OLD MOVIES, NEW EYES – Garry Armstrong

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

Armstrong family portrait

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

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

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

The Valencia Theater in Jamaica, Queens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A strange thing has happened to me.

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

My heroes have always been cowboys.

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

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

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

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

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

Tombstone

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

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

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

That’s a wrap. PRINT IT!

THE WILDFLOWER GARDEN AT RIVER BEND – Garry Armstrong

Wildflower Garden at River Bend – 08/05/19

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

The wildflower garden at River Bend

FAMILY PHOTOS – Marilyn & Garry Armstrong

It was a lovely day and we went to take pictures. But there wasn’t anything going on in the parks. It was hot — as it has been all month — and everyone is staying home with their air-conditioning.

So we took pictures of each other. We were, after all, the only people there.

Garry, upward
Marilyn
In black & white
Figuring out why the lens isn’t zooming
Garry
On the green lawn
Still Garry
Finally, a proper focus!

We got some nice pictures, but our plans for a cool day didn’t work out all that well. Our car ONLY went up to 99 degrees and after we started driving, it dropped down to 92. Not exactly comfortable. But we keep hoping and they keep promising!

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

What to do?


Direct cremation!


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

direct-cremation-crematorium-main

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

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

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

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

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

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

BLUE JULY AND UP IN THE AIR! – Garry Armstrong

Up in the Air We Go Flying Again

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


But lacking a swing, will a helicopter do?

Blue sky and a helicopter

NOT THE BUCKET LIST – Rich Paschall

Things To Do, by Rich Paschall

Perhaps you have a “bucket list.” You know, things you must do before you “kick the bucket.” That is to say before you die. Such lists seem to be popular with middle-aged and older people. Younger people may not give this much thought, as they are more likely to believe there is plenty of time left to do things.

Domed stadium, natural grass, Miller Park

If you have a list, what do you have on it?  Do you want to visit all the MLB stadiums? NFL stadiums? NBA arenas? Do you want to climb mountains? Perhaps Mount Everest holds an allure. Perhaps you want to skydive or water ski.

Maybe you want to swim with the dolphins, or watch the humpbacked whales come out of the ocean? Perhaps you wish to travel. London? Paris? Rome? Far East? The Middle East? Do you want to go to the islands of the Caribbean or the South Pacific?

In London with a friend

It may not be too late to learn a language, take a wine tasing course or learn to paint (pictures, not houses).  Maybe you want to run a marathon. You could try for every state. Maybe you want to run with the bulls. I hope you are fast. Maybe you want to visit famous places close to home. You could travel to the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls or the monuments of Washington, DC.

I guess if we thought about it enough, we could put down hundreds of ideas.  If you made a list, how would you prioritize them? Would you do the easiest to complete first, or start with the hardest? Time, health and financial resources could play into all of your decisions.

Grand Canyon

I don’t have a bucket list, nor do I feel the need to make one. I don’t wish to have a list of things I must accomplish. What if I didn’t finish them all? Was life a failure? What if I did finish them? Do I just wait around after that for the grim reaper?

Of course, there are things I would like to do. They are not bucket list items, just things I would like to accomplish if time and resources allow. I have eliminated the ambitious running around the country or around the world ideas. Anything that is too arduous is out.

Selestat, France

If you have any kind of chronic pain, you immediately cross items off the list as not worth the time and aggravation. If you have a plate and 8 screws in your spine, roller coasters and bungee jumping are not things you will consider if you still have your sanity. There are limitations to what the human body will put up with at certain stages of life.

This year I decided on something I should do that had crossed my mind before. There just was no more putting it off. The opportunity to get away was at hand and all I needed was the go-ahead from my destination hosts. When the arrangements were complete I was off to the destination that had moved to the top of my list of places to go. Uxbridge, MA!

Downtown Uxbridge

If you have been following SERENDIPITY for very long, then you have seen plenty of photos of Uxbridge from Marilyn and Garry Armstrong. Marilyn is our editor, photographer, publisher, sage and idea guru. I dropped in on SERENDIPITY in 2013 with a short story, and Marilyn has let me hang around ever since. I am here on Sundays and I sneak in an extra article from time to time on another day.

The interesting thing about the internet is you can contribute articles from anywhere. While Marilyn and Garry are outside the Boston area, I am in Chicago. You may be surprised to learn that prior to this year, we had never met. So Uxbridge became my destination of choice.

My hosts: Garry, Duke, Marilyn

We were going to tour the area and visit many of the spots I had seen before on the blog. The weather held other ideas for us. We were in the pattern of daily ran and spent much of the time indoors. As it turns out, that was just fine. We never ran out of things to talk about. After five and a half years of articles, comments and emails there were plenty of topics to discuss. It was just a couple of days before my trip in early June that I heard Marilyn’s voice for the first time. We were coordinating our arrangements by phone. In the days ahead, we had a lot of time to talk.

With a very small window of opportunity, we headed out to grab a few pictures. The rain held off for a few moments allowing us our touristy pictures. Then it was back inside to our regular greeters, the three dogs.

Cameras at the ready

Nighttime gave us the opportunity to view Westerns we had discussed back and forth in comments and emails. This included one of the Armstrongs’ favorites, Rustlers’ Rhapsody. It is an homage to the great B-movies of a bygone era. It’s a good cast and wacky entertainment. I will get the opportunity to see this send-up again and again as I was sent home with a copy.

It was the opportune moment to meet friends at the other side of the internet universe. I don’t know if I will ever make it back to Uxbridge, but it was on this year’s To Do List and it got done.

I make a careful distinction between things I want to do and a “bucket list.” I have no crazy ideas or personal challenges, just a desire to visit friends when I can. It does not matter where they are in the world. If I can make the trip, then it becomes the next adventure.

Check out this adventure’s photo gallery at Sunday Night Blog: A Visit To Uxbridge