Posts Tagged ‘ Journalism ’




     Having lived with dyslexia since childhood, I had no idea that my lack of reading skills, my inability to spell, work with numbers, or even my artwork, had anything to do with the circuitry between my ears.

     Neither did my parents, teachers or adult co-workers.

     That brain-based learning abnormality specifically impairs a person’s ability to read and comprehend. Dyslexia has clouded my existence from pre-school through decades of adulthood. Even at this stage in life, I continue to omit or add letters or words when writing. Yet as a reporter, a writer-publicist and freelancer, I’ve published thousands of stories throughout my adulthood.

     Whenever I sketch a human figure or draw a cartoon character, I must concentrate on what side of a foot or hand to place the big toe or thumb.

     Knowing what I now know about my conceptual malfunctions (Rudolf Berlin, the German ophthalmologist, coined the term dyslexia in 1887), I wouldn’t swap my impulse center for any other set of gray cells, no matter how brilliant, conniving or ingenious they might be.      

     When neurologists and other knowledgeable researchers began delving into the auditory, visual, mental-concentration factors and creative roots of dyslectics like me, I began to feel good about my brain disorder. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it. But I’m convinced that such a biological mishap is an endowment, a phenomenon capable of reaching impressive heights and depressive lows.

     Like my fellow passengers who ride the same dyslexic train, we are a massive group of unique men, women and children. Like it or not, our “short-circuitry” enables us to board a streamlined express that’s creatively and intellectually on the fast track.

     For dyslexia does not affect the intellect; nor does it relate to I.Q. But it does have to be identified, then nurtured and harnessed.

     Back when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was U.S. President (1933-45), I was a rudderless kid, a child actor, growing up in Los Angeles sharing a tiny one-bedroom apartment with my single-parent mother and grandmother.

     Granted, I was confused and floundering, unconsciously searching for my humanity. Occasionally, even as an adult, I was a target of ridicule and verbal abuse.

     So I know the sting of humiliation. It must have hurt, but I didn’t bleed, I didn’t hide. My mother, grandmother and rogue Hollywood stuntman father gave me different kinds of love. Maybe that’s why I never felt stupid, naive, illiterate, incorrigible or any of those coarse descriptions.

     Even today, I might hesitate before confessing that I ain’t well educated. That kind of attitude erupts with a tinge of pride. I’m no ignoramus. Like a lot of my brothers and sisters, I come with a different set of smarts. Many years ago at a cocktail party, Ernest Hemingway told me that he flunked high school English and that F. Scott Fitzgerald “couldn’t spell for shit.”

     That brief encounter with the man I wanted to emulate lifted my spirits. Of course, my favorite writers were also J.D. Salinger (“The Catcher In the Rye”) and Mickey Spillain who introduced Mike Hammer, a private eye in such popular books as “The Big Kill” and “My Gun Is Quick.” To my way of thinking, they were all classics and easy reads. That included several of Hemingway’s novels.    

     Now that I’m running neck-and-neck with Methuselah, I want to emphasize that dyslexics aren’t all lost souls. They are scientists, actors, magicians, CEOs, exercise consultants, blue-collar workers, artists, doctors, lawyers, felons, politicians. You name it.

     Had it not been for George Roberts a journalism teacher at Los Angeles High School in the late 40’s who introduced me to writing, I might have wound up like a few of my friends doing the convict shuffle in The Big House.

     How do I know this? I ran “makes” on them when I was a police-beat reporter for The Los Angeles Times. My first Times’ job was separating postcards on weekends while I attended Los Angeles City College on the GI-Bill. Then I worked in the circulation department, and took a drop in salary to become a copy boy working in editorial. Eventually I wound up writing TV log listings, a weekly FM radio column and interviewing TV actors.

     I had no idea that I was dyslexic. Neither did a lot of people who helped me along the way. Smokey Hale, the night managing editor at The Times, told me: “You want a real job? Leave all this Hollywood crap and I’ll get you transferred to the police beat.” Best move I ever made.

     Times reporters Jerry Hulse and Jack Smith (both became well-known columnists with best-selling books) were very supportive. Jerry was like a mentor. When I was calling in stories from “the beat” he showed me how to boil down a juicy homicide into a one-sentence pitch to the city desk. He tried to teach me how to put a story together. That took patience laced with compassion.

     When I left The Times and joined Glenn Rose & Assoc. to publicize the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, one of my unwitting teachers, thanks to Glenn, was Alan Scott, a screen writer who was credited writing screenplays for many of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers musicals.

     His office was a tiny room off Sunset Boulevard with barren walls, a cot, a desk, a typewriter and a few books. I’d drive him to a hotel near the cliffs overlooking the ocean in Santa Monica.

     During those drives we talked mostly about writing. Gems the screenwriter and playwright offered me ranged from comedy to dramas like “So Proudly We Hale,” a World War II story starring Claudette Colbert, Veronica Lake and Paulette Goddard as battle-weary nurses in the Pacific during World War II.

     Eventually, I went to work at Universal Studios. That’s when Willard Thompson, a Times editor, published my interview stories and gave me by-lines.

     Yet, my most fascinating adventure was working with a gang of hard-boiled police-beat journalists in the pressroom at LAPD’s Parker Center where I learned about life, death, human misery and crime reporting. There were no women “beat” reporters in those days. Yet I loved all those tough hombres.

     The L.A. Times was my MBA. I didn’t graduate magna cum laude but the adventure was irreplaceable. And I truly respected the news business and all the wonderful characters who covered the world.  

     Walter Lantz, an Oscar winning animator (Woody Woodpecker) and fine artist, taught me how to draw cartoons and paint with oils.

     For me, dyslexia was the ace I was dealt. It was a blessing in disguise. Because of my cerebrate wiring, I’ve performed my brand of creative sorcery that baffled well-educated others. Alone, I could come up with more substantial ideas than a conference table filled with smart asses.

     I can’t read a note of music, but I can fake it as a nightclub pianist with tips to prove it. I don’t read many novels or historic non-fiction. But I study humor, writing styles, and dabble seriously into any think piece that I can focus my eyeballs on.

     I’ve written hundreds of stories and poetic essays that have been published in newspapers and magazines. More than 800 of my free-lance columns appeared in The Daily Breeze and Los Angeles Copley newspapers. Some I illustrated with pen-and-ink drawings.     Parental love was my fortress in a silent storm where reading, writing and arithmetic were my bugaboos. I had lots of love, compliments of my mother, grandmother and actor-stuntman father who she shed twice in divorce courts. Although he never paid alimony or child support, I loved my deadbeat old man.

     Throughout life, I owe thanks to many people. That includes my wife JoAnne who not only gave me moral support for more than a half century, but somehow tolerated my idiosyncrasies. I have three grown kids, Beau, Brooke and Brandon. In different ways, they have learned to understand and even appreciate their father’s avant-garde thought-processing mechanism.

     So I have no regrets. Neither should any man, woman or child suffering from such a unique learning disability. As the years whiz by, I’ve concluded that dyslexia has been a rare gift that came in unorthodox wrappings.

     With pride, I will forever cherish my short circuitry.

— Boots LeBaron —

(THE HUMAN RACE by Boots LeBaron contains

 inspirational and humorous interviews, essays

and light poetry about life, courage, death,

women’s’ rights, business, romance & faith.

Buy it on Kindle and in paperback on Amazon)

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