ERICA KENNEDY, MUSIC WRITER AND NOVELIST
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: June 18, 2012
Erica Kennedy, a music writer turned novelist who came to wide attention in 2004 with the publication of her first novel, “Bling,” a satirical roman à clef about the world of hip-hop, was found dead last week at her home in Miami Beach. She was 42.
Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times
Erica Kennedy in 2004.
Her family confirmed the death to The Associated Press but provided neither the cause nor the precise date Ms. Kennedy died.
Published by Miramax Books, “Bling” tells the story of a young, innocent mixed-race woman trying to break into the music business. A gifted singer, she is remade in flashy style by a rapacious record mogul. Ms. Kennedy was reported to have received an advance of half a million dollars for the novel.
Ms. Kennedy was moved to start work on the book, she later said, by the hoopla surrounding “The Nanny Diaries,” the 2002 novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus that lampooned Manhattan’s elite.
“Everybody kept talking about how scandalous that book was,” Ms. Kennedy told The New York Times in 2004. “I really didn’t see the big deal. I knew I could write a story about a P. Diddy party and show these people what scandal is really all about.”
Reviewing “Bling” in The Times Book Review, Sia Michel took it to task for bagginess (it ran to 509 pages) but called it “gleefully trashy.”
“Bling” captured the attention of the news media, partly for its portrayal of a world of flowing Cristal, powder blue Bentleys and platinum teeth, and partly for the fevered guessing game it engendered: Was its hip-hop mogul based on Russell Simmons, a founder of Def Jam Recordings and a friend of Ms. Kennedy’s? Was its foul-tempered supermodel a thinly veiled Naomi Campbell?
On these points, Ms. Kennedy remained discreetly silent.
Ms. Kennedy’s second novel, “Feminista,” was published by St. Martin’s Press in 2009. That book, a reworking of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew,” did not garner the immense attention of “Bling.”
But Ms. Kennedy’s name continued to be included on the small list of writers whose work, which took the tried-and-true genre of chick lit and gave it a specifically black focus, was the logical heir to the novelist Terry McMillan’s. At the end of 2010, Ms. Kennedy was named to the Ebony Power 100, a list of influential African-Americans.
Ms. Kennedy was born Erica Kennedy Johnson on March 24, 1970, and reared in Bayside, Queens. Her father, a pharmaceutical company executive, died when she was 17; her mother was an interior designer.
As a teenager, Erica dated a record producer and through him met Mr. Simmons, who gave her entree into hip-hop circles. (In 1998, Ms. Kennedy was a bridesmaid at Mr. Simmons’s wedding to Kimora Lee.)
After receiving a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts from Sarah Lawrence College in 1992, Ms. Kennedy was a publicist for the Tommy Hilfiger fashion house and contributed articles on music to Vibe, InStyle and other magazines.
Ms. Kennedy’s survivors include her mother, Mary Mobley Johnson, and a brother, Kirk Johnson.
By all accounts, the flash Ms. Kennedy portrayed in her fiction had little place in her own life. “My hope is that the next black author gets six figures for this kind of book,” she told The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2004. “I just want to be home in sweats and glasses, writing.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: June 22, 2012
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Tuesday about Erica Kennedy, the author of the 2004 novel “Bling,” omitted a paragraph, leaving the impression that Ms. Kennedy was talking about her novel when she said, “Everybody kept talking about how scandalous that book was.” In fact she was referring to another novel, “The Nanny Diaries.” Her comment should have been preceded by this passage: “Ms. Kennedy was moved to start work on the book, she later said, by the hoopla surrounding ‘The Nanny Diaries,’ the 2002 novel by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus that lampooned Manhattan’s elite.”
ANDREW SARRIS, FILM CRITIC
Published: June 20, 2012
Andrew Sarris, one of the nation’s most influential film critics and a champion of auteur theory, which holds that a director’s voice is central to great filmmaking, died on Wednesday at St. Luke’s Hospital in Manhattan. He was 83.
His wife, the film critic Molly Haskell, said the cause was complications of an infection developed after a fall.
Courtly, incisive and acerbic in equal measure, Mr. Sarris came of critical age in the 1960s as the first great wave of foreign films washed ashore in the United States. From his perch at The Village Voice, and later at The New York Observer, he wrote searchingly of that glorious deluge and the directors behind it — François Truffaut, Max Ophuls, Jean-Luc Godard, Michelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Akira Kurosawa.
Film criticism had reached a heady pitch amid the cultural upheavals of that time, and Mr. Sarris’s temperament fit that age like a glove on a fencer’s hand.
He took his place among a handful of stylish and congenitally disputatious critics: Pauline Kael, Stanley Kauffmann, John Simon and Manny Farber. They agreed on just a single point, that film was art worthy of sustained thought and argumentation.
“We were so gloriously contentious, everyone bitching at everyone,” Mr. Sarris recalled in a 2009 interview with The New York Times. “We all said some stupid things, but film seemed to matter so much.
“Urgency” — his smile on this point was wistful — “seemed unavoidable.”
Mr. Sarris played a major role in introducing Americans to European auteur theory, the idea that a great director speaks through his films no less than a master novelist speaks through his books. A star actor might transcend a prosaic film, Mr. Sarris said, but only a director could bring to bear the coherence of vision that gives birth to great art.
He argued that more than a few of Hollywood’s own belonged in the pantheon — including Orson Welles, John Ford, Howard Hawks and Sam Fuller, not to mention a British director whom purists had dismissed as a mere “commercial” filmmaker, Alfred Hitchcock — and he championed them.
Mr. Sarris also embraced, albeit with an occasional critical slap about their heads, Young Turks like Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman and Francis Ford Coppola.
“We were cowed into thinking that only European cinema mattered,” Mr. Scorsese, who once shared a closet-size office in Times Square with Mr. Sarris, said in a 2009 interview. “What Andrew showed us is that art was all around us, and that our tradition, too, had much to offer; he was our guide to the world of cinema.”
Mr. Sarris’s book “The American Cinema: Directors and Directions 1929-1968” stands as his magnum opus. If Ms. Kael more often won points as the high stylist, Mr. Sarris was cerebral and analytic, interested always in the totality of a film’s effect on its audience and in the sweep of a director’s career. He opened his essay on Fritz Lang, the Austrian-born director, this way:
“Fritz Lang’s cinema is the cinema of the nightmare, the fable and the philosophical dissertation. Mr. Lang’s apparent weaknesses are the consequences of his virtues. He has always lacked the arid sophistication lesser directors display to such advantage.”
Andrew Sarris was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 31, 1928, to Greek immigrant parents, George and Themis Sarris, and grew up in Ozone Park, Queens. His romance with movies was near to imprinted on his DNA. He remembered sitting in a darkened theater at the age of 3 or 4 entranced by a movie based on a Jules Verne story. “The liquidity of the scene and the film,” he recalled, “was truly magical, especially to someone not many years out of the womb himself.”
He attended John Adams High School in Queens, his time there overlapping for a year or two with the newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin’s. But his concerns lay elsewhere. He recalled, as a teenager, sitting in his Queens aerie, listening to the Academy Awards and the New York Film Critics Circle award ceremonies, and developing his ideas, idiosyncratic and polemical, on film.
He graduated from Columbia College in 1951 and served three years in the Army Signal Corps. He returned to live with his mother — his father had died — in Queens, passing his post-college years in “flight from the laborious realities of careerism,” as he put it.
On a footloose outing he passed a year in Paris, drinking coffee and talking with the New Wave directors Mr. Godard and Mr. Truffaut, who were the first to champion auteur theory. (Later, in the United States, he would edit an English-language edition of the influential auteurist magazine Cahiers du Cinéma.) Always his love affair with movies sustained him. He recalled sitting through four dozen showings of “Gone With the Wind,” as besotted with Vivien Leigh on the 48th viewing as on the first.
He began to write for Film Culture, a cineaste outpost in the East Village. But he was restless. He was 27, which he described as “a dreadfully uncomfortable age for a middle-class cultural guerrilla.”
In 1960, this self-consciously bourgeois man persuaded the editors of the The Village Voice to let him review films. He quickly asserted his intellectual writ; in his first review he tossed down the gauntlet in defense of Alfred Hitchcock and “Psycho.”
“Hitchcock is the most daring avant-garde filmmaker in America today,” Mr. Sarris wrote. “Besides making previous horror films look like variations of ‘Pollyanna,’ ‘Psycho’ is overlaid with a richly symbolic commentary on the modern world as a public swamp in which human feelings and passions are flushed down the drain.”
To praise a commercial director like Mr. Hitchcock in the haute bohemian pages of The Voice was calculated incitement. Letter writers demanded that the editors sack this philistine.
The editors instead embraced Mr. Sarris as a controversialist; argument was like mother’s milk at The Village Voice. And he survived to review films there for 29 more years. In defense of his favorites he was ardent; but to those who failed to measure up, he applied the lash.
John Huston? “Less than meets the eye.” Stanley Kubrick? “His faults have been rationalized as virtues.” And Antonioni took such a grim and alienated turn that Mr. Sarris, who had admired him, referred to him as “Antoniennui.”
In 1966, at a screening of Kenneth Anger’s “Scorpio Rising,” Mr. Sarris noticed an attractive young woman, Ms. Haskell. He wandered over. “He had this courtly-as-learned-from-the-movies manner,” Ms. Haskell recalled. “Afterward he took me out for a sundae at Howard Johnson.”
They married in 1969. She and Mr. Sarris lived on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Ms. Haskell is his only immediate survivor. A younger brother, George Sarris, died at age 28 in a 1960 sky-diving accident.
Andrew Sarris gained renown as an intellectual duelist, battling most spectacularly with Ms. Kael, who wrote for The New Yorker. She delighted in lancing the auteurists as a wolf pack of nerdy and too-pale young men. Mr. Sarris returned the favor, slashing at her as an undisciplined hedonist. Devotees of the two critics, in Sharks-vs.-Jets fashion, divided themselves into feuding camps called the Sarristes and the Paulettes.
A rough cordiality attended to the relationship between Mr. Sarris and Ms. Kael, but that is not to overstate their détente. When Mr. Sarris married Ms. Haskell, the couple invited Ms. Kael. “That’s O.K.,” Ms. Kael replied. “I’ll go to Molly’s next wedding.”
In another celebrated exchange of critical detonations, the often acidic John Simon wrote in The Times in 1971 that “perversity is certainly the most saving grace of Sarris’s criticism, the humor being mostly unintentional.”
To which Mr. Sarris replied, “Simon is the greatest film critic of the 19th century.”
Besides writing about film, Mr. Sarris taught the subject, chiefly as a film professor at Columbia University’s School of the Arts but also at Yale University, Juilliard and New York University, among other institutions. He obtained his master’s from Columbia in 1998. And he continued to write on a typewriter into old age, eschewing a computer.
For all the fierceness of his battles — he once took a poke at his former student and fellow Voice reviewer J. Hoberman, saying he was “freaking out on art-house acid” — he remained remarkably open to new experience. Told once that Mr. Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” worked better under the influence of marijuana, he cadged a joint, went to the movie and found it a very different and agreeable experience.
Asked a few years ago if he had soured on any of the directors he once championed, Mr. Sarris smiled and shook his head. “I prefer to think of people I missed the boat on,” he said.
LEROY NEIMAN, ARTIST WHO CAPTURED SPORTS AND PUBLIC LIFE
Published: June 20, 2012
LeRoy Neiman, whose brilliantly colored, impressionistic sketches of sporting events and the international high life made him one of the most popular artists in the United States, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 91.
Mr. Neiman’s kinetic, quickly executed paintings and drawings, many of them published in Playboy, offered his fans gaudily colored visual reports on heavyweight boxing matches, Super Bowl games and Olympic contests, as well as social panoramas like the horse races at Deauville, France, and the Cannes Film Festival.
Quite consciously, he cast himself in the mold of French Impressionists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir and Degas, chroniclers of public life who found rich social material at racetracks, dance halls and cafes.
Mr. Neiman often painted or sketched on live television. With the camera recording his progress at the sketchpad or easel, he interpreted the drama of Olympic Games and Super Bowls for an audience of millions.
When Bobby Fischer and Boris Spassky faced off in Reykjavik, Iceland, to decide the world chess championship, Mr. Neiman was there, sketching. He was on hand to capture Federico Fellini directing “8 ½” and the Kirov Ballet performing in the Soviet Union.
In popularity, Mr. Neiman rivaled American favorites like Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses and Andrew Wyeth. A prolific one-man industry, he generated hundreds of paintings, drawings, watercolors, limited-edition serigraph prints and coffee-table books yearly, earning gross annual revenue in the tens of millions of dollars.
Although he exhibited constantly and his work was included in the collections of dozens of museums around the world, critical respect eluded him. Mainstream art critics either ignored him completely or, if forced to consider his work, dismissed it with contempt as garish and superficial — magazine illustration with pretensions. Mr. Neiman professed not to care.
“Maybe the critics are right,” he told American Artist magazine in 1995. “But what am I supposed to do about it — stop painting, change my work completely? I go back into the studio, and there I am at the easel again. I enjoy what I’m doing and feel good working. Other thoughts are just crowded out.”
His image suggested an artist well beyond the reach of criticism. A dandy and bon vivant, he cut an arresting figure with his luxuriant ear-to-ear mustache, white suits, flashy hats and Cuban cigars. “He quite intentionally invented himself as a flamboyant artist not unlike Salvador Dalí, in much the same way that I became Mr. Playboy in the late ’50s,” Hugh Hefner told Cigar Aficionado magazine in 1995.
LeRoy Runquist was born on June 8, 1921, in St. Paul. His father, a railroad worker, deserted the family when LeRoy was quite young, and the boy took the surname of his stepfather.
He showed a flair for art at an early age. While attending a local Roman Catholic school, he impressed schoolmates by drawing ink tattoos on their arms during recess.
As a teenager, he earned money doing illustrations for local grocery stores. “I’d sketch a turkey, a cow, a fish, with the prices,” he told Cigar Aficionado. “And then I had the good sense to draw the guy who owned the store. This gave me tremendous power as a kid.”
After being drafted into the Army in 1942, he served as a cook in the European theater but in his spare time painted risqué murals on the walls of kitchens and mess halls. The Army’s Special Services Division, recognizing his talent, put him to work painting stage sets for Red Cross shows when he was stationed in Germany after the war.
On leaving the military, he studied briefly at the St. Paul School of Art (now the Minnesota Museum of American Art) before enrolling in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where, after four years of study, he taught figure drawing and fashion illustration throughout the 1950s.
When the janitor of the apartment building next door to his threw out half-empty cans of enamel house paint, Mr. Neiman found his métier. Experimenting with the new medium, he embraced a rapid style of applying paint to canvas imposed by the free-flowing quality of the house paint.
While doing freelance fashion illustration for the Carson Pirie Scott department store in Chicago in the early 1950s, he became friendly with Mr. Hefner, a copywriter there who was on the verge of publishing the first issue of a men’s magazine.
In 1954, after five issues of Playboy had appeared, Mr. Neiman ran into Mr. Hefner and invited him to his apartment to see his paintings of boxers, strip clubs and restaurants. Mr. Hefner, impressed, showed the work to Playboy’s art director, Art Paul, who commissioned an illustration for “Black Country,” a story by Charles Beaumont about a jazz musician.
Thus began a relationship that endured for more than half a century and established Mr. Neiman’s reputation.
In 1955, when Mr. Hefner decided that the party-jokes page needed visual interest, Mr. Neiman came up with the Femlin, a curvaceous brunette who cavorted across the page in thigh-high stockings, high-heeled shoes, opera gloves and nothing else. She appeared in every issue of the magazine thereafter.
Three years later, Mr. Neiman devised a running feature, “Man at His Leisure.” For the next 15 years, he went on assignment to glamour spots around the world, sending back visual reports on subjects as varied as the races at Royal Ascot, the dining room of the Tour d’Argent in Paris, the nude beaches of the Dalmatian coast, the running of the bulls at Pamplona and Carnaby Street in swinging London. He later produced more than 100 paintings and 2 murals for 18 of the Playboy clubs that opened around the world.
“Playboy made the good life a reality for me and made it the subject matter of my paintings — not affluence and luxury as such, but joie de vivre itself,” Mr. Neiman told V.I.P. magazine in 1962.
Working in the same copywriting department at Carson Pirie Scott as Mr. Hefner was Janet Byrne, a student at the Art Institute. She and Mr. Neiman married in 1957. She survives him.
A prolific artist, he generated dozens of paintings each year that routinely commanded five-figure prices. When Christie’s auctioned off the Playboy archives in 2003, his 1969 painting “Man at His Leisure: Le Mans” sold for $107,550. Sales of the signed, limited-edition print versions of his paintings, published in editions of 250 to 500, became a lucrative business in itself after Knoedler Publishing, a wholesale operation, was created in 1975 to publish and distribute his serigraphs, etchings, books and posters.
Mr. Neiman’s most famous images came from the world of sports. His long association with the Olympics began with the Winter Games in Squaw Valley in 1960, and he went on to cover the games, on live television, in Munich in 1972, Montreal in 1976, Lake Placid in 1980, and Sarajevo and Los Angeles in 1984, using watercolor, ink or felt-tip marker to produce images with the dispatch of a courtroom sketch artist. At the 1978 and 1979 Super Bowls, he used a computerized electronic pen to portray the action for CBS.
Although he was best known for scenes filled with people and incident, he also painted many portraits. Athletes predominated, with Muhammad Ali and Joe Namath among his more famous subjects, but he also painted Leonard Bernstein, the ballet dancer Suzanne Farrell, the poet Marianne Moore and Sylvester Stallone, who gave Mr. Neiman cameo roles in three “Rocky” films.
His many books included “LeRoy Neiman: Art and Life Style,” “Horses,” “Winners: My Thirty Years in Sports,” “Big-Time Golf,” “LeRoy Neiman on Safari” and “LeRoy Neiman: Five Decades.” In 1995, he donated $6 million to Columbia University’s School of the Arts to endow the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies.
His memoir, “All Told: My Art and Life Among Athletes, Playboys, Bunnies and Provocateurs,” was published this month.
Matt Flegenheimer contributed reporting.
LESLEY BROWN, MOTHER OF FIRST TEST-TUBE BABY
By DENISE GRADY
Published: June 23, 2012
Lesley Brown, the mother of the world’s first “test-tube baby” — Louise Brown, born July 25, 1978 — died on June 6 in Bristol, England. She was 64.
Her death, at the Bristol Royal Infirmary, was caused by complications of a gallbladder infection, said Michael Macnamee, executive director of the Bourn Hall Clinic in Cambridge, where the in vitro fertilization technique that produced Louise was developed by Robert G. Edwards and Dr. Patrick Steptoe. Her death was not widely reported at first.
Louise’s birth was an instant global sensation and a turning point in the treatment of infertility, offering hope to millions of couples who had been unable to have children. Since then, more than four million babies worldwide have been born through in vitro fertilization, in which sperm and eggs are mixed outside the body and the resulting embryos are transferred into the womb.
In some developed countries, those methods now lead to about 3 percent of all live births, Dr. Macnamee said. In 2010, about 59,000 births in the United States resulted from in vitro procedures, according to the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology.
In vitro fertilization is an established treatment now, but it had a long, slow and rocky start. The research by Dr. Edwards, a biologist, and Dr. Steptoe, a gynecologist, had gone on for 10 years, and the treatment had failed in about 60 couples by the mid-1970s. It had produced only one pregnancy, and that one was ectopic — growing in a fallopian tube instead of the uterus — and had to be aborted.
Then Mrs. Brown and her husband, John, came along. She was a homemaker, he a railroad employee. They had been trying for nine years to conceive a child. In vitro fertilization was “an incredible leap into the unknown,” Dr. Macnamee said. Even if a pregnancy did result, would the baby be healthy? Critics of the research had predicted that the treatment could lead to terrible abnormalities. But Mrs. Brown was determined.
“Every breakthrough in medical science requires somebody to put themselves forward with the passion and commitment she had,” Dr. Macnamee said.
Mrs. Brown became pregnant in the first try. Once the news got out, public fascination with her case was unrelenting. She was a quiet woman, Dr. Macnamee said, and the attention stunned her.
After Louise’s birth, the Browns went home from the hospital to find reporters camped out on their street. For months Mrs. Brown could not leave the house without being chased, so the family moved to another house with a backyard, allowing her to take Louise outside in peace. Four years later they had another daughter, Natalie, also conceived by in vitro fertilization, also on the first try.
Mr. Brown died in 2007 at 64. Mrs. Brown is survived by her two daughters and three grandchildren.
It took time for in vitro fertilization to gain acceptance. Fears that it could harm mothers and children lingered. Early success rates were low, and there were moral objections from some religious groups that viewed the creation of human life in a laboratory as a violation of the sacred order. But over all the techniques have proved safe, and success rates have climbed to rival those of natural conception. Some religious objections remain, however. The Roman Catholic Church, for instance, continues to condemn in vitro fertilization.
In 2010, at 85, Dr. Edwards received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. But he had declined mentally and was not “in a position to understand the honor,” Dr. Macnamee told The New York Times when the prize was announced. Dr. Steptoe did not share the award because he had died in 1988, and Nobel Prizes are not given posthumously.
Sandy Macaskill contributed reporting from London.