IN REMEMBRANCE: 2-2-2014

PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN, ACTOR

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FEB. 2, 2014

Philip Seymour Hoffman at the Venice Film Festival in 2012. Gabriel Bouys/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
  • Philip Seymour Hoffman, perhaps the most ambitious and widely admired American actor of his generation, who gave three-dimensional nuance to a wide range of sidekicks, villains and leading men on screen and embraced some of the theater’s most burdensome roles on Broadway, died Sunday at an apartment in Greenwich Village. He was 46.

The death, apparently from a drug overdose, was confirmed by the police. Mr. Hoffman was found in the apartment by a friend, David Bar Katz, who became concerned after being unable to reach him.

Investigators found a syringe in his left forearm, at least two plastic envelopes with what appeared to be heroin near where his body was found in a bathroom, and five empty plastic envelopes in a trash bin, a law-enforcement official said.

Mr. Hoffman was long known to struggle with addiction. In 2006, he said in an interview with “60 Minutes” that he had given up drugs and alcohol many years earlier, when he was 22. But last year, he checked into a rehabilitation program for about 10 days after a reliance on prescription pills resulted in his briefly turning again to heroin.

“I saw him last week, and he was clean and sober, his old self,” said Mr. Katz, a playwright, who said he called 911 after finding Mr. Hoffman. “I really thought this chapter was over.”

On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Hoffman’s family released a statement saying: “We are devastated by the loss of our beloved Phil and appreciate the outpouring of love and support we have received from everyone. This is a tragic and sudden loss and we ask that you respect our privacy during this time of grieving. Please keep Phil in your thoughts and prayers.”

As news of Mr. Hoffman’s death spread, fellow actors as well as fans took to Twitter to express their admiration for his acting and grief over his death. Ellen DeGeneres, who will host the Oscars ceremony in March over which Mr. Hoffman’s death is likely to cast a pall, posted: “Philip Seymour Hoffman was a brilliant, talented man. The news this morning is shocking and sad. My heart goes out to his loved ones.”

Mr. Hoffman won an Academy Award in 2006 for best actor for his role in the film “Capote,” in which he portrayed the author Truman Capote as Mr. Capote researched the book “In Cold Blood.”

Known for his scene-stealing supporting roles, Mr. Hoffman was nominated for the Academy Award for best supporting actor three times: for the 2012 film “The Master,” the 2008 film “Doubt,” and the 2007 film “Charlie Wilson’s War.” He also recently had a role in the hugely popular “The Hunger Games” films.

Mr. Hoffman had been acting in films for the last two decades, often transforming physically for each new role. He was prolific as well, sometimes filming several movies in a year and appearing in plays on Broadway.

In 2012, he played Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s “Death of a Salesman” on Broadway, a performance that earned him his third Tony Award nomination. He was also nominated for “True West” in 2000 and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” in 2003.

“I try to live my life in such a way that I don’t have profound regrets,” Mr. Hoffman told The New York Times in 2008. “That’s probably why I work so much. I don’t want to feel I missed something important.”

Mr. Hoffman had three young children, a son and two daughters, with his partner, Mimi O’Donnell, a costume designer. The family lived in an apartment on Jane Street, neighbors said, not far from the building on Bethune Street.where his body was found.

In his acceptance speech at the Academy Awards in 2006, Mr. Hoffman thanked many people, but in particular his mother, Marilyn O’Connor, who attended. He thanked her for raising him and his three siblings on her own and for taking him to see his first play.

“Be proud, Mom, ‘cause I’m proud of you, and we’re here tonight, and it’s so good,” he said with a smile.

 On Sunday afternoon outside the Bethune Street building, more than 100 people had gathered to mourn the actor’s death.

“He’s a local. He’s a fixture in this neighborhood,” said Christian McCulloch, 39, who said that he lives nearby. “You see him with his kids in the coffee shops. He is so sweet. It’s desperately sad.”

Down the street at the Labyrinth Theater Company, where Mr. Hoffman was a member since 1995, friends gathered on Sunday to remember him. David Deblinger, an actor and a member of the company, said Mr. Hoffman often came to the theater with his children in tow.

“He helped produce theater, and acted, and sold tickets and helped clean up,” Mr. Deblinger, 48, said. “We are here to remember him. This is a time to sit Shiva,” he said, referring to the Jewish mourning ritual.

Mr. Hoffman had recently been cast in a new television show on Showtime called “Happyish.” The network released a statement on Sunday calling him “one of our generation’s finest and most brilliant actors.”

“He was also a gifted comedic talent,” the statement said. “It was a great privilege and pleasure to work with him and we are all absolutely devastated by this sudden loss. Our thoughts go out to his family at this very difficult time.”

The last time Mr. Katz spoke to Mr. Hoffman was around 9 p.m. on Saturday, the law-enforcement official said. When the actor did not show up at 9 a.m. on Sunday for an expected visit with Ms. O’Donnell and their children, she called Mr. Katz, who went to the fourth-floor apartment on Bethune Street and found it double-locked, the official said. Mr. Katz phoned an assistant to Mr. Hoffman who had a set of keys, and they entered the apartment together around 11:30 a.m.

The plastic envelopes near Mr. Hoffman’s body that were believed to be heroin were stamped with two drug brands: one had purple letters spelling the words Ace of Spades and the other had a red icon of the ace of hearts, according to the law-enforcement official.

Narcotics detectives from the New York Police Department were investigating whether the brands had any significance or had surfaced in any other overdose cases. Investigators also planned to test the substances inside to determine if they had been tainted in anyway, though there was no initial indication that they had been.

The city medical examiner will also conduct tests to determine a cause of death. By late afternoon, Mr. Hoffman’s body remained in the apartment as crime scene investigators combed through the area.

Annie Correal, Emma G. Fitzsimmons and Dave Itzkoff contributed reporting.

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MORRIE TURNER, BROKE RACE BARRIERS IN COMICS

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JAN. 28, 2014

        

“Wee Pals,” with its racially and ethnically diverse characters, rose in popularity after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Morrie Turner, via Cartoon Art Museum, San Francisco
  • Morrie Turner, a cartoonist who broke the color barrier twice — as the first African-American comic strip artist whose work was widely syndicated in mainstream newspapers, and as the creator of the first syndicated strip with a racially and ethnically mixed cast of characters — died on Saturday in Sacramento. He was 90.

The cause was complications of kidney disease, said David Bellard, a family spokesman.

Mr. Turner’s comic strip “Wee Pals,” featuring childhood playmates who were white, black, Asian, Hispanic and Jewish (joined in later years by a girl in a wheelchair and a deaf girl), was considered subversive in 1965, when a major syndicate first offered it to newspapers.

Only two or three of the hundreds of newspapers in the syndicate picked it up. By early 1968, there were five. But of the many changes that occurred after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that April and the urban uprisings it started, some of the first appeared in the nation’s funny papers.

Morrie Turner at his home in Berkeley, Calif., in 2005. Kat Wade/The Chronicle

Thirty newspapers began subscribing to Mr. Turner’s comic strip in the first 30 days after the assassination; within a few months the number had swelled to 100. “Suddenly everybody was interested in me,” he told a public access television interviewer in 2010.

Later in 1968, the black artist Brumsic Brandon Jr. created his comic strip “Luther,” about a 9-year-old boy growing up in the ghetto. It, too, found a wide audience in newspaper syndication.

“You can imagine how I felt,” Mr. Turner said, referring to his newfound popularity. “I mean, I’m benefiting from the assassination of Dr. King, one of my heroes. It was kind of a bittersweet experience.”

Morris Nolten Turner was born in Oakland, Calif., on Dec. 11, 1923, the youngest of four children of James and Nora Spears Turner. His father, a Pullman porter, was often away on cross-country railroad trips, and Morris was raised mainly by his mother, a nurse.

She encouraged him to pursue his artistic talent and instilled in him a reverence for a pantheon of black historical figures, including “people most folks never heard of,” he said. (Black women were notably among them, including Naomi Anderson, a suffragist; Mary Elizabeth Bowser, a freed slave who became a Union spy; and Mary McLeod Bethune, an educator and adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.)

Mr. Turner served in the Army Air Corps during World War II as a staff clerk, journalist and illustrator on the newspaper of the 332nd Fighter Group, known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After the war, while working as a clerk for the Oakland police, Mr. Turner sold illustrations and cartoons to industrial publications and national magazines, including The Saturday Evening Post, Ebony and The Negro Digest.

Charles M. Schulz, the creator of “Peanuts” and a Northern California resident, met Mr. Turner in the early 1960s and became a friend and mentor, said Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco.

“They were the same age, they both were in the war — they just clicked,” said Mr. Farago, who has curated shows of both men’s work. In a conversation one day, Mr. Turner lamented the lack of black characters in newspaper comics, and Schulz suggested he try to do one. He also offered to share his contacts in the syndication business.

In the imaginary world Mr. Turner created, a diminutive African-American boy named Nipper, who wears a Confederate cap that always masks the top half of his face, leads a small gaggle of friends, including Jerry, a freckle-faced Jewish boy; Diz, a black child permanently arrayed in dashiki and sunglasses; and Ralph, a white boy who parrots the racist beliefs he hears at home and accepts his friends’ reproofs more or less good-naturedly. Nipper has a dog named General Lee. Mr. Turner told interviewers that while the strip broke racial barriers, he was rarely conscious of the racial identities of his characters. “I just tried to make them say things that kids say to each other,” he said.

His survivors include a son, Morrie Jr., and four grandchildren. His wife, Leatha, died in 1994.

Mr. Turner, who also wrote and illustrated a series of children’s books and appeared as an occasional guest on the television show “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” received the National Cartoonists Society’s lifetime achievement award in 2003.

Soon after his strip began appearing widely in newspapers, Mr. Turner received an angry letter from a reader about Nipper and his Confederate hat. “No self-respecting black person would wear such a hat,” the reader said, suggesting that Mr. Turner “get to know some black people.”

“I wrote back and told the person that I happen to know two black people — my mother and my father,” he said in the 2010 interview.

After a good chuckle, the interviewer followed up: “But what was the deal with the Confederate hat?”

Mr. Turner paused, considering the question, then replied, “Forgiveness.”

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MAXIMILLIAN SCHELL, OSCAR-WINNING ACTOR

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FEB. 1, 2014

        

Maximilian Schell in “Judgment at Nuremberg.” Alfred Assmann/European Pressphoto Agency

Patricia Baumbauer, his agent, confirmed his death to The Associated Press. She said Mr. Schell had been hospitalized for a “sudden illness” but gave no further details.

Stanley Kramer’s “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961), a courtroom drama recounting the Nazi war-crime trials in Germany in 1945-46, had an all-star cast, including Spencer Tracy, Judy Garland and Montgomery Clift. But Mr. Schell’s performance as the passionate, eloquent and ultimately furious German defense lawyer was the only one honored by the academy with an award. The film had begun as a television play, a 1959 episode of the anthology series “Playhouse 90,” in which Mr. Schell also starred.

He went on to earn two more Oscar nominations, for the title role in “The Man in the Glass Booth” (1975), a drama inspired by the trial in Israel of the Holocaust criminal Adolf Eichmann, and “Julia” (1977), based on a Lillian Hellman story about the underground in Nazi Germany.

Mr. Schell won his Oscar in 1962. Associated Press

In the late 1960s, Mr. Schell became a director, and two of his films — “The Pedestrian” (1973), about a German businessman’s wartime past, and “Marlene” (1984), a documentary about his “Nuremberg” co-star Marlene Dietrich — received Oscar nominations. A concert pianist in private life, he also went on to direct opera, including “Der Rosenkavalier” for the Los Angeles Opera in 2005.

Mr. Schell acknowledged that his career had perhaps been dominated by Nazi-era subjects and characters, and that he had been typecast in terms of acting roles. He was also an SS captain in “The Odessa File” (1974); a Nazi officer in two 1977 films, “A Bridge Too Far” and “Cross of Iron”; and a Nazi captain, alongside Marlon Brando, in “The Young Lions” (1958), his American film debut.

“There does seem to be a pattern” in his films, Mr. Schell said in a 1975 interview with the film critic Roger Ebert, adding later, “I think there’s an area of subject matter here that has to be faced and seriously dealt with.”

And the advent of the Third Reich was part of his own experience.

Maximilian Schell was born in Vienna on Dec. 8, 1930, one of four children of Hermann Ferdinand Schell, a Swiss-born playwright and pharmacy owner, and the former Margarethe Noé von Nordberg, an Austrian actress. The family, who were Roman Catholic, moved to Zurich after the Anschluss, the occupation and annexation of Austria, in 1938.

He was the younger brother of Maria Schell, in the background of the photograph, an international film star who died in 2005. Frank Rumpenhorst/DPA, via Associated Press

 Mr. Schell made his film debut in “Kinder, Mütter und ein General” (“Children, Mother and a General,” 1955) and appeared in several other West German films before leaving in 1958 for the United States, where his sister Maria Schell was already building a Hollywood movie career, starring that year in “The Brothers Karamazov.”

Mr. Schell’s acting roles did go well beyond World War II and Germany. He played Vladimir Lenin in “Stalin,” a 1992 television film; the title character in “Peter the Great,” a 1986 mini-series; and an aging cardinal in the 1996 sequel to “The Thorn Birds.” He appeared in “Topkapi” (1964), about a jewel theft in Turkey; “Krakatoa, East of Java,” set in the 19th century; “The Freshman,” a 1990 Mafia comedy; and “Deep Impact” (1998), a comet-disaster movie.

Mr. Schell made his stage debut in Germany in 1952. He did three plays on Broadway, beginning with “Interlock” (1958), starring Rosemary Harris; followed by “A Patriot for Me” (1969), in which Tommy Lee Jones made his Broadway debut; and ending with a stage version of “Judgment at Nuremberg” (2001).

His last film, “Les Brigands,” a multinational production filmed in French, is in postproduction. His last English-language acting role was in “The Shell Seekers,” a 2006 television movie that also starred Vanessa Redgrave.

Mr. Schell was in his 50s when he married Natalya Andreychenko, a Russian actress, in 1985; they divorced in 2005. His survivors include Iva Mihanovic, a German-Croatian operatic soprano, whom he married in August; and a daughter, Nastassja Schell, from his first marriage. Maria Schell died in 2005.

After decades of stardom, Mr. Schell evolved into an international character actor — distinguished, gray-bearded and perhaps a bit world-weary.

“The world doesn’t change. The balance of evil will always be the same,” he said in an interview with The New York Times in 2001, when he was preparing to appear on Broadway in “Judgment of Nuremberg,” this time as one of the accused Nazi judges (played by Burt Lancaster in the film). “I think all the poets and artists have always written for peace and love, and it hasn’t changed much in the last two or three thousand years. But we hope.”

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PETE SEEGER: USING HIS VOICE TO BRING OUT A NATION’S

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JAN. 28, 2014

        

The singer and champion of progressive causes died on Monday at 94. via Reuters
  • Pete Seeger sang until his voice wore out, and then he kept on singing, decade upon decade. Mr. Seeger, who died on Monday at 94, sang for children, folk-music devotees, union members, civil-rights marchers, antiwar protesters, environmentalists and everyone else drawn to a repertoire that extended from ancient ballads to brand-new songs about every cause that moved him. But it wasn’t his own voice he wanted to hear. He wanted everyone to sing along.

Although Mr. Seeger summed up Vietnam-era frustration when he wrote “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” and created a lasting antiwar parable with “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?,” he wasn’t simply a protest singer or propagandist. Like his father, the musicologist Charles Seeger, and his colleague the ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, Pete Seeger was devoted to songs that had been passed on through generations of people singing and playing together. He was determined — in an era when recording was rarer and broadcasting limited — to get those songs heard and sung anew, lest they disappear.

Richard Leacock

Pete Seeger plays at a square dance in an edited clip of the 1946 film, “To Hear Your Banjo Play.”

That put him at the center of the folk revival of the 1950s and 1960s, in all its idealism, earnestness and contradictions. Collectors found songs that had archetypal resonance, sung in unpretty voices and played with regional quirks, and transcribed them to be learned from sheet music. The folk revival prized authenticity — the work song recorded in prison, the fiddle tune recorded on a back porch — and then diluted it as the making of amateur collegiate strum-alongs. Mr. Seeger and his fellow folk revivalists freely adapted old songs to new occasions, using durable old tunes to carry topical thoughts, speaking of a “folk tradition” of communal authorship and inevitable change. They would warp a song to preserve it. (In succeeding years, copyright problems could and did ensue.)

It was an era of purists generating the impure, and, sloppy or saccharine as it could be, it turned out well. Folk-revival ditties pointed their more dedicated listeners — particularly musicians — back to original versions, extending the reach of regional styles. The hootenanny movement spurred people to play music instead of passively consume it, and the noncommercial, do-it-yourself spirit — though not the sound of banjos and acoustic guitars — would resound in punk-rock, which had its own kind of protest songs.

Mr. Seeger in 1967, when the folk revival was developing into an antiwar movement. D.Steinberg/Associated Press

Even more important, the folk revival, with Mr. Seeger as one of its prime movers, introduced American pop to a different America: the one outside Tin Pan Alley and Hollywood, where a volunteer gospel choir could sing with more gumption than a studio chorus, and where a decades-old song about hard times could speak directly to the present. The folk revival reminded the pop world that songs could be about something more than romance — a notion that the revival’s greatest student and transformer, Bob Dylan, would run with. Mr. Seeger also learned and performed songs from abroad; there were folks there, too.

Mr. Seeger’s discography runs to dozens of albums: topical songs, Mother Goose rhymes, banjo instruction, African songs, lullabies, blues, Civil War songs, Spanish Civil War songs and far more. His canon was selective but not exclusive; he wanted all those songs to get more chances. His cultural mission was democratic.

In 2011, Pete Seeger, 92, joining Occupy Wall Street by marching from a concert at Symphony Space to Columbus Circle. Marcus Yam for The New York Times

His mission was political too, of course. In 2012, Mr. Seeger told an interviewer on WNYC how he would like to be remembered: “He made up songs to try and persuade people to do something,” not just say something. As the 1940s began, he recorded songs reflecting the Communist party line; accusations of Communist Party affiliations got him questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee and blacklisted during the McCarthy era. More felicitously, Mr. Seeger recast traditional songs to rally unions, civil-rights groups, Vietnam War protesters and environmentalists. Mr. Seeger was a longtime mentor for topical songwriters. The best of his own songs, like the biblical “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” reach for cycles and archetypes, not ephemeral complaints.

Pop tastes quickly turned away from the folk revival; the Beatles were more fun. In the 21st century, folky protest and topical songs have generally been shunted to the far sidelines. Although Bruce Springsteen has taken songs from Mr. Seeger’s repertory to arenas, social consciousness is now disseminated more widely through metal and hip-hop. Yet the plink of acoustic instruments is still a token of sincerity. The banjo has resurfaced in groups like Mumford & Sons, while fascination with the folk-revival era animates the Coen brothers film “Inside Llewyn Davis.”

Yet Mr. Seeger wasn’t aiming for pop celebrity anyway. He had all the audiences he needed: at Carnegie Hall or at Barack Obama’s inauguration or at a local coffeehouse, in a high-school classroom or at a union meeting. He had the kindly demeanor of a favorite uncle and the encouraging tone of a secular preacher as he picked his banjo and taught another chorus to yet another audience, beaming as the singalong grew louder and more confident, turning one more group of folks into a community.

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1 Comment

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One response to “IN REMEMBRANCE: 2-2-2014

  1. Nicole

    Hoffman will remain an incredible actor whose movies will be viewed long after his death. He met an unfortunate end, yet he left behind works of greatness.

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