Published: January 24, 2010
Robert A. Mosbacher, a native New Yorker whose swashbuckling career as a wildcatter in the oil fields of Texas and Louisiana paralleled and often intersected with that of President George H. W. Bush, whom he served as a fund-raiser, confidant, political adviser and secretary of commerce from 1989 to 1992, died at a Houston hospital on Sunday. He was 82 and lived in Houston.
January 25, 2010    

Pat Sullivan/Associated Press

Robert A. Mosbacher in Houston in 2008.

The cause was pancreatic cancer, according to Jim McGrath, a family spokesman. A businessman and world-class sailor with polished political skills, Mr. Mosbacher made the most of his tenure at the Commerce Department, which had often suffered as a cabinet stepchild. He provided prominent support for American competitiveness in high technology, including HDTV, and won a role for the department in approving the export of technology with military applications, a function that had been the exclusive province of the State Department.

He and his wife at the time, Georgette, a one-time model and cosmetics entrepreneur 20 years his junior, had entertained lavishly in Houston and New York but disappointed some Washington socialites with their more subdued social life in the capital.

In 1980, Mr. Mosbacher, serving as finance chairman in Mr. Bush’s quest for the presidency, was one of two associates — the other was James A. Baker III — to advise Mr. Bush to quit the race to avoid jeopardizing his chance to become running mate to Ronald Reagan, the ultimate victor. Mr. Bush’s vice presidency proved the springboard to his election as president in 1988.

“Without him, it’s highly unlikely I would have ever been president of the United States,” Mr. Bush wrote in a foreword to a draft of “Going to Windward: A Mosbacher Family Memoir,” a book by Mr. Mosbacher scheduled to be published in May.

Mr. Mosbacher was the son of a Wall Street runner who later made a fortune as a specialist and trader on the Curb Exchange, the predecessor of the American Stock Exchange. As a teenager, he shuttled between the Choate School in Connecticut and the family’s 43-acre estate in White Plains, where visitors included George Gershwin (who wrote “Summertime” there) and Ethel Merman.

After graduating from Washington and Lee University in 1947 and working for a year with his father, who had oil investments in Texas, Mr. Mosbacher struck out on his own with the help of a parental grubstake of about $500,000.

“I fell in love with Houston when I first arrived,” he told The New York Times in 1975. “I wanted to be a wildcatter. I wanted to live in the West or Southwest.”

It took a few years of poring over land records in county courthouses before a debt-averse Mr. Mosbacher — he said he had learned never to wildcat on capital or borrowed money — drilled his first well. It turned out to be a dry hole.

But in the mid-1950s he found a huge field of natural gas in south Texas and eventually drilled wells in Texas, Louisiana, Montana and western Canada.

He redeployed some of the family-owned Mosbacher Energy Company’s assets into ranching, real estate and banking, diversifying a fortune that grew to an estimated hundreds of millions of dollars.

It was at a barbecue in Texas that Mr. Mosbacher met George H. W. Bush; the two shared a background as ambitious scions of wealthy and accomplished Northeastern families.

With business success came an increasing role in politics, first by raising money for two failed Bush campaigns for the United States Senate that bracketed a successful one in 1966 for the House. In the 1970s, he served as finance chairman for President Gerald R. Ford. In 1988, he presided over a fund-raising effort that yielded an estimated $75 million and helped propel Mr. Bush into the White House.

Appointed to head the Commerce Department, Mr. Mosbacher said he aimed to develop closer ties between government and industry, perhaps, he hoped, with the aid of relaxed antitrust laws, so that United States factories could better compete in high technology.

He also complained publicly that hundreds of campaign contributors had been denied ambassadorships and other federal posts that he thought they deserved.

“There’s this perception,” he told The Times, “that fund-raisers are nice, interesting people to be sort of patted on the head when you need them and ignored the rest of the time because they don’t really understand the process.”

Away from government, Mr. Mosbacher was an accomplished sailor, though he was eclipsed on the water by his elder brother, Emil Mosbacher Jr., known as Bus, who served as State Department chief of protocol in the Nixon administration. Still, Robert Mosbacher won the 1958 Clifford D. Mallory Cup, the men’s North American championship, as well as world sailing championships in the dragon class in 1969 and the soling class in 1971.

Mr. Mosbacher married his first wife, the former Jane Pennybacker, by eloping when he was 19; he didn’t tell his family for six months. He adopted her religion, saying in his memoir, “My religion is Presbyterian, my heritage is Jewish — and I am proud of that.” She died in 1970.

They had three daughters — Diane, known as Dee, Kathryn and Lisa — and a son, Robert Jr., who succeeded his father as head of Mosbacher Energy and who led the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, a federal agency, in the administration of George W. Bush. The children survive him, as do six grandchildren and one step-grandchild.

Mr. Mosbacher is also survived by his fourth wife, Michele McCutchen, a Houston writer known as Mica whom he married in 2000.

His marriage to Sandra Smith Gerry ended in divorce in 1982. In 1984 he married Georgette Paulsin, herself twice previously married, who three years later paid $31 million for a Swiss maker of high-end beauty products called La Prairie.

They divorced in 1998; after she wrote about their relationship in a book, “It Takes Money, Honey,” Mr. Mosbacher said the split had resulted mainly from disagreement over where to live, he wishing to spend most of his time in Houston, she in New York City.

Mr. Mosbacher’s memoir makes it clear that a major regret was his failure as commerce secretary to persuade the administration in the autumn of 1991 that it needed to act aggressively to spur a sluggish economy and counter damaging political accusations that the Bush White House was out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.

“I pushed so hard on several different instances that fall I am sure people wonder why I wasn’t fired — including me,” Mr. Mosbacher wrote.

Mr. Mosbacher finally persuaded a reluctant president to make a speech proposing a capital gains tax cut and allowing first-time home buyers to tap individual retirement accounts, but the resignation of John H. Sununu, the White House chief of staff, and attendant turmoil smothered any momentum.

“Looking back now,” Mr. Mosbacher wrote, “I am convinced that those missteps in 1991 directly contributed to the administration’s defeat a year later.”




Published: January 21, 2010
James E. Cheek, who as president of the historically black Howard University in Washington led it through two decades of expansion amid periods of campus unrest and competition from predominantly white institutions, died on Jan. 8 in Greensboro, N.C. He was 77.
Associated Press

James E. Cheek in 1983.

The cause was complications of coronary artery disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his son, James Jr.

Dr. Cheek went to Howard in 1969 from Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., where he had assumed the presidency at age 30. At Shaw he had gained notice for taking bold initiatives to help disadvantaged students graduate through remedial instruction. He was credited with rescuing the university from insolvency.

Howard itself was in financial and educational disarray when Dr. Cheek was chosen as president from among 16 finalists for the job. It was a time when the nation’s predominantly white colleges were increasingly opening their doors to the brightest black students.

In his inaugural remarks in April 1969, Dr. Cheek pledged to make Howard, long considered the nation’s pre-eminent black research university, “a bold and vivid contradiction to the belief that black men and the institutions which serve them are inherently, intrinsically and generically inferior.”

Under his 20 years of leadership, the university increased its student body to 12,000 from 9,500; expanded the number of schools and colleges to 18 from 11; quadrupled the number of faculty members to almost 2,000; and increased its operating budget tenfold, to more than $400 million annually.

When Dr. Cheek arrived at Howard, students had protested living conditions and educational policies for the preceding two years. He himself had shown no reluctance to assert his views as a young man, when, according to The Washington Post magazine, he argued with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. about a policy of strict nonviolence in the face of brutality during civil rights demonstrations.

He also spoke plainly when he testified before a presidential commission in 1970 investigating campus unrest.

“Students are determined they are not going to be fired upon and not be prepared to fire back,” he said at a hearing, “and I think that is a dangerous kind of situation where students are confronted with officers who overreact.”

But Dr. Cheek, who sometimes wore a dashiki, soon became a voice for order on the Howard campus. At the start of the 1969-70 academic year, he said he would “not attempt to administer under intimidation, violence or coercion of any kind.”

In 1983, he became a target of protest when students demonstrated against his expulsion of the editor of the college newspaper over her handling of articles about a university official’s sex-discrimination complaint against another official. (Dr. Cheek later reversed the decision.) Students also had grievances over housing conditions, crime and what they called “mediocrity on campus.”

More fierce protests shut down the campus for five days in 1989. Students, who took over an administration building and staged sit-ins, were again angry over housing and academic issues and criticized Dr. Cheek as inaccessible.

But their chief complaint, one that drew national attention, was over Dr. Cheek’s naming of Lee Atwater, the chairman of the Republican National Committee, to Howard’s board. The students said Mr. Atwater’s tactics in managing George Bush’s 1988 presidential campaign had been racist.

Mr. Atwater denied the accusations but resigned from the board, and Dr. Cheek announced his retirement shortly afterward. He was later appointed secretary of education in the United States Virgin Islands.

Dr. Cheek was a Republican, but his appointment of Mr. Atwater had also reflected his feel for university politics. The federal government by law pays a significant part of Howard’s costs, and Dr. Cheek’s good relationships with Presidents Richard M. Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George Bush were helpful in keeping the money flowing.

In 1983, Reagan presented Dr. Cheek with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

James Edward Cheek was born on Dec. 4, 1932, in Roanoke Rapids, N.C.; his family moved to Greensboro in 1941. He became a licensed Baptist minister at 13 and was ordained at 17, his family said. He earned a degree in sociology and history from Shaw in 1955, a master of divinity from what is now the Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in 1958, and a doctorate in classical theology from Drew University in 1962.

In addition to his son, Dr. Cheek is survived by his wife, the former Celestine Williams; a daughter, Dr. Janet Elizabeth Cheek; a sister, Helen Johnson; a brother, King V. Cheek Jr.; and four grandchildren.




Published: January 23, 2010
Jean Simmons, the English actress who made the covers of Time and Life magazines by the time she was 20 and became a major midcentury star alongside strong leading men like Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and Marlon Brando, often playing their demure helpmates, died on Friday at her home in Santa Monica, Calif. She was 80.
Associated Press

Jean Simmons held a trophy in London after she was voted Britain’s No. 1 film actress in 1950.

Wellinger/Keystone — Getty Images

The British actress Jean Simmons in 1956.

Jerome Delay/Agence France-Press — Getty Images

Jean Simmons in 1991 with the actor Tony Curtis.

The cause was lung cancer, according to Judy Page, her agent.

“Simmons is one of the most quietly commanding actresses Hollywood has ever trashed,” the critic Pauline Kael wrote when reviewing her performance as the half-genuine, half-fraudulent revivalist preacher who succumbs to Burt Lancaster’s con man in “Elmer Gantry” (1960). Indeed, she rarely found roles to match the talent so many colleagues and critics recognized in her, despite a dazzling start to her career.

Plucked out of a dancing-school class at 14, Ms. Simmons appeared in three classic movies before her 19th birthday, typically eliciting adjectives like “lovely,” “radiant” and “luminous” in the reviews.

She was Estella, the mocking girl who was raised to break men’s hearts, in David Lean’s “Great Expectations” (1946). She was the sensual native girl whom five Anglican nuns sought to civilize in a convent high in the Himalayas in “Black Narcissus” (1947). And after seeing “Great Expectations,” Olivier chose Ms. Simmons to play Ophelia to his title character in “Hamlet” (1948).

At the time, however, Ms. Simmons was under contract to the British producer J. Arthur Rank, so Olivier interviewed dozens of other actresses before he was able to pry Ms. Simmons loose for 30 days of shooting. Her performance brought her an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress.

“I didn’t even know what an Oscar was at the time,” Ms. Simmons once said of her nomination. She would get only one other Academy Award nomination, for best actress, as the middle-aged housewife who runs away from her marriage in “The Happy Ending” (1969).

Ms. Simmons came to Hollywood in the early 1950s after her contract was sold to Howard Hughes, a practice not uncommon at the time.

Hughes, whose affairs with young actresses were notorious, wanted more of Ms. Simmons, then 22, than a celluloid image. And as one of the richest and most powerful men in Hollywood, he was accustomed to getting what he wanted, no matter that Ms. Simmons was newly married to the swashbuckling British actor Stewart Granger.

In his autobiography, “Sparks Fly Upward,” Mr. Granger described a telephone conversation in which Hughes propositioned Ms Simmons. After Mr. Granger heard Hughes say, “When are you going to get away from that goddamned husband of yours? I want to talk to you alone, honey,” he grabbed the phone and shouted, “Mr. Howard Bloody Hughes, you’ll be sorry if you don’t leave my wife alone!”

Hughes took his revenge by refusing to lend Ms. Simmons to the director William Wyler, who wanted her to star in “Roman Holiday,” the film that would bring Audrey Hepburn an Oscar and make her a star. And, according to the Granger memoir, when Ms. Simmons refused to sign a seven-year contract with RKO, the studio Hughes had bought in 1948, he threatened “to put her in three lousy productions that would ruin her career.”

One of those movies, “Angel Face” (1952), a film noir directed by Otto Preminger and co-starring Robert Mitchum, was actually well received, with Ms. Simmons playing one of the genre’s most beautiful killers.

“I had to do four pictures for Hughes, and then I was free, Ms. Simmons told the English newspaper The Guardian. “I never signed a contract with a studio after.”

In her first movie after her contract with Hughes ended — “Young Bess” (1953) at MGM — Ms. Simmons starred as the spirited and headstrong young woman who would become queen of England. “Young Bess” was the first of two American movies in which Ms. Simmons played opposite Mr. Granger. The other was “Footsteps in the Fog,” a 1955 thriller in which she played a maid who blackmails a man who has poisoned his wife.

In 1953, Ms. Simmons also played the determined title character in “The Actress,” an MGM film based on Ruth Gordon’s autobiographical play, “Years Ago.” Then she slipped quietly into supporting roles in the shadow of strong men.

She was the noble Roman who walked to her death with Richard Burton in “The Robe” (1953), although she did not share his new religion, Christianity. In “The Egyptian” (1954), set 13 centuries before Christ, she was the shy tavern maid who secretly loved the film’s hero, a physician. As “Desiree” (1954), she was mistress to Marlon Brando’s Napoleon, and eclipsed by Brando’s clowning. And no one was more decorous than strait-laced Sergeant Sarah Brown of the Save-a-Soul Mission, who was bedeviled by Brando’s Sky Masterson in “Guys and Dolls” (1955).

One of Ms. Simmons’s better roles was the spirited slave who falls in love with the gladiator (Kirk Douglas) who leads a rebellion in “Spartacus” (1960). But that film, one of several in which Ms. Simmons was dwarfed by a cast of thousands, was teeming with great actors, including Olivier, Peter Ustinov and Charles Laughton.

Jean Merilyn Simmons was born on Jan. 31, 1929, the youngest of four children, and reared in the North London suburb of Cricklewood. Her father, a schoolteacher, died soon after the director Val Guest visited the Aida Foster dancing school and chose Ms. Simmons to play Margaret Lockwood’s precocious younger sister in “Give Us the Moon” (1944).

“It can’t last, you know,” she remembered her father telling her. “You’ll be back here soon, just a plain Cricklewood girl again; so keep your head screwed on tight.”

But Cricklewood had lost her — to America and to marriage with Mr. Granger, a divorced actor 16 years her senior. Soon, though, the couple were drowning in debt; Mr. Granger had bought huge cattle ranches in New Mexico and Arizona with little money down. So they agreed to take any parts that were offered to them.

Between 1957 and 1960, Ms. Simmons, who had given birth to a daughter in 1956, starred in eight films. Mr. Granger, who had become a major star in the blockbuster adventure film “King Solomon’s Mines” (1950), had made the mistake of turning down a second seven-year contract with MGM, which cost him the lead in “Ben-Hur.” Most of the offers he received sent him off for months at a time to Africa and India.

Ms. Simmons had somewhat better luck, starring with Paul Newman in “Until They Sail” (1957), a melodrama about New Zealand women who fell in love with American soldiers during World War II, and “Home Before Dark” (1958), as a woman whose husband commits her to a mental hospital.

Reviewing that film, Ms. Kael, who often praised Ms. Simmons’s intelligence and grace, metaphorically threw up her hands: “Jean Simmons gives a reserved, beautifully modulated performance that is so much better than the material that at times her exquisite reading of the rather mediocre lines seems a more tragic waste than her character’s wrecked life.”

Ms. Simmons’s marriage to Mr. Granger, burdened by frequent separations and constant work, ended in divorce in 1960 when she fell in love with her “Elmer Gantry” director, Richard Brooks, who was 17 years older than she. They married that same year and had a daughter in 1961. The marriage lasted 17 years.

By the 1970s, Ms. Simmons’s career was waning. In 1974 she turned to the stage, touring the United States as Desiree in the Stephen Sondheim musical “A Little Night Music” and taking the production to London. On television she took roles in mini-series like “The Thorn Birds,” for which she won an Emmy, and making guest appearances on shows like “Hawaii Five-O.”

In 1983, Ms. Simmons checked herself into the Betty Ford Clinic for treatment of alcoholism. She spoke publicly about her addiction, saying that she did so that other women would know that they, too, could seek help.

In 1989, more than 40 years after David Lean’s production, Ms. Simmons returned to “Great Expectations,” this time a Disney remake for television and this time in the role of the malicious Miss Havisham, the demented old woman who — jilted on her wedding day — has groomed Estella to destroy men.

Two years later, when the popular gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” was remade as a weekly prime-time series, Ms. Simmons starred as the matriarch of the Collins family, a role originally played by Joan Bennett.

She is survived by her two daughters, Tracy Granger and Kate Brooks, and a grandson, Ty Saville.

Those who knew her said she was generous, modest and unassuming. According to Mr. Granger, Ms. Simmons called Audrey Hepburn after she saw her in “Roman Holiday” — in a role Ms. Simmons might have had — to say, “I wanted to hate you, but I have to tell you I wouldn’t have been half as good.”




Published: January 19, 2010
Erich Segal, a Yale classics professor turned popular writer whose first novel, “Love Story,” became a staggering commercial success if not quite a critical one when it appeared in 1970, died on Sunday at his home in London. He was 72.
Gary Settle/The New York Times

Erich Segal in 1977.

Paramount Pictures, via Photofest

Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw in “Love Story” (1970).

The cause was a heart attack, his daughter Francesca said on Tuesday. Mr. Segal had been ill with Parkinson’s disease for 25 years.

Published by Harper & Row, “Love Story” was the novelization of a yet-to-be-produced screenplay by Mr. Segal. It chronicled the fate of star-crossed lovers, the highborn Oliver Barrett IV and the working-class Jennifer Cavilleri, who meet at Harvard, fall in love and, over the strenuous objections of Oliver’s family, marry. She dies, he cries and the story ends.

The novel spent more than a year on the New York Times hardcover best-seller list. It has sold tens of millions of copies and been translated into many languages.

Released to great fanfare on the book’s coattails, the movie, starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali MacGraw, appeared at the end of 1970. In a 2000 article, Variety called it “the first of the modern-day blockbusters,” writing that it had grossed nearly $200 million and saved its studio, Paramount Pictures, “which was facing imminent destruction.”

“Love Story” received seven Academy Award nominations, including one for Mr. Segal’s screenplay; it won the Oscar for best original score.

Along with the music, several of Mr. Segal’s lines are etched in public memory. They include the novel’s opening — “What can you say about a 25-year-old girl who died?” — and, in particular, as the film put it, “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” an aphorism that inspired decades of permutations and parodies. In the novel, the line was “Love means not ever having to say you’re sorry.”

“Love Story” was in the news again in the late 1990s, after Al Gore, then the vice president, was reported to have described himself as the inspiration for Oliver Barrett. (Mr. Gore denied having been the source of the observation.)

Mr. Segal set the record straight: Oliver, he said, was mainly a youthful incarnation of the actor Tommy Lee Jones. He did say that he had modeled Oliver’s freighted relationship with his father on the Gore family.

Mr. Segal had met both Mr. Jones and Mr. Gore in the late 1960s, when they were students at Harvard and he was there on sabbatical.

Before “Love Story,” Mr. Segal’s writing credits ranged from the screenplay for the animated Beatles movie “Yellow Submarine” (1968), on which he collaborated with several other writers; to “Roman Laughter” (Harvard University, 1968), a study of the playwright Plautus that was widely considered seminal; to the book and lyrics for “Sing Muse!” (1961), a musical version of the Helen of Troy story that ran for 39 performances Off Broadway.

Among his other novels are “Oliver’s Story” (Harper & Row, 1977), which continues the tale of Oliver Barrett; “The Class” (Bantam, 1985); “Doctors” (Bantam, 1988); “Acts of Faith” (Bantam, 1992); and “Only Love” (Putnam, 1997).

Mr. Segal also wrote “The Death of Comedy” (Harvard University, 2001), a well-received survey of Western comic drama from antiquity to modernity.

Erich Wolf Segal was born in Brooklyn on June 16, 1937, the son of Samuel Segal, a rabbi, and the former Cynthia Shapiro. After graduating from Midwood High School, he earned a bachelor’s degree from Harvard, where he had the distinction of being both class poet and class Latin orator. He went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees from Harvard.

From the 1960s to the 1980s, Mr. Segal taught classics at Yale. He continued to work as a classicist long after he became a successful novelist, holding visiting professorships at Princeton, Oxford, the University of London and elsewhere.

Mr. Segal first envisioned “Love Story” as a film. According to many published accounts, his screenplay was rejected by several studios as too sentimental for the time. Paramount urged him to release it as a novel first.

The novel’s prose style ran from the telegraphic (“That she loved Mozart and Bach. And the Beatles. And me.”) to what might easily be taken as comic (“ ‘Jenny, for Christ’s sake, how can I read John Stuart Mill when every single second I’m dying to make love to you?’ ”)

While millions of readers swooned, most reviewers harrumphed. “The banality of ‘Love Story’ makes ‘Peyton Place’ look like ‘Swann’s Way’ as it skips from cliché to cliché with an abandon that would chill even the blood of a True Romance editor,” Newsweek wrote.

In early 1971, after “Love Story” was submitted for consideration for a National Book Award, the fiction jury threatened to resign in a body unless the novel was removed from contention. It was.

But if critics found his novel insufficiently weighty, Mr. Segal appeared to take it in stride. “It takes the average person an hour and a half to read the book,” he told The New York Times in December 1970. “The movie lasts longer.”

Mr. Segal is survived by his wife, the former Karen James; two daughters, Francesca Segal and Miranda Segal, both of London; his mother, Cynthia Zeger of Manhattan; and two brothers, David, of Manhattan, and Thomas, of Baltimore.

His other books include “Greek Tragedy: Modern Essays in Criticism” (Harper & Row, 1983); “Oxford Readings in Aristophanes” (Oxford University, 1996); and “Oxford Readings in Menander, Plautus, and Terence” (Oxford University, 2001), all of which he edited.

None has appeared on The Times’s best-seller list.

A previous version of this obituary had an incorrect byline.




Published: January 18, 2010
Glen W. Bell Jr., whose idea in 1951 to sell crispy-shell tacos from the window of his hamburger stand became the foundation of Taco Bell, the restaurant chain that turned Mexican fare into fast food for millions of Americans, died at his home in Rancho Santa Fe, Calif. He was 86.
Business Wire

Glen W. Bell Jr.

His death was announced Sunday on the Taco Bell Web site. No other details were provided.

Mr. Bell never forgot the first taco buyer at Bell’s Hamburgers and Hot Dogs in San Bernardino, Calif., one of three stands he owned at the time.

“He was dressed in a suit and as he bit into the taco the juice ran down his sleeve and dripped on his tie,” Mr. Bell recalled in “Taco Titan: The Glen Bell Story,” (Bookworld Services, 1999), a biography by Debra Lee Baldwin. “I thought, ‘Uh-oh, we’ve lost this one.’ But he came back, amazingly enough, and said, ‘That was good. Gimme another.’ ”

By the time Mr. Bell sold the chain to PepsiCo in 1978, it had grown to 868 restaurants. Today, the company says, more than two billion tacos and a billion burritos are sold each year at more than 5,600 Taco Bell restaurants in the United States and around the world.

Drive-in stands dotted San Bernardino when Mr. Bell opened his first one there in the late 1940s. One competitor, only a few miles away, was the original stand opened by two brothers with the last name of McDonald.

They all were capitalizing on the emerging Southern California car culture, offering prompt service and streamlined menus of mostly standard fare like hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries and milk shakes.

But Mr. Bell, a fan of Mexican food, had a hunch that ground beef, chopped lettuce, shredded cheese and chili sauce served in the right wrap could give burgers a run for the money. The problem was which wrap. Tacos served in Mexican restaurants at the time were made with soft tortillas.

“If you wanted a dozen, you were in for a wait,” Mr. Bell said. “They stuffed them first, quickly fried them and stuck them together with a toothpick.”

The solution: preformed fried shells that would then be stuffed. Mr. Bell asked a man who made chicken coops to fashion a frying contraption made of wire.

Tacos became a hit at Bell’s, selling for 19 cents each. They were such a hit that by 1954 Mr. Bell and a partner opened Taco Tia, his first restaurant selling only Mexican-style food.

Two years and three Taco Tias later, Mr. Bell sold his interest after his business partner resisted expanding any further. Mr. Bell then opened another fast-food Mexican restaurant in Pasadena, in 1957, and a year later took on three partners in a chain called El Taco.

After four El Tacos, Mr. Bell decided he no longer wanted to answer to any partners. He sold out again. Then, in 1962, with a $4,000 investment, he opened the first Taco Bell, in Downey, Calif. Over the next two years, he started eight more Taco Bells, each with a grand opening featuring live salsa music, searchlights and free sombreros. The first of its franchises opened in Torrance, Calif., in 1965.

PepsiCo greatly expanded the chain after purchasing it in 1978 for about $125 million, then spun it off to Tricon Global Restaurants in 1997. Tricon changed its name to Yum Brands in 2002.

Glen W. Bell Jr. was born in Lynwood, Calif., on Sept. 3, 1923, one of six children of Glen and Ruth Johnson Bell. When he was 12, the family moved to a small farm outside of San Bernardino.

At 16, with the family facing hard times, according to his biography, Glen Jr. “goes on the bum” and “rides the rails in search of work.” He joined the Marines in 1943 and served in the Pacific.

Back in San Bernardino after the war, Mr. Bell bought a surplus Army truck and began hauling adobe bricks at 5 cents each. A miniature golf course that he leased failed to make a profit. Then, he opened a hamburger stand in a Hispanic neighborhood.

Mr. Bell married Dorothy Taylor in 1947. They were divorced in 1953. He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Martha; three sisters, Delores, Dorothy and Maureen; a daughter, Kathleen; two sons, Gary and Rex; and four grandchildren.

The trade publication Nation’s Restaurant News has credited Mr. Bell with introducing millions of Americans to Mexican-style food. “I always smile,” Mr. Bell told the magazine in 2008, “when I hear people say that they never had a taco until Taco Bell came to town.”




Published: January 21, 2010
Marshall W. Nirenberg, a biologist who deciphered the genetic code of life, earning a Nobel Prize for his achievement, died Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 82.
National Library of Medicine

Marshall W. Nirenberg

The cause was cancer, said his stepdaughter Susan Weissman.

In solving the genetic code, Dr. Nirenberg established the rules by which the genetic information in DNA is translated into proteins, the working parts of living cells. The code lies at the basis of life, and understanding it was a turning point in the history of biology.

Dr. Nirenberg identified the particular codons — a codon is a sequence of three chemical units of DNA — that specify each of the 20 amino acid units of which protein molecules are constructed.

The achievement, in a critical experiment in 1961, was the more remarkable because Dr. Nirenberg was only 34 at the time and unknown to the celebrated circle of biologists, led by Francis Crick, who had built the framework of molecular biology.

Dr. Crick and his colleague Sydney Brenner had established, largely on theoretical grounds, that the code must be in triplets of the four kinds of chemical units of which DNA is composed. But they had not developed the experiments to work out which triplet corresponded to which amino acid.

Dr. Nirenberg amazed biologists when he and his colleague, the German scientist Johann Heinrich Matthaei, announced their identification of the first codon. He pulled another surprise when he beat out better-known scientists in the ensuing race to identify the other 63 codons in the genetic code. He received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine shortly afterward, in 1968. (Two other scientists shared the prize with him.)

Marshall Warren Nirenberg was born in Brooklyn on April 10, 1927, to Harry and Minerva Nirenberg and grew up in Florida. After earning a Ph.D. at the University of Michigan, he started work at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., where he spent the rest of his career.

The project he chose was the synthesis of proteins, then being studied in mixtures of mashed-up cells known as cell-free systems. Dr. Nirenberg took the research a stage further by focusing on the genetic information that might be driving protein synthesis. He was joined by Dr. Matthaei, an excellent experimentalist, and the two decided to add lengths of RNA, a close chemical cousin of DNA, to the cell-free systems.

Success came when they added to their cell-free system an RNA molecule composed only of uracil, one of the four chemical units in RNA. The protein that emerged consisted only of phenylalanine, one of the 20 kinds of amino acids in proteins. Because the genetic code was known to consist of triplets, the experiment showed that UUU is the codon for phenylalanine, U being the symbol for uracil.

Dr. Nirenberg and Dr. Matthaei were such outsiders that they had not heard of messenger-RNA, made to transfer DNA’s instructions to the cell’s protein-making machinery. While biologists in the club were producing the first evidence for the existence of messenger RNA, Dr. Nirenberg and Dr. Matthaei had independently synthesized one.

By rights, their experiment should not have worked at all because natural messenger-RNAs carry at their front end a special codon that says to the ribosomes, “Start here,” a fact not known at the time. But the recipe for protein synthesis used by Dr. Nirenberg and Dr. Matthaei happened to contain twice the natural amount of magnesium, an anomaly that was later found to override the need for a start codon.

Dr. Nirenberg presented their findings at the next big conference of molecular biologists, held in 1961 in Moscow. His talk was given to an almost empty room, Horace Judson writes in “The Eighth Day of Creation,” his history of molecular biology. But one of the few participants recognized its significance and told Dr. Crick, who arranged for Dr. Nirenberg to give his talk again, this time in a large hall attended by an audience of hundreds.

Then followed the race to identify all the other codons, a prize that Dr. Nirenberg’s talk had placed in full view of a hall of better financed rivals like Severo Ochoa of New York University.

“It was a David-and-Goliath situation in which a young investigator without resources came into competition with a distinguished Nobel laureate like Ochoa,” said Philip Leder of Harvard, who joined Dr. Nirenberg’s laboratory after Dr. Matthaei had left.

Credit for the genetic code is often assigned to Dr. Crick and Dr. Brenner, who resolved its general nature through theorizing and with a clever experiment. But it was Dr. Nirenberg and Dr. Matthaei who cracked the code itself.

Mr. Judson, in his history, notes that efforts to test these ideas “achieved little until Matthaei arrived.”

Dr. Leder recalled Dr. Nirenberg as “enthusiastic and magnetic.”

“He had an idea every two or three minutes,” Dr. Leder said.

The solving of the genetic code was such a substantial advance that several researchers decided that the major problems in molecular biology had been solved and that it was time to move on to greater challenges. Dr. Nirenberg switched to neurobiology, but did not make discoveries of equal distinction there. His work on the genetic code was sufficient achievement for any scientific career.

He is survived by his wife, Myrna Weissman, a professor at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; his sister, Joan N. Geiger, of Dallas, and four stepchildren, Susan, Judith, Sharon and Jonathan Weissman. His first wife, Perola Zaltzman Nirenberg, died in 2001.




Published: January 20, 2010
Robert B. Parker, the best-selling mystery writer who created Spenser, a tough, glib Boston private detective who was the hero of nearly 40 novels, died Monday at his home in Cambridge, Mass. He was 77.
John Earle

Robert B. Parker

The cause was a heart attack, said his agent of 37 years, Helen Brann. She said that Mr. Parker had been thought to be in splendid health, and that he died at his desk, working on a book. He wrote five pages a day, every day but Sunday, she said.

Mr. Parker wrote more than 60 books all told, including westerns and young-adult novels, but he churned out entertaining detective stories with a remarkable alacrity that made him one of the country’s most popular writers. In recent years he had come up with two new protagonists: Jesse Stone, an alcoholic ex-ballplayer turned small-town chief of police, who was featured in nine novels written since 1997, including “Split Image,” to be published next month; and Sunny Randall, a fashion-conscious, unlucky-in-love, daughter-of-a-cop private eye created at the request of the actress Helen Hunt, who was hoping for a juicy movie role. No movie was made, but the first Sunny Randall novel, “Family Honor,” was published in 1999, and five more have followed.

It was Spenser, though — spelled “like the poet,” as the character was wont to point out (his first name was never revealed) — who was Mr. Parker’s signature creation. He appeared for the first time in 1973 in “The Godwulf Manuscript,” in which he is hired by a university to retrieve a stolen medieval document, an investigation that triggers a murder. The first pages of the book revealed much of what readers came to love about Spenser — his impatience with pomposity, his smart-alecky wit, his self-awareness and supreme self-confidence.

“Look, Dr. Forbes,” Spenser says to the long-winded college president who is hiring him. “I went to college once. I don’t wear my hat indoors. And if a clue comes along and bites me on the ankle, I grab it. I am not, however, an Oxford don. I am a private detective. Is there something you’d like me to detect, or are you just polishing up your elocution for next year’s commencement?”

A conscious throwback to hard-boiled detectives like Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, but with a sensitivity born of the age of feminism and civil rights, Spenser is a bruiser in body but a softie at heart, someone who never shies from danger or walks away from a threat to the innocent. Mr. Parker gave him many of his own traits. Spenser is an admirer of any kind of expertise. He believes in psychotherapy. He’s a great cook. He’s a boxer, a weightlifter and a jogger, a consumer of doughnuts and coffee, a privately indulgent appreciator (from a distance) of pretty women, a Red Sox fan, a dog lover. (Mr. Parker owned a series of short-haired pointers, all named Pearl, like their fictional incarnation.)

Most crucially, Spenser is faithful in love (to his longtime companion, Susan Silverman, a psychologist) and in friendship (to his frequent partner in anti-crime, a dazzlingly charming, morally idiosyncratic black man named Hawk). And usually with the two of them as seconds, he has remained indomitable, vanquishing crime bosses, drug dealers, sex fiends, cold-blooded killers, corrupt politicians and several other varieties of villain.

Mr. Parker wrote the Spenser novels in the first person, employing the blunt, masculine prose style that is often described as Hemingwayesque. But his writing also seems self-aware, even tongue-in-cheek, as though he recognized how well worn such a path was. And his dialogue was especially arch, giving Spenser an air of someone who takes very few things seriously and raises an eyebrow at everything else. Mr. Parker’s regular readers became familiar with the things that provoke Spenser’s suspicion: showy glamour, ostentatious wealth, self-aggrandizement, fern bars, fancy sports clubs and any kind of haughtiness or presumption.

Spenser is, in other words, what Marlowe might have been in a more modern world (and living in Boston rather than Los Angeles). Unsurprisingly, Mr. Parker considered Chandler one of the great American writers of the 20th century. (He audaciously finished an incomplete Chandler manuscript, “Poodle Springs”). And he has been often cited by critics and other mystery writers as the guy who sprung the Chandleresque detective free from the age of noir.

“I read Parker’s Spenser series in college,” the best-selling writer Harlan Coben said in a 2007 interview with The Atlantic Monthly. “When it comes to detective novels, 90 percent of us admit he’s an influence, and the rest of us lie about it.”

Robert Brown Parker was a large man of large appetites that were nonetheless satisfied with relative ease. He was as unpretentious and self-aware as Spenser, his agent, Ms. Brann said.

“All he needed to be happy was his family and writing,” she said. “There were always wonderful things in his refrigerator. People were always after him to do cookbooks.” She paused.

“He loved doughnuts,” she said.

He was born in Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 17, 1932, the only child of working-class parents. His father worked for the telephone company. He attended Colby College in Maine, graduating in 1954, then served in the Army in Korea, after the Korean War. He earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in literature from Boston University, and taught there as well as at Northeastern University.

His novels were adapted many times for television and the movies. From 1985 to 1988 Spenser appeared as the central character of a television series, “Spenser: For Hire,” starring Robert Urich. The Jesse Stone series was the inspiration for seven television movies starring Tom Selleck, including one to be broadcast in the spring. “Appaloosa,” a western starring Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen made from Mr. Parker’s novel of the same name, was released in 2008.

Mr. Parker’s editor, Chris Pepe, said that in addition to the new Jesse Stone novel, Putnam would publish a new western by Mr. Parker in the spring; two additional Spenser novels are in production but unscheduled, she said.

Mr. Parker first met his wife, Joan, at a birthday party when they were 3 years old, or so the story goes; in any case, they encountered each other at Colby and married in 1956. Much of the relationship between Spenser and Susan — including a period of trouble when they are apart — reflects Mr. Parker’s with his wife. She survives him, as do two sons, David, of Manhattan, and Daniel, of Los Angeles.

Most of his books were dedicated to his wife.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 22, 2010
An obituary on Wednesday about the mystery writer Robert B. Parker, using information from his publisher, referred incorrectly to his books’ dedications. Most of his books — not all — were dedicated to his wife, Joan.



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