Margaret Ford Keifer (1921-2015)

Margaret Ford Keifer and Mary Ann Beam in 1988. Photo by George Young.

Margaret Ford Keifer and Mary Ann Beam in 1988. Photo by George Young.

Margaret Ford Keifer, longtime member of the Cincinnati Fantasy Group, passed away July 28. She was 94, and had attended all 66 Midwestcons held since the con was founded in 1950.

She was predeceased by her first husband, Don Ford (co-founder of First Fandom) who died in 1965, and her second husband, Ben Keifer, who died in 1974.

Andrew Porter recalls: “A charming and intelligent lady; I went to dinner with her and others at one of the last Midwestcons I attended, and she held up her corner of the conversation well. Mike Resnick sold off her and her second husband, Ben Keifer’s, SF collection for her, and the income allowed her to do many useful things.”

Front row, L-R: Margaret Keifer, Lloyd Eshbach, Pat Lake, Dee Dee Lavender, Bea Mahaffey; Back row: (unknown), Don Ford, Roy Lavender.

Front row, L-R: Margaret Keifer, Lloyd Eshbach, Pat Lake, Dee Dee Lavender, Bea Mahaffey; Back row: (unknown), Don Ford, Roy Lavender.

[Thanks to Joel Zakem and Andrew Porter for the story.]

Renee Alper (1957-2015)

Gifted filker Renee Alper died July 27 from an infection. She was 58.

Alper discovered Tolkien while in the fifth grade, an interest which in time led her to fandom.

She developed severe arthritis after starting college and was forced to drop out. During a year-and-a-half of enforced inactivity, she read a notice that The Mythopoeic Society was forming a group in the Chicago area. She responded and helped found Minas Aeron in 1977, together with Michael Dorfman, and Greg Everitt.

A wire service story about the new club attracted out-of-town Tolkien fans to join, prompting them to rename their group the American Hobbit Association. The organization soon had more than 200 members, most from the U.S., but several from England, the Netherlands, and Hong Kong. They also recruited Christopher Tolkien, Clyde Kilby, and Raynor Unwin. The AHA newsletter was named Annuminas (West Tower) and they later published The Rivendell Review. The group continued to meet locally for 12 years.

Alper also wrote locs to many sf fanzines and was one of the first subscribers to File 770 in 1978.

Arthritis confined her to a wheelchair most of the time, but her physical challenges became much greater in February 1989 when she suffered a devastating spinal cord injury in an auto accident. While on the way home to Cincinnati, after a day trip to visit her boyfriend in Columbus, the vehicle she was in skidded on a patch of ice and crashed off the side of the road. She broke her neck in numerous places, and was in a halo brace for the next six months.

The emotional trauma accompanying the loss of mobility is described in her essay “Never Should on Yourself” (From There To Here: Gary Karp’s Life on Wheels) — as is a breakthrough she experienced during a conversation with her motion therapist, Eric:

One day Eric asked me, “Do you know that you can be completely content even if nothing in your life improved from the way it is now?” I answered, “Sure, I know, on some esoteric level, that’s true. They say that given the right attitude, even a prisoner being tortured can find contentment. But come on, Eric, look at how my life is: incredible pain, stuck in a wheelchair with spasms, limited mobility, enormous problems finding personal care help – how can I be content?”

She adds that psychotherapy, with the right therapist, was an indispensable tool to her recovery.

Alper became a teacher, a singer, songwriter, public speaker, actress, director and playwright. She used her experiences to write a play about a disability support group, Roll Model, and “Non-Vertical Girl” (2009), which presents her life story as a one-woman musical fringe show.

CPI-NonVerticallogo_000“Non-Vertical Girl” follows the heroine from the onset of a lifelong illness as a teen, through a devastating car crash, and ultimately to love and success. Alper began with a review of all the terms used over the centuries to refer to someone with limited use of their limbs, which changed over time as each came to have a negative connotation: crippled, invalid, handicapped, disabled.

She chaired Cincinnati Playwrights Initiative’s Cold Readings and also read for the Cincinnati New Light Festival. Other Alper works were produced by the Cincinnati Fringe Festival (“Extreme Puppet Theatre”), Talent2000USA (“Roll Model”), and The Renegade Garage Players (“Roll Model Jr.,” “Trust,” and “The Rescue”).

Drawing on her long history as a Tolkien fan, she served as “dramaturg” for Ovation Theatre Company’s adaptations of The Lord of the Rings over a three year period. Alpert told an interviewer —

I liked saying “I am the dramaturg, I speak for the text” — you know, “I am the Lorax, I speak for the trees.” Because where the author deviated from the text, I basically said yay or nay, but he didn’t always listen. The biggest faux-pas he did was having Sam and Rosie get pregnant before they were married. I hopped up and down, waved my hands, did everything I could, but he kept it in the play.

Alper was a devoted and talented filksinger. Dave Weingart, another leading filker, credited her with having “a wonderful voice”.

She was a prolific songwriter, too, and was twice nominated for the Pegasus Award for excellence in filking. “Natira’s Song (For The World is Hollow And I Have Touched The Sky)” was a 1991 nominee for Best Love Song. “On The Inside” was a 1994 nominee for Best Filk Song —

Virtual Reality can be deceiving
Everything is not as it appears
And only a naive soul could be so believing
To fall in love having only met
On the inside, on the inside

Alper also won or placed in the Ohio Valley Filk Fest Songwriting Contest nine times from 1991-2003, with songs like Reed Turner: Novel Hero, Deer John Letter, If I Were a Rich Fan, and Tear It Down.

She produced several tapes, including Wheelchair in High Gear, Four On the Floor, and Thoracic Park.

For a time, she hosted Filkaholics Anonymous at her home in Mason, OH.

She was a GoH at Musicon 2 (1993) in Nashville, Tennessee.

Alper even had connections to gaming fandom. Gamerati did a video interview with her in 2011.

Despite all the physical suffering she endured every day Alper retained a dry wit, and wryly concluded one post on a meetup board:

If there is an exit interview for life, I have a few suggestions for the customer service department….

Jeff Rice (1944-2015)



Jeff Rice, creator of Carl Kolchak, passed away July 1 in Las Vegas at the age of 71. His novel about the character was somewhat unintentionally the basis for two TV movies and an ABC series.

David Dawidziak reports in The Night Stalker Companion that the television movie rights to Rice’s 1970 unpublished novel was sold without his permission to ABC. Rice sued the network, which settled before the series aired, and gave creative credit on screen to Rice.

But that left him well short of Easy Street. By the time all the Hollywood double dealing was resolved, Rice’s novel was published in 1973 after the hugely successful TV movie. A series followed, and Rice also found success with a second novel, The Night Strangler, co-authored with Richard Matheson

The Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series aired on ABC during the 1974–1975 season. Played by Darren McGavin, Kolchak investigated mysterious crimes touching on the supernatural and the science fictional.

The series was preceded by two movies for television, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973).

[Thanks to James H. Burns for the story.]

Theodore Bikel (1924-2015)

Theodore Bikel

Theodore Bikel

Actor Theodore Bikel, creator of the role of Baron von Trapp in the Broadway production of The Sound of Music, and a constant presence on American TV over five decades, passed away July 20.

In his most famous genre TV role, Bikel played the adopted Russian father of the Klingon character Worf in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Family” (1990).

He was the voice of Aragorn in the Bass/Rankin animated TV production of The Return of the King (1980; John Huston voiced Gandalf, Orson Bean was Frodo, and Roddy McDowell was Sam.) He appeared in other made-for-TV movies Dark Tower (1989) (unrelated to the Stephen King work), and Babylon 5: In The Beginning (1998).

He acted in episodes of The Twilight Zone, “Four O’Clock” (1962), Knight Rider, “Chariot of Gold” (1983), Beauty and the Beast, “Chamber Music” (1988), Babylon 5, “TKO” (1994), and The Burning Zone, “St. Michael’s Nightmare” (1996).

Bikel was always on call whenever somebody needed a character with a Russian or German accent (he joked about being “the poor man’s Peter Ustinov”). He worked on many of American TV’s top-rated drama series from the 1950s ‘til his last appearance on JAG in 2003.

Bikel also performed the lead in thousands of stage performances of Fiddler on the Roof and was one of the world’s most popular folksingers.

Bikel’s top screen roles included the Southern Sheriff in The Defiant Ones (1958), which earned him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor, and the Soviet submarine captain in one of my personal favorite movies, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming (1966).

Blaine Gibson, Disney Park Sculptor

blainegibson7 COMP

Blaine Gibson, the Disney Legend who created hundreds of sculptures and the exteriors of many audio-animatronic characters for Disney theme parks, died July 5 at the age of 97.

Gibson was hired by Walt Disney Studios in 1939 as an assistant animator and spent many years working his way up to achieve his ambition — animating figures with faces.

Meanwhile, he pursued his private interest in sculpture, a talent that became important to the company when it began developing Disneyland. The New York Times obituary lists his most important contributions:

Mr. Gibson’s handiwork includes the buccaneers of the popular Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, the fearsome ghosts and goblins of the Haunted Mansion, the colorful birds of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and the global village children of It’s a Small World. He created the sculpture of Abraham Lincoln that became the first Audio-Animatronic figure. It made its debut in a Disney attraction called “Great Moments With Mr. Lincoln” at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. Since then, every American president, including Barack Obama, has received the Disney treatment, many of them at the hands of Mr. Gibson. All appear at the Hall of Presidents at Walt Disney World in Florida.

Mr. Gibson was also responsible for one of the Disney empire’s recognizable symbols: the statue known as “Partners,” which depicts Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse hand in hand. The original sculpture is in the central plaza of the original Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and replicas are prominently displayed at Disney parks elsewhere.

A popular story about Gibson is that he immortalized some of the people he knew while creating figures for the “Pirates of the Carribean” ride

DG: So then there is something to that rumor that some of them were based on people you would observe at church for example?

BG: Absolutely, yes. My wife would say, “Blaine, you’re staring at that person.” She’d sort of kick me. [Laughs] That was embarrassing her a little bit, me staring at somebody, and I was really giving him the once over, you know. Yes, that did happen in church, and also in restaurants.

Gibson created the face of the audio-animatronic Lincoln, the inspiration for Ray Bradbury’s story “Downwind From Gettysburg.”

[Thanks to Andrew Porter for the story.]

Thomas Piccirilli (1965-2015)

tom-piccirilliHorror and mystery author Thomas Piccirilli died July 11 of cancer. Piccirilli had over 150 published stories. As a top writer in the horror field he was the winner of five Bram Stoker Awards, two for Best Poetry Collection (A Student of Hell, 2001, and Forgiving Judas, 2015), as well as for Short Fiction (“The Misfit Child Grows Fat on Despair,” 2003), Best Novel (The Night Class, 2004), and Best Alternative Forms (The Devil’s Wine, 2005). He received a total of 16 Stoker nominations during his career.

For his mystery writing he was also a finalist for the 2009 Edgar Allan Poe Award given by the Mystery Writers of America.

Nick Mamatas has written a fine personal tribute to Piccirilli:

Here’s how good he was. A couple of years ago, I left a copy of The Coldest Mile on a bus in Seattle when Olivia and I in town for the Locus Awards. I had used my Virgin America boarding pass as a bookmark. I got a Facebook message from a stranger who found the book and said he’d like to send it back to me. It was a cheap mass market paperback, not the sort of thing anyone would miss or have a sentimental attachment to, but when this guy found the book, he started reading it, and was hooked. And he knew, because of the bookmark, that I hadn’t finished and that I needed to. So he contacted me and mailed the book back to me at his own expense, then filled his Kindle with Tom Pic.

Here’s how good he was. When the cancer came, a young relative of his launched an online fundraiser. She had no idea how much we loved her uncle Pic, and set the fundraiser goal to $500. It ended up being 4,823% funded.

Patrick Macnee (1922-2015)

Patrick Macnee in Lobster Man From Mars.

Patrick Macnee in Lobster Man From Mars.

Actor Patrick Macnee died June 25 at home in Rancho Mirage, California. He was 93.

Macnee became a TV icon as the perfect gentleman spy John Steed in The Avengers (1961-1969) and The New Avengers (1976-1977), series in which he was complemented by a succession of celebrated female partners, Honor Blackman, Diana Rigg, Linda Thorson, and in the relaunch, Joanna Lumley.

Macnee was not one of those actors who loathed to be identified with his most famous role. He co-wrote two Avengers tie-in novels, Dead Duck and Deadline. He titled his autobiography Blind in One Ear: The Avenger Returns, (1988, dictated to Marie Cameron). He did commercials in character and was even recalled to play Steed in original Avengers footage made for The Pretenders’ 1986 music video “Don’t Get Me Wrong.”  Although Ralph Fiennes played Steed in the 1998 movie of The Avengers , Macnee was present in a voice cameo as “Invisible Jones.”

Macnee’s first film appearance was as an uncredited extra in Pygmalion (1938). His acting career did not take off until he returned from service in WWII, when he worked in several live TV productions for the BBC, including The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1950). He also had a small role in the movie A Christmas Carol  (1951) with Alastair Sim. Before starring in The Avengers he worked steadily in US and Canadian television.

His genre work includes The Twilight Zone episode “Judgment Night” (1959), a segment of Rod Serling’s Night Gallery (1971), and a Ray Bradbury Theatre episode “Usher II” (1990). Macnee voiced the Cylon leader in 13 episodes of Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979). He starred in the 1990s science fiction series Super Force and played a supporting role in the parody Lobster Man From Mars (1989). His last credit was The Low Budget Time Machine in 2003.

Doug Winger (1953-2015)

Doug Winger

Doug Winger

Furry artist Doug Winger passed away June 23. He had been hospitalized for COPD according to the news site Flayrah.

Winger’s best-known fan art involved hyper-endowed hermaphrodite characters.

Winger formerly worked as an engineer for Republic Aviation Corporation on the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II AN/AAS-35(V) Pave Penny laser spot tracker, and in many other technical jobs.

[Thanks to Taral Wayne for the story.]

Update 06/24/2015: Dropped paragraph of art credits listed in the Flayrah review after being advised they were in error.

Colin Cameron Passes Away

“Just learned the sad news that my longtime friend and former fan artist, Colin Cameron passed away from cancer a few days ago,” writes Steve Stiles. “I heard about it in Facebook. Judging from the outpouring there, he had many, many friends in the music industry there, and seldom lacked for playing gigs.”

For most of his life Cameron was a highly successful LA studio musician:

[Colin’s] fluency as a player, bolstered by his [sight] reading ability, led to recording dates with Quincy Jones and Henry Mancini, and such movie soundtracks as “Every Which Way but Loose,” “Moonraker,” “Honky-Tonk Man,” “Smokey and the Bandit II,” “Phantom of the Paradise” and “The Muppet Movie.”

Artists with whom Cameron has played bass either on stage or on records range from Judy Collins to Cher. Cameron performed in an Emmy-winning TV comedy special with Lily Tomlin and recorded a country album with Tina Turner in the early 1970s.

Before Hollywood beckoned, Cameron was an active fan. Stiles met him when they were in the army together:

Colin was an active west coast fan artist in the 1960s and I always liked his cartoon style. We met, by a miraculous coincidence, at Ft. Eustis Virginia, in 1966, when we wound up stationed in the same barracks; another GI spotted me doing a cartoon on my bunk and told me that there was “another guy on the second floor who does stuff just like that.” What are the odds?

The chain of coincidences didn’t stop there, said Stiles in “Habakkuk Remembered”

Not only that, but Colin had also received the first issue of the new multi-colored HABAKKUK. The material and Bill’s “Meanderings” –Donaho’s reportage of doings in Barea fandom– were just as fascinating, but that run has a special significance to me as Colin and I were fannishly ignited by the zine and flooded the next two issues with our fan art and articles on life in the army. (Unfortunately, in the third issue, Colin’s article was about life in Vietnam, having been nabbed in another MP raid with some more of our friends.

After taking a mortar shell fragment in the leg while he was at Cam Ranh Bay, Colin was eventually discharged and went on to play bass in John Hartford’s and Paul Williams’ bands, and was blown up good on the big screen as one of the Juicy Fruits in Phantom of the Paradise [1974].