PASSINGS: Celes King IV, Mitch Leigh


Celes King IV

Community activist and entrepreneur

Celes King IV, 70, a South Los Angeles community activist whose father was civil rights advocate Celes King III, died Saturday at a San Diego hospital, a family spokesman said.


Adrian Dove, chairman of the California Congress of Racial Equality, said King died during surgery after a heart attack last week. King was the group’s vice chairman.

Despite a previous heart attack, a stroke and the loss of a leg to diabetes, King vigorously advocated for educational and prison reform, among other causes, Dove said.

With his prosthetic leg, King drove his Saab convertible from Los Angeles to the state Capitol every week during legislative sessions. Dressed in sharp pastel suits with matching shoes, he buttonholed lawmakers on diverse issues, including prison realignment and other changes that have hit bail-bonds businesses hard.

That was a topic close to the family; in 1947, King’s parents started a bail-bonds business in South Los Angeles that is now run by King’s sister Teri.

King also built a coalition that changed plans for a proposed subway to keep businesses on Crenshaw Boulevard intact, Dove said.

Born in Los Angeles on Oct. 19, 1943, King was an entrepreneur who at various times operated a pool hall, set up an air shuttle between Miami and Las Vegas, and started a bar in Denver.


His first major foray into local affairs was organizing opposition that delayed the closure of the King-Drew Medical Center. His most recent efforts included advancing measures that would help financially stressed families keep their homes.

“All he ever really wanted was to walk in the footsteps of his father,” Dove said. “More and more, he was carrying the torch.”

Mitch Leigh

Jingle writer and Broadway musical producer

Mitch Leigh, 86, a successful advertising jingle writer whose debut attempt at writing music for a Broadway show became the instant, celebrated hit “Man of La Mancha” and earned him a Tony Award, died Sunday in New York of pneumonia and complications from a stroke.

Leigh followed up his early theatrical success by producing and directing for the Broadway stage, including a 1985 production of “The King and I” with Yul Brynner, for which he earned a best director Tony nomination.

He also produced “The Gershwins’ Fascinating Rhythm” in 1999; supplied the music for “Ain’t Broadway Grand” in 1993; produced “Chu Chem,” billed as the first Chinese-Jewish musical, in 1989; and backed a 1983 revival of “Mame” with Angela Lansbury. In later life, he turned to real estate and the creation of a huge environmentally clean residential and commercial project in New Jersey.

He was born Irwin Michnick in Brooklyn in 1928; his mother was illiterate and his father was a communist. He played the bassoon and served in the Army in two roles — as a baseball player for the Army team and a drum major in the Army band.

After earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music at Yale University, Leigh worked for a time in Hollywood for MGM and then became a studio musician. He created his own radio and television commercial production house in 1957, called Music Makers Inc., which employed a staff of composers, musicians and orchestrators, turning out jingles for hundreds of commercials. He penned “Nobody Doesn’t Like Sara Lee,” and his clients included American Airlines and Polaroid.

“Man of La Mancha” with a book by Dale Wasserman and lyrics by Joe Darion, won five Tony Awards, ran for more than 2,000 performances and was translated into a dozen languages. The show’s most popular song, “The Quest” (popularly known as “The Impossible Dream”) hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts in 1966 and has been recorded by dozens of artists, including Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.

Times staff and wire