There’s a sad tradition of looking back at the end of the year to see the toll that time has taken of our friends and heroes. We may never had met some of those we most admired, may never have stood in the same place with them. But we shared time with them. Shared an era. Some of them not only shared our time, but helped to shape it, and 2009 is the last year we hold in common.
So here, as last year, is an eclectic gathering of just a few of those we lost during the last twelve months. I invite you to add other names and stories to the list.
When you think of baseball, Billy Werber may not be the first name that comes to your mind. For three seasons in the 1930s, he lead the league in stolen bases, but with a .271 career batting average and only 78 home runs spaced across 11 seasons, he wasn’t exactly an offensive powerhouse. But if Werber wasn’t that famous, he shared both time and space with someone who was. Werber was the last living teammate of Babe Ruth. He was also Ruth’s last living opponent.
Who was so cool that he not only turned down the chance to be The Saint, but passed on the chance to say “Bond, James Bond”? It was Secret Agent man, Patrick McGoohan. McGoohan was born in Queens, New York City, but he cemented his position as an international icon when, during the 4th season of Secret Agent (Danger Man in the UK) McGoohan created a new series which he produced, wrote, directed and starred in. More than forty years later, fans are still puzzling out all the messages of The Prisoner (and trying to avoid the remake).
You may still have leftover holiday ham today, but sooner or later you’ll grab another hot dog, and when you do, thank Alan Geisler for the red onion sauce he invented.
Rabbit came to rest in 1990, but it took nearly two decades more before Rabbit’s creator put down his pen. Multiple Pulitzer winner, John Updike, wrote about characters in crisis — ordinary Americans caught in hard spots. He did it with prose that celebrated directness and plots that were as whimsical as Estwick, as ordinary as those surrounding Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, and as familiar as our own lives.
Mr. Rogers kept an Andrew Wyeth painting next to the door of his home, visible in every episode of his show. What higher endorsement can there be?
In these days of CSI and Bones, it’s easy to forget where the character of the forensic scientist appeared on American TV. But there would have been far fewer chances to say “Book’em, Danno” if Che Fong, played by actor Harry Endo had not been there with all the answers.
Figure eight is double four. Figure four is half of eight. If you skate, you would be great. If you could make a figure eight. And if you sing, you would be great if you could achieve the crystal purity of singer Blossom Dearie. Dearie was a well-known jazz artist since the 1940s, but for a generation of Americans, she’ll be remembered as the voice of “Mother Necessity” and well as the spokeswoman for “Figure Eight.”
9/11 widow and victim’s advocate Beverly Eckert died in a plane crash only days after meeting with President Obama. And if you’re wondering, that’s not ironic.
And then there were five, after munchkin Clarence Swensen was gone.
It wasn’t just Hollywood script writers who ended up on the black list during the McCarthy era. William Price was one of 35 journalists called before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee in 1955. He refused to invoke the fifth amendment to protect himself. Instead he declared that he was protected by the amendment. He was fired the next day.
You may be wondering why the “economic indicators” and the conditions you see around you rarely seem in alignment. But you won’t be able to ask Raymond Saulnier who devised the indicators while at the National Bureau of Economic Research during the Eisenhower administration.
Robley Rex was my distant relative (you’ll have to excuse me for not being able to follow the combination of X-removed and Nth-degree of cousinhood). On his death, Frank Buckles became the last surviving World War I veteran from the United States.
If your Chatty Cathy is ailing, you may need to count on home remedies. Irving Chais, owner of the New York Doll Hospital, is no longer available.
His stories ranged from the painfully realistic recollections of his childhood internment in a Japanese prison camp, to jungles made of glass and future worlds were songs compose themselves. Whatever the venue J. G. Ballard fixed his subjects with searing insight and unflinching clarity.
If you wandered away from the Big Two during the 2004 election season, you might have been enticed to vote for the Personal Choice Party, especially if you had fond teenage memories of the vice-presidential candidate and, um, multi-talented former “Ivory soap girl” Marilyn Chambers.
Everyone remembers Gygax, but if you’ve ever rolled a 20-sided die, you owe equal thanks to Dave Arneson who was the co-creator of Dungeons & Dragons and the originator of many of the basics behind every RPG that followed.
In 1993, George Tiller was shot in both arms. He did not let this stop him from returning to work and helping women caught in the most difficult of circumstances. He continued in his work despite daily harassment. He continued in his work despite being labeled a “baby killer” no less than 28 times by Bill O’Reilly. He continued despite lies told about him by O’Reilly and others. He continued until an anti-abortion activist entered the church where he was attending worship, and shot George Tiller through the eye at close range.
It’s easy to think of a nun as someone who has stepped away from society, but Carol Anne O’Marie not only ran a shelter for homeless women, she was the author of 10 mystery novels — novels that featured an elderly nun who solves crimes.
If you visit the site of one of America’s great shames, the Manzanar Internment Camp, you can see the desk and typewriter of Togo Tanaka on display. It was at this desk that Tanaka reported on the often ugly conditions inside the camp from the perspective of the people being held there. His work to document what went on at Manzanar made him a target for both the government and his fellow internees.
When Robert Furchgott worked out the factors in endothelial cells that causes blood vessels to relax, he received a Nobel Prize. He didn’t receive any payment from the most famous product of his work — Viagra.
Not only did Wayne Allwine provide the voice of Mickey Mouse for more than 30 years, he was married to the woman who provides the voice for Minnie Mouse.
At 6′7″ former football player Rodger McFarlane didn’t fit the stereotype of a gay man. Starting as a volunteer, he became the first director of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and helped organize many programs in the fight against AIDS.
At a time when America appears to show disdain for international law, it’s worth remembering “the George Washington of modern international law” Henry King. A U.S. Prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials, King continued to work on a legal approach to war crimes for decades. It was at his insistence that the International Criminal Court added starting a war as a war crime.
If you were an African-American reader of romance novels before 1980, the number of books available where the couples were African-American was more than limited, it was nonexistent. Elsie Washington changed that with her novel Entwined Destines.
Martha Mason was only 11 years old when polio forced her into an iron lung. She would remain in the device for the next 60 years. Despite this, she graduated first in her class at Wake Forest, worked as a reporter for her local newspaper, and in 2003 wrote a book about her life.
Whether it was giving voice to numerous characters in animated films, or providing animated comic relief for partners ranging from Burt Reynolds to Dean Martin, Dom Deluise was sure to bring a smile.
The supply-side economics that Jack Kemp championed helped set up decades in which the wages of average Americans stagnated and those at the top benefited. But Kemp’s example in looking at the issues of racism and immigration provide lessons that many Republicans, and some Democrats, should take to heart.
“The Straight Shooter” Joe Bowman performed his amazing feats of marksmanship for rodeo fans, gun show goers, police SWAT teams, FBI agents, NASA astronauts, film stars, and foreign dignitaries.
You’re going to have to come up with a better pitch, because Billy Mays is unavailable to move your product.
By last spring, the face (among other things) that launched a million wall posters was indelibly marked by the long, hard and public struggle with cancer, but Farah Fawcett continued the fight to the end. When Farrah and her fellow Angels appeared on television in 1976, it was easy to dismiss the characters as high-kicking models who often found themselves in scenarios that involved limited clothing. But they were also tough, clever, and constantly outsmarting the men who underestimated them. Farrah went on to show that she had real acting chops to go with the no-so-real karate chops.
If there was any departure in 2009 that both shocked and generated discussion, it was that of the “King of Pop” Michael Jackson. Jackson was… immensely talented.
America’s best-known sidekick had some tough times in his final years, but for many of us Ed McMahon will always be the jovial presence at the edge of the scene, helping to make both host and guests comfortable with a few well-timed words and a booming laugh.
100% of respondents note that Alec Gallup, chairman of the Gallup Poll and son of the founder, handed off his duties this year.
When cruise ships ferry “explorers” to Antarctica with regularity, it’s easy to forget that once Edith Ronne was the only American woman who had ever been there.
There was a period of little to no sunspot activity lasting from around 1645 to 1715. The relationship between low solar activity and the climate is still open to question, but it’s a sure thing that Jack Eddy put the data together and named the Maunder Minimum.
If that Farah poster generated nostalgia, then David Carradine, despite roles in over 100 films, is probably forever wandering the west as Kwai Chang Caine. If not, just let Black Mamba know that no one needs to kill Bill.
David Eddings had a theory about how to create a fantasy novels, an approach that some thought made his work formulaic. To investigate you might want to read just a couple of his novels. Or maybe a couple more. And a couple more after that, and…
The way the civil rights movement would bring the GOP to power in the South might have been surprising to some politicians, but not to G. Alexander Heard an adviser to both JFK and LBJ, who predicted the change in 1952.
Sure, winning that hundred-yard dash at the Olympics may be tough, but it’s equally tough to set world records the way Waldo McBurney did it — by outliving all competition in his age group. The multiple world record holder in the 100+ category was 106 when he died this year.
Here’s a confession: as a teenager, I wasn’t watching those Marilyn Chambers films, I was reading books by John Keel. Whether it was the inter dimensional beings of Strange Creatures From Time and Space or the unmatched weirdness of The Mothman Prophecies no one sold a UFO conspiracy like Keel.
If you see a wiener-mobile roll past draped in black, it’s because Oscar Mayer, jr. has gone.
No matter how momentous the events, their effect is limited without someone to tell the story. William Emerson was a southerner who understood the southern mindset, and was able to out-talk, out-joke, and out-bluster everyone in range while reporting the often painful and occasionally joyous truth of what was happening in America.
An important chapter in our history has come to an end. Our country has lost a great leader, who picked up the torch of his fallen brothers and became the greatest United States Senator of our time.
If you love the gentle piano work in the background of Brige over Troubled Water that’s the work of Larry Knechtel, who also performed on tracks for Elvis, the Beach Boys, and Bread.
Both science fiction readers and science fiction writers have long been grateful to Donald Grant, who took a chance on books that didn’t always seem commercial and produced volumes of exceptional quality.
Sometimes August is the cruelest month. Not only Ted but Eunice Kennedy Shriver left us in August. Founder of what would become the Special Olympics and one of the founders of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, she was every bit a Kennedy.
Need an expert on the dulcimer? What about the autoharp, banjo, fiddle, mandolin, and guitar? Mike Seeger played them all, and did so beautifully — but never so well as when he joined his family in the New Lost City Ramblers.
The popular princess, the jock, the rebel from a troubled background, the nerd, and the girl sunk into despair. Why are they all hanging around the school together? Because John Hughes wrote them that way on his way to defining the teenage years of a generation.
Budd Schulberg might not have written about teen angst, but with a few little films like On the Waterfront and A Face in the Crowd to his credit, I suppose he can be forgiven.
For proof that you can think that someone is wrong on almost every point, and still find them witty and entertaining, you don’t have to look any further than William Safire. Or should that be “farther”? Without Bill, we may never be sure. Why don’t more conservatives harness the kind of arguments that Safire used to promote his positions? Because none of them has half the intelligence or one tenth the oratorical firepower.
For decades, the source of the best Hollywood inside info wasn’t a web site or even the tabloids. It was Armand “Army” Archerd.
Don’t remember Milton Supman? How about comedian, host, and perennial game-show guest Soupy Sales?
If the theme songs for the Addam’s Family and Green Acres are still stuck in your head after four decades, you can thank composer Vic Mizzy for these and many more.
This was a bad year for Navajo Code Talkers with at least five of their few remaining members being lost over the course of the summer.
Lester Shubin served in the Army during World War II, which might have been his inspiration in creating the Kevlar vest.
Her list of friends reads like a who’s-who of civil rights, so it’s no surprise that 107-year old Ann Nixon Cooper was featured in President Obama’s speech on election night 2008.
I liked Brittany Murphy darn it. The girl did sassy really well.
If there’s a middle school student (or science teacher) in your home then you’re probably familiar with (and fond of) the characters from Beakman’s World. There’s no actor in a rat suit I’ll miss more than Mark Ritts who played “Lester” on the show — probably not what a guy with an lit degree from Harvard expected to do with his life.
If you passed Andy Hallet in the street, you might not recognize him. In his best-known role, Hallet played the green singing-dancing demon “Lorne” on Angel.
The Clamshell Alliance is one of those names that rings few bells today, but when Guy Chichester help found the group in opposition to the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant, it helped to kick off a new generation of environmental activism.
As always, this is a hugely incomplete list filled more with names that caught my eye than with those who were most important to the world — or to you. I encourage you to add more.