Categotry Archives: Writers/Editors

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Irving Layton

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ilayton.jpgIrving Layton, a prolific Canadian poet and professor, died on Jan. 4. Cause of death was not released. He was 93.
Born Israel Pincu Lazarovitch in Tirgul Neamt, Romania, Layton was naturally circumcised at birth, which orthodox Jews considered the mark of the Messiah. His family immigrated to Canada when he was just an infant, and he grew up in a poor Montreal neighborhood. Layton fell in love with poetry upon hearing his tenth grade English teacher read the epic poem, “The Revenge: A Ballad of the Fleet,” by Alfred, Lord Tennyson.
In his 20s, Layton joined the Young People’s Socialist League, earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture from MacDonald College and wrote a column for the student newspaper. His left-wing leanings and radical ideas would eventually get him blacklisted from entering the United States for almost 15 years, but his anger at Adolf Hitler’s actions in Europe led him to enlist in the Canadian Army in 1942. He was honorably discharged a year later.
Upon returning to Montreal, Layton completed his graduate work in political science and economics at McGill University and began to write poetry. His first collection, “Here and Now,” was published in 1945. Layton spent the next several decades teaching, first at a Jewish high school and at the Jewish Public Library in Montreal, then later at Sir George Williams University, York University and McGill. That was how he earned a living, however, his true passions were writing and seducing women. “Everything except writing poems and making love ends up finally boring me,” he once said.
During the 1950s and 1960s, his sexually-charged poetry made staid Canadians balk and literary critics cry foul. Layton, who was an outspoken social and political debater, had no qualms about rebuking those who disagreed with him, both in print and on the CBC Television program, “Fighting Words.”
In the last third of his life, Layton’s muse went into overdrive. He would eventually produce more than 40 books, and become one of the most published writers in North America. His collection, “A Red Carpet for the Sun,” won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for literature in 1959, and his book, “Keine Lazarovitch 1870-1959,” won the University of Western Ontario President’s Medal for poetry. In the 1970s, Layton was invested as an officer to the Order of Canada and honored with a life achievement award from Encyclopaedia Britannica. In the 1980s, he received two nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Layton married five times and fathered four children. He continued to write until 1995, when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. In the foreword to his 1979 poetry collection, “Droppings From Heaven,” Layton penned his own epitaph. He wrote: “I want to be remembered as someone who believed that a great poem was the noblest work of man and that no one ever wrote one who didn’t want to get out of hell.”
Layton’s Bibliography

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Patricia Anne van Tighem

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Categories: Writers/Editors

pvantighem.jpgPatricia Anne van Tighem, the author of a best-selling book about a harrowing encounter with a grizzly bear, committed suicide on Dec. 14. She was 47.

A native of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, van Tighem trained as a nurse at Mount Royal College and the University of Victoria. She and her husband, medical student Trevor Janz, had been married for three years when they decided to take a vacation in the Canadian Rockies.

On a sunny autumn day in 1983, the couple was returning from a hike to Crypt Lake in Waterton Lakes National Park when they encountered a female grizzly and her cubs feeding on the carcass of a bighorn sheep. The adult bear attacked Trevor first, biting him in the leg and swiping at his face. Van Tighem tried to escape by climbing a tree, but the bear rammed into its trunk three times and knocked her to the ground, then mauled her.

Trevor suffered injuries to his leg as well as a crushed nose and jaw, but he eventually healed and became a physician. Patricia lost her left eye and her face was permanently disfigured.
In the 22 years since the incident, van Tighem suffered from chronic pain, nightmares and post-traumatic stress. She endured more than 30 reconstructive surgeries and years of debilitating depression that sent her on frequent trips to mental institutions. People stared at her injuries and treated her like she was mentally challenged. To combat her despondence, van Tighem wrote the book, “The Bear’s Embrace,” which was published in Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and nominated for several awards.

“In the time right after our attack I couldn’t get the imagery out of my head. I used to write all the time and I was in the habit of it, so I started to write initially about the actual mauling and then branched out in other directions (like the hospital) in order to stop the visions cycling through my head,” van Tighem once said.

Although the couple later separated, their story was featured on National Geographic and BBC television. Van Tighem also founded a branch of AboutFace, an organization that supports people with facial disfigurements. She is survived by their four children.

Listen to an Interview with Van Tighem

Read an Excerpt From “The Bear’s Embrace”

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Richard Pryor

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Categories: Actors, Hollywood, Military, Writers/Editors

rpryor.jpgControversial. Authentic. Foul-mouthed. Manic. Pioneering. Genius. These are just some of the words that have been used to describe actor/comedian Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III. But fans and colleagues always add one other adjective to the list: Funny.
“He doesn’t fall into the [categories] of comedians we have, like prop comic, black comic, Jewish comic, white comic… he doesn’t even get comic. He’s just funny!” comedian and TV personality Jon Stewart said.
Born in Peoria, Ill., Pryor’s childhood was far from innocent. Raised in his grandmother’s brothel, he was sexually molested by a neighborhood teen and by a Catholic priest, and once saw his mother perform sexual acts on the town’s mayor. To escape from these horrors, Pryor watched movies from the colored section of the local theatre and played the drums at an area nightclub.
Pryor was kicked out of school at 14, and worked a variety of odd jobs (janitor, shoe shine man, meatpacker and truck driver). He served two years in the U.S. Army then began working the club circuit as a standup comedian. By the mid-1960s, he was performing in Las Vegas and making appearances on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson. But Pryor wasn’t happy with the media’s constant comparisons to Bill Cosby, so he took a two-year hiatus and returned to the comedy circuit with an act that featured unique characters and cutting edge social commentary.
Pryor next turned his attentions to Hollywood. During the 1970s and 1980s, he acted in dozens of films — such as “Lady Sings the Blues,” “The Wiz,” “Stir Crazy,” “The Toy,” “Superman III,” “Brewster’s Millions” and “See No Evil, Hear No Evil” — and became one of Hollywood’s highest paid stars.
In 1986, he co-wrote, co-produced, directed and starred in the film “Jo Jo Dancer, Your Life Is Calling,” an autobiographical account of a popular comedian re-examining his life from a hospital bed. The film was an appropriate project for Pryor, who battled drug and alcohol addictions for years and nearly lost his life in 1980 when he caught on fire while freebasing cocaine. The incident, later described to Barbara Walters as a suicide attempt, caused him to suffer third degree burns over 50 percent of his body.
On television, Pryor headlined “The Richard Pryor Show” on NBC, a program that was canceled after only five broadcasts because the censors were so offended by his material. He hosted “Saturday Night Live” and the 1977 Academy Awards show, and won an Emmy Award and a Writers Guild Award for writing “The Lily Tomlin Special.” Pryor’s first screenwriting attempt, “Blazing Saddles,” which he co-wrote with Mel Brooks, brought him another Writers Guild of America Award. He released four comedy concert films, sold millions of comedy albums and co-wrote his 1995 autobiography “Pryor Convictions: And Other Life Sentences.”
Pryor suffered two heart attacks, and in 1986 was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease of the nervous system. Nine years later, he received an Emmy nomination for guest starring as an MS patient on the CBS drama “Chicago Hope.” Pryor was honored by The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in 1998 with the first Mark Twain Prize for humor. In 2004, he was selected as #1 on Comedy Central’s list of 100 Greatest Stand-Ups of All Time. His star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is located at 6438 Hollywood Blvd. Sheridan Road in his hometown of Peoria was renamed Richard Pryor Place in his honor.
Pryor married seven times to five different women and fathered seven children. A lifelong advocate of animal rights, he adopted stray animals, participated in letter-writing campaigns and was honored by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for saving baby elephants in Botswana.
Pryor died on Dec. 10 of a heart attack. He was 65.
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

Richard Pryor Download MP3s by Richard Pryor

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Stan Berenstain

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Categories: Artists, Military, Writers/Editors

For more than 40 years, Stan Berenstain and his wife Jan entertained millions of children while teaching them how to read.
Stan and Jan were in their teens when they met in a drawing class at the Philadelphia Museum School of Industrial Art. A warm friendship and a mutual love of art soon developed into a blossoming romance, but World War II put their relationship on hold.
Stan attended engineering school at the University of Maine, then served in a field artillery unit and as a medical artist at an Army plastic surgery center. At the same time, Jan worked as a riveter in an aircraft factory and produced engineering drawings for military contractors. Once Stan’s three-year tour of duty ended in 1946, the couple wed and began collaborating on cartoons and submitting them to magazines. Soon they were regular contributors to Collier’s, Good Housekeeping, McCalls, The Saturday Review and The Saturday Evening Post.
An editor at a New York publishing house saw their cartoons and asked the Berenstains if they’d like to do a book. Inspired by the birth of their first son, the couple published the “Berenstains’ Baby Book” (1951). It attained modest success and led to the publication of several family humor books.
The husband-and-wife team then pitched a book to Theodor Geisel (a.k.a. Dr. Seuss), the editor of Beginner Books. With Geisel’s editorial guidance, Jan and Stan authored “The Great Honey Hunt” (1962), the first book in the Berenstain Bears series. Later stories, which featured the domestic adventures of Mama, Papa, Brother, Sister and Baby Bear as they did chores, visited the dentist, dealt with bullies, attended school and learned the value of sharing, captured the imaginations of generations of children. Stan and Jan Berenstain wrote and illustrated more than 250 books about the Berenstain Bears family, then expanded their literary empire to feature the Bear family in countless DVDs, a public television program and a Christmas musical.
The Berenstains sold nearly 300 million Berenstain Bear books and received numerous awards for their contributions to children’s literature, including the Ludington Award and a Children’s Choice Award. The couple’s sons, writer Leo Berenstain and illustrator Michael Berenstain, now help in creating the series. The couple’s life together was also chronicled in the 2002 memoir, “Down a Sunny Dirt Road.”
Stanley Melvin Berenstain died on Nov. 26 of complications of cancer. He was 82.
Watch a Video About Stan and Jan Berenstain
Watch an Interview With the Berenstain Family
Listen to a Tribute From NPR

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Jerry Juhl

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Categories: Hollywood, Writers/Editors

Jerome Ravn Juhl was only 23 years old when he and his friend Frank Oz met Jim Henson at a puppeteer’s convention. That fateful encounter in 1961 helped both young men land their dream jobs.
Juhl became the first full-time employee of the Jim Henson Co. He worked as a puppeteer on the TV show, “Sam and Friends,” and spent six years writing for “Sesame Street” after it debuted in 1969. Juhl wrote scripts for Cookie Monster, Oscar the Grouch, Bert and Ernie, the Count and Big Bird, and created the character Super Grover. For his efforts, he won three Emmy Awards and two Writers Guild Awards.
Oz became Henson’s closest collaborator, and for years provided the voices of Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear, Bert, Animal, Grover and the Cookie Monster. He later gave a voice to Yoda (“Star Wars”), and directed numerous feature films, such as “The Dark Crystal,” “In & Out” and “The Score.”
From 1977 to 1981, Juhl served as the head writer for “The Muppet Show.” He wrote or co-wrote the screenplays for every Muppet movie, including “The Muppet Christmas Carol,” “Muppet Treasure Island” and “Muppets From Space.” Then in 1983, Juhl co-created “Fraggle Rock,” an idealistic puppet show that received critical acclaim for the four years it aired on HBO. Juhl’s wife, Susan Doerr Juhl, also worked as a writer and script editor on the program.
Born in St. Paul, Minn., Juhl always had a passion for puppetry. As a child, he made his own puppets and performed plays for his family and friends. While earning his bachelor’s degree in theater arts from San Jose State University in California, Juhl broke into show business by working on children’s shows for local TV stations.
Juhl died on Sept. 27 of complications from pancreatic cancer. He was 67.

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