BETTY ALLEN, OPERA SINGER AND EDUCATOR
Chester Higgins Jr.
Betty Allen performed with the Salem United Methodist Singers in the early 1970s.
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: June 25, 2009
Betty Allen, an American mezzo-soprano who transcended a Dickensian girlhood to become an internationally known opera
singer and later a prominent voice teacher and arts administrator, died on Monday in Valhalla, N.Y. She was 82.
Betty Allen with composer Virgil Thomson preparing for a New York Philharmonic performance of “Four Saints in Three Acts” in 1952.
John Vignoli, Courtesy of Musical America Archives
The cause was complications of kidney disease, her daughter, Juliana Lee, said. A longtime resident of Harlem, Ms. Allen lived most recently in Bronxville, N.Y.
An Ohio native who fell into opera by chance, Ms. Allen was part of the first great wave of African-American singers to appear on the world’s premier stages in the postwar years.
Active from the 1950s to the 1970s, she performed with the New York City Opera
, the Metropolitan Opera
and the opera companies of Houston, Boston, San Francisco, Santa Fe, N.M., and Buenos Aires, among others.
Ms. Allen, who also toured as a recitalist, was known for her close association with the American composers Virgil Thomson
, Ned Rorem
and David Diamond. At her death, she was on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music
, where she had taught since 1969. She was also the president emeritus and a former executive director of the Harlem School of the Arts.
In 1954 Ms. Allen made her City Opera debut as Queenie in “Show Boat,” by Jerome Kern
. She sang the role of Begonia in the City Opera production of Hans Werner Henze
’s comic opera “The Young Lord,” conducted by Sarah Caldwell in 1973. Reviewing the production in The New York Times, Harold C. Schonberg wrote of Ms. Allen, “When she was onstage everything came to life, and everything around her was dimmed.”
With the Met, Ms. Allen sang the role of Commère in Mr. Thomson’s “Four Saints in Three Acts” in 1973; she later participated in the first complete recording of the work. Elsewhere, her roles included Teresa in “La Sonnambula,” by Bellini; Jocasta in Stravinsky’s “Oedipus Rex”; Monisha in Scott Joplin’s “Treemonisha”; and Mistress Quickly in Verdi
Elizabeth Louise Allen, known as Betty Lou, was born on March 17, 1927, in Campbell, Ohio, near Youngstown. Her father worked in the steel mills; her mother had a thriving business taking in laundry. Growing up, she was exposed to the opera that poured from neighbors’ radios.
“The families on my street were mostly Sicilian and Greek,” Ms. Allen told The Times in 1999. “On Saturday, walking down the street, you could hear the Met broadcasts coming from the windows of everybody’s house. No one told them that opera and the arts were not for them, not for poor people, just for rich snobs.”
When Betty was 12, her mother died of lung cancer. Her father, as she said in interviews afterward, began drinking heavily. Betty took over running the house and caring for him till, one day, fed up, she boarded a bus to Youngstown. At the courthouse there, she told a startled judge that she wanted somebody to adopt her.
“That judge didn’t know what to do with me,” Ms. Allen told The Times in 1973. “You see, in those days, there was no orphanage for black children. You either had to be put in a detention home or you were put in a foster home. I chose to be put in foster homes.”
Several turbulent years followed, first in the home of a white couple where the husband turned out to be “lecherous,” Ms. Allen recalled. Next came a white family who made her do all the cooking, cleaning, washing and ironing in exchange for $3 a week and a bed in the attic. After that, she lived with an elderly black woman.
“She was a mean old lady,” Ms. Allen told The Times. “You couldn’t play the piano on Sunday, you couldn’t play cards, you couldn’t go out, you couldn’t wear makeup.”
At 16, Betty moved into the Youngstown Y.W.C.A., supporting herself by cleaning houses. On a scholarship, she entered Wilberforce College in Wilberforce, Ohio. (A historically black institution, it is now Wilberforce University.) She had excelled in Latin and German in high school and hoped to become a translator.
At Wilberforce, Ms. Allen met Theodor Heimann, a former Berlin Opera tenor who taught German and voice there. He encouraged her to sing. (The soprano Leontyne Price
was a classmate at Wilberforce.) Ms. Allen went on to earn a scholarship to what was then the Hartford School of Music in Connecticut.
In the early 1950s, Ms. Allen studied at Tanglewood
, where Leonard Bernstein
chose her to be the mezzo-soprano soloist in his Symphony No. 1 (“Jeremiah”); she was later a frequent soloist with Mr. Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic
. Ms. Allen made her New York recital debut at Town Hall in 1958 in a program that included Brahms and Fauré.
Besides her daughter, Juliana Catherine Lee, of the Bronx, Ms. Allen is survived by her husband, Ritten Edward Lee II, whom she married in 1953; a son, Anthony Edward Lee of Bronxville; and three grandchildren.
The executive director of the Harlem School of the Arts from 1979 to 1992, Ms. Allen was on the boards of Carnegie Hall
, the New York City Opera, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center
, the Theater Development Fund
and the Manhattan School of Music. She also taught at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the North Carolina School of the Arts, now the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.
If Ms. Allen was not as well known as other singers of her era, like Ms. Price, Shirley Verrett and Grace Bumbry, it did not seem to bother her in the slightest.
“I’m not a household name,” she told The Times in the 1973 interview. “I don’t stay awake nights plotting and planning. Maybe I don’t have that extra drive and ambition and energy that makes for a blazing career. I need a home, and I need to be looked after. I may look to be a very self-sufficient female. I act very brazen and hard and matter-of-fact and seem as though I could cope with anything. Well, I can’t. I’m as soft as putty underneath.”
JERRI FITZGERALD, WHO TREATED HER BREAST CANCER AT THE SOUTH POLE
Published: June 24, 2009
Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, a doctor who treated herself for breast cancer
for months while stationed at the South Pole in 1999 and then when the weather thawed a bit was flown out in a daring rescue mission, died Tuesday at her home in Southwick, Mass. She was 57.
National Science Foundation, via Associated Press
Dr. Jerri Nielsen FitzGerald, a National Science Foundation physician, at the South Pole in 1999.
The cause was breast cancer, which had recurred in 2005, her husband, Thomas, said.
Dr. FitzGerald’s ordeal was headline news in 1999. Known then as Dr. Nielsen, her name from her first marriage, she had been through a bitter divorce and was exhausted by long hours at an emergency room in Olean, N.Y., when she spotted a want ad in a medical journal. It offered an opportunity for escape: a doctor was needed at the National Science Foundation
’s Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole.
Vetted for her ability to handle procedures as varied as trauma surgery and routine dental work, Dr. FitzGerald was accepted for the job and arrived at the pole in early 1999. The dilapidated station was overcrowded because a construction crew was replacing the 25-year-old dome that had been the base for Antarctic research since 1975. There were 41 people there, not the usual 27. Temperatures plunging past 100 degrees below zero, which could turn airplane fuel to jelly, soon made flights in or out impossible.
In late May, Dr. FitzGerald discovered a lump in her right breast. Through her supervisors at the science foundation, she made e-mail contact with Dr. Kathy Miller, an oncologist in Indianapolis. Using e-mail, computer graphics and satellite imaging, Dr. Miller guided Dr. FitzGerald through months of improvised diagnosis and treatment.
Because Dr. FitzGerald was the only person with medical training at the pole, she needed help from her untrained colleagues.
A welder who had practiced by poking a needle into a shriveled apple helped Dr. FitzGerald perform a biopsy
by aspirating tissue from her breast. A maintenance worker prepared the slides for video transmission and a computer technician synchronized the transmission with a satellite passing overhead.
In the frigid weather, six crates of chemotherapy
equipment and other medical supplies were airdropped in. But with the side effects of chemotherapy made worse by the cold, Dr. FitzGerald became weak and disoriented.
By October, glimmers of hope came with the first hints of the Antarctic spring.
Temperatures that had dropped to minus 118 were now at about minus 60.
On Oct. 15, an LC-130 Hercules jet from the 109th Airlift Wing of the New York Air National Guard equipped with both skis and wheels landed at the pole. Twenty-two minutes later, Dr. FitzGerald was on her way home.
In 2001, Dr. FitzGerald’s book, “Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole,” written with Maryanne Vollers, was published by Miramax Books/Hyperion. Two years later, Susan Sarandon
played Dr. FitzGerald in the CBS-TV movie “Ice Bound.”
Jerri Lin Cahill was born in Salem, Ohio, on March 1, 1952, one of three children of Phillip and Lorine Roesti Cahill. She graduated from Ohio University in 1974 and the Medical College of Ohio in 1978. Besides her husband and her parents, she is survived by her two brothers, Scott and Eric; and three children from her first marriage, Julia, Ben and Alex.
The FitzGeralds, who first became friends in 1986 while on a tour in the Amazon, were married three years ago. Despite her long battle with cancer
, Mr. FitzGerald said Wednesday, his wife never lost her “adventure bug.”
In the last 10 years, sometimes as a speaker on cruise ships, he said, “she’s been to China; Vietnam; Turkey; South Africa; Australia; and Antarctica five times.”
MICHAEL JACKSON, A STAR IDOLIZED AND HAUNTED
Rusty Kennedy/Associated Press
Michael Jackson performed during the Super Bowl XXVII halftime show in 1993 in Pasadena, Calif. More Photos >
Published: June 25, 2009
LOS ANGELES — For his legions of fans, he was the Peter Pan of pop music: the little boy who refused to grow up. But on the verge of another attempted comeback, he is suddenly gone, this time for good.
Michael Jackson, whose quintessentially American tale of celebrity and excess took him from musical boy wonder to global pop superstar to sad figure haunted by lawsuits, paparazzi and failed plastic surgery, was pronounced dead on Thursday afternoon at U.C.L.A.
Medical Center after arriving in a coma, a city official said. Mr. Jackson was 50, having spent 40 of those years in the public eye he loved.
The singer was rushed to the hospital, a six-minute drive from the rented Bel-Air home in which he was living, shortly after noon by paramedics for the Los Angeles Fire Department. A hospital spokesman would not confirm reports of cardiac arrest. He was pronounced dead at 2:26 pm.
As with Elvis Presley
or the Beatles
, it is impossible to calculate the full effect Mr. Jackson had on the world of music. At the height of his career, he was indisputably the biggest star in the world; he has sold more than 750 million albums. Radio stations across the country reacted to his death with marathon sessions of his songs. MTV
, which grew successful in part as a result of Mr. Jackson’s groundbreaking videos, reprised its early days as a music channel by showing his biggest hits.
From his days as the youngest brother in the Jackson 5 to his solo career in the 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Jackson was responsible for a string of hits like “I Want You Back,” “I’ll Be There” “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough” “Billie Jean” and “Black or White” that exploited his high voice, infectious energy and ear for irresistible hooks.
As a solo performer, Mr. Jackson ushered in the age of pop as a global product — not to mention an age of spectacle and pop culture celebrity. He became more character than singer: his sequined glove, his whitened face, his moonwalk dance move became embedded in the cultural firmament.
His entertainment career hit high-water marks with the release of “Thriller,” from 1982, which has been certified 28 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America
, and with the “Victory” world tour that reunited him with his brothers in 1984.
But soon afterward, his career started a bizarre disintegration. His darkest moment undoubtedly came in 2003, when he was indicted on child molesting charges. A young cancer patient claimed the singer had befriended him and then groped him at his Neverland estate near Santa Barbara, Calif., but Mr. Jackson was acquitted on all charges.
Reaction to his death started trickling in from the entertainment community late Thursday.
“I am absolutely devastated at this tragic and unexpected news,” the music producer Quincy Jones
said in a statement. “I’ve lost my little brother today, and part of my soul has gone with him.”
Berry Gordy, the Motown founder who helped develop the Jackson 5, told CNN that Mr. Jackson, as a boy, “always wanted to be the best, and he was willing to work as hard as it took to be that. And we could all see that he was a winner at that age.
Tommy Mottola, a former head of Sony Music, called Mr. Jackson “the cornerstone to the entire music business.”
“He bridged the gap between rhythm and blues and pop music and made it into a global culture,” said Mr. Mottola, who worked with Mr. Jackson until the singer cut his ties with Sony in 2001.
Impromptu vigils broke out around the world, from Portland, Ore., where fans organized a one-gloved bike ride (“glittery costumes strongly encouraged”) to Hong Kong, where fans gathered with candles and sang his songs.
In Los Angeles, hundreds of fans — some chanting Mr. Jackson’s name, some doing the “Thriller” dance — descended on the hospital and on the hillside house where he was staying.
Jeremy Vargas, 38, hoisted his wife, Erica Renaud, 38, on his shoulders and they danced and bopped to “Man in the Mirror” playing from an onlooker’s iPod connected to external speakers — the boom boxes of Mr. Jackson’s heyday long past their day.
“I am in shock and awe,” said Ms. Renaud, who was visiting from Red Hook, Brooklyn, with her family. “He was like a family member to me.”
Dreams of a Comeback
Mr. Jackson was an object of fascination for the news media since the Jackson 5’s first hit, “I Want You Back,” in 1969. His public image wavered between that of the musical naif, who wanted only to recapture his youth by riding on roller-coasters and having sleepovers with his friends, to the calculated mogul who carefully constructed his persona around his often-baffling public behavior.
Mr. Jackson had been scheduled to perform 50 concerts at the O2 arena in London beginning next month and continuing into 2010. The shows, which quickly sold out, were positioned as a comeback, with the potential to earn him up to $50 million, according to some reports.
But there had also been worry and speculation that Mr. Jackson was not physically ready for such an arduous run of concerts, and his postponement of the first of those shows to July 13 from July 8 fueled new rounds of gossip about his health. Nevertheless, he was rehearsing Wednesday night at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. “The primary reason for the concerts wasn’t so much that he was wanting to generate money as much as it was that he wanted to perform for his kids,” said J. Randy Taraborrelli, whose biography, “Michael Jackson: The Magic and the Madness,” was first published by Citadel in 1991. “They had never seen him perform before.”
Mr. Jackson’s brothers, Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Randy, have all had performing careers, with varying success, since they stopped performing together. (Randy, the youngest, replaced Jermaine when the Jackson 5 left Motown.) His sisters, Rebbie, La Toya and Janet, are also singers, and Janet Jackson
has been a major star in her own right for two decades. They all survive him, as do his parents, Joseph and Katherine Jackson, of Las Vegas, and three children: Michael Joseph Jackson Jr., Paris Michael Katherine Jackson, born to Mr. Jackson’s second wife, Deborah Jeanne Rowe, and Prince Michael Jackson II, the son of a surrogate mother. Mr. Jackson was also briefly married to Lisa Marie Presley, the daughter of Elvis Presley.
A spokesman for the Los Angeles Police Department said the department assigned its robbery and homicide division to investigate the death, but the spokesman said that was because of Mr. Jackson’s celebrity.
“Don’t read into anything,” the spokesman told reporters gathered outside the Bel-Air house. He said the coroner had taken possession of the body and would conduct an investigation.
At a news conference at the hospital, Jermaine Jackson spoke to reporters about his brother. “It is believed he suffered cardiac arrest at his home,” he said softly. A personal physician first tried to resuscitate Michael Jackson at his home before paramedics arrived. A team of doctors then tried to resuscitate him for more than an hour, his brother said.
“May Allah be with you always,” Jermaine Jackson concluded, his gaze aloft.
In Gary, Ind., hundreds of people descended upon the squat clapboard house were Mr. Jackson spent his earliest years. There were tears, loud wails, and quiet prayers as old neighbors joined hands with people who had driven in from Chicago and other nearby towns to pay their respects.
“Just continue to glorify the man, Lord,” said Ida Boyd-King, a local pastor who led the crowd in prayer. “Let’s give God praise for Michael.”
Shelletta Hinton, 40, drove to Gary from Chicago with her two young children. She said they had met Mr. Jackson in Gary a couple of years ago when he received a key to the city. “We felt like we were close to Michael,” she said. “This is a sad day.”
As dusk set in, mourners lighted candles and placed them on the concrete doorstep. Some left teddy bears and personal notes. Doris Darrington, 77, said she remembered seeing the Jackson 5 so many times around Gary that she got sick of them. But she, too, was feeling hurt by the sudden news of Mr. Jackson’s death.
“He has always been a source of pride for Gary, even though he wasn’t around much,” she said. “The older person, that’s not the Michael we knew. We knew the little bitty boy with the big Afro and the brown skin. That’s how I’ll always remember Michael.”
Michael Joseph Jackson was born in Gary on Aug. 29, 1958. The second youngest of six brothers, he began performing professionally with four of them at the age of 5 in a group that their father, Joe, a steelworker, had organized the previous year. In 1968, the group, originally called the Jackson Brothers, was signed by Motown Records. The Jackson 5 was an instant phenomenon. The group’s first four singles — “I Want You Back,” “ABC,” “The Love You Save” and “I’ll Be There” — all reached No. 1 on the pop charts in 1970, a feat no group had accomplished before. And young Michael was the center of attention: he handled virtually all the lead vocals, danced with energy and finesse, and displayed a degree of showmanship rare in a performer of any age.
In 1971, Mr. Jackson began recording under his own name, while continuing to perform with his brothers. His recording of “Ben,” the title song from a movie about a boy and his homicidal pet rat, was a No. 1 hit in 1972.
The brothers (minus Michael’s older brother Jermaine, who was married to the daughter of Berry Gordy, Motown’s founder and chief executive) left Motown in 1975 and, rechristened the Jacksons, signed to Epic, a unit of CBS Records. Three years later, Michael made his movie debut as the Scarecrow in the screen version of the hit Broadway musical “The Wiz.” But movie stardom proved not to be his destiny.
A Solo Sensation
Music stardom on an unprecedented level, however, was. Mr. Jackson’s first solo album for Epic, “Off the Wall,” released in 1979, yielded two No. 1 singles and sold seven million copies, but it was a mere prologue to what came next. His follow-up, “Thriller,” released in 1982, became the best-selling album of all time and helped usher in the music video age. The video for title track, directed by John Landis
, was an elaborate horror-movie pastiche that was more of a mini-movie than a promotional clip.
Seven of the nine tracks on “Thriller” were released as singles and reached the Top 10. The album spent two years on the Billboard album chart and sold an estimated 100 million copies worldwide. It also won eight Grammy Awards
The choreographer and director Vincent Paterson, who directed Mr. Jackson in several videos, recalled watching him rehearse a dance sequence for four hours in front of a mirror until it felt like second nature.
“That’s how he developed the moonwalk, working on it for days if not weeks until it was organic,” he said. “He took an idea that he had seen some street kids doing and perfected it.”
Mr. Jackson’s next album, “Bad,” released in 1987, sold eight million copies and produced five No. 1 singles and another state-of-the-art video, this one directed by Martin Scorsese
It was a huge hit by almost anyone else’s standards, but an inevitable letdown after “Thriller.”
It was at this point that Mr. Jackson’s bizarre private life began to overshadow his music. He would go on to release several more albums and, from time to time, to stage elaborate concert tours. And he would never be too far from the public eye. But it would never again be his music that kept him there.
Even with the millions Mr. Jackson earned, his eccentric lifestyle took a severe financial toll. In 1988 Mr. Jackson paid about $17 million for a 2,600-acre ranch in Los Olivos, Calif., 125 miles northwest of Los Angeles. Calling it Neverland after the mythical island of Peter Pan, he outfitted the property with amusement-park rides, a zoo and a 50-seat theater, at a cost of $35 million, according to reports, and the ranch became his sanctum.
But Neverland, and Mr. Jackson’s lifestyle, were expensive to maintain. A forensic
accountant who testified at Mr. Jackson’s molesting trial in 2005 said Mr. Jackson’s annual budget in 1999 included $7.5 million for personal expenses and $5 million to maintain Neverland. By at least the late 1990s, he began to take out huge loans to support himself and pay debts. In 1998, he took out a loan for $140 million from Bank of America, which two years later was increased to $200 million. Further loans of hundreds of millions followed.
The collateral for the loans was Mr. Jackson’s 50 percent share in Sony/ATV Music Publishing, a portfolio of thousands of songs, including rights to 259 songs by John Lennon
and Paul McCartney
, considered some of the most valuable properties in music.
In 1985, Mr. Jackson paid $47.5 million for ATV, which included the Beatles songs — a move that estranged him from Mr. McCartney, who had advised him to invest in music rights — and 10 years later, Mr. Jackson sold 50 percent of his interest to Sony for $90 million, creating a joint venture, Sony/ATV. Estimates of the catalog’s value exceed $1 billion.
Last year, Neverland narrowly escaped foreclosure after Mr. Jackson defaulted on $24.5 million he owed on the property. A Los Angeles real estate investment company, Colony Capital L.L.C., bought the note, and put the title for the property into a joint venture with Mr. Jackson.
A Scandal’s Heavy Toll
In many ways, Mr. Jackson never recovered from the child molesting trial, a lurid affair that attracted media from around the world to watch as Mr. Jackson, wearing a different costume each day, appeared in a small courtroom in Santa Maria, Calif., to listen as a parade of witnesses spun a sometimes-incredible tale.
The case ultimately turned on the credibility of Mr. Jackson’s accuser, a 15-year-old cancer survivor who said the defendant had gotten him drunk and molested him several times. The boy’s younger brother testified that he had seen Mr. Jackson groping his brother on two other occasions.
After 14 weeks of such testimony and seven days of deliberations, the jury returned not-guilty verdicts on all 14 counts against Mr. Jackson: four charges of child molesting, one charge of attempted child molesting, one conspiracy charge and eight possible counts of providing alcohol to minors. Conviction could have brought Mr. Jackson 20 years in prison. Instead, he walked away a free man to try to reclaim a career that at the time had already been in decline for years.
After his trial, Mr. Jackson largely left the United States for Bahrain, the island nation in the Persian Gulf, where he was the guest of Sheik Abdullah, a son of the ruler of the country, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa. Mr. Jackson would never return to live at his ranch.
Instead he remained in Bahrain, Dubai and Ireland for the next several years, managing his increasingly unstable finances. He remained an avid shopper, however, and was spotted at shopping malls in the black robes and veils traditionally worn by Bahraini women.
Despite the public relations blow of his trial, Mr. Jackson and his ever-changing retinue of managers, lawyers and advisers never stopped plotting his return.
By early this year, Mr. Jackson was living in a $100,000-a-month mansion in Bel-Air, to be closer to “where all the action is” in the entertainment business, his manager at the time, Tohme Tohme, told The Los Angeles Times. He was also preparing for his upcoming London shows.
”He was just so excited about having an opportunity to come back,” said Mr. Paterson, the director and choreographer.
Despite his troubles, the press and the public never abandoned the star. A crowd of paparazzi and onlookers lined the street outside Mr. Jackson’s home as the ambulance took him to the hospital.
By RICHARD SEVERO
Published: June 23, 2009
, who for nearly 30 years was Johnny Carson
’s affable second banana on “The Tonight Show,” introducing it with his ringing trademark line, “Heeeeere’s Johnny!,” died early Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 86.
His publicist, Howard Bragman, said Mr. McMahon died at Ronald Reagan
Medical Center of the University of California, Los Angeles, surrounded by his family. Mr. Bragman said Mr. McMahon had many health problems, including bone cancer and pneumonia, for which he had been hospitalized in February.
Mr. McMahon was one of the most recognizable men in America. With his broad, genial, regular-guy features, he had the face of someone you would buy a used car from. Indeed, for decades he was one of television’s most ubiquitous pitchmen, selling everything from boats to beer. He also took a few acting roles and in later years was the host of the long-running television talent show “Star Search” and wrote some popular books, including his memoirs.
But it was in the role of the faithful Tonto to Carson’s wry Lone Ranger that Mr. McMahon made his sideman’s mark. After he rolled out his introduction like a red carpet for the boss, and after Carson delivered his nightly monologue, Mr. McMahon, in jacket and tie, would take his seat on the couch beside the host’s desk, chat and banter with Carson a bit before the guests came on and almost invariably guffaw at his jokes, even when he was the butt of them. When the guests did arrive, he would slide over to make room and rarely interrupt.
The work paid handsomely — some reports said $5 million a year — and it made Mr. McMahon a familiar face, and voice, in millions of households. “The Tonight Show” became the country’s most popular late-night television diversion, and the “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” introduction became a national catchphrase.
“I laugh for an hour and then go home,” Mr. McMahon once said. “I’ve got the world’s greatest job.”
Off camera he and Carson were friends and occasional drinking buddies, although Mr. McMahon noted that Carson, who died in 2005, was not terribly social. “He doesn’t give friendship easily or need it,” he said. “He packs a tight suitcase.”
Mr. McMahon rarely ran the risk of upstaging Carson. “To me, he’s the star and I’m on the sidelines, just nudging him a bit,” he said. But early in their association he slipped up.
It happened one night when Carson was telling the audience about a study concluding that mosquitoes preferred to bite “warm-blooded, passionate people.” Before Carson could deliver his punch line, Mr. McMahon slapped his own arm, as if crushing a mosquito. The audience roared. Carson coolly produced a giant can of insect spray from under his desk and said, glaring at Mr. McMahon, “I guess I won’t be needing this prop, will I?”
It was a rare flare-up in an association that began in the late 1950s, when Carson was the host of the ABC comedy quiz show “Do You Trust Your Wife?” and Mr. McMahon was hired to announce the show and read the commercials. (The title was later changed to “Who Do You Trust?”) In 1962, when Carson moved to “The Tonight Show,” replacing Jack Paar
, he took Mr. McMahon with him.
Mr. McMahon warmed up the studio audience, read commercials and served as Carson’s straight man until Carson left the show in 1992. Though Mr. McMahon sometimes projected the image of an amiable lush and got laughs for it, the cup that was always before him on “The Tonight Show” held only iced tea, he said. Years later, he said he had missed only three tapings in 30 years, because of colds or the flu.
Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr. was born in Detroit on March 6, 1923. His father, a vaudevillian, had to move a lot to find work, and young Ed had attended 15 high schools by the time he was a senior. Edward Sr.’s career was so erratic that one year, awash in money, the McMahons lived in the Mark Hopkins hotel, atop Nob Hill in San Francisco; another year, flat broke, they existed in a cold-water flat in Bayonne, N.J.
As a boy in Bayonne, Mr. McMahon recalled, he dreamed of becoming an entertainer and did impersonations of stars, using a flashlight as his microphone and his dog, Valiant Prince, as his audience. He shined shoes, sold newspapers, dug ditches, sold peanuts, worked as an usher, labored on a construction gang and sold stainless-steel cookware door to door.
At his request he spent his last high school years in Lowell, Mass., where his grandmother lived. By the time he was 18 he had been a traveling bingo announcer in New England and had sold a gadget called the Morris Metric Slicer to tourists on the Atlantic City Boardwalk and in Times Square. He also took elocution lessons at Emerson College in Boston.
Mr. McMahon enlisted in the Marine Corps toward the end of World War II and became a fighter pilot, but did not see combat. After his discharge he attended the Catholic University of America in Washington, receiving a bachelor’s degree in 1949. He then landed a job at a Philadelphia radio station and began appearing on television as, among other things, a clown and the host of a cooking show.
But his budding television career was interrupted when he was recalled into military service during the Korean War. He flew 85 combat missions in 15 months, winning six Air Medals, and remained active in the Marine Corps Reserve afterward.
Returning from the war, he resumed his television work in Philadelphia while traveling to New York hoping to break into network television. He also pursued a separate career as a businessman. By the time he made it as an announcer, he had acquired a stationery company, a company that made knickknacks, two television and film companies and a talent agency. He also speculated in real estate.
Even when he got his big break with Carson, he never let up on his business activities. Carson would tweak him about them on “The Tonight Show,” suggesting that after that night’s show was over, Mr. McMahon would be selling jams and jellies in the elevator.
Over the years Mr. McMahon became a paid spokesman for many products and companies, including Budweiser beer, Alpo dog food, Chris-Craft boats, Texas Instruments, Breck shampoo, Sara Lee baked goods and Mercedes-Benz. His name and photograph were fixtures on the form letters mailed by American Family Publishers announcing sweepstakes winners. He marketed his own brand of liquor, McMahon Perfect Vodka. Most recently, he and the rapper MC Hammer promoted a gold-buying business called Cash4Gold. (In a commercial for the business during the Super Bowl this year, he spoofed himself with the line “Heeeeere’s money.”)
And for more than 40 years, Mr. McMahon appeared with Jerry Lewis
on Mr. Lewis’s Muscular Dystrophy Association telethon over Labor Day
Weekend. He did some film acting as well. Among the movies he appeared in were “The Incident” (1967), in which he played a passenger brutalized by young thugs on a New York subway train; “Slaughter’s Big Rip-Off” (1973); and “Fun With Dick and Jane” (1977).
After leaving “The Tonight Show,” Mr. McMahon appeared in summer stock and kept his hand in television, appearing as a guest star on various series and taking supporting roles in television movies. For 12 years he was the host of the talent show “Star Search”; he joined Dick Clark
on “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes”; he was Tom Arnold
’s sidekick on the short-lived sitcom “The Tom Show.” For the USA Radio Network, he broadcast “Ed McMahon’s Lifestyles Live” weekly from his home.
There were books, too, most recently the best-selling “Here’s Johnny! My Memories of Johnny Carson, the Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship” (2005). Others were “For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times” (1998), written with David Fisher; “Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion” (1969); and “Here’s Ed, or How to Be a Second Banana, From Midway to Midnight” (1976).
Despite his many business ventures, Mr. McMahon encountered hard times in his last years. He faced foreclosure on his Beverly Hills mansion last year after falling behind in payments on $4.8 million in mortgages. In the end a deal was worked out allowing him to stay in his home, but he was also being sued over other debts.
Mr. McMahon, who appeared on “Larry King
Live” with his wife, Pam, to discuss his financial problems, blamed two divorces, bad money management and bad investments for his woes. “I made a lot of money, but you can spend a lot of money,” he said by way of explanation.
He was plagued by health problems as well, undergoing a series of operations after breaking his neck in a fall in 2007.
Mr. McMahon married Alyce Ferrell during World War II. They were divorced in 1976. They had four children, Claudia, Michael, Linda and Jeffrey. His second marriage, to Victoria Valentine, in 1976, ended in divorce in 1989. They adopted a daughter, Katherine Mary McMahon. Mr. McMahon and his third wife, Pam Hurn, a fashion designer, were married in 1992, and Mr. McMahon adopted her son, Lex. His wife and children survive him.
Mr. McMahon regarded his friendship with Johnny Carson as a marriage of sorts. “Most comic teams are not good friends or even friends at all,” he wrote in “Here’s Johnny.”
“Laurel and Hardy didn’t hang out together, Abbott and Costello weren’t best of friends.”
But, he added, “Johnny and I were the happy exception.”
“For 40 years Johnny and I were as close as two nonmarried people can be,” he wrote. “And if he heard me say that, he might say, ‘Ed, I always felt you were my insignificant other.’ ”
The cause was swine flu
, Mr. Derzon’s son Mike said.
Mr. Derzon, who had previously been deputy commissioner of New York City’s Department of Hospitals, was chosen by President Jimmy Carter
in 1977 to head what was then called the Health Care Financing Administration. Now called the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the agency was created in March 1977 to coordinate the two programs, which since they were created in 1965 had been run separately.
Essentially, Medicare provides health insurance for people 65 and over and Medicaid provides insurance for poor people.
In his two years as director, Mr. Derzon faced the difficult task of minimizing fraud and abuse in the programs and the apparently insurmountable task of slowing the soaring rate of hospital cost increases. His cost-cutting suggestions were sometimes controversial.
In a memo sent on June 4, 1977, to Joseph A. Califano Jr.
, the secretary of Health, Education and Welfare at the time, Mr. Derzon suggested that the federal government adopt a “living will” law similar to one enacted by California. Living wills permit patients to authorize their doctors to terminate life-support systems when there is no chance for a cure or recovery. He also favored Medicaid financing of abortions for mothers on welfare.
Throughout his career, Mr. Derzon was a proponent of universal health care coverage. In 1969, when he was first deputy commissioner of New York City’s Hospitals Department, he told a state legislative committee that the existing method of paying for health and hospital care was “a disaster.”
“The vast majority of our population in suburban, urban and rural areas is not receiving convenient and economically produced quality health services,” he said. Because of Medicaid cutbacks, he added, hospitals that had expanded health services to the poor in the city were “on the brink of fiscal disaster.”
Robert Alan Derzon was born in Milwaukee on Dec. 30, 1930, one of two sons of Matthew and Mildred Gordon Derzon. Mr. Derzon graduated from Dartmouth in 1953 and received a master’s degree in 1955 from the Amos Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth. In 1956, he received a master’s degree in public health administration from the University of Minnesota
From 1960 to 1966, Mr. Derzon was associate director of the New York University Medical Center
. He was first deputy commissioner of New York’s hospital department from 1966 to 1969 and acting commissioner in 1970. Before being appointed to the federal post, he was director of the University of California
’s medical school hospital in San Francisco.
Mr. Derzon’s wife of 54 years, the former Margo Harris, died in 2002. Besides his son Mike, he is survived by another son, James; a daughter, Andrea Merenluoto; his brother, Gordon; and nine grandchildren.
BILLY MAYS, TV PITCHMAN
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published: June 28, 2009
Filed at 4:36 p.m. ET
Michael C. Weimar for The New York Times
Billy Mays filmed segments for a Kaboom commercial at Omnicomm Studios in Clearwater, Fla., in February.
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Billy Mays, the burly, bearded television pitchman whose boisterous hawking of products such as Orange Glo and OxiClean made him a pop-culture icon, has died. He was 50.
Tampa police said Mays’ wife found him unresponsive Sunday morning. A fire rescue crew pronounced him dead at 7:45 a.m. It was not immediately clear how he died. He said he was hit on the head when an airplane he was on made a rough landing Saturday, and his wife, Deborah Mays, told investigators he didn’t feel well before he went to bed about 10 p.m. that night.
There were no signs of a break-in at the home, and investigators do not suspect foul play, said Lt. Brian Dugan of the Tampa Police Department, who wouldn’t answer questions about how Mays’ body was found because of the ongoing investigation. The coroner’s office expects to have an autopsy done by Monday afternoon.
”Although Billy lived a public life, we don’t anticipate making any public statements over the next couple of days,” Deborah Mays said in a statement Sunday. ”Our family asks that you respect our privacy during these difficult times.”
U.S. Airways confirmed that Mays was among the passengers on a flight that made a rough landing on Saturday afternoon at Tampa International Airport, leaving debris on the runway after apparently blowing its front tires.
Tampa Bay’s Fox television affiliate interviewed Mays afterward.
”All of a sudden as we hit you know it was just the hardest hit, all the things from the ceiling started dropping,” MyFox Tampa Bay quoted him as saying. ”It hit me on the head, but I got a hard head.”
Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy said linking Mays’ death to the landing would ”purely be speculation.” She said Mays’ family members didn’t report any health issues with the pitchman, but said he was due to have hip replacement surgery in the coming weeks.
Laura Brown, spokeswoman for the Federal Aviation Administration, said she did not know if Mays was wearing his seat belt on the flight because the FAA is not investigating his death.
U.S. Airways spokesman Jim Olson said there were no reports of serious injury due to the landing.
”If local authorities have any questions for us about yesterday’s flight, we’ll cooperate fully with them,” he said.
Born William Mays in McKees Rocks, Pa., on July 20, 1958, Mays developed his style demonstrating knives, mops and other ”As Seen on TV” gadgets on Atlantic City’s boardwalk. For years he worked as a hired gun on the state fair and home show circuits, attracting crowds with his booming voice and genial manner.
AJ Khubani, founder and CEO of ”As Seen on TV,” said he first met Mays in the early 1990s when Mays was still pitching one of his early products, the Shammy absorbent cloth, at a trade fair. He said he most recently worked with Mays on the reality TV show ”Pitchmen” on the Discovery Channel, which follows Mays and Anthony Sullivan in their marketing jobs.
”His innovative role and impact on the growth and wide acceptance of direct response television cannot be overestimated or easily replaced; he was truly one of a kind,” Khubani said of Mays in a statement.
After meeting Orange Glo International founder Max Appel at a home show in Pittsburgh in the mid-1990s, Mays was recruited to demonstrate the environmentally friendly line of cleaning products on the St. Petersburg-based Home Shopping Network.
Commercials and informercials followed, anchored by the high-energy Mays showing how it’s done while tossing out kitschy phrases like, ”Long live your laundry!”
Sarah Ellerstein worked closely with Mays when she was a buyer for the Home Shopping Network in the 1990s and he was pitching Orange Glo products.
”Billy was such a sweet guy, very lovable, very nice, always smiling, just a great, great guy,” she said, adding that Mays met his future wife at the network. ”Everybody thinks because he’s loud and boisterous on the air that that’s the way he is, but I always found him to be a quiet, down-to-earth person.”
His ubiquitousness and thumbs-up, in-your-face pitches won Mays plenty of fans for his commercials on a wide variety of products. People lined up at his personal appearances for autographed color glossies, and strangers stopped him in airports to chat about the products.
”I enjoy what I do,” Mays told The Associated Press in a 2002 interview. ”I think it shows.”
Mays liked to tell the story of giving bottles of OxiClean to the 300 guests at his wedding, and doing his ad spiel (”powered by the air we breathe!”) on the dance floor at the reception. Visitors to his house typically got bottles of cleaner and housekeeping tips.
As part of ”Pitchmen,” Mays and Sullivan showed viewers new gadgets such as the Impact Gel shoe insert; the Tool Band-it, a magnetized armband that holds tools; and the Soft Buns portable seat cushion.
”One of the things that we hope to do with ‘Pitchmen’ is to give people an appreciation of what we do,” Mays told The Tampa Tribune in an April interview. ”I don’t take on a product unless I believe in it. I use everything that I sell.”
His former wife, Dolores ”Dee Dee” Mays, of McKees Rocks, Pa., recalled that the first product he sold was the Wash-matik, a device for pumping water from a bucket to wash cars.
”I knew him since he was 15, and I always knew he had it in him,” she said of Mays’ success. ”He’ll live on forever because he always had the biggest heart in the world. He loved his friends and family and would do anything for them. He was a generous soul and a great father.”
Associated Press Writer Sarah Larimer in Miami and Ron Todt in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
Who can forget that face…..that beard….that voice.
And those commercials that still stand the test of time. For every product you could think of under the Sun, Billy was the pitchman par excellance.
Rest in peace, Billy.
Rest in peace.