Friday, December 18, 2015


 When I was the television critic for the Hollywood Reporter, invitations to appear on panels and speak at colleges and universities poured in. In 1977 I was invited to be on the judging panel for the Mrs. America Pageant in Las Vegas at the Hilton Grand Hotel. There were eight of us VIP’s and we were all honored guests of Barron Hilton. I spent a week in a luxurious suite with the hardly rigorous daily task of judging competitions such as Talent, Personality, Bathing Costumes, Evening Gowns, etc. 

Among my illustrious co-panelists was the great Olympic athlete Jesse Owens. We often sat together during the judgings and soon became great friends. This was the very week that the miniseries ROOTS was being broadcast each night on ABC and after dinner everyone hastened off to their suites to watch. I had already reviewed the first four hours of this magnificent show and praised producer David L. Wolper for bringing this important history to life. 

However, I found that I could no longer watch the rest due to the ongoing brutality. I mentioned this to Jesse and he shook his head.
Its important that people know just how brutal slavery was, he told me
 But what will it do to young people? I asked. Young black people will be horrified to learn what slavery was really like.

It’s the truth, and they need to know, he said simply. 

As the week progressed we became even closer (his wife Ruth was there so don’t misunderstand what I mean by closer, okay). I learned that he now spent his time traveling throughout the country talking to young people about their lives and using himself as an example of how anyone could rise above impossible odds.

At the 1936 Olympics in Germany, Jesse won four gold medals: 100m sprint; 200m sprint; 4x100 sprint relay, and his record breaking long jump. The racist dictator Adolph Hitler claimed that the Aryan race were superior and legend has it that Jesse’s triumph so enraged him he walked out before the awards ceremony. 

Since even now Jesse seemed too slender and graceful to have once had an athletic past, I asked him to explain how he became an athlete. He told me the story of what set him on the path to greatness. It also explained how encouraging youngsters became the mission of his life.

When I was nine my family moved from Alabama to live in Cleveland, Ohio. I was a skinny kid and had no interest in joining in sports since I considered myself small and weak. Then one day an Italian man who had won the marathon at the Olympics came by to speak to our school. I looked at him in amazement. He was a tiny little man, hardly what one imagined a runner to be.
As the other students left I went up to him and said, “You ran 26 miles and won the race?” “Si,” he said, beaming at me. “But how could you have,” I blurted out, “You have such short legs.” He winked at me and said, “You don’t run with your legs - you run with your mind” and he tapped his temple and grinned. The next day I decided I could certainly run with my mind and that’s when I started running.

When we parted Jesse and Ruth said if ever I was in Phoenix to call and come and visit them as they lived nearby. One of my major regrets in my life is I never did get to Phoenix before he died in 1980.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I met legendary screenwriter Dalton Trumbo back in the late 1970’s. At the time, I was a columnist for the important weekly trade paper, The Hollywood Reporter, which was a bible for everyone in Film & TV. I was writing a series about the Great Old Days in the Film Industry and interviewing men and women whose work had made their mark on our lives.


He was one of the famous Hollywood Ten, and after being accused of being a communist and refusing to give information, had gone to prison in 1950 for contempt of Congress. When he came out no studio would hire him and he took his family to live in Mexico. 

However, the film industry was still eager to make use of his writing talents so, under assumed names, he wrote about 30 screenplays at a meager salary compared to his worth. These included Best Screenplay Oscars for “Roman Holiday” and “The Brave One.”  

When I called Dalton, he expressed surprise that a member of the trade paper that had led the charge against him wanted to feature him. He lived above Sunset Boulevard and invited me over to chat. I waited in the large downstairs drawing room and he came down along one wall seated on an electric stair lift. He was a tiny guy and admitted he was getting a bit frail, but his greeting was hearty and he was agreeable to answer any of my questions about those that had exploited him after he was toppled from his screenwriting pinnacle.

I was expecting some trace of bitterness towards the film industry, but this cheery man seemed to find the entire scenario broadly amusing. In fact, I hardly had to question him; he was ready to tell his version of the great filmmaking days, the good and the bad, and to also give me the names of certain rascals who had betrayed him. When he asked whom else I was interviewing for the series and I mentioned mega-producer Sam Spiegel he roared with laughter. Let me tell you about my last meeting with Mr. Spiegel, he said. And here’s the tale as I recall:

I had been sentenced to prison and I was deeply troubled for having to leave my family with no income flow. It had stopped when I was first accused and, due to the blacklist, no one was any longer hiring me. Now Mr. Spiegel owed me a great deal of money and he had been putting off payment – I assume because he felt that with me behind bars it was pointless to pay up. Oh, yeah! Well, I called him up and said I needed to talk and he agreed to meet me at a distance from the studios, obviously because he didn’t want to be seen with me.

I drove to our liaison point and picked him up, then drove up to the top of Mulholland to a quiet wooded area and stopped. I asked him when he was going to pay me and he gave me the runaround. So I pulled out a pistol, aimed it at him, and said I want the money now, as I do not intend to go off to jail and leave my family penniless. He appeared a bit shocked, but obviously didn't believe I was serious about shooting him. So I told him that it would give me much satisfaction while sitting in prison to know that at least he wasn’t having a great surge in his career and shooting him would probably not add much more to my sentence anyway.

I said firmly, ‘If you don’t go with me to your bank right now and draw out the money I will shoot you.’ We had never liked each other much anyway and at that time I didn’t give a damn whether I got fried for murder as my life and career were ruined. Evidently, he finally realized I was serious and we drove to his bank and he gave me the money.

Needless to say, I did not mention this in my story and after my article came out he called me at the Hollywood Reporter and said he enjoyed it.

About 2 months later, I called Dalton and asked if he would write a column for the Reporter and maybe include some of the fabulous tales he had told me. He said come on over. This time I was ushered into his bedroom. He sat on the bed while I sat in the armchair. He had written the column and read it aloud to me. It’s in the Hollywood Reporter Archive and is a phantasmagoric tale of a nightmarish flight over a magical land. It made no sense to me. I asked him what it meant and he said that’s exactly how it was.

A few months later he died of a heart attack at age 70.