Just after her graduation from high school, a talent scout from Warner Brothers signed Lynn Baggett to a contract. The studio made up a backstory for Lynn, claiming wins in a number of beauty pageants. The fiery redhead was cast in a number of uncredited roles in films, including The Adventures of Mark Twain, Mildred Pierce and Night and Day. Despite the popularity of these films, she was continually relegated to minor roles of waitresses, nurses, and party girls. Soon, Warner Brothers lost interest in Lynn and released her from her contract.
Lynn was signed by Universal and her career showed some promise when she was cast alongside Abbott and Costello in the comedy The Time of Their Lives. She hoped her marriage to producer Sam Spiegel would boost her appeal. Neither venture panned out. Acting offers dried up for Lynn, her marriage began to crumble and she and Spiegel split. To make ends meet, she became a dance instructor with the Arthur Murray Studios.
In 1954, now divorced from Spiegel, Lynn borrowed a car from her old friend George Tobais (a prolific character actor and the future “Abner Kravitz” on the TV sitcom Bewitched). Lynn blacked out while driving. She struck another car, killing one passenger — a 9 year-old boy — and seriously injuring another. Panicked, she left the scene but was eventually tracked down and arrested. Later, a jury trial found Lynn guilty of felony hit-and-run. She was sentenced to 60 days in prison and three years probation.
A failed comeback in 1960 led to depression and substance abuse. Just a few weeks after being released from a sanitarium, Lynn was found dead in her apartment by her nurse. The cause of death was determined to be an overdose of barbiturates. Lynn was 35 years old.
There’s this phenomena called “Jewish Geography.” I don’t know how far it reaches or if it is known by other names in other parts of the country, but in the great I-95 Corridor that runs from New York City to roughly just north of Baltimore (including a big geographical leap to the many tribesman transplants in Southern Florida), it seems that everyone who is Jewish seems to know everyone else who is Jewish. Sometimes it’s by a familial relationship. Other times, a connection is discovered after a few establishing questions, in sort of a Hebraic “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” fashion.
When I was in high school, my father was the Corporate Egg and Dairy Buyer for an east coast chain of supermarkets. (That’s quite an impressive title, hmmm?) In a top-floor office of the business’s Philadelphia headquarters, my dad worked with a man named Ben Saget. Ben was the Corporate Something or Other for the organization and took care of the supply chain for those items that didn’t fall into the category of either “eggs” or “dairy.” My father talked about Ben Saget on a daily basis. Ben’s name came up in nearly all dinnertime conversation at the Pincus household. “Ben said this” and “Ben said that” began a number of my father’s sentences, spoken between bites of steak and drags on a cigarette. He would tell us that Ben often talked about his son, who he had hoped (like most Jewish fathers hoping to one day use their son’s professional status in a bragging contest) would enter medical school. Instead, with contempt in his voice, Ben resigned himself to the fact that young Bob had his sights set on a career as a — gulp! — comedian! “But, maybe,” Ben would wax optimistically, “it’s just a phase.”
Around the time I met my wife, her parents had purchased an apartment in a building that had “turned condo” in Ventor, New Jersey, a small seaside resort whose northern border abuts Atlantic City. This particular building was populated by seasonal residents, a large number of whom were my in-law’s fellow congregants from their neighborhood synagogue. Throughout the summer, the building, the on-premises coffee shop and the pool were thick with elder Jewish couples showing off their children (both by birth and by marriage) and grandchildren — either in-person or by expounding — on their behalf — upon all of the stellar, significant and unmatchable accomplishments they had achieved, in an effort to eclipse the levels that their peer’s children and grandchildren had attained. One of those folks was a man named Arnold. Arnold was the typical loud, overbearing shvitzer (Sure, in Yiddish it translates to “one who sweats,” but in some circles, it has come to be a synonym for “one who boasts”). Arnold’s daughter had recently married Ben Saget’s son… and Arnold made sure everyone who looked at him cross-eyed was made aware of the union. At the pool, you’d repeatedly hear “Hey, Arnold, I saw your son-in-law on Johnny Carson last night!” or “Arnold, that son-in-law of yours is so funny on that Home Video program!” Of course, Arnold puffed out his chest and accepted the praise, as though he was the Queen Mother. That is, until Bob directed a made-for-TV movie called For Hope, documenting the real-life struggle his sister experienced with the debilitating and eventually fatal disease scleroderma. During the production of the 1996 film, Bob began an extra-marital affair with actress Dana Delany, who was portraying the main character, which was based on Bob’s ill-fated sibling. Supermarket tabloids screamed the tawdry tale of “America’s Jovial Dad” with unflattering and accusatory headlines. Suddenly, the name “Bob Saget” was not to be mentioned in Arnold’s presence, preferably not at all, even if Arnold was not around. As a matter of fact, Arnold allegedly informed each and every member of the building’s staff of his request er… demand.
Further discussion in the realm of “Jewish Geography,” it came to light that, as a teen, my wife’s cousin dated — not one, but both of Bob’s sisters (including Gay, who succumbed to scleroderma at age 47) when his family briefly resided in the Norfolk, Virginia area.
Fans, family and acquaintances were shocked and saddened by Bob Saget’s recent passing at the far-too-young age of 65. For fans of his TV appearances and stand-up act, it was an unexpected and doleful blow. For those who discovered a connection to Bob during a round of “Jewish Geography,” it was a personal loss.
She was a singer, an icon, a pioneer, an inspiration and a fighter.
Ronnie Spector passed away in January 2022. A fighter to the end.
While working as the executive producer of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, Ken Kragen met singer Kenny Rogers and soon became his manager. Eventually, Ken was managing a full roster of popular singers, including Lionel Ritchie, Travis Tritt, Dottie West and Trisha Yearwood.
Singer-actor Harry Belafonte was so moved after hearing the song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and its efforts to raise money to combat hunger, he contacted Ken Kragen with the idea to make a fund-raising single and eventual album. Ken, with his many show business connections, assembled an all-star line-up of top talent including Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, Michael Jackson, as well as his pals (and clients) Lionel Ritchie and Kenny Rogers. He named the assemblage “USA for Africa.” Interest in participation was so great, Ken had to turn down nearly fifty singers because of logistics. The result was “We Are the World,” the recording of which was an exercise in camaraderie, thanks to a large sign on the recording studio door that read: “Check Your Egos at the Door.”
A year after the international success of USA for Africa’s “We Are the World,” Ken organized another nationwide effort called “Hands Across America.” His idea was to create a human chain across the continental United States by having folks hold hands. It was an ambitious undertaking and, for the most part, Ken’s idea was successful. It raised fifteen million dollars and boasted the participation of many celebrities — despite large gaps in the chain in sparsely populated areas.
Ken jumped between fundraising and the entertainment business. He worked for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and famously battled with Jay Leno’s manager Helen Kushnick, eventually forcing her dismissal from The Tonight Show.
Honored by many organizations — from the United Nations to MTV to the Grammys — Ken passed away in December 2021 at the age of 85. He lived a life some of us could only dream of.
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This drawing is my fourth entry in the annual Faces of Death year-end compilation. It is my third subject named “Ken.” (In 2020, I was shut out from drawing Ken Osmond.)
On August 13, 1980 — the two-year anniversary of her arrival in Los Angeles from her native Vancouver — Dorothy Stratten was murdered by her estranged husband Paul Snider, who then turned the gun on himself. But, this isn’t really a story about Dorothy Stratten, the beautiful, but ill-fated actress and Playboy centerfold. This story actually begins at her funeral.
Dorothy was filming the romantic comedy They All Laughed when she began a secretive affair with the film’s director Peter Bogdonovich. The tryst continued after filming wrapped. Bogdonovich knew that Dorothy was technically still married, but she had not seen her husband Snider for months. Snider had a well-earned reputation for being abusive and controlling, so he was shielded from Dorothy by Bogdonovich and Playboy publisher Hugh Hefner. Just after They All Laughed ended production, Snider murdered Dorothy. Bogdonovich was inconsolable.
At Dorothy’s funeral, Bogdonavich was introduced to Dorothy’s mother, Nelly Hoogstratten and Louise, Dorothy’s 12 year-old sister. From conversation — and commiseration — he learned that the family was having difficulty making ends meet. Their main source of income was the money that Dorothy had been sending home on a regular basis. Bogdonavich was taken by their situation and began supplementing the family financially. He took special interest in young Louise, paying her tuition for a private school, enrolling her in modeling classes for which he also paid the bill. He bought her a grand piano and took her on trips to Hawaii and Europe. Upon her high school graduation, Bogdonavich bought her a brand-new Pontiac Trans Am. He even gave her a small role in his film Illegally Yours.
In 1988, the 49-year old Bogdonavich married his one-time love’s little sister, Louise. She was 20.
The couple remained married for thirteen years, divorcing in 2001. Just prior to their marriage, Peter released a book about his relationship with Dorothy Stratten entitled Killing of the Unicorn: Dorothy Stratten 1960–1980. It was a very controversial release, detailing episodes with Dorothy that Bogdonavich remembers differently than others who were present at the time. The book prompted threatening legal action, forcing Bogdonavich to file for bankruptcy, but determined to have the book published.
Bogdonavich’s career has been a roller-coaster of high highs and low lows.
Who knows what Dorothy Stratten’s career could have been?
Peter Bogdonavich passed away on January 6, 2022. He was 82.
Betty White. She missed one hundred years on this earth by a mere seventeen days.
But, oh, what a life.
In 1976, I bought a copy of Anne Rice’s debut novel Interview with the Vampire. I was a fan of horror films and books and I thought this one would be right up my alley. It wasn’t. I forced myself to read the first several chapters. It was like a high school reading assignment. It was tedious and I could not stay focused. I put the book down and never picked it up again – leaving it unfinished in a drawer.
In 2015, my wife and I visited New Orleans. As with most trips, I always do my best to squeeze in a visit to a local cemetery and places of “death-related” interest in between “regular” sightseeing. As with all of my cemetery adventures, I have to do a bit of research beforehand. I discovered that, while she no longer called “The Big Easy” home, Anne Rice still owned property in the city’s lovely Garden District. I also found out some other things about the prolific author.
It seems that she wrote Interview with the Vampire as sort of a mourning catharsis. She and her husband Stan (also a writer) had lost their daughter Michele, who passed away from leukemia at the age of five.
Anne, who was raised a strict Catholic, struggled with religion her entire life. She was devout until she wasn’t, embracing an atheist outlook, only to return to the Church later in life… only to leave again after a vocal criticism of policies.. She suffered physically, as well. She fell into a diabetic coma and nearly died in 1998. A few years later, she teetered at death’s door with a bowel blockage that required emergency surgery. In between her two medical issues, her husband Stan passed away from brain cancer at the age of 60.
The subject matter of Anne’s writing was varied and ambitious. She wrote predominately in the horror genre. Under pseudonyms, she penned several volumes of gothic erotic fiction. Later, she ventured into religious historical fiction… and she was successful in all of her endeavors.
Anne passed away in December 2021 at the age of 80. She will be interred with her husband and daughter in a beautiful mausoleum in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.
Perhaps, I’ll pick up my copy of Interview with the Vampire and give it another chance.