Four more obits

Just in the past two days, four more deaths of people who have given me pleasure through their work: Ed Fisher and Peter Workman in the NYT yesterday, Jonathan Winters and Maria Tallchief today. There’s some linguistic interest in there.

I’ll lead with Fisher, because he was a cartoonist who played with language a good bit. From the NYT obit by Bruce Weber:

Ed Fisher, New Yorker Cartoonist, Dies at 86

Ed Fisher, whose culturally savvy cartoons, featured in The New Yorker for nearly 50 years, made wry sport of modern life, frequently matching images from history or folklore with captions in an up-to-date mode, died on April 3 in Canaan, Conn.

… An ancient history buff and a keen observer of social behavior, Mr. Fisher created cartoons that managed to be erudite without being pretentious, requiring both a general recognition of the history of the world and a healthy appreciation of irony.

… He contributed to Saturday Review, Harper’s Magazine, The Antioch Review, The Christian Science Monitor and other publications, but he was most closely associated with The New Yorker, which published more than 700 of his cartoons, the first in 1951 and the last in 2000.

Four of his cartoons (and there are five more here). First, one about putting language in cartoons:


Then a play on La Forza del Destino:


And a play on the text of The Raven:


Finally, word puzzlement:


Next, Peter Workman, obit by Paul Vitello:

Peter Workman, Book Publisher With an Eye for Hits, Dies at 74

Peter Workman, the founder of Workman Publishing, whose knack for landing best-selling trade books like “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” and “The Silver Palate Cookbook” built his company into one of the few remaining independent book publishers in the country, died on Sunday at his home in Manhattan.

… Mr. Workman was known in the publishing world as a genially offbeat entrepreneur of nonfiction, with an on-base percentage — in publishing terms — worthy of Cooperstown: one of every three books issued by Workman sold 100,000 copies or more. His successes included blockbusters like “The Official Preppy Handbook” in 1980 and Patricia Schultz’s “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” in 2003, as well as lesser-known but perennial sellers like Richard Hittleman’s “Yoga: 28-Day Exercise Plan,” the company’s first published book, which is still in print.

… When the cartoonist B. Kliban’s [Bernard “Hap” Kliban] first “Cat” book was published in 1975, for example, sales were anemic until Mr. Workman sent his staff to the Madison Square Garden cat show to peddle copies and had poster-size versions of Mr. Kliban’s richly detailed cats printed for bookstore displays. Sales picked up, and Mr. Workman, an early believer in merchandising, soon followed with Kliban-cat-printed pillows, mugs and calendars.

One of my favorite cartoons by Kliban, which came to me through Workman’s books:


(Many years ago, after Ann Daingerfield Zwicky and I published our piece on American restaurant menus in American Speech, we became minor media celebrities for a while– interviewed on radio and television for several weeks– and a Workman staff member approached us about doing a book on the topic for the company. We talked for some time, but in the end it came to nothing; I’m afraid we were too academic.)

On to today, with two big (and very different) stars. First, Jonathan Winters, in an obit by William Grimes:

Jonathan Winters, Unpredictable Comic and Master of Improvisation, Dies at 87

Jonathan Winters, the rubber-faced comedian whose unscripted flights of fancy inspired a generation of improvisational comics, and who kept television audiences in stitches with Main Street characters like Maude Frickert, a sweet-seeming grandmother with a barbed tongue and a roving eye, died on Thursday at his home in Montecito, Calif.

… Mr. Winters, a rotund man whose face had a melancholy basset-hound expression in repose, burst onto the comedy scene in the late 1950s and instantly made his mark as one of the funniest, least definable comics in a rising generation that included Mort Sahl, Shelley Berman and Bob Newhart.

Winters’s zany, often barely-in-control, humor always reminded me of Andy Kaufman‘s, though Winters was sweeter (but just as strange). I was especially fond of his appearances on the offbeat sitcom Mork and Mindy.

Then, Maria Tallchief, in an obit by Jack Anderson:

Maria Tallchief, a daughter of an Oklahoma oil family who grew up on an Indian reservation, found her way to New York and became one of the most brilliant American ballerinas of the 20th century, died on Thursday in Chicago.

… A former wife and muse of the choreographer George Balanchine, Ms. Tallchief achieved renown with Balanchine’s New York City Ballet, dazzling audiences with her speed, energy and fire. Indeed, the part that catapulted her to acclaim, in 1949, was the title role in the company’s version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird,” one of many that Balanchine created for her.

… Growing up at a time when many American dancers adopted Russian stage names, Ms. Tallchief, proud of her Indian heritage, refused to do so, even though friends told her that it would be easy to transform Tallchief into Tallchieva.

She was born Elizabeth Marie Tall Chief on Jan. 24, 1925 in a small hospital in Fairfax, Okla. Her father, Alexander Joseph Tall Chief, was a 6-foot-2 full-blooded Osage Indian whom his daughters idolized and women found strikingly handsome, Ms. Tallchief later wrote. (She and her sister joined their surnames when they began dancing professionally.)

Quite a few years ago I had someone at a party explain to me that Tallchief was a fabulous Russian ballerina, you could tell that from her name. Nothing I said about the Osage could sway the man.

I saw her dance only on film, a poor substitute for live performance. There are lots of YouTube videos, but none (as far as I can see) of very good quality. I’d love to see a good film of her in Firebird.

3 Responses to “Four more obits”

  1. jlundell Says:

    Just as strange? I dunno.

    Love to read that Kliban.

  2. arnold zwicky Says:

    From John Lawler on Facebook:

    Jonathan Winters, Groucho Marx, Robin Williams, and Andy Kaufman seem to be in the same category in my mind.

    George Carlin was in the same league, but they were all Darstellers (what Walter Miller called a ‘Darfsteller’, and I never knew whether that was a pun in German or not), where Carlin was a standup linguist.

    Gm. Darsteller ‘actor’, darf form of dürfen ‘need to, may’.

  3. Cattions and Kliban cats | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (I posted another version of the cartoon as #5 in this posting.) […]

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