ROBERT HEGYES, A SWEATHOG OF ‘WELCOME BACK, KOTTER’
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: January 27, 2012
Robert Hegyes, who played Juan Epstein, the Sweathog voted Most Likely to Take a Life, on the 1970s sitcom “Welcome Back, Kotter,” died on Thursday in Edison, N.J. He was 60.
The cause was cardiac arrest, a spokesman for John F. Kennedy Medical Center in Edison, where Mr. Hegyes was pronounced dead, told Reuters.
Broadcast on ABC from 1975 to 1979, “Welcome Back, Kotter” starred Gabe Kaplan as Gabe Kotter, who returns to teach at his gritty alma mater, the fictional James Buchanan High in Brooklyn. The theme song, written and sung by John Sebastian, was a No. 1 hit in 1976.
Besides Mr. Hegyes (pronounced Hedges), the Bensonhurst irregulars in Kotter’s care, collectively known as the Sweathogs, included John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino, Ron Palillo as Arnold Horshack and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs as Freddie Washington. Of the four, only Mr. Travolta went on to become a bankable movie star.
Epstein, half Jewish and half Puerto Rican, was known for his insouciant slouch, shirt open to the navel and an often immense Afro, capacious even by ’70s standards. As portrayed by Mr. Hegyes, the character was equal parts “West Side Story” tough and Sergeant Bilko trickster. (Mr. Hegyes said he modeled Epstein on Chico Marx.)
Absence-excuse notes were among Epstein’s specialties, though the fact that they were invariably signed “Epstein’s Mother” tended to tip his hand.
In the 1980s Mr. Hegyes had a recurring role as Detective Manny Esposito on the CBS crime drama “Cagney & Lacey.”
The son of a Hungarian-American father and an Italian-American mother, Robert Hegyes was born in 1951 in Perth Amboy, N.J. He earned a bachelor’s degree in speech, theater and dance from Glassboro State College (now Rowan University) in Glassboro, N.J., before moving to New York to start his acting career.
Mr. Hegyes had been cast in “Don’t Call Back,” a short-lived Broadway drama starring Arlene Francis and directed by Len Cariou, when he auditioned for “Welcome Back, Kotter.” He originally read for the role of the monosyllabic Barbarino but was ultimately hired to play Epstein.
Mr. Hegyes, who lived most recently in Metuchen, N.J., was married and divorced several times. Information on survivors could not be confirmed.
In later years he acted in regional theater and had guest roles on shows including “CHiPs,” “L.A. Heat” and “Diagnosis Murder.”
With fitting symmetry, Mr. Hegyes also taught for several years at Venice High School in California. As he told interviewers afterward, he had a reputation for accepting no absence excuses of any kind.
NICOL WILLIAMSON, A MERCURIAL ACTOR
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: January 25, 2012
Nicol Williamson, a Scottish-born actor whose large, renegade talent made him a controversial Hamlet, an eccentric Macbeth, an angry, high-strung Vanya and, on the screen, a cocaine-sniffing Sherlock Holmes — and whose querulous temperament could make his antics as commanding as his performances — died on Dec. 16 in Amsterdam, where he had lived for more than 20 years. He was 75.
The cause was esophageal cancer, his son, Luke, said Wednesday on the Web site nicolwilliamson.com. “He didn’t want any fuss made over his passing,” Luke Williamson said in an e-mail, explaining the delay in reporting his father’s death. “He was not interested in publicity.”
Mr. Williamson was rarely described as dull, sometimes as uncooperative, more often as unpredictable or tempestuous.
“You don’t know if he’s going to be nice to you or punch you in the mouth,” a fellow cast member in the doomed, 1976 Broadway musical “Rex” said. A young actress who shared the stage with him in 1965 and who spoke to The New York Times said of him: “Drinking, fighting and wenching — God, he’s fabulous!”
Stories of Mr. Williamson’s mischievous, self-indulgent or destructive misbehavior are legion. He once stormed off the stage in the middle of a “Hamlet” in Boston, throwing a wine pitcher and goblet at the back wall before returning a few minutes later (to applause) and apologizing to the audience.
In 1965, during a tryout in Philadelphia for “Inadmissible Evidence,” the John Osborne play about a self-destructive young lawyer, he argued with the producer, David Merrick, and reportedly slugged him. Mr. Williamson went on to make a widely praised Broadway debut in the production.
And during the Broadway run of Paul Rudnick’s 1991 comedy, “I Hate Hamlet,” in which he played the ghost of John Barrymore, he criticized the play in interviews, audibly offered coaching to his fellow actors onstage, and finally, during a staged swordfight, ignored the choreography and smacked the actor Evan Handler with the flat blade of the sword, prompting Mr. Handler to leave the stage and resign.
Tall, rangy and red-haired, Mr. Williamson was not classically handsome, but critics often remarked on his vibrant or fiery presence. He “burns with incandescence and carries with him the smell of smoldering cordite,” Time magazine said of his Hamlet in the 1969 Broadway production directed by Tony Richardson. “If he were not lit by inner fire, he would be singularly unprepossessing.”
In that role Mr. Williamson stripped the Prince of Denmark of his royal demeanor, if not his arrogance, and played him as a wise, seething would-be thug, complete with unusual line readings and a Midlands accent. In England he was hailed as the Hamlet of his generation, and Prime Minister Harold Wilson recommended him to President Richard M. Nixon, who invited Mr. Williamson to perform at the White House. (A “nightmare,” Mr. Williamson said of the experience.)
American reviews of “Hamlet” were mixed. Time’s was a rave; so was Newsweek’s. But Walter Kerr, in The Times, dismissed the production and Mr. Williamson’s performance as misguided. Charles Marowitz, writing from London in The Village Voice, said Mr. Williamson’s Hamlet was “neither the courtier nor the scholar, the soldier nor the glass of fashion, but a whining, neurotically suppressed, superannuated post-grad spoiling for a fight and obviously not up to licking even the shortest kid on the block.”
Mr. Williamson played Macbeth more than once, perhaps because his aggrieved Scottish temperament seemed so suitable for that tormented Scottish general and king. The first time, in London, he was directed by Trevor Nunn, and the performance was acclaimed. Later, in a Broadway production he directed himself, the eccentricities he brought to the role overwhelmed the production.
By contrast, when he played Uncle Vanya in a starry 1973 production directed by Mike Nichols (the cast included George C. Scott, Julie Christie and Barnard Hughes), his contrary-to-tradition interpretation of Vanya as tightly wound and explosive rather than ruminative and despairing was received not always with approval but with curiosity and the genuine consideration of a new idea.
“He looks ratty and frantic, a man barely in control of himself,” Clive Barnes wrote in The Times. “His arms flail the air, quixotically; his eyes have a manic gleam. His final climactic act of aggression, when he tries, unsuccessfully of course, to shoot his tormentor, is presented as an uncoordinated gush of pain.”
In the movies Mr. Williamson also played Hamlet and Macbeth (a television movie). He was better known for his Merlin in “Excalibur,” John Boorman’s 1981 treatment of the Arthurian legend, and his Sherlock Holmes, whom he played as driven to the brink of madness by drug addiction in the 1976 adventure film “The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.” Directed by Herbert Ross, it also starred Robert Duvall as Watson and Alan Arkin as Sigmund Freud.
Mr. Williamson was born in Hamilton, Scotland, on Sept. 14, 1936, and grew up mostly in Birmingham, England, where, he once told The Globe and Mail of Toronto, “As a boy I always felt superior to others.” After serving in the British Army, he left home to become an actor in 1960, joining the Dundee Repertory Company and later the Royal Court in London, where he began garnering acclaim, and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
His career-making role was Bill Maitland in “Inadmissible Evidence,” a grueling part in a grueling play about a middle-aged lawyer whose life is in tatters. It opened at the Royal Court in 1964 and on Broadway in 1965, where the play had a lukewarm reception but Mr. Williamson a welcoming one; he was nominated for a Tony Award. He reprised the role Off Broadway in 1981.
Mr. Williamson also appeared on Broadway as a replacement for George C. Scott in the Neil Simon comedy “Plaza Suite” and as a replacement for Jeremy Irons in Tom Stoppard’s drama “The Real Thing.” In 1996 he had a one-man show, “Jack: A Night on the Town With John Barrymore.” In the movies his credits include Sir Edward More, the devastated philanderer in the 1969 adaptation of Nabokov’s “Laughter in the Dark”; Little John, a sidekick to an aging Robin Hood (Sean Connery) in “Robin and Marian” (1976); and a bullying boyfriend to Jill Clayburgh in the 1982 drama “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can.”
Mr. Williamson’s marriage to Jill Townsend, an actress, ended in divorce.
“I think the only valuable thing you can do as an actor is to make people recognize in themselves what is also there in you, and what you see in them,” he said in 1969. “Then they’ll hate you because they don’t want you to do that to them. That’s why I’m hated a lot of the time. They don’t want you to show these things in you because it makes them uncomfortable. It makes them frightened. But I think you must show these things in order to be true to yourself.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 27, 2012
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Thursday about the actor Nicol Williamson misstated his marital status. He and the actress Jill Townsend were divorced; she was not his wife at the time of his death.
JAMES FARANTINO, DASHING LEADING MAN
Published: January 26, 2012
James Farentino, a tall, dark and dashing actor who in his nearly 100 roles on stage, screen and television often defied the stereotype of the leading man, even though he fit the picture, died on Tuesday in Los Angeles. He was 73.
The cause was heart failure after a long illness, Bob Palmer, a spokesman for Mr. Farentino, said. Mr. Farentino, who died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, lived in Los Angeles.
As a Navy officer in the 1980 science-fiction film “The Final Countdown,” Mr. Farentino stood beside Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen on the deck of a modern aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Nimitz, as it passed through a time warp to Pearl Harbor, hours before the Japanese attack on Dec. 7, 1941. They had to decide whether to use the full power of their supercarrier to destroy the Japanese fleet or allow history to take its course.
In the 1972 television movie “The Family Rico,” opposite Ben Gazzara and Sal Mineo, the wavy-haired Mr. Farentino played one of three brothers who wanted out of a Mafia family. He was the Argentine dictator Juan Perón in the four-hour 1981 television movie “Evita Perón,” with Faye Dunaway in the title role.
“Farentino can play in anybody’s league as an actor,” Cecil Smith of The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1971. “Since he first drew attention opposite Bette Davis on Broadway in ‘Night of the Iguana,’ this fiery young star has cut a handsome swath through movies and television.”
Not always so handsome. In 1982, for the television comedy “Something So Right,” about a boy who is constantly getting in trouble, Mr. Farentino played Arnie, the balding, dumpy, waddling regular guy who mentors him.
Accolades came his way. In Mr. Farentino won a Golden Globe as the most promising newcomer in an otherwise forgettable 1966 film, “The Pad (and How to Use It).” He was nominated for an Emmy in 1978 for his portrayal of St. Peter in the television mini-series “Jesus of Nazareth.”
A prominent role early in his career was as Happy Loman in the 1966 television version of Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman.” (Lee J. Cobb played Willy Loman and George Segal was Willy’s other son, Biff.) Nine years later, Mr. Farentino had a turn as Biff in a Broadway production starring George C. Scott as Willy.
“This is not a one-man play,” Clive Barnes wrote in The New York Times. “Willy’s son Biff is crucial to Mr. Miller’s vision, and here it is wonderfully given by James Farentino, who stands toe to toe to Mr. Scott, like a gladiator. His picture of corrupted glory and tarnished innocence gives Mr. Scott his perfect counterpart.”
James Farentino was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 24, 1938. He dropped out of high school and was working at odd jobs when he began studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1961 he was cast as one of Bette Davis’s Mexican beach boys in “The Night of the Iguana” on Broadway.
He moved to Hollywood, signed a contract with Universal and wound up being suspended 10 times for refusing to accept roles. That may have been an indication of later tumult in his life. In 1994 Mr. Farentino pleaded no contest to stalking his former girlfriend, Tina Sinatra, a daughter of Frank Sinatra. He was placed on six months’ probation.
Mr. Farentino’s marriages to the actresses Elizabeth Ashley, Michele Lee and Deborah Mullowney (now known as Debrah Farentino) ended in divorce. He is survived by his fourth wife, Stella, and their son, Saverio, and by his son, David, with Ms. Lee.
In his later career Mr. Farentino had recurring roles on “Dynasty,” “Melrose Place” and “ER,” on which he played George Clooney’s estranged father.
But the incident involving Ms. Sinatra took its toll on his career, Mr. Farentino told The Los Angeles Times in 2003. Admitting that his behavior had been “appalling,” he said, “The roles started to get smaller and smaller with less value.”
DICK TUFELD, ROBOT VOICE IN TV’S ‘LOST IN SPACE’
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: January 25, 2012
Dick Tufeld, who possessed one of Hollywood’s most often-heard disembodied voices, especially from the 1950s through the 1970s, announcing or narrating television shows like “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” and commercials for products like Mr. Bubble bubble bath and Gallo wine, but who was best known for his electronic intonations as the robot in the loopy science-fiction series “Lost in Space,” died on Sunday at his home in the Studio City section of Los Angeles. He was 85.
The cause was congestive heart failure, his daughter Lynn said.
Mr. Tufeld’s broadcasting career began in the 1940s in radio and reached into the contemporary age of television on “The Simpsons.”
His voice, with its midrange, goes-down-easy, slightly excited, static-free hum, first became recognizable narrating “Space Patrol,” a live radio show for children (it was also a television program) that began in 1950 and ran until the mid-1950s, with Mr. Tufeld introducing the shows’ weekly missions made “in the name of interplanetary justice.” In the 1950s and ’60s he could be heard on episodes of “Annie Oakley,” “Zorro,” “Peyton Place,” “Surfside 6” and “Bewitched.” He worked on variety shows starring Red Skelton and Judy Garland and cartoon shows featuring Bugs Bunny and Garfield. He narrated “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” and the trailer for the Disney film “Mary Poppins.” He did ads for Zenith televisions: “A giant 25-inch picture” with “redder reds, brighter greens and more brilliant blues!”
Later he worked on game shows, including “The Joker’s Wild” (“A jackpot of fun and surprises!”), the comedy series “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and the 1978 animated version of “Fantastic Four.”
But most television aficionados of a certain age will remember Mr. Tufeld for his roles in adventure series of the 1960s produced by his friend Irwin Allen: “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea,” about the crew of a submarine, which starred Richard Basehart and David Hedison; “The Time Tunnel,” about scientists who find themselves present at historic events; and “Lost in Space,” a futuristic — it was set in 1997 — reimagination of “Swiss Family Robinson.” In “Lost in Space” a clean-cut, space-traveling clan (the Robinsons), along with a pilot and a talking robot (physically, a hulking ancestor of R2D2 from “Star Wars,” played by Bob May but voiced by Mr. Tufeld), is sent careening around the galaxy by the machinations of a conniving villain, who is somehow marooned on the spacecraft himself. Alighting on various planets, they have campy, semi-threatening adventures.
The cast included Mark Goddard as the pilot, Maj. Don West; Jonathan Harris as the villain, Dr. Zachary Smith; and Guy Williams, June Lockhart, Marta Kristen, Angela Cartwright and Billy Mumy as the Robinsons. Billy was the family’s youngest child, Will, the focus of one of the robot’s most frequent and most famous declarations: “Danger, Will Robinson!”
The show, which ran from 1965 to 1968, had its fanatical adherents. It was resurrected for a 1998 movie that starred Gary Oldman, William Hurt and Matt LeBlanc. Several original cast members appeared in the film, but Mr. Tufeld was the only one to reprise his role.
“It was no big deal, since 30 years have passed and no one ever saw my face,” he said at the time. “It’s not like the robot needs Botox.”
Richard Norton Tufeld was born in Los Angeles, on Dec. 11, 1926, and grew up in Pasadena, Calif. His parents were immigrants — his father, who ran a successful furniture business, from Russia, and his mother from Canada. He graduated from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., where he studied speech. His wife of 55 years, Adrienne Blumberg, died in 2004.
Mr. Tufeld is survived by two daughters, Lynn Tufeld and Melissa Tufeld-Gerber; two sons, Bruce and Craig; a brother, Howard, known as Bud; and six grandchildren.
A sports fanatic (one of his early gigs was as the play-by-play announcer for the Hollywood Stars, a minor league baseball team) and a jazz fanatic, Mr. Tufeld had what his children describe as myriad interests.
“But what he really loved was speaking,” his daughter Lynn said. “He really did. In kindergarten — it would be abuse now, but the teacher once taped his mouth shut to keep him quiet.”
JOHN LEVY, BASSIST AND TALENT MANAGER
By NATE CHINEN
Published: January 24, 2012
John Levy, a bassist and pioneering talent manager whose roster included some of the biggest names in jazz, notably Nancy Wilson, Joe Williams, Cannonball Adderley and Wes Montgomery, died on Friday at his home in Altadena, Calif. He was 99.
His death was confirmed by his wife and business partner, Devra Hall Levy.
Widely credited as the first African-American personal manager in jazz, Mr. Levy entered that profession by happenstance: he was a member of the original George Shearing Quintet in the late 1940s, and by virtue of his diligent practicality, he gradually found himself entrusted with most of the group’s business decisions. He established his management company, John Levy Enterprises, in 1951; Shearing, the British pianist then still riding the momentum of an international hit, “September in the Rain,” became his first client.
He would go on to represent singers like Betty Carter, Abbey Lincoln and Shirley Horn; pace-setting bandleaders like Ahmad Jamal, Ramsey Lewis, Freddie Hubbard and Herbie Hancock; and crossover stars like Roberta Flack and Les McCann.
Self-taught as a businessman, Mr. Levy cultivated bonds of trust with his clients, preferring a handshake to a formal contract. At a time when jazz musicians were often at the mercy of inequitable deals with club owners, record labels and publishing houses, he earned a reputation for clear-eyed tenacity.
In dealing with artists it didn’t hurt that Mr. Levy was an accomplished jazz musician himself. In the handful of years before he became a full-time manager, he had accompanied Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall; worked with the tenor saxophonists Don Byas and Lucky Thompson; and recorded in a trio with the pianist Lennie Tristano and the guitarist Billy Bauer. He anchored Shearing’s modern but accessible quintet. And he was on one of the first recordings by the pianist Erroll Garner.
John Levy was born on April 11, 1912, in New Orleans. His father, John, was a railroad engine stoker; his mother, Laura, a midwife and nurse. Mr. Levy said he was largely reared by his grandparents. When he was 5 his family moved to Chicago, taking an apartment above the Royal Gardens, a dance hall that featured New Orleans jazz. He became a bassist in his teens after dabbling in piano and violin; the bassist Milt Hinton, though only a few years older, was a mentor.
Mr. Levy found his foothold in the Chicago jazz scene while working a day job at the post office, running a small-time numbers racket and starting a family with his first wife, Gladys. He bought a cheap plywood bass, painted white, that would serve him through most of his musical career. Through the black musicians’ union he landed a gig with the violinist Stuff Smith, who ended up bringing him to New York.
The Stuff Smith Trio, also featuring the pianist Jimmy Jones, held a steady engagement at the Onyx Club on 52nd Street, beginning in 1944; from time to time the tenor saxophonist Ben Webster would join as a special guest.
Mr. Levy had no problem finding subsequent work, especially once he formed a working partnership with the drummer Denzil Best, his band mate in the Shearing Quintet. The two hired themselves out as a rhythm section.
Mr. Levy’s first three marriages ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife; his son, Michael; his daughters Pamela McRae, Samara Levy and Jole Levy; 15 grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. His second wife, Gail Fisher, was among the first black actresses to have a prominent role in a primetime dramatic series, “Mannix.” She died in 2000.
In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts recognized Levy as a Jazz Master, the nation’s highest jazz honor.
BILL MARDO, WRITER WHO PUSHED BASEBALL TO INTEGRATE
Published: January 24, 2012
Bill Mardo, a sportswriter for the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker who fought major league baseball’s color barrier in the 1940s when the mainstream American news media was largely silent on the subject, died Friday in Manhattan. He was 88.
Mr. Mardo in 1999.
The cause was complications of Parkinson’s disease, his companion, Ruth Ost, said.
In the years before the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson as the first black player in modern organized baseball, Mr. Mardo was a leading voice in a campaign by The Daily Worker against racism in the game, a battle it had begun in 1936 when Lester Rodney became its first sports editor.
Mr. Mardo, who joined The Daily Worker in 1942, oversaw its sports coverage, together with Nat Low, during World War II, when Mr. Rodney was in the Army. Mr. Mardo had a deferment, having lost vision in one eye from a childhood virus.
The Daily Worker asked fans to write to the New York City baseball teams urging them to sign Negro league players at a time when the major leagues had lost much of their talent to military service. A milestone in baseball history and the civil rights movement arrived in October 1945 when Robinson signed a contract with the Dodgers’ organization, having reached an agreement with Branch Rickey, the Dodger general manager, two months earlier.
Mr. Mardo covered Robinson’s first spring training, with the Dodgers’ Montreal Royals farm team in 1946, and wrote of the hostility toward him in parts of segregated Florida.
As Robinson was concluding a brilliant 1946 season, Mr. Mardo wrote that racism would be smashed by the arrival of black players, which, he said, “in one fell swoop does as much to arm and educate the American people against this monstrous lie as do all the pamphlets in the world.”
After Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers in 1947, Mr. Rodney and Mr. Mardo called on the owners of the other 15 teams in the majors to sign black players.
Rickey had not acknowledged being pressured by The Daily Worker. But in recounting the campaign to shatter baseball’s color bar, Arnold Rampersad wrote in “Jackie Robinson: A Biography” (1997) that “the most vigorous efforts came from the Communist press, including picketing, petitions and unrelenting pressure for about 10 years in The Daily Worker, notably from Lester Rodney and Bill Mardo.”
Mr. Mardo was born William Bloom in Manhattan on Oct. 24, 1923. His interest in left-wing politics arose when he read a copy of The Daily Worker as a teenager, and he became a member of the Communist Party. He changed his name to Mardo as a tribute to his sisters Marion and Doris when he began his career in journalism.
Apart from reporting on baseball, Mr. Mardo wrote a boxing column for The Daily Worker, “In This Corner.” He left the newspaper to work as a Washington reporter for the Soviet news agency Tass in the early 1950s. He later worked in direct-mail advertising.
His marriage in the 1950s ended in divorce, and he had no children.
In April 1997, Mr. Mardo and Mr. Rodney (who died in 2009) spoke at a symposium at Long Island University’s Brooklyn campus marking the 50th anniversary of Robinson’s debut with the Dodgers.
Mr. Mardo noted that Rickey had not signed blacks when he ran the St. Louis Cardinals for more than two decades and suggested it was not idealism but pressure from black sportswriters, trade unions and the Communist Party that persuaded him to sign Robinson.
“Where were you looking all those years, Mr. Rickey?” Mr. Mardo said. “Istanbul? The South Seas?”
But on April 10, 1947, when the Dodgers announced they were bringing up Robinson from Montreal, Mr. Mardo, sitting in the Ebbets Field press box, could only exult.
“There’s time tomorrow to remember that the good fight goes on,” he wrote for the next day’s Daily Worker. “But, for today, let’s just sit back and feel easy and warm. As that fellow in the press box said, ‘Robinson’s a Dodger’ — and it’s a great day, isn’t it?”