Category Archives: Memoirs

Bob Dylan, Rejected

bob_dylan_-_bob_dylanIt was a Sunday afternoon at a University of Virginia fraternity house located in a cluster of frat houses that overlooked an intramural field depression known as “Mad Bowl” when I met Bob Dylan and witnessed him rejected as a folk singer and song writer.

The year was 1961, and Dylan had been brought to the fraternity house by folk singer, folklorist, and mentor Paul Clayton who had friends there. Clayton was a UVA grad with a master’s degree in folklore. Since the mid-1950s, Clayton had traveled the Southern Appalachian Highlands in search of traditional folksongs that were in danger of extinction. As a scholar and archivist, he recorded these treasures on site and then sang many of them himself on 21 albums released between 1954 and 1965. In folk music circles from New York City to Los Angeles, Paul Clayton was a prominent figure in the folk music revival of the 1950s and 1960s.

paul-claytonClayton’s purpose on that Sunday afternoon was to have newcomer Bob Dylan and recorded folk singer Carolyn Hester sing a few songs as a measure of their live performance abilities. It was easy to pull the frat boys away from the ball game on television once they got an introduction to Carolyn Hester. She was 24 years old at the time and Hollywood gorgeous. Hester had already released two albums and was being compared to folk music star Joan Baez. Clayton was helping her with her live performance guitar playing, which was weak at the time. Hester stood against the living room wall and performed two unremembered songs. Her singing was strong and beautiful, but she missed some chords in the accompaniment.

Clayton then encouraged the shy, downcast, tousle headed, disheveled 20-year-old Bob Dylan to uncase his guitar and sing a couple of his original songs. Perhaps in over 50 years of retrospect it is wishful thinking, but I swear that one of the songs that he performed was “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  Although Dylan would become “the voice of his generation,” his singing voice has been described as, “raw, seemingly untrained, and frankly a nasal voice” by Joyce Carol Oates among others. Dylan was also accused of imitating Woody Guthrie’s earthy vocal mannerisms which were also termed “iconoclastic baying.”

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Mad Bowl, UVA

The frat boys that Sunday found Dylan’s singing to be both incomprehensible and downright irritating.  Someone turned the television set back on to the ball game, and there were insincere smiles and gestures that communicated to the performers that their leave taking was in order. Clayton’s fraternity friend made an awkward apology as the three folk singers exited the scene of their embarrassment.

Soon after the fraternity house debacle, Carolyn Hestercarolyn-hester invited Bob Dylan to play harmonica on sessions for her third album at Columbia Records.  At a rehearsal session, Dylan met celebrated record producer John Hammond who signed him to a recording contract. Dylan’s first album on Columbia Records was released on March 19, 1962. The album made a great impression in the folk music community, but it was not commercially successful.

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Dylan’s second album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released in May 1963, however, featured “Blowin’ in the Wind” as its first cut. If Dylan could not make his songs famous, then cover groups like Peter, Paul and Mary, The Byrds, Sonny and Cher, The Hollies, and many others could. The Beatles themselves reported listening to the Freewheelin’ album until they wore it out.

Since being rejected by the UVA frat boys in 1961, Bob Dylan has sold more than 100 million records. No songwriter, past or present, has received so many awards and honors.  A partial list includes The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1991), The Kennedy Center Honor (1997), an Academy Award Oscar for Best Song (2001), the Pulitzer Prize (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2012), and the Nobel Prize for Literature (2016).

There are perhaps a dozen men now into their 70s who may remember Bob Dylan from their fraternity house encounter in 1961. Fortunately, their rejection of the young artist did not kill his creative spirit. What if they had encouraged him? No telling to what heights he might have risen then.

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Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 2 – Mili and Heidi

img_0496    It took a full year of mourning before Pat and I could consider another dog. Again we looked to the Watauga Humane Society shelter for an adoption. Pat made the heart connection to a small Pekingese-type female who had a distinctive under bite. As we processed the adoption, the shelter manager informed us that our new dog had been diagnosed with third-stage heartworms. Our adoption would require us to see the little princess through a risky two-stage treatment to kill the heartworms. We were warned that some dogs do not survive the treatment, which necessitated two extended periods of guarded non-activity. We accepted the responsibility and named our new family member Mili after a close veterinary doctor friend who had helped us care for Angel.

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Mili

Mili came through the heartworm treatment, and her personality emerged as a feisty little girl who was not easily affectionate. She nevertheless became Pat’s shadow as if she recognized the person who had chosen to save her. Mili regained her strength, energy, and endurance and became Pat’s companion on five-mile hikes from Bass Lake to the Moses Cone Manor on the Blue Ridge Parkway near Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Our long-haired friend was never a lap dog. She rather had an almost cat-like posture of independence. Mili soon settled into our household routine as Pat and I worked the literary life from our home office. None of us expected the arrival of a second dog.

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I was sitting on the bench rocker across from Angel’s shrine when a medium-size, tan, short hair female hound-like dog came down our street and shyly entered our front yard. I spoke a greeting to her, and she approached and then jumped up on the bench beside me. I reached out to pet her, and she put her head onto my lap. That was the scene that Pat witnessed when she pulled into our semi-circular front driveway. We both had questions concerning our collarless visitor who demonstrated a sweet, affectionate disposition. We fed and watered her, but we would not take her into the house for fear of Mili’s reaction. Then with night coming, I retrieved a large travel kennel from storage and fitted it with blankets to warm the dog against an early spring chill. The kennel was placed outside our front door on a covered porch.

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Heidi on a mountain hike

The next day, Pat began to search for the strayed dog’s owner. She did all the responsible things including posted and email notices, and “lost dog” newspaper ads, with no results. Pat then advised me that the dog’s teats indicated that she was pregnant or that she had recently had puppies. Her pregnancy was later confirmed when we took her for a vet examination. As the weeks passed, we were drifting into the “strayed and stayed” dog care category. When a freeze warning was issued for our area, we decided to bring the new dog, whom we had identified as a mountain feist breed, off the porch and into the house.

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Heidi and her litter of pups

The critical moment arrived as Mili confronted the new arrival. Mili may have smelled the vulnerability of the pregnant visitor whose size was not overwhelming and allowed the intrusion. Thus a new dog bed was provided for the stray that stayed, and she was named Heidi. Within a few weeks, Heidi birthed five puppies in our living room, with Mili in curious attendance. When the puppies were mature, they went for quick adoption at the Humane Society, but Heidi was too closely involved with us to go with them.

Mili and Heidi were frequent visitors to the Humane Society’s Arko Dog Park. Heidi was very social and ran free with the other dogs. Mili stayed close to Pat and could even dissuade a Great Dane who wanted to sniff her. Mili and Heidi were a pair of odd step-sisters.heidi-and-mili-2

The first time Heidi was taken on a hike, it was apparent that she had not been trained on a leash. She proved to be, however, a lovable companion who liked to be covered with a blanket when on the sofa or in her bed. No one could approach the house without Heidi sounding the alert. Mili would join the outcry, but Heidi got credit for being the major watchdog.

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Mili had been with us eleven years when she was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Our dearest friend, Tennessee veterinarian Mildred Bass, monitored the surgery progress and the subsequent holistic treatment, but our little feisty friend could not beat the cancer. Brave and remarkably active, she survived seven months longer than the surgeon’s most optimistic expectations. Pat’s constant care and Mili Bass’s recommended herbal medications, we feel, extended her life, and when she passed, it was mercifully only after a few hours of distress on her final day following her visit to the dog park. For weeks after, Heidi searched the house for Mili every time that Pat and I called her to go out.

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There is the possibility that we will outlive Heidi and that her loss will be another mournful event. Her cremated remains will be added to those of Angel and Mili on our property, and we will miss her. The emptiness of the house, however, will lead us back to the Humane Society shelter to find another dog companion. There are both responsibility and cost involved in living with a dog, but even as septuagenarians, we want to share our home with a four-legged friend.

 

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Dogs – Life’s Companions – Part 1 – Angel

Angel in the Driveway We never own our dogs. We only reside with them by ancient covenants that bond us. Life is defined by events that include both joy and pain. All human emotions apply in our close relationships with our dogs. It is thus appropriate that we honor these special friends as we would our beloved human family members with stories, photos, monuments, and sincere reflections of gratitude.

Pat and I have already had three canine companions in our married life, and they have been as dear to us as our own three daughters. A super intelligent Border collie came to us as an overnight guest after she had been spayed by the Watauga County (North Carolina) Humane Society. Pat, a member of the board at that time, and I were delivering blankets and needful supplies to the animal shelter when a member, who had just returned from the vet with a small black dog just out of surgery, approached us. She said that she did not want to return the still groggy female to the kennels and begged us to take her home for overnight care.Angel on sofa

We were then living in a rented condo that specified no pets, but we thought that we might get away with a one-night stay. We tried to bed the little dog down in a bathroom with a barrier at the door, but the dog jumped over it, and her incision site began to bleed. As a former Army veteran with medic training, I took the dog onto my lap to bandage her. She was so patient and trusting that we were amazed, and Pat remarked that she was an angel. That night we realized we were hooked, and that we must adopt her, so we arranged with our landlord to keep her at an added deposit fee. Her name was self-evident. She was Angel.

Angel and MontyAngel was seldom on a leash, and she went to work with us every day. At that time we had a retail store with an upstairs office, so Angel was both our home and office dog. Angel loved to leap into my lap as soon as I sat in my easy chair at home. She could be trusted to be let out to do her necessary business, never crossing the street or wandering off.

Angel was a wonderful hiking companion on the Blue Ridge Parkway trails. She kept us in sight and never got into trouble when presented with other dogs. In a high mountain meadow she delighted us as she raced in a zigzag pattern as if to raise quail or sheep from the high grass. For fourteen years she was our constant, ever faithful, ever loving companion. Her disposition was always playful and affectionate, and she was obviously the smartest dog we had ever known.

Angel gazing

The last months of Angel’s life, however, were challenging as she struggled with cancer. Her passing was mourned as that of a beloved family member. To memorialize her, we erected a wooden black silhouette of her wearing her collar and tags at the foot of a granite gravestone engraved with her name. The shrine site sits in a front-yard garden across from a two-person rocking chair bench. In this way, we daily honor and remember a wonderful friend who happened to be a Border collie.

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Carl Sandburg and My First Poem

Carl Sandburg portrait

Carl Sandburg portrait by William Smith, 1959

I had no idea who Carl Sandburg was when my distant and pretty cousin led the way on horseback from the stables along a mountain trail to Connemara, a goat dairy farm in Flat Rock, North Carolina. My father had brought our family to nearby Hendersonville to visit a favorite cousin who owned a restored antebellum restaurant and inn. We ate supreme southern cooking in the historic restaurant but stayed overnight in the cousin’s home. Their sophisticated daughter was put in charge of showing me the sights. We matched ages at fifteen.

Connemara home

Connemara

The horse trail emerged a distance from the goat pens and the dairy barn to the back of the owner’s residence. There was a low picket fence to keep out the goats. Mrs. Sandburg was a celebrated goat breeder, and she operated this premiere goat dairy farm from 1935 until her husband’s death in 1967.

Goats at Connemara

Goats at Connemara

My cousin halted her horse at the low fence and addressed an elderly man who was sitting in a high-backed chair on the long wooden porch. He had a stack of magazines at his feet, and he put down a copy of Look Magazine when she spoke to him. It was clear to me that he recognized her as a neighbor child, and I was introduced as a visiting cousin. Mr. Sandburg’s face was angular and his frame had the narrowness of hard labor. His shock of parted white hair seemed somehow biblical to me. Maybe the Old Testament Moses looked like him.

We were not offered to dismount, so the conversation was brief, and it ended when Mr. Sandburg said something like, “I guess you best be going,” and the Look Magazine was brought up to cover his face. In 1956, as young teenagers, we were not offended as we turned our horses and rode away.

Later in high school, I was taught about Carl Sandburg and read a few of his poems and excerpts from his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Abraham Lincoln: The War Years. He also won two additional Pulitzers for his poetry. Much later in my life, while doing post-graduate literary work in Sweden, I became aware that Mr. Sandburg was the son of Swedish immigrants to the United States.

Carl Sandburg bw National Park Service

Carl Sandburg

When I met Carl Sandburg, I was saying that I intended to become a medical doctor, and that intention continued as I entered the University of Virginia. But my ambitions changed, and I became a writer of novels, biographies, and poems that include the libretto for a classical music oratorio.

At some mature reflective moment, I realized that I had composed my first poem on the day after meeting Carl Sandburg. I had no literary goals at age fifteen; and being unaware of Mr. Sandburg’s greatness, I could claim no porch-front benediction from him. Nevertheless, I wrote an honest expression of the heart with no anticipation of writing hundreds more.

Many years later, I brought my wife Pat to Flat Rock and took the National Park Service tour of the Sandburg home and grounds. In the attic of the house was Mr. Sandburg’s reading retreat, and there was a straight-back chair amid piles of Look and Life magazines. Outside the house, I took the opportunity to stand at the back porch and recite my first poem to Pat. It is still the only poem of mine that I can recite spontaneously from memory. So wherever you are, my sweet and endearing cousin, thank you for that horse ride into poetry.

Connemara lake with Sandburg photo

Carl Sandburg’s home

        AFTER AN ACQUAINTANCE

                          by Monty Joynes

 You meet and then you part.

 An empty feeling grips your heart.

You’re sure a friendship

Could have grown,

If time had ceased and

You had known

A love so true could

Make you cry.

But a bit of your heart

Did die

After an acquaintance.

 

 

 

 

 

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N. Scott Momaday: Native American Arts Champion

House made of dawn cover no picScott Momaday is credited with leading the way for a breakthrough in Native American literature when his novel, House Made of Dawn, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1969. Scott, who had a high level academic career, was also a poet and playwright. His participation in the second year of the Playwrights’ Project was then considered a literary coup. I was delighted to have the opportunity to meet Scott over a period of a week where I sat as an observer to the dramatists’ creative process. Little could I have anticipated that I would later hold Scott Momaday as a three-hour conversational captive in my car.

Edith Crutcher with Monty at the Playwrights Project

Edith Crutcher with Monty at the Playwrights Project

I was introduced to N. Scott Momaday in 2000 by Edith Colvard Crutcher, a distinguished North Carolina Cherokee elder who had a significant role in preserving American Indian culture as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Department of the Interior’s Indian Arts and Crafts Board. Edie had read and admired the first three novels in my Booker Series that deal with the metaphysics and social issues of contemporary American Indians, and she was very generous in inviting me to participate in the first sessions of The Playwrights’ Project.

Healing SpringAlthough I was the 1986 founding president of the Blowing Rock Stage Company, an award-winning Equity professional summer stock theatre that produced five shows each season, I had no playwright credits to become a writer or actor at the Playwrights’ Project. That first session, March 14-21, 1999, my wife Pat and I drove from Boone, NC beyond West Jefferson to the remote rural location of Healing Spring where the invited writers and actors worked in a country school being restored as a theatrical center. Pat and I brought small gifts and acted as an unofficial welcoming committee.  We also sat in on the sessions where individual playwrights presented the most recent rewrites of a scene, and actors performed dramatic table readings.  Then Artistic Director, M.Z. Ribalow, a playwright himself, led a critical discussion of what had just been presented.

I admit to a persistent flaw in my manners. Despite my lack of rank or authority, I cannot keep quiet when I feel that an obvious point needs to be articulated. I have thus offered my unsolicited opinions to First Sergeants, Lieutenants, Captains, and even a Major when I was in the Army, and to Generals, Admirals, and Ambassadors when I was a lowly staff civilian. My faux pas at the Playwrights’ Project was to offer comments from my sidewall guest observation chair to the playwrights and actors at the conference table.  Meir Ribalow justifiably did not appreciate my remarks made from the peanut gallery, and thereafter I perceived his scowl whenever I approached. Nevertheless, I admired his talent and dedication to the creative process that lasted until his untimely death.

Momaday receiving the National Medal of Arts

Momaday receiving the National Medal of Arts

In the first ten years of operations, the Playwrights’ Project, also recognized as New River Dramatists, fostered 345 plays under the direction of Founder and Executive Director Mark Woods. In 2007, Scott Momaday received our country’s highest cultural award, the National Medal of Arts. Other playwrights in the program won a National Book Award and the August Wilson Prize. Perhaps half of the plays workshopped at Healing Spring saw production in New York City and elsewhere.

When Pat and I met Scott Momaday, he was a giant of a man at age 66.

Monty and Pat with Scott Momaday at the Playwrights Project in Ashe County

Monty and Pat with Scott Momaday at the Playwrights Project in Ashe County

Wearing a high crowned western hat, he seemed a head taller that I was. In the sessions where actors dramatized scenes from his play-in-progress, he responded to all suggestions generously, and he was obviously one of the group’s favorite participants. At breaks and at the mid-day meal catered by country ladies from their nearby home kitchens, Scott was always available for conversations. He also cooperated with anyone, like us, who wanted to be photographed with him.

In a two-week playwrights workshop Pat and I would commute and maybe spend three to four days on site. We were fortunately there when Scott needed transportation to the Charlotte airport.  Although it would be at least a three-hour detour for us, we readily volunteered. Scott carried a two-inch stack of airline tickets that he shuffled to find the flight to his next appearance on a long itinerary. He noted that he did not enjoy the travel, and that he would be happy when he could return to his mountain home in Jemez Springs, New Mexico.

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Pat drove our Dodge Caravan while Scott sat in the rear seat catercorner from me in the front passenger seat. As a former journalist, I had to avoid the temptation to interview the Pulitzer Prize author on Native American subjects that interested me, but then, too, I was not going to stay silent and miss the opportunity to engage him. I was then working on a long novel, Eagle Feathers In Glass, that was inspired by Lloyd Kiva New, a mutual friend of ours. Maybe that conversation about the Institute of American Indian Arts that had been founded by Lloyd occupied an hour or so. At some point on the journey to the airport, Scott and I found our most common ground: our passion for cooking soups. He described his Southwestern ingredient soups, and I told him my recipe and methods for creating an authentic Louisiana Cajun Chicken-Sausage-Okra Gumbo.  Scott then suggested that the most productive use of our next-time meeting would be in a kitchen for a soup and gumbo cook-off. Perhaps he hoped that I might talk less while preparing a gumbo.

When we left Scott at the airport terminal, Pat admonished me for talking non-stop. “Maybe Scott would have enjoyed a nap,” she chided. “I already apologized to him,” I said. “He can nap on the flight.” “Mark Woods will probably never ask us to take anybody to the airport again,” Pat added.

“I can’t help myself,” I confessed. “I would have done the same on a train ride with Mark Twain. If you don’t engage great men and women when you get the opportunity, you will regret that silence for the rest of your life.”

Since I was only 59 years old when I met Scott Momaday, I trust that he will forgive my behavior as a youthful excess of enthusiasm.

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Super Night at the Super Bowl

Joe Namath

Joe Namath

The National Football League’s Super Bowl is the most famous annual event in the United States.  Forget the game itself. If you were not a player, coach, or owner, it is the party that you will remember most if you were there.  Mostly, it’s the rich and the famous who enjoy the prime events outside the stadium, but during Super Bowl XII, I know somebody from the working class who can relate the inside story of its glamour and excitement.

In January 1978 my beautiful future wife Pat was the Administrative

New Orleans Hilton in the late 70s

New Orleans Hilton in the late 70s

Assistant to the General Manager of the New Orleans Hilton, and she personally handled arrangements for VIPs who visited the hotel.  Barron Hilton, the head of the Hilton Hotels chain, was famous for hosting Super Bowl parties in the game host cities.  For Pat and her New Orleans Hilton colleagues, it was a particularly exciting time to host their boss and his friends, and she stayed extremely busy seeing to the details of their transportation and accommodation needs.  Her rewards for a job well done were an invitation to attend Barron Hilton’s private dinner party in the Hilton Ballroom and to be given tickets to that night’s CBS live televised entertainment gala “Super Night at the Super Bowl” at the New Orleans Theatre of Performing Arts.

John Denver

John Denver

Pat’s seats for the “Super Night at the Super Bowl” television special were first-row mezzanine with just about five seats in her row.  Much to her surprise, when the lights dimmed, she saw John Denver and his entourage of four men enter the mezzanine as they walked past her and sat two rows behind.  For some reason the small row of seats behind her was empty, so she knew that Denver was sitting directly behind her.  She has always been, and still is, an avid John Denver fan, and so it took a great deal of restraint to concentrate on the show instead of her music idol.

Andy Williams album coverThe gala show hosts were Joe Namath, Andy Williams, and Paul Williams.  More than a dozen guest stars appearing on the program included Peter Falk, Pete Fountain, Vicki Lawrence, Henry Mancini, and comedians Foster Brooks, Norm Crosby, Minnie Pearl, Mel Tillis and Stiller & Meara.  It was a great show with appeal to the widest possible television audience.

The program from Super Night at the Super Bowl  1978

The program from Super Night at the Super Bowl 1978

Barron Hilton’s guest list for his after-show Super Bowl party included celebrities from movies, television, and sports, and so there was a gaggle of press photographers and onlookers at the entrance to the Hilton Ballroom to capture their entrances.  That night Pat had her blonde hair done up in great style, and she was wearing a silver fox evening jacket over a long formal dress.  I will mention here that after becoming an advocate for animal rights, she now refuses to wear it.  But that night when the photographers saw her approach, and people in the corridor began applauding, they immediately assumed that such a beautiful woman had to be a movie star, and they rushed her as if she had been Elizabeth Taylor.  It was a memorable moment for a working class gal.

Monty and Pat a few years later in 1983

Monty and Pat a few years later in 1983

Inside the ballroom, Pat and her escort sat at a reserved table that had a real NFL football ornamented as a centerpiece along with Denver Bronco favors.  Before the evening was over, a man representing John Denver, who sat at a nearby table, told her that the star would like to have her table’s centerpiece.  A bit flustered, Pat assented only to regret later that she had not insisted on personally delivering the football to Denver.  He and his entourage soon departed the party. That same night Billy Carter, brother to President Jimmy Carter, autographed a can of Billy Beer for Pat.  She still has it for the little that it is now worth.Billy Beer

The next day the actual Super Bowl game was played in the Louisiana Superdome.  The Dallas Cowboys defeated the Denver Broncos by the score of 27 to 10.  Pat didn’t see the game; she was too busy at the hotel serving the needs of the VIPs.

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The JFK Assassination: An American View from Europe

               Our country had seemed to go insane, and we were helpless bystanders disconnected by the width of an ocean.

Front pages of 7 British daily newspapers in London.  AP Photo/File

Front pages of 7 British daily newspapers in London. AP Photo/File

In September of 1963, Bob Friedman and I were newly graduated from the University of Virginia and, after a ten-day cruise on a German coal freighter, began hitchhiking our way across Europe as young writers who had read Ernest Hemingway and Henry Miller were expected to do. We had landed in Amsterdam, detoured to Denmark and Sweden, then crossed back into Germany, and spent our prerequisite time in Paris. The next objective was to cross the English Channel and stay some days in London. By the 20th, we had installed ourselves at the London YMCA.  Bob remembers that carved into the wall of that YMCA were the words, “Fear is the Beginning of Wisdom.”

While in Copenhagen Bob and I had met an Englishman of our own age, and we were invited to visit him at his parents’ home in Reading and at his workplace gentlemen’s residence club in Virginia Water, a small town near historic Windsor Castle. Kurt was a nurse at Holloway Sanatorium, a palatial hospital for the insane established in 1885. The Virginia Water Railway Station was on the London to Reading line and only 22 miles from London’s Charing Cross Station.

Virginia Water Railway Station

Virginia Water Railway Station

On the late afternoon of November 22nd, Bob and I took the train from London to Virginia Water to be the dinner guests at Kurt’s residence club. We had been to the club once before as it was our hub for exploring the historic sites and dance clubs in Windsor. We arrived at the door of the residence around 7 p.m. We rang the front door bell, and unexpectedly, we were met by the housekeeper who was usually not seen in the evening.

The middle-aged woman housekeeper appeared to us as someone sadly shaken. “I am so sorry,” she said sincerely. We were confused. What was she sorry about? Then her eyes widened in horror, and she asked, “You don’t know, do you?”  Before we could respond, she left us standing there outside the door. Her rapid departure surprised us as an unusual breach of English etiquette.

JFK in Dallas

JFK in Dallas

Kurt soon appeared with an apology that went far beyond the greeting faux pas. “I am so sorry,” he began. “Please come in. We are all gathered in the game room watching the television. Your President has been shot.”

There was no hot meal served that night in the residence club. Sandwich fare was available, but the focus was on the television news updates and on alcoholic drinks to calm a world turned upside down.  John F. Kennedy, our President, was shot in Dallas, Texas about 12:30 Central Time. In England, the first terrible news flash arrived after 6:30 p.m. London time. Bob and I stayed late with our consoling English friends, and then we walked back to the train station.

On the return trip to London, we wept for the first time in an otherwise empty compartment. The tears had no political or relationship bias. What we felt or imagined about JFK was not as heart stabbing as the isolation that we experienced as Americans abroad. Our country had seemed to go insane, and we were helpless bystanders disconnected by the width of an ocean.

Coming out of Charing Cross Station well before dawn, we encountered newsboys already hawking special-edition newspapers that headlined the Kennedy assassination. We bought a paper, but there were no further revelations in it.

The next day, we took the train to Dover and were going to cross into France. We went into an almost empty pub to wait an hour or two for the ferry.  There were only two Englishmen seated there, and they turned to look at us as we entered and took a table.  In those days, it seemed that everyone in Europe could tell we were Americans simply by the clothes we wore.  As we waited for the half-pints to arrive, one of the Englishmen, in a heavy cockney accent, said (not to us, as his back was turned, but just to the room), “’e was a bloody Christian martyr, ’e was.”

JFK lies in repose

Everywhere we traveled, European flags were at half-mast. And everywhere that we were recognized as Americans, strangers in varying degrees of English expressed sympathy to us as if JFK had been a close family member. By the time we returned to Copenhagen, the state funeral for our dead President was in progress, and Lee Harvey Oswald had been shot dead while in police custody.  We saw the massive television coverage of these events years later in replay. As students abroad, we knew only what was reported in the thin expatriate newspaper, The Herald Tribune.

JFK caissons

Bob remained in Copenhagen and found a room at one of the student dormitories at the university there.  He remembers that the Danish students were glued to the television for days, watching the news about the assassination, the Oswald murder, and the investigations that followed.  It appeared to him that the Danish people loved Kennedy and felt in some way that he was going to be the savior in a world deeply divided by a bitter cold war.  They were devastated that he was gone.

I migrated to Stockholm but got involved with painters and filmmakers on projects that did not qualify me for my graduate student draft deferment.  By October 1964, I was drafted into the U.S. Army and participated in President Johnson’s massive commitment of troops to the Viet Nam War.  Earlier in 1964, Bob had gone back to graduate school to pursue an M.F.A. and later became a publisher and published six of my books. We have remained close friends for over 50 years, and our sons and daughters think of us as brothers. I am “Uncle Monty” to Bob’s children.  I guess we’ll always remember being together, in a foreign land, on that momentous day in American history.

Bob and Monty many years later.

Bob and Monty many years later.

Monty (l) and Bob present a copy of New Writing from Virginia to UVA President Edgar Shannon in 1963 prior to sailing for Europe.

Monty (l) and Bob present a copy of New Writing from Virginia to UVA President Edgar Shannon in 1963 prior to sailing for Europe.

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Mel Tormé: Best Male Jazz Vocalist

Mel Torme first photoI was already a Mel Tormé fan when I began to go to New York City in the falls of the mid-1970s to solicit national print ads for Metro Hampton Roads Magazine from major advertising agencies. My boss, George Crump, installed me a week at a time at his favorite NYC hotel, the elegant St. Regis, with a prestigious signature account. Imagine my delight when I discovered that Mel Tormé unofficially opened New York’s fall cabaret season with a show in the Maisonette, the hotel’s nightclub.

With a magazine journalist’s panache I was never reluctant to stick my nose into things like celebrity rehearsals, and thus I bumped into Mel Tormé and engaged him in conversation. At age 49, without makeup, hairpiece, and perhaps a girdle, Mel resembled a middle-aged traveling salesman more than he did a musical prodigy and dynamic entertainer.

Normally, Mel explained, the club area was off limits to visitors during rehearsals, but for whatever reason, he made an exception for me although I was making sales calls out of the hotel for most of the day.

St. Regis Hotel

If you don’t know the genius of Mel Tormé, you should be advised that the Velvet Fog voice was one of the greatest musicians, singers, songwriters, and arrangers of his generation.  His hit records and recognitions included the Down Beat Award for Best Male Jazz Singer (1976), and two Grammy Awards for Best Male Vocalist (1983) and Best Male Jazz Vocalist (1984). You will certainly recognize Mel for writing the music to The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire) that was first made a hit by Nat King Cole.

Mel Torme with Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson

Mel Torme with Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson

Mel knew and learned from legendary drummers Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa, so when he steps away from the piano to do a drum set, you will be awed.  During the 1979 Chicago Jazz Festival, Mel played drums with Benny Goodman on the classic Sing, Sing, Sing. Who would have dared if he didn’t have the chops?

For Mel’s 1974 opening night at the Maisonette, I used the status of my St. Regis signature account to reserve a front-row table in the hotel showroom. My then-wife flew into New York from Norfolk, Virginia for the weekend, and I also invited another couple to join us.  I was recruiting the husband to be our magazine’s sales manager, and if my acquaintanceship with Mel Tormé didn’t impress him, nothing would. Also, I had a better table than many of the show business celebrities in the room.

The album Mel Tormé: Live At The Maisonette resulted from that September show, and it includes a medley of 17 George Gershwin songs that runs for more than 15 minutes. Mel’s arrangements and performance that night earned him a standing ovation.  He also did a fabulous drum set, and I also believe that he even played a trumpet solo! He was called back to the stage for two or three encores, and in one pass by our table, Mel leaned in and gave a long stem rose to my wife from those that had just been presented to him. Wow, Mel!  What had I done to deserve that!

Mel had invited me to visit the Maisonette off-stage Green Room after the show, so I left my wife and guests briefly to pay respects to one of the greatest examples of talent and showmanship that I had ever witnessed. The Green Room was crowded with Mel’s friends that included songwriter Burt Bacharach, comedian Henny Youngman, and television star Morey Amsterdam among others.

Then I witnessed a very shocking thing. The great Mel Tormé, drenched in sweat and fresh from repeated standing ovations, was yet pleading for our approbations. Did we really love the show? Did the Gershwin medley work?  When he shook my hand, I wanted to shout to him, “Mel. Relax! Tonight you are the king of the world.” But instead, I said something like “wonderful” and “incredible” and withdrew from the unexpected scene. Is it perfection that drives entertainers to self-doubt even in the hour of their greatest triumph?

Mel Torme Mel Torme open photoThe next time that I saw Mel Tormé was in Las Vegas at the Sands Hotel showroom. It was a year or so later, and Mel was opening for Rich Little, a comedic impressionist at the height of his fame. I happened to be staying at the Sands, and so I ran into Mel and his family at the huge central courtyard pool. I didn’t want to intrude on his privacy, so the greeting was brief with my mention of his kindnesses to me at the St. Regis.

Sammy Davis, Jr., one of Frank Sinatra’s Rat Pack, once allowed Mel Tormé to open for his Las Vegas act, but he soon discovered that Mel’s show was too hard to follow. The audience was totally spent by the time Sammy got on stage.  Anyway, that was the story told to me by a Vegas gambler.

From his first published song at the age of 16—“Lament to Love”—that became a hit recording for bandleader Harry James, Mel Tormé proved to be one of the top musical talents of his generation. And like the character Judge Harry Stone on the 1980s television situation comedy Night Court, I am also an unabashed fan of Mel Tormé.   That's All

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The Spies Among Us: My Adventure Into Espionage

Spies pic  In the January 1973 issue of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, as its writer and editor, I prepared to publish the cover story “The Spies Among Us: A Report of Espionage.”  During the previous months I had done a great deal of research on the methods and techniques available to Soviet spies operating in the United States.  Since Hampton Roads, Virginia is one of the largest military complexes in the world as the home port for the US Atlantic Fleet, The Supreme Allied Command Atlantic (part of NATO), Langley Air Force Base (the original home of NASA), Fort Monroe (home of the US Continental Army Command), Little Creek Amphibious Base with its Navy Seals and Marines, and Oceana Naval Air Station (home base for the Navy’s aircraft carrier war planes), it was logical that our area was a hot bed of spy activity.

My target for a possible spy operation, however, was Newport News Shipbuilding where our latest aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines were being constructed. Wouldn’t Soviet intelligence love to photograph those ships under construction?

Newport News Shipyard in 1994

Aerial view of Newport News Shipyard in 1994

In those early years of the magazine, although I was editor-in-chief and supervised both the content and the design of the publication, it was also necessary for me to make advertising sales calls. After calling on potential advertisers in Newport News, I began a reconnaissance of the commercial street that bordered the shipyard while asking myself if any of the buildings there could be used by spies as platforms to photograph the top-secret shipbuilding.

I then found and entered a third-rate four or five-story apartment building and climbed the stairs up to the top floor where I discovered an unlocked equipment room and a locked metal door that led to the roof. The door itself was imposing with its thick metal plate and a large brass padlock that secured it.  But then I noticed that the hinges to the door were exposed on the inside of the door. Retrieving a screwdriver from my car, I re-entered the building, climbed the staircase again, and popped the pins from the hinged door.  Pulling the door open enough to get through, I emerged on the roof and was shocked by the view at the front side of the building.

Nearly centered to my view was the deck and superstructure of the aircraft carrier Nimitz then under construction. Moving across the roof to my right, the construction of a nuclear submarine was also very vulnerable to a telephoto lens. In reflex, I crouched low, fearing that I might be observed by shipyard security. I retraced my steps, restored the pins to the roof access door, and made my way out of the building without ever encountering any of its occupants.

Although I appreciated that I was treading on dangerous ground, I led a team of two photographers to the rooftop a few weeks later to play spies and photograph the two important Navy war ships under construction.  The photo that became the magazine cover photo has my friend and the future publisher of six of my books—Bob Friedman—crouched in the foreground wearing a hard hat and photographing the Nimitz that dominates the page.  We later used other photos of the carrier and the submarine as illustrations within the body of the magazine story.

We had gotten away undetected, and we prematurely celebrated our caper on the way back to Norfolk.  Little could we imagine the chaos that our adventure would set off in our nation’s capital.

Metro Publisher George Crump (L), Editor Monty Joynes conduct business over lunch

Metro Publisher George Crump (L), Editor Monty Joynes conduct business over lunch

When the story and cover were ready for publication, I shared them with my publisher George Crump, who insisted that our attorney Eli Chovitz clear them legally.  Eli checked the law, the Secrets Act, and advised me that I wouldn’t go to federal prison for taking the photographs, but I might be arrested for publishing the photos without high-level government permission. When we submitted the story and photographs to the Navy command in Norfolk, we opened a box of panic that went all the way to the Pentagon and the FBI.  Then, too, my printer deadline was fast approaching. The official government decision did not come until the last possible deadline hour. We were advised to substitute specific photos in the story layout for others of their choice, but otherwise, we were approved for publication.

Metro Magazine Cover

Metro Magazine Cover

When the magazine hit the newsstands, I received an angry telephone call from a Navy Commander who headed the security department at the Newport News Shipyard.  The negative exposure had blindsided him, and he felt compromised by it.  A few months later, he called me back to apologize.  It seems that our magazine feature story had motivated the Navy to greatly increase his budget and to facilitate a higher degree of shipyard security.  Then he asked me if I had noticed the two guys in a small boat who seemed to be fishing almost every day in waters adjacent to the shipyard.  “They are not ours,” he confided.

My Navy Intelligence contact at the Fifth Naval District for the cover story decision crisis also re-called me.  With a note of humor, he told me that our photographs of the Nimitz were strikingly similar to those taken by our spies of a Soviet aircraft carrier then under construction.  He then acknowledged the Top-Secret security clearance that I had received in the Army and invited me to have lunch at the 12-seat senior officers table at the NATO command.

The big surprise in the aftermath of “The Spies Among Us” publication was a personal letter that I received from the FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, who praised me for the anti-Communist virtues of my investigative journalism.  His letter made me wonder how high in government and military circles my story had penetrated.

In my career I have personally known two former Central Intelligence Agency agents who have operated clandestinely overseas—one during WWII whose story I published, and another who would never admit his spy status.  Finally in 2010 and 2012, I used my knowledge of spy craft in two novels, The Opera Conspiracy and Portrait of the Artist’s Ghost.  These novels are now in search of a publisher.

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Bob Hope: The POW Shows

Bob Hope feature image Comedian, movie, and television star Bob Hope will always be remembered as a great patriot for his USO wartime tours to entertain American servicemen. In combat zones covering WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, no one was better known or more appreciated by military service men and women.  Imagine my excitement as a former Army enlisted man when I was asked to meet Bob Hope’s limo at the curb and escort him to the Green Room of the Norfolk Scope Arena where he would host a show honoring just-returned POWs from Vietnam and their families.

Following the Paris Peace Accords of January 1973, in Operation Homecoming, American prisoners of war were released and began to return to the USA during February and April.  On May 24th President Richard Nixon hosted a White House dinner for the POWs, and Bob Hope headlined a gala show that included John Wayne, Sammy Davis Jr., and Les Brown and his band. Suddenly, every major city in the country wanted to honor the POWs and their families, and Bob Hope was expected to host all of these celebratory events.

Bob Hope at the White House

By the time the POW honoring events got to Norfolk, Virginia, one of the major military centers in the nation, the POWs were worn out by the travel, and their attendance was limited. Nevertheless, the Scope Arena was filled with Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines from all the nearby bases, and Bob Hope was there to fulfill his role.

Bob Hope at USO show

I must have gotten my assignment to escort Bob Hope from the street curb to the arena stage because I was well known to the Scope management. I had had a minor role at the Norfolk Chamber of Commerce in bringing the ABA Basketball Virginia Squires to the venue, and then as the editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, I had continued to support Scope at every editorial opportunity.

Norfolk Scope Arena

Norfolk Scope Arena

Bob Hope was yet dapper at age 70 when I greeted him at the curb and announced my role as his temporary aide. Our route into the building to the Green Room was through a wide concourse where more than a dozen photographers followed our progress and took pictures. My head was turned toward Mr. Hope as I informed him of the pre-show arrangements, and although he acknowledged what I was saying, he did not turn to look at me.  Finally, as the photographers persisted, Mr. Hope whispered a word of professional advice to me, “Always keep your eyes on the camera, kid.”

Monty was a 32-year-old working magazine journalist at the time that he met Bob Hope who was then age 70.

Monty was a 32-year-old working magazine journalist at the time that he met Bob Hope who was then age 70.

Throughout my social and professional life ever since, I have never been shy to have my photograph taken because I can still hear Bob Hope whispering to me in my 32nd year, “Always keep your eyes on the camera, kid.”

Bob Hope final image

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