Monday, December 28, 2015

Pre-Code Hollywood: No Restrictions Apply

Just the other day, my fourteen-year-old complained about not being allowed to watch rated R movies. He said, “You and Dad are I’m too overprotective and you're not giving me a chance to see what life’s really like.” Excuse me for being a parent. Instead of letting him watch today’s restricted movies, perhaps I’ll let him watch some of these:

The Cheat, 1931
A compulsive gambler will do anything to pay off her debt – including turning to a wealthy businessman behind her husband’s back.

Events take an unhappy turn for two Bill and Jack, two locomotive engineers, after Bill is attracted to his best friend's wife.
Dorothy Mackhaill in Safe in Hell, 1931
After accidentally killing the man who raped her and forced her into prostitution, a New Orleans woman flees to a Caribbean island. While she awaits her fiancé, the vicious local police chief sets his sights on her.

 Hot Saturday  1932
Scandal erupts after a young woman innocently spends the night with a notorious playboy and neglects to tell her fiancé.
Merrily We Go to Hell, 1932
An abusive alcoholic reunites with a woman from his past driving his wife to drastic measures.


They Call it Sin, 1932
With time on his hands during a business trip, Jimmy Decker (who's engaged to his boss's daughter) romances small-town church organist Marion Cullen.  She follows him to New York only to learn Jimmy's true colors after she's burned her bridges.
Attractive Nan, member of a bank-robbery gang, goes to prison thanks to evangelist Dave Slade...who loves her.
Letty, a young woman who ended up pregnant, unmarried and on the streets at fifteen is bitter and determined that her child will not grow up to be taken advantage of. Letty teaches her child to lie, steal, cheat and do anything else he'll need to be street smart.

Once upon a time in Hollywood, movies of the past were just as gritty as the movies of today. Well, maybe not just as gritty, but back in the late 1920s and early 1930s, it wasn’t unusual to find sexual innuendo, partial nudity, profanity, illegal drug use, promiscuity, prostitution, infidelity, abortion, extreme violence and homosexuality in films.

This period in cinema history is known as the Pre-Code era, the time before movies were censored and sugar coated to reflect all-American wholesomeness.
Ina Claire publicity still for The Greeks Had a Word for Them, 1932
According to DVD Beaver, “In 1934, Hollywood was turned upside down by the enforcement of a strict “Production Code” that would change the way movies were made for the next 34 years. During the “pre-code” period (1929 to mid-1934), censorship barely existed in Hollywood and filmmakers had free reign to make the movies they wanted and the public demanded. No subject was taboo...”

To read more about Pre-Code Hollywood click here.

The sensational subject of sex sold back then, just like it does today.  However, Variety blamed women for the rise in such steamy films:

Women are responsible for the ever-increasing public taste in sensationalism and sexy stuff. Women who make up the bulk of the picture audiences are also the majority reader of the tabloids, scandal sheets, flashy magazines, and erotic books ... the mind of the average man seems wholesome in comparison.... Women love dirt, nothing shocks 'em.

The more times change the more they stay the same...

I haven’t seen enough Pre-Code movies to have a favorite, but I’d love to see Born to be Bad. Maybe I’ll watch it with my fourteen-year-old so he can learn what kind of women to avoid!

Were you familiar with the Pre-Code Era of Hollywood? Do you have any favorite Pre-Code films?  

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Reprinted from 1/20/14

Monday, December 21, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Christmas is quickly approaching so I'm taking a break from blogging today to get ready for it! Be back next Monday, so until then, Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 14, 2015

Star Wars: How it All Began...

This week, Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters. I'm eager to see it and can still remember going to see the original with my parents way back when! 
So just how did the saga come to be? Here's a little trivia about its origins from Wikipedia:
Elements of the history of Star Wars are commonly disputed, as George Lucas's statements about it have changed over time. Lucas has said that it was early as 1971—after he completed directing his first full-length feature, THX 1138—that he first had an idea for a space fantasy film, though he has also claimed to have had the idea long before thenOriginally, Lucas wanted to adapt the Flash Gordon space adventure comics and serials into his own films, having been fascinated by them since he was young. In 1979, he said, "I especially loved the Flash Gordon serials... Of course I realize now how crude and badly done they were... loving them that much when they were so awful, I began to wonder what would happen if they were done really well."
At the Cannes Film Festival in May following the completion of THX 1138, Lucas was granted a two-film development deal with United Artists; the two films were American Graffiti, and an untitled Flash Gordon-esque space fantasy film. He pushed towards buying the Flash Gordon rights. He said:
I wanted to make a Flash Gordon movie, with all the trimmings, but I couldn't obtain the rights to the characters. So I began researching and went right back and found where Alex Raymond (who had done the original Flash Gordon comic strips in newspapers) had got his idea from. I discovered that he'd got his inspiration from the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan) and especially from his John Carter of Mars series books. I read through that series, then found that what had sparked Burroughs off was a science-fantasy called Gulliver on Mars, written by Edwin Arnold and published in 1905. That was the first story in this genre that I have been able to trace. Jules Verne had got pretty close, I suppose, but he never had a hero battling against space creatures or having adventures on another planet. A whole new genre developed from that idea.
For the complete article click here. I'll actually go the theater to see this movie instead of waiting for it to come out on DVD, but I'll wait a week or so until after the crowds have died down. Are you planning to see it?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, December 7, 2015

Kalua Pork with Cabbage

It's the holiday season, the busiest time of the year. There's little time to spare, so who wants to spend a long time in the kitchen when there are so many other things to do?

While at my mother-in-law's over Thanksgiving, she made this delicious crock pot dish that only took minutes to prepare. My kids even loved this recipe! And when I made it yesterday, they thought it tasted as good as Grandma's, which usually never happens.

This meal is great for a busy weeknight. Serve with hot applesauce and a salad and you have an easy, and not to mention, great tasting meal. Enjoy!

Kalua Pork with Cabbage

7 slices bacon
1 T coarse salt
1 3-4 lb pork roast (I used a 3 lb pork loin)
1 head cabbage, coarsely chopped
1 cup pineapple chunks

Place four strips of bacon in bottom of slow cooker. Salt all sides of pork roast, then place on top of bacon in slow cooker. Put the remaining bacon on top of pork roast. Cover and cook on LOW 8-10 hours or until meat is tender. Put cabbage and pineapple chunks on top of roast and cook an additional 1 1/4 hours, or until cabbage is tender.

Have you ever heard of this recipe?  Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 30, 2015

Homicide Hunter



Homicide Hunter Joe Kenda
I visited my in-laws over the Thanksgiving holiday and enjoyed a good dose of Cable TV. I'm a true crime junkie and fell in love with the Investigation Discovery channel. I turned my kids into true crime junkies too, as we watched several episodes of Homicide Hunter.
I find what drives people to commit violent crimes to be pretty fascinating.  Also, as I'm crafting my next mystery, learning about the psychology of the criminal mind helps a lot.
If you're not familiar with the show Homicide Hunter, here's an article about it and star Joe Kenda from The Columbus Dispatch (by way of McClatchy-Tribune News Service) by Luaine Lee. 
Retired homicide detective Joe Kenda is an unlikely TV star.
With straight gray hair, a hounded look in his eyes and a minimalist way of speaking, he probably wouldn’t succeed at a casting call.
Yet he stars on Investigation Discovery’s Homicide Hunter, which began a new season this month.
Kenda narrates re-enactments of the crimes he covered from his years on the police force in Colorado Springs, Colo.
“When I arrested somebody, I’d have a gun in one hand and a badge in the other,” he said. “I say very quietly: ‘My name is Kenda. I’m with the police department, and you’re under arrest for murder. If you don’t do what I say, I’m going to kill you right here and right now.’”
Kenda spent 19 years on the force, working his way up from patrolman to commander of the major-crime unit at the time of his retirement at age 52.
There was no magic, he said, to his solving 92 percent of assault cases.
“I’m a student of human nature. People do stupid things; they do. And if you watch them and observe them and talk to them and deal with them — hundreds of different people — you become a student of what they do. And that’s all this work is.”
Kenda said he could sense when he was being told the truth — or just a story.
“You know when you’re getting lied to and when you’re not, based on what ... (people) are telling you, because you know what people do. Even though this person believes he’s very different, he’s very much the same.”
Kenda didn’t envision doing police work. He and his wife of 45 years, Kathy, met at college in their native Pittsburgh, where he tried for a time to work for his dad’s trucking business. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and struggled financially.
Finally, he said, his wife gave him an ultimatum.
“I couldn’t make ends meet, and I’m really good at making ends meet,” said Kathy Kenda, a nurse. “If he wasn’t working, he was with the boys, golfing and stuff, and I was stuck with the two kids. So he came home, and I was drunk one night, and I said: ‘This has got to change. I never see you. You never see the kids.’
“He said, ‘OK, I’ve always wanted to be a policeman.’”
So he applied and was accepted on the force.
Kenda’s brief official appearances on television in Colorado are what prompted producer Patrick Bryant’s idea for Homicide Hunter.
When his query letter arrived, however, Kenda ignored it.
His wife insisted that he reply.
When he arrived for the tryout, Bryant instructed Kenda to talk to the camera about murder.
“So I did, for about an hour — whatever came into my head. I reached what I thought was a natural stopping place, and I stood up and said, ‘Is that what you had in mind?’
“Everybody’s standing there with their mouths open. And I’m thinking, ‘Well, this didn’t go well.’ Nobody said a word. I said, ‘Let me ask you again: Is that what you had in mind?’ ‘Oh, yeah.’ And here we are.”
I loved this show, and if you love true crime and learning about what makes people tick, this is definitely a program for you!
Have you ever seen Homicide Hunter? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!

I'm off this week getting ready for the holiday. I'll be back next Monday, so until then Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 16, 2015

From Cad to Cadaver: Now Available!

My newest novel, From Cad To Cadaver, is now available at Amazon!  It's the first in a new mystery series I've created called Black Ops Detective Agency. This is also an IR clean romance that I classify as African American Hysterical, NOT Historical.

This novel is a contemporary mystery, which is a change from the historical fiction I write. It's a lighter read with lots if humor and features ex-cop and former FBI agent Tracy Black, along with ex-Navy SEAL and all around tough guy Adam Slade.

She's black, he's white, but the situations they stumble into are hardly just black and white!

Check out the synopsis below and keep reading for a brief excerpt!

SYNOPSIS
Ex-cop and former FBI agent Tracy Black is plagued by serious trust issues stemming from two horrific failed relationships. Leaving behind the memory of one bad relationship, along with the excitement and high voltage sizzle of Atlanta, Tracy moves back to her hometown to pursue a career as a private investigator. Cincinnati’s atmosphere is low-key and uncharged, and unfortunately not great for Tracy’s new business. Yet her sister knows someone who can help. In addition to a chiseled set of GQ cheekbones, all around tough guy and ex-Navy SEAL Adam Slade is tall, built and hot. On the mend from a broken engagement, Adam, who works as a PI and security consultant, is eager to meet Tracy. With his connections and their combined investigative skills, he thinks they’d make a great team—and that picture he saw of her in a sexy sweater wasn’t bad either. Tracy, however, is convinced she can get along fine without Adam’s help, especially since their first meeting left her utterly humiliated. Eventually, Tracy is willing to lend a hand when Adam offers her a chance to work alongside him in a lucrative out-of-state gig. Once back home, Tracy is convinced that things are looking up, until she is accused of murder. What will it take to get her off the hook? As Adam puts his life on the line for her, will he die, or at the very least die laughing, in a series of mishaps to help Tracy clear her name?

EXCERPT
Chapter 1
   “Traceee-babeee, you are one hot mama!” Dr. Terrance Jackson says to me.
     But how can I be a baby and a mama at the same time without literally being a “baby mama?” Which I am not! Which brings me to another question: Why did I agree to go out with this clown in the first place?  Oh, yeah, that’s easy—I have no life.
     “That little black dress,” Terrance goes on, “hot, baby; looks like it’s painted on in high gloss!”
     Okay, so my dress is a little form fitting, but I wouldn’t go as far as to say it looks painted on.
     As Terrance’s wolf eyes continue to rove over me, I say, with a pronounced lack of luster, “You don’t look half bad yourself.” And actually, he doesn’t.  He sports a simple black tux with black bow tie on his weasel-thin frame. 
     “Hey, you like this?” Terrance sweeps his hands over his tux. “Vera Wang, baby.  It takes a woman to dress a man!  Tracy-baby, before we go, I need to ask a favor.”
     “Anything, if you’ll stop calling me ‘Tracy-baby.’ ”
     He laughs.  “You’re a funny one—no, you’re unique!  There’s only one Tracy Black.”
     “Not if you look in The White Pages.”
     “Seriously, Tracy-baby, here’s the favor:  Don’t tell anyone you’re ex-FBI.  All my partners are gonna be seated at our table tonight, and I told them I’d be bringing the real deal—a real FBI agent.”
     I’m speechless. At one time, I was a real-life agent. 
     Terrance has just arrived at my apartment, and this evening he’s taking me to a black tie gala at Queen City University Hospital where he works as an orthopedist.  The guest of honor is a Saudi sheik whose son attends the university.  After an automobile accident six months ago, the son had life-saving surgery at the university’s hospital.  To show his gratitude, said sheik donated like a gazillion dollars for a new medical research facility.
     “It’ll just be more exciting that way,” Terrance continues, “you know with our special Saudi guest and his entourage.  I thought it’d be fun to have people think I’m bringing along a spy just to keep an eye on things, you know Arabs—terrorists.” He laughs. “My brother’s gonna be there too.  He’s the only one who knows you’re not still FBI, but I told him mum’s the word on that.”
     Disgusted, I cross my arms and sigh. “Terrance, I could get arrested for impersonating an agent.”
     “I’m not asking you to impersonate one, just don’t tell anyone you resigned from the Bureau.”  He gives me that smarmy smile of his, then offers the crook of his arm and escorts me to his silver Saab, a Swedish car that has some type of mysterious prestige.  Any time he passes another guy in one, they give each other a signal that implies how special they are. 
     Terrance once told me, “Every black man working has a BMW, get it? Black Man Working. BMW.  But only a fortunate few have discovered the wonder of the Saab.”  Whatever.
     Once at his car, he opens the door for me, saying, “Our carriage awaits.” He bows, then makes a sweeping motion with his arm, like he’s Prince Charming or something. Right.
     And the evening is off to a lovely start.  NOT!

Please be sure to check out From Cad to Cadaver at Amazon.com!

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Real James Bond


The new James Bond Movie Spectre was recently released. As always, I'm dying to see the latest Bond flick! I love all the non-stop action and adventure. Oh, and let's not forget Daniel Craig--he's wonderful as Bond! But just who was the "real" James Bond? Although a fictional character, was he based on the most exciting, fearless, charming and most handsome man that ever lived? Check out the article below from Wikipedia to find out just how Ian Fleming was inspired to create Bond, James Bond...

Ian Fleming's image of James Bond; 
commissioned to aid the Daily Express comic strip artists.
As the central figure for his works, Ian Fleming created the fictional character of James Bond, an intelligence officer in the Secret Intelligence Service, commonly known as MI6. Bond was also known by his code number, 007, and was a Royal Naval Reserve Commander.
Fleming based his fictional creation on a number of individuals he came across during his time in the Naval Intelligence Division during World War II, admitting that Bond "was a compound of all the secret agents and commando types I met during the war." Among those types were his brother, Peter, who had been involved in behind-the-lines operations in Norway and Greece during the war.[2] Aside from Fleming's brother, a number of others also provided some aspects of Bond's make up, including Conrad O'Brien-ffrench, Patrick Dalzel-Job and Bill "Biffy" Dunderdale.
The name James Bond came from that of the American ornithologist James Bond, a Caribbean bird expert and author of the definitive field guide Birds of the West Indies. Fleming, a keen birdwatcher himself, had a copy of Bond's guide and he later explained to the ornithologist's wife that "It struck me that this brief, unromantic, Anglo-Saxon and yet very masculine name was just what I needed, and so a second James Bond was born." He further explained that:
When I wrote the first one in 1953, I wanted Bond to be an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened; I wanted him to be a blunt instrument ... when I was casting around for a name for my protagonist I thought by God, (James Bond) is the dullest name I ever heard.
— Ian Fleming, The New Yorker, 21 April 1962
On another occasion, Fleming said: "I wanted the simplest, dullest, plainest-sounding name I could find, 'James Bond' was much better than something more interesting, like 'Peregrine Carruthers'. Exotic things would happen to and around him, but he would be a neutral figure—an anonymous, blunt instrument wielded by a government department."
Hoagy Carmichael—Fleming's view of James Bond
Fleming decided that Bond should resemble both American singer Hoagy Carmichael and himself and in Casino Royale,Vesper Lynd remarks, "Bond reminds me rather of Hoagy Carmichael, but there is something cold and ruthless." Likewise, in Moonraker, Special Branch Officer Gala Brand thinks that Bond is "certainly good-looking ... Rather like Hoagy Carmichael in a way. That black hair falling down over the right eyebrow. Much the same bones. But there was something a bit cruel in the mouth, and the eyes were cold."
Fleming also endowed Bond with many of his own traits, including sharing the same golf handicap, the taste for scrambled eggs and using the same brand of toiletries. Bond's tastes are also often taken from Fleming's own as was his behaviour,with Bond's love of golf and gambling mirroring Fleming's own. Fleming used his experiences of his espionage career and all other aspects of his life as inspiration when writing, including using names of school friends, acquaintances, relatives and lovers throughout his books.
Check out the rest of the article here!
Is this information new to you? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Hedy Lamarr: Beauty and Brains

What does a 1940's glamour girl-superstar have to do with Bluetooth technology? Keep reading to find out!

Hedy Lamarr was undoubtedly one of the most beautiful women to ever grace the screen. If you've never heard of her, here's some information, courtesy of Wikiepedia:

Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, 9 November 1914 – 19 January 2000) was an Austrian and American film actress. She appeared in numerous popular feature films, including Algiers (1938) with Charles Boyer, I Take This Woman(1940) with Spencer Tracy, Comrade X (1940) with Clark Gable, Come Live With Me (1941) with James Stewart, H.M. Pulham, Esq. (1941) with Robert Young, and Samson and Delilah (1949) with Victor Mature. After an early and brief film career in Germany, which included a controversial love-making scene in the film Ecstasy (1933), she fled with her husband and secretly moved to Paris. While there, she met MGM head Louis B. Mayer, who offered her a movie contract in Hollywood, where she became a film star from the late 1930s to the 1950s.

Okay, so now you're wondering about her relation to Bluetooth technology. Here's more from Wikipedia:

At the beginning of the World War II, Lamarr was told that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds, which she did with great success. But she wanted to do more, particularly by using her interest in science to aid in the defeat of Nazism. This desire only intensified as Hitler continued his relentless attacks on Europe. When German submarines began torpedoing passenger liners, she said at one point, "I've got to invent something that will put a stop to that". This desire would give rise to the invention for which she would become famous many years later.
Lamarr's reputation as an inventor is based on her co-creation of a frequency-hopping system with George Antheil, an avant garde composer and neighbor of Lamarr in California. During World War II, Lamarr was inspired to contribute to the war effort, and focused her efforts on countering torpedoes. In her home, explains author Richard Rhodes during an interview on CBS, she devoted a room to drafting her designs for frequency-hopping.

Lamarr and Antheil discussed the fact that radio-controlled torpedoes, while important in the naval war, could easily be jammed by broadcasting interference at the frequency of the control signal, causing the torpedo to go off course. Lamarr had learned something about torpedoes during her marriage to Friedrich Mandl, a wealthy munitions manufacturer. Lamarr and Antheil developed the idea of using frequency hopping to avoid jamming. This was achieved by using a piano roll to unpredictably change the signal sent between a control center and the torpedo at short bursts within a range of 88 frequencies in the radio-frequency spectrum (there are 88 black and white keys on a piano keyboard).

The specific code for the sequence of frequencies would be held identically by the controlling ship and in the torpedo. It would be practically impossible for the enemy to scan and jam all 88 frequencies, as computation this complex would require too much power. The frequency-hopping sequence was controlled by a player-piano mechanism, which Antheil had earlier used to score his Ballet Mécanique.

On 11 August 1942, US Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Hedy Kiesler Markey, Lamarr's married name at the time, and George Antheil. This early version of frequency hopping, although novel, soon was met with opposition from the U.S. Navy and was not adopted. The idea was not implemented in the U.S. until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba after the patent had expired. Lamarr's work was honored in 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her a belated award for her contributions. In 1998, an Ottawa wireless technology developer, Wi-LAN Inc., acquired a 49% claim to the patent from Lamarr for an undisclosed amount of stock.

Lamarr's and Antheil's frequency-hopping idea served as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as GPS, Bluetooth, COFDM (used inWi-Fi network connections), and CDMA (used in some cordless and wireless cell phones). Blackwell, Martin, and Vernam's 1920 patent seems to lay the communications groundwork for Lamarr and Antheil's patent, which employed the techniques in the autonomous control of torpedoes.

So, Hedy Lamarr wasn't just another pretty face! Had you ever heard of her? If so, have you ever seen any of her movies? Did you know she was an inventor? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

Two teenagers are keeping me very busy, so I depend  on my crock pot more and more. Here's a recipe I found in a Kroger coupon booklet and tried last week. It's easy, very good, and just a little exotic. Enjoy!

Moroccan Spiced Chicken

2 T cumin
2 t coriander
2 lbs boneless chicken breasts
2 onions, chopped
4 carrots, chopped
4 parsnips, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 t cinnamon
1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes, drained
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
4 cups prepared couscous
chopped parsley for garnish

Combine all ingredients except couscous and parsley in the slow cooker. Stir to combine. Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours, until vegetables are tender and chicken is cooked through. Serve over warm couscous and garnish with parsley.

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Billy Goat Curse

If you're a baseball fan, you know it's getting close to that time! The World Series is right around the corner. Will the Chicago Cubs make it to the Series or not? And if they do, will they win? As I mentioned in a prior post, I'm not really a sports fan, but while traveling to Chicago over the summer, I saw Wrigley Field and had lunch at one of The Billy Goat Tavern locations. During that time in The Windy City I learned about some fascinating baseball trivia. Check out the article below from The History Channel's History.com website by Evan Andrews. This is the most thorough account I've read about the Billy Goat Curse. The opening paragraph is rather gruesome, but aside from that, the remainder of the article is informative, and quite humorous at times. 


1945 World Series Program. (Credit: Iconic Archive/Getty Images)
1945 World Series Program. (Credit: Iconic Archive/Getty Images)

In April 2013, an unidentified man drove up to Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs, and left behind a box containing a black, severed goat’s head. News outlets immediately speculated on what the shocking parcel might portend. Was it a warning? Was it a threat against team owner Tom Ricketts? But it didn’t take long for Chicago’s long-suffering fans to get the message. For them, the package was an obvious, if not grotesque, reference to an incident that has been plaguing their team since the end of World War II: the dreaded “Curse of the Billy Goat.”

1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. Cubs Don Johnson scores. (Credit: Sporting News/Getty Images)
1945 World Series between the Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs. Cubs Don Johnson scores. (Credit: Sporting News/Getty Images)

The hex in question dates back to October 6, 1945, when the Cubs were gearing up to face the Detroit Tigers in Game Four of the World Series. At the time, Chicago’s “North Siders” were one of the most successful teams in big league baseball. They’d won back-to-back championships in 1907 and 1908, and in the years since, they’d notched seven more appearances in the Fall Classic. Many Cubs fans believed 1945 would once again be their year. They’d come into Game Four with a 2-1 lead over the Tigers, and only needed two more wins to claim the title.

Ushers with goat at Wrigley Field.  (Credit: Keystone-France/Getty Images)
Ushers with goat at Wrigley Field. (Credit: Keystone-France/Getty Images)

As excited Chicagoans flooded into Wrigley on October 6, Billy Sianis strode up to the gate with two tickets in hand—one for himself, and one for his pet goat “Murphy.” Sianis was a Greek immigrant who owned a local watering hole called the Billy Goat Tavern, and Murphy was his beloved, bleating mascot. He’d rescued the animal after it fell off a passing truck in the mid-1930s, and it had since become a fixture at his bar. Sianis often paraded the goat around town to drum up business. He’d even grown a goatee and adopted the nickname “Billy Goat.” On the day of the World Series game, he brought Murphy to the ballpark to publicize his bar and bring good luck to the Cubs. The animal was draped in a banner reading, “WE GOT DETROIT’S GOAT.”
There are a few different legends about what happened next. One has the team’s ushers stopping Sianis at the gate and blocking him from bringing his goat inside. When Sianis protested that he had a ticket for his bearded pal, Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley appeared and told him Murphy couldn’t come in “because the goat stinks.” As the story goes, Sianis then threw his arms in the air and put a curse on the team. “The Cubs ain’t gonna win no more!” he supposedly said. “The Cubs will never win a World Series so long as the goat is not allowed in Wrigley Field.”

Chicago barkeeper Billy Goat Sianis, lounging in the doorway of bar.  (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Chicago barkeeper Billy Goat Sianis, lounging in the doorway of bar. (Photo by Francis Miller/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Another version claims Sianis and Murphy were admitted to the park and allowed to take their seats. But following a brief rain delay, other fans complained that Murphy’s soggy pelt was stinking up the stands. Most sources say Sianis issued his hex after he was politely asked to leave, but a few claim he sent it later in a telegram that read, “You are going to lose this World Series…You are never going to win the World Series again because you insulted my goat.”
However it came about, Billy Sianis’ curse coincided with a disastrous slump for the Chicago Cubs. The team lost 4-1 on October 6, and went on to drop two of the next three games and hand the Tigers the 1945 championship. After the defeat, Sianis supposedly sent P.K. Wrigley a message that read: “Who stinks now?”

Black cat stopped the Cubs vs. Mets game momentarily in 1969. (Credit: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images)
Black cat stopped the Cubs vs. Mets game momentarily in 1969. (Credit: New York Daily News Archive/Getty Images)

In the years since Sianis issued his black magic, the Cubs’ have had one of the most dismal records in professional baseball. The team still hasn’t been back to the World Series, and they’ve often ended the season near the very bottom of the National League. Fans were initially slow to blame their sputtering form on a goat, but the hex became part of club lore after Chicago sportswriters started mentioning it in their columns. Its legend only grew when the 1969 Cubs imploded after going into September with the division lead. As if fans needed any more bad omens, the downward spiral kicked off during a game against the Mets at Shea Stadium, where a black cat appeared on the field and crossed in front of the Cubs’ dugout. The team went on to miss the playoffs.
Billy Sianis officially “lifted” his goat curse prior to his death in 1970, but even he couldn’t turn the team’s fortunes around. Since then, the Cubs’ management has made several tongue-in-cheek attempts to ward off the jinx. They allowed Sianis’ nephew Sam to parade goats across Wrigley Field on several occasions, and in 2008, they even had a Greek Orthodox priest bless the diamond with holy water. Fans have also launched their own efforts to break the hex. In 2011, a group of Chicagoans formed a “Reverse the Curse” charity aimed at winning the Cubs good karma by donating goats to families in places like Africa. Another good will gesture came during the 2012 season, when five men raised money for cancer research by marching a goat named “Wrigley” 2,000 miles from Arizona to Chicago.

Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (L) and Sam Sianis, owner of The Billy Goat Tavern, parade around Chicago's Wrigley Field before the start of the Cub's game with Cincinnati Reds in 1994. (Credit: The Sporting News/Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs Hall of Famer Ernie Banks (L) and Sam Sianis, owner of The Billy Goat Tavern, parade around Chicago’s Wrigley Field before the start of the Cub’s game with Cincinnati Reds in 1994. (Credit: The Sporting News/Getty Images)

While some fans have tried to crush the billy goat curse, others argue that it never existed to begin with—and they may have a point. Newspaper reports from October 1945 mention Sianis and his goat being asked to leave Wrigley Field, but talk of a hex didn’t crop up until years later. According to Cubs historians Glenn Stout and Richard A. Johnson, the curse was actually a joke started by the Chicago sportswriters who frequented the Billy Goat Tavern. Sianis, always eager for publicity, simply played along.
Chicago Tribune columnist Mike Royko tried to put the issue to rest in 1997, when he wrote an article arguing that the Cubs’ real curse was P.K. Wrigley’s mismanagement and hesitancy to recruit African American ballplayers after the league was integrated. “It’s about time that we stopped blaming the failings of the Cubs on a poor, dumb creature that is a billy goat,” the column read. “This has been going on for years, and it has reached the point where some people actually believe it.”

A live goat is brought onto the field to "remove a curse" placed on the Cubs during their last World Series appearance in 1945.  (Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images)
A live goat is brought onto the field to “remove a curse” placed on the Cubs during their last World Series appearance in 1945. (Credit: Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Even if the “Curse of the Billy Goat” is just a myth, there’s no denying that it’s been 107 years since the Chicago Cubs last won the World Series—far longer than any other club in professional baseball. The superstitions likely won’t go away until the team at least captures the pennant, but current Billy Goat Tavern owner Sam Sianis has claimed that his uncle’s jinx is no longer to blame for the Cubs’ title drought. “The hex is off,” he told the New York Times in 1989. “If they want to win, they win themselves.”
Had you ever heard of the Billy Goat Curse? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 12, 2015

Before Scandal: Race and Sex in Political History

I just finished reading One Drop of Me by Harry Kraus and thoroughly enjoyed it. This novel opens in the present, while the main character, Lisa, is recovering from a traumatic experience. To help herself cope, Lisa starts writing a play about Sally Hemings. As the story progresses, the reader sees parallels between Lisa's life and the life of Sally Hemings. The narrative moves back and forth from the present to the past, so we get a clear picture of Lisa's day to day existence, as well as that of Sally's. This novel was hard to put down! So if you love history, as well as some great storytelling, be sure to check out One Drop of Me.

With that book fresh on my mind, I decided to republish this post that I wrote back in January of 2013. Hope you'll enjoy it a second time around!

The titillating television series Scandal is now in its fifth season on ABCIf you are unfamiliar with the show, it centers around Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a former media relations consultant who has the power to "fix" things for everyone. Now, she is on her own working for herself with a new law firm but has a huge scandal of her own to contend with.  
While working on a gubernatorial campaign as a media relations consultant, she had an affair with then candidate, Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (Tony Goldwyn).  Now as a fixer, she is called upon to fix a scandal in the president’s office.  However, the president now residing in office just happens to be Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III, and his affair with Olivia begins all over again.  By the way, did I mention Olivia is black and Grant is white?

Forbidden love is nothing new in politics, but throw race into the mix and it becomes explosive!  According to the Monticello website, “The claim that Thomas Jefferson fathered children with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, entered the public arena during Jefferson's first term as president, and it has remained a subject of discussion and disagreement for two centuries.

“In September 1802, political journalist James T. Callender, a disaffected former ally of Jefferson, wrote in a Richmond newspaper that Jefferson had for many years ‘kept, as his concubine, one of his own slaves.’ ‘Her name is Sally," Callender continued, adding that Jefferson had "several children’ by her.”  Visit the Monticello site for further factual information.  The novel Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Raiboud  provides a fascinating fictional account.

Another interesting story revolves around Vice President Richard Mentor Johnson and his mulatto, Julia Chinn.  Johnson served as vice president under Martin Van Buren.  He and Chinn are referred  to briefly  in distinguished historian Thomas Fleming’s novel, The Wages of Fame.

Undercover Blackman says, “How much of a “Negro” was Julia Chinn? Well, she was a slave… a slave Johnson inherited from his father. She was “Negro” enough that Richard Johnson couldn’t have married her legally...Yet she was his mate. His common-law wife, in effect.

“ ‘She was the hostess at his Kentucky home when [French aristocrat] the Marquis de Lafayette visited,’ wrote Lindsey Apple, a retired Georgetown College history professor, in answer to questions from me.”

Johnson served in Kentucky’s state legislature (1804-1806; 1819), the U.S. House of Representatives (1807-1819; 1829-1837) and the U.S. Senate (1819-1829) prior to his becoming vice president.
Richard Mentor Johnson

Abraham Lincoln made reference to Chinn in a rather non-complimentary way. He exploited Johnson’s relationship with her to score a point against Stephen Douglas during the Lincoln-Douglas debates of 1858.
His words are as follow:

...I have never seen to my knowledge a man, woman or child who was in favor of producing a perfect equality, social and political, between negroes and white men. I recollect of but one distinguished instance that I ever heard of so frequently as to be entirely satisfied of its correctness – and that is the case of Judge Douglas’ old friend Col. Richard M. Johnson.



One of the most recent political indiscretions revealed was South Carolina Senator (and segregationist) Strom Thurmond’s love affair at 23 with his family’s African American maid, Carrie Butler, who was 15.  Newsday mentioned in its obituary of Thurmond that rumors flew for years in South Carolina that Thurmond, while still a segregationist, had a relationship with a black woman that produced a daughter.  Jack Bass, author of the Thurmond biography Ol Strom, says, “Thurmond never denied it, though he kept it under the rug for years...” 

Thurmond’s love child from his relationship, Essie May Washington-Williams, penned her memoir, Dear Senator, in 2005.  She waited until after her father’s death, at age 100, to reveal his secret.

Publisher’s Weekly review  of Dear Senator explains that Carrie Butler died at 38 in a hospital's poverty ward.  Although she rarely appears in the memoir, Ms. Washington-Williams “fashions her a kind of love story: ‘I knew [Thurmond] loved my mother. I believed he loved me, after his fashion.’”

The love story Ms. Washington portrayed in Dear Senator provided the inspiration for my novel The Governor’s Sonsa provocative tale that examines a “politically incorrect” relationship of a young law student who falls in love with his family's hired help, a college age black girl.

Perhaps there are more forbidden love stories hidden in the annals of history just waiting to be discovered. Maybe they'll inspire more novels—or even influence a story line in a TV series.

Are you a fan of "Scandal"? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Show, Don't Tell: Can You Explain That?

"Show, don't tell." If you're a writer, you've probably heard this as advice from other writers and read about it in craft books many, many times. I was recently asked to explain it to a new writer, but after using a few "for instances," I decided to find something that would do a better job of describing it.

Here's an excellent article by Erin over at Daily Writing Tips.  If you're new to writing, this information will help you clearly understand how to show and not tell! By the way, I just discovered Daily Writing Tips, and it's a great place to find answers for any writing questions you may have!

Show, Don't Tell 

Anyone who’s ever written a short story or taken a freshman composition course has heard the words “show, don’t tell.”

I know those words can be frustrating. You might not know exactly what “show, don’t tell” means. Or you might believe that you are showing when you’re really telling.

While “telling” can be useful, even necessary, most people don’t realize how vital “showing” is to an effective story, essay, or even a blog post. Showing allows the reader to follow the author into the moment, to see and feel and experience what the author has experienced. Using the proper balance of showing and telling will make your writing more interesting and effective.

“Okay, I get it,” you’re thinking. “But how do I do it? How do I bring more ‘showing’ into my writing?”

I’m glad you asked. Here are some tips that will help make your writing more vivid and alive for your reader.

1. Use dialogue
This is probably one of the first things I talk to my students about when I have them write personal essays. Dialogue allows the reader to experience a scene as if they were there. Instead of telling the reader your mom was angry, they can hear it for themselves:
“Justin Michael,” mom bellowed, “Get in here this instant!”
Dialogue can give your reader a great deal about character, emotion and mood.

2. Use sensory language
In order for readers to fully experience what you’re writing about, they need to be able to see, hear, taste, smell and touch the world around them. Try to use language that incorporates several senses, not just sight.

3. Be descriptive
I’m sure everyone remembers learning to use adjectives and adverbs in elementary school. When we’re told to be more descriptive, it’s easy to go back to those things that we were taught. But being descriptive is more than just inserting a string of descriptive words. It’s carefully choosing the right words and using them sparingly to convey your meaning.
The following example is from a short story I wrote.

Telling: He sits on the couch holding his guitar.

There’s nothing wrong with that sentence. It gives the reader some basic information, but it doesn’t create an image. Compare that sentence with this:

Showing: His eyes are closed, and he’s cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover. It’s as if he’s trying to hold on to something that wants to let go.

The second example takes that basic information and paints a picture with it. It also uses figurative language—in this case, the simile “cradling the guitar in his arms like a lover”—to help create an image.

When using description, it’s important not to overdo it. Otherwise, you can end up with what I call “police blotter” description. For example:
He was tall, with brown hair and blue eyes. He wore a red shirt and jeans, and a brown leather jacket.

4. Be specific, not vague
This is another one I’m constantly reminding my college students about. Frequently, they will turn in essays with vague, fuzzy language. I’m not sure if they think this type of writing sounds more academic, but all it really does is frustrate the reader.


Instead of writing, “I had never felt anything like it before in my entire life,” take the time to try and describe what that feeling was, and then decide how best to convey that feeling to the reader. Your readers will thank you for it.

Hope this information from Daily Writing Tips is useful. If you're a seasoned writer, have you had to explain "show, don't tell" to a novice?  If you're new to writing, have ever had questions about it?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally posted 10/7/13