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.
DON PARDO - Anyone who heard him up until what would be his final SNL announcing assignment this past May could hear he was as vibrant, strong and vital as ever. Announcing Saturday Night Live for 38 seasons (except the 1981-82 season), he preceded those career years as a perpetual "announcer's announcer", beginning in 1948 on New York City's NBC flagship station, WEAF (the call letters re-designated to WNBC in later years).Subsequently, prior to SNL, he announced for such national shows such as Jeopardy, The Price Is Right, Jackpot and others, including, for a time, NBC Nightly News. Except for iconic L.A.-based sports announcer, Vin Scully, still thankfully going strong at a very advanced age, Don (born to Polish immigrant parents in Westfield, Massachusetts) could legitimately be called the last of the great announcers and voices who were "special", so lacking, in my opinion, with much of today's announcing talent. He was one of those to whom one really "listened", because he made everything he uttered sound "important". He was the personification of what my former boss in Canada at the CBC affiliate, then CJLH-TV in Lethbridge, Alberta, stressed to those of us who were booth announcing and on-camera talent, circa 1959-1960, i.e., the importance of not "throwing away" what one was announcing. My boss's name was Sam Pitt. He had been Lorne Greene's understudy as Chief Announcer for the entire CBC network in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and had a voice that made the great James Earl Jones sound like a boy soprano. Sam was a perfectionist, and thank goodness for it. He said no matter what the content of a program, the announcers were the ones who set the stage for making what followed have meaning. He told us we were "the final product". Sam later went on to head Montreal's CFCF-TV and concluded his life teaching aspiring broadcasters at Windsor, Ontario's, St. Clair College. Sam passed away several years ago in his late 80s. Don Pardo passed away yesterday, as we're aware, but his professional legacy will never, and should never, pass, especially to any who aspire to being top-flight broadcast talent. (Regarding who might succeed...not replace...Don Pardo as SNL's announcer, the shoes will truly be less filled.)
LAUREN BACALL'S SON, STEPHEN BOGART, PAUL DOUGLAS AND ME - The first time I ever met my longtime friend, the StarTtribune's and WeatherNation's Paul Douglas, was when he was doing full-time weather stints at the Satellite News Channels, based on Shippan Point near Stamford, Connecticut. SNC was then ABC's answer to CNN. Paul was working there full-time and I was doing weather there on weekends, commuting weekly from Detroit for several months. Paul and I worked together on those weekends.
We had two producer "bosses". One was Stephen Bogart, son of the now late Lauren Bacall, and the other was Tom Capra, son of legendary Hollywood director/producer Frank Capra. Stephen didn't talk much about his famous parents, but was very serious about his work. It was the same for Tom Capra, whom I'd known when he was an executive with the ABC-TV Bureau in D.C. during my D.C. TV weathercasting days on ABC's Channel 7 there, 1974 through 1977. Although I never heard Paul express it, I personally thought it was ironic that sons of two gargantuan Hollywood families would both be news producers and our bosses at the very same time. Indeed, truth is stranger than fiction. Deepest sympathy to Stephen, who was justifiably proud of his late mother, and, of course, his long-since-deceased father.
STATE FAIR SENIOR DAYS - Next Monday, August 25th and next Thursday, August 28th, are Senior Days at The Minnesota State Fair. I'm happy to state I'll be hosting same from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. those days at the Labor Pavilion building and hope to see you there, too. As has been previously lamented at least once or twice in this space, those of advanced age in this country aren't, for the most part, given credit for still being vital, knowledgeable, useful and "with it" at a certain age, and in my opinion, and the opinion of many, it's a travesty, but hopefully, reversible to a significant degree. The United Negro College Fund's slogan, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" certainly applies. If you agree, or even if you don't, I hope you'll stop by to say hello next week.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these thoughts and opinions.
ROBIN WILLIAMS - His apparent suicide yesterday robbed us of more of his brilliance, but to realize people of his mega-success in that chosen profession have demons, and most us will never understand why they exist. While I was Entertainment Editor for Channel 11 and in later years for my syndicated Hollywood interview show (HOLLYWOOD UPDATE), I had the pleasure to interview Robin three times, FOR CADILLAC MAN, GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM and MRS. DOUBTFIRE. For the first two mentioned, he maintained a very serious composure, but let loose with his stream-of-consciousness, uninhibited humor for the MRS. DOUBTFIRE interview. I still have all the tapes. He will be missed, to say the least. A tragic shock.
BIRTHDAY REMINISCENCES: A week ago today, August 5th, I reached my 77th birthday. For reasons I can't pinpoint, this particular birth anniversary has activated my thought processes like a ton of bricks. The thoughts have been mostly reflective about the countless unusually-blessed experiences I've lived in this life, but some of the memories and thoughts are not so pleasant, especially about the human race in general.
What especially triggered these bleak thoughts is the newest crisis in Iraq. Atop Iraq's Mount Sinjar, 40,000 innocent and peace-loving people were being threatened with genocide because they wouldn't succumb to the extremist group's demands of "convert or be killed". The extremist's movements make one wonder if we're living in a revival of the barbaric Middle Ages, or worse, reverting to bullyism and terrorism at its most egregious and outrageous levels, beheading children and burying innocent people alive. There truly are no words to express the disgust nor to describe an evil from which even Al Qaeda has divorced itself.
Having been born in 1937 and living through all of World War Two...John Daly's radio bulletin announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor is my first memory, of anything...I, along with millions of others, were reminded daily of Hitler's, Mussolini's and Tojo's barbarism, as well as their boastfulness. Today's terrorists should read more books about empires and how foolishly those who envisioned their eternal power lasted only a few years and some only a few months, so what does all their maniacy gain for them, or anyone? A very learned European friend here stated to me a few days ago, "They destroy things and people only to state if they, the terrorists, can't have a comfortable and happy life, they want to make sure no one does." Interesting analogy, in my opinion, and also, possibly sadly very true.
One recent example in memory was Hitler's maniacal "thousand-year" Third Reich. It lasted 12 years. As I scribed here several weeks ago, one of the most fascinating people I was ever blessed to know was Hitler's chief chronicler and photographer, the late Stefan Lorant. Mr. Lorant passed away at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester a few years ago. When he was a guest on my Las Vegas television talk show in early 1970, he gave me a book he had written (with hundreds of priceless photographs) entitled, "Sieg Heil". He told me he had been invited to be one of the six original members of the Nazi party, but a week after the invitation, he said he realized Hitler was deranged (but never let Hitler know his thoughts, for obvious reasons) and asked Hitler if he could just be "The Fuhrer's" photojournalist biographer without being a Nazi party member. Hitler agreed. Lorant told me he knew Hitler's thousand-year Third Reich would conclude the way it did, i.e., as a failed disaster, thus wanted to be able to chronicle it's existence and demise from the inside, which he did brilliantly.
Today's Hitler-types don't care if they live or die, thus the equation has certainly turned an unimaginable corner which those who treasure the sanctity of life, and the credo to live and let live, must deal in these unprecedented times of unpredictability. The adage, "Man's inhumanity to man", has now reached epidemic status.
SMOKEY, THE BEAR - Last week, "Smokey, The Bear" celebrated 75 years of existence. Smokey's famous admonition, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires" was originally voiced by a Washington, D.C., morning radio show host named Jackson Weaver. I had the joy to know Jackson from 1974 through 1977 when we both worked for the same broadcasting ownership in D.C., occasionally appearing as a guest on his very popular radio show, called "Harden and Weaver", co-hosted by Jackson and his radio sidekick, Frank Harden. Jackson was the ultimate first-class broadcaster and the warmth of Smokey's voice truly emulated the richness and dignity of Jackson's human persona. Wonderful to have heard his voice again during the 75th Smokey, The Bear tributes a few days ago.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these geezer thoughts and memories.
MARTHA RADDATZ: I deeply respect ABC-TV's indefatigable and truly intrepid reporter, and sometimes THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS substitute host, Martha Raddatz. She has been, and is, one of this country's reporters most frequently embedded in the midst of this world's most dangerous landscapes and confrontations, for well over a decade. This past week, referencing the Israeli-Hamas conflict, the horrific downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, and all other chaos occurring more rapidly and more often than ever, Ms. Raddatz was asked by one of ABC-TV's anchors if she could ever remember any period of time in her career when global events were so out of control. She paused, and in an almost heartbroken manner, stated "No. I really can't. I've never seen it this bad". Ms. Raddatz is a tough, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is reporter, and a credit to her profession. To see and hear her almost come to tears when stating what she did, certainly, to me at least, put an official stamp on how bad things really are in today's world. In that regard, what the late Peter Jennings told me in February, 2003, was prescient regarding what the world is experiencing today. I was honored to have Peter as a dear close friend and colleague from 1974 until his death five years ago. He kindly accepted an invitation to appear on my KYCR radio program in the previously-referenced year to help celebrate my then 60th anniversary in broadcasting. I still have the tape and MP3 of that interview. Among the things we discussed was the world, post 9/11. Peter had spent a great deal of time in the Middle East and was married to a Lebanese/Egyptian woman named Annouchka when Peter and I first socialized at a party in my Potomac, Maryland, house in 1974. (Those were halcyon days, to say the least.) I knew his encyclopedic and ubiquitous knowledge of Middle East mentality was deep, thus I asked him if he felt the Al-Qaedas of the world would ever not exist. He said, sadly, "No, sorry to say, I think events similar to 9/11 will never end and only occur with more frequency as time goes on." It was disheartening to have heard that, but perhaps recent events are evidence Peter may have been very correct in his assessment. My assessment is all the immature anger, frustration-to-extremes and need-to-vent (including domestically) stem from three of what I think may be the saddest words in the English language: Ego, power and greed. With those eliminated from human-nature and our lexicons, what a pleasant existence this would be. That thought also echoes the closing words, set to music, of a 1950s religion-oriented, syndicated television program entitled THE CHRISTOPHERS. That program concluded with these lyrics: "If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be". Amen to that. Of course, it will never happen, as Peter said, but it's nice about which to muse.
ELAINE STRITCH: It was sad to learn this morning, Elaine Stritch, one of Broadway's giants and a movie talent of equally explosive and compelling performance abilities...for six decades...passed away last night. I met Elaine only twice, for television show interviews, but was interested to learn she had also acted a couple times on MISTER PEEPERS, the show on which I was blessed to have portrayed one of the students for two seasons (1952-53) and which has been referenced here in a previous blog or two. We "students" weren't on every Sunday's episode (understandably too expensive for the producers), but, regardless, it was fun for me to learn she'd been one of the actresses on the show, at least once. When she was here a few years ago in her great one-woman show, I spotted her walking downtown, stopped the car to exchange pleasantries and reminders of our two previous interviews. The conversation was warm and that was that. Born into a wealthy Detroit-area family, she was totally uninhibited, which propelled her to be the powerhouse multi-talented performer she was, and will be missed. As Alec Baldwin tweeted this morning (paraphrasing here) about her passing, "If God doesn't know she's on her way, He's in serious trouble". Tonight, all the Broadway theaters will justifiably dim their lights in her memory. Brava, Elaine.
Thanks, once again, and always, for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts.