Friday, August 28, 2009

Ruth Gordon

Last weekend, I watched one of my all time favourite movies -"Harold and Maude" - the 1971 cult classic, starring Bud Cort and the irrepressible Ruth Gordon. I'd seen a number of her films and television appearances over the years, but "Harold and Maude" is at the top of my list with this multitalented woman. A friend introduced me to this movie in the late 1980's and I've probably watched it a dozen or more times since.

For the uninitiated, it is a very dark comedy that can teach us all a lesson about living each life to the fullest. I will admit, that you have to be in the right frame of mind to watch this film, but if you are - well you will find yourself gasping, laughing out loud, cheering, singing along with the Cat Stevens soundtrack and maybe shedding a tear.

Ruth Gordon Jones was born October 30, 1896 in Quincy, Massachusetts. She decided that she wanted to be an actress after seeing a performance by her favourite actress, Hazel Dawn. Her parents were skeptical that she could make a living as an actress, but her father took her to New York City in 1914 and enrolled her in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. In 1915 she had her first role as an extra in a silent movie and soon after made her acting debut on Broadway as one of the lost boys in a revival of Peter Pan. In 1918, she costarred in a play called "Seventeen" with Gregory Kelly who later became her first husband in 1921. He died of heart disease in 1927 at age 36. Her only child, Jones Harris was born in 1929 after a relationship with Broadway producer Jed Harris.

Through the 1920's and 1930's she had numerous small roles in plays on Broadway, several theaters in the USA and on stage in England. There were also more roles in movies - silent and talking.

Besides being a talented actress, Gordon was also an accomplished writer. She authored several books and plays. Together, with her second husband, Garson Kanin (1942-1985), Gordon co wrote numerous successful plays for the stage and adaptations for the silver screen. Two of the most notable plays were "Adam's Rib" (1949) and "Pat and Mike" (1952). The screenplays starred Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. The onscreen characters were modeled on the writer's real life relationship. They received an Oscar nominations for the writing of both screenplays.

Her autobiographical play, "Years Ago" was made into the 1953 movie "The Actress", starring Jean Simmons. In 1956, she was nominated for a Tony Award for her role as Dolly Levi in "The Matchmaker". In 1966, she earned an Oscar nomination and won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress ("Inside Daisy Clover"). Her portrayal of Minnie Castevet in "Rosemary's Baby" (1968) earned her both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Gordon was again nominated for a Golden Globe in 1971 for her role as Maude in "Harold and Maude".

Her movie career continued with roles such as Ma Boggs in the "Every Which Way But Loose" and "Any Which Way You Can" and as Mrs. Lavin in "Maxie" (1985).

"Maxie" is another one of my all time favourite movies! It stars Glenn Close as Jan - a bishop's secretary who ends up sharing her home and her body with the ghost of a wild flapper era actress who died on the way to her biggest audition. Jan's husband Nick - Mandy Patinkin - is a used book dealer. The couple are renovating their new apartment and uncover some of Maxie's past and also learn that her spirit still lives in the home. Ruth Gordon plays the landlady who was also a very close friend of Maxie's. This was one of the last appearances that Gordon made. She died a few weeks before the film was released.

Throughout her later years, Gordon also worked on the small screen in numerous TV plays and did several guest appearances on series such as "Kojak", "Medical Story", "Love Boat", "Newhart" and "Taxi". One of her more notable TV roles was as Carlton's mother on "Rhoda" for which she earned an Emmy nomination. She also costarred with Peter Falk in his "Columbo" series as the murderess mystery author, Abigail Mitchell in "Try And Catch Me" (1977). In 1975, she became the oldest person to host "Saturday Night Live".

Ruth Gordon died from a stroke 24 years ago today on August 28, 1985 in Edgartown, Massachusetts.

Ruth Gordon quotes:
"The great have no friends. They merely know a lot of people."
"Why should ruts be so comfortable and so unpopular?"
"The kiss. There are all sorts of kisses, lad, from the sticky confection to the kiss of death. Of them all, the kiss of an actress is the most unnerving. How can we tell if she means it or if she's just practicing?"
"The best impromptu speeches are the ones written well in advance."
"Never give up; and never, under any circumstances, no matter what - never face the facts."
"If you believe, then you hang on. If you believe, it means you've got imagination, you don't need stuff thrown out on a blueprint, and don't face facts-what can stop you? If I don't make it today, I'll come in tomorrow."
"All I wanted out of a career was to look like Hazel Dawn and wear pink feathers."
(On winning the Oscar at age 72, after fifty years in show business.) "I can't tell you how encouraging a thing like this is, for a young actress like myself."
"In our family we don't divorce our men - we bury them."



Monday, August 24, 2009

Humour For The Ladies And The Men Who Can Handle It!

So after the last couple of posts on women aging, I though it only appropriate to follow it up with some humour in the same vein!


A study conducted by UCLA's Department of Psychiatry has revealed that the kind of face a woman finds attractive on a man can differ depending on where she is in her menstrual cycle. For example: If she is ovulating, she is attracted to men with rugged and masculine features.

However, if she is menstruating, or menopausal, she tends to be more attracted to a man with duct tape over his mouth and a spear lodged in his chest while he is on fire.

No further studies are expected.



You've heard about people who have been abducted and had their kidneys removed by black-market organ thieves.

My thighs were stolen from me during the night a few years ago. I went to sleep and woke up with someone else's thighs. It was just that quick. The replacements had the texture of cooked oatmeal. Whose thighs were these and what happened to mine?

I spent the entire summer looking for my thighs. Finally, hurt and angry, I resigned myself to living out my life in jeans. And then the thieves struck again.

My butt was next. I knew it was the same gang, because they took pains to match my new rear-end to the thighs they had stuck me with earlier. But my new butt was attached at least three inches lower than my original! I realized I'd have to give up my jeans in favor of long skirts.

Two years ago I realized my arms had been switched. One morning I was fixing my hair and was horrified to see the flesh of my upper arm swing to and fro with the motion of the hairbrush. This was really getting scary - my body was being replaced one section at a time. What could they do to me next?

When my poor neck suddenly disappeared and was replaced with a turkey neck, I decided to tell my story. Women of the world, wake up and smell the coffee! Those 'plastic' surgeons are using REAL replacement body parts -stolen from you and me! The next time someone you know has something 'lifted', look again - was it lifted from you?

THIS IS NOT A HOAX. This is happening to women everywhere every night. WARN YOUR FRIENDS!

P. S. Last year I thought someone had stolen my Boobs. I was lying in bed and they were gone! But when I jumped out of bed, I was relieved to see that they had just been hiding in my armpits as I slept. Now I keep them hidden in my waistband!



Thursday, August 20, 2009

Oh, This Is Fun - NOT! Part 2

I know that most of the changes that my body is going through is thanks to the onset of perimenopause. I started getting a few hot flashes around my fiftieth birthday. At first they were just from the chest up - a brief heat wave and flushed colour and then it was over. I thought maybe I might be getting off lucky. No such luck. Within a few months it had progressed to full body and they weren't fun even though they only lasted a couple of minutes. A hot flash in the middle of winter isn't so bad as it can cut down on the heating bills, but in the summer it can be downright uncomfortable - there is only so much you can take off without causing a scene!

Several of my friends warned me about night sweats. You are sound asleep when you suddenly feel so hot that you begin to sweat and throw off the covers just to cool off. Some women actually have to change the sheets during the night. Others keep a wet cloth handy by the bed so they can do a rub down to cool their bodies.

I don't get night sweats every night, but when I do, it would be really nice if they arrived at the same time as the collect call from Mother Nature! But, NOOO! I'll get ready for bed and within seconds of crawling into bed my feet turn to ice cubes and I often get a cold chill in the hollow of my back, despite being well covered. So my whole body ends up shivering! One of those times when the warmth a male body would come in handy - but I digress! The blanket also seems to be working against me, as it thinks it is supposed to keep the ice from melting not the reverse. ARGH!

So after a few minutes, my body finally warms up and I fall into a comfortable sleep - unless of course my brain decides to kick into overdrive and keep me awake for awhile longer. Eventually I do fall asleep and generally sleep quite well - until I get an emergency call from Mother Nature who requires my presence in another part of the apartment. As one of my friends says - "at least your body still alerts you to GET up!" True - and I am very thankful for that! The point is, that why couldn't the hot flash also arrive at the same time? It would keep me warm till I crawl back under the covers. Apparently that isn't the way this aging game works. They tag team through most nights just enough to prevent me from getting a decent nights sleep. The insomnia can also decide to call in the middle of the night. I have occasionally had to function on 3 to 4 hours of very disjointed sleep and that is not easy for me as I generally need my 8 hours of shut eye. So much fun - NOT!

I've never really suffered from PMS. I've had bad moods, but they don't generally coordinate with my cycle. When I do have a bad day, I usually try to avoid people or really watch myself if I have to go out. However, this past June I did have a really rough few weeks. My mood and emotions could turn on a dime! I caught myself wanting to yell at people over the tiniest things. I was overly emotional and cried at almost anything for no reason. It felt like the world was conspiring against me.

I emailed my gal pals and told them what was going on. I asked them not to send me any "touchy/feely/sappy" emails - which I'm not a fan of anyway - but they annoyed me even more than usual. I asked the gals to send me only funny stuff from then on. They assured me they understood and that I wasn't loosing my mind. They also sent me some hilarious stuff!

I really wasn't that sure about my mind though, as I just wasn't acting or feeling like myself. Case in point: I was trying to get a recipe from a friend, but they didn't really have a specific recipe for the item that they had recommended I try and suggested I do it in the same manner as another recipe I have - just switch the ingredients. They said "it's an art - not a science!" Normally, I would have agreed and just tried it, as I do enjoy experimenting - but since this was an ingredient I'd never worked with before and my reactions were on hair trigger setting, I wanted to jump through the PC and throttle the friend! I knew I was over reacting even as this was going through my brain but I couldn't stop myself. It was like I was watching myself from across the room and thinking: "Who was this mad woman and why was she reacting like this?" Turns out my friend was right and the recipe I had worked fine but at that moment I could have slugged them!

Every woman goes through this whole process in their own way. Some sail through it and barely notice. For some the symptoms only last a few months and for others it can last for years. Some find themselves in a bizarre parallel universe and unwittingly put the people they love through a constant revolving door of emotions. Some turn to medications to ease the symptoms, but that can create a whole new set of problems. Most of us just tough it out and rely on all of our sisters to help keep us laughing and stop us from wanting to harm unsuspecting bystanders - 99% of which are men!

Luckily, we have had a cooler than normal summer this year. My body has really appreciated that. I think I've been reasonably sane for the last couple of months, but then again would I really know if I wasn't? Don't answer that. I think this may be one of those times when ignorance is bliss and I really don't want to hurt you.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Oh, This Is Fun - NOT! Part 1

I've been feeling old lately. Not that I'm that OLD - I'm only 51. It's just that my physical body doesn't seem to be agreeing with my chronological age. I exercise every day and try to eat healthy, but my body has decided that it just doesn't want to co-operate. It resists my movements and utters these weird sounds and creaking noises when I bend my knees or do other things. Okay, the knee/joint cracking does run in the family - but it still doesn't have to be so loud, does it?

You know how some athletes such as tennis players always make those loud noises when they hit the ball? They say it gives them extra momentum. Well my body seems to need those same noises to inspire it to move.

Then there is the sagging body parts, increased wrinkles, age lines and other signs. Nothing seems to be in quite the same position - let alone condition it used to be! Not that I had a great body in the first place - it just seems to be showing the wear a little faster than I would like.

I knew this was all coming - eventually. I just wish it would have waited a while longer or at least wasn't all coming at once and being so obvious.

You see, like most women of "a certain age", I have felt like I am really hitting my stride. I know what I like and don't like. What I will and won't tolerate. I have beliefs and opinions and I've finally gotten to the point where I'm not afraid to share them. I've got a good group of supportive friends in my personal life and on line.

So in most respects, my life is pretty good. Okay, I'll admit that it would be nice to have a special someone in my life, and I wish that I didn't have to watch my finances quite as closely. But I can survive without a guy and I've lived on less.

What I don't like is being betrayed by my own mind and body. Growing old isn't always fun and it presents some unique challenges especially for women. Sure there are benefits like the eventual freedom from the monthly "curse" but there are a whole new set of issues that arrive with that.

Okay guys, I know you are probably starting to squirm - but please keep reading because if the lady in your life hasn't gone through this yet, then you need to listen up. You may actually learn something - or at least see things from a different perspective.

I'd heard stories from my female relatives and gal pals about what to expect. I've watched other women go through it and shuddered as I considered what may be to come.

As a teen, I remember the mother of one of my girlfriends going through it. She lived in tank tops year round and seemed to almost constantly be in a bad mood. My own mom was constantly turning down the heat to the point where dad and I sometimes wore long johns and extra sweaters just to stay warm in the winter. If she was home alone, she'd turn the heat down completely and even open a window if she was still too warm! If we had company, or if she was cooking in the kitchen, she'd step out on the back steps for a couple of minutes without a jacket. The women also seemed to be very forgetful. They could walk into a room and forget why they were there or what they wanted to say. (Oh goody - this was going to be fun when my time came!)

My female friends refer to these brief memory lapses as "Mental-pause"!

My first real clue that my time was coming, was when my memory started to have little blips of forgetfulness. I'd always had a bit of an elephant like memory. I didn't need to make lists (even though I did as a backup). I remembered dates, details and circumstances of some things long after they were relevant. I was the one that others asked for info when they didn't remember.

It started out with little things, like forgetting what I was looking for, then forgetting things I needed when I went shopping. I'd put the list in my pocket, but forget it was there until I was on my way home! I forgot my watch a few times which is really a nuisance when you are relying on buses and trying to figure out how much time you have till the next bus. A couple of times I forgot my pocket magnifying glass, which made reading my list impossible and trying to find certain items in the grocery store a lot harder. Luckily I found a helpful clerk. The worst though, was forgetting my monocular which is what I use to see distance and to cross the streets safely. Luckily, the times I did forget it, I was going to places I was very familiar with, so felt fairly safe. Besides, if I went back, I would have missed my bus - silly I know, but I knew if I took it slow and a little more cautiously, I'd be okay and I was.

There is much more to tell in this tale of aging, but this post is long enough for today, so I will post the rest on August 20 - assuming that I remember!


Thursday, August 13, 2009

dn's No Bake Chocolate and PB Slice

Earlier this summer, I went looking for a dessert recipe with two of my favourite ingredients - chocolate and peanut butter. Not surprisingly, there were thousands to choose from. I wanted something that tasted as great as it looked mouthwatering, but didn't require a lot of ingredients (10 or less) or a lot of time to prepare (under and hour plus chilling when completed) - something I could chill in the fridge and serve over the next few days. I narrowed it down to no bake and a chocolate crumb crust. There were still lots to choose from, but none seemed to have enough chocolate or peanut butter to suit my taste buds. I saved and printed 3 or 4 recipes that all had elements that I thought would be flavourful and then mixed, matched and improvised to come up with my own masterpiece!

What I came up with was a cookie crumb crust with three layers of peanut butter and chocolate combinations. If you wanted to, you could use a basic chocolate crumb crust, but I find that those tend to either be rock hard or very crumbly. The cookies and the cream filling hold together quite nicely without getting to hard to cut with a fork. The three layers of filling range from a creamy peanut butter to a dark chocolate with a bit of peanut butter to the top layer of a light chocolate mixture. I sprinkled peanuts or shaved chocolate on top just because!

So here is the recipe that I finally came up with:

dn's No Bake Chocolate and PB Slice

1 350gram/12 ounce package fudge filled chocolate cookies (I used no name as they were almost half the price of name brand)
1/2 cup margarine, melted
2 250 gram/8 ounce light cream cheese, softened to room temp
1 1/2 cup crunchy peanut butter
3/4 cup white sugar
200 grams/6 ounces dark or bittersweet chocolate
1 4 serving instant chocolate pudding
1 1/2 cups 1% milk
1 litre/4 cups frozen dessert topping, thawed (I used a light, no name version)
1/4 cup chopped peanuts and/or shaved chocolate for garnish

Spray a deep 9"x13" pan with Pam. Break the cookies in half and process to crumbs in a food processor by pulsing for a few seconds. Depending on your processor, you may need to do this in 2 or 3 batches. Place crumbs in large bowl and combine with the melted margarine. Press gently and evenly in prepared pan and chill in fridge.

Break/cut the chocolate into small pieces and melt on medium power in microwave for about 2 minutes - stirrring after 1 minute. Stir till smooth and set aside to cool.

Combine the cream cheese, peanut butter and sugar until light and creamy. Fold about 1/3 of the dessert topping into the mixture. (I just estimated rather than measuring). Pour about 2/3 of the cream cheese mixture over the cookie crust. Carefully spread the mixture evenly and return to fridge.

Mix pudding mix with the 1 1/2 cup milk and stir just till it starts to thicken. Stir in all of the melted chocolate and mix till more or less smooth - the chocolate may start to harden as it mixes, but a bit of chocolate pieces only adds to the texture and flavour! Gently fold in about 1/3 of the dessert topping and blend till smooth.

Pour 1/2 of the pudding mix into the remaining cream cheese mixture and stir till evenly combined. Pour the pudding/cream cheese mixture carefully over the first cream cheese mixture and spread evenly. Return to fridge for about 10 minutes.

Stir the remaining 1/3 dessert topping into the chocolate pudding mixture and then spread carefully over the second layer, spreading evenly.

Sprinkle with chopped peanuts and/or shaved chocolate. Refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Serves 12-16.



Saturday, August 8, 2009

My Parents Were Stoners!

Okay, the title of this post may be slightly misleading, but I think you will understand my title choice by the time you finish this post.

My great-grandparents and some of their children moved to the Pembina Valley from southern Ontario back in the early 1890's. They settled on a parcel of land with a creek flowing through it. My grandfather married my grandmother in 1909 and together they raised 5 children on the family farm. When my father married my mother in 1944, he had already begun to do a lot of work to improve the landscape of the farm.

My dad wasn't just a farmer - he loved to garden, Dad, planted dozens of trees along the lane to create a windrow that would protect the property during winter and provide a shady place to enjoy the summers. He planted the trees in such a way as to create a pathway to walk through and also seeded a lot of green space. Dad planted evergreens, willows, birch, crab apple, chokecherry, and many other varieties that would thrive on the fertile prairie land and survive the bitter cold of winter. He also planted lilacs, peonies and other flowering bushes and perennials to add touches of colour and beauty to the landscape.

In the early years of their marriage, the focus was on the children, grain fields, livestock and a massive vegetable garden. The garden was a lot of work, but the bounty of the harvest helped keep lots of healthy food on the table all year long.

In the mid 1960's, they did the first major remodel of the 1909 farm house. They took the second floor - with it's 3 bedrooms - off and built a large dining room/living room on the south side of the house and turned the old living room and dining room into bedrooms. This meant that some new landscaping would have to be done. They started out simply enough, but well, one thing led to another and ... Wait I'm getting ahead of myself.

After us kids were grown and my brother had pretty much taken over the day to day farm operations, mom and dad had a lot more time to focus on the garden and the yard. Cutting back on their usual large garden wasn't easy and the first few years, there was lots of extra produce to share with neighbors and friends. As they cut back on the vegetable garden, the size of the various flowerbeds grew. Dad started well over a thousand plants every spring. He set up grow lights in the house, then moved everything to a small greenhouse - that he built himself with old windows and scrap lumber. There were also lots of bulbs to be planted and he often bought a few trays of bedding plants as well.

Even though dad was no longer a full time farmer, he and mom loved going for drives to look at the crops. Along these drives, they would stop to explore the surroundings and if they saw an interesting stone or rock, they would put it in the trunk of the car and bring it home. For most farmers, finding rocks in their fields is a problem as it can break equipment, so any stones that are found are usually just tossed in the ditch or piled in a corner of a field. Occasionally, they would ask a farmer permission to remove the stones, but most were just glad to get rid of them! Mom and dad also made frequent explorations into gravel pits and quarries in search of the larger stones that were too big for general use. Again, most owners were glad that someone had use for them. It wasn't unusual for them to come home with the trunk weighed down almost to the ground with uniquely coloured and shaped stones.

If I happened to be home while they were out on one of their "drives", I told any callers that my parents had gone to a rock concert to get stoned! Some of their friends also jokingly referred to them as "The Flintstones" which was somewhat appropriate as that was my dad's favourite cartoon and we were a "modern stone aged family"! I'm not sure that mom and dad actually knew what they were going to do with all these stones when it all started and like most collections I don't think they even realized just what they were getting themselves into. The big question, was what were they going to do with all of them and how could they be displayed to their full beauty?

One of the first things they did, was to create a flower bed around the foundation of the new living/dining room. At first, dad just placed the stones along the edges to separate the grass and sidewalk from the flowerbeds. The problem was, that the dirt used to fall out between the stones and make a mess on the sidewalk and grass. Dad bought some cement mix and permanently positioned the stones with the cement to create the first flower beds. It looked great and they got lots of compliments - and questions of what were they going to build next? Especially since there were still a LOT of stones to work with.

The next project, was a 2 foot tall stone fence that served as an east/west divider between the grass and patio that dad had created between the garage and the house. It was eventually raised to almost 3 feet high and had flat rocks all along the top for sitting. To balance that they built another slightly curved wall at the west end of the patio. They decided that the center of it would be lower so that the gas bar-b-que could be placed there. The wall to either side of it would also have wide flat stones along the top so that the area could be used for setting up serving buffets for parties or just for sitting.

After that, there was a raised flower bed built under their bedroom window and a triangular flower bed in front of the garage to edge the driveway, walk and lawn. To divide the driveway and the perennial beds, there was a low row of rocks similar to the first ones they built around the house. That row along the drive ended at the pole for the yard light, so of course they had to build a stone flowerbed around the base of it.

I'm not sure exactly where along the line this next part happened, but at some point dad came across a second hand cement mixer for sale at an auction. He and mom decided that having their own cement mixer would make the work go a lot faster! Until then, they had been mixing small amounts of cement by hand in a wheel barrel!

Well, they kept finding stones and rocks and kept finding creative ways to use them. They built a wishing well near the yard light and dad built the wood shingle roof for it. Ir is full of dirt and has flowers planted in it. When they decided to put a patio door off of the south side of the living room, they built stone steps to go in and out.

The area behind the bar-b-que wall, led down to a grassy area that we called the bluff. It flooded every spring, so wasn't really suitable for planting a lot of things, but the area leading down would be great for a layered stone garden and stairway. Dad even designed part of those flower beds to include a waterfall that flowed over specifically selected stones into a small stone pond.

Dad almost never cut the stones, but instead carefully laid them out in various positions to see what their best sides were and where they would fit the best. He used a pressure hose to wash the stones and by doing that he was also able to see more of the coloration, veining and striations of the stones. Mom and dad spent hours deciding where all of the stones would go. They would measure everything. While mom mixed the cement, dad would prepare the various stones and have everything ready. They did it all as a team.

In the early 1980's, mom and dad did another remodel to the house and built a sun-room off of the kitchen. The first year or so they had your standard concrete steps but they knew that wasn't going to be permanent.The last project they did together was the back steps into the house and a raised flower bed under the sun-room window. Dad had been saving flat rocks specifically for this purpose for at least a couple of years.

The yard looked amazing! The trees, lawns, flowers and seemingly endless stonework was a true showpiece! My parents were always getting calls from friends and relatives asking if they could bring friends out to see the yard. Mom and dad always obliged as they enjoyed showing their work. They were never willing to enter it in any yard contests though as dad never felt comfortable with that kind of scrutiny. The yard was for personal enjoyment not prizes.

Mom and dad spent countless hours weeding and tending to the yard. As they aged, they were unable to do quite as much as they used to, but it was still a beautiful display. By the late 1990's, my mom wasn't really able to do much gardening anymore and the last year that my dad was able to do all the work was 2001. My brother and other family members and friends helped out, but it was heartbreaking for both of my parents to not be able to do the work themselves.

After my dad died in November 2003, mom wondered if the beds would ever bloom again. Well, thanks to my brother and a long time family friend, the flowers still bloom every year. There aren't nearly as many flowers as there used to be, but there are flowers and other greenery in all of the beds. My brother does all the mowing and a lot of weeding. The family friend comes as often as she can, and putters around in the flower beds. Every spring she and my brother plant a few hundred bedding plants while my mom watches and remembers her and dad all those years ago. It saddens her that she can't do it herself and that her soulmate is no longer here to work the beds either, but she is also happy to see their work carried on and enjoyed by those who still come to call.

I went through my old photo albums a couple of weeks ago and found a bunch of photos of the yard from the 1980's. The colours of the old photos weren't great, but I tried to correct them as best I could. I then put them together into a slideshow and added music that I thought mom and dad would both enjoy. This is my first slideshow and I hope you enjoy it


Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong often stated in interviews that he was born on July 4, 1900. It wasn't until more than a decade after his death, that the real birth date of August 4, 1901 was discovered after careful examination of baptismal records in New Orleans. His birth was recorded as "out-of-wedlock black child"

Louis Daniel Armstrong was born into a very poor family in New Orleans, Louisiana and was the grandson of a slave. His father abandoned the family when Louis was an infant and his mother left him and his sister in the care of their grandmother or an uncle for periods of time. He attended the Fisk school, but often hung out at nearby clubs and dance halls to listen to the music. He earned some money by delivering papers, hauling coal and other odd jobs. He dropped out of school at age 11 and joined up with three other boys in similar straits to sing for money on the streets. He learned to play the cornet and bought his first one with money he received from a Jewish immigrant family named Karnofsky. The Karnofsky's owned a junk hauling business. Louis did odd jobs for them and the family took him in as practically one of their own. They nurtured and fed him. Armstrong always wore a "Star of David" on his lapel as a symbol of gratitude to the family for the rest of his life.

Armstrong often got in trouble as a youth and was sent to The New Orleans Home for Colored Waifs - most notably for general delinquency. It was while there, that he began to really develop his cornet playing. His first real music instructor was Professor Peter Davis. Davis eventually made Armstrong the band leader for The Home's band. The band was well known in the city in part due to the obvious talent of its' young leader.

After his release from The Home, at age 14, he lived briefly with his father, then his mother and then back on the streets. He got his first real gig as a musician at a dance hall. He hauled coal by day and played cornet at night.

Armstrong's first marriage was to Daisy Parker on March 19, 1918, The marriage didn't last long and she died not long after they divorced. They had adopted the mentally disabled 3 year old son of Armstrong's cousin. Armstrong, took care of the boy the rest of his life.

In 1919, he replaced King Oliver in Kid Ory's band and was soon promoted to first cornet. He also played first trumpet for a jazz society brass band and did a lot of work as a riverboat musician. He learned to read music and found his own unique styling and sound for his solo work. In 1922, Armstrong was invited by his mentor, King Oliver, to come to Chicago, so he joined a growing migration of New Orleans musicians who headed north. Race relations were not good in Chicago, but there was a lot of work for black people and they had money to spend on entertainment. Armstrong would not have to supplement his income with a day labour job up north. Jazz music ruled in Chicago at the time and Armstrong lived like a king for the first time in his life!

Armstrong did his first recordings in Chicago. Although a successful musician with Oliver's band, Louis' second wife, pianist Lil Hardin Armstrong encouraged him to branch out on his own and develop his style further. She got him to play more classical pieces while in church and to spruce up his attire to make him look more professional. He played with Fletcher Henderson for a year and also travelled to New York to work in various clubs and on recordings.

Louis Armstrong had also been working on his singing and patter to include with the musical act. He worked on numerous recordings in the Chicago area and for a time was actually a part of his wife's band. After they separated, Louis worked in a band with Earl Hines on piano, for Joe Glaser - an associate of Al Capone.

In 1929, he returned to New York and worked in the pit orchestra for the all black revue "Hot Chocolate". Armstrong often stole the show with his cameo performance of "Ain't Misbehavin'" - which also became one of his most successful recordings. His recordings of "Stardust" and "Lazy River" were also big hits.

During the depression of the 1930's, a lot of jazz clubs were forced to close. Armstrong moved to L.A. for a time and also returned to New Orleans before travelling to Europe. he did several tours when he returned to the states, but also ran into financial troubles. He hired Joe Glaser as his manager to straighten things out. Louis was also experiencing some problems with his fingers and his lips due to his unorthodox style, so he continued to develop his singing and ventured into movies with an appearance in "Pennies From Heaven" (1936).

In 1937, Louis became the first black performer to host a sponsored, national radio show. He also finally divorced second wife Lil and married long time girlfriend Alpha. By 1943, he had permanently settled in Queens, New York and was touring with a small group of musicians and playing about 300 gigs/year. "The All Stars", as they were collectively known, toured North America, Europe, Asia and Africa. Various recordings for Okeh Records were also doing very well and there were more movie appearances.

By the 1960's, failing health was slowing his schedule, but he continued to perform and record till the day he died. The nickname "Satchmo" was short for satchelmouth. Melody Makers magazine editor Percy Brooks gave him the name in 1931 and it stuck. The nickname "pops" was also a common name greeting among the jazz community and his friends. He was sometimes criticized for not taking a stronger stand in the civil rights movement, but instead chose to contribute financially behind the scenes to people like Martin Luther King Jr. and others. He preferred to keep his politics separate from his entertainment career.

Bing Crosby was greatly inspired by Armstrong and they even recorded together with songs like "Gone Fishin'". Armstrong recorded with jazz greats; Bessie Smith, Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington and the amazing Ella Fitzgerald among others.

Louis and Ella were a wonderful combination. Their collaborations were classics and produced hits that included: "Summertime"; "Moonlight in Vermont"; They Can't Take That Away From Me"; "A Foggy Day"; "Dream A Little Dream Of Me"; "April In Paris"; and my two favourites - "Stars Fell On Alabama" and "Cheek To Cheek".

Louis Armstrong had a hit record with "Hello Dolly" in 1964 at age 63, He actually knocked The Beatles out of the top spot on the charts! Some of his other hits included: "Basin Street Blues"; "When It's Sleepy Time Down South"; "When You're Smiling"; "Jeepers Creepers"; "Making Whoopee"; "On The Sunny Side Of The Street"; "You Rascal You"; "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans"; "La Vie En Rose"; "A Kiss To Build A Dream On" and the now classic "What A Wonderful World".

His music has been featured in movies such as "Sleepless In Seattle" (1993) and "Good Morning Vietnam" (1987). The later resulted in the song "What A Wonderful World" becoming a hit all over again and helped introduce a whole new generation to the talented performer.

Louis Armstrong died just after suffering a heart attack on July 6, 1971. "His honorary pallbearers included Governor Rockefeller, Mayor Lindsay, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Guy Lombardo, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Pearl Bailey, Count Basie, Harry James, Frank Sinatra, Ed Sullivan, Earl Wilson, Alan King, Johnny Carson, David Frost, Merv Griffin, Dick Cavett and Bobby Hackett.

Peggy Lee sang The Lord's Prayer at the services while Al Hibbler sang Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen and Fred Robbins, a long time friend, gave the eulogy."

Armstrong was honored with a U.S. postage stamp in 1995. The New Orleans Airport was renamed "Louis Armstrong International" on August 4, 2001. He has won numerous awards and been inducted into several prestigious music halls of fame.

An aunt of mine was lucky enough to see Armstrong live in concert during one of his tours in the late 1950's here in Winnipeg. She told me it was one of the most memorable performances she ever saw. I never really realized just how versatile and talented he was until about 20 some years ago. Luckily for me and countless other fans, he has left us a timeless legacy of musical selections to enjoy for generations to come.