IF: mystery

reveals on every side a thousand, thousand shades of death begrimed and black

Its numerous jug handles and laws prohibiting self-serve gas pumping aside, New Jersey is, admittedly, a pretty weird place. One of the more mysterious things to happen in New Jersey occurred, quite fittingly, on Shades of Death Road in Warren County.

Shades of Death Road is a stretch of two-lane highway that runs approximately north and south for seven miles, skirting Jenny Jump State Forest at several points. The road, once known as Shades Road, offers several unsubstantiated origins for its current name. Folklore points to the road being a favorite of local highwaymen who robbed and murdered travelers. Other stories claim, due to its abundance of trees with low branches, that many lynchings took place there. In the early 20th century, the road was the sight of several brutal murders, including a woman who killed and dismembered her unfaithful husband, burying his head and body on opposite sides of the road. Another story alleges that nearby Bear Swamp was overrun with malaria-carrying mosquitoes. The high death rate and the remoteness from medical assistance prompted local government to drain the swamp in 1884. In addition, the area has been host to alleged sightings of an other-worldly nature. Whatever the real reason for the macabre moniker, the local authorities have had difficulty in keeping souvenir-seekers from stealing the street signs. They have resorted to slathering the sign posts with grease to deter such theft.

In 1990, the magazine Weird NJ reported on the discovery of hundreds of Polaroid photographs strewn all over a clearing, just off Shades of Death Road. The photos (some of which can be seen here), mostly faded and out of focus, depicted a woman in various states of physical restraint. In some photos, she was shown tied to a metal table. Others were fuzzy close-ups of her face exhibiting distress and fear. In the background of the photos was an old television with dials, its screen filled with electronic snow. In others, the screen shows a broadcast of the action TV series Wonder WomanWeird NJ said that local police were notified of the discovery by an anonymous tip, but the majority of the pictures had disappeared by the time police arrived, leaving little upon which to base an investigation.

Warnings against trespassing have been posted in some sections of Shades of Death Road, as parts run along private property. However, the public areas are open to the curious. But, please, don’t steal the street signs.

Or leave weird pictures.



DCS: theresa harris

my, my

The daughter of sharecroppers, Theresa Harris was born on New Year’s Eve 1906. Her family moved to Southern California when she was 11 and she longed to become an actress.

In 1930, she made he debut in the gangster tale Thunderbolt, where she was featured in an uncredited performance singing “Daddy, Won’t You Please Come Home?” Soon. she found numerous roles in films, acting alongside big names like Fay Wray, Barbara Stanwyck, Myrna Loy, Jean Harlow, Esther Williams and Bette Davis. However, she was relegated, like most African-American actresses, to playing maids, hat-check girls, prostitutes and tribal women. These roles, all uncredited, frustrated Theresa. She was very vocal in her advocacy for better roles for African-Americans, but was offered few opportunities. She was featured in a pivotal role opposite Ginger Rogers in 1933’s Professional Sweetheart, but, once again, she was uncredited.

In the 1940s, she drew favor from director Val Lewton. Lewton was known for casting African-American actors in non-stereotypical roles. Theresa appeared in four films for Lewton, including his most famous, Cat People.

After a few television roles in the 1950s, Theresa married a doctor and retired from show business, lamenting, “My ambition was to be an actress. Hollywood had no parts for me.”

She passed away in 1985 at the age of 78.



DCS: abe vigoda

Can you get me off the hook, Tom? For old times' sake?

Abe Vigoda died earlier this week. His career bridged eight decades and he spent the last few of those decades convincing the public that he wasn’t dead.

He played mostly bit parts in the early days of television including long stints on the popular soap operas As The World Turns and Dark Shadows. Always giving the appearance of being much older, Abe was just 50 when he was cast in the memorable role of family turncoat “Sal Tessio” in Francis Ford Coppola’s epic adaptation of Mario Puzo’s best-seller The Godfather.

While living in Los Angeles, Abe was a daily jogger, often running up to five mile a day. One day, after returning home from his regular run, his agent called about a role in an upcoming television series for which, he believed, Abe would be perfect.

“Go to this audition at once.” the agent instructed.

” No,” an exhausted Abe protested, “I have to a shower.”

“No, no, no.,” the agent insisted, “Go right now to Studio City, you’re very right for it, they know you from The Godfather, they want to see you.”

“With my shorts?” asked Abe.

“Go.” The agent was firm, so Abe went.

Danny Arnold and Ted Flicker, the producers of the show gave Abe the once-over. Actually, a few once-overs. Finally they said, “You look tired.”

“Of course I’m tired,” an annoyed Abe replied, “I jogged five miles this morning, I’m exhausted.”

The pair laughed and then commented, “Yeah, yeah, you look like you have hemorrhoids.”

“What are you, a doctor or a producer?,” Abe spat back.

That exchange led to Abe being instantly cast as Detective Phil Fish on the new comedy Barney Miller. The character was eventually spun off onto his own show Fish.



DCS: chuck connors

Kevin Connors dreamed of becoming a professional baseball player, one day playing for his beloved Brooklyn Dodgers. At an imposing six-foot-five, the athletic Connors was a natural at first base, often yelling “Chuck it to me! Chuck it to me!” to his teammates on the neighborhood ball clubs, thus earning him the nickname “Chuck.”

Equally adept at hoops, Chuck attended Seton Hall University on a basketball scholarship, but left college after two years to enlist in the Army. After his time in the service, he briefly joined new basketball team The Boston Celtics, where he is credited with breaking the first glass backboard.

Chuck left the team to attend Spring Training with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He kicked around in the minors for a time until he got the call up. He played one game for the Dodgers in 1949. In 1951, he played 66 games for the Chicago Cubs, but was sent back to the Cubs’ farm team, the Los Angeles Angels. While playing in LA, Chuck was spotted by a casting agent from MGM. Chuck soon found himself in a small role in the 1952 Tracy-Hepburn film Pat and Mike. He ditched his career in sports for Hollywood.

Finding roles based on his brawn and family-minded sensibilities was easy for Chuck. He worked steadily and in 1957, he was cast in his breakout role in Disney’s classic Ol’ Yeller. His heartfelt performance impressed the producers of a new television series about a widowed rancher raising his young son in the Old West. They offered Chuck the role, but he was making a good living as a freelance actor and he turned the part down. The producers — Hollywood heavyweights Dick Powell, Charles Boyer, Ida Lupino and David Niven — re-watched Ol’ Yeller with their families and, once again were moved emotionally. They increased their offer. Chuck agreed and production on The Rifleman began.

The Rifleman ran for five seasons on ABC and made Chuck a star. It also introduced former Mouseketeer Johnny Crawford to a bigger, more mainstream audience. Johnny and Chuck hit it off immediately, sharing a common affinity for baseball and Westerns.  After the show was canceled, they remained life-long friends. Chuck appeared in numerous television guest roles after The Rifleman was canceled. He even starred in the short-lived Branded, a Rifleman rip-off for NBC.

In the 70s, Chuck met Soviet Secretary General Leonid Brezhnev at a party given by President Richard Nixon, for whom Chuck was a staunch supporter. Brezhnev lit up at the introduction, recognizing the actor from The Rifleman, one of the few American shows broadcast on Soviet television.

Chuck passed away from pneumonia, stemming from lung cancer, in 1992. Johnny Crawford delivered the eulogy at his funeral. Chuck was 71 years old. He hit 2 home runs in his professional baseball career.



IF: spin

let's take 'er out for a spin

I remember watching this guy on The Ed Sullivan Show when I was a kid. Wedged in a slot somewhere between Buddy Hackett and Jerry Vale, this guy came out onto a stage that was already set up with a series of tall sticks and a long table piled high with colorful plates. Looking dapper in a tuxedo, he’d smile and gesture to the audience. Then, he’d grab a stack of plates. With several plates tucked under his arm, he’d position a platter atop one of the slender wooden rods and give that disk a spin. He’d whack the side to really get it going. Then, he’d put another plate on another stick and get that one a-spinning. Soon, the stage was alive with dozens of plates spinning precariously — impossibly! — high on the tips of thin wooden sticks. One or two would slow and wobble until the guy ran to it and jiggled the stick to get a full spin going again. Sometimes, he couldn’t get to a plate quickly enough and it would come crashing to the floor — sending shards of plate in all directions. At the end of his allotted five minutes, he’d have all the plates spinning merrily and he was rewarded with thunderous applause. Soon, he and his amusing little stunt were forgotten in favor of Sergio Franchi or Robert Goulet.

I always wondered — how did this guy discover his talent? Was he sitting at home after washing and drying the dinner dishes and, just before he put them into the cupboard, he’d glanced over at a broom in the corner and thought, “Hey… I wonder if I could spin a plate on top of that broom handle? I wonder if I could spin two… maybe even three!”

I wonder what his resumé looks like.



DCS: david bowie

She love him, she love him but just for a short while

In 1975, I entered high school as a rambunctious, unwieldy fourteen year-old. After rattling the nerves of most of my teachers, I was quickly dismissed and sent to the only class that could keep me under control — art.  The art class to which I was relegated was a senior class. I was the lone freshman. I didn’t know any of my classmates and, frankly, they didn’t want to know me. So, I sat quietly at a desk, happily drawing my silly little pictures and just as happily keeping to myself.

Among the students in the class was a girl named Denise. And Denise was a dead ringer for David Bowie. I mean she looked exactly like David Bowie — flaming red-orange hair, tweezed eyebrows, pronounced cheekbones. She wore a “Bowie” emblazoned T-shirt nearly every day. On the days too cold for a lightweight cotton top, she sported some glittery, sequin-y garment, reminiscent of a Bowie stage get-up and accessorized with a Bowie pin-back button. While she busied herself with her art project du jour, she talked about one subject and one subject only  — David Bowie. Every aspect of every one of her conversations found its way back to the statuesque glam-rocker. His songs, his album titles, his elaborate stage costumes  — every topic had a David Bowie spin. Of course, her artwork consisted of beautifully executed copies of photos of David Bowie from various issues of Circus and Creem magazines, many of which were regularly carried and produced from Denise’s backpack.

In early 1976, Bowie brought his Station to Station Tour to Philadelphia and the months and days leading up to the performance were like Denise’s birthday. She talked about what songs he would play, what costumes he would wear and where she would sit on each night of the two-show stop. She planned her strategy for a rendezvous at his hotel and, perhaps another at the artist’s entrance at the concert venue. Denise was more devoted to Bowie than Peter was to Jesus.

Denise graduated in June 1976 and I never saw her again.

David Bowie passed away this week at the age of 69, after a private battle with cancer. I’m sure, somewhere, Denise is sad.



DCS: miyoshi umeki

Everything in America ends in a kiss.
Born in Japan in 1929, Umeki Miyoshi was the youngest of nine children of the owner of an iron factory. In her 20s, using the stage name “Nancy Umeki,” she recorded a succession of American jazz standards for the RCA Victor Japan label and performed a popular nightclub act. A talent scout saw her act and convinced her to move to New York.

Now using the name Miyoshi Umeki (Japanese tradition has the family name preceding the given name. She reversed her name to the more American form.), she was booked on the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts show and became a series regular for a short time. Her enchanting combination of American pop styling and traditional Kabuki theater caught the eye of director Joshua Logan. Miyoshi was cast in Logan’s big screen version of Sayonara, based on the on the novel by James Michener. Her moving performance earned her an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 1958 (as well as the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for her co-star Red Buttons). She was next cast in the Broadway production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Flower Drum Song, and eventually, the film version. She sang the memorable “A Hundred Million Miracles” and was serenaded by Jack Soo, the future Detective Yemana on TV’s Barney Miller, in the song “Don’t Marry Me.”

Throughout the 1960s, Miyoshi regularly appeared on episodic television, like The Donna Reed Show and Mr. Ed. In 1971, she took on the role for which she is most remembered – the gentle housekeeper “Mrs. Livingston” on The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. After three seasons, the series was canceled and Miyoshi left show business for good. She stayed completely out of public life for 35 years, her name only surfacing when her obituary appeared in newspapers across the country in 2007. While living with her son and grandchildren in Missouri, she succumbed to cancer. Miyoshi was 78 years old.