HEARING AIDS AND GEORGE RAFT – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

Most of you who know me from these pages or my working days know I’m hearing challenged.

It’s a life-long disability that’s has gotten worse over the years. At this point, hearing in my right ear is all but gone. I still have about fifty percent hearing in my left ear — with the assistance of hearing aids.

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I’ve had a bittersweet relationship with hearing aids.

I hated them as a teenager. These were the primitive “portable radio receiver in a pocket with a cord in your ear” hearing aids. It was worse than being called “four eyes” when I wore the aids. There were lots of jokes, smirks and knowing winks at me. Oh, right, I also wore glasses.

hearing aids

I was short, wore glasses and hearing aids — and was one of a handful of black kids in my classes. I was also painfully shy.

Fast forward to college and my discovery of radio. College radio would lead to a wonderful career and brand new alter ego, the familiar TV News Guy. I turned my hearing disability into an asset. Friends pointed out diction problems, and speech therapy followed. Presto, I became the black guy with great diction. Amazing!

A few awkward social encounters convinced me to wear my hearing aids regularly. The new models were smaller and less conspicuous. Eventually, they would be invisible, all inside the ear.

My hearing problems gave me certain advantages. Court clerks would make sure I had a good seat for cases I covered. Judges would admonish lawyers to speak clearly so that all could hear. Ironically, I understood more testimony in some cases than my peers with normal hearing. Yes!

My disability provided many laughs in my career.

In the early 70’s, Boston Mayor “Kevin from Heaven” White started a new program to assist senior citizens. It was called “M.O.B.”. Forgive me, I forget what the acronym exactly meant, but it was a PR blitz for seniors. They needed a spokesman for MOB. Someone who senior citizens would easily recognize.

MOB? How about George Raft??

I got the call to interview the legendary old-time star of gangster movies on Boston City Hall Plaza. We met just after Raft had a liquid lunch with the Mayor’s people. The veteran actor, wearing his trademark fedora, greeted me with a grunt. A brief exchange about the interview, then we rolled cameras. I asked the questions. Raft grunted.

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George Raft

I asked Raft about “Bolero,” a film where he displayed tango expertise which earned his keep before he was called to Hollywood. “Call me George, pal” he rasped with a smile.

I called him George and he said “What”?

I figured he was kidding with me. I tried it again.

“What, kid?” was the reply. Back and forth several times. I could hear the cameraman giggling.

“George”, I tried again, pointing to my hearing aids.

“What’s up, kid”? Then, it slowly dawned on him. Raft pointed to his ears and gestured. Cautiously, I took a look. I thought for a long moment before speaking.

“George”, I said slowly and carefully, “You need to turn on your hearing aids.”

Raft gave me a long look, then that familiar smile which typically preceded him mowing down guys with a machine gun. He snapped his fingers. A crony walked over, reached in and turned on his hearing aids.

“Thanks, Pal”, George Raft smiled with relief.

I couldn’t resist the moment. I pulled out a coin and began tossing it in the air and catching it. Raft stared. We shook hands. He smiled over his shoulders as he walked away.

Just so you know, I was half an inch taller than the guy who used to duke it out with Bogie and Cagney.

Thanks, Pal.

“What?”

BATTLING CATERPILLARS WHILE REMEMBERING THE DUKE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

I was in the middle of shares about our battle with a gypsy moth caterpillar invasion. It’s awful! And, I’m still filled with welts and bites from a confrontation with the caterpillars two days ago. What to do??

Then, I noticed a message from my friend John Wayne Hawthorne. A reminder that the Duke, John Wayne, passed into legend 37 years ago yesterday.

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My pal, “JW”, first consoled me about my battles with the caterpillars and warned me to be careful. I was grateful for the sympathy and support because battling caterpillars doesn’t seem very heroic. Then we talked about our hero. The conversation allowed me to mentally time travel back to 1974 when I met Duke Wayne. I’ve told the story a zillion times but it’s nice to retell on this day of the bugs invasion.

John Wayne was here for a visit to Harvard. It was still a time of unrest about the Vietnam War. Duke was unpopular with the liberal Cambridge crowd because of his hawk stance on Vietnam. Wayne and his entourage were pelted with snowballs as he approached Harvard Square. It was pandemonium.

I called in some chits and managed to get Duke to meet me and my crew inside a small theater.

Lights were turned on to brighten the empty stage. I eyed Duke at one end of the stage and mumbled nervously to my cameraman. Jim, my “shooter”,  whispered for me to stop acting like a wimp and just walk to center stage. I walked towards my mark and noticed Duke in that familiar rolling gait ambling towards me. He waved and smiled.

“Garry”, he said loudly, “Good to see ya, again”.

I gulped and heard myself say, “Good to see you again, Duke”.

The rest was surreal. The interview went well and wound up with the obligatory cutaway and setup shots. Duke waved as he walked away saying, “Great seeing you, again, Garry”. I swallowed hard, then waved. I recall mentioning to Duke that I’d enlisted in the Marine Corps back in 1959. He seemed impressed. Maybe that got me some points. I’m not sure.

I’d see Wayne later again at a mass interview and he singled me out as a Gyrene, offering a wave and a salute. I savored that moment.

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If Duke were around today, maybe he would round-up Ben Johnson, Harry Carey, Jr, Ward Bond and some of the other fellas and we’d run these damn gypsy moth caterpillars out of town. Hell, maybe even Liberty Valance might throw in with us.

We wouldn’t burn any daylight with these critters.

No sir, sure as the turnin’ of the earth.

DEAR DEANNA DURBIN: I HAVE A CRUSH ON YOU – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I were discussing “legacy.” Our legacies. Such as they are. The subject matter was the basis for Marilyn’s piece yesterday (WHO HAS A LEGACY?) and left me thinking.

It’s interesting to ponder. Who will care about you after you’re gone? If you’re a public figure, you’re only famous until you’re not. I was a very familiar figure to tens of thousands during my TV news career. Now, I am frequently asked, “Didn’t you used to be Garry Armstrong?” (Yes, I was … and remarkably, I still am.)

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For the past week, I’ve been watching Deanna Durbin’s movies on Turner Classics. Who remembers Deanna Durbin? For a short period during the late 1930s and early 1940s, Ms. Durbin was one of Hollywood’s brightest stars, more popular than Judy Garland.

MGM mogul, Louie B. Mayer, screen tested Durbin and Garland as starlets. Mayer chose Garland. Universal Pictures snatched up Deanna Durbin who quickly shot to stardom, saving the studio from bankruptcy.

Durbin projected a sweet, wholesome, cute-as-dickens image that won the hearts of many people seeking options to screen sirens like Harlow, Dietrich, and Crawford. Deanna had a wonderful, rich singing voice — almost operatic. Very impressive for a twenty something, always top billed over veteran stars.

Deanna Durbin

I discovered Deanna Durbin after she had retired in 1948,. She was at the height of her fame, but decided the glitter of Hollywood was not enough. She moved to France where she lived quietly until her death a few years ago.

My memories of Deanna Durbin, 60 plus years ago and now, remain vivid. She glows with performances of “Loch Lomond,” “Going Home,” and “All Alone By The Telephone” in movies that are rather less than memorable.

“Going Home,” is usually associated with FDR’s funeral train procession. It’s a guaranteed heart-tugger when Deanna sings it in “It Started With Eve.” I usually skip through most of the film, then do a multiple replay of Durbin singing that song. It always gets to me.

I had an immediate crush on Deanna Durbin as a boy. I wanted to meet her and tell her how much I loved her. Alas, it was not meant to be. Yet all these years later, I still have a crush on her.

That’s a legacy.

MORE GREAT THOUGHTS

Random Greatness, by Rich Paschall

How many random and unconnected thoughts can you come up with in one week? Just how random is your life anyway? If I keep writing random statements, does that indicate a failure to focus?  Uh…what was I saying?

Since I received 15 calendars in the mail from various organizations, down from almost twice as many a few years ago, I had no need to buy calendars for 2016.

I bought two calendars for 2016.  One is the Tom Daley calendar and one is Chris Mears.  Chris’ calendar is autographed, although I can not make out the signature anyway.

You don’t know who Tom Daley and Chris Mears are?

If I was going to the Olympics, I would want to see diving and my friend would want to see basketball.  I guess we will stay home, in our respective countries.

If my friend from Colombia comes to visit I plan to take him to the nearby Colombian restaurant to see how authentic it really is.

When we go to German restaurants, I compare the food to the memory of my grandmother’s cooking, or her sister’s.

When my friend from France visits we do not go to a French restaurant because he can get that at home.  Besides, he says, the French charge too much here for food and wine.

Eat local, drink local.

I did not find any Andes candies in the Andes.

To Rionegro

The Andes

Do you think any Eskimos go to Arizona or Florida in the winter?

My yellow tortilla chips are yellow.  So are the white ones.

The spicy guacamole from the local store is too spicy and the regular is too mild.  We need a medium.

There is a big difference between currency exchanges here and currency exchanges in other countries.  The ones here do not exchange one currency for another.

I think I will have to go back to the airport in Miami if I want to exchange Colombian pesos.

This is not a new story but I just ran across it.  It seems a man practicing his right to “open carry” his brand new gun was robbed of it, at gunpoint.  I guess the thief was glad the other guy displayed the gun openly because he told the victim he liked his gun.  KOIN news story is here.

Every now and then the line from Forest Gump comes to me.  You know the one.  “Stupid is as stupid does.”

There is something called the Denying Firearms and Explosives to Dangerous Terrorists Act that will never pass Congress.  The NRA is against it.

If an organization supports the right of terrorists to buy weapons (as a second amendment right), does that make them a terrorist organization?

How many people still think Mark Zuckerberg is going to give them a lot of money if they share some Facebook post?

OK, everyone, repeat after me, “I will check Snopes.com or responsible websites before reposting stuff on Facebook, twitter and other social media.”

By responsible websites I do not mean FOX News.

All followers of the news channel whose name should not be mentioned should watch the movie Citizen Kane and keep watching it every week until they get it.

Followers of so-called Patriot radio should watch A Face In The Crowd and should keep watching it every week until they get it.

If you have not heard of Senator Joseph McCarthy, you should definitely read up.

Is it just too random if I switch from politics back to entertainment?

British musician and YouTuber Tom Law says he is moving to Croatia.

From photo shoot in Bath, England

Tom Joseph Law, from a photo shoot in Bath, England

Having missed him at least twice in 2015, I think I will definitely catch MAX Schneider in March.

Sometimes I catch myself randomly watching popular You Tube personalities and saying, “I don’t get it.”

What is your favorite Humphrey Bogart movie?  If you do not say “Casablanca,” don’t even speak to me.  How can you possibly say something else?casablanca-poster

I was disappointed to read that George Lucas does not like the direction of Star Wars under Disney.  I guess he should not have sold it.

How many Congressmen have ever visited the Library of Congress?

If the band Chicago is from Chicago and the band Kansas is from Kansas, where did UFO come from?

Resolutions?  What resolutions?

THE DUKE AND GARRY: A PILGRIM’S TALE – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Our Arizona vacation is a trip back in time to some of my favorite western movies and TV shows. The cactus covered fields and surrounding mountains evoke memories especially of John Wayne-John Ford classics.

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The locales around Phoenix are similar to areas in Utah where Wayne and Ford made some of their iconic films.

In the aftermath of my first Arizona post, there were requests for my oft-told story about meeting Duke Wayne. If you’ve heard it before, head for the nearest saloon, Pilgrim.

Forty-one winters ago, as I reckon, it was John Wayne versus the anti-Vietnam War crowd at Harvard and surrounding areas of Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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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 snow balls 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 snow balls. It was a bad situation for a reporter attempting an interview.

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I remember calling in a few favors. Somehow, Duke and his entourage slipped into an empty theater. Long moments — an eternity to me — followed  as I waited alone on stage. Suddenly, the stage lit up and I froze.

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“Hello, Garry!”, Duke Wayne boomed in a friendly voice as he ambled in that familiar gait across the stage and greeted me. My TV persona kicked in as I shook hands with my hero, beaming with a pseudo happy smile.

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

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The interview apparently ran long because a press agent finally 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 gathering dispersed, Wayne approached me and said, “Good to see ya again, Gyrene”.

I offered what must’ve been a broad, idiotic smile and said, “Good to see YOU again, Duke”. I could see, over my shoulders, my crew smirking and laughing. Didn’t matter to me.

Back in the newsroom, I walked around repeatedly asking people if they knew who shook my hand that day. Finally, someone told me to throw some cold water in 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 others. Damn, I had swapped stories with the man who really shot Liberty Valance.

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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.

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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!

THEY CHANGED EVERYTHING

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Once upon a time, music was very different. The Beatles hadn’t played yet. We hadn’t heard them. Sure, there was rock and roll … but not like now. Not like it became after the Beatles. They made sounds we’d never heard before, not anywhere.  Maybe sounds that had never even existed on earth.

They didn’t only play instruments and sing. They played a recording studio. They literally introduced completely new sounds, mixing guitar, Dobro, drums, vocals, synthesizers to change music forever.

Beatles

Younger generations … even my son’s generation, the Gen Xers … they were born after it all changed. They don’t get it, that before the Beatles, music was different. The world was very different.

Music was much more important to us … me, my friends, my whole generation … than music is now. We lived and died with the music we loved. Maybe you had to be there.

The Beatles changed our music and music changed our world.  And we, my generation — we changed everything.

MEETING OLD BLUE EYES

I was still a kid, working at the college radio station in Hempstead, New York. I was a little older than the other kids, because I was recently back from my short stint in the Marine Corps. I don’t remember who provided my entrée for that interview, but I remember the night. How could I forget?

As a kid, I listened to big band vocalist Sinatra on “78” records. He was special even then. By the early 60’s, Sinatra was an entertainment institution. Music, movies, television and the subject of myriad publications which alluded to political and criminal intrigue.

How many romantic evenings have all of us had — candles, cocktails and Sinatra playing? He was a legend, America’s most iconic celebrity.

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Heady stuff for a young reporter invited to one of Sinatra’s hangouts. The story was about Jilly Rizzo. He ran a famous night spot in New York. “Jilly’s Saloon” (everybody just called it Jilly’s). It catered to lots of celebrities, but most notably Frank Sinatra and his “rat pack”. My primary focus that night was Jilly himself. We did a low-key chat about his club. Jilly did the talking. About his youth, how hard he worked to make his club a success. I let him talk, which he appreciated. He was fascinating. A real life Damon Runyon character.

The interview wrapped. I figured my night was over. Wrong. Jilly kept referring to me as “Kid”. As I prepared to leave with my engineer, Jilly tugged at my sleeve and motioned for me to follow him.

“Kid”, he said in his raspy voice, “I want you to meet some pals”. Jilly led me to a table filled with lots of cigarette smoke, profanity and laughter. I was a little nervous.

I had cause to be nervous. I made eye contact, my brain began to register and I began to smile blankly. Sinatra, Dino, Sammy, Joey Bishop and other familiar faces looked at me. My brain kept shifting gears. Apparently Jilly had introduced me as “Kid”, a newbie who was okay. That turned out to be my access card.

I realized I had a big glass of scotch in my hand. Frank Sinatra was talking to me, a big glass of scotch in his hand, a cigarette dangling from his mouth. I think I still had a glazed smile on my face.

“So, Kid”, he asked, “What the hell do you do that makes Jilly like you?”

I told him I had been listening to Jilly and found his back story fascinating. I told Sinatra I enjoyed listening rather than talking. It was easier, I volunteered. “You’re on radio and you like to listen rather than talk?”, he asked.

“Yes”, I said. I just stared at him.

He stared back, then said, “Kid, you’re okay”.

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I slid into some questions about his childhood, about his weight, the difference between his singing and his conversational voice. Sinatra was off and running. The anecdotes had little to do with celebrity and lots to do with the guy behind the legend. I kept listening.

He noticed the tape recorder wasn’t running. Puzzled. I said this was social time. He looked even more puzzled, then shook his head and smiled. Sinatra said he wasn’t used to such treatment. I smiled. An easier smile.

I talked a little about my hearing problems, diction problems. My determination to get things right. Now Sinatra was listening. He said he too had diction problems during regular conversation which he tried to cover up with sarcasm and bluster. I realized he was leaning in as if to confide with me. I also noticed the other celebs had backed away, giving Sinatra privacy.

The conversation continued for another half hour, maybe 45 minutes. Jilly kept checking to make sure our drinks were fresh. I knew other people were staring at us. I figured they were wondering who the hell was this kid chatting up Sinatra. Actually, we were talking about music and radio. I told him about how I loved doing tight segues blending solo vocals, chorals, and instrumentals. He began giving me tips about how to segue some of his music. In a couple of cases, I was already doing it. He loved it.

We talked a little about sports. I told him I was a Brooklyn Dodgers fan and Duke Snider was my favorite player.

Sinatra said Joe DiMaggio and the Yanks were his favorites. I gave him a look and he smiled. Casey Stengel was our peace broker. Earlier that year, I’d spent time with Casey who was managing the fledgling New York Mets. Sinatra laughed at my recollection of conversation with Casey.

“Diction”, we both said and laughed.

Jilly Rizzo finally broke up the chat saying Sinatra was needed elsewhere. Sinatra grumbled, gave me a card and said there would be another time. There would be. Another story for another day.