Friday, July 29, 2011


            Murder on the Orient Express, North by Northwest, Silver Streak.
            Mystery. Intrigue.  Romance.
The rail system and all that it conjures up has always held a particular allure for the American public. Much of this fascination is due to passenger trains that evoke a feeling of simpler and, in some ways, more tender times. We’ve all seen the movies. Cheerful porters. Elegant dining cars.
            Before laptops, iPods and smart phones, travelers had fewer options as to how they might choose to amuse themselves while on a train.  They could sleep or eat. They might read or work a crossword puzzle. Or they could get to know the stranger seated beside them.  In trains equipped with sleeping compartments, they could while the time away making love (the rhythm of the trains either adding or detracting from the experience depending on one’s outlook).
            Gone now are the Santa Fe, Union Pacific, and the Southern Pacific and Amtrak sometimes seems to be holding on by the skin of its teeth.
            Standing as a testament to these old rail lines are beautifully constructed and designed stations throughout the nation.  Recently, I had the opportunity of touring L.A.’s own Union Station. Built in 1939, Union Station is a nationally recognized historic landmark and presently is home to Metrolink, the Metro Red, Purple and Gold Lines. An ambitious plan is underway to link Los Angeles to San Francisco, Anaheim, and San Diego with “bullet trains” capable of traveling up to 250 miles per hour.
            While touring the station, I found myself less interested in its future than in its formidable past.  Combining the influences of the original Spanish settlers with an art deco flavor, architects Donald and John Parkinson incorporated incredible colored tiles and white washed stucco with clear lines, curves, and geometric mosaics. The effect is striking.
            Union Station was originally built for a, then astronomical, cost of 11 million dollars.  When it was constructed it displaced homes, wine vineyards, and the original Chinatown.  Incidentally, the station is reputed to have its own ghost. (Maybe one of those displaced wasn’t too pleased about the concept of eminent domain.)
            Though the newer additions to the station contain magnificent murals and sculptures, it is the immaculately maintained features of the past (the lighting fixtures, ticket booths, seats) that truly amaze.  If you close your eyes, you might imagine passengers of years gone by, dressed in their “proper traveling clothes”, glancing up at the prominent clock tower in their rush to catch a train.
            To a great extent, train travel in L.A. was diminished by the increased use of the automobile (as well as the introduction of freeways) and ultimately air travel. In fact, Union Station is often referred to as “the last of the great American train stations”.
            Whether or not you take advantage of the facilities which are rented out for weddings and other functions, I strongly recommend taking a tour as I did (simply contact the L.A. Conservancy: 213-623-2489; the tour of Union Station, I believe, is every third Saturday).
            If you do decide to take this tour, you might want to spend some time downtown either visiting Olvera Street or just having lunch or dinner. (The day I was there I had the “specialty” of the renowned Phillipe’s: the dipped sandwich. Delicious, and at $6 or $7 the price can’t be beat).  For residents of the Los Angeles area or for those of you planning to visit, the following is a partial list of what was voted “best places to eat downtown” by readers of Los Angeles Downtown News:

  1. BEST BREAKFAST:  The Original Pantry Café
  3. BEST WINE BAR:  Corkbar
  4. BEST AMERICAN:  Pete’s Café & Bar
  5. BEST STEAKHOUSE:  Morton’s The Steakhouse
  6. BEST PIZZA:  Bottega Louie
  7. BEST SEAFOOD:  Water Grill
  8. BEST BURGER:  Tommy’s
  9. BEST THAI:  Soi 7
  10. BEST SUSHI:  SugarFish
  11. BEST DIM SUM:  Empress Pavillion
  12. BEST CHINESE:  Yang Chow
  14. BEST BAKERY:  BabyCakes
  15. MOST ROMANTIC:  Café Pinot
  16. BEST BARGAIN LUNCH:  Phillipe The Original
  17. BEST ITALIAN:  Drago Centro
  18. BEST MEXICAN:  El Cholo
  20. BEST RESTAURANT HAPPY HOUR:  McCormick & Schmick’s

(I would add to this one of my personal favorites: Clifton’s Cafeteria)

Please feel free to comment on any of the restaurants I’ve mentioned and to suggest one or two of your own.

Have a great weekend and thank you for joining me on my journey along,



Friday, July 22, 2011


            Yesterday, thousands of people packed the landing strip at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, anxiously awaiting the touchdown of space shuttle, Atlantis.  The landing drew cheers as well as tears since it brought with it an end to NASA’s longest running (thirty years) space flight program, a program that included space shuttles Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Endeavor and Atlantis, America’s final shuttle.
            It was refreshing to see the attention paid to Atlantis by the media, especially since, as a country, our fascination with the space program has waned to some extent over the years.
            In the mid-fifties, at the height of the cold war, the U.S. was competing with the Soviet Union for domination in space exploration. Spurred on by the success of Sputnik, the first satellite to be launched into orbit (launched by the Soviets, no less), the American government was determined to be the winner in this race.
            To that end, schools across the country scrambled to comply with the dictum handed down: beef up our school science programs at every grade level!  Viewers were deluged with episodes of Outer Limits and Twilight Zone that dealt with “outer space” and movies with similar themes (ie. Invaders From Mars, The Day the Earth Stood Still) were plentiful. People were enthralled with astronauts, our new super-heroes.
            Yet over the years, our rapture seems to have abated; somewhere along the way, captivation turned into merely mild curiosity. A blasé public has pretty much taken astronauts for granted these days and has viewed their space missions as interesting but little more than that.
            Sad to say it often takes something as momentous as yesterday’s final shuttle landing or as tragic as the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, to remind us just how courageous these men and women are.
            A personal anecdote here: Years ago, when my son, Adam, was in kindergarten, he came home and asked if grandpas could walk on the moon. I smiled indulgently and told him as a rule, that didn’t happen. When asked why he wanted to know, he said, “Kaylie said her grandpa walked on the moon.” I asked who Kaylie was and Adam replied, “A new girl at school, Kaylie Armstrong. Somewhat humbled, I informed my son that Kaylie’s grandpa had, indeed, walked on the moon.
            As a tribute to the astronauts who helped to further our knowledge of the universe, I’m offering a little quiz.  I’ve listed 10 astronauts whose names are recalled for a particular reason. See if you can match the person with that which has made their names recognizable.

1.   Robert Lawrence          a.  First American to orbit the Earth.             
2.  Christa McAuliffe           b. First human to orbit the Earth.                                              
3.  Neil Armstrong              c.  Only person to fly in all of America's
                                               first three space programs (Mercury,
                                               Gemini, Apollo).
4.  Allan Shepard                d.  First American woman in space.
5.  Wally Schirra                 e.  First American in space.
6.  Sally Ride                       f.  This teacher was one of the seven
                                               crew members killed in the Space
                                               Challenger disaster.
7. Yuri Gagaren                   g.  Second man to walk on the moon
                                               (unfortunately, while memorable, it
                                               doesn't quite have the cache as
                                               having been the first).
8.  John Glenn                     h.  First African American astronaut.
9.  Lisa Nowak                    i.  Astronaut who gained notoriety
                                              when charged with the attempted
                                              kidnapping of another astronaut,
                                              a romantic rival (clue: remember
                                              the diaper?)
10. Buzz Aldren                  j.  First person to walk on the moon

Scroll down for the answers:

1h, 2f, 3j, 4e, 5c, 6d, 7b, 8a, 9i, 10.g

Have a great weekend and thank you for joining me on this week’s journey along


Friday, July 15, 2011


            Murder is, by its very nature, horrific. Some murders, however, stand out as being more horrific than most.
            The gruesome discovery this week of the dismembered remains of Leiby Kletsky is one such case.
            Leiby, a nine year old Chasidic (an ulta-orthodox sect of Judiasm) boy had been missing since last Monday. He left his day camp in Borough Park (a close knit, ultra-orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn, NY) to meet his parents at a pre-arranged destination seven blocks away.  Before we criticize the parents for allowing their son to walk even a short distance alone, keep in mind these were busy streets, it was five o’clock on a summer’s day, and it was broad daylight.  Unfortunately, Leiby got lost.
            The man whom he asked for directions was thirty-five year old Aron Levi, who, days later, confessed to having killed Leiby.  Ironically, the boy undoubtedly put his trust in a man whose outer appearance was familiar and one which made him seem frum, the Yiddish word for righteous. (Levi quite probably spoke with Leiby in Yiddish and possibly wore customary religious garb as well).
            It is a testament to our humanity that we have not yet become so cynical a society that the murder of a child, be it Leiby Kletsky or Caylee Anthony, does not still outrage us.
            The question remains, what do we do with the monsters among us who would commit such heinous acts?  Jose Ramos, the murderer of six year old Etan Patz  (the child who was infamously abducted on his way to school in N.Y. in 1979) was only convicted in civil court.  He is presently serving a sentence for child molestation and is due to be released in 2012.  Ottis Toole, a convicted killer who was determined to have abducted and murdered six year old Adam Walsh in 1981, died in prison in 1996 before he could be tried for the murder. Many cases remain unsolved despite great efforts being made on the part of authorities and missing persons advocates.
            A good deal has been done in the years following these well publicized abduction/murders: the milk carton campaign, the Amber Alert, the enactment of the Adam Walsh Protection Act which called for stricter sex registration among other things.  Adam Walsh’s father, John Walsh, became a major activist and his TV program, America’s Most Wanted, has been responsible, over the years, for locating nearly 150,000 missing children.
            All of these efforts are worthwhile and commendable and yet the fact remains that children are still at risk of being abducted. True, the incidence of “stranger abductions” is low, but this would be of little comfort to you if it were your child, or a child you knew, who had been kidnapped.
            We need to, somehow, strike a balance between making children wary of all adults and teaching them to be cautious. One doesn’t ask directions of a stranger, assist a stranger, or get into the car of a stranger, regardless of the person’s demeanor or how well he or she presents himself or herself. In fact, in this day and age, it might be well worth repeating the cautionary tale of “a wolf in sheep’s clothing”.

Have a great weekend and thanks for joining me on the journey along 



Friday, July 8, 2011


            The very concept of a mistress has been around for ages.   In fact, had there been another woman on the horizon, rest assured that Adam might likely have cheated on Eve.
            In the upper strata of society, women were traditionally expected to overlook their husband’s “dalliances”; marriage was often viewed as more of a business arrangement and, after all, men would be men.
            Caesar’s wife, Calpurnia, accepted the fact that Caesar had a mistress, that is until he brought Cleopatra back to Rome and she began to flaunt the son she claimed was their “love child”.   (Any parallels that might be drawn to the recent scandal involving a California politician, are strictly coincidental).
            Louis XV had his Madam de Pompadour, Colette wrote about the training of a courtesan (remember Gigi?), and on and on it continued until the sixties brought with it “the pill” and the sexual revolution that followed.
            These were tough times in which to be a proper mistress. With all the “free love” being bandied about, the average man was less likely to spring for the rent on a “love nest” and all the other pricey “mistressy” requirements.
            Still, there will always be the powerful honcho who can indulge his desires and who wants to avoid the scandal of stepping out with just anyone, something that could be costly to his career.  In short, he wants to have his cake and eat it too, metaphorically speaking.
            What follows is a list of “big whigs” to be matched with the females with whom they are said to have had affairs. Realizing that some of these are difficult, I threw you a bone with Hitler. (Note: One lady was actually the mistress of two powerful men listed (she was indeed!), but in this game it’s only “one per customer” so you’ll have to decide on the correct match in this instance.) Scroll down for the answers and good luck.

1.    Lucy Mercer                                                 a. Edward Brooke
2.    Gennifer Flowers                                          b.Wm.Randolph Hearst
3.    Gloria Swanson                                            c. Thomas Jefferson
4.    Phyllis McQuire                                            d. John Edwards
5.    Marion Davies                                               e. John Kennedy
6.    Barbara Walters                                            f. Bill Clinton
7.    Eva Braun                                                     g. Sam Giancana
8.    Rielle Hunter                                                 h. Franklin Roosevelt
9.    Sally Hemings                                                i.  Joe Kennedy
10.  Judith Campbell                                             j. Adolf Hitler

1.h    Lucy Mercer was F.D.R.’s personal secretary; they were personal in many ways.

2.f     Bill Clinton admitted to an indiscretion with Gennifer Flowers while trying to defend his name in the Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky affairs.

3.i     Actress Gloria Swanson was the mistress of Joe Kennedy; obviously old Joe taught his sons well.

4.g    Here’s where things get tricky. Singer Phyllis McQuire (of the McQuire Sisters) had a long term affair with Mafia kingpin, Sam Giancana.  Giancana also had an affair with a beauty by the name of Judith Campbell, whose name will come up again on this list.

5.b    Newspaper mogul, Wm. Randolph Hearst (upon whose life the movie, Citizen Kane, was based)  “kept” actress, Marion Davies in a lavish beach house estate in Santa Monica, which the two designed together.

6.a    In the seventies, TV journalist, Barbara Walters, admittedly had an ongoing affair, with  married Sen. Edward Brooke of Massachusetts; Brooke, incidentally, was the first black to be elected to the senate and if news of the affair had been leaked at the time, both of their careers would likely have been ruined.

7.j    Eva Braun’s relationship with Adolf was well documented, as was the first "crush" Hitler had on his niece, Geli Raubal.

8.d    Sen. John Edwards was having an affair with Rielle Hunter while his wife was dying of cancer. Nice.

9.c    Thomas Jefferson’s mistress was his slave, Sally Hemings.

10.e  And here’s where things get interesting. Judith Campbell was having an affair with President John Kennedy at the same time she was sleeping with Sam Giancana (are you still with me?) which was the same time Kennedy’s brother-in-law, Atty. Gen. Robert Kennedy, was investigating the operations of the Mafia in this country.

Other women with whom J.F.K was reputedly involved included: Gene Tierney, Marilyn Monroe, Jane Mansfield, and Angie Dickenson. Incidentally, I toyed with the idea of having a separate list for all the Kennedy men and their respective mistresses, but the list would have been too long.

Thank you for joining me on Rhodes Less Traveled and,

Have a great weekend, Vivian

Friday, July 1, 2011


I often think that writing for a mystery show on radio would have been my calling had I lived back in the 40’s. A few years ago, I happened upon some cassette tapes of old radio programs and began listening, surprised by how much I was enjoying them.

My favorites were those that offered mystery and suspense such as The Whistler and The Shadow.  I was amazed by the talent that was showcased.  Actors such as Jimmy Stewart, Clark Gable, and Peter Lorre appeared regularly in tight, well written stories. I became addicted to the thriller, I Was a Spy for the F.B.I. Produced in the mid fifties, during the height of the cold war, it starred Dana Andrews as double agent Matt Cvetic.

Having been brought up in the television generation, I always wondered what satisfaction radio audiences derived from only listening to a story rather than actually seeing it.  Now I know. There is a certain intimacy that occurs between narrator and listener that draws the listener in.  Hearing the sound effects of a doorbell, a train whistle, a body being dragged across the room, forces one’s imagination to stretch beyond its greatest limits. A side bonus these days is being able to hear sound effects for things that no longer exist such as a phone being dialed or the keys of a typewriter being tapped.

And, of course, there’s something to be said about listening to a story that was written and performed in an America that existed sixty some odd years ago and picking up the social and cultural insights from an era gone by.  I got so caught up in one particular promotion, that I was prepared to send a Lipton Tea Bag label and a quarter for the chance to own a sterling silver necklace. You’d think the price of a quarter would have been a tip off and might have brought me back to the present faster than it did.

Who will admit to being old enough to know who sponsored the following shows?
Scroll down for the answers.


1.   SUSPENSE: (1942-1962) Showcased top stars of the day (Orson Welles, Cary Grant) in original and classic stories, the most famous of which was probably Sorry, Wrong Number, starring Agnes Moorehead. SPONSOR: ROMA WINES.

2.    OUR MISS BROOKS: (1948-1957); Seen concurrently on CBS-TV, it starred the ever wise-cracking, Eve Arden as high school teacher, Connie Brooks. Supporting cast included Gale Gordon and Richard Crenna (who went on to become a well respected TV director) SPONSORS: COLGATE & TONI HOME PERMANENT

3.   GUIDING LIGHT: (1937-1956) The longest running ‘soap opera’, continued on CBS-TV until it was canceled in 2009. A personal note here, my late husband, Rick Rhodes and his partner, Danny Pelfry, wrote the Guiding Light theme, which played in the early 2000’s. SPONSORS: GENERAL MILLS, DUZ SOAP (On TV, this became one of Proctor and Gamble’s many sponsored shows. Another personal note: I wrote for a P & G soap in the eighties: As The World Turns, also recently canceled).

4.   THE LONE RANGER:  (1933-1954) The Lone Ranger and his faithful friend, Tonto roamed the county with their respective horses, Silver and Scout, helping people in need. The theme song, Rossini’s “William Tell Overture” became forever identifiable with the show. SPONSORS: SILVERCUP BREAD, GENERAL MILLS.

5.   INNER SANCTUM MYSTERIES: (1941-1952) Accompanied by the sound of a squeaking door, listeners were invited by Raymond, a creepy sounding host, to hear horror stories guaranteed to “scare the yell” out of them. SPONSOR: LIPTON TEA AND SOUP.

6.   THE BURNS & ALLEN SHOW: (1932-1950) Married in real life, Burns and Allen were one of the most popular comedy teams around.  Cigar chomping, George was always baffled by his ditzy wife, Gracie. They moved to television, along with their announcer, Harry Von Zell. SPONSORS: GRAPE NUTS, MAXWELL HOUSE COFFEE

7.   THE BERGEN & MCCARTHY SHOW: (1937-1956) Edgar Bergen and his famous dummies, Charlie McCarthy and Mortimer Snerd were huge favorites with radio listeners. Although, as Woody Allen once pointed out in the movie, Radio Days, how could listeners tell if Bergen’s lips were moving? This was, after all, radio.

8.   THE JACK BENNY SHOW: (1933-1950) With his renown comic timing and his signature, “Well!” Benny was the only performer to have a number 1 rated show on both NBC and CBS. His supporting cast included his wife, Mary Livingstone, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and Phil Harris. SPONSORS: JELLO, LUCKY-STRIKE.

9.   THE GREEN HORNET: (1936-1952) Before Seth Rogen took up the role in today’s 2011 film adaptation, The Green Hornet first made his debut in radio.  Britt Reid, newspaper publisher by day and masked crime fighter by night, fought criminals with his faithful sidekick, Kato. SPONSORS: GENERAL MILLS, ORANGE CRUSH.
(Interesting bit of trivia: Reid was originally introduced as the Lone Ranger’s nephew).

10.  QUEEN FOR A DAY: (1945-1957) A precursor to reality television shows such as Extreme Makeover, each episode set out to grant the wish of a deserving woman with a sad tale to relay. It transitioned successfully to television (I vividly recall watching this, as a little girl, with my grandmother, who was always overcome with emotion by the stories told). SPONSORS: ALKA-SELTZER, PHILIP MORRIS CIGARETTES.

Hope you’ve enjoyed the journey down memory lane on Rhodes Less Traveled.

Have a nice weekend, Vivian