Deaths Elsewhere

Deaths Elsewhere

April 28, 2003

Abram Bergson, 89, a Baltimore-born Harvard University economist whose research on the Soviet economy had broad U.S. policy implications during the Cold War, died Wednesday in Youville Hospital in Cambridge, Mass.

Mr. Bergson, a longtime director of the Russian Research Center at Harvard, was a scrupulous researcher who went to great lengths to make sure his assessments were not tainted by right- or left-wing ideology.

"He was the first American economist to become an expert on the economy of the Soviet Union," economist Robert Solow, a Nobel laureate, said Thursday. "He scrupulously avoided ideology. You never quite knew where he stood. It was a big help in his dealings with the Soviet Union."

Mr. Bergson was born Abram Burk in Baltimore. His father was a Russian immigrant whose name was "Americanized" when he passed through Ellis Island. In 1940, the year he earned his doctorate, Mr. Bergson and his brother Gus legally changed their names to Bergson to reflect their Jewish heritage.

He graduated from the Johns Hopkins University and earned a master's degree and his doctorate at Harvard.

"He had two strings to his bow," Paul Samuelson, another Nobel laureate, said Thursday. "He was an economic theorist as well as the foremost authority on the Soviet [gross national product.]"

Mr. Bergson pioneered methods to estimate the superpower's income and industrial production that became standard usage for the CIA and academia. "He and his students were the people who learned how to decode information on the Soviet economy and gave American policy-makers some notion of what was going on in there," said Mr. Solow.

During World War II, Mr. Bergson was director of the Soviet desk at the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the CIA. After the war, he directed Soviet studies at Columbia University until 1956, when he became director of the Russian Research Center at Harvard.

Mr. Bergson's survivors include his wife, three daughters, and a sister, Rosalie Berman of Glyndon.

Martha Wright Griffiths, 91, a longtime U.S. representative who was a legend in Michigan's Democratic politics and one of the most effective women's civil rights legislators of her day, died Tuesday at her home in Armada, Mich.

Known for her sharp intellect and blunt language, she entered Congress in 1955, was re-elected nine times and served through 1974, when she chose not to run again. She successfully fought to bring women under the protection of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, her crowning achievement in Congress.

Her persistence became a decisive factor in House approval of the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution in 1970.

Mrs. Griffiths pursued passage of the amendment calmly, with the persuasive skills of the trial lawyer she once was. Her arguments went a long way toward persuading a male-dominated House to subscribe to a cause that had been on the table since U.S. women were enfranchised in 1923.

The Senate followed suit in 1972, and the proposed amendment then went to the states for approval. It gained a majority but fell three states short of the 38 needed for ratification.

Opponents of ratification raised the specter of economic ruin and combat duty for women, but Mrs. Griffiths continued the fight at the state level. She and Phyllis Schlafly, a principal opponent of the ERA, sharply debated the issue at a national forum in 1976.

"If we had five minutes more," said Rosemary Mullaney, one of the forum's organizers, "they would have killed each other."

Sir Bernard Katz, 92, who shared the 1970 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his work explaining how messages are transmitted between nerves and muscles, died April 20 in London.

He was honored, along with the physiologists Ulf von Euler and Julius Axelrod, for describing in separate lines of research how brain cells communicate with one another and induce the body to move. Their work helped lay the foundation for modern psychopharmacology, which explains mechanisms for drug addiction and mental illness and the effects of certain poison gases.

Charles Rolland Douglass, 93, who was awarded an Emmy a decade ago for his invention of TV laugh-track technology in the 1950s, died April 8 in Templeton, Calif.

Mr. Douglass created the Laff Box - essentially a series of audiotape loops that could be controlled by a sound editor. Originally, the device was intended to simply fill in the sound holes of early 1950s TV shows that re-shot scenes after the studio audience had gone home. But its use was soon expanded to exaggerate audience laughter and to provide laughter for shows shot without a studio audience.

According to television lore, the original laughs and applause for the machine were stripped from an episode of The Red Skelton Show, said Ron Simon, a curator at the Museum of Television & Radio in New York. That show was picked because Skelton was performing in pantomime, which offered a chance for dialogue-free recording.

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