Hart dead at 76

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Johnny Hart, whose comic strips "B.C." and "The Wizard of Id" used cavemen and sorcerers to satirize modern life and who provoked controversy when he started to deal with Christianity in the strip, died April 7 at his drawing table after a stroke on in Nineveh, N.Y. He was 76.

Hart enjoyed a readership estimated at 100 million since starting "B.C." in 1958 and "The Wizard of Id" in 1964 (with artist Brant Parker). Creators Syndicate distributed both strips, each of which appeared in more than 1,300 newspapers.

"B.C" became controversial in the 1990s when Hart included themes influenced by his fundamental Christianity and literal interpretation of the Bible.

On at least one occasion, the Los Angeles Times relocated the strip to the religion page. The Times initially canceled the strip -- scheduled to run on Palm Sunday 1996 -- showing a character drafting a poem about Jesus' suffering on the cross.

Lynn Merrick, a Republic and Columbia Pictures contract player in the 1940s, died March 25 after a long illness at her home in West Palm Beach, Fla. She was 85.
Merrick is most often remembered as one of Don "Red" Barry's frequent leading ladies at Republic.

The blond, blue-eyed actress appeared in more than 40 films in the '40s, beginning with "Two Gun Sheriff," starring Barry, in 1940. Dubbed Barry's "perennial screen sweetheart" in Buck Rainey's 1992 book "Sweethearts of the Sage," Merrick appeared in 15 other Barry Westerns at Republic over the next three years, including "Days of Old Cheyenne," "Dead Man's Gulch" and "Outlaws of Pine Ridge."

At Columbia, she starred in "The Blonde From Brooklyn," co-starred with Bob Crosby in "Meet Miss Bobby Socks" and with Richard Dix in "Voice of the Whistler." She also was Chester Morris' leading lady in "Boston Blackie Booked on Suspicion" and "A Close Call for Boston Blackie," among other credits.

Katharine McElwaine, daughter of Morgan Creek president Guy McElwaine, died April 4 at Tarzana Hospital of multisystem organ failure. She was 33.
Her half sister is Dawn Taubin, president of marketing at Warner Bros.

Burt Topper, who made such low-budget films as "Diary of a High School Bride" and "War Is Hell," died April 5 of pulmonary failure at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. He was 78.

Starting in the late 1950s, Topper wrote, directed and produced films for Sam Arkoff's American International Pictures, which was known for making movies aimed at a teen audience.

Topper shot "Diary of a High School Bride" (1959) in seven days for $80,000 -- and was too busy to ever sit in his director's chair, he once said. Among Topper's better-regarded films were the 1968 thriller "Wild in the Streets" and the 1971 biker film "The Hard Ride."

Calvin Lockhart, a Bahamian-born actor who won acclaim for his captivating roles as underworld figures in the 1970s "blaxploitation" film genre, died March 29 in Nassau of complications from a stroke. He was 72.

His first big-screen role was in 1967's "Joanna," about an interracial romance in London. Lockhart was then featured in the 1970 Ossie Davis-directed "Cotton Comes to Harlem," in which he was celebrated for his portrayal of an unscrupulous preacher.

Lockhart wowed audiences with his role as a disc jockey-turned-sleuth in the 1972 blaxploitation film "Melinda." He also played the gangster character Biggie Smalls in 1975's "Let's Do It Again."
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