WILLIAM DUELL, PUCKISH CHARACTER ACTOR
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: January 6, 2012
William Duell, a diminutive character actor whose puckishness and understated comic flair enlivened Broadway shows, television series and Hollywood films, died at his home in Manhattan on Dec. 22. He was 88.
The cause was respiratory failure, his wife, Mary Barto, said. Mr. Duell, who was less than five and a half feet tall and weighed not quite 140 pounds, was never a star, but he had a slyly roguish and perpetually boyish mug that always added spice to the roles of cabdrivers, shoeshine men, butlers and desk clerks he often played. He brought a kind of perky oddity even to serious roles.
In “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (1975), Milos Forman’s adaptation of the Ken Kesey novel set in a mental institution (starring Jack Nicholson), Mr. Duell played Sefelt, an epileptic inmate who fears his medication. In the early 1980s, he had a regular role as Johnny, a snitch, in “Police Squad!,” the spoof of police dramas, starring Leslie Nielsen, created in the mold of the hit film “Airplane!”
In 1969, in the original Broadway production of the historical musical “1776,” Mr. Duell played Andrew McNair, the custodian of the Continental Congress and the man who rang the Liberty Bell to announce the nation’s independence; he repeated the role in the 1972 film version.
And in the 1996 Broadway revival of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Mr. Duell played Erronius, a man in search of his sons who has been dispatched by a soothsayer to circle the seven hills of Rome seven times. At intervals during the show he would appear from backstage, trotting in from the wings, and announce the lap; by the third time he was so winded that he could only signal.
“The audience adored him,” Nathan Lane, who starred in the show, said in an interview. “The first time around he’d get a huge laugh. The second time he’d get a huge laugh. The third time, he’d just hold up his fingers — and it brought the house down.”
George William Duell was born on Aug. 30, 1923, in Corinth, N.Y., and named for his father, George Leon Duell, who worked for the International Paper Company. His mother, the former Eliza Janet Harrington, with whom William spent a good deal of his life decided at some point that she didn’t like her son’s first name and legally changed it to Darwin. Mr. Duell never used it.
He attended Green Mountain College in Vermont, where he played his first role, a detective, in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”
Mr. Duell was a Navy medic during World War II. He finished his undergraduate career at Illinois Wesleyan University and earned a master’s degree from Yale Drama School. One classmate there, Paul Newman, helped him get a role as a pool player in the 1961 film “The Hustler,” in which Newman starred.
During the 1950s, Mr. Duell appeared on many live broadcasts of television dramas. His last Broadway appearance was in a revival of “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” starring Mr. Lane, in 2000.
Mr. Duell met Ms. Barto when they were both in the cast of “Hamlet” at the Public Theater, a 1988 production that starred Kevin Kline. Mr. Duell was Gravedigger No. 2; Ms. Barto was in the play within the play. Their marriage, in 2004, was not publicized, and not well known even among their friends. She is his only survivor.
RICHARD THRELKELD, AWARD-WINNING JOURNALIST
Richard Threlkeld worked for ABC News and CBS.
Published: January 13, 2012
Richard Threlkeld, who in his 33 years as a correspondent for CBS and ABC News covered wars, presidential campaigns, assassinations and the collapse of the Soviet Union, died Friday morning in a car accident on Long Island. He was 74.
Mr. Threlkeld’s car collided with a propane tanker on a highway in Amagansett, N.Y., the police in East Hampton, where he lived, said. Mr. Threlkeld was alone in his car, the police said, and the driver of the truck was not injured. “Richard Threlkeld had the kind of name and kind of looks that could have made him a reporter in the movies, but unlike a reporter in the movies, he could write his own scripts,” Lesley Stahl, with whom he was co-anchor of “CBS Morning News” from 1977 to 1979, said in a statement. “In fact, he was one of our best writers and reporters.”
Mr. Threlkeld did two stints at CBS — from 1965 to 1982, and again from 1989 to 1998 — and the intervening seven years at ABC. Over those three decades, he covered seven presidential campaigns, the assassination of Robert F. Kennedy, the American invasions of Panama and Grenada, the Patricia Hearst kidnapping and trial, the war in Lebanon and the Middle East peace process.
On April 29, 1975, after covering the Vietnam War, Mr. Threlkeld was aboard one of the last helicopters to lift off from the American embassy as Saigon fell to the Communists. He was in Beijing during the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989 and in Moscow as the Soviet Union crumbled in the 1990s. From that experience, he wrote a book, “Dispatches from the Former Evil Empire” (2001).
Mr. Threlkeld was among the first correspondents doing features for CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” which first went on the air in 1979. Three years later, Roone Arledge, then the chairman of ABC News, hired him as a correspondent for “World News Tonight.” There he began doing a regular feature, “Status Reports,” offering analysis of the week’s most important story. For seven of those reports, in 1982 and ’83, he received the prestigious Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Silver Baton. In 1984, he won an Overseas Press Club award for his reporting on Lebanon and Grenada.
Born on Nov. 30, 1937, in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and reared in Barrington, Ill., Mr. Threlkeld graduated from Ripon College in Wisconsin in 1960 with a degree in political science and history. A year later he received a master’s degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. Before joining CBS, he worked at WMT-TV in Cedar Rapids, and WHAS-TV in Louisville, Ky.
He is survived by his wife of 28 years, Betsy Aaron, a former CBS, ABC, NBC and CNN correspondent; a brother, Robert; two children, Susan Paulukonis and Julia Threlkeld; and two grandchildren.
When Mr. Threlkeld left CBS to join ABC, Charles Kuralt, the anchor of “Sunday Morning,” told The New York Times: “We didn’t want Richard Threlkeld to leave without saying that we think he has given us something more than 108 good stories. He has given us a demonstration that the news on television does not have to be cramped and constricted. It can be expansive and exalting if you make a little time on the air and then ask a good man to fill it.”
JOEL. J. TYLER, JUDGE WHO RULED ‘DEEP THROAT’ OBSCENE
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: January 14, 2012
Joel J. Tyler, who as a Manhattan judge ruled, in a particularly explicit and colorful opinion, that the pornographic film “Deep Throat” was obscene and that the New York City theaters showing it were breaking the law, inadvertently helping it become perhaps the most popular X-rated movie of all time, died in Yonkers on Nov. 9. He was 90.
Dave Pickoff/Associated Press
Seven years after Judge Tyler’s ruling, protesters demonstrated against the showing of “Deep Throat” at a Manhattan theater.
Allyn Baum/The New York Times
Joel J. Tyler in 1966.
The cause was a heart attack, his daughter Alexandra said. She said the family did not report his death until now because her father did not want the acknowledgment. But in the weeks after his death, she said, she and her sister, Lisa, “came to feel overwhelmingly that he deserved it.”
Judge Tyler, a former city commissioner of licenses, had been on the Criminal Court bench for four years when “Deep Throat” opened at the New Mature World Theater on West 49th Street on June 12, 1972. The film, about a woman whose quest for sexual satisfaction is frustrated until she discovers that her clitoris is in her throat, almost immediately became a touchstone in the culture wars of the day.
On one side was outrage over the film’s flagrant and unashamed depiction of sex acts; on the other was cheering for its daring to confront social taboos and to present a woman’s sexual needs as being equally robust as a man’s.
A notorious artifact, “Deep Throat” became a target in the early efforts of New York City to rid Times Square of its seamier elements. In August that year, complaints were lodged by the Police Department and charges were filed against Mature Enterprises, the company that owned the theater, for promotion of obscene material. The trial began in December 1972.
A psychiatrist testified that the sexual acts depicted in the film were “well within the bounds of normal behavior.” A film critic testified that “Deep Throat” had redeeming social value — a key element in the definition of obscenity — because it showed sympathy for female desires, because the script contained humor and because, unlike other porn films, it was photographed “with clarity and lack of grain.”
On the other hand, a New York University professor, responding to a claim that the film was at least in part a spoof of sexual behavior, said, “I do not see how you can spoof fellatio by showing continuous performance of fellatio.”
On March 1, 1973, Judge Tyler came down stridently against the film, though not without literary flourish. In an opinion that came with a long appendix, he called “Deep Throat” “this feast of carrion and squalor,” “a nadir of decadence” and “a Sodom and Gomorrah gone wild before the fire.”
“Oh, yes! There is a gossamer of a story line — the heroine’s all-engrossing search for sexual gratification, and when all sexual endeavors fail to gratify, her unique problem is successfully diagnosed to exist in her throat,” he wrote, adding, “The alleged story lines are the facade, the sheer negligee through which clearly shines the producer’s and the defendant’s true and only purpose, that is, the presentation of unmistakably hard-core pornography.”
Judge Tyler fined Mature Enterprises $100,000, which was later reduced on appeal.
Born Josël Gonigman on July 28, 1921, in Balti, a Romanian city now a part of Moldova, Judge Tyler came to the United States with his family as an infant. His name was Americanized to Joseph Honigman. His father left the family shortly thereafter, and young Joseph grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, reared by his mother, Sonia, who earned money with sewing jobs. A bout of polio as a boy left him with a lifelong limp.
According to his daughters, as he grew to adulthood he experimented with names, changing Joseph to Joel, choosing the middle initial J for Jefferson (and later settling on Jeffrey) and the last name Tyler after seeing it on a billboard while he was driving through the South.
“I remember him saying that he liked presidents,” Lisa Tyler said.
He attended Indiana University and finished his undergraduate education at New York University before graduating from law school at Fordham. His first job was in the law department of the Allied Chemical and Dye corporation. He opened his own practice in 1951.
Mayor John V. Lindsay named him licensing commissioner in 1966, a post he held until 1968. Afterward, he served on the Criminal Court of New York and was an acting State Supreme Court justice and then a federal magistrate until he retired in 1991.
In addition to his daughters, Judge Tyler’s survivors include his wife, the former Helen Wolinsky, whom he married in 1952, and two granddaughters.
Shortly after Judge Tyler’s ruling, the United States Supreme Court, in Miller v. California, redefined obscenity and made it easier for states to regulate material that fit the definition. (The court said material was obscene if it appealed to a prurient interest in sex; if it described sexual conduct in a patently offensive way; and if, as a whole, it lacked serious literary, artistic, scientific or political value.)
Judge Tyler’s ruling added to the must-see cachet of “Deep Throat.” The film eventually reopened in New York (with a few scenes cut) and across the country, closely followed by officials scrambling to shut it down. According to a 2005 documentary, “Inside Deep Throat,” by the mid-1970s the film had been banned in 23 states.
In 1975 the federal government filed conspiracy charges in Memphis against 117 people involved with the film, and Harry Reems, its male star, was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail. The conviction was overturned on appeal.
Linda Lovelace, the female star, eventually renounced the film, saying she had been coerced into making it. But none of this derailed its popularity. As X-rated films emigrated from movie theaters to living rooms, “Deep Throat” continued to bring in revenue, much of it for organized crime, which controlled much of its distribution. The film, which was made for $25,000 by the director Gerald Damiano, a former hairdresser, earned an estimated $600 million.
Judge Tyler, whose reputation as a prude frustrated him — he told The New York Times that Ingmar Bergman’s film “Cries and Whispers” “had a lot of sex, but it was one of the greatest movies I’ve ever seen” — recognized that his ruling was a function of its era.
“If I were to write that appendix today,” he told The New York Law Journal in 1991, “I would be deemed a fool, given the substantial change in our outlook.”