LA Women

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Anybody who follows me at LA knows that I think obituaries are important. When someone dies it's a chance to look at the emerging story of Los Angeles from a little different angle.

Most passings don't make it into the news, of course. That's a topic for another day – it's enough to say here that many valuable stories and much wisdom are lost that we never hear about.

This past week, two obits that did rise to the level of news were of women who left their marks on LA in noticeable ways.

Laura Ziskin, who died last night at age 61, was a breaker of the glass ceiling in Hollywood. After graduating from USC's School of Cinematic Arts, she wrote for game shows then became the personal assistant to producer Jon Peters.

He made her a development executive. Ziskin worked on the remake of A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand. That was in 1976.

Two years later she was the associate producer of The Eyes of Laura Mars. Her career was going somewhere.

And she was to have, in the LA Times' words, a profound effect on what contemporary moviegoers watch.

In 1984 Ziskin worked with Sally Field's company to produce Murphy's Romance. She produced the Kevin Costner-Gene Hackman thriller No Way Out.

In 1990 Ziskin was executive producer of the box-office hit Pretty Woman.

She became President of Fox 2000 Pictures, and in recent years has been housed at Sony, producing the Spider-Man series of blockbusters.

Along the way, Ziskin became the first woman to produce the Academy's Oscar broadcast.

After she was diagnosed in 2004 with Stage 3 breast cancer, Ziskin expanded her life to become a leader in the public fight against the disease.

She helped launch Stand Up To Cancer, a group that has raised $200 million for cancer research.

Joan Luther, who died last week, didn't try to cure cancer and didn't make movies.

Starting with the iconic Brown Derby in the 1940s, she publicized restaurants and the people who ran them.

And in some cases, the people who patronized them – making sure that the newspaper society columnists knew who had tables at places like Perino's and Scandia.

Luther represented Hollywood Park, the race track, for 25 years and got to know just about everybody in town who had sway.

She became the close friend of Dorothy Buffum Chandler, the grande dame of the LA Times and the Music Center.

Luther and Buffy reportedly had lunch or spoke every day for 30 years.

In flacking for most of the top restaurants and chefs in LA, Luther is credited by her colleagues with creating the very idea of a restaurant publicist.

And in a place as food and celebrity crazy as LA, that's not a little thing.

I ran one other obit of note this past week at LA Observed.

Allen Levy was a producer in LA for CBS NewsPath, and was on location in Arizona covering the wildfires. He had an pre-dawn call to put up a live shot for the CBS Early Show, and when he didn't show coworkers checked his hotel room and found his body. Levy was 57.

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.