Monday, 1 December 2014

January 2014 Memoriams

Where did the year go to? A blur of nappies, for me, no doubt, but sitting down to be reflective, as one does, you realise what a contemptible bastard the Reaper was this year too. 

Here then are a few thoughts and tributes to the great, good and the memorable who left in January this year.*

*And a few who went before, but were announced after the bells.

To repeat the drill, for those new to this:

This stemmed from a conversation with Toby Hadoke in May 2011, over BAFTA/Oscar tributes and their ability to omit people. And then from many, many conversations with poor old Jon Arnold following.

Arnold's belief, and one I share, is that if someone makes a mark on your life, however oblique, it is right to tip a hat of respect towards them at their death. They could have written a book you love, or been a hero of your childhood (or adulthood), or even had a passing role in an episode of a TV show you liked. Whatever they did, it is right to acknowledge their role in an aspect of your life, much as we hope others will do for us in the future when we are gone.

He made one small ruling though: "it can't be a meaningless list of names, it has to express why these people meant something." For some people, that is fairly obvious. Phil Everly's legacy, for example, is fairly easily defined and adored. The bigger challenge was in expressing the adoration felt for so many unsung heroes, too many of whom we lost this year. Folk who might not get a moment in a Year End Memoriam on TV, but who deserve a moment of respect none the less. In fact, researching the finer details of folk I had as fuzzy memories led me to appreciate them all the more again.

I guess as you get older, your spheres of knowledge widen, and so by degrees do the vast number of people involved. Take Doctor Who for example. The average fan has an interest in a show going back fifty years, and knows of many of the main stars, production teams, assistants, writers, associates and guest casts of the show. Thats a list of over two thousand names from the off, and I've never met anybody whose sole interest in life is merely one TV show.

So on top of all our the personal tragedies, here is a small (small not being the operative word here) tribute to lives that moved: writers, musicians, politicians, historical figures, war heroes, actors, geniuses, activists, footballers. Some may be acknowledged for their place in history, others for their effect on me. All people made equal by that final exit.

It isn't a complete list. You wont find the Deaths of Everyone in 2014 here - go to Wikipedia for that. I can't pretend to know everything: indeed, I notice many an American football obit, but being blind to the sport, I would have no knowledge of their existence within the sport. Conversely, due to my political history and cult TV geekdoms, folk of those aspects may well show up more than normal.

There was also some judicious editing. My interest has always been primarily in brilliant people, or, at the very least, people I can understand the motivations of. Folk involved in being genuinely evil, I find little brilliance in. Hence previous year snubs of Erich Priebke, and intended future snub of Peter Tobin, for two examples.

For Death is merely a point. All of the people, in their own way, were awe inspiring. So enough of me. Lets pay tribute to the first of these sadly departed.

March 2002 – Michael Leeston-Smith, c 86

Former BBC director who directed The Myth Makers, the entirely lost Dr Who story about Troy. He had directed several episodes of Z-cars, having had an early role as lighting engineer on The Quatermass Experiment.  Later he emigrated to South Africa and helped train the film makers there. Thought alive until this April, when Toby Hadoke uncovered an obit in The Star newspaper in South Africa date 28th March 2002. His death had gone entirely unnoticed in the UK.

“It was great fun working with Max Adrian and Barrie Ingham. Both marvellous actors. Although mainly studio-bound, the story did demand some location filming. We filmed Troy down at Frensham Ponds, a very popular location at the time.” Leeston-Smith, DWM188

31st December 2013– James Avery, 68

Actor best known for his role as Uncle Phil in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  He also provided the voice of Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon series.

“Some of my greatest lessons in acting, living and being a respectable human being came through James Avery. Every young man needs an uncle.” Will Smith

31st December 2013 – John Fortune, 74

Comic actor who had a long running partnership with John Bird, and who appeared in the Bremner, Bird and Fortune TV series, satirising modern British politics and economics. Fortune and Bird would often improvise five minute sketches on a topical subject, managing to bounce off each other, remaining hilarious in the process, and having a start, middle and end of the sketch self-contained. It was a remarkable talent.

“Yet Fortune was fearless as a satirist. He wasn’t angry or bitter: quite the reverse. He was a warm, generous, and charming man who loved literature, cooking, and parrots. He loved people too; he didn’t judge them but enjoyed them and loved characters - the more eccentric the better. Where Bird was French – cerebral, brilliantly analytical, smoking Gauloises, John was Italian, reading poetry, drinking wine and cooking pheasant... John never seemed hurried. He had the most beautifully organised mind, able to find an apposite story or experience of his own to cheer you or make you smile. During our West End run I would fret constantly about the show, confiding in John that I felt I was just getting away with it. John chastened me for doubting myself. That night, we took our bows as the audience applauded and cheered. As we reached the bottom of our bows, I heard John’s voice next to me. “Got away with it again, Rory?” he said.John didn’t just get away with it. He was the genuine article. A complete satirist and a lovely human being. I’ll miss him terribly.” Rory Bremner, Telegraph

2014? – John Carlisle, 79

Wonderful RSC actor. On TV, he was Martindale, the sympathetic/potentially traitorous boss of Louise Jameson, in the Omega Factor.  He also had roles in The Forsyte Saga, New Scotland Yard and Disraeli: Portrait of a Romantic. On stage, he was rarely off it, playing all from King Lear to Nicholas Nickleby.  On Broadway, he played Don John in Much Ado, and Dr Rank in A Doll’s House, among other roles. Despite being a much loved actor, his death went unreported entirely. It was reported in Equity magazine in August – when they learned of it. Sometime between 2011 and now. Shame for such a multi-talented man.

2014 – Derek Smee

Actor who appeared in Poirot, The Saint, Armchair Thriller, The Bill, and others, but is best known for his performance as Ransome in the first Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story, Spearhead from Space.

1st January 2014 – Jafar Namdar, 79

Iranian football referee who was at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups.

1st January 2014 – Juanita Moore, 99

Actress who was Oscar nominated for Imitation of Life.  In later life she had an appearance in ER.

1st January 2014  - Billy McColl, 62

Scottish TV actor, who appeared in all the big Scottish dramas. Possibly best known as one of the two escaped criminals who ran over and killed the dog, Wee Jock, in a memorable episode of Hamish MacBeth. Elsewhere he appeared in Doctor Who (Trial of a Time lord), Between the Lines, and as Jacko Argyle in the rather insane Agatha Christie/Dave Brubeck cross-over that was Ordeal by Innocence.

2nd January 2014 – Elizabeth Jane Howard, 90

British novelist and ghost story writer, who collaborated early with Robert Aickman, and who was once married to Kingsley Amis. Her story, Three Miles Up, is one of the great esoteric British horrors.

2nd January – Bernard Glasser, 89

American producer of the 1963 Day of the Triffids film.

3rd January 2014 – Saul Zaentz, 91

Producer who won the Oscar for One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, Amadeus and The English Patient. Also produced the animated Lord of the Rings.

3rd January 2014 – Alicia Rhett, 97

Actress who appeared in Gone With the Wind.

3rd January 2014 – Sir Michael Neubert

Tory MP for Romford from 1974-97.

“After her re-election by a landslide in 1983, Mrs Thatcher appointed Neubert a junior whip. He proved himself a sound performer as he stayed for five years in the whips’ office, twice earning promotion. He underlined his loyalty by attending in 1984 one of the formative meetings of the Thatcherite 92 Group of Conservative MPs. In 1988 he moved to the MoD, as Parliamentary Under-Secretary for the Armed Forces. A year later, as cracks were appearing in the Iron Curtain, Neubert was switched to the defence procurement portfolio. However the move brought little change to his duties; he resisted pressure to increase pensions for pre-1973 service widows, and in April 1990 bravely visited Gruinard Island off the north-west coast of Scotland to declare it finally safe after World War II anthrax experiments. Though Neubert did not put a foot wrong, there were complaints that he lacked flair. When in July 1990 Mrs Thatcher decided to freshen her government, she sacked him — months later consoling him with a knighthood in her resignation honours.” Telegraph obit

3rd January 2014 – Phil Everly, 74

One half of the Everly Brothers, singing duo from the 1950s and 60s.

5th January 2014 – Simon Hoggart, 67

(public domain picture, Guardian, Lib Dem conference 2006)

Journalist who wrote for The Guardian and The Spectator. He presented The News Quiz . on the Radio 4.  Oldest son of Richard Hoggart.

“Hoggart's world view was shaped by his family roots in the industrial north of England. He knew Thatcher had made necessary reforms but felt she was neither evil witch nor national saviour, merely increasingly mad. He disliked New Labour ("if they ever invent a fat-free lard it would resemble a New Labour MP") and thought Tony Blair a self-satisfied opportunist. "I sat in the front row for Tony Blair's (conference) speech. It was like the monsoon in a Somerset Maugham short story," he once wrote. John Major's curious vocabulary and sentence structure he routinely ascribed to the then-PM having learned English as a second language in a British Council office in rural Nigeria. He also tormented John Prescott and Lib Dem ministers in general. But he could be kind when he decided a politician had risen to a difficult occasion and had his favourites. They included Sir Peter Tapsell, now father of the Commons, whose grandiloquent style of speech prompted Hoggart to suggest that monks must be writing down his every word on vellum.” Michael White, Guardian obit

“What few people seemed able to do was face the fact that she got some things right, and others horribly wrong; that she wasn't evil so much as ludicrously overconfident in her judgments. The new pope may have renounced his own infallibility, but she never did.”
Simon Hoggart’s last Year in Review, Guardian 19th December 2013

5th January 2014 – Eusebio, 71

"Without doubt, Eusebio was one of the finest players I ever had the privilege to play against. I feel proud to have been both an opponent and friend and am saddened to hear of his passing."
Bobby Charlton

Mozambique born Portuguese footballer, who played for Benfica and won the European Cup. He scored 473 goals in 440 goals for Benfica, and played in multiple European Cup finals.

“Eusébio scored a hat-trick on his Benfica debut, in June 1961. Two weeks later, in a friendly match in Paris, the team faced the Brazilian club Santos, and their great striker Pelé. With Benfica losing 4-0 and with no chance of winning, Guttmann brought on Eusébio in the second half. Within 20 minutes, he had scored another hat-trick. Pelé, along with everyone else watching, sensed the arrival of a future great. Benfica were then reigning European and Portuguese champions, but Eusébio forced his way into their formidable side the following season. At the end of that season the club retained the European Cup, defeating the mighty Real Madrid, unbeaten in their previous five finals and led by Ferenc Puskas and Alfredo di Stefano, Eusébio's boyhood idol. The 19-year-old scored the last two goals in the 5-3 victory, and at the end of the game swapped shirts with Puskas, who had scored a hat-trick, a symbolic exchange between the game's greatest goal scorer and his heir apparent, before Benfica supporters carried their new king from the pitch on their shoulders. Europe’s football writers voted him the continent's second-best player in his first full season as a professional.
Gavin McOwan, Guardian obit

"His talent brought joy for entire generations, even those who didn't live through the most glorious moments of his career.”
Anibal Cavaco Silva

Playing for his international team, he got Portugal to the World Cup semifinals in 1966, single handedly bringing his team back from the brink against North Korea in a famous quarterfinal in which he scored four goals.

“He was the prototype of a complete 21st-century striker, decades ahead of his time; a superb athlete (he ran the 100 metres in 11 seconds at the age of 16) with explosive accleration who could leave defenders trailing in his wake. He could also dribble, was good in the air and possessed a fearsome and highly accurate right foot.” Gavin McOwan, Guardian obit

He suffered ill health in his later years, but could still be seen frequently as the travelling ambassador for all things Benfica and Portuguese football. During the Euro 2004 quarterfinal penalty shootout with England, it was Eusebio who could be seen on the touchline yelling to the Portuguese goalkeeper which way the next English penalty would go. And he was right.

“Eusebio played down racial and national politics, praised others and denied stories about him that could have been turned into legend. Born in Mozambique on Jan. 25, 1942, to an Angolan father, he belonged to Portugal because those countries were still considered colonies. The rumor grew that he had been kidnapped by Benfica, the great power of Portuguese soccer, until he signed a contract.“These are all lies, pure and simple!” Eusebio said in a 2008 forum at “Some people aren’t honest, but me and my family are. My mother signed a contract with Benfica for 250 contos [around $1,700] and she insisted on a clause which read, ‘If my son does not adapt, the money is deposited in the bank in Mozambique and not one penny will be taken from it.’ I had return tickets when I arrived.”Eusebio’s legacy is best seen and heard in the documentary, “Goal! The World Cup,” issued in 1967, with commentary by Brian Glanville. In the third match of the first round, a Portuguese player steamrollered the sport’s greatest star, Pelé, already playing with an injury. Eusebio stood by Pelé as the medics attended to him. The rumor was that Eusebio chastised his teammate, but he said, no, he stood by Pelé because “He is my friend.”
George Vecsey, New York Times

In  the 1968 European Cup final, Eusebio came the closest to dispelling the Curse of Bela (an alleged curse put over Benfica by their European Cup winning manager when he was sacked by them, that prevents them winning any European Cup since, despite having played in eight finals. Eusebio believed in the curse enough to pray for its lifting at Bela’s grave in Hungary in 1990, to no avail...). At 1-1 late on in the final against Manchester United, Eusebio launched free of the United defence, and with only the keeper to beat produced a world class reaction save out of Alex Stepney. A little to the left, or to the right, and Benfica were champions. In a moment when many modern day prima donnas would swear or frown or look huffy at the miss, Eusebio applauded the goalkeepers save.

“He's one of the greatest in the history of football, but for our country he's much more than that. Irreplaceable - his place in the history of Portuguese football, but more than that in the history of our country. He's a man that doesn't belong to Benfica, doesn't belong to a club, he belongs to a country and I prefer to say that people like him are immortal, because their history and their legacy remains forever.”
Jose Mourinho

“"Looking back on my career I can't say I am sad about it."

6th January 2014 – Larry D Mann, 91

Actor who played Watkins in In the Heat of the Night, but was also known as the voice of Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.

7th January 2014 – Run Run Shaw, 106

Movie mogul and producer.  Creator of Shaw Studios, and more known for his Kung Fu films, he was also executive producer of Blade Runner.

7th January 2014 – Paul Goggins, 60

MP for Wythenshawe and Sale East from 1997 to 2014, and a former minister for Northern Ireland under Gordon Brown.  Died a week after collapsing while out running, from a brain haemorrhage.

8th January 2014 – Jacques Lazarus, 97

One of the leaders of the Jewish resistance in France during World War 2.

9th January 2014 – Franklin McCain, 73

Civil Rights activist. One of the leaders of the Greensboro sit-ins.

“When the students sat down, a waitress told them that “we don’t serve Negroes here.” They showed her receipts from their purchase minutes earlier of school supplies and other items and asked why Woolworth’s accepted their business in the store but not at the lunch counter. At one point, a black employee told them to stop making trouble. A white woman seated near the students expressed her pride in them — and asked why they hadn’t acted earlier. Woolworth’s was a national chain and, in matters of segregation, pursued a policy of adhering to local practices. And so the students were not served. Mr. McCain and others returned the next day, and day after day after that one, with an increasing number of demonstrators. Not yet a week into the demonstration, at least 1,000 had come to protest with them. The Woolworth’s sit-in was not the first of its kind, but it attracted intense national media coverage and was credited with sparking a movement of sit-ins across the country. Conceived and sustained by youths, the Greensboro demonstration also helped inspire the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, which was formed in 1960 and became a cornerstone of the civil rights effort.”
Emily Langer, Washington Post

9th January 2014 – Dale T Mortensen, 74

American economist who won the Nobel Prize in 2010.

10th January 2014 – Ian Redford, 53

Scottish footballer who played for both Dundee clubs, Rangers, Raith Rovers and Ipswich Town. Was at one point the most expensive Scottish transfer. Managed Brechin City for a season in 1993/4. Published his autobiography 2 months before his death.

“Ian joined Rangers at what was a very difficult period for the club. He managed to catch the back end of what you would say then was the great team of the 70s. A lot of our players left but he carried out and had a very good career. He was a great athlete and a very good professional. But most of all, Ian was just a really nice lad. He came to the club quite frequently after he left.”
Sandy Jardine, Daily Record

“The memory of his performances for United at a time when the club competed in the higher echelons of European football will forever be part of our history and his winning goal against Borussia Monchengladbach in the semi final of the Uefa Cup semi final in 1987 will always be looked back on with particular fondness by Arabs everywhere.”
Dundee United statement

“Whatever comes my way, I will be up for the challenges. If you have a good core philosophy of who you are and how you feel about yourself, nothing can get in your way.” 
Ian Redford, November 2013

10th January 2014 – Zbigniew Messner, 84

Prime Minister of Poland from 1985-88 who passed the motion of no confidence in the Soviet Sejm parliament.

11th January 2014 – Ariel Sharon, 85

Controversial Israeli leader, who had been incapacitated by a stroke in 2006.

11th January 2014 – Jerome Willis, 85

“An unselfish, thoughtful actor, his commanding features and voice lending themselves equally well to playing dignified victims or devilish villains.”
Simon Farquhar, Independent obit

British RSC actor whose frequent TV appearances were a delight, be they in the Oval Portrait, Casualty or Harry Enfield. He was Mycroft in the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes, a lawyer in The New Statesman and the party chairman in Yes Prime Minister. A memorable role was as Stevens, the brainwashed boss of Global Chemicals, in classic Dr Who serial The Green Death (aka the one with the maggots). Oliver Cromwell, The Freewheelers, Doomwatch, The Duchess of Malfi, The Avengers, episodes of the Wednesday Play: whatever the genre, the show was only ever enhanced by the acting ability of Jerome Willis.

“In 1960 he was invited to appear in what would turn out to be a pioneering event in television drama – Shakespeare's history plays from Richard II, through the Henrys IV, V and VI to Richard III, performed in 15 parts, under the overall title An Age of Kings, starting with Richard II: The Hollow Crown. The project was the inspiration of Peter Dews, who persuaded the BBC to take it on. Each instalment was broadcast live, an extra challenge for the actors, the many battlefields created in the studio at Wood Lane. Jerome played a succession of noblemen. His first substantial Shakespeare part came two years later at the Old Vic, when he appeared as Orsino in Twelfth Night, with Eileen Atkins as Viola. In 1975, he undertook what he called a "labour of love", playing the kindly, conscience-stricken General Lord Fairfax in Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's film Winstanley , about the tragic fate of the leader of the Diggers in the English civil war. He was the one professional in a cast of amateurs. The subject had a deep and lasting appeal for him, confirming his belief in the Quaker movement, which he was to join as a consequence. Other film work included Orlando , with Tilda Swinton, in 1992.”
Paul Bailey, Guardian obit

12th January 2014 – John Horsley, 93

Actor best known for his roles in The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin (as Doc Morrissey) and  The Box of Delights (as the Bishop of Tatchester).

12th January 2014 – John Button, 70

Father of Jenson Button.

12th January 2014 – Sir Robert Scholey, 92

Former Chairman of British steel.

“A plain-speaking Yorkshireman known to friends and enemies alike as “Black Bob”, Scholey returned the loss-making nationalised corporation to profitability and led it back to the private sector — but found himself forever cast in Scottish demonology as the man who closed Ravenscraig.Scholey was one of British industry’s characters, and when Margaret Thatcher’s government gave him the tricky and politically sensitive job of handling BSC’s privatisation, it was seen by some as a high-risk appointment. For Scholey’s stock-in-trade was bluntness, though this was coupled with a detailed knowledge of steelmaking acquired over 40 years in the industry. He had a reputation as a hard, even intimidating, man who did not suffer fools gladly.”
Telegraph obit

13th January 2014 -  Bobby Collins, 82

Scottish international footballer who played for Celtic (winning the 1951 Scottish Cup), Everton and Leeds.

14th January 2014 – Mae Young, 90

(public domain photo from 2001)

“Mae Young — who pulled hair and took cheap shots, who preferred actually fighting to pretending, who was, by her own account and that of many other female wrestlers, the greatest and dirtiest of them all.”
William Yardley, New York Times

“Johnnie Mae Young was truly one of the greatest female competitors to ever lace up a pair of boots. A proud competitor for three quarters of a century and valued part of WWE to her last day, Young truly blazed a path for future female grapplers beginning in the 1940s. From the moment she first stepped through the ropes, Young established herself as one of the most active and successful female Superstars — including becoming the first U.S. Women’s Champion, carrying out one of the most storied rivalries of the time with the legendary Mildred Burke in 1954 and being among the first female competitors to tour post-war Japan. The entire WWE Universe offers a standing ovation to a true queen of the canvas and bids Mae Young a heartfelt farewell.”
WWE statement

“My brother and I went to school together, and he was on the boys' amateur wrestling team. He taught me all of the amateur wrestling holds so I was a good wrestler. When we went to school, he would go down the street and say, 'I bet my sister could whip you.' So, I was wrestling all of my life."
Mae Young

Veteran womans pro-wrestler. In an industry dominated by old timer men, even many of those old timers used to put Mae Young on their lists of toughest people in the industry without second thought. Starting out as an amateur wrestler – there was no such sport for the girls back then, so she just wrestled the boys – Mae trained to become a professional as in the Depression thats where the money was.

"When they brought Mildred Burke to Tulsa to wrestle a girl by the name of Gladys 'Kill 'Em' Gillem, I caught a streetcar and went over and challenged Mildred Burke because she was the world's champion... Billy Wolfe and Sam Avey, the promoter, told me, 'You can't wrestle the champion, there's no way.' The next day Billy Wolfe brought a girl by the name of Elvira Snodgrass and Gladys 'Kill 'Em' Gillem over to my high school. In the gym, I shot with Gladys and beat her within seconds. Then, I shot with Elvira, and I beat her in seconds. Billy Wolfe then said, 'Well, I might make a girl wrestler out of you.' He smartened me up and said you gotta go with the flow. Back during the time I started wrestling, they didn't like to see girls in the ring. Ed 'Strangler' Lewis told me, 'Women belong in the kitchen and not in the ring. I don't like women wrestling but if there ever was someone born to be a wrestler, you're it.' That's the greatest compliment I ever received because that was what I was born to do. That's the only thing I breathe and think about. I go to sleep thinking about wrestling, I love the business." Mae Young, collated by Greg Oliver

Her first match was in March 1939.

Her last match was in November 2010! (In which she exploded the TV Networks PG rating by audibly calling her opponents “sluts” on live TV.)

 “It was widely known that Mae Young was the bona fide toughest and most dangerous female in the rough and tumble world of old school, pro wrestling. Mae told me many stories of smoking cigars and playing poker with her male peers that only enhanced the legend that was 'The Great' Mae Young. Mae once discovered a male wrestler cheating at cards for which he paid an embarrassingly physical price."
Jim Ross

““Anybody can be a baby face, what we call a clean wrestler. They don’t have to do nothing. It’s the heel that carries the whole show. I’ve always been a heel, and I wouldn’t be anything else but.” Mae Young, Lipsticks and Dynamite

Now, trying to break into a male dominated industry at any time is quite the obstacle. Especially when one is a carny like atmosphere, and attempts by groundbreakers were either controlled by the late Fabulous Moolah (whose reputation when she died was as a pioneer, and has since death been hurt by a series of revelations about her bullying and blackmailing of her students) or promoter Billy Wolfe (whose domineering ways pioneering womans wrestler Mildred Burke had to deal with her entire career).

Mae Young’s response to this was quite blunt and to the point. For example, one time, on her way to ringside, some creep in the audience tried to cop a feel. She responded by kicking him so hard she broke bone, and was arrested for assault!

“Mae Young got into trouble in Little Rock one night, Elviry Snodgrass recalled, not without some glee because the gals don't like each other. They never speak outside the ring. "Young is a natural roughneck," Elviry said by way of prelude to the story. "This night in Little Rock she said something to a man fan and he kicked her in the face. Then Mae took him. His wife came to his assistance and Young sent both of them to the hospital. " The aftermath was a trip to the jailhouse for Mae and a fine.”
Gene Sullivan, St. Joseph MO News-Press, Friday, March 16, 1945

“Maybe I did work Mr. Nelson over a little,” she said at the time. “He made advances to me. Improper advances.”
Washington Post

According to historian Greg Oliver, Young was swiftly released when Mr Nelsons version of events was found to have rather more holes in it!

She was a take no shit personality, and managed to maintain a long running friendship with Moolah, despite being polar opposites. (While Moolah had enemies and was a supreme politician, Mae was universally loved and called a spade a shovel – though one might say making a friend of someone likely to be your worst enemy is a fine diplomatic skill in itself.) In fact, Young even helped train Moolah.  In fact, such was her reputation, she used to train the men!

Her reputation was as one of the finest professional woman wrestlers in North America, but the outsider as the face of the industry moved from the much likeable Mildred Burke to Moolah (via the insidious movements of the aforementioned Billy Wolfe). None of the footage of her work in her prime exists to modern audiences. So, as time moved on, and the history of pro-wrestling became, in a word, “McMahon-ised”, her legacy threatened to be washed away, like so many of the pioneers. After all, she was one in a niche, and for parts of the 1990s, there wasn’t even a womens championship in Vince McMahons WWF (swiftly on its way to becoming the only show in town in an American sense).

This is when Mae Young showed back up on the scene. An official 76 years old (though it was likely up to half a decade older in reality), Young appeared on WWF TV in 1999 in a storyline in which a male wrestler was doing the “anti-woman” gimmick. Wrestling had changed somewhat in the preceeding 60s years from “worked shoot” amateur with dramatics, to the Hogan/Big Daddy style stuff we all know today. By 1999, the usual tricks of the trade, complete with the steel chair shots to the head (since scaled  way down due to recent studies in post concussion syndrome). In typical WWF style, they decided to have one of their wrestlers use one of the most devastating moves in wrestling (both in terms of the story, and in terms of how it could go wrong with the untrained or if badly timed), only to take it fifteen feet off the stage and onto 3 prop tables.

Bubba Ray Dudley, the wrestler who was to deliver the move, had a hard mans reputation, and even he was a bit worried about how to perform the stunt with a near 80 year old woman. At which point Mae Young told him “If you don’t do this like you would anyone else, I’m going to kick your ass.” So they did, and Mae gave him a hug afterwards! (And given she was the lead heel in her own independent promotion at the time, events like this were just par for the course for her even then!)

"I have never thought of my age as any barrier, because I feel I can do anything these 15- and 16-year-old kids can do.” Mae Young

“"I picked her up very lightly, put her down very gently. After the match was over and we'd gone to the back, she came up to me, grabbed me by the wrist like only Lou Thesz could have done, 'Listen, hotshot, if you're gonna slam me, slam me like one of the boys.' You could imagine the look on my face, seeing this little, blonde lady telling me that. From there, we did the spot where I Superbombed her off the top of the stage, 12 feet from the ground, through two tables. She has since suggested to me on three different occasions that we do the same spot from the top of the steel cage!”
Bubba Ray Dudley, Slam Wrestling

Some folk might find this awful, but that would be to overlook the essential being of Mae Young. She had lived her entire life with her own branch of openly LGBT feminism, fighting for her right to be taken seriously in a male dominated industry... so she could earn the right to be a take no shit comedy performer who was portrayed as a sex mad great-granny on TV.  She revelled in it, and the ability to show she was as tough as they come, and the adoration she earned was genuine and widespread.

“"Her longevity in sports entertainment may never be matched, and I will forever be grateful for all of her contributions to the industry.”
Vince McMahon

"I have on my 100th birthday an appointment to wrestle Stephanie McMahon's daughter, Aurora Rose, and that's gonna be my opponent on my 100th birthday. Stephanie has already promised me that I can do that, so I'm gonna do that. I'll be there to it."
Mae Young

Her indefatigability with life came to a sudden end, with a short stay in a hospice. Even then, she took to confounding expectations. As her fans knew the end was fast approaching, a journalist jumped the gun with the news she had died three days early. “Dead? I just ate breakfast!” she apparently responded. Such was her inbuilt fight and stubbornness, she was ready to rise from the near dead one more time, for the final “false finish”. What a woman. She’ll be sadly missed.

14th January 2014 – Dick Shepherd, 86

Missouri born film producer who was responsible for Breakfast at Tiffanys.

15th January 2014 – Roger Lloyd-Pack, 69

Trigger on the wall in the Mercure Francis hotel in Bath , copyright Mark Hillary 2008)

Instantly recognisable actor. As Trigger in Only Fools and Horses, he provided the set up line or reaction shot to some of the classic moments in British comedy. He was also recognised for appearances in Doctor Who (as OTT Cyberman creator John Lumic, complete with great villain line “How will you achieve that...from beyond the grave?”) and Harry Potter (as doomed Barty Crouch Sr).  But his credits were widespread, including Fiddler on the Roof, the Naked Civil Servant and Interview with the Vampire.

16th January 2014 – Hiroo Onoda, 91

Japanese soldier who kept to his orders not to surrender on Lubang Island during WW2 until 1974.

16th January 2014 – Russell Johnson, 89

American TV actor, known for his two roles in The Twilight Zone in this house. In “Back There” he is the time traveller who tries to prevent the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, only to confide in John Wilkes Booth (hows that for a typical Twilight Zone twist?). In “Execution”, he is the one providing the time travel for Albert Salmi’s nearly executed wild west criminal.

17th January 2014 – Lord McAlpine, 71

Businessman and former advisor of Margaret Thatcher.

18th January 2014 – Komla Dumor 41

BBC Africa news presenter.

18th January 2014 – Ken Trew, 77

Costume designer for several episodes of Doctor Who.

18th January 2014 – Dennis Frederiksen, 62

Rock singer who was the lead singer of Toto, as well as provided backing vocals for Survivor.

19th January 2014 – Sir Christopher Chataway, 82

The pacemaker for Roger Bannisters four minute mile. The first BBC Sports Personality of the Year. Competed in the 1952 and 1956 Olympics. BBC Panorama reporter. Tory MP for Lewisham from 1959-66, and Chichester from 1969-74. Supported the boycott of apartheid South Africa by the English cricket team. Later, chairman of the Civil Aviation Authority. He also suggested the formation of the Guinness Book of Records.

“He was in the vanguard of social reform, co-sponsoring Humphry Berkeley’s Bill to legalise homosexuality and telling for the Ayes in the 1964 vote to end capital punishment. As leader of the Inner London Education Committee, he upset grassroots Tories by letting comprehensive plans for seven boroughs go ahead, before securing a reprieve from the Labour government for 44 grammar schools.”
Telegraph obit

19th January 2014 – Bert Williams, 93

Former Wolves and England goalkeeper.

20th January 2014 – Claudio Abbado, 80

Former principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra.

20th January 2014 – George Scott, 84

Former wrestler who was WWF booker during the early Hulk Hogan era.

24th January 2014 – Lisa Daniely, 84

Actress who appeared in Doctor Who and Princess in Love.

27th January 2014 – Ann Carter, 77

Actress in the Curse of the Cat People.

27th January 2014 – Pete Seeger, 94

American folk singer-songwriter. Known for left leaning politics and social activism over 7 decades. Despite acknowledgement that many of his contemporaries preferred a folk song to “be 200 years old, like a fine wine”, he promoted young folk singers like Phil Ochs.

28th January 2014 – Fernand Leduc, 97

Canadian Abstract artist.

28th January 2014 – Kenneth Rose, 89

Writer who wrote the 1983 biography of George V, and worked for the Telegraph.

30th January 2014 – Campbell Lane, 78

Actor who provided the voice of Skeletor in He-Man, and had small roles in four episodes of The X-Files.

30th January 2014 – Arthur Rankin Jr

American producer who founded Rankin Pictures, responsible for many US childrens Christmas specials.

31st January 2014 – Anna Gordy Gaye, 92

Motown songwriter, who wrote “Baby I’m for Real” and several songs for Marvin Gaye, whom she was married to. They split acrimoniously (which led to the album “Here My Dear”) but later became friends again until Gaye’s death in 1984.

31st January 2014 – David Price, 89

Tory MP for Eastleigh from 1955 to 1992.

“An imposing figure, Price was never afraid to stick his neck out; his abstention over Suez with his uncle, Sir Lionel Heald, just after arriving in the House, was forgiven by Macmillan — although not by members of Pratt’s, who four years later blackballed him from his father’s old club. He opposed capital punishment and apartheid; and advocated tax credits for the less well-off, a flexible retirement age and a criminal injuries compensation scheme years before they were introduced . He also campaigned assiduously for the disabled, a cause which was close to his heart. His wife Rosemary had suffered a near-fatal 40ft fall from their Pimlico bathroom window in 1964, when she was 26, incurring multiple injuries and losing the second child they were expecting. After a year in Stoke Mandeville hospital she spent four decades mainly in a wheelchair . In 1970 Price and his wife were turned away from the Tate Gallery when he took her there for the first time since her accident; not only were the steps difficult for a wheelchair, but attendants also said that the gallery was too crowded. The Prices checked other museums and galleries and found things little better; so when Heath’s government introduced museum charges, Price tabled an amendment allowing them to keep the money if they spent it on facilities for the disabled.”

Telegraph obit


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