Monday, July 23, 2007

I was shocked and saddened to hear this morning of the death of a great singer and truly nice man, Jerry Hadley.

A popular principal tenor at the Met, New York City Opera, and other opera venues around the world, he was the possessor of a fine vocal instrument, and a talented interpreter of classical, semi-classical, and pop music. Simply put, he could sing just about anything with style, tone, sensitivity and verve!

He could also charm, both onstage and off.

I attended a small semi-private recital he did several years ago, and had the chance to chat with him afterwards. He was warm and gracious, friendly, open and witty.

In a self-deprecating way, he spoke of meeting Paul McCartney when he was about to record McCartney's Liverpool Oratorio . Thrilled and somewhat awe-struck at meeting the legendary super-star, he was amazed when one of the world's best-known people walked up to him and quietly said, "Hi, I'm Paul McCartney."

Hadley told me that one of his favorite recordings was doing the complete score of Show Boat. He said it was great fun to do and that he was so proud of the way it turned out. He said that he and his wife, who was his piano accompanist at the time, spent much of the year travelling, and lived in Vienna when they could.

By the way, he did this recital not for money but as a favor to a friend who had studied music with him when they were in college. That's the way I'll remember Jerry Hadley--fine singer, fine gentleman.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Johnny's Christmas Orange

Johnny lived in an orphanage dormitory with nine other young boys. Times were hard, especially in the wintertime when any extra money went for coal to heat the old buildings. At Christmas, each boy received only one special gift--a sweet, juicy orange. It was the only time of the year such a rare treat was provided. How the boys looked forward to that orange; it seemed to them a gift of love that brightened their dreary world for one brief moment at least. It was coveted and treasured by each of the boys like nothing else in their spare existence, not only because it was delicious to savor and enjoy, but also because of what it represented to them--"someone does care for me just a little bit."

Each boy would save his orange for several days, admiring it's bright, warm color, holding it tenderly, sniffing it's delightful fresh perfume, loving the possession of it, and contemplating the wonderful, exhilerating moment when he would slowly peel it, carefully break apart the moist segments and eat each one with the greatest of pleasure and satisfaction. Some would even save it until New Year's Day, just to remind themselves of the great joy of Christmas past and the hope of a bright and happy New Year to come.

This particular Christmas Eve, Johnny had lost his temper and punched one of the other boys. As punishment for breaking one of the orphanage's strictist rules, the Headmistriss told Johnny he would not receive his orange this year. Johnny spent Christmas Day feeling more empty and alone than he had ever felt in his unhappy young life. No orange at all for him this year, like all the other boys would have for their very own! Night came and Johnny huddled in his bed, but he was too miserable to sleep. Silently and feeling cold and all alone inside, he sobbed helplessly into his pillow.

Johnny was startled when he felt a small, soft hand on his shoulder. Something was quickly shoved into his hand, and then the visitor disappeared into the darkness. Johnny looked down and could just make out an object wrapped in an old piece of cloth. As he unwrapped this odd gift, he was amazed to discover that he held a rather strange looking orange made from the combined segments of nine other oranges...nine other highly prized oranges that were not saved, admired and cherished for many days, but were eaten that night so that Johnny might have a happy and blessed Christmas, too, in the knowledge that he was not alone.

May Johnny's Christmas orange remind us of the message of unselfish love and caring for the needs of others which, when lived by each of us, makes our world a better place for all to live in.

(I received a shorter version of this story in a letter, and re-wrote and edited it for this post. I don't know where it originated.)

Friday, December 16, 2005

John Payne is always remembered around the Christmas season because of his role as the leading man--the lawyer who defends Kris Kringle--in the holiday classic film, Miracle On 34th Street. Payne grew up in the area of Virginia I live in; his ashes were returned and scattered here following his death in California in 1989. And I now have in my home the large, heavy cast-iron fireplace grate that came out of the colonial mansion he lived in while growing up here.
We use it as a cat's bed; with padding, cushions and a spread it's just the right size for any one of our three cats to curl up in comfortably.
John Payne attended local schools and college here before heading to New York during the Depression to support himself boxing while pursuing an acting career. After moving on to Hollywood, he often appeared in musicals with Betty Grable and Alice Faye, as well as westerns and action films. He read the original Miracle On 34th Street story in a magazine and encouraged his studio to buy it and make it into the movie that has since become timeless holiday fare.
And about the fireplace grate: Payne's family homeplace here was lost to a fire in 1948 (long after he had gone on with his career). The parents of a good friend of mine were driving past the site one day and spotted this grate, saved from the fire, on the lawn of the former mansion. They asked if they could buy it, and did. It remained in their home for decades, was inherited by my friend about 15 years ago and, when he sold his house this year, he gave it to me--and the cats!

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

'Little Ricky', the drum-playing child star of the great I Love Lucy show was in town a few weeks ago. I was introduced to him by a mutual friend and we spent some informal time together over a 2-day period.
His real name is Keith Thibodeaux (tib-uh-doe) and he is the last surviving cast member of that TV landmark. He also appeared on The Andy Griffith Show as Opie's best friend, 'Johnny Paul Jason', and he says today that Ron Howard was "one of the nicest people I ever met in Hollywood."
Of course, I Love Lucy made legends out of Lucy, Desi, William Frawley and Vivian Vance, and Keith has only good memories of working with them on the set. It was always on a first name basis: he was told, "Call us Lucy and Desi." Bill Frawley was a really nice guy, not an ogre as some have pictured him. His usual greeting to 'Little Ricky' was, "How're you doing, kid?" And Vance was, "just Viv", and a close real-life friend of Lucy's.
He was invited often to spend time at home with Lucy and Desi, playing with their own children, Lucie and Desi, Jr. Lucy and Desi gave him many gifts through the years including a full-size teepee, bike, and a Gretsch drum set from 1956 that he still has. Desi took him fishing and bowling, making Keith feel like one of the family. "Desi was a nice man when he wasn't drinking. When he was, you didn't want to be around him."
With the Arnaz's divorce and the end of the show, Keith became unemployed--at the age of nine! He worked on some other shows until he was 15, when he moved back home to Louisiana.
He began to drink in high school and then as he says, "went the way of other troubled child stars."
He started playing drums in a rock band and moved on to hard drugs. He wound up, in his words, "mentally, physically, and emotionally ill and spiritually lost." At this lowest point he cried out to God and promised to serve Him. He turned his life around with his new faith in Jesus. Keith says, "He is who he said he was and is the savior of the world."
His became a pioneering Christian rock band in the early '70s. Today, Keith and his wife Kathy own and operate a Christian dance company called Ballet Magnificat. He is a friendly, open and down-to-earth man, sincere, easy-going and most interesting to talk to. He says, "I went from being a child star with no purpose, at the end of his rope, near the point of suicide to having my life transformed. If I could give advice to anyone in show business, especially child stars, it would be to include Jesus and not build on worldly things."

Friday, November 11, 2005

I hate to open on a sad note but I received the news yesterday that former Pittsburgh Steeler Steve Courson, a man I liked and admired, was killed in a tree-cutting accident at his home in Pennsylvania.
Steve earned two Super Bowl rings as a star offensive guard with the Steelers, fought--and beat-- severe health problems brought on, he was convinced, by steroid use (before they were banned), and became an expert and nationally-known opponent of steroids in sports.
I spent a day with Steve at a conference last September. After his presentation, which had the audience's complete attention and interest, the two of us took a walk together. Steve was looking forward to his 50th birthday in October--an especially big event for him considering that he was so close to death just a few years before, on a waiting list then for a heart transplant, weighing 325 and consuming huge quantities of doughnuts, sodas and fast-food in his frustration at having been unfairly labled in the media as a poster boy for steroid abuse and thereby bringing his health problems on himself.
Now, just weeks before turning 50, he was the picture of health: a tall, lean, muscular, rock-hard and chisled 250 lbs., brimming with energy and enthusiasm. He had done it with diet, exercise and, most importantly, willpower and belief, ultimately confounding doctors who took him off the transplant waiting list as he trained himself back to pre-illness levels of performance and largely reversed the atrophy of his heart muscle. As we walked he shared with me his belief that a strong will could accomplish anything. "It's really easy", he said and truly believed: "Just make up your mind and you can do it!"
Steve was a gifted athlete and outstanding motivational speaker, who spent a lot of time working with young people telling them his cautionary experiences with steroids. He appeared at many events at his own expense, just to share the story he believed he should tell and giving back something to inspire others in their personal struggles.
He was a fine man and I was privileged to know him. I believe his words and example to many of us will have a ripple effect in many lives, and that is a great legacy for anyone to leave behind.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Oh, hello.
I didn't notice you there for a minute.
You're welcome to visit and read over my shoulder anytime you'd like.
* * *
I once took a class taught by a clinical psychologist who told us about a patient of his who had an imaginary 'Little Man' he talked to for company and to relieve stress. In some ways, I guess, blogging is the online version of talking-to-yourself for relaxation and comfort. Writing is therapeutic, though;once the words are released, they're out of your system and away like seeds on the wind.
* * *
It's my belief that most of us don't write enough about our lives, ideas and experiences, leaving it instead to professional writers to record only theirs. Good writing is hard work, but anyone can keep an informal journal or diary of their unique journey through this world. No one else has ever had the exact same experiences or viewed them and reacted in exactly the same way. And if they're never written down, individual knowledge, insight and awareness will inevitably be lost. Anne Frank never expected the random writings of a teenage girl to become world-famous and important to others but, of course, her words have touched millions of lives.
* * *
Come back again and I'll tell you about some of the celebrities I've met, spent time with, shopped for, corresponded with, and interviewed!