You Can’t Take It With You: Presidential Performer Edition

by | Aug 23, 2013 | Uncategorized

Helen Thomas courtesy Flickr user

Maria Turner McPartland 1918 to Wednesday

“Oh, you’ll come to no good, you’ll marry a musician and live in an attic” Ms. Turner’s mother warned her when she left school at 17 to join a four-piano vaudeville act.  Of course, that’s precisely what happened.  What mom couldn’t imagine, though, was that her daughter’s light touch and harmonic creativity would earn her honors as a NEA Jazz Master, a Grammy lifetime-achiever, and membership in the National Radio Hall of Fame and Order of the British Empire.  Maria, MBE, was most famous for her ‘Piano Jazz’ show on NPR.  She leaves behind this melting duet with Diana Krall:

Stephanie McMillan  1942 to Wednesday

Ms. McMillan gave us “Dolores Umbridge’s ornate and way-too-pink office, the tangled tower of chairs in the Room of Requirement and Harry’s cramped cupboard under the stairs.”  Talk about a job that makes sense for the daughter of a toy salesman.  The Oscar-winning set decorator gave us more than Hogwarts: she also leaves behind “the farcical world in “A Fish Called Wanda” (1988), the stuffy French village and charming La Chocolaterie Maya in “Chocolat” (2000) and the stark Italian monastery in “The English Patient” (1996).”

Helen Thomas 1920 to five-weeks-ago Saturday

“Ever since Eve wheedled Adam into eating that apple, women have known how to get what they want from men,” her obituary began.  None could do this better–or at least more tenaciously–than the departing dean of the White House Press Corps.  Not a performer, but one whose presence garnered attention and accolades, Thomas was a woman of firsts: “the first woman to head a White House news bureau, the first female president of the White House Correspondents’ Association, the first woman member (and later president) of the Gridiron Club.”  And, O, how she made presidents squirm.  Equipped with pad, pen and scowl she fired her questions, hard and rude.  To Nixon at his first press conference it was “What’s your plan for leaving Vietnam?” to Bush-the-Younger she straight-up asked “Why did you really want to go to war?”  She leaves behind her signature signoff–the words, “Thank you, Mr. President” uttered frequently with acid.

August Schellenberg 1936 to Friday

Mr. Schellenberg’s Randolph Johnson was both captor and liberator to “Free Willy,” which left behind this Michael Jackson wonder rising in the ears of moviegoers and whale lovers worldwide:

David Howard 1937 to last Sunday

The man taught Baryshnikov, for Pete’s sake.  That feat’s made more impressive since he only took to dance instruction after his failure at hairdressing.  A dancer himself, David’s career ended with a back injury into his twenties.  I guess those who can’t do teach.  Howard was the herald of proprioception, arguing that developing that sixth sense of internal position in space was more important than the traditional practice of form in the mirror.  He leaves behind this unbelievable story:  “In 1966, shortly after he arrived in New York, Mr. Howard came to [Rebekah Harkness, the arts patron who brought him to The States] in distress: he was having great difficulty, he told her, in securing a green card.  Ms. Harkness picked up the telephone.  ‘Lyndon,’ she said, ‘I need some help.’  The card arrived as if by magic. It was only much later, Mr. Howard said, that it dawned on him precisely which Lyndon Ms. Harkness had been talking to.”


Cover photo courtesy Flickr user


Perry Petrich, SJ   /   @ppetrich   /   All posts by Perry