BRETT KAVANAUGH PART III

After having observed, some might say, “being subjected to,” the Kavanaugh nomination process for several weeks, I have concluded that this entire fiasco could be summed up succinctly in one word. It is not just about Kavanaugh, himself. I submit, it’s much broader and more sinister than that.

What is the word? Care to guess? Is it sexual assault? No, that’s two words. Abortion? No, but close. Give up? It’s power. P O W E R! The “power elite,” which consists mostly, but, to be fair, not entirely, of Dems, had it; they expected to keep it in 2016; they lost it unexpectedly and, in their opinion, dishonestly; and they want it back. They want it back badly and at any and all costs.

The PE includes many politicians, government officials and members of the media. The media, which is supposed to be fair and impartial, has been an aider and abettor. Again, not all of the media. Probably, about 90%. Conspiracy theory? Perhaps, but in my opinion, not. In my view, their attitude is let us run the country; we know better than you; just be quiet and stay out of our way.

Their enemy is not just President Trump, although he is definitely the “poster boy.” It is anyone or anything that threatens their power. To them, this is out and out war, a struggle for survival. They will stop at nothing. If you oppose them, they will crush you. You will be nothing more or less than collateral damage, which is acceptable in war.

Healthy disagreement is not to be tolerated. If you do disagree with them, you are labeled a “racist,” a “misogynist,” a “Nazi” or worse, you are “evil.” You are, as Congresswoman Maxine Waters, has infamously intoned, to be harassed in restaurants or in the movies or on the street. Your children are fair game also. They can be intimidated and bullied at school. You can be shot at a charity softball game. It’s all acceptable, because you are “evil.” If you think I am wrong, or even exaggerating, simply turn on the network news, CNN or MSNBC any night, at random. According to many of them, the half of the country that supported Donald Trump consists of dumb,gun-toting rubes, with no ability to think independently. Watch and listen to the commentators. Then, tell me I am wrong or exaggerating.

Kavanaugh is most definitely a significant impediment to their return to power. Without rehashing my previous blogs, suffice to say no one who knows him personally has had anything bad to say about him. Quite the opposite; those who know him personally or professionally have been very positive. He has passed six FBI investigations. He was endorsed by the American Bar Association. Until these accusations surfaced, he had a spotless reputation, both personally and professionally.

However, he is considered to be right of center, whatever that means. His stance on abortion is unclear, but he is not a staunch enough advocate of it to satisfy some liberals. If confirmed, he figures to sit on the Supreme Court for decades and, in the viewpoint of the PE, tilt it the “wrong” way. Therefore, he must be stopped to paraphrase Chuck Schumer and others, by any means possible. Smear him, attack his wife and small children, destroy his professional reputation? All acceptable collateral damage. As the character, Michael Corleone, famously intoned in the movie, “The Godfather” – “it’s not personal, just business.”

But, as I said, this is not just about Kavanaugh. It is much broader than that. If you have been watching and paying attention to the news for the last two years, you know this. For example:

1. Since the day after Election Day we have been inundated with conspiracy theories designed to impugn the validity of the result, none of which has been proven so far.
2. Trump colluded with the Russians.
3. The Russians hacked our computers.
4. Trump is unstable, a maniac, will lead us to nuclear war, will bomb North Korea, will bomb Iran, will bomb Russia, is a misogynist, a racist, anti-Muslim, anti immigrant. Did I leave anything out?
5. The whole entire mess involving certain FBI senior officials who tried to undermine and delegitimize first Trump’s candidacy, then his administration.
6. The biased news reporting by most media outlets.
6. The plethora of “anonymous sources” news stories.
7. “Protestors,” such as Antifa, who are really no more than thugs,funded by God knows whom, violently disrupting gatherings of those with whom they disagree depriving them of their constitutional right to lawful assembly and free speech.
8. The movement to eliminate the electoral college. If you know your history, you know that the Founding Fathers put it there for a reason, which is just as valid today as it was then.
9. Worst of all is the espousal by many, including some elected officials, that the accused is no longer innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. Rather, the accused is required to prove his innocence. What?! When was the constitution amended to say that?

CONCLUSION

I don’t have the space to recount everything, in detail. My point is that as horrific and absurd as the Kavanaugh nomination process has been, it is not an isolated incident, and it should be viewed as one part of a major offensive by the PE. The goal is to overturn the will of the people resulting from the last election.

In a previous blog I posited that I saw parallels between the Kavanaugh hearings and the Salem “witch trials” of the late 17th century and the McCarthy hearings of the early 1950s. With that in mind, I would like to paraphrase Joseph Welch, counsel for the Army, which was then being subjected to a McCarthy “witch hunt,” and ask the Dems on the Judiciary Committee the same question he asked McCarthy, “[h]ave you left no sense of decency?” By the way, do we really have to listen to moral lectures from Corey Booker, an admitted rapist, and Richard Blumenthal, a serial liar?

I realize that many of you will disagree strongly with everything I’ve said here. That’s okay. We are allowed to disagree. It’s the American way. Some of my oldest, best and dearest friends disagree with most of my political opinions. We debate constantly, but peacefully and respectfully. Most importantly, we remain close friends. All Americans should draw the line at slander, harassment, and violence. A difference of opinion does not make one “evil.”

I ask that you view news reports with a more discerning eye, maybe even rely on more than one news source. Don’t accept things at face value. Be aware, be careful. Many have fought and died for the freedoms we often take for granted. Let’s not give them away.

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BRETT KAVANAUGH PART II

In my previous blog on this matter I expressed the opinion that we should withhold judgment until after both parties had testified, under oath, before the Senate Judiciary committee. Yesterday, as you know, both parties did so. (Apparently, Dr. Ford overcame her fear of flying, at least temporarily.)

In my opinion, both parties comported themselves very well. Dr. Ford appeared to be sincere in her belief that Mr. Kavanaugh had assaulted her 36 years ago. Moreover, she presented a reasonable amount of detail to support her recollection. However, once again, she was not able to present any corroborating testimony.

On the other hand, Mr. Kavanaugh “knocked it out of the park.” For example:

1. His denial was strong and unequivocal. He firmly and emotionally declared “I never sexually assaulted anyone, not in high school, not in college, not ever.”
2. Throughout his testimony, he demonstrated a proper and appropriate balance between anger, indignation and emotion. For example, he showed anger when asserted that the Dems had been “lying in wait” with Dr. Ford’s allegations in the event that they “failed to take me out on the merits.” He became emotional at various times when discussing the toll on his family, especially his young daughters, and his friends, including death threats.
3. He was able to produce a calendar/diary, that showed, in reasonable detail, his actions and associations during the period in question and beyond. It demonstrated he spent virtually all his free time either hanging out with his family or a close circle of friends, studying, or “working out” for football or basketball. All in all, the calendar/diary portrayed a typical high school student’s life – school, sports, and hanging out. (Yes, he drank beer with his friends, sometimes to excess. So what? Who hasn’t? As he said, if we were to prosecute everyone who had done that, we would be truly in a “bad place.”) This was just the type of defense I had alluded to in my previous blog.
3. He produced dozens of testimonials from female friends and acquaintances from high school, college and his professional life stating emphatically he had not and would not do what Dr. Ford and others had accused him of doing. Many of them were in attendance. How many of us could have put together such a group of friends and acquaintances to provide that degree of support? Not many.
4. His response to the various questions about whether he would be amenable to another FBI investigation was appropriate. Despite the fact that the FBI has already investigated him six times he said he would abide by whatever the Committee decided. It was obvious to any objective person that such an investigation would be another transparent delaying tactic and superfluous.

The foregoing is not, in any way, meant to question, denigrate or belittle Dr. Ford or her testimony. I believe she sincerely believes she was assaulted by someone, somewhere, at some time. But, I don’t believe it was by Kavanaugh. Perhaps, she has been manipulated, or at least influenced, by outside parties with an agenda. I respect and admire her courage in testifying before the entire nation, but she has not been able to corroborate her story while Kavanaugh has produced strong corroboration (the calendar/diary and the testimonials) that he is innocent, maybe not enough for a court of law, but certainly in the court of opinion and common sense. He has come as close as one can to proving a negative, which is an unreasonably high bar.

CONCLUSION

Due to the foregoing, there is no doubt in my mind that Kavanaugh’s nomination should be approved. The process should be moved forward expeditiously.

There is a much larger point that needs to be addressed here, and that is, what does this charade demonstrate about us as a society? It is one thing to oppose a person or a policy. That is a basic tenant of our political system. What has happened here is quite another. Liberal Democrats and the left-leaning media have attempted to and to a large degree have aided and abetted destroying a man’s life and reputation, not to mention his family’s. One committee member went so far as to characterize Kavanaugh as “evil.” How irresponsible is that! It’s acceptable to say you disagree with someone, politically, but to label him as “evil” brings it to another level. It is totally unacceptable, especially for an elected official.

Kavanaugh gave several examples of this assault. Many of them were despicable, and I do not choose to repeat them all here. My favorite quote was when denoted that the Dems on the Committee have changed their “advise and consent” responsibilities to “search and destroy.” To me, that was “right on.” They were not able to derail his nomination based on his record or his qualifications, so they moved on to other, less savory methods.

His story about his younger daughter wanting to pray for Dr. Ford was very emotional. Most people would have been “broken” by this assault. Kavanaugh’s fortitude to stand up to it and virtually refute is, to me, nothing short of amazing.

I may not agree with everything Senator Lindsay Graham espouses politically, but, yesterday, he hit the nail on the head when he lectured his colleagues and, by extention much of the liberal press and their supporters. He said, in part,: “What you want to do is destroy this guy’s life and hold this seat open. I would never do [to liberal-minded nominees] what you have done to this guy. This is the most unethical sham I’ve seen in politics.” [Note: Graham was referring to his having voted for liberal Justices Kagan and Sotomayor.]

From the start, we have all known that the Dems’ endgame was to derail Kavanaugh’s nomination and prevent the Supreme Court from what they perceived would be a conservative tilt. The opposition has pulled out all the stops – delay, slander, innuendo, and putting forth the insane notion that one should be judged “guilty” unless they can “prove” their innocence. The liberal Dems and their supporters have shown the voters that political expedience “trumps” all. Both sides have been guilty of political stunts in the past, but to me, this one, destroying a man’s life and reputation, went too far. Today, I would be ashamed to be a Democrat (if I were, that is).

CNN and ABC have further enhanced their reputations as unabashed purveyors of “fake news.” CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin, ABC’s Joy Behar and others have even played that old standby, the race card, even though all those involved are white, referring to the GOP senators on the committee derisively as “old white men.” What does that even mean? As an “old white man,” myself, I would like to know. Are we all racist, misogynists, senile, or a combination of all three?

I think and hope that most of America was as appalled by this sham as I was. I fear the Dems have opened a “Pandora’s box” of hate and divisiveness that will carry forward for years. I hope not. Presently, we have the best political system the world has ever seen, and I, for one, would like to keep it.

I say to all you frustrated liberals out there, IF YOU DON’T LIKE WHAT’S HAPPENING, FOR GOD’S SAKE, WORK WITHIN THE SYSTEM. WIN AN ELECTION.

I welcome feedback. Let me know what you think about this situation.

THIS MONTH IN HISTORY – SEPTEMBER

The following historically-significant events have occurred during the month of September:

9/1/1939 – The Germans invaded Poland marking the beginning of WWII.
9/1/1983 – A Russian fighter jet shot down a Korean civilian airliner that had supposedly strayed off course during a scheduled flight from NY to Seoul.
9/2/1666 – The Great Fire of London began. It destroyed over 13,000 houses, although it is believed that only six lives were lost.
9/2/1789 – Congress established the Department of the Treasury as the third cabinet department.
9/2/1864 – General Sherman captured Atlanta.
9/2/1945 – President Truman declared VJ Day.
9/2/1963 – Alabama Governor George Wallace dispatched state troopers to prevent the integration of Tuskegee High School.
9/3/1783 – Representatives of England and the American colonies signed the Treaty of Paris bringing a formal ending to the Revolutionary War.
9/3/1833 – The “New York Sun” debuted, as the first newspaper to be “hawked” by boys on the sidewalk.
9/4/1609 – Henry Hudson discovered the island of Manhattan.
9/4/1781 – Felipe de Neve founded El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (in English, The Town of the Queen of the Angels), or as it is more commonly known, the City of Los Angeles.
9/4/1886 – Geronimo, the last and, perhaps, the most famous, Indian chief, was captured.
9/5/1774 – The First Continental Congress convened in Philadelphia.
9/5-6/1972 – Terrorists belonging to the Black September faction of the PLA murdered eleven members of the Israeli Olympic Team in Munich.
9/5/1997 – “Mother Teresa” died at age 87.
9/8/1565 – Spain founded the first settlement in America in St. Augustine, FL.
9/9/1776 – The Continental Congress officially changed the name of the “United Colonies” to the “United States.”
9/9/1976 – Chairman Mao Zedong, Communist China’s longtime leader, died.
9/11/2001 – The worst terrorist attack in US history ushered in the War on Terror, which is ongoing. Terrorists hijacked four jumbo jets. Two were flown into the WTC, causing both towers to collapse; one crashed into the Pentagon; and the 4th missed its target (the White House or the Capitol) due to the heroism of some of the passengers on board. Nearly 2,800, mostly civilians, were killed and thousands of first responders have since died or suffered health problems directly related to the attack.
9/12/1953 – Future US President John F. Kennedy married Jacqueline Bouvier in Newport, RI.
9/13/1788 – The US Congress chose NY as the capital.
9/13/1814 – Francis Scott Key wrote the Star Spangled Banner while observing the Battle of Fort McHenry from a British prisoner ship in Baltimore harbor.
9/14/1901 – President William McKinley died from gunshot wounds suffered during an assassination attempt eight days previously.
9/15/1935 – The Nazi Germany government enacted the Nuremburg Laws, which deprived German Jews of their citizenship.
9/16/1620 – The “Mayflower,” with only 102 passengers and a few crew members, departed England for its famous voyage to the New World.
9/16/1908 – William Durant founded General Motors in Flint, MI.
9/17/1789 – The Constitutional Convention approved the US constitution.
9/17/1862 – The Union Army defeated the Confederate Army at Antietam in the bloodiest battle in US military history as approximately 26,000 soldiers died on both sides.
9/18/1947 – The air force was established as a separate branch of the military.
9/19/1893 – New Zealand became the first country to approve women’s suffrage.
9/20/1873 – The NYSE closed for the first time due to the Panic of 1873.
9/20/1973 -Billie Jean King defeated Bobby Riggs in the much-ballyhooed “Battle of the Sexes.”
9/22/1776 – The British executed Nathan Hale as a spy for the colonials who famously intoned “I only regret that I have but one life to give for my country.”
9/22/1862 – President Abraham Lincoln issued the famous Emancipation Proclamation.
9/23/1952 – Vice Presidential candidate Richard Nixon delivered the famous “Checkers” Speech before a national tv and radio audience.
9/24/1957 – President Eisenhower deployed the National Guard to enforce racial integration in Little Rock, AK.
9/25/1513 – Spanish explorer Vasco de Balboa discovered the Pacific Ocean.
9/25/1789 – Congress proposed 12 amendments to the US constitution of which ten were eventually ratified as the Bill of Rights.
9/26/1960 – Senator Kennedy and Vice President Nixon participated in the first televised presidential election debate.
9/27/1964 – The Warren commission issued its report that concluded a lone gunman had assassinated President Kennedy.
9/28/1542 – Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo discovered California.
9/28/1995 – Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO chief Yasser Arafat signed an agreement granting Palestinian self-rule of the West Bank.
9/29/1789 – Congress created the US Army, which consisted of 1,000 soldiers.
9/29/1829 – Britain’s Parliament authorized London’s Metropolitan Police Force. They were nicknamed “Bobbies” after Home Secretary Robert Peel, who was the driving force behind the idea.
9/29-30/1941 – Nazi soldiers perpetrated the Babi Yar massacre at which in excess of 33,000 Jews were murdered.
9/30/1938 – British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned to England brandishing an agreement with Nazi Germany that he asserted guaranteed “peace in our time.”
9/30/1949 – The Berlin airlift concluded after it had successfully thwarted Soviet attempts to blockade West Berlin.

BIRTHDAYS – Rocky Marciano, undefeated heavyweight boxing champion,9/1/1923; Christa McAuliffe (the first “ordinary” citizen in space), 9/2/1948; Jesse James, celebrated outlaw, 9/5/1847; Darryl Zanuck, movie mogul, 9/5/1902; Marquis de Lafayette, Revolutionary War hero, 9/6/1757; Queen Elizabeth I, 9/7/1533; Ferdinand Marcos, 9/11/1917; James Cleveland (“Jesse”) Owens, winner of four gold medals in 1936 Olympics, 9/12/1913; Walter Reed, 9/13/1851; General John J. Pershing, WWI commanding general, 9/13/1860; James Fenimore Cooper, authored “Last of the Mohicans,” 9/15/1789; William Howard Taft (27th US President), 9/15/1857; Agatha Christie, renowned mystery writer, 9/15/1890; John Marshall, first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, 9/24/1755; F. Scott Fitzgerald, author, 9/24/1896; George Gershwin, composer, 9/26/1898; Samuel Adams, Revolutionary War leader, 9/27/1722; Enrico Fermi, nuclear physicist, 9/29/1901; Truman Capote, authored “In Cold Blood,” 9/30/1924.

BRETT KAVANAUGH AND THE NEW NORMAL FOR DUE PROCESS

I didn’t, want to post a blog on this topic until after the Senate voted, as it is very fluid and not all the facts have come out, but I find I can no longer contain myself. The absurdity has been overwhelming. This is one of those times where I wonder whether I am living in the US, where the constitution says one is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, or under the thumb of some totalitarian regime where those in power decide guilt or innocence by fiat.

Folks, so far, what we have here is a classic “he said, she said.” The facts have not been proven one way or the other. In fact, as some pundits such as the “esteemed” senators from Hawaii and NY may have forgotten, the constitution places the burden of proof on the accuser, not the accused. Hawaii Senator Mazie Hirono has stated publicly, on several occasions, that in situations of alleged sexual assault women are to be believed and men are not simply because of their respective genders. The level of idiocy and irresponsibility of this statement from an elected official simply boggles my mind.

How can any fair-minded person not conclude that this whole farce is politically motivated. I don’t want to try this case in social media, but what is happening is surreal. Just consider:

1. Dr. Ford claims Kavanaugh assaulted her some 35 years ago at a party while both were in high school. She is murky on most details, such as the exact date, the exact location, and who else may have been in the room. If we knew the exact date, perhaps he could prove he was sick, visiting grandma, or on a family vacation. Nevertheless, she is ”sure” that Kavanaugh was her attacker. She did not tell anyone at the time, including her best friend, nor report the incident to the authorities until now.

2. Kavanaugh denies he did it, and his friend who was supposedly in the room also does not recall the incident. The Senate Judiciary committee has been trying to arrange a hearing with Ford to assess the veracity of her accusations. It has not been easy as her attorneys have demanded several conditions, some of which are reasonable and some of which are not. As I write this, the hearing is scheduled for Thursday. We’ll see if it comes to pass and, if so, what it reveals.

3. Over the weekend, a second woman suddenly “remembered” she was sexually assaulted by Kavanaugh while both were students at Yale. Her account is also uncorroborated and vague on the details, yet, the “New Yorker” saw fit to publish it anyway. Kavanaugh categorically denied this accusation as well.

4. Our favorite porn lawyer, Michael Avenatti, not wanting to be left out, claims he has a client who was “gang raped” at a party in which Kavanaugh was present. This account is also uncorroborated, and given Avenatti’s track record its veracity is highly doubtful.

Dems expect Kavanaugh to prove he didn’t do something without knowing precisely when or where it actually occurred. Someone should tell them that that is not how our system of jurisprudence works. The burden of proof is on the accuser, not the accused.

The shame of it is that Ford wanted to remain anonymous. But, when her anonymous accusations were not effective she was “outed.” Who did it? We don,t know. Likely, it was either Senator Feinstein, someone on her staff or another Dem senator with access to the information. No matter. Clearly, it was a political ploy to stop, or at least delay, Kavanaugh’s nomination.

If you doubt this is all politically motivated, why haven’t the same defenders of women’s rights been screaming for an investigation of Keith Ellison? A woman has accused him of rape just last year. Yet, he is running for Minnesota attorney general. Oh, but he’s a Democrat, and Kavanaugh is a Republican who was nominated by the despised Donald Trump. I get it.

Incidentally, does anyone else see the irony of us now taking morality lessons from:

1, Hillary Clinton, who has, in the past, denigrated, insulted, and belittled women who had the temerity to accuse her husband of sexual misconduct, rape, sexual assault and harassment.

2. “Handsy” Joe Biden, who is renown for his overly friendly “hands-on” approach to women. It will be interesting to see how the mainstream media investigates and reports on him if, as I expect, he declares his candidacy for president.

3. Democrats, in general, who defended and supported Ted Kennedy who actually killed a woman with whom he may or may not have been having a extramarital affair.

Yes, the irony is delicious.

The Dems keep moving the goal posts. First, they wanted the FBI to investigate. Investigate what? Ford has refused to talk on the record. Plus, Kavanaugh, as a sitting federal judge, has already been investigated by the FBI some six times. Then, they wanted the committee to let Ford testify. When the committee acquiesced they said oh, it must be in private. Then, oh, she doesn’t want to fly to DC. Then she doesn’t want Kavanaugh present. As everyone knows, the constitution, that pesky document, guarantees the accused the right to face his or her accuser. (As anyone who has watched “Law and Order” knows, this right extends to those accused of the most heinous crimes, including sex crimes.)

Besides, she doesn’t have to fly to DC. Has anyone ever heard of video conferencing?

CONCLUSION

I hate to say it, but, to me, this process is reminiscent of the Salem witch trials of the late 17th century or the McCarthy hearings of the 1950s. If you don’t know what I mean, perhaps you should, as Casey Stengel was fond of saying, look it up.

I predict that this sham will be exposed for the desperate politically motivated ploy that it is. People, Kavanaugh has no intention of personally overturning Roe, which after 40+ years on the books is well-settled law. Kavanaugh has demonstrated he is emanantly qualified, and hopefully, he will be confirmed and soon.

One final point. If you think Kavanaugh is guilty just because he was accused and before he has been convicted in a court of law, consider how you would feel if someone accused you or your husband, your son, or your brother of something 35 years ago in high school or even in grade school.

IRVING BERLIN

In some ways, Irving Berlin’s life epitomized what America is all about. His story was literally, a “rags to riches” saga. To describe Berlin as a songwriter would be akin to describing Babe Ruth as a “baseball player” or Michael Jordan as a “basketball player.” Technically true, but it doesn’t do him justice. In the words of Walter Cronkite (“Uncle Walter”) Berlin “helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.” Strong words, but read on and see if you don’t agree.

Israel Bellin was born on May 23,1888 somewhere in Russia. He was one of eight children. His father was a cantor in a local synagogue. (His precise birthplace is not known for sure. It could have been in a small, nondescript village in present-day Belarus, or, perhaps, somewhere in Siberia.) According to Berlin’s biographer, Laurence Bergreen, Berlin, himself, didn’t know. By his own admission, the only memory he had of the first five years of his life was of “lying on a blanket on the side of the road watching his house burn to the ground,” presumably as the result of one of the many pogroms that were all too frequent at that time throughout eastern Europe.

When Israel was five his father brought the Bellin family to America. They settled in NYC on the Lower Eastside. At some point, Bellin became Berlin, and Israel became Irving.

As was typical for immigrant families of that era, everyone worked to provide for the family. For example, his father, unable to find employment as a cantor, worked in a kosher meat market and gave Hebrew lessons; his mother became a midwife; his sisters worked in a cigar factory, wrapping cigars; and one of his brothers worked in a shirt factory. Beginning at the age of eight, Irving “hawked” newspapers. Everyone, turned over all of their earnings to the mother, who would ceremoniously collect the coins in her apron. Sadly, Irving’s father died when Irving was only 13, which greatly exacerbated the family’s financial woes.

One of the areas in which Berlin sold his newspapers was the Bowery. At that time, the Bowery was a rather unsavory section of lower Manhattan known for its many saloons and restaurants. Berlin would often hear music and songs emanating from these establishments, and he began to sing these songs while working. Sometimes, listeners would toss him a coin or two, which he used to supplement his oncome. His big ambition was to become a singing waiter in one those establishments.

At the age of 14 Berlin decided to leave home and strike out on his own. He lived in the Bowery in quarters he later described as “Dickensian in their meanness, filth and insensitivity to ordinary human beings.” At age 18 Berlin did, in fact, land a job as a singing waiter at a café in Chinatown. In his spare time, he wrote songs and taught himself to play the piano. During this time, one of his friends was another struggling, up and comer, named George M. Cohan, who eventually became a famous songwriter and performer in Vaudeville and on Broadway (“Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Over There”). Cohan would refer to him as “Irvie.”

For you trivia buffs, the first song Berlin sold was “Marie from Sunny Italy” for which he earned a whopping 33 cents in royalties. His first big success was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911). It became an international hit and ushered in a dance craze. After that, the hits came with regularity – one after the other.

During his long career, Berlin wrote some 1,500 songs, many of which have become household tunes. When I name some of them, even casual music fans will think “Oh yeah, I know that one. He wrote it?”

Perhaps, the best known and most enduring ones include “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” “God Bless America” has become a virtual second national anthem. Berlin wrote it in 1938 to mark the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, as the end of WW1 was then called. The most famous version was performed by Kate Smith and became the unofficial “good luck” anthem at Philadelphia Flyers’ hockey games. Berlin’s daughter has disclosed that the song was “very personal” for Berlin. He had written it as a tribute to America for taking in a penniless immigrant and “allowing” him to become a successful songwriter.

Berlin won the Academy Award for “White Christmas,” and the Bing Crosby version has sold in excess of 50 million copies, the most of any record. At the ceremony, Berlin was the presenter for his own Oscar, the only time that has ever occurred.

He also wrote the score for some 20 Broadway shows, among them “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Ziegfeld Follies,” “Top Hat,” and “This is the Army.” Film scores include such as “Top Hat,” featuring Fred Astaire (a then little-known performer) and Ginger Rogers, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” ASCAP’s records reveal that 25 of Berlin’s songs reached the “top of the charts.” Some of the famous singers that have recorded and re-recorded his works are Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and Doris Day.

Berlin’s personal life was a mixed bag. His first wife, Dorothy Goetz, died on their honeymoon from typhoid fever. His second marriage to the former Ellin Mackay, however, lasted some 60 years and produced four children. They had to elope, since Ellin’s father, who was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, strongly disapproved of Berlin (disparaging him as merely a singing waiter) and actually disowned his daughter over the marriage. Incidentally, it did not end well for the elder Mackay. He lost most of his money in the Great Depression.

CONCLUSION

Berlin got the last laugh on his father-in-law. He went on to become arguably the most famous, successful and influential songwriter of the 20th Century. For example:

1. Composer George Gershwin characterized him as “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.”

2. Composer Jerome Kern went even further stating Berlin has no place in American music. [H]e is American music.”

3. In his obituary “The New York Times” played him the ultimate tribute, writing “Irving Berlin set the tone and tempo for the tunes America played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century.”

4. In addition to the one aforementioned Oscar, Berlin was nominated for seven others. He also won a “Tony,” a “Grammy,” and many other awards.

5. He has a “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Berlin died on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101. The little boy who did not even know where he was born, whose only childhood memory was of watching helplessly while his family’s home burned to the ground, who came to America with nothing but his wits, his talent, and his ambition, had become an enduring icon. He is gone, but his work will last forever.

PS: For those of you who may be interested in learning more about Irving Berlin I recommend the one-man show about his life currently playing at the 59th Street theatre starring Hershey Felder. You will enjoy it, and you will leave humming one of Berlin’s tunes.

IRVING BERLIN

In some ways, Irving Berlin’s life epitomized what America is all about. His story was literally, a “rags to riches” saga. To describe Berlin as a songwriter would be akin to describing Babe Ruth as a “baseball player” or Michael Jordan as a “basketball player.” Technically true, but it doesn’t do him justice. In the words of Walter Cronkite (“Uncle Walter”) Berlin “helped write the story of this country, capturing the best of who we are and the dreams that shape our lives.” Strong words, but read on and see if you don’t agree.

Israel Bellin was born on May 23,1888 somewhere in Russia. He was one of eight children. His father was a cantor in a local synagogue. (His precise birthplace is not known for sure. It could have been in a small, nondescript village in present-day Belarus, or, perhaps, somewhere in Siberia.) According to Berlin’s biographer, Laurence Bergreen, Berlin, himself, didn’t know. By his own admission, the only memory he had of the first five years of his life was of “lying on a blanket on the side of the road watching his house burn to the ground,” presumably as the result of one of the many pogroms that were all too frequent at that time throughout eastern Europe.

When Israel was five his father brought the Bellin family to America. They settled in NYC on the Lower Eastside. At some point, Bellin became Berlin, and Israel became Irving.

As was typical for immigrant families of that era, everyone worked to provide for the family. For example, his father, unable to find employment as a cantor, worked in a kosher meat market and gave Hebrew lessons; his mother became a midwife; his sisters worked in a cigar factory, wrapping cigars; and one of his brothers worked in a shirt factory. Beginning at the age of eight, Irving “hawked” newspapers. Everyone, turned over all of their earnings to the mother, who would ceremoniously collect the coins in her apron. Sadly, Irving’s father died when Irving was only 13, which greatly exacerbated the family’s financial woes.

One of the areas in which Berlin sold his newspapers was the Bowery. At that time, the Bowery was a rather unsavory section of lower Manhattan known for its many saloons and restaurants. Berlin would often hear music and songs emanating from these establishments, and he began to sing these songs while working. Sometimes, listeners would toss him a coin or two, which he used to supplement his oncome. His big ambition was to become a singing waiter in one those establishments.

At the age of 14 Berlin decided to leave home and strike out on his own. He lived in the Bowery in quarters he later described as “Dickensian in their meanness, filth and insensitivity to ordinary human beings.” At age 18 Berlin did, in fact, land a job as a singing waiter at a café in Chinatown. In his spare time, he wrote songs and taught himself to play the piano. During this time, one of his friends was another struggling, up and comer, named George M. Cohan, who eventually became a famous songwriter and performer in Vaudeville and on Broadway (“Yankee Doodle Boy,” “Over There”). Cohan would refer to him as “Irvie.”

For you trivia buffs, the first song Berlin sold was “Marie from Sunny Italy” for which he earned a whopping 33 cents in royalties. His first big success was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911). It became an international hit and ushered in a dance craze. After that, the hits came with regularity – one after the other.

During his long career, Berlin wrote some 1,500 songs, many of which have become household tunes. When I name some of them, even casual music fans will think “Oh yeah, I know that one. He wrote it?”

Perhaps, the best known and most enduring ones include “God Bless America,” “White Christmas,” “Blue Skies,” “Easter Parade,” “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” and “Puttin’ on the Ritz.” “God Bless America” has become a virtual second national anthem. Berlin wrote it in 1938 to mark the 20th anniversary of Armistice Day, as the end of WW1 was then called. The most famous version was performed by Kate Smith and became the unofficial “good luck” anthem at Philadelphia Flyers’ hockey games. Berlin’s daughter has disclosed that the song was “very personal” for Berlin. He had written it as a tribute to America for taking in a penniless immigrant and “allowing” him to become a successful songwriter.

Berlin won the Academy Award for “White Christmas,” and the Bing Crosby version has sold in excess of 50 million copies, the most of any record. At the ceremony, Berlin was the presenter for his own Oscar, the only time that has ever occurred.

He also wrote the score for some 20 Broadway shows, among them “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Ziegfeld Follies,” “Top Hat,” and “This is the Army.” Film scores include such as “Top Hat,” featuring Fred Astaire (a then little-known performer) and Ginger Rogers, “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” ASCAP’s records reveal that 25 of Berlin’s songs reached the “top of the charts.” Some of the famous singers that have recorded and re-recorded his works are Kate Smith, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Diana Ross, Barbra Streisand, and Doris Day.

Berlin’s personal life was a mixed bag. His first wife, Dorothy Goetz, died on their honeymoon from typhoid fever. His second marriage to the former Ellin Mackay, however, lasted some 60 years and produced four children. They had to elope, since Ellin’s father, who was one of the richest and most powerful men in the world, strongly disapproved of Berlin (disparaging him as merely a singing waiter) and actually disowned his daughter over the marriage. Incidentally, it did not end well for the elder Mackay. He lost most of his money in the Great Depression.

CONCLUSION

Berlin got the last laugh on his father-in-law. He went on to become arguably the most famous, successful and influential songwriter of the 20th Century. For example:

1. Composer George Gershwin characterized him as “the greatest songwriter that has ever lived.”

2. Composer Jerome Kern went even further stating Berlin has no place in American music. [H]e is American music.”

3. In his obituary “The New York Times” played him the ultimate tribute, writing “Irving Berlin set the tone and tempo for the tunes America played and sang and danced to for much of the 20th century.”

4. In addition to the one aforementioned Oscar, Berlin was nominated for seven others. He also won a “Tony,” a “Grammy,” and many other awards.

5. He has a “star” on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Berlin died on September 22, 1989 at the age of 101. The little boy who did not even know where he was born, whose only childhood memory was of watching helplessly while his family’s home burned to the ground, who came to America with nothing but his wits, his talent, and his ambition, had become an enduring icon. He is gone, but his work will last forever.

PS: For those of you who may be interested in learning more about Irving Berlin I recommend the one-man show about his life currently playing at the 59th Street theatre starring Hershey Felder. You will enjoy it, and you will leave humming one of Berlin’s tunes.

9/11 REMEMBRANCE

Tomorrow is September 11, a date that will always have special meaning for all Americans, indeed for all decent people worldwide. Like December 7 and November 22, September 11 is a date that will, in the words of President FDR, “live in infamy.”

Tomorrow, as on every 9/11, the names of every 9/11 victim will be read out loud on tv. This is a particularly poignant scene as the readers are typically the spouses, children and/or grandchildren of the victims. In my opinion, these readings of the names of the victims is a fantastic idea as it helps us to remember the horrific and cowardly terrorists attacks and continue to pay tribute to the victims.

On September 11, 2001 at 8:46 a.m. ET, Americans’ safe and secure lives changed forever. Like the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor and the JFK assassination, undoubtedly, most everyone remembers where they were and what they were doing when they first heard of the attack. At that moment, the first hijackers’ plane crashed into the north tower of the WTC. This was followed quickly by a second plane crashing into the south tower, and, later, a third one crashing into the Pentagon. Incredibly and inexplicably, by 10:28 both towers had collapsed. Later in the day, a fourth plane crashed into a field in Shanksville, PA. It is believed that this fourth plane was bound for a target in Washington, D.C., perhaps, the White House or the Capitol, and it would have succeeded but for the heroism of some of the passengers on board.

Tomorrow, marks the 17th anniversary of those horrific attacks. They resulted in just under 3,000 deaths. Most of those were workers who were trapped in their offices and consumed by fire or smoke/chemical inhalation. They could not escape because most of the stairwells were blocked. Many victims have only been identified due to their DNA, in some cases many years later.

Compounding the tragedy was the fact that NYC’s 911 operators were not as well informed as they should have been. Thus, they were advising callers from inside the towers not to descend the stairs on their own. Some of them proceeded to the roof hoping to be rescued by helicopter. Unfortunately, helicopters could not land on the roofs due to the heat and thick smoke. Many of us who were watching on tv witnessed the awful sight of people jumping to their deaths (in some cases, actually holding hands with others for support) rather than awaiting their fates from the fire.

The horror of the attacks, themselves, was amplified by the fact that the victims were not soldiers but innocent civilians who were merely working at their jobs. This was the deadliest attack on US soil ever. By comparison, the shocking Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, which, as I said, President FDR characterized as “a date that will live in infamy” resulted in “only” 2,400 deaths, and they were mostly military personnel.

In addition to the deaths there was significant damage to the economy of NYC and the US as a whole. The entire Wall Street area, including the financial markets, was closed until September 17. Air travel was disrupted. Americans’ psyche was severely damaged. The cleanup of the WTC area was not completed until May 2002. All in all, it took 3.1 million man-hours to clean up 1.8 million tons of debris at a cost of $750 million. Internationally, countries were generally horrified and supportive, although some of the people in some Muslim countries, such as Iraq, were seen to be celebrating.

Fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, with the others having originated from Egypt, Lebanon and the UAE. The terrorist group, Al Qaeda, led by Osama bin Laden, quickly claimed responsibility. Bin Laden had declared a holy war on the US and had issued a fatwa calling for the killing of Americans. Following 9/11, bin Laden became public enemy number 1. Eventually, the US exacted revenge, hunting him down and killing him.

In addition, to the thousands of civilians, police officers, firemen and EMS workers that were killed in the attacks, themselves, thousands more volunteer workers and even people who lived or worked in the vicinity ended up contracting various illnesses from inhaling the various carcinogens in the air and dying subsequently, in some cases many years later. Seventeen years later, people are still contracting diseases and dying.

Horrifying as it may seem, some doctors have predicted that eventually these victims will exceed the 3,000 killed on 9/11. Many of us know or know of someone, such as, for example, Jamie, a dear friend of my family, who suffered this fate. The shame of it is they went out of their way to volunteer their services and paid for it with their lives.

The primary illnesses are cancer, respiratory disorders, asthma, COPD and gastroesophageal reflux disorder. In addition, health workers have noted a significant increase in anxiety, depression and PTSD. As I said, many of the above have manifested themselves years later. Even now, new cases are being presented. The number of documented cancer cases, alone, has tripled in the past few years. The physical, mental and emotional toll has been astounding. An estimated 18,000 people have contracted illnesses from the toxic dust. Moreover, there is speculation that 9/11 has caused health issues in babies whose mothers were pregnant at the time of the attacks, such as premature birth, respiratory problems, below average weight, and increased neo-natal requirements.

In the aftermath of the attacks, Americans wanted to know how our intelligence agencies had failed to anticipate them. Who had “dropped the ball?” Amid many investigations and finger-pointing it became obvious that the major factor was failure to communicate and share intelligence and information. For example:

l. The CIA had intelligence reports that a terrorist attack was forthcoming, but it was expecting it to be in Israel, not the US.

2. The CIA knew that two known terrorists had slipped into the US.

3. The FBI had information of certain anomalies at some US flight schools.

4. The Justice Department policies advocated very limited intelligence sharing, even with other agencies.

5. The CIA and NSA were reluctant to reveal sources of information and their methods of attaining it.

6. None of these agencies reported their information to each other or to the White House.

7. In 2004 Attorney General John Ashcroft testified to the “9/11 Commission” that the “single greatest structural cause…. was the wall that segregated or separated criminal investigators and intelligence agents.”

I hope that the coordination and information-sharing among these agencies have been enhanced since 9/11, but I have my doubts. As time has gone on, I sense that we have grown more and more complacent and the various alphabet agencies have resumed “guarding their own turf” rather than sharing intelligence and information for the greater good.

CONCLUSION

Americans’ lives have changed considerably since 9/11. Many believe that not all of these changes are good or even necessary. For instance:

1. The US created the Department of Homeland Security to coordinate and oversee intelligence activities and security. In addition, it passed the USA Patriot Act. These agencies have improved our readiness and security but at the price of certain civil liberties. There is, and should be, a balance between security and liberty, and depending on one’s political point of view the pendulum may have swung too far, or not enough, towards security.

2. Enhanced security at airports and train and bus terminals has made travel more complicated, time-consuming, and nerve-wracking. Some people have curtailed or ceased their travel entirely, particularly internationally.

3. Parents are apprehensive, if not paranoid, about letting their children go outside to play or ride their bicycles in the neighborhood. Also, they accompany their children to the school or school bus stop and pick them up at the end of the day. The various terrorist attacks in schools in recent years have done little to assuage these fears and concerns. Schools have ramped up security protocols. Some have even hired armed guards.

4. Many Americans have become very focused on enforcing immigration laws strictly to protect our borders, which has led to conflicts with those who view such an approach as “racist” and favor looser, or even open, borders.

5. On the plus side, there has been a significant increase in patriotism and gratitude toward veterans.

In my opinion, parents should make a concerted effort to educate their children on the tragedy of 9/11, what happened, how it happened and what it means. According to Wikipedia roughly 88 million of the country’s 327 million population are under the age of 21 and, therefore, have little or no recollection or knowledge of this event. The danger is that as time passes the populace will forget, and we should never allow that to happen.

I encourage everyone to find the time to visit the 9/11 Memorial and Museum in lower Manhattan. Take the time to stroll around the beautiful fountain area. Take one of the many tours. Yes, it is tragic to be reminded of the horror of that day, but, on the other hand, it is uplifting to be reminded of the heroism of many first responders and ordinary citizens and to experience the healing that has occurred. Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

BURT REYNOLDS

He was, to some extent, an “accidental actor.” By that I mean he never intended to be an actor or, for that matter, in any way connected to the entertainment business. What he intended to be was a football player, and until he suffered a series of injuries, he was pretty good at it. He was a first team All-State fullback in high school and went to Florida State on a football scholarship. He was doing well until the aforementioned injuries derailed his career. Incidentally, those of you who are sports fans would be interested in knowing that one of his college roommates was Lee Corso, who has gone on to become a college football announcer and analyst of some renown.

Burton Leon Reynolds, Jr. was born on February 11, 1936 in Lansing, MI. His father served in the Army and later became Chief of Police in Riviera Beach, FL. He had true American melting pot ancestry – Dutch, English, Scotch, Irish and, perhaps, a sprinkling of Cherokee Indian.

Following the untimely end of his football career he left FSU. He was uncertain of what to do with his life. He considered becoming either a police officer or a parole officer.

Eventually, he enrolled in some courses at a local junior college. It was there that fate intervened. His English teacher, Watson Duncan, III was producing a play, and he convinced Burt to try out. Burt figured, “why not?” After all, it was considerably less taxing than other summer job possibilities, such as construction.

He got the part and won the Florida State Drama Award for his performance. That award included a scholarship to a summer stock theatre in Hyde Park, NY. Following that gig Burt enrolled in acting classes in NYC, along with notables such as Frank Gifford, Joanne Woodward, Carol Lawrence, Aaron Chwatt and Murray Janofsky. Who?? The latter, you can deduce was aka, Jan Murray. You’re probably not familiar with the name, Aaron Chwatt. Read on for his stage name. Burt considered Duncan to be his “mentor and the most influential person in his life.”

Burt’s first memorable role was on “Gunsmoke,” where he played Quint Asper, a “halfbreed” blacksmith. His first starring role was on the short-lived tv show “Dan August.” Burt played the title role. He once summarized his opinion of the character to Johnny Carson as having “two forms of expression: mean and meaner.”

All actors can point to famous roles that they turned down for one reason or another. Burt was no exception. At one point, James Bond producer, Albert Broccoli, wanted him to play the title role. Reynolds declined. It was his opinion that “an American can’t play ‘James Bond.’ It just can’t be done.” Many actors have played the role, some better than others. I must confess, I cannot picture Reynolds as “James Bond.”

1972 was a very big year for Burt. First of all, he starred in the hit movie, “Deliverance.” In addition, he was featured on the cover of April edition of Cosmopolitan Magazine – in the nude. To me, that was the peak of his movie career. He acted in a series of largely forgettable movies, such as “Boogie Nights” (for which he received an Oscar nomination), “Smokey and the Bandit,” “White Lightning” and “The Longest Yard,” which I thought, at least, was entertaining. His best role on tv was in “Evening Shade.” Burt was a frequent guest on late night talk shows. He was funny and entertaining, but I would classify his acting career as rather pedestrian.

CONCLUSION

Some other interesting facets of Burt’s life:

1. He co-authored a children’s book, “Barkley Unleashed: A Pirate’s Tail.”
2. His extravagant lifestyle and poor investments led to personal bankruptcy in 1996.
3. In the mid-1980s he was a minority owner of the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL.
4. He was co-owner of a NASCAR Winston Cup team.
5. He owned a private theater that specialized in training young performers attempting to break into the entertainment business.

In recent years, Burt had some health issues. For example, he underwent back surgery in 2009; he became addicted to painkillers; and he underwent quintuple coronary artery surgery in 2010. Nevertheless, his niece, Nancy Lee Hess, told the media that Burt’s death was “totally unexpected.”

Rest in peace, Burt. You were popular and entertaining, and you will be sorely missed.

Aaron Chwatt’s stage name was Red Buttons.

LABOR DAY

Yesterday, September 3, we celebrated Labor Day (“LD”). As we all know, the holiday has traditionally been celebrated on the first Monday of September. It is celebrated in various forms and at various dates in approximately 80 countries.

To most Americans LD merely symbolizes the unofficial end of summer and the impending beginning of the school year. They enjoy the day off from work. They spend the day with family and/or friends. They enjoy picnics, parades, vacations, shopping, baseball games and other sports activities, and barbecues. They lament, but grudgingly accept, holiday traffic and long lines at airports. Also, it is the reason why summer always seems to be so short. In our minds, we transfer the approximately three post-Labor Day weeks of the season to Autumn. But, what is the meaning and purpose of LD? Why do we celebrate it? How did it come about? Good questions. Read on for the answers.

As the name implies, the purpose of LD is to celebrate the accomplishments of the American Labor movement. Whatever one’s political views and affiliations, I think it is important and appropriate to understand Labor’s contributions to the growth and development of the US. For one thing, cheap labor was an integral component of the Industrial Revolution. When all was said and done, someone had to build all the roads, railroads, and cars, and operate all the factories and steel mills. In addition, the labor activism of the late 1800s and early 1900s was largely responsible for the relatively high wages and extensive benefits that are enjoyed by today’s US labor force.

The history of LD began in the 1870s in Canada. Labor Unions were illegal in Canada, and 26 members of the Toronto Typographical Union had been imprisoned for striking for a nine-hour work day. That action led to demonstrations and rallies and raising the profile of labor unrest in both Canada and the US. Two of the most outspoken leaders were Peter McGuire, founder of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and an official of the AF of L, and Matthew Maguire, Secretary of the Central Labor Union in NY. Historical accounts differ, but one or both of these men are credited with being the first to propose a holiday to celebrate labor. In any event, the CLU planned and organized the first LD celebration in NYC on September 5, 1885. Approximately, 20,000 workers and their families participated. The concept spread. In 1887 Oregon became the first state to sanction the holiday.

The Pullman Labor Strike in 1893 provided the final impetus for a national labor holiday. The Pullman Company had been founded and was run by George Pullman. Pullman, IL, where the company operated, was a classic company town. All the workers lived there and paid rent to the company, which was automatically deducted from their paychecks. Workers’ housing was segregated according to their jobs; everyone shopped at the Company Store. Many viewed such an arrangement as a form of slavery, because workers were, in actuality, trapped due to their omnipresent debt to the Company. (Think of the song “Sixteen Tons.”) In 1893 the country was in the midst of a recession, and the company laid off hundreds of workers and reduced the wages of the others. Of course, living expenses remained constant. These actions led to a strike. President Cleveland declared the strike to be illegal and broke it with Federal troops. Some striking workers were killed in the ensuing violence. This incensed many Americans, and 1894 was an election year. So, Congress expeditiously passed a bill establishing LD as a national holiday, and the President promptly signed it into law. This entire process took only six days, so you can imagine the extent of the public outcry. Incidentally, this action failed to save President Cleveland’s political career; he was defeated anyway.

Eventually, the government settled on the first Monday in September as the official date. Many countries celebrate it on May 1 in conjunction with International Workers’ Day, but the Federal government did not want the association with that date for obvious reasons.

CONCLUSION

One of the supreme ironies of LD is that because it is such a big shopping day, many workers, especially retailers, are required to work. LD is considered to be one of the biggest retail sales days of the year. Some people use the day as a benchmark to change over their summer clothes to fall clothes. Fashion-minded people claim it the latest day when one should wear white clothes (although “winter white,” whatever that is, is still permissible.)

Like other holidays, LD should be a time for all of us to come together and reflect on what makes America, despite its flaws, the greatest country in the world. People in other countries may like to criticize us for our real and perceived flaws, but yet they still want to come here, in some cases, desperately. In essence, many of them are “voting with their feet.”

Despite what you may see on tv or read in newspapers or social media, most Americans are decent, hard-working, caring persons. Whenever disaster or tragedy strikes we unite to help those in distress. Many have donated their time and/or money without being asked and without expecting any payback or even recognition. If you doubt me, just look at the outpouring of kindness and empathy being shown by “average” Americans toward the victims of the catastrophic events in recent years, such as superstorm Sandy and hurricanes Katrina and Harvey. To me, those people, not the destructive thugs and professional agitators one sees on the tv news destroying property, attacking the police, and beating up those with whom they disagree, are the “real” Americans. It is the proverbial “silver lining” in a very dark cloud.

I hope you all enjoyed your Labor Day holiday. Now, for most of us, it’s back to school or work. Feel free to tell me what you did.

NEIL SIMON

For the past week or so, many Americans have been focused on the deaths of two giants – John McCain and Aretha Franklyn – and justifiably so. But,on August 26 we lost another giant, and his death went somewhat under the radar, except for devotees of the theatre.

Marvin Neil Simon was one of, if not the, most accomplished playwrights and screenwriters of the late 20th and early 21st centuries. He was born on July 4, 1927 in New York City. He had one older brother. He was a child of the Great Depression, and his childhood was characterized by financial hardship and turmoil. His father was a garment salesman, who had difficulty providing for his family and was often absent from the home. At times, circumstances forced Neil and his brother to live with relatives, and Neil’s mother often had to take on boarders to make ends meet. When his father was home, his parents often fought. It was an unhappy family situation exacerbated by financial hardship. Later, Simon would tell one interviewer [that as a child] he could never figure out the reasons for all the fighting and turmoil, but it fueled his desire to become a successful writer, so he could escape all the turmoil and support himself.

As a boy, Simon took refuge in movies, especially comedies. Some of his favorite stars were comedians Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton. He recalled how he “appreciated their ability to make people laugh.” Moreover, he recalled being “constantly dragged out of movies for laughing too loud[ly].” At an early age, he realized “I was never going to be an athlete or a doctor.” Writing comedy was his ticket to success.

He began writing comedy while still in high school. After a stint in the military he began writing comedy for tv shows, such as Sid Caesar’s “Your Show of Shows” and “The Phil Silvers’ Show,” both of which were long-running hit shows in the early and mid 1950s. Simon always said that the former boasted “the most talented group of writers that up until that time had ever been assembled together,” such as Caesar, Woody Allen, Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, among others. One can only imagine the plethora of jokes that flew around the writers’ room in those days.

It took Simon three years to write his first Broadway play, “Come Blow Your Horn,” and he claimed he rewrote it some 20 times before he was satisfied. But it was a rousing success. It ran for 678 performances, and his career was launched. Hit followed hit, too many to name all of them here. Overall, he received 17 “Tony” nominations and won three. Furthermore, he won a “Pulitzer” for “Lost in Yonkers,” and in 1966 he had four hit shows running on Broadway simultaneously. (For those of you who are not Broadway savants, they were “Barefoot in the Park,” “Sweet Charity,” “The Odd Couple,” and “The Star=Spangled Girl.”)

In addition, Simon wrote screenplays for more than 20 films. Many of them were adaptations of his successful plays, but one of my favorites – “The Out-of- Towners” – was an original. He was box office “gold.”

Like most writers, Simon wrote about his own experiences and what he knew. Many of his plays were set in NY, often in working class neighborhoods, such as the one in which he was raised. Many of the characters are imperfect, but likeable and decent. The audience likes them and roots for them, despite their imperfections. Furthermore, the conventional wisdom is that the Brighton Beach trilogy is largely autobiographical. Matthew Broderick, who played the lead in “Memoirs” unabashedly claims “I owe him [my] career.” Hyperbole? Perhaps. But, that role did establish him as a Broadway star. Furthermore, although he was superb in that particular role, I wouldn’t exactly label him a “mega-talent.”

CONCLUSION

Simon was the only playwright to have a theatre named after him while still alive. In addition to the awards I mentioned above he was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1983.

Neil Simon passed away on August 26 at the age of 91. Although the official cause of death was complications from pneumonia, he had also been diagnosed with renal failure and Alzheimer’s. He is gone, but his work will live forever, as it should.

What are your favorite Neil Simon plays/movies? There are so many to choose from. For me, there are three – “The Odd Couple,” “Brighton Beach Memoirs,” and “The Goodbye Girl.”