Random Thoughts

Sometimes I have no idea what to write about in this space.  Most of the time an idea strikes me when I sit down and see the blank sheet of paper on my computer screen. Today I had a hundred thoughts but none of them would make a good blog on their own so here are one or two that I thought you may find interesting.

First The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power starts next week on Amazon Prime. If you are a Tolkien fan you have been aware of this and you are either anticipating the show with joy or dread. What amazes me is the number of people who have decided to give a negative opinion on a show they haven’t seen.  The show is based on the side stories that are told in The Lord of The Rings and its appendices. There is a lot of good material there and The Tolkien Estate and Trust are involved in the production. I think we are in for a treat. I will never understand how anyone can be judge and jury on something that no one has seen.

I also read this week that schools in Florida are beginning to ban books.  Banning books in any place is very frightening to me. This is behavior that occurred under Hitler in Germany. The government of Florida is not allowing the public to consume what our free press is producing. Now the first I read of this there was a list of books attached.  That list was revealed to be bogus. The correction was down to two known books The Diary of Anne Frank and The Bible. Banning either of these books from schools is just stupid. Most of our laws are based on Biblical principles. The Bible has played an important role in U.S. history and students should have access to it for that reason alone. The Diary of Ann Frank seems to be the desire to forget what happened to the Jewish people under Hitler. It used to be required reading and now it’s being banned. Something is dreadfully wrong here. I know it’s only in Florida at the moment but how long until this spreads to other states?

I also want to take a moment and discuss something that gets little press but is slowly becoming a national issue with both men and women and that is porn addiction. Porn addiction or sex addiction or as it is referred to clinically Compulsive Sexual Behavior Disorder is now something that is being taken very seriously by the medical and psychological community. Globally the porn industry takes in 97 billion dollars a year. This is an industry that everyone says they never look at but let’s face it more people do than don’t. Pornography is addictive because when you orgasm the same areas of the brain get stimulated as when a person uses heroin. Some people can use small amounts of heroin and not get addicted. Sex is the same. You can have a healthy sex life and not be an addict. Sex, however, when used inappropriately can lead to addiction and its consequences can be just as severe as abusing drugs or alcohol. The sex addict opens him or herself up to danger when they participate in anonymous encounters.  There is always the threat of venereal disease or AIDS. For those who use pornographic material the law of diminishing return applies.

The pornographic industry is very smart when it comes to marketing its product. You can go on the internet and get almost anything you want to see at no cost. The problem sets in when the free stuff fails to satisfy in the same way. At this point, you begin to look for something a bit more graphic or exotic, you may still find some for free but slowly it will become less and less and then you begin to pay. Once hooked on the paid sites people begin to spend more and more money sometimes up to six or seven dollars a minute to get what they crave. The industry has you hooked and an addict is born. This is the law of diminishing return and it works the same way with drugs and alcohol.

Of course, it doesn’t stop there. For many people when pornography fails to satisfy they find themselves craving live encounters and employ male and female prostitutes. All of this can turn into hundreds and thousands of dollars a year for just one person. There is however hope for the addict.

Sexaholic Anonymous has been around for years recognizing the problem before the medical community did. Other groups have recently sprung up as well recognizing that this problem is more common than anyone wants to admit. The biggest problem and parents take heed, is the porn shop we have in our house.

In the year when I was growing up buying pornography was embarrassing. If you bought it at all, you went to a store that was nowhere near where you lived. You secreted it into your house and hid it from prying eyes. Now porn is available instantly on your phone, tablet, laptop, and desktop computers. Anyone and everyone is just a few clicks away from images they are better off not looking at. And this is both men and women.  According to the U.K.’s Daily Record, one in four women are admitting to using pornography. That’s 25% of the female population. Men’s usage is in larger numbers but women are moving up.

The reason I am bringing this to your attention is that these things need to be talked about. People need to know that there is help and that they are not alone in this battle. If you are caught in porn’s grip you are just as many clicks away from finding help on the internet as you are from finding your next hit.

Random thoughts. The things that run around in my head that need a voice. I’m sure you have thoughts about some of the things I wrote about today or maybe some thoughts about another topic all together feel free to leave your own ‘random thoughts” in the comments.

JOY: THE LEGACY OF JERRY HERMAN

There’s just no tune,

As Exciting

As a show tune,

In 2/4.

Jerry Herman was born on June 10th, 1931.  At an early age, he fell in love with the musical theater.  Living near the NYC theater district his parents were frequent theater goers and when they came home they were filled with the music of the show they had seen.  Jerry’s parents were also amateur musicians and their home was filled with music of the theater.

When Jerry was old enough his parents brought him along on their theater excursions and much to their surprise on arriving home Jerry was able to play much of the score he had heard that night.  Jerry was born with Broadway in his blood.

The lyrics quoted above are a line from one of Jerry’s earliest songs.  In a way, it is the philosophy behind every song Jerry ever wrote.  To him, every song was about the character singing it.  And into each song, he infused joy and enthusiasm for life.  Even in his most grumpy characters such as Horace Vandergelder in Hello Dolly, you can’t help feeling that deep down he’s a cuddly bear when he sings “It Takes a Woman.

Jerry Herman began writing for Broadway at a time when Broadway was at its zenith.  The 50s and 60s brought show after show and each was memorable.  Many are still being revived on Broadway or are perennially used in community and regional theater.

This was the world of Rodger’s and Hammerstein, Lerner and Lowe, Meredith Wilson, Kander and Ebb.  A young Stephen Sondheim was just getting started and Ethel Merman and Mary Martin were both queens of Broadway.  This was the Broadway Jerry Herman entered.  Broadway would never be the same.

I came across Jerry Herman in an off-beat kind of way.  My mother loved musicals and would play records and sing at the top of her lungs every Saturday while cleaning.  These records were always musicals.  The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, Camelot, Funny Girl, and The Music Man were played almost every week but no Jerry Herman.  I was not fond of musicals at the time.  I was listening to The Archies and The Partridge Family.  The theater bug bit me in the 8th grade when I was cast as Harry Macafee in our school’s production of Bye Bye Birdie.  I heard applause for the first time, just for me, and it changed something deep inside me.

From then on my record money went to original cast recordings and Hollywood soundtracks.  Always looking for a bargain, I was a teenager on an allowance, I would delve into the bargain record bins at Jerry’s Records, a store in the Bazaar of All Nation in Clifton Heights PA.  One day I found a copy of the movie soundtrack for Mame in the bin.  I had never heard of it but it starred my favorite actress Lucille Ball and it was $1.99.  I bought it and ran home.  I played that record over and over.  Everyone was telling me that Lucy can’t sing but I only heard gold and though I knew nothing of the story I fell in love with the music and lyrics of Jerry Herman.

Mame was amazing.  I soon found a script for the Broadway show in our local library so I understood where the songs fit and knew the story.  Eventually, I was able to order the book the musical was based on Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis.  I had to special order it at Walden Books and I got it but nothing compared to the music and lyrics of Mame.

Mame is probably the most uplifting and life-affirming musical ever written.  Jerry had already had two successful shows on Broadway before Mame.  The first was Milk and Honey the musical, as I understand it was about a group of older American Jewish women looking for husbands in The Holy Land or Israel.  Two wonderful songs came out of that production, the title song Milk and Honey and a lovely ballad called Shalom.  All the songs can be listened to by following the Youtube links.

Shalom Shalom,

You’ll find Shalom,

The nicest greeting you know.

It means bonjour, salute and skoal,

And twice as much as hello.

It means a million lovely things,

Like peace be yours welcome home,

And even when you say goodbye,

You say goodbye with shalom.

After that Jerry was asked to turn  Thorton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker into a musical.  That musical graced the stage and won the Tony Award for best musical in 1964.  The show was Hello Dolly but more on that later.  Back to Mame.

Mame came to Broadway in 1966 and also won the Tony for best musical.  Mame was played by Angela Lansbury and is the story of Patrick Dennis an orphan who goes to live with his only living relative Mame Dennis in New York City.  The opening of Mame takes place in the streets of New York where Agnes Gooch, Patrick’s nanny, and Patrick are looking for Mame’s Beekman Place apartment.  They sing a prayer to St Bridget and arrive at Mame’s as she is throwing a lavish party.  Mame appears at the top of the stairs blows a bugle and sings It’s Today

Light the candles.

Get the ice out,

Roll the rug up,

It’s Today.

Though it may not be anyone’s birthday,

And though it’s far from the first of the year,

I know that this very minute,

Has history in it,

We’re here!

This song set the whole tone of the show and gives Mame’s philosophy of life.  In this song, she sings the spoken line that is in all of Mame’s stage and movie adaptations. “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.”  Mame raises Patrick for as long as she can using this state of mind.  It becomes more clear in the song Open a New Window.  This song is a joyous anthem about taking chances and never saying no to whatever life offers you.  It feels good, it’s upbeat, and when you listen you want to go with Mame to wherever she leads.

If you follow your Auntie Mame,

I’ll make this vow, my little love,

That on the last day of your life,

You’ll be smiling the same young smile,

You’re smiling now my little love,

If you wake up every morning,

And you pull aside the shutter,

Ans promise me that these will be,

The first words that you utter.

Open a new window,

Open a new door,

Travel a new highway,

That’s never been tried before.

I could go on all day about the wonderful songs in Mame.  My Best Girl, Bosom Buddies, We Need a Little Christmas, If He Walked into My Life and of course the title song Mame.  But this whole blog would end up being only about that one show.  This was my first introduction to Jerry’s music and what I didn’t know was there was more.

There’s a lot of controversy surrounding Lucille Ball’s portrayal of Mame.  Some felt her voice and her age worked against her playing the role.  I’m not sure that’s all true.  My biggest problem with the film is the stuff they cut out and the script.  After finally seeing the stage production and hearing the original Broadway cast album a lot of the story was left out and or changed and this was not necessary.  The song That’s How Young I Feel was cut and it was key to describing Mame’s feelings as an older woman as she sings it when Parick has grown up.  The script just didn’t work for me in parts.  One change that I did enjoy was Lucille doing her best to get out of a store where Mame has been fired from wearing one roller skate.  It was hilarious and true Lucy antics.

For a long time, Lucille’s portrayal as Mame was all I knew and I loved it.  When VHS tapes came out and you could buy movies to own them for the very first time.  My first purchase was Mame.  The movie will always be dear to my heart.

I have to admit I keep hoping every year that NBC will decide to do Mame Live as they have done with The Sound of Music, Peter Pan, Grease, The Wiz, Hairspray, and most recently Annie.  NBC usually airs these television events at Christmas and Mame would be perfect, especially with a Christmas song embedded in the show.  That is also my hope for the next Jerry Herman show we’ll discuss Hello Dolly.

Hello Dolly opened in 1964.  It is the story of Dolly Levi a widow who has decided to “rejoin the human race.”  She decides to accomplish this goal by marrying Horace Vandergelder the leading citizen of Yonkers New York.  The musical takes place in 24 hour time period it has a prelude in NYC continues in Yonkers, goes back to NYC, and ends in Yonkers.  Not bad for a day.

It took me a while to catch on to Hello Dolly.  I wasn’t interested at all at first.  All I knew of the show was the title song sung by Louis Armstrong and recorded in 1964.  I was three years old and didn’t care much for it.  My grandmother would be playing it while we visited her and it wasn’t a kid’s song.  It took me a long time to find out where that song came from.

For a moment I want to take some time and talk about Jerry Herman the human being.  Jerry’s songs were always joyful and filled with life.  He came from a family that gave him that but he didn’t change when it came to being successful.  Some folks when they make it big in their chosen professions don’t have time for others but Jerry was not like that as illustrated here by my good friend Richard Tyley Jordan.  Richard has written the definitive book on the Character of Mame Dennis and it was over this book that Richard and I met.  He is also the author of The Polly Pepper Mysteries which are great fun and have been called a cross between The Carol Burnett Show and Murder, She Wrote.  Here is Richard’s story of his first meeting with Jerry Herman.

When I began writing my nonfiction book But Darling, I’m Your Auntie Mame!, I sent a letter to Jerry Herman requesting an interview. I didn’t actually expect a response. Why would the legendary composer of Hello, Dolly!, Mame, Mack and Mable, and La Cage Aux Folles, among other Broadway hits, deign to offer an audience to me, an unaccomplished kid (I was actually in my 30s, but I felt completely inferior compared to the great man)? I was equally terrified that he’d grant my request and find that I was an interloper in his rarefied world. I just happened to be in New York doing research for my book when I got the call. Yes! Jerry Herman would see me on Friday afternoon at 2:00! My world was spinning! 

When I arrived at Jerry Herman’s brownstone, I was greeted by his amiable assistant, who guided me to the left and down two steps, and into Jerry’s wood-paneled office. A set decorator couldn’t have designed a more perfect room for showcasing career memorabilia of Tony Awards, Grammy Awards, framed gold records, and posters from Mr. Herman’s many Broadway triumphs. The assistant asked if I’d like a tea or coffee (“No, thank you.” I was too edgy as it was.) and said, “Mr. Herman will be with you shortly.” And then the moment arrived! Jerry Herman … in-person … appeared in the doorway, brandishing a friendly smile and a warm handshake. I was immediately instructed to drop the “Mr. Herman” formality and call him “Jerry.”

Jerry sat behind his desk (with a portrait painting of Carol Channing as Dolly Levi looking down from the wall behind him), and I sat nervously in a brown leather wingback chair. Neurotic me was trying very hard to appear intelligent and sophisticated so that he wouldn’t realize I was just a fan on a mission to chronicle the success of author Patrick Dennis’ Auntie Mame character. What I remember most about that afternoon is how gracious he was to me. For those two hours, we talked about how much he loved Mame and composing the songs for that show and how it was actually one of the easiest shows he’d ever worked on. But we also talked about how deeply and personally disappointed he was with Lucille Ball’s film version of his hit musical.

I guess I did something right that afternoon because when we concluded the interview, it was Jerry himself who offered to write the introduction to my book! This amazing man, whose songs I had admired my entire life, offered to personally contribute to my labor-of-love project! I’m still overwhelmed by his generosity. That’s the kind of man that Jerry Herman was. I’ve rarely known anyone more magnanimous. I will always be grateful to Jerry Herman, not only because he believed in my book and penned the introduction to it, but also because he gave me the soundtrack of my life:

I Am What I Am

If He Walked into My Life

It Only Takes a Moment

It’s Today

I Won’t Send Roses

Put On Your Sunday Clothes

Time Heals Everything

Although my book is long out of print (maybe I should release an e-book version), I am forever and deeply indebted to Jerry Herman, one of the finest men and talents I’ve ever known.

I don’t think much more can be said of the man.  He was not only talented but he had a spirit of generosity to both see and nurture talent in others.This can also be seen in Angela Lansbury’s autobiography where she tells of Jerry so wanting her to get the role of Mame in the original Broadway cast that he coached her on how to sing the songs he wrote before she auditioned.  This is the kind of man he was.  Because of this generous, beautiful spirit music poured out of him.

Hello Dolly is a show about second chances.  It’s a show about coming out of the fog and realizing you’re alive and life is worth living.  It’s a show that tells you in no uncertain terms that you can begin again at any time of life.  I of course saw Dolly first as a film starring Barbra Streisand.  It may not have been my best introduction to the show but it was fun nonetheless and had a deep impact on my life.  The music and lyrics are just as amazing as what Jerry would soon write for Mame but the theme was different.  Mame is about knowing life is wonderful and teaching that lesson to the upcoming generation.  Hello Dolly is about forgetting that life is wonderful and having to relearn the lesson.  This didn’t mean much to me as a young man but it means a whole lot now.

In 2018 I had the privilege of seeing Bernadette Peters in a revival of Hello Dolly in NYC at The Schubert Theater.  Watching Miss Peters was a revelation of what this show means.  It’s for and about older people starting again.  Anyone can start again, but there are plenty of movies and plays about young people starting again, not so many about our older generation.  Right now, my generation.  I came away from that show not only singing beloved songs but knowing I could start again.  It took awhile but this blog is part of that second chance for me.

The songs of Hello Dolly are full of joy.  I Put My Hand In, It Takes a Woman, Put on Your Sunday Clothes, Dancing, Before the Parade Passes By, Etiquette, It Only Takes a Moment and of course the title song Hello Dolly.

Carol Channing the original Dolly in the musical tells the story of recording the cast album.  In the recording studio the whole cast couldn’t contain themselves and they burst into the kicks while singing the title song.  It has been said that the cast recording of Dolly is one of the few that makes you feel like you’re in the theater.

In the show Jerry’s Girls, the title song gives a list of many of the actresses that played in Jerry’s shows.  One of those names is Lucie Arnaz.  I reached out to Miss Arnaz about how she feels about performing the music of Jerry Herman.  Miss Arnaz replied:

“Jerry writes about joy and, as a performer, it’s a vacation to sing his music.”

And that is about the best thing that could be said.  Singing Jerry’s music can be a balm for me when I’m down.  The songs from Hello Dolly are infectious.  You can’t help singing along and if you have them in your heart you can’t help singing them when life has kicked you in the gut.

One such song from Hello Dolly is a sort of anthem for second chances.  The song is Before The Parade Passes by

Before the parade passes by,

I’m going to go and taste Saturday’s high life.

Before the parade passes by,

I’m going to get some life back into my life.

I’m ready to move out in front,

I’ve had enough of just passing by life.

With the rest of them.

With the best of them.

I’m gonna hold my head up high.

I’ve got a goal again,

I’ve got a drive again.

I wanna feel my heart coming alive again.

Before the parade passes by.

Can you think of better words to say to the world that you still have something to offer, that you still count, and that you are part of the parade ready to do your bit and find a full life?  In this respect, the roles of Dolly and Mame are very much alike.  Both women are driven to find the best out of the life that they have and to have joy in that journey.

After his stellar success with Hello Dolly and Mame Jerry would write several more shows for the Broadway stage some successful and some not so successful.  Even the shows that weren’t so successful had memorable moments and great music.  One such show was Mack and Mabel.

Mack and Mabel opened in 1974 and told the love story of silent movie director Mack Sennett and silent movie star Mabel Norman.  It opened with two Broadway legends as the leads, Robert Preston and Bernadette Peters.  It had wonderful music.  Movies were Movies, I Wanna Make the World Laugh, Look What Happened to Mabel, I Won’t Send Roses, Wherever He Ain’t and the ballad Time Heals Everything.

This show only played 91 performances which had to be a big letdown for the entire team.  I have read that the show’s ending with Mabel’s death due to drug addiction was hard for the audience to watch. With all the upbeat music the show brings you down in the end.  I have also read that the ending was reworked and is now not as dark.  I have never seen a production of this show but I would love to.  It does continue to be performed in regional and community theater.  The cast album is great and I enjoy listening to it.  No matter the ending you can’t help feeling happy while listening to the music.

Jerry’s Next Hit would come in 1983 with his show La Cage Aux Faux.  La Cage is about two gay men who have raised a straight son who now wants to marry.  I have not seen this show but the son wants his dads to act a bit more middle of the road which is hard to do when you consider that the dads own a club that features men in drag and one of them is the star performer.

The title in English translates to The Cage of Fools and it was originally a French film, but not a musical.  After the musical opened an American version of the film was produced called The Birdcage and it starred Nathan Lane and Robin Williams. 

La Cage Aux Faux was a big risk for Jerry and Broadway.  There had been plays about gay men before but they weren’t lavish musicals and this would be a big production.  It also opened at the beginning of the AIDS crisis and gay men were again being attacked for who they were.  But despite all of that La Cage was a hit and won the Tony award that year.  To add to its honors the show was revived twice in 2005 and 2010 and won the Tony for best revival both times.

There are two stand-out songs in La Cage.  One is almost a campfire song and Jerry himself describes it as such.  The song has a great melody and is easy to learn.  The song is The Best of Times.

The Best of Times is now,

What’s left of summer but a faded rose,

The best of times is now

As For tomorrow, well who knows

Who knows,

Who knows.

So make the moment last,

And live and love as hard  as you know-how,

And make this moment last,

Because the best of times is now

Is now

Is now.

The other song is an anthem for gay men and for everyone else who feels misplaced in society.  It is a song for the marginalized, for people of color, for the odd kid at school that gets beat up because he’s different.  The song is I am What I Am.

I am what I am

I am my own special creation.

So come take a look,

Give me the hook or the ovation.

It’s my world that I want to take a little pride in,

My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.

Life’s not worth a damn,

‘Til you can say, “Hey world, I am what I am.”

I am what I am,

I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.

I bang my own drum,

Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty.

And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,

Why not try to see things from a diff’rent angle?

Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud

I am what I am!

In 1996 Jerry Wrote the words and music for a Christmas television musical called Mrs. Santa Claus.  It was aired only once as far as I know but it had a terrific cast and storyline and of course incredible music.  The leading lady was Angela Lansbury as Mrs. Claus.  She feels neglected sometime around 1900 and decides she knows a better route for Santa to deliver his toys.  She takes the sleigh in order to go around the world only to be stranded in NYC on Avenue A where she meets and is befriended by many locals.  In the few days she’s there she reunites a family, softens the heart of an evil toy manufacturer, and strikes a blow for women’s rights.  All to the sound of some terrific and clever music.

 My favorite song from the show is Almost Young a declaration of you’re as young as you feel and Angela proves it to a bunch of children who work in the toy factory

I’m holding back the hands of time
And though a fool might say I’ve passed my prime
My heart has always clung to staying almost young

A few grey hairs, A few gold teeth
Can never hide the kid that’s underneath
The kid whose hopes are hung
On staying almost young

My walk is swift and sporty
My disposition is evergreen
Why say I’m over forty, I’m over seventeen

I’ll still have all the speed it takes
When all the others have applied the brakes
And when my knell has run

I’ll still be struttin’ and kickin’
Like some little chicken
I’m almost young

Considering Miss Lansbury was 71 when she made this musical you can see she was still pretty spry if you follow the Youtube link.

I haven’t said much about Jerry’s Love songs and there were a good many.  It Only Takes A Moment from Hello Dolly, Time Heals Everything and I Won’t Send Roses from Mack and Mabel, Loving You from the film version of Mame.  My favorite is from Mrs.  Santa Claus and it’s sung by a young couple who Mrs. Claus helps bring together.  It’s called, We Don’t Go Together at All.

{Sadie}:
Look Marcello…
A girl with a drive and a fellow with a dream
Are like pickled herring with vanilla ice cream
So, as unromantic as my words may seem
We don’t go together at all

My big loud mouth and your quiet ways
Are like August evenings with December days
Are like corned beef and cabbage topped with mayonnaise
We don’t go together at all

We’re like chicken soup
And a slice of ham

{Marcello}:
We’re the big bad wolf
And the little lamb

{Sadiе}:
Like a picnic lunch
That’s ruined by a sudden squall

{Sadiе}:
We don’t
{Marcello}:
No we don’t

{Both}:
No we don’t go together at all

{Marcello}:
Like an overcoat
And a hot July

{Sadie}:
Like a bowl of borscht
And a pizza pie

{Marcello}:
Like if I asked you
To come to the policemen’s ball

{Sadie}:
We don’t

{Marcello}:
No we don’t

{Both}:
No we don’t go together at all
{Sadie}:
An onion roll at a Mayfair tea
Like a march by Sousa in a minor key

{Marcello}:
So forget all the magic that was meant to be
We don’t go together at all

{Marcello}:
A stable boy and a suffragette
Are about as peculiar as a pair can get

{Both}:
So it’s, oh, such a pity
That we even met

{Sadie}:
We don’t go together at all


I love the cleverness of the lyrics to this song.  It also has a catchy tune and it’s fun to sing either the girl part or the boy part or both.

This is truly the longest blog I have ever written.  I hope I captured the joy of Jerry’s music and the inspiration he has given to…well too many people to count.  If you are unfamiliar with Jerry’s work the CDs are still available to buy and Spotify has all of his original cast recordings and soundtracks as well as many many different artists that have covered his songs in one way or another.  If you can catch a performance of any of his musicals spend the time and money it is well worth it.  Mrs. Santa Claus is available on DVD and well worth adding to your holiday film collection. The film Mame is available on DVD and electronically on platforms such as Vudo.  Hello Dolly is available on DVD and electronically.  It is also available to stream on Disney+.

I’m leaving you with Jerry’s first hit.  It was used in the show and to advertise lunchmeat and as a presidential song for Lyndon Johnson.  I don’t know if it helped but he won the 1964 election.  For the election it became Hello Lyndon, For Oscar Mayer it was Hello Deli, for me it will always be Hello Dolly. 

Hello, Dolly,
Well, hello, Dolly
It’s so nice to have you back where you belong
You’re lookin’ swell, Dolly
I can tell, Dolly
You’re still glowin’, you’re still crowin’
You’re still goin’ strong
We feel the room swayin’
While the band’s playin’
One of your old favourite songs from way back when

Golly Gee, fellas
Find her an empty knee, fellas
Dolly’ll never go away again.

It is my Hope Jerry Herman will never go away too.

MPL and the estate of Jerry Herman have graciously given me permission to use the lyrics to Jerry’s songs. This author is grateful and I hope the article is a source of joy for many.

SUPERMAN

In June of 2022, we celebrate the 94th year of Superman being in publication.  In this week’s blog I’d like to take a look back at the first comic book superhero and discuss why he was important in 1938 and why he is still important today.

The word hero comes from the Greek word heros and it means protector.  From the very start that was the embodiment of what Superman is.  He protects those who cannot protect themselves.   In his first stories, he would be confronting wife beaters and crooked politicians.  He was a hero for every man and woman, and no one was beneath his notice.  Of course, times change, And Superman’s powers grew and changed, and his enemies became almost as powerful as he was himself and yet the hero would always make time for others even getting a cat out of a tree.

Superman remains popular after 94 years.  He has been in every form of entertainment that exists.  Comic books, movies, first animated and then live-action, 5 television series and that does not include animated series of which I believe there have been three, radio shows, movies, novels, and a Broadway Musical.  No other fictional character has ever covered all of that.  The only one that comes close is Charlie Brown but he was never featured in a radio show or a novel.

Superman has more web pages than I care to count and several pages on Facebook both private and public and some official DC pages and other unofficial pages.  He also has an encyclopedia in one volume, but it was published many years ago and a lot has changed in those years.  It’s still a treasure trove of information.

Superman stories in comic books can be broken down into 4 eras, The Golden Age, The Silver Age, The Bronze Age, and The Modern Age.

The Golden Age began with Superman in April of 1938.  From the very beginning, comic book magazines were dated three months after their release dates so Action Comics number one which featured Superman on the cover was dated June but appeared on the newsstands at the beginning of April giving the magazine almost 90 days of shelf life.  The Golden Age brought all of the now-classic heroes to life.  Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Aquaman, The Flash, Robin, Captain Marvel, now known as Shazam, Wonder Woman, Black Canary, and many others all debuted during this era.  All of these except for Captain Marvel were published under National Periodical Publications which later became DC Comics.  Marvel started out at about the same time only they were called Timely.  Their superstars were Captain America, The Sub-Mariner, and The Human Torch.  The Golden Age would begin to fade at the end of WW2 and be completely gone in the early fifties.  Comic books would come under the scrutiny of the U.S. government and would be considered a contributor to juvenile delinquency.  The only three Titles to survive the 50s were Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman.

The Silver Age began with reintroducing The Flash.  This was not the old Flash from the 40s but a streamlined hero made for the beginning of The Atomic Age.  His costume, origin, and secret identity all changed and he was hit.  Soon others would follow being brought back to life were Green Lantern and The Atom.  New heroes were added such as The Martian Manhunter and old heroes were refreshed.  The Silver Age at Timely came to life when Stan Lee created The Fantastic Four and Spiderman and all the other members of what come to be known as The Avengers.

The Bronze Age of comics began in the 1970s when comic books began to become socially relevant.  Though in some ways mainly aimed at kids by 1970 the kids who were reading the Silver Age characters were now young adults and they wanted to keep reading so more mature storylines began to be introduced.  Peter Parker’s girl Friend Gwen Stacy is brutally murdered by The Green Goblin.  Roy Harper who was Green Arrows sidekick is hooked on heroin,  The Joker is reintroduced as a ruthless murderer and Batman goes very dark.  Superman changes too.  No longer a newspaper reporter he is now employed by WGBS as a news anchorman which causes all kinds of new problems for The Man of Steel but he did not lose his Innosense.

The Bronze Age Continues until 1985.  1985 is a landmark year for DC Comics.  They are celebrating their 50th anniversary and what an anniversary it was.  DC set out a year-long story called Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Over the years DC bought many properties from comic book companies that folded.  They had introduced these characters into the DC universe by each of them having their own Earth.  The explanation was that the Earth vibrates and all these other Earths vibrated differently but occupied the same space.  Some of these Earth”s histories aligned with our own but different heroes were there.  Captain Marvel’s family resided on Earth X.  Our current hero roster resided on Earth One.  Earth-Two housed the original DC comic book characters from the 30s and forties.  These included the original Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman.  For several years the heroes of Earths One and Two would find a way to cross the vibrational barrier and have amazing adventures together.  Over time all of these Earths became hard to keep straight and so in 1985 DC destroyed all of the other Earths and everyone was streamlined into one Earth and all of the DC Comics heroes were rebooted.

1986 marked the year of The Modern Age of Comics and the first book to spring out of that was a six-issue mini-series called The Man of Steel.  In these six issues, Superman’s origin was retold.  His relationships with his parents, Lois Lane, Jimmy Olson, and Batman were reworked.  There was a love connection between Superman and Lois that would eventually end in marriage.  Jon and Martha Kent were allowed to live and see their adoptive son grow up and become Superman.  Batman became an uneasy ally with Superman but you wouldn’t call them friends anymore.  Batman was the dark to Superman’s light.  He even began calling Superman, “the boy scout” in a less than friendly way.

Superman’s origin n the real world began with two teenage boys in Cleveland Ohio.  Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster created Superman first as a villain and published a prose story in their science fiction fan magazine.  Soon they came back to Superman and reworked him into a newspaper strip.  Jerry and Joe were very much more in the likeness of Clark Kent than Superman.  They spent their formative years in the Great Depression of the 1930s.  Neither was a great student or athlete.  Neither was the one to get the girl.  But they both loved Science Fiction, the popular pulp magazines of the time and they were both Jewish.

Being Jewish is important to the Superman story.  If you look closely at the character’s origin you can see the similarities between Superman and Moses.  Moses’s life was in danger as a baby and he is put in a basket and floated on The Nile River until he is rescued by Pharaoh’s daughter.  Superman’s planet is about to be destroyed and he is p[laced into a rocket to Earth to be rescued by the Kents.  Both men, one real and the other fictional become heroes to their people as they become adults.  I do not believe there is much coincidence here.

Jerry and Joe try their hardest to sell their Superman strip to newspaper after newspaper only to be rejected time and time again.  Eventually, they hear that National wants a new hero for its new comic book Action Comics.  They redo the Superman daily strip into a single story and present it to National who bought the character and the rights for 130 dollars.  National hires Jerry and Joe as writers and artists but they have no legal right to their character anymore.

Copywrite is the bain of all artists.  If you don’t own it you don’t make money from it even if you created the property.  Seigel and Shuster were reduced to living at the poverty level until the 1970s when the comic book artists and writers went to bat for them and helped them gain a piece of the very large Superman pie.  By that time DC Comics was part of Warner Communications and the first Superman Movie starring Christopher Reeves was about to be released.  Warner Brothers didn’t want the bad publicity so they made a generous settlement to the two men which included health insurance for the rest of their lives.

As an aside Maria Von Trapp did the same thing with her film rights to The Story of The Trapp Family Singers.  She sold the rights to a German filmmaking company for three hundred dollars.  The Germans made a film but then sold the rights to Rodgers and Hammerstein who turned half of the book into The Sound of Music.  Maria made no money off of the broadway production but Fox studios offered her a small percentage of the profits on the film.  You can glimpse The Baroness in the movie if you look quickly during the I Have Confidence sequence.

Superman has endured in popularity, in my own opinion, because he is a symbol of hope.  In the later years years it has been revealed that that the S on his chest is the Kryptanian symbol for hope.  Recently Superman’s slogan “Truth Juustice and The American Way” has be aletered to “Truth Justice and a Better Tomorrow.”  With the United States History coming under attack The American Way seems distasteful to some people and so the slogan was changed.  For many years The American Way was the hope to millions of people who immigrated to this country, including my grandparents.  Millions of people still want to come to this country because of the hope that still exists.  For those living outside of the USA, the American way ensures a better tomorrow.

Superman is American in every sense of the word.  He is a first-generation immigrant that makes good in his new world and in his new country.  He lives out the American dream.  As Clark Kent, he is a successful journalist and as Superman, he is what all heroes strive to be.  He is in actuality the embodiment of America and its promise.

Superman is something else too.  He is something that every good person strives for.  He is passionate about justice.  He believes in mercy and no one is beneath his desire to help.  We can all identify with Clark Kent.  An average guy looking to make a living and a difference in his world.  But can we identify with Superman?  The answer to that question is a resounding YES!

We identify with Superman by using the best of who we are to benefit and help others.  We don’t have to have super strength, the ability to fly, or x-ray vision to make a difference in this world.  Anyone can make a difference.  I read recently about The Peter Pan Children’s Fund.  This is an organization that was started by a young girl after seeing a production of the stage version of this wonderful story, she then toured The Great Ormand Street Hospital for Children in London and found compassion for the sick children there.  Instead of birthday presents that year she had money donated to the hospital and began a campaign to have other children do the same.  The organization does not exist just for the hospital in London but for every children’s hospital.  And by the efforts of one young girl.

It doesn’t take much to make a difference in this world.  Just a desire for mercy and justice.  A desire to love others as we love ourselves.  A desire to give the best of who we are to the world and let God in heaven who made us all determine the outcome.  Edmond Burke said, “Evil thrives when good men do nothing.”  If you want to be like Superman be a good person and do something.

How Can I Help; The Philosophy of New Amsterdam

For the last four years, I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the television show New Amsterdam.  New Amsterdam is a fictional hospital in NYC but it is based on the very real hospital Bellvue also in NYC. The show’s stories are interesting and compelling.  The scripts are well written and the cast of characters well defined.

In the first season and for the last four years the show centers around Dr. Max Goodwin. In the first episode, Max takes over as what I believe is now called The Chief Medical Officer in a hospital.  In other words, Max was running the show.  In the first three and half seasons, Max stays in this position until he marries Helen the head of the oncology department and they both move to London Helen’s original home.  Max is back now trying to get the hospital back from the evil woman who the board elected to take his place.  The culmination of that will take place tonight, Tuesday, May 10, 2022. 

In his first season, Max is constantly asking the same question whenever a problem arises.  That question is, “How can I help?”  That attitude begins to take over the whole hospital as you begin to see the main characters more and more, some subtly some overtly begin to take on the characteristic of caring for each other and the patients of the hospital.

Now you would think patient care would always be the top priority of all medical facilities.  Having worked in medicine for 30 years as a dialysis technician and a medical assistant.  I have seen the level of care for patients being eroded by government rules and paperwork.  Hands-on care by nurses is now relegated more and more to technicians who sometimes do not have the experience or the education to take on that care.  Mandatory 12 and 13-hour days made people exhausted by the end of their shift, and basically useless on their days off in between shifts because of sheer exhaustion.  Let me tell you no one asked, “How can I help?” We were all too tired just trying to keep up with our own work.  I know this because I left dialysis while working under these conditions.  But that is not the point of this blog.

What is the point?  The point is how better the world would be if, when we are told about another person’s problem our first response would be, how can I help?

We live in a world where the rugged individualist has become something to aspire to.  “Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” or “Do you have to have someone hold your hand?” are both cliches that tell us we are all to be self-sufficient.  That we shouldn’t need anyone else and to quote Dolly Levi from The Matchmaker that we should “Thank God that no one else’s life is tangled up with ours.”  In The matchmaker, which became the musical Hello Dolly, Dolly learns that living that way is ultimately unhappy and the play and musical is her attempt, “to rejoin the human race.”

I think it’s time for us all to rejoin the human race.

People were never meant to live life on their own.  It’s a Bible fact that says two are better than one and that’s not about marriage it’s about life.  No one should have to or ever feel like they have to go it alone.  And yet many people do.  If this weren’t the case songs like Elinor Rigby or Alone Again Naturally, or Dust in the Wind, would never have become popular.  Let’s be honest those are basically songs to commit suicide to, and I’m willing to bet that some people have.

Suicide is another problem which I believe stems from the idea that everyone has to make it on their own.  Now, that is not the only reason.  There are many other reasons people commit suicide.  If you grow up being taught that this is the ideal way to live, making it on your own, then the minute you realize you cannot live this way you have to consider yourself a failure or feel less because you have to ask for help.  Can you imagine with me a world that instead of chiding you for not making it on your own, asks, “How can I help?”

It would be a friendlier world.  People would no longer be looking only at their own interests but also at the interests of all the other people in their lives.  Dickens makes this perfectly clear through the character of Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol.  Marley was dead and in chains, eternally remorseful for all the times he “minded his own business,” and did not reach out a hand to those who suffer or are in need.  I call this part of Marley’s discussion with Scrooge, “Marley’s Lament.”

“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”

“Life’s opportunities misused.”  Marley is not talking about opportunities to advance his career or to make more money.  He took advantage of all those opportunities and it led him to eternal torment.  Marley is referring to all the times he saw someone in need and walked away believing it was none of his business instead of asking, “How can I help?”

We are all, in many ways, self-centered these days.  First, it’s ourselves we look to and then our families.  After that, we may find time to help out a friend, but many of us don’t.  I’m thinking of myself as much as anyone else.

Today, for instance, I was just coming in from the doctor’s office, and a lady who I know just a little was coming in thru the other door.  I let her in so she wouldn’t have to scramble for her keys.  We said hello and I headed for the elevator.  While I was waiting she said a package had arrived that was supposed to help her with her TV reception.  She said she hoped she could figure out how to hook it up.  I responded that those devices are usually very easy to hook up and it should be no problem.  The elevator door was closing when I realized that she may have been actually asking for help.  I stopped the elevator door and said if you need any help come on up and get me.  I couldn’t just volunteer to come with her and set it up as I had to get out of the shoes I was wearing.  They help my feet but I can only wear them a little while each day.  I don’t have her phone number or apartment number so I can’t reach out and see if she needs help. I feel a bit bad for not saying outright, “how can I help?”

Most TV shows are entertaining very few are inspiring.  New Amsterdam is a show that I find both entertaining and inspiring.  It’s a rare breed of television show and I hope you all take some time to catch up with it.  It runs on Peacock and Hulu as well as NBC.  I don’t know where you can stream the whole series, although it may all be on Peacock.  I really encourage all of my readers to watch.

HEALTH UPDATE

I went to my Primary Care Doctor today and though he was pleased with me in general, the bottom line is I gained two pounds in the last month and lost none.  I wanted to avoid telling you this but when I began this journey I made a promise to keep you informed win or lose.

For me, I didn’t really lose this month.  Yes, I gained two pounds, but I gained those pounds while actively dealing with another health problem.  The stress of that problem influenced me to eat more than I was.  Previously I was never hungry at lunchtime, all of the sudden I was always hungry at lunchtime and I had only bad choices to eat.  And I ate them.  That health issue is now under control and I am back on the path I had been on.

That’s it for now.  Here’s my parting thought, if someone relates to you a problem they are going through, instead of offering advice first ask, How can I help?

The picture is the central cast of New Amesterdam from top left Dr. Iggy Frome (Tyler Labine) Head of Psychiatry, Dr. Helen Sharpe (Freema Agyeman) head of oncology, the big photo Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold) Bottom left Dr. Lauren Bloom (Janet Montgomery) Head of The Emergency Room, and last Dr. Floyd Ryenolds (Jocko Sims) Head of Cardiac Surgery.

TV SHOWS THAT TIME FORGOT

I grew up in the era of reruns.  It all started with the genius of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, who instead of using a kinescope to film I Love Lucy, which was standard in the day, they used film and movie cameras.  Kinescope programs were not well filmed and those that are left today are hard to watch.  These were the early days of television and much that was, is now lost.  An example of this would be the great character actress Mary Wickes who played Mary Poppins for television audiences in 1949.

When I was old enough to watch television, as I have told earlier, my mother sat me down in front of our black and white set to watch I Love Lucy and The Jack Benny program.  Most people still know who Lucy was but many have forgotten Jack Benny and he was around for many years.  His career as a comic began in Vaudville but he really made a name for himself on the Radio with a recurring cast of characters in his weekly show.  His gravel-voiced butler Rochester, his girlfriend Mary Livingston, who was also his wife in real life, his friend, the golden-toned Dennis Day who sang regularly on the program, they all made the stories of the tight-fisted, violin playing comic very funny.

I was born in the early 60s and so the reruns of the shows from the 1950s and those first aired in the early 60s were brand new to me.  I think the first on the list is Superman.

Superman aired from 1952 until 1958.  The beginning seasons were filmed in black and white but the remaining seasons were filmed in color.  This was well before color TV sets were readily available.  Superman even made an appearance on I Love Lucy in the classic episode Lucy meets Superman.  The episode was not Lucy Meets George Reeves the actor who portrayed Superman but Lucy Meets Superman.  In the episode, Superman does not break character at all.  I dearly loved television cross-overs which would set me up for comic book cross-overs years later.  But I digress.

Superman was a half-hour adventure series that wrapped most stories up in one show,  Superman was played by George Reeves, Lois Lane by Phyllis Coates at first but then Noelle Neal, Jimmy Olson by Jack Larson, and Perry White by John Hamilton.  It was a perfectly crafted and well-written show.  In my opinion, most of the stories still stand up pretty well today.  They jammed a lot of adventure and action in a half-hour show.  Well written and so well-acted that when George Reeves made a personal appearance as Superman a little boy showed up with a gun to see if he was really bulletproof.  George talked him out of it and no one was hurt.

From 1963 to 1966 Patty Duke starred in her own self titled show.  I was too young for the original run but not for the re-runs.  I don’t know this for sure but my feeling is ABC got the idea from the Haley Mills classic movie The Parent Trap which debuted in 1961.  In the Parent-Trap Mills played both Susan and Sharon who were twin sisters, who had been separated at birth. One went to California to live with dad and the other to Boston to live with mom.  In the film the twins meet at summer camp.  At first there is mutual dislike until they discover they are sisters and then they scheme to bring their parents back together and of course, all ends happily.  The Patty Duke Show was a bit different.  Patty Duke played both Patty and Cathy Lane.  Not sisters but identical cousins.  Cathy’s father is either a foreign correspondent or a diplomat.  My guess is correspondent as Patty’s father was a newspaperman.  Cathy has been brought up in England and has a cultured British accent.  After the death of her mother Cathy goes to live with her Uncle Martin, Aunt Natalie, and her cousins Patty and Ross.  When Cathy arrives it is much to both girl’s delight to find that they are exactly alike and the fun begins.  This show was very much a Lucy and Ethel relationship.  Patty had the schemes and innocent Cathy found herself dragged into them as often willing as not.  It was a fun show.  It portrayed a loving family with a wise father and a caring mom.  If you haven’t seen this gem it is worth seeking out.

Next on my list is Gidget.  Lets’ get this straight from the first Gidget is a nickname.  Given to Frances Lawrence.  It stands for girl midget, Gidget.  The name was given to Francis as she showed off her surfing skills to the boys on the California beach.  Gidget was played by Sally Field on television but the role was originated on the big screen by Sandra Dee.  There would be a few Gidget movies made but the series only ran for one season in 1965.

There’s a story behind that too.  Gidget ran its first season throughout the Fall and Winter.  No one wanted to see a show based on the fun at the beach during those months.  However in the summer when the show ran as reruns the ratings went through the roof.  Unfortunately, the show had already been canceled and they could not bring everyone back again.  The show is available on DVD and is fun to watch.  Don Porter was cast perfectly as Gidget’s father a widower who cherishes his daughter despite her tomboy-like tendencies.

Sally Field didn’t keep still in 1967 she would make her next TV splash as Sister Bertrille The Flying Nun.  The Flying Nun would run for three seasons until 1970.  The show centered around sister Betrille who because of the shape of her wimple and her small size and light weight when the wind was right she became airborne.  The show was a big hit, especially with catholic families.  It was a comedy most of which centered around Sister Betrille getting in and out of trouble while airborne.  It didn’t help that a long-suffering Reverend Mother did her best to keep Sister Bertrille’s feet on the ground.  I loved this show and still do.  I believe Sally Field has mixed feelings about it but considering all that she would eventually do these two series were a good foundation to start from.

One I never want to forget is Hazel.  Hazel ran from 1961 to 1966 and starred Shirley Booth as the outspoken maid to the Baxter family.  Hazel is funny and endearing.  Watching the show is like curling up with a warm cup of cocoa on snowy night.  Though Hazel is outspoken and her mouth gets her into more trouble than it ought to, she also really loves the family she works for and goes to all lengths possible to help and protect them.  If Shirley Booth had lived she would have played an Angel in Touched by Angel because that’s what Hazel was an earth-bound Angel.

Petticoat Junction ran from 1963 to 1970.  In some ways, it was a spin-off of The Beverly Hillbillies and a forerunner for Green Acres.  Paul Henning produced all three shows and from time to time the characters would cross over making those episodes extra special.  I don’t quite know the reason why but The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction cannot all be seen in reruns.  The early shows are intact but for some reason the later seasons seem to have disappeared.  I hope one day that all of the episodes of both shows will be made available.

Petticoat Junction centered around the life of Kate Bradley and her three daughters Billie Jo, Bobby-Jo, and Betty-Jo.  They lived in a hotel called The Shady Rest along with the girl’s Uncle Joe Carson.  The hotel was the only one on the railroad line that was dominated by The Cannonball Express.  Actually, The Cannonball was the only train on the line and is in constant danger of being taken out of commission in the early episodes of the show.  The engineer and conductor were show regulars, along with Sam Drucker who ran the general store.  Sam would be the major link between Petticoat Junction and Green Acres.  This show too was both funny and heartwarming. We see the girls grow into women and we see their mother played by Bea Benadarret pass away as the actress died of cancer during the run of the show.  The mother was not replaced but a lady doctor played by June Lockhart who had recently come off playing the mother in Lost in Space as well as Timmy’s mother in the Lassie TV series.  She brought just the right touch of gentle wisdom to the show to keep it going.

This blog is beginning to run long and there are so many other shows I want to reminisce about with you but they will have to wait.  Shows like Room 222, Nanny and the Professor, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, The Magician, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, That Girl, The Lucy Show, and Here’s Lucy will have to wait for another time.

In the meantime keep tuning in to this blog.  Until next time same bat time and same bat channel.

Spider-Man

It was to my great delight to find out last week that Spider-Man No Way Home won the Kid’s Choice Award for best live-action movie.  As I wrote several weeks back the latest Spider-Man film should have received an Oscar nod for best picture.  But Hollywood, as we saw at the Academy Awards Ceremony, is not only full of snobs but a bad indicator of a good movie.  Kid’s on the other hand see the truth, sometimes to the dismay of adults as in The Emperor’s New Clothes.  They live more” in the moment” than most adults do and therefore can see more than most adults can see.  If a kid says something is good or bad, it’s best to pay attention.

Stan Lee got his start in comics while still a teenager.  He went to work for Timely Comics as a writer somewhere in the late thirties or very early 40s.  Lee worked for Timely for 20 years until that fateful day when his boss asked him to come up with a Superhero team comic book to go head to head with DC’s Justice League of America.  Lee teamed up with Jack Kirby and The Fantastic Four was born.  The Marvel Legends began.

What many people don’t realize is that Lee was ready to give up working in comics just before that fateful day.  He had enough writing thinly veiled comics that copied whatever was popular at the time.  In other words, if Zorro was popular, Lee would write a Zorro-type character and sell it.  Anything for the company to make a quick buck.  Really The Fantastic Four was a to be a copy of The Justice League, except for the fact that The Fantastic Four acted like a team only when they had to, they were no Justice League.  The League had honor and high moral standards.  Heck, they were indeed super friends.  The Fantastic Four could just barely tolerate each other.  They brought true human problems and emotions, including resentment and despair,  into comic books and the industry was changed.

But I digress.  As stated Lee was ready to quit comics.  He had begun to talk with his wife about leaving the industry and beginning work on what he hoped would be the great American novel.  His wife convinced him to give comics one last chance and in that last chance, The Fantastic Four was born.  Lee took every bit of the creative talent he had in writing the story of the Fantastic Four.  Maybe he figured this was his last shot so he’d go out in a blaze of artistic glory.  Instead of going out Lee began to soar to heights of popularity and stayed there until the day he passed away.

After The Fantastic Four Stan and Jack created the Incredible Hulk which, believe it or not, did not sell well at the beginning.  The Hulk, also, wasn’t green when he first made his debut, he was grey.  But things did turn around.  Grey turned to green and we have the Hulk that we all know and love today.

Lee came into his third inning.  He was up to bat.  Would he strike out or would he hit a home run?  OK, enough with the sports metaphors.  Amazing Adult Fantasy had reached its fourteenth issue and it was not doing well.  Adult: would mean that a bit of sleaze was probably in this magazine but Stan Lee himself tells us that the comice book was a collection of fantasy monster stories usually about five pages long.  The stories were written by him and illustrated by Steve Ditko.  The magazine was about to be canceled after the publication of its fifteenth issue and Lee decided to experiment. 

Stan Lee was a big reader of the Pulp Magazines that were published in the 30s, 40s, and 50s.  Many germs of comic book characters that would come later can be found in these ten-cent novels in a magazine.  The pulps’ main characters included The Shadow, Doc Savage, and one that Lee particularly liked The Spider.  The Spider was just an ordinary guy who was an expert marksman.  He disguised himself with fangs and a hunched back.  His true Identity was Richard Wentworth the last in the line of a wealthy family.  He began his career after saving a college friend from criminals.  Lee liked the name The Spider but he had other ideas than a man who was good with a gun.  Lee was about to break more comic book rules.

Teenagers were not the main character in almost any comic book.  There are a few notable exceptions.  Superboy, stories of Superman when he was a boy and then a teenager.  Captain Marvel Jr and Mary Marvel were both teenagers when they got their powers but unlike Billy Batson when he became Captain Marvel by shouting SHAZAM turned into an adult Mary and Junior stayed teenagers.  The last is Kid Eternity a teenager who was murdered but is granted the ability to come back and fight crime by being able to call up all the heroes from the past.  Aside from these most teenagers were sidekicks to other Superheroes.  Robin, Aqualad, Kid Flash, and Wonder Girl all fall into this category.  Even Johnny Storm, The Human Torch of the Fantastic Four was not on his own though eventually, he would gain his own solo stories.

Lee decided to take a chance and make his next superhero a teenager with all the problems that come with being a teenage boy.  He kept the name Spider but dropped the marksman and gave the young man the abilities of a Spider.  With those thoughts in mind, Spider-Man was born.

Lee didn’t have much hope for his new character.  He didn’t start him off in his own magazine as he did with The Fantastic Four and The Hulk.  He starred him in the last issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy only now the word adult was dropped from the title and Spider-Man made his first appearance in Amazing Fantasy number 15 in August of 1962. Lee’s first two creations were illustrated by Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko was the artist for Amazing Fantasy and Lee stuck with him for his new creation.

Not many people need to be told the origin story of Spider-Man.  A teenager, Peter Parker, who is a bookworm and a student of science is shunned by his peers.  On attending a demonstration of radioactivity, a spider who has absorbed some of the radiation during the experiment, bites Peter giving him the abilities and proportionate strength of a spider.  Peter, after learning of his new abilities decides to cash in on them and make himself rich with his new talents.  He hopes to be able to help his elderly Aunt May and Uncle Ben who had raised him.  He designs a costume for himself to conceal his identity, web-shooters to gain another spider ability and begins to make TV appearances.  He also becomes arrogant and a bit self-centered.  When a thief runs by him in the hallway of the TV studio Peter lets him go and tells the police that it is their job to catch crooks, not his.  On his way home that night there are police cars at his home.  His Uncle Ben has been killed by a thief he found in the house.  The police tell Peter that they have the killer trapped in an old warehouse.  Peter immediately dons his costume and goes after the killer himself.  Peter does nab the guy but on catching him realizes it is the same crook he let run by him in the studio.  His guilt overwhelms him as he feels responsible for his Uncles death.  He remembers something his Uncle Ben once told him, “With great power comes great responsibility.” 

Stan Lee says in the book, The Origins of Marvel Comics, with the publication of Amazing Fantasy number 15 and the story of Spider-Man out of his system, Lee went back to working on his new superstars.  Lee essentially forgot all about Spider-Man.  It would be months before it was realized that Amazing Fantasy #15 was a best seller and the reason had to be Spider-Man.  There was a swift meeting held and The Amazing Spider-Man comic magazine number 1 made its debut in an issue dated March of 1963.

Spider-Man has entertained us now for 60 years.  He has starred in several different Marvel Magazine titles and is probably one of the most iconic heroes of all time.  Spider-Man is to Marvel what Superman is to DC, their most recognized character and almost a symbol of the company itself.  Spider-Man like Superman has appeared in almost every form of entertainment.  In television shows, both live-action and animated, and movies also both live-action and animated, novels based on the character, a newspaper strip, and a Broadway musical, the only thing Spider-Man did not get is a radio show.  Spider-Man was born a bit too late for that.

Spider-Man broke down all kinds of barriers in his 60 years and continues to do so.  The comic book character took on many of the social issues of the 60s and 70s and made an impact.  I well remember being affected by Peter’s best friend Harry Osborne having a drug addiction.  It helped keep me on the straight and narrow.  There were also gut-wrenching stories like the death of Peter’s first true love Gwen Stacy at the hands of The Green Goblin.  There were also some joyful tales including Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane Watson an event that took place in the comic book, the newspaper strip, and at a live ball game in NYC.

Spider-Man continues to entertain us today.  His movie adventures are now reaching millions of people and his comic books are still enjoyed.  As I stated at the beginning of this blog, it did my heart good to see Spider-Man No Way Home win The Kid’s Choice Award for the best live-action movie.  I hope that the film will pick up more honors in the months ahead.  It’s also my hope that The Academy of Motion Pictures begins to see that movies based on comic books or children’s literature or animated films all have artistic value and should be placed in the best films category.  To me leaving these movies out, movies that the people love is a disgrace.  A movie does not have to be filled with sex, over-the-top violence, and foul language to be a good film.  It has to have a solid story well-formed characters and great acting.  The Marvel movies have all of that.  DC we are waiting for you to catch up.

Loss

It was December 15, 1966.  I was 5 years old and my mother and I were in the kitchen.  It was there that she told me Walt Disney had died.  I remember wandering into our side yard and feeling like a light had gone out.  This man had visited our house every Sunday night for as long back as I could remember.  I didn’t understand death, I’m not sure I do yet, but I knew that life had changed and something wonderful had ended.

The next celebrity death that should have impacted me was Judy Garland.  It was June of 1969 and I was 8 years old.  My parents didn’t tell me of her death.  I think they decided I wouldn’t understand.  After all, I only knew Judy Garland as Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz.  If they told me Dorothy had died I would have been devastated.  And it wouldn’t have made any sense.  She was still on the screen, every year.  How could Dorothy be dead?

As a child the TV and movie characters that you love are real.  The actors don’t exist.  Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson were Batman and Robin.  Adam West and Burt Ward, the names at the beginning of the show were meaningless.  The need to believe is deeply entrenched in a child.  I never saw the line used to make Mary Martin fly in Peter Pan.  I never saw the cheesy special effects in Dark Shadows.  Peter Pan flew and Dark Shadows scared the crap out of me it wasn’t until I was older that I began to see the flaws.

Other examples are Sally Field and Patty Duke.   Sally Field was Gidget. In an episode of The Flying Nun, where Sally Field played Sister Bertrille, they showed footage from Gidget, where Gidget was surfing.  I didn’t see these as two separate shows, I figured Gidget had decided to become a nun that made total sense to me.  With Patty Duke, I had no clue that  Patty Duke played both Patty and Cathy Lane.  To me, they were two separate people and as real as my own family.

I must have been about ten when the fantasy in life gave way to reality.  That was the year I asked my dad if Santa Claus was real.  He didn’t give me an answer.  He said, “What do you think?”  I thought about it and realized that Santa couldn’t be real and in a very real way childhood came to an end.

Childhood’s end is probably the most significant loss any of us go through.  I don’t know that we see it as a loss at the time.  Most of us are in a hurry to grow up and find out what was in the mysterious bottles kept in the cabinet that only our parents drank from.  Or we can’t wait to drive or for school simply to be over forever.  It’s when we get older that we miss the magic of Santa Claus coming on Christmas Eve or, at night, staring out your bedroom window wishing on the first star you see or hoping this was the night Peter Pan would come and take you to Neverland where you wouldn’t have to grow up and no adult would be around to tell you what you should do.

I guess I’m lucky.  I still wonder about Santa on Christmas Eve and I think about leprechauns on Saint Patrick’s Day.  In my imagination, I can happily visit Middle Earth and Narnia and for a brief time suspend the horrors of this world.  I would rather face a dragon than continue to watch the mess the Republican Party and The Democratic Party continue to make of this country.  You can fight a dragon but you can’t fight city hall.

Since the death of Betty White on December 31st of last year I have been watching Hot In Cleveland.  This was the last show she starred in along with Valerie Bertinelli, Jane Leeves, and Wendy Mallick.  It was a show about 3 women from LA who have to make an emergency stop in Cleveland on their way to Paris.  Because of the attention paid to them by the men in Cleveland they decide they could have a better life in the new city and decide to stay.  They rent a house with a caretaker who is played by Betty White and the show is set.

Hot in Cleveland ran for six seasons on TV land and was funny if a bit earthy at times.  The scripts were good and the supporting cast was excellent.  The show had many guest stars from the best of TV, Carol Burnett, Robert Wagner, Tim Daly, and many others.  One show had William Shatner, Shirley Jones, and Georgia Engel all sharing the stage with Betty White and Valerie Bertinelli.  Most of my childhood TV shows were represented on that one stage.

It was when Regis Philbin made his guest star appearance across several shows that I began to feel a sense of loss.  Regis died in 2020 but he was a big part of my daily life both at home and at work.  I was a dialysis technician back in the 80s and the TV sets were all set To Live with Regis and Kathy Lee every morning.  I became a big fan of both of these stars and loved the show.  On days I wasn’t working or went in for the later shift I made sure I saw it.  The legacy of the show lives on with two other co-hosts but no one could match the energy of Regis Philbin and that energy was still present in Hot in Cleveland.  But I realized he was gone.

Not long after that, all the women that starred in The Mary Tyler Moore show came on as guests.  These included Miss Moore, Chloris Leachman, and Valerie Harper.  Betty White was already on the show and Georgia Engel had become a recurring character.  At one point they were all sitting around a table trading very funny insults when I realized that all the women at that table were gone.  This saddened me as well.

Early in the New Year news reached all of us that Bob Saget died in his sleep in a hotel room in Florida after doing his one-man stand-up show.  Bob was 65 years old and it recently came out that it was due to some sort of head trauma that he died.  Bob Saget played Danny Tanner on the much-loved Situation Comedy Full House which ran for 8 seasons on ABC.  He then reprised the role of Danny Tanner in the show Fuller House.

Bob Saget was a well-loved man both on and off the screen.  His co-stars had nothing but good things to say about him and the girls, now women, who played his daughters looked at him as a second father.  Not long after his death, I started to watch Full House again on HBO MAX and found myself welling with tears at almost every episode.  The episodes made me laugh but they were filled with a genuine sentimentality and the show plays just as well today as it did when it first aired in 1987 to 1995.

Many other celebrities touched my heart at their death.  Ethel Merman was first. She passed in 1984 but she was a part of my life because I had fallen in love with Broadway. Ethel Merman was and still is the queen of Broadway. No one was like her and no one like her will ever come again. Lucille Ball in 1989 was next.  Lucy was and always will be my favorite.  I felt very sad the day she passed.  Something else wonderful had gone out of this world.  In 1990 Mary Martin passed away.  My Peter Pan was gone, and I remember it well, a little magic left my heart.

Why do celebrity deaths or better yet the death of stars bother me so much?  I think with some of them I’m watching the generation before me flicker out and die.  Soon all those who grew up in the 20s, 30s, and 40s will be gone and all that will be left is memories and photographs and these are not just the stars they are my father, mom is already gone, my aunt’s and uncles and all those I hold dear to me.

Then there are the celebrities of my generation.  Bob Saget was 5 years older than me.  Mike Nesmith was a bit older but still part of my generation.  David Cassidy played a huge part in my life.  I went from Puff The Magic Dragon to I Think I Love You because of him and The Partridge Family.  I was saddened when he passed as well.

Seeing my generation begin to pass away made me realize that life is very short and your time could be up at any point.  The Bible says that “all the days of my life were written for me before I was born.”  This means that God knew when I would enter this world and the day is planned for when I will exit and that day is much closer now than it was when I was younger.

I don’t want to leave anything half done when it’s my time to go.  I don’t think I can make all of my dreams come true but I believe that some of them still can.  I’m writing this blog weekly for more than 6 months.  That’s the grace of God and me leaving something behind that may help others.  I’ve lost a total of 25 pounds so far.  I have quite a long way to go but I want to do it and make some of my other of my dreams happen.  It will be good to have a healthy body.

There are still wonderful adventures ahead.  I have no idea what most of them will be but opportunities will come and it’s up to me to say yes and find out what will happen.  Peter Pan says in the play written by JM Barrie that “Death will be an awfully big adventure.”  And it will be, “The journey doesn’t end here.  Death is just another path, one that we all must take.  The grey rain rain-curtain of this world rolls back and all turns to silver glass.  And then you see it.  White shores and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise.” – JRR Tolkien

When it’s Time to Change

“When it’s time to change,

You’ve got to rearrange,

Who you are into what you’re going to be.”

I don’t know if you remember or not, but back in the late ’60s and into the ’70s there was a popular television show called The Brady Bunch.  The premise of the show was that a widow with three girls and a widower with three boys meet and marry and TV’s first melded family was born.  The show was a situation comedy and ran for five seasons and 117 episodes.  One of those episodes was about change.

In the episodes the middle son Peter was going through the process every young man does when his voice changed.  This would have been no big deal but Peter’s brothers and sisters were entered in a contest to sing and Peter’s voice cracked every time he went for a high note.  The oldest brother, Greg, came up with a solution.  He wrote a song about the changes every teenager goes through and featured Peter’s changing voice.  The day was saved and the kids won the contest.

That song, the chorus of which is at the top of this article, is one that had followed me throughout my life.  Life is many things but one thing remains true there are always changes.  Some are small changes.  You have to change a doctor’s appointment time or for one reason or another, you cannot cook dinner so you have to eat out.  Others are large changes, your spouse has died and you must adjust to living on your own or you have been laid off work and you must scramble to find another job before unemployment runs out.

There are more light-hearted changes.  Moving into a new house can be stressful, but if you are moving from a small house into a bigger house it can also be fun.  Watching the seasons change from one to the next can be beautiful.  I personally love watching summer fade into Fall but I equally enjoy watching winter, as Oscar Hammerstein put it, “melt into Spring.”

I have written quite a bit about change in my weekly blogs.  My changes are not severe as losing a spouse might be nor are they beautiful as watching the seasons change.  My changes are personal and for the betterment of myself and my health.  They are good changes but don’t let anyone for one moment think they are easy.

A little later today I go to the doctor and will get weighed.  In that appointment, I will find out whether I have lost anything over the last few weeks.  It hasn’t been quite a month yet.  I have been following the same food regimen I had been following so I have hope but I’m also nervous.  I don’t expect that I shed 22 pounds as I did on my last visit.  I had almost six weeks from the point I started and the point I got weighed.  This time it’s just about four weeks so it cannot be the same amount of weight that has come off.  But I am hoping for some.

I think the interesting thing is that I don’t miss those foods that in the past I constantly craved.  I couldn’t go a week without McDonald’s and all the other fast food places.  I couldn’t go a day without large amounts of sugary treats, mostly pie.  I still eat sugar but far from the binges, I would go less than two months ago. I also don’t miss carbonated and non-carbonated soft drinks.  I lived on Kool-Aid and lemonade mixes.  I fooled myself into thinking that these provided the vitamin C my body needed when I probably got the best vitamin C out of the daily multiple vitamins I was taking.  The things we tell ourselves to get our own way are probably the worst lies in the world.  In fact, it’s the lies we tell ourselves that most likely lead to the lies we may tell others.  I just thought of that but I will bet it’s true.

I lied to myself a lot.  Mostly about food.  I never went quite so far as to think that fast food was good for me but I did believe that it wouldn’t hurt me or make me fat.  I believed the same for sugary soft drinks.  I knew the indulgence of pies and cakes and chocolate was a problem but you can talk yourself into believing anything with the phrase, “one more won’t hurt.”  The problem is that one more does hurt.

As the song says, two months ago I realized it was time to change and I have been working on those changes ever since.  The first month of my new eating plan reaped a rich reward.  I lost 22 pounds this past, not quite a month, I lost three pounds.  It is not the number I would have wished for but it is a better number than 0.

I saw my doctor today and he does want me to incorporate exercise into my routine, which I have not done yet.  I have few options for exercise actually only one.  I have a set of free-standing pedals that I can place on a tabletop.  I can’t use my feet, but I can use my arms so I will begin there.  I’ll start with 15  minutes a day and move upward.  This will get me moving.  When I feel ready I will go to the YMCA and use the pool.  I can’t do that yet as some physical complications eliminate that as an option.  When I can get down about 80 pounds those complications should be gone.

So it’s time to keep changing and that is exactly what I intend to do.  It’s not going to be easy and there is a long road ahead, but I believe I can do this.  If you are thinking about any life-altering change now is the time.  Change is never easy but in the long run it is truly worth it.

Christmas Memories

I think was blessed to be born in the early part of the 1960s.  Technology had not come near the point where things were handed to you instantly.  Fast Food restaurants did not exist yet and microwaves and cell phones were in the far-flung future.  Because of this life was slower and could be savored and we did even as children.

Television was still in its infancy in the early 60s.  Sure it had been around a while but it was still black and white and though color sets existed they were out of the reach of most people.  We had three channels to choose from NBC, CBS, and ABC.  Eventually, we would have PBS and three UHF Channels for my area they were channels 17, 29, 48.  It was on these channels that the reruns of shows that had gone off the air would play as well as a plethora of old movies.  That was it and I don’t think all of that was established until I was at least 6 or 7.

So what did that mean?  It meant that we had to wait.  There were no streaming shows when we wanted to see them.  There was getting hold of the newspapers TV listings and scanning what was on that week to plan what you were going to watch.  And if you missed it that was too bad.  Never was this more true than at Christmas.

I was the youngest of four children and at Christmas time I became the ruler of the TV set, or at least my family let me think I was.  I was born just as the great Christmas shows were being made for the first time.  I was three When Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer first went up against the Abominable Snowman.  Mr. Magoo had already captured the world with his version of A Christmas Carol and so many were to come.  A Charlie Brown Christmas, Frosty The Snowman, The Year Without A Santa Claus, Santa Claus is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy, and so many others.  I would grab The Sunday TV supplement every week, as soon as I learned to read, scanning for these yearly events and hoping my family didn’t have to go out the night they were aired.  If we did, it would be a whole year before I could see them again.  I was pretty lucky.  I don’t think I missed any of them except Rudolph once when I was in the hospital with an eye injury.

Anticipation, which ultimately is the theme of Advent, was in the heart of every kid I grew up with.  Not anticipation for spiritual things, that comes with growth and maturity, but anticipation for the fun and joyful things of Christmas.  In some ways, it was good practice for when we grew up and awaited Christmas for its true meaning.

But we didn’t wait just for kids’ shows.  There were other more adult shows that we waited for.  Bing Crosby’s yearly Christmas show, the same for Bob Hope, Andy Williams, and the now almost forgotten King Family.  The whole family gathered around the set for these treats presented to us by the three networks.

Then there was that special night.  My brother Vince would usually spot it first in the TV listings.  The night the movie White Christmas would air.  White Christmas was not a kids movie, it is a full musical that kids can be charmed by but also can be loved by parents.  So every year until the family began to go our separate ways all six of us sat around that TV and watched this beautiful movie unfurl.  That time will never come again but it is sweet to remember.

The family watching White Christmas led me to even more Christmas movies.  Things that were being shown but the rest of my family had little interest in.  Movies such as Holiday Inn and Meet Me in St Louis soon became more yearly favorites.  When a new version of Miracle on 34th Street was shown starring Sebastion Cabot and David Hartman I was hooked and wanted to see the original.  I had never heard of It’s A Wonderful Life until Marlo Thomas remade the film switching the gender roles and calling it, It Happened One Chrismas.  Eventually, these made-for-TV movies made me want to back to view the original and they all became favorites. I directed a stage version of It’s a Wonderful Life in 2000 it remains a lovely memory.

Still, we had to wait every year for these treats.  Watching television was not the only thing that made Christmas special.  I remember going out every year to find the perfect Christmas tree.  At first, it was in local lots where people were selling freshly cut trees, as we grew older my family began to drive out to Christmas tree farms where we would cut down our trees.  By then my brother and sisters were married and it was a caravan that would go to these places.  Stopping at Burger King for a quick lunch and then coming home to hot turkey rice soup and meatball sandwiches that mom had warming in crockpots while we were away.

Then there was the tree decorating.  No one was more of a perfectionist than my father when it came to how the tree looked.  It had to be straight as an arrow before one light or ornament could be placed on the branches.  And the lights, this was still back in the time when if one light had blown none of the lights would come on.  You then had to spend as much time as it took to find the dead bulb.  There were more Christmases with dead bulbs than without.

After that, we kids generally took over looking for our favorite ornaments to hang on the tree.  We had a nice variety of the delicate glass balls, homemade ornaments that my brother had done, and some store-bought figures.  My favorites were Santa’s eight reindeer with Rudolph in the lead.  Those needed to be spaced nicely so it looked as if they were flying around the tree.  My family were tinsel people and my dad again took charge of that,  Tinsel had to be placed delicately on the tree almost one strand at a time.  It took forever. when I learned about garland and you only had to drape it around the tree, I thought I had been given the Holy Grail of Christmas.

Christmas was family time, but not just our immediate family.  I had cousins and aunts and uncles and second and third cousins and we all got together on Christmas night, not just once but three times.  My father had two sisters, My Aunt Mary and my Aunt Dolores.  My grandmother, my father’s mother (My grandfather had died before I was born) would alternate  between her three children where she would go on Christmas day for dinner.  Where ever she was the whole family would descend on that house for dessert first.  After that, we went to the two other houses for dessert making it a three dessert holiday.  Actually, it was four desserts as we had dessert with dinner too.  We kids had a blast because there were still gifts to be received at each of the Aunt’s houses.  I liked going to my Aunt Mary’s and Uncle Steve’s best.  She had a wonderful bakery at the top of her street and she always had mini Danish and coconut cream pie which was my favorite.  I got it once a year as mom never made it. That is not to say Aunt Dolores didn’t outdo herself. At her house, there would be delicious stromboli and Christmas punch made with soda, juice, and a tub of sherbert.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Steve had another wonderful tradition that fascinated all the kids and most of the adults. In their basement, there was an enormous train display. It had mountains and tunnels and trees and all sorts of things to delight the mind of a child. I don’t know where the tradition originated and who was most responsible, my Uncle Steve or his eldest son Steven or if it was a yearly team effort. I do know that Steven kept up the tradition as best as possible in his own home. Trains weere a big part of Christmas. At our house there would occasionally be a set wrapped around the bottom of the tree. But nothing I have ever seen compared to that wonderful set in my aunt and uncle’s basement.

Christmas eve was a day of preparation, as a little kid I remember going to midnight Mass with my whole family.  The Mass was said in Latin up until 1966 so I understood very little of it.  It was, however, still beautiful to me.  There was a solemness in the church that I could feel but also great joy and anticipation.  In those days our church had the whole town of Bethlehem laid out in a special display, I remember filing past this to catch a glimpse of the tiny baby in his manger.  I couldn’t wait for that moment.  At that moment I knew Christmas had come.

I had been to see Santa and I made sure, one way or another a letter got written to him.  In those early days, my family had a custom of meeting my dad in Center City Philadelphia for dinner and to see the amazing light show at Wanamaker’s a prestigious, though now gone, department store.  We would take the train in town and meet Dad at the station, we would then proceed to a restaurant called The Pub and then on to Wanamakers.  The light show was amazing and if I was lucky I could sit on the eagle statue’s base, which was in the middle of the hall.  I am happy to say that Macy’s bought the Wanamaker’s building and keeps the light show going every year.

After the light show, it was on to Santa’s village for the walkthrough display of animated dolls in Christmas scenes, and at the end of the village was the man himself waiting to hear about my list of toys and questioning my behavior of the previous year.  Like I would ever tell him I had misbehaved.

There was still a last treat for the littlest of children.  Between the ages of maybe 3 and 10, you could ride the in-store monorail.  This monorail took you all around the toy department and let you see from above all the things you could wish for.  It was exciting because it was a ride that, after I was 5 years old, I could go alone.  I think that was the first thing I could ever do for myself.  I don’t think there was anything like it in any other store in the country.

Christmas morning came early, even if we did go to Midnight Mass.  Little kids don’t need a lot of sleep and I’m pretty sure I was the first one awake.  I shared a room with my brother Vince who was seven years older than me.  He was the second one to be awake on those mornings. 

I don’t remember eating breakfast on Christmas morning at all.  I do remember piles of gifts for all four of us under a lovely tree.  My parents were generous to us, for me, in the name of Santa.  Not everything was there but there was never a reason to feel disappointed.  There was enough to keep you very happy.

There wasn’t much time to play with my new treasures.  Shortly after we opened the gifts and got ready for the day we got whisked off to my other grandmother’s house for another round of gift-giving and receiving.  Sometimes my grandfather, who was a chef, would make apple dumplings with warm vanilla sauce and the sugar rush would begin.

And there was a sugar rush all day long.  My mother was a wonderful baker and so all kinds of cookies were made and decorated.  There were sugar cookies in Christmas shapes and raisin filler cookies that looked like little round ravioli, then there were butter cookies also pressed out into festive shapes and of course chocolate chip.  And it wouldn’t be Christmas if my mother didn’t spend hours making the Italian Pizzelle.

At dinner, which would always be a turkey (In the early years my grandfather, my mother’s step-father, would cook the bird, but as he got older my mother took over) we also enjoyed mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce from a can, until I learned how to make it myself, green beans, apple, and pumpkin pie and then, what we now call, a Jewish apple cake.  Back then it was a German apple cake.  I don’t know why.  The reason for the cake was that December the 25th was not only Jesus’ birthday but also my father’s and my mom did the best she could to separate the two.  After dinner, we sang Happy Birthday and gave him his gifts.  It was a shame that he had to do it all in one day but he took in stride and never complained.

In later years my sister’s Trish’s husband would be included in the ranks as he was born not on Christmas day but very close.  Mom would always get him a large chocolate chip pan cookie with Happy Birthday written on it from the local bakery.  A lot went on in the Roberto house at Christmas.  For the kids it was a lot of fun, for the adults I think, it was mostly exhausting.

I think the most important thing in my Christmas memories is that from a very early age I knew what Christmas was all about.  I didn’t need Linus to explain the Gospel story to me, I knew it and saw played out in church every year and every Sunday.  At an early age, I connected Christmas to Easter and in the third grade, I wrote a poem about the child who waited for death so near.  Even as a babe Jesus was both fully man and fully God.  This is the mystery of the incarnation, how God worked it all out I will never know.  I only know he did and because of Christmas and Easter, we have freedom from our slavery to sin and great joy in knowing that there is a reward waiting for us after death.

Christmas has come under scrutiny now and many want to dismiss the day.  Some folks only see the non-Christian side and just decorate trees and wait for Santa without knowing what is behind these symbols of the season.  This is very sad because these symbols, the tree, the holly, the wreath, Santa, the TV shows and big screen movies and everything else is pointing directly at Jesus.  But it is as the saying goes, “There are none so blind as those who will not see.”  If you are interested in the great traditions of Christmas may I point you to the books by Ace Collns.  He has done his research well and in three volumes captures just about everything you’d want to know about the holiday.

What are your Christmas memories?  I’d love to hear about them.  Please leave them in the comment section so everyone can share your joy in the season.

Magic

Magic!  What an amazing word and there is so much meaning in those five simple letters.  There is the “magic” in a child’s eyes when they spy the gifts under the tree at Christmas.  There is the “magic” that a stage magician conjures up by diverting us and seemingly makes impossible things happen.  There is the scary “magic” that real witches perform or at least claim to perform by casting spells and make potions and charms.  Then there is the fictional “magic”, the magic of The Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, this is the magic I’m going to focus on today.  This is my own history of magic.

I guess my first exposure to fictional magic would have been the television show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as well as the amazing Agnes Morehead.  The premise of the series was that a mortal Darin Stevens marries a witch a fact that he is unaware of until after the marriage takes place.  When he finds out he forbids her to use her powers in the house and of course this is impossible especially with his wife’s family of witches and warlocks always at hand.  This show was cute and funny and stayed on the air for several years even after having the original Darin replaced by another actor.

The next bit of magic would have been when I was introduced to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard of Oz is based on the children’s book written by L Frank Baum and published on March 17, 1900.  It quick became a childhood classic and Baum would go on to write fourteen more Oz books.  These could have made a great movie series but for some reason MGM, the studio that produced the original film, made the adventures of Dorothy trying to find her way home. A dream, so no future films could be done.

There seems to be certain films everyone is afraid to touch because they are perfect the way they are.  The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz are four of those.  People have tried to do sequels to Oz, but they all pale in comparison the original movie which was almost flowless in its making.

The Wizard of Oz in the 60s became a yearly treat that families would gather around their television sets to watch around the Easter holiday.  My family was no exception and I remember being little and hiding behind my father whenever The Wicked Witch of The West would make her appearance.  There wasn’t a lot of magic actually done in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy gest to Oz by tornado.  She walks to The Emerald City and meets non-human creatures and talking animals but the only magic that is actually performed is Glinda magically having the Ruby Slippers appear on Dorothy’s feet, The Wicked Witch conjuring the poppy field and Glinda creating the snow that destroys the poppies effects.  Of course, Glinda makes her appearances in a magic bubble and The Wicked Witch rides a broom stick but that’s about it.  To compare the two there was more magic in a half hour of Bewitched than there was in the full-length movie of The Wizard of Oz.

But Oz was magical in an of itself.  A talking Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion as well as talking apple trees and colors that were brighter and more beautiful than in our own gray world made this movie a delight for our senses.  And at the end of the 1930s when America was just coming out of the depression but was on the brink of another world war, that kind of beauty and unreality was much needed by children and adults.

My next stop in my magical tour must be Neverland.  I was introduced to Peter Pan fairly young.  My mother was a big fan of musicals and when Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was aired on television in the early 60s it was a family event.

Peter Pan began as a nonmusical stage play by JM Barrie.  Mr. Barrie based his play on his relationship with three young boys and the games they would play.  Peter Pan opened in 1904 and did very well.  Mr. Barrie was already a celebrated playwright, but Peter Pan elevated him to an immortal status and is the only thing still remembered today.  Peter became so famous that Barrie, told everyone to watch Kensington Gardens for a surprise on a certain date and when London woke up that morning there was the magnificent statue of Peter in the gardens.

It was in 1911 that Barrie published the novel that told the story of his play for all the world.  He titled the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is still enjoyed by people today.

Peter Pan is a difficult role, and it was decided early on that a child could not handle the work in a full length play so a woman has been traditionally cast as Peter.  In recent times in cartoons and films as well as some stage production this has changed but more often than not Peter is still played by a woman.

Peter Pan has very little magic.  In fact, the only magic we see is Peter teaching the children to fly.  We know there are fairies as Tinker Bell is a main character in the play and we know that is by thinking good thoughts and the use of fairy dust that we can learn to fly.  Bu that is the extent of the observable magic in the play.

Let’s talk about flying.  When Barrie first opened his play in 1904 Peter had only one requirement to fly.  You had to think good thoughts.  Many children left the theater with that idea in their heads and soon found themselves jumping off roofs and out of windows thinking they would fly.  This of course caused some injuries but as far as I know no life was lost.  On learning this Barrie modified his play to add fairy dust to the flying equation and the attempts ceased.  I believed a similar situation occurred in 1964 when Disney released Mary Poppins and Mary seemed to fly by umbrella to the front door of the Bank’s home.  I know my friends and I spent some time jumping from steps with an umbrella in hand, but we never got air born.

Neverland is a magic place.  It is inhabited by fairies, and mermaids.  We know from the play that it is Spring, summer, Winter and Fall all at the same time on different parts of the island.  Peter describes it as crammed with hardly any room between one adventure and another.  And of course, if you go there as a child, you never grow up.  There is magic in the very soil of Neverland.

I was transported as a child to Neverland in my dreams.  Not long after seeing the Mary Martin TV special I brought to see the Disney version of the classic story.  The problem with Disney and Miss Martin’s work is that they watered the story down quite a lot.  They took out the scary stuff and so missed some of the best parts.  In time I grew to love the book that Barrie wrote mush more than the film versions.  To this day no one has written Peter the way Barrie did.  I would love to see new stage production that left it all intact.

The fantasy that taught me how to think would begin and end with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about a bored little boy whose name is Milo.  Milo has no interest in anything until one day a mysterious box appears in his room.  The box contains a life size toy toll booth which Milo proceeds to put together.  When it’s completed Milo gets into his toy electric car and drives thru into The Land Beyond.  

Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond are filled with strange creatures that are magical in some ways but they only way to deal with them is to think.  There is the land of the doldrums where you get very sleepy, and can get yourself killed if you don’t wake up and begin to think your way out by reciting poetry and equations as well as using your imagination.  Milo is saved from The Doldrums by Tok a watchdog.  This is a large dog that has a clock built into his side and he guards time he especially is after those who waste time.

Milo is told the story of the Lands Beyond and knows that there are problems there that could be solved if the Princesses Rhyme and Reason could be rescued from the castle in the clouds which must be gotten to through by way of The Mountains of Ignorance. This stuff is great.  He must first get permission to save them from the warring kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the kingdoms or Words and Numbers.  The kings hate each other even though they are brothers because they each believe that their own kingdom is better than the other.  In other words, words are better than numbers and numbers are better than words.

Milo has many adventures in The Lands Beyond and meets many strange creatures including a Spelling Bee and a Humbug but he eventually reaches the princesses and rescues them through the power of thinking.  When he returns home, he has a new lease on life and is no longer bored as there is always something new to learn.  This is a lesson many adults could use right now.

As I grew up so did my magic stories.  First there was my comic book heroes.  Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics and Doctor Fate from DC.  Doctor Fate came first and made his first appearance in the early 1940s in the pages of More Fun Comics.  He is Kent Nelson who, as a boy, finds The Helmet of Nabu an ancient Egyptian wizard, when he puts the helmet on, he becomes Doctor fate with all kinds of magic abilities.  Doctor Fate would fade away with the rest of the comic book heroes in the early 1950s as discussed in earlier blogs.  He would return the 1960s in the pages on The Justice League of America when DC Comics rebirths The Justice Society in the pages of that magazine.  He would eventually get his own title for a short while but for the most part remain a supporting character in the comic book universe.  With the popularity of the television series Stargirl and the reemergence of The Justice Society Doctor Fate may soon make a return.

Doctor Strange made his first appearance in Strange Tales and remains a favorite character of mine to this day.  Steven Strange is a surgeon, skilled and vain about those skills.  He cares only for money and little for the actual people he treats. An accident renders his hands useless and in seeking a cure he becomes a penniless derelict.  His search continues, however, and he makes it to Tibet where he hears of a man known as The Ancient One who may be able to help him.  He seeks The Ancient One out and finds him only discover that it is sorcery that the Ancient One believes can cure Strange.  Strange, being a man of science, rejects this and decides to leave only to discover that the Ancient One’s disciple Murdo is going to kill The Ancient One.  Strange attempts to warn the old man only to be stopped by a spell put on him by Murdo.  The Ancient One saves both Himself and Strange and Strange becomes the new disciple.  After years of training Doctor Strange become The Master of the Mystic Arts and a main player in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe.

My journey in fictional magic continued.  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Kingdom of Landover, The Belgariad and The Harry Potter books all added to my magical fun and adventure.

Why does magic entice all of us so much?  Why does the idea of conjuring strike our imaginations so hard?  I think the answer lies in what CS Lewis once said.  Lewis, the author of the Narnia books said “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  And we were made for another world.  When God created us in The Garden of Eden, he created us in a perfect world and was grooming us to be like him.  He wasn’t looking for slaves or he wouldn’t have given us the ability to choose.  But the ability to choose comes with consequences.  Adam and Eve were told they could do whatever they wanted except to eat from the fruit of one tree.  They couldn’t accept that one rule and so were banished from a perfect world into this one.  And here we remain as Lewis calls us, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

But God left in us a desire for our true home.  He gave us glimpses of that home in our imaginations and in the many books of fantasy that have been written.  Whether you are a fan of The Shire or Shangri La, or Neverland or Oz all of those places are glimpses of Eden our true home and the place we all long for.

The thing is we have another act of God where in we can begin to get Eden back.  God sent his son Jesus to pay for the sins of Adam and all the rest of us.  Jesus’ death on the cross and his ultimate resurrection pave the way to the real place of magic known as Eden or Heaven.  To return to that place God asks only one thing from us and that is to believe that Jesus died and was resurrected for us.  That’s it.  This is what Tolkien called “the one true myth.” No great acts of heroism or penance are required just belief that in the work God has done.  Will our lives change after that?  Yes, they will but the change will come not as an act of payment but as an act of gratitude that comes from believing in this amazing gift.  It would be the same way you would act toward the person who showed up at your door with the keys to a brand-new house or a car.  Just handed those keys to you and said enjoy it.  We would go out of our way to show our gratitude.  This is why our lives change when we understand what God has done for us.

I will continue to enjoy the fantasy worlds that are so much a part of my life.  These worlds have added color and excitement and mystery to this existence, but they have also been a pointer.  Little by little they pointed me back to Eden and to God.