ME AND THE ALMOST INTERVIEW WITH JIMMY STEWART – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Full disclosure up front. I never met Jimmy Stewart. No interviews. No emails. No phone conversations. But I’ve got Jimmy Stewart in my brain, maybe because Stewart is TCM’s “Star of the month.” They’ve been airing most of the legendary star’s films from the 30’s through the 80’s. There was a masterful Stewart profile hosted by Stewart’s good friend, Johnny Carson. He made it feel like two buddies reminiscing about the best years of their lives.

Stewart, (center) with Amos on his right, and the B-52 crew moments after safely landing at Andersen. Before leaving Guam the next morning, Stewart again thanked Amos for his professionalism during the emergency and presented him with signed prints for each of the crewmen. (Courtesy Bob Amos)

The other night might have been my first (Yes!) viewing of 1954’s “The Glenn Miller Story.” Somehow, “The Miller Story” escaped me during those years when I went to the movies 3 or more times a week. I absolutely enjoyed the warmth and nostalgia of the movie in a way I rarely feel about contemporary films. I’ve been steadily humming “Moonlight Serenade” for the last two or three days.

Jimmy Stewart is stuck in my mind. I’m doing an interview with him — but it never really occurred. I’ve been digging through my mental folders and files for why I feel this link to Stewart. I’m aware of all his unforgettable film performances, from “Mr. Smith” to “Wonderful Life” to “Harvey.” And all those rugged 1950s and 1960s westerns — including “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

I couldn’t find that link.  It’s more than just the fan and movie maven thing going on.  What was it?

It hit me as I was cleaning my hearing aids. The answer!

During the late 1980’s — maybe 1988 or 1989 — during Ronald Reagan’s second term in the White House, life was changing for me. Marilyn was back in my life after spending almost a decade in Israel. And I finally was able to wear the new, smaller hearing aids that are nearly invisible to onlookers.

I was elated!  No more of those ugly, big hearing aids. I was always sure people stared at them while I worked as a local TV News guy. That was when I remembered — a conversation I had with a colleague. She was the station’s entertainment reporter and had noticed me talking to myself as I checked the audio of my tiny new hearing aids with a big smile on my face.

I was in the middle of covering a major trial that was getting international attention. I saw my image on network news shows. No hearing aids were visible. Oh, the vanity! I explained to my colleague what the tiny hearing aids meant to me. How I’d coped with a major hearing loss most of my life and the adjustments I had made to succeed in TV News.  She was genuinely surprised and smiled with an appreciative tap on my shoulder. We’d sat close to each other in the newsroom for months, talked about business and personal things — but I’d never mentioned my hearing loss.

That was also the summer Marilyn and I entertained actress Patricia Neal and legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstadt at our Martha’s Vineyard cottage, a rented place we shared with other TV news friends. Word of our friendship with Neal and Eisenstadt made the rounds in the local entertainment news world. I remember sharing stories with my entertainment reporter colleague. Sometimes name dropping can be a lot of fun … and this was one of those times.

“I met Jimmy Stewart at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party,” my colleague told me one afternoon. She had my complete attention.   “Poor Jimmy. He was struggling with his gigantic hearings aids.”

I listened with fascination. I didn’t know Jimmy Stewart needed hearing aids. It never showed in his movies or TV interviews. I listened closer for details on Stewart’s dilemma.

“Jimmy couldn’t hear what was being said at the party,” my colleague told me, “He kept looking at me awkwardly and fumbled with conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with conversation because he was trying to absorb and register what people were saying to him. The famous Jimmy Stewart verbal fumble was his way of coping with hearing problems. I probably smiled to myself as my colleague went on with her description of Jimmy Stewart’s cocktail party struggles. Fascination turned to compassion as I imagined myself in Stewart’s place, trying to filter our multiple conversation, loud music, and ambient background noise.

The Stewart story quickly faded out from my mind as I returned to my story and a pressing news deadline.

There was a letter on my desk a few days later. I was running late for the trial and was worried about getting a good seat so I could hear the lawyers and the judge,, so I didn’t get to it that day.

Trials were always a major headache for me. Years earlier, I’d taken my situation to myriad judges, court officers and lawyers. I wanted everyone to know I was working with this handicap and wanted to be sure I got all their wise words accurately. They appreciated my candor and efforts were made to make sure I could get the information accurately and efficiently.  My best, most sincere face helped my cause. If you’ve heard this from me before, know it was the prologue for my relationship with Jimmy Stewart.

I finally opened the letter a day or two after it arrived. I was immediately suspicious. Phony, threatening and suggestive letters are common for a TV news reporter. This one wasn’t in thick crayon or illegible ink scrawl, but I was still suspicious.


“Dear Garry,

I hope you don’t mind my assumption of friendship since we’ve never met. I deal with this business of celebrity all the time and it is presumptuous.”


I continued to read with skepticism until I realized this missive was from Jimmy Stewart. He went on to explain his cocktail party hearing problems, his encounter with my colleague who apparently talked about me and my hearing problems. Jimmy Stewart heard about this Garry Armstrong guy who was a success on Boston television news despite hearing problems. I blushed a little as I read Stewart’s account of my bravery. Most of the letter, however, dealt with Stewart’s details about his hearing aids, its components. He wanted my take on the efficiency of these new little hearing aids.

I put the letter in my desk, planning to take it home and show to Marilyn  because I wasn’t good at holding on to such possessions in my professional life. My attention turned to the trial and my report for the six o’clock news.

Fast forward several hours, including my ritual stop at the local bar before heading home — without the letter. Out of sight and mind.

I did manage to write Jimmy Stewart a few days later. I spent most of the letter talking about how I struggled with my hearing and use of the aids. I must have appeared awfully vain, talking about overcoming  my reluctance to wear hearing aids because I thought it was a stigma. My vanity was probably also obvious when I mentioned some of Stewart’s colleagues I’d met in my career.  I was young and lacked humility, telling Stewart about time I’d spent with Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Cagney, Gregory Peck and other stars. I forgot to mention the other stars, like Albert DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, and Tip O’Neil.

In retrospect, I can only wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought as he read this silly, name dropping letter from a young Boston reporter.

Another Stewart letter arrived several days later. No indication of displeasure at my letter. He asked lots of questions about my hearing aids, my interview tact, and how I handled myself in large crowds. There was a hint of getting together when he came east again.

The meeting never occurred. Perhaps that’s why I’m now having these dreams about the sit-down interview that might have been.

Me and Jimmy Stewart. It never happened, but it could have. It almost happened.

NO BITING

Our dogs don’t bite.


Well, mostly they don’t bite and when they do, it’s not on purpose. Sometimes, grabbing a piece of food will nick one of my finger. I yell ‘OUCH!!” and all dogs look guilty. They aren’t supposed to do that.

 

They do a lot of pretend biting with lots of jaws clacking. For some reason, that clacking makes me laugh. They can play “war” for hours and no one get bitten … or even close to bitten. No fur pulled out. No bleeding.

This cannot be said of the biting done on the wood corners of the coffee table. They are no longer square but nicely rounded. I’m sure eventually, there will be no table. It will have been reduced to shards by Duke, the magnificent. It is his job to reduce large pieces of wood to smaller pieces of wood. Not our choice and he knows this, because he does all his gnawing in the dark of night. Hard to miss all those wood chips on the rug.

DATING THE SECOND TIME AROUND – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I hadn’t dated in over 25 years. I was not computer savvy and had to learn the technology of ‘modern’ dating online. I had teenage kids to observe and comment on the whole process. What fun!

I got lucky. Very lucky. I had been separated for five months, in early 1999, when I tackled computer dating for the first time. I actually did find it fun. I emailed with several men, one extensively. He was a psychologist who felt that we had to know each other’s life stories before we even talked on the phone.

Me and my daughter in 1999

Then there was Tom. I sent him my profile because I liked something I saw in his. He said that he was a ‘normal’ guy, looking for a ‘normal’ woman. After my first marriage, I felt kinship with anyone who understood the importance of normalcy in relationships. He wrote back that he was interested in meeting me and gave me his phone number. I called. After ten minutes on the phone, he asked me out for dinner. He was my first in person date this time around.

We now realize that it was love at first sight (except for the ugly green jacket he was wearing that almost scotched the deal). We hit it off immediately. We were comfortable with each other. It felt right. We discovered that we had both come out of 22 and 25 year marriages, respectively, to people who were mentally ill. We could finish each other’s stories about horrific scenes at family events caused by our exes.

It turned out that both our exes had left both of us twice. We took them back each time. It was only on the third time walking out on us that we both said enough is enough and refused to take them back. What a coincidence!

Tom when I met him

We commiserated about the fact that no one in our lives could understand why we had stayed so long in dysfunctional marriages. But we each understood why the other had stayed – a first in both of our lives. It was a true bonding experience. We ‘got ‘ each other instantly.

After a short conversation at the diner, Tom said, “Let’s get this over with. You’re a keeper. Are you free next Friday night?” I said yes and Tom said, “Great! Now we can relax and enjoy the rest of the evening.” The evening went on till 3:00 in the morning! We just kept talking. We didn’t want to go home.

When I finally arrived home at about 3:30 AM, my 19-year-old son, David, was waiting up for me at the door. He was furious. He greeted me with “Do you have any idea what time it is? I was about to call the police!” He went on to lecture me. “You should have called home if you were going to be so late. I was so worried. I didn’t know who you were with. He could have been an axe murderer. I was getting frantic. How could you be so inconsiderate?”

Me with both kids when I started seeing Tom

At first I thought that David was joking – doing a parody on a parent greeting their teenager coming home after curfew. Then I realized that he was serious. He really was a nervous wreck. I felt bad, but not bad enough to agree to call my son when I was out on a date.

Tom and I had another date the next week. We ended up spending the whole weekend together and we’ve been a couple ever since. We’ve been together now for 18 ½ years and married for almost 15 years.

After we had been dating for about six months, I asked my fourteen year old daughter and David if they would be okay with Tom spending weekends at our house. My younger daughter was fine with it. My nineteen year old son had to think about it for a minute. He finally said, “Mom, I’m just getting used to the idea that you slept with Dad. Can you give me a little more time on this one?”

I did and a short while later we took the first step towards becoming a family. My kids were basically good with Tom. They knew that he was a good guy and that he was good to me. They sometimes gave him a hard time, but the integration process went pretty smoothly. (We were not so lucky integrating my dogs with Tom’s cats after the wedding in 2002). Now we’re just their ‘parents’.

Tom and me on our first major trip together

I had the easiest and best experience with online dating of anyone I know. I got really lucky, really quickly. Maybe it was Karma for both of us. We had both been through a lot and were due for something positive in our lives. I never really believed in Karma before. But I truly believe that Tom and I are each other’s Karmic rewards.

AND YOU CALL YOURSELF A HISTORIAN – SEAN MUNGER

” …  the misunderstanding and contempt for professional history.”

Not long ago, somebody tried to post a comment to this article, one of several I’ve written about “fake history,” which inevitably attracts angry axe-grinders. This particular comment–I didn’t approve it, of course–denied the existence of the Armenian genocide of 1915, and also obliquely denied the Holocaust, a prima facieracist position. This kind of thing is sadly pretty common when you run a history blog, but I noticed this comment employed an argument I’ve often seen before: an attempt to induce shame (in me) by saying something to the effect of, “And you call yourself a historian?” The argument is supposedly that, by not believing (or, in this case, disbelieving), a particular assertion about history, I have obviously fallen below some basic threshold of competence of the profession. In fact, this person attempted to lecture me about what historians do and what historical methods they use. It was wrong, of course, but it illustrated a disturbing trend that unfortunately I think is on the increase: a general misunderstanding and contempt for the historical process, what historians do and how they work.

I will categorically state that I have never heard the admonishment, “And you call yourself a historian?” from any person other than a purveyor of pseudohistory or some kind of patent falsehood about history. In fact, when I’m criticized for my supposed lack of historical competence, it usually comes in the same breath with an assertion that is demonstrably false and ridiculous: the idea, for instance, that Hitler was a leftistthat the Nanking massacre of 1937 did not really happen; or that the Crusades were provoked by Muslim aggression against Western Europe. A real historian has never questioned my competence based on genuine and reasonable agreement with historical analysis. I have a Ph.D. in history, specifically environmental history. Curiously, the only people who have ever questioned whether I deserve it are drive-by commenters on the Internet, usually racists or right-wing ideologues who are usually trying to advance some nationalistic or racialized distortion of history.


The complete post and room for comments are at:  “And you call yourself a historian?”: the misunderstanding and contempt for professional history.