July 25, 2007

Oscar the cat predicts patients' deaths

PROVIDENCE, R.I. - Oscar the cat seems to have an uncanny knack for predicting when nursing home patients are going to die, by curling up next to them during their final hours. His accuracy, observed in 25 cases, has led the staff to call family members once he has chosen someone. It usually means they have less than four hours to live.

"He doesn't make too many mistakes. He seems to understand when patients are about to die," said Dr. David Dosa in an interview. He describes the phenomenon in a poignant essay in Thursday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Many family members take some solace from it. They appreciate the companionship that the cat provides for their dying loved one," said Dosa, a geriatrician and assistant professor of medicine at Brown University.

The 2-year-old feline was adopted as a kitten and grew up in a third-floor dementia unit at the Steere House Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. The facility treats people with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease and other illnesses.

After about six months, the staff noticed Oscar would make his own rounds, just like the doctors and nurses. He'd sniff and observe patients, then sit beside people who would wind up dying in a few hours.

Dosa said Oscar seems to take his work seriously and is generally aloof. "This is not a cat that's friendly to people," he said.

Oscar is better at predicting death than the people who work there, said Dr. Joan Teno of Brown University, who treats patients at the nursing home and is an expert on care for the terminally ill

She was convinced of Oscar's talent when he made his 13th correct call. While observing one patient, Teno said she noticed the woman wasn't eating, was breathing with difficulty and that her legs had a bluish tinge, signs that often mean death is near.

Oscar wouldn't stay inside the room though, so Teno thought his streak was broken. Instead, it turned out the doctor's prediction was roughly 10 hours too early. Sure enough, during the patient's final two hours, nurses told Teno that Oscar joined the woman at her bedside.

Doctors say most of the people who get a visit from the sweet-faced, gray-and-white cat are so ill they probably don't know he's there, so patients aren't aware he's a harbinger of death. Most families are grateful for the advanced warning, although one wanted Oscar out of the room while a family member died. When Oscar is put outside, he paces and meows his displeasure.

No one's certain if Oscar's behavior is scientifically significant or points to a cause. Teno wonders if the cat notices telltale scents or reads something into the behavior of the nurses who raised him.

Nicholas Dodman, who directs an animal behavioral clinic at the Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and has read Dosa's article, said the only way to know is to carefully document how Oscar divides his time between the living and dying.

If Oscar really is a furry grim reaper, it's also possible his behavior could be driven by self-centered pleasures like a heated blanket placed on a dying person, Dodman said.

Nursing home staffers aren't concerned with explaining Oscar, so long as he gives families a better chance at saying goodbye to the dying.

Oscar recently received a wall plaque publicly commending his "compassionate hospice care."

July 20, 2007

So You Want to be in Pictures

I'm excited to report that Tommy L. Garrett is publishing a book in two weeks on classic movie stars. The cover photo is featured above.

Watch for my review. It's coming soon!

Tommy on YouTube:

His television appearance on Home & Garden's "Living with Ed."

His classic movies TV Show: Hollywood Classics:

MVP candidate Catchings says Fever like '98 Tennessee team

INDIANAPOLIS -- Tamika Catchings compares the talent of her Indiana Fever team to the 1998 Tennessee national champions.

Catchings' Lady Vols went 39-0 and had fun doing it. The Vols carried a swagger every time they stepped on the floor, a confidence Catchings senses from her Indiana teammates.

"This team is the most complete team I've ever played on," Catchings said. "We have an opportunity to really be a great team. It's fun to be out on the court sometimes and see how great we can be."

As the WNBA begins the second half of the season after the All-Star game, the Fever boasts a league-best 15-4 record and Catchings is considered a front-runner for MVP.

The 27-year-old forward finished in the top three in MVP balloting four times in five years, all with the Fever. She didn't finish higher, partly because her team struggled, but now coaches think she has a better shot at the league's top honor.

"She plays hard every night, whether they are 20 points up or 20 points down," New York coach Pat Coyle said after a loss at Indiana on Thursday. "She also has skill and athleticism."

Catchings ranks 12th in scoring with 16.5 points per game but leads the league in steals (3.2) and is third in rebounding (8.8), fifth in assists (4.5) and eighth in blocks (1.2) this season.

"She could probably play any position, even point guard if they asked her," Chicago coach Bo Overton said, noting Catchings' career-high 11 assists in a win over the Sky on July 8.

Indiana coach Brian Winters said Catchings can have an off night shooting and still dominate a game.

"No matter what she shoots from the floor, she does so many things to help you," he said. "She guards the best player on the other team. She can guard everybody."

Catchings has been the defensive player of the year the past two seasons and could win that award again. She was the leading vote-getter for Sunday's All-Star game, finishing with 15 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists as the East beat the West 103-99. She's also been Eastern Conference player of the week twice this season.

Catchings said winning the league MVP award would be an accomplishment, but it's not her goal.

"The only time I think about it, really, is when people ask me about it," she said. "For the most part, the biggest thing I want is a championship."

Catchings has plenty of help in that quest. She's surrounded by All-Stars, including guard Anna DeForge, center Tammy Sutton-Brown, and forward Tamika Whitmore. Tully Bevilaqua, who made the all-defense team last year, rounds out the starting five.

Guards Tan White and Sheri Sam sit on one of the league's deepest benches.

White averages 10.2 points, more than most of the league's starters. Sam started almost every game of her eight-year career with five teams before accepting a reserve role with the Fever.

But Catchings said the Fever players -- much like that great Tennessee squad -- have bought into a plan and are focused on winning, not individual awards.

"It's definitely a blessing not to have to worry about that," she said. "I'm sure some people were like, 'There might be egos, there might be too many great players on one team.' I give credit to a lot of these players that have come in here, to be able to figure out their roles and fit into this system."

She hopes team depth translates to the ultimate prize -- not the MVP award -- a ring. For that to happen, her teammates will need to stay the course.

"If we can continue to buy into us winning a championship, then the egos will be set aside," Catchings said.

July 15, 2007

Patti LuPone triumphs as Mama Rose

NEW YORK — There is no musical-theater performer more determined than Patti LuPone.

Her drive can invest a character — whether it's Eva Peron, Norma Desmond or Mrs. Lovett — with an intense theatricality that is thrilling to watch.

And those thrills are present in City Center's overwhelming revival of "Gypsy," the "King Lear" of musicals. "Lear" because its lead character, Rose, the tyrannical stage mother to end all stage mothers, dominates the show just like the mad monarch does in Shakespeare's play. And, come to think of it, both works deal with parents who have serious issues with their children.

For those who came in late, "Gypsy" is based on the memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the burlesque stripper who brought glamour, sophistication and humor to the art of disrobing in public.

Yet the show focuses on Rose, the larger-than-life woman who pushes her there, a tyrant of the first order who craves, but never gets, her own moment in the showbiz sun.

LuPone doesn't shrink from Rose's obsessiveness, but the actress makes you understand the almost pathological compulsion that makes her shove her two daughters — first June and then Louise — into the spotlight.

LuPone knows how to act the part of Rose and to sing it, too. And she has some potent memories to compete with. There's the original, of course: Ethel Merman, whose performance has been kept alive by the 1959 production's superb cast recording, and, most recently, the 2003 Broadway revival starring Bernadette Peters as a coy, more sexily manipulative Rose.

Yet this new production manages to hold its own, accomplishing something quite difficult. It does equal justice to Arthur Laurents' book, possibly the best ever written for a Broadway musical, and to the rich, flavorful score by Jule Styne and Stephen Sondheim.

Laurents, who also directed this revival, never lets his obvious affection for the bygone era of vaudeville — before it was killed by the talkies — turn sentimental. That affection is present in Styne's music, too, brash yet melodic, and Sondheim's tough-minded and often character-driven lyrics.

A parade of sharply drawn supporting characters makes "Gypsy" more than a solo turn, and Laurents has cast the show with care. Consider the wonderful Boyd Gaines. He elevates the character of Herbie, Rose's loyal yet long-suffering beau to leading-man status. He and LuPone have a complete rapport and bring a real dramatic edge to a relationship that can't survive Rose's single-mindedness.

Then there is Rose's prickly dealings with her daughter, Louise, the ugly duckling who would grow up to become the swanlike Gypsy. Laura Benanti displays a touching vulnerability — not to mention a lovely voice — as the insecure daughter, a girl always in the shadow of her mother's favorite, June. And in their eventual confrontation, Benanti rises to the challenge of a faceoff with LuPone.

Several numbers in "Gypsy" are almost impossible to ruin. Louise's introduction to the fine art of stripping — "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" — never fails to stop the show. As a trio of over-the-hill performers, Alison Fraser, Nancy Opel and particularly a deadpan Marilyn Caskey, deliriously find all the laughs.

"Gypsy" originally was directed and choreographed by the legendary Jerome Robbins. And nowhere is his contribution more invaluable than in the heartbreakingly romantic "All I Need is the Girl." It's sweetly sung and danced by Tony Yazbeck, while in the background a starry-eyed Louise mimes a partnership with him that will never happen.

Still, in the end, "Gypsy" is LuPone's show, most dramatically in "Rose's Turn," the stunning musical soliloquy that ends the evening. It's here where Rose pours out her true feelings, letting the rage and frustration of a stymied life explode. And LuPone's powerhouse delivery is dynamite.

"Gypsy" is the first in City Center's "Encores! Summer Stars" series, productions beyond the less complicated concert versions of musicals it presents earlier each year. Judging from the success of this initial offering, which runs through July 29, let's hope they make it an annual event.

July 13, 2007

For Pack's Yow, award is reminder

ESPY winner recalls Valvano's help

Jim Valvano could always make Kay Yow laugh. An award named for her late friend made Yow smile again on Wednesday at the taping of the ESPY Awards in Los Angeles.

Yow, who coached the N.C. State women's basketball team to the NCAA Tournament round of 16 despite a recurrence of breast cancer, won the first Jimmy V ESPY Award for Perseverance.

Yow's speech and memories of her former Wolfpack colleague stood as the emotional highlight of the sports world's version of the Oscars, which will be shown on ESPN at 9 p.m. Sunday.

Yow told a story of how Valvano, whom she worked with for 10 years at N.C. State, cheered her during her first occurrence of breast cancer in 1987.

"He made me laugh the entire afternoon," Yow said during her speech. "I was in a lot of pain. That's when I first learned about no pain, no gain."

Yow missed two months of the 2006-07 season fighting breast cancer and enduring chemotherapy. She returned in January and led the Wolfpack to the ACC Tournament championship game and to the NCAA third round.

This is the first year the ESPYs have included the Jimmy V award, which goes to "those who have succeeded despite obstacles and hardships placed before them."

Valvano won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the first ESPYs ceremony in March 1993, where he delivered his memorable "Don't Give Up" speech. One month later, Valvano died of cancer.

Tennessee women's basketball coach Pat Summitt presented the award to Yow.

"The determination which she showed this past season embodied the very spirit of Jimmy V and certainly would have made her former North Carolina State colleague proud," Summitt said.

Predictably, Yow deferred the credit for the award to her coaching staff, who made the trip to Los Angeles, and her players.

"They were incredible," Yow said. "My staff and my team had a mind-set of 'I will,' not 'I'll try.' That was so uplifting to me."

Yow wasn't the only North Carolina connection to the ESPYs. Barton College's men's basketball team was nominated for the Best Finish ESPY for its comeback in the final minute of the NCAA Division II national championship game.

The Bulldogs will have to be happy with just a national title. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the award for their Sept. 18 home-run barrage against the San Diego Padres in which the Dodgers tied the score on four consecutive home runs before Nomar Garciaparra's homer won the game in the 10th inning.

July 11, 2007

Lady Bird Johnson dies at 94

AUSTIN, Texas - Lady Bird Johnson, the former first lady who championed conservation and worked tenaciously for the political career of her husband, former President Lyndon B. Johnson, died Wednesday, a family spokeswoman said. She was 94.

Lady Bird Johnson returned home late last month after a week at Seton Medical Center, where she'd been admitted for a low-grade fever. Her husband died in 1973.

She died at her Austin home of natural causes about 4:18 p.m. CDT, said Elizabeth Christian, the spokeswoman. She said she was surrounded by family and friends.

She was hospitalized with a stroke in 2002 that left her with difficulty speaking. But even after that she continued to make public appearances and in May attended an event at the LBJ Library and Museum featuring historian Robert Dallek.

In March, she listened from Texas through a conference call when President Bush signed legislation naming the Education Department headquarters building in Washington, D.C., after her late husband.

The longest-living first lady in history was Bess Truman, who was 97 when she died in 1982.

The daughter of a Texas rancher, Lady Bird Johnson she spent 34 years in Washington, as the wife of a congressional secretary, U.S. representative, senator, vice president and president. The couple had two daughters, Lynda Bird, born in 1944, and Luci Baines, born in 1947. The couple returned to Texas after the presidency, and Lady Bird Johnson lived for more than 30 years in and near Austin.

"I think we all love seeing those we love loved well, and Austin has loved my mother very well. This community has been so caring," Luci Baines Johnson said in an interview with The Associated Press in 2001.

"People often ask me about walking in her shadow, following in the footsteps of somebody like Lady Bird Johnson," she said. "My mother made her own unique imprint on this land."

Former President George Bush once recalled that when he was a freshman Republican congressman from Texas in the 1960s, Lady Bird Johnson and the president welcomed him to Washington with kindness, despite their political differences.

He said she exemplified "the grace and the elegance and the decency and sincerity that you would hope for in the White House."

As first lady, she was perhaps best known as the determined environmentalist who wanted roadside billboards and junkyards replaced with trees and wildflowers. She raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to beautify Washington. The $320 million Highway Beautification Bill, passed in 1965, was known as "The Lady Bird Bill," and she made speeches and lobbied Congress to win its passage.

"Had it not been for her, I think that the whole subject of the environment might not have been introduced to the public stage in just the way it was and just the time it was. So she figures mightily, I think, in the history of the country if for no other reason than that alone," Harry Middleton, retired director of the LBJ Library and Museum, once said.

July 10, 2007

LuPone ready to make Rose bloom again in "Gypsy"

NEW YORK - The big theater va-voom of the week isn't happening on Broadway but rather a few dozen paces north, at City Center on West 55th.

That's where Patti LuPone will be belting out "Everything's Coming Up Roses," "Rose's Turn" and those other great Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim songs during a three-week run of the venerable musical-with-fangs masterpiece "Gypsy," which began previews Sunday night (July 8) and officially opens Saturday.

Does anyone need explaining that this was the great Ethel Merman hit, the monster success that capped her long and spectacular career, just as "The Visit" was the Mount Everest for Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, "Hello, Dolly!" the summit for Carol Channing and "The Entertainer" Laurence Olivier's crowning glory in the theater.

Since Merman first inhabited it in 1959, many have played and sung the role of quintessential stage mother Mama Rose: Rosalind Russell did the movie version, Angela Lansbury won a Tony for her striking interpretation in the 1974 Broadway revival, and more recently Tyne Daly and Bernadette Peters have taken their turns, not counting the dozens who have done road tours, regional revivals and summer-theater runs. Few since Merman, however, seem as adamantly right for the role as the lady who will be belting out those numbers on the City Center's stage.

Although the City Center is known as the home of the "Encores!" series of concert stagings of past-tense musicals, and this "Gypsy" is a summertime "Encores!" project, it isn't a concert version but rather a fully staged production. The kind of booking that adds bedazzle to the theater scene, the production is particularly intriguing because it's being directed by Arthur Laurents, who wrote the original book.

It has long been a part of showbiz legend that for years Laurents resisted having LuPone play the famous role. Now he's directing her in it.
Character actor Charles Lane dies at 102

SANTA MONICA, Calif. - Charles Lane, the prolific character actor whose name was little known, but whose bespectacled face and crotchety persona made him instantly recognizable to generations of movie-goers, has died, his son said Tuesday. He was 102.

The actor's son, Tom Lane, said he was talking with his father Monday evening. "He was lying in bed with his eyes real wide open," the younger Lane said. "Then he closed his eyes and stopped breathing."

Lane, whose career spanned more than 60 years, appeared in such film classics as "It's a Wonderful Life," "Mr. Deeds Goes to Town" and "Twentieth Century."

He also had a recurring role as the scheming railroad man, Homer Beadle, on the 1960s TV sitcom "Petticoat Junction" and appeared often on television's "I Love Lucy."

His crisp, stage-trained voice and no-nonsense appearance made him a natural for playing authority figures. He was a judge in "God is My Partner," a prosecutor in "Call Northside 777," a priest in "Date With an Angel" and a member of Clark Gable's newspaper editorial board in "Teacher's Pet."

In 1934, Frank Capra, then on his rise to eminence, cast Lane in a horse racing film, "Broadway Bill." Capra liked the actor's work so much he included him in nine more movies, including "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" and "You Can't Take It with You."

In Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life," he was a rent collector who shocks his boss, the evil Lionel Barrymore character, by telling him that hero James Stewart's character is a good businessman.

One of Lane's most cherished possessions was a letter from the fabled director declaring, "Well, Charlie, you've been my No. 1 crutch."

Lane continued to act into his 90s, and when he accepted an award from cable television's TV Land channel in honor of his 100th birthday, he made a point of saying he was still available for work.

In the 1931 film "Manhattan Parade," shown last month on Turner Classic Movies, Lane could be glimpsed in one of the opening scenes, playing a desk clerk waiting on a customer. The brief, uncredited bit was one of his first film appearances.

He was especially fond of his role in the "I Love Lucy" episode in which Lucy Ricardo gave birth to her son, Little Ricky. Papa Ricky (Ball's real-life husband, Desi Arnaz) was all nerves while Lane, as a fellow expectant father, was the picture of calm.

"This old guy was expecting his 10th child or something, and this nervous young man was expecting his first," Lane recalled in 2005. "It was a marvelous scene, and Desi was a fine actor."