Monday, August 3, 2020

Deanna vs. Judy

Garland and Durbin in Every Sunday
(neither one of them looks fat to me)
I love film trivia and the story of Deanna Durbin and Judy Garland is interesting and amusing at the same time. 

Although few remember Deanna Durbin, practically all of us know superstar Judy Garland! Perhaps that's because of The Wizard of Oz, which used to be shown on television every spring when I was growing up, or the fact that those old MGM musicals used to be shown on TV before the days of cable and Turner Classic Movies.

Both actresses started out at MGM as young girls. When they appeared together in Every Sunday singing a duet, Garland using her powerful jazzy vocals and Durbin in her extraordinary operatic voice, MGM executives wondered if it would be wise to keep the two young singers under contract. 


Here's what happened next from Deanna Durbin Devotees:


Judy Garland
The story goes that while Louis B. Mayer was away on a trip he instructed his people at MGM to "drop the fat one." They misunderstood and mistakenly let Deanna go. 

When Mayer found out that Judy Garland was still at the studio and that Deanna was gone – he was very upset. That's just one of the reasons Mayer was never overly fond of Judy. He also preferred Deanna's classical singing over Judy's jazzy repertoire.

Soon after Deanna was released by MGM, Universal Studios gave her a contract on the 13th of June and cast her in the September production of THREE SMART GIRLS which became a major smash hit. An executive from MGM was overheard speaking about the two girls saying: "Universal got Tiffany's and we're stuck with Woolworth's."



Deanna Durbin
To this day, Deanna Durbin is the only actress in motion picture history to have ten hits in a row. The first ten were both artistic and financial successes. All of that money rolling into Universal certainly bothered Louis B. Mayer.

And the rest is history... Judy Garland eventually became a huge star at MGM and she certainly has greater name recognition to this day!

I know you must be familiar with Judy Garland, but have you ever heard of Deanna Durbin?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 27, 2020

Goodbye to Olivia De Havilland

Olivia de Havilland, who played Melanie in the 1939 classic movie Gone With the Wind, died over the weekend at 104. What a long and exciting life she led!

I looked her up on Wikipedia and learned an interesting tidbit. She made eight films with Australian heart-throb Errol Flynn, but despite their many pairings, fireworks between them never ignited. Here's why:

Although known as one of Hollywood's most exciting on-screen couples, de Havilland and Errol Flynn were never involved in a romantic relationship.Upon first meeting her at Warner Bros. in August 1935, Flynn was drawn to the 19-year-old actress with "warm brown eyes" and "extraordinary charm." In turn, de Havilland fell in love with him,but kept her feelings inside, later recalling, "He never guessed I had a crush on him ... it never occurred to me that he was smitten with me, too."

Flynn later wrote, "By the time we made The Charge of the Light Brigade, I was sure that I was in love with her." Flynn finally professed his love on March 12, 1937, at the Coronation Ball for King George VI at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, where they slow danced together to "Sweet Leilani" at the hotel's Cocoanut Grove nightclub. "I was deeply affected by him," she later remembered, "It was impossible for me not to be." The evening ended on a sobering note, however, with de Havilland insisting that despite his separation from his wife Lili Damita, he needed to divorce her before their relationship could proceed. Flynn reunited with his wife later that year, and de Havilland never acted on her feelings for Flynn. 

I thought I'd read somewhere that she couldn't stand him. Guess I was wrong!

These are the films they appeared in together: 
Captain Blood (1935) 
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) 
The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938) 
Four's a Crowd (1938) 
Dodge City (1939) 
The Private Lives of Elizabeth and Essex (1939) 
Santa Fe Trail (1940) 
They Died with Their Boots On (1941)

I haven't viewed all of them, but of the ones I have, I think I enjoyed Robin Hood best! Have you seen any of them?  If so, which are your favorites?  

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, July 20, 2020

Jack Johnson's Tragic Love Story

Jack Johnson and Etta Duryea
If you're familiar with the movie The Great White Hope, you probably know that the Jack Jefferson character portrayed by James Earl Jones is based on the real life American boxer Jack Johnson.  During the Jim Crow era, Johnson became the first African American world heavyweight boxing champion (1908-1915).

Geoffrey C. Ward wrote an excellent biography of Johnson entitled Unforgivable Blackness, which was made into a PBS documentary by Ken Burns. 

Johnson's success brought fame and riches, and to the dismay of most of white America at the time, he disregarded the social and economic standard set for blacks in American society.  He flaunted his wealth in fine clothes and fast cars, and broke the taboo of a black man consorting with white women.

The charismatic Johnson was married three times, and all his wives were white. In January  of 1911, Johnson married Etta Duryea, a glamorous Brooklyn socialite who was well educated, played the piano and sang.  She was also the former wife of businessman Charles Duryea, the engineer of the first ever working American gasoline powered car.

Etta was prone to depression, and after news of her marriage to Johnson made it back to Brooklyn, the isolation she suffered from being cut off from family friends, along with Jack's raucous lifestyle, contributed to her suicide in 1912.

In Unforgivable Blackness, Ward recounts how appalled Etta's relatives were that she had married such a man as Jack. At her funeral, one of Etta's family members accused Jack of never having loved her, and to this he said something like, "I have eyes and I have a heart, and they told me I loved her."  (I must confess, I was so touched by that line, I used it myself in my novel The Governor's Sons.)

If you'd like to learn more about the real life Great White Hope, be sure to read Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson or check out the PBS Documentary. Johnson's story is truly a fascinating one!

Had you ever heard of Jack Johnson?

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, July 13, 2020

Research: Unexpected Finds


Johnny Depp in Public Enemy
"Sometimes when you take another look, you will find something to be grateful for that you might otherwise have overlooked." Elizabeth Elliot

Isn't it amazing when we find something we're not even looking for at all? Research can be like that at times. As a former reference librarian, I enjoy searching for information and finding answers. But sometimes, as writers, we can make unexpected discoveries that can actually help us while crafting our stories.

Maybe you've been trying to determine just the right expression for a 1930's character to use when you hear Johnny Depp say "like nobody's business" in the movie Public Enemies. Or maybe you want some in depth information on thespians in turn of the century New York, and then you stumble upon just the right book at a flea market--for $2.00! Perhaps you're trying to envision a dinner party from the 1930's, and when flipping through channels, find an old movie depicting just that. Or while visiting the museum, you see a furniture exhibit that can help you develop a description for a bedroom in 1889.
Jean Harlow and Marie Dressler
in Dinner at Eight

Could be that we're more attuned to what's around us when we're creating narratives. However, finding something that helps us when we least expect it, is the most fun and unexpected part of research!

What have you found to be grateful for lately?

Monday, July 6, 2020

Lena vs. Ava in the Role of Show Boat's "Julie"

Lena Horne
One of my favorite movies from the Hollywood heyday of musicals is Show Boat, made in 1951, starring Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson.

The sultry Ava Gardner also starred as "Julie," the mixed race (mulatto) character.  However, before she was cast, the beautiful (African American) Lena Horne was considered.

While Lena Horne was employed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studios (MGM), her appearances in movies were shot so that they could be cut easily from the films she appeared in. This was because MGM feared audiences of that time, especially those in the South, would not accept a beautiful black woman in romantic, non-menial roles.

This was probably the main reason she lost out on playing "Julie."  I remember seeing her on a talk show back in the '80s explaining how MGM's makeup department had come up with a foundation for her to wear as "Julie," called light Egyptian.  Shortly afterwards, however, Ava Gardner was the one being slathered with it and not her!

Ava Gardner
Ironically, Ava Gardner was one of Lena's closest off-screen friends.  She practiced for the role by singing to Horne's recordings of the songs, since Lena had already appeared in the "Show Boat" segment of Till the Clouds Roll By (1946).  In that, she had appeared as "Julie" singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" (which was, as all her MGM appearances, shot in such a way that it could be easily edited out of the film).

Another irony for Lena is that she had been invited by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II themselves to play "Julie" in the 1946 Broadway revival of Show Boat, but had had to refuse because MGM would not release her from her contract.

Shortly after her death in 2010, Time Magazine provided a biography on what Lena Horne's film career could have looked like:

Gorgeous, gifted and preternaturally poised, the 24-year-old actress-singer came to Hollywood in 1941 and quickly became the first African-American movie star. She was a sensation in her first leading role, as the Congo goddess Tondelayo in MGM's White Cargo. She earned an Academy Award nomination as the light-skinned black girl passing for white in Elia Kazan's Pinky, then capped her first decade of stardom playing Julie and singing "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man" in the 1951 film Show Boat.

Those roles were eventually played by Hedy Lamarr, Jeanne Crain, and Ava Gardner, respectively.  It's a shame we'll never know what Lena Horne could have done with them!

Have you ever seen Show Boat? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Fredi Washington: Didn't Live an Imitation of Life

Fredi Washington
Most white people who have ever heard of the term "passing," and know what it means, have probably seen the movie Imitation of Life.

Several years ago, my husband, who's white, watched the 1959 film with me.  He was fascinated by the subject matter, and impressed that Imitation of Life had been made back in the 1950s.

I told him that this was the second version, and that the original had been produced in 1934.  In that movie, I informed him, a "real black girl" played the part of Peola, the light skinned daughter desperate to pass as white.  (In the 1959 movie, the daughter's name is Sarah Jane and she's played by white actress Susan Kohner). If you're not familiar with Imitation of Life, based on the 1933 Fannie Hurst novel of the same name, click here.

The real black girl mentioned above was Fredi Washington, an accomplished African American dramatic actress during the 1920s and '30s.  Fair skinned with green eyes, she was often asked to "pass for white" in order to receive better opportunities in films.  However, Fredi refused.  "I'm honest," she said, "and you don't have to be white to be good."

She faced discrimination from whites and, because of her appearance, resentment within the black community, which had complex feelings about obvious mixed-race people. Washington expressed her opinions about race and color prejudice, and after retiring from acting in the 1930's, became an activist and journalist.

In 1937, Ms.Washington was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America (NAG), which created better professional opportunities for blacks in show business. She also worked as Entertainment Editor of People's Voice, founded in 1942.

Never ashamed of who she was, Fredi Washington was no Peola!

Have you seen either version of Imitation of Life?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Friday, June 26, 2020

Gaslight and Gaslighting

On May 4, 1944, the psychological thriller Gaslight was released, starring Charles Boyer, Ingrid Bergman, and 18-year-old Angela Lansbury making her Oscar nominated screen debut.

The dictionary definition of gaslighting is to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity. If you're familiar with the term, but not exactly sure of how it originated, it all began with this story.

The 1944 film was adapted from the 1938 stage play of the same name. The drama centers around a  husband trying to drive his wife insane in order to distract her from his criminal activities. Here's a brief synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

After the death of her famous opera-singing aunt, Paula (Ingrid Bergman) is sent to study in Italy to become a great opera singer as well. While there, she falls in love with the charming Gregory Anton (Charles Boyer). The two return to London, and Paula begins to notice strange goings-on: missing pictures, strange footsteps in the night and gaslights that dim without being touched. As she fights to retain her sanity, her new husband's intentions come into question.
Charles Boyer and Ingrid Bergman
With help from the outside, Paula eventually understands what's going on and realizes she's not mad. When Gregory faces the consequences and appeals to Paula for help, she uses what he's tried to convince her of against him, "If I were not mad, I could have helped you. Whatever you had done, I could have pitied and protected you. But because I am mad, I hate you. Because I am mad, I have betrayed you. And because I'm mad, I'm rejoicing in my heart, without a shred of pity, without a shred of regret, watching you go with glory in my heart!"
Charles Boyer and Angela Lansbury
I love old movies, but this was one I had never seen until a few years ago. If you enjoy psychological thrillers, you'll love this one! Have you ever seen Gaslight? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, June 22, 2020

John Howard Griffin: Before He Was Black

I've been doing some research for a project, and in the process I've learned about the author of Black Like Me, John Howard Griffen. I had no idea he'd led such an interesting life!

If you're not familiar with Black Like Me, here's some information regarding it from Wikipedia:
In the fall of 1959, John Howard Griffin decided to investigate firsthand the plight of African Americans in the South, where racial segregation was legal; blacks had been disenfranchised since the turn of the century and closed out of the political system, and whites were struggling to maintain dominance against an increasing civil rights movement.
Griffin consulted a New Orleans dermatologist for aid in darkening his skin, being treated with a course of drugs, sunlamp treatments, and skin creams. Griffin shaved his head in order to hide his straight hair. He spent weeks travelling as a black man in New Orleans and parts of Mississippi (with side trips to South Carolina and Georgia), getting around mainly by bus and by hitchhiking. He was later accompanied by a photographer who documented the trip, and the project was underwritten by Sepia magazine, in exchange for first publication rights for the articles he planned to write. These were published under the title Journey into Shame.
Griffin published an expanded version of his project as Black Like Me (1961), which became a best seller in 1961. He described in detail the problems an African American encountered in the segregated Deep South meeting the needs for food, shelter, and toilet and other sanitary facilities. Griffin also described the hatred he often felt from white Southerners he encountered in his daily life — shop clerks, ticket sellers, bus drivers, and others. He was particularly shocked by the curiosity white men displayed about his sexual life. He also included anecdotes about white Southerners who were friendly and helpful.
The wide publicity about the book made Griffin a national celebrity for a time.
However, before Black Like Me, Griffin had lived a rather extraordinary life. Here's some of what I learned from an article in Smithsonian:
Born in Dallas in 1920, Griffin was raised in nearby Fort Worth. “We were given the destructive illusion that Negroes were somehow different,” he said. Yet his middle-class Christian parents taught him to treat the family’s black servants with paternalistic kindness. He would always recall the day his grandfather slapped him for using a common racial epithet of the era. “They’re people,” the old man told the boy. “Don’t you ever let me hear you call them [that] again.”
Griffin was gifted with perfect pitch and a photographic memory, but his most vital gift was curiosity. At 15, he earned entrance to a boarding school in France, where he was “delighted” to find black students in class but appalled to see them dining with white people in cafés. “I had simply accepted the ‘customs’ of my region, which said that black people could not eat in the same room with us,” Griffin later wrote. “It had never occurred to me to question it.”
Griffin was studying psychiatry in France when Hitler’s troops invaded Poland in 1939. Finding himself “in the presence of a terrible human tragedy,” he joined the French Resistance and helped smuggle Jewish children to England. When he told an informer of a plan to help a family escape, his name turned up on a Nazi death list. Fleeing just ahead of the Gestapo, Griffin returned to Texas in 1941 and enlisted in the Army Air Corps shortly after Pearl Harbor.
While working as a radio operator in the Pacific, he was sent on his own to the Solomon Islands to ensure natives’ loyalty to the American war effort. For a full year, Griffin studied tribal languages and adaptation to the jungle, but still assumed that “mine was a ‘superior’ culture.”
After getting blasted with shrapnel in an enemy air raid a few months before the end of the war, Griffin awoke in a hospital, seeing only shadows; eventually, he saw nothing. The experience was revealing. The blind, he wrote, “can only see the heart and intelligence of a man, and nothing in these things indicates in the slightest whether a man is white or black.” Blindness also forced Griffin to find new strengths and talents. Over the next decade, he converted to Catholicism, began giving lectures on Gregorian chants and music history, married and had the first of four children. He also published two novels based on his wartime experience. Then in 1955, spinal malaria paralyzed his legs.
Blind and paraplegic, Griffin had reason to be bitter, yet his deepening faith, based on his study of Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, focused on the sufferings of the downtrodden. After recovering from malaria, he was walking in his yard one afternoon when he saw a swirling redness. Within months, for reasons that were never explained, his sight was fully restored.
That's just a portion of the article, but I must say his life reads like a novel! To see the entire piece, click here.
Did you know anything at all about John Howard Griffin? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Why I NEVER Bought Aunt Jemima Products


Aunt Jemima (then)
In today's high tension environment, I thought it would be important to explain something. I'm re-posting an article I published a few years ago regarding Aunt Jemima. Upon hearing that the Aunt Jemima Brand is now retiring, all I can say is, IT'S ABOUT TIME!

According to the New York Star Tribune, "Quaker Oats is retiring the 131-year-old Aunt Jemima brand, saying the company recognizes the character's origins are "based on a racial stereotype.

Just hours later, the owner of the Uncle Ben's brand of rice says the brand will 'evolve' in response to concerns about racial stereotyping."

Nearly 100 years after the Civil War, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. put our nation on the road to racial reconciliation.  It’s a long road and we’re still on it.

Prior to racial barriers being broken, blacks were relegated to positions of servitude.  Even high achieving blacks in white schools were encouraged by teachers and counselors to seek trades.

Speaking of servitude, let's talk about Aunt Jemima.  When my kids were younger, they loved Aunt Jemima frozen waffles and Aunt Jemima pancake mix.  I grew up eating waffles and pancakes that my mom had made from scratch—which was exactly what I'd done for my kids.  Yet they preferred the pre-made frozen waffles and pancake mix they'd eaten at sleepovers, to what I'd fix at home. They'd also claimed that all the other supermarket brands weren't as good. “We want Aunt Jemima!” they'd demanded, so  I caved. I bought the products, something I thought I would NEVER do. And it was hard to actually put that pancake mix in my shopping cart. I didn't even tell my mother.

Aunt Jemima (now retiring)
Prior to my kids insisting on Aunt Jemima products, I NEVER bought them. And seeing the Aunt Jemima label in a black person’s home used to shock me. Though no ill-feelings existed behind the label, the origins of the Aunt Jemima character are insensitive, or what's today considered politically incorrect.

When I was a growing up, my mother NEVER allowed Aunt Jemima’s broad, smiling face to sit on our pantry shelf.  Why did Mom despise this seemingly  innocuous,  jolly woman?  Well it all goes back to slavery.

Back in slavery days, very young white children called much older slaves aunt and uncle.  Apparently the practice of calling any black person  aunt or uncle, carried over into post slavery times.

My mother grew up in 1930’s South Carolina, and when white salesmen would come to the door and address my feisty grandmother as Auntie (pronounced “Ainie” in the southern vernacular), she’d say, “My mother never gave birth to anything that looked like you!” before slamming the door.

So, Mom NEVER purchased Aunt Jemima because addressing a black woman as aunt or auntie (instead of Miss, Mrs. or ma'am) was a disrespectful practice.  However, she didn't a problem with Uncle Ben, perhaps because he didn’t appear as a buffoonish caricature.  For years Aunt Jemima was portrayed as the stereotypical black mammy of the plantation south. Old Aunt Jemima was a minstrel song written in 1875 and the Aunt Jemima character was a fixture in minstrel shows during the late 19th century.

The idea of this pre-mixed product being represented by a slave woman was inspired by the marketing aspect of bringing back “the good old days” when slaves did all the work. In the book Slave in a Box, Maurice Manning shows how “advertising entrepreneur James Webb Young, aided by celebrated illustrator N.C. Wyeth, skillfully tapped into nostalgic 1920s perceptions of the South as a culture of white leisure and black labor. Aunt Jemima's ready-mixed products offered middle-class housewives the next best thing to a black servant: a ‘slave in a box’ that conjured up romantic images of not only the food but also the social hierarchy of the plantation South.” (From the Slave in a Box Amazon page).

When I was a kid, my mom said, “If they’d just take that kerchief off her head and call the product Jemima, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”  Aunt Jemima’s appearance has changed throughout the years.  She’s no longer buffoonish looking and doesn’t resemble a mammy.  She’s been slimmed down, her kerchief evolved into a hair band before finally disappearing, and she now sports a 1980s hairdo.  The only thing that hasn’t changed, and will forever prevent my mom from buying any Aunt Jemima product is the “Aunt” in front of her name. 

Most African Americans of later generations don’t know about the derogatory past of Aunt Jemima.  But there are probably plenty  in my mom’s age group that NEVER buy Aunt Jemima because of its hurtful past.

I’ll end things on a lighter note.  I won’t put you on the spot and ask whether or not you buy Aunt Jemima!  But I will ask this instead, do you prefer pancakes from mix or from scratch?

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, June 8, 2020

Black and White Airmen

Sharing an old post from January of 2012.

Right upon the heels of learning that film producer George Lucas is involved in an interracial relationship with Good Morning America Financial Consultant Mellody Hobson, I also found out that George Lucas produced the movie Red Tails!

Because Red Tails, depicting the story of the heroic Tuskegee (African American) Airmen, was largely cast with African Americans, George Lucas had to finance it with his own money. Other producers feared low movie attendance since no heavy duty white roles were present to attract white audiences.

I wonder if Ms. Hobson put the bug in George Lucas's ear to do the movie in the first place!

That motion picture brought to mind a book I wanted to share that I happened upon by accident one day while at the library.  It's a kid's book (6th grade and up), but a fascinating account for adults to enjoy, as well.

One of the things I liked most about the story was that the two friends featured in it are from Cincinnati. And not long after I read the book, I got to see both of them speak at my sons' school--which is the very same one they attended as young boys!

In John Fleischman's Black and White Airmen: Their True History, we learn about the true history of a friendship that almost didn't happen.

John Leahr and Herb Heilbrun grew up in the same neighborhood and were in the same third grade class. Although classmates, they weren't friends, because Herb was white and John was black.

John and Herb were twenty-one when the United States entered WWII. Herb became an Army Air Forces B-17 bomber pilot. John flew P-51 fighters. Both participated in the high-altitude bomber war against Nazi Germany.  But because the army was segregated and black and white couldn't mix, they never met.

John and Herb returned home safely, but it took them another fifty years to meet and discover that their lives had almost taken the same path through times of war and peace. Now friends, Herb and John have made it a mission to tell young people why race once made a big difference and why it shouldn’t anymore.

Check out this video to learn more about John and Herb, and be sure to read John Fleischman's Black and White Airmen!

Did you see Red Tails? If so, what did you think?

Thanks for visiting!

Monday, June 1, 2020

Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson: A Solid Friendship

With all the racial strife going on right now, I thought I'd re-post a feel good story about friendship across racial lines.

I guess I'm showing my age if I say I remember Jack Benny. I don't remember his show; I'm a little too young for that. But I do remember him being a guest on various talk shows or variety shows and he always made me laugh. 

Since I know a few things about the early days of television, I knew that African-American actor Eddie Anderson played his valet Rochester on Benny's comedy series The Jack Benny Show. What I didn't know was that the two men maintained a solid friendship.

Here's a portion of an article from Americacomesalive.com that I hope you'll enjoy!

The humor and energy between Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson led to the development of a 20-year collaboration that delighted radio, television, and film audiences.

The men’s relationship was solid on air and off. Jack Benny refused to tolerate poor treatment of Anderson. In 1943 the company arrived in St. Joseph, Missouri, where they planned to do one of their radio shows. Anderson and his wife were denied a hotel room, and only at Benny’s urging did the hotel management find the Andersons a room.

Another time in New York, a Southern couple complained about a black man staying in the hotel so the manager approached Anderson suggesting he find a room elsewhere. The show’s producer told the manager Anderson would leave the hotel the next day. The next morning all 44 members of the cast and crew checked out with Anderson and moved to another hotel.

During World War II, Benny often remarked on-air about African American contributions to the war effort. In 1948 after the show re-used a script from the early 1940s that contained issues that were racial stereotypes, Benny was displeased and ordered his writers to refrain from any sort of racial stereotype or slur. Rochester was to be considered an integral part of the show, and as his role evolved it became typical for Rochester to cut through Benny’s pomposity with comments like, “What’s that, Boss?”). African Americans warmed to the character and appreciated that Anderson had broken a barrier—he was a black man playing the role of a black man; not a white man playing the role in black face.

Here is a classic scene with Rochester carrying the humor of the scene.

Do you remember Jack Benny and Eddie Anderson? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Originally published June 18, 2018

Monday, May 25, 2020

The Best Years of Our Lives

It's Memorial Day and I'd like to send a huge thank you to all of the brave men and women who have served and are currently serving our country in the military.

Reflecting on this day last night, an old movie came to mind that I haven't seen in years. The Best Years of Our Lives is one of my favorite movies, perfect for Memorial Day or any day. I've posted the original November 22, 1946 New York Times movie review by Bosley Crowther below:

It is seldom that there comes a motion picture which can be wholly and enthusiastically endorsed not only as superlative entertainment but as food for quiet and humanizing thought. Yet such a one opened at the Astor last evening. It is "The Best Years of Our Lives." Having to do with a subject of large moment—the veteran home from war—and cut, as it were, from the heart-wood of contemporary American life, this film from the Samuel Goldwyn studio does a great deal more, even, than the above. It gives off a warm glow of affection for everyday, down-to-earth folks.

Virginia Mayo's character is such a tart!

These are some fancy recommendations to be tossing boldly forth about a film which runs close to three hours and covers a lot of humanity in that time. Films of such bulky proportions usually turn out the other way. But this one is plainly a labor not only of understanding but of love from three men who put their hearts into it—and from several others who gave it their best work. William Wyler, who directed, was surely drawing upon the wells of his richest talent and experience with men of the Air Forces during the war. And Robert E. Sherwood, who wrote the screen play from a story by MacKinlay Kantor, called "Glory for Me," was certainly giving genuine reflection to his observations as a public pulse-feeler these past six years. Likewise, Mr. Goldwyn, who produced, must have seen this film to be the fulfillment of a high responsibility. All their efforts are rewarded eminently.

For "The Best Years of Our Lives" catches the drama of veterans returning home from war as no film—or play or novel that we've yet heard of—has managed to do. In telling the stories of three veterans who come back to the same home town—one a midde-aged sergeant, one an air officer and one a sailor who has lost both hands—it fully reflects the delicate tensions, the deep anxieties and the gnawing despairs that surely have been experienced by most such fellows who have been through the same routine. It visions the overflowing humors and the curious pathos of such returns, and it honestly and sensitively images the terrible loneliness of the man who has been hurt—hurt not only physically but in the recesses of his self-esteem.
This scene always makes me teary.

Not alone in such accurate little touches as the first words of the sergeant's joyful wife when he arrives home unexpectedly, "I look terrible!" or the uncontrollable sob of the sailor's mother when she first sees her son's mechanical "hands" is this picture irresistibly affecting and eloquent of truth. It is in its broader and deeper understanding of the mutual embarrassment between the veteran and his well-intentioned loved ones that the film throws its real dramatic power.Especially in the readjustments of the sailor who uses prosthetic "hooks" and of the airman who faces deflation from bombardier to soda-jerker is the drama intense. The middle-aged sergeant finds adjustment fairly simple, with a wife, two grown-up kids and a good job, but the younger and more disrupted fellows are the ones who really get it in the teeth. In working out their solutions Mr. Sherwood and Mr. Wyler have achieved some of the most beautiful and inspiring demonstrations of human fortitude that we have had in films.
Myrna Loy and Frederic March are great together!

And by demonstrating frankly and openly the psychological blocks and the physical realities that go with prosthetic devices they have done a noble public service of great need. It is wholly impossible—and unnecessary—to single out any one of the performers for special mention. Fredric March is magnificent as the sergeant who breaks the ice with his family by taking his wife and daughter on a titanic binge. His humor is sweeping yet subtle, his irony is as keen as a knife and he is altogether genuine. This is the best acting job he has ever done. Dana Andrews is likewise incisive as the Air Forces captain who goes through a gruelling mill, and a newcomer, Harold Russell, is incredibly fine as the sailor who has lost his hands. Mr. Russell, who actually did lose his hands in the service and does use "hooks," has responded to the tactful and restrained direction of Mr. Wyler in a most sensitive style.

As the wife of the sergeant, Myrna Loy is charmingly reticent and Teresa Wright gives a lovely, quiet performance as their daughter who falls in love with the airman. Virginia Mayo is brassy and brutal as the latter's two-timing wife and Cathy O'Donnell, a new, young actress, plays the sailor's fiancée tenderly. Hoagy Carmichael, Roman Bohnen and Ray Collins will have to do with a warm nod. For everyone gives a "best" performance in this best film this year from Hollywood.

One great movie! Have you ever seen it? 

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!  

Monday, May 18, 2020

The Real Inspiration for Betty Boop

What you can find while doing research on the internet is always fascinating. Today I'll share something I stumbled upon. 

So you've heard of Betty Boop, but do you know where the idea for her, or at least her singing, was originally conceived? I didn't, so here's some interesting information about her from Wikipedia!

Betty Boop made her first appearance on August 9, 1930, in the cartoon Dizzy Dishes, the sixth installment in Fleischer's Talkartoon series. Although Clara Bow is often given as being the model for Boop,she actually began as a caricature of singer Helen Kane. The character was originally created as an anthropomorphic French poodle.
Max Fleischer finalized Betty Boop as a human character in 1932, in the cartoon Any Rags. Her floppy poodle ears became hoop earrings, and her black poodle nose became a girl's button-like nose. Betty Boop appeared as a supporting character in 10 cartoons as a flapper girl with more heart than brains. In individual cartoons, she was called "Nancy Lee" or "Nan McGrew" – derived from the 1930 Helen Kane film Dangerous Nan McGrew – usually serving as a girlfriend to studio star, Bimbo.
Helen Kane
In May 1932, Helen Kane filed a $250,000 infringement lawsuit against Max Fleischer and Paramount Publix Corporation for the "deliberate caricature" that produced "unfair competition", exploiting her personality and image. While Kane had risen to fame in the late 1920s as "The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl", a star of stage, recordings, and films for Paramount, her career was nearing its end by 1931. Paramount promoted the development of Betty Boop following Kane's decline. 
The case was brought in New York in 1934. Although Kane's claims seemed to be valid on the surface, it was proven that her appearance was not unique. Both Kane and the Betty Boop character bore resemblance to Paramount top-star Clara Bow. On April 19, Fleischer testified that Betty Boop purely was a product of the imaginations of himself and detailed by members of his staff.
The most significant evidence against Kane's case was her claim as to the uniqueness of her singing style. Testimony revealed that Kane had witnessed an African American performer, Baby Esther (Esther Jones), using a similar vocal style in an act at the Cotton Club nightclub in Harlem, some years earlier. An early test sound film was also discovered, which featured Baby Esther performing in this style, disproving Kane's claims. 
Baby Esther Jones
Theatrical manager Lou Walton testified during the Fleischer v. Kane trial that Helen Kane saw Baby Esther's cabaret act in 1928 with him and appropriated Jones' style of singing, changing the interpolated words "boo-boo-boo" and "doo-doo-doo" to "boop-boop-a-doop" in a recording of "I Wanna Be Loved By You". Kane never publicly admitted this. Jones' style, as imitated by Kane, went on to become the inspiration for the voice of the cartoon character Betty Boop.
New York Supreme Court Justice Edward J. McGoldrick ruled, "The plaintiff has failed to sustain either cause of action by proof of sufficient probative force". The ruling concluded that the "baby" technique of singing did not originate with Kane.
So there you have it, the "Betty Boop" style of singing originated with African American nightclub singer Baby Esther Jones! Here's an end-note to the story: Esther Jones had no say in the matter. In court, it was presumed that she had since died. 
Had you ever heard this story? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, May 11, 2020

African Chicken Stew

"He who pursues a chicken often falls, but the chicken has to run." African proverb, Amaka

This recipe is a delicious chicken stew that can be served alone, over couscous, or over rice.  It's hot and hearty and features one of my favorite veggies, the sweet potato! 

Growing up, I always ate sweet potatoes as a pudding or souffle. But as an adult, I've discovered lots of recipes that use them in savory dishes, which my husband prefers over the sweet ones.

This stew is easy to prepare, but unfortunately involves a little cutting and chopping (so just pretend it's therapeutic).  I've adapted my version from one I originally found in Woman's Day Magazine. Hope you enjoy it!

African Chicken Stew

3 lbs boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1/2 t salt
1/2 t pepper
2 t onion powder
3 sweet potatoes
3 t garlic powder
1 1/2 t chili powder
20 ounces canned diced tomatoes
12 ounces frozen peas
1 1/2 T lemon juice
1/2 cup peanut butter

Season chicken with salt pepper and onion powder. Coat a large pot with cooking spray. place over medium high heat. Add chicken and cook about three minutes until browned.

Peel potatoes and cut in bite sized pieces; set aside. Sprinkle chicken with garlic powder and chili powder. Cook about 30 seconds or until fragrant.

Add potatoes and tomatoes. Bring chicken to the top. Bring pot to a boil, reduce heat. Cover and simmer about thirty minutes, or until potatoes are soft and chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with peas, cover and cook 10 minutes longer. Add peanut butter and lemon juice. Stir until blended and hot. Makes 4 servings.

How do you like your sweet potatoes, sweet or savory?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, April 27, 2020

Titanic: An Untold Story

The Laroche Family
April 15 marked the 108th anniversary of the sinking of  the Titanic Ocean Liner. The history of Titanic has always been of interest to me, and back in 2003, I had the opportunity to tour an exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Viewing the mementos salvaged from the wreckage was sad, yet reading about the passengers was fascinating. From that exhibition, I learned about Joseph and Juliette Laroche, an interracial couple on board the ship.

Joseph Laroche was a Haitian-born, French educated engineer from a prosperous family.  His wife, Juliette, was white, and from a privileged French family. Joseph Laroche had not intended to travel on Titanic when he left France with his family in 1912.

Because he was black, Laroche had been unable to find work in France. So upon learning of his wife's third pregnancy, he decided to return to his native Haiti.  He'd bought first class tickets for the French liner France. But once he found out that children could not eat with their parents, he transferred to Titanic.

His first-class France tickets were equivalent to second-class tickets aboard the British Titanic.  He and his family boarded the ship at Cherbourg, outside of Paris.  They enjoyed the ship's luxury for three days, and on April 14, dined together for the last time. Afterwards, Joseph retired to the smoking parlor with other men in second class, while Juliette returned to their suite with daughters Simonne, three, and Louise, one.

Joseph Laroche felt the collision later that evening, and ran back to his room for his wife and daughters. As Juliette and the girls were placed in a lifeboat, Joseph draped his coat, stuffed with money and family valuables, across his wife's shoulders. "You will need it," he told Juliette, who was 22 at the time. "I will see you in New York. I must take another raft. God be with you."

Those were the last words Joseph Laroche spoke to his wife, and although his coat was stolen, Juliette Laroche and her daughters survived. Joseph Laroche was 26, and the only black man aboard the ship.  He was one of 166 second-class passengers who died.

I found the above information here in a story that described an exhibit featuring them. The Laroche's story is a fascinating, yet little known Titanic fact. Had you ever heard of them?

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Remembering Sultana

Do you remember Sultana?  If you're like me, you've probably never even heard of it.  I know you've heard of the Titanic, but the Sultana tragedy was the greatest maritime disaster in US history.

My friend Dan told me about this disaster and its ties to my hometown of Cincinnati, so I thought I'd share it.

Here are some excerpts from a fascinating article featured in NationalGeographic.com by Stephen Ambrose:

On April 27, 1865, the steamboat Sultana, some seven miles north of Memphis, Tennessee, carrying 2,300 just-released Union prisoners of war, plus crew and civilian passengers, exploded and sank.

Some 1,700 people died. It was the worst maritime disaster in U.S. history, more costly than even the April 14, 1912 sinking of the Titanic, when 1,517 people were lost. But because the Sultana went down when it did, the disaster was not well covered in the newspapers or magazines, and was soon forgotten. It is scarcely remembered today.

 April 1865 was a busy month; On April 9, at Appomattox Courthouse, Virginia, General Robert E. Lee surrendered. Five days later President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. On April 26 his assassin, John Wilkes Booth, was caught and killed. That same day General Joseph Johnson surrendered the last large Confederate army. Shortly thereafter Union troops captured Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The Civil War was over. Northern newspapers rejoiced. News of a terrible steamboat tragedy was relegated to the newspaper's back pages. In a nation desensitized to death, 1,700 more did not seem such an enormous tragedy that it does today.

 The accident happened at 2 a.m., when three of the steamship's four boilers exploded. The reason the death toll was almost exactly equal to the number of Union troops killed at the battle of Shiloh (1,758) was gross government incompetence.

The Sultana was legally registered to carry 376 people. She had six times more than that on board, due to the bribery of army officers and the extreme desire of the former POWs to get home. In 1863, the Sultana was built in Cincinnati and began sailing the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers, mainly from St. Louis to New Orleans.

She was state of the art, including the most modern safety equipment--safety gauges that fused open when the internal boiler pressure reached 150 pounds per square inch, three fire-fighting pumps, a metallic lifeboat and a wooden yawl, 300 feet of fire hose, thirty buckets, five fire-fighting axes and 76 life belts. In April, 1865, Union POWs were gathered at Vicksburg. They were loaded on steamboats for the trip to Cairo, Illinois, with the government paying $5 per man. That was big money, which led to corruption--steamboat captains kicked back $1.15 to the army officers in charge if they filled the boats with men.

 The Sultana was the last to leave. One of her boilers had sprung a leak and needed repair, but instead of doing the job right--removing and replacing the bulge in the boiler that was the cause--the Sultana captain ordered a patch of metal put over the bulge. That could be done in one day, while a proper repair would consume three or four days. Before that was done, other steamboats would come to Vicksburg from New Orleans and pick up the POWs, leaving the Sultana without these lucrative passengers—thus the hurry-up.

At 9 p.m., on April 24, the Sultana left Vicksburg to head up river. The captain, J. Cass Mason, told an Army officer his ship had carried so many men before. He said the Sultana was a good vessel and the men were in capable hands. "Take good care of them, the officer replied. "They are deserving of it." The Sultana was badly overcrowded, Mason knew, but not overloaded. On April 26, the ship docked at Memphis to pick up coal. At midnight she headed upriver.

At 2 a.m., April 27, the repaired boiler exploded. Two of the three other boilers exploded. Fire spread through mid-ship. The two smokestacks fell on the boat, crushing the Hurricane deck and killing many men. Those who survived panicked and rather than fighting the fire began to jump into the river. The flames started sweeping toward the stern, causing more panic and jumping. The river was high, flowing fast, crowded with dead, drowning and barely floating men. The Sultana was in flames.

When the sun began to come up, more than 1,700 were dead. The survivors began singing marching tunes. Holding onto their driftwood rafts, they looked like frogs--some men noticed this and began croaking. Almost 800 of the 2,500 passengers survived (although 200 later died). On the Titanic, 882 feet long, 1,517 died. On the Sultana, 260 feet long, the toll was 1,700. The steamship, what was left of it, drifted downriver and sank opposite Memphis. She lies today, covered with mud, at the bottom of the Mississippi River.

To read the complete article, click here.

Had you ever heard about the Sultana? Thanks for visiting and have a great week!

Monday, April 13, 2020

How Are You Adjusting to Self-Quarantine?

Self-Quarantined Extrovert: Must have people!
According to the CDC, the practice of quarantine, as we know it, began during the 14th century in an effort to protect coastal cities from plague epidemics. Ships arriving in Venice from infected ports were required to sit at anchor for 40 days before landing. This practice, called quarantine, was derived from the Italian words quaranta giorni which mean 40 days. For more on the history of quarantine and quarantine practices, click here.

So here we are self-quarantining for the duration, which will likely be more than 40 days. Are you enjoying yourself, or are you going crazy? If you're an introvert, chances are you're enjoying yourself (or at least managing alright). If you're an extrovert, I'm sure you're going crazy!

Self-Quarantined Introvert: Another relaxing day with no people...
Everyday social interactions and social gatherings have always been more of a challenge for the introverted among us. Introverts get their energy from inside themselves and seek only selected social interactions. Extroverts, on the other hand, receive their energy from outside themselves, so social interaction for these individuals is a must.

According to ABCNews.com, "It's a relief for some introverts who now don't need excuses for why they don't want to be out — and, equally, a struggle for extroverts seeking out social connection in a world where that's suddenly a limited commodity."


While extroverts are enjoying conference calls, virtual family gatherings and parties, introverts are relishing days of peace and quiet. To each his own. However, we'll all be happy when things return to normal! 

These days won't last forever, but if you want to remember them for posterity, why not keep a journal? Take a look at the funny one below. I received this as an email, so I'm not sure of the source. Enjoy!

Self-Isolation Quarantine Diary:

Day 1 – I Can Do This!!  Got enough food and wine to last a month!

Day 2 – Opening my 8th bottle of Wine.  I fear wine supplies might not last

Day 3 – Strawberries:  Some have 210 seeds, some have 235 seeds.  Who Knew??

Day 4 – 8:00pm.  Removed my Day Pajamas and put on my Night Pajamas.

Day 5 – Today, I tried to make Hand Sanitizer.  It came out as Jello Shots!!

Day 6 – I get to take the Garbage out.  I’m So excited, I can’t decide what to wear.

Day 7 – Laughing way too much at my own jokes!!

Day 8 – Went to a new restaurant called “The Kitchen”.  You have to gather all the ingredients and make your own meal.  I have No clue how this place is still in business.

Day 9 – I put liquor bottles in every room.  Tonight, I’m getting all dressed up and going Bar hopping.

Day 10 – Struck up a conversation with a Spider today.  Seems nice.  He’s a Web Designer.

Day 11 – Isolation is hard.  I swear my fridge just said, “What the hell do you want now?”

Day 12 – I realized why dogs get so excited about something moving outside, going for walks or car rides.  I think I just barked at a squirrel.

Day 13 – If you keep a glass of wine in each hand, you can’t accidentally touch your face.

Day 14 – Watched the birds fight over a worm.  The Cardinals led  the Blue Jays 3–1.

Day 15 – Anybody else feel like they’ve cooked dinner about 395 times this month?

By the way, I'm an introvert. What about you? 

Thanks for visiting and have a great week!