TERRE HAUTE —
Every late December, as I comb through lists of notable deaths, I swear I will never repeat the process. It takes days of Internet research, mostly because I get distracted by looking up people about whom I know nothing. Wikipedia’s massive list is especially distracting (“Oct. 26 — Ricardo Montez, 87, Gibraltarian character actor”). But every year, I do the same thing.
This year’s roundup may be the most eclectic of all. We begin with the film industry.
Director Blake Edwards (Dec. 15, age 88) was lauded for his “Pink Panther” movies and other comedies, but two of his very serious films are my favorites: “Experiment in Terror” and “The Days of Wine and Roses.” Both were released in 1962, both were shot in San Francisco. The former was a police thriller and features one of the great cinematic chase scenes ever — through a sold-out, post-game Giants-Dodgers crowd at Candlestick Park. The latter may be the best film ever made about alcoholism. Heartbreaking and gritty, it holds up 48 years later and stars Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon, both of whom were nominated for Oscars.
Most people read about director Arthur Penn dying this year, but I salute his frequent film editor, Dede Allen (April 17 at 86), who did her magic on some major pictures, including Penn’s “Bonnie and Clyde” and “Serpico,” as well as “The Hustler,” “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Reds,” “Slaughterhouse Five” and “Breakfast Club,” among others.
A tip of the hat, too, to producer Dino De Laurentiis (Oct. 10 at 91), not just for films such as “The Shootist” or “Blue Velvet,” but for his early production of two Fellini masterworks, “La Strada,” and the great “Nights of Cabiria.”
In sports, baseball seemed to lose hundreds of human institutions, not least of whom was pitcher Bob Feller (Dec. 15 at 92). He spent his career (18 years) with Cleveland, threw three no-hitters (one on opening day), led the American League six seasons in wins and seven times in strikeouts. He set a modern record of 18 consecutive strikeouts (vs. Detroit, Oct. 2, 1938), never played a day in the minors, but signed for $1 and an autographed baseball.
Equally amazing in his field was George Blanda (Sept. 27 at 83), who played for a record 26 seasons, as both quarterback and kicker. He signed with the Bears in 1949 and went on to play for the Houston Oilers and Oakland Raiders with perhaps his most memorable season being his 21st. In his last game, at age 48, he kicked a 41-yard field goal in the Raiders’ loss to Pittsburgh.
Untouched among sports legends, however, was Indiana’s own John Wooden (June 2 at 99). He left Indiana State and Purdue universities richer, struck basketball gold at UCLA (10 NCAA championships in 12 years, 88 consecutive wins — still a record for men’s teams) and inspired hundreds of thousands with his character-building “Pyramid for Success.”
In non-classical music, jazz and soul were hit hard. Just a few of the extinguished lights:
Trombonist Buddy Morrow (Sept. 27 at 91), who led the Dorsey Orchestra until three days before he died and cemented his name in jazz band history with the sexy 1953 hit, “Night Train.” Mimi Perrin (Nov. 16 at 84) learned vocal harmonizing from the unique Blossom Dearie in 1950s France, worked with Dizzy, Quincy and Ray Charles, soloed on Coltrane’s “Naima,” then reinvented herself as a successful translator of fiction from English to French.
Saxman, bandleader, composer Sir John Dankworth (Feb. 2 at 82) left his partner in life and in jazz, Dame Cleo Laine, and millions of fans who followed the improvisational pair for nearly five decades. Guitarist Herb Ellis (March 28 at 88) enjoyed a long career and the distinction of being part of one of the most wonderful jazz trios in the world with Oscar Peterson and Ray Brown.
Composer George David Weiss (Aug. 23 at 89) created songs for Broadway, Tin Pan Alley and the movies, among them “Lullaby of Birdland” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” the Elvis hit that’s still the first-dance choice of many brides and grooms. Weiss also scored one of my all-time, guilty-secret, favorite films, “Gidget Goes to Rome.”
Bass guitarist Marvin Isley (June 6 at 56), who anchored the Isley Brothers’ immortal “Shout! (Part 1),” bowed out, along with Al Goodman (July 27 at 67) of Ray, Goodman and Brown. Think, “Love on a Two-Way Street” and the smooth, a cappella hit of the late 1970s, “Special Lady.”
Two incomparable photographers of jazz and rock musicians also passed in 2010. The priceless negatives of Herman Leonard (Aug. 14 at 87) survived Hurricane Katrina, preserving for us his 1940s, ’50s and ’60s portraits of Duke, Billie, Miles, et al. So, too, the X-ray vision of Jim Marshall (March 24 at 74) survived the photographer’s full-throttle lifestyle and will keep rock icons Janice, Jimi and Dylan ever-young and alive.
Classical music, especially opera, suffered some mighty losses — from conductor Sir Charles Mackerras (July 14 at 84) to composer Boris Tischenko (Dec. 9 at 71) to mezzo-soprano Blanche Thebom (March 23 at 94) to German tenor Peter Hofmann (Nov. 30 at 66). Italian baritone Giuseppe Taddei (June 2 at 93) debuted in 1936 and sang into the 1990s, racking up a discography of more than 60 operas. Mezzo-soprano and soprano Shirley Verrett (Nov. 5 at 79) sang memorable Carmens, Dalilas and Toscas and overcame the kind of 1960s racism that prompted the Houston Symphony to reject her as a soloist despite being the personal choice of conductor Leopold Stowkowski.
The largest opera star to disappear in 2010 was coloratura soprano Dame Joan Sutherland (Oct. 10 at 83), dubbed “La Stupenda” by audiences after her 1960 debut in Venice, Italy. A big-boned gal from Australia, Sutherland and her conductor-husband, Richard Bonynge, brought into vogue again the singing style of bel canto and introduced to the world a singular young Italian tenor named Luciano Pavarotti. They simply do not make them like Sutherland anymore.
One last classical (and vocal) note to mark the passing of Polish composer Henryk Gorecki (Nov. 12 at 76), who created dozens of works, but none that resonated as deeply as his Third Symphony, “The Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.” With sung libretto based on real texts from the 15th century, a Holocaust jail cell and a mother’s writings as she searched for her missing soldier-son, the Third Symphony has sold more than 1 million copies since its release in 1992, thanks in large part to the searing but tender voice of soprano Dawn Upshaw.
I always try to include a WW II flying ace (five or more in-air shoot-downs) in my annual salute, and this year it is Bud Mahurin (May 11 at 91). A P-47 pilot for the then-U.S. Air Forces, he was credited with 20.75 victories in Europe — where he was shot down, then rescued by the French resistance — and in the Pacific theater. The only U.S.A.F. pilot to do so, Mahurin also scored 3.5 kills from his F-86 during the Korean “conflict.” He was brought down there, too, taken as a prisoner of war, tortured and brainwashed and — like many such U.S. troops — made a false confession that would haunt him for the rest of his life. The local angle: Before he enlisted, Mahurin studied engineering at Purdue.
On the inspiring citizens front:
Wilma Mankiller (June 6 at 64) was the first woman to serve as Chief of the Cherokee Nation. Activist, teacher, wife, mother, she fought off everything from sexism to cancer — and her surname really was Mankiller.
Take architect Bruce Graham (March 6 at 84) out of the picture, and the Chicago skyline looks less commanding, minus the John Hancock Center and the former Sears (now Willis) Tower.
Newsman Edwin Newman (Aug. 13 at 91) went from print to radio to TV, classing up NBC’s coverage for 23 years and urging all of us to speak and write correctly in several books, including “Strictly Speaking: Will America Be the Death of English?”
Before Dr. Robert Neil Butler (July 4 at 83), U.S. society didn’t much know or care about its elderly’s quality of life. He coined “ageism,” and founded the National Institute on Aging, and won a Pulitzer with “Why Survive? Being Old in America.”
I close with a man Wikipedia pegs as a “humorist, historian, sports writer and author.” That would have pleased Ron Fimrite (April 30 at 79) to a fair degree. The closest thing I have to an ex-husband, Ron taught me more about good writing and reporting during his many years at Sports Illustrated than probably any journalist I have ever known. He also introduced me to his beloved San Francisco, which prompted me to move across the country and live there for 29 years — five of them with him.
Our friendship survived our breakup, and I was honored to be among the people who sat near his side during his last days. He was a melancholy poet hiding behind a bon vivant’s jovial smile. My life is immensely richer for having crossed his path.
Stephanie Salter can be reached at (812) 231-4229 or email@example.com.