IF: folklore

freedom freedom freedom freedom

This past weekend celebrated the 50th anniversary of the legendary Woodstock music festival that took place over three days on Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in upstate New York. Thirty-two acts performed at various — sometimes drastically-postponed — set times, filling the days and nights with an eclectic mix of folk, rock and blues. The festival was attended by approximately 400,000 people, although over the course of time, that number has been inflated to unbelievable proportions. Exaggeration surrounding the lore of Woodstock was not limited to the attendance. It seems that many folks — performers and audience members alike — have very different recollections of the event. Recollections that have been embellished considerably as time entered the equation.

Folk singer Richie Havens opened the festival at seven minutes after five on August 15, 1969. He was not originally scheduled to be the first performer, but was recruited when planned opener Sweetwater were stuck in the heavy freeway traffic. With acoustic guitar in hand, the 28-year old singer kicked off his set with “From the Prison,” followed by several covers, including a few familiar Beatles numbers, some of which Richie didn’t know all the words. He was well received by the crowd, capping his performance with an ad-libbed version of “Motherless Child,” that was, coincidentally, tagged as the opening song for Sweetwater when they finally took the stage.

For his entire life, Richie Havens claimed to have performed at Woodstock for three hours. He stood firm on this claim until his death in 2013. In the days before the internet and the fuzzy record-keeping of the Woodstock festival, Richie’s claim was rarely disputed. The time frame and performance length wasn’t addressed in the 1970 Academy Award winning documentary nor on the sprawling three disc soundtrack album.

However in 2019, Rhino Records and producer Andy Zax meticulously compiled a real-time chronological documentation of the entire Woodstock event, including lovingly restored and enhanced recordings and a plethora of stage announcements that eerily transport the listener back to the time and place of the festival. The entire recording was replayed — in its entirety — on Philadelphia radio station WXPN, synchronized to the exact day and time from fifty years earlier. My son, an on-air host and producer at WXPN, worked with other staff members to bring this on-air event to reality — discovering some truths that contradicted folklore along the way. One thing they discovered — almost immediately — was that Richie Havens’ performance lasted a mere fifty minutes, not even close to the marathon three hours that he maintained for his entire career. Perhaps that’s how he remembered the day, but history and fact remember differently.

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IF: politician

we can be heroes just for one day

In the center of a small cemetery in Plattsburg, Missouri, there is a marker on a grave that is inscribed incorrectly. It’s the final resting place for David Atchison, and the marker inaccurately states “President of the United States for One Day –  Sunday, March 4, 1849” David Atchison was a lot of things, however, he was not President of the United States. Not even for a day.

David was appointed to as a senator from Missouri, filling a vacancy left by the death of Senator Lewis Finn. He was the youngest senator from Missouri. He was also an outspoken advocate for slavery. However, he was popular among his fellow senators and was elected “Senate president pro tempore,” presiding over the Senate in the absence of the current Vice President.

Before laws were changed in the 1930s, the line of succession put the Senate president pro tempore third in line for the Office of the President. Also, pre-1930s law called for presidential terms to begin at noon on March 4. In 1849, March 4 fell on a Sunday. Zachary Taylor, the President-Elect, refused to have the inauguration on a Sunday, as he was a religious man. At his insistence, the ceremony was postponed until Monday, March 5. The controversial belief is that, since no official oath of office was recited on the officially determined day, the established line of succession automatically made David Atchinson, the Senate president pro tempore, the President of the United States from noon on March 4 until noon on March 5.

However…

Atchison’s term as a senator also expired at noon on March 4, thereby denying his claim as president. Plus, the presidential oath of office was merely a formality. Zachary Taylor and his administration were installed at noon on Sunday, March 4 whether they liked it or not.

David Atchison went through the rest of his life claiming to have been president for one day in 1849, embellishing the story as the years went on. In later years, he campaigned for expansion of the country with the Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1854, calling on pro-slavery Missourians to uphold slavery by force and “to kill every God-damned abolitionist in Kansas” if necessary. Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner revealed Atchison’s hateful, pro-slavery speech and Atchison was eventually defeated for re-election in 1855. He later served in the Confederate Army until he resigned his commission and retired to his Missouri home. David Atchison passed away in 1866 at the age of 78… still believing that he ran “the honestest administration this country ever had.”

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DCS: leah chase

cook of the house

Leah Chase, the second of thirteen children, helped her family survive the Great Depression by cooking the okra, peas and greens that was grown in the family’s Madisonville, Louisiana garden. Leah and her siblings wore clothes made from rice and flour sacks, while he father worked his meager job at the Jahncke Shipyard. Wishing the children to attend Catholic school, the Chase family left Madisonville for New Orleans.

After high school, Leah worked for local bookies and then as a waitress at The Coffee Pot in the French Quarter (closed in February 2019 after 125 years). She earned one dollar a day as salary. In 1946, twenty-three year old Leah married local jazz trumpeter “Dooky” Chase. Dooky’s family owned a street corner stand in the Treme neighborhood, where they sold po-boy sandwiches and lottery tickets. Leah and Dooky took over the stand, converting it into a proper sit-down restaurant. Leah, a budding chef, changed the menu to reflect the Creole cooking she learned in her youth. She offered dishes previously available in “whites-only” establishments in New Orleans.

In the 1960s, under Leah Chase’s leadership, Dooky Chase’s Restaurant became a meeting place and sanctuary for the civil rights movement. It became became one of the only public places in New Orleans where African Americans could meet and discuss strategies. Leah and her husband would host black voter registration campaign organizers, the NAACP, black political meetings and many other civil leaders at their restaurant, including local civil rights leaders and later Martin Luther King Jr. and the Freedom Riders. Leah provided another service to the African American community. With no banks willing to accept African American customers, Leah would cash checks for patrons they knew.

Dooky Chase’s Restaurant was a staple for New Orleans cuisine for years, welcoming presidents, dignitaries and celebrities. In 2005, however, the restaurant suffered major damage as a result of Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath, the New Orleans restaurant association held a a fundraiser for Dooky Chase’s. A check for $40,000 was presented to a grateful and humbled Leah Chase. The restaurant was re-opened, but for limited hours. Although she was 82, Leah remained active in the restaurant’s kitchen, overseeing the day-to-day operations and happily meeting with customers.

In 2009, Disney used Leah Chase as inspiration for “Tiana,” the main character in the animated film The Princess and the Frog. In a 2012 revival of Tennessee Williams‘ New Orleans set play A Streetcar Named Desire, a reference to a local restaurant was changed to Dooky Chase’s.

Leah passed away on June 1, 2019 at the age of 96. She earned herself the title of “The Queen of Creole Cooking.”

 

 

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DCS: sue bernard

free as a bird

Sue Bernard was the free-spirit daughter of a free-spirit father. Her father, Bruno Bernard, later known as “Bernard of Hollywood,” fled Nazi Germany in 1937, telling Germany authorities he was pursuing a graduate degree in the United States. He left the country with few possessions, but held on to his treasured  Rolleiflex camera. In the United States, Bruno worked with artist Alberto Vargas and developed a style of photography that he called “posed candid.” Using natural light and beach backgrounds, Bruno’s style evolved into what we now call “pin-up.”

In 1947, he photographed a young Norma Jean Baker at the Palm Springs Racquet Club. Norma Jean took the screen name “Marilyn Monroe” and credited Bruno for her early stardom, saying “Remember, Bernie, you started it all” His provocative photos eventual led to pornography charges in 1950. The case, however, was dropped after a glowing defense from General Dwight Eisenhower, who told how Bruno’s photos were morale builders for his troops.

In early 1966, Mario Casilli, a protege of Bruno’s, photographed Bruno’s daughter Sue for Playboy magazine, just prior to her eighteenth birthday. Sue Bernard is acknowledged as the first Jewish Playmate in the publication’s history. She noted in an interview that she had never been nude in front of anyone besides her mother… and, for some reason, they posed her, topless, in front of a Christmas tree.

Sue took a shot at a career in acting, appearing in sexploitation king Russ Meyer’s notorious Faster Pussycat! Kill! Kill! and later, opting for a tamer role in the TV soap opera General Hospital. She was also an accomplished writer, authoring six books, including several that kept the legacy of her father’s photography alive.

In 1974, 26 year-old Sue married actor Jason Miller. She gave birth to future actor/writer Joshua John Miller, before divorcing in 1983. She was also step-mother to actor Jason Patric.

Sue passed away in June 2019 of an apparent heart attack. She was 71 years old.

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IF: mysterious

how sad how lovely how mysterious

In the early 1950s, years before the world became aware of Bob Dylan or Joni Mitchell, Connie Converse wrote and performed songs for her friends at parties around the blossoming “bohemian” scene of Greenwich Village. Her delicate, poetic lyrics, her plaintive voice and her simple acoustic guitar accompaniment gave birth to the “singer-songwriter” genre before it had a proper name. A friend of Connie’s arranged for an appearance on a CBS morning news show in 1954. It would be her only public performance. The same friend, comic artist Gene Deitch, had the foresight to record Connie singing her songs in his kitchen.

Connie worked in a regular job, at an off-set printing company, while she tried and tried to get noticed for her songs. She was unsuccessful and eventually moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan to be near her brother. She took a secretarial position and sank deeper and deeper into depression, Now approaching 50, her musical career going nowhere, Connie packed up her few belongings into her Volkswagen Beetle, wrote out several “goodbye” letters for family and drove off. She was never heard from again.

Gene Deitch appeared on a radio show in 2004, where he touted Connie Converse and played some of the songs he recorded. After a bit of negotiation, How Sad How Lovely, an 18 track collection of Connie’s songs was released on vinyl in 2015.

 

 

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DCS: frank meza

doctor, doctor, give me the news

Established in 1986, the LA Marathon is one of the largest and well-attended running events in the country. The course, which starts at Dodger Stadium and ends on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica 26 miles away, welcomes more than 25,000 participants. One of the participants in the 2019 LA Marathon was Frank Meza, a 70 year-old retired doctor who began running marathons in his 60s.

On March 8, 2019, a little before 7 AM, Frank took off from the parking lot of the famed West Coast stadium along with thousands of other runners of all ages. 2 hours, 53 minutes and 10 seconds later, Frank crossed the shoreline finish line, setting a new record for men in his age category. He was showered with accolades.

But judges were suspicious. The time — just under three hours — was astounding. A panel reviewed video taken of the course, along with testimony from eyewitnesses who said they saw Frank leave the course and re-enter at a different point. They determined that Frank’s time during one leg of the course was “impossible.” In the past, Frank was caught cheating — twice — in the Sacramento Marathon under similar circumstances. Frank had been disqualified and banned from ever entering the Sacramento Marathon. The LA Marathon Review Board came to a fairly easy decision.

On July 2, 2019, officials for the LA Marathon stripped Frank of his first place win. Frank claimed he was looking for a rest room when he left the course. Officials weren’t convinced and awarded the title to Dan Adams, the second place finisher in the 70 – 74 age group. Dan had finished the race in just over 4 hours.

Maintaining his dedication, Frank went for a run on Thursday morning, July 4, 2019. At around 10 AM, Frank’s body was found face down in shallow water in the Los Angeles River. Several bicyclists and passers-by reported seeing someone jump from a bridge. An investigation determined that the cause of death was suicide, as Frank’s head displayed signs of blunt force trauma. He was 70 years old.

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DCS: arte johnson

very interesting

Arte Johnson was in a lot. Sure, you remember him peeking through the ferns at the end of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, offering a corny pun in an affected German accent. Or as the doddering old Tyrone, attempting to make a move on the uptight Gladys Ormphby, as played by Ruth Buzzi, only to get whacked by her purse. Or maybe as the out-of-place soft-spoken holy man of indeterminate ethnicity at the psychedelic cocktail party.

But prior to his six-year stint on Laugh-In, Arte amassed a resume that included guest roles on numerous sitcoms throughout the 60s and 70s. Including McHale’s Navy, The Partridge Family, The Andy Griffith Show, Bewitched, The Donna Reed Show and even The jack Benny Show. Of course, he was featured in lesser-known programs like  It’s Always Jan, Sally, Hennesey and Bringing Up Buddy. He also lent his voice to a number of animated cartoons like Scooby Doo, The Smurfs, Ducktales, Animaniacs, Top Cat and an animated version of his “Tyrone” character from Laugh-In.

In 1997, Arte was diagnosed with and successfully treated for non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He passed away in July 2019 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer. Arte was 90 years old.

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DCS: denise nickerson

I have a blueberry for a daughter

Denise Nickerson was best remembered for her iconic role as “Violet Beauregard,” the gum-snapping daughter of a pushy used car salesman in the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Fresh from her multi-character casting on the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, Denise’s popularity was given a huge boost as a result of her appearance the candy-swirled fantasy. She landed a role on the PBS children’s series The Electric Company, as well as bigger pars in feature films like the Michael Ritchie satire Smile and the cult action film Zero to Sixty. She also appeared in a final season episode of The Brady Bunch as one of two dates Peter arranged for the same night. Denise was one of a group of actresses that auditioned unsuccessfully for the role of demon-possessed “Regan MacNeil” in The Exorcist, along with Brooke Shields, Melanie Griffith, Anissa Jones, Kim Basinger, Jaime Lee Curtis and April Winchell. At twenty-one, Denise decided to leave show business and pursue a career in nursing. She still managed to make appearances at fan conventions and at a Willy Wonka reunion on The Today Show in 2015.

In 2018, Denise suffered a debilitating stroke. After a hospital stay, she moved in with her son and daughter-in-law who would take care of her. In July 2019, Denise ingested a large amount of her prescribed medication while her son and daughter-in-law were out. She was found unresponsive when they returned home and Denise was taken to the hospital. She fell into a coma and, with a DNR order in place, was taken off of life support. She passed away on July 10 at the age of 62.

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