ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM AND ME – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Robert Mitchum on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) last night. We laughed a lot. It was a reminder of how good late night talk shows were. It also showed the legendary tough guy Mitchum as an affable and literate man who didn’t take himself seriously.

The Cavett show originally aired in 1970. I met Robert Mitchum the following year. Turned out to be a memorable encounter.

Robert Mitchum was in Boston to shoot “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, a film about small The_Friends_of_Eddie_Coyletime criminals. There was nothing small time about Mitchum. I lobbied for and got the TV interview assignment. Those were the days of “The big three” television stations in Boston. Two of the stations had prominent entertainment reporters. I was the “go to guy” at my station.

The established entertainment reporters had first dibs on Mitchum. Fine by me. I waited until shooting had wrapped for the day. I lucked out because they finished just before 1pm. The star was in a good mood because his work day was over. We shot one reel of film and I got everything I needed.

Mitchum seemed surprised we weren’t shooting more. Actually, he smiled when I said we had a wrap.

I was getting ready to leave when Robert Mitchum asked what was next for me. Nothing, I told him. I was through for the day unless I was called for a breaking news story. I also assured him I probably would not be reachable. He smiled. He asked if I knew any quiet places where he could have lunch without being bothered. I nodded and he invited me to join him.

It was a small, dark place. It could’ve been a setting from one of Mitchum’s film noir of the 1940s. He smiled approvingly as we walked in. Several people greeted me. No one gave Mitchum a second look. We settled back with the first of many rounds that afternoon. At one point, Mitchum took off his tinted glasses, looked around the place and said I should call him “Mitch”. I nodded. He wanted to know how I could just disappear for the rest of the day. I told him I had recorded my voice tracks, shot all my on camera stuff and relayed cutting instructions after the film was “souped”. Mitch smiled broadly and went to the bar for another round of drinks.

robert_mitchum_by_robertobizama-d4ktib7We spent the next couple of hours talking about sports, music, women, work and celebrity. He noticed how people would look and nod but not bother us. I told him this was one of my secret places. Blue collar. No suits. He wondered why I hadn’t asked him about the “Eddie Coyle” movie or shooting in Boston.

Not necessary, I told him. Everyone knew about that stuff and it would be mentioned by the anchors introducing my stories. He smiled again, lit one more cigarette, and ordered another round.

It dawned on me that Mitch was leading the conversation. Talking about me. How I was faring as a minority in a predominantly white profession. Just like the movies, I told him. I explained I did spot news stories to get the opportunity to do features which I really enjoyed. He laughed and we did an early version of the high 5.

We swapped some more war stories, including a couple about Katherine Hepburn. He talked about working with her in “Undercurrent” with Robert Taylor when he was still a young actor. Mitch said Hepburn was just like a guy, professional, and lots of fun.

I mentioned meeting the legendary actress after I was summoned to her Connecticut home during my stint at another TV station. Mitch stared as I talked. I had tea with Katherine Hepburn who had seen me on the Connecticut TV station. She liked what she saw but had some suggestions about how I could improve what I did. I never could fathom why Katherine Hepburn would choose to spend time with this young reporter. No modesty. Just puzzlement. Mitch loved the story and ordered another round.

I glanced at my watch and figured I couldn’t stay incognito much longer. This was before pagers, beepers and, mercifully, long before cell phones. Mitch caught the look on my face and nodded.

Mitch walked me to my car and asked if I was good to drive. I tried to give him a Mitchum look and he just laughed. We shook hands and vowed to do it again.

Mitch headed back to the bar as I drove away.

DO YOU REMEMBER?

WHAT TECHNOLOGY DO I MISS? I DON’T MISS TECHNOLOGY. I MISS CIVILIZATION.

Telephones on which both you and the party to whom you were speaking could hear each other.

Sound tracks on movies where dialogue was louder than background music.

72-Mobile and Regular Phones_07

Silence when you were out and not near a phone. Being out of touch was wonderful — the whole point of vacation.

People walking on the street without things stuck in their ears, paying attention to where they were walking. Saying “hi” and smiling when they passed by.

Conversations which were not constantly interrupted by tweets, dings, beeps, and ringing.

Good manners. “Please” and “thank you” being part of normal human intercourse.

The customer always being right. I’d settle for the customer occasionally being treated with respect.

Complete sentences with words spelled correctly and including punctuation.

Full-service gas stations where they cleaned your windshield.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS – REDUX, REDUX, REDUX

Israel was in turmoil. Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, a disastrous  economic situation and an intense heat wave which had everyone cranky and ill-tempered. It’s no wonder that most riots take place in the heat of summer.

The predominantly Arab areas were seething with resentment while the Jewish population was none too happy either. It was a rough patch, but when had it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what make the city unique. The Jewish population is highly diverse. From secular and downright anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are Christians of every stripe and every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans — and sects I never heard and more than a few wannabe Messiahs.

I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, the traditions, the clothing, the open air markets. I loved everything and everyone, but not everyone loved me back.

The newspaper I was running was broke. We’d been going on fumes for the last few issues and it was obvious we’d be out of business and out of work very soon. We kept hoping for an angel, someone to come along and invest enough to get us well and truly launched. In the meantime, it had been weeks since we’d gotten paid.

I was doing my share, trying to keep the newspaper alive, so when someone had to take the pages to the typesetter in Givat Zeev up by Ramallah, I volunteered. I had a car. I’d been there before. Why not?

There’s a myth that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot. The theory is, if you keep driving, sooner or later you’ll get there, wherever “there” is. That’s not quite accurate. You may get close — but when I’m the navigator close may not be close enough. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it.

Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a minor riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was happening or why (exactly), but I was sure I shouldn’t be there.

ramallah-2

I was lost. No idea how to retrace my steps and get back to French Hill. Going forward wasn’t an option. I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, I hadn’t locked the doors. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” That’s easy. It’s the same in almost every language.

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity which some would have regarded as lack of loyalty to whatever the current cause is/was. They were under no obligation to help me. But they did, at considerable risk to themselves.

And act of kindness by strangers. I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.

For the Daily Prompt. Again. How many times have I responded to this one? Are we up to a dozen yet?

MISS MENDON

75-MissMendonNK_033

Miss Mendon was born on the drawing board at the Worcester Dining Car Company in 1950 in Worcester, Massachusetts. After 64 years of traveling, she found a home in Mendon in the Blackstone Valley.

Miss Mendon began life as Miss Newport — Worcester Dining Car number #823. She has been repainted, re-tiled, given a bigger dining room and a modern kitchen. She’s had a long life and seen hard times, but despite everything, she has survived with grace and character.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

ANNABELLE – FIRST AND BEST

Annabelle was made by Madame Alexander for one year only, 1952 — the year I turned five.

Windowlight-1

My mother loved dolls, but had grown up poor. She only had one doll in her entire life, a china-headed doll she got from her mother. That was a big deal in a large, poor family. There were six brothers and sisters, so a special toy meant a lot.

Mom loved that doll. One day, the doll fell off her bed and broke her china head. My mother was inconsolable. She said she cried for weeks. Everyone was sympathetic, but she never got another doll.

Annabelle - by Madame Alexander - 1952

Then there was me, her first daughter and the one who loved dolls as much as she had. My sister, who came afterwards, never cared for them as I did.

Annabelle was the first expensive doll with which I was gifted in my girlhood. Annabelle was followed by Toni, a big 24″ Toni with platinum hair and a set of curlers plus “permanent wave” solution. After that, there was Betsy Wetsy, though my mother, in the midst of potty training my younger sister, couldn’t imagine wanting a doll who wet herself.

Many other dolls would follow, but Annabelle always had a special place in my heart. I talked to her, slept with her, dragged her around. I loved her through restringing, rewigging, repainting, and redressing.

After all my other dolls eventually passed into dolly heaven, I still had Annabelle. Right before I left for Israel, I gave her to my friend’s daughter. Loren still has her today.

Annabelle Too

Some years back, I went hunting for a replacement Annabelle. I found her, and she rejoined my life. I even have her original box, traveling beauty supply kit and tag. She’s perfect and obviously had never been loved quite as enthusiastically as I loved her predecessor.

I still do give her a furtive hug now and again. Sometimes, the best person in the world to talk to is a doll that will always smile and understand. That’s my Annabelle.

Portrait of Annabelle

VIOLENCE WITH GUSTO IN TOMBSTONE

The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.” It was a busy day at the Utopia Theater. A small movie house. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked from home. I had a non-driving mom who believed in healthy outdoor exercise.

Wyatt Earp at about age 33.

Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)

We found a seat in the second row. Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out by Hollywood. When video taped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favors “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into my favorite western. There are a lot of contenders for second place.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than other movie versions. It omits as more than it includes. The Earps were a wild and crazy family. Doc Holliday was even wilder and crazier.

English: John Henry "Doc" Holliday, ...

John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)

They were all lethal and no more honest then they needed to be.

There were other Earp brothers who are always left out of the story, maybe because they weren’t in the peacekeeping business. Dad was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy.

I watch westerns first and foremost, because I love horses. I will watch anything with or about horses. You could just run films of horses in a field and I’d watch that too.

Next, I love westerns because when I was growing up watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on the old channel 13 (before it became PBS) in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity.

tombstone

In westerns, revenge and righteous violence are good, clean fun. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both — and mow’em down. Justice is quick and permanent. Without guilt. You can be a wimp in real life, but watching “Tombstone,” as Kurt, Val and the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest — I can cheer them on.

TombstoneOKCorral

“Tombstone” is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bastards. It’s so cathartic!

Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.

Tombstone shopping

I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless everyone in Tombstone was victim of a mass hallucination  — mass hallucinations are not nearly as common in real life as they are in Hollywood — during which time a movie company rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then filmed a movie, “Tombstone” was filmed in Tombstone.

I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was our favorite part of a long summer’s vacation in Arizona. Although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years.

August was not the best time to visit, but our host worked. It was hard to find a good time to visit. The mercury climbed to 128 and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. Which, that time of year, it does relentlessly. I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks.

It was painfully hot. Maybe that how come everyone was shooting everyone else. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat without air conditioning? It makes one cranky.

I don’t watch movies for a dose of reality. I have plenty of reality. I watch films to escape and entertainment. Westerns let me immerse myself in raw emotions that are unacceptable otherwise.

I love Tombstone. We’re going out west again in January, this time to Monument Valley. I’m counting on a John Ford rush!

A HOLIDAY CELEBRATING THE TRIUMPH OF GOOD OVER EVIL

We need to celebrate Fall of Sauron day. The triumph of good over evil. The dropping of the One Ring into the cracks of doom. The journey of a couple of fragile Hobbits — successful beyond all logic and reason — to conquer the dark doom of Mordor.


The message came by email out of my past. Blowing away at least thirty years of haze and fog …

… I still have your letter of congratulations on my first marriage … written in Elvish.

     d

I remember learning Elvish. J.R.R. Tolkien had amazing appendices, from which you could learn Elvish. Well enough to write a little and read even more. I could have studied other Middle Earth languages too, but quit after Elvish because I had, you know, to work.

I admit I don’t remember writing that note. I remember writing the “Fall of Sauron Day” (in English) service. The first version plus 5 or 6 later revisions.

macro fuchsia

We held the annual celebration as near as scheduling allowed to the Vernal Equinox — March 21st or thereabouts. It was like a miniature Seder, but with more wine drunk a lot faster. Drunk being the operative word.

all that is gold

The entire service lasted just short of an hour. Including about six glasses of wine. I’m sure I have a copy of the service in a huge box of writing in the back of the basement, near the oil tank. If it hasn’t rotted or turned to dust by now.

On a year when “the boys” (our lively groups of crazed engineers) had available time, we had visual and sound effects. We came in costume, or some semblance thereof. When life was too busy to make costumes, we did the best we could with whatever came to hand, dressing in some version of Middle Earth-wear.

Then we celebrated. Drank to excess. Which wasn’t hard since I basically didn’t drink. We laughed, ate mushrooms (the favorite food of Hobbits). Some of us me passed out and/or got sick me again.

Those were crazy busy years. Babies. Work.  Establishing a profession. Partying hearty almost every night, then getting up and doing it again.

All of this took place in my twenties. As I rounded the corner to 30, I wanted out. There is such thing as too much fun.

I lived nine years in Israel, but never properly learned Hebrew. Maybe if I had studied Hebrew with the same determination I’d put into Elvish, it would have turned out differently.

So, for now, if anyone would like to join me in a revived celebration of the destruction of Sauron, I have the service somewhere. We’d have to cut down on the booze since we don’t drink anymore, but I’m pretty sure we could make the rest of it work for us. Because celebrating good over evil is bound to be a rewarding holiday.

SOMEWHAT FEWER

This is round three on this prompt. At least. Maybe four. This post is also a rerun because my school days are a million years past and I don’t have anything more to say on the subject. However, I like this post and don’t mind rerunning it. Hope you don’t mind, either.

I have to point out — again — that by the time one is collecting social security, the issue of school memories is moot. It really doesn’t much matter what happened in school. What matters — maybe — is what happened during the rest of ones life.

But stories are stories and this one’s not bad. It was a long time ago … more than sixty years. I might as well write it down because I’ll probably have forgotten it soon enough.

My 6th Grade class.

In sixth grade. Still wondering what I’m doing there. Probably so were most of the other kids.

I’ve arrived. School has begun, if you could really call it school. I’m the youngest kid in the class, only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others kids are way bigger than me. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years. After that, they stop measuring.

P.S. 35 is tiny but to me it looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and see this school as the miniature it is, but not yet. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs. I don’t know about stairs. Kindergarten is on the ground floor. Always. They don’t want us little kids getting run over by bigger ones. Or lost in the hallways.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling. Very tall. To open or close them, Miss O’Rourke uses a long hook on a pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like at home. Our windows open by turning a crank. Anyone can open them. Even me.PS350001

Teacher is pretty old. She’s got frizzy grey hair and glasses. She dresses funny. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever or at least none I can remember. Anyway, I don’t have a blanket. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and no shoe box.

Worse, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones in the big box in the classroom for everyone to use are broken, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring crayons either. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff all the other kids mothers know.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It gives Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just that the walk home is all uphill. I’m tired. Why do I have to do this? I could have stayed home and played with my own toys.

By the time I know the answer, I will be 19 and graduating from college. Even after I know the answer, I don’t understand the question. I read so much on my own — that’s where I really learn everything.  School will forever be where I sit around doing everything slowly so other kids can catch up with me.

Except for math. And French. But who needs that stuff anyhow? I’m going to be a writer. Unless the ballerina thing works out.