IN REMEMBRANCE: 8-3-2014

ROBERT HALMI, PRODUCER OF TV FILMS

Robert Halmi Sr., with Rutger Hauer on the set of “Merlin.” Credit NBC

His son Robert Jr., who is also a producer, said the cause was an aneurysm. Just an hour before his father’s death, he added, they had been working on plans for a movie version of “King Lear,” set in contemporary London and starring Kelsey Grammer.

“He went home from work and died at the house,” Mr. Halmi Jr. said.

As producer, executive producer or head of a production company, Mr. Halmi had his hand in, by his son’s estimate, more than 200 long-form narrative TV projects. They included “Lonesome Dove” (1989), the celebrated mini-series, starring Robert Duvall, about a cattle drive, based on the novel by Larry McMurtry; “Call of the Wild” (1993), an adaptation of the Jack London novel; and “In Cold Blood” (1996), a four-hour version of Truman Capote’s true-crime tale.

“I one-hundred-percent believe that television is a bad thing,” Mr. Halmi said in a 2007 interview with the Archive of American Television. “It took the books out of children’s hands. I’m trying to do my little part to correct that.”

He adapted classic literary works like “Gulliver’s Travels” (1996, starring Ted Danson); “Crime and Punishment” (1998), “The Odyssey” (1997), with Armand Asante; “Moby Dick” (1998), a two-part miniseries with Patrick Stewart as Captain Ahab; and “Don Quixote” (2000), with John Lithgow in the title role and Bob Hoskins as Sancho Panza.

Not all of Mr. Halmi Sr.’s projects were so high-minded, though they were often alluringly cast. He put Jackie Gleason and Art Carney together as non-“Honeymooners” in a 1985 Prohibition-era comedy, “Izzy and Moe.” He yoked Woody Allen and Peter Falk together as vaudevillians with an age-old feud in a 1996 adaptation of Neil Simon’s play “The Sunshine Boys.” And he cast Jeff Daniels, Ellen Burstyn and Jon Voight in a version of Mitch Albom’s sentimental best seller, “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” (2004).

After his death, a headline in Variety declared him “A Gulliver Among TV Movie Producers.”

“Marquee talent loved working with Halmi,” the magazine’s television columnist Brian Lowry wrote, “in part because he treated them like stars, and in part because he allowed them to headline such lavish fantasies, shooting in exotic locales across the globe. He was an impresario, almost like getting to experience a touch of the early studio moguls.”

 Mr. Halmi was born in Budapest on Jan. 22, 1924. His parents divorced when he was very young, and he was reared by his father, Bela, a photographer who worked for both the Habsburg royal family and the Vatican and who introduced his son to darkroom work before he was 6.

Robert learned English in high school and later graduated from the University of Budapest, where he studied economics. During World War II, he said in interviews, he was jailed by the Nazis. Afterward, he became a translator and assistant for a Time-Life reporter in Budapest and began taking pictures.

Working for American newspapers, he was accused by the Communist government of spying and for a time was jailed again. Eventually he became a broadcaster in Salzburg, Austria, for Radio Free Europe.

Mr. Halmi went to the United States in 1950, arriving in New York, by his account, with $5, a small suitcase and a camera. His first job there was photographing babies for a diaper service.

Before coming ashore he had photographed his fellow immigrants on the ship as they arrived in New York Harbor, but he had had no money to develop them for several weeks. When he did, he took them to Life magazine, and the magazine put him to work. It was in New York that he saw television for the first time.

At Life and in work for other magazines, he specialized in adventure and travel, often taking part in events he would document with his camera. He was a competitive racer in road rallies and once drove in a 3,000-mile race in east Africa, with a Life reporter, for a story called “The Wildest Auto Ride on Earth.”

For a feature called Great True Hunts in True magazine, he traveled the globe on hunting expeditions with celebrities like the golf champion Sam Snead and the Shah of Iran. His nature photographs have been collected in “In the Wilds of Africa,” “Into Your Hand They Are Delivered” and other volumes.

In the early 1970s, after Life ceased weekly publication, Mr. Halmi made documentaries for television shows like “The American Sportsman.” His first feature film, “Visit to a Chief’s Son” (1974), starring Richard Mulligan, was based on a photo essay of his that Life had published in 1962 documenting a sojourn that he and a 9-year-old stepson, Kevin Gorman, had shared with the Masai tribe in Kenya. Its focus was Kevin’s friendship with Dionni, son of the Masai chief.

With his son Robert Jr., Mr. Halmi started a production company, RHI Entertainment, in 1979. In 1994, the company was bought by Hallmark Cards, which renamed it Hallmark Entertainment. Mr. Halmi Jr. bought it back in 2006, and after it later emerged from bankruptcy protection, the elder Mr. Halmi, who had never left the company, remained its chief creative force. The father and son formed a new venture, the Halmi Company, in 2012.

Three of Mr. Halmi’s five marriages ended in divorce. His third wife, Eleanor Morressey, to whom he was married for more than 20 years, died in 1979.

In addition to his son Robert Jr., he is survived by his wife, Caroline Gray; another son, Bill; his stepson, Mr. Gorman; a step-daughter, Kim Sampson; two sisters, Julie Costello and Jorgie Lask, and 12 grandchildren.

SOURCE

********************************************************

THEODORE VAN KIRK, ENOLA GAY NAVIGATOR

Captain Van Kirk, left, who was known as Dutch, with Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr., center, and Maj. Thomas W. Ferebee in 1945 after they flew the Enola Gay to Hiroshima to drop an atomic bomb. Credit U.S. Air Force, via Agence France-Press — Getty Images

His son Thomas confirmed the death.

In the predawn hours of Aug. 6, 1945, the Enola Gay, piloted by Col. Paul W. Tibbets Jr. and carrying a crew of 12, took off from Tinian in the Mariana Islands with a uranium bomb built under extraordinary secrecy in the vast Manhattan Project.

Captain Van Kirk spread out his navigation charts on a small table behind Colonel Tibbets’s seat. From that spot, at the end of a long tunnel atop the bomb bays, he took the plane’s bearings, using a hand-held sextant to guide with the stars.

When the Enola Gay reached Iwo Jima as the sun rose, it began an ascent to 31,000 feet. At 8:15 a.m. Japan time, it reached Hiroshima, a city of 250,000 and the site of an important army headquarters.

The bombardier, Maj. Thomas W. Ferebee, said, “I got it,” announcing that the Enola Gay was over his aiming point, the T-shaped Aioi Bridge. Captain Van Kirk, who had also familiarized himself with Hiroshima’s landmarks, leaned over Major Ferebee’s shoulder and confirmed he was correct. His navigating skills had brought the Enola Gay to its target only a few seconds behind schedule at the conclusion of a six-and-a-half-hour flight.

Theodore (Dutch) Van Kirk in 2009. Credit Beau Cabell/The Telegraph, via Associated Press

Major Ferebee released the bomb, known as Little Boy, and 43 seconds later, at 1,890 feet above ground zero, it exploded in a nuclear inferno, leaving tens of thousands dead or dying and turning Hiroshima into scorched devastation.

Colonel Tibbets executed a diving turn to avoid the blast effects, but the Enola Gay was buffeted by a pair of shock waves. A flash of light that Mr. Van Kirk likened to a photographer’s flashbulb engulfed the cabin.

“The plane jumped and made a sound like sheet metal snapping,” Mr. Van Kirk told The New York Times on the 50th anniversary of the Hiroshima raid. “Shortly after the second wave, we turned to where we could look out and see the cloud, where the city of Hiroshima had been.”

He added: “The entire city was covered with smoke and dust and dirt. I describe it looking like a pot of black, boiling tar. You could see some fires burning on the edge of the city.”

Mr. Van Kirk remembered “a sense of relief.”

“Even though you were still up there in the air and no one else in the world knew what had happened, you just sort of had a sense that the war was over, or would be soon,” he told Bob Greene in Mr. Greene’s 2000 book, “Duty.”

Shortly before 3 p.m., the crewmen returned to Tinian and were greeted, as Mr. Van Kirk told it, by “more generals and admirals than I had ever seen in one place in my life.”

Three days later, another B-29 dropped a plutonium bomb on Nagasaki. On Aug. 15, Japan surrendered, bringing World War II to an end.

Theodore Van Kirk — everybody called him Dutch — was born and reared in Northumberland, Pa. He attended Susquehanna College for a year, then became an Army Air Forces cadet in October 1941.

The crew of the Enola Gay is debriefed after their bombing mission over Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Credit U.S. Army, via Associated Press

Colonel Tibbets, flying with the Eighth Air Force out of England, selected Captain Van Kirk and Major Ferebee for his crew the next year. Their B-17 Flying Fortress, named Red Gremlin, became the lead plane in the 97th Bomb Group’s missions and flew Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower to Gibraltar in November 1942 in preparation for the invasion of North Africa.

After 58 missions over Europe and North Africa, Captain Van Kirk returned to the United States to train navigators. When Colonel Tibbets was selected to command the 509th Composite Group, a unit of 1,800 airmen assembled in Utah in the fall of 1944 to train for delivering the atomic bomb, he brought Captain Van Kirk and Major Ferebee with him. This time they trained on the newly developed B-29s.

As Mr. Van Kirk recalled Colonel Tibbets’s words in a 2005 Time magazine interview: “He told me, ‘We’re going to do something that I can’t tell you about right now, but if it works, it will end or significantly shorten the war.’ And I thought, ‘Oh, yeah, buddy, I’ve heard that before.’ ”

In the summer of 1945, the 509th conducted its final training on Tinian, and President Harry S. Truman gave the order to drop the atomic bomb.

Mr. Van Kirk retired from military service in 1946 as a major, having received the Silver Star and Distinguished Flying Cross. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from Bucknell University and became a marketing executive with DuPont.

Besides his son Thomas, survivors include another son, Larry; two daughters, Vicki Triplett and Joanne Gotelli; seven grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

The crews that dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were seen by Americans as saviors for ending the war. But over the years, the morality of atomic warfare and the need for the bombings has been questioned.

Mr. Van Kirk joined his fellow crewmen in unwavering defense of the atomic raids.

“We were fighting an enemy that had a reputation for never surrendering, never accepting defeat,” he said. “It’s really hard to talk about morality and war in the same sentence.”

He continued: “Where was the morality in the bombing of Coventry, or the bombing of Dresden, or the Bataan Death March, or the Rape of Nanking, or the bombing of Pearl Harbor? I believe that when you’re in a war, a nation must have the courage to do what it must to win the war with a minimum loss of lives.”

SOURCE

*******************************************************

JAMES SHIGETA, LEADING MAN IN ‘FLOWER DRUM SONG’

James Shigeta and Nancy Kwan in the 1961 film “Flower Drum Song,” based on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. Credit Universal Studios, via Everett Collection

The cause was pulmonary failure, his brother Clarence said.

Mr. Shigeta traveled a distinctive path to stardom. He was born in the American territory Hawaii to a family of Japanese descent. His native language was English, but he first became an acting and singing star in Japan, where he took language lessons while performing in the 1950s. He served in the American military during the Korean War.

His fame in Japan led to performances in Las Vegas, an appearance on “The Dinah Shore Show” and, in 1959, his first role in Hollywood, in “The Crimson Kimono.” He starred as a detective who falls for a key witness in a case, played by Victoria Shaw.

“YES, this is a beautiful American girl in the arms of a handsome Japanese boy!” read a promotional poster for the film that showed the lovers kissing.

In 1960 he shared a Golden Globe for most promising newcomer. The next year he seemed to be fulfilling the prophecy, with leading roles in two films, “Bridge to the Sun,” about an interracial couple, and “Flower Drum Song,” an adaptation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about arranged marriages — and resistance toward them — among some Chinese-Americans.

“What appealed to me about the two new pictures so much was the concepts,” Mr. Shigeta told The New York Times in 1961. “They’re not the stereotyped idea of Orientals so many Westerners seem to have. In ‘Bridge,’ the man is a Japanese diplomat married to an American girl — a guy who’s articulate, has been educated in Europe and is a charming person. It’s the love of the couple, and their mutual humor, that actually eradicates the clichés.”

Mr. Shigeta did not ultimately break through to become a major star, but he went on to a long career as a character actor in movies and television, including roles on “Hawaii Five-O,” “Medical Center,” “Fantasy Island” and “The Love Boat.” In 1988 he appeared in “Die Hard,” playing an executive shot to death when he refuses to reveal a security code to the film’s villain, the terrorist Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman).

“Get on the jet to Tokyo to ask the chairman,” Mr. Shigeta’s character says as Mr. Rickman reaches for a handgun. “I’m telling you, you’re just going to have to kill me.”

James S. Shigeta was born on June 17, 1929, in Honolulu, although some sources incorrectly say he was born in 1933. He was one of six children of a plumber. In addition to his brother Clarence, his survivors include a sister, Barbara Sato; and two other brothers, Howard and Wilfred. He studied creative writing at New York University briefly before focusing on singing.

He emerged as a star in Japan after he appeared on Ted Mack’s “The Original Amateur Hour” talent show. Scouts for the show discovered Mr. Shigeta at an audition in Hawaii when he was 19, Clarence Shigeta said. James Shigeta traveled to New York, where he won the show’s national competition and soon began singing in supper clubs in the United States, performing for a time under the name Guy Brion.

“It was my agent’s idea,” he told The Associated Press in June 1960. “He thought I would get better acceptance as a Continental type.”

Correction: July 31, 2014
An obituary on Wednesday about the actor James Shigeta misstated, in some editions, the ethnic background of the characters in the movie “Flower Drum Song,” in which Mr. Shigeta starred. They are Chinese-Americans, not Japanese immigrants.

SOURCE

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s