William Greaves making his experimental and long-neglected 1968 film, “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.” Credit John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive — Getty Images

His daughter-in-law Bernice Green confirmed his death.

Mr. Greaves was well known for his work as a documentarian focusing on racial issues and black historical figures. In his later years he was equally known for his most uncharacteristic film, “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.” Made in 1968, it mixed fact and fiction in a complex film-within-a-film structure that made it a tough sell commercially, and it waited almost four decades for theatrical release. When it finally had one, in 2005, it was warmly praised as ahead of its time.

Mr. Greaves (rhymes with “leaves”) gained national recognition as a co-host and later executive producer of “Black Journal,” a monthly hourlong National Educational Television newsmagazine that made its debut in 1968 in response to a call by the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders to expand coverage of black affairs. It was the only nationally telecast series devoted to black issues in the 1960s.

William Greaves, 2nd right, Don Fellows and Patricia Ree Gilbert filming “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.” Credit Jerry Pantzer

“By the acid test of professional and perceptive journalism, ‘Black Journal’ has earned its rightful niche as a continuing and absorbing feature of television’s output,” the television critic Jack Gould wrote in The New York Times in 1969. “Mr. Greaves is simply covering a story that should be covered and covering it with distinction.”

In 1970, “Black Journal” won an Emmy in the “magazine-type programming” category.

Later that year, Mr. Greaves left the program to pursue projects developed by his own production company. (He was replaced by Tony Brown, and the program was later renamed “Tony Brown’s Journal.”)

“The Fighters,” a feature-length documentary Mr. Greaves produced and directed about the 1971 Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fight, was released theatrically in 1974. Writing in The Times, Vincent Canby called it “a first-rate film of its unprepossessing kind.”

He went on to write, produce or direct films including the well-received PBS documentaries “Ida B. Wells: A Passion for Justice” (1989) and “Ralph Bunche: An American Odyssey” (2001), as well as explorations of contemporary political and cultural issues like “Black Power in America: Myth or Reality?” (1986) and “That’s Black Entertainment” (1989). His work won awards at numerous festivals.

William Garfield Greaves was born in Harlem on Oct. 8, 1926, one of seven children of Garfield Greaves, a taxi driver and minister, and the former Emily Muir. He won a scholarship to the Little Red Schoolhouse in Greenwich Village and later graduated from Stuyvesant High School.

His education continued at the City College of New York. Between 1944 and 1952 he tried his hand at boxing, dancing, songwriting and acting. He joined the American Negro Theater shortly after high school and, for a time, vied for roles with Harry Belafonte and Sidney Poitier.

He appeared on Broadway in “Finian’s Rainbow” (1947) and “Lost in the Stars” (1949) and in a few movies, among them “The Fight Never Ends” (1948), an independent production starring the boxing champion Joe Louis, and “Lost Boundaries” (1949), a Hollywood film about race relations. In 1948, he was accepted as a member of the Actors Studio, but he decided to forgo a promising acting career and became involved in production.

“I became infuriated by the racially degrading stereotypes that white film producers threw up on American screens,” he wrote in 1969. “It became clear to me that unless we black people began to produce information for screen and television there would always be a distortion of the ‘black image.’ ”

In 1950 he began working with Louis de Rochemont, a noted documentary filmmaker and the producer of “Lost Boundaries.” From 1952 to 1963 he lived in Canada and worked for the National Film Board of Canada as a writer, editor and producer.

He married Louise Archambault in August 1959. She survives him, as do their three children, David, Taiyi and Maiya Greaves; two brothers, Theodore and Donald; a sister, Ruth Evadne Brooks; three grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.

Mr. Greaves produced short films for the United Nations and the United States Information Agency before forming his production company, in 1964. He first attracted attention as a filmmaker with “Still a Brother: Inside the Black Middle Class,” an examination of the barriers facing upwardly mobile blacks, which he produced for National Educational Television in 1968.

Around the same time he wrote, produced, directed and edited “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One.” An experimental layers-of-reality work, it involved two actors performing a scene in Central Park while being filmed by a crew that was itself being filmed by another crew, all of the action presided over by Mr. Greaves himself.

He was unable to find a distributor, and except for screenings in Paris and New York in 1980 it languished for more than 20 years. It was finally shown at the Brooklyn Museum and the Sundance Film Festival in the ’90s, but it was not seen in movie theaters until it opened, to glowing reviews, in 2005.

Manohla Dargis of The Times, while acknowledging that the film was in some ways dated, called it “highly entertaining and, at moments, revelatory about filmmaking as a site of creative tension between individual vision and collective endeavor.”

Other filmmakers took notice, among them Steven Soderbergh, who as executive producer (with the actor Steve Buscemi) helped Mr. Greaves complete a belated sequel, “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 ½” (2005). They are now available as a two-DVD set from the Criterion Collection.

In his later years, when asked about his achievements as a chronicler of black history and black life, Mr. Greaves was proud but modest. “I thought I was going to be a hurricane, but I ended up a becoming merely a single raindrop,” he once said. “Hopefully there are other raindrops of similar mind.”

Peter Keepnews and Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.




John A. Walker Jr., left, with a marshal in 1985, pleaded guilty to leading an espionage ring that sold codes to the Soviets. Credit Bob Daugherty/Associated Press

His death, at the prison medical center, was confirmed by Chris Burke, a spokesman for the Bureau of Prisons.

Mr. Walker was a Navy communications specialist when he began spying for the Soviets at the height of the Cold War in 1967. After his arrest in May 1985, the government said he had led one of the most damaging spy operations in American history. All four members of it were convicted.

Mr. Walker worked alone initially and by most accounts without an ideological motive. Stationed in Norfolk, Va., and struggling financially, he first sold the Soviets information that allowed them to read encrypted messages, initiating the transaction by walking into the Soviet Embassy in Washington. By the 1970s, he had brought in Jerry A. Whitworth, a Navy radioman who was a close friend. Mr. Whitworth passed Mr. Walker classified Navy cryptographic data that American officials said the Soviets were particularly eager to receive.

In 1980, when Mr. Walker learned that his older brother’s car radio business was failing, he encouraged him to find a job with a Navy contractor to gain access to documents. The brother, Arthur, did just that.

John Walker persuaded his son, Michael, a clerk with a fighter squadron in Virginia Beach and later on the aircraft carrier Nimitz, to smuggle secret documents under his jacket, including some Michael had saved from shredding.

“My father was pleased and said it looked like we were on a roll,” Michael Walker said in court. “He told me to go ahead, keep it up.”

How much each man was paid was not always clear, but Mr. Whitworth admitted in court to receiving $332,000.

Among the information the men provided were descriptions of changes made to American submarines that helped the Soviets make improvements to their own submarines. Some of the encrypted information allowed the Soviets to track American submarine and ship movements.

In the late 1970s, Mr. Walker retired from the Navy and became a private investigator. He often wore disguises and traveled the world collecting secret information and forwarding it to his buyers.

In August 1977, he traveled to Hong Kong to meet Mr. Whitworth, who was in port as a sailor on the aircraft carrier Constellation. Days later, Mr. Walker met with Soviet agents. Intelligence sources said at the time that the speed of the apparent exchanges suggested the Soviets regarded the information as highly valuable and timely.

“They were not doing that just to get something to research,” an intelligence source who requested anonymity told The New York Times in 1985. “They’re getting it because they want to use it immediately. They were clearly trying to mount a major effort to read United States communications. There’s no other reason to try to get that kind of access.”

John Anthony Walker Jr. was born on July 28, 1937, in Washington, the second of three sons. His father, John Sr., was a publicist for Warner Bros. who drank heavily. When the father’s career began failing, the Walkers moved to his hometown, Scranton, Pa. But John Sr. eventually left his wife and family, and John Jr. dropped out of his Catholic high school to enlist in the Navy. His family said he had joined after turning himself in for trying to burglarize a business.

As part of his plea deal in the spy case, Mr. Walker agreed to cooperate with investigators, in part to get his son a more lenient sentence. Michael Walker was sentenced to 25 years and released in 2000. John and Arthur Walker were given life sentences, and Mr. Whitworth was sentenced to 365 years.

Arthur Walker died in July in the same prison medical center where John Walker died. Complete information on John Walker’s survivors was not immediately available.

John and Arthur’s spy activities were reported to the authorities by John Walker’s former wife, Barbara Crowley, who said later that she had not realized that her son had also been involved. She and Mr. Walker divorced in the 1970s.

In 2008, Mr. Walker published “My Life As a Spy: One of America’s Most Notorious Spies Finally Tells His Story,” in which he attributed his actions in part to his belief that the Cold War was “a farce” and that his sharing the information would cause no harm. He did ask that his family and “the nation” forgive him for “the danger I would have caused if actual war had developed between the United States and the Soviet Union.”

The Walker case inspired several other books and documentaries. It also prompted changes in how the Defense Department protected information. Soon after the ring was exposed, rules were imposed reducing the number of people with access to secret military information by 10 percent.

In June 1986, John C. Wagner, the special agent in charge of the Norfolk F.B.I. office, who supervised the arrest of John Walker, told The New York Times Magazine, “We’re still trying to find out just how it was possible that a relatively low-ranking sailor, motivated only by money, was able to run a successful spy ring for nearly two decades.”

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