The Ghoul Pool

Every heard of a "Ghoul Pool"? Neither had I, until an acquaintance confided in me that he'd won a tidy sum in a local version several years ago. Seems he and fifty or sixty others got together every Halloween (a fitting day) and submitted lists of twenty-five (or maybe it was fifty, I don't really remember) famous people they predicted would kick the bucket before the next annual meeting. Everyone also kicked in ten bucks or so. The list with the best prediction percentage took the pool, and collected his or her winnings the following year. Presumably, the winner bought a round. Well, I'm here to help so if you're in a ghoul pool for 2014, check your lists for these names. If you're not, you're probably like me. I don't know how many times I've scratched my head and said, "Gee: I didn't even know she was still alive!"

Shirley Temple in "The Little Princess"
Credit: wikimedia commoons

America's sweetheart of the Great Depression era, Shirley Temple retired from film at age 21 to enter politics. 

Large and Small Screen

Maximillian Schell, circa 1970Credit: wikimedia commons


February 1 - Maximilian Schell: The Swiss/Austrian actor, who fled Hitler as a young man, may be best known for the role of defense attorney in "Judgment at Nuremberg." That role won Schell a Best Actor Oscar in 1961. His career spanned more than half a century, and also won the veteran actor a Golden Globe for the title role if the TV miniseries "Lenin" in 1992. Schell died of pneumonia at age 83. Washington Post obituary: [1]


February 2 - Philip Seymour Hoffman: A versatile actor of both stage and screen who received a host of awards in his brief career, Hoffman is probably best known for his portrayal of Truman Capote in the 2005 film "Capote." For that role, Hoffman received an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a SAG award. Hoffman also appeared in a wide variety of films from comedy to drama, as well as collecting a number of Tony nominations for his stage work. Hoffman was 46 when he died from a heroin overdose. NY Times obituary: [2]

February 10 - Shirley Temple Black: Perhaps the biggest box-office draw of the Depression era, the mop-topped child star began an acting career at the age of three and was an international superstar by seven. She starred in forty films, including "Curly Top" and "Bright Eyes," before turning twelve. After retiring from film at 21, she married businessman Charlie Black and turned towards politics. She was appointed Ambassador to Ghana by Richard Nixon (1974-6) and to Czechoslovakia by George Bush (1989-1992) and served as White House protocol officer in the Ford administration. Black was 85 at the time of her death.  LA Times obituary: [3]

February 12 - Sid Caesar: Considered a comic genius by many, Caesar was one of the first funny men to successfully transition to television. During the 1950s, the comic hosted live TV series Your Show of Shows" and "Caesar's Hour." Many of his shows' writing talents, including Mel Brooks, Neil Simon, Carl Reiner and Larry Gelbart ("M*A*S*H"); went on to long careers in TV and movies. Caesar's career was cut short by alcoholism and an apparent disdain for movies as opposed to live TV. He died at 91 after a brief illness. For a glimpse of how to be funny without resorting to meanness or snark, see Time Magazine's retrospective.[5]

February 13 - Ralph Waite: Best known as the patriarch of the clan on the 1970s television show "The Waltons," Waite also acted in the miniseries "Roots" and a host of other television shows. Most recently, he played a recurring role as Jackson Gibbs, father of Mark Harmon's character on "N.C.I.S." He also ran unsuccessful campaigns for political office in the 1990s. Waite was 85. Good night, Pa.

February 20 - Garrick Utley: Utley joined NBC News in 1963, making a name for himself as the first television journalist to report from Vietnam during the war. He remained at NBC for thirty years, including a stint as weekend news anchor, before moving to ABC and then to CNN. He also hosted "Live from the Met" for PBS. Utley died of cancer at age 74.

February 24 - Harold Ramis: The Chicago native, most recognizable in the role of the geeky, big-haired Dr. Egon Spengler in the 1984 blockbuster comedy "Ghostbusters," passed away from autoimmune inflammatory vasculitis. His Spengler role notwithstanding, Ramis directed such films as "Groundhog Day," "Stripes," "Caddyshack," "National Lampoon's Animal House" and "Analyze This." He co-wrote several of them as well, including "Ghostbusters," and in recent years directed episodes of "The Office." His long comic career began in the 1960s with Chicago-based Second City troupe; collaborating with such comic icons as Dan Akroyd, John Belushi, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray. He was 69. CNN retrospective[6].

Philip Seymour Hoffman
Credit: wikimedia commons

The heroin overdose death of Philip Seymour Hoffman, just 46, shocked fans of the versatile actor around the world.

Pop Culture

Gloria LeonardCredit: file / Rotten Tomatoes




February 3 - Gloria Leonard: Leonard, born Gale Klinetsky, starred in a string of hardcore pornographic films in the 1970s and '80s; among them "The Opening of Misty Beethoven." After retiring from the screen in 1984, Leonard became the public face of skin magazine High Society. She died at age 73 after a stroke.


February 15 - Jamie Coots: A Pentecostal preacher and snake handler who was featured in a National Geographic reality show, Coots was found dead at his home after refusing treatment for -- of course -- a snake bite.

Eisenhower Tree ca. 2011Credit: wikimedia commons


February 16 - Eisenhower Tree: This loblolly pine on the 17th fairway at Augusta National Golf Course (Georgia) irritated many a golfer who hooked into its branches. Even though he was a sitting U. S. President at the time, the club declined Dwight Eisenhower's request to have it removed in 1956. The tree was cut down after suffering major damage in recent ice storms.


February 18 - Nelson Frazier, Jr.: A giant billed at 6'-9" and 487 pounds (2.06 m and 221 kg), Frazier spent almost 21 years in the ring as a professional wrestler. He appeared in the WWF/WWE in both the 1990s and 1000s. He fought under such names as Big Daddy V, Viscera, King V, and Mabel. Yes, "Mabel." Frazier died days after his 43rd birthday of, as one might guess, a heart attack.

February 19 - Génesis Carmona: Miss Tourism 2013 in the Venezuelan state of Carabobo, Carmona was shot in the head on February 18 while participating in a demonstration in Valencia. She died the following day. The second Venezuelan beauty queen to die violently this year, Carmona was only 22.


February 6 - Ralph Kiner: A prodigious home-run hitter with the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Chicago Cubs in the 1940s and '50s, Kiner led the majors in home runs for six consecutive years, peaking at 54 in 1947 amid the dead-ball era. After retiring in 1954, Kiner entered the broadcast booth for the Chicago White Sox in 1961, then for the New York Mets in their inaugural season. He still served as an occasional color announcer up until the 2013 season. Aged 91. NY Times obituary: [4]

February 14 - Jim Fregosi: A six-time All-Star shortstop with the LA-California Angels in the 1960s, Fregosi also played for the Mets, Rangers and Pirates. After retiring in 1978, he took over the managerial reins of the Angels. He also managed the White Sox, Phillies and Blue Jays. He led the Phillies to the World Series in 1993. Fregosi was 71 when he died of complications from a stroke.


February 2 - William "Bunny Rugs" Clarke: A native Jamaican, Clarke joined the reggae band Third World in 1976, singing lead vocals on many of their best-known songs such as "Try Jah Love" and "Now that We've Found Love." He remained with the band up until his death, although he missed several dates on their 40th Anniversary tour due to increasing illness. He died of leukemia four days short of his 66th birthday.

February 17 - Robert Casale: Along with his brother Gerald and brothers Jim and Bob Motherspaugh, Casale was a founding member of New Wave band Devo. Best-known for their flowerpot hats (they called them "energy domes") and a manic scifi-esque stage presence, the band had one top 40 hit, 1980's "Whip It." Casale, 61, died of heart failure complicated by poor health.

Science and Technology

February 19 - Valeri Kubasov: The Soviet Cosmonaut flew three Soyuz missions, one as commander, and was part of the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission (Soyuz 19) in 1975. He was instrumental in development of Russia's Mir space station. Kubasov was 79.

February 19 - Dale Gardner: Gardner, a naval aviator, completed astronaut training in 1978. He flew two missions, Challenger (1983) and Discovery (1984), as a mission specialist. On his spacewalks, he flew the "jetpack" and participated in a satellite recovery. Gardner died at age 65 after he suffered a brain aneurysm. logoCredit: division of eBayFebruary 25 - One of the first internet sites to jump on the consumer reviews bandwagon, Epinions announced on February 25 that they would cease accepting new content. The site's outdated legacy code prevented it from remaining "relevant" in an internet dominated by video and photographs, leading to a plunge in views as search engines favored "fresh" and "social" content. Epinions was 14.


February 18 - Mavis Gallant: Canadian short-story writer who also wrote novels and plays; named an Officer of the Order of Canada (1981) for her contributions to Canadian literature. Recipient of the PEN/Nabokov award and one-time writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto. Gallant was 91.