Grandma Gertie always said there's not a savory dish that can't be made tastier by just a touch of tarragon.

Tsunami and Me

Tsunami and Me
too big to escape now....

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Star Struck

Actor Ronald Colman, but if you squint it could be Paul French
Last night, as I watched the Screen Actors Guild awards, I scanned the audience, hoping to spy a bona fide leading man...somebody suave and tall with a mustache. Yes, there were some handsome actors in the audience, but I couldn't pick out anybody who resembled the classic male stars of the '40s. I'm star struck, but particular. I've not given up...there's still the Academy Awards!
George Clooney, but if you squint, it could be Paul French

I wrote this story a few years ago about my fascination with a certain Hollywood type.

Paul, Paul, Suave and Tall

By Terri Elders

“The person who makes a success of living is the one who sees his goal steadily and aims for it unswervingly.” –Cecil B. DeMille

Today I opened the entertainment section of my Sunday paper and glimpsed a photo of actor George Clooney in an ad for a new movie. I had to catch my breath. With the mustache he’d grown for his role in The Men Who Stare at Goats, he looked drop-dead gorgeous, and…just like Daddy.

Back in 1950 both Daddy and most of Hollywood’s leading men indeed were tall, dark, and handsome, and all sported mustaches. So when Daddy announced one night, over Mama’s pineapple upside-down cake, that he was looking around for a second job, we had definite ideas of what that should be. Living in Los Angeles, the females in our family were hopelessly star struck.

I still remember eying Daddy across the kitchen table. “I think you could get a job as a stand-in for Ronald Colman,” I ventured. Though Colman played a college professor on the radio show, The Halls of Ivy, I had no problem whatsoever picturing my father, a high school grad, stepping into that role. Daddy possessed enough roughhewn elegance to make the character believable.

My big sister sized Daddy up. “No, he’s more like William Powell,” she said. Patti loved the Thin Man movies. She kept well-thumbed copies of Photoplay and Silver Screen on her bedside table. A Jeannie Crain look-alike, she dreamed about breaking into movies herself one day.

Mama spoke up. “Paul’s the spitting image of Clark Gable…no ifs, ands, or buts!” After she’d seen Gable cast as a race car driver in To Please a Lady, Mama had decided she looked quite a bit like Gable’s co-star, Barbara Stanwyck.

Daddy shook his head. “I don’t even know what a stand-in does.” He glanced around at our three faces lit up with excitement. “Don’t they have to leap from trains and halt runaway horses?”

“No. Those are stunt doubles,” Patti explained. “A stand-in just has to have the same skin and hair color and be about the same height and weight as the star. Daddy, with your dark hair and mustache, the studios would be grateful to get you.”

“It’s not hard work,” I jumped in. “I’ve heard that stand-ins just kind of hang around while the crews set up lights and camera. It gives the stars a chance to rest.”

“We’ll see,” Daddy said, “but for now I’m just interested in doubles on this cake.”
Mama picked up her serving spoon, and cast him a sultry Stanwyck smile. “I bet you’d be able to halt runaway horses, Paul,” she said. He laughed.

After dinner Daddy dragged out the Yellow Pages from the phone stand. “I’m going to be calling to make some appointments for interviews,” he told us, “so don’t go tying up the phone line for the next few nights.”

When we tried to draw near to see what phone numbers he was jotting down, he waved us away. “Go do the dishes,” he ordered, in the authoritative tone that always set us scurrying.

“Do you think he’ll really call for an audition with a studio?” I asked Patti, as we finished tidying the kitchen.

She hesitated, and then finally shook her head. “Don’t get your hopes up. Daddy would never settle for being a stand-in. You know he’d want to be the director.”

Patti was right. If Daddy ever did set foot on an actual movie set, it wouldn’t be minutes before he’d be ordering costume changes and adjustments to the lighting. Daddy, the younger brother of three sisters, was used to running the show. Those aunts, plus grandma, were always calling up to ask his advice. Even at home, Mama would have to exercise her womanly wiles to get to choose where to place her own hooked rag rugs.Patti and I exchanged rueful smiles and hung up our dishtowels.

So the two of us idea set aside the notion of Daddy entering show business. Mama, though, didn’t give up so easily. “Paul, have you contacted any of the movie studios yet?” she asked one evening, handing him a dish of his favorite strawberry shortcake.

Daddy frowned. “Studios?”

“Don’t you remember that we all talked about your wanting a second job? And that the girls and I thought you’d be great as a stand-in or double?”

“I thought you were joking,” Daddy said, putting down his fork. “But now that you bring it up, I did find a second job, and I’m starting Friday evening.”

We waited while Daddy passed his plate for a second helping of dessert.

“I’m going to be selling shoes at Sears. The store’s a five minute drive from here, and I’ll be able to get an employee’s discount on the girls’ back-to-school shoes.”

We congratulated Daddy on landing his job, but expressed our sorrow that we wouldn’t be hearing first hand tales about life in Tinsel Town.

“Girls, I’ve never been one to hold with razzle dazzle,” Daddy pointed out. It was true. A diesel mechanic by profession, he appreciated a well-oiled and smooth-running machine. He used to remind us that the best way to get through life was to remember to pick a car for its engine, not for its paint job.

A few weeks later when the family visited Sears to be fitted for new shoes, Daddy pointed out how he’d reorganized the department. Everything seemed more orderly and accessible, with Daddy in charge. And he already led the staff on Saturday sales. Mama joked that rumors had floated around the neighborhood that some movie star now sold shoes at Sears, so ladies were flocking in to try on the latest stilettos and Cuban heels.

So, sadly, Daddy never became a stand-in for Colman, Gable or Powell, though I’m convinced to this day that with his stunning good looks he would have been perfect.
Nonetheless, I’ve heeded his advice about life. Thanks to him, to this day I’ve never picked a car, a job or a mate just for the razzle dazzle.

But star struck still, I admit I admire those actors who can wear a mustache well. So I’ve cut out the photo of Clooney. I plan to mail it to my sister. I’ll enclose a note to ask her if she’s reminded of anyone at all, perhaps someone from our youth who was suave and tall.

Below, L to R: Patti, Luella, Terri and the real Paul French, c. 1940

Sunday, January 12, 2014

A Rich Year in Reads

I've been making a list...and checking it thrice to make certain I've not left off any of my favorite books of 2013. I have made a point not to include any of the ones that include my own stories, though ALL of those from Not Your Mother's Book, Tending Your Inner Garden, Chicken Soup for the Soul and assorted indy publishers have been close to my heart as well.

The Colville Branch AAUW (American Association of University Women) stages a popular annual event, BookShare. We bring our lists and our books and devote an evening to discussing what we would recommend to our fellow members.

This morning I made my list for the upcoming event. I belong to two local area book groups, but only included one of last year's selections from the two dozen I read for that group...and it was, I confess, my own choice, an Edith Wharton classic.

So  here's the list I'll present to the group later this week:

  • Jacqueline Winspear, the entire Maisie Dobbs mystery series (England, the first third of the 20th century) 10 books so far.)
  • Margaret Drabble, The Pattern in the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaw. (Memoir about an 20th century English childhood and a fascination with puzzles.)
  • Donna Trott, The Goldfinch (Everything about this novel is golden, beginning with the glimmer on the wing of the brave bird it celebrates.)
  • Kate Atkinson, Life After Life (Covers the same period of the Dobbs mysteries, first half of 20th century in England…Groundhog Day without the farce. And darkness fell.)
  • Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth (Women’s options in America’s Gilded Age.)
  •  Henry James, What Maisie Knew (A child’s view of marital strife at the turn of the 20th century, and the master could have written this last week.)
  •  Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane (An enchanting adult fairy tale set in the English countryside.)
  •  John Schlimm, Stand Up! 75 Young Activists Who Rock the World and How You Can, Too!
I'll be recommending the last book as this year's choice for AAUW Colville Branch Scholar Recognition Night, when the organization honors local high school junior girls who have been nominated by their high schools for outstanding achievement in math, science and technology.

Would love to know what you'd include! 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

May I Have a Word?

Recently a writer friend posted on Facebook that rather than make a resolution each year, she chooses one word that she keeps focused on each day as she turns the pages of her desk calendar. My calendar this year, a gift from another writer friend, is a Downton Abbey one...and I can't think of one special word that will relate to the Crawley family and British country manor house trivia I'll be treated to throughout 2014. I look forward to Season 4 of this quirky soap opera for adults...and welcome time traveling to1922 in Edwardian England.

I also look forward to is the possibility I'll be able to celebrate the beginning of 2015 in my home state of California. I grew up in Los Angeles, and eventually settled in Long Beach, where I lived for 32 years. I left  in 1987 when I joined the Peace Corps. Since that time I've lived in Belize City, Belize; Antigua, Guatemala; San Juan de la Maguana, Dominican Republic; Victoria, Seychelles; North Little Rock, Arkansas; Silver Spring, Maryland; and now, of course, in Arden, outside of Colville, Washington. But my heart is still in Southern California, especially when these long northeastern Washington winters roll around.

For the past seven and a half years I've been serving on the Washington State Medical Quality Assurance Commission, appointed by Governor Christine Gregoire. My second term as a public member with this Commission ends this coming June. Consequently, there's no reason for me to remain here. I'm putting my house up for sale in the spring.

So this year, I believe my best choice for a word is "California." To me it's home. Always has been, always will be. I hope each day to move forward with plans to move...clean out a drawer, a cupboard, a shelf. Sort through old business papers and shred. Decide what to do with my late husband's dozens of paintings. Choose what books to keep and which to donate. The tasks to prepare to move, after nearly 10 years here, sometimes seem overwhelming. But I've decided that if I keep the goal in mind, I can fly through the to-do list. I'll adopt the attitude of my favorite Downton Abbey character, Anna Bates, and keep plugging steadily ahead.

California, here I come.

Sweet Home California
Home Sweet Home...