Salty Brine

salty brine


I came to Rhode Island in 1978, so I missed the early career of Salty Brine. He was a radio / TV personality with a deep jolly voice, who hosted a children’s show called “Salty’s Shack.” (He portrayed a sea captain, naturally.) By the time I got to Rhode Island, he was best known for reading the school closures on the radio when it snowed. There’s a small region in northwestern Rhode Island, the Foster/Glocester area (pronounced “Fosta Glosta”), very underpopulated, a bit more elevated than the rest of the state, which gets more snow than the rest of the state; they close school when no one else does.

And Salty would boom: “NO SCHOOL FOSTA GLOSTA!”

And children throughout Rhode Island (even those who didn’t live in the Foster / Glocester school districts) would cheer.

Salty Brine, the children’s host, the radio personality, was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1979.

Does that tell you something?

They even named a beach after him: “Salty Brine State Beach,” in Galilee.

We had local celebrities when and where I was growing up. I remember Rusty Nails the clown, who was on Portland television in the 1960s; if you watch “The Simpsons,” you’ll see a version of him as Krusty the Clown (Matt Groening, the creator of the show, grew up in the area at the same time as me).

But I do believe that nowhere are those local celebrities as beloved as Salty Brine is beloved here.

Why?

Rhode Island is small. We treasure our own. And if they’re successful (and known beyond the borders of this small state), we treasure them even more.

And I am told by people of my age from Massachusetts that they used to love Salty Brine, beamed in from Providence, back in the 1960s and 1970s.

So Salty Brine is a legend, in Rhode Island, and even outside its borders.

You see? You don’t need to reach far in life. You just need to be well-known in your little neighborhood. If you manage that, all kinds of things can happen.


The great Durante

durante


I’ve written before about the ephemerality of fame. How many of you remember Jinx Falkenberg, who was such a big star in her time? And, worse yet, how many of the “celebrities” that she wrote about in her autobiography are still remembered? Almost none. Here’s a great line from her book:  “Tex [Jinx’s husband] asked a whole group over to ‘21’ for dinner – the Jack Strauses, Joanne Sayres and Tony Bliss, Carl Whitmore, the Howard Twins.”

 

 

To this day, I have no idea who any of these people are. I salute them, and their ephemeral celebrity.

 

 

But sometimes a celebrity has more – ahem – memorability.

 

 

I was strolling down the biography aisle in the library the other day when I saw H. Allen Smith’s “Low Man on a Totem Pole.” My heart leapt up. I think I may have a copy of this great classic somewhere in the house, but it’s probably buried under layers and layers of other books. So I checked it out, to give it a twentieth read.

 

 

It has all the wonderful stuff I remember. It has the interview with Lupe Velez, the Mexican Spitfire, like so: “I am a wild prize-fighting fan. I go all the time. One night the last fight is on, and I see it is just a couple palookas – that means bums, no goods – so I say to myself why should I sit there and look at these palookas playing waltz with each other and I leave and go to the Clover Club. After that someone comes to my table and says I should not have left the fight because they start throwing pop bottles and almost kill Ruby Keeler.”

 

 

(I don’t care if you know who Ruby Keeler is or not. This line almost killed me with laughter.)

 

 

Smith also interviewed John Grimek and Steve Stanko, early Mr. Americas, who insisted that they liked girls, and that they weren’t musclebound, and could scratch their backs as much as they want.

 

 

Also, best of all: Smith interviewed Jimmy Durante.

 

 

Jimmy was a vaudeville comedian, who became a stage comedian, who became a movie comedian, who became a radio comedian, who became a television comedian. He worked and worked. I remember an interview he did, probably in the 1970s, when he said he intended to work until he died. And so he did.

 

 

He was very funny, and he had a big nose and a comical way of speaking. Here he is:

 

 

 

 

Jimmy Durante is immortal. He is even more immortal than immortal, because he’s in a Cole Porter song:

 

 

You’re a rose,

You’re Inferno’s Dante;

You’re the nose

Of the great Durante.

 

 

Here’s the song.

 

 

 

 

 

Go watch “The Man Who Came to Dinner,” with Monty Woolley and Ann Sheridan. Wait for Durante. He comes into the movie about halfway through. You can’t miss him. He’s wonderful.

 

 

Unlike poor Jinx Falkenberg, the great Durante will live forever.


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Danny Lockin

danny lockin


I was watching “Hello, Dolly!” on TCM the other night (yes, I know, I’m gayer than Christmas at Bloomingdale’s) and thinking about the cast. A number of the co-stars never really broke through. I vaguely remember that E. J. Peaker, who plays Minnie Fay in the movie, had a short-lived TV show with Bobby Morse in the 1960s. Michael Crawford did okay for himself too, mostly on stage.

But what about the cute little blond fellow who played Barnaby Tucker? I couldn’t place him. So I looked him up in IMDB. Aha. Danny Lockin. Professional dancer –

Who was horribly murdered in 1977, only about ten years after making the movie.

I recently wrote about how we like to dwell of stories of cruelty and violence and horror, and especially when they happen to celebrities.

But why?

I have a personal theory that celebrities – music, movies, TV – are our modern pantheon, our gods and demigods. We are fascinated by them, and we attribute all kinds of qualities to them. They have mana. A celebrity on the Graham Norton Show recently talked about people passing out when they met him; they simply couldn’t handle being close to someone they knew from television or the movies. Another guest agreed. Apparently it happens all the time.

And, just as with mythology and folklore, we like to hear and retell stories about celebrities.

When I was a kid, the two biggest Hollywood stories were the Eddie Fisher / Debbie Reynolds / Elizabeth Taylor triangle (Eddie and Debbie were married, and then that tramp Elizabeth broke them up!), and Elizabeth’s on-again / off-again relationship with Richard Burton. You see? Just like Greek mythology: the gods and demigods philander and cheat and scheme, and there’s always a moral at the end of the story.

And we do love it when they die spectacularly: Carole Lombard in a plane crash, George Sanders by his own hand, Sal Mineo stabbed to death.

And poor cute little Danny Lockin too.

But I don’t love it.

I am terribly terribly sorry about it.


Jinx Falkenburg


The Providence Public Library is full of old unhappy-looking books which haven’t seen the light of day in decades. I like to take them out into the sunshine, and wipe the dust off their covers, and sometimes even peek inside them, to see what people were reading during the Van Buren administration.

For example: I was strolling down the biography / autobiography aisle the other day when I saw the word JINX on the spine of an oldish-looking book.

I took it down, and sure enough: it was the autobiography of Jinx Falkenburg.

What? You’ve never heard of Jinx Falkenburg?

Jinx was a model in the 1930s. She was Miss Rheingold Beer, and a sort of actress, and a tennis star. She did a lot of USO work during World War II. She married a journalist, Tex McCrary, and after the war, they had a radio show which was broadcast from their very own home. Also they had a TV show for a while in the early 1950s.

She was very popular in her day. She was pretty in a Rita Hayworth way. She was a raconteur, and told endless stories at a breathless pace, one tumbling on top of the next. The book (whether she wrote it, or whether it was ghostwritten for her) tries to echo her chatty cheerfulness; now, after sixty years, it feels like cocktail conversation that wasn’t really very interesting at the time, and is definitely not very interesting nowadays.

Also, Jinx knew everyone: Rise Stevens, Bernard Baruch, Paulette Goddard, Pat O’Brien, the Ritz Brothers, the Paleys . . . .

Yes, I know. Who are these people?

It’s bad enough that Jinx was a name-dropper. It’s worse now, all these years later, when most of Jinx’s famous friends are just as forgotten as Jinx herself. This is my favorite passage along these lines: “Tex asked a whole group over to “21” for dinner – the Jack Strauses, Joanne Sayres and Tony Bliss, Carl Whimore, the Howard Twins.” I like to think I know who was who in the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s, and I have no idea who she’s talking about here.

 

(But this is a lesson in ephemerality. These were celebrities, not so long ago. And now they’re gone, and forgotten: Jinx, and Tex, and Paulette Goddard, and the Howard Twins.)

Everyone gets forgotten. Even Jinx and Tex. Even you and me.

It is a lesson to us all.


 

Brushes with celebrity

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We’ve all had brushes with celebrities. Working at a large East Coast university has brought lots of them my way.  Some years ago I was in a bookstore in downtown Providence at lunchtime, and I was trying to look at something on a lower shelf, and a tall lanky balding older guy was trying to look at the same shelf, and we got in each other’s way. And we glared at each other.  And – oh Jesus – it was Peter Boyle.

 

 

Partner and I like strolling in Manhattan, and one day we had a twofer: an Edie Falco sighting in a pastry shop (everybody in the place was on his/her cell phone, reporting that Edie was only two tables away!), and a Brad Garrett sighting on Broadway (he was eighteen inches taller than everyone else, and he was fairly radiating don’t-even-think-about-approaching-me!).  Also Daniel Davis, Niles from “The Nanny,” who’d been in the production of “La Cage aux Folles” we’d just seen, smiling in the rain, signing autographs.  Also the guy who played the mayor on “Gilmore Girls,” in line for “Spamalot,” bitchy and gossipy.

 

 

A friend here in Rhode Island is acquainted with a major local politician; she babysits her dogs, for god’s sake.  They were in a burger joint together, and the girl behind the counter squinted at Major Politician oddly. “I’ve seen you on TV,” she said. “Or in the newspaper. Right?”

 

 

Major Politician smiled. “Probably you have,” she said. “I’m Major Politician.”

 

 

The girl thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know who that is.”

 

 

Ah well.

 

 

But sometimes there is a perfect celebrity moment:

 

 

One of my acquaintances is lucky enough to be acquainted with the immortal Candice Bergen.  They were in a local Starbucks, and the barista said: “You look just like Murphy Brown.”

 

 

And Candice Bergen said, without batting an eye: “You know, a lot of people tell me that.”

 

 

Perfect.


 

 

 

Movie review: “It Should Happen To You”

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I caught another odd interesting movie on TCM a while back: “It Should Happen To You.”  Quick synopsis: Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday), down on her luck, meets lively interesting documentarian Pete (a young Jack Lemmon), who tries to cheer her up, and who (incidentally) finds her fascinating.  Then Gladys gets an idea: why not invest in a billboard?  It will be in Columbus Circle in Manhattan and it will just say her name: GLADYS GLOVER.  If nothing else, it will make her feel better about herself.

 

 

Things go wild.  Evan Adams III (a young and sickeningly handsome Peter Lawford) tries to buy the billboard away from her for his family’s soap company; then, of course, he falls for her.  He makes a bargain: if he can have the Columbus Circle billboard, he’ll give her six others, strategically placed throughout Manhattan. 

 

 

People start to recognize her name.  How can they not?  It’s plastered all over the city.  A cynical reporter does a story about her – just another crazy New Yorker –  but realizes quickly that the audience likes her goofy sincerity.  Soon she’s on TV, with 1950s celebs like Ilka Chase and Wendy Barrie and Constance Bennett.  Lawford’s soap company makes her their spokesmodel.  Gladys is suddenly famous, and enchanted with the idea of being famous.

 

 

Poor Jack Lemmon is sulking at the sidelines this whole time.  Finally, of course, being good-hearted, Judy realizes that her fame is based on nothing, and renounces it, and marries Jack.

 

 

Is any of this resonating with you?  Is the name “Kardashian” occurring to you, or “Paris Hilton”?

 

 

The movie works for a couple of reasons.  First: Judy Holliday.  The woman couldn’t turn in a bad performance.  She always played the same character, of course: uneducated but smart, quick, funny, deadpan.  Jack Lemmon is at his young/goofy best too (this was his first movie).  Also there’s the writing: it’s a Garson Kanin screenplay (supposedly inspired by a comment he made to his wife Ruth Gordon during a downtime in their careers, when he pointed up at a prominent Manhattan billboard and told her that her name would be up there someday), and the dialogue is very sharp.  He knew how to write for Judy Holliday (she was in both “Adam’s Rib” and “Born Yesterday”), and I would love to know how much of the dialogue came from Garson’s typewriter and how much was pure Judy.  It’s also a nostalgia romp for old-timers like me, with the black-and-white cinematography of Manhattan. (I swear there are whole streets and avenues that haven’t changed since this movie was made; at one point Partner sat up and pointed at the screen and said: “Bickford’s! I remember eating there!”)

 

 

But, for me, it was mostly about the anatomy of fame. 

 

 

Lots of old movies are about the perils of fame: “Meet John Doe,” “Nothing Sacred,” “A Face In the Crowd.”  It makes one realize that Hollywood has not changed, nor human nature, nor our appetite to be rich and famous, nor our appetite to be close to the rich and famous.

 

 

The movie has a silly squishy ending.  It also has a very mawkish song.  I’m just warning you, in case you see it.

 

 

But do see it.

 

 

It will make you laugh a couple of times, but it will also make you think.

 

 

A little.


 

Totalitarian beefcake


 

I think our fascination with famous people comes from the same brain cells that brew up our religious impulses. Celebrity worship is sort of like regular worship, right? We imbue famous people with all kinds of qualities they might or not possess. We imagine that they live in a combination Valhalla / Wonderland / Ritz Carlton. We assume they’re all peers (some on a higher level than others, of course), and that they all know each other. (On talk shows they actually pretend that this is true.) We long to see them, touch them, be with them.

 

 

And we choose our gods, and our celebrities, with our hearts.

 

 

And the heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing at all.

 

 

I have been mesmerized by the spate of Vladimir Putin photos lately. Take a look at them if you haven’t seen them. The best batch (released by his own public-relations people) are from his 2009 Siberian vacation with Prince Albert of Monaco. Putin is portrayed as Papa Bear – a big muscular he-man, goin’ a-huntin’ and a-fishin’ and a-ridin’. It’s soft-core porn with a balalaika soundtrack, and I like it very much. (His Serene Highness Prince Albert, on the other hand, looks like a pudgy CEO on a dude ranch vacation.)

 

 

So what does my sincere admiration of Vladimir Vladimirovich say about me?

 

 

Nothing flattering.

 

 

Apparently I’m just waiting for a hunky / corrupt / aloof / intense Slavic-looking dictator to sweep me off my feet, take me camping in the Kyzyl region of Siberia, and maybe give me something nice for Christmas, like Lithuania, or Lake Baikal.

 

 

What can I say?  Nobody’s perfect.

 

 


 

 

 

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