March 2007


The Most Improbable Blonde Bombshell Story Yet


It strikes us as almost eerie, that for the fourth time in Hollywood history—and another chapter in the American Pop Culture saga— a blonde bombshell has crashed and burned; died tragically young. An unfortunate story with too many sequels.

The first was Jean Harlow, who died at the top of her stardom at age 26 in 1937 while making a movie (Saratoga). Kidney failure of all things.

She was THE sex symbol of her day and actually starred in a film entitled Bombshell; none too subtle were the movie studios in those days. She too lived a  "tabloid life."

Then of course, Marilyn, in 1962 at age 36 of an apparent suicide. Though there are those of some stature, who still maintain otherwise after all these years. We paid homage to her in a piece we did last year. (Marilyn at 80; JUNE, 2006 MUSE-LETTER )

When we awakened on that August morning many years ago, we were sixteen …full of a young man’s fantasies… numbed now by the shocking news: a sex goddess could die.

Jayne Mansfield, the heir apparent to Marilyn Monroe, never quite achieved that level of stardom. But she captivated the imagination of the public all the same, with her "over-the-top" figure and exploits, and whose dramatic death in a car crash in 1967, was right out of a Hollywood B-Movie. She was all of 34 years of age.

Anna Nicole Smith, who died last month at age 39, was not in their league. But she was  in their movie. In fact her own story line, was the most improbable of them all. Imagine trying to make something like that up? Pitching it to a major studio? Could anything be more unbelievable?

What we find so amazing about these women is that they thrust themselves in on our sensibilities (so to speak), even when we seek to ignore them. Particularly people like us, who try to take our cultural pursuits to a higher plane—and are almost snooty about it. Who then find ourselves moved by a piece of "pop" news: Anna Nicole Smith is Dead.

We were not big fans of hers. She seemed to work too hard at it. And then one day there she was, before the Supreme Court. And as Circe turned Jason's men into swine, we imagined her reducing these learned Justices, to just eight dirty old men (Ginsburg of course, the lone woman on the bench). And as she got their attention—and won the case— she started to get ours.

When we next saw a clip of her en route to still one more court proceeding— hair flared about her, somber attire and absent the makeup of a Hollywood smile—she looked absolutely stunning to us for the first time, in a classic "film noire-ish" sort of way ("Of all the dames in the world, she has to walk into my courtroom!")



Her life story will no doubt be turned into a bad movie. Her life in fact was, the very stuff of bad movies. That like bad car accidents, we can't help but watch.


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Taking a Bogey on "Bogie"


In last month's Muse-Letter, in the piece on Art Buchwald, we incorrectly attributed a deathbed quote to "Bogey"— which of course is one over par— instead of "Bogie," as in the American Film Institute's Greatest American Screen Legend of All Time— Humphrey Bogart.

While no one brought this faux pas to our attention, we have been unable to live with ourselves for the past month. Sometimes a man has got to do the right thing. Come clean. Bogart of course would have understood. As he put it to Mary Astor in no uncertain terms in The Maltese Falcon (1941):

I'm going to send you over. The chances are you'll get off with life. That
means you'll be out in twenty years. You're an angel. I'll wait for you.
If they hang you I'll always remember you.

I won't play the sap for you.


His last film by the way, should it ever come up late at night in some bar, was The Harder They Fall (1956). As fight promoter Eddie Willis he was pure Bogie right to the end, “pulling no punches” advising a washed-up boxer to take a dive:

They pay a few lousy bucks hoping to see a man get killed. To hell with them!
Think of yourself. Get your money and get out of this rotten business,


Oh to be B-O-G-I-E, in this screwy crazy mixed up world.

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Irony Among the Ashes


As is our custom each year, we went to get ashes last month on Ash Wednesday.

Is there anything more visceral than having the sign of the cross smeared on your forehead accompanied by this admonition:

Memento homo, quia pulvis es, et in pulverem reverteris.


Or as we say in English…
Remember, man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.



But, you don't have to be Christian… you don’t have to believe in an afterlife…  you don't have to believe in God (or gods) for that matter, to be rocked by such a stark reminder of your mortality, and the implicit questions that such a reminder evokes:

What kind of life am I living?

Am I getting the most out it

Is it one with no regrets?

How much time is left?

Is there still time to fix it?


But all this is not the irony to which we refer in the above title. No, the irony that struck us on that day came from a comic (cosmic?) experience we had a little later that evening.

To set the stage, we begin with this underlying observation:

We live in an era, where so many people now seem to be resorting to
extreme flesh-altering measures, to make a statement and/or get attention.
From tortuous tattooing to heavy metal piercing… and all the variations
on a theme, that might lie somewhere in between.

And that Political Correctness dictates—especially here in "cutting edge"
LA— that we not stare or pass judgment on any of the skin "art", Martian
hairdos, surgically induced sexual transmutations, or whatever else we
encounter on a daily basis, that might strike us as odd. To each his own.

A small case in point being right here at our own local coffee emporium.

The barista, a sweet young thing named Ginger, has a skin surface that is busier than a page from the Sunday comics. And at least as colorful. Everywhere, a tattoo.

She in turn, takes a latte order from a steady customer who walks in with an ivory ring— the size of a toilet seat— hanging from his nose. Oh, but he is after all, barefoot and wearing tribal robes. So that must explain it.

And no one in the place seems to notice.

So intense is the no one noticing, that you can actually see and hear, no one noticing.

Ginger doesn't notice he has a toilet seat in his nose; he reciprocates in kind, by not noticing that Ginger looks like a newspaper.

Now with all this as background, and on the way to dinner that evening with our spouse, we overhear some hip-hop macho types in the parking lot, mumbling something like: "Yeah man, those are like ashes, he's got; they do that."

This is followed shortly thereafter, by allegedly sophisticated folk in an upscale restaurant, being positively transfixed by the sight of the smudge on our forehead. Dracula would have been more comfortable with this black mark of a cross, than these Mulholland Grill gapers.

We wanted to stand up and announce to the assemblage: " IT IS ASH WEDNESDAY. These are ashes. And sorry to say, yes, we happen to be Catholic; a highly unfashionable faith these days, we realize. Especially given, this wondrous New Age in which we live. But so be it. Please continue with your meal. We by no means meant to offend."


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Poem-of-the-Month Club


Going for Walks


I walk the dog down the Godforsaken block;
She walks the man towards… the dogforsaken bark.
And with the nearing of our respective parties—
Chihuahua and poet; comforter and patient—

The sick man lifts his cane as if of stone.
And from slack-jawed mouth, a grunt and groan.
The reflex to greet the living—alive, though pale.
A hello? A goodbye? Maybe a last ditch appeal.

He will be returning to the earth before the fall.
His nurse from El Salvador negotiates his crawl—
Inch by inch is that long journey to heaven.
I temper the short dog that is hell-bent on leaving.

Though at the old man, he stops; ears at half-mast.
He picks up the scent of scriptures on dust and ashes.
We all cluster for a moment, an eclectic herd,
For reasons that none of us can put into words.


                                                                      — Ron Vazzano


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The Presence of a Cellist*

* (with apologies to Ira Wallach's 1964 Broadway hit play, The Absence of a Cello)


Those of you who were at our book launching party in the fall of 2004, may well remember—if not our poetry, which might have gotten lost somewhere among the hors d' oeuvres —the presence of a cellist who made such beautiful music on that special night: Sarah O' Brien.

We were blessed to have a person of such talent in our midst. She was even gracious enough to compose some special arrangements to accompany a few of the poems we read that evening.

While her music speaks for itself, her credentials have something to say as well.

"She works with major artists in the fields of both classical and popular music and
has accumulated numerous album credits in addition to gold and platinum

Since 1995 Sarah has toured internationally with acclaimed keyboardist/
composer Yanni, including performances at India'
s Taj Mahal and China's
Forbidden City
.  Sarah has appeared/recorded with singers that include Andrea
, Celine Dion, Rod Stewart and Ozzie Osbourne.

Last year she released her debut album for cello and piano entitled  "Dans Mes
Rêves Je Reviens
", to favorable reviews, earning her the "Music Is: Best of the
Web Award".


In addition to her professional commitments, Sarah works on behalf of various
charitable organizations that have included the Nicole Brown Simpson
Foundation for whom she was Executive Producer of the benefit
albums: "Always in Our Hearts…" and "Sing a Song of Christmas" for Portland
Training College - providing a ladder of opportunity for students with disabilities."


And now she is involved in a very unique and special project. She has written the words and music for Winds of Angkor: the musical commemorating he 30th anniversary of "Cambodia's unique but tragically overlooked experience of genocide during the Khmer Rouge regime."  And within the midst of this great tragedy… a love story.


Sarah in Cambodia, doing research for the show(1999)


She is currently offering sponsorship opportunities in connection with this show And we wish her much success with its production scheduled for this fall in Long Beach, CA. We certainly will be there.


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