Friday, November 25, 2011


They were cooler than cool. They were the guys men wanted to hang with. The guys women wanted to be with.  They drank. Smoked. Gambled.  Caroused.  They lived hard and played harder. So what was there about the ‘rat pack’ that made them so cool?
To begin with, let’s go back to the origins of the so called pack.
The original rat pack, formed in the 50’s, referred to a group of entertainers whose habit it was to party, hang, and generally drift in and out of the Holmby Hills home of Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart.  Those belonging to this group included such laudables as: Errol Flynn, Nat King Cole, Judy Garland, Cary Grant, Judy Garland, Spencer Tracy, Katherine Hepburn, David Niven, and yes, Frank Sinatra.
By the sixties, the group had evolved with Frank Sinatra, more or less, becoming the head honcho. This newer group did not, for the record, call themselves ‘the rat pack’ but rather ‘the summit’ or ‘the clan’. (The press and the public, however, continued to refer to them as the rat pack).  Aside from Sinatra, members included: Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, and Joey Bishop. The women in their sphere included: Marilyn Monroe, Angie Dickinson, Shirley MacLaine, and Juliet Prowse, many of whom appeared in movies with them.
And speaking of those movies (Ocean’s Eleven, Some Came Running, 4 For Texas, Robin and the Seven Hoods, The Cannonball Run, and others), though they weren’t too weighty in subject matter, they were memorable for one thing: the fact that it looked as if these hell raisers always seemed to be having an incredibly good time.     
Audiences wanted in on that good time.
They often showcased in Las Vegas, particularly at hotels such as the Dunes and the Sands. (For the record, our family managed to save a Sands coffee mug before the hotel imploded in the nineties). Here, the pack would arbitrarily ‘crash’ one another’s performances by adlibbing, coming up with crazy antics, and tearing up the joint, so to speak. As Sinatra was known to say, “You gotta love livin’ ‘cause dyin’s a pain in the ass.” Their act always seemed to include plenty of in jokes and an adoring public ate it up and romanticized them -- so much so that they always appeared before sell-out crowds.
 Each man had different personas. Sinatra was the chief and everyone knew it. Others deferred to him. Martin presented himself as an amiable fellow with a love affair with alcohol (this probably was somewhat of an exaggeration, at least until his later years.) Sammy Davis was possibly the most gifted entertainer of them all. He sang, danced, joked, acted. You name it, Sammy did it and he did it to perfection. Bishop was the mascot, a jokester with deadpan humor. And then there was Lawford.  Film actor Peter Lawford’s role in the group was very interesting.
He was married to Patricia, President John Kennedy’s sister. As brother-in-law to the president, he was the conduit between the White House and Hollywood. As such, he was instrumental in having “introduced” Kennedy to actresses such as Marilyn Monroe and Angie Dickinson. (It might be said that Lawford was the ultimate Hollywood pimp). He also drew his friends into the political arena. The pack entertained at the Democratic Convention in L.A. in 1960, campaigning heavily for JFK’s election.
In 1963 Lawford made what would turn out to be a monumental mistake. He asked Sinatra to have Kennedy be his guest at his Palm Springs home. Sinatra was understandably honored and went to great lengths to prepare for the president’s visit. However, Robert Kennedy, JFK’s brother and, then, Attorney General, quickly intervened. He felt that Sinatra’s home was unsuitable due to the singer’s questionable connections with mobsters such as Sam Giancana. (For the incredible irony here, I refer you to a previous blog of mine about mistresses entitled, “My Wife Doesn’t Understand Me…Yada, Yada, Yada.)  Instead, Kennedy would spend time at the home of another crooner -- Bing Crosby. When Lawford informed Sinatra of the change in plans Sinatra became outraged and cut Lawford out of his life from that point forward.
Sinatra, Davis, and Martin went on a revival tour in the eighties and when Martin had to drop out he was replaced, successfully, by Liza Minelli.
There has been a recent resurgence of interest in the rat pack, particularly amongst young people who, having rediscovered what is often referred to as martini music, have embraced the group’s irreverent behavior.
There’s no doubt that these guys left their marks in the fifties and sixties and that their “ring-a-ding” ways represented a seemingly carefree and often enviable lifestyle.

Peter Lawford died at 61 in 1984 as a result of cardiac arrest due to liver failure.

Sammy Davis Jr. died at 64 in 1990 due to complications of throat cancer.

Dean Martin died at 78 in 1995 as a result of heart failure due to emphysema.  It’s been said that Martin’s health deteriorated after his son Dean “Dino” Martin, Jr. was killed in a plane crash in 1987.  Martin never really recovered from this devastating loss.

Frank Sinatra died at 82 in 1998 from heart failure.

           Joey Bishop, the only one of the pack to remain married to the same woman for 58 years, outlived them all. He died in 2007 at the age of 89.

Thanks for joining me on this week’s journey along,



Friday, November 18, 2011


          Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There’s not a lot of pomp and ceremony to it. No disappointment in gifts exchanged. We gather with loved ones. Watch football. And stuff ourselves silly.
          It’s also a good day to remember and to reflect.
          To begin with, autumn has always been my favorite season. The incredible red, orange, and sienna foliage. The smell of burnt chestnuts that can bring me back to a brisk day in Manhattan in a New York minute.
          My memories of Thanksgiving Day growing up were of helping my mother prepare the stuffing, from scratch of course, using day old stale bread. She’d sew the turkey with thread and then panic when she couldn’t find the needle (this happened annually). I recall the aroma of roasting turkey and of thyme filling the room. The television was tuned in to Laurel and Hardy’s “March of the Wooden Soldiers” which aired every Thanksgiving. Most of all I recall the intangible feeling of comfort I felt on that day.
          I think most Americans feel that way. And the great thing about this holiday is that it is so inclusive. Even an immigrant who has resided in the U.S. for less than a year is made to feel as though his ancestors met the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.  Everyone is welcomed, not only to partake in the holiday, but to enhance it with his own cultural flavor. A Vietnamese family might serve lemongrass soup before the turkey is brought out. A Polish family might offer up kielbasa as an appetizer. And the variations on stuffing are endless: Middle Easterners adding dates, Africans adding peanuts, Mexicans adding cilantro, and so on.
          As for me, I’ve retained some traditions (I make my stuffing the same way as my mother did) and have incorporated some new ones as I raised my own family. These days the television is often tuned to a Twilight Zone marathon as we prepare for the festivities. My daughter makes a wonderful cauliflower dish and my son makes delicious home made cranberry sauce each year. We’ve lost loved ones who used to grace our table, and we’ve added people to the table as well. I suppose in some way that’s a metaphor for life.
          On this day I try not to look at the negatives but instead to be appreciative for that which I have to be grateful:  My wonderful children, old, cherished friends who have been so supportive, and new relationships that continue to grow stronger. I am thankful for my relatives, including my brother, sisters, nieces, nephews, and cousins with whom I got together recently to celebrate my brother’s birthday.  I am grateful for memories of a good marriage. I am grateful to have the opportunity of making an impact on the lives of young people and I am very grateful to have rediscovered my passion for writing. And by the way, I’m grateful to those of you who have been faithfully following my blog and for all your encouraging words.

          I hope that everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving and thank you again for joining me along,



Friday, November 11, 2011



The phrase “Catskill Mountains” conjures up a variety of images. Some associate it with the so-called “Borscht Belt” humor of old time comics from that era such as: Alan King, Henny ‘take my wife’ Youngman, Totie Fields (whose daughter, Jody, was a friend of mine back then), and the various “Jacks and Jackies" (Carter, Mason, and Vernon, for example). Some associate it with the crooners who entertained at the hotels. Singers who included: Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé, Neil Sedaka, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, and possibly the various “Bobbies” (Vee, Vinton, and maybe even the late, great Darrin, though I couldn’t say for sure).
     Others think of the movies, Dirty Dancing or Marjorie Morningstar when they think of the Catskills and perhaps, to some, the Catskill Mountains connotes nothing more than an association with stories written by Washington Irving. Stories such as Rip Van Winkle.
     But to someone raised in New York during a certain period of time, any reference to the Catskill Mountains evokes so much more.  A little background information is in order here.  The Catskills of which I’m speaking is actually the southern western portion, an area of about 250 miles located in upstate New York in Sullivan and Ulster counties.  When the 81 Hwy replaced Rte 17, what was once a day long journey northwest of New York City, became a much more tolerable one and a half hour drive. (I remember these winding drives vividly since, as a child, I was prone to motion sickness).
     How did it all begin? In the late 1800’s, early 1900’s, some Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe, left the tenements of the Lower East Side behind and migrated to the farmlands of the C.M. When word of the beautiful scenery and fresh air got back to their friends and relatives, others decided that they too would like to escape to “the Mountains” if only for a week or two. Italian families seemed to prefer the Poconos.
     By the thirties, enterprising Jewish farmers were turning their farmhouses into summer boarding houses, where city dwellers would have the opportunity to feast on clean air and farm fresh food. I recall my mother speaking fondly of the summers she spent as a girl on “Mrs. Sandler’s farm”.
     After WWII, bungalow colonies sprang up throughout the area.  By today’s standards, these small summer communities offered little in the way of amusement: A baseball diamond, a swimming pool (whose only luxury feature was a diving board), a stroll down a country road laden with blueberry bushes, and a “casino”. The so called casino was home to pinochle and mahjong players during the day and to those wanting to listen or dance to a jukebox by night.  Simple pleasures, yes. But people came in droves.
     They came to towns called Ellenville and Liberty and Monticello and S. Fallsburg. They drove up in cars and station wagons and rented hacks loaded down with everything but the kitchen sink and they usually stopped along the way at the Red Apple Rest (a great place to snack on Drake’s Pound Cake). Some stayed for two weeks, others for two months.
     Often, the wife and kids remained throughout the week and dad would drive up on a Friday night to spend the weekend before returning on Sunday. Incidentally, these weekly separations occasionally resulted in a “seven year itch” of sorts. Some husbands took the opportunity of dallying with their secretaries while on their own in the city and there were wives who got ‘up close and personal’ with the young men tending the pools.
     The heyday of the Catskills was in the fifties and sixties, tapering off in the seventies.
     By now, resorts had taken hold and hotels such as the Concord and Grossinger’s put the C.M. on the map, so to speak. Single men and women chose The Mountains as a destination when seeking romantic rendezvous, and college students worked summers as waiters, busboys, and counselors; the money made in tips helped put some of them through school.
     An average couple might vacation with their children for a week or two.  For one set price (this was before Club Med, mind you) they would get a room, three incredible meals a day (it would take an entire essay to describe the food), supervised care for their children from 7:30AM to 8:30 PM (and free, babysitting “night patrol”). They didn’t even dine with their kids – how’s that for a vacation?  Amenities varied from hotel to hotel but could include: golf, discos, indoor ice-skating, spas, and horseback riding, to say nothing of the phenomenal nightly entertainment. (Sammy Davis Jr., Billy Crystal, Lucille Ball, Don Rickles, Barbra Streisand – the list is endless).
     I spent many summers in the Catskills, both as a guest and as a counselor at various hotels. Though I didn’t go, I was there during Woodstock, which was only a few miles away. Once, I was the counselor for the young daughter of a “wiseguy” (he tipped very handsomely by the way). When Stiller and Meara performed one weekend, my cousin had charge of their son, Ben.
     I’m told that there are still a few hotels in the area up and running, and it might be interesting to see what they offer these days, but the phenomena of the C.M. as it existed years ago is gone.
     So what made the Catskill experience fade away?  A combination of things. Maybe it was because airline flights and cruises became more affordable, giving vacationers other options. Maybe it was the fact that central air-conditioning allowed city dwellers to tolerate their apartments. Or maybe it just wasn’t seen as ‘cool’ by upcoming generations. Some say that legalized gambling might have given the Mountains the shot in the arm it needed. All speculation.
     Perhaps it just comes down to its having been a time and place that was only meant to exist when it did.  How fortunate for those of us who were able to enjoy it.
     I’ve included a list of some of the most popular resorts:

Grossinger’s Hotel
The Brickman Hotel
Brown’s Hotel (where Jerry Lewis got his start)
The Concord Hotel
The Raleigh Hotel
The Nevele Hotel
The Windsor Hotel
Tamarack Lodge
The Nemerson Hotel
Kutsher’s Hotel
The Stevensville Lake Hotel
The Pines Hotel
The Paramount Hotel
Homowack Lodge
The Eldorado Hotel

Have a great weekend and thanks for joining me on this week's journey along,


Thursday, November 3, 2011


Alfred Hitchcock is probably my all time favorite director, followed
closely by Billy Wilder.  I have enjoyed Hitchcock films my entire
life, both as a kid and later as a cinema student, when I learned more about the man and his maverick techniques.

      Hitchcock’s style was unique and easily recognizable, so much so
that Mel Brooks tenderly paid homage to it in his film High Anxiety.
Hitch (as he was known to colleagues) pioneered numerous innovative
shooting and editorial techniques to create suspense. When asked how
he created suspense, Hitchcock once said that seeing a bomb, for example,
then watching it explode did little in the way of creating suspense. Instead,
one created suspense by cutting between the bomb set to go off, a clock,
and, say, the fearful eyes of the intended victim.  He was able to do this by
first, meticulously creating a storyboard depicting his shots, scene by scene.
     Also, by allowing our eyes to be that of the camera and by moving slowly
around his subjects, he engaged us in a form of voyeurism.  We felt the
actors’ fear, their anxiety. And let me assure you, his characters usually
had much about which to feel fearful.
    A common thread running through his films was that of a man wrongly
accused of a crime (ie. The Thirty-Nine Steps, Saboteur, The Wrong Man,
North by Northwest, and Strangers on a Train) and Hitchcock’s
experiences as a child came into play here.
     He apparently had a lonely, isolated childhood, made worse by his
obesity. Lots of time for his imagination to grow and fester, I would imagine.
When he was a child his father “punished” him by sending him to the local police station with a note asking that he be “locked up for ten minutes for his
”infraction”. This was undoubtedly done as a way to teach a lesson that
wouldn’t be easily forgotten. If that was the case, it worked. It developed in Hitchcock a lifelong fear of being locked up and a distrust of the police in general.
 His Jesuit upbringing influenced him as well and many of his films dealt with religious,
 or at least morally ethical dilemmas (Vertigo, I Confess)

    In addition to his “man-on-the-run-having-been-wrongly-accused” themes,
Hitchcock’s films shared other similarities. Most of them starred “icy
blondes” such as: Eva Marie Saint, Vera Miles, Doris Day, Grace Kelly
and Tippi Hedren, with Grace Kelly said to have been his personal
favorite. His daughter, Patricia, appeared in bit parts and his wife,
Alma, was the editor of most of his films. Another element common to his
pictures was the use of well known places of interest such as The Statue of
Liberty in Saboteur, Mt. Rushmore in North by Northwest, Royal Albert
Hall in The Man Who Knew Too Much and the Forrest Hills Tennis Stadium
in Strangers on a Train. (Incidentally, Robert Walker’s performance as socio-
path, Bruno Antony in this film, is chilling).
     Hitchcock also introduced what came to be known as the “MacGuffin”: vague,
unimportant devices whose sole purpose was to move the story forward.  These
might come in many forms ranging from a formula whispered by a diplomat (Foreign
Correspondent), to hidden microfilm (North by Northwest), to a bottle of wine
containing uranium (Notorious).

      It’s difficult to state my favorite Hitchcock film, I’ve enjoyed so many. If pressed,
I would probably have to say that The Lady Vanishes, Shadow of a Doubt, The
Man Who Knew Too Much (the second version starring Jimmy Stewart and
Doris Day), and North by Northwest are amongst my favorites. Hitchcock’s
unique blend of psychological suspense, sexual undercurrents, and ironic
humor are what made him an icon. (Though he never achieved an Oscar for a
particular movie, he did ultimately receive a Lifetime Achievement award).
    Hitchcock’s “signature” was the cameo appearances he made in all his
films.  See if you can “find Hitch” by ithmatching the film below with the scene
in which he turned up.

1.  THE LADY VANISHES                     A. Being pushed in a wheelchair at an airport

2.  STRANGERS ON A TRAIN               B. In the center of a crowd wearing a “bowler” hat

3.  THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH C. Walking down the street carrying a trumpet

4.  LIFEBOAT                                       D. Missing a bus during the opening credits

5.  TO CATCH A THIEF                         E. Winding a clock in a songwriter’s apartment

6.  SHADOW OF A DOUBT                   F. In a crowded Victoria Station, smoking a

7.  THE BIRDS                                     G. At “a hunt”, walking a horse across the screen

8.  DIAL M FOR MURDER                     H. In a Moroccan market place watching

9.  NOTORIOUS                                    I. In before and after pictures in a newspaper ad*

10.REAR WINDOW                               J. Coming out of an elevator

11.PSYCHO                                         K. Behind a door marked “Registrar of Births 
                                                                and Deaths”
12. TOPAZ                                            L. Through a window wearing a cowboy hat

13. FRENZY                                          M. Boarding a train carrying a bass fiddle

14. TORN CURTAIN                                N. Seated in a hotel lobby holding a small child

15. FAMILY PLOT                                  O. In a class reunion photo

16. NORTH BY NORTHWEST                 P. On a train playing cards

17. VERTIGO                                         Q. Seated on a bus beside Cary Grant

18. REBECCA                                        R. Posting a letter at a mail box

19. SUSPICION                                      S. At a big party sipping champagne

20. SPELLBOUND                                  T. Leaving a pet store with two white terriers

*Note of trivia: The ad in question was for "Reduco Obesity Slayer".


1F; 2M; 3H; 4I; 5Q; 6P; 7T; 8O; 9S; 10E; 11L; 12A; 13B; 14N; 15K; 16D; 17C; 18G; 19R; 20J

If you’d like to learn more about Alfred Hitchcock, I would recommend reading “The Dark Side of Genius” by Donald Spoto. It’s the most comprehensive book on Hitchcock I’ve read to date.

Have a great weekend and thanks for joining me on this week’s journey along,