MANY GUNFIGHTS AT THE O.K. CORRAL – Marilyn Armstrong

The first movie I remember seeing with my mom was “Gunfight at OK Corral.”

It was a busy day at the Utopia Theater which was a small movie house. There were hardly any seats left by the time we got there, having walked from home. I had a non-driving mom who believed in healthy outdoor exercise.

Wyatt Earp at about age 33.
Wyatt Earp at 33. (Photo: Wikipedia)

We found a seat in the second row. Burt and Kirk had heads 20 feet high. It left an indelible mark on my mind. I became an O.K. Corral aficionado, catching each new version of the story as it was cranked out by Hollywood. When videotaped movies became available, I caught up with all earlier versions, too.

I stayed with “Gunfight” as my favorite for a long time. Maybe I’m just fond of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Garry generally favors “My Darling Clementine” but he is a John Ford fan.

In 1993, along came “Tombstone.” One viewing and it was my favorite version of the gunfight story. A few more viewings and it morphed into my favorite western. There are a lot of contenders for second place.

I don’t love it for its historical accuracy, though It is nominally more accurate than other movie versions. It omits more than it includes, but if you are looking for accuracy, you should consider reading a book. There are quite a few written and some are excellent. The Earps were a wild and crazy family. Doc Holliday was even wilder and crazier.

They were a lot wilder and crazier than depicted in any movie made about them. They are always shown as lawmen, but in those strangely shady days, there was an exceedingly thin line between law enforcers and lawbreakers. The Earps fell on both sides of it, depending on which account you’re reading.

English: John Henry "Doc" Holliday, ...
John Henry “Doc” Holliday (Photo: Wikipedia)

They were all lethal and no more honest then they needed to be.

There were also other Earp brothers who are left out of the story, maybe because they weren’t in the peacekeeping business. Dad was a real piece of work and deserves a movie of his own. Although I tend to be prickly about historical details, I do not watch westerns for historical accuracy. There are just some genres that don’t work if you are searching for accuracy and westerns are a big one.

I watch westerns because I love horses, deserts, the great blue sky of the west, and dusty old towns with wooden sidewalks. Really, I will watch anything about horses. You could just run films of horses in a field and I’d watch that too.

Tombstone

Next, I love westerns because when I was growing up watching Johnny Mack Brown movies on the old channel 13 (before it became PBS) in New York, I always knew the guys in black hats were villains and the ones in white hats were heroes. It appealed to my 8-year old need for moral simplicity.

In westerns, revenge and righteous violence are good, clean fun. Not merely acceptable, but desirable. In the Old West, when you find a bad guy, get out the six-shooter, shotgun, or both — and mow’em down. Justice is quick and permanent. Without guilt. You can be a wimp in real life, but watching “Tombstone,” as Kurt, Val and the gang cut a swathe of blood and death across the southwest — I cheer them on.

“Tombstone” is deliciously violent. The gunfight at O.K. corral is merely the beginning. There’s a deeply satisfying amount of killing to follow. I revel in it. When Kurt Russell declares that he’s coming for them and Hell will follow … I am there. Yes, kill the bastards. It’s so cathartic!

Garry and I made a personal pilgrimage to Tombstone.

Tombstone shopping

I have argued with people who keep saying the movie was filmed on a sound stage. Unless everyone in Tombstone was the victim of a mass hallucination  — note that mass hallucinations are not nearly as common as Hollywood suggests — during which time a movie company rebuilt the town to look like historical Tombstone, then the movie was  filmed in “Tombstone.

I have pictures of Tombstone. We bought tee shirts. It was our favorite part of a long summer’s vacation in Arizona. Although there may have been some re-shooting on a set, the bulk of the film was shot in Tombstone. It was and remains the only thing of note to happen there in the past 100 years.

August was not the best time to visit, but our host worked. It was hard to find a good time to visit. The mercury climbed to 124 and never dropped below 120 while the sun shined. It was a heat wave, but heat waves seem to be pretty common there.

I think that’s why they invented awnings over the wooden sidewalks. It certainly isn’t to keep the rain off.

It was painfully hot. Maybe that how come everyone was shooting everyone else. Who wouldn’t want to shoot people living in that heat without air conditioning? It makes one cranky.

I don’t watch movies for a dose of reality. I have plenty of reality. I watch westerns for escape and entertainment. Westerns let me immerse myself in a kind of violence I normally abhor but somehow when they are shooting their 145th bullet from a six-gun, I forgive them.

NOSTALGIA IN PHOTOGRAPHY – Marilyn Armstrong

A Photo a Week Challenge: Nostalgia

Nostalgia. I lost most of my early pictures to the “I love you” virus in the late 1990s. It destroyed every single picture I had stored since I started using a digital camera. I didn’t have a backup. The lesson was most painfully learned.

Now, I have backups. More than one. Multiples. So instead of nostalgic pictures, this is as good a selection of old or older pictures I could find. Some go back to the early-1940s. Most are more recent.

 

Really old friend.

WAS THAT A COMPLIMENT? – Marilyn Armstrong

It can be difficult to tell compliments from insults. You’d think it would be easy and obvious, but it isn’t.

As a child, my mother comforted me with her classic witty lines. Somewhere in my head, I can still hear her. A lonely, probably odd child, it took me a long time to find my social persona. But Mom could always reassure me in her own special way.

“There’s someone for everyone,” she assured me. “Even you.”

1970
1970

And then there was the clothing my mother made for me. It was gorgeous, fashionable and of far better quality than the other girls wore. The Mean Girls (those girls have been around forever and live everywhere) just said, “Eww! Where did you get that ugly dress?”

It wasn’t ugly. They were ugly.

Nicer, kinder people (adults mostly) would say, “Oh, your mother must have made that for you. It’s so … interesting.”

As a young woman, I put on a lot of weight. Before I eventually got rid of that hundred and fifty pounds, there were some great lines from “friends” who knew just the right words to make me feel good.

“You dress really well for a fat girl.”

“I don’t think of you as fat. You’re just Marilyn.”

Later on, no longer fat, but still me, compliments have streamed in nonstop.

“I thought you were a nun. Don’t you own anything that isn’t black?”

My all-time favorite, from the woman who never managed to get my first husband to the altar, though had he lived longer, she might have worn him down (she just needed another decade or two) and who couldn’t figure out the source of my continuing popularity with men. I said: “I’m nice to them. I make them feel special.”

“I do that too,” she whined. (No, she didn’t.) “But,” she continued, getting more nasal by the minute, “How come they marry you?”

And finally, after I published my book.

“It was much better than I expected.”

What were you expecting?

STICKBALL SEASON IS COMING – Marilyn Armstrong

It’s heading toward the end of April and the Sox, last year’s series winners, are having a hard time. While not in last place, they’ve lost more than often than they’ve won. Many of the teams who were supposed to be leading their division are not doing well.

It’s early yet. If they are still tanking by the end of May, we’ll have to get serious about worrying. Garry would normally be obsessively glued to the television, but when his team isn’t playing well, he’s afraid to watch. He thinks watching is a jinx.

The sportscasters were talking about somebody getting stuck with an error because he couldn’t catch a ball on a bad bounce and how hard it is to catch them when they take an unpredictable bounce.

Spalding Hi-Bounce BallThis got me thinking about stickball.

These professional players get gazillions of dollars to play professional baseball. They have parks with groundskeepers, bases, uniforms, baseballs, and even bats! How would they do without all that fancy stuff, huh?

We didn’t have any of that. No siree. We played that old-time American favorite, stickball. We hit with old broomsticks using a pink rubber Spalding ball — which might or might not be round.

The broomsticks were worn out. If it was any good, your mother was using it, so before you got to play, it had to be pretty beat up.

The ball? Half the time, they weren’t even round anymore. They had lumps of pink rubber which had — long in the past — been balls with bounce.

In hometown stickball, assuming you actually hit whatever was thrown (dubious), you had no way to predict where it would go. All bounces were bad. An old, not-round Spalding rubber ball could go anywhere.

The bases were “the red car over there” and “the big maple tree in front of Bobby’s house.” Everyone agreed the manhole cover was home because it was more or less in the middle of the road. Third base was the drainage grate over the sewer. Watch your feet and DON’T let the ball go down the drain.

It left the game wide open for serious disputes about fair versus foul. The team who was most vigorous in pursuing fairness or foulness got the call, especially since we were our own umpires and decisions were voted on and the bigger team (by numbers or just physically bigger) always won.

If those super highly paid athletes had to play stickball, how well do you think they’d do? I’d like to see those tough major leaguers playing stickball with a worn-out broomstick and an old pink Spalding ball bouncing wildly all over the place.

That would teach them humility in a hurry.

THE CYCLONE! – Marilyn Armstrong

RDP Friday: CYCLONE

The first time I rode the Cyclone, I was 8, as were my friends. Mary’s mom dropped us at the rides and went to visit a friend while we girls rode the Cyclone for hours. It was off-season and if there weren’t any people waiting, they’d let kids stay on as long as they could.

I rode that beast many more times until a few years ago when my bones and Garry’s said “Enough!” and we said goodbye.

THE SUMMER OF ’69 – Rich Paschall

The Golden Anniversary, by Rich Paschall

There is no doubt in my cluttered mind that 1969 was the most memorable year of my life. None. Of all of the events that have happened through the years, I can not say that any other years stands out like this one.

When you are a Senior in high school and people tell you to enjoy it because these late high school, early college (if you go to college) years are the best years of your life, it is hard for you to believe.

Surely better times will come along, you think. You cling to that belief for many years. Then you realize something.

The years around your high school graduation may, in fact, have been the best years of your life. They are the touchstone. They are the yardstick by which all future events are measured. They contain the moments you treasure, and they are locked away in your memory vault for all time. They are the springboard that launched you into adulthood.

My first high school closed and I went to another for one year. Our class play is the extracurricular activity that introduced me to many of my classmates. Most seniors joined the spring musical which was South Pacific. It was a great experience as a large cast worked together at a common goal. It turned out well.

I’m in this group, just left of center.

Meanwhile, a series of astounding events filled the spring and summer of ’69. In April the convicted assassin of Senator Robert Kennedy, Sirhan Sirhan, was sentenced to the death penalty in California, but the state would eliminate the death penalty and he would never be executed. He is still incarcerated and is now 75 years old.

In May Apollo 10 took off for the moon. It was just a dress rehearsal for Apollo 11. On July 20th the world watched in wonder as Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon. President Kennedy had promised the nation in May of 1961 we could accomplish this by the end of the 1960s, although he did not live to see it himself.

A technician works atop the white room, through which the astronauts will enter the spacecraft, while other technicians look on from the launch tower at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 11, 1969. (NASA)

Also in May, The Who introduced their”rock opera,” Tommy. It was an album of rock songs that told the story of that “deaf, dumb. and blind kid” who “plays a mean pinball.” The “Pinball Wizard” may not have been the first rock opera, but it was the first album to call itself that. Others have followed to varying degrees of success.

The Beatles were still hitting the top of the charts. In May “Get Back” would reach number one. The song would later turn up on the “Let It Be” album. Who knew we were nearing the end of an era that in many ways never ended? In September The Beatles released Abbey Road.

Abbey Road

In ’69 I went to the movies a little more often than I do now. Midnight Cowboy came out in May and I recall seeing it in the theater. It was likely then that I first took notice of the Harry Nilsson song, “Everybody’s Talkin’.” It became a favorite. After the movie came out, the song received a lot of radio play.

In June the Stonewall riots took place outside a Greenwich Village, New York City gay bar. A confrontation between police and activists turned ugly over a few days period. Many say it led to the modern gay rights movements. The following year the first gay pride parades were held in several cities, including Chicago. I can not say that I was aware of any of this at the time. However, Stonewall marked an important moment in LGBT history in this country.

On two days in August, The Charles Manson “Family” killed 8 people in murders that would shock the nation. The gruesome details that came out over time were almost too horrifying to be believed. Manson was sentenced to death for his role in the killings, but, like Sirhan Sirhan, his sentence was changed to life in prison when California did away with the death penalty. Manson died in prison in 2017 at the age of 83.

By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration

In August it may not have been a half million people who went down to Max Yasgur’s dairy farm 43 miles from Woodstock, New York, but the crowd was certainly in the hundreds of thousands for the “3 days of peace and music.” Perhaps a half million said they were there. Over the festival, 32 acts performed, sometimes in the rain, while organizers proved rather unprepared for the massive event.

I can not say I knew much about Woodstock in 1969. The film, the music and the many videos that have turned up taught us about the event. It meant little to some of us back home in the Midwest at the time it was happening. The 1970 documentary of the festival won an Academy Award. Joni Mitchell wrote a popular song that was a big hit for Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young who played at the festival. Mitchell had turned it down.

The big news in Chicago that summer for baseball fans was the miracle collapse of the Chicago Cubs. On August 14th the Mets were nine games behind the Cubs in the standings and it looked like the long pennant drought for the northsiders was about to end. Then September happened. The Cubs lost 17 of 25 and the Mets got hot. They went on to win the World Series and the Cubs did not make it to the Fall Classic until 2016.

Sources include 1969: An eventful summer, http://www.cnn.com August 9, 2009.

See also: This Magic Moment, The Golden Age Of Rock Turns 50, 1969, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, 2/1/2019.
Good Old Rock ‘N Roll, One Hit Wonders of 1969, SERENDIPITY, teepee12.com, 3/10/2019.

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.