FROM D-DAY TO V-E DAY: TRUE GLORY FROM THE IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM – Marilyn Armstrong

Cover of "The True Glory - From D-Day to ...

From the Imperial War Museum Official Collection

The True Glory: From D-Day to V-E Day (1945)

The movie’s title is taken from a letter of Sir Francis Drake “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing unto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the True Glory.”

Question: Which President won an Oscar?

Answer: No, not Ronald Reagan. The 1945 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature went to its uncredited producer, General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Eisenhower didn’t merely produce the movie. He also directed the Allied forces of Word War II, a feat which deserved its own Oscar. So we gave him the presidency. It was the best America had to offer.


A co-production of the US Office of War Information and the British Ministry of Information, The True Glory documents the victory on the Western Front, from the invasion at Normandy to the collapse of the Third Reich.

The officially credited director was Garson Kanin. British director Carol Reed was not officially credited, but is listed as director on IMDB and other sources. Paddy Chayefsky is the officially listed writer.

Other writers not officially credited are Harry Brown, Frank Harvey, Gerald Kersh, Saul Levitt, Arthur Macrae, Eric Maschwitz, Jenny Nicholson, Guy Trosper and Peter Ustinov. So many people were involved in this remarkable documentary — which received the Oscar for best documentary in 1945 — it’s impossible to list them all.

General Eisenhower speaks with members of the ...
General Eisenhower speaks with members of the 101st Airborne Division on the evening of 5 June 1944 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The film was brilliantly edited down from more than 10 million feet of film taken by hundreds of war photographers, none of whom are credited.

The editing involved is extraordinary. During one long segment of film, there must have been thousands of cuts, each less than 2 seconds in length, most no more than one second long. That is a lot of splicing. It’s beautifully done, professional all the way.

You have likely seen many propaganda films from World War II. This isn’t one of them.

I’ve seen a lot of war movies. This is a real war, not a Hollywood redo.

English: Senior American military officials of...
Senior American military officials World War II.

The effects were not done with a computer. The bodies of the dead are human bodies. Soldiers, not actors.

The guns are firing ammunition. No special effects were used. The ships are on the seas and the aircraft, pilots, bombardiers are the real deal.

The battles are life and death. In real-time. It gave me the shivers.

As the movie progresses, there are maps so you can follow the progress of the various armies. It’s the first time I actually understood where the Battle of the Bulge took place and why it was called “the bulge.” It was like time travel for me, listening to Dwight D. Eisenhower. I grew up when Eisenhower was President. I remember his voice as the voice of the president of my childhood.

Perhaps it’s a good moment to ponder whether or not Eisenhower displayed his Oscar in the White House. My guess is, he didn’t. After you’ve been commander-in-chief of the Allied forces for a world war, the Oscar isn’t as big a deal as it might be for someone else.

English: Gen. of the Army Dwight D. Eisenhower...

If you have not seen this movie and you have an interest in World War II, you should see it. It’s remarkable.

It is available on a 2-disc DVD. The set includes the European war, the Italian campaign, and the battles in the Pacific.

There are many good movies about the war, but this set of documentaries has the most remarkable footage I’ve ever seen.

Seeing it without any Hollywood manufactured footage is seeing the war for the first time. This is not a movie about the war.

This movie is the war.

WELCOME, BIENVENU, WELCOME – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Welcome

When this movie came out, I saw it every day for two weeks. I thought — still think — it’s one of the best movies ever made.

I usually went with a friend. I went twice with my mother,  but sometimes I went alone. We have a copy on DVD and it gives me shivers.

Who knew that more than 40 years later, the movie would feel relevant in my country?

DITTO IN THE STATEHOUSE – Garry Armstrong

If you are a fan of John Ford’s movies, maybe you remember “Ditto” Boland (actor Edward Brophy), the funny character wearing a Hamburg hat in the “The Last Hurrah.” The real-life Ditto Boland, after the James Michael Curley years, became an elevator operator at the Massachusetts State House. He worked there during the 1970s, which is when I met him.

Our State House reporter had told me about him, “warning” me not to ask Ditto about his past because he’d launch into a long-winded conversation about his storied days with the legendary Boston Mayor James Michael Curley. Okay, I was warned.

The “movie” Ditto

One day, I was the only person on the elevator with Ditto. It was an old elevator that groaned as it slowly went from floor to floor. Ditto said nothing until letting me off.

He smiled and said, “Hi, Mr. Armstrong. I know you’re new to Boston. If ever I can give you any help, just let me know.” That was all he said. Not a single James Michael Curley story.

Ditto did help me. As the new reporter in Boston, he pointed out key political players in the stories I was assigned to cover. Boston is a complicated town — especially politically. If you didn’t know who was who, you could be lost trying to correctly cover political events.

I was nervous when assigned to the State House because I didn’t know the backstories of the various Boston politicos. I felt I couldn’t do adequate justice to these assignments. Ditto and a couple of other old-timers rescued me many times over the years. Eventually, I was able to rescue others, too. One good turn deserves many more.

A few years after our first meeting, I ran into Ditto at “The Capital Dome,” a popular bar on Beacon Hill frequented by politicians, lobbyists, political reporters, and hangers-on. I was sitting in a corner – alone – because I really didn’t know that crowd.

Ditto (movie character) second on the right

Ditto approached, asked if he could join me and I nodded. I found his politeness charming because “polite” didn’t usually work well around the State House. We sat, nursing our drinks for long minutes.

Finally, Ditto told me he liked me because I was “friendly and polite.” I nodded. Then he said, “And, you never asked me about James Michael Curley.”

I laughed, longer and harder than I intended. Ditto just sat there, beaming broadly.

BASE BEAST IN A SMALLISH TOWN – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Base

Another week has run away. Left me in the dust.

Maybe it’s just me, but time seems to have sped up and each time I look up, a week, two weeks, a month is gone.

Garry is running errands and I’m at home. With the dogs who obviously wish Big Daddy Doglegs would come back.

Because mom isn’t nearly as much fun.

I got some interesting portraits of Gibbs this morning. He’s fuzzy. A bit grubby. A bit matted if you look closely, but he is 100% cute with a weird factor of 9 out of 10.

72-gibbs-early-november-02112016_03

And today, for some reason, he reminds me of “poor Larry Talbot,” the Wolfman.

He’s got a werewolf face, doesn’t he?

Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman
Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the Wolfman

But, to be fair, Gibbs doesn’t bite so no one will catch his terrible illness. He’s even delicate about dog biscuits. I think he will keep his monthly moon mania to himself.

Still, he really DOES resemble poor Larry Talbot.

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.

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!

IS IT REALLY THAT BAD? – Marilyn Armstrong

Almost every day, I am offended by appallingly cliche-ridden, derivative shows proffered as “the next new thing” for us to watch. Designed for an obviously dim-witted audience, these “reality shows” are meant for the mind-dead.

No, I haven’t watched any of the shows. If I become that senile or desperate for entertainment, please shoot me.

From unimaginative scripts to the failure of the writers to do even the most basic research about the subject matter, to the inevitable use of tired old clichés which we hear thousands of times.

“Stay in the car!”

“Be careful out there!”

“You’re off the case and on desk duty!”

To which we all say a weary, “Yeah, right, sure,” because no one stays in the car or remain on desk duty. And wouldn’t you think being careful would not be something of which you needed to remind a police officer who has been on the job for years?

Has anyone really “turned his life around”? Is, as mom said, he’s “really a good boy” when his list of arrests is as thick as the Mueller report?

However, standing out from the crowd of mediocrity is a movie we had never previously seen, even though it has been around for 40 years. Probably that we have not seen it was a sign that there was a good reason for missing it. Perhaps it was an instinctive understanding that it was going to be awful?

Presenting (drumroll) …

WUSA (1970) 115 min – Drama | Romance – 12 March 1971

From the IMDB, a plot summary:

Rheinhardt, a cynical drifter, gets a job as an announcer for right-wing radio station WUSA in New Orleans. Rheinhardt is content to parrot WUSA’s reactionary editorial stance on the air, even if he doesn’t agree with it. Rheinhardt finds his cynical detachment challenged by a lady friend, Geraldine, and by Rainey, a neighbor and troubled idealist who becomes aware of WUSA’s sinister, hidden purpose. And when events start spinning out of control, even Rheinhardt finds he must take a stand.

Director: Stuart Rosenberg
Writers: Robert Stone (screenplay), Robert Stone (novel)
Stars: Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Perkins and more.

WUSA_(movie_poster)It looks good on paper, doesn’t it? I mean Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, right? How bad could it be?

Bad.

Very bad.

The script starts off slow yet degenerates with each passing minute until it is so stunningly dreadful, so over-the-top hysterical and preachy, you find yourself glued to the screen, mouth hanging open, bits of drool falling from your slack jaw.

If, by some bad juju, this movie is showing on a television near you, save yourself! Find an oldies station and watch an episode of Gilligan’s Island.

There are probably worse movies lurking in the vaults of Turner Classics, although I can’t imagine there are many which are a lot worse. I just hope we have the good sense to never watch them.