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In Passing

Sun., Feb. 17, 2008

Charlottesville, Va.

Phyllis A. Whitney, gothic writer

Phyllis A. Whitney, the grande dame of American gothic fiction who contributed to the rebirth of the genre in paperback and who wrote more than 70 mysteries and novels for readers of all ages in a career that spanned six decades, has died. She was 104.

Whitney died Feb. 8 of pneumonia at a Charlottesville, Va., hospital.

The best-selling author’s “Thunder Heights” is considered the first of the modern paperback gothic romance novels, according to “13 Mistresses of Murder,” a 1986 study of mystery writers.

Whitney’s suspense stories set in exotic locations were known for their “dauntless damsel in distress” formula, but she bristled at the term “romance writer.” She argued that female writers of detective stories that featured chaste romance failed to get the credit they deserved.

“I wish I could think of a suitable name for the kind of writing I do,” she wrote in a 1981 article for the Mystery Writers of America. “We’re read by millions … yet we’ve never become quite – legitimate.”

Las Vegas

Steve Gerber, comic book writer

Steve Gerber, the comic book writer and creator whose signature character was the alienated, cigar-chomping Howard the Duck, has died. He was 60.

Gerber, who also co-created Marvel’s “Omega the Unknown” and created the 1980s animated series “Thundarr the Barbarian,” suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. He died Feb. 10 in a Las Vegas hospital from complications related to the disease.

The “Howard the Duck” series became a fast hit after its January 1976 debut on Marvel and remains a cult favorite. Its lead, a disgruntled duck from another universe with a bombshell sidekick named Beverly “Thunder-Thighs” Switzler, was hailed as both smart and subversive.

Gerber split with Marvel in 1978 amid a dispute over the rights to the character. He sued the company and settled out of court.

Hixson, Tenn.

Polly Williams, ‘Thin’ subject

Pollack “Polly” Ann Williams, who was featured in the HBO documentary “Thin,” an unflinching look at several women with serious eating disorders, was found dead Feb. 8 in her Hixson, Tenn., home. She was 33.

Williams died from an overdose of sleeping pills, a suicide that was “a direct result of her internal battle with the eating disorder,” said her sister, Bebe W. Reed. “She said she could not fight the fight any longer.”

Lauren Greenfield, who made the 2006 documentary, said of Williams on her Web site: “In her short life, she touched more people than most people do in their lifetime and I know she was very proud of the contribution she made in the eating disorder community.”

The documentary was filmed at Renfrew Center, a residential treatment center in Coconut Creek, Fla., and received praise when it was screened two years ago at the Sundance Film Festival.

Much of the film’s high drama centers around Williams, who discloses that she checked into the clinic after trying to kill herself over eating two slices of pizza. She adds: “That was obviously not the whole reason.”


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