Peter Lorre commanded the screen in the 1935 thriller Mad Love.
Peter Lorre commanded the screen in the 1935 thriller Mad Love.
Emanuel Heilbronner emigrated from his native Germany in 1929, dropping the “Heil” from his surname to avoid any association with the Nazis. He begged his parents to follow him to the United States, but they refused. His last correspondence from his parents was in the form of a censored postcard reading: “You were right – your loving father.” They were murdered in a concentration camp.
Emanuel Bronner continued his family business by producing soap in his home. The bottles sported labels crammed with Bronner’s philosophy, which he called “All-One-God-Faith.” He quoted a variety of sources including the Old and New Testaments, Rudyard Kipling, Thomas Paine, Jewish sage Hillel the Elder and Jesus, whom he referred to as “Rabbi Jesus.” The passages on the soap bottle labels were often log and rambling, fraught with hyphens and an abundance of exclamation marks.
In 1946, Emanuel was invited to the University of Chicago by a student group to lecture on his so-called “Moral ABC” philosophy. He was arrested for speaking without a permit and committed to a Chicago area mental hospital. After several electroshock treatments, Emanuel escaped.
He moved around the country, finally settling in Escondido, California, where his soap-making operation grew into a small factory. Emanuel passed away in 1997 at the age of 89. At the time, his factory was producing over a million bottles of soap annually. The company, still going strong, is run by Emanuel’s grandson David.
“I wake up in the morning and read the paper. If I’m not in the obits, I eat breakfast.” — Carl Reiner
Carl Reiner — writer, actor, comedian, director, producer, funny man — passed away on June 29, 2020 at the age of 98. He read the paper that morning.
James Booker was a talented and influential pianist, once described by Dr. John as “the best black, gay, one-eyed junkie piano genius New Orleans has ever produced.” The good doctor couldn’t have been more dead on.
Born in New Orleans, the teenage James recorded a few songs under the guidance of famed producer Dave Bartholomew. These songs were a stepping stone for work with Fats Domino and Lloyd Price. In 1958, James had the opportunity to play for acclaimed pianist Arthur Rubinstein. An astonished Rubinstein commented, “I could never play that … never at that tempo.” His piano playing and flamboyant personality earned James the nickname “The Black Liberace.”
Unfortunately, James began to dabble in illegal drugs, specifically heroin. His frequent drug use led to numerous arrests. Consequently, he became close with New Orleans District Attorney Harry Connick Sr. In exchange for nullified jail time, arrangements were made for James to teach Connick’s young son how to play piano.
In the 70s, James recorded and toured with Dr. John’s band, as well as with a variety of other artists including Ringo Starr, The Doobie Brothers, Patti Labelle and Jerry Garcia. He toured Europe, playing jazz festivals in Nice and Montreux. James loved Europe. He was well received and didn’t experience the racism and homophobia he saw in the United States. Upon his return to the United States, James was disappointed to be relegated to house pianist at the Maple Leaf Bar in his native New Orleans, after being treated as a superstar in Europe.
By the 80s, James’ drug use had affected his health, both mentally and physically. He passed away at the age of 43, seated in a wheelchair in a hospital emergency ward, waiting for medical treatment.
A documentary, released in 2013, sparked a renewed interest in James Booker. He was regarded by his peers as a genius, under appreciated for his emotional vocals and his soulful musicianship.
We’ll meet again
Don’t know where
Don’t know when
But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day
Vera Lynn passed away on June 18, 2020 at the age of 103.
for here am I sitting in my tin can / far above the world
planet earth is blue / and there’s nothing I can do
Christine Jorgensen began preparations for sex reassignment surgery just after a discharge the US Army. She started with hormonal therapy before proceeding with physical alternations. After several procedures, Christine was introduced to the world, via a front page story in the New York Daily News in December 1952, as the first sex change in history. (However, she was not. In the 1920s, German doctors had performed a similar procedure, though it did not include female hormones.)
Christine became an instant celebrity. She launched a successful nightclub act and appeared on all media entertainment outlets. In 1967, she published her autobiography. It sold nearly 450 thousand copies. She was a sought-after interviewee. A New York radio host joked, “Christine Jorgensen went abroad, and came back a broad.” Christine admitted that she found the quip funny. However, during an appearance on The Dick Cavett Show, the progressive host asked her about her romantic life with her wife… prompting Christine to walk off the set. Cavett spent the rest of the broadcast apologizing for his callous remark.
During the 70s and 80s, Christine continued to act, as well as sing and record. She also became an in-demand public speaker, relating her life experiences to audiences who were both informed and enchanted by her natural wit. She often noted that that she had given the sexual revolution a “good swift kick in the pants.”
In 1989, Christine passed away a few weeks before her 63rd birthday.
Paul Winchell was an unusual character. He was an accomplished ventriloquist, taking up the hobby to overcome a pronounced childhood stutter and to bide his time while confined to bed as he battled polio. He eventually returned to school, where he constructed a ventriloquist dummy in exchange for class credit. He cobbled together jokes and soon he had a little act with his homemade figure, Jerry Mahoney, a name chosen as an homage to his teacher. In 1938, he took first prize on the Major Bowes Amateur Hour. He was spotted by bandleader Ted Weems, who offered Paul a contract. Paul became a professional entertainer at 14.
Paul enjoyed a very successful career as a ventriloquist, as well as a voice-over artist and live action actor. Paul hosted his own Winchell-Mahoney Time comedy show, and made guest appearance on a variety of network shows, both comedies and dramas. He provided the voice for a slew of cartoon characters, including “Dick Dastardly,” “Gargamel,” “Tigger,” as well as the Toostie Roll owl and the Dow Scrubbing Bubbles.
However, Paul had originally aspired for a career in medicine and medical research. He took pre-med courses, but veered off and became a certified acupuncturist and hypnotist. Between acting jobs, Paul developed an artificial heart, with the help of Dr. Henry Heimlich. His design was nearly identical to a device created by Dr. Robert Jarvik and the similarities were the subject of debate. Paul was awarded patents for a variety of inventions, including a disposable razor, a flameless lighter, a retractile tip fountain pen and battery-heated gloves. He also developed a method for farm-raised tilapia to feed impoverished tribes in Africa.
With all of his success and celebration, Paul was a very unhappy man. He chronicled his depression in a 2004 autobiography. His daughter, voice actress April Winchell, took offense to her father’s book, particularly the way her mother was portrayed. April labeled her father as neglectful and a chronic drug abuser. Although once close, Paul and April’s relationship had become estranged.
Paul passed away in 2005 at the age of 80. April heard the news on the radio.
Diana Sacayán came out as transgender when she was a teen. She became very active in the pursuit of maintaining human rights for her contemporaries. She was arrested and jailed at different times because of her leanings towards Argentina’s Communist Party. Once released from jail, Diana created the Anti-Discrimination Movement of Liberation in Argentina. The non-partisan, non-governmental organization worked to empower LGBTQ people, specifically related to healthcare. She went on to serve on the board of the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and led the Anti-Discrimination Liberation Movement in Argentina.
In 2012, she ran for the position of Ombudsman, representing the La Matanza Party. Later in the year, she received her national identity card, identifying her as a woman — personally from the former president of Argentina.
In October 2015, Diana was found dead — bound and gagged — in her apartment. She had been stabbed thirteen times. She was 39.
In 2018, her murderer was sentenced to life in prison, marking the first time Argentina’s justice system invoked hate crime laws for transgender victims.