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MOSES, PETER AND MEL

Before I put one finger to type, I acknowledge this may be heresy to some people. On this day of days, one simply doesn’t make fun of religious movies. But I do.

Last night, Marilyn and I had our traditional viewing of “The Ten Commandments”. Marilyn has already posted a piece on this event which expresses our sentiments about Mr. Demille’s final epic. Cecil B was, once again, going for life altering moments. He gave us, instead, much-needed laughter.

Today’s lineup of movies on our favorite cable station includes almost all of the familiar biblical movies. Few stand the test of time. Some are really well intended like George Stevens’, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. But the man who gave us classics like “Shane”, “A Place In The Sun” and “Giant”, wound up with a ponderous and static film in “The Greatest Story”. It’s biggest sin? It is boring!

As I write, we are watching Mel Brooks’, “History of the World-Part One” which is the perfect antidote to historical films that have become parodies or that were really never good. The ironic thing is that we have a greater appreciation of history because of Mel’s equal opportunity insults than the cardboard epics which play fast and loose with facts.

I must admit I love watching gladiator movies. It’s a guy thing like war films.  I also enjoy seeing semi clad (or even less clad) young women engaging us in erotic dances before evil monarchs who are not playing with a full deck. But we’re not talking about great cinema here.

HistoryOfTheWorldPartI

Charlton “call me Chuck” Heston was really honest when he talked about playing Moses. He told me it was a good gig. Working with Cecil B. DeMille (for a second time) was nice for his résumé. It actually gave him a boost for a religious film he really wanted to do. “Ben Hur” is one of the best religious films out of Hollywood. It stands the test of time because of William Wyler’s fine direction. And, yes, the chariot race alone is still worth the price of admission.

This really is obviously subjective. If you love Cecil B’s forceful (?) narration of his take on the old testament, so be it. So let it be written, so let it be done,

We’re back with Mel. Now, it’s the French Revolution and those girls in their generously cut costumes.

It’s good to be king!

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.

MARILYN IN RECOVERY: LAZY SATURDAY

This is Marilyn’s 6th full day back home after complex heart valve surgery at Boston’s Beth Israel Hospital. We’re both tired. Marilyn for multiple reasons, me just for fatigue. So, this is a short update. It’s a day for watching silly movies that don’t tax our minds. So far, we’ve seen “Hot Shots! Part Deux” and “Airplane!” The stack of waiting movies includes  “Galaxy Quest,” “Crazy People,” “The Court Jester” and a deluxe set of Mel Brooks comedies.

Marilyn is moving around more on her own. Slowly but without assistance. We received a truly nice gift from an old friend. One of those elongated bathroom seat risers with removable arms. It enables Marilyn to take care of business without help. That’s a big boost for privacy and self-accomplishment. If you’ve been there, you know it’s no small thing.

No visiting nurse or physical therapist visits today. Marilyn is in one of her bright red nightgowns. I’m wearing my “Dog Father” casual bottoms and dog-eared top. The furry kids are taking their afternoon siestas. Dinner is still to be discussed. I’m hoping to keep it simple. That’s my speed.

Marilyn wants to write a blog. She tried valiantly this morning. The brain is working but not her arms or fingers. Matter of fact, Marilyn’s mind is like that of HEDley Lamaar — ‘a raging torrent of brilliant ideas’. She’ll try her next blog when more body parts are in sync.

My usual baseball passion is slightly dormant right now for obvious reasons. I didn’t read the pre-season predictions or watch the Red Sox home opener. Sheer heresy in any other year. It’s a long season. Here’s hoping the team is doing well when Marilyn and I can give them more attention.

Surely, you understand our priorities here. And don’t call me Shirley!!

 

 

ROKU – BETTER THAN EVER AND JUST AS CHEAP

Every once in a while, someone invents something that makes life a little brighter. 

Enter the Roku, a little streaming device that runs off your WiFi so you can stream movies, TV shows and other channels both free and subscription-based on your television. The price is right: the entry-level model is $49.99, and even the top of the line is less than $100, cheaper than a modest game system.

Roku-1

The Roku comes in different flavors though they all work the same way. Advanced models offer additional bells and whistles including an earphone connection through the remote control. In our case, there is no point in getting an advanced model. Both our television have just one high-definition port and it’s already in use by the cable box. Also, we have wireless Sennheiser headphones hook-ups for both televisions.

plugs roku and headphones

Roku is small, the size of a little bar of soap. Connecting is simple. I did it alone and despite a few humorous moments caused when I didn’t notice I’d accidentally turned off the power strip, it went smoothly. Roku is as easy to install as the ads promise. It works. And keeps working.

Plug A into B, B into C. Insert batteries (2 AAAs, included) into the remote. Turn on the TV and follow the prompts. The single item the instructions don’t cover is reminding you to switch your TV input to whatever input you are using for Roku. This was easy on the newer TV in the bedroom where inputs on the back of the set are labeled. The bigger (older) TV in the living room makes you guess, so you have to click through the inputs until Roku appears. Mostly, you need to know to take this step or you will sit there staring at an empty screen, wondering why you aren’t seeing Roku.

roku to TV + headphones

The instructions promise installing the Roku will bring out your inner geek. My inner geek is not hidden. I just don’t like hardware. In my secret heart, I believe electricity is waiting for the right moment to spill out of the walls. I don’t trust hardware and I believe the feeling is mutual.

Regardless, I set it up and by golly, it works. This was my second installation, so I’m two for two. Yay me. It took about half an hour, most of which involved getting the wires out of the way and finding a place to put Roku where it is accessible yet close enough to plug into a power strip. Compromise was required. I wish manufacturers would include longer power cords longer on electronic devices. They are all — including Roku — about a foot short of convenient.

Despite advertisements to the contrary, there are only few free services. Almost everything is either subscription (Netflix, Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime) or pay-per-use (Blockbuster On Demand).

I was pleased to see that improvements have been made to the remote. The older version works, but it’s awkward and not very responsive.The newer unit has dedicated keys for major channels (nice!) and the unit is much more responsive. I wonder if I can get a newer remote for an older Roku? I’ll have to check.

The “search” capabilities are primitive using the remote, so search on a computer and put everything you want to watch on wish lists. Use the remote only to make selections. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to work. Be aware: You can’t install Roku without a computer. To activate your unit, you must enter a generated code from the television into your account on the computer. 

Closed captions are available on almost everything. Some old television series and movies don’t have them, but that’s true on cable too.

roku and headphones

Is Roku going to replace expensive movie packages from your cable or satellite company? Maybe. It depends on your viewing habits, your technical aptitude, creativity and how your cable company has structured their prices. They don’t make it easy to delete pieces of your package. However, if you currently can’t afford movie packages from your cable or dish provider, this is affordable and easy to use — as easy as they say it is and getting more versatile every day. You will find that Netflix streaming video does not include most popular movies. For that, you need to sign up for their DVD service too … and I won’t do it. I’m not really thrilled with Netflix, by the way. Just thought I’d mention that. I’m tempted to try a different streaming service to see if it’s any better. I’m an Amazon Prime member and while their free selection is smaller than Netflix, it is higher quality.

You need one Roku per television, but you don’t need a different account for each Roku. One account for a household, no matter how many televisions you have, is enough.

Roku is great addition to your entertainment package, especially for the price. It delivers the goods, is more than worth the money, whether you buy the economy model or top of the line. Whether or not it can replace other services is subjective.

LOVE TO READ – HOW HARRY POTTER CHANGED THE WORLD

Recently I saw the 8th and final Harry Potter movie on Blue Ray DVD. In an introduction to the movie celebrated author of the seven Harry Potter books, J.K. Rowling, talked about the 13 year adventure from the time the first Harry Potter book was published until the time the 8th movie was finished. In case you did not know, the 7th book was long and made into two movies. They probably should have made books five and six into two movies each, but I digress.

harryPotter

The really remarkable thing about the series was not that it made eight movies, turned Daniel Radcliffe into one of the richest people in England and Rowling into a Billionaire. It is not that Radcliffe and his costars, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson, are now the most famous wizards of all time, or even that a wonderful theme park was opened in Florida to celebrate the worldwide phenomenon. The remarkable thing is that it got generations of people to read. They were not reading because they were assigned these books. They were all reading because they wanted to do it.

The movie adventures came as a result of a global desire to read about Harry Potter.  It was not just hitting the New York Times bestseller list. It was rocketing through the roof.  Books were flying off the shelves like Harry in a game of Quidditch. If you don’t know that reference, than you missed out on something most of the world knows.

When Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was finally published, almost exactly ten years after the first book was published, I wisely put a copy in reserve so I would not have to stand in line for the midnight release or miss out on getting a copy.

When I went to pick up my copy the following day I said to the clerk, “It must have been crazy here last night with all the kids screaming and pushing their way through.”

“The kids were not the problem,” she told me, “It was all the 20-year-olds pushing and shouting.”

It was the earliest generations of little wizards that were standing in line. Just imagine, some of them had waited half of their lives to find out what happened to the “Chosen One.” Many stayed up all night, not playing video games, but reading.

Yes, people all over the world were reading about Harry Potter, the boy wizard.

Nothing has captivated the reading public in that way since and perhaps nothing ever will again. It was the perfect mix of magic and wonder. And as Harry grew to be an adult, the stories grew to be more serious and complex. Just as Harry grew up, so did the books and with them, so did the reading public. No series had ever brought along a generation of readers from youth to adulthood merely through the pages of books.

It was the power of the books and the opinions of the followers of the boy wizard that the movies had to live up to. That is why movies five and six disappointed so many Potter fans. The books had spun the imaginations of readers into a marvelous vision of what these stories were and the movies had to cut much of the story to keep the length manageable. Reading had already painted the picture, but the movie screen did not display the scenes painted on the canvass of the mind.

Harry-Potter-And-The-Deathly-Hallows-Part-2

Thus book seven became movies seven and eight. There was no way to turn the long book into a two-hour and 25 minute movie. The only smart thing to do was exactly what the public was demanding. Film the entire book.

When book seven hit the shelves it sold 15 million copies in the first 24 hours. It has been translated into 120 languages. I bet you did not know there were that many languages. In its first week out, not only was it number one, but the other six books were in the top 20 best sellers. Everyone was loving to read the most fascinating series ever.

What about now? What about the next generation of readers? Will there be a next generation of readers? If you read the Potter series, then you know the joy of a good book. Many of us know the joy of many good books. If I had not already run up my word count with my joy of Harry Potter, I might list some of the great reads I have encountered in life.

There is nothing like a good book. It would be highly unfortunate for future generations if they did not know that. Harry Potter proves it, not just by the sales numbers but by the reaction of the reading public to the movies. Yes, they wanted the boy wizard to come to life, but they already knew what he should look like and what was happening at all the locations in the story.

Radcliffe may have come to be the Potter we saw as we read the books, but our imaginations took us to worlds only the mind can take us. Movie makers knew by book seven, they had to try to deliver something they could not, movies that matched the stories that already played out in our minds.

Teach your children or your grandchildren or your little brother or sister to read. It is not just about learning the words, it is about engaging the mind. They will find that a good book holds more excitement and wonder than a You Tube video or X-Box game. It is better than any 3-D spectacular or animated feature. The pictures it presents are the best pictures of all time, the pictures generated by the mind.

REMEMBERING RICHARD JAECKEL – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Boston, 1973.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good job, Kid”, he said.

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

More

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

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

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

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

Another Meeting

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

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

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

Richard Jaeckel was his driver.

OSCAR ISN’T SACRED BUT WE WATCH ANYHOW

72-oscar-statue

Daily Prompt: Time After Time

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

Garry and I watch the Oscars.

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

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

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

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

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

Ellen at oscars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lupita-Nyongo-Oscars-2014

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

We can hardly wait until next year.

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MARILYN MEETS MOSES AND MR. ROBERTS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

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

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

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

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

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

henry-fonda

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

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

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

REVIEWING THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY, 1964

Cover of "The Americanization of Emily"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Prix (1966 film)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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CHRISTMAS — FAMILY, FRIENDS, MOVIES, TV – By Garry Armstrong

Here we are again somewhere in what’s probably the most bittersweet or sweet bitter time of the year for most of us. It’s the jolly, holly Christmas to New Year period.  It’s the time of year filtered through childhood memories for many and wrapped in holiday music, movies, and hectic preparations to greet folks we don’t often see.  We need to force ourselves to shift gears, putting aside worries about health, bills and family drama to put on a happy face for the most wonderful time of the year. 

Emotions are curious. The holiday season plays fast and loose with our emotions. For those of us who internalize our feelings, it can be tricky. Smiling is not easy. Showing pleasure or happiness isn’t instinctive. It was easy for me to show emotions in my professional life. But we’re talking about real life. I’m past the September of my years. Getting into the Christmas spirit is harder than ever. I miss childhood.

Garry at work ChristmasAs a child, Christmas was a time of anticipation. I was the kid in A Christmas Story.  The year I campaigned for the two-gun Roy Rogers set was very anxious for me. My hopes were almost dashed when I thought Santa had not heard me as we ripped though our presents that Christmas morning. But my Dad who always had a funny smile during Christmas and New Year’s Eve, motioned to one last present. Yes!! It was the DELUXE Roy Rogers two-gun set with 2 rolls of caps!! Even Mom smiled as I squealed in delight.

I never thought we were as poor as Mom frequently reminded us because we usually got what we wanted on Christmas. Those holiday memories include relatives who are long gone. Our Christmas card list was long and included Aunts, Uncles and Cousins, Grandpa and Grandma who I can still see clearly in my sense memory. I used to carefully print the card messages when I was young. As I grew older, I proudly displayed my penmanship, writing endearments to my relatives. I thought they would be in my life forever.

These days, I am the only one in my family to actually write and mail Christmas cards. I take the time to write messages to each person. Usually I wind up with writer’s cramp for my efforts. But I see my Mother hovering behind me somewhere, nodding her approval. I have to remind myself NOT to buy or write cards to Mom, Dad, Grandpa, Grandma and all those Aunts and Uncles. They’re all gone as are many of my friends.

Something is missing in those cherished memories. I have to force a smile. I’m not a kid anymore. I’m Gramps, one of the old people  as my 17-year-old Granddaughter calls my Bride and me. There is a sense of loneliness that won’t go away. The movies are my cure-all.

I grew up as a child of the movies. I  saw my first film, The Best Years Of Our Lives,  during the holiday season of 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war.  He was in uniform and seemed 10 feet tall as we went to the venerable radio City Music Hall to see the movie which is still a favorite with Marilyn and me.  Movies and their fantasies have always been a part of my life, my personality. I am comfortable, charming and loquacious when talking about movies. I lose myself in movies, especially westerns and holiday movies.

I can laugh, smile, cry and sing along with favorite movies like It’s a Wonderful Life, Meet Me In St. Louis, A Christmas Story, The Shop Around the Corner,  and many other memorable films shared in our collective sense memory. But once the movie is over, it’s back to reality minus the celluloid good cheer. Ironically it was the same way during my life as a TV news reporter. I did holiday stories ranging from heartbreak to feel-good. Thousands, maybe tens of thousands of people over decades watched those stories and associated me with all the festive times.  The real me smiles at the TV reporter me — trying to separate fact from fiction.  Print the legend, as they say in that old western.

One of the nice things about this holiday season is catching up with long-lost friends who’ve found me on Facebook. One person, a former mentor, who I presumed dead chatted me up, clearly remembering the years when I was a young reporter full of myself.

Then, there was the overnight radio show I did on WBZ radio in Boston last weekend. It is hosted by my dear, dear friend, Jordan Rich. Jordan has been through a very rough patch recently losing a loved one. But he spread friendship and laughter for his gang of movie mavens as we entertained listeners who called in from all parts of the country to chat about favorite holiday movies.

During breaks and commercials, we laughed and giggled like teenagers. The listeners picked up on our mood and said that it was infectious especially for many who were alone, lonely or depressed. I cried a little when an elderly woman thanked Jordan for being a life line. After the show, now close to 4 am, Jordan and I lingered talking about our lives and our families. We hugged each other for a long time with plans to get together again for a movie night out with Marilyn.

As I walked out the door, I looked back and Jordan was smiling. I felt warm outside and inside. That moment  will stay with me throughout the holidays and beyond. It’s good to be able to smile!

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.

Video

THE FUNNIEST YEAR – My Favorite Year

my-fav-year

This is one of those movies that I will watch any time it shows up on cable. No matter when (doesn’t matter since we have DVRs all over the house), it’s laugh-out-loud funny, funny enough to laugh at the jokes in advance after you’ve seen it a dozen times or move. Everyone in it gives a perfect performances. If you haven’t seen it, grab it before it gets away.

It isn’t merely funny. It’s also history, the history of comedy. The crazy kids who grew up to create the movies and television shows that made history and formed the comedy genre as we know and love it.

This is a wonderful, nostalgic, hilarious movie based on the “kids” who wrote the material for the “Show of Shows”, a live comedy show starring the great Sid Caesar. Among the many writers to emerge from this incubator of talent were Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Howard Morris, Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Norman Lear, Larry Gelbart (creator of MASH, the TV series) and many others. The writer’s room group reads like the who’s who of comedy.

Much of the story is based on an actual event, the week that Errol Flynn (Peter O’Toole) came to town to guest star on the Sid Caesar show. Mel Brooks, the kid in the movie was in fact assigned to “babysit” Flynn and make sure he stayed sober and showed up for the broadcast. Although the character is a bit of a composite, he’s mostly Mel.

Richard Benjamin directed it. Joe Bologna as “King Kaiser” (Sid Caesar) is wonderful. And as far as I’m concerned, this is far and away Peter O’Toole’s best performance. You may prefer Lawrence of Arabia, but this movie does it for me.

We never get tired of it. We never stop laughing. We watched it last night for maybe the 100th time and laughed as much as ever.

You WILL enjoy it. You have my personal guarantee on that. Or double your money back!

(Not really :-) )

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Daily Prompt: FRIGHT WITH SCREAMING AND HOTDOGS

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I don’t like horror movies, except the old ones which are more funny than scary. I thought Jurassic Park and Jaws were scary enough. Life is plenty full of thrills and chills without seeking out more. But then, there are roller coasters. Especially our hometown favorite — the Cyclone at Coney Island.

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Weird Little Town

I live in the Blackstone Valley. We are part of the National Park system — what’s called a “National Historic Corridor.” Our quaint little towns and beautiful (slightly polluted) river has historic importance.

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In this valley was born the American Industrial revolution. Right around the corner. That’s where they built the first mills, using the power of the Blackstone River. Then they built a canal system and a railroad to carry those home-made American goods to markets around the world. Unfortunately, they also poisoned the river and it’s taken half a century to get it almost clean, but that was the price of industrialization. We should be doing better now. Are we?

My town has not accepted the new century. It never entirely accepted the last one either. It was dragged along, unwillingly through the mid-1950s. After that, the town dug its heels in and said “Hell no, we won’t go.” They weren’t kidding.

Little Dam

A World War I artillery pieces sits next to our Civil War memorial and just a few feet from the World War II bronze and stone grouping. Vietnam never made it, nor any war since. It’s all guns and churches. At various times of the year, there are events on the common, often called “the green.” The grass doesn’t care. It just hangs around, being lawn-like.

We have book sales, rummage sales and cake sales which usually coincide with a holiday. We have a Christmas Parade, our local version of First Night, but so early in December it always feels odd and out-of-place. I have no idea why they don’t hold it closer to the holidays. And there are porkettas and pancake breakfasts. All to raise money for something. We used to have great local fireworks on the high school’s athletic field, but one year, we ran out of money and that was the end. Other towns still have fireworks. We can see bits of them over the tops of our trees.

I miss the fireworks so we watch the Boston display on television every year.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Other towns complain about Main Street being destroyed by big chains like Walmart. We do not complain. We don’t have a Walmart although we do have a CVS — for which for sacrificed a great ice cream shop. Well, we didn’t sacrifice it. The people who ran the ice cream shop sold to CVS and used the money to open a brand new place in another town, but I digress.

If you want to buy anything beyond hardware, lumber, groceries, medication or fast food, you’ll need to go elsewhere. If you want a decent meal, you will have to go to another town. If you want to see a movie, go bowling, see a play, hear a concert … well, you know, Boston’s not too far and Worcester is just up the road. You can get to Providence in about 45 minutes — not counting parking. Depending on traffic. Whatever you want, you probably won’t find it here.

We do have a beautiful if underfunded public library. It’s in an old, elegant building that has somehow managed to remain alive despite having its budget repeatedly cut until it can barely keep the doors open to maintain membership in the public library system. And progress is encroaching, despite all resistance.

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After 20 years of arguing about it — after allocating millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school and having those funds vanish without a trace and with no explanation and no upgrades — our little town was told by the Commonwealth we had to build a proper High School or lose accreditation. Lack of accreditation would have made it tricky for graduates to get into college. So we built a new high school and our taxes almost tripled. The town has been so fiscally swindled mismanaged for so long no one can remember it any other way.

UU Steeple - 40

There is a myth surrounding small towns. We’ve seen the movie — starring Tom Hanks or someone like him. There’s a supporting cast of caring local citizens. Cue up “The Andy Griffith” theme. In the movies (and on television) everyone has the best interests of the town at heart. Really, underneath it all.

Not! Here it’s all about nepotism, threats, bullying, and a committment to making life unbearable for anyone who gets in the way. They are not particularly concerned with the best interests of the town except insofar as it advances their own business and financial interests. They take what they want, refuse to answer to anyone, hire relatives and personal friends, give out contracts to their buddies and live the good life. It’s worked well for them. They always win.

What can you do? It’s a small town and you can’t spend your life fighting.

The mill by Whitins Pond

Town meetings end in fistfights and horrific verbal brawls creating enough bad feeling to last into the next decade. I opposed the new High School. Not because we didn’t need one. We definitely needed a new high school but I was still waiting for an explanation of where the millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school went. Eventually, overcoming all objections, they built it anyway and the explanation never came.

They asked Garry to run for town council when we first moved here. He was easily recognized from all his years on television, so despite being (then but not now) the only non-white resident, fame beat out prejudice. Garry declined the honor, explaining to me it would destroy our lives. We’d have mobs in the driveway throwing rocks at our windows. I didn’t understand until years later when I worked for a local paper covering debates preceding town council elections.

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Good grief! The level of personal vindictiveness and venom was a wonder to behold. Where were the good guys? Each  candidate was worse than the other, ranging from merely venal, through clueless, to possibly psychotic.

It was closer to Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery” than Andy Griffith. And yet, I do love the valley. True, I try very hard to not even think about why they do what they do and how they do it. The less I know, the happier I am. If my town were unique, it would be encouraging on some level, but all the towns around here are pretty bad. This town may take top prize for most blatantly bad government, but the other towns are close behind. They have better manners in public … but small towns are not like the movies. Really. Not.

Deck - October

So — life goes on. White picket fences and green lawns. Big shade trees, lots of room for children to play. Safe streets, plenty of open space. Only two traffic lights in town, one of which is probably redundant. It’s ever so pretty. Just … don’t get too involved. Things aren’t necessarily what they seem. Think Chevy Chase in “Funny Farm.” Yeah, that works.