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Tuesday, June 28, 2011


I was listening to the radio in the car today and one of my favorite old "girl name" songs was played. It was "Francine" by ZZ Top, a cut from the 1972 album "Rio Grande Mud." Needless to say, I turned the volume all the way up and broke off the knob. (Got a girl, her name’s Francine, finest thing you ever seen, and I love her). Oh, yeah!

ZZ Top’s use of a girl’s name in the title made me wonder about all the other great "girl name" songs that have been popular through the years. If you are like me and grew up a pop music fan, each song will bring back a memory of when you heard the song in the past.

The first one I thought of was "Peggy Sue" by Buddy Holly. What a great tune to take me back to high school in 1957. I had just gotten my drivers’s license that year and must have heard that song a million times on the radio cruising through Frisch’s Drive-In restaurant in Cincinnati and looking for girls.

In 1966, a garage band from Chicago called The Shadows of Knight recorded the Van Morrison written tune "Gloria." It was a great, grinding, song that was easy to sing and dance to, especially after you had downed a few beers. I was 6 months out of the Air Force and had met a beautiful, 20 year old co-ed at the U. Of Cincinnati named Barb, who would eventually be my wife. We were both young, enjoying life, and having a great time together. Thanks, Van, for writing "Gloria."

A couple years later in 1968, I was living in Missouri and The Monkees were popular. One of my favorites from those guys was "Valleri." We had parties at a vet’s club near school where "Valleri" always made the playlist. I loved the part where we sang to the record: And her name is Val, al, al,al, al leri! Those were fun days, I wonder what happened to those guys.

In 1972, it was Derek and the Dominos (Eric Clapton) doing "Layla." Another great song and I remember it at many parties. 1972 was the year we bought our first house in Kansas. $26,000 for 3 bedrooms, 2 car garage, large lot on a lake and cul-de-sac. Falstaff beer was also $1.00 per 6 pack and I had my share of that while working in my new yard and listening to that new phenomenon, rock music on FM radio.


I could go on forever about girl songs. I’m sure you have great memories of your own and when you hear your faves, relate to a time and place when you heard that tune.

Here’s a few more you probably know: "Sherry" 1962, by The Four Seasons, "Eleanor Rigby" 1966, by The Beatles, "Mustang Sally" 1966, by Wilson Pickett, "Brandy" 1972, by The Looking Glass, "Maggie May" 1971, by Rod Stewart, "My Sharona" 1979, by The Knack, "Jenny 867-5309" 1982, by Tommy Tutone, "Billie Jean" 1983, by Michael Jackson.

What are your favorite "girl name" songs? I have barely scratched the surface with my list.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Those of you who are old enough can remember the fun of going to the drive-in theater. Whether you went as a child with your parents, went with your teen age buddies, or with a date (if you were lucky!), the drive-in was THE place to go for kids of the 1950s.

It was fun to go to the drive-in as kids. My parents always knew better than to park behind a pick-up truck because of height and we had a great time on the swings before the show. We would frequently bring lawn chairs or sit on the hood of the car and lean back on the windshield. For whatever reason, I always remember the refreshment stand having great barbecue sandwiches. It was probably because of how they promoted them so much between double features.

The Oakley Drive-In of Cincinnati is where I made a career choice. It was usually easy to sneak into the place by driving down the exit drive with your lights off. On one particular night in 1957, I drove in with some buddies, parked, and put the speaker in the window when suddenly the manager appeared and he was angry. He had been watching for "sneakers" and had caught us red handed. I got out of the car acting humble and apologetic and generally playing the role of the "good kid" who had done something stupid on a dare. He actually believed me, softened up, and even let us stay and watch the movie for free. I said to myself, "Jim, you are a born salesman", and that is what I eventually became. I’m glad we didn’t have any guys hiding in the trunk that night or the guy may not have been so forgiving!

When I went out with my 1959-1961 girl friend, I don’t remember us doing much other than going to the drive-in to make out. Even in the winter, it was great even though those cheesy little heaters they had didn’t do much good. You also had to be careful of the window speakers. Many customers would drive off without replacing them and break the wires or the car window. Today, at the few drive-ins left, most have the sound play through the customer's radio.

If you are too young to remember these places, you can still go to the few that are left and enjoy an evening "1950's style." It’s about $6.50 admission these days (75 cents in 1957!) and I suggest taking your own food and drinks. Also, since the sound comes through the radio now, bring a boom box if you sit outside, it’s better than turning up your car radio.

Arizona had its share of drive-ins during the 1950s with a high of 49 being in operation in 1958. Sadly, today there are only a few left in the state, mostly in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area.

Thursday, June 16, 2011


The ability of actors, musicians, and directors to instill laughter or pathos into an audience is fascinating. As a kid I used to cry when Lassie was in trouble as I was oblivious to the fact that everything turns out all right in a Lassie film.

It’s the fantasy of Hollywood at work. One of my favorite scenes in “Casablanca” is where Rick and Sam are standing in the rain at the train station waiting for Ilsa, and Rick reads her rain stained Dear John letter. I can picture Michael Curtiz calling “Cut!” five minutes later and everyone heading down a sunny street to the Warner’s commissary for lunch. There may be a lot of tear jerking emotion in scenes like the train station but in reality, films are a business with schedules and deadlines.


An imagination is a necessity at the movies. How else could Western heroes shoot twenty rounds out of a six shooter without reloading? How could the Cavalry arrive just in time to save the fort? How could Bob Steele at 5’ 5” in height beat up all those big guys?

How about the age fantasies? Would Leslie Caron really fall for Fred Astaire in “Daddy Long Legs” with Fred being 32 years older and looking like Charlie McCarthy? Even a good looking Gene Kelly was still 20 years older than Caron in “An American in Paris”. Another classic mismatch was Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn in “Sabrina” where Bogie was 30 years older than Audrey. It’s one of my favorite films but my imagination was working overtime on that age difference.

It doesn’t seem fair that leading men got to play romantic roles into their 50s and 60s while the ladies were losing starring roles at 40 or younger. Men were still considered “handsome” or “distinguished”. Women were “getting older.” Welcome to Hollywood!

One of my favorite female character actors was Rosemary DeCamp. Rosemary always looked older than she was and in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” she played Jimmy Cagney’s mother in spite of being eleven years younger than Cagney! Jesse Royce Landis played Cary Grant’s mother in “North by Northwest” even though she was three months younger than Cary. Where else but Hollywood?

These examples go on forever and are fun to talk about. That’s what makes Hollywood fantasies so much fun because isn’t it the perception rather than the reality of motion pictures that we like? When Rick tells Ilsa, “Here’s looking at you, kid”, we all sigh. When Depression audiences laughed at screwball comedy, the movies were doing their job by giving those people a couple hours of happiness before they had to face the harsh realities of the real world.

A little backstage artificiality isn’t going to do any harm; it’s just part of the fantasy that we know and love about Hollywood.

Friday, June 10, 2011


By Guest writer Joe Finnerty

Another D-Day has come and gone. Much to my surprise, this year’s anniversary (2011) received no media coverage. It should come as no surprise given the ongoing Afghanistan war and the declining number of WW II aged citizens who represent the core audience.

D-Day, June 6,1944. "At the Hedgehogs" (Robert Capa)

In 2006, PBS aired a documentary that brought together three veterans of the invasion, an American, a Brit, and a German. These three men shared their respective experiences and made the epic battle that began on June 6, 1944, engrossing and personal. Their reenactment of the day was vivid and compelling. However, it did not match the story a participant in one of my Reminiscence Writing classes told one year. A physician, he described in graphic terms the carnage he had witnessed on Omaha Beach and elsewhere for months thereafter. Until this class, he had never shared his harrowing memory with anyone.

In contrast and inexplicably, I have no vivid recollection of D-Day. The landing of troops on French soil happened without my knowledge, apparently. It took place two days before my seventeenth birthday, a few weeks prior to my high school graduation and matriculating at college. These events in my life overshadowed the greatest invasion in man’s history.

Until the following June when I turned eighteen, I gave little thought to the prospect of my having to fight in the war. Not until the draft board sent me my induction notice did this possibility hit me. As events unfolded, I entered military service just as the war with Japan ended. After being discharged in 1947, I reentered college and graduated in 1950, soon after which I moved to California. Along the way, I lost track of my high school chums.

As you might imagine, I was delighted to receive an invitation to attend my 50th Anniversary Class Reunion in 1994. During a cocktail hour, we conducted a survey and determined that of the sixty boys who graduated, forty six served in the military. The remaining fourteen had been classified 4-F, which struck me an unusually large percentage. None of my classmates had died or suffered wounds in combat. I regret to say no one surveyed the girls to find out if any of them entered the service, or how many went to college, immediately or later on in life.

The class produced a number of male college graduates, including two priests, one physician, a chemist and five mechanical and engineers. Many attended college under the provisions of the G. I. Bill, including myself.

I learned that the majority of my classmates still lived in or near Hoboken. Some had spent their entire lives working in nearby factories. A few had died, including the class president (valedictorian and priest), and the vice president (best athlete). My best friend and fellow college graduate had died at age fifty, a suicide.

Plans to have another reunion fizzled out, thwarting me from asking my classmates: Do you recall D-Day? I am convinced they would have said yes, leaving me as the only dummy in the class who doesn’t. The explanation is simple. At the time I was in love with what’s her name.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


(Guest contributor Joe Finnerty returns with another childhood memory from his teenage days in Hoboken, NJ in the 1940s. Chemistry class was never the same after Joe and his buddy Johnny Gallagher got through with the lab!)


By Joe Finnerty

Johnny Gallagher was my lab partner in high school chemistry. He was impish and very Irish. Teachers and classmates liked him. He was not an honor roll pupil, but he was a star varsity basketball player despite his short stature: 5 feet 4 inches, in sneakers. Johnny could make two-handed set shots from mid-court. Gallagher was a spunky player much favored by the team’s coach, Mr. John Kane, who happened to be our chemistry teacher.

Mr. Kane was not a very good basketball coach, as evidenced by our teams’ losing record year after year. His record as a chemistry teacher may have been even worse.

The first time our class entered the Chem. Lab, Mr. Kane warned us about the danger of spilling or mixing the various chemical reagents. These were neatly stored in glass jars that lined the shelves placed above the sinks and workspaces. Our first task, Mr. Kane said, would be to make our own stir rods. He distributed 1/4" diameter glass rods that we had to saw cut into one-foot lengths. He then demonstrated how to twirl the roughened ends in a Bunsen burner in order to smooth them into a rounded shape.

Gallagher had no difficulty following these instructions. Then, it was my turn. It seemed reasonable that I should be able to perform this simple task, right?

Moving deftly, I positioned the glass rod in the flame, rotating it while one end melted and became round and smooth. I then reversed the rod, putting the other roughened end into the flame. Within seconds, the smell of something burning hit my nostrils. It was I, oh Lord! The end of the rod I had just heated touched some fuzzy threads of my beautiful baby blue angora sweater, causing them to smolder.

With alarm, I said, “Here,” handing Johnny the rod in order to beat out the incipient flames with both hands. He grabbed hold of the end I had just removed from the Bunsen burner, scorching his palm. Johnny screamed in pain and flung the rod which knocked over some reagent bottles. Their contents interacted violently, creating a cloud of acrid, dense smoke. We had created a scene akin to a Three Stooges skit: I’m dealing with a blazing sweater; Gallagher is bellowing in pain; and Mr. Kane is rushing around the room, telling the rest of the students to “Get the hell out.”


After that incident, Gallagher kept his distance from me. We never became close friends. Despite this misadventure, Mr. Kane gave me an exceptional grade of 90. In truth, he passed everyone with the same mark, as he did not much care to evaluate students. His mind was on the next basketball season, worrying about how he was going to find a player to replace Gallagher.

This experience taught me never to choose an Irish leprechaun as a lab partner. They ruin your best clothes.