Bill Collings: Guitar Maker
Many famous people died in 2017. Among them were: Gregg Allman, Chuck Berry, Glen Campbell, David Cassidy, Barbara Cook, Fats Domino, Dick Gregory, Monty Hall, Hugh Hefner, Jerry Lewis, Mary Tyler Moore, Jeanne Moreau, Roberta Peters, Tom Petty, Don Rickles, Liz Smith, Roger Wilkins.
However, other individuals who passed away in 2017, less well-known, made significant contributions during their lives. Their actions made the life of others easier or more pleasant in a variety of ways. This article will give you an opportunity to appreciate their efforts and give them a final “thank you.” This article is not intended to make you sad, but to remind you there are such people. If I missed someone who you think deserves mention, I’m sorry. I’m writing a blog, not an all inclusive book. Let me and other folks know who you would include in this remembrance. Bringing attention to people who made life better for others is worth the time and effort. (Thanks to the New York Times for its coverage of these individuals.)
George Avakian, 98. He was a record producer and talent scout who brought many artists to the public’s attention. He helped popularize the long-playing record. Working for Columbia records, he made Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis international celebrities instead of artists with a limited audience. He signed Johnny Mathis, then unknown, and produced a star. He convinced Louis Armstrong to record “Mack the Knife” and it became a huge hit. He supervised the recording of Duke Ellington’s performance at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival and revitalized the Duke’s career. He released Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose” and she was no long a treasure just in France. He found a Chicago accountant moonlighting as a radio performer and introduced Bob Newhart to a live audience and a career changing profession was begun. His performers and ideas brought pleasure to millions of people.
Fred Beckey, 94. (pictured above) He was a storied mountaineer and author who was the first climber on routes to the tallest peaks in Alaska, The Canadian Rockies, and the Pacific Northwest during his 70+ year career. He wrote a dozen books and made more than a thousand climbs unknown to anyone else. He often climbed 40 to 50 peaks in a year. He began his career at 13 when he and 2 friends reached the top of Mount Despair (a 7,292 foot effort) which was thought to be unclimbable. One of his books was “Fred Beckey’s 100 Favorite North American Climbs.” (2011) So what are you doing this week?
Girish Bhargava, 76. He was a master of the little known art of editing dance films (eg, Dirty Dancing). Once, he said: “Mr B. came to trust me so much that once he asked for my help in finding a good ending for his ballet.” “Mr. B.” was George Balanchine. He edited films of the work of Balanchine, Peter Martins, Bob Fosse, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, and others. A friend said of him: “His sense of movement and feeling was unbelievable. Martha Graham wouldn’t work with anyone else. And she was not the most flexible person in the world.” Through his work on the PBS series “Dance in America”, he brought dance into the homes of hundreds of thousands of people. As a result, many of the audience became dancers and choreographers.
Michael Bond, 91. Mr. Bond created Paddington Bear. Many readers can tell you everything about him. For example, he was a polite, good-natured but disaster-prone little hero of children’s novels, picture and activity books, television programs and film. This assortment of income producers made Mr. Bond wealthy. The bear’s first appearance in public was described thus: “Mr. and Mrs. Brown first met Paddington on a railway platform.” The small brown bear was at a railroad station, seated on an old leather suitcase and wearing a tag that read: “Please look after this bear. Thank you.” Mr. Bond said his creation was inspired by memories of child evacuees from London. Bond added: “I do think that there’s no sadder sight than refugees.” Mr. Bond bought a bear as a stocking stuffer for his wife. But when they divorced, they arranged for joint custody of the bear. Since then, the former husband and wife have often called each other and said: “He feels like coming to you now.” And he goes.
Carl Clark, 100. He was a WWII hero who received his award 67 years later. In May, 1945, near Okinawa, the ship (a destroyer) on which he served was attacked by Japanese kamikazes. An explosion blew Mr. Clark across the ship and broke his collarbone. Even so, he saved lives by dragging men to safety and put out a fire in an ammunition locker that would have destroyed the vessel. The ship’s captain realized such actions merited a metal, but believed “it wouldn’t look good to say one black man saved the ship.” Instead, Mr. Clark was given extra leave and never sent back to sea. His bravery was discovered when he was interviewed for a documentary many years later. The interviewer brought Mr. Clark’s actions to a Congressman. The Navy was contacted. On January 17, 2012, Mr. Clark received the Navy and Marne Corps Commendation Medal.
William T. Coleman, Jr., 96. He became the second African-American in a Cabinet position during President Ford’s administration. He became familiar with racism early in life. In 10th grade, after a fine oral presentation, a teacher remarked: “Someday, William, you will make a wonderful chauffeur.” Later, when he applied to join a high school swim team, it disbanded rather than admit him as a member. (After he graduated, it regrouped.) Training for WWII, he trained in Mississippi with men eventually known as the Tuskegee Airmen. After military service, he attended law school at Harvard –-graduating first in his class. Joining Thurgood Marshall, he became part of the legal team that successfully argued before the Supreme Court for the case of Brown v. Board of Education. He also was co-counsel in a case where the Supreme Court overturned a Florida law prohibiting an interracial couple from living together. Three years later, in Loving v. Virginia, the court declared legal restrictions against interracial marriage unconstitutional. As chairman of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund , he argued 19 cases before the Supreme Court. Finally, in 1995, Bill Clinton presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bill Collings, 68. (see picture at top of article) He liked to build things. Hot rods, as a hobby. At age 30, by fixing other folks’ instruments, he found his destination: guitars. His company later added mandolins, electric guitars, ukuleles. Business grew by word of mouth. He made 20,000 guitars for people like Keith Richards, Pete Townshend, Joni Mitchell, Paul Simon, Emmylou Harris, and Lyle Lovett –who said “his guitars have personality, the sound is full of energy, just like Bill Collings is.”
Betty Cuthbert, 79. (see above) She was Australia’s “golden girl” of track and field for what she did on the track and, when she could no longer run, what she did off it. In 1956, in Australia’s first Olympic Games, she won the 100 meters, the 200 meters, and anchored the 4X100-meter relay. An injury kept her from winning in 1960. She considered quitting, but returned in 1964 to win the women’s first 400 meters race. Then she retired. Five years later, multiple sclerosis arrived. Ultimately, she needed a wheelchair. She persisted, talking to others and raising money for research. In 2002, a brain hemorrhage almost killed her. She continued to speak, encouraging others with her ailment. She said: “I know people listen to me because they know what I used to do –run.” In 2000, the Olympics returned to Australia. In a wheelchair, pushed by another Australian Olympian, she carried the Olympic touch.
Jeannie Rousseau de Clarens, 98. In 1943, Jeanie Rousseau, as she was then known, was an interpreter in Paris for French businessmen negotiating contracts with German occupiers. She was young, attractive, and spoke flawless German. Officers were unaware she reported to the French Resistance. Most of what she heard about weapons (eg, the V-1 and V-2 rockets) was incomprehensible to her, but she had a near-photographic memory and repeated everything to her contact in the French Resistance. Just before the Allied invasion in Normandy, she was captured. She was sent to three concentration camps, each worse than the previous. Near death, her release was negotiated in the last weeks of the war by the Swedish Red Cross. While being treated for tuberculosis, she met and married Henri de Clarens, —who had been imprisoned in Buchenwald and Auschwitz. In 1993, she was presented with the Seal Medal “for heroic and momentous contribution to Allied efforts during WWII as a member of the French resistance.”
Frank Deford, 78. He retired from NPR’s “Morning Edition” in May after completing 1,656 weekly sports commentaries since 1980. He appeared on HBO’s “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel” for 22 years. He wrote for Sports Illustrated for 30+ years. He was Sportswriter of the Year 6 times, a member of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame, and the first sportswriter to receive a National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama. The president of HBO sports said: “Frank Deford with a pen in his hand is like Michael Jordan with a basketball.”
June Foray, 99. (see above) I am biased when it comes to Ms. Foray’s work. But I make no apologies. Rocky and his friends was one of my favorite TV shows and unbelievably hilarious. Read on with my bias in mind. Ms. Foray began her career as a high school speech teacher. She had an 80+ year run in show business that began in radio when she was 12. She was heard in films, TV shows, record albums, video games, and talking toys. She worked in nearly 300 animated productions. She could play several parts by changing accent and personality. The entertainment world called her the First Lady of Animated Voicing. At age 94, she became the oldest person to win an Emmy. Another animator said of her talent: “June Foray is not the female Mel Blanc (ie voice of Bugs Bunny, etc). Mel Blanc was the male June Foray.” Experts believed her peak was Rocket J. Squirrel (AKA Rocky, the flying squirrel). Rocky and his friend, Bullwinkle the moose, appeared on television from 1959 to 1964. 150 episodes aired. It had a huge cult following. Network reruns aired until 1973 and again in 1981-82. Cable reruns ran through the 1990s. Tributes were held at film festivals. Shows were syndicated in the United States, Australia, England and Japan. PBS produced a documentary: “Of Moose and Men: The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1991).”
And what was Rocky and his friends show like? Read on.
During the cold war, Rocky (Ms. Foray) and his dim witted moose friend, Bullwinkle, battled inept villains Boris Badenov and Natasha Fatale (also Ms. Foray) in Frostbite Falls, Minnesota. It was satire and rapid-fire wordplay. No pun was too awful. Rocky trained at Cedar Yorpantz Flying School. Bullwinkle’s alma mater was Wossamotta U. A jeweled toy boat, the Ruby Yacht of Omar Khayyam, sailed across Veronica Lake. “For a powerful magnate,” Rocky tells a tycoon, “you sure don’t pick up things too quickly.” In one episode, the heroes track a monstrous whale, Maybe Dick. An episode’s narrator urged fans to tune in for the next exciting episode: “All in Fever Say Aye, or the Emotion Is Carried;” “The Show Must Go On, or Give ‘em the Acts.”
Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara,105. When he was born (1911), an average Japanese person was unlikely to live past 40. Today, an average person lives into their 80s. His (and his patients’) secrets to longer life: annual physicals, avoid obesity (his constant adult weight: 130 pounds), take the stairs (he took 2 at a time), carry your own bags, do not underestimate the beneficial effects of music and the company of animals, do not retire (but if you must, do so later than 65), prevail over pain simply by enjoying yourself. Dr. Hinohara wrote a musical for children when he was 88 and a best-selling book at 101. Until his last months, he worked up to 18 hours a day and, using a cane, he exercised by taking 2,000+ steps a day. He appointment book always had room for 5 more years of work.
Lilli Hornig, 96. She received a Masters degree from Harvard in 1943. She and her husband (who had a doctorate) drove a 1937 Ford to Los Alamos, New Mexico and applied for jobs in the government’s Manhattan Project. He got a job and she was asked: “How fast can you type?” She talked her way into another job with another woman. Later, she was assigned a job working with conventional explosives. In 1950, she earned a doctorate at Harvard and became the chairwoman of the chemistry department at Trinity Washington University. She founded Higher Education Resource Services (HERS), at Brown University investigating sexism in hiring. Later, she served on the Committee for the Equality of Women at Harvard.
Beatrice Trum Hunter, 98. She was a public school teacher who was inspired by a book (“100,000,000 Guinea Pigs” –which referred to America’s population at the time) which changed her life. “The first thing I did was to cut out sugar. Then, I began to use more whole grains and fresh vegetables.” She published her first of 38 books (“The Natural Foods Cookbook”) in 1961. Public health leaders (eg, Rachel Carson and Adelle Davis) sought her advice regarding artificial food additives and pesticides and used her information into their best-selling books.
Judith Jones, 93. Shortly after college, she moved to Paris to work for Doubleday. She came across a book already published in German and Dutch but unknown to American readers. She was attracted to the picture of a young girl on the cover. She read the book and was in tears by the end of her work day. She sent the book to the United States saying: “It’s wonderful.” It was published here with the title: “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl.”
She returned to New York. She found a book, 800 pages in length, written by 3 unknown women. It was about French cooking, a subject with which she was familiar. She said: “Here was the cookbook I had been dreaming of –one that took you by the hand and explained every step of a recipe. It spelled out techniques, talked about proper equipment, necessary ingredients and viable substitutes; it warned of pitfalls yet provided remedies for your mistakes.” With its publication, she introduced America to Julia Child.
In addition, she edited other significant writers (eg, among them were John Updike, Anne Tyler, and John Hersey).
Ahmed Kathrada, 87. He spent 26 years in prison, many with his friend, Nelson Mandela, as they sought to create a free and democratic South Africa. They were convicted of plotting a “violent revolution.” Often, they worked breaking stones or in lime quarries. They spoke to new prisoners to keep up with current events. While in prison, he earned 4 college degrees. At age 60, he was freed in 1989. Later, he became a member of Parliament, wrote books and gave tours of where he was imprisoned to Margaret Thatcher, Beyonce, and –twice—to Barack Obama.
Margaret Bergman Lambert, 103. (see below) A month before the 1936 Olympics, Miss Bergman entered a track meet in Germany. Her high jump tied a German record. She also excelled in the shot-put, discus, and high jump. Later, a Nazi official told her “Looking at your performances, you could not possibly have expected to be chosen for the German Olympic team.” Anti-Semitism was on the rise and signs in German shops said “No dogs or Jews allowed.” In 1937, she was permitted to immigrate to the United States. In 1938, she married another German refugee she had met in a training camp in Germany. In the United States, she competed in athletics, winning the high jump (in 1937 and 1938) and shot put (1938). She did not try out for the United States Olympic team in 1940 because war broke out in Europe. She was asked to return to Germany in 1999 when the stadium where she had trained was renamed in her honor. She went because “I was told they were naming the facilities for me so when young people ask, ‘Who was Gretel Bergmann,’ they would be told my story, and the story of those times.”
End of Part One. Second, and final, part next time.