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

3 Comments

Filed under Entertainment, Famous People, Memoirs, Music, Writing

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.

3 Comments

Filed under Memoirs, Military, Writing

Embracing Cultural Diversity

PSALM MAKER COVER      People who consider themselves so different from their named enemies should plant a crop and work a field together.  During the labor, they would talk about their children and find the common ground of parenting.  At the harvest, they would hold cooperation in their hands as they offer up with pride a melon or squash.  The fruits of labor should not be weapons that would put the blood of children in fields where water should run.  Has the society of human beings become too complex to realize such simplicity? ~  Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones

In an age where conflict resolution is a lost art, and religions vie for dominance, what alterations in human psyche are possible toward a goal of peace and understanding?

My tool for creating multicultural awareness is the novel.  I believe that the novel isSmoky table superior to non-fiction and journalism in altering behavioral consciousness.  Of course, to effect changes of heart and mind, the author must first have readers, or at least, a body of citizens who can read.  When you hear the phrase “reading is fundamental,” the deep importance of books is implied.

Literature is about the human heart.  Literature is about human spirituality as much as it is about patterns in human behavior.  I drank coffee with William Faulkner when we were both at the University of Virginia in the early 1960s; and although he was a consummate craftsman in the structuring of character and circumstance, when pushed by intellectual graduate students to define his literature, he replied that he wrote about the human heart.

What do I write about?  I write about the human heart, the heart being a metaphor for the sacred center of our beingness, or the denial of our connection to each other.  Crime germinates from this denial.  War germinates from this denial.  When we believe ourselves separate from each other, our behaviors become prejudiced, and our society fragments into conflict.

Medicine wheelYou cannot have a sustainable environment without a sustainable people to inhabit it.  We must have sustainable human cultures that are the lifeblood of evolutionary biodiversity.  We need the multicultural approaches to Reality through language, myths, and traditions to insure the rich continuation of humanity.  We need to honor and respect each other in our differences—not just for the purpose of social harmony, but also for the greater purpose of achieving enlightenment as spiritually aware creations.  We undermine the destiny of humanity when we yield to conflict and prejudice.  Humanity is a DNA-related family.   What can create this behavioral awareness?

We look at the current worldwide conflicts of culture and religion, and we see a continuation of the basic error of humanity.  And the macrocosm—the conflicts between nations—only mirrors the microcosm of the conflicts within our local communities and within our own minds as we deal with individual relationships:  the husband with the wife, the parent with the child, the employer with the employee, the neighbor with the neighbor, the seller with the buyer.

Monty at a book signing in Chicago

Monty at a book signing in Chicago

In the five novels of the Booker Series, I set out to find the answer to an important question:  Can a person conditioned in a society fermented in conflict change, and by altered awareness, become a righteous behaving human being?  Is it possible to cast off all the negative conditioning of race and class and allow behavior to arise from that metaphorical place of the heart?  Is it possible to remake ourselves as human beings?

NAKED INTO THE NIGHT book cover

I started out with a spiritually desperate middle-aged man going literally naked into the night.  He had every material advantage; and yet he felt so empty of meaning and purpose in his life that he walked out of his affluent home to offer himself up, to surrender to the discovery of his true nature.

No one culture or religion has yet put Reality in a box, or in a book.  Humanity is an expression of life.  Its driving force is continuation.  Its diversity is the natural seeking of that continuation.  Through language, and songs, and dance, and craft elevated to art, we interpret Reality, the Great What Is.  We seek to understand it, to touch it with our minds.  Sometimes, we culturally dare to label these observations, these beliefs as Truths.  But what has proven to be Absolute?  Even in the highest levels of our science, history has yielded no absolutes.  What is the big picture?  Where does the Reality of the macrocosm of the wide universe meet the microcosm of the subatomic world?  And even if science gives us a Unified Field Theory, how will that theory of Truth and Absolutes help me in my relationship with my wife, my daughters, my colleagues, my neighbors?  How will an idea of Reality help me in the crucible of relationship?

Pueblo Indians share their culture in New Mexico

Pueblo Indians share their culture in New Mexico

My point is—no one grand idea, or any single collection of ideas, leads us to a truth that stimulates righteous behavior.  Nevertheless, there are elements in every expression of culture that point the way to successful relationships.  These are the elements that we want to embrace in each other.  These are the elements that honor family values and stress the strengths of cooperation and consideration.  And if you achieve cooperation and consideration, will compassion be far behind?  And in compassion, in unselfishness, there is even the possibility of love.

The great Teachers of life and Reality have told us to love one another; to start from love, the metaphorical heart, and then fulfillment and happiness will follow.  But in the process of communal living, love has become a distant, theoretical absolute, a practical impossibility.  Love thy neighbor?  You mean love that jerk!?

Monty waits for a chance encounter on the plaza in Taos, New Mexico

Monty waits for a chance encounter on the plaza in Taos, New Mexico

If we cannot start from altruistic, unselfish love in all relationships, then let’s turn the equation around.  Let’s make love-thy-neighbor the result, and not the guilt-laden cause in the social equation.  What if we start out on the left-hand side of the equals sign with the numeral for acceptance?  Suppose I accept you for who you are and make an effort to understand where you are coming from in your cultural attitudes.  Suppose I walk a half-mile in your shoes.  Then suppose I add the numeral for cooperation.  Suppose I see your needs for water rights as reasonable and environmentally correct.  Then suppose I work with you, side by side, on a project to improve our collective community.  Suppose I sweat with you, laugh with you, and even cry with you.

And now my equation needs another addition.  Now I must add consideration and multiply it by Lost in LV cover no nameconcern.  Now, I honor your sacred places and remove the epithets of marginalization from my patterns of speech.  In my attitudes and behaviors, I show you respect.  I share my ethnic foods with you, my songs, my legends, my family stories.  I tell you that the futures of our grandchildren are co-mingled.  If your children cannot find meaning and purpose and fulfillment in this community, then neither can mine.

KokopelliYou are so marvelously different from me, but I love your differences.  Please don’t change.  Preserve your culture, your language, your unique perspective of Reality, because our society needs each point-of-view to survive.  We cannot afford to lose you.  We need you as part of our continuation as a humanity.  Fry bread, corn tortilla, rye, pumpernickel, and even white bread.  Everyone is important when you add it up, when you balance the equation of relationship and experience love as the answer.

New Mexico kivaIt is not necessary to begin with some abstract concept of love to achieve a positive community relationship.  Start with simple openness to learning about your neighbors.  Allow curiosity to enter.  Be available.  Understand that nothing gets better until you do.  No one learns until you do.  No one works until you do.  No one cooperates until you do.  No one shares, or laughs, or cries until you do.  And ultimately, no one loves until you do.  Those are the universal rules of relationship—out there on alien planets and right here wherever you live.

3 Comments

Filed under Native American, Spirituality, Writing

Visionary Fiction: The Booker Series Restoration

 

NAKED INTO THE NIGHT book coverLOST IN LAS VEGAS book coverSave the Good Seed coverDead Water Rites coverPSALM MAKER COVER

This blog is quite different from my others.  It’s the kind of blog that an author hopes he or she would never write, but like most changes that at first seem unwelcome, a new way of working has emerged.

My Booker Series novels are considered pioneer books in the Visionary Fiction genre, and I have both written and lectured about that new literature.

The Booker Series began with Naked Into The Night in 1997 when the character Booker walked naked out of his affluent suburban Virginia home to remake himself, journeying cross-country to live among the Pueblo Indians of the Southwest.  The series lasted for 16 years in the book marketplace before the publisher de-listed the books and reverted the rights back to me.

It happens.  A reversion of rights essentially removes the novels from being purchased as print copies or as e-books.  If action is not taken by the author, the de-listed books are in danger of disappearing.

With the help of friends in the book trade, my wife Pat has restored the e-book availability of the four Booker Series novels, and we are excited to announce that she has just added the formerly unpublished fifth book in the series, Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones.  All of the books are currently available on Amazon, with more e-book platforms to come.

Prior to the de-listing, I purchased a limited number of the trade paperback copies.  The cover price of these four novels was $51.80.  This limited four-book series can be purchased from me at a 50% discount, plus $10 for shipping within the continental USA, for a total cost of $35.80, and each book will have a personal inscription.  For purchase details (sets only), please contact me by e-mail here.

By taking back the rights to the books, we were also able to make all of the e-books available for an affordable $2.99 each.

Please accept our gratitude for your support of the Booker Series over the years.  We hope that keeping the books available will reach a new generation of readers who demand meaningful substance from their literature.  I consider Psalm Maker: The Journal of Booker Jones to be the most important book that I have ever written.

PSALM MAKER COVER  “Without the conditioned past of the mind, the being is able to focus completely on the present, to experience everything as fresh, new, and amazing.  In relationship, the non-judgmental presents no barriers.  It is a quality that others can perceive.  It opens the door to friendship, trust, and affection.  It allows for happiness in every circumstance.”  —Booker Jones

 

NAKED INTO THE NIGHT book coverMonty Joynes is a genuine find by Hampton Roads.  His novel portrays not only a culture, an environment, a political reality, but also a psychological drama that includes gripping scenes like one in which the protagonist makes peace in a bar fight, and another where he becomes a spiritual guide to a friend dying of cancer.  Joynes has written the tale of a man who undergoes a radical inner transformation, walks away from his life as a successful real estate broker, husband, and father, and manifests in his new life as a homeless drifter, the outer life that reflects his inner transformation.  In lucid prose, Joynes narrates as compelling an example of a person choosing essence life and accepting the consequences as you are likely to find in modern fiction.”   —The Independent Press Book Review

LOST IN LAS VEGAS book cover“Lost in Las Vegas continues the story of Naked Into the Night.  After a profound, likely authentic, visionary kiva ritual, the Anglo’s adopted Pueblo tribe elders select him to rescue a young Indian man who is a prodigy of traditional dancing, and a potential successor to leadership, from the lifestyle of a performer in a Las Vegas resort hotel.  The contrast, between the consciousness that the Pueblo traditions propagate and the brilliant distractions of Vegas life, could hardly be more dramatic.  It makes for high drama, genuine spiritual struggle with illusion of various kinds, and excellent reading.”    — The Independent Press Book Review

 

Save the Good Seed cover “We walk with respect around this man, even if he’s white,” says one Pueblo man to another in SAVE THE GOOD SEED by Monty Joynes.  The white man they speak of is Booker Washington Jones, once Winn Conover a.k.a. Anglo Who Became Chief Old Woman’s Son, recently relocated to living in New Mexico among Pueblo compatriots.  In meeting August (“Ray”) Rey, a “Lost Bird” dissociated from his Pueblo people when he was “adopted” into white society 44 years before, readers are brought close to both sides of the alienation issue.  Facts of our government’s anti-Native American history flesh out their story.

 SAVE THE GOOD SEED is also about the touching parallel development of two middle-aged men finally finding themselves at home in a culture completely different from the one in which they were raised.  The warmth of this moving tale offers us the opportunity to actually share in the exquisite joy and solidarity of the Pueblo people coming together to live out their mission:  “In every moment, person or object, is an opportunity for connection.  Our role is to be aware of the potential and bring it into realization.”    —Heidi Rain, New England Spirit of Change Magazine

 

Dead Water Rites cover “What Monty Joynes has accomplished in DEAD WATER RITES, his fourth book in the remarkable Booker series, is the rare joining of a page-turning story line, lively with action and memorable characters, together with a sustained poetic meditation on the power and glory of water in the world.  The spiritual vision, the outward and inner lives of the invincible Southwestern Indians, are beautifully summoned up and celebrated.  DEAD WATER RITES is a powerful story and a pure pleasure to read.”   —George Garrett, Author and Critic

Rare depth and thoroughness…and an intelligent openness to the possibility of vision.”      —Henry Taylor, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet

 

 

 

 

 

9 Comments

Filed under Native American, Spirituality, Writing

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Entertainment, Famous People, Memoirs, Military, Music, Writing

The Book That Changed My Life

Monty Joynes reading

Monty Joynes reading

Maybe every writer can describe the single book that changed his or her life.  In my case, the book was not a literary experience but rather a transformational alteration of my mind.  The book is Talks and Dialogues by J. Krishnamurti.

J KrishnamurtiJohn King, who teaches composition at Central Florida University, asked me to contribute my personal experience with the Krishnamurti book for a show that he describes thusly:  “The Drunken Odyssey: A Podcast About the Writing Life is a weekly program featuring interviews with new and established writers, as well as essays about books that changed writers’ lives.  It is like a slightly disreputable version of NPR.”

In Episode 60, which was available the first week in August, John begins his Devil in the Groveshow talking about his own writing and the expansion of his podcast, and then he moves on to a long interview with non-fiction Pulitzer Prize-winning author Gilbert King (no relation) who talks about his book Devil in the Grove.  Gilbert King’s novelistic style account of a famous rape trial in the Jim Crow South is a fascinating history lesson that I recommend to you.

My pre-recorded essay for the final segment of the show, “The Book That Changed My Life,” is as confessional as anything I have ever published.  The “before Krishnamurti” Monty was a very different person from the one who emerged after the reading.

Included on The Drunken Odyssey website is the cover of the book with extensive text as an introduction to J. Krishnamurti.  Here’s the link to access Episode 60 of The Drunken Odyssey and to hear my recorded essay.

           

1 Comment

Filed under Famous People, Spirituality, Writing

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

1 Comment

Filed under Entertainment, Famous People, Memoirs, Movies, Writing

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

4 Comments

Filed under Entertainment, Famous People, Memoirs, Movies, Music, Writing

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!

3 Comments

Filed under Famous People, Memoirs, Movies, Music, Writing

Johnny Cash Live at the Hampton Coliseum, 1970

Johnny Cash Man in BlackIn October 1970, I was part of the local production team that booked and promoted the Johnny Cash touring stage show in Hampton, Virginia.  When Johnny Cash and his wife June Carter played the newly opened Hampton Coliseum, their show was one of the most popular acts in show business.  Too bad that their performances would be interrupted by the worst thing that can happen to a live stage show.

Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash

Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash

Johnny’s ABC television variety show, recorded in Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium, then the home of the Grand Ole Opry, was rated the 17th most viewed television program in 1970.  The show began in June 1969, with Joni Mitchell, Cajun fiddler Doug Kershaw, comedian Fannie Flagg, and folk legend Bob Dylan as guest performers.

Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash

Louis Armstrong and Johnny Cash

Nearly every star of the folk-country music genre appeared on the show. Cash also featured the legends of country music like Bill Monroe as well as pop stars like Ray Charles, Neil Diamond, Pat Boone, and even jazz great Louis Armstrong in his last television appearance before his death.  For the ratings boost, show business royalty like Bob Hope, Kirk Douglas, Peggy Lee, and Lorne Greene came to Nashville to appear on the show.

Johnny Cash Show

WCMS, the top-rated country music radio station in the five-city Tidewater, Virginia media market, was owned by Com-Ent Inc. where I was a vice-president.  I was thus part of the production team effort to sell out the 13,800 concert seats in the Hampton Coliseum and to handle the financial and logistical details of managing the event.

Hampton Coliseum. Photo by David Polston

Hampton Coliseum. Photo by David Polston

Although the Hampton Coliseum would go on to successfully host a great lineup of shows including those of Elvis, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, The Eagles, Elton John, and just about every other major act that toured, the newness of the venue facility that had just opened earlier that year had a critical flaw.  The coliseum sound system had bugs.

Hampton Coliseum indoors

Evidently, people in the concert sound system business suspected that the Hampton Coliseum system might fail during a major concert because our office was contacted by a portable sound system vendor who had truckloads of giant new speakers, amplifiers, microphones, and sound technicians that he offered in a stand-by role at no charge.  Since WCMS promoted a line-up of country music concerts every year, some outdoors, I concluded that the equipment owner was just trying to get his business foot in our door.  I thus recommended that we accept the offer, and I arranged for truck parking spaces just outside the Coliseum loading dock.

June and JohnnyAs the huge audience crowd found their seats, Johnny sequestered himself with June in one of the dressing room suites.  In talking to the band members who assembled in the larger Green Room, I was told that Johnny preferred to be alone with June prior to going on stage.  In my pre-show contact with him, he was very polite, but reserved, as if preserving his energy.  Then with a final tuning of their instruments, you could see the energy surge into Johnny.  His posture came erect, and he strode out to the stage as The Man In Black that the audience expected.

I don’t remember how many songs Johnny got through before the HamptonJune and Johnny duets album Coliseum sound system failed.  The audience was all hyped-up to hear Johnny sing I Walk The Line and Ring of Fire, and to perform Jackson, It Ain’t Me, Babe, and If I Were a Carpenter, his famous duets with June.  But when the sound system went out, and it couldn’t be fixed, Johnny, June, and the band departed the stage with the raised hand gestures of “what can we do?”  The capacity audience then erupted with outcries of disbelief.

Back stage there was panic and desperate demands to quickly bring the sound system back on line, but the Coliseum management was helpless to correct the complex technical problems.  After more than half an hour of blood, sweat, and jeers, we made the decision to summon the outside vendor who then began a rapid set-up of his portable system.  The performance stage was a raised platform at one end of the Coliseum floor with the audience seats cupped in layers around it.  On stage, it had the feeling of performing in the round.  The huge box speakers were designed for outdoor concert use; and when the four primary ones were positioned on the platform, they became monolithic barriers that the performers would have to work around in order to gain sight lines to the audience.

Johnny and June

To the credit of Johnny and June, after an hour and a half delay, they returned to the stage and humorously worked around the six-feet tall black speaker boxes in giving a great show.  I had witnessed Shirley MacLaine walk off a Chrysler Hall stage in Norfolk after a sound system failure had twice interrupted her act.  The second time, she did not return.  Johnny and June would have been justified in doing the same, but they didn’t.

After the show, there is a financial reckoning between their accountants and ours.  Usually, the bottom line payout from the box office receipts is made by a promoter’s check, but this time the Cash show road manager wanted their share of the box office in currency that would be counted and carried out into the night in brown paper grocery bags.  After enduring the sound system ordeal, how could we say no?  I witnessed the count. I believe that our country friends walked away with about $83,000 in small bills.  That was a lot of money in 1970!

As the Johnny Cash tour buses departed Hampton, our exhausted staff went home feeling that we had dodged live concert’s most fatal bullet: the failed sound system.  We were also aware that Johnny Cash had done each of us a huge career favor by returning to the stage after the long delay. Thanks, Johnny.  You will always have our gratitude and respect.

Gravesite in Hendersonville, TN

Gravesite in Hendersonville, TN

1 Comment

Filed under Famous People, Memoirs, Music, Writing