Sunday, January 24, 2010

Death Has Been Busy

Jean Simmons has died. No, not the frontman for that ridiculous Seventies hard-rock band in the makeup -- I won't insult fans of actual music by calling Gene Simmons a "singer" -- but the gorgeous British actress who starred as love interest for Laurence Olivier in the 1948 version of Hamlet, Richard Burton in The Robe, Marlon Brando in Desiree and Guys and Dolls, Burt Lancaster in Elmer Gantry and Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. She was married for a time to the British actor Stewart Granger (who, upon coming to America, had to change his name, as his real name was James Stewart and we already had one of those).

She starred in the original Broadway production of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, taking the role held by Angela Lansbury in the current revival, which also stars Kirk Douglas' daughter-in-law, a woman I like to call The Woman I Love. You might call her Catherine Zeta-Jones.

My fetish for dark-haired women with British accents (which did not start with Cazejo) would have been in overdrive for Jean Simmons if I'd been over the age of 13 in the 1950s. She was, indeed, a doll. She was 80.


Irwin Dambrot has died. He played basketball for City College of New York, and was the biggest star on a team that won both the NCAA and NIT Championships in 1950. By a weird coincidence, they beat the same team in each Final, Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, which would also lose the 1954 NCAA Final to LaSalle, thus losing to both the first New York City team and the first Philadelphia team ever to win the NCAA.

CCNY thus became the first team ever to win both. They remain the only one, because the rules now prevent one team from participating in both, partly as a result of the '50 runs. Those runs were enmeshed in a point-shaving scandal that could have ruined college basketball, and pretty much wrecked it in New York. CCNY and arch-rival New York University (NYU, also based in Manhattan) cancelled their programs, only to come back later as Division III teams; Long Island University (LIU, in Downtown Brooklyn) and Fordham (The Bronx) came back to Division I but have never really been the same; and St. John's (Jamaica, Queens) took about a decade to recover before Joe Lapchick put together one more good team in the mid-1960s and Lou Carnescca brought them back to the national spotlight in the 1980s.

CCNY coach Nat Holman, himself a great player in the 1920s, called Dambrot "the greatest player I ever coached." But Dambrot was 1 of 7 players caught up in the scandal in 1951, all pleading guilty to misdemeanor conspiracy charges and all (including Dambrot) except one receiving suspended sentences.

Dambrot became a dentist, and most of the guilty players also went on to careers that provided some sort of service to their communities, which speaks to the true measure of their character, as well as to Holman's teaching. Dambrot was 81. His nephew Keith Dambrot is the head coach at the University of Akron, in Ohio.


Robert B. Parker has died. He created the private detectives Spenser, brought to life by Robert Urich in the NBC drama series Spenser: For Hire (which also made a star of Avery Brooks as Spenser's pal/sleuthing partner Hawk); and Jesse Stone, brought to life by Tom Selleck in a series of CBS TV-movies. Parker also wrote Double Play, a novel about a (completely fictional, thankfully) plot to kill Jackie Robinson to prevent him from reintegrating baseball in 1947.

Parker is the only person I've ever seen in public wearing a Boston Braves cap. Nevertheless, the Massachusetts native had long since given up that ghost and adopted the Red Sox, working them into several of his stories. Let's just say that his writing was better than his rooting. A lot better. He was 77.


Erich Segal has died. He wrote Love Story, made into a film starring Ryan O'Neal as Oliver Barrett IV, a Harvard hockey player. The film was also the 1st film for Segal's classmate, a former Harvard football player named Tom Jones, who played in that epic 1968 "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29" game. But since there was already a singer named Tom Jones (Stewart Granger's revenge?), he had to use his full name, Tommy Lee Jones.

Jones' roommate at Harvard was Al Gore, and when the Vice President, running for President in 2000, said he was the model for Barrett, right-wingers called him a liar. Except Gore never said he was the model for Barrett. Segal said that Gore was the model for Barrett. Did I mention that right-wingers are a bunch of lying bastards? I guess being a Republican means only having to say you're sorry "if you offended anyone." Segal was 72.


All this, not long after the deaths of the great R&B singer Teddy Pendergrass, Anne Frank's protector Miep Gies (at age 100), Gumby creator Art Cloakey and Taco Bell founder Glen Bell.

Hope this isn't a sign that the Jets' dream will die in Indianapolis today.


The Montreal Canadiens went into the Prudential Center on Friday night and beat the Devils, then went home to play the Rangers in an Original Six matchup, and smashed them, 6-0. In football, this would be like losing 42-0. In baseball, this would be like losing 12-0. In basketball, this would be like... just another day at the office for the Nets.

Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau, a member of 10 Stanley Cup winners and Captain of a record 5 of them, suffered a stroke last week, and is recovering in Montreal. He is 78, and has already survived heart trouble and cancer. He is now a year younger than his predecessor as Habs torch-bearer, Maurice "the Rocket" Richard, was when he died. Here's hoping the most popular living person in Quebec gets well soon, and can return to the organization he helped to make the Yankees of hockey.

The Devils bounced back last night, beating the Islanders at the Nassau Mausoleum, 4-2. It was tied 2-2 with 7 minutes left in regulation, when Bryce Salvador, who'd given the Isles an own goal, scored his 3rd goal of the season -- that's about 3 seasons worth for him. Salvador, Salvador, how many times are you gonna score? Zach Parise added an empty-netter for the final.


Days until the Devils play another local rival: 13, Saturday night, February 6, at Madison Square Garden against The Scum. Then a home-and-home with those other bastards, the Philadelphia Flyers.

Days until the 2010 Winter Olympics begin in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, right here on this continent, if not in this country: 19. Less than 3 weeks.

Days until the NHL's Olympic break ends (at least for the Devils): 37, on Tuesday, March 2.

Days until Opening Day of the 2010 baseball season: 70, the Yankees playing the Red Sox at Fenway for the ESPN Sunday-night season-opener. Just 10 weeks.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: 76, on April 10, 2010 at White Hart Lane.

Days until the Yankees' 2010 home opener: 79. Just 11 weeks.

Days until the 2010 World Cup begins: 137.

Days until the World Cup Final: 168.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 223, presumably on Saturday, September 4.

Days until the new Meadowlands Stadium (still unnamed) opens: 224 (actually 75, if you count an opening show, but I'm counting until its actual purpose, its first football game, which I presume will be the first Sunday of the 2010 NFL season, September 5).

Days until East Brunswick plays football again: 229 (presumably), on Friday, September 10.

Days until the next East Brunswick-Old Bridge Thanksgiving clash: 305.

Days until Derek Jeter collects his 3,000th career hit: 493 (currently projected as June 1, 2011).

Days until the Rutgers-Army football game at Yankee Stadium: 657 (November 12, 2011).

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