BITS and PIECES # 30

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June 2, 2013 by palamow

BITS and PIECES # 30

Hello again from Luquillo,

My wife Pam and I are avid fans of old movies — we have amassed a DVD collection of over 400 films — they are divided and stored according to genre (comedy/drama/noir/western/war and so on)…

We have even managed to compile a fairly representative collection of 50 or so of my father’s films, dating from his earliest celluloid forays in the 1930s to what would become his final efforts in the late 1960s — we’ve even managed to capture a few examples of his many TV appearances — we’ve found it quite rewarding to watch as his skills and style evolved and matured over the span of his long career…

I’ll admit it can be somewhat ‘eerie’ at times to be able to re-connect with my father’s face and extremely identifiable voice, since he left us over 40 years ago!  Although audio and video recordings of one’s parents are becoming commonplace in today’s technology saturated world, I suspect that very few folks are as privileged as I am — whenever I feel the urge, I can ‘dial-up’ a sample of his visage and voice gleaned from any period during his fruitful 40+ years of cinematic ubiquity…

As is our habit, last night was another of our SNATMs — Saturday Night’s at the Movies — our cherished ‘Date Night’!  The cinematic theme for the last few weeks has been ‘Musicals’, so we happily re-visited Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim’ updated Romeo and Juliet epic: “West Side Story” — it had lost little of its relevance, wearing it’s hoary 50 year lifespan handsomely — Rita Moreno, George Chakiris, Natalie Wood, Richard Behmer and the rest were spot on with their characterizations — only the ‘street dialogue’ of the ‘Jets’ (“daddy-o”, etc.) seemed glaringly out of date — and, of course the music and choreography was superb — I’m of the opinion that potential contestants hoping to qualify for a spot on TVs summertime filler: ‘So You Think You Can Dance’, should be required to watch this film……

I recommend it to you for a second (or even third or fourth) viewing — I’m betting you won’t be disappointed!

In a similar vein — here is a ‘movie-related’ story I think you may find interesting — or maybe even enjoyable…

See what you think…

MR. SINATRA

I ran into Phil Crosby near the Avis counter at Kauai’s Lihue airport — it was 1962 — I was an engineer with the RAND Corporation’s spin-off; System Development Corporation, scheduled to visit an Air Force radar installation on the island — Phil had been hired to play a small role in Frank Sinatra’s newest movie ‘None but the Brave’ which was being filmed on the island…

Phil, his twin brother Dennis and I had survived the rigors of elementary school education at Beverly Hills Catholic School, finally escaping the tough love of Sister Mercedes and the other Sisters of the Holy Cross when we graduated from the eighth grade in 1948 — we also shared membership in the boys’ choir at the nearby Church of the Good Shepherd. Bing Crosby, their well-known ‘crooner/actor’ father would occasionally lend his famous voice at holiday services such as Christmas and Easter, surrounded by the choir clad in red cassocks and white lace surplices, our high-topped, black canvas ‘Ked’ athletic shoes peeking-out shamelessly below our scarlet hemlines…

A number of our choir colleagues would eventually become luminaries in their own light – but that of necessity, is another story, for another time…

I had last seen Phil at the Brown Derby restaurant in Beverly Hills around 1960 — I had taken my father to lunch, and Phil dropped by our table to say hello and then sat with us for a few moments so we could catch-up on each other’s latest exploits…

We sat over coffee in Kauai airport’s small café and caught-up with each other once again — as we left to go our separate ways, Phil casually mentioned that the film crew usually got together to feast on ‘Pu-pu platter’ snacks over a few drinks at the ‘Jetty’, a popular local bistro that jutted into the surf at the far end of Lihue’s municipal pier — he said if I dropped-by when I wasn’t busy with my ‘engineer stuff’, he’d gladly introduce me to the ‘gang’…

Captain George Eckrich, our Air Force project officer had arrived on an earlier flight — he had secured a double room for us at the Hale Pua, a modestly priced guesthouse in downtown Lihue. During WW II, Capt. Eckrich had been a gunner on a B-24 Liberator bomber in the Pacific theater (be patient, you’ll understand why that information is important to the story in a moment)…

I checked-in with the front-desk clerk, a middle-aged Hawaiian matron in a faded ‘Mu-mu’ dress, told her I would be staying for two days, and was shown down a sparklingly clean corridor to our room. George, a towel wrapped around his middle, had just finished showering — while I unpacked, we made plans for the next day’s visit to the radar site, and then dressed and left to find dinner at a tiny Chinese restaurant across the street. Returning to the room, we retired for the night in anticipation of setting out shortly after daybreak.

The next morning, as we were about to cross the road after eating a quick breakfast,  Capt. Eckrich received a shock — as we were about to step off the sidewalk, a platoon of Japanese soldiers in full WW II battle dress, including rifles and fixed bayonets, were marching purposefully down the road toward us! In command was a stern-visaged officer who harangued them harshly in Japanese! — Capt. Eckrich froze in his tracks — paled to a deep ivory shade under his tanned face, gulped twice and croaked “oh no — not again!” It turned out that his bomber had been shot down over China in 1944, and after parachuting to the ground, he narrowly avoided being captured by a similarly attired and equally well-armed platoon of Japanese soldiers! He had been hidden by a family of Chinese farmers who subsequently arranged to smuggle him to the seacoast where he was picked-up by a PT-boat and returned to his base…

 The morning’s enigma was soon unraveled — Kauai hadn’t been invaded — these men were merely actors in Sinatra’s movie — much to Capt. Eckrich’s relief, we watched as the ‘soldiers’ marched down the road from their hotel to board the bus that would carry them to the film’s shooting location at the remote northern part of the island, Catching our collective breath’s, we crossed the road, climbed into our rental car and drove to the radar site for our scheduled meeting with the operations staff…

Later that afternoon, we returned to Lihue — I was staying-over for one more day in order to attend an engineering conference with the radar site’s technical staff — I drove Capt. Eckrich to the airport to catch the afternoon flight to Honolulu and later that evening, since I had no other plans, I decided to accept Phil’s kind invitation and join the film crew at the Jetty… 

Around seven o’clock that evening, after changing into the accepted island evening attire of shorts, flip-flop sandals and a suitably flamboyant Hawaiian shirt,, I wandered down the municipal pier towards the Jetty — well before I got there, I could hear amplified Hawaiian guitar music coming from a dilapidated structure perched perilously at the far end of the pier — the Jetty, I surmised correctly…

As I entered the building,, heat and noise enveloped me — peering through a haze of cigarette smoke, I noticed a group that could only be the movie people sitting at a long table near the rear of the room, far enough away from the bandstand to be able to converse over the booming cacophony of the amplified guitars… 

Spying me, Phil stood up and came over to greet me, bringing me directly to the table…

“I don’t think you’ve met Mr. Sinatra have you?” he asked (of course I hadn’t) — turning to Sinatra, he continued “Uncle Frank, this is my friend Alan. — we’ve known each other ever since grammar school.”  Sinatra looked-up, nodded absently in my direction, and said “Hiya kid, grab a seat”  (curiously, for many years I seemed condemned to eternal youth, at least in some circles – 15 years later, when I had just turned 40, John Wayne said “Hiya Kid” to me as his son Michael and I stood by his bedside at Massachusetts General Hospital)…

I recognized Sinatra by his familiar voice — his appearance was different than I expected, and it took me a moment to realize why — a baseball cap lay on the table in front of him — and since he wasn’t wearing his omnipresent hairpiece, his sweating bald pate glistened luminously atop a fringe of dark hair in the dim light and sweltering humidity of the room — apparently he felt comfortable enough when surrounded by crew and cronies to ‘let his hair down’, so to speak…

At the table with Sinatra and Crosby were some of the other players in the film — actors Tommy Sands, Brad Dexter and Clint Walker; Olympic decathlon champion, Rafer Johnson and former Red Wing Hockey forward, Howie Young as well as the usual Sinatra cronies — none of the Japanese actors were in evidence — they must have found their own ‘hangout’, I recall thinking at the time…

 Actors and cronies alike, seemed to hang on Sinatra’s every word — he was clearly in charge — they hardly spoke unless directly addressed by him — everyone at the table seemed a little uneasy, as if waiting for something to happen…

And soon it did — when the musicians took a short break, the Hawaiian ‘MC’ grabbed the microphone, turned toward our table and announced to the crowded room “Hey folks — especially all you ‘Wahines’ — you in some big-time luck tonight!  We got us a real famous singer with us – Mr. Frank Sinatra — maybe, if you’re real nice and quiet, he’ll honor us with a tune?” 

Scowling, Sinatra whirled around to face the bandstand and snarled “_____ it pal, I aint here” and, jerking to his feet, he grabbed his ball cap, clapped it on his head and  strode angrily for the door, pausing briefly to snarl over his shoulder “Move it guys, we’re blowin this dump”…

Crew and cronies followed swiftly and meekly, leaping dutifully to their feet and following in Sinatra’s wake. Phil Crosby paused for a moment, looked back at me and shrugged, and then scurried after his boss…

Stunned, I remained at the table for a moment, gazing ruefully at the forlorn MC and his confused musicians — then, as unobtrusively as I could, I drained my drink, left some money on the table and walked quickly out the door. Sinatra and crew had already disappeared as I slowly made my way along the dark pier and back down the rutted road to my hotel room…

I flew back to Honolulu the next morning — my profession and my peripatetic lifestyle was such that I never had occasion to encounter Sinatra, Phil Crosby, or any of the others again…

Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge fan of Sinatra’s music, and of most of his films — I often listen to his albums stored on my I-pod — and have re-discovered some of his great movies since he passed into history 15 years ago — still, the memory of that evening — his crude language and deplorable rudeness to a group of worshipful Hawaiian musicians remains stuck in my craw, even though it happened 50 years ago — it seems such an unfathomable anomaly…

© 2013 Alan Mowbray Jr.

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