WHEN STARS WERE STARS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

It’s Academy Awards weekend and the buzz is on about the contenders. Who’ll win, who should win, who’s been snubbed, who’ll be wearing what, etc ad nauseam. It used to be an exciting period for me as a life long movie lover. Not any more!

We haven’t seen any of the nominated films this year. I can only judge by word of mouth. I know “La La Land” is everyone’s favorite, with 14 nominations. It’s a hot ticket with Hollywood heavyweights because it pays tribute to the golden age of movies. We should go see it.

Yet, therein lies the rub.

I grew up watching movies from the golden age. Almost all the legends were live and working. I read fan magazines about John Wayne, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn and other iconic figures. Stuff about their home life and upcoming projects. Lux Radio Theater carried adaptations of film hits featuring the likes of Tyrone Power, Alan Ladd and Myrna Loy. Billboards featured Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland and Clark Gable.

New kids on the Hollywood block included Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Marlon Brando, Steve McQueen, and Paul Newman. Sid Caesar made fun of Brando’s method school mumbling on his “Show of Shows” skits. Grownups snickered at Brando, saying “his kind” would never replace greats like Ronald Coleman and Leslie Howard.

My parents refused to buy me the motorcycle jacket and cap Brando wore in “The Wild One”. Geez, they were so cool and I desperately wanted to look cool. I copied John Wayne’s laconic walk and measured speech pattern. It made me feel 6-inches taller.

Movie stars were truly larger than life in those days. You didn’t see them often. Guest appearances on radio and television were special. I recall watching one Oscar telecast. It might have been 1953. The black and white images sparkled with shots of stars in the audience. Everywhere the camera turned, there were famous faces. It was wonderful to see “old” stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Jr, Lillian Gish and Mae West. There were the veterans like Robert Taylor, Stewart Granger, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire and Fredric March, to name a few.

I got a kick when they focused on the newer, more “hip” stars like  Newman, Dean, Brando, Poitier, James Garner, Audrey Hepburn and Leslie Caron.  My jeans stiffened when I saw closeups of Mamie Van Doren, Edie Williams and Rhonda Fleming. Lordy! Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas did a song and dance act that stole the show. The applause was long and deafening. The smiles from Kirk and Burt could’ve lit up a dozen cities. Bob Hope was funny as usual, joking about being snubbed by Oscar. It never occurred to me that someone other than Bob Hope could host the Academy Awards show.

Mom, my frequent movie date, smiled widely as she watched the stars. I think she was recalling her youth. I might’ve noticed a tinge of sadness but it was fleeting.

All those images are filed away in my sense memory this Oscar awards weekend. I don’t know many of the stars. George Clooney, Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio are now veterans.

Dare I mention that so many of the “new” celebrities all look alike? My wife says it’s all about plastic surgery. Yet there are plenty of serious  stars. The Streeps, Washingtons, Berrys. The new old timers — Pacino and DeNiro. They’re no younger than we are. Some are older. They aren’t getting big roles, either.

So, rather than disparage the youngest group of stars, I shall simply admit time has left me in the dust.

How did this happen?

YOU DON’T HAVE TO JOIN THEM

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It was the end of the movie. A man was undergoing a court-martial. It was unjust and Robert Mitchum, as his defense attorney, was having a difficult time securing justice. Just post World War II, there were a lot of highly placed and well-connected Army brass who needed the accused to be found guilty. Why? Because a guilty verdict would stop any further investigation of what really happened and who was truly involved.

If the story sounds familiar, it is. When important people, movers and shakers — no matter whether they are government, military, or major corporate players, “the truth” is, as often as not, one of the casualties of whatever is going down. Truth, honesty, justice, fairness … mere collateral damage in an endless war in which we are all pawns and the power is in the hands of the rich, powerful, and well-connected.

man-in-the-middle-the-winston-affair-poster-1964Justice is not done in this case, though the outcome could be worse, depending on how you choose to look at it. It’s a British production and there is a sense of frustration and futility that even after fighting and dying, regular people are still taking the hit for those in power.


Thus, at the end of movie, when it is pointed out to Mitchum that they didn’t win, he agrees.

——

But then he says: “Just because you can’t lick’em, doesn’t mean you have to join’em, either.”

——

Maybe, in the final analysis, that’s what it’s all about. Sometimes, we lose, but we don’t have to give up our sense of purpose, our honesty, or throw away the things in which we believe. We don’t have to join them.

My team, my beliefs, my principles took a major hit. But don’t think for a minute this means I’m about to passively join the mob of sycophants and “true believers.”

I do not have to join them.

Neither do you.

CRITICS

CRITICIZE | THE DAILY POST


Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

Terrible reviews. Everyone hated it. One of our favorites.

I almost never read the “professional” critics these days.  By professional critics, I mean those men and women who are paid to review entertainment: television, movies, and books. Reviews by “the pros” never seem to have anything to do with me. I don’t know from what planet these folks are coming, but it isn’t my part of the galaxy.

Do they see the same movies? Read the same books? Watch the same TV shows? Almost all my favorite moves were panned by critics, though many have since achieved “classic” status. Many favorite books were ignored by critics but have ultimately done pretty well, if they had a publisher who believed in them.

Got mediocre or bad reviews -- we loved it

Got mediocre or lousy reviews — we loved it

It’s easy to slam something for its imperfections. It’s harder to find the good and put the less good into perspective. I have wondered why critics are so negative so much of the time. Is is laziness? Are they are just taking the cheap and fast way out? Are they jaded? Do they get paid more for bashing than praising? Are they completely out of touch with the idea that entertainment should be “fun” — and that entertaining fun is a legitimate “good thing” — not to mention that it’s the stuff most of us want from TV, books, and movies?

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

Serenity got tepid or worse reviews. Love it. Of course.

So here’s how it works. I read the review. If the critic totally hates it, I might love it or at least, enjoy it. If they love it, I might enjoy it, but probably won’t. If the words “poignant,” “sensitive,” “heart-rending,” or “artistic” appear up in the review, I’ll probably run screaming from the room.

And then, there are the movies and TV shows about which I have to ask: “Did they actually see this show/read this book — or did they write the review based on a summary provided by the publisher/producer/publicist?” I can’t help but wonder.

IMAGINE – REEL AND REAL – by GARRY ARMSTRONG

IMAGINE is a mind game for people of all ages. You let your mind run free on all things, great and small. It’s fantasy. Stuff you find in day and night dreams. It used to be fodder for columnists on brain freeze days.

For years, I dreamed of being a movie star. I sat in junior and senior high school classes, oblivious to teachers and writing imaginary movie casts that had me top-billed opposite everyone from Clark Gable to John Wayne to Sidney Poitier. My love interests ranged from Greta Garbo to Jean Harlow to Myrna Loy to Lena Horne to Dorothy Dandridge.

My filmography began with “Introducing Garry Armstrong as ____” to my biggest box office film with the marquee showing GARRY ARMSTRONG in “AMERICA’S ICON,” A Garry Armstrong Production.

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Then there was my All-Star baseball career. In those same high school notebooks, I wrote lineups that had me batting between Pee Wee Reese and Duke Snider for my beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. I was the full-time left fielder the Dodgers never could find. Little Sandy Amoros filled in for me during the ’55 World Series to make that amazing catch against Yogi Berra. Dick Young of The New York Daily News wrote a column calling me a credit to my race and a likely successor to Jackie Robinson.

I played “fungo” and shagged flies in the outfield with a young “bonus baby” pitcher named Sandy Koufax. Sandy was very wild but it was obvious he had talent.

Fast forward to the 1970’s. In the real world, I was a young TV news reporter in Boston and becoming something of a local celebrity. It’s easy when you appear on television several times a day. People greet you, shake your hand, and ask for autographs. It wasn’t enough. I still needed my IMAGINE mind game. I used to check myself in the mirror, fully dressed for work. I’d talk to the mirror, chatting with an imaginary TV audience.

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“It’s good to be here”, I told the audience, “Johnny’s not feeling well and the NBC folks asked me to fill in. Anything for my friend, Johnny”. Yes, I was sub-hosting “The Tonight Show.” I absorbed the applause as I headed out the door for the real world TV news room.

These imagined “Tonight” show appearances occurred before Robert DeNiro’s “King of New York” movie. DeNiro’s imagined and delusional TV celebrity was a little too close to home for me. I never watched it again.

Remember I dreamed of becoming a movie star? Delusional, right? My niche as a TV news reporter was rising. I was interviewing and socializing with legendary movie stars like Katherine Hepburn, James Cagney, Charlton Heston, Robert Mitchum, Paul Newman, and Gregory Peck among others. This was real life. It still wasn’t enough.

Robert Redford and an all-star cast were filming “The Great Gatsby” in Newport, Rhode Island. I was assigned to cover the film shoot.

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I was a familiar face in Rhode Island. So people approached me for autographs as I sought interviews with Redford, Mia Farrow, Sam Waterston and other Hollywood stars. It was truly bizarre! Someone dropped my named with an assistant producer and I wound up as a bit player. At nights, after filing my live shots and taped reports, I would imagine myself being promoted from bit player to major star in the movie. After a few drinks, I could swear I had an early call to work with “Bob and Mia”.

I DID have an early call … to do my TV shots on the film production. My imagined self conflicted with my real self as I did the TV live shots.

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It got more confusing when Redford and some of the other movie stars watched as we were doing our TV live shots. I recall “Bob” smiling and giving me a thumbs up after I finished one live shot. A few more drinks sandwiched between the movie and TV work and my days were spinning a bit off kilter. The filming wrapped. The stars went home to Hollywood. My bit part ended up on the cutting room floor, although I think I may have made it in a crowd scene.

Back in Boston, I received lots of attention from friends because of my hobnobbing with the movie people. I think teasing would be closer to the truth. It was business as usual. Murders, fires, politics and perverts to cover for the newscasts.

I had trouble re-kindling my IMAGINE game. There was too much drama going on in the real world.

Garry as moderator on panel for prison reform (2016)

Garry as moderator on panel for prison reform (2016)

Fast forward again into my retirement years. I tried my hand at “background acting” in some major films being shot locally. It was just “extra” work, but some hopefuls like the “background acting” term. Sounds fancier. I briefly imagined myself being discovered as a “mature” movie star. I even mingled with some of the stars in the movies I worked. Once again, all of my scenes ended up on the cutting room floor.

Garry's acceptance speech at Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

Garry’s acceptance speech at Broadcasting Hall Of Fame, September 2013

Finally, the hours and days reminded me too much of my years as a TV news reporter. Too long. I hated getting up early.

I bid adieu to my dreams of movie stardom. I don’t need the IMAGINE game anymore.

PRINCESS LEIA AND THE WOMEN’S MARCH: A FITTING TRIBUTE TO CARRIE FISHER

A fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher.

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A little less than a month ago, on December 27, 2016, actress Carrie Fisher died after suffering a heart attack on a plane. Her death was followed the next day by that of her mother, Debbie Reynolds. The world, especially that part of it which (like me) was brought up on Star Wars as a staple of our pop culture, deeply mourned the loss of the classy lady who not only played Princess Leia in the movies but epitomized her. This article is not an obituary for Carrie Fisher. If you want one of those, I highly recommend the touching piece by the Burning Blogger of Bedlam giving tribute to “the people’s princess.” I loved Princess Leia. You loved Princess Leia. We all admired her courage, determination and grit. Carrie Fisher, who went through a lot of hard knocks in her life, will be greatly missed.

Yesterday (January 21, 2017), the day after the inauguration as President of the United States of a fascistic know-nothing who detests women and just about everybody else, millions of people in the United States and around the world–including even Antarctica!–took to the streets to support women’s rights, feminism, empowerment, diversity and to express in no uncertain terms their opposition to the viewpoints of President Trump. I took part in one of these marches, in Eugene, Oregon. Like everywhere else, the crowds that turned out vastly exceeded what authorities expected. There were (reportedly) 750,000 in Los Angeles and over 1 million in Washington, D.C., dwarfing the tepid and pathetic “crowd” that turned out for Trump’s lackluster inauguration. In Eugene I’m told police expected 1,000 marchers. The number who showed up? Over 10,000.

I was struck, during yesterday’s march, by one recurrent image: the face of Princess Leia as an icon of resistance.

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Carrie Fisher, as she appeared in 2015. Her outspoken views are part of the reason why Princess Leia resonates as a symbol.

I saw Carrie Fisher’s face in a lot of places. Many people, men as well as women, were carrying signs with her picture (one of them is shown at the top of this article). I saw a woman with the symbol of the Rebellion from Star Wars tattooed on her arm, and I saw a man with a patch of the same symbol on the back of his denim jacket. In one of the most touching tweets I saw about the march, Fisher’s Star Wars co-star and friend Mark Hamill referenced Leia as a symbol of women’s empowerment, linking it to Fisher’s own strongly-professed beliefs during her lifetime. His tweet included an image of a woman, evidently from the Los Angeles march, dressed as Princess Leia.

When women’s rights are under attack in real-life America, can a science fiction princess help us defend them?


Complete original post at: Princess Leia and the Women’s March: a fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher.

SOMEDAY, MY …. WILL COME

SOMEDAY | THE DAILY POST


You know the Disney song, right?

“Someday my prince will come” — Snow White sings it to the seven dwarfs in the Disney animated classic from 1937. It was the beginning of serious animation. Who could forget?

When I was learning photography, back in the early 1970s from a friend with a good education in photography and an odd sense of humor, I learned a different set of lyrics. But first … the back story.

For black and white film (it was all film at that point … digital photography was decades in the future) … we did our own developing and printing. The university I had attended — and for that matter, that my friend had also attended — had a dark room which he ran. Whatever photographic work the school needed, he did it. But it left a lot of time for personal projects and having a spacious, well-equipped dark room and laboratory was a dream come true. All I had to supply was paper and chemicals. I learned a huge amount in those few years during which I had access to the facilities.

Color was different. For color work, we were dependent on a (very) few custom photography labs. You could cheap out and drop your film off at the drug store — if you didn’t mind negatives covered with scratches and bad prints on the cheapest paper. If, however you wanted some quality proofs and prints made by hand from negatives properly developed, you needed a trustworthy (expensive) lab. The equipment to develop and print color was too big and too costly for an individual. Oh how times have changed!

Custom labs took a long time. They called themselves “custom” and they really were. They hand developed the negatives and prints, though proofs were generally done by machine unless you specified otherwise. Usually, we order proof sheets and from these, selected the frames we thought were worth blowing up.

Today, you can get amazing, high quality work from laboratories that will take your files over the Internet and mail you prints on paper, wood, canvas, aluminum, or whatever. They will do it quickly and usually at competitive prices. In the old days, custom work was the province of professional photographers. This meant weddings, babies, other events big and small. Also, material for magazines and advertising agencies. Most of the pros used large format cameras which were (still are) so expensive they may cause fainting on the spot.  Like, for example, a Hasselblad, the preferred camera of NASA where the camera body alone costs more than my house …  and don’t even ask about lenses.

Being an amateur, my print orders were never at the head of the queue. So, I’d wait. Sometimes weeks just to get proofs … which would be the first time I even knew if the pictures were good. It was a time of great anxiety.

While we waited, we sang:

“SOMEDAY MY PRINTS WILL COME … Some DAY, my PRINTS will come …”

Eventually, they did.


I love digital cameras.

RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY!

It was the cry of Monty Python’s Knights of the Round Table in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” . They didn’t have horses, but they had coconut shells they could use to make clopping hoof-like sounds.

“Run away, run away!” Ah, how many times has a strategic retreat saved my butt? These days, most of life seems to be in some level of retreat. It’s an admission that mind over matter only takes one so far. At a certain point, matter matters. And it matters more with each passing day.

I leave you with this:

May all your retreats be successful!

RETREAT | THE DAILY PROMPT