JIM LANGE - It was personally sad to learn St. Paul native, Jim Lange, passed away at his home in Mill Valley, CA, this past Tuesday. I was excited when, as Entertainment Editor for KARE-11 in the early-to- mid-1980s, the station had me do a series of features spotlighting famous celebrities who were Minnesota-born. One of them was Jim Lange. I was especially excited because I and some broadcast colleagues had collectively heard him pull a stunt on KGO radio in San Francisco we thought was a classic (which it was), but also got him fired the next day, to wit: In 1958, after one of my TV weather broadcasts in Missoula, MT, I invited some station colleagues to my apartment for snacks. One of the colleagues, named Bob Conger, was from San Jose and said he liked to listen every possible weeknight after work to Jim Lange, labeled "The All-Night Mayor of San Francisco", on KGO radio in that city. KGO's reach was similar to WCCO's here, i.e., all over the map. Conger asked if we could listen, and I responded in the affirmative (and even said "Yes"!) :) That night was Jim's last on the air at KGO, which, of course, we, and Jim, didn't know would be the case. It was his last night because he played and re-played the song "The Witch Doctor" over and over for at least three hours, saying, "Let's hear that again!", and spin it he would. We all thought it was great hearing "Oo-ee-ooh-ah-ah,ting-tang, walla-walla-bing-bang" incessantly, but apparently the KGO bosses didn't think lightly of it, and that was the end for Jim on KGO. When I met Jim for the KARE-11 interview at his home (in an L.A. suburb, at that time), the preceding story was the first thing I told him, prior to our interview. He said he loved it, and getting fired from KGO actually became a blessing in later years, because it freed him to eventually host "The Dating Game", for which he became most famous nationally, and internationally. His home was as warm and welcoming as Jim's personality, with three or four orange trees in the back yard, from one of which he gave the producer and me some sample oranges. It was a great couple hours. Jim still has relatives here. Condolences to them and all who had the privilege to enjoy his genuine warmth and great sense of humor. Wonderful man.
DELMER DAVES - Somewhat relevant to this Oscar weekend, and his films nominated for at least three, one who kindly took me under his wing for almost 14 years was Jack Warner's favorite Director, Delmer Daves. Mr. Daves told me he was the only Director Jack Warner ever signed to a lifetime, no-cut, contract. Del, as he liked to be called, also told me he gave several future stars their first parts, not the least of whom were Suzanne Pleshette, Debra Paget, Troy Donahue and John Forsythe, the latter in DESTINATION TOKYO, circa 1943. Del was also a brilliant screenwriter. He told me he and actor Ward Bond, close friends in their fledgling Hollywood years, as actors, once flipped a coin to determine who would pursue only acting and who would become a Director. Obviously, Bond won the toss and became one of film and television's most revered and durable actors. Television's WAGON TRAIN should strike a familiar chord vis-a-vis Mr. Bond. Other personal memories of my privileged times with Delmer Daves surfaced several weeks ago when TCM aired the film BROKEN ARROW, directed by Mr. Daves, which starred, among others, Jimmy Stewart and Jeff Chandler (nee Ira Grossel). When I saw the opening title on screen, it evoked an appreciative smile, reminding me I had seen that very piece of opening title stretched-deerskin affixed with the title, in person, masking the opening of the fireplace in Director Delmer Daves's West Los Angeles home office the first time I visited him there (107 North Bentley Avenue, three blocks east of the 405 and second house from the corner, on the left, north of West Sunset Boulevard). BROKEN ARROW was one of his favorites, although he didn't write it, because he had spent several years in his youth living among the Hopi and Navajo in Northern Arizona. It was the first of many times I'd visit with him in that wonderfully-rich-in-film-history office, Proving not all of Hollywood's elite are unapproachable, Mr. Daves was the ultimate opposite, and I was privileged to have his kind and genuine friendship from 1963 until his passing in 1977. How it happened: When working for KID-TV and KID-AM/FM in Idaho Falls, Idaho, from 1960 until 1965, as weatherman, kids show and talk show host, I was assigned in the spring of 1963 to get as many interviews as I could during the press conference and premiere week for the film SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN, directed and co-written by Delmer Daves, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where it was filmed and just a two-hour drive from Idaho Falls. After the press conference, Del asked if someone would have the time to be his driver during the week. I volunteered. It was smart (one of the few times in my life I'd made a good decision) because it also allowed me exclusive and lengthy interview times with Maureen O'Hara, Henry Fonda, James MacArthur, Bronwyn FitzSimons (Maureen O'Hara's daughter) and others. I still have the reel-to-reel audio tapes of those interviews, as they were done for radio. In addition, because of my association Mr. Daves, "the boss", I was the only "outsider" invited to a private party that week with the preceding list in attendance, at Laurance Rockefeller's house in Jackson Hole. Art Linkletter, with whom I'd spent significant time in previous years and about whom I've written here before, and his HOUSE PARTY announcer, Jack Slattery, were also in attendance. It was the most lavish spread anyone could ever imagine, but suffice it to say, a very special afternoon and evening, especially during a conversation with Mr. Fonda. At the conslusion of that special week, Del told me to keep in touch and visit whenever in the L.A. area. I did. He also knew I'd started part of my eclectic career as an actor, and during one visit told me when he directed DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, starring Victor Mature (a sequel to THE ROBE), that Mature wasn't fond of animals, thus refused to be close to any of the lions, even though caged. (I don't blame him!) During that visit, which included his wife Mary, he said he'd be willing to give me a screen test at Warner Bros., surmising I'd make a great Middle Eastern-type villain. That was in the autumn of 1976. He said because of schedules, if I could wait a few months, I'd be on the docket for the test by Autumn, 1977. Del passed away the following summer and the test apparently wasn't meant to be, but the memories of time spent with him are among those for which I'm most grateful. Apologies for the details and length of this segment, but hopefully fun for those of you who are film fans. (Sidebar: Del's works are now a major part of his alma mater's archives at Stanford University. Because of his years with the Hopi and Navajo, and his knowledge of my fondness for the American West, he recommended I subscribe to the magazine of the same name, THE AMERICAN WEST, in the 1960s. I did, and for any U.S. Western history aficionado, those magazines were the creme-de-la-creme, but, sadly, no longer published. I still have every one of them and remember why.)
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these geezer memories, hopefully occasionally relevant additions to your day or evening. Next time: Sid Caesar.For now, forward, March!
Apologies for the repetition, but as I've previously occasionally referenced in this space, the late Chet Huntley told me, on camera, during one of my three SKI SCENE interviews with him on Channel 5 in 1973, he was happy to be out of the news business because it was coming in such "big chunks". In my opinion, this has been one of the weeks Chet would have put in the "big chunks" category, from the possible problems in Sochi, to worsening crises in Syria and The Sudan and so much more, globally. The domestic news hasn't been that uplifting either. The deaths of Joan Mondale and Philip Seymour Hoffman resonated, disparately, on the down side.
JOAN MONDALE - I spent only one significant time with Mrs. Mondale. Backstory: It was when The Minnesota State Society kindly chose me to emcee Vice President-elect Mondale's pre-inaugural banquet at The Washington Hilton in January, 1977. It was an honor and night I'll never forget and for which I'll always be grateful. All the U.S. Supreme Court justices were in attendance, as well as Senators and Congresspeople from both sides of the aisle, and former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, who had become a true and supportive friend to me from the time we first met, in Seattle, eleven years previously. It was a special honor to introduce him to the audience that night, as a treasured friend to me and also as the decades-long mentor he was to soon-to-be-sworn-in Vice President-elect Mondale. The Vice President-elect and Mrs, Mondale were seated to my right. We enjoyed dinner conversation, including the remembrance that Senator Mondale had told me a few months earlier on a SKI SCENE interview (this time for my D.C. TV show) that Joan's prerequisite for him and her getting married was he had to learn how to downhill ski. Obviously, that was a good-natured prerequisite, but I have a feeling Joan and he may have tried the boards on Observatory Hill, their Vice Presidential residence, at least once during his tenure as Veep, and hers as Second Lady.
There was nothing "Second" about Mrs. Mondale. She was first-class in every way. I often thought of her as Minnesota's Jacqueline Kennedy. (Ironically, they shared the same Leo birth sign). Joan Mondale was, as everyone knows, gracious, kind, caring, an artist and champion for the arts, with the demeanor of a FIRST Lady. Because he and I maintained a friendship through the years, I sent Vice President/Ambassador Mondale an email two days ago, not knowing it would be only a few hours before Joan's passing, expressing sadness regarding her having to be put into hospice care. He responded kindly a few minutes later, with part of his message to me stating, "Joan had been truly gallant through it all." Deepest sympathy prevails for all who had the privilege to know her, but especially to Vice President/Ambassador Mondale and sons Ted and William.
RENEE FLEMING - "I have never heard it sung better". That's what Super Bowl play-by-play commentator Joe Buck said after hearing Metropolitan Opera soprano Renee Fleming's awe-inspiring rendition of The Star Spangled Banner prior to kickoff this past Sunday at Met Life Stadium. Who could argue with Buck's assessment? Her rendition was stirring enough to evoke unabashed tears in the eyes of some of the Seahawks and Broncos players, evidenced as the cameras panned the teams' lineups. Goosebumps and tears of inspiration, in my opinion, must have been rampant, not only at the stadium, but everywhere anyone was fortunate enough to hear it sung by Ms. Fleming. In my opinion, and not to be jingoistic, I think a recording of her rendition of our national anthem this past Sunday night should be played and heard at every possible opportunity, from school events to post-reveille on U.S. military bases everywhere, or maybe once a day on television and radio, instilling even more pride, daily, in and for a nation that could use amplified pride, quality, inspiration and dignity. Brava, Ms. Fleming.
PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN - At age 46, the death of this mega-talent is not only tragic, but also, to those of us who've never used mind-altering drugs, incomprehensible. One of Mark Twain's observations was, "Each of us is a moon. We all have a dark side." Indeed, Oscar-winner Philip Seymour Hoffman's dark side was obviously his addiction to drugs and alcohol, One of the saddest chapters in his life was his recent re-emergence into drugs and alcohol after he'd kicked them successfully for a very long time. Many people wonder how some of those with professional success and enough monetary wealth to carry them through ten lifetimes can embrace the need to live life so recklessly, when they could easily live carefree, inspirational and productive lives as exemplars for so many. Sadly, premature drug-overdose-related deaths in the entertainment industry, such as Mr. Hoffman's, have made some of us shake our heads in disbelief in years past. John Belushi is one name that comes to mind. Mr. Hoffman's passing is a truly mammoth loss to those of us who marveled at his unlimited capacity to portray every sort of conceivable character with ultimate depth and believability and would have had so much more to give in subsequent years. His demons are gone, but, sadly, he went with them.
DELMER DAVES - WILL get to memorable times with him, the only Director Jack Warner kept under contract for life, next time, and closer to Oscar-time. The events of this past few days, and understandable space limitations here, necessitate another delay, but to film aficionados, I think (hopefully) the wait will be worth it.
Thank you, as always, for taking and making the time to read these geezer thoughts and observations.
THE MINNESOTA ORCHESTRA - In my opinion, and in the opinion of many, I'm certain, we can now honestly state it IS a Happy New Year. Apologies for my exuberance, but I may have broken my hip-replacement doing a super-happy dance upon just learning our superb treasure, The Minnesota Orchestra, will be performing again beginning in early February. I think my mega-smiles are shared by not only hundreds of thousands of us here in Minnesota, but throughout much of the music world, all OVER the world. Ever since a London newspaper music critic labeled The Minnesota Orchestra the "best in the world" two or three years ago, what we all knew to be true was internationally re-validated.
Without yet knowing if Maestro Vanska will be back to wield his world-class baton, I was told a few minutes ago (after hearing the good news about the orchestra being back in business) the consensus is he will be back with the orchestra permanently, resuming "speed" with the best in the business, those magnificent musicians who have the respect and cheering section of countless others of world-class in their profession.
As I had written several weeks ago, Representative Phyllis Kahn and I had the same idea to give the orchestra re-birth by suggesting all citizens of Minnesota could become Orchestra owners, similar to The Green Bay Packers ownership by their fans. Representative Kahn had the idea ten years ago regarding the Minnesota Twins, then resurrected it regarding saving The Minnesota Orchestra. I had the idea while talking with the Orchestra's premiere trumpetmeister, Manny Laureano, who I'm honored to state, has been a longtime good friend to yours truly. As I had stated previously in this space several weeks ago, Manny and I were having lunch a few months ago, and I suggested the Green Bay Packers ownership model to Manny, not knowing about Representative Kahn's similar idea until I read it in the STAR TRIBUNE a few days after I'd mentioned my thoughts to Manny. Representative Kahn and I then had lunch a few days later to discuss our mutual thoughts and possible strategems. Now those thoughts and strategems may be happily moot points, but strong action was ready for a very strong "reveal", very soon.
Bottom line: As one reporter stated on a television newscast a few minutes ago, "Neither side got all they wanted", but at least they finally reached a deal. It will be a joy to see the newly-revamped Orchestra Hall in use, not only as it was intended, but also just in use! Bravo and brava to all Orchestra members whose perserverance "stuck with it" to see the Orchestra's resurgence and to those in management who finally saw the light regarding the fact our Orchestra is far from ordinary, and a very-needed part of the fabric of these Cities, our state and region. The Minnesota Orchestra's light is among the brightest cultural stars to ever shine in the music firmament and we're blessed to know we can again resume enjoying their excellence. Congratulations to all.
EYDIE GORME anecdote, and previously "promised" - Even though it's been months since we sadly lost the delightful and engaging pop chanteuse, I thought it might be fun to share my "sideline" association regarding Ms. Gorme: While her passing this past October was sad, I warmly remember being in the audience one Friday night in the early 1950s for THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW, telecast live from one of NBC-TV's satellite television production theaters near Columbus Circle. It was the night Steve had both Eydie and her future husband, Steve Lawrence, as guests on Steve's show, precursor to THE TONIGHT SHOW. It was the first time Steve and Eydie had met, and the rest, as they say, is history. My high school pals and I went to Steve's show on occasional Friday nights as "guests" because we were in "the business", thus saw television history, of which we were blessed to be a part, being made. In the case of Steve and Eydie, that was truly the case. Some of us high school pals who made those visits were Leslie Uggams (then known as Leslie Uggams Crane), Elliott Gould, Kenny Walken (Christopher Walken's older brother) and several others who later "made it" very well in "the biz". I still keep in touch with some of them, and they don't hang up! :). Fun memories. SIDEBAR: During those high school years, even though professionally acting on a few TV series, my mom encouraged me to make some extra bucks on weekends, and I wound up working as a "car monitor" for a Bronx apartment building garage on Saturday nights (for a couple months). Whose car was I urged to especially watch with care? Eydie Gorme's! I never met her, but it was fun to know her car was never scratched nor stolen, not on MY watch, and that I'd been in the audience the night she met Steve. :)
DELMER DAVES - An anecdote or two, next time, about the only Director Jack Warner ever kept under contract for life, and Mr. Daves's kindnesses to yours truly, from Jackson Hole, Wyoming to visits at his home at 107 North Bentley Avenue in West L.A.
Thanks for taking the time to read these geezer thoughts and memories and a belated Happy New Year.
Sadly, as long as human beings exist, there will always be pockets of hatred, bigotry and ignorance scattered throughout every society. There will also be those who have no knowledge how REAL leaders lead, not via boastfulness, but rather because the giants among them faced and experienced some of the worst elements of life. Lest we forget, Nelson Mandela, the justifiably-revered former President of South Africa, pounded and broke rocks daily with a sledgehammer in the hot South African sun on Robben Island for at least 17 of his 27 years in prison. Tonight, on NBC NIGHTLY NEWS, Tom Brokaw recalled to Brian Williams the story of the day Brokaw interviewed Mr. Mandela just three days after he'd been released from that 27-year imprisonment. Tom said Mr. Mandela's demeanor was one of a person who had just returned from a three-day weekend away from home. That's the sort of mental strength few of us possess, ever did or ever will. In my opinion, it's also a heart-strengthening example whatever difficult times we're dealt are minor compared to the humiliation Mr. Mandela endured and refused to let demean or kill him.
His exemplary mental and emotional strength, along with his racial unification achievements, permeated those who would stereotypically be characterized as one-dimensional in their thinking. I experienced one example of Mr. Mandela's reach to those many would think most unlikely candidates for racial harmony. Here's the story: In February, 2007, I was in South Africa doing some public relations work for a company based here in the Twin Cities and extolled that country's countless attributes in a Star Tribune webcast a couple years ago. Regardless, the most memorable moment was experienced in Cape Town, on the way to a meeting east of that city. A hired driver picked us up at our hotel adjacent to the beach. After we asked his country of origin, just as a matter of conversation, he told us he was a Muslim of Nigerian descent. When we were passing on the freeway adjacent to downtown Cape Town, he said we should look to our right to embrace the magnitude of the vibrant downtown and the modest skyscrapers therein. After we looked, he said, verbatim, something I'll always remember, and perhaps you will, too: "Thank God for the Jews.". I asked what he meant. He said, "Thanks to the ones who came here from Europe after World War Two, and their financial resources, we have so many of these beautiful buildings," I told him his words should be plastered all over the world. I remarked his comments would be considered quite unusual for those who think in stereotypes, and he said, again verbatim, "It's President Mandela who opened our eyes that we're all just people, not races." Amen.
That truly great leader's wisdom will hopefully be never minimized nor forgotten. He DID change the world. Enough said.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these memories, humbly shared.
It's almost unfathomable to know 50 years have passed since that fateful November day in Dallas when the sunshine-filled skies turned black as night in our hearts, in an instant, and as has often been stated, the day the United States lost its innocence. Joining any of you who remember where you were when you heard the news, following is yours truly's memory of that day:
I had been a delegate to one of the first Broadcast Promotion Association's national conventions in San Francisco, at the Jack Tar Hotel. It began November 16th. The conclave concluded the evening of November 19th and I was asked by friends in Yuma, Arizona, to drive to see them for a one-day visit, since we hadn't seen one another for several years. I was living in Idaho Falls, Idaho, at the time. I agreed and got to Yuma the evening of the 20th, spent that evening and the next day and evening with my friends, then left the morning of the 22nd to return home to Idaho Falls. I left Yuma later in the morning, around 10, but didn't have the radio on, for whatever reason. I soon reached the point when I crossed the Colorado River into Needles, California, and turned northward toward Las Vegas and eventually southern Idaho. Around noon, Pacific Time, I decided to turn the radio on, just south of Searchlight, Nevada (Harry Reid's hometown), but still in California. The first thing I heard was commentator Fulton Lewis, Jr., talking about Presidential succession. The first thought to enter my mind was, "Why?", as well as thinking it was a morbid subject to discuss. Then he announced, for those just tuning in, the details of President Kennedy's assassination. I screamed in horror and anger, then almost went off the highway. Since there were no cell phones in those days, I waited until I reached Boulder City,Nevada, went to a pay phone and called my wife to reassure her our nation would get through this and I'd be home the next morning.
When I pulled into Las Vegas about a half-hour later, it was announced all the lights on the Strip and downtown (Fremont Street) would be darkened until Midnight that night, the first (and I think the last) time in history that city ever paid that kind of homage to anyone or any occurrence. In addition, to add to the somberness of that late afternoon and early evening, the weather conditions were rain and snow mixed.
I drove through nearly blizzard conditions all night to reach Idaho Falls the next morning about 7. During that drive, about 4 a.m. Mountain Time, I heard then Senator Hubert Humphrey and Rhode Island Senator John Pastore on the radio urging the nation to be calm in the face of this tragedy and their discussion enveloped me (and I'm certain millions of others) with a sense that regardless of the horror, life would continue and the nation would survive. I had no idea that morning someday (beginning in 1966 in Seattle) Mr. Humphrey would become a good friend and champion for my broadcasting work, and in Janaury, 1977, at the Washington, D.C., Hilton, I would have the honor to emcee Vice President Mondale's pre-inaugural banquet, and introduce former Vice President Humphrey to the podium by relating the story I just stated, focusing on his great calming influence to me on that snowy Southern Idaho morning, rushing home. In his characteristically warm and heartfelt manner, he kindly thanked me for relating that remembrance to the audience that evening. It was truly an honor I'll never forget.
The only Kennedys I ever had the privilege to meet and with whom to engage in some lively conversations, were President Kennedy's sister Eunice Kennedy Shriver, and her daughter, Maria, both at different times. Eunice was my guest on my SKI SCENE television show in D.C. (it's viewable on the net) relating how and why she had created the Special Olympics and describing the first event held at Soldier Field in Chicago. She was an articulate, wonderful, first-class lady, as one would expect, but was surprisingly somewhat nervous about being on television. In later years, after interviewing Arnold Schwarzenegger in New York, while he was still married to Maria Shriver, Maria was in the hallway when I exited the interview suite and literally shouted, "There's my weatherman!". Big smiles abounded. She and I then exchanged some pleasant memories about the D.C. days, and that was that.
Thank you for reading and the privilege to share some more memories. I had intended to write the pieces about Eydie Gorme and Delmer Daves this time, but it would have been disrepectful, in my opinion, to mix those stories with the preceding. Next time, for certain. Blessings and Happy pre-Thanksgiving.