Saturday, October 30, 2010

James MacArthur: Success and a Mystery

One of James MacArthur's early movies, and a good one at that. Movie poster courtesy of

Actor James MacArthur died this week at the age of 72. His life was long on success and adventure. But he also lived with a mystery. I'll get to the mystery in a minute: first the success and adventure.

His adoptive mother was Helen Hayes--often called the "First Lady of the Theater." His adoptive father? The writer Charles MacArthur, who, with his pal Ben Hecht, authored a score of terrific plays and movie scripts, including The Front Page (1930) (remade in its best version as His Girl Friday (1939), the Twentieth Century (1934), and Gunga Din and Wuthering Heights, both produced in that magical movie year, 1939.

Both his parents were fixtures among the Algonquin Round Table crowd, the gathering of intellectuals who inhaled alcohol and exhaled witticisms at a special table in New York's Algonquin Hotel. "Let me slip out of these wet clothes and into a dry martini," is attributed to more than one of them. Hayes became part of the circle because she was the toast of Broadway, though she didn't drink and said she was much too dense to trade bon mots them.

"This puzzling acceptance became clear to me later in life," she wrote in her autobiography. "Egocentrics are attracted to the inept. It gives them one more excuse for patting themselves on the back." (From On Reflection, by Helen Hayes, 1968).

Hayes and MacArthur had a daughter together, Mary, and wanted another child. They adopted James, who was born in Los Angeles in 1937.

Few people in the entertainment business begin life with as many advantages as did the young James MacArthur. He was good-looking, bright, and well-connected. And he had talent. A lot of people in Hollywood with those advantages are happy to make a mess of their lives, but MacArthur never did.

His sister died of polio in 1949. His father was brilliant, but an alcoholic. He coped with those sorrows too.

And though he never became a huge star, he did well. He started out in a small part in one of his mother's plays, when he was eight years old. He went on to play handsome young man parts, notably in several Disney films including the Swiss Family Robinson (1960).

His biggest success was as Jack Lord's sidekick in the television series Hawaii Five-0, which ran on CBS from 1968-1980. When the bad guys had been caught and the story wrapped up, Jack Lord would turn to MacArthur, who played state police officer Danny Williams, and say "Book em, Danno," a line that earned a place in American pop culture.

MacArthur was a smart enough businessman to stick with the show and then hang on to his royalties. He spent the last decades of his life enjoying himself, acting occasionally, and playing golf. His third wife, from 1984 until his death, was H.B. Duntz, a pretty, blonde, former LPGA professional.

He was always a smart businessman. In his twenties he started a telephone answering service with a couple of his actor friends, and at one point owned a magazine.

Which leads me to the mystery: he was good-looking, intelligent, and talented and was born in Los Angeles in 1937. He was adopted by very famous people who had very famous Hollywood friends. Who were his real parents? Was his mother--or father--known to the MacArthurs? LA was a small town back then. His parents' close friends ranged from Lillian Gish, to the Marx Brothers, to Hollywood executives, to George Gershwin (who, coincidentally, died in December of 1937).

Sometimes, after a death, these are among the things that are revealed. After Loretta Young died, her daughter, Judy Lewis, revealed that she was indeed the daughter of Young and Clark Gable--something that had long been a rumor. Loretta Young "adopted" the baby the year after a torrid winter she spent stuck with Gable in the snowy North shooting the appropriately named Call of the Wild in 1935. When you see Judy Lewis, the first face that comes to mind is Gable's, she looks so much like him ... anyway ...

Judy Young Lewis, at right, is the biological daughter of Loretta Young and Clark Gable. Young "adopted" her after taking a year off from the movies, suffering, she said, from "exhaustion."

That story is one of the stories that has always made me wonder about James MacArthur. Somewhere, amidst the swirl of Hollywood in 1937, is the rest of the James MacArthur story. I understand it is none of my business. But I'm enough of a reporter, still, to want to know what it is.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Who Put the Mock in Democracy?

Apologies to the "Capitol Steps" for borrowing this photo from their web site. But I'm promoting you, you guys! So I hadta do it!

Hear the Capitol Steps on NPR Halloween Weekend!

While I was in Washington D.C. recently I was lucky enough to see a performance of the satirical group the "Capitol Steps," at the new Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center (13th and Pennsylvania Avenue)--at least it was a new building to me and just the building is a wow!

The "Capitol Steps" are a group of former Capitol Hill staffers who do an on-going satirical show that makes fun of everyone and everything in Washington, which makes them the only truly bi-partisan group in the nation's capitol.

When a crisis of some sort breaks out in the halls of Congress they ask themselves: is it funny? What tune can we sign it to?

While I was there, they were taping their annual Halloween show, so I was lucky enough to get a preview.

You can catch it this coming weekend, on your local National Public Radio station (if you aren't still boycotting due to the firing of Juan Williams). Each station plays the show at a different time, so check the link at the end of this piece for the time in your area.

The group has done a number of tapes and CDs and is also available for events. They are very funny: and I love people who managed to do something like this and live their dream. This is just one of their CDs. And don't think it is only liberals they skewer: you should see what they do to Sarah Palin!

I've seen them many times and their satire is so topical that the show is always new. This time, I especially enjoyed "You Fill Out Your Cen-sus" to the tune of John Denver's "You Fill up My Senses," and Barack Obama singing "What Kind of Cool Am I?" to the old Anthony Newly tune of similar name.

They also sing "Return to Spender" (take off on the old Elvis song) and have a group of three Arabs decide not to build the Ground Zero Mosque (to the tune of "New York, New York")--because they heard about the NYC bed bug infestation.

The leader of the gang, Elaina Newport, who has been with them from the beginning, comes out as Hillary Clinton, in a navy pantsuit with gargantuan padding at the hips (you won't be able to see this on the radio so I might as well tell you what the laughter is all about).

And they did a topical version of their ever popular "Lirty Dies," a backward speak thing that this time included a lot of jokes about Wiger Toods and mashion fodel wife.

Newport was the only original cast member I recognized. When she started the group, she worked for Illinois Senator Charles Percy and then for New York Senator Alfonse D'Amato, both Republicans. But she's married to a former Clinton staffer so now she considers herself totally multi-cultural.

The cast is ever-changing and so are the skits and songs. They say all politics is local. In this case you can definitely say that in the hands of the Capitol Steps, all politics is an absolute hoot.

Capitol Steps Halloween Show on Radio

The Capitol Steps Web Site

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Search for a Lost Friend

On a recent trip to Washington D.C. I got to thinking about a woman who had been a friend of mine during my years working in the nation’s capitol. She was Judy Mann, a woman who wrote about women in a column for the Washington Post.

When I looked her up on the Internet, I found my search was several years too late. She died of cancer in 2005 at the young age of 61.

It made me feel sad: not only because we had lost touch, as friends sometimes do. But because I had let it happen.

We met because my husband, Phil, had worked with Judy and her husband Jack at the Washington Daily News, long years before, when Phil was a student and Jack was a friend and mentor.

At left, a book Judy wrote about raising her daughter.

Judy was a delightful person to be around: pretty, slender, blonde, very feminine, and witty, with the the tough edge of a woman who had spent her life around newsrooms filled with cigar-chewing editors. She had a child by her first marriage (to the strange Phillip Abbott Luce). And she and Jack had a long marriage and children of their own. Jack had a previous marriage too, and children of his own: so their blended family was pretty large.

She was a decade older than I, and I marveled that she could keep so many things going at once. Her home in McLean was really lovely and charming.

By the time I met them, Jack had lost his job when the Washington Star folded and had not yet found his next gig. He was twenty years older than Judy, which made him a generation older than I. In addition to the differences in our ages and experience, he had what I now recognize as a common characteristic of long-time sports reporters: a chronic sense of the foolishness of mankind, which expressed itself in a very dark world view and a sense of humor that could only be called gallows.

When he finally took a sports writing job with a Baltimore paper, Judy and Jack split up. Judy and I remained friends. Though the world of television news and the world of the Washington Post were, in those days, very far apart, we were still women in a man’s world. And I liked her. She had fascinating friends like Nora Ephron (who at one time was married to Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post) and Sally Quinn (married to Post editor Ben Bradlee) and I loved hearing her stories. We would meet for lunch and talk about our careers and our lives. I would tell her what was up with Phil and she would tell me about her latest romances.

The most important of these was with a man she wouldn’t name because she said he was prominent and married. Looking back, I realize our talks were like several scenes in the movie When Harry Met Sally: the scenes in which Carrie Fisher’s character is talking about her married boyfriend and Sally is looking at her in dismay. At which point Carrie says something like: “He’s never going to leave is wife. Is he? I know that.” Come to think of it, since Ephron was a friend of Judy’s too, maybe she heard the same stories from her I did. (Not that this was, alas, a unique case.)

When my own husband took up with another woman, I remember having a stunned lunch with Judy. I told her he wanted a divorce. I was clearly in shock. After she comforted me, she turned inward for a minute and said out loud, as if talking to herself: “I wonder how she did it? I wonder how she got him to leave you?”

I walked away from that lunch horrified. How could she say something like that? She wasn’t thinking about me! She is the “other woman”--I said to myself--and that is all she was thinking about today! I was really hurt and angry. Why didn't I just tell her, and move on from there?

I don’t think I ever saw her again. I didn’t want to see her. Looking back, I have to ask myself: what had she done? She had been human. She had thought about herself. She was in the middle of her own drama and could not see the depth of my own.

I read that she married again. I read that Jack died in 2000 at the age of 74, survived by his eight children: five from his first marriage, two from his marriage to Judy, and one he had adopted from Judy’s first marriage. Complicated? A bit. But the life they lived was was definitely full and rich.

Judy lived just five years beyond Jack. Her obituary said she was survived by her husband of fifteen years. I don’t know if he was one of the men in her life she told me about or not. But, a marriage that lasts from age 46 until one’s death at age 61, must be counted a success.

By the 1990s, her Barnard-bred, left wing feminism had begun to seem old-fashioned in some circles, and the Post tried to encourage her to quit by moving her column about women to the comic section of the paper. Her many fans were such that the Post couldn’t touch her and she stayed on until 2001. Maybe when Jack died, she glimpsed her own mortality--as we often do when we lose someone who is always in our heart--as, I’ve come to realize, old loves are.

So, in 2001, she retired after thirty years with the Post, taking her pension and splitting her time between a home in Palm Springs and a farm she bought in the Shenandoah Valley. It was the farm that intrigued me. I could just picture the way she would decorate it. I don’t know if it was as idyllic as it sounds, but, since idealism is my strength as well as one of my great weaknesses, I like to think those last four years were lovely and happy in a gorgeous place with changing leaves, and chilly nights by the fire. Surrounded, as she was, by her beautiful things and a husband she loved.

She never stopped being Judy. She called the place “Gender Gap.”

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Friday, October 22, 2010

The Beginning of the End of NPR

When I heard that Juan Williams had lost his job at National Public Radio for a comment he made on Fox News, I was reminded of a conversation I had with a VIP at NPR. It was about a decade ago, during the last time the Palestinians were blowing up civilians in Israel.

"I listen to NPR all the time," I told him. "Does it seem to you, as it does to me, that NPR's news reports are, over all, pro-Palestinian? Am I imagining this? I never hear about the suffering of the Israelis, just the Palestinians."

He thought for a moment and said: "No. I don't think you are imagining it. I think you are right. At NPR we're always rooting for the underdog."

I was blown away by this conversation. NPR was "rooting" for Palestinian terrorists who were intentionally blowing up Jews, as "the underdogs"?

That was the first time I questioned the need for taxpayer funding of Public Broadcasting, which, by the way, I listen to and watch all the time. And (disclosure here) have free-lanced for with great pleasure. That time, the question stayed in my mind.

The second time I questioned the need for taxpayer funding of Public Broadcasting was in an opinion piece I wrote for the Orlando Sentinel. I wrote, since it is next to impossible to operate a broadcasting outlet without making a profit, it was time for taxpayers to cut Public Broadcasting loose. Shows like "Prairie Home Companion" and documentaries by Ken Burns have made their producers wealthy. Why should we subsidize them?

I also pointed out some of the slants I saw in their news and programming, and the fact that most of their programming does not originate with them. I suggested they enter the marketplace with every other broadcasting outlet.

It was not an attack on Public Broadcasting. It was my opinion that taxpayers should stop funding it. CPB always says they don't really get that much money from the taxpayers anyway.

Whoo. Did I ever step in it! All of a sudden I was accused of trying to drown Big Bird.

My article provoked a big reaction from the Public Broadcasting lobby and I was banned from the Sentinel's opinion pages. For giving my opinion. "Just lie low," the editor told me. "We're taking nothing but heat."

That was when I learned what a sacred cow Public Broadcasting is.

Now that NPR has caused an uproar of its own with its firing of Juan Williams, I think we will see the end of its federal subsidies.

Their budget is a tiny little drop in the bucket of the trillions of dollars the U.S. is in debt But it is time for austerity in America's budget so every dollar will count. I think members of Congress will find it wise to get the American taxpayer out of the broadcasting business.

And I think the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will find it wise to agree.

CPB and PBS and NPR will be able to do a much better job of supporting themselves than taking taxpayer dollars. And when NPR reporters turn out to be rooting for Palestinians or political correctness or anything or anybody else, at least all of us can shrug and say to ourselves: hey, knock yourself out! That is between your organization and your sponsors. Which it always has been. CPB has simply convinced itself otherwise.

Some of their money comes from the anonymous trough of taxpayer dollars, and CPB wrongly thought this provided it with a huge penumbra of insulation.

That, I believe, is what fostered such wrong-minded thinking as purposely slanted reporting. It also fostered the kind of thinking that would fire Juan Williams for making a remark NPR executives didn't think was politically correct. (By the way, I thought what Juan Williams said was odd: Muslims in Middle Eastern garb on an airplane aren't the guys to worry about!)

Okay. I think now CPB and PBS and NPR can move forward and show us all how they can make it on their own.

I will still be listening and watching. I will still have lots of friends there: some of whom share my opinions and some of whom do not. But I won't be subsidizing them. At least I hope not.

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Crazy Quilt of America's Election 2010

Director Frank Capra, with Jimmy Stewart and Jean Arthur on the set of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. In the great fillibuster scene, Stewart, near collapse says: "Get up there with that lady that's up on top of this Capitol dome, that lady that stands for liberty. Take a look at this country through her eyes if you really want to see something. And you won't just see scenery; you'll see the whole parade of what Man's carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so's he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, color, or creed. That's what you'd see. There's no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties .."

I think this election is an absolute corker! Frank Capra, the great director, would be rubbing his hands with glee to see the stories he told in his movies coming true right before his eyes.

Candidates are out mud wrestling with one another, money is flowing like wine into ads, and voters have, nevertheless, managed to keep their eyes on the ball. As survey after survey shows, voters are asking themselves; is this candidate going to be good for the country?

Not a professional politician? Jeez, look how the pros have done!

Race after race is too close to call, as Americans listen and learn.

What would the Founding Fathers say, we are asking, about all these things Congress has been up to? Bank bail-outs and health-care bills? Foreclosure freezes during election time? Is this what we ought to be doing? What do these new laws mean? What is in them, exactly? How will the debt impact our children?

These are intelligent questions, and since we're paying the bills we deserve answers.

I've heard commentators say we are at the worst crisis in our history. What a bunch of bunk! Worse than the Civil War? Worse than the Great Depression? Worse than World War II? Don't be ridiculous. America is big enough and optimistic enough and full of enough entrepreneurs to overcome even the worst excesses of the greedy bankers and clueless politicians who got us into this. Ninety percent of Americans are working, and ninety percent of Americans are not defaulting on our mortgages. But yes, we are concerned, as well we might be.

And that amazing thing our forefathers came up with--our Constitution--still figures in our debate. What a wondrous thing!

This week in Virginia, a judge heard arguments regarding the new Obamacare law that would require citizens to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. Judge Henry Hudson said he would (according to the Washington Post) determine whether: "Congress can regulate an individual's inactivity--a person's decision to go without health insurance--under its constitutional authority to regulate interstate commerce."

There are fifteen other lawsuits on this issue across the country. This will go all the way up to the Supreme Court and the decision will impact each and every American.

I won't be able to take my eyes off the television on Election Night.

Because on this Election Night, the first one I've seen since 1980, we aren't falling for slogans. We are looking for the meaning behind the slogans. Lawyers say there is something special about a jury of twelve good people and true. And so it is--eventually--with the American people in the sacred space of the voting booth.

The plotline is better than a mystery by Agatha Christie and about a thousand times as important. And we're writing it. Just exactly the way our Founding Fathers planned.

We're voting it--something that is still a very rare and privileged thing in this world.

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Best Classic Horror for Halloween

The first Dracula movie is good (with Bela Lugosi) but the Hammer Films version is better (see below). Plus the Hammer version has its blood in color.

Here's our look at the Best Classic Horror Films, while there is still time to order them or download them to share with your coven on Halloween Night. These are all from the classic film era, so the "Chucky" series, alas, is not included.

The Haunting (1963) Based on the Shirley Jackson story, "The Haunting of Hill House" this is the absolute best haunted house movie ever made, and that is probably because it was directed by the great Robert Wise. Filmed in England, (it is supposed to take place in New England but everything about the countryside says Old England) the film stars Julie Harries, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn as test subjects invited to spend time in a house alleged to be haunted, so researcher Richard Johnson can discover if there is a scientific basis for such a "haunting." Things do more than go bump in the night, yet the fear is more about what lurks in the shadows than what you actually see. Carnaby Street and mod Beatles era designer Mary Quant (she's also more recently designed the interior of the Mini) does Claire Bloom's wardrobe. You'll be sleeping with the lights on for several nights after you discover the secret of The Haunting.

The Wolf Man (1941) Lon Chaney, Jr. plays the kind young man who returns to his homeland only to discover the perils of a gypsy's warning, the bite of a strange creature that haunts the moors, and of hidden desires that erupt in the full moon. The cast is outstanding and includes; Claude Raines, Ralph Bellamy, Patric Knowles, Warren William, Bela Lugosi, and the weird and wonderful Maria Ouspenskaya. Lots of fog, a cane with a silver top shaped like a wolf's head, and a village maiden who must be saved from a fate worse than death. Includes the famous incantation: "Even a man who is pure at heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms and the autumn moon is bright." In my own dealings with men-who-are-pure-of-heart, I can only say the Gypsy's rhyme almost always proves true. Woof woof.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931) You won't believe this film is almost eighty years old when you see the first rate use of the camera from director Rouben Mamoulian. Frederic March plays Dr. Jekyll in this pre-code film, the moral of which seems to be: IF YOU DENY YOURSELF SEX IT CAN TURN YOU INTO A MONSTER! (It's the same theme used much less effectively in Splendor in the Grass, thirty years later, but we will talk about that turkey another time.) Miriam Hopkins is fetching as the naughty girl entrapped by Mr. Hyde, and March's transition from Jekyll to Hyde was so effective it won him his first Academy Award for Best Actor. I've always been puzzled by the fact that he wears lipstick during the first quarter of the film and that it disappears from his face later on; but just consider it one of the mysteries of this creepy melodrama based on one of Robert Louis Stevenson's best, and much less bosom-heaving-than-the-movie short stories.

Night of the Living Dead (1968) Made by George Romero with a budget of $114,000, this goosebump-producing creep-fest has grossed $12M and counting. And gross is the word that applies here! The simple premise is that something has caused the dead to rise up and that these living dead guys have an insatiable need to nosh on human flesh. That's the bad news. The good news is that, because they are dead, they don't walk very fast, and, if you can find a gun, a bullet right through the noggin will make them be truly dead again. Don't watch this one alone, late at night, or you'll be boarding up your windows and doors. Great zinger ending.

Dracula (1958) The best Dracula movie ever made. It comes from England's Hammer Films and is the first pairing of Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. In color using Elstree Studios wonderful sets, it has just the right amount of bright red blood dripping trippingly out of the corner of various vampiric mouths. Black coaches with black coach horses, pubs in which the crowd goes silent when a stranger enters, crosses of Christ that burn the skins of the Evil Ones and spiced with large cloves of garlic, it's a winner all the way 'round. And you'll never want a love bite, ever again.

The Hound of the Baskervilles (1939) None of the later Sherlock Holmes films to come out of Hollywood match the quality of this rendition of one of Arthur Conan Doyle's spookiest Holmes tales. Basil Rathbone stars as Holmes with Nigel Bruce as a befuddled Dr. Watson, and Wendy Barrie as the girl our young lord falls in love with, much to his peril. Richard Greene plays the heir to the Baskerville fortune, a fortune that seems to bear the curse of a Hound from Hell. Holmes is convinced the threat is much more prosaic, but what with the fog swirling, an escaped convict lurking about, and, " ... they were the footsteps of ... a giant hound!" this Gothic thriller will have you from the first footfall on the steps of 221 B Baker Street. Famous last line you won't want to miss.

The Fly (1958) This is the original "experiment gone wrong in the basement" movie and it is a doozy. David Hedison (under the name Al Hedison) plays the handsome scientist and Vincent Price his sympathetic brother. Herbert Marshall is the chief inspector who has to get to the bottom of what appears to be a murder in a metal press of a husband by his slightly out-of-it wife. And she keeps looking around the house for a fly. The Jeff Goldblum/Geena Davis version has none of this buggy film's zing, and this one's more is more weird in its handling of kinky subtext about lust between humans and insects. From 20th Century Fox, directed by Kurt Neumann. As in several of the other movies on this list, there is a line to linger with at the end.

The Tingler (1959) Vincent Price again, only this time directed by showman William Castle, in a film about another mad-scientist-in-the-basement, trying to discover the physical thing in our bodies that makes our "spines tingle." (Hint: it looks like a cross between a large lobster and a rubber centipede.) If it grabs hold of you, the only thing you can do to make it go away is scream with fright! So scream!! This includes a sequence in an apartment above a movie theater in which a mute woman awakes to all kinds of frightening images, as well as a scene in which it appears our hero takes something very nearly like a tab of LSD! And you thought 1959 was all bobby sox and Davy Crockett! Wire your date's chair before movie time, and give him a buzz during the climactic scene. What better way to tell if he's the kind of guy you would really like to give a tingle?

The Thing (From Another World) (1951) The first excellent Atomic Age monster movie, directed by Christian Nyby with some alleged help from Howard Hawks. Something has landed up near a SAC base in the Arctic and our crew of dapper World War II vets, still in the Air Force, gets orders to take a plane up from Alaska to investigate. An intrepid reporter hops a ride with them, and all heck breaks out. Another mad scientist temporarily derails their plans to save the world from this alien menace and James Arness gets his first breakthrough role, and I do mean break through. Keep Watching the Skies!

I Walked With a Zombie This is a film in which atmosphere is the real star. Produced by Val Lewton and directed by Jacques Tourneur, it one of several excellent horror films to come from this team at RKO. A West Indies re-telling of Jane Eyre, it stars the lovely Francis Dee, whose smartest move in her life was to jilt Joseph L. Mankiewicz and marry hunky actor Joel McCrea, who became one of California's wealthiest men. In this movie she wears a lot of white, finds herself following voodoo drums through fields of sugar cane, and discovers the brooding Tom Conway (George Sanders' real life brother) has plenty of reasons for his gloom.

But you will have none of your own if you nestle by the fire, dim the lights and enjoy any of the above. Happy Halloween!

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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Race to Run California

There appears to be no clear breakout in the battle for California governor between the erstwhile Governor Moonbeam, Jerry Brown, and the New Tech eBayer, Meg Whitman. Polls at present show voters leaning slightly toward the Democrat.

Jerry Brown, as you know, was the Democratic governor once before, in his youth, so this is Brown 2.0--or by now, after a quarter century of iterations maybe about 9.0--and he's a little like Microsoft Word: a new version isn't always a better one.

Meg Whitman is a political novice, which in a year like this one with its anti-professional-politician mood, should work in her favor. And, she's a billionaire with a big war chest. But, in her present fight, with an experienced old pol like Brown, her shortage of canniness has hurt. She's a bit like the Queen Mary: her expensive machinery can keep her afloat, but she hasn't proved able to turn on a dime.

What we learned after Whitman's former (illegal Latina) housekeeper went on television in tears with her attorney--Democratic-friend-of-Jerry-and-high-profile-representative-of-weeping-women, Gloria Allred--were two important things: Allred wouldn't say who brought the lugubrious housekeeper to her, nor who is paying the legal bill.

So, we know all we need to know about that.

What Republican Meg Whitman was unable to do was to make use of this nasty trick, and turn it to her advantage. She should have said something like this:

"Since my former housekeeper has hired an attorney, I can't address this case directly. My family and I will be happy to answer any questions about this in court, rather than try this case, if it is a case, in the media." Then Whitman should have continued:

"But this is an illustration of the problems we all face with regard to illegal immigration. It's against the law to hire undocumented workers: but what are we to do with those who are here? Leave them to starve in the street? What is the right thing to do? The truth we must face is that they should not be here in the first place. Not because we don't like immigrants: we are a nation of immigrants."

"But they shouldn't be here because, while others are waiting in line for legal entry and citizenship, others have just jumped the line, crossed the border with the help of human traffickers, and entered our society secretly. This has caused problems for them, for our school systems, our health care systems, and our unions, among many others."

"Is there anyone in this room right now who has not had a native Spanish speaking person do some kind of work for them at their home or office this year? Have you asked each one to show you his or her visa and then called up INS to double check the information? Or were you concerned you might be guilty of profiling if you did that? Is this another case of Don't Ask Don't Tell? Why don't we set aside the political tricks and come up with solutions. That's what I did in business and that's what I can do as governor."

Now that would have been a productive touché. Turn the smear around. Because it is true: the real issue isn't Meg Whitman's housekeeper. The real issue is that we've lost control of our borders.

What goes around, comes around, though. After the "scandal" broke over Meg Whitman, someone in Jerry Brown's office was recorded in the background of a voicemail calling Meg Whitman a "whore." Rumor has it, it may have been Brown's wife, Anne Gust, the woman he married five years ago at age 68 after spending all his adult life as a bachelor. Gust is no Linda Ronstadt (who once followed Brown on his "learning tour" of Africa, much to the amusement of the Washington media) but then, Ronstadt is long past her expiration date, Brown-wise.

The son of former California governor, Edmund G. "Pat" Brown, Jerry Brown ran for his first office as a Trustee of the L.A. Community College system, in 1969, when he was 31. After winning that race, he served as California's Secretary of State, 1971-1975, and then was elected California governor, serving from from 1975-1983. But then his fortunes dimmed. He failed in his campaigns for president in 1976, 1980, and 1992, and for U.S. Senator in 1982.

During his years in the political wilderness, he never felt the call of private enterprise. He most famously served as mayor of Oakland, California, an unpleasant job in a crime-ridden city. More recently, he's been California's Attorney General, where he seems to have spent his time plotting another comeback. If he's done any work helping the INS track down and deport illegal aliens in California, it hasn't made the papers.

So, out here in the Golden State, in the middle of the worst recession since the Great Depression, in a state with a GNP that is in the top ten in the world, we have a novice running against a retread to replace the Terminator. We can only hope for rescue in the last reel.

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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Half Moon Bay's Pumpkin Weekend

The fields along the California coast are a sea of pumpkins this time of year.

Big news from the famous Half Moon Bay Art and Pumpkin Festival on the Northern California coast. A California pumpkin won the prize for biggest gourd. Alien peoples from the nearby state of Oregon (and sometimes from even more alien places like Idaho) have been taking the pumpkin prize at Half Moon Bay since 1999, and native Californians were certain those outlanders had devised some devious means of doing so.

But for the 2010 event, they vanished, mysteriously I might add, and Ron Root of Citrus Heights, California (up near Sacramento) was the proud winner of the grand prize. His baby weighed 1,535 pounds. And that isn't even a record.

It is a terrific bunch of fun, this Pumpkin Festival, and always a surprising reminder of how rural the California coast can be, so close to the busy hills of San Francisco. Along Highway 1, within sight of the waves rolling in from the Pacific, is a fruited plane where family farms still grow artichokes and lettuce, flowers, Christmas trees and pumpkins.

The autumn weather is spectacular, the ocean will knock you out with its beauty, and there is only one negative. Also a feature of California.

The traffic is as clogged as Bill Clinton's arteries.

Looking seaward from California's Highway One.

The main roadway from the Peninsula over to Half Moon Bay, is two-lane Highway 92. On an ordinary day it is a wonderful, meandering road through the Coast Range and down to the sea.

On Pumpkin Festival weekend it is as backed up as the security line at O'Hare.

So, make your plans with care. By 8:00 a.m. on festival days--October 16-17, 2010--Highway 92 is bumper to bumper. One alternative is to take Route 84 from Woodside up through the hippy enclave of La Honda, and down to Highway One, from whence once can head north to Half Moon Bay. You can have fun poking along through La Honda spotting the marijuana growing.

My advice is to leave at dawn, miss the traffic, park the car and walk to breakfast in the cool quiet part of the day. See the pumpkins, stroll the tents filled with art, and then get the heck out of there by noon, before the traffic going out gets bad.

Last year I took the precaution of visiting Half Moon Bay one week ahead of the festival and had no traffic problems whatsoever. Which made me truly outstanding in my field.


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Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Taps for G102

A Guest Post for Robin Chapman News
Steve Thompson

Robin Chapman writes: These are the years the baby boom generation, children of the Greatest Generation, faces losing the parents that loomed so large in our lives (not to mention in the history of the world and the lives of free people across the globe.) My friend Steve Thompson, novelist, journalist and historian, lost his own military father several years before I lost my own. We were talking about our fathers one day, and he shares with us the following tribute.

Steve and his father at their housing on Brady Air Base, near Fukuoka, Kyushu Island, Japan. His father was flying C-46 and C-119 aircraft into Korea then. Steve is looking very happy to be right where he is. ©Steve Thompson

Taps for G102


Steven L. Thompson

January 1991. Apartment G102, Air Force Village West, California. I hung up the phone and looked across the kitchen at my wife. I stood rooted to the floor. We’d been preparing to make our daily trip the hospital where my father lay dying of cancer, and I had just been told that he was dead.

My wife and I embraced, and I gazed over her shoulder at the world. But not the real world. Not the world of G102, my father’s home in this community of retired officers. I was looking back into the past, into the world I’d shared with the man whose heart had just stopped and whose life had shaped me in ways I was only now beginning to understand. The world of a pilot’s son in the United States Air Force.

October 1961. RAF Sculthorpe, England. I was a 13-year-old kid at the junior high school at this Tactical Air Command base in East Anglia, playing football during phys. ed. As we huddled, the familiar sound of Allison J71s spooling up for takeoff washed across the schoolyard. We didn’t really notice the shriek, the way New Yorkers don’t really notice the traffic noise. We lived in a continuum of engines.

The jet’s scream rose, then abruptly ended in a gut-rumbling explosion. We ran to the fence and looked toward the runway. A dirty brown cloud roiled into the gray English sky. The noise on the playing field died as we stared at the smoke. The wail of the fire engines came as the smoke began to drift in the chill air. We looked at each other as we left the fence.

We knew what might happen next: A big blue Air Force car could arrive and some kids could be taken home to be told that their fathers had been hurt. Maybe killed. We wondered, as we always did: who?

That day, the blue car didn’t come. After school, when I got home, my father’s Vauxhall was parked in front of our house. Inside, I found him comforting my mother. The airplane had been his. The starboard engine on his B-66 had tossed a turbine blade and destroyed itself. He smiled at me and asked if I’d been worried. “Nah,” I said, and went into the kitchen to get some Oreos. We ate at the O-club that night. His squadron commander bought us dinner. I played pool with my dad. He won. He always did.

May, 1990. California. For a magazine feature, I needed to find out why General Curtis E. LeMay had allowed the Sports Car Club of America to stage races on Strategic Air Command bases in the mid-1950s. I told my dad about it. He laughed, remembering his own MG-TD and SAC racing. I wondered how I’d get to LeMay, who I knew was living at the Village. “Don’t sweat it,” Dad told me.

A week later, he called to tell me I had my interview. He’d spoken to LeMay in the dining room. I marveled: as far as I knew, LeMay hadn’t given an interview in years. I wondered if he had agreed this time because the story was about sports cars rather than politics. Or if the reason was even simpler, if he’d agreed because I was an Air Force brat. I’d never know.

LeMay gave me two hours. He spoke of sports cars and SAC racing and much more. But of all his topics, the unfulfilled promise of strategic bombing and the genesis of Air Force Village West animated him the most. He told me—anger rising visibly—how little support Air Force officers’ widows were getting in their desperate search for affordable housing; how American bankers wouldn’t fund a retirement community for career military officers and their spouses; and how he’d had to go to Royal Air Force friends, now senior bankers in England, to get the startup money.

Five months later Curtis LeMay died. My father was one of the three men in wheelchairs in the front row at LeMay’s memorial service. Afterward, we talked about where we were going fishing in the spring. But spring never came for him.

2LT Thompson, Steve's father, as co-pilot, kneeling at left, in front of the B-25 bomber he flew out of a little island near Guadalcanal with the 75th Bomb Squadron during World War II. Next to Thompson, is the pilot 1LT Ernest G. Keefer, and next to him is 1LT Floyd E. Fredenburg, the crew's bombardier-navigator. Rear row (standing) from left: SGT Meyer Sandel, engineer; SSGT Eugene E. D'Amico, radio operator/gunner (looks like he caught some flak and is recovering with his arm inside his uniform shirt); SSGT Cecil P. Creech, tailgunner. By the time the war ended, Steve's father had flown 55 combat missions. ©Steve Thompson

As I stood in his kitchen, I gazed around the few artifacts of airman’s life that fit into a small apartment. On the walls were a few paintings and a pair of blue velvet plaques on which our Air Force decorations and insignia of rank were pinned. I looked at his command pilot wings and wondered what it would have been like to grow up with a father who did not go to work every day wearing a business suit the color of the wild blue yonder. I couldn’t imagine it. I never had been able to.

The wings reminded me of the Air Force Day airshows, of all the times I’d be fooling around out on the flight line with other Air Force brats, feeling superior to the awestruck civilians because we knew silver-winged secrets they didn’t. When the first formation of jets would scream overhead we’d fall silent, the superiority knocked off our faces by the JP-4 burning far above, and watch in wonder as our dads rocketed across the firmament.

We knew what we were supposed to do. Nobody ever told us. We just knew. We were supposed to step into the cockpits when they got out. To go higher, faster, farther. It was just that simple.

But of course it was not that simple. The Vietnam War was everything but simple, for me and for every other serving son of the military. Long-suppressed memories erupted, memories of civilians shouting curses at me and my comrades. “Baby killers!” they yelled. “Napalm murderers!” Ignorant of our realities, they knew only what they saw on TV. But they hurt us. The images of my Air Force and the Air Force of my father clashed, mixed but did not mingle, and yet were bound together by the things that never changed: the traditions, the faith in each other, even the rituals of Reveille and Retreat and Taps. Always Taps.

“Hiya, Sport,” he’d say when he got back from a mission, short blond hair smelling of Vitalis, flightsuit stained with sweat, kneeboard battered and chipped, helmet bag tossed into a corner. “Take the stick, Budro,” he say in the Piper Cub as the little yellow plane climbed away from the sun-baked Kansas fields. “Too rough for ya?” he’d call over the Gosport tube in the Tiger Moth as he rolled and looped it, making the green and brown quilt of England wheel crazily.

Steve's Dad and the crew were shot down near Rabul, flying the bomber "Hell Bent" during World War II and the rescue was captured by a photographer from Look Magazine. Rescued by a PBY Catalina, the chubby-winged rescue plane was nicknamed "Dumbo.

A later picture in the same Look Magazine sequence shows Steve's Dad taking a drag on a cigarette, a moment in time that suggests some of the real stress these men lived with.

Flying was life. But behind it, always, was Taps. Behind it, always, were Air Force fathers who took off and never returned. “Don’t sweat it,” my father would say when the base’s flag was lowered to half-mast and one of my friends would leave school in a blue car. And then he’d add, ruffling my hair, “They knew what they were doing.”

As did he. I read again the evidence in his decorations, the silver presentation mug from his last command. Is this all that’s left? I wondered. And then the door to G102 opened. Dottie, Goodie, Helen, all of them came in, as they had always come into Air Force kitchens, arms full of food and hearts full of love, summoned by the swift, mysterious Word that moved even faster than the blue cars when an airplane was down and men had died. They were the women who kept everything together on the ground when everything came apart in the air.

The memorial service was held in the Village Convocation Room. Chaplain Cooper reminded us of the eternal truths. It was easier for him because those who had gathered to remember my father had learned those truths long ago. A Marine colonel gripped my hand hard in the reception line. “I fought in two wars,” he said, “and your father was the bravest man I ever saw.” The colonel wasn’t speaking of his heroism in combat, where young men act quickly, but of his heroism in cancer, where old men must act slowly. The man in G102 had inspired them all, and they loved him for it.

When the memorial service was over, I surveyed the now-empty little apartment. There seemed to be no trace of him: a scratch on the wall paint, a burn on the kitchen linoleum. Was he ever there?

Overhead, a Boeing KC-135 dropped its landing gear and flaps to land at March Air Force Base, just across the freeway from me. I watched it for a moment, remembering the day the first gleaming KC-135 landed at our base in Idaho to replace the old prop-driven KC-97s. It was the day we decided the Jet Age had finally arrived. It was a day one era ended and another began. It was a day like any other day in the Air Force.

I slid closed the patio door to his apartment, started to walk away, and then stopped in the little patio, where he’d placed his hoya plants and hibachi. I knew something had not been done. I couldn’t decide what it might be. Then I remembered.

I turned, stiffened to attention, and saluted the empty room. I held the salute a moment, not thinking, just being who I was: the boy who had become the man to bury the father. And a pilot, as he had been.

There was nobody in the room to return the salute, of course. But there had been. And as long as the place is called Air Force Village West, there will be again.

Happy landings, Dad. We’re on your wing.

Steven L. Thompson

Originally published in the Oct/Nov 1991 issue of Air & Space/Smithsonian Use only with the permission of and credit to the author.

Read More About Steve Thompson's Books

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Monday, October 11, 2010

The Mysterious Presidential Citation

Six months after my father died and was buried with full military honors, I got a "thank you for your father's service" in the mail from the President of the United States. It was a heart wrenching surprise and it took a little digging to discover the origins of this mysterious Presidential Certificate.

The certificate didn't actually come to the mailbox at my house, but arrived at the funeral home in my name. The funeral director told me he had "checked the box" and had one for my sister too. The envelope said "Department of Veterans Affairs" and the signature was that of Barack Obama!

The certificate or citation reads: "The United States of America honors the memory of William Ashley Chapman. This certificate is awarded by a grateful nation in recognition of devoted and selfless consecration to the service of our country in the Armed Forces of the United States. (signed) Barack Obama, President of the United States"

Well, holy cow!

I Googled around to try to discover the origin of this mysterious certificate. My father had won many medals and honors, but I couldn't find the name of this one anywhere. I did see one On Line that had been signed for a veteran back in the seventies by POTUS Richard Nixon, and one signed more recently for a veteran who later joined the CIA and had been killed in the line of duty. The latter was signed by POTUS Bill Clinton.

Finally, I found an article by Molly Shomer which explains the certificates. They are available to the family of any honorable veteran who dies, and it is never too late to apply for one. She writes: "The Department of Veterans Affairs administers this program, which has been in effect since 1962. [Ed's note: perhaps this was an early JFK idea?] They prepare the certificates, each of which expresses the country's grateful recognition of the deceased veteran's service to the nation, and each of which bears the name of the veteran and the signature of the current President of the United States." She continues:

"This certificate, which honors the service and the memory of an honorably discharged deceased veteran, might mean a great deal to some bereaved family members. Unlike the nation's flag, which can be presented to only one family member, more than one memorial Certificate can be provided so that all next of kin of any age can receive one. Because it can take several weeks from the time it is requested to the time a certificate is received, it will usually not be possible to receive them in time for an immediate funeral. However, they make exceptionally meaningful gifts for family members who may be attending a memorial service scheduled at a later date. They are also especially meaningful when presented on Memorial Day or Veterans' Day." She concludes:

"There is no time limit for requesting a Presidential Memorial Certificate, so if certificates were not requested at the time of death they can be requested at any time."

What a valuable tradition was begun under President Kennedy! This certificate arrived and my heart swelled with pride. I knew and my father knew that he had served and served proudly. But it was a reminder than I will not soon forget.

My father, the lifelong conservative, would likely have chosen, if he could have done so, to have had it signed by President Ronald Reagan. But in our country, we honor the office, no matter our political party. So thank you, President Obama. My father and the Gipper are consulting about you at this very moment, and coming up with a list of suggestions that might help you in the future. Or might help replace you with President Petraeus. But it isn't personal, sir. It's just politics.

For more information on the Presidential Memorial Certificates for Veterans, go to the web site of the Department of Veteran Affairs.

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Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Whale of a Tale ... And Its All True

The author posing on a rock above Bean Hollow Cove, on the Pacific Coast. That big brown thing behind me is the carcass of a rare blue whale.

I wanted to see the whale. It had washed ashore just south of Half Moon Bay, California, earlier in the week and as the tides rise the carcass will eventually wash back out into the sea from whence it came. So the time was limited.

I downloaded ShralpTide, a tidal chart app on my iPhone and headed over the Santa Cruz mountains to reach the beach at low tide.

The blue whale washing in the tide at Bean Hollow State Beach.

There was a small crowd of onlookers on the cliffs and the nearby beach. The autumn sun sparkled off the sea and caught the iridescence of what remained of the whale's gray-colored hide. From that side she still looked like a whale. The southward wind took the scent of decaying whale blubber away from us.

But I couldn't see well, so I hiked around to the windward side, wearing the blue rubber gardening shoes I bought my mother and she never wore. They were good beach shoes, though they have a ladybug print on them that is seriously dorky. Fortunately, looking dorky at the beach is de trop, so I fit right in.

The walk was worth it as the view from the south side was much better, even though it now smelled like a fish market on a warm day.

Blue whales are long and thin and in spite of the decay you can see that in this picture, looking from the tail fluke towards the head, though the whale is upside down so you can't see its head.

This being California, it was a spectacular day and there was a docent on hand to brief the tourists. The docent told us this blue whale had weighed about eighty tons and explained that the State Parks Department had put up what looked like red crime scene tape to keep the gawkers a dignified distance away from the deceased mammal. He pointed out that her calf was washing in the nearby surf and that the calf had not been born, but was emitted after the mother's death.

Looking down from the cliff, it was easier to tell this was a whale when you saw her gray tale fluke which had not yet begun to visibly decompose.

Scientists had finished their tests by the time I got there and determined the eighty-foot female had a fatal collision with a ship. She was on her way to the Sea of Cortez in Mexico to birth her young and enjoy the warmth of the Mexican coast away from the chillier winter up North.

The accident prevented her winter vacation, but provided scientists with new information about her life and untimely death. She was young: eighty feet long is smallish for a blue whale, so she probably had years of growth ahead. She had some fractured vertebrae, hence the deduction she had died in a collision. Plankton have been rich this year, so feeding has been good which likely attracted her to the region as she stopped on her route south.

You can see the red crime scene ribbon in this photo. It kept people from souvenir hunting.

This species was almost hunted to extinction in the 18th and19th centuries and is now protected. There are only a few thousand of blue whales remaining in all of earth's oceans and scientists are now studying ways to prevent collisions like the one that killed her. That may be the good that comes out of this.

I'm glad I took the time to see her. She was magnificent, even in her death. I meant no disrespect in posing with her. I did not do so as if she were a trophy, but to remind myself in years to come that I was there. It was a remarkable sight on a stunning day: nature brought ashore a rare creature for us to see as close as ever we might, to wonder at God's handiwork and to ponder our own ability to undo it.

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Friday, October 8, 2010

Old Baluch, New Decor, Lawrence of Arabia and Homeland Security

The new antique Baluch rug in the old bedroom with the new paint.

I have wanted a couple of antique rugs for the bedroom I just painted, the one which uses the four-poster bed I found up in the rafters of the garage at my parents' home. Mom was a pack rat, bless her heart.

And since I am a firm believer in using your pocketbook to vote your principles, I decided I didn't want anything from Iran in the room, even though those rugs are often the loveliest. They are also the most expensive, as they have become the most chic. So thrift was a second motive for my search beyond Iran.

When the deep purple falls, over sleepy garden walls ... the first photo of the room was taken in the bright light of morning, this in the afternoon as the room takes on a different aspect.

My niece served in Afghanistan with the military and also in Uzbekistan with the Peace Corps (she's eclectic in her service) and thus, I decided on trying to find a vintage Silk Road rug for the room. A Silk Road rug would be one from what I call the Stans: Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Afghanistan and the other Stans that were once part of the Soviet Union or their sphere of influence.

Somebody else had thought of this before I did, and has an Internet business importing vintage rugs from these parts of the world. You can still get them there for nothing and sell them at a tidy profit--all to the benefit of this impoverish part of the world as well as the importer and the shopper. They have a great web site at:, and they are based in Luxembourg. I perused their vintage and antique pieces and found one at a great price (under $1000 ) and decided to buy it as a test of how this might work. I used my USAA credit card and Pay-Pal so I could cancel the payment if the business was not legit.

The rug I ordered, took just a week to get here and it is gorgeous!

Made in about 1900, it is a red Baluch rug, probably made in Afghanistan. I have good company in my taste for this style, which I learned watching a show about T.E. Lawrence as I waited for my rug to arrive. T.E. Lawrence, known as Lawrence of Arabia, took part in a somewhat nasty raid on a Turkish train during his time with the Arab revolt and on September 24, 1917, wrote a friend about the adventure: "The Turks then nearly cut us off as we looted the train, and I lost some baggage and nearly myself. My loot was a superfine red Baluchi prayer-rug".

T.E. Lawrence's natural father was Sir Thomas Chapman, so perhaps I inherited this taste for red Eastern rugs via my DNA. Being connected to this crazy genius is one of my fantasies so please indulge me in this. (His grandfather was named William Chapman and so was my great grandfather.)

The rug was well depicted on the Internet site and is worn as I expected it would be, but well-made and beautiful. Rich of color, it seems to change depending upon the light that hits. it.

The old red Baluch, worn but lovely.

The only hang-up came when Fedex called from Memphis and said they had to email me a U.S. Customs form to fill out and sign as the rug's "importer." Turned out it was a form generated by the Department of Homeland Security. So now I'm on their tracking list as some kind of suspicious character with activities involving Muslim rugs and will probably pay for this with further hastles the next time I'm going shoeless through the security line. Thus we live with the aftermath of 9/11. ( "But officer, the rugs came to me via Luxembourg!")

But, it only held up the Baluch for about 24 hours and I was, frankly, surprised the thing actually got here at all, not to mention looking as beautiful as I had hoped. I'm not inclined to think that Al Gore invented the Internet. It couldn't possibly work this well if he had.

BTW: I got this idea from my friend Polly, who had a living room strewn with red, antique Persian rugs and they made her home look gorgeous, no matter how she arranged the furniture. I get all my best decorating ideas from stealing. Thank you Polly!

Gotta go. I'm going to order another Silk Road rug before the rest of you buy out the best ones.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Hollywood Legends Depart in Threes

Tony Curtis (1925-2010) and Janet Leigh (1927-2004). Their marriage didn't last, but together this talented couple produced Jamie Leigh Curtis, a formidable talent herself.

In newsrooms we always say that famous people die in threes and thus it has been in the past week in the world of the movies: actress Gloria Stuart, director Arthur Penn, and Tony Curtis, all gone to their Great Rewards within a few days of one another. Here's a look at some of their best, starting with Curtis, who was one of the most charismatic actors ever to hit the movies, and had parts in some of the best.

Sweet Smell of Success (1957) "The cat's in the bag and the bag's in the river." "Match me, Sidney." And: "I love this dirty town!" are just a few of the memorable lines from this noirest of films set in 1950s New York City. It is so dark, Pauline Kael called a "sweet slice of perversity." Curtis, as the greasy press agent Sidney Falco, does everything but grovel for powerful columnist Burt Lancaster's J. J. Hunsecker in one of Lancaster's creepiest roles. Playing against his handsome, charming type and turning it on its head, Curtis seems to stand in a harsh spotlight in this story of shadows. How could they all be so mean to Martin Milner? With a screenplay by Clifford Odets (Golden Boy, None But the Lonely Heart) and Ernest Lehman (Sabrina, North by Northwest) SSOS is all smell and none of it sweet, but you just can't turn your head away until the last frame. "You're dead, son," says Hunsecker. "Get yourself buried." Don't be caught dead missing it.

Operation Petticoat (1959) This very funny movie with the stupid title has both Cary Grant, Tony Curtis, and World War II going for it. Curtis later said that when he hit it big in Hollywood the executives asked him what he would like to do next, and he said; "A submarine movie with Cary Grant." And this is the result. Grant deadpans and underplays his way through this comedy so well he almost steals the show from Curtis, who plays a hustling Naval officer determined not to get his feet wet or his uniform dirty. When necessary, however, he proves how resourceful he can be at, what is known in the military as scrounging. The result? A very unusual color for their submarine, and a number of scenes (my favorite involves a pig) that will make you laugh away any troubles that may come your way. I think this movie is highly underrated, probably because the stars make it look so easy.

The Outsider (1961) Tony Curtis plays Ira Hayes, the reluctant Navajo war hero, in a bio pic role that should have won Curtis an Oscar. It's a tribute to Curtis that he continued to take on antihero roles like this one, in which he stars as Hayes, the American Indian Marine who was unprepared for life "outside" the reservation and who found himself tortured by the focus he received as a "hero" of Iwo Jima. Ira Hayes' story is true, touching and sad, and Curtis makes us care about this troubled man.

I'm assuming you've seen the Curtis "standards" including his turn in drag in Billy Wilder's Some Like it Hot (1959), and his turn handcuffed to Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones (1958). He's also famous for a very suggestive scene with Lawrence Olivier in Spartacus (1960), in which his Brooklyn accent (on a Roman slave) is the least odd thing about it. And for the record, Curtis claims he never did say: "Yonda lies da castle of my fadda," but it made a great story about this talented man.

Gloria Stuart was a success in 1930s Hollywood, and is now known for her role as the elderly Titanic survivor in James Cameron's overrated epic Titanic. When she died recently at the age of 100, she could claim credits in more than forty feature films, understandable considering the century she spent on earth. Besides Titanic, she was known for her big roles in small films and her small roles in big ones. Two of her best?

The Invisible Man (1933) She doesn't get much to work with here, playing against Claude Rains who is almost always, well, invisible. But this film, from Universal Studios, was an landmark in the horror genre, with which Universal became so associated. Halliwell's Film Guide (one of the best film reference books around) gives it four stars. You'll enjoy seeing Stuart at her young and lovely best.

The Old Dark House (1932) This film has a first rate cast, which chews the scenery shamelessly in this prototype of all the "scary house" movies that came after it (and that's a lot). Starring with Stuart, who looks stunning in the shimmery negligee she slips into that she just happened to have in her overnight bag and which looks a tad chilly in that non-centrally heated English Victorian house with its ghastly aspects, are; Melvyn Douglas, Charles Laughton, Raymond Massey, and Boris Karloff. How could you go wrong? The storm rages outside, the wind howls, the rain comes down in torrents, and around every corner there is something very strange. A great Halloween treat, and another of Halliwell's four star classics.

You'll also see Stuart playing maternal roles in Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm (1938) and Poor Little Rich Girl (1936), both starring Shirley Temple. And, my friend, screenwriter Steve Latshaw says to look for Stuart, much later in her life, in the wonderful movie My Favorite Year (1982) in which she plays a bit part in the restaurant scene as Peter O'Toole whirls her around on the dance floor.

Arthur Penn, who died recently at the age of 88, is much acclaimed as a director and was very talented, though I confess to be not a huge fan of his work. There is something special in that family, though, as he is the brother of the hugely talented still photographer Irving Penn, who is so good at his advertising images, he has forced me to buy a number of things I have had no use for whatsoever but couldn't resist thanks to Penn. Director Arthur Penn is best known for his turn directing Bonnie and Clyde (1967), a movie that now looks better for its fashions than its exploitation of sex and violence that producer and star Warren Beatty used as a means of getting headlines. Penn's best, I think, is his first, The Miracle Worker (1962) starring Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke in the story of Helen Keller's childhood struggle to overcome her twin handicaps. Both Bancroft and Duke won Oscars for this one. Penn is also known for Little Big Man (1970), starring Dustin Hoffman, and Night Moves (1975) with Gene Hackman.

Penn has a lot of 'splain' to do about the weird Missouri Breaks (1976), a Marlon Brando, Jack Nicholson special in which Brando changes his accent from scene to scene and which has no discernible plot. But hey, it was the seventies and there were a lot of drugs around so stuff happens. I enjoyed his somewhat obscure documentary, Visions of Eight (1973), about the 1972 Munich Olympics, in which he gathered eight talented feature film directors to look at different aspects of the contest--but that film also has a big flaw. The huge story there--the deaths of all of Israel's athletic team at the hands of PLO terrorists--is only a tiny part in the film. And to paraphrase the movie Broadcast News (1987) that "buried the lead."

Tony Curtis, Gloria Stuart, Arthur Penn: examples of America's exceptionalism. May they all rest in peace.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Dirty Politics in Florida and California

Politics has never been a clean sport, so I can't say, like Louis in the movie Casablanca, that I'm "Shocked! Shocked" to see the nasty turn it has taken this season.

In Florida, Rep. Alan Grayson (D), is running television ads against his Republican opponent, Dan Webster, accusing him of being a member of the Taliban. Webster, a longtime state senator and former speaker of the state House of Representatives, has at least found Grayson's stupid smears have a silver lining: the ads are so outrageous, Webster's campaign contributions have soared, apparently because voters are so disgusted by them they believe Alan Grayson should be given this opportunity to find himself another line of work.

In California, the new third rail of American politics--illegal immigration--has become the October surprise in the race for governor between Jerry Brown, the democratic candidate and one-time governor, and Meg Whitman, the republican candidate and former CEO of eBay. Brown, who at 72, has spent his life running for office, has the support of the state's left-leaning unions, some of whom seem to have taken a part in this smear on Whitman.

The story is that Whitman, who once employed a housekeeper, who showed her a Social Security card, a driver's license, and other paperwork, and for whom the Whitmans paid the proper taxes and produced the appropriate W-2s, turns out to have been lied to by the boarder hopper and become the hirer of an illegal alien. Oh wow. There's a shock.

But the housekeeper, with the help of who knows whom from the Brown camp, has hired attorney Gloria Allred, who has produced the housekeeper (crying, of course) at several news conferences, and who now says she felt exploited by the Whitmans, and humiliated when she was finally fired for being illegal.

Okay. Now let me get this straight. As Americans, if we ask anyone with an accent to show us their paperwork that proves they have a right to live and work here, we are a bunch of racist xenophobes. And if we hire people, and don't press them and double and triple-check the paperwork they produce for us to fill out those endless IRS forms we toil over each year, then we are a bunch of exploiters of foreign laborers whom we employ in our sweat shops.

Sounds like illegal immigration is a big problem! Maybe we ought to address it! But because of the above reasons nobody except the governor of Arizona seems to have the guts.

During the Reagan administration, Congress passed an "immigration reform bill" that gave illegals already in the U.S. a means to legal residency, and added strict penalties to stem the tide of illegals across our porous borders.

The legislature meant well. And at least the president at that time was willing to address it. But boy did that turn out to be a be a flop.

Now, no matter what you say about illegal immigration you stand accused of being "against immigration of people of other ethnic backgrounds." Give me a break!

I hope, here in California, Meg Whitman will use this stupid smear, as an opportunity to talk to the voters about how challenging this issue is for all of us. And show us all how her very own case is a perfect example of why we need to enforce the regulations we presently have in place with regard to immigration. Whitman, as a new technology executive and political novice, may not yet have learned how to turn the smear to her advantage, as Reagan, a real pro at this stuff, himself learned in California.

Remember how he used to say to Sam Donaldson's hectoring questions: "Sam, I'm glad you've asked me that .... " and then smile his nice big smile and smash the tennis ball right back over the net?

Because all this really shows is how totally desperate Jerry Brown is, at 72, to get himself and his friends back in the governor's seat of the most powerful state in the nation. Brown, who was once a bright young man, mentioned in dispatches as a potential presidential candidate, can't believe all these other guys he knew have managed to get to be president of the United States and he--Jerry Brown!!!--has not. And not having Whitman's considerable campaign chest, he's pulled out this ancient political trick-or-treat surprise in a ploy to get back his mojo.

And the issues? Gosh, we hardly ever talk about those darn things.

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