I posted another major article about the ever-interesting Joseph Wesley Fawkes, an early Burbank resident, "Consolidation Joe." More coming next week. It seems the Los Angeles Times couldn't get enough of the guy, and I believe I have now turned into the Internet's resident expert on the life and times of J.W. Fawkes. Some distinction.
I mention the San Fernando Valley Secession Movement in the article (Burbank is in the San Fernando Valley of California). Being a Civil War buff I am always naturally interested in any mention of secession... A look at California these days will convince any objective observer that it isn't the place it used to be. It's certainly not the same state that I grew up in; a place in the 1960's and 1970's where it seemed we had it all and, naturally, everyone wanted to live there. It has deteriorated politically, financially and socially.
One writer on the web observed that large tracts of the Valley now look a lot like Tijuana - because, in fact, the people living there used to live in Tijuana. The schools are notoriously bad. We are currently hosting some friends who hail from California. Last night both agreed with us that, in general, they wouldn't want to live there now. (With some exceptions, of course - but those places are very expensive.)
For the past 25 years or so I've occasionally gotten on a plane and headed West, looking forward to my visit to the state of my birth. Less than a week later, after looking around, I realize that I'm really happier in Virginia, which is a much prettier and more appealing state. It pains me to write this. Like everyone else I would like to see home as not having changed - but it has, and not for the better. It is so true - you can never go back.
I am now at the point in my Alexander the Great biography where the young hero of enterprise, courtesy, diplomacy, luck and unbeatable martial valor has turned into a frequently drunken imperious tyrant. His men have seen him turn on his closest associates and are afraid of the man they once revered, and want to go home, weary of the constant campaign. It's a fascinating story.
Last night I watched another episode of Tour of Duty. That show is even better than I remembered. This one featured a confrontation of some troops with those of the anti-war sentiment... great dialogue. For the record, I have always despised hippies. It doesn't mean that I thought the Vietnam war was intelligently planned and waged, but it does mean that my support of the troops was (and is) unconditional. But... that's fodder for an extended blog entry, I think. Suffice to say that I am really enjoying watching Tour of Duty again. It remains a favorite televison show. I understand it has a cult following - all my favorite television shows (SCTV, Tour of Duty, Square Pegs, One Foot in the Grave, Blackadder, Twilight Zone, Mike Hammer) have cult followings. In that respect I suppose I am a cultist.
Tonight I plan to head up to the U.S. Air Force Memorial in Arlington to hear the Air Force strings play a favorite piece, Dag Wiren's Serenade for Strings (1937). In Burbank when I was a teen I used to live across the street from a Swede who knew I liked classical music; he brought me back an Lp of Swedish classical music. One of the pieces was Wiren's Little Suite (1941), which I instantly liked. That led to some CD purchases of other recent Swedish music. (1937 and 1941 are "recent" in the world of classical music.)
Friday at last! It seems I'm living for the weekends these days. You have a good one.
He replied: "OK, what I meant was, and maybe some guys can relate, but it is sometimes really awkward to hear other people going to the bathroom, and it would be a little more relaxed I think, maybe not and maybe it's just me. But gosh darn it, I want music!"
I responded: "According to Miss Manners, anything you see or hear in a restroom does not exist in the world of etiquette. In some situations (which I will not describe) the most you can do is ask, in a concerned tone of voice, 'Are you unwell? Can I help?' But let's get back to music - what kind? There's the rub. When I was growing up 'elevator music' or Musak was cascading strings playing standards. Go to a grocery store now and it's some form of rock. Do you really want to hear rock in a men's room?"
I will conclude by saying, no, I do not want to hear, say, Boston's "More than a Feeling" while I'm relieving myself. In fact, I do not even want to hear rock while shopping in a grocery store - but I do. It's annoying. The grocery store not far from us used to play the most agitating rock at a volume way louder than it needed to be. We complained to the manager and it didn't help. This was one of those corporate decisions - the kind ridiculed so well in Dilbert. I think they ought to stick to cool jazz, you know, the kind of stuff the weather channel plays when they do the Weather In Your Area. Innocuous music.
By the way, I am the only person I know who actually likes Musak, or the "beautiful music" format stuff the 101 Strings used to play - that is to say, I'll listen to it. The reason why is because my parents were older (Dad was 43 and Mom was 34 when I was born), and that's the sort of stuff they liked. So I associate that sound with my youth; it kind of makes me feel nostalgic. So much so that I once wrote an essay about it - here.
In general, rock is utterly played out to me. I used to love the Who; now if I hear Baba O'Reilly or Won't Get Fooled Again I have to cup my hands over my ears. I mean, I liked it the first 23,000 times I heard it. Now it's no longer interesting. I am very glad I have classical... what's neat is that I can listen to classical stuff I listened to as a teen and not cringe (the way I did when I heard the 1974 Montrose cassette I bought as an eighteen year old and listened to again as a fortysomething).
I have benefited by drifting away from rock. Since then I have become interested in Western Swing (Gene Autry, Sons of the Pioneers, Riders in the Sky), Country-Western (Porter Wagoner), Civil War songs, roots music and bluegrass (Alison Krauss), Lounge/Exotica (Martin Denny, Les Baxter, Esquivel, Yma Sumac), folk, Big Band/standards (Nat King Cole, Julie London, Frank Sinatra), soccer mom music (the stuff I used to play in my band) and, most recently, modal jazz. And since I've begun taking piano lessons I have developed a grudging respect for Baroque, a style I have always considered to be musical wallpaper. So it's nice to move on. Besides, let's face it, rock is primarily a medium for youth rebellion. If you're age 54, isn't it a silly posture?
Last night I started to watch a 1956 crime drama (maybe a film noir) - Outside the Law - but after twenty minutes gave up on it as it was boring me stiff. One IMDb reviewer wrote, "Suspenseful and absorbing drama as the complicated operation is gradually uncovered will keep viewers engaged." I disagree. So I turned off the television and tackled a Bach Musette for the piano. I'm about half way through it after only about twenty minutes of practice - it helps that I know the melody.
I woke up this morning from a dream that I have forgotten. But it caused me to think about dreams in general. While I was showering - a time when I'm still susceptible to what I was thinking about during the night - I recalled a dream that I once had about Burbank, my home town, many years ago. I've forgotten how many years ago, in fact. It could have been the Eighties, it could have been the Sixties - sometimes dreams are not time-stamped very well. Anyway, I found myself in a region of town I rarely visited and knew very little about... actually, what is called the downtown district. I had a feeling that some day I should learn about this area better. When I was showering this morning it occurred to me that I have done exactly this via my activity with my Burbankia website. I now understand the history of the downtown area very well.
There are times I wonder how strongly in control of my life I really am. It seems that what I do follows a script of some kind. Sometimes I adhere to the script, sometimes I veer away a bit but I never seem to stray away entirely. Before I joined the Mormon church I used to think that my life was like being in a boat going down a stream. I had my hands on the rudder and could control the direction of the boat, but was blindfolded and could not see where I was headed. Since I joined the church it dawned upon me that now my hands were off the rudder but the blindfold was removed. It's some sort of visual metaphor about faith, I suppose... and I'm not sure that I don't have it backwards.
When I once mentioned this to a church friend he said that it made him think of the scripture "Make straight the way of the Lord" (John 1:23) except possibly spelled "Make strait the way..." That works for me, too.
The problem was that he used a Panasonic plunger, which wasn't available until the early Seventies. Also, earlier in the episode he used a skateboard with modern-style fat plastic wheels; I don't think those came about until after 1967. Skateboards then had metal or hard composition wheels, almost like a clay. The episode itself was great in terms of plot, acting, casting and direction - but couldn't they have gone the extra mile and gotten rid of the anachronisms?
Mucking around in old newspapers, I found a couple of interesting Burbank articles: City Extends California Street to Vietnam and Burbank to Host War Bound Marines. Check out "Miss Burbank Fire Fighter Warrene Ott." I know the Marines appreciated her! Turns out she had an acting career; her IMDb entry is here. She was a glamour girl of the Sixties. By utter coincidence, just as I ran that article on Burbankia my friend Mike sold some things he got from the Ott estate on e-Bay. She died in 1995; Mike reports a rather sad affair in conjunction with this. Her unusual name, Warrene, was created by her father in memory of World War II...
I am now reading "Alexander the Great - The Invisible Enemy, a Biography" by John Maxwell O'Brien. The invisible enemy is, in this case, the Greek God Dionysus, or, in reality, the destructive effects of what might be thought of as a Dionysian influence (drinking, irrationality, uncontrolled anger) in Alexander's life and career. It is quite good. I'm about a quarter of the way through it... it's very readable. You may know that the Greeks drew an opposition between Apollo and Dionysus. Apollo represented reason, moderation and intellect - Dionysus represented abandon and recklessness. Both were inescapable parts of the human condition; the question the ancient Greeks pondered was to what degree should men allow one or another to influence them?
By all accounts Alexander was an amazing fellow, one of the stand out characters in the classical world. He was those rare human beings who could be seen as an archetype, in Alexander's case the young military general of genius, charisma and skill at diplomacy - Ares made real, an unstoppable young man. Given that the Greeks celebrated unstoppable young men (the kouros), Alexander represented the ideal Hellene, one who spread the Greek culture throughout his known world.
The irony, of course, is that Alexander was technically not a Greek - he was a Macedonian, and was generally looked down upon as being low class by the Athenians. Imagine Jeff Foxworthy as a victorious President of the United States during World War III being lionized by the world as the ultimate American, and you get an idea of what the contemporary Athenians thought of Alexander the Great. A more recent comparison is Napoleon, the ultimate French general of genius - who was really Corsican. And not a very aristocratic Corsican at that...
People writing books about Alexander invariably use the Roman mosaic Battle of Issus, shown here. It is a masterpiece of the ancient world and a compelling image. I once read a book where the author stated that Alexander probably looked very much like his representation in this work, young, handsome, fearless, virile. I've always liked the skinny sideburns. Alexander's contemporaries said he looked like a god, which, indeed, he claimed he was as the son of Zeus-Ammon.
I'm presently on the section of the book that ruminates on Alexander's sexuality. The evidence seems pretty compelling that he was a homosexual...
Physicists are hoping to detect the elusive and pesky Higgs Boson, but they still haven't. Why all the fuss? Because it's the only remaining component of the Standard Model (which explains matter in the universe) that hasn't been detected. Journalists call it the "God particle," which I'm sure puts scientists and people of faith on edge. Here's a good Christian Science Monitor article about it.
From a readable 2008 National Geographic article: "The first thing you learn when you ask scientists about the God particle is that it's bad form to call it that. The particle was named a few years back by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Leon Lederman, who has a knack for turning a phrase. Naturally the moniker took root among journalists, who know a good name for a particle when they hear one (it beats the heck out of the muon or the Z-boson). The preferred name for the God particle among physicists is the Higgs boson, or the Higgs particle, or simply the Higgs, in honor of the University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs, who proposed its existence more than 40 years ago. Most physicists believe that there must be a Higgs field that pervades all space; the Higgs particle would be the carrier of the field and would interact with other particles, sort of the way a Jedi knight in Star Wars is the carrier of the "force." The Higgs is a crucial part of the standard model of particle physics—but no one's ever found it."
Well. Until they do I shall continue to watch old films noir in the evenings. I saw two recently:
Cloudburst (1951): A Britnoir wherein the wife of a cryptanalyst is run over and killed by a hit and run driver. Her husband devilishly metes out the same fate to the driver and his passenger. A funny sort of revenge story in the characteristically subdued and understated British production style. But in this case I didn't find myself wanting any DAME HUNGRY KILLER COP RUNS BERSERK American noir sensationalism. Oh, the beginning was way too talky, but it soon developed interest. Nice little film.
The Strange Mr. Gregory (1945): A hybrid horror-noir production sort of in the style of the Val Lewton horror flicks I love. What seriously got in the way of my enjoyment of it, however, was the prestige dialect used by the leading lady. "I cahn't understand what you mean" - that sort of thing. That old-fashioned, stagey Joan Bennett diction. I hate that. Also, a problem... the leading lady's friend was far sexier than she was. If the Strange Mr. Gregory was going to murder in order to clear the way for a play with the woman, it strains belief to think it would be little Miss Mid Atlantic Dialect and not her friend. (In much the same way male Dark Shadows viewers wonder why Barnabas had the hots for Josette when the far sexier Angelique was throwing herself at him.) In fact, my wife groaned at the conclusion of the film. I was making snide comments all through it. A not totally successful production.
A bad case of ennui pervades my soul. All I want to do is eat and nap. Nothing interests me. I have become my father. I know why Sherlock Holmes used to give himself injections. I hope this doesn't last long.
As for here in the D.C. 'burbs it was way too hot to do much on Saturday - 100 degrees and humid. So I contented myself with going to the one morning yard sale that was being held (where I bought a book and a film noir era-looking telephone) and went to the library. I picked up a forgettable documentary videotape about the literary King Arthur and watched it. Seeing it, I fondly remembered when I was a kid and used to use an old ceremonial sword to puncture cardboard boxes. So, on a whim, I got it out of the basement, cleaned it up and hung it on a pillar. It looks okay; it goes with the brasses I have on the pillar. Back when I was fifteen or so I went through a great deal of effort to use wipe on silver and gold to make it look more impressive. As it turns out all I really needed to do was to clean it off with a wire wheel and paint the scabbard flat black.
On Saturday I also drove to Tyson's Mall in an attempt to get a cast away Sony Reader (a Kindle-like device) to work, but the guy at the Sony store said, "Sorry. All we do here is sell stuff and go to lunch," so I'll have to call the support line on the card he gave me. My son gave this device to me; he found it at a Best Buy where he works. I will spent some time trying to get it to work but if it costs me anything, forget it.
I am now reading "Alpha and Omega - The Search for the Beginning and End of the Universe" by Charles Seife. It's one of those books about cosmology that I sometimes read. I learned that the Hubble constant (a measure of the expansion of the universe) is only constant in our time. The value of it has shifted over the past 14 billion years or so. I didn't know that.
I found this news report interesting: Wooden version of Stonehenge found. There is already a "Woodhenge" - I wonder what they'll call this one. The working name seems to be "New Henge."
I stumbled across an old Lois Lane comic cover the other day. The Lois Lane of my era (usually called the "Silver Age" of comics) always looked unique - due to that rather fussy 1950's hairstyle. You could always immediately see that it was Lois Lane. Nowadays, however, Lois Lane's looks have become absolutely generic. (Typical renderings here and here.) There is nothing about her looks to suggest who she is - you have to be told she's Lois Lane or you wouldn't know.
One gets the impression that, in the early days, she was a favorite character of Siegel and Shuster, Superman's creators (see vampy sketch above)...
Using my new found ability to search the Los Angeles Times, I have uncovered a tale of a truly dysfunctional family. Irreconcilable feelings between father and sons, a plot involving an "infernal machine" (a bomb), construction of spite buildings, pilfered iron pipes and barrels of vinegar, threatenings of tar and feathering, jailing, accusations of marriage irregularities, a hanging in effigy, a shooting of teenagers and constant lawsuits in the courts all form part of this amazing tale in the quiet ranching town of Burbank in the early days. Check it out - you simply can't make up stuff like this!
I watched a mighty odd film noir last night., "The Judge" (1949). Why odd? Characters are introduced and partially developed only to be cast aside, there's an unnecessary and puzzling dream sequence, plot points are not explained and the whole thing ends on a bizarre, quirky note. It starred Milburn Stone (shown above), an actor who is primarily known for playing Dodge City's medical doctor in television's Gunsmoke. A real head-scratcher of a movie.
But at least it held my attention, which is more than I can say for "The Boss" (1956). I started to watch this film once before and gave it up as being too lame. Why was it lame? Because the screenplay was by the extremely overrated Dalton Trumbo, who wrote the worst ever anti-war novel, "Johnny's Got His Gun" and a Western where a man brings a harpoon to a gunfight - see this link. On a second try with The Boss I kept falling asleep - which was my brain telling me something. Abandon ship!
I attended one of the best ever Army band concerts last night; this was the U.S. Army Ceremonial Band performing. You might think that the Army Band would play mostly, say, Souza marches. And they do play those. But they have an astonishing breadth of repertoire. I heard all sorts of interesting pieces I had never heard before... attending one of their concerts is often a much more musically challenging experience than hearing the NSO at the Kennedy Center!
They did a piece that was commissioned by the West Point Academy; one of the themes in it was a song well known among cadets, "Benny Havens, Oh!" (I read about it a lot in my U.S. Grant readings, when he was a cadet) It sounds a lot like the Confederate tune "The Bonny Blue Flag" to me. I wonder if it's the same melody. I'll have to investigate.
*** A few minutes pass ***
Some Internet pages say it's based on an Irish tune, "The Wearin' of the Green," which may or may not be "the Bonny Blue Flag." It's complicated.
Anyway, back to the U.S. Army band... they also did an interesting piece for six brass players, some of whom were stamping their feet and tapping on the trumpets' mouthpieces with cupped hands for a muffled, percussive effect. Very interesting. As I said, they have a very wide repertoire and play everything well.
They also did the "Salute to the services," a musical piece armed forces musical ensembles often do. They play the songs of each branch of the armed forces as a medley and invite members of the audience to rise when their branch of the military is played. Naturally, as a former Marine, I rise whenever the Marine Corps Hymn is played. No matter how often I hear it, I always get a thrill... Last night it was me and a woman and that was it. The Few and the Proud.
Have a great weekend!
My current newspaper search ability also helped me to make sense of my memory of an incident that happened in early 1966 when I was nine, when "Captain" Max Schumacher, in his KMPC traffic helicopter, crash landed in a Burbank vacant lot just up from my school. (See entry for 7/21, here.) It was quite the occasion. It happened around lunch time on a Monday, when we kids were playing in the schoolyard of good old Monterey Elementary School. Captain Max was able to avoid landing on top of us and instead wound up on a railroad embankment about a block away near Lockheed; we kids considered him a hero for that. Note that Burbank resident Clyde Rose, age 67, nearly got plugged by a broken rotor. I am sorry to state that Captain Max lost his life in a crash later that year, when his helicopter collided with another in the skies above Dodger Stadium.
I am also working on an article about Burbank's legendary monorail builder J.W. Fawkes. Newspaper articles from the 1890's indicate that this guy was a major nutcase - and so were his kids. I think I'll call this piece "The Fawkes Family Follies." Stay tuned; maybe I'll post it tomorrow.
My friend Robert C. Avery, Esq. has been trashing the Volkswagen Beetle on Facebook recently. Indeed, the presenters on Top Gear, in the depths of their ignorance (to use Orson Welles' phrase), also disparage the Beetle. I say Beetles are cool - always have been, always will be.
Here is why: Take one of those black or gray bulbous American sedans from a 73 minute 1947 RKO film noir (the type driven by, say, Lawrence Tierney or Steve Cochran in a getaway scene). Pass it through a German industrial design aesthetic, which is utterly unlike anyone else's in the world. Now throw in an individualistic, anti-establishment association from back in the late 1950's or early 1960's when it actually meant something, before it became corporatized by the likes of Apple and Hot Topic.
Consider that the car's development was the only worthwhile thought that Adolph Hitler ever had in his entire wretched life - and that it was transmuted into a symbol of fun and utility by American democracy. Consider the unquestioned quality of build aspects. Consider its quirky hippie culture adoption. Consider that any message you wish to put on a Bug (see image above) is heightened by the fact that it's on a Bug. Consider that the thing floated! You now have the Volkswagen Beetle. No other car - with the possible exceptions of the Ford Model T or the Willys Jeep - has such a unique pedigree. THAT is why the Volkswagen Beetle is cool for male or female and transcends any "chick car" connotation. I rest my case.
I close today's blog with a philosophical quote from the brake adjustment and maintenance section of John Muir's hippie VW Bug repair manual: "No matter what you're doing or where you are, it's important to be able to stop."
A discussion with my half-brother many years later indicated that there was a story in the local paper about it; the arresting officer was surnamed "Angel," and so the press came up with an "Angel of Mercy Books Santa Claus" angle to the story.
Yesterday I learned that we have a Proquest account at work that allows searches of major city newspapers, and so I tried a test, searching for the term "wesley" appearing between 20 Dec 1956 and 20 Jan 1957 in the Los Angeles Times. I found the article immediately. (Proquest does an optical character recognition scan of text in images - amazing!) Here is the shabby story, from the 25 December 1956 edition of the Los Angeles Times. My father is the Harry Wesley Clark mentioned in the story. My parents lived in an apartment on Virginia Street in Los Angeles when I was first born, but as far as I know this didn't influence me to later live in Virginia... The apartment building is still there but I've never visited it. My first home. Weird.
Anyway, my former babysitter Kitty adds that Dad used to tell that story a lot, and that Mom would get seriously annoyed whenever he did. Also, he was in the cell with a number of other guys, all dressed like Santa...
My pal Angela took me to task when reading yesterday's blog entry about old L.A. television stations, as I forgot to include the Roller Derby games we used to watch on KTLA (channel 5) in the early 1970's - the sport's heyday.
How could I forget those monumental mental slumming sessions? Angela and I used to eat popcorn and watch the televised games every Sunday night. The local team was the Los Angeles Thunderbirds ("Go! Go! Go!"). Shirley Hardman, the feisty little number pictured here, had the charming habit of brandishing (and using) a baseball bat in "discussions" with the New York Bombers, the Texas Outlaws, or whomever.
Hardman died tragically in 1973 of drowning. Commemorative gold (or so they claimed; I can't see anyone melting down Krugerrands for this purpose) Shirley Hardman coins were then issued by a bereaved Thunderbirds organization. During one of those televised interviews the scapegrace New York Bomber Danny "Carrot Top" Reilly once memorably suggested hocking his in for quick cash - outrage! - which, of course, made the T-Birds play all the harder. But wait! A few games later during a dispute with his manager Danny becomes a T-Bird! How can this be? What drama!
Geriatric announcer Dick "Whoa, Nellie!" Lane (shown above in an "interview" with Raquel Welch and some other lady skater in the movie "Kansas City Bomber" from 1973) was a memorable part of the Roller Derby mania of the era, too. I once saw him at the L.A. International airport, and he looked even older in person than he did on the air, if such a thing was possible. My dad told me he also used to do the narration in the Freddie Blassy era (1940's and 1950's) televised wrestling, so he was an L.A. TV icon for over four decades! The most memorable character of this bunch for me, however, was Ronnie "Psycho" Rains. In demeanor he was sort of a predecessor for wrestling's "Rowdy" Roddy Piper - if you remember him.
So I must credit KTLA for bringing us the roller games along with Melody Ranch, the Happy Wanderers Polka Show, televised bowling and other low rent programming.
I just got an e-mail from my YDNA testing lab... somebody surnamed Broome just matched my sample. That means we share a common ancestor. I'll send him an e-mail and ask about his family, but my hopes for new information are not high. This common ancestor could have existed well before the use of surnames, in which case any genealogical information he'd have for me would be useless. But maybe he's adopted, and knows his biological family. Hmmmm...
Tonight I once again attempt to take the Webelos scouts to the neighborhood pool. I hope it stays open. I tried last Wednesday, but somebody defecated in the pool - the lifeguards gave me lurid stories - and the pool was subsequently closed (county law). I hope the lightning and thunder stay away; that will close the pool as well.
Cari and I visited the Apple store last night. She's looking at a Mac book, and I'm checking out this much-heralded iPhone 4. There's a new feature called Face Time - "Video calling is a reality!" Okay... so I call my son Ethan, who has an iPhone 4. Let's set up a video call, this should be cool! We tried three times - we couldn't set it up despite the confirmed presence of a LAN on both ends. FAIL. We left without buying anything, needless to say.
AAAUUGGGHHH! I still have the Theme from Valley of the Dolls stuck in my head! It was a monster hit in early 1968; there was no getting away from it. (That and Mac Arthur Park.)
Last night, just before drifting off to sleep, my wife and I were trying to determine the Los Angeles television station call signs in the Sixties. I had them correct but couldn't remember the CBS affiliate.
Channel 2: KCBS (Told ya.)
Channel 4: KNBC
Channel 5: KTLA
Channel 7: KABC
Channel 9: KHJ
Channel 11: KTTV
Channel 13: KCOP
I remember that the programming seemed to get worse the higher the channel number.
KCOP ("a Chris Craft station") was awful - there never seemed to be anything interesting there. Really horrible travelogues, lame fitness shows and Italian sword and sandal movies. In the 1960's you were really slumming if you were watching KCOP. There was only one show I can recall ever watching: Chuck Jones the Magic Man. (Shown above - and he's no relation to the Bugs Bunny director.) He played cartoons, but I don't recall which ones. Something lame, like Crusader Rabbit, maybe. I can still hum the little chromatic fanfare they used whenever he walked onto the set.KTTV, Channel 11: There was some gray haired newscaster who reminded me of a 1950's crime movie character, but I forget his name. Consequently, KTTV was the Gray Channel to me. But the undisputed King of KTTV was an acerbic wooden legged former Marine named Joe Pyne, who had a hilarious talk show. He'd sit behind a desk as weirdos from off the streets in Hollywood attempted to chide him for his pro-Vietnam war opinions and general right-wing views, etc. His quotes were hilarious.
My Dad insisted upon watching local radio DJ The Real Don Steele host the teen dance show Boss City each Saturday night on KHJ. The weekly shtick was a cameo dance (invariably set to Mitch Ryder's "Devil With the Blue Dress") where Steele would fling dancers on and off the center stage by their arms.
KABC, Channel 7, was most notable to me for airing Dark Shadows, which was a national broadcast. My generation raced home from school each day at 4 PM to watch this soaper featuring vampires, werewolves, warlocks, demons, Frankensteinian creations and some great mood music and some really bad acting. It was enormous fun.
I figured KTLA, Channel 5, was a hick station because they broadcast "Melody Ranch" each Saturday night, a Western Swing roundup show sponsored by Farmer John franks: "Eastern-most in quality and Western-most in flavor." It was owned for a time by cowboy star Gene Autry. As cowboys were anathema to me at the time I avoided KTLA like the plague. I have since come around in my thinking, and watch old Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies. I now even like Western Swing. KTLA had a broadcast tower adjacent to the Hollywood Freeway which was a landmark to me and millions of other Los Angelenos.
My favorite channel was 4, KNBC, because 1.) They broadcast Star Trek and the Tonight Show, and 2.) They were located in Burbank.
The only thing I can note about KCBS, Channel 2, was that I liked their logo - the television eye.
I'm watching episodes of Tour of Duty at night. Uh-oh.... I found a site that has them all, every episode from all three seasons. I suppose I'll be wading through each one of them. This will take a while.
Still reading Highpocket's War Stories. It's no We Were Brothers Once - and Young, but it's an enjoyable read.
I postponed my piano lesson that would normally held be this evening. I'm still far from fluent with the two pieces I'm working on. BUT... last night I determined that one of them is a first cousin to another little march I know. They're even in the same key. I thought it sounded familiar...
I finished watching Garden State. It was okay. Boy meets girl; old wine in a new bottle. I'm not quite sure what my daughter and her friends saw in it, but I'm hardly in the target demographic for the work.
Last week I mentioned coming across a racial epithet I was unaware of, "ofay," and wishing I had an Oxford English Dictionary (OED) to look it up. As it turns out, we have the online edition (1989) available at work. Here's the entry. Interesting...
Also, last week one of the topics under discussion was earthquakes. My friend Mike said that in the 1971 earthquake, just before it struck, his dog Snoopy went nuts, running about the house frantically and running under a table. Mike was wondering what was going on - and then the quake struck. How are animals aware of earthquakes before they strike? Based on a quick Internet search, it seems nobody knows - but there are ample accounts of all kinds of animals acting strangely before one hits. They know. Oh yes, they know.
Mike also told me that in the 1991 Los Angeles quake (called the Sierra Madre quake), he was in the bathroom getting ready for work when he noticed the faucet shaking. Not long after the floor began to shake. Interesting!
My wife and I tried to watch Borat (2006) over the weekend but gave up on it after about an hour. True, it was crude and vulgar, but my real objection to it was that it was unfunny, an unforgivable offense in a comedy. I didn't laugh once. It sucked. So into the trash it went.
I also picked up Fight Club (1999), which I rather liked. Well... up to the big reveal. I thought it kind of went to pieces after that. I was prepared to write extensively about the disappointments of being young and male in society currently (which form the background to this work), but I don't think I'll inflict that upon you. Suffice to say that I have more or less written on this subject once before: The Patio Culture and the Promise of Joining the Adults Club, a sort of second cousin to this theme.
At one point the Marla character in the movie whistles part of the "Theme From the Valley of the Dolls" (1967), and so I've had that nearly forgotten tune in my head ever since. Actually, I need to see that film. It was quite controversial when it came out. It'd be interesting to see it now.
I am now reading a book I picked up at a yard sale Saturday: "Highpocket's War Stories and Other Tall Tales" by Col. Pete Hilgartner U.S.M.C. I think it's a vanity pressing but I'm not sure. Anyway it's autographed by the author so that's interesting. Apparently the guy who sold it to me wasn't impressed, though...
I also saw a couple of fun films noir over the weekend: The Weapon (1957), which starts strikingly - a boy finds a gun amidst the rubble in London (as late as twelve years after the end of the war!) and accidentally shoots a friend. Turns out it's evidence in a murder case. A pretty good film. And Step by Step (1946), wherein Nazi spies (in 1946!) are thwarted by former Marine sergeant Lawrence Tierney, a swell blonde, his amusing mutt "Bazooka" and an older former Marine who runs some cabins for rent. A fun, quick-moving 67 minute flick.
I'm about an hour into a film my oldest daughter likes, "Garden State" (2004). So far I like it, too.
Here's an interesting web site somebody sent me: 1955 crash - the dangers of Cold War duty.
I think a Cold War Memorial is probably a good idea. There were lives lost, much apprehension and a whole lot of money spent. And historical lessons to be learned.
Sigh. A long week begins.
The other day I mentioned a check engine light being on in my minivan. A friend of mine wrote and told me that that's what black electrical tape was for - "out of sight, out of mind." Ha!
The other day I played around with a Spilhaus Space Clock that was on a shelf in a library where I work. It was invented by Dr. Athelstan Spilhaus (groovy moniker), and they went into production by Edmunds Scientific in 1963. I had seen this thing a number of times before and was always fascinated with it. Ours doesn't work; I talked the librarian into letting me plug it in and putz around with it. It seems the nylon gears have probably cracked off the metal shafts. (The plasticizers in the nylon evaporates with age, so the nylon shrinks, and since it's on metal it cracks, rendering the gear non-functional.) I note that ours is a prototype. I see the restored, working ones are worth about $900 or so. I wish I had one - I think they are ultra cool.
We had an earthquake in the D.C. region at 5 AM this morning, story here. I slept right through it. Magnitude 3.6 on the Richter scale - that's nothing! I'm a native Californian and have felt some big earthquakes in my time there. The one on February 9th 1971 (the so-called "Sylmar Quake" - 6.6 on the Richter scale) woke me up, all right!
I recall being jolted into wakefulness at 6 AM to an enormous shaking in the house - the sound of coffee mugs placed atop the fridge cracking onto the floor - and seeing odd flashes of light outside. I later learned that this was due to sparks from power lines shorting out. The pendulum in our grandfathers clock was banging against the glass door, and the water in the pool was sloshing out - it was a fearful thing. It cracked some of the pool tiles. School was canceled, and the entire region was talking about nothing else that day, all the more so since we had aftershock temblors (we called them "tremblers" - a forgivable mistake, I think) the rest of the day into the evening. We learned on the news that the Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar was damaged beyond repair (see photo) - it was later demolished.
Remember Viki Gardemann, the girl across the street I introduced you to earlier this week? She and I were standing in the middle of our street talking about the earthquake when a aftershock hit. It was weird - like a wave moving across the surface of the ground. It was like surfing concrete; very unsettling. She shrieked and ran back home. I can still see her face in my mind's eye. That evening I recall the first episode of "All in the Family" I had ever watched; it was the one about Archie Bunker learning that his masculine friend (played by Phil Carey) was actually gay. I assure you, the subject matter was quite shocking for 1971 - I can still recall laughing at Edith's comment, "That big football player is a flower!" Anyway, my viewing of it was interrupted by an occasional temblor, which awoke my Mom who was asleep on the couch. I recall it was a fearful evening for her.
I also later saw the Tonight Show segment that was taped that day. An aftershock hit while Johnny was talking to Bob Newhart. It was cool; you can see a glass of water move. (I can't find a youtube video of it, oddly enough.) Carson was calm but Newhart seemed nervous.
That weekend Mom and Dad and I drove around in the San Fernando Valley to examine the damage, viewing various cinder block walls down, cracks in parking lots, etc. I recall seeing one old apartment building where a wall had fallen away, exposing a room like a dollhouse. A rug was draped half on the floor, half-off, danging in the air. Ever since, when I visit the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and ride through the burning building area and see a rug draped like this, I think of the Sylmar Quake.
My pal Don felt the Rockville quake this morning (he lives there), and writes: "We had a good six second shake. My first thought was earthquake. Then I thought explosion, but there were no sirens and the power stayed on. I am a quake veteran. My first one was felt in a Jack-in-the-Box in San Diego in 1970. Very similar to this. I watched my Coke march a few inches across the table. No one else batted an eye."
The weekend looms. I thought it would never get here. This has been a long week, it seemed. No special plans for me, other than that I'm speaking in sacrament meeting in church on Sunday - always a sure way of making the meeting more interesting (for the person having to speak). I have a 14 to 19 minute talk prepared, depending upon how long people talk before me. There are sections in italics I won't read if it looks like we're short on time. The subject I was assigned was, "Our Heritage in the Church." Easy subject for me as I like history! I was thinking about linking to it here, but no.
Have a great weekend!
This film was a sort of Southern tale, as it mostly takes place while Conte is in a sweaty prison work gang - a different setting from his usual New York nightclub, streets, car interior and office settings. At one point he's trying to evade a cagey good old boy sheriff in a boat in what looks like a bayou; he doesn't stand a chance. There are no bloodhounds baying at his heels, but there might as well have been.
Conte is one of my noir favorites - he plays an exceptionally smooth gangster - so I'll watch just about any movie with him in it. There are, however, some actors and actresses whose movies I'll avoid simply because they star in it.
Errol Flynn - Jock strap's on too tight.
Jane Fonda - Loathsome woman. (It's a baby boomer Vietnam thing.)
Katherine Hepburn - Her tweedy New Englandisms are annoying.
Nicholas Cage - A poor leading man. He can't act.
Tom Cruise - Grinning cretin.
Johnny Depp - Another cretin.
There are also stars who seem to almost always redeem iffy screenplays and productions:
Edward G. Robinson, Richard Widmark, Ida Lupino, Liz Scott, Richard Conte, Broderick Crawford...
Ding, ding... Pacific Electric Red Car service from Ben Mar Hills to Burbank, Glendale and Los Angeles. All aboard!
I made plans to take my Webelos Den to the pool last night to work on the requirements for the aquanaut activity pin, but somebody defecated in the pool and shut it down for 24 hours (county law). So as the parents and kids arrived I had to send 'em home. But, always wanting to reinforce the teaching moment, I said to each: "Now what have we learned? Swimming pools are not toilets and toilets are not swimming pools and it's important to remember the difference between the two." They got a kick out of that.
The annoying check engine light came on in our minivan again yesterday. So I ran it over to the "Vato Zone" (an auto parts place that is primarily Spanish speaking) and connected up the OBD II analyzer. No big deal... a minor emissions leak, probably a failing gas cap not making a good seal. If this continues I'll have to see about replacing it or doing some Internet research. So I cleared the code and went on my merry way. Light off. Problem solved. For now.
Torpor, ennui, lassitude... I can't seem to develop an enthusiasm for anything these days at work or at home save eating and napping. I sat down at the piano last night to work out my two assigned pieces, but my fingers were clumsy and my mind was careless. A bad practice session was the result. I gave up and popped in the Conte noir. I hope this boredom doesn't last long.
I used to give Viki and her sister Jamie wild backyard shopping cart rides. We lived near a Ralph's grocery store, which provided the shopping carts. With great effort I would break off the basket portion of the cart - nowadays they're made of plastic, then they were made of welded nickle-plated steel rods - and the rider could sit on the two bars that supported the basket and be pushed around by someone.
My friend from across the street, Richard Springer, and I used to spend hours in the Ralph's side parking lot pushing each other around in this fashion. Years later this would be the lot where I learned how to shift a standard transmission in Dad's Karmann-Ghia.
Since sitting on the slender crossbars that supported the basket was somewhat painful, I used a discarded sofa cushion in our back yard as a seat. (We never entirely got rid of old furniture. We discarded the cushions in the back yard.) Viki and I called the cushions "ass pads." I used to take her out onto Lincoln Street in the shopping cart and, being a husky 12 year-old (1968), swung her around in circles, with the cart actually lifting off the ground. Viki would scream and hold on for dear life; it was very gratifying. She and Jamie loved it. Once when I did this the cushion flew off and a little onlooker - who couldn't have been more than four or so - brought it over to us with a helpful, "Here's your ass pad."
Ever since I was a little kid I have loved Disneyland and rides of nearly every sort, especially the so-called dark house rides: Peter Pan, Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, etc. I'm sure Viki still remembers the ones I created in the backyard. The ride vehicle was, of course, a modified shopping cart.
I would wheel her through some mud (pretending to nearly dump her) - this was the African Safari portion of the ride - to the corner of the yard, onto a perilous plywood bridge over a big hole I had dug. At the bottom of the hole was what I billed as a "fabled lost city," made of boxes and wood and covered with glitter stolen from Mom's crafts box.
Then it was past "the graveyard of lost planes," which was my World War II plastic model airplane collection half-buried in the ground for scenic effect, as if they had all crashed mysteriously. Some of them displayed blackened marks from being lit with the gasoline Dad kept for the lawn mower.
From here it was over to the back of a small utility house we had, where bamboo grew abundantly. I called this "Vietnam Land." I had a Captain Action figure on display here, punctured with bamboo spears and liberally doused with Testors red enamel in mute and graphic testimony of the horrors inflicted on innocent American soldiers by the Viet Cong. "Vietnam Land" was added to the ride after Richard's father took us to see John Wayne's "Green Berets" (1968).
Then it was a short ride over to the front of the back house, where Viki was told to wait for a moment or two before entering the "Haunted House." (I had to go in first to turn on the red overhead light and situate myself - hidden by a sheet - near the pedals of our old player piano.) Viki would enter and the piano would mysteriously begin playing by itself, as if a ghost were playing it. (I think this part was inspired by a scene from a 1966 Don Knotts film, "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.") After Viki expressed suitable admiration for the back yard portion of the ride, I'd wheel her back outside and onto Lincoln Street for a high speed circular spin, where she would be in danger of losing her ass pad. Ride over.
The most sincere form of flattery is imitation, and once Viki and Jamie put together a back yard ride of their own that wasn't bad. I remember enjoying being pushed around in the shopping cart by them, for once, and listening to their girlish spiel. The only part of it I can recall were the big banana trees which they claimed was "the jungle."
I last saw Viki during my most recent trip to Burbank in late 2008. Nowadays we both use shopping carts for food, in grocery stores.
Meanwhile, in Burbank, I solve a puzzle involving a faded billboard outside of City Hall, c. 1959. The Radar Enforcement van is pretty cool, too.
I am now reading "Grant - a Novel" by Max Byrd. Seeing as how I've read just about every other biography I can find on the man, I might as well read a novel. So far it's not bad, but Grant seems to be a periphery character. I'm wondering when the author is going to bring him into it.
I was at a friend's house last week and played her Petrof upright piano; I was blown away by the sound quality. The Kawais at church all sound good, with a pleasant, mellow tone, but this Petrof had a rich, full sound that I instantly liked. They're made in the Czech Republic and are said to emulate a traditional European tone as opposed to the Japanese instruments, which have a sound of their own. Or so I think! Frankly, the whole subject of piano tone is so subjective and so based on the hearing and experience of the player and listener (not to mention room acoustics) that anything goes. I'm making a habit of playing any new piano I come across to get an idea of what it is I like. Some day I'll play well enough to ditch my Cable-Nelson learner spinet for a better instrument; when that day comes I want to have a good idea of what it is I'm looking for. (Understanding, of course, that when I'm ready to buy it'll probably be a case of what I can afford and what's available more than what I want.)
I am proud to note that I have completed my first serious piano book for adults (Beginner) and have started on my second (Beginner Intermediate). Since the books are musically chronological, they begin with Baroque era pieces, which I find especially challenging. (Then Classical, then Romantic and then 20th Century. My teacher says I do well with the 20th Century ones.) Counterpoint is such an important feature of the Baroque style; the left hand is required to diddle up and down the keys while the right is picking out the melody. I am now struggling with a piece by Jeremiah Clarke: "King William's March." I like it a lot but it is somewhat fiendish and is requiring more time to learn than usual. As is unavoidable with me, I came up with lyrics - they describe how tricky the fingering is: Let's pop pills!/It'll help you play piano!/Let's pop pills!/It's the hyper Baroque style!, etc. The next piece, a Rigadon, is also tricky, with an elusive, understated melody. I have a week to learn it.
CDs come with these books... the woman playing the pieces blasts through them at a tempo in excess of what is indicated on the pages. It's impossible for me to replicate. In order to keep from making a shambles of the King William March I'm having to slow it way down from my usual clip, but that's okay. My teacher says I attempt to play most pieces too quickly, anyway. The other day I made the mistake of listening to all the pieces in the second book on the CD. By the time I got to the last piece I was flabbergasted. Will I be able to play that?
The electric bass was far easier to learn to play than the piano - at least to learn to play reasonably well enough to accompany others in a band. And one didn't have to learn to read music to play; I got by with bass tabs (which I now recognize is a major cheater method).
Piano is difficult, more on less on par with learning calculus in college. And I suppose it doesn't help that I'm 54. It seems there are advantages and disadvantages with learning an instrument at that age. On one hand my intellect certainly isn't as supple and agile as it used to be - memorizing is more difficult. I have a very hard time remembering telephone numbers, in fact. I have to write them down. On the other hand, however, I now have a much better sense of concentration and determination than I had as a young man, when I routinely started things only to give them up when the going got tough. I only started to lose that habit when I got into the Marines. In fact, any good thing I have achieved I credit to the Marine Corps. Engineering school would have been impossible without it, I think. It was in the Marines that I learned how to focus and not to give up easily. I also learned that there was no such thing as "I can't do that." It is always a case of, "I won't do that."
Over the weekend I watched:
The Ox Bow Incident (1943): An excellent "message" film (a vengeful posse lynches the wrong men). I've always read that this was a notable film, but I wasn't prepared for just how good it was. A great cast with excellent ensemble acting. I see that reviewers are calling it a Western/film noir, but I just can't call it that myself. It doesn't have a noir feel for me, just a Western feel.
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (2005): Despite the heavy rain Saturday morning, there was one yard sale. I bought three DVDs for $1 each at it; this, "Garden State" and "Borat." (My son predicts that I will like neither, but he's not sure because he thought I wouldn't like "Trainspotting," which I liked.) I saw this film once before, but it's better on a second viewing. The British do well with science-fiction because they aren't afraid to be ridiculous (Doctor Who, Red Dwarf). Remove dignity from science-fiction plot lines and you can do so much more. That show tune number at the beginning and end - "Goodbye and Thanks for All the Fish" - is running through my head as I type. Anyway, good flick.
The Well (1951): A real surprise; I had never heard of this film. An excellent film which, in tone and content, was well before its time. The plot: A little black girl falls into a well, and race-recriminations begin as the locals ponder who abducted her. Riots break out in town. A film noir in the race relations sub-category; there aren't many of those...
Hitler's Children (1943): It reminded me of those youtube videos where elementary age school children were suborned to do laudatory Barack Obama praise rapping. This film was pure American propaganda, but a lot of fun. I always like seeing perky, blond Bonita Granville in a film. The plot: Nazis whip, sterilize and shoot Nancy Drew! Well, okay, she escapes being sterilized...
On Saturday I installed an attic fan into my very hot garage attic - I'm not sure it's doing any good, however. I need to insulate the attic as well, a longer and more costly job. I ran a new circuit for the fan from the breaker box, the first time I had ever done this level of electrical work. The problem is that in the summer my garage is way too hot to be in - I'd like to fix that. I am now starting my Garage Project. My goal is to convert a messy, sloppy looking area into a sleek and useful room for my cars. This requires replacing shelves with cabinets - I want to have everything in a cabinet - patching holes, painting and putting down some sort of floor (I haven't totally decided on paint, epoxy paint or some floor covering). The decor will be 1950's Volkswagen - light gray walls with charcoal gray cabinets - with blue accents here and there. I also want to incorporate a VW "Bubblehead" man into the room somehow; I always thought he was a cool example of German industrial design.
Hey, check this out: U.K. Treasure Hunter Finds 52,000 Roman Coins. "Somerset Coroner Tony Williams scheduled an inquest Thursday to formally determine whether the find is subject to the Treasure Act, a formal step toward determining a price to be paid by any institution which wishes to acquire the hoard." I have a feeling the finder is about to be screwed.
From my desk calendar: Weights and Measures You'll Probably Never Need: 2 bottles of Champagne = 1 Magnum. 4 Magnums = 1 Methuselah. 8 Magnums = 1 Balthazar. 10 Magnums = 1 Nebuchadnezzar.
Yesterday I mentioned The Nam. Here are two short tales as recounted by my Civil War pard Don, who served in combat waters while in the Navy:
As the junior QM, I was given the mundane job of making the traditional "12 o’clock report" to the captain just before noon every day. My ritualistic report always gave the officer of the deck’s respects and asked for permission "to strike eight bells on time" to signify 12 noon. I soon noticed my speech, which I delivered in the wardroom as the officers ate, always interrupted the captain’s lunch. One morning I finished my speech as the captain listened, fork in hand and caught in mid-bite. I decided to apologize for always disrupting his midday meal. "Captain," I said, "I’m sorry to bother you every day, but they say I have to do this." Dead silence filled the wardroom as the other officers gaped -- no doubt waiting to see if I would be keelhauled or merely made to walk the plank. The Captain managed to swallow his food then burst out laughing. "That's okay, son," he said, "We all have our jobs to do on this ship. Permission granted!" "Yes, sir!" I answered. Then, following naval tradition, I went off to strike eight bells on time.
I remember one night we were blazing away at "enemy troops in open." I was on the bridge helping plot target positions on a chart to determine range and the gun-target line. The voice of our spotter ashore kept saying, "Great shooting, keep it up, up 50 (yards) fire for effect!" I asked our navigator if we were shooting so well, how come they kept telling us to adjust our fire? His quaint and rather obvious answer, which I shall never forget, was, "If someone was shooting 5-inch shells at you, would you stand still?"
Also, yesterday I mentioned Burbank's role in supporting the troops. My pal Mike wrote, "Burbank was involved in the Vietnam War by 'Operation Cookie Lift.' This was started by a lady named Doris Vick who would have people bake cookies for the soldiers from Burbank and ship them to Vietnam in old film cans from the studios."
I saw what I think must have been the world's worst Civil War/Indian War movie last night, Sam Fuller's "Run of the Arrow" (1957). Fuller (shown above) was a director who is described as having a tabloid aesthetic; I have seen a number of his movies and, yes, I agree, they are frequently way over the top. Exhibit A is the opening of his "The Naked Kiss" (1964) - which I cite as the world's worst film noir: a prostitute (played by Constance Towers, Don) beats a john with her high heels; he pulls off her wig, revealing a bald head. Later on, she sings a smarmy song about the bluebird of happiness with a bunch of crippled children wearing pirate hats. To quote Oscar Wilde, it would take a heart of stone not to laugh at it.
These scenes are so bad they're celebrated, and easily found on youtube, so let's watch them now, shall we? Beating John, Pirate Hats. Those pretty much tell you all you need to know about the Sam Fuller aesthetic. If you're seriously interested in Fuller's work, you can watch "Shock Corridor" (1963), which features a black Klansman and a nymphomaniac, as a graduate exercise.
But getting back to Run of the Arrow, when I realized I had a VHS tape on a Civil War subject by Sam Fuller I had a strong suspicion it would suck, big time. Confirmation came no later than the opening credits, as it starred Rod Steiger, arguably the worst actor in Hollywood. Steiger, whose on screen persona can be adequately described as malevolent overweight redneck, screams, shrieks and generally chews up the scenery in his usual fashion.
The opening scene is hilarious: portentous red letters indicate that this is Palm Sunday, the Last Day of the Civil War. (Ignoring Bentonville and various other skirmishes and military actions elsewhere.) The scene is supposed to be near Appomattox, but it's clear from the utter lack of foliage that we're really looking at a water-starved hill somewhere in Los Angeles County.
Unaccountably a Yank soldier is riding slowly - all by himself - and smoking. He is shot by Steiger, who portrays a beefy, big-butted Reb (who affects an extremely unlikely Irish brogue which is sometimes forgotten and replaced with an extremely unlikely Southern dialect). I hasten to point out that well-fed Reb soldiers were few and far between in April, 1865, not to mention that nobody, Yank or Reb, would be trailing around by themselves anywhere near Appomattox Courthouse on Palm Sunday, 1865. Ever mindful of priorities, Steiger removes some food from the Yank's haversack and dines, his meal placed on the soldier's chest.
It goes downhill from there. It's difficult to cite which is worse, gruff-voiced old film noir veteran Jay C. Flippen wearing a bad black wig and portraying a Sioux Indian or the world's most inadvertently hilarious rescue scene. (An mute Indian boy becomes trapped in that constant Hollywood hazard, quicksand. Not being able to shout for help, he can only feverishly blow upon a harmonica. A trooper sees him and quickly clambers up a tree branch to pull him out, which he does successfully. Unfortunately for the trooper, the branch breaks and he is dropped headfirst into the quicksand, his legs kicking around until he is swallowed.)
Steiger, disgusted with the victorious Yankees, decides to forgo the white race entirely and become a Sioux. The portly Steiger, standing next to a lean and sculpted young Charles Bronson (who portrays the Sioux chief), seems unauthentic, to say the least. Steiger later becomes embroiled in some early cinematic race relations preachiness. The film ends with the same meaningful red letters as in the beginning: The end of this story can only be supplied by you. The only other thing I can add is that Ray Stevens, who would later carve out a career for himself as a singer of novelty songs like "Jeremiah Peabody's Polyunsaturated Quick-Dissolving, Fast-Acting Pleasant-Tasting Green and Purple Pills" and "The Streak" (which commented on the then-fashionable practice of running around in the nude) portrays an Indian in this.
I suppose somebody will e-mail me to point out that Fuller also did "The Big Red One" (1980), which is pretty good. Yes, it is. He also directed some good noirs: "Underworld U.S.A." (1961) and "Pickup on South Street" (1954) come to mind - both are excellent. With Fuller it can go either way, crap or credibility.
Well, Friday at last. I thought it would never get here. It seemed like a long and dreary week. This Mid-Atlantic heat wave is supposed to relent tomorrow, hooray for that. So have a great weekend!
I am now reading "Lulu in Hollywood" by Louise Brooks; a book I have known about for years but have never read. I found it for a buck in an Alexandria thrift store the other day. I have briefly blogged about her before, but Brooks was a silent screen film star and fashion trend setter, known primarily for her distinctive bobbed hairstyle (which she called her "black helmet") and appearance in the G.W. Pabst's film "Pandora's Box" (1929). In it she portrays Lulu, an interesting female archetype - one of the first femme fatales. Lulu is a conscienceless seductress who is quite unaware and unconcerned with her sexual attractiveness; needless to say, she causes all sorts of havoc with men. At the end, when her social position has declined to that of a prostitute, she is killed by... Jack the Ripper! Ha ha! I became aware of the character via Alban Berg's expressionistic, atonal opera Lulu. The introductory scene is interesting: A circus ringleader introduces her as the most interesting attraction in his menagerie - and the action begins.
Brooks was quite the phenom in her time. Henri Langlois, a French film historian, once famously said, "There is no Garbo, there is no Dietrich, there is only Louise Brooks!" The only thing that kept her from having a lasting and well-known film career was her difficulty in dealing with studio heads and directors; she honestly did not enjoy making films and didn't give a hoot about the Hollywood culture and lifestyle. Like Lulu, she was a disruption wherever she went. She could write, though... "Lulu in Hollywood" is a fascinating and very well-written book, the ultimate Tinseltown insider's tell-all.
(By the way, have you ever read Kenneth Anger's "Hollywood Babylon?" Wow.)
Watched yet another episode of Tour of Duty last night. The Nam, man, the Nam. And it's one, two, three/What are we fighting for?/Don't ask me I don't give a damn!/Next stop is Vietnam! - Country Joe and the Fish singing the Official Theme Song of the Vietnam Police Action.
Meanwhile, in Burbank (a place that actively supported the troops - well, the Marines - being sent to Vietnam), I made some updates to my Portal of the Folded Wings page.
Yesterday I got an assignment to speak in church 15-20 minutes from the pulpit during sacrament meeting on the 18th. The subject is "Our Heritage in the Church." No problem! I have all sorts of ideas.
My piano lesson was somewhat lackluster this week. I played my songs okay, but sort of did a brain freeze during the new song play-throughs. I was exceptionally stupid; I felt like I should have been wearing a dunce cap. It's the Dog Days of Summer Syndrome, I guess. I find it hard to express enthusiasm for anything right now - life seems dreary.
We are enjoying equatorial heat in the National's Capital: yesterday was 100 degrees and today is supposed to be worse, with higher humidity. On days like that it's not even worthwhile to go to the pool - the water is like a tepid bath. Far better to say indoors in the air-conditioning.
For some reason or another I was thinking about aging, and wondered who the world's oldest verified human being is or was. The answer: Jeanne Calmont, age 122 and 164 days when she died. She must not have been a smoker, right? Wrong. From wikipedia: "She smoked until the age of 117, only five years before her death. Calment smoked from the age of 21 (1896), though according to an unspecified source, Calment smoked no more than two cigarettes per day. She ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin, as well as a diet of port wine, and ate nearly one kilo of chocolate every week." The world's oldest verified man is Walter Breuning. He's 113. He must not have smoked either, right? Wrong. After smoking all his life, he only gave up cigars in 1999.
The wikipedia list of the oldest verified people is here; it makes interesting reading.
I watched my favorite single episode of Tour of Duty last night, "Under Siege." Gripping. When I saw it when it was first broadcast in 1988 I just thought, "Wow." You can see it here. That television show, inspired by Platoon but of better quality, started out perfectly in premise, casting and concept. In the second season the producers dorked around with it to get more female interest, which just about killed it. (I recall being very disappointed with the second season. The phrase "jump the shark" wasn't around then, but that's what happened.) They returned to the original premise in the third season, but by then it was too late and the show was canceled.
On an associated note, I am almost done with "We Were Soldiers Once, and Young." Yes, a movie viewing is inevitable.
Annnnddd... that's it.
My weekend started out by breaking and entering into a woman's minivan. I was at the bank when a tiny Indian girl walked by looking fretful and asked if she could borrow a cell phone. Turns out she locked her keys in the car. I suggested that perhaps she might let me try unlocking it as I have done this a number of times before (five, to be precise). She said okay, I got a coat hanger from the bank, jimmied the unfolded hanger through the door seam and got the hooked end around the door lock shaft. A pull upwards unlocked the door. In the meantime her family showed up and all started talking... it took me about ten minutes - a big cheer erupted and I got a hug. I was especially interested in getting this car broken into because it was a Dodge minivan like the one I own. I now know that if I lock myself out I can get back in fairly easily.
The funniest incident of this kind of thing was when I was at a beach in California a few years back. A woman had locked her keys in the car with an infant in the car seat - the air conditioning was off. She was quite upset. I borrowed a coat hanger from a guy in a VW Microbus and, after a few minutes, got the car unlocked just as the paramedics arrived. (She had called 911.) This young surfer with white stuff on his nose gave me a big high five and a "DUUUDDE!" I had to laugh.
I was reading the 2010 Old Farmer's Almanac the other day, looking to see what planets would be especially visible in July, and re-read an interesting article about a photographer in Arkansas named Disfarmer. (Long story, but his real name was Mike Meyers, which in German meant "farmer." Since he wasn't a farmer - or, he claimed, a Meyers - he named himself Disfarmer, meaning, "not a farmer." He was a grouchy, eccentric type of guy.) The few print reproductions in the article led me to the "official" website, a place where you can buy Disfarmer prints for $800 or more.
Why would anybody want to pay $800 or more for prints of Arkansas locals during the 1920's - 1950's? Because there's something to them, a quality I can't quite describe. This fellow had talent. Most of the articles I have read indicate that Disfarmer had a rare ability to lend his subjects a dignity and an honesty that is elusive in portrait photography, and I suppose this is so. But I look at the prints and think, "Yes, this is art. I can't say why, exactly, but I know it when I see it." Some of the portraits are fascinating. Anyway, check them out. I was especially struck by the moody young couple in the shot above. The girl reminded me of somebody... after some thinking, I had it - Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia.
Last week Cari and I ate at another excellent Great America Restaurants restaurant, Jackson's, in Reston. I had the best French Dip sandwich I have ever eaten and Cari said her shrimp was out of this world. We've been dining at the GAR Springfield location, Mike's American Grill, since it opened and since we moved there in 1987. Always excellent food, always well-managed. In fact, in 23 years I have had only one bad meal there - once when my baby back ribs were too highly peppered. That is an amazing record.
We've eaten at every one of their Northern Virginia restaurants - you just can't go wrong. Jackson's has an interesting painting on the wall - the Little Rascals, eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. As I was looking at it the manager came by and asked if I could name them all. Humph. Of course I can... and supply a lot of biographical information as well. Turns out he confused Porky (center) with Spanky (in pith helmet). Well... as long as the food is good...
I am now reading "We Were Soldiers Once... and Young: Ia Drang - the Battle that Changed the War in Vietnam" by Lt. Gen. Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway. I am now on a Vietnam kick, and am watching old episodes of Tour of Duty on youtube. It used to be my favorite show on TV c. 1988, and still retains its interest. I shall venture to say that there was never a better war show on TV. (My baby boomer peers are much taken with Combat!, but this show is a lot more realistic.)
Watching an episode last night I was reminded of a Vietnam dream I once had, but had to puzzle it out. I vaguely remembered it having some odd Civil War reenacting connection... Then I recalled that I had written it up somehow, or used it in an article. Another minute or two of flogging my increasingly failing memory and I had it: Back circa 1990, after a viewing of a Tour of Duty episode, I once had a profoundly odd dream about being in Vietnam as a Civil War reenactor. I woke up very confused. This coincided with reading my pal Don's satirical Civil War reenacting lyrics for Staff Sgt. Barry Sadler's Vietnam Era song "Ballad of the Green Berets." Don called his version "The Ballad of the Blue Kee-Pay (kepi)" (a kepi is a Civil War era soldiers' hat). Seeing an opportunity for an artistic merge, I wrote up a new chapter in our Macey and Gimbels serial, Chapter Three - The 'Nam. An album cover from another member of our reenacting club made it a three way collaboration. I am certain that readers, getting this in their newsletters, were puzzled. Perhaps a few were amused. Perhaps you are.
The endoscopy yesterday morning went well. When I came to, the doctor said my Barrett's looks fine - in other words, it appears to be healing - but definitive results will come in from the lab on the biopsy. I'm told I was loud and talkative, as I normally am when I come out of being drugged. I remember asking what it was they were giving me just before I went nighty-night and was told it was propofol, the stuff which killed Michael Jackson. From wikipedia: "Due to its amnestic effects and appearance as a white liquid, propofol has been humorously dubbed 'milk of amnesia' by doctors." As I was lying on the bed I had a conversation with the anesthesiologist about the necessity of being administered something that wiped my memory. This bothers me - why is this necessary? But the conversation didn't last long before the room began to tilt and sway and a velvety blanket of darkness enveloped me. That's one way to shut down the conversation, I guess.
Whenever I get knocked out and come to, the first sensation I get is women looking at me wearing indulgent smiles, a not unpleasant sensation. My wife said that when I awoke I told her that the hospital was giving away silver rings, but that they didn't have one my size. I also kept asking how long I was out; being obsessed with time as I am it is mildly disturbing to me to know that time has passed without my being aware of it. I hope I never go into a coma. (Well, duh, I can hear you say.)
Anesthesia works well on me; one of the staff told me it's because I don't drink. When the medical center says that you're impaired and shouldn't drive on the day of surgery, that goes double for me. I fell asleep yesterday no less than eight times after I got home, and last night I slept like a log! (After one incident of weirdly waking up claiming to hear chiming music.) Great stuff, that propofol.
I started reading a yard sale Penguin paperback about Albert Einstein this morning, but abandoned it on a Metro car when I realized that it was a biography (and not an especially gripping one), not a treatise on relativity. Some stranger can have it. I once got into a mild argument with a liberal about Einstein's views of God and religion, but have since come to realize that I don't really care about Einstein's views about God and religion, let alone the liberal's views about Einstein's views about God and religion.
I rewatched Chicago Syndicate (1955) yesterday - that is, when I could keep my eyes open. Have I ever mentioned Paul Stewart (shown above), a favorite noir character actor? He's in it. Ahhh... I see I have: "...usually plays a heavy. His is a kind of Bronx old boy persona, the kind of guy you'd see at the racetrack holding a tip sheet in one hand and a cigarette in the other. I wouldn't be at all surprised to learn that my Brooklyn Dad knew him - or men like him." There is something reassuring about seeing these great 1940's/1950's character actors appear in films noir. They're kind of like old friends... ("Hey, Emile Meyer is in this one! I wonder if he'll rough anyone up?") I show Stewart above wearing a suit and fedora, but his usual sartorial style was to wear a polo shirt with the top button buttoned - ha! I think I may start wearing them like that, in honor of Stewart.
In Burbankia, I describe one of the city's great land speculation messes, the 1920's Ben Mar Hills development fiasco. Growing up in Burbank I never heard of the place!
Tomorrow is going to be hot and hectic. In the morning - yard sales (of course). Then Cari wants to be in D.C. at Noon to hear a band composed of some of her high school friends performing near the Lincoln Memorial. Then the usual Five Families 4th of July rehearsal thing. (We sensibly watch the 4th of July "A Capitol Fourth" rehearsal held on the 3rd - it's the same show, but much less crowded.) And there's the neighborhood pool this long weekend, of course. Summertime, when the livin' is easy, to quote Porgy.
Have a great weekend!
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