Categotry Archives: Writers/Editors

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Ruth Lilly

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Categories: Extraordinary People, Writers/Editors

As an heiress, Ruth E. Lilly could have lived a very comfortable life doing anything she wanted or absolutely nothing at all. Instead, she decided to fund a wide variety of causes and help those in need. And over the course of her nine decades on this planet, she gave away more than half a billion dollars to educational and cultural organizations.
Born in Indianapolis, Lilly was the last surviving great-grandchild of Col. Eli Lilly, who founded the pharmaceutical empire Eli Lilly and Company in 1876. Last year, the company employed over 40,000 workers, earned $21 billion in sales and was ranked #570 on the Forbes 2000 List.
Lilly was still in her teens when she began writing poetry, but it took her nearly 50 years to submit her work, under a pseudonym, to Poetry magazine. Although the influential literary journal rejected her poems, the editors also sent handwritten notes offering critiques of her writing. This left quite an impression on Lilly, and in 1986, she bequeathed $100 million to the magazine. The gift ensured that Poetry would continue publishing in perpetuity. In response, Poetry became a non-profit organization known as the Poetry Foundation, launched the annual Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, which gives $100,000 to a contemporary poet in honor of a lifetime of a achievement, and created five Ruth Lilly Poetry Fellowships for aspiring poets.
“Poetry has no greater friend than Ruth Lilly,” said Poetry Foundation President John Barr. “Her historic gift is notable not only for its size — that part of her largesse is known to every corner of the poetry world — but also because it was made with no conditions or restrictions of any kind as to how it should be used for the benefit of poetry. In that, it was the purest expression of her love for the art that meant so much to her as poet herself, and as benefactor.”
Lilly’s quiet generosity also extended to many Indiana-based institutions. She bequeathed a major gift to the Lilly Endowment, the family’s main charitable organization. In 1966, Lilly and her brother, J.K. Lilly III, donated the site of their parents’ estate to the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and provided a trust income to maintain it. A health education center, a learning center, a fitness center, a law library and a science library all exist and bear the Ruth Lilly name, thanks to her monetary contributions. Lilly rarely attended ceremonial events, though, preferring instead to have her chauffeur drive her past the institutions she had aided.
In private, Lilly struggled with day to day life. Depression plagued her for decades, and she spent much of her 40-year marriage to writer Guernsey Van Riper in a hospital. The couple divorced in 1981; they had no children. That same year, Lilly’s brother went to court and had her declared incompetent. From that point on, all of her donations had to be signed by an attorney.
Lilly finally found some relief from her illness in 1988, thanks to the invention of Prozac, which was made and distributed by Eli Lilly and Co. The anti-depressant allowed her to live the final years of her life in relative peace. For her many years of philanthropy, Lilly was awarded a doctor of humane letters degree from Wabash College in 1991, from Franklin College in 2003 and from Marian University and Indiana University in 2004.
Lilly died on Dec. 30 of heart failure. She was 94.

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John Keel

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Categories: Writers/Editors

John Alva Keel, a prominent Fortean author who shed light on the Mothman sightings, died on July 3 of congestive heart failure. He was 79.

Born Alva John Kiehle and raised in Hornell, N.Y., he developed an early interest in magic and mysterious phenomena, and was only 12 years old when he published his first story in a magician’s magazine. In his teens, Keel changed the spelling of his surname and the order of his initials, and hitchhiked to New York City to become a professional writer. Over the next decade, he created comic book scripts, edited Poets of America magazine, worked as a freelance writer and produced several radio programs, yet a passion for stories about the unusual, strange and unexplained soon became his professional focus.

During the Korean War, Keel was drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed in Frankfurt where he worked on the staff of the American Forces’ Network. After leaving the service, however, he traveled through Europe, Asia and the Middle East seeking out the truth behind outlandish tales of myth and legend. Investigating these controversial topics was not the most lucrative career move, but Keel supported his efforts by writing ad libs for Merv Griffin and contributing scripts to shows like “Get Smart” and “Lost in Space.”

Keel published numerous books on the supernatural over the course of his four-decade career, including “Our Haunted Planet,” “UFOs: Operation Trojan Horse,” “The Complete Guide to Mysterious Beings” and “Strange Creatures from Time and Space.” But his biggest claim to fame was the 1975 book, “The Mothman Prophecies,” which was turned into a major motion picture starring Richard Gere and Laura Linney in 2002. The book chronicled Keel’s 1966-1967 investigation into reported sightings of a strange creature in Point Pleasant, W.Va.

Known as the Mothman, the creature was described as being 7 feet tall with grey skin, red glowing eyes and large wings. Its origins were unknown, but theories abounded. Some believed the Mothman was a mutant spawned from local chemical and weapons dumps. Others theorized that it was either an extraterrestrial or the result of an Indian curse. Eyewitnesses claimed it screeched like a rat, ate farmers’ dogs, destroyed area fields, caused cars to stall and interfered with TVs, radios and telephones.

Although the creature was known for scaring people — particularly couples sitting in parked cars — Keel wrote that the Mothman may have tried to telepathically warn people that the Silver Bridge was going to collapse into the Ohio River. It did so in 1967, killing 46 people.

Keel’s coverage of the Mothman phenomenon turned Point Pleasant into a tourist attraction, and sparked the launch of the annual Mothman Festival. A Mothman Museum, containing props from the movie, eyewitness accounts of Mothman encounters and other curiosities, also opened on Main Street. Keel last visited Point Pleasant in 2003 when a stainless steel statue of the Mothman was unveiled.

Keel’s final years were often spent in an self-imposed isolation. He did few interviews, distanced himself from family and friends and struggled with both health and financial issues.

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Ed McMahon

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Categories: Hollywood, Military, Writers/Editors

emcmahon.jpgCol. Edward Leo Peter McMahon Jr., a legendary TV personality and Marine, died on June 23. Cause of death was not released. He was 86.

The Detroit native always wanted to be a broadcaster. In his teens, he worked the microphone as both a bingo caller and a carnival barker. But McMahon’s chance to break into show business was put on hold by World War II. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, and served as a flight instructor and test pilot. When the war ended, McMahon used the G.I. bill to study drama and speech at Catholic University of America in Washington D.C. To support himself during that time, he hawked vegetable slicers on the Atlantic City boardwalk and the Midwestern state-fair circuit.

McMahon’s first broadcasting gig was in radio, but soon he turned his attentions to the up-and-coming medium of television. He played a circus clown on the show “Big Top,” hosted more than a dozen programs in Philadelphia and tackled announcing duties for the music showcase “Bandstand.” Just as the networks came calling, however, McMahon returned to active duty to serve in Korea. There he flew 85 reconnaissance missions in the Cessna OE Bird Dog. He eventually retired from the service with the rank of colonel.

After he returned home, McMahon joined “Who Do You Trust?” a game show originally hosted by ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his dummy sidekick, Charlie McCarthy. The newer version was hosted by an up-and-coming comedian named Johnny Carson, and McMahon was hired to be the show’s announcer. When Carson was offered the opportunity to take over “The Tonight Show” in 1962, McMahon went with him.

For three decades and 6,583 shows, McMahon introduced Carson with the trademark opening: “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” He would then sit on Carson’s right and serve as his sidekick. Through skits and celebrity interviews, standup routines and musical numbers, McMahon always kept the tone of the show light with his humorous commentary and hearty guffaws. And when Carson retired from the show in 1992, McMahon did as well.

Despite a talent for playing second fiddle, McMahon enjoyed standing in the spotlight. In the 1960s and 1970s, he emceed the game shows “Concentration,” “Missing Links,” “Snap Judgment” and “Who Dunnit?”. From 1983 to 1995, he hosted the amateur talent show “Star Search,” which helped launch the careers of numerous entertainers, including Britney Spears, Drew Carey, Rosie O’Donnell, LeAnn Rimes and Sinbad. McMahon co-hosted “TV’s Bloopers and Practical Jokes” with his old friend Dick Clark, and helped raise millions during the annual “Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethon.” McMahon also lent his voice and likeness to dozens of commercial advertisements, most notably as the pitchman for the American Family Publishers’ sweepstakes.

McMahon’s adventures in Hollywood were so extensive that he penned two memoirs — “For Laughing Out Loud: My Life and Good Times” (1998) and “Here’s Johnny!: My Memories of Johnny Carson, The Tonight Show, and 46 Years of Friendship” (2006) — as well as the nonfiction book “When Television was Young” (2007).

His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 7000 Hollywood Blvd.

Privately, McMahon had a reputation for being a hardworking, stand-up guy with a penchant for imbibing. He played Bacchus, the Greek god of wine, at the 1978 Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, designed his own vodka and published “Ed McMahon’s Barside Companion,” a book that offered a “blend of ’round the bar games and bets, spirited stunts, jokes and tricks.” He even became known as “Mr. Budweiser” when he served as a spokesman for that beer company.

Celebrity suited McMahon, but fortune often slipped through his fingers. The last few years of his life were spent mired in pain and financial difficulty. In 2002, McMahon sued his insurance company, alleging that he and his wife Pamela were sickened by toxic mold that had spread through their Beverly Hills house. The McMahons also blame the mold for the death of their dog, Muffin. They won their legal battle a year later and received a $7 million settlement, but the money didn’t last for very long.

A fall in 2007 caused McMahon to suffer a broken neck, which required two operations. The pain from this injury kept him from working for nearly two years, which meant the unpaid bills quickly piled up. He even faced a possible foreclosure on his home, but was allowed to remain in the residence thanks to the kindness of strangers and private investors who learned of his troubles.

In an attempt to make light of his situation, and to make extra money, McMahon appeared in a commercial with once-bankrupt rap artist MC Hammer. The ad, which aired during the 2009 Super Bowl, promoted a cash-for-gold business.

McMahon married three times and was father to six children. When asked by Larry King how he wanted to be remembered, McMahon said, “I don’t plan to have a headstone. I hope to be floating in the sea…but if I had a headstone my epitaph would be: ‘He was a good broadcaster and a great Marine!'”


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Dave Freeman

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Categories: Writers/Editors

David Stewart Freeman, an ad executive who co-authored a bestselling book encouraging readers to live a life full of adventure, died on Aug. 17 after falling and hitting his head on the ledge of a glass door in his California home. He was 47.
Born and raised in Whittier, Calif., Freeman earned a bachelor’s degree in urban planning from the University of Southern California in 1983. He spent the next two decades working in advertising, first at Cochrane Chase Livingston in Newport Beach, Calif., then at Grey Advertising and Kirshenbaum and Bond in New York City.
After watching the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks from his apartment, Freeman decided to move back to Los Angeles to be closer to his family. There he joined the firm TBWA/Chiat/Day and founded The Disruption Consultancy.
In his spare time, Freeman was an avid traveler who preferred to wander alone. From 1996 to 2001, he and his friend Neil Teplica published WhatsGoingOn.com, a travel Website that featured reports “on events, festivals and celebrations all over the planet.” The success of the site led to the 1999 publication of “100 Things to Do Before You Die: Travel Events You Just Can’t Miss.” The irreverent book spawned hundreds of similar mortality-related “list” texts.
Freeman participated in about half of the events mentioned in their book; he ran with the bulls in Pamplona, slept in an ice hotel in Finland and attended the Maha Kumbh Mela, a Hindu pilgrimage that happens only once every 12 years. He and Teplica also encouraged readers to attend the Academy Awards, view the World Cow Chip Throwing Championship in Beaver, Okla., and go “land diving” on the Island of Vanuatu.
The concept of embarking on great adventures before leaving this mortal coil served as the backdrop of the 2007 film “The Bucket List,” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. The announcement of Freeman’s death also inspired writers from all over the world to pay tribute by posting their own itemized lists of “things to do before kicking the bucket” on blogs and Websites.

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Lillian Ellison

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Categories: Actors, Sports, Writers/Editors

lellison.jpgMary Lillian Ellison, the first woman inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame, died on Nov. 2 from complications of shoulder-replacement surgery. She was 84.

Born in the tiny community of Tookiedoo, S.C., Ellison was the youngest of 13 children and the only girl in the family. After her mother died when she was 10 years old, Ellison and her father began spending Tuesday evenings attending local professional wrestling matches. These nights away from her 12 brothers gave Ellison the opportunity to develop a relationship with her father; they also inspired her to conquer the male-dominated world of professional wrestling.

Ellison was just a teenager when she began working as a valet, a job that involved serving as both helper and eye candy to the male wrestlers. She worked her way up through the ranks, from wrestling promoter to trainer to manager, always demanding top dollar for her boys, most notably “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers.

In the late 1940s, Ellison decided to enter the ring herself. After training with Mildred Burke, a champion female wrestler, Ellison took to the squared circle. She adopted the name “The Fabulous Moolah” because the moniker perfectly described why she became a wrestler. “I want to wrestle for the moolah!” she’d often declare. When Burke retired in 1956, Ellison defeated Judy Grable in a tournament and won the “women’s world title.” She would retain her championship status for 28 years.

Although female wrestling used to be illegal in many states, Ellison was a star on the circuit. In the ring, the 5-foot-4-inch, 118 lb. wrestler had a huge personality and a vast repertoire of kicks and holds. Her signature move was called a “backbreaker,” but she would also do scissor kicks, monkey flips and clotheslines to keep her opponents from getting the upper hand. On her own, or alongside her partner in crime Mae Young, Ellison’s antics earned her the love — and enmity — of wrestling fans.

“Used to be, the crowd would always cheer for whoever I was going against. That was okay; I loved for the fans to hate me. It made me put on a better show. I’ll show you, I’d say to myself when I’d hear them call me ‘Bitch!’ or ‘SOB!’ — two fo my favorite, uh, nicknames,” she wrote in her 2002 autobiography, “The Fabulous Moolah: First Goddess of the Squared Circle,” written with Larry Platt. The memoir also provided candid insights about the times she spent hanging out with celebrities such as Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley.

Ellison became a mother at 14. She married and divorced five times, and once turned down a proposal from long-time boyfriend and country music singer Hank Williams. She never officially retired from the fighting circuit, despite suffering numerous broken bones over the years, and even wrestled a match on her 80th birthday. In 1995, she became the first woman to be inducted into the World Wrestling Entertainment Hall of Fame. Her career was later profiled in the 2004 documentary, “Lipstick & Dynamite, Piss & Vinegar: The First Ladies of Wrestling.”

When she wasn’t performing or appearing at special events, Ellison was busy training generations of wrestlers at her school on Moolah Drive in Columbia, S.C. One of her most notable students was Katie “Diamond Lil” Glass, a professional midget wrestler who became Ellison’s adopted daughter. Ellison also had six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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