The Lives They Led: Cuomo, Brooke, Scott, Sprenger, Herrmann, Rainer, Dickens, Myerson
Just because everyone’s published their annual tally of noteworthy losses doesn’t mean people have stopped dying. Attention must be paid—constantly.
During the last days of the old year and the first days of the new, we lost an eloquent, soul-stirring presidential not-quite-wanna-be, the first African-American senator elected in the 20th century since Reconstruction (and a Republican to boot), a courageous sportscaster who changed the way we talk about games and athletes, an actor who memorably embodied Franklin Roosevelt in a long career of varied characters, a local attorney and leader who helped spark a neighborhood revival by founding the Atlas Arts Center, a Golden-Age-of-Hollywood star who gave it all up (a la Greta Garbo), a small man with a big talent for country music and a former beauty queen-cum New York public official and celebrity legend.
MARIO M. CUOMO
The former New York governor was blessed with a huge rhetorical gift which vaulted him into the role as a leading liberal light and presidential hopeful with his elegant and eloquent speeches critiquing the disparities that existed in Ronald Reagan’s morning-in-America America. Always thought as a leading Democratic presidential aspirant and hopeful, Cuomo never quite managed to take the final step and throw his hat and heart formally into the ring. His last near-bid came in 1992, when, at the last minute, he opted out instead to deal with New York state’s budget woes, paving the way for a long-shot run by then-Arkansas Governor Bill Clinton.
Cuomo challenged Reagan’s sunny optimism about life in America by saying “Mr. President you ought to know that this nation is more a 'Tale of Two Cities' than it is just a 'Shining City on a Hill.' "
Cuomo, a three-term governor of New York who lost the gubernatorial election to Republican George Pataki in 1993, died Jan. 1 at 82. He had been suffering from heart problems. He was the father of the current New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.
EDWARD W. BROOKE
Brooke, an African American Protestant Republican who grew up in Washington, was the first African American popularly elected to the Senate in 1966 in Massachusetts. He was blessed with an elegant style, good patrician looks and an almost casual gift for the hands-across-the-aisle approach to politics and policy that seems now like a lost, indecipherable art.
Speaking of lost arts and extinct species, Brooke was a liberal, Rockefeller-style Republican. He represented a state that was then 90-percent white and mostly Catholic. He was elected across a broad voting spectrum likely because he said, “I do not intend to be a national leader of the Negro people. I intend to do my job as a senator from Massachusetts.” With Sen. Walter Mondale (D-Minn.) as a co-sponsor, he led the fight for Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Brooke received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2004. Brooke died Jan. 3. He was 95.
Scott, a trailblazing ESPN sportscaster and anchor who revitalized the way people heard, looked at and understood sports, lost a gritty, brave, seven-year battle with cancer Jan. 4. He was 49.
On Sports Center, Scott reported and talked about sports the way much of his audience, and most of the athletes—particularly those in the NFL and NBA—talked, which was a casual use of the vernacular (within limits), in phrases and descriptions that were colorful, visceral and energizing, including his trademark “booyah”.
Scott was diagnosed with cancer and fought without letup, including the use of a martial arts program.
He was the father of two teenaged girls.
A nationally noted attorney and litigator famous for major class action suits, as well as a developer and in Washington, D.C., as the founder of the Atlas Performing Arts Center (which sparked a boom in the H Street Corridor in NE), died Dec. 29 of an apparent heart attack while snorkeling in Curacao with his wife and law partner Jane Lang. He was 74.
He and his wife received a Washington Post Award for innovative leadership in the theater community from the Helen Hayes Theatre Awards Society.
Herrmann had a long and varied career as a film, television and stage actor but he was best known for his charismatic, ebullient portrayal of Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1976 television movie “Eleanor and Franklin,” based on Joseph P. Lash’s Pulitzer Prize winning book. To many viewers, his was the best-remembered version of FDR, not entirely discounting the efforts of Ralph Bellamy and, yes, Bill Murray.
He also starred in many Broadway roles, including Shaw’s “Mrs. Warren’s Profession” and received a Tony nomination for David Hare’s “Plenty.”
Herrmann died Dec. 31 at the age of 71.
Luise Rainer, who died Dec. 30 at the age of 105, was an actress uniquely suited to and representative of Hollywood’s Golden Age during the 1930s. Classically trained in European theater—she was a protégé of the famed director Max Reinhardt—Rainer got an MGM contract and won back-to-back Best Actress Oscars for “The Great Zigfield” and “The Good Earth” (in which she played a well-disguised Chinese peasant). After that, little happened and few roles emerged to her liking. She, like Greta Garbo, packed it up and called it quits, never to return to Hollywood, although sporadically appearing on stage.
LITTLE JIMMY DICKENS
Dickens, who died Jan. 2 at the age of 94, stood only 4 foot 11 inches, but loomed large on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, always sporting an outsized cowboy hat and a checkered shirt with cowboy boots. He was, as fans noted, “a little man with a big voice” that had a classical twang.
The title of his songs certainly were grits-and-gritty flavored with a dash of down-home humor—“May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose,” “A-Sleepin’ on the Foot of the Bed” and “Take a Cold Tater and Wait.”
One way or another Bess Myerson, who died Dec. 14 at the age of 90, was a prototype of celebrity before the true age of celebrity—the one we’re living in today—had actually arrived.
It all began with a Miss America crown in 1945, followed by years as a television personality and a model as well as being a regular on the popular TV game show, “I’ve Got a Secret.” Her fame led to an eventual appointment as New York City Commissioner of Consumer Affair which led to a friendship with Mayor Edward Koch. Later, she was involved in a high-profile conflict-of-interest scandal that rocked New York. She was acquitted of any wrongdoings.