ALMOST INTERVIEWING JIMMY STEWART – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Full disclosure upfront. I never met Jimmy Stewart. No interviews. No emails. No phone conversations. But I’ve got Jimmy Stewart in my brain, maybe because Stewart is TCM’s “Star of the month.” They’ve been airing most of the legendary star’s films from the ’30s through the ’80s. There was a masterful Stewart profile hosted by Stewart’s good friend, Johnny Carson. He made it feel like two buddies reminiscing about the best years of their lives.

Stewart, (center) with Amos on his right, and the B-52 crew moments after safely landing at Andersen. Before leaving Guam the next morning, Stewart again thanked Amos for his professionalism during the emergency and presented him with signed prints for each of the crewmen. (Courtesy Bob Amos)

The other night might have been my first (Yes!) viewing of 1954’s “The Glenn Miller Story.” Somehow, “The Miller Story” escaped me during those years when I went to the movies 3 or more times a week. I absolutely enjoyed the warmth and nostalgia of the movie in a way I rarely feel about contemporary films. I’ve been steadily humming “Moonlight Serenade” for the last two or three days.

Jimmy Stewart is stuck in my mind. I’m doing an interview with him — but it never really occurred. I’ve been digging through my mental folders and files for why I feel this link to Stewart. I’m aware of all his unforgettable film performances, from “Mr. Smith” to “Wonderful Life” to “Harvey.” And all those rugged 1950s and 1960s westerns — including “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

I couldn’t find that link.  It’s more than just the fan and movie maven thing going on.  What was it?

It hit me as I was cleaning my hearing aids. The answer!

During the late 1980s — maybe 1988 or 1989 — during Ronald Reagan’s second term in the White House, life was changing for me. Marilyn was back in my life after spending almost a decade in Israel. And I finally was able to wear the new, smaller hearing aids that are nearly invisible to onlookers.

I was elated!  No more of those ugly, big hearing aids. I was always sure people stared at them while I worked on local TV News. That was when I remembered — a conversation I had with a colleague. She was the station’s entertainment reporter and had noticed me talking to myself as I checked the audio of my tiny new hearing aids with a big smile on my face.

I was in the middle of covering a major trial that was getting international attention. I saw my image on network news shows. No hearing aids were visible. Oh, the vanity! I explained to my colleague what the tiny hearing aids meant to me. How I’d coped with a major hearing loss most of my life and the adjustments I had made to succeed in TV News.  She was genuinely surprised and smiled with an appreciative tap on my shoulder. We’d sat close to each other in the newsroom for months, talked about business and personal things — but I’d never mentioned my hearing loss.

That was also the summer Marilyn and I entertained actress Patricia Neal and legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstadt at our Martha’s Vineyard cottage, a rented place we shared with other TV news friends. Word of our friendship with Neal and Eisenstadt made the rounds in the local entertainment news world. I remember sharing stories with my entertainment reporter colleague. Sometimes name dropping can be a lot of fun … and this was one of those times.

“I met Jimmy Stewart at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party,” my colleague told me one afternoon. She had my complete attention.  “Poor Jimmy. He was struggling with his gigantic hearings aids.”

I listened with fascination. I didn’t know Jimmy Stewart needed hearing aids. It never showed in his movies or TV interviews. I listened closely for details on Stewart’s dilemma.

“Jimmy couldn’t hear what was being said at the party,” my colleague told me, “He kept looking at me awkwardly and fumbled with the conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with a conversation because he was trying to absorb and register what people were saying to him. The famous Jimmy Stewart verbal fumble was his way of coping with hearing problems. I probably smiled to myself as my colleague went on with her description of Jimmy Stewart’s cocktail party struggles. Fascination turned to compassion as I imagined myself in Stewart’s place, trying to filter our multiple conversations, loud music, and ambient background noise.

The Stewart story quickly faded out from my mind as I returned to my story and a pressing news deadline.

There was a letter on my desk a few days later. I was running late for the trial and was worried about getting a good seat so I could hear the lawyers and the judge,, so I didn’t get to it that day.

Trials were always a major headache for me. Years earlier, I’d taken my situation to myriad judges, court officers, and lawyers. I wanted everyone to know I was working with this handicap and wanted to be sure I got all their wise words accurately. They appreciated my candor and efforts were made to make sure I could get the information accurately and efficiently.  My best, most sincere face helped my cause. If you’ve heard this from me before, know it was the prologue for my relationship with Jimmy Stewart.

I finally opened the letter a day or two after it arrived. I was immediately suspicious. Phony, threatening, and suggestive letters are common for a TV news reporter. This one wasn’t in thick crayon or illegible ink scrawl, but I was still suspicious.


“Dear Garry,

I hope you don’t mind my assumption of friendship since we’ve never met. I deal with this business of celebrity all the time and it is presumptuous.”


I continued to read with skepticism until I realized this missive was from Jimmy Stewart. He went on to explain his cocktail party hearing problems, his encounter with my colleague who apparently talked about me and my hearing problems. Jimmy Stewart heard about this Garry Armstrong guy who was a success on Boston television news despite hearing problems. I blushed a little as I read Stewart’s account of my bravery. Most of the letter, however, dealt with Stewart’s details about his hearing aids, its components. He wanted my take on the efficiency of these new little hearing aids.

I put the letter in my desk, planning to take it home and show to Marilyn because I wasn’t good at holding on to such possessions in my professional life. My attention turned to the trial and my report for the six o’clock news.

Fast forward several hours, including my ritual, stop at the local bar before heading home — without the letter. Out of sight and mind.

I did manage to write Jimmy Stewart a few days later. I spent most of the letter talking about how I struggled with my hearing and the use of the aids. I must have appeared awfully vain, talking about overcoming my reluctance to wear hearing aids because I thought it was a stigma. My vanity was probably also obvious when I mentioned some of Stewart’s colleagues I’d met in my career.  I was young and lacked humility, telling Stewart about time I’d spent with Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Cagney, Gregory Peck, and other stars. I forgot to mention the other stars, like Albert DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, and Tip O’Neil.

In retrospect, I can only wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought as he read this silly, name dropping letter from a young Boston reporter.

Another Stewart letter arrived several days later. No indication of displeasure in my letter. He asked lots of questions about my hearing aids, my interview tact, and how I handled myself in large crowds. There was a hint of getting together when he came east again.

The meeting never occurred. Perhaps that’s why I’m now having these dreams about the sit-down interview that might have been.

Me and Jimmy Stewart. It never happened, but it could have. It almost happened.

HOLLYWOOD FANTASIES, GARRY ARMSTRONG

I love movies. Old movies  Movies from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s. I grew up watching these films. They were movies from Hollywood’s golden age when fantasy really trumped reality. These were films seen in theaters. First, second and the beloved third run or neighborhood movie houses.

old hollywood glamor shots

This was before television. The movie theater experience was as much fun as seeing the film. That’s where the fantasy began.

I saw my first movie in 1946. I was four years old. The movie was “The Best Years Of Our Lives”. My Mom and Dad took me to see the film in a big glittery theater in Manhattan. New York. The city that never sleeps. My Dad, in his Army dress uniform with ribbons and medals, had just returned from Europe. World War Two had ended less than a year earlier. I vaguely remembered the headlines. My Dad seemed ten feet tall in his uniform. My Mom was more beautiful than I could ever recall. She looked like a movie actress in one of those popular magazines of the day. I felt as if we were in a movie that evening. It was magical!

I remember some of the scenes from the movie. The returning GIs, looking down on their hometown from the air. The family reunions. The men looked like my father and yet they didn’t. I was bothered but didn’t understand. I dreamed about the movie that night. My Dad was the star. My Mom was Myrna Loy. I was the son receiving souvenirs from my Dad. I could see myself in the movie.

astair and rogers

That fantasy would replay itself many times over the following decades. It grew with the films of my youth. The westerns, especially. I adored westerns. I liked seeing the good guys always beat the bad guys. I liked the way the good guys dressed and the horses they rode. Curiously, none of the guys — good or bad — looked like anyone in my family but that didn’t matter to me. I didn’t think much about it. I was all of those good guys! Most of all, I was John Wayne. Later, I was so much John Wayne I enlisted in the Marine Corps right out of high school. That’s another story.

As my fantasy grew, I also discovered I was a romantic. This is a guy secret. I liked romantic movies with happy endings. I was Joseph Cotten pursuing Jennifer Jones in “Love Letters” and “Portrait of Jennie”. I was Spencer Tracy, the underdog to Clark Gable, vying for the affections of Myrna Loy and Claudette Colbert.

Somewhere, stashed away, I have an old notebook. One of those notebooks with lined pages used for compositions in grade school. I used to write imaginary castings for movies with myself as the star opposite Hollywood legends. Actually, I added some reality. I worked my way up from “and introducing Garry Armstrong” to co-star, and finally as a star. Fortunately, that notebook was never discovered in class.

Marilyn and I have been watching (again) a series, “MGM – WHEN THE LION ROARED”. It’s a fascinating look at the rise and fall of Hollywood’s most prestigious studio. As we look at the series, I fantasize again about being there in Hollywood during its golden age.

MGM_backlot

Fantasy dissolved into a dream last night. I was in 1930’s Hollywood. I was at MGM. I saw the legends. Gable, Tracy, Garbo, Crawford and all the others. The dream unfolded rather skillfully. I was a freelance writer working under a pseudonym in separate quarters. This is how I, a man of color, could exist in that world. It was perfectly splendid. My work was excellent. Others took credit but all knew who I was, especially Louis B. Mayer. I never asked for a raise. My scripts all had the MGM touch.

In real life, I’ve had the chance to meet many of those legends who’ve been part of my dreams. As a TV news reporter, I’ve actually had the opportunity to socialize with some of them. You’ve read about some of them in other posts. It’s funny when reality meets your dreams and fantasies.

I’ve done some extra or background acting. It was interesting but the hours are long, like those I logged for almost 40 years on television. I don’t like getting up early anymore. I haven’t quite closed the door, mind you. I hang onto the fantasy I’ll get “the call” for a lead role in a major movie.

And, the Oscar goes to …

FILMS ALL GUYS SHOULD SEE – RICH PASCHALL

My personal top 20, by Rich Paschall

Since you are likely hiding out at home and looking for something to do, I offer again my top films for you to watch. Yes, I said at the beginning “films all guys should see”, but a lot of gals will enjoy these as well. They are examples of solid film making with strong casts. If you don’t own a copy, you can likely order them online.

These movies are the opposite of “chick flicks.”  You know what I mean, the romantic comedies starring Sandra Bullock or Reese Witherspoon, Jennifer Lopez, or Zac Efron.  You may have to see those as a consequence of the long tradition of “date nights,” but let us move onto something with a little more substance. If your “date” does not want to watch any of the movies listed below, go to another room.

There could be hundreds of good films for this list.  The heroes are strong, the action is intense, the dialogue is smart and every guy in the theater (or living room) would like to be the leading man of the story.  They speak not only of good versus evil or right versus wrong, but they also include noble intentions… most of the time anyway.

Since I had to stick with movies I have seen, the list will probably date me to a time when I went to the movie theater more often.  A few of these I have only seen at home, but on a much larger television than when I was young.  Whether you are a Citizen Kane or a Raging Bull, it will be a Bad Day At Black Rock if you do not see all of these.  I normally do a top ten but I could not fit The Great Escape on the list and M.A.S.H. them down to 10.  It may not yet be High Noon, but it is time for the list.

The Magnificent Seven

The Magnificent Seven

20.  The Magnificent Seven. An outstanding remake of the Japanese classic The Seven Samurai, but set in the old West
19.  Dirty Harry. “I know what you’re thinking.”  This movie contains some of the greatest film quotes of all time.
18.  On The Waterfront. Marlon Brando could have been a contender. In fact, he won an Oscar.
17.  Patton.  George C. Scott will scare the heck out of you as the American General and war hero.
16.  Von Ryan’s Express.  A mesmerizing performance by Frank Sinatra trying to lead his troops to safety.
15.  Rocky.  Admit it, you love it.  It is a triumph of the spirit.  The sequels … not so much.
14.  Run Silent, Run Deep.  Burt Lancaster and Clark Gable face intrigue and insurrection on a submarine.
13.  The Bridge on the River Kwai.  Alec Guinness as the noble British officer forced to build a bridge with his fellow prisoners.  And the Oscar goes to…
12. The French Connection.  New York, France, drugs, car chases, cops, and the perfect cast.  An Academy Award winner.
11. The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Il Buono, il Brutto, il Cattivo. The ultimate “Spaghetti Western.”

10.  Dr. NoBond, James Bond  If it is not exactly what Ian Fleming had in mind for his spy hero, it is nonetheless a great start to the ongoing series of action-adventure movies.  If it were not for Sean Connery, would this series have gone very far?

The Maltese Falcon

09.  The Maltese Falcon.  Humphrey Bogart plays the detective who hunts down those responsible for the death of his partner.  It’s an odd speech he gives to Mary Astor at the end, but the final scene remains a classic.

08.  North by Northwest.  Cary Grant is forced to find the killer of an official at the United Nations.  The cross-country thriller is one of the finest works of director Alfred Hitchcock.

07.  Cool Hand Luke.  Paul Newman is a hero of another kind in the 1967 prison movie which earned an academy award for George Kennedy.

06.  Glory.  I loved Matthew Broderick in a number of lightweight movies, but here he rises to the dramatic occasion as the young officer who leads a troop of black soldiers into battle during the Civil War.  Denzel Washington and Morgan Freeman also head the stellar cast.

05.  12 Angry Men.  One room, 12 men, one case, all dialogue.  Henry Fonda leads the powerful cast as the hold-out jury member who is not convinced of one boy’s guilt.  The confined setting adds to the unfolding tension.

04.  Jaws.  This movie made a lot of people afraid to go into the water.  Three unlikely people (Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss) go shark hunting in this 1975 thriller, directed by Steven Spielberg.

03.  In The Heat Of The Night.  Sydney Poitier commands the screen as the Philadelphia detective in the wrong place in the South. Rod Steiger is the ultimate racist southern sheriff.  The movie should make you squirm just a bit (or a lot) no matter what side of the color line you are on.  This is way beyond the sanitized television series and an important movie in 1967.

02.  The Godfather.  While some will not agree, I find this the best of the trilogy.  Marlon Brando is the Godfather, the Italian don, head of the crime family.  The 1972 film is a movie you can not refuse.

01.  Casablanca.  If you did not know this was coming, you have not been following me for very long.  It may be Casablanca, but we’ll always have Paris.  Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid, Claude Rains, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and a supporting cast that looks like they belong in the French Moroccan city.

Find trailers for the top 10 here on my YouTube channel.

OF ALL THE GIN JOINTS IN TOWN … — Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, we watched Casablanca. Again. We’ve seen it on TV. We even watched it on the big screen in the movies. Last night, we watched it once more — and it still has the best dialogue of any movie of its kind. There are other, more exciting movies, more thrilling movies, though I find Casablanca pretty thrilling. What Casablanca gives us is the reality of a war that never was, but which we needed.

The passionately dedicated French underground.

The anti-Nazi heroism of ordinary people, willing to put their lives on the line for the greater good.


“What if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.”


Not the way it was, but the way we wanted (maybe needed) it to be. Even now, we want the grandeur of people at their finest. Truth be damned.

And love. Undying love that lasts through war and loss, no matter what the world brings. As we watched — and we know the movie well enough to hear the line coming — Garry looked at me and I grinned back. Wait for it … wait for it … Ah, there it is!


“Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all the world, she walks into mine…”


There’s the first of many great lines, There are many more. We went to the movies to see Casablanca on the Big Screen when TCM sponsored a release of this1943 Oscar-winning classic a few years ago.


“We’ll always have Paris. We didn’t have, we, we lost it until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.”


The filming of the movie was a crazy time. The script was written — and it’s a great script — page by page. The actors didn’t know what they’d be doing any day until the pages arrived.


The set was chaotic and Ingrid Bergman wasn’t happy. Bogie was underpaid — a bad contract with Warner’s he had signed before he was a big star. Casablanca went a long way to fix that. Claude Rains earned more than Bogie, and he was arguably worth it.


(Standing in front of the plane in the fog.) “I’m saying this because it’s true. Inside of us, we both know you belong with Victor. You’re part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you’re not with him, you’ll regret it. Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of your life.”

“…But what about us?”


However it happened, Casablanca is movie magic. It’s a brilliant and witty script that plays even better on the big screen than it does at home.


“…When I said I would never leave you…”

“And you never will. But I’ve got a job to do, too. Where I’m going, you can’t follow. What I’ve got to do, you can’t be any part of. Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

(Ilsa lowers her head and begins to cry.)

“Now, now…”

(Rick gently places his hand under her chin and raises it so their eyes meet, and he repeats–)

“Here’s looking at you, kid.”


Maybe it’s something about how differently we focus when we watch it in a theater than when we see it at home, with the dogs, the refrigerator, and a “pause” button. A difference in the “presence” of the film. The clarity of the visual presentation.


“Louie, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”


I’m sure it was and somewhere, it still is.

A LOVELY WAR: A WORLD WAR I MEMORIAL – Marilyn Armstrong

Video

Happy Birthday, Great War. It’s 105 years since the day you officially started. World War I (WWI), also known as the First World War, was a nearly global war. It officially began on July 28, 1914, though its real beginnings were rooted in events beginning decades, even centuries earlier.

It was an ugly, devastating war. Four years of slaughter that — technically — ended on November 11, 1918.

The official number of military casualties is 22,477,500 killed, wounded, or missing in action. The combined number of military and civilian casualties is more than 37 million. If, as I do, you consider World War II as chapter two of the same conflict, the number of dead becomes even more incomprehensible.

For the past couple of weeks, Turner Classic Movies (TCM) has been “celebrating” the centennial of the first world war, inviting historians and military people to do the introductions and closing comments on the films. General Wesley Clark has been doing TCM’s intros and outros, the last of which was for Oh! What a Lovely War.

He referred to the movie as a musical comedy. While it has amusing moments, calling it a musical comedy doesn’t really cut it. If comedy can be dark, this is one dark comedy.

It’s also surprisingly informative. I can date my interest in World War I and modern American history to seeing this movie when it was released in 1969.

In his closing comments following the movie, General Clark said he hoped we had learned our lesson from this and all the other wars of the past century. I turned to Garry and said, “And what lesson, exactly, might that be?”

“Obviously,” said my husband, making a sour face, “We have learned nothing.”

I agree. Well, I guess we did learn a few things. We learned to build more efficient weapons, including weapons of mass destruction. We can kill more people faster — but no deader — than we did 100 years ago. Much of our military technology emerged during and post-WWI.

I don’t see this as progress. If you want to know why I’m so cynical, why I have trouble believing in a benign deity, look at the casualty figures from the collective wars of the past century.

I love this movie. Not only because of its historical veracity — it’s accurate — but because the music is wonderful. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British cinema at the time — Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson and more, all having a great time.

I’ve seen this many times and I guess so has Garry since we can both know the words to all the songs.

Catchy. Very catchy.


OH! WHAT A LOVELY WAR

Directed by Richard Attenborough (his directorial début)

OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR

I saw “Oh! What a Lovely War” when it was released in 1969 and never forgot it. Based on the long-running British stage production, it’s World War I — in song, dance, and irony. Its catchy score sticks in your brain.

The songs are those sung by the troop during that long war. The cast includes everyone who was anyone in British stage or screen during the 1960s. The credits were a veritable whos-who of English actors.

World War I is hard to understand, even when you study it. No matter how many books I read, I’m not sure I do or will. Its causes are rooted in old-world grudges that make no sense to Americans.

So many ancient hatreds — thousands of years of scores to be settled.

My mother summed it: “Everyone was armed to the teeth. They wanted war. They just needed an excuse. Europe was a giant bomb waiting for someone to light a match.”

Hers may be as good an answer as any other. When the war began, it was the old world. The crowned heads of Europe ruled. When it finally ground to a halt in 1918 (it didn’t really end — WWII was the second chapter of the same war), the world had changed beyond recognition. The European monarchies were gone. A generation of men had been slaughtered; the death toll was beyond belief. The callous indifference to the loss of life by those in command remains incomprehensible.

More than 9 million men were killed in battle. This does not include collateral damage to non-combatants and death by disease or starvation. It paved the way for major political upheaval throughout the world.

Says the movie at the beginning: “The principal statements made by the historical characters in this film are based on documentary evidence, and the words of the songs are those sung by the troops during the First World War.”

The first World War could be called an orchestrated, organized international effort to murder a generation of men. They did a good job.

The statements of the historical characters — all lodged a safe distance from the fighting — are ludicrous. General Haig, looking at the staggering loss of life on both sides, really said: “in the end, the Germans will have 5,000 men and we will have 10,000, so we will have won.”? He said it. And meant it.

The arrival of the Americans and their takeover of the endless war — bringing it to a conclusion while there was still something left to save — is a great cinematic moment. I wonder how long it would have gone on without American involvement? Would Europe exist or would it all be a wasteland?

The war is told with music and dancing. Songs mixed with pithy comments from generals, kings, Kaisers, and soldiers. It’s a long movie — 144 minutes — and I can promise you that you will have a far better and more visceral understanding of this war and what those little red poppies the Veterans organizations give out (do they still do that?) to commemorate the war to end all wars. Until the next war. And the one after that.

The music is ghastly, funny, catchy. The movie is out of print. It was only in print for a couple of months. I had been looking for it for a long time and was thrilled to snag a copy. A few copies are still available through Amazon. If you are a history buff and love great movies, grab one.

Great directing, biting sarcastic humor, terrific music and informative, this movie is in a category all by itself. It was unavailable for more than 20 years. You won’t be disappointed and you won’t forget it. In the 45 years since I first saw it, I haven’t forgotten it.


From Amazon.com:

Richard Attenborough’s directorial début was this musical satire that deftly skewers the events of World War I — including the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, a Christmastime encounter between German and British forces, and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles — by portraying them as absurd amusement park attractions. The all-star cast includes Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud, Maggie Smith, Vanessa Redgrave, Dirk Bogarde, Ralph Richardson; look quickly for Jane Seymour in her screen début.


144 min. Widescreen (Enhanced); English Dolby Digital mono; Subtitles: English; audio commentary by Attenborough; “making of” documentary.

SECRET BRAIN STEALERS – Marilyn Armstrong

I spend way too much time reading science fiction. “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is my favorite of the brain-stealing monster stories.

I first saw the movie when I was 14. I had a tumor on my right tibia. Not malignant, but big and it had to be removed. Even a non-malignant tumor can do considerable damage if it keeps growing and this one was growing like mad.

The movie was surprisingly quiet, a movie that sneaks into your brain

So there I was in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I had a private room. I think most of the rooms were private and it was in that hospital that I very briefly met Eleanor Roosevelt who was not long for the world at that time. It was an elevator meeting, two wheelchairs and a brief “You are the woman I most admire in this world” and a “Thank you, dear.”

I was probably the only kid on the floor and the nurses tended to congregate in my room in the evening. I was watching TV at night. During the day, I read. One night, there was a movie on the tube — “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

I was terrified. I was convinced there was one of those pods under my bed and I made the nurses check there and in all the closets. Those Body Snatchers were sneaky and I wasn’t going to let them turn me into one of those emotionless neo-robots!

And if the movie isn’t enough, I just got the audiobook. Woo hoo!

Although I’ve seen many other science fiction movies — and read thousands of books in the genre — I think that was the single story that scared me the most. Not because of its strange appearance. No tentacles and nothing bug-like, but because it looked like me. Or you. It was the alien clone that removed our humanity.

I think I’m still afraid of that. Maybe that’s the one thing left to fear!

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.

HANGING OUT WITH ROBERT “MITCH” MITCHUM – 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-time 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 workday 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.

MOORE BOND

The Roger Moore Years, Part 1 by RICH PASCHALL


After five films the original James Bond, Sean Connery, left the series, but when George Lazenby only stuck around for one film despite an original offer for more, Connery returned for Diamonds Are Forever.  The franchise rebounded nicely from the comparatively weak showing with Lazenby, but Connery was tired of 007 and thought he was a bit too old for the part. He said he would never play Bond again, but Never Say Never Again was in his future.

If Connery was feeling a bit old for the part, then it would seem a bit surprising that the next actor to play Commander Bond was almost 3 years older.  Roger Moore, however, had all the qualities the producers wanted in James Bond.  He was handsome and charming and had experience as a super sleuth. Moore was Simon Templar in the long running television series, The Saint.  In a bit of irony, in an early episode of The Saint, Templar is confused for Bond.

First up for Roger Moore was Live And Let Die (1973).  The eighth Bond film was based on the second Ian Fleming novel.  The series made no attempt to film the books in order.  While some novels actually continued elements of previous stories, it was not a series in the same sense as Harry Potter, for example.

The film brings back Guy Hamilton as director.  He not only directed Diamonds Are Forever, but also the critically acclaimed Goldfinger.  Sir Paul McCartney contributed the Academy Award nominated theme song. Roger Moore proved to be the engaging secret agent the producers had hoped.

The film does not stand up well to the test of time.  The cliché ridden antics of 1970s era films are on full display.  The chase scenes are incredibly long and the introduction of a stereotypical and somewhat comical southern sheriff into the action is a bit on the absurd side.  Nevertheless, the Bond franchise is now moving ahead again, with a full shaker of vodka martinis.

Next for Moore was Man With The Golden Gun (1974).  It was supposed to be the second Lazenby film, but when he refused to do the project, it was put on the shelf for Connery’s return in a different story.  Even though it was the thirteenth Ian Fleming novel, the movie found a way to incorporate elements from the previous film based on the second novel.  With more over blown and lengthy chases, the film even finds a way to include the southern sheriff from the previous film.  Yes, he is on vacation in southeast Asia with his wife and finds himself in the midst of the chase.  An incredible jump with a car by Bond looks a lot like one done by Pierce Brosnan as Bond decades later.

man with the golden gun

Guy Hamilton directed Golden Gun as well.  After two long films with improbable and lengthy chase scenes, he was done. While the films did well as the box office, Man With the Golden Gun was not well received by critics.  It was time to move on

The third Roger Moore film finds the hero hitting his stride, in my humble opinion, with The Spy Who Loved Me (1977).  An American and a Soviet submarine disappear and Bond is sent to investigate along with a beautiful Soviet agent, who would prefer to kill Bond for the death of a Soviet agent who had once tried to kill Bond.  The chase scene on skis is more exciting than the car and boat chase scenes of the previous two movies.  The intrigue is there, the Bond girl is beautiful, the scenery is great and the Bond devices and tricks supplied by “Q” are up to par.  This film finally has the charm of the Connery films, something that has been lacking despite the box office success.

The fourth Roger Moore film, Moonraker (1979), bears almost no resemblance to the 1955 novel from which it takes its name.  Nothing in the Fleming story could have suggested this.  The film moves full speed ahead into the realm of science fiction, retaining some of the traditional Bond elements before Roger blasts off into space with the latest “Bond girl.”

Instead of preventing a nuclear missile from destroying London, the film has Bond on a quest to find a missing space shuttle.  You will recall the previous film had him looking for missing submarines.  Now it is not just London that Bond must save, but the entire world.  Who knew so many space shuttles were at the ready of the villain and NASA?  Yes, there will be battle and a chase in outer space.

In the novel, the villain is an ex-Nazi.  Remember the book is from 1955 so the ex-Nazi and Soviet connection is plausible.  In the updated story, the villain is attempting to set up a scenario where he can establish a master race.  I won’t go into exactly how he intends to pull this off, put it requires space ships, satellites, a space station and lots of lasers.

These films were not made in the rapid succession of the early Bond films.  After the fourth film, Moore was 52 years old, but continued to be a popular Bond.  Moonraker was the top grossing Bond film at that point and Moore would be in demand for more films.  Yes, the Roger Moore era was nowhere near the finish.

The Roger Moore Years, Part two on Sunday.

 

BOND. JAMES BOND. – Rich Paschall

A few years ago I set out to watch all of the “official” James Bond movies in order, the EON Productions films, that is.  I saw the other 3 as well. As I finished the films of each actor, I wrote down my thoughts on the movies.  This took place over a couple of years, as procrastination left a time lag between actors.  In some cases, I was also chasing down the DVDs.

There will be a lot of talk about Bond 25 for the next year as it will soon go into production and will be released in the fall of 2019. 

First, let’s go back to the start.

The Sean Connery Years, Rich Paschall

If you remember the very beginnings of the James Bond movies, then you have to admit this: When you hear that often used introduction, you immediately hear in your head the iconic music which has been a staple of so many Bond movies.  James Bond, Sean Connery and that music are forever intertwined.

James Bond was created by writer Ian Fleming in 1953 in the novel, Casino Royale.  He wrote a dozen novels and two short story collections.  The character was adapted for television, movies, comic strips and video games.  Connery set the bar high as the first James Bond in the films.

Since the first novel, Casino Royale, had been sold for a television production, and later a spoof starring David Niven (1967), the first movie had to start elsewhere.  Interestingly, it is the 6th novel, Dr. No, that is the basis for the first James Bond feature film (1962).

Bond, James Bond

The film shows us a suave and debonair James Bond, although Fleming had not initially seen Bond as that type of character.  He envisioned his hero as a dull sort of guy to which things happened.  As the movies have shown, Bond stood up to whatever challenge he faced. He was not dull.

Dr. No not only introduces us to Bond, but it also introduces an organization, SPECTRE, that will be the evil nemesis in many of the Bond films. In the story, a British agent is killed in Jamaica and Bond is sent there to investigate the circumstance.  It leads him on to an island where Dr. No is planning an evil plot to destroy a USA Mercury space launch.  Yes, it is the early 1960s so this all makes sense somehow.

Connery gives a commanding performance as the British Naval Commander and “00” secret agent with a “License to Kill.”  It may be fair to say that without this strong start, the movie series may never have become what it is today.  Some of the sexist lines and double entendres featured in the early films, would never make it to the screen today, however.  The charm and wit of the central character have remained a feature throughout, even if some of the clever quips have been abandoned.  Dr. No gets high marks for adventure and intrigue, especially for the cold war era in which it was made.

Nothing highlighted the Cold War spy era like From Russia With Love (1963).  The second Bond film was based on the 5th Fleming novel.  The plot to steal a cryptographic device may seem terribly amusing now, but was high drama then.  Bond is sent off to another exotic locale, this time Istanbul, to take the “Lektor” device and avoid capture.  Again SPECTRE is the enemy, a beautiful girl is caught up in the intrigue, and chase scenes and suspense are en vogue.  This is a worthy second entry to the film series. The first two films were directed by Terrence Young.

Most critics will agree that the third Bond film, based on the seventh Fleming novel, is among the best of the Bond features.  This time Guy Hamilton is brought in to direct as Bond is off to investigate the activities of Auric Goldfinger, a gold smuggler and suspected financier of terror.  Goldfinger (1964) contains a rather fantastic plot involving the robbery of Fort Knox.  The double meaning dialog is on full display as Bond (Sean Connery) tries to seduce Goldfinger’s personal pilot, Pussy Galore, in order to defeat the evil plan.  The villain’s henchman, Oddjob, becomes a film classic for his derby hat with the rim of steel blade.

Terrence Young is back to direct the 4th Bond film and Sean Connery is back again as the hero of Thunderball (1965).  They are given a budget more than double Goldfinger and you would think this would bring great benefit to the production.  Sadly, it does not.

Based on the ninth Fleming novel, the atomic age thriller finds Bond in search of two stolen atomic bombs taken by SPECTRE. They are to be ransomed back to the Western World or the countries will pay the ultimate price of having the bombs hit strategic targets.  It is a race against the clock which includes exotic locales and another gorgeous “Bond girl.”   Every film features a beautiful woman who just happens to get caught up in the intrigue.

The film spends too much time on chase scenes.  While the back drop of the Bahamas may have seemed to liven up the chase, the mere length and pacing of these sequences points out the need to find a film editor.  The climactic battle in the water may have worked had it not been excessively long.  When you wonder if the darn thing will ever end, you know some of this mess should have been left on the cutting room floor.  The Bond mission is successful, he ends up with the girl, and the movie finally ends after 130 minutes.

The story itself was under legal battles shortly after the publication of the 1961 novel of Thunderball.  Fleming was taken to court over ownership of the story.  Two others had co-authored a script for the story years earlier with Fleming. It did not sell and Fleming used it as the basis of his novel.  An out of court settlement was reached that led to plans of a rival Bond production years later and more court battles.  Could another studio actually take a Bond story and produce a one time rival Bond film?  They did it using the same story.  How could they possibly make such a thing successful?

More on the Connery years Tuesday, and the making of a second Thunderball.

GUILTY PLEASURES

I think most of the things we enjoy would be counted as guilty pleasures by someone else. You might say we’ve become guilty pleasure experts.

The other night, Garry and I watched “Paris When It Sizzles” on Netflix. Universally panned, it is generally regarded as awful. Except among movie buffs — like us — for whom it is an officially designated guilty pleasure.

a-summer-place-movie-poster-1959-1020460974

We laughed all the way through it, although it isn’t supposed to be funny. It got us talking about other movies we’ve seen that were panned, but which we liked.

The one that came immediately to my mind was “Flypaper,” starring Ashley Judd and Patrick (“McDreamy”) Dempsey. It opened and closed without a single good review and made less money in its American release than I made on my last freelance job. But it cost $4,000,000 to produce.

Flypaper2011Poster

On February 27, 2013, I reviewed it on Serendipity — FLYPAPER (2011): A PLEASANT SURPRISEIt’s been getting a slow but steady stream of hits ever since. When I looked in my stats, I saw I’d gotten a hit on that review, the source for which was Wikipedia.

Wikipedia? How could that be? I clicked. There was my review, referenced by Wikipedia. Flypaper (2011 film) has two numbered references in the reference section. Number 1 is my review. What are they referencing? The grosses.

That Flypaper made a pathetic $1100 and opened on just two screens in one theater during a single weekend. Serendipity is their source for this data.

facts expert

Where did I get my information? I looked it up on IMDB (International Movie Database). Not the professional version. Just the free area anyone can access.

IMDB is, to the best of my knowledge, an accurate source. But it’s not a primary source. Clearly the financial data had to have come from somewhere else. Maybe the distributor? IMDB got the info from elsewhere, I got it from them, then Wikipedia got it from me. The beat goes on.

forever_knight_2009

How in the world did I become a source? If you have ever wondered how bad information gets disseminated, this is the answer. I don’t think this information is wrong. If it is, it’s harmless.

But a lot of other stuff proffered as “fact” is gathered the same way. Supposed news outlets get information from the Internet. They access secondary, tertiary and even more unreliable sources. They assume it’s true. By proliferation, misinformation takes on a life of its own and becomes “established” fact.

ncis-need-to-know

Scholars, journalists, historians and others for whom truth is important should feel obliged to dig out information from primary — original — sources. A blogger, like me, who gets information from who-knows-where shouldn’t be anyone’s source for “facts” unless you’ve confirmed the information and know it’s correct.

For me to be a source for Wikipedia is hilarious, but a bit troubling. How much of what we know to be true … isn’t?

THE BARRYMORES: AMERICA’S ROYAL FAMILY OF ACTORS

This week, we tuned into Drew Barrymore’s latest show on Netflix. It’s called “The Santa Clarita Diet.” She has, in this story, become a zombie. It’s funny because she’s a very suburban and rather bouncy zombie. She certainly dresses a lot better than any other zombie I’ve seen on the screen.

If you are a huge fan of blood, gore, and massive quantities of vomit, this might be the right show for you.

Garry commented that “It’s probably a matter of personal taste.” That was his way of saying “Ew, disgusting, yuck, I’ll never watch it again.” She’s a Barrymore, so he’s being polite. She has a heritage. If anyone in the movie world could be considered royalty, Drew Barrymore has got to be “it.” Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be watching this show ever. I’m pretty sure this could have been a witty, entertaining show without the massive quantities of vomit, blood, and torn out internal organs.

Probably we’re a bit old-fashioned, but all that stuff does is turn my stomach.

For a few years, Drew Barrymore was working on Turner Classic movies with Robert Osborne, discussing and introducing classic movies. It was a treat listening to her observations. She should know, after all.

Drew Barrymore by David Shankbone

She was on Colbert last week, too. Her face has changed in recent years. Now, she really looks like a Barrymore.

John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922
John Barrymore as Hamlet, 1922

That’s no small thing because she is this generation’s only representative of what is the longest running act in show business.

Several families have two or three generations of actors and a couple of families have three or more generations of directors. Only one has been on stage and screen for more than 100 years, the royal family of stage and screen, the Barrymores.

As of this writing, Drew Barrymore is her generation’s only working actor. John Drew, Diana, Drew, and John Blyth are the only descendants of John Barrymore who became actors.

Garry and I were trying to guess how many acting dynasties include at least three generations, in which at least one family member in each generation has done something noteworthy as an actor. Not as a director, producer, or writer. Only actors.

dynasties_01

Define “noteworthy” please!

It started when we noticed a Capra listed as a crew member of an NCIS episode. Garry wondered if this was a fourth generation of Capras. There was a Frank Capra I, II and III, so it seemed likely to be members of the same family. The Capras are directors. No actors, so they don’t count for the purposes of this post.

Reality shows do not count. Non-speaking and cameo roles do not count, nor does work as a TV announcer, talk show host, or sportscaster. Mere celebrity does not count. Only acting.

The Barrymore genealogy is complicated because it is extensive. There have many marriages and a slew of children. Most of the men in the family are named John, which doesn’t make it easier to follow the trail.

Other acting families are even more confusing. Actors marry each other, divorce frequently, and have children by many partners. They adopt and raise children from former marriages and from spouses’ former relationships. It’s hard to keep track and sometimes, relationships intertwine to such a degree it’s impossible to say to which family a particular person belongs. Not unlike European royal families.

If you count only acting families — and only family members who have had a real acting careers — the number of entries in the field are manageable. You’ll quite a few 2-generation families. A handful of 3-generation families.

Only one family has four generations of working actors.

The Barrymore family.

Barrymore family tree graphic
A very simplified Barrymore family tree

Drew Barrymore is the family’s current representative.There are many other family members, but none are acting, as of this writing. It doesn’t mean they or their offspring won’t enter the family business in the future. It’s quite a legacy. Talk about family pressure.

If you want to see the other families, or at least most of them, you can look them up. Google “multi-generational acting families“. Wikipedia has a good write-up, but omits significant British families.

This link takes you to an alphabetical list of show business families. The intricacies of the marriages, divorces and resulting complex relationships will make your head spin.

The Barrymore family reigns. No other family comes near the prominence or longevity of this family of actors.

Wikipedia’s entry on the Barrymores includes actors and non-actors. There are quite a few family members who are not in show business. The acting family members are shown in blue.

INCUBATION AND THE INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS

I spend way too much time reading science fiction. “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers” is my favorite of the incubating monster stories.

I first saw the movie when I was 14. I had a tumor on my right tibia. Not malignant, but big and it had to be removed. Even a non-malignant tumor can do considerable damage if it keep growing and this one was growing like mad.

The movie was surprising quiet, a movie that sneaks into your brain

So there I was in Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital in New York. I had a private room. I think most of the rooms were private and it was in that hospital that I very briefly met Eleanor Roosevelt who was not long for the world at that time. It was an elevator meeting, two wheelchairs and a brief “You are the woman I most admire in this world” and a “Thank you, dear.”

I was probably the only kid on the floor and the nurses tended to congregate in my room in the evening. I was watching TV at night. During the day, I read. One night, there was a movie on the tube — “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers.”

I was terrified. I was convinced there was one of those pods under my bed and I made the nurses check there and in all the closets. Those Body Snatchers were sneaky and I wasn’t going to let them turn me into on of those emotionless neo-robots!

And if the movie isn’t enough, I just got the audiobook. Woo hoo!

Although I’ve seen many other science fiction movies — and read thousands of books in the genre — I think that was the single story that scared me the most. Not because of its strange appearance. No tentacles and nothing bug-like, but because it looked like me. Or you. It was the alien clone that removed our humanity.

I think I’m still afraid of that. Maybe that’s the one thing left to fear!

THE ALMOST INTERVIEW – GARRY ARMSTRONG AND JIMMY STEWART

Full disclosure up front. I never met Jimmy Stewart. No interviews. No emails. No phone conversations. But I’ve got Jimmy Stewart in my brain, maybe because Stewart was recently TCM’s “Star of the month” and they’ve been airing many of his legendary films.

There was a masterful Stewart profile hosted by Stewart’s good friend, Johnny Carson. He made it feel like two buddies reminiscing about the best years of their lives.

Stewart, (center) with Amos on his right, and the B-52 crew moments after safely landing at Andersen. Before leaving Guam the next morning, Stewart again thanked Amos for his professionalism during the emergency and presented him with signed prints for each of the crewmen. (Courtesy Bob Amos)

The other night might have been my first (Yes!) viewing of 1954’s “The Glenn Miller Story.” Somehow, “The Miller Story” escaped me during those years when I went to the movies 3 or more times a week. I absolutely enjoyed the warmth and nostalgia of the movie in a way I rarely feel about contemporary films. I’ve been steadily humming “Moonlight Serenade” for the last two or three days.

Jimmy Stewart is stuck in my mind. I’m doing an interview with him — but it never really occurred. I’ve been digging through my mental folders and files for why I feel this link to Stewart. I’m aware of all his unforgettable film performances, from “Mr. Smith” to “Wonderful Life” to “Harvey.” And all those rugged 1950s and 1960s westerns — including “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.”

I couldn’t find that link.  It’s more than just the fan and movie maven thing going on.  What was it?

It hit me as I was cleaning my hearing aids. The answer!

During the late 1980’s — maybe 1988 or 1989 — during Ronald Reagan’s second term in the White House, life was changing for me. Marilyn was back in my life after spending almost a decade in Israel. And I finally was able to wear the new, smaller hearing aids that are nearly invisible to onlookers.

I was elated!  No more of those ugly, big hearing aids. I was always sure people stared at them while I worked as a local TV News guy. That was when I remembered — a conversation I had with a colleague. She was the station’s entertainment reporter and had noticed me talking to myself as I checked the audio of my tiny new hearing aids with a big smile on my face.

I was in the middle of covering a major trial that was getting international attention. I saw my image on network news shows. No hearing aids were visible. Oh, the vanity! I explained to my colleague what the tiny hearing aids meant to me. How I’d coped with a major hearing loss most of my life and the adjustments I had made to succeed in TV News.  She was genuinely surprised and smiled with an appreciative tap on my shoulder. We’d sat close to each other in the newsroom for months, talked about business and personal things — but I’d never mentioned my hearing loss.

That was also the summer Marilyn and I entertained actress Patricia Neal and legendary photographer Alfred Eisenstadt at our Martha’s Vineyard cottage, a rented place we shared with other TV news friends. Word of our friendship with Neal and Eisenstadt made the rounds in the local entertainment news world. I remember sharing stories with my entertainment reporter colleague. Sometimes name dropping can be a lot of fun … and this was one of those times.

“I met Jimmy Stewart at a Washington, D.C. cocktail party,” my colleague told me one afternoon. She had my complete attention.   “Poor Jimmy. He was struggling with his gigantic hearings aids.”

I listened with fascination. I didn’t know Jimmy Stewart needed hearing aids. It never showed in his movies or TV interviews. I listened closer for details on Stewart’s dilemma.

“Jimmy couldn’t hear what was being said at the party,” my colleague told me, “He kept looking at me awkwardly and fumbled with conversation.”

I had an epiphany.  Jimmy Stewart fumbled with conversation because he was trying to absorb and register what people were saying to him. The famous Jimmy Stewart verbal fumble was his way of coping with hearing problems. I probably smiled to myself as my colleague went on with her description of Jimmy Stewart’s cocktail party struggles. Fascination turned to compassion as I imagined myself in Stewart’s place, trying to filter our multiple conversation, loud music, and ambient background noise.

The Stewart story quickly faded out from my mind as I returned to my story and a pressing news deadline.

There was a letter on my desk a few days later. I was running late for the trial and was worried about getting a good seat so I could hear the lawyers and the judge,, so I didn’t get to it that day.

Trials were always a major headache for me. Years earlier, I’d taken my situation to myriad judges, court officers and lawyers. I wanted everyone to know I was working with this handicap and wanted to be sure I got all their wise words accurately. They appreciated my candor and efforts were made to make sure I could get the information accurately and efficiently.  My best, most sincere face helped my cause. If you’ve heard this from me before, know it was the prologue for my relationship with Jimmy Stewart.

I finally opened the letter a day or two after it arrived. I was immediately suspicious. Phony, threatening and suggestive letters are common for a TV news reporter. This one wasn’t in thick crayon or illegible ink scrawl, but I was still suspicious.


“Dear Garry,

I hope you don’t mind my assumption of friendship since we’ve never met. I deal with this business of celebrity all the time and it is presumptuous.”


I continued to read with skepticism until I realized this missive was from Jimmy Stewart. He went on to explain his cocktail party hearing problems, his encounter with my colleague who apparently talked about me and my hearing problems. Jimmy Stewart heard about this Garry Armstrong guy who was a success on Boston television news despite hearing problems. I blushed a little as I read Stewart’s account of my bravery. Most of the letter, however, dealt with Stewart’s details about his hearing aids, its components. He wanted my take on the efficiency of these new little hearing aids.

I put the letter in my desk, planning to take it home and show to Marilyn  because I wasn’t good at holding on to such possessions in my professional life. My attention turned to the trial and my report for the six o’clock news.

Fast forward several hours, including my ritual stop at the local bar before heading home — without the letter. Out of sight and mind.

I did manage to write Jimmy Stewart a few days later. I spent most of the letter talking about how I struggled with my hearing and use of the aids. I must have appeared awfully vain, talking about overcoming  my reluctance to wear hearing aids because I thought it was a stigma. My vanity was probably also obvious when I mentioned some of Stewart’s colleagues I’d met in my career.  I was young and lacked humility, telling Stewart about time I’d spent with Katherine Hepburn, Jimmy Cagney, Gregory Peck and other stars. I forgot to mention the other stars, like Albert DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, and Tip O’Neil.

In retrospect, I can only wonder what Jimmy Stewart thought as he read this silly, name dropping letter from a young Boston reporter.

Another Stewart letter arrived several days later. No indication of displeasure at my letter. He asked lots of questions about my hearing aids, my interview tact, and how I handled myself in large crowds. There was a hint of getting together when he came east again.

The meeting never occurred. Perhaps that’s why I’m now having these dreams about the sit-down interview that might have been.

Me and Jimmy Stewart. It never happened, but it could have. It almost happened.