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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

MY WALTER WINCHELL IMITATION...(I KNOW, WHO'S HE?)


Unless you are a certain age, you probably never heard of Walter Winchell (1897-1972).

Winchell was a radio and newspaper guy who dealt with gossip stories primarily about people in the entertainment business and politics.  He was immensely popular from the 1920s through the early 1960s.  He had a fast talking style as he blurted out information in short or incomplete sentences while hitting a telegraph key to give an air of urgency.

His standard opening for his radio show was the sound of the telegraph key while he shouted “Good evening Mr. and Mrs. North and South America and all the ships at sea!  Let’s go to press!"

His columns were sometimes called dot, dot, dot, columns because of his use of dots between short story bursts.  Larry King used the same format in later years and I will imitate it today:

Winchell and his telegraph key
I have been writing this blog since 2005 and have found that the most hits I get deal with a blog from 2008 about “kids growing up too fast.”  Second most popular is a piece I did about the dancing of Fred Astaire and Ginger Roger's while a story about  Alfred Hitchcock and “Psycho” is third. . . Are older cars better than those made today?  Not a chance but they have the memories we love to reminisce about.  You’ll never hear kids today talk about going to the drive-in restaurant in a new BMW but we sure like to talk about going there in our ’57 Chevys all those years ago. . . Did you know that a brand new Chevy Corvette in 1953 cost $3,490?  That was the one with the 6 cylinder engine and three single barrel carburetors . . . One of my favorite places to eat in Scottsdale is the Elephant Bar.  They have a nice varied menu, good service, and have been in business for about ten years which is a rarity these days.  Best BBQ?  Try Bryan’s in Cave Creek. . . I hate cigarettes but if I smoked, I would probably buy my smokes on the Indian rez.  You can save a lot on the tax bite there and if the store on McDowell east of the 101 is any indication, they are selling a lot of tobacco.  That guy has a drive-up window that is always busy! . . . What’s the big deal with 3D movies at the theaters?  The old Kachina Theater in Scottsdale showed them 60 years ago.  They were a fad then and will be now.  Hollywood is hurting; not getting near the business they used to get when they made good films instead of the garbage and remakes so prevalent now. . . How times do change!  I moved to Scottsdale in 1987 from the Kansas and Missouri area where Walmart Stores were everywhere.  I asked someone at the time about Walmarts in Phoenix and they gave me a look as if to say, “Who?”  It wasn’t long after that I saw one open at Tatum and Bell.  We all know the rest of that story . . . Winding down for today:  What do Mary Worth, Brenda Starr,  Gasoline Alley, Steve Canyon, and Terry and the Pirates have in common?  Answer:   They are comic strips that have disappeared.

So long until next time!!!

Two good recent cartoons:

It's hard to read but the little mooching girl is Obama's fantasy girlfriend "Julia".

Thursday, May 24, 2012

THE GHOST ARMY OF WORLD WAR II

By Jim McAllister


Note:  This article was originally published on April 27, 2005 in the NORTH SCOTTSDALE INDEPENDENTI was fascinated by the story of the ghost army and the bravery of those guys in World War II.  With Memorial Day arriving in a few days, I feel a tribute to them and our current fighting forces is appropriate with a reprint of that column....JM






I’m sure you are wondering, "What in the world was the ghost army of World War II?" It’s an interesting and fascinating story which is not that well known.


Ever since warfare has existed, armies have relied on some type of deception to gain an advantage on their opponents. Some ancient armies used plaster dummies, others used fake smoke signals and spies, and we all know about the famous Trojan horse. These ancient examples of deception were carried into modern warfare during World War II with the exploits of the ghost army or their actual title which was the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops.


The ghost army was a unique and little known group of American soldiers who played a big part in the Allied victory over Germany through their abilities in the art of deception. Even though information on this unit became available about thirty years ago, not much has been written about them. As World War II faded into history, so did the 23rd Special Troops.


The ghost army was organized by Lieutenant Colonel Merrick Truly. He was the executive officer in charge of these deception experts. Although Truly’s men reported to the American ground commander in Europe, General Omar Bradley, most of the American soldiers did not know of the existence of the Special Troops. They operated at night under strictly special orders and were not even required to give their identity to superior officers.


Former Scottsdale resident Dr Harold 
Laynor, a member of the 23rd Special
Troops. (Laynor Museum)
The ghost army consisted of 82 officers and 1,023 enlisted men. With their eclectic mixture of talents, they were strictly in the deception business. The Special Troops were made up of four units: a sonic deception company, a special radio company, a company of combat engineers, and a battalion of camoufleurs. They served with four armies in five European countries in five major campaigns from D-Day (June 6, 1944) until the end of the war in 1945.


The most unique part of this already unique group was the composition of its members. Many of these men were already famous as artists, sculptors, architects, literary figures, and others from the world of the arts and humanities. Actor Douglas Fairbanks, Jr. was perhaps the most well known for his Hollywood successes, but there was also renowned fashion designer Bill Blass, Olin Dows: a prominent artist, George Diestal: a Hollywood set designer, Art Kane: a fashion photographer, and Harold Laynor, whose artistic works depicting World War II and other subjects, are shown in galleries throughout the country.



The Special Troops used six major methods of deception: camouflaging troops and tanks, placing dummy tanks and artillery, firing pyrotechnics to simulate actual artillery fire, the use of artificial sound effects, using artificial radio communication, and using fake special effects. This created an atmosphere of great danger as they needed to be in close to front line battles.


"Dummy" aircraft used for deception (Laynor Museum)
Although these brave men were involved in at least twenty other confrontations with the enemy, their biggest contribution was probably at the battle between Allied Forces and Germany at the Rhine River on March 23, 1945. Their contributions were essential in weakening the German assault and forcing Germany to surrender two months later in May of 1945.


Although records and information concerning the 23rd Headquarters Special Troops are sketchy, the aforementioned artist Harold Laynor (1922-1991) made a series of fifty paintings covering two years of participating in World War II. His works include paintings of army buddies, aspects of training and, as the series progresses, he relates the brutality and horror of war.


Like the above mentioned celebrities participating in the 23rd, Dr. Laynor was highly distinguished in his field. Although he used primarily watercolors for his World War II work, he was also a pioneer in the use of lacquer as a medium of painting and the use of 3D paintings for the blind.


The Laynor Foundation website (www.laynor.org) has valuable information concerning the ghost army and also features seven galleries of Dr. Laynor’s World War II paintings. They are very interesting and illustrative of that terrible time in our history.


Optical illusions, bluffs, sleight of hand, misinformation, disappearing acts: all part of the ghost army of World War II; a brave and cunning bunch of guys who were instrumental in giving us the lifestyle we enjoy today. 

Thursday, May 17, 2012

REMEMBERING THE ROMANCE OF YOUTH ON A GREYHOUND BUS


If you are a certain age and were usually watching your money while enjoying your youth in the military or college, you probably can be counted among the many of us who were frequent customers of either Greyhound or Continental Trailways bus lines.

Continental Trailways was a legitimate competitor to Greyhound until 1987 when they were absorbed into the Greyhound system.  By then, two large bus companies were not really needed since traveling by bus wasn’t as popular as previously.

Looking back, I remember bus travel in a romantic sense.  Maybe it is because it occurred primarily while being on my own in the Air Force between 1961 and 1965.

All aboard for Oklahoma, St. Louis, and points east
There was the trip with my basic training friends from San Antonio to tech school in Amarillo via Trailways.  It was November and cold in Texas as we rolled onto Amarillo Air Force Base.  That bus was warm and cozy and I sure missed it when the driver dropped us off in that cold parking lot.  Ahead of us was eight weeks of hell with Tech Sergeant Green.  We thought basic training was tough but it was a Sunday school picnic compared to Amarillo tech school.

My most memorable bus trip occurred when I left Amarillo in late December of ’61 and headed home to Cincinnati for Christmas leave.  Being a poor GI, I naturally booked passage on a Greyhound bus.  Have you ever ridden a bus from Amarillo, Texas to Cincinnati, Ohio at Christmas time?  Unless you are short on cash I have one word of advice:  DON’T!

However, looking back it is a fond memory as the bus was so full that people were standing in the aisle.  I’m sure that was illegal since when we reached a weigh station in Oklahoma, the driver asked the standers to crouch down and spread their weight around.

    I can certainly identify with these guys 
When we reached St. Louis about sixteen hours later at 7:30 a.m., I found out I missed my connection to Cincy by thirty minutes.  That meant waiting until 3:30 that afternoon for the next bus.

After finally leaving St. Louis and having gotten no sleep for 24 hours, it was on to Cincy where I quickly fell asleep which was a great feeling until I was awaken in Shoals, Indiana  and told that the bus had broken down and we would have to move to another bus.  By then, I figured, “Screw it” and got off in below zero weather with the ground covered with ice and snow.

We finally made it to Cincinnati by 4:00 a.m. and feeling like needing a bit of luxury, I caught a cab home.  When I was dropped off, I just stood in front of my house for a few minutes in the dark breathing in the freezing air while thinking; “What the hell have I done?”   I had three years and nine months to go in the Air Force; was it always going to be a litany of bus rides?

Fortunately, it wasn’t unless you count the Greyhound trip from McGuire AFB in New Jersey to Cincinnati after coming home from Germany in 1963.  However, I’ll save that for another time!  For now, I’ll just say that those experiences made me a better man.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

BIDEN'S SHOE AGAIN FIRMLY ENTRENCHED IN MOUTH

Even  left leaning political cartoonist Steve Benson of the AZ Republic is having fun with this.  Start checking the want ads, Joe. 

Even though Obama doesn’t need help in looking foolish, it’s still comforting to know that we always have Joe Biden to step in for the prez when he runs low on material.

Big Joe did it again last week with his support of gay marriage; something that Obama was trying to hold off on until after November for fear of the political backlash it would bring with precious Independent voters and religious groups. It was kind of like he is doing with the Keystone decision.  Heaven forbid he would man up and say yes or no on that now.  First, he has to decide who to piss off the least:  his EPA buddies or the unions.  What a guy!

With Forcing Obama’s hand on gay marriage, it’s almost as if Joe was being slipped a few million by Romney to throw a wrench into the gears of an already troubled administration.   The good news is that Romney doesn’t have to pay the guy; Joe is always happy to put his foot in his mouth for free.

To make matters worse, Biden even referred to Mr. Romney as “President Romney” while referring to Obama as “President Clinton.”   Does the foolishness ever end?  I guess I should save until another day Biden’s making the sign of the cross at a convention of 1,600 Rabbis recently.

I almost feel sorry for press secretary Jay Carney who had to take the grilling over Biden’s gay marriage statement. The poor guy seems to always stutter and stammer anyway but the reporters had him almost crying when they started laughing at his flustered answers to their questions.

Even Liberal leaning columnist Dana Milbank of the Washington Post has written that Biden “inadvertently set off a frenzy on same-sex marriage, not because his position was surprising but because it made Obama’s look all the more absurd.

Milbank reports that CNN’s Jessica Yellin asked whether Obama was trying to “have it both ways before an election” and whether he should “stop dancing around the issue.”
ABC’s Jake Tapper said that “it seems cynical to hide this prior to the election” and that “I don’t want to hear the same talking points 15 times in a row.”
NBC’s Chuck Todd said with a grin, “So help me out here. He opposes bans on gay marriage, but he doesn’t yet support gay marriage?”
Carney replied that “He, as you know, said that his views on this were evolving.”  To that Tapper replied whether Obama was “still evolving” or whether he’s “just waiting for the proper time to drop it, likely after November.”
“His views,” Carney maintained, “are crystal clear.”
Chris Geidner from Metro Weekly, a gay publication, said it best: “If he’s crystal clear, why is everybody in this room asking you questions?”
Yeah, why?
Hey Hillary, Are you SURE you don’t want to run for Vice President in November? 


More Benson of the AZ Republic.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

THE NFL, JUNIOR SEAU, AND MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL


(left)  Junior Seau while playing for the New England Patriots

Junior Seau was one of my favorite players in the NFL for many years.   Recently, he was found dead in his apartment from an apparent suicide.  It seemed unlikely that at age 43, Seau would commit suicide but some feel that concussions received during his playing years could have been a factor since they are thought to induce negative reactions like mood swings.

Former Chicago Bear Dave Duerson is another NFL guy who committed suicide last year at age 51.  He left a note saying he wanted his brain studied to try to find out the relationship of head injuries that may bring on suicide.   Seau’s family has also donated his brain for the same purpose.  Both Duerson and Seau died from gunshot wounds to the chest.

Now, more than 1,000 players are suing the NFL claiming that they were never given enough protection to stave off concussion injuries.

With the NFL cruising in high gear from high TV ratings of their Sunday slate of games in the afternoon and evening, what effect will this action have?  Let’s not forget the NFL Network and the everlasting Monday Night Football on ESPN.  The latter has been a winner since 1970.

Take a moment and think of the latter statement:  Monday Night Football has been on TV since 1970!  Who would think a pro football game being broadcast on Monday in prime time on a major network (ABC) would last 42 years?

A lot of its success was due to some good games and especially to the three man announcing crew of Keith Jackson (replaced after one season by Frank Gifford), former Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback “Dandy Don” Meredith, and the irrepressible Howard Cosell.

It didn’t hurt that the 1970s produced a lot of great football especially from the Miami Dolphins who still are the only NFL team to play a season undefeated (1972), and the Pittsburgh Steelers with Terry Bradshaw and company who dominated the Super Bowl in that era.

Gifford was basically a vanilla referee during the broadcasts of MNF while the constant interaction of country boy former player Meredith and the stuffy, conceited, New Yorker Cosell made for great broadcasting.  On one occasion Cosell droned on about a coach "eschewing the field goal."  It was an attempt to show off his expansive vocabulary as "Howad" was prone to do, so Dandy Don intoned: "S-what Howard?"

In one MNF game in Miami, an obviously inebriated fan ran across the field during a time out prompting Cosell to go on one of his long rants. After five minutes or so, Dandy Don had apparently had enough responding: "Maybe the bathroom lines were too long on his side of the stadium, Howard."  It was great theater and the fans loved it for the four years it ran before changes started happening with the cast. 

That was then and now is now.  The days of Cosell calling a black player a “little monkey” are long gone.  Today, the question is whether the league is in big trouble with lawsuits occurring over injuries, bounties being offered by coaches to players to incur REALLY dangerous injuries, and changes in the game that would soften it and perhaps lose fans who have always enjoyed the hard hitting.

(left to right)  Don Meredith, Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford

Already, kickoffs have been pushed to the 35 yard line to reduce returns.  Now, there is a possibility that kickoffs may be eliminated.  Does that mean that punts will also be eliminated?  Are the players  too big and too fast?  Are they just softer than in the “old days?”  Are their gripes legitimate?

There will be a settlement of some kind but I don’t know how the fans will react.  Meanwhile, I think I will sit back, close my eyes, sip a beer, and remember the good old days of Meredith and Cosell bickering in their mustard colored ABC blazers while Terry Bradshaw threw long bombs to Lynn Swann.