A NOSTALGIC RERUN: LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS

A Collaboration of Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night. I love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (currently with “Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive”. There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on the Miss Kitty/Miss Lily saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we own two identical copies of it on DVD. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so Marilyn bought a copy for us, another for our best friends … and an extra. Just in case.


rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

NOTE: As it turns out, “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is available. Again. Who know for how long? If you are interested, Amazon has the DVD and the download.


Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late 60’s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider”, is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon double-header at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second (third?) run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!

HEARING AIDS AND GEORGE RAFT – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Most of you who know me from these pages or my working days know I’m hearing challenged.

It’s a life-long disability that’s has gotten worse over the years. At this point, hearing in my right ear is all but gone. I still have about fifty percent hearing in my left ear — with the assistance of hearing aids.

72-garry-at-canal-042716_05

I’ve had a bittersweet relationship with hearing aids.

I hated them as a teenager. These were the primitive “portable radio receiver in a pocket with a cord in your ear” hearing aids. It was worse than being called “four eyes” when I wore the aids. There were lots of jokes, smirks and knowing winks at me. Oh, right, I also wore glasses.

hearing aids

I was short, wore glasses and hearing aids — and was one of a handful of black kids in my classes. I was also painfully shy.

Fast forward to college and my discovery of radio. College radio would lead to a wonderful career and brand new alter ego, the familiar TV News Guy. I turned my hearing disability into an asset. Friends pointed out diction problems, and speech therapy followed. Presto, I became the black guy with great diction. Amazing!

A few awkward social encounters convinced me to wear my hearing aids regularly. The new models were smaller and less conspicuous. Eventually, they would be invisible, all inside the ear.

My hearing problems gave me certain advantages. Court clerks would make sure I had a good seat for cases I covered. Judges would admonish lawyers to speak clearly so that all could hear. Ironically, I understood more testimony in some cases than my peers with normal hearing. Yes!

My disability provided many laughs in my career.

In the early 70’s, Boston Mayor “Kevin from Heaven” White started a new program to assist senior citizens. It was called “M.O.B.”. Forgive me, I forget what the acronym exactly meant, but it was a PR blitz for seniors. They needed a spokesman for MOB. Someone who senior citizens would easily recognize.

MOB? How about George Raft??

I got the call to interview the legendary old-time star of gangster movies on Boston City Hall Plaza. We met just after Raft had a liquid lunch with the Mayor’s people. The veteran actor, wearing his trademark fedora, greeted me with a grunt. A brief exchange about the interview, then we rolled cameras. I asked the questions. Raft grunted.

George_RAFT_headshot

George Raft

I asked Raft about “Bolero,” a film where he displayed tango expertise which earned his keep before he was called to Hollywood. “Call me George, pal” he rasped with a smile.

I called him George and he said “What”?

I figured he was kidding with me. I tried it again.

“What, kid?” was the reply. Back and forth several times. I could hear the cameraman giggling.

“George”, I tried again, pointing to my hearing aids.

“What’s up, kid”? Then, it slowly dawned on him. Raft pointed to his ears and gestured. Cautiously, I took a look. I thought for a long moment before speaking.

“George”, I said slowly and carefully, “You need to turn on your hearing aids.”

Raft gave me a long look, then that familiar smile which typically preceded him mowing down guys with a machine gun. He snapped his fingers. A crony walked over, reached in and turned on his hearing aids.

“Thanks, Pal”, George Raft smiled with relief.

I couldn’t resist the moment. I pulled out a coin and began tossing it in the air and catching it. Raft stared. We shook hands. He smiled over his shoulders as he walked away.

Just so you know, I was half an inch taller than the guy who used to duke it out with Bogie and Cagney.

Thanks, Pal.

“What?”

BATTLING CATERPILLARS WHILE REMEMBERING THE DUKE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was in the middle of shares about our battle with a gypsy moth caterpillar invasion. It’s awful! And, I’m still filled with welts and bites from a confrontation with the caterpillars two days ago. What to do??

Then, I noticed a message from my friend John Wayne Hawthorne. A reminder that the Duke, John Wayne, passed into legend 37 years ago yesterday.

books and the duke

My pal, “JW”, first consoled me about my battles with the caterpillars and warned me to be careful. I was grateful for the sympathy and support because battling caterpillars doesn’t seem very heroic. Then we talked about our hero. The conversation allowed me to mentally time travel back to 1974 when I met Duke Wayne. I’ve told the story a zillion times but it’s nice to retell on this day of the bugs invasion.

John Wayne was here for a visit to Harvard. It was still a time of unrest about the Vietnam War. Duke was unpopular with the liberal Cambridge crowd because of his hawk stance on Vietnam. Wayne and his entourage were pelted with snowballs as he approached Harvard Square. It was pandemonium.

I called in some chits and managed to get Duke to meet me and my crew inside a small theater.

Lights were turned on to brighten the empty stage. I eyed Duke at one end of the stage and mumbled nervously to my cameraman. Jim, my “shooter”,  whispered for me to stop acting like a wimp and just walk to center stage. I walked towards my mark and noticed Duke in that familiar rolling gait ambling towards me. He waved and smiled.

“Garry”, he said loudly, “Good to see ya, again”.

I gulped and heard myself say, “Good to see you again, Duke”.

The rest was surreal. The interview went well and wound up with the obligatory cutaway and setup shots. Duke waved as he walked away saying, “Great seeing you, again, Garry”. I swallowed hard, then waved. I recall mentioning to Duke that I’d enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1959. He seemed impressed. Maybe that got me some points. I’m not sure.

I’d see Wayne later again at a mass interview and he singled me out as a Gyrene, offering a wave and a salute. I savored that moment.

john wayne the duke

If Duke were around today, maybe he would round-up Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, Ward Bond and some of the other fellas and we’d run these damn gypsy moth caterpillars out of town. Hell, maybe even Liberty Valance might throw in with us.

We wouldn’t burn any daylight with these critters.

No sir, sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

SINGERS ON DEMAND

My You Tube favorites, by Rich Paschall


In the past singers gained popularity through radio play and variety shows on radio and television.  Now music is on streaming services and video sites.  The most popular video site, of course, is You Tube.  Many artists will use other social media outlets and personal websites to promote their You Tube videos which in turn popularize their songs, both cover versions of well-known artists as well as original works.

Since there is a lot of crap on You Tube, I have decided to come to your musical, if not indeed your emotional, rescue and let you know my top 10 favorites.  I follow them all through subscriptions on You Tube so I can see when new work comes along.  You can do the same.  Signing up on You Tube is free.  You can even start your own channel and sing out too.

The following order is for the purpose of this article and I might arrange this differently if I was to write it again tomorrow.  Some of the artists have so many videos online it was hard to make choices.  I have a playlist on my channel with 12 songs, two by one of the artists and a high energy song that includes three of these.

A Kickstarter success

A Kickstarter success

10. Kurt Schneider is actually the genius behind many people’s videos.  As a producer and a musician, Schneider is very much in demand these days.  You can find him playing various instruments in many popular videos, but you will not find too many where he is the solo performer.  An interesting presentation is Kurt with his mom and just a piano performing the Fleetwood Mac hit, Landslide.

9. Sam Tsui has made a LOT of videos with Kurt Schneider.  The pair have a long-standing friendship that goes back to school days so their frequent collaboration is no surprise.  Sam raised enough money via Kickstarter to put out an album of 14 original songs and, of course, Kurt Schneider was the producer.  The title track also has a high energy video, Make It Up and has over 2 million views.

8. Darin Zanyar is simply known as Darin in his native Sweden.  He became well-known in his country at 16 as runner-up to the Swedish “Idol” contest.  He records many songs in Swedish as well as English and is a popular performer at home.  The recent Nobody Knows is among my favorite English language songs.

7. Alexander Rybak is a singer, songwriter, pianist, violinist and even an actor.  He is fluent is Russian, Norwegian and English.  He has recorded songs in all three as well as Belarusian, Swedish and most recently Spanish.  He shot to fame as the winner of the 2009 Eurovision contest representing Norway.  In addition to his pop songs, he is an accomplished classical violinist.  Here is the English language Europe’s Skies  which has a remarkable 28.7 million views.

6. Eric Saade became popular performing the pop tune, Popular.  He competed with the song as Sweden’s entry into the 2011 Eurovision contest.  Unlike the other Swedish heart-throb above, Eric’s videos are mostly in English.  Here is the link to the recent Colors.

5. David Archuleta became a sensation at 16 as the runner-up on the seventh season of Americana Idol.  After some successful recording and concert dates, David took two years off to do Something That Has Nothing To Do With Me. Now he is back doing some live performances and working on new music.

In concert

In concert

4. Hunter Hayes has been the opening act for a number of big name performers and has found recording success as well.  We have mentioned him before in discussing his successful single, Invisible.  Just like Darin’s song, What If, it deals with bullying.  You will have to wade through a massive number of vlogs to find his songs on his You Tube channel.  Here is the up tempo country hit, I Want Crazy.  It was added to a deluxe edition of his first album.

Chicago Theater downstairs

Chicago Theater downstairs

3. Max Schneider, or just MAX.  He has done a lot of videos with Kurt but they are not related.  This Schneider has a variety of song writing and acting credits, including the young Van Dyke Parks in the movie Love and Mercy, the Brian Wilson biopic.  Parks was the lyricist on a number of popular Wilson tunes.  MAX financed his first album with a Kickstarter campaign.  He now has a record deal.  In recent years MAX has played small clubs on his own as well as opening act for big name stars.  He came through Chicago to play a small club, and then later as opening act for Fallout Boy.  I finally caught up with him as an opener for R5.  I think you have to be under 17 to know who that is.  Here are the talented Schneiders:

Meet and Greet

Meet and Greet

2. Steve Grand hit it big with his self-produced video All-American Boy.  The viral success led to a Kickstarter campaign that exceeded all expectations for funding for his first album.  We profiled the Chicago area native  here.  In demand at Pride events nationally and even internationally, Steve has been hard to catch in the Chicago area.  I finally saw him live last year at a small Chicago club.  He was as charming as you might expect and his live performance did not disappoint.  Recently Steve has found time for plenty of vlogs so we will get you to a song.  While there is a slickly produced, high energy remix of this one, I thought I would go for the acoustic version of We Are The Night.  It more closely resembles the performance I saw.

1. Tom Joseph Law.  When I was thinking about doing this article, I got the chance to ask Tom what song he would pick.  He said Dear My Love.  It seems that songwriters are always in love with their most recent composition.  Then he tried to guess what I would pick and settled on a song he uploaded last year.  Yes, he got it right.

Note:  All of the greyed out words above contain links to websites, past articles and music videos.  That should keep you busy for a while.

YOU NEVER CAN TELL

A couple of days ago, I got a comment (via Twitter) from a musician whose work I have admired for many years. It was a wonderful, joyous moment. I’ve previously gotten comments from actors, authors (usually after I reviewed their books), and other famous or sort of famous people who I admire and are my role models and heroes.

Boardwalk-Parachute-ARTO-CR-72

Every time it happens, I’m thrilled, delighted, awestruck. I’m 10 years old again and star-struck.

You never know who is reading or following you.

A few years ago, I bumped into an ex-mayor of Boston … and he was following me. These are people that may never comment. If they do, they probably show up as anonymous. Sometimes, you recognize the website or pseudonym, but often you are just left wondering “Who was that masked man?”

75-emmy-hpcr-1

For all of you who think nobody reads you, nobody follows you because you aren’t getting a lot of comments? Most readers don’t comment, especially people whose names are known to the public. Many (most?) don’t even leave a “like.” It doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I would suggest as much as 90% of your audience is comprised of lurkers. You really don’t know who is reading your blog.

It’s a reason to be optimistic about what those statistics really mean … and cautious about things you say. A note to book reviewers: authors read reviews. Even reviews by relatively unknown bloggers. If you flame an author, he or she will not forget and will never forgive.

I won’t give you names because I think that celebrities in general prefer to keep a low profile when they are making unofficial contact with people. I’m just grateful whenever someone whose work I love lets me know they are reading my words and liking them. It means a huge amount to me. It’s a kind of validation. It’s like winning a prize. It makes the sun shine brighter even on a rainy day.

It can happen to you. If you are patient, it probably will.


NOTES: I thought I’d add a few notes about this. My most frequent contacts are authors, probably because I write about and review books. Typically, when I give a positive review (if I really hate the book, I usually don’t review it), I hear from the author. The first time it happened, I almost fell off my chair. Now, I am less surprised, but no less happy. Garry hears from children of stars he worked with and authors who want to use his encounters as reference material for books. Which is very cool, too.

If you love books and authors, writing good, smart, fair book reviews is an excellent path to meeting the authors. Book reviews don’t get the big numbers that other posts get, but reviews have a long shelf life. You may find you get hits on them for years after they are initially published. Republishing them is easy since they don’t go “out of date.”

Music and movie reviews, and anecdotes about personal encounters with celebrities may get someone you admire to contact you. It’s fun and comes with a bit of stardust. It can make blogging an adventure — in the best possible way.

IN THE MIDNIGHT HOUR

She Wants More, More, More, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps that’s the Rebel Yell you hear in the midnight hour, when the music picks up and the time to dance is at hand.  I had been wondering what to suggest as my top Midnight songs but the Midnight Memories kicked in and It Came Upon A Midnight Clear.  I observed that Midnight’s Another Day and the Top 10 list was revealed.  While you may think of many Midnight songs in The Shadows, I will be your Midnight Cowboy and give you my Top 10.

10. I’m A Midnight Mover, Bobby Womack.  Whether you hear the Womack version or Wilson Pickett’s growl infused version, you will think they are channeling James Brown.  Both recorded the song and it is a rhythm and blues special either way you go.  They have co-writing credit for the hit.

9.  Walkin’ After Midnight, Patsy Cline.  The country classic was originally offered by the writers to pop singer Kay Starr, but her record label rejected it.  Reportedly, Cline was not immediately impressed with the song, but ended up with a mega hit in 1957.

8.  Midnight Blue, Melissa Manchester.  This was the first song on which Manchester collaborated with famed song writer Carole Bayer Sager. The 1973 composition was pitched to a producer for Dionne Warwick and later Manchester pitched it to Dusty Springfield who turned it down.  In 1975 it was the first single off Manchester’s first album for Arista records.

7.  Midnight Confessions, The Grass Roots.  The biggest hit for the band was released in 1968.  Recorded with a large group of studio musicians, reports are that the group did not actually play on the record but only did the vocals.  They did perform it live themselves.  I played in a band for a few years that performed this song regularly.

6.  Midnight Rider, The Allman Brothers.  The song first appeared on the Allman Brothers 1970 album, Idlewild South, and was released as a single in March, 1971 without much success.  Composer Gregg Allman released it as a solo effort in 1973 and broke the top 20.  Versions by other artists have also found some success.

5.  Midnight Rambler, The Rolling Stones.  Written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, the song was released in 1969.  Mick provided lead vocals, of course, and harmonica, while Keith Richards recorded all of the various guitars heard on the original recording.  The song continues to appear in Stones’ concert and was recently on the playlist for the historic performance in Havana.  Here they play for just a million and a half people in Rio, the largest concert ever held.

4.  Midnight at the Oasis, Maria Muldaur.  Released in February of 1974 the song is certainly the best known effort by Muldaur.  The soft rock hit with its sexy lyric was made even more popular by the tease in her unique voice.  I absolutely loved this song at the time, still do.

3.  Midnight Train to Georgia, Gladys Knight and the Pips.  The song was written and recorded by Jim Weatherly as Midnight Plane to Houston.  It was then passed on to Cissy Houston who recorded it as Midnight Train to Georgia.  Then Weatherly’s publisher passed it on to Gladys Knight and the Pips.  They won a performance Grammy with it.  Here the Pips are really workin’ it!

2.  Midnight Special, Johnny Rivers.  Creedence Clearwater Revival had a hit with the song, but it is hard for me to hear a CCR song and not think about the lead singer, John Fogerty.  Apparently there is no arena big enough for his ego.  The Johnny Rivers version was used as the intro to the Midnight Special television programs featuring musical performances.  In my time zone, the train came through right on time, and Wolfman Jack was the conductor.  This performance is from Hullabaloo.

1. After Midnight, J.J. Cale or Eric Clapton.  Cale wrote the song and recorded it in 1966.  When Clapton covered it in 1970, Cale did not know about it until it was a hit on the radio.  At the time, he was broke and grateful for the song’s success.  He subsequently included it in a 1972 album.  Since they both have great versions out there, the only fair thing to do is show them playing it together, Cale on vocals.

DEAR DEANNA DURBIN: I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I were discussing “legacy.” Our legacies. Such as they are. The subject matter was the basis for Marilyn’s piece yesterday (WHO HAS A LEGACY?) and left me thinking.

It’s interesting to ponder. Who will care about you after you’re gone? If you’re a public figure, you’re only famous until you’re not. I was a very familiar figure to tens of thousands during my TV news career. Now, I am frequently asked, “Didn’t you used to be Garry Armstrong?” (Yes, I was … and remarkably, I still am.)

deanna-durbin-classic-movies

For the past week, I’ve been watching Deanna Durbin’s movies on Turner Classics. Who remembers Deanna Durbin? For a short period during the late 1930s and early 1940s, Ms. Durbin was one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, more popular than Judy Garland.

MGM mogul, Louie B. Mayer, screen tested Durbin and Garland as starlets. Mayer chose Garland. Universal Pictures snatched up Deanna Durbin who quickly shot to stardom, saving the studio from bankruptcy.

Durbin projected a sweet, wholesome, cute-as-dickens image that won the hearts of many people seeking options to screen sirens like Harlow, Dietrich, and Crawford. Deanna had a wonderful, rich singing voice — almost operatic. Very impressive for a twenty something, always top billed over veteran stars.

Deanna Durbin

I discovered Deanna Durbin after she had retired in 1948,. She was at the height of her fame, but decided the glitter of Hollywood was not enough. She moved to France where she lived quietly until her death a few years ago.

My memories of Deanna Durbin, 60 plus years ago and now, remain vivid. She glows with performances of “Loch Lomond,” “Going Home,” and “All Alone By The Telephone” in movies that are rather less than memorable.

“Going Home,” is usually associated with FDR’s funeral train procession. It’s a guaranteed heart-tugger when Deanna sings it in “It Started With Eve.” I usually skip through most of the film, then do a multiple replay of Durbin singing that song. It always gets to me.

I had an immediate crush on Deanna Durbin as a boy. I wanted to meet her and tell her how much I loved her. Alas, it was not meant to be. Yet all these years later, I still have a crush on her.

That’s a legacy.