Thursday, December 31, 2009

Final Obits of the Year

Here are a couple of deaths which caught my attention this last week of the year.


He was a rare African-American media mogul, owning a string of radio stations in the 70s and 80s, but is better known as a civil rights activist. His law firm handled Malcolm X, and he himself was advisor and mentor to Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, and Barack Obama. He was the youngest of 15 children, whose father was himself born into slavery at the beginning of the Civil War. The elder Sutton went on to a life as a teacher in segregated schools, and insured that all his children went to college.

Our Percy attempted to enlist in the armed services during WWII, and was turned away by southern recruiters, so he traveled to New York to enlist. He was a member of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, and settled in Harlem after the war. He earned a law degree while supporting himself as a postal worker and subway conductor, then returned to active duty to serve in the Korean War. His law firm specialized in the defense of civil rights activists, who were routinely arrested in the South during the 60s.

Sutton was politically active throughout his career, and famously gave up his delegate's seat to the Democratic National Convention in 1968 in protest over the Vietnamese War. He served in the New York legislature for a time, though was defeated in his run for US senate and in his run for mayor of New York.

Sutton made a huge contribution to the arts by spending a quarter of a million dollars to rescue the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. The famed stage would never have survived to the ripe old age of 76 had Sutton not stepped in to save the theatre from demolition in 1981. He died last week at the age of 89.

Here's a horse of a different color:



She was said to have one of the most thankless roles in television, that of Mrs. Wilbur Post in the silly 60s sitcom Mr. Ed. Her co-star Alan Young claimed her biggest line was usually "lunch is ready." She had a minor career in TV and modeling before landing what would be her signature role, that of the confused but loving wife of a bumbling architect with a talking horse. The series was based on short stories by Walter Brooks, and bore a striking resemblance to the Francis the Talking Mule film franchise.

Hines continued to act a bit in episodic television after Mr. Ed's cancellation, but retired from acting in 1971. She hosted a cable-access program for a while, interviewing veterinarians and other animalfolks, and emerged from retirement to appear onstage with her former costar in Love Letters in 1996. (By costar, I mean Alan Young, not the horse.) Connie died last week at the age of 78.

Here's an actor who lived his life in support:



Ok, that's not a picture of Arnold Stang. It's a picture of what may be his best known character, Top Cat, who headlined his own primetime cartoon series in the 60s. The show bore a resemblance to Phil Silvers's "Sgt. Bilko" character and lasted only 30 episodes, but is fondly remembered as the "coolest" of the Hanna-Barbera cartoon family.

Stang began his long career in radio, and moved easily into television and feature films. He played Sinatra's sidekick in The Man with the Golden Arm, and Schwarzenegger's sidekick in Hercules in New York. He owned the gas station which Jonathan Winters demolished in It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. He was a regular on Milton Berle's variety show, and appeared in countless commercials over the years. I still remember his long-running gig as the spokesman for Chunky chocolate bars. He had a geeky charm which served him well over his lengthy career; as he put it, "I look like a frightened chipmunk who's been out in the rain too long." He died last week at the ripe old age of 91.