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OBITUARIES : Richard Landon Kassebaum, 1960 - 2008

Filmmaker documented GOP family

August 31, 2008|Valerie J. Nelson | Times Staff Writer

Richard Landon Kassebaum, a filmmaker who documented his Republican family's political experiences, which included his grandfather Alf Landon's 1936 presidential bid, died Wednesday. He was 47.

Kassebaum, a longtime Los Angeles resident, died of cancer at a Knoxville, Tenn., hospital, said his mother, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, the former U.S. senator from Kansas. He was diagnosed 14 months ago with a brain tumor.

As a graduate film student at USC, he made "Alf Landon: My Talk With Papa" not long before his grandfather died at 100 in 1987.

Landon was governor of Kansas when he lost the presidential election to Franklin Delano Roosevelt in a landslide. Making the film was stressful, Kassebaum later recalled, because his grandfather "wasn't cooperative."

In 2002, Kassebaum turned his camera on his brother Bill, a rancher-lawyer who successfully ran for a seat in Kansas' House of Representatives. During five weeks on the campaign trail, Kassebaum said he was surprised by the gentility of local Kansas politics.

"Bill's Run: A Political Journey in Rural Kansas" captured "a comical and sometimes painful quest of quixotic proportions" as his brother "fights to preserve a lifestyle quickly disappearing from rural America," the Nashville Tennessean said when the show aired on PBS in 2004.

Among the programs Kassebaum produced for PBS were "Woodrow Wilson and the Birth of the American Century" (2002) and "John Brown's Holy War" (2000).

He was born Nov. 15, 1960, in Wichita, Kan., one of four children of an attorney father. His mother, the former Nancy Landon, was Alf's daughter. She was known as Nancy Kassebaum when she served in the Senate from 1978 to 1997.

In 1983, Kassebaum graduated from Kansas State University with a bachelor's degree in radio and television. He moved to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s to attend USC.

"He wanted to tie the whole political legacy together by doing a documentary about me," his mother told The Times.

"I fought it, but when I found out he had cancer, and I saw that it was important to him, we started working in it."

He was unable to complete the film, but friends may finish it.

Survivors include his mother and her husband, former Sen. Howard H. Baker Jr. (R-Tenn.); his father, John Philip Kassebaum, and his father's wife, Llewellyn; a sister; and two brothers.

Services in Los Angeles will be announced at a later date.

Instead of flowers, the family suggests contributing to a local PBS station or the Musella Foundation for Brain Tumor Research and Information, www.virtualtrials.com.

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valerie.nelson@latimes.com

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