Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

January 08, 2003

Jean Kerr, 80, whose wry wit and unerring eye for life's everyday absurdities kept legions of readers and theatergoers laughing with books including Please Don't Eat the Daisies and plays including Mary, Mary, died Sunday in White Plains, N.Y., apparently of pneumonia.

The widow of drama critic Walter Kerr, with whom she wrote several plays, she was well acquainted with the glamour, grit and egocentric follies of life in the theater, but she also had a gift for finding the comic in the commonplace anxieties of suburbia and married life.

She cheerfully acknowledged doing most of her writing in the family car, parked blocks from the scrambling chaos of children and pets. ("There is nothing to do but write, after I get the glove compartment tidied up.")

Mrs. Kerr scored her first big success outside the theater with the publication in 1957 of Please Don't Eat the Daisies, a witty and wide-ranging collection of pieces on topics ranging from the pet dogs in her life to the oddities of the Kerrs' home in Larchmont, N.Y., which had a two-story fireplace and a carillon that played the duet from Carmen.

The book became a runaway best seller and then a popular movie in 1960 with David Niven and Doris Day as a husband and wife only marginally in charge of a chaotic suburban household. It also became a television situation comedy that ran on NBC from 1965 to 1967.

Mrs. Kerr took Broadway by storm in 1961 with Mary, Mary, a comedy about a divorced couple who seem headed for new and misguided relationships - he with a sleek, health-obsessed younger woman, she with a smooth-talking film actor - until they collide with the fact that they still love and need each another. It became one of the longest-running productions of the decade, with more than 1,500 performances.

She also was the author of The Snake Has All the Lines, Penny Candy (1970) and How I Got to Be Perfect (1978), collections of humorous essays that reflected her tongue-in-cheek view of the world around her.

Mamie Till Mobley, 81, the mother of Emmett Till, whose 1955 lynching became a defining event of the civil rights movement, died of heart failure Monday in Chicago. She had also suffered from kidney failure, though she continued speaking around the country about the killing of her 14-year-old son.

"People have told me to let this thing die, even people in my own family. But people need to be aware," Mrs. Mobley said in an interview last month with the Associated Press.

Emmett, a black teen-ager from Chicago. was vacationing in Money, Miss., on Aug. 24, 1955, when he allegedly whistled at a white woman. Four days later, Emmett was abducted from his uncle's home. His battered body was found in the Tallahatchie River.

An all-white jury acquitted half-brothers J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant in the death, though Look magazine published an article with their alleged confession four months later.

Mrs. Mobley had said that her son was naive and didn't understand the reality of lynchings at the time, though she had warned him.

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