Sunday, February 26, 2006

Prolific Actor Darren McGavin Dies at 83

Filed at 1:03 p.m. ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Darren McGavin was painting a movie set in 1945 when he learned of an opening for a small role in the show, climbed off his ladder, and returned through Columbia's front gates to land the part.

The husky, tough-talking performer went on to become one of the busiest actors in television and film, starring in five TV series, including ''Mike Hammer,'' and endearing holiday audiences with his role as the grouchy dad in the 1983 comedy classic ''A Christmas Story.''

McGavin, 83, died Saturday of natural causes at a Los Angeles-area hospital with his family at his side, said his son Bogart McGavin.

McGavin also had leading roles in TV's ''Riverboat'' and cult favorite ''Kolchak: The Night Stalker.'' Among his memorable portrayals was Gen. George Patton in the 1979 TV biography ''Ike.''

Despite his busy career in television, McGavin was awarded only one Emmy: in 1990 for an appearance as Candice Bergen's opinionated father in an episode of ''Murphy Brown.''

He lacked the prominence in films he enjoyed in television, but he registered strongly in featured roles such as the young artist in Venice in ''Summertime,'' David Lean's 1955 film with Katharine Hepburn and Rosanno Brazzi; Frank Sinatra's crafty drug supplier in ''The Man with the Golden Arm'' (1955); Jerry Lewis's parole officer in ''The Delicate Delinquent'' (1957); and the gambler in 1984's ''The Natural.'' He also starred alongside Don Knotts, who died Friday night, in the 1976 family comedy ''No Deposit, No Return.''

Throughout his television career, McGavin gained a reputation as a curmudgeon willing to bad-mouth his series and combat studio bosses.

McGavin starred in the private eye series ''Mike Hammer'' in the 1950s. In 1968 he told a reporter: ''Hammer was a dummy. I made 72 of those shows, and I thought it was a comedy. In fact, I played it camp. He was the kind of guy who would've waved the flag for George Wallace.''

Born in Spokane, Wash., McGavin was sketchy in interviews about his childhood. He told TV Guide in 1973 that he was a constant runaway at 10 and 11, and as a teen lived in warehouses in Tacoma, Wash., and dodged the police and welfare workers. His parents disappeared, he said.

He spent a year at College of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., taking part in dramatics, then landed in Los Angeles. He washed dishes and was hired to paint sets at Columbia studio. He was working on ''A Song to Remember'' when an agent told him of an opening for a small role.

''I climbed off a painter's ladder and washed up at a nearby gas station,'' McGavin said. ''I returned through Columbia's front gate with the agent.'' The director, Charles Vidor, hired him. No one recognized him but the paint foreman, who said, ''You're fired.''

McGavin studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse and the Actors Studio and began working in live TV drama and on Broadway. He appeared with Charlton Heston in ''Macbeth'' on TV and played Happy in ''Death of a Salesman'' in New York and on the road.

He is survived by his four children -- York, Megan, Bridget and Bogart -- from a previous marriage to Melanie York McGavin, Bogart McGavin said. McGavin was separated from his second wife, Kathy Brown, he said. Services were set for March 5 at Hollywood Forever Cemetery.

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Associated Press Writer Bob Thomas contributed to this report.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Don Knotts, TV's Barney Fife, Dies at 81

Filed at 7:35 p.m. ET

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Don Knotts, who kept generations of TV audiences laughing as bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on ''The Andy Griffith Show'' and would-be swinger landlord Ralph Furley on ''Three's Company,'' has died. He was 81.

Knotts died Friday night of pulmonary and respiratory complications at a Los Angeles hospital, said Paul Ward, a spokesman for the cable network TV Land, which airs his two signature shows.

Griffith, who remained close friends with Knotts, said he had a brilliant comedic mind and wrote some of the show's best scenes.

''Don was a small man ... but everything else about him was large: his mind, his expressions,'' Griffith told The Associated Press on Saturday. ''Don was special. There's nobody like him.

''I loved him very much,'' Griffith added. ''We had a long and wonderful life together.''

Unspecified health problems had forced Knotts to cancel an appearance in his native Morgantown in August.

The West Virginia-born actor's half-century career included seven TV series and more than 25 films, but it was the Griffith show that brought him TV immortality and five Emmys.

The show ran from 1960-68, and was in the top 10 of the Nielsen ratings each season, including a No. 1 ranking its final year. It is one of only three series in TV history to bow out at the top: The others are ''I Love Lucy'' and ''Seinfeld.'' The 249 episodes have appeared frequently in reruns and have spawned a large, active network of fan clubs.

As the bug-eyed deputy to Griffith, Knotts carried in his shirt pocket the one bullet he was allowed after shooting himself in the foot. The constant fumbling, a recurring sight gag, was typical of his self-deprecating humor.

Knotts, whose shy, soft-spoken manner was unlike his high-strung characters, once said he was most proud of the Fife character and doesn't mind being remembered that way.

His favorite episodes, he said, were ''The Pickle Story,'' where Aunt Bea makes pickles no one can eat, and ''Barney and the Choir,'' where no one can stop him from singing.

''I can't sing. It makes me sad that I can't sing or dance well enough to be in a musical, but I'm just not talented in that way,'' he lamented. ''It's one of my weaknesses.''

Knotts appeared on several other television shows. In 1979, he replaced Norman Fell on ''Three's Company,'' also starring John Ritter, Suzanne Somers and Joyce DeWitt.

Early in his TV career, he was one of the original cast members of ''The Steve Allen Show,'' the comedy-variety show that ran from 1956-61. He was one of a group of memorable comics backing Allen that included Louis Nye, Tom Poston and Bill ''Jose Jimenez'' Dana.

Knotts' G-rated films were family fun, not box-office blockbusters. In most, he ends up the hero and gets the girl -- a girl who can see through his nervousness to the heart of gold.

In the part-animated 1964 film ''The Incredible Mr. Limpet,'' Knotts played a meek clerk who turns into a fish after he is rejected by the Navy.

When it was announced in 1998 that Jim Carrey would star in a ''Limpet'' remake, Knotts responded: ''I'm just flattered that someone of Carrey's caliber is remaking something I did. Now, if someone else did Barney Fife, THAT would be different.''

In the 1967 film ''The Reluctant Astronaut,'' co-starring Leslie Nielsen, Knotts' father enrolls his wimpy son -- operator of a Kiddieland rocket ride -- in NASA's space program. Knotts poses as a famous astronaut to the joy of his parents and hometown but is eventually exposed for what he really is, a janitor so terrified of heights he refuses to ride an airplane.

In the 1969 film ''The Love God?,'' he was a geeky bird-watcher who is duped into becoming publisher of a naughty men's magazine and then becomes a national sex symbol. Eventually, he comes to his senses, leaves the big city and marries the sweet girl next door.

He was among an army of comedians from Buster Keaton to Jonathan Winters to liven up the 1963 megacomedy ''It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.'' Other films include ''The Ghost and Mr. Chicken'' (1966); ''The Shakiest Gun in the West'' (1968); and a few Disney films such as ''The Apple Dumpling Gang'' (1974); ''Gus'' (1976); and ''Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo'' (1977).

In 1998, he had a key role in the back-to-the-past movie ''Pleasantville,'' playing a folksy television repairman whose supercharged remote control sends a teen boy and his sister into a TV sitcom past.

Knotts began his show biz career even before he graduated from high school, performing as a ventriloquist at local clubs and churches. He majored in speech at West Virginia University, then took off for the big city.

''I went to New York cold. On a $100 bill. Bummed a ride,'' he recalled in a visit to his hometown of Morgantown, where city officials renamed a street for him in 1998.

Within six months, Knotts had taken a job on a radio Western called ''Bobby Benson and the B-Bar-B Riders,'' playing a wisecracking, know-it-all handyman. He stayed with it for five years, then came his series TV debut on ''The Steve Allen Show.''

He married Kay Metz in 1948, the year he graduated from college. The couple had two children before divorcing in 1969. Knotts later married, then divorced Lara Lee Szuchna.

In recent years, he said he had no plans to retire, traveling with theater productions and appearing in print and TV ads for Kodiak pressure treated wood.

The world laughed at Knotts, but it also laughed with him.

He treasured his comedic roles and could point to only one role that wasn't funny, a brief stint on the daytime drama ''Search for Tomorrow.''

''That's the only serious thing I've done. I don't miss that,'' Knotts said.

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Associated Press writer Vicki Smith in Morgantown, W.Va., contributed to this report.

Monday, February 20, 2006

That's one for AlphaBettor, One for Mr. B!

Curt Gowdy, one of the signature voices of sports for a generation and the longtime broadcaster for the Boston Red Sox, died Monday at 86.


Famed sports voice Curt Gowdy called 13 World Series in his storied career.

He died in Palm Beach after a long battle with leukemia, Red Sox spokeswoman
Pam Ganley said.

Gowdy made his broadcasting debut in 1944 and went on to call 13 World
Series and 16 All-Star games.

In 1951 Gowdy became main play-by-play voice on the Red Sox broadcast team.
He left the Red Sox in 1966 for a 10-year stint as "Game of the Week"
announcer for NBC. He was also the longtime host of the "American Sportsman"
series.

"He's certainly the greatest play-by-play person up to this point that NBC
sports has ever had," NBC Universal Sports chairman Dick Ebersol said
Monday. "He literally carried the sports division at NBC for so many year on
his back. ... He was a remarkable talent and he was an even more remarkable
human being."

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Sharon is 'critical but stable'

JERUSALEM (CNN) -- Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition remained critical but stable the morning after he underwent emergency abdominal surgery, according to a hospital statement Sunday quoted by news agencies.

Sharon has been in a coma at Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem since suffering a massive stroke on January 4. On Saturday, he was rushed into emergency surgery to remove about one -third of his colon.

The hospital statement, quoted by The Associated Press, said: "Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's condition stabilized after surgery, but it is still described this morning (Sunday) as critical and stable. The prime minister is in the general intensive care unit."

On Saturday, the hospital had said Sharon's life was in "no immediate danger" after the surgery for damage in his intestinal tract.

Doctors removed about 20 inches (50 cm) -- or a third -- of his large intestine, which had turned gangrenous, the director of Hadassah Medical Center, Dr. Shlomo Mor-Yosef, told reporters Saturday.

"The key problem is his lack of consciousness," not the intestinal damage, Mor-Yosef said at the briefing. He said Sharon has yet to emerge from the coma he's been in since his massive stroke on January 4. (Watch Mor-Yosef describe Sharon's condition after emergency surgery -- 4:10)

Mor-Yosef described Sharon's condition as "serious, it's stable, it's critical," but that there was "no immediate danger" to his life. He has been transferred to intensive care.

The deterioration of the intestinal functions generally strikes those who are unconscious or who do not move for a long time, Mor-Yosef said. Infection and a decline in blood supply contribute to gangrene, he explained.

Doctors first detected that Sharon's abdomen was swollen on Friday. After a CT scan showed extensive damage to his intestine, doctors rushed him into surgery, Mor-Yosef said.

The four-hour surgery is Sharon's seventh since his massive stroke. There was fear that Sharon would not survive the procedure, Mor-Yosef said.

But the surgery was successful, with "no complications," said Mor-Yosef.

The 77-year-old Sharon had a feeding tube inserted in his stomach on February 1.

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told CNN "the White House is closely following the situation and keeping Prime Minister Sharon in our thoughts and prayers."

Sharon's stroke in early January sent shock waves through Israel's fragile political landscape at a sensitive time in Middle East events, just weeks before an Israeli parliamentary vote on March 28 and Palestinian elections on January 25, in which the Islamic fundamentalist group Hamas won a landslide victory. (Full story)

During Sharon's hospitalization, his powers as prime minister were transferred to Ehud Olmert, his longtime loyalist and a former Jerusalem mayor. Kadima party legislators also elected Olmert as interim party leader. (Olmert's bio at a glance)

Sharon founded Kadima in November after leaving the Likud party, which included members who strongly opposed his plan to withdraw Israeli troops and setters from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.

Before his stroke, polls had shown that with Sharon at the helm, Kadima would win the largest block of seats in Israel's parliament, the Knesset, in the March elections, making it likely he would remain prime minister.

CNN's Guy Raz contributed to this report.

'Jaws' author Benchley dead at age 65

NEW YORK (AP) -- Peter Benchley, whose novel "Jaws" terrorized millions of swimmers even as the author himself became an advocate for the conservation of sharks, has died at age 65, his widow said Sunday.

Wendy Benchley, married to the author for 41 years, said he died Saturday night at their home in Princeton, New Jersey.

The cause of death, she said, was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive and a fatal scarring of the lungs.

Thanks to Benchley's 1974 novel, and Steven Spielberg's blockbuster movie of the same name a year later, the simple act of ocean swimming became synonymous with fatal horror, of still water followed by ominous, pumping music, then teeth and blood and panic.

"Spielberg certainly made the most superb movie; Peter was very pleased," Wendy Benchley told The Associated Press.

"But Peter kept telling people the book was fiction, it was a novel, and that he no more took responsibility for the fear of sharks than ["Godfather" author] Mario Puzo took responsibility for the Mafia."

Besides his wife, Peter Benchley is survived by three children and five grandchildren.

A small family service will take place next week in Princeton, Wendy Benchley said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Grandpa 'Munster' dies at age 83

NEW YORK (AP) -- Al Lewis, the cigar-chomping patriarch of "The Munsters" whose work as a basketball scout, restaurateur and political candidate never eclipsed his role as Grandpa from the television sitcom, died after years of failing health. He was 83.

Lewis, with his wife at his bedside, passed away Friday night, said Bernard White, program director at WBAI-FM, where the actor hosted a weekly radio program. White made the announcement on the air during the Saturday slot where Lewis usually appeared.

"To say that we will miss his generous, cantankerous, engaging spirit is a profound understatement," White said.

Lewis, sporting a somewhat cheesy Dracula outfit, became a pop culture icon playing the irascible father-in-law to Fred Gwynne's ever-bumbling Herman Munster on the 1964-66 television show. He was also one of the stars of another classic TV comedy, playing Officer Leo Schnauzer on "Car 54, Where Are You?"

But Lewis' life off the small screen ranged far beyond his acting antics. A former ballplayer at Thomas Jefferson High School, he achieved notoriety as a basketball talent scout familiar to coaching greats like Jerry Tarkanian and Red Auerbach.

He operated a successful Greenwich Village restaurant, Grandpa's, where he was a regular presence -- chatting with customers, posing for pictures, signing autographs.

Just two years short of his 90th birthday, a ponytailed Lewis ran as the Green Party candidate against incumbent Gov. George Pataki. Lewis campaigned against draconian drug laws and the death penalty, while going to court in a losing battle to have his name appear on the ballot as "Grandpa Al Lewis."

He didn't defeat Pataki, but managed to collect more 52,000 votes.

Lewis was born Alexander Meister in upstate New York before his family moved to Brooklyn, where the 6-foot-1 teen began a lifelong love affair with basketball. He later became a vaudeville and circus performer, but his career didn't take off until television did the same.

Lewis, as Officer Schnauzer, played opposite Gwynne's Officer Francis Muldoon in "Car 54, Where Are You?" -- a comedy about a Bronx police precinct that aired from 1961-63. One year later, the duo appeared together in "The Munsters," taking up residence at the fictional 1313 Mockingbird Lane.

The series, about a family of clueless creatures plunked down in middle America, was a success and ran through 1966. It forever locked Lewis in as the memorably twisted character; decades later, strangers would greet him on the street with shouts of "Grandpa!"

Unlike some television stars, Lewis never complained about getting typecast and made appearances in character for decades.

"Why would I mind?" he asked in a 1997 interview. "It pays my mortgage."

Lewis rarely slowed down, opening his restaurant and hosting his WBAI radio program. At one point during the '90s, he was a frequent guest on the Howard Stern radio show, once sending the shock jock diving for the delay button by leading an undeniably obscene chant against the Federal Communications Commission.

He also popped up in a number of movies, including the acclaimed "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" and "Married to the Mob." Lewis reprised his role of Schnauzer in the movie remake of "Car 54," and appeared as a guest star on television shows such as "Taxi," "Green Acres" and "Lost in Space."

But in 2003, Lewis was hospitalized for an angioplasty. Complications during surgery led to an emergency bypass and the amputation of his right leg below the knee and all the toes on his left foot. Lewis spent the next month in a coma.

A year later, he was back offering his recollections of a seminal punk band on the DVD "Ramones Raw."

He is survived by his wife, Karen Ingenthron-Lewis, three sons and four grandchildren.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Feminist Author Betty Friedan Dies at 85

Filed at 4:44 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Betty Friedan, whose manifesto ''The Feminine Mystique'' became a best seller in the 1960s and laid the groundwork for the modern feminist movement, died Saturday, her birthday. She was 85.

Friedan died at her home of congestive heart failure, according to a cousin, Emily Bazelon.

Friedan's assertion in her 1963 best seller that having a husband and babies was not everything and that women should aspire to separate identities as individuals, was highly unusual, if not revolutionary, just after the baby and suburban booms of the Eisenhower era.

The feminine mystique, she said, was a phony bill of goods society sold to women that left them unfulfilled, suffering from ''the problem that has no name'' and seeking a solution in tranquilizers and psychoanalysis.

''A woman has got to be able to say, and not feel guilty, `Who am I, and what do I want out of life?' She mustn't feel selfish and neurotic if she wants goals of her own, outside of husband and children,'' Friedan said.

In the racial, political and sexual conflicts of the 1960s and '70s, Friedan's was one of the most commanding voices and recognizable presences in the women's movement.

As a founder and first president of the National Organization for Women in 1966, she staked out positions that seemed extreme at the time on such issues as abortion, sex-neutral help-wanted ads, equal pay, promotion opportunities and maternity leave.

But at the same time, Friedan insisted that the women's movement had to remain in the American mainstream, that men had to be accepted as allies and that the family should not be rejected.

''Don't get into the bra-burning, anti-man, politics-of-orgasm school,'' Friedan told a college audience in 1970.

To more radical and lesbian feminists, Friedan was ''hopelessly bourgeois,'' Susan Brownmiller wrote at the time.

Friedan, deeply opposed to ''equating feminism with lesbianism,'' conceded later that she had been ''very square'' and uncomfortable about homosexuality.

''I wrote a whole book objecting to the definition of women only in sexual relation to men. I would not exchange that for a definition of women only in sexual relation to women,'' she said.

Nonetheless she was a seconder for a resolution on protecting lesbian rights at the National Women's Conference in Houston in 1977.

''For a great many women, choosing motherhood makes motherhood itself a liberating choice,'' she told an interviewer two decades later. But she added that this should not be a reason for conflict with ''other feminists who are maybe more austere, or choose to seek their partners among other women.''

By then in her 70s, Friedan had moved on to the issue of how society views and treats its elderly.

She said that while researching her last book, ''The Fountain of Age,'' published in 1993, she found those who dealt with old people ''talk about the aged with the same patronizing, `compassionate' denial of their personhood that was heard when the experts talked about women 20 years ago.''

She had not stopped being a feminist, she said, ''but women as a special separate interest group are not my concern any more.''

Friedan, born Feb. 4, 1921, in Peoria, Ill., was a high achieving Jewish outsider growing up in middle America. Her father, Harry Goldstein, owned a jewelry store; her mother, Miriam, quit a job as a newspaper women's page editor to become a housewife.

As a girl, Friedan watched her mother ''cut down my father because she had no place to channel her terrific energies, a typical female disorder that I call impotent rage,'' she said.

From high school valedictorian in 1938 to summa cum laude graduate of Smith College in 1942, ''I was that girl with all A's and I wanted boys worse than anything,'' she said.

She won a fellowship in psychology to the University of California, Berkeley, but turned down a bigger fellowship there so as not to outdo a boyfriend.

The romance broke up anyway and Friedan moved to Greenwich Village in New York and became a labor reporter.

She lost one job to a returning World War II veteran but found another before marrying Carl Friedan, a summer-stock producer and later an advertising executive, in 1947. The marriage, which produced three children, ended in divorce 22 years later.

Friedan got a maternity leave to have her first child in 1949, but was fired and replaced by a man when she asked for another leave to have the second child five years later.

The family had moved to a big Victorian house in the suburban Rockland County village of Grandview-on-the-Hudson, N.Y., where Friedan cranked out freelance magazine articles while bringing up her brood.

Hoping to get a magazine piece out of a Smith College 15-year reunion, Friedan prepared an in-depth survey of her classmates.

What she found was that these well-educated women of the class of 1942, now largely suburban housewives, were asking, in effect, ''Is this all?''

Friedan couldn't get the article published in a magazine, but five years of more research and writing turned it into ''The Feminine Mystique.''

If some women read it as a call to arms, others were outraged, Friedan recalled. Dinner invitations stopped; she was out of the school car pool.

But the first printing of 3,000 eventually grew to 600,000 copies hardcover and more than 2 million in paperback. The book was listed at No. 37 on a 1999 New York University survey of 100 examples of the best journalism of the century.

In 1964, the family moved back to Manhattan in 1964 and Friedan began working to have the federal government enforce the Civil Rights Act as it applied to sex and not only to race, religion and national origin.

Founding NOW was a response to federal inaction. The finale of Friedan's presidency was the national women's strike of August 1970, which brought women out across the country on the 50th anniversary of women's suffrage.

She also was a founder in 1968 of the National Conference for Repeal of Abortion Laws, which became the National Abortion Rights Action League, and of the National Women's Political Caucus in 1971.

During the following decade she taught and lectured, and her 1981 book, ''The Second Stage,'' was seen by many as a public break with the feminist leadership that had succeeded her. She said they had pursued ''sexual politics that distorted the sense of priorities of the women's movement during the 1970s,'' and had opened the way for conservatives and reactionaries to occupy the center on family issues.

In ''The Second Stage,'' Friedan also appeared to accept criticism from some women that ''The Feminine Mystique'' was too dismissive of domestic life. ''Our failure was our blind spot about the family,'' she wrote.

Friedan taught on both coasts, at New York University and the University of Southern California, lecturing widely and traveling to women's conferences around the globe.

She helped persuade the Democratic Party to give women half the delegate strength at its nominating convention and was herself a delegate when Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for vice president in 1984.

She lived in New York City and Washington, D.C., and had a summer house in Sag Harbor, N.Y.

Survivors include her sons, Daniel Friedan of Princeton, N.J., and Jonathan Friedan of Philadelphia, and daughter Emily Friedan of Buffalo, N.Y.; nine grandchildren; a sister, Amy Adams of New York; and a brother, Harry Goldstein of Palm Springs, Calif.

Carl Friedan died in December, according to Bazelon.

She said the funeral will be Monday at Riverside Memorial Chapel in New York.