Death on 8 Legs

 DATELINE: Ouch!

A documentary on scorpions is not for the faint of heart.

With 1500 different species, these venomous biters are among the most feared insects—and not just by humans. They are prolific in desert, jungle, dry and wet country. Scorpions: Death on Eight Legsis how disaster strikes in small ways.

Though they can kill a horse in five minutes with a bite, they only have enough venom to last one bite every two weeks or so. You could luck out.

Unwary mammals who are nocturnal can find themselves bitten. Little mice might run, but cardiac arrest will soon stop them in their tracks.

These creatures are, we learned, photophobic: the vampires of the insect world. They must hide, not from heat, but from radiation in sunlight. Shade, caves, old shoes, anything that can give them refuge will be sought—and makes your old boot something to be shaken before inserting foot.

Scorpions are cannibalistic; they will suck the life out of anything, including their family members. Their natural enemies are hedgehogs (who chew with care) and the ever-threatening praying mantis.

The documentary is narrated by a Brit named Stephen Martin with funeral irony and understatement. And, one of the highlights is a fight between a yellow scorpion and a black one in Africa. Their armor makes a fight to death not an easy kill, and they seem particularly incensed by their own kind.

One re-enactment is showing how Bedouin campers are potential victims. Cutting open the bite may help bleed out, but not often enough. Sweating profusely, foaming at the mouth, and great discomfort usually precede your nervous system shutting down and your heart going into arrest.

Sex for scorpions is a 400-million-year dance in which a truce is called for perhaps a few hours. Babies are protected and stay on mother’s back for several weeks before going off into the darkness.

We are glad we don’t usually see any scorpions.

 

 

 

 

Merlin Among the Stars!

DATELINE: Jan Merlin’s Final Book!

Hand-made card drawn by Jan at Kilimanjaro during film Woman & the Hunter.

My dear friend and coauthor Jan Merlin died a few months ago. He lived a long and creative life. That does not lessen the effect of a hard loss, and I have managed to complete something that was brewing for decades.

Jan knew that I kept all his letters, copies of his emails, and took notes on many of our conversations over the course of thirty years. He steadfastly said he did not want a biography in any traditional sense. But, as the years passed, he often gave me a flood of memories about his years on Broadway, in early TV, and later in movies. I have completed a memoir in his own words.

He worked with so many famous—and he was one of them, knew their foibles and secrets. If I learned anything, it was a secret society—and they all kept their privilege sacred. Yet, he provided me with anecdotes with people from stage like Josh Logan, from movies such as Marlon Brando, from literature like Gore Vidal and Truman Capote, from TV like every Western TV star over 15 years (from Chuck Connors to Michael Landon).

So, I have compiled his memories to provide some amazing insights into the profession of acting and the business of movies. It did not take long to do—as I had been adding bits and pieces after each chat or text.

Now, I have for you a record of an era: the star of two TV series, Tom Corbett and Rough Riders,who played mostly the bad guy on TV westerns, committing every dastardly act and finding come-uppance weekly in a variety of ways.

His voice is clear and direct on every page; he never pulled punches, never played the social game, and he felt he damaged his career with projects like The List of Adrian Messengerwith Kirk Douglas, and he felt John Huston misused him. Even today, he is the man under the masks—but Douglas takes credit for the performance (even in an Oscar compilation clip!).

He gave me a title:  We Were All Six Feet Tall,which I have kept with the main focus, Merlin Among the Stars.It is now available on Kindle as an ebook and the paperback will soon be out for his fans and friends.

When I re-read his letters, there was so much I had forgotten—and never followed up. One example was his friendship with noted crypto-scientist Willy Ley who was tech advisor on his show Tom Corbett, Space Cadet.

There are gems from the era—and can only be appreciated by those with a grand sense of the past.

 

 

Link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0831S1RVZ

 

Whose Roy Cohn Was He?

DATELINE: Ethel’s Killer

 Master of Slime.

You may be aghast at the idea that Roy Cohn managed to be so powerful and so hidden in the open. He was adviser to Joe McCarthy, Ronald Reagan, and his final resulting horror, Donald Trump.

His philosophy borders on evil incarnate: he claimed to hate hypocrisy and was the biggest hypocrite around. Now, the man who put together the shocking Studio 54 documentary turns his research on Cohn. The result is unnerving and frightful. Roy Cohn, claims the movie, was dangerous, like a caged animal: open the cage at your own risk.

Most people may know Cohn from Angels in America,the play and movie in which he is depicted as haunted by Ethel Rosenberg whom he assiduously worked to have executed as a Russian spy. Today, Donald Trump lamented that he could find no lawyer like Roy Cohn to defend him against impeachment.

Yet, the lessons of Roy Cohn now are shaping America. And Cohn died of AIDS in 1986, Words like evil, Machavellian, ruthless, despicable, permeate the film, and he had a tendency to become infatuated with tall Nordic blond men (the last of these was Trump). The Army-McCarthy hearings were an attempt to impress his companion, David Schein.

He made big money by getting John Gotti, crime boss, off from a murder charge—and became the mob mouthpiece. Trump, with his own crime connections, took to Cohn like a duck to water.

Among his strongest defenders are convicted political trickster Roger Stone, a long-time friend, Barbara Walters whom Cohn said he wanted to marry, and Donald Trump, his protégé. When he needed character witnesses, all these people came to his aid.

When he was dying of AIDS, denying it emphatically to Mike Wallace in an interview, Ronald Reagan pulled strings to put him in an experimental drug program.

Cohn was reprehensible, and this biography doesn’t help his reputation or those guilty by association.

 

 

Lafayette: We are Still Here!

DATELINE: Not Honored in France 

It’s seems this one-hour documentary is built on the assumption that no one remembers the Marquis de Lafayette. It starts out with the premise that history books have somehow cut his name from the important people of the American Revolution.

Lafayette: the Lost Heronever was lost. He was always there, always a hero, always known. He was the youngest Major General in American history: 19 years old.

So, all those Americans who have gone to France to rescue it in times of trouble, shouting out, “Lafayette, we are here!” have simply confounded fellow citizens.

There are about 50 cities named after the French officer around the United States.

Lafayette did not lose his own head in the French Revolution mainly because he eschewed the royal trappings of France. Yet, he was royalty and one of the richest men of the country. He had open access to the King who did lose his head.

Lafayette was, most surprisingly, a rebellious teenager. We don’t mean growing up: we mean he shocked Gen. Washington when he arrived in Philadelphia because he was 19. Yes, he bought his own ship, paid for his own army, and bought his commission. But, he believed in the American dream of freedom and democracy. He taught himself English to be able to speak to Americans.

 

You have to be surprised that he danced with Marie Antoinette at a ball and was laughed at for his bad dancing. You have to be shocked that he had dinner with the King of England’s brother—who also supported the American colonists.

He was super-rich and had influence at the French court and was married at 16. So, when people call him a man, we are puzzled. When the re-enactor looks like he is 40, we are non-plussed.

Yes, we were shocked at how little we knew about this boy leader who turned out to be the son Washington never had. When he visited America on its 50thanniversary, he scooped up some dirt from Washington’s grave: he wanted to buried with some American soil in France.

The French, of course, moved his American bought statue from a place of prominence in Paris to a backwater location. He is without honor in his own home.

We must say we are seldom amused by our lack of knowledge, but this documentary amused us.

 

 

 

 

Armstrong: Your Perfect All-American Boy

DATELINE: Perfect Choice

  First Man!

Why watch a docudrama about the life of Neil Armstrong? You can see his home movies and watch him in newsreel footage. The extraordinary documentary called Armstrong presents a most intriguing man you never knew.

In fact, no one seemed to know him. He was quiet as a church-mouse, reclusive amid a social world of military and popular science.  His friends (so labeled) said he was silent and to himself, meaning they did not know him. They knew only that he was a top-notch aviator, smart and talented.

His siblings could tease him about reading an aeronautics, and he’d smile in response. If anything will strike you about how handsome he was, it is that he was also so young-looking, even at 40 when he went to the Moon.

You will also know that Neil Armstrong would never participate in any fraud or coverup. He was mid-Western American honest, like Abe Lincoln. He went to the Moon—and you better believe it.

Harrison Ford, no less, speaks the words of Neil. It is a perfect choice, as we hear from Armstrong’s fellow astronauts. Of all, Frank Borman clearly is the one who likes him and admires him most. Even Neil’s youngest son notes his father was “not verbose.”

No, Buzz Aldrin declined to participate in this documentary.

He was a Korean War hero who saw death up close and remained shaken and stoic to the world. This was a remarkable man. He dismissed comparisons to Columbus with humor: he did not want to end up someplace other than his destrination, as happened to Columbjus.

In one home movie he gives a book by willy Ley to his young son for Christmas. How amusing, as Ley was a friend of Jan Merlin (my frequent coauthor) and cience advisor to  the 1950s science fiction show, Tom Corbett. Ah, connections, third degree.

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Carson of Silent Spring

DATELINE: DDT & Radiation Conjoin

  Carson Takes Them ON!

American Experience presented another brilliant and important biography a few years ago: on Rachel Louise Carson, who saw the horror and dangers of DDT in the years before World War II.

A reclusivse, scholarly woman years ahead of the curve, she started off by calling herself R.L. Carson because she thought a genderless male would be received better in a science field as writer.

She was unable to complete her Ph.D. in biology, owing to family responsibilities, and also suffered a set-back when Reader’s Digestrejected her warning about the poisonous chemical, DDT. After all, killing mosquitos and ticks was more important than any health issue.

Carson was horrified when the US government sprayed DDT down the pants of Italians after the war to kill lice. Some even sprayed it on their food to prove it could be digested.

She also began to see a parallel to radiation poisoning from fall-out after H-bomb testing. Yet, a better world through chemistry was America’s mantra. You even had Nixon and Kennedy eating tainted cranberries during the 1960 campaign to show how business owned government.

The lonely woman who lived mostly an internal life without close friends, loved the ocean, lived on the shores of Maine and worked at Woods Hole. She managed to place two best-sellers at the same time on theTimes best-seller list.

Silent Spring was not initially well-received: perhaps it was American hubris, or disdain for scholarly women, but Carson was dedicated and knew what she had to warn the world.

In one of the first corporate targets, every major chemical company went after her with one of the earliest attacks by media publicity. Their unfair and bizarre defense of pesticides is today horrifying.

Rachel Carson still is the patron saint of climate abuse—and still is hated by the political money-grubbers.

 

 

 

 

 

Bend in Smith’s Cove at Oak Island

DATELINE: New Discovery!

 What is it?

Two searches seem to be reaping rewards for the treasure hunters on Curse of Oak Island as the seventh episode of the seventh season airs. Another search is, as usual, highly speculative and a tease.

We finally receive word after a year that the stone located at a former bookstore from 1919 and thought to be the notorious 90foot stone with hieroglyphs written on it, was some kind of replica.

Once again, interesting info is simply withheld as a story fades away. Now Rick Lagina reveals there was nothing on that bookstore stone found in the old basement.

However, the family that owned the bookstore may have moved it to their ancestral home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. There, buried under a rhododendron bush could be the stone. Why? No one can say, but permits will be gathered to dig.

Back on the island, there is a shortage of appearances by Marty and Alex Lagina. So, Rick has recruited his other nephew Peter Fornetti and Billy Gerhardt to do some travel and research (for no reason except to highlight their appearances).

On the west side of the island, usually not explored, Gary Drayton and Jack Begley start to locate what seems to be an ancient wharf. Spikes, pins, and nails, indicate a structure from pre-1795 to unload or to repair ships was there.

At Smith’s Cove, the new 50 foot bump-out instantly reveals some kind of ancient box of logs (and tar paper) that predates any  record. It is under 10 feet of water usually, but the area may have been flooded since the oceans have risen in the past few hundred years.

It could be a booby trap flood tunnel, or something else. It is intriguing and indicates a growing number of historical possibilities. Something is indeed afoot.

Mike Wallace Reporting

DATELINE: Titan of TV

Mike Takes on Bette!

Mike Wallace is no longer here with us, but thankfully we have an astounding biographical documentary called Mike Wallace is Here.

He took on all kinds of interviews: politics, show business, crime, and assorted miscreants. He didn’t always as the hard-as-nails interviewer: he started out as a pitchman and game show host. He thought he had a face for radio.

There is some truth that he was more showman than journalist, but he ultimately played a journalist until he lived the part. Many hard-nosed CBS types did not respect him at first, and he suffered an interloper’s reception from them.

Yet, his early black and white smokey interviews on late night raised the bar for insider insights. Whether it was Eleanor Roosevelt, Drew Pearson, or some Mafia thug, he asked the questions you never expected. Perhaps it was the start of rude journalism, but he took umbrage of the Bill O’Reilly school of shout and shake.

It was with 60 Minutes that Wallace will likely be remembered mostly. But interviewers like Barbara Walters and Morley Safer owed their styles to him. When they turn the tables on the old Wallace, he is undaunted. He was shocked when CBS abandoned its muckraker style because of checkbook journalism. Mike was never that.

Questions he might ask Larry King or Barbra Streisand are not in his personal repertoire of response. He suffered personally because he put career ahead of family. He knew it and operated in full cognizance of his luck.

When he became depressed in old age, people were shocked. Didn’t he have ice water in his veins? Johnny Carson said he had that taken out years earlier so he could function in public. Wallace treated Gen. Westmoreland and Putin alike, as he was a democrat of truth.

If you were not interviewed by Mike Wallace, you may have lost something in history. He had a knack of putting celebrities and historical personages like Nixon in their perspective of humanity.

This is Mike Wallace is a stunning, delightful documentary, and we have to miss him. He nailed Trump before he was 40 and showed us what was in store.

 

Master of Dark Shadows: Dan Stevens or Jonathan Frid?

DATELINE: Halos For All?

  Stars Jonathan Frid & Joan Bennett

 Perhaps it is more than amusing that the production company of Dan Stevens actually produced a documentary about Dan Stevens and his ground-breaking soap opera, the gothic Dark Shadows.

We expected that you’d have full participation of the original cast and crew—and the treat, or horror, is to see these young actors in their twilight years. Yet, it is fun too.

Many are gone of course: like Frid, Joan Bennett, and the marvelous Grayson Hall (barely mentioned).

Stevens himself was an ad-man who went to producing a golf show—and had a dream for a gothic serial. Never did he expect it to be a daytime hit for kids with sympathetic vampires, tormented governesses, and cross-time crossover storylines.

Who really made Dark Shadows a hit? Was it the producer with the classic hard edge or the gaunt actor who played the reluctant vampire? Well, you know who produced the show and produced the documentary. Frid did not join the cast until nearly a year had passed, but with him it zoomed to cult status.

There was recently a fiftieth anniversary shindig with survivors like David Selby, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Jerry Lacy, and so many other favorites. They all grew up as actors on that show as much as their audience grew up. The show had bad sets, primitive special effects, and sometimes awful plots badly acted. It was of no consequence to fans.

Frid and Stevens ultimately came to loggerheads, and Stevens was better able to move on to Winds of Warand other films. It is a trip down memory lane.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Carthage: A Bad Roman Holiday

DATELINE: Rome’s Unbuilt Day

 Hunky Scholar!

You have to love Dr. Richard Miles, not your usual host of these archaeological dig histories. We dig him and are dismayed that he gave up a media career to stay in academia. If you want history with a twist of lemon, try Carthage: the Roman Holocaust.

Miles is your quintessential media hunk—with credentials to kill for: Cambridge University, notable scholarship, and a presence to walk among the ruins with sharp observations.

Make no mistake, Dr. Miles has an axe to grind: he does not like the Roman Empire. Indeed, what they did to Carthage he compares to Hiroshima. They obliterated a city brick-by-brick for defying Roman authority. They attempted genocide on a people after 150 years of war. Talk about overkill.

Wearing an assortment of t-shirts and jeans, Richard Miles stops his perambulations now and then to smirk into the camera with one of his zinger one-liners.

Miles walks miles and miles before the end of this saga.

He is not shy about gruesome details either—if you want the uncivilized and unvarnished tale of two Punic Wars.

Dr. Miles puts emphasis on two individuals, one from Carthage and the other from Rome. They turn out to be metaphoric representations of the mind of ancient political and military philosophy: which is not too far removed from contemporary times,

In the corner of Carthage you have Hannibal. Miles shares many little-known details about the man with elephants at the gates of Rome. He was the bogeyman that terrified Rome for the rest of the Empire’s length. He was their worst nightmare come true.

On the other hand, you have the master race Roman version of Hitler in Cato, the jingoistic and nationalistic white supremacist of the Seven Hills. He wanted only the utter destruction, annihilation, and decimation of the arch-rival for Rome.

You can view this priceless documentary in two parts or one long one on Prime. Alas, Dr. Miles forsook a career in TV and moved on the Australian and the University of Sydney where he seems to prefer academic administration.

In our experience, there is not much difference between the Roman Empire and college admin than in a Roman holocaust.

30 for 30: Judging Richard Jewell

DATELINE: Dumb Media

  Heroic Richard Jewell

As we await the viewing of Clint Eastwood’s new movie, Richard Jewell,we took in a short documentary from ESPN that was produced in 2014 for their award-winning series30 for 30. It had the ancillary attraction of being a story about the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

Richard Jewell was a heavy-set Southern man in his 30s who wanted to be a police officer, posed with weapons, lived alone in a rustic cabin when not living with his mother. He was one-step away from being a mall cop: he hired on as part-time security at the Olympics. He spotted a suspicious backpack, cleared the area before it went off, saving hundreds of lives.

Then, one suspicious former employer called the FBI and said he was an egotistical nobody with hero wishes. Suddenly a modest, unattractive man became the epitome of a lone Bubba Bomber. The media hounded him, made him run gauntlets, peppered him with questions about his fake heroism.

Jay Leno and Tom Brokaw joined the chorus of FBI and Atlanta Journal Constitution media hacks. They never apologized when 88 days later the FBI cleared him. Several years after that another man, the notorious Eric Rudolph, pled guilty to the bombing and went to prison for life.

Jewell was there to see justice done, though it was elusive for him. The media sneered at him. And they still do.

Few apologies and retractions followed Richard. Centennial Park in Atlanta never acknowledged his heroic action. The slime-ball newspaper ACJ still attacks Jewell through the new Eastwood movie.

Jewell enjoyed Clint’s movies—and his mother is grateful for the new film. Alas, Jewell himself died in 2007, likely driven to death by stress and pain—despite being cleared.

The ESPN documentary at 22 minutes is a succinct overview of justice denied, justice perverted, and justice delayed.

Big Dig and Little Dig on Oak Island

DATELINE: Waiting for Results Again

  Teammates!

Shaft #9 was originally dug in 1865 as a means to divert flood tunnel booby traps. It is a big job requiring the big man Billy. This lost shaft was given up when the group only decades after finding the Money Pit ran out of money. So, we have additional and new background on Curse of Oak Island.

It’s hard to believe they only now mention “The Highlands,” after five years of episodes.

This episode provides contrasts with the smaller discoveries of Gary Drayton, teamed with Peter Fornetti and Alex Lagina.  Fornetti is no longer the callow teenager of five years ago and now provides muscle for Gary Drayton’s searches. He is working on piles of dirt that render iron work from Spanish galleons that may have been laden with the treasure of the Aztecs.

Though Marty Lagina once disparaged the notion of Montezuma’s gold bags, he is enthralled when journalist D’Arcy O’Connor tells him the same thing. He adds that the Spanish lost about 200 ships going back and forth with gold spoils. Some may have gone sideways to Oak Island to hide their stolen loot.

Gary Drayton, meanwhile, has found a cribbing spike, greatly corroded. He and Alex take it to Carmen Legge, the latest expert to become a big man on the side of the search. He dates the find as 1600s.

The other big project is setting off 18,000 dynamite charges to map the underground, down to levels of 300 feet. The tease is that results won’t show for several weeks.

Interestingly, Marty Lagina was mostly absent from this episode, showing up on Skype mostly, which hints that he is busy working on the sister series of Civil War Gold.The team of Gary and Alex likely will show up on that one too.

Henry Morgan’s Mystery Ships

DATELINE: O’er the Seas, Let’s Go Men!

Young Privateer Henry Morgan circa 1660.

A preliminary archaeological dive team visitsIle a Vacheoff the southern coast of Haiti to locate HMS Oxford, the flagsthip of privateer or pirate Henry Morgan. The Australian film is called Henry Morgan’s Mystery Ships.

Though it might seem a pleasure cruise, there are more than usual diving perils:  Haiti is in full-scale chaos in Port-au-Prince and security guards are needed even in the remote area far from the city strife.

There are dangerous waves and currents that can pull divers off to the “Madness Reef,” yes, its name. And they have no idea really where the Oxford sank in mid-1600s.

The magazines of the royal ship blew up (maybe even taking down a few other nearby ships) while at anchor in one of the bays. By scouting the area and reading old maps, they come up with a few possible places to dive.

Local residents belong to the state-sanctioned Voodoo religion, and they kindly sacrifice a white goat and a black goat for the prayers of the divers. The team is grateful for all augurs on their behalf.

Morgan may have hidden more treasure on Ile a Vache than there is on Oak Island—and he retired to nearby Jamaica as a governor where he lived until 1688. He survived a sham trial as a pirate in England—after all, a huge bounty of riches was paid to the Crown. And, a larger share was kept for Morgan and his men. He had sacked Panama City for its gold and gave the Spanish and French their most difficult time, preventing the future United States from becoming a Spanish-speaking nation.

What they uncover is stunning—and will benefit archaeologists for decades to come. They hope there will be a museum or tourist haven made on Ile de Vacheto help the residents who live in relative isolation and poverty.

 

 

 

Miguel Dieppo: Memoirs of a Penitent Heart

DATELINE: A Lost Generation  

You may never find a more flattering sense of duty and obligation than to have a niece who barely remembered you as a child make a documentary of your life 30 years later. The little documentary is called Memoirs of a Penitent Heart.

Cecilia Aldarnondo was on a mission. Only after making her film did she seem to have second thoughts about letting the dead stay dead. She uncovered more than the tragic death of an uncle who passed away from AIDS during the height of the epidemic.

She tracked down his lover, a former priest who spent twelve years with the young Puerto Rican transplant to New York. They might have been an odd couple, but the family of Michael had no use for him, never followed up on his whereabouts, or even his name. It was for a niece to dredge it all up: to discover an old man who still carried the flame for his lost lover.

Father Bob had saved everything; the love of one’s life is like that.

 

What Cecilia discovers is the fanaticism of religion and how it set up terrible and irreconcilable conflicts between mother and son’s lover. She even tells him on his death bed to remove the friendship ring or he will be denied entrance to heaven.

The director sticks it to her own mother for abandoning her brother Miguel. No one is spared from the hook.

This is a personal film, showing conflicts between gay and straight, between living la vida locain Puerto Rican and immigrating to New York. It shows the genetic horror of learning about a parent’s own sexual secrets.

The film may seem irrelevant if you are not a Catholic, a Puerto Rican, gay, or even promiscuous. Yet, it is relevant and it is moving. The past is always with us, ever changing—and the future is immutable. It’s called irony.

 

One Last Addendum for Quinto’s Season

DATELINE:  Voice-over Satire? 

 …of a Big Paycheck!

 

Sometimes you see or hear celebrities in the least expected places—or exactly where you thought you would hear one.

While watching the Celtics play a game on the local sports channel, we thought we saw a commercial for the Quinto series In Search of…

Apparently we were ignorant of the fact that Zachary Quinto is a frequent endorser of products, often in voice-over. However, we think he has not done such an overt parody of his own TV host persona.

Yes, those dulcet tones were talking over the image of an asteroid heading to Earth. Quinto spoke with his deadpan authority about how the world likely was to end around 2023 with doomsday because of an asteroid. Only a week earlier he had hosted the final season episode about the subject.

However, as we watched an asteroid hurtling toward the planet, Quinto reveals that we can buy furniture –all interest free until 2023 or the rest of our lives!

Stunning.

Apparently you can watch sports events not only to see your favorites sitting in the stands, or courtside (Gronk was there enjoying the game, and not dancing with the Celtics cheerleaders).

Watch and listen carefully for what you may hear and see.