Bel Kaufman, 103, the witty and spirited fiction writer, educator and storyteller whose million-selling “Up the Down Staircase” captured the insanity and the humor, the pathos and the poetry of the American high school, died Friday.
Kaufman died at her Manhattan home after a brief illness.
She was a middle-age teacher and single mother in the mid-1960s when her autobiographical novel was welcomed as a kind of civilian companion to Joseph Heller’s “Catch-22,” a sendup of the most maddening bureaucracy. Kaufman’s book title was a tell-all label, shorthand for all the senseless rules students and educators could never quite follow.
“Up the Down Staircase” follows a few months in the life of the idealistic young Sylvia Barrett, the new teacher at Calvin Coolidge High School. She is a kind soul staggering under a blizzard of administrative nonsense and student impudence.
When the book was released in 1965, the New York Times’ Beverly Grunwald praised Kaufman’s “refreshing way of stating the facts, of breaking down statistics into recognizable teenagers, of making you smile, be contrite and infuriated all at once.”
Alan C. Greenberg, 86, a risk-chasing Wall Street titan who built Bear Stearns into a global investment-banking powerhouse and shared responsibility, many analysts said, for its collapse as America slid toward a calamitous recession in 2008, died Friday in Manhattan.
The cause was complications of cancer.
Greenberg’s nickname was “Ace,” and he kept a deck of cards on his desk, ready to deal. He was a champion bridge player, a magician who conjured coins with sleight of hand, a showoff who could whiz-bang a yo-yo, an adventurer who played pool with sharks and stalked game in Africa.
He began as a clerk in Bear Stearns’ stock room in 1949, was promoted to trading floors, where he mastered moneymaking skills, and then finally into the executive suite, where he became chief executive in 1978, chairman in 1985 and chairman of the executive committee in 2001.
He played a major role as Bear Stearns experienced one of Wall Street’s legendary roller-coaster rides, a climb to dizzying heights and a breathtaking free-fall into bankruptcy. Stuck with billions in all-but-worthless mortgage securities as its clients made a run on the bank, Bear Stearns was taken over by JPMorgan Chase in a $270 million fire sale.
Dr. Albert J. Stunkard, 92, a pioneer of eating-disorder research who proved that some people are genetically predisposed to getting fat, died July 12 at his home in Bryn Mawr, Pa. The cause was pneumonia.
Stunkard made many discoveries in his career: the first to identify binge eating as a medical disorder, one of the first to link obesity to socioeconomic factors, and the first scientist to show why so many obese people have about as much control over their body weight as they do over their parentage. He was also one of the first medical professionals to condemn the stigmatization of overweight people.