WAITING FOR HOLLYWOOD TO CALL

Challenge of Smiles

My monthly royalty payment from Amazon just came in and I was pleased to see it was up slightly from last month.

A total of $3.89 was directly deposited into my checking account. I am not sure how many book sales this represents (three?), but I’m pleased my book sells at all.

The royalty deposits make me laugh. What should I do with all the money?

teepee book shelf

I could get a small meal from the dollar menu at McDonald’s. It isn’t enough to buy me a coffee at Starbucks. Good I don’t like Starbucks coffee, eh? I can’t think of anything else I could do with the money, but the idea amuses me. Being an author has not turned out exactly as I dreamed.

But you never know. Hollywood might yet call and my book could be the next blockbuster.

Right. Sure. Uh huh!

MY HOLLYWOOD FANTASY – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I love movies. Old movies  Movies from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. I grew up watching these films. They were movies from Hollywood’s golden age when fantasy really trumped reality. These were films seen in theaters. First, second and the beloved third run or neighborhood movies houses.

This was before television. The movie theater experience was as much fun as seeing the film. That’s where the fantasy began.

HollywoodSign

I saw my first movie in 1946. I was four years old. The movie was “The Best Years Of Our Lives”. My Mom and Dad took me to see the film in a big glittery theater in Manhattan. New York. The city that never sleeps. My Dad, in his Army dress uniform with ribbons and medals, had just returned from Europe. World War Two had ended less than a year earlier. I vaguely remembered the headlines. My Dad seemed ten feet tall in his uniform. My Mom was more beautiful than I could ever recall. She looked like a movie actress in one of those popular magazines of the day. I felt as if we were in a movie that evening. It was magical!

The_Best_Years_of_Our_Lives_film_posterI don’t remember much about the movie. I remember some of the scenes. The returning GI’s looking down at their hometown from the air. The scenes of the town as the taxi took the men to their respective homes. The family reunions. The men looked like my father and yet they didn’t. I was vaguely disturbed but didn’t understand. I dreamed about the movie that night. My Dad was the star. My Mom was the lady played by Myrna Loy. I was the son receiving souvenirs from my Dad. Yes, I could see myself in the movie.

That fantasy would replay itself many times over ensuing decades. But it grew with the films of my youth. The westerns, especially. I adored westerns. I liked seeing the good guys always beat the bad guys. I liked the way the good guys dressed and the horses they rode. Curiously, none of the guys — good or bad — looked like anyone in my family but that didn’t matter to me. Didn’t think much about it. I was  all of those good guys! Most of all, I was John Wayne. Later, I was so much John Wayne I enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school. Another story.

As my fantasy grew, I also discovered I was a romantic. This is a guy secret. I liked romantic movies with happy endings. I was Joseph Cotten pursuing Jennifer Jones in “Love Letters” and “Portrait of Jennie”. I was Spencer Tracy, the underdog to Clark Gable, vying for the affections of Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert.

Somewhere, stashed away, I have an old notebook. One of those notebooks with lined pages used for compositions in grade school. I used to write imaginary castings for movies with myself as the star opposite Hollywood legends. Actually, I added some reality. I worked my way up from “and introducing Garry Armstrong”, to co-star and finally star. Fortunately, that notebook was never discovered in class.

Duke and Lone

Marilyn and I have been watching (again) a series, “MGM – WHEN THE LION ROARED”. It’s a fascinating look at the rise and fall of Hollywood’s most prestigious studio. As we look at the series, I fantasize again, now at age 72, about being there in Hollywood during its golden age.

Fantasy dissolved into a dream last night. I was in 1930’s Hollywood. I was at MGM. I saw the legends. Gable, Tracy, Garbo, Crawford and all the others. The dream unfolded rather skillfully. I was a freelance writer working under a pseudonym in separate quarters. This is how I, a man of color, could exist in that world. It was perfectly splendid. My work was excellent. Others took credit but all knew who I was, especially Louis B. Mayer. I never asked for a raise. My scripts all had the MGM touch.

In real life, I’ve had the chance to meet many of those legends who’ve been part of my dreams. As a TV news reporter, I’ve actually had the opportunity to socialize with some of the legends. You’ve read about some of them in other blogs. It’s funny when reality meets your dreams and fantasies.

I’ve done some extra or background acting. It’s been interesting but the hours are too long, like those I logged for almost 40 years in television. I don’t like getting up early anymore. I haven’t quite closed the door, mind you. I hang onto the fantasy I’ll get “the call” for a lead role in a major movie.

And, the Oscar goes to …

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.

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.

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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.

GAME CHANGER

Being a cast member on a movie set wasn’t exactly what I’d expected. Maybe I wasn’t sure what to expect since my experience with working on a film was altogether vicarious, drawn from depictions on television or movies. Even subtracting 95% of what I thought I knew to align my expectations with reality, I thought something should be happening. I guess it was, if you were one of the stars or co-stars.

movie-set-bostonBut extras? Which is what I was, though these days the term “extras” is out of favor and “background performer” is in. Whatever you care to call us, we got shuttled from set to set, fed three meals at lavish buffet breakfasts, lunches and dinners where everyone chowed down with extreme prejudice. Otherwise, we waited. And waited. And then, we waited some more. While we waited we were required to be silent. Don’t annoy the stars. Don’t be in the way. Don’t go anywhere — including the bathroom – without permission. Permission you had to get from one of the dozens of assistants, those attractive young people running around with headsets and clipboards.

It was confusing to say the least. You never knew if someone might decide you or your group were needed in a scene, but even if you were never in any scene — entirely possible — you had to act as if you were about to be “up” any moment and your presence or absence was life and death. On a movie set, it turns out everything is treated like life or death. It’s a Hollywood thing.

It was mid-November, night in Lowell, Massachusetts.  I hadn’t worn enough layers. Cold.

My feet hurt. Not to mention my back.

I needed to pee.

I was bored.

The director was on the 128th take. Before the night was done, he would close in on 250 takes of this particular scene. It was the turning point of the plot. It included every member of the cast except a bunch of us “background performers.” No matter. We still had to be there. Just in case. I wondered how much money I was going to make, just standing around. I didn’t think it was going to be enough especially since it seemed unlikely this would be the night Hollywood discovered me. I wished I’d brought a book, though in the dark I wasn’t sure if I’d have been able to read.

That was when I noticed the woman. She was standing just off to my right, leaning against a street light. It looked like she was reading, but whatever it was she was holding wasn’t a book. Something else. It had a light attached.

I sidled over.

“Hi.”

“Hi.”

“You’re reading? What’s that? I’ve never seen one.”

“It’s a Kindle.”

“OH,” I said, things clicking into place. “I’ve heard of them, but I’ve never seen one before.”

She looked up and smiled. “It’s wonderful. I don’t know how I lived without it. I can bring books with me everywhere, as many books as I want. See?” she said, and she began to show me all the cool stuff it could do. Like being able to bookmark passages, get definitions of words and phrases. And carry a whole library with her in just this little thing no bigger than a paperback.

I held it, turned it this way and that. “You know,” I said. “This might be exactly what I need.” Certainly my bookcases at home were bursting at the seams. Anything that let me buy books without finding someplace to put them sounded like a really good deal. And this thing would let me take books everywhere without hauling a trunkful of paperback. It seemed a good idea. But the price was still too high for me and I wondered if I would like a book that didn’t smell like ink and paper. It was convenient, but it lacked ambiance.

Nonetheless, that conversation stuck in my brain. Long after the movie — in which I did not appear, though I had one scene which was cut and left on the editing room floor — had faded into memory, I remembered the lady with the Kindle. When the new generation of Kindles was released and the prices dropped, I bought one. Then I bought one for everyone in my family who reads books. And I bought another one that plays movies and audiobooks and checks email. Finally, I got an even newer one that does the same stuff, but (supposedly) better and faster.

I can’t even imagine life without my Kindle. I’ve got hundreds of books on it. It goes everywhere with me … literally everywhere.

A week or two ago — don’t remember exactly when — I had to read a paperback. It was heavy. It was awkward. I couldn’t hold it in one hand.

And where was the light?

This may sound like no big deal.  After all, it’s just another toy, one more electronic doohickie. But it isn’t. For me, it was a life changer. Because finally, I could always have books with me.

If you were to take away everything else, all my toys, gadgets and widgets — but let me read, I’d be okay. I can live without TV, movies and games. I can’t live without books. My Kindle has become a magic doorway into that world of dreams called literature, the place where everything is possible. Where I go to live when life in the this world is too real.

BOOK REVIEW: IN SPITE OF MYSELF: A MEMOIR, CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER

ChrisPlummerMemoirAudioHaving read a bunch of review about this book both before I bought it and since reading it, I have this to say: it’s gossip. I bought this as an audiobook because Plummer narrates the book himself and I thought it would be more interesting with the author talking about his own life.

You have to really like Hollywood gossip to read the whole thing. It would be better if you aren’t overly prudish, don’t mind street language and aren’t offended by men who talk about the women with whom they have slept in intimate detail. He is also an awful snob. He came from the upper class, you see, and he’s never quite been able to get into the whole “everyone-is-equal” thing.

Which is contradictory because in his personal life and relationships, he is very egalitarian. He doesn’t care if you are pink, black, yellow or polka-dot, gay, straight or something weirdly in between. He tends to judge people by the quality of their acting and how well they hold their booze. He also is almost entirely lacking in malice, which is refreshing considering how many of these memoirs by stars seem to have been written for the express purpose of settling old scores. Christopher Plummer seems to mostly want to remember the good old days — the golden days of Broadway and live theatre in Canada (he’s a Montrealer and proud of it) and Great Britain. He loved the theater and does not seem to have reconciled himself to the encroachment of movies and television.

ChrisPlummerMemoirCvrEven though most of his career has been spent working in Hollywood and television, neither medium could ever match his passion for the stage. The world up and changed. Although he did what he had to do to continue to work, it was never as good for him as it was in the 1950s.

This is a very mixed bag as a book and as a listening experience. Certainly you can’t argue with Plummer’s beautiful voice and crisp, classical enunciation. But he doesn’t know the difference between narrating and acting, so the entire book is more acted than read. You get used to it after a few hours of listening, but especially at the beginning, he’s more than a little over the top.

He started working young, so he got to know many of the legendary greats of stage and screen. His admiration and personal love for the people — Jason Robards, Raymond Massey, Tyrone Guthrie, Everett Edward Horton, Lawrence Olivier, Archibald MacLeish — to name but a few are matched only by how very much he misses them. There is a strong whiff of sadness as he tells the stories of his youth, always adding when he or she died. He is one of the few left standing.

Most memoirs are more than slightly sad. By the time someone is writing his or her memoirs, it’s usually because they have grown old, the world they loved has gradually — or not so gradually — disappeared. Plummer is honest, generous in his assessment of anyone he ever regarded as a friend. For example, he rates his pal (with whom he started out in Montreal theatre) William Shatner as a fine actor, which I think is more than generous. I like Shatner too … but great actor? Not exactly. Apparently a really good friend, however.

Christopher Plummer cannot say a bad word — or enough good ones — about anyone he likes and he liked most of the people with whom he worked, drank and slept. Oh, just in case you’re wondering, the ones he slept with were women. Now you don’t have to hold your breath waiting for the revelation.

If you are a film buff, enjoy knowing the back stories to movies, or just love Hollywood gossip, you will enjoy the book. It’s a bit long, wistful, and occasionally repetitive but not preachy (which I appreciate). The aristocratic superiority Plummer sometimes exudes can be a bit much. Yet, for all that, I’m glad I read it and I’m particularly glad I heard it as an audiobook. The author’s voice changes it. There is no way I would picked up all the nuances without the author’s voice.

IN SPITE OF MYSELF is also available on Kindle and paperback. You can find plenty of second-hand hardcover copies available on Amazon and probably other sites too. I bet the print version of the book includes photographs. You lose that in audio, but I think it’s a worthwhile trade.

BLAST FROM THE PAST -The Best Medicine

Life in shreds? Out of work? Evicted? Hiding from the repo guys? Other half dumped you? Bank threatening to foreclose? Don’t take it personally. It’s just  a joke. No, really. Disaster is life’s cute and funny way of pointing out how little control you have over your fate. Don’t cry. No one likes a cry-baby. Smile! That’s it! Go on, now, no suffering allowed. This personal disaster is your cue to laugh. No one wants to hear your sad story … unless you turn it into a funny story! Then everyone wants to listen.

The first time my world went to pieces, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me. I promptly married a guy so much worse I get dizzy thinking about it 30 years later. When that fell apart (though it lasted longer than it ought because I wouldn’t admit what a horrible mistake I’d made), I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless — back to the USA. When I stopped feeling as if I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry which I should done in the first place, except he hadn’t asked. Minor detail.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and horrendous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery fuels humor. It’s a fact. Misery, mistakes, and disasters are high comedy. Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the ending. Tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses; comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of timing and style.

Funny stories weren’t funny when they happened. Now, well, yeah, they’re funny. After I was told I had cancer in not one, but both breasts (they were having a two-for-one special at the Dana-Farber), I had them removed and replaced by silicon implants, but stopped short of adding fake nipples. Previous surgeries having left me with no naval, I now present myself as a space alien. You don’t believe me? It’s true.

And about those fake tits: I own tee shirts that say “Yes, they are FAKE. My real ones tried to kill me.” I’m wearing one right now. It’s a killer at parties and is the high point of my cancer experience.

Fake breasts

When life goes to Hell in the proverbial handbasket, a lot of folks who were sort of friends eye you with suspicion (is bad luck contagious?), but also with a subtle hint, a light whiff, of profound satisfaction. They wouldn’t be rude enough to say so, but they are overjoyed that it happened to you, not them. Sorry about your life, really. (Furtive, slightly smug grin.)

If you are a writer, out of the wreckage will come a book or at the very least, a Freshly Pressed badge from WordPress. Yay! See? It wasn’t for nothing!

Our personal traumas are collateral damage in a Darwinian battle of the fittest to survive. No one gets through unscathed. So mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your more successful pals. It will give you something to look forward to. And, as a bonus, you will really appreciate the irony when your friends’ lives go to pieces later on. You’ll be able to give them great advice on how to survive their personal Apocalypse! Cool!

So no matter how horrible things are right now, don’t worry. You will stop bleeding and screaming. Eventually. Black depression will ebb. You won’t always feel you can’t breathe. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic and mild hysteria you will call “normal.”

Start laughing right this minute.  No tears allowed. Tragedy is hilarious. Heaven may be droll, but Hell?  Everyone is yukking it up down there. Watch out for the flames (OUCH).

HOLLYWOOD BIZARRE – FLYPAPER AND OTHER WEIRD STUFF

A while ago, Garry and I watched what is I am sure among the lowest grossing movies of all time. I don’t say this lightly. In its theatrical run, it grossed exactly (according to both Wikipedia and IMDB) $1100, which even in our world is not a huge amount of money. No, there aren’t any zeroes missing. That’s the real number.

This is not the lowest grossing movie ever. The 2012 movie  Playback cost $7.5 million to film but only grossed $264 – the lowest-grossing film of 2012. And 2006’s Zyzzx Road, starring Katherine Heigl grossed $30

Flypaper only cost $5,000,000 to make, so they only lost $4,998,900 which, for a Hollywood bomb, is small potatoes. The movie was universally panned, opened in just one movie house (where?) on two screens, then disappeared, never to be heard from again until it popped up the other night on one of our cable movie channels.

Garry didn’t recognize it, so he recorded it on the bedroom DVR. One night, while I was reading in bed (my favorite indulgence), I noticed the bed was shaking. He was laughing. Really laughing. Garry doesn’t normally lay in bed laughing. He told me that he was going to save this one because he thought I’d like it. As a rule, there are many things I find funny that he doesn’t find amusing, but never has the reverse been true. If he thinks its funny, it’s funny.

Flypaper  is actually a good little comedy. It’s a spoof, a farce, a parody of bank heist movies plus slapstick, technobabble and a few good explosions. The dialogue is witty.

The cast features Ashley Judd and Patrick Dempsey. It’s directed by Rob Minkoff. The writers were the same guys who created the characters from The Hangover. Rob Minkoff is known for co-directing The Lion King. So they’ve got their bona fides in order.

My first thought, as the credits were rolling, was that it reminded me of the credits for the Pink Panther. And, it turns out, the movie reminded me of the Pink Panther too, minus Inspector Clouseau. The same sort of “What else could go wrong” humor. It’s not a great movie, but it’s fun. I would normally not write about it, but it’s gotten a bum rap: horrible reviews and no support from the studio. Showing it for one week in one movie theater on two screens, with no advertising or PR is not exactly a big opening. It deserved better.

The writeups in both IMDB and Wikipedia demonstrate that whoever wrote them never watched the movie. The descriptions are wildly inaccurate. Shame on whoever wrote them. I guess anonymity is not always a bad thing. I wouldn’t sign my name to that drivel either. Then again, I wouldn’t write about something I’d never watched. Call me old-fashioned, but it bothers me.

When I read movie reviews, I frequently wonder if the reviewer watched the same movie I did. Or watched any movie at all. They heap praise on movies that are boring and sometimes much worse than that. They pan movies that are creative, unique and interesting. They apparently take special pleasure in negative reviews, the more vicious the better. Meanwhile, they glorify obscure movies in which no one could possibly be interested.

Back in 1999, Garry and I were visiting friends in Michigan. Our group consisted of a lawyer, an engineer, a TV journalist, and a writer. We decided to rent the latest movie on which critics were heaping praise. It was the must-see  movie of the year: American Beauty.

Touted as a masterpiece, there were barely enough adjectives in the English language to say how wonderful it was. It was beloved of critics and grossed more than $350 million, won Best PictureBest DirectorBest Actor (for Spacey), Best Original Screenplay and Best Cinematography.

It stunk. It was affectedartsy, pretentious and incoherent. Did I forget annoying and dull?

Take this “interpretation” from Wikipedia as an example of just how thrilling it was:

Academics have offered many possible readings of American Beauty; film critics are similarly divided, not so much about the quality of the film as their interpretations of it. Described by many as about “the meaning of life” or “gender identification” or “the hollow existence of the American suburbs”, the film has defied categorization by even the filmmakers. Mendes is indecisive, saying the script seemed to be about something different each time he read it: “a mystery story, a kaleidoscopic journey through American suburbia, a series of love stories … it was about imprisonment … loneliness [and] beauty. It was funny; it was angry, sad.” (Translation: Mendes, the director, didn’t have a clue what the script was about.)

In essence, no one knew what, if anything, the movie was about, but it was so “au courant” no one was would admit they didn’t get it. After the fad ended, the movie disappeared. No one shows it on cable, no one rents it. It’s out of print. Because it was crap. Like in the story of the Emperor’s new clothing, no one wanted to be the first to point out the king was bare-ass naked.

About half an hour into the movie, our little group of well-read individualists looked at each other and briefly conferred. Was anyone enjoying it? No? Then why were we watching it?  We promptly popped the movie out of the machine and moved on with our evening. Pop corn goes well with conversation, too.

It reminds me of the Woody Allen movie Hollywood Ending. In it, a formerly prestigious director is broke and desperate for a movie project. He gets an offer to direct a big movie in New York. Because the offer comes from his former wife (Téa Leoni) and her current boyfriend (Treat Williams), he is reluctant to take the assignment, even though he needs the money and something to get his career on track.

He finally agrees to do it and is immediately struck blind by some kind of psychosomatic ailment probably induced by anxiety. The production hasn’t even started yet, but he decides to fake it.  It costs $60 million and flops. But, there is a “Hollywood ending.” The movie becomes a huge hit in France. He happily proclaims, “Thank God the French exist.” He knows the movie is awful, the worst thing he’s ever done. He had no idea what he was doing, but the French read all kinds of deep meaning into it. There will always be people to love things that don’t make sense because they figure it must be full of secret meaning. I went to school with these people. Didn’t we all?

My point is simple: Unless we are utterly lacking in critical judgment, I doubt the critics actually watched Flypaper. Maybe one guy watched it, didn’t like it, told the others who all followed his leader.

Flypaper is funny. We enjoyed it. It’s up there with some of the Zucker brothers nuttier comedies and a few of Mel Brooks’ later efforts. It’s as good as I’m Gonna Git You Sucka (1988) and the same genre.

We laughed. A comedy should make you laugh. This does.

Flypaper is every bank heist movie you’ve seen with Murphy’s Law running rampant. Absolutely everything that can go wrong does so in the most spectacular way. Parts of the film remind me of Wily Coyote cartoons. You know something’s going to happen, but it doesn’t spoil the joke. The bomb is going to blow everyone to kingdom come. The fancy electronic computer gadgets won’t work. The money in the vault will be drachma, not dollars. You don’t care. The pacing is appropriately frantic, the actors manage to keep straight faces. The dialogue is funny and well-delivered. You have to listen because good lines are easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention.

Our favorite bit of dialogue is between two of the older bank robbers complaining that they miss the good old days when all you needed was a gun and a brown paper bag. This in the midst of what could only be called the most catastrophically unsuccessful bank heist ever attempted.

The ending is predictable … or maybe not. It depends how your mind works. If you bump into it on cable or somewhere, give it a look. It’s pretty good. Really. I’m not kidding. I did watch it, including the credits.

Available from Amazon on DVD, Blu-ray, and download, most people who actually watched it liked it. I’m still trying to figure out why the critics were so negative.

The more time I spend writing about movies, the less I understand critics.

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LEDA DOES THE SWAN

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The happy couple.

Back in my bright college days, I was for the first 2 years, a music major. When my fellow wannabe musicians hung out on the quad on warm sunny days, we would plan projects that were going to make us famous. Symphonies were planned. Great achievements as conductors and composers were spun as glorious dreams, although I don’t know that my class actually produced anyone who really hit the big time. Medium time seems to be as good as we got.

But my dream, my great project, was a full musical comedy based on the story of Leda and the Swan. I thought Broadway because in those days, there were no computer generated graphics to make the impossible real on-screen. Now, I think perhaps Hollywood would be the correct venue for this masterpiece.

In the Greek myth of Leda and the Swan, Zeus, in the form of a swan, seduces, or rapes Leda. Which is never made entirely clear, but I vote for seduction since I have a lot of trouble visualizing getting raped by a swan. Even as Zeus, swans are not agile except in the water and their lack of hands and arms would seem to make rape difficult.

Regardless, Leda becomes pregnant by Zeus as swan. She bears Helen and Polydeuces, both children of Zeus in his swan modality. Simultaneously (I’d like to know how she manages this) she gives birth to Castor and Clytemnestra, children of her human husband Tyndareus, King of Sparta.

In the myth, Leda is able to convince her parents and husband her extra pregnancy was not the result of a lover. No, no! Honest to gods, really, no kidding, it was Zeus who did it. Not merely was it Zeus –not some guy — but he was in the form of a swan!

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Hey, Zeus? Is that you?

My favorite scene would be the first act closer. In a highly emotional musical extravaganza, Leda pours out her distress in a heart-rending lyric soprano rich with passion. She explains — to hubby, mom and dad —  it really truly was Zeus.

Leda: Even in the form of a swan, I knew it was Zeus. And you all know how much I love birds and feathers, right? I mean … what girl could resist such a gorgeous bird who is, after all, top God in the Pantheon? No kidding. I wouldn’t lie to you.

Tyndareus, King of Sparta: I want to believe you, but I’m having a few problems with this.

Leda: Trust me, dear. It was Zeus. He was disguised as a swan. You know how clever he can be.

Later, we all get to see the central event, Leda’s experience. In a carefully choreographed dream sequence, Leda relives the heady romance of the seduction. I’m assuming it was seduction rather than rape. I mean, how big was that swan anyhow? And, uh, some of the technical aspects of the experience make for interesting mental meanderings. How, exactly, did … well … Never mind. This is a G-rated site. Suffice to say it would make a heck of a scene. Now that CGI has come of age, with some well done special effects? Wow. This could have the audience on its feet!

There’s more. Depending on which version of the story you read, Leda either give birth to babies … or lays eggs. Lays eggs? Really?

Zeus and Leda?

Zeus and Leda?

Eggs open up a whole new world of possibilities. If she lays eggs, does she have to sit on them until they hatch? As Queen of Sparta, can she order her court attendants to sit on the eggs while she performs her royal duties?

Does she build a nest? In the palace? Do the hatchlings feel a compelling urge to dive into lakes and ponds? Are they born knowing how to swim? Or more to the point, paddle? Do they have webbed feet? How do they feel about feathers?

I no long feel up to writing a musical comedy, but I freely offer this amazing concept to anyone who feels inclined to flush it out. I think it might just launch more than one career. You think?

Getting hits for being relevant

If you’ve ever worked as a reporter — or any kind of researcher — the instinct to follow a story persists. Sometimes, it pays off. For me, the turning point of this blog was when I got thousands of hits on a reblog about hurricane Sandy in November 2012.

November 2012 was something of a super month for bloggers. Between the presidential election and Hurricane Sandy, activity on the Internet was much greater than usual. Even people who were normally not especially interested were hopping online to follow current stories.

The thing was, the article that started bringing in all those hits was a reblog, or more accurately, a scoop. Anyone could have as easily read the same article on its original site. I was not at the top of a Google search. I tried using the phrase everyone else was using and Serendipity didn’t come up. At all. So people were seeking me out. Rather than reading the original article, they came to my site. Even giving me a point or two for attractive presentation, there were more than enough stories on the same subject all over the Internet. I’m not being modest. I wanted to know: why me?

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

Coney Island post Hurricane Sandy.

I decided to analyze what I did better or differently than others. I looked at the total content for days when my numbers were very high. I realized all involved current events that were unusually high-profile. My best days involved Hurricane Sandy (November 2012), the blizzard Nemo (February 2013) and the days leading up to and immediately following the storms. Also the beginning of the new television season, the Oscars (before, after and during) and (of course) the election. And sadly, the bombing at the Boston Marathon (April 2013). Plus every time they play the première episode of Criminal Minds.

When major events occur, I write about them. Not one story, but a series of posts. I start with an article that covers the main story, then add to it. If the initial story was reblogged — often the case — I add graphics and photographs. I add commentary and analysis. My additions are typically longer and more detailed than the original. I don’t alter the original author’s text and I always give credit, but I build on it.

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

Nemo blizzard, February 2013

In this case, the original post was a reblogged (using ScoopIt) standalone post. Using it as a jumping off point, I followed a trail. I gathered pictures, stories about hurricanes and other storms. I wrote about them from my perspective, if I remembered them. Then, I asked Garry — my personal treasure trove of first-hand experiences — to talk about his experiences during the Blizzard of 1978 and other storms.

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1988

New York during the The White Hurricane, The Blizzard of March 11, 1888

I roamed the web to see what was happening in various places being hit by the storm. Although I focused on Sandy and it’s impact on Coney Island, I discovered many other places along the coast which were equally affected. I posted what news I could gather about these areas.

I kept gathering and adding information, especially photographs, historical background and apocryphal stories. I just did what I always do when something interests me. I get into “bloodhound mode” and I followed the scent. The circles kept getting wider and including more locations, more events.

I eventually included stories not directly related to Sandy but which were thematically related. Other monster storms have paralyzed the Atlantic coast, some relatively recently. I love history so it was fun digging up historical information. Research can keep me glued to the computer for very long stretches. It’s how I learn.

I googled “hurricanes past 100 years East Coast” and could have filled an encyclopedia with the results. Research became stories. I hunted down historical photographs. I remembered stories I heard from relatives and friends about storms. My husband covered every storm to hit New England for more than 30 years, so he is a nearly bottomless repository of great first person experience.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

Stranded cars on Route 95, Blizzard of 1978, Boston.

I ultimately produced a series of stories over almost a week.  News, mood  and background stories, data, photographs. I stitched them together. Each post was separate, but they formed a continuity. One thing led to another. When I thought about this storm, I remembered other storms, wrote about the storm that hit on my birthday in 1888 … and I offered facts, stories, and historical background, sidebars, and photographs.

The combination worked. Folks came to read one story and stayed to read many more. Some of them signed on as followers. It turned out that I didn’t have such a huge volume of visitors, but everyone who did visit stayed and read as many as five or six stories. A lot of hits.

Since then, I have more visitors on a regular basis and most of them read at least two or more stories. It’s not complicated:

  1. Be current. Don’t ignore major events. You don’t even have to write the stories yourself. Which brings me to the next point.
  2. If you don’t like WordPress’s reblog format, try ScoopIt. It seems a waste of time to write an essentially identical story when someone else has already done a great job writing it. Being relevant doesn’t mean you have to write it, but at least include it by reference.
  3. When something signficant or interesting is going on in our world whether it’s a national election, a hurricane, tsunami, the new television season or the upcoming Oscars, pay attention. You don’t have to write about just that subject, but maybe you shouldn’t completely ignore it either.
  4. It’s fine to march to the beat of your own drum, but it’s good to also pay attention to what the rest of the band is playing. If you march alone most of the time, occasionally it’s not a bad idea to join the chorus … or sing counterpoint.
  5. If you can’t be relevant because there are no big stories, be entertaining. Use those lemons to make delicious lemonade.
  6. Include lots of photographs.

Ivory towers can lonely. If you want company, you need to associate with the rest of the world and pay at least some attention to what interests them. If you write entirely for yourself, it’s a diary, not a blog.

Daily Prompt: The Stat Connection – How to make friends and influence people

My most popular all time whiz-bang post was written during a five-minute commercial interruption of the 2012 première episode of Criminal Minds. Over a thousand hits came pouring in for that post plus another few hundred over the next few days and many more in the months since. It remains my highest drawing post. When the season première came around in England, I got 1400 hits in one hour.

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I always know when the episode is playing somewhere because each time it shows, anywhere on earth, in rerun or as a new series, I get another thousand or so hits. The last time was the middle of June when a rerun of the episode was on cable and I got just under 900 hits in about an hour and another 300 the next day. Sure does goose up those stats, eh?

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What have I learned from this? If you want to be popular, write about television shows and be lucky. Make sure Google puts you at the top of the search for that thing, whatever it is. Because that’s what drives them to me. Not my brilliant writing, not the extraordinary subject matter. I wrote a little piece quickly, without much thought, published it within a couple of minutes. It accounts for 10,111 total hits. I have no idea what kind of lesson to take from that. Do you? You may read it here: The FBI can’t do a simple Google search?

In second position for all time hits, with a solid showing of 5,043 hits is a joke about cell phones and Albert Einstein. I copied and pasted it from Facebook. It’s funny, but it’s not exactly a cogent, well-written commentary on the human condition. I’ve written shopping lists with deeper meaning. In the name of scientific inquiry, feel free to give this your full attention: The man who saw the future …

Finally in the number three position with 2,645 hits is a reblog of an article comparing two Olympus cameras, the PEN PL-5 and the PEN PM-2. It gets from 20 to 100 hits a day, every day since I published it about a year ago. Apparently if you are shopping for Olympus cameras, you are more likely to find me than the original author. The mystery of Google strikes again. You will enjoy this if you are buying a new mirrorless camera. The information is excellent and if I’d written it myself, I’d be prouder still: Olympus E-PL5 vs. Olympus E-PM2, a surprise. I bought the PM2, by the way. I already owned the PL-1 and P3.

There is no connection between these posts other than they hit the public fancy and placed well on Google’s search engine. One was written by someone else, another is a well-known Internet joke, and third comments about a popular TV show and involves hunting serial killers. What it proves to me? Popularity has little to do with good writing, meaningful subject matter, or even good taste. Taken by themselves, statistics are worse than meaningless: they are deceptive. If you can find another interpretation, I’m all ears.

Rarely are your best efforts your most popular posts. So far, never. The pieces of which I’m the most proud often languish unnoticed while articles written in haste with little thought, but about popular subjects do very well. On the rare occasions when a piece I’m genuinely proud of does well, I glow.

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Meanwhile, by dint of working really hard at finding interesting, entertaining and valuable subjects to write about, I’ve got almost 85,000 hits, more than 400 followers, about 1200 posts and Word Press has never found a single thing I’ve written or photographed worthy of being Freshly Pressed. Not a single picture or post. That boggles my mind too because I’ve read a lot of the freshly pressed material and can’t remember any of it. It was smooth reading and totally forgettable. Maybe I’m trying too hard.

Some days I wonder why I bother? I could just go find stuff on the Internet and reblog it and get fantastic numbers. But then I slap myself on the face and remind me I don’t do it for the numbers or even for the recognition, though I certainly wouldn’t mind positive input.

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I do it because I love it. The writing, the photography, the relationships. I really, truly love it. So until I just wear out and give up from sheer exhaustion, I guess you are all stuck with me.

Other recent top entries, many of which are informational and/or technical should not surprise me because I was a technical writer for 35 years and I write a good reference stuff. After all those years, you’d figure I’d have a grip on that, at least. So here’s a list of my most popular posts (not in order, but overall hit count showing). Within the list are contain some pieces I think are pretty good. Well-written and containing interesting or useful information, or just an opinion I’m glad someone found worth reading.

Why tablets can’t replace computers. And why they shouldn’t. (301 hits)

Amazon Kindle Fire 7-Inch HD: 13-months later (369 hits)

The Felix Castor Series, Mike Carey (359 hits) 

How many states are trying to secede? (843 hits)

Things that go bump in the night (354 hits)

Gazing through to the other side: Hollywood and Moral Character (751 hits)

Where do the swans go? (334 hits) (photo gallery)

Old Coney Island Impressions (306 hits) (photo gallery)

Nothing ties these articles together. Not theme, style, subject matter. The only thing they share is (with two glaring exceptions) the author — me. What should I make of this? You tell me. I don’t like any of the conclusions I draw.

Daily Prompt: My Life, the Book — Calling James Lee Burke

I’ve already proved I’m unqualified to write my autobiography. My life needs a different approach. Less sappy and more darkly detective. Perhaps something a bit Faulkneresque.

Oh, I got it.

James Lee Burke.

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Hi Mr. Burke. I love you. Will you write my life story puleeze? Pretty puleeze? You’ve got the perfect style. You can describe my dark, abusive childhood, yet retain enough wry humor to deal with the ironies of my adult life. You do flawed heroes so well and I have more than enough flaws to satisfy anyone’s literary needs.

And strange characters? I got’em. Plenty of them. The legion of the weird who have marched through my story, sometimes stayed for decades before moving on to wreak havoc elsewhere.

This could be the story that would make a great movie. I know you’ve had problems getting Hollywood to produce any of your books as films without murdering them. Hollywood murders most books. It’s not personal, just Hollywood. That’s why Stephen King is producing Under the Dome himself and it’s pretty good so far. Maybe there’s hope for you, if you have the right property — like me. Stop laughing. I’m sort of semi-serious here.

You see, if you add your moody, sardonic, southern style to my apparently ordinary middle-class New York upraising, meld it with the reality of those years, add the bizarre life since using your unique style, it couldn’t miss. How could Hollywood not want it?

It would be good for you, good for me. Though maybe I’ll be dead, but who knows? Like the ghost-soldiers of In the Electric Mist with Confederate Dead, maybe I’ll hang around and wait for the reviews.

 

Weekly Writing Challenge: The Best Medicine – Laugh, Clown

Life in shreds? Out of work? Evicted? Hiding from the repo guys? Other half dumped you? Bank threatening to foreclose? Don’t take it personally. It’s just  a joke. No, really. Disaster is life’s cute and funny way of pointing out how little control you have over your fate. Don’t cry. No one likes a cry-baby. Smile! That’s it! Go on, now, no suffering allowed. This personal disaster is your cue to laugh. No one wants to hear your sad story … unless you turn it into a funny story! Then everyone wants to listen.

The first time my world went to pieces, I walked away from a dead marriage, gave everything to my ex and moved to another country. The joke was on me. I promptly married a guy so much worse I get dizzy thinking about it 30 years later. When that fell apart (though it lasted longer than it ought because I wouldn’t admit what a horrible mistake I’d made), I staggered — bloody, dazed and penniless — back to the USA. When I stopped feeling as if I’d gone through a wood chipper, I married Garry which I should done in the first place, except he hadn’t asked. Minor detail.

All that seemingly pointless pain and suffering was not for nothing. Stories of hideous mistakes and horrendous outcomes are the stuff of terrific after-dinner conversation. A few drinks can transform them into hilarity. Misery fuels humor. It’s a fact. Misery, mistakes, and disasters are high comedy. Funny movies are not about people having fun. They’re about people in trouble, with everything going wrong, lives in ruins. The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is the ending. Tragedies usually end with a pile of corpses; comedies (usually) don’t. Otherwise, it’s just a matter of timing and style.

Funny stories weren’t funny when they happened. Now, well, yeah, they’re funny. After I was told I had cancer in not one, but both breasts (they were having a two-for-one special at the Dana-Farber), I had them removed and replaced by silicon implants, but stopped short of adding fake nipples. Previous surgeries having left me with no naval, I now present myself as a space alien. You don’t believe me? It’s true.

And about those fake tits: I own tee shirts that say “Yes, they are FAKE. My real ones tried to kill me.” I’m wearing one right now. It’s a killer at parties and is the high point of my cancer experience.

Fake breasts

When life goes to Hell in the proverbial handbasket, a lot of folks that were sort of friends eye you with suspicion (is bad luck contagious?), but also with a subtle hint, a light whiff, of profound satisfaction. They wouldn’t be rude enough to say so, but they are overjoyed that it happened to you, not them. Sorry about your life, really. (Furtive, slightly smug grin.)

If you are a writer, out of the wreckage will come a book or at the very least, a Freshly Pressed badge from WordPress. Yay! See? It wasn’t for nothing!

Our personal traumas are collateral damage in a Darwinian battle of the fittest to survive. No one gets through unscathed. So mindful of whatever tragedy lurks just over your personal horizon, why not prepare some clever repartee? You can give it a test drive at the next get together with your more successful pals. It will give you something to look forward to. And, as a bonus, you will really appreciate the irony when your friends’ lives go to pieces later on. You’ll be able to give them great advice on how to survive their personal Apocalypse! Cool!

So no matter how horrible things are right now, don’t worry. You will stop bleeding and screaming. Eventually. Black depression will ebb. You won’t always feel you can’t breathe. That crushing weight on your chest will be replaced by a permanent sense of panic and mild hysteria you will call “normal.”

Start laughing right this minute.  No tears allowed. Tragedy is hilarious. Heaven may be droll, but Hell?  Everyone is yukking it up down there. Watch out for the flame (oops).

Love that Masked Man — but I’ll skip the movie

LoneRangerWallpaper

My Lone Ranger wallpaper

The “new” Lone Ranger opens today, but the reviews are already in. In newspapers around the world, the reviews are appalling. Really bad. Not a little bad. Seriously terrible. I had no plans to see it anyway, so these reviews merely confirmed my expectations.

The Lone Ranger Panned and Predicted to be Box Office Poison by Mike Smith gives a pretty good summary of the reviews to date. It’s exactly what I expected. I would have preferred to be wrong. Given the Johnny Depp factor, I expected a travesty and it appears we got one.

Seeing the movie would desecrate the memory of my first true love. If I don’t see it, at least I have my memories.

From my first earliest encounter with The Masked Man and his Faithful Companion, I was in love. There were times when it was unclear whether I loved the horse or the rider. I think Silver had an edge, but I yearned for the both.

To satisfy my passion and because I grew up when wallpaper was something glued to walls, I had Lone Ranger and Tonto in my bedroom. Life was not easy for me, but I had the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains all around me. It helped me through the really dark times.

Other girls had Disney Princesses, but I had “Hi Yo Silver” and “The Lone Ranger.” Although my walls did not play music, I could hum well enough, and I had many a long chat with Lone and Tonto as I lay abed pondering the meaning of life and how I could convince mom to let me have a horse. And hoping I’d discover I was adopted. Because if I were adopted, there was some small hope my real parents would come and take me away. Unlikely, but kids are optimists.

The original Lone Ranger and Tonto — Jay Silverheels and Clayton Moore

Eventually I grew up and out of my wallpaper, but it did not end my allegiance to The Masked Man. Even now, I’ll happily watch the old reruns. Silly? Maybe. But kindly, with some dignity allowed to the characters.

And, whatever else you could say about the show, they managed to cast a real Native American as (gasp) a Native American! More than half a century later, we get Johnny Depp? That’s the best we can do?

Remakes don’t have to be awful, even though they usually are. There have been remakes that are better than the originals. I can name several off the top of my head and probably so can you. It’s not impossible but it requires studios to make an effort to produce quality films. To get a good script and assemble a cast that can do it justice. It’s not that hard to make good movies. Good script, good actors, competent director. Voila! A good movie. They just don’t make a real effort.

My initial delight at learning Disney was making a new Lone Ranger movie changed to dread when I realized Johnny Depp was playing Tonto. We awaited the release of  trailer of the new “Lone Ranger” with foreboding. We were right to worry.

We watched the trailer. After it ended, silence enveloped us. Garry and I, wrapped in our individual thoughts, sat for a while. Thinking. Finally, I turned to Garry and said:  “Let’s wait till it comes to cable.”

He pondered that for a minute or two. “No, he said. “Let’s just wait.”

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