Mobituaries – great lives worth reliving (a few thoughts)

Many who do not know of the podcast or the book by Mo Rocca and Jonathan Greenberg by the name “Mobituaries – great lives worth reliving,” are asking what does this mean? CBS News contributor Mo Rocca has long been fascinated by the stories of people who passed away, some famous, some less so. He provides interesting vignettes about lives worth noting.

The book is fascinating, one where you can pick up a read a few “mobituaries” about people you may or may not have heard of. Here are a few to whet your appetite:

Chang and Eng Bunker (1811 – 1874) were the first known Siamese twins. They were joined at the side and shared a few organs. They were brought to America and exploited by the circus folks. They eventually took over their own affairs and settled down in Mount Airy, North Carolina. This is where Andy Griffith was born and based his fictional “Mayberry” on. They married two sisters who would live in separate houses on the same property. The Eng brothers would live for three days in one house, then move to the other spouse’s house. Sadly, one of the Eng’s was an alcoholic and was dying. After he died, his attached twin brother not only had to mourn him, but know he would also die shortly. He lived for only a few more hours. Their families live on and, after first not knowing of or embracing their unusual heritage, they now come together for a large family reunion.

Audrey Hepburn (1929 – 1993) is the epitome of the woman we all want in our lives and more than a few men (and I am sure women) had crushes on this actress. She was lovely, charming and vulnerable. Per Rocca, she had a tough life growing up in the same area as Anne Frank. She saw uncles and friends carried off by the Nazis and remembers starving at Christmas time recalling a gift of ten potatoes as a godsend. The Frank people begged her to play Anne Frank in a movie, but she said no as it is too close to home. I think this is why she became an ambassador to UNICEF later on. She won an Oscar for playing Princess Ann in “Roman Holiday,” and apparently that movie made her an icon in Japan, which developed Kabuki theatres on her behalf. When she was asked to do commercials in Japan in the early 1980s, she felt no one would remember her – to the contrary, she was still a star. Rocca said the famous talk show host Johnny Carson and his sidekick Ed McMahon admitted to being more nervous about having Hepburn on as a guest than anyone else. That says a lot.

Sammy Davis, Jr. (1925 – 1990) may have been the world’s greatest entertainer. He could sing, dance, do comedy, act and play several musical instruments. He seemed to give his all to every performance and that may be because he lived to perform. When many folks came together to honor him with performances in 1989, he surprised them all by getting up on stage with them and being, well Sammy Davis, Jr. He lost one eye in a car accident when a poorly designed appendage from a steering wheel pierced his eye socket in a crash. He begged the doctors to make sure he could still use his legs, though, being less concerned about his eye. His career began at age three years old with his father and a friend having a traveling show. He married a white woman before it was legal across the country and converted to Judaism. He would use that in his comedy about being the ultimate outsider. If you have no idea who Sammy Davis is, please Google him and check him out.

Well, this is just a taste of “Mobituaries.” There are many stories therein. Some are offered in detailed fashion, while others may be in a sidebar about like individuals. Read those sidebars as well. Rocca is an interesting and funny reporter. He brings both to his storytelling.

Bad habits

Aristotle said we are creatures of habit. Implicit therein is the habits can be good or bad. Charles Duhigg wrote an excellent book called “The Power of Habit,” where he noted the way to stop a bad habit, is to identify the trigger and replace the bad habit with a better one.

Old habits. The bad ones can be as simple as too many fried foods or sweets to smoking regular or e-cigarettes to drinking more than one should. Or worse. The good ones could be regular meditation, prayer, yoga or exercise, reading or selective and portion controlling eating habits.

Or, the habits could be less concrete. Kindness, civility, and decency are enviable habits, just as rudeness, bullying, lying etc. are habits to avoid emulating.

I have shared before that I am an alcoholic. Yet, to avoid a future train wreck, I stopped drinking more than twelve years ago. The key was a day-by-day mantra I learned from another struggling alcoholic – “I am not going to drink today.” Another key is the substitution of other habits – fruits and fruit juices, selective sweets, hot tea, etc. – instead of a drink.

Another habit I had to lick was to get my weight in order. The stopping drinking helped, but I was carrying too much. Over about a five year period, I have been able to drop 45 pounds. The keys have been fewer white foods – those wonderful carb loaded potatoes, pasta, rice and bread. The other key is portion control whether it is a meal or snack. On snacks, serve a small bowl and leave the bag in the pantry. On meals, serve smaller portions and avoid the temptation to go back.

Plus, I added a daily exercise routine of about fifteen minutes after I shower. This is supplemented with walks and hikes a couple of times a week.

Good habits. Make sure they are sustainable. That had been a dieting and exercise challenge before and my weight yo-yoed. Best wishes on finding better habits should you need to go down that path.

Movies worth a look

As a means of distraction or illumination, movies provide a necessary vehicle. Looking past the blockbuster action hero movies, here are few to consider for theater-going or downloading.

In no partiicular order:

“Knives Out” is in theaters now and is an entertaining who-done-it? Daniel Craig leads a very recognizable cast.

“Dark Waters” is more illuminating than distracting as Mark Ruffalo stars in a true-life chemical cover-up that went on for years hurting consumers, locals and employees.

“A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood” is the story of Mister Rogers’s impacting the lives of many children, but also helping the life of an interviewer, the basis for the movie. Tom Hanks ably plays Mister Rogers.

“Midway” is a well-rounded view of the crucial battle of Midway a key refueling island in the Pacific during WWII. Patrick Wilson, Woody Harrelson and Ed Skrein star in an ensemble cast as the movie focus on both American and Japanese perspectives.

“Ford vs. Ferrari” is an excellent drama around Ford’s efforts to compete in Le Mans racing against recurring champion Ferrari. Christian Bale and Matt Damon star as the racer and racing car designer.

“Judy” is an excellent piece of acting by Renee Zellweger as Judy Garland, late in her career. It focuses on a brief time where Garland plays a London venue to enable her to keep her children.

“Once upon a time in Hollywood” stars Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio in a remake of a Hollywood tragedy. It is a Quentin Tarentino movie which is akin to the rewriting of history in “Inglorious Bastards.”

“Tolkien” did not do well at the box office, but is quite good. It focuses on Tolkien’s boyhood and early adult life which led him to his creative fantasy writing of “The Hobbit.” It stars Nicholas Hoult as Tolkien and Lily Collins as his muse and love interest.

Let me know what you think of these movies, avoiding spoilers where possible. Also, what other movies would you recommend?

Renee Zellweger is superb in “Judy”

My wife and I saw the marvelous movie about the a brief period in the career of Judy Garland simply called “Judy.” Renee Zellweger plays the part so well, you believe she is Judy. I encourage you to go see it, but do take some tissue.

The movie does a nice job of flipping back to past moments in Garland’s life to provide some context. It adds a great deal to the film and makes you pull for the adult Judy even more, in spite of her challenges.

The movie is directed by Rupert Goold and is based on the broadway play called “End of the Rainbow,” by Peter Quilter. Quilter and Tom Edge wrote the movie screenplay. Darci Shaw plays the young Judy, while key parts are played by Jessie Buckley who caretakes Judy while in London, Finn Wittrock who plays a young beau, Michael Gambon who plays the producer of the London show, Rufus Sewell who plays Sidney Luft (the father of two of her children), and Royce Pierreson who plays the pianist/ conductor. Her two girls are played by Gemma-Leah Devereaux (Liza Minelli) and Bella Ramsey (Lorna Luft). A key role is played by Andy Nyman as a Judy fan in London.

But, this is Zellweger’s movie to shine as Judy. We knew she could sing from “Chicago,” but she adds flavor to Judy’s older voice lessened some by smoking, drinking and other issues. The movie covers a five week period when she ventures to London for a series of performances at a large club venue. I will leave off the rationale and mission of the gig, as that is an important part of the movie.

Go see it and tell me what you think. For spoiler alerts, I will ask future readers to not read the comments.

Country music documentary series

Ken Burns has done it again. While not a huge country music fan, I am four episides into the eight part series on “Country Music.” It has been a wonderful history lesson that goes beyond the storytelling of country music.

To avoid spoiling the series for those who have not seen it, let me offer a few key themes:

– the show utilizes historical insights from numerous perspectives – country performers, songwriters, radio DJs, historians and even performers from other genres;

– country music was influenced by and influenced other genres of music – mountain hymns, blues, rhythm and blues, gospel, rock-a-billy, pop music, etc.;

– country music was born in Bristol, VA (and TN – the city splits the state line) due to an ad seeking talent to record, but broadened in a number of places based economic migration resulting from the dust bowl and depression, which created these intersections of styles and influences;

– finally, it is the stories within and behind the music – to offer one tidbit, the jazz great Charlie Parker was asked why he paid attention to country music? He said it was the great stories.

There are too many names to mention, many of whom I have never heard. But, exposure to folks like Maybelle Carter who popularized a guitar playing style or Earl Scruggs who popularized a three-finger banjo technique or Jimmy Rodgers who perfected the use of yodeling to accent a song are three examples of its influence.

Rather than give too much away, please watch. It is worth the effort. I look forward to the remainder of the series.

Go forth, be safe on the 4th

Happy 4th of July everyone! Be safe as you travel and as you celebrate with family and friends. Here are a couple of reminders.

– Alcohol, testosterone and fireworks do not mix. Adding dry hot summer days do not help the situation. I am reminded of my wife’s cousin who blew off several fingers.

– If driving, appropriate following distance will help avoid many car accidents. Tailgaters overstate their ability to stop a car, especially when following a truck they cannot see around. To be frank, that is the nicest description of a tailgater I can use.

– At large outdoor parties, be mindful of food left out on a picnic table too long. Food poisoning is not rare in these circumstances.

– Also be mindful of long afternoons of drinking, especially those fruity concoctions that mask how drunk you’re getting. You don’t want to have Uncle John going to a crowded ER after wrecking his vehicle.

– The entire group should be mindful of small kids near pools, lakes and oceans. It only takes a few seconds for someone to drown. Hosts need to make sure someone is watching if they cannot. See above about parents’ drinking – I have seen close accidents avoided that should not have gotten that precarious,

– Finally, do your best to avoid politics. If you must respond, try to stay within the white lines and say things like “I wish they would work together to solve problems” which is a safe way to make a statement and exit stage left.

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday and weekend. May the 4th be with you this July.

Alcoholism – Feherty, Watson and me

I am an alcoholic, yet I am approaching the twelfth anniversary of my last drink. I bring this up today as I learned in an interview yesterday that David Feherty, a retired golfer, golf announcer and truly comical person, is also an alcoholic, along with some other demons he has to manage.

Several things about Feherty’s interview with Real Sports host Bryant Gumbel are worth noting. First, he credits his second wife for her tough love – after a final straw, she said you have 30 days to get clean or I am gone.

He also credits Tom Watson, one of golf’s greatest players, whose own career was almost derailed by alcoholism. As Feherty was interviewing Watson, the latter asked Feherty if he was alright. Feherty said he was not, but asked how could he tell? Watson said “I saw it in your eyes.” He then answered Feherty’s question of what did he see? Watson said bluntly, “I saw myself.”

Watson invited Feherty to his home and helped him through managing his demons. Feherty was sober for ten years, but fell off the wagon when his son took his own life after fighting a losing battle with the same demons his father faced. It should be noted Feherty’s alcoholism masked that he was clinically depressed and bipolar. His son inherited the problems. After renewing the fight, Feherty has returned to being sober.

Alcoholism or any addiction are tough enemies. You never fully defeat them. You put a lid on them, but they still simmer on the back of the stove. Over time, the heat is turned down, but it never is fully extinguished. In my case, I still want to have a drink, but it is a fainter flame today.

The key lesson I learned from a colleague, whose husband fought alcoholism, is to say this mantra – I am not going to drink today. This is a key reason recovering alcoholics know how many days they have been sober. The other piece of advice is to find a substitute for the alcohol. It may be green tea, fruit, fruit juice, near-beer, tonic or soda water or a piece of candy. Now, for me, it is hot tea and all kinds of fruit, dried or fresh.

Life is hard. It is not uncommon for some people to use some form of anesthetic to sand the edges off difficulty. If you think you may have a problem, you do. Be honest with yourself, first, but be honest with your spouse or partner and your doctor. Most addicts lie to all of the above.

People ask me what was my trigger to change? Another colleague’s wife, who was as vivacious and funny as David Feherty, died from complications due to alcoholism. She was only 59, one year less than I am today. I was a train wreck waiting to happen. So, I got off the train. It was and still is hard. But, remember the mantra, I am not going to drink today. Then, don’t and say it again tomorrow.