The Scholar in the Kingdom of the Mouse, II: The Ben Sharpsteen Museum

Interesting in a lot of ways, especially that it was (ironically?) Disney with whom Stewart worked. I remember the television shows very well, especially the movie about the fire which was based on Stewart’s book.

the EARTH ABIDES project

You might think scholarship is boring.  Dull as dirt.  Best reserved for those in the monastery or the ivory tower.

You’d be wrong.

Scholarship is an adventure, a  treasure-hunt.  And the quest brings surprising and unexpected discoveries – which usually lead to new treasure.   Researching the George R. Stewart biography, for example, I discovered that famous writers like Stephen King and Wallace Stegner and William Least Heat Moon, musician and composer Philip Aaberg, scientist Dr. James D. Burke of JPL, and Jimi Hendrix were influenced by Stewart’s works.

Walt Disney was also a great fan of Stewart.  He even hired Stewart to work at the studio as a consultant.  Stewart discussed ideas with various studio personnel; then submitted a report about the potential for American folklore films and educational films.   Stewart’s recommendations went to Ben Sharpsteen, legendary Disney producer and director.

In preparing materials for donation to the

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WORLD SHARING: ALMOST A NEW WORLD – Marilyn Armstrong

Share Your World – April 23, 2018

If you could have an endless supply of any food, what would you get?

English muffins. No, really. You can eat them for breakfast and they make a great crunchy sandwich. They come in a million flavors, but a plain one with port wine cheddar on it? Delicious beyond human understanding.

But best? A simple toasted muffin with some orange marmalade or other jam and a cup of great coffee is one of the world’s most affordable and totally delicious treats.

List at least five movies or books that cheer you up.

Boy, this is a tough question. My head is so full of movies and books, characters and stories!

Movies

Murphy’s Romance
Blazing Saddles
Trading Places
Tombstone (all that delicious violence)
Rustler’s Rhapsody

Books:

This gets hard. So many books, so little time.

Connie Willis’s Bellwether (1996) – No matter how many times I read it, it makes me smile, laugh, and think … at the same time!

Robert H. “Rob” Reid wrote Year Zero: A Novel, the only science fiction novel I ever read with truly entertaining footnotes … and explained to me everything I never wanted to know about the music industry.

Everything by Douglas Adams, but especially The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul which I have read at least a dozen times and will probably read a few more — possibly soon.

Jasper Fforde – All seven of the Thursday Next series are a joy to anyone who loves books. In this series, “outer space” is actually the inside of novels. I yearn for another one, but I think he is done with the series.

Jodi Taylor’s entire series about the time-traveling historians of St. Mary’s make me happy. Actually, I love all her books, but anything with time travel in it is a sure winner for me. She is funny, sharp, literate, and she loves history. I just finished An Argumentation of Historians which was less funny and more touching than many of her books — and it was part 1, so now I have to wait for the next part. But I have loved every book she ever wrote.

Kim Harrison’s entire series about Rachel Morgan and The Hollows. Thirteen books long, from the start to conclusion, including a 14th book that was a prequel.

There are so many others. I’ve been an ardent reader for an entire lifetime and my head is full of books.

If you were a mouse in your house in the evening, what would you see your family doing? 

Trying to kill off the mice. We have a lot of mice and getting rid of them has become a priority. A few mice is cute. Hundreds — thousands? — of mice isn’t at all cute.

What did you appreciate or what made you smile this past week?  

We went to a party. We got there and didn’t get lost. We stayed long enough to enjoy the company and then — we got home without getting lost. Thumbs up!

ME AND CHAPPAQUIDDICK – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I wrote a blog about famous people that I have had connections with throughout my life. People like Gil Scott Heron, Chevy Chases’ father and brother, Celeste Holm, Erica Jong.

I was reading a review of the new movie about the tragedy involving Ted Kennedy at Chappaquiddick in 1969. I suddenly realized that I had worked with someone intimately involved with that story!

From the fall of 1971 to March of 1972, I worked at the New York State campaign headquarters for Edmund Muskie For President. The office was in midtown Manhattan and was run by a dynamic woman named Esther Newberg. She was a tough cookie. Very decisive, effective, organized and politically savvy. She had previously worked for the equally tough New York politician and women’s movement spokesperson, Bella Abzug.

Edmund Muskie

Esther had the responsibility of meeting with all the county leaders in the state and lining up commitments for Ed Muskie. She also ran the PR operations and supervised her New York Volunteer Coordinator, which was me.

I recruited eager local democratic volunteers and came up with things for them to do. We helped with frequent mass mailings (no computers) and with phone calls mobilizing other volunteers and politically active young people. I organized political events, usually involving a speaker, refreshments and lots of socializing. I think I may have done more to promote dating in New York City than Muskie’s political ambitions there.

Esther, on the right, in the late 1960’s

I have remembered Esther all these years. She was a person who made an impression. So when I read the review of “Chappaquiddick”, I was surprised to learn that a woman who had worked in Bobby Kennedy’s presidential campaign alongside Mary Jo Kopechne (who died in the Chappaquiddick accident), was no other than Esther Newberg. I googled her to make sure she was in fact the Esther Newberg I had worked for in the early 1970’s. She was.

Esther and Mary Jo were two of the six infamous ‘boiler room girls’ who worked for Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign in 1967-1968. They worked in a windowless room, affectionately called ‘the boiler room’. Each woman was assigned a regional desk and was tasked with coordinating all of the state campaign directors in that region, with the Washington campaign headquarters. They dealt with the key campaign issues of the day and reported directly to Bobby and his campaign manager and brother-in-law, Stephen Smith.

RFK and the ‘Boiler Room Girls’

Ethel Kennedy (Bobby’s wife) once said that “Only the great ones worked in that boiler room.” The ‘girls’ were known to be “frighteningly intelligent, politically astute, capable as all get out.” But they were just ‘girls’, which in those days was a stigma that was hard to overcome. The boiler room girls were often portrayed in the press as ‘party girls’ (not true) and of no significance to the campaign (also not true).

After Bobby Kennedy was assassinated in June of 1968, the ‘girls’ dispersed to other jobs in politics. But they stayed in touch and got together for reunions. One of these reunions, which Ted Kennedy and Stephen Smith attended, was in July of 1969 in Chappaquiddick, near the Kennedy compound in Martha’s Vineyard.

Esther was at the party that night and watched her friend, Mary Jo, leave the party in a car with Ted Kennedy. The car inexplicably drove off a small bridge into the water. Kennedy got out of the submerged car but Mary Jo did not. Kennedy took 10 hours to report the incident. Many people feel he didn’t make enough of an effort to rescue Mary Jo. Others believe that if he had reported the accident immediately, there would have been enough time to save Mary Jo’s life. No one knows for sure.

Esther apparently had her name removed from the movie because she felt that too much had been made up and sensationalized.

The Chappaquiddick tragedy that ended Ted Kennedy’s presidential ambitions, as well as the ‘boiler room girls’, were part of my early political memories. So I was thrilled to learn that I had actually known someone who was part of that history. It’s not really a big deal. But I’m excited that I had two degrees of separation from Bobby and Ted Kennedy and this historical event.

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 MORNING AFTER THE FIFTEEN … OY … TEN COMMANDMENTS …

Ten is hard enough. Another five? Oy.

Today was the day. Our annual, ritual watching of “The Ten Commandments.” It’s not that we love the movie. More like it has become a bit of a joke, but also a ritual. Listening and smiling at the narration of Cecile B. DeMille. The incredibly stilted dialogue … ah, Moses, Moses …

Evening … time for the show to begin …

We readied ourselves for The Experience. Evening had arrived. The light outside was fading. Garry popped in the DVD and it said “Overture.” But when Cecile B. DeMille showed up on-screen, we didn’t see any captions. Uh oh. Can’t watch without captions!

Overture … but no captions!

Garry thought he had set the captions, but now Cecile was telling us about the movie and he wasn’t captioned. I turned the movie off and tried to restart it. It wouldn’t restart. We finally rebooted the machine and … it started. I set the captions.

Duke’s ready too!

Every movie that includes captions (some still don’t) does it a different way. You may find captions under “Languages,” “Settings,” “Subtitles,” or something else. Exactly how you set them is also entirely whimsical.

Garry checks to make sure he’s got the right disc.
A critical moment as (unbeknownst to Moses) his mother is about to become grease to Ramses stones.

We had trouble getting the second disc in, too. We’ve been debating whether or not to get a new DVD player. Maybe we need one. This one is getting really touchy. About everything.

Finally, I got up and jiggled the DVD around until it decided it had found its home and the movie … slowly, slowly, slowly … began. Phew.

We’d sure have hated to miss the angel of death and those forty years of walking around the Sinai.

Everything’s in place.

Here is where the really holy part begins.

Note Garry’s feet as he watches God freeing his wife’s people. Woo hoo!

A happy Easter to all who celebrate. Many bright eggs to all who collect … and don’t overdo it on the matzoh!

Or, as Garry put it …

So let it be written. So let it be done!

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.