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Orson Bean, Free-Spirited Actor of Stage and Screen, Dies at 91



Orson Bean, the free-spirited television, stage and film comedian who stepped out of his storybook life to found a progressive school, move to Australia, give away his possessions and wander around a turbulent America in the 1970s as a late-blooming hippie, was killed in a traffic accident on Friday in Venice, Calif. He was 91.

His death was confirmed on Saturday by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office. Capt. Brian Wendling of the Los Angeles Police Department said Mr. Bean was struck by a car while crossing the street.

Early in his career, in the 1950s and ’60s, Mr. Bean, a subtle comic who looked like a naïve farm boy, was ubiquitous on TV. He popped up on all the networks as an ad-libbing game-show panelist (a mainstay on “To Tell the Truth”), a frequent guest of Jack Paar and Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show,” a regular on drama anthology shows and, in 1954, the host of his own CBS variety show, “The Blue Angel.”

He also starred on and off Broadway, made Hollywood films, founded a society of Laurel and Hardy aficionados, amassed a fortune and was blacklisted briefly as a suspected Communist.

In 1964, captivated by a progressive-education theory, he created a small school in Manhattan, the 15th Street School, that made classes and most rules optional, letting children pretty much do as they pleased. For the remainder of the decade Mr. Bean devoted himself to the school, paying its bills, covering its deficits and working harder and harder.

He was often seen on five television panel shows a week, squeezed in nightclub acts and a Broadway show, married (for the second time) and added more children to his growing family. But he felt overwhelmed by the trappings of success and by turmoil in a nation caught up in conflicts over the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of leaders and a political drift to the right.

“We were having babies and the money was rolling in so fast we had to push it out,” he recalled in an interview with The New York Times years later. “We had a four-story townhouse and a live-in maid. We loved it, but I was starting to freak out. I became convinced that the country was going fascist.”

Believing that America’s generals were planning an imminent coup d’état, Mr. Bean abandoned his thriving career and moved his family to Australia in 1970. He became a disciple of the Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and wrote a book about his psychosexual theories, “Me and the Orgone.” (Orgone is a concept, originally proposed by Reich, of a universal life force.)

When the book appeared in 1971, Mr. Bean returned to America with his wife and four children. For years he led a nomadic life as an aging hippie and self-described househusband, casting off material possessions in a quest for self-realization.

“We were so sure we didn’t want to be possessed by things and so intent on not having them that we gave away almost everything we owned,” he wrote in a 1977 Op-Ed in The Times. “We entered what I now call our late hippie stage. We tossed the kids into the van, bummed around the country, sponging on our friends and putting the kids in school wherever we happened to light.”

In his dropout years, as he recalled in a memoir, he experimented with psychedelic drugs, communal sex and other excursions into self-discovery. His peripatetic family collected driftwood and books, and at night read aloud to one another. When he had to, Mr. Bean scratched out a living by making commercials and doing voice-overs for animated films.

By 1980, he was bored with inactivity. Moving back into the public spotlight, he reappeared in television movies, soap operas, game shows and episodic series. Over the next three decades, he took recurring roles in “Murder, She Wrote,” “Normal, Ohio” and “Desperate Housewives.” He also appeared in many movies, notably “Being John Malkovich” (1999), in which he played the eccentric owner of a mysterious company.

While he eventually performed in some 50 television series and 30 films, he may be best remembered for his appearances on early panel shows, which, in contrast to the greed, noise and kitsch of many modern game shows, were low key, relatively witty and sophisticated.

“We were much more intelligent then,” Kitty Carlisle Hart, a frequent panelist with Mr. Bean, told The Times in 1999. “It sounds like an awful thing to say, but it’s true.”

Mr. Bean was born Dallas Frederick Burrows on July 22, 1928, in Burlington, Vt., to George and Marian (Pollard) Burrows. His father, a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union, was a Harvard campus police officer. His mother, a cousin of President Calvin Coolidge, killed herself when Mr. Bean was a teenager.

After graduating from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School in 1946, Mr. Bean was drafted into the postwar Army and served with occupation forces in Japan. He was an accomplished magician, and after being discharged he changed his name to Orson Bean and worked Boston nightclubs with tricks and gags that evolved into comedy routines.

He was blacklisted for attending two Communist Party meetings, but that blew over and hardly slowed his career. Nightclub work in Baltimore and Philadelphia finally landed him in New York at the Blue Angel and the Village Vanguard, joining a comedic pantheon that included Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl and, a little later, Woody Allen.

Fame followed him onto the Ed Sullivan, Steve Allen and Merv Griffin shows. He was on “The Tonight Show” so often that he became a vacation substitute for Jack Paar and Johnny Carson. He appeared on “Playhouse 90,” “Studio One” and other television drama series, and starred on Broadway with Jayne Mansfield in the 1955 comedy “Will Success Spoil Rock Hunter?” and with Melina Mercouri in the 1967 musical “Illya Darling,” based on the movie “Never on Sunday.”

Mr. Bean married the actress Jacqueline de Sibour in 1956. They had a daughter, Michele, and were divorced in 1962. He and his second wife, Carolyn Maxwell, were married in 1965, had three children, Max, Susannah and Ezekiel, and were divorced in 1981. He married the actress Alley Mills in 1993, and lived for many years in Venice, Calif. His son-in-law was Andrew Breitbart, the conservative blogger who died in 2011.

Survivors include his wife and his four children.

Taken with the unorthodox ideas of A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School in England, Mr. Bean, who never got beyond high school, bought a building in Chelsea in 1964, hired four teachers and opened the 15th Street School with 40 pupils in the nursery, kindergarten and lower elementary grades. It taught self-reliance by making lessons and most rules optional, hoping to instill responsibility.

In 1964, Mr. Bean also helped found the Sons of the Desert, an international fraternal organization devoted to the films and lives of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. Named for the duo’s 1933 movie, it has a Latin motto: “Duae tabulae rasae in quibus nihil scriptum est” (“Two blank slates on which nothing has been written”).

Mr. Bean wrote a memoir, “Too Much Is Not Enough” (1988), and a humorous book, “25 Ways to Cook a Mouse for a Gourmet Cat” (1994), which included recipes for Corned Mouse and Cabbage, Burritos con Raton, Mouse Bourguignon and Souris Printemps.

Elian Peltier and Yonette Joseph contributed reporting.

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Review: ‘The Unsinkable Molly Brown’ Has Its Ups and Ups



Let us survey the many moods of Molly Brown: She is perky, chirpy, spunky, bubbly, cheerful. Even stranded on a raft after the Titanic sinks, she can’t help being, ahem, buoyant.

The resilient heroine of the Meredith Willson musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” was always an upbeat go-getter, with an action-packed journey that took her from a hardscrabble Rockies mining town to the Denver upper crust. But the Transport Group revival that just opened at Abrons Arts Center has turned Molly (played by Beth Malone, a Tony nominee for “Fun Home”) into a human exclamation mark. The production is simultaneously busy and lifeless — a feat of sorts, if not a desirable one.

The 1960 show was Willson’s follow-up to “The Music Man,” and lightning did not strike twice: There was a Hollywood adaptation four years later, but the stage steered clear, and “The Unsinkable Molly Brown” doesn’t appear to have been revived on Broadway or Off in nearly 60 years.

The choreographer/director Kathleen Marshall and the book writer/lyricist Dick Scanlan must have seen an opportunity to give vintage material a fresh start, so they went back to the drawing board: According to the production notes, “none of the characters in the 2020 version appear in the 1960 version. Both have characters called Molly, but she says and does different things. The two versions share three lines of dialogue.”

Fewer than half the songs are from the original show, including the fine “I Ain’t Down Yet” and “Belly Up to the Bar, Boys.” The rest are pulled from Willson’s catalog with a mix of tweaked and entirely new lyrics by Scanlan. (This revisal has been in the works for about 10 years, with productions in Denver and St. Louis.)

The title character is based on the actual Molly Brown (1867-1932), though both Scanlan and his predecessor, Richard Morris, have played fast and loose with the facts. Which is fine, since musicals tend to believe that if the legend becomes fact, it’s best to sing the legend.

The problem is that Scanlan and Marshall give us a one-note dynamo whose needle never leaves a positively aggressive red zone.

Molly, née Tobin, is now a fearless, progressive woman speaking truth to power. The tone is set when, facing an all-male Senate hearing in an introductory scene, she is told, “You have been warned, nevertheless you persist: Settle down.”

That is how the show rolls: with all the subtlety of a Hummer.

And there is plenty more where that came from in this protracted tale of resilient feminist pluck.

Newly arrived in Leadville, Colo., the young Molly wins over the local workers; befriends a pregnant widow, Julia (Whitney Bashor); and ends up marrying J.J. Brown, the manager of a silver mine (David Aron Damane).

“I can be anyone I wanna be, why not be a queen?” Molly muses. She and J.J. don’t achieve royal status, but they do strike it rich. Her folksy, rough-hewed attitude appalls Denver’s ladies who lunch until — you guessed it — she charms them, with an assist from some spiked tea.

And so it goes. Molly becomes a women’s suffrage activist. Molly fights for workers’ rights and helps the needy (“Why shouldn’t one of Denver’s ‘better families’ help Denver’s families do better?,” she says).

Although Malone almost never leaves the stage, she is not given much to work with by either Scanlan or Marshall and compensates with unbridled “I’m auditioning for Peter Pan” enthusiasm.

Eventually Molly learns J.J. had an affair (which took place offstage, lest the audience be subjected to anything vaguely resembling moral ambiguity or dramatic stakes) and decamps to Europe. Neither the decadent old continent nor the Titanic can bring her down, however. Soon she’s back in New York, where she stands up for an indigent immigrant whose entry is blocked by an immigration officer, while a repentant J.J. waits in the wings. You may never have yearned so much for a show’s heroine to calm down, even for a second.

The Unsinkable Molly Brown
Through March 22 at Abrons Arts Center, Manhattan; 866-811-4111, Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes.

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Adèle Haenel: France ‘Missed the Boat’ on #MeToo



PARIS — When Adèle Haenel said late last year that she had been abused as a child by a movie director, she became the first prominent actress in France to speak publicly about abuse in the country’s film industry. By then, the #MeToo movement was already two years old.

Families argued about her story at the dinner table. Colleagues discussed it in workplaces. Brigitte Macron, France’s first lady, said Ms. Haenel, 31, deserved “great respect.”

In a recent interview with The New York Times — Ms. Haenel’s first since she aired the accusations in November — the actress urged President Emmanuel Macron’s government to step up its efforts to tackle violence against women.

“The judicial system needs to change to better treat victims of sexual violence,” she said. “On all levels.”

The director Christophe Ruggia, whom Ms. Haenel accused of sexual harassment and inappropriate contact that she said began when she was 12, has denied the accusations through his lawyers. In January, he was charged with sexual assault on a minor under 15, and an inquiry is underway.

Although Ms. Haenel has stayed quiet since airing the accusations, similar stories have followed, including an accusation by the photographer Valentine Monnier that the movie director Roman Polanski raped her in 1975 when she was 18. (Mr. Polanski denies the accusation, although he has previously pleaded guilty to having unlawful sex with a 13-year-old girl in the United States.)

Other women came forward in the wake of Ms. Haenel’s account, highlighting abuse in the spheres of literature and sports.

A few weeks before the American release of her latest movie, “Portrait of a Lady on Fire,” Ms. Haenel sat for an interview in Paris. It was followed by a telephone conversation, and the transcript has been edited for clarity and length.

You shared your story three months ago and haven’t spoken publicly since then. How was your testimony received?

My story was like the last gram in a chemistry experiment that made everything fall out of solution. It resonated because French society had gone through a thought process about #MeToo.

I am part of the film world, but today I want to hear from women from other spheres, in academia, in organizations. The enormous number of handwritten letters, messages, emails — from women, but also from men — who had been moved by my story also made me realize that we lacked media stories on survivors of sexual violence in France.

How would you describe how #MeToo has unfolded in France?

There is a #MeToo paradox in France: It is one of the countries where the movement was the most closely followed on social media, but from a political perspective and in cultural spheres, France has completely missed the boat.

Many artists blurred, or wanted to blur, the distinction between sexual behavior and abuse. The debate was centered on the question of [men’s] “freedom to bother,” and on feminists’ purported puritanism. But sexual abuse is abuse, not libertine behavior.

People are talking about it, though, and #MeToo has left its mark. France is boiling over with questions about it.

How did that help you tell your own story?

It helped me realize that mine was not just personal, but one of many women and children, that we all carry. But I didn’t feel ready to share it when #MeToo emerged. It took me a long time to make the personal journey to look at myself as a victim. I also don’t think I moved any faster than French society.

Some politicians in France criticized you for sharing your story in the media without pressing charges initially. Why did you do that?

We have a justice system that doesn’t make violence against women a priority. Some public figures expressed their surprise, but do they know what it takes, today, for a woman to face the judicial system in France? Does anyone take into account the huge challenges that lay along the path of a female victim of sexual violence?

My case is now being treated in an ideal manner, with trained police and investigators who are attentive and well-meaning. I wish all survivors could have treatment like this.

Some women have complained that their cases didn’t receive the same treatment.

Under French law, rape is a sexual act committed with violence, surprise or under constraint: It is centered on the method used by the abuser, not the absence of consent from the victim. But what if during the assault a victim is in total shock? How do you seek justice?

We also have to believe all the women who speak out: Whenever a woman has less power than a man, one suspects her of wanting revenge. We have nothing to gain from coming forward as a victim, and the consequences on our private life are very negative.

President Emmanuel Macron has called French society “sick with sexism” and has vowed to combat violence against women and promote gender equality. How do you see the government’s actions in this regard?

There isn’t enough funding dedicated to changing the situation, and we have in our current government a representative who has been accused of abuse by different women. Keeping him in position sends out the signal that it isn’t so serious.

The government’s sluggish reaction to the #MeToo phenomenon makes you think that the state tolerates an amount of violence against women. It remains accepted to a certain extent.

Many recent conversations about sexual violence in the film world in France have focused on Roman Polanski, who has been nominated for the Césars, the French equivalent of the Oscars, for his latest film “An Officer and a Spy.” You’ve been nominated, too.

Distinguishing Polanski is spitting in the face of all victims. It means raping women isn’t that bad.

When “An Officer and a Spy” was released, we heard outcries about censorship. It isn’t censorship — it’s about choosing who one wants to watch. And old rich white men, rest assured: You own all of the communication channels.

No, real censorship in French film is how some people suffer from invisibility. Where are the people of color in film? The directors of color? There are exceptions, like Ladj Ly, whose film has had enormous success, or Mati Diop, but that doesn’t reflect the reality of the film world at all. They remain a minority. For now, most stories take the classic white, male, heterosexual point of view.

But “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” offers a different vision of love and human interactions.

We don’t apply a traditional playbook, which is “falling in love without understanding why.” That usually includes domination and unequal power relations that are often considered like a motor for eroticism.

This film frees itself of that. We offer something that politically, artistically, makes us less submissive. It is a new version of desire, a cross between intellectual, carnal and inventive excitement.

What are you plans now? Are they affected by the impact of your story?

It is too early to say, but it doesn’t really matter if it harms my career. I think I did something good for the world, something that makes me feel upright. I am going to act in a play at the end of the year, but I don’t know yet how it has affected the way people see me.

I walk around Paris on foot — I don’t live in a bubble. Sometimes people thank me for speaking out when they see me in the street. When people thank me, it moves me, since the goal was to help. It makes me proud and joyful.

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Diana Serra Cary, Child Star ‘Baby Peggy’ of Silent Films, Dies at 101



She hated it. “Fighting for $3 a day in the world of extras — it was dreadful,” Ms. Cary told The Wall Street Journal in 2012. “And it was also sort of shameful, because the people who were doing the extra work were the former silent stars, many of them that I knew, who were adults, and for them it was a very crushing blow. I thought of it as being a galley slave.”

The family resorted to food coupons from the Motion Picture Relief Fund. The Los Angeles School Board finally insisted that the girl attend classes, and she enrolled at Lawlor Professional School, which had flexible schedules for young actors, enabling her to continue working. Fellow students included Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney. Later, she went to Fairfax High School in Los Angeles.

After graduating, she eloped in 1938 with her first boyfriend, Gordon Ayres, a movie extra. They were divorced in 1948. She was a switchboard operator and a bookstore clerk, and then managed a gift shop in Santa Barbara. She told no one of her past, and took the name Diana Serra. In 1954, she married Bob Cary, an artist, and took his surname. They had a son, Mark. Her husband died in 2001. Besides her son, she is survived by a granddaughter, Stephanie.

The Carys settled in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he painted and she became a freelance journalist, writing magazine articles. In 1970, they moved to La Jolla, part of San Diego, and she began a new career as a film historian. Her first book, “The Hollywood Posse” (1975), was a well-received account of stunt riders in film. Her second, “Hollywood’s Children” (1978), recounted the often troubling stories of child actors.

But it was the years of work on her memoir, “Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy? The Autobiography of Hollywood’s Pioneer Child Star” (1996), that proved therapeutic and redemptive. She re-examined her life in silent films, her parents’ conduct in frittering away her fortune, the studios’ harsh working conditions and the fates of child stars who, like her, were left impoverished, emotionally scarred and largely forgotten.

In “Jackie Coogan: The World’s Boy King: A Biography of Hollywood’s Legendary Child Star” (2003), she wrote about her old friend, who sued his mother and stepfather in 1938 for spending his more than $3 million in earnings on furs, diamonds, homes and expensive cars.

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