FRED BENJAMIN, EXACTING AND INVENTIVE TEACHER OF JAZZ DANCE
Published: December 19, 2013
Fred Benjamin, an internationally known teacher of jazz dance who was also part of the creative wave of young black modern-dance choreographers who came to prominence in the 1970s, died on Dec. 14 in Manhattan. He was 69.
The cause was organ failure, said Geneva Vivino, a family friend and a former dancer in the Fred Benjamin Dance Company. Mr. Benjamin recovered from a stroke he had in 2003 and continued teaching both in the United States and abroad. He was chairman of the jazz department and a faculty adviser at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center in the 1990s. Ms. Vivino said he taught up to a month ago at the Steps on Broadway studios, where he was a beloved if strict teacher for many years.
As a choreographer for his own troupe and other companies, Mr. Benjamin specialized in the form of modern dance known as jazz dance. But unlike most others in the genre, he integrated ballet technique into a highly propulsive style.
At the same time, he was often concerned with the black heritage, an influence he derived from the modern-dance pioneer Talley Beatty, in whose company he danced from 1963 to 1966.
In 1976, Mr. Benjamin choreographed “Travels Just Outside the House,” based on his own experience in an emergency room after he was stabbed six times by thieves in his apartment building. He told The New York Times that the dance was inspired by the sensation of “being given sedatives as I was being put to sleep.”
Frederick Charles Benjamin was born in Boston on Sept. 8, 1944, and began studying dance there at age 4 at the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts in the Roxbury neighborhood. When the MacArthur Foundation initiated its so-called genius grants, Ms. Lewis was among the first recipients, singled out as one of the foremost dance educators in a black community. When Mr. Benjamin moved to New York in 1962, she financed his ballet lessons.
She also introduced him to Mr. Beatty, who became another important mentor and to whom he paid tribute in his choreography. After leaving the Talley Beatty Dance Company, Mr. Benjamin performed with the June Taylor Dancers and on Broadway in “Hello, Dolly!” and “Promises, Promises.” He formed the Fred Benjamin Dance Company in 1968.
Throughout his career, Mr. Benjamin remained associated with black dance programs. His company was a mainstay of the Harlem Cultural Council’s Dancemobile: the dancers performed on flatbed trucks in various neighborhoods.
Like many young black choreographers emerging in the 1960s and 1970s, he found a nurturing environment at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts in Manhattan. Although open to all, its classes and performances at the West Side Y.W.C.A. were organized by Mr. Ailey and others in 1959 to foster opportunities for black dancers and choreographers. Mr. Benjamin remained associated with the center as a teacher and performer until it closed in the 1980s.
He is survived by a sister, Ruth Benjamin, and a brother, Kenneth Benjamin Jr.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 21, 2013
An earlier version of a picture caption with this obituary contained an unconfirmed date. The photo is undated; it is not necessarily from 1976.
RAY PRICE, GROUNDBREAKING, HIT-MAKING COUNTRY SINGER
By BILL FRISKICS-WARREN
Published: December 16, 2013
- Ray Price, who was at the forefront of two revolutions in country music as one of its finest ballad singers and biggest hit makers, died on Monday at his home in Mount Pleasant, Tex. He was 87.
Tom Colburn/Houston Chronicle, via Associated Press
Ray Price performing in Huntsville, Tex., in 1968.
His death was announced by the veteran country disc jockey Bill Mack, a spokesman for Mr. Price’s family. Mr. Price had pancreatic cancer and had until recently been in hospice care.
Over a career that began in the 1940s, Mr. Price placed more than 100 singles on the country charts, including Top 10 hits like “City Lights,” “Heartaches by the Number” and “Make the World Go Away.” He hired future country stars to play in his band, notably Roger Miller, Willie Nelson and Johnny Paycheck. And Pamper Music, the publishing company that he owned with two partners, helped start the careers of hit songwriters like Harlan Howard, Hank Cochran and Mr. Nelson.
He was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1996.
Mr. Price first helped change country music in the mid-1950s, when, hoping to distinguish his sound from that of his former roommate Hank Williams, he and his band transformed the gutbucket country shuffle of the postwar era into sleek, propulsive honky-tonk.
“We were having trouble getting a good, clean bass sound,” he said in an interview with The Washington Post in 1998, talking about the session that produced his breakthrough hit, “Crazy Arms,” a No. 1 country record for 20 weeks in 1956. “So instead of going with the standard 2/4 beat, I said, ‘Let’s try a 4/4 bass and a shuffle rhythm,’ and it cut. It cut clean through.”
Now a part of the American musical vernacular, the “Ray Price beat,” as it came to be known, not only achieved its desired sonic effect, but it also reclaimed the country charts for country music. “Crazy Arms” knocked Carl Perkins’s “Blue Suede Shoes” from the top spot at a time when teenage-friendly rockabilly acts like Perkins and Elvis Presley were crowding out more traditional singers like Hank Thompson and Hank Snow.
In the middle to late 1960s Mr. Price refined his music further by singing in a lower register and combining lush string orchestration with soul-inflected rhythms, in the process helping to give birth to the so-called countrypolitan sound. His recording of Kris Kristofferson’s “For the Good Times,” a No. 1 country hit that stalled just outside the pop Top 10 in 1970, epitomized the affecting new hybrid. It also won a Grammy Award for best male country vocal performance.
The constant amid these transformations was Mr. Price’s voice, a pliant baritone capable of conveying great depth of feeling much like that of Tony Bennett, a musical hero of his.
“My voice is my instrument,” he told The Post. “I’ve worked all my life to make sure I enunciate properly. I try to make the melody true — I can’t stand an off note.”
Noble Ray Price was born on Jan. 12, 1926, on a farm near Perryville, Tex., in the eastern part of the state. Raised in Dallas by his mother after his parents divorced, he spent summers on his father’s farm. The mix of rural and urban sensibilities he grew up with would later manifest itself in his music.
After serving in the Marines from 1944 to 1946, Mr. Price enrolled in North Texas Agricultural College to study veterinary medicine. He also began singing in nightclubs and was discovered by the producer Jim Beck, who secured him a contract with the Nashville label Bullet Records.
Mr. Price began singing on “The Big D Jamboree,” a radio barn dance in Dallas, toward the end of 1949. He signed with Columbia Records in 1951, after which he moved to Nashville at the urging of Hank Williams and joined the Grand Ole Opry.
Mr. Price’s initial recordings for Columbia revealed him to be a skilled Williams protégé, but despite the enormous popularity of his mentor, Mr. Price failed to gain an audience on country radio. Even the name of his band, the Cherokee Cowboys, was derived from that of Williams’s group, the Drifting Cowboys. Mr. Price did not become a star in his own right, or distinguish himself as a musical stylist, until the surging fiddle and 4/4 bass line of “Crazy Arms” erupted onto the country airwaves in May 1956.
Though no longer a force on the country charts by the mid-’80s, Mr. Price, who for decades maintained a working ranch in Texas, continued to tour and record. In 2007 he released the album “Last of the Breed,” a collaboration with Mr. Nelson and Merle Haggard, which won a Grammy for best country collaboration with vocals.
He is survived by his wife of more than 40 years, Janie, and by a son, Cliff, from a previous marriage.
Although some of his fans had trouble reconciling his shift from rough-cut honky-tonker to countrypolitan crooner, the move never posed any sort of conflict for Mr. Price.
Quoted in the roots music magazine No Depression, he said: “There’s no difference between singing a country song in a Western suit and then going around behind the curtain and walking out the other side with a tux on and singing the same country song with a pop arrangement. It’s the same thing.”
GEORGE RODRIGUE, ARTIST WHO PAINTED BLUE DOG
Published: December 18, 2013
The cause was cancer, his family said.
Mr. Rodrigue, who grew up in New Iberia, in southern Louisiana, set out to document and celebrate Cajun culture with works like “The Aioli Dinner” (1971), which depicts traditional gatherings on the lawns of plantations. He won recognition in France and Italy. He painted portraits of famous people, including the celebrity chef Paul Prudhomme, who helped introduce Cajun food and culture to the world in the 1970s, as well as Walker Percy, Huey Long, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.
Among his many commissions was a request in 1984 that he do the artwork for a collection of Cajun ghost stories, including a painting of a ghost dog, or werewolf, known in his part of the world as the loup-garou.
Mr. Rodrigue (pronounced rod-REEG) found his model in his studio: a photograph of his dog, Tiffany, who had died. She was black and white in reality but became blue in his imagination, with yellow eyes. She was also a she, but she could become a he — or, for that matter, whatever else a viewer was prepared to see.
“The yellow eyes are really the soul of the dog,” Mr. Rodrigue told The New York Times in 1998. “He has this piercing stare. People say the dog keeps talking to them with the eyes, always saying something different.”
He added: “People who have seen a Blue Dog painting always remember it. They are really about life, about mankind searching for answers. The dog never changes position. He just stares at you. And you’re looking at him, looking for some answers, ‘Why are we here?,’ and he’s just looking back at you, wondering the same. The dog doesn’t know. You can see this longing in his eyes, this longing for love, answers.”
By the early 1990s, Mr. Rodrigue was painting only Blue Dog.
“I dropped all the Cajun influence,” he said in an interview with the New Orleans public television station WLAE.
Mr. Rodrigue was born in New Iberia on March 13, 1944, the only child of George and Marie Rodrigue. His father was a bricklayer. He began learning to draw and paint after he was found to have polio at age 8 and spent several months in bed. He studied art at the University of Southwest Louisiana (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) in the mid-1960s and attended the Art Center College of Design (then in Los Angeles; now in Pasadena) from 1965 to 1967.
He returned to Louisiana in 1968. In 1976, he published his first book, “The Cajuns of George Rodrigue.”
Survivors include his wife, Wendy, and two sons, Jacques and Andre.
Louisiana’s governor, Bobby Jindal, and a former governor, Kathleen Blanco, as well as the musician Irvin Mayfield, were among those scheduled to speak at a memorial service for him on Thursday at St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. Mr. Rodrigue boasted that it was not uncommon for his Blue Dog paintings to sell for $25,000. Some were rumored to have sold for 10 times that.
He painted Blue Dogs with presidents, with naked women in faux French scenes, on the lawn with his Aioli dining club party, inside a soup can, in ads for Absolut Vodka and next to Marilyn Monroe (return jabs, perhaps, at those who dismissed him as a Pop Art opportunist). Critics were not always impressed, but he said he did not care.
In later years Mr. Rodrigue painted other subjects, but he did not abandon Blue Dog. He said he painted in part for the people who walked past his studio on Royal Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
“You have to do something that really attracts the attention,” he said in the WLAE interview. “I didn’t start out doing that, but that’s to fight for that audience. It’s great. It’s really great, because it’s a cross-section of the whole country here that walks down Royal Street, and the world.”
EDGAR M. BRONFMAN, WHO BROUGHT ELEGANCE AND EXPANSION TO SEAGRAM
By JONATHAN KANDELL
Published: December 22, 2013
- Edgar M. Bronfman, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist who as chairman of the Seagram Company expanded his family’s liquor-based empire and who as president of the World Jewish Congress championed the rights of Jews everywhere, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 84.
His death, of natural causes, was confirmed by the family’s Samuel Bronfman Foundation.
Mr. Bronfman inherited control of Seagram from his father, Samuel Bronfman, an irascible, self-made Canadian magnate who founded a distilling company in 1924 and got rich during Prohibition when Bronfman liquor found its way to American customers through bootleggers.
Edgar gave the company a more sophisticated image, in keeping with his own elegantly turned-out profile in New York society — a prominence underscored in the 1970s by the headlines generated by the kidnapping of his son Sam for ransom money.
But as liquor profits began to falter, he broadened the company by acquiring Tropicana, taking Seagram into the oil business and eventually making it the largest minority shareholder in DuPont, the chemical giant. Later, he allowed his son Edgar Jr., who had succeeded him as head of the company, to risk billions of dollars to transform Seagram once again, this time into a major player in Hollywood.
As president of the World Jewish Congress, from 1981 until 2007, Mr. Bronfman turned a loose, cautious federation of Jewish groups in 66 countries into a more focused, confrontational organization.
Under his leadership, the Congress pressed the Soviet Union to improve conditions for Jews living within its borders and to allow freer emigration. Spurred by Mr. Bronfman, the Congress led efforts to expose the hidden Nazi past of Kurt Waldheim, the former secretary general of the United Nations who became president of Austria. And it campaigned successfully to force Swiss banks to make restitutions of more than a billion dollars to the relatives of German death camp victims who deposited their savings in Switzerland before World War II.
Mr. Bronfman shrugged off criticism from those who feared that his aggressive tactics were risking an anti-Semitic backlash. “The answer isn’t to say, ‘Don’t make trouble,’ and hide our heads in the sand,” he wrote in his 1998 memoir, “Good Spirits: The Making of a Businessman.” “We may not earn the friendship of others, but we will demand their respect.”
Edgar Miles Bronfman was born in Montreal on June 20, 1929. His father and his mother, the former Saidye Rosner, were Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who had moved to Montreal from Winnipeg, Manitoba. Edgar was the third-born of their four children.
Sam Bronfman and his brother Allan established a successful mail-order liquor company but were forced to give it up when provincial governments in Canada took over the retail side of the liquor business themselves. The Bronfmans decided that if they could not sell liquor, they would produce it. The family built its own distillery near Montreal in 1925.
It prospered, and the Bronfmans took advantage of Prohibition by opening more distilleries just across the border from the United States. One that the brothers bought was owned by the Seagram family, and they incorporated the name. When Prohibition ended, they were strategically placed to open a Seagram subsidiary in the United States, in 1933.
“How much business Father and his brothers did with bootleggers was never clear,” Mr. Bronfman wrote in “Good Spirits.”
Edgar and his siblings grew up in aristocratic splendor. Their family’s suburban Montreal mansion was staffed with a butler, a cook, maids, nannies, gardeners and chauffeurs. They spent summers at their country estate in Tarrytown, N.Y., and at the family retreat on Lake Placid in the Adirondacks.
But affluence did not always evoke fond memories. “My childhood was marked by a tension between privilege on the one hand and emotional dysfunction on the other,” Mr. Bronfman wrote in “Good Spirits.” He complained that his father had rarely been around and that his mother had been remote and inaccessible.
Mr. Bronfman said he had grown up with a confused understanding of his Jewish identity. The Bronfmans kept a kosher home, and the children received religious schooling on weekends. But during the week Edgar and his younger brother, Charles, were among a handful of Jews sent to private Anglophile schools, where they attended chapel and ate pork. “No one said anything to my face,” Mr. Bronfman remembered, “but I constantly heard comments denigrating Jews.”
Mr. Bronfman enrolled at Williams College in Massachusetts and then transferred to McGill University in Montreal, graduating in 1951.At 21 he joined Seagram, working as an apprentice taster and accounting clerk in Montreal and then at the main distillery nearby, where he eventually oversaw production. He had a knack for finances and the boldness to tell his tyrannical father how best to handle his money. At 22 he explained that Seagram could reap great tax benefits if it incorporated its petroleum subsidiary and carried out exploration in the United States rather than in Canada.
“Fortunately, Father saw the point at once and agreed,” he wrote.
Mr. Bronfman was a confident executive, safe in the knowledge that as the firstborn son he was the heir apparent. His brother accepted his status and throughout his life deferred to Mr. Bronfman on business decisions. But his oldest sibling, Minda, resented the accident of gender that had removed her from consideration as the eventual heir, despite her degree in business administration. Relations between her and Edgar were strained for most of their lives.
In 1953 Mr. Bronfman married Ann Loeb, a granddaughter of the financier Carl M. Loeb. Loeb, Rhoades & Company helped the Bronfmans purchase the Texas Pacific Coal and Oil Company.
Mr. Bronfman convinced his father that since the United States accounted for 90 percent of Seagram revenues, it made sense to install himself permanently in New York. In 1953 Samuel Bronfman put Edgar in control of the company’s subsidiary in the United States, Joseph E. Seagram & Sons, and placed Charles in charge of the Canadian branch, the House of Seagram.
Mr. Bronfman moved to New York two years later and shortly afterward became an American citizen — although it was his sister Phyllis, who had studied architecture, who was put in charge of the construction of the new company headquarters, the Seagram Building, on Park Avenue, designed by Mies van der Rohe and considered a jewel of modern skyscraper design.
At its zenith, in 1956, Seagram’s products accounted for one of every three distilled-alcohol drinks in the United States. Then its market share began to slide. To compensate for the losses, Mr. Bronfman squeezed more profits from less production, using modern cost-cutting methods and focusing on more expensive brands of whiskey.
But he was frustrated by his inability to wrest full control of Seagram from his aging father, and he began to dabble in film and television production. After losing a bid for MGM to the financier Kirk Kerkorian, however, he returned full time to the beverage business.
With the death of his father in 1971, Mr. Bronfman’s personal life began to unravel. That same year he separated from his wife, with whom he had five children. After their divorce, he married Lady Carolyn Townshend, in 1973, but that marriage also ended in divorce, a year later. He quickly became involved with another Englishwoman, Rita Webb (who changed her name to Georgiana). They married and divorced each other twice, and had two daughters. He then married Jan Aronson, an artist and a former triathlete.
He is survived by Ms. Aronson; his sons, Samuel, Edgar Jr., Matthew and Adam, and his daughter Holly Bronfman Lev, all from his first marriage; his daughters with Ms. Webb, Sara Igtet and Clare Bronfman; his brother, Charles; his sister Phyllis Lambert; 24 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
In 1975, Samuel Bronfman II was kidnapped in New York and held for ransom. Mr. Bronfman himself delivered the $2.4 million ransom to one of his son’s two kidnappers, who were both arrested shortly afterward by the F.B.I. But the kidnappers’ lawyer claimed in court that the abduction had been a hoax and that Sam Bronfman had been a part of it. In the end, the jury convicted the defendants of the lesser charge of extortion.
With liquor consumption in decline in 1981, Mr. Bronfman tried to buy Conoco, a major oil and gas company. Seagram lost out to DuPont in the bidding but, because of its investment in Conoco, ended up with a 20 percent share of DuPont — and soon raised this to almost 25 percent, making Seagram DuPont’s largest minority shareholder.
Initially, most Wall Street analysts and the financial press took the position that Seagram had been outdueled for Conoco by DuPont. A 1981 Business Week article quoted a DuPont senior executive as saying jokingly that he enjoyed drinking “Seagram on the rocks.” But by 1985 its stake in DuPont accounted for nearly 75 percent of Seagram’s earnings, and Mr. Bronfman was being hailed as a smart, risk-taking businessman.
At the same time, Mr. Bronfman was becoming increasingly involved in Jewish causes. He was elected president of the World Jewish Congress in 1981. “Making money is marvelous, and I love doing it, and I do it reasonably well,” he told The New York Times in 1986, “but it doesn’t have the gripping vitality that you have when you deal with the happiness of human life and with human deprivation.
As his devotion to Jewish causes grew, he reduced his involvement with Seagram and prepared to turn over the company to the next generation. By family tradition his oldest son, Sam, was the logical successor, but he favored his second son, Edgar Jr., and without consulting either, Mr. Bronfman announced his choice in a 1986 interview with Fortune magazine. It would be Edgar Jr.
“It took Sam a long time to get over the hurt that I had inflicted,” Mr. Bronfman later conceded. “But my responsibility was to choose the right C.E.O. for Seagram regardless of presumed birthright or familial relationship.”
Edgar Bronfman Jr. became president of Seagram in 1989 and chief executive in 1994. With his father’s approval, he sold Seagram’s shares in DuPont and used the proceeds, more than $9 billion, to purchase MCA, a major Hollywood film and music company, which was later split into Universal Studios and Universal Music.
DuPont’s share price doubled within four years, while Seagram’s stock barely budged during the long bull market of the 1990s. Undeterred, Edgar Jr. spent billions more on entertainment.
In 1998 he bought PolyGram, the giant music company, but the resulting conglomerate floundered, forcing him to seek a strategic partner. So in 2000 he negotiated yet another controversial deal, an all-stock acquisition of the French conglomerate Vivendi. He briefly became chief executive of the new company, Vivendi Universal, but after Seagram lost control of its entertainment holdings, he stepped down from an executive capacity in 2001. Seagram then sold its beverage business. In 2004, Edgar Jr. acquired Warner Music Group.
Edgar Sr., for his part, became a major philanthropist through the family foundation, with a focus on Jewish educational and social programs in the United States and Israel. At New York University, he helped establish the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life. In 1999, President Bill Clinton presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Mr. Bronfman also wrote four autobiographical books.
His work with the World Jewish Congress also accelerated. In the 1990s the Congress, spurred by Mr. Bronfman, negotiated with Eastern European countries to recover — or at least receive compensation for — the property of Jews that had been seized first by the Nazis and then by the Communists.
In the late ’90s, the Congress became one of the foremost critics of Switzerland’s role during World War II, accusing Swiss banks of having stolen the deposits of European Jews who died during the war. After several years of bitter negotiations, Swiss banks agreed in 1999 to distribute at least $1.25 billion in compensation to relatives of European Jews who had secretly deposited their money in Switzerland before perishing at the Nazis’ hands.
Mr. Bronfman acknowledged that he could be abrasive in pursuing Jewish causes, but he defended his approach, telling The Times in 1986, “I would like every Jew to be as comfortable in his skin as I am in mine.”
AL GOLDSTEIN, A PUBLISHER WHO TOOK THE ROMANCE OUT OF SEX
Al Goldstein at Screw magazine’s headquarters in 1998. “I’m infantile, compulsive, always acting out my fantasies,” he said.
By ANDY NEWMAN
Published: December 19, 2013
- Al Goldstein, the scabrous publisher whose Screw magazine pushed hard-core pornography into the cultural mainstream, died on Thursday at a nursing home in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. He was 77.
City Room: A Pornographer’s Farewell (December 19, 2013)
The cause was believed to be renal failure, his lawyer, Charles C. DeStefano, said.
Mr. Goldstein did not invent the dirty magazine, but he was the first to present it to a wide audience without the slightest pretense of classiness or subtlety. Sex as depicted in Screw was seldom pretty, romantic or even particularly sexy. It was, primarily, a business, with consumers and suppliers like any other.
The manifesto in Screw’s debut issue in 1968 was succinct. “We promise never to ink out a pubic hair or chalk out an organ,” it read. “We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex.”
Mr. Goldstein, who lived to shock and offend and was arrested more than a dozen times on obscenity charges, stuck around long enough for social mores and technology to overtake him. By the time his company went bankrupt in 2003, he was no longer a force in the $10-billion-a-year industry he pioneered. But for better or worse, his influence was undeniable.
“He clearly coarsened American sensibilities,” Alan M. Dershowitz, the civil liberties advocate and Mr. Goldstein’s sometime lawyer, said in 2004.
“Hefner did it with taste,” Mr. Dershowitz added, referring to Hugh Hefner, the founder and publisher of Playboy, which predated Screw by 15 years. “Goldstein’s contribution is to be utterly tasteless.”
Apart from Screw, Mr. Goldstein’s most notorious creation was Al Goldstein himself, a cartoonishly vituperative amalgam of borscht belt comic, free-range social critic and sex-obsessed loser who seemed to embody a moment in New York City’s cultural history: the sleaze and decay of Times Square in the 1960s and ‘70s.
A bundle of insatiable neuroses and appetites (he once weighed around 350 pounds), Mr. Goldstein used and abused the bully pulpit of his magazine and, later, his flesh-parading public-access cable show, “Midnight Blue,” to curse his countless enemies, among them the Nixon administration, an Italian restaurant that omitted garlic from its spaghetti sauce, himself and, most troubling to his defenders, his own family.
“I’m infantile, compulsive, always acting out my fantasies,” he told Playboy in 1974. “There’s nothing I’ll inhibit myself from doing.”
Alvin Goldstein was born on Jan. 10, 1936, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, one of two sons of Sam and Gertrude Goldstein. His father was a news photographer.
Mr. Goldstein spent much of his childhood stuttering, wetting the bed, getting beaten up by bullies and amassing the portfolio of grudges that would fuel his passions. A lifelong habitué of psychoanalysts’ couches, he blamed a meek father and an adulterous, insensitive mother for his complexes in his 2006 autobiography, “I, Goldstein: My Screwed Life,” written with Josh Alan Friedman.
Before he found his calling, Mr. Goldstein served in the Army, captained the debate team at Pace College and briefly followed his father’s footsteps into photojournalism, taking pictures of Jacqueline Kennedy on a 1962 state trip to Pakistan and spending several days in a Cuban prison for taking unauthorized photos of Fidel Castro’s brother, Raúl. He married miserably, sold insurance successfully by day and sought solace in pornographic movie houses and brothels by night.
After his marriage failed, Mr. Goldstein drifted. According to Gay Talese’s book “Thy Neighbor’s Wife,” Mr. Goldstein ran a dime-pitch concession at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair; sold rugs, encyclopedias and his own blood; drove a cab; and landed a job as an industrial spy, infiltrating a labor union. That experience so appalled him that he wrote an exposé about it for The New York Free Press, a radical weekly.
The article did not make the splash Mr. Goldstein was hoping for, but he became friends with one of The Press’s editors, Jim Buckley, and persuaded him that there was money to be made covering the growing commercial sex scene, which the establishment press mentioned only to vilify.
Investing $175 apiece, the two men published the first issue of Screw in November 1968: a 12-page Baedeker to the underworld featuring blue-movie reviews, nude photos, a guide to dirty bookstores and a field test by Mr. Goldstein of an artificial vagina.
Although they had difficulty finding a willing distributor for a tabloid whose first cover featured a photograph of a bikini-clad brunette stroking a large kosher salami, Screw’s circulation soon reached 100,000 — or so Mr. Goldstein claimed (it was never audited) — and the magazine stepped up its ambitions.
As quasi-legal, discreetly misnamed “massage parlors” multiplied across the city in the early 1970s, Mr. Goldstein assigned himself to visit and rate each one. He claimed that his early, enthusiastic review of the movie “Deep Throat” helped turn it into hard-core pornography’s first bona fide mainstream hit.
An issue in 1973 with frontally nude photos of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis sold more than a half-million copies, Mr. Goldstein said — a fraction of the seven million Playboy sold in those days, but enough to raise Mr. Goldstein’s profile considerably.
With renown came obscenity arrests and lawsuits, which Mr. Goldstein in turn milked for maximum publicity. (He also wrote numerous scathing editorials accusing his accusers of hypocrisy, often accompanied by crude photo collages showing them engaged in humiliating sex acts.) Mr. Goldstein, claiming First Amendment protection, beat most of the charges, occasionally paying nominal fines.
In 1973, though, a United States Supreme Court decision made it easier to prosecute pornographers. Before then, one legal test for obscenity was whether a publication was “utterly without redeeming social value.” The 1973 decision broadened the definition to include material that lacked “serious literary, artistic, political or scientific value,” and it empowered communities to set local standards for whether such material was obscene.
This led federal prosecutors to direct some postmasters in Kansas to order copies of Screw. Upon delivery, Mr. Goldstein was charged with 12 obscenity and conspiracy counts and faced up to 60 years in prison.
His lawyers argued that the anticensorship diatribes in Screw made the magazine sufficiently political, though Mr. Goldstein himself ridiculed this defense, insisting that a reader’s erection “is its own redeeming value.” After three years and two trials his conviction in the first was overturned, and the second ended in a hung jury. Mr. Goldstein’s company, Milky Way Productions, paid a $30,000 fine in return for the dropping of personal charges against him and Mr. Buckley.
Mr. Goldstein also won a copyright suit filed by the Pillsbury Company after Screw depicted its signature doughboy in flagrante, and an invasion-of-privacy suit filed by an actress in a cracker commercial that Mr. Goldstein repurposed for “Midnight Blue.”
Screw made Mr. Goldstein rich enough to afford a townhouse down the block from Bill Cosby on the Upper East Side. But as time went on and hard-core pornography became widely available, the magazine seemed less and less radical, and he began losing interest.
“There is a pattern to American life that what is avant-garde becomes commonplace,” Mr. Goldstein said in 1981. “The mass market eventually assimilates that which is innovative or revolutionary.”
Mr. Goldstein began a dozen other magazines, with titles like Death, Smut, Cigar and Mobster Times, all of which failed. He bought a mansion in Pompano Beach, Fla., where he made an abortive run for county sheriff in 1992.
Gradually, Mr. Goldstein’s empire declined. The Village Voice and other newspapers, many of them free, siphoned off the ads for escort services that were Screw’s mainstay. Mr. Goldstein failed to stake out strong positions in the booming sectors of video and Internet pornography.
Meanwhile, his vendettas came to seem more petty and personal. He was convicted in 2002 of harassing a former secretary in the pages of Screw, though that conviction, too, was overturned. After his son, Jordan, disinvited him to his graduation from Harvard Law School, Mr. Goldstein published doctored photos showing Jordan having sex with various men and with his own mother, Mr. Goldstein’s third ex-wife, Gena.
Mr. Goldstein eventually married five times. His survivors include his son. Mr. Goldstein was long estranged from his fifth wife, Christine.
In quick succession starting in 2003, Mr. Goldstein lost his company, his Florida mansion and a series of subsistence jobs in New York, including one as a greeter at the Second Avenue Deli. In 2004, while living in a homeless shelter, he was arrested and charged with stealing books from a Barnes & Noble store.
His long decline found him bouncing from his in-laws’ floor in Queens to Veterans Affairs hospitals to a cramped apartment on Staten Island paid for by his friend, the magician Penn Jillette, to the Brooklyn nursing home where he spent most of his final years.
There were some late bright spots, though. He was briefly a star catering salesman for a Manhattan bagel store. He blogged for Booble, a website devoted to the pornography business.
And at age 69, he was nominated for best supporting actor at the Adult Video News Awards for his age-defying role in “Al Goldstein & Ron Jeremy Are Screwed.”
“Only in America,” Mr. Goldstein said.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 19, 2013
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the name of a movie Mr. Goldstein starred in. It is “Al Goldstein & Ron Jeremy Are Screwed,” not “Al Goldstein & Ron Jeremy Get Screwed.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: December 20, 2013
An earlier version of this obituary misstated the location of the Manhattan townhouse Mr. Goldstein bought in the wake of his initial success. It was on the Upper East Side, not the Upper West Side.
CYNTHIA EAGLE RUSSETT, CHRONICLER OF WOMEN’S HISTORY
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: December 18, 2013
- Cynthia Eagle Russett, a historian whose best-known book explored attempts by Victorian thinkers to scientifically “prove” women’s inferiority, died on Dec. 5 in New Haven. She was 76.
The cause was multiple myeloma, according to Yale University, where she was the Larnard professor of history.
A historian of 19th- and 20th-century intellectual life, Professor Russett attracted wide attention with her book “Sexual Science: The Victorian Construction of Womanhood,” published by Harvard University Press in 1989. The book examined the effect that the era’s newfound scientific knowledge had on the larger society, particularly where questions of sexual parity were concerned.
At a time when first-wave feminism was starting to roil the status quo, male thinkers, Professor Russett showed, strove to uphold it by invoking science to argue for women’s innate inadequacy.
“On the one hand, notions of female inferiority — physical, mental and moral — dating as they did from antiquity, could hardly be considered novel,” she wrote. “On the other hand, by virtue of the specificity of detail and inclusiveness of theory at its command, science was able to provide a newly plausible account of this inferiority. Measuring limbs, pondering viscera, reckoning up skulls, the new mandarins of gender difference were able to spell out in chapter and verse the manifold distinctions of sex.”
Among the most conspicuous offenders, Professor Russett wrote, was Charles Darwin, whose theory of human evolution had revolutionized the understanding of mankind’s place in the cosmos — but who then used that theory to argue for womankind’s continued subordination therein.
“Darwin had surmised that male intelligence, sharpened in both the struggle for mates and the struggle for survival, descended in its enhanced form, as a kind of secondary sex characteristic, to male offspring alone,” she wrote. “A similar conception governed the belief, widespread among anthropologists, that men and women were becoming more and more differentiated as civilization progressed.”
Reviewing “Sexual Science” in The New York Times Book Review, Janet Horowitz Murray said that Professor Russett “makes an able, patient and often witty guide to this museum of specious ideas,” adding, “For however ludicrous these Victorian would-be rulers of creation may now appear, we cannot afford to forget that their foolish theories about the nature of womanhood contributed significantly to the very real misery of thousands of actual women.”
Cynthia Eagle was born in Pittsburgh on Feb. 1, 1937. She earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Trinity College in Washington (now Trinity Washington University), followed by master’s and doctoral degrees in the field from Yale, whose faculty she joined in 1967.
Her other books include “Darwin in America: The Intellectual Response, 1865-1912” (1976), “The Extraordinary Mrs. R: A Friend Remembers Eleanor Roosevelt” (1999, with William Turner Levy) and “Second to None: A Documentary History of American Women” (1993), which she edited with Ruth Barnes Moynihan and Laurie Crumpacker.
A resident of Hamden, Conn., Professor Russett is survived by her husband of 53 years, Bruce Russett, a Yale political scientist; four children, Margaret, Mark, Lucia and Daniel Russett; and three grandchildren.
In the concluding passage of “Sexual Science,” Professor Russett situated the stance of Darwin and his fellows in the context of their time — and, looking forward, in that of the present day:
“The construction of womanhood by Victorian scientists grew out of and was responsive to the very human needs of a particular historical moment,” she wrote. “It needs to be seen for the masculine power play that it was, but it needs to be seen also as an intellectual monument, etched in fear, of the painful transition to the modern worldview.”