An opinion or two about the disparate events of the past few hours and days:
SYRIA - An instance of history somewhat repeating itself: Among those who may be reading this who share my vivid memory of President John F. Kennedy threatening, and seriously meaning, possible confrontation with Russia during the Cuban missile crisis in October, 1962, we know Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev blinked. That blink possibly averted the beginning of World War Three. As I scribe this, it's been only three hours since it was announced Syria's President Assad has essentially blinked, too. He has apparently accepted the proposal of Russian President Vladimir Putin to have international supervision, control and eventual destruction of Syria's chemical weapons. What a web has been woven, proving truth is definitely stranger than fiction. I think President Obama's strong belief and desire to punish Syria militarily for that country's heinous, murderous acts against its own citizens created a global wake-up call to avoid a situation that also could possibly have ignited World War Three, thanks to a Russian President's workable and acceptable suggested peaceful resolution of the problem. A Russian President creating a suggestion to avoid confrontation and settle matters peacefully? Bob Dylan's lyrics, "The times they are a changin'" come to my mind. It also comes to my mind having cooler heads having had the time to prevail, thanks, in my opinion, to President Obama's decision to not order military strikes on Syria without first consulting and involving Congress, certainly illustrated timing is everything. Thawing a near repeat of Cold War relations, or much worse, is certainly better than living with constant tension and fear. 9/11 is certainly a date we all remember wretchedly. Without sounding like Pollyanna, perhaps today, 9/10 will be remembered happily, as the day the world stepped back once again from the brink of a possible World War.
DIANA NYAD: Finally, a real story about a real heroine, even though eight days after her historic swim, she's today being challenged about the veracity of her achievement by others in the swimming world. Ms. Nyad's amazing swimming victory over the Strait of Cuba's jellyfish, sting rays and sharks, completing the 110-mile swim from Havana to Key West as the first person to ever achieve such a gargantuan feat without a shark cage, was inspiring in so many, many ways. Her admonition to "Never, ever, give up", upon stepping ashore at Key West, followed by additionally articulate and inspiring comments was proof-positive that age is only a number, but human spirit and accomplishment against seemingly-impossible odds, is ageless. I could watch her read the phone book and be perpetually inspired. Brava, brava, brava to her for possibly motivating anyone who thinks they "can't", realize they "can", and should. (In my opinion, even if the questions being raised today by other swimmers are found to be valid, Ms. Nyad should still be applauded for adding even a modicum of inspiration to anyone who says they "can't".)
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts.
Next time: Eydie Gorme and Delmer Daves.
This past Monday, August 5th was, for me, birthday number 76. Most wishes of which I was the recipient good-naturedly mentioned having 76 trombones lead a birthday parade. Some stated, "THAT'S the spirit!", and so forth. For me, it resulted in a mix of melancholy and elation. The melancholy comes from knowing there are fewer years left at this end of the spectrum and the elation knowing I've made it this far, better than the alternative (most of the time, but in my opinion, not always.)
One of the brighter notes for me occurred the day before my Monday birthday, last Sunday morning, while watching FACE THE NATION'S last half-hour, thanks to host Bob Schieffer's closing reminiscent remarks, which I'll address in the next paragraph. But first, some background: During my D.C. television weathercasting days (1974-77), Bob Schieffer's wife, who was then a grade school teacher, called me at WJLA-TV (the ABC affiliate for which I was working) to invite me to present a weather talk to one of her classes. I was delighted and honored to accept, and made the presentation. I didn't meet Bob until years later, and he was as charming and "real" as he's appeared for so many years on the un-blinking eye network.
Last Sunday, Bob's closing remarks resonated strongly and delightfully, reminding me that a person whose age I share (Bob was born four months before I was) expounded memories similar to what I've had the privilege to chronicle in this space for the past several months, to wit: Bob noted the passing of actor Michael Ansara a few days ago. Ansara was one of STAR TREK's primary actors and married in "real life" to actress Barbara Eden of I DREAM OF JEANNIE fame. Bob related what was significant to him, both personally and professionally, Ansara and Eden were the first two celebrities Bob ever interviewed. The interview took place at a small Fort Worth, TX, radio station where Bob began his broadcasting career. Bob said he had to lug a heavy tape recorder up several flights of stairs to do the interview. He also said he thinks neither Ansara nor Eden would ever have remembered that interview, but because of Michael's passing, Bob thought it appropriate to share that memory with his audience, and which was delivered in his characteristically-humble manner. It struck a very responsive chord with yours truly, because what I write in this space frequently deals with those sorts of memories. It also jogged my thinking to realizing the longer we live, the more profoundly those, or any, memories really enrich our lives. They bring a lot of smiles, inward and outward. Thanks to Bob and his closing remarks for making the next day a happier, if not more reflective, 76th birthday for me.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts. Additional recent minor surgery has precluded my resuming STAR TRIBUNE webcasts (A SENIOR MOMENT), but will hope to return to that screen in the near future. Happy August!
As the on-court television broadcaster/interviewer said to Andy Murray yesterday, prior to introducing him to his post-victory audience, "We've been waiting 77 years for this". Indeed, not since 1936 has a Brit won the Wimbledon championship. Now the drought has ended for the U.K.
As Murray's opponent, Novak Djokovic graciously commented, "Andy deserved to win it." The Scottish native, so low-key in his off-court demeanor, treated us with at least one smile, but more than that, the honest and no-pretense vision of an athlete who has worked so very arduously for so many years to achieve "as good as it gets" at Wimbledon, and become a true champion. In my opinion, one of the many memorable after-match moments was when Andy suddenly, and last, remembered to embrace his mother, who introduced him to the sport of tennis. As overwhelmed by the victory as he was, the oversight only added to the magic of those moments for the U.K. and will remain as long as people play tennis.
As stated in my summary, I'm an unabashed Anglophile, and have been ever since I can remember. Who knows why any of us gravitate toward one preference or another? For me, there's always been a fascination for "The Mother Country" and its people. I've been blessed many times over to not only have very close British friends, but to have visited and worked there occasionally during my eclectic career, and as many who read these blogs may remember, even had a very special one-on-one moment with the former Queen "Mum".
Watching Andy Murray's win yesterday brought a flood of afterglow thoughts, remembering, among other things, my first one-on-one encounter with a Brit. His name was Roy Marsden, and was my second "pen pal" during my early high school years in the early 1950s. I had written to several British schools asking if anyone in my age bracket would like to begin a correspondence and share parts of the culture not easily available to us here in the U.S., in those days. (Had the Internet existed, this would all probably have been a moot point, instant global communication being what it currently is. Very sad, in my opinion, at least regarding the anticipation of something arriving from across the pond via snail mail.)
The only response I received was from the Headmaster of The Liverpool Institute, situated in Birkenhead, across the Mersey River from Liverpool, stating his son, Roy, would be happy to begin a pen pal relationship. I was ecstatic, and that joy was well-founded. For at least thrtee years, Roy and I exchanged popular magazines of the day (his, primarily Picture Post and mine, Life and Time) as well as "fun items" from our culture. I sent Roy a baseball and he sent me a Rugby football, which I still have, and treasure. Wow, are those Rugby foootballs THICK! :) I lost track of Roy in my late teens, but read in later years he had become a "Flying Officer" with the RAF and had settled with his wife and children in Southampton. While in London on business in the late 1990s, I was walking on Picadilly Road and noticed a building that housed RAF-related offices. I went in to look up Roy's name and found he was still living, but there was no other contact information available. He was one year older than I, thus, this year, if he's still living, which I hope is the case, he'd be 76. (Number 76 for me will be less than a month from now, i.e., August 5th.)
I bought my first English racing bike for five dollars from a British friend I'd met in New York's Central Park. During any free time in my mid-teens, I spent a lot of summer vacation hours hanging around with people in the park who became pals for at least three summers. One of them was named Ted (can't remember his last name). Ted was from the U.K.'s famed Isle of Wight, off England's south coast, and a great sailing mecca. Ted asked me if I wanted to have his racing bike. I said "Yes" and he sold it to me for the aforementioned five dollars. I remember it had a Sturmey-Archer gearshift. Cool! :) Whenever World War Two entered any conversations, and we "Yanks" gave credit to ourselves for liberating Europe and keeping the Nazis from overtaking England, Ted would always snap back with, "Yeah, but WE kept the Nazis off YOUR backs. We have the bullet-and-bomb-scarred bulldings to prove it!". In later years, I saw many of those buildings and sites and always remembered Ted's valid pronouncement.
I never expected when pen-paling with Roy, or speaking with Ted, I'd ever get to their homelands, but get there I did, to say the least. Times in Liverpool, London, Southampton, many towns and cities in Scotland and essentially all over the U.K. throughout the years simply proved to amplify and cement even more of my admiration and love for the U.K., its people, history and our country's continued strong ties with same. Hopefully, that umbilical cord will always remain.
Thanks, as always, for enduring my geezer thoughts and memories in these blogs. I hope you had a great 4th! (Sidebar, since the subject was England: Some longtime friends in Walton-On-Thames (a south-of-London suburb and Julie Andrews's birthplace) told me several years ago, they and their neighbors have a July 4th party every year, even though WE won our independence. Oh, those great Brits. Again, congrats to Andy Murray. 'til next time...
MARGE ANDERSON: In addition to being allowed to continue my syndicated broadcasting activities, from 1991 through 1999 I had the honor to be Director of Public Relations for the Mille Lacs Band of Ojibwe Indians Casino/Hotel operations. The lady under whose umbrella each department worked was the Band's Chief Executive, Marge Anderson, who, sadly, passed away today at age 81. Whenever we'd see each other, Marge always said, "How's my favorite weatherman?". I'd always reply, "Fine. And how's my favorite Chief?". Marge always smiled during those frequent encounters. She was elected to her position following the untimely passing of visionary Chief Arthur Gahbow, just a few days before Grand Casino Mille Lacs opened its doors.
From the beginning of her service as the Band's first female Chief, Marge was intent on making certain the gaming industry would be as beneficial as possible to her people. She said many times, half-jokingly, "I hope some of the people here know they're working themselves out of a job." Those to whom Marge was referrring were those of us who were also under the umbrella of the management corporation created to eventually not receive any percentages of the casino profits after a seven year contract ended. Marge realized the ability to create a legacy of far more prosperous times than the Band had endured for decades could be achieved and preserved if the profits were used wisely. Her stewardship and truly gifted business acumen guided the Band to build new clinics, schools, roads, houses and cultural infrastructure to help all Band members learn their language, which is not in written form. The success of Grand Casino Mille Lacs also propelled the Band to open its second casino/hotel, Grand Casino Hinckley, just two years after Grand Casino Mille Lacs opened. I was privileged to emcee that opening.
Among those at the Grand Casino Hinckley opening, and who cut the opening ribbon with Marge, were former Congressman Jim Oberstar, as well as the man who was the person who had the idea to create gaming for the Mille Lacs Band. His name was Dave Anderson. Everyone now knows him as Famous Dave. I met Dave the first day I started at Grand (in their Plymouth marketing offices). I saw him and asked what he did there. He told me he was the President. He also told me my friend, attorney Stan Taube, had persuaded Lyle Berman (Berman Buckskin scion) to meet with Dave and Stan to discuss managing the Band's casino/hotels. Lyle eventually agreed, and that's how Grand Casino Mille Lacs was "born". In subsequent years, Grand Casino management completed the Stratosphere Tower's construction in Las Vegas. Stan Taube was responsible for recommending me for the PR Director position. I started that work 22 years ago today, July 1, 1991.
I was happy during Marge's tenure I was able to persuade a CBS-TV friend, former WCCO-TV reporter Jerry Bowen, to do an eight-minute feature about Marge on CBS SUNDAY MORNING WITH CHARLES OSGOOD. I also suggested to another friend, former GOOD MORNING AMERICA weatherman, Spencer Christian, to feature a live interview with Marge and other Band officials on GMA the day Grand Casino Hinckley opened. Spencer enjoyed the visit, as did GMA, but the fog was so thick that morning it was impossible to see the new casino, but the feature went on the air, regardless. Marge kindly thanked me for those features with her characteristic humility. I told her it was my job, but also my honor, which it truly was. In many ways, in my opinion, she could almost be considered a Rosa Parks-like figure among her people, as for what she fought bore beneficial fruit for them and the region in general. Deepest sympathy to Marge's family and the entire Mille Lacs Band.
HOT DESERT MEMORIES: Since the near record heat in the Southwestern U.S. has been making headlines the past few days, it triggered memories of my four years on television and radio in Las Vegas, prior to moving to Minnesota in November, 1970. One of my favorite weekend activities there was to drive to Death Valley almost every Saturday morning at about 6, pick rocks in various parts of the Valley, then visit friends in Amargosa Junction (former George Balanchine-New York City Ballet ballerina Marta Becket and her then husband, Tom Williams), then drive back to Las Vegas in time for supper. I owned a red Triumph convertible in those days (my daughters used to call it my "toy" car), and being the sun-worshipper I was, I would drive through the Valley, from Dante's View to Badwater and all spots in between, with the top down, even when the air temperature was hovering around 115 degrees, which was frequent in June, July and even August. I baked my skin during those years, but because the humidity was so low, I never gave the temperatures a second thought. Not very smart was I then (or ever) because removal of skin cancer became frequent, especially in recent years, due to those top-down days in Death Valley. A park ranger there once told me the ground temperature averaged between 160 and 190 degrees on what's called The Devil's Golf Course, at Badwater, lowest point in the Western Hemisphere. This past week, a 67-year old man from my hometown, Pittsburgh, marched across the Death Valley sand dunes when the temp was in the 120s. He said to do that had always been on his "Bucket List". Go figure. I guess all of us from Pittsburgh are bonkers. I hope he at least brought a bucket of water, primarily to pour on his head! :)
Thanks for taking time to read these geezer thoughts. Webcasts should resume in a week or two, with skin cancer removal scars from those Death Valley Days (where's my Borax?) almost gone. Happy and safe Fourth!
RE JEAN STAPLETON: Truth is definitely stranger than fiction, sometimes. I experienced that reality beginning this past May 24th, when I was invited to participate in the unveliing of a new U.S. postage stamp honoring the 50th anniversary of the release of the film, CAROUSEL. On the stamp are pictured Shirley Jones and her co-star, Gordon MacRae. The event took place in Omaha Mayor Jim Suttle's office. I was invited because Shirley and I acted together in her first play, entitled WONDERFUL GOOD at The Pittsburgh Playhouse, just after she'd won the title of Miss Pittsburgh. It was written and musically-directed by a great couple of writers and musicians named Ken and Mitzi Welch. They later went on to become Carol Burnett's musical directors and sketch writers. After the event, Shirley and I conversed about our mutual relationship with Jean Stapleton and her husband, Bill Putch, who was Shirley's and my first drama teacher, and a fellow actor. Because Jean died only a week later, I thought it was ironic Jean (and Bill) had been one of the stronger topics of our conversation, thus decided to share the following back-and-current chronology:
Shirley's hometown was/is Charleroi, Pennsylvania. Her father owned Stoney's Brewery in Smithton, not far from Charleroi. (I think she's still Chairperson of the Board of the brewery. Forgot to ask her when we were together a couple weeks ago.) As previously stated, Shirley's and my first drama teacher (and also fellow actor) was a man named Bill Putch, from 1948 through 1951. Bill and I also acted together in Summer Stock during those years in a couple plays at The White Barn Theater, near Irwin, Pennsylvania, about an hour's drive east of Pittsburgh. The theater was owned by two actors and producers named Clay Flagg and Carl Low. The latter became a giant presence for 15 years as the character, Dr. Bob Rogers, on the television soap opera, SEARCH FOR TOMORROW. (Ironically, in the early 1980's , I also had a one-time part on that show, and which can be seen on one of Tom Oszman's TCMedia site clips. I played a policeman whose wife had just given birth and I was looking for the delivery room. At our first rehearsal, actress Marie Cheatham, a longtime regular on the series, almost fell on the floor laughing at my opening line, which was, "Where do they keep the babies?" I was very appreciative for her reaction, to say the least.)
Regardless, apologies for the digression, but the memories cascade. In later years I learned Bill had married Jean Stapleton, long before her iconic performances as Edith Bunker on ALL IN THE FAMILY. Bill and Jean created and owned a summer stock theater in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, called the Totem Pole Playhouse. They also had a son named John. During my D.C. TV days in the m id-1970s, we visited them in Jennerstown (not far from D.C.) for a great reunion (with Bill) and meeting with Jean and John. My older daughter was with us, and she and John got along very well. He focused on showing her his motorcycle and it was innocent fun. Yesterday she reminded me of that aspect of the visit. (John has become a successful actor and director, and currently directs COUGAR TOWN, seen now on TBS, and on which Shirley has an occasional recurring role.) My daughter also reminded me we shared the same thoughts about Jean, i.e., she was the antithesis of Edith Bunker. In person, Jean was very serious, a super-pro and very no-nonsense. A strong lady, to say the least, who knew her craft well enough to portray the disparate characters she did, not only on ALL IN THE FAMILY, but in other television shows and feature films. (Bill died of a heart attack many years ago while walking down the street in Syracuse, New York, where Jean was performing in a play.) She will be missed, but will always be a major part of millions of people's fond memories, deservedly so. It was an honor to spend the personal time with her, and I'm glad she and Bill had the years they did as husband and wife.
AARON HICKS: I love baseball. When my hometown Pittsburgh Pirates were always in last place during my grade school years (1940s), Pirates fans still filled Forbes Field to capacity. The only Pirates player I ever met was the late Ralph Kiner. Ralph had hit 54 home runs that year. THIS year, watching TWINS baseball, the addition of Aaron Hicks to the roster has made watching each game a very anticipated event at our house. It's such a joy to hear Bert Blyleven and Dick Bremer verbally exude the genuine excitement they feel (and which is happily infectious to us viewers...well, at least to THIS viewer) when Aaron makes the sensational catches he does and his performance at the plate, even with a lower batting average. A friend and I were discussing comparisions between Mr. Hicks and Kirby Puckett. He's a baseball "expert" and told me he feels if Aaron Hicks continues his outstanding ability to play his heart out...and there's no reason to think he won't...he'll become a part of the Pantheon of Twins greats, but especially reminiscent of the late, great Kirby Puckett. Bravo to Aaron Hicks. He's truly revitalized the joy and anticipation to watch those Twins in action.
Thanks for taking the time read my geezer thoughts, and thanks, too, and always, to the very appreciated commenters about these thoughts and reminiscences.