December 27, 2012
Puppetry pioneer created 'Thunderbirds' TV show
Gerry Anderson, 83, a puppetry pioneer and creator of the British sci-fi hit "Thunderbirds" TV show, died Wednesday at a nursing home near Oxfordshire, England, after being diagnosed with mixed dementia two years ago, said his son, Jamie.
Anderson, whose television career began in the 1950s, was known for his use of "supermarionation" — a puppetry technique using thin wires to control marionettes.
He developed the technique for a number of British TV series, including "Thunderbirds," about ex-astronaut Jeff Tracy and his sons combating evil with advanced technology and the Thunderbird planes. Other series Anderson created using the technique included "Supercar" and "Fireball XL5."
The technique proved to have a lasting influence, as demonstrated by "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who made their 2004 film "Team America: World Police" using a similar marionette style.
Along with his success in children's programming, Anderson created several fully live-action series aimed at an adult audience, including "UFO " and "Space: 1999."
Anderson didn't intend to be confined to the puppet film genre.
"I was bitterly disappointed to be working with puppets," Anderson said in a 2002 Times article. "But I needed the money. So I tried to improve the puppet film because I wanted to say to the industry, 'If I can make puppet films like this, surely I can do live action very well.' But of course I dug my own grave, as it were, because the better the puppet film, the more they wanted."
Frank Calabrese Sr.
Chicago mob hit man
Chicago mobster Frank Calabrese Sr., 75, a hit man who strangled victims and then slashed their throats to be sure they were dead, died Tuesday at the Butner Federal Medical Center in North Carolina, according to a spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Calabrese had been in poor health during his last few years in prison, said his attorney, Joseph Lopez.
Calabrese was among five men convicted in 2007 at the so-called Family Secrets trial, which resulted from a major, multiyear effort by the federal government to weaken the Chicago Outfit, as the city's organized crime family calls itself.
The investigation also was aimed at clearing 18 unsolved mob murders dating to the early 1970s. Calabrese was blamed for many of them and sentenced to life in prison. Calabrese's son Frank Jr. had helped put his father behind bars by secretly recording him boasting about mob killings.
It was Chicago's biggest underworld trial in decades and it produced sensational testimony, including a description from his brother of how Calabrese preferred to strangle victims with a rope and then slash their throats to make sure they were dead.
None of the defendants was charged with murder. They were convicted of racketeering, but the jury held Calabrese and two others responsible for various killings designed to silence witnesses and mete out mob vengeance.
Born March 17, 1937, in Chicago, Calabrese grew up in a neighborhood plagued by organized crime. His formal education ended after grammar school and his entry into organized crime came almost naturally, his son said.
"He was a tough kid and he made money," his son said. "Those are the things [the mob] looked for. He grew up behind an old mob hangout. One day people were sent to the house. They whistled my father in and said, 'Now you work for us.' "
— Los Angeles Times staff and wire reports
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