My mother had a friend named Helen who was tall, thin, blond, classically beautiful and always stylishly dressed and coiffed. She could be a bit ditzy but she was a wonderful friend with a wide circle of people who loved her. She was fiercely loyal and would go to great lengths to help, protect, or defend her friends.
Helen lived in the same Park Avenue apartment building in New York City as Leonard Bernstein and the two families became close. Bernstein was a world-renowned conductor and composer whose works ranged from classical pieces to Broadway shows, like “On The Town”, “Wonderful Town”, and his most iconic, “West Side Story”. He conducted the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for many years and gave popular TV lectures on classical music. In addition, he was an author and a pianist and a flamboyant personality.
Bernstein at the piano
Bernstein giving an interview
Coincidentally, Linda Eastman’s parents also lived in the same building as Helen and Leonard Bernstein and Linda Eastman, who married Paul McCartney. When Paul and Linda visited her parents, word would get out and large crowds of avid Beatles fans would gather outside the building in the hopes of getting a glimpse of Paul McCartney.
One such day, Helen was out with Leonard Bernstein and they returned home to find Paul’s fans congregating outside their apartment building. For some reason, Helen saw Paul McCartney’s fans as a slight to her friend, Leonard Bernstein. So she got on her soapbox and started to lecture the crowd on what a brilliant and creative musician Bernstein was. She listed his composing credits as well as his conducting accomplishments and told the crowd that they should be honored to be meeting him!
Her stump speech for Bernstein went right over the young girls’ heads. But it’s the sign of a true friend when someone goes to bat for you even when her words fell on deaf ears. But I always loved the image of this elegant beauty schooling a bunch of Beatles fans on classical and Broadway music!
Across New England, the Blizzard from hell takes second place to the Patriots’ latest melodramatic postseason victory and relentless march in search of yet another Superbowl championship.
We are literally iced in but that won’t stop die-hard Pats’ fans in their quest for selfies and autographs with their favorite football players. Patriots’ fans, oblivious to the numbing cold are lined up outside numerous venues for a magical second with their heroes. A long second to secure a selfie and an autograph for posterity.
It raises questions about how far people will go for the celebrity snap or signature. What’s the intrinsic value of such possessions? It varies from financial worth to bragging rights.
Selfies are part of our daily lives now. People documenting the magical and the mundane. There’s a narcissist air to selfies of people wolfing down their favorite food or bathroom mirror closeups to show you’re forever young. If you are compassionate, you will typically post a thumbs-up note of congratulations.
Which invites more such selfies.
That’s a part of our social media lives. The smallest moment gets big attention.
People have always wanted pics or autographs with celebrities. It’s their golden moment! As a kid, I yearned for such mementos with my favorite baseball players or movie stars. I really wanted a photo with Roy Rogers, the king of the Cowboys.
During my working years as a TV News reporter, I met many celebrities, socialized with a few but have very few autographs or pictures. I felt awkward about it.
Even when socializing with the cameras somewhere else, the conversations were relaxed, easy and I thought it would be rude to ask for the pic or autograph. Sometimes the celebs were pleasantly surprised. Robert Mitchum, with a sly grin, asked: “Dude, no pics or autographs?” I smiled, shaking my head and wondering why I just didn’t ask.
I always thought the legends were more comfortable with my not asking for the snapshot “for my aging aunt who’s a big fan”. It always sounded so lame and obvious. James Cagney, at his Martha’s Vineyard farm, proudly showed me autographed photos of his early Hollywood friends and peers. He clearly was very proud of the array and talked about his nervousness in approaching William S. Hart, Tom Mix and John Barrymore among other luminaries. I thought it was fine for Cagney because he was a legend. I was just a local TV News reporter.
My biggest regret might be not having asked John Wayne for a picture (1974 – before selfies) even though he was very cordial during our interview. I certainly acted like a fanboy that day, telling everyone – over and over – that John Wayne actually shook my hand. Eyes rolled in the newsroom as I gushed about meeting “The Duke”.
I’ve been retired almost 18 years now and people still stop me for pictures and autographs, usually apologizing for interrupting my grocery shopping. I’m always flattered even surprised, given the length of time I’ve been away from the spotlight. It always “makes my day” when someone says “Hey, I grew up watching you on TV. Would it be okay to take a picture if you don’t mind?” It’s so funny — and the joke is on me, I guess.
I was just thinking — who would I love a picture with now? Most of my heroes are gone. A casual list of “Hey, would you mind if I took a picture with you?” would include Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Alfred Einstein, Robert Frost (I did an interview but again froze on the picture request), FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Vin Scully, Sidney Poitier, and Bette Davis — to name just a few. Mr. Poitier is still around. I’ve met him once or twice. Maybe he would appreciate this longtime fan.
There are so many “celeb stories” in my memory. I wish I’d had the nerve to ask for that pic.
Selfie? No, I just looked in the mirror. No, no selfie.
“I did everything that I ever thought was marvelous.”
It is a universal sentiment: the desire to do the things you enjoy in life while there is still time left. As you get older, you may feel life, and time, passing you by. If you have deep motivation, you will join the parade before it is too late.
When Carol Channing was young, she fell in love with the theater. So she went to New York City to seek not just fame and fortune, but those Broadway roles that would make her feel alive. She found them.
She started in 1941, and in 1949 she achieved her big success when she played Lorelei Lee in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.”
She continued on with Broadway success until she hit the biggest Broadway success of all, Dolly Levi. “Hello Dolly” is the musical version of “The Matchmaker” with music and lyrics by the prolific Broadway songwriter, Jerry Herman.
The widow Dolly was the marriage matchmaker who is asked to find a match for the unmarried, “half millionaire” Horace Vandergelder. Eventually, Dolly advises her dead husband, Ephram, that it is time to move on with her life and find her own match. She sets her sights on Horace before it is too late:
Channing found success in movies and television as well as Broadway, but the theater was her greatest love. “It’s very healing. Everybody has their safest place on earth and mine is center stage.”
In 1974 more success came with the musical Lorelei which ran 320 performances, based on the character Channing created in “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.” The showed toured the country for almost a year before hitting the Broadway stage. Along the way the show was being rewritten and fixed up for the Great White Way and fans turned out to see Carol.
The parade never passed Channing by. She picked up Tony Awards, a Golden Globe, an Academy Award nomination and legions of fans who stayed with her to the end. She performed her most iconic role, Dolly Levi, over 5000 times through the original run, three revivals, a West End run and national tours. She never tired of the matchmaker who decided to make her own match.
Many people go into our memories as the years go by. Some will linger there always. Some will pass by for a fleeting moment, remembered and then forgotten, as the years put clouds in front of them. Some memories we will cherish always, some not at all.
This past year, as in those preceding it, awards shows and year-end retrospectives highlight those we have lost through their “In Memoriam.” This phrase is from the Latin term meaning “into memory” so it is into our memories we commend those who have left but meant much to us in our lives.
These passings do not only bring sadness for those who are gone, but they also remind us that we are entering a later time in the autumns of our lives. For this thought, we also have sadness for ourselves, knowing winter is near.
I will offer ten names that meant a lot to me in the past. There will be no numbers. It is not a top ten in the usual sense. I looked over some lists and picked ten that have been committed fondly into my memory. You may add yours in the comments.
On the short list, I also had Sen. John McCain, although I disagreed with him often. There was Stan Lee for creating the comic universe of superheroes. Also listed was Stephen Hawking, who had a beautiful mind locked in a diseased and twisted body. The prolific playwright Neil Simon brought us many great movies and plays. Also passing was the former lead of Jefferson Airplane, Marty Balin, and the lead of the Irish pop group Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan, who died too young (46).
Waving a fond goodbye but staying forever in my memory:
Jerry Van Dyke, 86. The younger brother of Dick Van Dyke began his career by playing Rob Petrie’s younger brother in a few episodes of the Dick Van Dyke show. He is most fondly remembered as an assistant in the long-running sitcom, Coach.
Nanette Fabray, 97. She began her career in vaudeville. I remember her as someone who appeared frequently on the early variety shows of television and later as a frequent game show guest. She fought to show the importance of closed captioning in media, as she had been losing her hearing for many years. Here she performs in the musical “the Band Wagon:”
Tab Hunter, 86. The actor, singer, and writer became a movie star in the 1950s and ’60s. He was a teen heart-throb to many young girls and a few young guys too. He had a number one hit with “Young Love,” although this 1957 performance on the Perry Como Show may not have been his best effort. At least you will get to hear the girls scream:
Harry Anderson, 65. The magician and comedian scored two successful comedy series on television. The first was the long-running Night Court where he played the judge of a Manhattan court at night. Next up was Dave’s World, loosely based on writings of Dave Barry.
Burt Reynolds, 82. Although he had many iconic movie roles as well as highly regarded television series, I enjoyed him most in the sitcom Evening Shade. My memory recalls it as a thoughtful, well-written program with a top-notch ensemble cast.
John Mahoney, 77. The veteran stage and movie actor will be best remembered as the dad on Frasier (and Niles) on the sitcom of the same name. Locally, John was often seen on stage in Chicago in productions of the renowned Steppenwolf Theater.
Roy Clark, 85. The country singer and musician played host on the variety show, Hee Haw. Think of Laugh-In populated with country “hicks.” Having many southern relatives, we were greatly amused by this show and watched regularly.
Bill Daily, 91. Daily was born in Des Moines, Iowa but the family moved to Chicago. He graduated from high school in my neighborhood (long before my time) and went to the famous Goodman Theater school here. He scored two successful stints as a sidekick on television, one in I Dream of Jeannie and the other was the Bob Newhart Show.
Penny Marshall, 75. Best known for playing Laverne on the Happy Days spin-off, Laverne & Shirley, Marshall went on the be a well-respected producer and director. “Big” is a favorite film, the first one directed by a woman to gross more than 100 million dollars.
Aretha Franklin, 76. The Queen of Soul earned a lot of R-E-S-P-E-C-T in her life. The talented singer and musician excelled in many musical categories and earned her place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The Chicago based musical Blues Brothers is a favorite with us and the following is one of the best numbers in the film.
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?
I was thumbing through an old magazine when I remembered this one. Don’t think I’ve ever shared it.
Early in the 1970’s at the Boston television station where I worked. The newsroom was on the third floor and we had a lobby receptionist who looked and sounded like Thelma Ritter.
The phone rings at my newsroom desk. It’s the receptionist in the lobby. “Hey, Geeery, got a guest fer ya. An old guy. Odd ‘boid.’ Sez his name is Frankie and he’s gotta book fer ya.”
I was puzzled. Didn’t have any celeb guests booked. Who was this “Frankie?”
“Geeery, Hon. Ya still there? Frankie’s got this book fer ya? Whadda I do, Hon?”
I was still puzzled. I didn’t play the ponies and I didn’t know any bookies. I asked him to send the guest up on the elevator, then I raced out to meet him. The elevator opens and out steps … FRANK CAPRA. I simply stared with my mouth wide open.
Capra laughed at me. “Hi Garry, will you interview me?” Capra continued laughing as I continued to stare.
Of course, we went out for a few drinks afterward. He shared some great stories about working with Harry Cohn at Columbia. Capra had “director’s final cut” in all his contracts.
Harry used to go wild. He wanted a different ending for “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.” Frank told Harry where to go.
It’s a consolation prize, a followup movie to the all-too-brief television series “Firefly.” We loved it. It went a small distance to answer the questions left in the wake of the premature ending of what should have been the best ever science fiction television show.
Nathan Fillion was a fine, dashing, surprisingly believable hero. He was just un-heroic enough to be witty and upbeat, but brave enough to save the universe.
Despite spaceships and a futuristic planetary setting for the movie, it’s a western. It’s “Tombstone” and “The Magnificent Seven.” A dollop of “Ride the High Country.” It is every thriller, western, and space opera you’ve seen. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and “Forbidden Planet,” too.
It’s based on “Firefly”, currently available on Netflix and Amazon Prime — so if you haven’t seen it and you like science fiction and/or westerns and/or thrillers, you can’t help but love this.
Heroes curse in Chinese. Some have super powers or maybe they aren’t superpowers, but they sure do seem pretty super to me. Beautiful women, handsome men. Terrific pseudo-science that you are pretty sure you almost understand because it uses familiar gobbledygook language.
No warp drive. I suppose that means that going from galaxy to galaxy on a whim isn’t going to happen. No one exactly says where the story takes place. It’s a “terraformed” planetary configuration that you would call a solar system, except that technically, there’s only one solar system because there’s only one “Sol.”
And then The Hero, Mal Reynolds, Captain of Serenity, said it. He’s the kind of guy you probably don’t want mad at you, so when he came out with a line this terrific, I wrote it down on the back of an envelope before I forgot it. I knew I would write about it.
“Half of writing history is hiding the truth.” Spoken by Malcolm Reynolds, Captain of the “Serenity.”
I read a lot of fantasy, science fiction, thrillers, steampunk and weird mysteries involving some kind of magical or futuristic technology. But I also read a lot of history, recently a lot of history that essentially debunks all the history I read in the past and makes me completely rethink everything I thought I knew. Tony Judt’s “Postwar” was one such book, but there have been a bunch of others. Some of them I’ve reviewed or otherwise written about. Others, I will talk about eventually.
When Mal Reynolds talks about “hiding half the truth,” it sums up history as most of us know it. We learn the “mythology” of history. It can also be a complete lie. There’s half the truth — and then, there’s a complete absence of any truth.
We are told what is true and for most people, it is easier to accept what we are told as “The Truth” rather than make an effort to find out what really happened.
History (mostly) is the stuff the winners say is true. Author Dan Brown said:
“History is always written by the winners. When two cultures clash, the loser is obliterated, and the winner writes the history books-books which glorify their own cause and disparage the conquered foe. As Napoleon once said, ‘What is history, but a fable agreed upon?”
Sometimes, what you hear as “history” is a truth which never happened, but which losers need. It soothes guilty consciousness and makes it possible for them to “move on” and thus pretend the past never happened.
Every nation has a dark past. No nation is guiltless. In no country have the victors treated their victims with kindness and charity. There has been slaughtering throughout the world. Whether your particular people got slaughtered or not is pure luck of the draw.
It’s always an interesting philosophical question: Who draws the straws? Why us? Why them? It’s one of those “ultimate” questions and there is no answer.
History isn’t credible as taught. The history we hear in school has nothing to do with telling later generations what really happened. It ought to be but actually, it’s about getting everyone to believe a story that supports the current power structure.
Debunking those stories comes later when a changed power structure requires a different story.
Take your history with many grains of salt. Not because I said so, but because Mal Reynolds said so.
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