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.
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 )
ABBY MANN, ‘JUDGEMENT AT NUREMBERG’ SCREENWRITER
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 )
RICHARD WIDMARK, FILM’S HOODLUM AND FLAWED HERO
20th Century Fox, via Photofest
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.
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 )
ART ARAGON, ONE OF THE RING’S GOLDEN BOYS
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 )
HERB PETERSON, EGG MCMUFFIN INVENTOR
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 )
AL COPELAND, POPEYE’S CHICKEN FOUNDER
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 )
GRADY PAT MARTIN, JR., VIETNAM WAR VETERAN WHO WORKED IN IRAQ
Copyright 2008 Houston Chronicle
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.
FROM THE ARCHIVES:
(March 30, 1986)
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