Monthly Archives: April 2010

Writer: Neil Simon

No writer has earned as many Tony Award and Academy Award nominations as Neil Simon. Uploaded to Flickr by jovisala47.

Neil Simon doesn’t have the gravitas of some other playwrights, such as Arthur Miller and Tennessee Williams. Those who write comedies seldom do. But in many ways, writing humor is even more challenging than drama – and Neil Simon may be the foremost author of comic plays in American history.

Simon got his chops writing for television. He wrote for two of the most popular shows in the 1950s, Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows and Sergeant Bilko. He received Emmy Awards for each show. Then in 1961, his first play for Broadway opened (Come Blow Your Horn), starting a career that has seen him garner 17 Tony Award nominations, and four Best Screenplay Academy Award nominations.

Uploaded by starpulse.com.

Even if you haven’t seen Simon’s plays actually performed, you’re bound to know their names since they’re so well known. They include: Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, The Sunshine Boys, Biloxi Blues, Sweet Charity, Plaza Suite, Brighton Beach Memories, Biloxi Blues, The Goodbye Girl, and Lost in Yonkers (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1991.

Neil Simon is the only playwright to have four shows running concurrently on Broadway: Sweet Charity, The Star-Spangled Girl, The Odd Couple, and Barefoot in the Park

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Film: The Thin Man

Audiences during the Depression lived vicariously through the lives of the wealthy and charming Nick and Nora Charles. Uploaded by tvworthwatching.com.

I owe a lot of my love for classic films to my wife, and one of the treasures that she helped me to discover was The Thin Man. Based on a novel by Dashiell Hammett, it’s either a mysterious comedy or a lighthearted mystery. Whatever it is, you can’t help enjoying the company of Nick and Nora Charles. And their wire-haired fox terrier, Asta.

Nick and Nora were brought to life by outstanding actors William Powell and Myrna Loy. They were socialites who seemed to solve crimes just for the fun of it. Hollywood hasn’t given us another couple quite like this, and never will again, since their charm seems very much rooted in the 1930s. Audiences vicariously enjoyed escaping the rigors of the Depression by spending time with the well-to-do and engaging Charles family.

Uploaded by aintitcool.com.

The Thin Man was nominated for Best Picture in 1935. The movie was so successful that it spawned a series of sequels: After the Thin Man (1936), Another Thin Man (1939), Shadow of the Thin Man (1941), The Thin Man Goes Home (1945), and Song of the Thin Man (1947).

By the way, the name “The Thin Man” applied to the murder victim, not to Nick Charles. But everyone associated it with the character, so that’s why it stuck for the sequels…

Actor: Gary Cooper

Today (today today), I consider myself (myself self) the luckiest man (man) on the face of the earth (earth). Uploaded by gonemovies.com.

Imagine a continuum that defines acting styles. On the one side, you’d have the histrionic, almost melodramatic actors. William Shatner, for example. And on the other end of the continuum are the actors that are restrained and understated. That’s where you’d find the wonderful Gary Cooper.

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Throughout his career, he played strong individuals who overcame enormous odds. He won Academy Awards for two or them: Will Kane in High Noon (1952), and Alvin York in Sergeant York (1941). In addition, he made a number of other memorable films, including A Farewell to Arms (1932), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), Beau Geste (1939), Meet John Doe (1941), The Pride of the Yankees (1942), For Whom the Bell Tolls (1943), and The Court Martial of Billy Mitchell (1945).

Americans have always loved Gary Cooper, and his place in film history is reflected in his standing in polls by major publications. He was voted the 42nd Greatest Movie Star of all time by Premiere Magazine. He was named the 18th Greatest Movie Star of all time by Entertainment Weekly. And he was named the number 11 Greatest Actor on The 50 Greatest Screen Legends list by the American Film Institute.

And, if you saw Mr. Deeds, you’d know that he is, indeed, pixillated…

Food: Moon Pies

Head down to Bell Buckle, Tennessee this June for the RC and Moon Pie Festival, and one of the treats you can enjoy is a fried Moon Pie. Uploaded by i.pbase.com.

We have the Chattanooga Bakery Company to thank for this delicious and filling treat. When the general foreman and chef decided to make a snack that the nearby miners would buy, he gave a taste to his three-year-old grandson. The legend has it the child said “It looks big as the moon.” The man exclaimed, “Moon Pie!” and scared the child to tears.

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There are four flavors – chocolate, vanilla, strawberry, and banana – but the historic moon pie is the chocolate one. And in the South, a traditional snack was “an RC Cola and a Moon Pie.” Back in the 1950s, the RC was about 12 ounces, the Moon Pie about 16 ounces, and you could get both for a dime. That was a working man’s lunch.

I’m sure you’ll want to make your way to the good ol’ town of Bell Buckle, Tennessee on June 19, 2010 for the 16th Annual RC and Moon Pie Festival. There’s country music, crafts, a 10-mile run, and cutting of the world’s largest Moon Pie. Oh, and deep fried Moon Pies. Boy, doesn’t that sound good…

Travel: Siesta Beach, Sarasota

Looking back toward land, you know you're in Florida. From the beach to the sea, you'd think you were in the Caribbean. Uploaded by vacationbeachpackages.com.

You’ve probably heard about Dr. Beach (Stephen Leatherman), and his annual ranking of America’s Top 10 Beaches. He often names locations that aren’t as well known as the most popular destinations. So when he named Siesta Beach as the number 2 American beach in 2009, a lot of people took notice.

Here’s what he said about this site: “With some of the finest, whitest sand in the world, this beach attracts sand collectors from all over. Siesta Beach has clear, warm waters that serve for ideal swimming. The beach is hundreds of yards wide in the shape of a crescent, due to anchoring of onshore rocks to the north and a unique underwater formation of coral rock and caves, providing for great snorkeling and scuba diving. This beach is great for volleyball and other types of recreational fitness.”

Sounds more like a Caribbean beach than a Florida one. There are actually three sections to this beach: the popular Siesta Public Beach, Crescent Beach to the south (with the best snorkeling and diving), and Turtle Beach below that, a sportier, family beach.

While the old saying “A picture is worth a thousand words” is often inaccurate (or at least seem so to a writer), no amount of words will show the beauty of the area better than these photos:

Uploaded to Webshots by barbndave.

Uploaded by sarasotacricket.com.

Uploaded by sandsofsarasota.com.

Uploaded by carletonsportsmed.com.

Uploaded by timberwoods.com.

Music: Great Movie Songs

A lot of songs that we associate with a specific movie, such as As Time Goes By, didn't debut in the film. This list is for those that did. Uploaded by images.fanpop.com.

This recognition isn’t for songs that were incorporated into a movie’s soundtrack, but for songs that made their debut in a film. Lots of wonderful choices, but here are my top ten.

No. 10, from Rocky, “Gonna Fly Now”

No. 9, from Saturday Night Fever, “Stayin’ Alive”

No. 8, from Toy Story 2, “When She Loved Me”

No. 7, from The Way We Were, “The Way We Were”

No. 6, from An American Tail, “Somewhere Out There”

No. 5, from The Happy Ending, “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life”

No. 4, from Shall We Dance, “They Can’t Take That Away from Me”

No. 3, from Swing Time, “The Way You Look Tonight”

No. 2, from Holiday Inn, “White Christmas”

No. 1, from The Wizard of Oz, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”

Sports: The Kentucky Derby

The winner of the Kentucky Derby earns about $2 million, or about $16,000 per second. Maybe I should start eating more oats. Photo: Here They Come (c) Dave Black.

It’s the first leg in horse racing’s Triple Crown. It’s the Run for the Roses. It’s the Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports. If I missed any of the clichés, I hope the fine people of Kentucky will forgive me. No matter what you call it, America wakes up to the sport of horse racing for the Kentucky Derby each year, then puts it way back in importance unless a horse actually contends for the Triple Crown.

The race takes place at beautiful and historic Churchill Downs in Louisville on the first Saturday in May. This race for three-year-old horses made its debut in 1875 in front of about 10,000 spectators. Attendance these days hovers around the 155,000 mark.

Uploaded by kentuckyderby.com.

Which isn’t to say that anywhere near that many actually watch the race; thousands of people purchase general admission tickets to party in the infield, and for them the race is both literally and figuratively a blur. The contrast is quite stark between the sloshed revelers in the infield and the ladies in the expensive seats who could only wear those hats if they were themselves feeling no pain.

The winning horse now earns $2 million, which breaks down to about $16,000 a second. Nice work if you can get it. The track record is still held by the magnificent Secretariat (Great American Things, September 14, 2009), who owned the Triple Crown way back in 1973.

The Derby has been a staple of television since its first broadcast in 1952. It’s now sponsored by Yum! Brands, best known for its fast-food franchises. So this year, get a bucket of KFC, a few burritos from Taco Bell, a fish and fries from Long John Silver’s, and a meat lover’s from Pizza Hut (okay, this needs to be a party), mix up some mint juleps, and listen as the University of Louisville band plays “My Old Kentucky Home.”

And they’re off!…

Music: New Orleans Jazz Festival

Nice to see the blue sky in this picture. I have friends who go to the Jazz Fest almost every year, and it always seems to rain. But they love every minute anyway. Uploaded by web.whosting.ch.

I’m sure at one time the festival was all about jazz, and the organizers wouldn’t change the name after all these years. But the festival now has eleven stages and tents, with the music ranging from blues to jazz to gospel to pop.

You could go to the N.O. Jazz Festival and never actually hear any jazz, but why would you do that? Because you can spend all day for seven days over two weekends listening to some of the most amazing talents around. Of course, that claim can be made of any of the stages – the challenge is to plan your day so you can hear the performers you know you love, while making time to discover new favorites.

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The headliners demonstrate the eclectic nature of this festival. Here are some of the biggest names performing in 2010: Lionel Richie, The Black Crowes, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Simon & Garfunkel, The Allman Brothers Band, Anita Baker, Widespread Panic, The Average White Band, Elvis Costello, Blues Traveler, Buckwheat Zydeco, Aretha Franklin, Jose Feliciano, Kirk Franklin, Pearl Jam, Jeff Beck, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, B.B. King, The Neville Brothers, Richie Havens, and Van Morrison. Whew!

The Festival originated in 1970, when New Orleans city fathers hired George Wein, the man behind the Newport Jazz Festival, to create an idea for a similar event in New Orleans. His concept was to focus on the local heritage in music, food, even crafts. That first year’s event had a whopping 350 spectators, less than half the total number of musicians who performed! Today, that two-weekend total is somewhere near a half million music fans.

And food fans. Because the only thing that rivals music in New Orleans is the cuisine. So don’t go to the Fest expecting “carnival” food, because you won’t find it. But if you have a hankering for a crawfish beignet, or a po’boy made with hot sausage, soft shell crab, alligator, or duck, you’ve come to the right place. Laissez les bon temps roulez!…

Song: “Mack the Knife”

Bobby Darin's version of this song, called the ultimate by no less an authority than Frank Sinatra, made it to number 3 in Billboard's All-Time Top 100. Uploaded to Flickr by MarcelaL SD.

It’s Bobby Darin’s signature recording that we recognize as a Great American Thing. “Mack the Knife” is a song from The Threepenny Opera (1928), composed in Berlin by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertold Brecht.

Louis Armstrong (Great American Things, May 11, 2009) performed the first popular recording in America in 1956, four years before Bobby Darin (Great American Things, January 2, 2010) did his version. Dick Clark advised Darin against recording the song, thinking that the rock and roll audience wouldn’t go for a song that originated in an opera. Clark didn’t make many mistakes during his career, but he cheerfully acknowledges this one.

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“Mack the Knife” became the biggest hit of Bobby Darin’s career. It went to number one on the charts, and stayed there for nine weeks. It not only won the Grammy for Song of the Year, it’s since been honored with a Grammy Hall of Fame award. Darin’s version is number 3 on Billboard’s All-Time Top 100, and was number 251 on Rolling Stone’s list of the 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

Oh, and on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, some British guy named Simon Cowell called “Mack the Knife” the best song ever written…

The Arts: Museum of Modern Art

About 2.5 million visitors come to MOMA each year to see amazing works by the likes of Monet, Gauguin, Johns, Warhol, and many other imaginative artists. Uploaded by e-architect.co.uk.

It doesn’t have the physical presence of the Metropolitan Museum. Or the architectural pizazz of the Guggenheim. What MOMA does have is the most comprehensive collection of modern art on the planet.

You have to have guts to open a museum nine days after a Wall Street crash, but that’s what the founders of MOMA did. Of course, it helps if your name is Rockefeller – in this case, Abby Aldrich Rockefeller, wife of John D., Jr.

The museum began its life in six rooms on the twelfth floor of a Manhattan office building. Today, MOMA occupies 630,000 sq. ft. in an expansive building on 53rd St., between 5th and 6th Avenues. The space is needed, because the museum’s collection now includes more than 150,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, photographs, architectural models and drawings, and design objects. It also owns more than 22,000 films, four million film stills, and 300,000 books in its archives.

The Dance by Matisse. Uploaded by awarenessblog.com.

Every modern artist of any note is included in the museum’s collection. Some of its most famous works include The Starry Night by Van Gogh, Les Demoiselles d’Avignon by Picasso, The Persistence of Memory by Dalí, Broadway Boogie Woogie by Mondrian, Campbell’s Soup Cans by Warhol, Te aa no areois (The Seed of the Areoi) by Gauguin, Water Lilies by Monet, The Dance by Matisse, Flag by Jasper Johns (Great American Things, February 5, 2010), and Christina’s World by Andrew Wyeth (Great American Things, December 2, 2009).

Almost 2.5 million visitors enjoy this great museum every year. Even if you’re not especially a fan of modern art, you’ll find plenty to interest you, and a visit will be a day of your life well spent…

Singer: Paul Simon

Most artists would do anything for one blockbuster album. Paul Simon has had four: Bridge Over Troubled Water, There Goes Rhymin' Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years, and Graceland. Uploaded by nymag.com.

Who needs Garfunkel? Paul Simon not only wrote most of the successful songs during his partnership with Art, but demonstrated that he was the true talent of the two by continuing a highly successful career after the duo broke up.

Simon and Garfunkel first hit the charts in 1965 with “The Sounds of Silence.” They had several more hit singles during their time together, including “Homeward Bound,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “A Hazy Shade of Winter,” and what could be the best popular song ever written, Bridge Over Troubled Water (Great American Things, October 27, 2009).

Uploaded by peacecorpsonline.org.

As a solo artist, Simon recorded a string of albums that were both commercial and critical successes – There Goes Rhymin’ Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years, and Graceland. He also had a plethora – yes, a plethora – of singles, including “Mother and Child Reunion” (No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100), “Kodachrome” (2), “Loves Me Like a Rock” (2), “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” (1), “Slip Slidin’ Away” (5), and “Late in the Evening” (6).

Simon’s influence is great in contemporary music, and he has been lavishly awarded for his work. He’s won 12 Grammys, including a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Hall of Fame Award for “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Great American Things, August 31, 2009) as both a solo artist and with Garfunkel, and he received the first annual Library of Congress Gershwin Award for Popular Song in 2007…

Kid Stuff: Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White wrote humor with James Thurber, and edited one of the most influential style manuals of all time. But he'll always be best remembered for Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web. Uploaded by images.allmoviephoto.com.

Isn’t it strange how one writer can produce works in several vastly different genres? E.B. White was a humorist (he co-wrote a parody of Freud called Is Sex Necessary? Or, Why You Feel the Way You Do, with the great James Thurber) and a linguist (students are familiar with his The Elements of Style). But he’s best remembered as the writer of two immortal children’s books: Stuart Little (1945) and Charlotte’s Web (1952).

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You know the basic story. When Wilbur the pet pig was in danger of being slaughtered by the farmer, the crafty spider Charlotte saved him by spinning comments into her webs. Indeed, he goes to the county fair with Charlotte and wins a prize. And why not, since he was “Radiant,” “Terrific,” and “Some Pig.” White’s publishers were worried about the ending, and prodded him to change it. Fortunately for kids of all ages, he didn’t.

Reviewing Charlotte’s Web for the New York Times, Eudora Welty wrote, “As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.” The book was nominated for the Newberry Medal in 1953, but didn’t win. Go figure. The public, however, has shown better taste. It’s the best-selling children’s book of all time, according to Publisher’s Weekly. And awards came White’s way as well. For Charlotte’s Web and Stuart Little, he won the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for children’s literature.

Here’s a great excerpt from the book, a conversation between Charlotte and Wilbur:

“You mean you eat flies?” gasped Wilbur.

“Certainly. Flies, bugs, grasshoppers, choice beetles, moths, butterflies, tasty cockroaches, gnats, midgets, daddy-long-legs, centipedes, mosquitoes, crickets – anything that is careless enough to get caught in my web. I have to live, don’t I?”

“Why, yes, of course,” said Wilbur. “Do they taste good”

“Delicious. Of course, I don’t really eat them. I drink them – drink their blood. I love blood.”

Music: Beach Music

Fat Harold's Beach Club in the Ocean Drive section of Myrtle Beach is the epicenter of beach music and its signature dance, the shag. Uploaded by seabrookplantation.com.

Is it possible that those of you who live outside the Carolinas and Virginia may not know what I mean by Beach Music? If not, you probably haven’t seen the dance called “the shag,” either. While this is outside my area of expertise, the wise writers of Wikipedia say this: “Recordings with a 4/4 ‘blues shuffle’ rhythmic structure and moderate-to-fast tempo are the most popular music for the shag, and the vast majority of the music in this genre fits that description.”

Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (Great American Things, September 5, 2009) is the hub of beach music today. The music developed in the late 1950s and 60s, and hasn’t changed much since then. Closely associated with what’s usually called “soul music,” beach music’s primary bands are more regionally popular, though certainly some of these songs made their presence known on the national charts as well.

Uploaded by bettybbungalow.tripod.com.

Among the songs that represent the best of beach music are “Carolina Girls” by General Johnson and the Chairmen of the Board, “I Love Beach Music,” by the Embers, “Myrtle Beach Days” by the Fantastic Shakers, “May I” by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs (covered nicely by Bill Deal and the Rhondels) and “39-21-40 Shape” by the Showmen.

But it’s almost impossible to describe music, so here are several examples of the music that’s still beloved throughout the Southeast…

Americana: Big Boy Restaurants

Several hundred Big Boy restaurants still operate, but the Shoney's I went to throughout my high school days will always remain a particularly sweet memory. Uploaded by ron-and-iris.geefamily.net.

No matter where you live in the U.S., you probably had a franchise of Big Boy near you. Where I grew up it was Shoney’s Big Boy, lots of places had Bob’s Big Boy, and there were a couple of dozen other franchises authorized to place the fat kid out front.

Uploaded by gain.aiga.org.

The original Big Boy restaurant came to Glendale, California in 1936. Started by a man named Bob Wian, the restaurant’s iconic image is said to be based on a local kid named Richard Woodruff. The restaurant was just known as Bob’s Pantry then, but as the owner was trying to name his new hamburger, Woodruff came in and Wian said, “Hey, big boy.” Well, that’s the story, and I suppose it makes as much sense as any other explanation.

McDonald’s would never admit to stealing the Bic Mac from Big Boy, but the truth is the two sandwiches are a lot alike. The Big Boy didn’t have onions, and that’s about the only difference. Other delicious items on the Big Boy menu included the Slim Jim, Brawny Lad, strawberry pie, and hot fudge cake.

I had lots of good times hanging out at the Shoney’s Big Boy in the Warwick area of Newport News, Virginia. Seems like we were there every weekend during my high school days. Like lots of other parts of my youth, Shoney’s is just a memory, but it’s one I hold with a special fondness…

TV Show: Roots

America was entranced by the story of Kunta Kinte and his descendants. The final night had an astonishing 71% share of the audience. Uploaded by seattletimes.nwsource.com.

It’s hard for contemporary television watchers to grasp what happened to America when Roots premiered on ABC in 1977. Rather than featuring an episode or two a week, as most miniseries did, all eight episodes of Roots were shown on consecutive nights. There were no VCRs or DVRs to make watching convenient, so events were canceled – or people just stayed home – to make sure they didn’t miss a night.

Roots was adapted from the novel of the same name by Alex Haley. Haley traced his ancestry, mostly through the wonders of oral tradition, back nine generations to the African nation of Gambia. He brought that family to life in a way that Americans, especially white Americans, had never faced before.

Uploaded by cmstory.org.

Roots featured a marvelous cast. Then newcomer LeVar Burton starred as Kunta Kinte, the show’s central character. Others with prominent roles included Ed Asner, John Amos, Cicely Tyson, O.J. Simpson, Louis Gossett, Jr., Lorne Greene, Vic Morrow, Chuck Connors, Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Leslie Uggams, Scatman Crothers, Richard Roundtree, Ben Vereen, and Burl Ives.

The final episode captured a 71% of the viewing audience, and still ranks in the top five television programs since ratings began. It received a jaw-dropping 36 Emmy Award nominations, and won nine. It also received a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award.

But perhaps its greatest accomplishment was to demonstrate to white America that African culture was rich and vibrant, and that while the history of slavery is a hideous scar on our soul, the country is infinitely better off thanks to the contributions of their descendants…

Architecture: Monticello

There were actually two Monticellos. After the first was completed, Thomas Jefferson returned from serving in Europe and more than doubled the size of his signature home. Uploaded by community.klipsch.com.

Thomas Jefferson loved the neoclassical look, witness the design of his other project in Charlottesville, the University of Virginia. He was greatly influenced by the Italian Renaissance architect Andrea Palladio, whose design principles Jefferson incorporated in the home he built at the top of a rolling hill in the Virginia countryside. He named it Monticello: “Little Mountain.”

There were actually two versions of Monticello, the second overlaying the first. Jefferson built his first version in 1768, but during his tenure as the U.S. Minister to France, he got to see actual examples of architectural styles he’d only been able to read about previously. Then, following his service as the first Secretary of State, he began rebuilding based on what he’d seen overseas. Monticello 2, the one we know today, is twice the size of the original home.

For a century following Jefferson’s death the house bounced from owner to owner. Some took care of the property, some didn’t. In 1923, the private Thomas Jefferson Foundation purchased the home and had it restored. It’s now operated as a private museum, and while visitors aren’t permitted in all its 43 rooms, much of the home is on public display.

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Among the most fascinating aspects of Monticello are the inventions and innovations Jefferson incorporated into the house. These include a revolving bookstand, a dumbwaiter, a swivel desk chair, and a polygraph machine with many pens that made multiple copies of anything Jefferson wrote.

Monticello is widely recognized as one of America’s architectural masterpieces. But which do you think is more significant – that it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or that it’s been on the back of the nickel coin since 1938?

Film: The Sting

The Sting won 7 Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Oddly, as great as Newman and Redford were, neither won Best Actor. Uploaded by bam.org.

Paul Newman (Great American Things, May 17, 2009) and Robert Redford co-starred in two blockbuster movies, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid in 1969, and The Sting in 1974. The term “buddy movie” predated their partnership, and yet you’d be hard-pressed to find a better pairing of superstars than these two actors in these two movies. But if you had to choose only one, it has to be The Sting.

Director George Roy Hill used both of his stars’ strengths – Newman’s versatility, and Redford’s charm. But the biggest star of all was the screenplay written by David Ward. Ward had investigated con artists for another script he had underway, and loved the big con called “The Wire.” Everyone who read the script also loved it, making it easy to attract top talent.

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There were several excellent character parts as well in the ensemble cast. Robert Shaw was particularly strong as the mark, Doyle Lonnegan. The story is that Shaw hurt his ankle before filming began, and incorporated his limp into his character – “Ya folla?”

One other element of genius in this movie was the score, which featured ragtime tunes by Scott Joplin. They lent a wonderful period feeling to the movie, even though in reality they predated the time frame of the movie by about 25 years.

The Sting was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, and won 7, including Best Picture. Oddly, Newman was not nominated for Best Actor, though Redford was – and he was one of the movie’s three nominees who didn’t win…

Actor: Roy Rogers

Roy Rogers made more than 100 Westerns. No wonder he's called King of the Cowboys. Uploaded by farm3.static.flickr.com.

Fortunately, Roy Rogers had the good sense to change his name and move to California. Because it would have been impossible for a fellow born in Cincinnati and named “Leonard Slye” to become King of the Cowboys. No way, nohow.

Rogers started out as a singer, forming a group called the Sons of the Pioneers. They had a couple of very popular hits with “Cool Waters” and “Tumbling Tumbleweeds.” But Rogers got his big break when Gene Autry walked out on his movie contract, and Hollywood needed a new singing cowboy. Rogers starred in his first movie in 1938 called Under Western Stars. It was the first of his more than 100 Western movies.

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You can’t talk about Roy Rogers, of course, without discussing his All-American wife, Dale Evans. She joined him in many of his movies as well as in The Roy Rogers Show, which ran for nine years on radio and six years on TV. That show also featured the jeep Nellybelle, the palomino Trigger, the German shepherd Bullet, and Pat Brady as Roy’s sidekick.

I remember watching TV on Saturday mornings, and one of the main staples was cowboy movies. Roy Rogers was always my favorite. In the summers, my family went to a state park where horseback riding was available. Whatever horse I rode, no matter what breed or color, I called Trigger. There was just something about that guy in the white hat that made me want to be like him.

Roy and Dale were huge advocates of adoption, and adopted several children themselves. They were the exceptional couple whose off-screen life of decency and integrity matched what they portrayed in their movies. We all miss them, but we do have solace in the words of the theme song that Dale wrote for their TV show: “Happy trails to you, until we meet again…”

Food: New York Bagels

Whether you eat yours plain, toasted, buttered, with a schmear, or with smoked salmon, it'll taste better in New York. Uploaded by newyork.seriouseats.com.

That’s New York bagels, as in bagels from the shops in New York City. A friend who recently spent extended time in France raves abut the fresh breads available in the local boulangeries. No doubt they’re incredible. But perhaps no bread is as identified with a single city as the humble bagel is with New York.

You can hardly go wrong at a NYC bagel joint. Recently the New York food Web site Serious Eats tried to find out where the best bagel is made. They tried many of the city’s reliables, including Terrace Bagel in Brooklyn, Murray’s Bagels on Sixth Ave., Brooklyn Bagels, and Absolute Bagels on Broadway. But the pick as the best went to Bagel Hole, in Brooklyn.

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Some like their bagels plain, others want them toasted. Some like butter (must be toasted), others a schmear of creme cheese, or some smoked salmon. Whatever you prefer, it’ll taste better on a bagel in New York.

But the taste testers found that bagels lose their edge in a matter of about 30 minutes. After that time, even the best tended to taste chewy, less crispy, less flavorful. Moral of the story: Get ’em while they’re hot.

Travel: Yorktown, Virginia

The Moore House in Yorktown, site of Cornwallis's surrender to George Washington. My father gave tours of the building as an employee of the Park Service. Uploaded by history.org.

Yorktown existed as a town beginning in 1691, or 80 years before it became famous. It was named “York” after the city in England (a trend in the area; witness “Portsmouth,” “Norfolk,” and “Hampton”), but it could just as well be called “Cornwallis’s Mistake.”

Uploaded by williamsburgcc.com.

This post isn’t about the particulars of the battle that served as the de facto end of the Revolutionary War. You can find out all those details at the National Park Service sites that dot the town. You can visit the redoubts, the Moore House (where the surrender was signed – Cornwallis didn’t attend because he was “sick”), and two attractive museums, the Yorktown Victory Center and the Yorktown Battlefield and Visitor Center.

The town of Yorktown is a quiet little community set alongside the York River. A trip could entail visiting 18th century homes, exploring the town’s quaint shops, strolling the new Riverwalk, even sitting on the little beach beside the river. Yorktown is one town in the Colonial Triangle, connected to Williamsburg (Great American Things, July 23, 2009) and Jamestown via the 23-mile-long Colonial Parkway.

Yorktown has a special sentimental value to me because it’s where my father grew up. My grandfather was a laborer on the Colonial Parkway, gratefully getting work from the WPA during the Depression. My father worked for the National Park Service, giving tours of the Moore House to visitors. Though the family moved to nearby Newport News after World War II, my father always had a special place in his heart for Yorktown. As do I…