THE LONGEST RUNNING TV SHOW

For 31 years, there was a series on Channel 7 in Boston. It was my favorite show. I watched it any day I could get home from work in time. It was on several times a day, five days a week. The first performance often aired during the pre-dawn hours, while the final day’s episode might air long after most people had finished dinner and many had gone to bed.

It was “good stuff.” Garry Armstrong was a smart, thorough reporter who cared about Boston and its people. He knew everyone and they knew him. He makes jokes about being trusted … but he was trusted because he had proved he could be. He had sources. He checked with them. He knew when the a story wasn’t “right” and he was cynical about politicians and big money.

Watching Garry kept me informed about events taking place in my neighborhood, the city, and the region. I also got follow-up and background information over dinner — sometimes quite different than what had been aired. There was stuff you could broadcast, and there was stuff that he and other reporters “knew,” but couldn’t prove.

It was sometimes difficult to reconcile the star of the TV show with the tired, crabby guy who came home expecting dinner, a newspaper, and when we were lucky, a baseball game. I always knew how the star’s day had gone. I taped his pieces so he could see them when he got home. Although he covered stories, wrote them, and performed, he didn’t see them as finished pieces unless I taped them.

I watched the news as I also watched him deal with violence and the calamities that are a constant in every reporter’s life. He never got used to it. Garry was, in a regional way — a celebrity. I was the celebrity’s wife — a very different role. My job was often to be there and smile. Television “people” don’t pay much attention to anyone who isn’t part of their habitat. At a good event, I got fed too.  I even got to wear ball gowns occasionally and I met some people I would never have normally encountered in my life.

Garry covered, or was involved with, virtually every major event in New England for his run of 31 years. From the great to the tragic, he was there.

Garry and I at President Clinton's party on Martha's Vineyard

Garry and I at President Clinton’s party on Martha’s Vineyard

We have one of Garry’s three Emmy awards on a shelf behind the TV, but virtually no tape of anything that happened. I don’t remember who found the piece blow, but it’s a very rare viewing of him doing normal work on a normal day in the news biz. Garry’s segment appears at about 1 minute and 30 seconds into the noon news. You can fast forward and skip the intro or choose to watch from the top of the show.

That was a “live shot.”

Time passes. It’s good to have something tangible to remember. Lucky me, I still have the star himself.

On September 12, 2013, Garry Armstrong was inducted into the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame.

We keep the plaque on the mantel. His one remaining Emmy (Channel 7 lost the other two) is on a shelf that Owen built, along with his Kauff award and one other big one, the name of which I have forgotten. Amazing the things you forget even though at some point in your life, you couldn’t imagine ever forgetting something that important. His “Silver Circle” Lifetime Emmy hangs on the wall, too and there are other awards here and there in the house.

What is important changes over time. As time marches along, life and day-to-day events become more important than whatever career you had — except on days when the guys get together to remember.

That more or less wraps it up. I think it’s going to rain today.

BUT WORDS CAN NEVER HURT YOU … BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn recently wrote a piece using the word chutzpah which I’ve always badly mangled in pronunciation. It’s a word, what the heck? That was my take for many years until Robin Williams and Billy Crystal gave me a proper public whupping for butchering the pronunciation of chutzpah.  I don’t try to say Chutzpah in public anymore. It’s a word. I respect it because it carries different meanings and images.

These days, people often use words or phrases without understanding their origin or meaning. I hear political aspirants, celebrities, athletes and civic leaders say things that make me scratch my head and run back to my dictionary.  Words!  They can be powerful tools if used correctly. They can be dangerous if used in ignorance.

I grew up in a home full of books, including dictionaries. Big ones and pocket dictionaries. My parents insisted on using proper language and crisp diction.  Street slang guaranteed a head slap or a smack that stung. My two brothers and I were warned about using prejudicial clichés. Since my head has never been properly wrapped, I’ve been guilty of violating those warnings because of my warped sense of humor. Marilyn warns people that I have toys in the attic.  True.  Some of the toys are very old.

A friend and I were trading insults the other day. I snapped at him with, “That’s white of you”.  His smile said everything. Words!  You gotta know who, when, and where to use them.

Way back in olden times, I was 19 years old and worked in a department Store in Hempstead, New York. I was the only goy working in the children’s shoe department. I was waiting on a customer who drove me bonkers. I couldn’t take it anymore and told the parent he was a schmuck.

The manager quietly called me into the stockroom, explained what schmuck meant and asked me never to use it again — even if the customers were jerks. I think he was smiling although reprimanding me.  It was a word I’d often heard used in friendly banter, but I didn’t know its origin or real meaning. It was just a word. What was the big deal?  I was 19 and knew everything!  I used big words, “10 dollar” words to impress people. People often complimented me, saying I spoke very well.  I didn’t understand the veiled insult behind many of those compliments.

After all, they were just words.

John Wayne, of all people, once commented on words and ethics.  It was movie dialogue but still resonates more than half a century later.

In the 1961 film, “The Comancheros,”  Texas Ranger “Big Jake” Cutter (John Wayne) is lecturing his younger sidekick, Monsieur Paul Regret (Stuart Whitman). Regret asks Big Jake to spin a lie to his superiors to alleviate a problem. Big Jake refuses. Regret doesn’t understand, saying they are just “words.”

Big Jake, with that iconic Wayne frown, says softly, “Just words??  Words, MON-soor, are what men live by. You musta had a poor upbringing.”  Regret looks puzzled, not fully grasping the ethical code of this rough and ready Texas Ranger.  It’s a sublime moment and perfect for the young 1960’s when youth was defying the older generation’s moral code.

I recalled the scene years later in an interview with John Wayne. He smiled, shaking his head because he was in the middle of on-going national dissent against the Vietnam War.  Wayne was one of the most visible and vocal “hawks” in the Vietnam controversy. He had been ridiculed by strident protesters at a Harvard University gathering earlier that day.

“Words, dammit,”  Wayne looked at me, angry and sad. “My words! No damn Hollywood script. I have as much right as those damn college kids.”  Wayne was fuming. The Hollywood legend collected himself as I redirected the conversation to my time as a Marine. I had enlisted in 1959, fired up by the “Sands of Iwo Jima” script.

“Words. Good words,” I said to Wayne who smiled broadly.

Today, words are often tossed around loosely on social media, sometimes with little regard to truth or the repercussions of ill-advised words. We have a President who uses words without thought in a daily barrage of tweets.  Our media is engaged in a daily war of words, often ignoring crucial issues facing our nation and world.

Those of us of a certain age shake our heads as we watch young people immersed in tweets rather than direct conversation with friends in the same room. Words have become an endangered species.

I remember the good old days when me and friends went face to face with verbal jousts like “Your Mother wears combat boots!”

Words!  I love them.

HAPPY NATIONAL ASSHOLE AWARENESS DAY!

Although there has never been a dearth of assholes in our world, I think this year has a special importance. Assholes are everywhere! I’m having a lot of trouble figuring out which asshole is the ultimately biggest asshole … but … wait … I think maybe I’ve got it. I don’t want to overly influence the election, so I will leave it to you, my friends, to make this critical decision.


Who is America’s biggest asshole?

I have to thank my husband and his friends for bringing this important holiday to my attention. I had long felt that the morons, jerks, and assholes in our lives were not getting the recognition they deserve.

Often ignored and disrespected, this is a special day, dedicated to them all. The assholes we love, the ones we meet on the street. The ones we worked with and for. And most especially, for those we elected to run our country.


To all assholes everywhere, this is for you.

BECAUSE I CAN – RICH PASCHALL

Wayne Messmer Sings, Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

Cubs Win

If you are from the Chicagoland area, or follow the World Series champion Chicago Cubs, you may know his name and his face.  You certainly know his voice.  As far as we are concerned here, he is the best National Anthem singer in the country.  There is no fooling around when Wayne sings.  He delivers the anthem as it was written.  There are no variations to the melody or guitar solos.  He delivers it each time in a rich baritone voice, full of passion and conviction. We consider it a privilege to follow along.  There will be no runs for beer or hot dogs when Wayne grabs the mic and takes to the field.

Wayne Messmer is a multi-talented guy.  His Facebook page introduces him as “Certified Speaking Professional, Singer, Storyteller, Live Entertainer. Chicago guy!”  In addition to singing for the Cubs, Wayne is Executive Vice President and national anthem singer for the AHL hockey team, Chicago Wolves.  He has a Sunday night Jazz and Blues radio program.  He gives live performances around the area.  While doing local theater many years ago he met his wife Kathleen, also a talented singer. They have performed together over the years at stadiums and clubs.

In 1991 Wayne’s dynamic performance of the Anthem at the NHL All-Star game in Chicago was carried around the nation and across Armed Forces networks.  It is still talked about for reasons that will be obvious here.  In the final year at the old Chicago Stadium, 1994, Wayne Messmer, age 43, was a beloved local celebrity.  It all nearly came to an end following a Blackhawk’s home game in April of that year.

Late at night following the game, Wayne left a restaurant and made it to his car in the old Stadium neighborhood.  When he got in his car there was a banging on the window.  Then a shot was fired at point-blank range.  It went through the driver side window, then through Wayne’s throat and lodged in muscle tissue.  Wayne drove off and back to the restaurant where he was found and taken to a local hospital.  Reportedly, one of Kathleen’s first concerns when she reached the hospital was whether Wayne would be able to speak and sing.

A few days later at the Chicago Stadium no substitute would do for the anthems at a Blackhawk’s playoff game.  Wayne appeared on tape.  There was no mistaking the sentiment of the crowd.  It would be the final anthem in that building.

It was a 15-year-old boy who shot Wayne in the failed robbery attempt.  The boy had a 9-mm hand gun.  He was with a 16-year-old accomplice.  It was a tip from another teen that led the police to the suspect.  Once caught, the shooter confessed to the crime.  Messmer underwent a 10 hour operation and was in serious condition after the shooting.  Chicago Wolves spokesperson, Susan Prather, said doctors did not want to speculate on the outcome. “They have no way of telling how this will affect his voice.”  The Messmers were cautioned that it might be a year and a half before they would know how his voice would sound.

The road to recovery was filled with doubt.  Would Wayne sing again? Would he be able to even speak well?  It is impossible to imagine what goes through the mind of someone who makes his living with his voice.  He was determined to succeed.  A quick return would take a miracle.  Wayne tells the story in this brief interview:

A miracle and some luck were on Wayne’s side as he returned to his passion.  He sang at a Blackhawks game six months after he was shot.  He has now sung for 33 consecutive Chicago Cubs home openers.  Sometimes he will take harmony as his wife sings the melody for the anthem, but mostly it is Wayne at the microphone at Wrigley Field when the organ starts to play.

Although I was never in a production with Wayne, we both did shows at Theater on the Lake and I have seen Wayne perform.  We have a number of mutual friends, not just on Facebook, as a result of community theater.  I have met Wayne a few times and can say he is as nice as he seems.  It is always a delight when a good person is a success.

If you asked Wayne now why he continues to sing, he will say “because I can.”  For this veteran performer and Chicago guy with a miracle comeback on his résumé, nothing could be greater than to sing the national anthem at a World Series for the Chicago Cubs.  Yes, he has that miracle on his résumé too.

BRING BACK NATIONAL BROTHERHOOD WEEK

Way back in the dark ages, the third week in February (an otherwise dreary and neglected month) was designated National Brotherhood Week. As designated special weeks go, it was never a big hit with the general public. In the 1980s, it disappeared completely. Probably because it failed to sell greeting cards. Which is, I believe, the point of this kind of created event.

brotherhoodweek-624x446

The National Conference for Christians and Jews (NCCJ) came up with the idea of National Brotherhood Week in 1934. Given the current political climate, maybe we can agree more brotherhood year round would be an improvement. Sadly, we no longer have even that one, measly week.

February is now Black History Month which seems to mean movie channels run films featuring non-white stars, unless you watch PBS or the History Channel. There you might see a documentary or two. A man who took it seriously — back in the ever older days — as he took all politics seriously, was Tom Lehrer. He taught math at Hahvid (Harvard, if you aren’t from around here). He didn’t write many songs. Till his dying day (which hasn’t occurred — he’s alive and living in California), he thought of himself as a math teacher who wrote silly songs — not as an entertainer.

Despite this unfair self-assessment, I’ve always felt Tom got this celebration dead to rights. Ya’ think?

Check him out on YouTube. He only wrote about 50 songs and most of them are posted in some video or other. Me? I’ve got the CDs.

Remember CDs?

BONUS!


Given recent interactions with North Korea, I thought I’d add these two extra little ditties. They seem so … appropriate.

LOSERS

We’ve been watching this show about Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. They are doing this last, terrible, desperate film. They don’t like each other. They may, in fact, truly loathe one another. But they need this movie because they are getting old and they know it is their last chance to do something before the rug is pulled out from under them.

That’s the real point of the story. They didn’t make a good movie. They didn’t change the rules of Hollywood. In fact, the rules have not changed. More women get decent roles even after passing that magic age — these days more like 55 than 40 — but most don’t. Women are still underpaid, underrated. A man playing a role for which he is blatantly too old is applauded. A woman is laughed at. A woman with wrinkles, if she is really top drawer in the acting department will get some roles, but not like a man.

Men can work as long as they can totter around. Not so for women.

BOSTON HERALD 03-17-2017

Women do get work. Not as many as eventually will, but many more than used to. We keep at it and one day, we will win. The women who fought the studios, battled movie moguls who treated them like soiled hankies? They were losers. Losers in every sense of the word. But the battles they fought opened up the world for others yet to come.

If you are wondering how the things we do now can help us in the battle to survive this thing who is our so-called leader? Everything we do matters. It counts. Even thought we fight and lose, we fight again. Maybe we lose. But …

Eventually, we don’t lose. In the end, we will win. Bet on it.

FEUD: BETTE AND JOAN – HOLLYWOOD AND MATURE ACTRESSES – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn has just written a piece about Feud: Bette And Joan. However, the mini-series about the iconic Hollywood actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford plays a peripheral role in Marilyn’s offering.


My take on “Feud” focuses more on Hollywood and its disaffection for older actresses. Things are better for mature film actresses now than back in Hollywood’s “golden age.”  A look the award-winning films of the past year include names like Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, Annette Benning, Viola Davis,, and Charlotte Rampling. All these ladies are AARP members. The roles essayed by these women are three-dimensional. Free of the “Norma Desmond” caricatures familiar in Hollywood films of the 30’s and 40’s.

Feud: Susan Sarandon (L) and Jessica Lange – December 9, 2016 – Los Angeles, CA
Photograph: Robert Trachtenberg

Feud: Bette And Joan focuses on the Davis and Crawford collaboration, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? It’s art imitating life imitating art. The movie was a desperation marriage for the two legendary stars who despised each other, but had a common enemy.

The “Suits.”

The studio moguls who regarded their stars as property, not flesh and blood people. La la land titans like Louis B. Mayer and Jack Warner treated women like clothing. Runway fashion for a few years, and then discount goods after they turned 40.

The ladies tried hard. An over-30 Norma Shearer playing Juliet in MGM’s Romeo and Juliet (1936) drew snarky comments from critics who lauded an equally mature Leslie Howard playing Romeo. Remember Ginger Rogers playing a teenager in The Major And The Minor?

There are moments in Feud: Bette And Joan when the two actresses let their guard down and share the bitterness and hatred they feel for the people who feed the publicity machine that can never be satisfied.  Susan Sarandon as Bette Davis and Jessica Lange as Joan Crawford make us believe — because they are mature actresses echoing the paths of two women who made things easier for them today.

Katherine Hepburn.

On a very memorable afternoon in the late 60’s, Katherine Hepburn shared stories about old Hollywood. She didn’t mince words. Almost all the studios bosses were bastards in her book. She felt the same way about most directors — except George Cukor. Hepburn demanded respect, refused to play “younger” and provoked the ire of all who tried to manipulate her. She smiled at me when I told her how I routinely challenged “suits” who wanted me to be a more restrained man-of-color.

Hepburn respected both Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. This was 7-years after “Baby Jane” was released. Someone apparently had contacted Hepburn about doing the movie but they were really after Audrey Hepburn. Katherine was considered too old. That little nugget is covered in the FX mini-series.

Katherine Hepburn’s favorite director, George Cukor, confirmed everything she said in a chat with me in the early 70’s. Ironically, I was alerted about Cukor’s arrival at our TV station by our lobby receptionist, “Garry, there’s some old guy named George Cukor here to see you.” Cukor also confirmed the woes faced by Davis and Crawford. He was in the twilight of a magnificent career.

Bette Davis received verbal support from her ex-husband and All About Eve co-star, Gary Merrill.

Gary Merrill.

Over many Bloody Mary’s, he regaled me with stories about life with Margo Channing/Bette Davis. The feuds with 20th Century Fox boss, Darryl F. Zanuck and vain efforts to stay forever young in Hollywood.

Merrill admitted that booze made life easier but made remembering your lines harder. He said Bette Davis found life especially hard after All About Eve. It was all downhill for her, with one bad picture offer after another. Why? Merrill shook his head and pointed at himself, indicating age.

Feud: Bette And Joan resonates with anyone who has worked in front of a camera for more than a few years. Trust me. I know.