PASSINGS: George Bignotti, William A. Graham, George Zenovich

George Bignotti

Chief mechanic for 7 Indy 500 winners

George Bignotti, 97, who set a record as the chief mechanic for seven winners of the Indianapolis 500, died in his sleep of natural causes Fridayin Las Vegas, his daughter Mary Mendez said.

As a mechanic, Bignotti won the Indy 500 with drivers A.J. Foyt in 1961 and 1964, Graham Hill in 1966, Al Unser in 1970 and 1971, Gordon Johncock in 1973 and Tom Sneva in 1983.

Bignotti also holds the record for most wins overall in Indy-car history with more than 80 victories.


“He set a standard for mechanical excellence and preparation at the Indianapolis 500 that has yet to be matched and may never be reached,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway President J. Douglas Boles said in a statement.

On Twitter, former Indy 500 winner Mario Andretti said, “We lost a true legend of Indy Car. George Bignotti did not need a compiuter [sic] to perform magic. Just ask AJ Foyt or Al Unser.”

Born Jan. 12, 1916, in San Francisco, Bignotti got into race-car preparation after high school by following his brothers Al and John into the sport in the Bay Area.

Later, after he had worked on cars at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the mid-1950s, he realized, “I could build a car as good as anything I’d seen at Indy” and decided to become a chief mechanic, he told Sports Illustrated in 1971.

Along the way, Bignotti deftly handled the transition of Indy-style cars from front-engine roadsters to sleeker, rear-engine cars. He was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1993.

William A. GrahamVeteran TV and film director

William A. Graham, 87, a veteran television and film director whose TV movie and miniseries credits include “The Hunt for the Unicorn Killer,” “Elvis and the Colonel: The Untold Story,” “The Man Who Captured Eichmann” and “Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones,” died Sept. 12 of complications from pneumonia, according to his wife, Janet.

Graham also directed Elvis Presley’s last film, 1969’s “Change of Habit.” His other film credits include “Return to the Blue Lagoon” (1991) and “Where the Lilies Bloom” (1974).

Born May 15, 1926, in New York City, Graham served in the Navy and attended Yale University. He studied at the Neighborhood Playhouse in New York and in the mid-1950s began directing segments of TV anthology programs including “Kraft Theatre” and “Omnibus.”

He directed the pilots of “The Big Valley” (1965) and “Police Story” (1973) in a long and prolific career working in episodic TV series. His dozens of directing credits include “Naked City,” “12 O’Clock High,” “The FBI” and “The Fugitive” in the 1960s and “The X-Files” in the 1990s.

A longtime resident of Malibu, Graham was an avid sailor.

George Zenovich

Helped enact farm labor law

George Zenovich, 91, a former Democratic legislator and appellate court justice who helped write landmark legislation on behalf of agricultural workers, died Wednesday in Fresno, his family said. He had cancer.

As a state senator, Zenovich helped enact in 1975 the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act, which became the first law in the nation recognizing the rights of farmworkers to bargain collectively.

He also coauthored a measure to create the California Arts Council and another to establish the California Housing Finance Agency, authorizing bonds for low- and moderate-income housing.

After Zenovich spent 17 years in the state Legislature, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the 5th District Court of Appeals in 1979. Zenovich returned to politics in the mid-1980s as a lobbyist.

Born April 29, 1922, Zenovich grew up in Fresno and learned to play a variety of musical instruments. He served in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II, then attended Cal State Fresno. He graduated in 1947 with a political science degree, then earned a law degree from the Southwestern University School of Law in Los Angeles.

He met his future wife, Vera — known as Kika — while visiting relatives in Yugoslavia. They married that year in Belgrade.

Back home, Zenovich opened a private practice as an attorney and served on the Fresno Democratic Central Committee and then as Fresno County coordinator for John F. Kennedy’s 1960 presidential campaign.

He was elected to the Assembly in 1962 and four years later was appointed majority floor leader by Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh.

In 1970, Zenovich made the jump to the Senate.

Times staff and wire reports