Reach Out and Touch Someone

I have a binder where I put receipts for everything my wife and I have spent on maintaining and improving our house for the past 24 years.

On the front inside pocket is a flyer I saved that was in a little box planted in the front yard of this house in order to attract buyers.

It is officially the first page of the binder.

And on this flyer are two color photos:  the largest of the house, the smallest of the real estate agent’s smiling face.

I don’t know why but I had an urge to locate this realtor online to see if she was still selling property.  And lo and behold, she was—in Indio not Burbank.

I texted her a photo of the flyer and told her how much we have enjoyed living in the house for the past 24 years. 

Within an hour, she texted me back, thrilled that I would contact her.

“That was so thoughtful of you!  So happy that you and your wife are still enjoying your beautiful home!   Thanks for thinking of me.”

Weeks earlier I had another encounter with someone from my past.  My favorite math teacher Mr. Kolpas had recently passed away and I called his widow to offer my condolences.  I told her that I would make a copy of a film with her and her husband who acted in a film I made in my late teens. 

When I sent her the video, she was overwhelmed with joy, not only to see Mr. Kolpas but to see the house that was their home for so many years; she shared it with her daughters and grandchildren.

“Thanks so much. Wow. We were so young. Kids got a kick out of it. Thanks!”

Around the same time, I was going through my other 8mm movies I made when I was a teenager, some I hadn’t seen in nearly 40 years.  I screened them for my wife, and during one film I discovered something.  Back in 1975, I filmed a shot across the street from a gas station.  I It is the same gas station that I still go today to service my cars.  And the owner, Tony, is still there since he opened his business in 1971.

I had to show him this because he appeared in the long shot.  What’s interesting, too, is you can see a car being attended to by three different employees in uniforms.  That was the time when gas stations began transitioning from full-service to no-service.  And a younger Tony was next to the car.

I took my cell phone, videotaped that scene and the next day drove over to Tony’s and said, “Guest what, Tony?  I’ve known you since I was 17 years old.”  Then I showed him the video.

“Your son wasn’t born yet?” I asked.

“Not yet,” referring to the middle-aged man who works with his father.

“Boy, I wish we could go back to those days!” he wistfully commented.

It makes me feel good to let others know I am thinking of them or that I appreciate them.  And I was especially glad to do it when they are still around.  Connecting with others helps us feel human and alive.

Loss of Polite Language

When I was an English teacher, I instructed my students to elevate not denigrate their language.  I wanted them to raise their level of discourse so others would view them in a positive light.

It has become a harder lesson to teach when one observes how people speak today.  It seems that being careful with one’s words is a quant antiquated ideal.

When newly elected Barack Obama gave his first State of the Union address to Congress in 2009, Republican congressman Joe Wilson shouted, “You lie!”

It was so shocking that a congressman would interrupt a president while delivering his most important speech of the year that Congress voted to condemn him for making that remark.

Fourteen years later, as Joe Biden is giving his second State of the Union address, congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene yells out, “liar!” which is worse than saying “you lie.”  Other Republicans, yelled “bull—-!”

And were any of these elected officials condemned for their obscenities?  No.

Remember how solemn this annual speech by the American President used to be for over 200 years?

Since when did the House Chamber of the United States turn into a wrestling match? This special club of 535 men and women can’t be polite for 90 minutes for a once-a-year event that is televised for all to see.  They end up disrespecting their own line of work by acting like thugs.

Later that same night, I’m watching LeBron James overtake Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s all-time scoring NBA record in career points, and you’d think this guy who many believe is the greatest of all time would recognize the gravity of the situation when they stop the game to allow him to speak about his achievement, but no. 

Instead of choosing to show humility and grace, he finishes his speech on live television with his family and mother in attendance by uttering, “F—, man.”  It seemed he was speechless, so the first word that popped into his head when he couldn’t think of what to say was the f-word.

It proves that no matter that how many billions he has in his bank account, he is bankrupt when it comes to class.

I can’t imagine the NBA all-time greats like Jerry West or Magic Johnson speaking that way at that moment.   In my book, LBJ will never surpass KAJ in terms of intelligence and dignity.  That record remains his alone.

In my last column, I wrote about how certain groups these days are hunting literature from the past in order to delete words that would not be acceptable today.  I wrote that these people should focus on the time in which they live.

For example, funny how the people with sensitivities to the word “fat” look the other way when it comes to the other f-word.

Why is it okay for the word b—- to be ubiquitous in nearly every Hollywood production?  I’ve seen reality shows where the characters’ nicknames for their friends is the b-word. 

Do you know that one of the films nominated for Best Animated Short Film is called “My Year of D—-,” a slang word for penis.  The film was made by women.  I wonder if a man had made a similar film called “My Year of P—-” if that would have received the same positive attention?

When it comes to entertainment, word appropriateness is in the ear of the beholder.

Why aren’t more people outraged that a six-year-old actor says the f-word?  Whenever I’m watching a film or TV show, and a young actor starts saying foul language, it immediately sucks me out of the drama, my mind thinking about the type of parents who would prostitute their own children to say filthy things just for a paycheck. 

If the parents aren’t going to monitor it, then it is up to the writers, producers and directors who clearly don’t have a moral compass.

All the money in the world would not persuade me to allow my 7-year-old to say “f— that s—” for the sake of entertainment.

And often the adult characters in these scenes don’t react in any negative way to their “children” swearing.  I don’t get it.

“The White Lotus” had a family where the teenaged daughter spoke frankly about sexual activities using slang that would make a sailor blush.  And not a raised eyebrow was seen on either her mother or father.

That show, by the way, has sex scenes in it that would have earned it an X rating by the MPAA back in the 1970’s.

It would not surprise me if a full-blown porn film is made by HBO or Netflix very soon.

Songwriter Cole Porter said it best with his aptly titled tune, “Anything Goes.”

“Good authors too who once knew better words
Now only use four-letter words
Writing prose.

Anything goes.”

That was written in 1934.

Sanctity of Published Work

Unlike writers who work for the stage, screen or television, published authors have the security of knowing that their books will forever remain the same, the purest form of expression untouched by others.

Until now.

We are living at a time when certain groups have sprung up who serve as surrogate word police, alerting publishers of words or images from past books that should be changed to reflect today’s sensibilities.

First there was the cleansing of Dr. Seuss books in 2021 whose books have sold more than 700 million copies.  The estate of Ted Geisel (Seuss) expunged six of his 60 books due to racial stereotypes.  The only way to find them is at a library or by buying overpriced used books.

People easily forget that during the time when these artifacts were created, they were acceptable in that society.  When understanding history, one is supposed to see it through the eyes of those who lived during that time period, not the present time.

The most recent children’s author under attack (by the way, why children’s literature is the epicenter of such scrutiny is anyone’s guess) is Roald Dahl, another popular author with more than 300 million books sold.

Among the hundreds of changes, Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, the boy who gorged himself on chocolate and ended up falling into a river of chocolate, will no longer be described as “fat” but “enormous.”  By the way, “fat” and “enormous” are not exact synonyms. 

Also, the Oompa-Loompas will be called “small people” instead of “small men.”

What triggered this whitewashing of Dahl was Netflix which owns some of his titles and is interested in dramatizing them for their streaming service.  That’s when Inclusive Minds, one of the word police groups, combed through Dahl’s works and found offensive material.

The group emphatically denies on their website that they “do not edit or rewrite text,” yet this is exactly what results from their findings..  Such irony is one Dahl would have relished if he were alive today.

Unlike the Dr. Seuss situation, a compromise was recently announced by Puffin who publishes Dahl’s books.   Due to the intense pressure of notable people like author Salman Rushdie, who himself has been a victim of censorship, and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who said that “works of literature [should be] preserved and not airbrushed,” Puffin will continue publishing the original versions as well as the censored version.

This reminds me of what happened back in 2011, when a version of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published with the N-word replaced with the word “slave.”  The earthquake of such a controversy rippled through op-ed pieces across the country.  However, the original version was never threatened, and continues being published today.

If there is material in a book from the past, the wrong way to deal with it is to erase it as if it never existed.  Instead, use the offensive material as teachable moments.

That’s what I did when teaching Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist.  The villainous thief Fagin is a Jewish stereotype.  Dickens mostly ignores using his name, dehumanizing him by referring to him as the Jew.  A Jewish acquaintance of Dickens pointed this out to him and so, on his own volition, he went back and removed most of those references.

Sharing this story with my students opens up an opportunity to discuss anti-Semitism.  However, we still read, study and discuss his important novel which mainly focuses on society turning a blind eye to childhood poverty—an issue that still resonates nearly 200 years later.

When I taught literature, I would get my students excited at the notion that Charles Dickens is talking to them from 150 years ago.  This is how he saw his world, a vision that was captured and forever sealed.  There are no video or audio recordings of his voice.  The vocabulary and sentence structure represent his voice.

And now strangers from another century want to alter author’s voices.

I was watching an old Dick Cavett show with Groucho Marx from 1971. The two were talking about the word “lady” and how inappropriate some felt it was, especially those in the Women’s Liberation movement.  “Woman” was considered a more appropriate word to use. 

Today, however, “woman” has become a dirty word for some, to be replaced with “they” to eliminate any whiff of gender.  Who knows what people will think of “they” come 2073? 

If one must examine every artifact from the past and judge it on current trends, then put a disclaimer next to the item, but leave the original work alone, as is. 

I see much to criticize in our culture today.  Let’s work on fixing the way we live now.

One can’t change the past, but one can change the present.  That’s where the focus needs to be.

Rants: What is it about . . . ?

What is it about . . .?

What is it about grown adult men in the prime of their life out and about during weekdays as if they have no job?

As a retiree, I’m always surprised to see men in the 20-40 age range at the Y exercising at 9 or 10 in the morning.

Whenever I see men out in public during business hours, I think, “What mischief are these guys up to?”

It makes you wonder how many of them work for organized crime or are scofflaws siphoning off government programs such as welfare and social security disability.

Which leads me to my next “what is it about”:

What is it about today’s economy where unemployment is extremely low yet businesses struggle filling positions? Restaurants, retail stores and supermarkets are under staffed and have been ever since the pandemic. 

I would like to see a study on the percentage of adults are not employed and aren’t seeking employment, and how are they contributing to society in a meaningful way. Some journalist should look into this.

What is it about the electric bicycles known as E-bikes which have taken over the highways, that go as fast as cars, yet require no licensing and no plates?  These are renegades dangerously driving around us without stopping for anything.

Instead of the government looking into outlawing gas lawn mowers and stoves, why no regulations or legislation about a matter like E-bikes which has the potential of raising the already high death rate on the road?

Speaking of gas . . .

What is it about the price of natural gas which has increased to the level of a monthly mortgage payment?

I came as close as I ever have in my life of fainting when I opened my most recent SoCalGas utility bill.  From November’s $179 to December’s $274 to January’s $660—and that’s for two people.  WHAT?!?

While I had read in the newspaper about the spike in the natural gas market, I still wasn’t prepared for that number.

I called the gas company to find out what is going on and got a recording saying that “no one can answer your call right now” and directed me to go to their website.  No email was provided for customers’ concerns.

By the way, nothing on the message mentioned the exorbitant high bills that customers across the Southland are receiving.

When I went to their website, I was anticipating a banner across the screen saying something like, “We understand you almost had a heart attack when opening your latest gas bill, but let us explain.” 

Instead, one has to hunt around under their “news” tab to find an article about the spike in natural gas prices buried among more trivial articles.

Two weeks ago, I contacted my local state representatives, Assemblymember Laura Friedman and State Senator Anthony Portantino, who have not responded to me at all.  The least they can do is bounce back a form “thank you for your comments.”

The most aggravating thing about this isn’t the money, but the lack of communication on the part of SoCalGas.   How about an insert with everyone’s bill explaining what is happening?  How about acknowledging the outrage customers have by updating the recording on their company phone line?  Instead, you get the sense the attitude is, “Shh, don’t say anything and the problem will go away.”

It makes one want to boycott gas appliances.

Fifty Years Later I Can Still Hear My Father’s Voice

This upcoming January 27th will mark the 50th anniversary of my father’s death.  That is a half a century ago when I was 14 years old.

Life’s not fair as we all know.  Some parents die early but others live long.  For example, director Steven Spielberg’s father died in 2020 at age 103.  That’s 43 more years than my Dad had.  How lucky Spielberg was to have had his father for 73 years.

His father lived long enough to see his children become senior citizens and all that goes with that age such as personal successes and to experience great-grandchildren.

My dad never lived long enough to see how us three children turned out.  He never knew any of our spouses or children; he didn’t even live long enough to see me leave junior high school.

At 11, the only grandparent I ever knew, my father’s mother, died.  That was the first time I attended a funeral.  And the first time I ever saw a dead body in a casket.

A major part of my childhood evaporated, the fantasy in one’s head that people live forever.

Ever since then, I haven’t been able to escape that dreadful thought of how short life is, so when my father died a few years later, it cemented that dreadfulness into my psyche.

If there was anything even remotely positive about going through this, it was the philosophy to not take life for granted.  Embrace each day as a gift.  One never knows when your eyes won’t open again.

As the years go by, the memories of my father fade just a little bit.  While we have several photos and home movies of Dad, there was no way to hear his voice again.  I recalled a recording he made on the large reel-to-reel tape recorder. 

Sometimes when he would not be home in the morning when us three kids woke up, he’d leave behind a handwritten note.  This one time instead of writing his message, he recorded it. 

Months ago, we got the broken machine fixed, and after scouring dozens of tapes, there was Dad speaking to us again.  It was the first time hearing his voice in decades.  The message only lasts a little over half a minute, but it is the most precious thing he left for us.

Now my children can finally put a voice to the old images I’ve shown them of their Grandpa Harvey.

Holiday Decor’s One-Month Lifespan

Oh, to be a Christmas decoration!

You come out of your 11-month hibernation after Thanksgiving and are proudly displayed in a special location in a home, only to return to the dark cavern of a garage or attic within 5 weeks, anxiously awaiting the turning of the months, then to come alive again!

It is always sad putting away Christmas decorations.  It seems that as soon as you take all the boxes down, remove the ornamental baubles and place them strategically around the house, then—blink—it is now time for all of them to be put back inside the boxes, never to come back down for another 11 months.

Christmas is my favorite time of the year, and, therefore, December my favorite month.  It is not fair that December feels like one week long whereas hot August feels like three months.

Traditions permeate the holiday season and so it goes with decorations.  I have old family decorations dating back before I was born.  I even have a cardboard snowman that I made in the second grade that has curvature of the spine yet must be hung on the tree.

When it comes to storing the decorations, I am meticulous to a fault.

Each tree ornament, each tchotchke needs to be put into its own container.  Sometime I have the original box with the price tag still on it; for others, I have repurposed a candy box or a tin can for that one delicate Santa figurine.

Then I label each box so that I’m not frantically opening all the boxes to locate that Frosty bubble light.

I organize items in a large storage bin labeled for a particular room such as den or living room. 

I even have photos of where certain items go on certain shelves in a cabinet so that I’m not starting from scratch next year in figuring out which item goes where.

Yet no matter how hard I try to put everything back in its proper box, in its proper bin, there are always a few items that, for some reason, don’t fit back into the bins and must remain in a place inside the house, a place which I need to recall in late November.

The taking down and the putting away processes are exhausting, taking days to complete.  No doubt, it is more fun decorating the house than it is to undecorate it. 

I know people who keep up Christmas decorations all year long.  If I did that, December would no longer be special.  Being displayed for a short part of the year makes the holiday magic magical—and worth waiting for.

Peal the Bells More Loud and Deep

As I fan of Christmas music, I try to seek out less popular songs that might not make the playlist of those 24/7 holiday radio stations.

One such song is “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

It just so happens that this tune was actually a poem by the famous poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  And, coincidentally, a new movie was released this month called “I Heard the Bells” which details the poem’s background.

Longfellow had six children and suffered a terrible tragedy in 1861 when his wife died in a house fire.  In 1863, his eldest son wanted to fight in the Civil War so he joined the Union army. 

A telegram delivered to Longfellow in early December informed the father that his son was seriously wounded and may be paralyzed.

Imagine how much anguish Longfellow must have felt, losing his wife in 1861 and possibly losing his son two years later.  That Christmas day he found the courage to write “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day,” a testament to people seeking light when everywhere around one is darkness.

The poem has seven stanzas, each one ending with the refrain “peace on earth, good-will to men.”  That repetition emphasizes how people must believe that “the wrong shall fail, the right prevail.”  In extolling readers to believe  that all will turn out all right regarding the Civil War, he was also convincing himself to disavow any doubts about goodness in the world despite his personal life.

Parts of the poem are deleted from the song version due to its direct reference to the War:

Then from each black, accursed mouth

The Cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound

The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

It’s a shame this is not part of the song because it further explains the speaker’s cynicism that leads to the following stanza:

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

Finally, in the last stanza, it seems as if by magic the tone shifts from despair to faith:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men.”

Pealing the bells louder and deeper symbolizes making one’s faith louder and deeper.  One would never think of inferring in a Christmas song that God is dead, but Longfellow does:   “God is not dead, nor doth he sleep.”  The speaker proclaims with the pealing of the bells that “the Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail, with peace on earth, good-will to men.” 

In 1863, the United States was broken into the blue and gray armies with many families suffering Christmases without loved ones.  However, America’s civil war would end 16 months later.  And the country would continue to grow.  And Longfellow’s son would fully recover.

While the song was put to music in 1872, it wasn’t until songwriter Johnny Marks—known for his Christmas classics such as “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” and “A Holly Jolly Christmas”—came up with a melody in 1956 that has since become the quintessential version most often recorded in modern times.

In Bing Crosby’s recording, which begins with a chorus singing part of “Joy to the World,” the ringing of bells is heard throughout.

Harry Belafonte’s 1958 reverential recording has minimum instrumentation with a slow, quiet tempo of “Silent Night.”

However, it is Frank Sinatra’s 1964 version, recorded 101 years after Longfellow wrote the poem, that matches the intensity of Longfellow’s words.  That’s because Sinatra’s long-time collaborator, Nelson Riddle, wrote the arrangement like a mini-movie.

Backed by a chorus, the somber tone and timbre of Sinatra’s reading lends an appropriate funereal atmosphere.  As the song proceeds, the power of the orchestra’s volume increases, addng depth to the poem’s meaning in a mere two minutes and thirty-seven seconds.

As the years pass, the world continues to turn despite more conflicts.  Today, America is broken into the blue and red states.  One glance at headlines seems to tell a story of warring not peace on earth.

However, there remains hope that peace on earth could one day be attained as long as mankind keeps pealing those bells “more loud and deep.”

Here’s to Auter

Each calendar year gives me three months to look forward to the most:  October, November, December.   I call it my “Auter” since it includes parts of autumn and winter.

There are three main reasons I love Auter:  the temperatures get cooler, the holiday season is in full swing, and strangers reveal their humanity.

Out here in too sunny Southern California where I have lived my entire life, sunshine and warm/hot temperatures are monotonous.  I like variety.

I live for the seven-day forecast that shows a daytime temperature in the 60’s and a low reading in the 30’s.  Those days, unfortunately are rare, as are rainy days.

I feel revitalized when the weather is cold during the day, brand new oxygen, clean and fresh.  On those few brisk days, I feel that I can finally write that book.

Have you ever noticed how as you grow older the holidays seem more precious due to how few you have left in front of you?

As a child, there was nothing better than Christmas morning.  Waking up to presents and eating a huge breakfast feast.  That was Christmas. 

However, as I’ve aged, it is the days leading up to any holiday that resonate with me more.  That excitement of what’s to come, the anticipation of putting up certain decorations, shopping at stores that have somehow remained open throughout your lifetime, visiting particular restaurants dressed up for the holidays—those are my favorite days now.

By the time Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day arrives, it is anti-climatic.  As soon as I wake up on Christmas, I no longer want to hear another carol or eat another cookie.  It’s over.  Gone for another 365 days.

As December melts into January, I hold on to a profound yet naive hope that people are nicer, kinder, more decent. 

Stories abound about the generosity of people who give time or money to those less fortunate.  Secret Santas who hand out $100 bills to strangers.   Removing a paper ornament off a Christmas day with the name of a foster child who asks for a modest toy.  Maybe that driver who never stops at a stop sign will finally do so for the safety of the stray dog or the mother with a stroller.  Finally smiling at the grocery clerk you see all the time and letting her know how much her service means to you not just during the holidays but any old days.

The most confounded thing about Auter is how quickly the days go by.  Why can’t the triple-digit days fly by and the chestnuts-roasting-on-an-open-fire nights go on forever?

That is why I cherish these days and reflect on them when the August heat waves melt my mind.

As much as I can’t wait for the holiday season to return, I don’t really want January through September to go quickly because that would mean losing most of a year from one’s limited bank account of years, an account that no one knows the remaining balance.

“The Best Years of Our Lives”

Some films are so well made that it makes you feel as if you are eavesdropping on people’s real lives.

Such is the case with the 1946 classic “The Best Years of Our Lives” produced by Samuel Goldwyn and directed by William Wyler.  

Released before Thanksgiving a year after the end of World War II, the film focuses on three soldiers—Al Stephenson (Fredric March), Fred Derry (Dana Andrews) and Homer Parrish (Harold Russell)—who return home and struggle re-entering society.

Every time I come across the film airing on TCM, I’m hypnotized and end up watching it again no matter how much I may have missed.

Whenever a film seems as real as this one, credit goes to all the principals in front and in back of the camera:  the writer, the director, the cinematographer, the actors, the music composer, and the art and set decorators.  You need all of these elements to be working on all cylinders to pull off such a feat.

The film ended up winning seven of eight Academy Award nominations:  Best Picture, Best Director (Wyler), Best Actor (March), Best Supporting Actor (Russell), Best Screenplay (Robert E. Sherwood), Best Film Editing (Daniel Mandell), Best Music (Hugo Friedhofer); the only nomination unawarded was Best Sound.

Interestingly, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awarded Russell a special Oscar not expecting him to win the Best Supporting Actor award—which he did.  Years later, he auctioned that Oscar, but kept the special one.

The two most overlooked individuals not even nominated whose contributions must be acknowledged are cinematographer Gregg Toland and Dana Andrews.

Toland, best known for his cutting-edge deep-focus photography which aided to the monumental stature of Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane,” does a marvelous job of using both focus and framing to deepen the emotional nature of the characters and their situations.

While March was deserving of his second Best Actor Oscar, Andrews had the most challenging role and should have won.  In fact, Andrews never earned a nomination in his entire career.

Andrews captures the complexities of a man who was the highest ranking officer of the three returning soldiers during his time in the army’s air force, but now faces grim prospects in terms of employment and his marriage.

Though they married hurriedly before his deployment, her love gave him faith to endure horrors knowing that at least he had a woman back home waiting for him.  Sad then when he learns she has not been faithful to him.

He accepts a low-paying job at a drugstore where he used to work as a soda jerk, settling for a sales position that requires helping out with the ice cream orders.

Derry finds himself falling in love with Stephenson’s daughter (Teresa Wright) which leads to Stephenson giving him an ultimatum to call the affair off.

All the humiliation boils over in a scene where Russell sits at the counter along with a man who is critical of the war effort.  In defending Russell’s honor by slugging the man, he loses his job; however, he gains self-respect.

What truly elevates the film is first-time actor Russell portraying a soldier with hooks for hands.  In real life, Russell was an army instructor teaching soldiers how to handle explosives when an accident happened leading to the loss of both hands.

Wyler does not shy away from showing Parrish’s hooks.  The most poignant scene is when Parrish asks his girlfriend to see what she will have to deal with if they were to get married.  In real time, we watch the methodical removal of the hooks to reveal his shortened limbs.  She tenderly buttons his pajama top. 

One of the most amazing scenes ever filmed comes near the climax of the movie when Derry visits a boneyard of de-commissioned B-17s like the one he flew during the way.  There he climbs into the cockpit of a plane and relieves nightmares of his days as a bombardier.

Younger audiences viewing this scene may not appreciate the scope and majesty of the shot as the camera’s fluid crane reveals the graveyard of endless planes that were actually there.  No CGI or special effects.  It was shot in Ontario, California where 2,000 airplanes were dismantled after the war.  Sometimes movies have moments like this one which has a dual purpose:  furthering the narrative at the same time documenting the real thing.

“The Best Years of Our Lives” may be the best film about the aftermath of war for soldiers returning home.  For those like me who never experienced that period of history firsthand it is as close as we can get to the feelings of those who actually lived during that tumultuous time.

Wonderful, Wonderful Johnny Mathis

Bing Crosby is one of the few great singers that even young people have heard of due to his recording of “White Christmas” that is heard every holiday season; however, few know of Johnny Mathis, the last of the classic male pop singers of the 20th century, who has recorded six Christmas albums of his own.  And he still performs at age 87.

Born in Gilmer, Texas in 1935, Johnny Mathis grew up in San Francisco where he developed into an impressive athlete and singer.

In 1954, Mathis attended San Francisco State College and set a high jump record that was just two inches short of the Olympic record at the time.

In 1955, Mathis began singing in nightclubs and in the audience for one performance was George Avakian who was a top executive for Columbia Records.  After hearing Mathis sing, he sent the following telegram to his company:  “have found phenomenal 19-year-old boy who could go all the way.”

One year later in 1956, Mathis had to make a major decision.  He was invited to the Olympic trials and, at the same time, Columbia Records invited him to record his first song.  His father helped him make the decision(No, his father did not recommend the Olympics.)

Known for imbuing lush romantic ballads with his rich, velvety-smooth voice, Mathis had so many hit records in his first two years as a recording artist that in 1958 Columbia Records released an album called Johnny’s Greatest Hits, which was the very first time a record company compiled any singer or group’s most popular songs.   This Greatest Hits collection spent 490 continuous weeks on Billboard’s albums chart (that’s nearly 10 straight years), a record that still stands to this day.

Keep in mind that at this point in music history, all of Johnny Mathis’s peers such as Elvis Presley were recording rock ‘n’ roll music so for him to successfully record love ballads was quite unusual.

His most famous records include“Wonderful, Wonderful,” “Misty,” and “Maria.”

One song not as well known that he recorded was “Never Never Land” from the famous Broadway musical Peter Pan.  Full of haunting emotion, Mathis’s phrasing and octave range make this recording a treasure that any aspiring singer should study.  Mathis’s amazing breath control allows him to sing without taking a breath for long passages, one lasting 19 seconds.

However, if you were to ever just listen to one song by Mathis, go to YouTube and watch his 1978 performance of “Pieces of Dreams” on the Johnny Carson show.  At the end, he holds one note for nearly ½-minute.   At age 43, Mathis was only halfway through his life at that point, yet at the peak of his singing powers.

I have been fortunate to have hear Mathis perform several times.  He is such a gracious man and is still able to carry a tune.

This December he will give five Christmas concerts at five different venues from Ohio to California.  There is even a December date already set in Illinois for 2023 when he will be 88 years old.

If you have never seen him live, don’t overlook the opportunity to see and hear an icon.