Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Next Big Thing!

When my writer pal Mary Glickman speaks, I listen!  Last week, she tagged me to participate in The Next Big Thing.  Mary is the author of novels Home in the Morning and One More River, which is a 2011 National Jewish Book Award Fiction Finalist.  You can read Mary's Next Big Thing here: .

Instead of discussing a work in progress, however, I chose to write about my latest book, Bringing Up Oscar because it’s that time of year again when Oscar nominations will be forthcoming complete with eager speculation and all that Hollywood buzz.  Don’t you ever wonder how it all got started?  Well, let me tell you, it’s a story worthy of the silver screen! 

These are the questions that Mary asked me to answer about my latest book. After that, I’ve tagged some other authors so you can learn about their Next Big Thing!

What is the title of your book?

--Bringing Up Oscar, The Men and Women Who Founded the Academy

Where did the idea come from for the book?
--I wanted to write a book about Hollywood history (my favorite topic) that would include some of early filmmaking's most fascinating folks so I developed a book proposal and began sending query letters to agents that I thought might be interested in the subject.  My letter conclulded by saying I would like to write a second book about the 33 men and 3 women who founded The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences  A few liked my style, but weren't interested in the subject.  Several asked for the entire proposal package, but none offered representation.  Then I contacted Mr. Peter Riva of International Transactions, Inc. 
He liked my idea well enough, but what really intrigued him was my book suggestion about the Academy.  Out of all the agents I queried, not one ever mention the Oscar book!  I got to work developing a new proposal and once it was finished, I emailed Peter hoping he was still interested and he was.
What genre does your book fall under?


Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

--I could never begin to cast all 36 characters—that would be a tall order!  No doubt that Oscar would have to play himself.  Maybe Helena Bonham Carter as scenarist Jeanie MacPherson or Robert DeNiro as director Cecil B. DeMille.  Anyone out there have any suggestions for the likes of Louis B. Mayer, Irving Thalberg or the Warner Brothers?  I’m open! 

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

--My book details how a diverse group of 33 men and 3 women from all over the world and all walks of life ended up in the same room together sharing a common goal in 1927 Hollywood—a silent world just on the cusp of sound.

Is your book self-published or represented by an agency?

--I am a lucky girl to be represented by the one and only Mr. Peter Riva of International Transactions, Inc. 

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

--Six months of putting in 10-12 hours just about every day and I loved it!

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

--Many books detail Oscar winners and losers while others focus on a single biography or entity (i.e., Mary Pickford, MGM, etc.), but my book is really the only one that addresses all of the Academy founders and how they got into the motion picture business in the first place—remember when most of them were born the film industry didn’t exist and Hollywood was just a dusty little town comprised of cattle and pepper trees.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

--Why the 36 founders of The Academy, of course!  Most of them are long forgotten.  While you may be aware of Douglas Fairbanks or Mary Pickford, I bet you never heard of Technicolor’s Joseph Arthur Ball or director Fred Niblo—key figures in 1927 Hollywood.  They should all be remembered and recognized for their vital contributions to filmmaking that shaped the movies we see today.

What else about your book might pique the reader's interest?

--My book is filled with Hollywood history and trivia, but there’s so much more.  Oscar discusses American cinema as it took shape on the grounds of Thomas A. Edison’s laboratory in New Jersey where he built this country’s very first motion picture studio in 1893.  It also depicts the unique individuals whose colorful lives began long before they entered the motion picture industry.  This motley group included several cowboys, a few Alaskan gold miners and even one self-proclaimed anesthesiologist!  Oh, and did I mention the bicycle shop owner or the junk dealer? 

Below are other authors I've tagged to tell you about their Next Big Thing.  Be sure and check them out.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

Vickey Kall, author of Death Speaker –

Martin Turnbull, author of The Garden of Allah Novels –

Dan Wheeler, author of  Grief and Grieving:  Understanding Grief and the Grieving Process –

A big THANK YOU to Mary Glickman for tagging me!  You are always such an inspiration!


Sunday, December 16, 2012

Bath School Disaster

We are all still reeling from the horrendous events that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School this past Friday.  Personally, I have had a very hard time watching the news coverage, but I did keep hearing one thing over and over:  “This is the worst school shooting in our country’s history.”  Shooting may be the key word here.  It may be hard to believe, but what happened in Newtown, Connecticut is not the worst act of school violence in American history.  That disturbing distinction belongs to a small farming town in Michigan where a madman sought vengeance and killed 45 people on a beautiful spring day in 1927.

Andrew and Nellie Kehoe owned a farm in Bath, Michigan just outside of Lansing.  Experiencing financial trouble, Kehoe lived in dire fear of losing his farm.  He blamed his money woes on high taxes and began a vehement campaign to lower them.  Elected to the Bath school board as Treasurer, Kehoe also fought hard against the building of a new school.  Not only did he feel it was unnecessary, but to him personally, a new school meant more taxes.  Despite his heated arguments opposing it, the district built the Bath Consolidated School leaving Kehoe embittered.  When his farm was finally foreclosed upon, he blamed the board and, in particular, its president, Emory E. Huyck, for ruining his life.
In the winter of 1926, the board appointed Kehoe to do maintenance work inside the new school.  But Kehoe wasn’t interested in upkeep.  He wanted revenge.  For months, he traveled from store to store in and around Lansing purchasing small amounts of explosives, which he took to the school.  There, he developed an intricate wiring system connecting the carefully laid dynamite beneath the floor and in the walls and rafters of the new building.  By May of the following year, Kehoe had laid thousands of feet of wire linking over 1,000 pounds of dynamite.  He also rigged the buildings on his farm.

On May 17, 1927, Kehoe filled the back seat of his pickup truck with old tools, nails, shovels and any other metal materials he could muster.  On top of the junk, he placed a package of dynamite.  Next, he laid a loaded rifle on the front seat.  Then he murdered his wife.
Around 8:45 the next morning, the nightmare started as the first deadly explosions came directly from Kehoe’s farm.  In the midst of their early morning routines, concerned neighbors rushed to offer help, but within minutes the entire farm went up in flames.  Shortly after, a second explosion shook the town.  The school!  Panic took over as the townsfolk rushed to the scene unable to comprehend the horror they found.  Half the building was gone.  Trapped underneath the fallen roof and collapsed walls were the children—some eerily silent, some hysterically screaming.  With windows shattered in nearby homes, cars on fire and trees aflame, more explosions could be heard coming from the Kehoe farm.  The people of Bath thought they were under siege.

Amidst the chaos, Andrew Kehoe pulled up in his truck.  He spotted Huyck frantically digging through the rubble in an effort to save the children.  Kehoe called to him and as Huyck approached the truck, Kehoe picked up his rifle and fired a shot directly into the dynamite behind him.  As the vehicle exploded, the metal debris in the backseat turned into deadly shrapnel killing not only Kehoe, but Huyck, Postmaster Glen Smith, resident Nelson McFarren, as well as an eight-year-old boy who had just survived the school explosion and happened to be walking by.
In addition to the first responders, volunteers came from nearby towns to help with the digging, which lasted most of the day.  Even Michigan Governor Fred Green assisted with debris removal.  As rescue efforts unfolded, however, officials discovered more dynamite in the basement.  Over 500 pounds of undetonated dynamite was removed from what remained of the school.  It seems that the first explosion caused something to go wrong with Kehoe’s wiring and only half of the dynamite had gone off.

In the end, 38 children (ages 7 to 14) and seven adults were killed that day with dozens more injured.  Every single home in the community suffered from an injury or a fatality—some lost more than one child.
Today a small park stands on the spot where the school once was.  The names of the children that died there are engraved on a bronze plaque—Bath’s way of ensuring that they, nor their story, will be forgotten.  What happened on May 18, 1927 in Bath was, and still is, the worst incident of school violence in American history and, until the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building in 1995, it stood alone as the single worst act of domestic terrorism—a term unheard of back in 1927. 

And now, as we mourn the unbearable loss of the children in Newtown, in what the news tells us is the worst school shooting in our country’s history, we should remember the young victims whose families were also left shattered by a mind-numbing act of hatred that played out 85 years ago on a beautiful morning in May.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

A Gable Girl

We all remember the legendary romance of Gable and Lombard.  We also delighted in movies that starred Gable and Harlow or even Gable and Crawford, but who out there remembers Gable and Norton?  Don’t worry if you can’t recall the pairing—that’s where I come in…

In 1934, British housewife, Violet Norton, went to the movies. On the bill? It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert. Imagine Norton’s surprise as she recognized the film’s leading man—her former lover, next-door neighbor and chicken farmer, Frank Billings. He even fathered her child.  She hadn’t seen Billings in years. Now she knew why. He’d left her for Hollywood and the likes of Claudette Colbert.
Norton penned letters to Gable demanding he take responsibility for 'their' daughter. Thinking the whole idea ridiculous, Gable never mentioned it to the brass at MGM. He hadn't been to England during the early 1920s and he’d never once called himself Frank Billings.  Norton then dragged her daughter to Canada where she ran an ad in a movie magazine hoping to grab Gable’s attention. When that didn't work, she wrote to Mae West, the British Consul in L.A. and the U.S. District Attorney. She finally convinced a retired Canadian businessman to take her to Hollywood.

Once in L.A., Norton hired a P.I., who contacted the Motion Picture Producers Association. He wanted blood tests and urged Gable to establish a $150,000.00 trust fund for his illegitimate daughter. If Gable refused, the P.I. threatened to tell the world just what kind of heel their Hollywood heartthrob really was. Once MGM got wind of Norton’s antics, however, studio officials contacted the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Charged with mail fraud, Norton went to trial insisting Gable was Billings. According to Norton: "This 'ere Clark Gybles is an arrant fraud. 'E's Frank Billings, that's oo 'e is, I can tell by the way he mykes love to that Joan Crawford-just the syme as 'e did to me. 'E often cyme to see me, that 'andsome young fellow did. 'E waited till me 'usband went and then 'e cyme in."

Gable had his own defense. Jack Powell, Assistant U.S. Attorney, stated under oath that Gable, an American citizen, hadn't been issued a passport until 1930. The president of the lumber company where Gable once worked provided payroll vouchers during the time period in question. Even Harry Billings, Frank's brother, testified that Gable was not related to him. Norton, however, took the stand with a photograph of Frank Billings in a British Army uniform swearing that Billings and Gable were one and the same.

But it was Gable’s ex-fiancĂ©e, Franz Dorfler who sealed the case.  She was Billy Gable’s main squeeze long before he came to Hollywood.  When asked to testify, she never hesitated. Under oath, Dorfler described her romance with young Billy Gable and confirmed that they were together at the Dorfler family ranch in September 1922. That did it. Norton, found guilty of using the mail for fraudulent purposes, was summarily deported.

And just to clarify—Frank Billings never made a movie or kissed Claudette Colbert. Clark Gable never owned a chicken farm or, despite her accusations, kissed Violet Norton. 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Ten Things You Should Know About Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a special time to gather with friends, family, in-laws and in some cases out-laws.  So if you want to impress the gang or just fill in an awkward moment of silence as you pass the cranberry sauce, I put together a list of Thanksgiving facts that might surprise you:

1)      The very first Thanksgiving took place in 1621 at Plymouth Rock.  Much like today, there was a crowd of hungry pilgrims to feed.

2)      Sara Josepha Hale, a Boston magazine editor, lobbied for Thanksgiving to be declared a national holiday.  She didn’t know she’d end up in the kitchen.

3)      It was during the Civil War in 1863 that President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed the last Thursday in November be officially observed as Thanksgiving.

4)      In 1941, a joint congressional resolution appointed the fourth Thursday in November as the official holiday.  Exactly how many Thursdays are there in November anyway?

5)      The cornucopia derived from the ancient Greeks who customarily filled a curved goat’s horn with fruit and grain to symbolize abundance.

6)      Turkeys are native to North America and have been gobbling around for more than ten million years.

7)      Benjamin Franklin thought that, instead of the eagle, the turkey should be our National Bird.  He was outvoted—something we can all be thankful for.

8)      If you’re plucking turkey feathers, just remember that an adult turkey has over 35,000 of ‘em.

9)      A perfectly ripe cranberry will bounce so take careful aim when you throw one at a rowdy guest.

10)   On January 31, 1957, our northern neighbor, Canada, got into the act when they appointed the second Monday in October as their official Thanksgiving holiday.

Memorize these facts and amaze the masses.  Oh yeah—one last thing—don’t forget the pumpkin pie!  Happy Turkey Day to all!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hollywood’s Original ‘It Girl’

It was during the Jazz Age that steamy novelist Elinor Glyn coined the term ‘It’.  She defined ‘It’ as an inner magic, a magnetism that attracts both men and women—in other words, ‘sex appeal’.  When Glyn declared that actress Clara Bow had ‘It’, Paramount cast the 22-year-old in the starring role of their controversial film, ‘It’ (1927).  The movie catapulted Bow to the top of the Hollywood heap, but behind her care-free persona and the Jazz Age flapper she came to symbolize lived a flesh and blood woman haunted by tragedy and surrounded by madness.

“No one wanted me to be born in the first place,’ Bow told reporter Adela Rogers St. John at the height of her career.  She wasn’t looking for sympathy.  She was simply stating a fact.  After losing two babies, doctors warned Mrs. Bow that she most likely wouldn’t survive a third pregnancy nor would her child.  When she found herself expecting again she chose to carry the baby, not due to some heroic motherly instinct, but because she wanted to die.  Her husband, tired of her complaints, left her so she returned to her father’s house where she went into labor in the middle of a summer heat wave.  Convinced that she and her child would die, she refused a doctor, allowing her mentally ill mother to deliver her baby instead.  And so, on July 29, 1905, Clara was born.  Bitterly disappointed that she and her new daughter inexplicably cheated death, Mrs. Bow’s depression deepened.
The following year after Clara’s grandmother was committed to an insane asylum, her grandfather came to live with the now reunited Bows.  To everyone’s surprise, the normally cold-hearted man was smitten with his granddaughter, and Clara clung to the only person who showed her some affection.  He even built a swing for her inside their tenement and spent hours pushing her back and forth.  On January 20, 1909, he pushed Clara one final time and then collapsed dead at her feet.  He was laid out in the house where three-year-old Clara snuck out of bed to sleep on the floor next to him, worried he might be lonely. 
While her mother continued her descent into madness and her father continued drinking, Clara was often caught in the middle.  The little girl learned to care for her mother who suffered from unpredictable seizures and fits.  The child also endured beatings from her father who often took his frustrations out on her.  In all of this mayhem, however, Clara had one good friend—Johnny, a younger boy who lived in their building.  She walked him to school and looked after him like a little brother.  One afternoon, she was home alone when she heard a bloodcurdling scream from downstairs.  Johnny had somehow caught fire.  His hysterical mother did nothing to help him, but Clara had the good sense to roll him up in the carpet while ordering his mother to find help.  Johnny died in her arms calling her name over and over again.  She was only nine years old, but the sound of his cries haunted her for the rest of her life.
It was no wonder Clara found solace in the movies, where she discovered a different side of life.  Idolizing Mary Pickford and Wallace Reid, she realized that there might be kind and loving people outside of her tenement.  From her fascination with the movies came ambition, but it wasn’t fame or fortune that drove her.  She had her heart set on being part of that beautiful world, but her mother didn’t approve.  The unbalanced woman told Clara that she would be better off dead than an actress.  When the girl was 16, her mother even tried to kill her with a butcher knife.  After that, Mr. Bow placed his wife in an insane asylum where she died the following year.
Despite her horrific beginnings, Clara Bow eventually found her way to Hollywood where she worked hard to take care of herself and her pathetic father.  She was recognized as one of the top five box office draws between 1927 and 1930.  The world envied Clara for her beauty, her reckless gaiety and her seemingly endless vitality.  After all, Clara Bow had 'It' and that was something everyone wanted.  They just didn't know that tragedy and madness drove her there.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Are You Scared Yet?

Movies started scaring us back in the silent days when actors like Lon Chaney took on roles like the eerie phantom of the opera.  Known as ‘The Man of a Thousand Faces’, Chaney’s elaborate use of makeup transformed him into frightening, but no less fascinating characters.  With the coming of sound, a new kind of evil played before us in the ghastly form of Bela Lugosi and his hypnotic Count Dracula.  Then came Frankenstein brought to life by a mad scientist and a British actor named Boris Karloff.

So just in case you want to impress your friends and family this Halloween, here are a dozen facts about the silver screen’s most famous fright masters:
       1)      Lon Chaney was born Leonidas Frank Chaney in 1883 to profoundly deaf parents.

2)      Before he came to Hollywood, Chaney, who loved the outdoors, worked as a guide escorting tourists up Pike’s Peak.

3)      Chaney was internationally recognized for his expertise in make-up; he even wrote the Encyclopedia Britannica’s entry on the subject itself.

4)      Chaney was originally cast to play the part of Count Dracula in the 1931 film, but his untimely death in 1930 from bronchial cancer, paved the way for Bela Lugosi.

5)      Bela Legosi was born Bela Lasko in 1882 in Lugos, Hungary—not far from Transylvania where Bram Stoker’s Dracula lived.

6)      Lugosi successfully played Dracula onstage beginning in 1927, but Hollywood didn’t want him.

7)      When other actors like Paul Muni and Chester Morris dropped out of the running; Universal Studios was forced to either give the part to Lugosi or cancel the film.

8)      After suffering a heart attack, Lugosi died on August 16, 1956 and was buried in his Dracula get-up—complete with make-up and cape.

9)      After Lugosi refused the part of Frankenstein because it was a non-speaking role and required heavy make-up, Boris Karloff stepped in.

10)   As Frankenstein, Karloff wore 60 pounds of make-up and accessories, including 18-pound lead-weighted boots, which increased his height to 7’6” when in costume.

11)   Karloff received fourth billing as the famous monster and wasn’t even invited to the Hollywood premiere.

12)   Off screen, the gentle Karloff was an avid gardener who enjoyed poetry.
Happy Hauntings!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Loves of Carole Lombard

If Carole Lombard were alive today, she would have just recently turned 104.  Tragically, however, her birthday celebrations were cut short after her untimely death in 1942 at the age of 33.  We all know the story:  a plane crashed in the mountains just outside of Las Vegas and she was gone.  Just like that.  But what you might not know is that before she married Gable, Lombard had two significant romances—one that ended in divorce and the other that ended in tragedy devastating Lombard, the same way her death rocked Gable.

In 1930, Carole Lombard was just coming into her own.  After a successful silent stint as one of Mack Sennett’s bathing beauties, she signed a contract with Paramount Pictures.  That same year, she also met handsome actor William Powell  on the set of ‘Man of the World’ (1931).  Powell was 16 years older and recently divorced.  The couple married in a private ceremony on June 26, 1931 at Lombard’s mother’s house before honeymooning in Honolulu.  The marriage, didn’t last, but the friendship thrived.  Lombard and Powell divorced in 1933.  Despite their differences, however, the two remained loyal friends until her death nine years later.
Shortly after the divorce, Lombard was in the audience one night listening as crooner Russ Columbo sang.  The two made eye contact and the next day Colombo sent roses to the actress’ Beverly Hills home.  A romantic at heart, the 25-year-old Columbo fell hard and Lombard was equally smitten.   In Columbo, it seems, she had found an equal.  He supported her career and celebrated her successes while she did all she could to help the radio star break into films.  Lombard even began taking instructions to convert to Catholicism—the faith Columbo actively practiced.  On the cusp of a successful film career and in the middle of a momentous love story, the singer was accidentally killed by a bullet that unexpectedly discharged from an antique gun. 

At the news of Columbo’s death, Lombard was inconsolable.  She attended his funeral at Hollywood’s Blessed Sacrament Cathedral along with her mother.  Her brother, Stuart, was a pall bearer.  It took some time, but she managed to pull her life together and go on to make her mark in Hollywood—both on-screen and off.  The sting of losing Columbo, however, still surfaced every now and then.   Four years after his death, Lombard was interviewed for an article in Life Magazine.  When she was asked about Clark Gable, the interviewer referred to him as the love of her life.  According to Lombard’s brother, Stuart, she quickly corrected the reporter:  “Russ Columbo was the love of my life.  And that is very definitely off the record.”  Of course, that was before she became Mrs. Gable.  I wonder what she would say today.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bert Lahr, A Gentleman in Lion's Clothes

While the Cowardly Lion searched for courage, funny man Bert Lahr—who donned that oversized wig and lion’s clothes—faced a personal crisis more distressful than the cyclone that brought Dorothy to Oz in the first place.  Cast as the frightened feline in MGM’s ambitious version of The Wizard of Oz (1939), Lahr had no idea he was about to make movie history.  Even if he had realized that his performance would enthrall generations of filmgoers far into the 21st century, the actor probably wouldn’t have done anything different.  Besides, it wasn’t skipping down the Yellow Brick Road that concerned him most, but a private dilemma that commanded his attention

Lahr was a trooper in the truest sense of the word.  Like many of his contemporaries, his career began on the stages of burlesque and vaudeville.  During the Roaring Twenties, he partnered up with Mercedes Delpino, a pretty, dark-haired dancer. Together, they established an act that included the sexy Delpino as a gyrating dancer who catches the eye of a bumbling, beat-walking policeman played by Lahr.  Their chemistry and their antics made them one of vaudeville’s most popular duos.  Offstage, Lahr was smitten with his partner and a romance blossomed.  The couple married on August 23, 1929 and they soon had a son, Herbert.
The new Mrs. Lahr, however, had never been well.  She suffered from what was probably some form of schizophrenia that caused abrupt mood swings and sudden black-outs leading to memory loss.  She was prone to breaking things and starting fires.  At one point, she even shaved her head.  Lahr was at a loss.  He desperately wanted to help his wife, but had no idea how.  When she tried to hurt the baby, he had no choice, but to admit her to an asylum—most likely in 1930.  Lahr spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to find a cure for Mercedes, but back in the early thirties little was known about mental illness.  Beyond any help that was available at the time, she was eventually declared insane.

In 1932, Lahr met the striking Mildred Schroeder, a Ziegfeld Girl.  She thought he was a perfect gentleman and he thought she was simply wonderful.  Knowing that a normal life with Mercedes was not possible, Lahr promised Mildred that he would divorce his wife and marry her, but it wasn’t so easy.  Divorce laws in New York were problematic and the process extremely slow.  Four years later, Mildred got tired of waiting and married another man.  Lahr was crushed, but he refused to give up.  Mildred soon realized the mistake she’d made and in October, 1937, she divorced her husband who accused Lahr of being a ‘love thief’.
As filming of The Wizard of Oz took place, Lahr was still trying to end his first marriage to Mercedes who remained institutionalized.  He was anxious and worried that Mildred would run out of patience and leave him once again—this time permanently.  It wasn’t until February 8, 1940 that Lahr finally received an official annulment and only after three doctors in White Plains, New York testified that Mercedes had been incurably insane for the past five years.  Three days later, Lahr and Mildred married.  Despite their long union, which produced a son, John, and a daughter, Jane, Lahr never forgot his first wife.  It was reported that when Mercedes died, a morose Lahr didn’t speak a word to anyone for three days. 

Dressed as The Cowardly Lion, he endured the grueling make-up sessions that forced him to sip his lunch through a straw because he couldn’t open his mouth wide enough to eat.  He tolerated the elaborate wig and long, heavy costume made out of actual lion fur, which caused him to overheat under the studio’s hot lights.  But it wasn’t the hazards of the job that bothered Lahr.  Beneath that oversized wig and the awkward lion’s clothes, a gentleman quietly struggled to rebuild his life with as much dignity as he could muster.

Monday, September 10, 2012

From Motown to Hollywood

People often ask me how in the world did a girl from Motown end up writing a book about Hollywood?  The answer is pretty simple—I was the original couch potato, at least when school was out. 

As a kid with nowhere to be, I set my own schedule.  My day began at 8:30 a.m. sharp with Rita Bell and ‘The Prize Movie’.  In between each movie segment, Bell played several notes of a song and viewers tried to guess its name.  If memory serves me correctly, for every wrong answer, the winning pot grew.  Once someone gave the right answer and claimed the money, the whole thing started over again with a new tune and a new jackpot. 

Next, we were treated to ‘Bill Kennedy at the Movies’.  Kennedy’s show broadcasted from across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario.  It started at 1:00 p.m.  There were no gimmicks and no games—only the films.  In his youth, Kennedy was under contract at Warner Bros.  He never made it big in Hollywood, but he did land roles in some great films.  He played an officer in ‘Destination Tokyo’ (1943), one of Bette Davis’ beaus in ‘Mr. Skeffington’ (1944) and appeared in a myriad of early television shows.  Kennedy prided himself on his inside knowledge of the movie industry and the filmmakers he knew during his tenure in Hollywood.  I always remember the day Jack Warner died.  Kennedy made a point to say, with a hint of sadness, that his old boss had passed away.  A wise-cracking crew member hollered back from behind the camera:  “Jack Warner didn’t know you from the prop man!”  Suffice it to say, Kennedy was not amused.
After Bill Kennedy and his endless supply of movie trivia, it was back to ABC for the afternoon science fiction film.  There were no hosts, but plenty of gigantic spiders, prowling werewolves and shapeless blobs wreaking havoc wherever they went.  There was always lots of terrified screaming and extensive scurrying as unsuspecting bystanders tried to get away.  Some films, like ‘Godzilla’ (1954) were made in Japan and dubbed.  That was fine.  No one cared.  Monsters in any language gave us kids the willies.

From combat to comedy, from good guys to gangsters, from musicals to madcaps, the Motor City had ‘em all.  And that’s how a girl from the Car Capitol of the world came to be a couch potato who  fell madly in love with the movies.  As for writing that book about Hollywood?  I just couldn't help myself! 

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Aurora, Colorado's Century 16 Theater Today

We are currently spending the week in Aurora, Colorado visiting my daughter and her husband.  On the drive out here, I discovered in my jacket pocket an old movie ticket from Aurora’s Century 16 Theater—yes that’s the same place where the horrific shootings occurred last month leaving 12 dead and 58 wounded.  Back in May, I was out here and we had gone to the movies.  Who could ever have imagined that eight weeks later that very cinema would make international news in the midst of what the media called ‘The Movie Theater Massacre’?  The most unsettling part for me was knowing that my daughter and her girlfriend were there that day, but left about two hours before the unthinkable happened.

For most of us, going to the show is an escape.  We can laugh or cry or be scared silly—all in a safe environment where we know that nothing can really harm us.  When you think about it, violence has always played a major role in the movies:   combat soldiers waging war, Wild West outlaws living on the edge, machine-gun-toting gangsters taking each other out, fearless cowboys defending the open range .  And let’s not forget those menacing monsters that shake us up with nothing more than their frightening faces.   
As early as 1903, director Edwin S. Porter scared spectators in ‘The Great Train Robbery’ when he filmed a close-up of a gun firing (minus the bang) straight into the audience.  The paying public had never seen anything like it.  Despite the lack of sound, they came back again and again just to experience the thrill.  And that’s always been the fun of it until one day in late July 2012 when a real gunman took away the safety factor.  Even my daughter says she has not been to the show since the shooting.

Aurora’s theater remains closed and surrounded by yellow caution tape.  A nearby memorial erected by the locals still attracts visitors.  Some come to pay their respects while others just want to satisfy a morbid curiosity.   City officials have asked Aurora residents what they feel should be done with the building, but no decisions have been made at this time.  The shooter remains jailed as the legal process unfolds.   Twelve families mourn, 58 victims recover and, as for the rest of us, we just wonder why.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

A Bit of Thanks!

Has it really been 50 years since that wispy voice was silenced?  Say it aint so!  One of Hollywood’s most famous residents, Marilyn Monroe was discovered dead in her home a half century ago at the age of 36.  Although mystery and intrigue continue to swirl around her death, her short life made an impact on the world. 

Monroe made her first film in 1947, ‘The Shocking Miss Pilgrim’, where only her voice was heard.  She continued taking small roles in various films like ‘Asphalt Jungle”’ (1950) and ‘All About Eve’ (1950).  Monroe hit her stride soon after that starring in ‘Niagara’ (1953), Gentlemen Prefer Blondes’ (1953) and ‘How to Marry A Millionaire’ (1953).  She lit up a movie screen and made it sizzle with one seductive wink or a sly smile.  Men wanted her.  Women wanted to be her. 

Off screen, her life was always rocky.  Her mother suffered from mental illness and Monroe never knew her father.  As a youngster, she often pretended that Clark Gable was her daddy.  Gladys spent most of her years in and out of mental institutions causing Monroe to live in various foster homes.  Although she claimed she found some stability in the years she spent with an aunt in Van Nuys, California where she attended high school.

As an adult, Monroe had three failed marriages, several disastrous affairs and some bad habits.  She liked champagne to an excess and often used barbiturates to help her wake up as well as sleep.  Her damaging lifestyle took a toll on her work causing her to be notoriously late on most days and completely absent on others.  On set, she frequently forgot her lines and numerous takes (sometimes more than 40) were required before everyone was happy.   It could be nerve-wracking for film professionals like Sir Lawrence Olivier (‘The Prince and the Showgirl’) and Clark Gable (‘The Misfits’).  But the final product almost always proved to be worth the aggravation and they knew it.

Despite her shortcomings, Marilyn Monroe remains an icon whose image is just as well known today as it was fifty years ago.  Her face continues to sell goods while her name often appears on lists like ‘Hollywood’s Most Popular Celebrities’ or ‘Hollywood’s Sexiest Stars’.  Her movies still draw spectators with ‘Some Like It Hot’ (1959) named the funniest film ever by the American Film Institute.

And so today, the fiftieth anniversary of her untimely death, I think Marilyn Monroe deserves a heartfelt thanks for all of the hours she spent entertaining us—something she continues to do over and over again—with her wispy voice, seductive smile and sly wink.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Greetings and Welcome!

Cyberspace can be a scary place—especially for folks who are old enough to remember the ‘good old days’.  Yes, I’m talking about the boys and girls who grew up wishing they were part of Howdy Doody’s Peanut Gallery while bee-bopping with Chuck Berry and the Everly Brothers—that would be Don and Phil, in case you weren’t there.  As we cheered for The Little Rascals despite their He-Man Women Haters Club, who knew that one day we would be hunched over a small electronic screen looking for friends and trying to tweet? 

For the younger group, all of this uploading and downloading seems to come natural.  The kids can stream a video, find an app and burn a disc faster than Scotty could beam up Captain Kirk.  As for me, ‘lost in space’ has taken on a whole new meaning.  A technically challenged boomer, it’s all very bewildering, but I’m getting there one byte at a time.  

Over the years and as a writer, I have learned about the power of the internet.  With the press of a button or click of an icon, I can pitch a story, research a topic, contact a colleague or simply waste a little time surfing or bejeweling.  It’s also a great way to connect with readers, which is why I have finally joined the 21st Century and staked out a claim to my very own website.  So here we are!

My goal here is to blend a little history, a touch of trivia and a lot of fun.  Pick an era.  Pick a place.  Pick a person.   We can talk about silent film, Gable and Lombard, Ozzie and Harriet or even The Lone Ranger.  The possibilities are endless so I hope that you enjoy these pages as we get to know each other a little better.  Now who out there remembers waking up little Susie?