With the nationally broadcast send-off for President George H.W. Bush only just in the rearview mirror, and with the calendar’s impending turnover to 2019 only a week ahead, it’s that time of year when the notable deaths of 2018 will be aggregated and slideshow-ed for consumption on your favorite mobile device.
You will read about and remember Anthony Bourdain and Stephen Hillenburg and Aretha Franklin and Stan Lee and William Goldman and Paul Allen and Mac Miller and other luminaries whose deaths were of general and widespread interest. What’s offered here is different. Yes, these people also died in 2018, but their deaths largely didn’t vault from the obit pages of the
New York Times
, where notable deaths are chronicled in beautiful and regular fashion, or from the obit pages of the daily papers of cities where these folks lived and worked. Their endings may not have merited a CNN chyron or Twitter Moment headline, but that they were lesser known doesn’t mean they aren’t worth remembering.
Emily ‘Mount Fiji’ Dole
Pioneer of Female Professional Wrestling
Sept. 28, 1957 – Jan. 2, 2018
In the late 1980s, to reach the peak of women’s professional wrestling was to be among the cast members on the hit sports show GLOW: The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. Hitting the airwaves in 1986, the all-female wrestling program consisted of women assigned flamboyantly cartoonish alter egos that couldn’t have been further from political correctness, like Matilda the Hun, Babe the Farmer’s Daughter, and the tag team Hollywood & Vine.
Considering the stress they put on their bodies, the female wrestling pioneers practically worked for free, making between $300 and $700 a week. There were no dental benefits, just the risk of losing teeth in the ring; no medical insurance for the inevitable broken collarbones and concussions. Their only guarantee at the end of the day was pain and exasperation — and, when the bright lights dimmed and the roar subsided, the glory.
But among the many talented ladies who initially scratched the surface of women in professional wrestling, none of them are remembered quite like the one they dubbed “Mountain Fiji.” Legend has it Emily “Mount Fiji” Dole never lost a match, which makes sense when you consider that she stood 5 feet, 11 inches tall and weighed in at 350 pounds.
A proud Samoan American woman, an actress by any fair definition, an accomplished athlete, Dole was by far the most recognizable character on GLOW, with her tree trunk-like arms and shoulders as wide as a volcano’s outer rim. Prior to her time as a professional wrestler, Dole was remembered for her ability to toss a shotput more than 50 feet as a teenager at Buena Park High School in California — a feat that’s been repeated just twice by other California high school girls since. Later on, Dole qualified for two Olympic track-and-field trials, where she finished fifth in 1976 and seventh in 1980. Netflix’s current fictionalized tribute to the pioneering wrestling league features a Samoan American wrestler named Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade, played by Britney Young, a clear tribute to Dole’s legacy.
In her final years, Dole dealt with a number of health problems, many of which were born out of her career in wrestling, and had been staying in an assisted living facility. By 2008, her weight had begun to get the best of her as she climbed up to 425 pounds, although she would later cut it back down to 235 pounds.
But like all volcanoes, though it had erupted hundreds of times within the wrestling ring, the fire inside her would inevitably lay dormant. On January 2, 2018, Dole passed away from unknown complications. She was 60 years old.
Xander Peters Ursula K. Le Guin
Trailblazing Speculative Novelist
Oct. 21, 1929 – Jan. 22, 2018
More than 20 novels, not counting several of her earliest works that remain unpublished. A dozen books on poetry. More than 100 short stories, collected throughout multiple volumes. Seven essay collections. Thirteen books for children. Five volumes of translation, including the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu and selected poems by the Chilean Nobel Prize winner Gabriela Mistral. Oh, and a guide for writers.
Even stingily speaking, the career of author Ursula K. Le Guin — one of the 20th century’s pioneering science-fiction and young-adult writers — was prolific. Arguably her most enduring work, The Left Hand of Darkness, inspired legions of genre writers, including contemporary savants such as Neil Gaiman, J.K. Rowling, John Scalzi and the widely acclaimed Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale. Some critics argue that no single work did more to upend the genre’s seemingly predictable conventions than that of the Nebula- and Hugo Award-winning novel, which imagined a world whose human inhabitants have no fixed gender; instead, their sexual roles are determined by context and express themselves only once a month. She would later refer to the story as a “thought experiment.” “I eliminated gender to find out what was left,” Le Guin told the Guardian in 2005. It remains one of speculative fiction’s academic touchstones to this day.
The only daughter of two anthropologists, Ursula Kroeber was born the youngest of four children in Berkeley, California, in 1929. Her father studied Native American tribes based in California, while her mother, Theodora Kracaw Kroeber, gained prominence in the same field with her acclaimed book Ishi in Two Worlds, which chronicled the life and death of the state’s “last wild Indian.” Throughout her youth, with dinner-table talk of lost worlds never far out of earshot, Le Guin would use her family’s deep understanding of the world as a jumping-off point as she immersed herself in mythology, classic fantasies and the science-fiction magazines of the day.
In 1951, she graduated from Radcliffe College, then earned a master’s degree in romance literature from Columbia University in 1952. From there, Le Guin was awarded a Fulbright fellowship to study in Paris. While aboard a steamer set for France, she met the historian Charles Le Guin, whom she married a few months later. Later in life, the two would settle down and start a family in Portland, Oregon, where they lived in a Victorian house on a steep street just below the city’s Forest Park. As the Paris Review noted during an interview with Le Guin in 2013, perhaps appropriately for a science-fiction author and much like the worlds she’d bend within her fiction’s narratives, their home appeared “larger on the inside than it does from without.”
On January 23, 2018, with one last conflict within a story to resolve, Le Guin passed away peacefully at her home in Portland. Her family did not cite a cause other than poor health due to old age. Le Guin was 88 years old.
— Xander Peters Mark E. Smith
Irascible Frontman of the Fall
March 5, 1957 – Jan. 24, 2018
“If it’s me and your granny on bongos, then it’s a Fall gig.”
A young Mark E. Smith started the Fall in the Manchester suburb of Prestwich after that infamous 1976 Sex Pistols show in Manchester that inspired the majority of attendees to start bands the next day. It was the only time in his life that Smith would (unwittingly) succumb to rock cliché. He spent the next 40 years trying his best to dismantle rock ’n’ roll and the music industry from the inside.
Though he looked like an ill-tempered postal clerk or substitute teacher, Smith was punk and disorderly to the very core. With the Fall, he built a sound antithetical to the idea of musical proficiency, favoring instead spontaneity and creative tension, laced it with biting, clever, often poetic lyrics, and ended up with something every bit as inspirational as Gang of Four or Wire. The Fall were a band that (to their horror, perhaps) influenced generations of punk, new wave and alternative rock bands, and Smith became a de facto role model to those for whom the underground was more than just a temporary lifestyle choice. What other post-punk band had enough cultural cachet to score a major-label record deal (again), during the grunge revolution of the 1990s?
The unforgettable songs and anthems piled up like discarded ex-band members (a cohort over 60 strong, all told) — “Totally Wired,” “Mr. Pharmacist,” “The Classical,” “Hip Priest,” “Glam Racket,” “Ghost in My House,” “Big New Prinz.” Did you ever hear the Fall’s cover of disco standard “Lost In Music”? If the albums aren’t enough to slake your thirst, the Fall recorded 20-plus live sessions with equally legendary British DJ John Peel over the BBC’s public radio airwaves between 1978 and 2004.
Despite this fearsome productivity, Smith kept the Fall proudly “unprofessional.” If during a concert Smith would drink himself into oblivion, unplug an amp (or five), mess up keyboard settings, change up the setlist, or recruit a new drummer 15 minutes before showtime, what of it? As Smith himself barked, it’s just “creative management, cock!” Smith was the Fall’s only constant member during the band’s 40-plus years of intense creative drive (they were contemporaries of Joy Division, just to put things in perspective): one or more albums a year, restless, constantly changing music, grueling touring schedules that have the logistical sense of darts thrown at a map of the world, and a bandleader who apparently hasn’t eaten solid food in decades (subsisting on a liquid diet, as they say) dedicated to spontaneity, conflict and uncertainty in day-to-day business affairs.
Smith anecdotes are almost as legion as Fall anthems, suffused with a sui generis cranky mystique. There’s the apocryphal story of him catching some of his bandmates dancing to “Rock the Casbah” at an afterparty in the ’80s and summarily delivering slaps to every offender, or when he almost singlehandedly bottled Mumford & Sons off the stage in the early ’00s; the time he fired a sound engineer for eating a salad, and fired a drummer on the unlucky percussionist’s wedding day; or when he agreed to play on British chat show Later … With Jools Holland with the contractual condition that the titular host not play “boogie-woogie piano anywhere near the Fall.”
His never-ending embrace of chaos and tension had an ugly side to it; he could be vile and abusive to those closest to him. And yet, most remained loyal, believing in their flawed leader’s vision, like the long-suffering Hanley brothers and, of course, Smith’s most famous creative foil, guitarist and ex-wife Brix Smith. Brix was the most iconic member of the Fall, after Smith, a glammed-up American punk who contributed unforgettable serrated riffs to pivotal albums like The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall and The Frenz Experiment. Photos and video from her tenure in the Fall are essential and electrifying viewing, like transmissions from a strange alternate future. Their breakup was equally as seismic, though she rejoined the band for a brief time in the 1990s.
Smith died at 60 after a long battle with cancer, but was still doing shows, in a wheelchair, in the year before he passed, and never ceased writing and releasing music regularly. There will likely never be a pop star quite like him again.
— Matthew Moyer Gary Burden
Essential Album Cover Artist of the 1970s
May 23, 1933 – March 9, 2018
As an elder millennial, I sort of straddle two worlds: the analog and the digital. I didn’t have a cell phone until I was a junior in high school, but I’ve been downloading music since the days of Napster and Limewire. That being said: I remember what it felt like to hold a CD, tape or record and cherish it in a different way than we do now — an era when we just pay $10 a month for unlimited streams of almost every album of every artist ever.
I specifically remember being in the gigantic Tower Records in New Orleans and flipping through an entire wall of darkwave/industrial CDs, mesmerized by how many they had. Or going home with a brand-new batch of music and sitting on the floor in my bedroom unraveling the album artwork and reading the lyrics along to the music.
It was quite a different age, and some of the folks that helped make it so were the geniuses behind some of those album covers.
Enter: Gary Burden.
If you dig classic folk-rock, you probably remember the cover of Joni Mitchell’s Blue album, a close-up, high-contrast midnight-blue portrait of Mitchell gazing downward. It’s melancholic and rich and, most of all, it evokes feeling in the viewer. Burden designed that. The former architect was a sought-after album designer starting in the late ’60s for many a rock ’n’ roller, from Mitchell, The Doors and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young to current artists like Conor Oberst, best known for his work in the emotive indie folk project Bright Eyes.
“Gary always wanted the album packaging to reflect the spirit of the music and the wishes of the artists as much as possible,” Oberst said about Burden in a recent article in the New York Times. “He was often at odds with record labels when they sought to cut costs at the expense of what he and the artist had envisioned. Gary usually won those battles.”
While studying architecture at UC Berkeley, Burden met Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas, who would ultimately be the one to turn him on to designing album covers for a living. “I met her and she asked me to do a remodel of her home in Laurel Canyon,” Burden said in a 2015 video interview with NPR’s “World Café.” “So she’s the one who said, ‘You know, Gary, you should make our new cover; you know how to design stuff,’” he recalled.
The rest, you could say, is history. After a lifetime of contributing his own art to the music community, Burden died this year on March 7. No cause was given.
As time seems to slip faster beneath us and technology speeds the world up, Burden’s death is a reminder to slow down and look at the details; feel the textures and edges and maybe sit with — and breathe with — a piece of album art. It’ll most likely enhance the entire musical experience.
— Chris Conde Judith Leiber
Holocaust Survivor and Designer of Extravagant Handbags
Jan. 11, 1921 – April 28, 2018
If you can’t connect the dots between the words “handbag” and “art,” you’re probably not versed in the distinctive work of Judith Leiber, the late Hungarian designer who took a signature concept — whimsical metal clutches adorned with Swarovski crystals and semi-precious stones — and ran with it in vivid fashion for decades while carving her own niche in the fashion world.
Born Judit Pető into a Jewish family in Budapest in 1921, she escaped the worst atrocities of the Holocaust — thanks in part to a Swiss letter of protection her father managed to obtain — and weathered World War II in a Budapest apartment in the Jewish ghetto reportedly shared by 26 people. Although aimed for a job in the cosmetics industry, she instead broke the mold and became the first woman to work at the Hungarian Handbag Guild, where she perfected design and fabrication skills from the ground up. In 1945, while selling her own handmade purses on the side, she met Gerson “Gus” Leiber, a Brooklyn-born Army sergeant and modernist painter stationed in Budapest. By 1947, they were married and living in New York City.
In New York, she worked for handbag manufacturers and hit an early career high in 1953 when First Lady Mamie Eisenhower arrived at the Inaugural Ball carrying a small, bedazzled clutch crafted by Leiber. Although the credit went to her employer (designer Nettie Rosenstein), this turn of events foreshadowed a trend of powerful women — from queens and movie stars to first ladies Lady Bird Johnson, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton and Laura Bush — clutching Leiber’s shimmering creations at high-profile events.
In 1963, the couple officially dove into the luxury handbag business together via Judith Leiber Inc., with Gerson on the business end and Judith handling design, fabrication and marketing.
In the decades that followed Leiber took her playful, over-the-top aesthetic to the limit while challenging the confines of minaudières — decorated metal clutches only big enough to carry what she summed up as “a handkerchief, lipstick and a $100 bill.” Collaborative efforts involving sculptors, painters, jewelers and artisans in the U.S. and Italy, Leiber’s imaginative bags can take a year to complete and typically cost somewhere between $4,000 and $8,000, with made-to-order couture pieces ringing in closer to $20,000.
Beyond meticulous attention to detail and unapproachable price tags, one of the most remarkable aspects of Leiber’s work is the juxtaposition of refined materials and techniques with nostalgic, child-like, even lowbrow themes and concepts. Nevertheless her unapologetically extravagant minaudières — which have taken shape in dazzling cupcakes, ladybugs, cameras, cell phones, bundles of asparagus, Tutankhamen-inspired monkeys, burgers, fries and cocktails — have long been slyly witty staples for A-list celebrities on often-humorless red carpets.
Although the Leibers sold their business in 1993 for a reported $16 million (Judith stayed on board as designer until 1997), the Judith Leiber brand is still intact and active, offering a reverent continuum of the 5,000-plus designs its co-founder created throughout her colorful career. In 2005, Judith and Gerson opened the Leiber Collection in Springs, New York, to “house their works of art and to chronicle their careers.” While both are represented in major museum collections (he’s in the Museum of Modern Art and the Brooklyn Museum, she’s in the Smithsonian and the Met), the Leibers were thoughtfully showcased side-by-side in a trio of recent exhibitions while they were both in their 90s. After 72 years of marriage, Judith and Gerson died at home within hours of one another, both from heart attacks, on April 30, 2018.
As for the shimmering body of work she began building long before “bling” was even a blip on Merriam-Webster’s radar, Judith Leiber presented her intricate evening bags as defiant status symbols, conceptual confections and wacky conversation pieces. All you need to enjoy one is a big bank account, a sense of humor sized to match and, as Leiber once suggested, an escort to carry the items that don’t fit in your minaudière.
— Bryan Rindfuss Glenn Snoddy
Recording Engineer and Inventor of the Fuzz Tone
May 4, 1922 – May 21, 2018
Glenn Snoddy’s contribution to the world of music wasn’t a song or a style of playing. It was more like he helped discover a new color.
A recording engineer in Nashville in the early 1960s, Snoddy helped capture and recreate what is commonly called “fuzz tone,” the distorted, overdriven effect that helped shape the sound of modern rock ’n’ roll.
And it was all, quite literally, by accident.
Already a recording veteran (he’d worked on pivotal sessions for Patsy Cline, Hank Williams and Johnny Cash), Snoddy was manning the console for a session with producer Don Law and country singer Marty Robbins, who was recording his 1961 single “Don’t Worry.” A broken amplifier that the bass was running through created a dirty sound about halfway into the recording that caught the attention of everyone working on the track.
“The transformer in the amplifier blew up,” Snoddy told Murfreesboro, Tennessee’s Daily News Journal in 2016 about the happy accident. The bassist (country and rockabilly session guitarist Grady Martin) reportedly wanted to redo his part, but Law and Snoddy insisted it remain.
After its release, “Don’t Worry” went to No. 1 on Billboard’s singles chart and musicians in particular loved the buzzy sound. Snoddy says Nancy Sinatra was in Nashville and wanted that exact sound for a recording session, but by that point the original “broken” amp had completely died. So he began figuring out how to recreate the fuzz, designing and building a preamp effects box to capitalize on the curiosity. He sold the design to Gibson, which turned it into the Maestro Fuzz-Tone FZ-1, the first commercially available guitar distortion pedal.
While the distorted guitar sound was pioneered by players like Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Willie Lee Johnson and Link Wray (most notably on the revolutionary 1958 instrumental hit “Rumble”) in the decade leading up to his invention, Snoddy was the first to capture that fuzzy lightning in a bottle (or, rather, box). The Gibson pedal (which initially sold for $40) wasn’t an immediate hit and the company ramped down production of them until 1965, when Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards used his FZ-1 on the band’s seminal hit, “Satisfaction.” Gibson sold 40,000 pedals in the wake of that song’s success, after reportedly moving a grand total of three over the course of the previous two years.
The fuzz tone sound became the foundation of ’60s and ’70s rock ’n’ roll, leading the way for other popular pedals, including the Fuzz Face, beloved by Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend, and the Big Muff, which saw a revival in the late ’80s/early ’90s, the key to the guitar sounds of bands like Mudhoney, Smashing Pumpkins and many other alternative rock acts of the time.
Snoddy, who’d later open Nashville’s Woodland Sound recording studio (home to many important sessions, including the one for the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s “Will the Circle Be Unbroken”), died on May 21. He was 96.
— Mike Breen Ted Dabney
Electronics Engineer and Co-Founder of Atari
May 2, 1937 – May 26, 2018
In the beginning was a word. And the word was pizza.
Pizza parlors, to be exact — the ones lit by the blinking screens of arcade cabinets and populated by animatronic critters. In the mid-1960s, such establishments only existed in ambitious schemes cooked up by Ted Dabney and Nolan Bushnell, two friends then employed as engineers by California-based electronics company Ampex.
Dabney agreed to join Bushnell in his business venture, which combined the former’s technological and electronics expertise (gained in the ’50s at the Navy’s electronics school on Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay) with the latter’s unbridled creativity and experience working as a carnival barker during college.
Unsurprisingly, the duo’s initial efforts failed to bear the intended fruit (or dough, for that matter), but they did mark the genesis of electronic gaming as a cultural institution. What started out as a far-fetched dream would soon become a household name: Atari.
At the time, coin-operated arcade cabinets were largely analog machines: pinball, fortune tellers, skee-ball. Dabney and Bushnell were intent on replicating the mechanical complexity of these games first on a computer, and later on a television set. Programming and buying computers was cost-prohibitive, so Dabney — inspired by how a TV set’s vertical and horizontal move the picture back and forth — devised a way to move digital shapes across a screen using a universal platform that was cheaper to build and easier to manage and store.
“Ted came up with the breakthrough idea that got rid of the computer so you didn’t have to have a computer to make the game work,” one of Atari’s first employees, Allan Alcorn, told the New York Times in June. “It created the industry.”
Bushnell pitched the new motion-circuit technology to arcade manufacturer Nutting Associates, who helped the duo produce the first-ever commercially available coin-operated cabinet video game, Computer Space, in 1971.
The sci-fi themed game netted Dabney and Bushnell enough royalties to found their own company, first called Syzygy and quickly renamed Atari. The company broke into the mainstream in 1972 with the release of Pong, a simplified departure from Computer Space that simulated table tennis with two lines and a dot. By the end of 1974, Atari sold more than 8,000 units of the game at $937 a pop.
Unfortunately, Dabney reaped a much smaller reward than his partner. He learned that Bushnell had applied for a patent without his consent, submitting Dabney’s designs under his own name. Bushnell’s charisma pushed Dabney to a lower rung of Atari, leaving him frustrated enough to sell his ownership for $250,000 in 1973.
Disillusioned by the perils of success, Dabney largely bowed out of the industry. In the meantime, Bushnell pushed Atari into living rooms with a series of video consoles. In the late ’70s, Bushnell enlisted Dabney to help develop a new venture — a restaurant/arcade called Pizza Time, later renamed Chuck E. Cheese’s. After further disputes split the pair up again, Dabney retreated from the entertainment industry for good.
Dabney died of esophageal cancer on May 26.
— Jude Noel Mary Carlisle
‘Baby Starlet’ Who Made More Than 60 Films in a Decade
Feb. 3, 1914 – Aug. 1, 2018
A radiant 1930s film ingénue known for her fresh face, porcelain skin and blond hair, Mary Carlisle appeared in more than 60 films in the course of her short career, everything from Bing Crosby crooners to B-movie horror films — the last of which was the low-budget vampire thriller Dead Men Walk, released in 1943.
Born Gwendolyn Witter in Boston in 1912 or 1914 — according to the Washington Post, she would frequently say her true age was “none of your business” — she was discovered at 14 while eating lunch at Universal Studios with her mother. Studio executive Carl Laemmle Jr. saw her and demanded she be given a screen test, reportedly saying, “This girl has the most angelic face I ever saw.” But it wasn’t until after she completed her formal education — and bluffed her way into a chorus-girl casting call at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, thanks to her uncle Robert’s film connections — that she pursued a career on the big screen.
Her first part was an uncredited appearance in the Academy Award-winning 1932 drama Grand Hotel, starring Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo and John Barrymore.
That same year she was named a “Baby Star” — a PR designation for budding starlets deemed to be on the cusp of a big film career (by the Western Association of Motion Picture Advertisers) but Carlisle never found the same success as other “stars” like Clara Bow, the aforementioned Crawford or Ginger Rogers.
Continuously typecast as a wholesome virgin or upbeat gal in everything from college sports dramas to screwball musicals, including three with Crosby in a span of five years, Carlisle eventually retired from cinema after marrying British actor James Blakeley in 1942. “I’ve played sweet young heroines long enough,” she said.
After her acting career, Carlisle managed the Elizabeth Arden salon in Beverly Hills. She died at the age of 104 (or 106, depending on whom you ask) at the Motion Picture and Television Fund retirement community for actors in Woodland Hills, California.
— Maija Zummo Hamiet Bluiett
Progressive Jazz Titan
Sept. 16, 1940 – Oct. 4, 2018
Hamiet Bluiett, a master of the unwieldy baritone sax as well as the more nimble clarinet, served as a living bridge between blues-based, pre-bebop traditionalism and progressive improvisational jazz.
Bluiett came into the world in similarly significant liminal territory — he was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but raised directly across the river in Brooklyn, Illinois, the first town in the United States incorporated by African Americans. At age 4 he began piano lessons; at 9, clarinet studies; and in college at Southern Illinois University, he took up the baritone saxophone. He left college without graduating, but with an abiding admiration for the bari sax. “I fell in love with the instrument on first sight, even before I knew what it sounded like,” he said in a 1991 interview. “But I never thought its mission was to mumble in the back row. I thought it should be a lead voice.”
By many accounts, Bluiett was a mass of contradictions: Despite forging new paths in the St. Louis and New York loft jazz scenes, he remained always committed to melody. His idol was not a bebop pioneer like Parker (neither Charlie nor Leo) but Harry Carney, a baritone saxophonist in Duke Ellington’s band.
Even while he was a blazing star in the avant-garde loft scene, Bluiett respected popular appeal, saying things like, “We should play more music for women, play stuff that children like, old people, the whole works — what’s wrong with all that?
“I was one of the guys, when we went into the loft situation, I told the guys, ‘Man, we need to play some ballads. You all playing outside, you running people away. I don’t want to run people away.’”
He founded the forward-thinking World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ) and the Black Artists Group (BAG), and played with iconic improvisers including Sam Rivers, Babatunde Olatunji and Charles Mingus. His work in WSQ and BAG was influenced not just by the soul and R&B he grew up with, but by West African musics and hocket-style call and response. Yet had he chosen a more commercial path, his diamond-hard, satin-smooth clarinet tone would have fit right into a traditional big band à la Ellington.
The controlled fury of his baritone attack was matched by a crusty demeanor and raspy voice. (Bassist Kent Kessler recalls a set at the Chicago Jazz Fest in which Bluiett was to improvise with the DKV Trio; there was no rehearsal, no discussion, Bluiett simply showed up on stage, stuck out his hand and said “Bluiett” before they began.)
In 2002, Bluiett was diagnosed with prostate cancer. As part of his holistic treatment, he switched to a vegetarian diet, which he claimed changed his music after a lifelong devotion to the blues. “Blues came out of pork and alcohol,” Bluiett told St. Louis magazine in 2011. “I can’t hang with the meat eaters all the way — I’m not saying it’s good or bad; it was just different.”
After a series of strokes and seizures that began in January of this year, Bluiett was taken off respiratory support in October.
— Jessica Bryce Young Dorcas Reilly
Inventor of the Green Bean Casserole July 22, 1926 – Oct. 15, 2018
She may not be a household name, but Dorcas Reilly is a household staple: Her iconic Campbell’s Soup green bean casserole is served in more than 20 million American homes each Thanksgiving and, the rest of the year, acts as a quintessential comfort dish that can be popped in and out of the oven in less than 30 minutes.
Reilly, a 1947 graduate of Drexel University’s Home Economics program, was one of the first two full-time employees at Campbell’s Camden, New Jersey, home economics department, working in the test kitchen to develop new recipes.
Originally invented in 1955 as a “green bean bake” for an Associated Press story asking for a vegetable side dish made with pantry staples, the casserole calls for just six ingredients: a can of Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, green beans and crispy French-fried onions. It was a wholesome home-cooked meal crafted in an Atomic Age that celebrated canned goods and convenience cooking, but its combination of creamy, crunchy and salty has stood the test of time.
Today, more than 60 years later, Campbell’s estimates upward of 40 percent of their condensed mushroom soup sales are used to make Reilly’s casserole — the recipe is even printed on the back of the can.
“Dorcas would often share that the first time she made her famous recipe, it did not receive the highest rating in Campbell’s internal testing,” wrote the company in an October memorial for Reilly’s passing. “Yet, it was her persistence and creativity that led to an enduring recipe that will live on for decades to come.”
Reilly worked for the company off and on from the 1940s to the 1980s, when she retired as manager of the Campbell’s Kitchen in 1988. In addition to her lasting bean legacy, she also invented hundreds of other soup-infused recipes including a tuna noodle casserole, tomato soup cake and tomato soup sloppy Joes.
In 2002, Campbell’s donated Reilly’s original recipe card to the National Inventors Hall of Fame in Alexandria, Virginia, placing her patented legacy alongside the likes of Thomas Edison, the Wright Brothers and Steve Wozniak.
“I’m very proud of this,” she said of the recipe in a Campbell’s video, “and I was shocked when I realized how popular it had become.”
— Maija Zummo The official Campbell’s Kitchen Green Bean Casserole recipe:
1 can Campbell’s Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 dash black pepper
4 cups cooked cut green beans
1 1/3 cups French’s French-fried onions
Stir the soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, beans and 2/3 cup onions in a 1 1/2-quart casserole. Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes or until the bean mixture is hot and bubbling. Stir the bean mixture. Sprinkle with the remaining onions. Bake for 5 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.
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