Sunday, March 1, 2015

Berowne's 260

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "H" is for "Harry J.")

No quiz this week.  I’ll just post another episode of Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures. 

The star of the show sprains her ankle and is unable to go on. A beginner, a neophyte, is sent on stage by the desperate producer.

The kid is a sensation, wows the audience; she went out a total unknown and came back a star.

I lived through that very same situation – except for the last part. I didn’t come back a star, I just came back.

Time-travel with me now to the year the Big War ended; (there are those who say it was the last of our wars that might be described as actually making sense).  Suddenly I found myself out on civvy street, in desperate need of a job of some kind.

I had gone off to the South Pacific when I was just a kid. Now I was still a kid but a four-years-older kid. What could I do in civilian life? I had little experience, little training except training for war.

Well, I thought, I could talk; I’d like to try to get into radio.

As far as the field of communications was concerned, it was then a very different planet. For all practical purposes there was no television. Most people not only didn’t have TV, most had never seen TV.  A few folks in the major cities were fortunate enough to be able to watch “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” on their tiny black-and-white screens, but for everyone else radio was all there was.

Believe it or not, I got a job as an announcer.

What kind of radio station would hire a young dude as an announcer who had no experience and not all that much in the way of ability? A strange little radio station, that’s what.

In Asbury Park, New Jersey, a place I had never heard of before, there was a small station.  (I was to hear quite a bit about Asbury Park later, but at the time Bruce Springsteen hadn’t as yet shown up.)

It was a small radio station indeed, a two-man operation, broadcasting with 250 watts. Now, 250 watts would make a satisfyingly large light bulb but it was tiny for radio, surrounded by the 50,000-watt network stations of the area. Our signal barely managed to cover the town, not that there were all that many folks in the town listening.

The station’s call letters were WCAP, which stood for Wonderful City of Asbury Park.  Some listeners wrote in cards and letters and several were mean-spirited enough to write the address WCRAP, which I thought was uncalled-for. 

It was in Convention Hall, two little rooms on the ground floor.  Not an impressive radio station; it had one outside door with nothing written on it.  Over time, more than one guy had hurriedly pushed open that door, stopping suddenly as he realized that this was not, after all, the men’s room.  

In our “studio” the engineer sat in one room, operating the console. The announcer sat in the other, playing records and speaking into a mike.

At the end of a “program,” which consisted of nothing but the playing of old 78-rpm records, the announcer would scurry into the other room to run the console and the engineer would suddenly become the announcer. This rather messy system would persuade the audience, such as it might be, that this was a regular radio station with an actual announcing staff. At least, that was the hope.

I had been at this work for just a couple of weeks, trying to learn what it meant to be an announcer, when something incredible happened. It was a scenario that could have been written – and, indeed something like it was, a number of times – by movie scriptwriters.

It was the age of the Big Bands - Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James - who traveled around the land with their large musical organizations.

And while I was just settling in at my new job, Harry James and his band, perhaps the most famous of them all, were to appear in Asbury Park. They were to do a network show, coast-to-coast, from the auditorium in Convention Hall. This was big-time stuff.

I do not make up the following; it actually happened.

The network announcer had an accident on his way to Asbury Park and phoned New York that he would be unable to make the broadcast. The network types there hurriedly searched through their sources and noted that Asbury Park had a radio station.

They phoned. I answered.

They asked if my station could loan them an announcer to emcee the Harry James program, which was supposed to go nationwide in about twenty minutes. I said yes, we could take care of that.

I met with Harry James, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. I couldn’t believe what was happening; I felt envious.  I had just started in this business, a total beginner, and here I was emceeing a nation-wide broadcast of the top musical organization in the land.

It did not go well. Fact is, I suffered from a severe case of stage fright.  

A month or so earlier, a victim of various bombings, I had been recovering in a jungle hospital in New Guinea, and now I was back in the Stytes calculating to be a coast-to-coast radio emcee; it was all a bit too much for me.

As I stood by the mike, waiting for the cue to come down from New York, I realized the script I was holding was trembling a bit. Harry James saw this and, as we waited, he began to make little jokes about this announcer to the guys in his band, who chortled in response.

Well, I got through the broadcast somehow and left. I never heard from anyone about it, not my boss, not the network, no one.

Probably just as well.  I went back to playing records in my not-the-men’s-room radio station.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

259 Quiz Answer

Gigi was an American Metrocolor film directed by Vincente Minnelli.  Following the family tradition, the teenager Gigi is groomed to be a courtesan and to learn etiquette and charm.  The young girl initially fails to understand the real reason behind her education.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "g" is for "girl")

In the mid-1950s a couple of guys in the motion picture business were talking.  What’s the name of the film they were talking about?

“Remember that movie I told you about, the one I wanted to invest in?  You thought it wasn’t a good idea?”

“Well, it wasn’t a good idea.  It’ll never be made.”

“Ha.  You’ll be interested to learn that they’re going ahead with it; they start shooting in a couple of months.”

“I don’t believe you.  Such a film could never be shown in the United States.”

“It’ll not only be shown, it should be one of the biggest hits of the year.  The book was a best-seller in Europe, but the film will be so much better; it will have beautiful music, hit songs, dancing, beautiful scenes of Paris, the works.”

“Don’t forget its star, the girl.”

“Of course, and she’s a wonder.  She’s an ideal fifteen-year-old, full of life, charm, vitality – and she can sing and dance beautifully.”

“Not to mention that she looks pretty great, too.”

“Hey, you’re being won over.  I’m afraid it’s too late if you wanted to invest in the production.”

“Oh, I wouldn’t put any money in it.  I’m pretty sure it’ll never be produced.”

“What?  You’re whimpering about that again?  Here’s a film project that’s got everything going for it and you keep yammering on about how they won’t be able to make it.”

“Well, let me yammer a bit more.  Do you know what this film is about?”

“Wait a minute.  Don't inflict that on me.  The book was one thing; this movie will be something different.”

“The basic story is the same.”

“And the story is simple; it’s about a docile teen-age girl around the turn of the century.”

“Who is being trained – to be a prostitute!”

“Hold on; that’s too strong.  In Europe things were different.  She is being trained to be a companion to a gentleman.  She is learning the necessary social graces.”

“So some old rich geezer can buy and keep a teen-age girl as a 'companion'.  You think American film audiences will go for that?”

“In the movie’s script all that aspect is shoved aside, pushed under the rug.  The audiences probably won’t even be aware of it.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)




Sunday, February 15, 2015

258 Quiz Answer

An easy one this week.  Pharaoh had commanded that all male Hebrew children born be drowned in the river Nile, but Moses' mother placed him in bulrushes by the riverbank, where the baby was discovered and adopted by Pharaoh's daughter.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "F" is for "foster parent")

The following content might remind you of a well-known story.  What’s the story?

Today I’d like to tell you about a little-known historical figure, Edna Schneiderwegen.

You think you have it tough; consider Edna’s position.  Her husband, who was rarely sober, went off one day and, in the grand tradition of so many other helpmeets, just didn’t come back.

She suddenly was a single mom, with a baby, Eustace, and almost no income.  She desperately tried to find a part-time job and her housework was left undone.  Neighbors, perhaps trying to be helpful, reported her situation to the DCF, the Department of Children and Families.

The DCF folks decided Eustace would be better off with a foster parent so they told Edna to get his things packed because they’d be picking him up on the following morning.

She was miserable.  She loved her child and would do almost anything to keep him with her.  Early the next morning, just at daybreak, she took the baby’s basket and placed Eustace in it.

It happened that a river flowed through that area a block or so from her house.  Along its banks there was a lot of vegetation – grass, bushes, etc. – so she placed the basket, Eustace ensconced within, on the bank of the river.  Luckily it promised to be a warm, fine day.

She had made up a story for the Department of Children: her formerly long-lost husband, a ne’er-do-well of the first order, had come during the night and had taken the baby.  She had no idea where he, or they, might now be.  She thought, a bit over-optimistically, that the DCF types would then give up and forget about it so she could go pick up Eustace and bring him home.

Coincidentally, and it was a huge coincidence, Fran Garner and a few friends were jogging along the path next to the lake that morning, as they did most mornings.  What was coincidental was that Mrs. Garner was the wife of the head of the DCF.  When she saw Eustace in the basket she was at first deeply moved at the thought that some desperate mother had been forced to place her offspring in such a place.

But then, when she saw what a cute little nipper the baby was, she thought that she’d talk her husband into allowing her to be a foster parent for the child.  Later she might even be able to adopt him.

Today, of course, we know that as our story evolved the little tyke grew up to be a strong, upstanding young man, and ultimately a great leader.

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, February 8, 2015

257 Quiz Answer

Wallis Simpson, of Baltimore MD, married as her third husband the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, who abdicated his throne in 1936 to marry her.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "E" is for "extreme")

I’ve always been interested in those folks of the historical record who might not have been important in themselves, but somehow they made a huge splash in history.  In the following scenelet they’re talking about a certain woman.  Who was she?
“She could almost have been Queen of England! Who could have imagined such a thing when she was a kid back in Baltimore.”
“Not much chance of that happening.”
“You mean because she was a foreigner?  England had foreign queens in the past, you know.”
“Not like her.  Trust me.”
“You mean because she was divorced, right?”
“She wasn’t divorced; she was twice divorced.”
“Yes, I can see that would put the kibosh on it.  But the King was crazy about her.  She could have been his Royal Consort, or some such thing.”
“Again, not a chance.  The entire royal establishment would frown on it.  Fact is, they couldn’t stand her.”
“Makes me wonder just what he found so wonderful about her.”
“It was like this.  She was always devious; she could be sort of venomous and yet also clever and funny, and she specialized in sarcastic quips and remarks, often made to the King about his family.  He had never heard anyone talk like that; it blew him away.”
“And he didn’t object?”
“He loved it.  She went to the extreme.  Her name for the Queen Mother was ‘Cake,’ because she felt that her fashion sense made her look like a wedding cake. And she called the Princess, who after all was to become queen, ‘Shirley,’ as in Shirley Temple.”
“A wonder they let her stay in the country.  Though come to think of it, they didn’t.”
“She had experienced the ultimate fairy tale: becoming the adored favorite of the most glamorous eligible bachelor of his time, and then – well, it all went wrong.”
“As fairy tales often do.”
"Wallis and Gromit" 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

256 Quiz Answer

The answer is Richard III.  Lady Anne Neville is Prince Edward's widow and the daughter-in-law of the late King.  Although she knows Richard is the "fiend" responsible for her husband and father-in-law's deaths, she allows herself to be manipulated into marrying him.

She is most famous for succumbing to Richard's charms when he successfully woos front of her father-in-law’s corpse.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "D" is for "diabolical.")

I wrote the following scenelet, two young women talking together.  Who’s the guy they’re talking about?

“Sit down and relax.  Tell me what’s been going on while I’ve been away.”

“Not much to tell, as far as my story is concerned.  But as for our friend Anne – you know what happened to Anne?”

“Well, I know she was having problems with that same creep.  He kept pursuing her.”

“He’s not pursuing her any more.”

“Good.  I’m glad she got rid of him.”

“H’mm.  I see you’re not up to speed about all that’s happened.  He’s not pursuing her because he got her.  They were married.”

“What?!  Anne marrying that…  Tell me you’re joking!”

“No, it’s unbelievable but true.  I was there when it happened; I saw it all.”

What happened?”

“Well, Anne was at this funeral procession for the death of her father-in-law.  She has had such a miserable time, what with the death of her husband earlier.  And this unspeakable character – after all, he was the one responsible for the old man’s death – he comes up to her and tries to turn on the charm.  Makes you shiver just to think of it.”

“What was her reaction to that?”

“Wild.  Really wild.  She was yelling at him, cursing him, she even spit on him.  He doesn't wilt; he takes it all calmly, continues talking about how he’s in love with her and so on.”


“Especially incredible because while this was going on the old man’s corpse was right there a few feet away.”

“The rumors I heard were that he may have been the one who did away with her husband.”

“Turns out those rumors may well be true.”

“But after all that you say she married the beast?  He's diabolical!  How on earth could she ever do such a thing?”

“Well, the guy – you’d have to see it to believe it – he seems to be able to talk anyone into anything.  He went on with how special she was and how it was a pure, true love he felt for her and how much he desired her.  Then to top it off – get this – he blamed her for all the bad things that had happened, saying that she was so wonderful, so beautiful, that he just couldn’t help himself.  So it was her fault.” 

Friday, January 30, 2015

Super Sunday

To all our non-USA type friends, you may perhaps be aware that Sunday will be Super Bowl Day over here in the Stytes.

It’s a big day when major teams play American football, wherein some 22 beefy athletes bang away at each other with a ball that is a prolate spheroid, occasionally partially deflated.  :-)

It will be the West versus the East this year, the teams of Seattle against New England.  Fortunes will be wagered on this event.

I post this just to inform you that I have some inside info; I can’t lose!  I was born in Seattle and live in New England.  Go team!

After that, Berowne will quietly return to his usual limited intellectual pursuits.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Berowne's 255

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "C" is for "cinema")
No quiz this week.  Instead, here’s another episode of the ongoing series: Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures.

From time to time I’ve written about my work as a film-maker, an occupation that like many others had its ups and downs – with maybe a tad more of the latter than of the former.

Well, one day I got big news.  A film I had made for Warner Brothers on Scandinavia opened in (muted trumpets are heard in the background) New York’s Radio City Music Hall!

As you probably know the Music Hall is a huge auditorium that’s part of Rockefeller Center in New York City.  Its nickname is the Showplace of the Nation, and for years it edged out the Statue of Liberty as the leading tourist attraction in the city.

Its awesome interior has been declared a city landmark.  What a cinema, 6,200 folks in the audience each time the film ran through the projector, and it ran through the projector four times a day.

I had wanted very much to avoid making a film that looked like the boring “travelogues” of yesteryear where a narrator would drone on about an old cathedral that was built in the eighth century, or perhaps it was the eighteenth - or maybe it was the twenty-eighth – but it wouldn’t matter since the audience had dozed off anyway.

I tried to have at least one sequence of humor in the movie to liven things up so when I was in Stockholm I had looked about for items that might be good for a slight chuckle or two.  For example, I wrote a small bit about how to folks of Swedish persuasion “cigarettes” were “cigaretters.”    

So in the script I’d start off with a few of these bits - nothing depraved, just little chuckle-makers - all leading up to a nice big (hopefully) laugh sequence.

All very well, but then I ran into the same problem that faces all writers who like to think they can write humor: how can one know in advance what will be funny?  With no audience, no one around, all you have is your gut instinct.

And then there I was, seated in the sea of folks at Radio City Music Hall, sort of amazed that I was watching my very own movie there, but wondering, when the film got to the place of the potential Big Laugh what would be the reaction?  Would there be cold silence?  Would anyone actually come up with a guffaw?

Well, I soon found out.

The movie got to the modest start of the humor sequence – the bit based on the word “cigaretters” – and I was astonished by what happened.  The 6,200 souls in the audience didn’t chuckle, they let go with a powerful roar of laughter that nearly knocked me off my perch.

The start was supposed to be just chortle-worthy, a small appetizer not the entrĂ©e, but their response was not only loud it went on for some time, completely drowning out the narrator so that the other chuckle items weren’t even heard.

I felt like standing up and shouting “Wait!  That wasn’t it yet!” but that was hardly practical.  That one laugh only gradually subsided and my carefully planned humor sequence proceeded quietly to go down the drain.

Oh well, I got a film into Radio City; I had to be content with that.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

254 Quiz Answer

The Dreyfus Affair began in France in1894 with the treason conviction of Captain Alfred Dreyfus, who was sentenced for allegedly communicating French military secrets to the German Embassy in Paris.  Though he was innocent, Dreyfus was imprisoned on Devil's Island in French Guiana.  Ultimately, activists put pressure on the government to reopen the case.

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "B" is for "banish")

This week’s quiz has to do with a famous historical event you should be familiar with.  Name the event.

“The man’s a traitor.  Naturally, you types of the mollycoddle world would just say he was unrefined and would have given him a slap on the wrist.”

“No, I’d agree with you that a traitor should be punished severely.  It’s just that in this case there are some serious doubts that the man is guilty.”

“Get real; stop being frivolous.  For many months this case has been investigated to within an inch of its life.  It has been discussed and debated endlessly throughout the land.”

“Yes, and there’s a growing movement of people everywhere, here and overseas, who are positive that the guy has been railroaded.”

“What you characters have done is turn this into a political football.  You have the finest investigative experts of the Army as well as our entire legal system in agreement.  It’s an open-and-shut case; the man is guilty.”

“When you’ve got the Army investigating itself you’ve got a problem right there.”

“Well, what about the leading legal scholars who agree with that verdict?”

“Legal scholars who never had a chance to examine the evidence because the Army trial consisted of ‘closed sessions’?”

“Look.  We might as well stay amicable.  There’s no point in arguing about this man’s guilt or innocence because it’s of no importance.”

“What!?  You’re going to banish a highly respected army officer away for life, off to a hell-hole thousands of miles from here, and you say the fact that he may be innocent is not important!”

“I knew you wouldn’t understand.  Don’t you see?  This case is no longer about an insignificant captain of artillery.  It’s about subversive political elements that would challenge the integrity not just of our Army but of our very nation.”

“We cannot have integrity without justice.”

“Oh, we’ll have justice, don’t worry about that.  When we have the traitor locked up for life in that hell-hole you mention, that will be justice.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)
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