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ODE TO BERT LEBARON, HOLLYWOOD STUNTMAN

THE HUMAN RACE  

 

ODE TO MY DAD, A SWASHBUCKLING ACTOR-STUNTMAN


     

 

Buried under piles of paper, I had just found the eulogy I had written for my dad, Bert LeBaron, who had died under mysterious circumstances on a handball court at the Hollywood Y.M.C.A. on March 3, 1956. At his memorial service, Rev. John C. Donnell had read these words before a packed house inside a musty chapel at Callanan mortuary in Hollywood, California:

 

     By instinct I hold back the tears, for I am a man of twenty-three years. And a man should be strong physically and emotionally. That’s what he taught me and that’s what I believe.

     He was my dad. He’s dead now, but his lessons are beginning to come to life. We all make mistakes. But today we remember his good deeds.

     It’s hard to be a poor man and a proud one, too, but he was both.

     A man’s body broken down into the chemical elements is worth 98 cents, but his soul, personality, and experiences with life can’t be bought at any price.

     He had been poor, rich, strong, young, and old. He had seen war, death, life, happiness and misery. He had loved and had been loved. He was truly a man in every sense of the word.

     His friends respected him for himself, not for his material position in life. I loved him for the irrefutable love and respect he gave me. He was warm and understanding. I felt secure in his presence.

     My dad was in the motion picture business for over 35 years. It was his life and he loved it. He was part of Hollywood and Hollywood was part of him. He was always waiting for the “big break” that never came. “Things are quiet now, but wait till next month!” he’d say.

     He was a great athlete, active in sports all of his life. His reflexes and coordination were beyond reproach. I know, because a week before his death, he beat me at handball. He died at the game.

     An adventurous soul and an aged shell cannot survive together in this life. If there is a life beyond death, he will have his young body and will be unburdened once again… I’m grateful to have had a father like Bert LeBaron, Hollywood stuntman.  

 

                          Signed: Boots

THIS TANKER TRUCK MECHANIC PLAYS HIS ‘STRADIVARIUS’

THE HUMAN RACE

 

HIS UKULELE IS HIS ‘STRADIVARIUS’

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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/

  

 

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

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)

DOUGLAS FAIRBANKS SR. WAS NO BERT LeBARON

THE HUMAN RACE                                                                                December 10, 2014

TO MY LATE  SWASHBUCKLING ACTOR-STUNTMAN

DAD I SHALL FOREVER LOVE:   HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

 

This story about my dad is in my book, THE HUMAN RACE.

Since it’s true, I don’t want to offend him or my mother who

shed him twice in divorce courts.  I was so lucky to have had

them as my parents.   And God bless Mr. Fairbanks, too!

 

     More than a dozen years after Douglas Fairbanks Sr. left the Broadway stage in 1908 to begin a skyrocketing career as a silent screen actor, my father Bert LeBaron, a ruggedly handsome hoodlum in his mid-twenties from Southeast Philadelphia, got permission from the mob to go to Hollywood and become a movie star.

     While Fairbanks became one of Hollywood’s first superstars, my old man proved to be one of the worst actors ever to set foot in front of a camera. Since he was an exceptional athlete, he wound up as a Hall-of-Fame stuntman who always believed that he could be another George Raft, a thug from Hell’s Kitchen who despite his lack of talent reached star status.

     Maybe it’s not fair to compare my father with Fairbanks who rose to fame when Celluloid City was still in its infancy. But when I watched Fairbanks on cable TV starring as the masked swordsman in the silent 1920 film, “The Mark of Zorro,” I was convinced that at least in real life my papa was more of a swashbuckler and Casanova than Big Doug ever could be.

     Before time and the fast lane made a mess of him, Bert was a muscular six-foot mass of flesh and bone with chiseled features, wavy black hair and a matching well-groomed mustache.

   Although he played mostly thugs and bad guys during his 36-year actor-stuntman career, when he walked into a restaurant or any room filled with strangers, people took notice. Who is this dude? Is he an athlete? Is he an actor? Is he a hood, a gigolo, an adventurer? Is he a somebody? Is he a nobody?

     He was all of those. And certainly, by Tinsel Town standards, he was a nobody.

     After watching Fairbanks play Zorro, I had to disagree with some journalists who wrote gushy descriptions like: “the camera loved [Fairbank’s] flashing smile, and his joyous physicality electrified the screen.”     

     Baloney.

     I’m well aware that Fairbanks:

     (1) Died in 1939 a wealthy man. (2) Formed United Artists Corp. with Charlie Chaplin, actress Mary Pickford and director D.W. Griffith in 1919. (3) Handed out the first Academy Awards from his office. (4) Was the first (with Pickford who later became the second wife to divorce him) to press his hand and foot prints in the cement at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. (5) Never appeared in a talkie.  

     What I found sitting through the silent “Zorro” movie was a Fairbanks in his mid-thirties who didn’t move with the grace of an athlete, whose physique was anything but sinewy, who had a proboscis that belonged to Ray Bolger (the scarecrow in “The Wizard of OZ”), whose portraits even in those days were touched up.

     My dad was a street fighter skilled in judo and savate, a high-platform diver, a powerful swimmer who raced the treacherous Mississippi River, a polo player who could handle a horse like a rodeo cowboy, a capable swordsman and an avid Hollywood Y.M.C.A. handball player. At the age of fifty-six, he died on the court in 1956.

     Artistically, he might not have been an actor’s actor. But as a bona fide thug, he certainly qualified as a hoodlum’s hoodlum. As a kid, I always felt very safe in his presence.

     In fight scenes, fencing, swinging from chandeliers, taking tumbles and absorbing punches, the internationally famous silent screen “Zorro,” was no match for Bert LeBaron who was at the beckon call of Mother Hollywood. No matter how dangerous the gig, all she had to do was flutter her glamorous eyelashes and Bert LeBaron would leap into action.        

     Like most stuntmen and women today, he remained silent while high-profile actors took credit for his athletic performances that never even received screen credit. And that pisses me off!

     Bert was the bruiser in a mob scene being tossed through a plate-glass window, having a whiskey bottle broken over his head or fighting under a spooked horse’s hoofs. He was the cowboy being knocked off his horse by a rifle-wielding John Wayne, the desperado being shot off a roof in a Roy Rogers western, a pirate doing a high fall off the mast of a windjammer in a Tyrone Power flick, and a villain being flipped off a wagon by Danny Kaye in The Inspector General.

     He did savor a few moments of glory: In the 1947 Burt Lancaster film, Brute Force, he performed a 30-foot leap from a coal car onto a machine-gun nest manned by prison guards. Not printing his name, Esquire magazine ran a full-page photograph of him in flight. In The Three Musketeers (1948), he dueled with and was done in by Gene Kelly (D’Artagnan) a couple of times.

     Errol Flynn skewered him at least twice in the 1949 classic, The Adventures of Don Juan, and broke his nose once at the Lakeside Country Club bar near Warner Bros. Doubling Raymond Burr in one fencing scene on a balcony, Flynn lunges and Bert goes flying head first in what appears to be a neck-breaking plunge onto a table. In another fencing scene, Don Juan knocks a huge candelabrum on top of him.

     My favorite Bert epic was in the 1940 15-chapter serial, The Mysterious Dr. Satin, in which he sends Copperhead, the hooded crime-fighter, plummeting to his “possible” death. He’s finally done in by a hokey “death-dealing” robot. In the first comic book movie version of Captain America, another popular kid series released while he was serving as an able-bodied seaman in the Merchant Marines during World Was II, he almost cool-conks the star-spangled superhero in a fight scene.

     As a womanizer, my father also left Fairbanks in the dust. Bert had collected so many ex-wives, fiancees and girlfriends that their names were lost in the mist of his mind. It was as if Cupid had stuck him in the ass with a mystical arrow that caused him to fall in love with every woman he ever conned or seduced.

     That included my mother Thelma Anna Gangloff-LeBaron, the daughter of a prominent Pittsburgh, Penn. physician. She was long-legged, 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 and even fury poured silently from powder-blue eyes which could conceal nothing.

     Thelma grew up at a time in American history when women were obligated to kowtow to anything that sported a mustache, smoked a cigar and came with a penis. That aptly describes my grandfather. Like many others, he would have brazenly rejected Bert, who never got past the 8th grade, as a “suitor.”

     Although she had other romances, she had an intense love affair with a wealthy young man named Guy Fuller who enlisted in the American Expeditionary Forces during World War I. While fighting in France, he was severely crippled when his outfit was exposed to mustard gas.

     When he returned from the war, he refused to see her. At the age of 30, he suffered an aneurism and died on Christmas Day.

     Throughout her life, Guy Fuller would remain her Sir Galahad. And finally, she would settle for Sir Bert, a knight of the streets with a penchant for flim-flam. For good reason, she had married and divorced him twice and raised me as a single parent.     

     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 dad as “that sonuvabitch of a goddamned bastard.” He was precisely that.

     Gallivanting around, chasing other women, disappearing for days, pawning my mother’s jewelry, coming home with lipstick marks tattooed across his drunken face, he had broken her heart a million times.

     Douglas Fairbanks Sr., whom they’re still twittering about in Twitterville, will always be nothing more to me than just another movie star.

     But Bert and Thelma — I’ll love them forever. And today, I know my mom would sincerely wish my dad a Happy Birthday because she never stopped caring for him.

                                                                         — Boots LeBaron —

CHILD ABUSE GAVE THIS ARTIST-QUILTER COURAGE TO FACE LIFE.

THE HUMAN RACE

 

ARTIST SAYS PARENTAL CHILD ABUSE GAVE HER STRENGTH

 

     Freddy Duffy Moran had the spirit of an artist, a courage forged in parental abuse, the attitude of a rogue, and a rebellious eye for color and design.

     When we met years ago, she was a dedicated quilter, a silver-haired grandma with five grown sons.   She had just published “Freddy’s House.” It was a book about the art of quilting and the meaning behind it.        Although it took years for the conservative quilting society to accept the works of this avant-guard fellow quilter, it finally embraced her accomplishments. In some cases, with open arms.

     Freddy had the attitude of a prize-fighter who has come off the ropes from a violent childhood to defeat that merciless brute we all know as Adversity. Unlike any quilter I have known, she looked at quilting as pure art. The materials she worked with were color and fabric designs that appealed to her. She refused to be controlled by critics.

     Working from patterns, she said, was “stifling. I put my own stamp on anything I create. My soul goes into my quilts. This is not like painting by numbers. In every area of art there are crafts people and there are artists. I am simply not a crafts person. I am an artist.”

     Passion, she added, was what “drives us, what separates us from the ho-hum people. It is the difference between walking through a day and skipping through a day. I have faced my share of critics. Jealousy can destroy an artist. Some creative people can’t cope with destructive criticism.”

     Freddy, who with her husband, Neil, a retired marketing executive, lived in Orinda, California, near San Francisco.  Doing quilts over the past 20 years has been like a spiritual experience for me,” she said.   “My focus is on the joy of color. That feeling goes into my quilts. Whether it’s the image of a house or an abstract design, it doesn’t make a difference. When I start a piece, I never consider where I’m headed.

     “I take risks. Push the envelope, so to speak. I use outrageous combinations of conflicting colors like orange and vivid fuchsia, green and bold aqua.”  In fabric stores and quilt shops, she admitted that she zealously searched for designs that depart from the norm. She confessed that she was “a sucker for polka dots. 

     “If I like the way the colors and blocks are going,” she said, “I just giggle to myself.” She was convinced that her creations reflected the soul of a very happy and introspective human being who’s survived whatever life could throw at her.

     Yet, there was a dark side to the artist. Vividly, she recalled her first childhood memory: “I was four years old. I had hand sewn a pink dress for my Patsy doll. I was thrilled when I brought it to my mother. Her name was Ruth. She was a very talented watercolorist and did needle craft.

     “She was in the living room seated at her sewing machine next to the French doors.

     “When I showed her my dress, she went into a rage, snatched it from me, tore it up, and screamed, ‘This is no good!’ Crying hysterically, I ran to a neighbor’s house.”

     From that unforgettable moment until her daughter-in-law, Lynn Duryee, coaxed her into attending a quilting class at the age of sixty, Freddy refused to sew or even work with thread.  

“My mother was an alcoholic addicted to prescription drugs. She never kissed or hugged me or told me that she loved me. Throughout my teens, she’d beat me across the back with a coat hanger or an umbrella. When she came at me with scissors, or threw a butcher knife, I became an expert at jumping out the window.” Freddy laughed as if the pain was meaningless.

“But my mother couldn’t kill my spirit,” she went on. “My dad, Jerome, was an alcoholic, too. He was a lawyer in our hometown, San Rafael. He drank himself out of the profession. But I loved him. He had a great sense of humor. He would always tell me how pretty I was, and that he loved me. When I asked him why he married my mother, he said, ‘Because she was so beautiful.'” Again, Freddy smiled at the memory.

She met Neil when she was 12 and he was 13. In 1952 when she was 21 and he was drafted in the army, they were married in El Paso, Texas.

“I took what life dealt me and turned it into a positive,” said Freddy, a graduate of Dominican College in San Rafael where she majored in art. “Instead of sitting back and saying, ‘Poor me,’ the abuse made me strong. For that reason alone, I am grateful.”

Following this interview, I’m sorry to say: I never saw Freddy Duffy Moran again.  But her quilting/philosophy book was a success.

 

          — Boots LeBaron —

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

Kindle and in paperback on Amazon. Although

there is an art section, this story is not

included in this book of interviews, poetry

and essays about and the adventures of life)

51 YEARS AGO TODAY, PRESIDENT JOHN KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED

THE HUMAN RACE

HOW PEOPLE IN BEVERLY HILLS REACTED 51 YEARS AGO ON THE DAY PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY WAS ASSASSINATED

(A NOTE WRITTEN BY BOOTS LeBARON TO HIS THREE-YEAR-OLD SON BRANDON ON THE DAY J.F.K. WAS KILLED)

Dear Brandy:

     It’s 2:55 p.m. Friday, Nov. 22, 1963.

     Although it’s the kind of day that makes life worth living — a beautiful blue-sky day in Beverly Hills — a horrifying thing happened in Dallas, Texas just a few hours ago. John F. Kennedy, President of our country, was killed while traveling in his motorcade in downtown Dallas.

     Just thinking about him, I have a lump in my throat. I feel like I’ve lost a friend. We’ve lost a President who not only had the potential to be a great leader, but had a presence on television that made you love him. Who knows what history holds, but to me and your mom he was the caring, good-guy President.

     Ironically, here I sit in an office at Rogers & Cowan, a large theatrical PR firm in Beverly Hills, writing a story about Cliff Edwards, who was the voice of the famous Walt Disney insect, Jiminy Cricket. I had interviewed him in his small bungalow on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. He lay in bed the entire interview.    Empty booze bottles were scattered all over the place. An oil painting of Mickey Mouse, signed by Walt Disney, hung over the mantel. The pathetic old guy has outlived a vital young leader. I guess that’s show business.

      The devastating news was brought to me by Paul Bloch, a 24-year-old publicist who works at R&C. There was a faint smile on his lips when he stuck his head into the room and told Vic Heutschy, another publicist, and I that President Kennedy had been shot. At first we thought he was making a bad joke. I remember saying, “Who you kidding, Paul?” He wasn’t.

     Instantly, I left my Remington — I’m head feature writer at R&C (Actually, I’m the only feature writer) — and walked through the offices. It’s interesting how people react to tragedy. Paul had a smile on his lips, but I’m sure he wasn’t smiling inside.

     When I worked on the police-beat for the Times, covering everything from suicides to homicides, I discovered that every person copes with tragedy differently. Everybody has their own emotional time clock, and it clangs in different ways.

     As I walked through R&C, alarms were going off right and left. For example: Erma Bergstrom, a white-haired secretary in her 60s, continued working with dry eyes, while a young secretary who worked at a desk next to Erma was a pitiful mess. Her mascara was running, her eyes were bloodshot, and there were tears running down her cheeks. Trying to blot them with a soiled hanky, she was weeping pathetically.

     Two other secretaries, Myla Page and Greta Liebowitz, sat in the boss’s (Warren Cowan) office quietly discussing the assassination. There were no tears, no frowns, no sighs. It was if they were talking about a movie.

     An hour later, Myla’s alarm triggered. Her lips were quivering, tears were streaming down her face, her nose was pink from blowing.  

     In Teme Brenner’s office (another R&C principal), publicists Dick Israel and Dan Jenkins were sitting in a cloud of despair. I listened as they discussed the shooting. It sounded so clinical.      Jenkins said that the assassin was probably mentally deranged. Dick suggested that the Mafia might be the culprits. After a minute of listening to that bullshit, I got out of there.

     Vic Heutschy, a talented publicist I’ve known since our L.A. High School days, had his own theories:

     (1) A professional hit man hired by a foreign country.

     (2) A Southerner who’s opposed to the President’s Civil Rights efforts.

     (3) Some “glory nut” who’s out for the notoriety.

     There’s a lot of sickos in this world, Brandy.

     When I suggested another possibility, an assassin hired by a political party, Vic saw that as preposterous. Who am I to argue with a UCLA grad?

     Myla just walked by wearing dark glasses covering a set of puffy eyes.

     At lunchtime, Paul Block told me he had lost his appetite, so Vic and I left without him. We walked down Beverly Drive and along Wilshire Boulevard. We stopped by a brokerage firm to check the stock market. He had invested in Cinerama Inc.  

     Then we visited BOAC where your mother works at the front desk as a ticket agent. She was all chocked up. Your mom and I had an argument this morning. I was angry as hell at her. But after the news about Kennedy, the anger vanished.

     Funny, I can’t even remember what we were fighting about.

     Vic and I walked across the street to a restaurant. It was so crowded we went to Blum’s. There we bumped into Paul. Apparently his appetite returned because he had an awful lot to eat.

     Maybe that was his time mechanism registering.

     The streets of Beverly Hills appeared less crowded than usual at lunchtime. There were very few pedestrians smiling. One well-dressed middle-age guy was red faced and laughing. Who knows why?

     After lunch, I left Vic and Paul and walked up Canon Drive to Dr. Hoffman’s office. He’s a cardiologist. Two week ago he put me on a diet and told me to start working out. I lost ten pounds. I’m down to my fighting weight: 190.

     When I entered his office, the reception room was filled with older people. I was the only person under 50. As the doctor was examining me, he told me he was angry and depressed. If he knew he could contact all of his patients, he would has closed the office.

     After checking me over, he told me that I’ll live and not to come back. I stopped at the pharmacy and asked the price of a fancy pack of licorice. The pharmacist told me have one on him, “no charge.”

     On the way back to Rogers & Cowan two ladies walked by. One was wearing a gray fur stole. Her hands covering her face, she was wracked with sobs. Trying to comfort her, her companion guided her along the sidewalk. A lot of people loved John F. Kennedy.

     I was feeling pretty good when I got back to the office. But when I opened the door, I was hit by gloom. Mechanisms were triggering right and left. That was 4:45 p.m.

     Vic, Paul and I talked about Kennedy’s successor. Not that I am an authority on politics, I said that I was afraid that if Sen. Barry Goldwater became president, we would be in World War III. I’d probably vote for Nixon ahead of Goldwater or Rockefeller. Vic agreed about Goldwater. And if I remember our conversation, he wasn’t impressed with Rockefeller either. Rockefeller is a mushmouth. He just doesn’t impress me. He certainly doesn’t have the appeal that Kennedy had.

     Vice-president Lyndon Johnson was sworn in on the plane and I heard his speech on TV after he landed in Washington D.C. It was

brief and ended with: “I will do the best that I can do. I ask your help and God’s.” Nobody in the office was overly optimistic about the future of our country with Johnson at the reins.

     Anyway, Brandy, tomorrow is Saturday and we are going to buy you your first bed. You’ve been sleeping in a crib for almost three years.

     It’s now 5 p.m. British Overseas Airways Corp. (BOAC), where your mom works, locked its doors about 1 p.m. today. But JoAnne will probably have to work until 5:30 p.m. Then we’ll pick you up at nursery school and maybe go for dinner at the El Cholo. How will that be?

Your dad, Boots     

(This is one of many human interest stories in Boots’ book, “THE HUMAN RACE,” available on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon)

A WARTIME LOVE AFFAIR THAT LIVES ON

THE HUMAN RACE

 A WORLD WAR II ROMANCE THAT BEGAN

AT THE MAJESTIC BALL ROOM

      It was a night in November 1944. Rain was pelting the sidewalks, lightening was sparking across the Pacific Ocean, and World War II was raging when two 18-year-old kids — a sailor on shore leave off the USS La Grange and a 10-cents-a-dance girl — danced their first dance together.

     Jack Perry, a tall rawboned signalman soon to head off to war aboard the attack transport, had ducked out of the storm into the Majestic Ballroom. It was a legendary haunt at The Pike, an amusement park in Long Beach, California where big bands played and servicemen swayed and jitterbugged with girls for 10-cents a dance.

     Across the packed ballroom floor was Ruth Balding, a statuesque blonde. She had blown her first paycheck as a bank trainee on a coral-colored gaberdine dress with gold-rimmed buttons running down the front.  

     A couple of hours earlier she sat alone in the garage of her parents’ home in nearby Harbor City crying. The storm was ruining her life. She loved to dance. Besides, she wanted to show off her pretty dress that cost a whopping $28. At the last moment, a friend gave her a lift to the Majestic.

     And that’s when the shy swabbie, who grew up in Ajo, a tiny copper mining town in Arizona, forked over a dime to dance with the daughter of a shipyard worker. Although Jack couldn’t jitterbug, one ten-cent dance ticket led to another. And another. And they fell in love.

     But that’s not the end of the story.

     Several weeks later their romantic interlude ended when Jack shipped out headed for a war in the South Pacific which included the invasion of Okinawa. Months later, measured by a stack of censored love letters, the USS La Grange pulled into San Francisco Bay.    

     As the ship’s launch, loaded with sailors, neared the dock, there was a lone woman standing there to greet it. A teary-eyed ten-cents-a-dance girl named Ruth. She had taken a Greyhound bus to San Francisco, talked her way past the shore patrol, and stood alone, shivering in the cold, waiting for the sailor boy who couldn’t jitterbug. The one who, despite kamikaze attacks on his convoy and the fear of death, wrote all those bushy love letters.    

     On November 3, 1946 they were married. Now in their 80s living in Torrance, California, the love affair continues. “There isn’t a day that goes by — with the exception of an occasional catastrophe — that Jack doesn’t make me laugh,” said Ruth. “Happiness. That’s what love is.”

 — Boots LeBaron —

(This and many other human interest stories

interspersed with poetry and essays are featured

in Boots’  current book, THE HUMAN RACE

by Boots LeBaron available on Kindle and in

 paperback on Amazon)

IN THE MIDST OF WAR, MEDIC DELIVERS BABY

THE HUMAN RACE

 

FROM GEN. MacARTHUR’S WAR TO HELPING A POOR KID

 “Respect the living, pray for the dead,

and try to honor those you leave behind.”

                         Vince Migliazzo,

                               World War II Army Medic

 

     Many years ago, a poverty-stricken teenager named John Arrillaga who had nothing to wear for his senior class photo at Morningside High School in Inglewood, Calif. So vice-principal Vince Migliazzo not only gave him the shirt off his back, but removed his tie and blazer in exchange for the youngster’s letterman sweater, which he wore for the entire day.       

     The irony: John Arrillaga is now a billionaire. And he won’t let Vince forget it.

     At a recent high school reunion, the real estate mogul reminded Vince of his act of benevolence and asked the retired educator, “What kind of shopping mall can I buy you?” Of course, he was joking.

     “No big deal,” recalled Vince who’s now in his late 80s. “John and his family were surviving on bags of potatoes.”

     America was in the midst of World War II when Vince at 18 was drafted into the Army. Serving as a medic, he first experienced the fear of death when he came across the bodies of four dead GI’s on the beach. That was during the 1944 invasion of the island of Leyte in the Philippines.

     “Until that moment,” he said, “life in the army for me was like being in the Boy Scouts. After a while, you kind of learn to blot out the bad stuff and just do your job.” Yet he still remembers the stench of death, the cries of wounded soldiers.

     In the midst of a crowd of GIs and Filipino fighters, Vince witnessed Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s historic return to the Philippines on Oct. 20, 1944. The general, he recalled, came off a stranded whale boat (landing barge) and waded ashore at the Island of Leyte’s Red Beach. Despite periodic sniper fire, MacArthur climbed onto the bed of a signal-corps truck and made his memorable speech: “People of the Philippines, I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God, our forces stand again on Philippine soil.”

     Vince recalls the general’s speech actually began with: “This is the voice of freedom…” Although he didn’t witness the “reenactment” of the arrival, the scuttle-butt was MacArthur waded to shore a second time up the beach from the original site later that day or the following day. “But I didn’t see it,” he emphasized.

     But he did witness the ravages of war. In Ormoc, where two regiments of the 24th Infantry Division bore the blunt of the battle of Breakneck Ridge, in three weeks 700 Americans were killed.

     In Carigara, a northern coastal town in Leyte, as the war raged around him, the young Italian-American medic helped deliver a baby girl named Leah Cabales. For decades after the war he communicated with the girl and her family.

     During the battle of Jolo, an island in the southwest Philippines, just before he was struck in the back by shrapnel, Pvt. Jiminez, a mortally wounded buddy, fell across him. “When I went to push him off of me, my hand sunk into the cavity of his wound. I’ll never forget feeling the warm blood.”

     The lesson he brought back from the war was this: “Respect the living, pray for the dead, and try to honor those you leave behind…”

     Former Tech Sgt. Vince Migliazzo, a Purple Heart veteran, is one of a dwindling number of living World War II infantrymen, many whom seldom speak of the painful experiences they encountered so many years ago.

     “Every person, young and old, who goes through the hell of combat, whether it’s World War II or in Afghanistan, must live with those memories for the rest of their lives.”

     Whether you’re giving a student the shirt off your back, trying to save the life of a dying GI, helping deliver a baby in a combat zone, or “just” carting bodies from ravaged battlegrounds, the realities of self-sacrifice remain forever imbedded in the hearts and minds of every person regardless of their silence.

     Vince and his wife, Beverly, reside in Los Angeles. They have three children and seven grandchildren.

 

 

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