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Robert Giroux, publishing giant

Sun., Sept. 7, 2008

Robert Giroux, a distinguished giant of 20th-century publishing who guided and supported dozens of great writers from T.S. Eliot and Jack Kerouac to Bernard Malamud and Susan Sontag, died in his sleep Friday in Tinton Falls, N.J. He was 94.

Giroux, who helped create one of the most notable publishing houses – Farrar, Straus & Giroux – had been in failing health for a couple of months.

Known throughout the industry for his taste and discretion, he began in 1940 as an editor at Harcourt, Brace & Company. When he left in 1955 to join what was then Farrar, Straus, more than a dozen writers joined him, including Flannery O’Connor, Malamud and Eliot.

Giroux joined Farrar as editor in chief and was made a full partner in 1964. His reserved demeanor contrasted the company’s boisterous founder and president, Roger Straus. Straus and Giroux thrived together even as they endlessly complained about each other, with Straus regarding Giroux as a snob and Giroux looking upon Straus as more a businessman than a man of letters.

During Giroux’s 60-year career, some of the world’s most celebrated writers published works for FSG, including Nobel Prize winners Isaac Bashevis Singer, Derek Walcott, Nadine Gordimer and Seamus Heaney.

Giroux was a strong critic of contemporary publishing, which he believed had become too money-minded. “Editors used to be known by their authors,” he observed in a 1981 lecture. “Now some of them are known by their restaurants.”

Bill Melendez, ‘Peanuts’ animator

Bill Melendez, the animator who gave life to Snoopy, Charlie Brown and other “Peanuts” characters in scores of movies and TV specials, died of natural causes Tuesday in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 91.

Melendez’s nearly seven decades as a professional animator began in 1938 when he was hired by Walt Disney Studios and worked on Mickey Mouse cartoons and classic animated features such as “Pinocchio” and “Fantasia.”

He went on to animate TV specials such as “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and was the voice of Snoopy, who never spoke intelligible words but issued expressive howls, sighs and sobs.

Melendez founded his own production company in 1964 and with his partner Lee Mendelson went on to produce, direct or animate some 70 “Peanuts” TV specials, four movies and hundreds of commercials.

The first special was 1965’s “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” The show reportedly worried CBS because it broke so much new ground for a cartoon: It lacked a laugh track, used real children as voice actors, had a jazz score and included a scene in which Linus recited lines from the New Testament.

Ralph M. Kovel, collectibles expert

Ralph M. Kovel, 88, a pioneer of price guides for antiques and collectibles who wrote 97 books on the subject and helped create the modern mania for family heirlooms and flea-market finds on “Antiques Roadshow” and eBay, died Aug. 28 at the Cleveland Clinic. He had complications from hip surgery.

He lived in Shaker Heights, Ohio, with Terry Horvitz Kovel, his wife and co-author.

“Kovels’ Antiques & Collectibles Price Guide” as well as the Kovels’ other books on subjects such as silver or American art pottery, are written primarily for average collectors and history buffs, not museum curators.

Their research and wide-ranging knowledge – communicated through syndicated newspaper columns, newsletters and a Home and Garden TV show – helped educate Americans for decades.

Don LaFontaine, voice-over artist

Don LaFontaine, the highly sought-after voice-over artist whose sonorous-voiced narration on several thousand movie trailers earned him the title of “The Trailer King,” died Monday in Los Angeles. He was 68.

LaFontaine, who also did voice-over work on radio and network television promotional spots and commercials, was known as “Thunder Throat,” “The Voice of God” and “the highest-paid movie-trailer narrator” in Hollywood.

With a rich baritone that was once likened to the sound of someone speaking from the bottom of a well, LaFontaine dramatically narrated the movie trailers for classic films such as “2001: A Space Odyssey” (“A shrieking monolith deliberately buried by an alien intelligence”), “Fatal Attraction” (“A look that led to an evening, a mistake he’d regret all his life”) and “The Terminator” (“In the 21st century, a weapon would be invented like no other”).

LaFontaine’s distinctive voice also was heard on the trailers for “Doctor Zhivago,” “MASH,” “The Godfather,” “Ghostbusters,” “Home Alone,” “L.A. Confidential,” “Independence Day” and nearly 5,000 other movies, including the “Indiana Jones,” “Rambo” and “Die Hard” series.

He viewed himself as a voice actor. “You want to take the audience out of their seats, out of their homes, out of their complacency and pull them into the story,” he said. “You want to make that trailer so compelling that they have to go buy a ticket just to find out how the movie ends.”

Hazel Warp, stuntwoman

Hollywood stuntwoman Hazel Warp, Vivien Leigh’s stunt double as Scarlet O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” died Tuesday in Livingston, Mont. She was 93.

Warp was born in 1914, grew up on a farm near Melville and rode horses wherever she could, including to the one-room schoolhouse she attended until the ninth grade when she quit school to train animals.

The petite young woman went to California on a whim – eventually standing in for Leigh in all the horseback-riding scenes in the 1939 Civil War movie. She even took a fall for Leigh, tumbling down the stairs of Tara in the scene near the end of the film when Scarlett reaches out to slap Rhett Butler, loses her balance and falls.

Warp also appeared in “Wuthering Heights,” “Ben Hur” and “National Velvet.”

“There was nothing she wouldn’t do and nothing she couldn’t ride,” her brother Bob Hash said in 2005. “We thought it was tops.”

From wire reports


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