Amoeblog

Rocco Morabito 1920 - 2009

Posted by Whitmore, April 6, 2009 09:40pm | Post a Comment

The Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Rocco Morabito, famous for his shot of a utility line worker saving the life a fellow lineman, died this past weekend. He was 88. According to news reports Morabito's health had been in decline and he had been in hospice care for some time.
 
His photograph, tagged "Kiss of Life" by editors at Florida’s Jacksonville Journal, appeared in newspapers and magazines around the world in 1967. The photo dramatically details electrical lineman Randall Champion dangling unconscious from the power pole after being shocked by the high-voltage wire, as fellow lineman J.D. Thompson tries resuscitating him. Morabito was driving along West 26th Street in Jacksonville in July 1967 after returning from covering a railroad strike when he saw the incident. He called his paper to call an ambulance then grabbed his camera.
 
Morabito won the Pulitzer Prize for Spot News Photography in 1968.
 
Earlier in his career another of Morabito’s most famous images was featured in Life magazine. In 1958 his photograph of some elementary school kids reciting the Pledge of Allegiance along with a pet rabbit, its paws over its heart, was given the full page Life treatment.
 
Morabito, once a newsboy selling papers, worked his way into photography for the Jacksonville Journal following the Second World War where he served as a B-17 ball-turret gunner. He worked for the paper for some 42 years, 33 of them as a photographer. Morabito retired in 1982.
 
As for Randall Champion, he survived being electrocuted and died thirty five years later in 2002 at the age of 64.

John Leech, rest in peace

Posted by Whitmore, March 20, 2009 10:00pm | Post a Comment
I’ve been sitting here all day trying to write something perfect.
 
I didn’t get much sleep. After I crawled out of bed on Thursday morning, out of nowhere, a heavy fog rolled in; but it made complete sense to me, it was more than a sign -- it was my destination. I was already there. The previous night I got the phone call I didn’t expect to receive for a while. I wasn’t at all prepared for the news: John Leech, the owner and founder of LA’s great arts hangout and bohemian cafe, The Onyx, had died.
 
John had no blood relatives, though he did leave behind a close knit extended family of former customers and employees who loved him as kin. I worked for John for some 14 years, and back then I saw him on a daily basis. Now that he’s gone I realize I needed to spend more time with him. Once the Onyx was closed in 1998, John retired and he started trekking across the US and Canada, often by train. Briefly John chased the idea of opening up another café, maybe here in LA or up in Portland, Oregon, but I think his renewed interest in travel got the best of those plans. While I bounced around the west coast, living for a while up in the Puget Sound, John was spending a lot of time in his cabin on the Russian River. I had excuses, but too many excuses. We’d get together for lunch or dinner every once in a while, but never as often as I wished we had now.
 
Though we were friends for some 26 years, there was so much I never knew about John. He was a man of many secrets. For example, I never knew his birthday. No one did. I once actually figured out how old he was; he laughed because he knew I’d forget it. I did. I swear with a wave of his hand the number vanished. John created a public space and even though he was the face of the Onyx, he was an incredibly private person.
 
John however, was truly an odd bird who stood out in the crowd of weirdly plumed eccentrics. Years ago he took to wearing Hawaiian shirts, but as the time went on he found it necessary to wear two, if not three shirts at the same time. My opinion may be a bit skewed, if not perfectly preposterous -- and why wouldn’t it be -- but only John could look so damned dapper wearing three Hawaiian shirts. No, he wasn’t batty, he just had a lot of Hawaiian shirts the world needed to experience. John was not exactly subtle but he did have an air of mystery about him. One part Bohemian, one part drill-sergeant, one part raconteur and muckraker, one part doting step-dad, he was a genuine man of the world. He hated bullshit, though a good bullshitter would be welcomed at his table. John had no patience for fools, but he knew when foolishness was a breath of fresh air. A few mediocre cups of coffee may have been poured at the Onyx now and then, but there was more pulsating life on that vibrant stretch of Vermont Ave than most any other part of Los Angeles during the 1980’s and 90’s. The cafe and the gallery next door was a genuine sanctuary from the volatile, irritating, confounding world outside. During the LA riots in 1992 John kept the Onyx open 24 hours a day so that the community had somewhere to gather and talk and be still. He believed in an unfettered creative experience, personal choice, personal responsibility, freedom of expression, the independence to live your life as you saw fit. And goddamn did he hate bureaucracy!
 
I would have to say John was not particularly blessed with many organizational skills -- trust me on that! -- somehow, either by luck, pluck or design, he created a home for hundreds of artists, musicians, writers and poets. The Onyx was a place where the odd, oddly beautiful or simply unconventional endeavors -- often excluded from the mainstream venues and galleries -- could find an audience and find a life. John’s support of the arts was an essential element of the café; he never took a percentage of the art sales and never charged at the door for music or theatrical performances. The bar-b-ques John concocted in the parking lot behind the Onyx and the champagne soaked art openings are legendary. We owe him so, so much; I am incredibly indebted to John. My life is so much better because of his efforts. At the Onyx I found life-long friends, direction, and most significantly, I met my wife there almost 18 years ago.
 
There is a votive memorial at the former Onyx location at 1802 N. Vermont Ave in front of what is now Cafe Figaro in Los Feliz. Another memorial is in front of the original Onyx location next to the Vista Theater at the Virgil Ave and Sunset Blvd intersection. Tributes can also be found on several sites on Facebook. There are tentative plans for a memorial service in late April or May.
 
John Leech in his own very peculiar way was a great man. He was a hell of a man, unique and one of a kind. People like John Leech don’t come down the pike every day; it’s a huge loss, I can’t even begin to explain it, I just can’t.
 
With our love, my love, rest in peace John.

Hans Beck 1929 – 2009

Posted by Whitmore, February 6, 2009 04:56pm | Post a Comment

Hans Beck, the German inventor of Playmobil toys, created in response to the soaring cost of plastic due to the oil crisis in the early 70’s, has died after a long illness. Beck was 79 and passed away near Lake Constance in southern Germany, where he moved after his retirement in 1998.
 
Originally a cabinetmaker, Hans Beck was hired as a toy developer by the Brandstätter Group in 1958. In 1971 he was commissioned to create a new and collectible play concept that didn’t impose specific play patterns on children. It was initially suggested that he design a variety of cars. Instead Beck came up with the series of simple action figures standing less than 3 inches tall with moving arms and legs that bent at the hip and wore snap-on clothes. The original toys included knights, construction workers and Native Americans. They were unveiled at the Nuremberg Toy Fair in 1974 and needless to say, they were an instant and resounding flop.  Adults may not have gotten the concept, but kids certainly did. Playmobil toys became a huge international success. In the 35 years since their development, they have sold more than 2.2 billion figures in more than 70 countries. I have a 6 year old son whose room is, more often then not, cluttered with Playmobil pirates, rescue workers, police officers, knights and dragons -- strewn from wall to wall.
 
Beck created a whole fantasy world following his toy-making motto -- "no horror, no superficial violence, no short-lived trends."
 
Over the years Playmobil has won numerous prizes for their quality and ingenuity as well as for their educational potential. Expanding their line with a myriad of toys and sets, Playmobil has come up with every possible historic and vocational desire a kid could ever want, from firefighters, nurses, deep sea divers, cowboys, Romans, jewel thieves, hot dog vendors, astronauts, circus animal trainers, veterinarians, Egyptologists, police tracking dogs and airport security. Brandstätter, which employs a staff of 3,000, posted $408 million in sales last year, mostly due to their Playmobil division.
 
Hans Beck is survived by his wife and a son.

Eartha Kitt 1927 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, December 26, 2008 07:47am | Post a Comment

Orson Welles
once called her "most exciting woman in the world;" Eartha Kitt, the singer, actress, sex kitten and cultural icon has died in Connecticut on Christmas Day of colon cancer. She was 81. Her flirty, sexy rendition of “Santa Baby” from 1953 has become a holiday standard, but that was just one part of a career that spanned more than six decades.

Her success extended far beyond the music world into stage, television and film. Just last year Kitt won two Emmys for her role in The Emperor's New School; previously she had been nominated for several Tony and Grammy Awards. In 1966, she made a guest appearance on an episode of I Spy which brought Kitt her first Emmy nomination. But her most famous role is probably that of the sexy villain the Catwoman in the 1960’s hit television series Batman. Kitt had replaced Julie Newmar who originated the role.

She is probably equally as famous for her anti-war comments on the Viet Nam conflict, especially since the most notorious words were spoken at the White House as she attended a luncheon held by Lady Bird Johnson. She adamantly stated, "You send the best of this country off to be shot and maimed, they rebel in the street, they don't want to go to school because they're going to be snatched off from their mothers to be shot in Vietnam."

Needless to say, she spent several years being investigated by the FBI and CIA, and for most of a decade she seldom performed in the U.S. That is, until 1978 when Kitt was invited back to the White House by President Jimmy Carter.

Davey Graham 1940 - 2008

Posted by Whitmore, December 16, 2008 05:51pm | Post a Comment

The legendary English guitarist and a major influence on practically every fingerstyle acoustic guitarist for the past 50 years, Davey Graham, passed away on Monday of lung cancer which was detected only a few weeks ago. He was 68.

Born November 22nd, 1940 in Hinckley, Leicestershire, England, he took up the guitar at the age of 12. By the age of 19 Graham composed what would probably be his most famous piece, “Anji,” released on his debut 1962 EP, 3/4 AD, and later covered by the likes of Pentangle and Simon & Garfunkel.

Here in the United States, Graham perhaps wasn’t as well known as some of his contemporaries but he has been credited with single-handedly inventing the concept of the folk guitar instrumental in the U.K.-- simultaneous honors in the U.S would go to John Fahey, who was making similar innovations. Graham influenced a who’s who of British guitarists from Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Richard Thompson, John Martyn, Nick Drake, Martin Carthy, and Jimmy Page -- Page’s instrumental "White Summer" was heavily based on Graham's "She Moved Thru the Bazaar/Blue Raga."

In 1959 Graham first made headlines with his attention grabbing performance of “Cry Me a River’ in the BBC television documentary Hound Dogs and Bach Addicts: The Guitar Craze, produced by Ken Russell. During the 1960s he played a major role in the British folk revival, releasing a series of eclectic solo albums that touched on a wide range of music, from jazz and blues to Indian and Arabic and gypsy. He introduced to many an aspiring young guitarist the DADGAD guitar tuning, whose chief appeal is the ability to improvise freely, yet maintain a solid underlying rhythm and harmony. But Graham's career was somewhat unpredictable; his concerts were often hit or miss. Much of his reputation was based on a couple of brilliant albums, both released in the same week of 1965, Folk Routes, New Routes in a duet with the folk singer Shirley Collins and Folk, Blues and Beyond, a mostly instrumental album that combined all his world music styles. His live playing was best captured and recorded in 1967 on an incredible album entitled After Hours, which was recorded in a student's dorm room on the campus of Hull University in front of an audience of about eight people. Nonetheless, and in many ways, even as impulsive as he may have been, Davey Graham was the first guitar hero … and certainly one of mine.

There will be a private funeral held for Davey Graham later this week. A public memorial service is being planned for January.


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