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Phyllis Cerf Wagner, 90; writer, actress and N.Y. City socialite

November 27, 2006|From Times Wire Reports

Phyllis Cerf Wagner, 90, a writer, actress and socialite best known as the wife of publisher Bennett Cerf and later of former New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner, died Friday at a New York hospital of complications from a fall in her home on the Upper East Side.

For half a century she operated at the nexus of New York City's social whirl, where literature, the arts, entertainment and politics intersected.

Born Phyllis Fraser, she was a classic example of a girl from the sticks -- in her case, Oklahoma -- making good in the big city. First it was Hollywood, where her cousin, actress-dancer Ginger Rogers, urged her to try the movies. She won small parts in films beginning in 1932, and reached her zenith starring opposite John Wayne in the 1936 western "Winds of the Wasteland."

Later she wrote for Newsday and Good Housekeeping and photographed authors for Random House book jackets. She also collaborated with Theodor Seuss Geisel on a series of children's learn-to-read books that followed his first successful Dr. Seuss book, "The Cat in the Hat," in 1975.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday November 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 37 words Type of Material: Correction
Wagner obituary: The obituary of writer, actress and New York City socialite Phyllis Cerf Wagner in Monday's California section said that "The Cat in the Hat" was published in 1975. The children's book came out in 1957.

Published as Beginner Books, they included "The Cat in the Hat Comes Back," and "Green Eggs and Ham." The thing that made her proudest was "those books that helped so many children learn to read," her son, Jonathan Cerf, told the New York Times.

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Jose Martin, horse racing trainer who had three champions -- Lakeville Miss (2-year-old filly, 1977), Wayward Lass (3-year-old filly, 1981) and Groovy (sprinter, 1987) -- died Wednesday of lung cancer at a New York hospital, the New York Racing Assn. said. A native of Cuba, Martin was 63.

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