Monthly Archives: October 2010

Actor: Denzel Washington


Denzel Washington is only the second African-American to earn the Best Actor Oscar, following Sidney Poitier. Uploaded by

Some actors carry an indefinable yet very tangible air of integrity. Spencer Tracy had it. Henry Fonda had it. And Denzel Washington most certainly has it.

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Whether he’s the new football coach in Remember the Titans, or the junior officer who takes control in Crimson Tide, or such controversial real-life figures as Ruben “Hurricane” Carter or Malcolm X, Washington doesn’t have to “act” the role’s dignity. He just is it.

We first became familiar with him on the medical drama St. Elsewhere. Since then, he’s starred in a number of significant films, including: Cry Freedom (1987 – Nomination), Glory (1989, Best Supporting Actor), Malcolm X (1992, Nomination), Philadelphia (1993), Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), Courage Under Fire (1996), Training Day (2001, Best Actor), and American Gangster (2007).

Washington’s Academy Award for Best Actor in 2001 is only the second time an African-American man (Sidney Poitier was the first) has received the honor.

Song: “El Paso”


El Paso won the first Grammy Award for Best Country and Western Performance. Country America magazine named it the number 6 Country song of all time. Uploaded by

American music used to include a genre called “Country and Western.” Maybe you’ve heard of it. Somewhere in the mid-60s, Country kicked Western to the curb, and went on to become hugely popular. Western slunk off to the hills, the Western hills I suspect, and has rarely been heard from since. But it had some great moments, and maybe the greatest of all is “El Paso.”


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Written and recorded by Marty Robbins, it topped both the Country and Pop charts at the beginning of 1960. It was released at a time when songs rarely exceed three minutes in length, yet lasted for 4:45. The record company feared that its length would discourage radio stations from playing it, but they need not have feared. People loved the story, and embraced its tragic romance.

“El Paso” won the first Grammy ever awarded in the category of Best Country and Western Performance. Country America ranked it the number 6 country song of all time.

History: The Tuskegee Airmen


Members of the Tuskegee Airman earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 744 Air Medals, 8 Purple Hearts, and 14 Bronze Stars. Uploaded by

During World War II, the U.S. military forces were completely segregated. African-Americans who desired to serve their country had to do so in racially separate units. One group that served with particular distinction was the men of the 332nd Fighter Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the U.S. Army Air Corps (now the Air Force). They became known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

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Their name came from their place of training, Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. The school had led the way in training young black men in the Civilian Pilot Training Program, so when the War Department needed a home for the new fighters, TI became the logical choice. In addition to pilots, they trained to fill all necessary crew positions, including navigators and bombardiers.

Their combat record was outstanding. They flew more than 15,000 sorties, destroyed 112 enemy planes in the air (and another 150 on the ground), and the group’s members earned 150 Distinguished Flying Crosses.

In 2007, President George W. Bush honored 350 members of the unit with the Congressional Gold Medal. At a time when the intelligence, patriotism, and work ethic of African-Americans was in question, the Tuskegee Airmen did their part to dispel prejudice and bigotry.

Film: All the President’s Men


The source book was dense and detailed. Screenwriter extraordinaire William Goldman distilled its essence, turning it into an engrossing thriller. Uploaded by

Typically, when you’ve read a book and then see the movie adaptation of that book, the film leaves much to be desired. So much must be omitted. That’s one of the things that cause me to marvel at this movie – long after the book has faded, the Alan Pakula film is still fascinating to watch.

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One of the reasons is the screenwriter. William Goldman is one of the all-time masters of the art, and he realized what was important in the complicated Watergate saga, and what didn’t advance the story. Especially considering the large cast in this epic.

The main characters were excellent – Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and Robert Redford as fellow Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward. And what a supporting cast! Martin Balsam, Jason Robards, Jack Warden, Hal Holbrook, Jane Alexander, Meredith Baxter, Ned Beatty, Stephen Collins…

All the President’s Men received eight Academy Awards nominations, and won four (Sound, Art Direction, Adapted Screenplay, Supporting Actor – Robards).

Travel: Vermont Route 100


Vermont Route 100 goes north-south from the state's border with Canada to its border with Massachusetts. You can see fall foliage, great ski resorts, and Ben and Jerry's factory. Uploaded by


Route 100 in Vermont is one of America’s most scenic highways. Especially during autumn, when the maples are bursting into bright shades of orange and gold.


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The highway runs north and south, all the way from the Canadian border down to the Massachusetts border. It winds through the mountains, offering plenty of breathtaking vistas along the way. If the weather is cold enough, you can stop and ski at a number of New England’s best resorts, including Stowe, Killington, and Sugarbush. Or you can visit the Vermont Country Store in Weston, or take a tour of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream factory in Waterbury.

You can drive its entire 216-mile length in one day. But with all there is to see and do along the way, why would you?


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Americana: Amish Quilts

Without electricity and central heating, the Amish turned to making quilts out of necessity. It's become a home business for women to supplement the family's income. Uploaded by

Doesn’t it strike you as somewhat contradictory that Amish women, often called “plain people,” make such beautiful, colorful, even elaborate quilts? Since they don’t permit the use of electricity, their homes aren’t centrally heated. Quilts are an understandable necessity, and once were as colorless as their owners.

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Now they’re not just made for their families and friends, but have become a way for Amish women to supplement the family’s income. As you ride around Lancaster, Pennsylvania (Great American Things, June 26, 2009) and other Amish towns, you’ll see signs like “Quilts sold here. No Sunday sales.”

Turns out the logic for the quilts is that fabric scraps were saved and incorporated into the quilts, so nothing was wasted. That jibed with Amish sensibilities. They became popular within the community as a way the women could display their creativity. And often women met together to quilt after the day’s work was done, making the quilting experience a primary social gathering.

Kid Stuff: Chuck E. Cheese’s

For kids, it's about the arcade games, the tokens, the tickets, and the prizes. For adults, it's a place Where a Kid Can be a Kid. Uploaded by

A friend of mine calls this place “Chuck E. Cheese’s Pizza Hell.” I get that. But the company’s slogan is “Where a Kid Can be a Kid.” Parents and adult relatives endure the place. But kids… They love it. Love it.

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Kids get to play arcade and skill games (must be the national Skee-Ball headquarters), spend tokens to win tickets, and exchange them for kid-friendly prizes. Then they go back to the table, eat a couple of slices of pizza, get a visit from a costumed character, open birthday gifts (at the ubiquitous parties), then run back to the arcade to win more tickets. The adults eat average pizza, listen to the Chuck E. Cheese and his fellow animatronic characters sing songs they recognize, and make sure their kids stay safe.

It’s a brilliant concept. Kids love the noise, the parties, the games, the prizes. Parents love two things: 1) that their kids are happy, and 2) when they get to go home.

Sports: Mark Spitz

In the 1972 Olympics, he entered seven events. He won seven gold medals. He set seven world records. Uploaded by

Mark Spitz is remembered as one of the greatest Olympic swimmers ever. He won nine Olympic gold medals, one silver, and one bronze, while setting 33 world records.

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Spitz’s career high point was the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the infamous Olympics in which 11 Israeli athletes were captured and killed by Palestinian terrorists. He entered seven events and won gold in each – while also setting world records. Initially, he was reluctant to enter the 100 meter freestyle race. He told a reporter, “I know I say I don’t want to swim before every event, but this time I’m serious. If I swim six and win six, I’ll be a hero. If I swim seven and win six, I’ll be a failure.”

Mr. Personality, he wasn’t. Mr. Ego, he still is. Want proof? Here’s the introduction on his official website: “Mark Spitz, most notable athlete of all-time, is synonymous with excellence.” Well, if you don’t tell us about it, Mark, who will?

Spitz is in the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the United States Olympic Hall of Fame. Spitz ranked #33 on ESPN’s list of the SportsCentury 50 Greatest Athletes.

TV Show: Gunsmoke

Gunsmoke ran for 635 episodes over 20 seasons, making it the longest-running prime time drama in TV history. Uploaded by

Did we just completely use up all the storylines for Westerns during the 1950s and 1960s? How can you explain that a whole genre of programming is completely absent from television today and yet was so dominant back then? And the most dominant of them all was Gunsmoke.

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The Western reached its zenith in the late 1950s, when as many as 40 were on at the same time. Remember, there were only three networks at the time. Gunsmoke began its run as a radio program, with portly William Conrad providing the voice of Matt Dillon. It’s said the producers wanted John Wayne for the TV version, but Wayne wouldn’t commit to a TV series. Instead, he recommended his friend James Arness.

Marshal Dillon dealt with typical problems of the West – cattle rustling, gunfights, brawls, and the rest. He had an assistant (first Chester Goode then Festus Haggen), a confidant (Doc Adams), and a, uh, well…”girlfriend,” Miss Kitty.

Gunsmoke ran on CBS for 20 years and, with 635 episodes, still ranks as America’s longest-running prime time drama. It was the top-rated show on TV between 1957 and 1961, and remained a top-rated show throughout its run. Entertainment Weekly ranked Gunsmoke as the number 16 show in its ranking of the Top 100 TV Shows of all time.