Monthly Archives: March 2008

THE YEAR OF SUNDAY

We all live in the Year of Sunday, so many things are in store for us.
Oh what a gift to be born in Sunday’s beautiful light way down here in the dusk.
People, return to the tree of oneness, oh won’t you hurry the Presence is there.
Down on our knees in the darkness of Sunday, we’ll find the answers to all of our prayers.
And then everyday will be Sunday, for you and me. How I pray! How I pray!

God made a pact with Abraham, never leave a man alone.
So Abraham gathered his family, and brought his people home.
Along came Moses, gave the world a push. Climbed upon a mountain high.
He got the Ten Commandments from a burning bush and put together his first tribe.

Then came Jesus to Jerusalem, ridin’ on His shoulder a dove.
The dove upon his shoulder said he was the One, the One to teach us how to love!
Mohammed stayed out in the desert sun, stayed out there just as long as he could.
The Maker gave him water from the River of Life, and then he gave us nationhood.

And then time passed, soon the dark clouds, came and covered up Mohammed’s sun.
But the young Báb, down in Persia land, came to tell us of the Promised One.
(From Baha’i Scripture) “Lo, the nightengale of paradise
Singeth upon the twig of the Tree of Eternity.
With holy and sweet melodies,
Proclaiming to the sincere ones the glad tidings of the nearness of God.”
Bahá’u’lláh! Bahá’u’lláh! Bahá’u’lláh! Bahá’u’lláh!

We all live in the Year of Sunday, so many things are in store for us.
Oh what a gift to be born in Sunday’s beautiful light way down here in the dusk.
We all live in the Year of Sunday, so many things are in store for us.
Oh what a gift to be born in Sunday’s beautiful light way down here in the dusk. . ..

(lyrics and music by James Seals & Dash Crofts, 1971)
From the album YEAR OF SUNDAY (1972).

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FROM THE ARCHIVES: BALTIMORE POLICE DEPARTMENT BANS TWISTS, LOCKS

 

C WBAL-TV
6:08 p.m. EST December 5, 2006

BALTIMORE – The WBAL TV 11 News I-Team has obtained a new professional appearance policy for the Baltimore Police Department intended to promote a professional image, but it’s also raising questions of racial insensitivity. The new policy is more specific than the old one. For example, tattoos must now be kept covered.

However, the questions surround an issue that’s been batted around the courts and company workplace policies for several years — hairstyle.

“We just felt that over the years, some officers have taken advantage of the old general order and are not presenting themselves, while in uniform to the public, in the most professional manner possible,” said Matt Jablow, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.

Like the old policy, the new one governs hair length, jewelry, mustaches and beards, but it also added a new standard — extreme, or “fad,” hairstyles are prohibited, including cornrows, mohawks, dreadlocks, and twists.

Three of the four hairstyles banned are almost exclusively used by blacks. “I think it’s incredibly insensitive,” said Taunya Banks, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. “I’m really kind of concerned about labeling as faddish a practice that’s not faddish at all, and what appears to be a targeting of black officers.”

Banks said the policy seems to ignore the differences in hair texture between blacks and whites and may affect black female officers more than men.

“What they’re saying to a woman is either she has to wear her hair short in an Afro, which is no longer stylish, or she’s going to have to chemically straighten her hair,” she said.

…..

Only natural hair colors are permitted. Hair colors that would be regarded as extreme,
faddish or artificial, such as purple, pink or green, are PROHIBITED.-The bulk of the hair will not be excessive or present a ragged or unkempt appearance,
and shall not:

Prevent the eight-point hat from being placed squarely on the head, with the center of the hat’s visor directly over the nose.

-Interfere with the proper wearing of the arctic hat.

-Interfere with the safe and proper wearing of issued departmental helmets and other safety gear, to include personal protection equipment.

-Extreme or fad hairstyles are PROHIBITED, including but not limited to: cornrows,
mohawks, dreadlocks, and twists, as well as designs or sculptures using the hair and/or
cut into the hair
.
-A wig, track or hairpiece shall present a natural appearance and conform to the same
standards as natural hair.”

………….

Police Appearance Policy Raises Racial Sensitivity IssuesBALTIMORE – The WBAL TV 11 News I-Team has obtained a new professional appearance policy for the Baltimore Police Department intended to promote a professional image, but it’s also raising questions of racial insensitivity. The new policy is more specific than the old one. For example, tattoos must now be kept covered.

However, the questions surround an issue that’s been batted around the courts and company workplace policies for several years — hairstyle.

“We just felt that over the years, some officers have taken advantage of the old general order and are not presenting themselves, while in uniform to the public, in the most professional manner possible,” said Matt Jablow, spokesman for the Baltimore Police Department.

Like the old policy, the new one governs hair length, jewelry, mustaches and beards, but it also added a new standard — extreme, or “fad,” hairstyles are prohibited, including cornrows, mohawks, dreadlocks, and twists. Three of the four hairstyles banned are almost exclusively used by blacks. “I think it’s incredibly insensitive,” said Taunya Banks, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Law. “I’m really kind of concerned about labeling as faddish a practice that’s not faddish at all, and what appears to be a targeting of black officers.”Banks said the policy seems to ignore the differences in hair texture between blacks and whites and may affect black female officers more than men.

What they’re saying to a woman is either she has to wear her hair short in an Afro, which is no longer stylish, or she’s going to have to chemically straighten her hair,” she said.

“We do not think it’s racially insensitive. It’s not intended to be racially insensitive,” Jablow said.

Department officials said they consulted with the Black Officers’ Organization in forming the policy.

It will go into effect on Jan. 1, the same time as Baltimore swears in its first female black mayor. Sheila Dixon said Tuesday she’s aware of the new policy and supports it.

“I think there is an appropriateness one needs to have, and if that’s the policy of the police department, then one has to come in compliance,” Dixon said.

Earlier this year, 11 News reported that there’s less diversity in the leadership ranks of the police department now than 10 years ago.

Deputy major is the highest rank held by a black woman in the department, and only two women hold that position.

_______________________________________________________________________________

(I remember a few years back when a Rastafarian man took his employer to court in London, because they would not allow him to wear his tam, which is part of his religious beliefs. Yet, this same employer would allow the black man’s fellow Asian co-worker to wear his turban, a co-worker who was a Sikh. The black man lost the case—–on the grounds that Rastafarianism was not an acceptable religion!

In some other institutions, where the wearing of protective headgear is required, the administration have been more accepting towards Sikhs in the rules and have designed special uniformed turbans for members of the staff who are Sikhs.

No such allowance or relaxing of the rules for black people.
This petition was created and posted by Nappturality two years ago:

“Baltimore Racist Grooming Policy Petition”:  http://www.petitiononline.com/baltpd/petition.html
The Baltimore Police Department, due to many protests both in and outside of Baltimore against the department’s racist policy, soon rescinded their ban on natural hair states worn by black women on the Baltimore Police Department:

 

“Jan 18th: The Baltimore Police Dept has officially RESCINDED the policy against natural hair styles. The new policy is now in effect. African American natural hairstyles are no longer considered fads and banned under the new policy.The affected officers of the BPD Thank you for all your support. in helping to reverse this policy in the name of freedom and acceptance. I also thank you all for supporting these officers and remember to ALWAYS be diligent!”

 

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THE PERILOUS POLITICS OF HAIR

March 25, 2008 — How my box braids kept me out of a waitressing job in a rapidly gentrifying America. Also on TheRoot.com, another writer explains why he decided, after 13 years, to cut off his locks.
March 25, 2008 — A strange and sad thing happened to me on my job search this year. I missed out on an opportunity not because of my skills, but because of my hair. I was looking for a little extra money for college this past February, so I applied for a job at my old place of employment, Ruby Tuesday. I had worked there last year as a server, and the restaurant in downtown DC was undergoing a facelift—along with the surrounding Chinatown neighborhood – so I thought it might be fun to return there.

When I sat down to have an interview with the general manager, he seemed enthusiastic to have me come back as he discussed all the changes that the restaurant was going through. One of those “changes” surprised, confused and angered me: In order to get hired there, I was told, I would have to remove my braids from my hair.

At the time, I wore multiple braids in my hair also known as “box braids” or “micros.” The manager told me that the new policy with respect to hairstyles reflected the company position nationwide. No twists or dreads were acceptable either. A year earlier I had worn braids as a Ruby Tuesday employee. Now, after the restaurant had undergone an “upgrade,” my braided hair style was no longer acceptable?

I was angry and sad all at the same time. If the company had deemed braids, dreads and twists “unacceptable,” what were they saying about my culture?

I called the corporate office to see if it was true, and, sure enough, the person on the other end of the phone told me that it wasn’t a “race thing,” but rather an “image” thing. At that point I was thinking, “these people must think I am a fool.”

The next day, I contacted Gregory Carr, a professor of African American Studies at Howard University, where I am a sophomore. He said that, without a doubt, the policy was discriminatory and advised me to seek legal counsel.

I contacted a lawyer and started a petition against the policy. Over the course of two days, more than 500 students, faculty and staff at Howard signed it. Various students told me that they made phone calls to the corporate office to protest the policy.

My cause drew some interest from the media. In an interview with National Newspaper Publishers Association Editor-in-Chief Hazel Trice Edney, a spokesperson for Ruby Tuesday, in a tape-recorded interview in late February, defended the policy, then called the reporter back to say it was a “misinterpretation” by the local management.

The restaurant later announced that they had “reversed” the policy, but I do not think that is enough. I would still like to see the restaurant address the issue nationwide, with a clarification of the policy and a statement that the direction adopted by the Ruby Tuesday where I had my encounter was wrong.

My hair is 100 percent natural, never touched by a relaxer or texture enhancers. Occasionally, I will hot comb my hair, but I do not think that it is fair that we, as African Americans, should be forced to “conform” to popular society.

From D.C. to Harlem, neighborbood gentrification is replacing black-owned mom and pop stores with national chains, stripping black neighborhoods of their unique character and culture. Has the process of “upgrading” neighborhoods moved to erasing personal expressions of black  character and culture as well?

I, for one, will do everything in my power to keep that from happening.

Grace Salvant is a public relations student at Howard University in Washington, D.C.

(Article courtesy of The Root:  http://www.theroot.com )

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LEST WE FORGET: AN OPEN LETTER TO MY SISTERS WHO ARE BRAVE

The author argues that we must build alliances not on ethnicity or gender, but on truth.

March 27, 2008I HAVE COME home from a long stay in Mexico to find – because of the presidential campaign, and especially because of the Obama/Clinton race for the Democratic nomination – a new country existing alongside the old.  On any given day we, collectively, become the Goddess of the Three Directions and can look back into the past, look at ourselves just where we are, and take a glance, as well, into the future.  It is a space with which I am familiar. 

When I was born in 1944 my parents lived on a middle Georgia plantation that was owned by a white distant relative,  Miss May Montgomery. (During my childhood it was necessary to address all white girls as “Miss” when they reached the age of twelve.)  She would never admit to this relationship, of course, except to mock it.  Told by my parents that several of their children would not eat chicken skin she responded that of course they would not.  No Montgomerys would.

My parents and older siblings did everything imaginable for Miss May.  They planted and raised her cotton and corn, fed and killed and processed her cattle and hogs, painted her house, patched her roof, ran her dairy, and, among countless other duties and responsibilities my father was her chauffeur, taking her anywhere she wanted to go at any hour of the day or night.  She lived in a large white house with green shutters and a green, luxuriant lawn:  not quite as large as Tara of Gone With the Wind fame, but in the same style.

We lived in a shack without electricity or running water, under a rusty tin roof that let in wind and rain.  Miss May went to school as a girl. The school my parents and their neighbors built for us was burned to the ground by local racists who wanted to keep ignorant their competitors in tenant farming.  During the Depression, desperate to feed his hardworking family, my father asked for a raise from ten dollars a month to twelve.  Miss May responded that she would not pay that amount to a white man and she certainly wouldn’t pay it to a nigger.  That before she’d pay a nigger that much money she’d milk the dairy cows herself.

When I look back, this is part of what I see.  I see the school bus carrying white children, boys and girls, right past me, and my brothers, as we trudge on foot five miles to school.  Later, I see my parents struggling to build a school out of discarded army barracks while white students, girls and boys, enjoy a building made of brick.  We had no books; we inherited the cast off books that “Jane” and “Dick” had previously used in the all-white school that we were not, as black children, permitted to enter. 

The year I turned fifty, one of my relatives told me she had started reading my books for children in the library in my home town.  I had had no idea – so kept from black people it had been – that such a place existed.  To this day knowing my presence was not wanted in the public library when I was a child I am highly uncomfortable in libraries and will rarely, unless I am there to help build, repair, refurbish or raise money to keep them open, enter their doors.

When I joined the freedom movement in Mississippi in my early twenties it was to come to the aid of sharecroppers, like my parents, who had been thrown off the land they’d always known, the plantations, because they attempted to exercise their “democratic” right to vote.  I wish I could say white women treated me and other black people a lot better than the men did, but I cannot.  It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that white women have copied, all too often, the behavior of their fathers and their brothers, and in the South, especially in Mississippi, and before that, when I worked to register voters in Georgia, the broken bottles thrown at my head were gender free.  

I made my first white women friends in college; they were women who loved me and were loyal to our friendship, but I understood, as they did, that they were white women and that whiteness mattered.  That, for instance, at Sarah Lawrence, where I was speedily inducted into the Board of Trustees practically as soon as I graduated, I made my way to the campus for meetings by train, subway and foot, while the other trustees, women and men, all white, made their way by limo.  Because, in our country, with its painful history of unspeakable inequality, this is part of what whiteness means.  I loved my school for trying to make me feel I mattered to it, but because of my relative poverty I knew I could not.

I am a supporter of Obama because I believe he is the right person to lead the country at this time. He offers a rare opportunity for the country and the world to start over, and to do better.   It is a deep sadness to me that many of my feminist white women friends cannot see him.  Cannot see what he carries in his being.  Cannot hear the fresh choices toward Movement he offers. That they can believe that millions of Americans –black,  white, yellow, red and brown – choose Obama over Clinton only because he is a man, and black, feels tragic to me.

When I have supported white people, men and women, it was because I thought them the best possible people to do whatever the job required.  Nothing else would have occurred to me. If Obama were in any sense mediocre, he would be forgotten by now. He is, in fact, a remarkable human being, not perfect but humanly stunning, like King was and like Mandela is. We look at him, as we looked at them, and are glad to be of our species. He is the change America has been trying desperately and for centuries to hide, ignore, kill. The change America must have if we are to convince the rest of the world that we care about people other than our (white) selves.

True to my inner Goddess of the Three Directions however, this does not mean I agree with everything Obama stands for. We differ on important points probably because I am older than he is, I am a woman and person of three colors, (African, Native American, European), I was born and raised in the American South, and when I look at the earth’s people, after sixty-four years of life, there is not one person I wish to see suffer, no matter what they have done to me or to anyone else; though I understand quite well the place of suffering, often, in human growth.

I want a grown-up attitude toward Cuba, for instance, a country and a people I love; I want an end to the embargo that has harmed my friends and their children, children who, when I visit Cuba, trustingly turn their faces up for me to kiss. I agree with a teacher of mine, Howard Zinn, that war is as objectionable as cannibalism and slavery; it is beyond obsolete as a means of improving life.   I want an end to the on-going war immediately and I want the soldiers to be encouraged to destroy their weapons and to drive themselves out of Iraq. 

I want the Israeli government to be made accountable for its behavior towards the Palestinians, and I want the people of the United States to cease acting like they don’t understand what is going on.  All colonization, all occupation, all repression basically looks the same, whoever is doing it.  Here our heads cannot remain stuck in the sand; our future depends of our ability to study, to learn, to understand what is in the records and what is before our eyes.  But most of all I want someone with the self-confidence to talk to anyone, “enemy” or “friend,”  and this Obama has shown he can do.  It is difficult to understand how one could vote for a person who is afraid to sit and talk to another human being.  When you vote you are making someone a proxy for yourself; they are to speak when, and in places, you cannot.  But if they find talking to someone else, who looks just like them, human, impossible, then what good is your vote?

It is hard to relate what it feels like to see Mrs. Clinton (I wish she felt self-assured enough to use her own name) referred to as “a woman” while Barack Obama is always referred to as “a black man.”  One would think she is just any woman, colorless, race-less, past-less, but she is not. She carries all the history of white womanhood in America in her person; it would be a miracle if we, and the world, did not react to this fact.  How dishonest it is, to attempt to make her innocent of her racial inheritance. 

I can easily imagine Obama sitting down and talking, person to person, with any leader, woman, man, child or common person, in the world, with no baggage of past servitude or race supremacy to mar their talks.  I cannot see the same scenario with Mrs. Clinton who would drag into Twenty-First Century American leadership the same image of white privilege and distance from the reality of others’ lives that has so marred our country’s contacts with the rest of the world. 

And yes, I would adore having a woman president of the United States.  My choice would be Representative Barbara Lee, who alone voted in Congress five years ago not to make war on Iraq. That to me is leadership, morality, and courage; if she had been white I would have cheered just as hard.  But she is not running for the highest office in the land, Mrs. Clinton is. And because Mrs. Clinton is a woman and because she may be very good at what she does, many people, including some younger women in my own family, originally favored her over Obama. I understand this, almost. It is because, in my own nieces’ case, there is little memory, apparently, of the foundational inequities that still plague people of color and poor whites in this country. Why, even though our family has been here longer than most North American families – and only partly due to the fact that we have Native American genes – we very recently, in my lifetime, secured the right to vote, and only after numbers of people suffered and died for it.

When I offered the word “Womanism” many years ago, it was to give us a tool to use, as feminist women of color, in times like these.  These are the moments we can see clearly, and must honor devotedly, our singular path as women of color in the United States.  We are not white women and this truth has been ground into us for centuries, often in brutal ways.  But neither are we inclined to follow a black person, man or woman, unless they demonstrate considerable courage, intelligence, compassion and substance.  I am delighted that so many women of color support Barack Obama -and genuinely proud of the many young and old white women and men who do. 

Imagine, if he wins the presidency we will have not one but three black women in the White House;  one tall, two somewhat shorter;   none of them carrying the washing in and out of the back door.  The bottom line for most of us is:  With whom do we have a better chance of surviving the madness and fear we are presently enduring, and with whom do we wish to set off on a journey of new possibility?  In other words, as the Hopi elders would say: Who do we want in the boat with us as we head for the rapids?  Who is likely to know how best to share the meager garden produce and water?  We are advised by the Hopi elders to celebrate this time, whatever its adversities. 

We have come a long way, Sisters, and we are up to the challenges of our time.  One of which is to build alliances based not on race, ethnicity, color, nationality, sexual preference or gender, but on Truth.  Celebrate our journey.  Enjoy the miracle we are witnessing.  Do not stress over its outcome.  Even if  Obama becomes president, our country is in such ruin it may well be beyond his power to lead us toward rehabilitation.  If he is elected however, we must, individually and collectively, as citizens of the planet, insist on helping him do the best job that can be done; more, we must insist that he demand this of us. It is a blessing that our mothers taught us not to fear hard work. Know, as the Hopi elders declare: The river has its destination.  And remember, as poet June Jordan and Sweet Honey in the Rock never tired of telling us: We are the ones we have been waiting for. 

Namaste;

And with all my love,

Alice Walker

Cazul

Northern California

First Day of Spring

(Article courtesy of The Root:  http://www.theroot.com )

WRITER ALICE WALKER ENDORSES BARACK OBAMA:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W3-9gq_htUo

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LIES AND CONSEQUENCES

Everybody wants to be a gangsta.
March 11, 2008–Call it a comedy of editors. Looking back on the initial media blitz surrounding Love and Consequences, the auto-myth-ography by Margaret B. Jones (nee Margaret “Peggy” Seltzer), laughs come first, but anger comes hardest.

Take last week’s 2,000-word New York Times profile about the author and her tall tale of gang life in South Central Los Angeles.

In it Seltzer, acting as her hard knock life alter ego “Jones,” says her first, big drug-money purchase was a burial plot. She claims that a large pit bull tattoo is “the most ghetto thing” on her body, and that her daughter was the first white baby she’d ever seen. (Apparently Seltzer’s never looked at her own baby pictures.)

Seltzer’s home, according to Times reporter Mimi Read, smelled “of black-eyed peas, which were stewing with pork neck bones” and guests were offered the “house cocktail” — Hennessy and Coke — to wash down Seltzer/Jones’ homemade buttermilk cornbread.

Love and Consequences, explains the Times article headlined “Refugee from Gangland,” is a “visceral” tale of gang life in the inner city where Seltzer was raised by “a stern but loving black grandmother.” Her name is Mammy, er, “Big Mom.”

The cover of the now-recalled book shows a dark-skinned and gray afro’d older woman hugging an alabaster-skinned and pig-tailed little girl with her “giant, fat black arms” (as Seltzer describes Big Mom’s arms on page 46).

What’s so offensive, besides Seltzer’s boilerplate ghetto-isms and Harriet Beecher Stowe-style caricatures, is how easily and completely the media happily devoured them.

Within days of publication, the memoir earned that coveted publishing designation, “critically acclaimed.” Oprah magazine called it “startlingly tender,” NPR found it “heartbreaking” and an Entertainment Weekly reviewer found the book to be “a powerful story of resilience and unconditional love.”

To me, the first 50 pages feft like I’d watched Menace ll Society, Boyz n the Hood and South Central in close succession. Every word that, in English, begins with a ‘c’ is spelled with a ‘k’ instead. Here’s Margaret B. Jones’ description of her first few moments in Big Mom’s house, where the elder woman doles out steaming helpings of sugar-coated truisms:  

” ‘I know it ain a lot, but it’s home an we got each other, we got love and we got God. An that child’–she paused for a moment, for effect–‘that is worth more than all the riches in the world.’ ”

Seltzer, who has admitted that she mashed up her story from the true accounts of friends, is no Zora Neale Hurston when it comes to the use of colloquialism. “Big Mom?” laughed one book publicist, “It’s Big Mama.

I call my mother’s mother “Grandma.”

After Seltzer’s real sister, Cyndi Hoffman, blew the whistle on her — they grew up in middle-class Sherman Oaks and “Peggy” graduated from private school –- the disgraced author offered a half-eaten mea culpa, telling The Times: “I was really torn and I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to.”

Lame – and a lie. There are any number of real gangsters who don’t need any ghostwriters to tell their story. For example, Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who played the ruthless killer “Snoop” on HBO’s The Wire, penned a ‘hood to redemption tale, Grace After Midnight in 2007.

That true story tells the tale of Pearson’s real life experiences growing up in East Baltimore, being convicted of second degree murder, spending nearly 6 years in state prison and then landing a role on one of the of the most critically acclaimed (there’s those two words again) television shows in history.

In a recent phone interview, Pearson summed up Seltzer’s situation in one word, “crazy.”

“It don’t make me angry — it’s sad,” said Pearson, who wondered aloud whether Seltzer gave any of her book advance money to these voiceless masses she claimed to be helping.

Love and Consequences, like Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin is high-minded, abolitionist literature that seeks to rescue those trapped south of the Santa Monica freeway by telling their story to the world. And like Stowe’s novel, Seltzer’s “memoir” is more depressing than uplifting.

The basic question here is whether anyone has a copyright on the “true ghetto story?”

“It’s my story,” said Pearson with particular emphasis on the “my.” And Snoop would know: “I get to tell my story,” she said.

Helena Andrews covers the nexus of pop culture and politics at Politico.

————–

GANG MEMOIR, TURNING PAGE, IS PURE FICTION: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/04/books/04fake.html?scp=6&sq=margaret+b.+jones&st=nyt

FOOLED AGAIN:  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/16/opinion/16pubed.html?scp=5&sq=margaret+b.+jones&st=nyt

MARGARET SELTZER:  http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/s/margaret_seltzer/index.html?8qa&scp=1-spot&sq=margaret+b.+jones&st=nyt

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IN REMEMBRANCE, 3-30-2008

Published: March 31, 2008
Dith Pran, a photojournalist for The New York Times whose gruesome ordeal in the killing fields of Cambodia was re-created in a 1984 movie that gave him an eminence he tenaciously used to press for his people’s rights, died on Sunday at a hospital in New Brunswick, N.J. He was 65 and lived in Woodbridge, N.J.

    
Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies

Steve McCurry/Magnum

Mr. Dith was reunited with his sister, Samproeuth, third from left, and other family members in Siem Reap. More Photos »

    
Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies

Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Mr. Dith joined The Times in 1980 as a staff photographer. He photographed people rallying in Newark in support of the rights of immigrants on Sept. 4, 2006. The Spanish on the sign means “Nobody is illegal.” More Photos >

The cause was pancreatic cancer, which had spread, said his friend Sydney H. Schanberg.

Mr. Dith saw his country descend into a living hell as he scraped and scrambled to survive the barbarous revolutionary regime of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979, when as many as two million Cambodians — a third of the population — were killed, experts estimate. Mr. Dith survived through nimbleness, guile and sheer desperation. His credo: Make no move unless there was a 50-50 chance of not being killed.

He had been a journalistic partner of Mr. Schanberg, a Times correspondent assigned to Southeast Asia. He translated, took notes and pictures, and helped Mr. Schanberg maneuver in a fast-changing milieu. With the fall of Phnom Penh in 1975, Mr. Schanberg was forced from the country, and Mr. Dith became a prisoner of the Khmer Rouge, the Cambodian Communists.

Mr. Schanberg wrote about Mr. Dith in newspaper articles and in The New York Times Magazine, in a 1980 cover article titled “The Death and Life of Dith Pran.” (A book by the same title appeared in 1985.) The story became the basis of the movie “The Killing Fields.”

The film, directed by Roland Joffé, showed Mr. Schanberg, played by Sam Waterston, arranging for Mr. Dith’s wife and children to be evacuated from Phnom Penh as danger mounted. Mr. Dith, portrayed by Dr. Haing S. Ngor (who won an Academy Award as best supporting actor), insisted on staying in Cambodia with Mr. Schanberg to keep reporting the news. He believed that his country could be saved only if other countries grasped the gathering tragedy and responded.

A dramatic moment, both in reality and cinematically, came when Mr. Dith saved Mr. Schanberg and other Western journalists from certain execution by talking fast and persuasively to the trigger-happy soldiers who had captured them.

But despite his frantic effort, Mr. Schanberg could not keep Mr. Dith from being sent to the countryside to join millions working as virtual slaves.

Mr. Schanberg returned to the United States and was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Cambodia. He accepted it on behalf of Mr. Dith as well.

For years there was no news of Mr. Dith, except for a false rumor that he had been fed to alligators. His brother had been. After more than four years of beatings, backbreaking labor and a diet of a tablespoon of rice a day, Mr. Dith escaped over the Thai border on Oct. 3, 1979. An overjoyed Mr. Schanberg flew to greet him.

“To all of us who have worked as foreign reporters in frightening places,” Bill Keller, the executive editor of The Times, said on Sunday, “Pran reminds us of a special category of journalistic heroism — the local partner, the stringer, the interpreter, the driver, the fixer, who knows the ropes, who makes your work possible, who often becomes your friend, who may save your life, who shares little of the glory, and who risks so much more than you do.”

Mr. Dith moved to New York and in 1980 became a photographer for The Times, where he was noted for his imaginative pictures of city scenes and news events. In one, he turned the camera on mourners rather than the coffin to snatch an evocative moment at the funeral of Rabbi Chaskel Werzberger, who was murdered in 1990.

In an e-mail message on Sunday, Mr. Schanberg recalled Mr. Dith’s theory of photojournalism: “You have to be a pineapple. You have to have a hundred eyes.”

“I’m a very lucky man to have had Pran as my reporting partner and even luckier that we came to call each other brother,” Mr. Schanberg said. “His mission with me in Cambodia was to tell the world what suffering his people were going through in a war that was never necessary. It became my mission too. My reporting could not have been done without him.”

Outside The Times, Mr. Dith spoke out about the Cambodian genocide, appearing before student groups and other organizations. “I’m a one-person crusade,” he said.

Dith Pran was born on Sept. 23, 1942, in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a provincial town near the ancient temples at Angkor Wat. His father was a public-works official. 

Having learned French at school and taught himself English, Mr. Dith was hired as a translator for the United States Military Assistance Command. When Cambodia severed ties with the United States in 1965, he worked with a British film crew, then as a hotel receptionist.

    
Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies

William E. Sauro/The New York Times

In 1986, Mr. Dith was sworn in as a United States citizen. Standing by Mr. Dith’s side was his wife, Meoun Ser Dith. More Photos >

  
Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies

From “The Death and Life of Dith Pran” by Sydney H. Schanberg

Mr. Dith, right, interviewed a government soldier in August 1973 about the American bombing of Cambodia as The Times correspondent Sydney H. Schanberg took notes. More Photos >

   
Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies

Steve McCurry/Magnum

Mr. Dith visited a museum at Tuol Sleng that is the site of the torture of 20,000 people, almost all of whom were also killed. More Photos >

    
Dith Pran, ‘Killing Fields’ Photographer, Dies

Dith Pran/The New York Times

A 1974 photo by Mr. Dith of the wife and mother of a government soldier as they learned of the soldier’s death in combat southwest of Phnom Penh. More Photos >

In the early 1970s, as unrest in neighboring Vietnam spread and Cambodia slipped into civil war, the Khmer Rouge grew more formidable. Tourism ended. Mr. Dith interpreted for foreign journalists. When working for Mr. Schanberg, he taught himself to take pictures.

When the Khmer Rouge won control in 1975, Mr. Dith became part of a monstrous social experiment: the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of people from the cities and the suppression of the educated classes with the goal of re-creating Cambodia as an agricultural nation.

To avoid summary execution, Mr. Dith hid that he was educated or that he knew Americans. He passed himself off as a taxi driver. He even threw away his money and dressed as a peasant.

Over the next 4 ½ years, he worked in the fields and at menial jobs. For sustenance, people ate insects and rats and even the exhumed corpses of the recently executed, he said.

In November 1978, Vietnam, by then a unified Communist nation after the end of the Vietnam War, invaded Cambodia and overthrew the Khmer Rouge. Mr. Dith went home to Siem Reap, where he learned that 50 members of his family had been killed; wells were filled with skulls and bones.

The Vietnamese made him village chief. But he fled when he feared that they had learned of his American ties. His 60-mile trek to the Thai border was fraught with danger. Two companions were killed by a land mine.

He had an emotional reunion with his wife, Ser Moeun Dith, and four children in San Francisco. Though he and his wife later divorced, she was by his bedside in his last weeks, bringing him rice noodles.

Mr. Dith was divorced from his second wife, Kim DePaul.

Mr. Dith is survived by his companion, Bette Parslow; his daughter, Hemkarey; his sons, Titony, Titonath and Titonel; a sister, Samproeuth; six grandchildren; and two stepgrandchildren.

Ms. DePaul now runs the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project, which spreads word about the Cambodian genocide. At his death, Mr. Dith was working to establish another, still-unnamed organization to help Cambodia. In 1997, he published a book of essays by Cambodians who had witnessed the years of terror as children.

Dr. Ngor, the physician turned actor who had himself survived the killing fields, had joined with Mr. Dith in their fight for justice. He was shot to death in 1996 in Los Angeles by a teenage gang member.

“It seems like I lost one hand,” Mr. Dith said of Dr. Ngor’s death.

Mr. Dith nonetheless pushed ahead in his campaign against genocide everywhere.

“One time is too many,” he said in an interview in his last weeks, expressing hope that others would continue his work. “If they can do that for me,” he said, “my spirit will be happy.”

(Article courtesy of The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com )

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ABBY MANN, ‘JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG’ SCREENWRITER

Published: March 28, 2008
Abby Mann, the screenwriter who brought incisive characterization and a searing sense of justice to “Judgment at Nuremberg” and other social dramas, died on Tuesday in Beverly Hills. He was 83.

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Abby Mann in 2001.

The cause was heart failure, his wife, Myra, said.

Mr. Mann joined the first rank of screenwriters with “Judgment at Nuremberg,” released in 1961. It emerged from a script with the same title that Mr. Mann had written for CBS’s “Playhouse 90” two years earlier. The movie version won him an Academy Award for screenwriting; Maximilian Schell also won, as best actor.

The plot concerned the trial of four German judges accused of using their offices to further Nazi policies. The case was complicated because at the time of the trial, West Germany was emerging as an ally of the United States against the Soviet Union. The crux of the drama is the steely determination of the chief judge, played by Spencer Tracy, to push ahead despite political pressures.

In an interview with The New York Post in 1961, Mr. Mann said he sought to examine how patriotism like that motivating the German judges can become an “evil thing” that “divides man from humanity.”

Writing in Commentary, Jason Epstein said the movie, directed by Stanley Kramer, was “astonishingly intelligent” and raised “some of the darkest questions of this dark age.”

Mr. Mann followed his “Nuremberg” script with more than four decades of serious dramas, many for movies made for television, a genre he helped pioneer. He won three Emmys for television movies. His scripts, often derived from real cases, delivered withering critiques of the criminal justice system, frequently examining the denial of the rights of the accused.

A case in point was “The Marcus-Nelson Murders” (1973), based in part on a nonfiction book by Selwyn Raab about the brutal killings of two young, white Manhattan women, Janice Wylie and Emily Hoffert. The black man who was accused of those killings and made a forced confession was exonerated when the real killer was found. Mr. Mann’s script focused on the prejudice faced by poor and minority suspects.

The film was the pilot for the popular television show “Kojak.” (Mr. Mann had spelled the name “Kojack.”) He complained that the resulting series veered from his social and moral vision and became just another formulaic cops-and-robbers potboiler.

A biography prepared for the Museum of Broadcast Communications in Chicago said that Mr. Mann’s “exhaustive investigative research” impressed even critics who considered him left-wing and polemical. “Most importantly, few have questioned the factual basis of his arguments,” the museum biography said.

Mr. Mann’s reputation for integrity extended beyond the moral view in his scripts. When Paramount wanted to cast his screenplay “A Child Is Waiting,” about retarded children, with actors who had no disability, Mr. Mann objected. He emptied his bank account and bought back the script. United Artists put out the movie in 1963.

Time magazine reported in 1963 that important actors like Mr. Tracy threatened to quit if a word of a Mann script were changed. The magazine also said that Mr. Mann demanded that his name be taken off the credits of his adaptation of Sartre’s “Condemned of Altona” (1962) unless the original script was restored. The director, Vittorio De Sica, restored the script.

Abraham Goodman was born on Dec. 1, 1927, in Philadelphia. The son of a jeweler of German and Jewish extraction, he grew up in East Pittsburgh, a predominantly working-class, Catholic area. His upbringing there gave him sympathy for minorities, he said. He went to Temple University for a year, spent another year in the Army, then studied at New York University under the G.I. Bill.

Mr. Mann began his professional career in the early 1950s writing for “Cameo Theater” and “Robert Montgomery Presents” on NBC and “Studio One” and “Playhouse 90” on CBS.

He was known for arduous research. He got on a freighter in Veracruz, Mexico, to ride to Houston in preparation for his adaptation of Katherine Anne Porter’s “Ship of Fools.” The film told of the interlocking lives of passengers sailing from Mexico to pre-Hitler Germany. Mr. Mann’s screenplay was nominated for an Oscar.

Mr. Mann made his directorial debut with “King,” a six-hour 1978 mini-series, which he also wrote. Suggesting that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was the victim of a conspiracy, it prompted an inconclusive congressional investigation.

Mr. Mann is survived by his wife, the former Myra Maislin; his daughters, Adrienne Isom of Brooklyn and Abigail Mann of Manhattan; his son, Aaron Cohen of Beverly Hills, Calif.; his sister, Esther Goodman Sack of Tequesta, Fla.; and a granddaughter.

For all Mr. Mann’s success in persuading directors and producers not to fiddle with his work, he was less successful with one sponsor. The American Gas Association vetoed two words in his television script for “Nuremberg”: gas chamber.

(Article courtesy of The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com )

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RICHARD WIDMARK,  FILM’S HOODLUM AND FLAWED HERO

Published: March 27, 2008
Richard Widmark, whose movie debut as a giggling killer made him an overnight star, giving rise to an enduring Hollywood career playing a gallery of chilling hoodlums and flawed heroes, died Monday at his home in Roxbury, Conn. He was 93.

  

20th Century Fox

Richard Widmark, left, with Victor Mature in the 1947 film “Kiss of Death.”

20th Century Fox, via Photofest

The start for a star: Richard Widmark about to give a fatal shove to Mildred Dunnock in “Kiss of Death” (1947).

His death was announced on Wednesday by his wife, Susan Blanchard. His health had been declining since he fractured a vertebra in recent months, she said.

Mr. Widmark first etched his name in film noir history in the 1947 gangster movie “Kiss of Death,” playing Tommy Udo, a snickering, psychopathic ex-convict seeking revenge against an informer (played by Victor Mature). In one indelible scene, he binds the squealer’s mother (Mildred Dunnock) in her wheelchair with a cord ripped from a lamp and shoves her down a flight of stairs to her death.

“The sadism of that character, the fearful laugh, the skull showing through drawn skin, and the surely conscious evocation of a concentration-camp degenerate established Widmark as the most frightening person on the screen,” the critic David Thomson wrote in “The Biographical Dictionary of Film.”

The performance made Mr. Widmark, who had been an established radio actor, an instant movie star, and it brought him his sole Academy Award nomination, for best supporting actor. For the next seven years, as a contract actor, he was given parts in 20th Century Fox’s juiciest melodramas. His mobsters were drenched in evil. But even his heroes were nerve-strained and feral — the daredevil pilot flying into the eye of a storm in “Slattery’s Hurricane” (1949); the doctor who fights pneumonic plague in Elia Kazan’s “Panic in the Streets” (1950), and the pickpocket who refuses to be a traitor in Samuel Fuller’s “Pickup on South Street” (1953).

“Movie audiences fasten on to one aspect of the actor, and then they decide what they want you to be,” Mr. Widmark once said. “They think you’re playing yourself. The truth is that the only person who can ever really play himself is a baby.”

In reality, the screen’s most vicious bad guy was a mild-mannered former college instructor who had married his college sweetheart, the playwright and screenwriter Ora Jean Hazlewood, and stayed married to her for nearly 55 years, until her death in 1997. In 1990 Mr. Widmark told a reporter that he had never been unfaithul to Ms. Hazlewood and had never flirted with women because, he said, “I happen to like my wife a lot.”

His trademark villains overshadowed his work in a wide range of roles in a career that spanned six decades and more than 60 movies. In “The Halls of Montezuma,” he led marines in the Pacific in World War II; in “The Cobweb” (1955), he played the head of a psychiatric clinic where the staff seemed more emotionally troubled than the patients; in “Saint Joan” (1957), he was the Dauphin to Jean Seberg’s Joan of Arc; in “The Alamo” (1960), with John Wayne, he was Jim Bowie, the inventor of the Bowie knife; in “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), he was an American Army colonel prosecuting German war criminals; and in John Ford’s revisionist western “Cheyenne Autumn” (1964), he played an Army captain who risks his career to help the Indians.

Mr. Widmark also created the role of Detective Sgt. Daniel Madigan in Don Siegel’s 1968 film “Madigan.” It proved so popular that he later played the loner Madigan on an NBC television series during the 1972-73 season. Earlier Mr. Widmark won an Emmy nomination for his first television role, playing the president of the United States in a 1971 mini-series based on Fletcher Knebel’s novel “Vanished.”

As his blond hair turned gray, Mr. Widmark played generals in the nuclear thriller “Twilight’s Last Gleaming” (1977) and “The Swarm” (1978), in which he waged war on bees. He was the evil head of a hospital in “Coma” (1978) and a United States senator in “True Colors” (1991).

He was forever fighting producers’ efforts to stereotype him and consistently lent credibility to inferior movies.

“I suppose I wanted to act in order to have a place in the sun,” he once told a reporter. “I’d always lived in small towns, and acting meant having some kind of identity.”

Richard Widmark (he had no middle name) was born on Dec. 26, 1914, in Sunrise, Minn., and grew up throughout the Midwest. His father, Carl Widmark, was a traveling salesman who took his wife, Mae Ethel, and two sons from Minnesota to Sioux Falls, S.D.; Henry, Ill.; Chillicothe, Mo.; and Princeton, Ill., where Mr. Widmark graduated from high school as senior class president.

Movie crazy, he was afraid to admit his interest in the “sissy” job of acting. On a full scholarship at Lake Forest College in Illinois, he played end on the football team, took third place in a state oratory contest, starred in plays and was, again, senior class president.

Graduating in 1936, he spent two years as an instructor in the Lake Forest drama department while acting in stage productions. Then he headed to New York City, where a classmate was producing 15-minute radio soap operas and cast Mr. Widmark in a variety of roles.

“Getting launched was easy for me — too easy, perhaps,” he said of his success playing “young, neurotic guys” on shows like “Stella Dallas,” “Front Page Farrell,” “Aunt Jenny’s Real Life Stories” and “Inner Sanctum.”

In World War II, Mr. Widmark tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected three times because of a perforated eardrum. So he turned to Broadway. In his first stage role, in 1943, he played an Army lieutenant in F. Hugh Herbert’s “Kiss and Tell,” directed by George Abbott. Appearing in the play “Trio,” which was closed by the License Commissioner after 67 performances because it touched on lesbianism, he received glowing reviews as a college student who fights to free the girl he loves from the domination of an older woman.

After a successful 10 years as a radio actor, Mr. Widmark tried the movies with “Kiss of Death,” which was being filmed in New York. He was originally turned down for the role by the director, Henry Hathaway, who told him that he was too clean cut and intellectual for the part. It was Darryl F. Zanuck, the Fox studio head, who, after watching Mr. Widmark’s screen test, insisted that he be given the part.

    

Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Richard Widmark in his Manhattan apartment in 2001.

After the movie was released, Mr. Widmark, older than most new recruits, was, to his surprise, summoned to Hollywood.. “I’m probably the only actor who gave up a swimming pool to go out to Hollywood,” Mr. Widmark told The New Yorker in 1961.

In the seven years of his Fox contract, he starred in 20 movies, inc luding “Yellow Sky” (1948), as the blackguard who menaces Gregory Peck; “Down to the Sea in Ships” (1949), as a valiant whaler; Jules Dassin’s “Night and the City” (1950), as a small- time hustler; and “Don’t Bother to Knock” (1952), in which the tables were turned and he was the prey of a psychopathic Marilyn Monroe.

A passionate liberal Democrat, Mr. Widmark played a bigot who baits a black doctor in Joseph Mankiewicz’s “No Way Out” (1950). He was so embarrassed by the character that after every scene he apologized to the young actor he was required to torment, Sidney Poitier. In 1990, when Mr. Widmark was given the D. W. Griffith Career Achievement Award by the National Board of Review, it was Mr. Poitier who presented it to him.

After his Fox contract ended, Mr. Widmark formed a production company and produced “Time Limit” (1957), a serious dissection of possible treason by an American prisoner of war. Directed by the actor Karl Malden, “Time Limit” starred Mr. Widmark as an Army colonel who is investigating a major (Richard Basehart) who is suspected of having broken under pressure during the Korean War and having aided the enemy.

Mr. Widmark produced two more films: “The Secret Ways” (1961) in which he went behind the Iron Curtain to bring out an anti-Communist leader; and “The Bedford Incident” (1964), another Cold War drama, in which he played an ultraconservative naval captain trailing a Russian submarine and putting the world in danger of a nuclear catastrophe.

Mr. Widmark told the British newspaper The Guardian in 1995 that he had not become a producer to make money but to have greater artistic control. “The businessmen who run Hollywood today have no self-respect,” he told the paper. “What interests them is not movies but the bottom line. Look at ‘Dumb and Dumber,’ which turns idiocy into something positive, or ‘Forrest Gump,’ a hymn to stupidity. ‘Intellectual’ has become a dirty word.”

He also vowed that he would never appear on a television talk show, saying, “When I see people destroying their privacy — what they think, what they feel — by beaming it out to millions of viewers, I think it cheapens them as individuals.”

By the 1980s, television movies had transformed the jittery psychopath of his early days into a wise and stalwart lawman. He played a Texas Ranger opposite Willie Nelson’s train robber in “Once Upon a Texas Train,” a small-town police chief in “Blackout” and a bayou country sheriff faced with a group of aged black men who have confessed to a murder in “A Gathering of Old Men.”

“The older you get, the less you know about acting,” he told one reporter, “but the more you know about what makes the really great actors.”

Mr. Widmark, who shunned the limelight, spent his Hollywood years living quietly on a large farm in Connecticut and on an 80-acre horse ranch in Hidden Valley, north of Los Angeles. He sold the ranch in 1997 after the death of Ms. Hazlewood.

Besides his wife, Ms. Blanchard, a former wife of Henry Fonda, Mr. Widmark is survived by his daughter, Anne Heath Widmark, of Santa Fe, N.M., who was formerly married to the Hall of Fame pitcher Sandy Koufax; a stepdaughter, Amy Fonda Ivers, and a stepson, Marc Weisgal.

Well into his later years, Mr. Widmark was sometimes accosted by strangers who expected him to be a tough guy. There is even a story that Joey Gallo, the New York mobster, was so taken by Mr. Widmark’s performance in “Kiss of Death” that he copied the actor’s natty posture, sadistic smirk and tittering laugh.

“It’s a bit rough,” Mr. Widmark once said, “priding oneself that one isn’t too bad an actor and then finding one’s only remembered for a giggle.”

(Article courtesy of The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com )

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ART ARAGON, ONE OF THE RING’S GOLDEN BOYS

Published: March 28, 2008
Art Aragon, the lightweight and welterweight boxing contender of the 1950s known as Golden Boy for his flamboyant ring presence and love for the Hollywood life, died Tuesday in Northridge, Calif. He was 80.

    

Associated Press, 1956

Art Aragon, left, in a lightweight bout vs. Jimmy Carter in 1956.

The cause was the effects of a stroke, said his son Brad.

On fight nights in Los Angeles at the Olympic Auditorium, Wrigley Field and Legion Stadium in the early ’50s, the fans’ passions were at their height when Aragon, wearing gold trunks and a gold robe, entered the ring.

Aragon, a native of New Mexico who had Spanish grandparents and moved to Los Angeles as a youngster, became a villain for fans from Mexico when he twice stopped the popular Mexican boxer Enrique Bolanos in 1950 bouts at Olympic Auditorium. After that, the fight fans in Los Angeles grew accustomed to booing Aragon, but he relished the spotlight, becoming a prime gate attention.

Aragon won 89 fights (61 by knockout), lost 20 and had 6 draws, fighting until 1960, according to the International Boxing Research Organization.

He had one title bout, losing his bid for Jimmy Carter’s lightweight championship on a unanimous 15-round decision in November 1951 at Los Angeles after having beaten Carter in a non-title fight.

Time magazine wrote how Aragon “has a handsome profile, a flashy boxing style and a smashing left,” but at the end of the Carter title fight, “his left eye clamped tight, his right slashed, his lips swollen and his body a patchwork of welts, Golden Boy was a slightly tarnished matinee idol.”

Long before the boxer Oscar De La Hoya became known as the Golden Boy, Aragon got his nickname from sportswriters in a reference to the 1939 movie of that name starring William Holden as a violinist turned boxer.

Aragon fought leading boxers like Carmen Basilio, Don Jordan, Billy Graham, Chuck Davey and Chico Vejar. Basilio, a former welterweight and middleweight champion when they met, stopped him in the eighth round of their September 1958 bout.

Aragon relished the Hollywood scene. He was a friend of Marilyn Monroe, according to Brad Aragon, and he dated Mamie Van Doren.

“The Golden Boy was a perfect title for him,” Van Doren told The Los Angeles Times this week. “His smile turned everyone on. His skin was golden. His floppy hair bounced so perfectly. He was just so sexy.”

The sportswriter Jim Murray, reporting in Sports Illustrated on Aragon’s fight with Basilio, wrote: “When he met Basilio at the weighing in, Carmen asked him idly how things were going. ‘Not so good,’ groaned Art. ‘Both my wife and my girlfriend are here.’ ”

In February 1957, a Superior Court jury in Los Angeles convicted Aragon of conspiring to offer a welterweight fighter named Dick Goldstein $500 to lose their scheduled bout in San Antonio the previous December, a fight called off at the last moment when Aragon became ill. The conviction was overturned on procedural grounds.

After retiring from boxing, Aragon was a bail bondsman in the Los Angeles area. He acted in Hollywood films, including “Off Limits,” a Bob Hope boxing comedy; “To Hell and Back,” the story of the World War II hero Audie Murphy; and “Fat City,” directed by John Huston, in which he played a punchy boxing trainer. Aragon was married four times. In addition to his son Brad, of Sherman Oaks, Calif., he is survived by his son Audie, of Santa Monica, Calif.; his daughters Georgian Betita of Madera, Calif.; Mindy Aragon of Calabasas, Calif., and Nancy Henderson of Reseda, Calif.; his brothers Ambrosio, Manuel and Paul; a sister, Ruth Harrison; and six grandchildren.

During the filming of “Fat City” fight scenes in Stockton, Calif., in 1972, Aragon handed out business cards for his bail-bond service reading, “I’ll get you out if it takes 10 years.”

He took a wry look at his boxing career as well.

“When I retired,” Sports Illustrated quoted him as recalling at the time, “Jim Healy, the radio announcer in L.A., said: ‘Art Aragon cleaned up boxing in California today. He quit.’ ”

(Article courtesy of The New York Times:  http://www.nytimes.com )

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HERB PETERSON, EGG MCMUFFIN INVENTOR

March 26, 2008, 9:34PM

LOS ANGELES — Herb Peterson, who invented the ubiquitous Egg McMuffin as a way to introduce breakfast to McDonald’s restaurants, has died, a Southern California McDonald’s official said Wednesday. He was 89.Peterson died peacefully Tuesday at his Santa Barbara home, said Monte Fraker, vice president of operations for McDonald’s restaurants in that city.He began his career with McDonald’s Corp. as vice president of the company’s advertising firm, D’Arcy Advertising, in Chicago. He wrote McDonald’s first national advertising slogan, “Where Quality Starts Fresh Every Day.”

Peterson eventually became a franchisee and was currently co-owner and operator of six McDonald’s restaurants in Santa Barbara and Goleta, Fraker said.

Peterson came up with idea for the signature McDonald’s breakfast item in 1972. He “was very partial to eggs Benedict,” Fraker said, and worked on creating something similar.

The egg sandwich consisted of an egg that had been formed in a Teflon circle with the yolk broken, topped with a slice of cheese and grilled Canadian bacon. It was served open-faced on a toasted and buttered English muffin.

The Egg McMuffin made its debut at a restaurant in Santa Barbara that Peterson co-owned with his son, David Peterson.

Fraker said that, although semiretired, Peterson still visited all six of his stores in the Santa Barbara area until last year when his health began to deteriorate.

“He would talk to the customers, visit with the employees. He loved McDonald’s,” Fraker said.

Fraker, who said he worked with Peterson for 30 years, said “he was amazing as far as giving back to the community.”

“He embraced the community and the community embraced him,” Fraker said. “We loved the man.”

Peterson is survived by his wife, son and three daughters.

A public memorial service will be held April 23 at All Saints by the Sea church in Montecito.

(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:  http://www.chron.com )

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AL COPELAND, POPEYE’S CHICKEN FOUNDER

March 23, 2008, 10:17PM

NEW ORLEANS — Al Copeland, who became rich selling spicy fried chicken and notorious for his flamboyant lifestyle, extravagant weddings, bitter divorces and lawsuits over Christmas decorations, died Sunday at a clinic near Munich, Germany.Copeland, who was 64, had been diagnosed shortly before Thanksgiving with a malignant salivary gland tumor. His death was announced by his spokeswoman, Kit Wohl.

After growing up in New Orleans, Copeland sold his car at age 18 for enough money to open his own one-man doughnut shop. He quickly turned the shop into a moneymaker and went on to spend 10 modestly successful years in the doughnut business.

The opening of a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant in New Orleans in 1966, however, caught Copeland’s eye, especially when he found it offered a shorter workday and about four times as much money per week as his doughnut shop.

Inspired by KFC’s success, Copeland in 1971 used his doughnut profits to open a restaurant, Chicken on the Run. (“So fast you get your chicken before you get your change.”)

After six months, Chicken on the Run was short of the break-even point. In a last-ditch effort in the chicken business, he chose a spicier Louisiana Cajun-style recipe and reopened the restaurant under the name Popeyes Mighty Good Fried Chicken, after Popeye Doyle, Gene Hackman’s character in the film “The French Connection.” The chain that grew from the one restaurant became Popeyes Famous Fried Chicken.

In its third week of operation, Copeland’s revived chicken restaurant broke the profit barrier.

Franchising began in 1976 and the company grew to more than 800 stores in the United States and several foreign countries by 1989.

In 1983, he founded Copeland’s of New Orleans, a causal dining, Cajun style restaurant. In the next two decades the chain expanded as far as Maryland and west into Texas.

He also started Copeland’s Cheesecake Bistro and Fire and Ice restaurants and Al’s Diversified Food & Seasonings — a line of specialty foods and spices for large national restaurant chains.

In March 1989, Popeyes — then the third-largest chicken chain — purchased Church’s Chicken, the second largest. The two chains, operated separately, gave Copeland more than 2,000 locations.

The Church’s purchase was heavily financed, however, and escalating debt forced Copeland to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the company in April 1991. Although Copeland lost both Church’s and Popeyes in the bankruptcy, he retained the rights to some Popeyes products, which he manufactured through his Diversified Foods & Seasonings plants, along with a few Popeyes stores.

Copeland frequently made headlines away from his business empire.

His hobbies included racing 50-foot powerboats, touring New Orleans in Rolls Royces and Lamborghinis, and outfitting his Lake Pontchartrain home with lavish Christmas decorations, including half a million lights and a three-story-tall snowman.

In 1983, he was sued by his neighbors to remove the Christmas light display, which he said cost about $50,000 a month in electricity. The display attracted so many visitors the street was blocked for hours every night. Neighbors said they were held hostage in their own homes.

Ten years later, Copeland made an unsuccessful bid for a Louisiana gambling license. The successful bidder, Robert Guidry, later testified that he had bribed then-Gov. Edwin Edwards to secure the license.

In 2001, Guidry and Copeland ran into each other at an upscale restaurant in New Orleans and a fight started involving Copeland, Guidry, and Guidry’s sons. Witnesses said that Copeland’s then-wife, Jennifer Devall, who was six months pregnant, was knocked to the ground during the fight, and both Copeland and his spouse were hospitalized.

Copeland and his third wife, Luan Hunter, were married at the New Orleans Museum of Art on Valentine’s Day 1991. As they left the ceremony rose petals were tossed from a helicopter and fireworks exploded over the building.

The original presiding judge at Copeland’s divorce from Hunter, Ronald Bodenheimer, pleaded guilty to promising a custody deal favorable to Copeland in return for a possible seafood contract and other benefits. Two Copeland associates and Bodenheimer went to federal prison for participating in the conspiracy.

Copeland was never personally accused of participating in the scheme.

Suvivors included five sons, four daughters, a brother and 13 grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were pending.

(Article courtesy of the Houston Chronicle:  http://www.chron.com )

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GRADY PAT MARTIN, JR., VIETNAM WAR VETERAN WHO WORKED IN IRAQ

March 19, 2008, 10:38PM
 

Grady Pat Martin Jr., a Vietnam War veteran who was working as a truck driver in Iraq, died last week of a suspected heart attack. He was 59.The war in Iraq was the Houston native’s chance to go to the aid of his country once again, said his wife, Diana.

Martin had worked for the past four years for KBR, the Pentagon’s largest contractor in Iraq, handling such tasks as ferrying heavy equipment, water and other supplies between military bases in northern Iraq, his wife said. He had driven trucks in Houston for several years before taking the job.

“He had been in the Vietnam War and he said, ‘I can go over there and help the military maybe do it better than the last time,’ ” Diana Martin said.

At first, his wife fiercely questioned his motive for placing himself in another war zone. He soothed her fears by telling her that driving on U.S. highways could be just as dangerous.

Martin frequently called home, she said, and last visited his family at Christmas.

One of those phone calls was about an eight-hour trek that he said normally would take only a half-hour, if the road didn’t first have to be cleared of mines and other potential dangers.

“It was getting to the point where I was ready for him to come home,” Diana Martin said. “It’s been long enough.”

The 1967 Waltrip High School graduate enlisted in the Navy just as he was about to be drafted, she said. He was sent to Vietnam two years later, patrolling the waterways of the Mekong Delta. He returned home in 1973.

Martin had worked as a welder and oil-field worker before he took up truck driving.

“He was a great storyteller,” his wife said. “All of his friends are saying that, and that he wouldn’t want us to be sad.”

Martin also is survived by his mother, Ruth Martin; children Emily Martin and Jennifer Stewart; brothers Michael Martin and Dan Martin; and sisters Kathi Pieper, Karen Stone and Sandy Dohallow.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday at the Houston National Cemetery’s chapel.

rosanna.ruiz@chron.com

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FROM THE ARCHIVES:

James Cagney, Pugnacious Film Star, Dies at 86

(March 30, 1986)

Jesse Owens, Olympic Hero, Dies at 66

(March 31, 1980)

Bella Abzug, Founding Feminist, Dies at 77

(March 31, 1998)

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OBAMA LEADS IN TEXAS CAUCUS TALLY

Published: March 30, 2008
Filed at 11:53 p.m. ET

AUSTIN (AP) — The contest between Barack Obama and Hillary Rodham Clinton for Texas delegates appeared to be tightening, as counting from Saturday’s caucuses dragged on into Sunday.

Obama led Clinton 58 percent-42 percent in results that had been reported through Sunday night, but nearly half of the delegates had yet to be counted.

Obama’s campaign predicted he would win the overall delegate race in Texas because of caucus support, even though Clinton narrowly won the popular vote in primary balloting March 4.

Clinton’s campaign trumpeted its caucus successes in predominantly Hispanic regions along the Texas-Mexico border, as well as in South Texas and in rural counties.

”We continue to be grateful to the enthusiastic support Hillary continues to receive throughout the Lone Star State,” said Clinton state chairman Garry Mauro.

Obama’s camp accused Clinton’s of aggressively pushing to challenge and disqualify Obama delegates based on technicalities.

”Despite the Clinton campaign’s widespread attempts to prevent many Texans from participating in their district convention, the voters of Texas confirmed Senator Obama’s important delegate win in the Lone Star State,” said Obama spokesman Josh Earnest.

(Article courtesy of The New York Times;  http://www.nytimes.com )

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