Announcer Don Pardo, known as the voice of Saturday Night Live, died Monday at the age of 96.
Obit of the Day: “The Man Who Turned His Family In”
On June 19, 1953, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were executed. Strapped into the electric chair at Sing Sing prison, the couple were found guilty of espionage against the United States for passing secrets of the atomic bomb to the Soviet Union. And yet Ethel Rosenberg might have escaped her fate if not for the testimony of her own brother, David Greenglass.
Seven years Ethel’s junior, Mr. Greenglass met Julius Rosenberg as a teenager and later described the bespectacled electrical engineer as his “hero.” On Mr. Rosenberg’s suggestions, Mr. Greenglass joined the Young Communist League and became a fervent - and blustering - Marxist.
When drafted into the Army in 1943, he did nothing to tone down his Communist rhetoric. Which made it all the more surprising when he was later stationed at both Oak Ridge, Tennessee, where the military was enriching weapons-grade uranium, and then Los Alamos, New Mexico, home of the atomc bomb. Mr. Greenglass purposely distorted his political record and had friends lie on letters of recommendation to gain his security clearance at the military sites.
When Mr. Rosenberg heard about Mr. Greenglass’ new position at Los Alamos he recruited his brother-in-law as a spy for the Soviets. Until the end of the war Mr. Greenglass passed along notes, sketches, and other information to Harry Gold who passed it on to the Soviets. Although the value of the information was dubious (both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. played down its value), Mr. Greenglass thought he was taking heroic actions by creating a worldwide nuclear “balance of power.”
Occasionally Mr. Greenglass and Mr. Rosenberg collaborated directly, most famously at the Rosenberg’s apartment in September 1945. In a moment that ended up decided Mrs. Rosenberg’s future, Mr. Greenglass brought notes to the Rosenbergs where they were typed up.
In 1950, the U.S. government finally caught up to Mr. Greenglass and Mr. Rosenberg who were named by Harry Gold as spies. Mr. Greenglass agreed to confess to his actions in order that his wife, Ruth, would not be indicted. At the same time Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were both arrested, but the government’s case against Mr. Greenglass’ sister was circumstantial at best. Until Ruth was taken into custody.
Just days before the Rosenberg’s trial Ruth told prosecutors that Ethel typed up the notes at the September meeting. When presented with his wife’s new testimony, Mr. Greenglass changed his and claimed that Ethel had, in fact, typed the notes.
What resulted was the conviction, sentencing, and execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. This left their two sons, Robert and Michael, orphaned. (They were adopted by another family.) And it gave Sen. Joseph McCarthy fuel for his anti-Communist fire.
It would take nearly fifty years for the truth to come out. Having gone into seclusion after his release from prison, where he served 9 years of an 18-year sentence, Mr. Greenglass was left alone. Until he was found and interviewed in 2001 by Sam Roberts of the New York Times.
Mr. Greenglass spoke with Mr. Roberts for over fifty hours. The bulk of that conversation became a book: The Brother: The Untold Story of the Rosenberg Case. It was during that interview that Mr. Greenglass admitted that he had no idea who had typed up the notes at the 1945 meeting, but believed it was probably his wife.
Even decades later Mr. Greenglass was defiant about the choice he made. “I told them the story and left [Ethel] out of it, right? But my wife put her in it. So what am I gonna do, call my wife a liar?” He went further: “My wife is more important to me than my sister. Or my mother or my father, O.K.? And she was the mother of my children.” He had not only chosen his wife over his sister, he had sent his sister to her death*.
Mr. Greengrass lived a quiet life outside of New York City working as a machinist and inventor for the remainder of his days. He passed away on July 1, 2014 at the age of 92 in a nursing home, but his death was not made public until October. His wife, Ruth, died in 2008.
(Image of Ethel Rosenberg and David Greenglass, during World War II is courtesy of the New York Times.)
* Julius Rosenberg denied he worked with the Soviets up until his death. However in 1995, the FBI declassified cables from the USSR that identified him as a spy. It also mentioned his wife as a source for recommending Ruth and David Greenglass as potential recruiting targets.
Obit of the Day: The Creator of Slush Puppie
Over a six-pack of beer Will Radcliff, his sister Phyllis, and their mother Thelma, tried to come up with a name for a new frozen drink that Mr. Radcliff wanted to sell. Sitting on the front porch of their Cincinnati home, the Radcliffs wrote down names on a brown paper bag. When they finished, “Slush Puppie” was the consensus choice - and for millions of children history was made.
Mr. Radcliff had discovered a company that manufactured “slush” drinks, which was nothing more than a drinkable snow cone. Although the beverages had a history dating back to the 1950s, no one had successfully marketed them. (ICEE and Slurpee were invented in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively, but were made with carbonation so they are slighlty different.)
Happening upon a Wisconsin-based manufacturer of the slush machines, Mr Radcliff decided to re-brand the drinks and distribute them nationwide. With $970, “[b]ecause that’s all I had,” Mr. Radcliff began creating a network of Slush Puppie distributors across the United States.
Originally available only in cherry, grape, orange, and lemon-lime, as of 2014 Slush Puppies are available in 41 flavors including cotton candy, mango, and kiwi-strawberry.
Slush Puppie was a hit and sales doubled every year after the product was introduced to the public in 1971. By the late 1990s, Mr. Radcliff oversaw a Slush Puppie empire that had 160 U.S. distributors as well as 65 others in countries such as Greece and Saudi Arabia. The company was purchased from Mr. Radcliff in 2000 by Cadbury/Schwepps for $16.6 million, and later purchased by ICEE Co.
Will Radcliff, who drove around in a car with the license plate “I SLUSH,” died on September 18, 2014 at the age of 74.
(Slush Puppie logo, circa 1980s, courtesy of onceuponageek.com)