Wednesday, December 16, 2009

My Wildest Interview Ever:

In the 1950s, dashing Lew Smith and his chic blonde wife Esther would go out on the town to drink cocktails and “listen to Dean Martin or laugh at Shecky Greene.” As Miami’s “only heterosexual decorator,” Lew catered to clients ranging from jet-setting socialites to the dictator of Haiti.

It was unusual enough that a Jew who fled pogroms in Poland should become the go-to guy for Miami home d├ęcor. But Lew’s life took an even stranger turn in the 1960s. By the end of the decade, he had become a psychic healer under the tutelage of spirit guides.

All this makes for a good story. And more than 20 years after his father’s death, artist Philip Smith wrote it.
More at Wild River Review

Photo: Philip Smith & one of his paintings.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Cold Comfort

It is now 1°F in Denver. (Celsius=Too F*cking Cold!) It's colder and snowier here than in Minneapolis, Toronto and Portland, Maine. The snow squeaks underfoot and it hurts my lungs to breathe outside. Feh!

Consequently, I'm very happy to be working on our next Bella Terra Maps product: Florida Lighthouses. We plan to have it printed in time for me to bring copies when I go to the Space Coast Writers' Guild Conference in Cocoa Beach at the end of January. One of my half-sisters lives nearby, so I'll visit her for a few days--along with as many lighthouses and maritime museums as possible.

I also plan to visit Gilbert's Bar House of Refuge, below.
Click here for entrancing 360° view. I've been looking at it A LOT.

Oh, and HMS Bounty and the 1812 privateer schooner Lynx (below) will be docked in Palm Beach. Both offer dockside tours and the Lynx has daily Adventure Sails. I am so there! (Along with a bottle of scleranthus, the Bach Flower Remedy for motion-sickness.)

Photo by Chris Woods - courtesy of The Lynx Educational Foundation

Boy Wonder reminded me that I'd told him that if I ever moved to Florida, he should have me committed--or shot. I pointed out that a short midwinter trip requires no such action on his part.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

In Cheery Siberia (aka Denver, CO)

An arctic blast hit Denver over the weekend. It snowed yet again last night--snowfall #9 since October 8, for those keeping score. When I got up this morning it was 3°F outside. The thermometer outside my dining room window registered a sultry 20° a little after noon. When last I looked it was 10°.

Sunday night I watched Silk Stockings, with songs by Cole Porter, starring Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse. (Fun fact: costar Janis Paige was married to my father's double-cousin Arthur, whose parents were Dad's paternal aunt and a Stander cousin.)

And what song could be more appropriate to the frigid weather than "Siberia," sung by Joseph Buloff, Jules Munshin & Peter Lorre:
When we’re sent to dear Siberia,
To Siberi-eri-a,
When it’s cocktail time ’twill be so nice
Just to know you’ll not have to phone for ice.

When we meet in sweet Siberia,
Far from Bolshevik hysteria,
We’ll go on a tear,
For our buddies all are there
In cheery Siberi-a.

When we’re sent to dear Siberia,
To Siberi-eri-a,
There’s a most delicious bill of fare,
You must try our filet of polar bear.

When we meet in sweet Siberia
To protect us from diphtheria,
We can toast our toes
On the lady Eskimos
In cheery Siberi-a.

When we’re sent to dear Siberia,
To Siberi-eri-a,
Where the fresh salt air makes us feel so fine,
It is fresh salt air from our own salt mine.

When we meet in sweet Siberia,
Where the snow is so superia
You can bet, all right
That your Christmas will be white
In cheery Siberi-a.

Here's the number (stop at 2:31):

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Yahrzeit #15...and A Day In Court

Lionel Stander (l) in a 1961 production of The Policemen, directed by Leonidas Dudarew-Ossetynski.

My father died of cancer 15 years ago today. We were a continent apart then--he in L.A. and me in Maine. There were times when he went years without seeing, or even speaking, to me. But now he's a constant presence in my life, due to the dozens of photographs on the walls of the "Dad Gallery" in the upstairs hallway. I see him when I first wake up in the morning and just before I go to bed at night, which rarely happened during my childhood.

The newest additions to my ever-growing collection of Lionel Stander images came via email a few weeks ago. Early this year a woman in California named Valerie Hunken found me via Google. She was going through the possessions of her late father, the actor and stage director Leonidas Dudarew-Ossetynski. Among them were some stills from a 1961 Off-Broadway production of The Policeman, with my father. Would I be interested in those photographs?

Of course I would, I wrote her. I hadn't known anything about The Policemen or Dudarew-Ossetynski. (I learned from Google that he was born an aristocrat in Wilno, Poland--now Vilnius, Lithuania.) The only shows I recalled Dad being in the early 1960s were The Conquering Hero (memorable because Tom Poston held a puppy that peed on his hand during a rehearsal in Philadelphia), Brecht's Arturo Ui and Luther. The latter two were directed by Tony Richardson, who went on to cast my father as Pierpont Mauler in a London production of Brecht's St. Joan of the Stockyards, then broke the Hollywood Blacklist by putting him in the The Loved One (still one of my all-time favorite movies).

Months went by and I forgot about Hunken. Then out of the blue the photographs arrived on November 12th, four days after my birthday. And who else should be in some of the photos than Jack Gilford, whom I first knew as the nice man in the Cracker Jack commericals. (I still remember the lyrics!) He was also blacklisted, though not as long as my dad if he was doing commercials when I was very young.

Rehearsal of The Policemen. Director Leonidas Dudarew-Ossetynski is atop table, Lionel Stander is seated at center, Jack Gilford is standing at far right.

Speaking of the Hollywood Blacklist, along with 31 others I signed on to a Brief of Amici Curiae of Victims of the McCarthy Era in the U.S. Supreme Court case, Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project. I received a PDF of the brief today from the attorneys. It argues that the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 (AEDPA):
threatens once again unconstitutionally to interfere with the rights of free speech and association. AEDPA's vague ban on 'assistance' and 'advice' is essentially no different from the McCarthy Era attempt to root out association with and advocacy for groups unpopular with the government.

One of the key lessons from this era is that when the federal government fans the flames of public passion by enacting overreaching criminal statutes, staging congressional hearings, and investigating the loyalty of millions of American citizens, it implicitly condones and sanctions retributions against individuals, such as Amici. Eventually, our society and this Court understood that these consequences were uncceptable. We should not make these mistakes again.
To my surprise and amazement, Dad and I are mentioned in the brief proper, which all nine Supreme Court Justices (or at least their clerks) will have to read. How cool is that?

In the Appendix, the List of Amici Curiae has biographical notes. Here's mine, drafted by the attorney and amended by yrs truly:
Bella Stander is the daughter of the late Lionel Stander, a film, stage, television and radio actor who was active in many progressive social and political causes. Stander was first subject to an early “blacklist” in the 1930s because of his active role in progressive trade unions and anti-Fascist organizations. Although he was publicly cleared of accusations of being a communist by the Los Angeles District Attorney in 1940, years later he was again accused of being one. He was subpoenaed to appear before HUAC in 1953, and as a result was blacklisted from radio, TV and Hollywood. Lionel Stander sparred vigorously with the Committee, defending his Constitutional rights and denouncing HUAC for trampling them, which made front-page news from coast to coast. Columnist Walter Winchell, who had supplied material on Stander to the FBI, then demanded that he be ousted from his role in the touring production of “Pal Joey.” J. Edgar Hoover wrote in his FBI file, which covers some 30 years: "Be certain Stander doesn't use FBI to regain respectability."
I didn't light a Yahrzeit candle tonight, but I think the above will burn a bit longer.