Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Al Kaline - #6

It has been a long while since I posted anything here, but the passing of Detroit Tiger great, Al Kaline, has inspired me. He began his career in the Motor City in 1953 at the tender age of 18—right out of high school.  He never once played in the minors, but wore that old English D until he retired in 1974.  

As a kid, my grandpa took me to Tiger Stadium on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Trumbull in the middle of Detroit, where we cheered for our favorite boys of summer—just the two of us.  Never mind that I was the only one in the family who would go with him.  You see, he believed in getting his money’s worth so we always attended double headers, but first we had to watch batting practice.  We would get to the park between 11-11:30 am on game day. The first game began around 1:00 and the second game followed after a short break.  Grandpa fed me all day long—popcorn, peanuts, hotdogs, ice cream.  You name it.  I ate it.

Kaline is a vivid part of those memories.  His major league record speaks for itself (3,097 hits, 399 homeruns, and 1,582 runs batted in, just for starters).  He was the Tiger you could always count on--the dependable Right Fielder or the hard-working First Baseman and then came the 1968 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals.  Now that was baseball! Denny McClain! Bill Freehan! Willie Horton! What a team!  I still smile when I think about them.  

Kaline was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988--a well-deserved honor.  He remained with the Tigers and became an excellent announcer for the game.  He was a kind and quiet man who wore the #6 and it was only right that he passed away on the 6th day of April.  Mr. Kaline, you leave behind a wonderful legacy that will continue to inspire those of us who were lucky enough to see you play.  And if you run into my grandpa somewhere up there, make sure you say ‘hello’ and ask him about those double-headers he loved to watch—after baseball practice, of course!  

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Ten Things You Might Not Know About 'Yankee Doodle Dandy' (1942)

In honor of the Fourth of July, here are some fun facts concerning the classic musical ‘Yankee Doodle Dandy’ (1942)!

1)      George M. Cohan wanted Fred Astaire to play him in the film, but Astaire’s ballroom style of dancing style was too different from Cohan’s stiffer legwork and Cagney got the part.

2)      Rosemary DeCamp played Cohan’s mother, but in reality she was more than a decade younger than Cagney.

3)      Cohan’s sister, Josie, was played by Cagney’s real-life sister, Jeanne, while Cagney’s brother, Bill was a producer on the film.

4)      The film was scheduled for a July 4, 1942 release, but in deference to Cohan’s failing health, it premiered in New York, New York on May 29, 1942.

5)      Cagney won his only Oscar for his work in this film, but the movie itself lost out to ‘Mrs. Miniver’ (1942) for Best Picture.

6)      Cohan’s choreographer, Johnny Boyle, worked closely with Cagney on the dance routines.

7)      Cohan was actually married twice, but in the movie he had only one wife, Mary.

8)      Actress Joan Leslie was only 17 and still in high school when she played the part of Cohan’s wife.

9)      Despite its patriotic flair, the film was already in production when Pearl Harbor was attacked on December 7, 1941.

10)   Josie Cohan was married to MGM director and Academy founder Fred Niblo.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Ten Things You Might Not Know About 'I Love Lucy'

These fun facts might surprise you!

1)      The name ‘Fred’ Mertz was given to the character played by William Frawley as a nod to Lucille Ball’s real life brother, Fred.

2)      ‘I Love Lucy’ began as a radio show called ‘My Favorite Husband’ featuring Lucille Ball and Richard Denning as her spouse.  When the show transitioned to early television, Ball insisted that her husband, Desi Arnaz, be given the role.  Denning was out and Arnaz was in.

3)      Unsure whether she should take the plunge from movies to television, Ball had a dream about her good friend comedienne Carole Lombard who had perished in a plane crash almost a decade earlier. Lombard told Ball to take a chance and so she did.

4)      When selling the show to Philip Morris, Ball and Arnaz were told that Desi’s orchestra could only be used when they were an important part of the plot.  Arnaz was concerned about his ‘boys’ and explained that they had to be paid on a weekly basis whether they were in front of the camera or not.  The sponsors agreed. 

5)      As part of their negotiations with CBS, Arnaz asked if he and Lucy could own 100% of the shows.  Much to their surprise, the network agreed.

6)      Arnaz’s Cuban accent always got a laugh—whether he meant to or not.  Someone once hung a sign on his dressing room door that read:  “English broken here.”

7)      As CBS prepared for the show’s second season, the network provided Arnaz with a new budget.  Going over the numbers, the business-savvy actor noticed an extra million dollars.  The very next day, he took the paperwork back to CBS informing them of their error.  He was told to stick to his acting and leave the numbers to them.  He immediately spread out the paperwork and pointed out the problem.  The CBS brass suddenly had a newfound respect for the Cuban bandleader.

8)      Lucy and Desi tried to keep her second pregnancy under wraps for as long as they could. However, when Louella Parsons found out about it, she broke the news in her gossip column and at the same time apologized to the couple for her betrayal.  She then went on to explain that keeping such important news from her readers would be a disservice to them.

9)      William Frawley was a huge baseball fan and he had a clause in his contract stipulating that if his favorite team, The New York Yankees, made it to the World Series, he would be allowed time off to attend the games.   It happened four times during the show’s six-year run causing Frawley to be written out of the script more than once.

10) In 1953, Ethel Mertz was given a middle name of 'Louise'; 3 months later, the writers rechristened her Ethel 'Roberta' (Vance's real middle name, by the way); one year later, she was referred to as Ethel 'Mae'. I guess they couldn't make up their mind, but if anyone is checking, Fred's middle name was 'Hobart'--and that never changed.


Monday, March 26, 2018

Ten Things You Might Not Know About 'The Honeymooners'!!

What can you add to the list???  Put it in the comments below. 

1)    When Jackie Gleason met Audrey Meadows for the first time, he thought she was all wrong for the part of Alice Kramden—she was too pretty, too young and much too charming.  So Meadows went home and had several pictures taken in her apartment wearing old clothes and curlers sans make-up.  When shown the pictures, Gleason didn’t even recognize her, but exclaimed:  “That’s our Alice! Who is she?”

2)      ‘The Honeymooners’ was broadcast from New York City at Studio 50 on 53rd Street and Broadway.  ‘The Ed Sullivan Show’ also aired from Studio 50 and the place has since been renamed ‘The Ed Sullivan Theater’, where David Letterman worked for many years.  It is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

3)      ‘The Honeymooners’ originally began as a small segment of ‘The Jackie Gleason Show’, which first aired in 1952.  Brooklyn bus driver Ralph Kramden became so popular that three years later, Gleason stopped filming his variety show and began the half-hour situation comedy—and those are the 39 episodes seen most often.

4)      The first Alice Kramden was played by Pert Kelton who was blacklisted during the Red Scare and let go by the network.  In deference to the actress, Gleason told his team that Kelton was ill.

5)      Prior to one show, Meadows had an allergic reaction to some shrimp—her eye swelled up.  Gleason, ever the improviser, wrote four lines of dialogue to cover the problem:

                                        Trixie:  What happened to your eye?

                                        Alice: I forgot to do the laundry.

                                        Trixie:  So?

                                        Alice:  Ralph threw his socks at me.   

6)      As the show grew more and more popular on Saturday nights, the fan mail increased.  Letters poured in from all over the country with fans enclosing hundreds of kitchen curtains and aprons hoping to cheer up Alice who was stuck in that dingy apartment.  One woman even enclosed a dime instructing Alice to buy a new curtain rod as it would be too cumbersome to send in the mail.

7)      The Kramdens lived at 328 Chauncey Street in Bensonhurst, a borough of Brooklyn.  Growing up, Gleason also lived in an apartment on Chauncey Street, but in Brooklyn’s Bushwick area—a poor section of town. He modeled the Kramdens’ apartment after his own boyhood residence.

8)      After each performance, Gleason sent one dozen roses to every woman appearing in the show.

9)      Audrey Meadows always wore flats when playing Alice Kramden so she would appear shorter than her onscreen husband.  She was five foot six to Gleason’s five foot nine.

10)   Art Carney claimed that his dramatic hand gestures were based upon his own father’s hand motions whenever the senior Carney had to sign one of his son’s bad report cards.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Half Horse, Half Hollywood

Born in a small coal mining village known as West Stanley in Durham County, England, early filmmaker David Horsley was the son of a master mechanic and blacksmith who worked for the West Stanley Coal Company.  The town was owned by the coal company.  Most of the residents were miners and their homes were also owned by their employer.  The dwellings were simple and most families owned at least one pig.  The Horsleys were no different and on January 18, 1884, David’s mother sent him out for pig feed.  Unfortunately, the ten-year-old boy was hit by a coal train and ended up losing his left arm just below the elbow.  The wise Mrs. Horsley knew that her son could never support himself in West Stanley so she convinced her husband to pack up the family and move to America where they settled in New Jersey later that same year.  There, David sold newspapers and worked as a Western Union messenger until he started his own business building bicycles. 

By the time he was thirty, he opened the ‘Horsley Pool Parlor’ completed with six pool tables, but lost the place during the financial panic of 1907.  That’s when he teamed up with one of his pool-playing patrons, Charles Groman, himself an artist at Biograph, and established the Centaur Film Company.  They chose the name ‘Centaur’ because it referred to a mythological character that was half-man and half-horse.  After struggling to remain in business and feeling pressured by Thomas Edison and The Trust—a filmmaking monopoly not known to be kind—Horsley knew that relocation was the only chance he had to keep his cameras rolling

The producer originally chose Florida for its sunshine and warm temps, but one of his directors, the Canadian-born Al Christie, had other ideas.  He believed that California was a much better option.  To be fair, the gentlemen flipped a coin and Christie won.  So in 1911, Horsley changed the name of his company, packed up and headed west.  In keeping with the mythological theme, Horsley called his enterprise The Nestor Motion Picture Company after ‘Nestor’ the Greek king of Pylos who claimed victory during the Trojan War.  They were the first motion picture studio to establish a permanent residence within the confines of Hollywood. 

Settling on the corner of Sunset and Gower, the fledgling movie company moved into the former Blondeau Tavern for $30 a month.  It was a deal, because in addition to the pub itself, Horsley also had access to the stables and carriage house.  The tavern’s garden served as a back lot and with a weekly budget of $1200, the production company issued three one-reelers each week—one comedy, one western and one ‘eastern’, or drama as we know it today.

Christie, who was primarily responsible for the Mutt and Jeff comedies, shared the directorial duties with drama expert Tom Ricketts and western filmmaker Milton H. Fahrney.  They simply used a stopwatch when filming and when time was up, the movie was over.  The negatives were developed in the dark on the tavern’s porch and then sent back east to Bayonne, New Jersey, for processing without anyone seeing them before they were printed and distributed.  The following year, Horsley was bought out by the newly-formed Universal Film Company and became one its largest shareholders.  In 1913, Horsley sold his piece of Universal to Carl Laemmle. 

Horsley then took his family to Europe where he encountered The Bostock Animal and Jungle Show in London.  The menagerie had recently been put out of their domicile by the British government because they needed the troop’s exhibition rooms for military training just prior to their entry into World War I.  Horsley bought them all including 58 lions, two elephants and countless other creatures.  He put them on a ship to New York and from there transported them by rail to Los Angeles.  He then leased an area at Washington and Main where he built grandstands, arenas and cages—all fenced in with concrete.  He opened his show in 1915.

Unfortunately for Horsley, his income never quite matched his overhead so he built a studio on the property and renamed it The Bostock Jungle Films Company.  Now back to movie-making, he filmed hundreds of comedy shorts, as well as a serial known as ‘Stanley in Africa’ starring Roy Watson as adventurer Henry M. Stanley.  The eight part jungle series was a great way to showcase the animals, but did not help Horsley’s bottom line.

By 1919, his venture was over and Horsley was in debt when he sold off his assets donating the lions to what would become the well-known Gay’s Lion Farm in El Monte, California.  When Horsley left the motion picture industry, he was a defeated man and never able to regain the prominence he once held.  He died in 1933 at the age of 59 mourned chiefly by his father, wife and three children. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Soldier, Spy, Heroine

In case you were wondering what I've been up to lately, I have gained a writing partner, Cheryl Bartlam du Bois, and we have recently completed a Civil War novel based on the real life adventures of Michigan's own Sarah Emma Edmonds.  It's called Soldier, Spy, Heroine and will be published in January, 2017.  Here's a glimpse of Emma's story:

Union Army Private Franklin Thompson was good at keeping secrets. A true hero, Thompson not only fought beside his regiment with a valiant spirit, but also tended the sick and wounded during some of the Civil War’s deadliest battles.  He even took a turn at spying for the newly formed Secret Service.  Thompson donned disguises, sometimes posing as a cook or a peddler, as he made his way behind enemy lines.  Revealing his true identify was never an option—to either the Confederacy or the Union.  This soldier’s best-kept secret was a personal one—Private Franklin Thompson was really a woman.

Isaac Edmondson was bitterly disappointed when his fourth daughter, Sarah Emma, was born in 1841.  The Edmondsons lived on a farm in Canada and Isaac wanted sons—strong sons who could work the land.  Instead he had one sickly boy and, in his eyes, four useless girls whom he forced to wear boys’ clothing.  Emma, a tomboy, could outride and outshoot any boy in town, but she could never please her father.

When a local farmer wanted to marry her, Isaac agreed since it would mean one less mouth to feed.  Emma, however, hated the idea so she ran away and changed her name to Edmonds.  When her father discovered her whereabouts, she knew what had to be done.  Sarah Emma Edmondson disappeared and traveling salesman Franklin Thompson emerged. 

Franklin Thompson sold bibles as far west as Flint, Michigan where he became friends with Captain William R. Morse and his volunteer troop, The Flint Union Greys.  After the attack on Fort Sumter, Thompson and his newfound friends offered up their services.  The group was assigned to Flint’s Company F of the Second Michigan Volunteer Infantry under the command of Colonel Israel B. Richardson or ‘Fighting Dick’.  As for Thompson, he was given nurse duty.

Company F was sent to Washington, D.C. where Private Thompson found himself in the midst of the First Battle of Bull Run at Manassas, Virginia.  With little rest and dampened spirits, Thompson did his best to comfort and administer aid.  Working closely with the doctors, he tied countless tourniquets, set dozens of broken bones and assisted with multiple surgeries including many amputations.  

After the battle, Thompson traded his nursing duties for the mail under the command of Colonel Orlando Metcalf Poe, who now replaced Colonel Richardson.  Mail always caused excitement among the troops, but mail carriers often faced danger as they traveled alone on horseback.  His superiors noted Thompson’s tireless dedication and hard work.  They recommended him for a special assignment with the newly formed Federal Secret Service originally created to spy on Confederate ranks.  Only the finest were chosen.  Thompson made the grade and, in between delivering the mail and his nurses’ duties, he was given a secret mission—cross Confederate lines into Yorktown and return with vital information from enemy troops. 

Thompson bought old work clothes, shaved his head, colored his skin and completed his costume with a black, wooly wig topped by a worn hat.  Slipping past enemy lines, he joined a group of black men forced to build Confederate fortifications.  Calling himself ‘Cuff’, he worked alongside them, learning all he could.  By night, he wrote detailed notes about what he’d seen and heard, then hid the papers in the soles of his shoes. 

Realizing that he needed critical information that only officers could give, Thompson traded places with a water boy.  He carried a pail throughout the camp picking up the details he needed.  Thompson left enemy territory with orders to take food to an outlying post.  Once there, he was told to replace a picket who had been shot and killed.  Thompson walked the line until dark then ran away to safety. 


Another mission found him disguised as a black woman assigned to Rebel headquarters.  Posing as a cook for Confederate officers, he overheard them discussing military plans.  One morning as he picked up an officer’s coat, papers fell out—military orders for General Lee’s army and his plan to capture Washington.  Anxious to take them back to his superiors, he slipped them inside his skirt and left camp.  In less than two weeks, Private Thompson made three visits to the Rebel High Command bringing back valuable information each time. 

Despite his malaria, Thompson took part in the Second Battle of Bull run in late August, 1862 before traveling with his troop to Antietam, where one of the Civil War’s deadliest battles occurred.  Never had Thompson witnessed so much bloodshed.  Whenever there was a break in the action, or the Union troops retreated, the medical team quickly raced across the field attempting to save whomever they could.  They bandaged wounds, set broken bones and comforted the dying as best they could often times with no more than a sip of water and a whispered prayer.

Illness and the severe winter cold left him with frostbite, nonetheless Thompson accepted another spy mission in the spring of 1863.  This time when he infiltrated enemy lines in Lebanon, Kentucky, he pretended to be a loyal Confederate.  When the Rebel soldiers ran into a band of Union men, bullets were exchanged.  Thompson escaped when the Union soldiers recognized him and whisked him away.  The Confederates labeled him a traitor. 

The Secret Service knew that further missions could be deadly for Thompson if captured by the Rebels.  He remained a Union soldier, but became a civilian spy.  Sent to Louisville, he took a clerk job at a dry-goods store and traveled to Confederate camps selling goods to the soldiers.  He gained the confidence of a Confederate spy who not only bragged about his own accomplishments, but boasted about other Rebel spies, as well.  Two were arrested thanks to Thompson’s clever ruse. 

With his spying days nearly over and his malaria flaring up, doctors urged Thompson to admit himself to a hospital.  Rather than give up his secret, he deserted.  And so, on April 19, 1863, Franklin Thompson, Civil War Hero, disappeared and Sarah Emma Edmonds emerged.

Emma checked into an Ohio hospital.  Once recuperated, she intended to rejoin her troop, but soon learned that Franklin Thompson was now considered a deserter.  Therefore, Emma could not resume his identity. She married Linus H. Seelye, a carpenter and wrote a best selling book about her Civil War adventures titled, Memoirs of a Soldier, Nurse and Spy. She donated her royalties to a variety of groups that supported the soldiers.

As she grew older, clearing the name of Franklin Thompson and collecting her Army pension became important.  She traveled to Flint, Michigan and looked up her old Union buddies.  Amazed that their comrade, Franklin Thompson, was really a woman, they rallied around her and submitted statements verifying Thompson’s bravery and acts of heroism. 

Of course, lots more happened before, during and after the Civil War, making Emma's story unique.  Just ask the Michigan Women's Hall of Fame--she was inducted there in 1992.  Read all about it here... Soldier-Spy-Heroine-Novel


Monday, January 4, 2016

Bonaparte's (New Jersey) Retreat

What happens when you’re done being the King of Naples?  You move on to be the King of Spain.  What happens when you’re done being the King of Spain?  You move on to New Jersey and build yourself a mansion and a man-made lake stocked with white swans imported from Europe.  At least that’s what Joseph Bonaparte did after his little brother, Napoleon, made a mess of things and got the whole clan kicked out of France. 

In 1816, the Bonapartes were forever banished from French soil.  Napoleon was exiled to the Island of Elba.  Big brother, Joseph, fled to Switzerland where he buried, and later retrieved, some of the family jewels.  From there, he sailed incognito to New York.  Carrying a suitcase filled with the jewels he hadn’t buried, Bonaparte traveled to Philadelphia and then on to New Jersey where he introduced himself as the Count de Survilliers.  But his alias never fooled the Garden State citizenry.  They knew a Bonaparte when they saw one. 

Back then, it was illegal for someone born outside of the United States to buy land here.  That minor detail hardly stopped the former king from procuring approximately 211 acres near Bordentown, New Jersey between the Delaware River and Crosswick Creek for $17,500.  In 1817, the State of New Jersey saw the error of their ways.  They passed a law allowing Bonaparte to own property.  Like a kid in a candy shop, he went on a spree and bought well over 1,000 acres. 

In three years time, Bonaparte created Point Breeze, a magnificent country estate unlike anything the locals had ever seen before.  In addition to the elaborate brick and wood mansion, he laid twelve miles worth of winding carriage trails, planted exotic trees, imported wildlife and built a picturesque lake complete with boats and an arched stone bridge crossing over it.  He also created a network of underground tunnels—something that gave his Bordentown neighbors plenty to gossip about.  They weren’t too crazy about the nude statues dotting the property either, but that’s how it was with kings—even ex-ones.
Along with his extravagant lifestyle, Joseph kept good company.  While living in New Jersey, he entertained famous Americans like John Quincy Adams, Henry Clary and Daniel Webster.  Distinguished international visitors also came to Point Breeze including several adventurers who offered Joseph the throne of Mexico--twice.  He refused--twice.  After Naples and Spain, he knew better.  Wearing a crown wasn't all it was cracked up to be.  He now favored the quiet life.
That quiet life was interrupted in 1820, when the mansion caught fire.  An avid art lover, Bonaparte’s vast collection of paintings, including works by Rembrandt and daVinci, were almost lost.  His good New Jersey neighbors came to the rescue leaving the ex-king ever so grateful.  Genuinely touched by their bravery and kindness, he embraced the locals welcoming them and their children at Point Breeze any time.  In the summer, the kids played in his gardens and in the winter, they skated on his frozen lake.  A soft touch, Bonaparte was always good for fresh oranges and apples—a luxury their parents could rarely afford.
Ex-King Joseph rebuilt his home, which included one of the nation’s finest art galleries, an enormous library filled with 8,000 books, and a large formal dining room where 24 guests could eat.  He lived in this house until 1832 when he returned to Europe coming back to Point Breeze for sporadic visits over the next several years.  He ended up in Florence, Italy, where he died in 1844 at the age of 76.  His grandson and namesake eventually inherited the place.  Overwhelmed by the extravagance, the younger Joseph sold the estate in 1847 and then auctioned off his grandfather’s furniture and artwork.  Kids!
Henry Beckett purchased the property in 1850 and razed the house.  In its place, he built an Italian-style villa.  Harris Hammon later remodeled the villa in 1924.  In 1941, the Divine Word Mission bought the property to open a seminary.  Three schools were built on the grounds in 1963, and twenty years later Beckett’s remodeled villa burned down.  The Divine Word Mission still occupies the site. 
 As for the man himself, Joseph Bonaparte is remembered as a gracious gentleman who brought fine European culture into the United States.  The hard-working people of Bordentown had never met royalty before, but as neighbors, they shared a mutual respect and sincere affection for each other.  When all was said and done, the ex-king of Naples and Spain much preferred the serene kingdom he built in the land of New Jersey where the good citizens of the Garden State knew a Bonaparte when they saw one!