Queen of the Dead—dateline July 11, 2011
• Archduke Otto of Austria, pretender to the throne of the late Austria-Hungary, died on the Fourth of July, at 98. I must admit to a schoolgirl crush on his . . . great-great-uncle, I think? The dreamy Crown Prince Rudolf, who killed himself in 1889 at Mayerling. (OK, he killed his mistress, too; I didn’t say it was a healthy schoolgirl crush).
• One-shot movie wonder John Sweet, 95, died on July 5. He was a U.S. Army sergeant in England during World War II when snapped up to costar in the wonderful picaresque mystery A Canterbury Tale (1944). Sweet’s only other movie was a football short with the hugely unfortunate title Some Like It Rough (also ’44). He donated his Canterbury salary to the NAACP, returned to the States and went back into teaching, resurfacing only periodically for Canterbury reunions.
• As a film historian, I was sad to hear that my compatriot Robert Sklar, 74, died in a bicycle accident in Barcelona on July 2. Sklar wrote such books as Movie-Made America: A History of American Movies, City Boys: Cagney, Bogart, Garfield, Film: An International History of the Medium, and Prime-Time America: Life on and Behind the Television Screen. I am hugely jealous of him, as he taught cinema studies at NYU for 30-some years before moving on to become a faculty advisor at the University of Michigan. Me? I’m lucky if my books make enough profit to pay for the research on my next book, and NYU is not knocking down my door. But am I bitter? Damn right I am.
• And The News of the World has died at the age of 168. Was it murder? Or suicide? The best-selling, bawdy British tabloid was axed by Rupert Murdoch (as of July 10) after the recent awkward phone-hacking scandal. As a Girl Reporter, I am always sad to see publications go under. The News was one of the first popular penny presses; it was shot to greatness by publisher George Riddell in the 1890s. Murdoch bought it in 1969, and we all know what that brought on: skyrocketing circulation and skyrocketing libel suits. For a little perspective, among the first stories reported on by the paper, in 1843: Daniel M’Naghten killing Prime Minister Peel’s private secretary, leading to the M’Naghten “not guilty by reason of insanity” laws; the publication of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol; the birth of Queen Victoria’s daughter Alice; and the death of Robert Southey, author of (among other things) The Three Bears, which introduced Goldilocks.