PASSINGS: John Finnegan, Nan Merriman, Sidney Reznick


John Finnegan

Character actor appeared regularly on ‘Columbo’

John Finnegan, 85, a character actor who portrayed a scout in the 1984 baseball film “The Natural” and regularly appeared on television’s “Columbo,” died Sunday at his Palm Desert home from pneumonia and complications of old age, said his wife, Carolynn.


At the Actors Studio in his native New York City he became friends with John Cassavetes and Peter Falk, two connections that helped Finnegan when he moved to Los Angeles in the early 1950s.

With Falk in the starring role of Det. Columbo, Finnegan played a wide variety of supporting parts between 1972 and 2003 in the detective series and television movies. Finnegan also appeared with Falk in the Cassavetes-directed films “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974) and “Big Trouble” (1986).

As old scout Sam Simpson in the opening scenes of “The Natural,” which starred Robert Redford, Finnegan “carries the feeling of an earlier America,” the New Yorker said of his performance in 1984.

His nearly 70 television and film projects included voicing Warren T. Rat, a villain in the 1986 animated movie “An American Tail,” and playing a judge in the 1991 Oliver Stone film “JFK.”

Born Aug. 18, 1926, Finnegan was one of 11 children of Irish immigrants and served in the Navy during World War II.

With his first wife, he had four children. After she died in 1989, he met Carolynn and they were married in 1992.


Nan Merriman

Operatic mezzo-soprano, recitalist

Nan Merriman, 92, a mezzo-soprano who was well regarded during a relatively short operatic career from the mid-1940s until her early retirement in 1965, died July 22 at her home in Los Angeles. She was suffering the complications of old age, according to close family friend Suzanne Jeffers.

Born April 28, 1920, in Pittsburgh, Katherine-Ann Merriman moved with her family to Los Angeles and began voice training. She sang on movie soundtracks in the early 1940s and was hired by Laurence Olivier to sing in a traveling production of “Romeo and Juliet.” Her opera debut came in 1942 with the Cincinnati Summer Opera as La Cieca in “La Gioconda.”

After hearing Merriman sing, conductor Arturo Toscanini sought her out to perform with the NBC Symphony Orchestra. Beginning in 1943 she was heard on broadcast concerts and recordings as Orfeo in Gluck’s “Orfeo ed Euridice,” as well as parts in Verdi operas: Emilia in “Otello,” Maddalena in “Rigoletto” and Meg Page in “Falstaff.”

After World War II she performed in Europe and became known across the continent for her portrayals of Dorabella in Mozart’s “Cosi Fan Tutte.”


Merriman retired from the stage in 1965 after marrying Dutch tenor Tom Brand, but recordings she made of operas and recitals of French and Spanish songs continued to be praised by critics. Her voice was called “lush” and “instantly recognizable for its warm, characterful use of vibrato ... one of the finest of her generation” in the International Dictionary of Opera.

Sidney Reznick

Comedy writer for Gleason, Hope, Carson

Sidney Reznick, 92, who wrote jokes, sketches, dialogue and scripts for Jackie Gleason, Garry Moore, Bob Hope, Johnny Carson and other radio and TV comedians, died July 24 in Los Angeles, his family announced. The cause was not given.

Born in New York on July 29, 1919, Reznick began writing comedy when he was in high school. Starting in the early 1940s, he wrote for radio and, later, for television. Among his credits are “The Alan Young Show,” “The Garry Moore Show,” “The Jackie Gleason Show” and game shows including “Meet Your Match,” “I’ve Got a Secret” and “Sez Who?” He was a staff writer on “The Tonight Show With Johnny Carson.”

Reznick was also the author of a 1954 manual, “How to Write Jokes.”

Times staff reports