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Category: theater

One year ago: Trevor Rhone


Trevor Rhone, a leading Caribbean playwright and screenwriter, introduced reggae music and urban Jamaican culture to international audiences with his 1972 film "The Harder They Come."

Rhone, who died one year ago, wrote plays that often used satire to comment on the social conflicts in Jamaica after its independence from Britain in 1962. "The Harder They Come" tells the story of a singer who becomes a hero to the poor after killing a police officer.

Rhone was born a farmer's son in Kingston, Jamaica, and grew up in a rural village, Bellas Gate. In 1959, he left for Britain to attend drama school at Rose Bruford College in Kent. He was frustrated, however, by the lack of parts available to black actors in classical plays, and he returned to Jamaica in the late 1960s.

"My first acting jobs in the professional theater saw me perpetuating negative and stereotyped images of blacks," he added. "My first effort at writing a play was an attempt to find something worthwhile to perform."

His other works include "Smile Orange" (1971), which he wrote into film in 1976, and "School's Out" (1974).

For more, read Rhone's obituary that appeared in The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Trevor Rhone. Credit: William Doyle

Character actor Harold Gould dies at 86


Harold Gould, a veteran character actor who played con man Kid Twist in "The Sting" and Valerie Harper’s father on TV’s "Rhoda" and Betty White’s boyfriend on "The Golden Girls," has died. He was 86.

Gould died of prostate cancer Saturday at the Motion Picture & Television Fund retirement community in Woodland Hills, said Jaime Larkin, a spokeswoman for the fund.

A full obituary will follow at

-- Dennis McLellan

Photo: Harold Gould in 1987. Credit: Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Larry Gelbart

Mash-writer Larry Gelbart, who developed the Korean War comedy "MASH," was called a comedy progidy by some of the very best comedians out there. He died one year ago at his Beverly Hills home.

"Larry Gelbart was among the very best comedy writers ever produced in America," said Mel Brooks, whose friendship with Gelbart dated to when they both wrote for Sid Caesar's comedy-variety show "Caesar's Hour" in the 1950s. Gelbart "had class, he had wit, he had style and grace. He was a marvelous writer who could do more with words than anybody I ever met," Brooks said.

The award-winning Gelbart shared an Emmy for "MASH" in 1974 and shared three Emmy nominations during his time on Caesar's show. He also made a mark on Broadway, co-writing the book for the hit musical "A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum," which won a Tony for best musical.

In his 1998 memoir "Laughing Matters," Gelbart said the challenge of "MASH," which became the work for which he is best known, was being funny without ignoring the human suffering of war.

Gelbart's more than 60-year career began in radio during World War II when he was a 16-year-old student at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles. He made an impression writing for comedy shows, even being allowed to continue that work during a stint in the military.

For more on the comedic genius, read Larry Gelbart's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Larry Gelbart. Credit: Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Ruth Ford

Ruthford Ruth Ford was a Broadway actress who was once a member of Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre and also appeared in numerous films and in television. She died one year ago.

Ford appeared in such plays as William Faulkner's "Requiem for a Nun" (1959), originally a book that she helped the author adapt for the stage. She also acted in "No Exit" (1946), "Miss Julie" and "The Stronger" (1956).

The Mississippi native moved in the 1930s to New York, where she interacted with a community of artists and writers on the Upper West Side. In 1938, she made her debut on Broadway in the Welles-directed revival of "Shoemaker's Holiday."

In 1941 she moved to Hollywood, filling her career with more than two dozen film appearances during the next five years, including playing President Wilson's daughter in "Wilson." Most her roles, however, were in B movies, and in 1946 she returned to New York.

For more on the actress, read Ruth Ford's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Ruth Ford. Credit: 20th Century Fox

Ten years ago: Alec Guinness

image from The year before he died, Sir Alec Guinness bemoaned the "worldwide taste for a fantasy world of secondhand, childish banalities" to which "Star Wars" had given rise. But his role as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi knight, provided Guinness -- an Academy-Award winner from "The Bridge on the River Kwai" -- with a second fame in a sphere literally worlds apart from the (many) stage and screen roles that had established him as "one of the most flexible actors of the last half-century," as his obituary in The Times put it.

Guinness died in England at age 86, on August 5, 2000. By that time his work had been curtailed for 20 years by health problems; he'd already been a famous recluse, anyway: "A dark horse," said fellow actor and friend Laurence Olivier, "and a deep one." He was also a frenetically versatile actor:

. . . by turns a larcenous bank clerk, a bootlegging genius, a sea-commuting bigamist, a buck-toothed fiend, a middle-aged suffragette, a bullying Scots soldier, a steely European cardinal, a garden editor who liked vegetables more than people, an intellectual ant, a coldly determined master spy, the contents of a cannibal stew, a family of eight, a misguided British sovereign, an artistic bum and the spiritual essence of an interstellar knight.

"One hates," he said long ago, "to let oneself get into a rut."

The full obituary has details on Guinness' uncertain personal origins, his three-role stage debut and the film in which he played that family of eight, as well as unfailingly third-person quotes, like this: "One wonders that one was not stoned to death in the street. . . ."

--Michael Owen

Photo: Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi in 1977's "Star Wars." Credit: Associated Press


Alec Guinness, a master of disguise (Feb. 1, 2009)

More of the Rummy and Helen Deese story


Earlier this week The Times ran a news obituary of Rupert "Rummy" Deese, a Claremont studio potter well known in Southern California art circles who died July 12 at 85. Part of what made that story poignant was the fact that his death came only weeks after that of his wife of 59 years, Helen Deese. She died at 84 on June 4, 2 ½ years after she had been diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Rummy had cared for her at their home in Claremont the last few years, and his health deteriorated rapidly after she died.

I had the great fortune to know Helen, who taught English at Mount St. Mary’s College in Los Angeles in the 1980s. I remember her as one of my most enthusiastic professors, someone who genuinely cared about her students and wanted to share her passion for literature. My best memories revolve around her Shakespeare and drama classes because there were field trips galore. She arranged for us to attend as many plays as we could fit into our schedules, mainly at the Mark Taper Forum. And she introduced college students from all over to big-city hangouts like Gorky’s in downtown L.A.

Helen wasn’t just dragging her students to theater productions because it was her job. She really loved the theater. In an interview her daughter, Mary Ann Brow, said that Helen and Rummy trekked every summer to the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego’s Balboa Park. When each of their four children were old enough, they tagged along too. But the kids didn’t just watch the plays. They were required to read the text of the plays first. Then, in the car, on the drive from Claremont to San Diego, Helen led rolling tutorials, discussing with the family what they would be seeing. And if it was Shakespeare, she made sure they understood the inside jokes and bawdy comments. Many teachable moments indeed.

Helen was born Sept. 15, 1925, in San Diego, and was from a Marine family, as Rummy was. He was born on Guam, when his father was stationed there. At some point she lived there too when her father was posted on the island, but it was not at the same time as her husband’s family. She met her future husband in junior high when both of their fathers were stationed at Parris Island in South Carolina.

Helen attended UCLA, where she was an English major, but she left a few credits shy of a degree in 1947 to become a social worker in San Diego. She and Rummy reconnected after she left UCLA, they married in 1951 and they raised four children. She later returned to school and received her bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate in English from UC Riverside.

As she said in a Contemporary Authors biography: "In 1967, when I re-entered the University of California after a twenty-year absence in which I had done my best to promote the baby boom, I was one of the first 're-entries' or 'nontraditional students,' both rather inelegant labels. To my own mind I was then what I think myself to be today--a student, still trying to understand what it's all about. And it--whatever 'it' refers to--seems to be about human achievement in art, about the creating human imagination whether its material is the matter of science or of poetry."

She went on to teach college English, mainly at Mount St. Mary’s College and UC Riverside, and co-edited academic works on Robert Lowell, Wallace Stevens and William Carlos Williams. She retired in 2005.

A joint memorial service for the Deeses is planned for Oct. 2 in Claremont. Another is scheduled for Oct. 4 at Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery in San Diego, where they will be buried.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Helen and Rummy Deese on a summer vacation.

Character actor James Gammon dies at 70

Gammon James Gammon, a versatile character actor who brought to stage and screen his gravelly voice and craggy face, died Friday in Costa Mesa. He was 70 and had cancer.

Gammon may be best known for his role as Lou Brown, manager of the hapless Cleveland Indians in the 1989 comedy "Major League" and its 1994 sequel. He stood out with key roles in many films including "Urban Cowboy," "The Milagro Beanfield War," "Ironweed," "Silverado" and "Cold Mountain."

On television he played the father on "Nash Bridges" from 1996 to 2001, though he was only nine years older than star Don Johnson. He also had roles in such TV series as "Gunsmoke," "The Waltons" and "Bagdad Café."

A co-founding member of the MET Theatre in Hollywood, he received several Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Awards for acting and directing. Gammon played a succession of roles for Sam Shepard and received a Tony nomination for a 1996 production of the playwright's "Buried Child."

A full obituary will follow at

-- Claire Noland

Photo: James Gammon in 1989. Credit: Robert Gabriel / Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Cecil Smith

Cecil-smithCecil Smith, who covered the television and entertainment scene for The Times from the 1950s to the 1980s, brought a kind of sophistication to television reviews that is rarely seen today. He died one year ago.

Smith advocated for literate, high-quality television while the medium was still young. He was called a "giant in the business" by his successor, Howard Rosenberg.

"Cecil was such a graceful writer," Rosenberg said. "You could wake him up at 2 in the morning and set him down at a typewriter and within an hour he'd turn out a gracefully written piece with all the right references and all the right phraseology that would take me a week to turn out. He was just a terrific writer and a very literate person."

Smith began his Times career as a reporter and feature writer in 1947 and became an entertainment writer in 1953. He was the entertainment editor and a drama critic in the 1960s, and in 1969 he became the paper's television critic and a columnist for The Times' syndicate.

Smith served as a captain in the Army Air Forces during World War II and as a pilot flew a B-24 Liberator in the South Pacific. After the war, he wrote radio plays and television scripts before getting involved in journalism.

For more, read Cecil Smith's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Cecil Smith


One year ago: Judi Ann Mason


Judi Ann Mason, who died suddenly one year ago at age 54, was a writer whose work was produced for the stage, TV and film.

A Louisiana native, Mason was attending Grambling State University in the 1970s when she saw a flier seeking submissions for the American College Theater Festival's Norman Lear Award for best original comedy. The award came with a prize of $2,500, Times reporter Dennis McLellan wrote in his obituary on Mason.

"I said, 'Boy, I could sure use that money,' so I wrote 'Livin' Fat,' and it won," Mason told the New Orleans Times-Picayune in 1995.

Mason's winning play -- about a poor black family facing the moral dilemma of whether to keep a large sum of money that had unexpectedly come into its possession -- was produced in New York while she was still in school.

After college, Mason got a job writing for TV producer Lear's sitcom "Good Times." She continued her career as a writer and story editor in television, and in 1993 got a screenwriting credit on the Whoopi Goldberg comedy "Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit."

Tina Andrews, another African American film and TV writer, told The Times that Mason "wrote positive, dignified characters, particularly her black characters. She had strong, realistic dialogue. It sounded like your sister, your aunt, your girlfriend: It was real, and I wanted to write like that. That's why she inspired so many of us."

In an appreciation a few weeks after she died, Time magazine reported that Mason wanted to consistently provide good role models for black audiences, not just during Black History Month. "Through her work, Mason made certain that African American history was always on display -- even if it wasn't February."

Read The Times' complete obituary on Judi Ann Mason.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Judi Ann Mason. Credit: Writers Guild of America

John Willis, editor of Theatre World, dies at 93

John Willis, 93, a theater and film historian who was the longtime editor of the annual publications Theatre World and Screen World, died of lung cancer Friday at his home in Manhattan.

Willis arrived in New York in 1945 looking for work as an actor. He soon got a job as a typist for the first issue of Theatre World, which chronicled the 1944-45 Broadway season.

In 1965 Willis became editor of Theatre World, which serves as a pictorial and statistical record of Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theater productions. He also began editing the equally comprehensive Screen World, which covers foreign and domestic film releases.

As editor, Willis produced the Theatre World Awards, recognizing promising newcomers in the acting ranks.

Willis received a Tony Award in 2001 on behalf of Theatre World for excellence in theatre.

Born Oct. 16, 1916, in Morristown, Tenn., Willis received a bachelor’s degree from Milligan College in East Tennessee and a master’s in English from the University of Tennessee. He taught English before joining the Navy in World War II. After the war he moved to New York and for many years taught high school English while also working at Theatre World and Screen World.

He retired in 2008.

Willis, who compiled obituaries of stage figures for Theatre World, insisted on citing the cause of death for each one. "Everyone dies of something," Willis would say. "I don't understand why they say 'natural causes,' when all causes are natural unless you're murdered or die in an accident, so they should print what it was that killed them!"

Then he would add, "When I go, please mention what killed me."

Duly noted: lung cancer.

The lights on Broadway will be dimmed for one minute Wednesday night in Willis' honor.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Eileen Heckart, Theatre World editor John Willis, and Maureen Stapleton at the 1970 Theatre World Awards. Credit: Van Williams

Greek director-actor Andreas Voutsinas dies at 79 [Updated]

Greek stage director and actor Andreas Voutsinas, who served as acting coach to several Hollywood stars including Jane Fonda, has died. He was 79.

Voutsinas died Tuesday in an Athens hospital, according to a Greek Culture Ministry statement.

Born in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1931, Voutsinas played parts in films such as Mel Brooks' "The Producers" (as Carmen Ghia) and "History of the World: Part 1" (as Bearnaise) as well as Luc Besson's "The Big Blue."

He directed Fonda in the brief 1962 Broadway show "The Fun Couple," later describing her as "the only great love of my life."

Voutsinas also coached Faye Dunaway, Warren Beatty and Anne Bancroft.

-- Associated Press

[For the record, 12:09 p.m. June 14: An earlier version of this post misspelled Anne Bancroft's first name as Ann.]

Rue McClanahan, Blanche on 'The Golden Girls,' dies at 76

Rue McClanahan, a stage actress who later gained fame on the TV sitcom "The Golden Girls" alongside co-stars Bea Arthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty, died early Thursday of a stroke, according to her manager Barbara Lawrence. She was 76.

She had been treated for breast cancer in the late 1990s.

Arthur died in 2009 and Getty in 2008. Betty White keeps rolling at age 88, recently appearing on "Saturday Night Live."

Click here for an extensive interview McClanahan did with the Archive of American Television.

We'll have a full obituary later at

-- Claire Noland


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