It’s Time to Right This Soviet-Era Wrong

Augusts Vaidziba, Pharmacist and former Mayor of Durbe, Latvia.

The gentleman pictured above is Augusts Vaidziba (1882-1941).  He was the former Mayor of a little city in Latvia called Durbe.  He was the town’s pharmacist and a member of the National Guard.  A prosperous man, he owned a beautiful house and a profitable orchard.  Augusts had two daughters, Anita and Zenta, and a wife named Maija.

Anita Sofia was already married in 1941.  Zenta was still at home with her parents when the Soviets, during the sick era of Stalin, marched into Latvia in 1940.  On June 14, 1941, a day that still lives in Latvian infamy, as well it should, the Soviets, who had compiled lists of possible “enemies,” rounded up 15,000 Latvian people.  Their property was appropriated by the occupiers and the people, including Augusts, Maija and Zenta, were shipped to Siberia in cattle cars.

This was nothing less than a robbery sanctioned by a cowardly and paranoid occupying force.  These people had done nothing wrong.  They weren’t even active resisters of the Soviet regime, but potential ones, according to the occupiers, who were afraid of them.  They weren’t put on trial or given a chance to defend themselves.  They were mercilessly removed from their homes and sent far out of the way.

Soviet cattle cars were no better than the Nazi ones. This is an actual photo of the June 14, 1941 forced deportation of Latvians.

Augusts was separated from his wife and daughter and sent to a notorious gulag called Vyatlag.  He died, or was executed, as many of the Soviets’ perceived “enemies” were, there not three months later.  Many people froze to death in Siberia, but three months later, it was only September.  Augusts was probably shot.

His wife and daughter survived one exile.  They were allowed, finally, to return to Latvia for a time – only to be shipped away to Siberia again, where they were fated to die.  The Soviets couldn’t resist using such “tainted enemies”  as slave labor, though how the wife and one of the daughters of the former mayor and town pharmacist should be so classified is beyond me, and no doubt beyond anyone, anywhere with even a shred of decency within them.

Shortly after this, the Nazis marched into Latvia and took it over for a few years, wreaking their brand of havoc on the Latvian populace.  In 1944, though, the Soviets came back.

Augusts and Maija Vaidziba’s other daughter, Anita, the one who was married when her parents and sister were forcibly removed from their home, made it to the United States.  She, her husband and their first daughter hightailed it out town as the Soviets returned, on a cart pulled by a black horse.  They knew if they didn’t, they’d be rounded up next, “guilty” by association.  They had another little girl while on the road.  A third child, a son, was to have been born in America, but Anita died in childbirth when her daughters were still toddlers.  A lot of the information Anita could have imparted to them about their family back home in Durbe was lost  along with her, and remained a mystery for more than 70 years.

Incredibly, the one who solved the mystery of this good Latvian family turns out to be me, by doing a bit of research and locating a relative of the family who knew the whole story.  You see, the granddaughter of Augusts and Maija Vaidziba, who was also named Maija, after her grandmother, was my best friend and unofficially adopted “big sister” for 30 years.  She and her sister were the ones who gave me the nickname “Peanut.”  She was an incredible woman, artistic to the point she could design or restore just about anything.  She didn’t usually have two nickels to rub together yet somehow always had the bearing of a lady “to the manor born” and, it turns out, she truly was.  She just didn’t know it.  Take a look at the fine Vaidziba house, which is now used as a government building in Durbe:

Augusts Vaidziba’s fine house.

The Vaidziba orchard was appropriated, too – and turned into a Soviet collective farm.

Fortunately, Joseph Stalin, who was ultimately responsible for ordering these deportations and the genocide that accompanied them, has been dead since 1953.  Latvia remained under the thumb of the Soviets until 1991, when the little country regained its independence.  The Latvians have paid compensation to those whose property was stolen during the Soviet years, but there was a huge problem with Augusts’ descendants in America recovering theirs: they did not have enough information about their past, let alone their family’s property, to file a claim.  Again, this was because of Anita’s untimely death.

My best friend Maija died this past November, and I was lucky to be at her side in her last days.  On what turned out to be the final day of her life, she asked me, please, to see what could be done about getting reparations for the rest of her family.  She always said I knew how to be relentless, especially when interested in a subject or outraged about an injustice, and God knows I’m outraged about what was done to these good Latvian people.  I don’t know how the Soviets could have dared to stoop so low as to have done this to the Vaidzibas, let alone to 14,997 additional Latvians besides.  How do you spell “disgraceful”?  S-O-V-I-E-T-S!

Meanwhile, with a little help from Google Translate – okay, with A LOT of help from Google Translate – I’ve been doing my best to contact Latvia and find out how to proceed.  I send them emails in English and badly translated Latvian, both.  I keep getting referred from one person to another, but no way am I going to give up.  If there’s anyone out there in Cyberspace who may know of a way to help with this, please contact me through my website,, as all manner of assistance will be cheerfully accepted.

So, look out, world, here I come!  “Peanut” is going to keep on this until this wrong is finally made right.





Peyton Lusk in BAR MITVAH BOY.  What a fantastic performance!

Two weeks ago I saw BAR MITZVAH BOY, part of the York Theatre’s Musicals in Mufti series, which revives musicals.  This season they’ve been reviving the musicals of composer Jule Styne of GYPSY fame.

It was terrific.  I wish it had had a longer run, it was so terrific.  I would have gone back to see it again, and so would the friend who attended the show with me.

And I wanted to give a great big BRAVO and a shout-out to the show’s young star, Peyton Lusk.  From the second he took the stage, this kid was wonderful.  The entire ensemble cast was great, but the character that Peyton played basically has to carry the whole thing, and he delivered.  His comic timing was impeccable, and in other scenes, he’d break your heart.  For the most part, I all but split my sides at this production, laughing.

The show was based on a TV movie that was made into a British musical, and I’m not sure if it was ever shown here in NYC before.  It should be.   It’s about a little boy who is reluctant to have a bar mitzvah, and no wonder: his wacky family is too busy trying to turn it into the social event of the year…

The rest of the cast included Lori Wilner, hilarious as the mother, Ned Eisenberg as the father who’s paying for it all, Tim Jerome as the delightful Grandpa, Neal Benari, Ben Fankhauser, Julie Benko, and Casey Watkins.  Superb, all.

The original production was rewritten a bit before this round of performances.  The only fault I found with the show came from one part of the storyline.  I’m going to mention it, just in case more rewrites are under consideration and somebody involved manages to find this blog post.  The child, at one point, takes off running, but although it’s mentioned in passing some time later, you don’t see the family immediately calling the police.  I mean, sure, they’re self-absorbed to a fare-the-well, but hello! 

While the Musicals in Mufti shows are done in concert, with the actors allowed to read from scripts, getting back to Peyton Lusk, he had his whole part memorized.  I didn’t see him look at his script once.  Like I said, BRAVO!

If ever there was a production that ought to be moved to Off-Broadway, I’d have to say it’s this one.



So There’s “No Right or Wrong in the Theater,” Is There? Time’s Up!

Today’s Pervert: Grandma the Clown!

Years ago I knew a talent agent who had what I thought, at the time, was a rather bizarre outlook on the entertainment business.  He would regularly shriek,  at clients, producers, moguls or employees, anyone who may have dared to say this or that was wrong, “There’s no right or wrong in the theater!  There’s NO right or wrong IN THE THEATER!”  The volume of this could escalate.  And escalate…

On his worst day, the agent was talking to a very nice young actor who said, “I’m going to propose to my girlfriend.  It’s the right thing to do in my relationship.”  Uh-oh!  Red alert!  Wrong choice of phrase, kid!

I was there.  I heard the conversation.  The actor wasn’t saying everyone on the planet needs to propose to his girlfriend.  He was merely saying it’s the right thing for him to do with regard to his relationship, period.

Well, the agent went ballistic.  He went on about this mild mention of a proposal for days afterwards, all the while screeching his favorite line about there being “no right or wrong IN THE THEATER!!!!!”  He said he even had to talk to his therapist about the actor who was proposing to his girl because he felt it was “right.”  (Oh, to have been a fly on that wall!)

I have never quite witnessed such a marathon, several-day-long conniption fit quite like it, before or since.  I wonder if the therapist had as much trouble as I did, keeping a straight face.

Finally I could not stand listening to it any longer.  The whole idea of there being no right or wrong in the entertainment business is ludicrous.  It always was.  It always will be.  I finally spoke up.  I had to speak up.  If I hadn’t, it would have been like remaining silent whenever some nut says the world is flat.  I remember saying, “Oh, for God’s sake! Why don’t you go into a theater, any theater, bring a gun, shoot somebody in the foot, and then see what happens?  I guarantee you, you’ll find out there is right and wrong in the theater, because within ten minutes the cops are going to show up and haul you away!”

Many years later, I took an acting class to have some fun and meet new people.  The acting teacher made a similarly weird statement.  It was along the lines of declaring, “When I was young I decided I’d be an artiste.”  This was said with the French pronunciation, yet.  “I wasn’t going to live by normal rules.  Normal rules don’t apply.”  Her tone of voice was maddeningly rational, her statement absurd.

Well, it looks like those two weren’t alone in their assessments of what does and doesn’t constitute normalcy in the entertainment industry, doesn’t it?  Bill Cosby.  Harvey Weinstein.  Kevin Spacey.  Dustin Hoffman.  Who am I missing?  Every day the news yields  more viable accusations about sexual abuse in the entertainment industry, and as it turns out, most people do not believe there’s “no right or wrong” in the theater, or that “normal rules don’t apply” in the entertainment industry.  It’s been amazing to watch the groundswell of women and men standing up and declaring that the “anything goes” era is finally over and will be withstood no longer.  There’s the #MeToo Movement, the #TimesUp Movement, and there’s definitely a new day dawning.  Rose McGowan, Ashley Judd, the mother of the teen Kevin Spacey zeroed in on – brava and bravo to the entire list of all those who happen to be mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore.  Sing out, Louise!  The list of those making accusations continues daily.

So does the list of perverts.  Today’s latest sicko turns out to be Grandma the Clown from the Big Apple Circus.  You read that correctly.  “Grandma the Clown,” in case you’re not local, is a guy, real name: Barry Lubin.  He was beloved by the people of New York.  He had a great act!  It was a joy to see him perform…

But Barry Lubin/Grandma blew it, the way these egomaniacal narcissists who think they can declare themselves above the law so often do.  Grandma the Clown resigned from the Big Apple Circus after he took pornographic pictures of a sixteen-year-old acrobat.

A sixteen-year-old acrobat?  How brainless can this clown be?

I will say this about Grandma the Clown: it was a decent move for him to resign, but it’s still hideous he thought he had a  license to be a predator in the first place.

Guess, what, Artistes?  There is right or wrong in the theater!

And in the circus.

And in Hollywood.

Time’s Up!

Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein: two among many Reigning Perverts.  #TimesUp!



Dr. Larry Nassar’s Newest Low: Listening to Victim Statements is “Too Mentally Taxing!”

Self-pitying Serial Abuser Larry Nassar, who could dish it out but can’t face hearing about it.

Just when you think the situation with this Dr. Larry Nassar pervert who molested 150+ girls can not possibly sink any lower, guess what?  Today, it did!

Now, the Nassar creep, who first was sitting in court hanging on to rosary beads – something that, as a Catholic, offended the Hell out of me – wrote a six-page-long letter to the judge.  He claimed that being subjected to the victim statements of girls he molested was “too mentally taxing” for him!

Oh, so it’s one thing for him to unprofessionally assault over one hundred and fifty girls, destroying their trust and having a terrible effect on their lives,  but then he can’t “handle” hearing them state the consequences of his actions?

I have heard some ridiculous lines of bull in my life, but this one is so bad, it clearly belongs in the Guinness Book of World Records.  Dr. Larry Nassar shouldn’t be sitting there in his prison jump suit clutching the rosary beads.  He should be wearing diapers with a pacifier in his mouth.  He’s that infantile.  Over a hundred and fifty assaulted girls later, he’s trying to paint himself as the victim here, when he isn’t.  He’s the victimizer, and one of the worst ones in criminal history.

Many of his employers/enablers, in my humble opinion, need to be hauled into courtrooms and prosecuted as well.  They don’t deserve a free pass.  Today USA Gymnastics finally announced they would no longer let the US Olympic Gymnastic Team train at the Karolyi Ranch, one of Nassar’s preferred places for finding children to prey upon.  I have read numerous scathing books and articles about other situations that were ongoing at the Karolyi Ranch as far back as the 1990s, so USA Gymnastics, your move today is good, but what took you so long?  

Nassar also worked at Michigan State University, where fourteen (14) officials were notified about his behavior over the years.  All fourteen did nothing.  They should be rounded up immediately and spirited away in handcuffs, each and every one, starting with the President of the college, Lou Anna Simon, who didn’t even show her face in the courtroom to hear the girls’ statements until there was an outcry about her absence.  Earlier today, despite calls for Lou Anna Simon to be fired, the Board of Directors at the college decided they should keep her on as President.  They couldn’t look worse.

I was never sexually abused as a child by an adult, but I was used as a scapegoat by a particularly vicious teacher, one who had a problem with a relative of mine that she took out on me.  I  didn’t realize that she had a serious substance abuse problem; years later, after I was out of her clutches, that finally came to light, and it turned out her co-workers had known about her instability all along but did nothing to stop her.  What useless, gutless people they were!  Contemptible.

At the time, I spoke out about her, but whenever I tried to be heard, I got treated dismissively. That’s the worst possible thing anyone can do to a child who is trying her level best to raise a red flag about an erratic and dangerous adult.  Note to the World:  children don’t make these complaints up.

Brava to the girls who are speaking out against Dr. Larry Nassar, the Karolyi Ranch, and Michigan State University!

As for Bela and Marta Karolyi, and Lou Anna Simon and the rest of the officials at Michigan State University: what the hell is wrong with all of you?

Disgraced: Marta and Bela Karolyi, Dr. Nassar’s employers.

Also disgraced, yet given a free pass to remain a college President: Lou Anna Simon of Michigan State University.  Reprehensible!

Guts and Glory: BRAVA to the Gymnasts Who Took On Dr. Larry Nassar in Court

Get a load of Dr. Larry Nassar now! He can’t even look his victims in the face.

Sometimes poetic justice gets a rare chance to shine.  Today was one of those days.

This was the day the gymnasts who were victims of pervert “Doctor” Larry Nassar began facing him in court, making their victim statements.  This is the creep who was the doctor for USA Gymnastics and had access to far too many underage girls.  His abuse was done in the guise of “treatment,” yet.  He abused others as well, including friends’ daughters and more.  Oh, and he also was convicted on some kind of pornography charges.  What a guy!

Larry Nassar isn’t going to be having a wonderful week.  There are NINETY-EIGHT girls scheduled to confront him in court, to his face, and tell him what his abuse did to their lives.

There Larry Nassar sits.  His head is in his hands, now that he’s caught.  He can’t face these same young women that he once abused, now that he’s caught.  He’s a total mess, now that he’s caught, but if the girls had not spoken up, you can be sure he’d still be “doctoring,” still have the wrong kind of access to kids, and still be busy abusing a whole new set of innocents.  These wonderful girls stopped this monster.

To every single one of those girls, and to the rest of his 150-something victims, the world needs to say a resounding BRAVA!   You know the saying, “No guts, no glory?”   What you girls have done already, just by filing charges, takes an enormous amount of courage.  You stopped him!  You’ve got guts well covered, and glory, too.  Blessings of Love and Light to all of you!

Read on for more:

The Book “VULGAR FAVORS: The Assassination of Gianni Versace”

A shocker on every page: VULGAR FAVORS by Maureen Orth.  Soon to be a series on FX.

If you’ve got a strong stomach, and I mean one made of steel, then have I got a book for you!

For quite some time I’ve been seeing VULGAR FAVORS: THE ASSASSINATION OF GIANNI VERSACE by Maureen Orth on the table at a local bookstore.  When I heard it was soon to be a series on FX, I picked it up and flipped through it.  I read enough to decide I wanted to read the whole sordid tale.

I remembered the case: in 1997, Andrew Cunanan, a serial killer, had been on a murder spree through several states.  His last victim was Princess Diana’s favorite designer, Gianni Versace.  She and Elton John went to his funeral.  I recalled there had also been several murders before Versace, and people were delighted when the rampage ended, but that was about it.

Yet what interested me as I scanned the book in the bookstore were the passages about Cunanan’s having been a world-champion pathological liar.  We’ve all known a few of those, sure, but this looked like the most extreme example of one on record.  The psychology of such people rather intrigues me, since it’s always a given that lies can be found out, so why would anybody in their right mind bother to tell a pack of them in the first place?  I purchased the book – and have been unable to put it down ever since.

Cunanan, apparently, came from a middle-class home but wanted to look rich.  Very, very rich.  And since he wasn’t, from childhood on he told one utterly ridiculous tall tale after another after another after another about his totally false, self-invented high-class background that did not really exist…

Andrew Cunanan was a piece of work even long before he started killing people.   The lies he told are just the beginning of the level of muck he mired himself into, and they’re the most incredible collection of whoppers I’ve ever heard, so that’s saying something.  I don’t want to add spoilers here, but if you can stand the more sordid elements of this story, of which there’s also an eyebrow-raising collection, and enjoy a read that can shock you to the gills, check out the book.  Suffice it to say that VULGAR FAVORS is a very apt name for it.

Here’s the trailer:

The Movie I, TONYA – Was the World Wrong about Tonya Harding?

Margot Robbie as Tonya Harding, left, and the real Tonya, right.

Tonya Harding was considered one of ice skating’s “bad girls,” but after seeing the movie, “I, TONYA,” I’ve got to wonder about that.  I came home from this movie yesterday wondering about everything I’d ever heard regarding Tonya Harding.

Obviously, the movie is very pro-Tonya, helped by Harding herself, who participated in numerous interviews to help get her side of the story covered correctly.  Maybe it’s time people started to pay attention.

Harding came from a very poor background, but in my humble opinion, that in and of itself does not render a child who wants to skate as much as Tonya did either “bad” or “trashy.”  She couldn’t afford the same costumes as the other skaters.  She couldn’t afford a fur coat.  She wasn’t a little rich girl.  Personally, I couldn’t care less what kind of socioeconomic background an athlete hails from.  The girl was a great little skater from the age of four, period, and that should count for a lot more than what kind of an image she might project if she, heaven forfend, wasn’t coming to and from competitions in some certain “approved” coat.

Please note: this is hardly the first time I’ve heard less than stellar things about the powers that be in the skating community.  They weren’t too fond of another terrific skater, Surya Bonaly, either.  She was also branded “bad,” and also didn’t fit their preferred image of a sweet little skater.  This is ridiculous!  If these kids can skate, they can skate!

Margot Robbie is wonderful in her role as Tonya Harding.  The movie portrays Tonya’s mother Lavona as a real monster, one of those awful parents who believes if they belittle and smack the child around, they’ll make her care more about her performance.  Allison Janney won a Golden Globe Award last night for the role, and she certainly deserved it.  The movie is excellent, and even has lots of funny parts to it, believe it or not, given it’s not only about skating but child abuse, spousal abuse, and criminal behavior.

For those who may be too young to remember, Tonya Harding was an Olympic Team hopeful back in 1994, as was her rival, Nancy Kerrigan.  All hell broke lose when a man attacked poor Kerrigan at the rink where she was practicing by hitting her in the knee with a baton.  It soon came to light that Harding’s husband, Jeff Gillooly, and his ultra-whacked best friend, Shawn Eckhardt, had hired two idiots, Shane Stant and Derrick Smith, to carry out the attack.  Watch for the scenes with Eckhardt, played by Paul Walter Hauser, in them.  I won’t add spoilers, but whoa…!  What a performance!

Harding claimed to be innocent, although the FBI alleged that her handwriting was found on a plan of attack written on a restaurant napkin…

According to this movie, Tonya had no knowledge of the attack.  But it was her career that was ended over it, just the same.  Following an Olympic competition where she came in 8th, a show that went on because the ratings were through the roof when Nancy and Tonya had a skate-off, Tonya wound up banned from skating.

So I’m thinking…did the world view Tonya correctly way back when, or did every reporter who covered this admittedly strange story make a horrible mistake?  Was the FBI right or wrong about the notes on the napkin they said were written by Tonya?  Perhaps the world should take another look at the whole situation.

I, TONYA: one excellent movie!