PAULINE PHILLIPS, FLINTY ADVISER TO MILLIONS AS DEAR ABBY
Pauline Phillips, left, who wrote an advice column as Dear Abby, with her twin sister, Eppie Lederer, who wrote a column as Ann Landers, in 1986 at their 50th high school reunion.
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: January 17, 2013 170 Comments
- Dear Abby: My wife sleeps in the raw. Then she showers, brushes her teeth and fixes our breakfast — still in the buff. We’re newlyweds and there are just the two of us, so I suppose there’s really nothing wrong with it. What do you think? — Ed
The Lede Blog: What Was Dear Abby’s Most Helpful Advice?(January 17, 2013)
Dear Ed: It’s O.K. with me. But tell her to put on an apron when she’s frying bacon.
Pauline Phillips, a California housewife who nearly 60 years ago, seeking something more meaningful than mah-jongg, transformed herself into the syndicated columnist Dear Abby — and in so doing became a trusted, tart-tongued adviser to tens of millions — died on Wednesday in Minneapolis. She was 94.
Her syndicate, Universal Uclick, announced her death on its Web site. Mrs. Phillips, who had been ill with Alzheimer’s disease for more than a decade, was a longtime resident of Beverly Hills, Calif., but lived in Minneapolis in recent years to be near family.
If Damon Runyon and Groucho Marx had gone jointly into the advice business, their column would have read much like Dear Abby’s. With her comic and flinty yet fundamentally sympathetic voice, Mrs. Phillips helped wrestle the advice column from its weepy Victorian past into a hard-nosed 20th-century present:
Dear Abby: I have always wanted to have my family history traced, but I can’t afford to spend a lot of money to do it. Have you any suggestions? — M. J. B. in Oakland, Calif.
Dear M. J. B.: Yes. Run for a public office.
Mrs. Phillips began her life as the columnist Abigail Van Buren in 1956. She quickly became known for her astringent, often genteelly risqué, replies to queries that included the marital, the medical and sometimes both at once:
Dear Abby: Are birth control pills deductible? — Bertie
Dear Bertie: Only if they don’t work.
She was also known for her long, much-publicized professional rivalry with her identical twin sister, the advice columnist Ann Landers.
Long before the Internet — and long before the pervasive electronic confessionals of Dr. Ruth, Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, et al. — the Dear Abby column was a forum for the public discussion of private problems, read by tens of millions of people in hundreds of newspapers around the world.
It is difficult to overstate the column’s influence on American culture at midcentury and afterward: in popular parlance, Dear Abby was for decades an affectionate synonym for a trusted, if slightly campy, confidante.
On television, the column has been invoked on shows as diverse as “Three’s Company,” “Dexter” and “Mr. Ed,” where, in a 1964 episode in which Mrs. Phillips played herself, the title character, pining (in an equine way, of course) for a swinging bachelor pad of his own, writes her a letter.
Even now, Dear Abby’s reach is vast. (Mrs. Phillips’s daughter, Jeanne Phillips, took over the column unofficially in 1987 and officially in 2000.) According to Universal Uclick, Dear Abby appears in about 1,400 newspapers worldwide, has a daily readership of more than 110 million — in print and on its Web site, dearabby.com — and receives more than 10,000 letters and e-mails a week.
Politically left of center, Mrs. Phillips was generally conservative when it came to personal deportment. As late as the 1990s, she was reluctant to advise unmarried couples to live together. Yet beneath her crackling one-liners lay an imperturbable acceptance of the vagaries of modern life:
Dear Abby: Our son married a girl when he was in the service. They were married in February and she had an 8 1/2-pound baby girl in August. She said the baby was premature. Can an 8 1/2-pound baby be this premature? — Wanting to Know
Dear Wanting: The baby was on time. The wedding was late. Forget it.
Mrs. Phillips was also keen, genteelly, to keep pace with the times. In 1976, she confided to People magazine that she had recently seen an X-rated movie. Her sister, she learned afterward, had wanted to see it, too, but feared being recognized.
“How did you get away with it?” Ann Landers asked Dear Abby.
“Well,” Dear Abby replied breezily, “I just put on my dark glasses and my Ann Landers wig and went!”
The youngest of four sisters, Pauline Esther Friedman, familiarly known as Popo, was born in Sioux City, Iowa, on July 4, 1918. Her twin, Esther Pauline (known as Eppie), beat her into the world by 17 minutes, just as she would narrowly beat her into the advice business.
Their father, Abraham, was a Jewish immigrant from Vladivostok, Russia, who had made his start in the United States as an itinerant chicken peddler and, in an archetypal American success story, ended up owning a chain of movie theaters.
The twins attended Morningside College in Sioux City, where they both studied journalism and psychology and wrote a joint gossip column for the school paper.
As close as they were, the intense competitiveness that would later spill into the public arena was already apparent. “She wanted to be the first violin in the school orchestra, but I was,” Mrs. Phillips told Life magazine in 1958. “She swore she’d marry a millionaire, but I did.”
In 1939, Pauline Friedman left college to marry Morton Phillips, an heir to a liquor fortune. She was married in a lavish double ceremony alongside Eppie, who, not to be outdone, was wed on the same day to Jules Lederer, a salesman who later founded the Budget Rent A Car corporation.
As a young bride, Mrs. Phillips lived in Eau Claire, Wis., where her husband was an executive with the National Pressure Cooker Company, which his family had acquired.
“It never occurred to me that I’d have any kind of career,” Mrs. Phillips told The Los Angeles Times in 1986. “But after I was married, I thought, ‘There has to be something more to life than mah-jongg.’ ”
She took up civic work training hospital volunteers, an experience that helped lay the foundation for her future calling. “I learned how to listen,” Mrs. Phillips told The San Diego Union-Tribune in 1989. “Sometimes, when people come to you with a problem, the best thing you can do is listen.”
In 1955, Mrs. Phillips’s twin, now Eppie Lederer, took over the Ann Landers column for The Chicago Sun-Times. A rank beginner soon swamped by a flood of mail, she began sending batches of letters to her sister — for advice, as it were.
“I provided the sharp answers,” Mrs. Phillips told The Ladies’ Home Journal in 1981. “I’d say, ‘You’re writing too long (she still does), and this is the way I’d say it.’ ” She added, “My stuff was published — and it looked awfully good in print.”
So good that when The Sun-Times later forbade Mrs. Lederer to send letters out of the office, Mrs. Phillips, by this time living in the Bay Area, vowed to find a column of her own.
She phoned The San Francisco Chronicle, identifying herself as a local housewife who thought she could do better than the advice columnist the paper already had. “If you’re ever in the neighborhood,” the features editor said rhetorically, “come in and see me.”
Mrs. Phillips took him at his word and the next morning appeared unannounced in the newsroom in a Dior dress. She prudently left her chauffeured Cadillac around the corner.
If only to get rid of her, the editor handed her a stack of back issues, telling her to compose her own replies to the letters in the advice column. She did so in characteristic style and dropped off her answers at the paper. She arrived home to a ringing telephone. The job was hers — at $20 a week.
Mrs. Phillips chose her pen name herself, taking Abigail after the prophetess in the Book of Samuel (“Then David said to Abigail ‘Blessed is your advice and blessed are you’ ”) and Van Buren for its old-family, presidential ring. Her first column appeared on Jan. 9, 1956, less than three months after her sister’s debut.
An immediate success, the column was quickly syndicated. But with Mrs. Phillips’s growing renown came a growing estrangement from her twin, as Dear Abby and Ann Landers battled each other in syndication. According to many accounts, the sisters did not speak for five years, reconciling only in the mid-1960s.
Mrs. Lederer died in 2002, at 83. In addition to her daughter, Jeanne, Mrs. Phillips is survived by her husband of 73 years, Mort Phillips; four grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A son, Edward, died in 2011 at 66.
Her columns have been collected in several book-length anthologies, including “Dear Abby on Marriage” (1962) and “The Best of Dear Abby” (1981). From 1963 to 1975, Mrs. Phillips also had a daily “Dear Abby” program on CBS Radio.
In 1982, in a rare professional misstep, Mrs. Phillips acknowledged that she had recycled old letters for use in contemporary columns. (In the kind of parallel experience that seemed to define their lives together, Mrs. Lederer acknowledged earlier that year that she had run recycled letters in Ann Landers’s column.)
But until her retirement in 2000, Mrs. Phillips remained a trusted adviser in a world that had evolved from discussions of the dainty art of naked bacon-frying to all manner of postmodern angst:
Dear Abby: Two men who claim to be father and adopted son just bought an old mansion across the street and fixed it up. We notice a very suspicious mixture of company coming and going at all hours — blacks, whites, Orientals, women who look like men and men who look like women. This has always been considered one of the finest sections of San Francisco, and these weirdos are giving it a bad name. How can we improve the neighborhood? — Nob Hill Residents
Dear Residents: You could move.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 17, 2013
Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this obituary misstated the day Mrs. Phillips died. It was Wednesday, not Thursday.
STAN MUSIAL, GENTLEMANLY SLUGGER AND CARDINAL’S STAN THE MAN
Published: January 19, 2013
- Stan Musial, one of baseball’s greatest hitters and a revered figure in the storied history of the St. Louis Cardinals — the player they called Stan the Man — died Saturday. He was 92.
Patrick Burns/The New York Times
Stan Musial won seven National League batting titles, was a three-time M.V.P. and helped the St. Louis Cardinals capture three World Series championships. More Photos »
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Stan Musial, a Hall of Famer, was so beloved in St. Louis that two statues of him stand outside the Cardinals’ ballpark. More Photos »
The Cardinals said he died at his home in Ladue, Mo., surrounded by family.
A signature Musial image endures: He waits for a pitch in a left-handed crouch, his knees bent and close together, his body leaning to the left as he peers over his right shoulder, the red No. 6 on his back. The stance was likened to a corkscrew or, as the White Sox pitcher and Dodgers coach Ted Lyons once described it, “a kid peeking around the corner to see if the cops are coming.”
Swinging from that stance, Musial won seven batting championships, hit 475 home runs and amassed 3,630 hits. His brilliance lay in his consistency. He had 1,815 hits at home and 1,815 on the road. He drove in 1,951 runs and scored 1,949 runs. And his power could be explosive: he set a major league record, equaled only once, when he hit five home runs in a doubleheader.
“There is only one way to pitch to Musial — under the plate,” Leo Durocher, the manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants teams that Musial often victimized, once said.
Musial was renowned for his concentration at the plate, and for his patience: he struck out only 696 times in 10,972 at-bats in his 22 major league seasons, all as a Cardinal. A gentlemanly and sunny figure — he loved to play “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” on his harmonica — he was never ejected from a game. When admirers approached him, he chatted them up with his familiar “whattayasay, whattayasay.”
But he otherwise had little of the glamour of the other stars of his era — from the World War II years to the early 1960s — when baseball was the undisputed king of sports. He did not have the mystique of Joe DiMaggio, the tempestuousness of Ted Williams, the electrifying presence of Willie Mays, the country-boy aura of Mickey Mantle. His Cardinals were far removed from the coastal media centers, and he shunned controversy.
He simply tattooed National League pitching.
Musial played on three World Series championship teams, won three Most Valuable Player awards, had a career batting average of .331 while playing in the outfield and at first base, and was the fourth player inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
He was the most cherished Cardinal of them all in a city that witnessed the exploits of Grover Cleveland Alexander and Rogers Hornsby, Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols.
Pujols, the slugger from the Dominican Republic, was sometimes saluted as El Hombre as he neared the end of his time in St. Louis.
“I don’t want to be called that,” he told The St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2010. “There is one man that gets that respect, and that’s Stan Musial. I know El Hombre is The Man in Spanish. But he is The Man.”
A frail Musial, wearing a Cardinal red sport jacket, went to the White House in February 2011 to receive the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, from President Obama, who called him “untarnished, a beloved pillar of the community, a gentleman you’d want your kids to emulate.”
There is one Gateway Arch in St. Louis but two statues of Stan the Man. Both are outside the Cardinals’ Busch Stadium, the earlier one engraved with the words of Ford Frick, the baseball commissioner at the time, speaking at a ceremony before Musial’s final game, on Sunday, Sept. 29, 1963, at home against the Cincinnati Reds: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
Stanley Frank Musial was born on Nov. 21, 1920, in Donora, Pa., a zinc and steel mill town some 30 miles from Pittsburgh where smokestacks sent grime aloft around the clock. He was the fifth of six children of Lukasz Musial, a Polish immigrant who worked at a steel and wire company, and his wife, Mary, a New York City native of Czech descent.His father had no interest in the frivolity of baseball, but the young Musial competed in gymnastics at a Polish sports club, developing his athleticism, and he played baseball with balls that his mother sewed from rags and string. His family and friends called him Stashu, the diminutive for the Polish Stanislaus.
His high school didn’t have a baseball team, but he excelled in American Legion play as a left-handed pitcher, and he could hit as well. The Cardinals signed him to a minor-league contract for the 1938 season.
Musial was pitching for the Cardinals’ farm team at Daytona Beach in the Florida State League in 1940 when he injured his left shoulder diving for a ball while playing the outfield part time. He was converted to a full-time outfielder, and his batting prowess brought him to the Cardinals in September 1941.
Playing left field in a superb outfield with Terry Moore in center and Slaughter in right, Musial hit .315 in 1942, when the Cardinals staged a furious pennant run to overtake the Dodgers, then defeated the Yankees in the World Series.
Musial hit .357 in 1943, winning his first batting title, but the Cardinals lost to the Yankees in a repeat World Series matchup. He batted .347 in 1944, when the Cardinals were again pennant-winners and defeated the St. Louis Browns in what was known as the Streetcar Series.
Musial spent 1945 in the Navy, which assigned him to play baseball for its ball clubs to entertain servicemen. When he returned to the Cardinals, he picked up where he had left off, winning his second battling title with a .365 average in 1946 and helping to propel the Cardinals to the pennant, which they won in a playoff with the Dodgers. They also won the World Series title, defeating the Boston Red Sox.
That Series was the last in which blacks were kept from playing. By the spring of 1947, Jackie Robinson had broken the color barrier with the Dodgers.
That did not sit well with some Cardinals players, according to reports, which said they had talked about refusing to take the field in protest when the team was scheduled to play at Brooklyn in May. But the truth of those accounts remains murky, and the Cardinals did, in fact, play against Robinson.
Musial did not speak out on racial issues, but he showed no reluctance to face black players. He liked to tell of how he once played baseball with blacks in his hometown, among them Buddy Griffey, the father and grandfather of the outfield stars Ken Griffey and Ken Jr.
The Dodgers’ Don Newcombe, major league baseball’s first black pitching star, recalled hearing taunts from some Cardinals players, but never from Musial or Schoendienst, Musial’s longtime roommate.
“We’d watch ’em in the dugout,” Newcombe told George Vecsey in “Stan Musial: An American Life.” “Wisecracks, call names. I could see from the mound when I got there in ’49. You never saw guys like Musial or Schoendienst. They never showed you up. The man went about his job and did it damn well and never had the need to sit in the dugout and call a black guy a bunch of names, because he was trying to change the game and make it what it should have been in the first place, a game for all people.”
The Cardinals did not have a black player until 1954.
Despite Musial’s consistent brilliance, the Cardinals fell in the standings during the late 1940s and ’50s, when the Dodgers of Robinson, Newcombe and Roy Campanella and the Giants of Mays and Monte Irvin dominated the National League.
Musial thrived at the Dodgers’ Ebbets Field, plastering the right-field scoreboard and hitting home runs over it, and winning the grudging admiration of the notoriously tough Brooklyn fans.
“I did some phenomenal hitting there,” he told The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The ballpark was small, so the seats were close to the field and you could hear just about anything anybody said. Then I’d come to the plate and the fans would say, ‘Here comes that man again.’ And a sportswriter picked it up and it became Stan the Man.”
The nickname, attributed to Bob Broeg of The St. Louis Post-Dispatch, stayed with Musial as he piled up hits, combining his talent with intense concentration at the plate.
“I’m always set for a fastball,” Musial told The Saturday Evening Post in 1958 when he got his 3,000th career hit. “When I’m concentrating up there, I know that pitcher’s best fastball. When he lets the ball go, if that ball jumps out in front of me there about 30, 40 feet, I know it’s got to be a fastball. If he lets that ball go and it doesn’t come up that quick, then it’s going to be a change or a curve. I never watch the spin of the ball. I watch the ball in its entirety, and what it’s doing, and how fast it’s reacting to me. And then I try to adjust from there.”
Musial was durable as well. He once held the National League record for consecutive games played, a streak that ended at 895 when he hurt a shoulder in August 1957. He won his seventh and last batting title that season, hitting .351. The following year, he became the first National League player with a $100,000 contract.
Musial retired after the 1963 season, having played in 24 All-Star Games. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1969.
After his playing days ended, Musial became an adviser to the Cardinals as a senior vice president. The team ended an 18-year pennant drought in 1964 and beat the Yankees in the World Series, having finally fielded outstanding black players like Gibson, Brock, Curt Flood and Bill White.
Musial succeeded Bob Howsam as the Cardinals’ general manager in 1967, but the team was set to contend when he took the job, and he made no major personnel moves. That team, managed by Schoendienst, went on to defeat the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.
Musial stepped down from the post after the season to pursue his business interests, notably the St. Louis restaurant popularly known as Stan and Biggie’s. He had been greeting guests there as an owner since 1949, when he bought into a steakhouse run by Julius Garagnani, known as Biggie, a product of the Italian-American Hill section of St. Louis.
Musial is survived by his son, Richard; his daughters Gerry Ashley, Janet Schwarze and Jeanne Edmonds; 11 grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren. His wife, Lillian, whom he married in 1940, died in May 2012 at 91.
St. Louis did not forget Musial. At the 2009 All-Star Game there, he received a huge ovation as he rode onto the field in a golf cart and handed President Obama a baseball for his ceremonial first pitch. And Musial did not forget the Cardinals. He visited with them during the 2011 playoffs and World Series, when they defeated the Texas Rangers in seven games.
Musial was appreciated even by rival players. “Stan was such a nice guy that I was probably happy for him when he homered off me,” Johnny Antonelli, a leading left-handed pitcher of the 1950s, told Danny Peary in the oral history “We Played the Game.”
Musial had an explanation for his good nature. “Maybe one reason I’m so cheerful is that for more than 20 years I’ve had an unbeatable combination going for me — getting paid, often a lot, to do the thing I love the most,” he told Sports Illustrated in 1963. “The love is important, but let’s not pretend; so is the money. My old Cardinals coach, Mike Gonzales, used to say to me, ‘Musial, if I could hit like you, I’d play for nothing.’ Not me. But I wouldn’t play for the money without the fun.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 19, 2013
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the number of hits Stan Musial had at home and on the road. It was 1,815 for each, not 1,860.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 20, 2013
An earlier version of this obituary misspelled the surname of a New York Giants player in the late 1940s and ’50s, when the team dominated the National League. He was Monte Irvin, not Irvine.
CONRAD BAIN, FATHER ON ‘DIFF’RENT STROKES’
Conrad Bain in his role as a father to two boys, played by Todd Bridges, left, and Gary Coleman, in “Diff’rent Strokes” on TV.
Published: January 16, 2013
- Conrad Bain, an accomplished stage and film actor who was best known for a late-career role on television as the white adoptive father of two poor black boys on the long-running comedy “Diff’rent Strokes,” died on Monday in Livermore, Calif. He was 89.
His daughter, Jennifer Bain, confirmed the death on Wednesday.
Mr. Bain had been familiar to television viewers as Dr. Arthur Harmon, a neighbor of Bea Arthur’s title character on “Maude,” when he joined the cast of “Diff’rent Strokes” in 1978, the beginning of an eight-season run. He played Phillip Drummond, a wealthy Manhattan widower who had promised his dying housekeeper, who was black and lived in Harlem, that he would rear her sons, Arnold (Gary Coleman) and Willis (Todd Bridges).
Drummond had a biological daughter, Kimberly, played by Dana Plato, and the show’s plotlines interwove punch lines with larger lessons about the experiences of a racially blended family.
Mr. Bain’s Drummond was stiff but steady and warm when necessary, the implication being that willingly adopting and nurturing poor, older black children attested to the strength of his character.
“You know, a lot of people just talk of taking on bigots,” Drummond said to Kimberly in an early episode, after she had rejected a suitor who told her he did not like being around black people, “but very few people ever really do.”
Drummond’s gentle moralizing, as well as his gentle language — using “bigots” rather than “racists” — was central to the show, which was popular with both black and white viewers. But the show was also criticized as simplistic and patronizing.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., writing in The New York Times in 1989, three years after the show’s final season, said “Diff’rent Strokes” followed a tradition of “domestication” and “cultural dwarfism” of black men in mainstream entertainment, “in which small black ‘boys’ (arrested adolescents who were much older than the characters they played) were adopted by tall, successful white males,” who “represented the myth of the benevolent paternalism of the white upper class.”
Mr. Coleman, who was diminutive because of treatments related to a congenital kidney disease, said later that he had come to dislike the scenes in which, even when he had become a teenager in real life, his character continued to hop into Mr. Bain’s lap for yet another light lecture.
In one final-season episode that focused on older foster children, Drummond looked into the camera and said: “Being father to these boys brought a warmth and richness into my life that I never could possibly have imagined. And of course I was able to give two kids a chance that they might otherwise have been denied.”
Drummond delivered an occasional cultural jab as well. In an early episode he tells Arnold he is going out for dinner with a friend from England.
“England?” Arnold says. “Isn’t that where they talk funny?”
“No,” Mr. Drummond replies, “that’s the Bronx.”
Jennifer Bain said her father was warm, loving and politically liberal, but bore few other similarities to Drummond.
“My father was far more interesting than that character,” Ms. Bain said, adding, “We were a very intellectual, artsy family.”
Conrad Stafford Bain was born on Feb. 4, 1923, in Lethbridge, Alberta, in Canada. He attended the Banff School of Fine Arts in Alberta and served as a sergeant in the Canadian Army from 1943 to 1946. He then moved to New York, where he graduated from the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.
He spent much of the next 30 years in the theater, making his New York debut Off Broadway in 1956 in “The Iceman Cometh.” In 1971 he appeared in Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” by the Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center.
Besides his daughter, he is survived by two sons, Mark and Kent, and a twin brother, Bonar. His wife of more than 60 years, the abstract painter and art collector Monica Bain (born Monica Sloan), died in 2009.
The three child actors who starred alongside Mr. Bain on “Diff’rent Strokes” struggled in their private lives with substance abuse and legal and financial problems. Mr. Coleman died in 2010 at 42. Ms. Plato died of a drug overdose in 1999 at 34. Mr. Bridges was acquitted of attempted murder in 1990.
Mr. Bridges, who remained in contact with Mr. Bain, said in a statement that “in addition to being a positive and supportive father figure both on and off screen, Conrad was well loved and made going to work each day enjoyable for all of us.”
NAGISA OSHIMA, ICONOCLASTIC FILMMAKER
Nagisa Oshima, left, the Japanese film director, with Charlotte Rampling, at the presentation of Mr. Oshima’s film “Max Mon Amour” (Max My Love) at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986. More Photos »
By DENNIS LIM
Published: January 15, 2013
Cinematheque Ontario/Film Society of Lincoln Center
Eiko Matsuda atop Tatsuya Fuji in Mr. Oshima’s 1976 film, “In the Realm of the Senses.”
Jack Guez/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Nagisa Oshima in 2000. More Photos »
Cinematheque Ontario, via Film Society of Lincoln Center
A scene from Mr. Oshima’s “Death by Hanging” (1968), which addressed the prejudicial treatment of Japan’s Korean minority. More Photos »
His office said that the cause was pneumonia, the Japanese news media reported. He had been ill since having a stroke in 1996.
Mr. Oshima belonged to a generation of filmmakers for whom artistic and political rebellion were one and the same. At the height of his career he worked at a furious pace, most productively in the 1960s, reinventing himself as a matter of course. Radical but never dogmatic, his films rejected ideology even as they insisted implicitly that cinema was a political tool.
He remains best known for “In the Realm of the Senses.” Based on a true story that scandalized Japan in the 1930s, it tells of a maid who falls into a sadomasochistic affair with her employer. It features unsimulated sex and culminates in a graphically depicted castration.
The film became a sensation and the subject of censorship battles in several countries. In the United States, the Customs Service barred it from being shown publicly at the New York Film Festival in 1976, calling it obscene; the decision was overturned about a month later by a federal judge.
Even before this defining scandal, Mr. Oshima relished the role of enfant terrible. He was a founding figure of the Japanese New Wave but claimed to detest the idea of such a grouping and told an interviewer, “My hatred for Japanese cinema includes absolutely all of it.” His documentary “100 Years of Japanese Cinema” (1994) concludes with the hope that Japanese cinema rid itself of its “Japaneseness.”
But in film after film Japan was Mr. Oshima’s great subject, specifically the Japanese psyche and the damage it had endured from centuries of feudalism and later from World War II. He once said that the goal of his films was “to force the Japanese to look in the mirror.”
Mr. Oshima was born on March 31, 1932, to an affluent family in Kyoto with samurai ancestry. He studied law at Kyoto University and became active in student politics.
After graduating he worked as an assistant director at the Shochiku studio and was soon promoted. Even in his first two films, “A Town of Love and Hope” (1959), a tough-minded adolescent melodrama, and “Cruel Story of Youth” (1960), a feverish tale of troubled teenagers, Mr. Oshima’s sympathy for the young and dispossessed is evident.
“To make films is a criminal act in this world,” Mr. Oshima wrote in a 1966 essay. Most of his protagonists were outlaws, and his films often showed criminal behavior as a product of society or as a reaction against it.
The event that ignited the Japanese student protest movement — the 1960 renewal of Japan’s mutual security treaty with the United States — also galvanized Mr. Oshima’s filmmaking.
“Night and Fog in Japan” (1960), his first explicitly political film, details the infighting among a group of student radicals. Days into its run, in the wake of a political assassination, Shochiku pulled the movie from theaters. In response Mr. Oshima quit the studio and set up his own company.
Like “In the Realm of the Senses,” many of Mr. Oshima’s films were inspired by real-life events. “Violence at Noon” (1966), about a triangle that forms among a serial rapist and two women who protect him, was based on an actual case, as was “Boy” (1969), about a family whose son is forced to fake traffic injuries in an extortion scheme.
“Death by Hanging” (1968), about a Korean man sentenced to death for rape and murder, addresses the prejudicial treatment of the Korean minority in Japan.
A restless innovator, Mr. Oshima switched genres at will and sometimes created his own. “Death by Hanging” goes from a documentarylike tract against capital punishment to absurdist farce. “Three Resurrected Drunkards,” a 1968 slapstick comedy, stops midway through and replays the first half, with crucial variations.
Mr. Oshima never developed a stylistic signature and in fact veered between extremes of style. The 100-minute “Violence at Noon” includes some 2,000 edits, while “Night and Fog in Japan,” filmed in long takes, is composed of fewer than 50 shots.
After directing 18 features (and many television documentaries) in 14 years, Mr. Oshima slowed down in the 1970s. In middle age he also became a fixture on Japanese television talk shows.
Mr. Oshima recalled that “In the Realm of the Senses” had originated in a meeting with the producer Anatole Dauman, who had worked with many French New Wave directors and who proposed a collaboration, saying to Mr. Oshima, “Let’s make a porno flick!” Mr. Oshima asked his colleague Koji Wakamatsu, a prolific director of politically minded soft-core erotica, to serve as a producer as well; together they had the film processed and edited in France to circumvent Japanese pornography laws.
Mr. Dauman also produced “Empire of Passion,” the more subdued 1978 follow-up to “In the Realm of the Senses.” Another period piece about adulterous lovers, “Empire” won Mr. Oshima the directing prize at the Cannes Film Festival.
Among other later films, “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence” (1983), a prisoner-of-war drama starring David Bowie and Ryuichi Sakamoto, was shot mainly in New Zealand. Mr. Oshima, collaborating with Luis Buñuel’s frequent screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, also put a twist on the French sex farce with “Max Mon Amour” (1986), which paired Charlotte Rampling and a chimpanzee.
His final film, the 19th-century samurai drama “Taboo” (1999), which he directed after suffering his first stroke, continued his late-career theme of forbidden love, bringing to the surface the homoerotic currents of “Mr. Lawrence.”
Mr. Oshima’s survivors include his wife, Akiko Koyama, an actress who appeared in some of his films, and their sons Takeshi and Shin. In 2011 Ms. Koyama published a memoir, “As a Woman, as an Actor,” about her life with Mr. Oshima.
Mr. Oshima saw his reputation somewhat eclipsed as his productivity dwindled, although that had changed in recent years with traveling retrospectives and the increasing availability of his work on DVD.
Testifying in a Japanese court about “In the Realm of the Senses,” Mr. Oshima formulated a defense that could apply to almost all his work: “Nothing that is expressed is obscene. What is obscene is what is hidden.”
ROBERT F. CHEW, ACTOR ON ‘THE WIRE’
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: January 18, 2013
Robert F. Chew
The cause was a heart attack, said his sister, Clarice Chew.
Mr. Chew was a well-regarded stage actor when he began appearing in television shows created by or based on the work of David Simon and Edward Burns. He played a shoe salesman on “The Corner” and the drug supplier Wilkie Collins on the NBC drama “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
As Proposition Joe Stewart, the portly, deeply connected and relatively civil drug kingpin on “The Wire,” he preferred to broker deals between rival drug factions rather than resort to violence.
“We were looking for somebody that was sensible and even paternal, as almost a foil to the rest of the brutality and ambition that you were seeing in that underground economy,” Mr. Simon said on Friday. “So you needed him to be incredibly human, funny, connected to whoever’s in the room, and yet he’s a gangster.”
He recalled one scene in which Mr. Chew used four different voices while calling a telephone number that turns out to be that of Baltimore’s homicide unit. “He becomes four different characters before your eyes,” Mr. Simon said. “It was a soliloquy of pure acting.”
Robert Francell Chew was born on Dec. 28, 1960, in Baltimore. He graduated from Patterson Park High School and then studied music at Morgan State University.
Mr. Chew acted in plays all over the country and taught young actors at Baltimore’s Arena Players for many years.
In addition to his sister, Mr. Chew is survived by two other sisters, Tanya Chew and Maureen Little; and his mother, Henrietta Chew.