MARCH 9, 2014


William Clay Ford’s first full season leading the Lions was in 1964.                                 Credit            Tom Pidgeon/Getty Images                    
William Clay Ford, who once steered a car from his grandfather Henry Ford’s lap but, overshadowed by his brash older brother Henry II, never got the chance to run the family business, died on Sunday at his home in Grosse Pointe, Mich. Ford’s last surviving grandchild, he was 88.

The cause was pneumonia, the Ford Motor Company said.

Mr. Ford, who was also the longtime owner of the Detroit Lions football team, represented the automaker’s last direct link to the days when the company belonged entirely to the Ford family. He was long the company’s largest shareholder, and the last Ford family member to be a confidant of Henry Ford, the American legend who made the automobile accessible to the masses.

As vice chairman of Ford and the leader of powerful board committees, he provided stability, perspective and stewardship of the family’s interest. Under company bylaws, Ford family members retained 40 percent of voting power, even as their proportion of common stock slipped to less than 2 percent.

Through his marriage to Martha Parke Firestone, granddaughter of the tire magnate Harvey Firestone, Mr. Ford united two of America’s industrial dynasties. Ford has bought millions of Firestone tires.

He was appointed to the Ford board while still a student at Yale and joined the company after graduation in 1949. In 1952, he headed a group that came up with a new edition of the Lincoln Continental, a luxury car so elegant it had been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art. The new model, the Continental Mark II, was a hit.

“He had exquisite taste, and he knew when an idea was right,” John Reinhart, the Continental’s chief stylist, told Automobile Quarterly in 1974.

It was Henry II, Mr. Ford’s older brother, however, whom Henry Ford picked as his successor, and he became president of Ford in 1945, later becoming chief executive and chairman. Nicknamed Hank the Deuce, Henry II was known for his effective management and a jet-setting lifestyle. When The New York Times Magazine asked William in 1969 about his brother’s cosmopolitan crowd, he allowed that they were not his “cup of tea.”

In planning his succession after he was slowed by a heart ailment in 1976, Henry II expanded the office of chief executive, making William a member of the executive team. He also made him chairman of the board’s executive committee.

But when it came to choosing a chief executive to replace him in 1980, Henry II picked Philip Caldwell, the first person from outside the family named to run Ford. William’s consolation prize was being named the company’s vice chairman.

Mr. Ford bought control of the Lions in 1964 for $6 million, the largest cash price then paid for a sports team. (It included Lions assets like an office building and stocks and bonds valued at $1.5 million.) In 2013, Forbes magazine estimated the franchise’s value at $900 million.

Early in his ownership Mr. Ford feared that the season’s tickets would be looted during the Detroit race riots of 1967 and called Ford to ask for vans to move the tickets. An executive refused, saying no company driver would risk it, Peter Collier and David Horowitz recounted in their 1987 book, “The Fords: An American Epic.”

Mr. Ford recruited a janitor and a staff assistant he had hired, Dick Lane, who had been a star Lions defensive back nicknamed Night Train. The three did the job themselves.

Mr. Ford came under sharp criticism from Detroit leaders when, in 1975, he decided to abandon the city and move the Lions from Tiger Stadium in Detroit to the new Silverdome, in Pontiac, a Detroit suburb.

In 2002, William and his son, William Jr., who had become chairman of Ford and a top Lions executive, moved the team back to Detroit, to Ford Field, a newly built 65,000-seat indoor stadium.

But the team, one of the oldest N.F.L. franchises, has never gone to the Super Bowl, and in 2008 it lost all 16 games, an NFL record. Fans sharply criticized Mr. Ford and the team, and he could be stinging himself, calling his club “ragtag” in 1982 and “lousy” in 1989.

William Clay Ford was born in Detroit on March 14, 1925, the youngest of the four children of Edsel Bryant Ford, Henry’s only son, and Eleanor Lowthian Clay, who had been raised by her uncle, J.L. Hudson, founder of Hudson’s Department Store in Detroit. The Ford family lived in an estate in what is now Grosse Pointe Shores, Mich.

The first Henry Ford doted on young Billy and his two brothers, Henry II and Benson, taking them on camping trips. When Billy was a teenager, a police officer stopped him and his grandfather for “driving like a bat out of hell,” in William’s recollection. Neither had a license. The officer called Clara, the elder Henry’s wife, who promised to handle the matter, according to “The People’s Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century” (2005) by Steven Watts.

When they got home, she was waiting. “Billy, you go to your bedroom,” Mrs. Ford said sternly. “And Henry, I want to talk to you.”

Mr. Ford went to the private Detroit University School, later incorporated into the University Liggett School, in Grosse Pointe Woods, and progressed to the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn. He enlisted in the wartime Navy in 1943, and was in flight training at the time of his discharge two years later.

While he was stationed in New York, his mother visited him and arranged a lunch with her old friend Isabel Firestone and Ms. Firestone’s daughter, Martha, a student at Vassar. At first the two resisted their mothers’ matchmaking. But when Mr. Ford was transferred to California, they secretly corresponded.

Mr. Ford enrolled at Yale and was captain of the soccer and tennis teams. While students, Mr. Ford and Miss Firestone married in Akron, Ohio, on June 21, 1947. A Model T from 1908, the year Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone met, was parked in front of the hotel where the reception was held. Edisons and Rockefellers attended.

Mr. Ford is survived by his wife and son as well as his daughters Martha Ford Morse, Sheila Ford Hamp and Elizabeth Ford Kontulis; 14 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

William’s brother Benson died in 1978 and his brother Henry II in 1987. His sister, Josephine Clay Ford, died in 2005.

Mr. Ford worked on the Ford assembly line during summer vacations from college. He never considered not working at Ford when he graduated in 1948 with a degree in economics. He worked in sales and advertising, then industrial relations, where he helped negotiate a contract with the United Auto Workers.

In 1957, Ford introduced a midsize car with much hoopla. It was named the Edsel, after Henry Ford’s only child. It sold poorly, and production ended in 1959. “You’re always sensitive when your father’s name becomes a synonym for failure,” William said.

In 1968, Mr. Ford astounded friends, business executives and politicians by publicly supporting Senator Eugene McCarthy’s campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. He backed Senator Barry Goldwater, the Republican, four years earlier. Mr. Ford said he was moved by Mr. McCarthy’s opposition to the Vietnam War.

Mr. Ford was vice chairman of Ford from 1980 to 1989, and led Ford’s powerful finance committee from 1987 to 1995. After serving nearly 57 years on the board, he retired in 2005. One of his last successes was helping to get his son, William Jr., named Ford’s chairman in 2002.

Mr. Ford drew psychic nourishment from a long-ago triumph, he recalled in the book “The Fords.” He remembered winning an athletic competition over hundreds of other Navy cadets.

“Without anyone knowing my name or who I was or whether I had a dime,” he said, “I did it on my own.”

 Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.





MARCH 8, 2014


Sheila MacRae, who starred on television and in movies, appeared on Broadway in the musical “Guys and Dolls” in 1965.                            
  • Sheila MacRae, the actress and singer best known for playing Alice Kramden in the 1960s version of “The Honeymooners,” died on Thursday in Englewood, N.J. She was 92.

She died at the Lillian Booth Actors Home, her daughter Heather MacRae said.

From 1966 to 1970, Ms. MacRae portrayed Alice, the long-suffering but tough-talking wife of Ralph Kramden, the blustery Brooklyn bus driver played by Jackie Gleason, in “Honeymooners” sketches, which often featured musical numbers, on the CBS variety series “The Jackie Gleason Show.” The role was made famous by Audrey Meadows on “The Honeymooners” in the 1950s; Art Carney reprised his role as Ed Norton in the sketches. Jane Kean, who played Norton’s wife, Trixie, in the revival, died in November.

For 26 years Ms. MacRae was married to Gordon MacRae, a singer and actor best known for starring in the movie versions of the musicals “Oklahoma!” and “Carousel.”

The MacRaes performed as a duo for nearly a decade in nightclubs, on television and in concerts across the country, and appeared on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 23, 1964, the same night the Beatles made their third appearance on the show. Shortly after they married in 1941, Mr. MacRae was signed by Warner Bros. Pictures and the couple moved to Los Angeles.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Ms. MacRae acted in a few movies and appeared on “I Love Lucy” and other television shows. She left show business briefly after becoming pregnant with the couple’s first child, but returned to perform with her husband.

She wrote in her 1992 memoir, “Hollywood Mother of the Year,” that his drinking and gambling had begun to spiral out of control and she wanted to stay close so she could keep an eye on him. (Her memoir was named for an award she received the year her marriage began falling apart.)

The MacRaes also starred together in a production of “Annie Get Your Gun” in Kansas City in 1961, in a cast that also included their four children, Meredith, Heather, William and Robert.

During her husband’s troubles, Ms. MacRae wrote in her memoir, she rebuffed overtures from suitors including Henry Fonda, Peter Sellers and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Ms. McCrae turned down a marriage proposal from Frank Sinatra, she said.

As troubled as her marriage was, Ms. MacRae was reluctant to divorce. “I would have had to take Gordy to court for divorce and spill all the secrets about his drinking and gambling,” she said in a 1992 interview.

The couple eventually separated in 1965 and divorced in 1967. She married Ronald Wayne the same year. They divorced in 1970.

Trained as a singer and dancer, Ms. MacRae also portrayed Miss Adelaide in “Guys and Dolls” on Broadway in 1965.

She also appeared on the soap opera “General Hospital” and on Broadway in “Absurd Person Singular.” Ms. MacRae is survived by two children, Heather and William, also known as Gar; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. Mr. MacRae died in 1986. Meredith MacRae, who starred in the situation comedy “Petticoat Junction,” died in 2000. Robert MacRae died in 2010.

Born in London on Sept. 24, 1921, as Sheila Meredith Stephens, she fled with her parents to Long Island in 1939, shortly before World War II.

Until recently, family and friends said, Ms. MacRae delighted in keeping her exact age a mystery. When friends and relatives wished her a happy 90th birthday in 2011, her family said in a statement, she replied, “I am only 90 in London.”

Correction: March 8, 2014 An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Sheila MacRae’s 1992 memoir. It is called “Hollywood Mother of the Year,” not “Mother of the Year.”SOURCE




MARCH 2, 2014


Alain Resnais in 2012.
Credit            Valery Hache/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images                    

Alain Resnais, the French filmmaker who helped introduce literary modernism to the movies and became an international art-house star with nonlinear narrative films like “Hiroshima Mon Amour” and “Last Year at Marienbad,” died on Saturday in Paris. He was 91.

His death was confirmed by the French president, François Hollande, who called Mr. Resnais one of France’s greatest filmmakers.

Although his name was often associated with the French New Wave directors — notably Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut, whose careers coalesced around the same time his did — Mr. Resnais actually belonged to a tradition of Left Bank intellectualism that drew on more established, high-culture sources than the moviecentric influences of the New Wave. Where Godard’s 1960 film, “Breathless,” was a pastiche of low-budget American gangster films, Mr. Resnais’s breakthrough feature, “Hiroshima Mon Amour,” in 1959, took on two subjects weighted with social and political significance: the American nuclear destruction of Hiroshima, Japan, and the German occupation of France.

A scene from the 1961 film “Last Year at Marienbad,” directed by Alain Resnais.                                 Credit            Rialto Pictures                    

To bind these themes into a melancholy love story about a French actress (Emmanuelle Riva) who has a brief affair with a Japanese architect (Eiji Okada), Mr. Resnais commissioned a screenplay from the writer Marguerite Duras, then one of the emerging stars of the “nouveau roman” movement, which was challenging literary narrative conventions.

Mr. Resnais continued to collaborate with celebrated authors like Alain Robbe-Grillet, a leading proponent of the nouveau roman, on “Last Year at Marienbad” (1961) and Jorge Semprún of Spain for “La Guerre Est Finie” (1966) and “Stavisky…” (1974), yet his films could never be described as simple literary exercises.

Fascinated by the ability of film editing to take apart and reassemble fragments of time — one of his first professional experiences was as an editor and assistant director on “Paris 1900,” a 1947 documentary on the French capital during its belle époque — Mr. Resnais incorporated the effects of scrambled memories, déjà vu and fantasy into his work.

In “Last Year at Marienbad,” which won the Golden Lion at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, a man identified only as “X” (Giorgio Albertazzi) tries to convince a woman identified only as “A” (Delphine Seyrig) that they had had an affair the year before at Marienbad, the fashionable European spa. As they wander the corridors and grounds of a sprawling chateau, A resists X’s advances, as a third man, M (Sacha Pitoëff), who seems to be A’s husband, looks on.

The film achieves its hypnotic force through repeated lines and situations, a time scheme that folds back on itself, and ominous, black-and-white wide-screen images that evoke both surrealist paintings (human figures cast long shadows, but not the decorative shrubbery that frames them) and the society dramas of silent film. (Ms. Seyrig is costumed to resemble the enigmatic silent star Louise Brooks.)

The film’s radical approach won both extravagant praise and harsh derision: the critic Pauline Kael dismissed it as “all solemn and expectant — like High Mass.” Mr. Resnais’s attitude was more amused.

“I don’t believe it is really a riddle to be solved,” he told the television interviewer François Chalais. “Every spectator can find his own interpretation, and it’s likely to be the right one.”

Mr. Resnais had a full head of white hair that the French newspaper Le Monde said he had sported for so long that one could forget he was ever young. He exhibited a youthful energy well into his 80s and was working on drafts of his next project from his hospital bed when he died, the producer Jean-Louis Livi said.

Despite the serious nature of his films, he showed a playful side in recent years and said he had found inspiration in Larry David’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” one of his favorite television shows. Another expression of his appreciation for “high” and “low” culture was his interest in cartoons. His 1989 movie, “I Want to Go Home,” was a comedy collaboration with Jules Feiffer, with whom he wrote the screenplay. He told a French interviewer that he wanted his work to have the effect of “désolation allègre” — “cheerful desolation.”

Mr. Resnais was married twice. His first wife, Florence Malraux, was the daughter of the novelist André Malraux and worked as his assistant on many of his films from “Marienbad” to “Mélo.” They later divorced. His second wife, Sabine Azéma, who survives him, is an actress who appeared in many of his films.

Mr. Resnais was born on June 3, 1922, in the village of Vannes, in Brittany, where his father was a pharmacist. He became fascinated by the movies as a child, and at 14 he directed his first film in eight millimeter, “L’Aventure de Guy,” now lost but said to have been inspired by Louis Feuillade’s crime serial “Fantômas.”

In 1939, he moved to Paris to study acting, and in 1942 he appeared as an extra in Marcel Carné’s Occupation allegory “Les Visiteurs du Soir.” When the French national film school, L’Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques, was founded in 1943, Mr. Resnais became a member of what would become the first graduating class.

Emmanuelle Riva and Eiji Okada in “Hiroshima Mon Amour” (1959).                                 Credit            Argos Films                    

Mr. Resnais directed his first 16-millimeter short in 1946, a surrealist comedy titled “Schéma d’une Identification” (“Outline of an Identification”), and persuaded a neighbor, the matinee idol Gérard Philipe, to lend his name and presence to the project. He soon followed with a feature-length work, “Ouvert Pour Cause d’Inventaire” (“Open on Account of Inventory”). Both are now believed lost.

Mr. Resnais then threw himself into a series of short documentaries and sponsored films, including a 1947 homage to Nestlé’s powdered milk.

A 1948 film on Van Gogh impressed the producer Pierre Braunberger, who invited him to remake it in 35 millimeter. Works on a wide variety of subjects followed, but it was a 1955 synthesis of newly shot and newsreel footage that established Mr. Resnais’s reputation: “Night and Fog,” a quietly powerful exhortation to the French, and the world, to remember the Nazi death camps at a time when their horrors were fading into willed amnesia.

After the international success of “Marienbad,” Mr. Resnais returned to the subject of suppressed historical trauma in 1963 with “Muriel,” a relatively straightforward drama about a middle-aged antiques dealer (Ms. Seyrig again) whose life has been warped as a distant consequence of the war in Algeria.

Memory, with an increasingly complex use of montage to evoke the mind’s unpredictable associations, became the central subject of Mr. Resnais’s films: from “La Guerre Est Finie” (1966) to “Providence” (1977). Perhaps his most innovative film of this period was the 1968 “Je t’Aime Je t’Aime,” which used a time-travel premise to compose a complex series of enigmatic images and dramatic fragments spiraling through one man’s subjective experience of life.

A more playful, satirical side of Mr. Resnais’s personality emerged with the 1980 “Mon Oncle d’Amérique,” a witty disquisition on humans’ lack of free will spun from the behavioralist theories of the psychologist Henri Laborit. The film’s contrapuntal structure, which moved among three different stories to explore a common theme, would become a key element in Mr. Resnais’s later work.

For “Life Is a Bed of Roses,” in 1983, Mr. Resnais assembled the trio of performers who would remain with him for much of the rest of his career: Ms. Azéma (whom Mr. Resnais would marry in 1998), Pierre Arditi and André Dussollier, each of them expert at the kind of stylized, theatrical acting that became central to Mr. Resnais’s work.

In films like the 1986 “Mélo,” adapted from a 1929 play by Henri Bernstein, and “Smoking/No Smoking,” a pair of 1993 features based on Alan Ayckbourn’s eight-play cycle, “Intimate Exchanges,” Mr. Resnais explored the tension between cinematic realism and theatrical artifice. In his hands, the conflict became a metaphor for the competing roles of chance and predetermination in shaping human lives.

From its somber beginnings, Mr. Resnais’s work seemed to grow more lighthearted over the years. A passionate devotee of Broadway musicals, he incorporated music into his work with the pop score of “Same Old Song” (1997) and “Not on the Lips,” a 2003 adaptation of a 1925 operetta.

In 2009, the New York Film Festival opened with his “Wild Grass,” a bittersweet comedy of missed romantic connections that came with two different endings; Mr. Resnais suggested that spectators could choose the one they liked best.

At the Cannes Film Festival in 2009, where Mr. Resnais received a lifetime achievement award, he said: “I’ve read articles calling me a filmmaker of memory. I’ve always refused that label by saying, ‘No, I want to make films that describe the imaginary.’ ”

His interest was not nostalgia, he added: “It’s simply the astonishment over everything that our imaginary can provoke.”

His last film, “The Life of Riley,” had its premiere last month at the Berlin International Film Festival, where it won the Alfred Bauer Prize. This particular Silver Bear award celebrates a film that “opens new perspectives on cinematic art.”

Correction: March 2, 2014     A previous version of this obituary misspelled the given name of a French matinee idol of the 1940s.  He was Gérard Philipe, not Gérards.    

Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.





FEB. 27, 2014


Alice Herz-Sommer in her London apartment in 2012.                                 Credit            Yuri Dojc                    
Throughout her two years in Theresienstadt, through the hunger and cold and death all around her, through the loss of her mother and husband, Alice Herz-Sommer was sustained by a Polish man who had died long before. His name was Frédéric Chopin.

It was Chopin, Mrs. Herz-Sommer averred to the end of her long life, who let her and her young son survive in the camp, also known as Terezin, which the Nazis operated in what was then Czechoslovakia from 1941 until the end of the war in Europe.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer, who died in London on Sunday at 110, and who was widely described as the oldest known Holocaust survivor, had been a distinguished pianist in Europe before the war. But it was only after the Nazi occupation of her homeland, Czechoslovakia, in 1939 that she began a deep study of Chopin’s Études, the set of 27 solo pieces that are some of the most technically demanding and emotionally impassioned works in the piano repertory.

For Mrs. Herz-Sommer, the Études offered a consuming distraction at a time of constant peril. But they ultimately gave her far more than that — far more, even, than spiritual sustenance.

Alice Herz in 1924, then a noted musician in Prague.                            

“They are very difficult,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer told The Sydney Morning Herald in 2010. “I thought if I learned to play them, they would save my life.”

And so they did.

In recent years, because of her great age; her indomitability; her continued, ardent involvement with music (she practiced for hours each day until shortly before she died); and her recollections of her youthful friendships with titans like Franz Kafka and Gustav Mahler; Mrs. Herz-Sommer became a beacon for writers, filmmakers and members of the public eager to learn her story.

She was the subject of biographies, including “A Century of Wisdom: Lessons From the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the World’s Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor” (2012), by Caroline Stoessinger, who confirmed her death.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer was also profiled in documentary films, one of which, “The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life,” a 38-minute portrait directed by Malcolm Clarke, is a 2014 Oscar nominee for documentary short subject. The awards take place on Sunday.

What seemed to draw audiences to Mrs. Herz-Sommer above all, as Mr. Clarke’s film makes plain, was her evident lack of rancor about her wartime experience. In the books and films about her, and in a welter of newspaper and magazine interviews, she expressed her unalloyed joy in making music and, quite simply, in being alive.

She was discouraged, she said, about just one thing.

“I am by nature an optimist,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer told The Observer, the British newspaper, in 2010. “But I am pessimistic about future generations’ willingness to remember and care about what happened to the Jews of Europe, and to us in Terezin.”

Alice Herz was born in Prague on Nov. 26, 1903, one of five children of a cultured, German-speaking, secular Jewish family. Her father was a prosperous businessman; her mother moved in the city’s shimmering artistic circles and numbered Kafka and Mahler among her friends.

As a child, Alice knew both men; Kafka (“a slightly strange man,” she recalled) attended one of the family’s Passover seders.

Alice began piano lessons at 5 and at 16 embarked on conservatory studies in Prague; by the time she was an older teenager, she was giving well-received concerts throughout Europe.

In 1931 she married Leopold Sommer, a businessman and amateur violinist; the couple had a son, Stepan (also spelled Stephan), in 1937.

In 1939, with the Nazi invasion imminent, some of Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s family fled Czechoslovakia for Palestine. She remained in Prague to look after her frail widowed mother.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s mother was deported to Terezin in 1942 and from there sent to a death camp, where she was killed.

It was after Mrs. Herz-Sommer escorted her mother to the deportation center in Prague (“the lowest point of my life,” she said) that she resolved to start work on Chopin’s Études.

In 1943, Mrs. Herz-Sommer, her husband and their son were dispatched to Terezin. Part ghetto, part concentration camp, Terezin, northwest of Prague, was promoted by the Nazis as a model institution: many of its inmates had been among Czechoslovakia’s foremost figures in the performing arts.

Terezin had an orchestra, drawn from their ranks, whose members quite literally played for time before audiences of prisoners and their Nazi guards. Mrs. Herz-Sommer, playing the camp’s broken, out-of-tune piano, joined them.

“It was propaganda,” she later said. “We had to play because the Red Cross came three times a year.”

But for Mrs. Herz-Sommer, who played more than 100 concerts in Terezin, the sustaining power of music was no less real.

“These concerts, the people are sitting there — old people, desolated and ill — and they came to the concerts, and this music was for them our food,” she later said. “Through making music, we were kept alive.”

Terezin was a transit camp. From there, Jews were deported to forced-labor and death camps; of some 140,000 Jews who passed through Terezin, nearly 90,000 were deported to “almost certain death” at such camps, according to the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Some 33,000 died in Terezin itself.

One of the prisoners transported from Terezin was Leopold Sommer, who in 1944 was sent to Auschwitz, and on to Dachau. He died there, probably of typhus, in 1945, a month before liberation.

Music spared Mrs. Herz-Sommer a similar fate. One night, after she had been in Terezin for more than a year, she was stopped by a young Nazi officer, as Ms. Stoessinger’s book recounts.

“Do not be afraid,” he said. “I only want to thank you for your concerts. They have meant much to me.”

He turned to leave before adding: “One more thing. You and your little son will not be on any deportation lists. You will stay in Theresienstadt until the war ends.”

After the war, Mrs. Herz-Sommer returned with Stepan to Prague but found its open anti-Semitism intolerable. In 1949, they emigrated to Israel, where she taught for many years at the Rubin Academy of Music, now the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance.

In the mid-1980s, she moved to London, where her son, an eminent cellist known since their time in Israel as Raphael Sommer, had made his career.

After her son died of an aneurysm in 2001, at 64, music once again sustained her. Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s neighbors in her London apartment building, where she occupied Flat No. 6, knew she had weathered the blow when they heard her practicing once more.

Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s survivors include two grandchildren.

She was the subject of a BBC television documentary, “Alice Sommer Herz at 106: Everything Is a Present,” and another biography, “A Garden of Eden in Hell” (2007; later reissued as “Alice’s Piano”), by Melissa Müller and Reinhard Piechocki.

A few years ago, after advancing age had immobilized one finger on each hand, Mrs. Herz-Sommer reworked her technique so she could play with eight fingers.

But though her hands were failing, her musical acumen remained sharp. In November, on Mrs. Herz-Sommer’s 110th birthday, Alex Ross, The New Yorker’s music critic, wrote in the magazine’s culture blog of having called on her in London the year before.

Because Mrs. Herz-Sommer could find journalists wearying, Mr. Ross, at the urging of her biographer Ms. Stoessinger, presented himself as a musician.

“Play something,” Mrs. Herz-Sommer commanded him.

Mr. Ross, at her piano, gamely made his way through some Schubert before Mrs. Herz-Sommer stopped him.

“Now,” she said, “tell me your real profession.”





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