Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Thai Immigration

With all the talk of Immigration reform in the USA, I thought I’d share my Thai Immigration experiences in this blog entry.

As an ex-pat, there are several ways to stay in Thailand. Each has their own limitations and requirements. If you are coming here on Holiday for less than 30 Days, you can obtain a free Visa On Arrival when you enter the Kingdom.

Next step up is the Tourist Visa (which I currently have) – it is issued for 60 Days and can be easily extended an additional 30 Days at any Immigration Office. You can get a single, double or triple entry Tourist Visa in your home country.

I have a triple entry visa that gives me 60 + 30 Days x 3 or a total of 9 months.

Other Visa’s include the Retirement Visa which is renewable annually and requires that you are over 50 years of age, have financial resources equivalent to 800,000 Baht (approx $23,000 USD) and do not have a criminal record or are deemed an “undesirable character”.

Ultimately, I will switch to the Retirement Visa but currently the US Dollar is very weak against the Baht and I am waiting in hopes it improves before transferring the money.

The one big No – No with these Visa’s is that you cannot work in the Kingdom. There are Work Permit Visa’s that will accommodate that if needed and many American’s come here to live and teach English.

Today I went to the Pattaya Immigration Office to apply for my first 30 day extension. Arriving at 8:30am, I take a numbered ticket (No. 6) and proceed to a table where there are blank application forms.

Basically, it’s a straight forward one – page application asking name, passport number, Visa Type, address in Thailand etc. All the forms are in Thai & English and a printed example is posted at every kiosk.

Filling out the required information took less than two minutes. I sat waiting another five minutes and my number was called. I approached the desk with the completed form, a photocopy of my passport, a color passport photo and 1900 Baht fee.

The Immigration Officer smiled, offered me a seat and proceeded to examine the documents. After a few notations, and ink stamps he takes the money and tells me to wait. Approximately five minutes later, my name is called, I’m handed a receipt and my passport with a fresh 30 Day Stamp. Total time = 20 minutes.

Thailand takes Immigration Control seriously and there are severe penalties for overstaying your Visa that that can range from stiff fines to jail time but if you play by the rules, I find that they are courteous, helpful and efficient.

I am happy to comply with the rules - if only we took it that seriously in America!

Randy Morris

In the Fall of 1972 I met someone who changed my life. His name is Randy Morris.

I was a High School student in Central Florida working for a Funeral Home as an Ambulance Attendant and Embalmer’s Apprentice – just your average teenage lifestyle.

I assumed my future lay in Mortuary Science or Emergency Medical Service. The advantage of combining the two was you could cover up your own mistakes!

But back to Randy…

I met Randy Morris at Disney World while he was playing ragtime piano at “Coke Corner” on Main Street.

Due to the popularity of the movie “The Sting”, Ragtime music had a bit of revival at the time. I had enjoyed recordings of people like Max Morath and Joanne Castle, but I had never seen it performed “up close”.

Randy’s stride piano stylings along with his corny jokes and personable nature had me hooked immediately. I waited around after each set and talked with him at length. He seemed to sense that I had a real interest in the music and remembered me every time I returned to the Theme Park.

After a few visits, while all my friends would be off on there 32nd ride on Space Mountain, I’d be contently sitting there watching Randy perform. Randy told me about a place he was performing at night in downtown Orlando Fl called “Rosie O’Grady’s”.

I went there and watched him perform not only Piano but Banjo as well with Bill Allred’s Band. If you’ve never been there, in it’s heyday (70’s & 80’s), “Rosie’s” was an unbelievable Dixieland Jazz club owned by entrepreneur Bob Snow. The band was the most high powered jazz band I’d ever heard.

I knew that I wanted to be on that stage playing this wonderful style of music. I had played a little guitar so I naturally gravitated toward stringed instruments. From the very beginning, Randy was supportive and accessible – he helped me find an out of print Harry Reser Banjo Lesson book and even gave me a few private lessons at his home.

We became friends and have remained so for over 35 years. Through his inspiration and his thoughtful guidance, I became a professional Banjo Cabaret Act and have enjoyed a career spanning 25 plus years.

There are so many worthwhile Randy Morris stories to share … and I promise to do so in future blogs. Right now, I just want to wish him the very best and say “Thanks”

Airport '07

I have recently had the opportunity to fly through three of Asia’s top airports and I’ve to say, they get it right!

If you’ve flown through Chicago O’Hare, JFK or (god forbid) Miami International lately, you’ve seen the chaotic, claustrophobic atmosphere that most American flyers face daily. Long lines and short tempers are the norm.

Flying through Narita (Tokyo), Hong Kong or Bangkok is a total pleasure. No long lines anywhere, plenty of seats in the Lounges, spacious clean terminals, courteous employees and they even smile at you in the Security Line!!!!

What a difference a hemisphere makes.

I recently returned to Thailand from Japan and from the time the plane landed to the time I was standing in the Arrivals Hall was under 30 minutes. That includes exiting the plane, walking to Immigration, being stamped into the country, picking up my luggage and clearing Customs – amazing!

Checking in at Narita was equally amazing. I arrived at 2pm for a 5pm flight. By 2:30 was checked in, cleared Japanese Immigration and was sitting in a massage chair near my gate. No long lines, just efficient, orderly, courteous service!

I had an hour layover in Hong Kong and the new airport is beautiful and very quiet despite the number of travelers passing through it. You’ll find some great restaurants and shops there too.

I only wish we’d learn how to do the same here in the West!

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Film Flubs

I’ve been a fan of the movies all my life.

For better or worse, I’ve always watched films on two levels. First for the story and second for the film flubs.

I can’t help it. My eyes automatically check license plates to be sure the locations are accurate, water levels in dinner glasses remain constant and boom mikes don’t drop into the scenes.

About ten years ago, I was watching the newly released 1996 summer blockbuster “Independence Day” and spotted my all time favorite blooper.

It involves a scene where a character is holding a copy of USA Today reading the headline on July 3rd, the day before Independence Day. The back page of the A Section is a weather map color coded by temperature (known as a thermograph). Obviously, they filmed the scene in mid winter using the current issue because the USA is blue down to Florida!

Back then, I was a member of CompuServe – and so was film critic Roger Ebert. I was able to email him my “discovery” and he was kind enough to write back. In his reply, he congratulated me on my “find” and suggested I forward it to Bill Givens.

Bill Givens is the author of a series of books on film flubs including “Roman Soldiers Don’t Wear Wristwatches” and is a regular guest on Good Morning America. Bill promptly replied and asked if he could include it in a future book ( I, of course agreed).

True to his word, my contribution made it in the book “Film Flubs 1999” along with acknowledgement.

Check out Bill’s books at your local bookstore or online . They are fun, easy reads that may make you change the way you look at movies!

For a complete set of Independence Day goofs click here

Marty Brill

If you ever met Marty Brill, you’d certainly remember it.

Marty is a comedian / writer / actor / musician who I’ve had the pleasure of working with over the past 15 years. A regular on the 70’s TV Show “The New Dick Van Dyke Show” as well as featured in films including “The Pope of Greenwich Village”, Marty has had quite a career.

In the 60’s & 70’s he appeared numerous times on the Merv Griffin Show and The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson as well as written for top shows including M.A.S.H. and “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”

Having dinner with Marty is always an entertaining event. You can count on non stop stories and reminiscences about the industry he dearly loves.

Now, like many entertainers Marty works the cruise ships.

Marty’s live comedy shows are always an experience. You can count on it being fast, very funny and most of the material written that day. Marty loves to pull humor out of the headlines and no two shows are ever the same.

During his show, Marty “punches” hard or shouts much in the tradition of Alan King. He paces the stage like a tiger on the prowl as he leaves his audiences in stitches. The late Greg Kinison once told Marty he fashioned his stage persona on him.

Today, Marty turns 75 (May 6th). Happy Birthday, my friend.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Things Are Gonna Be Quiet Around Here…

Although it seems like I’ve only been home back home a few days, it’s time to pack my bags and head back to work again.

I’ll be flying to Shanghai this weekend where I’ll be joining Holland America’s “Statendam” for 13 days sailing to Beijing, Dalian, Pusan, Osaka & finally Tokyo (May 5th).

As a result, I won’t be posting anything new until I return next month.

Bub Thomas

Bub Thomas second on Left

Growing up in Central Florida in the 1970’s meant that Walt Disney World was destined to be a major influence on my career. Although I never worked for “the Mouse”, many of my closest friends did and that allowed me greater access to the Theme Park than the average tourist.

In future blogs I’ll talk about Pat Terry, Eddie Erickson, Randy Morris and many other early “Disney Influences” on my career as they were considerable. Today, I’d like to talk a little about Charles “Bub” Thomas.

Bub Thomas was a member of the Main Street Barbershop Quartet “The Dapper Dans”. Grey hair and moustache and wearing a yellow stripped vest, he was instantly recognizable to hundred of thousands of Park regulars.

The Dapper Dans had been a staple of both Disneyland and Disney World for many years and had been featured on the “Mickey Finn Show” on NBC in the mid 1960’s. Up until Bub joined the group, they were primarily known for their vocal talents – Bub brought a touch of Vaudeville to their performances.

Bub sang, danced, told jokes, and even drew caricatures.. When Bub joined the Dapper Dans, he also brought with him a curious instrument known as the Deagan Organ Chimes.

Invented by John Calhoun Deagan in 1900, it is a unique instrument that features a series of spiky hollow tubes connected to each other. By shaking the tubes in specific combinations, melodies and chords are produce.

Under Bub's influence, all of these things eventually worked their way into their performances as well as an increased interaction with the audience. A new generation of “Dapper Dans” performs at the theme park, but Bub’s signature is still all over their show.

I used to go watch them at the Barbershop on Main Street quite often and got to know Bub fairly well. He would always have time after their show to stick around and chat with me, sharing great stories about the “heyday” of nightclubs and the vaudeville circuit.

I learned a lot about my craft from Bub and I appreciated that he always took the time to share his experiences with me when he could have just as easily slipped down the tunnel and rested in the “green room” between sets.

Bub Thomas passed away almost 10 years ago at age 86, but ask any “Disney Regular“ and they have fond memories of this talented man.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Water Water Everywhere

If it’s April in Thailand, you can count on two things. One - it will be hot and Two - it will be wet!

No, not from the monsoons (they come in June) but rather from the Thai New Years Celebration called Songkran. In Thailand, we celebrate three different New Years. January 1st (Western), Mid February (Chinese) and April (Thai).

Although the celebrations involve religious ceremonies at Temples (Wats) what most Westerners see is the spectacle of throwing water on the streets.

The throwing water part was originated as a way to pay respect to people, by pouring a small amount of water on other people’s hands as a sign of respect. Today, young people splash others with water to relieve the heat and that has evolved to water fights and splashing water to people on vehicles.

On every street corner, you’ll see kids with hoses, buckets of water and high pressure water pistols spraying passersby. If you are smart, you keep your wallet and cell phone secured in zip lock sandwich bags for the duration of the celebration.

Think of it as kind of a Thai Mardi Gras, but instead of throwing beads, they throw water!

Of course, the New Years celebration is not just about throwing water, it is a time of spiritual renewal and spending time with family, and just like other New Years around the rest of the world, making resolutions that you will never keep!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Thai TV

Living in a foreign country like Thailand offers a different perspective on life – including through TV.

Our cable system here offers 60 channels, about half are in English. The majority of the remaining channels are in Thai with a sprinkling of Italian (RAI), German (DW-TV), French (TV5Monde), Chinese (CCTV), (Zee) & Pakistani (ONE).

We get American Idol, Boston Legal, Desperate Housewives, Ellen, House, The Simpsons and yes, even Jerry Springer from the USA. We also get series from Australia (All Saints), England (The Bill) and South Africa (Snitch).

What is most fascinating to watch is the news …..

American News programs that follow the old adage, “If it bleeds, it leads..” have a LOT to learn from local Thai TV. Every newscasts contains graphic footage of gruesome auto accidents, crime victims pointing accusingly at their perpetrators being held at the local police station and dead bodies … lots of dead bodies.

Earlier this week there was a story of a tourist found dead in a hotel room apparently from an overdose. He had apparently been lying there for quite some time on the floor wedged between the bed and the wall… in an advanced state of decomposition.

In the USA, you might see the body tastefully covered by a sheet. Here, the naked body‘s distended abdomen is being poked at with a stick ( a very dangerous practice, I can assure you!) by an investigator. To their credit, they slightly pixilated the corpse’s “naughty bits”.

And then they went immediately to a commercial for a local restaurant!

When it comes to International News, we are pretty lucky. We get Channelnews Asia, BBC World, Bloomberg News, CNN Headline News, Fox News and… Aljazeera!

Since most Americans have never seen Aljazeera, let me say that it’s NOT as bad as you might think. Even Sir David Frost (BBC) has a interview weekly show on the network and many former CNN Reporters & Anchors (Riz Khan, Lucia Newman, Veronica Pedrosa etc.) now work for the channel.

While definitely not “Pro-American”, at least the “English Language Version” of the network isn’t referring to us as the “Great Satan”. And to their credit, I’ve not seen one story about Don Imus, Paris Hilton or Anna Nicole Smith!

The beauty of having ALL these resources is that you get to see a lot of different perspectives – Right, Left and everything in between.

The “Other” Dave Barry

Earlier today I was watching the Cartoon Network and saw an old Bugs Bunny Cartoon called 8 Ball Bunny (1950). A running gag in the animated short is “Humphrey Bogart” making multiple cameo appearances asking Bugs "Pardon me, but could you help out a fellow American who's down on his luck?"

That wasn’t Bogey, that was my dear friend – the “other” Dave Barry . Dave died in 2001 – here’s his obit.

Actor-Comedian Dave Barry Dead at 82

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Comedian Dave Barry, who opened for a number of top performers, including Wayne Newton, died Thursday. He was 82.

The comedian, who was not related to the Miami-based humorist of the same name, was born in New York City and started his career at age 16 on radio's "Major Bowes and the Original Amateur Hour."

He moved to California in the early 1940s and served in the Army during World War II entertaining troops.

Toward the end of that decade, Barry began performing in Las Vegas at the El Rancho Hotel. He was featured at the Desert Inn in a revue called "Hello America." He opened for Wayne Newton for more than eight years.

Barry had television and film credits, most notably in Billy Wilder's "Some Like It Hot," in which he played the role of Beinstock, the band's manager.

In the latter part of his career, he entertained on cruise ships and appeared in the "Follies," a Palm Springs, California, variety show.


It was on cruise ships that I got to know Dave and his wife Virginia back in the late 1980’s. We often Headlined together for Royal Cruise Lines on the Crown Odyssey and Royal Odyssey.

Dave Barry was a very funny, giving performer who often asked me to share the stage with him for impromptu funny business.

The Obituary doesn’t tell the whole story of this talented man.

Dave appeared numerous times on the Ed Sullivan Show as well as appearances on Green Acres, I Dream of Jeanie, The Monkees, Get Smart,77 Sunset Strip, The Colgate Comedy Hour and dozens of others from the 50’s – 70’s.

Of course, Dave made his place in cinema history playing along side Tony Curtis, Jack Lemmon & Marilyn Monroe in the classic comedy “Some Like It Hot!”

Known for his celebrity impressions, Dave lent his voice (often uncredited) to cartoons like 8 Ball Bunny, Slick Hare, Run Rabbit Run, Bacall to Arms and It’s A Grand Old Nag .

A few years ago, while listening to an old Edgar Bergen Radio Show, I recognized his voice (doing Arthur Godfrey!) and I was pleased to hear him given credit at the end of the broadcast.

Dave Barry would probably have been a voice actor with as many credits as Daws Butler or Paul Frees had he remained based in Los Angeles. Being a stand-up comedian was his bread-'n'-butter and it took him on the road for months at a time thus limiting the amount of studio work he could rely upon.

A lot of what he did do when in town was looping and dubbing for movies. In Roger Corman's film of The Raven, he can be heard making sounds for the title character and dubbing voices for Peter Lorre and Vincent Price. In at least one movie, he re-dubbed all the dialogue for the Indian actor, Sabu, to make him more intelligible.

Mention Dave’s name to any old school Las Vegas act and they’ll all have fond memories of this delightful performer. Truly one of Show Biz’s nice guys.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Dal McKennon

At Age 88, Dal Mckennon has had a remarkable career spanning 65 years.

Born in 1919 in Oregon, Dal (Dallas) McKennon first made his mark in show business as the voice of Buzz Buzzard for Walter Lantz Cartoons back in the 1940's. He parlayed that experience into opportunities to voice animated film characters in “Mary Poppins”, “101 Dalmatians”, “Bed Knobs & Broomsticks”, “The Jungle Book” and on TV,“The Archie Comedy Hour”, “Gumby”, “Davy & Goliath” and “The Woody Woodpecker Show

A rarity in show business, Dal excelled not only as a voice character in the animated world but also as a character actor on TV and in the movies. His credits include a recurring role as “Cincinnatus”, the Inn Keeper on Daniel Boone, six episodes of Wagon Train and appearences on The Virginian, The Rifleman, My Favorite Martian, The Andy Griffith Show, Cannon and scores of others.

I worked with Dal in 1995 when I was Cruise Director on board the “Queen of The West” Riverboat sailing from Portland Or on seven day cruises down the Columbia River. As we cruised down the river we would take on evening entertainment in different ports of call.

Dal Mckennon was one of them.

Sporting a white beard, prospector's hat and overalls, Dal looked like he had just left a yard sale at the Gabby Hayes estate. Being a native Oregonian, Dal had a great love for the history of his state and presented a very entertaining music/comedy/history lesson about the Lewis & Clark Expedition to the great Northwest Passage.

Every week Dal would sail with us one night a week and I'd get the opportunity to hear the tales of working with Walt Disney and Walter Lantz. He was definitely a “character” who seemed to embody the “old eccentric mining prospector” his exterior garb portrayed.

Although I haven't spoken to him in several years, I know he continued to work well into 2001 still providing the voice for “Gumby

While most people remember the greats of voice over work such as Mel Blanc, Paul Frees, Daws Butler and June Foray, the next time you watch those old cartoons don't forget Dallas McKennon!

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Vince Eager

For 20 Years, I've had the pleasure of knowing Vince Eager. Vince and his wife Anette have been close friends since we first worked together in 1987 on board the MS Ocean Islander.

If you grew up in the United Kingdom in the late 1950's, you'd remember Vince from over 100 appearances on such TV shows as “Oh Boy”, “Drum Beat” and the “Six Five Special”.

Vince was a tall young man with an even bigger voice released 14 singles and 5 albums in the UK. He was handled by Promoter Larry Parnes who's stable of entertainers also included “Tommy Steele”, “Marty Wilde” and “Billy Fury”.

After the death of his good friend Eddie Cochran in a car crash, Vince parted ways with his manager over Larry Parne's plans for posthumous promotion of Cochran death.

Through the years, Vince performed around the world and starred for 5 years in “ELVIS” on London's West End in the 1970's.

In 1986 Vince took up residency in Fort Lauderdale, Florida when, for twelve years, he became a Cruise Director on luxury American cruise ships. I had the pleasure of working with him on several different ships.

Vince and Anette returned to England in the late 1990's in order to be closer to children and grandkids.

Today, Vince still sings up a storm and tours throughout the U.K.


Long before America's fascination with CSI (and indeed even before Quincy, MD), I was a young high school student working for a Mortuary in Zephyrhills Fl.

Among my duties (for which I was paid a princely wage of $30 a week) I assisted in the removal of deceased, their embalming, Family Visitation and Funeral Services as well as being an Ambulance Attendant.

In 1971, all that was required by Fla. State Law was an American Red Cross First Aid Card and a strong back. God knows what reaction there would have been if those injured souls had known I was only 16 years old! Fortunately, I looked “much” older!\

I attended High School from 7am – 1pm and then immediately went to work where I was “on duty” until 6am the next morning. I had Friday nights off from 6pm – Midnight and worked the rest of the weekend.

Being a small town, we probably averaged less than 10 funerals and “maybe” 30 ambulance calls a month. Most days were pretty quiet and I lived in an apartment above the Funeral Home.

One Sunday afternoon (circa 1971), the telephone rang and Pat Richardson, the Funeral Director & Owner answered the phone and immediately got an ear to ear grin on his face. He jotted down some notes and said to get ready because this was a “special one”.

I was still relatively new to this but I sensed this would be my first “floater”.- a badly decomposed body. Dealing with a floater is a right of passage in the industry – a genuine test of composure (the smell of decaying flesh stays with you forever).

The Funeral Director was looking forward to my “losing my virginity”.

We drove about 20 miles down Hwy 54 and turned on the the 52 Street Extension (known as the Road to Nowhere). We spotted the Sheriff's cars stopped up ahead and pulled along side.

“In the Ditch” One of the Officers said.

And there it was, a half submerged male body floating face up in about four feet of water. The body was distended (skin above the water appeared blackened while below the waterline greenish) and appeared to have been there four or five days. And of course it smelled to high heaven.

Pat turned to me and said “ Go get him”.

Knowing that if I grabbed it by the arm, I'd probably end up with only the detached arm, I decided to roll a sheet lengthwise and thread it under the arms and drag the corpse ashore by the torso from behind. The Funeral Director was impressed by my ingenuity.

Once the body was dragged onto the embankment, we carefully placed it in a disaster pouch (body bag) and proceeded back to the funeral home (with all windows wide open!).

Since this was a probable “Foul Play” scenario, the Medical Examiner was notified and preparations were made for an immediate autopsy. Due to the advanced state of decomposition, it was impossible to perform the postmortem indoors – the ventilation system would never handle the odor so the decision was made to perform the autopsy outdoors – at the Zephyrhills Airport.

So there we were standing in the middle of the open airfield about to investigate the cause of death. Two saw horses and a wooden door formed a makeshift table and portable power equipment was brought in.

I was “volunteered” to assist the Pathologist - Dr. John R. Feegel.

The son of a police officer, Dr. Feegel grew up to become a forensic pathologist, a trial attorney and the chief medical examiner in Tampa. He performed thousands of autopsies; the death of Elvis Presley and Atlanta serial killer Wayne B. Williams were two of his most famous cases.
Additionally, Dr. Feegel became well known as the author of seven mystery novels. In 1976, he won the Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for his first book, "Autopsy."

But this was five years before he was to gain such notoriety.

Your first autopsy is such an assault on your senses, the details tend to get blurred after 35 years. I remember Dr. Feegel to be very talented, personable and very funny! Believe me, the humor helped me through the experience and I'm still grateful for his patience and willingness to allow me the opportunity to assist that summer afternoon.

Most valuable thing he taught me was to smear “Zoxema Metholated Creme” under my nose in order to mask the odor. It really works!

By the way, we found the cause of death was a bullet to the brain and his wife (and her boyfriend) were eventually charged with murder.

I probably assisted in well over 250 Embalmings and 20 Autopsies in my career but I'll always hold a special place in my heart for my “first”

Dr Feegel passed away September 16, 2003 at age 70. His books are still available via the Internet.

Where Are They Now?

Sometimes you work with someone and lose complete touch with them in the ensuing years. That is the case of Cyndi Grecco and Richard Beavis.

I worked with Cyndi Grecco & Richard Beavis on board the Cruise Ship "Meridian" in the early 1990's. She was performing as a Lounge Pianist and he was the Male Vocalist on our cruises from New York to Bermuda.

If you don't remember Cyndi Grecco by name you'll recall the hit record she had in 1976 - "Making Our Dreams Come True" (Billboard #25) because you heard it every week as the theme song to the immensely popular TV sitcom " Laverne & Shirley".

Cyndi also lent her vocal talent to the theme song of short-lived TV Comedy "Blansky's Beauties".

I remember her southern drawl and long hair extensions and her vivacious personality. She was hoping to move from Piano Lounge to Headline Cabaret Act but I don't know if she ever made the transition.

After the summer , we kept in touch by email occasionally but eventually her email address became invalid and we lost touch. Last I heard she was living in Long Beach CA. I've "googled" her and can't find any recent information on her.

Originally from Wales, Richard Beavis was the male lead vocalist in the ship's production shows and also performed his own cabaret show. A handsome young man with a great voice, he was discovered on a televised talent show in England and landed a recording contract.

He went on to tour in the English Touring Show "Buddy!" (The Buddy Holly Story) as Richie Valens. During that summer contract I helped Richard by reading the script in order to help him with learning the dialog.

I know Richard is still out there performing because I hear his name mentioned from time to time but our paths have not crossed in almost fifteen years.

If anybody out there knows either of them, let them know an old banjo playing friend was asking about them!

Sunday, April 1, 2007

In Case of Emergency Dial....

A few weeks ago, I presented a blog entry with unusual signs I’ve collected around the world. I referenced one that I had seen but, unfortunately didn’t have a picture of.

It’s located at the Cruise Terminal in Mumbai, India and basically, it is a “911 Sign” – only the emergency number is 12 digits long! Although I was back in Mumbai last week on the QE2 but I was unable to secure a copy of the picture.

Thanks to comedian Tom Fletcher, who is not only a wonderful entertainer (and friend for over 20 years) but an avid photographer as well, I can present the picture today.


Being Phillip Huber

Every once in awhile, you get to work with someone who is the absolute best at his craft. While on the QE2 last week in India, I worked with such a person – Phillip Huber.

Phillip is probably the best Marionette Artist of his generation. I first worked with him 21 years ago on board the Costa Cruise ship “Daphne” and we have remained good friends through the years.

The Huber Marionettes have appeared all over the World from Japan to Monaco to Brazil. They are constantly in demand on high end cruise ships as well as theatres across Europe, Asia & South America.

Phillip’s amazing talents were on display in the motion picture “Being John Malkovic” (doing all the puppetry work for John Cusack) and he and his marionette dog “Taffy” danced on Broadway with Tommy Tune in “Busker Alley” He also worked Muppets for Jim Henson’s TV Special with John Denver and has been featured on the “Tonight Show”.

All of the marionettes in his shows are original creations of Phillip. He designs, builds, costumes, choreographs and manipulates all of his characters. Many of which have over 20 different string controls which bring these characters to life in a truly amazing way.

If you are like most people, the thought of going to a “Puppet Show” probably isn’t your first choice for an exciting evening out. I’ve seen my share of marionette shows through the years and the majority of them were pretty lame.

The Huber Marionettes are truly the exception to the rule. If you’ve never seen them, make the effort to go anytime they are in your area. If you have seen them in the past, I certainly don’t need to convince you!

As an aside, Phillip once designed (but never built) a marionette based upon my likeness! It is of course a banjo playing marionette! Phillip still has the drawings so I’m still hoping to immortalized in wood eventually….

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

On The Road Again

The Blogosphere will be relieved to know that I won’t be posting any updates until the end of the month.

I will be joining the QE2 World Cruise here in Bangkok (Laem Chebang) on the 18th and sailing onward to Singapore, Sri Lanka, Cochin & Mumbai (Bombay).

I shall disembark the ship in Mumbai, overnight at a hotel and return to Thailand on the 29th. Hopefully with some new stories to share.

In April, I shall be taking another contract, this time on Holland America’s Statendam sailing from Shanghai to Beijing, Dalian, Pusan, Osaka and finally Tokyo (Apr 23 –May 5).

Thanks for reading....

Out of the Blue

When you write a blog, you never know if anyone is actually reading it.

Once in awhile you'll get some input from out of the blue and it makes you feel your efforts are worth it. So it was earlier this week.

Last week I blogged about meeting Marni Nixon and lo and behold I get a very nice email from Stephen Cole - - Marni Nixon's co-author of her new book "I Could Have Sung All Night" .

Although I haven't read the book (yet), the reviews have been very good I do look forward to getting it. Stephen also has a fascinating blog well worth your time, especially if you enjoy Musical Theater.

Stephen, Thanks for the email!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Face The Music

I wrote about Musical Chairs’ Host Adam Wade in a recent blog. I would be remiss not to mention I also briefly worked with “Face The Music” vocalist Lisa Donovan a few years ago.

Memories fade, but I believe it would have been on board the Norwegian Dream in the spring of 2001.

Lisa has been in show business for many years despite her youthful appearance. A Former Miss Florida (1970), she toured with Donald O’Connor and Mickey Rooney. Known primarily for her singing and dancing abilities, she also displayed her dramatic chops as Nurse Kelly on The Young & The Restless.

I remember her primarily from “Face The Music” a game show that was hosted by Ron Ely (TV’s Tarzan) who always looked very uncomfortable in a coat & tie.

During the show, Lisa would sing the clues for the contestants. In fact she sang all or part of over 11,000 songs during the shows’ run in the 1970’s.

Lisa still performs worldwide and is often in Las Vegas.

The Best Freeware

Being a “Software Junkie”, I’m always on the lookout for the best Free software available on the Net. Here are a few of my favorite “must have” programs.

My Top 25 Freeware Downloads

AbiWord 2.4.5 – Just need a good basic word processor? AbiWord could do the job nicely. Lots of add-ons available too (Thesaurus, Language Translation etc.)

ACE FTP 3.0 – There are a number of good FTP clients available on the web. I try them all and keep coming back to this one.

Ad-Aware SE – Keep your system free from Spyware. Update files are provided regularly via the internet

Avant Browser – Based on the I.E. Kernel, this web browser is faster than almost any other browser out there. One of the first (and best) tabbed browsers.

Avast Anti Virus Home Edition 4.7 – Simply the best anti-virus program that money can’t buy. Period.

Audacity 1.2.6 Truly the neatest audio utility I’ve ever seen. Cut, paste, change tempo, pitch, add echo, fade in, fade out .. it does it all (mp3 & wav)

Audio Grabber 1.83 – Need a simple, straightforward fast program to rip tracks from CD’s? This is the one!

Copernic Desktop 2.02 – Now where is that file and what did I name it? Sound familiar? Copernic Desktop indexes everything on you computer (not just the file name but the file content too) and allows you to search for any word string. It’s lightning fast – like using Google on the Web.

Essential PIM – Currently at version 1.95, this Personal Information Manager is evolving nicely. I won’t give up my registered copy of Time & Chaos 7.0 anytime soon, but this is a solid PIM for the price (free)

Faststone Capture 5.3 – Ever need to capture a map or picture from a webpage. With this little utility, you can save a jpg of anything visible on your screen.

Faststone Image Viewer 3.0 – A great image viewer similar to AC/DC. Simple built in editing tools and fast rendering of large galleries makes is a winner.

Freecalc – A Calculator with a running tape.

Foxit PDF Viewer 1.3 – Tired of waiting for Acrobat Reader to load? Try this lightweight PDF reader (it even works on a USB drive!)

Great News – a very good RSS Reader. Easy to use and update.

Irfanview 3.99 – My “go to” program to open almost any graphic file format . Nice basic editing tools and easy to use features keeps this on my desktop.

Open Office 2.2 – If you want the equivalent to MS Office without the price tag, here it is. You get a word processor, database, spreadsheet, PowerPoint equivalent and drawing program. The download is over 90 meg so have a high speed connection…and patience.

Photofiltre 6.2.7 – Not all the bells and whistles of “Photo Shop” but far easier to learn. Great for touching up photos

QClock 1.59 – Know the time anywhere in the world. This world time program allows you to place as many clocks for specific locations worldwide on your desktop as you want.

Skype 3.0.0. – Talk free with other Skype users world wide or call any telephone in the world for just pennies. Requires a high speed connection.

Stickies 6.0b – Virtual “Post It” notes for your desk top. Couldn’t live without them

Syncback SE 3.2 – Back up your important files or sync files between two drives / folders with this well thought out utility.

Trillian 3.0 – You have chat friends on Yahoo, MSN, AOL and ICQ? Don’t open four programs, use Trillian to handle all your major chat platforms.

Weather Pulse 2.0.5 Build 35 – Weather forecasts (up to 10 days) for anywhere in the world. Satellite maps, Doppler radar, severe weather alerts included

Winamp 5.33 – Still the standard for media players. Lots of useful plug-ins available too!

I assume no responsibility for anything that may occur from using these programs including loss of data, hardware & software problems or any other damage (including viruses and or spyware). Always use the latest anti-viral software! .The installation and use of any software it at the users own risk.

You can always find the latest freeware at and

There you have it – the best of the best – and best of all, they are all free!

Marni Nixon

A few years ago, I had lunch with Marni Nixon. A very lovely lady, with a rich wonderful voice she still continues to enchant audiences around the world.

I was sitting on deck aboard ship having lunch and spotted her sitting alone and I said “Aren’t you Marni Nixon” She smiled, said “yes” and asked me to join her.

If you are a movie buff, you know she’s the “dubbed singing voice” behind the face of many great movie stars. Born Margaret McEathron in 1930 in Altadena, CA she began singing in choruses at a young age.

Among her many roles that earned her the sobriquet “The Voice of Hollywood” were.

The singing voice of Margaret O'Brien in The Secret Garden (1949)

She Provided Marilyn Monroe with a few top notes in her performance of "Diamonds Are a Girl's Best Friend” in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes (1953)

Provided the singing voice for Deborah Kerr in The King and I (1956) and An Affair to Remember (1957)

Provided the singing voice for Natalie Wood in West Side Story (1961)

Provided the singing voice for Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady (1964)

Finally, Marni Nixon appeared on the screen, singing for herself in the film of The Sound of Music as part of the chorus of nuns.

The credits for her many dubbing roles did not appear on the titles of any of the films, and it wasn’t until the movies' subsequent release on VHS decades later that she was to be fully credited or widely acknowledged.

As Hollywood moved away from traditional musicals, she started to perform on stage, as Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady and as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret.

In the 1990s , she lent her voice to the Disney animated feature Mulan and replaced Joan Roberts as Heidi Schiller in the Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim's Follies.

Today, she continues to perform in concert.

One of her three husbands, Ernest Gold composed the theme song to the movie Exodus . They had three children together, one of whom is the singer and songwriter Andrew Gold ("Lonely Boy" and "Thank You For Being a Friend").

"Thank You For Being a Friend" reached #25 on the Billboard Charts in 1978 but today is better known for being the theme to the TV Show "The Golden Girls".

An Elephant walks into a Bar…

Sounds like a set-up to an old contrived joke … unless you live in Thailand. Day to day life here affords you the opportunity to see many wondrous things, including elephants in bars … and not just the pink ones

I was sitting with some fellow ex-pats at an open air “Beer Bar” in South Pattaya shortly after sundown last weekend . The heat of the day was gone and a nice cool breeze moved the mosquitoes along their way quickly.

It’s a nice time of day here, the locals are out for dinner and drinks and the “tourists” tend to show up later in the evening.

It’s a common sight to see vendors and hawkers with their push carts stop in front of the bars to offer everything from fried insects and dried cuttlefish to the latest pirated DVD.

This evening a young man had a baby elephant with him and a stalk of bananas. For a “fee” he allowed people to feed the elephant, pet it and take pictures.

Being a “small” elephant, he felt no need to need to leave the animal outside!

So into the bar it went, going table to table waving it’s truck (the elephant, that is) in everybody’s face. Truly a Kodak moment and me without my camera (sigh).

I’m sure the young man made out well financially that night going from bar to bar (and his partner works for peanuts).

I guess the thing that strikes me most is that no one in the bar seemed to think this was out of the ordinary. Amazing Thailand!

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Thai Anxiety

The Headline in the Bangkok Post last week read “Baht At Highest Level in 9 Years”

Most unwelcome news for those of us with US Dollars. The Dollar has been declining against most major currencies for several years as anyone who has been to Europe can attest to.

Now, the Baht is at rates not seen since 1997 and it may get stronger. Bottom line is that my savings are worth about 15% less than they were a year ago.

While I’m certainly in no immediate danger of financial embarrassment, it does lead every ex-pat to ponder the question “How cheaply can I live here …if I had to?”

Largely, it depends on how much you need in life. I have (relatively) simple tastes – shelter, food, water and a high speed internet connection.

Breaking it down, the numbers look like this:

Rent Room with Fan 2000 baht / month Rent Room with A/C 3000 baht / month

Utils Room with Fan 500 baht / month Utils Room with A/C 800 baht / month

Food & Water 4500 baht / month

Misc Expenses 4500 baht / month

Internet Café 500 baht / month

Health Insurance 900 baht / month

Total 12900 baht / month 14200 baht / month

$368.00/ month (Fan) $406.00 / month (A/C)

Arguments can be made that, you can do it even cheaper. I’ve seen apartments in Thailand for under 2000 baht a month but they are pretty bad. You could take a chance and NOT have Health Insurance but at that price it’s a foolish gamble.

This assumes you prefer to borrow books from the library and read on the beach rather than drink til dawn and party. It also assumes that you don’t have a car or motorcycle and rely on local busses for transportation... and that you eat Thai food.

I’ve heard that there is an English Gentleman who lives in Pattaya for under 10000 baht a month ($286.00 / month). He’s been here for years and apparently is quite happy with his lifestyle.

A pretty bland existence to be sure, one I don’t think I would want to handle for any length of time. The Good News is I have more than enough money in savings to cover either of these scenarios until I received my pension. The Better News is that I am still working regularly and don’t really have to worry.

That is, unless the baht gets stronger….

Little Smile

If staying in Bangkok, I can honestly say my favorite “small” hotel in town has to be the OM YIM LODGE. Located right next to the Chong Nonsi BTS (Skytrain) Station on Naratiwat Road between Silom and Sathorn Road, this little gem is well worth a look.

Om Yim means “little smile” in Thai.

Opened in November 2006, this delightful property only has twelve rooms (so plan ahead and book early). The Restaurant serves excellent Thai and Western food and at very low prices (a good dinner might run you $ 2 - $3 USD).

The Staff are all very friendly and helpful. The owner (Aek) is on property almost every day and is highly visible.

Free Wifi Access is available in the lobby and in the rooms. Room rates vary by floor and configuration but range from 600 – 900 baht a night (that’s about $17 - $25 a night) – they are clean, comfortable and well appointed.

If you want a pleasant place to stay in the heart of the city, look no further. I will definitely be back.

Musical Chairs

About 10 years ago, I met Adam Wade. No, not Adam West (TV’s Batman) - Adam Wade. He was performing on board one of the Cruise Ships of Holland America Line and I got to speak with him briefly one afternoon around the pool.

Born 17 March 1937, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Wade was romantic crooner in the Johnny Mathis style. While attending Virginia State College he worked as a laboratory assistant for Dr. Jonas Salk, the man who discovered the polio vaccine.

Wade had three hit singles in 1961 for Coed Records "Take Good Care of Her" (#7), "The Writing on the Wall" (#5), and "As If I Didn’t Know" (#10). After his early record successes, he disappeared off the charts for four years, returning with a cover of Elvis Presley's "Crying In The Chapel" in 1965 (I still have the record).

Wade later became a stage and television actor. He starred in an all-black production of Guys and Dolls in Los Angeles in 1978, and later hosted a talk show called Mid-Morning LA.

Where I remember Adam Wade from was in the 1970’s when he was American TV’s first black Game Show Host with a program called Musical Chairs (1976).

Although the game show was just a moderate success in a field of similar shows such as “Name That Tune” and “Face The Music”, the story behind the game show “Musical Chairs” is an interesting one.

Don Kirshner, who produced “Musical Chairs”, was also the impresario behind the first two albums by The Monkees. He was dumped by the studio after moving ahead with single releases without the producers’ permission (thus allowing Micky, Davy, Mike and Peter to choose their own music as well as play their own instruments).

A few years later, Kirshner became the mastermind behind The Archies (Sugar Sugar). In the 1970s, he ran Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert in syndication, and his record label served as the home for the group Kansas.

Adam Wade turns 70 next weekend (where does the time go?).

Nightmare on Embassy Row

Traveling as much as I do has its plusses and minuses.

On the positive side, I get to go places most people only dream about. On the negative side, I have to deal with the bureaucratic nightmare of Customs, Immigration & Travel Visa’s.

Some countries are relatively easy, you show up at their doorstep with a valid passport and an onward ticket and you are allowed in for a limited (usually 30 day) visit. Certain countries, however require that you apply (and pay for) an Entry Visa.

There is no rhyme or reason to the rules as each country is different. Australia allows you to apply on the internet and, for less than $15.00 USD you have a full year of travel – and it is issued immediately!

Thailand required a one page form to be filled out and a $25.00 fee for each Tourist entry (90 day) – I got a triple entry (270 Days) for $75.00. Done in less than an hour.

China offers a variety of Tourist Visa’s ranging from single entry to multiple entry over six months. The cost also varies by how quickly you want it processed. My six month, multiple entry visa completed the same day cost over $160.00.

A six month multiple entry Tourist Visa for India takes minimum of four days and costs about $90.00 USD.

This week, I needed both an Indian and Chinese Visa for upcoming trips so I headed to Bangkok’s Embassy Row to obtain my travel documents. I had five days in town to complete the task and hoped that would be enough…

Monday 7am - Leave Jomtien Beach by hired car. Traffic is remarkably light and I am in Bangkok at my hotel by 10am. Upon arrival, I discover that Monday was a Government Holiday and the Embassies are closed (nothing about that on their websites!) Day One: Shot to Hell

Tuesday 8am – Jump in a taxi and head (through unbelievable traffic) to the Indian Embassy. I get there just before 9am and I’m number 9 in line. With paperwork in hand, I approach the desk and I’m told they will have it processed by next Monday!

After considerable begging and offering to pay any “expedite fee”, they said “OK, leave your paperwork and a copy of your passport and come back Friday at noon” Relieved, (and with my original passport in hand) I head out the door and hail a cab to the Chinese Embassy.

Unfortunately, the Driver did not know where it was and had to stop twice and ask directions. Despite that and the continuing traffic mess, we arrived at the Chinese Embassy around 10:30 am.

This time, not so lucky. My number is 349 and they are still in the low 100’s. I take a seat and (try to) relax. My number comes up and the young lady behind the desk says I need several other forms (all in Thai) to be filled out by the Thai Embassy before she can process me.

I know she’s wrong. She thinks I’m joining the ship as “Crew”, which I’m not. I’m on the Passenger Manifest and I can’t get her to understand that. Only after she consults with her supervisor (and then her supervisor’s supervisor) am I cleared to submit my paperwork.

I pay the fee and then come back at 3pm to pick up the visa. One down, one to go.

Wednesday and Thursday I spend in Bangkok shopping, visiting with old friends and sightseeing.

Friday 11am I hail a cab to the Indan Embassy. Horrid traffic again (and a taxi driver who overcharged me) but I arrive at noon to hand in my passport. I’m told to return at 3pm.

I walk to Fortune City Mall and have lunch and wait til 3pm. Upon my return to the Embassy at 3pm, there is a line of people out the door that extends all the way into the courtyard. I queue with them and at 3:55pm I reach the desk only to be told to “wait, have a seat and we will call you

Finally at 4:55pm on Friday afternoon, I get my Visa. Hail a cab back to the hotel and wait for my driver to take me back to Jomtien Beach. I’m home by 10pm – exhausted.

Mission Accomplished.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Famous For Being Famous

If you've read many of my blogs, you know I often write about my encounters with "celebrities" as I have inhabited the periphery of show business over the last 25 years. Some of them are well known and some you've probably never heard of - what they all have in common IS THEY ACTUALLY DID SOMETHING!

Most of them haven't graced the cover of a fan magazine in 40 years,if ever.

They sang, they danced, the made us laugh or cry, they wrote words that inspired us or melodies that have danced in our heads for decades. They worked hard for their craft and once upon a time in America, we rewarded that.

Substance apparently means nothing today. Too many people are famous for being famous - that's all. Today we reward bad behavior and lack of discernable talent. I watch the news and see the media's total obsession with Anna Nicole, Paris, Lindsay et al. and I just want to scream.

While the media scolds us for watching, THEY are the ones who insist on covering it 24 hours a day. Just try and find something else on TV during the "Anna Nicole State Funeral".

There must be SOMETHING more important to expend our bandwidth over.

I guess with the advent of 500 channels of cable TV, it was inevitable. Media (like Nature) abhors a vacuum and needs to fill the airtime with something ...anything. No matter how trivial and inane.

Newton Minnow called Television "a vast wasteland" in the 1960's .. and there were only THREE CHANNELS back then!

Sure, that "wasteland" gave us such disposible drivel as "My Mother The Car","It's About Time" and "My Living Doll" but it also gave us "Playhouse 90", "Omnibus", "The Twilight Zone", "The Ed Sullivan Show", "Hollywood Palace" and hundreds of others that were (and still are) worthwhile.

The Internet (Youtube, Myspace etc.) now allows anyone to be "famous" - quite often for bad behavior. Post a video of yourself doing something illegal,stupid and/or dangerous on the Web and you'll be guarenteed thousands of hits to your website.

Instant Fame.

Anyone (no matter how hopelessly devoid of talent), can be a star. To that point, you are reading my blog ....Jim WHO?????

Tabloid magazines are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for exclusive baby pictures of "A List" celebrities. Why? Because PEOPLE BUY THEM!

Networks flood the airwaves with cheaply produced Reality Television Shows rather nurturing the next "Rod Serling" BECAUSE PEOPLE WATCH THEM.

24 Hour "News" channels devote huge resources to covering "Anna Nicole's" death (complete with BREAKING NEWS graphics) BECAUSE IT PULLS IN RATINGS. Deaths of former President's and other world leaders garner a fraction of the airtime.

As long as we are willing to be fed junk, they'll give us junk (notice how I cleaned THAT up!) because it's cheap to produce and the profit margins are so high.

When there were only a handful of media outlets, the cream rose to the top ... and that's what you saw, the best of the best.

Now we settle for rancid milk.

( Now Back to Our Regularly Scheduled Program)

Blyth Spirit

In 1988 while working on board the Crown Odyssey, we had an ongoing "Celebrity At Sea" series of cruises. Among the many stars that sailed with us included Ruby Keeler, Olivia de Havilland, Patricia Neal and Ann Blyth.

I talked at length about Patricia Neal in a previous blog, but today I turn my attention to Ann Blyth. Ann and her husband (Dr. James McNulty) traveled with us in the Mediterranean.

Ann arrived in Hollywood at age 15, earning recognition as Joan Crawford's competitive daughter in the melodrama Mildred Pierce (1945). Blyth went on to appear in a wide range of films, including Mr. Peabody & The Mermaid (1948), Rose Marie (1954) and The Buster Keaton Story (1957).

Ann, who would have been 60 years old at the time was quite petite (doll-like features I heard more than one person say) and still sang beautifully. Although she didn't do a "show", she did several afternoon lectures followed by Q&A sessions and took photos with the guests.

Additionally, they showed several of her films, including Kismet (1955).

I actually first met Ann through her husband, Dr. McNulty. During her afternoon talk, he stood in the back of the room (where I was) and since I had performed the night before, he recognized me. He said that they both loved my show and insisted I come meet "Annie".

After her talk ended and the crowds around her thinned, he took me to meet her. We ended up spending a good deal of time together and they shared a great story with me.

Ann & Dr McNulty (OB-GYN) had been married many years and were considered to one of the most solid, long lived marriages in Hollywood. How they met was interesting.

Ann was a guest on the Jack Benny show in the late 1940's and Dennis Day set her up on a blind date with his brother - James McNulty! and the rest is history....

A Life Rebuilt

When Hurricane Katrina swept ashore 18 months ago, it altered the lives of hundreds of thousands of people ...including mine.

Although I wasn't in New Orleans when the storm hit,it was my home and had been since 1984. By the time we were allowed back into the city (some six weeks after the storm), it was obvious that the Big Easy was in for a long hard recovery.

Although the waters receeded, it left behind a devastated infratructure and a populace in deep shock. Many lives were lost, businesses shuttered and homes left uninhabitable. Crime (always a problem in New Orleans), was exacerbated by the lack of law enforcement and concerns over toxic chemicals in the water and soil leading to the infamous "Katrina Cough" were among the concerns of those contemplating returning home.

And then there were the Levee's.

Even if the Levee's were returned to their original condition, the coastline was now significantly eroded from Katrina resulting in less protection from storm surge should another storm hit.

Housing costs went through the roof. An apartment that might have cost $500 a month in July 2005 now cost triple the amount .. or more.

I seriously considered returning, after all I'd spent over a third of my life there. I spent a few months in Nashville TN while I pondered my options.

Ultimately, I realized that the New Orleans I knew was gone - and not likely to return anytime soon.

I looked all over the USA and couldn't find anyplace that really appealed to me. The North was too cold, the West too expensive and the South could offer a repeat of the Hurricane evacuations every summer.

I was lucky in that I had put away a reasonable amount of money, so I had some options. My work on cruise ships allowed me to live almost anywhere in the world as long as I had access to a major International Airport

Many of my friends and family were surprised when I decided to move to Thailand. A move halfway around the world to a new country with a different culture and language can be daunting. I embraced it as a new adventure.

It's the best decision I've ever made. Here's why...

1.) Cost of living. You can live quite comfortably on less than $1000 a month... $700 a month if you are the frugal, stay at home type

2.) The weather is beautiful. Hot days, comfortable nights - think South Florida minus the hurricanes and tornadoes. Sure, it can rain a lot in June - October but rarely as an all day event.

3.) My New Home. I have a beautiful Condo on the beach, Cable TV, Air Con and great seaview from my balcony in a gated community - probably the nicest place I've ever lived.

4.) The Food. Not only is there inexpensive Thai food everywhere (which I love), there are a multitude international cuisine's from Hungarian to Russian to Mexican. Of course all the usual suspects in Fast Food are available too.

5.) Health Care - Hospitals in Thailand are world class - and cheap. Additionally, Health Insurance is a fraction of the cost of the USA. Most medications are available over the counter as well.

6.) Safety - While there is crime in every country, violence is extremely rare against Westerners in Thailand. Sure, you can get in trouble if you try hard enough, but I've never felt threatened anywhere in the Kingdom, day or night.

7.) Retirement - Thailand is very welcoming to Ex-Pats wishing to retire here. If you are over 50, don't have a criminal record and have a modest savings ($20,000 USD) you can obtain a non-immigrant retirement Visa allowing you to stay in the Kingdom permanently.

8.) Bangkok - Just two hours away by car, Bangkok is one of the most vibrant, exciting cities in the world. Additionally, by air, Hong Kong and Singapore are just a few hours away as well.

9.) The Ex-Pat Community. A community in every sense of the word, in the short time I've lived here I've made many good friends and have watched as they "take care of their own" as well as contribute to local charities.

10.) An Entertaining Cast of Characters. I always thought what made New Orleans so special were the characters that inhabited it - people like "Ruthie the Duck Lady" and Chris Owens (locals all know). Pattaya makes New Orleans look like amatuer night!A stroll down the Walking Street or along the Beach and you'll be thoroughly entertained.

11.) The Thai People. I had the good fortune to have visited Thailand many times since 1989 on cruise ships. What always amazed me was how kind and friendly the people were. I can only assume it is due to the Buddhist culture.

12.)Health - Because the weather is almost always good, outdoor activities abound here. I'm healthier and definitely more physically active since moving to Thailand.

A perfect Paradise? Not really. Every place has it's disadvantages and Thailand is no exception - but, for me the plusses greatly outweigh the minuses.

Making a major life altering decision like starting over in a foriegn land is not that difficult,really. Someone once said that 90% of accomplishing anything comes down to just showing up.

I have arrived.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Klaatu barada nikto

Christmas 1989 I was sailing on board the Golden Odyssey through the Panama Canal. The Cruise was memorable for two reasons....

First, we were delayed in our Canal transit by two days when President Bush sent 24,000 troops to Panama to assist military forces in a coup against President Manuel Noriega. We were actually the first cruise ship allowed through the canal after the invasion and we could still see smoke rising from the Panama City skyline.

Secondly, Patricia Neal was on board.

I've been a fan of Patricia Neal ever since I saw "The Day The Earth Stood Still" (1951) as a kid. Later on I discovered such films as "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (1961), "A Face In The Crowd" (1957) and "The Subject Was Roses" (1968).

She married British writer Roald Dahl in 1953 and in 1959 starred as the mother in the Broadway version of "The Miracle Worker"

Ms Neal suffered a series of major strokes in the mid 1960's which left her slightly infirm and now travels with a companion who takes care of her. She is a little unsteady on her feet and occasionally is forgetful (aren't we all).

While she was on board, we screened "Hud" (1963) with Paul Newman for which she won the Academy Award for Best Actress as well as "The Fountainhead" (1948) with Gary Cooper.

During the filming of "The Fountainhead", Patricia Neal's affair with the then-married Gary Cooper (he was 46 and she was 21) generated unrelenting publicity and caused her a nervous breakdown. She spoke quite bluntly about the affair and the ffect on her life and career.

While having breakfast with her one morning, I happened to mention that I knew Robert Douglas, who co-starred with her in "The Fountainhead". (See my earlier Blog on Robert Douglas here).

She told me she hadn't seen him since the 1950's and didn't even know he was still alive! I said he was very much alive and well and living in Leucadia, CA. Then she asked if I knew how to get in touch with him and I said "Wait right here, I'll get my address book".

Minutes later she had his address in hand and was overjoyed at the prospect of re-uniting with the only other principle cast member still alive. I'm quite pleased I had a little part to play in that reunion.

Last I heard, Patricia Neal still going strong and still actively involved in Theatre at age 81. A strong willed, charming lady who made her mark on stage and cinema.

And always remember ..... Klaatu barada nikto

Hawaiian Eye

In late 1985, I was working on board the newly launched "Costa Riviera".The ship had sailed under the name "Marconi" in the 1960's but had been laid up for many years until Costa Cruises bought her and refurbished her.

We sailed from the Genoa, Italy shipyard to Ft. Lauderdale without any passengers on board as the ship was still under rennovation with dozens of Italian carpenters, electricians and plumbers working day & night hoping to have her ready for the inaugural voyage.

There is a ship board tradition that when a new ship is launched, she is "christened" by some person of note on her first voyage. Our's was Connie Stevens.

Connie Stevens (born Concetta Rosalie Ann Ingolia in 1938) began her career in her native Brooklyn where she formed her own vocal group, The Foremost, featuring three male backups who went on to become The Lettermen. Stevens was later part of the all-girl group The Three Debs before making her professional stage debut in a Hollywood Repertory Company production of Finian's Rainbow.

Her film roles included YOUNG AND DANGEROUS (1957) ROCK-A-BYE BABY (1958) PALM SPRINGS WEEKEND (1963) WAY… WAY OUT (1966) GREASE 2 (1982), and she joined her old pals Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello for a trip down memory lane in BACK TO THE BEACH (1987).

She was probably bestr known as "Cricket Blake" on the long-running detective series "Hawaiian Eye" (1959- 63), Stevens also starred with George Burns in the series "Wendy and Me" (1964-65), and through the years appeared on numerous variety specials, frequently with Bob Hope, and several TV movies.

When I met Connie on board the "Costa Riviera", she was funny, totally accessable and incredibly attractive at age 47. We had dinner and drinks together on several occasions and even ended out on the dance floor together for a little late night disco action one night.

First thing she did when we met was pull out her wallet and show off the pictures of her two daughters (they were around 20) which were from her marriage with Eddie Fisher. As I recall, she said they were very much into horses and horseback riding. Definitely a proud mother and a delight to meet.
Miraculously, the ship was (more or less) ready by the time we reached Ft. Lauderdale (except for a persistant list caused by a ballast problem) and the christening and inaugural cruise were a big success.


As an aside, I mentioned the ship was not even near ready for sailing when we arrived in Genoa. That included my cabin which the picture here will attest to!
(PS: I quickly moved and got a better cabin!)

Sunny Skylar

In 1989, While working on board the Golden Odyssey in SE Asia I met Sunny Skylar.

You are stunned, I can tell... Since you probably DON'T know who Sunny Skylar is, a brief history is in order...

Sunny Skylar was a songwriter who penned the lyrics such hits as "Amor",(1943),"Besame Mucho" (1944), "Gotta Be This or That (1945), "It Must Be Jelly (Cause Jam Don't Shake Like That)"(1942),"Just a Little Bit South Of North Carolina" (1941) and many others.

Sunny, who then lived in Las Vegas decided to take his wife on the cruise due to a sudden cash windfall when he received substantial royalties for the use of "Besame Mucho" in the 1988 movie "Moon over Parador" with Richard Dryfuss and Raul Julia.

To show you how profitable song writing can be, Sunny told me that "Besame Mucho" paid for his first house ... and put his kids through college. Of course those are 1940's prices, but still!

Although Sunny wrote with many American composers, he found his niche by taking Latin American songs and writing English lyrics for them such as "Amor", "Be Mine Tonight (Noche De Ronda)" and of course "Besame Mucho".

Skylar, who looked to be well into his 70's had a wife easily 30 years younger. He was (maybe) 5 foot tall and she towered over him - especially when they danced with his head firmly planted in her rather ample chest! Clearly, here was a man who enjoyed life!

Sunny Skylar, a great songwriter and vocalist with an infectious laugh and a great love of life was also a wonderful storyteller. Each night he'd regale us with fascinating stories of the Big Band singers and Orchestra Leaders.

Sunny was born in Brooklyn NY in 1913 and to this date, I can find no reference to his passing so I assume he is still with us, hopefully still dancing with his wife somewhere.

Next time you listen to the Big Bands of the 1940's, take a moment to fondly remember one of it's most prolific songwriters - Sunny Skylar

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In A Galaxy Far Away...

Sometimes I look at photos from my younger days and think I must be looking at someone else. From the age of 16 to 30 I worked in Emergency Medical Services, first as an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) and then as a ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) Paramedic.

My career began working for a Funeral Home that ran ambulance in my home town (Zephyrhills, Fl) while still in High School. After graduation, I continued my career in St.Petersburg FL, Phoenix, AZ, Charleston SC and finally Orlando,FL both in the private and public sector.
During that 14 year period, I ran well over 10,000 ambulance calls, many of which were bonafide emergencies. I had a number of great partners in the field, including Doug Lively and John Jordan.

I was fortunate enough to help build the EMS systems in several locations and was licensed in both Florida and South Carolina.

Of course, in 1984 I switched careers. I became a full time Banjo Cabaret Act. Now, I look at those early photos and it's hard to believe that used to be me!

The "dirty little secret" about being a Paramedic (or firefighter or Police Officer) is that there is an Adrenalin Rush associated with doing the job. You tend to secretly thrive on the "life & death" aspect of it ... and when you leave the job you have withdrawal symptoms.

Many former Paramedics simply can't walk away, they live with their Bearcat Scanner on 24/7 rushing to the scenes of emergencies to render aid in order to relive the rush. It's a sad, sad existance.

I was lucky. I too needed the adrenalin but I found that performing on a stage in front of 1000 people was more than an adequate replacement.

Now, 22 years later I look back and I'm thankful for having two extremely fullfilling careers. Thanks for the Memories ... and the Adrenalin!