JUDI ANN MASON, WHO WROTE PLAYS AND TV SITCOMS
Writers Guild of America
Judi Ann Mason
Published: July 18, 2009
Judi Ann Mason, whose precocious success as a playwright brought her to network television as one of the first female African-American sitcom writers and one of the youngest television writers of any race or either sex, died on July 8 in Los Angeles. She was 54.
Ms. Mason was just 19 and a student at Grambling State College in Louisiana when she wrote “Livin’ Fat,” a comedy about a struggling black family in a Southern city whose members find their lives changed and values challenged when one of them accidentally discovers a cache of stolen money from a bank robbery.
The play was produced off Broadway in 1976 by the Negro Ensemble Company, but even before that, it won a comedy award sponsored by the Kennedy Center
and the television producer Norman Lear
. Mr. Lear then hired her as a writer for the series “Good Times,” a broad comedy spinoff of “Maude” about the family of Maude’s former housekeeper, Florida Evans. It starred Esther Rolle
, John Amos and Jimmie Walker.
Ms. Mason went on to write for a number of popular television series, including “Sanford,” a vehicle for Redd Foxx that was a sequel to “Sanford and Son”; “A Different World,” the “Cosby Show” spinoff set at a black college; the popular prime-time soap “Beverly Hills 90210”; and “I’ll Fly Away,” a dramatic series set in the 1950s South that focused on a successful white lawyer (Sam Waterston
) and the black woman (Regina Taylor) who cares for his children.
For the movies, Ms. Mason was a writer of “Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit,” starring Whoopi Goldberg
She was also a playwright whose works received several Off Broadway productions, including “The Daughters of the Mock,” and “Jonah and the Wonder Dog.” Her 1977 play, “A Star Ain’t Nothin’ But a Hole in Heaven,” about a small-town Southern girl and the life she will leave behind if she takes a college scholarship, focused on the conflict between the opportunities afforded young blacks by the civil rights movement and the cultural values that were consequently diminished. It was the first winner of the Kennedy Center’s Lorraine Hansberry
Award for plays about the African-American experience.
“Miss Mason fills her play with laughter, but her exploration of loss and gain is as serious as it is in any of the works about the ’60s being written by a growing number of black playwrights,” D. J. R. Bruckner wrote in The New York Times about a 1987 production of the play. He added: “Miss Mason has created captivating characters and given them wonderful lines to express familiar emotions.”
Ms. Mason was born on Feb. 2, 1955, but sources differ on her birthplace, citing either Shreveport, La., or nearby Bossier City. She is survived by a daughter, Mason Synclaire Williams; a son, Austin Barrett Williams; and three siblings.
“She was an exuberant, very positive character,” said Theodore Mann, the artistic director of Circle in the Square Theater
, a friend of many years who said the biggest influence on Ms. Mason’s work was Tennessee Williams
. “She used to quote him. When she was angry, she’d quote the mother’s line from ‘Glass Menagerie’: ‘Go to the moon, you selfish dreamer!’ ”
WALTER CRONKITE, TRUSTED VOICE OF NEWS
Published: July 17, 2009
, who pioneered and then mastered the role of television news anchorman with such plain-spoken grace that he was called the most trusted man in America, died Friday at his home in New York. He was 92.
Walter Cronkite on the air in the early 1960s. For decades on CBS, he signed off with his signature “And that’s the way it is.” More Photos »
The cause was complications of dementia, said Chip Cronkite, his son.
From 1962 to 1981, Mr. Cronkite was a nightly presence in American homes and always a reassuring one, guiding viewers through national triumphs and tragedies alike, from moonwalks to war, in an era when network news was central to many people’s lives.
He became something of a national institution, with an unflappable delivery, a distinctively avuncular voice and a daily benediction: “And that’s the way it is.” He was Uncle Walter to many: respected, liked and listened to. With his trimmed mustache and calm manner, he even bore a resemblance to another trusted American fixture, another Walter — Walt Disney.
Along with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley
, Mr. Cronkite was among the first celebrity anchormen. In 1995, 14 years after he retired from the “CBS Evening News,” a TV Guide poll ranked him No. 1 in seven of eight categories for measuring television journalists. (He professed incomprehension that Maria Shriver
beat him out in the eighth category, attractiveness.) He was so widely known that in Sweden anchormen were once called Cronkiters.
Yet he was a reluctant star. He was genuinely perplexed when people rushed to see him rather than the politicians he was covering, and even more astonished by the repeated suggestions that he run for office himself. He saw himself as an old-fashioned newsman — his title was managing editor of the “CBS Evening News” — and so did his audience.
“The viewers could more readily picture Walter Cronkite jumping into a car to cover a 10-alarm fire than they could visualize him doing cerebral commentary on a great summit meeting in Geneva,” David Halberstam
wrote in “The Powers That Be,” his 1979 book about the news media.
As anchorman and reporter, Mr. Cronkite described wars, natural disasters, nuclear explosions, social upheavals and space flights, from Alan Shepard’s 15-minute ride to lunar landings. On July 20, 1969, when the Eagle touched down on the moon, Mr. Cronkite exclaimed, “Oh, boy!”
On the day President John F. Kennedy
was assassinated, Mr. Cronkite briefly lost his composure in announcing that the president had been pronounced dead at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas. Taking off his black-framed glasses and blinking back tears, he registered the emotions of millions.
It was an uncharacteristically personal note from a newsman who was uncomfortable expressing opinion.
“I am a news presenter, a news broadcaster, an anchorman, a managing editor — not a commentator or analyst,” he said in an interview with The Christian Science Monitor
in 1973. “I feel no compulsion to be a pundit.”
But when he did pronounce judgment, the impact was large.
In 1968, he visited Vietnam and returned to do a rare special program on the war. He called the conflict a stalemate and advocated a negotiated peace. President Lyndon B. Johnson
watched the broadcast, Mr. Cronkite wrote in his 1996 memoir, “A Reporter’s Life,” quoting a description of the scene by Bill Moyers
, then a Johnson aide.
“The president flipped off the set,” Mr. Moyers recalled, “and said, ‘If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost middle America.’ ”
Mr. Cronkite sometimes pushed beyond the usual two-minute limit to news items. On Oct. 27, 1972, his 14-minute report on Watergate, followed by an eight-minute segment four days later, “put the Watergate story clearly and substantially before millions of Americans” for the first time, the broadcast historian Marvin Barrett wrote in “Moments of Truth?” (1975).
In 1977, his separate interviews with President Anwar el-Sadat
of Egypt and Prime Minister Menachem Begin of Israel were instrumental in Sadat’s visiting Jerusalem. The countries later signed a peace treaty.
“From his earliest days,” Mr. Halberstam wrote, “he was one of the hungriest reporters around, wildly competitive, no one was going to beat Walter Cronkite on a story, and as he grew older and more successful, the marvel of it was that he never changed, the wild fires still burned.”
Walter Leland Cronkite Jr. was born on Nov. 4, 1916, in St. Joseph, Mo., the son of Walter Leland Cronkite Sr., a dentist, and the former Helen Lena Fritsche. His ancestors had settled in New Amsterdam, the Dutch colony that became New York. As a boy, Walter peddled magazines door to door and hawked newspapers. As a teenager, after the family had moved to Houston, he got a job with The Houston Post as a copy boy and cub reporter. At the same time, he had a paper route delivering The Post to his neighbors.
“As far as I know, there were no other journalists delivering the morning paper with their own compositions inside,” he wrote in his autobiography.
When he was 16, Mr. Cronkite went with friends to Chicago for the 1933 World’s Fair. He volunteered to help demonstrate an experimental version of television.
“I could honestly say to all of my colleagues, ‘I was in television long before you were,’ ” he said in an interview with CBS News in 1996.
FRANK MCCOURT, AUTHOR OF ‘ANGELA’S ASHES’
Hiroko Masuike for The New York Times
Frank McCourt in 2005 in a classroom at Stuyvesant High School in New York, where he taught creative writing.
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: July 19, 2009
, a former New York City schoolteacher who turned his miserable childhood in Limerick, Ireland, into a phenomenally popular, Pulitzer Prize
-winning memoir, “Angela’s Ashes,” died in Manhattan on Sunday. He was 78 and lived in Manhattan and Roxbury, Conn.
The cause was metastatic melanoma, said Mr. McCourt’s brother the writer Malachy McCourt
Mr. McCourt, who taught in the city’s school system for nearly 30 years, had always told his writing students that they were their own best material. In his mid-60s, he decided to take his own advice, sitting down to commit his childhood memories to paper and producing what he described as “a modest book, modestly written.”
In it Mr. McCourt described a childhood of terrible deprivation. After his alcoholic father abandoned the family, his mother — the Angela of the title — begged on the streets of Limerick to keep him and his three brothers meagerly fed, poorly clothed and housed in a basement flat with no bathroom and a thriving population of vermin. The book’s clear-eyed look at childhood misery, its incongruously lilting, buoyant prose and its heartfelt urgency struck a remarkable chord with readers and critics.
“When I look back on my childhood, I wonder how I survived at all,” the book’s second paragraph begins in a famous passage. “It was, of course, a miserable childhood: The happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.
“People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious alcoholic father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and all the terrible things they did to us for 800 long years.”
“Angela’s Ashes,” published by Scribner in 1996, rose to the top of the best-seller lists and stayed there for more than two years, selling four million copies in hardback. The next year, it won the Pulitzer Prize for biography and the National Book Critics Circle Award.
Two more installments of his life story followed: “ ’Tis” (1999), which described his struggle to gain a foothold in New York, and “Teacher Man” (2005), an account of his misadventures and small victories as a public-school teacher. Both, although best sellers, did not achieve anything like the runaway success of Mr. McCourt’s first book, which the British director Robert Parker brought to the screen in 1999.
Not to be outdone, Mr. McCourt’s younger brother Malachy, an actor, brought out two volumes of his own memoirs: “A Monk Swimming” (1998), which also made the best-seller list, and “Singing Him My Song” (2000). Then, when it seemed that the McCourt tale had been well and truly told, Conor McCourt, Malachy’s son, gathered the four brothers, got them talking and filmed two television documentaries, “The McCourts of Limerick” and “The McCourts of New York.”
It was “Angela’s Ashes” that loomed over all things McCourt, however, and constituted a transformative experience for its author.
Speaking to students at Bay Shore High School on Long Island in 1997, he said, “I learned the significance of my own insignificant life.”
Born in New York
Francis McCourt was born Aug. 30, 1930, on Classon Avenue on the edge of the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, where his Irish immigrant parents had hoped to make a better life. It was not to be, largely because his father, Malachy, usually spent his scant laborer’s earnings at the local bar. Beaten, the family returned to Limerick when Frank was 4, and the pattern repeated itself.
Three of Mr. McCourt’s six siblings died in early childhood. The family’s circumstances were so dire, he later told a student audience, that he often dreamed of becoming a prison inmate so that he would be guaranteed three meals a day and a warm bed. At home, the staple meal was tea and bread, which his mother jokingly referred to as a balanced diet: a solid and a liquid.
SAM CHURCH, WHO LED UNITED MINE WORKERS
Published: July 15, 2009
Sam Church, a burly, bearded coal
miner from the hollows of West Virginia who led the United Mine Workers of America during a tumultuous time when the union was growing more democratic while its numbers were dwindling, died Tuesday in Bristol, Tenn. He was 72 and lived in Pennington Gap, Va.
Tim C. Cox/Bristol Herald-Courier, via Associated Press
He died after a long illness, said his wife, Patti.
Mr. Church, who had been vice president of the United Mine Workers, succeeded to the presidency in November 1979 when Arnold R. Miller resigned because of poor health.
He inherited a struggling union. Before becoming president in 1972, Mr. Miller had led an insurrectionist movement called Miners for Democracy that ousted a dictatorial leader, W. A. Boyle. Mr. Boyle, known as Tony, was later sentenced to life in prison for ordering the killings, in 1969, of Joseph A. Yablonski, a former opponent, and Mr. Yablonski’s wife and daughter.
The union faced serious difficulties under Mr. Church. It was a time of factionalism and wildcat strikes; efforts to unionize mines that were opening in the West were failing. With its membership shrinking, from 400,000 in his heyday to 160,000 by the end of the ’70s, the union was left representing miners producing less than half of the nation’s coal.
Mr. Church was president until November 1982, based at the union headquarters in Washington. (It is now in Fairfax, Va.) He was credited with ending the era of wildcat strikes, lobbying for improved mine-safety regulations and negotiating benefits for victims of black-lung disease.
But he also negotiated a contract that was rejected by the membership in 1981. A 72-day strike followed. The ultimate settlement raised union pay above $100 a day, added dental insurance and extended pension rights to the widows of miners.
Mr. Church’s bid for a full five-year term as president failed in 1982 when he lost to Richard L. Trumka. Mr. Trumka is now secretary-treasurer of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.
Mr. Church remained active with the union and returned home to Virginia, where he went back to the mines as an underground electrician.
Born in Matewan, W.Va., on Sept. 20, 1936, Samuel Morgan Church Jr. was one of eight children of Samuel and Helen Cook Church. His father was a coal miner who became a barber after his foot was crushed while working in the mine.
Mr. Church’s first marriage ended in divorce. Besides his wife of 31 years, the former Patti Page, he is survived by his son from his second marriage, Nathaniel; three children from his first marriage, Samuel 3rd, Melissa Lawson and Suzanne Church; two sisters, Barbara and Patricia; his brother Gary; and six grandchildren.
When he was 8, Mr. Church’s family moved to Virginia. Young Sam was a shoeshine boy, then a pinsetter at a bowling alley, for 5 cents a game. That was the start of his union activities.
“There was a head pinsetter who got 7 cents, so the rest of us said we were going on strike if we didn’t get 7 cents, too,” Mr. Church told The New York Times in 1979. “The boss said he’d do it to keep the lanes open, and then the next day he fired us and got in new kids at 5 cents.”
In 1951, Mr. Church took a job at a sugar plant in Baltimore. Fourteen years later, he returned to Virginia and worked for the Clinchfield Coal Company. He rose through union ranks until 1975, when Mr. Miller asked him to join the staff at headquarters.
Mr. Church’s maternal grandfather, Wirt Cook, was the superintendent of a coal mine in West Virginia in the early 1900s.
“I always kidded him,” Patti Church said on Wednesday, “that one chromosome and he would have been the company guy.”
TOM WILKES, DESIGNER OF ROCK ALBUM COVERS
Published: July 18, 2009
Tom Wilkes, an art director, photographer and designer whose posters for the Monterey Pop Festival and album covers for the Rolling Stones
, Janis Joplin
, Joe Cocker, George Harrison
and others helped illustrate the age of rock ’n’ roll, died on June 28 in Pioneertown, Calif., in the high desert east of Los Angeles. He was 69.
Courtesy of Katherine Wilkes Fotch
Courtesy of Universal Music Enterprises, top, second top and bottom
Mr. Wilkes’s covers include, from top: the Rolling Stones’s “Beggars Banquet”; Dave Mason’s “Alone Together”; George Harrison’s “Concert for Bangladesh”; Neil Young’s “Harvest”; and Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen.”
The cause was a heart attack, said his daughter, Katherine Wilkes Fotch. Mr. Wilkes suffered from primary lateral sclerosis, a progressive neuromuscular disease.
Mr. Wilkes was an art director for a small advertising firm in his hometown, Long Beach, Calif., and taking on occasional freelance work designing album covers when he was hired by Lou Adler, the manager of the Mamas and the Papas, to create imagery for what was then a new idea: a rock ’n’ roll music festival.
Officially billed as the First Annual Monterey International Pop Festival, the event took place over three days in June 1967, two years before Woodstock. It attracted about 200,000 people, with performers like Jimi Hendrix
, Jefferson Airplane
, the Who
, the Byrds
and Otis Redding
, among many others.
Mr. Wilkes’s memorable poster images
included the Greek god Pan, playing the panpipes and wearing a psychedelic necktie. Another shows a shapely woman photographed as a silent film star, wearing a strikingly loopy tie — it has a photograph of another woman on it — that has been painted around her neck, and her suggestively clad figure is set against a pattern of snail-like swirls.
His work at the festival landed him a job as art director for A&M Records, where he designed album covers for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66, Claudine Longet and Phil Ochs
, but it was as a freelancer that he created his most enduring work.
Mr. Wilkes’s visual style was hard to nail down; working often with a partner, Barry Feinstein, he was known for tailoring his imagery
to an idea of the music.
For the Rolling Stones, he created a controversial cover for the album “Beggars Banquet,” using a photograph of a toilet stall with the name of the band prominent on a wall filled with graffiti. The record label initially refused to release the cover, and replaced it with a fake invitation to a dinner. Mr. Wilkes’s version was released later.
For Dave Mason’s “Alone Together,” Mr. Wilkes photographed Mr. Mason wearing a top hat and a long-tailed coat against a backdrop of canyon rocks. For Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen,” he placed a photograph of the long-haired Mr. Cocker flexing his right bicep within an illustration of a mirror frame. For George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass,” he depicted the former Beatle as if he were a woodsman in a fairy tale, surrounded by reclining trolls.
Only hours before Janis Joplin’s fatal drug overdose in 1970, Mr. Wilkes photographed her for the album “Pearl,” colorfully dressed and coiffed and looking remarkably relaxed and happy. He photographed Eric Clapton
, sitting in a chair in a white suit, for his first solo album, and for Neil Young
’s “Harvest,” he created the typescript title over a red sun set against a wheat-colored background.
The cover for the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s rendition of the Who’s rock opera “Tommy,” featuring close-up images of gleaming silver pinballs, two with embedded golden eyeballs, won a 1973 Grammy Award
for Mr. Wilkes’s company, Wilkes and Braun.
Thomas Edward Wilkes was born in Long Beach on July 30, 1939. His father, Edward, managed a company that sold vending machines. His grandfather, a sign painter, was the source of his artistic interest. He went to art school, his daughter said, at the Art Center School in Los Angeles (now the Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena).
Mr. Wilkes was married and divorced three times. In addition to his daughter, Ms. Wilkes Fotch, who lives in Orange, Calif., he is survived by a brother, Dennis, of Chattanooga, Tenn.; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Wilkes had gotten to know the Rolling Stones when he designed some of the graphics for their 1967 album, “Flowers.” In an interview on Wednesday Ms. Wilkes Fotch said that after “Flowers,” her father and the Stones were hanging out in London, talking about what would be suitable for the cover of “Beggar’s Banquet.”
“They went to some god-awful pub, and my dad went to the bathroom, and someone had written ‘Rolling Stones’ in red lipstick over the toilet,” she said. “That’s where they shot it.”