In passing

Evolutionary biologist Ernst Mayr, 100

Cambridge, Mass. Ernst Mayr, one of the world’s leading evolutionary biologists, has died. He was 100.

Mayr, a longtime Harvard University faculty member, died Thursday at a retirement community.

His work in the 1930s and ‘40s, while a curator at the American Museum of Natural History in New York, established him as a leading neo-Darwinist, supporting a theory of evolution that is a combination of Darwin’s natural selection theory and modern genetics.

In his travels in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, Mayr showed, unlike Darwin, that species can arise from isolated populations.

Born in Kempten, Germany, Mayr joined the Harvard faculty in 1953 as a zoology professor and led Harvard’s Comparative Zoology museum from 1961 to 1970. He retired in 1975.

‘Animal House’ co-star John Vernon

Los Angeles John Vernon, a stage-trained character actor who played cunning villains in film and TV and made his comedy mark as Dean Wormer in “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” has died. He was 72.

Vernon died in his sleep Tuesday following complications from Jan. 16 heart surgery, his family said.

Movie fans may know the Canadian-born actor best for his role as Wormer, who is bent on expelling the hard-partying Delta fraternity house. The movie, starring John Belushi and Tim Matheson, is one of the most popular comedies ever made.

Born in 1932 in Montreal, Vernon studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. He did repertory work in England and was heard off-screen as the voice of Big Brother in the 1956 film “1984.”

He returned to Canada to appear on stage and on television, including the starring role in the 1960s drama “Wojeck,” in which he played a coroner.

After appearing on Broadway in “Royal Hunt of the Sun” he became a steady player in U.S. films, making his debut in director John Boorman’s “Point Blank” (1967) as a turncoat tossed to his death by Lee Marvin.

Vernon went on to work with other celebrated filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock (“Topaz,” 1969), Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry,” 1971), and Clint Eastwood (“The Outlaw Josey Wales,” 1976).

His deep, menacing voice was custom-made for the many bad guys he played.

He reprised his role in “National Lampoon’s Animal House” in the TV spinoff “Delta House” (1979). Other comedy roles followed, including the part of Mr. Big in the film “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” in 1988.

Vernon appeared in a DVD edition of “Animal House” as part of a satiric update on the characters. Wormer was portrayed as a curmudgeonly old man in a wheelchair.

Child abuse expert Brandt Steele, 97

Denver Dr. Brandt F. Steele, a psychiatrist who helped pioneer the treatment of abused children and coined the term “battered child,” died Jan. 19. He was 97.

In a 1962 paper, Steele and longtime associate Dr. C. Henry Kempe, a pediatrician, became the first to detail the physical and psychological symptoms of child abuse by parents, dubbing the result “battered child syndrome.”

The paper was pronounced one of the 20th century’s 50 most important medical contributions by The Journal of the American Medical Association.

Steele and Kempe also were first to document that abusers themselves often were childhood victims of abuse and neglect.

Steele grew up in Indiana, attended Indiana University and studied under Alfred Kinsey, who later became famous for his research on sexuality.

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