Lee Lorch, Desegregation Activist Who Led Stuyvesant Town Effort

MARCH 1, 2014

Lee Lorch, 95, a leader of an effort 60 years ago to desegregate Stuyvesant Town, at his home in Toronto. Credit Steve Payne for The New York Times

Lee Lorch, a soft-spoken mathematician whose leadership in the campaign to desegregate Stuyvesant Town, the gargantuan housing development on the East Side of Manhattan, helped make housing discrimination illegal nationwide, died on Friday hospital in Toronto. He was 98.

His daughter, Alice Lorch Bartels, confirmed the death, at a hospital. Mr. Lorch had taught at York University in Toronto, and had lived in Toronto since 1968.

By helping to organize tenants in a newly built housing complex — and then inviting a black family to live in his own apartment — Mr. Lorch played a crucial role in forcing the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, which owned the development, to abandon its whites-only admissions policy. His campaign anticipated the sit-ins and other civil rights protests to come.

But Mr. Lorch’s lifelong agitation for racial equality, not just in New York but later in Tennessee and Arkansas, led him into a life of professional turmoil and, ultimately, exile.

In the spring of 1946, Mr. Lorch — a graduate of Townsend Harris High School in Manhattan, Cornell University and the University of Cincinnati, where he earned a doctorate in mathematics — returned from wartime service in the Pacific with the Army Air Corps to teach math at City College. Like millions of veterans, he could not find a place to live. After a two-year search, having lived much of the time in a Quonset hut overlooking Jamaica Bay in Brooklyn, he, along with his wife and young daughter, moved into Stuyvesant Town. So did 25,000 other people.

Lee Lorch; his wife, Grace; and their daughter, Alice, at a news conference in 1949 concerning the African-American family the Lorches invited to occupy their Stuyvesant Town apartment.
Credit Neal Boenzi/The New York Times

As he later put it, he had all the credentials: “a steady job, college teacher and all that. And not black.”

In 1943, Frederick H. Ecker, the president of Metropolitan Life at the time, told The New York Post: “Negroes and whites don’t mix.” If black residents were allowed in the development, he added, “it would be to the detriment of the city, too, because it would depress all surrounding property.”

A lawsuit against Metropolitan brought in 1947 by three black veterans, and co-sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Jewish Congress and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, had failed in the state courts, and no local laws prohibited such discrimination; the city had not only supplied the land, and tax breaks, to the insurance company, but let it select tenants as it saw fit.

With 100,000 people vying for the 8,759 apartments on the 72-acre tract, no boycott could possibly work. Any successful protest had to come from inside: Polls showed that two-thirds of those admitted favored integration. Mr. Lorch’s wartime experiences — like seeing black soldiers forced to do the dirty work on his troop transport overseas — had intensified his resolve.

Mr. Lorch became vice chairman of a group of 12 tenants calling themselves the Town and Village Tenants Committee to End Discrimination in Stuyvesant Town.

“When you got into Stuyvesant Town, there was a serious moral dilemma,” he recalled in a 2010 interview with William Kelly of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Video Project. “In the concentration camps of Nazi Germany, people had seen the end results of racism.”

Some 1,800 tenants eventually joined the group. “Stuyvesant Town is a grand old town; but you can’t get in if your skin is brown,” went one of their chants, Charles V. Bagli of The New York Times wrote in a book about Stuyvesant Town’s history. A group of 3,500 residents petitioned Mayor William O’Dwyer to help eliminate the “No Negroes Allowed” policy, and supported anti-discrimination legislation before the City Council.

But Metropolitan Life held firm. And in early 1949, Mr. Lorch paid the price. Despite the backing of a majority of colleagues in his department, the appointments committee at City College blocked his promotion, effectively forcing him to leave.

Mr. Lorch was “unquestionably a fine scholar and a promising teacher,” an alumni committee later concluded, but some colleagues “regarded him, rightly or wrongly, as an irritant and a potential troublemaker.” Mr. Lorch himself charged that the college “protects bigots and fires those who fight bigotry.”

The New York branch of the N.A.A.C.P. and other groups protested the decision to the Board of Higher Education to no avail. In September 1949, Mr. Lorch found a teaching job at Pennsylvania State University, but his reputation preceded him: Upon arriving at the campus, he was taken directly to the university’s acting president.

“He wanted me to explain this stuff about Stuyvesant Town — that they’d been getting phone calls from wealthy alumni essentially wanting to know why I had been hired and how quickly I could be fired,” he recalled in the 2010 interview.

But Mr. Lorch’s wife and daughter had remained in the Stuyvesant Town apartment, at 651 East 14th St., and he and his wife soon invited a black family, Hardine and Raphael Hendrix and their young son, to live there for the entire academic year.

Quickly, Metropolitan Life refused to accept the Lorches’ $76 rent check, and began devising ways to get them out. At Penn State, Mr. Lorch was denied reappointment. Accommodating the Hendrixes, a college official told him, was “extreme, illegal and immoral, and damaging to the public relations of the college.”

The decision brought protests from Penn State students, Albert Einstein, the American Association of University Professors and the American Mathematical Society, as well as from The Times and The Daily Worker, the paper of the Communist Party U.S.A.

The Worker argued that Mr. Lorch, who was often linked to the Communist Party, was “an all too rare sort of bird among academic circles these days. He actually believes in the U.S. Constitution which guarantees the Negro people equality! And he not only believes in it, but stands up and fights for what he believes. Amazing!”

In June 1950, the United States Supreme Court declined to review the insurance company’s exclusionary policy. Succumbing to political and economic pressure, Metropolitan Life admitted three black families that year.

But it also moved to evict Mr. Lorch and 34 other protesting tenants. They dug in.

“We had decided — and this was the general feeling on the committee — we weren’t going to go quietly, that we would resist, they’d have to throw us out by force,” Mr. Lorch recalled.

Meantime, in September 1950, he accepted a new academic post, becoming one of two white professors at Fisk University, the historically black institution in Nashville, Tenn. His wife, Grace, a longtime activist herself — she had led the Boston School Committee in its effort to stop women from being fired as teachers the moment they married, as she had been — returned to Stuyvesant Town, where the Teamsters union supplied protection for protesting tenants.

In January 1952, as tenants barricaded themselves in their apartment and picketed outside City Hall and Metropolitan Life’s own headquarters, the company compromised: Mr. Lorch and two other organizers would move out, but the Hendrixes got to stay.

Seven years later, only 47 blacks lived in Stuyvesant Town. But the frustration the campaign helped unleash culminated in the Fair Housing Act of 1968, which prohibited discrimination in the sale, rental, or financing of housing.

At Fisk, Mr. Lorch taught three of the first blacks ever to earn doctorates in mathematics. But there, too, his activism, like attempting to enroll his daughter in an all-black school and refusing to answer questions before the House Un-American Activities Committee about his Communist ties, got him in trouble. In 1955, he was again let go. Only tiny Philander Smith College, an all-black institution in Little Rock, Ark., would hire him, and only when it could find no one else.

“Because he believed in the principles of decency and justice, and the equality of men under God, Lee Lorch and his family have been hounded through four states from the North to the South like refugees in displaced camps,” one of the nation’s most important black journalists, Ethel Payne of The Chicago Defender, wrote in May 1956. “And in the process of punishing Lee Lorch for his views, three proud institutions of learning have been made to grovel in the dust and bow the knee to bigotry.”

It was Grace Lorch who made the headlines the following year, for comforting Elizabeth Eckford of the Little Rock Nine after Ms. Eckford’s walk through a group of angry hecklers outside Little Rock Central High School, a moment captured in a famous photograph. Mr. Lorch, who had become an official with the Arkansas chapter of the N.A.A.C.P., was working behind the scenes, accompanying the black students to school, then tutoring them as they awaited admission.

Once more whites abused the Lorches for their activities, evicting them from their apartment, harassing their young daughter, burning a cross on their lawn and placing dynamite in their garage. And black leaders, mindful of Mr. Lorch’s Communist associations, kept their distance.

“Thurgood Marshall has been busy poisoning as many people as he can against us,” Mr. Lorch complained in October 1957, referring to the lawyer leading the N.A.A.C.P.’s desegregation campaign in the courts and, later, a justice of the United States Supreme Court. The group’s field secretary, Clarence Laws, wrote Mr. Lorch: “The best contribution you could make to the cause of full citizenship for Negroes in Arkansas at this time would be to terminate, in writing, your affiliation with the Little Rock Branch, N.A.A.C.P.”

When, at the end of the school year, Philander Smith declined to renew Mr. Lorch’s appointment, it was official: No American college would have him. So in 1959, he moved his family to Canada — first to the University of Alberta and then, in 1968, to York University, from which he retired in 1985.

Lee Lorch was born on Sept. 20, 1915 at his home on 149th Street and Broadway in Manhattan to Adolph Lorch and Florence Mayer Lorch.His wife, the former Grace Lonergan,died in 1974. Mr. Lorch is survived by his daughter, Ms. Bartels; two granddaughters; and a sister, Judith Brooks.

Mr. Lorch was often honored by his fellow mathematicians. In 1990, he received an honorary degree from the City University of New York.

In his 2010 interview with Mr. Kelly, Mr. Lorch insisted that it was his wife and daughter, and not he, who had paid the greatest price for his principles. Asked if he would do anything any differently, he paused. “More and better of the same,” he replied.

Correction: March 2, 2014

An earlier version of this obituary misstated the location of Townsend Harris High School when Mr. Lorch graduated. It was then in Manhattan, not Brooklyn. (It is now in Queens.) It also misstated the location of the Stuyvesant Town housing development. It is on the East Side of Manhattan, not the Lower East Side.



Jim Lange, Genial Host of ‘Dating Game’

FEB. 27, 2014

Jim Lange, left, with a match made on “The Dating Game.” Credit ABC, via Everett

Jim Lange, the original host of “The Dating Game,” the hit TV show that distilled the Swinging Sixties into a potent blend of on-screen matchmaking, jovial innuendo and unstinting Mod aesthetics, died on Tuesday a his home in Mill Valley, Calif. He was 81.

The apparent cause was a heart attack, his wife, Nancy, said.

Long before “The Bachelor” and its ilk became reality-television staples, there was “The Dating Game.” Created by Chuck Barris and broadcast on ABC, the show made its debut in 1965 and ran, in various incarnations, on and off for decades.

Mr. Lange, known for his voluminous hair, velvet tuxedos and boyish affability, was its host into the 1980s, by which time it had been retitled “The New Dating Game.”

The show’s premise was simple: a contestant, usually a young woman, read scripted questions, awash in gentle double entendres, to three men. (Q. “If you were a holiday, how would you like to be celebrated?” A. “I would love to be Arbor Day, and be potted.”)

The men, known as Bachelors Nos. 1, 2 and 3, were seated behind a screen, visible to the audience but not to the contestant. (“And h-e-e-r-e they are!,” Mr. Lange ritually intoned on introducing them to viewers.)

Based on their answers, the contestant chose one of them to be her date on a romantic getaway, furnished by the show. In a nod to the mores of the times — or, more accurately, to those of a somewhat earlier time — the trips were chaperoned, sometimes by Mr. Lange, sometimes by Mr. Barris.

On some episodes, the roles were reversed, with a male contestant interrogating three bachelorettes. On others, celebrities — among them a juvenile Michael Jackson and a youthful, heavily muscled Arnold Schwarzenegger — took the contestant’s chair.

In an era in which a woman was expected to wait for a man to ask her out, “The Dating Game” billed itself as a blow for progress.

“It was a magic formula, because here you have a woman picking from three guys,” Mr. Lange told the “Today” show in 2005. “The fact that women were making choices was a total different thing for dating.”

Yet at the same time, the show’s eminently recognizable set (a backdrop of huge psychedelic daisies) and equally recognizable theme music (a bouncy, brassy Herb Alpert number) made it seem campily retrograde, even for its day.

“The Dating Game” lives on in popular culture, parodied in TV comedy sketches and lately reincarnated for interactive play on social-media sites like Facebook.

On movie screens, Mr. Lange appeared as a talking head in the 2002 film “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind.” The film is an adaptation of Mr. Barris’s 1984 memoir of that name, in which he said he moonlighted as an assassin for the Central Intelligence Agency while chaperoning couples from “The Dating Game.”

“That’s possible, too, because you are not with the couple constantly,” a 2003 article in The San Francisco Chronicle quoted Mr. Lange as having said. “You would have some free time, though I don’t know how much time it takes to kill somebody.”

James John Lange was born in St. Paul on Aug. 15, 1932. At 15, on winning a competition, he became a broadcaster on a local radio station. In the late 1950s, after earning a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Minnesota and serving in the Marine Corps, he took a job as a D.J. at KGO in San Francisco. He later moved to KSFO there.

Mr. Lange came to national attention shortly afterward, when he was hired as an announcer and sidekick on “The Tennessee Ernie Ford Show,” broadcast on national television from San Francisco. Mr. Barris, seeing the show, hired him for “The Dating Game.”

After leaving “The Dating Game,” Mr. Lange was a host of “The New Newlywed Game,” “$100,000 Name That Tune” and other shows. He was later a D.J. for several California stations, including KABL in San Francisco.

Mr. Lange’s first marriage, to Fay Madigan, ended in divorce. His survivors include his wife, the former Nancy Fleming, the 1961 Miss America, whom he married in 1978; two sons, Nicolas and Gavin, and a daughter, Romney Lange, all from his first marriage; two stepchildren, Ingrid Carbone and Steig Johnson; a sister, Midge Lange; and four grandchildren.

Though “The Dating Game” made Mr. Lange’s reputation, it was a reputation of which he soon tired.

“It stigmatized me,” he told The Chronicle in 1991. “I wouldn’t even be considered for commercials because I was so identified with that one image.”

In the end, however, he appeared reconciled to his legacy.

“It’ll be on my tombstone,” Mr. Lange told The Chronicle in 1991: “And h-e-e-r-e he is! With an arrow pointing down.”



Harold Ramis, Director, Actor and Alchemist of Comedy

FEB. 24, 2014


Credit Chuck Hodes/Focus Features

Harold Ramis, a writer, director and actor whose boisterous but sly silliness helped catapult comedies like “Groundhog Day,” “Ghostbusters,” “Animal House” and “Caddyshack” to commercial and critical success, died on Monday in his Chicago-area home. He was 69.

The cause was complications of autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis, a disease that involves swelling of blood vessels, said Chris Day, a spokesman for United Talent Agency, which represented Mr. Ramis.

Mr. Ramis was a master at creating hilarious plots and scenes peopled by indelible characters, among them a groundskeeper obsessed with a gopher, fraternity brothers at war with a college dean and a jaded weatherman condemned to living through Groundhog Day over and over.

“More than anyone else,” Paul Weingarten wrote in The Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1983, “Harold Ramis has shaped this generation’s ideas of what is funny.”

And to Mr. Ramis, the fact was that “comedy is inherently subversive.”

“We represent the underdog as comedy usually speaks for the lower classes,” Mr. Ramis once said. “We attack the winners.”

Remembering Harold Ramis

Credit Sally Ryan for The New York Times

Mr. Ramis collaborated with the people who came to be considered the royalty of comedy in the 1970s and ’80s, notably from the first-generation cast of “Saturday Night Live,” including John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Chevy Chase and Gilda Radner.

His breakthrough came in 1978 when he joined Douglas Kenney and Chris Miller to write “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” which starred Mr. Belushi and broke the box-office record for comedies at the time. With Mr. Aykroyd, he went on to write “Ghostbusters” (1984) and “Ghostbusters II” (1989), playing the super-intellectual Dr. Egon Spengler in tales of a squad of New York City contractors specializing in ghost-removal.

He made his directorial debut with the country club comedy “Caddyshack” (1980) and his film acting debut the next year in “Stripes,” a comedy about military life that he wrote with Dan Goldberg and Len Blum. Mr. Ramis played Russell Ziskey, who, with his friend John (Bill Murray), joins the Army as a lark.

The film is an example of his ability to be simultaneously silly and subversive. At one point Mr. Murray exhorts his fellow soldiers by yelling: “We’re not Watusi! We’re not Spartans — we’re Americans! That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world. We are the wretched refuse. We’re the underdog. We’re mutts. Here’s proof.”

He touches a soldier’s face. “His nose is cold.”

Harold Ramis was born in Chicago on Nov. 21, 1944, to parents who worked long hours at the family store, Ace Food and Liquor Mart. He loved television so much, he said, that he got up early on Saturday mornings and stared at the screen until the first program began.

In high school, he was editor in chief of the yearbook and a National Merit Scholar. He then attended Washington University in St. Louis on a full scholarship. Dropping pre-med studies, he went on to earn a degree in English in 1967.

After graduation he got a job as an orderly in a psychiatric hospital in St. Louis and married Anne Plotkin. The two moved to Chicago, where Mr. Ramis worked as a substitute teacher in a rough neighborhood while writing freelance articles for The Chicago Daily News.

In 1968 he was assigned to cover Chicago’s Second City improvisational troupe, which included Mr. Belushi and Mr. Murray.

“I thought they were funny,” Mr. Ramis told The Chicago Tribune Magazine in 1983. “But at the same time I thought I could be doing this. I’m that funny.”

Soon he was hired as jokes editor at Playboy magazine, where he moved up to associate editor. He also began attending an acting workshop and, after two audition attempts, joined Second City’s touring company.


Harold Ramis, right, with Dan Aykroyd, center, and Bill Murray in “Ghostbusters.” Credit Columbia Pictures

In 1972, Mr. Belushi brought Mr. Ramis and other Second City collaborators to New York to work on the “National Lampoon Radio Hour.” He also participated in the “National Lampoon Comedy Revue,” a stage show that included Second City performers.

Mr. Ramis went on to write for “SCTV,” a Toronto sketch comedy show about a fictional network that became a quick success. After he had taken the job, “Saturday Night Live,” which was just getting started, approached him to be a writer, but he kept his commitment to SCTV.

It was while working with SCTV that Mr. Ramis joined colleagues to write a script on life in a zany college fraternity. After the resulting film, “Animal House,” struck box-office gold, he joined with Mr. Goldberg, Mr. Blum and Janis Allen to write “Meatballs,” a 1979 comedy that starred Mr. Murray as a counselor at a dysfunctional summer camp. It was a hit, although critics said it did not rise to the level of “Animal House.”

“Caddyshack” came next and won critical praise for the acting of Mr. Murray as a grungy greenskeeper, Chevy Chase as a suave playboy, Ted Knight as the club’s stodgy founder, and Rodney Dangerfield as a tactless millionaire.

Visual humor included a scene in which swimmers frantically flee a pool when someone spots a Baby Ruth candy bar floating on the surface. A clergyman is struck by lightning when he curses after missing a putt during the best golf game of his life.

Vincent Canby, writing in The New York Times, praised Mr. Ramis’s direction, saying the movie “tears the lid off the apparently placid life at a WASPy country club to expose bigotry, ignorance, lust and a common tendency to cheat on the golf course.”

Mr. Ramis wrote “Groundhog Day” with Danny Rubin and also directed it. For many reviewers, the film, released in 1993, transcended madcap humor with a comic exploration of a man’s hapless search for meaning in a confusing world. Stephen Sondheim said he would not pursue a musical adaptation of the movie because it would be impossible to improve on perfection.

Another film that drew praise and audiences was “Analyze This” (1999), which Mr. Ramis directed and wrote with Peter Tolan and Kenneth Lonergan. It starred Robert De Niro as a gangster and Billy Crystal as his psychiatrist, and led to the sequel “Analyze That” (2002).

Mr. Ramis’s first marriage ended in divorce.

At the time of his death he was married to the former Erica Mann, who survives him, along with his sons Julian and Daniel; his daughter, Violet; a brother, Steve, and two grandchildren.

Mr. Ramis was multitalented: he was a skilled fencer and a ritual drummer, he spoke Greek to the owners of his local coffee shop and taught himself to ski by watching skiers on television. He made his own hats from felted fleece.

He said he felt pride in having made two — maybe four — films that might earn a footnote in film history. He did not specify which ones.

“That gives you a tremendous sense of validation,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1993, “but at the same time you suffer the possibility that the next thing you do will be awful, and you have to face getting older and I’m not really looking forward to being 77 and being out there directing ‘Caddyshack XII.’ ”

Correction: February 24, 2014

An earlier version of this article misidentified Chris Day, who confirmed the cause of Mr. Ramis’s death. He is a spokesman for United Talent Agency, which represented Mr. Ramis; he was not his agent. The article also misidentified the person who, in an article in The New Yorker, compared Mr. Ramis’s impact on comedy to that of Elvis Presley on rock ‘n’ roll. It was Tad Friend, the author of the article, not the screenwriter Dennis Klein, who was quoted elsewhere in the piece.

Correction: February 26, 2014

An obituary on Tuesday about Harold Ramis, the director, writer and actor, described incorrectly a scene from the movie “Caddyshack,” which he directed. In it, a clergyman is struck by lightning when he curses after missing a putt during the best golf game of his life, not when he thanks God.



Buster Keaton, Poker-Faced Comedian, Dies at 70

(Feb. 1, 1966)

Arthur Ashe, Tennis Star, Dies at 49

(Feb. 6, 1993)

Hussein, King Who Took Risks, Dies at 63

(Feb. 7, 1999)

Iris Murdoch, Novelist and Philosopher, Dies at 79

(Feb. 8, 1999)

Alex Haley, Author of ‘Roots,’ Dies at 70

(Feb. 10, 1992)

Charles Schulz, ‘Peanuts’ Creator, Dies at 77

(Feb. 12, 2000)

Ethel Merman, Queen of Musicals, Dies at 76

(Feb. 15, 1984)

Geronimo, Apache Chief, Dies

(Feb. 17, 1909)

Alfred P. Sloan Jr., G.M. Leader, Dies at 90

(Feb. 17, 1966)

Thelonious Monk, Jazz Composer, Dies at 64

(Feb. 17, 1982)

J. Robert Oppenheimer, Atom Bomb Pioneer, Dies at 62

(Feb. 18, 1967)

Deng Xiaoping, China’s Political Wizard, Dies at 92

(Feb. 19, 1997)

Frederick Douglass, Anti-Slavery Crusader, Dies

(Feb. 20, 1895)

Chester W. Nimitz, Who Built Pacific Fleet, Dies at 80

(Feb. 20, 1966)

George Ellery Hale, Astronomer, Dies at 69

(Feb. 21, 1938)

Elijah Muhammad, Black Muslim Leader, Dies at 77

(Feb. 25, 1975)

Mabel Cratty, Y.W.C.A. Leader, Dies at 60

(Feb. 27, 1928)

Henry R. Luce, Creator of Time-Life Empire, Dies at 68

(Feb. 28, 1967)


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