September 26, 2004 in Nation/World

In passing

The Spokesman-Review
 
File/Associated Press photo

Ellis Marsalis at the piano in 2003.
(Full-size photo)

Marvin Davis, 79, Hollywood billionaire

Beverly Hills, Calif. Billionaire Marvin Davis, a former oilman who sold his 20th Century Fox studios to Rupert Murdoch in the 1980s, died Saturday after a long illness, his publicist said. He was 79.

Davis had also owned the Pebble Beach Co. and the Beverly Hills Hotel. Nicknamed “Mr. Wildcatter,” he started his road to fortune in oil and gas exploration, later expanding into real estate and the entertainment industry.

Earlier this year, Davis’ fortune was valued at $4.9 billion by Forbes magazine, where he placed 85th on the annual ranking of billionaires.

Davis bought 20th Century Fox studios in 1981. In 1984, he recruited Barry Diller, then head of Paramount, to run the studio. The following year, he sold Fox to Murdoch and it is now part of the media mogul’s News Corp.

After the sale, Davis built and twice sold the 20th Century Fox Plaza in Century City. The building became famous as the tower in the original “Die Hard” film.

Over the years, Davis made attempts to buy CBS, NBC and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

After graduating from New York University in 1947, Davis joined his father in creating Davis Oil Co., a wildcat drilling operation that earned them billions of dollars. In the 1980s, Davis started a second career in real estate.

Bill Ballance, 85, early provocative DJ

San Diego Bill Ballance, a radio personality whose bold 1970s talk show tackled relationships and sex and helped pave the way for today’s shock jocks, died Thursday, his son said. He was 85.

Ballance’s “Feminine Forum” became one of the most popular radio shows in Los Angeles within a year of its 1971 debut on KGBS-AM.

Racy and confessional, the show drew many male and female listeners with topics such as “Where did his love go and how did you know it was gone?” and “Are you a red-hot mama?”

“Feminine Forum” provoked anger among women’s rights activists, who accused him of exploiting callers. But Ballance dismissed them, and the program was syndicated around the country.

In the late 1990s, Ballance caused another stir when he sold nude photographs of radio therapist Laura Schlessinger to a company that posted the photos on the Internet.

After KGBS dropped “Feminine Forum” in 1973, Ballance hosted the milder “Bill Ballance Show.” He worked for KABC and KFMB in San Diego before retiring from radio in 1993.

Ellis Marsalis Sr., 96, jazz family patriarch

New Orleans Ellis L. Marsalis Sr., the patriarch of a family of world famous jazz musicians, including grandson Wynton Marsalis, has died. He was 96.

Marsalis’ son, Ellis Jr., is a prominent New Orleans pianist and music professor who mentored crooner Harry Connick Jr. as well as four musician sons: Wynton, the trumpeter; saxophonist Branford; trombonist Delfeayo; and drummer Jason.

Ellis Sr., who died Sept. 19, was involved in the civil rights movement through ownership of a motel in suburban New Orleans whose guests included the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr., future Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and musician Ray Charles.

He was born in Summit, Miss., and had lived in New Orleans since 1921. In 1936, he became the first black manager of an Esso service station in the city.

Marsalis opened the Marsalis Motel near the Mississippi River in 1943, a converted barn that featured a restaurant, lounge and swimming pool. The motel’s business dwindled after civil rights legislation in the 1960s allowed blacks to stay at formerly all-white inns. The motel closed in 1986 and was later demolished.

He is survived by his son, a daughter and seven grandchildren.

Donald Gardner, 91, wrote classic yule tune

Donald Yetter Gardner, songwriter best known for the children’s classic yule tune “All I Want for Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth,” has died. He was 91.

Gardner died Sept. 15 in a Brockton, Mass., hospital.

It was the beginning of the holiday season in 1944 and Gardner, a music teacher along with his wife, Doris, at Smithtown, N.Y., was helping 22 second-graders compose a Christmas song. He asked them to complete the sentence “All I want for Christmas is …” and then began smiling as he heard 16 of them lisping wishes without the help of one or both front teeth.

That night, within 30 minutes, the 31-year-old music teacher composed the ditty that would bring him royalties until the end of his life.

Gardner’s children’s song has been recorded by artists as diverse as Nat King Cole, the Chipmunks, the Platters, the Andrews Sisters, the Sesame Street cast, Mariah Carey and the Boston Pops. Cole’s jazzy version was Gardner’s favorite.

Russ Meyer, 82, acclaimed director

Los Angeles Russ Meyer, whose racy films such as “Mudhoney,” “Faster, Pussycat! Kill! Kill!” and “Vixen” made him a cult movie favorite, died Sept. 18 of complications from pneumonia. He was 82.

Meyer’s films were considered pornographic in their time but are less shocking by today’s standards.

His work made him rich and earned critical acclaim. He was honored at international film festivals, his movies were discussed in college courses and his work was shown at top museums.

Altogether he produced, directed, financed, wrote, edited and shot at least 23 films including his debut “The Immoral Mr. Teas” in 1959 and the 1968 film “Vixen” whose success earned him notice from major studios.

He went on to direct the 1970 major studio release “Beyond the Valley of the Dolls,” which was co-written by film critic Roger Ebert.

Other films by Meyer include “Fanny Hill” (1964); “Mudhoney” and “Motorpsycho” from 1965; “Mondo Topless” (1966); “Common Law Cabin” (1967); “Finders Keepers, Lovers Weepers!” (1968); “Blacksnake” (1972); “Up!” (1976); and “Beneath the Valley of the Ultravixens” (1979).


Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email