Did She Think She Was Santa?

Up on the house top, click, click, click!  Down through the chimney but NOT St. Nick!

Up on the house top, click, click, click! Down through the chimney but NOT St. Nick!

Here is a good one, folks!

A woman named Genoveva Nunez-Figueroa was found stuck in a chimney, yes, a chimney, in Thousand Oaks, California.

It wasn’t the first time she was up on that rooftop, either.  She was found up there once before and got away.

Then she came back.

This time around, she got lodged in the chimney, could not get out, and was heard to be crying in there.  After that, the EMT’s had to come and rescue her stuck butt.  It seems obvious that she was probably hoping to rob the house thataway and did not count on the fact that maybe, just maybe, she carried, ahem, too wide a load to get down that chimney like Little Old St. Nick.

Mademoiselle La Fruit Loop Nunez-Figueroa had met the owner of the house in question on one of those online dating sites.  Well, I have long said that anybody who goes on a dating site to meet strangers must have a screw loose.  You do not know who or what you might be connecting with if you meet these people online.  You do not know their history.  You also do not know if they are truly looking for love – or for an easy mark.

The owner of the house who met this lunatic online is now saying he’ll be more careful in the future of who he invites in.

Whoa, boy!  

Indeed!  

“And they heard her exclaim,

‘I can’t drive out of sight,

I am stuck, a dumb cluck,

And I’ll be here all night!’  HELP!”

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult

THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult.  A riveting book about the worst possible kind of dilemma.

THE STORYTELLER by Jodi Picoult. A riveting book about the worst possible kind of dilemma.

What would you do if you had a friend who confided something in you that is not just horrific but immoral and illegal?

Would you stay silent, or would you take action?

This is the basic question that Sage Singer, the main character of Jodi Picoult’s novel THE STORYTELLER faces when an elderly man tells her a secret he’s kept for about seventy years.  The secret is, to use a term from my grandparents’ generation, “a real doozie.”

The book is striking quite a chord with me.  For some reason I’ve always brought out the secrets in people.  Even on first meeting, sometimes, a new friend will take one look at me and out pops their whole life story.  I’ve never quite known how I can have that effect on people.  I don’t like to pry.  That could be it.  A friend said once, “It’s because people sense you won’t do anything with the information.  You won’t use it against them.  You don’t ever look for it, either.  You’ll just listen.”

Yes  – but what if I had to listen to something atrocious?  What if what I was told is nothing less than heinous?  Criminal, even?

I know me, and I would not be able to stay silent under those circumstances.  Ages ago I wrote a blog post about how closely I could identify with the character of “Holly Martins,” portrayed by Joseph Cotten in the movie The Third Man.  He, like I, realized that one of his old chums was a denizen of the sewers…and that the situation was beyond bad…

His chum in the movie, called “Harry Lime,” is played by Orson Welles.  How does he justify his actions, which are killing people?

In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias they had warfare, terror, murder, bloodshed—but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock!”  

It’s been said that Orson made that line up himself.  What a justification for sociopathic behavior!

Good wins out in the movie.  As Dumbledore says to Neville Longbottom in yet another book and movie, “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to your enemies, but a great deal more to stand up to your friends.”

I don’t want to give too many more details away about THE STORYTELLER because I think spoilers aren’t cool.  Suffice it to say the book is a page-turner – but then, I’ve never read a Jodi Picoult novel that wasn’t.  I consider her to be one of our best current writers.  I would like to recommend THE STORYTELLER for anyone who’s looking for a riveting read.

Ah, the wisdom of Dumbledore!  Bravo!

Ah, the wisdom of Dumbledore! Bravo!

Andrea McArdle as Judy Garland in RAINBOW on YouTube

Andrea McArdle, as Judy Garland, sings "Dear Mr. Gable" to Clark Gable at his birthday party.

Andrea McArdle, as Judy Garland, sings “Dear Mr. Gable” to Clark Gable at his birthday party.

Here’s a treat!  It’s the television movie RAINBOW, which recounts the early life of Judy Garland.  It’s upbeat for the most part with all the fabulous songs, but it becomes increasingly terrifying, on an emotional level, as we see the stranglehold MGM Studios starts to have over Judy.

The movie stars Andrea McArdle of Broadway ANNIE fame as the young Judy, and she does an amazing job. I wish there had been a soundtrack recording of these songs when the movie first came out in the 1970s.  “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart” never sounded better to me, before or since, as it does when Andrea belts it out. Brava!

Be sure to check out Martin Balsam as “Louis B. Mayer” in a performance that is downright chilling to the bone.  I have a feeling his portrayal was 100% right on target.

I won’t say too much more because I don’t like to put “spoilers” out there.  Take a look.  Locating this movie, which is one of my all-time favorites, on YouTube and getting to see it again has made my day!  Here it is.  Click on the movie title at the top of the frame to watch it directly on YouTube, and let it also make yours:

 

Hey, Look Him Over! Jim Speake Sings Cy Coleman

Jim Speake, Star of "I'm a Brass Band: Jim Speake Sings Cy Coleman"

Jim Speake, Star of “I’m a Brass Band: Jim Speake Sings Cy Coleman”

It’s been quite a weekend for me in terms of events!  Yesterday I attended the screening of “The Hawaiian Room” and today I went to see I’m A Brass Band: Jim Speake Sings Cy Coleman at the cabaret at the Duplex.

I love Cy Coleman songs for their positive outlook, and the Broadway composer had quite a hit list.  Barnum, Sweet Charity, The Life, The Will Rogers Follies, and I Love My Wife, to name a few.  Jim Speake clearly loves the man’s work, too, and put one terrific Coleman song over after another.

A medley of “Hey, Look Me Over” and “Hey There, Good Times” opened the show, both fun, rousing numbers, and the fun continued from there. “Witchcraft,” “Never Met a Man I Didn’t Like,” “Thank God I’m Old,” the title number, “I’m A Brass Band,” and “Come Follow the Band,” and especially, “It’s Not Where You Start, It’s Where You Finish” were all Mr. Coleman’s work, too, and Jim Speake had the audience smiling, toe-tapping and thoroughly enjoying ourselves.

I hope this show is seen in a lot of additional venues because Jim Speake is a terrific showman and the numbers are wonderful.

BRAVO!

THE HAWAIIAN ROOM: A Documentary with a Lot of Heart

Dancers at The Hawaiian Room, NYC's beloved show that is now the subject of a great movie

Dancers at The Hawaiian Room, NYC’s beloved show that is now the subject of a great movie

Last night I attended a screening of one of the best feel-good movies I’ve ever seen.

The Hawaiian Room is a documentary by film maker Ann Marie Kirk of Hawaii and the Hula Preservation Society.  It tells the story of a New York City show that was, alas, before my time.  From the 1920’s until the 1960’s, there existed, in the basement of the Lexington Hotel in Manhattan, what looked like a fantastic nightclub with a Hawaiian theme.  It featured a Hawaiian band, Hawaiian food, and Hawaiian entertainment.

It’s always a joy to hear people reminisce about the happiest times in their lives, and the documentary is filled with the fond recollections of dancers and patrons.  Women in Hawaii had few job options during the time when The Hawaiian Room was in business.  Many  of the dancers were initially employed in positions at canneries.  However, many of the ones who were chosen to work at The Hawaiian Room came from families of court dancers to the Hawaiian royal family, and all had studied at hulaus – dancing schools that specialized in the hula.

It was intriguing to hear one of the dancers recall how, though a lot of the hulau students were not well off financially, their teacher had insisted that they always present themselves well and that they be nicely dressed.  If a student arrived for lessons in a wrinkled outfit, she would be sent home to change in to something more appropriate.  I got the feeling these girls were not just taught how to dance, but how to bring out the very best in themselves, too.

Only the very best hula dancers were accepted to come to New York.  Once chosen for work at the room, the dancers brought the songs and dances of their islands to ours, Manhattan.  The girls found they were the stars of the show and were treated beautifully.  There was a radio show broadcast from the room.  The dancers were often on television, once it came into vogue.  New Yorkers waited in lines outside of the hotel to get into The Hawaiian Room, and celebrities visited the venue nightly.  One of the hula dancers picked a man out of the audience to dance with her one night and only found out later what his name was: Sidney Poitier!

Many of the dancers returned to New York City to see the screening of the movie, which was held at the Nightingale School on the Upper East Side.  Thank goodness I arrived early: the turnout was vast, and the auditorium was packed!  Musicians sang while the audience came in, and lots of them were attired in stunning Hawaiian outfits, with flowers in their hair.  They turned out to be the women who had once starred at the revue.

At the end of the screening they took stage and gave the audience a treat.  They sang some of their old numbers!  I got a chance to play filmmaker myself, not easy since I’d never taken a video on my new camera before, but I winged it.  Here it is.  Take a look and enjoy!  Here’s what my camera managed to capture.  If only I had been old enough to have seen The Hawaiian Room live before it closed!

Here’s a trailer from the movie:

The organization Na Oiwi NYC sponsors Hawaiian cultural events and I suggest that anyone interested in attending can connect with them at www.facebook.com/naoiwinyc.

The website for the movie is www.bluecratermedia.com and I, for one, can’t wait – already – until it comes out in DVD.

Unintentional Heroes: Judy Garland’s Palladium Audience, 1951

Glory recaptured: Judy Garland at the Palladium.

Glory recaptured: Judy Garland at the Palladium, 1951.

Unintentional heroes are often the very best kind.

This week I have been reading a terrific, though heartbreaking and infuriating, biography: Judy Garland by Anne Edwards.

It’s heartbreaking because the child, Judy, born Frances Gumm in 1921, had no say in anything that went on in her life from the day she was born.  Her mother was more of a ruthless stage mother than Rose Hovick ever was, putting her three kids on the vaudeville stage because she herself wanted to be a star but lacked the talent, echoing the plot of Gypsy to an eerie degree.   Judy’s “big break” came when she was signed to an MGM contract at age 13, but it wasn’t a break at all: once she signed the contract, the studio, for all intents and purposes, practically owned the child.

Here is the infuriating part.  Louis B. Mayer called the child with the great big voice but a propensity toward weight gain “my little hunchback.”  Hunchback??!!!  What kind of a term is that for a grown man to levy at a 13-year-old?  She reportedly had a slightly sway back as a child, but come on!  Furthermore, that child was beautiful.  No one could ever have called her otherwise except, perhaps, within the confines of a movie studio where a certain type of beauty – that which could be most flatteringly photographed – was the norm.  Had she been in school rather than signed to a studio, she’d have easily been regarded as a homecoming princess, not  a hunchback.  Since she easily put on the pounds, Mayer went and decreed that the studio commissary serve the girl nothing but chicken soup.  How can a teenager survive on nothing all day long but soup?  The man was worse than a dictator with these insane edicts.  Yes, she had to be photographed a certain way on film, but still, nothing but liquid soup all day long for a teen?  That’s less fare than a prisoner might have received while held in a Siberian gulag!

Later on, once she was doing beautifully in movies, Louis B. Mayer went further, authorizing amphetamines to keep Judy up for 36 hours at a time – 36! – to shoot movies, then allowing her to be handed sleeping pills to crash and get some shut-eye when she was no longer needed on the set.  These were forced on the girl.

Uppers so that she could work for 36 hours straight.

Downers so she could sleep.

The beautiful girl became addicted, and it was that studio’s fault.

Still later, when her problems with pill addiction and became severe and she required treatments and hospitalizations, plural, what did Mayer say?  That she was “a spoiled, bad girl having a temper tantrum!”  This is complete insanity as a statement on his part.  Judy developed that addiction problem only because Mayer himself created it!

In 1951, freed at last from her studio contract, the suggestion was put forth that she play The Palace Theater in New York City, the old temple of the very best of vaudeville acts from 1913-1933 – but by then it was being used as a movie house.  Judy was hired to appear at England’s most famous vaudeville theater, The Palladium, in London instead.

I was further steaming when I read that before her opening performance, Judy was terrified, unable to sleep, and sick to her stomach.  This beautiful girl, this astonishing singer, who had starred in so many pictures for MGM, had been so beaten down by her own studio, and for so long, that she didn’t think she could handle the live performance!

Here’s where the unintentional heroism of the British people comes in.  They had, unbeknownst to Judy, loved her all through the darkest days of World War II.  She’d gotten into their hearts with The Wizard of Oz by singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which happened to coincide with the beginning of the war – and their darkest national hour.  She was in their hearts yet.

American newspapers had published scandalous stories about Judy; the British papers didn’t.  They were thrilled she had arrived in England to entertain them.

They wished her luck.

She had gained weight after leaving the studio that starved her and knew it.  She made a joke about it during her performance.

What did the British audience do?  They replied with, “More to love!  More to love!”  Perhaps the walls constructed by Louis B. Mayer and his studio around what could have been the pretty girl’s self-esteem may not have ever been entirely erased, but that night, at least, at last, they started tumbling down.

This will go without saying, I’m sure, but they gave her several standing ovations that night, and during subsequent performances, too.  Bravo, London!  You didn’t just love her performance.  You restored her dignity and, I believe, most likely even prolonged her life, as a result.  This is the best story of an audience giving back that I’ve ever heard.

Here she is singing “Rockabye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” from that engagement.  It includes the lines that so well applied to Judy herself:

“Weep no more my lady,

Sing your song again for me!”

I say again, since it’s worth repeating here: BRAVO, London!

The London Palladium.

The London Palladium.

Sign the Petition to Save a New York City & Film Landmark

The Vitagraph Smokestack is in need of Landmark status.  Please help!

The Vitagraph Smokestack is in need of Landmark status. Please help!

Help save the Vitagraph smoke stack!

Vitagraph was one of the first film studios in the nation.  It was located in Midwood, Queens, New York.  Please sign the petition to help save the Vitagraph Smokestack as a landmark.  We can’t let our proud history be torn down.  It needs to be preserved.

Thanks!

http://middev.org/vitagraph/