Tuesday, December 2, 2014

How the Grinch Stole Christmas

Excerpt adapted from The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories, by Vickey Kall

What is Christmas without the Grinch?
Well, since 1957 anyway--the year the book How the Grinch Stole Christmas was first published. Did you know that the book itself was an immediate bestseller?
The author, Dr. Seuss (Ted Geisel), was already a proven success, so the publisher printed 50,000 copies--a new high for a children's book. Macy's had its first $2 million dollar day on December 10, 1957, thanks to sales of that book--and the $2 million record was for any department store, not just Macy's.
Dr. Seuss was friends with Chuck Jones, who headed up the animation department of MGM. Jones had been the genius behind hundreds of Looney Toons and Merrie Melody cartoons. Their friendship  went back to World War II, when Jones and Seuss--who of course went by the name Geisel then--collaborated to produce a series of educational cartoons for the army about Private Snafu.  Snafu--as his name suggests--did everything wrong and suffered the consequences.
Jones suggested  working together to produce a Christmas special from the Grinch book. Dr. Seuss said no--but fortunately Mrs. Seuss (Helen Geisel) convinced her husband to reconsider.
In the book, the Grinch himself is as white as copy paper, and he does not look much more ferocious than, say, the Cat in the Hat. As the show came together, though, the Grinch got more and more evil looking. His frown turned farther down, and his and body became green.
Only three actors lent their voices to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, one of them being Boris Karloff--who, already in his late 70s, narrated the piece and played the Grinch as well.
He also voiced several of the Whos. Altogether, that was quite a linguistic feat since Karloff suffered from emphysema and painful arthritis.
That's Karloff with Chuck Jones, to the left.
One day Dr. Seuss brought a friend, who happened to be a cardiologist, to listen to one of the recording sessions.  The doctor told Seuss that Karloff was so ill he doubted he'd survive much longer. Karloff, however, went on to make four more movies before his death in 1969.
Although he didn't get a screen credit on the original show, Thurl Ravenscroft sang the song "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch."
Know where else you've heard that marvelous bass voice? He played the cartoon Paul Bunyon, sang in The AristocatsCinderella, and Lady and the Tramp, and his voice is played daily at Disneyland on several rides, including Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion.
But Thurl Ravenscroft biggest claim to fame (aside from having one of the coolest names in the world) is his fifty years as Tony the Tiger. Yup, his was the voice that roared "They're grrrrrreat!" for five decades, until his death in 2005.
Lastly, Cindy Lou Who was played by June Foray, a prolific and well-known voice actor who started on the radio in the 1930s and is still working. She was Lucifer the Cat in Cinderella (co-star Thurl Ravenscroft played a mouse) and played Rocky the Flying Squirrel (as well as Natasha, the evil secret agent) on television. She is one of the most famous cartoon voices ever, but a lot of her work was done without credit--including, initially, How the Grinch Stole Christmas.
The cast recording won a Grammy award in 1968, and CBS showed the cartoon every year from 1966 until 1987 when Turner Broadcasting bought MGM's catalogue (MGM was officially the producer). SInce then, How the Grinch Stole Christmas shows up annually on Turner-owned stations.
Did you like this story? The best part is, it's all true!
You can find many more entertaining anecdotes and secret histories in The Boomer Book of Christmas Memories on Amazon, in print or eBook form. Both are in full color and make perfect holiday gifts for the Baby Boomers in your life!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Ten Things You Should Know About Witches

Picture this:  three witches cackling over a black cauldron as they stir their magic brew at midnight under a full moon.  Frightening yet fascinating characters, witches have long roused our curiosity and awakened our interest. Yet, there are some things that even good witches may not want you to know.  So here are a list of ‘witch facts’ that might come in handy one dark and dismal night.  After all, you can never be too careful, now can you? 

--To stop a witch from flying down your chimney, place a horseshoe in it.
--Watch where you spit; a witch might take or saliva and use it for evildoings.

--If you burn an elder tree, you are inviting a witch into your home.
--Witches’ cakes are made with rye, barley, herbs, water and a cup of baby’s urine so once you’ve burned the elder tree don’t ask her to bring the dessert.

--Witches can super-size the power of their spells by shaking their hair.
--Any witch will tell you that the best magic wands are made from hazel wood.  (The rest just don’t measure up.)
--Witches can’t shed tears so don’t let ‘em fool you when they pretend to cry.
--Witches raise storms at sea by catching spiders in pots.
--Witches’ brooms are not jet-propelled.  If she intends to fly, a witch must first rub on flying ointment before hopping on her broom.
--And finally, but most important of all—to protect yourself against the evil eye, bad luck and illness, spit in your right shoe every morning.

Consider yourself warned and now well-prepared for Halloween!  Happy Hauntings!
 
 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Writing Process


I’ve been tagged to do the Writing Process Blog Post by Vickey Kalambakal. You can read her blog post here: http://www.kalambakal.com/2014/8/27/my-writing-process/.

If you follow these posts–which you can on Twitter by using #MyWritingProcess–you’ll see the wide variety of practices that creativity engenders. We all do it differently, there’s no one right way to write.  Which can be comforting where you encounter dogmatic rules or teachers who insist that their method is best.

So, here are my answers to the four questions:

1. What Are You Working On?

I seem to be juggling a few things at the moment.  I am finishing up an article for the winter issue of Scoliosis Quarterly Magazine and I have just been asked to write two more pieces for their Spring Issue next year.  Nothing like planning ahead, but it’s all good.  One of the Spring articles requires that I interview two physicians—one in Italy and one in Spain!  Can anyone spell S-K-Y-P-E?  Hopefully, English won’t be a problem! 

I am also in the midst of co-writing an historical novel called Secret Hero.  It’s based on a real woman who disguised herself as a man and enlisted in the Union Army with a Michigan troop.  Remarkable story about a remarkable lady.  Then there is my next Hollywood book that I try to fit in as best as I can.  Hollywood history is still my favorite topic as most of you who follow my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Hollywood-Tales-from-Tinseltown-with-Debra-Ann-Pawlak/111910342180494?ref=hl) already know.  

2. How Does Your Work Differ from Others of Its Genre?

I don’t think much about genre, but for the most part I write historical pieces.  All three of my published books (and one CD) are non-fiction.  I love the challenge of researching and getting it right.  I do not, however, like to write dry textbook-type material.  My goal is always to educate AND entertain.  I love finding obscure facts and sharing those facts with readers.  The key is research and persistence to keep looking for the truth.  There are so many fallacies out there (especially in cyberspace) and it’s often difficult to muddle through.  But without accuracy, your work and your integrity as a writer are questionable.  I never want to be in that position.  It can get tedious and there are days I wish I could just make stuff up—but I am not so good at that so I do my best to stick to the facts!

Of course, sometimes, the facts can be surprising.  For example, while researching Jeanne MacPherson whom I wrote about as one of the 36 Academy Founders in ‘Bringing Up Oscar’, I found several references about her mother noting she was a fine lady from France.  After days of searching, however, the truth, was finally revealed—MacPherson’s mother was really a Michigan gal, born to a man who ran a local newspaper.  Franch had nothing to do with it.

And, sometimes, facts can be found in the oddest of places.  For one article I was writing, I needed to verify that a man who died in the 1800s really had two daughters.  I researched for days until I came across a small article in an old British newspaper.  It seems his mother had died and an ad appeared in the paper looking for her two granddaughters as they were her only living relatives and she had left her estate to them.  Who knew that a newspaper ad printed more than 150 years ago would tell the true tale?

 3. Why Do You Write What You Do?

Mostly, I write about things or people that interest me.  Other times, I might be assigned a topic by a trusted editor.  I am always open to learning new things and that is what usually happens when I take on assignments for Scoliosis Quarterly.  Writing about genetic testing, cutting-edge surgeries and the history of back-bracing all taught me something that I didn’t know before.  Hopefully, my readers learned something, too. 

Sometimes, I get assignments that become personal—like when the editor of Michigan History Magazine asked me to write an article on entertainer/philanthropist Danny Thomas, founder of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennesse.  I was honored since my grandparents knew Thomas in his early days when he was still Amos Jacob and working in Detroit radio.  They were always proud of his accomplishments and growing up I remember the entire household gathering around the television whenever he appeared.  Best of all, I got the cover story for that issue and emails from St. Jude’s thanking me for doing such a fine job.  Of course, Danny Thomas was the one who did all the work. 

4. How Does Your Writing Process Work?

Before I begin writing anything, I like to gather my research materials.  I use online articles as a start and then I comb old newspapers and magazines that have been digitalized.  From there, I find books that contain information about my topic.  I often use my library’s ‘inter-loan’ service and borrow books from as far away as California or Florida.  It takes a little time, but it’s almost always worth the wait.  Once I read through everything, I write a draft.  I am obsessive about making that draft as close to perfect as possible.  This is silly because a draft is a draft and not meant to be flawless, but for some reason I can’t help myself.  On my second go round, I correct any errors, fill in any blanks and round out the article with additional information like quotes or anecdotes.  Next, I remove all of the unnecessary words and phrases because I tend to get wordy.  Then after a break, that may be as short as overnight or as long as a week (depending on other projects), I do a final polish by reading aloud before submitting the work to the editor/publisher.  There is something about hearing the rhythm of the words that helps smooth things out.

For books and lengthier pieces, I always enlist friends to read them over for clarity.  I also have someone read aloud to me so I can hear exactly what I’ve written.  It really makes a difference when correcting word flow.

Now I Tag Three Other Bloggers:

The problem here is that I only have two bloggers—not three.  So if anyone is interested in participating , let me know and I will include you here. 

Mary Glickman, author of Home in the Morning, One More River, a National Jewish Book Award Finalist , and Marching to Zion. Glickman lives on Johns Island, South Carolina with her husband and cat." That's enough, isn't it? And I'll be blogging my answers at www.maryglickman.com

From an early age, Martin Turnbull was enchanted with the old movies from — and the history of — Hollywood’s golden era, from the dawn of the talkies in the late 1920s to the dusk of the studio system in the late 1950s. He has spent many happy hours watching Garland, Gable, Crawford, Garbo, Grant, Miller, Kelly, Astaire, and Rogers go through their paces. So it’s no great surprise that he is now writing a series of historical novels set in and around the real-life Garden of Allah hotel, which stood on Sunset Boulevard from 1927 to 1959: the exact same years of Hollywood greatest years.  You can read his blog at:  http://martinturnbull.wordpress.com/ 

 
 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Flying Baroness

Elise Deroche was born on August 22, 1886 to a plumber and his wife in an average Parisian neighborhood.  Growing into a tall, shapely woman with long dark hair and expressive brown eyes, she chose life in the theater.  Success on the stage combined with her keen sense of style turned Elise into a popular figure.  In keeping with her image, she soon changed her name to Raymonde de Laroche and later added the royal title of ‘Baroness’.  Somehow, it had a more dramatic ring to it. 

A flamboyant character, she claimed to be a lot of things including a painter, a sculptor, and an experienced balloonist.  Determined to add pilot to her list of careers, she called upon French aviator (and some believe her lover) Charles Voisin to teach her to fly.  In 1909, at the age of 23, de Laroche met Voisin at the Chậlons airfield where he and his brother, Gabriel, built and flew their own planes.
The Voisin was a one-seater forcing the pupil to sit alone in the plane while the trainer shouted orders from the ground.  De Laroche was told to drive the plane along the airfield.  When she reached the other side, a mechanic turned the plan around and she drove back to where she started.  She was not, under any circumstances, to lift off.  After her first taxi around the field, however, she was ready for take-off.  Against her instructor’s orders, she opened up the throttle, raced down the airstrip and rose about fifteen feet in the air.

Within a few months, de Laroche was more confident in her flying skills, but on January 4, 1910, she had a mishap.  Misjudging the height of several trees that stood on one end of the field, she caught the tail of her aeroplane in their branches.  The flying machine crash-landed.  Luckily, de Laroche suffered nothing more than a broken collarbone and a few nasty bruises.  The accident, however, did not deter her ambition to become the world’s first female licensed pilot.  It spurred her on even more and three months later, de Laroche duly impressed the French officials with her flying skills.  She was awarded pilot’s license #36—the first ever given to a woman. 
As a barnstormer, she traveled the world.  In St. Petersburg, Russia, de Laroche caught the attention of Czar Nicholas II as she flew over a small airfield where smoking chimneys not only reduced visibility, but also caused unstable air currents.  After circling the field more than 300 feet above the ground, she simply turned off her engine and glided back down leaving the crowd and the Czar in awe.

From Russia, she traveled to Budapest where more chimneys wreaked even more havoc.  Here, however, de Laroche took first place.  Not because she won, but because no one else would try the 68 mile flight in the erratic atmosphere.  Next stop?  Rouen, Normandy where the air currents were worse.  Caught in a storm, she crash-landed into the fence that surrounded the field.  Thinking quickly, she kept the engine running so the aeroplane wouldn’t plunge into the spectators.  The Baroness got off lucky that time suffering only a concussion and another broken collarbone.
Later that summer, at Rheims in northern France, the Seconde Grande Semaine found de Laroche the only woman pitted against several men.  On the sixth day of the competition the Baroness’ luck ran out.  As she flew approximately 200 feet above the ground, her aeroplane crashed and she suffered a broken arm and two broken legs.  Undeterred, she was back in the pilot’s seat two years later.

This time, her eye was on a prize of 2,000 francs offered by Pierre Lafitte owner of the popular French women’s magazine, Fémina, and sponsor of the Coup de Fémina air competition for women.  The money would be awarded to the female pilot who flew the longest distance alone by December 31, 1912, but an automobile accident changed her plans.
She and Voisin were driving near Lyons on September 25th when they collided with another car.  Voison died at the scene and Raymonde suffered serious injuries.  Voisin’s death left the world of aviation in a tailspin and devastated the Baroness, but she was more determined than ever to return to the air. After surviving yet another auto accident, de Laroche took to the skies in 1913 hoping for a second chance at the coveted Coup de Fémina.  On November 29th, she flew a total of 200 miles in only four hours.  She could have flown farther, but a problematic gas line forced her down.  By year-end, no one single female flyer had done any better allowing the Baroness to claim the prize. 

With the onset of World War I in 1914, civilian flying came to a halt, but as soon as the war ended in 1918, de Laroche was back in the pilot’s seat.  Much to her delight, she found the newer airplanes sleeker, faster and easier to handle.  With a new Caudron G3, the Baroness broke the women’s altitude record by climbing almost 13,000 feet at Issy-les-Moulineaux on June 7, 1919.  Three days later, American flyer Ruth Law bested that record by flying 14,000 feet in the air.  Not to be outdone, de Laroche reached an astonishing 15,000 feet on June 12th. 
On July 18, 1919, the Baroness visited Le Crotoy airfield where she one of the test pilots offered her a ride in one of the newest flying machines.  Eyewitnesses said that as the plane came in for a landing, it swerved awkwardly and then went into a spinning dive, which sent it plummeting to earth.  The 33 year-old Baroness was dead at the scene and the pilot succumbed on his way to the hospital.  A statue honoring her stands at Le Bourget airport in Paris.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Musical Patriot

Consumed by music, a young John Philip Sousa played in the U.S, Marine Band by day and worked professional engagements by night.  In between, he studied and composed.  His first published work, Moonlight on the Potomac Waltzes (1872), was written for a friend trying to impress a girl.  The money was minimal, but having his work made public thrilled him.  Encouraged by his small success, he continued to write and publish his music.  In 1873, he composed a march called, Salutation, in honor of the new Marine Bandleader, Louis Schneider.  As the band began playing it for the very first time, Schneider discovered that a low-ranking bandsman had written the piece.  He stopped the music at once.

Understandably, Sousa soon chose to leave military life behind.  At the age of twenty, he was honorably discharged from the service and the Marine Corps band.  His days, however, were still filled with music.  Now an accomplished violinist, Sousa taught privately during the day and in the evenings played in two orchestras—one at Ford Theater and one at the Washington Theater Comique where he eventually became the conductor.

Sousa thrived on music working as an arranger, conductor, and composer establishing his professional brilliance and in 1880, the U.S. Marine Band contacted Sousa asking him to be their new leader when Louis Schneider resigned. Things got a little crazy as Sousa was unable to get out of his professional contracts in Philadelphia.  Everyone was happy, however, when his father, Antonio, finally accepted the position by proxy on his son’s behalf.  On October 1st, Sousa, now sporting his famous beard, became the fourteenth and first American born, leader of the U.S. Marine Band. 

It was no easy job.  The forty member Marine Band’s repertoire left much to be desired.  Also known, as ‘The President’s Own Band’, they were the only group of musicians that played at the White House.  Their lackluster music, however, was outdated and the instruments themselves not up to Sousa’s high standards.  He demanded much from his men, strictly running rehearsals, which caused many of the less serious musicians to drop out. 
         
With their numbers dwindling, Sousa personally recruited new band members to replace them.  He took in only those he knew and trusted.  In between his official duties, he even penned six lively new marches for the band to play.  Single-handedly, Sousa turned his Marines into sharp looking, professional sounding musicians.  Making their debut at a White House reception on New Year’s Day in 1881, the refurbished U.S. Marine Band led by John Philip Sousa had more than just a new leader.  They had a new sound and stepped into a new era.

Sousa himself has gone down in history as a remarkable American who wrote remarkable music.  Affectionately known as The March King, he will forever be linked with the rich sounds of America.  A true patriot who believed in his country, he gladly took on the role of musical ambassador around the globe bringing a taste of America wherever he went.  Respected worldwide for his talent and personal commitment to music, Sousa not only raised the standard of American music, but also truly became a superstar before the word even existed

Sousa left behind a musical legacy of 15 operettas, 136 marches, 11 suites, 2 descriptive pieces, 70 songs, 7 other vocal works, 11 waltzes, 13 dances, 14 humoresques, 28 fantasies, 6 incidental music to stage productions, 5 overtures, 2 concert pieces, 4 instrumental solos, 12 trumpet and drum pieces, and 322 arrangements and transcriptions.  He also left us his words with 7 books, 27 letters to the editor and 138 magazine and newspaper articles, many of which were written on topics other than music.

“If, out of the cadences of Time, I have evoked one note that clear and true, vibrates gratefully on the heartstrings of my public—I am well content.”  John Philip Sousa has done way more than that.  Even now, his music inspires us.  In it we still find comfort, courage and strength.  Thanks to him when we hear those high-stepping sounds we remember with pride and dignity exactly who we are. 
 

 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Witch of November

Huron.  Ontario.  Michigan.  Superior.  Erie.  The Five Great Lakes.  Their glistening waters beckon boaters, fishermen and swimmers on those warm summer days when the sun is just right.  But don’t let them fool you. The shimmering Great Lakes harbor secrets—deadly secrets.  Over the past 300 years, they’ve claimed thousands of ships and countless more men—many consumed by the legendary Witch of November.

Collisions explosions, and fires have all caused shipwrecks on the Great Lakes, but it’s the sudden, lethal storms that are most feared.  Measured only by their wind speed, gales are declared when winds are clocked between 39 and 54 miles per hour (mph).  Gales with greater wind speeds are upgraded to storms—the highest rating given on the lakes.  Since 1835, 20 such storms, with winds blowing more than 73 mph, wreaked havoc across the lakes with the fiercest one gauged at 103 mph.  In the oceans, they would have been called hurricanes, but on the Great Lakes they are simply storms, no matter how deadly they turn.  Nineteen of these twenty tempests battered the lakes during November—the one month the sailors call cursed.  Here are a few reasons why:
November 9, 1861 – The Keystone State disappeared during a wicked winter storm that roared across Lake Huron.  Since she carried no lifeboats, all 33 people on board were lost.

November 16, 1883 – The Manistee encountered a blinding snowstorm on Lake Superior.  After several days of drifting in violent, freezing waters, a lifeboat carrying three of her crew washed ashore.  They described the high seas and strong southwest winds that tore their ship apart sweeping all of the other lifeboats away taking 23 lives with them.

November 30, 1908 –The Carl D. Bradley, a steel freighter, sank in Lake Michigan during a deadly storm when they ran into 70 mph winds, which barely gave the crew enough time to radio for help.  Help, however, did not come in time for the 33 men who perished. 
November 28, 1966 – The Daniel J. Morrell disappeared while heading north on Lake Huron.  All but one man were lost.  The 26-year-old watchman who survived described how the ship broke in two clean across the middle during the violent storm.  The electrical cables snapped and with no emergency backup power, the crew could not signal for help.

November 10, 1975 – The Edmund Fitzgerald was the largest freighter ever lost on the Great Lakes.  She simply vanished in Lake Superior, 17 miles northwest of Whitefish Point, Michigan, during a deadly storm that clocked winds at about 100 mph.  Four days after she sank, sonar detected the wreck.  The ship had broken in two and her bow plummeted 535 feet to the bottom of the lake.  Her stern rolled over and came to rest upside down on top the ship’s midsection leaving no survivors.

On those warm summer days when the lakes want to play, it's hard to imagine the Witch of November and her wrath.  She shows no mercy and grants no favors taking what she wants with a vengeance.  He ruthless nature strikes fear in the bravest of sailors.  Superstition?  Maybe, but the fact remains that many a ship and he crew have lost when the Witch of November emerges.




Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Got Salt?

Well below the surface of Detroit, Michigan lies a hidden metropolis complete with man-made roadways, jumbo-size equipment and a unique history all its own.  Underneath the streets of the Motor City is a shimmering city of white—a city made entirely of salt. Detroit’s salt story began about 600 million years ago during the Paleozoic Era in a prehistoric bowl.  Back then, coral reefs separated the Michigan Basin (what we now know as the Lower Peninsula) from warm, shallow ocean waters.  For the next 400 million years or so, the basin sunk lower and lower and, on several different occasions, the ocean water seeped in.  Each time, the water evaporated leaving behind horizontal salt beds that stretched over 170,000 square miles—all the way to New York. 

In 1895 salt was found under the streets of Detroit.  Eleven years later, the Detroit Salt and Manufacturing Company was ready to establish an actual mine within the city limit.  It took another four years to finish the first shaft, which measured 1,000 feet deep.  By 1914, the mine was producing 8,000 tons of the white stuff each month. 
So just how did those salt miners get to work?  Down the single, narrow shaft, in a little elevator that carried only six men at a time in very close quarters.  Their tools and equipment also had to descend through that same shaft.  Between 1922 and 1925, the company built a second shaft even larger than the first, increasing efficiency.  This newer shaft was used to lift salt to the surface, while the older shaft continued carrying miners and their equipment. 

Each piece of machinery (which would eventually include big rigs, mechanical shovels and electric trains) had to be taken apart, lowered down the shaft in pieces and then put back together in an underground workshop.  Some of the larger truck tires had to be deflated and bound before being taken down to the mine one at a time.  Today, however, the second shaft is primarily used for equipment, which is still disassembled at street level and then reassembled approximately 1,100 feet below the surface. 

Just before World War II, Detroit once again broke new ground becoming one of the first major U.S. cities to salt their icy winter roads.  Other cities soon followed suit, which created a new demand for salt.  The Detroit Salt Mine expanded and, according to their website (http://detroitsalt.com/), they cover over 1,500 acres with more than 100 miles of roadway beneath the city streets. 

The mine itself remains at a comfortable 60 degrees each and every day.  Miners use what is called ‘The Room and Pillar’ mining method.  This means about half of the salt that is mined is left behind in ‘pillar’ formation to hold up the top giving the mine a checkerboard appearance.  Salt rooms measuring 50-60 feet wide and 25 feet high are carved out with dynamite.  The explosions dislodge between 800 and 900 tons of salt in just a few seconds.  Miners then remove the loose pieces of salt with electric shovels and pile the salt chunks into large front-end loaders. 
The salt is then taken by truck to a primary crusher where it is spun at a powerful speed causing it to break down into even smaller pieces—no more than eight inches in size.  From the crusher, the salt is placed on a conveyor belt.  It goes through another refinement process before being placed into ten-ton buckets and hoisted to the surface.  Once outside, the salt is either put into a railroad car for shipping or housed in storage for later use.

Salt, with its rich international history, is an old, old substance linked to life itself.  Geologists estimate that at least 55 counties in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula sit upon approximately 30,000 trillion tons of salt.  And that’s a whole lotta sodium and chloride!
 
 

 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

And Then There Were Eight

I have a personal rule:   make at least one person smile each and every day.  It can be your spouse, your child or a complete stranger.  You just have to look around and open your heart.  Chances are you’ll find an opportunity to brighten someone’s day in the smallest of ways.  And it can happen in the most unexpected places—even the Costco Food Court. 

After a day of babysitting our three-year-old granddaughter, my husband and I decided at the last minute to head to Costco for gas.  But we didn’t go to our neighborhood store.  The gas app on our IPad told us that the best fuel price could be found at a different Costco so we headed there.  Neither of us felt like cooking so after filling up came another last minute decision—eat a quick dinner at the food court. 
As we sat there sharing an ice cream, a couple of kids sat next to us.  Then came two more and another two and another two until there were eight.  Bringing up the rear and a pizza was a young gentleman that the kids enthusiastically called ‘daddy’.  As he passed out their dinner, it was evident that many of these youngsters were challenged in one way or another—especially the toddler who was sitting quietly in the cart.  Then we heard one little girl’s blessing:  “Thank you, God, for my family.  Thank you, God, for this food; and thank you, God, for the adoption."

My husband and I exchanged looks.  We were on the same page.  After almost 40 years of marriage, we don’t always have to talk.  He got up and quietly asked ‘daddy’ if he could buy the kids some ice cream.  The man was very touched and said it would be fine.  When ‘daddy’ told the children that ‘this kind gentleman’ wanted to treat them to ice cream, they were ecstatic.  As my husband went up to the food window, the man smiled.  He explained that they had been out all day running errands starting with the baby’s physical therapy appointment early that morning.  They were in the process of adopting him.  “This is my life,” he grinned. “But I know I am blessed and I love it.”
Buying eight ice creams seemed like a trivial thing compared to the selfless choices made by this good man.  God only knows what those children may have witnessed or lived through until he gave them a loving home.  Two things I know for sure:  eight little people enjoyed their dessert that night and we went home happy to have shared a moment with such a beautiful family.  As for me, I exceeded my daily smile-making quota by eight!



Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Thomas Ince Affair

Ambitious producer/director, Thomas Ince, founded Culver City Studios. Ince, however, is not known for his movie mogul status.  He is best remembered for his untimely death and the cast of real life characters who witnessed the sordid events.

Hobnobbing with the rich and famous was always part of the Hollywood territory. So it seemed only natural for William Randolph Hearst to throw Ince a birthday bash on board his yacht, The Oneida.  The ship sailed from San Pedro, California heading for San Diego on Saturday, November 15, 1924. Among the guests were Hearst's mistress Marion Davies, silent film star Charlie Chaplin, columnist Louella Parsons and Hearst's film production manager, Dr. Daniel Carson Goodman, a licensed, but non-practicing, physician. Ironically, guest-of-honor Ince missed the boat.

Tied up with business in Los Angeles, Ince took a train to San Diego and joined the party Sunday morning. At dinner that night, the group celebrated Ince's 42nd birthday. Early Monday morning, he took a water taxi to shore accompanied by Dr. Goodman.  By Tuesday night, Ince was dead in his own home.

The official cause of death?  Heart failure. The Wednesday morning papers, however, declared: "Movie Producer Shot on Hearst Yacht!"—headlines that supposedly vanished in the evening edition. Hollywood legend says that William Randolph Hearst suspected Davies and Chaplin were lovers. Supposedly, he found the couple in a compromising clinch and went for his gun. Davies' screams awakened Ince who rushed to the scene and took the bullet meant for Chaplin.

A second version had Davies and Ince alone in the galley late Sunday night. Ince, suffering from ulcers, was looking for something to ease his upset stomach.  Hearst walked in, mistook Ince for Chaplin and shot him. A third version tells of a struggle over a gun between unidentified passengers. The gun accidentally fired and the bullet ripped through a plywood partition straight into Ince's room striking him.

Toraichi Kono, Chaplin's secretary, claimed he saw Ince bleeding from a bullet wound to the head when he came ashore. Kono’s story quickly spread throughout Beverly Hills. One month after Ince's death, rumors ran so rampant that the San Diego District Attorney's Office took action.

The D.A. interviewed one witness—Dr. Goodman.  He explained that once ashore, he and Ince caught a train heading back to L.A. when Ince fell ill. The two men disembarked in Del Mar and checked into a hotel. Goodman called a doctor, as well as Ince’s wife. Not sure whether Ince was suffering from a heart attack or indigestion, Goodman claimed he left Del Mar before Mrs. Ince arrived. Case closed.

Rumors and suspicions continued. Chaplin denied being on board The Oneida, adamant that Ince died two weeks after the cruise. In reality, Ince was dead within two days after leaving the yacht with Chaplin attending the memorial services that Friday.

Marion Davies never acknowledged that Chaplin or Goodman attended Ince’s final birthday party.  Davies insisted that Ince’s wife called late Monday afternoon to inform her of Ince's death—but he didn't die until Tuesday.  Supposedly, Hearst, himself, provided the Widow Ince with a trust fund. In return, she refused an autopsy and ordered her husband's immediate cremation, then left for Europe.

Hearst apparently took care of Louella Parsons as well. Pre-cruise, Parsons was a New York movie columnist for one of Hearst's papers. Post-cruise, Hearst gave her a lifetime contract and expanded her syndication launching her infamous power in Hollywood.

So what really killed Thomas Ince? A sudden heart attack? A bout of indigestion? A misguided bullet? We'll never be sure and that’s what makes a legend—Hollywood-style.
 
 
 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

That Winchester Woman

Sarah Winchester (nee Pardee) inherited a fortune from the Winchester Repeating Arms Company—famous for making the Winchester Rifle.  Despite her riches, she firmly believed that her good fortune came with a curse. 

Born in 1839 in New Haven, Connecticut, Sarah’s parents saw to it that she had a good education.  She spoke several languages and was musically inclined.  In addition to her smarts, she was pretty and charming making her a favorite with the local boys.  One in particular, William Wirt Winchester, son of Oliver Winchester who owned the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, fell madly in love with her. 

William married Sarah in 1862.  Four years later, they had a daughter, Annie who died as an infant.  Sarah never had another child and the happy-go-lucky girl she once was disappeared forever.  Her father-in-law passed away in 1880 and the following year tuberculosis claimed her husband leaving Sarah miserable despite the $20,000,000 she inherited along with half of the Winchester Company, which brought her one thousand dollars every single day. 

Sarah sought comfort in psychics.  One soothsayer told her that the Winchesters were cursed by all of the souls who had been killed by their rifle.  These spirits demanded revenge.  According to the psychic, Sarah’s dead husband wanted her to move west and build a home in order to escape the family curse.  But there was a catch—once she started building, she must never, ever stop.  If she did, the evil spirits would claim her just as they had her baby, her father-in-law and her husband. 
Sarah sold her home in Connecticut and moved to California where she found property in what is now San Jose.  Convinced that this was where her dead husband wanted her to be, she began building her home in 1884.  The construction continued non-stop for the next 36 years.

Sarah began with an unfinished farmhouse that stood on a little more than 160 acres.  She hired a team of carpenters to work around the clock.  Every night at 12:00, Sarah held a séance to summon only good spirits who provided the next day’s building plans.  The house grew daily as rooms were built around rooms; stairways leading to nowhere rose up; doors that opened to walls or nothing at all were installed. 
By 1906, the house stood seven stories high.  Then on April 18th, a powerful earthquake struck San Francisco.  The top three floors of Sarah’s home collapsed trapping her in a bedroom.  After she was freed, Sarah believed that the entire incident was the spirits’ way of telling her that didn’t like her home improvements.  To appease them, Sarah boarded up 30 rooms in the front of the house.  She did not, however, stop building.  She installed secret rooms, trap doors, upside down stair posts and chimneys that didn’t work—all in an attempt to confuse the evil spirits that were after her.

Then on September 4, 1922, the hammering, sawing and construction halted when 83-year-old Sarah Winchester died in her sleep.  As they learned of her death, the workmen immediately quit whatever they were doing.  Some even left half-pounded nails in the walls.
Today, Sarah’s home, rumored to be haunted, is known as the Winchester Mystery House and has been designated a national historical place by the U.S. Government.  Visitors can tour the place and see for themselves the 160 rooms; 467 doorways, 950 doors, 47 fireplaces, 17 chimneys, 40 bedrooms, 40 stairways, 367 steps, three elevators, two basements and two ballrooms—only one of which is complete.

 
 

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Monkees and The Motor City


In the fall of 1966, a phenomenon hit the country—four appealing young men known as The Monkees debuted on NBC.  They were often referred to as ‘America’s answer to the Beatles’, but that wasn’t exactly right.  They were simply actors cast in a television show, but adolescents didn’t care about that technicality.  Young girls everywhere were smitten with Davy, Mickey, Peter and Mike.  That demographic included me and my bestie, also named Debbie! 

Debbie and I lived down the street from each other on Detroit’s east side.  Every Monday night, we took turns watching The Monkees at each other’s house.  The moment their records were released, we were at the record shop.  We were also faithful followers of ‘Tiger Beat’ and ’16 Magazine’ because we just had to keep up with everything Monkee.  Debbie liked Davy best while I chose Mickey, but we both agreed that Mike’s green hat was the ‘grooviest’!   Debbie’s mother even knitted us identical green hats, which we removed when we were in school!  We knew we were all that and a bag of chips, as they say! 
When Debbie and I heard that The Monkees were taking a tour, we were beside ourselves with excitement—especially when we discovered they were stopping in Detroit.  We just knew we had to see them.  They were scheduled to appear at Olympia Stadium (Home of the Red Wings back then, but now just a memory) on July 29th.  Somehow, I talked my favorite aunt into taking us there.  Tickets were bought well in advance and then the unthinkable happened.  Six days before the concert, the Detroit Police raided a blind pig on the city’s west side.  For the next four days riots shook the Motor City leaving 43 dead, over 1,000 wounded and more than 7,000 arrested.

There was fighting and looting just a block away from where we lived.  By day, we watched looters running down the street toting stereos, radios, and televisions.  By night, the continuous sound of gunfire and sirens kept us up.   The surreal atmosphere was only enhanced when The National Guard and their tanks took up residence on our street.  The entire city was under a strict curfew due to the violence, and then our beloved Monkees cancelled their concert.

Once things calmed down and the city quieted, however, The Monkees rescheduled.  Finally, on August 13, 1967, Debbie and I entered Olympia Stadium joining thousands of other young teens who screamed like maniacs as our idols belted out the likes of I’m a Believer, Last Train to Clarksville and I Wanna Be Free.  And yes, we wore our green hats.

Hey Deb—do you still have yours?  I can’t seem to find mine.  Does your mom still knit???         


Friday, February 14, 2014

Shirley Temple--The Little Girl Who Sparkled

So many great stars have been lost to us this year—and it’s only February!  None affected me more, however, than the passing of Shirley Temple Black.  Now there was an icon.

As a kid, I watched all of the Shirley Temple movies countless times and to this day, I haven’t tired of them.  I knew every line in every film as well as each song.  I guess I identified with her.  She often played that motherless child who had an eternal optimism about her.  No matter what dire circumstances she found herself in, there was always a song or a dance that put a positive spin on the situation—not to mention that required happy ending.  As a motherless child myself, I knew exactly how Shirley felt.  Despite a good home life, there was still a sense of insecurity along with the gut feeling that something was missing.
Thankfully, the real-life Shirley Temple had none of these issues.  Gertrude Temple desperately wanted a girl.  She and her husband, George, who worked for the Southern California Electrical Company, already had two fine sons—John and George, Jr.  Gertrude’s wish finally came true on April 23, 1928 when six pound, eight ounce Shirley was born.  At the time, her big brothers were 13 and eight, respectively.  Mrs. Temple immediately introduced Shirley to music and when the child took her first steps, Gertrude was delighted to see her daughter walking on her toes.  As a toddler, Shirley’s singing and dancing talent emerged and she was soon enrolled in classes to enhance her natural gifts.  Mother, it seems, had big plans for her little girl.

Gertrude’s ambition paid off when Shirley made her film debut in 1932 at the age of five.  Of course, her mother swore she was only four, which made her talent seem even more amazing.  As she began to star in her own vehicles for Twentieth Century Fox, it was Gertrude who carefully curled each ringlet and taught the next day’s lines to her daughter who was still unable to read.  It was also Gertrude who sheltered the child.  After each take, she rushed Shirley back to her dressing room.  No hobnobbing with the other players was allowed.  Shirley Temple never realized how big a star she really was.  Her mother wouldn’t have it. 
As a result, this curly-haired girl sang and danced her way into the hearts of movie-goers.  With the Great Depression still wracking the country, her timing couldn’t have been better.  She brought laughter and joy where little existed and her positive outlook was contagious.  People took to her as if she was their own child.  Mrs. Temple always knew that Shirley was special.  She regularly gave her daughter only one command just before the cameras rolled:  “Sparkle, Shirley, sparkle!”  And sparkle she did!


Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Fall From Grace

After spending his youth traveling with vaudeville troupes and singing in California clubs, Roscoe Arbuckle became one of Mack Sennett’s Keystone Kops and a fabled Hollywood career began.  The rotund Arbuckle was surprisingly agile and adept at physical comedy despite his large size.  Sennett wisely paired him with the popular comedienne Mabel Normand.  Together, they took America by storm.  By the time Arbuckle left Sennett for Paramount Studios three years later, everyone’s favorite funny man was earning a weekly salary of $5,000.00 (almost $107,000 today).  Arbuckle soon became one of Hollywood’s biggest box office draws.  Then the unthinkable happened.   The public’s most loved film comedian, Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle fell from grace.

In 1921, Arbuckle signed a new contract with Paramount that would earn him $1,000,000 annually.  To celebrate his good fortune, he traveled to San Francisco’s posh St. Francis Hotel for a Labor Day weekend of partying.  Actress Virginia Rappe was just one of his many guests, but when she turned up dead, Arbuckle was vilified as a sadistic rapist and murderer—despite the fact that she died in a hospital one week later, days after Arbuckle returned to L.A.    
Suddenly, Arbuckle embodied everything that was wrong with Hollywood.  The press and the public condemned him.  Religious organizations and moralists demanded that the district attorney charge Arbuckle with murder.  They opted for manslaughter.  Arbuckle’s films were withdrawn from theaters across the nation and he became the first major movie star to be blacklisted.

His first two trials ended in hung juries requiring a third go-round.  When the third jury adjourned it took them five whole minutes to reach a unanimous decision of acquittal.  Most of that time was spent writing an apology to the defendant.  It read in part:      

“Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle.  We feel that a great injustice has been done him.  We feel also that that it was only our plain duty to give him this exoneration under the evidence for there not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime….The happening at the hotel was an unfortunate affair for which Arbuckle, so the evidence shows, was in no way responsible….Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.”
 
 
Arbuckle was now a free man, but life as he knew it was over.  His legal fees bankrupted him.  Former fans believed he was only freed due to a lack of evidence and his position in Hollywood.  Arbuckle remained a pariah for the rest of his years.  He died in his sleep on June 29, 1933—the cause of death sited as heart trouble, but those who knew him well believed his heart was simply broken. 

       

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Lonely One

As I sit here in my Midwest dwelling watching the snow pile up outside, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite vacation spots—Hawaii! 

Separated from the rest of us by the vast Pacific, the 50th United State stands alone—literally.  But just what makes Hawaii so different?  It’s not the magnificent mountains or the tranquil trade winds or the tropical atmosphere.  Nah.  None of those.  It’s the Royalty.  Yes, that’s right—kings and queens.  Hawaii is the only state that was once ruled by a royal family starting with King Kamehameha the Great!
Born in 1758 on the Big Island, the infant king was originally named Paiea, meaning ‘Hard-Shelled Crab’.  He was the son of Keoua, a high chief, and Kekuiapoiwa, the daughter of King Alapai.  Legend tells us that he was born right after an appearance of Halley’s Comet.  This prompted the kahunas, or high priests, to predict that this child would grow to be the slayer of chiefs and sole ruler over the islands.  As a result, Alapai ordered the death of all male infants, but his grandson was secretly whisked away by the priests and quietly raised by a childless couple until he came of age.  Separated from his family, Paiea took the name Kamehameha, meaning, ‘The Lonely One’.

Eventually, Kamehameha came under the guidance of his uncle, Kalaniopu’u, who was Chief of the Big Island.  After his uncle’s death, he became second in command next to Kalaniopu’u’s son and heir, Kiwaloa.  When Kiwaloa was killed in a dispute, Kamehameha became King, but he didn’t stop there.  He continued attacking and conquering each of the islands one by one.  He even invaded Maui with cannons.  The battle that followed in Iao Valley is considered one of the bloodiest.  Fatalities were so high that the nearby waters were dammed up with bodies
By 1795, Kamehameha was the undisputed king of all the Hawaiian Islands except Kauai.  Determined to take over this last island, he launched war canoes from Oahu, but rough seas forced him back.  Later, he planned a raid from the Big Island, but ended up in Maui by mistake.  On his final attempt to take over, an unexpected outbreak of what was probably typhoid fever or cholera swept through his ranks killing many of his followers.  He then tried a new tactic—he offered his protection to the island and Kauai’s chief accepted.  Upon the chief’s death, several years later, Kauai finally became part of Kamehameha’s kingdom.

As king, Kamehameha had ultimate power, but to help him rule, he appointed a governor to each island.  He outlawed the common practice of human sacrifice and ensured that the local chiefs did not abuse the Hawaiian people.  It is said that King Kamehameha was a commanding figure—almost seven feet tall.  He reigned for 24 years until his death in 1819 at the age of 70.  Deeply mourned by his people, his remains were hidden in a secret cave somewhere on the Big Island.  The exact location is unknown and Hawaiian folklore says that the servants who buried him were killed to ensure the burial site would never be revealed. 
Each year on June 11th, the state of Hawaii officially remembers by celebrating King Kamehameha Day.  A true warrior, he was not afraid to fight for what he believed in.  A wise and gentle ruler, he united the islands and for the first time brought peace and a sense of well-being to the Hawaiian people.