The prosecutor who became the U.S.’s top lawyer
Janet Reno once told reporters, “I don’t do spin.” She wasn’t lying. In 1993, just 38 days after becoming the first female U.S. attorney general, the former Florida prosecutor gave the go-ahead for a federal raid on the compound of a religious cult in Waco, Texas. A fire broke out during the assault that left nearly 80 people dead, a third of them children. Reno didn’t try to deflect the blame. Telling reporters “the buck stops with me,” she publicly accepted full responsibility and offered President Bill Clinton her resignation. He refused—and Reno went on to become the longest-serving attorney general in more than a century. “My mother always told me to do my best,” she said, “to think my best and to do right.”
Reno was born in Miami and grew up near the Everglades, in a house her journalist mother built herself, said The New York Times. She studied at Cornell University and then Harvard Law School, graduating as one of just 16 women in a 500-strong class. After working at Miami law firms, Reno joined the state government in the early 1970s, and in 1978 became Florida’s first female state attorney. She remained in the post “through five election campaigns—until 1993, when the White House called.” As U.S. attorney general, Reno “brought a fierce independence to her job,” said The Washington Post. Republicans criticized her for refusing to investigate Vice President Al Gore over campaign finance irregularities; Democrats attacked her for authorizing an investigation into President Clinton’s affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. A self-described “awkward old maid” who never married, the 6-foot-1 Reno was lampooned on Saturday Night Live in the skit “Janet Reno’s Dance Party,” a send-up she embraced by appearing on the show.
Reno’s tenure ended as it began—with “high drama,” said The Miami Herald. In 2000, she controversially approved the armed seizure of Elián González, a 6-year-old Cuban refugee who lived with relatives in Miami but whose father wanted him to return to Cuba. Reno, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1995, stepped down as U.S. attorney general in 2001, and faded from the public eye after an unsuccessful run for Florida governor in 2002. “I’ve had a thoroughly good time,” she once said of her career. “I’ve had the opportunity to serve my country, and it’s been extraordinary.”
The fashion designer who dressed America’s elite
James Galanos 1924–2016
For decades James Galanos was the couturier of choice for American high society. His elegant designs were worn by first ladies Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, and Nancy Reagan, and by countless movie stars and celebrities. Renowned for meticulous craftsmanship, Galanos would make up to 1,000 sketches for one of his chiffon gowns, mink coats, or silk skirts, and it was often said his creations would be just as beautiful worn inside out. In an industry of gaudy self-promoters, the publicity-shy Galanos disdained ostentation, both personally and in fashion, though his couture was certainly pricey—an evening gown could fetch $10,000. Unlike many of his peers, he never staged fashion shows or transformed himself into a mass-market brand. “I’m only interested in designing for a certain type of woman,” Galanos said. “Specifically, one that has money.”
Born in Philadelphia, Galanos was the son of Greek immigrants who “ran a restaurant in southern New Jersey,” said The New York Times. A lonely teenager, he would sketch clothing on the back of customers’ checks. After attending fashion school in New York City, Galanos “found work as a journeyman,” selling his drawings to
design houses. At 20, he left for California, where “he apprenticed himself to the costume designer Jean Louis at Columbia Studios.” One early client was MGM starlet Nancy Davis, said the Los Angeles Times. Decades later, as Nancy Reagan, she “would end up shaping his career,” wearing Galanos gowns to her husband’s four inaugurations: twice when Ronald Reagan was elected governor of California and twice when he was elected president. Indeed, for many celebrities, “Galanos was the go-to for special occasions.” He designed the understated blue dress that Grace Kelly wore for a photo session before her 1956 wedding to Monaco’s Prince Rainier, and the slinky white sheath Diana Ross slipped into for the 1979 Academy Awards.
Galanos’ disdain for the growth of casual, and revealing, fashion led him to leave the industry in 1998, said The Washington Post. In later years, he focused on photography, shooting black-andwhite landscapes and abstract works in color. “Once everyone started wearing blue jeans, I knew it was time to get out of the business,” Galanos said in 2007. “What happened to the days when a woman could turn heads in a restaurant by the way she was dressed?”
The composer who wrote ‘Green, Green Grass of Home’
Claude ‘Curly’ Putman 1930–2016
Curly Putman’s ballads of heartbreak and regret propelled him to the front ranks of country music composers. He wrote hits for artists such as Tammy Wynette, George Jones, and Dolly Parton, but Putman’s signature tune was “Green, Green Grass of Home,” which became an international best-seller in 1966 for Welsh crooner Tom Jones. It’s the tale of a man who imagines visiting his mama, papa, and sweetheart, then wakes up to realize he’s been dreaming in his prison cell and that he’ll only return to his loved ones when he’s buried “’neath the green, green grass of home.” “That made the song, I think, that surprise ending,” said Putman. “Everybody thought it was really happening, and all of a sudden you say, ‘I awake and look around me.’”
Born near Princeton, Ala., Putman was “the son of a sawmill manager,” said The Daily Telegraph (U.K.). He took up steel guitar as a teenager and scored a minor hit with “The Prison Song” in 1960. After Putman signed with Tree Publishing, Nashville’s top publisher, “the hits came thick and fast.” Wynette and David Houston took “My Elusive Dreams” to the top of the country charts in 1967. That same year Putman supplied Parton with her first smash, “Dumb Blonde,” and in 1968 he teamed up with songwriter Bobby Braddock and co-authored Wynette’s classic “D-I-V-O-R-C-E.”
Putman’s last big hit came in 1980, said Rolling Stone, when he “reignited the career of troubled star George Jones” with another Braddock collaboration, “He Stopped Loving Her Today.” The track was named Song of the Year in both 1980 and 1981 by the Country Music Association. “Found and lost love,” Putman said of his songwriting philosophy. “Just about everything I wrote was that.”