People Who Died – September
Writing this from Tuscany and it is a much more relaxed atmosphere than my normal surroundings, so I hope I don’t lose my edge. A lot of music in this month’s edition.
Cliff Freeman, who gave us such memorable lines as “sometimes you feel like a nut, sometimes you don’t,” for Hershey; “Pizza Pizza,” for Little Caesar’s; and perhaps his most famous, “Where’s the Beef,” barked out by a gravelly voiced older woman (Clara Peller, who died in 1987) for Wendy’s, has gone to the great copywriting room in the sky at 80. His method was to win with wit, and it is his catchy, witty phrases that will live on while he does not.
Reuben Klamer, the inventor of the Game of life and hundreds of other toys died at 99. He also came up with Moon Rocks and Gaylord the Walking Dog among hundreds of other toys. It was the “Game of Life,” though, for which he is most noted. In it, there is little skill required and the person with the most money at the end wins – just like real life, or so we think. I wonder if he thought he had won in the end in his own game of life. Hope so.
Speaking of 99, Willard Scott has left us at 87, well short of the hundred I am sure he wanted to make. What I remember most about Mr. Scott is his interviewing those who hit the century mark. In what I believe is the highest honor one can bestow upon the deceased, the New York Times had Margalit Fox write his obit. I have waxed on about her in the past. Mr. Scott got his start as Bozo the Clown and was the original television version of Ronald McDonald, although according to him, he was passed over as the national spokes-Ronald for a more svelte version of the clown. His style provoked varied responses. While Barbara Bush kissed him on the cheek during the 1989 inaugural parade, because she liked his face; once, while wheeling his shopping cart in a supermarket he was charged by an old lady who smacked him with her umbrella proclaiming: I can’t stand you, according to the Boston Globe. Such is the life of a weatherman who had absolutely no scientific background. If only he had eked out another 13 years he could have been interviewed by Al Roker. Then again, that is perhaps why he left.
In the legal hierarchy, state court trial judges are the bass players of the judiciary. They often toil at important jobs, making the justice system work, the way bass players ground the music of the greater-known luminaries of the band. Everyone knows Jimmy Paige but far fewer are conversant with John Paul Jones. We know how the Who felt about Entwistle, not even missing a concert date when he died, and I challenge you to name the bass player for, say, Nirvana (it’s Krist Novoselic but I had to look it up). Anyway, that is generally where state court trial judges fit in. But not all of them. Every so often there is a state court judge with the impact of his or her federal brethren. Edward Greenfield, who died this month at 98, was one such judge. Sitting on the trial bench for 30 years he got to hear and decide a lot of cases and took all of them seriously. For instance, when a police officer missed his civil service promotional exam because he was attending the funeral of his mother-in-law, New York City did not let him take a make-up exam, as they would in the case of a family member’s death because, said the City: mothers-in-law were not relations. In a decision that, I am sure forever endeared him to his own mother-in-law, and by extension kept the wife happy as well, Judge Greenfield ruled in favor of the officer writing that mothers-in-law “have a standing on the social scale somewhat beneath grave robbers, horse thieves and boiler room operators.” Having worked in boiler rooms I know of what he speaks. In their defense he wrote that “the time has come to speak out forcefully and to give judicial recognition to the fact that mothers-in-law are not as bad as they are painted.” The Judge gave them standing at least in the civil service world. To many I have spoken to, they might disagree with his forceful defense, but they shall go nameless. In writing another opinion about a horse whose stud fee of $100,000 was for naught because as Judge Greenfield put it “the stud was a dud,” he spoke for all men when he wrote: “How shattering a revelation, and how humbling to the inflated ego of the human male, to realize that no one would evaluate his efforts on so lofty a pecuniary scale!” Suffice it to say his erudite opinions will be sorely missed on any bench.
And speaking of bass players, another guy you never heard of, Bob Moore, was the bass player in a group of studio players known as the A-Team who really set down the Nashville sound. While you may not have heard of him, you certainly heard a lot from him. He was the bass player on Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and “Return to Sender” by Elvis. He was also on Roger Miller’s “King of the Road” and the more recently written about Jeannie C. Reilly tune “Harper Valley P.T.A.” Still going he was on Roy Orbison’s “Only the Lonely,” Brook Benton’s “Rainy Night in Georgia” and even Paul Simon’s “The Boxer.” I could go on, but he was the bass player after all. Of his music style, he once said: “A lot of guys can play a hundred notes a second; some can play one note, and it makes a lot better record.” Leland Sklar would agree.
On a somewhat separate note, George Mraz, an eminent jazz bass player, also died this month at 77. There, I satisfied the jazz snobs.
Sarah Dash, a Trenton gal who sang along with Nona Hendryx and Patti LaBelle in Labelle died at 76. She grew up singing in the Trenton Church of Christ choir and met Ms. Hendryx when their two choirs played the same concert. They later joined with Patricia Holte who subsequently changed her name to Patti LaBelle and Cynthia Birdsong (who went on to sing with the Supremes) as Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles and ultimately Labelle (no capital B like Ms. LaBelle’s last name). After Labelle, the three went their own ways. Ms. Dash did a lot of session work with Nile Rodgers and others and only two days before her death sang with Ms. LaBelle at a gig in Atlantic City.
George Frayne, who you might know better as Commander Cody, the moving force behind Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airman (named for some short science fiction films of the 50’s) has taken his last ride in the proverbial Hot Rod Lincoln. He was 77. Perhaps fitting for a guy who made lots of money from a song called “Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! that Cigarette,” he died of esophageal cancer. Given most people thought the County-Jump band was from deep in the heart of Texas, Frayne was born in Boise and grew up in New York and Long Island. He attended Michigan as an undergrad and grad student in fine arts and ultimately did some teaching at both Michigan and the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh, noting that while at Ann Arbor he was “probably the biggest pot dealer on campus.” He painted throughout his life because he was a better painter than musician, but “music was more fun.” Another noteworthy thing about the band was that the guitarist, John Tichy, left to become a professor of aerospace and nuclear engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute so take that Brian May. Who would have thought that a band with that name would spawn two college professors? Frayne thought practicing to be unmanly stating once that “we’d get a bottle of whisky get in out ’49 Cadillac hearse with a surfboard on top and listen to songs on 45 rpm records on the way to gigs. That was how we learned them.”
Pee Wee Ellis, a sax player who worked closely with both James Brown and Van Morrison, died at 80. He co-wrote “Cold Sweat” with Brown as well as “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.” Both Brown and Morrison were, shall we say, rather high-strung individuals with hard-to-meet standards. Ellis was able to get along with both because, he once said, “I’m a good mediator.” Oh, I forgot to mention that he also worked with Ginger Baker who was no day at the beach himself. Good mediator was an understatement. Given those three personalities, we should have put him to work in the Middle East. Of his music, he told The American: Part of the magic is joining forces and making something happen from nowhere.”
Barbara Campbell Cooke, the widow of Sam Cooke (and who was born on my birthday, or more appropriately, me on hers), died at 85. Sam, of course, a man of immense talent and capacity for womanizing, who’s singing still gives me goose bumps, left long ago when a woman who claimed to have been brought to a motel against her will left with most of Mr. Cooke’s clothes when he went to the bathroom. He chased her and broke into the motel manager’s quarters insisting that the manager was harboring his prize. According to the manager, Mr. Cooke slapped her twice and she in turn shot him three times. Unbeknownst to me, only two months after his death, Ms. Cooke married Bobby Womack. Needless to say, this did not go over well with the legion of Sam Cooke fans. The couple divorced in 1970 when Ms. Cooke shot Mr. Womack after catching him in bed with her daughter – never a good thing. Unlike the motel woman’s aim, Ms. Cooke’s bullets only grazed Mr. Womack thus requiring a divorce rather than a burial. Ms. Cooke went on to live her life in relative obscurity which was her desire. After all she did in her youth, one can’t blame her.
Somewhat on a musical note, Connie Hamzy died at 66. She was featured in Grand Funk’s We’re and American Band with the lines: “Out on the road for forty days;
Last night in Little Rock put me in a haze. Sweet, sweet Connie, doin' her act; she had the whole show and that’s a natural fact.” According to Connie, who became Sweet Connie, it wasn’t the whole show that Mark Farner was writing about but rather the whole band. Ms. Hamzy, you see, was one of the best known groupies in the game. She did correct the record in that she did not “do” the whole band. She did however, “do” all of them but Farner. And at age 17. This obviously predated the #Metoo movement. Sweet Connie also was featured in the Cheap Trick tune, “Standing on the Edge,” and the Guess Who tune “Pleasin’ for a Reason.” She started her escapades at age 15 and claims to have done hundreds of rock stars including Keith Moon, John Bonhan, Don Brewer, Don Henley ( I like that she liked drummers) Huey Lewis, Peter Criss, David Lee Roth, Fleetwood Mack members, and the sax player, Bill Clinton, while he was the Arkansas Governor. In an interview with Joan Rivers (long passed) she said that she got into the biz because “In junior high not everyone can be a cheerleader or on the drill team or in the honor society so I found my niche going to concerts.” She said that one night in her youth, she “did” 24 people backstage which included the type of acts the then Governor of Arkansas did not consider sex. She said the first time she engaged in her craft was with the drummer for Frigid Pink (perhaps aptly named) and that whoever gave her the backstage pass was the first to be serviced. Prior to an article in Penthouse chronicling her escapades, she was a substitute teacher for grades K-6. She said that Huey Lewis and Don Henley were very good, but David Lee Roth was not. Brandy Niremburk wrote that “the life she lived was unique, full of adventure and conquests – She succeeded in her endeavors.” Not all of us can make such a boast. She told Rivers that she intended to keep it up until they “closed the lid on the box.” Now they have. Here’s to a good life.
Last month we lost Ed Asner, who played Lou Grant on the Mary Tyler Moore show and this month we lost Jay Sandrich at 89 who directed most of the episodes of the series. He also directed over 100 episodes of “The Cosby Show,” as well as many others, including, “Rhoda,” “The Golden Girls” and two of my personal favorites, “The Bob Newhart Show” and “Get Smart.” Perhaps befitting someone who spent most of his life in sitcoms, he died of dementia.
In sports we lost two notable people in my book. Cloyd Boyer died at 94. Perhaps not as well-known as his brothers Clete and Ken, Cloyd spend 50 years in baseball as both a pitcher and coach. For a time, all three Boyers played on the St. Louis Cardinals, a feat equaled by the DiMaggio’s, Alou’s and most recently the Molina’s.
Sam Cunningham, whose play at U.S.C. went a long way to integrating football, died this month at 71. At USC in 1970, his play, along with two other black athletes, Jimmy Jones, the quarterback, and Clarence Davis, the tailback, soundly defeated Alabama in the deep South so bad, that Bear Bryant later said it assisted him in integrating the Crimson Tide which, by 1977, had 17 black athletes on its roster. Cunningham, whose brother Randall was the quarterback of the Philadelphia Eagles, went on to play nine seasons with the New England Patriots.
I will run down a few notable actors who have gone, first among them Michael Constantine who is perhaps best known for my Big Fat Greek Wedding who died at 94. Ms. Fox has also written his obit. In the movie, much like a recent President who flirted with disinfectants to ward off the Coronavirus, Mr. Constantine’s character was sold on the healing powers of Windex. For me, his best role was as the principal of Walt Whitman High School in the groundbreaking sitcom Room 222, which explored social issues of the day when doing so was unpopular.
We also lost Art Metrano at 84 who performed in a host of sitcoms and had a face that seemed to show up everywhere.
And finally, the world lost Norm McDonald, best known, perhaps, as the Weekend Update reported on SNL, who apparently has waged a personal war with cancer for the last nine years. He was 61. His humor was wittingly intelligent and uncompromising. He lost his job at SNL because he would not stop making jokes that mocked O.J. Simpson, known to be a good friend of the then NBC President, Don Ohlmeyer. Mr. Ohlmeyer had Mr. McDonald fired. Mr. McDonald starred in Norm, about a Canadian hockey player but viewed himself always as a stand-up comedian. It was there that he excelled and from there that we will miss him.
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