Zypora Spaisman, 86, who did everything to keep Yiddish...

Deaths Elsewhere

May 27, 2002

Zypora Spaisman, 86, who did everything to keep Yiddish theater alive -- from producing plays to selling tickets to sweeping floors to her great love, acting -- died May 18 in New York City.

The Yiddish stage was the center of Mrs. Spaisman's life, from her girlhood in Poland to a Soviet labor camp to Paris and Montreal and finally to New York, where she became a principal force in maintaining the United States' only surviving Yiddish theater, the Folksbiene (People's Stage). She seems never to have made a penny for her efforts.

"Nearly single-handedly, she led the pack in the fight to keep Yiddish theater going," said Eleanor Reissa, the artistic director of the Folksbiene, for which Mrs. Spaisman was once in charge of productions.

She was born Zypora Tanenbaum in Poland, where she became a midwife in 1933. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, she and her husband, Joseph Spaisman, fled to the Russian part of Poland, and from there were taken to a labor camp in the Urals. After the war, she acted in the Yiddish theater in Lodz, Poland, Paris and Montreal. The Spaismans moved to New York in 1955.

She often created characters that combined surface humor with inner wisdom. The publication Back Stage called her "the grande dame," and The Jewish Week referred to her as "a national treasure."

Alan P. Bell, 70, a research psychologist who led a groundbreaking Kinsey Institute study two decades ago suggesting that homosexuality has a biological basis, died of a stroke May 13 in a hospital in Bloomington, Ind.

A retired professor of counseling and educational psychology at Indiana University in Bloomington, Dr. Bell was a senior research psychologist for 14 years at the Alfred C. Kinsey Institute for Sex Research. He led the Kinsey Institute study, published in 1981, that suggested that homosexuals are born with that predisposition and not influenced by traumatic experiences during childhood development.

"We found homosexuality is deep-seated and not something that one chooses to be or not to be," he said at the time. "We looked at the biological underpinnings of sexuality." Critics, however, questioned the study's finding that there is almost no correlation between early family experience and adult sexual preference, and the researchers' method of relying on participants' memories in answering researchers' questions.

Milton C. Shedd, 79, known as the "Walt Disney of the Sea," died of cancer Friday in Newport Beach, Calif. Mr. Shedd was active in marine conservation during much of his life, but his most famous project was SeaWorld, the San Diego aquarium that was home to Shamu, the killer whale.

The project began as a plan by four fraternity brothers to open a restaurant with a marine show. But once the four -- Mr. Shedd, Ken Norris, David DeMott and George Millay -- got into the project, they found it expensive and difficult. So they plunged in and built an aquarium instead. With an initial investment of $1.5 million, SeaWorld opened in 1964.

Mr. Shedd, originally an investment banker, was SeaWorld's chairman for two decades and oversaw new SeaWorld park openings in Ohio and Florida. He served in World War II and received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

Joe Cobb, 85, who played a cheerful, chubby boy named Joe in dozens of the "Our Gang" comedy films of the 1920s, died in Santa Ana, Calif., on Tuesday.

The native of Shawnee, Okla., was 5 when his father sent him to audition for producer Hal Roach's comedy series featuring children. Mr. Cobb, who also was cast in silent movies, appeared in the "Our Gang" series' last silent film, Saturday's Lesson, and its first talking short, Small Talk, in 1929.

He was recognizable in the ensemble cast with his trademark beanie cap and chubby cheeks. After his acting career ended in the early 1940s, Mr. Cobb became an assembler for North American Aviation, a division of Rockwell International. He retired in 1981.

Decades after his last film role, he appeared in Classic Comedy Teams, a 1986 documentary that looked at the "Our Gang" actors and other screen comedians, including Laurel and Hardy and the Marx Brothers.

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