Weekly Wilson - Blog of Author Connie C. Wilson

"There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries." (Julius Caesar; Act 4, Scene 3).


Blog Tour Ongoing for “Obama’s Odyssey” (Vol. I)

Right now, there is an ongoing blog tour for the first volume of “Obama’s Odyssey,” complete with some giveaways for a free copy on some blogs.

Originally, the tour was to kick off as I returned from Cancun (April 23), but apparently it started while I was out of the country, so I will attempt to find the dates and blog links to report to you, but, in the meantime, go out to Amazon, type in my name (Connie Corcoran Wilson) and check out the 6 new reviews for Volume I (which is the only one actually “on tour” currently).

I will be doing a radio interview with a Texas station this coming Thursday morning at 7:40 a.m. and the book is currently on the shelves of Book People, the largest independent bookstore in Texas, in Austin on Lamar Boulevard.

There is also a giveaway ongoing until May 28th on Goodreads for Volume I in paperback.

As soon as can, I will post the blog tour links for this timely book, but you can see many of the reviews posted behind the Amazon listing.


Haunted Austin by Hearse (3/25/2016)

The daughter and I climbed aboard a 1991 Cadillac hearse that was used as recently as 2011 to tour some of the purportedly haunted sites in Austin, Texas, on a Friday night.

1991 Cadillac hearse

1991 Cadillac hearse

Our first stop was the Confederate Woman’s Home built in 1906. Over 3,400 indigent widows of Confederate soldiers lived and died here until 1963, when funding and various reports of hauntings caused the building to be converted to office space. It is currently occupied by AGE (Austin Groups for the Elderly) who run programs like Meals on Wheels.

Tour guide Joseph Geaccone and I head for the Haunted Austin hearse to begin the tour on March 25, 2016.

Tour guide Joseph Geaccone and I head for the Haunted Austin hearse to begin the tour on March 25, 2016.

Confederate Women's Home.

Confederate Women’s Home.

After the stop at the Confederate Women’s Home our next stop was The Clay Pit. Currently an Indian restaurant, in 1853 Rudolf Bertram, father of 8 kids, lost 4 of them to various diseases. Two of his daughters, aged 8 and 10 died of diptheria, according to tour guide Joseph Geaccone.

Artesian well, source of contaminated water that is thought to have killed 4 young Bertram children in the Bertram building.

Artesian well, source of contaminated water that is thought to have killed 4 young Bertram children in the Bertram building.

A son, who died a horrible death in the upstairs corner bedroom, contracted typhoid fever. It is thought that the well water was contaminated by being located too close to the outhouse and feces poisoned the drinking water. There was also a murder of a prostitute in the basement.

Basement of the Bertram Building, now the Clay Pit Indian Restaurant.

Basement of the Bertram Building, now the Clay Pit Indian Restaurant.

After visiting the Clay Pit, we moved on to the Tavern, a German-style pub built in 1916 that has a history of its own. The building was intended to be a tavern, but opened just as Prohibition began, dooming its chances. It became a speakeasy and, over the years, was also a grocery store, a gas station, and a brothel.

The Tavern in Austin.

The Tavern in Austin.

The story told those of us on the tour was that an eager suitor who wanted a lady of the evening to come live with him did not want her 13-year-old daughter as part of the deal. When the mother balked at the suggestion that she distance herself from her child, the suitor murdered the girl. Emily, as she is known, was found in a storage area in the attic.

Location where the body of 13-year-old Emily was found.

Location where the body of 13-year-old Emily was found.

Stairs leading to the room where a 13-year-old victim's body was found.

Stairs leading to the room where a 13-year-old victim’s body was found.



After the Tavern, we stopped at the University of Texas tower where, on August 1, 1966, Charles Whitman shot 14 people to death from the height of the tower. He wounded 32 others and had killed his wife and mother before setting off for the tower to shoot down on the students below.

University of Texas Tower.

University of Texas Tower.

It took the police 96 minutes to respond to reports that there was a shooting in progress, and none of the authorities had the ability to reach the tower with their firearms, so they invited citizens to assist them and many went to the site to assist the police.

We made another stop at the Driskill Hotel, and, this time, I got a picture of the fabled vault. The story is that, during the Great Depression when money dried up, residents of the Driskill couldn”t get money so the hotel manager opened the vault and gave out money to the guests, without even asking them to sign a promissory note. The guests all paid it back and some paid it back with more money than they had borrowed.

Stacey in the vault at the Driskill Hotel.

Stacey in the vault at the Driskill Hotel.

Me in the Driskill Hotel vault.

Me in the Driskill Hotel vault.

Colonel Driskill’s $400,000 to build the hotel did not ensure him a long career in the hotel industry, as he lost the hotel after one year.

Following the Driskill Hotel stop (my second), we stopped at the most haunted stop on our tour, the Littlefield Mansion. Colonel Robert Littlefield gave the $250,000 to build the fountain in front of the University of Texas campus in 1920.

We stopped at the nearby Littlefield Mansion and pulled the hearse into the car port.

The Littlefield Mansion.

The Littlefield Mansion.

I asked my daughter to pose in front of the lovely wrought iron grillwork on the locked doors to the mansion.

Stacey in front of the Littlefield Mansion.

Stacey in front of the Littlefield Mansion.

I took the following pictures through the front door of the Littlefield Mansion approximately 30 seconds apart. The light you see is the light at the end of the hall. Joseph (our tour guide) was fooling with the locked door, explaining how sturdy the lock was to have lasted all these years. Do you see anything through the door in Shot #2 that has materialized and approached as Joseph did this? Note the featured picture of the Littlefield Mansion and the “orb” in the upper left.


Second shot, taken a minute or so after Joseph messed with the locked door handle.

Second shot, taken a minute or so after Joseph messed with the locked door handle.


The Maltese Falcon (1941).

“The Maltese Falcon:” Hollywood Collectors Gone Wild

The Maltese Falcon (1941).

The Maltese Falcon (1941).

The 3 most iconic bits of movie memorabilia are often said to be Dorothy’s ruby red slippers from “The Wizard of Oz,” the Maltese Falcon from the 1941 film, and Rosebud, the sled that burns at the end of “Citizen Kane.” Of course, we could admit that many other costumes and props have taken on mythic proportions as the years have passed, whether Harrison Ford’s whip from “Indiana Jones” or Marilyn Monroe’s dress from “The Seven-Year Itch.”


Recently, I reviewed “The Slippers,” a film by Morgan White that premiered at SXSW.


Another interesting story revolves around the Maltese Falcon (or, I should more accurately say, the Maltese Falcons) and where they all are now. It was reported in the Hollywood 2016 edition of “Vanity Fair” that Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas hotel magnate, paid $4.5 million for a Maltese Falcon at Bonham’s Madison Avenue showroom on November 25, 2013.


Prior to that time, the most expensive item from a movie set to be sold were cars, the original Batmobile and the Aston Martin that Sean Connery drove in “Goldfinger.”


What makes authenticating Maltese Falcons even more difficult is the fact that a 1975 film starring George Segal, a satire called “The Black Bird” caused even more of the falcon statues to be created.

A Beverly Hills oral surgeon, Gary Milan, owned a falcon thought for years to be the legitimate one by the public, although those in the know felt it was not the real statuette used in the movie, since it was made of lead and weighed 45 pounds. Most experts from the studio days felt the falcon used in the film would have been made of lightweight material like plaster of paris, not lead.


A collector of rare guitars named Hank Risan owned some of the more lightweight falcons and, in a freaky coincidence, Risan became convinced, after the publication of a book by Steve Hodel in 2003 called “Black Dahlia Avenger,” that his own father had murdered Elizabeth Short (the infamous “Black Dahlia” found cut in half in Los Angeles’ Leimert Park neighborhood in January of 1947.)

The article comes to few conclusions about who owns what and what can or cannot be authenticated, although, ultimately. Although Risan has been unable to prove it or profit from it to the extent of others, it is thought that Hank Risan owns falcons #2 and #2, and sold #4 to an unidentified buyer. One more plaster falcon has been eyeballed in the Warner Brothers warehouse, and it came to light that the studio had cast a heavy lead falcon and it was given to William Conrad (star of the television series “Cannon”) back in the sixties by studio head Jack Warner. That one only came to light with Conrad’s death in 1994.

The consortium of Leonardo DeCaprio, Steven Spielberg, Oprah Winfrey and other unnamed onvestors paid $300,000 for one Maltese Falcon at auction, and Morgan White, in his film “The Slippers” about Dorothy’s red shoes, said that the one thing he was disappointed about was that the pair of ruby slippers that this group of investors bought on behalf of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences wouldn’t let him film the slippers for his documentary on how that other fabled movie prop was saved for posterity (a film I wrote about from SXSW in an earlier entry).

Julia Marchesi, Producer of "Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Music."

“Soundbreaking” @ SXSW: Painting with Music in 8-part PBS Documentary Special

Over 10 years ago, famed record producer George Martin, who is often referred to as “the 5th Beatle,” used his considerable influence to start the ball rolling on a series of interviews with famous record producers and musicians.

Martin’s influence led to an 8-series PBS piece that will air in mid-November, entitled: “Soundbreaking: Stories from the Cutting Edge of Recorded Music.” It premiered at South by Southwest and documentary producer Julia Marchesi was with the film to explain its genesis. Marchesi told the audience at the Alamo Drafthouse (Slaughter Lane) on St. Patrick’s Day that some of the interviews were done as long ago as 2006. This is clear when we see the legendary Johnny Cash, B.B. King, and Martin, himself, all now gone.

Among the record producers who discuss their role in making music are Brian Eno, Jimmy Iovine (U2), Quincy Jones, Don Was, Jimmy Jam (Janet Jackson), Paul Epworth (Tom Petty), Rick Rubin (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Johnny Cash), Darryl McDaniels (Run DMC), Tricky Steward (Rihanna, Beyonce), Martin himself, and a host of others, plus some of the artists associated with these world class producers.

“When it comes to making a hit record, one of the biggest mysteries is the role of the producer,” the movie tells us, and 150 famous folk dive into that mystery, giving us a peek at producers of yesteryear like Mitch Miller (Tony Bennett) and Sam Phillips, the legendary owner/producer of Sun Records in Memphis.

Phillips is heard to say of his work with Elvis Presley, “The next thing I knew, Elvis cut loose on ‘That’s All Right, Mama.’ If I couldn’t make it with this, I could never make it on anything!” The legendary B. B. King is seen commenting on the raw black sound that Phillips was intent on recording for the world. “The essence of Sun Records was to get these artists to display their God-given talent…For Sam (Phillips), it was about pulling whatever they had inside out.”

Tom Petty relates how producer Paul Epworth helped shape “Free Falling,” even contributing the title of the song and says, “That’s the whole point of having someone sitting in the booth.”

George Martin relates how, when he first met the Beatles, they had been turned down by every other recording studio. He was older than the Fab Four and thought they had charisma. Says Martin, “When I first met them, they knew nothing about the studio. George had not even played rock and roll.” All agree that Martin added himself into the picture, inserting instrumentation suggestions and other improvements because he was “older and wiser.” Martin relates how Paul McCartney brought him the melody for “Yesterday,” which he said he had heard in his head. McCartney’s question was whether he had unconsciously picked it up from another artist, but Martin assured him it was a new song. Martin also suggested they needed to put strings on “Yesterday.” This initially frightened McCartney, who associated strings with classical music, which he was frightened of, feeling he was out of his depth. When Paul brought Martin “Eleanor Rigby” and Martin suggested the lush instrumentation that was the first time the band had not played on their records. Early in their recording career, it took them only 12 hours to cut their first albums, which were comprised, essentially, of the songs they played onstage. Says Questlove: “It was just so smart. George Martin obviously knew his stuff. He knew how to put it on a Beatles record. It’s a very different art than performing live. His influence was so mighty.”



The film moved on to the influence of Phil Spector and his “wall of sound.” We hear “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” by the Righteous Brothers and see him working with Tina Turner on “River Deep, Mountain High.” In order to get the lush sound, Phil would hire 2 or 3 times the musicians. Says Roger Waters of “Pink Floyd,” “One violin sounds like shit. Even 8 is crappy. Double the musicians.” Although Spector would frequently require 29 or 30 takes on a song, he often would return to the third or fourth take to use on the record. “He abused the technology, the musicians, to get the sound.”



DIY musicians like Joni Mitchell (she had it put in her contract that she would not have to use a producer), Sly of “Sly and the Family Stone”, and Tom Scholz of “Boston” were discussed. Said Questlove, “You couldn’t think of anyone telling Sly what to do in the studio. On his 5th album, ‘It’s A Family Affair,’ he played all the instruments and sang all the parts. He was a huge musical innovator back in 1971, setting the gold standard for funky music.” Scholz actually made the record and then formed the band, getting Brad Delp to sing the lead vocals.

The influence of “Pet Sounds” and “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” is discussed, and the rappers like Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg are included.

The big conclusion in the second installment of the 8-part series is that, although Les Paul invented it, the multi-tracking possible with computers has forged music that can be made in one’s basement with a computer. Gradually, with multi-tracking, songs came to be made that were no longer just a simplistic recording of the group singing. “Magnetic tape just changed music completely.”



Martin reappeared later in the narrative to say that when the Beatles quit touring, they were better able to focus on recording in the studio. The music they made early on was pretty basic, but it evolved when they had more time in the studio and they were “over that basic phase by 1966 making music that could not exist outside a record. The Beatles revolutionized the way records were made. The rule book was out the window.” He reveals that the Beatles always looked for other sounds on their records, sounds discovered by making loops and speeding them up or slowing them down. For the recording of “Tomorrow Never Knows,” John Lennon wanted to sound like the Dalai Lama, chanting from a mountain top. The revolving speaker was created for this purpose and it kicks in on the record about one and one-half minutes in. Martin called it, “A prophecy of pop music in one song—sampling, scratching. We were creating a new kind of music, fantasy stuff.” When the Beatles recorded “A Day in the Life” they created an album that was like a theatrical construction. It opened a Pandora’s Box for everyone. You have to throw your musical imagination into it.”

Among the other artist we hear from are Annie Lennox (“the Eurythmics”), Elton John, who says there was “an explosion of creativity in the 60s to mid 70s that I don’t think will ever be matched again,” Patrick Carney of “The Black Keys,” Beck, Bon Iver (who created his music on a Mac 0S9 with ProTools, and St. Vincent. My daughter’s favorite band, “Radiohead” are also featured.
Said Producer Julia Marchesi, “Because of George Martin’s influence we were able to get 116 interviews that cover voice and recording vocals; electrification; sampling; evolution of musical formats and, as George Martin termed it, “Painting with sound.”

Marchesi described the 8-part series as “a huge undertaking” and said the initial meetings were very contentious, with each producer fighting for the inclusion of a different artist.

It promises to be a musical feast for viewers in mid-November on PBS.


Duke Lacrosse Team Ordeal Chronicled in ESPN Film @ SXSW

“Fantastic Lies” is an ESPN film directed by Marina Zenovich that explored the Duke Lacrosse case that exploded into the public consciousness 10 years ago. Most television viewers or newspaper readers know that the 48 white, privileged Duke Lacrosse team members had the bad judgment to hold a party at their rented house in Durham and hired two African-American females to dance and strip at the party. The girls were contacted through an escort service and were to be paid $400 each.
What happened after that, if anything, was the crux of the criminal case that almost saw 3 young men go to jail for 20 to 30 years for a crime they did not commit. The female who accused the young men of rape was emotionally unstable. She had had treatment for same in 2005. She was also the single mother of 2 young children. When she showed up at the Lacrosse party high, she and her fellow dancer performed for less than 10 minutes, then locked themselves in a bathroom. Later, the woman making the complaint, Crystal Mangum, got drunk and passed out. She made a visit to the emergency room with minor injuries and a rape kit was administered. That visit might have led to questioning her line of work and her failure to be a proper parent, with possible loss of her 2 children to DCFS, so charging the team with rape may have seemed like a way to deflect authorities from knowledge of her line of work. [In 2013, Mangum ended up in jail for the second-degree murder of her boyfriend.]
The 28-year-old Crystal is described by her former Sunday school teacher as “someone who made up reality as she went along.” Crystal was not emotionally or psychologically stable. She was used as a pawn by the District Attorney’s office to gain publicity for the re-election campaign of prosecutor Mike Nifong. Nifong was not only fired for his railroading of the three boys, but  was disbarred and spent one night in jail.
Many peripheral truths are revealed in the documentary. The presumption of guilt of the 48 players—none of whom had sexual contact with either woman—was drummed to a fever pitch by TV talking heads like Nancy Grace and Bill O’Reilly. One of the boy’s parents said, “It was as though a Molotov cocktail landed in the community.” Reporter Ruth Sheehan wrote an article saying, “We know. We know you know,” suggesting that the team members needed to rat out the three suspects within their ranks who were allegedly guilty. She later wrote an apology for making an assumption that is proven to be totally false.
Three young men from the team were ultimately selected from a photo line-up (a line-up which violated the North Carolina Durham Police Department’s own rules, as there were no non-lacrosse players pictures in the mix) by the accuser. She singled out Collin Finnerty, team co-captain Reade Seligmann and Kyle Dowd as the three who had raped her and claimed to be “100% certain.” The chief investigator on the case, Detective Mark Gottlieb, doctored Crystal’s initial descriptions of her assailants to fit the three she selected from the pictures.
Mark Gottlieb left the police department in 2008. He committed suicide in 2014. During his career, he had a long history of overly aggressive prosecution of alleged criminals.
The three families of the accused, most from Northern locations like Long Island, now entered the fray to try to save their young sons’ lives. Said one parent, “This was an all-out war that had to be won.” As one of the defense attorneys said to the defendants, “Whatever life you had before March 13th (the date of the party) is gone. That life is never going to happen.” One young man’s father is quoted: “Had they gone to a North Carolina prison for a week, they’d either be dead or wish they were.” The three families “lawyered up.” Teams of lawyers began poring over the DNA evidence, the cell phone records of both the accused and the accuser, and other evidence. The three law teams worked together for their clients.

A neighbor testified that the women had arrived at midnight. The cell phone records proved that one of the defendants, Dave Evans, was not even in the house when the attacks were supposed to have occurred (he was at an ATM machine and is seen on the video) and the other boys accused were on their cell phones when Ms. Magnum claimed they were assaulting her, (as was she.)
Sixty-three days after the party, Dave Evans, co-captain and one of the three defendants, said, “You have all been told some fantastic lies. This case has been taken out to the news media by a person seeking public office.” Even Mike Nifone’s campaign manager said, “I knew in my heart that day that all of this was a lie.”
The case really fell apart when one of the attorneys cross-examined the DNA expert. This particular attorney (Bradley Bannon) had bought the equivalent of a “DNA for Dummies” book and was absolutely obsessed with understanding and making sense of the over 2-foot high pile of papers involving DNA results dumped on the defense during discovery. This young attorney was able to get the DNA expert to admit that the District Attorney told him to exclude any evidence except that which would convict the accused. There were physical DNA traces of between 7 and 11 other men on  fingernails. There was more DNA from the DNA analyst, Brian. Meehan, who conducted the tests, than from all of the 48 members of the lacrosse team combined.
When Brian Meehan admitted in court that there was no DNA evidence linking any of the lacrosse team to Crystal, “all of a sudden a central truth erupted. They had to work to get the place where these kids were.” Brad Bannon, the attorney who had made it his mission to understand the electrofarrigam charts of DNA evidence in a marathon week-long session, capably cross examined Mr. Meehan and said, “I felt like I was in a sports movie.” This was a reference to the fact that none of the defense team was aware that the DNA expert for the prosecution was going to be testifying that day, and only Brad had studied up on the DNA to such great lengths to be able to point out where the tests exonerated his clients.
As they left the courtroom after Brian Meehan’s testimony, Judge Smith staring at District Attorney Mike Nifong sternly, the defense attorneys said, “He (Nifong) seemed to not realize that a calamity had just occurred. I wondered if he knew his case had imploded.”
As one of the accused boy’s fathers said, during testimony, “There are no Walter Cronkites or Edward R. Murrows any more.” Even the local paper admitted, “We should have tamped our outrage and waited to see.”


Another telling quote from the film with political ramifications this presidential season was this: “None of it was true, but it got reported as truth over and over and then it became true.” Said another parent, “They wanted it to be true.” The usual suspects who come out of the woodwork—Jesse Jackson, Bill O’Reilly, Nancy Grace—were all over the case and all were wrong in rushing to judgment.
The team was forced to cancel its entire season and they had been an NCAA contender. Lacrosse head coach Mike Pressler, who stood by his team, was forced to resign; he had been at Duke for 16 years.
None of the lacrosse team members accused would be interviewed for the documentary, although their parents were quoted. Dave Evans, the co-captain of the team who spoke for his teammates during a press conference, said, “My ultimate aspiration moving forward is to make everyone know that they defended the truth. The facts are the facts. The truth is the truth.”
The University settled out of court with all members of the lacrosse team. The three accused players have become involved with the Innocence Project, which seeks to use DNA evidence to prove that criminals were unjustly imprisoned. Already, a former conviction of District Attorney Mike Nifong, a man who had served 20 years in prison, was exonerated by DNA evidence. Authorities are looking back over all of Mike Nifong’s cases to see if he railroaded more than one innocent person.

“Shovel Buddies” Premiers @ SXSW

Prior to attending “Shovel Buddies” at SXSW, I thought the most creative use of the song “I’m on Fire” (Bruce Springsteen) might have been the month my AC went out at work. After trying to get the landlord to fix the air conditioning at 1035 Lincoln Road in a timely fashion, we began dedicating songs to the realty company on a popular radio station: “Great Balls of Fire.” “Hot Time in the City.” “Summer in the City.” “I’m on Fire.” It worked. They finally fixed the air conditioning, (although I’m convinced they were sending the missing part by pack animal, since it took so long, and we had pretty much exhausted our “hot” songs repertoire by the time the landlords got on it).
But now I’ve seen the new film “Shovel Buddies” at SXSW and, as the credits roll, the song is heard again, played over a scene at a construction site where 3 teenagers and one boy’s younger brother, Lump (Anton Starkman) are seated, covered in cement, having just weighted down a body and thrown their dead classmate into wet cement.
“Wait!” you’re saying. “What’s this about a dead classmate and wet cement?”
Sammy Hanes (Philip Labes) has died of cancer at a young age. He’s a high schooler and the film opens at his funeral, with his best friends, Jimmy (Alex Neustaedter) and Daniel (Kian Lawley) at the visitation. Jimmy is also in charge of his younger brother, Lump, since his parents are out of town, and both boys lust after the dead boy’s sister, Kate (Bella Thorne).
Daniel seems to be a bit of a dick, saying things to his friend, Jimmy, like, “It’s gonna’ be okay.”
“How do you know?”
“People keep saying it,” is the response, at which point Dan, stuffing his mouth with potato chips that are situated quite near the coffin, says, “Welcome to the rest of your life.”
Bella Thorne as the dead boy’s grieving sister (“I couldn’t find something to wear that said, ‘Sad, not broken.’”) refers to Daniel as “Captain Obvious” at one point; that line scripted by Jason Mark Hellerman brought a chuckle, anyway, although Daniel’s eulogy later was ill-advised.
The plot quickly turns into a “Weekend with Bernie”-like escapade that had theater patrons outside the Alamo Drafthouse on Slaughter Lane in Austin (TX) saying, “Wait: how long is it before rigor mortis sets in?”
Not a question you hear every day, but one that is relevant to this film, if the quartet is going to honor a Snapchat Last Will & Testament wish from their dead buddy Sammy. Sammy wants to be buried in his favorite high school athletic jersey (which is conveniently framed on the wall of his bedroom.) When the two friends (Jimmy and Daniel) tell Sammy’s parents that their son really wanted to be buried in his jersey, the parents are not helpful or accepting and, in fact, they are resentful that the request was not made to them directly. Instead, Sammy is to be cremated the next day. (Keep that 2 to 6 hr. rigor mortis fact uppermost in your mind at this point.)
This sets up the plot, which involves Jimmy leading the charge to get the jersey onto Sammy’s dead body before he is toast. As more than one astute movie-goer was heard to say following the film, “How long IS it before rigor mortis sets in?”
The answer? 2 to 6 hours. And it starts with the eyelids, jaw and neck, usually, just to give you a nice visual that isn’t in the movie.
Basically, from that point on, the plot has problems, because no way would the boys have been able to dress Sammy with ease and cart him around from place to place like a sack of potatoes, at times in the back of Jimmy’s parents’ car (which is ultimately totaled) and at other times just slung over their shoulders (“like a Continental soldier,” as the old song lyric went).
The title “Shovel Buddies” refers to the clean-up of Sammy’s room that the 2 fast friends undertake, removing incriminating items from Sammy’s computer, as well as girlie magazines, drugs and anything else he wouldn’t want his parents to find (Sammy’s father is a cop).

From that point on, the movie is about keeping promises and focuses on the way(s) in which Jimmy—who is initially thought to be the “good guy” in the cast—treats both his brother (Lump) and Sammy’s sister, Kate (Bella Thorne). Daniel just remains a dick. (Once a dick, always a dick.)
The movie was directed by Simon Atkinson and Adam Townley (as Si & Ad) and the 85-minute film moves along pretty smoothly, including the denouement at the recently demolished high school that is giving way to a new football stadium.
James C. Burns, actor/cinematographer, does a respectable job playing Sammy’s father, although his ultimate decisions regarding his son’s final resting place might draw some flak from the Mrs., if she were ever informed.
This was a World Premiere and the 85 minutes passed quickly, with original music by Germaine Franco (which got inexplicably LOUD at one point in the film), adequate (if inscrutable) acting by all the leads, good cinematography and editing, and an interesting premise.
The crowd outside was still asking those pesky technical questions that viewers of 1989’s “Weekend at Bernie’s” probably never asked, and the use of Snapchat and text messaging convinced me I’m definitely Old School and unlikely to get with the 2016 program any time soon, but the film, shot in California (Culver City, Santa Monica) had its moments, although the Final Words spoken by Daniel (“Sammy liked his drinks to be like his dick: stiff” and “Sammy knew the inherent beauty of a naked woman” might have been better left unsaid.)
Still, not a bad movie, start to finish, for a first film, with enough interesting things going on and enough interesting characters to keep you watching: good pacing, good acting and fine cinematography/editing. For a first film, a good start.

SXSW: Tony Robbins, Self-Help Guru, Profiled for Netflix

Tony Robbins



Imagine my surprise when a documentary at SXSW that I thought was entitled “The Incomparable Rose Hartman,” about a famous female photographer who catalogued Studio 54 in its heyfrday (70 minutes) turned out to be “Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru,”documentary from Director Joe Beringer for Netflix.


About the Film

The film follows self-help guru and author Robbins (name at birth: Anthony J. Mahavoric) through 6 days of his intensive and expensive self-help sessions entitled “Date with Destiny.” With 2500 people from 71 countries in the large ballroom, all having paid roughly $5000 a head for the 6 days, doing the math led me to a figure of $1,250,000 for the take on this event. Indeed, Wikipedia estimates Tony Robbins made $30 million in 2007. Pretty good for someone who never went to college and once worked as a janitor.
Having come to see a film that was only supposed to be 10 minutes longer than an hour, I found the nearly 2 hour film very long. The last (6th) day could have been omitted entirely, as far as I’m concerned, as it left me thinking of Don Draper at the end of “Mad Men,” while the preceding 5 sessions were more like Tom Cruise as Frank T.J. Mackey in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia” (for which Cruise won the Golden Globe as Best Supporting Actor and was nominated for a Best Supporting Actor Oscar.) That film role was written specifically for Cruise by Anderson and modeled on a different self-help guru who advised people how to get dates.


Robbins would be the first to acknowledge that he “planned” himself into his overpaid career as a motivational guru, speaker and author. It’s a little bit like the old saying, “You don’t plan to fail; you fail to plan.”


Robbins did not fail to plan and he claims that taking care of an abusive, pill-dependent mother turned him into what he termed “a practical psychologist.” (Wikipedia says that his mom chased him out of the house with a knife when he was 17 and he never went back.) Today, Robbins the motivational speaker says, in the film, “If she had been the mother that I wanted, I would not be the man I am.” He also says, “Most of us are so busy living life that we don’t have time to design a life, and you’re going to wake up in 10 years and say, ‘Where did it go?’”
Tony is asked, at one point, by the director, what his own “breakthrough” moment in his life was, and he dodges the question as skillfully as any politician, while giving props to a high school forensic speech teacher in his sophomore year at Glendora High School, Mr. Cobb. Apparently, Mr. Cobb launched young Tony into a speech competition, telling him, “You’re not a speaker; you’re a communicator” and Tony’s stellar performance in the category of Persuasive Oratory led him, ultimately, to some work with neuro-linguistic programming, as well as skydiving, board breaking and firewalking to help those attending his seminars break through barriers (and, no doubt, be entertaining while doing that.) He also studied Ericksonian hypnosis.

Some notable quotes from the six-day seminar:

  • “Most people overestimate what they can do in a year and under-estimate what they can do in decades.”
    “I constructed this Tony Robbins guy.” (*Fact: Tony’s mother’s 3rd husband’s last name was Robbins and he adopted young Tony to give him that surname.)
  • “Everyone needs something to move forward to, to move towards.
  • “Date with Destiny is a place that you go to discover who you are and what you are about at this time in your life.”
  • “Words have the power to pierce the pattern” (used to explain why he seems overly fond of the “F” word.)
  • “Life is happening FOR us, not TO us.”
  • “The whole thing is a dance.”
  • “What’s prevented you from having the life you deserve?” (This after some scenes of meetings with staff, where they discussed the mix of variety/entertainment/energy/engagement and “people with red flags.”


Dramatic Interactions

In any group this size, says Tony to staff, there are going to be about 12 who are suicidal. He assigns various staffers to support those identified through their writing(s) on questionnaires as potentially suicidal. One young person had attempted suicide only 2 days prior. It is also these writings, handed in during the sessions, that guide much of the next day’s “interactions,” as dramatic situations take precedence over the ordinary.
For instance, one 26-year-old young attractive woman named Dawn, who was abused sexually as a member of a cult called Children of God. We hear Dawn’s sad story of sexual abuse of her entire family unit. She broke free, but now feels that she is not strong enough to provide emotional support to every other family member, all of whom she describes as depressed. We later learn that she has pawned all her belongings to get the $4,995 fee for the seminar, but it pays off when $100,000 is donated to Dawn to help others like herself. (She is now writing a book). Dawn also scores private sessions with Chloe Madonna, whom Tony touts as a great therapist, and 3 friends (male) whom she selects from among the mesmerized audience who agree to contact her monthly for 6 months.


One woman is made to call her boyfriend up on the phone and break up with him while everyone listens. (We are told later that this attractive forty-ish brunette had reconciled with her boyfriend after the class’ conclusion). I got the distinct impression that, if asked questions off camera, this woman might have been resentful of what Tony Robbins demanded of her. She did not seem to like the fact that he was “warm and fuzzy” to others he counseled, but not towards her.
The director asks “Are you ever concerned about giving the wrong advice?” This better-looking version of Dr. Phil says, “Depth is what people are missing. And when you take people deep, it’s riveting because it’s so rare.”
There was another encounter with a suicidal young man who seemed to be foreign-born. By the end of the tearful encounter, he is crowd surfing with a goofy look of happiness on his face as all his new friends support him. And a lot of the “therapy” of the moment seems to come from making those participating feel that they are surrounded by loving fellow humans, (whether or not they ever see these people again.)

The Music

Music is skillfully used to work the crowd into a certain mood prior to Tony’s arrival onstage, and music is used during his interactions (“Tiny Dancer” was playing in the background at one point). Translators are working with headsets to interpret Tony’s gems of wisdom into 6 different languages. Here’s one such truth: “You’re a miracle to everyone in this room. (Big hug here) With you, it stops. Pure love. You’re incredible. There’s no way I would feel like this unless I had felt emotions of my own that are similar. You take all the power back today.” (This to the Christian Soldier girl, Dawn).

Young People

I was struck by the fact that, for this documentary, which will be shown on Netflix, all the highlighted people were relatively young, well-dressed and attractive. There were no dowdy middle-aged women or overweight balding men being counseled about their difficulty adjusting to retirement (or some such). Everyone was beautiful, just like the sit coms on TV. And Tony, himself, is a handsome physical specimen. He grew 10 inches in high school (due to a tumor on his pituitary gland) and is an imposing physical presence, with perfect white teeth and a huge smile. He has been married 2 times and has paid judgments of $650,900 to Wade Cook for copyright infringement and plagiarism, [according to Wikipedia], and also was forced to pay $221,260 to the FTC, but he has also won at least one libel suit for a much smaller amount.


At one point, all the adult participants are shown making posters for Day 6 (the final day) and they are required to sit in a yoga Lotus position, palms upturned, chanting OM and thinking about 3 things they are grateful for at that last meeting while Tony says things like, “Take the greatest gift home—who you’ve become. You’ve been on a journey, not a trip. You were the concert…Heal the boy and the man will appear.” He talks about the “birth of new values, of a new life” and says the primary question is, “what you focus on in your mission statement.” (These were the posters all the participants were busily drawing prior to Day 6.)

Here At The End

Meanwhile, we learn that Tony’s staff of approximately 50 people are telling him how late he is running (2 hours, at one point) and he is selecting different strategies to employ in his final delivery of material (second wife Pearl “Sage,” married in 2001, is an acupuncturist, among other things.)
Tony Robbins’ TED talk in 2007 is the sixth most-watched TED talk, according to Wikipedia. He played himself in the 2000 movie “Shallow Hal,” as the guru hypnotizing Jack Black so that Jack Black could see the inner beauty of Gwyneth Paltrow’s obese female lead. Interesting, inasmuch as nobody in THIS documentary Is allowed that flaw. On Season 3, episode 22 of “Family Guy,” Tony Robbins was lampooned and a non-human character shown on TV screens in “Men In Black” is Robbins.
Tony Robbins.jpg He currently assists Oprah with a Lifeclass on her OWN network and is going to be the co-owner of a Los Angeles soccer league with Magic Johnson, Mia Hamm and Peter Guber in 2017.
Film editor for this Netflix documentary was Cy Christiansen. To Mr. Christiansen, I’d say, “Day 6 dragged.”

John Daly: Golfer Still Grips It, Rips It & Sips It

Getting Started

Golfer John Daly took the golf world by storm when he won the 1991 PGA,  entering play as the 9th alternate. As Daly tells you in the documentary “Hit It Hard,” which showed on Tuesday, March 14th at SXSW in Austin and was helmed by filmmakers (and non-golfers) Gabe Spitzer and David Terry Fine, “I got to town about 2 a.m. and got a phone call the next day telling me, ‘You’re in.'” This film will ultimately be shown on ESPN, which bit when the two filmmakers asked about doing a 50 minute documentary about the colorful golfer.

When asked after the screening how long it took to get Daly to agree to become the subject of this film, the duo said they followed him around for “8 to 10 months” and finally “found him selling his gear outside a Hooters at Augusta.” He soon agreed to appear in the movie. Films of this sort for ESPN can be 50, 77, or 100 minutes long, but the cost of getting the rights to Daly’s greatest filmed golfing moments were prohibitive and kept the pair from making a longer film.


It’s like watching a new species.

We see Daly, wearing a colorful patchwork quilt of a jacket (red, white and blue) saying, “Take the chances.  Be aggressive. That’s the way I was raised. You can’t change for others; you gotta’ do it for yourself.  Some people just never grow up and I could say I’m one of ’em.”

The film opens with Daly’s triumph at the PGA in Carmel, Indiana at Crooked Stick Golf Course in 1991, coming in as the 9th alternate and blasting his way to victory.  David Feherly of NBC, commenting on Daly’s massive 300+ golf drives, said, “It’s like watching a new species.”


Growing Up In Arkansas

Born in Carmichael, California, Daly grew up in Dardanelles, Arkansas, where he taught himself to play golf from Jack Nicklaus videos and practicing on a baseball field near his house and at the Bay Ridge Boat Club, beginning at the age of 4. He attended high school in Helias, Missouri. Golf was not really the sport his contemporaries were interested in, so Daly also played football in Missouri and still holds some high school records for kicking field goals. (He demonstrated his barefoot kicking style for the camera.)

Daly’s father was an alcoholic who was often abusive. Said Daly, “My brothers and I would come home from school and he’d just start beating on us. My mom, too.” Daly spoke of his father once putting a gun to his eye and beating his children with garden hoses, switches and other objects. He said, “It’s tough to forget.”

He went on to say, “I got a scholarship to Arkansas, but they told me I had to lose some weight. I lost 67 and 1/2 pounds in 2 months on a diet of Jack Daniels and popcorn.” If that sounds like a crazy diet, at one point not shown in the film, Daly told the filmmakers that he sometimes put beer on his Wheaties “to save money on milk,” which, the filmmakers noted, wouldn’t really be an effective cost-saving measure.


Daly has always had a drive that fans crave seeing.


According to official performance statistics kept since 1980, Daly in 1997 became the first PGA Tour player to average more than 300 yards per drive over a full season. He did so again every year from 1999 to 2008; he was the only player to do so until 2003.

Daly confessed to the camera, “My life changed in 4 days, but I wasn’t ready for it. I wasn’t taught how to be successful.  Look–I did it my way.  You only have yourself to blame.” Daly’s swing coach, Butch Harmon, quit in March of 2008, saying that “the most important thing in (Daly’s) life is getting drunk.” Daly responded by saying “I think his lies kind of destroyed my life for a little bit.” It is undeniable that Daly seems to have an addictive personality. Among his addictions: golf, women, alcohol, Coca Cola, cigarettes and chocolate. When he won one tournament while on the wagon, he filled the winner’s cup with chocolate ice cream and ate all of it.

This feasting to excess led to lap band surgery, which allowed Daly to lose as much as 80 lbs., but may have contributed to loss of muscle and an accompanying decline in his golf game (although Daly, himself, blames poor eyesight, which affected his putting.)


As for women, the three-times married Daly (his fiance now is Anna Cladakis, following Betty, Sherrie,  and Paulette) says, “I love pleasin’ a woman a lot every day.” He also hopes to play on the Senior Tour, as his 50th birthday arrives on April 28th.

One sportscaster described him as “the first charismatic golfer since Jack Nicklaus” and worried, openly, that he might burn out like a comet. Said another, “Sometimes, he can’t get out of his own way.” Arnold Palmer once told him, “We all respect your game, but we want to respect you.”

Daly claims, in the film, to have won $45 million, while losing $98 million gambling. The stories of his gambling are as legendary as the stories of his antics on various golf courses, which earned him the nickname “The Wild Thing” at St. Andrew’s, where he won a four-hole play-off against Constantino Rocca in 1995.

Although there have been many low, low moments in Daly’s colorful life, he has three children and says, “I feel like my life is surrounded by good things.  I kind of love the way it turned out.  I care and I’m still gonna’ be John Daley. I’m gonna’ hit it hard and I’m gonna grip it and rip it.” And, as he says during this short, entertaining documentary, “I don’t give a shit what people say.”

He sings too.

The film ends with Daly singing over the credits. He has released 2 albums of music and sings well. The following is John’s perspective on his music:

“The album itself is really my life. All of the songs have a meaning. Most of the record is happening or has happened in my life. I hope people can relate to some of the troubles I have had along the way. Everyone around the world has problems, and I want to connect with those people.”

(John’s first album, ‘My Life,’ included guest vocals by Darius, Willie Nelson and Johnny Lee.)

A very enjoyable short film. Watch for it on ESPN–but not on ABC.

The Ruby Slippers: The True Story told in SXSW Documentary



A Little About the South By Southwest Film and Music Festival

I’m here in Austin, Texas, attending some of the festivities associated with the South by Southwest Film and Music Festival. Actually, there are third and fourth components to the festival, as there was an education portion held prior to the beginning of the film and music, which kicked off with an appearance by President Barack Obama. (Michelle Obama arrived for the music portion today).

I’d heard about the film festival here for years and, having covered the Chicago International Film Festival for a decade (and one in Vancouver years ago), I learned that a top-of-the-line ticket to everything would have cost me $1,745. A ticket just for the film portion is $695. In other words, this is a far pricier proposition than attending the film festival in Chicago, which is exclusively film and doesn’t attempt to involve Austin’s version of Silicone Valley (3D printers) nor music venues galore. However, if you are a resident, as we have been since January, locals can purchase wristbands for either $65 or $95, depending on the length of time the wristband covers.


The Slippers

The documentary “The Slippers” by Canadian filmmaker Morgan White was a 5-year labor of love based on Rhys Thomas’ book The Ruby Slippers of OzToronto native and director White co-scripted the film with Derek LaJeunesse. The film was, in a sense, a tribute to a man director White dubbed The Robin Hood of Hollywood, Kent Warner. “Once I read the book, I knew I had to do the movie,” said filmmaker White.

Warner, a Hollywood fixture who really knew his movies, was hired to help organize the sale of MGM’s large warehouse full of film artifacts and costumes when new owner Kirk Kerkorian, Las Vegas multi-millionaire who did not care about the Hollywood history that was going to be auctioned off became the studio owner back in 1970. It is estimated that Warner, who probably liberally “helped himself” to the important dresses and props of the era, discovered the shoes in February or March of 1970. Warner, himself, told an embellished story about retrieving the cache of what may have been as few as 5 pair of ruby slippers or as many as 10. Warner kept the best pair for himself, but often stole things “for Debbie,” meaning Debbie Reynolds, who, for years, was buying props and costumes of yesteryear for a Hollywood Museum that never materialized.


The Rising Cost Of Nostalgia

Debbie Reynolds’ son, Todd Fisher, is interviewed in the film and told stories of how his mother was cheated time and time again at auctions when she bid on bits of motion picture history, detailing one particular purchase of what was to have been the original blue-and-white Judy Garland dress from the 1939 film. When she went to pick up her purchase, she had been given a plain blue dress that was a “test” dress. Similarly, Debbie ended up only with a pair of ruby slippers that were rejected for the film but made initially to test the concept of a pointy-toed elf-like design, (which was ultimately rejected).

Director Morgan White described his regret at not being able to interview Debbie Reynolds in person but said he talked to her on the phone and said, “She sang to me and sort of trailed off. I think she may have been drunk.”

The rising cost of owning a pair of the ruby slippers was tracked. The shoes probably cost only $13 or $14 to make, originally, in 1939. A woman named Roberta Bauman who  won a pair of the ruby slippers in a contest kept them for years and then cashed in by having them auctioned by Chrstie’s. They brought $150,000 in 1988. In 2000, a pair sold for $666,000. Prices today, if a pair were to be put up for auction, are estimated as bringing as much as $2 million or more. The 2012 auction of Debbie Reynolds’ accumulated treasures brought in $27 million. The film is as much about the rising cost of nostalgia as it is about the iconic ruby slippers.


Different Pairs In Different Locations

One pair is on display at Disney, given them for display by the owner (Anthony Landini). One pair is on display at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C. One pair was bought for the Academy by investors including Leonardo DeCaprio. A woman in the Austin audience asked about a pair on display in Austin and the filmmaker sighed and said, “I’m going to be really sorry if there is an original pair on display here in town and I didn’t know about it when I was making this film.”

A large part of the film covers the loaning of a pair of the slippers to a Judy Garland (real name at birth: Frances Gumm) Museum in her hometown of Grand Rapids, Minnesota. After successfully loaning the slippers to the Museum for years for an annual festival, they were stolen in August of 2005. The small town Museum supposedly had security, but the security alarm did not notify police and the security camera had been switched off. The thieves were inside the structure for just a few moments in a smash-and-grab robbery and the film shows scuba divers searching a nearby lake (created from an abandoned iron ore pit), on suspicion that the shoes may have been stolen by some local youths who then threw them away.

Filmmaker Morgan White said the most disappointing thing was the Academy of Motion Pictures’ refusal to allow him to film the slippers that were donated to them by the mystery donors (guesses beyond DeCaprio include Stephen Spielberg and possibly Oprah Winfrey). He described the film as a tribute to Kent Warner, the knowledgeable Hollywood insider who smuggled out so many iconic items. Warner died of AIDS in 1984 at the age of 41 and had to sell off most of his treasures to pay for his treatment. (Shots of Warner’s grave were poignant). White considers Warner an unsung hero of the Hollywood memorabilia movement, one who is not acknowledged or even known.

Dwight Bowers of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., who has a pair on display, explained:


“What makes the shoes so valuable is not necessarily what they are (i.e., size 5 to 6 shoes covered in 2,300 handsewn fish scale sequins dyed red—a change from the original plan to have silver shoes inspired by the advent of color to movies—) but what they represent.”

Obama’s Odyssey: Vol. I-FREE E-book for Amazon Review

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