I'm sure many in the Twin Cities who saw the words, "Je suis Charlie" emblazoned in bright white lights just below the top of Paris's Arc de Triomphe the night of the Charlie Hebdo massacre may have developed lumps in their throats, but obviously for very bittersweet reasons. For those unaware, the founders of the magazine Charlie Hebdo named the Charlie part of the magazine name after Charlie Brown, created, as the world knows, by Saint Paul. Minnesota, native Charles Schulz for his iconic comic strip, PEANUTS.
I have a feeling Mr. Schulz, had he still been alive, would have had mixed emotions about everything connected with the horrific massacre of the Charlie Hebdo staff. One can only surmise he might have been glad the founders chose to acknowledge Charlie Brown, albeit for a magazine that juxtaposed the wholesomeness of Mr. Schulz's primary strip character with a lot that was less wholesome, but also, of course, aghast at the audacious attack on free speech and freedom of the press that resounded around the world with Charlie's name attached, sadly taking journalistic lives in the process.
I think it's sometimes good to reflect that occasionally, from humble beginnings, giant respected oak trees grow from the acorns planted by their fertile minds. Such, in my opinion, was (and is) the case for Charles Schulz and all his universally-beloved characters.
Although it's miniscule compared to last week's atrocities, my wife and I felt the sting of radicals when I was robbed in broad daylight on the Paris subway in the summer of 1996. We were staying at a hotel near La Madeleine, an impressive Catholic church in the Fifth Arrondissement. Around noon during one of the days of our stay, I suggested we visit The Louvre, just one subway (metro) stop away from our hotel. My wife had never been to The Louvre. I'd been there several times throughout the years and knew she would enjoy the experience. When we got into the subway car, because it was only one stop until we'd exit, I decided to stand holding a pole in the center of the car, but adjacent to the door. From out of nowhere, I felt someone grabbing my right ankle, laying on the subway car floor and pounding on my leg. He was dressed in white coveralls and obviously looking for a leg-wallet to steal. I looked at my wife on the other side of the car and she was being held in abeyance by another man also dressed in white coveralls. We were both distracted, to say the least, and everyone standing and seated just looked at what was happening, all with serious faces, but no one attempting to stop the insanity. When the buzzer sounded to signal the closing of the doors, the man holding my wife at bay ran across the car and got out, but the fellow who had been pounding my ankle just barely made it out through the closing doors, being pulled to the platform by yet another fellow in white coveralls. I thought, "What was that?", then, as the train began to move, I felt my right front pants pocket, where I always keep my wallet, and the pocket was empty. Obviously, the thieves' distraction worked. Luckily, I had also worn a tummy-wallet, in which I had stored my passport, driver's license, all my cash and a couple extra credit cards. The thieves only got away with other credit cards.
Needless to say, my wife and I got off at The Louvre stop and never went to The Louvre that day, but instead got on the next train back to our original stop and searched for the stolen wallet. Because of fear of bombs being placed in the subway stations then (and now) all the waste receptacle boxes had been sealed shut, thus we looked everywhere else...even looking down onto the tracks...but no wallet.
We went to the subway station kiosk and told the person in the booth what had happened. He said he was sorry and guided us to the U.S. Consulate, just two blocks away. During the seven hours it took to call the credit card companies (including also walking to the nearby American Express office to get a replacement card immediately), one of the ladies working at the Consulate told us the following: She was a French national but said she was so embarrassed by the fact that occurrences such as ours were happening in Paris at least a hundred times a day. I described those who had robbed us and she said they were North Africans, from Tunisia or Algeria, who actually attended schools teaching their students how to lift wallets without being discovered. She said they wore little bells on their wrists while in thievery school and if the bells rang while stealing a practice wallet, they would fail the test. Lovely (not).
Regardless, we continued on our trip the next day, away from Paris. When we returned to the U;S. a few days later, I was told only one of the credit cards stolen had been attempted to be used and immediately swallowed by the machine into which it was inserted by the thief.
Possible moral of this story, in my opinion: Unjustified violence and unspeakable occurrences perpetrated against the innocent have been going on for eons, regardless of country or century. The Charlie Hebdo maniacy was an ugly reminder, triggering the unpleasant personal memories above-described, but, stated by one who is of half-French descent, enveloped within a city that is still among the world's most special.
Thank you, as always, for taking the time to read these geezer thoughts, et, vraiment, je suis Charlie, aussi.
New Year's Eve, for many of us who remember Guy Lombardo's orchestra's annual iconic rendition of "Auld Lang Syne", first on radio, then on television from the late 1940s onward, this evening most always conjures a mix of melancholy and mirth. In my opinion, and the opinions of many of us living in advanced years, the melancholy of New Year's Eve is being reminded yet another year has passed, along with many of our friends and some relatives. The mirth arises when that ball drops atop the former Times Building at the south end of Times Square and optimism for a fresh start in a new year reigns. Having written in this space once (last year) about my two New Year's Eve's among those in the crowd in Times Square, circa 1953 and 1954, at ages 16 and 17, respectively, I can assure you survival was more on one's mind than mirth, but it was, let's face it, bizarre fun, at the very least.
REMEMBERING: To add to this day's melancholy, the literally millions of listeners, including yours truly, who looked forward to Joyce Lamont's first-class radio broadcasts on WCCO, and then KLBB, learned the sad news of her passing two days ago, at age 98. She was broadcasting quality and warmth personified. Her reassuring voice and delivery, from the heart, without ego, were perpetual reminders there was still dignity afloat, deservedly propelling Joyce to the top of the popularity charts. Not bad for a girl who was a radio commercial and promotional writer and didn't ever want to be on the air, but we're so glad her WCCO bosses recognized the warmth and charm in her voice and convinced her to convey that to millions of listeners for decades. I met Joyce in person only once, very briefly, but for all of us who had the joy to experience the quality of her on-air work, I think it would be safe to surmise she was considered a personal friend of every listener. Blessings to one who blessed us with her talents.
HOLIDAY COMMERCIALS: Mirth might not accurately describe the fact several of this year's television commercials were once again relying on older music "standards" as either a direct part of the message or in the background, and, if not mirth, they brought smiles. Target chose "It's A Marshmallow World" for their holiday theme. The first spots this year stuck to the original sound and tempo. Subsequent spots were "jazzed-up" to the degree one could barely understand the words or legitimately identify the music. Regardless, those latter "jazzed up" choices obviously didn't hurt Target's bottom line, garnering their highest share prices ever, announced yesterday, happily vindicating the locally-based corporation's temporarily-damaged image the past few months.
One commercial that struck close to "home" for me was Apple's brilliant choice (in my opinion) to use the last song George Gershwin composed, i.e., "Our Love Is Here To Stay". For over 30 years, I had the honor and privilege to share social and professional times with Frances Gershwin, George, Ira and Arthur Gershwin's sister. She allowed me to interview her for a documentary I co-produced in 1998. I still have the videotape. When I entered her apartment in the upper 70s just east of Madison Avenue, the music playing on the stereo was "Our Love Is Here To Stay". I told Frankie (that's what she liked to be called) I knew that was George's final composition. She told it was her favorite because of that sad fact. Hearing and seeing the song so tenderly presented on the Apple commercial brought even more warmth and dignity to this holiday season for many of us who still remember gentler times in the midst of these times less gentle. "Frankie" passed away in 1999, but had she been alive this season, she would have appreciated that lovely commercial, too. as well as those who had the class to conceive it.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these geezer thoughts. I hope you and yours have the best year ever, starting tomorrow.
Once again, whether a curse or blessing, my memory bank has recently been triggered regarding very special people I've been blessed to know and with whom I was blessed to share personal times, thus motivating me to want to share those times with you, once again. Hopefully, those memories will continue to activate a pleasant reaction or two during these very unpleasant times.
I LOVE LUCY's CANDY FACTORY SCENE - Among those I was blessed to get to know during my more active documentary production years were I LOVE LUCY's co-writers, Madelyn Pugh Davis and Bob Carroll, Jr. They had written several sitcoms before and after their long tenure with Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Madelyn and Bob agreed to have me interview them for a documentary I wrote and produced in 1998-99, entitled TELEVISION: THE FIRST FIFTY YEARS. One of the questions I asked was how they conceived the idea to have Lucy and Ethel (the latter portrayed by actress Vivian Vance, of course) work at a candy factory. They told me Desi decided Lucy and Ethel should have a job for the following week's episode, so whatever Madelyn and Bob decided it would be would be the job Lucy and Ethel would have. Madelyn and Bob told me they had to come up with an idea rapidly, thus decided they'd look in the Yellow Pages and whatever category appeared on the page to which they first turned would be the determining factor for the "job" Lucy and Ethel would have. They said the first page to which they turned showed CANDY MANUFACTURING and that's how Lucy and Ethel personed that assembly line, later voted television's all-time most memorable scene. Bob and Madelyn also told me they contacted a well-known candy factory based near LAX to advise how to manufacture and stage the conveyor belt's movement. Knowing what they'd told me about the birth of that classic scene always makes watching it even more special. As many of you may know, WCCO-TV aired it again last night as part of CBS-TV's annual Christmas tribute to LUCY.
A CHRISTMAS STORY", BEFORE IT WAS COMPLETED: One of the more memorable breakfasts of my life involved re-connecting with writer, raconteur, radio personality and all 'round genius Jean Shepherd, writer and narrator of the classic holiday film, A CHRISTMAS STORY (now adapted as a stage play entitled A CHRISTMAS STORY, THE MUSICAL, as Twin Cities theatre-goers are currently aware). The re-connection took place in the dining room of Cleveland's Bond Court Hotel in the summer of 1981. I was there as a delegate to one of our broadcast union's annual national conventions, as First Vice President of the Detroit Local of AFTRA, a year before I moved back to the Twin Cities. When I entered the dining room, I recognized Jean Shepherd sitting alone at a table near the entrance. I had the privilege to meet and get to know Jean during one of my teenage years, i.e., 1956, when I was honing some broadcasting skills at WOR in New York, thanks to one of that station's great radio personalities named Phil Tonken, a mentor and friend to me for many years hence. Regardless, I re-introduced myself to Jean and he invited me to sit with him for breakfast. He asked me how the broadcast career was going and I told him. Then I asked what he was doing. He said he was writing a screenplay about his youth in that part of the country, and was thinking of entitling it A CHRISTMAS STORY or CHRISTMAS MEMORIES. I said it sounded like a great premise, and that was that. I'm glad he chose to entitle it A CHRISTMAS STORY. When it hit the theaters in 1983, it was fun to remember being with him during its creation. (Jean was born in Chicago, but spent most of his youth in nearby Hammond, Indiana. Hammond was home to more than one well-known broadcaster, another whose friendship I was blessed to have during my D.C. television days, named Frank Reynolds. Frank's wife's name was Henrietta, and at social events, even as serious-minded as Frank was, he always enjoyed identifying themselves as Frank and "Hank" Reynolds.)
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these geezer memories, with best thoughts to you and yours, always.
A lifelong friend in Pittsburgh who reads these geezer thoughts reminded me yesterday she hadn't seen my blog-ravings recently, thus I thought it might be wise to scribe again, asap! My brief self-imposed "hiatus" in this blog space had nothing to do with today's blog topics, below. As I've noted here previously, and somewhat germane to the "hiatus", when I asked the late Chet Huntley if he missed the news business, he said, "Oh, God, no. The news is coming in such big chunks these days it would be overwhelming to try to determine what would be the lead story". Chet stated that during one of the KSTP-TV SKI SCENE programs on which I was proud to have him as a guest and interviewee. The tape still exists. Thanks to Tom Oszman's TCMEDIANOW archives, anyone with access to the Internet can watch the interview in its entirety.
Regardless, I hope at least one of today's topics will strike a responsive chord and all very divorced from the more prevalent news of the day, to wit:
NEAR-DEATH EXPERIENCES, INCLUDING MINE - This morning, ABC-TV's GOOD MORNING AMERICA featured a story about a woman who clinically died and came back to life. She said part of her temporary death experience was witnessing a blindingly bright white light illuminating her vision during that period of time. For those who've never experienced anything like that, I can attest it can happen. It happened to me the night of August 4, 1968, in my room at Sunrise Hospital in Las Vegas. I had been hospitalized there a month earlier, after having contracted Valley Fever (97 percent fatal), encephalitis and meningitis, thanks to breathing in dust from a dust storm through which I drove near Modesto, California, in The San Joaquin Valley, on my way to a business trip in San Francisco in late June that year. I knew I had a high fever when I asked to be admitted to the hospital July 4th, but had no idea it was Valley Fever (named after The San Joaquin Valley) and was/is a fatal and incurable disease, mostly contracted by migrant workers working in newly-developed agricultural fields. (The disease is also prevalent in Arizona's Salt River Valley.) I actually didn't know I had it until after I was ready to be discharged from the hospital and my doctor then told me. He had recognized it the first few minutes I had been admitted but chose to not tell me in order to keep my spirits as positive as they could be. Regardless, I had never thought about death, especially MY death, prior to that August night (one night prior to my 31st birthday). Shortly after my head hit the pillow that night, I began to go to sleep, but during that early sleep period, a blinding white light engulfed all of my vision in what appeared to be a long tunnel. Far in the distance, at the end of the tunnel, were at least five human figures diffused in a shadowy-gray hue (the color of the long robes they were wearing), beckoning me to come to them. I remember repeating often to myself, and to the figures, "No. I don't want to die. It's not my time. No. Please, no.". Then the light began to slowly fade, as did the characters in the distance, and I went to sleep. The next morning, a nurse took one of the every-other-day spinal taps I'd been receiving for a month. A half hour later, the doctor, named Norman Venger, told me all signs of meningitis and encephalitis had disappeared. He didn't say anything about the Valley Fever (cocsidiomicosis in medical terminology), but did say I was free to go home the next day. Two weeks later, in a post-hospital visit with Dr. Venger, I related to him the story I just wrote regarding the clinical or near-death experience I'd had. He then told me he'd heard of people wishing death away and apparently I'd been successful in that regard. SIDEBAR: Upon discharge, when I went to pay the hospital bill, the cashier told me I didn't owe anything because "Mr. Hughes has paid the entire bill". It was Howard Hughes, my boss at that time, who owned the television station for which I was then working ((KLAS-TV, Channel 8)). There are people still alive (in Oakland, California, Omaha, Nebraska and Colorado Springs, Colorado) who were there when it happened and know this is all true. Seeing the GMA story this morning triggered my decision to relate this personal parallel experience to emphasize coming back to life, or refuting death...at least temporarily...can really happen.
PREMATURE WINTERS - They've happened before and they'll happen again. I think at least one word sums it up for a lot of us: Yuck! (Except for those who make their livelihoods operating and managing our local ski areas. Their one word might be Hooray!, justifiably so.)
IMDb - If anyone accesses that site about people who are or have been in the film industry as actors, actresses, producers, directors, etc.,, I'm listed. Nice to be listed, but incorrect information I've been asking IMDb to correct via their correction site, for at least five years, hasn't resulted in the correction. The correction needed is the listing of the city of my birth. IMDb lists it as New York, NY. Wrong. It's (proudly) Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (West Penn Hospital), that should be listed, as that's what it is! Glad you can at least see it here!
Thanks for taking the time to read these disparate, but not desperate, scribblings. Happy pre-winter.
One of Joan's favorite questions, after delivering a possibly inappropriate joke, was "Too soon?" Those last two words, in my opinion, describe her passing today. Too soon. I had the pleasure to first meet Joan in early 1968, just before she gave birth to daughter Melissa. She was headlining at The Riviera in Las Vegas and was a guest on one of the talk shows at our station, then with the call letters KSHO-TV (Channel 13). It was a cold early January day (Yes, it sometimes gets VERY cold in Las Vegas in January), and Joan entered the studio bundled in a heavy coat, accompanied by her husband, Edgar. The talk show on which she appeared was THE JOE DELANEY SHOW, hosted by my friend and Channel 13/Las Vegas SUN colleague,of the same name.
Joe had been manager of The Dukes of Dixieland, and an A&R (advance PR) man for RCA records. He was a New Orleans native, justifiably admired by every star who ever appeared on The Strip and downtown. Joan was one of those who admired ("loved") Joe, thus the appearance, even just three weeks prior to giving birth to Melissa. About fifteen minutes before her appearance, she, Edgar and I chatted during that time. Her demeanor was uproariously frenetic, the signature part of her personality, but far from rude. I was lucky enough to have conversations with Joan prior to and after her several appearances on Joe's show during the following two years, until I left Las Vegas for KSTP-TV in November, 1970. Joan was truly warm and the antithesis of her nightclub act, but that "act" was reflective of Joan's strength to just "go for it", regardless of traditional propriety, and Brava to her for so doing.
The next time we were actually scheduled to be together was in Washington, D.C. She was doing her act in suburban Maryland and was slotted to appear on my WJLA-TV evening weathercast, in studio, one night prior to her opening night, but a major thunderstorm flooded streets that evening and she was unable to make the weathercast. A few days afterward, I received a fun 8 X 10 photo from, and picturing, Joan, on which she wrote: "Dear Barry: I promise to be on your weathercast sometime in the future, if it doesn't rain!" She signed it and it's hanging on one of my basement walls.
We kept in touch occasionally thereafter, but had a wonderful in-person reunion for a few minutes of reminiscing in her dressing room at Mystic Lake when she appeared there last year. I reminded her of our "Joe Delaney days" in Las Vegas. She said, "Oh, I LOVED Joe. Those were the best days ever. And those of us who were starring on The Strip actually had coffee together often, after our respective shows, in some quiet little coffee shop. It's so sad those days are gone". Eye-and-earwitnesses to the conversation were one of my granddaughters (Maritsa, now in her late 20s) and her husband. My granddaughter idolized Joan and was devastated regarding today's sad news.
There's speculation among some friends with whom I spoke this afternoon that had she survived the horrific consequences of the throat procedure, she would not have been happy to be limited in performance energy. Joan even indicated that to Tavis Smiley on a recent television interview with him. She said she wanted to "die on stage, but only if the show was more than half over so Melissa would be able to receive the performance check". Joan also said on that program if the family knew she'd live life as a "vegetable" following some unforeseen life-threatening occurrence, she'd want them to "pull the plug", right away. That sadly became a self-fulfilled prophecy.
Her often irreverent, but always irrepressible stream-of-consciousness, free association, quick-on-the-trigger mind was a characteristic of her natural genius. She was also, when not doing her act or on television as a guest or hostess, as warm, caring, philanthropic and deeply analytical about life and living as anyone could ever be. It was an honor and privilege to have occasionally experienced personal times with that truly wonderful lady. She was the best and broke the glass ceiling for comediennes. Her passing is tough to swallow.
Thanks for taking the time to read these thoughts and memories and allowing me to share.