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  The Updates for 2010  
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  Kama Chinen  

Her ABC News obituary stated that although she had been confined to a wheelchair the last few years, "she still enjoyed the wonders of nature and being outside." For those of you who do not understand that particular image ... It means she was a drooler. It means the caring staff at the Japanese Shady Acres rolled her out to pasture, stuck her under a bonsai tree, and changed her diapers every few days.

115 freakin' years old (c'mon, who's going to quibble about a few days?)! See, here in 'Merica, we don't have this kind of problem. We got McDonalds and Obama's Death Panels to deal with these damp, rancid, drooling drains on society.

Her death would have gone unnoticed except for a few deranged supercentenarianologists, Eugénie Blanchard, who knows her number will be the next called ... and, of course, Allen Kirshner, who gets one point for the hit, five for the solo bonus and The Eyes from Ms. Blanchard. Total: 6.

— Bill Schenley

  Skull Line  
  Ernie Harwell  

The other night, in the middle of the Yankee/Red Sox game on FOX, Joe Buck (FOX announcer) offered up a couple of minutes of silence for the late Ernie Harwell. Made me smile. It was Ernie Harwell baseball — just the sounds of the game. When Ernie called the 1951 playoff game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants for NBC (by way of WPIX in New York) — the game in which Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World — in contrast to Russ Hodges' rather excitable broadcast — Ernie Harwell simply stated, "It's gone." Ernie Harwell baseball. Let the sounds of the game sing you back to another time. Now he's gone. (I call him Ernie because we were friends. Well, wasn't everyone friends with Ernie?) Ernie died one day before he was to receive the Vin Scully Lifetime Achievement Award in Sports Broadcasting. Scully is one of my favorite broadcasters, but he is no Ernie Harwell.

Standing there like the house by the side of the road and watching Ernie go by: Allen Kirshner from Ellwood City, Pennsylvania; Bill Schenley from down around Gulfport, Mississippi; Buford from up by Anselmo, Nebraska and Chaptal, who lives over there in Lumpkin, Georgia. Also, Deceased Hose of Alamogordo, New Mexico; DGH from the one-time planet Pluto; Direcorbie of North Highlands, California; Erik, out of Boston, Massachusetts; Exuma, who drove all the way in from St. John in New Brunswick, Canada; Fireball, from Smicksburg, Pa.; Hulka, from Arkadelphia, Arkansas; and JD, who hails from Pocatello, Idaho. Kathi, from Baildon, a small town just a few miles south of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; Mark, out of Fleabite, Texas; and Mo, who flew in from Baltimore, Maryland; plus, Monarc, of Peoria, Illinois; Morris the Cat, that boy from over near Olney, Indiana; and Philip, who works at the Outback Steakhouse on Rt. 16. Harwell was 92. They all showed up for two lousy points. Two for the price of one. Total: 2.

— Bill Schenley,
with an assist from Richard Hyfler

  Skull Line  
  Umaru Yar'Adua  

Charlene got the hit and the writing assignment. Am I grateful? You bet I'm grateful.

* * *

African politicians are assumed to be universally corrupt and immoral. It was a fair assumption back in the Cold War era, when most enriched themselves with Western money sent ostensibly as aid. The aid scam was a win-win situation for America: It could take credit for keeping the country "free" and for selflessly sending aid to poor Africans who (sigh) were just too incompetent to feed themselves, yet if anyone discovered that most of the money went into politicians' pockets, fault would lie with those nasty, corrupt, inferior Africans who (sigh) were just too incompetent to govern themselves. (And don't think the Soviets didn't do the same thing in their sphere of influence.)

So when an African politician with integrity arrives on the scene, what does the West do? It ignores him, at least until a scandal arises. Umaru Yar'Adua was widely known in Africa as an honest man who refused bribes and planned to reform Nigeria's civil service; before he died, he was able to quell a serious revolt in the north of the country but hadn't been able to initiate many of his reform measures. Yet he was hardly known in the West until his health declined and he left Nigeria last November for a Saudi hospital. Did he die in Saudi Arabia? Did he actually return to Nigeria last month, or was it staged? Did he die in April or just now? Nobody knows, because nobody saw him after November except his wife, Edith Bolling Ga— excuse me: Turai Yar'Adua, who has been accused of "exerting undue influence" by Vice-President (and now President) Goodluck Jonathan. Goodluck Jonathan? Goodluck Nigeria!

— Charlene

Charlene is joined by Another Lurker, CIB and Deepstblu. The Nigerian prez was 58 so they will be amply rewarded. However, in order to facilitate the scoring update, their financial assistance will be required up front. I await their replies.

Later: They all came through. 14 points each.

  Skull Line  
  Lena Horne  

Charlene comes through again, and with a very interesting take on the life of Lena Horne:

* * *

"Bitch" is deservedly a nasty word. A bitch is cold, contemptuous, malicious, self-centered, transgressive, vicious; a bully without conscience or compassion. Which is why I was surprised when Lena Horne's obituaries contained so many euphemisms for "bitch." She was "aloof" (AP), "ferocious" and "fierce" (Washington Post), "embittered" and "cold" (Daily Mail) — you get the idea.

But how could Lena Horne have become a star on her own terms without being fierce or aloof? A conformist Lena Horne, one who was accommodating and subservient, might have had a more successful career if she'd allowed herself to be typecast as a maid, but it wouldn't have been her career: it would have been Louis B. Mayer's. And when she fought back, only to find the combined powers of Hollywood and Jim Crow stronger than she was, why wouldn't she become embittered and ferocious? Why wouldn't she react with anger when the same people who bought her records wouldn't have let her in the front door of their homes?

To be honest, I don't know how she stayed so sane, so steadfast, so calm. She once threw things at a man who lobbed a racial slur at her: In her place, I'd have throttled the jerk. And still people blame her for getting angry. You have to wonder how far the world has really come.

— Charlene

For Brigid, Charlene, Kathypig1, Roxanne Wiggs and Tim J, it's not exactly stormy weather at the AO Deadpool. It's a hit with a two-point reward.

  Skull Line  
  Frank Frazetta  

Frank Frazetta probably couldn't remember a time when he wasn't drawing something. When he was eight, Frank's teachers pushed his parents into enrolling him in the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts. The school folded when he was 16, so he went to work. He drew comic books, all kinds of them — superheroes, funny animals, sci-fi, westerns. He worked on the newspaper strips Li'l Abner and Flash Gordon and, later, he did Little Annie Fanny for Playboy, which paid very well.

Frank broke through in 1964 with a movie poster for What's New, Pussycat? It shows Frank's gift for caricature, something he'd already put to good use in Mad magazine. More important, one of the figures in the Pussycat poster is some anonymous ugly fat woman dressed as Brunhilde. She's in a metal breastplate and she's holding a battleaxe. Remember that, because Frank did.

Two years later, Frank did his first Conan cover, for a short story collection called Conan the Adventurer. It was the first Conan cover of about 40 he would do over the course of his career, and this initial cover set the tone for all the rest. Conan was heavily muscled, dressed in almost nothing, and held a big, mean-looking sword. There was a zaftig gal reclining at his feet, and she was wearing a lot less than Conan was. Frank called the style "really rugged." He would do the covers without knowing or caring what was in the books.

Frank was smart. He kept almost all his artwork and the rights to sell it. In 2008 he sold one of his not-Conan cover paintings to a collector for $251,000. When Frank was done laughing his ass off about that, he sold a Conan last year for a million. A million freakin' dollars. Frank called the painting "The Berzerker," spelled just that way. The guy who bought the painting for a million freakin' dollars was Kirk Hammett, the lead guitarist for Metallica, a 30-year-old band that still makes 'way too much money.

The Frank Frazetta Museum is on family property in Pennsylvania. The museum was started by Frank's wife Ellie ten years ago and contains about 90 of Frank's paintings. (One of them had been "The Berzerker.") What's left in there is said to be worth about $20 million. Ellie, who married Frank in 1956, died last year. Frank was already pretty sick, so it wasn't long before their kids began fighting over the contents of the museum. Last December, Frank Jr. went all Conan on everybody's ass. He got a backhoe, ripped open the museum, and tried to swipe all the paintings. Frank Jr. said he was trying to protect them, but the rest of the family disagreed. Frank Jr. was arrested, but all charges were dropped last month when the family wimped out and settled its differences peacefully.

The unheavily muscled and (usually) properly dressed Born with the Defect knew with Conan-like cunning that Frank Frazetta was heading into his last swordfight, and so he gets five points, plus another five for the solo. Total: 10.

— Brad

  Skull Line  
  Rosa Rio  

Rosa Rio is dead. She was 107 and still playing with her organ when the last curtain fell.

She was an organist in silent movies, radio, and television ... in no particular order. And oddly, she lied about her age because she feared age-discrimination. She came clean in 2007 ... when she was 104. Did she think she could pass for 30?

R H Draney, who never did get to play with Rosa's organ, gets 1 point for the hit and 5 bonus points for going solo. Total: 6.

— Bill Schenley

  Skull Line  
  Ronnie James Dio  

A word of advice. Should you decide, upon getting a cancer diagnosis, to start a blog and to let your ex-wife have the virtual reins, be prepared for posts like:

"The only food Ronnie says he can taste is Indian curry; everything tastes like metal (HEAVY metal?) because of the chemo. We did, however, have a nice breakfast with Carmen and his mother on Friday. He is still waiting for his bone marrow transplant."

Yes, I know (now) he was famous. I know (now) he was beloved. The afternoon his death was announced, I left the house and within a block or two saw two people in Black Sabbath t-shirts. But really, do even his most die-hard fans have to know about the state of his tumors? And that going back and forth from LA to Houston for treatment is a real drag, given the nature of flight delays, rude Continental Airlines staff, and the booooooring room service menu at the hotel? Really. (Channeling SNL.)

Have I written enough about Ronnie James Dio to fool you into thinking that not only did I know who he was, I had heard of him before the day he died? I did see the documentary film, Anvil, which is terrific and full of surprises. Maybe he was mentioned in that. But right now, I got nothing. I can do a lot of musical updates, but I can't do heavy metal. I waited for someone kind and young to volunteer to write this sucker, but no one came through, so this is what you get. I'll leave you with the last comment on the blog by Wendy Dio. It should confound all you logicians out there:

"Ronnie hates prejudice and violence! We need to turn the other cheek on these people that only know how to hate someone they didn't know. We only know how to love someone we know!"

The following people knew and loved that special someone. Mostly because he was a mere 68 when he died, which is pretty old for a rock star, but very young in the AO Deadpool. Yankee fan CIB, Also-ran DDT, Fistpumper Denise, Reigning Champ EdV, Young Hulka, First Hit Johnnyb, Sarcastic Mo, the Abbreviated Morris the Cat, and Leader of the Pack Philip. They get 11 points apiece.

— Amelia

  Skull Line  
  Martin Gardner  

I asked JD Baldwin to write the update, since he seems to have admired Gardner beyond measure, and I'm absolutely delighted to get one with anagrams and mathematical curiosities.

Thanks so much, JD. And go R H Draney!

* * *

A Timid Nerd's Arranged Words

"[Martin] Gardner was often perceived as a hard-core Platonist," says Wikipedia, not usually prone to that sort of understatement. Maybe that's the core of what appealed to me and millions of others.

Martin Gardner wanted to be a physicist. He wanted to go to Cal Tech, but they made physics students take two years of liberal arts first, so he went to the University of Chicago instead. The joke was on him; he encountered philosophy at Chicago and made it his major.

It took Gardner a long time to find his calling. Between getting his university degree and beginning the Scientific American column on mathematical puzzles that made his reputation, he held the following jobs:

- Navy yeoman (on a destroyer in the Atlantic during WW II)
- Tulsa Tribune reporter
- social worker
- waiter
- soda jerk
- public relations flack
- freelance fiction / jokes / poetry writer
- features editor for children's magazines, including a stint writing under the nom de plume "Polly Pigtails"

I can't write an update for a Navy man without mentioning the first one, and I couldn't bring myself to do an update on Gardner without mentioning Polly Pigtails. It's just too hilarious.

Scientific American hired Gardner on the strength of an article he'd sold them about a mostly-forgotten mathematicians' fad called "flexagons." (Trust me, they were really hot in 1956.) He was 42.

Gardner retired from SA in 1981. (I do not jest or exaggerate when I say I remember this clearly as a very sad day in my life.) He spent the rest of his life as a professional skeptic, writing on various philosophical topics. He and James Randi have done more to debunk, and (just as importantly) to publicize the debunking of, claims of the paranormal than any other pair in history. Unlike just about every other hard-core Platonist rationalist skeptic I've ever heard of, Gardner professed a belief in God. And not the deist, "watchmaker" Spinozan God of some of them, but a personal God who hears prayers and oversees an afterlife.

Martin Gardner has died at age 95. That's a product of two primes and the number of planar partitions of the number 10. You might say He Ran Dry — or at least R H Draney might say that, what with his seven points (a prime that is itself the sum of two primes, 2 and 5).

— JD Baldwin

  Skull Line  
  Leonida Georgievna  

Charlene volunteered again, and this time for a hit I didn't even know had happened. I am blessed.

* * *

The bitterest fights are usually over matters of no importance. Take, for instance, the succession to the Russian imperial throne. You wouldn't think there'd be much clamor over who gets to pretend to be the Czar, but in reality the succession is a battle royale between the supporters of a Mr. Nicholas Romanov and those of Her Imperial Highness the Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna. (Take a wild guess at which one takes the fight more seriously.) The problem lies with the "Rules of the House," regulations that Paul I set down in the early nineteenth century to avenge his supposed father, Peter III, grandson of Peter the Great. Under these rules, only male descendants in the direct male line of Peter the Great (the "male dynasts") can inherit; if they peter out, then the senior female dynast succeeds. Maria claims that all the male dynasts, including Mr. Romanov, have disqualified themselves under the rules by marrying commoners; Mr. Romanov's supporters reply, and I quote, "hell no." The fact that all of this is based on a big fat lie — because the Russian imperial family is descended not from Peter the Great but from one Serge Saltykov (hot piece of Catherine the Great, and Paul I's real father) — appears to be beside the point to these people, as is the fact that Russia is now a republic and has been for over ninety years.

Grand Duchess Leonida Georgievna Romanova was Maria Vladimirovna's mother, and by that you can probably guess whose side she was on. Her husband was the last uncontested pretender, so she's known to most royalists as the Dowager Empress, and was famous enough for the Times to condescend to run her obituary; unfortunately, the accompanying photograph is of the wrong Dowager Empress. Adding insult to injury, they also called her the last Romanov to be born in Russia, despite the fact that she was born a Bagration-Mukhransky in Tbilisi, Georgia. They got her age right; she was 95 when she popped her imperial clogs in Madrid.

— Charlene

And Kathi, out there in the middle of the country, loves her royalty. To the tune of 7 points. She gets 2 for the hit, and 5 for the solo.

  Skull Line  
  Jay Gallagher  

Jay Gallagher was the Gannett bureau chief in Albany for 25 years. Think about it. Cuomo, Pataki, Spitzer and Paterson. It was just starting to get good. (Although we're coming back to Cuomo.) He was famous for asking the question of these leaders, "How are you going to pay for this?" (Maybe he didn't ask Spitzer that question.) Nevertheless, they all loved him. Politicians, journalists, readers. I have found nothing in the way of criticism of this man. They even had to move his memorial service to a venue that had more folding chairs. He started his career on a typewriter and ended it on a blog. According to the Boston Globe and, I guess, him, hours before his death, he was editing his own obituary. "Looking not for praise but for accuracy and fairness, his driving goals."

Jay Gallagher was 63 when he died of pancreatic cancer, and CIB had him on his list. I hope it wasn't because Gallagher was a member of Red Sox Nation. CIB gets 11 points for the hit and 5 for the solo. Total: 16. Second place is yours.

— Amelia

  Skull Line  
  Art Linkletter  

Art Linkletter was a radio and TV "personality" — not quite an entertainer and only approximately a host. Art had enough presence to center a show, but not so much that he'd distract anybody from the guests or the commercials. As such, he was perfect for his era, when the rules of political correctness were set by the likes of Joe McCarthy. Art, blander than bland, didn't really bother anybody. He looked and sounded non-controversial and comfortable, and he numbered the Reagans and the Nixons (shown here with another of Art's old pals, Walt Disney) among his closest friends. Safe.

Art started in radio as an announcer at KGB in San Diego, where he'd grown up. He was 16 then. Art's big break came in 1943 when he was hired to take over as host of a radio program called People Are Funny, in which random strangers were subjected to various indignities for the amusement of the audience. That kind of thing always works. People Are Funny made a seamless transition to TV after eight years, and wound up running fresh episodes until 1960.

Art Linkletter co-created House Party in 1945. It was a hodgepodge of interviews, comedy bits, more interviews, audience games, and so on. The show was wildly successful and was brought over to TV in 1952. It was still a radio show, though. You could watch House Party with the picture off and not miss a thing. In fact, the unedited soundtrack from that day's TV show was played the following afternoon on CBS radio for fifteen years after the show had gone to TV. House Party came on every day around the time kids were getting home from grade school, which is why aging boomers are the only ones left who still remember it. Every installment of House Party began with a shot of a laughing audience. This was because the announcer would drop his pants just as the show came on. There was all sorts of highbrow stuff like that on House Party.

House Party also featured interviews with kids — lots and lots of kids, all spruced up, and almost all of them white. The audience loved watching Art outwit a foursome of seven-year-olds. This daily segment was called "Kids Say the Darndest Things," and sometimes they did. For example, there was once a kid who talked about how, after daddy left for work every day, Uncle Bob would come over from next door and chase mommy around the kitchen table, and the two of them would laugh a lot. This was on live TV, in front of God and everybody. It makes you wonder what magic Art might have worked, if only DNA testing had been in his arsenal.

House Party finally, finally went on-topic in 1969, and Linkletter never did as well again. Maybe his time had passed, or maybe all he needed was an announcer with better legs. Now we'll never know.

It may be that Art will be remembered most not for his work, but for the death of his 20-year-old daughter Diane who, like House Party, went on-topic during the Year of Woodstock. Diane lived in a nice sixth-floor apartment near Spago's, the trendy Los Angeles restaurant. One night, Diane jumped out the window. Art almost instantly blamed Diane's suicide on a bad LSD trip, even though the coroner would find no drugs of any sort in Diane's system. It didn't matter a bit. Art stuck to his story that his daughter had gone out of her apartment window in the LSD-addled belief that she could fly, and Art sold that story to the public like he'd sold detergent and denture cream. To this day, many people still believe his Flying Diane story. It was an easy sell to a public not inclined to believe that Art Linkletter had been a distant and unapproachable, even forbidding, father. Even Art probably wound up believing it.

Abby, Born with the Defect, Busgal, Dead Batteries, Deepstblu (which I keep reading as Deep Street Blues), Eternity Tours, Mark, R H Draney and Tim J can all house-party hearty with a whopping two points each.

— Brad

  Skull Line  
  Gary Coleman  

When my kids were young, and they would start their I-Want-This-Or-That-Thing whining, and after I had said no, they would invariably move right to "That's not fair." I would always counter with "Darfur isn't fair, you miserable little bastards. You whimpering about not getting to ride the pony one more time doesn't register a fucking tick on the That's-Not-Fair meter." I figure most of the hard times that fall upon people are not so much a matter of fair or not fair, just the stuff that happens to each of us during the course of a lifetime.

On the other hand, all that shit that happened to Gary Coleman ... Man, that just wasn't fair. I mean, consider ... he gets adopted because he was born only two or three inches tall and his new parents saw the dollar signs ("Man, we'll make a fucking fortune with that ugly little midget.") and then, because The Wizard of Oz had already been filmed and because he was way too ugly for midget porno, his acting career dried up. And if that wasn't bad enough, he married a woman who was actually uglier than he was. He went all the way from Good Times or One Day at a Time or Saved By the Bell or whatever the hell he was in, to working mall security while being married to the bad Linda Blair.

The bad Linda Blair proceeded to crack him over the head with a bottle of DwarfAway and then take a few casual snapshots with a stepladder strategically placed to confuse the already mildly to severely retarded Mormon Police Department who think he fell while this inbred troll doll of an ex-wife lovingly tried to nurse her homely little meal-ticket back to life. Man, that just wasn't fair.

In the end, DGH will get more than the bimbo. In fact, he doesn't even have to wait for Coleman's will to be read. Because Coleman managed to outlive his screen career by about twenty years, DGH gets 18 points for the mercy killing and another five for doing it all alone. Diff'rent Strokes for different folks ... Total: 23.

— Bill Schenley

  Skull Line  
  Dennis Hopper  

Hopper, we never knew you. You were pals with James Dean, and you played the iconic Billy in Easy Rider. Father, Shooter, and Blue Velvet's lovable Frank Booth. You were also the philosophical Howard Payne in Speed, and Deacon in Kevin Costner's horrible Waterworld. You were even the voice of Steve Scott and King Koopa from two video games. Over a fifty-year career you played Billy the Kid, Billy Clanton, Napoleon Bonaparte, the Prophet, Mad Dog Morgan, Doc Holliday, and the Photojournalist. H.P. Lovecraft, Frankie Fly, Walter Pensky, Captain Ellsworth, Victor Drazen and even Frank Sinatra. Through all of that ... and we still never knew who you were.

You spent several lifetimes wrapped up in a pampered state of drug addiction, alcoholism, and you reached a level of debauchery that would have even made Frank Booth blush. The shameless treatment of your wife at the end of your life — when you were no longer able to use her as you had for the previous fifteen years — well, fittingly, you were a Reagan/Bush Republican, thereby cementing the notion that you were as batshit crazy as they come.

Still, with your death at 74, you provided a valuable service to the AO Deadpool. Points. Allen Kirshner, Amelia, Deceased Hose, Denise, Direcorbie, EdV, Eternity Tours, Fireball, Garrett, Jenstrikesagain, Kerschti, Mo, Philip, Roxanne Wiggs and Worm Farmer all get eight points for the hit. If one were to add up the value of Dennis Hopper's Reagan/Bush votes, it would be worth less than the eight points. Hey, Hopper ... thanks a lot for four votes more wasted than you were ...

— Bill Schenley

  Skull Line  
  Benjamin Lees  

It's a fairly common occurrence with me that after I read an unknown (to me) writer's obituary, I run to the library or to Bookfinder to sample the output. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Not long ago, I sat in the library skimming through the entire collection of novels by the recently dead Australian writer Randolph Stow. They were so grim that I couldn't bring myself to actually check one out. On the other hand, the obituary of Montague Haltrecht, a gay Anglo-Jewish writer, led me to the internet and The Edgware Road, a mildewy copy of a fantastic '70s novel about Jewish family life in London. I'm looking for the rest of his books; not so easy to find. Maybe London Books will reprint some. (Just in case they're listening.)

It works the same, apparently, for musicians and composers. I had never heard of the classical composer Benjamin Lees. So at this very moment, I'm listening to his Quartet No. 6. (Downloaded and paid for!) It's simply fantastic. It's written in that mid-century classical music idiom that isn't always popular, but is very accomplished and very beautiful and is right up my alley. I am looking forward to hearing the other quartets, the symphonies, especially No. 4, which is his only overtly Jewish work, an elegy to the victims of the Holocaust. There's a percussion concerto, another one that commemorates the 50th anniversary of the D-day landings. There's his concerto for string quartet and orchestra. He was nominated for a Grammy for "Kalmar Nyckel," a symphony written to honor the founding of Wilmington, Delaware, first colonized by settlers from Sweden, and named after the ship that brought them there.

Lees had an extraordinary output over a very long career and I'm delighted to be discovering him, even after his death.

Books and music, after all, are not mortal.

A lovely solo for Garrett. Lees was 86, so Garrett gets 5 for the hit and 5 for the solo. Total: 10. Bravo, maestro.

— Amelia

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