This horse-drawn hearse has been listed on EBay at Buy It Now for $2,500 .
Queen of the Dead – dateline August 20, 2012
• Cosmo Girl Helen Gurley Brown—who died at 90 on August 13—was not a heroine of mine. She pretty much single-handedly turned women’s magazines into the “Sixty Sexy Ways to Sex Up Your Sexy Sex Life!” crap we see on newsstands today. Back in the ’80s and ’90s—before everyone with a blog thought she was Carrie Bradshaw—I was able to earn a living (not a good one, true) writing and editing for magazines. I was even copy chief for More, one of the few really smart women’s magazines. But gee whiz, some of the whipped cream I had to slog through at the others! I wrote an article for one of the major mags—which shall go unnamed here—and the final edit read like something from a sugared-up 12-year-old girl’s diary. I was just about to ask them to take my name off it when the editor burbled, “I’ll bet you’re so excited to have your byline in this magazine!” Mind you, no one loves hair and makeup tips more than I do, and fashion, and society gossip. But let’s look at the cover of the June Cosmo, lying around my office: “Wild Sex Stories!” “50 Ways to be Sexy This Summer!” “Where to Meet a Guy in June!” “Pink: How She Keeps Her Love So Hot!” And for that we have Helen Gurley Brown to thank.
• Poor Phyllis Thaxter—she appeared in dozens of movies (Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, Week-End at the Waldorf, Tenth Avenue Angel, Blood on the Moon, Jim Thorpe — All-American, She’s Working Her Way Through College, Women’s Prison) and TV shows (including multiple assignments on the anthologies Lux Video Theatre, Climax! and Alfred Hitchcock Presents), but when she died at 92 on August 14, all her obits were headlined “Superman’s Mom!” because she made a small cameo appearance as Ma Kent in that 1978 movie. “She was one of the loveliest and most talented of all stars in the golden age of movies, Broadway and television,” says writer Rex Reed; one of those “Hollywood-plain” actresses like Barbara Bel Geddes and Betsy Drake, who always turned in smart, low-key performances.
• John Travolta and Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs must be looking over their shoulders these days, what with the deaths this year of Welcome Back, Kotter Sweathogs Robert Heyges (in January) and Ron “Arnold Horshack” Palillo (on August 14, aged 63). Horshack was my favorite Sweathog, and I still can do a disturbingly spot-on imitation of him. My only encounter with Palillo, though, was not anything to write home about (although I did, indeed, write home about it). He was trying to make a living as an illustrator in the ’90s when I interviewed him, for Art Direction magazine—his work was really, really, bad, and he was nervous and ill-at-ease, which I will put down to being in front of a reporter and maybe knowing that his work was really, really bad. He may not have been happy with his legacy, but Horshack was one of those classic, one-of-a-kind TV characters—like Mary Cherry and Squiggy—who really brightened our little TV lives.
• Broadway star Joan Roberts, 94, who created the role of Laurey in Broadway’s Oklahoma!, died on August 13. Her other Broadway shows included Sunny River (1941-42), Marinka (1945), Are You With It? (1945-46), High Button Shoes (replacing Nanette Fabray, 1947), and a late turn in the 2001 revival of Follies. Roberts appeared infrequently in movies and TV, though she kept busy with regional theater. She told the New York Times in 2001 that she was already contracted to J.J. Shubert when Richard Rodgers wanted to sign her for Oklahoma! “I went up to J.J. and asked him to release me. He thought for a while— the longest few minutes in my life up to then—and then said yes, but only if I promised to have dinner with him once a week at his place above Sardi’s. And I did until the day God took him.”