Tag Archives: True Story

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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.
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Available at Amazon

Greta Garbo in the Men’s Room

14 Apr

In 1995, I met Seth H. Moseley while working on a cable documentary about the Lindbergh Baby Kidnapping. I interviewed the legendary newspaperman about 1932, when he was a twenty-three year old cub reporter driving out to Hopewell, New Jersey right after the Lindbergh baby had been kidnapped. Because Seth had gone to Amherst College with Dwight Morrow, Anne Morrow-Lindbergh’s brother, his editor at The New York Journal thought Seth had an inside advantage over the 150 reporters on the scene. The editor was right and Seth obtained an exclusive interview with Charles A. Lindbergh hours after the world-famous aviator’s infant son was abducted. Seth Moseley had scooped the story of the twentieth century. But as I got to know and became friends with the intrepid former Associated Press reporter, I discovered Lindbergh was by no means Seth’s last exclusive.

In 1934, Seth covered the S.S. Morro Castle ocean liner fire. The disaster that resulted in dead bodies washing up on the New Jersey shore would make headlines around the world. Then there was the Hindenburg disaster, this time in Lakehurst, New Jersey in 1937. Once again, Seth was on the scene and described the horrific carnage created by the hydrogen dirigible exploding and being totally consumed in just 33 seconds. The image of people jumping to their deaths and being burned alive, 36 victims in all, left its mark on the 28-year old reporter. But it was an entirely different and much more light-hearted exclusive that same year which would stick in Seth’s memory for the rest of his life.

In his own words, Seth described to me his rather unique run-in with a thirty-one year old Greta Garbo, reigning queen of Hollywood, aboard the S.S. Gripsholm in the Port of New York:

“In those days, when a celebrity came in from Europe, half a dozen or sometimes a dozen newspapermen go down and meet these celebrities coming in from Europe. This means getting up early in the morning and going down to lower bay of Manhattan and meeting these ships coming up the narrows to interview celebrities. Garbo was on one of these ships. This was in 1937 and she’d become famous in the movies and had left Hollywood to go back to Sweden for vacation. She was purported to be in love with Leopold Stokowski, the conductor. We were (sent) down to the ship to find out.

Garbo came out and fifteen of us reporters and photographers held a mass interview. She was distinctly uncomfortable. Garbo was a very quiet, shy human being. She had made a fortune out of being shy and quiet and alone and she posed for pictures and they pursued her on the romance. I didn’t mention it. I don’t like mass interviews. I don’t think you stand a chance.

After everybody else had left, I stayed on the ship. I went to find her hoping I could get an interview. I went to her state room. I went to the Captain of the ship. I went everywhere for two-hours, and I couldn’t find Garbo. Finally, I had to go to the men’s room and that’s where I found her. She was in the men’s room hiding. I didn’t show any alarm, I just said that I’d love to see her for a couple minutes and could we take a walk on the deck. She said certainly.

We went out on the ship’s deck and talked. Then she told me something I thought was pretty important:

“You know,” I said. “you’ve said that you always wanted to be alone.”

“I’m glad you asked me that,” she said.“Because it’s not true. What I said was, I want to be left alone.”

I knew I had a good story. We talked, she was charming. She simply didn’t want to be overcome by a lot of people. Well, I jumped off the ship and got back to the newspaper and wrote the story about how Garbo had never said this remark about being alone, that she was not a recluse – she wanted to be left alone. Every newspaper in the United States picked it up.”

Seth had a special twinkle in his eye every time he told me the story of his and Garbo’s chance meeting, all because he wouldn’t give up on getting an exclusive. He said he even received a thank you note from the charming movie star, hoping that they would meet again someday. But they never did.

Greta Garbo, movie goddess and Seth Moseley’s favorite interview, passed away on Easter Sunday, April 15, 1990 in New York City. She was 85. Seth H. Moseley died Saturday, August 11, 2000 in Torrington, Connecticut. He was 92. Their fateful meeting in the men’s room aboard an ocean liner would forever set the record straight. Garbo never wanted to be alone, only to be left alone. Never to be forgotten.

Garbo’s Last Stand

20 Feb

I wrote my first novel about my favorite leading lady of all-time, Greta Garbo. It’s inspired by a shocking statement The Swedish Sphinx uttered herself at a cocktail party in the 1960’s. “Hitler was a big fan of mine. He kept writing and invited me to come to Germany. And If the war didn’t start when it did,” she went on, “I would have gone and I would have pulled a gun out of my purse and shot him, because no one would dare search me.” I created the book trailer above with the help of my brother, the extremely-talented Tom Sylvan. You can check out Tom’s other amazing work at his website, http://www.tomsylvan.com