Monday, September 26, 2022

Doris Day: Success Despite Tears

 Doris Day died in 2019, but she released her last album, My Heart, in 2011after being out of the public eye for 17 years. 

I'm a fan, and Ms. Day was one of my favorite actresses.  She's an inspiration because her story is one of trials and perseverance.  She's also from my hometown, beautiful, historic Cincinnati! 

I'll thank you not to "dis" Cincinnati, please.  I've heard it all before...home of the Cincinnati Bungals, the Big Dead Machine, and Over The Rhine--once rated the worst neighborhood in the United States!

However, Cincinnati is home to several Hollywood legends.  Director Steven Spielberg was born there and actress Sarah Jessica Parker grew up in Cincinnati.  Dancer Vera-Ellen, singer Rosemary Clooney, and super star George Clooney all hail from the Cincinnati area.

But today, the spotlight is on Doris Day, actress, singer, dancer, super star! She could do it all, and as an actress, she could play dramatic roles, just as easily as comedic ones.  Add to that her pretty looks, svelte figure, magnificent legs, and presto--you have box office dynamite!

Despite her sunny, perky disposition, Ms. Day's road to stardom was filled with heartache and tragedy.  As a young teen, she had hopes of dancing professionally, and even won $500 in a contest with her amateur dance partner, Jerry Doherty.  But her dream to become a pro came to an end in 1937, when her leg was shattered in an automobile accident.  The car she was riding in was hit by a train.  However, while recovering, she started singing along with songs on the radio, and discovered a talent she didn't know she had.  Her mother paid for voice lessons from teacher Grace Raine, who said Doris had "tremendous potential."

Doris eventually sang on a local radio program, at a restaurant, and then went on to perform in the band of Cincinnati bandleader Barney Rapp (whose daughter Bonnie was my kindergarten teacher).  It was while performing in Rapp's band that she met trombonist Al Jorden.  She originally thought him a creep, but later fell in love and married him at the age of 17--he was 24.

Jorden abused Doris physically, cheated on her, and even insisted that she have an abortion when she became pregnant.  She kept the baby and later left Jorden.  Ironically, Doris's main ambition was to become a full time a wife and mother, not a super star.

As a single mom, she recorded "Sentimental Journey" in 1944, and that song made her a star.  A second marriage followed to saxophonist George Wiedler.  That marriage ended after less than eight months.  By this time Hollywood had noticed Doris, and Wiedler (not fond of her son, and already cheating on her) didn't want to be known as Mr. Doris Day.

By 1951, Doris was on her way to super stardom and had married her third husband, Marty Melcher.  But 17 years later, Melcher and his business partner squandered her $24 million dollar fortune.  Melcher died leaving Doris $400,000 in debt. He'd also contracted her to do a television sitcom, which she had no desire to do. But she did it anyway, and gave it her all.  The TV show saved her, and she was later awarded a court settlement after suing Melcher's business partner. 

The Doris Day Show was a success and ran from 1968 through 1973, which is how I first became acquainted with Doris Day when I was a kid.  Back then I had no idea of her tremendous talent.

Doris Day is the number one female box office star of all time, and she's the only one who was number one four years in a row! Her extensive body of work includes 39 films and 29 albums.  Late in life, she worked as an animal rights activist.

"Que Sera Sera" is known as her signature song, and she is a true example of that mantra, "whatever will be will be."  She has experienced numerous hardships in her career and personal life.  But she has endured and maintained a positive outlook.  "...I just feel so fortunate and so blessed to have been able to entertain people in the theatres and on record, it’s just an amazing life that I’ve experienced." – Doris Day

My favorite Doris Day film is Calamity Jane.  In it she sings the song "Secret Love," which won the Academy Award for best original song of 1953.  Last year I learned that Doris Day had had a real "secret love" when I read that she'd had an affair with Maury Wills.

Wills is the famous L.A. Dodger base stealer, and one of the first, post-Jackie Robinson African American integration baseball players.  According to Wills and a Day biographer, the affair took place in the early ‘60s.

I had known about another interracial relationship in Doris's life, but it involved her father. In her autobiography, Doris Day: Her Own Story, she talked about her father's dislike of blacks, yet, later in life, he married a black woman!

Interracial relationships are becoming more commonplace now, but black and white couples still tend to turn a few heads. These relationships no longer need to be kept secret, however, that was a different story not so long ago.  I've written about a secret love in The Governor's Sons. I hope you'll read it, then be thankful that times have changed, and then enjoy a Doris Day movie!

Thanks for stopping by!

Monday, September 19, 2022

Before Scandal: Race and Sex in Political History

A few years ago, I read 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.

Regarding race and sex in political history brings to mind this post, which I originally published in 2013.

The titillating television series Scandal ran for seven seasons on ABCIf you are unfamiliar with the show, it centered around Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington), a former media relations consultant who had the power to "fix" things for everyone.  
While working on a gubernatorial campaign as a media relations consultant, she had an affair with then candidate, Fitzgerald Thomas Grant III (Tony Goldwyn).  As a fixer, she's taxed to fix a scandal in the president’s office.  However, the president 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.

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

Monday, September 12, 2022

Six Ways to Hook Your Reader!

I visited Write it Sideways and found a great article by Suzannah Windsor Freedman on how to hook your reader from the very first line. Hope this comes in handy for any writers out there!

Although I consider myself an avid reader, I must admit I have a short attention span when it comes to getting into books. If you fail to grab my attention in the first few lines, I start spacing out.
Most readers are like me. Most people don’t want to spend the first 50 pages trying to get into a book.
Here are a few things I find annoying in the first lines of a story:
  • Dialogue. Nice somewhere on the first or second page, but not in the first line. We won’t know who’s speaking or why we should care.
  • Excessive description. Some description is good, but not when it’s long winded. Skip the purple prose and opt for something more powerful.
  • Irrelevant information. The first few lines of your story are crucial, so give your reader only important information.
  • Introducing too many characters. I don’t like to be bombarded with the names of too many characters at once. How are we supposed to keep them straight when we don’t know who’s who?
The last thing you want to do as a writer is annoy or bore people. Instead, try one of these 6 ways to hook your readers right off the bat:
(N.B. One of the easiest ways to check out the opening pages of nearly any book you want is with the ‘Look Inside!‘ feature on

1. Make your readers wonder

Put a question in your readers’ minds. What do those first lines mean? What’s going to happen? Make them wonder, and you’ll keep them reading.

2. Begin at a pivotal moment

By starting at an important moment in the story, your reader is more likely to want to continue so he or she can discover what will happen next.
  • “It was dark where she was crouched but the little girl did as she’d been told.” ~Kate Morton, The Forgotten Garden
  • “I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975.” ~Khaled Hosseini, The Kite Runner
3. Create an Interesting picture
Description is good when it encourages people to paint a picture in their minds. Often, simple is best so it’s the reader who imagines a scene, instead of simply being told by the author.
  • “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” ~Daphne DuMaurier, Rebecca
  • “She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” ~Michael Ontaatje, The English Patient

4. Introduce an intriguing character

The promise of reading more about a character you find intriguing will, no doubt, draw you into a story’s narrative. Most often, this is one of the main characters in the book.
  • “I was born twice: first as a baby girl on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.” ~Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

5. Start with an unusual situation

Show us characters in unusual circumstances, and we’ll definitely be sticking around to see what it’s all about.
  • “They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.” ~Nick Hornby, Juliet, Naked
  • Last night, I dreamt that I chopped Andrew up into a hundred little pieces, like a Benihana chef, and ate them, one by one.” ~Julie Buxbaum, The Opposite of Love

6. Begin with a compelling narrative voice

Open your story with the voice of a narrator we can instantly identify with, or one that relates things in a fresh way.
  • “As I begin to tell this, it is the golden month of September in southwestern Ontario.” ~Alistair MacLeod, No Great Mischief
  • “I am ninety. Or ninety-three. One or the other.” ~Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants
No matter how you start your book, keep your readers in mind. What will make them want to continue reading? What will potentially make them put down your book?
How does your favourite book open, and what makes it so compelling?
 Thanks for visiting and have a great week, and thank you, Suzannah Windsor Freeman, for a great article! 

Monday, September 5, 2022