HAPPY NEW YEAR! – Rich Paschall

The Rest of Your Life

Windmill of your mind

The new year is about to begin and it is time to ask the important question:

What are you doing the rest of your life
North and South and 
East and West of your life
I have only one request of your life

All the seasons and the times of your days
Are the nickels and the dimes of your days
Let the reasons and the rhymes of your days

Through all of my life
Summer, winter, spring and fall of my life
All I ever will recall of my life
Is all my life with you

The song was nominated for an Academy Award for the 1969 film The Happy Ending.  Michael Dees sang the song and it is featured above.  It lost out to Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head.

The lyrics were by the prolific team of Marilyn and Alan Bergman.  Music was by Michel Legrand.  In 1973 Legrand won a Grammy for the Musical Arrangement of the song for the vocal by Sarah Vaughan, second above.

Remember Playboy After Dark?  Legrand performed his composition with Hugh Hefner and other stars looking on.  Of the three above, who performed it best?

The More-or-Less Annual George R. Stewart, Jimmy Stewart Christmas Post – Reblog – Earth Abides Project

Christmas 2019


Here’s the annual re-post of a story of the close connections between George R. Stewart and Jimmy Stewart, and between the mythical town of Bedford Falls and the real town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, the boyhood home of both Stewarts.

It’s A Wonderful Story


This is the time of year when most of us watch the classic Christmas movies. A Christmas Carol with Alastair Sims, Miracle on 34th Street, A Child’s Christmas in Wales, (An almost unknown gem, produced in Canada, starring Denholm Elliot); and It’s a Wonderful Life. The local theater in Arroyo Grande, California, owned by a man who loves movies, shows one of those classics each Christmas. The admission is a can of food or a toy, to be donated to those in need – in the spirit of the movie.

To see such a film on the big screen, surrounded by local neighbors of all ages – to see how the children love the film – it is a reminder of what we’ve lost. Today we watch movies on TV, often alone, and usually less intently than in a movie theater. Yet at a showing of Miracle on Thirty-Fourth Street the audience clapped and cheered when the judge decided that, yes, Kris Kringle was indeed Santa Claus. How long since you’ve experienced that?

For many people It’s a Wonderful Life is the Christmas movie. So those who are George R. Stewart fans will be interested in the connection between that classic film and GRS.

George R. Stewart spent his boyhood in Indiana, Pennsylvania, where his mother’s family lived. His maternal grandfather, Andrew Wilson, planned to be a teacher and even helped found a school nearby (it would become the prestigious Kiski School). But he couldn’t earn enough to support his family so he went into the mercantile business. He had a hand in a hardware store there, owned by another Stewart. That Stewart’s son was James Stewart, also born and raised in Indiana.

George and Jimmy looked alike. With all the similarities in family history, geography, and physiology, you’d expect they were related. But they shared only one possible distant relative. And they lived in different worlds, in Indiana.

The George Stewarts went to the middle-class Presbyterian church on the flats; Jimmy Stewart and his parents to the upper-class Presbyterian church on the hill. GRS went to a public high school out west, Jimmy to a prestigious private school in the east. Their paths apparently never crossed. 12-year-old GRS and his family left Indiana for California in 1905, the year James Stewart was born. Out west, nothing in their interests or their work brought them together.

Still, the lives paralleled in remarkable ways. GRS and his family moved to Pasadena; he went to Princeton; and after marriage moved his family to Berkeley, California. Jimmy went to Princeton, then moved to Pasadena; and spent his life in Southern California. GRS wrote books, two of which were filmed. Jimmy made films, like that grand Christmas classic we all love. GRS worked at the Disney studios for a time, an advisor to Walt himself. Jimmy worked at many studios, creating characters and stories that touched the hearts of millions. Ironically, GRS did not like the media, and apparently did not attend movies often, if at all.

Even though their paths never crossed, during the Christmas season we should remember there is one thing they shared: The experience of life in a small American town in the early 20th century. Like a trip to Disneyland, a viewing of It’s a Wonderful Life enfolds us in such a place. For a time, we walk the streets and meet the people of the town and the time where both boys grew up.

Here’s a passage from the biography of Stewart, about Indiana, Pennsylvania as Bedford Falls:

George R. Stewart’s boyhood town was so archetypically American that it could pass for George Bailey’s “Bedford Falls” in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. In fact, the town was “Bedford Falls” – at least for the movie’s male star. Indiana, Pennsylvania, was also the boyhood home of James Stewart, “George Bailey” in Capra’s film. Although the movie’s “Bedford Falls” was built on a studio backlot in the San Fernando Valley, Jimmy Stewart said that when he walked onto the set for the first time he almost expected to hear the bells of his home church in Indiana.

Although the film’s Producer/Director, Frank Capra, is said to have modeled his mythical town on the upstate New York town of Seneca Falls, for Jimmy Stewart Indiana, Pennsylvania, where he and George R. Stewart grew up, was the place he had in his heart as he brought George Bailey to life.

Each year, Indiana holds an It’s a Wonderful Life Festival, with a parade, hot chocolate, tree lighting, and continuous showings of the film at the Jimmy Stewart Museum. It’s a winter festival so the people lining the streets in their warm clothing bring life to a snow-bound town like the movie brings life to the streets of the movie set town.

As you watch Capra’s great film this Christmas, keep in mind that GRS celebrated his Christmases in a town which for another Stewart, Jimmy, was the model for iconic, Bedford Falls.

Merry Christmas to all.

PS. A Christmas gift, for 2019 readers – a link to the radio interview with “Tommy Bailey,” one of the Bailey children growing up in Bedford Falls, setting for It’s a Wonderful Life.

Original material:

The EARTH ABIDES Project: A site for George R. Stewart, Author of the classic EARTH ABIDES

HAPPY BIRTHDAY OLE BLUE EYES – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s Frank Sinatra’s 104th birthday. Somewhere, Sinatra and his pals are smiling and ordering another round of the good stuff.

I recall another Sinatra birthday celebration. 1962. It was a very good year. ’62 was the year JFK met with a group of young reporters and told us we were making history. I’m not sure we understood.

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: SINATRA, FRANK, 1953

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY: FRANK SINATRA, 1953

It was the year a bumbling team, the New York Mets, made their début as National League baseball returned to Gotham led by ringmaster, Casey Stengel.

It was the same year in which my Mom received a phone call from someone named Jilly. She was perplexed. That didn’t happen often.

“Garry”, Mom yelled, “Some strange man named Jilly is on the phone for you. Is he one of those drinking people I told you to stay away from”? I gave Mom an insolent look and curtly told her Jilly Rizzo was a confidante of Frank Sinatra. Mom gave me a look that indicated disbelief and anger. Payback later, I quietly concluded.

“Kid, is that you?”, Jilly croaked as I picked up the phone. “Geez, Your mom’s a pistol! No disrespect, Kid.” Jilly Rizzo, a nightclub confidante to Frank Sinatra and an “A” roster of celebrities, was apologizing to me about my Mom. I beamed inwardly.

Rizzo went on to explain “Frank” wanted me to join him and a few friends for a small party. I blurted out a thank you and got details.

For those who didn’t read an earlier story, I had met Frank Sinatra a few weeks earlier. It was a chance encounter during an interview I had done with Jilly Rizzo for our college radio station. For some reason, Sinatra liked what he heard and saw and we had a long conversation over drinks after the Rizzo interview. Sinatra even asked pals Dean Martin, Sammy Davis, Jr, and Hank Henry to give us the table.

Go figure!

FrankSinatra9

We had chatted about personal stuff. I shared the difficulties of my hearing loss and ensuing diction problems. That apparently opened the door for Sinatra to talk about his own diction problems and his concentration on crisp phrasing of lyrics.

After the conversation was interrupted, Sinatra promised we’d get together again. I thought he was just being polite to an aspiring reporter. I was wrong!

Back at Jilly’s Nightclub again, I was greeted by Sinatra pal, Hank Henry who, without hesitation, handed me a double scotch neat and led me into a backroom. There were about a dozen people gathered around a large table. I blinked twice because I recognized almost everyone.

Dino, Sammy, Joey, Richard Conte, Joey Heatherton and radio icons like William B. Williams among others. There was a big birthday cake in the middle of food and booze on the table. The cake frosting was topped by a Sinatra figurine. The classic Frank Sinatra with raincoat slung over his shoulder. I just stared.

sinatra at mic

“Something wrong with the booze, kid?”, Sinatra asked, grinning as we shook hands. I nodded no and took a long slug of the scotch. Good stuff!! Sinatra beamed and led me over to the table introducing me as a friend. There were nods and smiles all around.

Across the room, the music began. Big band stuff. Instrumentals no vocals. It sounded like Tommy Dorsey. There were lots of jokes about Sinatra, his hair (it was very thin and receding), his affection for “renegade” talent and taunts that Eli Wallach was looking for him. By then, it was well-known that Sinatra had gotten his legendary “Maggio” role in “From Here To Eternity” with a little “help” even though Columbia Pictures had originally wanted Wallach for the role that earned Sinatra an Oscar and kick-started his comeback.

At some point, Sinatra pulled me aside and said he wanted me at his party because he liked my style. I was confused. Sinatra smiled and explained he wanted a young person around to remind him of his own youth and personal struggles. He said he’d appreciated that I didn’t try to get a scoop in our first meeting.

There was more chat about dealing with adversity, about how media was changing and the challenges he faced to stay relevant. I just nodded. He asked how things were going for me. I told him about my meeting with JFK and he grinned.

Pictured: Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra in a scene from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, 1953.

Pictured: Montgomery Clift and Frank Sinatra in a scene from FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, 1953.

We talked about movies a bit. I mentioned I hadn’t seen “The Kissing Bandit”, a well-known Sinatra clunker. We shared our love of westerns. I started doing lines from “The Magnificent Seven” and he laughed. He told me about working with Steve McQueen in “Never So Few”. I did little bits of scene-stealing shtick as he discussed McQueen. Laughter all around as others listened in.

dean-martin-say-daiv-jr-frank-sinatra-456-021411

Sinatra finally was serenaded by Dino, Sammy, and the others with a raucous version of “Happy Birthday” laced with profanities.

I just sat smiling, sipping my scotch and not believing I was in the middle of all this. Later, as I got ready to leave, Sinatra approached with two more drinks and smiled, “Cheers, Kid!”.

They were still laughing and singing as I walked out.

TEN YEARS ONE NIGHT – Rich Paschall

An Idol on Tour, by Rich Paschall

It has been ten years since Kris Allen won American Idol. Despite a strong showing throughout, the win was considered quite an upset. Adam Lambert was expected to be the winner. Lambert had impressed the judges and received a lot of publicity for his flamboyant style. Nevertheless, Allen walked away with the award.

Just as previous contestants were contracted to do, Kris went out on an American Idol tour with other contestants. He made numerous personal appearances and recorded an album. His single “Live Like We’re Dying” climbed the charts and has been his biggest hit. His first album was self-titled. It included 9 songs that were written or co-written by Allen.

Kris Allen

In the years since Allen has recorded several albums, one of which (of course) is a Christmas album. This Christmas effort included five original tunes. including “Mommy, Is There More Than Just One Santa Claus?”

He has also engaged in any number of philanthropic and charitable ventures. He never achieved the overwhelming success that some of the Idol winners and runners-up have achieved, but he remains active and is a strong live performer.

This fall he has been out on his “10 Years 1 Night” Tour. His Chicago stop was at City Winery. I had mentioned this venue before when I saw another former American Idol star, runner up on season seven, David Archuleta. It was the Postcards In The Sky Tour that brought David to Chicago earlier in the year.

City Winery, a performance venue.

City Winery is a unique stop with a restaurant, wine bar, and concert venue. The entertainment room is more of a cabaret-style. It seats 300. Most of the tables are small, but large enough for your wine, or whatever, and a plate of food. Some arrive early for food and drink, while others show up just for the show. Some of the partons seem to sample quite a bit of whatever the winery is serving. This makes them feel like the performance is an interactive experience. Fortunately, Allen knew how to deal with this in good humor.

The two-hour show included a number of Idol reminiscences. One included the week when the performers were asked to do a disco hit. Allen was born after the disco era. He did not grow up hearing this type of music and was unsure what to do. Of course, the show provides suggestions and often steers contestants toward songs. Allen picked the hit from the disco queen, Donna Summer, “She Works Hard For The Money.” Since he really did not know that style of music, the song ended up with a more soulful treatment than it was given before.

In addition to performing this one for us, he reached back for other songs as well. The purpose of the night was to give us Idol memories along with others. The stories were entertaining and the songs were presented with a good dose of energy. It was just Kris and his guitar, plus an occasional assist from an electronic gadget that can provide percussion or repeat measures of music. Allen deftly worked the gadget with one foot as he performed. This added a fuller sound to a handful of songs. The diversity made for a better experience.

Not all performers have entertaining stories or even try to tell any. Kris sprinkled in some personal memories. The 34-year-old gushed about his wife, his high school sweetheart he has known half his life. He talked about winning over her parents after he was the winner of American Idol. That’s when they thought he could actually make a living at music.

Kris Allen in Chicago

He also got the crowd involved in singing along on a couple of songs. At one point he taught different parts to three different sections of the room. While this trick doesn’t always work for performers, the blend actually came out quite nicely in the end. Perhaps my opinion of that was shaded by the French wine.

Near the end of the show, Allen delivered his big hit. As you might expect the song was well received. He mentioned that he is aware there is a Tim McGraw song with the same title, but this one is his own.  You could hear many in the crowd singing along with the chorus:

We only got 86,400 seconds in a day to
Turn it all around or to throw it all away
We gotta tell them that we love them
While we got the chance to say
Gotta live like we’re dying

At the end of the show, Allen went around the front of the stage, shaking hands, and having pictures taken. At least one person got a selfie with Kris. Since I was close to the stage anyway, I moved up to the edge and shook his hand. He said something like, “Thanks for coming,” which he said to many. I guess I should have said, “Thanks for the good show.”

Then, it was time to use the Uber app on my phone.


Sources:

Kris Allen, en.wikipedia.org

City Winery enters a crowded music and restaurant market, by Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune, July 26, 2012.

Kris Allen Somethin’ About Christmas, discogs.com

Kris Allen Lyrics, Live Like We’re Dying, azlyrics.com

JACK WARNER, NAZIS, AND HOLLYWOOD – By Garry Armstrong, with a bit of inspiration from Marilyn Armstrong

I was usually able to get candid comments from “old Hollywood” people because I didn’t ask the typical questions about favorite co-stars, celebrity perks, or favorite roles. I frequently shared my disdain for the “suits” in my business who tried to interfere with my work. This attitude, along with being a minority,  got me some sympathetic responses from people who normally just gave standard sound bites. It also helped that I was a movie “maven,”  more knowledgable than many so-called ‘entertainment reporters’ famous for fluff questions.

Jack L Warner, 1970. (Photo by Warner Brothers/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

The topic of Jack Warner came up this morning. Marilyn is reading his biography, a book called “We’ll Always Have Casablanca: The Legend and Afterlife of Hollywood’s Most Beloved Film” by Noah Isenberg. Do NOT buy the book, by the way. It’s written well — and completely wrong about pretty much everything.

Marilyn said the author apparently believes that Jack Warner was a man with a conscience who claimed to go the “extra mile,” slipping anti-Nazi stuff into Warner Brothers films in the late 1930s and early 1940s when it was “dangerous” to speak out against the Nazis.

Much of this country’s population was essentially isolationist.  Businessmen didn’t want to rock the boat,  including many Hollywood moguls concerned more about their overseas markets, especially Germany.

As always,  it was all about the money.

So, here’s a list of a couple of Hollywood legends from Tinseltown’s golden years and their takes on Jack Warner and his “anti-Nazi” stance.

JAMES CAGNEY

Probably Warner Brothers’ most bankable star from 1930 to 1950. In a 1971 conversation with James Cagney (an informal afternoon chat on Martha’s Vineyard),  the star gave full credit to Warner Brothers for giving him his breakthrough roles. Cagney got his “Public Enemy” role when the director switched Cagney’s supporting role with the star,  favoring Cagney’s energy.  Despite his “gangster” popularity, Cagney had to fight the Warners for diversity in roles.

Cagney and his horses on Martha’s Vineyard.

In Hollywood back then it was not uncommon for big studios to keep a tight rein on their stars.

James Cagney with chickens

Cagney was still doing gangster films in 1939 as the Nazis flexed their muscles. In Hollywood, big and small studios were nervous about doing films that might jeopardize their lucrative overseas market. The inside word was: “Don’t antagonize the Nazis in your films.” Germany was a large market for American films.

There was a film waiting to be ‘greenlighted called “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” at Warner Brothers. The director, European expatriate Anatole Litvak, was eager to get started. The project sat for months. The behind-the-scenes arguments between the Brothers Warner could be heard throughout Hollywood. They were the butt of jokes, concern. and anxiety by other studios who wanted to tackle Nazi Germany on film. Someone had to be the first to do it.

Sam and Harry Warner were decidedly in favor of taking it to Adolph Hitler.  They held the keys to the studio’s financial and legal coffers.  Jack was the smiling front in Hollywood, dealing with actors, directors, and writers.  He was the public face. With his big, broad smile, pearly whites who some people likened to those of a great white shark, Jack was regularly bashed by actors and actresses as gross, a sexual predator, a philanderer, and a fraud — which was typical stuff for Hollywood suits.

When “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” came across his desk, Jack Warner blanched and balked. He didn’t want to touch it. The first-generation immigrant mogul didn’t want to risk losing his studio and power to Nazi pressure.  His brothers disagreed saying it was their duty to do the film.

Jack disagreed until a lackey suggested they could do it as a gangster film with underworld bad guys subbing for Nazis.  His brothers refused to do it that way. Jack started leaning on his stable of stars — James Cagney, George Raft, Paul Muni, Edward G. Robinson and others. They surely could pull off the film as a Tommy-gun melodrama.

No one wanted to do that film.

Jack Warner fumed! Meanwhile, Edward G. Robinson, widely admired in Hollywood as a Rennaissance Man of courage way beyond his screen image, lobbied for the film as an out and out warning against Nazism.  He even put up some of his personal earnings to back the script while agreeing to take on the lead role as a Federal Agent ferreting out Nazi spies in the U.S.

Edward G. Robinson

Jack Warner winced. Other prominent actors including George Sanders and Paul Lukas, encouraged by Robinson, agreed to join the film, playing unsympathetic Nazi spy roles. They didn’t care if it jeopardized their careers.  If “Eddie G.” was doing it, that was good enough for them.

Over Jack Warners’ private arguments, “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” was made in 1939.  Surprising many insiders, it was a box-office success and nominated for several Oscars.  During the Oscar Ceremony, Jack Warner leapt past the winner to embrace the award and give a big patriotic speech about the courage of fighting Nazis at a dire historic time.

Warner talked humbly about ‘tuning up’ the script to bash the Nazis without endangering the film.  Insiders just smiled.  The cast and crew of the film fumed silently. Thirty years later, James Cagney recalled Jack Warner’s antics. Cagney had a strange smile on his face as he talked about Jack Warner.

“The man had chutzpah,  I’ll give him that. He certainly gave me my chance. But, young fella, he was the epitome of a two-faced, hypocritical ‘suit’.  You think you have worked for bad guys.  Give yourself a few more years.

“Jack Warner took credit for everything he rejected. He loved getting awards. I remember attending award ceremonies. I had to do them.  Part of my job.  The VFW, DAR, Sons Of American Freedom. You name the award ceremony and Jack Warner was there, big teeth and phony smile, to accept the honor.

“He was always ‘umble.  Young fella, I had to hold my stomach and breath around the guy. He loved garlic bread and used to sit close to me.  I was his pet or so he thought.  Jack Warner a hero and anti-Nazi fighter?  No!  He was even a bigger problem when we did “Yankee Doodle Dandy”.  He didn’t want any strong anti-Nazi bias in the film. He said it was just a song and dance film,  nothing more.

“George M. Cohan was around one day and wanted to deck smilin’ Jack. Sorry to drift on about Jack Warner but even in my so call mellow years, the man still angers me.”

That’s an unfiltered remembrance of my conversation with James Cagney.  It was a wide-ranging talk that included his not so fond memories of Jack Warner — years after his final film for the studio.

CHARLTON HESTON

 In 6 or 7 meetings, ranging over a similar number of years, Charlton “Call me Chuck” Heston gave me wide-ranging inside looks at Hollywood. Once he talked about Edward G. Robinson who was one of “Chuck’s” heroes. They made “Soylent Green” together which turned out to be Robinson’s last film.  He died a short time after the film was completed.

The movie “Soylent Green”

Heston talked warmly about Robinson and his gentle “man of the world” presence.  Heston volunteered the information about “Confessions of a Nazi Spy” and Edward G. Robinson’s pivotal part in getting the movie made with its strong anti-Nazi message.

Heston relayed stories Robinson shared with him about Jack Warner.  They weren’t flattering. Heston had a few encounters with Warner as a young and rising Hollywood star.

I gave him a look and Heston just smiled, shaking his head.  No words needed.

RUTH DONNELLY

She was a contract player at Warners in the 1930s.  She usually played ditzy friends of lead actresses like Bette Davis, Miriam Hopkins, Olivia DeHavilland, Barbara Stanwyck, and other stars.  Often Donnelly was paired with Eve Arden as a comedy foil in melodramas and romantic comedies.

“A Slight Case of Murder” starring Ruth Donnelly

Donnelly was on the Warners lot when “Confessions of A Nazi Spy” was in production. She remembered, in a 1970 interview,  how Jack Warner used to interrupt scenes being shot. This is a big NO-NO unless you held the money for the film. Warner, Donnelly recalled, was boorish and intimidating. He tried to bully writers on the “Confessions” film, demanding they change their scripts and then feigning ignorance when asked by Anatole Litvak, the director if it was true.  Warner even tried to get the writers fired for the controversy he created.

Ruth Donnelly smiled when I asked what she would say to Jack Warner in 1970.


Also see: What Charlie Chaplin Got Right

OLD ACQUAINTANCES – Garry Armstrong

We meet once a month.

I slug the Google calendar with “Ol’ Farts Luncheon” to schedule the event, time, and location.  We usually meet at 12:30 pm and wrap maybe two hours later. It’s an event full of old war stories and a few well-worn memories as we eventually go our separate ways.

Our group is mostly retired broadcast news people — predominantly cameramen as well as a reporter or two, and a few newspaper folks.  We all used to cover the mean streets of Boston, from the last days of non-electric typewriters and film to current day electronic media. We’ve all been around from old Remingtons to mini-cameras emitting images that air instantly while watching the rise of social media and purported news writers who post stories that are raw. Unchecked for truth or validity.


Our friendships date back half a century or more. Once, we were the young Turks, ambitious and breathing fire to bring fresh air and relevance to television news we thought was maybe too stiff and formal.  The old guard regarded us with suspicion,  annoyance and I suspect, a little envy because they’d been the same way a mere few decades earlier.

We’ve shared triumphs, tragedies, marriages, divorces, births, and deaths. Lately, we’re bonded by attending too many funerals of people who used to attend our lunches. We know that sense of mortality we so casually dismissed to the old guard in earlier years.  Now, we are the old guard.

It’s interesting to follow the thread of how our lives have changed in retirement,  away from the daily spotlight of events on the center stage of public life.


A relatively small gathering for our latest luncheon.  Nine very mature gents around the big table. Seven of these fellows are retired (or semi-retired) cameramen, video technicians, van maintenance, and uplink pros.  All have worked at least 40 years in the TV news biz.  That’s at least 280 years which is a pretty a conservative tally — untold days, nights, weeks, months and years. Collectively, we’ve covered just about all the major news events over the past half-century.

Although Boston-based, we’ve followed stories around the world.  We were there when the Vietnam War became an awkward part of history, when Watergate brought down a president, and when the Berlin Wall tumbled. We were there when Three Mile Island became a national scare,  when sexual abuse scandals ripped through the Catholic Church (including a prominent local Archbishop), and when court-ordered school desegregation put Boston in a very uncomfortable international spotlight.

All of us were there for these events that, like a thousand tiny paper cuts changed our world, our neighborhood, and how we view ourselves.  Their cameras delivered images that have become part of history.  History not often covered in textbooks — paper or electronic.

Most of these unassuming fellows have taken home multiple Emmys, Pulitzer Prizes, Murrow Awards and other honors recognizing their bodies of work, most of which they have done their work in relative anonymity.


One suit, with typical executive lack of respect, called them “button pushers”.  That suit’s tenure was relatively brief.  Ironically,  we worked for many suits who simply did not respect the quality of the work or dangers faced by pros “just doing their job.”

Preserving anonymity, one of my colleagues dealt appropriately with a suit who endangered all the lives of techs and talent in a TV remote van.  The suit, in the middle of a thunderstorm with huge bolts of lightning, insisted the signal rod be kept upright so the van could transmit a news report.  If the exec’s order had been followed, there was an excellent chance that lightning would blow up the truck with everyone inside.

So one of these fellas ignored the suit’s order, suggesting that lives were in jeopardy and, perhaps the suit would like to come and put up the rod himself.  Newsroom applause drowned out the suit’s expletives as he stomped back to his corner office.

Another of these “gents” braved jail time with his reporter rather than reveal a source for a high-level story.  Like some of the Pols on the Impeachment Inquiry, the suit didn’t grasp the meaning of “confidential source’.’  He didn’t comprehend that the source and his family’s lives would be in jeopardy if he was identified.

So “the button pusher” and his reporter opted out for adjoining jail cells rather than yield to high pressure from yet another suit who probably should’ve been working at a car wash.  The suits and the company lawyers blinked.

There are multiple, similar stories around this table. I was around for many of them.  Often, I hid behind them as they took the brunt of self-serving, second-guessing suits who seemed oblivious to the complicated life on the streets.


It bears repetition that these under-appreciated news people — reporters without microphones — are responsible for most of the hardware I’ve taken home.  I’ve always felt obligated amid the warm applause at award ceremonies to thank the folks behind the cameras for cleaning me up, straightening me out, and making sure we always had the full story.

It’s a joy to spend time with them.

WHEN THE STARDUST RUBS OFF – Marilyn Armstrong

There was a piece on NBC’s Sunday Morning show about a guy who always wanted to be an NHL goalie. He never made it. Instead, he wound up as the equipment manager for a Carolina team. He wasn’t a player, but he got to hang out with them, be part of the team. Then, one day, the goalie was injured. They needed a backup goalie.

72-Peacham-Monday_022

Not even enough time to call one up from a minor league team … he got the call. Mostly, he sat on the bench, though he got to sit there in a full goalie’s uniform with his name on it. And for the final 7 seconds of the game, he was a player. He didn’t make the goal that saved the game and no one offered him a contract … but he could finally say he’d played in the NHL. As a goalie. His dream came true.

Most of us have dreams and occasionally, they come true. Or very close to true.

alfred_eisenstaedt_kiss_v-j_day_times_square_

V-J Day in Times Square, a photograph by Alfred Eisenstaedt, was published in Life in 1945 with the caption, “In New York’s Times Square a white-clad girl clutches her purse and skirt as an uninhibited sailor plants his lips squarely on hers”

I got to hang out with Alfred Eisenstaedt on Martha’s Vineyard and talk to him about his photographs I had bought several books of his pictures (we eventually owned several of his actual pictures) and he went through the books, looked at each picture and could tell me what film he used, which lens, camera … and most important, what it was that inspired him to shoot that picture in that way.

About his arguably most famous “street shot” of the sailor kissing the lady in white on V-J Day in Times Square in New York:

V-J Day in Times Square (also known as  V-Day and The Kiss) portrays a U.S. Navy sailor grabbing and kissing a stranger—a woman in a white dress—on Victory over Japan Day (“V-J Day”) in New York City’s Times Square on August 14, 1945. I asked him how he got the shot.

He said “I was walking around Times Square with my Nikon. Everyone was celebrating, and I was looking for something special, I wasn’t sure exactly what. Then, I saw the sailor in his dark outfit kissing the woman in white. I swung my Nikon into place and just shot. I had the right lens, the right film. It came out well, I think.” Yes, it came out well. Very well.

I will never get that picture or any picture like it because I can’t “just shoot.” It’s not for want of trying. I see a shot, but I stop to think. One second of thinking is more than enough time to lose the shot. In a second, the hawk takes to the air and the kiss is ended. That special look on his or her face vanishes.

In short, I think too much to be a good street photographer. Fortunately, I think just enough to be a pretty good landscape photographer. Even a sunset moves slowly enough for me to get a few pictures before it goes to black. Which is why I always carry a camera.

Blogging has given me other pieces of my dreams. I didn’t become a best-selling, world-famous author, but I have gotten to chat with authors whose work is best-selling and widely read. And who I admire. Every once in a great while, I get a “like” or a “tweet” from a favorite author. I’m as thrilled now as I was the first time I made contact with one of my favorite authors.

I suppose I hoped by being in contact with greatness, a bit of the star-dust will rub off on me

THE LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS – Garry Armstrong

A Nostalgic Spoof of Those Great Old Westerns

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night, this time with Rich Paschall who had never seen it before.

We love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (“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 all 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 owned three identical copies of it on DVD, one of which now belongs to Rich. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so we bought extras. Just in case.


rustler's rhapsody dvd cover

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 an 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 ’60s 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 doubleheader at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second or third-run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime. Eleven cents if you were considered an adult. Which turned out to be any child older than 10, but they still made you sit in the kid’s section — which I firmly believed (and still believe) was unconstitutional.

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!

A BROADWAY AWARDS SHOW – BY ELLIN CURLEY

Tom was in charge of the audio for the Outer Critics Circle award show at Sardi’s in New York City on May 23, 2019. So Tom and I got to have a unique and fun and very ‘New York’ experience. The show is a mini version of the Tony Awards but done in the afternoon, so no glamorous evening gowns.

Event program

We had to drive into the city the night before to bring in all the audio equipment and set it up on site. My job was to gaffer tape the endless wires to the carpet and walls so no one tripped over them. It was interesting to watch the event coordinators set the tables (it was a lunch/dinner at 3 PM), decide who sat where and set out the place cards.

The 27 awards were announced beforehand so only the winners showed up, which limited the guest list to 120, or twelve tables of ten each. Most of the people were behind the scene stars who I didn’t recognize. People like producers, directors, composers, sets, costumes and lighting people, agents, publicists, etc. The room covered all aspects of what it takes to put together a theatrical production, both musicals, and straight plays.

Page in program listing award winners

The audio table was set up for Tom and me in the back near the back door so I didn’t expect to see any celebrities close up. Surprise! They had set up a black curtain with the Outer Circle Critics logo all over it right next to me, near the back door. I thought it was just for decoration and name placement. I didn’t realize that that door was where everyone entered so they could be photographed in front of the black curtain.

The press corps, photo, and video were directly right in front of me. The celebrities entered, one by one, and posed for the press in front of the curtain/backdrop.

They chatted briefly with the press. All this took place three feet in front of me! I was taking photos too and the press photographers moved out of the way so I could get good shots. I told them it was just for a blog, but I got professional courtesy and was treated like a member of the press corps.

Photographers lined up to take pictures of celebrities

I also got to see some video interviews — a real treat.

Tina Fey was one of the presenters/masters of ceremony and she was charming and funny, as usual. I got some close ups of her as she entered and posed for the cameras and I also took pictures of her talking at the podium.

Tina posing for the photographers.

A film and TV actor, Hamish Linklatter was also very funny as a presenter,  The Big Short, and Fantastic Four movies as well as The Newsroom and The Good Wife on TV. He did a dramatic reading of his presenter speech, which was hilarious.

Hamish Linklatter

Bryan Cranston gave a delightful acceptance speech too — “Breaking Bad,” “Malcolm In The Middle,” and “All The Way” (TV) and the movie “Trumbo.”

Joel Grey

It was a thrill to see classic stars like Joel Grey — “Cabaret,” the play and movie. John Callum — “On A Clear Day You Can See Forever” among numerous stage credits as well as TV’s “Northern Exposure,” and “Madame Secretary.”

John Callum

The legendary costume designer, Bob Mackie was also there. He did all of Cher’s clothes for her TV show as well as the costumes for the Carol Burnett Show. He also dressed many stars, like Judy Garland and Liz Minnelli, to name a few.

Bob Mackle

Another charming actress who got an award was Stephanie J. Block for her role as the older Cher in the musical based on her life. She said she had 29 costume changes during each show, eight times a week!

Stephanie J. Block

I also saw a favorite of mine, Brian D’Arcy James, who was in the TV musical Smash as well as originating lead roles in the musicals “Shrek the Musical,” “Next To Normal” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

Brian D’Arcy James

Our friend, Barbara Rosenblat was in the audience. She is a member of our Audio Theater Group, Voicescapes Audio Theater as well as being a world-renowned, award-winning audiobook narrator.

She has also appeared many times on the Broadway stage. She was in the original cast of “The Secret Garden” and got her caricature drawn and hung in Sardi’s. The restaurant opened in 1921 and is known for these caricature drawings covering all of its walls, representing the Broadway stars from the 1920s to today.

Barbara Rosenblat

I knew Barbara’s drawing was there but I had never seen it. We, along with the rest of the crew, were treated to a dinner at Sardi’s restaurant downstairs after the show. Coincidentally, I was seated directly in front of Barbara’s drawing. So Cool!

Barbara’s caricature on Sardi’s wall

All in all, it was an exhausting but wonderful adventure.

TOM ELLIS: A TRIBUTE by George K. Regan, Jr.

Tom Ellis was a pillar in the media community. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. In celebration of his life, we are hosting “Tom Ellis, A Tribute,” tomorrow at The Seaport Hotel, Plaza Ballroom from 2-4 pm. I hope you can join us in memorializing the man, the legend, and our dear friend, Tom Ellis.

Tom Ellis, A Tribute

Tom Ellis, a member of the Massachusetts Broadcasting Hall of Fame, lived the great American life – from working as a young roughneck in the Texas oil fields in the early 1950’s to recording one of President John F. Kennedy’s final television interviews, to the decades spent as a leading television news anchor in both Boston and New York City. Thomas Caswell Ellis died on April 29, 2019, at his home in East Sandwich, Massachusetts. He was 86 years old.

Ellis was born on September 22, 1932, in the Big Thicket area of East Texas, where hard work was valued and money was hard to come by. Ellis was put to work at the age of 13 in the construction trades in Carthage, Texas. While he enjoyed physical labor, Ellis loved the spotlight of theater and entertainment and found side jobs as a professional actor and a carnival barker in his teens.

During the Korean War, Ellis served as a cryptographer in the U.S Navy’s Security Service in Washington, DC. He graduated with honors from Arlington State College in 1955 and from the University of Texas in 1958.

His handsome appearance and commanding voice soon caught the attention of a small radio station in Fort Worth, Texas, where he was hired as a staff announcer for 50 cents per hour. Ellis then moved to San Antonio, where he broke into television news in as an anchor-reporter where he earned several awards for his reporting from the Associated Press and UPI.

He was among the local Texas reporters dispatched to Dallas, where he landed a brief interview with President John F. Kennedy on the day before he was assassinated. In 1968, Ellis moved to Boston after he was hired as a lead anchor for WBZ-TV where he covered major stories, including student protests against the war in Vietnam and the Chappaquiddick tragedy involving Senator Edward M. Kennedy and Mary Jo Kopechne.

Ellis was lured away from Boston to New York City in 1975 to anchor the prime time news on WABC-TV where he earned New York Newscaster of the Year honors as well as the top ratings in the market. Also during this time, Ellis made a return to acting and landed a role in the big screen thriller Marathon Man with Dustin Hoffman and Sir Lawrence Olivier. He played, of all things, an anchorman. Other movie roles would follow.

Ellis returned to Boston three years later to join the anchor team at Channel 5 that included Chet Curtis and Natalie Jacobson. During his tenure there, Ellis hosted a Peabody Award-winning documentary called Fed up. He then moved to WNEV-TV (now WHDH) where he co-anchored newscasts from 1982 to 1987.

Ellis’ career is distinguished also by the fact that he is the only journalist to have anchored top-rated newscasts at each of Boston’s network affiliates in the 1960s, 1970’s and 1980s. In the early 1990s, Tom Ellis became one of the first television anchors for NECN (New England Cable News) where he continued to cover major world events close to home, such as 9/11 and the plane crash that took the lives of John F. Kennedy Jr., his wife, and sister-in-law. Tom Ellis anchored his last newscast in 2008.

Longtime friend George K. Regan, Jr remembered Ellis this way: “Tom Ellis was not just a great journalist, he was a great human being. I got to know Tom while working as the press secretary for Mayor Kevin White. My respect for him as a newsman grew from day one and we later became the closest of friends. Tom Ellis was family to me. There wasn’t a holiday or special event we didn’t spend time together or simply reach out to talk. My thoughts are with Tom’s lovely wife Arlene. I will miss my dear friend, ” Regan said.

He loved living on Cape Cod, surrounded by nature and also giving back to his community. He was also deeply involved with various charities, including the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, the Boy Scouts of America, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and Big Brothers and Big Sisters. He had also served as Chairman of the United Way of Cape Cod. He predeceased by his mother, Mary Eunice Ellis, father Herbert Caswell Ellis, and sister Mary Grimes Ellis.

Tom Ellis is survived by his wife Arlene (Rubin) Ellis of East Sandwich, Massachusetts, Arlene’s sister Debbie Berger and her husband Michael of Newton, Ma., daughter Terri Susan Ellis of Freedom, CA., daughter Kathy Denise Cornett and husband Randy Cornett of Hamilton, OH, and son Thomas Christopher Ellis and wife Beverly Ellis of Cincinnati, Ohio. Ellis also leaves behind five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

All the best,
George

George K. Regan Jr., Chairman
Regan Communications Group

NOTES ON A COWARDLY LION by JOHN LAHR – Garry Armstrong

It’s been a while since I finished reading the Bert Lahr biography, “Notes on a Cowardly Lion“, written by his son, John. I am still emotionally involved.

Why does a book which was written more than 40 years ago about a show business figure who peaked more than 70 years ago sit front and center in my mind?

I’m a retired TV and radio news reporter with more than 40 years in “the business”. The “news biz” is journalism, but it’s also performance, even for those of us who strive for objectivity.

Part of the job is celebrity. When you appear on television five or six days a week for more than four decades, you become a household face. People ask for your autograph. You receive special treatment in stores and restaurants. Eighteen years into retirement, folks still recognize me, tell how they grew up watching me on TV and ask for autographs.

Mine is a regional celebrity although I’ve encountered fans almost everywhere I’ve traveled in the United States and overseas.

I’ve always enjoyed and appreciated my celebrity. I miss it a bit when I’m not recognized but I don’t get depressed if I go unnoticed. I needed to share a little of my life because it puts my feelings about the story of Bert Lahr’s life into perspective. I really understood in a very personal way where the man was coming from.

I enjoyed the biographical side of the book. It speaks to history, the history of vaudeville and burlesque, show business venues that are frequently misrepresented.

As a self-proclaimed trivia maven, I received a little education. Case in point: Clifton Webb, long perceived as a middle-aged effete, film actor actually was a well-received song and dance man in vaudeville.

I learned the difference between vaudeville and burlesque. I came to appreciate the art form of Bert Lahr’s overly broad slapstick comedy. I understood how Lahr’s art form suffered at the hands of Hollywood film directors who tried to minimize his well-honed craft and squeeze it into a musical comedy.

Lahr’s comic genius never had a chance to shine in Hollywood. “The Wizard of Oz” was the exception. But that success also spelled disaster in Tinseltown because Lahr never again received a film role like the Cowardly Lion.

Years later, he would find similar frustration with television which tried to restrict his comedic moves in variety shows. Lahr didn’t think much of TV comic legends like Milton Berle and Sid Caesar.

Ironically, both Berle and Caesar spoke highly of Lahr in lengthy interviews with me — even as they lamented the fading of their celebrity. But that’s another story.

Back to Bert Lahr.  Born into poverty, Lahr was always worried about financial security.

BertLahrEven when he returned to Broadway where he found his greatest success over the years, Lahr never felt secure though he was earning top star salaries.

In later years, as a TV pitchman for Potato Chips, Lahr earned more money for a thirty-second commercial than he did for starring in a play, movie or TV special. He still didn’t feel secure.

Bert Lahr did find some unexpected late professional success with surprising turns in work like “Waiting For Godot” co-starring E.G. Marshall. Lahr savored critical acclaim but was never satisfied. It was never enough. For all of his professional and financial success, he was an unhappy man. He was insecure as an aspiring comedian/actor seeking stardom.

He was insecure as a star sure that others were trying to undermine him. He was insecure as he aged, a respected legend. He always believed people had forgotten him even though he was recognized everywhere he went. Lahr was miserable as a husband and father, demanding but not giving.

Lahr desperately needed the audience — the laughter, the applause — throughout his life. Sadly,  he never appreciated the love and admiration he got from his family.

As the curtain closed on his life with his loved ones gathered around him, Lahr still longed for his audience, their laughter, and applause. He couldn’t let it go and move on, nor could he appreciate the good things life offered him. Lahr’s loneliness haunted me. The deeper I got into the book, the more painful I found reading his biography.

I know first-hand how intoxicating and addictive celebrity is, especially when you fail to appreciate real life. Bert Lahr was never able to see the joys and sorrows of family and friends as “the real thing” that makes the rest of it all worthwhile. It’s the celebrity that is unreal and ephemeral.

It’s the people who love you who will sustain you after the curtain closes and the audience departs the theatre. That Lahr was never able to recognize what he had and accept the love that was there for him was his personal tragedy.

It’s a fine biography, but not a joyful reading experience. It is in many ways a cautionary tale, a reminder of how important it is to keep one’s perspective and one’s feet on the ground.

POSTCARDS IN THE SKY – Rich Paschall

David Archuleta Tour, a review, by Rich Paschall

If you wanted to know what was on the mind of a singer-songwriter, pop star, this was the event. A formerly-shy guy, who let his singing do his communicating, had plenty to say on his Spring 2019 tour. Some of it may have been a bit surprising, coming from the singer who came to prominence as a teenager on Star Search and runner-up on the 2007-2008 edition of American Idol.

The 25 city tour included stops at a number of City Winery locations across the country. These smaller venues allow for an intimate relationship between performer and audience.

City Winery, performance venue.

The Chicago location includes a restaurant and wine bar, and a separate 300 seat performance space where you can order food before the show and drinks throughout. If you arrive an hour or more early, you can chat with your waiter about the food on the special menu and the long wine list. Some patrons arrive closer to show time for the performance only. There is no need to order anything, no minimums required. You do have to have a show ticket, of course.

Archuleta’s tour was basically in support of his 16 track album, Postcards In The Sky. Originally released in 2017, the Official Music video for the title track was not released until March 2019.

Postcards in the sky
Saying what’s inside
Hoping you will fly away
And find a way to you
Postcards in the sky
Hoping you will fly away
And find a way to you

After a few songs, Archuleta explained to the audience the journey his life has been on. He rose to fame as the cute kid on American Idol and became a pop star with songs on the radio and requests for personal appearances. He toured the country, recorded albums and sang with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. Then he surprised everyone at the end of 2011 with the announcement that he would do missionary work. He needed to do “Something That Has Nothing To Do With Me.” 

In March of 2012, he was off to the back roads of Chile and putting his singing career on hold. On his return two years later, he made some appearances and eventually moved from Utah to Nashville to work on music. But when he went to work with his producer on songwriting, as he explained to our audience, he was not sure he wanted to write, record, return to pop music. He just could not get back into it. It was suggested when he went to a previously scheduled session, that he write about what he was feeling.

“It occurred to me that maybe I can actually write about what I’m really going through instead of teenage love songs because that’s what people want to hear.”

I don’t wanna feel numb
Falling over all of my shadows
Yeah, I’m all done
‘Cause none of that ever really mattered
It hurts to live so wide awake, oh
But it’s a chance I can take
I won’t run run run
‘Cause I don’t wanna feel numb

Archuleta performs the songs from the Postcards album, and particularly Numb, the first song written for it, with an intensity you might not expect from the young artist. These are his personal messages. Postcards that he has sent off into the sky. They are there for you to grab. He is hoping that some of these messages will reach you and maybe you will send back a postcard of your own.

Now at 28 years old, David retains the boyish charm that made him a teenage sensation. He seems eager to share his story and explain the meaning of the types of songs he is writing now. He seemed at ease with the audience and even chatted with some of the fans close to the stage. One brought a poster depicting all his albums and David chatted for a few moments with the fan.

Postcards in the Sky

For those who followed David for the past dozen years, he sprinkled in a few early hits. Certainly, the boys and girls who followed at the start and are now young men and women would have been disappointed if they were not treated to a few memories. In this regard, he did not disappoint. A Little Too Not Over You was there early on and near the end, he reached back for Touch My Hand.

Here is the original music video for Touch My Hand from 10 years ago.  Just as he does in this array of video clips, he reached out to the crowd at the Chicago performance. I suspect he was not just trying to shake hands with those by the stage. He was really trying to reach them, as well as the entire room, with this show.

A PILGRIM’S TALE – Garry Armstrong

Our Arizona vacations were trips back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows.

Those cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoked memories, especially of the John Wayne-John Ford classic Westerns and the areas around Phoenix are similar to some of the areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made many of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. So now, a few years after the second trip, here it is again. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-three winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and the surrounding areas of The People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Duke was cheered and jeered as he sat atop an armored “half-track” which moved slowly through the crowd as light snow fell. Some dissidents lobbed snowballs at Wayne as they shouted in derision. The Duke smiled and waved. At one point, everything stopped as the legendary star hopped out to shake hands amid a flurry of snowballs. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

I called in a few favors and somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. What felt like an eternity to me, I waited alone on stage for John Wayne to appear. Suddenly, the stage lit up. I froze.

“Hello, Garry!” boomed the Duke in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage. After the greeting,  my TV persona kicked in. I shook hands with my hero, beaming with pleasure.

I was oblivious to the cameras and how much time had passed. Later, I would learn from the tape that it had been a pretty long interview. Me swapping stories with Wayne including some anecdotes about my stint in the Marine Corps which impressed the Duke. He laughed when I recalled how I’d upset several drill instructors during basic training with my irreverent behavior.

The interview ran long. Towards the end, a press agent had to pry Duke loose to resume his “march” to Harvard.

During a formal, group interview at Harvard, Wayne singled me out as “his pal and former Gyrene.” I remember basking in the glow of that moment as other reporters glared at me. Later, as the crowd dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a dumb smile and said, “Good to see you again, Duke.” I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and giggling. I didn’t care. This was the interview I’d dreamed about.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around the newsroom repeatedly asking everyone if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water on my face and get on with my job.

They didn’t get it. I had spent “private” time with the Duke. With Hondo, Sgt. Stryker, Ethan Edwards, Capt. Nathan Brittles, and Rooster Cogburn … among so many others. Damn — I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

Sadly, there were no personal pictures from that memorable day. No autograph. I’d always felt uneasy about asking celebrities for these artifacts.

Ironically, this gesture apparently opened the door for more candid conversations and some unforgettable social afternoons and evenings with Hollywood legends, Royalty, Presidents, sports heroes, wise guys, godfathers and even Mother Theresa who singled me out from a crowd, chastising me about news coverage. I never figured that one out.

Topping all those memorable days and nights was my afternoon with the Duke. Back here in Arizona, where the Duke galloped through so many westerns, I think maybe … mebbe … I can top that encounter in the future.

That’ll be the day!

ALMOST SPRING BY THE BLACKSTONE – Marilyn Armstrong

Photographs: Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

Almost spring does not mean the same thing everywhere. In New York, it meant that everything was budding. We were waiting for it to burst into bloom. Cherry trees and apple trees were often already flowering. So almost spring really was almost. It was warm, bright, and shortly it would be absolutely lovely.

Along the banks of the Blackstone

Little islands in the river

Up here, it means it’s raining. A few flowers are blooming (daffodils, azalea, tulips … and in very sunny places, apple trees), but there aren’t a lot of buds on the trees. The only leaves I can see are on the still living despite having at least three trees fall on it, lilac — and forsythia.

Me and the trout fisherman

Spring in New England is frustrating. It’s winter, winter, winter, chilly rainy and muddy … and you look around and it’s gray. Then, one day in the middle of May (depending on weather, of course), it bursts into summer in a matter of hours.

More trout fishing

Today I actually had to turn the heat on again. I really didn’t want to because I am trying hard to NOT need another tank of oil before fall. Winter this year was a bit weird. Not nearly as snowy as usual, but blowy and periodically, very cold.

Green growth by the river

This is normally just a tiny stream, but with so much rain, it has become quite a river in its own right

We didn’t get those long sieges of bitter weather we often get in January and February, but it was cold enough to need $300 in plowing and an extra tank of oil. And all we had was one snowy month.  If it had snowed the rest of the winter, we’d be bankrupt.

Reflections

Yesterday was sweatshirt warm and if you were in the right place, even warmer. It wasn’t raining, so we went and took pictures. A lot of pictures because who knows when we’ll have another chance to go out again?

Young fir trees and bare branches by the river

The constant rain begins to get to you after a while. Last night it poured with thunder and lightning Lucky us, no tornadoes.

Oh, for the people who recognize plants. The woodlands are full of that green stuff that looks like skunk cabbage. I couldn’t get close enough to get a tight picture. It was across the waterway, but I think that’s what it is. Doesn’t anyone know for sure? I’m not good with recognizing wild plants. I’m not even good at recognizing garden plants so assistance would be appreciated!

A SUMMER AFTERNOON WITH JIMMY CAGNEY – Garry Armstrong

This story goes back to the early ’70s. My mind gets a little bit hazy. I always thought I’d remember everything, but it turns out, you forget. It’s not dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Other stuff happens and the older stuff gets pushed back into the hard drive. We are older computers, you know? We need a faster operating system, bigger drives. Maybe solid state and definitely a much better graphics board, or anyway, that’s what my wife tells me.

I knew he had a house on the Vineyard, but I was a bit shy about personal — non-work meetings — with celebrities, especially Hollywood people. I was ( still am) a serious fanboy. I loved old movies and admire the stars. I grew up with them. I wanted to be them. I settled for reporting, but it wasn’t, as it turned out, such a big step after all.

About James Cagney

I’d just come into Oak Bluffs aboard the Island Queen ferry.  It was the first or second year of nearly twenty summers I’d spend on the Vineyard, sharing a home with a small group of other Boston TV friends and colleagues.

Our first summer home was in Edgartown, off Tilton Street. We laughingly called it “The Tilton Hilton.”

I’d been on Channel 7 for maybe 2 or 3 years at that time. My face was just becoming familiar. I was also starting to get used to being recognized in public. This was a long way for a shy kid from Long Island to come in a short period of time. I was growing into myself.

The Island Queen

I had just turned thirty, the end of “kidhood” and the start of being a man.

As I was getting off the ferry, I noticed a familiar-looking elderly gentleman. I couldn’t quite place his name. As I started towards a cab, the gentleman stopped me and said something like, “Hello, young fella. I hope you don’t mind me you interrupting you. I’ve watched you on television and just wanted to say I enjoy your work”.

I looked more closely and the face was suddenly and immediately familiar.

He said, “I used to be James Cagney. Now I’m just another old guy.”

We both laughed. We shared a bit of small talk about the weather, the ‘touristas’ coming to the Vineyard for the weekend, then more about the weather. People in New England spend an inordinate amount of time discussing the weather. It’s a thing.

There was an awkward silence and James Cagney said, “Would you like to have a beverage and some doughnuts. My place is just down the street a bit.”

I stammered “Ye-Yes, thank you.”

We laughed again and walked away to Cagney’s “cottage” which was a respectable residence covered with the light green or gray Vineyard paint color required for all cottages. Really, it was a small farm, but that would have been bragging. He didn’t brag.

Inside, it was a bit sparse. Neat. Just a few paintings and pictures, all depicting Vineyard and Cape locales. No Hollywood stuff. Cagney saw me staring and smiled, “Yeah, I dabble a bit but I’m really just a hack”.

In the kitchen, over tea and cookies, we had a long, rambling conversation with me talking about my then relatively brief career and James Cagney talking about his (long) career. He called them “jobs” or “shows.” That’s how I learned how most working actors and techs described movies.

I wanted to ask so many questions, but he persisted in talking about the “working part” of filming his pictures. He was “wet behind the ears” when he did “Public Enemy,” the film that shot him to stardom.

Originally he had been a supporting player. The director liked his feisty brashness more than the star’s blandness, so the roles got switched and show biz history was made.

We went on for two or three hours, swapping stories about “suits” we despised.

Our bosses. His studio bosses: the Warner Brothers and my news directors and general managers. I told Cagney about the suit I worked for at Channel 18 in Hartford before I came to Boston. My news director used to sit in the dark, mumbling to no one, like a punch drunk fighter.

Cagney cracked that familiar laughter and told me about working with directors he liked and didn’t like. He said he always focused on getting the job done, using the basics.

Show up on time, meet your mark. Know your lines. It sounded like what Spencer Tracy always said. Cagney nodded in agreement. Just before parting, I told him about my love of westerns.

He grinned, saying, “No way, I’m gonna tell ya about the ‘Oklahoma Kid.’ Bogie and I detested that show. We felt like idiots, kids playing grownups … but I enjoyed riding. I love horses. I have a farm hereabouts.

“The invite is open if you wanna come riding.”

I wasn’t much of a rider at that point. I did learn later, but I had little experience then. I should’ve accepted James Cagney’s invitation anyway. I really wish I had.

And, that’s a wrap. One of those wonderful afternoons. Just talking. Not business. No cameras. A summer afternoon on Martha’s Vineyard. Two guys, cookies, and tea.

HANGING OUT WITH ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM – Garry Armstrong

Marilyn and I watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Robert Mitchum on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) last night. We laughed a lot. It was a reminder of how good late night talk shows were. It also showed the legendary tough guy Mitchum as an affable and literate man who didn’t take himself seriously.

The Cavett show originally aired in 1970. I met Robert Mitchum the following year. Turned out to be a memorable encounter.

Robert Mitchum was in Boston to shoot “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, a film about small-time criminals. There was nothing small-time about Mitchum. I lobbied for and got the TV interview assignment. Those were the days of “The big three” television stations in Boston. Two of the stations had prominent entertainment reporters. I was the “go to guy” at my station.

The established entertainment reporters had first dibs on Mitchum. Fine by me. I waited until shooting had wrapped for the day. I lucked out because they finished just before 1pm. The star was in a good mood because his workday was over. We shot one reel of film and I got everything I needed.

Mitchum seemed surprised we weren’t shooting more. Actually, he smiled when I said we had a wrap.

I was getting ready to leave when Robert Mitchum asked what was next for me.

Nothing, I told him. I was through for the day unless I was called for a breaking news story. I also assured him I probably would not be reachable. He smiled. He asked if I knew any quiet places where he could have lunch without being bothered. I nodded and he invited me to join him.

It was a small, dark place. It could’ve been a setting from one of Mitchum’s film noir of the 1940s. He smiled approvingly as we walked in. Several people greeted me. No one gave Mitchum a second look. We settled back with the first of many rounds that afternoon. At one point, Mitchum took off his tinted glasses, looked around the place and said I should call him “Mitch”. I nodded. He wanted to know how I could just disappear for the rest of the day. I told him I had recorded my voice tracks, shot all my on-camera stuff and relayed cutting instructions after the film was “souped”. Mitch smiled broadly and went to the bar for another round of drinks.

robert_mitchum_by_robertobizama-d4ktib7We spent the next couple of hours talking about sports, music, women, work, and celebrity. He noticed how people would look and nod but not bother us. I told him this was one of my secret places. Blue collar. No suits. He wondered why I hadn’t asked him about the “Eddie Coyle” movie or shooting in Boston.

Not necessary, I told him. Everyone knew about that stuff and it would be mentioned by the anchors introducing my stories. He smiled again, lit one more cigarette, and ordered another round.

It dawned on me that Mitch was leading the conversation. Talking about me. How I was faring as a minority in a predominantly white profession. Just like the movies, I told him. I explained I did spot news stories to get the opportunity to do features which I really enjoyed. He laughed and we did an early version of the high 5.

We swapped some more war stories, including a couple about Katherine Hepburn. He talked about working with her in “Undercurrent” with Robert Taylor when he was still a young actor. Mitch said Hepburn was just like a guy, professional, and lots of fun.

I mentioned meeting the legendary actress after I was summoned to her Connecticut home during my stint at another TV station. Mitch stared as I talked. I had tea with Katherine Hepburn who had seen me on the Connecticut TV station. She liked what she saw but had some suggestions about how I could improve what I did. I never could fathom why Katherine Hepburn would choose to spend time with this young reporter. No modesty. Just puzzlement. Mitch loved the story and ordered another round.

I glanced at my watch and figured I couldn’t stay incognito much longer. This was before pagers, beepers and, mercifully, long before cell phones. Mitch caught the look on my face and nodded.

Mitch walked me to my car and asked if I was good to drive. I tried to give him a Mitchum look and he just laughed. We shook hands and vowed to do it again.

Mitch headed back to the bar as I drove away.