Remembering Le Guin, Smith, and More

Death has been greedy this week, taking not only artists who have left their mark on cinema but others, too, who have made an impact on our culture overall. The week began with the passing on Monday of Ursula K. Le Guin, “the immensely popular author who brought literary depth and a tough-minded feminist sensibility to science fiction and fantasy with books like The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series,” as Gerald Jonas writes in his obituary for the New York Times.

“Her career as novelist, poet, essayist, translator, and children’s book author spanned more than half a century, and earned her a Newbery, five Nebulas, and five Hugos, among many other honors,” notes the Library of America, gathering tributes from Brian Attebery, Harold Augenbraum, Harold Bloom, Michael Chabon, Karen Joy Fowler, Neil Gaiman, Jonathan Lethem, China Miéville, Joyce Carol Oates, Ada Palmer, Elaine Showalter, Zadie Smith, Jo Walton, and Gary K. Wolfe.

“Not only was she one of the literary greats of the 20th century—her books are many and widely read and beloved, her awards are many and deserved—but her sane, committed, annoyed, humorous, wise and always intelligent voice is much needed now,” writes Margaret Atwood in the Guardian.

“She was opinionated, but the opinions were informed and educated,” writes Neil Gaiman for the Paris Review. “She did not suffer fools or knaves gladly, or, actually, at all. She knew what she liked and what she wanted, and she didn’t let that change. She was sharp until the end. She once reviewed a book of mine and was not altogether kind about all of it, and I discovered as I read her review that I would rather have been chided by Ursula K. Le Guin than effusively praised by any other living author.”

Back to Gerald Jonas: “The Lathe of Heaven was among the few books by Ms. Le Guin that have been adapted for film or television. There were two made-for-television versions, one on PBS in 1980 and the other on the A&E cable channel in 2002. Among the other adaptations of her work were the 2006 Japanese animated feature Tales From Earthsea and a 2004 mini-series on the Sci Fi channel, Legend of Earthsea. With the exception of the 1980 Lathe of Heaven, she had little good to say about any of them.”

In 2011, Murray Ewing wrote about a live-action adaptation of A Wizard of Earthsea that was never realized, though it was to have been directed by none other than Michael Powell. “Apparently, Powell wrote to Le Guin to tell her how much he’d enjoyed the books, a correspondence ensued, and that led to their collaborating on the script by mail. . . . Powell had grand plans for the film, including bringing in David Hockney as designer . . . ; Francis Ford Coppola was to have provided financial backing. The whole project never got further than the script, though—one account says it was due to Coppola going bankrupt, another that it was down to the aging Powell not being able to get insurance.”

Ursula K. Le Guin was eighty-eight.

Let’s also note the passing of two more writers. Dallas Mayr, “a self-proclaimed ‘former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk’ who wrote dozens of horror novels and short stories under the pen name Jack Ketchum,” was seventy-one, notes Katie Rife at the A.V. Club. “He received a Grand Master award from the World Horror Convention in 2011, and saw several of his novels—including The Lost,The Woman,The Girl Next Door,Offspring, and Red—turned into movies.” The AP adds that he was “known for fiction such as The Box and the controversial Off Season, and once labeled by Stephen King as likely the scariest writer in America.”

“In 1987, Peter Mayle and his third wife, Jennie, moved from Devon to a farmhouse in Ménerbes, in the Luberon region of Provence, which they intended to refurbish while he worked on a novel,” writes Michael Carlson for the Guardian. “Months later, he wrote his agent a long letter explaining his lack of progress on his fiction by detailing the tribulations of dealing with the French. ‘Do another 250 pages of that,’ his agent replied, ‘and I’ll find a publisher.’ The book that resulted, A Year in Provence (1989), became a bestseller, was adapted for television, and spawned a series of sequels as well as a flood of imitators.” As Nancy Tartaglione notes at Deadline, Ridley Scott adapted A Good Year in 2006. Mayle was seventy-eight.

“Admit it,” writes Rob Sheffield for Rolling Stone. “You thought Mark E. Smith would be the last to go. And in a way, he was the last to go —when the punk legend died on Wednesday, after forty years leading the UK band the Fall, he took most of the world's bile with him. . . . Somehow he was only sixty, but he'd never seemed young. The ‘Hip Priest’ had the most evil sneer in rock & roll, punctuating his rants with a sarcastic ‘aaaah’ to give every word a serpentine hiss. He hired and fired dozens of bandmates, notoriously terrorizing anyone foolish enough to join his band, yet no matter who was in the Fall, you could always recognize them instantly—he stuck with his signature jagged guitar groove for life. Every time Mark E. Smith spat on the ground, another ten bands rose up, and he hated every one of them.”

A few months ago, Daniel Dylan Wray conducted the last interview with Smith. “I know you’re a big Philip K. Dick fan,” says Wray in the Guardian. “Have you seen the new Blade Runner?” Smith:

I think the original Blade Runner is the most obscene film ever made, I fucking hated it. The Man in the High Castle is one of my favorite books; how they fucked that TV show up I don’t know. It gets blander and blander. In the book the level of comprehension of that world is fucking astounding, in the show it’s just everybody going around normally except they’ve got swastika armbands on. The only good Philip K. Dick film is Total Recall, it’s faithful to the book. Arnie gets it. I was physically sick watching A Scanner Darkly, it was like an episode of Cheers painted over except they all smoke dope and imagine women with no clothes on.

For the New York Times,David Renard has put together a playlist of “twelve of his best songs.”

“Terence Marsh, who won Academy Awards for his art direction of Dr. Zhivago and Oliver! and went on to be the production designer of films as different as Basic Instinct and Spaceballs, died on Jan. 9,” reports Richard Sandomir for the New York Times. “Over a nearly fifty-year career that he began as a draftsman at Pinewood Studios near London, Mr. Marsh worked for such notable directors as David Lean, Carol Reed, John Huston, Mel Brooks, Richard Attenborough, Sydney Pollack and Frank Darabont.” He was eighty-six.

Yves Afonso, who made his uncredited acting debut in Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin, féminin (1966) and then appeared in Godard’s Weekend the following year, has passed away at the age of seventy-three. Afonso took a supporting role in Bertrand Tavernier’s The Clockmaker (1974), worked alongside Louis de Funès in The Wing or the Thigh (1976) and Isabelle Adjani in One Deadly Summer (1983), and appeared in Raúl Ruiz’s Treasure Island (1985), Jacques Rozier’s Maine-Ocean Express (1986), and Paulo Rocha’s O Desejado (1987).

“Connie Sawyer died peacefully at the age of 105 at her home at in Woodland Hills, CA.,” reports Deadline’s Dino-Ray Ramos. “With more than 140 TV and film credits to her name, Sawyer was known as Hollywood’s oldest working actress who worked through late 2017. . . . To many, she is recognized as the lady in Dumb and Dumber who stole Jim Carrey’s character’s wallet. She also appeared in The Pineapple Express, as well as When Harry Met Sally.

From the Hollywood Reporter’s Mike Barnes: “Bradford Dillman, who starred with Dean Stockwell in the taut 1959 crime drama Compulsion and portrayed Edmund in the original Broadway production of Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night, has died. . . . The lanky, dark-haired Dillman also played Robert Redford's best friend J.J. in The Way We Were (1973)” and “appeared opposite Clint Eastwood in the Dirty Harry films The Enforcer (1976) and Sudden Impact (1983).” More from Brian Baxter in the Guardian. Dillman was eighty-seven.

“Olivia Cole, best known for her performances in Roots and The Women of Brewster Place, has died,” reports Matt Fernandez for Variety. “In addition to her small screen career, Cole appeared in films like Ice Cube’s First Sunday and 1978’s Coming Home.” Cole was seventy-five.

“Allison Shearmur, a studio executive and independent producer who helped bring a string of box-office hits to the screen, including the Bourne franchise, the Hunger Games series and the yet-to-be-released Solo: A Star Wars Story, died on Jan. 19,” reports Katherine Rosman for the New York Times. She was fifty-four.

“Warren Miller, a passionate skier and filmmaker whose movies introduced skiing and snowboarding to a wide audience, died on Wednesday,” reports Matt Higgins, also for the NYT. “Mr. Miller’s films depicted winter sports with grandeur, beauty and a mischievous sense of fun that attracted viewers who had never set foot on a slope. The mainstream appeal of his films helped turn winter sports from a niche pursuit to a widely popular pastime and a multibillion-dollar industry.” Miller was ninety-three.

“Joel Freeman, producer of more than 100 films including Shaft and Love at First Bite, died on Jan. 21,” reports Kirsten Chuba for Variety. “He received the 1971 NAACP Image Award for Shaft as producer of the year. He was also a member of the Directors Guild, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and a board member of the Producers Guild of America for 30 years, from whom he received a lifetime membership award.”

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