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Category: writers

Denis Dutton, who founded Arts & Letters Daily, dies at 66

Denis Dutton, an author, academic and founder of the popular Arts & Letters Daily website, died Tuesday in New Zealand, his family said. He was 66.

Dutton, a professor of philosophy at New Zealand's Canterbury University, had been diagnosed with prostate cancer but continued working until his health deteriorated rapidly a week ago, said his son, Ben.

Dutton was widely known for his Arts & Letters Daily, a groundbreaking early aggregator featuring links to commentary on arts, literature and events.

He established the website in 1998 and continued as editor after selling it to the U.S.-based Chronicle of Higher Education the next year. London's Guardian newspaper described it in 1999 as "the best website in the world."

Born in Los Angeles on Feb. 9, 1944, Dutton was educated at UC Santa Barbara.

His recent work focused on Darwinian applications in aesthetics, explored in his best-selling book "The Art Instinct: Beauty, Pleasure and Human Evolution" in 2009, which he described as a study of art as a product of evolution.

"Whenever you have a pleasure, whether it's a pleasure of sweet and fat or the pleasure of sex or the pleasure of playing with your children, or being in love, that does suggest that there is some kind of Darwinian adaptation that underlies the phenomenon," he said last year in an interview with Radio New Zealand's National Radio.

While at the University of Michigan in 1976, he founded the academic journal "Philosophy and Literature," later taken over by Johns Hopkins University Press.

He became professor of philosophy at New Zealand's Canterbury University in 1984. It was from there that he launched Arts & Letters Daily.

Survivors include his wife, Margit; two children, Sonia and Ben; and brothers Doug and Dave.

We'll have more later at

-- Associated Press

Year-end obituary review by writers from the Washington Post and the Economist magazine

Charlie Another December day, another look back at news obituaries in 2010. Today we have a radio segment that aired Monday on WAMU-FM, American University's public radio station in Washington. Host Kojo Nnamdi, whose show aims to "connect your neighborhood with the world," interviewed Washington Post obit writer Matt Schudel and Economist obituaries editor Ann Wroe about stories that stood out for them in the last year.

Schudel starts off by discussing former pro basketball star Manute Bol and his ties to the Sudan, and then explains how all obit writers approach their assignments:

We're looking for the things that really make someone human. It's not just that we want to record the big events in a person's life, whether the person was a movie star, appeared in movies or on television or in case of a congressman, passed a bunch of laws. We're looking for the things that kind of set a person apart, that show both the extraordinary qualities and sometimes the foibles and the problematic character issues that you might say can sometimes lead to the downfall of a significant figure.

Ann Wroe had a memorable account of the life of Texas Rep. Charlie Wilson, a colorful character who died in February. She reads from the Wilson obituary she wrote:

He was Texas loud, 6'7" in his cowboy boots with bright suspenders, a rowdy laugh and a rugged western face. Other people in Washington might go around looking like constipated hound dogs, but he was having fun and sharing it. Partying and junketing first class all over the country on the federal dime. The apogee came in 1980 in a hot tub at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas with two strippers, naked but for their high-heeled shoes, each equipped with 10 red fingernails filled with beautiful white powder which they wafted onto his nose.

The Feds later spent a million bucks investigating whether he had inhaled it. He wasn't telling. He reviewed, however, that he wore a robe, at first, because he was, after all, a congressman.

Here's the story the Times ran on Wilson by reporter James Oliphant.

You can listen to the entire program at the WAMU website or read a transcript. The Post has more at its obit blog, Post Mortem.

 And here is the Times' picture gallery of notable figures who died in 2010.

-- Claire Noland

Photo: Charlie Wilson in 1988. Credit: Associated Press

French scholar Jacqueline de Romilly dies at 97

French scholar Jacqueline de Romilly, a specialist on ancient Greece, a prolific writer and one of the first women to join the prestigious Academie Francaise, has died. She was 97.

Romilly died Saturday at a hospital in the Paris suburb of Boulogne-Billancourt, said her publisher, Bernard de Fallois.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy called Romilly "a great humanist whose voice we will miss." The scholar was known for her works on ancient Greek literature, tragedy and thought. She wrote several books on ancient historian Thucydides.

At age 91, Romilly told French magazine Lire that she had spent more time with "Pericles and Aeschylus than with my contemporaries. They fill my life, from morning to night."

Romilly was the first woman to teach at the College de France. In 1988, she became the second woman to join the Academie Francaise, the institution that safeguards the French language, after writer Marguerite Yourcenar.

"I had the luck of being part of a generation where women could get up on the podium for the first time, where the gates opened at last," she told Le Point magazine in 2007.

Romilly was born Jacqueline David in Chartres, southwest of Paris, in 1913. Her mother was Jeanne Malvoisin, an author, and her father was Maxime David, a philosophy professor who was killed during World War I.

She began teaching in high schools in the 1930s. Because her father was Jewish, she was forced to stop teaching during World War II, when France's Vichy regime collaborated with the Nazi occupiers. After the war, she taught at the University of Lille and the Sorbonne before joining the College de France in 1973.

In her later years, Romilly defended the study of the classics and often spoke and wrote about the importance of education. In 1995, she was given Greek nationality. Among her many honors, she held a Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor from the French government.

Her marriage to Michel Worms de Romilly ended in divorce.

--Associated Press


One year ago: Oral Roberts

Oral Oral Roberts, who popularized the idea of a "prosperity gospel" while becoming one of the most well-known evangelists in the country, died one year ago. He was 91.

Roberts garnered his popularity through international broadcasts, evangelistic crusades similar to those of  Billy Graham and appearances on entertainment shows. He also founded Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Okla., in 1965.

In the 1970s, Roberts' prime-time TV specials drew 40 million viewers, and he appeared frequently on talk shows hosted by Johnny Carson, Dinah Shore and Merv Griffin.

By 1980, Roberts was recognized by 84% of Americans, close behind the sitting U.S. president and fellow evangelist Billy Graham and 40 points ahead of the next religious figure.

Roberts, who put great emphasis on faith healings in his broadcasts and crusades, helped integrate Pentecostalism into mainstream Christianity worldwide. The charismatic branch of Christianity, of which Pentecostalism is a part, grew from an estimated 20 million to 600 million adherents worldwide during Roberts' seven decades of ministry.

"Twentieth century history of Christianity will name Oral Roberts as the voice that brought the Pentecostal movement to be taken seriously by mainline Christianity," said Robert H. Schuller, founding pastor of the Crystal Cathedral.

At the time of his death, however, Roberts' ministry and celebrity had been in decline for years, a drop-off accelerated by a prophecy the preacher made that "God will call me home" unless $8 million was raised for scholarships to Oral Roberts University by March 31, 1987.

The money was raised, but by then Roberts had become a figure of ridicule to many inside and outside the Christian world.

Despite negative publicity and declining TV ratings, by the mid-1980s Roberts' organization was raising more than $100 million annually and employing 2,300 people. His son Richard continues his father's work through Oral Roberts Ministries.

For more on the charismatic preacher's life and ministry, read The Times' Oral Roberts obituary. Also, see a photo gallery of his life.

--Michael Farr

Photo: Oral Roberts at a Downey tent revival meeting in 1957. Credit: Los Angeles Times

One year ago: Thomas Hoving


Thomas Hoving was a controversial figure in the art world who pioneered the transformation of stuffy art institutions into popular destinations for the masses. He died one year ago at age 78.

Hoving's most influential role was as director of New York's Metropolitan Museum, which he led during a tumultuous period from 1967 to 1977. He oversaw the opening of new galleries for Islamic art, the remodeling of its Egyptian wing and expanding showcases for American, African and oceanic art.

Hoving prided himself on trampling on museum conventions and blowing cobwebs out of the Fifth Avenue institution. For that, he was admired as a visionary but sometimes reviled as a huckster, willing to sell out to big donors or cheapen the experience of art with flashy tactics.

In the 1980s, he began editing Connoisseur magazine and emerged as a muckraking critic of the J. Paul Getty Museum's collecting of antiquities. His accusations that some items in the museum had been smuggled out of their homelands turned out to be true, and in the last few years the Getty has returned dozens of objects to their countries of origin.

Hoving, an author of several books, wrote an irreverent account of his years at the Met in "Making the Mummies Dance."

For more on the man who popularized art museums, read Thomas Hoving's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Thomas Hoving in 1967. Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: Aaron Schroeder

Schroeder Aaron Schroeder was a songwriter, independent music publisher and record producer who co-wrote 17 songs for Elvis Presley. He died one year ago at age 83.

Schroeder co-wrote five No. 1 songs for Presley, including "Stuck on You," "Good Luck Charm," "A Big Hunk o' Love," "I Got Stung" and "It's Now or Never."

In addition to Presley, he also wrote songs for artists such as Perry Como, Frank Sinatra, Barry White, Johnny Duncan and Tony Bennett.

Schroeder went into the music publishing business in the 1960s. He launched Musicor Records, which had its biggest success with Gene Pitney. Schroeder produced his early hits, including "Only Love Can Break a Heart" and "Town Without Pity."

Schroeder sold Musicor records in 1965 so he could spend more time working one-on-one with artists.

"He was dedicated to helping young writers succeed," said his wife, Amy. "We'd be their publishers and support them. Aaron groomed them and spent a lot of time teaching them the art and the craft of writing."

As a hobby, Schroeder collected cast iron and tin mechanical and still banks and toys, managing to amass one of the world's largest collections of such things by the end of his life.

For more, read Aaron Schroeder's obituary by The Times' Dennis McLellan.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Aaron Schroeder

Russian poet Bella Akhmadulina dies at 73


Bella Akhmadulina, 73, a poet whose verses have been described as among the best in contemporary Russian literature, died Monday at her home in Peredelkino near Moscow. Her husband, Boris Meserer, told the ITAR-Tass news agency that she died from a heart condition.

Akhmadulina published her first poems in 1955 and quickly won nationwide popularity. Her poetry was praised for its depth and bold use of metaphor. Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Brodsky once described her verses as a "treasure of Russian poetry" and placed her above other poets of her generation.

In the 1960s, Akhmadulina and other poets drew large audiences striving for intellectual freedom. Her books of poems included "The String," "Fever," "The Candle," "Dreams of Georgia," "The Secret" and many others.

Akhmadulina often challenged Soviet authorities by defending poets, writers and others who were facing official persecution. She took part in the Metropol literary almanac that was published abroad in 1979 and angered the Soviet government. She published an open letter in support of dissident physicist and Nobel Peace Prize-winner Andrei Sakharov when the Soviet government sent him into exile internally.

Akhmadulina's first husband, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, also a prominent Russian poet, said on Rossiya 24 television that she was an example of "civic nobleness." "She fearlessly defended all those who were in trouble," he said.

President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered their condolences. In his blog, Medvedev said that Akhmadulina's death was an "irreparable loss" and described her poetry as "classic of Russian literature."

-- Associated Press

Photo: Bella Akhmadulina with then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin in 1997. Credit: Associated Press

One year ago: Charis Wilson

Charis Wilson was a writer and model who for 10 years worked closely with Edward Weston, the famed art photographer and her husband. She died one year ago at age 95.

A free spirit who took up with Weston when she was 20 and he was 48, Charis (pronounced CARE-ess) Wilson posed for a number of his photographs, many of them nudes, but her involvement with his career went far beyond modeling. Wilson edited articles on photography by Weston and traveled extensively with him for his work.

One of these trips involved the making of the book "California and the West" (1940), which features nearly 100 photos of Western landscapes captured by Weston and described by Wilson.

The 28-year age difference between Wilson and Weston gave their romance "a Bohemian, May to December quality," photography dealer and historian Stephen White said in a 2007 interview with the Los Angeles Times. "Charis brought an essence of youth, when Weston was starting to wear out."

Their love dulled after a decade, however, and Wilson left Weston in 1945, divorcing a year later. She remarried and had children with Noel Harris, a labor activist who lived in Eureka, Calif. That marriage also ended in divorce.

Wilson wrote to Weston throughout her life despite their separation. At his request, she brought her children to see him just a few years before his death. She published a memoir in 1998 entitled "Through Another Lens: My Years With Edward Weston."

For more on the work Wilson and Weston produced, read Charis Wilson's obituary by former Times staff writer Mary Rourke.

-- Michael Farr

One year ago: David Lloyd [Updated]

David-lloyd David Lloyd, the father of television writer and producer Christopher Lloyd, was a television comedy writer who wrote the classic "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." He died of prostate cancer one year ago at age 75.

[For the record at 2:28 p.m.: An earlier version of this post stated the David Lloyd was the father of actor Christopher Lloyd. He was the father of television writer and producer Christopher Lloyd.]

Lloyd's four-decade comedy career included writing for "The Tonight Show," "Frasier," "Taxi" and "Cheers" among others. His famous "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" earned him an Emmy award in 1976.

"If you consider how long his career was and how much he wrote for such really popular shows, he's got to have been responsible for a record number of laughs in this world," said Les Charles, co-creator of "Cheers."

He was known for being both a quality and a quick-writing comedian. Allan Burns, co-creator of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show," called Lloyd a "one-man writing staff."

Lloyd was born in Bronxville, N.Y., and studied English at Yale. After graduating in 1956, he served in the Navy and began teaching English at Rutgers Preparatory School in New Jersey before making his break into television.

For more, read David Lloyd's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: David Lloyd with his Emmy for comedy writing that he won in 1976 for his "Chuckles Bites the Dust" episode of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show." Credit: Family photo.

10 years ago: Ring Lardner Jr.


Ring Lardner Jr. was the last living member of the Hollywood 10, a group of writers and filmmakers who refused to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1947 and were imprisoned and blacklisted. He was 85 when he died of cancer 10 years ago.

Lardner, a screenwriter, won an Academy Award with Michael Kanin for "Woman of the Year" in 1942, and another in 1970 for "MASH." His career survived the confrontation with HUAC -- he used pseudonyms and worked in Mexico and London -- but he was denied credit for 17 years of work.

When asked by Committee Chairman J. Parnell Thomas if he was or had been a Communist, the wry Lardner answered famously: "I could answer that question the way you want, Mr. Chairman, but if I did I'd hate myself in the morning." Lardner was banished from the hearing room, and he ultimately served 10 months in federal prison.

In fact Lardner was a Communist -- privately but unapologetically. He had become infatuated with Communism during a visit to the Soviet Union when he was 18, in 1934. "It seemed like there was a lot of hope in the air [in Russia]," his son James said, "whereas in Germany he saw awful stuff and in America he saw bread lines." Lardner's politics may have blurred -- "He discarded all that '30s garbage and went on with his life," said Stefan Kanfer, who wrote a book about the blacklist era -- but he never yielded in his refusal to name other members of the party.

Continue reading »

One year ago: Claude Levi-Strauss

Levi-starussClaude Levi-Strauss was a French philosopher who is widely considered the father of modern anthropology because of his then-revolutionary conclusion that so-called primitive societies did not differ greatly intellectually from modern ones. He died one year ago at age 100.

Levi-Strauss' years spent studying tribes in Brazil and North America led him to the conclusion that the myths and cultural keystones of primitive peoples revealed an intelligence no less sophisticated than that of Western civilizations. Those myths, he argued, all tend to provide answers to such universal questions as "Who are we?" and "How did we come to be in this time and place?"

The philosopher and sociologist was briefly a warrior when World War II broke out and Germany invaded France. When his country was defeated and occupied, he gained employment at a school in Montpellier, but was soon fired because he was Jewish.

He lived in the United States for the rest of the war, working for the New School for Social Research in New York and serving as a cultural attache in the French Embassy in Washington. He returned to his home country after the war was over, earning his doctorate in anthropology at the University of Paris in 1948.

He had become a leading influence in France by the mid-1960s, though by the 1980s his ideas were being supplanted by those of the so-called post-structuralists, who argued that history and experience were far more important than universal laws in shaping human consciousness. More recently, however, his views have come back into popularity.

For more on his journeys, thoughts and influence, read Claude Levi-Strauss' obituary by The Times' Thomas H. Maugh II.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Claude Levi-Strauss in 2005. Credit: Pascal Pavani / AFP/Getty Images

Joseph Stein, who wrote 'Fiddler on the Roof' book and screenplay, dies at 98

Joseph Stein, who turned a classic Yiddish short story into the hit Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof" and later wrote the screenplay for its successful movie adaptation, died Sunday in New York City. He was 98.

Stein died at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Manhattan of complications from a fall, said his wife, Elisa. He had also been hospitalized with prostate cancer.

Stein won a Tony for his work on "Fiddler" and also supplied the book — or story — for nearly a dozen other musicals, including "Zorba," "Mr. Wonderful" and "Plain and Fancy."

He also wrote for radio as well as television during its early golden age. He worked for such performers as Henry Morgan, Sid Caesar and Phil Silvers.

-- Associated Press


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