TED KENNEDY AND CHAPPAQUIDDICK

Ted Kennedy was likely on track to become president of the United States until the evening of July 18, 1969 when he was involved in a one-car accident on Chappaquiddick Island, Martha’s Vineyard.  The accident resulted in the tragic death of a young staffer, Mary Jo Kopechne, and derailed any national political aspirations Kennedy may have had.  I do not wish to make light of the tragic situation, but Kennedy violated the oft-repeated mantra of politicians – “never to be caught with a dead woman or a live boy.”   The events leading up to the accident, the accident, itself, and the aftermath were extremely suspicious, and nearly 50 years later we still don’t have all the answers.

Briefly, the situation was as follows:

  1. Kennedy had hosted a party for some female staffers who had served on his late brother, Robert’s 1968 presidential campaign.  The staffers were affectionately called the “Boiler Room Girls,” because they had worked in a loud, window-less area.
  2. The women were all young, attractive and single.  Also, in attendance were six male friends and business associates of Kennedy’s who, like him, were older and married.  Kennedy had a reputation of being a hard partier and a womanizer.  Regardless of what may have occurred, the optics were all wrong.
  3. Shortly after 11:00 pm Kennedy left with Kopechne, ostensibly, to drive her to the ferry.  Curiously, he did not have his chauffeur drive them, and Kopechne did not bring her purse or hotel key with her.
  4.   When approaching the Dike Bridge to Chappaquiddick Kennedy claims he took a wrong turn in the dark and drove off the bridge into the channel.  He claimed he was able to escape the car, but, despite repeated attempts, he could not rescue Kopechne.

5.  Kennedy did not report the accident to the police for some ten hours, although to do  so would have been any reasonable person’s first reaction.  His explanation was he “panicked.”

6.  Two fishermen found the car and Kopechne’s body the next morning.

7.  To add to the tragedy, the diver who recovered Kopechne’s body later testified that she had not drowned.  Rather, she had found an air pocket in the car, had lived for three or four hours, and eventually died from suffocation.  He added that “I could have had her out of that car 25 minutes after I got the call.  But, [Kennedy] didn’t call.”

8.  Oddly, the medical examiner cited accidental drowning as the cause of death and indicated as such on the death certificate.  He did not order an autopsy, which would have seemed to be a logical step.  Later, when the District Attorney sought to have the body exhumed to be autopsied his efforts were blocked by a judge and the Kopechne family.

9.  Ultimately, Kennedy pleaded guilty to a charge of “leaving the scene of an accident causing bodily injury.”  He was sentenced to two months’, the statutory minimum, which was suspended.  Most of the public were astounded that more serious charges, such as manslaughter, were not brought.,  Their not unreasonable conclusion was that the Kennedy name, money and influence had played a significant role.

So, who was Mary Jo Kopechne?  She was born on July 26, 1940 in Wilkes-Barre, PA to a middle class family.  Her father was an insurance salesman; her mother was a homemaker.  She was an experienced professional.  Before working on Kennedy’s campaign she had been a teacher and a secretary and had worked on other campaigns as well.  Those who knew her described her as possessing a “demure, serious, ‘convent school’ demeanor, rarely drank much, and had no reputation for sexual activities with men.”  She had “hero-worshipped” Robert.  To be fair, she didn’t seem to be the kind of person who would have engaged in an illicit relationship with Kennedy or anyone else.

CONCLUSION

The resolution of the affair left many unanswered questions, such as the following:

1.  Why were six mature, rich, powerful, influential men at a private party with six young, single, unattached, attractive women.   Like I said, even if nothing untoward  happened, the optics were all wrong.

2.  Why did Kennedy, who must of known he was impaired, leave with Kopechne and without his chauffeur.

3. What really happened after the crash.  Kennedy’s actions as he described them, seem irrational and mendacious, if not criminal.

4. Why did the medical examiner insist the cause of death to be accidental drowning, particularly in view of the positioning of Kopechne’s body and the testimony of the diver?

5. Why did the judge block the DA’s exhumation request.

6. Why didn’t the Kopechne family actively seek the truth?

One obvious answer to all of the above would be the Kennedy name, influence and money, particularly in Massachusetts.

The fallout was far-reaching and permanent.  Although Massachusetts voters accepted Kennedy’s explanation of events and returned him to the Senate with large majorities, it was a different story on a national level.  Tainted forever politically by the specter of Chappaquiddick,  Kennedy never did win the presidency, an office that had appeared to be his for the taking.  Many people continued to question his honesty, courage, integrity and judgment, and felt he had used his power, money and influence to his advantage.  He was even unable to become the Senate minority whip.  Politically, he was forced to settle for the role of elder statesman.

On a personal level, he focused on his role as uncle to his dead brothers’ children.  Tragically, his wife, Joan, who had been pregnant, suffered a miscarriage, which was largely attributable to the stress of the accident.

As for the public, some 50 years later we still do not know the whole truth and, likely, never will.  Young people may have little or no awareness or interest in Chappaquiddick, but if you do have an interest I refer you to a series on the Kennedy family currently being shown on cable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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HOLOCAUST REMEMBRANCE DAY

Yesterday, April 24, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day.  IHRD is marked (“celebrated” does not seem an appropriate designation) annually on the 27th day of the month of Nisan by the Hebrew calendar in honor of the anniversary of the uprising of the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, which commenced on that date in 1943.  (For those of you who are interested in learning more about the ill-fated, but brave, uprising, it is superbly chronicled in the book “Mila 18” written by Leon Uris.  If you have not read it, I urge you to do so.)

One of the many events marking this day was the “March of the Living,” in which thousands of people, not all of them Jews, gathered at the site of Auschwitz, in my opinion, the most notorious of the Nazi-run death camps, and marched from there to the site of the nearby camp at Birkenau.  The March is a sober, somber event that serves as an annual reminder of the horrors visited upon Jews and others by the Nazis during WWII.  Over 1 million were murdered at those two camps alone.

Furthermore, IHRD is a time of reflection.  It serves as an annual reminder that anti-Semitism is still with us some 70 years later.  Indeed, it has always been present throughout recorded history, sometimes overtly, as with the infamous pogroms in Poland, Russia and other locales throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries and Nazism in the 1930s and 1940s, at other times, more covertly.  Rulers always found Jews to be a convenient “whipping boy” for the ills of their domain.  Failed crops, not enough jobs, blame the Jews.  Throughout history, that particular tactic has always served as a means to divert the attention of the masses from the real problems, which was invariably ineffective or corrupt leadership.

Additionally, the day shines a spotlight on the sad fact that many countries have been less than diligent in their efforts to restore confiscated or stolen property to its rightful owners.  As most of you know, the Nazis and others plundered substantial amounts of property – such as land, money and artwork – from Jews during WWII.  Pursuant to the Terezin Declaration of 2009 most European countries pledged their best efforts to identify and return this property to its rightful owners or their heirs.  A study conducted by the European Shoah Legacy Institute has concluded that most countries have been diligent in their efforts and have “substantially” complied with their respective pledges, but others, notably Poland and Bosnia, have not.  One might characterize this failure as the “final indignity” visited upon Holocaust victims.

Most disturbingly, IHRD provides a focus on the very serious and foreboding problem of the rise of anti-Semitism worldwide.  I have blogged on this topic before, and I don’t wish to present a detailed reiteration of it at this time.  But, in view of recent developments I believe a brief summary would be appropriate.  Simply put, various surveys and statistics have denoted this trend in recent years.  For instance:

  1.  According to the Anti-Defamation League there was a 34% increase in anti-Semitic incidents during 2016 compared to 2015.  Moreover, there was an additional 86% increase during the first quarter of 2017.  These included threats, harassments, vandalism, physical assaults, cemetery desecrations and bomb threats.  ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is particularly disturbed by the sharp upward trend.  He opines that “public discourse in the US on anti-Semitism [is] at its worst point since the 1930s.  Clearly we have work to do and need to bring more urgency to the fight.”
  2. A separate survey conducted jointly by the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University and the European Jewish Congress found a 12% decrease in global anti-Semitism in 2016 but a 45% increase in the US.
  3. Pro Publica, an investigative journalism nonprofit, has chronicled over 300 anti-Semitic incidents in the US during the first quarter of 2017 alone.  These incidents include spray painting of swastikas, and other acts of vandalism and have occurred all across the country, particularly on college campuses.
  4. The Southern Poverty Law Center reported over 100 incidents in just the first ten days following Donald Trump’s election.
  5. The NY Police Department cited nearly 50 incidents in NYC in the first month after the election.
  6. Seth Frantzman, a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies and the op-ed editor for the Jerusalem Post, denotes that there were in excess of 7,000 anti-Semitic incidents under former President Obama, and many of them were ignored or down-played by the media.  He denotes that this increased trend has continued under President Trump, noting that during January-February 2017 almost 100 Jewish community centers and day schools have received anti-Semitic-related threats.
  7. Much of the media has sought to blame President Trump for this increase.  Some have even gone so far as to imply he an anti-Semite.  They denote that he was not quick enough to denounce KKK leader David Duke, the attacks on JCCs, and those of his supporters who had exhibited anti-Semitism during the campaign.  In addition, Frantzman has characterized the Trump Administration’s response to anti-Semitism as “tepid, at best.”
  8. Malcolm Hoenlein, Head of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, opines that “anti-Semitism is taking on potentially ‘pandemic’ dimensions globally.”  He adds, “we saw [it] in Britain, we saw it in France and now we see it’s spreading everywhere.”  In this regard, he cites recent events in Germany and Scandanavia.  With respect to the US, he notes the recent paintings of swastikas on college campuses in the US, the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, and bomb threats to Jewish community  centers.  Finally, with respect to President Trump, he emphasizes that “any accusations that [he] is an anti-Semite are unfounded.”  I strongly agree with Mr. Hoenlein.    President Trump has been in the public eye for over 40 years.  His life is an “open book.”  To invoke the words of former President Obama, in all President Trump’s business and personal dealings there has never been a “smidgen” of anti-Semitism.

CONCLUSION

I believe it is misleading and irresponsible for the media or anyone, for that matter, to blame the increase in anti-Semitism on any one person or event.  Most of the media persists in blaming President Trump for all the world’s ills, even the weather (as a result of his stance on the Global Warming issue).   After a while, their rants against him become so much “white noise.”  If they continue, they will lose whatever credibility they have left with the American people.

I view the current iteration of anti-Semitism as emanating from a variety of sources, among them (1) the ongoing conflict in the Middle East in which Israel is increasingly being portrayed by its enemies and in the media as the “bad guys,” (2) the increasing power and influence of Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS and Boko Haram, (3) the poor economic climate in most of the world, which leads many to blame others (i.e. Jews) for their problems, and (4) latent anti-Semitism, which has always been there and always will be ready to come to the fore.  I am sure I have omitted other causes.  Feel free to denote them to me.

What is the solution?  I am not sure there is one.  Mr. Hoenlein has suggested more discourse in the form of a worldwide forum.  Perhaps, but I also think the world’s leaders have to become more actively involved.  I mean, not only political leaders, but also others who command the respect of the average person and are in a position to exert a positive influence on them, such as clergy, entertainers and athletes.

We are better than this.  It is time to demonstrate it.

ERIN MORAN, HAPPY DAYS ACTRESS, DIES

Erin Moran, a child actress best known for her role as Joanie Cunningham on the hit tv  sitcom, Happy Days (1974-1984) has passed away at the age of 56.  As I write this, a cause of death has not yet been published.  I don’t want to speculate, but she was not known to be suffering from any specific illness, so drugs and/or alcohol are distinct possibilities.

Erin Marie Moran was born on October 18, 1960 in Burbank, CA., the fifth of six children.  She demonstrated an interest in acting at a very young age.  She landed her first role at the age of six in the tv series Daktari.  She followed this up with a series of movie roles,  such as How Sweet It Is with Debbie Reynolds, and various guest appearances on tv, on shows such as My Three Sons and The Courtship of Eddie’s Father.

Her big break came in 1974 when she was cast as Joanie Cunningham in the hit tv sitcom, Happy Days.  The show ran until 1984.  It depicted a somewhat idealistic version of life in the 1950s and 1960s and was very popular among teens and young adults.   Although it was most notable for renewing the career of Ron Howard, originally famous for the role of “Opie Taylor” on The Andy Griffith Show (1960-1968) and for introducing “The Fonz,” one of the most iconic characters in tv history, played by Henry Winkler, Moran acquitted herself well as Howard’s teenage sister.  Later, she starred in a spin-off series, Joanie Loves Chachi with Scott Baio, which, unfortunately, only lasted a few years..

After that show was cancelled Moran’s life and career went into a sharp decline.  She married, divorced and remarried.  Acting roles dried up.  In recent years she suffered from depression, her house was foreclosed and she was living in her mother-in-law’s trailer home in Indiana, where she was found dead.

CONCLUSION

Moran’s story is not uncommon in Hollywood, where successful child actors are often unable to cope with life as adults.  In recent years, there have been dozens of instances of out-of-control entertainers, such as Drew Barrymore (drugs, multiple stints in rehab) and Lindsay Lohan (drugs and alcohol abuse)  as well as premature deaths, such as Heath Ledger (prescription drug  overdose) and Lee Thompson Young (suicide).

One would hope that others who are heading down the same path would learn from this and get control of their lives before it is too late.  But, unfortunately, I don’t believe most of them will.

 

 

O’REILLY OUT, CARLSON IN AT FOX

Yesterday, Fox News announced the termination of Bill O’Reilly, host of its top-rated news show, The O’Reilly Factor, since 1996.  O’Reilly’s ouster was precipitated by the slew of sexual harassment charges brought against him by various women who had worked for him, for the network, or appeared on his show over the years.   His 8:00 pm time-slot will be filled by Tucker Carlson, who is currently the host of Tucker Carlson Tonight, currently shown at 9:00 pm on Fox..  (The Five, currently broadcast at 5:00 pm, will move to 9:00 pm, and a new show hosted by Eric Bolling will air at 5:00 pm.)  Carlson may not be familiar to some of you.  More on him below.

In my April 15 blog on this matter I had cautioned against a rush to judgment.  Many were calling for his immediate ouster, including advertisers, various women’s groups and James and Lachlan Murdoch, the sons of principal owner, Rupert Murdoch, who manage Fox’s day-to-day activities.   I had urged waiting until the completion of independent investigations that were being conducted by the Manhattan DA’s office and the law firm, Paul, Weiss, which had been hired by Fox.  Apparently, the evidence uncovered by Paul Weiss’ internal investigation as well as various external factors, left Fox with no choice.

Below please find a brief timeline of events that led to this blockbuster decision:

  1. April 1 – The New York Times published a story detailing payments to five women over several years to settle allegations of harassment and sexual misconduct.

2.  April 4 – Advertisers began cancelling their ads.  Eventually, some 60 of them did so.

3.  April 9 – Fox announced the hiring of renowned law firm, Paul, Weiss, to conduct an internal investigation of the allegations.  This is the same firm that Fox had hired to investigate the Roger Ailes allegations, which had resulted in his termination.

4.  April 11 – O’Reilly went on a vacation that he claims was scheduled last autumn.

5.  April 18 – Another woman comes forward with allegations that were particularly damaging.  She claims he would “leer” at her and refer to her as “hot chocolate,” adding a racial element to the sexual harassment allegations.

6.  April 19 – A poll conducted by Morning Consult reported that 46% of Americans, including 23% of Factor viewers, favored Fox cancelling the Factor. Only 22% favored retaining the show, with the rest undecided.

7.  April 19 – Fox announced the O’Reilly will not be returning, and NPR broke the story about Carlson replacing him.

Tucker Carlson was born on May 16, 1969 in San Francisco.  He graduated from Trinity College.  He has had a varied career as a reporter, commentator and journalist.  Among the highlights:  He has been a columnist for New York and Reader’s Digest.  He broke into television in 2000 on CNN as co-host of The Spin Room.  In 2005 he moved to MSNBC where he hosted various news shows until 2009 when he became a Fox News contributor.  He has appeared on, co-hosted and hosted various shows on Fox, the latest being the aforementioned Tucker Carlson Tonight.  I like his style, and I think he will be successful, although, perhaps, not as much as O’Reilly was.

CONCLUSION

In the end Fox had no choice.  The combination of mounting evidence, public pressure from women’s groups, the media, and the loss of advertising revenue was too overwhelming.  Ultimately, management’s primary responsibility is to protect the “brand.”  Like any company faced with scandalous behavior of its employees, Fox needed to take prompt, decisive, corrective action to demonstrate it was committed to rectify the problem.  It could not be seen as a company that tolerates workplace sexual or racial harassment.  Thus, we see yet another instance in which no person, regardless of status, is bigger than the company.

 

 

 

 

BILL O’REILLY’S SEXUAL HARASSMENT WOES

According to the New York Times and other news outlets, prominent Fox News commentator, Bill O’Reilly, host of The O’Reilly Factor, has been accused of sexual harassment by five women.  According to multiple published reports Fox paid these women some $13 million to settle their claims.

Moreover, Wendy Walsh, formerly a regular on The Factor, who was not paid a settlement, disclosed her complaints to the Times and held a press conference.  She claimed, in part, that O’Reilly had offered to make her a “contributor” to the show if she would accompany him to his hotel suite.  She declined and was not given the spot.

In addition, she demanded an independent investigation into the matter.  (The Times reported that the Manhattan DA’s Office is investigating.  Furthermore, multiple sources have reported that Fox has retained the prominent law firm Paul, Weiss to conduct its own internal investigation.)

The complaints allege that Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior is part of the culture pervasive at Fox.  They cite the recent complaints against Roger Ailes, former Chairman and CEO of Fox News, as an example.  The Times has reported that Fox has taken corrective action by enhancing its personnel awareness and training procedures and hiring a new Director of Human Resources.

These news outlets have also speculated that O’Reilly has been suspended and is unlikely to return.  (On the other hand, both a Fox news spokesman and Mr. O’Reilly, himself, have stated that he is merely  on vacation until April 28 and that such vacation was scheduled last fall.)   Which version is true?  Your guess is as good as mine, but Chuck Barney of the Bay Area News Group has reported that the Murdoch family, which owns Fox, is still deciding upon a course of action.   Barney reported that James, the CEO, would like to terminate Mr. O’Reilly, while Rupert and Lachlan would like to retain him.

Another very significant development is that, according to Kantar Media, dozens of advertisers have pulled their ads from the show, resulting in an approximately 50% decrease in ad revenue. For example, Mercedes Benz, which spent nearly $2 million on ads last year, opined “given the importance of women in every aspect of our business, we don’t feel this is a good environment in which to advertise our products right now.”  Hyundai cited “the recent and disturbing allegations.”  Ultimately, the drying up of advertising revenue may seal Mr. O’Reilly’s fate

This story is very significant, socially, culturally and economically.  Socially, it is another instance in a long line of reputed inappropriate behavior between the sexes.  Usually, but not always, the allegations involve a rich, powerful and/or famous man and a woman under his influence and/or control.  In recent years, we have seen cases involving athletes, such as Tiger Woods, Presidents, such as Bill Clinton, entertainers, such as Bill Cosby, businessmen, such as Roger Ailes, clergy, and numerous teachers and their students.  To be fair, men have not always been the perpetrators in these cases.  We have seen women as well, particularly teachers.

Culturally, I believe it illustrates a basic flaw in human behavior.  Most of us, manage to control our wanton desires.  A few, cannot or will not, particularly if they think they can get away with it.  Not to make light of these very serious situations, I recall that former President Jimmy Carter, perhaps, tongue in cheek, once said he “lusts in his heart.”

The economic impact on Fox is enormous.  According to Kantar Media, a media research firm, O’Reilly’s show, The O’Reilly Factor, has a viewing audience of nearly 4 million per night, and from 2014 through 2016 it generated advertising revenue for Fox of some $446 million.  These numbers would likely be severely impacted without Mr. O’Reilly’s presence.  (Mr. O’Reilly is believed to earn roughly $18 million per year, just from the show, not counting his earnings from his best-selling books and tours.

It should be noted that Mr. O’Reilly has vigorously denied these allegations as “without merit.”  Additionally, his lawyer has characterized Walsh’s allegations as “patently false and highly defamatory,” and has demanded that she “cease and desist all defamation of Mr. O’Reilly’s character.”

Normally, these cases become “he said – she said” matters in which the essential facts are in dispute.  Unfortunately, Americans have a tendency to rush to judgment before all the facts have been investigated.  Often, these cases have been tried in the media, which then faces embarrassment when all is said and done.  Typically, the public remembers the original version, rather than the accurate one, which may be determined months later. Some recent examples of inaccurate rushes to judgment have been the Duke lacrosse case, the Trevon Martin case, and the Ferguson, Missouri case.  By the time the matter has been fully investigated and the real facts determined many people and the media have made up their minds and refuse to accept the truth.  The O’Reilly situation may follow that pattern.

CONCLUSION

Most of you know that I have been a staunch supporter of Mr. O’Reilly’s.  I believe his reporting and commentary to be mostly fair and balanced, and I rely on his show as my primary news source.

That said, these allegations are heinous and should not be tolerated in our society.  We’re better than this.  Let’s remember, however, that in America people are adjudged to be “innocent until proven guilty.”  I urge everyone to wait until the aforementioned investigations have been completed and all the facts are known before rushing to judgment.

 

 

 

 

 

ecent examples,Sometime, this resu

“MR. WARMTH”

A few days ago, we lost a comedic icon – Don Rickles.  Rickles was an equal opportunity “insulter.”  Among his favorite greetings were “hey dummy!” or “you hockey puck!”  It didn’t matter to him whether you were a politician, celebrity, talk show host, regular fan, or mobster.  Anyone was fair game, and yet his genius was such that the target, rather than take offense, would laugh uproariously.  Many people, such as Frank Sinatra, considered it a “badge of honor” to have been insulted by Rickles.

Sinatra and Rickles were good friends.  They first met in the 1950s at a club in Miami.   Rickles was performing when Sinatra walked in with his entourage.  Everyone knew of Sinatra’s penchant for violence and suspected mob ties.  No matter.  In one of those seminal moments that could make or break a career, Rickles laced into Sinatra.  “Frank, I just saw your movie, The Pride and the Passion, and I want to tell you the cannon’s acting was great.  Make yourself at home.  Hit someone.”   Sinatra thought Rickles was so funny, he told many of his friends and encouraged them to see the comic’s act and be insulted, themselves.  Sinatra even used his influence to get Rickles invited to perform at Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Ball in 1985, a performance that Rickles, himself, characterized as the  “highlight of his career.”

Donald Jay Rickles was born on May 8, 1926 in Jackson Heights, Queens, NY.  Upon graduating high school he served two years in the Navy during WWII.  In 1946 he received an honorable discharge and began to pursue a career as a dramatic actor.  Although he landed a few bit parts here and there, he was largely unsuccessful.  He tried selling insurance, used cars and cosmetics, but he was unsuccessful at those endeavors also.  Finally, he turned to comedy.

At first, he was not too successful at that either.  He was performing in small, nondescript clubs as a warmup act.  Normally,  the crowds were indifferent to his prepared material; sometimes, they were even abusive as they were more interested in the upcoming headliners.  One night, while he was performing at a run-down strip joint in Washington, DC, the heckling was particularly abusive, and Rickles decided he had had enough.  He began to insult his hecklers right back.  To his surprise, they and the rest of the crowd loved it.  Rickles knew he had found his niche, and he was on his way.  Many people thought Rickles patterned his style after Jack E. Leonard, a contemporary “insult comic,” but Rickles once told Larry King that it was Milton Berle.

In a career that spanned more than 60 years Rickles appeared in countless movies, tv shows and clubs.  Perhaps, his best movie was Run Silent, Run Deep, which starred Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.  He starred in a few tv series, such as CPO Sharkey (1976-78), which were not long-term successes.

He was at his best, however, as a guest on tv variety, comedy and talk shows, which he did hundreds of times in his career.  For example, he appeared over 100 times on The Tonight Show, alone, and even guest-hosted on many occasions.   His signature introduction was a Spanish matador tune, which was intended to signal that someone was about to be skewered, metaphorically, of course.

One of his appearances in 1980 was the third highest rated Tonight Show ever.  Carson loved him.  In fact, it was Carson who dubbed Rickles “Mr. Warmth.”  In addition, he was a fixture on Dean Martin’s “Celebrity Roast” specials.  If you like comedy, these shows, starring a veritable Who’s Who of comedians, are “must see” and can be found on U Tube.

His style of humor resonated with the audiences because as he once said, the audiences knew “he was never mean-spirited.”  As I said, he was an equal-opportunity insulter.  In the days before the advent of over-the-top PC he often used ethnic humor, and his targets loved it. Patrons would often wear outlandish outfits to his shows hoping to be noticed and picked on.

Rickles met his long-time wife Barbara, through his agent.  According to his memoirs, he was attracted to her because she did not “get” his humor.  He also denoted that of all his movie and tv roles his two grandchildren liked his role as “Mr. Potato Head” the best. Go figure.

Rickles’ best friend was Bob Newhart.  They often socialized with their wives, who were also close friends.  Ironically, Newhart often remarked that, on those occasions, Rickles was the quiet one, and he, Newhart, the boisterous one.  Again, go figure.

CONCLUSION

Rickles loved performing, and he continued to do so virtually to the end.  He died of kidney failure on April 6, 2017 at the age of 90.  He was a comedic icon, and he will be sorely missed.

On a personal note, Rickles was one of my favorite entertainers.  (Many people who know me well have told me that my  personality and style of humor contain a little bit of Rickles.  Probably, so, although I admit I’m not quite as funny.)

Below please find a sample of the tributes that have poured in since his passing:

  1. Jimmy Kimmel called him “a towering presence in Las Vegas” (where Kimmel was raised).
  2. Seth Meyers – “There’s nothing better than getting burned by Don Rickles.”
  3. Martin Scorsese (who directed him in Casino) – “Don Rickles was a giant, a legend.  He kept me doubled over with laughter every day on the set – yet he was a complete pro.”
  4. Jerry Seinfeld – He belongs on the “Mt. Rushmore of stand-up comedy.”
  5. And, finally, Rickles, himself –  “I’m an honest friend.  I’m emotional.  I’m caring.  I’m loyal.  Loyalty in this business is very important.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE MASTERS

The Masters, one of the four major golf tournaments – along with the US Open, the (British) Open and the PGA –  is being played this weekend.   The Masters is the first of these majors to be contested.  For you non-golfers, the tournament consists of four rounds of 18 holes each, played Thursday thru Sunday.  Low total score wins.  A tie would be settled by a sudden death playoff.

Prior to the advent of the Masters and the growth of professional golf the four “majors” included the US Open, the Open and the US and British amateur championships.  Winning those four in the same calendar year became known as the “Grand Slam of Golf.”  It has only been done once, by Bobby Jones in 1930.  At the time, the feat did not have a name because it was thought to be impossible to achieve.  According to Wikipedia, the originator of the term “Grand Slam” was O. B. Keeler, a reporter for the Atlanta Journal, who simply took the term from bridge.

The modern GS came into being in 1960.  That year, Arnold Palmer won the Masters and the US Open.  Supposedly, a reporter friend of his, Bob Drum of the Pittsburg Press,  spread the notion that if Palmer were to add the Open and the PGA he would have completed a GS.  Palmer did not, but the notion “stuck.”  (Can you name the five golfers who have won all four majors during their careers?)

The Masters is always the first full week of April and, unlike the other three majors, it is always played at the same venue, Augusta  National Golf Club, a private club located in Augusta, Georgia.  AN was designed by golf legend Bobby Jones, and it opened in 1933.  During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the land  on which the course is situated was an indigo plantation and a plant nursery, which is why each hole is named after a particular tree or plant.  How many of these can you name?  See answers below.

The first Masters, known as the Augusta National Invitational Tournament, was held in March 1934.  The winner was Horton Smith, and he won a mere $1,500.  By contrast, last year’s winner, Danny Willett, earned $1.8 million out of a $10 million total purse, not to mention everlasting fame and other perks, such as invitations to play in the other majors that year, and a lifetime invitation to the Masters.  Yes, the tournament and golf, itself, have come a long way.

The tournament is famous for its various traditions, which are unique to this tournament.  Some of the more significant ones include:

  1.  Since 1949 each year’s champion has been awarded a special green jacket.  This jacket is presented to him in a post-tournament ceremony by the previous year’s winner.   Although the jacket becomes the personal property of the winner he can only keep it in his possession for one year after which time it is required to be stored at the club.
  2. Since 1952 the previous year’s winner has hosted a Champions’ Dinner.  Generally, only past champions are invited to attend.  The host selects the menu, and, over the years, there have been some unusual choices.  For example, Scotsman Sandy Lyle served haggis, and South African Trevor Immelman ordered up bobotie.  Are you familiar with these dishes?  See below.
  3. Since 1963 certain legendary golfers, generally also past champions, have been given the honor of hitting a ceremonial opening tee shot.  In recent years, the honorees have been Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player.   Palmer passed away this past September, so, to honor him, this year Nicklaus and Player performed the honors without him accompanied by an empty chair with his green jacket draped over it.)
  4. Since 1960 a par-3 contest has been held on the Tuesday before the tournament.  This is an informal affair, and golfers often invite their children to caddy for them.
  5. Until 1983 golfers were required to use caddies employed by the club.  This was significant, since professional golfers habitually use their own caddies.  Often, the golfer and the caddy become a team, and the golfer comes to rely on the caddy for advice and support during the round.  By tradition, the caddies were black.  In those pre-PC days, club co-founder Clifford Roberts was quoted as saying “as long as I’m alive golfers will be white and caddies will be black.”  Roberts was not the most enlightened man.  Thankfully, neither he nor that particular tradition is still alive.

CBS has televised the event every year since 1956.  Because the club is private and its membership highly affluent, it has been able to impose various unusual restrictions on CBS in exchange for lower revenue.  For example, commercial interruptions are very limited;  the announcers are required to refer to the gallery as “patrons,” rather than “fans” or “spectators; and “plugs” for other network programs are forbidden (except it may notify the audience of a delay in the following program, 60 Minutes should the situation arise.

One final question.  Which golfer has won the most Masters?

CONCLUSION

The Masters has become arguably the most prestigious of the four majors, at least in the US.  Golfers revere tradition, and, as denoted above, the Masters has them aplenty.  Also, it is played on the same beautiful, impeccably-groomed course every year.

Over the years, there have been a plethora of famous “Masters moments.”  I was too young to experience Gene Sarazen’s so-called “shot heard ’round the world (man, has that phrase been overused or what?) in 1935 when he “holed” a shot from the fairway on hole 15 for a double eagle.  But, I did see Larry Mize sink a 45-yard pitch shot to win a sudden death playoff in 1987.  In addition, I felt badly for Roberto de Vicenzo, who lost a playoff in 1968 when he was penalized one stroke for inadvertently signing an incorrect scorecard.  Golf has strict rules, and they are enforced unequivocally.  De Vicenzo’s reaction was a classic: “What a stupid I am.”

Answers to questions:

  1.  Names of holes – 1) Tea Olive, 2) Pink Dogwood, 3) Flowering Peach, 4) Flowering Crab Apple, 5) Magnolia, 6) Juniper, 7) Pampas, 8) Yellow Jasmine, 9) Carolina Cherry, 10) Camellia, 11) White Dogwood, 12) Golden Bell, 13) Azalea, 14) Chinese Fir, 15) Firethorn, 16) Redbud, 17) Nandina, 18) Holly.
  2. Haggis is the national dish of Scotland.  It is a pudding containing sheep’s “pluck” ( heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, suet (fat), and various spices.  Bobotie, pronounced “ba boor tea,” is the national dish of South Africa.  Basically, it is a mixture of curried meat and fruit.  Hmm. Yummy.
  3. The five golfers who have completed the “career slam” are Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player,  Jack Nicklaus, and Tiger Woods.
  4. Jack Nicklaus – 6.

APRIL FOOLS DAY

This is NOT an April Fools joke. It is a legitimate blog.

As you know, today is April 1, also known as “April Fools Day.” I like a good joke as much as anyone, but I am not a big fan of pranking people on this date. Maybe when I was 10, but not now. But, I am curious about the origins of the holiday, and how it is celebrated around the world.

AFD is not a official holiday in the US, or in any other country, for that matter, but it is widely recognized and celebrated around the world unofficially. Some people love to play jokes and perpetrate hoaxes. So, if you hear that President Trump has resigned to focus on building hotels and golf courses, or that the Mets have traded Noah Syndergaard, or that China has “forgiven” the US’s debt, don’t believe it. Those would, most certainly, be AFD jokes.

Even the media can be a willing participant. One of my favorite AFD pranks occurred on April 1, 1985. The Sports Illustrated cover story that day was about a baseball pitching phenom named Sidd Finch. At first, the story appeared to have credibility, as it was written by George Plimpton and published in SI. Finch was presented as an unknown rookie pitching prospect in the NY Mets training camp. So far, so good. But, as one read the details of the story, particularly about his 160 MPH fastball, it became apparent that it was an AFD joke.

Surprisingly, there are records of continuous AFD celebrations back as far as 536 BC in present day Iran.  They celebrate the Persian holiday of Sizdah Bedar, which falls on the 13th day of the Persian New Year, (April 1).  In addition, the Romans celebrated festivals called “Hilaria” on March 25 and the “Medieval Feast of Fools” on December 28. In certain Spanish-speaking countries, the latter is still a date on which pranks are played on people. Finally, there is a reference to the holiday in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”

Nowadays, the holiday is celebrated differently around the world. Some examples are as follows:

1. UK – The April Fool joke is disclosed when the perpetrator shouts “April Fool” at the recipient. Traditionally, April Fool jokes are to cease at midday. After that time, anyone trying to prank someone becomes the “April Fool” himself. These AFD customs are similar in other countries whose traditions were influenced by the UK, such as the US.

2. Scotland – AFD is called “Hunt the Gowk Day.”  “Gowk” is Scots for a foolish person.

3. Ireland – A common tradition is to give the “prankee” an important letter in an envelope to give to a certain person. That person would ask the “prankee” to give it to another person, and so on and so on. Eventually, someone would open the envelope. The letter inside would say “send the fool further.”

4. Poland – Traditionally, April 1 is a day to play jokes and hoaxes. The media participates as well. Serious matters are to be avoided. For example, supposedly, a treaty signed on April 1, 1683 was later backdated to March 31.

5. France/Italy/Belgium – The holiday is called “April Fish,” for some reason.  One common prank is to attach a paper fish to the victim’s back without being detected. (Along these lines, in high school we used to put a “kick me” sign on a victim’s back, although not just on AFD.  Movie buffs may recall that this joke was played on McFly Senior in the movie Back to the Future.)

6. Sweden/Denmark – They celebrate on May 1 in addition to April 1.  Many Danish and Swedish news outlets will intentionally publish one false story on April 1.

CONCLUSION

April Fools Day can be fun, especially for kids. A little harmless fun never hurt anyone. For example, a few years ago my son told my grandson, who was six at the time and a huge Mets fan, that David Wright had been traded to the hated Yankees. To his credit, my grandson, merely shrugged his shoulders and asked “who for?”  I can remember being the perpetrator and butt of April fool jokes in grade school and middle school.  All in good fun.

I predict that some of you will be victimized today. Maybe you have been already.

Please tell me some of your favorite April fools moments. Were you the perpetrator or the victim?  I promise you I won’t put it on Facebook.

Now, THAT was an April fool joke.