Saturday, March 10, 2012

This week in death

So many good obits this week! So many interesting people doing such diverse things that I can't find a theme among them.  I mean, we have a madam, an "elephant whisperer", a war hero,  the guy who designed C3PO, a botanical artist, and a songwriter.  It's...supercalifragilisticexpialidobits!

But you want to know about the madam, don't you?  I know you do.  That would be Edna Milton Chadwell, the final madam of the actual Chicken Ranch of Best Little Whorehouse in Texas fame. Doesn't she look like a society matron? After the brothel was shut down, she married and moved to Phoenix.  I wonder what she did there. According to the Telegraph, "Her nephew, Robert Kleffman, described her as 'hard-nosed, but with a spine of steel and a heart of gold'."

The Elephant Whisperer is Lawrence Anthony, a South African conservationist who, among other things, slipped across the Kuwait-Iraq border to rescue the animals of the Baghdad zoo.  Amazing story in its own right.  Then there's the elephants...
In 1999 he was telephoned by a conservation organisation which asked whether he would be willing to take on a herd of nine animals which had escaped from every enclosure they had ever been in, wreaking havoc across KwaZulu-Natal, and were considered highly dangerous. Realising that the elephants would be shot if he declined, Anthony agreed to give them a home. 
“They were a difficult bunch, no question about it,” he recalled. “Delinquents every one. But I could see a lot of good in them too. They’d had a tough time and were all scared, and yet they were looking after one another, trying to protect one another.” 
Anthony decided to treat the elephants as errant children, working to persuade them, through words and gestures, that they should not behave badly and that they could trust him. He concentrated his attention on Nana, the matriarch of the herd: “I’d go down to the fence and I’d plead with Nana not to break it down,” he said. “I knew she didn’t understand English, but I hoped she’d understand by the tone of my voice and my body language what I was saying. And one morning, instead of trying to break the fence down, she just stood there. Then she put her trunk through the fence towards me. I knew she wanted to touch me. That was a turning point.” Soon they were allowed out into the reserve.
I love that story.

Then there's Van Barfoot, who won a Medal of Honor for taking out a whole passel of Nazis in WWII, and then had to fight his neighborhood association so he could raise a flag in his front yard.  Damn neighborhood associations! There should be a medal for taking them on.

It's probably due to Ralph McQuarrie that we have any of the Star Wars films at all.  It was because of his artwork that the film studios could picture what the movie might look like and helped persuade them to greenlight the project.  You can see some of that original artwork on his website, including this conception of C3PO and R2D2.

In a very different world of art, the story of how Mary Grierson became a botanical artist at Kew Gardens is worth noting. "In 1960, while applying for a post organising exhibitions at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, she proffered a portfolio of her paintings of wild flowers (executed as a hobby in her spare time) to her interviewer, Edgar Milne-Redhead, Keeper of the Kew Herbarium. He took one look at them and told her she would be much better employed as the Herbarium’s resident artist."  Which says something about not minimizing your gifts, I would say.  Gor. Jus.

Finally, Robert Sherman, who with his brother Richard wrote so many wonderful songs for Walt Disney and won an Academy Award for the score to Mary Poppins, died on Monday.  All week, I've been thinking to myself, "If you say it loud enough you'll always sound precocious" was such a fabulous line!  Really, "atrocious" and "precocious" in a children's song? We need more of that.  But here's my favorite song from Mary Poppins.

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