Category Archives: Movies

Cybill Shepherd: A Photo Op

Cybill Shepherd feature imageAs a writer who transitions to the editorship of a consumer magazine, there are lots of opportunities to meet and be photographed with celebrities if you know the tricks of the trade.

The actress Cybill Shepherd was an immediate star at age 21 when she debuted in The Last Picture Show (1971), a film that was nominated for eight Academy Awards. Then she made impressive appearances in The Heartbreak Kid (1972) and Taxi Driver (1976), but her star dimmed with films that failed at the box office.

Cybill Shepherd from the early 70s

When I met Cybill Shepherd in 1976, she was touring dinner theatres in a production of A Shot In The Dark. As the former girlfriend of Elvis Presley and other Hollywood notables, she still had audience drawing power.

Following her performance in A Shot In The Dark at the Tidewater Dinner Theatre, there was a wine and light fare reception for theatre patrons.  I was attending as the editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, a monthly, 100-page plus urban features publication. One of the magazine’s most popular sections was titled “Metro Eye” and consisted of a two to four-page layout of photos taken at area social, cultural, and business events.

As editor, I assigned free-lance photographers to a number of these “Metro Eye” events each issue, and our photo coverage was very welcomed and desired at these venues.  My payment for these photographs was insultingly low, but the photographers were allowed to sell their pictures to event sponsors and individuals.  Usually it was very profitable for them to be identified as a Metro photographer, and many good free-lancers wanted those assignments.

Monty and wife Theresa with their best friends Peter and Bess Decker pose with actress Anne Francis at a Tidewater Dinner Theater reception

Monty and wife Theresa with their best friends Peter and Bess Decker pose with actress Anne Francis at a Tidewater Dinner Theater reception

Coincidentally, one of the Metro photos appeared in the program for A Shot In The Dark. Theatre executive Alan Sader had included a gallery of pictures from past shows showing patrons with such stars as Forrest Tucker, Dana Andrews, Yvonne De Carlo, and Pat O’Brien.  My best pal Peter Decker and his beautiful wife Bess were pictured with me and my then-wife Theresa beside actress Anne Francis who had starred in a production of Cactus Flower.  Anne Francis is best remembered for her roles in the 1950s classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet, and for the 1960s television series Honey West.

Monty hams it up with the then-27-year-old actress Cybill Shepherd

Monty hams it up with the then-27-year-old actress Cybill Shepherd

A Metro photographer was working the theatre reception event, and of course, he wanted to ingratiate himself to me by taking my picture with Cybill Shepherd. It became obvious to Ms. Shepherd that the photographer, in bringing us together and directing the photograph, was paying more attention to me than he was to her. He was also taking a lot more shots than were necessary.

When the photographer finally released us, Ms. Shepherd turned to me with an expression of wonderment and demanded, “Just who the hell are you, anyway?”

How could I possibly respond to her without confessing my exploitation, so I answered with something both short and reasonable that I hoped she could accept.

“I’m the mayor,” I said.

Cybill Shepherd recovered from local pretenders like me to star in an Emmy Award winning television series, Moonlighting, with Bruce Willis (1985 to 1989).  Cybill Shepherd is a gal with spunk, and I like spunk.

Cybill Shepherd and Moonlighting co-star Bruce Willis

Cybill Shepherd and Moonlighting co-star Bruce Willis

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Danny Thomas: The Miracle of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital

Danny Thomas featureA destitute comedic actor and night club singer prays to the saint of hopeless causes and makes a vow to build a shrine to St. Jude if he should be blessed with success.  Years later, the entertainer fulfills his vow by becoming the founder of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital where miracles happen everyday.  What a plot for a movie!  But that’s the Danny Thomas story, and I was privileged to know him and to witness his vow come true.

Danny Thomas It all began

In the 1940s, Danny Thomas worked steadily on network radio shows as a comedic character actor. Film roles during the early 1950s in The Jazz Singer with Peggy Lee, and I’ll See You In My Dreams with Doris Day propelled Danny into television where he enjoyed great success with Make Room For Daddy, The Danny Thomas Show that had a 13-year run (1953 to 1965).

Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee

Danny Thomas and Peggy Lee

Producing his show at Desilu Studios where Lucille Ball was filming her iconic series, I Love Lucy, Danny partnered with legendary television producers Sheldon Leonard and Aaron Spelling to co-produce three landmark television series: The Dick Van Dyke Show, The Andy Griffith Show, and The Mod Squad.  Danny is credited with discovering Mary Tyler Moore in 1961 when he recommended to Carl Reiner that she be cast in the Dick Van Dyke Show.  Danny also produced three television series for Walter Brennan—The Real McCoys, The Tycoon, and The Guns of Will Sonnet, and he continued to work in television through the 1980s.

Bess and Pete Decker at an early St. Jude fundraiser

Bess and Pete Decker at an early St. Jude fundraiser

My personal connection to Danny Thomas was facilitated by Peter Decker.  In the 1970s, before I left my home city of Norfolk, Virginia, Pete and Bess Decker were my best friends.  Pete was a criminal attorney, humanitarian, and a talented musician and singer who lived to receive every honor that a grateful city and state can award an individual. When Pete and I got together, he was already on the Board of Governors and Directors of the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis that Danny, a fellow Lebanese, had founded in 1962.

As Pete’s friend, I joined the Board of Directors for St. Jude of Southeastern Virginia, and I served as secretary at our meetings. Through this 20-member board Pete organized a regional telethon and other events that over a 50-year period of his service raised tens of millions of dollars for St. Jude, a hospital dedicated to the treatment of sick children regardless of race, religion, or the ability to pay.

The focus on cancer and other catastrophic diseases in children paid great dividends in 1996 when two doctors from St. Jude’s Immunology Department were recipients of the Nobel Prize in Medicine for key discoveries in how immune systems function to kill virus-infected cells.

Pete Decker and Danny Thomas

Pete Decker and Danny Thomas

Peter Decker made over 500 appearances with Danny Thomas in concerts, telethons, and other fundraising events for St. Jude.  As a singer, Pete made records with the Pat Curtis Orchestra that were sold to benefit St. Jude.  Pete and I performed impromptu together in clubs where musician friends would invite us on stage, and I even wrote a cabaret act for us that we performed with the Pat Curtis Jazz Band. I was surprised, however, when Pete asked me to record a song for the Southeastern Virginia St. Jude telethon.

To diversify the telethon entertainment, Pete wanted me to do a big band pop standard, and he provided a recorded Nelson Riddle orchestral arrangement of “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie.”  I sang the song with the recorded accompaniment in a recording studio and later lip-synced the song in a television studio taping against a uniform St. Jude telethon backdrop.  During the telethon, Pete could introduce me, and I would appear on tape as if I were actually on stage.  I accepted, however, that my performance was little more than late-night telethon filler.

Monty and Peter in cabaret act

Monty and Peter in cabaret act

A few weeks after the Norfolk telethon, Pete called me to say that my tape performance of It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie had been chosen for the master telethon talent reel that would be provided to St. Jude telethons produced in more than a dozen markets where the same stage backdrop would be used.  In a sea of rock and roll, I was the quiet romantic crooner alternative.  I waited in vain to be discovered, but Pete and Danny appreciated the effort.

The recording of my St. Jude performance was reprised at our middle daughter’s wedding.   As a surprise to me, the bride danced with her father to his recording of “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie.  Only the family was in on the plot. I remained the mystery singer.

The most time that I spent with Danny Thomas was at a small dinner party given for Danny and Phyllis McGuire at the Deckers’ home in Norfolk.  Phyllis was still a statuesque beauty who you will remember as the lead singer of the McGuire Sisters. After the trio won the Arthur Godfrey Talent Scouts television show competition, they produced a succession of hit records on the Coral Records label.  With number one hits like “Sincerely” (1954), “The Theme from Picnic (1956) and “Sugartime (1958), the group had 30 chart hits over a 16-year period.  The McGuire Sisters appeared on all of the top television variety shows during the 1950s and 1960s and even made the cover of Life Magazine. On tour for St. Jude with Phyllis McGuire, Danny, in his early 60s, welcomed the chance to relax at the Deckers.

The McGuire Sisters

The McGuire Sisters

The last time that I saw Danny Thomas was at his home in 1975 or 1976 where he hosted a reception following the final day of the Danny Thomas Memphis Classic (1970 to 1984). Danny was an avid golfer, and two PGA tour events bore his name.  I was in Memphis on business as the Associate Publisher of Holiday Magazine, and was thus available to attend.  Entertainer Jimmy Dean, famous for his hit record “Big John” and later for his breakfast sausage, was a memorable guest.  My former boss, George Crump, who owned country music radio stations, had once held Dean’s management contract, so we had a common connection.

Danny Thomas In memory

Just like everything else in the life of Danny Thomas, St. Jude was the focus and financial beneficiary of the golfing event.  If St. Jude himself had anything to do with Danny’s great television success, the blessing has been repaid exponentially at the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. I am so glad to have been a witness to Danny’s and to Peter’s devotion to a great work of life.

Danny Thomas with some of the children at St. Jude

Danny Thomas with some of the children at St. Jude

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Telly Savalas: Who Loves Ya, Baby?

telly savalas who loves ya babyIn the summer of 1975, I was brought into the extended family of television and movie star Telly Savalas to celebrate the opening of his stage show at the Sahara Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.  Here is what it was like being around Telly in the prime of his performing career.

My best friends in those days were Peter and Bess Decker. Bess’s sister was married to Telly’s older brother, Gus, and thus the family connection.  When the entire Savalas clan was urged to join Telly for his Las Vegas opening, Pete and Bess invited me and my then-wife Theresa to join the Norfolk, Virginia contingent.  Our junket host on the private charter flight required only the male gamblers to post $1,500 that could be redeemed in casino chips.  Otherwise, the flight, hotel room, meals, and drinks were covered as we were expected to be active players in the casino.

In 1975, Telly was one of the most popular stars in show business. His New York City police detective show, Kojak, was in the middle of its five-season run (1973-1978). TV Guide ranked Telly number 33 on its 50 Greatest Television Stars of All Time list.  And if that were not enough, his singing-talking rendition of the song If (If a picture paints a thousand words….), was #1 in Europe for 10 weeks in 1975.

Telly Kojak

Telly had won an Emmy (1974) and two Golden Globe Awards (1975-1976) for Kojak, so when we met him as the shaved head, lollipop sucking, assertive NYC cop character with the famous catch-phrase “who loves ya, baby?” he was universally known.

In person, Telly Savalas was joyfully entertaining, but his sensitive and generous side shined through in his consideration of family.  His older brother, Gus, a Foreign Service Officer stationed at the American Embassy in Athens, came from Greece to celebrate Telly’s success.  Gus even sang a song as a surprise guest in Telly’s opening night at the Sahara.  Gus proved to have a grand operatic voice and was obviously the best singer among the Savalas brothers as Telly playfully acknowledged.

l-r Teddy, Telly, Gus & George

l-r Teddy, Telly, Gus & George

George Savalas

George Savalas

Younger brother, George, who played Detective Stavros, a wild-haired, quiet, comedic foil to Kojak’s street-wise savvy and dramatic darkness on television, was also there. I had established a previous friendship with George and his family when he served as the Celebrity Grand Marshal of the Neptune Festival Parade in Virginia Beach. I was a member of the festival committee, and I also saw George several times when he visited the Deckers in Norfolk.

To really appreciate Telly Savalas, you ought to know that he served in the US Army for three years during WWII and received a Purple Heart. He earned a degree in psychology from Columbia University and began his entertainment career as the host of a popular talk show on the Voice of America radio network.  Oddly, Telly also worked as an ABC network senior director of special news events. He began doing character roles on television drama series in the 1950s and 1960s.  His more than 50 guest appearances included the Twilight Zone classic episode “Living Doll.”

Living Doll episode from The Twilight Zone

Living Doll episode from The Twilight Zone

Telly got his start in feature films when he was discovered by the legendary Hollywood star and producer Burt Lancaster who cast him as his deranged prison mate in Birdman of Alcatraz (1962).  Telly received a Best Supporting Actor Academy Award nomination for that performance.

Telly Savalas in Birdman of Alcatraz

Telly Savalas in Birdman of Alcatraz

That same year, he also appeared in another box office hit, Cape Fear, with Gregory Peck and Robert Mitchum. For the 1965 film The Greatest Story Ever Told, Telly shaved his head for the role of Pontius Pilate and then decided to remain shaved for the rest of his life. Big film roles followed:  Battle of the Bulge (1963), The Dirty Dozen (1967), the James Bond film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), and Kelly’s Heroes (1970) with Clint Eastwood.  In total, Telly played the villain in 34 feature films and diverse character roles in another 21 films from 1962 to 1988.

telly savalas kelly's heroes

Theo Kojak was conceived in a television movie pilot for the Kojak series titled The Marcus-Nelson Murders (1973).  After the television series ended, Telly reprised the Kojak character in seven made-for-television movies between 1985 and 1990.

Telly Savalas IFIn Las Vegas during our time with him, Telly invited us to his Sahara showroom rehearsals where he sang If and danced a soft-shoe routine with a few shapely showgirls.  Mainly, the show was built around an entertaining patter of show business anecdotes.  Most evenings that opening week, the family party gathered in Telly’s dressing room for refreshments, and then the men went out with Telly for late- night gambling.  Telly was a world-class poker player who finished 21st in the 1992 World Series of Poker.  In 1975, his preferred game seemed to be baccarat, which he played with the high rollers behind a red-velvet roped VIP area.

Since most of us were not in Telly’s high-roller league, Peter, Gus, George and some others in our party kept to the craps tables where we found no luck even when we tried tables in other casinos.

On opening night of Telly’s Vegas show, I brought a bag of rubber skinheads for the men to wear at the Savalas family tables.  When Telly announced the presence of his family in the audience, and the spotlight turned on us, there we were, every man shaved headed like Telly!  Telly was totally surprised, and the gimmick got a big laugh.

One night, Telly got us all invited to a Paramount Pictures reception where I met a very gracious Dionne Warwick, and a Glen Campbell who must have been going through a rough patch in his personal life.  A few years before this encounter, I had been part of a production team that brought Glen Campbell’s touring show to the Hampton Coliseum. When I reminded him of our previous meeting, he was very rude in demonstrating a “so what” attitude.

On one of our final nights in Las Vegas as we enjoyed a late after-show private party  with Telly, he asked for our attention.  He announced that he had to leave to attend another party. Regretfully, he said, he could not take us with him. Frank Sinatra had just called, and we understood that even Telly had to go when summoned by the Chairman of the Board.  Anyway, we had already seen the Sinatra show at Caesar’s Palace from a front-row table.

Frank Sinatra and Telly Savalas

Frank Sinatra at a Vegas party with Telly Savalas. Photo by John Rimmington

When Telly died of cancer at the age of 72 in 1994, his friend, Frank Sinatra, attended his funeral.  Another attendee was Don Rickles who was in the film Kelly’s Heroes with Telly.  Telly Savalas was a generous friend, and I will always remember his great kindnesses to me and my wife that week in Las Vegas when he treated us like family.

As an Afterword to the Las Vegas events of July 1975, I must confess that in my excitement of mingling with the stars, I gambled way more than I could afford.  When my markers were gathered, I had lost nearly $5,000, which was enough that year to purchase a new Ford or Chevy.  And although business and book research has taken me back to Las Vegas a half dozen times, I have never gambled a single dollar more!

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Richard Pryor: His Stand-Up Comeback

Richard Pryor Here and Now (1983)When Richard Pryor came to New Orleans in August 1983 to record his comedy special Here and Now at the Saenger Theatre, he stayed in the New Orleans Hilton where my wife Pat, as administrative assistant to the hotel’s general manager, handled all VIP guest details.  Pat’s working contact with Pryor was with his agent and show producer David Banks, but Pat and I both got to meet Richard as he prepared for two tapings of his final official stand-up comedy show.

The 1983 stage performances were a comeback to show business after a horrendous event in 1980 when Richard had set himself on fire while freebasing cocaine.  He had third-degree burns over more than half his body, and survival itself was in the balance.

Although Richard Pryor as a stand-up comedian exhibited a profane Silver Streak movie posterirreverent style that was unsuitable for children, our three teenaged daughters knew him well from his hit movies: Silver Streak (1976) and Stir Crazy (1980) both with Gene Wilder. The fact that Richard had won several Grammy Awards for Best Comedy Recording and television Emmys for Best Writing in Comedy for specials starring Lily Tomlin (1973) may have been lost on our young girls, but in the 1970s and 1980s, Richard Pryor was one of the most recognized entertainers in the world.

Richard Pryor’s comedic legacy for bringing highly charged racial and social issues into sharp perspective paved the way for comedians like Eddie Murphy and Chris Rock and opened a venue for the general public to address their prejudices.

The New Orleans Hilton in 1983

The New Orleans Hilton in 1983

In my brief encounters with Richard Pryor in Pat’s office, he seemed both gentle and humble, although he obviously felt the pressure of the scheduled performances.  He was still refining his material for the show when David Banks asked Pat to type the head notes for Richard’s individual sketches onto index cards.  The cards would be placed on an on-stage stool where Richard could refer to them as the show progressed.  The show was performed on two separate days at the Saenger and then edited for the broadcast and DVD versions. Pat and I were given prime seats for the first show, and if you see the show recording, you may notice Richard deftly referring to Pat’s index cards as he moves from one subject area to another.

Monty and Pat in New Orleans in 1983

Monty and Pat at the Hilton in 1983

One day while Richard was in the hotel, I was walking through the Hilton lobby with our three daughters trailing behind when we crossed paths with the star and his lady. We then stopped to greet each other. I had recommended some New Orleans restaurants to Richard, and we had some brief words on that subject before he moved on.  There had been no opportunity to formally introduce the girls, but suddenly they were pulling at my shirt.

Daughters Pam, Danielle, and Annalisa

Daughters Pam, Danielle, and Annalisa

“Dad, that was Richard Pryor!” one of them exclaimed. “He acted like he knew you!”

I guess when the girls saw Richard in Superman III (1983) with Christopher Reeve, they might have tried to impress their friends by saying, “Yeah, my Mom and Dad know him.”

Richard Pryor photoIn 1998, Richard Pryor was the first recipient of the Mark Twain Prize for American Humor at the Kennedy Center.  It is the highest award a nation can bestow on a humorist. Considering his abusive childhood and his struggle for racial equality, Richard Pryor’s triumphs are profoundly important in articulating the American experience.  I’m glad to salute Richard Pryor by this remembrance.

 

 

 

 

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General George Patton: WWII Commander

General Patton wearing his 4-star service cap in 1945.  Photo by U.S. Army

General George Patton wearing his 4-star service cap in 1945.  U.S. Army photo

Our images of General George S. Patton, Jr. as the greatest combat commander of WW II come from either newsreels and documentaries or from the 1970 feature film, Patton, starring George C. Scott that won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.  My personal connection to General Patton, however, is based on my friendship with Peter K. Babalas, who as a 23-year old Military Police Lieutenant was the first on the scene of the accident that ultimately ended the four-star general’s life in December 1945.

General Patton, although famous as a battlefield warrior, was also infamous for what his superiors deemed politically inappropriate remarks to the press. After brilliant victories in North Africa and the invasion of Sicily, Patton continued to lose commands because of his controversial public remarks.  But the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, General Dwight Eisenhower, was not about to sideline his best field commander for the Normandy invasion of 1944.  He made Patton commander of the Third Army, and ol’ “Blood and Guts” drove the Germans into submission culminating in the famous remarkable dash of his Third Army to relieve Bastogne and win the critical Battle of the Bulge.

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Lt. General Patton in Tunisia, 1945.  Photo by U. S. Army

Gen. Dwight Eisenhower and Lt. General Patton in Tunisia, 1945. Photo by U. S. Army

In the months after the end of the war in Europe, as an officer overseeing the occupation of Germany, Patton gave former Nazi military officers jobs and stated that the real enemy was the Soviet Union.  Sidelined again, Patton was given command of a phantom army assigned to a historic documentation of the European war. On the day of the accident, December 9th, Patton and his Chief of Staff, Maj. General Hobart Gay, were traveling in their large 1938 Cadillac staff car en route to a pheasant hunt.

Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June. US Army Photo

Lt. Gen. Patton with Maj. Gen. Walter Robertson pass in review of Third Army Troops in April 1944 prior to the Normandy invasion in June. US Army photo

Near noon, a 2-1/2 ton military truck unexpectedly made a left turn into the front of the staff car. The driver of the truck was a technical sergeant on his way to a quartermaster depot. In the low-speed collision, Patton was thrown against the steel frame of a glass partition that separated the driver from the passengers in the rear seat. The impact of the blow scalped the general’s forehead and caused a compression fracture to his cervical spinal cord.

Army Lt. Peter Babalas as he looked during WWII

Army Lt. Peter Babalas as he looked during WWII

Military Police Lieutenant Peter Babalas, in an Army jeep, came upon the accident moments after it occurred. He ran to the staff car and opened its rear door to render assistance.  General Gay was supporting Patton’s body, and he instructed Babalas to call an ambulance. Patton whispered to Gay, “I think that I’m paralyzed.”  Two medics arrived on the scene, and then an ambulance with two medical officers came.  Realizing that Patton’s injuries were serious, the officers made the decision to transport Patton to the best equipped medical facility in the area—the 130th US Army Station Hospital in Heidelberg, 25 miles away.

All the others involved in the accident were only slightly injured.  Lieutenant Babalas, as the Military Police officer on the scene, thus became its official investigating officer. During his investigation, Babalas discovered Patton’s uniform service cap with its four silver stars wedged in the back of the Cadillac’s displaced rear seat.

I met Peter Babalas in 1967, a few short months after my discharge from the Vietnam War-era US Army where I had served as the Plans and Training NCO of the 91st Evacuation Hospital. I was recommended to Peter as a speechwriter in his campaign for a Virginia General Assembly senate seat.  My father, a tool and dye maker by trade, had been a long-term Democratic precinct committeeman, and the compromise Chairman of the 2nd District Democratic Party, when the party divided violently over war politics. I was thus personally familiar with all the major players in both state and local politics.

Peter Babalas as my friend in 1967.  Photo by Foster Studios

Peter Babalas as my friend in 1967. Photo by Foster Studios

Within weeks of joining the Babalas-for-Senate campaign, I was managing the day-to-day operations of the campaign, and I formed a lasting friendship with Peter and Lillie Babalas.  We unseated a well-entrenched incumbent in the Democratic primary and went on to easily win the general election.  Peter remained in the Virginia Senate until his death in 1987.

Peter had earned a Harvard degree in economics after his WW II military service (1942- 1946), and then went on to earn a University of Virginia law degree in 1950.  He was recalled into the Army for service in the Korean War (1951-52).  When I went to work for Peter, he had a large law firm housed in a downtown office building that he and his partners owned. I both liked and admired Peter.  Later in my career when I became the founder and editor of Metro Hampton Roads Magazine, I asked Peter to tell me, for publication, about his encounter with General Patton.

At the Army hospital in Heidelberg, General Patton was completely paralyzed from the neck down and was having difficulty breathing.  Specialists were summoned from London, but the prognosis was grave.  The general, however, was fully conscious, and he insisted on being told the truth about his condition. “Would he ever again be able to ride a horse?” he asked. “No,” the chief doctor admitted.

August 1945. Gen. Patton riding "Favory Africa", which Hitler had personally picked out to be presented to Emperor Hirohito.  The horse formerly belonged to the riding school of Vienna.  It was confiscated by the Germans and later returned by the Americans. US Army Photo

August 1945. General Patton riding “Favory Africa,”which Hitler had personally picked out to be presented to Emperor Hirohito. The horse formerly belonged to the riding school of Vienna. It was confiscated by the Germans and later returned by the Americans. US Army Photo

Patton also wanted to know the outcome of the accident investigation, and thus Lieutenant Babalas was ordered bedside to report to the general.  Babalas found no fault on either driver, and the general concurred.  Then Peter produced the general’s service cap that he had retrieved from the staff car and offered to return it.  Patton instructed Peter to keep the hat as a “souvenir,” and he added, “I won’t be needing it anymore.” This remark has been widely reported as evidence of Patton’s premonition of death. And so it was that within 12 days of the accident, the great General George S. Patton, Jr., age 60, died from pulmonary edema and congestive heart failure.  He would have much preferred to die in combat. Certainly he could not have abided invalidism.

Gravesite of Gen. George Patton at the American Army Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg.  US Army Photo  May 1949.

Gravesite of Gen. George Patton at the American Army Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg. US Army Photo May 1949.

General George Patton was buried in the Luxembourg American Cemetery in Hamm, Luxembourg along with other wartime casualties of the Third Army.  It was his personal request “to be buried with my men.”

Peter Babalas safeguarded the last military headgear that General Patton ever wore, and later he offered it to the Patton family for display at the General George Patton Museum of Leadership at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

By this posting, I hereby render my most respectful military salute to General George Patton and to my friend, former Army Lieutenant Peter K. Babalas.

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Alfred Hitchcock: The Chasen’s Restaurant Connection

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

In 1975 one of my first assignments for Holiday Magazine was to attend the annual reunion of the Holiday Magazine Fine Dining Awards winners at the Fairmont Hotel in Dallas.  The reunion group was a private association of the top restaurateurs in North America as qualified by their Holiday awards.  As the associate publisher of Holiday, I was an invited guest, not a member.

The host committees of these annual reunions plan their extravaganzas years in advance, with a can-you-top-this attitude.  The gourmet foods, the exceptional wines, and the lavish entertainments are always world-class.  For example, the feature dinner party at the Fairmont included a bicentennial-themed parade of hundreds of costumed actors, some on horseback and some firing Revolutionary War weapons, as the pageant passed through the ballroom.

Commander's Palace in New Orleans

Commander’s Palace in New Orleans

The following year, in New Orleans, the final dinner at Commander’s Palace consumed the final bottles of the red wine that the Shah of Iran had served under desert tents for the 5,000th anniversary of the Persian Empire.  The New Orleans hosts had searched the wide world and acquired all remaining bottles of the famous vintage.  Robert Lawrence Balzer, the Holiday food editor, wept as he recited the vineology of the wine before we carefully consumed it and ended its existence in wine history.

Maude Chasen

Maude Chasen

At the grand reunion party in Dallas, I was seated at a table with Maude Chasen and her sister.  Maude’s husband, a minor vaudeville and Broadway performer, had come to Hollywood to act in a Frank Capra film, and then stayed to open a restaurant in 1936 to feed the movie crowd his chili and barbecued ribs.  The West Hollywood location then expanded into a restaurant of comfortable elegance that attracted entertainment celebrities from nearby Beverly Hills.  Chasen’s had an intimate clubby feeling, and Dave and Maude Chasen protected the privacy of their celebrity guests with a policy that made the dining rooms off-limits to photographers and the press.  They also discouraged table-hopping.

Regulars at Chasen’s were scores of A-list celebrities like Frank Sinatra, James Stewart, and Groucho MarxRonald Reagan proposed to Nancy in a Chasen’s booth.  In 1962 Elizabeth Taylor famously ordered ten quarts of Dave’s chili  to be airlifted to her on the movie set of Cleopatra, then being filmed in Rome.  Alfred Hitchcock had his favorite booth reserved every Thursday “whenever I am in town” for a period of 30 years.

Dave Chasen had died in 1973, so when I met Maude, she was a widow but still a landmark figure in the restaurant world.  I was reared as a Virginia gentleman, and my wife being absent, I felt responsible to dance with every unescorted woman at my table, regardless of age or beauty.  I am a storyteller, so I not only danced with the two older women, but I also attempted to amuse them.  At the end of the evening, Maude was especially grateful for my attention to her and her sister, and she offered me her influence to put one of her celebrity regulars on a Holiday cover.

Family Plot   Back at the Holiday office, I wanted Maude’s influence to get the pop song hit maker Elton John on a Holiday cover, but my more conservative editors selected Alfred Hitchcock whose final film Family Plot was due for release.

Alfred Hitchcock was 77 years old when he and his wife Alma Reville arrived at Chasen’s to shoot the Summer 1976 cover of Holiday Magazine.  On that issue masthead, I was listed as Associate Publisher and Director of Marketing.  I also contributed a feature story to that issue titled “Norfolk: The Ship Came In.”  The Hitchcock feature “If It’s Thursday, It Must Be Hitchcock: An Epicurean Profile” was written by Sylvia Drake with photos by Gene Daniels.

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

Cover photo by Gene Daniels

The cover shot shows Hitch at his favorite booth posing with an aperitif in his hand.  The table itself had been laden with food wonderments—a crown rack of lamb in the foreground, a side of smoked salmon, and a seafood display of cocktail shrimp, crab claws, and oysters on the half shell.  I had hoped to go to Los Angeles to direct Hitchcock since I had arranged for the cover shot, but my schedule forbade.  I was later advised that he directed himself and cautioned the photographer to “get it over.”

Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window

Although Hitchcock was “the master of suspense” in such hits as Rear Window, North by Northwest, Psycho, The Birds, and Vertigo, only Rebecca (1940), his first American film, won the Best Picture Oscar.  Without a single Best Director Academy Award, he received the American Film Institute Life Achievement Award in 1979, only one year before his death in 1980.

Monty Joynes HOLIDAY press card

Hitchcock was famous for his cameo appearances in his own films, and I now regret that I did not use my publisher status to make my own cameo appearance at the Holiday cover shoot at Chasen’s.  Of course, in attempting to direct the great one, I would only have been told to “get it over.”

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GRID: You Cast the Movie

Have you ever wanted to enter the process of feature filmmaking?  Well, most movie critics agree, the key to producing a successful film is casting.  Here’s your chance to play casting director.

The screenplay for GRID is adapted from my novel GRID, a futuristic romantic adventure featuring the character of New Orleans and its excesses in the year 2032.  I originally wrote the screenplay with the hope that Steven Spielberg or James Cameron would want to produce it with stars like Angelina Jolie as the enigmatic beauty Desiree Bazile, and Brad Pitt as the idealistic street musician Scott Hartley.  No such luck as yet.

But this year producer Peter Maez at Kamma Pictures in Hollywood selected my GRID screenplay for development.  The next step is financing and the critical job of casting that is essential to attracting investor interest.

How are your casting skills?  Who do you see in GRID’s leading and supporting roles?  Of course, you need to read GRID’s description on Amazon, and to be fair, you should spend the $2.99 to read the Kindle edition.  But thereafter, you are qualified to render your casting judgments.  And if you respond, your cast assignments will be shared with Peter Maez at Kamma Pictures; and when GRID is produced using any of your recommendations, I promise you a “thank you” screen credit.  Come on!  Let’s make a movie!

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Keeping Faith with William Faulkner

Monty writes longhand at the dining room table

When I sat with William Faulkner at UVA in the last year of his life, he still believed that his literature had been about the human heart.  What other purpose could there be for a serious writer?  What higher goal worthy of a lifetime of creative devotion?  I trust that I have kept faith with Mr. Faulkner and revealed to the extent of my talent the heart of the human experience in my every novel and screenplay.

While actors, directors, and producers networked in the pursuit of film careers, I devoted my creative life to the writing of novels suitable for filmmaking far removed from their working environments but not removed from how films could be adapted from my stories.

 I am of a generation raised on weekly movie going; and as an elementary school child, I kept a daily 4 p.m. television appointment to see the MGM film catalog where, at the age of ten, I became a fan of Wallace Beery.  It was little wonder that my first professional credit after college was the writing and directing of a movie in Europe and that all my subsequent short stories, novellas, and novels were written from a visual perspective easily adaptable to screenplays.

 The reason that I did not enter the mainstream of writers and filmmakers was that my purpose in writing was to attempt to produce an enduring, hopefully important, literature.  It was not that I wanted to write literary novels for academic or critical praise, because I judged that milieu as limited as the popular culture of irrelevant books and films.  My audience, as I still view it, is the great middle ground of individuals in search of a meaningful literature that will inspire awareness of the American experience in the last hundred years and provide a conscious alternative for philosophical and psychological change in the future.  That’s what important literature and films do—they elevate the human dialog across the social spectrum, and ultimately, they inspire ideas whose historic time has come.

While other creators have built careers on appealing to the age 15 to 24 film-going audience, I have prepared a body of work that speaks to adults; and as the baby boomers come into their own as the greatest U.S. market force, I hope that they will dictate a revolution of taste in books and films.  They will require more than scary thrills, adventure escapes, and adolescent comedies.  They will want more mature expressions of passion, drama, and humor.  And for those adult generations just behind them, the word-of-mouth recommended books and films will be the ones that serve their interests and concerns, too.

If I have seemed out of commercial play for most of my writing life, it is only because the devotion to the work itself was always paramount.  Now, in 2011, the precise cultural moment has arrived to roll out the products conceived and created for this emerging era and the substantial audience that is waiting to absorb them.  I realize that I am not the only agent of this creative and sociological change, but I am certainly one of the most prodigious of its progenitors with more than fifty major works.

 Don’t fear that the message will override the storytelling, because there is no art in that form; and I am, if nothing else, a craftsman.  My characters are real within the creative moment, and they act and speak in ways that always amaze me.  And as I laugh and cry with them, so will the reader and the theater audience because of the common dilemmas that we share.  But real art is universal, and the portrayal of the contemporary human condition is relevant in the UK, in France, and in Japan, China, and India as well.

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