PASSINGS: Pamela Blake, Ben Ali

Pamela Blake

Actress in action serials

Pamela Blake, 94, a B-movie actress known for her roles in such late 1940s action serials as “Chick Carter, Detective” and “Ghost of Zorro,” died of natural causes Tuesday at a Las Vegas care facility, her family said.

Born in 1915 in Oakland, Blake came to Hollywood after winning a beauty contest at age 17. Originally known by her given name, Adele Pearce, she adopted the stage name Pamela Blake in 1942, the same year she signed with MGM, according to the All Movie Internet database.

From 1934 to 1954, Blake appeared in about 50 films, and had a minor breakthrough in the classic 1942 film noir “This Gun for Hire” with Alan Ladd. That same year, she also appeared in the popular “Maisie Gets Her Man” with Ann Sothern and Red Skelton, and the western “The Omaha Trail” with James Craig.

By the early 1950s, she was regularly appearing in TV westerns such as “The Cisco Kid” and “The Range Rider.”

In 1953, she moved to Las Vegas and permanently retired to raise her two children with Mike Stokey, who created the TV game show “Pantomime Quiz.” That marriage, and an earlier one to actor and stuntman Malcolm “Bud” McTaggart, ended in divorce.

She was the widow of John Canavan, an Air Force master sergeant she married in 1983. Her son, Michael Stokey II, has been a military advisor on such films as “The Thin Red Line” (1998) and “Tropic Thunder” (2008).

Ben Ali

Founder of diner in Washington

Ben Ali, 82, the founder of Ben’s Chili Bowl diner, a landmark in Washington’s black business and entertainment district and a frequent stop for politicians and celebrities, died of congestive heart failure Wednesday at his home in Washington.

Ali opened the restaurant with his wife, Virginia, in an old movie house in 1958, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. It became a longtime fixture in the black business community, serving up bowls of chili and its trademark chili-covered half-smoke sausages.

Born in Trinidad in 1927, Ali earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Nebraska and moved to Washington to study at Howard University’s medical and dental schools. He withdrew, however, after injuring his back in a fall.

He and his new wife opened the restaurant on nearby U Street, then known as America’s “Black Broadway” for its thriving black-owned shops and theaters. Jazz greats Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald performed along the strip and were known to visit Ben’s.

More recently, Bill Cosby and President Obama have been favorite guests. This year the Ali family put up a sign: “Who eats free at Ben’s: -- Bill Cosby -- The Obama Family.” Before, only Cosby ate for free.

The restaurant has survived tumultuous times, including the 1968 race riots after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination, but Ben’s remained open, serving both protesters and police. The following years saw urban blight and subsequent gentrification in the surrounding neighborhood.

Virginia Ali, who oversaw the business with sons Kamal and Nizam in recent years, said the business survived because of community support and will be open for many years to come.

-- times staff and wire reports