ‘LAUGH-IN’
Published: September 16, 2009
Henry Gibson, a cherub-faced actor who recited nonsense poems in a Southern drawl on the TV series “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and who later stood out as a smarmy country star in the 1975 film “Nashville,” died on Monday at his home in Malibu, Calif. He was 73.
Henry Gibson, bottom center, with “Laugh-In” cast members. He appeared in that sketch-comedy show from 1968 to 1971.
The cause was cancer, his son Jon said.
Mr. Gibson made his living working the margins in dozens of films and TV shows.
It was the hit “Laugh-In” that made him a star. Wearing clerical garb and sipping tea, he would calmly circulate in the show’s frenetic cocktail-party scene, deliver a one-liner and then melt into the crowd.
As a simpering poet, he would hold a single flower and announce, with deadpan formality, “A Poem, by Henry Gibson.”
The verse that followed, always written by Mr. Gibson, was ludicrous, like “The Eyelash”:
The eyelash is a friend to man.
It lives to serve the eye.
It fights the dirt and dust and grime,
And keeps the eyeball dry.
As the egomaniacal Haven Hamilton in Robert Altman
’s “Nashville,” Mr. Gibson showed that he could do more than sketch comedy. His performance as an evil-tempered superpatriot earned him the National Society of Film Critics’ award for best supporting actor.
Mr. Gibson, whose real name was James Bateman, was born on Sept. 21, 1935, in Philadelphia, and at the age of 8 he began acting. After earning a bachelor’s degree at Catholic University of America in 1957, he served in France as an intelligence officer in the Air Force.
In the early 1960s he and Jon Voight
, a college friend, hit on a scheme to get their acting careers off the ground.
“We decided that we would be two brothers from the Ozarks who represented the United States on cultural tours and caused riots wherever they went,” Mr. Voight said on Wednesday. “I gave him the name Henry Gibson, which I got from Henrik Ibsen
Mr. Gibson wangled a booking for the act, at which point Mr. Voight bowed out. Mr. Gibson recited his poetry, tickled the audience and was invited back.
The character evolved, and in 1961 Mr. Gibson recorded a poetry album, “The Alligator and Other Poems.” Soon afterward, Jerry Lewis
cast him in “The Nutty Professor” (1963). Small and offbeat comic roles followed.
In 1966 he married Lois Geiger, who died in 2007. In addition to his son Jon, of Santa Monica, Calif., he is survived by two other sons, Charles, also of Santa Monica, and James, of Culver City, Calif.; his sisters, Adele Donahue of West Chester, Pa., Elizabeth Malloy of Tucson and Mary Lee of Media, Pa.; and two grandchildren.
Mr. Gibson’s appearances on “Laugh-In” from 1968 to 1971 opened up a wide variety of film and television roles, usually small, but often choice. They ranged from the leader of the Illinois Nazi Party in “The Blues Brothers” (1980) to a priest in “Wedding Crashers” (2005).
Mr. Gibson also recorded a second comedy album, “The Grass Menagerie” (1968), and wrote a book, “A Flower Child’s Garden of Verses.”
He worked steadily on TV shows both comic and dramatic, including “Boston Legal” as Judge Clark Brown as recently as 2008.
MARY TRAVERS, SINGER OF PROTEST ANTHEMS, AND MEMBER OF THE GROUP ‘PETER, PAUL & MARY”
Published: September 16, 2009
Mary Travers, whose ringing, earnest vocals with the folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary
made songs like “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” enduring anthems of the 1960s protest movement, died on Wednesday at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut. She was 72 and lived in Redding, Conn.
Paul Stookey, Mary Travers and Peter Yarrow in New York in 2006. More Photos >
The cause was complications from chemotherapy associated with a bone-marrow transplant she had several years ago after developing leukemia, said Heather Lylis, a spokeswoman.
Ms. Travers brought a powerful voice and an unfeigned urgency to music that resonated with mainstream listeners. With her straight blond hair and willowy figure and two bearded guitar players by her side, she looked exactly like what she was, a Greenwich Villager directly from the clubs and the coffeehouses that nourished the folk-music revival.
“She was obviously the sex appeal of that group, and that group was the sex appeal of the movement,” said Elijah Wald, a folk-blues musician and a historian of popular music.
Ms. Travers’s voice blended seamlessly with those of her colleagues, Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, to create a rich three-part harmony that propelled the group to the top of the pop charts. Their first album, “Peter, Paul and Mary
,” which featured the hit singles “Lemon Tree” and “If I Had a Hammer,” reached No. 1 shortly after its release in March 1962 and stayed there for seven weeks, eventually selling more than two million copies.
The group’s interpretations of Bob Dylan
’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” translated his raw vocal style into a smooth, more commercially acceptable sound. The singers also scored big hits with pleasing songs like the whimsical “Puff the Magic Dragon” and John Denver
’s plaintive “Leaving on a Jet Plane.”
Their sound may have been commercial and safe, but early on their politics were somewhat risky for a group courting a mass audience. Like Mr. Yarrow and Mr. Stookey, Ms. Travers was outspoken in her support for the civil-rights and antiwar movements, in sharp contrast to clean-cut folk groups like the Kingston Trio, which avoided making political statements.
Peter, Paul and Mary went on to perform at the 1963 March on Washington and joined the voting-rights marches from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in 1965.
Over the years they performed frequently at political rallies and demonstrations in the United States and abroad. After the group disbanded, in 1970, Ms. Travers continued to perform at political events around the world as she pursued a solo career.
“They made folk music not just palatable but accessible to a mass audience,” David Hajdu, the author of “Positively Fourth Street,” a book about Mr. Dylan, Joan Baez
and their circle, said in an interview. Ms. Travers, he added, was crucial to the group’s image, which had a lot to do with its appeal. “She had a kind of sexual confidence combined with intelligence, edginess and social consciousness — a potent combination,” he said. “If you look at clips of their performances, the camera fixates on her. The act was all about Mary.”
Mr. Yarrow, in a statement on Wednesday, described Ms. Travers’s singing style as an expression of her character: “honest and completely authentic.”
Mr. Stookey, in an accompanying statement, wrote that “her charisma was a barely contained nervous energy — occasionally (and then only privately) revealed as stage fright.”
Mary Allin Travers was born on Nov. 9, 1936, in Louisville, Ky. When she was 2 her parents, both writers, moved to New York. Almost unique among the folk musicians who emerged from the Greenwich Village scene in the early 1960s, Ms. Travers actually came from the neighborhood. She attended progressive private schools there, studied singing with the music teacher Charity Bailey while still in kindergarten and became part of the folk-music revival as it took shape around her.
“I was raised on Josh White, the Weavers and Pete Seeger
,” Ms. Travers told The New York Times in 1994. “The music was everywhere. You’d go to a party at somebody’s apartment and there would be 50 people there, singing well into the night.”
While at Elisabeth Irwin High School,
she joined the Song Swappers, which sang backup for Mr. Seeger when the Folkways label reissued a collection of union songs under the title “Talking Union” in 1955. The Song Swappers made three more albums for Folkways that year, all featuring Mr. Seeger to some degree.
Ms. Travers had no plans to sing professionally. Folk singing, she later said, had been a hobby. At New York clubs friends like Fred Hellerman of the Weavers and Theodore Bikel
would coax her onstage to sing, but her extreme shyness made performing difficult. In 1958 she appeared in the chorus and sang one solo number in Mort Sahl’s short-lived Broadway show “The Next President,” but as the ’60s dawned she found herself at loose ends.
By chance, Albert Grossman, who managed a struggling folk singer named Peter Yarrow and would later take on Mr. Dylan as a client, was intent on creating an updated version of the Weavers for the baby-boom generation. He envisioned two men and a woman with the crossover appeal of the Kingston Trio. Mr. Yarrow, talking to Grossman in the Folklore Center in Greenwich Village, noticed Ms. Travers’s photograph on the wall and asked who she was. “That’s Mary Travers,” Grossman said. “She’d be good if you could get her to work.”
Mr. Yarrow went to Ms. Travers’s apartment on Macdougal Street, across from the Gaslight, one of the principal folk clubs. They harmonized on “Miner’s Lifeguard,” a union song, and decided that their voices blended. To fill out the trio, Ms. Travers suggested Noel Stookey, a friend doing folk music and stand-up comedy at the Gaslight.
After rehearsing for seven months, with the producer and arranger Milt Okun coaching them, Peter, Paul and Mary — Mr. Stookey adopted his middle name, Paul, because it sounded better — began performing in 1961 at Folk City and the Bitter End. The next year they released their first album.
Virtually overnight Peter, Paul and Mary became one of the most popular folk-music groups in the world. The albums “Moving” and “In the Wind,” both released in 1963, rose to the top of the charts and stayed there for months. In concert the group’s direct, emotional style of performance lifted audiences to their feet to deliver rapturous ovations.
Ms. Travers, onstage, drew all eyes as she shook her hair, bobbed her head in time to the music and clenched a fist when the lyrics took a dramatic turn. On instructions from Grossman, who wanted her to retain an air of mystery, she never spoke. The live double album “In Concert” (1964) captures the fervor of their performances.
On television the group’s mildly bohemian look — Ms. Travers favored beatnik clothing and Mr. Yarrow and Mr. Stookey had mustaches and goatees — gave mainstream audiences their first glimpse of a subculture that had previously been ridiculed on shows like “The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.”
“You cannot overemphasize those beards,” Mr. Wald said. “They looked like Greenwich Village to the rest of America. They were the first to go mainstream with an artistic, intellectual, beat image.”
Although the arrival of the Beatles
and other British invasion bands spelled the end of the folk revival, Peter, Paul and Mary remained popular throughout the 1960s. The albums “A Song Will Rise” (1965), “See What Tomorrow Brings” (1965) and “Album 1700” (1967) sold well, as did the singles “For Lovin’ Me” and “Early Morning Rain,” both by Gordon Lightfoot, and Mr. Dylan’s “When the Ship Comes In.” The gently satirical single “I Dig Rock and Roll Music” (1967) reached the Top 10, and “Leaving on a Jet Plane” (1969), their last hit, reached No. 1 on the charts.
In 1970, after releasing the greatest-hits album “Ten Years Together,” the group disbanded. Ms. Travers embarked on a solo career, with limited success, releasing five albums in the 1970s. The first, “Mary” (1971), was the most successful, followed by “Morning Glory” (1972), “All My Choices” (1973), “Circles” (1974) and “It’s in Everyone of Us” (1978).
Ms. Travers’s first three marriages ended in divorce. She is survived by her fourth husband, Ethan Robbins; two daughters, Erika Marshall of Naples, Fla., and Alicia Travers of Greenwich, Conn.; a sister, Ann Gordon of Oakland, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
Peter, Paul and Mary reunited to perform at a benefit to oppose nuclear power in 1978 and thereafter kept to a limited schedule of tours around the world. Many of their concerts benefited political causes. “I was raised to believe that everybody has a responsibility to their community and I use the word very loosely,” Ms. Travers told The Times in 1999. “It’s a big community. If I get recognized in the middle of the Sinai Desert I have a big community.”
It was a faithful community. Musical fashions changed, but fans stayed loyal to the music and the political ideals of the group. Ms. Travers once told the music magazine Goldmine, “People say to us, ‘Oh, I grew up with your music,’ and we often say, sotto voce, ‘So did we.’ ”