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Category: writers

Robert Katz, who wrote about Italian history, dies at 77

American writer and historian Robert Katz, whose meticulous reconstruction of an infamous Nazi massacre in Rome brought him fame and sparked a trial over whether he defamed the pope, has died in Italy, his family said Thursday. He was 77.

Katz, who had been a longtime resident of the Tuscany region in Italy, died in a hospital there on Wednesday. His wife, Beverly Gerstel, told the Associated Press that the author died from complications from cancer surgery.

Katz wrote extensively on 20th-century Italian history in books, essays and articles, some of which were made into films. In "Days of Wrath," Katz chronicled the 1978 kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro, a former premier, at the hands of the Red Brigades. In "The Battle for Rome," he looked at the months that followed the fall of Benito Mussolini at the end of World War II.

But it was his book "Death in Rome" — and the subsequent movie based on it, called "Massacre in Rome" — that made the biggest splash. The book dealt with one of the worst Nazi atrocities in occupied Italy, the 1944 slaughter by German troops of 335 innocent Italian men at the Ardeatine Caves in retaliation for an attack by Italian partisans the day before.

The book, first published in 1967, stirred controversy because it suggested Pope Pius XII did not intervene to stop the massacre even though he knew about the Nazis' plans. When the movie came out, a relative of the late pontiff brought a lawsuit against Katz.

According to Katz's website, a two-year criminal trial ended with the author being convicted and sentenced to 14 months in prison for defaming the pope's memory. The verdict was overturned on appeal and later the case was dismissed by Italy's highest court, the website said.

Years later, the movie based on "Days of Wrath" about the Moro case also caused controversy for taking the view that Moro's death could have been prevented. His book "The Cassandra Crossing, " about European train travelers exposed to Bubonic plague, was made into a film starring Sophia Loren, Burt Lancaster and Richard Harris.

Katz also wrote on the case of Erich Priebke, a former Nazi SS captain who was extradited to Italy from Argentina in 1994 and convicted in Rome for his role in the Ardeatine Caves massacre.

A native of Brooklyn, N.Y., Katz moved to Italy in the mid-1960s, first living in Rome and then in a country house near Arezzo in Tuscany.

"I was following a grand old tradition," he said about his move to the Italian capital in 1964. "It had been created by some of the great American writers and artists of the 19th century, and like them, I'd set out to pursue and court the 'mistress of the world.' "

Katz is survived by his wife Gerstel, sons Stephen and Jonathan, and three grandchildren.

-- Associated Press

One year ago: Jack Nelson

Jack-nelson Jack Nelson was a Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times reporter and Washington, D.C., bureau chief who helped establish the paper's national reputation in the 1960s and '70s.

Nelson broke major stories on the civil rights movement for The Times, particularly in his coverage of the shooting of civil rights worker Viola Liuzzo and the slaying of three black students in South Carolina in what is known as the Orangeburg Massacre.

He also scored an enviable scoop in the Watergate scandal with his interview of an ex-FBI agent who witnessed the break-in at the Democratic National Committee's headquarters. The stories resulting from Nelson's interview were the first to link the burglary "right to the heart of the Nixon reelection campaign," David Halberstam wrote in his 1979 media history, “The Powers That Be.”

Nelson became The Times' Washinton bureau chief in 1975, and for 20 years he oversaw its development into what Gene Roberts Jr., former managing editor of the New York Times, called "arguably one of the finest bureaus ever in Washington."

Nelson had made a noteworthy career for himself before even arriving at The Times. At wht was then the Atlanta Constitution, he exposed in a series of articles an array of abuses at a mental institution. As a result of his reporting, the hospital was overhauled and Nelson won a Pulitzer Prize for local reporting in 1960.

In addition to reporting, Nelson wrote or co-wrote several books and was a regular commentator on public television's "Washington Week in Review."

Read more about the award-winning reporter in Jack Nelson's obituary by The Times. Also, see a video of some of his appearances on "Washington Week in Review."

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Jack Nelson. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Novelist Belva Plain dies at 95

Belva Plain, who wrote more than 20 bestselling novels, died in her sleep Tuesday at her home in New Jersey, her daughter Barbara said. She was 95.

Plain, known for epics about family and forgiveness, wrote her novels longhand on a yellow pad. She had written short fiction for women's magazines but didn't start writing novels until after she became a grandmother.

Her first novel, "Evergreen," was published in 1978 and spent more than 40 weeks on The New York Times bestseller list and was developed into a TV miniseries.

Shortly before her death, Plain completed a sequel to "Evergreen," which will be published in February.

-- Associated Press

One year ago: Vic Mizzy

Mizzy "They're creepy and they're kooky, mysterious and spooky, they're altogether ooky: the Addams family."

With that catchy tune from the popular sitcom "Addams Family," film and television composer Vic Mizzy, who died one year ago, was propelled into Hollywood fame.

"I sat down; I went 'buh-buh-buh-bump [snap-snap], buh-buh-buh-bump,' " Mizzy recalled in a 2008 interview on CBS' "Sunday Morning" show. "Two finger snaps and you live in Bel-Air."

For his theme song, Mizzy played a harpsichord, which gives the theme its unique flavor. And because the production company, Filmways, refused to pay for singers, Mizzy sang it himself and overdubbed it three times.

Mizzy is also well known for writing the theme for another popular sitcom, "Green Acres," the 1965-71 rural comedy starring Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor.

Author Jon Burlingame described the themes for "The Addams Family" and "Green Acres" as "two of the best-remembered sitcom themes of all time."

Before his TV composing days, Mizzy wrote popular songs such as "There's a Faraway Look in Your Eye" and "Pretty Kitty Blue Eyes." Before that, he attended New York University and served four years in the Navy during World War II.

For more on the composer, read Vic Mizzy's obituary by The Times' Dennis McLellan.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Vic Mizzy. Credit: Associated Press


Maurice Allais, who won Nobel in economics, dies at 99

Allais Nobel economics winner Maurice Allais, an early critic of shortcomings in the worldwide financial system that led to the latest crisis, has died. He was 99.

Allais, the only Frenchman to win the economics prize, died of natural causes Saturday at his home in Saint-Cloud southwest of Paris, said Yvon Gattaz, a fellow member of France's Academy of Moral and Political Sciences.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office hailed Allais' writings on theories of well-being, market shortcomings, growth models and decision-making in an uncertain environment known as the "Allais paradox."

Allais won the Nobel in economics in 1988, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences cited him for "pioneering contributions to the theory of markets and efficient utilization of resources."

Born May 31, 1911, the son of Paris cheese makers, Allais was a prolific economic theorist with ideas about balancing supply and demand that helped rebuild France's postwar economy. He also wrote about history and physics among the dozens of books he authored.

Trained as an engineer, Allais turned to economics after seeing the poverty and unemployment in the United States on a visit during the Great Depression of the 1930s.

His complex mathematical theories formed the basis for sorting out thousands of independent factors involved in marketing goods and services: How much should a train ticket cost, for example, or what is the right price for a kilowatt-hour of electricity?

Allais was said to believe the government's role was to ensure fair competition.

U.S. Nobel economic laureate Paul Samuelson was once quoted as saying that a generation of economic theory would have taken a different course if Allais' earliest writings had been in English.

In his autobiographical excerpts on the Nobel website, Allais said he would have become a physicist if the French National Center for Scientific Research had existed in 1938. In 1959, he experimented with a pendulum he had invented, conducting some 220,000 tests to demonstrate that Earth's gravity is neither constant nor always oriented in the same direction.

A year after a financial crisis erupted in 1998, Allais wrote a book whose French title translates as "The World Crisis Today" — a broad-scale appeal for reform of global financial and monetary systems.

"This book was prophetic," said Gattaz, a former head of France's leading employers' union. "He explained, 'If we don't follow my theories, if we continue this neo-liberal laissez faire — this financial speculation without severe controls — we're going to fall back onto the same phenomena of 1929 and 1998."

-- Associated Press

Photo: Maurice Allais in 1988. Credit: Associated Press


One year ago: Carol Tomlinson-Keasey

Tomlinson-keaseyCarol Tomlinson-Keasey shattered a glass ceiling when she was named to head UC Merced in 1999 before the campus broke ground. No woman had been a founding chancellor of a UC campus. She died one year ago from complications from her eight-year battle with breast cancer.

The founding of UC Merced was riddled with complications, including a site change and a reduction in the size of the campus because of environmental concerns, political leaders who called the campus a "boondoggle" and a state budget crisis that resulted in a one-year delay in its opening.

Tomlinson-Keasey was part of the UC system for almost 30 years. She began as an associate professor of psychology at UC Riverside in 1977, and in the 1990s served at UC Davis in provost positions and as dean of the College of Letters and Sciences. She moved to the UC Office of the President in 1997.

Tomlinson-Keasey, who was a distinguished developmental psychologist, wrote three books and dozens of articles, monographs and book chapters on subjects such as child and full-life development and how gifted children realize their cognitive potential.

For more on her life and involvement in the founding of UC Merced, read Carol Tomlinson-Keasey's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Carol Tomlinson-Keasey. Credit: Noah Berger

Sportswriter Maury Allen dies at 78

Longtime sportswriter Maury Allen, who wrote biographies of sports icons including Jackie Robinson and Joe Namath and spent 27 years writing for the New York Post, has died of lymphoma. He was 78.

Allen primarily covered the New York Yankees for the Post, which confirmed that the author died Sunday at his home in Cedar Grove, N.J. Allen also worked for the Journal News and Sports Illustrated, wrote more than three dozen books and served an advisor on "The Bronx is Burning."

Allen made a cameo in the ESPN miniseries about the 1977 Yankees, along with a minor acting role in "The Odd Couple." He also was a staple in several sports documentaries.

He recently completed a book about former Brooklyn Dodgers outfielder Dixie Walker, which was released earlier this year.

-- Associated Press

Stephen J. Cannell, prolific TV writer and producer, dies at 69


Stephen J. Cannell, the writer-producer for such television series as "The Rockford Files" and "The A-Team," has died. He was 69.

Cannell died Thursday night at his home in Pasadena from complications associated with melanoma, his family said in a statement.

The Emmy-winning producer also wrote for such series as "Adam-12" and "It Takes a Thief" and was a bestselling novelist. A consistent feature of his series was the distinctive ending credits, seen in this video.

We'll have a complete obituary later at

-- Times staff reports

Memorial service planned for Betty Lou Young

Betty A public outdoor memorial service for Betty Lou Young, a longtime resident of Rustic Canyon who wrote books about the history of Pacific Palisades and campaigned to save the Santa Monica Mountains and other open spaces from development, will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 16 at Los Liones Canyon. Young, who died July 1 at age 91, was instrumental in developing a park there.

Her books included "Our First Century: The Los Angeles Athletic Club," "Pacific Palisades: Where the Mountains Meet the Sea" and "Santa Monica Canyon: A Walk Through History." Her son, Randy Young (credited as Thomas R. Young), was often co-author and photographer.

In 1975 Betty Lou Young founded Casa Vieja Press.

-- Martha Groves

Photo: Betty Lou Young in 2000

One year ago: Paul Fay


Paul Fay was a longtime friend of President Kennedy who wrote about their relationship in his 1966 book "The Pleasure of His Company" and served as undersecretary of the Navy in Kennedy's administration. Fay died one year ago.

Fay met the future president in 1942 in Rhode Island. Their first meeting, in a story befitting the Kennedy legend, was during a touch football game that Kennedy joined in progress. Fay was there for torpedo-boat training and Kennedy was his instructor.

Both served in World War II, and both survived confrontations with the Japanese. Kennedy's boat was struck in the darkness by a Japanese destroyer and sank, and Fay's boat was struck by a torpedo. Fay later received a Bronze Star. The two men became close while rooming together after the incidents.

In his book, Fay disclosed previously unknown details of the Kennedy's life, including the president's exasperation during the botched Bay of Pigs landing in 1961 and his mixed thoughts on getting married.

Fay's father, Paul B. Fay Sr., was president of Fay Improvement Co., which built roads and sewers throughout San Francisco. Fay returned to San Francisco after leaving government in 1965, taking over the business and eventually turning it into a consulting firm.

For more on President Kennedy's close friend and the secrets he revealed, read Paul Fay's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Paul Fay spends Easter 1963 with President Kennedy in Palm Beach, Fla.

One year ago: Dr. Mahlon Hoagland

Hoagland Dr. Mahlon Hoagland, who died one year ago, helped unravel the mystery of how cells build proteins by discovering a molecule called tRNA that brings individual amino acids to growing protein chains. He spent the latter part of his career writing books that explained biology to the public.

In the early 1950s, Hoagland came to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he teamed up with Paul C. Zamecnik on research that led to their famed discovery. In 1960, their work was followed up by Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner, who discovered a molecule dubbed messenger RNA that carries genetic information from nuclear DNA to the ribosome.

"He and Zamecnik deserved to win the Nobel Prize for their fundamental work on tRNA," said biologist James Watson, who shared the Nobel with Francis Crick for discovering the structure of DNA.

Hoagland had always argued that teaching was as crucial to scientific advancement as research and had disparaged many textbooks as needlessly complicated. After retiring, he teamed with artist Bert Dodson to create "The Way Life Works," which combines whimsical watercolors with concise explanations of scientific discovery and received the American Medical Writers Book Award in 1996.

For more, read Dr. Mahlon Hoagland's obituary by The Times.

-- Michael Farr

Photo: Mahlon Hoagland. Credit: Chris Christo / Worchester Telegram & Gazette

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


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