Sylvia Moy: Song Writer
This introduction is a repeat of Part 1’s introduction. However, the people described below are, obviously, different.
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.)
Thomas Meehan, 88. Do you like musicals on Broadway? Maybe “The King and I”, or “My Fair Lady”, or “Hamilton”. Who writes the “book” for a musical (ie, the script or dialogue)? Well, one person who has had a great deal of success writing the books for musicals is Mr. Meehan. He received Tonys for his writing of “Annie,” “The Producers”, and “Hairspray.” He also worked on musicals like “Elf,” and “Rocky.” When he died he was working on a musical version of another Mel Brooks’ hit, “Young Frankenstein.” He will be missed, but forever appreciated.
Anne Morrissy Merick, 83. While a student at Cornell, she covered sports: crew, swimming, and intramural horseshoes. Then she did something no woman had done at the University: she was elected the sports editor of the student newspaper (defeating 3 male students). She covered Cornell football AND when her school played Yale, she sat in Yale’s press box –another first for a woman. Those were small steps. In 1961, ABC hired her to cover the civil rights movement and presidential primaries. Then, she went to Vietnam. She talked her way around an order of General Westmoreland denying woman reporters from battlefield news coverage. The General was worried a woman would be injured in a wartime situation. Ms. Merick did suffer one injury: she was bitten by a monkey (a soldier’s mascot). Much later, a daughter of hers said: “I think the whole Yale press box thing…really set her up to not be afraid to do the job of a man.”
Pete Moore, 79. (see above; 2nd from left) When Mr. Moore was 12, he met William “Smokey” Robinson. Later, he was Robinson’s best man at his wedding and a member of a musical group of theirs. The group met Berry Gordy, the group’s name was changed to the Miracles, and their musical history began. In 1965, he co-wrote “Ooo Baby Baby,” “The Tracks of My Tears,” and “My Girl Has Gone.” The Miracles were Gordy’s first great ensemble, before the Supremes, the Four Tops, and the Temptations. The hits continued: “You’ve Really Got a Hold on Me,” “Going to a Go-Go,” “I Second That Emotion,” and “The Tears of a Clown.” Mr. Robinson was voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. The rest of the Miracles were so honored in 2012.
Sylvia Moy, 78. (see photos at top of page) In 1963, at age 13, Stevie Wonder had a hit record, “Fingertips Pt. 2.” His next efforts were not as successful. Motown did not know what to do. At a meeting, it was announced that Mr. Wonder’s voice had changed and no one knew how to handle that. Volunteers to deal with the situation were requested. No one raised their hand. Sylvia Moy, just arrived at Motown, asked for a chance to work with Mr. Wonder. “I don’t believe it’s over for him. Let me have Stevie.” He played his ideas for her. She liked a portion of one song and said she would work on it and get back to him. She and a producer, Henry Cosby, completed a song from that snippet. Back in the recording studio, there was no transcription of the lyrics into Braille for Mr. Wonder to read from. So Ms. Moy sang the words to him through her earphones. She said: “I would stay a line ahead of him and we didn”t miss a beat. The result was “Uptight (Everything’s Alright)” It was number 3 on Billboard’s top 100 hits. They continued to work together and the results included: “Nothing’s Too Good for My Baby”, “I Was Made to Love Her”, and “My Cherie Amour.” The last song was titled by Mr. Wonder “Oh, My Marcia.” Ms. Moy gave the title a French twist. At Ms. Moy’s induction into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, Mr. Wonder sang: “My Cherie Amour.”
Eric Newman, 106. In 1918, when Eric Newman was 7, his grandfather gave him an old penny to supplement his 5 cents a week allowance. The coin fascinated him. His parents encouraged his coin collection because by investigating coins he could learn their history and the history of the people and societies that produced them. He traveled to 150 countries for knowledge of his coins. He learned that Robert Morris not only signed the Declaration of Independence, but used his personal fortune to help finance the Revolutionary War and back the early government of the United States. Newman’s coins brought him a fortune of his own. A 1776 silver dollar minted by the Continental Congress brought him $1.4 million. A set of five 1913 Liberty Head nickels brought him $3 million apiece. In 1986, he was inducted into the numismatists’ Hall of Fame for his knowledge and research into the history of coins and paper money. But his favorite coin was a gold one with the head of George Washington on it. It was made in 1792 and President Washington kept it in his pants when he rode horseback. The signs of wear proved that.
Robert Osborne, 84. (see above) He had a small career as an actor who turned his lifelong love of movies into a 23 year career as host of Turner Classic Movies. Typically, he introduced 18 movies a week. He had 3 apartments in NYC. One in which he lived; one was an office; in one he stored his movie memorabilia. The apartment building was named The Osborne. Ms. Lucille Ball was a friend who encouraged him to give up acting and write about Hollywood. A friend saw him in Manhattan a month before he died. “He was just Robert, with countless stories about Hollywood. And he told me something I had never known. That every Sunday for 40 years, he has spoken to Olivia de Havilland.”
Charles Owens, 85. His Father was the greens keeper at a municipal golf course. He carved his first golf clubs out of tree branches. Injuries and operations to his knees left him with one leg 2 inches shorter than the other. And he was Black well before Tiger Woods came along. He began playing on the predominantly black United Golf Association. He qualified for the PGA tour, but had little success. On the Senior PGA Tour, he did better. But with his leg and (arthritic) back problems, he began having difficulty putting. He drew up plans for an extra long one (52”). A machinist friend made one for him. In 1985 and 1986, he made enough money to live on. At one tournament, a golf legend, Billy Casper, saw his name on the leaderboard replaced by Owens. Casper said: “Why, it’s Charlie Owens! Isn’t that wonderful?”
Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots (USA) (83) and Colonel Stanislav Petrov (USSR) (77). These men saved the world from WWIII. In September, 1983, Russian computers said five Minuteman missiles had been launched from American bases. Electronic maps and screens confirmed the United States had begun an attack on Russia. Colonel Petrov made a “50-50 guess”: the computers were not functioning properly. A false alarm, it was later determined, was set off when a Russian satellite mistook the sun’s reflection off the tops of clouds for a missile launch. The system had been rushed into service after the USA had begun use of a similar system. Colonel Prtrov, in a 2010 interview explained: “ Americans wouldn’t begin an all-out attack with only five missiles. We are wiser than the computers. We created them.”
Six weeks later, Russian planes and helicopters were activated. Nuclear weapons were moved from storage sites to launch pads. In West Germany, Lt. Gen. Leonard Perroots had to decide: respond in kind and risk war or ignore the possible threat. He “acted out of instinct” that no attack was occurring. He was right. Thirty years later, an advisory board said his instincts were correct. In 2017, both men died less than 4 months apart.
Joseph W. Rogers, 97 and Thomas Forkner, 98. Have you ever enjoyed a meal at the Waffle House restaurant chain? These are the two men who started the business and grew it into almost 1,900 restaurants in 25 states earning $1+ billion in 2015. It is known for its hearty food, friendly staff, and 24 hour service. Mr. Rogers has walked into his restaurants where workers are calling elderly customers who haven’t been in in a while. One test of whether a restaurant is in a good location is if a rainy mid-week night still finds diners enjoying their visit. A FEMA official used “the Waffle House test” in a community. If it remained open after a hurricane, it meant power and water were likely available.
Pancho Segura, 96. In the mid-20th century, he was one of the world’s leading tennis players. Before the arrival of open tennis in 1968, his largest payday for a single event was $5,000. He won the NCAA singles championship each year from 1943 to 1945. He turned pro in 1947 and traveled around the world playing Jack Kramer, Pancho Gonzalez, Bobby Riggs, and Australians Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall. He won the U. S. Pro Tennis Championship singles title each year from 1950 to 1952. He was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1984.
Sumiteru Taniguchi, 88. (see above; he is speaking while holding a picture of himself after being injured by the atomic bombing of Nagasaki) On August 9, 1945, Mr. Taniguchi was 16 years old and delivering mail while on his bicycle. A mile away, an atomic bomb killed 74,000 people. He was thrown into the air, and the heat from the bomb melted his shirt and seared the skin off his back and one arm. He was taken to a hospital (3 months later) and laid on his stomach for nearly two years. Bedsores formed on his chest leaving permanent scars. He spent more than three and a half years in the hospital. He was in so much pain, he would scream to nurses, “kill me, kill me!” His treatment was filmed and shared with the world. He became known as “the boy with a red back.” A decade after the bomb, he could sit up, stand, and walk. He began giving speeches calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. He would show pictures of his burns to illustrate the horrible suffering resulting from the bomb. He spoke at memorial ceremonies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and at antinuclear marches in New York. In 2010, he gave a speech at the UN asking all countries to support a nonproliferation of atomic weapons. Every year on the anniversary of the Nagasaki bombing, and any time a country conducted a nuclear test, he would attend a sit-in at the Peace Park in Nagasaki. It is estimated that he appeared at 396 protests. He often said: “I am determined to keep telling the reality of nuclear war as one of the living witnesses to realize a world without wars and nuclear weapons as long as I live.”
Robert Taylor, 85. Few people are as important as Mr. Taylor in shaping our computer-connected world. In 1966, while working in the Pentagon, he recommended 3 projects use a single computer network. His idea led to the Arpanet –a forerunner of the internet. Later, working at Xerox, he helped design the Alto computer—a forerunner of the personal computer. Then, while at NASA, he increased funding for the work of Douglas Engelbart –who invented the mouse which aided in the design of both Macintosh and Windows-based computers. He also was involved in work which resulted in the laser printer. Then, Steve Jobs visited Mr. Taylor’s work group at Xerox. Drawing on what he saw, he marketed a new style of computing. Something with which we are all familiar.
Simone Veil, 89. Trained as a lawyer, she rose to the rank of health minister of France. In the post war era, she drafted legislation expanding the rights of prison inmates, people with disabilities and disadvantaged children, plus measures that barred discrimination and expanded health benefits. In 1975, she spoke for the law that legalized abortion in France. Critics of her action likened abortion to Nazi euthanasia, and asked: “Madame Minister, do you want to send children to the ovens?” They forgot to whom they were speaking. Ms. Veil, along with her parents and siblings had been in Auschwitz-Birkenau and then Bergen-Belsen concentration camps during WWII. Her parents and brother died before she and her sisters were liberated. Her legislation was passed.
Elena Verdugo, 92. (see above) Because she had a Hispanic surname, in films “with that name, they don’t call you up to do little American parts.” She added: “I quit the movies because I was sick and tired of playing a native girl of some kind, with a knife, and few clothes.” Switching to television, she informed a producer: “I’m not playing maids and housekeepers.” Knowing her feelings, she was cast as a nurse who managed the medical practice of “Marcus Welby, M. D.” and his partner (ie, Robert Young and James Brolin). Over 7 seasons, she appeared in all 169 episodes of the show. She was nominated for Emmys. After her performance, she said: “Because of (my) work, many women told me they pursued a nursing career.” Plus, she was recognized by the American Society of Medical Assistants.
Stan Weston, 84. In 1963, Mr. Weston was an agent who represented personalities like “Dr. Kildare,” the comedian Soupy Sales, and the Kingston Trio musical group. Then, he switched jobs. He thought he could replicate the success of the Barbie doll by producing a male equivalent. He contacted Hasbro toy company and, together, they came up with the “boys’ Barbie”: the “G. I. Joe” doll, and all of its accessories. Mr. Weston became $100,000 richer. By 2009, more than 400 million G. I. Joe action figures (not dolls) had been sold.
Bob Wolff, 96. Bob Wolff was a sports broadcaster. Almost 80 years. He started as a student at Duke University. During his career, he broadcast games for the Washington Senators baseball team (after his service in WWII), and pitched batting practice. He ended his career as a commentator for cable TV on Long Island, New York. In between he: called Don Larsen’s perfect game for the NYYankees in the 1956 World Series; he broadcast the 1958 NFL championship game (the Baltimore Colts beat The New York Giants in overtime); he spoke of the two New York Knicks’ NBA championships; he, along with Joe Garagiola, broadcast NBC’s baseball game of the week; and he was a broadcaster for Madison Square Garden (NYC) for over 50 years –where he covered the Knicks and NY Rangers games, college basketball and the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. He gave over 1,000 hours of his work to the Library of Congress, including interviews he did with Jim Thorpe, Babe Ruth, and Joe Louis. He is in the baseball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. The Guinness World Records credits him as having the longest career of any sports broadcaster. And, finally, as he said: “If you added all the time up, I’ve spent about seven days of my life standing for the national anthem.”
Julius Youngner, 96. He was the last survivor of the team assembled by Dr. Jonas Salk to find a cure for polio. In the early 1950s, more than 50,000 children in the United States were struck with polio in one year. The cure was announced in 1955 and by 1979, polio had been virtually eliminated in developed nations. (I was one of the children who first received the cure.) In addition, Dr. Youngner continued his research (alone and with others) in the treatment of cancer and hepatitis, and resulted in vaccines for Type A influenza and equine influenza.