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If you notice me singing, do join in…

mom-thinking-2I often walk to my favorite cafe in the morning. Since my right knee complains with every step, I sing as I walk. My brain isn’t capable of multi tasking, so trying to remember the words of old songs seems to lessen the pain. It works to some degree. When someone comes by, I lower my voice so I won’t be heard. Yet, what fun it would be if strangers joined me in song just like they did in the old musicals I so enjoyed when I was a kid. Ta-da….

judy-garland-fred-astaire-in-easter-parade

Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in Easter Parade

Even then I remember feeling a little silly as I watched some of those movies. The goings on onscreen could be unrealistic. For example, all the passersby knew the words of the songs and the dance steps and so were able to join Judy Garland and Fred Astaire in the ‘Easter Parade’ — dressed in their Easter best. Young as I was, I knew that didn’t really happen.

Yes, there were a few mindless plots weakly held together to

singing-in-the-rain-gene-kelly

Gene Kelly in Dancin’ in the Rain

showcase the talent of the stars in them, and Gene Kelly did dance in the rain on the sidewalks of New York in ‘Dancin’ in the Rain’, but you can’t deny he was entertaining.

Were musicals all silly, mindless fluff? I think not. Many important issues were covered in Broadway musicals — issues which society would not have been ready to confront in any other format at the time. Just as comedy was, and continues to be, used to help us deal with the serious and even unbearable, musicals often sugarcoated difficult themes. Without realizing it, audiences were encouraged to look at and hopefully rethink their ideas and attitudes.

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Thomas Carey and Carol Brice in Porgy & Bess, 1934

Gershwin and Heyward’s ‘Porgy & Bess’ is often regarded as the first great American opera. The music is brilliant but at the same time, the story makes a strong statement on the difficult position of blacks in America — as valid today as when it first came out in 1934, years before Martin Luther King came along.

Even earlier, in 1927, Kern and Hammerstein touched on black and

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The great Paul Robeson, Showboat, 1936

white issues in another timeless musical classic ‘Showboat’. (In my opinion those who protested against the show in Toronto some years ago, could not have seen it.)

Then, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘South Pacific’, which came out in 1949, tackled racial discrimination head-on. A real inter-racial love affair takes place on the stage/screen. It was a daring move which clearly defined the needless tragedy that results from racist thinking in Lieutenant

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Mary Martin & Ezio Pinza in South Pacific

Cable’s romance with a Polynesian girl, Liat. The American Nellie, portrayed so well by Mary Martin, is shocked when she discovers Emile, a Frenchman, has children who are half-Polynesian. In the end, Nellie chooses to deal with her own prejudices and marries the man she loves. (By the way, Mary Martin, who washed her hair in each performance, claimed all that hair-washing did no harm.)

‘Hair’ about the hippy movement, free love and the drug culture, raised many an eyebrow with its passive nudity in 1968. I remember being shocked myself when I first saw it. Those scenes seem mild to us today. Modern audiences probably don’t understand what the fuss was all about.

I’m reminded of these productions when I find myself singing some of the old show tunes while I walk in the morning. If you catch me at it, do join in.

 

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Maimonides’ prescription

photo by Timothy Stark

photo by Timothy Stark

Should I argue with someone acknowledged by all the world to have been a genius? Furthermore, why would I when I totally agree with him? Let’s face it, whenever people think as I do, I consider them geniuses anyway. (Ahem!)

The great philosopher, astronomer, scholar and physician, Maimonides, who lived from about 1138 until 1204, has been recognized throughout the ages as a real genius — which the guy certainly was. He moved in a prominent, important circle of society in Morocco and Egypt where he lived, and was a vital part of the history of Arab and Muslim sciences — which thrived then. And, yes, Maimonides was a Jew, but lucky for us, at that time he was a part of and worked closely with the top Arab thinkers around him.

Maimonides

Maimonides

In his medieval Spanish world, Maimonides, as a physician, recognized the importance of what today we might call ‘entertainment’ as a vital requirement for good health. He observed, and I quote: “Music, poetry, paintings and walks in pleasant surroundings all have a part to play towards being a happy person and the maintenance of good health.” Wow! He was a man after my own heart…

Maimonides' Statue in Cordoba

Maimonides’ Statue in Cordoba

Although I am nohow as clever as Maimonides, I’d add a few things I love to that list, but books were not that easily come by back then, and many people were unable to read and/or couldn’t afford them. I also spent years enjoying what I consider the ultimate challenge for actors — live theatre. It is impossible to beat the connection one feels with the actor on stage during a great performance. It is thrilling and remembered for years.

As someone who thoroughly enjoys the pleasures he believed in, I am

Maimonides' sculpture in U.S. Capitol

Maimonides’ sculpture in U.S. Capitol

committed to Maimonides’ prescription for well-being. The part of my income spent on such pleasures is, to my mind, an investment in my good health — surely as important as a visit to my fabulous and oh-so-clever and kind medical doctor. His list is also cheaper than and has less side effects than those provided by drug manufacturers.

Without a shred of guilt, I plunk down my credit card each year for season’s tickets to an eclectic and delightful ‘Music in the Morning’ concert series, as well as the ‘Live at the Met’ opera season coming directly to us from the New York Metropolitan Opera Company.

Both seasons are about over right now so they are on my mind, but I will be one of the first in line to purchase my tickets for next year. Can I afford it? Can I afford NOT to afford it? My health is at stake!

The health of my dear friends who share these pleasures with me is at stake as well! Besides, we go out for lunch afterwards for food and interesting conversation and what can give us more than that?

A Conversation with Cary Grant

My recent post about Jean Stapleton moved several readers to ask about what happened with Cary Grant. This second June posting is especially for them: Brian in the U.S., (Happy Belated Birthday, Brian); Tony and Barbara in Australia, and Eldon in Canada. They want to know about it.

At the time Coronet assigned me to write about whom the stars admire, I picked some I knew through my work in public relations, while others were contacted through people I knew in the business. However, Cary Grant was my favorite actor. I had seen him in “North by Northwest” and still love train travel as a result to this day. I very much wanted to include him, even though he had recently retired. A colleague was able to get his home address for me and I promptly wrote Cary Grant a letter.

Cary Grant in North by Northwest

Cary Grant in North by Northwest

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest

Cary Grant and Eva Marie Saint in North by Northwest

In those pre-computer days, we typed each letter separately, which was no big deal. I typed well. After deciding how to word my request, the letters to other stars flew quickly out of my electric typewriter, except the one to Cary Grant. That letter was typed slowly, painfully, each word considered and reconsidered and placed carefully on the page. This wasn’t just anyone. This was Cary Grant! In the end, it turned out to be the very same letter I sent to everyone else, but no other letter was checked more times for errors, or reread again and again and yet again. And, I never expected a reply.

A week or so later, I answered the phone to hear a clipped, British-accented, male voice asking for Muriel Kauffmann please.

“Speaking,” I answered.

“Hello, this is Cary Grant.”

Cary Grant! I could be blase about other stars, they’re just people after all, but not Cary Grant! It was really him, himself, uh, I was talking to him — for real — CARY GRANT on the telephone. And, he was talking to me too!

Was I able to behave like a real  person? Did I play it like a professional? Did I faint, get flustered, stutter or say something embarrassingly stupid? Of course not! I’m a trooper. I managed to carry on the conversation as if I talked with the likes of Cary Grant every day. We discussed the article I’d been asked to write, he was willing to participate, we chatted amicably about his input. He said he would write something, mail it to me, and I managed to graciously thank him. Well, maybe I thanked him twice and too graciously, but surely you’ll forgive me for that.

It was an open and interesting conversation in which he talked about how, when he was making movies, they had so much more time to complete them, and how he felt the current actors were under so much more pressure than he had been under. When the fabulous, surprisingly long conversation was over, I hung up just like ordinary people do when they have ordinary everyday conversations on the telephone. Then it hit me. That was Cary Grant!! I could no longer keep up the pretense of normalcy.

“Do you know who that was???” I cried out to my CPA husband, sitting at his desk right across from mine in our office. I couldn’t stay in my seat. I  jumped up so fast, my secretarial chair went flying out from under me.

“Who?” he asked casually, as he continued working away at his figures.

“That,” I said slowly and clearly, each word calling out for special attention, “was Cary Grant!”

Hubby peered at me over his metal-framed glasses, a blank expression on his face.

“Who’s he?” he asked.

Grant married five times, but perhaps his closest relationship was with Randolph Scott, shown with him here

Grant married five times, but perhaps his closest relationship was with Randolph Scott, shown with him here

“Who’s he? WHO’S HE??? What do you mean “who’s he?” How can you ask that?”

Imagine! He didn’t know anything about Cary Grant! Somehow the excitement of the moment was diminished and I felt angry at him for not being able to share my enthusiasm.

“He’s only one of the most famous and GORGEOUS movie stars in the whole, wide world!!!”

I purposely emphasized the word “gorgeous” to punish him, although it really wasn’t his fault. He grew up in France and his favorite American star was Broderick Crawford, whose violent films, for some reason, were popular on French television. Unfortunately, he chose that very moment to tell me so.

Broderick Crawford, a favorite in France

Broderick Crawford, a favorite in France

“Broderick Crawford? BRODERICK CRAWFORD??? How can you even mention his name in the same breath as Cary Grant?” I stammered.

So it was that my conversation with Cary Grant went uncelebrated in our household, but I enthusiastically shared my triumph with writer/friends, and I remember it well. Besides, the famous star gave much thought to what he had to say for my article, and Coronet was so pleased, they gave me another paying assignment the very next month.

Do write to let me know about your own brushes with fame. Meanwhile, here is the very reflective piece Grant wrote and mailed to me.

“You ask me who the stars admire. Well, as a former, so-called ‘star’ I admired, and still admire, countless people; but if, as your question seems to indicate, you inquire which actors, past or present, have earned my admiration, then there are many.

However, I have respect for any and all actors and actresses. It takes courage to expose oneself to examination of face, figure, deportment and manner of speech whether in a theatre seating anywhere from three hundred to one thousand people or, as amplified in films, in theatres all over the world where millions of people, in aggregate, make the actor the focal point of attention.  An actor must risk the dislike or disdain, criticism or indifference, of each member of the audience. Of the actors in the past who had the courage to ‘come on straight’, portraying themselves as nearly as possible (which is the most difficult of all acting from my point of view) my especial admiration goes to Spencer Tracy, Lee Tracy, and Humphrey Bogart. Each of those actors played their natural selves within the framework of the plot; whether in drama or casual, though always modern roles.

One of the actors I’ve most enjoyed is Mickey Rooney, who seems quite uncaring about exposing his own feelings and failings whether in drama or comedy. There’s another actor whom I greatly admire — Sir Lawrence Olivier. Unlike those others I’ve mentioned, he arranges to submerge his own warm and distinguished personality behind fascinatingly true, and incredibly effective, character studies. He is a completely different, yet equally compelling actor.

For most of today’s crop of young actors, I have unbounded admiration. Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman, and the many others who assay roles without inhibitions and are able to expose their inner selves to the utmost.

While on the subject of actors I admire, I must include the name of one of the funniest comedians I’ve every seen. Tim Conway, who appears here in Los Angeles, on Saturdays, on the Carol Burnett television show. He runs the gauntlet of comedy roles. Old men, young men, garrulous men and silent men. He combines the pantomimic qualities of Buster Keaton, Harpo Marx, Bobby Clark, and both Laurel and Hardy. Conway is a remarkably agile and athletic man and, I suspect that he, like myself, was, in the past, a theatrical acrobat. Perhaps that is why he, so particularly, appeals to me.

Your question, who do I admire, could, of course, be answered to include countless people, living and dead. Jesus, da Vinci, Browning, Shakespeare.

You’ll note that I haven’t yet even mentioned any women and, believe me, I’ve admired, indeed loved many. But then, are you writing an article or a lengthy book?”