DORY PREVIN, SONGWRITER
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: February 14, 2012
Dory Previn, the lyricist for three Oscar-nominated songs who as a composer and performer mined her difficult childhood, bouts of mental illness and a very public divorce to create a potent and influential personal songbook, died on Tuesday at her home in Southfield, Mass. She was 86.
Her death was confirmed by her husband, Joby Baker.
Ms. Previn rose to prominence as a singer-songwriter with a substantial cult following in the early 1970s and she enriched a period in pop music history that also saw the emergence of Joni Mitchell, Carole King and Laura Nyro.
She never became as widely known as they were (though she did record a live double album at Carnegie Hall), partly because her voice was never as big as theirs, but also because her lyrics — frank and dark, even when tinged with humor, and often wincingly confessional — were not the stuff of pop radio. They were, however, clear antecedents of the work of later balladeers like Sinead O’Connor and Suzanne Vega.
In “With My Daddy in the Attic,” Ms. Previn wrote of her complicated relationship with her disturbed father. In “Esther’s First Communion,” she wrote about a girl’s indoctrination into religious ritual and her revulsion at it. In “Yada Yada La Scala,” she wrote about women in a mental hospital. In “Lemon Haired Ladies,” she wrote about an older woman pining for a younger man:
Whatever you give me
I’ll take as it comes
I’ll manage with crumbs.
Unusually for a pop singer of the day, Ms. Previn’s background was in neither folk nor rock. Her early success came in Hollywood, writing songs for the movies, generally as a lyricist working with her husband, André Previn, who later earned fame as a classical composer and conductor.
Together they were nominated for two Academy Awards: in 1960 for “Faraway Part of Town,” from “Pepe,” and in 1962 for “Second Chance,” from “Two for the Seesaw.” But their best-known collaboration was the theme from the 1967 film version of Jacqueline Susann’s drug-soaked show-business novel “Valley of the Dolls” (later recorded by Dionne Warwick), which begins:
Gotta get off, gonna get
Have to get off from this ride
Gotta get hold, gonna get
Need to get hold of my pride.
The halting, almost stammering progression of laments, Ms. Previn later said, came from her own experience of relying on pills.
In 1969, working with the composer Fred Karlin, Ms. Previn earned a third Oscar nomination, for “Come Saturday Morning” from “The Sterile Cuckoo,” which became a hit for the Sandpipers.
By then, however, the Previn marriage was in a shambles. Mr. Previn had begun an affair with the actress Mia Farrow, then in her early 20s, whom he later married, and Ms. Previn, who had a history of emotional fragility and mental illness, fell apart. Fearful of traveling in general and of flying in particular, she had a breakdown on an airplane that was waiting to take off, shouted unintelligibly and tore at her clothes, and spent several months in a psychiatric hospital.
The episode, as awful as it was, proved to be a turning point in her life and career.
Her first album afterward, “On My Way to Where” (1970) — the title was a reference to the airplane debacle — included perhaps her most famous song, “Beware of Young Girls,” about Ms. Farrow, and received polarized reviews. On her second, “Mythical Kings and Iguanas” (1971), many critics noticed a growing vocal confidence. Her third, “Reflections in a Mud Puddle/Taps Tremors and Time Steps” (1971), included a pained report of and reflection on her father’s death, and drew praise from the New York Times music critic Don Heckman.
“Ms. Previn is no great singer, her guitar playing is only adequate, and her melodies sometimes have an uncomfortable tendency to move in too-familiar directions,” he wrote. “But her message is stated so brilliantly in her lyrics, and the tales she has to tell are so important, that they make occasional musical inadequacies fade away.”
Dorothy Veronica Langan was born in New Jersey — sources differ on the town, Rahway or Woodbridge — on Oct. 22, 1925, and she grew up in Woodbridge. Her father, Michael, was a laborer and a frustrated musician who pushed her toward music and dance. He had also been deranged, Ms. Previn wrote in a 1976 memoir, by his service in World War I. He had been gassed, she wrote, and he was convinced the gassing had made him sterile; therefore she could not be his daughter. For a while he locked himself in the attic.
Ms. Previn left home as a teenager and worked in summer stock and in commercials and sang in small clubs, writing new verses to popular songs. Her work came to the attention of Arthur Freed, the producer of MGM movie musicals like “An American in Paris” and “Singin’ in the Rain,” who hired her for MGM, where she met Mr. Previn. They married in 1959. She had been married and divorced previously.
In addition to her husband, Mr. Baker, a painter whom she met in the 1970s and married in 1984, she is survived by three stepchildren, Michelle Wayland, Fredricka Baker and Scott Zimmerman, and six step-grandchildren.
In the 1980s, Ms. Previn and Mr. Previn reconciled as friends, and she came to loathe the fact that she was best known for their breakup. But the pain and grief were the foundation of her art. In the hospital after her breakdown, she was encouraged to write down her feelings, and they emerged as poems.
“I was always afraid to write music,” she said in 1970. “I wouldn’t have presumed to with a musician like André around the house. But I play a little guitar. So I started working them out on the guitar, thinking I could interest some singer in recording them and that’s how all these songs were born.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: February 16, 2012
An obituary on Wednesday about the singer and songwriter Dory Previn contained several errors. She and Joby Baker, who survives her, married in 1984, not 1986. The name of one of her three stepchildren is Michelle Wayland, not Michele. The album Ms. Previn recorded in 1970 is called “On My Way to Where,” not “On the Way to Where.”
In addition, the obituary referred incorrectly in some editions to that album. It was the second album of her career, not the first. (It was the first album she recorded after separating from her husband, the composer André Previn, and suffering a breakdown. Her first-ever album was “The Leprechauns Are Upon Me,” which she recorded in the late 1950s under the name Dory Langdon.)
PHIL BRUNS, HARD-HAT DAD ON ‘MARY HARTMAN, MARY HARTMAN’
Published: February 15, 2012
Phil Bruns, a familiar-face character actor best known on television as the cigar-chomping hard-hat dad on the 1970s soap-opera parody “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman,” died on Feb. 8 at a hospital near his home in Los Angeles. He was 80.
Columbia Pictures Television
Phil Bruns, center front, with the cast of “Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman.”
He died of natural causes, his friend Joseph Armilla said.
Mr. Bruns, who received critical praise for his roles on the New York stage in the early 1960s, went on to appear in more than 40 movies and 60 television shows.
On “Mary Hartman,” in 1976 and 1977, he played George Shumway, a schlumpy, rubber-faced assembly-line mechanic who never quite gets what’s going on with his daughter Mary (Louise Lasser) or the rest of the world.
“He was this middle-aged working man, the middle class we’re all talking about today, bewildered by the torrent of information thrown at him from all sides, absent context,” Norman Lear, the show’s creator and producer, said in an interview on Tuesday. “He was too ill-informed to be sure of much.”
The show, a convention-breaking spoof of the soap operas of its time, dealt with subjects like infidelity, sexual perversion, racism and religious intolerance. In one episode George is set up in a hotel room with a prostitute by a rival faction of his union. In another he tries to comprehend why stress on the job has made him impotent.
As Reader’s Digest wrote in 1977, George combined “a know-it-all stance with profound ignorance.”
Mr. Bruns could nail that role, Mr. Lear said, because “he was an extremely intelligent man who brought that character out of the 10,000 he could play.”
Among his film credits, Mr. Bruns played a faithful production manager to the filmmaker played by Peter O’Toole in “The Stunt Man” (1980) and a small-town doctor battling zombies in “Return of the Living Dead, Part II” (1988). He also had roles in “Flashdance” (1983), “The Out-of-Towners” (1970) and “The Great Waldo Pepper” (1975) and appeared on television in “Route 66,” “The Defenders,” “Sanford and Son,” “M*A*S*H,” “Kojak,” “Naked City,” “Barney Miller,” “Maude” and “Seinfeld” (in which he was the first actor to play Jerry Seinfeld’s father), among many other series.
Phillip Bruns was born on a farm near Pipestone, Minn., on May 2, 1931, the youngest of three children of Henry and Margie Trigg Bruns. He is survived by his wife, the former Laurie Franks, and a sister, Dorothy Boese.
A 1953 graduate of Augustana College in South Dakota, Mr. Bruns received a master’s degree from the Yale School of Drama and studied at the Old Vic Theater School in England.
He won an Obie Award in 1964 for the Off Broadway production of “Mr. Simian,” an exploration of the misery of the human condition, in which he played the title role: an ape that morphs into a human.
In 1961, in “Seven Come Eleven,” a cabaret show in Manhattan, Mr. Bruns performed in a spoof of Method acting in which he transformed into a toad because, as his character said, “I projected too much.”
“Mr. Bruns’s impersonation of a toad — stance, facial gesture and voice — is miming on a level of brilliance that might be envied by Marcel Marceau,” Arthur Gelb wrote in The New York Times.
FREDDIE SOLOMON, STAR RECEIVER WITH 49RS AND DOLPHINS
Published: February 14, 2012
Freddie Solomon, who gave up his dream of being a professional quarterback to become an outstanding receiver for the Miami Dolphins and a San Francisco 49ers team that won two Super Bowls, died Monday in Tampa, Fla. He was 59.
The 49ers announced his death. He had been treated for colon and liver cancer.
Solomon lives in legend for a pass not thrown to him. It came with less than a minute to play in the National Football Conference championship game between the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 10, 1982. On a third-down passing play from the Dallas 6, Solomon was quarterback Joe Montana’s first option. But in tight coverage, Solomon slipped, and instead Montana found Dwight Clark in the end zone for the winning score on a reception that came to be called the Catch.
But Solomon had contributed mightily to the drive that led to the touchdown by gaining 14 yards on a reverse and 12 yards on a pass. With the ball on the 13, he got open in the end zone, but Montana threw wide. Then came a running play, then the Catch.
In an 11-year National Football League career, Solomon had 371 receptions for 5,846 yards and 48 touchdowns in 151 games. He ran for 519 yards and 4 touchdowns.
On Dec. 5, 1976, in a game between the Dolphins and the Buffalo Bills, he scored touchdowns three ways: he ran 59 yards on a reverse to score, caught a 53-yard pass for another touchdown, and returned a punt 79 yards to score again. His total yardage was 252.
Freddie Solomon, the son of a cobbler, was born on Jan. 11, 1953, in Sumter, S.C., and grew up idolizing Joe Namath, the University of Alabama quarterback who went on to play for the Jets. Solomon was an offensive end and guard for all-black Lincoln High School, and when Sumter schools were integrated in 1970, he did so well as a replacement quarterback at Sumter High School that his coach made him the starter.
From there, he went to the University of Tampa, where he played quarterback in a run-first offense at a time when blacks in that position were a rarity. He accumulated 5,803 yards of total offense, rushing for 3,299.
After the University of Miami beat Tampa, 28-26, in 1974, Pete Elliott, Miami’s coach, called Solomon “the finest football player in the country.”
That same year, Solomon ran a quarterback draw for an 81-yard score against San Diego State, breaking as many as a dozen tackles. “He’s the most exciting collegiate runner since O. J. Simpson,” Jack Murphy of The San Diego Union wrote, “and he moves faster than anything that doesn’t burn fuel.”
Solomon was voted the offensive player of the game in the 1975 East-West Shrine college all-star game. Miami chose him that year in the second round of the N.F.L. draft as the 36th overall pick.
Despite his hopes of playing quarterback, the Dolphins saw him in other roles, and he soon established himself as an impressive receiver and punt and kickoff returner.
After his retirement from football in 1985, Solomon worked with the Hillsborough County sheriff’s office in Tampa to help disadvantaged youth. Called Coach, he was known for insisting that young men tuck in their shirts.
He is survived by his wife of 34 years, Dee; his mother, Bessie Ruth Solomon; and his brothers, Richard, ONeal and Roger.
Solomon had one moment of quarterback glory in the N.F.L. In late December 1978, with the 49ers losing to the Detroit Lions and all the San Francisco quarterbacks injured, Fred O’Connor, the interim coach, scoured the sideline for a quarterback. Everyone pointed at Solomon. He went on to run 11 yards for a touchdown and completed 5 of 9 passes for 85 yards, with one interception.
“That won’t happen again,” he correctly predicted. “I’ve lived my fantasy, and got it out of my system.”