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.