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