IN REMEMBRANCE: 3-16-2014

OPHELIA DEVORE-MITCHELL; REDEFINED BEAUTY

By

MARCH 13, 2014

        

Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell                                 Credit            MARBL/Emory University, via Associated Press                    
  • Ophelia DeVore-Mitchell, a former model, agent, charm-school director and newspaper publisher who almost single-handedly opened the modeling profession to African-Americans, and in so doing expanded public understanding of what American beauty looks like, died on Feb. 28 in Manhattan. She was 91.

Her death was announced on March 6 on the floor of the House of Representatives by Sanford D. Bishop Jr., Democrat of Georgia. At her death, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell was the publisher emeritus of The Columbus Times, a black newspaper in Columbus, Ga., which she ran from the 1970s until her retirement about five years ago.

Long before the phrase “Black is beautiful” gained currency in the 1960s, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell was preaching that ethos by example.

In New York in the 1940s — an age when modeling schools, and modeling jobs, were overwhelmingly closed to blacks — she helped start the Grace del Marco Modeling Agency and later founded the Ophelia DeVore School of Self-Development and Modeling. The enterprises, which served minorities, endured for six decades.

Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell, seen helping Barbara Barnes in 1969, opened a charm school that served minorities.                                 Credit            William E. Sauro/The New York Times                    

The success of the agency, and the visibility of the school’s thousands of graduates, helped pave the way for the careers of contemporary black supermodels like Naomi Campbell and Tyra Banks.

As an agent, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell represented members of the first wave of black models to attain wide visibility at midcentury, among them Helen Williams, often described as the first black supermodel. She also represented a young model named Richard Roundtree before he went on to fame as an actor in “Shaft” and other movies.

As a charm-school director, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell taught dress, diction and deportment to thousands of students, including the future actress Diahann Carroll, the future television newswomen Sue Simmons and Melba Tolliver, and the future hip-hop artist Faith Evans.

Besides tending to her pupils outwardly through classes like Wardrobe I, II and III; Social Graces; and Figure Control With Fencing and Ballet, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell designed a curriculum to bolster them inwardly, offering a counterweight to the tradition of internalized self-hatred that was many black Americans’ legacy.

“Black has always been beautiful,” Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell once said. “But you had to hide it to be a model.”

In the late 1930s, when Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell began her career as one of the first black models in the United States, she found work partly by hiding her own heritage. But in her case, the hiding was done entirely through inadvertence.

Emma Ophelia DeVore was born on Aug. 12, 1922, in Edgefield, S.C., one of 10 children of John Walter DeVore, a building contractor, and the former Mary Emma Strother, a schoolteacher.

As a girl, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell, whose family was of African, Cherokee, French and German descent, was educated in segregated Southern schools; she received additional instruction “in dancing, piano and all the other things in the arts that parents gave you to make you a lady,” as she told Ebony magazine in 2012.

At 11, to further her education, she was sent to live with an aunt in New York. She graduated from Hunter College High School in Manhattan and went on to receive a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, with a minor in languages, including French, Latin and German, from New York University.

A beauty with wide-set eyes, Ophelia DeVore had begun modeling casually as a teenager. A few years later, seeking professional training, she enrolled in the Vogue School of Modeling in New York.

It was only toward the end of her studies there, when the school refused admission to another black candidate, that she realized it had mistaken her, with her light skin, for white.

“I didn’t know that they didn’t know,” Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell said in the Ebony interview. “I thought they knew what I was.”

Though a few modeling jobs came her way, especially once Ebony began publishing in 1945, she soon realized that the field remained largely closed to her — and utterly closed to darker-skinned models.

In 1946, she and several friends founded the Grace del Marco agency. (The name was a coinage: “Grace” was a natural choice, “Marco” an acronym of the founders’ initials.) Two years later, wanting a training ground for black models, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell established her charm school.

One of the agency’s first great successes, starting in the 1950s, was Ms. Williams. Through a combination of Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell’s indefatigability, her considerable charm and Ms. Williams’s breathtaking luminosity, the agency placed her in campaigns for major advertisers — including Budweiser, Bulova and Johnson & Johnson — which appeared in mainstream publications like The New York Times Life and Redbook, feats without precedent for a black model.

Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell’s most famous protégée, Ms. Carroll, who attended the charm school as a teenager, went on to stardom as a singer, a Broadway actress (she won a Tony Award in 1962 for her performance in the Richard Rodgers musical “No Strings”) and the title character in “Julia,” the NBC series about a young widowed nurse.

Broadcast from 1968 to 1971, “Julia” is widely considered the first television series to star a black woman in a nonstereotyped role.

Among her other accomplishments, Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell wrote a fashion column for The Pittsburgh Courier, a black newspaper; was a host of the ABC-TV program “Spotlight on Harlem” in the 1950s; was appointed by President Ronald Reagan to the President’s Advisory Committee on the Arts; and was featured in the 1989 book “I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America,” by Brian Lanker. She was a longtime resident of Manhattan.

Her first marriage, to Harold Carter, a New York City firefighter, ended in divorce. In 1968 she married Vernon Mitchell, the publisher of The Columbus Times; on his death in 1972 she took over the paper, dividing her time between New York and Georgia.

Her survivors include five children from her first marriage, Carol Gertjegerdes, James Carter, Marie Moore, Cheryl Parks and Michael Carter; nine grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.

Her charm school, which had several names and several locations in New York City over the years, closed its doors — then in the Empire State Building — in 2006, as did the agency.

Mrs. DeVore-Mitchell’s own modeling career lasted just a few years. But her work advancing the careers of other models, she often said, was far more vital.

“I wanted to change the way people of color were seen across the United States,” she told the black-themed news site The Grio last year. “I wanted America to know that beauty isn’t just white.”

SOURCE

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DAVID BRENNER, MASTER OF OBSERVATIONAL HUMOR

By PETER KEEPNEWS

MARCH 15, 2014

        

David Brenner on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” in 1975.                                 Credit            Gary Null/NBCU Photo Bank, via Getty Images                    
  • David Brenner, whose wry brand of observational humor made him a stand-up comedy star in the early 1970s and kept him in the public eye for more than four decades, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 78.

His longtime publicist, Jeff Abraham, said the cause was cancer.

Early in his career, Mr. Brenner seemed to many like a throwback to an older, safer brand of comedy. Other comedians were gleefully challenging taboos, but his routines were free of profanity and focused not on sex, drugs or race, but on the annoying little details of everyday life — in his words, “the dumb things that we say and do.”

There was the one about the time he sat on a newspaper and a fellow subway passenger asked him if he was reading it: “I said yes, stood up, turned the page and sat down again.” There was his reaction to the news that there was a pill to stop people from gambling: “What are the odds?”

Later, as comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Jay Leno attained stardom with a similar approach, Mr. Brenner came to be celebrated as much for his influence as for his links to comedy’s past.

Tall and skinny, with a toothy grin and a memorably nasal delivery, Mr. Brenner became a comedian relatively late in life. He was over 30 and a successful writer, producer and director of documentary films when he began working in New York comedy clubs in the late ’60s. Stardom came quickly.

On Jan. 8, 1971, he made his first appearance on “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” at the time the goal of every working comic. He went on to become one of the show’s most frequent guests, making more than 150 appearances, about half of them as substitute host.

In an interview in December on “CBS This Morning,” Mr. Brenner recalled that Carson once explained why he was asked so frequently to perform stand-up on the show, as opposed to sitting on the couch for an interview: “He said, ‘Because I like to sit back, smoke a cigarette and laugh for six minutes.’ ”

Mr. Brenner was also a regular guest of David Letterman, Merv Griffin, Mike Douglas and other television hosts.

He was given his own late-night syndicated talk show, “Nightlife,” in the fall of 1986. “As an interviewer, he is supportive, never confrontational,” the New York Times television critic John J. O’Connor wrote, adding, “He is best with other comedians, genuinely enjoying their routines and clearly eager to give their careers a boost.”

But competing against Carson’s venerable “Tonight Show” on NBC and Joan Rivers’s heavily publicized “Late Show” on the new Fox network, “Nightlife” did not catch on with viewers. It was canceled in the spring of 1987.

The demise of “Nightlife” was Mr. Brenner’s second high-profile failure. In 1976, he shot seven episodes of “Snip,” an NBC sitcom in which he played a hairdresser. The show was on the network’s fall schedule but was pulled at the last minute. No official reason was given, although some reports said that NBC grew nervous about the presence of an openly gay character in the supporting cast.

Those were minor setbacks in an otherwise triumphant career. Mr. Brenner was one of the most successful comedians of his generation, working regularly in Las Vegas and throughout the country in addition to his many television appearances. In his peers’ view, he was also one of the best — and, to many, a mentor.

“He gave me good advice early in my career,” Steve Martin said in a statement on Saturday, praising Mr. Brenner as “a gentleman, and really, really funny.”

Richard Lewis recalled, “David Brenner was a huge star when I met him, and he took me under his wing.” He added, “To me, historically, he was the godfather of hip, observational comedy.”

David Brenner was born on Feb. 4, 1936, in Philadelphia, the son of Lou and Estelle Brenner. His father was a former vaudevillian who he said had several jobs — not all of them legal — and was one of the funniest people he knew. Mr. Brenner served in the Army and graduated from Temple University with a degree in communications before beginning his career as a documentarian.

In 2000, he married his longtime girlfriend Elizabeth Slater in Las Vegas; the wedding was telecast live as the finale of his HBO special “Back With a Vengeance!” They were divorced in 2001. (Mr. Abraham, his publicist, said Mr. Brenner had suggested they get divorced on Showtime.) He later had an eight-year relationship with the figure skater Tai Babilonia. They were engaged at one time, but despite reports to the contrary, Ms. Babilonia said on Sunday, they never married.

He is survived by his wife, Ruth; three sons, Cole, Wyatt and Slade; and a grandson.

In recent years, Mr. Brenner’s comedy began to focus more on current events. He appeared as a commentator on Fox News, MSNBC and CNN.

Mr. Brenner wrote several books. His last, published in 2003, was “I Think There’s a Terrorist in My Soup: How to Survive Personal and World Problems With Laughter — Seriously,” based on a national tour he undertook after the Sept. 11 attacks to help get people laughing again.

He retained his sense of humor to the end. “In David’s final request,” his family said in a statement on Saturday, “he asked that $100 in small bills be placed in his left sock ‘just in case tipping is recommended where I’m going.’ ”

Correction: March 16, 2014
An earlier version of this obituary misstated when Mr. Brenner started doing comedy. It was in the late 1960s, not the early 1970s.

Emma G. Fitzsimmons contributed reporting.

SOURCE

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WENDY HUGHES, ACTRESS IN AUSTRALIAN FILM SURGE

By

MARCH 10, 2014

        

Wendy Hughes in “Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train” (1988), in which she played a schoolteacher turned seductress.                                 Credit            Millimeter Films, via Photofest                    
  • Wendy Hughes, an Australian actress known internationally for her roles in “My Brilliant Career” and other movies, died on Saturday in Sydney. She was 61.

Her death, from cancer, was announced by her family.

Ms. Hughes, who began acting on the Melbourne stage four decades ago, was, with Judy Davis, one of the actors at the vanguard of Australia’s film renaissance of the 1970s and ’80s. Known for her smoky voice, auburn hair and portrayals of emotionally complex characters, she grew so renowned at home that for years headlines in Australian news articles referred to her simply as Wendy.

In the United States and elsewhere, Ms. Hughes was known for her role in “My Brilliant Career” (1979), the rapturously received Australian film in which she played the aunt of the heroine, a rambunctious, free-spirited young woman growing up in the outback at the turn of the 20th century, portrayed by Ms. Davis.

She appeared in a few Hollywood films, including the erotic thriller “Wild Orchid 2: Two Shades of Blue” (1991), starring Tom Skerritt, in which she played a madam, and “Paradise Road” (1997), starring Glenn Close, about women in a Japanese prison camp during World War II.

On American television, she was seen in the mini-series “A Woman Named Jackie” (1991), playing Jacqueline Kennedy’s mother, Janet Bouvier, and “Amerika” (1987).

Ms. Hughes had a recurring role on “Homicide: Life on the Street” as Dr. Carol Blythe, a medical examiner, and a guest role on a 1993 episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Lt. Cmdr. Nella Daren, a love interest of Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, played by Patrick Stewart.

The daughter of a plasterer and a homemaker, Ms. Hughes was born in Melbourne on July 19, 1952. She originally studied dance, but by the time she was a teenager had decided she was physically ill suited to a career as a ballerina and set her sights on acting. After training at the National Institute of Dramatic Art in Sydney, she became a member of the Melbourne Theater Company.

Other Australian pictures in which Ms. Hughes was seen abroad include “Newsfront” (1978), about newsreel reporters in the 1950s; “Careful, He Might Hear You” (1983), in which she played an imperious aunt; “My First Wife” (1984), about the dissolution of a marriage; and “Warm Nights on a Slow Moving Train” (1988) in which she portrayed a schoolteacher turned seductress.

In the late 1990s, Ms. Hughes was known to Australian TV viewers for her portrayal of Kate Ferrari, the title character of the popular crime series “State Coroner.”

Ms. Hughes’s survivors include a son, Jay; a daughter, Charlotte; a brother, Tony; a sister, Jan; and three grandchildren.

SOURCE

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GLENN MCDUFFIE, WHO CLAIMED TO BE SAILOR IN V-J DAY PHOTO

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

MARCH 16, 2014

        

A forensic artist said six years ago that she could identify Mr. McDuffie as the young sailor kissing a nurse in Times Square on the day Japan surrendered.                                 Credit            Pat Sullivan/Associated Press                    
  • Glenn McDuffie, who claimed to be the sailor kissing a nurse in a famous World War II-era photo taken by a Life magazine photographer, died on March 9 in Dallas. He was 86.

His death was confirmed by his daughter, Glenda Bell.

A mail carrier and semiprofessional baseball player after he returned from World War II, Mr. McDuffie’s life became more exciting about six years ago when, acting at his request, a Houston Police Department forensic artist, Lois Gibson, said she was able to identify him as the young man leaning over the woman in his arms to kiss her in Times Square on V-J Day, the day the Japanese surrendered to Allied forces.

After taking about 100 pictures of Mr. McDuffie — who used a pillow to pose as the sailor did in the photo taken on Aug. 14, 1945, by Alfred Eisenstaedt — Ms. Gibson said she was able to match the muscles, ears and other features of Mr. McDuffie, then 80, to the young sailor in the original image.

“I was absolutely positive,” Ms. Gibson said. The identification was controversial, though, partly because at least 11 other men have claimed to be the sailor. There is also debate about who the nurse was.

Yet for Mr. McDuffie, Ms. Gibson’s word was enough.

Mr. McDuffie, who is survived by his daughter and two grandchildren, had told The Associated Press that he was changing trains in New York when he learned that Japan had surrendered.

“I was so happy. I ran out in the street,” said Mr. McDuffie, then 18 and on his way to visit his girlfriend in Brooklyn.

“And then I saw that nurse,” he said. “She saw me hollering and with a big smile on my face. I just went right to her and kissed her.”

“We never spoke a word,” he added. “Afterward, I just went on the subway across the street and went to Brooklyn.”

SOURCE

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MAE KEANE, WHOSE JOB BROUGHT RADIUM TO HER LIPS

By

March 13, 2014

  • Like other young women working at the Waterbury Clock Company in Connecticut the 1920s, Mae Keane was taught a specific technique for applying paint to the numbers on wristwatch dials: Put the tip of the tiny brush between your lips to shape the bristles into the finest of points.

It was not regular paint. It was made with a relatively new material that most people did not know much about, something called radium. Watchmakers liked it because it glowed in the dark. Later, it became clear that it killed.

Had Mrs. Keane stayed longer, she might have become one of the many sad stories involving the so-called radium girls, the hundreds of young women who worked with radium paint in factories early in the 20th century. Many were still in their 20s when they died of cancer from radiation poisoning. Others succumbed later, and to other health problems related to radium exposure. Many lost their teeth; some also lost their jawbones. They did not necessarily know why.

But Mrs. Keane did not like the taste and texture of the paint or the tedium of the work. She was not very good at it, either. Her bosses were not impressed. After a few months, she was gone. It was the summer of 1924. She was 18. Within two decades she had lost all her teeth.

Mae Keane was perhaps the last living participant in a particularly dark moment in American industrial history.                                 Credit            Hartford Courant                    

Yet Mrs. Keane was a survivor who later conquered colon and breast cancer. She was 107 when she died on March 1 in Middlebury, Conn., perhaps the last living participant in a particularly dark moment in American industrial history.

By the end of the 1920s, dozens of women had died in plants in Connecticut, Illinois and New Jersey. The dangers of radium were becoming more widely understood. New federal safeguards were put in place, in part under pressure from dial painters who worked together to demand compensation and better protection. The practice of “lip pointing” was stopped.

Decades later, scientists dug up bones of the dead and found they were radioactive. Books, poems and at least one play have been written and documentary films have been made about the radium girls. Many years after the Waterbury Watch Company closed, radiation was still present at the site.

“She didn’t know it was bad for her,” Mrs. Keane’s niece Patricia Cohn, who confirmed the death, said in an interview. “She said it was gritty, and she didn’t like putting it into her mouth.”

Mae Keane was born Mary O’Donnell on May 28, 1906, in Waterbury, the daughter of Irish immigrants who gave her the nickname Mae. Her father, William, was a foreman in a Waterbury factory. Her mother, the former Catherine Lynch, worked as a receptionist in a doctor’s office.

She graduated from Wilby High School and, after leaving the watch company, spent many years doing administrative work at the Plume & Atwood Manufacturing Company, which made brass lamps and the parts for them.

Mrs. Keane’s husband of 40 years, Timothy Keane, a police detective, died in 1981. They had no children. She lived the last 13 years with Ms. Cohn’s family. Ms. Cohn’s son, Timothy, a student at Pomperaug High School, won a bronze medal at the 2012 National History Day Contest for his project, a photography exhibition called “Radium Girls: Tragedy Leading to Industrial Reform.”

Painting watch dials was promoted as ideally suited for delicate female hands. Mrs. Keane had expected it to be easy work, and the pay was good: a few cents for each dial she completed.

“We were young,” she told The Hartford Courant in 2004. “We didn’t know anything about the paint.”

SOURCE

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HAL DOUGLAS, SUPERSTAR OF MOVIE TRAILER NARRATORS

By

MARCH 13, 2014

        

Hal Douglas’s long, diverse career included trailers for “Philadelphia,” “Forrest Gump,” “Coneheads” and “Lethal Weapon.”                                 Credit            Megalomedia                    

Hal Douglas, a voice-over artist who narrated thousands of movie trailers in a gravelly baritone heard by “audiences everywhere,” as he might have put it, “thrilled by images never before seen … until now!,” died on Friday at his home in Lovettsville, Va. He was 89.

The cause was complications of pancreatic cancer, his daughter, Sarah Douglas, said.

Mr. Douglas was known for a generation in the voice-over industry as one of the top two or three go-to talents, along with Don LaFontaine, the most prolific, who died in 2008, and Don Morrow, the voice of the “Titanic” trailer.

His dramatic range, from Olympian-thunderous to comic-goofy, suited him for trailers for movies as diverse as “Philadelphia,”Forrest Gump,” “Coneheads,” “Meet the Parents” and “Lethal Weapon.” (“Under 17 not admitted without a parent.”)

The flexibility of his voice, and the longevity of his career — he worked steadily until two years ago — made him a “one name” phenomenon in Hollywood, said Marice Tobias, a consultant and voice coach to many A-list actors. “When you go past superstar status, you reach icon status in this business, where people know you by one name only,” she said. “That was Hal.”

Mr. Douglas, who never lived in Hollywood, preferring to work from studios in New York, took a more relaxed view of his work. “I’m not outstanding in any way,” he told The New York Times in 2009. “It’s a craft that you learn, like making a good pair of shoes. And I just consider myself a good shoemaker.”

With his insider’s cachet and ironic sensibility, he was cast in one of his few on-camera roles — as a voice-over artist — in the trailer for Jerry Seinfeld’s 2002 documentary, “Comedian.”

Mr. Douglas played an announcer, named Jack, who speaks only in trailer clichés. Settling into a recording booth to do the usual spiel, he begins, “In a world where laughter was king” — only to be cut off by a director on the other side of the glass.

“Uh, no ‘in a world,’ Jack.”

“What do you mean, No ‘in a world’?”

“It’s not that kind of movie.”

“Oh? O.K. In a land that … ”

“No ‘in a land,’ either.”

“In a time … ”

“Nah, I don’t think so.”

“In a land before time.”

“It’s about a comedian, Jack.”

“One man!”

“No … ”

The movie was not particularly successful, but the trailer — uploaded to YouTube — has been viewed more than 700,000 times.

Mr. Douglas was born Harold Cone in Stamford, Conn., on Sept. 1, 1924, to Samuel and Miriam Levenson Cone. After his mother died when he was 9, Hal (as he was always known) and a brother, Edwin, were raised mainly by their grandparents, Sarah and Tevya Levenson. His father, whose original name was Cohen and who worked in the Cohen family haberdashery in Stamford, remarried.

Hal Cone trained as a pilot and spent three years in the Navy during World War II. He wrote fiction in his free time, and after the war he enrolled on the G.I. Bill at the University of Miami, where he studied acting.

After moving to New York, he changed his last name to Douglas and began supplementing his meager income from acting jobs with voice-over and announcer work on radio and television, becoming much sought after for commercials and lead-ins for TV shows. He continued working in television throughout his life, while also doing film trailers and occasional documentaries.

Besides his daughter, Mr. Douglas is survived by his wife of 43 years, Ruth Francis Douglas, and two sons from a previous marriage, Jeremy and Jon.

“I never thought of it as a great voice,” he said of himself in “A Great Voice,” a short 2013 film about his career directed by Casimir Nozkowski. It was, he said, “throaty, chesty, a voice in need of clearing.”

But he found, he said, that it was “O.K. for a lot of things” professionally, if he didn’t clear it.

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