Milestones

4 minute read
Joanna Baker

To most Americans, ALISTAIR COOKE was the baronial M.C. of Masterpiece Theatrea genial gent so famous that he was gently parodied as Alistair Cookie on Sesame Street and Alistair Beagle in Peanuts. But his role as a TV host was a sideline for the British journalist who knew everyone and remembered everything. As a young Cambridge grad in the U.S., he became instant pals with Charlie Chaplin and H.L. Mencken. He got his first glimpse of Franklin Roosevelt as the paraplegic President was hauled from his car, and he happened to be near Robert Kennedy the night of his assassination. All these encounters, and thousands more, he related in a weekly BBC chat series, Letter from America, that mesmerized millions of listeners on five continents and ran for 58 yearsthe world’s longest-running series with a single person as host. When Cooke died last week at 95, the English-speaking world said a melancholy good-night to a consummate reporter and the world’s wisest, blithest uncle.
By Richard Corliss

It was as if all the world’s wit were rolled into one portly fellow. PETER USTINOV, who died last week at 82, once boasted, “I have Russian, German, Spanish, Italian, French and Ethiopian blood in my veins” (his great-grandfather wedded the Princess of Ethiopia). He spoke six languages, and a few others of his own comic invention. With gifts too wide-ranging to be contained in one art form, he wrote hit plays (Romanoff and Juliet) and books of nonfiction and short stories. He could be an excellent film director (Billy Budd) and a serious Shakespearean (King Lear at Stratford, Ont.). He won Supporting Actor Oscars for Spartacus and Topkapi, and earned his greatest movie renown as Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, as in the film of Death on the Nile. His spirit was essentially impish (as on a comedy album for which he provided all the voices and sound effects); his greatest role was Peter Ustinov, inexhaustible raconteur. The title of his 1977 autobiography summed up the world’s opinion of this engaging, capacious talent: Dear Me.
By Richard Corliss

DIED. JOHN SACK, 74, author, war correspondent and pioneer of the New Journalism; in San Francisco. Sack reported from the battlefields of every major U.S. conflict from Korea to Afghanistan. His 33,000-word piece “Oh My GodWe Hit a Little Girl,” which followed an infantry company in Vietnam, is the longest article ever to appear in Esquire. After interviewing Lieut. William Calley, an officer convicted for the massacre of civilians at My Lai, Sack was indicted on federal felony charges, later dropped, for refusing to surrender his notes to prosecutors.

DIED. JAN BERRY, 62, singer, songwriter and, with partner Dean Torrence (right), performer of such ’60s anthems as Surf City, The Little Old Lady (From Pasadena) and Dead Man’s Curve; in Los Angeles. Berry collaborated on lyrics to several songs with close friend and Beach Boy Brian Wilson. Though a 1966 car crash left him temporarily paralyzed, he returned to performing with Torrence and in 1997 produced a solo album, Second Wave, which updated the duo’s greatest hits.

SENTENCED. SONG DOO YUL, 59, South Korean-born sociology professor who, after 37 years of self-exile in Germany, returned to be charged with violating the National Security Law by spreading North Korean ideology; to seven years in jail; in Seoul. The Seoul Central District Court concluded that Song, under an alias, had been a member of North Korea’s Politburo since 1991, and his ideological writings “misled many South Koreans.” Song, a naturalized German citizen, admitted to receiving money from the North, visiting North Korea numerous times and meeting with Stalinist dictator Kim Il Sung in 1991. His son has called him a “political prisoner of conscience,” and Song’s lawyer says he will appeal the sentence.

CONVICTED. LESLEY MARTIN, 40, intensive-care nurse and prominent campaigner for voluntary euthanasia; for the attempted murder of her terminally ill mother in 1999; in Auckland. Police began investigating Martin after she self-published To Die Like a Dog, a book detailing the events that led to her mother’s death. She faces up to 10 years in prison.

WITHDRAWN. LAKSHMI PANDIT, 22, Miss India-World 2004, from the Miss World beauty pageant, after controversy over her marital status; in Bombay. Pandit said she once claimed to be married to a fellow model to rent an apartment. In 1989 Pandit’s sister Kalpana withdrew from the Miss World contest when it was discovered that she was an American citizen.

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