Monday, June 29, 2015

There Will Always Be An England on American TV

There's a new British costume drama taking shape on PBS's Masterpiece, 'Poldark,' a tale of a British soldier returning from fighting the Americans in the Revolution and adapting to being on the losing side back home.

And Ross Poldark has lost. He lost the girl he left behind. He lost his father. He lost a functioning piece of property, that while not the best in the rugged seaside county of Cornwall, is certainly the most picturesque, especially on horseback. Conwall is definitely on my list to visit. 'The Ghost and Mrs. Muir' started this, and 'Poldark' of course is in color. Gorgeous color. The spy novelist write John le Carre lives in Cornwall. Maybe I can stop by.

Ross's military career is quickly covered in an opening flashback. He knocks the crap out of some American rebels who ambush his outdoor card game, but then is left for dead after taking a hefty rifle butt to the head, leaving a rugged scar on the left side of his head that resembles the Cornwall coast itself.

He is sneeringly referred to as a wastrel and a thief by the unit's British officer, who quickly takes a musket ball in the back and ruins a decent deck of cards with his spilled blood. His attitude makes you hate the snobby British right off the bat. Poldark himself doesn't seem like them, but when he arrives home after two years spent, we guess convalescing and being promoted to captain, he certainly acts like the lord of the manor, ordering his departed father's servants about harshly.

The class system lives, so there is of course a little 'Downton Abbey' here, but in a far more rural setting. There's lots of hay, rusty farm equipment and animals to deal with.

There will of course be a love interest, but not the snipe who agreed to marry his cousin Francis. No, there's a Pygmalion character in a flour sack, Demelza, who you know will morph into something other than a hungry wretch who would eat with her hands. And since she looks vaguely like Cate Blanchett, you know she's going to be the THE ONE.

Other characters fill out the cast. There's Aunt Agatha, whose name seems to be close to the agony she is. Her hair is piled high and she looks like June Carter on a very bad day. She's married to Ross's uncle, his father's brother, Charles. The tribute at the end of the first episode's credits tells us the actor who plays Charles, Warren Clarke, died in real life, so expect that to play into the plot as we progress.

Watch enough of these British productions, and you start to see the same actor playing different parts. It shows the true versatility of a British actor.

The most notable of these is Philip Davis who plays a former servant/caretaker of Ross's father, who Ross now gets to boss around. The character Jud Paynter is married to a frightful woman, Trudy. Jud is stooped over and has bad teeth, as you might expect, but he's loyal.

The actor Philip Davis has been spotted as a Detective Sergeant in 'Whitechapel' and a lunatic cab driver in a Benedict Cumberbatch 'Sherlock' episode. Bravo Mr. Davis.

So, there you have the beginning of another British export. It is doubtful it will gain the following of 'Downton' Abbey', but it will take us to the American holiday, Labor Day.

Goo-Goo Eyes

It is crunch time. Greece is closing its banks and not ponying up. This of course will put Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Greece's Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras in the cross-hairs of international financial reporting.

Chancellor Merkel's image is familiar to all. Greece's Tsipras's image is just getting out there worldwide. In short, he's a hunk.

As can be seen from this photo of a recent meeting in Brussels on Friday, Chancellor Merkel thinks he is a hunk as well, since she was caught making cow eyes at the dashing Greek with the open collar, exposing a chest full of fluffy, black hair (not seen in photo).

If there's one thing Greeks do that gets the babes, it's open their collar, stare into a mirror, and twirl their chest hairs. It works every time, and appears to be working its magic on the Chancellor.

If the Greek banks close and rioting ensues, there's always Angela's place in Berlin to crash at.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Countries of Common

George Bernard Shaw is given credit for claiming that the United States and England are two countries separated by the same language. I've also heard we share a common language with England, but are separated by an ocean. Either way, it's the same language, but always used differently.

And no greater evidence of that is needed than to compare an American and a British obituary on the same subject. In this case, Patrick Macnee, a British actor known mostly for his role in the TV series 'The Avengers' who has passed away at 93.

Both the NYT and the British newspaper The Telegraph give Mr. Macnee a sizably worded sendoff. It's the difference in the words and the anecdotes they convey that set the two obituaries apart, and therefore the two styles of the countries.

The British obviously love eccentrics. Mr. Macnee doesn't present too many great examples of true British eccentricities, so they go to his dad, a smallish fellow known as 'Shrimp' ('Downton Abbey' lovers, will remember a 'Shrimpie' character; such colorful nicknames.) who trained race horses, swilled gin and pointed loaded shotguns at house guests who advanced pacifist views. Your average mentally stable British host.

Then there's mum, Evelyn. A titled socialite who left the father and ran away with her wealthy lesbian lover. Mr. Macnee was raised by the two women, a part of his life acknowledged by both papers. But here's where the road forks. Yes, young Patrick was made to call mum 'Uncle Evelyn' (who claimed to be a descendant of Robin Hood; perhaps it was the green tights.) as both papers noted, but The Telegraph tells us he had to resist both their efforts to raise him in a dress. He compromised with a kilt. You can see that being portrayed in a British sitcom, but not here in the States.

Then there's dad's taking up living in India, a UK colony at the time. Shrimp was flung out of the country when he pissed on the heads of guests of a Raj at a race-meeting. Apparently gin, in sufficient quantities, can do the same thing to as Bud Light.

And finally, both papers acknowledge that Mr. Macnee was a serial groom and a serial adulterer. But who other than a British newspaper would tell us that one of Macnee's girl friends flung him over for a French thief with a team of huskies when Patrick made his way back to the Continent? The juice is in the details.

It is the romantic in me that likes to think that Mr. Macnee bedded all his female co-stars he appeared with in 'The Avengers.' Even Honor Blackman, an admitted lesbian, who came to fame by appearing in the Bond movie 'Goldfinger' as Pussy Galore. Then there was of course Diana Rigg, and the unmentioned, Linda Thorson, who succeeded Ms. Rigg in the series and was known as Tara King, just a lethal as Emma Peel.

To me, a fan of 'The Avengers' growing up, it was a treat to watch Ms. Thorson in later years appear in the first Broadway production of 'Noises Off,' one of the funniest plays I've even seen.

Both papers acknowledge young Patrick's expulsion from Eton for bookmaking and selling pornography. The inevitable combination of pursuits, given his upbringing.

YouTube has a raft of Avenger reruns. Gotta go.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Come On Back

It is the most enduring story of the news cycle in the past two-plus weeks: where are the escaped New York State convicts now? Upon re-capture, this may turn out to be the most lucrative advertising event in recent history.

Anyone who hasn't just woken up from the flight back from the comet by now knows that two murderous felons escaped from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, NY, probably in the early hours of June 6th. For the governor, their timing couldn't have been worse.

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo was scheduled that day to appear in the winner's circle at Belmont Race Track to present the trophy to the winning connections of this year's Belmont Stakes. A Triple Crown was in the offing, and after 37 years, it proved to come true. Thus, as the governor missed a grand photo op, he also missed presenting a Triple Crown trophy that hadn't been handed out in 37 years. That's long time for silverware to stay stored. At least once a year we see the Stanley Cup get paraded around an ice rink. And of course other sport trophies sprayed with champagne.

Instead, the poor governor's photo ops have come with Mr. Cuomo taking a tour through the bowels of the prison alongside valves, steam pipes and other cellar fixtures, tracing the route taken by the escapees. Having the governor's picture taken popping up through a manhole cover was nixed. Ever since former House of Representatives Speaker Tip O'Neill lowered himself by agreeing to do an ad for Motel Six by popping up out of a suitcase on a bed, pop-up pictures have been shunned by the elected.

Obviously, the appearance of the governor yukking it up, patting backs and shaking hands in a winner's circle while two killers roamed free would not make for great press. He made the right decision, but perhaps the wrong one by going straight to the prison to assess the situation. By some accounts, the full-fledged search was delayed while the governor and his people were cleared and passed into the prison.

While this if course does matter, it might also prove to be beneficial, as long as someone doesn't get taken hostage, or killed.

The felons, Richard Matt and David Sweat, are not the kind of people you like to think are vacationing somewhere outside of prison walls. But this is where you make lemonade out of lemons.

First, there's the tourism factor. How many upstate towns were you ever aware of outside of Albany, Buffalo and Syracuse before this? And that's not really fair, since of course they are cities. How many folksy-named hamlets could you come with? I thought so.

Every day now for two-plus weeks we get reports of sightings and investigative leads. Consider the names we've been hearing.

First, there is of course Dannemora itself. Almost Shakespearean. Then there's Cadyville, near Lake Champlain, followed by Friendship, Owl's Head, Titus Mountain, Constable, Mountain View, Plattsburgh, Willsboro, Lindley, Bellmont, Chasm Falls, Whippleville, Malone, and even a foreign country, Canada's Prince Edward Island, lovely this time of year, I understand. There are surely others that just haven't made it into downstate newspapers.

And there's the post-escape, capture news, again with the hopes that no innocent people are harmed. Matt and Sweat probably can't personally profit from the tantalizing story that will emerge as to how they eluded the authorities for what is now two-plus weeks, and counting. Cable network movies and paperback rights might provide some compensation for the victims and the families of their crimes.

And then of course, the products these fellows have used and consumed while on the run might have advertising potential to all sorts of segments of the public.

First of course, there is outdoorsmen, camping set. Have they acquired firearms of choice? Remington? Glock? Smith and Wesson? What are they wearing? Orvis, L.L. Bean, Dickie, North Face, Duluth Trading clothing? Timberland footwear?

Then there are the accessories and foodstocks. Need a meal in a hurry? Brand of peanut butter? Chunky, or smooth? Both? Microwaveable what? Bug repellant? 6-12, Off, or Citronella? Coleman stoves? Jansport knapsacks?

You see where this can go. But even if the crass commercialism is nipped in the bud, Governor Cuomo should not miss an opportunity to remind us all of our statewide pride.

Assuming it's a capture without violence, then
buttons should be worn by all in the photo.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Everybody's Got to be Someplace

If two obituaries on the same subject are good, then three are great.

My Australian digital news journalist (@JustJenKing), reached via Twitter, has sent me yet a third link to an obituary on Blaze Starr. How connected we are.

This one comes from The Daily Beast, an online news outlet that has quite a following. I've heard of them, but they just aren't on my radar to go to on any regular basis. It's a generation thing.

Like many things, something always reminds me of something else. And reading Blaze's obituary I started to think about Myron Cohen, an advanced age standup comedian that appeared regularly on the Ed Sullivan show, and I suspect in other places where Jewish comedians were found.

Mr. Cohen was hardly an attractive looking man, nearly bald, with big ears, but he did have an expressive face and drop-dead timing. He had the typical Yiddish/Jewish speech patter that eliminated all commas in anything he said. Commas became periods. He smoked while he performed.

Mr. Cohen told jokes that were stories. Apparently, the story about him was that he told so many stories to his colleagues who worked in the garment industry during lunch hours on Seventh Avenue, that someone convinced him he should go on the stage.

In the 50s and 60s if you were to go through the garment district at lunch hour there would be so many men smoking, standing on the sidewalk in overcoats, that you might have thought they were the standing homeless. They weren't. They just didn't go very far on their lunch hours, and instead just stood around and talked and smoked. They looked like a pile of woolen overcoats sending smoke signals somewhere.

Myron, lured from his job, followed someone's advice. He became a comedian, which is not easy to do in New York, since I remember the usual rhetorical question asked of nearly everyone, "What are you, some sort of comedian?"

So, here's Mr. Cohen on the Sullivan show, with enough time to quickly establish himself in front of a live audience, being broadcast throughout the nation, warming up to one of his stories.

The one I particularly remember, delivered in that distinctive patter, was the one about the fellow who was a bit naughty, who also had a married girlfriend. Well one day--maybe during lunch hour-- he meets his girlfriend in her apartment and they start to roll around on her bed.

Suddenly, there's a sound at the door, and the startled girlfriend correctly assumes that her husband has come home early for some reason. This is no time to be caught in her bedroom with another man in front of a raging, jealous husband, so she quickly shoves the boyfriend into a closet.

She smooths the bed covers out and re-buttons her blouse and nervously expresses surprise that hubby has come home early for some reason. Since he's already the jealous type, and perhaps he's caught her before in compromising positions, he starts to rage that he knows there's someone hiding in the apartment.

She of course tells him no, but that doesn't stop him from raging trough the place opening anything that might conceal someone. Sure enough, he comes to the closet where she had thought she could successfully hid the boyfriend. The husband yanks the door open and reveals the half naked boyfriend nervously cowering in the closet, surrounded by clothes, with his hand strategically placed covering his lower half.

Glares all around. No one says anything, until the boyfriend comes up with what he believes is the best and most logical explanation for his presence in the closet of an attractive, married woman, being confronted by a raging husband: "Well, everyone has to be someplace."

Now of course all this sounds a bit too contrived, and that's what jokes usually are. Setups for the punch line. A rabbi, a priest and a minister have probably never simultaneously walked into a bar, or any other place.

But something always reminds me of something. And there, in the third obituary on Blaze Starr, is a further reference to her liaison with JFK.  Kiss-and-tell-and-then-some Blaze is quoted as telling an interviewer something about the man who would become president.

“'He was great—fast, but great,' she told a television interviewer in the late 1980s. 'He was going to be President. I guess he had to be in a hurry.' On one occasion, she claimed, Long found the pair together in a closet—she told him they had been looking for her mink coat."

Even future presidents have to start out somewhere.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Still Living Vicariously

I'm still living vicariously through JFK's sex life.

It's rather amazing that a man who was born in 1917, served as a United States Congressman and United States Senator, and tragically as an assassinated president who left us 52 years ago, could still be mentioned when it comes to liaisons with hot women.

Of course they weren't described as "hot" in JFK's time, but that's only a word that leads to the end result: a roll in the hay, at least once, and perhaps many times with some of the most desirous and glamorous women of his era. And he did this with a bad back, injured while serving his country in the Pacific in WWII. The nickname "mattress Jack" was well earned.

What is it about women whose last name is Starr? There was Belle Starr, the female companion of Jesse James. Hard to tell what she might of looked like underneath chaps and a gunbelt, but surely Jesse found something he liked.

There was Brenda Starr, the comic strip about a glamorous, adventurous red haired, well-endowed reporter created in 1940. Was Blaze the model for Brenda? Looking at Brenda today, one gets the uncanny feeling she was, while also bearing a striking, much latter-day resemblance to Debra Messing when she was on 'Will and Grace'.

It's interesting to compare two obituaries about Blaze. The NYT of course refers to the well-known relationship with Louisiana Governor Earl Long, and it being the basis for the Paul Newman, Lolita Davidovich 1989 movie, 'Blaze.'

They also infer there was a brief relationship with JFK when he was a Senator in the 1950s who met Ms. Blaze after one of her Baltimore strip club performance. Talk about a back stage pass.

The British newspaper The Telegraph provides statistics about Ms. Blaze's endowments: 38DD. The NYT does not. The Telegraph does not mention JFK, possibly because the British readership of 2015 might not know who he was. The Telegraph makes mention of the cameo part Ms. Starr had in the 1989 movie, a non-speaking role as I remember, having her appear in the dressing room in something flimsy, back by the door as the Newman character comes in to see Lolita Davidovich.

The NYT does not mention this movie part, and also does not mention that apparently Ms. Starr had a baby panther trained to undress her as part of her act. You've got to like and trust cats to risk that one.

As for the measurements, I'm quite certain I've never seen a 38DD woman, up close, or from even far away. Talk about the required over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder. Don't leave home without it. Even trying to peek into the old Metropole Café in Times Square never yielded a view of such an endowed being. I remember publicity once of a stripper/dancer named Carol Doda who through implants achieved something even greater. She was Silicone Valley and Twin Peaks, all at the same time. But she was on the West Coast, so she doesn't count.

The closest I ever got to a Burlesque club was sometime in the 1960s when I delivered roses to the Ann Corio show at the Second Avenue Theater on 12th Street when she starred in 'So This Was Burlesque,' a nostalgia Off-Broadway theater show about the then bygone form of entertainment. My father through some connection secured standing, two seat passes for any performance at the box office if we provided the roses for the performances.

My father never really had a head for business. There were I suspect at least six or seven performances a week that required someone, usually me, to make the trip from 18th Street and 3rd Avenue to the theater with a handful of red roses, gratis, that Ms. Corio would pull out of her G-string and toss to the audience.

I was not old enough to see these performances, so I felt sorely gyped at having to deliver roses, with no tip, to a box office that wouldn't let me though the theater's doors. And how many times could my father see the show anyway? Or, how many people did he know that he could comp with strip tickets? Not enough to make up for all those trips to 12th Street and the expense of the roses. Like I said, he didn't negotiate a very good deal. But then again, he might not have been using his brain for thinking.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Latest NBC Game Show

AMC's 'Mad Men' has spawned a revival for the 60s in all sorts of ways. Certainly fashion, but also interest in bringing back the game show chestnuts we all enjoyed when we were home sick from school. The nostalgia fever has even gone international, where Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel has a new game show 'I've Got a Secret.'

The latest entry into what is becoming a crowded field is NBC's revival on MSNBC, of 'To Tell the Truth,' another show where you could see people smoking on television.

When the news anchor Brian Williams was suspended for conflating news events into personal acts of bravery and danger, you knew that they probably weren't going to just get rid of the guy. And now it's been announced Mr. Williams will appear in a smaller broadcasting showcase on MSNBC as the host of 'To Tell the Truth.'

Anyone who remembers this show will be pleased to learn that Mr. Williams's contestants and panelists will all be celebrities and politicians, bold type names; A-list. This is especially good to hear as we ramp up to the 2016 presidential election with a very crowded field of candidates, 17 months before the election. There's no time like the present to declare candidacy, and no show better to winnow the field down to a precious few.

Mr. Williams's experience as news anchor will bring a new perspective to the show. Who better to suss out the truth than someone who put the word 'conflate' into the national consciousness, while also providing a nifty rhyming word to 'Watergate'? If only Johnny Cochrane were alive to give us rhymes with conflate: imaginate, investigate, deflate, subjugate, mitigate...The list goes on.

Tune in.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The New German Game Show

Here we have a picture of Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel kicking off the first broadcast of the revived game show, "I've Got a Secret."

The show appears on the newly established U.N, network, and is hosted by Phil Donahue. Phil is not seen in the photo, but left to right are: Benoit Potier of the European Round table of Industrialists, France's President Francois Hollande, Chancellor Merkel, and Jean-Claude Juncker of the European Commission.

As you can see by the headphone on Mr. Potier's head, the show is broadcast in a language he is not fluent in--thus the simultaneous U.N. translation.

The "secret" of course who is the most photographed person in the Free World with clothes on.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves

"...Gypsies, tramps and thieves..." So go the words to the popular song Cher sang some years ago.

Gypsies always make great reading. They are such a closed sect of people that float through the world that I guess to the sociologists they make for a great study. To the rest of us, they make for great reading because they always seem to be pulling off the "long con" on vulnerable people who are emotional wrecks.

Joseph Mitchell, in his classic1942 long form story 'King of the Gypsies' explains that gypsies, because of their dark features, were first assumed to come from Egypt. Thus, the gypsy word took hold. Their origins are not in Egypt, but rather a part of Romania, Roma.

Take Michael Wilson's consecutive week stories on a long con Times Square gypsy that fleeced a man out of over $700,000 to his follow up piece interviewing the veteran detective who pursued the case and arrested the 26-year-old gypsy Priscilla Kelly Delmaro.

Mr. Wilson is the NYT Crime Scene reporter who every week highlights a somewhat bizarre case of criminality. Nothing as gruesome as HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR. Sometimes the column can be about purloined fruitcake. I kid you not.

His last Saturday rendition of crime got front page, below the fold treatment. It was about a Times Square fortune teller who over a 20 month period fleeced an unnamed 32-year-old man with legal access to what anyone would agree was a small fortune. And the past tense verb was to describe that fortune is accurate.

Gypsy parlors have been  part of New York City, particularly Manhattan, for eons. They always seem to be lit by a purple or pink neon sign of some sort that claims there is a psychic inside. The storefronts have window displays that give off an occult nature. Take the picture that accompanies Mr. Wilson's story in this Saturday's paper. The window of the West 43rd Street parlor that Ms. Delmaro worked out had a phrenology bust in the window. My daughter, who is a speech language pathologist, has such a bust on her desk. Sections of the brain are inscribed on the bust along with the many corresponding qualities those sections deliver: imitation, intuitive, reasoning, secretiveness. All of course in keeping with what gypsies are interested in.

Renting a storefront in Manhattan--even in a low end of town--costs money. Ms. Delmaro's at 253 West 43rd Street, in the Times Square area could not have come cheap. One might ask themselves why do landlords rent to a business that is in the business of fleecing people? Well, why did Bernie Madoff get office space? At the outset, you don't really know the legality of the business being conducted. And certainly, anyone able to pay the steep rent has to be considered. The money is too good to pass up.

A gypsy parlor is a spare looking space. It never looks inhabited, and one certainly wonders how the rent is paid. NYC landlords have quick access to courts to take action against non-payers. And yet the parlors can occupy the space for years before they move on.

When you read Mr. Wilson's first filing of the story you can understand how more than sufficient rent money is obtained. You wonder if Kenneth Feinberg can be used to get some money back. It would seem doubtful, given the evaporating world of gypsy assets. In the follow up story, Mr. Wilson interviews the veteran detective who worked the case.

Detective Michael McFadden is a 25 year veteran of the city's Organized Theft Squad. Growing up in 1960s in the family flower shop there was a retired NYC detective, Barney Greene, who plopped down in a chair by the desk and spent some quality time killing time. He was nattily dressed in a three piece suit, wearing a hat that was always on his head, with his detective's special holstered on his hip. My father grew up with this brother. In those days, such a squad as McFadden's would be called the Bunko Squad, a term I suppose that's been phased out.

The word Bunko has its origin in Spanish, meaning a card-swindler. Swindler is the right word. There used to another colorful named detective squad called 'Safe, Loft and Truck.' They worked on safe crackings, truck hijackings and business break-ins. When the flower shop was burglarized one night, I reported it the next morning to a detective squad that I imagined to the 'Safe. Loft and Truck Squad'. A back window by the toilet had been crawled through and some blank checks taken from the back of the check book. The money was hidden and never gotten to. The "poke" they called it.

In 1942 relied on a retired detective Captain Daniel J. Campion, who spent a good part of his career tracking the New York City gypsies and their schemes. True to the pre-computer era he kept names, aliases and other information on index cards. Mr. Mitchell describes meeting Captain Campion who is on his way to a meeting to train the then current crop of detectives all that be can about gypsies.

One of Captain Campion's eager learners is Detective Allen Gore, whose nephew responded to an earlier posting I made about gypsies and who suggested I get in touch with his 85-year-old uncle who is now residing in Arizona.

Direct contact wasn't made, but his nephew did provide his uncle with a link. Apparently, Mr. Gore responded to one of Mr. Wilson's earlier gypsy pieces. Mr. Wilson has mentioned that he has met Allen Gore.

I have little doubt that Detective McFadden has met Mr. Gore as well. Now, how could I possibly know that?

A gypsy told me.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Getaway

I once worked with a fellow you told me that in my life, there were no coincidences. Considering the fraud detection work I used to do, it was a compliment. A lasting one.

I firmly believe that in the life of others, there are no coincidences. Like how ads and stories in newspapers are laid out. What gets next to what.

So, I am convinced that someone's playful mind and hand were involved in putting the Liberty Travel's Escapes ad in today's NYT below the story of the manhunt for the two prison escapees that is now in its sixth day in upstate New York.

Note to editor: there are no coincidences in your life either.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

A Day at the Races

With some regularity, we've been getting to the Belmont Stakes with the possibility of a Triple Crown winner, only to see the effort fall short for a variety of reasons, from jockey miscues to safety pins sharing the blame. Triple Crown possibilities have been rolling in like how the Yankees used to win the Pennant: often.

My very first trip to the races was June 8, 1968 when they were holding the 100th Belmont Stakes. Belmont had just been rebuilt and opened that year. There was a Triple Crown possibility then too, but the absolute strangest of ones that would have been blessed with the world's largest asterisk.

Dancer's Image won the Kentucky Derby, and Forward Pass won the Preakness. And there was a chance for a Triple Crown? Yes.

Dancer's Image was disqualified after a post-race urine analysis showed the then banned drug Phenylbutazone, "bute," in the horse's system. Forward Pass was second, and was awarded the first place purse. Peter Fuller, the owner of Dancer's Image launched an interminable lawsuit, and eventually saw a successful appeal, but then a reversal of that appeal. Dancer's Image was the pari-mutuel winner because the payouts occur before post-race analysis, but Forward Pass is considered the winner, being placed first after the disqualification. Purse money went to the owner of Forward Pass.

So, I was thus introduced into the world of racing. I loved it! I loved the program, I loved The Morning Telegraph, that mammoth broadsheet that cost 75 cents when all other newspapers didn't cost more than 10 cents. I loved deciphering the lines in the past performances. I was hooked.

I loved hitting my first $2 bet, a daily double that saw a return of $22--Metairie Padre and Cross the Sea. In that year of racing, the daily double was the only exotic wager. No exactas, no quinielas, no three, four, five, six, multi-leg bets, no Grand Slam, no triples, no superfectas. Sellers of tickets on one side of the mutual bays, cashiers on the other. Separate lines for $2 bets, $5 bets $10 bets and then a separate solo window for $100 bets. There was a $6 combo window: $2 across the board. And, I believe there were separate $2 windows for place and show bets. Cashiers cashed all types of bets. But count your return. They were known to short you.

And back I went. And one of the brothers I first went out with went back too. He eventually had a career working for a racing publication/tout sheet, and shares his name with that of FourStarDave, his boss's horse, named after him, that went on to be the first New York bred horse to win $1 million. They all appeared in the winner's circle. Often.

For a while, we went to every Belmont Stakes. We saw the Triple Crowns of the 1970s: Secretariat, Seattle Slew and Affrimed. When Affirmed won. my wife and I and another friend were at the races. When Affirmed won I said to no one in particular, "It's going to be a long time before someone does that again." The same three of us were together again in the living room watching American Pharoah finally add his name to the list of Triple Crown winners. The three of us are all on Medicare now.

When I said "long time" I didn't mean win the Triple Crown. I meant win the Triple Crown and always beat the same second place horse, and at the Belmont, by the narrowest of margins. Alydar was a fierce opponent. Alydar was an amalgam name created by Mrs. Gene Markey of Calumet Farm. The horse was named after Prince Aly Khan, son of a Sultan and leader of a Muslim sect, an international playboy and polo player, who was once married to Rita Hayworth. The "dar," was short for darling. I'm sure he was.

Little did I then know, that yes, it would even be a long time before someone won the Triple Crown in any fashion. Thirty-seven years before American Pharoah lit up the world with an easy victory in the Belmont.

As fast as Secretariat? No, but not slow either. The 4th fastest running of the race. Undefeated at the time, like Seattle Slew? No. One loss, his first, in his prior seven lifetime races. Slugging it out with the same second place horse in all three races? No. But basically burying the competition and making it look easy. And his Belmont odds reflected a betting confidence all day. We went of at 75 cents to the dollar, odds-on, in the betting parlance. He was the only favorite to win that day on a 13 race card.

Thank goodness someone finally won the Triple Crown. After every year's failure to win the race and take home the Triple Crown trophy, there was always the talking head gibberish about changing the format. More time between races, shorten the Derby. Jury-rig the whole sequence so there would finally be a winner. Silence. It can be done. Someone just has to come along as a 3 year-old good enough to beat all-comers of the other 3 year-olds.

And in 2015, that 3 year-old is American Pharoah, trained by a Hall-of-Fame trainer Bob Baffert, owned by perhaps a financial bad boy, Ahmed Zayat, and ridden by Victor Espinoza, who might, according to the New York Post, share the companionship of pretty young females concurrently on the East and West Coasts. You always need an edge in the game.

American Pharoah? The sire is Pioneer of the Nile, who finished second in the 2009 Kentucky Derby. The grandsire is Empire Maker, a winner of the Belmont Stakes in 2003, and one who thwarted Funny Cide's bid for a Triple Crown.

The misspelling of Pharoah? That was caused by a contest winner who named the colt online for Ahmed Zayat, who likes to have people suggest names for his horses. Pharoah should be Pharaoh.

It's nice to anticipate winning the Triple Crown. When Secretariat had won the first two races in record breaking fashion, he was on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Time and Newsweek before the Belmont Stakes. No pressure there.

So, will American Pharoah "save" racing? Another talking head query meant to give them a reason to open their flapping jaws, or log on and write something. Well, will it?

No. Absolutely not. If by saving it is meant that throngs will now attend, they will not. June 15, 1968, the following Saturday when I went out to Belmont again there was a crowd. A sizable crowd, maybe 30,000 - 35,000 people. Not as many as there were for the Belmont the week before, but a crowd.

The Saturday of the 1968 Belmont, the LIRR trains ran on time. The rail connection was newly built as well. The fact that a rail connection existed at all was due to August Belmont's (read railroad millionaire) desire to get there by his own rail car. There were seats available if you got there early enough and  put your newspaper down and claimed it, somewhat like a beach blanket. That spot is yours. The seat code was generally honored by all. As often as we would go, I took to keeping a length of masking tape on a pencil, so that we could securely anchor the paper to the seat. I recently found that pencil and the very dried up masking tape. It's going in my own racing museum.

There was no Ticketmaster. And there certainly were no automated ticket machines that allowed you to place a bet. On Sunday, May 24, 2015 my friend and I were greeted to absolutely no one on the third floor who could sell you a ticket in person, cash a ticket, or even sell you a vouched to buy to use in an automated betting machine. You had to go to the second floor for the more human touch.

I am really not a Luddite, but the diminished attendance means less staff as well. In every mutuel bay, on what I still call the Sellers side, there were video screens popped up, like all those people who go to meetings with their laptops yawning open. When I fully absorbed the staffless windows I was reminded of the Andy Griffith movie  'No Time for Sergeants' when bumpkin Andy gets the latrine so spotless that me manages to press his foot down and have all the latrine seats pop up and salute the sergeant who was coming in to inspect the punishment duty he gave buck private Andy.

Abraham Lincoln said that the good thing about the future was that it didn't come all at once. Subtract 50 years from 1968 and only World War I is over. Add 50 years to 1968 and we're three years away from 2018, running horse races in front of very few fans and brightly lit betting machines.

The Triple Crown attendance and Saratoga are examples of Brigadoon. The crowds appear for a while, then go back to their homes and stay there. In Saratoga's case they do show up in good numbers for the now 40 day meet, a jewel of a meet that I have now taken in for the last 20 consecutive years.

Saratoga is racing tradition. The town boasts no professional sport other than thoroughbred racing. The interest is multi-generational. Red Smith so accurately put it that when you go down Union Avenue you go back 100 years. And it is still true.

In fact, the trees along Union Avenue have grown so much that I encountered an elderly tourist couple a few years ago that was walking toward me, somewhere between the Racing Hall of Fame and Nelson Avenue, that in frustration asked me where the track was. It is barely visible, which makes it even more Brigadoon like.

Is racing dead? Absolutely not. It has shifted, like anything else over time. Women don't use Calumet baking powder in the kitchen like they used to, and a lot of men don't wear suits to work in offices. But racing is there. I recently read a number which absolutely floored me. In 2014, The New York Racing Association took in $2.17 billion bet on its races, but only $374 million came from on-track wagering. Even given $374 million and a few warm bodies, someone is using those automated machines.

We've seen teams win championships and then quickly don caps that signify their clinching victories. Obviously, the caps and shirts, the whatever, were made in the hopes of winning. If you do win, get that marketing merchandise out there fast.

Thirty-seven years and now a Triple Crown. Why correct the spelling of the horse's name now? As you can see by the photo above, taken by Michelle MacDonald, the blanket covering American Pharoah is embroidered out to recognize the three victories and correct the second part of the horse's name to Pharaoh. No.

Don't change a damn thing.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Hills

Oh My God! OMG!, OMG!, OMG!

Write about Ms. Merkel and the cast of G-7 considering singing a medley from the 'The Sound of Music' and here, the very next day, splattered on the front page, above the fold of the paper of record, the NYT, we see Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel serenading President Obama with her rendition of the great American musical set in Austria. Believe me, it doesn't get any better than this.

Now I will definitely buy the album.

Monday, June 8, 2015


Once again, we have a picture of the world's most famous, and most photographed woman with clothes on, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Despite her face being obscured, even without reading the caption, it is easy to identify Ms. Merkel through the Alpine wildflowers, leading a group of suit and tie men to the designated rocky promontory where they are going to rehearse singing, "I'd Like to Buy the World a Home," sung without endorsing a classic American soft drink known as Coca-Cola.

For anyone who might just be getting back from the Space Station, or a chemically induced coma and you missed the ending of 'Mad Men' where that 1971 commercial chestnut, 'I'd Like to Buy the World a Coke,' closed the series as Don Draper has a meditation moment cross-legged on a hilltop.

I loved that commercial. It was lyrical, and one of the women in the front row reminded me of a statistics teacher I had at the night school I was attending at the time. For the life of me I can't remember her name, but it's her twin.

Originally, the G-7 Group was going to record 'The Hills Are Alive' from 'The Sound of Music.' They went to Plan B when the Mad Men/Don Draper ending attracted so much international attention.

Personally, I can't wait for the release. I may just buy the album.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Obit Channel

Being out-of-town yesterday I put some morning news shows on in the room. It was a nice room, with TWO! flat panel TV screens. I took advantage of this to simultaneously have Headline News Network (HLN) on along with browsing with the other set.

I knew Robin Meade's HLN show was part of another cable station's network, but didn't remember which one. Without paying too much attention I happened to hear Robin tell us that she wanted to congratulate CNN on its 30th anniversary--their sister station. Thirty years ago Ted Turner had an idea. Well, yes he did, and it has grown rather exponentially.

I remember my friend's father who in the mid 1960s thought the radio station WINS was nuts to go to an all-news, all the time format. The friend's father was himself in the TV industry with CBS, and thought the idea was ridiculous. It wasn't long before my friend pointed out that dad was home in his lounge chair with WINS constantly on. He was loving it, especially the sports updates.

In 2006, an editor and magazine journalist, Marilyn Johnson, published a somewhat oddly shaped book, 'The Dead Beat: Lost Souls, Lucky Stiffs and the Perverse Pleasures of Obituaries.' In hard cover, the book was somewhat narrow, to give the effect of a newspaper column. How much that touch had on the public is not known, but the business of writing, acknowledging and reading obituaries has taken off.

Anyone who follows this posting is aware that I have always been an avid obituary reader.  Even before Ms. Johnson book, I had kept a clipping from a WSJ A-Head piece that in the mid-1990s was discussing the difference between the British sendoff and the American style. Decidedly, the American style has caught up to the British one. There is some folksiness evident, as well as some truly creative turns of phrases that are used to describe someone's life. The oddities and the personalities of the life are mined for humor.

Anyone who has paid similar attention has seen the obit page of the NYT fill up with family-penned news release style notices of someone's passing. Some of these are quite lengthy in column inches, and must truly cost a small fortune. Photos have now been added. It's a great revenue stream for the

The other day I happened to read the obit page and it seemed to me that the photos of the deceased in the bylined news portion of the page (not the paid notices) were now in color. There are days the NYT doesn't print its sports page in color, but now we're getting the departed in the mixtures of red, green and blue.

The public editor at the paper fairly recently pointed out that now there are more front page obituaries than ever before. There was even the day that TWO people were cited, side-by-side, (trivia question)on the front page, with photos. This was acknowledged in a posting.

I've been noticing a trend where the deceased's company, or last place of employment seems to be taking out their own notices in the general sections of the paper, complete with photo and glowing words about how so-and-so will be missed. There is definitely a trend going on here.

When I read the other day about the passing of Ed Gilligan, of American Express, I had no idea where the information about his passing was going to go beyond the bylined news obit. In fact, I read a summary of his obit out loud to my wife in the hotel room on Sunday, as I caught up with the papers. She's an Irish-American who doesn't follow sports too closely, but is deep into the Irish sports page.

I felt sorry for Ed. He had a heart attack while on a corporate jet coming back from Japan, that put down in Green Bay, Wisconsin, only to have Mr. Gilligan pass away at the hospital. Ed looked and sounded like a jolly guy, someone who moved up the corporate ladder and was immensely popular. The line went that he was guy you wanted to sit next to at dinner. He is going to be missed.

You can only realize how much Ed is going to be missed when you finger your way through today's NYT business section and come across a full-page, color photo tribute from American Express, only to come to the next right hand page with a different picture of Ed, and a different worded text from American Express-Global Business Travel, only to again turn a full-page giant color photo of Ed with tribute text from Delta Airlines. Ed is even pictured looking up slightly. Destination

Jesus, Ed must have kept everyone happy on business trips. Talk about a frequent-flyer upgrade! Delta might have hired him to do a little standup if the plane started to pitch and roll in bad weather. Ed was part of the crew.

In fact, the Delta picture of Ed is so large, you can imagine it appearing on a Jumbotron. If Ed were Whitey Bulger, the Feds would have had him by press time of the next edition, if he hadn't passed away. I really started to wish I once sat next to Ed at a dinner, or on a plane. Just not the last flight.

So, is anyone yet thinking of an All Obit, All The Time cable station?