Works of fiction appearing here are © 2011-2017 by Jack H. Tyler, and are not to be assumed to lie in the public domain.
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Monday, March 19, 2012

Movie Night at the Hideout (#3)

          In the summer of 1959, George Reeves, the man who had played Superman in the live-action TV show from 1952 to 1958, shot himself in the head with a 9mm Luger.  Or at least, that was the official finding.  At the age of 10, and having been a huge fan of the show, the first thing I remember being told by one of my peers was that he had, in the delusional belief that he really was Superman, leaped out the window of a skyscraper.  Even at 10, this had an inferior feel to it as a scandal; I didn't want to think my hero was actually that stupid.  Of course, in the end, you could make the case that he was actually stupider than that, allowing himself to become the kept man of a married woman eight years his senior, the wife of MGM's general manager and reputed hatchet man with mob connections, Eddie Mannix.  Then, to pile stupid on top of stupid, having been accepted by Mannix as his wife's "boy toy," (and that is apparently what she called him, her Boy) he dumped her for a younger woman as she aged.  Yeah.  Stupid has many faces.

          The jumping out the window story aside (and in all honesty, that didn't last long), there was some controversy associated with his death, as I suppose there always is with figures in the public eye.  The king of this has to be President Kennedy.  Assassinated in 1963, you still can't swing a cat by the tail without hitting half a dozen people who don't believe that Lee Harvey Oswald had a thing to do with it.  Did Hitler really die in Berlin in 1945?  Was it really Osama bin Laden that was buried at sea?  And The King?  You still meet people who believe that Elvis is working at a Burger King in Minnesota.  The list goes on, but I didn't realize there was enough controversy concerning the death of George Reeves to power a speculative movie 45 years after the fact.  Yet that is exactly what we have in Hollywoodland, (2006) starring Adrien Brody, Diane Lane, and Ben Affleck.

I'M GOING TO PUT A SPOILER ALERT HERE, ALTHOUGH BOTH THE FACTS OF THIS CASE, AND THE CONSPIRACY THEORIES, ARE KNOWN QUANTITIES, AND ARE PRESENTED AS ALTERNATIVE POSSIBILITIES.  I DON'T PLAN TO GIVE ANYTHING VITAL AWAY, BUT PROCEED WITH CAUTION.

Adrien Brody
          The movie begins with the Los Angeles Police entering a home to investigate a shooting.  Of course, it turns out to be George Reeves.  A parallel story begins shortly afterward with Adrien Brody as Louis Simo, a down-and-out private eye working out of a fleabag motel because he can't afford an office.  He is involved in the usual cheap P.I. stuff, following a man's wife to prove she is (or isn't) having an affair, and not putting too much effort into it.  He used to be part of a prestigious firm that investigated white collar crime, but wanted to branch out into more exciting adventures.  Now, his life is crap, except on rare occasions when his former firm gets hold of something they don't really want to be associated with, whereupon they throw him that bone.  One such bone proves to be the Reeves suicide.  His mother has come to Los Angeles to contest the finding of suicide, and the prestigious firm, not wanting to be involved in what is sure to be a scandal, sends Simo to see her.
George Reeves as Clark Kent
Ben Affleck as Clark Kent
          As he begins his investigation, things that he discovers are told in flashbacks, which almost takes the form of a parallel movie starring Ben Affleck as George Reeves.  Affleck appeared on a late night talk show when the movie was new, talking about the work he put into the role, and it is repeated and elaborated in the DVD extras.  He studied Reeves, screened every appearance he could find, including all his movies, and every Superman episode, learning his mannerisms, his speech patterns, body language, the way he carried himself, and even wore a false nose for the part.  Here are pictures of George Reeves and Ben Affleck made up as Clark Kent.  Obviously, it isn't like looking at the same person, but the level of effort he invested in getting it right is apparent.

          Eddie Mannix was a Vice President at MGM Studios during the period portrayed in the film.  A lot has been written about Mannix, and little of it flattering.  He arrived at a time when studios owned their actors, directors, crews, and staffs as surely as any antebellum plantation owner owned his slaves.  Studio executives went so far as to tell public figures, the actors, who they could date and marry, and if these stars wanted to remain stars, they obeyed.  In the 1950s, this system was beginning to be dismantled by guilds and unions, by new, independent production companies, and by the new medium, television, eager for stars of its own.  Mannix was brought in to deal with these "distractions," and not gently.  He was rumored to have mob connections, and was rumored to have murdered his first wife (or had her murdered), as well as producer Paul Bern, and, in the conspiracy theories, at least, George Reeves.  He had a completely open relationship with his second wife, Toni, in the sense that they both dated and bedded anyone they found attractive.  Toni found Reeves attractive, and they had a public relationship for a decade, during which he was almost completely dependent on her financially, meaning, of course, in every way.  Diane Lane plays a freewheeling Toni Mannix, and Bob Hoskins, famous for playing the lead opposite a cartoon in the odd but acclaimed Who Framed Roger Rabbit played the sinister Eddie Mannix so convincingly that I never connected him to his best-known comedic role.
Bob Hoskins
Diane Lane


         




          The movie plays up the notion that Reeves felt trapped by his Superman role in the same way that Adam West was taken over and ultimately destroyed by Batman, that he couldn't get "serious" work, and he was constantly despondent because of it.  There is a scene in the movie in which he has gotten a serious role in From Here to Eternity, that of Sgt. Maylon Stark, and at the preview screening, the audience begins to laugh at him, and quote from the Superman intro things like, "Faster than a speeding bullet!" and so on, and the movie Fred Zinnemann, the director, signals one of his minions to cut the scene.  Zinnemann later stated that, not only were Reeves' scenes never cut from any version of the film, but there was never even a preview screening.  Semi-documentaries often take liberties with the facts under the guise of artistic license, but I have to wonder, if they were willing to change this piece of history concerning a movie that won Best Picture, and seven other Academy Awards, and was nominated for five more, what else was completely skewed to fit the conclusions the filmmakers were trying to reach?

Robin Tunney
          Anyway, time passes.  Toni starts to show her age, and Reeves is unable to find any work with a decent paycheck.  As an aside, Superman never did pay that well, despite the fact that it was beloved by 30,000,000 American children, and presumably at least some of their parents.  Much of the problem from the actors' point of view came from the fact that the show was syndicated in each market, and the lion's share of the money went to the executives.  Anyway, Reeves decides to form a production company and be a producer/director.  To do this, he has to attend a series of meetings in New York, where he stays for two weeks.  While there, he meets Leonore Lemmon, a "socialite," or what we would call today a groupie.  Lemmon was the daughter of Broadway ticket broker Arthur Lemmon, and was well known and liked in the New York night club scene, where she gained fame as the only woman ever ejected from the Stork Club, a notorious haunt of the wealthy and powerful, for fist-fighting.  Lemmon sleeps with him while he is there (what they are portrayed doing in the movie is a long way from sleeping, those ten seconds accounting for most of the movie's R rating), and he returns to Hollywood to tell Toni that he is in love with this wild younger woman, and it's over between them.  Leonore, played by Robin Tunney with a perfect combination of grit and grace, moves to Los Angeles, only to find that the big star of a very popular series is virtually broke, and she begins to regret her decision to join him, and seldom fails to let him know about it.  There is much foot-dragging with his contacts to establish a production company, and he actually considers entering the ranks of professional wrestling, whereupon Lemmon asks him, "Why don't you just join the God damned circus?"  At this point, they are engaged, but her disposition isn't improved any when he calls that off.

          As Simo, loosely based on real life private eye Milo Speriglio, who later falsely claimed to be the lead investigator, keeps digging into the case, each answer produces more questions, and angers more people, most of them involved in the movie business, and not amused by any scandalous speculation that might harm ticket sales.  He is warned off, offered bribes, threatened by crooked cops, and at one point given a savage beating, administered with boots and a heavy chain.  Everything colors his view of events.  Who has motive?  Reeves himself, depressed over the fading of a career that was never all he thought it should be.  Toni, having been dumped for a younger woman.  The younger woman herself, having moved to LA to be with her fiance, only to be told the wedding was off.  Who had the grit to actually do the job?  Eddie, certainly, though his motive is weaker than the two women.  Leonore the more likely of the two, although when a woman invests ten years in a man only to be tossed aside when she can't cover the wrinkles any more, it becomes harder to make informed guesses about what she will or won't do.

          So Simo keeps visiting the house, wandering through the rooms, and playing different scenarios in his head.  The facts are that Reeves owned the Luger P'08 that killed him, and he kept it in the drawer of his nightstand.  Two bullets were fired into the floor, presumably at an earlier time, since only one casing was found.  There was no gunpowder stippling around the wound, a fact that was explained by the police as unusual but not impossible.  There were no fingerprints on the gun as it was too heavily oiled to hold them.  Reeves' hands were not screened for gunpowder residue, as that test was not routinely performed in that era.  Finally, the house guests didn't summon the police for 45 minutes after the shooting, all the time they needed to cook up a story.  The story was that they had been socializing late into the evening, he excused himself and went upstairs to his bedroom, and a short time later, there was a shot, after which he was found dead with the spent casing under his body.  Plenty of material for conspiracy theorists to go wild with, and they have.  Simo considers that Leonore shot him accidentally in a drunken rage as they wrestled for the gun after she had already put two rounds into the floor.  He then considers that Reeves went upstairs to be ambushed and shot by a hit man hired by one of the Mannixes.  Simo leans toward it being Eddie, based on the beating he received earlier at the hands of Eddie's thugs.  Finally, having obtained a final piece of information from Reeves' agent, Art Wiessman (Jeffrey deMunn), he gives full consideration to the suicide theory.  This seems to be the one he accepts, as all three scenarios are filmed as he imagines them, and the suicide is given the most detailed treatment, with him standing in the corner of the bedroom, and actually making eye contact with the broken Reeves before he reaches for the gun.

          Written by Paul Bernbaum and directed by Allen Coulter, this film works on many levels.  It lays out the chronologies of the various controversial theories of how this almost-successful, though beloved by children, actor met his untimely end.  It works as a detective story as "our" investigator, Louis Simo, pursues various lines of enquiry, and games them out in his head.  It works as a period piece, catching the end of the glamour era of old Hollywood, and finally, it is a wonderful piece of modern noir, with a lot of sinister characters none of whom are quite what they seem.  While I'm no fan of Affleck (for reasons that aren't germane to this discussion; I'll decline to be a Daredevil in this post), I have to say, the man went the extra mile, and really, seriously nailed his subject.  Similar effort was put forth by Diane Lane, who wore the right wigs, and clothes, and learned Toni Mannix's affected East Coast accent, and the other roles were similarly well drawn, which is what happens when interested actors combine with a serious director, all motivated by the desire to create a quality product.  This movie is a prime example of the perfect storm of talent, dedication, and belief in subject matter coming together on the screen.  In the end, it doesn't attempt to provide the definitive answers; it merely asks all the right questions to leave an unfinished, yet oddly satisfying taste in the mouth afterward.  I may not have been drawn to this subject had I not been a huge Superman fan as a small child, but having bought it, watched it, and hung on every scene, I would not hesitate to recommend this movie to anyone interested in Hollywood history, conspiracy theories, detective movies, film noir, or anything remotely related to any of these subjects.  This is the way movies were made before flash replaced glamor, and the big explosion replaced big talent.  Get this.  Savor it.  Then wonder why, given that this was made in 2006, nobody is willing to put in the effort to make a movie like this anymore; now that's a conspiracy worth unravelling...

Hideout Happenings

          As reported elsewhere, my next post, probably at the end of the month, will concern itself with some aspect of gaming; don't want to give away too much.  I have put up a poll now for you to vote on what you'd like to see covered (if you have any preference) in the post following.
          Okay, that's all I've got.  See you in a week or so.  Til then, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Interlude (#2)

Hideout Happenings

          March 11:  Fool, thy name is Jack!  I have a night shift tonight, wherein I leave for work at 5:00 PM, get off at 2:30 AM, and my pointy little head will be hitting the pillow about an hour after that.  I customarily stay up as late as I can the night before, so as to sleep in.  I'm 63 years old, so how did I celebrate the inauguration of Daylight Savings Time?  Well, since you ask, I set the clocks ahead, made love to a crazy nymphomaniac, got up after five hours of sleep, ate breakfast (which due to my insane schedule, goes down at about 11:00 AM around these parts), after which I will load "Back Alley Sally," my '99 Ranger (and the other crazy nymphomaniac in my life), with old TVs, computer components, my rebellious game consoles, and go sit parked in line at the local Home Depot to get rid of these things at a Free Electronic Recycling event.  After that, I'll swing by my favored Arco station on the way home to treat Sally to about 12 gallons of unleaded regular @ around $4.35 per, jump in the shower, and, time willing, try to sneak in a nap before I roll out to do my part toward keeping the Navy safe for sailors.  Anyone want to start a pool on which freeway I'll be zipping along when my eyes finally close, and I drive Sally up a tree?
          By the way, do you know why they don't have Daylight Savings Time in Arizona?  They have Apaches there, instead.  The story goes that the politicians were all gathered in the State House, debating the pros and cons of DST when an old Apache medicine man quietly approached the podium and requested permission to speak.  The politicians all rolled their eyes at each other, then one of them said, "Sure, old timer.  What's on your mind?"
          "I would just like to point out that only a dishonest white man would try to convince anyone that you can cut the top off a blanket and sew it onto the bottom, and somehow have a bigger blanket!"
          Arizona's politicians may not be any wiser than anyone else's, but they can recognize a truth when it's pointed out to them.  Arizona has never considered going on Daylight Savings Time again.

          March 12:  Yesterday's lament had a happy ending.  I only needed nine gallons of gas, it was only $4.30 per gallon, I was able to get an hour's nap, and best of all, I'm home safe!
          The polls closed at midnight with a tie between Games and Movies.  Games was up first, so I'll do a post on Games, and follow it with one on Movies.  Along with the Movie post will be the next poll.  I've been a gamer for 60 of my 63 years, so get ready for a ride...

          March 13:  Part of my job last night required me to sit in the dark in my pickup truck and wait for something to happen.  Jazz 88 wasn't to my liking, so I killed the radio and spent an hour and a half listening to the wind blow through the cavern between my ears, and as so often happens under that sort of condition, I had an epipheny:  I'm not smart enough to do the things that I'm trying to do here.  First of all, I have identified what it is that I like about this; it's the conversations after the posts go up.  Getting the posts up is another matter entirely.  I am not a skilled critic, not of books, movies, TV, music, art, food, or restaurants; I am not a historian, a scientist, a minister, a psychologist, a conneseur, a photographer, an author (not a real one), nor a graduate of any institution of learning higher than a Navy technical school.  I struggle with the preparation of these posts for days and days, trying to keep the site fresh, agile, and current, not because I have any great knowledge or deep insight to share, but in the hope that, once they go up on the blog, there will be comment and conversation, a chance to exchange pleasantries and opinions with other people, and gain some fresh insights.  Sadly, that rarely happens, and when it does...  Well, publicity shots of Gena Lee Nolin in her Sheena outfit tend to bring in some visitors.
          All I have to do, as I sit here banging my head on the desk, trying to shake the next post out, is to flick my eyes up to the bookshelves across the room to see my abandoned game collection.  Right next to these are my "how to write books" books, and all are beckoning me home to where the great memories live. Oh, and right here on the desk is the professional grade Hohner Blues Harp I was given for Christmas.  That has been taking a back seat as well.  It might be time to reorder my priorities.
          I don't want to alarm anyone.  This is a stream-of-consciousness that I'm sharing so that if I take a radical turn down the road, it won't be as wrenching as my sudden cyber-demise, coming with no warning.  No decisions have been made, and doing these posts, difficult as they are, and having contact with my regular friends has its attractions, too.  I don't know what will win in the end, but I assign myself deadlines to get these up.  They wouldn't get done otherwise, and I find that I view their approach with the same sense of dread that accompanied the run-up to my recent colonoscopy.  To paraphrase MacArthur:  Old bloggers never quit.  They just fade away.  Perhaps I shall join them.  This is my hobby; it's supposed to be fun...
          In other news, Nine has a birthday coming up, and as part of the festivities, Bonnie and I are taking her to the Judy Wexler concert at the Saville Theater tonight.  There's a post in there somewhere, but I will let either Bonnie (Squeakings of a Housemouse) or Nine herself (The Spinster Aunt) do the honors.  I'm tired.  I'm coming off the night shift, didn't get enough sleep,  and breakfast is about to hit the table; 11:00 AM, remember?  Right after breakfast sounds like a great time for a nap...

          March 14:  Thanks for the reminder, Axeman (see comment below).  I maintain relationships here, as I do in real life, for the enjoyment of the camaraderie of good friends.  I don't abandon my flesh and blood friends because the rest of the world sucks, and I shouldn't treat my cyber-friends with any less loyalty.  I have made a lot of good friends here, the nerds, the book-lovers, the gamers, the nostalgia buffs; I hope that covers everyone.  Anyway, I'm going to suck it up and hang on with this.  I will reduce the frequency, because I do want time for those other things in my life, but you people are important to me, and I flatter myself that you keep coming back because you find me interesting; I will be here.  Sometimes life crowds in, and it's easy to start shedding things that look unimportant.  It helps to be reminded from time to time that my friends are not expendable, so at those times that this sort of talk crops up in the future, somebody copy this section and paste it into a comment by way of answer.  That ought to do it...
          So, continuing along, I'm going to make the next post about a movie, and the one following that about games.  I'm not prepared to do a comprehensive game post right at this moment, and I don't want to half-ass it.  There is a movie I've had my eye on, and have recently acquired, and that will be the next subject, sometime next week, I expect.  So, we good?  Good!

Happy Birthday, Nine!

Friday, March 9, 2012

The Mountains and the Bay

          This is the story of how this magnificent harbor...


...and these unforgiving mountains...


...combined to make San Diego the jewel of California.


Even in 1934, the bay's shifting traps for the
unwary mariner can be seen in aerial photos
          When Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed into the mouth of San Diego Bay in the early fall of 1542, he didn't find much to write home about; like so many to follow, he stayed for a week and then moved on, naming the place San Miguel in his records.  The so-called bay was little more than an estuary, formed and dominated by silt draining down the San Diego River, a not particularly impressive stream that drained the equally unimpressive mountain range that began to rise some thirty miles inland.  It had the general shape of the bay we know today, but was shallow, and plagued with shifting sandbars and hidden shoals.  It was sufficient to provide decent shelter to the tiny ships of the period, but how the bay was valued by the Spanish is highlighted by this fact:  During the Golden Age of Exploration, at a time when Spain had a complete monopoly on the coast of California, the next European to visit San Diego was born six years after Cabrillo's little layover.


Though taken in the mid-1800s, this photo of the
La Playa area shows the terrain that would have
been encountered by the first explorers and
residents alike.
          On November 10th, 1602, Sebastian Vizcaino arrived at the head of a larger expedition.  He lounged in the tourist-trap weather for a full ten days, getting around to changing the name to San Diego before he departed, and recorded the "good wood and water, many fish of all kinds... much game, such as rabbits, hares, deer, very large quail, royal ducks, thrushes, and many other birds," and that "...the country surrounding the port was very fertile and near the beach there are very fine meadows."  They were met peacefully by about 100 Kumeyaay Indians with whom they exchanged the obligatory gifts and sailed away.  Continuing up the coast, the Great Explorer missed finding San Francisco Bay entirely, but he did manage to blunder into Monterey, and based on his gushing reports of the magnificence to be found there, Monterey would be the First City of California into the 1840s.


          San Diego is finally brought sharply into prominence by the dual stimuli of greed and protectionism.  California was well "known" in Europe long before it was discovered.  It's very name is taken from Queen Calafia, the mythical ruler of a mythical island off the North American coast where a vast matriarchal society lives in a land so rich, the streets are paved with gold, and, well aware of these "facts," King Charles III demanded that the government in New Spain (the Pacific Coast of the Americas) start producing some of it.  The other impetus was provided by the Spanish Ambassador to Russia, who reported that the Russian fur traders who were established in Alaska were about to push their territorial claims south all the way to California.  That this was not idle speculation is witnessed by the existence of California towns today with names like Sebastopol and Fort Ross.


          Suddenly feeling the sting of urgency after 230 years of who-could-care-less, the crown dispatched a Franciscan priest whose name would soon become immortal among Californians, be they Spanish, Indian, Mexican, or Americano:  Father Junipero Serra.  Arriving at San Diego in 1769, he established the first of the 21 California Missions, a day's walk apart, from San Diego to San Francisco, which meant in practical terms that Russian expansion past San Francisco could only come at the risk of war with Spain, a risk Russia wasn't prepared to take.  Despite the existence of the Mission, and the little presidio, or fort, nearby to protect it from the often hostile Indians, life in the tiny settlement wasn't easy.  The residents, mostly clergy, soldiers, and the hardier members of their families, were dependent on crops grown in their gardens, trade with the Indians, and the sporadic visits of supply ships for their very survival.  British navigator George Vancouver paid a visit in 1793, staying long enough to describe the settlement as "dreary and lonesome," and surrounded by "barren and uncultivated country."  Contrary to the legends of gold lying on the ground for the taking, San Diego's commerce consisted of otter skins, cattle hides, and homemade candles that were traded in small quantities for bare sustenance.  Most of the American Southwest was originally explored by greedy swashbucklers searching for these legendary treasures, tales perpetuated by exasperated Indians who quickly learned to tell these guys that the City of Gold was somewhere over the next hill.


The city of San Diego in 1869, 100 years after
the establishment of the first mission.
          The decades came and went, and San Diego changed hands, ownership passing first to Mexico following a revolution, then to the United States following a war whose merits are debated to this day.  Through it all, San Diego remained a quiet backwater, a prisoner of its own geography.  Water can be found around the county, though it is never plentiful in the way a resident of Indiana or Alabama thinks of it; there is enough to use, but never to waste.  The grandly named San Diego River was never a full-time stream; now it is an empty channel lined with concrete known hereabouts as the Flood Control Channel, and it becomes a raging torrent that can wash away cars for a few hours after a winter storm, but certainly nothing that residents can rely on.  Nonetheless, the gentle, rolling hills of what are today the eastern and northern parts of the county were given away as giant ranchos to supporters of the various governors of the little town.  The names and general outlines of many of these ranchos are preserved today in communities with names like Rancho Penasquitos, Rancho Bernardo, Otay, Jamul and Santa Ysabel.  By all accounts, this period was marked by the fiesta as a lifestyle, and San Diego began to take on its modern look as the home of the good life, ruled by wealthy captains of industry.


San Diego in 1900, still sleepy, with no sign of the massive
military presence to come, and still trapped by its geography.
          By the end of the 1840s, the United States had added California to its ever-growing territory, granting statehood in 1850, even though many future states west of the Mississippi remained Territories, in order to protect the northern gold deposits.  In San Diego (and Monterey), the Yankees added whaling to the growing list of industries, not even needing ships, but simply rowing out into the Gray Whale migrations from Whalers' Bight, now filled in and part of the U. S. Naval Air Station at North Island.  Growth and diversification of industry, plus that superlative harbor notwithstanding, San Diego continued to languish as a sleepy little backwater, trapped in a place that offered one great thing, but nothing else to support it.



Goat Canyon trestle in Carrizo Gorge.  Typical of
the terrain the railroad men were up against in the
 southern Laguna Mountains.
          Here are the factors that kept San Diego's harbor from lifting it to prominence in the history of California.  It sits on a coastal plain that runs inland for about thirty miles before the Laguna Mountains rear up from the ground in a relatively low (5000 foot average), but wide and rugged range that cuts the city off from the rest of America to the east.  The plain itself is coastal desert, receiving an official average of ten inches of rain per year, but those mountains shove the incoming storms up the slopes and wring the water out them like a sponge.  This water rockets down the steep slopes, carving slab-sided canyons and razorback ridges that a jackrabbit can barely navigate.  For most of the 19th Century there were three known passes through this barrier, and the only one usable by anything heavier than a man on a horse was Warner's Pass, which was much more favorable to Los Angeles than to San Diego.  The only thing one could do with a cargo landed at the spectacular harbor at San Diego was to load it on wagons and freight it up the easy coastal route to Los Angeles for further distribution from there.  Why not simply have the ship unload at Los Angeles to begin with?  That is exactly what was done.


Aerial view of a fraction of the SD&AE Railway route.
          A rail line to Yuma and points east was finally pounded through these mountains by men whose heads were harder than their sledgehammers in 1932, and its construction is one of the epic stories of the industrial age.  By that time, the Port of Los Angeles had been in operation for 25 years, and San Diego had seemingly been bypassed by the flow of history.


This is North Island in happier times.  Those carriers
have a bit more to do now...
          But the story doesn't end there, not by a long shot.  Some of our closest friends today were our most bitter enemies in 1941, and they came a'calling on a clear December morning at a little port in Hawaii called Pearl Harbor.  For the next four years, we were engaged in some of the most knock-down, drag-out, no quarter fighting the world has ever seen, abetted by the support of the combatants' modern industries.  The U.S. Navy needed a haven beyond the reach of Japanese submarines and aircraft carriers.  With the Bremerton facility largely undeveloped, and the choicest bay frontage in Los Angeles and San Francisco long-claimed by commercial interests, the Navy's eye fell upon sleepy little San Diego, with its spectacular, and hitherto virtually useless harbor.  They dredged the bay, piped in water from the Colorado River, laid claim to the unwanted mud flats around the perimeter, and built what is today one of the two largest Navy and Marine Corps complexes in the world (the other is Norfolk, VA).  I can't lay my hands on the exact figures (the Internet is way too literal when you ask for a search) but my gut feeling is that about 50% of the money coming into San Diego (including mine) comes from the Navy's payroll, maybe 45% is from the tourist industry, and everything else divides the 5% that remains.


          Most people say the Navy built San Diego, but I beg to differ; you could just as easily say the Japanese built San Diego by putting pressure on the Navy to develop it.  Whatever.  I say, at the end of the day, the Laguna Mountains built San Diego just by being in the way.  Had they not been there, San Diego would be the sprawling carpet of concrete that Los Angeles is today, and Los Angeles would probably be a motel and gas station on the road to San Francisco.  Instead, I live in one of the great places of the world, and herewith offer my thanks to the U.S. Navy that built it, the Imperial Japanese Navy that made it necessary, and the force of nature that is the Laguna Mountains for rendering that bay useless, thereby preventing it from being ruined by commercialism for four hundred years before people found a use for it.  If not for all those things, we wouldn't live in the most beautiful place on earth.  I know that a lot of people who prefer the stillness of quiet hideaways, the imposing natural beauty of Big Sur or Nag's Head, or undiscovered corners like the Florida Keys (or familiar nooks of their own home towns; choose your own location here) are going to find this saga of urban beauty amusing, and maybe even mildly offensive.  All I can offer in the defense of this opinion is one simple statement:  Just look at this place!


          And that's how we got here, from the Spaniards to the Americans.  Consider this the first of a long series.  In the months to come, I'll be looking at our attractions, our hidden treasures, our unique blend of Spanish, Mexican, American and Asian cultures, reflected not least in the local cuisine.  I hope you're along for the ride; I plan to enjoy it tremendously, and I love to share...

Hideout Happenings

          And speaking of things San Diego, I guess no place of mortals is allowed to be perfect, right?  This is why we have all these comedy "sports" teams that congregate here to waste our time and make us laugh.  Case in point:  The San Diego Chargers, or as they're known by the locals, the Chokers, once again demonstrated their football acumen in part two of the one-two punch designed to drive away fans in preparation for their move to L.A.  After keeping the two most clueless idiots ever to wander by accident into a football stadium, Head Coach Norv Turner and General Manager A. J. Smith, the Chokers' ownership once again showed off their seriousness about saving money over being a contender by declining to sign Vincent Jackson, by far their best wide receiver, and primary battery mate of quarterback Philip Rivers.  See, fifty-one years of crap like this is why I've finally gone over to the dark side, and joined Raider Nation.  The saddest thing about all this is that Philip Rivers, a fine young man who should be remembered in the same breath with Joe Montana and John Elway, will instead be remembered (if he is at all) as one of those tragic stories of greatness unfulfilled simply because he's trapped in the grip of these Losers.  By the way, if you happen to be an L.A. sports fan who is reading this, don't panic; no one can force you to take these fools.

          So that's it for this week.  I know I said I was going to slow down on the publishing, but what the heck, the article's finished, so here it is.  The polls will remain open until Sunday night at midnight.  No one has voted yet, and if no one does, I will have to settle on a subject myself, so you've been warned.  Until next time, have fun, take care of each other, and above all else, get out there and live life like you mean it!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Irish and Gena: My Kind of Girls!

I have a little theme song.  You may know it.  Sing a verse with me:

"Warrior hotties in tight leather corsets,
Conquering ladies astride charging horses,
Ass-kicking women, and chicks with a sting,
These are a few of my favorite things!"

          Ah, ass-kicking women... My guilty pleasure, and has been for years.  I come by it honestly, having been raised by and with tough chicks, and it was bound to turn up here sooner or later, so fasten your seat belts while we go in search of Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.


          I was born in 1948, and became aware of the wider world around me about 1952-53. In books, movies, and the rudimentary television of that time, the words used to describe women were soft, weak, helpless, dependent, clinging, all negatives, each and every one, and yet women quietly accepted the words, and the roles the words relegated them to. Any woman who didn't was a freak, a lesbian (a word not used in polite society, either), or a fetish fantasy dominatrix usually found in comic books that men had to search seedy neighborhoods to find. As you might expect, mainstream comics were decades ahead of the curve on this, and the very first comic book with a female lead was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle.  Inked in America by Fiction House as a contract for British Release, Sheena made her first appearance in 1937, predating Wonder Woman by four years.




          Sadly, I have never laid hands on any of these books, and in all honesty, they predate me by over a decade.  As a child of the 1950s, women of my era were epitomized by June Cleaver (Leave it to Beaver), Margaret Anderson (Father Knows Best), and Alice Mitchell (Dennis the Menace). Not surprisingly, all were level-headed housewives whose function was to deliver the setup lines for the real stars of the show, usually the children. The funny women were funny, either because they were utterly incompetent, or were stupidly attempting to force their way into the world reserved for men, that of the meaningful career. In either case, make no mistake, we were laughing at them, not with them. Women appeared in serious drama, detective shows and the like, as secretaries, and in at least one famous case, only appeared partially. In 1957's Richard Diamond, Private Detective, only the shapely legs of 21-year old dancer Mary Tyler Moore appeared beneath a desk as his secretary, Sam. A woman might be a minor technician in an operations center, or dispatch the police to the action, but she wasn't going to see any herself, and I could list several hundred examples of that trope with no trouble whatsoever.


          These women frankly drove me crazy.  I suppose it is no mystery that capable women are a central fixture in my life. Readers will be aware that the first man in my life was my boot camp D.I. I state in my profile that I was the son of a Navy diver and a professional gambler. Dad was the Navy diver, a skill that served him well in ducking the responsibility of parenthood, and if he ever laid eyes on me, I never heard about it. Mom had issues as well, and wasn't involved in most of my upbringing, largely because she was a professional gambler, but the instructive question is, why did she choose that particular career? Mom's brain was wired for mathematics, and had society allowed women to fill those roles, she could have been at the Jet Propulsion Lab working on the Moon shots. Being cursed with breasts instead of a penis, she put that agile mind to work unravelling the permutations of a diabolical card game called Panguingue. Pan, as she called it, is played with eight partial decks combined into a single deck of 320 cards, dealt in hands of ten. It is similar to rummy, but with the odds of any given card combination running to astronomical percentages. Mom turned a good living at that game, recalculating odds on the fly with every card that was exposed. What she did almost wasn't gambling. Her mother was Rosie the Riveter, and the primary breadwinner for my little family unit, which was completed by her mother, my great-grandmother, who turned 60 a month before I was born, and spent her whole life raising children, one generation after another.


            In my neighborhood were about two dozen boys of similar age, and a half-dozen girls. Most of the girls got together with their dolls and tea sets, and I never got to know them, but there were two tomboys who served as my contemporary examples of femininity. They played Space Rangers, Army, and Cowboys (and Cowgirls) and Indians with us. They played games like tag, and hide and seek. They rode bikes with us, and later skateboards, and they played sports, up to and including football (real football; soccer hadn't come to America yet). And they wrestled. There were no weight classes. Everyone wrote their name on a piece of paper and put them in a hat, then someone drew two names, and those two kids went at it. I won some and lost some against these young ladies. Usually when I had to say uncle, it was to a joint lock, or having something twisted the wrong way, but at the impressionable age of 11, I was squeezed into a helpless submission in front of all the guys by the legs of a 12-year old ballerina, and if you don't think that will color your view of a woman's ability, I invite you to engage an obliging dancer, gather your fratboy buddies, and let the humiliation begin.


          But despite the events going on around me, I grew up thinking I was never going to see any women in entertainment who were truly in charge of their own lives. Basically, women on screens large and small who commanded any form of power achieved it by using their feminine wiles to manipulate men into exercising it for them. It was confusing for me to see women acting like that, as certainly none of the women, or girls, of my personal experience would consider that sort of thing for a moment. Further, it angered me to see the woman in a spy or detective show, when the thugs attacked her and the spy, stand in the corner with her hand over her mouth while the spy/detective fought for both of their lives against three or four men. Come on, sister, I realize you're shaken up, but isn't there a board or a bottle lying around that alley that you could break over somebody's head? I mean, if your boyfriend loses the fight, they're going to kill you, too!


         But in the midst of all this came two television shows that broke the mold, and I ate them both up.  One was Annie Oakley, based exceedingly loosely on the historical figure, and starring Gail Davis, and the other was Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, starring Irish McCalla.  I inhaled every episode of both of them, but Annie was, at the end of the day, a girl who had an extraordinary facility with firearms; Sheena was a whole other article.  I don't recall anything ever being mentioned about her background; she simply was.  Played by 5'10" blonde model Irish McCalla (real name, Nellie Elizabeth McCalla), she was a female Tarzan (which may have been the whole point) whose only "power" was her extraordinary skill and athleticism honed by what I presumed was a lifetime living in the jungle.  The show was set in Kenya, which was still a British colony.  She had a sidekick, Bob Rayburn, who was perfectly competent by ordinary standards, but sometimes made to look less so by her abilities.  Rayburn was a guide, played by Chris Drake, who in real life had been one of Carlson's Raiders, an elite U. S. Marine unit.  He was wounded in the bitter fighting on Guadalcanal during the time that that unit was surrounded.  Sheena was often accompanied, and assisted, by a juvenile chimpanzee called Chim.  Typical situations included evil Europeans stirring up trouble, renegade tribesmen on the warpath, and stupid tourists getting themselves into trouble.















          There are influential women around today who credit either or both of these characters for opening their eyes to the potential of women to be in command of their own destinies, but they were very much the exceptions, and were never hugely popular, Annie lasting for three seasons, and Sheena only one.  Sheena ended after the very athletic Miss McCalla, who performed her own stunts, attempted to swing on an improperly rigged vine, slammed into a tree, breaking her arm, and elected not to get back on the horse.




          In 1984, Hollywood took another shot at the Jungle Queen with Sheena, starring Tanya Roberts, whose fabulous legs almost overshadowed her wooden acting - almost.  In this version, Sheena was Janet Ames, the daughter of husband-and-wife geologists who was adopted by a shaman after her parents were killed in a cave-in.  A box office disaster, and panned by critics, those legs were about the only redeeming feature in this mish-mash of convoluted plot twists involving court intrigue, smuggling, land grabbing, and police corruption that ultimately were hardly worth following.  Sheena had developed a "power" since 1955, the ability to communicate telepathically with animals, and for the most part, get them to do her bidding.  She should have paid more attention to them; they might have warned her to pass on this movie.


          Finally came the 2000 TV series, Sheena, starring the heartstoppingly gorgeous Gena Lee Nolin.  In this version, Sheena's name was Shirley Hamilton, and she was also adopted by a shaman after her archaeologist parents died in the jungle.  No word on what of, but that isn't really important.  Sheena's focus in the 2000 series is the protection of the Lamistas, her local forest, which is constantly under siege by various less-than-ecologically minded villains for exploitation of its abundant resources, said villains being abetted in their efforts by a corrupt local government eager to get a cut of the money this exploitation would generate.  This was not a profound drama, and you wouldn't expect an offering like this to be one, but it was enjoyable, it had its moments of tension, and the writing was humorous, even when some of it was unintended.  She loved to read, fictional novels providing her primary source of knowledge about the outside world, and when the monthly plane arrived to deliver supplies, the box for her, prominently marked "Amazon.com," took on a whole new meaning.  Then there was the episode where, wishing to experience what "normal" girls have, she demands that her sidekick, ex-CIA sniper Matt Cutter (John Allen Nelson) ask her on a date.  He does, and directs her to "wear something slinky."  She arrives that night in her usual animal-hide bikini with a boa constrictor draped around her shoulders.


         
          I was sorry to see this show go off the air; it was a fun little piece of mindless late Saturday diversion for Bonnie and me.  But, I tend to like things with a short shelf-life, as witness my enjoyment of The Cape last year.  In this case, it was inevitable, and I think everyone saw it coming.  In my opinion, they made her too powerful to do too small a job.  Her focus was protecting a relatively small patch of forest, her adopted home, from destruction.  A noble endeavor.  The writers gave her moderately superhuman strength and speed, as well as the ability to morph into any warm-blooded animal she could make eye contact with, and also to turn herself into a truly hideous monster called the Darachna, in which guise she killed without hesitation or remorse, which may have been another strike against this incarnation.  Whatever the particulars, the writers fell into the trap that snares so many: her character grew so strong that she became an omnipotent heroine, knocking down a series of straw men whose only function is to showcase her irresistible power.


          But it was a fun ride in between.  Unlike the '50s Sheena, she met her sidekick, Cutter, in the pilot, and didn't much like him.  She grew as a character, show by show, as did her relationships with the other regulars in the show.  This could have gone a long way, had they broadened her horizons, and put her in a little more jeopardy than she ever experienced.  The character was engaging, witty, capable, grew with each experience, and the actress who played her was not only unbelievably easy on the eyes, but well suited to this easygoing, less than profound role.  So, thanks for everything, Gena.  We had a ball.


          So, what's my point here, you may wonder.  I'm just providing some good, clean, fun, like it says on the tin, and into the bargain, giving you a little more insight into your host.  I make no secret of liking the tough women, and now you know a little more about why.  The Jungle Girl is an archetype of 20th century literature, extending from novels to comic books, onto screens large and small, and into the wrestling ring, one of the promotions from the 80s featuring a savage character in an animal skin singlet called, wait for it, Jungle Grrl.  That they occupy a place in the civilized person's imagination is unquestionable.  There have been many jungle girls over the years, probably beginning with Rima in the 1904 novel Green Mansions, by W. H. Hudson, but Sheena is the one that got the press.  I'm glad she did.  In 1937, reeling from a century of Victorian repression, women throughout the Western world were ready for a heroine that took no lip and no prisoners, and Sheena was the one who tore the lid off the box.  Hollywood is overrun with ass-kicking-women these days, most of them cut from the same pattern, an athletic blonde of 30; Fringe, Cold Case, Without a Trace, Prime Suspect, how long should I continue?  Honestly, most of them leave me unimpressed.  It takes more than a shiny pistol and a bitchy attitude to make a Jungle Girl, and most of these newcomers don't have a clue where to start.


          So there's another little piece of me, and some history, and if nothing else, you got some nice cheesecake out of it.  I hope you enjoyed it, maybe even enough to talk about it.  I sure had fun sharing.  So, what's your jungle girl fantasy?  I'm dying to hear it...

Hideout Happenings

          The polls are closed, and Around San Diego has won, so I'll be looking for a suitable site to do a photo essay on.  Hopefully, I can find something unique, that hasn't been done to death by the tourist industry, and give you a look at something extra cool.  The fact is that I have a lot of things on my plate, and I'm not going to be able to hold up this once-a-week schedule of posts unless I give up something else I enjoy doing, so I'm going to aim at about ten days apart, and we'll see how that goes.


          I'm going to close by plugging a project I'm working on with a friend I've never met.  He calls himself "T," and he is ghost-writing my outline notes for the steampunk stories I haven't been able to find the skill to put into prose myself.  I was connected with him by one of those "friends of a friend," and I'm sure glad I was!  My notes, disorganized and hesitating as they are, become seamless adventure stories in his hands; I should mention here that "his" is an assumption on my part.  Anyway, treat yourself to a ride, and find out what a real writer can do with a simple idea.  Catch the blimp at http://beyond-the-rails.blogspot.com/.


          So, that's another one of those things that makes demands on my time...  Anyway, I aim to please, and am already getting geared up to do just that again mid-month.  Until then, get out there and live life like you mean it!