Photo: 1937 Oldsmobile customized hearse listed on EBay at $7,550.
Queen of the Dead – dateline January 16, 2012
• Singer and actress Betty Jane Rhodes, 90, died on December 26. A radio and recording success as a child, she was signed by Paramount in 1936 and through the 1940s she acted (and frequently sang) in such films as Jungle Jim, Stage Door, Having a Wonderful Time, Along the Rio Grande, The Fleet’s In, Sweater Girl (in which she introduced “I Don’t Want to Walk Without You”), Star Spangled Rhythm, and You Can’t Ration Love. After leaving films, she continued recording, and singing in nightclubs. From 1945 till his death in 1993, Rhodes was married to Willet H. Brown, co-founder of the Mutual Broadcasting System.
• Another venerable old company filing for bankruptcy: Hostess, makers of Wonder Bread and such delicious, delicious, poisonous treats as Twinkies, Ho-Hos, Ding Dongs, and Sno Balls, has filed for Chapter 11. They are in the hole to the tune of more than $860 million, and they owe some $50 million to vendors who—amazingly—do not wish to be paid off in Twinkies. If they go out of business, perhaps they can market their “creamy filling” for breast implants, building spackle, or whatever it is that makes plummeting elevators stop before hitting the basement. I am a Philadelphia-born Tastykake girl, myself: Kandy Kakes, Krimpets, those cupcakes with the rock-hard white swirl on top . . . Excuse me, I think it’s lunchtime . . .
• You may never have heard of violinist Israel Baker (who died at 92 on December 25), but you have heard him, over and over again—it’s his “twee! twee! twee!” strings that accompany the scarier moments in Psycho. Baker was a star in the artsy-fartsy world, leading Leopold Stokowski’s All-American Youth Orchestra at 22, and later helming the Paramount Pictures studio orchestra. He also frequently duetted (duoed?) onstage with pianist Yaltah Menuhin, and backed such singers as Frank Sinatra, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand and Nancy Wilson on records. “Izzy” also literally played second fiddle to Jascha Heifetz in a series of concerts, but for all his work (“one of the most brilliantly facile techniques of any violinist of his time,” said writer Jim Svejda), it’s those few seconds of stabbing accompaniment that brought him pop fame.
• And poor Natalee Holloway was officially declared dead on January 12. For those of you without cable TV or a People subscription, she was that unfortunate 18-year-old who went missing in Aruba while on a school trip in 2005, having had the bad luck to hook up with sociopath Joran van der Sloot. I must admit I was kind of a risk-taker when I was a hot young chick (though I was never as hot as Natalee), and I had a lovely Vacation Affair when in Barbados in 1986 (oh, Geoffrey . . .). My mother always told me, “don’t go home with men you’ve just met, they will turn out to be serial killers.” So I usually said “no” and missed out on a lot of sluttiness. I later complained to Mom, “you know all those men I said ‘no’ to? I’ll bet only three or four of them would have turned out to be serial killers.”