LEON BIBB, TONY-NOMINATED ACTOR AND SINGER
October 31, 2015
Leon Bibb, a Tony-nominated actor and folk singer who grew up under segregation, found mainstream favor on the “The Ed Sullivan Show” and sang with Joan Baez and Harry Belafonte on the civil rights trail, has died at 93.
A stirring baritone who learned to sing in church choirs, Bibb made his Broadway debut in 1946 in the chorus of “Annie Get Your Gun,” with Ethel Merman. He earned a Tony nomination in 1967 for his performance in “A Hand Is on the Gate,” which featured poetry and music by African Americans.
In 1968 Bibb drew attention when he was cast opposite Victoria Mallory, a white actress, in an off-Broadway revival of the musical “Carnival.”
It was the first time the show had been presented as an interracial love story.
“People may be attracted to the interracial love in the play,” the handsome leading man told the New York Times in 1968. “I don’t knock it — but it isn’t the most important thing. To cast black actors in roles where they can bring an extra dimension to the story is important.”
Bibb, who died Oct. 23 in his adopted hometown of Vancouver, Canada, had been in declining health since a stroke last year, said his daughter, Dorie Clay.
He was a beloved figure in Vancouver, where he staged a long-running production of “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris.” He performed in schools across Canada as part of an anti-racism program he founded in the 1990s.
His involvement in education brought him such honors as the Order of British Columbia in 2009.
“People think there is no racism in Canada, but there is,” said Bill Sample, Bibb’s longtime music director and producer, who accompanied Bibb on the school tours. “He enabled a lot of kids to open up because he would talk about his own struggles with racism.”
The son of a postal worker, Charles Leon Aurthello Bibb was born in Louisville, Ky., on Feb. 7, 1922.
Until he was 19, “I never had a conversation with a white person,” he recalled in a 2011 commencement speech at the University of British Columbia. “I lived in a community that was pretty much ringed around by the white world. I saw ‘colored’ toilet signs, I saw ‘colored’ fountain signs…. My teachers and my parents sustained me through all of this.”
Bibb left Louisville after college to serve in the Army Air Forces. He had begun to train with the Tuskegee Airmen when he was diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, which led to his discharge.
After leaving the service, he moved to New York and trained to sing opera, “but there were no roles for African Americans,” his daughter said. He found some opportunities in musicals, however, and during the 1940s and ’50s was one of the few black actors to appear on Broadway.
He played a waiter in “Annie Get Your Gun” and Jim in “Livin’ the Life,” a musical based on “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” He also toured with “Finian’s Rainbow” and was directed by Elia Kazan in “Flight into Egypt,” with Zero Mostel.
In 1966 he was one of eight black actors, including Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones, in “A Hand Is on the Gate,” which combined the poetry of such writers as Langston Hughes and Gwendolyn Brooks with Negro spirituals and other songs. It was Bibb’s last Broadway show.
By then, he was firmly established on the folk-singing circuit. “I only moved into folk music because a black actor couldn’t get a job on Broadway,” Bibb said in the New York Times interview.
In 1959 he performed at the first Newport Folk Festival and was signed by Vanguard, which featured him on several albums, including “Leon Bibb Sings Folk Songs.” That year he also made the first of several appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
Later he was featured on the television show “Hootenanny.” He also made two movies with Sidney Poitier, “For Love of Ivy” (1968) and “The Lost Man” (1969).
He was banned from the Sullivan show in the mid-1960s because of his support of two prominent blacklisted artists, Pete Seeger and Paul Robeson, his role model and the godfather of his children.
When the civil rights movement heated up, Bibb joined Seeger, Bob Dylan, Peter, Paul and Mary and other folk singers at landmark protests, including the 1963 March on Washington.
Two years later he joined the thousands of protesters who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., in support of blacks’ voting rights and performed in Montgomery with Baez, Belafonte, Mary Travers and Oscar Brand.
In 1969 he stopped in Vancouver while touring with Bill Cosby and decided to move there.
“He looked out on the water and the mountains beyond and said, ‘I have to live here,'” Sample said.
He married the former Marylyn Duncan in 1947; they were divorced in 1967. Besides his daughter Dorie, Bib is survived by his son, Eric, a singer and songwriter; another daughter, Amy Bibb-Ford; his partner, Christine Anton; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
AL MOLINARO, CHARACTER ACTOR KNOWN FOR ROLE ON ‘HAPPY DAYS’
October 30, 2015, 9:19 PM
Al Molinaro, the hawk-nosed character actor who played the clumsy but benevolent owner of Arnold’s Drive-In on “Happy Days,” helping that TV sitcom earn lasting acclaim, died Friday in a Glendale hospital. He was 96.
The cause was complications from a gallbladder infection, said his son Michael.
Before “Happy Days,” which ran from 1974 to 1984, Molinaro also portrayed the bumbling but personable police officer Murray on “The Odd Couple,” providing a comic foil for stars Tony Randall and Jack Klugman.
“He was one of those really funny, likable secondary comedy characters that the ’70s were really known for,” said Robert J. Thompson, who leads the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “All of those shows had some really solid second and third bananas, and Al Molinaro was one of them.”
Born Umberto Francesca Molinaro on June 24, 1919, in Kenosha, Wis., he was the ninth of 10 children of Italian immigrants. He went by Albert at the suggestion of a teacher.
Many of his siblings had prominent careers in their home state of Wisconsin —one brother was a judge, another a state assemblyman — but Molinaro chose a different path..
When a friend suggested he take up acting, his response — as reported by the Kenosha News in 2004 — was simple: “I’ll do that.”
So he boarded a Greyhound bus and headed west, hoping Hollywood meant a big break. In reality, it meant a long lesson in patience.
“I spent 20 years here before I got anything going, and from that I got lucky,” Molinaro once told his hometown paper.
Garry Marshall, the executive producer of “The Odd Couple” and “Happy Days,” recounted the first time he watched Molinaro onstage. Marshall was at an improvisation show to watch his sister, Penny, perform her stand-up comedy routine when Molinaro’s “raw but very funny” ad-libbed portrayal of a priest caught his attention.
“I hold up Al’s story as an example when I tell people that it’s never too late to follow your dream,” Marshall wrote in “Wake Me When It’s Funny: How to Break into Show Business and Stay” (1997).
Molinaro was in his early 50s with only minor roles under his belt — he played Agent 44 in a couple episodes of “Get Smart” in the late 1960s — when in 1970 he landed the part of Murray in “The Odd Couple.” The poker-playing clown of a cop caught more laughs than he did crooks. Always a few beats behind, he had a habit of answering rhetorical questions, flashing a cross-eyed look in response to real ones and inching his way on set, so that for a moment the camera caught only his sizable schnoz.
His character was the cause for many scripted nose jokes, but he didn’t mind, his son said. He later appreciated the boost his most prominent feature gave to his career as a character actor.
Molinaro had a similarly goofy but endearing role as diner owner Al Delvecchio on “Happy Days.” He replaced Pat Morita in 1976 — the same season it was TV’s most-watched show.
Delvecchio’s 1950s malt shop, with its wood paneling, orange booths, jukebox jams and neon “A” sign, served as the backdrop for the teenage crushes and small quarrels that propelled the plot.
The tire-bellied chef, whose signature phrase “yeeap, yep, yep, yep, yep, yep” often trailed off into a sigh, rarely passed up an opportunity to offer his loyal young patrons advice.
A 1982 Times profile of “Happy Days” highlighted Molinaro’s endearing role: “The emphasis was always on heart in the episodes in which Molinaro was the star.”
The actor played Delvecchio in more than 100 episodes and knew the character inside and out.
“When you live with a character as long as I have, you know how he would talk in almost any situation,” Molinaro told The Times.
Molinaro left the show in 1982 for the spin-off “Joanie Loves Chachi,” starring Scott Baio and Erin Moran.
He later did work in commercials — most notably as the spokesman for a line of frozen dinners — and had a cameo in a music video for the rock band Weezer. But he largely stayed out of the limelight — partly, Molinaro contended, because of the types of projects he was willing to work on.
“I’m so square that I won’t be in a movie that has four-letter words in it,” he told the Chicago Tribune in 1990. “That puts me pretty much totally out of films these days.”
In addition to his son Michael, he is survived by his wife, Betty; a brother, Oliver; and three grandchildren.
WILLS CARTO, WHOSE RIGHT-WINGED PUBLICATIONS CALLED HOLOCAUST A ‘HOAX’
November 1, 2015
Far right-wing proponent Willis Carto, who published books and periodicals that called the Holocaust a “hoax,” died Oct. 26 at his home in Virginia. He was 89.
His death was announced by a newspaper he helped found, the American Free Press, and confirmed by his wife, Elizabeth, who said he died of heart failure.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist organizations, described Carto as a “white nationalist” who espoused “pro-Nazi and rabidly anti-Jewish views.”
He was a major figure in the so-called Holocaust revisionist movement that claimed many of the factual details concerning the Nazi extermination of Jews during World War II were not true, and he helped organize conferences on the topic.
“He tried to take the movement from the gutter to a higher plane to make it seem like it was legitimate,” said historian Deborah Lipstadt, an Emory University professor and author of several books, including the 1993 “Denying the Holocaust.”
“He tried to dress up the movement in respectable clothes,” she said, “when in reality it was nothing but hate.”
Carto was involved in numerous court actions, including a highly publicized case in Southern California.
The Torrance-based Institute for Historical Review, closely associated with Carto, claimed that poison gas was not used to kill Jews in concentration camps during World War II. In 1979 it went so far as to offer $50,000 to the first person who could prove Jews were gassed in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Auschwitz survivor Mel Mermelstein, a Long Beach businessman whose mother and two sisters were killed in the camp’s gas chambers, took up the challenge.
When the organization refused to pay up in the face of his documentation, he sued, naming Carto and the institute among the defendants.
Not long before the matter was to go to trial in 1985, the defendants settled, agreeing not only to pay Mermelstein nearly twice the award, but also to make a public apology that was entered into the court record.
The case was made into a 1991 television movie, “Never Forget,” with Leonard Nimoy as Mermelstein.
In 1993 Carto had an acrimonious break with the institute, now located in Orange County. The organization’s current director, Mark Weber, declined to comment on the record, saying a court settlement between the institute and Carto prohibited it.
Carto was born on July 19, 1926, in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Other organizations with which he was involved included the Liberty Lobby and Barnes Review.
He is survived by his wife.