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.

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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.

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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.

 

THE LAST OF THE SILVER SCREEN COWBOYS

A Collaboration of Garry and Marilyn Armstrong

We watched “Rustler’s Rhapsody” again last night. I love this movie. It’s an affectionate spoof of the B-Westerns of the 1940s starring Tom Berenger, Patrick Wayne, G.W. Baily (currently with “Major Crimes” on which Berenger has a recurring guest role), Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey.

The women include Sela Ward, a solid dramatic actress perhaps best remembered as Dr. Richard Kimble’s slain wife in the movie version of “The Fugitive”. There’s also Marilu Henner who riffs on the Miss Kitty/Miss Lily saloon ladies of our favorite TV westerns.

Andy Griffith and Fernando Rey both play power-mad cattle barons. Fernando usually plays an international drug czar and you probably remember him in “The French Connection”. He is slimy sinister personified. Rey and Griffith make a very odd couple. Check out the scene where they argue about who gets to do the countdown for killing the hero. They are hilarious, but Andy Griffith steals the show.

We love the movie so much we own two identical copies of it on DVD. It wasn’t going to be available for long, so Marilyn bought a copy for us, another for our best friends … and an extra. Just in case.


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NOTE: As it turns out, “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is available. Again. Who know for how long? If you are interested, Amazon has the DVD and the download.


Tom Berenger is The Hero who shoots the bad guys in the hand. Pat Wayne is the other good guy, but he used to be a lawyer, so be warned. Casting Pat Wayne was an inspiration. “Rustler’s Rhapsody” could easily be homage to his Dad’s ‘poverty row’ westerns of the 1930s. Pat even nails Duke’s acting range of that period.

My heroes have always been cowboys, even the stalwarts of those budget-challenged B movies. I had the good fortune to spend time with two legends of the genre. Buster Crabbe and Jack “Jock” Mahoney.

Crabbe, most famous for his “Flash Gordon” days, contends he had more fun playing the lead in the oaters where the line between good and bad is always clear and you get to wear nice costumes. He considers his westerns as “small classics” not B movies. (Crabbe continued his career into the late 60’s when producer A.C. Lyles revived the B cowboy movie with over the hill actors including Johnny Mack Brown, Rod Cameron, Bob Steele, Hoot Gibson and Richard Arlen among others).

Jack “Jock” Mahoney, known to many as TV’s “Range Rider”, is a former stuntman who graduated to supporting roles as nimble villains and finally established a following at Universal-International, playing literate good guys in lean, well written westerns. Mahoney clearly is proud of his work in the B movies. I remember the smile on his face as he recalled the fun of being recognized as a cowboy hero.

I think all the cowboy actors I’ve met (Including John Wayne) would heartily approve of “Rustler’s Rhapsody”. It’s an affectionate tribute to their work.

This is the song they play at the end of the movie when the credits are rolling. I love the song and the memories it brings because I’m of the generation that went to the movies and watched those B movies as part of the afternoon double-header at the Carlton or Laurelton, the second (third?) run movies houses where you could see two movies and a cartoon for a dime.

Warner Brothers, 1982. “Last Of The Silver Screen Cowboys” by Rex Allen Jr. and Rex Allen Sr. Be sure to listen for Roy Rogers in the final commentary and chorus!

Take a look at “Steeds of Renown” on My Favorite Westerns. It’s a good one.

ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM AND ME – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Marilyn and I watched an old Dick Cavett interview with Robert Mitchum on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) last night. We laughed a lot. It was a reminder of how good late night talk shows were. It also showed the legendary tough guy Mitchum as an affable and literate man who didn’t take himself seriously.

The Cavett show originally aired in 1970. I met Robert Mitchum the following year. Turned out to be a memorable encounter.

Robert Mitchum was in Boston to shoot “The Friends of Eddie Coyle”, a film about small The_Friends_of_Eddie_Coyletime criminals. There was nothing small time about Mitchum. I lobbied for and got the TV interview assignment. Those were the days of “The big three” television stations in Boston. Two of the stations had prominent entertainment reporters. I was the “go to guy” at my station.

The established entertainment reporters had first dibs on Mitchum. Fine by me. I waited until shooting had wrapped for the day. I lucked out because they finished just before 1pm. The star was in a good mood because his work day was over. We shot one reel of film and I got everything I needed.

Mitchum seemed surprised we weren’t shooting more. Actually, he smiled when I said we had a wrap.

I was getting ready to leave when Robert Mitchum asked what was next for me. Nothing, I told him. I was through for the day unless I was called for a breaking news story. I also assured him I probably would not be reachable. He smiled. He asked if I knew any quiet places where he could have lunch without being bothered. I nodded and he invited me to join him.

It was a small, dark place. It could’ve been a setting from one of Mitchum’s film noir of the 1940s. He smiled approvingly as we walked in. Several people greeted me. No one gave Mitchum a second look. We settled back with the first of many rounds that afternoon. At one point, Mitchum took off his tinted glasses, looked around the place and said I should call him “Mitch”. I nodded. He wanted to know how I could just disappear for the rest of the day. I told him I had recorded my voice tracks, shot all my on camera stuff and relayed cutting instructions after the film was “souped”. Mitch smiled broadly and went to the bar for another round of drinks.

robert_mitchum_by_robertobizama-d4ktib7We spent the next couple of hours talking about sports, music, women, work and celebrity. He noticed how people would look and nod but not bother us. I told him this was one of my secret places. Blue collar. No suits. He wondered why I hadn’t asked him about the “Eddie Coyle” movie or shooting in Boston.

Not necessary, I told him. Everyone knew about that stuff and it would be mentioned by the anchors introducing my stories. He smiled again, lit one more cigarette, and ordered another round.

It dawned on me that Mitch was leading the conversation. Talking about me. How I was faring as a minority in a predominantly white profession. Just like the movies, I told him. I explained I did spot news stories to get the opportunity to do features which I really enjoyed. He laughed and we did an early version of the high 5.

We swapped some more war stories, including a couple about Katherine Hepburn. He talked about working with her in “Undercurrent” with Robert Taylor when he was still a young actor. Mitch said Hepburn was just like a guy, professional, and lots of fun.

I mentioned meeting the legendary actress after I was summoned to her Connecticut home during my stint at another TV station. Mitch stared as I talked. I had tea with Katherine Hepburn who had seen me on the Connecticut TV station. She liked what she saw but had some suggestions about how I could improve what I did. I never could fathom why Katherine Hepburn would choose to spend time with this young reporter. No modesty. Just puzzlement. Mitch loved the story and ordered another round.

I glanced at my watch and figured I couldn’t stay incognito much longer. This was before pagers, beepers and, mercifully, long before cell phones. Mitch caught the look on my face and nodded.

Mitch walked me to my car and asked if I was good to drive. I tried to give him a Mitchum look and he just laughed. We shook hands and vowed to do it again.

Mitch headed back to the bar as I drove away.