IF ONLY I HAD AN EXTRA HOUR

Twenty-Five Seven

Good news — another hour has just been added to every 24-hour day (don’t ask us how. We have powers). How do you use those extra sixty minutes?

Twilight over the hills, Peacham, Vermont

Sunrise over the hills, Peacham, Vermont

If there were another hour in the day, it wouldn’t be enough. If there were another 5 or 6 hours in the day, it still wouldn’t be enough. Because sooner or later, you have to stop what you are doing and rest. Take a break. Stop moving, stop talking, stop the world. It’s time to get off.

Morning again and the mist

Morning again and the mist

The last couple of days have been continuous great conversation, fabulous food. Magical panoramas of a countryside so beautiful it seems like a dream. It’s been amazing. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Not enough hours to eat, talk, tour, take pictures, process pictures, write, answer comments. Socialize. Remember. Not even close.

I find myself having to face my own limits … I cannot do a single thing more and maintain any kind of balance. Yesterday, I realized I was not going to answer all the lovely comments and I was certainly not going to get to reading — or even skimming all the blogs I normally follow. I had been saving them, hoping that “later” I would get to them, but later, we were talking, remembering, laughing. Discovering we’d read the same book, shared many interests we’d never imagined.

Morning light on trees and fields

Morning light on trees and fields

Of course we know many of the same people. We knew that. We all went to the same college and worked at the same college radio station … that’s where so much of our lives because.

Our host was one of the early arrivals along with my first husband and a few others. They were the guys who turned it into a place where magic happened, where we invented ourselves, invented many things that are now part of media history. There had to be a first time for everything, but it is weird to realize that you were there — as an observer and sometimes, as a participant — in the creation of things that are now so basic to the broadcast industry that they seem to have existed forever.

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Yet they had a beginning. WVHC at Hofstra University was an incubator, a rich supportive environment for a bunch of creative kids who had ideas. New ideas. Because it was a different time, freer, with looser structure at the school — before so many rules and limitations were put in place – we had a chance to create new ways to do stuff.

Quiet country roads

Quiet country roads

And here we are, remembering, savoring people we know, the parts we played. Recognizing that things we and our friends did — invented – have made a difference. Truly changed the world and our industry. We really did it.

And all of this in beautiful Vermont where the leaves are golden and the last corn awaits harvesting. It is magic time.

THE FAMILY AS WE MEET

Delayed Contact - How would you get along with your sibling(s), parent(s), or any other person you’ve known for a long time — if you only met them for the first time today?


How would I get along with them today? If I had just met them?

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Probably not well. Mom might be an interesting person to talk to about her experiences in the thirties and forties. Her cynical take on politics and the way the world was going. Her disdain for government and the people who run it. Her dislike of “the old boys network” and the “old boys” in it were eternally amusing. She had a sardonic way of expressing herself that I think I have inherited. I miss her. She always had a unique “take” on whatever was going on.

I loved my brother though we had little in common but DNA. Our interests were so different. Our ways of dealing with the world almost diametrically out of phase. We shared a common understanding of how hard it had been to grow up in our world and come out unbroken.

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It’s a bit of a moot point whether or not we were unbroken, but we hid the damage well and managed to have productive lives. We were deeply supportive of each another. Yet I wonder. If we hadn’t been born to the same parents, would we have ever sought each other out? If Matt had lived longer — and so wish he had — we might have discovered more common ground as we matured. I wish we’d had the chance.

My sister was the odd child. Socially awkward and very much her mama’s darling, I think she watched me — especially me –with much envy and resentment, never understanding what it had cost me to break free of the family so young (I was barely 16) and go it on my own. I know she found me a hard act to follow … but she found life a hard act. By her mid 30s, she had retreated not only from the family, but from the world. She was a modern-age hermit and as far as I know, still is. Drug-addicted and lost, somewhere. She does not leave a forwarding address.

I’m always a bit envious of close-knit families, though I wonder what is hidden in there, what lies beneath the cheery surface. Maybe everything is just as you see it. Maybe not. It’s a bit late for me to find out because so much of my family has passed.

Maybe next time around the wheel.

TEN FAVORITE MOVIES* 2014 EDITION – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Inside the Loew's Valencia. Queens, New York.

Inside the Loew’s Valencia. Queens, New York.

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies. That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow. And now …

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES –  SEPTEMBER 2014 VERSION

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960.  If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. All the stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake” is my email tag.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character.  The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theatre in Manhattan where Caron’s “Lilli” had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing – like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I both saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. “Reb” funeral scene is classic, cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943.  Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70′s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.


Ask me to my ten favorites next month. Different answers! Hoo-Ray for Hollywood!

NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION BY JOHN LAHR — 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 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 traveled 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.

MARILYN’S FAVORITE YEAR – 1969

1969 was the year I learned to fly. The world was happening and I was part of it while everything changed.

Apollo 11

Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in July 1969. I was a new mommy with a 2 months old baby boy. Home with the baby, not working or in school. I had time to see it. We watched it on CBS. Walter Cronkite wanted to be up there too. Up there, with Neil and the rest of Apollo 11. He could barely control his excitement, almost in tears, his voice breaking with emotion. The great Arthur C. Clarke was his guest for the historic broadcast.

Neil Armstrong died last year. He had a good life. Unlike so many others who fell from grace, he remained an honorable man: a real American hero. How I envied him his trip to the moon. I always tell Garry no man will ever take me from him, but if the Mother Ship drops by to offer me a trip to the stars, I’m outta here. I’m getting a bit long in the tooth, but if they could do it on Cocoon, maybe there’s hope for me, too. Maybe we can go together. To paraphrase Wendy in Peter Pan, “That would be a very great adventure.”

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Woodstock was just a month away and there were rumors flying about this amazing rock concert which would happen in upstate New York. Friends had tickets and were planning to go. I was busy with the baby. I wished them well.

There were hippies giving out flowers in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco. I didn’t envy anyone. I was happy that year, probably happier than I’d ever been and freer than I’d ever be again.

I was young, healthy. I believed we would change the world, end war. Make the world a better place. I was still of the opinion the world could be changed. All we had to do was love one another, join together to make it happen. Vietnam was in high gear, but we believed it would end any day. Though we soon found out how terribly wrong we were, for a little bit of time, we saw the future bright and full of hope.

I had a baby boy and I sang “Everything’s Fine Right Now.” It made my baby boy laugh. 

It was the year of the Miracle Mets. I watched as they took New York all the way to the top. A World Series win. 1969. What a year. I rocked my son to sleep and discovered Oktoberfest beer. New York went crazy for the Mets. It should have been the Dodgers, but they’d abandoned us for the west coast.

I wore patchwork bell-bottom jeans and rose-tinted spectacles. I had long fringes on my sleeves and a baby on my hip.

Music was wonderful. How young we were! We were sure we could do anything, everything. We would end war and right every wrong. For one year, the stars aligned and everything was good.

Decades passed; youth was a long time ago. The drugs we take control our blood pressure, not our state of consciousness. They aren’t any fun at all.

I worry about Social Security and Medicare and I know I’m not going to fix what’s wrong with the world. I’ve lived a lifetime. My granddaughter is barely younger than I was then. I’ve remarried, lived in another country, owned houses, moved from the city to the country, and partied with a President … but 1969 remains my year.

WHO’S ON FIRST

It’s nearly over for the year. Summer and baseball season. The Red Sox are in last place in the division. Although they’ve perked up a little, the only thing left for them is the role of spoiler. I suppose making the Yankees unhappy is a goal, but regardless, we are not going to The Show this year.

We might as well laugh ’cause there’s no crying in baseball.

WHO’S ON FIRST – Abbot and Costello at their funniest. They run this bit in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. It’s on a continuous loop. Yup, it’s that good.

SHARING MY WORLD, WEEK 34

Thank you Cee for another fun round as we explore the inner secrets of This Blogger’s Life. Chapter 34.

What is your favorite smell? What memory does it remind you of?

Bread baking. Actually, anything baking. Coffee. They all remind me of … baked goods. And how good they go with coffee.

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Name a song or two which are included on the soundtrack to your life?

Good Day, Sunshine. They played it at my son’s fourth grade graduation and the kids sang along. I cried. And Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, especially the second movement, because I performed it often. It became a signature piece. As it is for many pianists.

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Do you play video/computer game?  Which one(s) or most recent? 

No. I used to play Civilization and Caesar. Sim City. But that was long ago in a galaxy far, far away. Does Scrabble count? I play Scrabble. And solitaire.

Seven-Dwarfs

Which of Snow White’s 7 dwarfs describes you best?  Plus what would the 8th dwarf’s name be? (Doc, Happy, Bashful, Sleepy, Sneezy, Grumpy, Dopey)

In one way or the other, all of them, depending on circumstance.

  • Sneezy during allergy season.
  • Doc when dealing with the doctors.
  • Bashful if you point a camera at me.
  • Dopey … well, you can guess.
  • Sleepy … another one I think you can work out for yourself.
  • Happy when a plan comes together.
  • Grumpy when the plan doesn’t come together, life falls apart, or any time I have to call customer service. I feel obliged to point out I’ve had to call at least one customer service each day for the last 5 days. This week, I am entirely Grumpy.

And that wraps it up folks!

Well not really. I thought I’d come back and add that eight dwarf — Achy, the arthritic dwarf. That’s when I just sit around creaking and making the occasional huffing noise as I try to get up on my feet.