Sunday, January 15, 2017

Those We Lost In 2016—Part 1 of 2

Elie Wiesel

The world lost many notable people from the entertainment industry, politics, news/media, literature, and sports during the last year. I've compiled a cross section (most certainly not all of them) listed chronologically. I've divided it into two lists with part 1 (January through July) this week and part 2 (August through December) for next week's blog posting on January 22.

Pat Harrington, Jr., 86 years old, died January 6:  actor and comedian who first garnered attention as one of Steve Allen's television comedy troop (along with Don Knotts, Tom Poston, Louie Nye, and Bill Dana). He later starred as the apartment superintendent on the hit television series One Day At A Time.

David Bowie, 69 years old, died January 10:  musician who crossed pop and rock boundaries with a career that spanned 6 decades along with his persona of Ziggy Stardust.

Alan Richman, 69 years old, died January 14:  classically trained British stage actor, remembered for his Harry Potter villain, Die Hard, and many other films.

Abe Vigoda, 94 years old, died January 26:  character actor whose sad-eyed face made him the perfect selection for the over-the-hill detective on the Barney Miller television series and the doomed Mafia soldier in The Godfather.

Antonin Scalia, 79 years old, died February 13:  influential conservative and member of the U.S. Supreme Court. As of this date, his position on the Supreme Court has not been filled and the 9 person Court has been operating 1 person short for almost a year.

Harper Lee, 89 years old, died February 19:  novelist who wrote the best selling novel To Kill A Mockingbird about racial injustice in a small southern town. Her novel was turned into an Oscar winning film starring Gregory Peck.

George Kennedy, 91 years old, died February 28:  tough guy actor who won a best supporting actor Oscar for his role in the classic Paul Newman film, Cool Hand Luke.

Pat Conroy, 70 years old, died March 4:  author of The Great Santini, The Prince of Tides, and other best selling novels many of which drew on his difficult childhood.

Nancy Reagan, 94 years old, died March 6:  an actress who became Ronald Reagan's second wife and ultimately First Lady when he became President of the United States.

Frank Sinatra, Jr., 72 years old, died March 16:  followed in his father's footsteps with his own music career. His kidnapping as a young man added a bizarre chapter to his father's legendary life.

Rob Ford, 46 years old, died March 22:  former mayor of Toronto (Canada) whose political career crashed in a drug-driven, obscenity-laced scandal.

Jim Harrison, 78 years old, died March 26:  fiction writer and poet who had mainstream success in middle age with his historical work Legends of the Fall.

Patty Duke, 69 years old, died March 29:  won an Oscar as a teenager for her portrayal of Helen Keller in The Miracle Worker and maintained a long and successful career in both films and television.

Merle Haggard, 79 years old, died April 6:  country music giant who came from poverty, did time in prison, and went on to international fame with songs about outlaws, underdogs, and an abiding sense of national pride.

Doris Roberts, 90 years old, died April 17:  character actress probably best known for her role as the endlessly meddling mother on Everybody Loves Raymond. Those of us who are 'older' remember her as the secretary on the Remington Steele series.

Prince, 57 years old, died April 21:  inventive and influential musician with hits such as When Doves Cry.

Michelle McNamara, 57 years old, died April 21:  crime writer and founder of the True Crime Diary website.

Jane Little, 87 years old, died May 15:  less than 5 ft. tall, played the double bass for 71 consecutive years which earned her the Guinness World Record as the world's longest serving symphony player.

Morley Safer, 84 years old, died May 19:  newsman and veteran 60 Minutes correspondent who exposed a military atrocity in Vietnam that played an early role in changing the American public's view of the war.

Alan Young, 96 years old, died May 19:  actor-comedian who played straight man to a talking horse in the television series Mr. Ed. Did that theme song suddenly pop into your head? "A horse is a horse, of course of course, unless that horse…"

Muhammad Ali, 74 years old, died June 3:  champion boxer and civil rights crusader whose beliefs cost him his championship, a 3 year suspension and in 1967 resulted in him being sentenced to 5 years in prison yet he never waivered from those beliefs and returned to boxing when his suspension ended.

Anton Yelchin, 27 years old, died June 19:  rising young actor best known for his role of Chekov in the new Star Trek films.

Ralph Stanley, 89 years old, died June 23:  known as the godfather of traditional bluegrass music, he found a whole new generation of fans thanks to his Grammy-winning music for the 2000 film O Brother, Where Art Thou?

Alvin Toffler, 87 years old, died June 27:  a guru of the post-industrial age whose book, Future Shock, anticipated the disruptions and transformations brought about by the rise of digital technology.

Pat Summitt, 64 years old, died June 28:  winningest coach in Division I college basketball history who, during her 38 year career at Tennessee, lifted the women's game from obscurity to national prominence.

Elie Wiesel, 87 years old, died July 2:  Romanian-born Holocaust survivor whose classic book, Night, became a landmark testament to the Nazis' crimes and launched his career as one of the world's foremost witnesses and humanitarians.

Michael Cimino, 77 years old, died July 2:  Oscar winning director of The Deer Hunter, a great triumph in Hollywood's 1970s heyday, and also the director of the disastrous Heaven's Gate.

Noel Neill, 95 years old, died July 3:  first actress to play Superman's girlfriend, Lois Lane, in the 1948 movie serial Superman.

Garry Marshall, 81 years old, died July 19:  writer and producer responsible for many highly successful television series such as Happy Days and its 2 spin-off series, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy, as well as producing Neil Simon's The Odd Couple as a television series. He also directed 18 movies including Pretty Woman, Beaches, and The Princess Diaries.

Check back next week for part 2 of my blog showing a cross section of those we lost in 2016.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

It's Friday the 13th —Does it make you stop and think?


Triskaidekaphobia:  Fear of the number thirteen.
Paraskevidekatriaphobia:  Fear of Friday the 13th.

An obviously irrational concept that a mere number can bring bad luck to someone.  Or that a specific day of the week can be unlucky.  But that doesn't stop us from dwelling on the possibility.

This week gives us Friday the 13th.  January and October are the only months with a Friday the 13th for the year 2017.

The tradition of Friday being a day of bad luck dates back centuries with some of the more common theories linking it to significant events in the Bible believed to have taken place on Friday such as the Crucifixion of Christ, Eve offering Adam the apple in the Garden of Eden, the beginning of the great flood.

Many sources for the superstition surrounding the number thirteen and its association with bad luck also derive from Christianity with the Last Supper being cited as the origin.  Judas was the thirteenth person to be seated at the table.

And when you put the two bad luck symbols together you get Friday the 13th…the day associated with misfortune.

One legend of the origin of Friday the 13th as unlucky comes from the persecution of the Knights Templar. Philip IV of France borrowed enormous sums of money from the very wealthy Templars to finance a war with England. An ineffectual king and an even worse military commander, Philip was easily defeated. He saw a way of both currying favor with the Pope and eliminating his huge debt. On that fateful day of Friday, October 13, 1307 he ordered all Templars arrested and their property seized. The Grandmaster of the order, Jacques DeMolay was thrown in prison along with several other high-ranking members of the order. The Knights Templar, which had dominated medieval life for two centuries, was no more. Unfortunately for Philip, the Templars had learned of his planned treachery before hand. Many of them escaped and their vast stores of treasure were hidden from the King’s soldiers. Jacques DeMolay was burned alive after being tortured when he refused to admit to any wrongdoing. Another legend that has also persisted is that Jacques DeMolay cursed both Philip IV and Pope Clement V, as he died. Philip and Clement died within months of DeMolay’s death.

Superstition is a belief or notion not based on reason or knowledge.  An irrational belief.  Lots of superstitions came into being during the Dark Ages, a time when living conditions were so severe that people reached out to anything that might bring them help and solace with the results being explanations for what seemed unexplainable at the time.  Religious beliefs and lack of scientific knowledge helped to spawn many superstitions.

Superstitions differ from culture to culture, but we all have them even if it's only paying surface homage to the concept.  We don't believe in the good luck vs. bad luck of chain letters, yet it often comes down to saying what's the harm, then sending the letter on to avoid breaking the chain.

We often follow the tradition of the superstition without really knowing why it's the traditional thing to do.  If we blow out all the candles on our birthday cake with one breath while making a silent wish, then the wish will come true.  When expressing a desire for good luck (we'll be able to go on the picnic if it doesn't rain), we grin, then we knock on wood as we emit an embarrassed chuckle.

In Western folklore, many superstitions are associated with bad luck.  In addition to Friday the 13th there's walking under a ladder, having a black cat cross your path, spilling salt, stepping on a crack, and breaking a mirror among others.

In addition to cultural superstitions, there's also certain occupations that evoke various rituals to bring on good luck.  It seems to me that gamblers and sports figures have the most superstitions and rituals to insure good luck.

Do you have any superstitions that you hold dear?  Are they more of a traditional situation handed down through your family or are they superstitions that have come down through history?

And I'm sure there won't be any unpleasantries or bizarre accidents this Friday (knock on wood).

Sunday, January 1, 2017

History of New Year's Celebrations

New Year's Day is today (Sunday)…welcome to 2017.  This has become a traditional time of celebration.  We party on New Year's Eve and celebrate the moment the clock strikes midnight signaling the beginning of a new year.

And, of course, when the year 2000 arrived we celebrated for twenty-four hours as each time zone around the world welcomed the new millennium on live television broadcasts.

But why and how did the New Year's celebrations become part of our annual routine?  The earliest recorded account of a celebration in honor of the new year dates back four thousand years to ancient Babylon.  For the Babylonians, the first new moon following the vernal (spring) equinox announced the arrival of the new year.  They celebrated this spring time event with a massive 11 day religious festival called Akitu.  It was during this time that a new king was crowned or the current ruler's mandate renewed.

Throughout antiquity, civilizations around the world developed more sophisticated calendars with the first day of the year associated with an agricultural or astronomical event.  For example, in Egypt the year began with the annual flooding of the Nile which coincided with the rising of the star Sirius.  In China, the new year occurred with the second new moon after the winter solstice…a day they still celebrate.

The early Roman calendar had 10 months and 304 days with each new year beginning at the vernal equinox.  Tradition holds that it was created by Romulus, the founder of Rome, in the eighth century B.C.  Numa Pompilius, a later king, is credited with adding the months of Januarius and Februarius.  Over the ensuing centuries, the Roman calendar grew out of sync with the sun.  In 46 B.C., Julius Caesar introduced the Julian calendar which closely resembles the more modern Gregorian calendar used today by most countries.

As part of his reform, Julius Caesar declared January 1 as the first day of the year and Romans celebrated by exchanging gifts, decorating their homes, and attending raucous parties.  In medieval Europe, Christian leaders temporarily replaced January 1 as the first day of the year with days carrying more religious significance, such as December 25 as the anniversary of Christ's birth and March 25 as the Feast of the Annunciation.  It was Pope Gregory XIII in 1582 who re-established January 1 as New Year's Day.

In many countries, New Year's celebrations begin on New Year's Eve and continue into the early hours of January 1st.  These celebrations often include specific foods that are said to bring good luck for the coming year—grapes in Spain, round fruits in the Philippines, suckling pig in Austria, soba noodles in Japan, rice pudding in Norway, and black-eyed peas in the southern United States.  Other customs that are common worldwide include making new year resolutions (a practice started by the Babylonians) and watching fireworks displays.

In the United States, the most famous New Year's tradition is the dropping of the giant ball in New York City's Times Square.  This event, first instituted in 1906, occurs at the stroke of midnight.  The original giant ball was made of iron and wood weighing 400 pounds.  A total of 7 versions of the Ball have been designed over the more than a century since the first drop of the ball occurred.

Today's giant ball is a brightly patterned sphere 12 feet in diameter and weighing nearly 12,000 pounds.  Each year, the 2688 intricate Waterford crystals that make up the skin of the huge orb are replaced with new ones.  For this year's design, 288 of the Waterford triangles are the Gift of Wonder design inspiring our sense of wonder.  288 are the Gift of Fortitude design representing the inner attributes of resolve, courage and spirit necessary to triumph over adversity.  The remaining 1824 crystal triangles are the Gift of Imagination design with a series of intricate wedge cuts that are mirrored reflections of each other inspiring our imagination.

The 2,688 Waterford crystal triangles are bolted to 672 LED modules which are attached to the aluminum frame of the ball.  The ball is capable of displaying a palette of more than 16 million colors and billions of patterns that create a spectacular kaleidoscope effect as the ball drops down a flagpole at the stroke of midnight Eastern Standard Time.

So, however you celebrate the arrival of the new year…whether you go out to a party, have family or a few friends to your home, or simply curl up by a cozy fire and watch the festivities in Times Square…I wish everyone a happy and healthy new year.

And peace on earth.

Sunday, December 25, 2016



Have a joyous holiday season.  See you next week with my first blog posting of the new year—2017.


Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ancient Roots Of The Christmas Celebration

Early Europeans celebrated light in the darkest days of winter.  They rejoiced during the winter solstice, when the worst of the winter was behind them and they could look forward to extended hours of sunlight.

In Scandinavia, the Norse celebrated Yule from the Winter Solstice on December 21 through January.  In recognition of the return of the sun, fathers and sons would bring home large logs and set them on fire.  The people would feast until the log burned out which could be as long as twelve days.

In Germany, people honored the pagan god Odin during the mid-winter holiday.  Germans were terrified of Odin.  They believed he made night flights through the sky to observe his people and then decide who would prosper or perish.

In Rome, where winters weren't as harsh as in the far north, Saturnalia was celebrated beginning the week before winter solstice and continuing for a full month.  It was a hedonistic time with lots of food and drink.  For that month the social order was turned upside down with slaves becoming masters and peasants in charge of the city.  Business and schools were closed so everyone could join in.

Also around the time of the winter solstice, Romans observed Juvenalia, a feast honoring the children of Rome.  In addition, on December 25 members of the upper classes celebrated the birthday of Mithras, the god of the unconquerable sun.

It wasn't until the fourth century that Christian church officials decided to institute the birth of Jesus as a holiday.  The Puritans denied the legitimacy of the celebration, pointing out that the Bible does not mention a date for his birth.  Pope Julius I chose December 25.  The common belief is that the church chose the date in an effort to adopt and absorb the traditions of the pagan Saturnalia festival.  By the end of the eighth century, the celebration of Christmas had spread all the way to Scandinavia.

By the Middle Ages, Christianity had mostly replaced pagan religion.  Christmas was celebrated by attending church then celebrating in a drunken carnival type of atmosphere similar to today's Mardi Gras celebration.

In the early seventeenth century, a wave of religious reform changed the way Christmas was celebrated in Europe.  In 1645, Oliver Cromwell and his Puritan forces gained control in England and vowed to do away with decadence.  As part of their agenda, they cancelled Christmas.  When Charles II regained the throne, he restored the holiday.

The pilgrims who came to America in 1620 were even more orthodox in their Puritan beliefs than Cromwell.  As a result, Christmas was not a holiday in early America.  In fact, from 1659 to 1681, the celebration of Christmas was outlawed in Boston.  In contrast, Captain John Smith reported that Christmas was enjoyed by all in the Jamestown settlement.

Some Christmas facts:

Each year 30-35 million real Christmas trees are sold in the United States.

Christmas wasn't officially a holiday in early America until June 26, 1870, when Congress declared it a federal holiday.

The first eggnog made in the United States was in 1607 in the Jamestown settlement.

Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer was created by Robert L. May in 1939 as part of an advertising campaign to help lure customers into the Montgomery Ward department store.

The first tinsel decoration was made from real silver and originally used to reflect light from candles placed on Christmas trees (in the days before electric lights replaced candles).  Tinsel came into popularity in 1610 in Germany.  Silver was hammered out and cut into thin strips to hang on the tree.  Real silver tarnished, so the tinsel rarely lasted more than one season.  Silver tinsel was used until the early 1900s and was seen as a status symbol.  Today's tinsel is made of PVC.  Due to its environmentally unfriendly nature, it has mostly gone out of style.

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season.  And most of all—
PEACE OF EARTH.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Charles Dickens' A CHRISTMAS CAROL

We all know Charles Dickens' story of Ebenezer Scrooge and his visits from the three ghosts on Christmas Eve.  A story of redemption—a miserly man whose concept of the Christmas spirit is "Bah, Humbug!"  Then his life is turned around after a visit from three Christmas ghosts—one from his past to remind him of what was and the promise of what could have been, one from his present to open his eyes to what he had become and how others felt about him, and one from the future to show him where he was headed if he didn't change his ways.

From a writer's perspective, it was the first time a story had been told from the point-of-view of a character within that story rather than an omniscient point-of-view.  Point-of-view—something vital for today's writer of fiction.

The novella, first published in London on December 9, 1843, has been a staple of the Christmas season as a movie, television show, or play for well over a century.

This year, Hallmark's cable movie channel started showing non-stop Christmas movies the first of November.  I wondered how many different versions of Dickens' story there were.  So, I did what I usually do when I want a quick answer to something…I Googled it.

And the results came as quite a surprise.  Things I knew, things I had known but forgotten, and things I never knew.  Twenty-eight films, twenty-three television productions, plus other miscellaneous offerings such as staged plays.  Live action, animation, a 3D computer generated images version from Disney in 2009, one set in America during the Great Depression of the 1930s, and even a couple where the character of Scrooge was portrayed as being female.

The first filming of A CHRISTMAS CAROL was a fifteen minute silent movie made in 1908 followed by two other silent versions made in 1910 and 1913.  There have been the straight theatrical films, musical versions, and animated versions with favorite and very familiar cartoon characters taking on the roles of Dickens' famous characters.  Of the twenty-eight movies, ten were released under Dickens' exact original title of A CHRISTMAS CAROL as were six of the twenty-three television productions.

Even though all the various productions of A CHRISTMAS CAROL tell Dickens' story of Scrooge and the visits from the three ghosts, many had their own unique twist and flavor on the original.  I think my favorite is a 1970 theatrical musical version titled SCROOGE which stars Albert Finney as the miserly Ebenezer Scrooge who learns the lessons of the spirit of the Christmas season.

Wishing everyone a joyous holiday season, happy new year, 
and most of all 
PEACE ON EARTH

Sunday, December 4, 2016

OPEN IN PRIVATE—A Conversation With Carli and Parker

It's less than four weeks until Christmas and by an incredible coincidence I just happen to have a Christmas romance eBook available.

OPEN IN PRIVATE by Samantha Gentry is an erotic Christmas romance novella at The Wilder Roses, the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance from The Wild Rose Press.

I was fortunate to be able to snag a few minutes with Charlene Vance and Parker Simmons who agreed to sit down with me and share a little bit about their Christmas story.

Thank you Parker and Charlene for taking time from your busy schedule.  Especially you, Charlene.  As a professional personal shopper, this is definitely your most hectic time of year.

Carli:  Thank you for inviting us, Samantha.  And please…call me Carli.

Parker:  (grins at Carli)  She's so well organized that even with this being her busy season she's able to make time in her schedule.  As for me, I'm happy to tackle any questions you want to throw my way.

Carli:  You're right about this being my busy time.  In addition to individuals, I have several corporate clients whose shopping lists include employees and business associates in addition to family and friends.

If I'm not mistaken, wasn't Parker one of those corporate clients?

Parker:  I still am.  In fact, that's how we met.  Carli had been doing all my shopping, both personal and business, for five years.  It had become a very comfortable and efficient working relationship.  We had also become friends during that time.  Then one day, everything changed.

That sounds ominous.  What happened?

Carli:  We had our Christmas shopping meeting, just like every year—the Friday before Thanksgiving.  I give him a list of everyone I purchased a gift for on his behalf the previous Christmas, what I bought and how much it cost.  The process was always the same.  He would go over the list, add and delete names and approve a price range for each individual.  Only this time it was different…very different.  This year he hit me with a real shock that changed everything.

That's a very dramatic statement.

Parker:  (laughs)  It wasn't really all that dramatic.  I told Carli I had gotten divorced the previous April and my ex-wife, all her family, and all her friends were off the list.

Carli:  I have to admit…once I got over the shock, I was elated.  (shoots a sly sideways glance at Parker)  I had secretly lusted after this man the entire five years we had worked together, but he was married which made him off limits.  Besides, he had never done or said anything improper that would indicate his marriage was in trouble or that he had any interest in me beyond our professional relationship.  Then suddenly he was available, but second thoughts reminded me he was a client.  I had always believed that it wasn't wise to mix business with personal, to possibly jeopardize an excellent working relationship for what could be a momentary mistake.

Parker:  My marriage had fallen apart a year before I finally took that big step of getting a divorce.  I had trouble coming to terms with what I had originally perceived as my failure.  And during that year my thoughts had often gravitated to Carli, thoughts far removed from anything connected to business.  So, I turned our Christmas shopping meeting into lunch…

Carli:  Which resumed that evening as dinner…

Parker:  Which unexpectedly exploded into one hell of a night!  But the cool clear light of dawn also brought its share of doubts and concerns.  The thought of jumping into a relationship, of once again becoming emotionally involved, frightened me big time.  Commitment to another relationship was definitely not on my agenda.  Been there…done that…was very leery about trying it again.

Carli:  Everything happened so quickly.  I didn't know which way to turn or what to do.  I was so confused about what was happening between us.  Could I be content with the no-strings-attached situation Parker seemed to prefer?  I had been divorced for seven years and 'never again' for a serious commitment had been the constant in my life.  But with the passage of time and the prospect of developing something real with Parker, the concept of 'never again' began to rapidly slip from priority to no longer occupying an important place in my life.

It sounds as if the two of you definitely had some problems to work out.

Carli:  Smooth sailing it was NOT.  For a while, I thought it was over as soon as it began.  My pragmatic side also feared that I might have lost my best client.

Parker:  And I have to admit that I didn't help matters.  Everything seemed to be moving too quickly and I didn't know how to handle it.

I'm sure there are many couples who have had to deal with these same issues.  Could you share with us how you handled it?

Carli:  We certainly could, but…

Parker:  We won't.

What?  You're going to leave us hanging?  Or worse yet, let us think that everything suddenly and miraculously turned out okay?

Parker:  Nothing is that easy.  You don't wake up and discover that there are no longer any problems.

Exactly.  So…what happened?

Carli:  (smiles)  I'd love to tell you, but…

Parker:  (nods his head in agreement)  You'll need to read the book.

That's all you're going to tell me?

Parker:  (makes an exaggerated show of looking at his watch)  Oh no!  I think we're out of time. (laughs)

Well, I guess there's nothing left to say except thank you, Parker and Carli, for being with us.
***
OPEN IN PRIVATE an erotic Christmas romance by Samantha Gentry from The Wilder Roses (the Scarlet Rose line of erotic romance at The Wild Rose Press) http://www.wildrosepublishing.com/wildcatalog_v151/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=182&products_id=955
Also available at Amazon for Kindle and Barnes & Noble for Nook as well as other online vendors of eBooks.

BLURB:
As a personal shopper, Charlene Vance values her professional association with long time client Parker Simmons. But at the meeting to discuss the list for this year's Christmas purchases, she learns that Parker is divorced and the ex-wife is off his list. When lunch leads to dessert between the sheets, Charlene is eager to move their relationship beyond good business and incredible sex.

Parker Simmons doesn't want anything more permanent than what's on the menu for today. But Charlene's enthusiasm to experiment in bed satisfies his darker appetites and suddenly he's craving more. Parker might need her help with holiday gift ideas but he's got his own shopping agenda. On his list? Gifts only for Charlene—to open in private.

PG-EXCERPT #1: (publisher's excerpt)
"Everything looks so good. I think I'll have the shrimp salad." Carli closed her menu and set it on the table.

Everything looks good to me, too, and I don't mean the food. "I'm going to have the chicken carbonara…and a glass of wine with my lunch. Would you join me?"

"Well, I usually don't drink during business meetings, but yes," she extended a sparkling smile, "I'd like that. A chardonnay."

He placed their lunch order with the waiter, then returned his attention to her. "We've had a very nice business relationship for five years. You obviously know a lot about me from doing my shopping, but I don't really know that much about you personally, other than you have great taste, are very intelligent, and have a good sense of humor."

The waiter arrived with the bottle of wine Parker had ordered. After opening the bottle, he poured each of them a glass, put the bottle in the ice bucket, and left.

Parker raised his glass toward Carli in a toast. "Here's to another successful Christmas holiday season." He tilted his head and raised a questioning eyebrow. "And perhaps to an even closer working relationship?" Maybe something hot and naked in a big bed?

"I'd like that, too."
***
Be sure to check out my website for more excerpts from OPEN IN PRIVATE and information about my other books.  www.samanthagentry.com

Wishing everyone a happy holiday season and Peace On Earth.