PASSINGS: Gabriel Axel, Hyatt Seligman

PASSINGS: Gabriel Axel, Hyatt Seligman
Danish director Gabriel Axel backstage at the Shrine Auditorium after "Babette's Feast" won an Oscar for best foreign language film in 1988. (Lennox McLendon, Associated Press)

Gabriel Axel

Danish director of foreign film Academy Award-winner 'Babette's Feast'


Gabriel Axel, 95, who directed "Babette's Feast," winner of the Academy Award for best foreign film of 1987, died Sunday "quietly and peacefully after a long and eventful life," his daughter Karin Moerch said in a statement. She did not say where he died or give the cause of death.

Born April 18, 1918, in Denmark's second city, Aarhus, Axel divided his time between his homeland and France. He grew up in Paris, where his father owned a factory, and at age 18 returned to Denmark to work as a carpenter making furniture.

But the theater drew him, and he enrolled in the Danish Royal Theater Actors School, graduating in 1945.

Axel was born Gabriel Axel Moerch, but he dropped his last name when he joined the theater troupe of French film and stage artist Louis Jouvet in Paris. Axel directed several large projects for French television, then returned to Denmark to produce series for Denmark's public broadcaster and direct several films in the 1950s and 1960s. He also acted in films.

His international breakthrough came in 1987 with "Babette's Feast," based on a short story by Danish writer Isak Dinesen. The film is about a 19th century Parisian woman, played by French actress Stephane Audran, who finds shelter in a remote, puritanical Danish village, living with two sisters who maintain a strict religious philosophy.

Axel's works include "Prince of Jutland," also known as "Royal Deceit," a 1994 film starring Gabriel Byre, Helen Mirren and Christian Bale that tells the story of Amled, the Danish prince whose life inspired Shakespeare's "Hamlet."

Hyatt Seligman

Veteran Los Angeles County prosecutor

Prosecutor Hyatt Seligman, 64, who spent nearly 35 years with the deputy district attorney's office in Los Angeles, died Wednesday at home in Huntington Beach. The cause was kidney cancer, said his son, Todd Seligman.

Hyatt Seligman was involved in several high-profile court cases. In 1983, he co-prosecuted two doctors charged with murder for withdrawing life support and intravenous feeding from a patient who fell into a coma after elective surgery. The case, which was closely watched by the medical and legal communities, was dismissed during a preliminary hearing.

Seligman won a 1985 case against Colton physician Bruce Halstead, who was selling a "nutritional supplement" to cancer patients that was made up of water with a small amount of fecal bacteria. Seligman said the selling of the potion, for up to $150 a liter, was "the worst form of exploitation possible." The doctor was sentenced to 32 months in state prison, and his appeal in federal court failed. But in an odd twist, the case slipped through the cracks and Halstead was not imprisoned until the mistake was discovered 12 years after the original sentencing.

One of the best-known cases in which Seligman was involved concerned his own family. According to testimony in a criminal trial, his 7-year-old daughter said the family's live-in gardener had sexually molested her. The gardener denied the charge but spent more than a year in jail during legal proceedings. A jury acquitted him in 1990, and he later sued Seligman and his wife, Robin, over evidence that was destroyed before the trial. The Seligmans paid an undisclosed amount to settle the suit.

Hyatt Seligman was born April 24, 1949, in Los Angeles. He attended UCLA as an undergraduate and earned his law degree from Loyola Law School. He served in the Army for three years.

He joined the district attorney's staff in 1979 and remained there until last year. In 1984, he was a candidate for district attorney but lost the election. He served as a president of the Assn. of Deputy District Attorneys, which is the collective bargaining agent for Los Angeles County's deputy district attorneys.

Times staff and wire reports