News, notes and follow-ups

Category: entrepreneurs

Elizabeth Taylor: donations and memorial

Publicists for Elizabeth Taylor, who died Wednesday at 79, said a memorial service will be announced later, after a private family funeral this week.

Her family has requested that instead of flowers contributions can be made to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, c/o Derrick Lee, Reback Lee & Co., Inc., 12400 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1275, Los Angeles, CA 90025, or online at

Personal messages can be posted on a Facebook tribute page.

--Elaine Woo


One year ago: Fess Parker, TV's Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone

FesIf you grew up in the United States in the 1950s or '60s and watched television, you probably remember Fess Parker, the 6-foot-6 actor who first played Davy Crockett and then Daniel Boone for chief Imagineer Walt Disney. And you might have demanded your own own coonskin cap. Many kids did.

When Parker died one year ago at age 85, Times staff writer Dennis McLellan reminded readers in the obituary that Disney's Davy Crockett character became a marketer's dream:

[Ten] million coonskin caps reportedly were sold, along with toy 'Old Betsy' rifles, buckskin shirts, T-shirts, coloring books, guitars, bath towels, bedspreads, wallets -- anything with the Crockett name attached.Viewers also fell in love with the show's catchy theme song. Bill Hayes' version of 'The Ballad of Davy Crockett' soared to No. 1 on the hit parade and remained there for 13 weeks.

It was a pop-culture phenomenon. As essayist Neal Gabler put it in The Times: "Before Elvis Presley, Beatlemania, 'The Simpsons,' 'SpongeBob SquarePants,' there was Davy Crockett."

After his acting career, Parker became known for his upscale hotels and winery in Santa Barbara County. Although Parker is gone, you can still visit the winery, where you can not only sample wine but also purchase a coonskin cap.


Photos: Fess Parker, 1924-2010

Saddle up at Fess Parker Winery

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Fess Parker as Davy Crockett. Credit: Associated Press / Walt Disney Co.

Kenneth Olsen, computer pioneer who co-founded Digital Equipment Corp., dies at 84

Olsen Kenneth Olsen, a computer industry pioneer and co-founder of Digital Equipment Corp., died Sunday. He was 84.

His death was announced by Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., where he was a trustee and benefactor. The college did not release a cause of death.

DEC, which Olsen launched in 1957, is considered an icon in technology circles today. The company attracted top engineers and helped usher in a technology revolution that changed the way people interact with computers.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Digital played a central role in creating a market for "minicomputers," powerful, refrigerator-sized machines that appealed to scientists, engineers and other number-crunchers who did not need the bigger, multimillion-dollar mainframes used by large corporations. At its peak in the 1980s, DEC was the second-largest computer maker behind IBM.

"In the heady days of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, it's too easy to forget that it was Ken Olsen's vision of interactivity that took computing away from the centralized mainframe and into the hands of the people," said Gordon Bell, who joined DEC in 1960 and headed the company's engineering operations for more than 20 years.

Ultimately, DEC lost its way in the Internet-era transformations of the technology industry, which shrank computers down to pocket-sized gadgets that people carry wherever they go. And Olsen is still remembered for his 1977 prediction: "There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." He later insisted the quote was taken out of context and that he simply meant he could not envision a day when computers would run people's lives.

Born in Bridgeport, Conn., Olsen grew up in the neighboring town of Stratford. His father designed machine tools and Olsen and his brothers spent hours tinkering with gadgets in the family basement. After being drafted during World War II, Olsen attended the Navy's electronics school, where he learned how to maintain radar, sonar and navigation systems. He went on to earn undergraduate and master's degrees in engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

At MIT, Olsen worked in the university's Lincoln Laboratory, a federally funded research center created in 1951 to develop technology to improve the nation's air-defense system. That technology, powered by MIT's advanced Whirlwind computers, grew into the Air Force's Semi-Automatic Ground Environment defense system, which was used to track and intercept enemy aircraft. One of Olsen's roles at Lincoln Laboratory was to serve as a liaison with IBM, a major contractor on the project. Olsen also worked on Lincoln Lab's TX-2 computer, which helped break new ground in computer-aided drafting.

In 1957, Olsen teamed with MIT colleague Harlan Anderson to start Digital Equipment Corp. with $70,000 from American Research and Development, an early venture-capital firm. The company was headquartered in an old wool mill in Maynard, Mass.

DEC named its first computer the PDP-1, for Programmed Data Processor. But it was the PDP-8, which was introduced in 1965 and became a building block for computer systems made by other companies, that really established minicomputers as a major new industry.

DEC's innovative machines helped bring computers out from glass-enclosed rooms inside big corporations, where they were operated by men in white lab coats, and made them accessible to small and medium-sized operations and even individual users.

"The computers we built were of a cost and size that they brought computing down a level," said Bell, now a principal researcher in Microsoft Corp.’s Silicon Valley Research Group.

DEC computers also trained and influenced many key players in the technology industry. Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen used the PDP-10 to create the first version of the BASIC programming language for a personal computer. And Dave Cutler, who developed several key operating systems for DEC, went on to develop the Windows NT and Azure operating systems for Microsoft.

In 1986, Fortune magazine called Olsen "America's most successful entrepreneur." By the late 1980s, DEC had more than 120,000 employees worldwide. Sales peaked at $14 billion in 1992.

Digital's fortunes began to decline shortly after that '92 peak. The company was late to recognize the growing popularity of smaller personal computers and desktop workstations for business use. DEC also resisted the market's shift away from proprietary technology to open systems, including PCs powered by Intel microprocessors and generic servers running UNIX software.

-- Associated Press

Photo: Kenneth Olsen in 1992. Credit: Associated Press


Prunella Stack, British fitness promoter, dies at 96

Prunella Stack, an early and enthusiastic promoter of physical fitness for women and hailed as Britain's "perfect girl," has died. She was 96.

Stack died at her home in London on Thursday, her family said. The cause of death was not announced.

Stack was 20 when she took over leadership of the Women's League of Health and Beauty, now known as the Fitness League, after the death of her mother, Mary Bagot Stack, the league's founder.

Part of a wider European movement that promoted exercise for women and staged massive demonstrations of movement, it grew rapidly under her leadership and expanded into Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Hong Kong.

Stack had been a fitness model since the age of 13 and newspapers called her "the perfect girl."

"Brought up as a health and beauty goddess, I was not used to a lack of homage," Stack wrote in her 1973 memoir, "Movement is Life."

Recruiting league members for a public display in London in 1935, Stack declared that she wanted "the youngest, and the oldest, fattest and thinnest, most elementary and most veteran, marching side by side.

"Cut out feelings of shyness of self-consciousness," she exhorted. "They are selfish, fundamentally, and unnecessary."

-- Associated Press

One year ago: Waldo Hunt

Pop-up-guru Pop-up cards and books became a modern mainstream hit because of the passion for paper art that possessed Waldo Hunt, an entrepreneur and movable-book collector who spent much of his career in Los Angeles. Hunt died one year ago in Porterville, Calif., at age 88.

Hunt ushered in the modern renaissance in pop-up books when he revived the art form in the U.S. in the 1960s with his firms Graphics International, which was eventually bought by Hallmark and Intervisual Books.

For decades, his team of master paper engineers dominated the market for pop-up, boasting large clients such as Random House and Disney.

In addition to his career, Hunt also amassed at least 4,000 antique and contemporary movable-book titles. He gave about 500 antique pop-ups to UCLA before deciding to showcase them in the Waldo Hunt Children's Museum, opened in 1994 within his Santa Monica offices.

"Wally was a truly gregarious guru," said paper engineer David A. Carter, who worked for Hunt for seven years."He was very, very popular in the European markets. He would get up there and be singing songs. His personality is what really drove it. He was a walking party, and he took care of business too."

For more on the pop-up guru, read Waldo Hunt's obituary by The Times.

Photo: Waldo Hunt displays some of his company's pop-up ads in 1986. Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: Donald G. Fisher


Donald G. Fisher was looking for the right fit. Instead, he found a new career.

Fisher was a real estate developer who switched to retailing at age 41 after he tried to return a pair of ill-fitting jeans at a local department store. He thought the store was a mess and had a limited selection. He could do better.

Fisher and his wife, Doris, started the Gap clothing chain with a single store in San Francisco and built the company into a brand name known around the world. Fisher died a year ago of cancer at age 81.

Their concept featured a broad selection of jeans, neatly arranged by size in wall cubicles, rather than stacked haphazardly on tables.

Fisher's news obituary appeared in The Times on Sept. 28, 2009.

-- Keith Thursby

Photo: Donald G. Fisher in 1991.

One year ago: Gary DiSano

DisanoWhen Gary DiSano joined the Tournament of Roses executive committee in 2002, he knew he might not be able to serve eight years later as tournament president, which is the organization's custom.

DiSano was diagnosed in 1999 with a rare type of thyroid cancer and had his thyroid and hip removed in early 2000.

"I guess you could say I'm an interesting choice," he said in 2002.

DiSano, a longtime volunteer, became president of the Tournament of Roses for the 2010 Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game in January 2009, but died a year ago. He was 62.

"Gary was totally dedicated to our organization," said Jeffrey Throop, who became acting president after DiSano's death. "He loved it. He personally sacrificed to carry out his responsibilities, and he was always supportive of the people he supervised."

For more about DiSano, read his obituary in The Times.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: Gary DiSano in 2009. Credit: Tournament of Roses

James Winner, who marketed the Club, dies at 81 [Updated]

James Winner, who marketed a steering-wheel lock known as the Club after his car was stolen in the 1980s, died Tuesday in a head-on collision in western Pennsylvania. He was 81.

Police said the crash near Clarion, Pa., also took the lives of two people who were in a car that collided with Winner's sport utility vehicle.

Winner International has sold more than 10 million of the anti-theft devices. Winner was also known in western Pennsylvania for his philanthropy and investment in the community.

-- Associated Press

[Updated 4:50 p.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Winner invented the Club.]

One year ago: Stanley Kaplan

Kaplan Test takers, unite in saluting Stanley Kaplan. Yes, he's a real person, not just a name on a test-prep school marquee.

Kaplan, who died one year ago at age 90, started a tutoring business at his family's home in Brooklyn in 1938. He helped his first anxious student prepare for what was then called the Scholastic Aptitude test in 1946. By 1984 he led a national chain of more than 100 locations.

Said Kaplan of his efforts to help students raise the test scores that could help them get into the college of their choice: "In America there's nothing wrong with competition. There's nothing wrong with trying to do the best you can. And that's what I try to help students do."

Read more of the Stanley Kaplan obituary that appeared in The Times.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Stanley Kaplan. Credit: Kaplan Inc.

One year ago: Frank Fertitta Jr.

Frank-fertitta That local casino -- you know, the one with the inexpensive buffet and frequent customer giveaways -- has on it the fingerprints of Frank Fertitta Jr., a bellman turned gaming mogul who pioneered the concept of neighborhood casinos in fast-growing Las Vegas. He died one year ago in Los Angeles.

Fertitta, founder of Station Casinos Inc., opened his first neighborhood casino -- simply named the Casino -- in 1976. The 5,000-square-foot gambling hall, attached to the Mini-Price Motor Inn and a short drive from Las Vegas Boulevard, gave the Strip's dealers and cocktail waitresses their own after-work hangout.

The casino went through many expansions, becoming Bingo Palace in 1977 and Palace Station in 1983. He eventually turned over the business to his sons, who later credited their father for building not only a popular entertainment hub, but also an upbeat work environment for his employees.

"The best thing about him was the culture he started," son Frank Fertitta III told the Review-Journal in 2006. "As the Bingo Palace grew into the Palace Station, people always wanted to come work for him. They liked the work environment, and that's the thing we've tried not to screw up."

Fertitta went on to start another casino, Texas Station, which he sold to his sons' company in 1995. Eventually, Station Casinos was involved in more than a dozen gambling operations, including upscale Green Valley Ranch in Nevada and Thunder Valley Casino near Sacramento.

For more, read Frank Fertitta's obituary by The Times.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Frank Fertitta Jr.: Credit: Craig L. Moran / Las Vegas Review Journal

One year ago: John Houghtaling


The invention by which John Houghtaling made his name was a cultural touchstone for a generation of travelers. Next to the television, it was one of the most pervasive amenities in motels in the 1960s and '70s. What was his claim to fame? The vibrating Magic Fingers bed.

Working in his New Jersey basement, Houghtaling developed a fist-size motor that snapped onto existing box springs, transforming the bed into a "relaxation service," as the Magic Fingers coin machines would advertise. By feeding a quarter into a machine, motel guests could purchase about 15 minutes of shaking, a curious luxury that enticed children and adults alike.

Within a few years of his invention, Houghtaling was selling more than $1 million worth of the devices annually to franchise operators, who installed them in motels on a revenue-sharing basis, according to a 2002 Wall Street Journal article.

The coin machines became a popular target for thieves, however, and the machines fell out of favor. Houghtaling sold the company in the 1980s, and it has changed hands several times. Now, a mail-order company sells a re-engineered model for the home on the Internet.

A song written by Steve Goodman and sung by Jimmy Buffett is a testament to the vibrating bed's prominence in its heyday:

Put in a quarter

Turn out the light

Magic Fingers makes

ya feel alright. . . .

For more on John Houghtaling's life and famous inventions, read his obituary in The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: John Houghtaling in 2007. Credit: Paul J. Milette / Palm Beach (Fla.) Post

One year ago: Norman Brinker

Brinker Norman Brinker had his own vision of fast food. He didn't want to waste any time developing repeat customers.

"You have about 45 minutes to convince the customer to come again; that's your objective," Brinker told the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper in 1991.

Brinker, who died a year ago today at 78, was an innovative restaurateur whose chains included Chili's, Bennigan's and Steak & Ale.

Chief among Brinker's new concepts for eateries was the salad bar, which he popularized at Steak & Ale starting in the late 1960s.

You can find the obituary that ran June 10, 2009, here.

--Keith Thursby

Photo: Norman Brinker at his Dallas home in 2004.

Credit: Associated Press


Recommended on Facebook


In Case You Missed It...

Profiles of military personnel killed in Iraq
and Afghanistan.


Lives in Pictures »

Search Paid Obituaries »

First Name
Last Name
Powered by ©

Yesterday's Obituaries