Posts Tagged ‘ Creativity ’

TRY A LITTLE FANTASIZING AT YOUR LOCAL LAUNDROMAT

THE HUMAN RACE

A TIDY PLACE TO TWIDDLE LIFE AWAY

 

Sitting in the laundromat

watching the Speed Queen

tumble-dry your clothes

can be a monotonous thing.

 

You may pass the time gawking

at the scrumptious honeys,

or occupy the boring hours

twiddling your thumbies.

 

You can play a game of solitaire,

if by chance you have a deck.

Like waiting for your socks to dry,

it’s one tedious trek.

 

If you’re the type of person

who can slip into a trance,

a visit to the laundromat

might allow your brain to prance.

You may fly away to Paradise

on gossamer wing,

take a lover, become an NFL star,

rule the world as queen or king.

 

But for those who have a passion for

a life jampacked with washing machines,

somewhere in your ancestry

there’s gotta be some screwed up genes.

 

— Boots LeBaron —

LIFE’S MANY UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

THE HUMAN RACE

WHAT IF?

What if the Supreme Being was an abused woman?

What if Charles Darwin had just been kidding about evolution?

What if political campaigns were conducted with integrity?

What if Viagra was a placebo?

What if Armageddon was coming next week?

What if all religious leaders took vows of poverty?

What if intelligent design was scientific fact?

What if St. Peter had to install metal detectors?

What if there was no life after death?

What if God had His own Facebook on the Internet?

What if Shakespeare was a plagiarist?

What if Purgatory wasn’t such a hellhole after all?

What if Man was a failed extraterrestrial test-tube experiment?

What if atheists leased offices in Vatican City?

What if humanity ran out of water?

What if gays outnumbered heterosexuals?

What if Pablo Picasso had decided to be a bail bondsman?

What if euthanasia was a legal alternative to convalescent homes?

What if anti-pollution activists controlled oil-drilling rigs?

What if President Barack Obama was white?

What if political photo-ops were outlawed?

What if sharks could be found only in the sea?

What if all the poverty stricken could dine free at Denny’s?

What if Adam and Eve refused to sample the forbidden fruit?

What if pork-barrel spending was strictly a hog’s nightmare?

What if dock workers didn’t cuss?

What if prescription drugs were cost friendly?

What if Jesus Christ appeared as an anchorman on TV?

What if jurors came void of preconceived notions?

What if Hooter’s was a sanctuary for endangered owls?

What if using religion to win votes was a felony?

What if there was no McDonald’s?

What if pomposity was a crime punishable by water-boarding?

What if lobbyists couldn’t buy votes on Capitol Hill?

What if Babe Ruth or Jackie Robinson were playing baseball today?

What if women earned salaries equal to their male counterparts?

What if there was a pill to cure greed?

What if all racial bigots woke up with black or brown faces?

What if The Pope would help curb overpopulation?

What if 72 virgins was basically a heavenly marketing ploy?

What if terrorism wasn’t empowered by religious extremism?

What if slumlords had to live in their own squalor?

What if Chanel No. 5 was a 99 Cents Only Store item?

                        — Boots LeBaron —

 

 

ACTOR BOB MITCHUM WAS MY FAVORITE WISEGUY

THE HUMAN RACE

BOB MITCHUM, WITH AN ATTITUDE PROBLEM, GAVE ME AN AUDIENCE.

     On numerous occasions, life had sent actor Robert Mitchum to the principal’s office. Some of you might not even recognize his name. He died in 1997. Nevertheless, I’d like you two to meet. Not because he was a Hollywood legend. But because he wore his soul like a bullet-proof vest over his barrel chest.

     After nearly four decades as a movie star, he didn’t need to talk about himself. Certainly he had been busted for smoking pot in 1948 and wound up in jail. Certainly he was a rogue. Certainly, in the eyes of many, he was dinosaurian. Certainly he had an attitude problem that intimidated and even alienated many studio executives. Certainly.

     Several years before he died in his late 70s suffering from complications caused by emphysema and lung cancer, I spent a few evenings with him in St. George, Utah where he was starring as a killer in a mediocre ABC-TV docu-drama titled, “Casa Grande.”

     My first glimpse: He was sitting on a director’s chair talking to members of the film crew, complaining about a showerhead he had installed in the Montecito, California home he shared with his wife, Dorothy, the woman he married in 1940.

     “I had this little guy install the shower,” he said. “I told him I want it two-inches above my head. The sonuvabitch put it two-inches above his head. Damn midget!”  

     Everybody laughed.

     Robert Charles Duran Mitchum was still smoking and drinking when I met him. He was anything but vain. He was gruff.

      Hollywood was not his playground. Yet, that’s where he made his living. I liked the cynicism, the humor and the wisdom of this tough guy. See if you like him too:

     QUESTION: Do you still get the same kind of enjoyment you had when you were starting out in this business?

     MITCHUM: For eight hours a day, yeah. After that, it begins to drag my ass.

     QUESTION: Charles Laughton, who directed you in “Night of the Hunter,” [where you played a psychopathic killer] said you could very well become one of the world’s great actors. Is there any kind of role you haven’t done and would like to do?

     MITCHUM: Sesame seed.

     QUESTION: What is sesame seed?

     MITCHUM: It’s a roll. Very seldom do actors use the word ‘role.’ Acting is a job.

     QUESTION: You’re getting old.

     MITCHUM: True.

     QUESTION: You’re sitting out here on location. It’s midnight. The dust is blowing in your face. Is there anything else you would rather have done with your life?

     MITCHUM: I can’t think of anything. No. I haven’t been exposed to many things.

     QUESTION: How do you feel about the convict character you play in this movie?

     MITCHUM: Unfortunately, it runs all through the picture.

     QUESTION: You don’t act like an actor.

     MITCHUM: When I get paid for it, I do.

     QUESTION: What was your first movie?

     MITCHUM: ‘Hoppy Serves a Writ’ in 1942. It was a Hopalong Cassidy film with William Boyd. I got on a horse. Got thrown off. Played a heavy. Had dialogue. Fell off a forty-foot rock. Got shot. And went home dragging my ass, ninety dollars richer, with all the horse manure I could carry.

     QUESTION: You started in acting as a teen-ager. How have you changed over the years?

     MITCHUM: I got older.

     QUESTION: You had to get better, too! Right?

     MITCHUM: Not necessarily. It depends on the opportunities; the variances in parts.

     QUESTION: Maybe you got worse.

     MITCHUM: There you go.

     QUESTION: Why did you become an actor?

     MITCHUM: It was better than what I was doing.

     QUESTION: What were you doing?

     MITCHUM: Working in a womens’ shoe store on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.

     QUESTION: How long?

     MITCHUM: Three weeks. I got fired for checking beaver.

     QUESTION: How true was that story about you escaping from a chain gang in Savannah, Georgia?

     MITCHUM: I have sixteen biographies. Take your pick. It’s not important.

     QUESTION: You describe Howard Hawks, Charles Laughton, John Ford, John Houston as great directors. What makes a great director?

     MITCHUM: Oh, I think a comprehensive overview.

     QUESTION: I knew a guy, Adrian Thornsbury, a one-time Golden Gloves boxing champion from Kentucky, who claims he got in a scuffle with you over a girl in Long Beach (California) when you were just starting out in acting.

     MITCHUM: Yeah, I remember. I was maybe nineteen; trying to impress his girlfriend. He called me a theater queen. I called him an Adrian. He beat the crap out of me.

     QUESTION: Since you were born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, how did you wind up in Hollywood?

     MITCHUM: I came out in a private plane. My health was delicate. My family took me out of private school. I was emaciated from dancing lessons. They had an airplane built for me and flew me out on the Southern Pacific Railroad.”

     QUESTION: Are you good at business?

     MITCHUM: Do you think I would be sitting here at midnight in the middle of a sand storm doing this TV crap if I was good at business? One time in Kenya (east Africa) I was working with Carroll Baker in a John Huston movie. The Massai tribesmen horrified Carroll. But she had her publicity man get a picture of her posing with all the brothers; then put out a story that tribal chiefs offered a hundred black cattle in a trade for her.

     That represented a fortune in cows. Through an interpreter, I got together with a chief and we actually bartered for her. The sonuvabitch whittled me down to one fucking cow. He probably knew she wasn’t a real blonde.”

     QUESTION: Do you do any of your own stunts?

     MITCHUM: I ended up under a pile of stuntmen once. One of them said, ‘Hey, we get paid to do this.’ That’s when I realized I was doing them out of a job.

     QUESTION: Ever get knocked out?

     MITCHUM: Raymond Burr banged my head against a post one time in “His Kind of Woman.” I went out. When I came to, the director said, ‘That didn’t look real. Do it again.’ I had a lump on the side of my head the size of a grapefruit.

     QUESTION: Is it true that John Wayne was really physical when he staged fights?

     MITCHUM: Nah. He had some pretty good doubles. One of them was Charlie Horvath. He could take your jaw and twist it right off. Really, right off! In those close-ups, Duke would just mock fight. But if he fell sideways standing at the bar, which he did on occasions, he would clean out the whole joint like a row of dominoes. I tried to lift him over my shoulder a couple of times but he had those big football legs. He might throw up on your back, but he’d give you no help.   

     QUESTION: Who taught you to fight?

     MITCHUM: Tommy Loughran. Fought [Jack] Dempsey. He was a light heavyweight, actually. It was on the banks of the Indian River in Delaware. A church camp. I was 13.

     QUESTION: How did you learn to ride a horse?

     MITCHUM: A wrangler named Cliff Parkinson taught me. Cliff was an all-around rodeo cowboy. He was supposed to be a pretty good bronc rider. He said, ‘Just get on and pretend you can ride, kid.’

     My last glimpse of Robert Mitchum: He was alone sitting in his trailer drinking Budweiser and smoking Pall Mall cigarettes.    What I found behind those legendary hooded eyelids and deadly-calm green eyes was a man who didn’t like to be alone; an intelligent, well-read, cynical wit whose view of the human race was skeptical. His search was for simple honesty in a sea of greed, insincerity and not much loyalty. Because of his celebrity status, there were a lot of industry people and strangers he came in contact with that he didn’t trust.

     Since he was still a recognizable icon, Hollywood continued to embrace him. After all, he had starred in more than 120 movies including some great ones like “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison,” “The Enemy Below, “Cape Fear,” “The Sundowners,” “Not As a Stranger” and “The Longest Day.”

     I left that old Hollywood dinosaur alone in his trailer realizing that I genuinely respected the man behind the actor.

Boots LeBaron

(NOTE TO PEOPLE WHO READ MY BLOG:  IN A DAY OR TWO, I’M RUNNING

A  STORY ABOUT  ADRIAN THORNSBURY,  A TRULY TOUGH GUY WHOM

MITCHUM TAUNTED, REFERRING TO THORNSBURY’S “SISSY” FIRST

NAME.  SO “THE THEATER QUEEN” TOOK ON ADRIAN.   MITCHUM’S BIG

MISTAKE.)

THIS TANKER TRUCK MECHANIC PLAYS HIS ‘STRADIVARIUS’

THE HUMAN RACE

 

HIS UKULELE IS HIS ‘STRADIVARIUS’

 IMG_2074-0

The fingers are powerful and calloused from decades repairing huge tanker trucks that must transport 10,000 gallons of fuel throughout the west. The Hawaiian born Tom (Masaru) Yonamine, a lead mechanic for Union 76, is probably the world’s only amateur ukulele player who refers to his $1,200 Miller uke as “my Stradivarius.” He’s referring to violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman’s multi-million dollar centuries-old Soil Stradivarius of 1714 hand-crafted Italian violin he calls his “fiddle.” Yet Perlman, who for years has been playing his “fiddle” before SRO audiences throughout the world, and Tom who plays before what he describes as a “Sitting Room Only” audience of one — his Japanese American wife, Sharon. Yet, Tom and the famed violinist have three things in common: They are both 70, cherish their string instruments and perform concerts: Perlman at places like Carnegie Hall and The White House; Tom, before his wife, adult kids and grandchildren at their home in Gardena, Calif. “For years he’s been playing that uke,” says his wife. “Seldom misses a day. It’s like watching John Wayne parading around the house picking and strumming.” Sharon, he claims “is my only severe critic. If I’m playing too loud, she lets me know. If Mr. Perlman ever played at our house, he’d get a standing ovation. I’m still waiting for mine!” Tom’s favorite musician is Japanese born Jake Shimabukuro. “Jake is to ukulele what Mr. Perlman is to violin: A super star. They both play classical, jazz and pops to sold-out crowds everywhere.” Tom does perform with a ukulele group in Torrance known as Kanakapla. “For me,” he admits, “learning chords is tougher than replacing a truck transmission.” What has he learned from fiddling with a uke? “The ukulele is growing in popularity. It’s a social instrument that brings people together. Even for a musician like Jake Shimabukuro, it’s fun to play and the challenge never ends.” Despite his linebacker physique, says his wife of 50 years, “my husband is a romanticist. The song he plays most is Chotto Matte Kudasai, a Japanese love song. Translated into English it means: ‘Wait a Little While.'” So playing the uke turns the retired tanker-truck surgeon into a Romeo and teaches him the art of patience. The troubled world could use both of those virtues today.

 

                        — Boots LeBaron

 

(Boots is currently completing “IN THE MIDST OF SHOOTING STARS,” a memoir about a lost kid and child actor during the great depression and World War II whose rogue-stuntman father Bert LeBaron, with close ties to a powerful eastern crime syndicate, teaches Boots his own brand of integrity.The kid never surrendered his soul to Hollywood)

  https://bootslebaronsworld.com/2015/01/18/conversation-with-a-dead-man-5/

  

 

OLD LION STUDIES WILDLIFE AT STARBUCKS WATERING HOLE

THE HUMAN RACE

THE  FASCINATING PREY THIS OLD CAT GETS CHUMMY WITH       

 IMG_1973 Reeking of Eternity cologne and badly in need of a haircut, the old lion sat in a corner licking his chops, slurping coffee at a Starbucks watering hole in Manhattan Beach, Calif. It was early morning. As he scribbled thoughts on a notepad he watched a parade of morsels line up for fresh-brewed concoctions.   For weeks he had perched ready to pounce on a variety of unsuspecting characters who were sampling the dark liquid on the stage of life. It was a jungle more fascinating than the best of Broadway. Where else can one observe and even chat with such an entertaining cast of wildlife creatures — asking questions that only a scraggly old beast like me could get away with.     

Take a look:     

An unemployed wildebeest (actor) with a debilitating hangover sipping a decalf delight.   A lonely old rooster whose wealth, despite his vanity, attracts a handful of young chickadees he loves to impress.    A vulture with a prominent beak who’s always dressed in a blue suit and tie. Where’s he going? To work at the mortuary.     An award-winning body surfer who’d rather ride the waves than be the aerospace engineer whose salary pays for his surfing expeditions.   A belligerent homeless hyena who grabs the discarded newspapers, then exits Starbucks to find his own solitude.    A soft-spoken well-groomed spotted leopard, an authority on sports, turns out to be a racial bigot.    A gray wolf who calls himself “The Poet.”   He survived eight years doing hard time in three state prisons.     A fearless rhino (Los Angeles County deputy district attorney) who has successfully prosecuted and won more than 100 homicide cases, sending three men to Death Row.      A statuesque gazelle (female banker, heavy on the eye shadow) who’s tired of being hit on.     A racoon (physicist) who reached middle age before he confessed to his elderly mother who raised him as a single parent that liver made him gag. Whenever she served it for dinner, he’d wrap it in a napkin and pocket it.     An eagle (entrepreneur from New York) who decades ago maxed out a credit card to start a pharmaceutical headhunter business that now has offices nationwide.      An ostrich (buxom young woman, bellybutton exposed, butterfly wings tattooed above derriere), is poured into a clinging blouse, mini skirt, with shapely legs that stretch into stilettos. She’s looking for a “job that pays good.”          A Bengal tiger (army officer dressed in camouflaged fatigues and combat boots) who has fought his share of wars in the Middle East.      A couple of friendly pandas (English-speaking Taiwanese) who came to America 30 years ago. They diligently read the Chinese Daily News printed in their native language and discuss the editorials in Mandarin.      A chimpanzee (iron worker) who blows about walking the high beams and gushes about an on-going love affair he’s having with the woman who happens to be the mother of his children.          A porcupine (homeless young woman) coiling on the bricks outside Starbucks. Her face is dirty. Her features are classic.      A charming yet squirrely orangutan in her mid-80s who blesses every person she comes in contact with.  She claims one night she actually spoke to God.      A Hollywood gorilla (stuntman) who had injured his back when the car he was driving in a film crashed. Despite the pain, he intends to return to work.      What a parade of fascinating creatures. All tantalizing tidbits.      What a world.      What a life. Too bad I’ve already had breakfast.

                                                                                — Boots LeBaron

Click to read a preview of my nearly completed Memoir.

https://bootslebaronsworld.com/2015/01/18/conversation-with-a-dead-man-5/

(Boots’ new book, “THE HUMAN RACE,” consists of humorous and philosophic essays, poems and human interest stories focusing on life, Showbiz, love, courage, even death. It’s available on Kindle and in paperback via Amazon)

RABBI KAHANE LEARNED TO SMILE DESPITE THE HOLOCAUST

HUMAN RACE

RABBI KAHANE WAS A MAN OF WISDOM.

     For some, wisdom doesn’t come easy. Lots of people go through life with a half-a-thimble full. I knew a rabbi who could fill a barrel with his brand of knowledge collected over a lifetime. Seated amongst an early-morning gathering of mostly Christians sprinkled with other denominations at the Manhattan Beach Community Church, I told Rabbi Leon Kahane who was the lecturer that he was a man of wisdom. His reply: “Tell that to my wife. She makes me sleep in the garage!”

     Wisdom grows with pain and a touch of improv humor.

     Leon was a youngster growing up in Poland when in the mid-1930s, he said, “Germany brought anti-Semitism” into his country. “The writing was on the wall. We were a bright people, but our attitude was, ‘God will help us, don’t worry!’ We were sitting like passive ducks floating in a pond.”

     As a youngster, the rabbi had harrowing experiences evading the Nazi troops during the Holocaust. Hiding in bunkers, forests and once at a farm house half submerged in human feces, he wound up as the only Holocaust survivor of the entire Kahane family.

     He was a teenager when in 1943 on Yom Kippur he was hiding nearby when he heard the shots that killed his brother Jacob. His mother, father and relatives were all taken to death camps.

     The memory of a pleasant childhood that erupted in tragedy, plus finding the courage and inner strength to survive, eventually brought Leon and his wife, Peppa, to America.

     As refugees with a limited command of the English language, it was a lifestyle far removed from Poland. The fear, the heartbreaking emptiness of being wrenched from your loving parents by Hitler’s Nazis during the Holocaust when more than six-million European Jews were systematically killed is beyond my comprehension.

     How did this gentle, compassionate, mentally strong man, who in his late eighties died in 2011, manage to live with memories of such genocidal atrocities? Although his story of survival is poignantly horrific, it was a World War II tragedy suffered by untold millions who have their own nightmares to cope with.

     “When tragic memories enter my thoughts I hear my father’s words, ‘Be an overcomer!’,” he had told me. “It boosts my spirit and doesn’t allow me to be stuck in self-pity.”

     Another meaningful weapon he used to cope with unforgettable recollections of escaping the Nazi troops during the invasion of Poland was a sense of humor.

     “That’s how Jewish people survive.

     “Suicide is not a virtue. Forgiveness is. Yet I can’t forgive the Nazis for their vice. I owe that to the people who were massacred not to forget.”

     At the age of five, Leon began studying the Scriptures. The results of his never-ending examination of the holy words were, “You live up to the values of the Bible — serving God and others.”

     At war’s end, with anti-Semitism still rampant in Poland, Leon had joined hundreds of Jewish men, women and children fleeing his country on foot along “secret roads” in total darkness across mountains and valleys. Although the fate of their long journey was unknown, their goal was to reach the Holy Land.

     It was at a refugee camp in Italy where he was reunited with a pretty brunette named Peppa Gastfreund. Three days later they were married. Prior to that, they had met only briefly at a kibbutz in Poland.

     “My wife has been married to me for 63 years,” said the rabbi. “I have been married to her for 126 years and have the scars to prove it. Of course, they are all heart-shaped.”

     Catch that sense of humor?

     From his bucket Leon the Rabbi, a tall, slender man who has seen healthier days, poured his inspirational words willingly and unaffected.

     I listened as he addressed a gathering of intellectually hungry Christians — each searching for their own solutions to life’s problems. Impressed by his simple yet profound logic, they were also entertained by the obvious humor buried in his irony.

     He joked about the non-believer who announced, “Thank God I’m an atheist.” He spoke of greed: “If more is better, then whatever you possess is not enough.”

     For more than four decades the Rabbi had labored diligently on the words he delivered from the pulpit. With obvious pride, he claimed he had never repeated a sermon.

     What’s the secret behind the popularity of his spiritual and light-hearted words presented to diverse believers?

     “I’m talking to myself,” he said. “People just happen to be there to hear it.”

   At one small gathering, with the help of a blackboard, he explained the difference between two religious factions. Traditional fundamentalism assumes that every story in the Bible is “literally correct.”   Non-traditional progressivism, he said, allows for “interpretation of the scriptures.”   

     Has the Rabbi ever questioned the existence of God? Although he gave no yes-or-no answer, he offered this response:   

     “I asked Him: ‘Where were you? Why didn’t you show up?'”           Then with humor Leon answered for God: “‘Look, I gave you brains… Intellect! What else do you want?'”

     When I read him a farewell toast from my Italian friend, “If I don’t see you again, have a happy death,” Leon’s instant reply was, “Death cannot be happy because you die alone.”

     Here are a few more Rabbi Kahaneisms:

     “We must have an anchor in life. If not, life becomes iffy.

     “The force of life is stronger than the force of death.

     “No matter how long we live, it’s too brief. So there must be a goal.   

     “Die doing something worthwhile.”

Boots LeBaron

Chapter 1 of my nearly finished Semi Autobiographical memoir is avail below. Tell me what you think.

https://bootslebaronsworld.com/2015/01/18/conversation-with-a-dead-man-5/

Also

In Boots’ book, THE HUMAN RACE,  Rabbi Kahane is one of many features, essays and light poetry available on Amazon in Kindle and paperback. The popular work features humorous and inspirational views of life, death, love, courage, showbiz, war, the workplace and woman’s rights.

CONVERSATION WITH A DEAD MAN

IN THE MIDST OF SHOOTING STARS

A semi-autobiographical memoir

by

Boots LeBaron

                  CHAPTER ONE                  

     It was close to noon on a Monday in late August. Miserably hot. After a half hour of climbing around Enduring Faith searching in vain for my father’s grave, toting a paper sack containing a fifth of Wild Turkey, my shirt was soaked with sweat and clung to my back like a blanket of leeches.

A groundskeeper named Joe told me that I was on the wrong mountain and steered me to Sheltering Hills, another grass-covered mound a couple of hundred yards down Memorial Drive. He said I’d find my dad right behind the statue of the Virgin Mary.

Joe was right. There he was. Plot number 640. A bronze plaque covered with pine needles and weeds inscribed: Bert LeBaron, 1900 – 1956.

Even in the sweltering noonday heat, Forest Lawn – Hollywood Hills was a serene setting dotted with 30-foot pine trees and lots of monuments guarded by cherubs and winged angels with their tiny hands and pudgy fingers. Behind us were power lines which nullified some of the pious landscape, hinting that not all things, even in the midst of death, are sacred.

After setting the bag of Kentucky’s finest straight bourbon on the grass, I pulled out an H. Upmann, bit off an end and puffed it into life. I hate cigars. But this was a special occasion.

I needed to talk to my father. One on one. I sought forgiveness. I wanted to unload a heavy bag of anguish I had been lugging around ever since he committed suicide. Since H. Upmann was his favorite cigar, I thought, why not pamper the old fart?

I took a seat on the grass beside the plaque, popped open the bottle of 101-proof rotgut he could guzzle like Dr. Pepper and took a swig. Cascading down my gullet, it burnt and made me quiver.

Since his suicide on March 3, 1956, I had talked to him on many occasions. It had always been a one-way conversation. Almost like praying or searching my own conscience for an answer. This was the first time I had visited his grave since the funeral.

I had an eerie feeling that, after all these years, this might be the time he’d break the silence and talk to me rather than just listen.

After taking another pull on the H. Upmann, I blew a thick ring of smoke into the still air. It hovered for several seconds before disintegrating. Rather than take another puff, I began the conversation with the man who gave me life.

You’ve got a pretty good view of the Virgin Mary’s ass, dad. I guess you still appreciate a cute buttock staring you in the face, huh?   With the rolling hills, shady trees and clear blue skies brushed with those long, narrow clouds, Forest Lawn isn’t a bad place to be dead and buried.”

I stuffed the H. Upmann in my mouth, pulled a handkerchief from a pocket, and brushed the dirt off the plaque.

“Judging from the way they maintained this marker, Forest Lawn and its perpetual care program sucks. Once they plant you, they forget you. I guess that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Especially you! This is Hollywood, right?.

“You used to say, ‘When I die, just cremate me, then flush me down the toilet.’ We should have done that. Instead, mom and I scraped together twelve-hundred and fifty dollars for this plot and your casket.

“The funeral director at Callanan Mortuary talked us into spending an additional forty-seven bucks on a pin-striped suit. It was like buying a wedding dress. The bride wears it once, puts it in a box and forgets about it.

“Why we had you on display, I’ll never know. Lying in state in that dark, musty Callanan waiting room off Western Avenue was a hell of a way for a guy like you to shuffle off to the brimstone pit.

“Other than that ancient Bulova with the scratched crystal on your wrist, the only other item that belonged to you was the St. Christopher medal you always wore on a gold chain around your neck. Your surrogate father, Jake (the Snake) Morelli, gave that to you when you turned sixteen. I knew you were buried with it because I felt around under your shirt while you were in the casket.

“When I kissed your forehead, it felt like cold clay to my lips. Your body smelled like damp cardboard. To dispel the scent of death, the mortician should have doused you with cologne, or used some familiar odors like garlic, vinegar or even tobacco.

“Those once-powerful hands that rested across your chest were nothing but gray hunks of flesh with thick naked fingers sprouting from them.

“Only once can I recall seeing those fists in action. We were on Pico Boulevard driving home from the beach when this guy in a Pontiac runs a red light at Robertson and slams into your blue Hudson coupe.

“Spitting mad, he storms out of his car, surveys the damage to his front left fender, then marches over to your window and yells, ‘Hey, stupid! You just fucked up my brand new car!’

“You come charging out of the Hudson like a stung Ferdinand the bull. Do you remember this, dad? He grabs you. You punch him. The two of you start wrestling on the asphalt. It’s broad daylight. Traffic’s backing up on Pico. Not a cop in sight. And here I am, a kid with a ringside seat, scared to death that this big old bruiser was going to punch your lights out.

“You take his head and repeatedly bang his face against the hood of the Pontiac. There’s blood everywhere. His blood. Finally, after the guy’s half bled to death, you drag him over to the car and twist his jaw so he’s looking directly at me.

“‘See that boy?'” you say. “‘He’s my son. Nobody swears in front of my son. Now, cocksucker, apologize!'”

Cocksucker? Chalk up a new word in my growing vocabulary.   “The guy blubbered some kind of an apology and you let him go. He stumbled back to his Pontiac and sped away.

“Except for his blood on your shirt and hands, you didn’t have a scratch or bruise. And there was just a tiny ding on your right-front bumper. Both you and that old Hudson were built like General Sherman tanks.”

Before time and the fast lane made a mess of him, my father was a muscular six-foot mass of flesh and bone with wavy black hair and a matching well-groomed mustache. His sleek athletic frame and chiseled features were covered with a taut layer of olive-complected skin which he pampered year-around with oils mixed with small portions of vinegar cider and drops of iodine.

He wasn’t movie-star handsome. But he had this aura about him. When he walked into a restaurant or any room filled with strangers, people took notice.

Who is this man? Is he an athlete? Is he some actor? Is he a hood? Is he a rooster looking for a hen house? Is he a somebody? Is he a nobody? He was all of those. And certainly, he was a nobody.

After observing him spout dialogue in movies like “Battle Cry,” “Westward the Women,” “Abbott and Costello Meet Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” or even in “The Mysterious Dr. Satan,” a weekly kid’s serial where he’s done in by a death-dealing robot, there’s no doubt that if the Academy handed out statuettes for playing B-movie-type thugs, he would be a nominee. Yet he was a Hall of Fame stuntman with tremendous athletic skills and an impressive list of screen credits that date back to the days of Francis X. Bushman, Douglas Fairbanks Sr. and Laurence Olivier.

I took another swallow. This time the Wild Turkey didn’t scorch my larynx as it headed south. I leaned close to the plaque and stared into the face of the man who collected so many ex-wives, fiancees and girlfriends their names were lost in the mist of his mind.

It was as if Cupid had stuck him in the butt with a mystical arrow that caused him to fall passionately in love with every woman he ever conned or seduced.

That included my mother Thelma Anna Gangloff-LeBaron who had married and divorced him twice.

I remember her teary eyed, hiking up my short pants and straightening my Peter Pan collar, preparing me for a day at the Crenshaw Nursery School in Los Angeles, describing my father as “that sonuvabitch of a godamned bastard!” Since she never swore, that outburst we confidentially used, quite often with humor, throughout her life when describing my father.

Although my mother’s description of my dad pretty much nailed it, I loved him dearly.   And I think she did too!

Gallivanting around, chasing other women, disappearing for days, pawning her jewelry, coming home with lipstick marks tattooed across his drunken face, he had broken her heart a million times.      Speaking German so I couldn’t understand, my wisp of a grandmother (all five feet of her) Anna Roeder-Gangloff captured the essence of the man. “Waere er in einem Bordell gestorben, haette de Leichenbeschauver es einen natuerlichen Tot genawnnt.”

Translated: “Had he died in a whorehouse, the coroner would have called it a natural death.” No matter how hard Grannie tried, like most women whose lives he touched, she couldn’t hate him.

My mother was an attractive woman. Long-legged and shapely with an angelic face framed in brown hair.

She spoke intelligently with a sweet tongue that not always communicated her deepest feelings. But heartbreak, love, compassion and even rage poured silently from a pair of powder-blue eyes which could conceal nothing.

A graduate of Dilworth Hall, an exclusive preparatory school for women in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Thelma grew up as the socialite daughter of Dr. Charles L. Gangloff, who never charged the poor and boasted the largest practice in Western Pennsylvania.    Behind the doors of their elegant 14-room home at 161 Virginia Avenue on Mt. Washington, a suburb overlooking the City of Pittsburgh, the beloved Doc Charlie, hid his chauvinistic attitude.   My mother grew up during a period in America when women were obligated to kowtow to anything that sported a mustache, smoked a cigar and came with a penis. Considered the weaker sex, women were put on earth to breed, raise children, darn socks, mend crotches — things like that. They were not meant to vote or hold down a man’s job.

Soft spoken yet fiercely independent, Thelma grew up in the lap of luxury. She felt no need to march with the Suffragettes pounding a drum, rattling a tambourine, decrying equal rights for women under the Constitution. .

So homemaking was never on her agenda. But she was adventurous and even rebellious. At the age of 15 she was the first female in her neighborhood to learn to drive an automobile. At 16, she was playing golf, doing cartwheels exposing her bare ankles and calves, and standing on her hands in the surf along the Atlantic City boardwalk. Unladylike things.

At 17, with other girls from Dilworth Hall, she was participating in which she described as midnight makeouts with suitors in the cemetery. Less than two decades after Orville and Wilbur Wright made their maiden voyage at Kitty Hawk, Thelma, decked out in goggles, a leather aviator’s hat and flowing scarf, sat in the open cockpit aboard a Curtiss Aeroplane as it performed loop-the-loops a thousand feet above The City of Pittsburgh.

My father’s life was not so rosy. At the age of 13, he ran away from poverty, hopped a freight in Madison, Wisconsin, and wound up in Philadelphia. That’s when he literally bumped into the man I would call Uncle Jake. He was a frail-looking wiseguy with a sinister reputation. Bert was being chased along the sidewalk by an A&P grocery-store clerk after stealing cans of food when Jake collared him. A few months earlier, the mobster had lost his pregnant wife in a freak trolley car accident.

Jake paid for the stolen merchandise, brought my dad home and cared for him like he was his own son. Despite a close relationship with Johnny Torrio, a Chicago mobster, Uncle Jake was a devout Catholic.

When my father left the mob back in the mid-twenties, he came to Hollywood determined to become a picture star. He figured, if George Raft, a hood from Hell’s Kitchen, could make the big time, why couldn’t Bert LeBaron, a thug from Philadelphia?

In Hollywood, his new found friends — all struggling actors — believed that his wealthy parents went down with the Titanic in 1912, leaving him on Easy Street with a sizable inheritance.

Of course, that was a lie. Truth is, he was living on dirty money furnished by the mob. Bert LeBaron — if that was his real name — was to bullshit what Picasso was to cubism.

I was only a few years old when my father began telling me that my fraternal grandfather, Jean-Henri-Clement LeBaron, was a half-ass French poet who was shot to death trying to rob a bank in Marseille.

My paternal grandmother Sophia Maria Raphael came from Montorio, a tiny Italian village in northern Italy. She gave birth to my father out of wedlock in Catania, a coastal town in Sicily. After bringing him to America when he was an infant, she died of consumption.

He’d tell those stories over and over again. He’d tell them using Italian and French dialects. He’d make funny faces and gesture wildly. Pretending to be his father robbing a bank, he’d turn his hand into a gun and fire it at himself.

Bam! He’d clutch his chest and melodramatically slump over Hollywood-dead with his eyes wide open. There were a million reasons why we shouldn’t have believed him. But we did.

Whenever he’d fire that gun, it’d startle me and make me laugh. Sometimes, just to piss off my mother, he’d tumble onto the carpet with a thud that would rattle the knickknacks in the tiny one-bedroom apartment I shared with my mother and grandmother.

My mother hated him telling those tales. The thought of having a two-bit bank robber for a father-in-law rubbed her the wrong way. After all, she was the only child of the late Doc Gangloff who once turned down a citizen’s committee that wanted him to run for mayor of Pittsburgh.

Yet she believed him. And so did I.

I prefer to believe that my real uncle was a psychiatrist named Sherby Krieger. Raised in Kansas City, MO, he, his three sisters and a brother, were Jewish. Their parents were Polish immigrants.

The only time I remember Sherby visiting our house on Holt Street, he was wearing Army khakis. He was a captain in the medical corps. The only photographs I remember him showing my parents were taken on the site of a Nazi concentration camp in Poland. There were mounds of decomposing bodies bulldozed into deep trenches. I still picture the frail arms, legs and skeletal heads piled upon each other.

It could have been Auschwitz where some 4 million men, women and children, mostly Jews, were murdered.   I was just a little kid. Yet I still carry those horrifying images in my mind. .

Maybe that’s why my mother and father never revealed my true ancestry.  Maybe they wanted to protect me from the harsh truth behind the anti-Semitic brutality that even today provokes such vindictive acts of ignorance and bigotry.

I do remember overhearing my parents talking about my dad taking the brunt for his immigrant family, boldly walking down the middle of the street while neighbors threw stones at him. I don’t know why he alone took the punishment for his family. But it made him tough. Like racism, anti-Semitism and any form of racism is the epitome of ignorance.

Whether he was a Jew, Italian, French, African or Irish, I don’t give a damn. I’ve survived. I harbor no prejudice. I’m convinced that no man is created equal. We only think we are.

Though I had a hooligan for a father, and a mother who skipped through life like Little Red Riding hood en route to Grandma’s house, I wouldn’t trade my imperfect childhood for any other. Nor would I trade my parents for any prim-and-proper types.

I took another slug of Turkey, swallowed hard, and touched the plaque like I would touch my father’s shoulder. I heard a voice that was heavy with emotion. It was my voice.

“What troubles me to this day, dad, is when the chest pains began and there was no way you could handle the physical demands of stunt work, the film industry just looked the other way.

“That old Hollywood slut sure got her money’s worth out of you. She didn’t give a damn that you had spent most of your life kneeling at her altar, kissing her ass for show business.

“Even Uncle Jake and his hoodlum cronies would have demonstrated more compassion.

“Stripped of your pride and dignity, you never bellyached. Only once during those dark days can I recall seeing you, sitting alone on that rickety stool in mom’s narrow kitchen, your face buried in those powerful hands, weeping uncontrollably.

“When I put my arm around your shoulder and asked what’s wrong, you shook your head and said, ‘Nothing. Nothing at all.’

“That lie was so transparent, it was almost laughable. Hollywood shattered your spirit. Because of a diseased heart, you could no longer do the work you took so much pride in.

“You certainly weren’t in demand as an actor. When you tried selling encyclopedias, you failed miserably. You couldn’t even land a job selling newspapers on Hollywood Boulevard.

“One of my greatest regrets was when you came to me asking for a twenty dollar loan. When I turned you down, you just looked at me with those dark eyes, smiled pleasantly, hopped into that Oldsmobile you had won in a poker game and drove off into the night.

“If I could just relive that moment. You were always my friend. My confidant. God, dad, I’m sorry.

“I was twenty-three. Still green behind the ears. Far more insensitive about life and death than I am now. Just got out of the Air Force; was attending college on the GI-Bill; chasing around; working at The Times as a copy boy.

“I had a twenty-dollar bill right there in my wallet. I could have given you the money. Easy.

“Instead, I lied. I said that mom warned me not to give you any money. With my hands on your shoulders, I chastised you for never paying alimony or child support when I was a kid.

“It still breaks my heart every time I think about it.

“Two weeks later, you left your will in a locker at the Hollywood YMCA leaving me with a mountain of gambling debts and outstanding loans to sharks.

“Then you stepped onto a handball court and proceeded to do just what the doctors warned you not to do: Played a fatal game at the sport you loved almost more than women. It was a classic suicide, dad.

“You left a lot of people in the lurch.

“Although I wasn’t responsible for your debts, I started paying them off until mom’s attorney told me to stop.

“Remember Manny Russio, that hairy little ape with the tattoo of a watch on his wrist? He comes by the apartment and tells us what a prince you were and how sorry he was that you popped your heart on the handball court that way.

“Then he pulls out some markers with your signature. Manny didn’t give a damn about you. He just wanted us to pay off your loans.

“I can’t tell you how many Manny Russio types we encountered. Maybe a half dozen. All you needed to hook those scumbags was the promise of a quick pay back with ridiculously high interest rates.

“When I visited that stark, bare-walled room you were living in at the Hollywood Y, I just stood there with the door shut swearing at the walls, crying my ass off.

“What’s twenty bucks between a father and a son? Everything.

“The only belongings I took from that room were a Roi-Tan cigar box that contained a chunk of shrapnel that was dug out of your leg during your World War II stint in the Merchant Marines, a tiny plastic figure of Jesus Christ, a couple of IOUs and some phony birth certificates from your hoodlum days in Philadelphia.

“I also brought home a coffee cup given to you by John Wayne for your stunt work in The Conqueror. Other than your DNA, that was the sum of my inheritance.”

I tipped the bottle for one last nip, then raised it in a toast:

“You always carried a pint of this stuff in the glove compartment of your Hudson. Called it your snake-bite kit because there were so many snakes in Hollywood.

“So drink up, dad.” I emptied the bottle onto the grass around the plaque. “You might like to know, the snakes in Glitter Gulch are still as venomous as ever.

“A few days after your funeral, I met Nanette Contrel, your casting-director girlfriend. Mom, bless her heart, gave me her phone number and asked me to go help the ‘poor dear’ because she must be hurting. Curiosity drove me up to her Franklin Avenue apartment.

“When she opened the door, I was awestruck. Nanette was a tall, gorgeous redhead. Much younger than you. I stood there in the hallway wondering how such an attractive woman could fall for a dissipated old lecher like you? And why you never taught me how to get around women like you did.

“Here I was with simmering hormones and bubbling testosterone. If she hadn’t been your fiancee, or whatever you want to call her, I’d have asked her out before you could cluck cock-a-doodle-doo.

“I remember standing beside Nanette getting a whiff of that jasmine, honeysuckle or whatever she was drenched in, looking out the window. A bright moon reflected across tall buildings that night turning Hollywood into a graveyard of tombstones.

“‘You loved him, didn’t you?’ I asked her.

“For a couple of seconds she searched my face with a seductive set of sorrowful eyes. ‘Yes,’ she sobbed. ‘Very much.’

“She draped her arms around my neck and clung to me like a frightened child might embrace a Teddy bear on a stormy night. I could feel the warmth of her tears.

“We were stuck together like two pieces of Scotch tape. With her body pressed against mine, I became intimately aware of her anatomy. It was an awkward moment.

“Right then and there, dad, I wanted to kiss your fiancee. I wanted to take her to the floor, unbutton the buttons, unzip the zippers, and let Mother Nature take over.

“Instead, I looked into those misty eyes and told her, “I’m glad my dad had your love.” I left that place smelling of Nanette Contrel. I thought about calling her but never did. Never saw her again.

“You were some cocksman, dad. You seemed to have this uncanny ability to make feminine hearts go pitapat. When you said, ‘I love you,’ they believed it because you believed it.

“It wasn’t your penis doing the talking. It was more like your penis was attached to your heart.”

I looked into my father’s eyes. “I mean this, dad: Every kid should have been so lucky to have a character like you for an old man.”

I smothered the cigar on the plaque.

“No doubt about it, you had your mad-dog days. You could have helped support us. But you were attentive. You were always there. You told me things; I told you things. We shared secrets.

“You took me everywhere — to the movies, the beach, the mountains. Taught me how to swim; how to throw a punch. Even introduced me to your friends — I guess they were hookers — you identified as Shady Ladies. You convinced me that bad guys aren’t all bad and good guys aren’t all good. I still believe that.

“Although you never told me that you loved me, from the time I was small, you’d hug me to death and bury that coarseness and fragrance in my neck, tickling me with your stubble until I’d squirm with delight.”

I set the empty bottle on the bronze plaque, got to my feet and smiled down at my father.

That’s it, pal. I’m not coming back. Not ever. I also want you to know that I’ve written a memoir that’s as close to the truth as I could remember it  . It’s about a lost kid, a child actor, growing up in your town — Hollywood.  And you are like the co-star whom mom described as a “sonuvabitch of a Godamned bastard!”   Despite your flaws, she loved you, dad.  And so do I.

     So let’s begin with the day I was born.

 

Boots LeBaron

CONVERSION WITH A DEAD MAN

Bootslebaronsworld.com

 

 

 

CHAPTER OF MY MEMOIR

For those who have been reading

my blog over the past few years:

STAY TUNED. Sunday, (January 18 ,2015)

I’m releasing “Conversation With a Dead Man”,

 the first chapter of my nearly-

completed Semi-autobiographical memoir

I’ve been working on for several years.

The working title of the book is

“IN THE MIDST OF SHOOTING STARS.”

I’d like to hear what you think.

 

Boots LeBaron

DRACULA AND FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER SHARED THE SAME BARBER

THE HUMAN RACE

 BARBER AL’S TEACHERS WERE HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS

     Beginning in the 1930s, Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi

and Boris Karloff, a British character actor, terrified

moviegoers throughout the world portraying Count Dracula

and Frankenstein’s Monster. About 60 years ago, they

were followed to my late friend Alfredo (Al) Hernandez’

barbershop in Hollywood by James Dean, Errol Flynn,

novelist Louis L’Amour, Steve McQueen, John Carradine and  

Peter Lorre to get their hair snipped. “In the spring of

1953 Lugosi came in smoking a green cigar,” recalled Al.

 “He just sat down at my chair and told me to leave a little

bit full at the temples. Then he leans over and spits green

tobacco juice on the floor. l was speechless. He looked

up at me with those X-ray eyes and hissed, ‘What did you

expect me to do, swallow it?’ I didn’t like him spitting

on the floor, but he was my first movie star customer and

I didn’t want to lose him.” In 1956 Lugosi died. Al was

at the Utter McKinley mortuary where the body of the

Hollywood Count, dressed in his vampire costume, was on

display in an open casket. The room was packed with

mourners when his friend Boris Karloff walked up to the

casket, leaned over the cadaver and in that melodramatic

voice announced, “Come now, Bela, get up. You know

you’re not dead!” For a moment, the mourners watched in

silence. When Count Dracula didn’t stir, the crowd broke

into hysterical laughter. “When I went into this

business,” said Al, “I couldn’t speak proper English,

even Spanish. Mr. Karloff had a great grasp of the

English language. As I cut his hair, I’d listen to the

way he pronounced words and would repeat them over and

over again. I learned a lot from him.” He was the only

customer Al addressed as mister. “He was a real

gentleman. Soft-spoken. Always wore a coat and tie and

had wavy hair.”   Working with actors, Al’s policy was:

“Never talk about show business — unless they bring up

the subject.” James Dean, he remembered, “was very

withdrawn, almost shy. He’d curl up in the chair and say

very little. Not long before he crashed and died in that

silver Porsche, I remember him talking about how great it

was speeding around in that car. He had a good head of

hair. I used to leave about three or four inches and

comb it up from the forehead into a kind of pompadour.

In ’55, he died in that car with my haircut.”

Steve McQueen, said Al, “Was pretty outgoing. What

surprised me was he stuttered. He had his favorite car, too —

a   Lotus sports car; had it painted a special shade of

green. He smoked in the barber chair. Smoking did him

in. You go through life, you learn things. Actors come

in here to get away from all that BS. To  relax. I never

asked one of them for an autograph.”

            — Boots LeBaron —  

 

(Boots’ book, “THE HUMAN RACE,” is now available on

 Kindle and  may be purchased on  Amazon  paperback.   It contains

humorous  and inspirational views of life, death, Showbiz, the  

workplace, love, courage and everything in between)

DISCOVERING THE POWER OF WISDOM WITHIN YOU!

THE HUMAN RACE

 BUILDING BLOCKS FOR THE POWER OF YOU!

      As you stumble through life’s dense garden collecting painful cuts and abrasions, like it or not, you will absorb knowledge. What might hurt like hell becomes an irrefutable lesson that builds wisdom. Such pain is a common denominator every human being must endure.     

    It doesn’t matter if you’re young, old, brilliant, non-technical or simple-minded. You’re ripe for multiple doses of humiliation, infuriation, praise, bullying, vandalism, heartbreak, divorce, abuse.  

    You’re gonna get bonked as you walk the streets of civilization. Don’t search for wisdom. It finds you.

    So brace yourself. The experience will be etched like a tombstone on your memory banks.

    Once you the suffer the unpredictable wounds that play such a valid part in your life, only then will you enjoy the mental fortitude you’ve been hammered with.

    That’s wisdom, baby!

    No matter how famous or infamous you are, for better or worse, you must pay your dues. The distress might not always be exhilarating. But chances are, the final trophy you’ll hang on the wall is the inescapable lesson you’ve learned about life, death and everything in between.  

    Be grateful for the experience. You own it! You collected it!  You lived it!  It will always be available in that library between your ears.  Chances are, it will help enlighten your life.     Don’t let spurts of narcissism or greed distort your lifestyle because what you’ve learned on the streets, in the corporate towers, or behind locked doors, might lead to a better existence and a profound future. Not only for you. But for those who believe in you.           

— Boots LeBaron —

 (Boots’ book, THE HUMAN RACE, is now available on

Kindle and in paperback on Amazon.  The book contains stories

about people, essays and light poetry) 

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