Sunday, March 7, 2010

Passings - March 7, 2010

'Boggy Creek' Filmmaker Charles Pierce Dies In Tennessee At 71

Charles B. Pierce, an independent filmmaker whose inexpensively made documentary-style drama "The Legend of Boggy Creek" influenced the hit film "The Blair Witch Project" decades later, has died at age 71.

Pierce, who grew up in Arkansas and made his films mostly in that state, died Friday at a Dover nursing home, according to Wayne Anglin of Anglin Funeral Home at Dover. A cause of death could not be obtained.

Pierce was born in Hammond, Ind., but moved to southwest Arkansas with his family as a child, according to a daughter, Amanda "Amy" Squitiero. He grew up in Hampton, Ark., and as an adult lived in nearby Texarkana, where he ran an advertising agency. But it was his 1972 low-budget movie that gained him fame.

"He really did change the face of filmmaking," Arkansas Film Commissioner Christopher Crane told the Texarkana Gazette. "With his model, many filmmakers became successful with the drive-in creature feature, so to speak."

The director of the 1999 box-office docudrama "The Blair Witch Project," Daniel Myrick, cited Pierce's film as an influence in an interview with the Tulsa World.

"We just wanted to make a movie that tapped into the primal fear generated by the fact-or -fiction format, like 'Legend of Boggy Creek,'" he told the newspaper in 1999. "That was one of my favorites; it freaked me out when I was a little kid. I was beside myself with fear for weeks after seeing that thing."

"Boggy Creek" was based on a local legend of a Sasquatch-like creature in Fouke, a town southwest of Texarkana, where retailers still capitalize on the fame of what was called the Fouke Monster.

Squitiero said her father's autobiographical notes indicate "Legend of Boggy Creek" was made for $160,000 but ultimately made $25 million after it became a cult hit.

Director and producer Harry Thomason, whose credits include the TV sitcom "Designing Women," grew up next door to Pierce in Hampton.

"Charlie was one of the greatest storytellers in the world," Thomason said. "He had remarkable success when you think of it."

Thomason also praised "Bootleggers," Pierce's follow-up film, as "a very intelligent script with great acting."

Pierce's additional directing credits include "The Town That Dreaded Sundown," ''Winterhawk," ''The Winds of Autumn," ''Grayeagle," ''The Norseman," ''The Evictors" and "Sacred Ground."

He was also a screenwriter for the 1983 film "Sudden Impact," starring Clint Eastwood.

Texarkana Gazette

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Henri Salmide, 90, Dies; German's Defiance Saved a French Port

PARIS — Henri Salmide, a former German naval officer who defied orders to blow up the French port of Bordeaux in 1944, died on Feb. 23. He was 90 and lived in Bordeaux.

His wife, Henriette, confirmed the death.

Born Heinz Stahlschmidt, Mr. Salmide was a junior officer serving in Bordeaux as a bomb-disposal expert when, in August 1944, he was instructed to destroy the city’s port facilities and docks, among France’s most extensive.

Initially following orders, he stockpiled thousands of pounds of ordnance in a German bunker and was to lay the explosives throughout the port. The Germans expected that about 3,500 people would die in the explosions.

But Petty Officer Stahlschmidt, nicknamed the “Little Frenchman” by the French dock workers who knew him, chose to disobey the orders and instead exploded the bunker itself, killing as many as 50 Nazi soldiers.

Wanted by both the Gestapo and the French authorities, Mr. Salmide hid with a French Resistance family in Bordeaux. After the war he married a French woman, Henriette Buisson, and was naturalized as Henri Salmide.

“I acted according to my Christian conscience,” Mr. Salmide told Reuters in an interview in 1997. “I could not accept that the port of Bordeaux be wantonly destroyed when the war was clearly lost.”

Heinz Stahlschmidt was born on Nov. 13, 1919, to a German plumber and his wife in the western German city of Dortmund. After World War II, he was considered by many Germans to have been a traitor. He worked as a firefighter in Bordeaux but struggled to win recognition in France as well.

“No one wanted to admit that he had done it,” Mrs. Salmide said in a telephone interview. “If he had been French, it would have been easier for him.” She is his only immediate survivor.

Dominique Lormier, a French historian who has written extensively about how the war unfolded in the southwest of France, said in an interview that “the French Resistance wanted to self-appropriate the story by saying that they were behind Salmide’s actions.”

In 1994, Mr. Salmide was awarded the Légion d’Honneur partly in recognition of his contribution to saving the port of Bordeaux in 1944.

Patricia Travers, Violinist Who Vanished, Dies at 82

At 11, the violinist Patricia Travers made her first solo appearance with the New York Philharmonic, playing Lalo’s “Symphonie Espagnole” with “a purity of tone, breadth of line and immersion in her task,” as a critic for The New York Times wrote in 1939.

At 13, she appeared in “There’s Magic in Music,” a Hollywood comedy set in a music camp. Released in 1941 and starring Allan Jones, the film features Patricia, chosen by audition from hundreds of child performers, playing with passionate intensity.

In her early 20s, for the Columbia label, she made the first complete recording of Charles Ives’s Sonata No.2 for Violin and Piano, a modern American work requiring a mature musical intelligence.

Not long afterward, she disappeared.

Between the ages of 10 and 23, Ms. Travers appeared with many of the world’s leading orchestras, including the New York, London and Berlin Philharmonics and the Boston and Chicago Symphonies. She performed on national radio broadcasts, gave premieres of music written expressly for her and made several well-received records.

Then ... nothing, a six-decade-long silence that lasted from the early 1950s until Ms. Travers’s death on Feb. 9 at 82. Her death, of cancer, in a Montclair, N.J., nursing home, was confirmed by her lawyer, John Sullivan. Ms. Travers, who never married, leaves no immediate survivors.

Ms. Travers disappeared by hiding in plain sight, living quietly with her parents in the house in Clifton, N.J., in which she had grown up. She remained there till well past middle age, through the death of her father in the 1980s and her mother in 1995. Afterward, she moved to a condominium nearby.

By all accounts, Ms. Travers rarely spoke of her career. As her obituary last month in The Record of Hackensack, N.J., reported, neighbors knew her only as the reserved owner and manager of a commercial property in Clifton she had inherited from her parents.

Why Ms. Travers gave up the violin will never be fully known. But it is possible to make an educated guess, based on old newspaper accounts of her career (reading between the lines), and on the work of contemporary psychologists who study gifted children.

As psychologists have found, a prodigy’s life is defined by a particular narrative arc — one that often ends, as Ms. Travers’s did, with early promise unfulfilled.

“Prodigies are much less likely to go on to become major famous creative geniuses than they are to become unheard-of and drop out,” Ellen Winner, a professor of psychology at Boston College, said in a telephone interview on Friday. “What it takes to become a prodigy is very different from what it takes to become a major creative adult.” She added, “Most do not make that leap.”

An only child, Patricia Travers was born in Clifton on Dec. 5, 1927. (The year is often given erroneously as 1928; it was common then for prodigies to be billed as younger than they really were.) Her father, Samuel, was a lawyer, semiprofessional singer and accomplished violin maker. Her mother, the former Veronica Quinlan, is described in some accounts as having been an amateur pianist.

Patricia began violin lessons at 3 1/2, eventually studying with the violinists Jacques Gordon and Hans Letz. At 6, she gave her first public concert, at Music Mountain, the summer chamber music festival in Falls Village, Conn. At 10, she performed on national radio with the Detroit Symphony under John Barbirolli.

At 11, Patricia was already playing a violin made by Guarneri del Gesù; before she was out of her teens, she also had a Stradivarius.

One of the few people alive who performed with Ms. Travers then is Lorin Maazel, who stepped down last year as music director of the New York Philharmonic. Mr. Maazel, who turned 80 on Saturday, led the Pittsburgh Symphony several times as a child conductor, with Ms. Travers as the child soloist.

“Patricia was a soulful artist, mature and poised,” Mr. Maazel wrote from Europe in a recent e-mail message. “One didn’t think of her as a child prodigy.”

If the young Ms. Travers was “reticent and somewhat withdrawn,” as Mr. Maazel recalled, onstage she came alive with a fire that drew praise from most critics. Writing in 1939, when she was 11, the journal Violins and Violinists rhapsodized, “We feel sure that the prophecy that Patricia Travers is to become known as one of the great women violinists will be fully realized.”

But with such prophecies comes great pressure, and many prodigies eventually undergo a psychological crisis. “It hits at adolescence,” said Professor Winner, the author of “Gifted Children: Myths and Realities” (Basic Books, 1996). “That’s when they say: ‘Who am I doing this for? My parents or me?’ ”

At that point, prodigies often stop playing. Ms. Travers, however, appeared to make it through her teenage years. She became a specialist in modern American music at a time when few performers gave it much thought. She recorded work by Ives, Roger Sessions and Norman Dello Joio. In 1947, at Carnegie Hall, she gave the premiere of “Incantation and Dance,” written for her by the Hawaiian-born composer Dai-Keong Lee.

But when she was in her early 20s, her notices, once glowing, grew more measured. In 1951 The Christian Science Monitor reviewed a performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto by Ms. Travers, then 23, with the Boston Symphony:

“Miss Travers at present appears to be in an intermediate position between two extremes,” the review said. “On the one hand her foundational studies are well in the past; she is obviously a professional who is competing very well among her peers. On the other hand she is not yet either a brilliant technician nor a compelling interpreter.”

The Boston engagement appeared to have been her last with a major orchestra. “She gradually dropped from sight,” Mr. Maazel recalled. “Don’t know why. Probably, as happens in most early-career artists, she just lost motivation and perhaps went in quest of the proverbial lost childhood.”

Ms. Travers’s Strad and Guarneri passed to other hands long ago. At her death, she had just one violin left — not a valuable one, her lawyer, Mr. Sullivan, remembered her saying.

The only person for whom Ms. Travers seems to have played as she grew older, he said, was her mother.

AP; UPI; Wikipedia; Who's Who

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