PASSINGS: Paul Johnson, John R. ‘Jack’ Beckett, Bill Wagner, John Willis, Rudolf Leopold, Lorn Brown
Longtime L.A. traffic reporter
Paul Johnson, 75, a longtime Los Angeles traffic reporter who worked at KNBC-TV Channel 4 for 22 years and was known for his signature phrase “Buckle up, be careful out there,” died Tuesday at his home in Orange Park Acres, the TV station announced.
Johnson had not appeared on the “Today in L.A.” morning show since undergoing surgery for a brain tumor in January.
Johnson’s baritone voice delivered reports on traffic snarls, and the popular reporter always finished with “Buckle up, be careful out there.” He worked for Burbank’s NBC4 since August 1988 as both a weather and traffic reporter.
A native of Litchfield, Minn., Johnson’s broadcast career included positions at Los Angeles radio stations KZLA, KFAC, KUTE and KIIS.
John R. ‘Jack’ Beckett
Former head of Transamerica Corp.
John R. “Jack” Beckett, 92, the former chief executive of Transamerica Corp. who commissioned the landmark pyramid-shaped corporate building in San Francisco’s financial district, died June 17 at his home in Atherton, Calif. The cause was not given.
Beckett became president of Transamerica in 1960, rising to chairman and CEO before retiring in 1983. During that time he led the company’s transition from a holding company for Bank of America into a diversified financial services firm.
Beckett hired Los Angeles architect William Pereira to build the distinctive 853-foot pyramid office tower in downtown San Francisco. Construction began in 1969, and for years critics complained about the unusual shape of the corporate skyscraper. In time it became a celebrated civic landmark.
Born Feb. 26, 1918, in San Francisco, Beckett grew up in Marin County. He received bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from Stanford University.
He helped revitalize N.Y. wine industry
Bill Wagner, 83, a winery owner who played a major role in revitalizing the Finger Lakes wine industry in west-central New York beginning in the 1970s, died Saturday at his home in Lodi, N.Y., said his son John. The cause was not disclosed.
Wagner grew grapes on his family’s farm for more than three decades before producing his first wines for sale in 1979 as founder of Wagner Vineyards on the eastern shore of Seneca Lake. He quickly earned renown for growing European-American hybrid grapes.
Best known for its Rieslings, the winery produces 35 wines from 20 grape varieties grown on 250 acres of vineyards.
A third-generation farmer, Stanley A. “Bill” Wagner was born in Elmira, N.Y., in 1927. He dropped out of high school to join the Navy in World War II, then returned to the farm where his parents’ crops included grapes, cherries and peaches.
Wagner bought a few acres of land and grew grapes for local New York winemakers before focusing on growing grapes for his own winery.
He added a microbrewery in 1997.
Longtime editor of Theatre World and Screen World
John Willis, 93, a theater and film historian who was the longtime editor of the annual publications Theatre World and Screen World, died of lung cancer Friday at his home in Manhattan.
Willis arrived in New York in 1945 looking for work as an actor. He soon got a job as a typist for the first issue of Theatre World, which chronicled the 1944-45 Broadway season.
In 1965 Willis became editor of Theatre World, which serves as a pictorial and statistical record of Broadway, off-Broadway and regional theater productions. He also began editing the equally comprehensive Screen World, which covers foreign and domestic film releases.
As editor, Willis produced the Theatre World Awards, recognizing promising newcomers in the acting ranks.
Willis received a Tony Award in 2001 on behalf of Theatre World for excellence in theatre.
Born Oct. 16, 1916, in Morristown, Tenn., Willis received a bachelor’s degree from Milligan College in East Tennessee and a master’s in English from the University of Tennessee. He taught English before joining the Navy in World War II. After the war, he moved to New York and for many years taught high school English while also working at Theatre World and Screen World.
He retired in 2008.
Renowned Austrian art collector
Rudolf Leopold, 85, who assembled Austria’s largest private art collection, including works allegedly stolen by the Nazis, died Tuesday at a Vienna hospital after suffering multiple organ failure, said Klaus Pokorny, a spokesman for Vienna’s famous Leopold Museum.
Leopold is credited with assembling the country’s largest and most important private art collection, which includes more than 5,000 works by artists such as Egon Schiele, Gustav Klimt and Oskar Kokoschka.
But the collection — which draws art aficionados from around the world — has been criticized in recent years by Austria’s Jewish community and others who claim that it contains works seized by the Nazis that should be returned to their rightful owners or heirs.
Leopold disputed allegations in 2008 that he must have been aware when he acquired artworks of the possibility that they had been seized from people persecuted by the Nazis.
Born in Vienna on March 1, 1925, Leopold began collecting art in 1947 and soon became enamored by Schiele. Over the years, Leopold became known as an expert on paintings by the Austrian artist.
Lorn Brown, a broadcaster for the Chicago White Sox and Bulls, New York Mets and Milwaukee Brewers, among others, died June 24 of an apparent heart attack in Las Cruces, N.M., his family said. He was 71.
-- Times staff and wire reports
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