BEL KAUFMAN, WHO TOLD WHAT SCHOOL WAS REALLY LIKE
Her daughter, Thea Goldstine, confirmed the death.
First published by Prentice Hall, “Up the Down Staircase” spent more than a year on the New York Times best-seller list. It has sold more than six million copies and been translated into at least 16 languages. So fully has the novel entered the collective consciousness that its title is still used as a catchphrase to describe absurd or impossible situations.
“Up the Down Staircase” was made into a popular movie of the same name, released in 1967. Directed by Robert Mulligan, it starred Sandy Dennis as Ms. Kaufman’s idealistic young teacher protagonist, Sylvia Barrett.
The book and movie made Ms. Kaufman a celebrity; for decades afterward, she was in demand as a speaker before educational and civic groups. She was also a highly visible public presence at events commemorating the work of the great Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem, her maternal grandfather.
Ms. Kaufman wrote one other novel, “Love, Etc.,” about a middle-aged woman coping with divorce. It appeared in 1979 to mixed reviews.
Largely epistolary in structure, “Up the Down Staircase” is organized as a series of dispatches from the front as it follows Sylvia through her first year at Calvin Coolidge High, a fictitious yet all-too-real New York public school.
The narrative comprises Sylvia’s wistful letters to a college friend, now married and safely installed in the suburbs; bits of student papers (“We study myths like Orpheum & his girl friend because it takes place in the Greek Underground”); and messages left in the class suggestion box (“You’re a good teacher except for the rotten books you have to teach like the Oddissy. I wouldn’t give it to a dog to read”).
There is also the thicket of memos from school administrators, aptly described by Sylvia as “trivia-in-triplicate.”
“Dear Sir or Madam,” one directive reads. “In reply to your request for resignation, please be advised that yours was filled out improperly.” Others range over subjects like “Lateness due to absence” and “Polio Consent slips.”
Amid the laughter, Ms. Kaufman’s book explored deeply serious issues, from classrooms with chronically broken windows and too few chairs to teenage pregnancy, trouble with the law and a student’s attempted suicide. The world of the novel, she often said, was based closely on her own experience as a teacher in New York City high schools.
Belle Kaufman was born on May 10, 1911, in Berlin, where her father, Michael, was studying medicine. Her mother, Lala Rabinowitz Kaufman, was the eldest daughter of Sholem Aleichem, whose well-loved stories of shtetl life were the basis of the Broadway musical “Fiddler on the Roof.” Also a writer, Lala Kaufman later contributed thousands of short-short stories to The Jewish Daily Forward, the Yiddish-language newspaper in New York.
The coming of the Russian Revolution in 1917 put the Kaufmans at grave risk: With their comfortable home and household servants, they were considered members of the bourgeoisie. Ms. Kaufman later wrote of soldiers bursting into their home, smashing items and shooting off guns.
When Belle was 12, the family managed to leave for the United States. Though many other members of the bourgeoisie, as Ms. Kaufman wrote, had been “jailed or shot trying to cross the border,” the connection to Sholem Aleichem, who had died in 1916, allowed the Kaufmans to leave in safety. They settled in the Bronx, where Belle, who spoke no English, was placed in a class of first graders.
As an undergraduate at Hunter College, she enrolled by chance in an education class and was captivated. She graduated magna cum laude in 1934 and earned a master’s degree in English from Columbia University in 1936.
To obtain a municipal teaching license, Ms. Kaufman had to beard the monster then known as the New York City Board of Examiners. Year after year, she failed the board’s oral exam: The vestiges of her Russian accent, examiners told her, made her diction unworthy of a proper schoolteacher’s.
For several years until she got her regular license, Ms. Kaufman was relegated to substitute teaching in a string of New York City high schools, any one of which could have been Calvin Coolidge.
“One morning a boy came to class three months late,” Ms. Kaufman wrote in 1991, in her introduction to a new edition of “Up the Down Staircase.” “I greeted him with a feeble joke: ‘Welcome back! What happened? Did you rob a bank?’ ‘No,’ he said. ‘A grocery store.’ ”
“Up the Down Staircase” came along, Ms. Kaufman said afterward, at a low point in her life. She was teaching, selling the occasional short story to magazines and “living alone in a tiny apartment with very little money or hope for the future,” as she wrote in 1991. (In the 1940s, in order to sell a story to Esquire, which took a dim view of submissions by women, she began signing her work with the more androgynous first name Bel.)
In 1961, Ms. Kaufman wrote a short story about a young teacher’s life, told through a pastiche of notes, memos and other scraps of paper. After several rejections, she sent it to Saturday Review, which published it in the Nov. 17, 1962, issue under the title “From a Teacher’s Wastebasket.”
Ms. Kaufman received $200, less a $20 agent’s commission. The day the story was published, Gladys Justin Carr, an editor at Prentice Hall, asked her to turn it into a book.
Ms. Kaufman’s first marriage, to Sydney Goldstine, ended in divorce. Besides her daughter, Thea, from her first marriage, survivors include her second husband, Sidney J. Gluck; a son from her first marriage, Jonathan Goldstine; a brother, Sherwin Kaufman; and a granddaughter.
Over the years, Ms. Kaufman was often asked whether the memorandums in “Up the Down Staircase” were real. Though they were inane enough to look real, she explained, in fact, she had invented most of them. (Ms. Kaufman did include a few actual New York City Board of Education memos, but had to tone them down to make them credible.)
The best indication of Ms. Kaufman’s skill at dead-on bureaucratic mimicry came from one of her former schools. After “Up the Down Staircase” was published, she wrote, an assistant principal there began annotating his official directives with a stern red-penciled admonition.
It read: “DO NOT SHOW THIS TO BEL KAUFMAN.”
KENNETH B. NOBLE, FORMER TIMES REPORTER
The cause was congestive heart failure, his wife, Dr. Lorna McFarland, said.
Mr. Noble graduated from Yale in 1975 and from the University of Southern California Law School in 1979, but he had no journalism experience when he was selected by The Times in 1980 to be trained in its minority internship program.
After two years in the New York headquarters, Mr. Noble was sent to Washington, where he covered financial and economic news and soon developed a specialty in articles on finance and law. He wrote about commodities fraud, insider trading and the savings and loan crisis, and about the government regulators who caught — or had overlooked — the wrongdoing.
Mr. Noble, who had attended a segregated grade school in Gainesville, Fla., told family and friends that the most deeply affecting assignment of his career was the Africa beat. As head of the West Africa bureau of The Times from 1989 to 1994, he covered the two dozen countries along the continent’s west coast, including Ghana, the country from which he believed his ancestors were probably taken by slave traders in the 18th or 19th century.
“It wasn’t something he talked about very much, but he went through a lot of emotional sorting while there,” said Richard S. Carnell, a friend since childhood and an associate professor at Fordham Law School.
During his posting, Mr. Noble chronicled the lush life of the Liberian strongman Samuel K. Doe, the first of his country’s leaders who was not a descendant of freed American slaves, and the 10-year civil war that led to his execution by rebels in 1990. He covered civil war in Angola, the AIDS pandemic in Zaire and coup attempts in Nigeria.
In a 1991 dispatch from Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, he wrote about the palm trees: “The trees began disappearing last fall when, as starvation spread in this war-shattered capital, thousands were cut down and their edible hearts eagerly and desperately consumed.”
“The trees will take years to grow back, but they surely will,” he wrote. “Monrovia’s future is less hopeful.”
Kenneth Bernard Noble was born in Manhattan on Aug. 14, 1953, to Ella Jeter, a social worker for the city Department of Social Services, and John Noble, whom he saw infrequently after one searing encounter.
“The first memory Ken had was of his father stabbing his mother,” Mr. Carnell said in an interview on Monday. “That was when he was about 4.”
Mr. Noble’s mother survived, but he was raised mostly by his grandmother, Florence Waldon Smith, a secretary for a school district outside Gainesville who pushed him to excel and planted the idea in his head at a young age that he would attend Yale someday. “She saw something in him, and she was right,” said Mr. Noble’s wife, Dr. McFarland, from whom he had been separated for four years.
Besides Dr. McFarland, he is survived by two sons, Eric and David.
After leaving The Times in 1997, Mr. Noble taught journalism at the University of Southern California and at the University of California, Berkeley. About four years ago, he returned to Gainesville from Los Angeles, where he had lived for many years.
An obituary on Wednesday about the former New York Times reporter Kenneth B. Noble referred incorrectly to the Liberian leader Samuel K. Doe, whom Mr. Noble wrote about during his posting in Africa. He was the first of the country’s leaders who was not descended from freed American slaves; he was not a descendant of freed American slaves.
KARL ALBRECHT, A FOUNDER OF ALDI STORES
His death was confirmed by Aldi, which delayed the announcement until after his funeral.
The Aldi chain formerly managed by Mr. Albrecht (the name is short for Albrecht Discount) now has nearly 5,000 stores worldwide, including 1,300 in the United States, two of them in the New York City area, and all of them known for spartan décor and low prices. A separate organization formerly run by Theo Albrecht, which also uses the Aldi name, has 4,800 outlets in Europe.
“Our only consideration when we are working out a product’s price is how cheaply we can sell it,” Karl Albrecht once said.
As teenagers, the brothers would tow a wooden wagon along the cobbled streets of Essen’s Schonnebeck neighborhood, selling fresh buns. Their father, Karl, a miner, had been disabled by emphysema in the 1930s, making it necessary for their mother, Anna, to open a food store in a four-story brick rowhouse. The store somehow survived more than 200 Allied bombings of the industrial city of Essen, home of the Krupp armaments manufacturer.
Drafted into Hitler’s Wehrmacht, Karl Albrecht was wounded and captured on the Russian front, and Theo, a member of the Afrika Korps, was seized by American troops in Tunisia.
The brothers took over the store after the war and by the late 1940s had begun opening more shops around the city, selling milk, bread, butter and other basics at low cost as Germany struggled with its postwar recovery. By 1955, the Albrechts had more than 100 stores and, by 1960, more than 300 throughout much of West Germany.
Today, Aldi stores usually offer no more than 2,000 products, most of which are private-label brands. (Other supermarkets carry as many as 45,000 items.) The products are often stacked on wooden pallets in the cardboard boxes in which they were delivered. Offering a limited assortment of basic products ensures constant turnover, reduces spoilage and labor, and gives the chain significant purchasing power with its suppliers — all to keep prices low.
Like that of any discount chain, Aldi’s price-cutting business model gave it a competitive advantage not only over independent stores, forcing some to close, but also over other discount rivals.
“What makes Aldi so special is that, quite simply, its prices are cheaper than just about anyone else’s, including Walmart’s,” The New York Times reported in 2008. “Where else can you buy an 18-ounce box of raisin bran cereal for just $1.49? Or a frozen pizza for $3.99? Or how about a DVD/CD player for $24.99?”
The strategy paid off for the brothers. Karl Albrecht was No. 24 on Forbes magazine’s most recent list of billionaires, and the richest German, with a fortune estimated at $25.9 billion. In 2009, Theo Albrecht, who died in 2010, had a net worth of $18.8 billion.
In 1961, after a disagreement about whether to sell cigarettes, the brothers divided the company into two operations within Germany, Karl running Aldi Süd and Theo running Aldi Nord. As they expanded into other countries, Karl controlled operations in Britain, Australia and the United States, while Theo ran the stores in Europe. Theo stepped into the American market in 1979 by buying the Trader Joe’s chain, applying some Aldi principles to upscale items like California wine, goat cheese and olive oil.
Karl Hans Albrecht was born on Feb. 20, 1920.
As he and Theo aged, they turned the business over to their sons and outside managers. The Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper reported that among Karl Albrecht’s survivors were a son and a daughter, and that his wife died last year.
He and his brother were known for remaining out of the public eye, a reclusive bent that was reinforced in 1971 after Theo was kidnapped and held for ransom for 17 days. They divided their time between fortresslike homes overlooking the Ruhr Valley near Essen and the 18-hole golf course that Karl built near the Black Forest in southwestern Germany.
Karl Albrecht maintained his low profile to the end. Even his retirement in 2002 was observed quietly, with the Irish newspaper The Sunday Tribune reporting, “Karl Albrecht hasn’t been quoted since 1953, when he spoke to an industry group.”