Posts Tagged ‘ Women ’

LAVENDER ROSE SHALL NEVER DIE

Lavender Rose Shall Never Die.

By

Boots LeBaron
Husband, Father, Papa and friend to All.

 

RIP (7/10/1932-8/25/2017)  

 

Photo by Beau LeBaron May25th 2012, Rose in my Back Yard Brea CA

Lavender rose,
with the sun filterring through your frail petals,
I hate to see you go.
Bending so pitifully on that prickly stem
with your green leaves rusting yellow,
you are still worthy of great admiration.
In these last moments of existence,
you remain fragrant and memorably exquisite.
Knowing that your time has come
stings my conscience
with an indescribable melancholy.
What a void your absence will create.

 

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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 —

WRESTLER GRAPPLED WITH IMMIGRATION AND MAN MOUNTAIN DEAN!

THE HUMAN RACE

 DANTE REMEMBERS LIFE IN RING DURING THE GORGEOUS GEORGE DAYS.

 

    More than a half century ago Leonardo Rica, a 22-year-old Italian-born immigrant accompanied by his mother and younger brother, arrived by ship in New York Harbor.

     Like millions of foreigners who come to America, their mission was to find a better life. They spoke no English, only Italian and Spanish.

     Leonardo, a ruggedly handsome, mustachioed 225 pounder who grew up in Argentina and trained as a Greco-Roman wrestler in Buenos Aires, was determined to become a professional wrestler.

     With no command of the English language, finding his way around New York City was at times difficult. “If I was in Brooklyn asking directions to 33rd Street and someone would call it, ‘toity-toid’ street, I’d be lost,” said Leonardo, laughing.

     A long time resident of Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., Leonardo had initially intended to compete as a wrestler in the Olympics. Instead, he began “free-style” wrestling in Argentina before coming to America.  

     His childhood hero was Argentine Rocca, a world famous “no nonsense” champion known as the Bare’footed Warrior. Rocca helped bring his young protege Leonardo into the profession where even in those days theatrics sold tickets.

     It was a non-steroid world dominated by a collection of powerful characters using box office monikers like Gorgeous George, Man Mountain Dean, The Great Moto, The Destroyer, Killer Kowalski

The Strangler, The Syrian Assassin, Chief Blue Eagle, Mr. America, Kayo, Mister Terror, The Jumper and Gentleman Jim (who was anything but a gentleman).

     As a professional wrestler, the Italian kid from Argentina became Dante.

     “I liked that name because it sounded evil. Most of the hundred or so matches I had on the East Coast, I was the straight man.”  

     Playing the bad guy, he said, “was part of the act. If the audience booed, hissed, or even threw objects into the ring, it was a successful performance. One time, a little old lady was so mad, she climbed into the ring and hit me over the head with an umbrella.”

     For Leonardo, “that was like an Academy Award nomination. Just like today, there was eye gouging, arm twisting, body slamming, lifts and drops — all sorts of spectacular moves.”

     Of course, he noted, the “big guys” who dominate the sport today could overpower most of the pros when I wrestled.

     “In those days, we didn’t rely on steroids. My enhancement drugs came from Argentina: Beef, beef, beef and more beef.

     “We were gladiators just like they are now,” he said. “We were like a team. You helped an opponent lift you over his head. He knew how to slam you to the canvas or throw you out of the ring. And you knew how to land. I can’t tell you how many times I was thrown out of that ring. More than a dozen.

     “We didn’t have mats at ringside. So the safest way to be thrown out of the ring was to land on the audience.”

     Man Mountain Dean was one opponent he couldn’t lift or heave anywhere. He sported a black beard, wore dungarees, weighed 450 pounds and was built like a Sumo wrestler.

     “I wanted to beat him,” said Leonardo. “Believe me, I tried. But lift him onto my shoulders! Are you kidding? When he finally pinned me and the referee counted me down, he refused to get off of me. When the crowd started booing, they gave me the match. So I beat Man Mountain Dean.”

     Although he wrestled on the same card with the legendary Gorgeous George, who climbed into the ring wearing a golden cape accompanied by a corner man who played the violin, Leonardo never locked arms with the glitzy celebrity who was also known as “The Orchid Man”.

     “Before every match, George would have his hair curled. Like Argentine Rocca, women were crazy about him. He’d strut around the ring pulling bobby pins out of his hair tossing them to lady admirers. They scrambled after them like hungry sharks.”

     But Dante was developing his own fan base. “Kids would circulate in the crowd selling my autographed photos for $2. That was a lot of money in those days.” Despite only a year of professional wrestling, in 2008 he was inducted into the New York State Wrestlers Hall of Fame.

     Alas, the promising career ended abruptly in 1954 when he was drafted into the Army. When the Korean war veteran was honorably discharged, instead of returning to wrestling, he went into the wholesale jewelry and the photo-finishing business in Yonkers, New York.

    A memory he would forever cherish was the sight of the towering Statue of Liberty that greeted his family when they arrived in New York Harbor from Argentina.

     “I’ll never forget that beautiful lady holding the torch,” said Leonardo. “If she wasn’t so big, I would have hugged her. What do you expect, I was an immigrant, born in Belvedere Marittimo, a small village about 30 kilometers south of Naples in southern Italy.  

     “I was only five when my mother (Victoria), who did without to feed and cloth me, brought me to Argentina so we could be with my father (Francisco).   My mother meant everything to me. We were very poor. As an infant, she would chew up the food and spit it in a bowl to feed me.   

     “She sacrificed so much. My father was a decent man with ways of the old country. He taught me to rely on common sense. Throughout life, I have tried to do that.”

     “I was an immigrant twice,” he noted. “Once as a very young boy coming from Italy to Argentina. Again, as a young man immigrating to the America. I can identify with people from any country wanting a better life.  

     “We open the door for them,” he went on. “Finally, they have something to eat, money to raise a family. Yet, there are those who complain: ‘They are taking my job!'”

     What I would he tell immigrants arriving in United States?

     “You want to live an honorable life? Welcome to America. If you are a criminal, GET OUT! Never come back. Never!

     “As for sending millions back to poverty — good people who work our fields, cut our lawns, do so many menial tasks for so little money — punishing these innocent men, women and children is un-American. Come on! It’s so unfair to turn them away. They come here like so many of us with hope in their hearts.  

     “I believe in amnesty. They deserve it,” said Leonardo. When we met, he had three sons, grandchildren and was divorced. He lived with his brother, Carlos, an aerospace/missile scientist, in Palos Verdes, Calif.

     He died in 2012 at the age of 83. Although he knew their significance, Leonardo couldn’t recall the words written by Emma Lazarus inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning

to breathe free…”

                                     — Boots LeBaron —                                     

             (THE HUMAN RACE, written by Boots, is an

            inspirational self-help book interspersed

          with stories about people, essays and light

  1. It’s available on Kindle as well

                    as in paperback on Amazon)

 

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