OLD MOVIES, NEW EYES – Garry Armstrong

Those of you who are regulars on “Serendipity” know I love old movies and watch them frequently. I grew up with “Old Hollywood” having seen my first movie at a theater in 1946.  I was four. “The Best Years Of Our Lives” has its place in my sense memory because my Dad had just returned home from Europe and World War 2 as an Army Sergeant.

Armstrong family portrait

We have a large picture of Sgt. William Armstrong, His Wife, Esther, and their firstborn tot, Garry.  It’s the way we were. That 1946 night at New York City’s movie mecca.  Radio City Music Hall is covered in a silver-gold haze in my memory.

From that first movie night, I would go to see films now regarded as classics on a regular basis. We’d go to the movies three times a week. It could be the local second-run house like the Carlton or a first-run theater. For the first-run houses, we had to take a bus to Jamaica Avenue in Queens.

Those were the days when film studios still owned theaters.  The theaters only showed studio made films. Valencia with its star-filled ceiling ran MGM and Paramount movies. Across the street, the RKO Alden ran RKO and Warner Brothers films. Down the avenue, there was a Fox house which ran nothing but 20th Century Fox movies.

The Valencia Theater in Jamaica, Queens

Marilyn and I have shared memories of seeing films like “Shane” in 1954 at the Valencia. Diminutive Alan Ladd seemed larger than life as gunfighter Shane, righting wrongs on the screen beneath the celestial ceiling. It was an experience within an experience. You couldn’t duplicate it with the new medium television.

I came to know all the stars, directors, character and bit actors with as much knowledge as I did with my favorite baseball players helped by info on bubble gum cards.

As a grade-schooler, I knew the likes of supporting or character actors like Thomas Mitchell, Edward Brophy, Jerome Cowan, Eugene Palette, Zazu Pitts, Franklin Pangborn, Barton MacLane, Charles Lane, and James Gleason as well as the major stars like Bogie, Tracy, Gable, Grant, Hepburn, and Cooper.

My Mom, a huge Gary Cooper fan, named me after “Coop.” A clerical error on my birth certificate turned Gary into Garry. That spelling gaffe would reoccur decades later in my career as a TV News Reporter.

I loved the fantasy life of the black and white movies of the ’30s. The stories about the rich, carefree, trouble-free White millionaires who lived in ritzy mansions or mega large Park Avenue apartments with sparkling floors, gleaming walls, and tables kept in pristine condition by domestics who were usually minorities.

Blacks, Asians, Jews or Italians always portrayed in a blatant stereotyped fashion. As a kid, we laughed at the bug-eyed Black actors who were comedy foils in Charlie Chan movies. Chan, although the “hero,” was also portrayed in stereotyped fashion by White actors.  My middle brother and I giggled at the antics of Chan and his aides. They seemed like the clowns we saw at the circus.

Laugh riots! The stars – White actors and actresses — laughed or smiled broadly at the buffoonish behavior of the minority characters. They provided comic relief from heavy moments in the films.

My love of these old movies and their cliche characters didn’t diminish over the years as I became a self-proclaimed movie maven and impressed people with my knowledge of obscure actors, forgotten films and terrific lines of dialogue.

A friend once called me at three o’clock in the morning, woke me up to ask about the names of a certain movie and its stars. I grumbled and then laughed as I fed him the info while still half asleep but always razor-sharp with trivia.

My movie knowledge helped in numerous encounters with stars from old Hollywood when I became a Boston TV news guy.  I could skip jump from local reporter to film expert talking with stars about their personal, often lesser-known movies. I could insert stuff with people like Gregory Peck who told me he didn’t do comedies because they were not his forte.

I reminded Peck of his film, “Designing Woman” with Lauren Bacall which was a remake of the Tracy-Hepburn classic, “Woman of the Year.” Peck shot me a “you sonofagun, you got me” laugh and all was fine.

In retirement, I like to watch as many old movies as possible – no longer saddled with my murderous TV news schedule. I usually go to bed, wearing headphones, and watch an old movie as my sleepy time tonic. Marilyn usually is listening to a book or watching her own favorite film or show on her computer.

A strange thing has happened to me.

Marilyn has had lengthy conversations with me about the blatant racism in those beloved scatterbrained 1930’s movies. She also has discussed her discomfort with my beloved westerns. Cowboys versus Indians, a staple of my life from youth to senior citizen. Marilyn cites the blatantly unfair portrayal of the Native American in most westerns. Truthfully, my bluster rose in defense of the oaters.

My heroes have always been cowboys.

“Buchanan Rides Alone FilmPoster” by Source. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

My personal favorite interview was with the Duke, John Wayne. I can quote, chapter, verse, scene-by-scene dialogue in movies like “The Magnificent Seven.” One of my all-time favorite films is “The Searchers”,  probably John Ford’s best western in a career defined by westerns and the rugged, southwestern landscape.

John Wayne’s dark, brooding and racist Ethan Edwards is, in my mind, the Duke’s finest acting work. The movie focuses on racism and hatred of the Red Man, portrayed as villains by White Men. Supposedly the good guys trying to take the Native American’s land.

Ford – who made his directorial life on this theme – was, perhaps too late in his illustrious career, trying to balance the scale with the White and Red men. I’ve always loved the film for its depth, its hauntingly honest depiction of the Wayne character. A man you wouldn’t invite in for dinner.

Ford’s dark movie is still lighter than the original novel in which Ethan Edwards really has no redeeming character values.

Tombstone

I’ve come to understand Marilyn’s strong feelings about not watching this classic western. But I still watch it whenever I can because it’s a beautifully made film with excellent acting, great script and dialogue and a memorable closing scene — no happy ending for the Wayne character. It’s all bittersweet. The stuff of life.

I now also view some of my other favorite westerns with new eyes. The White hero, in nice, fancy clothing with a beautiful horse is not necessarily the good guy. The Indian Chief with a muddy face and perpetual snarl is not automatically the savage. Clothes don’t make the man.

Likewise, I look back at some of those wonderful, frothy 30’s comedies and say “No, thanks” when the bubbly blonde announces “I’m free, WHITE and 21”.  I’ve heard and seen this countless times before but now with new eyes and ears.

That’s a wrap. PRINT IT!

THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN AT RIVER BEND – Garry Armstrong

Wildflower Garden at River Bend – 08/05/19

River Bend is all about “wild.” So, not surprisingly, the gardens are entirely made up of wildflowers. I took a few pictures of them. The gardens are peaceful and the bees are always busy within.

The wildflower garden at River Bend

NO MORE EXPENSIVE FUNERALS! TIME FOR CHEAP CREMATION! – Garry Armstrong

I was driving along I-95 in Connecticut when I spotted the billboard for “Direct Cremation”.

cremation with confidenceTraffic was just slow enough for me to read a few lines of the pitch. It promised no fuss, no delays, no middlemen, red tape … and a money-back guarantee if unhappy with service. I wasn’t sure who’d get the money back.

I started laughing over Marty Robbins and “El Paso” playing on the oldies CD. I was still laughing when Marty’s gunfighter died in the arms of his young sweetheart. Instead of a tearful funeral and the strains of “Streets of Laredo,” maybe the gunfighter should have had a direct cremation. No muss, no fuss, no mournful boot hill goodbye.

Direct cremation may be the latest answer to a world of violence. Mob hits, drive-by killings, gang bang slayings with collateral damage. Stressed out serial killers and contract button men doing “jobs.” The bodies just keep piling up.

Medical Examiners are overworked. Cemeteries are running out of room. The U.S. government, in its infinite wisdom, only gives each citizen a whopping $242 per body.

What to do?


Direct cremation!


Speaking of overworked medical examiners, I’m reminded of a story I covered in Boston.

direct-cremation-crematorium-main

Goes back 40 plus years. The county medical examiner was “under the gun” with some of his findings. He didn’t look like Quincy, Ducky, or even the sexy Lacey from the “Castle” series. He was a sad, tired, bleary-eyed man in the autumn of his years.

Your intrepid reporter was on the scene. The M.E. was momentarily diverted so I could check the autopsy lab and the morgue. I found the controversial corpse and made a cursory examination. I confronted the M.E. about his findings on the case. He insisted the victim was stabbed to death. I asked him about the several large bullet holes I’d just found. He was speechless.

Direct cremation would have avoided a lot of controversy and embarrassing questions. It’s an idea whose time has come.

These are also known as “drive-through” cremations, I’m sure you can find more if you look. Google “drive through crematorium.” I’m sure every mobster should have these places on speed-dial.

THE LAST OF THE BLUE DAYS OF A SQUARE JULY – Garry Armstrong

LAST BLUE DAYS IN SQUARE JULY – Garry Armstrong
And I get the final blue evening by the river …

BLUE JULY AND UP IN THE AIR! – Garry Armstrong

Up in the Air We Go Flying Again

Oh, how I love to go up in a swing,
Up in the air so BLUE!
Oh, I do think it’s the pleasantest thing,
Ever a child can do …


But lacking a swing, will a helicopter do?

Blue sky and a helicopter

THE SUPER BOWL OF GROCERY SHOPPING – Garry Armstrong

Men can shop. I shop. Moreover, I am a highly competitive shopper. This is Guy Shopping, in three scenarios.

Scenario #1

I’m one of those guys who, if shopping “solo,” can zip through the aisles, getting everything on the shopping list. Sometimes I time myself. It’s like a “Wide, Wide World of Sports” event for me.

As I exit the supermarket, my cart full of groceries, I look at my watch. A big smug — almost “45-ish” smile on my face. I quietly proclaim in a “Howard Cosell-Marv Albert” style, “Yesssss!!

Scenario#2

I’m on my game as I begin shopping. First stop, produce.

As I check over the tomatoes, a cougar lady in stilettos, low-cut tank top, and stretch jeans — strike up a conversation about how nice it is to see a man knows how to handle tomatoes. I switch into my TV guy mode, wrap the chat, and move on. Next aisle, it’s the “groupies.” Folks who grew up watching me on TV. They’re blocking access to the pasta sauce and other canned goods. I do two or three minutes of my greatest hits and move on.

The deli section is always difficult. There are inevitably two or three people buying a quarter pound of everything. They must taste a piece of each item to make sure it’s quality stuff. Oy!!

Now, I’m trying to make up ground. Taking short cuts through various aisles and BAM — elderly people, crying kids, and a Mr. Know- It-All, blocking access. I silently curse their birthrights and smile my TV guy smile.

Finally, finally, I’m at the checkout counter.

Groceries bags are lined up in front of my stuff on the counter. The “hot and cold” bags are clearly open to be used for frozen food, meat, and so on. I slowly and clearly explain how the bags should be used. You know — perishables into the “hot and cold” bags. Please pack evenly.

I always bring extra shopping bags so I don’t have to lug overloaded bags up two flights of stairs.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

What was I thinking? It’s like I was speaking Klingon. Outside, I repack stuff at the car, loudly cursing the gods. The drive home is slow. Very slow.

The slow drivers who are always waiting for me are blocking the lane. Probably the same folks who blocked the supermarket aisles.

Scenario#3

I enter the supermarket and eyeball the “self check out” section. Do I have what it takes? I promise myself to try. Someday.

I can do it.

Fast forward. I approach the checkout counters, eyeball the “self check out” counter. No! I don’t have it. No true grit. Maybe next time.


Note: I omitted the folks who still ask why I don’t have “my people” shop for me. They are of the opinion that we are too rich to shop for ourselves. Yeah!

WHEN IT WAS ALL SMALL BALL – Garry Armstrong

I loved what they now call “small ball.”

The leadoff guy gets on with a single. The second guy (PeeWee Reese), choking up on the bat, moves the leadoff guy to third with an opposite-field hit. The third guy (Duke Snider) takes a couple of pitches and PeeWee steals second on the third pitch.

1956 Brooklyn Dodgers before the game

Duke hits the next pitch off the right-field wall — the one with the Robert Hall sign — and scores leadoff hitter Junior Gilliam and PeeWee.

Ebbets Field

The pitcher sighs, looking at the rest of the lineup. It’s Campy, Gil Hodges, Carl Furillo, Jackie Robinson, and Sandy Amoros.

Now, the pitcher starts crying and in the dugout, the manager is sobbing.

Sandy Koufax is pitching for the Dodgers.