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Kyriacos Demetriou, An Old-Fashioned Barber, Dies at 80
By MICHAEL T. KAUFMAN, courtesy of The New York Times

Kyriacos Demetriou, a master barber whose old-fashioned barber shop on the Upper West Side of Manhattan was such an authentic butterfly in amber that it went into the Museum of the City of New York when he retired in 1996, died on Friday. He was 80.

His son-in-law, Paul Galietti, said Demetriou had appeared to be in good health, but died suddenly while watching television at his home on East 86th Street.

Demetriou, who was called Kay by his customers, was proud that the Broadway Barbershop, which he took over in the early 50's, was the oldest in the city, having been founded in 1904.

But it was during the 40 years of his custodianship that the shop on Broadway between 103d and 104th Streets became an institution, and so did its owner.

As unisex salons proliferated and stylists replaced barbers, and fewer men knew how to provide close and bloodless shaves with well-honed straight razors, Kay and the Broadway Barbershop were often described in newspaper and magazine articles as throwbacks to a time that was less impersonal and blow-dried.

Max Ferguson, a painter and a customer of Kay's, included a portrait of the barber at work in his shop in his series of New York subjects that he considered doomed. In February 1985, The New Yorker ran a cartoon of Kay by Ed Koren that showed the barber preparing to cut the hair of a shaggy man who says: "There is something you should know before you begin; my hair works hard and it plays hard." And when the shop finally closed, many newspapers devoted long articles to the subject, all mentioning an end of an era.

While the old, shiny appliances and the milk-glass bottles marked lilac water and witch hazel helped establish the shop's atmosphere, so, too, did Kay's unchanging routine: removing the tin covers from his barber pole by 8 in the morning, presenting lollipops to younger customers and keeping his radio set tuned to WQXR, so that classical music filled the shop.

There were also more mysterious rituals.

For example, every workday evening between 5:30 and 6, a busy time when Kay almost always had customers backed up in the waiting area, a man, apparently returning from work and carrying a briefcase, would stick his head into the shop and address the barber.

"Hello," he would say.

Kay would pause and answer, "Hello, Wilson, how are you tonight?"

"Miserable," the dyspeptic Wilson would reply as he went on his way.

If Kay knew more about Wilson, he kept it to himself. He was a good conversationalist, but a discreet one. He sometimes mentioned famous customers, though he never hung their portraits in the shop, believing that all his customers were worthy of respect.

Once, he casually noted that he had cut the hair of the actor Yul Brynner, when he had hair. Among others he had trimmed and shaved were Humphrey Bogart, George Gershwin and Aaron Copland, a particular favorite.

He also told of how in 1950, when he had five barbers working for him, he had sent them in turn to tend to Gen. Dwight David Eisenhower, then the president of Columbia University. None of the men wanted to go back. Finally, he went himself and learned why.

"You see," he said, snipping away at a customer's short back and sides, "the General did not tip."

There were many other stories, but the ones he liked best were about families. He kept track of customers' children, asking what had become of the boys and girls he had once given lollipops. It was not unusual for people who had moved away years ago to come by when visiting New York, bringing their old barber up to date and learning his news.

One story Kay loved to tell was about a young man who had come into the shop because he believed his father, whom he had not seen since early childhood, was a customer.

Kay figured out who the older man was and engineered a reunion.

Over time, without any pushiness, he would also tell his own story.

He was born in Cyprus but as an infant was taken to London. The family was poor and his father had lost an arm. The child began working as a shoeshine boy in the West End, taking up a position outside a barber shop. After some time the barber invited him inside.

He watched and learned, and recalled that in order to give his first haircuts, he had to stand on a milk crate.

He had a gift for barbering; while in his 20's he won a contest as the best barber in England. For a while he had his own barbershop in London. He arrived in New York before the World War II, cutting hair in a number of places before finding his way to the Broadway Barbershop.

During the 80's and 90's, as barbershop demographics shifted to younger people and longer hair, and his rent went up, Kay's business suffered.

He had to let the manicurist go, as well as the other barbers. Location scouts for movies and television came by regularly with offers to tape and film in the shop.

Kay always declined, saying that would disrupt his customers. Increasingly, he thought of retirement, but put the idea aside when he considered customers like the postal worker who stopped by each morning for a shave.

"Nobody knows how to give a good shave anymore," Kay said. "They call themselves stylists, but you ask them to give you a shave and they don't know how."

He is survived by his wife, Niki, and his daughter, Gloria Galietti of Queens.

When he finally closed the shop at age 78, donating its furnishings to the museum, Kay still practiced barbering, regularly visiting some of his old customers at their homes.

May 18, 1999

HELEN A. MAYER, Dumbo's Creator, Dies at 91
By Eric Pace, courtesy of the The New York Times

Helen Aberson Mayer, who wrote the children's story that inspired the 1941 Walt Disney cartoon, "Dumbo," died last Saturday at her home in Manhattan. She was 91.

Helen Aberson, as she was known when she wrote the tale, was born in Syracuse and received a bachelor's degree in 1929 from Syracuse University. In the 1930's she was the host of a Syracuse talk-radio program and later did clerical work in Manhattan.

After conceiving Dumbo and other vivid animal characters, she returned to Syracuse and wrote "Dumbo, the Flying Elephant." Asked how she came to write it, her son, Andrew, said: "She just got an inspiration about a flying elephant." He said she liked to create animal characters and plotting that represented, to a degree, people she knew or situations she had been in.

"Yes, there is trial and travail" for Dumbo in the story, Mayer added, "but he persevered, and in the long run he was successful." In the story, Dumbo the baby elephant is at first mocked because of his oversize ears but he becomes a circus star when he realizes that they allow him to fly. Mayer said that to some degree the story represented his mother's struggles. "At times her life was difficult," he said.

Harold Pearl illustrated the story, Mayer said, and the two were listed as its co-authors when it was published in 1939 by a company called Roll-a-Book.

The story, as it is remembered by Joe Grant, who worked with Disney, was published in a distinctive format. Grant was one of the two Disney "story men" who adapted it for the screen.

Miss Aberson's story and about a dozen illustrations appeared on a small, short scroll that was built into a box, he said.

Grant said he remembered seeing only one "Dumbo" box-and-scroll, the one that was used in making the movie. "It was sort of a little novelty idea," he said. "As you rolled the little wheels on top, the pictures would appear like they would in a film."

The author's family said Roll-a-Book published the story as a regular book in one printing of no more than a thousand copies. They said they had never heard about the box-and-scroll version.

It must have been soon after the story came out that Walt Disney bought rights to it, said Dave Smith, archives director for the Walt Disney Company, in Burbank, California.

Asked why Walt Disney decided to make a movie from the story, Smith said he had recently finished "Pinocchio" (1940), which was "kind of a dark story, and I'm sure he was looking for something a little more upbeat for his next film."

The Disney movie makers had stuck to the story's basic plot line, while adding much more detail, Grant said.

Mayer said the Disney people asked his mother to go to California in 1939.

"She was out there until 1941," he said. "She was on the premises and they were consulting her."

Smith, the Disney archivist, said he could find no record of Miss Aberson's having been an employee of the company, but that she might have worked for it nonetheless. Grant said he thought he remembered meeting her and seeing her looking at preliminary drawings for the film.

When "Dumbo" was released in October 1941, The New York Times critic Bosley Crowther called it "a picture which touches the very heart of sentiment" and added, "It may not be the most impressive feature that Disney has turned out, but it certainly is the most winsome, and it is the one that leaves you with the warmest glow."

Miss Aberson's husband, Richard, recalled that after Disney bought the rights to her story, it was republished in book form, at least once, almost exactly as she had written it. Her son said she kept on writing children's stories into the 1960's, but that he knew of no others that were published.

Besides her son, of Staten Island, and her husband, she is survived by a grandson.

Saturday, April 10, 1999

Dr. Jule Eisenbud, Parapsychologist Researcher Known for 'Thoughtographs'

Dr. Jule Eisenbud, a psychiatrist, author and researcher best known for his work in parapsychology, particularly his controversial experiments with Ted Serios, a Chicago bellhop who appeared to be able to project mental images onto photographic film, died last Wednesday in Denver. He was 90.

Eisenbud researched numerous areas of psychiatry, psychoanalysis, anthropology and hypnosis during his career. His opinions were also sought on issues ranging from the Kinsey Report on Male Sexuality to racial prejudice.

"He had the courage to explore the unknown," said Patrice Keane, executive director of the American Society for Psychical Research in New York.

It was Eisenbud's work with Serios, however, that gained him broader recognition and, to some degree, ridicule.

In his book, "The World of Ted Serios" (William Morrow & Co., 1967), Eisenbud described Serios' "thoughtographs," which were said to be dream-like images captured on film, a la Uri Geller's bending of a spoon.

The book was criticized in a review in The New York Times by H.J. Eysenck, a professor of psychology at the University of London and the author of a dozen books, including "Sense and Nonsense in Psychology." Eysenck wrote, "Dr. Eisenbud seems to have little notion of what experiments are and less liking for the rigors and methodological niceties of scientific research."

Eysenck also wrote that trickery probably produced the photographs, although no one, to this day, has been able to show just how such a trick was performed. "The possibilities are that Ted was the culprit, and Eisenbud and his friends the dupes, or that Eisenbud was an accomplice," he wrote.

Ms. Keane said Eisenbud's professional standing helped shield him from the sting of such criticism. "He was brilliant," she said.

She added that Eisenbud's legacy would not be the Serios photographs but rather "his observations on how unconscious processes affect psychic functioning will illuminate the path of psychical research for years to come."

Jule Eisenbud was born in New York on Nov. 20, 1908. He received bachelor's and medical degrees from Columbia University.

In 1938, he began private practice in psychiatry and psychoanalysis. In 1950, he moved to Denver with his family, where he continued his private practice and became associate clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Colorado Medical School. He was the first psychoanalyst to establish a private practice in Denver.

Eisenbud was a fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, a member of the American Psychoanalytic Association and a charter member of the Parapsychological Association. He also joined with Dr. Jan Ehrenwald, Dr. Montague Ullman and other physicians in forming the medical section of the American Society for Psychical Research.

Eisenbud's wife, Molly, died in 1995. He is survived by two sons, John and Dr. Eric Eisenbud, and a daughter, Joanna Moldow, all of Denver, as well as five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

Wednesday, March 17, 1999

And here's the next set of more groovy obits...

  • John Broome - creator of the Green Lantern
  • Porter Heaps - popularizer of the Hammond organ
  • Bessie Cohen, Survivor of 1911 Sweatshop Fire, Dies


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