Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Remembering Ricky Nelson May 8, 1940 - December 31, 1985

The Words of Rick Nelson

Did you ever wanna go
Where you've never been before?
Did you ever wanna know
Things you've never known before?

I'll take you there with me
And maybe then you'll see
It's easy to be free.

Did you ever wanna fly
Over rainbow skies so high?
Did you ever wonder why
People tell you not to try?

I'll take you there with me
And maybe then you'll see
It's easy to be free.

I stood and waited where the river runs
It felt so good to feel the morning sun
And after all
is said and done
I'm free.

Did you ever wanna go
Where you've never been before?
Did you ever wanna know
Things you've never known before?

I'll take you there with me
And maybe then you'll see
It's easy to be free
It's so easy
To be free.

These words penned by Rick Nelson appeared on Rick's funeral program following his death on December 31, 1985 following a plane crash that ended the lives of seven people including Ricky.

Eric Hilliard "Ricky" Nelson was born into a show business family and performed for the majority of his life as both an actor and musician.

His father, Ozzie Nelson was America's first Eagle Scout and quit practicing law to perform in his own band.  His mom, Harriet Hillard was a singer and screen star and Ozzie and Harriet were married in 1935.  The couple had two sons, young Ricky and his older brother, David.    Ozzie and Harriet performed on a radio sitcom called "The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet" and in 1949, the two sons joined them until the program was transferred from radio to television in 1952 that became a popular television program as well as a full length feature, "Here Come the Nelsons."

Rick also took a liking to music and made his first recording while attending Hollywood High School.  He talked his dad into letting him record the song "I'm Walking" for an episode of the television show.  The song became an instant hit as well as the flip side of the record "A Teenager's Romance" that rose to #2 on the charts.  His music career continued to flourish when he signed with Imperial Records and recorded the #1 hit song in August of 1958 titled "Poor Little Fool."  In addition to his music and young television career, he also decided to try his talents as a movie actor.  He appeared in the western classic "Rio Bravo" with John Wayne, Dean Martin and Walter Brennan and "The Wackiest Ship in the Army" with Jack Lemmon.  He also had a role in "Love and Kisses" featuring Jack Kelly.  On Ricky's 21st birthday, he changed his name from Ricky to Rick.  The name Ricky stayed with him during his lifetime because of his popularity on the popular television show.

He began to change his music genre to country music and soon became a pioneer of the country-rock sound.  His career remained somewhat stagnant until he recorded "She Belongs to Me" written by Bob Dylan and included members of the Stone Canyon Band.  He also recorded "Travelin Man."  His final hit was "Garden Party" that reached #6 on the charts.

On Rick's personal side, he was a talented athlete and played football in high school.  He was also a brown belt in karate.  In 1961, Nelson began dating "Kris" Harmon, daughter of football legend Tom Harmon and sister to actor and former college football player, Mark Harmon.  Eventually they married and had four children that all became successful actors and musicians. In 1975, their marriage ended in divorce.

Unfortunately, Rick became a regular user of marijuana that led him to stronger drugs and became dependent upon them during his adult life.

Rick Nelson's funeral card
On December 30, 1985, Rick and his band played in Guntersville, Alabama.  The following day they were scheduled to perform at the Park Suite Hotel in Dallas, Texas for a New Years Eve show.  They boarded the plane that was a 40 year old DC-3 and crash landed at 5:15pm in a hayfield 135 miles east of Dallas.  Killed were Rick, his fiancé, Helen Blair, four band members and a member of his road crew.

More than 1000 people attended his funeral on January 6, 1986 (funeral program pictured) at Forest Lawn Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills that only seated 275 people.  (Rick's remains were not present because of delay in transportin
g him back to California.)  Among those who paid tribute to him were his daughter Tracy who said "I remember his grace, his gentleness.  He was the kindest man you ever met.  The man had class.  He was an artist.  He was wise. And he loved ice cream.  Pop wouldn't want you to be sad."  Comments were also made by his brother, David. His sons performed "Easy to Be Free."  A message of condolence was read by President and Mrs. Ronald Reagan.  Those attending the service included Col. Tom Parker of Elvis Presley fame, Angie Dickinson and Connie Stevens.

He was laid to rest in Forest Lawn Memorial Park-Hollywood Hills.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Remembering Charles L. "Sonny" Liston May 8, 1932 - December 30, 1970

One of the headlines read "O Unlucky Man" " Fortune never smiled on Sonny Liston, even when he was champ."

Such was true in the life of Charles "Sonny" Liston, formerly the Heavyweight Boxing Champion of the World, whose life was far from the illustrious title he once carried.

Sonny's true date of birth isn't known although the date of May 8, 1932 was the one used for U.S. Census purposes but he was believed to be older than the date shows. He was born into a sharecropper  family who farmed land  in St. Francis County, Arkansas.  Sonny was one of 25 brothers and sisters and it is believed that Sonny was the youngest son.  He grew up in an abusive relationship.  The scars left on Liston's body were still quite visible
throughout his life. His mother left some of her family when Liston was young. He tried to earn money during his childhood by selling pecans from his brother in law's tree. When he earned enough money, he left his abusive father to reunite with his mother and other siblings in St. Louis.  Liston attempted school but quit because of the ridicule from the other children for being illiterate.  He also couldn't find a permanent job because of illiteracy.

Sonny soon turned to crime.  He joined the gangs and became quite known to the St. Louis Police Department for his illegal activity that included muggings and robberies.  He was known by the law enforcement as the "Yellow Shirt Bandit" because he was always wearing his favorite yellow shirt.  In 1950, Liston was caught following a violent robbery and following his conviction, was sentenced to five years in prison at the Missouri State Penitentiary.  He also served a prison sentence for assaulting a police officer.  He never complained about his time in prison and often said that he was guaranteed three meals a day.  While in prison,  a man who worked in the prison by the name of Fr. Alois Stevens suggested that Liston try boxing and eventually aided Liston in getting an early parole.  It was during this time that Liston's talent as a fighter became quite apparent.

Sonny had a brief amateur career (less than a year) as a fighter having won several fights including several Golden Gloves competitions.  He signed his professional boxing contract in September, 1953.  As a professional fighter, he had an illustrious career with a record of 50 wins (39 by knock out) and 4 losses.  He was exceptionally powerful and was known for his crushing left jab and left hook.  It was early in his professional career that he was nicknamed "The Big Bear"  His professional career was marred by several confrontations with law enforcement.  He became the #1 contender for the heavyweight title.  The peak of Liston's career came on the night of September 5, 1962 when Liston and heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson fought for the title at Comiskey Park in Chicago.  The fight lasted 2 minutes and five seconds when Liston KO'd Patterson.  It was the third fastest knockout in a world heavyweight fight  and the first time a champion had been knocked out in the first round.  A rematch took place on July 22, 1963 in Las Vegas and Liston prevailed once again.

Liston's heavyweight title lasted less than a year when he met up with a young boxer by the name of Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali in Miami, Florida.  Clay prevailed in a one sided fight.  They fought once again in 1965 and Ali won with another knockout.

Sonny Liston's final fight came in June, 1970 against Chuck Wepner and Liston prevailed when the match was stopped. Wepner suffered a broken cheekbone and nose and received 72 stitches.

Sonny Liston was married to his wife Geraldine in 1957 and was the stepfather to a girl and boy.  He was remembered as a gentle and caring man to his wife and stepchildren.

He had a brief acting career that included an appearance in the film "Head" that featured "The Monkees."  His life was featured in a film titled "Phantom Punch" that starred actor Ving Rhames as Liston.    He also appeared in a novel "The Cold Six Thousand" and "Blood's a Rover."  A wax model of Liston appears on the sleeve cover of The Beatles "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."  He was posthumously inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991, 21 years following his death.

In 1971, Liston was negotiating a fight with the Canadian boxing champion, George Chuvalo.  On January 5, 1971, Sonny's wife Geraldine returned from a trip when she noticed a foul odor when entering her home.  She entered the bedroom and found Sonny slumped over the bed.  His body was in an advanced state of decomposition.  It was determined that his death occurred December 30, 1970 that was estimated from the newspapers and milk bottles at the front door.  Following the investigation, it was determined that no foul play was involved and his death was ruled a heroin overdose.  Because of the condition of his body, the official ruling was lung congestion and heart failure.  Many continue to  question the cause of his death today and believe it was a coverup.  His life ended as sadly as it began.

Liston's memorial program
Charles "Sonny" Liston's memorial service (program pictured) was held on Saturday, January 9, 1971 at the Palm Mortuary Chapel in Las Vegas, Nevada.  Over 700 people attended his service that included many Hollywood personalities.  Among those in attendance were Ed Sullivan, Ella Fitzgerald, Jerry Vale, Nipsy Russell, Doris Day and Rosey Grier.  The Inkspots sang "Sunny" and the Rev. Edward Murphy, a Denver priest who helped rehabilitate Sonny eulogized him and music included the song "You'll Never Walk Alone"  A large list of honorary pallbearers include Redd Foxx, Buddy Hackett, Sammy Davis Jr. and George Foreman.

 Following the 45 minute service, a funeral procession that included Liston in a silver casket was escorted down the Las Vegas strip to Paradise Gardens Cemetery.  His wife Geraldine remarked "Sonny had always said if anything ever happened to him, his fond wish would be that he go down the Strip for the last time."

Liston's resting place

He rests at Paradise Memorial Gardens (pictured) in Las Vegas and the epitaph on his bronze marker is "A Man"

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Remembering Mary Martin December 1, 1913 - November 3, 1990

"Thank you all for the spirit of my life.  It will never end, because when I go, I'll be swinging up there on a star."   -Mary Martin

These are the words of "the "First Lady of Theater."

Mary as Peter Pan
Mary Virginia Martin originated many leading roles during her career from her portrayal and award winning performance of "Peter Pan" to her "Best Leading Actress honors as Nellie Forbush in "South Pacific" and Maria in the "Sound of Music"

Mary was born in Weatherford, Texas where she describes a very secure and happy childhood.  Her dad was an attorney and her mom was a violin teacher.  She had an instinctive ear for recreating musical sounds at a very early age.  As a child, she had a photographic memory and could easily remember the lyrics to songs.  She often sang outside of the courtroom while waiting for her father.  Her first solo performances were held outside of the fire hall.  She loved going to movies where she watched the individual performances of actors and actresses and attempted to mimic them.

Mary in the Sound of Music
During Mary's high school years, she dated Benjamin Hagman.  She soon found herself in Nashville, Tennessee where she attended a finishing school.  She became homesick for her family and her boyfriend, Hagman.  She returned home to Texas and talked her mother into allowing her to marry Hagman at the age of 17.  The result was a son, actor, Larry Hagman.  Eventually the two separated.

She soon became interested in the world of dance that she continued to perfect and would eventually teach.  She moved to California and continued her dance training in the Franchon and Marco School of the Theatre and eventually opened her own dance studio.  She also performed as a singer.  She got her first job while auditioning on a national radio network.  She sang "Indian Love Call" and one day impressed the famous Oscar Hammerstein that was a huge break in the beginning of her successful career.

Her initial years as a performer were a struggle.  She changed her last name from Hagman to Martin.  Her Broadway debut came in 1938 when she was cast in Cole Porter's "Leave it to Me!" Her rendition of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy" became a sensation that catapulted her career.  She then appeared in South Pacific where she was awarded a "Tony" and eventually as Peter Pan.  She also performed alongside Robert Preston in "I Do!I Do" and was nominated for another Tony.

Mary Martin appeared in nine films between 1938 and 1943.  She much preferred her roles on television rather than in film.  She received many accolades including the Kennedy Center Honors, Donaldson Award, and the New York Film Critics Circle Award.  She has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  She was also honored with a Peter Pan statue in her hometown of Weatherford, Texas.  An autobiography was written of her life called "My Heart Belongs."

Mary Martin was the victim of colorectal cancer that eventually took her life on Nov. 3, 1990 at the age of 76.

Mary's program signed by her friends
In her honor, the Mary Martin Celebration of Life was held on January 28, 1991 in The Majestic Theater in New York City (program pictured) where she often performed.  Among those who honored her were her great friend and fellow actress, Helen Hayes along with President Ronald Reagan, Carol Channing, Carol Lawrence and Bernadette Peters.  Florence Henderson sang "My Favorite Things" and "A Cockeyed Optimist" and spoke of Martin by saying "Her unique magic has been a source of wonder.  She makes us believe in the magic of the theater and of ourselves."  Carol Channing sang the song that made Mary famous "My Heart Belongs to Daddy"

Mary's resting place
Taken from her memorial program is Mary's Creed

I would be true, for there are those who trust me;
I would be pure, for there are those who care;
I would be strong, for there is much to suffer;
I would be brave, for there is much to dare.

I would be friend to all-the foe, the friendless;
I would be giving and forget the gift;
I would be humble, for I know my weakness;
I would look up-and laugh-and love-and lift

Mary Martin was laid to rest beside her second husband Richard Halliday in the City Greenwood Cemetery in her hometown of Weatherford, Texas (photographed below).

Remembering Dr. Norman Vincent Peale May 31, 1898 - December 24, 1993

"You can make your life what you want it to be through belief in God and in yourself"

"Never talk defeat.  Use words like hope, belief, faith, victory."

"It is of practical value to learn to like yourself.  Since you must spend so much time with yourself you might as well get some satisfaction out of the relationship."

"Always remember that problems contain values that have improvement potential."

"Successful and happy living is built into you by God who created you.  If you have never experienced this kind of life, maybe you need to be re-created."

These are just a few of the many quotes spoken and written by the author of "The Power of Positive Thinking."  These quotes were taken from the memorial program of one of America's most memorable television pastors and motivational speakers.

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale is best known for his belief in positive thinking.  He believed that a person's life can be transformed by his own attitudes and the way we look at life.

Peale was born in Bowersville, Ohio and was the eldest of three boys.  His dad was a physician who later became a Methodist minister.  After graduating from Bellefontaine High School, he enrolled in Ohio Wesleyan University.  He always had a love for writing.  While in college,
he worked during the summers for the Ohio Morning Republican in Findlay, Ohio.  Following graduation, he took a job with the Detroit Journal.  It was later that Peale decided to follow in his dad's footsteps.  He decided to pursue a theological degree and enrolled in Boston University.  Following his ordination in the ministry, Dr. Peale began to gain a reputation as a dynamic pastor.  The churches that he served had terrific growth.  While pastoring the University Methodist Church in Syracuse, Peale met and married his wife and life partner, Ruth with whom he was married for 63 years.

When Peale was 34, he accepted a position at the Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan, New York.  It was there that he remained for the duration of his ministry.  The church grew and expanded.  It became widely known outside the City of New York and the destination of tourists visiting New York City.  During his years in the Marble church, Peale launched innovative programs and established a weekly radio broadcast called "The Art of Living" that continued for 54 years.  He also established  the
Institutes of Religion and Health.  He and his wife Ruth also began publishing a magazine called "Guideposts" that continues to be popular years after his death.  The magazine is the world's largest inspirational, interfaith publication.  The publishing of Peale's sermons grew into the Peale Center for Christian Living in Pawling, New York.

Over his career, Dr. Peale authored 46 books that included (his fourth book) the all-time best seller "The Power of Positive Thinking."  He was also a popular motivational speaker that was invited to share his message all over the world.  His life story was turned into a 1963 movie called "One Man's Way"  Peale stayed active on the tour circuit until the age of 93.  Over his lifetime, it is estimated that he reached 20,000,000 people.  He was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Ronald Reagan.  Peale also co-founded the Horatio Alger Association that continues to recognize and honor Americans who have been successful in spite of difficult circumstances.

It has been said of him "Dr. Peale does not just preach the Bible, he preaches life."  He is remembered most for his love of people."  Billy Graham said of Peale "I don't know of anyone who has done more for the kingdom of God than Norman and Ruth Peale or have meant any more in my life for the encouragement they have given me."

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale died following a stroke on December 24, 1993 at the age of 95.
Peale's funeral program

His funeral was held on Wednesday, Dec. 29, 1993 at his beloved Marble Collegiate Church (program pictured).  His service included many of his favorite hymns including Handel's Messiah, Jesus Loves Me, and Faith of Our Fathers and his service included many memories spoken by his family.
Peale's resting place

Dr. Peale was laid to rest in the Christ Church Cemetery in Pawling, New York.  The epitaph on his monument (pictured) include the words Author-Pastor-Counselor-Friend

Monday, December 23, 2013

Remembering Jack Webb April 2, 1920 - December 22, 1982

"Just the facts, ma'am, just the facts."  This was the popular line spoken by Sgt. Joe Friday, the fictional detective on the popular television series "Dragnet" that ran on television from 1951-59 and 1967-70.  He also was tagged with "My name is Friday-I'm a cop"

Sgt. Joe Friday was portrayed by John Randolph "Jack" Webb who was also known as John Randolph and Preston Wood.  In addition to an actor, Jack was a television producer, director and screenwriter and was the founder of his own production company, "Mark VII Limited"

Webb was born in the heart of the movie industry, Santa Monica, California and was raised by his mother.  His dad left home before Jack was born and never connected with him.  He was raised Roman Catholic.  Jack had a love for jazz having been raised in a rooming house next to a jazz musician.  He eventually moved into a church parish "Our Lady of Loretto Church and attended it's elementary school.  He graduated from Belmont High School and furthered his education in art at the St. John's University in Minnesota.  He enlisted in the US Army Air Force during World War II but was unable to complete flight training and was discharged.

He soon found himself in San Francisco and had his own 30 minute comedy radio show "The Jack Webb" show.  He soon moved from comedy to drama having starred in the "Pat Novak for Hire" radio program where he played the character of an unlicensed private detective.  His partner in the show was actor Raymond Burr of "Perry Mason" fame.

Badge was retired at Webb's memorial
Jack Webb's most notable motion picture role was a Marine Corps drill instructor at Parris Island called "The D.I."  His character in that film shaped the rest of his career as an actor.  Webb also played a crime lab tech in "He Walked By Night" that would give Webb the idea for the production of his most popular role in "Dragnet"

The story of "Dragnet" was created with the help of the Los Angeles Police Department.  They worked with Webb to create a real to life account of the everyday happenings of the Los Angeles Police Department.  Webb was known for his attention to detail.  He developed a tremendous respect for law enforcement and in return,  the L.A.Police Department returned that same respect to Webb.  In the show, Sgt. Joe Friday had the fictional badge number #714.

Webb was just as successful with his production company as he was an actor.  He produced many popular shows including "Emergency!" "77 Sunset Strip" and "Adam-12."

As mentioned previously, Webb had a love for jazz and eventually married singer and  actress Julie London.  Following their divorce, Webb married twice more.  His daughter, Stacy collaborated on Jack's biography called "Just the Facts, Ma'am: The Authorized Biography of Jack Webb." Stacy died in a car accident before the book was published.

Jack was working on a revival of "Dragnet" and on Dec. 22, 1982, suffered a fatal heart attack.  He was 62.  He was honored with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (1 for radio and the other for television).

Jack Webb memorial tribute program
A Memorial Tribute to Jack Webb (program pictured) was held on December 30, 1982 at the Los Angeles Police Academy.  Among those who honored Webb were actor
William Conrad, Daryl Gates, Chief of the LAPD and others in law enforcement.  Webb received an Airborne salute, memorial volley and taps.  It was during the tribute that badge #714 was retired.  The flags in Los Angeles were lowered to half-staff.

Jack Webb's resting place
Jack Webb was laid to rest in Forest Lawn, Hollywood Hills Cemetery and a replica of the LAPD badge bearing the rank of Sergeant was placed on Jack Webb's chest.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Remembering Christopher Crosby Farley February 15, 1964 - December 18, 1997

Dear Lord,

  As I stumble through this life, help me to create more laughter than tears, dispense more happiness than gloom, spread more cheer than despair.  Never let me become so blaze that I fail to see the wonder in the eyes of a child or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.  Never let me forget my work is to cheer people, make them happy, make them laugh, make them forget, at least for a moment the unpleasantness in their lives.  Never let me acquire success to the point that I discontinue calling on My Creator in the hour of need, acknowledging and thanking Him in the hour of plenty, and in my final moment, may I hear you whisper, "When you made my people smile, you made Me smile!"
                                                                                      A Clown's Prayer

How appropriate these words are to the life of one of the funniest men in comedic history.  As written by Chris Farley's brother in the biography of Chris called "The Chris Farley Show: A Biography in Three Acts says of Chris "No one dominated a stage the way Chris Farley did.  For him, comedy was not a routine; it was a way of life.  He could not enter a room unnoticed or let a conversation go without making someone laugh."

Christopher Crosby Farley grew up in Madison, Wisconsin.  He was raised in a traditional Roman Catholic family.  Chris and his four siblings attended Catholic schools and Chris rarely missed church.  During his childhood years, he spent his summers as a camp counselor.

Following high school, Chris enrolled in  communications and theater at Marquette University and following its completion in 1986, Chris joined his father in the Scotch Oil Company in Madison.  He soon got his start in professional comedy in the Ark Improv Theatre in Madison.  He soon moved to Chicago and performed at the Improv Theatre and joined the Second City Theatre as a member of the touring group until he was promoted to the main stage.

Chris as Matt Foley (motivational speaker)
Farley and Chris Rock joined the Saturday Night Live cast in 1990 and worked with other comedians including Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade and the gang became known as the "Bad Boys of SNL."  Farley always admired the original SNL cast that included his favorite comedian, John Belushi.  While on SNL, his hilarious characters included Matt Foley, the motivational speaker; one of "Da Bears" and his unforgettable performance as a Chippendale Dancer with Patrick Swayze.  He was also one of the "Gap Girls" and the "lunch lady"  He also portrayed many celebrities that included Meat Loaf, Newt Gingrich, Roger Ebert, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Arnold and Mama Cass.
Chris' prayer card

Farley was also known for his gags offscreen that included prank phone calls, passing gas during phone calls, and mooning cars from limousines.  Adam Sandler supposedly reported that Farley and Sandler actually lost their job from the show in 1995.

Chris also had a successful film career.  He and his SNL colleague David Spade appeared in "Tommy Boy" and "Black Sheep"  Farley also had major roles in "Wayne's World" "Coneheads" and "Airheads"  He was also the featured star in "Beverly Hills Ninja."  Unfortunately, during his movie career, drugs and alcohol became a part of Chris' life.  While filming "Almost Heroes" the film was halted numerous times because of drugs and rehabs.  Almost Heroes and Dirty Work were both released posthumously.

Chris was the original voice of the title character for the animated film "Shrek"

In Chris' final years, he dealt with many medical and addictive problems that included obesity, drug abuse, and coronary atherosclerosis.

Program from Santa Monica
On December 18, 1998, Chris' brother found Chris on the floor of his apartment in the John Hancock building in Chicago.  It was reported that there was no sign of foul play.   Toxicology reports showed that in addition to coronary atheroscerlosis were signs of morphine in his blood (opiate intoxication).

Back of program
Over 500 people attended Chris Farley's private funeral that was held at the Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin that included many of the comedians that worked with Chris on SNL.  One friend who was absent was David Spade who was quoted as saying that he declined to attend because "he could not be in a room where Chris was in a box."

A memorial mass was held on January 12, 1998 (program pictured) in the St. Monica Church in Santa Monica, California.  His eulogy was given by his friend, fellow actor Tom Arnold (Roseanne's former husband).  A Clown's Prayer was printed on the back of the program.

Chris was laid to rest in a mausoleum in the Resurrection Cemetery in Madison, Wisconsin.

Chris was posthumously awarded the 2289th star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Resurrection Cemetery

Chris' resting place

Friday, December 13, 2013

Remembering Erma Bombeck February 21, 1927 - April 22, 1996

She was America's "First Lady of Household Humor."

Erma Bombeck achieved her popularity from writing and expressing her views on daily life through her  many newspaper columns and best selling books.

She was born Erma Fiste and raised in Dayton, Ohio.  Her dad was the city crane operator and was raised with her elder half sister.  She was an avid reader during her early years and an excellent student.    She also enjoyed tap dancing and singing and worked for a local radio station for eight years.

Erma began writing while in junior high school where she wrote a humor column for the school newspaper called "The Owl." In 1942, she took a job as a copygirl for the Dayton Herald and soon found herself beginning a journalism career.  One of her first major assignments was the opportunity to interview Shirley Temple who was visiting Dayton, Ohio and received rave reviews for the article.

After graduating from high school, Erma earned money and scholarships by continuing her writing and began writing obituaries and other jobs while going to school at Ohio University. She had hoped to
continue her writing but her experience at the university wasn't successful.  She found herself back in Dayton and enrolled in the University of Dayton where she supported herself by working in a department store.  She wrote her humor in the company newsletter and took another job with an advertising agency.  She eventually graduated with a degree in English.  Her English professor encouraged her to continue with her path of writing.  She wrote for the student publication called "The Exponent." She married a fellow student by the name of Bill Bombeck who served on the Korean Front during World War II and eventually became an educator.  The two of them were strong members of the Catholic faith.

Erma discontinued her journalism career when the Bombecks decided to adopt a daughter, Betsy.  They relocated to Centerville, Ohio and became neighbors to the young television personality, Phil Donahue.  She continued her journey as a homemaker for the next twelve years. Her family increased by one when they had a son.

On the cover of Time
In 1964, Erma reestablished her journalism career when she began writing weekly columns for the Kettering, Ohio Times where she claimed to have made $3.00/column.  The Dayton newspaper requested her columns as well and she agreed to write two columns for them.  Her articles went into national syndication under the title "At Wit's End."Her writing career then exploded and her columns were seen in nearly 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. On top of a successful writing career, Erma's career expanded as a lecturer in the cities where her columns appeared.    She was also a regular guest of the popular Arthur Godfrey's radio show.

Over Erma's career, she published fourteen bestselling books
including "The Grass Is Always Greener Over The Septic Tank" "When God Created Mothers" and "If Life Is a Bowl of Cherries, What Am I Doing in the Pits?"  She also wrote over 4000 newspaper columns that were read by over 30 million readers.  She wrote for Good Housekeeping, Reader's Digest, Family Circle, Redbook, and McCall's magazines.  She also frequent guest on talk shows including Good Morning America from 1975-86.

Her popularity earned her the distinction of Grand Marshal for the 97th Tournament of Roses Parade and she served on the Presidential Advisory Committee for Women.

Erma Bombeck was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy in 1991 that eventually worked its way to the kidneys two years later.  In 1996, Erma received a kidney transplant and often wrote about her health problems.  She died three weeks following the transplant on April 22, 1996 at the age of 69.
Erma's funeral mass program

Erma's life was celebrated during a funeral mass at the St. Thomas the Apostle Church in Phoenix, Arizona (program pictured) on April 29, 1996.  Rev. Robert Skagen reminded mourners of a final Erma Bombeck quotation:  "When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I would not have a single bit of talent left and could say, "I used everything You gave me."

Erma's resting place at Woodlawn
She was laid to rest in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio and one of the pallbearers was Phil Donahue.  A huge 29000 pound rock (pictured) covers her grave taken from her former home in Arizona.  Her husband, Bill said he wanted a "piece of Phoenix" at Erma's grave to commemorate the 25 years they resided there.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Remembering Peter Boyle October 18, 1935 - December 12, 2006

From monastery to favorite and loved actor describes the life of Peter Boyle.

Born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, Peter Boyle was the son of a Philadelphia Pennsylvania TV personality who hosted children's television programs.  Peter grew up in the Roman Catholic faith having attended a catholic high school for boys.  Following high school, he spent three years as a novice in the Institute of the Brothers of the Christian Schools, a Catholic teaching order.  He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from LaSalle University but eventually left the order because he didn't feel committed to a religious life.  He took a job as a cameraman on a cooking show while in Philadelphia.  In 1959, Boyle graduated from Officer Candidate School in the US Navy but discontinued his service because of emotional issues.

He began his career in acting when he moved to New York City and studied acting while working for the US Postal service as a clerk.  His first role in entertainment was the role of a policeman in "The Odd Couple.  Soon he found himself performing in a comedy club in Chicago.

His first starring performance was his role as a bigot in the 1970 film, "Joe" The movie was controversial because of it's violence and poor language.  During that time, Boyle developed a friendship with actress, Jane Fonda and found himself a protester of the Vietnam War.  Over time, Boyle earned more and more roles in popular films including "a campaign manager for Robert Redford" in "The Candidate" and a "mobster" in "The Friends of Eddie Co

Peter as Frankenstein
One of Boyle's most popular movie roles was "Young Frankenstein" where he played the monster.  He received an Emmy nomination for his performance in the television movie "Tail Gunner Joe." Other films include "Taxi Driver" "Hardcore" "While You Were Sleeping" and "Monster's Ball." He won an Emmy Award for his role as guest star of "The X-Files."

He also was popular in New York theater and Broadway for his roles in "The Roast" and "True West."

Peter as Frank Barone
Although Boyle had a highly successful film career, he still probably most remembered for his role in the popular television sitcom, "Everybody Loves Raymond" having played "Frank Barone" the patriarch of the family that aired from 1996-2005.  He had seven Emmy Award nominations but never won.  While on the set in 1999, Boyle suffered a heart attack and that crisis drew him back to the Catholic Church.  He also had roles in all three Santa Clause films and toward the end of his career, did television commercials for Alka Seltzer.

In 2006, Boyle had just completed his work in a film called "All Roads Lead Home" and was preparing to appear in "The Golden Boys" when he became ill and died on Dec. 12, 2006 from heart disease.  He was 71 years old.

Peter Boyle's prayer card
Peter Boyle's memorial service (funeral prayer card pictured) was attended by nearly 250 people and held on Dec. 18, 2006 in the Frank Campbell Funeral Chapel in New York that was attended by many celebrities including the cast of Everybody Loves Raymond along with Chevy Chase, Robert Klein, and Robert Kennedy Jr.  Among those who paid tribute to Boyle were actor Alan Alda, Steven Van Zandt, and singer, Judy Collins.  Trumpet maestro, Chris Botti performed Ave Maria and Ray Romano, Doris Roberts and Brad Garrett spoke lovingly of Boyle.

His close friend, actor Robert Klein said "I made him laugh two days before he died."  Peter and his daughter sang "Putting On The Ritz" (a song he performed as Frankenstein) at the end of his life that also put a smile on his face.

Boyle was cremated and his place of rest is unknown.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Remembering Kitty Wells August 30, 1919 - July 16, 2012

On July 20, 2012, the "Queen of Country Music" received her final standing ovation in the Hendersonville Church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee.  Eddie Stubbs, longtime fiddle player for Wells and her late husband, Johnnie Wright and one of many who paid tribute to Wells said this, "Let's all stand together and give Kitty Wells the biggest round of applause ever given to her"

Kitty Wells
Ellen Muriel Deason was born and spent her childhood in Nashville, Tennessee.  She began singing as a child and was taught to play the guitar by her father who worked for the Tennessee Central Railroad.  Her dad and his brothers were musicians and her grandmother was a gospel singer.  Ellen and her sisters sang together as children and were known as the Deason Sisters.  They performed on a local radio station.

When Ellen was 18, she married another aspiring musician by the name of Johnnie Wright.  Wright was a cabinet maker and played music on the side in a duo known as Johnnie & Jack.

Newly married, Ellen, Johnnie and Ellen's sister Louise began touring under the name of Johnnie Right and the Harmony Girls until Louise met and married Jack Anglin that joined the group and became known as "The Tennessee Hillbillies and then the "Tennessee Mountain Boys."

Ellen changed her identity to Kitty Wells soon after she and her husband began performing as a duo.  The name Kitty Wells was actually chosen by her husband from a folk song called "Sweet Kitty Wells."

Kitty and Johnnie
It was in 1952 that Kitty was approached by an executive from Decca Records to record a song called "It Wasn't God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels.  During that time, Kitty was considering giving up and retiring from a career in music.  Reluctantly
, Kitty agreed to record the song.  The lyrics were controversial at that time and was banned by several radio stations and the Grand Ole Opry.  However, audiences loved the song and it's recording sold more than 800,000 copies in its initial release.  It became the first song to reach #1 on the record charts by a female singer.  The success for the song also caused Wells to receive membership in the Grand Ole Opry.  Another successful hit by Kitty Wells followed with the release of "Paying For That Back Street Affair."  She would have two more hit songs with "Hey Joe" and "Cheatin A Sin"  On top of that, she recorded a duet with country star, Red Foley called "One By One" that peaked at #1 on the Billboard Country Music Chart.  Wells career peaked when she recorded "Making Believe" that is regarded as one of the greatest songs in country music history. It was included on the soundtrack for the film "Mississippi Burning." Several other successful  songs followed.

Kitty Wells funeral folder
She and her husband Johnnie also became popular enough to have their own television program called "The Kitty Wells/Johnnie Wright Family Show" that included appearances by their children.  She remained a popular concert attraction.  She was awarded a Grammy Awards Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.  She is also ranked #15 on CMT's 40 Greatest Women of Country Music" in 2002.  Kitty and husband, Johnnie performed together for the last time at the Nashville Nightlife Theater in 2002.  Her final television appearance was on the "Marty Stuart Show" in 2010.

Kitty Wells died on July 16, 2012 from complications of a stroke at the age of 92.

Kitty's funeral
The funeral (funeral program pictured) was attended by many country western greats including Marty Stuart, Bill Anderson and Ricky Skaggs.
 She was remembered as a "woman of deep faith" "always exhibited poise, professionalism, dignity and class, and was a top notch cook."  She considered her voice a "gift from God."

She and her husband, Johnnie of nearly 74 years, now rest in the Spring Hill Cemetery in Nashville, Tennessee.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Remembering Al Lewis April 30, 1923 - February 3, 2006

"He burned brightly.  His passion for life and his wisdom are alive in the people he inspired.  Husband, father, grandfather, friend, mentor---he loved the life in himself and in others.  He honored the strength he saw in people, especially when they did not see it in themselves.  He was crafty in the way that he could rouse the sleeping greatness in us all.  Don't stand in the way of yourself---he could recite this as a poem, sing it in the blues, or issue it as a command, whatever was needed.  He was funny.  He was a trickster and a sage."

These are the words written in the memorial program of Avraham Meister better known as Al Lewis and even more known for his role as "Grandpa Munster" on the popular CBS sitcom "The Munsters" that aired from September 24, 1964 to May 12, 1966.

Grandpa Munster
Little is known for sure about his birth and childhood.  He is thought to have been born on April 30, 1923 to a Jewish family in Brooklyn, New York.  He told others that his birthdate was 1910.  No official place of birth can be documented although it is believed that he was born in Wolcott, New York.  He often mentioned that his mother worked in a sweat shop and is said to have been a tough woman.  Lewis attended Thomas Jefferson High School in New York until his junior year.  He later went to Oswego State Teachers College.

He began his career in burlesque and vaudeville theaters.  He soon found himself on Broadway when he performed in "The Night Circus" and "One More River"  He also took on the role of "Moe Shtarker" in the musical comedy "Do Re Mi"

His television career began on "Decoy" "The Phil Silvers Show" and "Naked City"  He began to gain his fame on "Car 54 Where are You" having played the role of Officer Leo Schnauser" from 1961-63.  When it came to movies, Lewis first role was "Machine Gun Manny" in "Pretty Boy Floyd"  and "Turkey" in They Shoot Horses, Don't They?"

Officer Leo Schnauser
Over the years, Lewis made appearances on "Green Acres" and the judge in "Used Cars"  He could often be seen on the Howard Stern Show.

Al Lewis was an outspoken political activist and was a Green Party candidate for Governor of New York City but was defeated.

Al Lewis Funeral Program
Finally, Lewis opened an Italian restaurant called "Grampa's Bella Gente" in Greenwich Village and made numerous appearances for photographs with his patrons as well as a comedy club  that went by the name of "Grandpa's on New Dorp Plaza located in Staten Island.

Al Lewis died on February 3, 2006 first reported at the age of 95 and then was determined to be 82 from complications from heart surgery.

Grampa Al Commemoration
Al Lewis funeral (program pictured) was held in the Riverside Church in New York City.  Another service was held called "Grampa Al Lewis Commemoration" (program pictured) was held September 18, 2006 at the Church of the Good Shepherd on Main Street Roosevelt Island.  Among those who paid tribute to Lewis was Al Hooks.

Al Lewis was cremated and his ashes were placed in his favorite cigar box.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Remembering Leslie W. Nielsen February 11, 1926 - November 28, 2010

"Let er Rip"

This is the epitaph on the marker of one of the funniest comedic characters in the history of film and television.

Leslie W. Nielsen appeared in more than one hundred films and over 1500 television programs and took on the role of nearly 220 characters over his career.

He was born in Canada.  His mom was a Welsh immigrant and his father was a Danish born constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.  Leslie and his brothers suffered from physical abuse from their father.  After Leslie graduated from the Victoria School of Performing and Visual Arts in Edmonton at the age of 17, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force even though he was for the most part, deaf. He was trained as an aerial gunner. Leslie's uncle was a popular entertainer on a long running radio series.  He eventually worked as a disc jockey for an Alberta Canada radio station and enrolled in the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto.  He received a scholarship to the Neighborhood Playhouse where he studied theater.

Nielsen made his television debut in 1948 on an episode of "Studio One" alongside Charlton Heston.  His career began with serious roles  during the "Television's Golden Age." having appeared in fifty live programs in 1950.  In 1956, Nielsen made his first feature film in the musical film "The Vagabond King" and his career began to move to another level.  He was offered a role in "Forbidden Planet" that resulted in his signing a long term contract with MGM.  He would soon appear in "Ransom" "The Opposite Sex" and "Hot Summer Night" and then appeared with Debbie Reynolds in "Tammy and the Bachelor"  After leaving MGM, he took on roles in "Ben-Hur" and "The Swamp Fox"

Leslie Nielsen also appeared in many television episodes including "Justice, "Alfred Hitchcock" "The Virginian" and "The Wild Wild West"  He also had a major role in "Hawaii Five O and a police officer in "The Bold Ones: The Protectors."

He is probably most remembered for his exemplary performances in "Airplane!"and "The Naked Gun." He continued his acting career in

his eighties having performed serious roles in his one man theater show "Darrow" and provided voiceovers in "Zeroman" and "Pumper Pups" He also appeared as a celebrity contestant on the CBS Gameshow Marathon having played on "The Price Is Right" "Let's Make A Deal" and "Beat the Clock"

He received numerous accolades during his career that included a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a Golden Palm Star on the Walk of Stars.  Grant MacEwan College named its school of communications after him.

Leslie Nielsen died from pneumonia on Nov. 28, 2010 at the age of 84.

Cover of Leslie's funeral program designed by his wife
Kleenex created by Leslie himself
His funeral was unlike most in that it was an open casket cocktail party.  Leslie's wife is an artist and her painting was the cover of the funeral program (pictured).  the memorial was billed "Cocktails With Leslie and Barbaree"  Nearly 100 family members and friends socialized in the Lago Mar Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  It was reported that Leslie got a final laugh when a whoopee cushion was placed underneath his remains and its sound penetrated during his service.  As part of the celebration of Leslie's life, clips of Leslie's films and television shows were played.  Because of Leslie's love of law enforcement, the Broward County retired police organization provided the color guard and the Broward Sheriff's motorcycles escorted the casket from the funeral home to Lago Mar.

Those in attendance each received a container of kleenex (pictured)
that were inscribed with Leslie's own words "Stop Crying!!!! This is supposed to be a fun night.  Love & Laughs   Leslie

Leslie rests in the Evergreen Cemetery in Fort
Lauderdale that not only includes his epitaph but a bench sits near his gravesite with the words "Sit Down Whenever You Can  Leslie Nielsen.