Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer-Winning Poet, Dies At 89

Carolyn Kizer, Pulitzer-Winning Poet, Dies At 89

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Carolyn Kizer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose sharp wit suffused even her most ardent calls for feminist progress and who declared in one of her best-known pieces, “I will speak about women of letters, for I’m in the racket,” has died. She was 89.
Kizer’s death Thursday at a nursing home in Sonoma, Calif., was caused by the effects of dementia, according to David Rigsbee, her literary executor.
One of Kizer’s poems was published in the New Yorker when she was 17. However, she never made it into the New Yorker again and started the serious study of poetry only as a newly divorced, 29-year-old mother of three.
“It was like a cork coming out of a champagne bottle, it was such a joy,” she told the Los Angeles Times in 2001.
Kizer received her Pulitzer in 1985 for her collection of poems called “Yin,” after the female principle in Chinese cosmology.
She also was a versatile translator, adept in Chinese, Urdu and other languages. At various times, she lived in China and Pakistan, where she taught writing under the auspices of the U.S. State Department.
As passionate about rewriting as she was about writing, Kizer could spend years polishing a single poem.
Her 1990 work, “Twelve O’Clock,” took about five years to complete, but spanned the universe. It recounted a smile that passed between the 17-year-old poet, who was visiting Princeton, and the aged professor Albert Einstein, who was ambling down a sunlit library aisle, “simple as a saint emerging from his cell.”
Reading books about physics for two years as she experimented with the poem, Kizer built her piece around the observer effect — the idea that observing a subatomic particle changes it.
“Equally, you cannot meet someone for a moment, or even cast eyes on someone in the street, without changing,” she told the Paris Review. “That is my subject.”
Other poems, like “Election Day, 1984,” were less lofty:
Did you ever see someone coldcock a blind nun?
Well, I did. Two helpful idiots
Steered her across the tarmac to her plane
And led her smack into the wing.
She deplaned with two black eyes and a crooked wimple,
Bruised proof that the distinction is not simple
Between ineptitude and evil.
One of Kizer’s most highly regarded works was “Pro Femina,” a four-part rallying cry for women poets.
In the 1920s, mawkish female poets were derided as the “Oh-God-the-Pain Girls” — a second-rate status that Kizer believed was encouraged by men. Decades later, in “Pro Femina,” Kizer recalled those days.
“Poetry wasn’t a craft but a sickly effluvium,” she wrote, “the air thick with incense, musk and emotional blackmail.”
In fact, she reminded her readers, women poets were “the custodians of the world’s best-kept secret: Merely the private lives of one-half of humanity.”
From Sappho to myself, consider the fate of women.
How unwomanly to discuss it! Like a noose or an albatross necktie
The clinical sobriquet hangs us: cod-piece coveters.
Never mind these epithets: I myself have collected some honeys.
Kizer later told an interviewer that some of her male colleagues thought “Pro Femina” was so bad she nearly threw it away.
Born in Spokane, Wash., on Dec. 10, 1924, Kizer was the only child of attorney Benjamin Kizer and his wife, Mabel Ashley Kizer. Her mother, who had a doctorate in biology, once astonished Kizer by turning down a job, asking, “Who would get your father’s breakfast?”
While Kizer grew up in privilege, her father was remote and domineering. When the subject of political parties came up at dinner, he was appalled when the precocious Carolyn told her parents’ guests, “Oh, we veer with the wind.”
“My father was livid,” she recalled in an essay. “I have suppressed what he said, but I know that I withered like a violet in an ice storm.”
She was 7 at the time.
Kizer went to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y., where her music professors bluntly let her know she’d never be a concert pianist. Instead, she focused on literature and did graduate work in Chinese at Columbia University.
In 1946, she married Stimson Bullitt, a Seattle lawyer, and had three children with him before divorcing in 1954.
In 1955 and 1956, she studied poetry at the University of Washington under the renowned Theodore Roethke, a taskmaster who taught her, as she recalled in an introduction to one of his books, that “every line of a poem should be a poem.”
“I apply that to my own work and sometimes just throw up my hands,” she said.
Roethke was a merciless editor and Kizer used the same rigor with her students at the University of North Carolina and other schools.
“I made my speech to a class about passive constructions and a smart student said, ‘What about ‘to be or not to be?'” she once recalled. “I said, ‘Well that explains Hamlet’s nature: his ambivalence, his uncertainty — his basic passivity,’ and I got out of that one!”
From 1966 to 1970, Kizer was director of literary programs for the National Endowment for the Arts. She was a chancellor of the American Academy of Poets until 1998, when she resigned, with her friend Maxine Kumin, to protest the board’s lack of diversity at the time.
Kizer’s husband of 39 years, architect John Woodbridge, died in June. Her survivors include daughters Ashley Bullitt of Seattle and Jill Bullitt, of Hudson, N.Y.; son Fred Nemo of Portland, Ore.; stepchildren Larry Woodbridge of Brooklyn and Pamela Woodbridge of Berkeley, Calif.; six grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

Photo via Los Angeles Times/John Todd

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Ed Joyce, Former CBS News President Who Tangled With Dan Rather, Dies At 81

Ed Joyce, Former CBS News President Who Tangled With Dan Rather, Dies At 81

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Ed Joyce, a former president of CBS News whose brief, turbulent tenure in the 1980s was marked by threatened corporate takeovers and settlement of a damaging libel lawsuit from Gen. William Westmoreland, has died. He was 81.

His death Saturday at his home in Redding, Conn., was confirmed by his son Randall Joyce, a producer with CBS News.

Ed Joyce, who retired at 55 and spent most of the years since as a horseman and civic leader in California’s Santa Ynez Valley, died as a result of throat cancer, his son said.

Joyce was the storied news operation’s president from 1983 until he was squeezed out in 1986.

The immediate cause of his departure, he said in his 561-page, 1988 memoir “Prime Times, Bad Times,” was his long-running conflict with newsman Dan Rather. Joyce had criticized Rather’s high salary, his mercurial personality, his stiff news delivery, and his agent, whom he called a “flesh-peddler.”

Shortly before Joyce was fired from the news division’s top job, his boss Gene Jankowski, head of the CBS Broadcast Group, gave him a signal of his imminent demise.

“There are lots of presidents,” Joyce quoted Jankowski as telling him. “There’s only one Dan Rather.”

Joyce rose to the top amid problems that have since become endemic to the news business.

With shareholders demanding more profits from news operations, Joyce instituted layoffs on an unprecedented scale in his division. Some of the 74 employees who were fired were given only 48 hours to clear out — a gaffe Joyce later explained by saying that he wanted to disrupt news gathering as little as possible.

Joyce also had to contend with pressures to craft stories defined by a single compelling moment.

Van Gordon Sauter, a former CBS News president who was promoted to a higher executive position, was a forceful advocate for an emotional connection with viewers — a philosophy that Joyce described as “the kind of articulate drivel we had often listened to, admired, and then ignored.”

But Joyce did not always resist the force of fluff. In his book, he acknowledged that it was a mistake to hire Phyllis George, a former Miss America, as co-anchor of “The CBS Morning News” in 1984.

George once announced her desire to do a news-making interview with “that Gandhi woman,” according to Joyce.

When she was told that Indira Gandhi, the former prime minister of India, had been assassinated months earlier, George responded: “Oh … well, somebody like her.”

In 1985, CBS News and Westmoreland settled the lawsuit brought by the general after a 1982 documentary accused him of manipulating figures to deceive the American public about progress in the Vietnam War.

“The trial convinced the Far Right that CBS was the Great Satan,” Joyce wrote.

Questions about news ethics even prompted a suggestion from Sen. Jesse Helms (R-NC), that fellow conservatives buy CBS stock to change the direction of its news coverage.

The idea fizzled, but CBS did have to fend off Ted Turner, Ivan Boesky, and others. Billionaire Laurence Tisch was credited with saving CBS from a hostile takeover in 1986 but was later criticized for layoffs that were larger than those imposed by Joyce.

Born in Phoenix on Dec. 13, 1932, Edward Matthew Joyce grew up in various spots around the United States, following his jack-of-all-trades father from job to job. Joyce said he attended about 20 schools in 10 years.

His father gave him his first taste of the media business. During the Depression, the elder Joyce worked as a wrangler on a dude ranch and put out a tourist magazine called “The Last Frontier.”
Faced with sagging circulation, he sometimes bartered stacks of magazines for Indian jewelry at desert trading posts.

Graduating from high school in Manhattan, Joyce attended the University of Wyoming, dropping out after his wife, Maureen, became pregnant. He worked at radio stations in Cody, Wyo., Utica, N.Y., and Schenectady, N.Y., before landing a jazz show at WCBS in New York.

After he left CBS, Joyce and his wife settled in Santa Ynez and, later, Buellton, Calif. He became president of a local Rotary Club and was active in the Santa Ynez Historical Society. A team penner at rodeos, he was a member of various equestrian groups.

“I’m living proof that it’s never too late to have a childhood,” he told Variety in 1994.

The couple moved to Connecticut, their previous home, in 2007.

In addition to his wife, son Randall and daughter Brenda Hauser, Joyce is survived by five grandchildren.

Photo: Los Angeles Times/MCT

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Henry ‘Hank’ Hartsfield Jr., Space Shuttle Astronaut, Dies At 80

Henry ‘Hank’ Hartsfield Jr., Space Shuttle Astronaut, Dies At 80

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Over his career as an astronaut, Henry “Hank” Hartsfield Jr. spent many years in training and only 20 days in orbit — but they were very good days.

“I’ve never had so much fun,” he once said of his first mission, a test flight of the shuttle Columbia that made a triumphant July 4 touchdown at Edwards Air Force Base in 1982. “We talked about turning the radio off and staying up there.”

He was less ebullient in 1986, when the space shuttle Challenger exploded and seven astronauts perished. By then, Hartsfield, who had flown into space on the shuttles Columbia, Discovery, and Challenger, learned that NASA officials had failed to inform him and others about a mechanical problem involving malfunctioning seals.

“I was surprised and angry we didn’t know this,” he told reporters. “If we don’t make something better out of this, we’re missing a safe bet. I think my friends who died would want us to be better for it.”

Hartsfield, an Air Force test pilot who joined NASA in 1969 but had to wait 13 years before going into space himself, died July 17 in League City, Texas. He was 80.

His death was announced by NASA, which described its cause only as an illness.

An unflappable man with an Alabama drawl, Hartsfield was a space rookie at 48.

As copilot of the Columbia, he spent seven days in space with commander Ken Mattingly on a mission described by the Los Angeles Times as “rekindling America’s love affair with manned space flight.” When they landed, more than 500,000 people jammed Mojave Desert highways for a glimpse of the incoming Columbia. Fascinated by the venture, more than a million Americans had called a special phone line to listen in on the Columbia duo’s laconic conversations with ground control.

Showing their support for the space program, President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan were on hand to greet the returning heroes. “This has to beat firecrackers!” the president joked.

Columbia disintegrated on a mission in 2003, killing its seven-member crew.

In 1984, Hartsfield commanded the space shuttle Discovery on its maiden voyage, a flight that had been delayed by potentially lethal mechanical problems three times, once just four seconds before liftoff. At one point, he decided to keep his frustrated crew in their cramped capsule because of a fire on the launchpad.

“At a press conference we all lied about the tension in the cockpit following the abort and the fire,” fellow astronaut Mike Mullane wrote in his 2006 memoir “Riding Rockets.”

“Hank took most of the questions and did the ‘Right Stuff’ routine of ‘Aaawh shucks, ma’am. Tweren’t nothing.”‘

In an interview, Mullane called Hartsfield “an empowering commander and a fierce patriot.”

Hartsfield was so exuberantly right-wing that he deliberately took a bathroom break when the orbiter swung over Havana, Mullane said.

At Hartsfield’s 50th birthday party, his colleagues ribbed him with gifts playing off his political leanings. One was an autographed copy of Ms. magazine with an inscription to Hartsfield from feminist publisher Gloria Steinem. It had been arranged by astronaut Sally Ride, the first American woman in space.

Hartsfield’s Discovery crew included Judith Resnik, the second American woman in space. During their mission, Resnik set up a solar array that led to one now in use on the International Space Station, Mullane said.

Resnik was among the seven who died when Challenger exploded in midair on Jan. 28, 1986, three months after Hartsfield had commanded it.

Born in Birmingham, Ala., on Nov. 21, 1933, Hartsfield grew up near a local airfield. As a newsboy, he won a free ride and was hooked on flying.

Graduating from Alabama’s Auburn University with a physics degree in 1954, he joined the Air Force in 1955 and logged more than 7,400 hours of flying time in Germany and elsewhere. He also taught test pilots at Edwards. He later received a master’s degree in engineering science from the University of Tennessee.

In 1966, he was assigned to the Air Force Manned Orbiting Laboratory — a project that never got off the ground. Three years later, he joined NASA, where he was on the astronaut support crew before his space flights and an administrator from 1985 to 1998. He worked for Raytheon Corp., a defense contractor, until his retirement in 2005.

Hartsfield’s survivors include his wife, Fran; daughter Judy Hartsfield Gedies; two grandsons; and his brother Earl. His daughter Keely, who worked as a contractor to the space shuttle program, died in March.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Karl Albrecht, German Billionaire Who Built Aldi Food Empire, Dies At 94

Karl Albrecht, German Billionaire Who Built Aldi Food Empire, Dies At 94

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Karl Albrecht, a reclusive German billionaire who with his younger brother Theo turned his mother’s corner store into a worldwide grocery empire, has died. He was 94.

Albrecht’s July 16 death in Essen, Germany, was confirmed by Aldi, the no-frills discount chain that he and Theo co-founded. Separately, Theo Albrecht acquired Trader Joe’s in 1979 and placed it in a family trust. Theo died in 2010.

Described by Forbes magazine as “more reclusive than the Yeti,” the brothers shunned publicity. Only a few public statements were attributed to Karl, most notably his pithy 1953 summation of Aldi’s credo: “Our advertisement is the cheap price.”

The Aldi name derives from “Albrecht” and “discount.” Customers in more than 9,000 Aldi stores choose from a limited selection of items stacked on palettes or wire shelves. While there are nearly 1,300 outlets in the United States, Aldi is a much bigger economic force in the brothers’ homeland.

“Aldi is Germany and Germany is Aldi,” said the weekly German news magazine Der Spiegel in 2010. “This sense of order, this devotion to efficiency, the sparse logic of logistics, and, above all, determined thrift.”

On Forbes‘ most recent billionaires list, Karl Albrecht ranked 23rd, with a fortune estimated at $25.9 billion.

He was an avid golfer and built a resort hotel in the Black Forest. However, neither he nor his brother was known to be a big spender or a flamboyant personality. They “have turned obscurity and ordinariness into an art form,” the Times of London said in 2009.

Born in Essen on Feb. 20, 1920, Karl Hans Albrecht was the son of a miner who became disabled and a mother who started her own grocery before World War I. At 14, Albrecht was collecting debts from customers hard hit by the worldwide depression. Drafted into the German military during World War II, he was wounded near Moscow and nearly had a leg amputated.

After spending time as an Allied prisoner of war, he returned to Essen, found his mother’s store standing amid the rubble, and got down to work. By 1950, he and Theo owned 13 West German discount stores. Ten years later, they had 300.

In 1961, they split their operation into two Aldi companies, sharing warehousing and other functions but dividing their retail territories. Karl’s company ended up with nearly 5,000 stores, including those in the United States. Last year, it acquired land in Moreno Valley for a regional headquarters for California stores yet to be opened.

Albrecht seldom attended public functions, never met a German chancellor, and avoided politics. Both he and his brother became even more intensely quiet in 1971, when kidnappers held Theo for 17 days. Karl successfully negotiated with the bumbling captors, who were quickly caught and convicted.

At 94, Albrecht gave an interview — perhaps his first ever to the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine. The newspaper said he apparently intended it as a first attempt to explain himself and his business.

Asked how he became so successful, he responded modestly.

“I’ve been lucky,” he said, “very lucky.”

Albrecht’s survivors include a son and a daughter. Maria Albrecht, his wife of 67 years, died in 2013.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Arthur J. Walker, Who Sold Secret Navy Files To The Soviets, Dead At 79

Arthur J. Walker, Who Sold Secret Navy Files To The Soviets, Dead At 79

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Arthur J. Walker, a conspirator in one of the biggest U.S. spy cases since World War II, was a surprisingly trusting soul.

When FBI agents wanted to talk to him in 1985 after arresting his brother John on suspicion of espionage, Walker voluntarily chatted, over several sessions, for a total of 32 hours — without a lawyer.

When a prosecution witness at Arthur’s trial had a hard time identifying him in a Virginia courtroom, he helpfully raised his hand. After all, he had been wearing a hairpiece when the witness last saw him.

And even after U.S. District Judge J. Calvert Clarke Jr. took all of 16 minutes to convict him of espionage, Walker asked his astonished attorney, “What do you think, maybe a two-year suspended sentence? I won’t have to go to prison, will I?”

He was given a life term, but under federal sentencing guidelines that were stiffened after his conviction, he was eligible for parole. Another hearing was to be held next month.

Walker, who made $12,000 for selling classified documents to Soviet agents through his brother, died July 5 in a federal prison in Butner, N.C. He was 79. His death was confirmed by the Federal Bureau of Prisons. No cause was disclosed.

John Walker, who is incarcerated in the prison where his brother died, is said to have throat cancer. He is to be released next May, according to federal authorities.

When the family espionage ring was uncovered, John was cast by authorities as its amoral mastermind, a manipulator who got his son Michael, his older brother Arthur, and his best friend Jerry Whitworth to join him.

John Walker started spying in 1967 during his Naval career and sold the KGB “vital U.S. cryptographic secrets that had allowed Russian agents to decipher approximately one million coded Navy dispatches,” wrote Pete Earley, author of “Family of Spies: Inside the John Walker Spy Ring.”

By comparison, Arthur, a retired Navy lieutenant commander, seemed to be a small fish. He was convicted of stealing two sets of documents, both with the government’s lowest classified designation, from a Virginia defense contractor that employed him as an engineer. He later said he used the windfall for a new set of brakes, a gas grill and a toupee. He also gave some of the money to his brother to repay a business loan. Bailing Arthur out after the failure of his car stereo business, John urged him to take a defense job for its proximity to military secrets.

Walker admitted to FBI agents that he photographed documents but insisted that they were worthless. He said he chose those particular items only to convince his brother that he had no access to anything important. The documents concerned repairs on a class of Navy amphibious assault ships and detailed plans for responding to emergencies on the Blue Ridge, a communications ship.

Testifying during Walker’s trial in Norfolk, Va., a Navy official described the documents as “a Bible for sabotage.” Walker did not testify, nor did any witnesses appear on his behalf. He asked that his case be heard only by a judge, fearing backlash from jurors in a region with a huge Navy presence.

Born in Washington, D.C., in 1934, Arthur James Walker grew up in Richmond, Va., and West Scranton, Pa. He enlisted in the Navy in 1953. He and his wife had two daughters and a son. Information on surviving family members was not immediately available.

AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

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Actress And Civil Rights Activist Ruby Dee Dies At 91

Actress And Civil Rights Activist Ruby Dee Dies At 91

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Ruby Dee, an actress known as much for her civil rights activism as for her powerful stage and movie roles in productions including A Raisin in the Sun, has died. She was 91.

Dee died Wednesday of age-related causes in New Rochelle, N.Y., according to her Los Angeles agent, Michael Livingston.

Dee and her late husband, actor Ossie Davis, performed together in numerous plays, films and TV productions. They also were masters of ceremonies at Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic 1963 March on Washington.

Her film appearances included The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) and the Spike Lee productions Do the Right Thing (1989) and Jungle Fever (1991).

Dee received numerous honors, including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Screen Actors Guild in 2000. At 83 she was nominated for an Academy Award as best supporting actress for her work as the mother of a high-rolling drug lord in American Gangster.

Photo: S. Vlasic/Abaca Press/MCT

Lee Marshall, The Voice Of Tony The Tiger, Dies At 64

Lee Marshall, The Voice Of Tony The Tiger, Dies At 64

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Lee Marshall wasn’t born Tony the Tiger.

With his magnificent basso profundo reverberating in wrestling arenas and radio newsrooms for decades, he had to earn his stripes.

Marshall, who first voiced the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes icon in 1999, died April 26 at a Santa Monica hospital. He was 64 and had esophageal cancer, his son Jason Marshall VanBorssum said.

A sports broadcaster and a rock ‘n’ roll deejay as well as a ring announcer and voiceover artist, Marshall spoke in deep, rich, practically evangelical tones that turned out to be ideal for selling cereal and a whole lot more.

“If God ever wanted to make a speech,” former Los Angeles Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda once quipped, “Lee Marshall would get the call.”

The original Tony the Tiger was an actor named Thurl Ravenscroft, whose line “They’re g-r-r-r-e-a-t” resonated across the airwaves from 1952 until months before his 2005 death at age 91. In interviews, Marshall said he started helping out as Tony when Ravenscroft was in his 80s and had an increasingly difficult time with dialogue.

Playing the goofy, gregarious tiger was an unusual gig for Marshall, whose deep voice more often landed him roles as cartoon villains.

“I would just once like to be the guy who saves Scooby-Doo,” he complained to his agent.

That would never happen, he was told: “You’ll always be the guy who tries to kill Scooby-Doo.”

Marshall’s voice often was recognized by strangers, who’d want him to “do” Tony, said his friend and former colleague “Shotgun” Tom Kelly, of KRTH radio in Los Angeles.

“He wouldn’t do it with children around,” Kelly said. “He was very protective of Tony’s image.”

“What a set of pipes,” Kelly said. “Sitting next to him, even a whisper became a roar.”

Born Marshall Aaron Mayer in Los Angeles on Nov. 28, 1949, Marshall grew up in Hollywood, where he was first exposed to a microphone on the “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” segment of Art Linkletter’s “House Party.” At 10, he would sometimes drop by radio station KFWB, where the crew let him work as gofer, fetching coffee and copy.

After Marshall’s parents moved the family to Phoenix, he picked up his first full-time radio job, as a deejay from 7 p.m. to midnight. With a prematurely deep voice, he lied about his age to get through the door. He was 14.

Three years later, he was made a newsman at another station. Soon he was at Phoenix’s over-the-top rock station KRIZ, where he and his colleagues boosted their ratings with zany stunts: saving the seal living in Marshall’s bathtub, saving the city’s Tallahatchie bridge, promoting the grand opening of a supermarket chain called Ticonderoga — “like the pencil.”

The seal and the supermarkets were imaginary. The bridge, the setting of the popular 1967 song “Ode to Billie Joe” — was in Mississippi. Thousands of Phoenix residents attended a KRIZ rally for it anyway.

“We believed in creating theater on the radio,” said W. Steven Martin, a Phoenix radio personality whose “W” was a handle added to his name by Marshall, on air, on the spur of the moment.

“He told me that nobody named Steven Martin could become famous,” Martin said.

Marshall was a newscaster at the brassy, sensationalistic CKLW in Windsor, Ontario — Detroit killings were tracked on the “Motown Murder Meter” — before working for KCBQ in San Diego, and KHJ and KABC in Los Angeles. At the latter, Marshall hosted a talk show from Dodger Stadium.

He also delivered newscasts laced with anti-gang messages at the Los Angeles rap station KDAY, which called itself “The World’s Most Dangerous Radio Station.” Many listeners visualized “King News” — Marshall’s nom de rap — “as a black prophet,” The Los Angeles Times wrote in 1990, and were “probably shocked when they discover that this inner-city voice belongs to a white, 40-year-old former bodybuilder who used to be a sportscaster.”

All the while, Marshall traveled the U.S. to do televised ringside interviews of professional wrestlers. One of them once heaved Marshall, clad in his black tuxedo and white ruffled shirt, into the second row, injuring his back.

In later years, Marshall, an Oxnard, Calif. resident, worked at KVEN in Ventura and taught at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.

In addition to his son, Marshall’s survivors include his wife, Judie, stepdaughter Eve Borders Ottis and granddaughter Kate.

Photo: Todd Franklin via Flickr

Bob Hoskins, Actor Known As ‘The Cockney Cagney,’ Dies At 71

Bob Hoskins, Actor Known As ‘The Cockney Cagney,’ Dies At 71

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Bob Hoskins, a British actor whose powerful screen presence earned him a reputation as “the Cockney Cagney” and who, at 5 feet 6 and with a face he likened to a squashed cabbage, gave the short, bald men of the world a reason to swagger, has died. He was 71.

Hoskins, who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2012, died Tuesday of pneumonia in a hospital, his family said in a statement released by London publicist Clair Dobbs.

The actor was best known for playing tough guys, often with a vein of tenderness threading beneath their violent surface.

At the 1986 Cannes Film Festival, he was named best actor for his work in “Mona Lisa,” the story of an ex-con chauffeuring an elegant prostitute around London. He also received an Academy Award nomination for the part.

In Hollywood, he dipped into lighter fare, most famously playing hardboiled private eye Eddie Valiant in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit.” The 1988 film, which blended live action and animation, features Valiant (a softie at heart) investigating murders involving cartoon characters and a gang of weasels. He also played the pirate Smee in Steven Spielberg’s “Hook” (1991) and a handyman who was Cher’s love interest in “Mermaids” (1990).

But his bread and butter were powerful men who made their own rules: Nikita Khrushchev, Benito Mussolini, Manuel Noriega. In “Nixon” (1995), he persuaded director Oliver Stone to let him play FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover in a pink tutu.

Hoskins roamed into more ethereal roles as well. In 2005, he recalled recently playing a pope in a production on Italian TV.

“Being good was murder,” he said. “Everything, eventually, has to come from you. I had to find some little grain of goodness, which I strangled to death.”

In a statement Wednesday, actress Helen Mirren recalled her co-star in “The Long Good Friday” and other films for “that inimitable energy that seemed like a spectacular firework rocket just as it takes off.”

While he never had any formal training, Hoskins was part of “that admirable postwar lineage of charismatic British actors, from Richard Burton forward,” Los Angeles Times critic Charles Champlin wrote in 1986.

Like his good friend Michael Caine, Hoskins could play Americans “with lethal linguistic accuracy,” Champlin wrote, “even though his native conversational tongue is Cockney at its most aitchlessly pure.”

Wherever his acting took him, Hoskins reveled in his working-class roots.

“There was a time when people said, ‘You’ve got to speak like you don’t, walk like you don’t, be like you aren’t,” he told The New York Times in 1982. “I said, ‘Ere, ‘ang on, who am I? I’d be lost if I did that. I’d be disappearing. I’d be ectoplasm!”

Born Oct. 26, 1942, in the English village of Bury St. Edmunds, Robert William Hoskins was the only child of a bookkeeper and a nursery school teacher. At 15, he dropped out of school and took odd jobs — including, he said, fire-eating at a circus. He also took accounting classes and when he got word of qualifying for a credential, his heart sank.

“I was halfway toward being what I hated,” he once told an interviewer.

After more wandering — he did brief stints as a plumber’s mate on a Norwegian ship and as a kibbutznik in Israel — he wound up back in London, accompanying a pal to a theater where he had a job painting scenery.

As Hoskins explained many times, he was drinking at the theater bar when someone called him upstairs for an audition and plunked a script in his hands. Without even intending to, he got a part in a 1968 amateur production called “Featherpluckers.”

Working in local and regional theater, Hoskins drew national attention with his role as an amoral and imaginative sheet-music salesman in the 1978 BBC miniseries “Pennies From Heaven.”

Two years later, his first major film — “The Long Good Friday” — became an instant gangster classic, telling the story of a London underworld figure who hung reluctant informants on the tips of meat hooks.

Conveying a menacing kind of charm, Hoskins won acclaim as the evil Iago in a 1981 BBC production of “Othello.” He became known for his sociopaths: “Hoskins is to the flick knife and the knuckle duster what Noel Coward is to the dressing gown,” a critic wrote.

But Hoskins was always self-deprecating.

At London’s Royal National Theater, he was a smash as gambler Nathan Detroit in the musical “Guys and Dolls.”

But Laurence Olivier, the esteemed actor, had been the producer’s first choice for the role and had to turn it down because he was ill.

“How’s that for something totally lunatic?” Hoskins once asked a reporter. “Me replacing Olivier?”

Such joking hid Hoskins’ intensity. After his first marriage collapsed, he lived in his Jeep for a while and had what he described as a nervous breakdown. After performing in “Roger Rabbit,” he went through a tortured time when he’d see weasels popping out of walls.

A friend persuaded him to stage a one-man show as therapy.

“She told me that if I was having a breakdown, I could have it on her stage,” he later recalled. “Afterward, she brought me a bottle of champagne and said, ‘Welcome back to sanity, kid.””

Hoskins brought that same intensity to preparing for his roles.

In “Mona Lisa,” he cast around for a way to research George, the freshly-out-of-jail criminal who took a fall for another mobster and falls in love with the call girl he chauffeurs.

He finally hit upon taking his daughter to the bird house at a zoo.

“We’d look at birds in their cages,” he said. “And George became like that, a man with this incredible spirit trapped inside him by his own naivete, by his own expectations, by the society around them. There he was, inside his own cage.”

In his later years, Hoskins kept at it. His wife, Linda, would sometimes have to reassure him that they weren’t broke. The only other financial advice he took was from his old pal Michael Caine, who he said told him “never to buy an effing boat.”

Meanwhile, he was fueled by the zeal for performance he described to The New York Times in 1982.

“When I see some old guy acting his socks off, I’m proud to be in the same profession,” he said. “When it’s really flying up there, really cracking between you, it’s the most thrilling relationship in the world.”

Hoskins’ last role was as a dwarf in “Snow White and the Huntsman” (2012).

He announced his retirement because of Parkinson’s disease the same year.

His survivors include his wife, Linda Hoskins; sons Alex and Jack; and daughters Sarah and Rosa.

Denis Paul via Flickr

Charles Farthing, Doctor At Forefront Of AIDS Care, Dies At 60

Charles Farthing, Doctor At Forefront Of AIDS Care, Dies At 60

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Charles F. Farthing, a physician who was at the forefront of care for HIV/AIDS patients and who drew attention to the need for an AIDS vaccine by announcing his willingness to inject himself, has died. He was 60.

Farthing, who collapsed in a Hong Kong taxi April 5, had a heart attack, family members said in an announcement.

Farthing was chief of medicine for the Los Angeles-based AIDS Healthcare Foundation from 1994 to 2007. He was planning to return to the foundation in June as director of treatment programs in the 32 countries outside the U.S. where it provides services.

At the time of his death, Farthing was based in Hong Kong and working for the pharmaceutical company Merck, Sharp & Dohme as Asia Pacific director of medical affairs for infectious diseases.

“He was one of the most recognizable personalities in our field,” said Dr. Michael S. Gottlieb, a Los Angeles physician who co-wrote the first scientific report identifying the disease that came to be known as AIDS. “He had a lifelong commitment to the cause.”

In 1997, Farthing was frustrated by what he saw as the slow progress of work on a promising vaccine that contained a weakened form of the HIV virus. With drug companies reluctant to do expensive research that might be dangerous for human test subjects, he controversially said he would volunteer as a guinea pig. Others in the field followed suit and expressed their willingness, although ultimately the idea stalled.

Still, Farthing, who was unafraid to take outspoken positions, was for a time intent on the idea.

“Someone has to go first,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

And the first injection wouldn’t be the last; to see if it worked, it would have had to be followed years later by shots of the virus in a stronger form.

“Years ago, people took risks,” Farthing said. “Now, it’s as if medical research can’t expose anyone to any risk. That’s why this research is going so slowly. People have to accept some risk.”

In the end, discouraging results from tests of a similar vaccine on monkeys dissuaded even Farthing.

“Based on follow-up data, he believed the vaccine wouldn’t work,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “But the fact that he was willing to take a chance with his own life — when we were still in the era of certain death — showed his commitment, his courage, his willingness to do anything for a breakthrough.”

Research on a vaccine is ongoing, and medications have made the disease far more manageable.

Born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on April 22, 1953, Charles Frank Farthing thought of becoming a priest but was attracted to medicine when he helped treat banged-up rugby players in high school.

“He was a fixture on the sidelines with his little white box,” said his cousin David Williams, who attended the same school and is now a neurobiologist at the University of California, Los Angeles’ Jules Stein Eye Institute.

Farthing received his medical degree from the Dunedin School of Medicine in New Zealand’s Otago province.

Practicing in London at St. Stephen’s Hospital, he helped start one of England’s first AIDS wards in the early 1980s. Several years later, he became head of an AIDS program at New York’s Bellevue Hospital.

In Los Angeles, he was a key figure in the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which describes itself as the largest non-governmental AIDS organization in the world.

“He was to a large degree responsible for building our medical program,” Weinstein said.

“He recruited, mentored and trained many doctors. He helped build a medical structure that continues to this day and now covers the globe.”

Farthing’s survivors include his partner, Dougie Lui, and his brother Bruce.

AFP Photo/Manjunath Kiran

Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist’s Anti-Gay Preacher, Dies At 84

Fred Phelps, Westboro Baptist’s Anti-Gay Preacher, Dies At 84

By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

Fred Phelps, a publicity-hungry Kansas pastor who picketed hundreds of military funerals because he believed America was too sympathetic to gays, died early Thursday in Topeka, Kansas. He was 84.

His daughter, Margie Phelps, confirmed his death to the Associated Press but did not give the cause.

With his small Topeka congregation, Phelps also demonstrated at funerals and memorials for Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, former Mormon leader Gordon B. Hinckley and heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio — any observance, regardless of any connection to gay issues, where cameras might be rolling.

Convinced that the deaths of U.S. soldiers were divine retribution for the nation’s increasing acceptance of homosexuality, Phelps and his followers carried signs like: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers” and “God Hates the USA/Thank God for 9/11.” A disbarred attorney, Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church were sued numerous times but won a landmark freedom of speech case in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Despite its name, his church is unaffiliated with any denomination. Its Web address, more reflective of its founder’s theology, contains an anti-gay slur. The congregation is heavily composed of his relatives, including many of his 13 children and 54 grandchildren.

Two of his estranged sons, Nate and Mark, have said that Phelps’ clan “excommunicated” him last year. The church declined to comment.

Phelps came to national attention in 1998 leading anti-gay pickets at the Casper, Wyoming, funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay 21-year-old who had been lashed to a fence post and beaten to death. Five years after the funeral, Phelps returned to Casper with plans to erect a granite monument inscribed: “Matthew Shepard Entered Hell Oct. 12, 1998.”

Phelps was denounced by many conservative Christian leaders, including the Rev. Jerry Falwell, who called him a “hatemonger” and “emotionally unbalanced.”

Phelps jubilantly acknowledged spreading the message of hate.

“He’s saying I preach hate? You can’t preach the Bible without preaching hate!” Phelps told the Los Angeles Times in 1999.

“Looky here, the hatred of God is an attribute of the Almighty,” he said. “It means he’s determined to punish the wicked for their sins!”

An attorney for many years, Phelps handled civil rights cases in Kansas and elsewhere in the Midwest. In Topeka, he worked on behalf of black students claiming school discrimination and black bar patrons who accused police of abusive tactics during a 1979 drug raid. In 1987, he was honored by the Bonner Springs, Kansas, branch of the NAACP for his “steely determination for justice during his tenure as a civil rights attorney.”

Privately, however, he was intensely prejudiced against African Americans, his estranged son Nate Phelps told the Telegraph, a British newspaper, in 2013. When Coretta Scott King died in 2006, Phelps picketed her funeral, condemning civil rights leaders for “giving away the movement” to homosexuals.

Phelps’ funeral protests were intensely contested in court. In 2006, Phelps and six of his followers picketed a funeral for Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, a Marine killed in Iraq. Considering the case in 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that such demonstrations, no matter how odious, were legal as long as protesters obeyed state and local laws setting a minimum distance between themselves and mourners.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote that the nation’s commitment to free speech is not a license for “vicious verbal assault.”

Eleven of Phelps’ children are said to be attorneys, including Margie Phelps, who represented the church before the Supreme Court.

Born in Meridian, Mississippi, on Nov. 13, 1929, Phelps was the son of a railroad detective. An Eagle Scout, he was bound for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point when he attended a revival meeting and felt a calling to preach. In 1947, he was ordained a Southern Baptist minister.

He graduated from John Muir College in Pasadena, a forerunner of Pasadena City College, where he led a 1951 campaign against “promiscuous petting” and “evil language.” He also attended Arizona Bible Institute, where he met his wife, Margie Simms, whom he married in 1952.

In 1964, he received a law degree from Washburn University in Topeka. He was disbarred by Kansas in 1979 after suing a court reporter, bullying her on the witness stand and calling her a “slut.” Ten years later, after federal judges complained that he had made false accusations against them, he agreed to stop practicing in federal courts.

For Phelps and his followers, public condemnation by powerful opponents was a healthy sign; it proved that the voices of Westboro Baptist Church were the only righteous ones in a world clamoring with sinners.

When the BBC released a 2007 documentary about the Phelps clan called “The Most Hated Family in America,” Fred’s daughter Shirley saw only one failing, according to the Telegraph: “She wished it had been called ‘The Most Hated Family in the World.’’’

AFP Photo/Kimihiro Hoshino