Saturday, February 01, 2020

Let Us Pay Our Condolences

On the one hand, writing and disseminating obituaries can seem a rather morbid enterprise. On the other, it offers a valuable and potentially insightful celebration of the people whose lives have so recently concluded. Five recent passings of figures linked to the crime-fiction community deserve our attention.

• “Mary Higgins Clark, a fixture on best-seller lists for decades whose more than 50 novels earned her the sobriquet Queen of Suspense, died on Friday in Naples, Fla. She was 92,” explains The New York Times. The Associated Press writes:
Widowed in her late 30s with five children, she became a perennial bestseller over the second half of her life, writing or co-writing “A Stranger Is Watching,” “Daddy’s Little Girl” and more than 50 other favorites. Sales topped 100 million copies and honors came from all over, including a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters from France or a Grand Master statuette back home from the Mystery Writers of America. Many of her books, like “A Stranger is Watching” and “Lucky Day,” were adapted for movies and television. She also collaborated on several novels with her daughter, Carol Higgins Clark.

Mary Higgins Clark specialized in women triumphing over danger, such as the besieged young prosecutor in “Just Take My Heart” or the mother of two and art gallery worker whose second husband is a madman in “A Cry in the Night.”
The AP observes that Higgins Clark’s “goal as an author was simple, if rarely easy: Keep the readers reading.”

In recent years, Higgins Clark teamed up with fellow author Alafair Burke to pen half a dozen novels starring New Yorker Laurie Moran, the producer of Under Suspicion, a TV documentary series focusing on cold-case crimes. The most recent of those was You Don’t Own Me (2018). The newest book credited solely to Higgins Clark was Kiss the Girls and Make Them Cry, released last November from Simon & Schuster.

National Public Radio supplies a brief tribute to Higgins Clark here.

(Hat tip to Mystery Fanfare.)

• Journalist Jim Lehrer was best recognized for having put in 36 years as an anchorman and executive editor of television’s PBS NewsHour, and for moderating several small-screen U.S. presidential debates. However, as The Gumshoe Site noted after his death on January 23 at age 85, Lehrer “also wrote a number of novels, several of which are mysteries. The One-Eyed Mack series, starting with Kick the Can (Putnam, 1988) and ending with Mack to the Rescue (University of Oklahoma Press, 2008), features a lieutenant governor of Oklahoma, who solves mysteries in his free time. The Charles Avenue Henderson series has two novels: Blue Hearts (1993) and Purple Dots (1998; both from Random House). Henderson is a former CIA agent, who just wants a quiet rural life as a bed-and-breakfast proprietor in West Virginia, but once a spy … always a spy. Lehrer also authored some political thrillers such as Top Down (Random House, 2013; about the Kennedy assassination).” Other remembrances of Lehrer and his career can be found in The Hollywood Reporter and on the Web sites of both National Public Radio and PBS.

• Character actor John Karlen’s lengthy career—which included his portraying Tyne Daly’s compassionate husband on the CBS-TV crime drama Cagney & Lacey (1982-1988)—is recalled at length in the blog A Shroud of Thoughts. “John Karlen was an extraordinary actor …,” writes blogger Terence Towles Canote, “[whose] talent was such that even when a particular movie might not be very good, he always was.” What I hadn’t known before now was that the Brooklyn-born Karlen played more than one part on the 1960s TV soap opera-cum-horror series Dark Shadows. He also appeared in such series as The Detectives, The Mod Squad, The Magician, Police Story, The Rockford Files, and Quincy, M.E. Karlen was 86 years old when he perished on January 22 from congestive heart failure.

• Writer-editor Charles Alverson drew his first breaths in Los Angeles, California, and went on to become a Wall Street Journal reporter, a contributor to Rolling Stone magazine, and the editor of a British environmental publication called Vole, which was funded by Monty Python troupe member Terry Jones. Rap Sheet readers probably knew him best, however, for his pair of novels featuring San Francisco homicide detective-turned-private eye Joe Goodey: Goodey’s Last Stand (1975) and Not Sleeping, Just Dead (1977). In the wake of Alverson’s passing, Mystery*File editor Steve Lewis lamented, “his two books about San Francisco-based P.I. Joe Goodey struck me as being very done, both solidly in the Raymond Chandler tradition. After reading the two of them, I was constantly on the lookout for the third, but alas, it never turned out to be”. Alverson lived for the last two decades in Serbia, which is where he expired on January 20. He commemorated his 84th birthday this last October.

• American TV honcho Fred Silverman, who died on Thursday, January 30, at age 82, is described by The Hollywood Reporter as “the executive who became the only person in TV history to have headed programming for each of the Big Three broadcast networks.” It calls him “a showman at heart,” who gave us such memorable productions as All in the Family, The Waltons, Roots, and Hill Street Blues. The Reporter adds that Silverman also “orchestrated such popular spinoffs as The Jeffersons, Rhoda, Laverne & Shirley, The Bionic Woman and The Facts of Life” and “brought ‘Jiggle TV’ series like Charlie’s Angels and Three’s Company to the airwaves …” Meanwhile, Variety recalls that “After turning both CBS and ABC around in the ratings, Silverman failed to work his magic at NBC in the late 1970s and early ’80s. Once he left the Peacock net to branch out on his own with the Fred Silverman Co., Silverman forged another career as a producer, turning out a number of successful series, including Matlock, In the Heat of the Night, Jake and the Fatman and Diagnosis: Murder.” A Shroud of Thoughts includes a tidbit of information in its obituary that was news to me: “ …[I]t was arguably Fred Silverman who put the Saturday morning cartoon on the map. His successful spate of superhero cartoons an later comedy cartoons insured that CBS would dominated Saturday mornings in the late Sixties and early Seventies.” Finally, for a more personal perspective, refer to this post by author-screenwriter Lee Goldberg, who says he “worked closely with [Silverman] for several years,” and states: “Most of all, I loved talking TV history with him. He had an encyclopedic knowledge because, well, he was responsible for creating so much of the history I would ask him about.”

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