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We Profile Five Special People Who Died in 2005


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I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember with PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English. Today we tell about five special people who died during the past year. We start with Johnny Carson. For millions of Americans, Johnny Carson was the last voice they heard before going to sleep at night.

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That was the music of the popular late night television show called "The Tonight Show."  Johnny Carson became host of the show in nineteen sixty-two.

Carson was almost thirty-seven years old when he took over the show. But he had been entertaining people since he was a child. He was born in Corning, Iowa in nineteen twenty-five.As a young boy, Johnny discovered he was good at telling stories. He also became interested in magic. He performed his first public magic show when he was fourteen. He called himself "The Great Carsoni."

Johnny Carson began his career in television in his twenties. He worked at local stations in Nebraska. Several years later, he moved to Los Angeles, California.  He was the host on several comedy shows during the nineteen fifties.

But it was "The Tonight Show" that made Johnny Carson famous for thirty years. He became the most popular star of American television. He was called "the king of late night." Critics said Americans from all parts of the country liked him and felt they knew him.  Carson seemed to be more like the people who watched his show than the actors, singers and other famous people who appeared on it.

He did not take his fame seriously. For example, when asked how he became a "star," he answered: "I started in a gaseous state and I cooled."

Carson's special skill was his sense of humor. Audiences laughed at the jokes he made at the beginning of his show. However, sometimes they laughed even harder at the jokes that failed. He was the most powerful performer on television.  Many comedians and singers became successful after appearing on "The Tonight Show."

Johnny Carson retired in nineteen ninety-two. He received many awards during his life. Carson died in January at the age of seventy-nine.

"The Last of the Mohicans" is a famous nineteenth century historical novel.  It ends with the death of the last Native American from the Mohegan tribe. Gladys Tantaquidgeon, the most honored member of the tribe, let people know that the book was just a story.

In fact, her tribe has about one thousand seven hundred members. No one did more to protect the traditions and beliefs of the Mohegans than Tantaquidgeon.

She was born in eighteen ninety-nine in Uncasville, Connecticut.  Gladys was educated in traditional Native American ways. The oldest members of the tribe taught the young girl herbal medicine, crafts and stories about Mohegan history. Tantaquidgeon went on to study anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania.  She wrote books about Native American medicine and traditional beliefs.

In nineteen thirty-one she started the Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum in Connecticut.  Today, it is the oldest museum in the country operated by Native Americans. Many schoolchildren have learned about Native American history at the museum.

Gladys Tantaquidgeon collected the tribal documents that helped the Mohegan regain official recognition from the federal government in nineteen ninety-four.  Tantaquidgeon also served as the tribe's medicine woman.  She was only the third woman to do so since eighteen fifty-nine.

Gladys Tantaquidgeon died in November at the age of one hundred six. Leaders from many Native American tribes said she was a great woman who carried out her goal of making sure that the history and culture of the Mohegan tribe survived.

John H. Johnson was born in nineteen eighteen to a poor family in the state of Arkansas. He later owned the world's largest black-owned publishing company. And he was one of the richest African-American businessmen in the country. He died in March at the age of eighty-seven. People of all races mourned the man who had given African-Americans a voice by creating several very successful magazines.

John Johnson's mother believed that her son would grow up to be a great man. She moved the family to Chicago, Illinois so he could get a better education. Johnson attended the University of Chicago and went to work at an insurance company.

In nineteen forty-two when he was just twenty-four years old, Johnson had an idea for a new kind of magazine, the Negro Digest.   It would give African-Americans news about political, business and social issues.  He used a five hundred dollar loan to start the magazine and worked hard to make it popular. Johnson believed that African-Americans needed to see positive images of themselves in the American media.

He later started two other successful magazines, Ebony and Jet. Johnson published books, owned radio stations and other companies.  He also operated an organization that raised millions of dollars to help African-American students attend college.

John Johnson believed that his life was proof that hard work could overcome almost any problem and open almost any door.

That was "Mrs. Robinson" a song about a character from the popular nineteen sixty-seven movie "The Graduate."  Anne Bancroft played Mrs. Robinson, a woman who starts a sexual relationship with a young man.  She often said she was surprised that people remembered that one role when she had acted in more than fifty movies and plays.  Her Italian immigrant parents named her Anna Maria Louisa Italiano when she was born in the Bronx, New York in nineteen thirty-one. From an early age, Anna knew that she wanted to become an actress. She studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City.

Anne Bancroft went to Hollywood, California in nineteen fifty. The head of a movie studio changed her last name to Bancroft. She starred in a series of low budget movies. She also appeared in plays on Broadway in New York City.  One of them was "The Miracle Worker."She played the teacher of the famous writer Helen Keller. In nineteen sixty-three, Bancroft won the Academy Award for Best Actress for the film of "The Miracle Worker."

Anne Bancroft was one of the most honored actresses of her time. She died in June at age seventy-three. The director Mike Nichols praised her intelligence, humor, honesty and sense.

Writer and historian Shelby Foote wrote a series of best-selling books about the American Civil War. His storytelling skills brought the Civil War to life for millions of readers. He died in June at the age of eighty-eight.  Foote had mixed feelings about the American South. He was troubled by discrimination against African-Americans but also felt a great loyalty to his Southern ancestry.

Shelby Foote was born in Greenville, Mississippi in nineteen sixteen. He loved reading and listening to stories about his ancestors who fought in the Civil War. He served in the United States Army and worked as a reporter.  Then Foote wrote several fiction novels about American Southern life.

 In the nineteen fifties, Shelby Foote began writing a three-book history of the Civil War. He wrote quickly, using an old-fashioned pen dipped in ink. It took him twenty years to complete the books.  Together, they had more than one million words.

Readers loved his way of writing about famous historical American leaders and generals as though they were characters in a novel. He became even better known in nineteen-ninety when he appeared in Ken Burns's popular television series about the Civil War. Foote had a strong southern accent. He told stories about Civil War battles as though he himself had been there.

At the end of his life, Foote was one of the most famous historians in the United States. When asked if he liked being famous, Foote answered: "It's fun…but I'm dead set against all the hoo-rah."

This program was written by Katherine Gypson and Caty Weaver. It was produced by Dana Demange. I'm Faith Lapidus. And I'm Steve Ember. Join us again next week for PEOPLE IN AMERICA in VOA Special English.


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