Thursday, August 17, 2017

Please permit us to pause…

I really hate to put the brakes on the ol’ blog while I was going great guns (more or less), but it’s going to be silent for the rest of the week.  My sister Kat is in town, and she brought along with her my favorite nephew…who’ll be occupying much of my free time here at Rancho Yesteryear.  (Kat and Mom left him with Dad and I while Mom is at her doctor’s appointment….so the old man and I are gonna get Davis a tattoo.)  Normal blogging will resume Monday, so until then—make the most of your weekend, cartooners!

Monday, August 14, 2017

Book Review: Hollywood Obscura: Death, Murder, and the Paranormal Aftermath

Thrilling Days of Yesteryear goddess Thelma Todd had her motion picture career cut short by a mysterious death in 1935 that continues to mystify fans and provoke endless speculation even today.  Was the “Hot Toddy” murdered…or was her death merely a tragic accident?  There is no shortage of suspects for the murder theory (her ex-husband Pat DiCicco, business partner/lover Roland West…even mobster “Lucky” Luciano) but however you choose to explain Thel’s demise there’s certainly no argument that we lost a truly amazing talented actress-comedienne.

Thelma Todd with Charley Chase in
The Nickel Nurser (1932)
After Todd’s death, many witnesses have claimed to see her spirit floating around her old haunts (pardon the pun): the building that housed her restaurant, Thelma Todd’s Sidewalk Café, is the site of several sightings, in addition to the garage where her body was discovered, presumably after passing out from the deadly carbon monoxide resulting from her Lincoln Phaeton running inside.  (Not to mention a few bruises of unexplained origin.)  There are even reports that the yacht once owned by Roland West, the Joyita, has a rather cursed history—linked to Thelma’s demise (there are those that speculate that possible murderer West croaked Thelma on the boat before bringing her to the garage and setting it up to look like an accident).  If you have a strong interest in the supernatural, you’re going to enjoy reading Brian Clune’s Hollywood Obscura: Death, Murder, and the Paranormal Aftermath—a book due out this month that examines a handful of Tinsel Town deaths (George Reeves, Marilyn Monroe, Ramon Novarro, etc.) in page-turning detail and relates accounts of folks spotting these celebs still tooling around despite a change of address in The Great Beyond.

Author Brian Clune
Speaking for myself: I’m a tremendous skeptic when it comes to the paranormal.  To paraphrase Bert Lahr’s Cowardly Lion: “I don’t believe in spooks…I don’t believe in spooks…I don’t, I don’t, I don’t.”  So I was a little leery about the ghost aspect of the book…but even those who remained unconvinced about such phenomena will enjoy Hollywood Obscura, a refreshing read by an author whose other works include California’s Historic Haunts (co-written with Bob Davis) and who’s contributed to such TV shows as Dead Files and Ghost Hunters.  Brian Clune is also the co-founder and historian of Planet Paranormal Radio and Planet Paranormal Investigations, the website for which can be found here.  His book is well-documented, and I was particularly tickled by the fact that he drew on material from some of my fellow classic movie bloggers including fervent Shirley Temple disciple Page at My Love of Old Hollywood (where a lot of the Thelma Todd biography was borrowed—odd, in that I’d think Pagey would be a natural for Ramon Novarro) and the now-defunct The Silent Movie Blog, once owned and operated by Facebook compadre Christopher Snowden (now blogging at Television Diary).

The Los Feliz "Murder Mansion"
Hollywood Obscura isn’t all about celebrities.  It features chapters on would-be celebrities, like the legendary Black Dahlia, and some semi-celebs who achieved fifteen minutes of fame, as in the case of the notorious Manson family.  There’s even a section on the infamous Los Feliz “Murder Mansion,” a case whose particulars I was not familiar with, so it made for a pretty riveting read.  Rounding out the book are chapters on “Bugsy” Siegel, John Belushi, Tupac Shakur/Biggie Smalls, and recent TCM Star of the Month Natalie Wood.  (Since I’m one of those people convinced that Wood’s husband—Robert Wagner—introduced Nat to a deeper part of the ocean, I don’t mind telling you I was a little uncomfortable watching R.J. and daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner chat it up in between those Wood movies showcased on The Greatest Cable Channel Known to Mankind™.  But I digress, even though this theory of Wagner's possible complicity is touched upon in the book.)

Hollywood Obscura is a most diverting tome, one you’ll navigate it very quickly (I took it with me when my fadduh had to have some tests done at Athens Regional and had it finished by the time they were done poking and prodding him) while being thoroughly entertained all the same.  Published by Schiffer Books, a family-owned independent based out of Atglen, PA, Hollywood Obscura is also available from fine bookstores (Barnes & Noble) and those not so fine (you know the behemoth I’m talking about).  Many thanks to Meghan Schaffer for sending the review copy my way.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Rage against the (Windstream) machine

The fields went fallow on the blog for nearly a week for one simple reason: our internet provider is terrible, and isn’t planning on improving their behavior anytime soon.  I’m not shy about naming these poltroons; we get our crappy service from Windstream, and in a just world the company would be brought up before a tribunal to answer for their crimes…and once found guilty by a not-at-all-impartial judge of my own choosing, sentenced to one of those islands where they used to quarantine lepers, plague victims, and other unfortunates of society.  I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Windstream—at least in my neck of the woods—has been wedded to DISH, since they both deserve one another.

The trouble started around 4:30pm last Wednesday, when I noticed the little yellow triangle symbol superimposed over the internet connectivity icon on my laptop.  This meant that the system was down, and though I was mildly annoyed (I was working on a post for the Radio Spirits blog) I decided to be cool and wait to see if the problem would be quickly worked out.  Two-and-a-half hours later, and still no internet, I phoned Windstream with that sinking feeling in my stomach pit that they were going to make me run what I call “the Internet Obstacle Course.”  (This is where I’m required to unplug and re-plug cables, the modem, etc.—which I wouldn’t have a problem with except my mother insists that they be relegated to a space behind the TV (an area where a person of my girth has difficulty accessing) because she doesn’t like the sight of wires.

Before I called Windstream, I ran the Course ahead of time to make sure the problem wasn’t on my end.  It wasn’t, and I had suspected as such.  So, once I’d made it past their infuriating phone tree, I explain to the customer service representative that the system is out.  She’s convinced the problem is on my end, since no one else has complained, and lets me know she’s writing up a ticket so a technician can fix the problem.  He’ll be there Saturday.

I’m ticked off at this, because that means we’ll be offline for two entire days…and I won’t be able to get this post done.  I phoned my editor at Radio Spirits, and she lets me know that if I can get the piece to her Monday morning (assuming the tech fixes the problem on Saturday) she’ll give it a quick read, make the necessary changes, and have it back at me so I can schedule the post.

I should have known the technician wasn’t going to be at Rancho Yesteryear Saturday.  Oh, we got a phone call from Windstream at 11:15am informing us he’d be there between 11:15 and 3pm, but I end up calling them back at 3:05 to find out that the problem is worse than they originally estimated and that we may not be back up until Monday morning.  Monday afternoon, I’m having to call them back to find out where the hell the guy is, and they’re telling me it’s not going to happen until the next day.  I gave the person a bit of pranging about this, and they finally acquiesce to my demands, promising the work will be done by five that day.  When I wound up having to call back at 5:05pm to ask why they insist on lying to me every time I phone, we got a call on our other cell phone line…telling us the technician will be at the house between 8am and 12 noon.

Substitute "Windstream" for "AT&T" and you'll get the idea.
Since confession is good for the soul, I’ll come clean here.  I have a bit of a temper.  But I’m even-keeled for the most part—the only time I start approaching Hulk status is when someone can’t be straight with me.  They couldn’t be forthright and tell me that the problem with our internet connectivity was that some idiot installed some switches wrong, and it apparently took them all that time to find out just exactly what that individual screwed up.  My mother ran into the technician as she headed out the door Tuesday morning as he was just pulling up.  I had discovered by that time that our internet was back, but he wanted to check on our status.  He told her the story of what happened (I believe I was asked by both my parents not to come into contact with him for fear that something terrible might happen) and she replied matter-of-factly, “That person needs to be fired.”  The technician, looking out for his own, tried to explain that “it’s not his fault” and Mom just dismissed him with a wave of her hand.

That’s the sordid story of why there’s been nothing new to read on the blog for over a week, and because I had to get caught up with some other assignments there may not be any new material until next Monday (I wanted to at least get a new Crime Does Not Pay up—I’ll try my best, but my eye appointment tomorrow may interfere with that).  If your situation is like mine in that Windstream is your only option for internet access…I feel your pain, brother.  If you’re looking for a provider and are considering Windstream…don’t.  Run fast, run far.