WARREN STEVENS, BUSY CHARACTER ACTOR
Warren Stevens in the 1958 film “Intent to Kill.”
Published: March 30, 2012
Warren Stevens, a lanky, square-jawed actor with swept-back hair and a husky voice whose face became familiar through his more than 100 roles on television and in movies over six decades, died on Tuesday at his home in Sherman Oaks, Calif. He was 92.
The cause was chronic lung disease, his publicist, Dale Olson, said.
Mr. Stevens, who first made his mark on the Broadway stage in the 1940s, became a versatile and ubiquitous presence on television in the ’50s. He played three different characters on episodes of “Have Gun, Will Travel” between 1957 and 1963; three different characters on “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” between 1965 and 1967; four characters on “Bonanza” between 1965 and 1970; and four on “Ironside” between 1967 and 1975.
While Mr. Stevens would make appearances on dozens of other television series, perhaps his best-known role was in the classic 1956 science fiction movie “Forbidden Planet.” He played the ill-fated Doc Ostrow, who perishes at the hand of a mysterious force on the planet Altair IV, 16 light years from Earth, after his spaceship arrives to search for a long-lost colony.
In 1952, he had a supporting role as a reporter in the movie “Deadline, U.S.A.,” in which Humphrey Bogart played the managing editor of a big-city newspaper seeking to dissuade its owners from selling it simply to free up their capital. Mr. Stevens was among the cast members who gave “conspicuously flavorsome and good” performances, Bosley Crowther wrote in The New York Times.
His more than 60 television roles over the years included appearances (and sometimes recurring roles) on “Return to Peyton Place,” “The Twilight Zone,” “M*A*S*H,” “Rawhide,” “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” and “Gunsmoke.”
In recent years, he appeared with Lou Diamond Phillips, Ernest Borgnine and Lee Majors in the 2004 western “The Trail to Hope Rose” on the Hallmark Channel and in a 2006 episode of “ER.”
Warren Albert Stevens was born on Nov. 2, 1919, in Clarks Summit, Pa. By his early 20s, he was acting in summer stock in Virginia.
After serving as a pilot in the Army Air Forces during World War II, he came to New York and joined the Actors Studio. He soon had roles on Broadway in “Galileo,” “Sundown Beach” and “The Smile of the World,” and in radio soap operas including “The Aldrich Family.”
His break came in 1949 in the Broadway production of Sidney Kingsley’s “Detective Story,” a gritty account of the inner workings of a New York City police precinct that starred Ralph Bellamy. Brooks Atkinson wrote in The Times that “as a decent young man horrified to find himself a common criminal, Warren Stevens gives a fine, reticent performance.” That performance led to a film contract with 20th Century Fox.
Mr. Stevens is survived by his wife of 43 years, the former Barbara Fletcher, and their two sons, Adam and Mathew; and a son, Laurence, from a previous marriage, to Susan Huntington.
ADRIENNE RICH, INFLUENTIAL FEMINIST POET
Adrienne Rich, 1929-2012
A Poet of Unswerving Vision at the Forefront of Feminism
Adrienne Rich in 1987.
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: March 28, 2012
Adrienne Rich, a poet of towering reputation and towering rage, whose work — distinguished by an unswerving progressive vision and a dazzling, empathic ferocity — brought the oppression of women and lesbians to the forefront of poetic discourse and kept it there for nearly a half-century, died on Tuesday at her home in Santa Cruz, Calif. She was 82.
The cause was complications of rheumatoid arthritis, with which she had lived for most of her adult life, her family said.
Widely read, widely anthologized, widely interviewed and widely taught, Ms. Rich was for decades among the most influential writers of the feminist movement and one of the best-known American public intellectuals. She wrote two dozen volumes of poetry and more than a half-dozen of prose; the poetry alone has sold nearly 800,000 copies, according to W. W. Norton & Company, her publisher since the mid-1960s.
Triply marginalized — as a woman, a lesbian and a Jew — Ms. Rich was concerned in her poetry, and in her many essays, with identity politics long before the term was coined.
She accomplished in verse what Betty Friedan, author of “The Feminine Mystique,” did in prose. In describing the stifling minutiae that had defined women’s lives for generations, both argued persuasively that women’s disenfranchisement at the hands of men must end.
For Ms. Rich, the personal, the political and the poetical were indissolubly linked; her body of work can be read as a series of urgent dispatches from the front. While some critics called her poetry polemical, she remained celebrated for the unflagging intensity of her vision, and for the constant formal reinvention that kept her verse — often jagged and colloquial, sometimes purposefully shocking, always controlled in tone, diction and pacing — sounding like that of few other poets.
All this helped ensure Ms. Rich’s continued relevance long after she burst genteelly onto the scene as a Radcliffe senior in the early 1950s.
Her constellation of honors includes a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 1994 and a National Book Award for poetry in 1974 for “Diving Into the Wreck.” That volume, published in 1973, is considered her masterwork.
In the title poem, Ms. Rich uses the metaphor of a dive into dark, unfathomable waters to plumb the depths of women’s experience:
I am here, the mermaid whose dark hair streams black, the merman in his armored body We circle silently about the wreck we dive into the hold. … We are, I am, you are by cowardice or courage the one who find our way back to the scene carrying a knife, a camera a book of myths in which our names do not appear.
Ms. Rich was far too seasoned a campaigner to think that verse alone could change entrenched social institutions. “Poetry is not a healing lotion, an emotional massage, a kind of linguistic aromatherapy,” she said in an acceptance speech to the National Book Foundation in 2006, on receiving its medal for distinguished contribution to American letters. “Neither is it a blueprint, nor an instruction manual, nor a billboard.”
But at the same time, as she made resoundingly clear in interviews, in public lectures and in her work, Ms. Rich saw poetry as a keen-edged beacon by which women’s lives — and women’s consciousness — could be illuminated.
She was never supposed to have turned out as she did.
Adrienne Cecile Rich was born in Baltimore on May 16, 1929. Her father, Arnold Rice Rich, a doctor and assimilated Jew, was an authority on tuberculosis who taught at Johns Hopkins University. Her mother, Helen Gravely Jones Rich, a Christian, was a pianist and composer who, cleaving to social norms of the day, forsook her career to marry and have children. Adrienne was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church.
Theirs was a bookish household, and Adrienne, as she said afterward, was groomed by her father to be a literary prodigy. He encouraged her to write poetry when she was still a child, and she steeped herself in the poets in his library — all men, she later ruefully observed. But those men gave her the formalist grounding that let her make her mark when she was still very young.
When Ms. Rich was in her last year at Radcliffe (she received a bachelor’s degree in English there in 1951), W. H. Auden chose her first collection, “A Change of World,” for publication in the Yale Younger Poets series, a signal honor. Released in 1951, the book, with its sober mien, dutiful meter and scrupulous rhymes, was praised by reviewers for its impeccable command of form.
She had learned the lessons of her father’s library well, or so it seemed. For even in this volume Ms. Rich had begun, with subtle subversion, to push against a time-honored thematic constraint — the proscription on making poetry out of the soul-numbing dailiness of women’s lives.
A poem in the collection, “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers,” depicting a woman at her needlework and reprinted here in full, is concerned with precisely this:
Aunt Jennifer’s tigers prance across a screen, Bright topaz denizens of a world of green. They do not fear the men beneath the tree; They pace in sleek chivalric certainty. Aunt Jennifer’s fingers fluttering through her wool Find even the ivory needle hard to pull. The massive weight of Uncle’s wedding band Sits heavily upon Aunt Jennifer’s hand. When Aunt is dead, her terrified hands will lie Still ringed with ordeals she was mastered by. The tigers in the panel that she made Will go on prancing, proud and unafraid.
Once mastered, poetry’s formalist rigors gave Ms. Rich something to rebel against, and by her third collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” published by Harper & Row, she had pretty well exploded them. That volume appeared in 1963, a watershed moment in women’s letters: “The Feminine Mystique” was also published that year.
In the collection’s title poem, Ms. Rich chronicles the pulverizing onus of traditional married life. It opens this way:
You, once a belle in Shreveport, with henna-colored hair, skin like a peachbud, still have your dresses copied from that time. … Your mind now, mouldering like wedding-cake, heavy with useless experience, rich with suspicion, rumor, fantasy, crumbling to pieces under the knife-edge of mere fact.
Though the book horrified some critics, it sealed Ms. Rich’s national reputation.
She knew the strain of domestic duty firsthand. In 1953 Ms. Rich had married a Harvard economist, Alfred Haskell Conrad, and by the time she was 30 she was the mother of three small boys. When Professor Conrad took a job at the City College of New York, the family moved to New York City, where Ms. Rich became active in the civil rights and antiwar movements.
By 1970, partly because she had begun, inwardly, to acknowledge her erotic love of women, Ms. Rich and her husband had grown estranged. That autumn, he died of a gunshot wound to the head; the death was ruled a suicide. To the end of her life, Ms. Rich rarely spoke of it.
Ms. Rich effectively came out as a lesbian in 1976, with the publication of “Twenty-One Love Poems,” whose subject matter — sexual love between women — was still considered disarming and dangerous. In the years that followed her poetry and prose ranged over her increasing self-identification as a Jewish woman, the Holocaust and the struggles of black women.
Ms. Rich’s other volumes of poetry include “The Dream of a Common Language” (1978), “A Wild Patience Has Taken Me This Far” (1981), “The Fact of a Doorframe” (1984), “An Atlas of the Difficult World” (1991) and, most recently, “Tonight No Poetry Will Serve,” published last year.
Her prose includes the essay collections “On Lies, Secrets, and Silence” (1979); “Blood, Bread, and Poetry” (1986); an influential essay, “Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence,” published as a slender volume in 1981; and the nonfiction book “Of Woman Born” (1976), which examines the institution of motherhood as a socio-historic construct.
For Ms. Rich, the getting of literary awards was itself a political act to be reckoned with. On sharing the National Book Award for poetry in 1974 (the other recipient that year was Allen Ginsberg), she declined to accept it on her own behalf. Instead, she appeared onstage with two of that year’s finalists, the poets Audre Lorde and Alice Walker; the three of them accepted the award on behalf of all women.
In 1997, in a widely reported act, Ms. Rich declined the National Medal of Arts, the United States government’s highest award bestowed upon artists. In a letter to Jane Alexander, then chairwoman of the National Endowment for the Arts, which administers the award, she expressed her dismay, amid the “increasingly brutal impact of racial and economic injustice,” that the government had chosen to honor “a few token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”
Art, Ms. Rich added, “means nothing if it simply decorates the dinner table of power which holds it hostage.”
Ms. Rich’s other laurels — and these she did accept — include the Bollingen Prize for Poetry, the Academy of American Poets Fellowship and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize.
She taught widely, including at Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell and Stanford Universities.
Ms. Rich’s survivors include her partner of more than 30 years, the writer Michelle Cliff; three sons, David, Pablo and Jacob, from her marriage to Professor Conrad; a sister, Cynthia Rich; and two grandchildren.
For all her verbal prowess, for all her prolific output, Ms. Rich retained a dexterous command of the plain, pithy utterance. In a 1984 speech she summed up her reason for writing — and, by loud unspoken implication, her reason for being — in just seven words.
What she and her sisters-in-arms were fighting to achieve, she said, was simply this: “the creation of a society without domination.”
Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting. “Aunt Jennifer’s Tigers” reprinted from “Collected Early Poems” by Adrienne Rich. Copyright © 1993 by Adrienne Rich. With the permission of the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company Inc.
EARL SCRUGGS, BLUEGRASS BANJO PLAYER PIONEER
Published: March 29, 2012
Earl Scruggs, the bluegrass banjo player whose hard-driving picking style influenced generations of musicians and helped shape the sound of 20th-century country music with his guitar-strumming partner, Lester Flatt, died on Wednesday in a Nashville hospital. He was 88.
His son Gary confirmed the death.
Mr. Scruggs and Mr. Flatt probably reached their widest audiences with a pair of signature songs: “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” a rollicking number that they recorded in 1949 with their group the Foggy Mountain Boys and that was used as the getaway music in the 1967 film “Bonnie and Clyde”; and “The Ballad of Jed Clampett,” the theme song of the 1960s television sitcom “The Beverly Hillbillies.” (Mr. Scruggs and Mr. Flatt appeared on the show several times.)
But he also helped shape the “high, lonesome sound” of Bill Monroe, often called the father of bluegrass, and pioneered modern banjo playing. His innovative use of three fingers in an up-picking style, rather than the mostly two-fingered claw-hammer down-picking technique, elevated the five-string banjo from a part of the rhythm section — or a comedian’s prop — to a lead or solo instrument. What became known as the syncopated Scruggs picking style helped popularize the banjo in almost every genre of music.
Mr. Scruggs, who had played banjo since the age of 4 in rural North Carolina, got his big break when he joined Monroe’s band, the Blue Grass Boys, in 1945. The band included Monroe, who sang and played the mandolin; Mr. Flatt on guitar; Howard Watts (a k a Cedric Rainwater) on bass; and Chubby Wise on fiddle.
When Mr. Scruggs stepped up to play during an instrumental section, “listeners would physically come out of their seats in excitement,” Richard D. Smith wrote in “Can’t You Hear Me Callin’: The Life of Bill Monroe.”
Mr. Scruggs stayed with the Blue Grass Boys for two years as they starred on the “Grand Ole Opry” radio show and recorded classics like “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” “Blue Grass Breakdown” and “Molly and Tenbrooks (The Race Horse Song)” for Columbia Records. He also sang baritone in the group’s gospel quartet.
Early in 1948 he and Mr. Flatt, weary of the low pay and exhausting travel, decided to strike out on their own, despite Monroe’s pleas to stay. Angry and hurt, Monroe refused to speak to them for the next 20 years, a feud that became famous in country-music history.
Although the two said they had not planned to get together after they quit, they ended up forming the Foggy Mountain Boys, naming the group after the Carter Family song “Foggy Mountain Top.” Aided by the former Louise Certain, the group’s manager and booking agent and eventually Mr. Scrugg’s wife, they surpassed Monroe in popularity, helped partly by the corporate sponsorship of Martha White mills. (That sponsor persuaded them to join the “Grand Ole Opry.”) In 1954 they appeared in a Broadway show, “Hayride.”
Five years later the group appeared in Rhode Island at the first Newport Folk Festival, an offshoot of the Newport Jazz Festival, and introduced the Scruggs style to the folk-music revival of those years. Soon young folk musicians were adopting his style, and the Foggy Mountain Boys began to play the college folk-festival circuit. Mr. Scruggs also began to work with his growing sons, Gary, Randy and Steve, and he recorded material by Bob Dylan and other folk-rockers.
Mr. Flatt, by contrast, disliked the new music and felt it was alienating the band’s grass-roots fans. In 1969 the two broke up — they had also performed as Flatt & Scruggs — and Mr. Scruggs, with his sons, formed the Earl Scruggs Revue, a mostly acoustic group with drums and electric bass. It broadened his repertory to include rock, and the group played on bills with acts like Steppenwolf and the singer-songwriter James Taylor, sometimes before audiences of 40,000.
The group stayed together for the rest of Mr. Scruggs’s career, performing at Carnegie Hall and, in 1969, at the Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam in Washington. Mr. Flatt died in 1979.
Remembering Earl Scruggs
Earl Eugene Scruggs was born on Jan. 6, 1924, in Flint Hill, N.C. His father, George Elam Scruggs, a farmer and bookkeeper, played the banjo and fiddle (and died when Earl was 4); his mother, Lula Ruppe Scruggs, played the pump organ in church. Earl took up the banjo and also the guitar.
Earl depended on a two-fingered picking style until he was about 10. Then one day he found himself in his bedroom picking a song called “Lonesome Ruben” (or “Ruben’s Train”) using three fingers instead of two — the thumb, index and middle finger. It was a style, indigenous to North Carolina, that he had been trying to master.
He learned to emphasize melody by plucking it with his strong thumb in syncopation with harmonic notes picked with his first two fingers. The sound was like thumbtacks plinking rhythmically on a tin roof.
As Earl’s mastery of the banjo grew, he began playing at dances and on radio shows with bands, among them Lost John Miller and His Allied Kentuckians. In December 1945, after the Miller group disbanded, Mr. Scruggs quit high school and joined the Blue Grass Boys for $50 a week. His career was on its way.
In 1992 Mr. Scruggs was among 13 recipients of a National Medal of Arts, and in 2005 “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” was selected for the Library of Congress’s National Recording Registry.
He continued to play into the 21st century. In 2001 he released a CD, “Earl Scruggs and Friends,” his first album in a decade and an extension of the Earl Scruggs Revue. In 12 songs, he collaborated with Elton John, Dwight Yoakam, Travis Tritt, Sting, Melissa Etheridge, Vince Gill, John Fogerty, Don Henley, Johnny Cash and the actor Steve Martin, a banjo player.
Mr. Scruggs’s wife, Louise, died in 2006; his son Steve died in 1992. In addition to his sons Gary and Randy, survivors include five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
At an 80th birthday party for Mr. Scruggs in 2004, the country singer Porter Wagoner said, “Earl was to the five-string banjo what Babe Ruth was to baseball.”
“He is the best there ever was,” Mr. Wagoner said, “and the best there ever will be.”
The Associated Press contributed reporting.
BERT SUGAR, BOXING WRITER AND COMMENTATOR
By BRUCE WEBER
Published: March 26, 2012
Bert Sugar, boxing’s human encyclopedia, a prolific writer and editor and a flamboyant and ubiquitous presence in the world of the ring, died on Sunday in Mount Kisco, N.Y. He was 75.
He had lung cancer and died of cardiac arrest at Northern Westchester Hospital, his daughter, Jennifer Frawley, said.
The author or editor of dozens of books; the editor, at various times, of The Ring magazine and Boxing Illustrated; and a television and radio commentator who rarely turned away from a microphone, Mr. Sugar was as voluminous a speaker as he was a writer.
Garrulous, opinionated, an eager conversationalist who was known to talk with just about anybody, he was an accomplished raconteur with a bottomless sack of anecdotes and an incorrigible penchant for wisecracks and bad jokes. You could pick him out in a crowded room by his voice — a distinctively upbeat growl — or by the omnipresent wide-brimmed fedora on his head and the fat cigar in his mouth.
Mr. Sugar, who was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005, was not simply a character, however. He wrote about the sport with swagger and panache, a prose style that carried the weight of expertise and that simply assumed the authority to bellow and bleat:
“In the world of the early 1900s, still awash with Victorian gentility and doily-type embroidery on everything from manners and modes to conversation and conventional heroes,” he wrote to introduce an essay on the great black champion Jack Johnson, “the name of the heavyweight champion stood out in stark relief, a man of swaggering virility who epitomized the turbulent yet proud surety of the populace of a nation destined for greatness.”
In the 1980s, he dared to choose and rank the 100 greatest boxers of all time, and 20 years later he revised the list (and the book explaining it). In “Boxing’s Greatest Fighters” (2006), he ranked Sugar Ray Robinson No. 1, Joe Louis at 4 (after Henry Armstrong and Willie Pep) and Muhammad Ali at 7 (after Harry Greb and Benny Leonard). At 100, he listed Mike Tyson, whose chapter he began this way:
“To perplexing questions like ‘Why does Hawaii have interstate highways?’ and ‘Why did kamikaze pilots wear helmets?’ can be added another: What the hell happened to boxing’s kamikaze pilot, Mike Tyson?”
Herbert Randolph Sugar was born in Washington on June 7, 1936, and, according to family lore, legally changed his name to Bert as a child because he was tired of classmates taunting him with, “Herbert, please pass the sherbet.”
He attended public schools, graduated from the University of Maryland and earned business and law degrees at the University of Michigan, where he wrote for The Michigan Daily and played rugby. He passed the Washington bar in 1961 — “the only bar I ever passed,” he was wont to remark — but instead of going into the law, he moved to New York City and worked for a time in advertising.
An obsessive sports fan and an inveterate memorabilia collector who had a 700-pound chunk of stone from the original Yankee Stadium planted in his rock garden, he leapt into sports journalism by the beginning of the 1970s, purchasing Boxing Illustrated — which he edited well but ran as a business badly — and a handful of lesser-known, short-lived sports publications. For a while in the mid-’70s, he edited the men’s magazine Argosy.
In 1979, he and several others, including Dave DeBusschere, the former basketball star, and Bill Veeck, the former maverick baseball club owner, purchased The Ring; Mr. Sugar was its editor through troubled financial times until 1983. Mr. Sugar’s book about Muhammad Ali, “Sting Like a Bee,” written with the boxer Jose Torres, was published in 1971, and Mr. Sugar was the co-writer, with Angelo Dundee, Ali’s longtime cornerman, of Dundee’s autobiography, “My View From the Corner: A Life in Boxing.” (Dundee died on Feb. 1.)
With the former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, he wrote “Inside Boxing” (1974), an examination of boxing technique. And he wrote on other subjects as well: a history of ABC Sports, a biography of the escape artist Harry Houdini, a primer on horse racing. Nearly as immersed in baseball arcana as in boxing arcana, he edited several volumes of statistics and trivia.
Mr. Sugar lived in Chappaqua, N.Y. In addition to his daughter, he is survived by his wife, the former Suzanne Davis, whom he married in 1960; a son, JB; a brother, Steven; and four grandchildren.