Archive by Author

The Christmas Tree Conveyance (5 min read)

18 Dec

My first holidays after moving to the west coast, I caught the yellow line from Rockridge Bart into the city. It was a cold, mid-December night as I got off at the Embarcadero. In my desire to make new friends, I’d signed up to volunteer for a Christmas-themed charity event. It was at the historic Top of the Mark and I was excited to see all the Christmas lights and decorations. The views of the Bay were gorgeous, and my heart swelled with good will as I took the California Avenue cable car up to my destination. It promised to be a night I would never forget in my newly adopted city.

The halls of the famous Mark Hopkins Hotel were decked full of holiday cheer as I made my way over to the elevators to get up to the event. Moments later, I exited the elevators and was immediately met with the bedraggled face of Susan, the volunteer coordinator. It appears several volunteers had been no-shows and had increased her anxiety exponentially. Susan scanned her clipboard before looking at me with a feigned smile.

“Oh, yes.” She said, “You’re in the silent auction room with Frank. Here’s a box of pencils. Just make sure people are signing-up for the Christmas Trees!”

Christmas Trees? I walked into the large conference room and low and behold there were seven, fully flocked Christmas Trees being auctioned off. I’d never seen such beautiful and exotically themed trees, all designed by famous local artists to benefit the charity. I walked past each tree, one more elaborate and finely detailed than the last, as I headed over to a young man standing in the corner. Frank wore a Nirvana tee-shirt and aviator sunglasses. His long stringy hair cascaded out of his Santa’s cap as he stood motionless behind a small table decorated with holly and gold satin bows.

“Are you Frank?” I said and smiled cautiously. “Susan said I would be—”“So, you’re Santa’s Little Helper?” Frank said with contempt, seizing me up behind his mirror shades. Then he handed me a bright, forest green felt elf hat. “I guess you’ll do.”

“What’s my job?” I asked him, innocently and came around the table to stand next to him.

Frank turned to me, Christmas lights reflected in his sunglasses.

“Oh,” he said with a smirk. “You’ll find out soon.”

After dinner, the executive director of the charity closed the silent auction and announced the winners of the seven fully flocked, designer Christmas trees. I stood with Frank, wearing my felt green elf hat and felt a sense of relief. Susan walked toward us. I’d hoped she was going to let me off early for good behavior. Maybe help the older Ladies down to their cars with the table centerpieces they had been given as parting gifts. I mean, I hadn’t exactly done much of anything and the event looked like it was wrapping up. It was the least I could do, before being set free.

“We’re printing the receipts now,” Susan said. “You guys can start loading the Christmas trees once the guests have left the ballroom.

“Did you say, loading Christmas trees?” I said, “Into what?”

The corners of Frank’s mouth turned upward in a devilish grin.

“Into my truck,” he said. “It’s go-time, little buddy.”

I stood staring back at Frank with what must have been an astonished expression. Because Susan reached out her left hand from her clipboard and placed it on my forearm. I’m sure the gesture was meant to steady me, but instead it made me jump in my skin.

“We really do appreciate you helping Frank deliver them all tonight,” she said. “It will mean so much to the families who so generously donated their support, to have these wonderful Christmas trees to celebrate the holidays.”

“Tonight?” I said, “But I didn’t know I would be–”

“Let’s ride,” Frank said, and plopped an unwelcome arm over my shoulder. “I promise to get you home by midnight, so you don’t turn into a pumpkin!”

Did I mention the elevators at the Mark Hopkins are small? So tiny, in fact, that Frank and I had to take turns grabbing a Christmas Tree and, one at a time, escorting them down to the garage where his panel truck was parked. By the time we got all seven trees wedged into the back of his vehicle, it was going on 9:00. I motioned to get into the passenger side of his truck cab, when he glanced over from the driver’s seat and gave me some serious side-eye.

“What,” he said. “Do you think you’re doing?”

“Going with you to deliver Christmas trees?

“Yeah,” he said and rolled his eyes. “But Santa’s Helper goes in the back of the truck.”


“You don’t see Santa driving his sleigh with an elf next to him, do you?”

“Actually,” I said. “In Rudolf The Red-Nosed Reindeer there was an elf handing an umbrella to all the misfit toys–.”

Frank looked at me as if I’d gone insane. Then without another word, he pointed to the back.

“Fine,” I said, and slammed the passenger side door. “What could go wrong?”

It didn’t take long for me to answer my own question. For as soon as Frank lowered the door to the back of the truck, locking me in the dark, I realized my mistake. I was in an enclosed space with seven Douglas Pines covered in sharp needles and decked out with glass ornaments and lights. I braced myself, spreading my arms and legs along the panel truck walls as Frank turned over the engine. A rush of adrenaline came over me as I whispered to the tiny forest I found myself trapped within: “Please drive slow, Santa.”

The very next second, Santa put his truck in gear and floored it. My head hit the top of the panel truck ceiling as Frank commenced to fly out of the Mark Hopkins parking complex, catching air as he launched onto the streets of San Francisco. He flew across California Street, then down Taylor Street like the Flying Dutchman, sailing down one of the steepest streets in the world. Meanwhile, directly behind him, me and the trees flew around each other in a semi-circle, back and forth as if spinning in a broken washer. Frank rocketed toward Market Street in careless abandon, while each fully flocked Christmas tree turned me into a glittering, pine-tarred montage of Yuletide mayhem.

By the time Frank stopped at our first delivery point, I was completely covered in broken ornaments, broken bulbs, garland, and prickly pine needles. I heard him get out of the cab and walk around to the back of the truck. He lifted the door and stared up at me in utter disbelief. It was as though the man had no conception of what drag-racing through the streets of San Francisco would do to the contents of the metal box he hauled behind him. I stared down at him and, as calm as could be, declared:

“I’m driving from now on.”

And drive, I did. Over the next two hours, we delivered all seven Christmas Trees, from Pacific Heights down to the Marina and back to Union Square. I let Frank explain, minus his trademark aviator sunglasses, as each front door opened what happened to the family’s now deconstructed Christmas tree. Amazingly, they took one look at me holding their tree, and took it without complaint.

After the last smashed Christmas tree was delivered, I pulled up at Powell Street Bart Station to catch the last train home. Frank and I parted ways with a muted “Merry Christmas” then I descended the stairs to the train platform. I’ll never forget that Bart ride home, surrounded by holiday revelers, all staring at the human Christmas Tree I had transformed into. It might not have been what I’d signed up for six months before but it was a night I’ll never forget for as long as I live.

On the Front Lines of the Pandemic with My Nephew

12 Apr
Chris Miller_Blog Shot 2020

As of this writing, New Jersey has approximately 56,000 confirmed cases of Coronavirus and rising. It’s currently one of the nation’s biggest hot spots, second only to New York City and New York State. And on the front lines fighting this global pandemic is my favorite first responder – my nephew Chris.

Chris Image 1 Final

Chris as Captain, Age 22.                                               
Chris Portrait
Chris as Deputy Chief, Age 32.

Chris has been a rescue squad member in New Jersey for literally half his life. He joined when he was sixteen and has never looked back since. He is now Deputy Chief of his squad with two lieutenants and a captain who report to him. But what I find equally amazing to these achievements is the fact that Chris is a volunteer. He, along with his colleagues, risk their lives to save perfect strangers – for free.

Frank and Chris

Chief Frank and Deputy Chief Chris in happier times.

Awards Ceremony 2018

Chris and his fellow squad members recognized for actions in the line of duty, May 2018.

I sat down the other night and checked in with Chris, who was on duty and had just come back from a call. I asked him what it was like being on the front lines of the greatest health crisis most of us will likely ever see, and hopefully live through. I wanted to share what he had to say.

Chris Image 2 Final

How fast is the Coronavirus spreading in your neck of the woods?

Well, a week ago we had just one case of the virus in our little town of 3,400 people, and now we’re up to 10. In the county we’re in the hundreds. My squad covers approximately a 60-square mile area, and we currently have about 60 cases in that area.

Chris in Seed Bin

Chris during Technical Rescue Training – Summer 2019.

To your knowledge, have you ever been infected with the virus?

It was about three weeks ago tonight, I had to be quarantined because of a suspected exposure. They didn’t have tests available then, so about twelve of us including four state troopers and two paramedics, had to self-quarantine. This virus has such a high-incubation rate, about two weeks, that I wouldn’t have tested positive anyway. So, I sat on the sidelines until we got the all-clear. Now, if we’re exposed but asymptomatic, they’ll let us go back to medical work but we have to wear a mask the entire time. It’s because there just aren’t enough medical workers to go around. We were just informed that our third New Jersey EMT, a 24-year-old, died of Covid-19. Needless to say, we’re taking it very, very seriously.

Chris in Fire Rescue Gear

Chris (center) assisting on a car fire with fellow firefighters.

Can you tell me what your normal day is now with the outbreak?

It’s far from normal. For starters, what took us a half-hour a couple weeks ago, now takes us an hour and a half to do. It’s all the prep to stay safe going out on a Covid-19 call. The start of every shift, we clean and sanitize everything – the rig, our boots, and get the prep kits ready. Then we just wait for the calls to come in. We have to be in a surgical mask whenever we’re in the building, whenever we’re out in public – all the time essentially.

Chris behind Rig

Chris, decontaminating the ambulance.  

We’ve been hearing about shortages. Do you and your crew have enough PPEs?

We’re definitely in short supply of masks, so we have to reuse them like everyone else (with exclusions). I have an N95 mask, and if I wear another (surgical) mask over it – that mask will keep particles off the N95, which means we can get a couple uses of our N95s in the field before we dispose of them. I can’t speak to how well we’re stocked (on masks) right now because the call volume is ever-changing. For instance, today we’ve been on 7 Covid-19 calls alone, so you can imagine how much PPE we go through even for a two-person crew. I’ve bought some of my own supply on the open market, for a healthy mark-up.

Chris Beside Rig

Chris, donning his Personal Protection Equipment for a possible Covid-19 emergency.  

What is it like to respond to a suspected Covid-19 rescue squad call?

Right now, we’re starting to see a real up-tick in our call volume. What’s strange is how we have to handle more serious calls. Where we would normally have an additional ambulance crew, or some police, they may come but we’re keeping them out of the scene right now, telling them to stay in their vehicles until we can ascertain whether we are going to need their help. We just responded to a cardiac arrest call right before you called, and where there would normally be three or more of us, at least two EMTs and a first responder, now there’s just the one EMT and first responder in some cases. It’s what we’re having to do to try and minimize exposure. Nobody can afford for us to have to go back into quarantine again.

Ultraviolet Rig

An UltraViolet Lantern used to sterilize the ambulance.

You and your crew rescue people for free. Are there a lot of voluntary rescue squads across the nation?

There are more in areas that do not have larger towns, and as you hit the mid-west, but there’s also other states that are starting to regionalize their EMS systems. They may have one paid station, with other stations elsewhere. A lot of the mid-west and upper mid-west is where you’re seeing voluntary agencies in addition to the northeast. Other states like California are nearly 100 percent paid crews. The same is with New York City, which is covered by FDNY. But if you head Upstate New York, there are more volunteer squads.

Chris in Command

Chris, command at training drill, Winter 2017.  

Ice Rescue

Chris instructing his crew during an ice-rescue training exercise – January 2019.

Being on the front lines, I’m sure you’re keeping an eye on the Coronavirus surge models. What are they telling you?

Right now, approximately 50 percent of our calls are Covid-19 related. Obviously, we expect that percentage to keep going up. All those calls aren’t always Covid-19 positive, but Covid-19 suspicious. But we have to treat each call the same. We’re anticipating we’re going to see the number of cases peak in the state over the next week. Meanwhile, our county is anticipating peak in the next couple of weeks. So, we’re just starting to get into the heavy part of this now. As far as the state, we could see hotspots in places like Princeton, which is more densely populated. Jersey City and Hoboken are seeing a lot more cases now. And Bergen and Essex County that border Manhattan are also hotspots.

Chris Image 3 Final

Chris, during an after-action meeting, following a multi-agency incident.

To your knowledge, are people adhering to the Stay-at-Home order in your state?

With mixed results, really. There’s been a lot of chatter on the police channels we scan for our work. It’s mostly people congregating, people out playing sports, people out taking walks – people just trying to release stress and escape the cabin fever. They really don’t understand that it’s best for them, their friends and family to stay inside and social distance. The other numbers this will negatively affect are psychological, domestic violence, and suicide.

Chris Image 4 Final

Chris, age 21, and Frank, during a much-needed break from running squad calls.

I keep coming back to the fact you do this for free. How do you make rescue squad and having a day job work?

Well, I just got furloughed from my day job starting Monday. I didn’t expect it to happen this soon but it did and without warning. So, I’ll be applying for unemployment and hoping the stimulus package checks come soon. Otherwise, it could start to be a pretty sticky situation for me, financially. I guess the upside is that I can now go on more rescue squad calls.

Chris Image 5 Final

Chris with Doreen, his Mother, who is a former rescue squad member and past Chief.

I’m sure that doesn’t sound like an upside to your parents?

My Mom used to do rescue squad with me. It’s how I first got into it. She worries but she also knows she can’t tell me to quit. It’s in my blood. The passion to help people is why I do it. I think it would be different if I got paid. Ironically, I think I’d have burned out a long time ago if it was my job-job. It’s hard to explain to most people but I’m just thankful that I’m still healthy.

Chris having Fun

Chris making repairs in a heavy rescue vehicle.

I’m thankful you’re healthy too. Good luck and try to stay that way.

Sure thing, Uncle Jon. Thanks for checking in!

Chris Image 6 Final

Chris, working a parish festival in New Jersey in more normal times.

Being Huemann: Judy’s Story

7 Mar

Judy Huemann AOn a spring day in April 1977, hundreds of disabled American demonstrators in Washington D.C., New York, Denver and San Francisco, demand new President Jimmy Carter’s administration implement Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, protecting the rights of all people with disabilities. Joseph Califano, the HEW (Health, Education, and Welfare) Secretary, promises to sign the regulations after further review, though his task force has no one representing the disabled on it. In response, San Francisco-based disability rights activist Judy Heumann (30) with help from San Francisco campaign organizer Kitty Cone, stages a spontaneous Sit-In with over 150 other disabled demonstrators on the fourth floor of the old Federal building. Judy demands Secretary Califano sign the regulations now and demonstrators across the nation take Judy’s cue and also stage Sit-Ins. The media begins 24 hour live coverage outside federal buildings in each city where “the occupation army of cripples has taken over.”

Judy Huemann 1
Judy, who has used a wheelchair for most of her life due to polio, is a beautiful, ballsy and vivacious, smart and sassy civil rights activist. She knows the 42 words of Section 504 are worth fighting for. Passed by Congress in the Civil Rights Act of 1974, the Ford Administration failed to ever implement the act. Judy knows before the law can become effective, regulations must be issued defining who is a disabled person, and what constitutes discrimination and nondiscrimination in the context of disability. The regulations would finally provide a consistent, coherent interpretation of 504’s legal intent rather than leaving it up to individual judges to interpret. Left intact, those 42 words would end centuries of pain and suffering of the disabled at the hands of those who would judge persons with disabilities less-than human beings.

Judy Huemann 9
After the second night of the San Francisco sit-in, HEW officials begin cracking down. Any demonstrators who leave the federal building are not allowed back in and all the phones are shut-down except for one emergency line. On the third day, the hot water is turned off. By the fifth day, federal authorities successfully force out all the demonstrators in D.C., Los Angeles, New York and Denver. But Judy and her group hold tight in San Francisco, even as greater pressure is applied to their living situation. But even under the tough conditions, the 150 demonstrators continue their swinging 70’s lifestyle of sex, drugs and rock and roll. They’re showing they’re no different than anybody else – and that’s the entire point. They want equal rights under the law, and they are willing to suffer to get what they deserve.

Judy Huemann 7
Judy becomes a lightning-rod for the cause, even getting the attention and support of San Francisco Mayor, George Moscone. But try as he might to get the demonstrators concessions of food, medicine and amenities, the Mayor soon finds out the limits of his own authority when up against the feds. Meanwhile, Brad Lomax, a black protestor with MS and confined to a wheelchair, takes action. He and his care giver, Chuck Jackson, are members of the Black Panther Party. The Panthers come to the aide of the 504 Protestors and begin bringing much needed supplies and one hot meal a day to everyone inside the building. Meanwhile, the Butterfly Brigade, a group of gay men activists, and the Mission Rebels, a Chicano group, help sneak walkie-talkies into Judy so she and her organizers can communicate with the outside world. The Feds begin to realize the 504 protestors are a force to be reckoned with and won’t easily be placated.

Judy Huemann 2
After two weeks and escalating tensions between the U.S. Government and Judy, her fellow demonstrators, and thousands of supporters across the nation – a special congressional hearing convenes inside the federal building in San Francisco. At first, the feds are not going to allow cameras in. But Judy and her coalition refuse to participate if the media is shut out, and they get there way. The testimony of activists Ed Roberts, Debby Kaplan, Phil Newmark and others galvanize moral support. After Judy makes an impassioned speech before the committee and news cameras, the HEW representative sent by Secretary Califano from Washington gets up and locks himself in an office. Congressman Phil Burton leaps up and runs after him, kicks the door in and insists he come back out. Seizing on the opportunity, Judy announces the coalition’s next plan of action: she and 14 other disabled demonstrators including Black Panthers Brad Lomax and Chuck Jackson will travel to Washington and demand to meet with HEW Secretary Califano in person, if not President Carter himself.

Judy Huemann 10
Judy and her contingent touch down at Dulles airport on a sweltering-hot, late-April day. They arrive in Washington, D.C. to much fanfare. They demonstrate outside HEW Headquarters as Secretary Califano watches from inside. The stand-off continues for days as Judy and her cohorts borrow a van and go to Califano’s neighborhood. She speaks to the neighborhood kids, telling them, “Mr. Califano doesn’t want disabled kids going to school with you.” She even stakes out President Carter’s church in the hopes of meeting him. But it is only after thousands of Americans, both disabled and able-bodied, march on Capitol Hill that the President finally acts. He orders Secretary Califano to sign the regulations – all 42 words – into law on April 28, 1977.

Judy Huemann 3
Judy continues to be a leader in the disability rights movement after the success of the 504 Sit-In. She is there to ensure the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is signed into legislation. She goes on to become the Assistant Secretary of Education for Special Education and Rehabilitative Services under President Bill Clinton, and is currently the Special Advisor for International Disability Rights under President Barack Obama. Judy lives in Washington D.C. with her husband, Jorge Pineda.
Judy Huemann 4

Available at Amazon

2020 Oscar Gold: A Tale of Two Jokers

9 Feb

I am a huge fan of Heath Ledger and thought his posthumous 2008 Oscar-winning The Joker in The Dark Knight was one of the few times The Academy got it right. His performance was transcendant, in that it rose above the film’s comic book genre and became something more. It was also noteworthy because playing the role had had a profound effect on the actor himself – even to where many speculated that it contributed to his untimely death. I never put any stock in that theory even though I’m sure playing a homocidal psychopath is probably not the most pleasant day job for an actor.

Fast-forward to 2020 and Joachim Phoenix’s Oscar-nominated reincarnation of The Joker in Todd Phillip’s movie of the same name. This one is no less profound a performance of the titular villain of The Batman mythology. What is even more remarkable is that this is a Best Actor Oscar nomination, whereas Heath Ledger’s was a Best Supporting Actor win. Batman doesn’t even make an appearance (well, not really) in “The Joker” movie, and for all intents and purposes – it’s not really a comic book movie but a gritty, New York City circa 1980s crime story. Phoenix’s “Joker” is the main character and carries the film from start to finish. And that’s where I think things falled apart for me this time around.

I’m a fan of comic books and by extension – comic book movies. I think what moviemakers have been able to do is incredible in bringing beloved superheroes to life, spandex or not. I even understand and appreciate where a movie can have an anti-hero (anti-superhero?) as the main character, such as in “The Joker” movie. But where things took a left turn for me in Phoenix’s characterization of the flashy villain – was that the backstory of his character that fueled an essentially “origin story” movie premise was significantly less-interesting than the character itself. And I can prove it.

Take Heath Ledger’s The Joker: In The Dark Knight, every time Joker engages with someone he is trying to intimidate, he tells them the story of how he got his scars. What is fascinating is that every time he tells his “origin story” it changes. He tailors the tale to the person he is talking to. Now, taking it a step further, director Christopher Nolan has Alfred (Michael Caine) give his own loose version of The Joker’s origin when he tells The Batman (Christian Bale) about his time chasing a bandit in Bhurma who was stealing precious gems,then casting them aside. When Batman asks why he was doing that, Alfred replies: “Because some men don’t want money or power – they just want to see the world burn.” By keeping The Joker’s origin story a mystery – it embued the character with even more depth and depravity. It made Heath Ledger’s character as sympathetic as he was menacing. It was an Oscar-worthy performance in literally half the screen-time of Phoenix’s The Joker. Another classic case of less is more.

I’ll be rooting for Joachim Phoenix at the 2020 Oscars to win. I may not think his performance, or the filmmaking surrounding it rises to the level of Heath Ledger’s now legendary performance – but I still enjoyed the movie and think he deserves to win. And I’m hoping, really hoping this is the last The Joker performance we’ll be seeing on the red carpet for awhile!

JOKER poster

Shadow On The Wall (1950)

22 Jun


Shadow on the Wall is an early psychological thriller noir starring Ann Sothern as a femme fatale and Nancy Reagan as a child psychologist out to expose her by psycho-analyzing a young child. Think 1950s melodrama with scary moments.


Ann is coming off a star turn in A Letter to Three Wives  (1949) which tells the story of a woman who mails a letter to three women, telling them she has left town with the husband of one of them. She co-starred with Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Kirk Douglas, and an uncredited Celeste Holm, who provided the voice of Addie Ross, the unseen woman who wrote the letter. ‘Letter’ was well-received but Ann’s film career was already on the wane – hence trying to re-invent herself as a noir villain seemed worth a shot.


What I like most about Shadow On The Wall is Nancy Reagan’s first major film role as the child-psychologist. She is virtually unrecognizable from the FLOTUS she would become decades later when Ronald Reagan became POTUS. I must admit Nancy had acting chops and was better in her role than Ann – who was cast-against-type and has trouble tapping into her inner-evilness.


It’s funny how the noir genre was so popular in the late 1940s/early 1950s that mainstream actresses such as Ann Sothern would take on such a risky role far beyond her comfort zone in order to rekindle her film career. I compare it to today’s A-List actors doing horror when their stars begin to fade. Sometimes it works, as in the case of Sandra Bullock with Bird Box, Emily Blunt in A Quiet Place, or Vera Farmiga in the hugely-successful franchise based on the first The Conjuring movie.


But alas, Ann Sothern’s star turn in Shadow On The Wall did nothing for her career. The movie flopped by 1950 standards and lost $300,000 at the box-office. Anne would go on to have a second-successful career in television, and be a recognizable face to millions of people on TV (especially when she appeared opposite Lucille Ball in I Love Lucy). Still, this noir-lite is an interesting distraction and well worth the effort. Ann even contemplates killing a child in this melodrama – how often do you see that?!


Child actor Gigi Perreau plays Susan Starrling, the little girl who witnesses a murder and can only remember the killer’s shadow. She’s the best of the lot in this slow pot-boiler, and the scenes with her and Nancy in play therapy trying to coax her memory of the murderer are more convincing than the rest of the movie. Get a bucket of popcorn and enjoy this black and white noir-lite tonight.

A Mother’s Dedication

12 May


I’m sure dedicating your first novel to your Mother is probably not that unusual. My debut novel, LOOKING FOR GARBO (Amphorae Publishing Group) is no different. The fact my Mom will have been gone 35 years ago this June is maybe less common, I hope. I finally had the chance to begin scanning family photos that have been passed down to me. My favorites are of my Mom and Dad when they were first engaged, then married and on their honeymoon. What a stylish shirt my Mom had on in this shot. I think she’s either 23 or 24 years old here and I love her short haircut.


What a beautiful young couple my Mom and Dad are here. They are obviously in love. Dad is looking sharp in tie and suspenders, and Mom is effortlessly elegant in what I can only assume is a black dress. As the story goes, they met as teenagers at a party, then didn’t see each other again until their paths crossed years later on a New York City street corner. I always liked that story of serendipity – destined to find each other again.


Mom and Dad look even younger here, sitting in front of Mom’s parents, Howard and Alva, and my Dad’s Mom, a widower since my Dad was a young boy. It’s a great Christmas holiday portrait, and I smile every time I look at the young couple, all full of promise and at the very start of their journey together. I’m so glad this photo survived.

Mom_Dad 3

A truly great candid of my parents. I often wonder who took the picture. It seems to me to have been a good friend of theirs. Mom’s easy, relaxed smile and Dad’s boyish grin make me think they were having a night on the town with another couple. It’s also nice to pick out the details of the cars and the wrought iron city street lamp behind them.


Mom and Dad’s wedding reception: That’s my Uncle John on the left watching his brother and brand new sister-in-law cut the cake. I particularly like Mom’s grey (or is blue?) suit. It was a tiny affair but by the look on my Dad’s face – he’s as happy as can be married to his love. I love the bowtie Uncle John is sporting, and the table dressing is classic.

Mom_Dad 4

Here’s another shot of Mom and Dad entering (or leaving) the service where they were married. They look like a sophisticated, up and coming couple to me here. I love the veil Mom is wearing and the somewhat fuzzy-focused motion to them. It’s a great candid and so interesting to see the difference a black & white shot can make, compared to the technicolor of the one above.


Here they are on their honeymoon. They look like kids again, especially Mom in her shorts, white socks and red shoes. This was after a sport fishing trip in which Dad caught a marlin that he had stuffed and hung on the wall above our living room couch for years. It’s a great, casual shot of them in the prime of their lives. I also love the sign telling you where they are.

Mom_Dad 2

This is one of my all-time favorite shots of my parents. They always had great fashion sense, and I remember my Mom in this dress, going out for a night on the town while us kids stayed home and watched Star Trek reruns. We lived on Mayflower Court, which had a cul-de-sac and all the neighbor’s parents got together a couple times a year and gallivanted from house to house eating and drinking. The social group was called the Good Timers, and I can remember all the great food Mom prepared for the event.


This last one is of Mom before she got sick. Mom, my older brother Tom and I are touring something akin to Colonial Williamsburgh, though I can’t remember exactly now. Mom was fiercely intelligent (having skipped several grades) and was a voracious reader. But I’ll remember her laugh and sense of humor the most. I’ll also never forget the fact that she wanted the best for all her four boys (easier than having daughters, she’d say) and wanted us to pursue our dreams no matter how impossible they might seem.


One of my dreams just came true this past Tuesday, when my debut novel was published. I finally got to publicly thank my Mom for all the love and support she gave me during her short life. I think she would have liked the story, too. The one she inspired a long time ago.

Looking For Garbo: My Debut Novel Finally Has Its Release Day!

7 May

Garbo-triptych-Covers_2019 FINAL

I’m happy to share that my debut novel, LOOKING FOR GARBO is being released today by Amphorae Publishing Group. It’s been a long time in coming and I have to thank my agent, Jill Marr at Sandra Dijkstra Literary for sticking by me the last 8+ years.

The idea for a story based on Garbo’s famous quote first came to me back in 1995. I saw something in her earnest desire to save the world by sacrificing her own life – something that could have been a typical Garbo vehicle that MGM Studios might have put out at the height of her power and fame, circa 1939:

“If the war didn’t start when it did,” Garbo said, “I would have gone and I would have taken a gun out of my purse and shot him, because I would not have been searched.”

Garbo was talking about her biggest fan at the time – Adolf Hitler. Hitler was obsessed with Garbo, and watched his own private print of her CAMILLE every night. Hitler sent Garbo numerous fan letters, inviting her to come to Nazi Germany. The novel takes Garbo’s quote at face value, and follows her on her journey via ocean liner to assassinate Hitler, and preempt WWII. Of course, war erupts while she is en route – and like any thriller the real action begins with her stuck on the open seas surrounded by Nazis.

My agent Jill found several buyers over the years for the novel. One went out of business, another was a bad fit to say the least: I actually bought the rights back to my work in 2014 and had to wait another 5 years for my novel to see bookshelves. But all said and done it was totally worth the wait. I just hope everyone enjoys the final product as much as I did writing it.

Looking For Garbo is available May 7th at all major bookstores, and online at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Bokus and IndieBound,

Queen Christina: Garbo’s Triumph!

28 Apr

Queen_8 Astor

In 1933, prior to the release of Queen Christina, nobody outside of the MGM Studios executive offices knew whether Garbo, the Queen of the Silver Screen was ever going to return to film.


The year before, Garbo and Louis B. Mayer had slugged it out in contract negotiations that changed forever the power structure of the Hollywood studio system. Afterward, Garbo left for Sweden on an extended vacation, while L.B. Mayer licked his wounds. The public knew nothing of the outcome, and MGM decided to keep it that way capitalizing on the public interest of their favorite movie star and the future of her career.


Garbo left America in 1932 knowing she’d be back. She had scored a lucrative, 2-picture deal with her studio, and more important to her had creative control than ever before. Garbo could pick her next 2 projects, including the director and her co-stars. It was more power than any other star, male or female had ever had. It was either that, Garbo threatened Mayer, or her leaving Hollywood forever. The old Mogul blinked.


Garbo was at the peak of her career. She had arranged for Mayer to create her own production company within the MGM studio system. It was a stroke of genius having her own team, who would do nothing but Garbo projects. And their very first production would be the ambitious historical biopic – Queen Christina of Sweden.


Loose on historical fact, the lavish production was nonetheless a starring vehicle like none other. Garbo’s public persona was at the center of the saga about the solo Queen who abdicated her throne in order to live as a normal, average woman. Garbo embodied the role as a declaration of her own independence from the studio system. She even got to wear pants in the role, which was unheard of in 1933!


Garbo insisted that her old, silent movie co-star John Gilbert play opposite her as the Spanish Envoy and love interest to Queen Christina. L.B. Mayer all but had a heart attack. He hated John Gilbert and had tried to destroy the actors career when he stumbled into sound film several years before: Mayer had Gilbert’s voice electronically raising 2 octaves – making him sound ludicrous. But Mayer knew there would be no getting around Garbo now. His female star had all the control, and with Garbo’s star ascending around the world – he had no choice but to sign Gilbert.



Garbo got her way, and Mayer was able to capitalize on her return to the silver screen. The film was marketed as “Garbo’s Triumphant Return” to the movies. The film made back it’s money and more, grossing over $600,000 in it’s initial 1933 run. Although MGM would declare a loss by cooking their books, it would be discovered decades after Mayer’s death that the film was actually a financial success for the studio.


Regarded as one of Garbo’s greatest roles, Queen Christina was a romantic vision of the Queen who valued life, art, music and creativity over war and domination. It would propel her dominance over the world cinema for the rest of the decade – and continue Garbo’s reign in Hollywood. Mayer and MGM would go on to make millions off its mercurial star, and allowed them to dominate film in Europe as well as America as can be seen by the foreign language one sheets and movie posters advertising the film:

Later regarded as Garbo’s signature role, Queen Christina was ahead of it’s time especially for the portrayal of women in film. Garbo had a female love interest at the beginning of the film (alluding to her rumored lesbianism). Her royal court wished her to marry in order to produce an heir, though she demurred (as did the real Queen Christina). Best of all, Garbo showed her contempt for men and their penchant for making war. This would become a re-occurring theme in her career and is at the center of my upcoming debut novel, Looking For Garboavailable now for pre-order and to be released on May 7, 2019.

Garbo’s Salary: Her Mega-Star Millions

20 Apr

In one of the few verifiable documents from the time of her peak fame and power, a 26-year old Greta Garbo was already a millionairess many times over. One record dated April 1931, Miss Garbo had $1,074,552.70 in just one Beverly Hills First National checking and savings account. Adjusted for inflation, that amount is $27,591,257.20 in 2019 US dollars. She was the undisputed Queen of the silver screen – and she was miserable.


Amid the bank closings, bread and unemployment lines and an ever worsening Great Depression, Garbo was as rich and famous as you can get. Her legendary beauty radiated youthful energy from a lithe, athletic physique, topped with a face that was rumored to have stopped traffic more than once on Wilshire Boulevard (or was that Sunset Boulevard?) in the young Hollywood colony thick with stars and starlets who would give anything to be her. The naturally reclusive Garbo found Hollywood cold (isolated) from the rest of the world. Especially her native Sweden, where she was anxious to get home.


Her MGM contract was about to expire, and she really didn’t care if she ever made another movie. Of course, this utterly-terrified L.B. Mayer and his minions at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. They weren’t about to let the golden goose fly the coup until they had her under a new contract. Come hell or high water, she was going to re-sign no matter what her demands might be.


Garbo had come to America under contract to MGM during the silent movie era. She quickly became a mega-silent movie star, with such hits as Woman of Affairs, The Single Standard, The Temptress, The Torrent, Flesh and The Devil and a slew of other vehicles that elevated her star into the stratosphere. L.B. Mayer wasn’t about to let his investment in her just walk onto an ocean liner, never to be seen again. The movie mogul began negotiations personally with his young actress, full well knowing he wasn’t going to be able to bluff or strong-arm her like he did all his other stars, whether male or female. Garbo had one thing none of the other stars at MGM or at any other studio had: the power of indifference.


Garbo’s MGM contract was due to expire on June 1932. Director Eric von Stroheim was ripping his non-existent hair out to complete production of As You Desire Me before his young star boarded The Gripsholm to set sail for her homeland. von Stroheim knew his star had more power than him, or the studio they both worked for. When it came to her iron will and determination when she wanted something, Garbo was an excellent negotiator with a mind for money and a strategy. She’d get more out of old Mayer than any other star, before or since. Garbo simply let the clock run out, and then demand a two-picture deal controlled under a special production company set up within the studio especially for her. An island unto itself where Garbo was free to pick her projects, as well as her director and co-stars. What star today wouldn’t want a deal like that!

Garbo had many faces…and many millions more in her Hollywood bank account!

Garbo’s 1932, two-picture deal would bind her to MGM at the tidy sum of $250,000 per picture, or $500,000 plus profit participation = $9.3 million + change today. Per her contract, L.B. Mayer cut Garbo a studio check on the spot. Standing before his desk, Garbo took the check for over $125,000 ($2.3 million) and didn’t have anywhere to put it. According to the star herself, her outfit had no pockets so she “took the biggest check I had ever seen…and stuffed it in my open shirt.”  

It turns out Garbo could make an entrance better than any movie star in history. But it was the threat of her exiting on her own terms that made her one of the most powerful women in Hollywood history.

Garbo Sighting: A NYC Rite of Passage

15 Apr

Garbo sighting_3

In my upcoming novel, LOOKING FOR GARBO (Amphorae Publishing, May 7) I write about the uniquely New York City phenomenon known as a “Garbo sighting.” Virtually since the time she retired from Hollywood in 1941 and moved to NYC, people have been talking about sighting the infamously reclusive movie star in her ritual walks throughout the city. But how many of these stories were real, I wonder? How many were actually Garbo?

Garbo sighting

Garbo had numerous tricks to avoid the average passerby: Never make eye contact. Walk in a brisk manner. Keep a perpetual scowl, if not your hand over your mouth at all times.

Garbo sighting_5

The fact that an aging movie star from Hollywood’s golden age could keep the average New Yorker, equally famous for not giving a sh*t about anyone, on the lookout for her lanky, tall-drink-of-water stature, Jackie-O sunglasses and ubiquitous pout – is still something of a mystery to me.

Garbo sighting_2

Maybe it was the very fact that Garbo didn’t want to be recognized that made this particular cat and mouse game so amusing for so many, over so many decades. Garbo acted very much like a caged animal when she was spotted in the wilds of downtown New York, often fleeing as fast as she could when identified with a rude finger-point or, God forbid, a request for an autograph.

Garbo sighting_4

Garbo, all said and done, left her legacy to the films she made in her youth. She didn’t want to be photographed as she got older. She didn’t care what people thought of her, personally. And she never, ever sought out attention from the paparazzi who stalked her relentlessly until her death on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990.

Garbo sighting_6

Garbo lived on her own terms the latter half of her long life, simply because she couldn’t in the first half. She only attained control over her career after she became wildly famous. Then, she called the shots from how much she made a week to how many hours she worked during the workday. Garbo would have none of it and L.B. Mayer knew that if he pushed her too much – she would simply turn around and walk away forever.

Garbo Inspiration

So, this is how Miss Garbo wanted to be remembered. The young, confident, gorgeous goddess of the silver screen inspiring art and love in the silent but deadly Inspiration (1931). And I’m totally okay with that because that’s when I fell in love with her, as well. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted the chance to have seen Garbo on a street corner in New York City back in the day. And if I had, I would have had the good sense and manners to turn and look away before I caught her eye.