ALMOST INTERVIEWING JIMMY STEWART – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Full disclosure upfront. 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 ’30s through the ’80s. 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 1980s — 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 on local TV News. 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 closely 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 the conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with a 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 conversations, 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 the 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 in 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.

The Devilish Deceptions Of “Warp Speed” Donald Trump – NAT HELMS

Another good one from Nat Helms!

natshouseblog

natsblog Covid-Buster “Fat Boy”, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Trump used the horrific weapons development during the WWII Manhattan Project as a backdrop for his announcement of Operation Warp Speed, his grandiose plan to deliver 300 million doses of a still non-existent COVID-19 vaccine to America by January 2021.

Nathaniel R. “Nat” Helms

Pandemic apologist Donald J. “Warp Speed” Trump on Friday took time out from bungling America’s response to the novel coronavirus scourge to accept a commemorative flag on behalf the U.S. Space Force, the latest creation from the bowels of the Pentagon.

Outside the six-sided puzzle palace, more than 87,000 Americans were already dead and thousands more are fighting for their lives amidst Trump’s strident calls to open up America sooner than later. Vainglorious Trump says their tragic deaths and those sure to come are the unavoidable cost of making America great again.

Space Force flag U.S. Space Force flag.

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BLOGGING INSIGHTS AND DON’T WE ALL LOVE TALKING ABOUT OUR BLOGS! – Marilyn Armstrong

From Salted Caramel, come these questions about our blogs and how we feel about them. I wouldn’t want to say we are a bit obsessive about them, but when the shoe fits, run for the hills.

Blogging Insights # 29 – Your Comments Section

QUESTIONS:  

How important is the comments section to your blog?

It’s the most interesting part. Intelligent comments from people all over the world? What’s not to love? I also learn a lot from comments. People correct me and often point me to other areas on a similar or same subject.

I’ve been thinking lately about having an all blogger — well not ALL bloggers — but a lot of bloggers doing a communal Zoom. Hello, Switzerland, England, Australia, Tasmania, Germany, Canada, and Mexico. We might even find room for Arizona and California.  Find out how good our selfies really are. A meet and greet without flying across an ocean or driving to the other coast.

My blogging world. I miss the pretty color map they used to have

If anyone has any interest, let me know. I know we have time difference issues, but maybe we could do it in segments. Anyway, I’m always awake because Bonnie never stops barking. She sleeps all day to be ready for her nightly barkathon.

Do you read the comments on other people’s blogs/posts?

I do. Sometimes because I want to be sure I’m not duplicating what someone has already said, but often because I’m interested to see what other people think about whatever the subject is. I have learned an incredible amount from comments to my own and other people’s blogs.

Spam comments and spammers: we all hate them. How do you identify spam comments?

First, I check to see if there is an actual blog attached. If it comes up as “does not exist,” it’s spam. If it’s entirely stolen material from other blogs? Spam. If it’s a commercial site trying to sell stuff, that’s what paid advertisements are for. Buy some ads. I’m not for sale. And sometimes, they may not be spammers, but they represent things that I abhor. I don’t want them on my site, either. I have enough blood pressure issues.

Have you ever “approved” negative comments?

I don’t have a problem with being corrected if I make a mistake, or arguing a point of interest as long as everyone remains civil, on-topic, and writes a version of English I understand. A lot of people think this kind of negativity is funny. I don’t know why they would think that, but they start acting almost “normal” and get more and more argumentative and annoying as time passes. I block them. They think I lack a sense of humor. The thing is, they aren’t funny. Maybe if they wrote better material? Nah.

There’s a lot of negativity around and since we got 45 in office, it is insane. I do not need more negative crap in my world.

ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK: THE AMERICAN FLAG BIRD – Marilyn Armstrong

I know they should be red, white, and blue … but the bird came back today a few times and I got more interesting pictures today. What an interesting bird he is! the designs on his wings which might look a little like stars, look like all kinds of things, and that combination of white and red on the breast …

Well, take a look. This is truly an interesting bird.

Garry wants to know what I find interesting about birds. I want to know what he finds interesting about old western TV series from the 1950s and 1960s. It’s not that I don’t like westerns. I can sing along with every one of those show’s songs. I’ve seen them all and not just once.

This is not the first time Garry has decided to rerun Cheyenne or Bat Masterson. Owen, who never saw the shows can also sing along. As a matter of fact, I’m pretty sure the dogs can sing along and one of them is trying to do that right this very minute.

There are many ways to stay sane. For me, it’s remembering that these creatures I feed are important. They are as important as I am. If you are of a religious bent (which I am not, but I can still quote the Bible), “dominion over animals” doesn’t mean “wipe them out because they are in the way.”

INTRODUCING THE POTATO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

When we celebrate the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day, we should also be celebrating Columbus’s discovery of the potato. More accurately, Columbus’s introduction of the potato from the New World to the Old World. This introduction of New World foods to Europe and the east is known as the “Columbian Exchange”.

Christopher Columbus

The potato, and other native American plants “…transformed cultures, reshuffled politics and spawned new economic systems that then, in a globalizing feedback loop, took root back in the New World as well.” This quote is from an article in the Washington Post on October 8, 2018, titled “Christopher Columbus and the Potato that Changed the World.” The article is by Steve Hendrix.

An example of the potato’s earth-shattering impact is that it helped eliminate famines and fueled a population boom in parts of northern Europe. This made urbanization possible which, in turn, fueled the Industrial Revolution. This population explosion also helped several European nations assert dominion over the world from 1750 to 1950. Thus the potato is also responsible for the rise of Western Europe and its colonies, including America.

But let’s get back to the initial introduction of the potato to skeptical Europeans. The potato spread slowly. At first, it was viewed with suspicion and plagued by misinformation. Initially, some people claimed that the potato was an aphrodisiac. Others believed that it could cause leprosy. When Sir Walter Raleigh brought potatoes into the Elizabethan court, the courtiers tried to smoke the leaves!

Sir Walter Raleigh

It took a while for people to realize what a nutritional bonanza the potato is. It’s filled with complex carbohydrates, amino acids, and vitamins. It is a nutritionally complete diet when paired with milk. It also took time for people to take advantage of the superior productivity and sturdiness of the potato over other agricultural products, like grains.

In the 1600’s, Europeans finally figured out how to successfully cultivate potatoes. The effect was dramatic – the population of places like Ireland, Scandinavia, and other northern regions, increased up to 30%. In a 1744 famine in Prussia, King Frederick the Great ordered his farmers to grow potatoes and ordered the peasants to eat them!

Famines were prevalent in Europe. France had 40 nationwide famines between 1500 and 1800 as well as hundreds and hundreds of local famines. England suffered 17 national and regional famines just between 1523 and 1623. The world could not reliably feed itself.

Enter the potato. Because potatoes are so productive, once everyone started planting them, they became a diet staple. In terms of calories, they effectively doubled Europe’s food supply. For the first time in Western European history, the food problem was solved. By the end of the 18th century, famines almost disappeared in potato country. Before the potato, European living and eating standards were equivalent to today’s Cameroon or Bangladesh.

Another benefit of the potato is that it is easily portable and stays edible for a relatively long time. So potatoes could easily be transported to the cities, fostering their growth. This created an urban factory workforce. Hence, the Industrial Revolution.

In the mid-1700’s, a French man named Antoine-Augustin Parmentier took it upon himself to launch a PR campaign on behalf of the potato. He created publicity stunts to draw attention to his miracle product. For example, he presented an all potato dinner to high society guests. One of them, it is claimed, was Thomas Jefferson. Parmentier also convinced the King and Queen to be seen wearing potato blossoms. His biggest stunt was to plant 40 acres of potatoes at the edge of Paris, knowing that the starving population would steal and eat them.

Antoine-Augustin Parmentier

The potato took such firm root in Europe that by the end of the 18th century, roughly 40% of the Irish people ate no solid food other than potatoes. That was also true of 10-30% of other countries like Belgium, the Netherlands, Prussia, and Poland.

In the mid-1800’s, catastrophe struck. Blights started wiping out the potato crops. In 1845, in Ireland alone, one half to three-quarters of a million acres of potatoes were wiped out. The following years, up until 1852, were even worse. The Great Potato Famine was one of the worst in history in terms of percentage of population lost. Over a million Irish died. A similar famine in the U.S. today would kill 40 million people!

Potato blight

Within a decade, over two million people fled Ireland, over three-quarters of whom came to the United States. That changed the history and demographics of the U.S. And it began the phenomenon of the Melting Pot.

A major commemoration of the potato exists in Germany. A statue of Sir Francis Drake was erected in 1853, although Drake did not, in fact, introduce the potato into Europe. The statue depicts Drake with his right hand on his sword and his left hand holding a potato plant. On the base is the following inscription:


Sir Francis Drake

Dissemination of the potato in Europe
In the year of our Lord 1586.
Millions of people
Who cultivate the earth
Bless his immortal memory.


Drake statue in Germany

So, as Steve Hendrix said in the Washington Post, “…a small round object sent around the planet … changed the course of human history.”

ENDINGS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry had a get-together with a bunch of retired media guys. They meet every few weeks, but for obvious reasons, it hasn’t happened recently. So a while ago, someone came up with the idea of doing a Zoom meeting. Despite that all these men worked on television for many years, most (but not all) had issues making Zoom work.

It’s amazing how quickly we forget things we used to know … and how suddenly we realize we never learned it because it wasn’t what we were doing professionally. For me, computers were my business, so despite what I’ve forgotten, I remember them quickly when reminded.


From The New York Times:

“When will the Covid-19 pandemic end? And how?

According to historians, pandemics typically have two types of endings: the medical, which occurs when the incidence and death rates plummet, and the social, when the epidemic of fear about the disease wanes.

“When people ask, ‘When will this end?,’ they are asking about the social ending,” said Dr. Jeremy Greene, a historian of medicine at Johns Hopkins.

In other words, an end can occur not because a disease has been vanquished but because people grow tired of panic mode and learn to live with a disease. Allan Brandt, a Harvard historian, said something similar was happening with Covid-19: “As we have seen in the debate about opening the economy, many questions about the so-called end are determined not by medical and public health data but by sociopolitical processes.

Endings “are very, very messy,” said Dora Vargha, a historian at the University of Exeter. “Looking back, we have a weak narrative. For whom does the epidemic end, and who gets to say?”

A Sicilian fresco from 1445. In the previous century, the Black Death killed at least a third of Europe’s population. Credit: Werner Forman/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Once everyone started talking, the subject came up. The one about which so many of we retired people have been thinking, but afraid to even ask because it might be a jinx.  What happens to us? We are the most vulnerable and a lot of people in this country think we lived long enough and would be perfectly happy to let us all die off.


What will the world be “when this is over.” That brought up the real question: “Will this ever be over? Can they make a vaccine soon enough (or at all) so that we can think about traveling? Would any of us willingly get back on an airplane? How about a simple local vacation? What is safe? Where is the danger


There was a universal “no” on flying. I used to get sick every time I flew long before the epidemic. All that recycled air. One person sneezes and by the time I got off the flight, I was already sick.

This is pretty disheartening. I always thought as a nation, as a people, we were a lot smarter than we seem. But, maybe all this dumbness is not true stupidity but denial. Many people REALLY REALLY REALLY don’t want to know what’s going on. When they are told the truth, they angrily reject it. The truth is unacceptable. The truth hurts. The truth is ugly.

They are desperately afraid of the new reality in which they are living and for many people, in which they were already living, even before Coronavirus arrived to make it overwhelmingly worse.

Sometimes, when everything is gone, when there’s no money, no work, and virtually no hope, denial is your best weapon. It might be your only weapon.