MOSES, MEL, AND ME – GARRY ARMSTRONG

Before I put a finger on the keyboard, I admit this is probably heresy, at least to some people. One simply doesn’t make fun of religious movies. It is simply not done. Especially not these days.

But I do.

Every Passover or Easter (usually, it’s both together), Marilyn and I watch “The Ten Commandments.” We don’t watch it for its high level of religious sentimentality. While Cecil B was going for life-altering moments, he gave us some much-needed laughter.

It isn’t a movie that has stood up well to the years. Time tested it — and found it wanting.

Heston-Charlton-Ten-Commandments

Every year when some big religious holiday rolls around, the lineup of movies on our favorite cable stations includes all the familiar biblical movies. Few are watchable even a few years past their shelf date, much less stand ye olde test of time.

Most are obviously well-intended, like George Stevens’, “The Greatest Story Ever Told”. But the man who gave us classics like “Shane”, “A Place In The Sun” and “Giant”, wound up with a ponderous and static film in “The Greatest Story.”

Its biggest sin? Boring. Truly dull.

As I write, we are watching Mel Brooks’, “History of the World-Part One.” This movie is the perfect antidote to historical films that have become parodies or which were not really all that good in the first place. We probably have a greater appreciation of history because of Mel’s equal opportunity insults rather than the cardboard epics which play fast and loose with facts.

Mel Brooks last supper

I must admit I love watching gladiator movies. It’s a guy thing, like war films.  I also enjoy seeing semi-clad (or even lesser clad) young women engaging us in erotic dances before evil monarchs who are not playing with a full deck. We’re not talking about great cinema here.

Charlton “Call me Chuck” Heston was really honest when he talked about playing Moses. He told me it was a good gig. Working with Cecil B. DeMille (for a second time) was good for his résumé. It gave him a boost for the religious epic he really wanted to do — “Ben Hur.”

“Ben Hur” is one of the few good religious films to come out of Hollywood. William Wyler’s fine direction and brilliantly done stunts using real live (and one who died) human being — were spectacular. No computer generation. It hadn’t been invented. The chariot race alone is worth the price of admission.

history-of-the-world--part-1

This is obviously subjective stuff. If you love Cecil B’s heavy-handed narration of his version of the Old Testament, so let it be written. So let it be done. Meanwhile, we’re back with Mel. It’s the French Revolution and those generously endowed girls are displaying their charms.

It’s good to be the king!

IMPEACHMENT FOLLIES – Garry Armstrong

Marilyn asked me to write a piece.  This as I was swapping comments with others on Facebook as we watched today’s Impeachment Hearings and the comments that followed. I internally blanched but said, “Yes, dear.” I quickly dashed out this first paragraph. Time out. Nature was calling.

(Insert commercial here)

Okay, I’m back. Nature’s call answered. Showered, shaved and CNN is on with the evening recap of today’s Impeachment hearing. Maybe I missed some important stuff while attending my own business. Throne room biz gets top priority here.

It seems there is hard evidence of the call that never was — or that PERFECT phoner without any quid pro quo.  Donzo’s disciples are in spin overdrive while Democrats are like Felix the cat who nabbed a feline whistleblower.

Do we take time out for the weekend? Maybe watch some college and pro football?  Or do we put the Impeachment on hold? Will the hearings keep us in a mental brain lock until they resume, presumably on Monday?

Rest assured,  the weekend talk shows, especially the Sunday Pol Staple Shows, will review and regurgitate everything we’ve seen and heard during the past few days.  Was it good for you? Didn’t Wolf Blitzer look like he was barely able to keep from grinning?

These are good days for Facebook, the social media giant dealing with well-earned criticism for its many breaches of privacy.

Facebook’s cyber party line is perfect for many folks who are sharing their reactions, opinions, and emotional takes on the impeachment hearings. The comments and responses to comments are clearly partisan.


I think it’s a healthy way to unload your exhilaration, anger, and frustration over the mulligan’s stew of interrogation and testimony. Yelling at the television doesn’t get the reactions we need.

I can’t be the only one shouting profanities at some of Donzo’s coat-holding Pols who are insulting and demeaning witnesses testifying about the existence of the phone call and the hinky business surrounding what he said he said.  Today, we heard first-hand testimony of Donzo’s call to his Ukraine liaisons. It was a call taken in a restaurant and clearly heard by a myriad of people. Probably including the Russians who are very good at snooping in Ukraine, not to mention right here in the good ole’ U.S.A.

How loud WAS he talking? Did they put the call on speaker? We wouldn’t want the waiters or busboys to miss anything. Tune in tomorrow for further updates, revelations, and the throbbing excitement of our democracy falling apart while the world watches with a mixture of dismay and glee.

Look across the river,  Lennie. See the rabbits, Lennie? I get all sentimental remembering the glory days of Watergate.


Speaking of the Tricky One, they’ve been constantly running an audio clip of Milhouse’s rant on the media, “…and, ya know,  there’s not a good one of them on all three of the damn Networks.”

Donzo can smile because he has more than three networks “harassing” him. He has more media dissidents than any President in U.S. history. Even more than George Washington, a president who could tell you something about political detractors. He didn’t take a third term in office because he could not tolerate more press attacks — and that was long before mass media.

Donzo has gone from being a star on “The Apprentice” to being a living legend in his own mind. He is the man waiting to be carved onto Mt. Rushmore and the man who claims he shot Liberty Valance. Now, finally, he’s the guy with the highest TV ratings in town. It’s the brightest spot on his resume.

Print that legend!

ALL I WANT TO DO IS ENTER MY HOUSE JUSTIFIED – Garry Armstrong

It’s a memorable line from the classic western, “Ride The High Country”. The 1962 MGM film was released with little fanfare. Hard to figure because it starred two long-time movie cowboy heroes, Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea and was directed by the maverick, Sam Peckinpah.

“High Country” also introduced the spunky Mariette Hartley. The supporting cast reads like a who’s who of top-notch character actors: James Drury, Warren Oates, L.Q. Jones, John Anderson, John Davis Chandler, Edgar Buchanan and R.G. Armstrong (no, not a relation).

Another classic western, “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” was released the same year and overshadowed “Ride The High Country.”

“All I want to do is..enter my house justified” is Joel McCrea’s summation of his very ethical lawman who’s grown old and, with little money to show for his estimable career, but refuses to abandon his ethics for a grab of the money he’s transporting from a mining town to the bank that hired him  based on his reputation.McCrea is sharing his belief in honesty with longtime pal, Randolph Scott who temporarily has been seduced by greed and plans to steal the money. It’s against typecasting to have Randolph Scott as the former lawman on the verge of becoming a thief — at the expense of his life-long and honorable friend, Joel McCrea.  When I saw the film in ’62, I found it hard to grasp Randolph Scott as a bad guy.

He does a very believable job as the ambivalent villain wannabe. Scott’s old and jaded gunfighter is exasperated by a lifetime of upholding the law with very little money to show for all the bullets he’s taken. It’s the old west take on “show me the money.”

Joel McCrea’s insistence on honesty and taking the high road despite many obstacles is a parable for our current political world where ethics and honesty have become a sham and a bad joke leveled at people blinded by our P.T. Barnum Commander-In-Chief.

Can you imagine a Presidential tweet saying, “All I want to do is enter my house justified”?  The unfolding impeachment proceedings mock any pretense at ethics and honesty in the Oval Office. The McCrea line also flies in the face of all the Gordon Gekkos in our public arena where “greed is good” is the unofficial mantra.

Think of the high-profile celebrity parents facing the music and jail time for trying to buy a college diploma for their kids.  You don’t enter your house justified with that as your moral code. Our political and moral swamp is spilling over instead of being drained.

Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea

It’s taken a while for me to see “Ride The High Country” as more than just an excellent western.  Its underlying message about moral codes is clear to me now.  The same can be said for “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” the movie that gave us the iconic (yes iconic) line:


“This is the west, Sir. When fact catches up with myth,
you print the legend.”

There’s a lot of legend printing going on these days. Come to think of it, there are a lot of Liberty Valance wannabes trying to muck with our Constitution and standards set by the men who wrote it. To be fair, some of those guys liked to print the legend too. But, that’s another story.

Randolph Scott sees the light in a memorable shoot out, teaming up with Joel McCrea, to take down execrable killers at the end of “Ride The High Country.” Spoiler alert?

Marriage parade in a mining camp

Nah. Would you expect anything less from Randolph Scott?

We could use Scott and McCrea right now to run the current gang of miscreants out of town and out of the country — with some jail time thrown in.

They will never enter their house justified.

MONTAGES OF THE MIND AND EYES – Garry Armstrong

A long, long time ago, a professor startled our history of film class with an epiphany.


The juxtaposition of montages is
equal to pure cinema.


Huh?  It sounded rich and obtuse. Something I would always remember in the ensuing decades when I was trying to impress people with my film savvy.

I got it! I really got it!

My old professor’s epiphany rang through my head as I shaved today, prompting me to set up a photo array on our back porch.

Is it pure cinematic thought in your mind?

Bob Shiefer’s Autobiography

“The New Yorker” covers rarely need words. You look at them once, twice, maybe several times. Usually, they provoke smiles, laughter and, often, nods of approval. They are juxtapositions of images for your mind.

The cartoon icon and our backyard froggy are internalizing our pictorial montage for discreet conversation between keeping watch over the bird feeders,  the birds, and other poachers — namely the cadre of squirrels who themselves should be in the magazine cover montages.

If you’re a film maven, you know montages are important parts of films,  especially classic films.  They advance storylines with quick flips of scenes. No dialogue is needed if the montage is done well. A classic example is the beginning of Casablanca. Those montages set the scene, the people, and the political mood of the iconic film.

Just a free “Juji” trivia nugget.  The “Casablanca” montages were directed by Don Siegel who later would become the respected director of action and westerns films. He mentored Clint Eastwood at the start of Dirty Harry’s directorial career. You can see the full circle of montages from Casablanca to Play Misty For Me to Unforgiven.

The Mueller Story from The New Yorker, remix

So, take another look at our montages for the mind. Relaxing on our back porch and, yes, upstaging our time to feed the birds. “Tuppence, tuppence a bag.”

NUMBERED – Garry Armstrong

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge:
Numbers: Anything with numbers on it

I’ve been around with the camera lately and I got some numbers while I was at it. Since all the pictures are mine, I guess the post is also mine.

The church is the first Quaker Meetinghouse in this country. It’s in pretty good shape, though it’s hard to photograph because of its position on the corner atop a hill.

1770 Quaker Meetinghouse

The corner of route 146A

But the sign is green!

Fire Chief numbers

NEWS ANCHORING: LOOKING INSIDE – Garry Armstrong

The handsome guy who sits at the main newsdesk on your television newscast is more than a guy who just sits and reads. He delivers the script, knows when to pass the baton to a reporter, live or on tape. In the old days, he was the “anchorman” because no one could imagine a woman doing the job. Given the recent discoveries about what a lot of anchors were doing in their “spare” time, there are suddenly a lot of women at the anchor desk.

Make no mistake: they aren’t “anchorwomen.” They are anchors. They pull the news broadcast into a coherent whole and make sure all the pieces show up in the right spot during the broadcast.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. A very big deal. Most reporters would love to be anchors, but don’t have the talent. I was one of them.

Edward R. Murrow

The title of this piece perhaps should thus be News Anchoring. Doing the job. It may be something of a revelation for those who have no idea what it’s like working inside a newsroom. Maybe if you watched “Newsroom” (Jeff Daniels) you have a bit of an idea … but the real deal is a lot more intense.

Walter Cronkite

Plans go awry. News happens while you’re already in the middle of a broadcast and the crew and anchor need to be ready to ditch all the planned material and cover a live event. As in “it’s happening right now.”

Dianne Sawyer

News anchors were really the first television celebrities and stars, both nationally and locally.  You saw them every day and every evening. They were the voices of truth. They told you what was happening in the world, the nation, your state, and your neighborhood. The promotional blurbs assured you that they were giving you. “the straight truth.”

Chet Huntley and David Brinkley

Depending on your age, you may remember Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, Frank Reynolds, Douglas Edwards, and Harry Reasoner, just to name a few of the many famous faces who held down the network anchor desks in TV’s early formative years.

Dan Rather

You probably have clear memories of the folks who anchored your favorite newscasts. They were smooth and believable. For years, Walter Cronkite was regarded as “The most believable person in the United States.” I think maybe the world.  Political leaders, even Presidents wanted Cronkite’s trust.

John Chancellor

As a young newsie, I thought anchoring was top of the hill in “the news biz.” It looked easy. You just sat there and read the news. A piece of cake, I thought.

Leslie Stahl

I didn’t have much TV experience at the time I made that evaluation of news anchoring. I was still a 20-something with a future of rapid advancement from college, to local news, to ABC Radio Network in 1967.

Norah O’Donnell

My first assignments at ABC were strictly low level, grunt stuff, even though my first day on the job was also the first day of the Middle East 6-day war. Talk about being thrown into the pit!

Peter Jennings

I had to receive incoming phone reports from correspondents around the world and transcribe them — verbatim — for our in-house reporters. Step two was producing and editing copy for those reporters. This gave me more of a hands-on look at the work of the “talent” as on-air reporters and anchors were known.

It still looked easy although some of the scripts needed work. That was my job. I absorbed the good and bad of news-writing quickly. Network reporters were under tremendous pressure to collect the information, write their scripts, then dash into the studio for their broadcasts.

Lester Holt

From my “outside” view, it still looked easy. The movie “Broadcast News” shows more of this.

My few network TV jobs didn’t test me. I was the grunt, filling in for the veteran reporters. These jobs were filmed and I made no live appearances.  Taped was a whole different experience from doing the same material live. It still looked easy.

My brief tenure with a small Hartford TV station provided experience with cameras. I wrote half-hour news scripts and co-anchored with my boss — the other guy in the small newsroom.

This was late 1969. We had teleprompters. They seemed easy to use. Just read the script as it appears. Look at the prompter, read and only rarely look down at the script. No one said anything except “Good work, kid.”  Piece of cake, right?

Fast forward to Channel 7 in Boston, my first “major market” television gig. It was 1970 and I was one of a very few minorities (nonwhite) faces on Boston’s TV stations.

For many years, channel 7 was regarded as the “also-ran” station among the “big 3” TV stations network affiliates in Boston. The others were channel 4 (WBZ) and channel 5 (WCVB today,  but back then, it was WHDH — which later became the letters for channel 7). It’s easier to remember the numbers!

Channel 5 was the most prominent local affiliate and had the best-known news personalities working there.  Channel 7, an RKO-General affiliate was mostly known for running old movies in prime time.

Channel 7 wanted to get into the battle for news viewership and gain some critical respect. Talk about opportunity and timing. I came through the door at exactly the right time. A reporter of color who looked okay and spoke well. Almost immediately, I was given good assignments and received a lot of air time. I loved it. Like the Edward G. Robinson movie villain, “Johnny Rocco,” I wanted more.

I wanted to become an anchor.

No problem. Channels 4 and 5 already had morning newscasts. It was the dawning of popularity for morning news shows while Channel 7 had “Sunrise Semester” reruns.

After some huddling, channel 7 decided to join in the morning news fray with “Daybreak.”  They needed two young, strong personalities to counter the established anchors at the other stations. I don’t recall if there was much newsroom politicking for channel 7’s new show. The veteran reporters, as I recall, turned their noses up at the project. The hours were ghastly. Moreover, it seemed unlikely to have a chance against the other well-established morning news shows.

Garry Armstrong

I don’t think there was any celebration when channel 7 announced that “Daybreak” would be co-anchored by two of it’s new “exciting young talents,” Steve Sheppard and Garry Armstrong.  There was some newsroom jabber about “ebony and ivory,” which was not complimentary.

There was a divide in those days between veteran reporters and “the kids.” as we were known.  We were hungry for success. The vets didn’t want anyone to stir their soup with new ingredients.

Steve and I were excited about “Daybreak” and what it might mean for us. Yes, we were bright-eyed and bubbling with enthusiasm as we did our first shows. Steve had a nervous habit of tapping his toes throughout the newscast. I used to fiddle with the contact lenses I was wearing for the first time.

It wasn’t a pleasant experience. The contacts would slip. Everything would go blurry as I read. I’d squint, tear up and plod on. The contacts would invariably fall out and I’d frantically hunt for them during commercial breaks. Steve Sheppard, covering for me, would move on with the script as we came out of commercials.

After I got the contact lenses under control, I had a new, unexpected problem. We finally got teleprompters. At first, we were enthusiastic. We could finally look like real network anchors.

We could just stare into the camera and, occasionally, look down at our copy and back up to the camera. Steve did it very well. I didn’t. I kept getting lost. Almost every time I looked down at my copy, I would lose my place when I returned to the teleprompter.

I was awkward and clumsy. Not smooth.

I was angry with myself. It had always looked so easy. A piece of cake. I used to practice with the teleprompter between shows. Techs would set me up, give me suggestions and I’d practice. Nope. An assistant director who became a director and later a long-time friend tried his best to guide me through the nuances of the prompter schtick. I had a few decent shows but in the end, I welcomed being “reassigned” to field reporting.

I accepted the “too bad” consolation from co-workers but knew I was not going to be an anchor. It was not a piece of cake after all.

The late Tom Ellis was one of the best TV News Anchors Boston has ever had. Tom was almost a cult figure during Boston’s golden age of broadcasting. The native Texan had a fresh, engaging way of anchoring.  He didn’t seem to be reading. It was more as if he was talking to viewers, sharing the grim “if it bleeds it leads” stories as well as the feel-good features.

“Texas Tom” as he was known, riveted your attention and held you as he delivered the news. I always admired his style and understood he was doing what I couldn’t do — and doing it very well.

Years later, Tom and I became colleagues when he joined Channel 7 as its prime time anchor. He brought that same “Texas Tom” expertise to our floundering newscasts as he had for the competing stations. Tom was even nicer off-camera than on camera. Ironically, he sought my advice on reporting which I gladly shared.

In retirement, our friendship deepened. Tom laughed when I told him about my anchor aspirations, as well as my opportunity, and ultimate demise.  He chuckled, “Garry, it ain’t as easy as it looks.   I sighed and smiled.

These days, I look at the current generation of TV news anchors. I have my likes and dislikes. However, I have a deep appreciation for their job.  It is even more complex with the addition of new software applications they have to smoothly blend into their delivery along with the teleprompter and script.

No, pilgrim, it’s not a piece of cake.

YOU TALK TOO MUCH! – Garry Armstrong

“You Talk Too Much.”

It was a 1960 pop single that kids used to sing outside of school and on the streets. Usually, it was making fun of adults: teachers, parents, politicians, and others who they dissed from the temerity of youth.

It’s not something we — of a certain age — say about those who do most of their socializing via texts and emails.  We value the word, conversation, face-to-face sharing of thoughts and beliefs.

As a youngster at large family gatherings, I remember the older men — uncles, cousins and male hangers-on, emboldened by liquor and loud Carribean music casting insults at the women in the house.  When they were inevitably chastized, one of the men usually would bellow, “Woman, you talk too much.”

Most of the men, shielding themselves from a proper physical response, would giggle in a protective huddle.  Much like a bad football team after committing an egregious foul.

“You talk Too Much”?  In my youthful mind, I wondered how my elders dare say such an obviously disrespectful thing. I couldn’t in my boldest young bombast even consider saying that to an elder. Certainly not my Mom. I’d be picking up my teeth scattered around the room after the two slaps on my cherubic face.

It IS something I now mumble at the political blabbathons as Presidential wannabees stumble over themselves, verbally shooting each other in the feet and leaving us — the losers — as we try to zero in on a preferred candidate to take on the current White House squatter whose rent is overdue.  Yes, you people, you talk too much and don’t say things that will make us believe in you and your candidacy.

I’m growing increasingly angry with baseball’s  TV sports talk jocks who think their jibber-jabber is more important than the high anxiety postseason games.  The nonstop verbal poop is often insulting when it’s obvious these people don’t know the basics of our national pastime.

This 77-year-old retired TV Newsie with 40 plus years on the job, YELLS profanities at the Sports yakkers. The nicest thing I can offer is: “You talk too much!”

I wrestle with the image of my sportscaster hero — the iconic Vin Scully — who truly was a wordsmith, mixing in Shakespeare, baseball play-by-play and John Keats — without missing a beat and allowing minutes of silence to heighten the import of an excellent, game-changing play.  Alas, Vin Scully, closing in on 90, chose to retire still at the top of his game.1

In my best Brandon DeWilde “Shane” plea, Vin Scully, come back! We need you now more than ever! EVERYBODY needs you. Come back, Mr. Scully, please!

Those of you of a certain age can, perhaps, see and hear Archie Bunker yelling at his wife and son-in-law: “Hey, youse!  Ya givin’ me a headache. Stifle ya-selves.  You talk too much”.

No, Pilgrim, I’m not going there.  As sure as the turning of the earth, I’m not going there.