GLADYS HORTON, MARVELETTES’ LEAD SINGER
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: January 27, 2011
Gladys Horton, who gathered some of her high school friends into a singing group that became the Marvelettes and then sang lead vocals on “Please Mr. Postman,” which became Motown Records’ first No. 1 hit, died on Wednesday in Sherman Oaks, Calif.
The Marvelettes in the early 1960s, from left: Gladys Horton, Wanda Young, Georgeanna Tilman and Katherine Anderson.
Her son Vaughn Thornton said in an interview that her health had been in decline for several years. In a statement released by the Los Angeles chapter of the Motown Alumni Association (an independent group not associated with Motown Records, which is now an affiliate of Universal Music), he said she had not recovered after suffering a stroke.
Ms. Horton was in her mid-60s, but her precise age was uncertain. The statement said she was born in 1944, but Mr. Thornton gave his mother’s birthday as May 30, 1945, making her 65 at her death.
Ms. Horton was in a high school glee club in Inkster, Mich., outside Detroit, when she recruited three of her classmates — Katherine Anderson (now Schaffner), Georgeanna Tillman and Juanita Cowart — as well as a friend who had recently graduated, Georgia Dobbins, and formed a quintet. They called themselves the Casinyets — a contraction of the words “can’t sing yet,” an acknowledgment of their lack of experience.
Competing in a talent contest whose winners were to receive an audition for Motown, they didn’t win, but got the audition anyway. Motown executives, including Berry Gordy Jr., the label’s founder, were impressed but said they needed to come up with original material. A friend of Ms. Dobbins, William Garrett, had just written a blues song, and with his permission Ms. Dobbins rewrote the song, about a girl aching for mail from her far-away boyfriend, casting it in a pop vein, though she kept the title, “Please Mr. Postman.”
After Ms. Dobbins left the group because her mother was ill and her father wanted her at home, she was replaced by Wanda Young, another graduate of the same high school in Inkster, leaving Ms. Horton to sing the lead vocals, including the memorable line “De-liver de let-ter, de sooner de bet-ter.”
On Dec. 11, 1961, after three months on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, “Please Mr. Postman” reached No. 1. The song would later be recorded by the Beatles and, in 1975, the Carpenters, for whom it was also a No. 1 hit.
Smokey Robinson wrote several songs for the Marvelettes, who went through a number of personnel changes — becoming a quartet and later a trio — before disbanding in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Ms. Horton stayed with the group until 1967, when she became pregnant with her first child. She sang on a number of hit recordings, including “Playboy,” “Beechwood 4-5789” and Mr. Robinson’s tunes “Don’t Mess With Bill” and “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.”
Precise information about Ms. Horton’s early life was not available. Most biographical sources say she was born in Detroit or in Inkster, but Mr. Thornton said she was born in Gainesville, Fla. By the time she was nine months old, her son said, she was an orphan and consigned to foster care, growing up mostly in different towns in Michigan. Her full name was Gladys Catherine Horton. She was married once and divorced, and had three sons. Besides Mr. Thornton, one other son, Sammy Coleman, survives her, along with two grandchildren.
The origin of the Marvelettes is variously recounted in music encyclopedias and other sources, and they usually describe Ms. Horton as a co-founder of the group. But in an interview on Thursday, Ms. Schaffner, one of the original Marvelettes, gave her full credit.
“We only started singing together because Gladys asked us,” she recalled. “Usually we’d go to Georgeanna’s house and play canasta.”
JACK LALANNE, FATHER OF FITNESS MOVEMENT
By RICHARD GOLDSTEIN
Published: January 23, 2011
Jack LaLanne, whose obsession with grueling workouts and good nutrition, complemented by a salesman’s gift, brought him recognition as the founder of the modern physical fitness movement, died Sunday afternoon at his home in Morro Bay, Calif. He was 96.
Jack LaLanne in 1980, pumping iron in his home gym.
The Ripped and the Righteous (January 30, 2011)
Mr. LaLanne demonstrating one of his products, the Glamour Stretcher.
The cause was respiratory failure resulting from pneumonia, his family said.
A self-described emotional and physical wreck while growing up in the San Francisco area, Mr. LaLanne began turning his life around, as he often told it, after hearing a talk on proper diet when he was 15.
He started working out with weights when they were an oddity, and in 1936 he opened the prototype for the fitness spas to come — a gym, juice bar and health food store — in an old office building in Oakland.
“People thought I was a charlatan and a nut,” he remembered. “The doctors were against me — they said that working out with weights would give people heart attacks and they would lose their sex drive.” But Mr. LaLanne persevered, and he found a national pulpit in the age of television.
“The Jack LaLanne Show” made its debut in 1951 as a local program in the San Francisco area, then went nationwide on daytime television in 1959. His short-sleeved jumpsuit showing off his impressive biceps, his props often limited to a broomstick, a chair and a rubber cord, Mr. LaLanne pranced through his exercise routines, most notably his fingertip push-ups.
He built an audience by first drawing in children who saw his white German shepherd, Happy, perform tricks.
“My show was so personal, I made it feel like you and I were the only ones there,” he told Knight-Ridder Newspapers in 1995. “And I’d say: ‘Boys and girls, come here. Uncle Jack wants to tell you something. You go get Mother or Daddy, Grandmother, Grandfather, whoever is in the house. You go get them, and you make sure they exercise with me.’ ”
His show continued into the mid-1980s.
“He was perfect for the intimacy of television,” Robert Thompson, a professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University, told The San Jose Mercury News in 2004. “This guy had some of the same stuff that Oprah has and Johnny Carson had — the ability to insinuate themselves in the domestic space of people’s lives.”
Long before Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda and the Atkins diet, Mr. LaLanne was a national celebrity, preaching regular exercise and proper diet. Expanding on his television popularity, he opened dozens of fitness studios under his name, later licensing them to Bally. He invented the forerunners of modern exercise machines like leg-extension and pulley devices. He marketed a Power Juicer to blend raw vegetables and fruits and a Glamour Stretcher cord, and he sold exercise videos and fitness books. He invited women to join his health clubs and told the elderly and the disabled that they could exercise despite their limitations.
At 60 he swam from Alcatraz Island to Fisherman’s Wharf handcuffed, shackled and towing a 1,000-pound boat. At 70, handcuffed and shackled again, he towed 70 boats, carrying a total of 70 people, a mile and a half through Long Beach Harbor.
He ate two meals a day and shunned snacks.
Breakfast, following his morning workout, usually included several hard-boiled egg whites, a cup of broth, oatmeal with soy milk and seasonal fruit. For dinner he took his wife, Elaine, to restaurants that knew what he wanted: a salad with raw vegetables and egg whites along with fish — often salmon — and a mixture of red and white wine. He sometimes allowed himself a roast turkey sandwich, but never a cup of coffee.
Mr. LaLanne said he performed his exercises until he experienced “muscle fatigue,” lifting weights until it was impossible for him to continue. It produced results and, as he put it, “the ego in me” made the effort worthwhile.
The son of French immigrants, Jack LaLanne was born in San Francisco on Sept. 26, 1914, and spent his early years on his parents’ sheep farm in Bakersfield, Calif. By the time he was 15, the family having moved to the Bay Area, he was pimply and nearsighted, craved junk food and had dropped out of high school. That is when his mother took him to a women’s club for a talk by Paul C. Bragg, a well-known speaker on health and nutrition.
That talk, Mr. LaLanne often said, turned his life around. He began experimenting with weights at the Berkeley Y.M.C.A., tossed aside cakes and cookies and studied Gray’s Anatomy to learn about the body’s muscles. He graduated from a chiropractic school, but instead of practicing that profession he became a pitchman for good health.
He opened his first health studio when he was 21, and a decade and a half later he turned to television. He was first sponsored by the creator of a longevity pill, a 90-year-old man, but it sold poorly and he obtained Yami Yogurt as his new sponsor. “It tasted terrible, so I mixed it with prune juice and fruits,” he told The New York Times in 2004. “Nobody thought about it until then. We made the guy a millionaire.”
Mr. LaLanne, 5-foot-6 and 150 pounds or so with a 30-inch waist, maintained that he disliked working out. He said he kept at it strictly to feel fit and stay healthy. He built two gyms and a pool at his home in Morro Bay, and began each day, into his 90s, with two hours of workouts: weight lifting followed by a swim against an artificial current or in place, tied to a belt.
“The Jack LaLanne Show” may have run its course in the mid-1980s, but it had a second life in reruns on ESPN Classic. “We have over 3,000 shows,” Mr. LaLanne said in 2004. “I own everything.”
In September 2007, “Jack LaLanne Live!” made its debut on the online VoiceAmerica Health and Wellness Radio Network. He appeared on it with his wife and his nephew Chris LaLanne, a personal trainer.
In addition to his wife, Elaine, Mr. LaLanne is survived by their son, Jon, of Hawaii; his daughter, Yvonne LaLanne, of Walnut Creek, Calif., from his previous marriage, and a stepson, Dan Doyle, of Los Angeles, from Elaine LaLanne’s previous marriage.
Mr. LaLanne promoted himself and his calling into his final years, often accompanied at events by his wife, a physical fitness convert but hardly a fanatic. He brimmed with optimism and restated a host of aphorisms for an active and fit life.
“I can’t die,” he most famously liked to say. “It would ruin my image.”
BRUCE GORDON, FRANK NITTI ON TV’S ‘UNTOUCHABLES’
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: January 25, 2011
Bruce Gordon, a granite-faced, gravel-voiced character actor famous for playing heavies, most memorably the mob boss Frank Nitti on the classic television series “The Untouchables,” died on Thursday. He was 94 and lived in Santa Fe, N.M.
ABC, via Photofest
Bruce Gordon as Frank Nitti.
With his broad, strong, slightly asymmetrical features, Mr. Gordon looked as though he had been carved from stone — with a few judicious slips of the chisel. His face and his voice preordained him for a life of playing tough guys on television, film and in an extensive stage career.
As the white whale of Eliot Ness, the federal agent played by Robert Stack, Mr. Gordon was a recurring fixture of “The Untouchables,” broadcast on ABC from 1959 to 1963. (His death follows that, on Jan. 12, of Paul Picerni, who played Ness’s right-hand man, Agent Lee Hobson.)
Nitti was the front man for Chicago’s organized-crime syndicate in the 1930s, while its leader, Al Capone, was in jail for tax evasion. In real life, according to published accounts, Nitti appeared to have been little more than a figurehead, with the real power concentrated among Capone’s other lieutenants.
As played by Mr. Gordon, Nitti was memorably in control, presiding over an illicit network of late-Prohibition-era breweries, drug running, gambling and much else. He was filled with menace: pinstriped, perennially scowling and looming so large he seemed to crowd the borders of the screen.
Yet because of Mr. Gordon’s essential warmth as an actor, his Nitti had tremendous rough-hewn charm. Even the character’s oft-repeated threat — “You’re dead!” — uttered with a finger stabbing toward the intended victim, had, in his delivery, a comic monosyllabic eloquence.
Bruce Gordon was born in Fitchburg, Mass., on Feb. 1, 1916. He made his Broadway debut in 1937, playing several small roles (including that of a young street tough) in “The Fireman’s Flame,” a musical melodrama about Old New York’s rival volunteer fire companies.
From the late 1940s until his retirement in the mid-’80s, Mr. Gordon was a ubiquitous presence on television, making guest appearances on “I Spy,” “Have Gun — Will Travel,” “Gunsmoke,” “Perry Mason,” “Bonanza” and “Police Woman,” among many other shows.
In the late ’50s he was the host of “Behind Closed Doors,” an espionage docudrama on NBC, and in the mid-’60s had a recurring role on “Peyton Place” as the vengeful alcoholic Gus Chernak.
He made a handful of feature films, among them “Love Happy” (1949), the Marx Brothers’ last movie; “The Buccaneer” (1958), starring Yul Brynner; and “Tower of London” (1962), starring Vincent Price.
Mr. Gordon appeared on Broadway many times. He was in the original cast of the hit comedy “Arsenic and Old Lace,” which opened in 1941 and starred Boris Karloff. Uncharacteristically, given his later résumé, Mr. Gordon played a policeman.
His other Broadway credits include Aegeus, King of Athens, in “Medea” (1949), starring Judith Anderson; Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk, in “Richard II” (1951); two small roles in the original American production of “The Lark” (1955 ), by Jean Anouilh, starring Julie Harris; and a featured part in “Nowhere to Go But Up,” a short-lived 1962 musical about Prohibition-era federal agents in which Mr. Gordon played a mobster.
No matter what roles he took, Frank Nitti dogged Mr. Gordon amicably for years. One of the more unusual instances was a commercial for the Bell Telephone System, broadcast on television in the late 1960s. In it, Mr. Gordon played Big Sully, a Runyonesque tough who touts special weekend rates.
“It is a well-known fact that very little scratch is needed to make a long-distance call all day Saturday and Sunday,” Mr. Gordon growled. “Is a buck too much for a doll like her in New York” — and here he indicates the actress Louise Lasser — “to pay to speak with her mother in California?”
At commercial’s end, Ms. Lasser gets through to her mother, prompting Mr. Gordon to dissolve in sentimental tears.
CHARLIE CALLAS, ZANY COMEDIAN
By DENNIS HEVESI
Published: January 28, 2011
Charlie Callas, a rubber-faced comedian who cavorted on television and the nightclub circuit in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, often punctuating punch lines with sound effects emanating from his motormouth, died on Thursday in Las Vegas. He was 83.
Charlie Callas in 1986
Michael Murphy, the coroner in Clark County in Nevada, confirmed the death.
A string bean of a man with a Cyrano-size nose, Mr. Callas appeared on virtually every television variety and talk show in the days of Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Merv Griffin and Johnny Carson. He was a regular on “The Andy Williams Show” and “The ABC Comedy Hour,” a semiregular on “The Flip Wilson Show” and a co-host of “The Joey Bishop Show.”
Mr. Callas tried his hand at drama in 1975, opposite Eddie Albert and Robert Wagner, as a former con man and restaurant owner, Malcolm Argos, in the crime show “Switch.” But that was just a detour from the zany.
“There were two things he could do that made his career,” Tony Belmont, executive director of the National Comedy Hall of Fame in St. Petersburg, Fla., said in an interview in October. “He could think very fast on his feet, and he had an unbelievable number of sounds that he made with his voice.”
For example, Mr. Belmont said: “He would tell a joke about two guys hunting. If you or I told it, the joke wasn’t so funny. But Charlie made it hysterical by sticking in these sounds; so you would hear the gun cocking, the duck flying overhead, the explosion of the shotgun and then the duck falling and screaming all the way to the ground.”
Jerry Lewis was so taken by Mr. Callas that, while both were appearing on a talk show in 1965, he said, “You’ve got to be in my next movie.” He was — in the 1967 production “The Big Mouth.”
Carson was also impressed by Mr. Callas, inviting him to appear on the “The Tonight Show” nearly 50 times. Then came the night of Sept. 21, 1982.
With Mr. Callas bombing, Carson made a whistling-buzzing sound — as if tracing a bomb’s trajectory. In comic desperation, Mr. Callas leaned over and shoved Carson. Carson, almost always amiable on the air, was so annoyed that on the spot, in front of his television audience, he told Mr. Callas that he’d never appear on the show again. Carson kept his word.
It was not the end of Mr. Callas’s career, however. Besides nightclub gigs and guest spots on other talk shows, he went on to appear in several movies. Among them were the horror-film spoof “Hysterical” (1983), in which he played Dracula; “Amazon Women on the Moon” (1987), a bizarre take on low-budget movies in which he did his own stand-up shtick; and Mel Brooks’s “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” (1995), a parody of the Bram Stoker novel. In 1981, Mr. Callas played the soothsayer in Mr. Brooks’s dawn-of-man spoof, “History of the World — Part I.”
In the 1977 live-action and animated film “Pete’s Dragon,” Mr. Callas provided the voice of the title character, a dragon named Elliot.
Mr. Callas was born Charles Callias in Brooklyn on Dec. 20, 1927. The Associated Press reported that he is survived by two sons, Mark and Larry, and that his wife, Evelyn, died in July.
Mr. Callas started playing drums as a teenager and, after serving in the Army in World War II, performed around the country with major bands, including those led by Tommy Dorsey and Claude Thornhill.
While performing he would engage in madcap antics, cracking up audiences and musicians alike, inspiring him to turn to comedy in 1962. A year later he made his first network television appearance on “The Hollywood Palace.” Soon he was opening for Frank Sinatra in nightclubs around the country.
Mr. Callas was predictably unpredictable, Mr. Belmont said. In 1973, when the crusty comedian Don Rickles was the target of a Dean Martin celebrity roast on NBC, Mr. Callas stepped to the microphone and decided to set aside his planned bit.
“Instead,” Mr. Belmont said, “he started rattling on as though Rickles — sitting at his side — had died. And as the mock eulogy ran, Rickles was laughing so hard that he couldn’t lift his head off the table.”
At a roast for Frank Sinatra, Mr. Callas was introduced as Mr. Sinatra’s former bodyguard, Carlo Cappuccino. Dressed in a gangster-style suit and wide white tie, he told of growing up in a neighborhood where “you could walk 10 blocks and never leave the scene of a crime.”
Placing his broad-brimmed hat over his heart and looking toward heaven, he said, “I’d like to say hello to Frank’s friends.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 28, 2011
An earlier version misstated Mr. Callas’s age. He was 83, not 86. It also misstated the title of a Mel Brooks movie. It is “History of the World — Part I” not Part II.