REMEMBERING “FAST AL” McNAUGHTON: A NEW ENGLAND TV NEWS LEGEND – Garry Armstrong

Those of you who don’t live in Massachusetts or a neighboring New England state won’t be familiar with Alan “Fast Al” McNaughton. He left us on Sunday, 80 plus years young and a legend in the TV News business for over 50 years at Boston’s Channel 7/WHDH.

“Fast Al” was a Damon Runyon-type character. He loved horse racing and was well known for spreading the green stuff on ponies he was sure would win. More importantly, Al was one of the last of his kind, a TV News photographer who began his career “souping film” in labs long before the advent of electronic newsgathering, tape, and digital editing.

The “Fast Al” label is lore from his “inside knowledge” and tips about horse races, local and national. He was also known for his uncanny ability to sniff out overtime and sweeten his salary. It’s an ability admired by all in the TV news biz.  I met Al when I joined Ch 7 in 1970.

To see a full-size picture and its full caption, click on the actual picture.

PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEORGE RIZER,
BOSTON GLOBE, MEDIA OF BOSTON

I believe he was doing double duty as a film processor and a cameraman. Others filled me in about politicians, crime bosses, historical landmarks and geographical pronunciations. “Fast Al” told me about the local racetracks, the horse owners, trainers, jockeys and, of course, which pony would win at a certain racetrack.

Al was an advisor when I did a Walter Mitty type feature, living a fantasy as a jockey at a popular racetrack.  He made sure I looked the part even if I couldn’t ride well. I was a pilgrim when it came to horses and wagering. Fast Al told me not to worry when he tipped me about a favorite pony and insisted I put down good money on a daily double. Guess what?

The long-shot horse came in first — by a healthy margin. I bought the drinks that night!

Horses aside, Al McNaughton was witness to Massachusetts and New England history dating back over half a century. He was a familiar face at news conferences involving the likes of James Michael Curley, JFK, RFK, Ted Kennedy,  Albert “The Boston Strangler” DiSalvo, Whitey Bulger, Ted Williams, Bobby Orr, “Princess” Cheyenne and the ladies of Boston’s infamous “Combat Zone” and lots more. He frequently was on a first-name basis with many public figures who disdained talking to reporters. On many assignments, Al would break the ice with,  “Governor/ Senator/ Mayor. Garry is a fair reporter. He knows his stuff. You can trust him.”

Al’s word was gold. The lauded Armstrong report was possible only because Al McNaughton vouched for me. He also fed me background with perspective on stories that gave me credibility.

You can’t buy trust with a smile or handshake.

During Boston’s volatile court-ordered school busing years, the region was a tinder box. One errant picture or misquoted interview and the result was disastrous on the local, national, and international stages.  It was like walking on eggshells for those of us on the front line. Al McNaughton with that familiar smile and assurance helped many of us cope with the racial tension. He seemed to glide through angry groups to get the video we needed to tell the story fairly and accurately.

He was calm in the middle of agitated groups who were waiting for a reason to riot. When Al had the video he needed, he’d whisper to some of the community leaders who had no use for the news media. A few would allow us interviews, often looking to Al for assurance. He was a peace broker at a time the TV stations thrived on violent images. A lifetime of trust gave many of us street credibility. You rarely — if ever — heard that mentioned in our reports.

Alan was part of a small, elite group of Boston TV News photographers who would help reporters with words as well as video.  There’s nothing in their IBEW (Union) contract that says they need to do this. It’s an act of kindness, reaching out to those of us frequently praised for our on-camera reports.  Veterans like Al McNaughton were walking nuggets of history.  They were working when the so-called “talent” (mic holders) were in college or just getting started as novices in “the biz”.

I’ve become infamous for my stories about celebrities interviewed across the decades. Hey, it really was a hoot!  What’s not known is that many of those celebrity “sitdowns” only happened because of people behind the camera – local photojournalist legends like Jack Crowley, Nat Whittemore, John Premack, Richard Chase, Richie Suskin, and Al McNaughton to name a few. Frequently, the celebs trusted the people behind the camera more than reporters panting for their gilded time. I plead guilty to hanging on the coattails of the pros who rarely received credit.

Let’s rewind the tape or disc to 30 or 40 years ago. Mickey Rooney was starring in “Sugar Babies” in Boston’s theater district. All the entertainment reporters wanted “their time” with the legendary Hollywood star. I drew the Channel 7 assignment (begging the assignment editor may have helped) for the ‘Andy Hardy’ interview.

Mickey Rooney wasn’t in a cheery Andy Hardy mood when we showed up. As I pondered how to pander, Al McNaughton cornered Mickey Rooney and soon both were laughing like old friends. Mickey was taking notes as Al talked. Yes, Al was giving Mickey, a noted lover of the ponies, some tips on the local horse talent.

Presto! Rooney — smiling broadly — sat for the interview which was smooth and funny without any glitches or retakes. As I checked my notebook, I heard Rooney and Al making plans for an afternoon at one of the local racetracks.

I must’ve been pouting because Al smiled at Mickey, “Hey, Mickey –whadda ya say. Let’s bring the kid with us. He’s okay. Maybe we can educate him a bit.”

My cameraman and the Hollywood legend laughed at me with thumbs up.

All of Al’s ponies did well. Clearly, Rooney was impressed with Fast Al’s tips. Al had a catchphrase: “There goes swifty!” I believe it referred to the professional dog races and the ‘lead’ dog.  The “Swifty” refrain was almost simultaneous with Al’s arrival or exit from scenes. As we left the track that afternoon, Al and Mickey Rooney were yelling, “There Goes SWIFTY!” They were laughing and congratulating each other. I smiled to myself. A typical “Fast Al” day.

You can’t make this stuff up.

I received lots of praise for my Mickey Rooney interview which aired on several newscasts. Critics said I had a clear personal touch with Rooney and the interview avoided familiar, cliche questions. I beamed but knew the credit belonged to Al McNaughton. I have myriad similar stories on my resume.  The praise and awards are always appreciated. But I know I have them because of people like Al McNaughton and his colleagues. Most other veteran reporters would say the same.

“Talent” tends to get the applause and appreciation from viewers, but there’s no story or interview without the savvy and support from old school video newsies like Fast Al McNaughton.

This week we share the memories, the laughter, and awe of more than 50 years in the tumultuous TV News market of Boston. This is when we realize that “Fast Al” McNaughton was unique.  They don’t teach Al’s skills in journalism classes. It’s learned on the street where you need to know how to do the right thing.

Fast Al, here’s looking at you, kid.  May all your ponies come in first!


POSTSCRIPTAl McNaughton’s family requests that memorial contributions be made in Al’s name to The New England Equine Rescue Association.


 

CHARLIE AUSTIN – by Garry Armstrong

Today is Charlie Austin’s Memorial Service. 

I first met Charlie Austin at a pickup basketball game in Boston. It was September evening in Boston, 1970.

I was the new TV news reporter guy in town and I was meeting people, on and off the job. One of the people on my “must meet” list was Charlie Austin. He had the reputation – even back then – as one of Boston’s finest reporters.

I’d seen Charlie on television, doing a sports piece as “Chuck” Austin. I liked his laid back style and deep voice.

I was already jealous of that voice.

“Hi, Chuck”,  I said brightly as the pick up teams chose players. I was on the bench.  Charlie was one of the FIRST picked to play.  My envy grew.

Charlie just stared at me. The poker face, I would learn, was his trademark. I didn’t know and thought I’d committed a social blunder.  I was a little confused.  It was a very long moment before Charlie came over and smiled.

“You a 6th man? Instant offense off the bench,”  he asked with a mischievous grin.  I looked at the floor and told him I was the last man sitting. He patted me on the shoulder and headed off for some serious hoops.

Charles Austin

I sat for most of the first half until the coach/assistant news director signalled me to go in. Charlie Austin grinned slyly as I ran on the court.

I made my first three 20-footers to everyone’s surprise,  especially mine.  Hey, no one was guarding me.  Half-time and everyone gathered for coke and pizza. “Nice shot,”  Charlie said to me,  wolfing down 2 slices in seconds.

I smiled and said,  “Thanks, Chuck.”  His smile turned into a deep frown.

“Don’t call me Chuck,”  Charlie said tersely.  I was confused, which he picked up. “They call me Chuck when I do sports. I hate that name. Hate it!  Okay?”

I nodded and told him I heard Henry Aaron hated being called “Hank” but dealt with it because it was a media thing about which you don’t argue.  Charlie nodded with one of his signature crooked smiles. It was back to the bench for me for most of the 2nd half until we hit “Garbage” time and my on court presence didn’t matter.

I cornered Charlie for a post game snack. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

The next time I saw Charlie Austin it was business.  A too familiar scene for us in the coming years.  A shooting in “The Bury” as Roxbury was known in the media. Roxbury, a predominantly Black Boston neighborhood, had been the focal point of simmering tension and violence for several years since the assassination of Martin Luther king sparked  protests in many minority communities across the country. I’d seen it before during my network tenure.

This was different for me.  New city, new community, new faces. I was very anxious as my crew and I arrived, the last news unit on the scene. I surveyed the crowd, taking in all the faces. Local residents,  police units, clergy, and lots of politicians. I didn’t know anyone.

Charlie Austin spotted me.  He walked over and the eyes of the crowd followed him. Charlie stopped in front of me, small smile and embraced me with a “How ya doing,  Garry?”  I was startled and grateful.

Charlie’s welcome gesture was my entrée to Roxbury and all gathered for the story. We shook hands and Charlie rejoined his TV crew. I knew, from previous experience, not to roll film on the initial speakers.  Politicians with “Kumbaya spins” to the violence, the victims, and the suspects. I glanced at Charlie.  His crew wasn’t filming either.

We exchanged knowing smiles. I essentially followed Charlie’s pursuit of interviews.  It was clear he knew all “the players”. It was a strategy I’d follow for a long time until I became familiar with the city.

I learned on many stories that I’d been successful because I knew Charlie Austin.  He opened doors that were shut to other reporters. When I tried to thank him,  Charlie shrugged it off with that crooked grin.

Charlie knew about my hearing problems. He often would take me aside to make sure I had the correct spelling and pronunciation of people and places.  He did this as we both faced similar deadlines.

Charlie and I saw a lot of each other during the volatile Forced Busing School Desegregation years in Boston. It was a period that tested the mettle of many reporters. Only a handful of journalists had full access to both white and minority communities as Boston found itself under an international spotlight. The 6th largest TV market in the country had very few minority reporters.  You could count us on the fingers of one hand.

A few months ago, former Mayor Ray Flynn noted, in an email exchange, how much he appreciated the efforts of some reporters during that volatile period.  Charlie Austin topped Mayor Flynn’s list. I remember how Charlie handled the most difficult, potentially explosive situations.

Poker faced, with a small smile and a gesture that said, “I’m listening to you.”

Charlie’s humanity defused anger and bitterness on both sides of the issue. He didn’t play “the race card” in his reports. He saw the frustration on the faces of families and understood there was a common quest — regardless of skin color — for quality education. Charlie Austin’s reports, delivered in firm manner minus attitude or political agenda,  set the tone for local reporters. It helped me and others do our jobs.

We gritted our teeth when network reporters swept in, leaned on street optics, did often biased and inaccurate reports and swept out-of-town.  Charlie and the rest of us had to repeatedly clean up the messes.  Charlie led the way with his non theatrical, honest reports. He set the bar for the rest of us.

It was a very high bar.

Charlie’s friendship extended beyond work. He knew I needed something more than the job. He was instrumental in getting me involved with the legendary Elma Lewis and her “Black Nativity”  production which now is part of the fabric of Boston’s Arts and Culture community.  I played one of the three Wise Men for several years.  A short time on stage but it was a wonderful experience for me.  It made me feel like I was part of the community,  thanks to Charlie Austin.

In costume for Black Nativity

Charlie rarely talked about his many health issues.  Others thought of him as heroic but Charlie would not have any of such talk. He did proudly show off pictures of his wife, Linda and daughter, Danielle.  Danielle was the bright light in Charlie’s eyes.  His face always swelled with pride and love.

I wish I’d seen Charlie more often in recent years.  He played such a large part in my life and I never got to thank him properly.

He’s probably listening right now with that crooked grin lighting his face.

“Thanks, CHUCK!”

REPORTS OF MY DEATH

Your Obituary, by Rich Paschall


Taken on ‎September‎ ‎03‎, ‎2012, Viewminder

“Karen Lewis was fearless.” It was the opening line of her obituary on the Chicago Sun-Times  website.  The Chicago Teachers Union President had endured treatment for brain cancer in 2015.  In October of 2017 she had suffered a stroke.  She had surgery for a malignant brain tumor.  Through it all she battled on, and was widely respected for her tenacity and survival.

It was no surprise that her death would highlight the courage of her struggles.  There was just one little problem with the story as was mentioned on Lewis’ Facebook page, “Contrary to an unfortunate slip, I am not dead.”

Yes, the 64-year-old labor leader and brain cancer survivor is alive and living in Chicago.

Did you ever wonder how a periodical could publish a lengthy story on a famous person’s life just moments after they die?  Obituaries for prominent people are usually written before their deaths.  They may be updated from time to time and only need minor edits when a famous person finally goes to the great beyond  (or wherever it is you think people go for an “after life”) .  When celebrities drop dead, it is no time to start researching the details of their lives.  Pre-written obituaries are a common practice.  Publishing them while the person is still alive is not.

Few get to learn of their own death while they are still alive.  Apparently Lewis took the error in good humor.  The obituary, which was online for a few hours, was taken down before Lewis or family members had seen it.  She did learn of the opening line, however.  Apparently believing the long time Chicago publication would have to say nice things of the dead, Lewis commented, “I think it’s a mitzvah…but I’m not sure it’s true.”


“James Ross Clemens, a cousin of mine, was seriously ill two or three weeks ago in London, but is well now. The report of my illness grew out of his illness.  The report of my death was an exaggeration.”  – Mark Twain


While Mark Twain was on a world speaking tour in 1897, a London-based reporter was sent learn of the condition of Twain’s health.  If Twain was dead, the reporter, Frank Marshall White, should send back 1000 words to the New York Journal.  If alive, apparently 500 words would do.  Meanwhile, according to legend, one paper had indeed printed an obituary for Twain.  Was the great American humorist amused by this?


White wrote an article that appeared in the NY Journal in June of 1897.  In part he said:

“Mark Twain was undecided whether to be more amused or annoyed when a Journal representative informed him today of the report in New York that he was dying in poverty in London …” 


Twain had sent back in writing what is now an often misquoted response.  Twain’s hand-written response is restated above.

What if your obituary appeared online?  What would it say?  Would it recount that you are “fearless?”  Would it see you as a great humorist?  Would it recount the highlights of your life?  Or would there be little to say?  Would anything written be supplied by relatives after your death?

If someone was charged with writing a thousand words about your life, and you could read them now, how would this influence you?  If the words were kind and encouraging, would this lead you to a better life?  Would you try to live up to the words someone was about to supply upon your death?  Would you try to have all the qualities relayed about you?  Would you try to build on that legacy?

What if the words were not at all flattering?  Would that inspire you to change your ways?  Would you have a Scrooge-like awakening and live a better life?  Would you be more kind?  More generous?  More loving?

We probably do not think much about our own obituaries.  Those who do not have much public standing in the community will not get much more than the standard newspaper notice that includes a list of relatives and the time of funeral services.  But what if you have a little bit of notoriety?  Do you care what is written as your legacy when you are gone?  What influence would there be on your life if you could read your obituary as it would be published today?

Even without online or social media notices, or publication in the local or national newspapers, we will all get an obituary, so to speak, in eulogies at funerals or memorial services.  If these do not exist for you (and why not?) then there are the comments of your family and friends when they gather to honor your memory.  If cousin Lewis is likely to sing your praises, having been a drinking buddy and travel companion, Aunt Bertha might just come along and upset the gladioli cart with her honest opinions of your character.

Your homework assignment before we convene here again next Sunday is to write your obituary.  Pick out the highlights and significant life events.  Write it all down. Is that really what someone would write in your obituary?  Seriously?  If it is not exactly what you want, dear Ebenezer, it may not be too late to change, as the report of your death has been grossly exaggerated.

Sources:
“Reports of Mark Twain’s Quip about his death…” thisdayinquotes.com May 31, 2015
“Karen Lewis See Funny Side Of Her Erroneously Published Obituary,” ChicagoTribune.com January 8, 2018

 

THE PASSING OF MARILYN BAKER

Read the Obituary and view the Guest Book, leave condolences or send flowers.

Marilyn J. Baker Salisbury-Marilyn Jean Baker died Saturday, May 30, 2015, at Coastal Hospice at the Lake in Salisbury, Maryland, at the age of 83. Marilyn Jean Orlebeke was born August 31, 1931

Source: www.legacy.com

Marilyn was my friend. One of the few people I’ve ever known to whom I would give the title “great.” She was smart, funny, patient, and the only person I ever knew who didn’t just say she was a Christian, but really was, body and soul.

Her broad-reaching intelligence made her a wonderful conversationalist. She had a quick grasp of concepts, a powerful sense of outrage over injustice, and a willingness to change her mind when it seemed appropriate. I though she could never grow old.

I loved our breakfasts together where we talked for half a day at a time. These events became increasingly rare as both of us were impeded by ailing bodies. We kept in touch as well as we could. Garry and I visited Marilyn and John in their home when we could and went out to dinner whenever we could arrange it.

M's 60th-008

She was deeply compassionate, not just talking about fixing what is wrong with the world, but doing as much as she was able. It was a dark day when she and John left the Valley. I will never have another friend like Marilyn.

In so many ways, she was the me I wished I was. Be at peace Marilyn, my friend. I will never forget you.

See on Scoop.itIn and About the News

HOW MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS SCREWED THE POOCH

DAILY PROMPT – In Loving Memory – Write your obituary? Say what? I don’t think so. I’m not up for the Daily Downer. So instead, let’s do some history, shall we? As usual, there will be a short quiz at the end of the period.


Mary Queen of Scots did everything wrong from the get go. Some of it wasn’t her fault … she was too young to have much say in the matter, after all … but even after she knew her own mind, she always seemed to make the worst possible choice in every situation. She lost her head, though many felt it was too little, too late. Nor was it an unusual fate in her family where getting beheaded was a more common cause of death than liver disease from excessive alcohol consumption.

As a toddler, she was betrothed to the French Dauphin and in due time, married King Francis II of France. He was a child king and she a child bride. He didn’t live to adulthood, leaving Mary a very wealthy and insanely eligible widow. She was next hitched — by all accounting of her own choice — to Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley. He was a total jerk, but was descended from the Plantagenet lines and himself in line for the English throne. Upon which no one wanted to see him sit except a few drinking buddies.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

He was a complete asshat — drunken, cruel, probably syphilitic — but handsome. Pretty is as pretty does. The relationship between he and Mary deteriorated immediately, to no one’s surprise. Shortly thereafter, Hank Stuart was murdered

“No, no, I had nothing to do with it, I swear,” said Mary, but no one believed her, probably because she was lying. She didn’t kill him with her own hands. Queens don’t do that. She had Bothwell do it for her. And then married Bothwell a month later. Sneaky.

"Mary Stuart Queen" by François Clouet

“Mary Stuart Queen” by François Clouet

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, was believed (with good reason) to have “taken care” of Darnley on behalf of his Queen. Like most rich people accused of murder, he was acquitted in April 1567. When Mary married him in May, pretty much everybody thought it was a bad idea. Especially Elizabeth I, in Merry Olde England. Mary was her heir, but she thought Mary should not try to get to the throne while Elizabeth was still sitting on it.

Mary just didn’t have  … what do you call it? Oh, right. Brains. Commonsense. She couldn’t for a single minute stop plotting and trying to overthrow cousin Liz. And then Liz got all pissy about it and Mary lost her head.

What a tragedy! Well, maybe not a tragedy exactly. Despite it being a major personal loss for Mary and the hottest scandal of the century, it was no loss to the world. The Stuarts were a nasty bunch, right down to and including Bonnie Prince Charlie who gathered the clans for one last glorious battle then abandoned them to be slaughtered. What a guy!

This is my favorite part. Mary was not beheaded with a single strike. The first blow missed her neck and struck the back of her head. The second blow severed her neck, except for a bit of sinew, which the executioner cut with the ax. When he held her head aloft and declared, “God save the Queen,” her hair came off in his hand. A wig, it turned out. Her head fell to the ground and rolled some distance, revealing Mary’s short, grey hair. Mary’s little dog — a Skye terrier — had been hiding in her skirts. After Mary’s execution, the little dog was covered in blood and had to be removed from the scene and washed. Yuk.

Now that is a death scene to remember. Have a great day!

REMEMBERING GRANDMA KRAUS – GARRY ARMSTRONG

My mother died 7 years ago this month. It’s always fresh in my mind. I was sub teaching at our local High School. I kept thinking I should continue the history class after being informed of Mom’s passing. I was numb. Seven years later, I still really haven’t cried.

We received word a short time ago that Grandma Kraus died today. She wasn’t my grandmother but I called her Grandma as did many others. Muriel, as family and close friends called her, would have been 104 tomorrow. Just last night, Marilyn and I were talking about family and how Grandma Kraus might outlive all of us.

Kraus Family, Machias 2004

Kraus Family, Machias 2004

Her grandson, Owen, received the news by phone just as he was getting ready to go to work. His biggest concern before taking the call was coping with yet more falling snow on our already hazardous roads. Owen and his family live downstairs in our house so I saw his face when I stomped in from the snow. He repeated the message because I’m practically deaf. I heard him the first time but didn’t believe the news.  Sandy, Owen’s Wife, came in and hugged him. I waited a moment and also hugged him. He didn’t pull away. He just cried softly. I think Sandy called Owen’s boss to explain what had happened and that Owen might not be in for work.

I didn’t know Grandma Kraus as well as other family members and close friends. I hadn’t seen her in years. But every year of our marriage, Marilyn and I have been remembered with cards and very thoughtful gifts from Grandma Kraus.

“You can call me Muriel”,  the elegant lady told me during my first visit to her home more than 50 years ago. She could have been that elegant character actress Gladys Cooper. Matter of fact, she WAS the real life version of the legendary actress. Muriel was my best friend,  Jeff’s mom. She made me feel comfortable. No small task back in those days. She approved of what she called my good manners and seemed very pleased that I was her son’s best friend. She confided that she didn’t think highly of many of Jeff’s friends. It’s a good thing Muriel didn’t know about some of the social habits that forged my friendship with her son. I was invited back to the Kraus home several times with Muriel apparently telling Jeff to make sure I knew I was very welcome. Jeff always seemed surprised his mother liked me. So did I.

Over the years, Muriel stayed in touch with Mother, sending her elegant, hand written letters. I found one or two of the letters after Mom died. Muriel had followed my career and told Mother how proud she was of me. I was surprised. I’m not sure Muriel shared those same sentiments with Jeff who mentored many people including me.

My last visit with Muriel is a bit hazy. It was years ago after Muriel and her daughter, Gail, had moved to a very small town in northern Maine. Muriel must’ve been in her late 80’s or early 90’s. She was still very, very spry and busy in the kitchen. Her hearing was on the wane which made for great conversation as I tweaked my hearing aids to chat with her. Muriel asked about my family, remembering almost all of them. I helped set the table for one meal and caught Muriel smiling at me. “You still have good manners, Garry”. I blushed and Muriel’s smile grew bigger.

Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant

Truly one the greatest of the greats. I remember “The Show of Shows” when I was a kid. From that show came more giants — Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Woody Allen — to name a few.

Mikes Film Talk

Sid Caesar the Curtain Closes on a Comedy Giant

Sid Caesar is dead at 91 and the curtain has softly closed on a comedy giant. Although giant is perhaps not a large enough term to refer to a legendary figure who, through his live comedy programs, seemed to have invented the forerunner to the TV sitcom. The comic, and comedic genius, had been ill for a year before his death on Wednesday February 12. Stars and other comic icons have come forward to speak of their sorrow at the trial blazer’s death and also to talk of his ability to connect with audiences in a way that made them “roar with laughter.”

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