The only woman in the room – a novel about the amazing true story of Hedy Lamarr

Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler was born in Austria and would later become a famous and beautiful actress known as Hedy Lamarr. But, her story is far more compelling and complicated than that. Marie Benedict penned a novel based on Lamarr’s incredible true life story called “The only woman in the room.” Not only was she an iconic actress, she was a scientist and was in the room when her domineering husband, a munitions manufacturer in Austria, hosted Austrian, Nazi and Italian leaders.

I will stop short of giving the story away, but this fast-paced novel told in first person, provides a narrative of a woman frightened by her first husband and the plans she overheard. Staying only with the teaser written on the back cover, she would eventually flee to London where she met a movie mogul who was recruiting actors and actresses leaving Europe as Hitler expanded his evil reach.

Yet, she would lament what was transpiring in her homeland, as a Jew and as an transplanted Austrian. So, based on what she heard in these many meetings back in Austria, she would work with a talented avante garde pianist and composer to devise an electronic communication system for the war effort that laid a foundation that is used today. I will stop there at this strange point, so as not to say too much. I will leave you thinking the obvious – an actress and a pianist did this?

The book found its way to The New York Times best seller list. It is a quick and compelling read. I highly recommend this book as it is far more than an unknown history lesson.

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Is it Agnes or Maggies?

My wife says “Goodness gracious Maggies!” I was brought up hearing “Goodness gracious Agnes!” She was raised in South Carolina while I grew up in Florida. We don’t know where Agnes and Maggie were raised.

Geography seems to play a role in variations in similar sayings. In the South, I often heard “Bless his (or her) heart” to reference someone prone to inanity. Our friends from Pennsylvania say “God love him (or her)” meaning the same thing.

The more religiously influenced have a variety of sayings. I think the Catholic influence might lead a surprised person to say “Holy Mary mother of God!” which is quite the mouhful. Often, it is shortened to “Holy Mary!” leaving the longer version for more awe-inspiring events.

“Jesus Christ! or the shortened “Jesus!” is uttered when a religious mother is out of earshot. Otherwise, the child might get a look or rebuke. Often, it is shortened to “Jeez,” “Jeepers,” or “Gee whiz,” depending on the generation or religious zeal of the mother.

We can thank Walt Disney for popularizing another replacement with his character “Jiminy Cricket.” Making his name plural makes another saying of surprise. A variation is “Jiminy Christmas” for more exasperating events.

“Dammit,” has long been a shortened version of GD which would have gotten a strong rebuke in my house. The rebuke for Dammit wpuld be less severe. Either phrase reveals disappointment in some failure. I am reminded of Strother Martin’s character in “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The tobacco chewing character would say “Dammit” when his tobacco spittle got on his chin, yelling “bingo” when it did not.

It saddens me to think of the humor of Bill Cosby given his off-stage criminal acts of sexual assault. But, one of his funnier routines was of his father trying to edit his language around his kids. When mad, Cosby said his father could not complete a sentence due to self-censure.

I have shared before the saying of my wonderful ciolleague whose father was a minister. When very frustrated, she would say, “Bad word, bad word.!” Her saying would lighten the moment if others heard her saying it given her temperament.

What are some of your family, friends and region’s sayings? Are they unique to your area or more widespread?

A man called Ove – a curmudgeon worth a deeper look

The title of bestselling author Fredrik Backman’s book “A man called Ove” or the reference to the subject may not be inviting, but give this book a chance. We all have curmudgeons in our lives and sometimes we may even channel our inner curmudgeon. But, why do some people act the way they do?

People Magazine opines on Ove, “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll feel new sympathy for the curmudgeons in your life.” I agree.

Backman introduces Ove in real time, so you will start off with a full-frontal view of a curmudgeon. But, through changes in his daily life and a series of reveals as Ove remembers the good and bad in his life, you gain a new perspective on how he has evolved to be who he is. You will learn Ove has a tough outer shell, but different layers are buried beneath.

To avoid any spoilers, let me mention what is written on the back cover to invite you to read the book. Ove’s daily routine is disrupted when chatty new neighbors with two young daughters announce they have arrived one November morning by accidentally backing their U-Haul trailer over Ove’s mailbox.

Their interactions and related others take an ice-pick to Ove’s icy outer shell. The book is an easy read, but do give Ove a chance. Your initial reaction to Ove will be like everyone else’s whom the character meets in the book. So, bring your proverbial ice pick along. And, some tissue.

Many successful people have failed

Recently, my wife and I watched three separate music documentaries – the eight part series on Country Music, one on Motown and one on David Bowie. What I find interesting is how many artists had to fight failure to get a chance and gain eventual success. These failures reminded me of other similar stories I have been exposed to.

Garth Brooks, one of the biggest selling artists of any genre, was turned down by every studio in Nashville. The night of the most recent “no, thank you,” Brooks performed at a small venue and that same record producer was in the audience and saw something.

David Bowie made records and even albums, but they went nowhere for years. He never lost hope. After much experimentation, he came up with the idea about a man in space. “Ground control to Major Tom…” became the lyric that peeked our interest in “A Space Oddity.”

The Beatles intrigued a young record producer named George Martin, but he recognized the band needed to practice to learn how to play. Many people don’t know that a fifth Beatle named Stu Sutcliffe was very inexperienced. So, Martin sent them to Hamburg, Germany to play seven shows six nights a week. They had to learn new material.

The Supremes led by Diana Ross were called the “no-hit Supremes” for years as they could not break through. Eventually, Berry Gordy and his writers came up with the right song, “Baby, baby. Where did our love go…”

Michael Jordan is arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time. Yet, Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team before making the team the following ¬†year. As Dean Smith, Jordan’s college coach would say defending his decision to start Jordan as a freshman, “I put him on the blue practice team and they won. I put him on the white practice team and they won. It did not take a genius to realize we had a better chance to win if he played.”

Steve Jobs was successful with the Apple, but failed to develop the next generation machine. Fortunately, while the team he led was failing, another Apple team plodded along and developed the Macintosh. Jobs took it over and it made history. We should also note, Jobs was later fired from his own company, but  returned to save them and launch the hand held I-series of devices.

Hewlett-Packard failed at its first business. It was a bowling alley scorekeeping system. Yet, they created an organization that allowed the development of new products and were hugely succesful with computers and printers.

Everyone fails at something or even more than a few things. The key is what do you do next. When life knocks you down, you have to get up, dust yourself off and move forward. Or, as Winston Churchill famously said, “When you are walking through hell, the key is to keep walking.”

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.

Wednesday walkabout (once again)

I plan to take a hike today, but it might be a tad warm. Water will be with me along with miscellaneous stories percolating in my mind.

The president famously said he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and his fans would still support him. Sadly, that continues to be proven true. Only 40% of Republicans believe Trump mentioned Joe Biden on the call with the Ukraine president. Yet, Trump admitted he did.

Note the transcript summary confirmed that he did. It also confirmed that what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said was discussed was, in fact, not discussed. Pompeo will be in the crosshairs if he is not forthcoming. I learned a long time ago, smug responses to questions should not be given more credence because of their delivery style. It actually gives me pause.

While I am not a fan of Boris Johnson given his smugness and difficulty with facts, I must give him credit for allowing interviews with reporters asking pointed questions. Could you imagine the US president being interviewed by Chris Wallace? The reason Trump was prevented from being deposed by Robert Mueller is his inability to tell the truth.

Afghanistan had an election, but not many voted. Why? The Taliban made concerted threats of violence against those who did. Think of that as a major reason we should enable a fair voting system. The problem in America is not the wrong people voting, it is by far, not enough people voting.

Finally, former President Jimmy Carter turned 95 this week. He is the oldest former president we have ever had. This is after a cancer diagnosis of about five years ago. Carter is not top of the list when thinking of great presidents, yet he is arguably the finest ex-president we have ever had. The humanitarian and diplomatic work he has done is exemplary. Few people know that he helped lead an effort to eradicate hook worm exposure for barefooted people in imppverished areas. That is on top of his mountain of work for Habitat for Humanity.

That is all for now. Let’s go hiking.

Country music documentary – a review

Ten days ago, I gave a quick heads-up about Ken Burns’ excellent eight-part documentary series on “Country Music.” We have now watched all eight shows and highly recommend the series, even if you are like us and not huge country music fans. For those unfamiliar with Burns, he has produced similar documentaries on the history of jazz, the Civil War, baseball, national parks, the Roosevelts, e.g.

I shared a few themes in my last post, but want to stay away from spoilers. The documentary takes us through 1996, so the more current artists are not delved into. What makes the documentary live are the stories told by several artists, writers, historians, musicians, producers, etc.

Some of the more frequent commenters included: Marty Stuart (a mandolin prodigy and long time performer), Vince Gill, Brenda Lee (who had several hits in her early teens), Rosanne Cash, Carlene Carter, Bill Malone (a historian), Merle Haggard (who passed away after filming), Kathy Mattea, Dwight Yoakam, Charley Pride, Willie Nelson, Darius Rucker, Wynton Marsalis (the jazz musician), Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Kris Kristofferson, Ricky Skaggs and many others.

A few more take aways trying not to reveal too much, include:

– more than a few performers who made it big had doors closed in their faces, but kept at it;
– more than a few big artists held firm in playing songs and doing things their way (Johnny Cash, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Garth Brooks, etc.)
– country music thrived because the artists spent huge amounts of time being among their audiences at fairs, gatherings, rodeos, small venues;
– country music is not just Nashville based, with Bakersville, CA, Bristol, VA (and TN), and places in Oklahoma and Texas all playing a hand with different influences; and
– country music was and is influenced by multiple types of music and has an influence on other types.

On this last point, Ray Charles, the R&B star who grew up in Georgia was ridiculed for cutting a country album. The music was part of his roots, so his best selling album was his way of sharing.

Check out the series. I think it will be worth your while.