Entries from December 2007 ↓

Goodbye to 2007

As I like to do at the end of every year, here are some of the people we said goodbye to in 2007. (With great appreciation to the New York Times for the comprehensive list.)

 

January

Vincent Sardi Jr., 91, famed Broadway restaurateur, owner of the landmark theater district hangout bearing his name.

Yvonne De Carlo, 84, played Lily on “The Munsters.”

Carlo Ponti, 94, film producer.

Alice Coltrane, 69, jazz pianist, spiritual leader and wife of John Coltrane.

Michael Brecker, 57, prolific jazz saxophonist.

Art Buchwald, 81, newspaper humorist.

Denny Doherty, 66, Mamas and Papas singer.

E. Howard Hunt, 88, agent who organized Watergate break-in during the Nixon administration.

Father Robert Drinan, 86, anti-war Congressman.

 

February

Molly Ivins, 62, Texas political columnist.

Sidney Sheldon, 89, stage and screenwriter, author of steamy novels, producer of “I Dream of Jeannie.”

Barbara McNair, 72, actress, singer and television personality.

Anna Nicole Smith, 39, famous for being famous.

Hank Bauer, 84, World Series star.

Ray Evans, 92, lyricist of hit songs from movies.

Joseph E. Gallo, 87, winemaker who left the family empire to build his own cheese business.

Dennis Johnson, 52, N.B.A. defensive wizard who played 14 seasons with three teams and took two to championships.

 

March

Arthur Schlesinger, 89, historian of power.

Thomas F. Eagleton, 77, George McGovern’s running mate for 18 days.

Betty Hutton, 86, film star of ’40s and ’50s.

Ernie Ladd, 68, hall of famer in football and pro wrestling.

Bowie Kuhn, 80, former baseball commissioner, during the onset of the free agent era.

Calvert DeForest, 85, Larry (Bud) Melman on “Letterman.”

 

April

Eddie Robinson, 88, legendary head football coach at Grambling for more than 55 years.

Barry Nelson, 86, Broadway and film actor.

Roscoe Lee Browne, 81, actor of stage and screen.

Kurt Vonnegut, 84, novelist who caught the imagination of his age.

Don Ho, 76, entertainer who defined the Hawaiian image.

Kitty Carlisle Hart, 96, actress, singer and arts advocate.

David Halberstam, 73, Vietnam reporter and author.

Boris N. Yeltsin, 76, first freely elected leader of Russia.

Jack Valenti, 85, confidant to presidents Kennedy and Johnson and head of the Motion Picture Association of America.

 

May

Tom Poston, 85, comic actor on stage, screen and television, famous for work on “The Steve Allen Show” and “Newhart.”

Tommy Newsom, 78, jazz saxophonist and arranger, member of Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” orchestra.

Walter M. Schirra Jr., 84, one of the Original 7 Mercury astronauts.

Jerry Falwell, 73, mixed religion and conservative politics.

Charles Nelson Reilly, 76, Tony-winning comic actor, later known for appearing on popular tv game shows. One of the first openly gay performers to grace the airwaves.

 

June

Clete Boyer, 70, Yankee third baseman on five consecutive pennant winning teams in the 1960’s.

Jim Clark, 84, segregationist sheriff in Selma, Alabama in the 1950’s and ‘60’s who violently defended Jim Crow laws.

Don Herbert, 89, television’s “Mr. Wizard” to science buffs.

Kurt Waldheim, 88, former U.N. chief.

Liz Claiborne, 78, designer who founded a fashion empire.

Joel Siegel, 63, longtime ABC movie critic.

 

July

Beverly Sills, 78, opera singer, arts administrator and all-American diva, she made opera accessible to the masses.

Lady Bird Johnson, 94, wife of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who described her as “the brains and money of this family”.

Tammy Faye Bakker, 65, emotive televangelist, who along with husband Jim, was the original host of “The 700 Club”.

Ingmar Bergman, 89, Swedish filmmaker considered one of the greatest directors of all time.

Tom Snyder, 71, pioneer of late-night television.

Bill Walsh, 75, coached the San Francisco 49ers to three Super Bowl Championships and invented the West Coast Offense.

 

August

Merv Griffin, 82, nightclub singer who became a television innovator and producer of “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune”.

Phil Rizzuto, 89, Hall of Fame Yankees shortstop turned broadcaster who spent 53 years with the organization. Beloved by New York sports fans.

Max Roach, 83, master of modern jazz, he reinvented drumming.

Carolyn Goodman, 91, civil rights champion and mother of Andrew Goodman, who along with James Chaney and Michael Schwerner, were murdered by the Ku Klux Klan in Mississippi in 1964..

Michael Deaver, 69, shaped President Ronald Reagan’s image and worked the puppet strings throughout his administration.

Leona Helmsley, 87, hotel queen who gained notoriety for her nasty treatment of employees.

Butch van Breda Kolff, 84, fiery basketball coach.

Richard Jewell, 44, mistakenly accused in the Atlanta Olympic bombing in 1996, the episode would ruin his life.

 

September

Luciano Pavarotti, 71, leading operatic tenor of his generation.

Miyoshi Umeki, 78, first Asian performer to win an Oscar in her first Hollywood film “Sayonara” in 1957.

Jane Wyman, 90, star of film and TV, she was the first wife of President Ronald Reagan.

Joe Zawinul, 75, jazz fusion pioneer.

Marcel Marceau, 84, renowned mime.

 

October

Al Oerter, 71, Olympic discus champion.

George Grizzard, 79, actor noted for performing in the plays of Edward Albee.

Joey Bishop, 89, comedian and television performer, he was the last surviving member of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack.

Adm. William Crowe, 82, led Joint Chiefs of Staff during the Reagan Administration.

Deborah Kerr, 86, actress of Hollywood’s golden age who’s sultry role in the film “From Here to Eternity” changed her on-screen persona.

Robert Goulet, 73, actor and singer, he played Lancelot in the original Broadway production of “Camelot.”

 

November

Paul W. Tibbets Jr., 92, pilot of Enola Gay, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima in the final days of World War II.

Norman Mailer, 84, towering writer with matching ego who burst on the scene in 1948 with the book “The Naked and The Dead.”

Ian Smith, 88, defiant white leader of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) who once proclaimed white rule in Africa would endure 1,000 years.

Sean Taylor, 24, Washington Redskins safety, on his way to a Pro Bowl season before being murdered in his own home by burglars.

Bill Willis, 86, guard with the Cleveland Browns, who helped break the color barrier in pro football in 1946.

Henry J. Hyde, 83, powerful House Republican who led impeachment of Clinton.

Roger B. Smith, 82, led General Motors in turbulent times, subject of Michael Moore’s documentary “Roger & Me”.

Evel Knievel, 69, legendary daredevil and last of a breed of exhibitionists who performed seemingly for the shear thrill of it.

 

December

Ike Turner, 76, R&B singer and former husband of Tina Turner, whose talents as a musician were eclipsed by his reputation as an abusive spouse.

Dan Fogelberg, 56, soft-rock star in the 70s.

Michael Kidd, choreographer for Broadway and Hollywood.

Oscar Peterson, 82, jazz’s piano virtuoso

Benazir Bhutto, 54, former prime minister of Pakistan.

I Hate the Patriots

The game lived up to the hype. It was like a good heavyweight prize fight, with the challenger, the New York Giants, coming out swinging in the early rounds. When Eli Manning threw a 52 yard bomb to Plaxico Burruss on just the game’s second play to set up a 7 yard touchdown pass to Brandon Jacobs five plays later, Giants fans were excited to see this level of intensity for a game that had so little meaning in the standings.

One Patriots’ field goal and a Tom Brady to Randy Moss record tying touchdown pass later and it was 10-7 New England in the second quarter. Then Giants special teams receiver Domenick Hixon returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards to put New York up 14-10. Two Pats field goals made it 21-16 at the half.

As the Philadelphia Eagles and Baltimore Ravens know all too well, you have to play 60 minutes in order to beat New England. The Giants learned this the hard way. Momentum shifted in the second half as the teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter, but the Giants seemed out of synch and Eli Manning, playing above his head in the first half, seemed his usual self again in the second. He was pressured by an aggressive Patriots pass rush, that threw him out of his rhythm, while New England played error-free the rest of the way.

In the end it was a Patriots victory on all judges’ cards, 38-35 to cap a perfect 16-0 record, the first team in 35 years to go undefeated in the regular season.

All week long, so-called sports experts wondered whether the Giants would play their starters, having already made the playoffs and with nothing to gain. But pro football players apparently play for pride. Conceding defeat is not part of a player’s psyche. In the immortal words of former Jets head coach Herman Edwards, “You play to win the game.” While they didn’t win, they did generate some positive momentum heading into next week’s first round match-up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

I’ll give my post-season predictions later in the week.

Saving Face

Yellow Face 

Does the face we show the world represent who we really are? Can we ever show the world another face if others are only willing to see us as we were before? Who gets to decide who is authentic? 

These are but a few of the many questions raised, debated and bandied about in the refreshingly new, highly amusing, yet profoundly introspective play Yellow Face by Tony Award winning playwright David Henry Hwang, recently extended at The Public Theater through January 13.

Hwang takes the unusual approach of placing himself as the central character DHH—played with tremendous wit by actor Hoon Lee–in this semi-autobiographical, partly fictitious, partly factual exploration of the ways in which race and identity from an Asian-American perspective play out in America. The term yellow face, at least in one context, refers to non-Asians putting on makeup to perform roles that could or should have been given to Asian actors, as in the Charlie Chan movie series of the 1930’s and ‘40’s.

Hwang, who exploded onto the theatre scene with 1988 Tony and Drama Desk Award wins for M. Butterfly, cleverly takes us through the period immediately following when he led a group of Asian-American show business professionals in opposition to the casting of a White man, Jonathan Pryce, as a Eurasian in the 1991 Broadway production of Miss Saigon. Hwang was both praised by Asian groups for his outspokenness and vilified by Broadway power brokers for his stance to the point where his activism was affecting his career.

Hwang, as DHH, tries to move on with his life and get back to writing. He creates a new play with Asian characters but when a casting decision puts a White actor mistakenly believed to be Eurasian in the lead role, he jumps through hoops trying to cover up his error or just make it go away. This is where fact and fiction blend together at its entertaining best, lending to some of the cleverest and most amusing scenes of the show.

Marcus (Noah Bean), the White actor, reluctantly goes along at first with the charade of being passed off as Eurasian, but later sees an opportunity to get in touch with his new Asian roots and become a credit to the race, much to the annoyance of DHH. Its theater of the absurd as Marcus becomes the new face of the Asian acting community, rivaling DHH himself in stature.

Weaving another layer of reality into the story, Hwang recounts the United States Senate investigation of Chinese government business transactions with Chinese-American banks the late 1990’s. Hwang’s father Henry Y. Hwang, founded the first Asian-American-owned federally chartered bank in America and his bank was a target of those investigations, although no charges were ever brought against him.

Still this brought no shortage of personal angst and drama to the Hwang family and DHH himself who was at one time a board member of the bank. In the play’s most serious turn, DHH faces off with a NY Times reporter he feels has engaged in a vendetta against his father and the Chinese community in general. Through this scene and those with his father, we glean the true significance of this play and its title.

As DHH explains it, Asians in America are often asked, “Where are you from?” They may be native-born, second or third generation citizens, but upon informing questioners of this, the response is always, “No, where are you really from?” The inference being, no matter how hard they try, they are never accepted as full citizens.

In a five member ensemble supporting cast that expertly assumes several roles, Francis Jue stood out as DHH’s father, as actor B.D. Wong and assorted other scene-stealing characters. Leigh Silverman kept the entire pace lively with crisp direction.

Oscar Peterson 1925 – 2007

Oscar Peterson with Ella Fitzgerald singing “More Than You Know” in 1980.

Obituary
Albums
A High Note

It’s Good to be the Queen

Her Royal Highness Elizabeth II of England has her own YouTube channel.

The Royal Channel, The Official Channel of the British Monarchy, was announced this week as the newest way the Royal Family will communicate with their subjects. After releasing her traditional Christmas speech in the form of a podcast last year, this year, the 81-year-old monarch will post her message both on television and on YouTube.

A spokesman at Buckingham Palace says the Queen has always embraced the use of new technology. In her first Christmas broadcast 50 years ago, she waxed lyrical about the advent of television.

The Queen is to appear at around 1500 GMT on Christmas day, but before then, viewers will be able to watch past messages as well as archive and contemporary footage of Britain’s royal family.