Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Dick, Jane and Sally (1956)


This is where it all began for me; as far as reading goes. Dick and his two sisters, Jane and Sally, taught me how to read by allowing me to look into their little world. In a way they were the first “reality” type of show. They did the things we all do at the age of 5, at least back then. We waited for our Dads to come home from work, while our Moms took care of us. And the luckier kids had dogs, like Spot to play with.

Sue still has her 1st grade reader, “The New We Look and See” by New Basic Readers. This is the 1956 edition. They say that this system of teaching young people is outdated and inefficient. Of course, I disagree. Upon the average, I read about 100 books per year, more if I were to count the ones which I begin but do not finish, and even more when you add in the number of books I take out from the library in order to read a specific portion, of which I have interest.

I am in favor of any program which teaches children to read; and even more so when it comes to any program urging young people to continue reading past the point of being functional. Dick, Jane and Sally were my first fictional characters; beyond the ones which my mom read to me at bedtime. These were characters to whom I could relate, and; more importantly; access on my own. They were a vehicle to make me want to read beyond the level in which I could merely pass the test.

I don’t know if they are still using these books anymore, but I hope so. If not, someone please tell me; whatever happened to Dick, Jane and Sally? Did they get old, like we did? Are they retired and living in Florida, like my Aunt Gloria? Or, have they gone the way of all things when they are considered obsolete? And if you see them, could you say hello for me? I kind of miss them.

Monday, July 30, 2012

"The Singing Mailman Delivers" by John Prine (1970)


Back in August of 1970 John Prine was working as a letter carrier for the U.S. Post Office in Chicago. It was in this capacity that he met the great journalist Studs Terkel for an interview, presumably for one his many books chronicling the American work experience. Mr. Terkel had been doing this type of journalism since the 1930’s, when he was employed by the NRA as a “writer.” Armed with a dictaphone and notebook, he set off on an adventure across America, the results of which were later published as “Working.”
  
In the 1960’s and 70’s Mr. Terkel was doing this type of thing on the radio, broadcasting on WFMT radio, and John Prine, who was just about to record his first album, was a guest on his show. He played a song or three and the interview is very interesting, covering many topics, including John Prine’s time in the service, as well as his stint as a mailman in Chicago. You can hear that interview on You Tube, in several parts, beginning with this link to Part One;
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_vP389HJWZ0&feature=relmfu 

But the best part of this interview was what took place after it was over. John Prine, as explained in the liner notes to this album, was looking to record a tape of his songs for copyright purposes. The tape would be sent on to the Library of Congress. So, he simply asked Mr. Terkel if it was possible to record the songs there in the studio. Mr. Terkel agreed, and the legendary Ray Nordstrand, who hosted “The Midnight Special”, agreed to do the engineering of the session.

What followed was 11 tracks, all of which Mr. Prine later recorded for his first album on Atlantic Records, which came out in October 1970. But this tape is so much better. It is clear and crisp in its quality, and John Prine was fresh and eager to share his work with the world. From “Hello In There”, “Souvenirs”, “Great Society Conflict Veteran’s Blues” (which was later retitled “Sam Stone”) all of Mr. Prine’s earliest work is here like you have never heard it before.

There is also a second disc of a performance by Mr. Prine in November of 1970, one month after the release of the album. “Paradise” is a song still applicable today. In that song Mr. Prine sings about how the town in which his father was born and raised ceased to exist after the coal company simply strip mined it off the face of the earth, leaving nothing behind. All of the songs speak to the conflict that is America, and the struggle of the average man; against all odds; to make it in this world.

No matter how much of a fan you are of John Prine’s, this album will only further secure your connection with the artist. And read the liner notes, they’re short and sweet, and highlight a uniquely American talent.

Medicare Signed Into Law - 1965


It was 47 years ago today when President Lyndon Johnson went to the Truman Libray in Missouri to sign the historic Medicare Act into law. To the President's right is former President Harry Truman. Behind them, partially obscured, is the chief architect of that Act, Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

I was barely 11 years old when this event took place, and never thought of it is as having anything to do with me. Well, here I am, 47 years later, and I am on Medicaid, a program which grew out of the original Medicare Program.  Without this return on my investment,  through a government mandated deduction from my paycheck, I would be in a very different position, respecting both my health and my dignity as a human being.

So, in the midst of all of the hubbub regarding what some people term to be "entitlements"; which they are not, they are investments; I just want to thank the leaders who made this program possible. Their actions, over 4 decades ago, affect me directly today.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

"Searching for Sugarman" with Malik Bendjelloul and “Sixto” Diaz Rodriguez (2012)


Malik Bendjelloul and “Sixto” Diaz Rodriguez both play themselves in this fascinating true story about the vagaries of fame and fortune. The story begins in 1969 with the recording and release of Sixto’s first album, which didn’t do much here in the States. His second album also met the same fate in America. Still driven to play music, Mr. Rodriquez became a staple in his home town, often seen walking with his guitar, making the rounds of local bars, playing for the simple joy of playing. He had moved on with his life, working at various construction jobs to support his family, even as his recordings were selling like gold in Australia and South Africa, Most people thought that he was dead.

Malik Bendjelloul was a journalist, working in South Africa when he first heard of Rodriguez and his tremendous following. He began to research the story of the man behind the music, as well as find out how he died. Through interviews with a record store owner in South Africa, he was able to trace Rodriguez to his home town. And that’s when he got a big surprise. “Sixto”, as he is called by his family; he was the 6th child born to Mexican immigrants who came to the U.S. during the 1920’s; was still alive and playing in the evenings at local bars.

And, in a nutshell, Mr. Bendjelloul, at this point, heads to America to meet him. From there the story takes on a life of its own. If “Sixto” was dead; or at least presumed to be so; what had happened to his royalties?

I was first alerted to this movie when I saw the coming attractions recently and have been waiting for the release of this film ever since. It opened in Los Angeles and New York on Friday, but is still not in the Charlotte area. I have been listening to some of Rodriguez' music for about 3 weeks now, and his spirit is amazing. It leaps from the recording and into your soul, it’s that inspiring. This is one movie I am actually looking forward to seeing.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

"The Talking Magpies" - Terry Toons (1946)


The Heckle and Jeckle series of cartoons were so popular in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, that they quickly spawned imitators. Paul Terry, with his Terry Toons productions, was one of the better ones. He chose to call his birds “The Talking Magpies”, as that is how many younger kids referred to the Heckle and Jeckle cartoons.

In this release from 1946, the Mr. and Mrs. Magpie find a new home. But, due to their constant bickering they are hounded by the old man, who looks like a cross between Popeye and Farmer Grey. In the ensuing battle of wits listen for the Cary Grant imitation, as well as the famous phrase from Walter Winchell, “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. America”, delivered by one of the magpies from inside the old man’s radio.
After trying everything he knows to rid himself of his pesky new neighbors, he is finally driven from his own home. The moral of this cartoon is, I suppose, that the hell you know always trumps the one you haven’t yet experienced. An interesting note on the subject of the housing shortage being at the heart of this cartoon; it was  a mirror of what was actually going on in society at the time; as tens of thousands of GI's returned home, some with new brides, and all seeking a place to live.

Friday, July 27, 2012

"We're Not Dressing" with Carole Lombard and Bing Crosby (1934)

Carole Lombard, as heiress Dorothy Worthington; along with a very young Ethel Merman as her friend Edith; take a trip aboard Dorothy’s yacht, which is captained by the inimitable Leon Errol. Bing Crosby plays a deckhand hopelessly smitten with Ms. Lombard, not realizing that she has fallen for him as well. There is even a real trained bear who is infatuated with Bing Crosby’s singing.  Add in the yacht hitting a reef, with all finding their way to a seemingly deserted island; even the bear swims in this film; and you have a recipe for a good old fashioned madcap comedy.

When they begin to set up camp ashore; all eyes turn towards the deckhand to provide them with food and shelter. He refuses, arguing that they are now outside of civilized society, and as such, it is now all for one, and one for all. When they refuse, he leaves the group to go fishing for himself.
Unknown to all of them is the presence on the island of 2 biologists; Gracie Allen and George Burns. When Dorothy finds them in the jungle, she resorts to a bit of cunning in order to borrow some tools, which she then lets Bing Crosby “find” in order to build a shelter. She has been very high handed with him and he has refused all of her attentions; so what better way to win him back than to have him believe he is “the man?”

There is great acting by everyone in this film. Ethel Merman is a standout; even at this early stage of her career you can see that she is going to be big. Leon Errol is also wonderfully vibrant as, well, Leon Errol playing a yacht captain. And with Bing singing his way into Carol Lombard’s heart, this film is just plain fun to watch.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

"Birdseye" by Mark Kurlansky (2012)

There really was a man named Birdseye; and he is the man who founded the food company which bears his name; although it is now owned by a larger corporation. He was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1854, one hundred years from my own birth year; passing away only one day before my second birthday in October of 1956; but what a difference he made in his 102 years of living; largely through the efforts of his own, limitless imagination.
I picked this book up knowing that it would be well written, and even somewhat rambling in its nature. I have read 2 of Mark Kurlansky’s books before; “1968: The Year That Changed the World”; and also his fascinating history of something we all take for granted; “Salt: A World History”. Those books were; just as this book is; wide ranging in the authors exploration of his subject, so I expected no less from this book. And I was not disappointed in my expectations.
In the very first chapter of this book, Mr. Kurlanksky covers the history of New York City’s love affair with ice; which, during the 1800’s; was supplied by floating large chunks of ice downriver from upstate in the spring, supplying the fishing vessels, as well as cooling the drinks of the thirsty New Yorkers.
Clarence Birdseye was born in Brooklyn, in the Cobble Hill section, adjacent to the waterfront. Amidst all of that hustle and bustle, some of his earliest dreams of adventure must have been born. I was born and raised in Brooklyn; less than one mile from the ocean; and it had the same effect upon me. And though I did roam the world 3 times over, I never made as much of an impact as Mr. Birdseye did during his remarkable life.
Before embarking on the adventure which would change the lives of so many with frozen foods, Mr. Birdseye was an early entrepreneur, catching, and selling muskrats to museums, netting enough money to purchase his first gun. From there he began a true interest in nature, and by 12 years old was an accomplished taxidermist.
After school was finished, he took a job with the Bureau of Public Health, traveling to Arizona and New Mexico in 1908 and 1909, cataloging ticks and other insects. His work would pave the way for understanding “Spotted Fever”, as well as provide the clues necessary to combat Legionnaire’s Disease in the 1970’s. Talk about leaving a mark upon the world! 
To say that he invented frozen foods would be a bit misleading. To say that he perfected the process would be more accurate. Like so many of the inventors of the time, Mr. Birdseye relied heavily upon things which were already discovered, and then improving upon them. The author uses the example of Fulton’s steamboat as an example. He didn’t invent it; that was done in France in 1690 with the invention of the steam piston, and then the steamboat, which had no applicable use in Paris, a city with many roads and streets. Fulton merely found the right market for it on the Hudson River, making the run between New York City and Albany, delivering fresh produce to the citizens of the city. In a way, Clarence Birdseye was no different. Ice existed, as did vegetables. It was only when he made a trip to Labrador in 1912 that he realized the need for “flash freezing” foods. Up until then, the residents of Labrador, mostly fishermen and some native Inuits existed on a diet of fish, and salted pork which the fisherman brought with them each year.
When Birdseye arrived upon the scene in 1912 he was fascinated with all that he saw. But, he did miss his vegetables. He saw that if vegetables were left in the fierce artic winds, they would freeze rapidly, preserving their freshness and nutrition. Thus began a remarkable journey to perfect the process of freezing foods in mass quantities. With his unlimited imagination, he left a legacy which has had a mostly positive impact upon the world in which we live.
But he was so much more than the name Birdseye conjures up. This man held over 300 patents at the time of his death! Among his inventions were a light bulb better than Edison’s; a method to manufacture paper from waste material (way ahead of his time on that one); and so many others that you will have to read this book to keep them all straight.
Married for decades to the same woman, he continued to perfect his flash freezing process while working for the U.S. Fisheries Association. He invented a method known as double plating; or placing the item to be frozen, between two plates, freezing them twice as quickly, and without changing the cellular structure of the food. This was revolutionary. He later formed the “Birdseye Frozen Food Corp.”, and by the early 1930’s his foods were on the tables, or in the iceboxes of many Americans.
What makes this book so worthwhile is the author’s enthusiasm for his subject. It is clear that he likes Mr. Birdseye, and through his own remarkable skill as a writer, brings all of Birdseye’s adventures to life. Pick this one up and hang on; you will be traveling from the streets of Brooklyn, to Long Island and then out west, and then up into the Rockies, before returning east to Gloucester and then Labrador. There are even some side trips to Peru and parts of Canada. Chalk up another winner for the always entertaining Mr. Kurlansky.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

"I Am A Fugitive From A Chain Gang" with Paul Muni and Preston Foster (1932)

This is the movie made from the true account, “I Am A Fugitive From A Georgia Chain Gang”; written by Robert E. Burns; of his experience after coming home from the First World War. Arrested for a crime he did not commit, he escaped the notorious chain gang, becoming a renowned architect in the process. But his success came to an abrupt end when his ex-wife turned him in as a fugitive.  At that point he was promised  his full freedom if he would return to Georgia to serve a token 90 day sentence. His acceptance of that offer necessitated a second escape in the 1930's. He would  then live in hiding, residing in New Jersey,  until his pardon by Georgia in 1945.
The only difference between the movie and the real life story is the ending. The movie was made in 1932, a full 13 years before he would be pardoned.  In reality, the character of James Allen, played by Paul Muni, is the author Robert Burns. The name change was for the purpose of dramatization; as if the story of a man wrongfully imprisoned at hard labor needs to be dramatized.
This is the mother of all chain gang movies, including “Cool Hand Luke”. The escape scene in that film, in which Luke takes the road crews dump truck, using the back as a bulletproof shield, is taken from this film.
Rich with some of the finest character actors of the time, this film is a true classic. It underscores the brutality of the old Chain Gang system, in which men were treated no better than slaves, often hired out to perform work for which money was being paid to corrupt prison officials.  This film still has it all, even after 80 years.  And, in many ways the film is still relevant, given the increase in "contract" private prisons over the last few years.
On June 10, 2011  I reviewed the book “I Am A Fugitive From the Georgia Chain Gang”  by Robert E. Burns. You can view that post here; http://robertwilliamsofbrooklyn.blogspot.com/2011/06/i-am-fugitive-from-georgia-chain-gang.html

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

"Dyn- O- Mite" by Jimmie Walker (2012)

This book came as a total surprise to me. I had just seen some short sound bite thing about the author while passing through the living room the other night. Sue had on some show, ET, etc., and I caught him out of the corner of my eye. I have no idea what he was saying, as I didn’t take the time to listen. TV in the mid-seventies was a blank for me; I was simply too busy doing other stuff.

So, when I went to the Mooresville Public Library the other day; and saw this book staring me in the face; I took it as an omen that I should read it. I’m glad I did. The author, veteran stand-up comic Jimmie Walker, one time star of TV’s “Good Times”, has written a really good book. He discusses everything with candor, from his own upbringing; and his father’s desertion of the family; to his experiences in the projects of New York City, and his slow climb to fame. Along with the likes of Jay leno and david lettermen, the author came of age in a world of comedy where it was okay to be edgy, but there were still boundaries not to be crossed.

I was amazed at his relationship with legendary Norman Lear, the groundbreaking producer behind shows such as “All in the Family”, as well as well as his connections to other “white” comics of the era. The author’s flexibility allowed him to be influenced by, as well as becoming an influence to, many of his colleagues. He has remained in contact with many of those people to this day.
His stories of the last days of the old “Chitlin’ Circuit” are priceless, as those are times that will never be with us again. Although for good reason, one can’t help but wonder if the hardships these guys endured as a result of racial disparity actually added to the edge which they bought to comedy. After all, sometimes the only thing you can do is laugh.

The book is written in the imitable style of Jimmy Walker; fresh and irreverent. He gives his side of the ups and downs of TV sitcoms, versus standup comedy, holding nothing back. He quotes accurately from his former colleagues Jay Leno and David Letterman, and along the way has managed to introduce me to several more writers and comedians to enjoy.
The real complaint, if any, which Mr. Walker has, concerns the producers who said he was “too black” black in the 70’s, and then found him to be “not black enough” in the 90’s! This is something I have read about in other actor’s memoirs, and some good actors were passed over for this very reason, which seems silly now, but was of great significance back then.

This book has me watching some re-runs of “Good Times” on You Tube, and it’s actually a pretty good show, which captured 25% of its audience time slot for 6 years, in spite of constantly shifting nights in order to aid another show. Some of the plots were edgy for their timing, and relevance, to the black community; but to paraphrase Director Norman Lear, it was so much more. It was the first time in which white Americans got a look inside the projects, and realized just how similar all of our problems are. And Jimmy Walker played no small part in communicating that message to us all. This was a very surprising, and engaging book.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Errol Flyn and Fidel Castro (1959)


I never really know what I am going to post from day to day. Sometimes I get lucky and have 2 or 3 things done ahead of schedule, but mostly I just wing it. That explains the topic of today’s post. I was a bit bored and so I decided to watch the Bonus Materials on the 2nd disc of one of my favorite movies, “Robin Hood”, with Errol Flynn and Olivia DeHavilland. I had never looked at the 2nd disc before, and  decided to take a peek at it.

Aside from the usual cartoon, and newsreel, was a short film called “The Cruise of the Zaca”, which is a 20 minute film written and directed by Errol Flynn himself. The film concerns his yacht and a trip he made with the scientists and marine biologists from the California Institute of Oceanography in California. His father, Theodore Flynn, who was a Professor of Marine Biology in Ireland, was also aboard for the voyage to the South Seas. There, they would collect various forms of marine life, which would then be compared to specimens taken from other parts of the world. The goal, of course, was to prove the connectivity of the various life forms irrespective of their separate environments.
The film is actually a composite made of several short trips which were taken over a period of a year and a half. The film is so interesting, and the man so different from the Errol Flynn we know from the screen, that I was going to post it. So, off I went to You Tube. Alas, the film is only available on the bonus disc for “Robin Hood”.
But I did run across this very interesting piece of film from a TV show circa 1959, apparently just after Castro seized power from Batista. Errol Flynn seems to have been along for at least part of the struggle that ended with Castro’s victory in January of 1959. (Errol Flynn passed away from liver disease shortly after that.) From the interview it appears that he was an “observer” of sorts, and he is very specific that he was a non-combatant. This was also interesting to me as his son became a photo journalist and went missing in the Vietnam War.
This is a very unique piece of TV journalism; encompassing, as it does; not only Mr. Flynn’s celebrity status, but also his views of Fidel Castro and his fight to free Cuba from a puppet government. Of special note are his views on the reports of executions without trials, which he excuses as sometimes being necessary to accomplish a nearly impossible goal.  He is, of course , referring to the execution of scores of soldiers still loyal to the ousted Batista.

Contrasted with today’s views on the subject of Human Rights, it is, at first, hard to fathom. But, when you come right down to it, Batista was a puppet dictator, living off the fat of the Mafia and the CIA, both of whom had substantial blood on their own hands concerning Cuba.
Errol Flynn was an enigma. From his torrid affair with Olivia DeHavilland, to his alleged homosexual trysts and drug use, he was a very complicated man. This is not an excuse on my part for anything Mr. Flynn did; or didn’t do; just an observation. Anyway, if you have never seen, or heard about Mr. Flynn’s involvement with Castro, and the Revolution in Cuba, you’re not alone. This is one story I will be looking into further, and I will be sure to pass on whatever I do find out.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

"Telstar" with Kevin Spacey and Con O'Neill (2009)

Before the Beatles, or any of the bands comprising the “British Invasion”, there was a group of talented; although a bit strange; young guys working in London to create a new sound. Their dream was to put a “sound” to the idea of what was happening in space with satellites such as Telstar. They sought to give the public a unique new audio vision of the space race. These guys were way ahead of their time.

The sounds associated with David Bowie’s “Major Tom” record originated with these guys dropping marbles into toilets, and anything else it took to achieve their vision. Working against all accepted principles of recording, they actually succeeded in accomplishing their goal with the 1962 hit record named, aptly, “Telstar”. While the rest of the country was listening to Rory Storm and the Hurricanes (with Ringo Starr on drums), and bands such as Cliff Richards and the Shadows, or Gene Vincent; Joe Meek, played in this movie by Con O’Neill;  stayed true to his vision, leaving behind a string of hits which eventually culminated in his rapid decline.

An excellent performance by Kevin Spacey, who has never made a bad film; at least in my opinion; along with a tightly wound script, based on the whirlwind career of a largely forgotten genius; make this film an informative, as well as entertaining one to watch. And, you will be surprised, if you are over 55, that you may remember hearing some of this music as a kid. Also; note the unique guitar sound that has permeated all of the “Spaghetti Westerns”, as well as films such as  “Pulp Fiction”, and you will realize just how far ahead of the curve Joe Meek and his band were.

This is the original recording of “Telstar” from 1962, courtesy; as always; of You Tube;

Saturday, July 21, 2012

"Poor Cinderella" with Betty Boop (1934)

This is the only Max Fleischer color Betty Boop cartoon. It was released in 1934. It was filmed in Cinecolor, which was a new process at the time. Max and Dave Fleischer had done several color cartoons by this time, most notably “Sinbad the Sailor” with Popeye, a cartoon which I actually own a copy of, it is that good. The biggest surprise in this cartoon is that Betty Boop is a red head! But, although I prefer her as the black haired cutie I always thought she was, in the end it doesn’t make a bit of difference - she still sings like Helen Kane.  

Friday, July 20, 2012

"Titanic Tragedy" by John Maxtone-Graham (2012)

Just when you think you have heard all there is to hear about the Titanic, a new book appears with  even more fascinating stories about that tragic night. The author, John Maxtone-Graham, was friends with Walter Lord, who arguably was the man who started the whole Titanic craze when I was about 2 years old with the release of his book “A Night to Remember”. That book began an interest in the Titanic that has never wavered; nor should it.
The book begins with a brief recap of the race to perfect the wireless, and then prove its usefulness at sea. The operators of this new medium of communication were all real die hard enthusiasts, and to some degree that interest was of immeasurable value in the recovery of the 700, or so, survivors, who undoubtedly would have perished without the devotion of these men to the new technology.
Mr. Maxtone-Graham is a noted nautical scholar, and author, with almost his entire body of work devoted to the large ocean liners of the past. His work in this book; which I was at first a bit hesitant to pick up; is a pure delight. He expands on the stories we have already heard, while at the same time, bringing new insight into the events as they unfolded prior to the sinking, when confusion reigned aboard the mighty liner.
The arrival of the Carpathia on scene, and her turnaround to New York with the survivors, has never taken on so much life as it does in the skillful hands of the author. One of the many advantages he has over other authors on this subject is his friendship with the late Walter Lord. Through him, the author acquired the 7 letters which Mr. Lord wrote over a period of 20 years, or more, in which he takes on the persona of a passenger on the crippled liner. These “letters” help the reader to understand both the passengers, and the times in which they lived.
Also covered here; in more depth than before; are the details of the recovery efforts concerning the bodies which were left on scene, as well as a life raft or two. The scramble by the reporters waiting on the pier in New York is also of interest, as it speaks to the way news traveled in 1912.
As I said, I almost didn’t pick this one up, but once I did, could not put it down. Sometimes just knowing the ending isn’t enough; you need to understand the how’s and why’s behind it. To that end, the author has done a very thorough job; while, at the same time; creating a highly readable book.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Working A Winch

The photo above was taken aboard the USS Neosho in the summer of 1977. The ship was berthed in Norfolk at the time the photo was taken. Although it is a bit grainy and worn; it is, after all, an old Polaroid; you can see the buildings in the background to the right of my shoulder. We had just come back from somewhere; I don’t quite remember where; and were “slushing”, or greasing the wire cables which held the hoses for the re-fueling rigs. This was known as PMS, or the Planned Maintenance System. But there is a story behind the photo. There always is. 

Only 2 weeks before this photo was taken I was unable to engage a steam winch. For the uninitiated, engaging a winch refers to the action of  grasping the iron lever firmly, and with all resolve, moving that lever into a position where it will allow the winch drum to be attached, or “engaged to” the cog, or flywheel. This “marriage” allows the winch operator to let out; or take in; as much cable as necessary for whatever task being performed. It is a very basic concept, and as old as steam power itself. But, somehow, in spite of the gargantuan arms you see on me in the photograph; I was never able to perform this basic function successfully. Until one day at sea, not long before this photo was taken.
I was stationed on Rig 8 for re-fueling duties; which ran the gamut from laying out the lines necessary for the work, as well as a lot of line handling, or “heave-hoeing”. It was hard work, and we were all expected to know one another’s jobs on the station to which we were assigned. But, for the life of me, I could not engage that winch drum! This was a source of embarrassment to me, and I suffered some small amount of ridicule as a result, which is only to be expected aboard ship, where everyone is expected to “carry their weight”.  I needed to learn to engage that winch, or die trying. And one day I was about to do just that when my salvation came from a most unexpected source.

I don’t recall the name of my “Rig Captain” at the time, but he is the one pictured below with the crew of Rig 8, wearing the white helmet signifying his position. If you look closely you will notice that I am giving him the finger, without his knowledge. He was a hard drinking type of guy, and if he had been drinking the night before, he could be a real ball buster on station. But, on this one occasion, I was to see another side of the man; one that bespoke of a false façade covering a soft heart.
Seeing me attempt to engage the winch for the 4th time was too much for him. We were now the only rig not “flying” during the re-fueling, and until that winch was engaged, we weren’t going to be pumping any fuel at all from Rig 8. This meant, of course, that one of the other rigs would have to take up our slack. That was an unforgivable offense aboard ship.

As my benefactor stepped towards me I expected the usual verbal lashing he was famous for; or a swift kick in the ass. I braced myself for a squall. But, to my surprise, he was smiling at me, and in a low, confident voice assured me that I could certainly engage that winch. Without offense, I shall try to recreate the vernacular he used, speaking as he did, with a New Orleans accent. “Lookit here Willie, this is a machine. You’s a man. That machine is ‘sposed to do what you say it do. I knows you can do it. You jus’ has to let the machine know that you know you a man. You do dat, and dat machine gonna do jus’ what you say it to do. Now go and handle that bitch again, and remember, you the man.”
All eyes were on me as I stepped up to that winch for the 5th time; which is probably a fleet record; and I gritted my teeth as I sunk that winch into gear. The “ka-chunk” sound of the cog being engaged never sounded; or felt, so good; either before, or after that day. I had finally beaten the machine! But I had also learned a valuable lesson about both myself and other people.

You never really know who you are until you see yourself through the eyes of another person. My strength was the direct result of someone else’s view of my weakness. His patient instruction; while really angry with me; was the result of his own experience as a younger man, when he was undoubtedly unsure of himself. Either that; or the yelling just didn’t work. I will never know for sure. But, the look of content on my face in the photo above is the end result. I think about that day a lot, the day I “beat the machine”.

This story comes back to me at odd times; usually when I am struggling with myself over something. And, when I look at that picture, it gives me strength. 
   

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

"A Better Life" with Demian Bichir (2011)

Carlos Galindo, played by Demian Bichir, is an illegal immigrant living in Los Angeles with his son José, played by José Julián. The boy’s mother deserted the family soon after arriving in the United States. She wanted more out of her new life than Carlos was able to initially provide. So, she left him to raise the boy on his own, in the minefield that is Los Angeles. When Carlos’ boss (another illegal) decides to sell his truck and move back to Mexico with the money he has earned here; Carlos is faced with the option of buying the truck, or looking for more work by the day; standing on the corners.

After several days of trying to find employment, Carlos manages to borrow $12,000 dollars from his sister in order to buy the truck from his old boss. The risks are great. As an illegal he faces arrest and deportation at every turn in his daily life. If he is caught, he will lose the truck to the authorities, as well as the ability to reimburse his sister for the money she has lent him without her husband’s knowledge.
As Carlos is facing these obstacles, his son is facing challenges of his own at school, where the pressures to “man up” and join a gang are weighing heavily upon him. He has little respect for his father’s values, considering him to be akin to a beggar, while the gangs take what they want.

When Carlos’ truck is stolen, his son uses his knowledge of the streets and barrios of South Central Los Angeles to help his father locate the stolen vehicle. Together, they are successful and recover the vehicle, only to be pulled over in a traffic stop which will change their lives forever.

Deported for his illegal status, Carlos is sent back to Mexico without Jose, who is now living with Carlos’ sister. But blood ties are never thin, and Carlos finds himself locked in a cycle, attempting to enter the United States again, in order to raise his son.
This is a very moving film, highlighting the dilemma faced by so many illegal immigrants today. Caught between the law and the lure of the gangs, their road is a hard one. This is an excellent film.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"Hell In the Pacific" by Jim McEnery (2012)

I  used to live in Baltimore, across the street from an ex-Marine who had actually seen the hell that defined the Battle for Guadalcanal in World War Two. He was in his late 60’s at the time, and even visited my son’s 5th grade class with some captured enemy souvenirs from the battle. His stories were almost unbelievable in their nature; but they were true. I wrote about him last December; it was a little piece about his courtship of his wife, and their eventual marriage after the war. I have never forgotten him; he was one of those guys you never do; being, as he was, a living link to one of the most unforgettable battles in our war against the Japanese, waged across the Pacific Ocean for over 3 and a half years, beginning with the attack by the Japanese on our naval Station at Pearl Harbor, in Hawaii.
So, when I saw this book by Jim McEnery, who is from Brooklyn, New York, at the library last week, I had to pick it up. Mr. McEnery is in his 90’s now, but his memories of what he went through on that island, so many years ago, are still sharp and vivid; as only the recollections of someone who has actually seen what he is writing about can be.

There aren’t too many World War Two Veterans left anymore to provide the firsthand accounts of that war. But, fortunately for us, Jim McEnery, a Marine who enlisted before Pearl Habor, is still alive and kicking, living in Ocala, Florida. Not bad for a guy with only an 8th grade education. He is one of the last survivors of the Battle for Guadalcanal. And the story he tells of that battle are exactly the same as the ones I heard from Mr. Watts so many years ago.
As a member of Rifle Company K/3/5; or K Company of the 3rd Battalion of the 5th Marines; he landed on the island August 7, 1942, a little less than a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, and only 4 months after our first victory in the pacific at Midway. That battle was a struggle between naval forces from both sides; the Battle for Guadalcanal would be the first real test of resolve on the part of the United States to repel the advancing forces of the Japanese Empire. This would be the first island invasion of the war in which the steel bayonets of our Marines clashed with those of the Japanese Imperial Army .

For the first month the Marines of K/3/5 would hack and hike their way across the island. They were tasked with holding the line at the canal, which was really just a tributary of the larger creek which ran through the island. It was, however, the line in the sand which protected the American Base at Henderson Field from being overrun by the Japanese. The Bottom of Iron Bottom Sound, in which our Navy suffered severe losses, would set the stage for the withdrawal of the Navy’s supply ships, leaving the Marines stranded with little or no supplies.
Mr. McEnery is unstinted in his praise for his fellow Marines, who came from all parts of the country, some the sons of immigrants. Cultural differences and customs were cast aside in the heat of battle. All Marines were Americans, fighting to stave off Japanese domination of the Pacific. He is also equally unstinted in his criticism of General “Dugout” MacArthur, who commanded his troops from a safe haven in Australia, emerging only a few times for photo ops in safe areas which had been won by the men who did the real fighting. MacArthur was not one of those. His opinion was that “the Marines got all the glory of the last war, and they’re not getting any from this one.” This attitude which was the main reason that the Marines are not listed on the Presidential Citation given to the Army and Navy for the battle fought mainly by the Marines, and that omission still stings the author today, a full seven decades later.
Mr. McEnery is also very critical of President Roosevelt’s policy of saving the European theater first, sending all the latest supplies and weapons to England, rather than the Pacific. In Roosevelt’s defense it must be realized that Germany was working, with Russia, to develop the world’s first rockets, the V-2, and also the atomic bomb. Had they been successful in those endeavors; and they were perilously close to those goals; both the war in the Pacific, as well as the war in Europe would have been lost.
Surprisingly, Mr. McEnery lets the Navy off rather lightly for their desertion, citing; correctly; that they had no air cover from the Army Air Corps. This lack of air cover left our own ships vulnerable to attack by air from the Japanese. When those ships were forced to leave the area, they left the Marines without the materials they needed to win the battle, and the war itself.

This is a wonderfully candid book by a kid from Brooklyn who was right on the scene of one of the worst island invasions of the war. The Battle for Guadalcanal set the tone for the island hopping which lay ahead as the marines made landing after landing on the route to Japan. And all along that route, it was guys like Mr. McEnery, and his comrades, that paved the way to victory in the Pacific.

Monday, July 16, 2012

"I'm a Sensitive Man" by Nick Lowe (2012)


Nick Lowe has been a force in rock and roll for almost 4 decades now. His solo efforts are legendary, and his all too short collaboration with Dave Edmunds in the early 1980’s supergroup  “Rockpile” was almost the apex of both of  their respective careers. But time has a way with performers like Nick Lowe; who used to be son in law to Johnny Cash, and even had the old man record one of his darker hits, “The Beast In Me” for his Rick Rubin albums; has matured like fine wine.  He has a certain elegance about him which draws you into the things, and people, about whom he sings.
His aptly named new album, “The Old Magic , released last September to much deserved acclaim, is filled with the type of music we have come to expect of Nick Lowe.  Take “I’m a Sensitive Man” as an example. He’s through playing games; and though he recognizes the value of his “kinetic” relationship with his significant other; he clearly wants to know what she really wants. It would be so much simpler that way. And he delivers the message with self-deprecating humor, which only adds to the punch.
Some of the other songs on the album, such as “Somebody Cares for Me”, are really upbeat celebrations of where Mr. Lowe is in his life right now; centered on being thankful for having made the journey intact, and with something to show for it.
The there is the laid back, and introspective track, “Shame on the Rain”; which examines the question of just who is to blame for Mr. Lowe’s melancholy; fixing the rain with the blame of his further persecution. It is a wonderful song.
The reason I’m telling you about this artist, whom I have followed for almost 35 years now, is that Sue and I have tickets for his Charlotte show in October.  It’s our birthday present to one another.  Sue is new to Mr. Lowe as a performer, having just recently heard him on NPR plugging the new album. And seeing him up close in a small venue like Charlotte’s McGlohon Theater is an added plus. It is a warm and intimate place for both the audience and the artist. We’re both looking forward to a great show from this talented singer/songwriter.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

"Harry and Tonto" with Art Carney (1974)

In this 1974 film, Art Carney; universally known as Ed Norton on the TV sitcom “The Honeymooners” with Jackie Gleason; finally got to show off his dramatic skills, as well as win the 1974 Oscar for Best Actor. And with a script by Paul Mazursky and Josh Greenfield, this is one story that is timeless in its dealing with the subject of aging.

When Harry, a retired Professor who is widowed and lives alone, learns that he must vacate his Manhattan apartment; after decades of living there with his wife; he decides to stay. With only his cat Tonto for company, he remains in the building until forcibly evicted by the Police and his landlord. His apartment building is being torn down to make way for a parking garage.
With nowhere to go, he lives with his son Bert, played by Philip Burns, and his family for a bit, before deciding to head out for Chicago, by bus, where he has a daughter, Shirley, played by Ellen Burstyn, who is divorced and owns a bookstore.
Traveling by bus proves to be a non-starter, as Tonto will not use the rest room as a litter box, which forces Harry to buy a used car in order to continue their journey. Along the way he meets, and befriends Ginger, a 15 year old hitchhiker, played by Melanie Mayron. She has no plans, or destination, and becomes a companion for Harry and Tonto. Together, they arrive in Chicago to visit Shirley.
From Shirley’s they decide to take a side trip and see one of Harry’s old flames from 50 years ago, a woman named Jesse Stone, played with great tenderness by Geraldine Fitzgerald. When they arrive at her old home they discover that she is now in a nursing home, which they  decide to visit. As the journey progresses, they are joined by Harry’s grandson, Norman, played by Josh Mostel, and they continue on their quest to find Harry’s “place” in an ever changing world. 
Ultimately, he leaves Josh and Ginger to find their own lives, while he decides to visit his playboy son, Eddie, played by Larry Hagman, who lives in Los Angeles. Along the way Harry and Tonto  visit Las Vegas, where they encounter an old Indian Chief, played by Chief Dan George, as well as spend a night in jail.
A beautifully paced and nuanced film, with much to say about our changing roles in life as we age, gave Art Carney the chance to prove that he could hold his own against the other Oscar nominees that year, which included Al Pacino in “The Godfather”, Dustin Hoffman in “Lenny”, and even Jack Nicholson in “Chinatown.” If you have never seen this film before; or, have not seen it for some time; you really owe it to yourself to watch this very poignant tale which still holds true, almost 40 years after its release.  

Saturday, July 14, 2012

"Mutiny On the Bunny" with Yosemite Sam and Bugs Bunny (1950)


This is a very funny send up of the classic tale of the HMS Bounty, with Yosemite Sam playing the part of Captain Bligh, while Bugs is his usual out of control self.  When the captain finds his crew has deserted him, he resorts to some trickery to engage a new crew. The results, of course, are predictable, with Bugs coming out, as always, on top. The voiceovers, as always, are done by the inimitable Mel Blanc.

Friday, July 13, 2012

"The Dozens" by Elijah Wald (2012)

To most white people the game known as “playing the dozens” is somewhat of a mystery. Most of us (I’m white) think of it only as a variation on what we used to call “ranking out” one another, which usually involved such witticisms as “You’re mother’s so ugly she can make a freight train take a dirt road”; that’s a very generic example; which would immediately be answered with another, and hopefully worse, reply, thus “outranking” your foe. In this book by Elijah Wald, the author sets the history of “the dozens” in its true historical context. The funny thing is, he’s a white guy! But that should be no surprise, as “The Dozens” spread over into the white community many decades ago.

For instance, when I reported for duty aboard the USS Neosho, my first ship, I was confronted by a big white guy from the Midwest who asked me point blank, “Is your mother still menstruating?” He was clearly looking for a fight. I was not.  So, I replied that my mother “was flowing like the Nile.” The tactic turned the table on him, ending the game, while giving me a reputation as a quick thinker. In the parlance of the game, I had successfully “slipped him back in the dozens”, meaning that I had turned the table on him.

In the 1950’s and ‘60’s the Russians even got in on the deal. The usual starting point for them was to tell the other party that his “mother wore army boots.” The only problem with that was that at the time everybody’s mother in Russia wore army boots!
Exploring the African roots of “the dozens”, as well as the cultural influences which shaped the genre over many decades, and countries, Mr. Wald sheds light on a subject which has often been misunderstood; or over simplified; by people the world over. Although we have all have undoubtedly played some version of this game during our lifetimes, the author has done an excellent job in chronicling the art form, from its earliest beginnings, to its influence on today’s rap culture.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Movie Minefield - Modern Cinema

Going to the movies, or even watching one at home, can be fraught with anxiety, as well as legal liabilities. It is, at the very least, intimidating. From the moment you slip that DVD into your player, you are in jeopardy. The combined forces of the FBI and Interpol are tracking every movement of that disc. Sometimes I find myself wondering if the FBI and Interpol should put this much effort into thwarting terrorism; instead of tracking movies.

I mean, here I am in my own home, watching a movie which I have either bought, borrowed, or rented, and the first thing I see on the screen is a warning from both of these agencies. They can fine you, imprison you, and even bankrupt you for misuse of a movie. And to cap it off, you can’t fast forward these warnings to the next scene. You are a prisoner in your own home, even before you have committed the crime.

You know, they hung Hussein, and I have always harbored a suspicion that he was guilty of stockpiling huge amounts of pirated DVD’s in each of his many palaces. And what about Bin Laden? Don’t you find it a little bit suspicious that he was killed while sitting in front of his TV? You have to wonder…

Theaters nowadays are not much fun either. It begins with the purchase of your ticket, when you are threatened with being evicted from the premises; without a refund; for violating the “Code of Conduct”, which is not on the ticket, or even posted anywhere I’ve ever seen. So, now I am sitting anxiously in my seat, wondering if I am doing anything wrong.

Then comes the film itself; with its ubiquitous warnings about copying the film. Yeah, I’m all set up in the third row with a video recorder, waiting to make my fortune. I guess it’s time to think back to the days of my youth, and contrast the 2 experiences.

As a kid we had it fairly simple. You bought your ticket, you paid the price. And then stayed all day if you cared to. At the Century’s Avalon, on Kings Highway and East 18th Street, there was even a balcony; or lodge, as it was referred to on the sign by the stairs. That was where we went to sit if we were bored, or had sat through the movie already. The balcony was the spot to pour soda upon the unsuspecting souls watching the movie for the first time. And for those who cared to sit up close down below; in order to avoid the soda; there was the thrill of hurling quarters; or rocks; at the screen, hoping to tear a hole in it.

But, by far the most exciting way of going to the movies involved a group effort. We would all chip in for one ticket; which was like a buck at the time; and then one of us would go into the theater and let the others in through the fire door, which, when done in the daytime, would bath the entire theater in bright daylight, eliciting moans and curses from the afflicted innocents. Then came the fun part; being chased by the 17 year old usher dressed in an Admirals uniform, armed with a flashlight. He never caught anyone, leaving me to wonder at the lengths which some people will go to for minimum wage.

Well, looking back on it all, I suppose I can now see that I brought it all upon myself, and as such, have no real reason to complain. But man, I miss those days!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"To Rome With Love" - Woody Allen, Roberto Benigni, Alec Baldwin and Penelope Cruz (2012)

Sue, as a rule, does not care for Woody Allen films. That is until recently when she viewed “Midnight in Paris”, Mr. Allen’s last film. I still haven’t seen that one. (I seem to be stuck on “Whatever Works”).  But this latest release by the iconic writer, comedian, actor and director appealed to us both. So, on a hot summer afternoon, (100 degrees plus), we sought the comfort of a dark, cold theater to spend a few hours in another world, viewing other people’s lives. As usual, at least for me, I was not disappointed. As for Sue, she was delighted with this quirky, off beat film, which is really a love poem to Rome.

The film follows 5 couples; if you count the parents; as one set of prospective in laws, who are American, are about to meet their Italian counterparts. What follows is too complicated to put down here with any justice, so you’ll just have to see the film.

Director Allen states in an interview with McClatchy Newspaper’s Rene Rodriguez, that he had several stories to tell, and so he was “.. so inspired that I couldn’t figure out which story to tell…. Finally I decided to make one movie with a lot of stories in it.” The result is a sprawling, yet connected set of stories intertwined by love, fate, and in some cases stuff seemingly out of left field, but based on the reality we all live.

Roberto Benigni is brilliant as the ordinary man, who suddenly finds himself the center of media attention, where all his movements are scrutinized and his privacy invaded. He is incensed at the turn of events; and has no idea of why he is suddenly famous; but when it is all taken away; his feelings are of being abandoned for a talent he knows he never possessed in the first place.

Alec Baldwin does a superb job as a successful architect returning to Italy, where he once studied, and through a chance encounter meets a young American architect student who lives in the same street where he used to live. He sees himself in the choices being made by the younger man, and I was left wondering whether those sequences were merely in his own mind.

Throw in the antics of two sets of prospective in laws, and the problems engendered by their children as they continue to discover themselves, and this film works on many levels. Woody Allen is at his all-time best in this one, where he basically plays himself. Just a hint at part of his role; he’s the one responsible for the short lived career of a mortician who can only perform opera in public while taking a shower. If that doesn’t get you to see this film, I give up.

Another wonderfully entertaining film from one of the best; and by the way; he’s from Brooklyn.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Sixto" Rodriquez - Happy Birthday


Sixto Diaz Rodriguez is a largely unknown American musician, singer-songwriter who was born in Detroit, Michigan on July 10, 1942. Today is his 70th birthday. His family named him 'Sixto' because he was the sixth child born to his parents, who settled in Detroit, after leaving Mexico in the 1920s. His full name is Sixto Diaz Rodriguez, and you’re about to hear a lot about him in an upcoming film about his life; and for good reason. His story is one of many when it comes to music. It is also proof that sometimes success takes time. In the case of Rodriguez, not only was that time too long in coming, but it almost didn’t happen at all. And the curious part of it is that while we in the United States were virtually ignorant of this talented and charismatic musician, he was a huge hit in places such as Australia and South Africa. Even the clubs in Europe were aware of his unique talent. It’s almost like the 1950’s again, when America didn’t quite embrace some of her own rhythm and blues artists until they were played back to us by the British. And, it begs the question, “Why?”

Mr. Rodriguez’ first album, “Cold Fact”, was recorded in America in 1969, and released in 1970; it went nowhere. The same thing happened with his second album, “Coming from Reality”, which was released in 1971. But by the late 1970’s the albums had spread by word of mouth to Australia, and then on to South Africa, where he was selling out concerts, and millions of albums. Meantime, back in Detroit, Mr. Rodriguez' career was in limbo; he wasn’t even receiving any of the royalties due him from his work. His record company didn’t even believe him when he told them of the sold out concerts overseas.
Finally, in 2006, film-maker Malik Bendjelloul came upon the Rodriguez story while looking to make a 7 minute documentary film in Cape Town, South Africa for Swedish Television. While pursuing that endeavor, he kept hearing the name, and music, of Sixto Rodriguez. Now he was hooked. There was a story to be unearthed and told.  This was not the first attempt to locate the elusive Mr. Rodriguez, who had been living in Detroit, working at various construction jobs; and later, even running for City Council, as well as Mayor; while half a world away he was bigger than the Rolling Stones.
Ten years previous, two of his biggest fans, Cape Town record store owner Steve Segerman, and music journalist Craig Bartholomew, began to wonder what ever happened to Rodriguez – and how he had presumably died. Then they began to wonder; if Rodriguez was dead, then where were all the royalties going from his hit albums? Setting out for America, they met with the co-producer of the “Cold Fact” album, Mike Theodore. That was when they found out that not only was Rodriguez alive and well, but still living in the same run down house in Detroit! He had been working all those years in construction, while raising  3 daughters.
Life works in very mysterious ways; and Sixto Rodriguez is a perfect example of that. He is now the subject of a soon to be released movie, “Searching for Sugarman.” Here he is with the movies director Malik Bendjelloul last month at the House of Blues in Hollywood. It’s due out shortly, and I am already itching to see it. Meantime, hit You Tube for a look at this very talented, and patient, musician. His life highlights the fact that sometimes it just takes time.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Ernest Borgnie - "Ernie"

When I began this blog, back in 2009, I was in the habit of sending copies of my posts to the subjects by e-mail. With Ernest Borgnine I was unable to do that. He had no e-mail! It wasn’t a generational thing; he was just light years ahead of me, and only really communicated by twitter. I have always held that I am incapable of any type of communication; verbal, or written; which restricts me to a finite number of characters, or words. So, I just Googled his real estate holdings in Los Angeles and mailed it to the first address that came up. After that, I completely forgot about it.

Two years later; well maybe only 18 months; an envelope arrived in the mail; yes, the U.S. Mail; and in it was the signed copy of the review of his autobiography which I had sent, minus the cover letter. To say that I was thrilled is an understatement.  It hangs, framed, on my wall.

Long before “McHale’s Navy”, Ernest Borgnine was serious actor, even winning the Academy Award for Best Actor in the film “Marty”. In that film he plays a lonely butcher who lives at home with his mother and spends his evenings with his other unwed friends; drinking, going to dance clubs; always looking to “score”. It’s an empty life, and Marty longs for more, even as he thinks himself too ugly to find true love.

But, even before that came his portrayal of “Fatso”, the sadistic Sargent in charge of the brig in Pearl Harbor, just on the brink of World War Two. The irony of that role is that in real life Mr. Borgnine had just returned from duty at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked. He spent the rest of the war patrolling the rivers of New York City on a yacht. It was there that he absorbed the ability to play the two greatest roles of his long career. The city gave him a chance to really observe people, and record all that he was seeing. He would use those observations in the years after the war to great advantage as an actor.
He was brilliant alongside Bette Davis and Debbie Reynolds in “The Catered Affair”, in which Mr. Borgnine plays a cab driver saving to buy his own cab; and just as he arrives at his goal, his daughter is planning a “catered” wedding; which will, of course, keep him from realizing his goal.

In “Bad Day at Black Rock” he plays a sadistic killer who works for William Holden, a rancher who has killed an innocent Japanese farmer for his land; even as the dead man’s son was fighting for America in the Pacific. His intensity in that role, alongside Spencer Tracy and Lee Marvin is palpable.

I watched all of those movies on TV as a kid, always mesmerized by the strength of his performance. I didn’t even have to like the movie – just watching him act was enough for me. Later he was re-created as the seemingly errant Lt. McHale in “McHale’s Navy”, opposite the bumbling character of Captain Bighamton, played by Joe Flynn.

In his later years, he did voice overs for both “The Simpsons”, as well as “SpongeBob SquarePants.” Talk about versatility! His ability to adapt kept him vital for over 60 years in show business, weathering each technological change with the tenacity of the sailor he was so long ago. “Fair winds and following seas” to you “Ernie.” Through the medium of film, you will always be with us.
To read a review of his truly entertaining autobiography, go here;



Sunday, July 8, 2012

"Truth Be Told" by Larry King (2012)

One of the best things about doing this blog has been that, from time to time, I get books sent to me for free. Of course there is an expectation that I will post a review of the book, which is perfectly fine with me, as that’s what I enjoy doing anyway.  I received this book last Thursday and have spent the past few days dipping into it. It’s a delightful read, recalling, as it does, Larry King’s remarkable career which spans 50 years, during which he has interviewed virtually everyone of note on the planet.

This is an excellent book for vacationing, lying on the beach, or poolside. You can literally open this book to any page and instantly be entertained. And let’s face it; Larry King is the entertainer’s entertainer. The book teems with stories about some of the most memorable moments of Larry King’s incredible life in broadcasting. His encounters, including the famous kiss with Marlon Brando, as well as some of the friendships he has forged along the way are mind boggling. After all, how many people can ever say that they were able to just pick up the phone and talk to Marlon Brando? Who even knew that he answered his own phone?
As richly textured, and funny, as this book is, I should also point out that this is probably Larry King’s 17th book. I’ve lost count. So, if you really want to know Larry King’s story; when you are finished with this quickly read, and highly enjoyable book;  you really need to read his full autobiography, “When You’re From Brooklyn, Everywhere Else is Tokyo.” That book gives you an insight into just how Larry King became “Larry King”. 

However, if you’ve never read anything else by Mr. King, “Truth Be Told”, is a wonderful place to begin.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

"Three Little Pigs" - Silly Symphony (1933)


In this 1933 release from Walt Disney’s “Silly Symphony” series of cartoons comes the classic children’s story of “The Three Little Pigs.” With a bit of literary license on the part of the writer’s, the story is a bit different than the original, but the moral is the same.

While one pig labors industriously to complete work on a brick house; in order to be safe from the Big Bad Wolf; the other two pigs, who live in a straw shack next door, are busy playing and singing “Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?” They mock their neighbor’s efforts at security, until one day the Big Bad Wolf really does come around with ill intentions. It is only then that they see the wisdom in being prepared.

Friday, July 6, 2012

"Ishi - The Last Yahi" (1992)

Imagine being the last living person of your nationality, religion, or even just family. Now imagine having to hide in order to avoid being hunted down as a trophy. If you can possibly imagine these two scenarios successfully, then; and only then; will you fully understand the story of “Ishi – The Last Yahi”, which tells the story of an Indian named Ishi, who had fled into the foothills of California after the massacres of his fellow tribesmen in the 1860’s and 70’s.
With only a handful of warriors, their squaws, and scant supplies, the group chose to live in hiding rather than to surrender their age old customs for the white man’s world. For forty years, just as the Israelites had spent 40 years in the wilderness, Ishi and his fellow tribesmen were forced to survive in the foothills of California. Using all of their native skills they established a community, with leaders to make decisions and mete out justice, and hunters who provided the wild game on which they existed. They became a mythological presence; everyone knew they were out there; but no one had actually seen them.
And then, one day in 1911, Ishi, the last of the Yahi tribe, emerged from the wilderness half dead from starvation, to enter the white man’s world. After an initial stay in prison; there was simply no other way proposed to deal with him at the time; he was persuaded by anthropologist Alfred Kroeber to spend the last 4 years of his extraordinary life at the Museum of Anthropology in San Francisco, where he regaled visitors with his history of the Yahi people. He also told of his 40 years in exile, explaining how the tribe lived, and died in the wilderness, cut off from the life, and traditions, they had always known.
Fascinating in its detail; and with the use of photographs, some actual silent film footage, and even a rare voice recording of Yahi himself; this documentary film will make the viewer think long and hard about the foundation upon which America was built. “From sea to shining sea” takes on a whole new significance when confronted with the price paid by the people who were essentially victims of our policy of Manifest Destiny.