Claire Smith has been a ground-breaking sports writer-journalist for over 30 years.  As you will see, her entire career has been and continues to be characterized by a series of “firsts.”

Smith was born in Langhorne, PA.  Both of her parents were professionals.  Her father was an illustrator and a sculptor.  Her mother was a chemist. Smith was educated at Penn State and Temple Universities.

Smith credits her mother for sparking her interest in baseball, particularly Jackie Robinson, pioneer extraordinaire, who, obviously, was and continues to be an inspiration to countless African Americans.  The barriers Jackie encountered and his struggles to overcome them were to become a model for Smith’s own professional life.

She recalled that when she was in the third grade her teacher showed the film “The Jackie Robinson Story” to the class.  Smith said it made her feel “good about myself.”  She was the only African American in the class, and it ”filled [her] with pride.”

When she was nine her parents gave her a special and portentous gift.  It was an old manual typewriter.  She loved it and pounded out “stories” on it constantly.

Her first journalism job was with the Bucks County Courier, but that was merely a prelude to greatness and notoriety.  Smith was to become the first female to serve as a beat writer for a MLB team.  She began her ground-breaking career by covering the NY Yankees for the Hartford Courant from 1983-1987.  Later, she was a columnist for the NY Times and an editor and columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

According to former Baseball Commissioner, Fay Vincent, Smith got the job with the Times through the recommendation of the late Bart Giamatti, also a former Commissioner and a close friend of Vincent’s.  It seems that Giamatti was a loyal reader of the Courant and Smith, and he considered her to be “best baseball writer in the country.”  He recommended her to Max Frankel, the executive editor of the Times, who was looking to hire a sportswriter, and that was that.

Smith achieved additional notoriety during her tenure with the Times during the 1994 baseball players’ strike.  Sports fans will recall that this was a particularly bitter strike.  It even caused the cancellation of the 1994 World Series, the only WS that has ever been cancelled.  At one point, the owners threatened to use replacement players.  The Baltimore Orioles were the only team that refused to use replacement players, even if it meant forfeiting the games.  This became an even bigger story because one of the Orioles , Cal Ripkin, was in the midst of breaking the record for consecutive games played, a record held by the immortal Lou Gehrig, which had been considered unassailable. If any games were played and Ripkin remained on strike, his streak would be broken.  Smith covered this compelling side story for the Times with her usual aplomb.

Last Saturday, she became the first woman to be awarded the Baseball Hall of Fame’s J. G. Taylor Spink Award, which is given by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.  This is the BWAA’s highest award.  It is named after J. G. Taylor Spink, the initial publisher of The Sporting News, the venerable, long-time “bible” of baseball.  It has been awarded since 1962. 

It was not an easy road for Smith.  It is never easy being the “first.”  If you are under 40 you may not realize that up until 30 or so years ago sports journalism was essentially a man’s world.  Women were virtually non-existent in the field – as reporters, journalists or interviewers.  Women were barred from men’s locker rooms and clubhouses.  PC, as we know it today, did not exist.  Many male athletes were very candid about their feelings that women did not belong there, “invading their privacy.”  Those were the barriers that Smith overcame.

One example will illustrate this point.   After Game 1 of the 1984 NLCS between the San Diego Padres and the Chicago Cubs, Smith entered the Padres locker room, just like all the male reporters, to conduct interviews for the Courant.  The National League had a rule that granted equal access during the playoffs to all accredited journalists, regardless of gender. . Nevertheless, many Padres players strenuously objected to her presence, and she was physically ejected.  Without access, she would be unable to do her job effectively.  Henry Hecht, another reporter, witnessed this and mentioned it to Padres star Steve Garvey.   Garvey left the group of reporters who were interviewing him and went to Smith in the hallway outside the locker room.  He told her that “he would give her all the time she needed” to interview him, telling her “you have a job to do.”  And so, she did.  Not only did Garvey grant Smith the interview, he also ferried himself between Smith and other players still in the locker room to obtain additional stories and quotes for Smith.  George Vesey, a fellow sportswriter quipped that Garvey became Smith’s “million dollar stringer.”   The incident became a big story, superseding the game, itself, which had not been very compelling to begin with.   (The very next day, Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth promulgated a stronger, more encompassing rule granting equal access to all major league locker rooms for all accredited journalists.)

Smith, classy  person that she is, never forgot Garvey’s gesture.  She invited him to the awards ceremony as her special guest and made sure to give him a special mention.


Presently, Smith is a news editor for ESPN.

I maintain that every female reporter, journalist, interviewer and commentator, who has worked or is currently working in the sports field owes a debt of gratitude to Smith.  Yesterday, Mark Hermann, long-time sports columnist for Newsday, wrote that in the last few months “countless people (including college students who called her ‘Auntie’) have told her how much her story [had] encouraged them.” In a sense she was the Jackie Robinson of sports reporting.  She led a revolution in sports reporting, and she did it, not with bluster or violence, but with a dogged persistence and quiet dignity.  Rather than break down barriers, she persevered until they fell.

Moreover, despite her significant accomplishments, she remains very humble.  For example, in her acceptance speech she paid homage to previous winners, such as Ring Lardner, Damon Runyon and Grantland Rice – literary giants all.  She said, they and others are “wordsmiths.”  Me, I’m just named Smith.”  I think those few words sum up Claire Smith quite well.



It is likely that very few of you, even those that are big sports fans, have ever heard of Margaret Lambert, despite the fact that she was probably the best female high jumper in the world during the 1930s.  Why the lack of name recognition?  Read on, and you will see.

Margaret “Gretel” Bergmann-Lambert was born on April 12, 1934 in Laupheim, Germany.  She was Jewish, and, as we know, Germany was not exactly a friendly place for Jews in the 1930s.

Lambert’s athletic excellence manifested itself early.  As a teenager, representing the Ulmer FV 1894 Club, she won the high jump in the South German Championships in 1931 and 1932.  The next year, with the Nazis firmly in control of the country, Jews were banned from many activities, including participating in organized sports.  She was expelled from the club and barred from competing in Germany.

Lambert decided to compete abroad.  In 1934, accompanied by her father, she went to London, where she won the high jump in the British Championships.  Lambert figured she would remain abroad indefinitely where, at least , she would able to compete.  However, she received a letter from the government demanding her return.  She was very reluctant to do so, but her father denoted that they had many family members still living in Germany, and refusing could have dire consequences for them.

Years later, Lambert recalled her father’s words.  “Look, I won’t force you into anything, but we were threatened, the family [was] living in Germany.  The consequences, they can’t guarantee what’s going to happen.”  The threat and implications were clear.  She returned.

The government invited Lambert to join the German Olympic team.  This seemed like a positive development, but the German government had an ulterior motive.  The Germans were afraid of a possible boycott of the games by the Americans and other countries, and they wanted to demonstrate that they were not discriminatory.  Subsequently, Lambert won the German Olympic trials in her event with a national record height.  However, the day after the US team sailed for Germany she was notified that she was off the team due to “underperformance.”  “It [the reinstatement] was a sham,” she told an interviewer years later.

Lambert did not compete in the 1936 Games, nor in any subsequent Olympics.  In 1937 she emigrated to the US where she continued to compete.  In 1937 she won the US women’s high jump and shot put competitions, and she repeated the high jump in 1938.  Then, came WWII and a suspension of organized international track and field competition.  She married and raised a family.


As with many Jews of that era, recognition and redemption came eventually.  In Lambert’s case, due to her longevity, at least, it was not posthumously. In 1995 a Berlin sports complex was named after her.  In 1996 the German Olympic Committee requested her to light the Olympic torch at the Atlanta Games as their representative.  She acceded.  In 1999 she attended the dedication of the Gretel Bergmann Stadium in Laupheim.  She had been very reluctant to attend, as when she had emigrated she had vowed never to return to Germany.  Ultimately, she did so at the urging of her two sons.  She said: “I was not going to participate, but when I was told that they were naming the facilities for me so that when young people ask ‘who was Gretel Bergmann?’ they will be told my story and the story of those times, I felt it was important to remember, and so I agreed to return….  I finally came to the conclusion that people [living] now had nothing to do with [the holocaust].”

Margaret “Gretel” Bergmann-Lambert passed away on July 25 at the age of 103.  It is a shame that she, like many others from that time period, only achieved widespread recognition upon their death.  Rest in peace, Gretel.  You were an inspiration to us all, and you will be sorely missed.


OJ is out!  Let the media frenzy begin!

Unless you’ve been living on Mars or been in a coma, you know by now that, yesterday, OJ Simpson was granted parole after having served eight-plus years of his 33-year prison sentence.  You couldn’t escape the news regardless of how hard you tried.

Those of you that are outraged at his early release please keep in mind that the parole board’s decision had nothing to do with the case involving the murders of his late wife, Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ron Goldman.  Rather, it dealt solely with OJ’s conviction for kidnapping and armed robbery in Las Vegas with respect to various sports memorabilia.

The purpose of this blog is NOT to rehash the aforementioned case, the parole, nor the Brown Simpson/Goldman murder case.  As far as I am concerned, that is all “water under the bridge,” and I am sick of it.   If you want to relive the salacious details of the murders and/or any other aspects of OJ’s sordid personal life you will be able to find them on virtually any tv or radio station, prospectively.  For example, yesterday, while I was driving in my car it was extremely hard to find any radio channel that was not covering and analyzing OJ’s parole ad nauseam.

That said, for the benefit of those few of you who may not be cognizant, I will recap (very) briefly the major highlights and lowlights of his life.

1.  Orenthal James Simpson was born on July 9, 1947 in San Francisco, CA.

2.  He attended USC where he became a megastar running back.  Along the way, he picked up the nickname, “Juice.”

3.  He starred for eleven years in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers.  In 1973 he became the first running back to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season, and, although others have since accomplished that feat, he is still the only “back” to have done it in a 14-game season.

4.  He has been elected into both the college and professional Football Halls of Fame.

5.  OJ had a very likeable public image and was very popular, even charming (although, in private, he had been known to exhibit violent outbursts of temper and even physicality).

6.  This popularity enabled him to carve a lucrative post-NFL career in acting and commercials.  He became a bona fide celebrity.

7.  It all came crashing down when he was arrested and tried for the violent murders of his Brown-Simpson and Goldman.  He was acquitted in a controversial verdict.  Later, however, the Goldman family won a $33 million judgment against him in a civil case.

8.  In 2008 a Las Vegas jury found him guilty of the aforementioned armed robbery and kidnapping charges.  He has served eight years of the 33 year sentence, and now has been paroled.

9.  He is scheduled to be released on October 1.


In my opinion, the public’s fascination with OJ has not abated over the years.  Most people crave to watch and read about controversy and violence, as long as they’re viewing it, not participating in it.  That is doubly true if it involves a celebrity, and, like him or hate him, OJ is still a celebrity.

I was a huge OJ fan.  I followed his collegiate and professional career avidly.  I watched all his movies.  I particularly enjoyed the Naked Gun movies with the late Leslie Nielson.  I even liked his commercials, especially when he hurdled through the airport for Hertz.  Like most of us, I was only aware of his public persona.  I knew nothing of the real OJ – until the murders.

According to a Washington Post-ABC News poll in 2016 a majority of people, black and white, now believe that OJ was “probably” guilty.”   His defenders should keep in mind that ” not guilty” does not mean “innocent.”  His lawyers simply outclassed a mediocre, at best, prosecution team.  To me, OJ’s acquittal demonstrated that if you’re on trial for murder, or any crime for that matter, it pays to be rich.  How many of us could have afforded to hire the “dream team” even if, as the saying goes, “our life depended on it?”  One could argue that any inequality in our justice system is not predicated on whether the defendant is black or white but, rather, if he is rich or poor.

So, as I said, get ready for a media feeding frenzy.  It will be wall-to-wall OJ – talk shows, interviews, books, movies, one-man appearances on Broadway, video games, etc.  The media is very inventive when there is money to be made, and the public is insatiable for all things OJ.

Those of us who are sick of hearing and reading about OJ will just have to hold our noses and bear it until something even more extreme occurs to knock him from our consciousness.  The one saving grace in all this is that OJ will be working for the Goldmans.  Any money he earns will be going to pay off their judgment against him (unless it is hidden illegally).  Thank goodness for small favors.


In my opinion, Martin Landau was one of the finest and most versatile actors of his time.  He was successful in movies, on tv and on the stage.  In addition, he was able to play a wide range of characters, such as “soft” characters, intellectuals, dictators and hard-nosed killers with equal aplomb.

Landau was born in 1928 in Brooklyn, NY.  He graduated from James Madison High School and attended the Pratt Institute.  At 17, he began working at the NY Daily News as an editorial cartoonist.  But, he really wanted to become an actor, so after five years he quit to focus on becoming a stage actor.

In 1955 he auditioned for the Actors Studio, the famous school run by acting guru Lee Strasberg.  In his class, some 500 would-be actors applied and only two were accepted – Landau and an fellow named Steve McQueen.  It was a great learning experience for Landau as he got to hone his craft under professionals such as Elia Kazan, Harold Clurman, Sydney Pollack, and, of course, Strasberg.

While at the studio he met and befriended another aspiring young actor named James Dean.  Landau and Dean became “best friends.”  Landau recalled “we were two young would-be and still yet-to-work unemployed actors dreaming out loud and enjoying every moment.”

Landau made his Broadway debut in 1957 in Middle of the Night.  Later, he caught the eye of world renown director Alfred Hitchcock, who, in 1959, cast him in the hit movie North by Northwest, starring Cary Grant and James Mason.  He played a criminal, alongside Mason.  During the 1960s he appeared in Cleopatra, starring Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, and The Greatest Story Ever Told,  starring Max von Sydow and Charlton Heston.

Ironically, Landau turned down what could have been an epic role – Dr. Spock on Star Trek.  As we know, eventually, that role went to Leonard Nimoy.  Nimoy was fabulous in that role, but I could see Landau being successful in it also, as he could play any role.

His signature role was that of Rollin Hand, a master of disguise character in the hit tv show, Mission Impossible, starring Peter Graves and Barbara Bain, Landau’s wife.  At first, Landau was reluctant to appear on the show, feeling the demands of a regular tv show would interfere with his movie opportunities.  But, he relented when the producers offered him a one-year contract instead of the standard five-years.   Playing Hand enabled Landau to demonstrate the full range of his acting abilities.  He got to portray every type of character, and many times he played two roles in the same episode – Hand and the character Hand was supposedly impersonating.  Landau left MI in 1969 following a salary dispute.  MI continued until 1973 and, later, was reincarnated as a series of movies starring Tom Cruise.

Landau continued to work right to the end of his life.  He was nominated for three best supporting actor Academy Awards for his roles in Tucker, Crimes and Misdemeanors and Ed Wood.  He won for his role as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood.  Additionally, he won a Screen Actors Guild award, a Golden Globe and a Saturn Award for the portrayal.  Showing his aforementioned versatility, landau was nominated for an Emmy Award for his portrayal of an Alzheimer’s sufferer in the hit tv show Without a Trace.


In his later years Landau taught acting at the Actors’ Studio.  Also, he collaborated with director Mark Rydell and writer Lyle Kessler to produce an educational seminar that taught the disciplines of acting, director and writing.

Landau passed away on July 15 at the age of 89.  Rest in peace, Martin.  You will be sorely missed.



If I were to ask sports fans to name the most accomplished sports announcers of the last 60 years chances are Bob Wolff would not be one of the choices.  Wolff never achieved the notoriety of some of the more famous sports broadcasters of the last 60 years or so, like, for instance, Vin Scully, Jack and Joe Buck and Harry Caray in baseball, Pat Summerall, Keith Jackson, Curt Gowdy and John Madden in football and Marv Albert in basketball, but, in my opinion, his career compares favorably with any and all of them.  Perhaps, the reason he has been somewhat overlooked is he did most of his work on radio, and his tv work was mostly regional.  Read on and decide how his career stacks up with the big boys.

Robert Alfred Wolff was born on November 29, 1920 in NYC.  He attended Duke University on a baseball scholarship and graduated with Phi Beta Kappa and Omicron Delta Kappa honors.  Unfortunately, his nascent baseball career ended early in college when he suffered a broken ankle.  However, Wolff did pretty well for himself in his next career – sports broadcasting.

Wolff began this career in 1939 while still an undergraduate.  Ultimately, he became the longest running broadcaster in tv and radio history.  His career spanned nine decades – NINE!  In addition, he was arguably the most versatile broadcaster in history.  He “called” contests in baseball, football, basketball and the Westminster Dog Show, among other sports.

Below please find the highlights of his unique and remarkable career:

  1.  He was the tv and radio voice of the Washington Senators/Minnesota Twins from 1947 – 1961.
  2. He “called” games on all the major tv networks as well as the Mutual Broadcasting System and Armed Forces Radio.  He announced the NBC Game of the Week from 1962 – 1965.  Also, he broadcast several major Bowl Games, such as the Rose and Sugar Bowls,
  3. He “called” two of the most famous and significant games in history – the Yankees’ Don Larsen’s perfect game against the Brooklyn Dodgers in the 1956 World Series and the 1958 NFL Championship Game where the Baltimore Colts beat the NY Giants in overtime in the so-called “Greatest Game Ever Played.”  It may not have been the “greatest,” but it certainly was the most significant as it has been largely credited for putting the NFL on the map.
  4. In the NBA he broadcast games for the NY Knicks and Detroit Pistons.  In addition, he was the Knicks’ tv announcer for both their 1970 and 1973 championships.
  5. In the NHL he broadcast for the NY Rangers.
  6. In the NFL he did games for the Baltimore Colts, Washington Redskins and Cleveland Browns.
  7. In the North American Soccer League he broadcast games for the Tampa Bay Rowdies.
  8. As an employee of Madison Square Garden he broadcast the National Horse Show, college hockey and basketball, women’s tennis, bowling, gymnastics and boxing.  You name the sport, and he did it.
  9. Wolff was one of only two persons (the other being Dale Arnold) to have broadcast games for each of the four major American sports leagues plus soccer.


Wolff’s amazing longevity can best be illustrated by the fact that he was able to interview the likes of Jim Thorp, Babe Ruth, Connie Mack, Tris Speaker Ty Cobb and Ted Williams.  One can say, Wolff covered athletes whose career spanned the entire 20th century, plus part of the 21st.  Amazing!   He has been honored by both the baseball and basketball Halls of Fame, the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Hall of Fame and the MSG Walk of Fame.

Wolff continued to work well into his 90s for News 12 Long Island.  Why?  In his own words: “I enjoy it.  If I didn’t do it, what would I do to have fun?”

Wolff passed away on July 15 at the age of 96, leaving a wife, two sons, a daughter, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.  Rest in peace Bob.  You were one of a kind, and you will be missed.


Raise your hand if you’re tired of the “Trump collusion with Russia” issue.  I know, I am, as are millions of other Americans.  Several months of intensive research by every reporter and media outlet worth its salt seeking incriminating evidence has revealed nothing significant.  To paraphrase former President Obama no one has found a “smidgeon” of evidence that Mr. Trump or any members of his campaign “colluded” with Russia to undermine the election process or violated any laws at all.

As usual, the mainstream media has it all wrong.  It has been throwing around the term “collusion” without understanding its meaning or significance.  Collusion, which Black’s Law Dictionary defines, in part, as “a deceitful agreement or compact between two or more persons for the one party to bring an action ….. for some evil purpose as to defraud a third party, ” does not constitute a crime in and of itself.   This is not my opinion, but the consensus opinions of over a dozen legal scholars who contributed to the July 12 article published in Politico Magazine.  (If you doubt me, you could, as Casey Stengel was fond of saying, “look it up.”)

Further investigation, they say, may lead to knowledge of crimes such as conspiracy, violation of federal campaign laws, or aiding or abetting other violations of law, but, as yet, nothing has been turned up to indicate that these or other violations of law occurred.  Several of these contributors opined that for Trump, Jr. merely to have met with the Russian lawyer is not a crime in and of itself.  In fact, it is not at all uncommon for political operatives to meet with persons who might be able to provide unflattering information on their opponents, nor for reporters to meet with potential “sources.”  One could argue that Trump, Jr.’s meeting with the mysterious Russian is no different.

To have participated in a criminal act, he would have had to “work with [the] Russian to commit a crime, to aid… in committing a crime, or to conceal a crime committed by [that] Russian.”  To date, there has been no evidence presented of any of that.  For those of you that may be interested in more details with respect to that meeting I suggest you google Trump, Jr’s recent interview with Sean Hannity.  He goes into much detail explaining how the meeting was set up, why he went, the substance of what was discussed, and other pertinent details.  It is the most thorough analysis I have seen yet.  I suggest you watch it and decide for yourself.

I do not wish to get bogged down in legal minutia here.  That is not the focus of this blog.  Suffice to say if you are a Trump-hater, you will likely continue to see conspiracy, conflict of interest or even treason at every turn; if you are a Trump supporter you may see bad optics, bad judgment or political overreach/vendetta, but that’s it.  Therefore, if you want to learn the truth, be skeptical of unsubstantiated news reports and biased analyses.  Also, I would recommend relying on multiple news sources.

In any event, the situation continues to morph daily, changing the narrative.  Just yesterday, for example, the story broke that the Russian had been admitted into the US without a visa, which is highly unusual, with the approval of the Justice Department.  One might wonder why and for what purpose.  There may be culpability on the part of the Obama administration and/or the DNC.  So, let’s let the investigation into this matter play out fully before rushing to judgment.


In military parlance, the Dems and liberal media are continuing to “fight the last war.”  The election is over.  It is official.  It will not be overturned.  Mr. Trump has won.  Based upon what we have seen so far, he is not going to be impeached, and even if he were the GOP would still be in control.  As former President Obama said “elections have consequences.”

Moreover, the Dems outrage over “collusion” is somewhat disingenuous since it has been disclosed that the Obama Administration had substantial evidence of Russia’s attempted hacking and other interference in the 2016 election as early as last August.  Not only did President Obama not do anything about it, he denied it publicly several times.  So, Dems, can the moral outrage.

This whole fascination with a Russian conspiracy is only harming the country by distracting the elected officials from tackling the real issues, such as the economy, healthcare, terrorism, and border security, to name a few.   If Dems want to succeed prospectively, they should abandon their unhealthy, counterproductive obsession with President Trump and focus their energies on the 2018 elections and beyond.  Analyze the real reasons for your loss and work to correct them.  Don’t blame external forces.  Simply put, you had an unpopular, untrustworthy, unlikeable candidate, and your policies were out of touch with most Americans.

The Dems have become the disgruntled party of “no.”  They are losing ground to the GOP.  If you doubt me, look at the state governments.  The GOP has 33 governors and controls both houses of the legislature in 32 states, compared to just 13 for the Dems.  Not good news if you’re a Dem.

I believe their best course of action would be to focus how to improve matters.  If you don’t like the policies of the current administration, develop a better set of policies.  Negotiate with the GOP to find common ground.  Get something done!  If you continue to live in the past you will repeat it!

Finally, move away from the current leadership –  the Clintons, Schumer, Pelosi and Warren.  Their time has passed.  They are only holding you back.  Find the next generation of candidates with new, refreshing ideas that will appeal to a broad scope of voters, not just to the extreme left.  Otherwise, you will be in the same position after the next election, which, by the way, would be fine with me.


Below please find another in the series of fun quizzes.  By now, you know the drill.  Enjoy.  [Marv, the first question is for you.  Don’t “blow” it.]

1. I was born in Austria.  During WWII I was a spy for the Allies against the Nazis.  Later, I became a famous American actress.

a.  Ingrid Bergman; b. Greta Garbo; c. Hedy Lamarr; d. Zsa Zsa Gabor

2.  I was one of the Founding Fathers and later became President of the US.  I was one of three presidents who died on July 4th.

a.  James Monroe; b.  George Washington; c.  John Quincy Adams; d.  James Madison

3.  I was the only person to serve as both President and Vice President without having been elected to either office.

a.  Harry Truman; b.  Benjamin Harrison; c.  Millard Fillmore;  d.  Gerald Ford

4.  I am a famous rapper.  I was born in LA.  My given name is O’Shea Jackson.

a. “Fitty” Cent; b.  Jay Z; c.  Dr. Dre; d.  Ice Cube

5.  I am a Canadian-born actor and comedian.  I got my big break on Saturday Nite Live.

a.  Dan Akroyd;  b. John Belushi; c. Chevy Chase; d.  Eddie Murphy

6.  I was one of eight Presidents who died in office. I only served 31 days, which was the shortest term of any president.

a.  James A. Garfield;  b.  Gerald Ford; c.  William Henry Harrison; d.  Zachary Taylor

7.   I am an actress born in Canada.  My most notable movies were Mean Girls, Wedding Crashers, and Spotlight, for which I received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

a.  Melissa Sue Anderson;  b. Lindsay Lohan; c.  Samantha McLeod;  d. Rachel McAdams

8.  I was born Alicia Christian XXXXXX.  I was a child model.  My acting debut was in Mayberry RFD.  I rose to fame in the movie, Taxi Driver.  I have won two Oscars.

a.  Alicia Silverstone;  b.  Jodie Foster; c.  Tori Spelling; d . Kyra Sedgwick

9.  I was born in Italy.  I was an explorer, navigator and cartographer.  America is named for me.

a.  di Gama;  b.  di Americana; c. Vespucci;  d.  Columbus

10.  I am the easternmost state in the US.

a. Maine;  b. Alaska; c. Rhode Island; d. Florida

11.  I am NOT one of the provinces of Canada.

a.  Quebec;  b. Nunavut;  c. Alberta;  d. Toronto

12.  I was a star of the largest grossing movie ever, adjusted for inflation.

a.  Vivien Leigh;  b.  Julie Andrews;  c.  Harrison Ford;  d.  Leo Di Caprio

13.  I was the star of the prime time live action tv show that played for the most episodes.

a.  Roy Rogers; b.  Mariska Hargitay; c.  James Arness;  d.  Gene Autry

14.  I served two terms as Prime Minister of Israel.

a.  Menachem Begin; b.  Ehud Barak; c.  Moshe Sharett;  d.  Shimon Peres

15.  I am the least populated US state.

a.  Wyoming;   b.  Alaska;  c.  Rhode Island;  d.  Montana

16.  I was the last of 48 contiguous states to be admitted to the union.

a.  New Mexico;  b.  Arizona;  c.  Alaska;  d.  Colorado

17.  I am a well-known singer, songwriter and record producer.  I rose to fame with Visions of Love.  My other “hits” include Without You and We Belong Together.

a.  Gwen Stefani; b.  Courtney Love; c.  Mariah Carey;  d. Beyonce

18.  I was born in Canada.  I was a former Playboy Playmate of the Month.  I starred in Baywatch.

a.  Cybill Shepherd;  b.  Roberta Quinn; c.  Pamela Anderson; d.  Ashley Bell

19.  I am the only non-Nordic country on the below list.

a.  Latvia; b.  Sweden;  c.  Iceland;  d.  Denmark

20.  I am the longest reigning British monarch.

a.  Elizabeth I; b.  Victoria; c.  Henry VIII; d. Elizabeth II

Answers:  1. (c);  2. (a);  3. (d); 4. (d); 5. (a); 6. (c); 7. (d);  8. (b);  9. (c);  10. (b) (also westernmost and northernmost); 11. (d);  12. (a); 13. (c);  14. (d);  15. (a); 16. (b); 17. (c);  18. (c); 19.(a); 20. (d)


Well, I tried to be fair.  Also, I sprinkled in some Canadian, British and Israeli questions for my followers in those countries.

How did you do?













Thanks to the blockbuster movie, Lawrence of Arabia, most people have heard of T. E. Lawrence and are familiar, to some degree, with his accomplishments in the Middle East.  However, I suspect that very few of you have heard of Gertrude Bell.  In point of fact, as you will see, Bell was every bit as accomplished and influential in the affairs of late 19th and early 20th century Middle East and in the formation of the ME as we know it today, as Lawrence.

Gertrude Margaret Lowthian Bell was born on July 14, 1868 in County Durham, England.  Her family was wealthy and influential, which greatly impacted how she was able to live her life.  For example, one of her grandfathers was a wealthy and prominent industrialist and a former Member of Parliament under the renowned Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli.  Her step-mother, Florence, was an accomplished author of children’s stories.  Her father, Sir Hugh Bell, 2nd Baronet, was a prominent progressive mill owner, which was unusual for the time, who believed in equitable treatment of his workers, including, among other things, paying them a fair wage.

Due to the foregoing, Bell was able to engage in a lifestyle, which, though not unique, was certainly unusual for a woman in the late 19th century.  She studied at Queens College and, later, at Oxford University, where she became immersed in modern history.  She graduated with the highest honors.

After graduation, unsure of what to do next but being rather independent and adventurous and enjoying the support of her family (financial and otherwise), she decided to travel.  In 1892 she went to Persia (present-day Iran) where one of her uncles was England’s “minister” (equivalent to ambassador).  Later, she travelled extensively throughout Europe and the Middle East developing a passion for archaeology, mountain climbing and history.

She exhibited a real gift for languages, becoming fluent in French, German, Arabic and Persian, and conversant in Italian and Turkish.  Finally, in 1899 she returned to the ME.  She fell in love with the area, travelling throughout it extensively over the next several years.  During this period she developed close relationships with many of the tribal leaders in the area, notably, the Hashemite and ibn Saud clans.  Furthermore, she was a prolific writer and photographer.  She sent many letters and photographs home to her family, which portrayed her travels in vivid detail.  (Think a more modern version of Marco Polo.)  For many Europeans, these provided their first insight into the ME.  Even today, they provide valuable insights into life in the area at the turn of the 20th century.

With the advent of WW1 Bell’s skills and knowledge became extremely valuable to the British.  The British were fervently trying to enlist the various Arab tribal leaders’ support against the Germans and Turks.  At the time, the ME was part of the Ottoman Empire, but the Turks were losing their grip on it, and the area was ripe for the plucking.  In addition, oil had been discovered in the area, and then as now, all the world powers coveted it.  Initially, the British denied Bell access to the area, and she volunteered with the Red Cross in France.  By 1915, however, someone in the British hierarchy had awoken to the reality of her unique knowledge, skills and connections in the ME and recommended her to British Intelligence.  She was based in Cairo in the Arab Bureau where she worked with Lawrence and others.  Some of her accomplishments were:

  1. Drew maps of the area for the Army, which was critical since the area was largely unmapped, and getting lost in the desert does not usually end well.
  2. Served as a guide for soldiers on missions.
  3. Acted as liaison between the British and various tribal leaders.  Due to her years of extensive travel she had developed close relationships with them and, being a woman, enjoyed unique access to their wives as well, which proved to be invaluable.
  4. In 1917 she was appointed “Oriental Secretary,” a high honor for a woman.
  5. In 1921 she, along with Lawrence and a few others, was selected to attend a special conference in Cairo (the only female), whose purpose was to determine the national boundaries of newly-formed countries, such as Iraq and Transjordan.  In this regard, her relationships with various Arab leaders, such as Hussein bin Ali, Sharif and Emir of Mecca, and his sons, Abdullah and Faisal, were invaluable to the success of the process.  She helped install Faisal I as the ruler of Iraq.  She often acted as mediator between the British and various Arab tribes.
  6. Regarding the formation of Iraq, Bell, after extensive study and analysis, issued a report entitled “Self-Determination in Mesopotamia,” which advocated that the locals govern themselves.  This was diametrically opposed to the British idea of placing Arab governments under their influence and control.  Eventually, the British realized that their method would have been considerably more costly, so self-determination won out.  Bell was one of the, if not the, chief architects of the boundaries of the modern ME as we know it today.
  7. Bell adamantly believed that antiquities were the property of the country in which they were discovered and should remain there.  Toward that end, she was instrumental in the creation of the National Museum of Iraq.
  8. Throughout the intervening years much criticism has been levelled at these planners for creating an “artificial” country consisting of three factions Sunnis, Shias and Kurds, that hate each other and are unlikely ever to work together.  Only a brutal autocrat, like Saddam Hussein, was able to suppress the intense internecine and intractable hatred among these groups.  Today, it looks like a serious miscalculation.  At the time, however, Bell’s papers indicated that the possibility of these difficulties was recognized, but it was felt that there was no better solution.  I, for one, disagree, but we are stuck with the situation as it is.


The end of Bell’s life was unfortunate.  In 1925 ill health and a substantial decline in her family’s financial situation forced her to return to England.  In 1926 she returned to Baghdad only to develop pleurisy.  On July 12, 1926 she was found dead of an overdose of sleeping pills.  it was never determined definitively whether the overdose was intentional or accidental.

An obituary by one of her peers, D. G. Hogarth, renowned British archaeologist and ME scholar, aptly summed up Bell’s life and accomplishments thusly:  “No woman in recent time has combined her qualities – her taste for arduous and dangerous adventure with her scientific interest and knowledge, her competence in archaeology and art, her distinguished literary gift, her sympathy for all sorts and condition of men, her political insight and appreciation of human values, her masculine vigour, hard common sense and practical efficiency – all tempered by feminine charm and a most romantic spirit.”

Bell and her accomplishments have been portrayed in various films.  A documentary called Letters from Baghdad, is currently playing in selected theatres.  I have seen it, and I heartily recommend it.


Tuesday, July 4th, we will celebrate our independence.  Many of us have already begun a four-day, or even a five-day, weekend.  Consequently, I thought it might be an appropriate time to test your knowledge of the holiday with a quiz. No peeking at the internet.
1.  The primary author of the Declaration of Independence was
a.  George Washington
b.  Henry Lee
c.  Benjamin Franklyn
d.  Thomas Jefferson
2.  The oldest continuous Independence Day celebration is in what city?
a.  Bristol, RI
b.  New York, NY
c.  Waterbury, CT
d.  Philadelphia, PA
3.  The origin of the song, “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” was
a.  American troops during the Revolutionary War
b.  French troops during the RW
c.  British military before the RW
d.  Hessians at the battle of Trenton, NJ
4.  The movie, “Independence Day” starred
a.  Tom Cruise
b.  Will Smith
c.  Morgan Freeman
d.  Daniel Day-Lewis
5.  The first person to sign the Declaration of Independence (and the only one to do so on July 4) was
a.  Thomas Jefferson
b.  Patrick Henry
c   Benjamin Franklyn
d.  John Hancock
6.  Each of the following was a member of the Committee of Five (assigned to draft the Declaration), except:
a.  George Washington
b.  Roger Sherman
c.  John Adams
d.  Benjamin Franklyn
7.  Which President was born on the 4th of July?
a.  John Adams
b.  Grover Cleveland
c.  Calvin Coolidge
d.  James Polk
8.  Each of the following Presidents died on July 4th, except:
a.  John Adams
b.  Thomas Jefferson
c.  James Monroe
d.  James Madison
9.  The “Liberty Bell” was cast in:
a.  France
b.  England
c.  Germany
d.  Russia
10.  The “Star Spangled banner” was written by Francis Scott Key during which war?
a.  French and Indian War
b.  American Revolution
c.  Civil War
d.  War of 1812
11.  The origin of the nick-name “Uncle Sam” is purportedly:
a.  The Continental Congress
b.  The Sons of Liberty
c.  Meat packer who supplied meat to the US Army
d.  British troops during the RW
12. Who, along with John Adams, is responsible for designating the bald eagle as the US’s National Bird?
a.  George Washington
b.  Thomas Jefferson
c.  Benjamin Franklyn
d.  Patrick Henry
13.  Which state was the last of the “lower 48” to join the Union?
a.  New Mexico
b.  Oregon
c.  Hawaii
d.  Arizona
14.  How many persons signed the Declaration of Independence?
a.  13
b.  26
c.  40
d.  56
15.  Each of the following celebrities was born on July 4th, except:
a.  Mike (the “Situation”) Sorrentino
b.  Neil Simon
c.  Colin Powell
d.  George Steinbrenner
16. Purportedly, the Nathans Hot Dog Eating Contest was first held in
a.  1876
b.  1930
c.  1945
d.  1916
17.  Who was one of only two signers of the Declaration of Independence to be elected President?
a.  John Adams
b.  Andrew Jackson
c.  Alexander Hamilton
d.  Aaron Burr
18. Although July 4 is recognized as Independence Day, the Continental Congress approved a “resolution of independence” on this date.
a. June 15
b. July 1
c. July 2
d. July 3
19. Washington, DC became the capital in
a.  1776
b.  1800
c.  1820
d.  1920
20.  The 14th state of the union was:
a.  Maine
b.  Georgia
c.  Florida
d.  Vermont
ANSWERS:  1. (d); 2. (a); 3. (c); 4. (b); 5. (d); 6. (a); 7. (c); 8. (d); 9. (b); 10. (d); 11. (c); 12. (b); 13. (d); 14. (d); 15. (c); 16. (d); 17. (a); 18. (c); 19. (b); 20. (d)
Well, how did you do?  I’d like to know.

Now, some Independence Day-related trivia with which you can impress your friends:

  1.  On July 4, 1777, the city of Bristol, RI celebrated the first anniversary of ID with a thirteen-gun salute.
  2. In 1778, to mark the second anniversary, George Washington issued double rations of rum to the Continental Army troops.
  3. By the end of the 18th century many major cities were marking the day with various celebrations and parades.  Today, many major cities hold massive and elaborate fireworks displays.  In addition, many private organizations, for example, Macys, the Boston Pops, and many major league baseball clubs, entertain the public with fireworks displays.  Sadly, many private citizens, who are not properly trained, set off their own fireworks, sometimes with unfortunate results.  Every year we read or hear about some tragic accidents involving loss of limbs or even death.  Remember the case of NY Giants defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul a few years ago.  He lost part of few fingers (and nearly his life) and almost ended a most promising football career.
  4. In 1870 Congress designated ID as a federal holiday.  In 1938 it granted federal employees a day off with pay on that day.
  5. With respect to the “Star-Spangled Banner:

a.  It was composed by Francis Scott Key from a British prisoner ship in Baltimore Harbor during the War of 1812.  (Key was not a prisoner, himself.  He was on the ship to negotiate the release of a prisoner.)

b.  He wrote it as a poem named “The Defence of Fort McHenry.”  Later, it was set to a tune, which, ironically, is an English drinking song, with the strange name of “To Anacreon in Heaven.”  In case you’re wondering the song was the official song of a gentlemen’s club in 18th century London.

c.  Key wrote four verses and a fifth verse was added later, but, of course, we only sing the first.  Does anyone know the words of the others?  I do, but it’s too long to repeat here.  But, I will say that all five verses end with “O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”

d.  In 1916 President Woodrow Wilson declared that it should be played at all official  events.

e.  The “Star-Spangled Banner” became the national anthem in 1931.

So, enjoy yourself on the 4th, but, above all, be safe.  If you travel, drive safely and defensively, and if you handles fireworks, BE VERY CAREFUL!