IF: toy

I'm not your toy

In the pre-hand held electronic device days, before Nintendo DS and iPads, toys didn’t take batteries. Board games, like Mousetrap, Hands Down and Mystery Date (for girls) were powered by a roll of the dice or a flip of a card. When we played politically-incorrect games like Cowboys and Indians, we used die-cast cap pistols that were loaded with a roll of paper caps that were probably dangerous. Water pistols were powered by, um, water. Hot Wheels cars got their power from a flick of the wrist.

I remember one cool, no-batteries-required toy that was extremely popular for a short period of time. In the late 1960s, when I was in elementary school, some toy company (it is unclear which one, because they were marketed under many different names) introduced a pair of heavy acrylic balls attached to a heavy piece of cloth cord. The one I had were called “clackers.” The object was to hold a plastic tab at the center of the cord and, through a bit of wrist shaking and manipulation, cause the balls to bang together. This would accomplish several results: 1) the balls would make a “clacking” sound (hence the name); 2) the owner would enjoy hours and hours (well, maybe minutes and minutes) of fun and; 3) the balls could shatter, blasting dangerous shards of sharp plastic in all directions if they were slammed into each other too hard.

Clackers were eventually banned on the playground of my school and many others across the country. However, by the time the ban was put into effect, we had grown bored with Clackers and moved onto something else (probably Footsie for girls and Super Elastic Bubble Plastic for boys).

Clackers made a feeble attempt at a comeback in the 90s, but they were no competition for Game Boy.

And they were banned again.

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from my sketchbook: donna douglas

weeeeel doggies!

Granny: Elly May done popped the buttons off her shirt again.
Jed: Elly May carries herself proud with her shoulders throwed back.
Granny: It ain’t her shoulders that have been poppin’ these buttons.

— The Beverly Hillbillies

Doris Smith, a pretty Southern tomboy, was voted Miss Baton Rouge in her home state of Louisiana. The excited pageant winner headed to New York City with dreams of breaking into show business. After appearing in print ad for toothpaste, she took the stage name “Donna Douglas” and began going on casting calls. She served as “The Letters Girl” (“Letters. We get letters….”) on The Perry Como Show and “The Billboard Girl” on The Steve Allen Show, before landing her first film role — a small one — alongside Dean Martin and Shirley MacLaine in the 1959 drama Career. In 1960, she starred in a memorable Twilight Zone episode, “The Eye of the Beholder,” in which her voice was dubbed and her face was obscured by bandages for the majority of her screen time.

Soon afterwards, Donna topped a pool of 500 eager actresses for her career-defining role of Jed Clampett’s innocent, critter-lovin’, blond-bombshell daughter Elly May on the popular CBS sitcom The Beverly Hillbillies. The show, although panned by critics, ran for nine seasons and ranked consistently in the Top Ten network programs. She also starred opposite Elvis Presley as “Frankie” to the King’s “Johnny” in the film Frankie & Johnny. After the cancellation of The Beverly Hillbillies, Donna obtained a real estate licence, but still continued to appear on TV, usually reprising her iconic character (or some variation thereof).

In later years, Donna, a religious woman, traveled around the country speaking to church groups and singing gospel songs. She wrote two childrens’ books with spiritual and inspirational themes.

In 1993, Donna (and a writing partner) sued the Walt Disney Company, claiming they stole their book, A Nun in the Closet, and used it as the basis for their hit film Sister Act. Disney offered a one million dollar settlement, which Donna refused. The case was brought to trial and the verdict found in favor of Disney. Donna received nothing.

In 2011, Donna sued Mattel Toys and CBS Consumer Products, claiming they produced an “Elly May” Barbie doll, using her likeness, without her permission. The case was settled before trial, for an undisclosed amount that pleased both parties.

Donna Douglas passed away on New Year’s Day 2015 at the age of 82. By all reports, she was the real-life personification of Elly May Clamplett.

And that’s exactly how I want to remember her.

 

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IF: invention

When you see me walking down the street, And they clapping and they speak, All the business they wish to whisper it, But they know I'm the king of the cool jerks

Thomas Edison is a beloved figure in the history of science, technology and invention.

But, boy, what a jerk.

In 1882, Nikola Tesla emigrated to the United States to work for Edison. An innovative electrical engineer in his native Serbia, he was hired to redesign Edison’s inefficient motor. At the time, Tesla was paid a salary of $18 dollars per week, but Edison promised a bonus of $50,000 if Tesla could improve the motor. In a few months, Tesla easily completed the task. Edison refused to pay, instead he laughed at Tesla and told him, “If you were an American, you would understand the American sense of humor.” As a consolation, he offered to increase Tesla’s pay to $25 per week. An outraged Tesla quit and went off on his own, eventually partnering with George Westinghouse.

While Tesla was Edison’s employee, Edison regularly mocked and belittled Tesla’s achievements, calling them “impractical.” Edison then took credit for an early X-Ray machine that Tesla had been working on under Edison’s employ.

Edison fought vehemently against Tesla’s innovative AC (alternate current) power, instead championing his own DC (direct current) power. Edison spoke publicly about the dangers of AC, going so far as to publicly electrocuting animals, including an elephant, to make his point. Edison commissioned an electric chair to be built using Tesla’s AC power. An inmate on death row was executed in a very messy spectacle in an effort to prove Tesla’s findings dangerous. (AC power is no more dangerous than DC. High voltage normally means high current. It doesn’t matter what version of voltage it is.)

Later in life, Tesla was recognized for his contributions. He was awarded a medal from The American Institute of Electrical Engineers (AIEE) — The Edison Medal.

Edison wasn’t content on screwing over Nikola Tesla. In 1902, when French filmmaker Georges Méliès released his groundbreaking Le Voyage dans la Lune (A Trip to the Moon), Edison essentially bootlegged the film and distributed it in the United States, to tremendous profit. He shared none of that profit with the director.

And he didn’t stop there. A man named Bradley Pelsgraf invented a shoe cleaning device. Edison, frustrated that he did not have a competing device, took several of Pelsgraf’s inventions and dropped them off a tall building’s roof to show that their heavy weight could be dangerous. He killed three people in the process.

Thomas Edison’s last breath is reportedly captured in a test tube housed at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit. It smells like a cheater.

 

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from my sketchbook: miroslava

Que triste, hermosa y trágica aventura amorosa
Barely a teenager, Miroslava Šternová fled her native Czechoslovakia with her adoptive parents as the country was on the verge of war in 1930. The family headed to North America and settled in Mexico. Young Miroslava entered and won a beauty contest and briefly visited Los Angeles to try her hand at acting. Her exotic looks, coupled with her distinctive accent, relegated her to roles of mysterious women or beauties of indiscriminate origin.

Miroslava, now using just the single name, appeared in over two dozen films in Mexican cinema. She was a very popular and recognizable actress. Miroslava worked with influential and respected director Luis Buñuel, who is most noted for his films The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972 Oscar winner for Best Foreign Film), That Obscure Object of Desire and the notorious Salvatore Dali collaboration Un Chien Andalou.

After completing the thriller Ensayo de un crimen (Rehearsal for a Crime) for Buñuel in 1955, Miroslava overdosed on sleeping pills. She was distraught over her unrequited love for bullfighter Luis Miguel Dominguín. She had a torrid affair with the handsome matador, although he recently married another actress, Lucia Bosé. Miroslava was discovered unresponsive in her bed, clutching a picture of Dominguín in her hand. She had just turned 30.

In an eerie coincidence, Ensayo de un crimen premiered on the day of Miroslava’s cremation. The film included a scene in which a wax figure of Miroslava is set ablaze. In a further sad twist of fate, Lucia Bosé was cast in the lead role in Luis Buñuel’s next film.

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IF: home

take me home

Elisa Lam last called home on January 31, 2013. Then, she disappeared.

Soon, some guests in the Cecil Hotel began to complain about low water pressure. The front desk of the Los Angeles Skid Row hotel received additional calls about black water when faucets or showers were turned on. After nearly three weeks (coinciding with Elisa Lam’s disappearance), a maintenance worker was sent to investigate. He searched and searched until he came upon four water storage tanks on the roof of the building. The tanks, located behind a locked and alarmed “employees only” door, were difficult to access. The worker checked connections for leaks and cracks until he ultimately discovered Elisa Lam’s nude body decomposing inside one of the tanks. Police and the LA Medical Examiner’s office were contacted immediately.

The police investigators examined surveillance footage from a security camera located inside the hotel’s elevator. The film contained the last few moments of Elisa Lam’s life. The video, readily available on YouTube, is — for lack of a better word — chilling. Elisa Lam, a 21-year old student from British Columbia, is seen entering the elevator. She presses several buttons and waits, but the door doesn’t close. She steps back into the hall and appears to look towards someone or something out of the camera’s view. She then hurries back into the elevator and pins herself against the corner in an effort to hide or at least not be seen. She appears to then press every button on the control panel. The elevator still has not moved and the door remains open. Elisa again steps into the hall and seems to be talking to someone out of the camera’s range. As she talks, she flails her hands around at strange and unnatural angles. Then she, herself, moves out of camera range, in the opposite direction from where she was looking. The elevator beings to move. The door closes. The elevator, now empty, begins making regular stops for the remaining one minute and thirty-one seconds of the video.

An autopsy determined the cause of Elisa’s death to be accidental drowning, although it is unclear how she ended up in the water tank. It is also unclear how, if it was an accident, she was able to get to the water tank through a locked door without setting off the alarm. And, if she was alone, how did the lid of the cistern get replaced?

Elisa was traveling alone. Her final destination was to be Santa Cruz, California. It is unknown why she chose to stay at the unseemly Cecil Hotel. It was not exactly the best place for a young girl to be, especially one like Elisa, who was all alone and a known sufferer of bi-polar disorder. The hotel is a haven for transients and has quite a checkered history. It was allegedly the last place that aspiring actress Elizabeth Short was seen alive before she was found dead in an empty lot — sliced in two — and gained unfortunate notoriety as “The Black Dahlia.” The Cecil Hotel was the temporary home of Richard Ramirez, better known as LA’s infamous serial killer “The Night Stalker.” Over the years, at least four people leaped to their deaths from windows of the Cecil. In 1964, a local character known as “Pigeon Goldie” Osgood, a retired telephone operator, known for protecting and feeding pigeons in a nearby park, was found dead in his ransacked room.

After the discovery on Elisa’s body, the Cecil Hotel changed its name to “Stay on Main,” and is currently making an effort to change its image. Those plans were interrupted when an outbreak of tuberculosis struck the area surrounding the hotel. Curiously, the screening process for determining the presence of tuberculosis is known in the health care industry the LAM-ELISA test.

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IF: sea

I’m afraid of water that is dark
It was Thanksgiving weekend 1981. Natalie Wood and her husband, actor Robert Wagner had asked fellow actor Christopher Walken, Natalie’s co-star in her current film Brainstorm, to join them aboard their yacht the Splendour. They would sail to Catalina Island, dine at Doug’s Harbor Reef, the only restaurant in Isthmus Cove on the northern end of the island, and then spend the evening on the yacht.

The trio, all of whom had been drinking excessively, boarded a 13-foot dinghy after dinner and motored back to the yacht. Other diners had noticed erratic and volatile behavior from the obviously intoxicated Natalie.

At 8 AM on November 29, Natalie’s lifeless body was found floating in the Pacific Ocean, approximately one mile from where the Splendour was anchored. She was wearing a flannel nightgown, a down jacket and wool socks. The rubber dinghy that was used as a transport was floating nearby, its ignition was off and its oars were up and locked. It was speculated that she had fallen into the water while trying to board the craft. Scratches on the vessel’s side suggested that Natalie tried to pull herself onto the boat, but the combination of alcohol in her system and the weight of her waterlogged jacket made her attempts unsuccessful. In her drunken state, she didn’t think of removing the jacket. She clung to the side of the small dinghy as it drifted away from the Splendour. Disoriented in the dark and overcome by exhaustion and hypothermia, Natalie drowned.

Over thirty years later, it is still unclear why Natalie left the yacht in the middle of the night and why Wagner and Walken weren’t alarmed by her late night disappearance. In 2011, Dennis Davern, the captain of the Splendour, alleged that Natalie and her husband were fighting on board and that Wagner was ultimately responsible for her death. His story lacked credibility (he was plugging a book at the time), although the official cause of death was changed from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”

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we wish you the happiest, the happiest

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD for a limited time.

This year, it’s 29  holiday songs that run the gamut from big band swing to hipster cool, plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s two more songs than last year!)

Just CLICK HERE for “A Non-Traditional Christmas 2014
You will be taken to a new window where you’ll be able to download the zipped folder. Just ask your nearest grandchild how to unzip the folder and put the songs onto that goddamn iPod they bought you last Christmas. I guarantee you’ll be deleting these songs to make room for the latest NPR podcast in no time.

(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download… or just to say “Thanks.”)

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from my sketchbook: cathy downs

Thou art lost and gone forever dreadful sorry, Clementine

A talent scout from 20th Century Fox spotted dark-haired Vogue model Cathy Downs and brought her to Hollywood.

After a few uncredited roles , including State Fair and a biopic about The Dolly Sisters, Cathy was cast in the titular role in the John Ford Western My Darling Clementine, a mostly inaccurate account of the notorious gunfight at the OK Corral. Cashing in on that film’s success, Cathy starred in several detective tales and a few more Westerns. She even took a stab at comedy, co-starring with Abbott and Costello. In 1952, Cathy married her Joe Palooka co-star Joe Kirkwood, Jr. The couple divorced in 1955.

By the 1950s, Cathy found work in low-budget sci-fi films, with 1958’s Missile to the Moon as her last big-screen appearance. She occasionally took roles on television dramas, however, her portrayal of a murder victim on a 1965 episode of Perry Mason was her final acting role.

Cathy died from cancer at 52. She was unemployed for the last eleven years of her life.

* * * * * *

we wish you the happiest, the happiest

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD for a limited time.

This year, it’s 29  holiday songs that run the gamut from big band swing to hipster cool, plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s two more songs than last year!)

Just CLICK HERE for “A Non-Traditional Christmas 2014
You will be taken to a new window where you’ll be able to download the zipped folder. Just ask your nearest grandchild how to unzip the folder and put the songs onto that goddamn iPod they bought you last Christmas. I guarantee you’ll be deleting these songs to make room for the latest NPR podcast in no time.

(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download… or just to say “Thanks.”)

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IF: light

When the light turns green, you go. When the light turns red, you stop. But what do you do when the light turns blue with orange and lavender spots?

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

As a young student of psychiatric medicine, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was shocked by the hospital treatment of patients in the United States who were dying. She began giving a series of lectures featuring terminally ill patients, forcing medical students to face people who were dying.

Upon graduation and  receiving her degree, she began teaching at the University of Chicago’s Pritzker School of Medicine. She developed a series of seminars using interviews with terminal patients, which drew both praise and criticism. She regularly questioned the practices of traditional psychiatry that she observed.

Her work with the dying led to write her celebrated and respected book, On Death and Dying, in 1969. In the book, Kübler-Ross proposed the now famous “Five Stages of Grief” as a pattern of adjustment: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Later, she expressed an interest in the afterlife and spiritualism, sometimes debunking self-proclaimed “mediums,” à la Harry Houdini.

One of her greatest wishes was to build a hospice for infants and children infected with HIV to give them a last home where they could live until their death. In 1985, her attempt to fulfill her dream in Virginia was met with opposition from local residents who feared the possibility of the spread of the disease. Zoning for the facility was eventually blocked. In 1994, Kübler-Ross lost her house and possessions to an arson fire that is suspected to have been set by opponents of her AIDS work.

In 1995, Kübler-Ross suffered a series of strokes which left her partially paralyzed and limited her mobility. She was confined to a wheelchair, in constant pain, slowly waiting for death to come. She wished to determine the time of her own death. Kübler-Ross passed away in 2004 at the age of 78.

* * * * * *

we wish you the happiest, the happiest

My annual Christmas music compilation is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD for a limited time.

This year, it’s 29  holiday songs that run the gamut from big band swing to hipster cool, plus a custom full-color cover with track listings – all for you and all for FREE! (That’s two more songs than last year!)

Just CLICK HERE for “A Non-Traditional Christmas 2014
You will be taken to a new window where you’ll be able to download the zipped folder. Just ask your nearest grandchild how to unzip the folder and put the songs onto that goddamn iPod they bought you last Christmas. I guarantee you’ll be deleting these songs to make room for the latest NPR podcast in no time.

(Please contact me if you have trouble with the download… or just to say “Thanks.”)

*********

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