Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Before 2011 ends, it's time to shake up the obituary file, and see who keels over. Here are some folks you may not have realized are now gone.

First, one of those innocent hypocrites who sincerely believed a life spent inventing extreme forms of warfare would be good for humanity.

Samuel Cohen


The son of a movie studio carpenter, he attended UCLA, studying science and, to make ends meet, working parttime digging graves at the local cemetery. That should have been a clue. He grew up to be a member of the Manhattan Project; that illustrious group, you'll recall, was the think-tank who invented the first use of nuclear energy as a weapon of mass destruction.

Cohen spent his time with the Project studying the neutron. He claimed to have been greatly affected by the sight of destitute children in Seoul drinking out of sewage-filled ditches during the Korean War. He later explained it reminded him of a lunar landscape, and he set about inventing a bomb which would preserve infrastructure while evaporating humans. The American government was keenly interested in such a bomb, which could prove useful in Europe should the Cold War ignite into a nuclear conflict. Soviet Premier Khrushchev described the instrument as a way to eliminate an enemy in order that one can then steal the suit he was wearing.

The weapon became known as the neutron bomb. Its inventor died in November from cancer, proclaiming, just as other members of the Manhattan Project have before him, that his work was meant to invent a "moral weapon that conformed to the Christian 'just war' principles."

Yuck. Let's leave that devil behind, and mention a couple of actors who spent their careers in support, which, as you know, means they have my high regard.

Steve Landesburg


He came to his performing career a bit late, so for years, he fudged his age, so much so, that when he died a few weeks ago, many reported him to be only 65. He worked the comedy club circuit during the 60s and 70s, alongside other future sitcom stars Freddie Prinze and Jimmie Walker. He graduated to appearances on The Tonight Show and Dean Martin's variety hour before landing the gig for which he is best remembered, playing Detective Sgt. Arthur P. Dietrich on Barney Miller, in 1975. He made recurring appearances on the show for several years before becoming a regular player. The series ran 7 years (but is barely remembered today), and concerned a police precinct in New York. Each episode featured a regular cast of eccentric detectives, and oddball suspects paraded through the squad room on a weekly basis. The vastly superior and better known Hill Street Blues, which premiered with great fanfare in the middle of the sitcom's run, is sometimes called "Barney Miller Outside." Some cops point to Barney Miller (which I confess was not one of my favorites), with its illustration of the routineness of a squad room, as the most realistic portrayal of the ordinary banality of the policeman's life.

Landesberg went on to guest on a host of other TV programs, and may be remembered on the big screen as Dr. Rosembaum in Forgetting Sarah Marshall. His most recent gig was as a regular player on the Starz comedy Head Case. He died from colon cancer at the age of 74.

Neva Patterson


She made a career playing upper class, sometimes chilly women, though her way with the wisecrack served her well in the two projects for which I best remember her. In 1957, she played assistant to computer expert Spencer Tracy in Desk Set, in my favorite of the Tracy/Hepburn pairings, and decades later, she played the governor's dryly sardonic secretary in the sitcom The Governor and JJ. On the big screen, she is probably best noted for her role as Cary Grant's fiancee in 1957's An Affair to Remember.

Sci-fi geeks will recognize her from her performance as Eleanor Depres in the original miniseries V (and its follow-up, V-The Final Battle) in the early 80s. She died last week at the age of 90, from complications from a broken hip.

This guy also spent his life in support, but rather than on screen, his influence was felt in the corridors of power:


Senator Ted Kennedy was rarely seen without his favorite pooch at his side, who was a familiar presence in Senate chambers and at the Kennedy compound. Ted started every morning with a rousing game of fetch, and the Portuguese waterdog remained with the senator throughout his work day. Though not allowed in the Senate chamber, Splash was a constant sidekick everywhere else. He once famously interrupted a heated debate in the Democratic caucus between Joe Biden and Paul Wellstone when he, apparently, felt the discussion had gone on long enough. Splash was rewarded with an honorary membership. He is credited with authoring "My Senator and Me: A Dog's-Eye View Of Washington, D.C" in 2006 (frankly, I find it a bit too precious when pets write children's books, but I guess that's just me), and Kennedy's devotion to Splash caused him to lobby heavily for the Obamas to chose the breed when the nation was spellbound by the debate over the First Family's dog choice in the early months of the Obama administration (my, don't you bet Obama longs for those simpler controversies these days?).

The death of this dog was probably only noted in the Massachusetts press, but I'm including this obit in honor of the service Splash did during the final months of Ted Kennedy's life. When he was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, the senator took to the seas, sailing with his family and his dog. I know from experience how comforting the presence of a dog can be to the terminally ill; during the last months of my mother's life, she received comfort from our Pomeranian-poodle mutt, Ashley.

So the passing of Splash Kennedy deserves some notice. He was almost 14 at the time of his death.