IN REMEMBRANCE: 11-29-2009


Published: November 23, 2009
Dennis Cole, a chiseled former model whose face became familiar to television viewers in the 1960s when he played the first of his panoply of roles in more than a dozen prime-time series, died on Nov. 15 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He was 69 and lived in Fort Lauderdale.
Suzanne Vlamis/Associated Press

Dennis Cole in 1978.

The cause was renal failure, said Mr. Cole’s publicist, Edward Lozzi.

With the looks of a California surfer — though he was born in Michigan — Mr. Cole moved to Hollywood in the early ’60s and worked as a model for men’s magazines and as a stuntman. His first big acting break came in 1966 when he won a leading role as a hunky detective on the ABC police drama “Felony Squad.” The show ran for three years. In 1971 he starred with Rod Taylor in “Bearcats,” about two adventure-seekers roaming the country in their Stutz Bearcat sports car in the early 20th century.

Through the ’70s and ’80s Mr. Cole appeared in many other series, including “Bracken’s World,” “Medical Center,” “Police Story,” “Fantasy Island,” “Trapper John, M.D.,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Barnaby Jones,” “The Love Boat,” “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Charlie’s Angels.”

In 1978, on the set of “Charlie’s Angels,” Mr. Cole met and soon married one of the angels, Jaclyn Smith. They divorced in 1981.

Mr. Cole was born in Detroit on July 19, 1940. He is survived by his brother, Richard. Mr. Cole’s first marriage also ended in divorce. His son from that marriage, Joey, was shot to death during a robbery in the Venice section of Los Angeles in 1991. That crime remains unsolved.

In his later years Mr. Cole moved to Florida, became a real-estate broker and performed musical acts on cruise ships.





Published: November 26, 2009
Hugh Morgan Hill, who as the storyteller known as Brother Blue captivated passers-by on the streets of Boston and Cambridge, Mass., with his parables, life stories and idiosyncratic retellings of Shakespeare’s plays, and who became a fixture at storytelling conferences and gatherings in the United States and abroad, died on Nov. 3 at his home in Cambridge. He was 88.
Hugh Morgan Hill

The death was confirmed by his wife, Ruth.

Mr. Hill, a playwright by training, began attracting audiences in the late 1960s when he took to the streets and started declaiming as Brother Blue.

He was hard to miss, a gangly black man dressed from head to toe in blue, with blue-tinted glasses, a blue stocking cap or beret, and blue butterflies drawn on his face and palms with a felt-tip pen. Blessed with a resonant voice and a commanding stage presence, he was equal parts entertainer, shaman, motivational speaker and, as he liked to say, “holy fool.”

“He was the John Coltrane of storytelling,” said Warren Lehrer, author of the 1995 book “Brother Blue: A Narrative Portrait of Brother Blue, a k a Dr. Hugh Morgan Hill,” who first encountered Mr. Hill in the early 1980s. “He had his repertoire, but he would improvise, working off news items, or things he was seeing at the moment, or people in the audience, with parenthetical digressions as thoughts occurred to him.”

Mr. Hill was born on July 12, 1921, in Cleveland, where his father labored as a bricklayer and raised his family in a white neighborhood. “He would say, ‘We were one black button in a field of snow,’ ” said Rob Evans, a management consultant and longtime friend of Mr. Hill’s.

His younger brother, Tommy, who was retarded, had trouble pronouncing his brother’s name and settled on “Brother Boo,” which Mr. Hill changed to Brother Blue when he began telling stories in prisons in the ’60s.

A grade-school teacher, Miss Wunderlich, recognized that young Hugh was a bright student and encouraged him to excel. Her words later found their way into an oft-repeated story, one of many Mr. Hill told to inspire listeners to dream big and push themselves to achieve. His brother’s fascination with butterflies also provided him with an important symbol for his stories, which often dealt with personal transformation.

During World War II, Mr. Hill was in the Army, where he served in the European and Pacific theaters and rose to the rank of first lieutenant. Under the G.I. Bill of Rights he attended Harvard, from which he graduated in 1948 with a degree in what was then called social relations, a combination of psychology, sociology and anthropology.

After marrying Ruth Edmonds in 1950, he earned a master’s degree in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama in 1953. As he struggled to write plays, his wife said, he would describe them to friends, and from these sessions he developed his storytelling persona.

Brother Blue would declaim to an audience of one or a hundred, fixing listeners with a stare that, more than a few believed, penetrated to the deepest recesses of their souls. It made perfect sense when the film director George Romero cast him as a modern-day Merlin in his Arthurian biker film “Knightriders” (1981) “I was blown away by this wild man telling stories on the street,” said Laura Packer of Malden, Mass., who screwed up the courage to become a storyteller after meeting him. “He looked into my face and said, ‘You have the power.’ That was it for me.”

Brother Blue dealt in uplift and inspiration, telling stories from his own life or folk tales from Africa and Asia. He often performed short versions of Shakespeare’s plays, taking all the parts himself and translating the main plot points into street language. “Don’t be no fool, be cool,” his King Lear told Cordelia, in the play’s opening scene. “Go for the gold, baby.” At intervals, he would recite lines as written by the man he called “Willie the Shake.”

Mr. Hill earned a doctorate in storytelling from Union Graduate School, an experimental “university without walls,” in 1973. His thesis, on prison storytelling, was performed with a 25-piece jazz orchestra.

In addition to his wife, who is the oral history curator at the Schlesinger Library at Radcliffe, he is survived by a sister, Beatrice Hill, of Streetsboro, Ohio.

Mr. Hill regarded storytelling as a sacred duty and a path to universal harmony. “When you tell a story, you tell it to all creation,” he once said. “It’s cosmic. It never goes away.”




Published: November 27, 2009

Jan Leighton, an actor who conjured a career by dressing up as historical figures, appearing in so many commercials, print advertisements and industrial films as George Washington, William Shakespeare and Christopher Columbus that he was both ubiquitous and anonymous, died on Nov. 16 in Manhattan. He was 87.

James Shannon

Jan Leighton made a career out of impersonations, which kept him in demand onstage and off.

The cause was complications after a stroke, said his daughter, Hallie.

Mr. Leighton, who was listed in the 1985 Guinness Book of World Records as the actor who had played the most roles (2,407), began his professional career as a legitimate actor, appearing on live television dramas and at least once on Broadway, in a 1960 Cy Coleman musical called “Wildcat,” starring Lucille Ball. But when the jobs became scarce, he reinvented himself as a walking, talking hall of fame, an impersonator for hire. He researched the characters, created his own costumes — he had more than 400 of them in his Manhattan apartment when he died — and often did his own makeup.

In disguise, Mr. Leighton might pop up in almost any medium. On television, he lit a cigar as Fidel Castro in a commercial for Bic lighters and sold Toyotas as Albert Einstein for a Southern California car dealership. He promoted a Minnesota savings bank as Abraham Lincoln and an Arizona department store as Robert E. Lee. For one bank commercial he portrayed Clark Gable, Groucho Marx, Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, all complaining about other banks that charged for checks. He pitched Cheerios as Alexander Hamilton, beer as Johann Sebastian Bach, early mobile phones as Dracula and cough syrup as the Frankenstein monster. He even played Mr. Whipple’s twin in a commercial for Charmin bathroom tissue.

On film, he played Albert Einstein in a 1982 science fiction comedy “Zapped!” He motivated Westinghouse employees as George Washington and the salesmen of Scandia trucks as Gen. George Patton. In print he appeared twice on the cover of New York magazine, once as Henry Kissinger and once as Leonardo da Vinci; he was Uncle Sam on the cover of Time. He was the face of Saul Bellow’s title character “Henderson the Rain King” on a paperback edition of the book, and appeared as a host of characters, including Confucius and Pericles, on the book jacket of Gore Vidal’s “Creation.” He made appearances at gala events and private parties as presidents and wizards and such.

He would go anywhere to do a job and would play anyone: Vince Lombardi, Babe Ruth, Gandhi, Mozart, Charlie Chan, Sherlock Holmes. Ebenezer Scrooge, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Thomas Jefferson, Ernest Hemingway, Charlemagne, Darwin, Wyatt Earp, Walter Cronkite and even Margaret Thatcher were all in his repertory.

“He was best George Washington of his day,” Jay Pearlman, who worked frequently with Mr. Leighton as a makeup artist said in an interview, adding that Mr. Leighton might get two dozen bookings as Washington in a year.

Mr. Pearlman remembered Mr. Leighton’s going to an amusement park in 1979: “I think it was Ashland, Ky. — and he shot four 60-second commercials in one day. He was a wolf man, he was a grandfather, he was General Patton and he was Groucho Marx. He’d call me up and say, ‘We’re going to San Francisco,’ and we’d fly out to San Francisco, and he’d do one Ben Franklin, and we’d get back on the plane and fly home.”

Mr. Leighton was born in the Bronx as Milton Lichtman on Dec. 27, 1921, and grew up mostly in east Harlem. His father, Harry, owned a handful of taxicabs and vending machines. Young Milton served in the Air Force in World War II, and afterward he studied music briefly at a university in Mexico City. He was living in El Paso and working as a shoe salesman when he decided to pursue what he had loved as a child — acting — and returned to New York. In 1949, like a number of Jewish actors, he changed his name in order to de-emphasize his ethnicity and get more work.

“His features were handsome but regular,” Mr. Pearlman, the makeup artist, said about why Mr. Leighton was so well suited to his work. “He could always submerge himself in makeup and in facial contortions.”

In addition to doing character work, Mr. Leighton was also a hand model, and he did numerous radio voices and voiceovers as well as children’s recordings. He and his daughter, Hallie, were the co-authors of two books, “Rare Words and How to Master Their Meanings” and its sequel, “Rare Words II.”

Mr. Leighton was married four times. The first marriage was annulled and the others ended in divorce. Ms. Leighton, who lives in Manhattan, is the daughter of his third wife, Lynda Myles; he is also survived by a son, Ross Leighton, of Queens, whose mother was Mr. Leighton’s second wife, Ruth Markowe.

The anonymity of his work was something Mr. Leighton embraced. Asked once how he was doing, he replied, “I’m alive and well and living in someone else’s face.”




Published: November 27, 2009

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Al Alberts, a founding member of the singing group the Four Aces and a longtime television talent show host in Philadelphia, died Friday at his home in Arcadia, Fla. He was 87.

The cause was apparently complications of kidney failure, his son Chris said.

Mr. Alberts was a founding member of the Four Aces, which recorded hits like “Three Coins in the Fountain” and “Love Is a Many Splendored Thing.”

Mr. Alberts featured child singers and dancers on his “Al Alberts Showcase” for more than three decades in Philadelphia.

Al Alberts was born Al Albertini. Besides his son Chris, he is also survived by wife, Stella, and another son, Al Jr.






Published: November 22, 2009
MOSCOW — Konstantin P. Feoktistov, a Soviet engineer who was one of the first civilian astronauts and a prominent spacecraft designer, died on Saturday in Moscow, the Russian space agency said. He was 83.
Associated Press

Konstantin Feoktistov in 1965.

Mr. Feoktistov, for whom a crater was named on the Moon, was also the only Soviet astronaut who was not a member of the Communist Party, the agency said.

In October 1964, he flew on the first space flight that had more than one astronaut and carried civilians. He was crowded with two others, a doctor and a military commander, into a small spacecraft called the Voskhod (Sunrise). Aloft for a day, the spacecraft orbited the Earth numerous times while crew members conducted experiments on fruit flies and plants. They also took blood and made measurements to determine how humans reacted to being in space.

The mission was considered a major Soviet triumph, and Soviet television showed both live and recorded footage of the three astronauts.

“Can you hear me?” an announcer on the ground asked Mr. Feoktistov. When he did not seem to react, the announcer added, “I want to see you smile.” Mr. Feoktistov then grinned widely.

The astronauts exchanged greetings with the Soviet leader, Nikita S. Khrushchev.

The fact that the Voskhod carried civilians was called an achievement that heralded a new era of space travel. The Russian space agency said the expedition made Mr. Feoktistov “the first spacecraft designer to have tested his brainchild under real conditions.”

Mr. Feoktistov never joined the Communist Party, much to the irritation of the authorities. At one point, his chances of taking part in the Voskhod mission were said to have been threatened because he snubbed the party, but he was allowed on in the end.

Mr. Feoktistov was born on Feb. 7, 1926, in Voronezh in southwestern Russia, near Ukraine. He fought and was wounded in World War II.

Before becoming an astronaut, he was one of the earliest designers of Soviet spacecraft. In a report in the late 1950s, “A Long-Range Program to Master Outer Space,” he described how the Soviet Union should explore Earth’s orbit, then the Moon, Venus and Mars. He also sketched plans for the first craft for human flight and a proposed landing technique.

After his flight in 1964, Mr. Feoktistov continued to work on the space program as a designer of space vehicles and a senior administrator. He also was a professor in Moscow. No information was immediately available on survivors.



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