Friday, December 8, 2017

PK Lookalikes 42

Bruce Jenner, Olympic athlete
William Smith, actor

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

* PK Lookalikes 41 (gender Indifferent)

Rep. Cheri Bustos

Sen. Richard Blumenthal

* PK Lookalikes 40

Van Johnson, actor

Host, This Old House TV program

Saturday, December 2, 2017

* Men Problem

Requiem for Brookside

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

* My Second Black and White TV Childhood

Column: Did 1950s television plant any seeds?

Updated 5:12 pm, Tuesday, October 10, 2017

     Recently I have been watching re-runs of popular TV shows I grew up with and I’m surprised     to find that little flowers of fairness popped up and flourished in that wasteland of sexism and racism and homophobia that was the black and white popular TV of the 1950s.

Take the black and white TV western Dick Powell’s Zane Grey Theater. One episode called “The Promise” has a new doctor in town who is mocked for taking care of people who were called the “squatters” or Mexican immigrants who farm land on the outskirts of that town. When the racist mayor of the town asks one immigrant farmer his name, the doctor says, under his breath, “Twenty years, 20 years and you still don’t know how to ask a man his name in his own language.”

Wow. That’s advanced thinking for the late 1950s.

Is this a harbinger of the modern imperative for bi-lingualism? Remember George Bush running for president and giving speeches in Spanish?

A “Death Valley Days” episode called “The Lady Doctor” has a husband who is frustrated because his wife uses her medical knowledge as the daughter of a doctor to heal local town folk.

At one point she treats a local ailing Native American chief for food poisoning, risking her life and her husband’s farm if the chief doesn’t recover.

Her husband demands that she spend more time as a homemaker and less time as a healer, until the day that he turns up with a broken leg himself, which she is able to set properly.

Suddenly, the husband appreciates the value of “the lady doctor” in a very personal way, and the episode ends with her husband cooking supper on one leg ( and burning it) while she runs off to deliver a local farmer’s baby.

Is this the first house husband in no less than the 1950s Death Valley Days?

Another Death Valley Days episode has an Army officer in 1875 shot by the arrow of a Native American for trespassing on land agreed in a treaty that white men will not enter.

He is brought to the Native American camp for a trial by the chief who will decide if he is to live or die. The tribe members who captured him want him killed.

When he enters the chief’s dwelling, the chief stands alone with his back to the camera and the man.

Turning to face the camera, the chief is revealed to have black, not red, skin.

He escaped from slavery in 1857, and knew nothing of the Civil War or the Emancipation Proclamation. To save the Army officer from being killed if he is released on treaty land, the chief offers to escort him back to land protected by the U.S. law, even though he erroneously thinks he risks being captured as an escaped slave himself.

The episode ends, with the wounded Army officer asking the chief what year he escaped from slavery and realizing that the escaped slave-turned-chief did not know he was a free man, thanks to Abraham Lincoln.

The Army soldier asks to shake the hand of the free man saying, “Nobody can take your freedom from you ever again” or similar words.

In retrospect it confronts surprisingly two sad realities in American history: treaty violations in agreements with Native Americans by whites and the plight of people who escaped enslavement.

It is worth noting here, that in another Death Valley Days episode, Sammy Davis Jr. appears as a black Union soldier. This was the 1950s, long before Davis was famous, long before TV tried to make amends for its predominantly white view of American culture by including blacks as central to television plots.

Am I trying to clean up 1950s TV’s wasteland of sexism, racism and homophobia?


I’m just surprised to discover in these re-runs a few flowers blooming that predict the revolution of the flower children of the 1960s and 70s.

Even the comedy “I Love Lucy,” which refused to use the word “pregnant” on camera and insisted that Ricky and Lucy sleep in separate twin beds rather than a single marriage bed, has its moments of liberation.

Don’t ignore the elephant in the Ricardo’s apartment: I Love Lucy was multi-cultural.

Ricky was Cuban. He spoke Spanish, and he was successful. And the dizzy Lucy of TV was Lucille Ball , the brains behind the highly successful Hollywood production company DesiLu, which grew from their “I Love Lucy” TV show.

And there’s an elephant in Dick Powell’s of Zane Grey Theater, a radioactive one.

Powell died of cancer at age 59 and may have contracted that cancer directing the movie “The Conqueror” at St. George, Utah near the U.S. nuclear testing site of the 1950s. Actors John Wayne and Susan Hayworth were also in that movie and also died of cancer.

And let’s not forget the other TV series where racial and sexist inequalities had brief moments in the sun, Death Valley Days.

It had as a narrator a future president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, who appointed the first woman to the Supreme Court, Sandra Day O'Connor, and tried to end nuclear proliferation, surely a danger that threatens all races.

What’s my point?

American TV was trying. It didn’t give birth to the gender and racial revolutions of the 1960s and 70s , but it may have seeded them.

Here and there.



Paul Keane grew up in the Mt. Carmel section of Hamden. He lives in Vermont where he retired after teaching English for 25 years.

Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Ken Burns/ Lynn Novick Questions: A Century of Stretching the Truth in Wartime

A Century of Stretching the Truth in Wartime
by Paul Keane


The Ken Burns/ Lynn Novick documentary The Viet Nam War begs the questions: What is patriotism? And what is a hero?

I have a 100 year old piece of paper, rolled up and dusty for fifty years, which announces  my grandmother’s brother was a patriot who made “the Supreme Sacrifice for Country and Mankind in the War for Civilization”.

It is a mistake.

It is a certificate given by the State of Connecticut in 1917 to my great grandparents when their 28 year-old-son, John Bristow Nugent, died serving in the Navy on the USS So. Dakota.

He may have been a patriot, but he wasn’t a hero and he didn’t make “the Supreme Sacrifice”.

He died only ten days after enlisting,  but not in battle.  He died of natural causes, “carcinoma” of the stomach

The certificate I had found in my grandmother’s papers was not a symbol of honor.  It was patriotic propaganda put out by the State of Connecticut and sent to its citizens who had lost a loved one in World War I.

I suspect the reason it was rolled up and dusty instead of hanging on a family wall in a gold frame, is that John Bristow Nugent’s relatives realized Connecticut had sent them the certificate in error, or as a gesture of kindness or courtesy at the loss of  a military son.

John Bristow Nugent in 1913,
working for the Attleboro, Mass. Water Company.

Furthermore, he enlisted under an alias, George Leon Young, complicating the mystery of the inappropriately delivered certificate sent to his next of kin, who lived in Connecticut, even though Bristow’s wife and 2 year old son lived in Fitchburg, Massachusetts.

Bristow, using that alias, nevertheless designated his mother by her legal name and address in New Haven, Connecticut as the person to be notified in an emergency.

The emergency turned out to be his untimely death. Here is the Navy report:

“Cause of Death: Carcinoma

Origin: Not in line of duty. Existed prior to enlistment. At about 8:45 A.M. on April 17, 1917 deceased was discovered lying unconscious and in convulsions in a lot in Vallejo, California. Asst. Surgeon H. R. McAllister, U.S.N. attached to the Navy yard, Mare Island, California, saw the deceased at the time and placing him in a motor car rushed him to the U.S. Naval Hospital, Mare Island, California but he died en route.

An autopsy showed all the abdominal viscera infiltrated with carcinoma nodules.

Body shipped by U.S. Naval Hospital, Mare Island, California to next of kin.”

The Ken Burns/Lynn Novick Viet Nam documentary systematically uncovers the years of  lies which the U.S. government told its citizens about our patriotic duty to fight Communism in Viet Nam and the heroes which that war was producing.

My grandmother’s dusty, rolled up certificate of Supreme Sacrifice is not exactly a lie, but  an embarrassing  government promotional ad,  used to soften the blow of losing a relative in war and make it seem somehow worthwhile. 

They had sent it to the wrong family in a moment of bureaucratic misjudgment, or misguided courtesy.

Bristow wasn’t a hero.  He was ill with undiagnosed cancer and died of his illness.

Even his parents knew that and had the  integrity not to ride on the coattails of a mistaken  hero’s supreme sacrifice.

On his tombstone they wrote quite simply:

John Bristow Nugent  
U.S.S. South Dakota
Died in Service at
Vallejo, California

No patriotic claptrap, no false claims of heroism, just the accurate words “Died in Service.”

Viet Nam and the World Wars did have heroes and their deaths were patriotic.

Bristow’s certificate deserved to be rolled up and to collect dust.

It was a governmental goof-up, even if motivated by kindness .

As Bristow’s closest living kin, I asked for and received all 300 pages of  his  military file including decades of insurance claims made by  his widow who received 240 monthly installments of $25 for herself and $40 for support of their son.

She and her son, who never married, are now long dead.

I was surprised to discover a family skeleton in those papers which may explain Bristow’s use of an alias. 

His marriage certificate declares that he was married in 1915 at the age of 26 to a 31 year old Canadian woman and the ceremony was officiated by a “R.C. Priest”, Father Boyle. Inter-religious marriage was frowned upon in those days and Bristow’s father was a “black Protestant” and an outspoken “Pope hater”.

The birth certificate of  Bristow’s son indicates the child was born 6 months after the marriage, suggesting that Bristow’s bride may have been pregnant at the time of the wedding.  In those days, it was a man’s duty to “do the honorable thing” if he got a girl pregnant and marry her so the baby would have a father’s name.

Bristow and my family were in a terrible bind:
Inter-religious marriage vs. dishonor.

Bristow did the honorable thing but two years later he did another honorable thing: He joined the service in wartime 3000 miles from home. A news article says "when the call came for recruits in the Navy the young man enlisted. " Its headline says "Body of Bellingham Hero Arrives for Burial"..Answering the call had apparently earned the title "hero".

The Burns/Novick documentary does not answer the questions: What is patriotism?  What is a hero?

But my great grandparents did answer.

“Died in service” is just what it says, nothing more and nothing less.

 And then the rolled up the certificate wound up in the hands of Bristow’s sister to collect dust  for fifty years.

I framed  that certificate and hung it in my study as a reminder of how difficult it is not to stretch the truth in time of war, a difficulty Ken Burns and Lynn Novick painfully document in their 8 part film on Viet Nam.