The job description "party planner" didn't begin to do justice to the galas, extravaganzas, grand balls, fetes and blowouts that Philip Baloun orchestrated for the rich, famous and socially stratospheric. Baloun, who attended the American Floral Arts School in Chicago while still a teenager, moved to New York City in 1976 to be a theater director. But instead of working on Broadway, he wound up creating glittering theatrical magic for the soirée set. Baloun invented a life-size Hungarian town square for financier George Soros' 70th birthday. For a New York City welcome for Prince Charles, Baloun conjured up a forest of trees in a towering tent at Lincoln Center, complete with painted stars on the ceiling. The price tag for such rarefied celebration could reach $10 million. Baloun, 61, died from pancreatic cancer.
•He was a farm boy from the state of Uttar Pradesh in northeast India who grew up to be Prime Minister. Chandra Shekhar was known by both supporters and detractors as a political firebrand, an idealistic, secular nationalist who could be blunt to a fault. Indira Gandhi jailed him, along with many other of her outspoken political opponents, during a tumultuous period in the mid-1970s. Shekhar became Prime Minister in 1990, but holding only a slim majority in a fractious coalition, he served just seven months before resigning amid charges that his government was spying on political rival Rajiv Gandhi. Shekhar died at the age of 80.
• We think of art history as something made chiefly by artists, and it is. But sometimes there are figures from related walks of life whose impact is no less important. One of those was John Szarkowski. For 29 years, starting in 1962, he was chief curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In that role he turned out shows and books that powerfully influenced our understanding of what the camera could do. In particular he championed the groundbreaking work of Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander and William Eggleston, photographers who, as he wrote, had turned documentary photography "toward more personal ends." He once compared camera art simply to "the act of pointing." He pointed, too, expertly, to pictures that he knew the world should know about. He was 81.
• Matchbox toys may be most strongly associated with little boys, tiny cars in hand, making vroom-vroom racing sounds, but it was actually a girl who inspired her father, British engineer Jack Odell, to create this masterpiece of miniaturization after her school decreed that only toys small enough to fit inside an old-fashioned matchbox would be allowed. In addition to cars, buses, dump trucks, bulldozers and cement mixers, the Matchbox Toy empire came to embrace a few delicate designs as well, such as a miniature coronation coach made to commemorate Elizabeth II taking the throne in 1952. Odell was 87.
• The 1932 Summer Olympics, held in Los Angeles during the worldwide Great Depression, could aptly be referred to as the hard-luck games. No other city even bid to host the Games, and fewer than half as many athletes took part in the Games as had participated in 1928. U.S. President Herbert Hoover didn't even attend the Games. That clearly didn't matter, however, to Alice Eileen Wearne, who ran the 100-m dash but did not earn a medal. Wearne went on to participate in the 1938 British Empire Games, which were held in her hometown of Sydney, finished third in the 220-yd. sprint and earned gold as a member of the 440-yd. relay team. Throughout her life, Wearne remained active in the Olympic movement. And at age 95, she was Australia's longest-lived Olympian.
A Southern-Fried Rebel
"Y'all oughta come to Renaissance Weekend," the anarcho-cartoonist Doug Marlette once told me. "It's the annual meeting of the Bill Moyers wing of the Southern Baptist Convention. The sociology is just gothic!" Doug's ability to offend--gracefully, brilliantly, effortlessly--went into overdrive when confronted by high-minded Dixie earnestness. One year he unveiled his version of the Clinton Memorial at a Renaissance workshop, with Hillary Clinton sitting in the front row: a statue of an unzipped zipper. Doug reveled and rebelled in his Southernness. He wrote a novel about his grandmother, a textile-union militant. He called his comic strip Kudzu, because he loved the twisted symbolism of that vine. He was enthralled by irony, and I wish Doug were around to reflect on the gothic ridiculousness of his own death, at age 57, on a back road in Mississippi, in a collision with a loblolly pine that was as straight and true and stubborn as he was. As Doug would say: Lord, I'm gonna miss that boy.