DON GORDON, STEVE McQUEEN’S SIDEKICK ONSCREEN AND IN LIFE
Don Gordon, an Emmy-nominated character actor who often starred alongside his close friend Steve McQueen, died on April 24 in Los Angeles. He was 90.
His death was confirmed by his wife, Denise.
Mr. Gordon found steady work in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s as a supporting actor on television and in the movies, often playing tough guys. In 1962, he was nominated for an Emmy for his role as Joey Tassili, a troubled young man, on “The Defenders,” a CBS courtroom drama that starred E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed.
Early on, Mr. Gordon appeared on shows like “Space Patrol,” in the 1950s, and on McQueen’s CBS Western, “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” in 1959 and 1960. He was also cast as Lt. Hank Bertelli on the short-lived 1960s show “The Blue Angels.”
His most memorable film roles were alongside McQueen in “Bullitt” (1968); “Papillon” (1973), which also starred Dustin Hoffman; and “The Towering Inferno” (1974), a disaster film with Paul Newman and Faye Dunaway.
As neighbors in the Laurel Canyon area of Los Angeles, Mr. McQueen and Mr. Gordon shared a hobby. “We both liked motorcycles, and we used to go bike riding together. And we had a lot of common interests,” Mr. Gordon told The Oklahoman in 2005.
“We’d ride two, three hours, four hours sometimes,” Mr. Gordon said. “We’d just go up and down the hills of San Francisco. And then — you know when the car goes over the hill and takes off in the ‘Bullitt’ car chase — well, he was such a good bike rider, much better than I was. And he would hit one of those hills, and he’d get airborne and, plop, hit down below.”
Donald Walter Guadagno was born on Nov. 13, 1926, in Los Angeles. At age 8, he started selling newspapers on the street to help his family during the Depression, his wife said.
He enlisted in the Navy after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was only 15 but convinced his mother to sign a statement saying he was 18, Ms. Gordon said. He went on to receive 11 battle stars.
He and Ms. Gordon were married in 1979. Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Gabrielle Adelman, from a previous marriage.
SOLLY WALKER, TRAILBLAZNG ST. JOHN’S BASKETBALL PLAYER
Solly Walker, who as St. John’s University’s first black basketball player broke another racial barrier when in 1951 he played in a game against the University of Kentucky on its home court, died on Friday at his home in Brooklyn. He was 85.
His wife, Minta Walker, said that he had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease but that she was not certain what caused his death.
Walker was a 6-foot-4 standout at Boys High School in Brooklyn before he earned a scholarship to St. John’s, which was in Brooklyn at the time. (The main campus is now in Queens.) Led by the future Hall of Fame coach Frank McGuire, the St. John’s basketball program was becoming a national contender when Walker joined it in 1950, the first black player to do so.
He quickly hit his stride, leading the freshman team to a 17-2 record and averaging 15.1 points per game. He was accepted by his teammates, but his on-campus reception could be frosty, he would say later.
It was in his sophomore year, during his first varsity season, that Walker faced overt racism, when St. John’s was scheduled to play Kentucky on its home court, Memorial Coliseum, in Lexington.
Kentucky, coached by Adolph Rupp, innovator of the fast-break offense and one of college basketball’s most dominant figures, had won the previous year’s N.C.A.A. championship.
In 1951, the University of Kentucky remained a primarily white bastion, refusing admission to undergraduate blacks. (It had started admitting blacks to its graduate programs in 1949 but would not admit them as undergraduates until 1954. Its basketball team remained all-white until 1970.)
Rupp flatly refused to let Walker play on his home court.
“You can’t bring that boy down here to Lexington,” Rupp said, as quoted by Dave Anderson of The New York Times in a column in 1994.
Rupp relented, and the game took place, with Walker in the St. John’s lineup, making him by all accounts the first black to play against Kentucky in Lexington.
“I learned a great deal from my experience with Coach McGuire as to how to treat people,” Walker was quoted as saying in “100 Years of St. John’s Basketball,” a 2008 coffee table book written and compiled by Jim O’Connell and Paul Montella of The Associated Press. “The situation against Kentucky was uncomfortable. After all, I was only 20 years old. My confidence in my coach made me feel very secure.”
St. John’s faced Kentucky again that March, in the 1952 N.C.A.A. tournament’s round of 8. This time, St. John’s won, 64-57, largely thanks to 32 points from center Bob Zawoluk.
St. John’s beat Illinois in the national semifinals, but lost to Kansas, 80-63, in the championship game. Walker, a sophomore, averaged 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds during the season, in which St. John’s was 25-6.
Solly Walker was born on April 9, 1932, to Zodthous Walker and the former Eva Utsey in South Carolina. (His wife was not certain of the town.) The family moved to Brooklyn when he was young.
He met Minta Gillespie at a church in Brooklyn in 1950. They married three years later.
After college, he began a long career in the New York City educational system, working with special-needs children. He was eventually named principal of P.S. 58 Manhattan High School (now P.S. 35) and retired in 1999.
DALIAH LAVI, ACTRESS IN BOTH DRAMAS AND SPOOFS
Daliah Lavi, an Israeli actress who transitioned from serious parts in foreign cinema and in dramatic films like “Lord Jim” to lighthearted turns in 1960s spy-movie spoofs like “Casino Royale,” died on Wednesday at her home in Asheville, N.C. She was 74.
Her husband, Charles Gans, confirmed her death but did not specify the cause.
Ms. Lavi, who spoke several languages, became an actress as a teenager while studying ballet in Sweden. Her first movie was a 1955 Swedish adaptation of August Strindberg’s novel “The People of Hemso.”
She went on to play a reporter in the German thriller “The Return of Dr. Mabuse” (1961), the romantic lead flogged in Mario Bava’s lurid Italian horror film “The Whip and the Body” (1963), and Cunégonde to Jean-Pierre Cassel’s Candide in a 1960 French film adaptation of Voltaire’s novel.
“A new actress by the name of Dahlia Lavi is impressive along the lines of Brigitte Bardot or Claudia Cardinale as the lustrous Cunégonde,” Bosley Crowther wrote in a review in The New York Times, which, like many reviews and film credits from the period, misspelled Ms. Lavi’s first name.
Her first American film was “Two Weeks in Another Town” (1962), Vincente Minnelli’s drama, starring Kirk Douglas, about filming a movie in Rome. Ms. Lavi said Mr. Douglas had discovered her as a child in Israel and started her on the path to becoming an actress.
She appeared in “The Silencers” (1966), the first of Dean Martin’s Matt Helm films, and “The Spy With a Cold Nose” (1966), a British comedy built around the conceit of a bugged bulldog. It also starred Lionel Jeffries and Laurence Harvey.
Perhaps the best example of the subgenre was the discursive, psychedelic “Casino Royale” (1967), which had almost nothing in common with Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel besides the titular casino. The movie had an ensemble cast that included Peter Sellers, Orson Welles, Ursula Andress, Deborah Kerr and Woody Allen; and an ensemble of directors that included John Huston, Ken Hughes and Joseph McGrath, each shooting a segment.
The critical response was largely negative, but audiences enjoyed it, making it a financial success, as was the soundtrack by Burt Bacharach. But it marked the beginning of the end of Ms. Lavi’s American film career.
Ms. Lavi told The New York Post that she was 10 when she met Mr. Douglas, who was in Israel filming “The Juggler,” and told him that she wanted to become a dancer.
He helped persuade her parents to send her to Stockholm for dance instruction when she was 12. Her father died when she was 16, and she returned to Israel, where she worked for a time as a swimsuit model before becoming a full-time actress.
Her last American feature film was “Catlow” (1971), a western directed by Sam Wanamaker and based on a Louis L’Amour novel; it also starred Yul Brynner, Richard Crenna and Leonard Nimoy. She continued to act on German television and had a successful career as a singer in Germany, recording and performing in German.
In 1964, before “Lord Jim” opened, Ms. Lavi told The Boston Globe that she took the vicissitudes of her film career in stride.