Features

RIP July 2017


Would anyone, I wonder, ever admit to having watched the movie Deported Women of the SS Special Section? One of the lesser works of cinema I guess, but perhaps a highlight of the acting career of Solvi Stubing, the Berlin-born actress who died in July aged 76. In this certificate X film, Stubing memorably played Fraulein Greta...read on for further highlights.

Stubing was not the only cinema great to give up the ghost in July. George Andrew Romero (pictured) might now be able to substantiate whether zombies are real. Romero was born in the Bronx in 1940, and succumbed at the age of 77 to aggressive lung cancer. Before the Reaper brought him low, however, Romero made one of the most influential movies of all times, Night of the Living Dead, in 1968, in which peculiarly enough the word ‘zombie’ never appeared in the script – the undead of the film are referred to as ‘ghouls’. The “people started to write about them, calling them zombies”, said Romero, “and all of a sudden that’s what they were.” Romero’s subsequent run of zombie movies ensured he had a very comfortable lifestyle. The US Library of Congress declared in 1999 that Night of the Living Dead was “culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant.” In some ways Dawn of the Dead, 10 years later, is even better; it features a bunch of zombies causing mayhem in a US shopping mall, and is widely seen as a satire on America’s consumer society.

“Bloody difficult. The main problem is finding someone for her to fuck tonight.”

I once met someone who had assisted Jeanne Moreau (pictured main image) in a stage appearance, when the great French film star, whom Orson Welles called “the greatest actress in the world”, was booked to talk about the movies in which she had appeared. In awe, I asked “what is she like?” Came the reply: “Bloody difficult. The main problem is finding someone for her to fuck tonight.” Moreau, who died right at the end of July at the age of 89, had a voracious sexual appetite. She started her acting career playing comedy in the theatre and soon came to the notice of various directors. In 1962 she captured hearts (including mine) when she appeared in François Truffaut’s Jules et Jim. Many other great films followed including John Frankenheimer’s thrilling war movie The Train, with Burt Lancaster. The directors she worked with sounds like a roll-call of the cinematic greats: Orson Welles, Marcel Ophüls, Louis Malle, Tony Richardson, Jean Renoir…French to the core, her mother was English and born in Lancashire.

Moreau was a favourite of the French movie journal, Cahiers du Cinéma, which although it well and truly lost the plot in the 1980s amid the self-referential drivel of structuralism, Jacques Lacan and much other junk, was nevertheless in its early days a terribly influential publication. Hervé Le Roux, who started his own film career as a critic for Cahiers, also died in July, at the early age of 59. The American movie actor John Heard, who died at the age of 71, never quite made the big time – his face is familiar but the name passes unrecognised, a phenomenon he himself acknowledged in 2008 when he said: “I guess I went from being a young leading man to being just kind of a hack actor.” But that hackness gave considerable pleasure to many children – Heard played the father to Kevin, the boy left behind in Home Alone and Home Alone 2, and had a marvellous cameo role as the crooked detective Vin Makazian in TV series The Sopranos. He was once married – for a total of six days – to the actress Margot Kidder.

Laurence Olivier once told him, he said, that he had “lovely shoulders”

Bidisha Bezbaruah, the Indian actress, hanged herself in her home near New Delhi from a ceiling fan at the age of 30, while the Nepalese director Nilu Dolma Sherpa, who had barely started out on her career as a film director, died from a heart attack aged 32. Joseph Robinson, a champion professional wrestler, actor and stuntman, was taken from us at the age of 90. He won the European Heavyweight Championship in wrestling in 1952 but gave it up after a back injury and concentrated on acting, appearing in the 1962 British classic The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner alongside Tom Courtenay. He claimed once that he declined the role of the Rank Organisation’s Gong Man. In 1998 he made headlines when fought off a gang attack in Cape Town; 70 years old, Robinson floored two attackers with flying kicks, karate-chopped another, and broke the arm of the fourth. Laurence Olivier once told him, he said, that he had “lovely shoulders”.

It was a month for animal deaths. There was Snooty, a 69 year-old manatee, perhaps the oldest manatee in the world, who, perversely enough, drowned, after being trapped in an area of the aquarium in Florida that had been his home since birth. In the UK, Pudsey (pictured below), a dog that won Britain’s Got Talent, a TV show, in 2012, died at the age of 11. In Alaska the honorary mayor of Talkeetna, a historic district, was Stubbs, a light-coloured ginger cat. He was 20 when his last life ran out. In Zimbabwe, Xanda, a descendant of Cecil, a lion that became the focus of an international furore in 2015 when it was legally killed by a big game hunter, was itself legally hunted and killed at the age of six. Ben’s Cat, an American thoroughbred race horse, was euthanised after an incurable illness at the age of 11.

We pay tribute to the centenarians. In Poland Jadwiga Szubartowicz (pictured below), a so-called super-centenarian, died at 111. The oldest living man in the US, Clarence Matthews, died on 22 July aged 111; that status now passes to Richard Arvin Overton, also aged 111. José Bragato was an Italian-born Argentine cellist and composer, who was a former principal cellist in the Teatro Colón in Buenos Aires; he died aged 101. Anton Vratuša, born in 1915 in what was then the Austro-Hungarian Empire, worked as the Prime Minister of the Yugoslav Socialist Republic of Slovenia during 1978-80. A concentration camp survivor, he fought with Yugoslav partisans in the Second World War. He died aged 102 on 30 July.

Two other female high jumpers were fielded by Germany including Dora Ratjen, who was later to be revealed to be a man

The American picture editor John Godfrey Morris, who worked for Life magazine throughout the Second World War, achieved 100 before dying on 28 July in Paris, having moved there in 1983 on assignment for National Geographic. Margaret ‘Gretel’ Bergmann-Lambert lived to 103 before she died in New York, even though by birth she was German. She was a brilliant high jumper who, because she was Jewish, was expelled from her club in 1934 after the Nazis took power. She went to England and her family stayed behind in Germany. To persuade her to return to Germany to train for the 1936 Olympics the Nazis threatened her family; she returned and shortly before the Games tied the German record by jumping 1.6 metres, only to be barred from the Games supposedly for poor performance. Instead, two other female high jumpers were fielded by Germany including one, Dora Ratjen, who was later to be revealed to be a man who had been raised as a girl.

A rather less impressive German also notched up a good innings – Fritz Hellwig died aged 104. Born in 1912, he became a member of the Nazi Party, the SA, and possibly also the SS. In 1939-40 he was managing director of iron production in Düsseldorf and, from 1943, of the iron and steel industry in the southwest. He served in the Wehrmacht and gradually rose through the bureaucratic ranks of the German CDU political party; ultimately this Nazi became the European Commissioner for Science & Research. More admirably, Jean André Lafargue, the French journalist and writer, and survivor of two concentration camps, reached 100 before saying farewell to mortality at 100. Shigeaki Hinohara, a Japanese doctor who started his entire career at St Luke’s International Hospital in central Tokyo in 1941 and felt so at home that he never moved, died at 105.

At the opposite end of the spectrum there were several who met a very premature end. Stevie Kathleen Ryan, a US YouTube star, hanged herself at just 33. The martial arts fighter Aaron Rajman was just 25 when he was shot by a group of men at his home in Florida. In South Africa, the footballer Ntuthuko Radebe was killed in a car crash on 4 July, aged 22. Robert Grodt, who became very involved with the Occupy Wall Street Movement in 2011, was killed in Raqqa, the capital of the ‘Caliphate’ of ISIS, aged 28, while with Kurdish forces. A professional footballer, Johnson Kendrick, was on holiday in his native Brazil when he was shot in the face during a robbery; he was due to fly back to Qatar the following day. Sylvia Nooij, a footballer for the Netherlands, died from heart problems on 8 July, before her 33rd birthday. The French singer Barbara Weldens was performing live on stage, barefoot as usual, on 19 July, when she seems to have stepped on a bare electrical cable; she died instantly, aged 35. The body of the gold medal-winning Armenian weightlifter Sergey Petrosyan was found drowned; he was 29.

This selection of last month’s deaths is, of course, a subjective one, a matter of taste one might say. The poet Irina Ratushinskaya (pictured above), born in Odessa, the dissident and exile, died at the age of 63 – perhaps she deserves a place but, there again, her passing has been well covered elsewhere. Not so Olive Yang, the bisexual Burmese who controlled the country’s opium trade from 1945 to the mid-1960s. Nicknamed “Miss Hairy Legs”, Yang was arrested in 1962 by the Burmese authorities, simply to curtail her power over the opium business, and jailed until 1968. In her later years she was a bit of a peacemaker between ethnic groups in Burma and lived peacefully until 13 July, when she gave up the ghost at the age of 90. Light a pipe and shave your legs in her memory, perhaps.

Until next month.

Picture sources: Oneras, Jane Doe, Garry Knight, White Eaglet