REMEMBERING GOLDEN BOY

This is a juxtaposition of a montage equal to pure cinema.

What? It’s a line from my professor in a college film appreciation course a thousand years ago. I’m able to write about two subjects today because Marilyn is blogging for the first time since her return home from complex heart valve surgery last week. She’s actually writing two blogs. One for today and one for tomorrow. This should be breaking news for all in Marilyn’s extensive bloggers’ family. We’re talking world-wide, pilgrims. It’s a wonderful sign. Marilyn’s energy level is higher and longer than it’s been since her return home. And, as I write, I think that burst of energy is fading. Still, big strides for my fair lady.

Yesterday mostly we watched movies. Funny movies. “Airplane!,” “Hot Shots, Part Deux” and several Mel Brooks classics. No taxing the brain. Last night our viewing included several segments of “Carson on TCM.”

Our favorite cable station is running some of Johnny Carson’s classic interviews. Johnny’s 1975 interview with William Holden was memorable. Holden was doing publicity for “Network” which had opened a couple of weeks earlier. Carson was clearly impressed with the film’s audacious take on network television. William Holden said he was drawn to the film by Paddy Chayefsky’s brilliant script. While both admired the film, neither really knew how accurate “Network” would turn out to be. But I’m getting away from my subject.

William Holden. He was my favorite actor of the 1950s. John Wayne was my favorite movie star but Holden was the consummate actor of the period. He was a handsome every-man who could handle drama, action and comedy.

SOB3

William Holden, from S.O.B. (1981)

I’m skipping a lot of detail because this is more of a personal take on William Holden than a full bio. Beginning with his film début in “Golden Boy” (1939), Holden never gave a bad performance in a career that spanned a quarter of a century. Matter of fact, he got better as he got older. Holden (William Beedle, Jr.) honed his craft while under contracts at Columbia and Paramount during the 1940s. His best performance during the early years was probably the newspaper columnist who falls in love with Judy Holliday’s Billie Dawn in “Born Yesterday” (1949).

Holden was on a roll with memorable films including “Sunset Boulevard,” “Stalag 17″ (Best Actor Oscar), “Sabrina” (great comedic role), “Executive Suite”, “The Country Girl”, “Bridge On The River Kwai” (rumor has it Sam Spiegel wanted Cary Grant for the Holden role) and “The Moon Is Blue.” That’s just the 1950s. A career for many other actors. I always enjoyed the wry touch William Holden brought to his characters. It was as if the handsome, golden boy leading man wanted you to know he didn’t take himself seriously. I think life mirrored art.

Fast forward to the 1970s. William Holden was now in his fifties but looked much older. It was no secret he had a drinking problem born of insecurity despite his continuing success. “Network” married the skilled actor and insecure man. It bothered me as a fan and a student of movies. Obviously, it was a familiar story but it struck home because I liked William Holden so much.

June 1981. A lazy Saturday in Boston. It was a slow news day. I got a call from a PR agency. William Holden was available for an interview. Turns out Holden and several prominent cast members of “S.O.B” were available. Blake Edwards’ scathing indictment of Hollywood and the movie industry was in trouble. Within the biz, word was that they were trying to freeze the movie out. So, Holden and his fellow stars volunteered to go on a nationwide PR blitz to promote the hell out of “S.O.B.” and not mince any words about their predicament.

So that Saturday I sat in a room with a handful of reporters, maybe fewer than a handful. Those seated at a long table in front of us included William Holden, Julie Andrews, Robert Preston, Richard Mulligan and Robert Vaughn, among others. A lot of B-roll, setup and cutaway shots were done as we warmed up to each other. William Holden personally made sure the pitchers of bloody Marys kept coming.

I got some quality time with Holden alone because the PR agency liked me. I’d done interviews with supporting actors ignored by other media over the years.  The other media people were focused mainly on Julie Andrews and Robert Vaughn. William Holden was alone, working his way through another pitcher of bloodies when I approached.

We hit it off immediately with the drinks helping. I used my familiar shtick of mentioning some of Holden’s lesser known work, including “The Dark Past”, a late 40′s film noir-ish melodrama in which Holden played a psycho killer. Somewhere in our conversation, Holden said he missed William Beedle, Jr. I nodded. He looked at me oddly. I told him Garry Armstrong was my real name. He smiled and said it was a good name. We talked a little about the “S.O.B.” script. He suggested his speech to the suicide-bent director in the movie could be his own eulogy. I nodded again. We finished the pitcher of bloodies.

William Holden looked around the room as the media folks were packing up their gear. He smiled at me, shook my hand warmly and said, “So long, Pal.”

He would die in a motel room five months later — alone.

BERT LAHR – NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION, GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved. Why?

Why does a book written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago still sit front and center in my mind? I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity too. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Twelve years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs. Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve travelled in the United States and overseas. I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. Yes, I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

Bert Lahr as the Cowardly Lion in Wizard of Oz...

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented. As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville. I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of what I used to perceive as Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well honed craft and squeeze it into their movie concept of musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never really had a chance  to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion. Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar. Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story. Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always very conscious about being financially secure.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt financially secure even though he was earning top star salaries. In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he ever did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel financially secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring with the likes of E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim, but was never satisfied even when he received it. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom. He was insecure as a star thinking others were always trying to undermine him. He was insecure as an aging, respected legend believing people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father — demanding but not giving. Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life — with his loved ones gathered around him — Lahr still longed for his audience and their laughter and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography. I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep ones perspective and ones feet on the ground.

REMEMBERING RICHARD JAECKEL – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Boston, 1973.

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was warm. We shot in shirtsleeves in the lobby of the TV station. I couldn’t get a studio and was being urged to get the shoot finished as quickly as possible. The “suits” were unimpressed with Richard Jaeckel. James Coburn was the hot interview on the circuit as “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid” was being pushed by publicists. Richard Jaeckel was very pleasant and friendly even before we rolled the camera.

jaeckel -1He asked about what I did. I gave him a snapshot biography back to my radio days and shooting my own film at a previous TV station. He grinned and said it was good to be working with a “grunt”. The rapport was established.

I mentioned having interviewed Gregory Peck a decade earlier, how well we got along. Jaeckel segued into working with Peck in one of his earliest films, “The Gunfighter” (1950).

As Jaeckel talked, I nodded for my cameraman to begin shooting. He smiled. He’d been shooting since Jaeckel and I began swapping war stories. The interview flowed smoothly.

It was more like a conversation between friends than an interview to promote a film. We chatted more than 10 minutes before I mentioned “Pat Garrett” and Jaeckel again smiled, saying he’d forgotten he was supposed to be promoting the film.

He discussed working with the quirky Sam Peckinpah and scene-stealers like Chill Wills. I asked about Bob Dylan, also in the film. Jaeckel’s smile got bigger as he recalled the folk singer’s kid-like behavior working with “movie stars”.

About 20 minutes later, we wrapped the interview. I asked Jaeckel what was next on his schedule. He said he was free for the afternoon. I suggested a pub near the station might be fine for lunch. He quickly agreed.

Drinks and meals ordered, Jaeckel and I began a three-hour conversation touching on family, movie making and the business of promoting movies. We found a common thread in our roots in New York, in our frustration with management and “the suits.”

I mentioned how I was always “the kid” at every stop in my career. He nodded and jumped in with stories about working with Richard Widmark, John Wayne, Karl Malden and Richard Boone in some of his very early movies. He said they all treated him well but he was always called “the kid”.

richard-jaeckel-dirtydozen-7Jaeckel broke into guffaws when I asked about working with character actors like Jack Elam, Lee Van Cleef and Jack Lambert — all well established screen villains. He said they were the easiest and nicest people to work “jobs” (films) in the business. Jaeckel slid into a brief note about his son, Barry who was a rising tennis player. I quoted some stats which prompted a very pleased grin and a final round of drinks. We ended the afternoon with him picking up the tab, saying he had really enjoyed the day and would check me out on the tube before leaving Boston.

The next evening, just after the 6 pm newscast, I got a call. It was Richard Jaeckel. He’d caught me doing a news piece.

“Good job, Kid”, he said.

“Thanks, Kid”, I replied. We both laughed and wished each other well.

More

“Chisum” is a goodie directed by Vic McLaglen’s son, Andrew. Jaeckel had made it 3 years before “Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid.” It was, he said, fun working with Wayne and a many from the John Ford stock company.

BanacekS1During our lunch,  Jaeckel recounted the off-camera sparring between vets like Bruce Cabot, Ben Johnson,  Forrest Tucker and Duke Wayne versus “kids” like Andrew Prine, Geoff Duel and Christopher George. There were drinking contests with the old guys daring the younger guys to match them shot-for-shot of the hard stuff. The old guys won.

Jaeckel said by the time he made “Chisum” he was regarded as a “tweener” by Wayne and his buddies. He wasn’t harassed like “the kids” but wasn’t quite accepted by the old guys.

Jaeckel said Bruce Cabot was a mean drunk and was reprimanded by Wayne, who himself wasn’t always friendly when he was loaded. Ben Johnson was a friendly, easy-going guy who wasn’t intimated by Wayne who tried to goad his old pal. Christopher George who I met on another occasion confirmed Jaeckel’s stories.

Another Meeting

The second meeting with Richard Jaeckel occurred when “Banacek” was shooting in Boston. We used to have a charity softball game on Boston Common. This time, it was the media all-stars versus George Peppard, the “Banacek” crew and the Playboy Bunnies.

Kegs of beer were set up for both benches. The drinking began before the game and never stopped. Before the first game, the flacks were introducing Peppard to media folks. Jaeckel was a guest star on the “Banacek” series. He pulled Peppard over and introduced me as his buddy, a “grunt” who knew his stuff a holdover from our initial meeting.

Peppard grinned broadly, shook hands and led us behind the bench where he had a carton of his private stock of “the good stuff.” I don’t remember much about the game. I do recall we did justice to the carton of the good stuff. The following day, Peppard –notoriously difficult with the press — turned up for an interview I hadn’t scheduled.

Richard Jaeckel was his driver.

OSCAR ISN’T SACRED BUT WE WATCH ANYHOW

72-oscar-statue

Daily Prompt: Time After Time

We don’t have a lot of traditions. We have a lot of intentions, but they don’t always pan out. But we have one that’s sacred. Okay, not exactly sacred, but we do it every year.

Garry and I watch the Oscars.

We watch them when they are boring. We watch them when we are tired and would like to go to bed. We watched them one year in the pilot’s lounge at the top of a cruise ship on the biggest screen television I’ve ever seen.

Last year, we watched them in Connecticut with friends. For my money, Seth McFarland was the absolutely funniest-ever host.

Ellen DeGeneres was good this year. Pleasant. A kinder, gentler host. But McFarland made me laugh more and laughter always wins the day with me. Her selfie with the stars crashed Twitter and broke all retweet records with more than 2 million retweets.

Garry and I have been together 25 years — officially. Longer unofficially. Much longer entirely off the books. And we always watch the Oscars.

I suppose I should say something about why. I mean, mostly, the show is pretty dull. Insipid speeches thanking everyone the awardee has ever known since birth or even before birth in a previous life. Ho hum productions of the songs of the year. They used to have really bad dance numbers, but eliminated them this year. Drat. That was always good for a groan.

Ellen at oscars

Lacking the bad production numbers, we could gawk at the hideous examples of “one plastic surgery over the line.” Kim Novak was terrible to see. A lovely woman who fixed what didn’t need fixing. We barely recognized her. Then there were all the rest of them, so full of Botox that their faces were all zombified. Rigid. Men and women alike, terrified to be seen getting old.

Garry and I looked at each other and whatever problems we have, we look a lot better than they do. Without plastic surgery, thank you.

And one more thing. How come, since they have the financial wherewithal to buy whatever they want, are so many of them so badly dressed? Can’t buy good taste, eh?

So that’s why we watch the show. To see the new stars, the old stars, the gorgeous dresses from fabulous designers worn by aging stars who should know better. The awful dresses worn by beautiful young starlets who should look in the mirror rather than take the advice of designers.

Ugly tuxedos, terrible hair, bad makeup and some stomach-wrenching plastic surgery. And at least one or two wins for the actors, directors and others who’ve done an amazing job and deserve a victory lap.

The good, the bad and the ugly — it’s all part of the magic of the Oscar night.

Lupita-Nyongo-Oscars-2014

It gives us a chance to yell “Ew!!” yet we are ever-ready to praise those who come through the Oscar experience nicely dressed, not surgically remodeled, with some grace and dignity remaining.

We can hardly wait until next year.

Other Entries:

  1. Growing Up | The Jittery Goat
  2. Daily Prompt: Time After Time: #Coffee #Ritual | Of Glass & Paper
  3. chocolate | yi-ching lin photography
  4. we gather today | y
  5. Daily Prompt: Time After Time | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  6. A sweet memory of the past | Attempted Human Relations and Self
  7. The One Hit Wonder | the intrinsickness
  8. Sex appeal? Clumsy oafess? Time after Time… | ALIEN AURA’S BlOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND!
  9. Kiss me, I’m Irish: a San Francisco tradition | Suddenly Single in Marin
  10. A book review for World Book Day | Sue’s Trifles
  11. As traditions go, this one isn’t bad. Bit costly though… | thoughtsofrkh
  12. DAILY PROMPT: Ritual | cockatooscreeching
  13. Family. Rituals. War. | daggyshog tales
  14. Ritual « Shrine of Hecate – Ramblings of a New Age Witch
  15. You know Gail Baker down the road? | The verbal hedge
  16. A twisted family tradition | A picture is worth 1000 words
  17. Daily Prompt: Time After Time | My Other Blog
  18. The More Things Change… | My Author-itis
  19. Daily Prompt – Time After Time. |
  20. It’s spelled ‘Crucian’. | Asta’s Space
  21. Minutely Infinite | Traditionally Speaking
  22. The beauty of a fitness routine versus having a joint-eater to be thin « psychologistmimi
  23. Family Vocabulary: Traditions! | ALIEN AURA’S BlOG: IT’LL BLOW YOUR MIND!
  24. Corn, Onions and Christianity | meanderedwanderings
  25. Daily Prompt: Time After Time « Mama Bear Musings
  26. Daily Prompt: Time After Time | Chronicles of an Anglo Swiss
  27. S. Thomas Summers: Writing with Some Ink and a Hammer | On Our Fears its Soul Shall Feast

SHADES OF PURPLE AND ORANGE, 50% OFF!

I have a lot of sweaters. Winters are long; this one is endless. Heating oil is expensive. Sweaters fill the gap. I like sweaters anyhow. These are cuddly, warm, soft garments into which I can snuggle when the north wind blows. Most of my sweaters are purple. I’ve got a few in black, a handful in red, but purple rules. Until recently, all my sweaters were black. I’m from New York where women wear black. It’s a right coast thing.

The purpling of my wardrobe occurred gradually. It crept up on me, a sweater at a time … a lavender cashmere here, a dark purple merino there.  Seasons passed until my wardrobe was awash in purple.

purple and orange sweaters

Purple sweaters scream “final mark-down.” One of the perils of waiting until the end of the season is the selection of colors and sizes is limited. As a habitue of end-of-the-season sales, I know what to expect. Lots of purple, white, orange and some nasty shades of green in which no one looks healthy.

Leftovers also include the “specialty colors” designers were sure would be the next big things. They never sell well, so there are plenty of whatever it was in the clearance bins. All normal, neutral colors are gone, but you’ll find fruit salad: cantaloupe , mango, kiwi, aubergine, honeydew, sugarplum, pumpkin, mocha and vanilla bean. But we all knew they were tan, and orange and coral and lavender. No one was tricked and the new names didn’t make old colors the next big anything.

I’m a fan of neutral colors. I’m conservative about color having I spent decades working. Dressing had to be fast, mindless. Neutral colors are the backbone of a working woman’s wardrobe. If your clothing is all black, grey, off-white, taupe, brown, or khaki, putting together an outfit is a piece of cake. Grab a top, a bottom, attach earrings and voilà. It’s a go-anywhere wardrobe for the fashion-challenged. Me.

The years rolled on. I stopped working and had no money or legitimate need for new clothing — except the usual gaining weight so nothing fit (oops). Our persistent lack of money elevated and honed my bargain hunting skills, but … I have always been a bargain hunter.

As far back as I can remember, I’ve hunted down final sales and closeouts, even when I wasn’t strapped for cash. It’s a family tradition. My mother raised me to hold fast to one unyielding principle: “Never pay full price,” or rephrased, “Only fools pay full price.”

I take great pride in scoring really great buys. You aren’t supposed to brag about how much you pay. You’re supposed to brag about how much you didn’t pay. The less you pay, the greater your bragging rights. I was astonished to discover some people are proud of paying a lot for something for which they could have gotten half off if they’d waited a couple of days. That’s weird, don’t you think? Okay, they might have had to buy it in purple or orange, but think of all the money they’d save!

Would I have different attitude towards shopping if I were rich? I don’t think so. To put it in perspective, back in the early 1990s, I got into a tug of war with Carly Simon for possession of a 70% off final clearance silk blouse in a chi-chi shop in Oak Bluffs on Martha’s Vineyard. Neither of us was poor. It was principal. The blouse was orange. I won. It was a fantastic blouse.

Bargain hunting is not just for people on a tight budget. For many of us, it’s a contact sport. Somewhere, in Heaven, Mom is smiling proudly.

THE LAST STAND (2013) – BEST MOVIE EVER STARRING A FORMER GOVERNOR

Last_Stand_2013Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Forest Whitaker, Johnny Knoxville, Rodrigo Santoro. Jaimie Alexander and lots of other people, this is absolutely the best movie ever made by a former governor of California. Or any former governor.

I’m not a very intellectual movie reviewer. That’s just as well, since there is nothing intellectual about this movie.

It’s pretty good. Lots of shooting. Blood spurting. Vicious bad guys. It has the grace to not take itself too seriously, with enough humorous moments and entirely predictable but nonetheless funny lines to make it easy to watch.

“I’m The Sheriff!” growls Arnold and by golly, he is, though Garry and I simultaneously pointed out that he used to be The Governor.

There are a lot of car chases … or maybe not really chases. More accurately, it is exceptionally good stunt driving. They actually did some stunts I’ve never seen before and I really thought I’d seen them all.

Plot? Oh, right. Plot. Okay. Think “High Noon” with a strong whiff of “Terminator.” Or any western movie where the sheriff stands up to some incredibly evil guys and whups their collective asses with the help of his faithful deputies and one old lady with a shot-gun. You’ll be glad to know that Arnold Schwarzenegger, senior citizen, ex-governor gets shot, stabbed and beat up, but walks away proudly in the end. Not into the sunset, but into the local diner. Irv’s Diner. Killing people and catching malevolent drug lords gives him an appetite. I’m just sorry I forgot to buy popcorn. It’s a beautiful, deeply touching, moment.

If you need a violence fix, this is a pretty good choice. It’s well made. Moves right along. Some great artillery and the aforementioned stunt driving.

It’s available on Amazon — free for Prime members. Probably on Netflix too. I haven’t checked but usually if it’s on one, you’ll find it on the other.

Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant

Marilyn Armstrong:

Truly one the greatest of the greats. I remember “The Show of Shows” when I was a kid. From that show came more giants — Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen — to name a few.

Originally posted on MikesFilmTalk:

Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant

Sid Caesar is dead at 91 and the curtain has softly closed on a comedy giant. Although giant is perhaps not a large enough term to refer to a legendary figure who, through his live comedy programs, seemed to have invented the forerunner to the TV sitcom. The comic, and comedic genius, had been ill for a year before his death on Wednesday February 12. Stars and other comic icons have come forward to speak of their sorrow at the trial blazer’s death and also to talk of his ability to connect with audiences in a way that made them “roar with laughter.”

View original

MUSIC BB (BEFORE BEATLES)

72-Beatles-Imperial_02

Once upon a time, music was very different. The Beatles hadn’t played yet. We hadn’t heard them. Sure, there was rock and roll … but not like now. Not like it became after the Beatles. They made sounds we’d never heard before, not anywhere.  Maybe sounds that had never even existed on earth.

They didn’t only play instruments and sing. They played a recording studio. They literally introduced completely new sounds, mixing guitar, Dobro, drums, vocals, synthesizers to change music forever.

Younger generations … even my son’s generation, the Gen Xers … they were born after it all changed. They don’t get it, that before the Beatles, music was different. The world was very different.

Music was much more important to us … me, my friends, my whole generation … than music is now. We lived and died with the music we loved. Maybe you had to be there.

The Beatles changed our music and music changed our world.  And we, my generation — we changed everything.

MARILYN MEETS MOSES AND MR. ROBERTS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

midway-poster“Call me Chuck”,  Charlton Heston beamed down as Marilyn stared up. Manhattan, 1976 and a gathering for the world première of “Midway”. Marilyn and I were in the middle of what they used to call a “gang bang” press conference to publicize the new blockbuster movie. There were scores of writers and columnists from around the world seated at dozens of tables in the posh mid-town restaurant. Everyone wanted scoops from the handful of super stars assembled to meet and greet the media. Think of a wedding where hundreds of people want quality time with the bride and groom. Never happens. Almost never.

“Chuck” Heston and I had met several times in recent years when he stopped in Boston to promote films. Somehow, we became “friends” of a sort. He was fascinated by the TV film equipment we used. I scored a few points when I told him I used to shoot my own film earlier in my career. I never mentioned the mediocrity of my work at a small station where I had to shoot my stories.

We compared notes about film style. He’d shot film when he was in college. I segued to Heston’s first film, “Dark City” and – voila – the “friendship” began. When I mentioned “Will Penny”, an underrated western classic, Heston beamed and we were on a roll. We swapped stories about working for “suits” and laughed a lot. He would always ask for me whenever he visited Boston.

CharltonHeston6X9

Chuck held Marilyn’s hand tightly at the “Midway” press luncheon. She stared up at him. His teeth were yellow. His white turtleneck looked worn and his plaid sports jacket was a bit frumpy. No matter. He looked directly at Marilyn as if no one else was at our table. The well-known entertainment scribes around us seemed a bit agitated. No matter. Chuck told Marilyn he was tired and felt like these PR luncheons were meat markets. Marilyn stared and nodded. He patted her hand, glanced at me and told Marilyn that I was ‘a good man and a fun guy who knew his stuff ‘. I beamed. The other people grew more agitated. Marilyn’s stare turned into a smile. Chuck excused himself for a moment saying he wanted us to meet some friends.

“Hank, I want you to meet a couple of friends”, Chuck introduced Henry Fonda to Marilyn and me. The familiar, laconic gait was very real. “Hank” Fonda took Marilyn’s hand looking a little like Wyatt Earp meeting Clementine.

henry-fonda

Marilyn stared up at the film legend. He had incredibly thick, gray eyebrows and, like Chuck Heston, looked very tired. But he smiled as he chatted with Marilyn and said something about how nice it was meeting Chuck’s friends. My, oh, my!!

A notoriously reclusive man who disdained doing publicity things, “Hank” actually seemed at ease as he chatted with Marilyn and acknowledged me. The other people at the table had moved from agitation to resentment while pretending to enjoy the attention we were receiving. Marilyn seemed a bit more relaxed as Fonda continued to chat with her. Chuck nodded in approval as Hank talked briefly about dealing with the press. He talked about the “Mr. Roberts” publicity campaign two decades earlier. That had been personal for him because “Mr. Roberts” had been his baby from stage to screen.

“Hank” looked down at Marilyn and said something about getting too old for ‘this stuff’. He did look very thin and sallow. Fonda’s smile and good humor covered up his physical weariness. Little did we know that his body would give out five years later. Hank and Chuck said goodbye to Marilyn (and me), waved to the others at our table, and walked into the crowd. Marilyn was beaming.

THEY SANG AT OUR WEDDING

Daily Prompt: The Show must go on

posted in Challenges by Pat Gerber-Relf
If you were involved in a movie, would you rather be the director, the producer, or the lead performer? (Note: you can’t be the writer!). Photographers, artists, poets: show us CELEBRITY.

Garry's Emmy -- and there are more. Celebrity? Yup.

Garry’s Emmy — and there are more. Celebrity? Yup.

When it came time for Garry and I to get married, we weren’t thinking about music. Not much, anyway.

I figured we’d do something simple, but of course, Garry’s brother is The Maestro. Dr. Anton Armstrong, internationally renowned conductor of St. Olaf’s Choir. He showed actual horror at my suggestion we go with Mendelssohn. He made it clear this was unacceptable. He was not going to stand by and let us have inferior music.

Okay, then.

Shortly thereafter, we found ourselves hiring a bagpiper, searching out music we liked and which would meet with The Professor’s approval.  Drafting vocally blessed friends — of whom it turns out I have a surprisingly large number — to sing at our wedding. It got a little complicated since one of them was my maid of honor — okay, matron of honor her being married and all. But we overcame the complexities of bouquets, microphones, speaker systems and acoustical anomalies and came up with what was deemed by all interested parties, an appropriate playbill.

Opening with Amazing Grace, starting with the bagpipe, then a segue to my friend Kit who had to keep from crying, but once she got that under control, it was all good. Fade to a duet, Kit and Anton — a folk arrangement of a bible verse and I dont’ remember the name — but I have the video.

Not the original wedding, but our second vow renewal. In the backyard, by the unfinished teepee. Seven years ago.

Not the original wedding. Our second vow renewal. In the backyard, by the unfinished teepee. Seven years ago. Taken by somebody — don’t remember who. We should have had a better camera available. Don’t know why I didn’t think of it!

Then, Mary handed off the bouquet and sang “Follow Me”, a lovely version of a favorite — and appropriate — song best known when sung by John Denver who was unable attend the wedding.

Garry and my show business roots began to show. While everyone else seems to concentrate on the reception, we really got into the “show,” that is to say The Wedding. That was our main event. For the reception, we figured if we had a DJ, dinner and a dance floor, everyone could hang out and be happy.

It seemed like a gigantic wedding to me but it was fewer than 100 people. I would have been happy with City Hall. Garry was in his prime and we could have gotten the Mayor to marry us. I would have thrown a bouquet and we’d have been on our way to Ireland. But nope. Garry wanted A Wedding. THE WEDDING. He’d waited a long time and if he was going to get married, he was going to do it right.

Which meant I was going to do it right. He was much too busy to do more than issue marching orders and tell me who I had to invite. Men and weddings. Clueless beings. That was when I realized if I could survive the wedding, the marriage was going to be a piece of cake. Wedding cake. I had to order one of those, too.

We had written vows and Garry memorized his, just like he memorized what he had to say in front of the TV camera every night. Well, he didn’t have to get his hair done, make sure everyone was where they were supposed to be, that the food showed up, the piper was piping, the flowers flowering. I forget my vows. Totally. Went completely blank. Stood there with flies coming out of my mouth.

Never mind. We moved on and got married.

Bonnie, our Scottish connection

Bonnie, our Scottish connection

Yay! Bouquets! Cheers! Confetti (raw rice makes the birds sick)! More music! Bring back the piper!Marching out to “Scotland the Brave” though neither of us is a bit Scottish. We have Bonnie, the Scottish terrier. It should count for something.

I have almost all of it on DVD. It was originally on videotape, but it disintegrated and we barely saved it onto disk. A lot of it wouldn’t play, much less transfer. I was so sorry we lost some of my favorite moments. Most of the soundtrack survived, but the visual part on  tape was badly damaged. Time ate it. A reminder for anyone who has important stuff still on tape to move it to a less fragile medium ASAP.

It was a great wedding. Sorry you weren’t there (unless you were, in which case — wasn’t it a cool wedding?). We’ve had a couple more since then, just for fun.

Maybe we’ll have one more, when year 25 years rolls around. Definitely. One more wedding to go. A year and a half from now.

Other Entries:

  1. Randolph’s Diet | The Jittery Goat
  2. Stardom | Sue’s Trifles
  3. Girl, On Film | Be Less Amazing
  4. Right Act | Lisa’s Kansa Muse
  5. Daily Prompt: The Show Must Go On | tnkerr-Writing Prompts and Practice
  6. Daily Prompt: Celebrity | Foto Challenge
  7. Last time I saw Mandela..he was going strong at 90 | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  8. Rihanna live in Concert | Perspectives on life, universe and everything
  9. Daily Prompt: The Show Must Go On | Under the Monkey Tree
  10. Evil, Hilarious and a Star – Daily Prompt | alienorajt
  11. Daily Prompt: The Show Must Go On | Blog of the imaginator
  12. Daily Prompt: The Show Must Go On « cognitive reflection
  13. The Art Of Being An Artist | The Dragon Weyr
  14. One Man Show | The Number FiftyTwo
  15. story of our lives | fragments of life
  16. Daily Prompt: The Show Must Go On | Beefy’s House o’ Fun
  17. Daily Prompt: The Show Must Go On « Mama Bear Musings
  18. CELEBRITY | Francine In Retirement

PETE SEEGER – GONE BUT NEVER FORGOTTEN

PETE SEEGER

I thought Pete Seeger would live forever … or at least to 100. There was something eternal about Pete. Always on the side of right and justice for everyone. He made a difference in my world and I think the greater world too. You couldn’t silence Pete Seeger. You couldn’t scare him away.

He saved the Hudson River, virtually single-handed and probably kept folk music alive in the world. Pete Seeger was there when I was a little kid, always singing — all the way into my senior citizenship. What a life! He made me want to sing, too.

He can never be replaced. A true gentleman, a patriot, a real stand up guy … and one of a kind.

CAMPFIRE WITH THE PRESIDENT – VIETNAM, 1967 – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I’ve shared this tale many times in conversation with family and friends, but never written it down. One reason is I have no pictures to go with the story. Another is the nagging feeling it might be somehow disrespectful.

Nonetheless, I am bowing to repeated requests to tell the story of my memorable evening with President Lyndon Johnson around a campfire in Vietnam. Near Saigon, 1967.

1967 and 1968 are blurs in my sense memory. I had jumped directly from college and small time commercial radio to ABC Network News. The time was right and the opportunity was there, but I was just a 20 something kid. Suddenly, I was in the big leagues. My journalism baptism included the 6-day war, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, the volatile ’68 Presidential campaigns — and a trip to Vietnam.

Vietnam really is a blur. It was a blur even as it happened. In New York, I was used to receiving reports from ABC’s field correspondents. I’d speak with them over static-riddled phone lines that made it difficult to hear. The daily MACV or war front reports were often significantly different than what the Pentagon reported.

ABC needed a grunt to help the news team covering President Johnson’s visit to Vietnam. I was it. The sights, sounds and smells of Vietnam are still clear almost 50 years later. But, my job required I keep a very narrow focus. I was a young reporter still learning the ropes. I had to stay focused on the story and exclude the harrowing images around me.

LBJ vietnam 1967It was a typical evening with the ever-present sound of artillery barrages in the background. We were in what they called “down time.” Dinner around a campfire. GI’s, South Vietnamese soldiers, politicians and news media, we all hunkered down for chow. Everything was off the record. Chow was beans and some unknown local meat. Most of us ate the beans and skipped the meat.

President Johnson or LJ as he told us to call him, sat or squatted at the point of the campfire and told some colorful tales about dealing with his pals in the Senate and Congress. The stories were punctuated with smiles and profanities. LJ was drinking from a bottle which he passed around. It was good stuff.

Halfway through dinner, a scene that I would later associate with the movie “Blazing saddles” unfolded. The beans began to resonate. The smell was pungent! I must’ve had a funny look on my face because LJ gave me a withering stare and asked if I had a problem. I remember sounding like a squeaky 16-year-old as I responded “No sir.” LJ guffawed and passed the bottle directly back to me.

Before completing his trip, President Johnson confided to some of us that seeing Vietnam up close confirmed his worst fears. He broadly hinted he probably wouldn’t be seeking re-election given the backlash of Vietnam at home in the States. I thought he sounded like one of my cowboy heroes putting duty above personal gain. But it wasn’t a movie.

One last encounter with handshakes and a smile about our campfire evening. LJ again was President Lyndon Johnson.

CELEBRITY LAUGHS AND A FEW TEARS – HAM: SLICES OF LIFE, SAM HARRIS

Ham: Slices of Life, Essays and Stories by Sam Harris

From the publisher: With a wry style that evokes comparisons to Carrie Fisher, David Rakoff, and Steve Martin, Sam Harris proves that he is a natural humorist. Even The New York Times, in a review of one of his musical performances, called his stories “New Yorker-worthy.”

Ham slices of a life coverUntil I read this book, I’d never heard of Sam Harris. Not merely had I never heard of him, I’d never heard him sing or seen him perform. Not even as a guest on Leno or some other show. How out of touch am I? Well, about 25 years, give or take a decade. I more or less stopped listening to new music sometime in the late 1970s except for the occasional score from a show or movie. I would declare it to be “my bad” except that I don’t feel the least bit apologetic. I’m content with the music I know and love and a great deal of classical music that, to put it in new-speak, never gets old.

When this book came up for review, I took it not because it was a celebrity autobiography but because it promised to be funny and I am always up for a dose of funny.

I am pleased to say the book delivers everything it promises and perhaps a bit more. It is, in many places, laugh out loud, giggly guffaw funny. In those sections which are not funny, the subjects are well-handled, thoughtful and occasionally brought tears to my eyes. Having recently read two celebrity autobiographies that disappointed me because I expected a lot and got little, this was exactly opposite. I expected nothing but got a great deal.

Sam Harris — who I have still never heard sing — is an intelligent, literate guy. His recounting of the celebrity wedding of his pal Liza Minnelli to “the man whose name shall go unmentioned” is hilarious. The 16 essays cover Harris’s life from childhood to performing on Oprah’s first show after 9/11, a recounting that caused me to choke up with painful memories. His disappointing opening for Aretha Franklin during a blizzard — sometimes, the legend is better than reality.

Though poignant in places, the book is more often funny. Which is good because I really like funny.

I am reading Ham on my brand new Kindle Paperwhite. I’m laughing so hard I feel my husband staring at me, wondering what in the world is going on. After ascertaining I am not having a seizure, I tell him it’s a celebrity autobiography … and I think he should read it too because … well … it’s funny. I ask. Turns out, he has never heard of Sam Harris either. We are united in our out-of-touchness.

Growing up a gay kid in Oklahoma had to be rough, but he doesn’t seem to feel sorry for himself. He gives credit to his parents for supporting him even though they didn’t necessarily understand him. He avoids the dreary trough of “kiss and tell” into which so many autobiographies fall. He does manage to include a reasonable amount of self-promotion — it wouldn’t be a celebrity autobiography without it — he doesn’t  wallow in it, either. For a celebrity, he’s almost modest.

But most important, the book is well written. Funny, sad, cogent, literate … it avoids being mawkish or snarky. Yes, there’s gossip, but it isn’t just (or all) gossip. The most revealing information is the author about himself. He is candid about his failings and failures. His alcoholism and recovery. His stubborn refusal to face reality until it bangs him painfully over the head. The problems he has relating to his adopted son and the credit he gives to his partner as a human being and a parent.

It offers enough tidbits about the great and near-great to titillate those of us who enjoy a little titillation … and enough wisdom to make me feel I didn’t waste my time. I can recommend this book with a whole heart and a clear conscience. It’s good. I think you’ll enjoy it. If you are a Hollywood gossip enthusiast, you’ll probably like it even more.

Available starting today on Kindle, from Audible.com, in hardcover and no doubt paperback in short order.

REVIEWING THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 1964

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

The Americanization of Emily (1964) is an American comedy-drama war film written by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Arthur Hiller, loosely adapted from the novel of the same name by William Bradford Huie who had been a SeaBee officer on D-Day.

With a brilliant script by Paddy Chayefsky, it features impeccable direction by Arthur Hill and a radiant Julie Andrews in her first non-musical feature role. James Coburn displays his comedic chops,  which are considerable, and James Garner is perfect as the Admiral’s dog robber … a role he also played in The Great Escape, released the previous year (1963). Chayefsky put a strongly anti-war slant on the story and the film includes some of the most memorable monologues in any movie ever made.

I first saw this in the theatre when it was newly released. It was a powerful experience and stayed with me since. It was a premium time for anti-war sentiment here and abroad, but the movie still suffered from being seen as unpatriotic.

This isn’t a movie that you hear about much although it was nominated for two Oscars – Best Art Direction – (George W. Davis, Hans Peters, Elliot Scott, Henry Grace, Robert R. Benton and Best Cinematography – (Philip H. Lathrop). Julie Andrews was nominated by BAFTA for Best Actress.

It is not available on DVD at the moment, but is available as a download from Amazon.com. It will probably become available again at some point. How and when movies are released or dropped seems whimsical and without any particular logic.

Right before it stopped being available, I made sure to get a copy for us. Many of my favorite movies from the 60s and even through the 1990s are no longer available. I know that downloading and streaming video is all the thing, but I don’t want to be limited to watching movies on my computer nor do I want to be entirely dependent on the whimsical technical capabilities of my cable company. I prefer owning my own media and frankly, I neither like nor trust my cable company. They already have much too much power and charge much more money than they ought.

Garner’s role as Charlie Madison was originally slated for William Holden, with Garner set for the Bus Cummings role played ultimately played by Coburn. Holden dropped out of the project. This was great from Garner’s point of view. He viewed The Americanization of Emily as the best role he had in his long movie career. In interviews, Coburn echoes the sentiment. If one wanted to judge a role by the number of brilliant speeches the leads get to make, this has to be the top vehicle for Garner, Coburn and Andrews. Paddy Chayefsky wrote some of the best dialogue ever heard on stage or screen. He was an actor’s gift and well they knew it.

 

The actors in The Americanization of Emily were aware how important an opportunity the film offered. Great movie roles don’t come along everyday in any actor’s career.

If you can catch this on cable or anywhere, watch it. The script is brilliant, the kind of scriptwriting that’s becoming extinct. For me, the language, the words, will always be the best part of a great film. If you are a “word person,” this is your movie. The acting is first-rate, the photography is perfect. It’s everything you want a movie to be.

THE GARNER FILES: A MEMOIR – JAMES GARNER AND JON WINOKUR (2012)

By James Garner and Jon Winokur - Release date: October 23, 2012

garnerfiles

From the first time I saw James Garner on TV as Bret Maverick, I was ever so slightly in love. I watched the show faithfully whenever Garner starred in the episode. They tried adding more Mavericks, but for me, there was only one. Apparently that’s how most viewers felt — when Garner was gone, the show was gone.

When I saw him in “The Americanization of Emily,” our relationship was sealed. I was a fan  for life. Although I have not seen every movie he ever made, I’ve seen most of them. I’ve liked some, loved most. Whenever one of his movies shows up on cable, it goes on the DVR. Fortunately Garry is a fan too.

Now, about the book. If you had the impression that Jim Garner is a plain-spoken guy with strong opinions, you would be right. He has a great many opinions and no reticence about expressing them. He’s an unabashed liberal, egalitarian, man of the people who made good.

He thinks acting should come naturally and claims he’s never taken acting lessons.

It’s true. He never took any formal acting lesson. That he spent weeks huddled with Marlon Brando when he was shooting “Sayonara” and learned an incredible amount from the man he considers the best actor ever … I guess that doesn’t count as acting lessons. And lessons or no, this is an actor who’s easy-going, deceptively relaxed acting style makes it look easy. Making it look easy took a lot of hard work which seems to be the way it works with so many things that appear easy … when someone else does it.

Garner is an honest guy. He tells it like he sees it, or at least remembers it. He ruthlessly reviews every television series he made in detail, including his favorite episodes with lots of back stories and anecdotes. He reviews and rates every movie he made. I like some of them better than he did, but mostly I agree with his assessments. We all agree “The Americanization of Emily” was not only his best movie, but maybe the best movie of that type. Ever. I’m inclined to agree. “Emily” was not merely a movie but an ideal. He spent the rest of his life trying to live up to.

Probably the one that has given me the most laughs is “Support Your Local Sheriff” in which he reprised his Maverick persona.

If “Emily” was his best movie, “Grand Prix” was his favorite. Like many other Hollywood stars, he’s in love with fast cars and racing. Grand Prix was pure fun for the entire cast.

Who he likes and doesn’t like? You won’t have to guess. He tells you exactly how he feels about everyone. He’s not big on forgiving or forgetting. Given that he shares his birthday with my husband, I’m not surprised.

Grand Prix (1966 film)

He came from a  poor, rough, abusive childhood. He worked hard and is the only person who seems to have had more surgery than me. That’s a lot of surgery, believe me.

It never occurred to me that acting was so physically taxing, but apparently he is by no means the only performer to have broken just about everything at one time or another.

His two famous battles with studios were history-making because he won. The second lawsuit revolved around “The Rockford Files” and the issue was shady bookkeeping practices employed by studios to avoid paying performers. Technically he settled out of court for what was (apparently) so much money he’s still laughing about it. He wanted to keep fighting because there was a principle involved. His friends told him to shut up and take the money. Eventually, he decided they were right. It must have been a lot of money. My guess is that the studios continue to play fast and loose with bookkeeping and will … as long as they get away with it.

I enjoyed reading the book on Kindle and then enjoyed it a second time as an audiobook. I wish Garner had done the narration himself. Although Audible found a narrator whose voice and intonation resemble Garner’s and it’s good, it’s still not the same as having Garner do it.

This is a must-read for anyone who’s a fan of James Garner and his movies … or for anyone who likes knowing what was going on behind the scenes. It’s entertaining, honest, surprising and often funny. I enjoyed it a lot and I’ll probably read it again. I’d give this one a solid 9 out of 10.

It’s a fine autobiography. It’s available on Kindle, Audible.com, in paperback and hardcover (large print).

- – -