BILL HERZ, LAST OF THE ‘WAR OF THE WORLDS’ BROADCAST CREW
Bill Herz, the last surviving crew member of Orson Welles’s mock “War of the Worlds” newscast, which terrified American radio listeners in 1938 with vivid bulletins warning Newark residents to evacuate as invading Martians incinerated central New Jersey, died on May 10 in Manhattan. He was 99.
The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Bill Kux, a cousin.
Mr. Herz, who worked on other radio and theater productions as stage manager and casting director for Welles’s Mercury Theater company, staked one additional claim to fame. Until about six months ago, he had been a regular customer at Sardi’s restaurant, the caricature-bedecked gathering place for celebrities and starry-eyed tourists in the theater district, for some 82 years — beginning in 1933, just six years after it opened.
That longevity alone distinguished him as a bon vivant in a shrinking cadre of original Broadway personalties. But he was also singled out periodically in the wider world as a relic of a bygone era, when a bogus radio news broadcast could provoke panic as war was brewing in Europe — however much that hysteria may have been overstated then and since.
Welles’s CBS show “The Mercury Theater on the Air” presented an adaptation of the H. G. Wells novel “The War of the Worlds” for its Halloween episode on Sunday, Oct. 30, 1938. The live hourlong program began with an updated prelude to the original novel eerily warning that superintelligent beings had been coveting “this Earth with envious eyes.”
Then music, a weather report and other regular features were interrupted by simulated news bulletins and fake feeds from ham-radio operators in the field. Mr. Herz, playing Operators Three and Five, took part in this exchange:
Operator Three: This is Newark, New Jersey. … This is Newark, New Jersey. … Warning! Poisonous black smoke pouring in from Jersey marshes. Reaches South Street. Gas masks useless. Urge population to move into open spaces. … Automobiles use Routes 7, 23, 24. … Avoid congested areas. Smoke now spreading over Raymond Boulevard. …
Operator Five: This is 8X3R … coming back at 2X2L.
Operator Four: How’s reception? How’s reception? K, please. (Pause.) Where are you, 8X3R? What’s the matter? Where are you?
John Houseman, Welles’s producer, wrote in his 1972 memoir, “Run-Through”: “Our actual broadcasting time, from the first mention of the meteorites to the fall of New York City, was less than 40 minutes. During that time men traveled long distances, large bodies of troops were mobilized, cabinet meetings were held, savage battles fought on land and in the air. And millions of people accepted it — emotionally if not logically.” (Mr. Houseman went on to a distinguished career in theater and Hollywood.)
Mr. Herz also read Welles’s part, that of a Professor Pierson at a New Jersey observatory, during rehearsals. He said he was surprised by the public’s response to the radio show.
“During the broadcast, outside, policemen were coming,” he told CBS News in 2013. “They were told on the radio that the Martians were coming, the Martians were coming!”
(Later scholarship about the incident suggested that the broadcast provoked far less fear among the public than has been popularly portrayed.)
In a 2010 profile in The New York Times, Mr. Herz was quoted as saying: “I had done Orson’s part in the dress rehearsal, and after I did it, I thought to myself, ‘Nobody’s going to believe this in a million years.’ Boy, was I wrong.”
William Herz Jr. was born in Detroit on Aug. 2, 1916, the son of Harold William Herz, a girdle salesman, and the former Fannie Lichtig. (Bill Herz called himself Jr., even though he wasn’t one.)
Mr. Herz had met Welles in Pittsburgh, where Welles, a young director at the time, had stopped while touring with a production of “Romeo and Juliet.” They discovered that they had a common acquaintance in the actress Edith Meiser, a friend of Mr. Herz’s parents.
Mr. Herz started working for Welles as a gofer. He later moved into Welles’s Manhattan home — Mr. Herz had been living with an aunt in Brooklyn — so that he could constantly be on call. They worked together on “Julius Caesar,” “The Cradle Will Rock” and “Too Much Johnson.”
Mr. Herz joined the Army Air Forces during World War II, managed a summer theater in Connecticut and produced and managed several plays in New York (including a few flops, one inauspiciously titled “The Strangler Fig”).
After one failure, Vincent Sardi Sr., the founder of Sardi’s, generously invited him to keep an open tab in good times and bad. Another advantage to eating there was that Mackey’s Ticket Agency next door, where Mr. Herz later worked, had no restroom.
Ivan Lesica, Sardi’s maître d’hôtel, said on Thursday that Mr. Herz would eat there once or twice a week and sit at Table Four, to the left of the dining room entrance, under his caricature. He would have coffee delivered in his own white mug, and typically order the chicken potpie or, appropriately enough for an habitué whom his cousin described as a confirmed curmudgeon, the crab meat sandwich.
A picture caption with an earlier version of a photograph accompanying this obituary misidentified Mr. Herz. He was third from the right, not fourth, in the photograph of cast and crew members of “Too Much Johnson,” which had been cropped. (He is fourth from the right in the full photograph, which replaced the earlier version.)
Emilio Navaira, a Tejano singer from Texas who successfully straddled borders both musically and geographically, died on May 16 in New Braunfels, Tex., near San Antonio. He was 53.
His brother, Raulito, told The Associated Press that he might have suffered a heart attack after jogging. Family members found him unresponsive at his home.
Mr. Navaira, known to his fans simply as Emilio, was one of the leading voices in Tejano music, an accordion-based blend of polka, Latin pop and country with origins along the Texas border. He found enthusiastic audiences in Mexico and the United States, lifting the Tejano style to greater prominence in the United States while breaking into the wider country music landscape in the 1990s.
Over a recording career that began in the 1980s, he released numerous albums, in Spanish and English, including “Acuérdate,” which won a Grammy in 2003. Often seen in a black cowboy hat and roper boots, Mr. Navaira had a country hit in 1995 with “It’s Not the End of the World,” which reached No. 27 on the Billboard country singles chart.
Getting American country music fans in the 1990s to embrace a Mexican-American crooner who sang in Spanish and English was not easy. But record executives bet that he could do it, and sponsors lined up behind him. He would go on to promote Wrangler jeans and Stetson hats, and the name of his first English-language country album, “Life Is Good,” was a tie-in with a Miller Lite advertising campaign.
Mr. Navaira was born in San Antonio on Aug. 23, 1962, and majored in music at Texas State University. He grew up listening to the contemporary country music of Willie Nelson and the western swing of Bob Wills and hoped to sing country music, but he could get gigs on the south side of San Antonio only by playing Latin music, he told The New York Times in a 1996 interview.
In that interview, he disputed the idea that a Spanish-language artist like him could not find mainstream success in the United States.
“Hey, man,” he said. “I was born in America, too.”
In March 2008, Mr. Navaira was in a car accident that left him with severe brain trauma, and he later pleaded guilty to misdemeanor driving while intoxicated. He did not perform for several years while recovering.
In addition to his brother, survivors include his wife, Maru Navaira; his mother, Mary H. Navaira; three sons, Emilio IV, Diego Ramon and Pani Antonio; two daughters, Emely Ann Navaira and Freeda Luna Navaira; and his sister, Yvette Navaira.
BETH HOWLAND, ACCIDENT-PRONE WAITRESS FROM THE SITCOM ‘ALICE’
Beth Howland, who made high anxiety an art form as the ditsy, accident-prone waitress Vera Louise Gorman on the 1970s and ’80s sitcom “Alice,” died on Dec. 31, 2015, in Santa Monica, Calif., her husband said on Tuesday. He had refrained from announcing her death earlier in keeping with her wishes. She was 74.
The cause was lung cancer, her husband, the actor Charles Kimbrough, said, adding that she had not wanted a funeral or a memorial service.
“It was the Boston side of her personality coming out,” Mr. Kimbrough said. “She didn’t want to make a fuss.”
Ms. Howland was a modestly successful television actress, with a handful of Broadway credits on her résumé, when Alan Shayne, the president of Warner Bros. Television, began casting roles for “Alice.” The CBS series, based on the 1974 Martin Scorsese film “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” required three waitresses for Mel’s Diner, the locus of the action, one of them the high-strung Vera, played in the film by Valerie Curtin.
Mr. Shayne had seen Ms. Howland on Broadway in the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company,” where, as a nervous prospective bride named Amy, she sang a lightning-fast patter song, “Getting Married Today.”
Ms. Howland won the role, and for nine seasons, from 1976 to 1985, she kept television audiences amused with her wide-eyed, jumpy performances. Asked to describe her character, she told Knight Newspapers in 1979: “Insecure and vulnerable. Probably works the hardest of anybody in the diner. Very gullible, very innocent.”
Elizabeth Howland was born on May 28, 1941, in Boston. She studied dance at the Hazel Boone Studio and, after graduating from high school at 16, headed to New York, where she landed a replacement role as Lady Beth in “Once Upon a Mattress” and a role as a dancer in “Bye Bye Birdie.” She also appeared, alongside Valerie Harper and Donna Douglas, the future Elly May Clampett on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” as a dancer in the 1959 film “Li’l Abner.”
At 19 she married Michael J. Pollard, one of the lead actors in “Bye Bye Birdie.” The marriage ended in divorce. In addition to her husband, who played the anchorman Jim Dial on the television series “Murphy Brown,” she is survived by a daughter from her first marriage, Holly Howland.
Small parts on Broadway and in the Off Broadway hit “Your Own Thing,” a musical version of “Twelfth Night,” led to her breakthrough role in “Company” and her tour-de-force rendition of “Getting Married Today.”
She performed it again when most of the original cast reassembled in 1993 for concert performances at the Terrace Theater in Long Beach, Calif., and the Vivian Beaumont Theater in Lincoln Center.
After being cast as the wife of a character played by Bert Convy on an episode of “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” she moved to Los Angeles to work in television. She appeared on “Love, American Style,” “Cannon,” “The Rookies” and other shows before taking the role of Vera on “Alice.”
One of Vera’s most memorable moments on the show occurred a scant few seconds after the beginning of the first episode. A customer’s cheery “Hi, Vera,” caused her to throw a boxful of drinking straws into the air. The freak-out became part of the show’s opening credit sequence.
For nine years, Vera remained overwrought, but changes did occur. Toward the end of the series, she married a police officer, Elliot Novak, played by Charles Levin. In the final episode, she announced that she was pregnant.
Ms. Howland acted sporadically after “Alice” went off the air. She had small guest roles on “Eight Is Enough,” “Little House on the Prairie,” “Murder, She Wrote,” “Sabrina, the Teenage Witch” and “The Tick.”
She and the actress Jennifer Warren were the executive producers of the documentary “You Don’t Have to Die,” about a 6-year-old boy’s successful battle against cancer. It won an Academy Award in 1989 for best short-subject documentary.
JANE FAWCETT, THE BLETCHLEY PARK CODEBREAKER WHO ‘HELPED SINK’ THE BISMARK
17 January 2015
A 92-year-old woman who translated decoded German messages at Bletchley Park has told how she discovered the route of the Bismarck warship.
Jane Fawcett’s World War Two testimony is one of more than 100 revealed since the museum called for veterans to come forward last year.
It set up an online “roll of honour” to name each employee, whose identities were once closely-guarded secrets.
The project leader said “added detail” in oral histories was “very important”.
Workers at the Government Code and Cypher School in Buckinghamshire used the Bombe machine to break codes generated by the Enigma machine, which was used by the German navy, air force and army to send encrypted messages.
Michael Smith’s book Station X documented how codebreakers deciphered a message from General Hans Jeschonnek who was concerned over the fate of a relative who was on the Bismarck – the German navy’s flagship.
He was told the ship was making for the safety of Brest.
It was subsequently destroyed by Allies on 27 May 1941 with the loss of 2,090 men.
Ms Fawcett, who now lives in London, was 18 when she started work on Enigma translations in Hut 6 and decided their priority.
“I spoke German so I had [to decide] whether [a message] was so important it had to go straight to Whitehall or whether it was going to be something very minor,” she said.
“I suddenly got a thing on my plate from the Enigma machine which said Brest.
“I just thought that might be very important so I read it right through. That was how we found out about it.
“We all thought she was going back into the [Norwegian] fjords but what she was actually doing was streaking away into Brest so we got her.
“The whole thing was turned round and off they went in pursuit and sunk her.”
Archive officer Jonathan Byrne said Ms Fawcett’s detail about the incident reminded us how “ordinary people were involved in such an amazing thing”.
Mr Byrne said his team had interviewed 108 people this year, compared to 98 in total during the previous two years, including two people over 100-years-old.