James Butler, 84, a trial lawyer who won the first jury verdict in a civil thalidomide case, died of cancer May 26 at his home in the Hancock Park section of Los Angeles.
Mr. Butler rose to fame in 1971 when he went up against Richardson-Merrell, the drug company that tested thalidomide in the United States in 1960 and 1961. Thalidomide, which was marketed as a sleeping aid, was banned worldwide after causing 12,000 babies to be born with serious birth defects, including flipperlike arms.
The company's lawyers had argued that it could not be held responsible because the drug had been taken too late in pregnancy to cause harm. But Mr. Butler countered that experts may be mistaken about what stage of a pregnancy is critical to a baby's development.
The jury sided with Mr. Butler and came back with a $2.75 million verdict, which was later reduced to a reported $500,000.
Mr. Butler went on to litigate about 20 more thalidomide cases and also successfully represented clients in lawsuits involving the 1974 crash of a DC-10 in France and the 1986 terrorist hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73 in Pakistan.
Israeli Critic, Novelist
Batya Gur, 57, an Israeli critic and teacher of Hebrew literature who almost single-handedly brought the detective novel to her country, died of cancer May 19 in Jerusalem.
Until Ms. Gur's novel "The Saturday Morning Murder: A Psychoanalytic Case" appeared in 1988, nearly all mysteries published in Hebrew for Israeli readers were translations from other countries. Her books, which set off a spate of mystery writing by other Israeli authors, became Israeli bestsellers and were translated into several languages, including English.
When "Saturday Morning Murder" was published in the United States in 1992, it also became one of the first crime novels by an Israeli to reach a wide U.S. readership. That seminal story and four others published in Hebrew and then translated into English for U.S. publication featured her protagonist detective, Chief Superintendent Michael Ohayon of the Jerusalem police. Moroccan-born and Cambridge-educated, the brilliant, brooding and charming Ohayon lets his vulnerability show as he intuitively analyzes and philosophically solves his cases, set in closed, insular societies.
The novels, all published in the United States by HarperCollins, are "Literary Murder: A Critical Case" in 1993, "Murder on a Kibbutz: A Communal Case" in 1994, "Murder Duet: A Musical Case" in 1999 and "Bethlehem Road Murder" in 2004.
'Hogan's Heroes' Actor
Leon Askin, 97, an actor who gained popularity as Gen. Albert Burkhalter in the 1960s TV comedy "Hogan's Heroes," died June 3 at a hospital in Vienna, Austria. No cause of death was reported.
Mr. Askin appeared opposite such film luminaries as Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and Peter Ustinov. But he was widely known for his role as the Nazi general who constantly threatened to send the prisoner of war camp's inept commander, Col. Wilhelm Klink, to the Russian front because of his stupidity.
Born Leo Aschkenasy into a Jewish family in Vienna, Mr. Askin worked as a cabaret artist in the 1930s before fleeing Nazi persecution. He had roles in dozens of films, including Billy Wilder's "One, Two, Three" (1961).
Unlike many artists who refused to return to Austria after the war, Mr. Askin took up residence in Vienna in 1994, returning to his roots in cabaret.
Mark Trent Goldberg
Mark Trent Goldberg, 49, who gave up a career as a stage actor to manage the archive of Broadway composers George and Ira Gershwin, died after a heart attack May 18 in his office in San Francisco.
Mr. Goldberg created the Gershwin archive, which includes music manuscripts, photographs, royalty statements and other items linked to lyricist Ira Gershwin and composer George Gershwin. The brothers wrote some of the best-known music performed in Broadway musicals.
Mr. Goldberg, an actor who had appeared in several Los Angeles stage productions, was introduced to Ira Gershwin and his wife in 1983. After Ira Gershwin died, Leonore Gershwin asked Mr. Goldberg to work with her full time.
Mr. Goldberg also served as executive director of the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Trusts.