Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Jane Fonda once spoke in a church located in the town where I worked at a local newspaper. With cameraman in tow, I attended her speech and was able to chat with her afterward. She was and is a lovely woman, slim and well-dressed, her wheat-colored hair falling in waves around her shoulders. She spoke about the Missing Soldiers left behind when the battles were over in Viet Nam. She urged her audience to write to their Congressmen in an effort to spur action in locating these men and bringing them home.

Noone knows for certain just how many men were left behind after that war, but it is common knowledge that there were a number of them, most of them prisoners in the various prison camps run by the Viet Cong. Prisoners like John McCain, with an Admiral for a father and a great deal of clout, were released and returned home, weary and tortured, but elated over coming out alive. Many others could not share that elation, but were moved from place to place by the Viet Cong, enduring Heaven knows what indignations. It is thought that most of them were killed, but there is always a chance that some of them survived to live out their lives in that foreign land, or perhaps still prisoners somewhere.

I was interested in the stories of these men left behind, but I was also consumed with the facts of Fonda's life, her rebellion, her disappearance from the Hollywood scene to travel to Viet Nam and even hobnob with the Viet Cong. After I had asked a question to two about her travels there, she turned to me with annoyance written upon her beautiful face.

"Don't you care?" she asked, glaring at me. "Don't you care at all?"

"Of course, I care!" I responded. "I just have to write the whole story for my readers. They want to know what you were doing over there."

"I was doing what you should be doing, caring about what was going on!"

We glared at one another like adversaries and I was surprised that she didn't walk away. Instead, she talked of her childhood and how she had turned her back on her life in Hollywood. She was married at the time to a leader of the groups of Viet Nam protesters, but her rebellion was born in the life she had lived as a child, with a stern, always absent father and a mother who had killed herself, leaving her children to a burden of guilt and to wonder what had happened to her, since they were never told about this suicide until learning about it when they were older.

"I learned to care about other people," she told me. "I didn't want to just sit around by a pool!"

I found myself sympathizing, liking her, understanding her. I tried to put this into my story, while still remembering that many people called her Hanoi Jane. She left the Church with her newborn baby in a basket that she carried as she walked to the waiting car. She looked like anything but a rebel. She looked like a pretty young matron taking care of her infant.

For me, celebrities have always been very different from their images. For instance, Sophia Loren, onscreen, is a lusty, busty, sexy woman, and I always imagined her to be buxom and shapely. In real life, she is totally different, a slender reed of a woman, delicate and genteel, a wisp of the person she appears to be onscreen. Although younger people may not remember her, she was the epitome of the wholesome sex goddess back in the 80's.

What I remember most is her courageous tackling of a lettuce salad served at a luncheon, where she was the guest of honor. She would stuff the lettuce in her mouth and continue to smile, even when a lettuce leaf was tacked to her teeth.

Politicians, on the other hand, looked exactly like their pictures and always lived up to their image. When Gerald Ford, who was famous for his clumsiness, falling down the exits from airplanes, came to Michigan to make a speech at a Republican Club here, the first thing he did was trip over the cord that was strung to his microphone. I couldn't believe it. It gave me a perfect line for my story. It was as if he had done it for me. Other than that little mishap, he gave a nice, though boring, speech and was smiling and cordial to everyone there.

Ronald Reagan was a handsome, lovable Grandpa. It was impossible not to like Ronnie, who quipped and joked like a Saturday Night Live comedian. I think his memory was fuzzy then, at about the time of the Republican Convention, but I may be remembering the later years, when we all knew that Alzheimer's had claimed him. I voted for Ronnie, so I wrote a fabulous story about him, but I am not sure he is the icon his Party has turned him into. Even then, Trickle Down economics didn't do much for the working people. However, Reagan was the reporter's dream subject. He was a master at coming out with a one-liner, and he always had a twinkle in his eye.

I always jumped at the chance to interview a celebrity, even a minor one, because I always found them witty and interesting. Unfortunately, I was always selected to do the stories on the General Motors, Ford and Chrysler executives, a task I dreaded, but one I was duty bound to do.

First, at GM, you are ushered into a sort of a lobby, where a receptionist greets you with a smile. You must enjoy this, because it is the last smile you're going to get, even though it is a bit contrived. You are asked to rid yourself of any camera you might be carrying, lest you inadvertently take a picture of the prototype of a new car. Any photograph that will accompany your story will be carefully selected by the person involved.

The Vice President ushered me into his office. I noted that all auto company Vice Presidents looked exactly alike, shirts buttoned, suits tailored and sedate, ties equally sedate and carefully in place. The interviews were always short and stilted. No family remembrances as with Fonda. No drama. No smiles. No nonsense. I would take my leave and write my dull little story about my dull little subject and I am sure that the readers glanced at it and went on to something else.

I have often wondered what things would have been like had John DeLorean stayed at GM. Sure, I know he later got into trouble with the law and had all sorts of other problems, like a failed marriage but, by Heaven, he was interesting, wore fashionable clothes, and had a ready smile and a bright personality. I think it was the personality that ruined him at General Motors. When it comes to Vice Presidents there, I think personality was a quality frowned upon. Smiles probably sent the Powerful Executives into catatonic seizures. What a bunch of overpaid stuffed shirts! Although I do wonder why the GM executives were chewed out by Congress for arriving in a private jet, and not a question about the private jets of the overpaid bankers was even asked!

So much fun! So many memories! Our office staff consisted of renegates, rogues, pranksters and procrastinators, but we churned out the news and enjoyed every minute of it. Now, today, they are scattered all over the country, from Florida to Texas, and I wonder frequently what has happened to them and if they recall those tumultous times with same joy I do. Our publisher and Editor has passed away, this big, gruff man with a brilliant mind, who would wear a suit and tie to work, then walk around the office in his bare feet. Our office manager, in need of petty cash, would raid the coffee machine for quarters.

Readers always sent me bottles of liquor, for some reason, and the best I can say is that they kept the photographers creative. No matter how I hid them, the photographers found them and drained them. One time I found a hole in the wall at the back of a closet. I had just been given a bottle of Irish Cream and I planned on enjoying it myself, so I stuffed that bottle in that hole in the wall and covered it with newspapers. When I went to retrieve it, it had been emptied, with a scrawled "Thanks!" written in pen on the label.

The photographers had no interest, however, in another gift that arrived at the office with my name on the tag. It was a dress that a reader had worn to Ronald Reagan's Inaugural Ball, and she thought I would enjoy wearing it. I wore it everywhere that I could. I'd have worn it to a ball game, if it had been appropriate. I will always remember that beautiful black dress, created by a world famous designer.

Newspapers are lively places and, retired now, sometimes my life seems too complacent and dull. It's a good thing I have relatives, so I can liven things up with a good political argument now and then.