Jewish World Review July 1, 2004 / 12 Tamuz, 5764

Zev Chafets

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Obits are the ultimate democracy | On the day after my 57th birthday, while morbidly glancing at the Sunday New York Times' obituary page, I ran into this pair of headlines:

"Danny Dark, 65, Whose Voice Spurned StarKist's Charlie Tuna." And right next to it, "Stuart Hampshire, 89, Moral Philosopher, Dies."

I had never heard of either of these men. Had their obits run on different days, or different pages, I would have skipped them. But juxtaposed, they became an irresistible Odd Couple. In journalism, as in real estate, nothing is more important than placement.

Stuart Newton Hampshire was born in Lincolnshire, England. As a young man, he studied at Oxford, "where he befriended Isaiah Berlin."

Danny Dark (original name: Daniel Melville Croskery) was born in Oklahoma City, educated at Tulsa (Okla.) Central High School "under the guidance of an English teacher named Isabelle E. Ronan" and at Drury College, in Springfield, Mo.

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Hampshire's career was launched with the publication of his first book, "Spinoza," which "examined the 17th-century philosopher Benedict Spinoza, whose thinking left an imprint on the author's own world view." After "Spinoza," Hampshire taught at Oxford and University College, London. In 1963, he was appointed chairman of the department of philosophy at Princeton University.

For Danny Dark, too, 1963 was a breakout year. Having honed his broadcasting skills at radio stations in Tulsa, Cleveland, Miami, New Orleans and St. Louis, he was hired as a deejay by KLAC-AM in Los Angeles.

At Princeton, Hampshire became an influential voice in the campus debate over the morality of the war in Vietnam. Meanwhile, a continent away, Dark became an influential voice-over. Over the years, he appeared in dozens of TV and radio commercials and as the voice of Superman in a cartoon series.

He was the guy who said "Sorry, Charlie," to Charlie the Tuna in the StarKist ad. And "This Bud's for you."

Although they traveled different roads, Stuart Hampshire and Danny Dark each reached the pinnacle of his profession. In 1979, Prof. Hampshire was knighted by Queen Elizabeth. Dark, an American, was ineligible for such an honor but The Times posthumously dubbed him "the voice-over king."

I doubt that Danny Dark and Stuart Hampshire ever met. It's unlikely they even knew of one another. Maybe Hampshire heard Dark's voice on TV or radio; if so, he had no way of knowing to whom it belonged. Moral philosophers and commercial voice-over artists have one thing in common: They are not likely to become household names.

I can't help wondering how Hampshire and Dark would feel about being paired on the obit page. Perhaps the professor, a man for whom "esthetics, ethics and political philosophy were all part of the same intellectual quest," would be disconcerted to find himself ushered into eternity next to a chap who made his living proclaiming "Raid kills bugs dead!" in the pay of Raid Ant & Roach Killer.

I imagine Danny Dark, for his part, wouldn't mind sharing a billing with Prof. Hampshire. Nobody who does anonymous work in Hollywood can have much of an ego. Besides, Dark's the one whose picture ran in The Times.

The obits are the most democratic section of the newspaper. A guy can be an Oxford don or a Drury College dropout, chronicle Spinoza for a living or hawk tuna fish - it doesn't matter. Work hard, do well and you've got a shot at three-column sendoff.

Just don't imagine you have any control over where you're going - or who's going next to you.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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