IN REMEMBRANCE: 12-13-2015

Mattiwilda Dobbs, Soprano and Principal at Met

Mattiwilda Dobbs as Olympia in “Les Contes D’Hoffman,” with Toni Blankenheim as Spalanzani, at Hamburg State Opera in 1961. Credit Peyer Photo/Opera News Archives

  • Mattiwilda Dobbs, a coloratura soprano who was the third African-American to appear as a principal singer with the Metropolitan Opera, died on Tuesday at her home in Atlanta. She was 90.
Her death was confirmed by a niece, Michele Jordan.
Though Ms. Dobbs’s voice was not immense, she was routinely praised by critics for its crystalline purity and supple agility, and for her impeccable intonation, sensitive musicianship and captivating stage presence.
She also had a highly regarded international career as a recitalist, singing at Town Hall in New York and on other celebrated stages, and was especially renowned as an interpreter of Schubert lieder.
When Ms. Dobbs made her Met debut, as Gilda in Verdi’s “Rigoletto,” on Nov. 9, 1956, she had already sung to great acclaim at La Scala in Milan, where she was the first black principal singer; Covent Garden in London; and the San Francisco Opera, where she had made her United States operatic debut, as the Queen of Shemakha in Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Le Coq d’Or,” in 1955.
At the Met, she was preceded by two black singers: the contralto Marian Anderson, who made her debut in January 1955, and the baritone Robert McFerrin, who made his a few weeks later. (Mr. McFerrin was the father of the jazz singer Bobby McFerrin.)
Reviewing Ms. Dobbs’s Met debut, opposite the baritone Leonard Warren, Howard Taubman wrote in The New York Times: “The young soprano has a voice of substance and quality, well placed and expertly controlled. Her singing is true, flexible at the top in coloratura passages and glowing in texture throughout the scale.”
The first black woman to be offered a long-term contract by the Met, Ms. Dobbs appeared with the company 29 times through 1964. Her roles there included Oscar the pageboy (sung by a soprano) in Verdi’s “Un Ballo in Maschera”; Zerlina in Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”; and the title part in Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor,” for which, The Daily News reported in 1957, the audience summoned her back for nine curtain calls after she had sung her mad scene.
If Ms. Dobbs is less well remembered today than some singers of her era, that is partly because she made relatively few recordings. It is also because her debut fell between the historic advent of Ms. Anderson and the blazing ascendance of Leontyne Price, widely considered the first black operatic superstar, who made her Met debut in 1961.
What was more, Ms. Dobbs happened to have joined the Met as part of the incoming class of 1956-57 — a group of newly hired principal singers that included the titanic sopranos Antonietta Stella and Maria Callas.

 

Ms. Dobbs outside La Scala in Milan in 1953, where she sang the role of Elvina in the Rossini opera “L’italiana in Algeri,” making her, at 25, the first African-American singer to appear at the famed opera house. Credit Associated Press

Named for a grandmother, Mattie Wilda Sykes, Mattiwilda Dobbs was born in Atlanta on July 11, 1925, the fifth of six daughters of John Wesley Dobbs and the former Irene Ophelia Thompson.
Hers was a distinguished family: Ms. Dobbs’s father, a mail-train clerk, was long active in civic affairs, helping to register black voters as early as the 1930s. In the late 1940s he helped found the Atlanta Negro Voters League.
Mr. Dobbs insisted on a college education, along with seven years’ study of the piano, for each of his daughters, and he prevailed in every instance. As a girl, Mattiwilda also sang in her church choir but, retiring and bashful, did not envision a performing career.
She began voice lessons in earnest only as an undergraduate at Spelman College in Atlanta. After earning her bachelor’s degree — she graduated first in her class with majors in Spanish and music — the young Ms. Dobbs moved North at her father’s insistence for advanced vocal training.
“I would never have been a singer if it were not for my father,” she told Look magazine in 1969. “I was too shy.”
In New York, Ms. Dobbs became a pupil of the German soprano Lotte Leonard; she also studied at Tanglewood. At the same time, as a hedge against the uncertainties of a career in music, she earned a master’s degree in Spanish from Columbia University Teachers College.
Ms. Dobbs was a winner of the Marian Anderson Scholarship Fund in 1948, and received a scholarship from the John Hay Whitney Foundation not long afterward. On the strength of her awards, she moved to Paris, where she studied with the art-song specialist Pierre Bernac.
In 1951, she came to wide international attention by winning a first prize in the Geneva International Music Competition.
Over the years, Ms. Dobbs also sang at the Glyndebourne Festival in England and with the Royal Swedish Opera, the Hamburg State Opera and the Israel Philharmonic. In 1959, she was one of four Americans — the others were Gary Cooper, Edward G. Robinson and the producer Harold Hecht — sent by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to establish a cultural exchange program with the Soviet Union.
Ms. Dobbs’s first husband, Luis Rodriguez Garcia de la Piedra, a Spanish journalist whom she married in 1953, died the next year. (Only days after his death, she honored a commitment to sing at Covent Garden before the new monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.)
In 1957 Ms. Dobbs married Bengt Janzon, a Swedish journalist, and she was known afterward in private life as Mattiwilda Dobbs Janzon.
Mr. Janzon died in 1997. Ms. Dobbs’s survivors include a sister, June Dobbs Butts.
Ms. Dobbs’s recordings include Mozart’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio,” Bizet’s “The Pearl Fishers” and Offenbach’s “Tales of Hoffmann.”
After retiring from the concert stage, Ms. Dobbs taught voice at the University of Texas, Spelman College and, for many years, Howard University in Washington.
Throughout her career, Ms. Dobbs refused to sing in segregated concert halls. She did not perform in her hometown, Atlanta, for instance, until 1962, when she sang before an integrated audience at the Municipal Auditorium there.
In January 1974 she performed at another epochal Atlanta event, singing the spiritual “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” at the inauguration of the city’s first black mayor, Maynard Jackson.
The choice of Ms. Dobbs to perform at Mr. Jackson’s inauguration seemed almost foreordained, and not merely because of their shared background as racial pioneers. Mr. Jackson, the great-great-grandson of a slave, was also Ms. Dobbs’s nephew.
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C. Gerald Fraser, Longtime Reporter for The Times

C. Gerald Fraser in 1975. Credit Reginald Stuart/The New York Times

  • C. Gerald Fraser, who covered the aftermath of the bloody Attica prison uprising in upstate New York and the pioneering presidential campaign of Shirley Chisholm in his 24 years as a reporter for The New York Times, died on Tuesday in the Bronx. He was 90.
His partner, M. Phyllis Cunningham, said the cause was complications of cancer.
Before joining The Times in 1967, Mr. Fraser reported for The Daily News in New York, covering riots in Harlem and civil rights marches in Alabama.
The Times hired him as a metropolitan reporter; one of his beats was covering the courts. He also wrote about the condition of black prisoners, including those involved in the 1971 Attica rebellion. His reporting on the Chisholm campaign, in 1972, traced the making of political history: Ms. Chisholm, the first black woman to serve in Congress, was the first woman to seek the Democratic presidential nomination.
He later worked in The Times’s cultural news department and wrote columns for the weekly television guide and the Sunday Book Review.
When Mr. Fraser joined the paper, he became one of only two black reporters on the staff at that time. The other, Thomas A. Johnson, had been hired a year earlier. Mr. Fraser became a vocal advocate for improving coverage of issues important to blacks and expanding opportunities for black journalists.
When he was hired by The Times in 1967, “it was the summer in which Newark exploded,” he recalled in an interview with the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, adding that many blacks in and out of newsrooms across the country were stirred by appeals for black power.
“We wanted to identify with a community and people who were calling themselves black,” he said.
Charles Gerald Fraser Jr. was born in Boston on July 30, 1925, the son of Caribbean immigrants. His father, a cook, came from Guyana. His mother, the former Bernice Love, was a seamstress from Jamaica. A great-grandfather had founded the newspaper The Jamaica Advocate, and Mr. Fraser recalled that his family subscribed to three newspapers, which he read cover to cover.
Attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Mr. Fraser worked on the student newspaper and earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1949. He later earned a master’s degree at what was then the New School for Social Research in New York.
In another interview with the Maynard Institute, Mr. Fraser recalled that most mainstream newspapers were not hiring blacks in the 1950s. But the Urban League, he said, managed to arrange an interview for him at The Boston Globe, where he had worked as a copy boy in high school.
Arriving for the interview, he said, he was met by a man who asked him, “in a rich Irish brogue,” his purpose for being there.
“I want to get a job,” he told the man. The man replied: “Oh, you can’t get a job here. You’re not in the janitors’ union.’ ”
After nearly three years of washing pots and pans and working in a post office, Mr. Fraser landed a job in 1952 as a reporter for The Amsterdam News, the Harlem-based weekly, whose editor was also a Wisconsin alumnus. He worked there until 1956.
Mr. Fraser later edited a hotel workers union newspaper and covered the United Nations for West Indian periodicals before being hired by The Daily News.
He left The Times in 1991 and joined Earth Times, a monthly that reported on environmental and development issues at the United Nations. He became a senior editor there.
Mr. Fraser also taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism and at John Jay College of Criminal Justice of the City University of New York.
Mr. Fraser, who died at Calvary Hospital, lived in Manhattan.
He married Geraldine McCarthy, who died in 1981. They had two children, who survive him: Charles Gerald Fraser III and Jetta Christine Fraser. Besides Ms. Cunningham, he is survived by their daughter, Maurella Cunningham-Fraser; three grandchildren; and a brother, Walter.
Correction: December 11, 2015
An obituary on Thursday about the former New York Times reporter C. Gerald Fraser misidentified the birthplaces of his parents. His father was from Guyana and his mother was from Jamaica, not the other way around. The obituary also misstated the year Mr. Fraser’s wife, Geraldine, died. It was 1981, not 1951.
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Holly Woodlawn, Transgender Star of 1970s Underground Films

Holly Woodlawn, shown at the Hotel Chelsea in New York in 1971, claimed a place in Andy Warhol’s pantheon of stars. Credit Gerard Malanga

  • Holly Woodlawn, a transgender actress who achieved underground stardom with her affecting performance as a starry-eyed down-and-outer in the 1970 film “Trash,” died on Sunday in Los Angeles. She was 69.
The cause was complications of cancer, her manager, Robert Coddington, said.
Ms. Woodlawn had been in the outer orbit of the Factory, Andy Warhol’s studio headquarters, when she caught the attention of Paul Morrissey, Warhol’s partner in making experimental films like “Chelsea Girls” and “Flesh.” Mr. Morrissey cast her in “Trash” as the long-suffering paramour of a heroin addict who lives in squalor on the Lower East Side, played by Joe Dallesandro.
Her sassy, improvised dialogue and her vulnerability touched audiences and critics, many of whom were desperate to find a glint of redeeming light in a relentlessly sordid film. “Holly Woodlawn, especially, is something to behold,” Vincent Canby wrote in his review for The New York Times, “a comic book Mother Courage who fancies herself as Marlene Dietrich but sounds more often like Phil Silvers.”
With great aplomb, Ms. Woodlawn took her place in the Warhol pantheon alongside two other freshly minted stars, the transgender actresses Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling. Together they brought a daffy, deadpan style to Mr. Morrissey’s next film, “Women in Revolt,” also produced by Warhol, a satire on the women’s liberation movement, with Ms. Woodlawn playing a nymphomaniac fashion model who detests men and joins the militant organization P.I.G. (Politically Involved Girls).
“I didn’t know what the movement was when I made it,” Ms. Woodlawn told The Village Voice in 1970, before the film was released. “They told me you play a leader in women’s lib, and in my first scene I said, ‘O.K. girls, let’s get out and vote.’ ”
Ms. Woodlawn was born Haroldo Santiago Franceschi Rodriguez Danhakl on Oct. 26, 1946, in Juana Díaz, P.R., the child of a Puerto Rican mother and an American soldier of German descent who fled the marriage almost immediately after the wedding.
In New York, where she had moved to find a better-paying job, Ms. Woodlawn’s mother married a Polish immigrant, Joseph Ajzenberg, a waiter at the Catskills resort where she was working as a waitress. The three moved to Miami Beach, where Mr. Ajzenberg found work at the newly opened Fontainebleau hotel. Haroldo took his stepfather’s surname and Americanized his first name to Harold.

Related Coverage

  • Holly Woodlawn in 1970.

    Postscript: Remembering Holly Woodlawn, a Transgender Star of the Warhol Era  DEC. 7, 2015

At 16, Harold left home and hitchhiked to New York, a moment memorialized in the 1972 Lou Reed song “Walk on the Wild Side.” It begins:

 

Ms. Woodlawn on Fisherman’s Pier in Malibu, Calif., in 2012. Credit David Chick, via Associated Press

Holly came from Miami F-L-A,
Hitchhiked her way across the U.S.A.,
Plucked her eyebrows on the way,
Shaved her legs and then he was a she.
The early New York years were rough. “At the age of 16, when most kids were cramming for trigonometry exams, I was turning tricks, living off the streets and wondering when my next meal was coming,” she recalled in her 1991 memoir, “A Low Life in High Heels: The Holly Woodlawn Story,” written with Jeff Copeland.
She worked as a file clerk, modeled dresses at Saks Fifth Avenue, danced as a go-go girl upstate and waved to the crowd in Amsterdam, N.Y., from the back of a Chevy convertible as Miss Donut 1968. She considered, but rejected, having sex reassignment surgery. Information on survivors was not immediately available.
Ms. Woodlawn told various versions of how she chose the name Holly Woodlawn. In the first chapter of her memoir, she claimed she borrowed her first name from Holly Golightly, the heroine of the Truman Capote novel “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” and the last name from Woodlawn Cemetery.
Several chapters later, she claimed that inspiration struck when she was watching an episode of “I Love Lucy” in which Lucy takes the No. 4 subway train in New York and sits underneath the sign indicating the train’s terminal points: Flatbush Avenue and Woodlawn.
In 1968, Jackie Curtis, a friend, cast her as a showgirl in a revival of her play “Glamour, Glory and Gold: The Life and Legend of Nola Noonan, Goddess and Star.”
The play, which also featured Ms. Darling, is remembered, if at all, as one of Robert De Niro’s first stage appearances. He played all 10 male roles. “I had a scene with him in which he played a Jewish producer; I was auditioning and he felt me up,” Ms. Woodlawn wrote in her memoir.
In 1969, Ms. Curtis cast her as one of the Moon Reindeer Girls in her campy musical “Heaven Grand in Amber Orbit.” Interviewed by a journalist from an alternative paper, Ms. Woodlawn announced that she was one of Warhol’s superstars.
This was news to Warhol and his acolytes, but Ms. Woodlawn’s impudence intrigued Mr. Morrissey and led to her star turn in “Trash.”
“They wanted me for one or two scenes at first,” she said in her 1970 Village Voice interview. “Paul Morrissey said, ‘Do this, do that, fabulous,’ and so they kept adding to my part. I worked six days at $25 a day. Except for the last scene, everything was done in one take. The clothes, the dialogue, like, everything was mine because the character I play is me. I’ve been in those situations.”
Her moment was brief. After “Women in Revolt,” she appeared as herself in the tongue-in-cheek documentary “Is There Sex After Death?” and took the lead role in “Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers,” a low-budget 16-millimeter musical about a star-struck young woman looking for success in New York.
Her most ambitious performance came in “Broken Goddess,” a short black-and-white silent film in 1973 with title cards taken from lyrics by Laura Nyro and music by Debussy. In the film, originally written for Bette Midler, Ms. Woodlawn executes a series of extravagant gestures, wearing heavy Kabuki-like makeup.
She had some success as a cabaret artist in the late 1970s, appearing at Reno Sweeney in Manhattan, but by the end of the decade she was back in Miami, bussing tables at a Benihana restaurant and working for her father’s tax business. She relocated to West Hollywood in the 1990s and had occasional cameo roles in films like “Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss” in 1998 and, in 2014, the Amazon television series “Transparent.”
“I felt like Elizabeth Taylor,” Ms. Woodlawn told The Guardian in 2007, recalling her heyday. “Little did I realize that not only would there be no money, but that your star would flicker for two seconds and that was it. But it was worth it, the drugs, the parties; it was fabulous.”
Liam Stack contributed reporting.
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Ray Gandolf, Sportscaster and ‘Our World’ Co-Anchor

Ray Gandolf in 1978. He was later co-host of “Our World.” Credit CBS Photo Archive

  • Ray Gandolf, a genial sportscaster for CBS who went on to become co-anchor of the acclaimed but short-lived historical series “Our World” for ABC, died on Wednesday at his home in Manhattan. He was 85.
His family confirmed the death, but did not specify a cause.
An experienced actor, Mr. Gandolf broke into television news to support his family in the early 1960s. He worked for years as a news writer at CBS before he started reporting sports scores and anchoring segments in 1974.
In 1979 he became the first sportscaster for “Sunday Morning,” the CBS News program anchored by Charles Kuralt.
“Compared to the blow-dried, macho chest-thumpers who populate sportscasting, Gandolf is the Charles Kuralt of the locker room, all folksy charm and offbeat insight,” an article in TV Guide said.
He left CBS to become the weekend sports anchor for ABC in the early 1980s, and was co-host of “Our World” with Linda Ellerbee for a year starting in 1986. That program used archival footage and interviews with people who had witnessed historical events to recreate the feel of a particular time.
“If you have any recollection of the American pastiche during World War II, watch ‘Our World’ at 8 o’clock tonight,” John Corry wrote in The New York Times in 1986. “If you have no recollection, watch it anyway. It is living, breathing history.”
Mr. Gandolf, Ms. Ellerbee and Richard Gerdau won a writing Emmy Award in 1987 for an “Our World” episode, but many in broadcasting thought the program was doomed from the start. ABC broadcast the program on Thursday nights, at the same time as “The Cosby Show,” the hugely popular NBC sitcom.
“Our World” went off the air in 1987. The Los Angeles Times reported that year that ABC had received at least 7,300 letters asking that it bring the program back, more than the network had ever received for a news program. Mr. Gandolf retired in the early 1990s.
Raymond L. Gandolf (the “L” does not stand for anything, his daughter said) was born on April 2, 1930, in Norwalk, Ohio. He received a bachelor’s degree in speech from Northwestern University in the early 1950s, then traveled to New York City to work on the stage.
He married Blanche Cholet in the mid-1950s. They had five daughters, Alexandra, Jessica, Victoria, Amanda and Susanna, and five grandchildren. They all survive him.
***************************************************
Marjorie Lord, Actress on ‘The Danny Thomas Show’

The television actress Marjorie Lord, in 1959. Credit CBS, via Getty Images

  • Marjorie Lord, an actress who achieved success as the comedian Danny Thomas’s wife on the Emmy-winning comedy series “The Danny Thomas Show,” but to her frustration found herself being typecast as a housewife for years afterward, died on Nov. 28. She was 97.
Ms. Lord died at her home in Beverly Hills, according to her website.
On “Make Room for Daddy,” as the show was known for its first three seasons, Mr. Thomas played a character much like himself: Danny Williams, a nightclub entertainer with two sassy children and a wife, originally played by Jean Hagen. (The title came from a Thomas family anecdote: When Mr. Thomas was on tour, his children moved their things into the master bedroom to sleep with their mother; they had to “make room” for him when he returned home.)
The show made its debut on ABC in 1953 and won a Primetime Emmy for best new program, but it never drew an audience nearly as robust as hits like “I Love Lucy” and “Dragnet” had. During the third season, Ms. Hagen, saying she was tired of performing in Mr. Thomas’s shadow, announced that she would be leaving. Her character’s death was written into the show, and Mr. Thomas’s character spent the fourth season looking for a new wife.
Ms. Lord, a delicate redhead who had worked in film, television and theater since she was a teenager, was introduced that season as Kathy O’Hara, a nurse who cared for Danny’s son, Rusty, after he caught the measles. Mr. Thomas’s character grew close to Ms. Lord’s over the last three episodes, but he was too nervous to propose.
In the season finale, the children try to goad Mr. Thomas’s character into asking for her hand. She finally takes the initiative and proposes to him, a daring move at the time.
“Danny, would you please marry me?” Ms. Lord’s character asks at the end of the episode.
“Whew,” he replies. “I thought I’d never ask you.”
Despite that provocative finale, Robert E. Kintner, the president of ABC, decided to cancel the show. CBS picked it up, renamed it “The Danny Thomas Show” and put it in the Monday time slot formerly occupied by “I Love Lucy.” Ms. Lord joined the cast along with the child actress Angela Cartwright, who played her daughter from a previous marriage.
It became the second-highest-rated show that season, behind “Gunsmoke,” and was in the Top 10 for six of its seven remaining seasons. It won four more Primetime Emmys.
Ms. Lord’s character, who had so unconventionally joined the permanent cast, quickly became a traditional television wife, though occasionally a sharp-tongued and scrappy one. After the show ended in 1964, she had trouble finding roles that did not cast her as a wholesome spouse.
“Every time I go for a part, I find resistance from producers,” Ms. Lord told The New York Journal-American in 1966. “They only see me as Danny’s wife.”
She added, “I tell my agents, find me a nice, good prostitute part — else I’ll be married the rest of my career life.”
If producers did see her as a wife, she at least landed high-profile roles, like Bob Hope’s wife in the 1966 comedy “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!” and a psychiatrist’s wife on Broadway in the short-lived comedy “The Girl in the Freudian Slip” in 1967. And typecast or not, she kept reasonably busy on TV, with roles on “The Love Boat,” “Fantasy Island” and other shows. She also acted in and directed plays like “Sunday in New York” and “Black Comedy” in California.
Marjorie Wollenberg was born in San Francisco on July 26, 1918. She moved to New York City with her parents as a teenager and studied acting and ballet.
Her first Broadway part was as a replacement in “The Old Maid,” Zoë Akins’s Pulitzer Prize-winning adaptation of an Edith Wharton novel, in 1935. She began her movie career in low-budget fare like “Border Cafe” and “Forty Naughty Girls,” both released in 1937.
She married the actor John Archer in 1941 and moved with him to Los Angeles, where she appeared in the James Cagney drama “Johnny Come Lately” and “Sherlock Holmes in Washington,” with Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, both released in 1943. She also returned to Broadway, briefly, in “Signature” (1945) and “Little Brown Jug” (1946).
She and Mr. Archer had a son, Gregg, and a daughter, Anne, who became an actress. They separated in 1951 and later divorced. She married the producer and actor Randolph Hale in the late 1950s. He died in 1974. After marrying the bank executive Harry J. Volk in 1976, she largely withdrew from acting to focus on philanthropy. Mr. Volk died in 2000.
In addition to her son and daughter, Ms. Lord’s survivors include five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, according to her website.
Despite her distaste for maternal roles, Ms. Lord never severed her ties to Danny Thomas. She reprised the part of Kathy in one of Mr. Thomas’s specials and again on a short-lived 1970 reboot, “Make Room for Granddaddy.”
 

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