Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Out Of The Blue Of The Western Sky!

I think everybody's first celebrity encounter holds a special place in his or her memory. If I had my choice, it would have been someone like Jimmy Stewart or Groucho Marx... even the Ritz Brothers (OK, maybe not the Ritz Brothers).

Mine was Kirby Grant.

I can tell you are either envious or saying Kirby Who?

If you were a kid growing up watching TV in the 1950's and early 60's you hung on the adventures of "Fury", "My Friend Flicka" and "Sky King". Kirby Grant was Sky King.

Grant (a pilot in real life) played a wealthy gentleman rancher who used his twin engine Cessna called the "Song Bird" to capture the bad guys. His ranch, "The Flying Crown” was located near "Grover, Arizona", and he had a niece named Penny and a nephew named Clipper.

"Sky King" was a huge success and Kirby made approximately 130 episodes which guaranteed syndication. He later bought the title and rights to the show "Sky King", and became a public relations director for Sea World in Florida. He lived in nearby Winter Haven.

I worked with Kirby around 1981 at Orlando International Airport. We were "Official Greeters" for the inaugural flights of Braniff Airlines arriving at the newly christened facility.

We would stand at the gate, me with banjo in hand and Kirby, wearing a cowboy hat, sunglasses and a western shirt shaking hands with bewildered de-planing passengers. I seriously doubt any of them knew who he was ...or why we were there!

Braniff Airlines went belly-up shortly afterwards. I maintain we had nothing to do with that.

As I said, he was my first celebrity encounter. He was very nice to me but BOY! ... did he look old!! Understandable I guess, considering my memories of Sky King were committed to celluloid circa 1953.

Sadly, Grant was killed several years later in a road accident on October 30, 1985 while on his way to watch the launch of the Space Shuttle Challenger at Cape Canaveral. He was to be honored by the shuttle astronauts for his achievements.

As first celebrity encounters go, mine was probably pretty bush league. But I'll take it.

The Osgood File

If you listen to the radio regularly, you surely are familiar Charles Osgood. His distinctive voice, gentle humor and insightful commentary have graced The Osgood File on CBS Radio for years as well as hosting CBS Sunday Morning on TV.

I met Mr. Osgood on a WOR Radio charter cruise on board the Star Odyssey in the early 1990’s.

What many people do not know about Charles Osgood is that he is a banjo player too.

Shortly after the Cruise began, the Cruise Director told me that Charles Osgood had seen my 8x10 Photo on the wall and wanted to meet me. I was invited to a cocktail party for the radio personalities on board and there I was introduced to him.

We hit it off immediately. Charles had brought his banjo with him on the cruise and asked if we could get together for a little private jam session. I, of course said yes.

On board the Star Odyssey, we had a wonderful young pianist named Eric Apland. Eric, who looked like a young Orson Welles, played in the show band that backed my show. In addition to being a wonderful accompanist, he was a very fine Ragtime Pianist.

So, one afternoon at sea we set out to find a quiet room with a piano so the three of us could jam a little. We started by playing a few simple folk songs – Kingston Trio type tunes.

Before long, word spread throughout the ship and what started out as a private jam session suddenly attracted a crowd of over one hundred people! We ended playing to a standing room only crowd for over ninety minutes.

I had a picture of the three of us taken at that session but it was one of the many things I lost in Hurricane Katrina. I have since lost track of Eric Apland, the last time I saw him, he was performing on the Riverboat American Queen.

Charles Osgood, a very nice, talented man – and a pretty decent banjo player!

Nobody Knows You When You're Downloaded and Out

I admit it. I am an addict.

I have an uncontrollable urge to download new software. Constantly. There was a time when modem speeds were as slow as 300 baud, I had to wait hours to score a single application. Now, with ADSL I can have instant gratification 24/7.

I started innocently enough. I visited websites that offered freeware. I downloaded a small utility or two, then a stand-alone application. I didn’t know that once had me hooked on freebies, I’d progress onto harder stuff …. like shareware.

From there it’s a slippery downward slope to downloading Commercial Software or even worse … Operating Systems!

I heard tragic stories about users contracting “Viruses” from sharing contaminated sources. Of course, I thought I was too smart for that to happen to me – I always used “protection” like firewalls and anti-viral software. I was wrong.

I would hang around online software repositories all hours of the day or night looking to score the latest program upgrade, security patch or best of all…. A brand new app! And, if it was still in Beta, the rush was always higher because I knew I was living on the edge!

I didn’t realize how acute my problem was until the day my internet connection went down. Suddenly my supplier was gone and I was faced with going cold turkey. I was agitated, palms sweating and unable to sit still.

I tried re-installing some old applications I had archived on disk but it just wasn’t the same euphoric high I experienced the first time. I even tried to score some fresh apps from some geeky looking teenagers hanging around the Mall, they sadly shook their heads and said I should write my own software and “Just Say No” to downloading.

They didn’t understand. I didn’t want to be a distributor … I just wanted to be a user!

I had no control. I lay awake nights thinking about computer handshaking protocols and just the sound of a modem’s squeal would produce an endorphin rush. I thought there was no hope – I had hit bottom.

Then I found D.A. - Downloader’s Anonymous. Suddenly, I knew I was not alone. There was a whole cyber community out there just as strung out as I was. At my first meeting, a guy stood up and admitted he had been Free (data) Basing since 1987!

Sad stories followed of formerly happy men and women who fell into financial ruin by constantly upgrading their computers to accommodate the increasingly larger, power hungry applications they longed for.

Through their twice-weekly meetings (Friends of Bill G.) and their buddy intervention program, I’m proud to say it’s been 13 days since I last downloaded. I’m not cured. However, I am recovering… day by day.

And no, that’s NOT a modem cable hidden in my chandelier!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Hello D’ere!



Last year I worked with Marty Allen. If you are under 30, that may not mean anything to you – if you are older than 40, then you know him as the crazy haired funny half of the duo Allen & Rossi.


Marty and his talented wife Karon Kate Blackwell were performing on board the new Pacific Princess sailing from Guam to China. Karon now plays “straight man” to Marty’s antics and she’s a great singer too!


Its part of show business lore, that Allen & Rossi had to follow The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in February 1964. Marty is now in his mid 80’s and still going strong.
He’s a great storyteller (many are unprintable without verifying your age here first) and just a lot of fun to hang around with.


You’ll notice I talk a lot about the older entertainers here. There are a few reasons. First, they are the one’s I’ve happened to meet through the years (I’m exactly not on Brad Pitt’s speed dial) and secondly, they are the ones I really admire.


In this youth obsessed society, we tend to discard those that are not hot and on the “A” List anymore. What a tragedy.


I like to think that those of us in the entertainment field feel a little more reverence towards those who shaped this industry that we are so fortunate to be a part of.


In this age of American Idol and “instant celebrity”, the stories of those performers who worked their way through the bad nightclubs for next to nothing and really struggled to make it are the most inspirational to me.


I hope they are to you too.

He Made Them Laugh




I only worked with Donald O'Connor once. It was in Australia on board the m.s. Maasdam in 1995.


To say I've been an O'Connor fan would be an understatement. I have worn out three copies of "Singing In The Rain" throughout the years. His tour de force performance of "Make em Laugh" and his dance with Gene Kelly to "Moses Suposes" are among the best dance sequences ever committed to film.


Donald and his wife were onboard and comedian Jackie Kahane introduced me to him. Jackie, who is now gone, holds the distinction of being the opening act for Elvis Presley for many years. I always thought that had to be the toughest job in the world - NOBODY came to see you! In spite of that, Jackie did quite well and had a long, distinguished career in comedy.


When I worked with Jackie, he was getting up there in years. I remember being backstage with him and seeing him sitting there, hunched over and looking like he couldn't even stand up, much less do stand up comedy! Suddenly, his play-on music started ... he stood up straight ...marched onto the stage and immediately looked and acted 30 years younger for over 45 minutes.


THAT'S SHOWBUSINESS!


I joined Jackie and the O’Connor’s for pre-dinner drinks (Donald was a reformed alcoholic so we drank Juices & sodas) and then spent a great evening of dinner and conversation. There is something quite magical about hearing stories about sitting around the piano with Judy Garland and Gene Kelly singing Christmas Carols from someone who was actually there!


Aside from the fact that Donald looked great, I was surprised how short he was - he always seemed tall and lanky on the screen and yet at 5'9", I was taller than he was. Since he was no longer drinking, he looked much thinner than I remembered from television appearances in the 1980's.


I spoke with Donald about a mutual friend, banjoist Scotty Plummer. Scotty had done a TV pilot with Donald in the early 1980's (he played Donald's son) and they had become good friends. Sadly, Scotty had died a few years earlier in a moped accident in Bermuda while working on the cruise ship Meridian. (I'll write more about Scotty in a future blog).


Because I too played banjo, Donald seemed very interested in talking with me. He came to my show, afterwards came backstage, and told me I was as good as Eddie Peabody (certainly NOT true, but very nice of him to say).


Donald performed a few nights later. He sang more than he danced (at 71 years of age, who can blame him) but when he DID dance, he absolutely lit up the stage. A most enjoyable evening watching a show business legend.


I got to ask Donald if he knew they were making a history when they filmed "Singing in the Rain". He said, "No, We knew it would be good with Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen directing. But we had no idea it would attain the status it has".


We all left the ship in Suva, Fiji and flew back to the States (Rich Little was joining as I went down the gangway). During a layover in Honolulu I spent a few more hours in the early morning hours with him and then briefly said farewell at the luggage carousel at LAX as we boarded different domestic flights.


Donald and his wife had suffered extensive structural damage to their home in the Northridge earthquake and had recently moved to Sedona, AZ. from Los Angeles.


I ALMOST had the opportunity to see him again a few years later. Donald was filming "Out To Sea" with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon and they were coming aboard the m.s. Westerdam for some second unit filming. Unfortunately, I was leaving that ship the morning they were supposed to join. I would have loved to hang around because I know I would have had the chance to meet Lemmon & Matthau as well.


Now, they are all gone. There aren't many of "old Hollywood" left. Donald was one of the good guys.


Eating out in Thailand

Make no mistake, eating out is the national pastime in Thailand.

Most Thai’s seem to eat five times a day and yet are always hungry. How they stay so thin is truly a metabolic wonder.

Food is everywhere. Food stalls line most major streets offering meals for as little as 50 cents while a local sit-down Thai restaurant will run you about two dollars for the same food.
Of course, all the western style fast food restaurants are here as well as a good selection of international cuisine and some upscale Thai restaurants.

Many westerners are wary of eating street food. Personally, I’ve never had a “problem” … yet (but I do keep the Imodium handy). If you “play it safe” and only eat in western style restaurants you will truly miss the best of the Thai experience.

Bottled water is very cheap and plentiful – it’s best to stick to drinking it although most restaurants are safe (including the ice).

Eating out with friends and family is a communal experience – most people order different courses and then share the food. You also see very few Thai’s using a knife and fork – the food is generally cut into bite sizes during preparation and a spoon is the preferred utensil.

Chicken, pork, shrimp and fish are readily available and prepared with red & green chilies, lemongrass, cocoanut milk, ginger, lime and a host of other tantalizing flavors to entice the palette.

If you can handle the heat (spice), Tom Yum Soup (Chicken, Shrimp or Pork) and cold Papaya Salad are excellent examples of Thai cooking cuisine.

For the more adventurous, fried insects are considered a delicacy.

I’ll take their word for it ..... for now.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Love Exciting & New




Most everybody has seen the classic TV series "The Love Boat" and judging by the number of episodes, most everybody has appeared on "The Love Boat" as well!

In the early 1970's Doug Cramer & Aaron Spelling approached ABC about doing a new series, he wanted to re-create the success of "Love, American Style" a series that used a format of three separate stories told over an hour.

In "Love, American Style", there were no continuing chracters or central location to link the stories and he wanted a way to combine the vignettes. The idea of doing sort of a "Grand Hotel" appealed to him but he wanted something a little bit different. He ran across a book written by a former Social Hostess and Cruise Director called "The Love Boats" and the rest is history.

Not only was it a tremendous hit for ABC Television, it helped launch the Cruise Industry. Hard as it is to believe, the cruise lines weren't very receptive to the idea of lending their name to the product. Unlike the TV series, the book showed more of a "risque, anything goes" atmosphere that was prevelant on the ships of those days.

Once they were convinced the show would not be detrimental to their image, Princess Cruises made the decision to allow filming on boarcd their ship sailing out of San Pedro, CA. The proximity to Hollywood made it an ideal fit for the TV studios and, as a result Princess Cruises became synonomous with "The Love Boat"!

I first met the author of "The Love Boats" while working on board the m.s. Jubilee back in 1986, she is very nice lady who I have had the pleasure to cruise with several times since. She has re-released the book "The Love Boats" with some added material and it's a fun read.

I had the distinct pleasure of performing many times on board the original "Love Boat" , the Pacific Princess as well as the Island Princess and the Royal Princess which were also utilized during the series' run.


Oh, by the way, aaron Spelling struck gold the same premise of three separate stories held together by a central location and continuing characters once gain .... with a show called Fantasy Island!

Living in Thailand Truly is a Day at The Beach




One of the things that drew me to living in Jomtien Beach was how much it reminded me of Florida 30 - 40 years ago. Located just a few kilometers from the garish nightlife of Pattaya, Jomtien Beach is far more laid back in style and substance.

Hundreds of beach umbrellas dot the shore where you can rent a chair for less than a dollar a day complete with an attendant who will periodically move your umbrella to accommodate the track of the sun, bring you cold drinks or hot food from the restaurant across the road.

Vendors with cooked chicken & shrimp, ice cream and fresh fruit walk along the beach all day long offering their wares for about a dollar. An hour long massage will run you just over five dollars a pedicure for about two dollars & fifty cents.

And then there is the eye candy….

Some of the most beautiful people you will ever see (wearing the least amount of clothing imaginable)promenade the beach all day long. Be aware that in Thailand, all is not always what it seems to be. That gorgeous girl sashaying across the sand may NOT be anatomically correct!

Today I splurged. I had an umbrella & chair, two soft drinks, an order of chicken wings and an order of shrimp plus an hour long full body massage – it cost less than twelve dollars including the tip! Most days I can spend less than three dollars on the beach and still have a great time.

Here life moves slowly. Everything runs on “Thai Time” – the local expression is “Mai Pen Rai” which basically means “no problem” or “it doesn’t matter”. Thai’s believe every thing should be “sanuk” or “fun” – they are masters at it.

It takes a farang (westerner) a few days to slow down and enjoy the laid back pace, but once you do – you’ll understand why so many people love Thailand.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Jim & Me




Twenty years ago, I met a legend.

I had just flown for 30 hours from New Orleans - Miami - Buenos Aires - Santiago where I boarded the cruise ship Britanis for a 12 day segment of their 52 day South American Cruise. As usual, following the long trek, all I wanted to do was find my cabin and get some sleep.

I surfaced the next day long enough to eat, rehearse my show with the band and eventually do my shows that evening. Still exhausted from the travel, I went to my cabin and crash again.

The next morning, while nursing a cup of coffee in the lounge, an elderly man came up to me and, started up a conversation and asked if he could sit down. I, of course assuming he was a passenger (he looked close to 80) and nodded at his request.

He told me that his name was Jim, too. Over the next twenty minutes he softly peppered me with dozens of questions about my show, how I became a banjo player, how I make my music (he even asked if he could see my charts!).

It was obvious he was really interested everything I had to say - he didn't talk much about himself other than to say his favorite favorite song was "Bali Hai"

Maybe it was the jet lag but for the life of me, I had no idea who I was talking to - that is, until a purser approached the gentleman and said "Mr. Michener, you have a telex at the front desk".

He apologized, excussed himself and went to attend to his affairs.

My first thought was "wow!, I've been sitting with one of the world's greatest author and didn't even know it!" I felt a feeling of euphoria and yet of disappointment. If I had my senses about me, I would have had a hundred questions I would want have wanted to ask him - and now my moment was gone.

Opportunity Lost. Momentarily.

The next morning. Same Lounge. Mr. James A. Michener walks in, sees me and asked if he could join me again!

Over the next 10 days, we shared 2 - 3 hours a day talking about his work, my work, shared hobbies & interests and even a little politics. I have such fond memories of those conversations - he was very kind, interested in what I had to say and had a great sense of humor

Michener was writing the book "Caribbean" at the time we was travelling. He is a great listener, I have no doubt that skill is largely responsible for his ability to write such in depth books.

For those less familiar with his work, here is a brief synopsis:

Tales of the South Pacific (1947) received the 1948 Pulitzer Prize in fiction and was the source of the musical South Pacific (1949). Michener's other popular works of fiction include Sayonara (1954); Hawaii (1959); Chesapeake (1978); The Covenant (1980) Poland (1982); Texas (1985); and Alaska (1988); as well as The Novel (1991), Recessional (1994), and A Miracle in Seville (1995). His nonfiction includes The Bridge at Andau (1957); Iberia: Spanish Travels and Reflections (1968); and a collection of nonfiction pieces, A Michener Miscellany: 1950-1970 (published 1973). Michener's memoir, The World Is My Home, was published in 1992


I enclose a picture of James Michener on deck of the Britanis (Oct 1987) as we were whale watching off the coast of Brazil and a letter I received from him approximately a year after our cruise together. James Michener passed away in 1997 at age 90 but left a legacy that will thrill generations to come.

Grindl












Show Business Is Not Pretty!


If you are over fifty, you may remember a TV show starring Imogene Coca called "Grindl" - a comedy about a temp worker sent off every week by her exasperated boss on a new "job". Hilarity ensues.

Having worked for a talent agency in New Orleans for my long time friend Carl Mack - I can identify. Carl always tried to find jobs for me that played to my strengths - those jobs simply weren't always there.

Unduanted, Carl would come to me with a big grin on his face and say " I've got the PERFECT gig for you this week!" Being a team player (and also being poor at the time), I would swallow hard and brace myself.

To be perfectly fair, almost all of the experiences were fun, whether I was marching in a jester outfit in a Mardi Gras Parade, donning a skull cap and protraying Dr. Evil to Carl's Austen Powers or turning myself into Ralph Kramden from the Honeymooners.

Along the way, I've been a Game Show Host, table Hopping Magician (I knew three tricks!) and a puppeteer with a cigar chomping Dragon (named Miassis Dragon!).


Obviously the key to sucess in showbusiness is to be fearless .... and poor!


I submit the above pictures for your amusement.....

If you need a good, honest Talent Provider look no farther than Carl Mack Presents in New Orleans LA. I guarentee you (from personal experience) the staff goes the extra mile!!

In The Year 2550

In the Year 2550..

No, it's not a re-release of the Zaeger & Evans cautionary tale from 1969, it's the current year in Thailand using the Thai Budhist Calendar. For those who think Thailand is behind the times, it's actually 543 years ahead!

So, with apologies to Z & E, here's my version of ...

IN THE YEAR 2550


In the year 2550
Life in Thailand is really thrifty
Lots of things to Do & See
Watch Katoeys on the Beach for Free

In the year 2551
In Thai the word "Sanuk" means having fun
you party on the soi's all night
then hit the beaches in the morning light Whoa Whoa (Key Change)

In the Year 2552
Forget the problems that are bugging you
you'll love the country til the day you die
cause all you're troubles are just "Mai pen rai"

In the Year 2553
you find that love here really is not so free
that special person that you want to know
will cost a cell phone, gold and buffalo Whoa Whoa (Key Change)

In the Year 2554
Your know bank account won't stand much more
your sick of paying all those Doctor's fees
For treating gonococcal STD's

In the Year 2555
Now you wonder if your liver will survive
You know your drinking way too much booze
your mug shot's weekly in the Pattaya News

(Rubato)

Now it's been just five short years
You've drunk ten thousand beers
Your money's almost gone
and your pension won't last long

Your story is not new
what ever will you do?
If only there was a way
to go back to yesterday.... (In Tempo)

In the year 2550
Life in Thailand was really thrifty
Lots of things to Do & See
Watch Katoeys on the Beach for Free .......

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Remembering Robert Douglas

OK, unless you are Leonard Maltin, you’ve probably never heard of Robert Douglas. I didn’t really know of him until we met on the Carnival Cruise Ship Jubilee in 1986.

He and his wife Sue were passengers on board. I had done my show the night before and they saw me on deck and asked me to join them for a drink.

For the first twenty minutes or so, I assumed they were just regular tourists on holiday as they only introduced themselves by their first names. Robert excused himself to use the bathroom and his wife leaned in towards me and said “my husband is in the business too”.

I asked what he did and she said he was an actor & director. Upon his return, I asked Robert about it and he told me about his career. Here goes…

Robert Douglas was a Shakespearian stage actor in London in 1947 when Jack Warner saw him and signed him to a 7 year contract and brought him to the USA.

One of his first major roles was the nefarious Duke de Lorca in Errol Flynn’s “The Adventures of Don Juan” (1948). He followed this with “The Fountainhead”, “The Flame & The Arrow”, “The Prisoner of Zenda”, “The Desert Rats”,“Fair Wind To Java”, “Ivanhoe”, “Saskatchewan”, “Tarzan The Apeman” and “The Young Philadelphians” just to name a few.

After a solid film career, Robert became a TV Director for Quinn Martin Productions. While working for QM, Robert directed such series as “The Fugitive”, “12 O’clock High” and the “The Invaders”. He later went on to direct “Trapper John MD”, "Quincey", Barnaby Jones" and the TV series version of the movie “Fame”

Robert told me that while directing “12 O’clock High”, he wanted to cast a young actor against the studio’s wishes. Robert prevailed, the actor was hired -It was Hollywood bad boy Robert Blake who revitalized his career and went on to do the series Baretta.

Robert & Sue lived in Leucadia, California and we corresponded back & forth for many years. Sue, who was many years younger than Robert passed away quite suddenly and I could sense from Robert’s letters that he was “ready to go” too. His health deteriorated and then in January 1999, I received a funeral announcement from his family.

Robert Douglas, a big man with a lusty laugh and a love of life. Thank you for your friendship through the years and for sharing your talent with the world.

Home At Last!

From door to door it took 48 hours but I made it. I’m officially back in the Land Of Smile.

I found the new Suvarniphumi International Airport (BKK) to be large, but a very efficient operation. Customs & Immigration were a significant bus ride away from the terminal, but once we got there, Passport Control lines were short and I was processed in less than five minutes.

Baggage took about 25 minutes to off load and thankfully arrived intact. Passing through the “Nothing to Declare” zone was swift and my Limo Driver was there in the Arrivals Hall with a printed sign (thank you Mr. Toom). From wheels down at the airport to leaving the car park was less than one hour!

The traffic at 4pm (on a Wednesday) leaving BKK flowed smoothly until we got to the road construction near Laem Chebang where it slowed to a dusty crawl. After almost two hours on the road, I arrived at my Condo in Jomtien Beach.

The first 24 hours here have been a bit of a blur due to jet lag but I’m slowly coming to life. Unpacking, buying groceries, calling a few friends took up the bulk of my day. By 5pm the jet lag took over and I was unconscious again. It’s now 3am and I’m wide awake …again!

Thailand Reality Check #1 : My doctor recently changed my blood pressure medication (I’m borderline) to Enalapril. It cost me $120.00 for 100 tablets at Walgreens in Nashville TN. I bought 200 tablets at a pharmacy here for ….. 500 Baht ($14.00)

Travel Tip #2 : If you need a safe & reliable car & driver in Bangkok or Pattaya, please give Mr. Toom a try. I’ve used him three times and the service has been superb. Email him at toom39@msn.com

You Meet Some Interesting People While Traveling...

I travel a lot - often trans-Atlantic or trans-Pacific flights. Most of the time when I fly, I tend to plug-in my MP3 player and divorce myself from my economy class surroundings for the duration of the flight.

Occasionally I'll engage in a few minutes of light conversation and then hope & pray the other person will tire of it quickly and delve back into my cocoon.

Every once in a while, I’ll meet someone interesting.

Flying from Nashville to Bangkok earlier this week, we encountered the ultimate traveler’s nightmare – our onward connection from Tokyo had been canceled due to mechanical trouble.

After about three hours of waiting around, we were all finally re-ticketed for the following day and given overnight hotel accommodations near the airport. While standing in line, I met Dr. Sam Seashole– a Veterinarian who is a Crocodile Specialist enroute to Bangkok for research at a Crocodile Farm.

As if being a “Croc Doc” wasn’t fascinating enough, turns out we grew up in Central Florida around the same time (the 1960’s) and spent a great deal of time reminiscing about “the good old days” before Disney (Six Gun Territory, Cypress Gardens, Crystal Springs).

Dr. Sam worked for Ross Allen – a famed snake expert in Florida when he was only 16 and parlayed that experience into a lifetime career.

I shared with him a story of the time I met Jim Fowler (of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom). I was doing a show in New Orleans and spotted him in the audience (it was pretty easy, he was wearing a safari jacket!).

Between shows, I asked if I could acknowledge him and bring him up on stage. He readily agreed.

After introducing him, we talked about the show, Marlin Perkins ( a man that I admired – he spent his entire life stalking wild animals, capturing them, breaking their confidence and selling them insurance!) and the dangerous situations he was often placed in.

I told him that I thought it was so unfair that he had all that fame and fortune for wrestling alligators and those poor reptiles were working for scale!

* * * * *
After a few hours sleep at the hotel, it was back to the airport to check in for the final leg of the journey. While awaiting a gate agent, I struck up a conversation with a charming couple from California.

Because I was carrying a banjo, the subject of what I did or a living came up. They said their son was a television actor – Bill Bochtrup. If the name is not familiar, the character he portrayed on NYPD BLUE certainly is – John Irvin the gay PA who worked at the precinct.

That portrayal is widely viewed as one of the most positive gay characters in TV history.

Bill lives in West Hollywood with his partner of 10 years and is actively involved in community issues (AIDS, Voting etc.) and continues to do television. Currently he is also doing a play in Los Angeles.

Two obviously proud parents, and rightly so. If Bill Bochtrup is anything like them, I’d like to meet him on a plane someday too.

So, in the future, I may keep my headphones in my checked-in baggage because it turns out sometimes you do meet some interesting people …. if you give them a chance.

Travel Tip #1 : If you are at Tokyo Narita airport, check out the black leather massage chairs (200 yen for 10 minutes) they are awesome (I went back twice!)

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Ernie!








In 2001, while performing on board the Rotterdam World Cruise, I had the pleasure of meeting one of the Hollywood greats - Ernest Borgnine . Over the following two weeks I was lucky enough to spend quite a few hours with Ernie, including his 84th Birthday. That was January 24, 2001.

On January 24, 2007 Ernest Borgnine will turn 90.

Just to prove that age is just a number, below is a list of the films that Mr. Borgnine completed just in the past year.

Oliviero Rising (2007) (completed) .... Bill
Chinaman's Chance (2007) .... Judge Holliday
Strange Wilderness (2007) .... Milas
Cura del gorilla, La (2006) .... Jerry Warden
Frozen Stupid (2006) .... Frank Norgard

The fact that at age 90, Ernie continues to work is truly inspiring.The fact that Ernest Borgnine is one of the nicest people in Hollywood is even more so.

Among the interesting things I learned from Ernie was, that as a kid, he played tenor banjo!

Have a Great Birthday Ernie, your friends are thinking of you!

First, A little History...

As this is my first foray into the blogging world, a little background information about how I got here..

In my first 52 years, I've had the the extreme fortune to have had several distinct separate careers.

Starting at the age of 16, working at a Funeral Home in Zephyrhills FL as an Ambulance Attendant and Embalmer's Assistant I eventually became an Advanced Cardiac Life Support Paramedic (ACLS) in both Florida & South Carolina.

During my 12 years working in EMS, I managed to run well over 10,000 ambulance calls in addition to working in numerous Emergency Rooms and ICU's across the USA.

Sometime in the late 1970's, I bought a cheap Banjo at a pawn shop. I had played a little bit of guitar as a teenager, but I was mediocre at best. I had always had a love of "older music" and the 4 string banjo seemed perfectly suited to that.

Over the next three or four years, I practiced constantly (I even carried the banjo in the ambulance when I was on shift!) and, eventually began playing small jobs at pizza parlours, parties etc.

I moved to Orlando Florida in 1980 in hopes of working in the "Theme Park Capitol of the World". My first audition was at a Vaudeville/ Melodrama Theater in Downtown Orlando called Daisy's Basement - I got the job.

Over the next year I learned my craft working six nights a week (two shows a night) and eventually went on to do a National Touring Show, Two World's Fairs (1982 & 1984), Mississippi Riverboats, New Orleans Jazz Clubs and finally as a headline entertainer on over 80 different cruise ships sailing to over 100 different countries and territories.

Along the way, I've managed to dabble in a number of other fields. I've been a songwriter, author, recording artist, acted in TV commercials, co-edited a magazine and designed websites and most recently collaborated on writing/producing two new musicals!

In 2005, my life took a dramatic turn. After 21 years of living in New Orleans, I was forced to evacuate the Big Easy due to Hurricane Katrina. Like many people, I lost a lot of personal belongings but I was fortunate to have a wonderful Agent in New York and continued to work steadily while I waited to see if New Orleans would become a viable place to live again.

After 16 months of storm recovery, New Orleans still is a mess.

One of the advantages of being a Cruise Ship Headline Entertainer is that the Cruise Lines fly me to wherever I happen to be working that week (Athens, Capetown, Hong Kong, Miami etc). As a result, I can live almost anywhere as long as there is good International Airline access nearby.

Throughout my years of international travel, I've had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time amongst many different cultures. My favorites have always been those in and around Southeast Asia.

Thailand has always held a very special place in my heart.

After considerable research (including three long term visits last year) and soul searching, I have made the biggest move of my life. Tomorrow morning (Jan 22, 2007) I will board a plane with all my worldly possessions, destination Bangkok!

This blog will attempt to chronicle the life of a new Ex-pat in Thailand, along with some Show Business musings, hopefully humorous ramblings and the occasional soapbox rant.

Welcome aboard!