Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Remembering James Gandolfini September 18, 1961 - June 19, 2013

The New Yorker magazine put it this way "Success came relatively late to James Gandolfini-if not by the standards of scholars, judges, and surgeons, then at least by the standards of actors."But when it arrived, it came in huge fashion.  Among his achievements were three Emmy Awards, three Screenwriters Awards, one Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Drama Series-all achieved after the age of 37.

James Gandolfini was born in Westwood, New Jersey.  His dad was a bricklayer and head custodian at Paramus Catholic High School and his mom was a high school lunch lady.  James was proud of his Italian heritage.  After graduating from Park Ridge High School in Park Ridge, New Jersey where he played basketball and acted in school plays, he continued his studies at Rutgers University having earned his undergraduate degree in communication.  While at Rutgers, he earned his spending money by being a bouncer at  a local bar.  He also worked as a bartender in Manhattan before pursuing his acting career.  While in New York City, he visited an acting class and enrolled in the Gately Poole Conservatory.

One of his first gigs was in the 1992 Broadway production of "On the Waterfront" He also got one of his first acting roles having played a mob enforcer in the film, "True Romance."He earned other roles that included "Terminal Velocity" "Get Shorty"  and "The Juror"

Gandolfini in The Sopranos
Gandolfini is most remembered for his role as lead character, "Tony Soprano" in one of the most successful television series in history, having played a mob boss that showed on HBO.  The series debuted in 1999 and ended in 2007.  The series made him #42 on Entertainment Weekly's list of Greatest Television
Icon's of All Time.  At the end of the Soprano's rein, he produced a documentary for HBO that focused on injured Iraq War veterans and the devotion they had for America.  He was also the executive producer of "Alive Day Memories: Home From Iraq" that was nominated for an Emmy.  He soon found himself back on Broadway for a role in "God of Carnage" and performed the part of the Mayor of New York in "The Taking of Pelham 123.  He continued to produce other documentaries and HBO films.

During his success in the entertainment industry, Goldolfini never forgot his roots.  He continued to support his hometown.  He and his first wife bore a son, Michael and following his divorce, Gandolfini remarried and he and his second wife had a daughter.

In June, 2013, James decided to take a brief vacation to Rome, Italy.  He had planned to travel to Sicily
 to accept an award at the Taormina Film Fest.  On June 19, 2013 following a day of blistering heat while sightseeing with his son, Michael, James returned to his room.  His 13 year old son entered the room at about 10pm and found his dad unconscious on the bathroom floor.  The paramedics were called and James was rushed to the hospital and upon arrival, was pronounced dead at 11pm.  He was 51 years of age.  An autopsy was performed and the cause of death was ruled a heart attack.  When New Jersey got the news of James passing, flags were lowered to half staff on June 24.
James Gandolfini funeral

The remains of James Gandolfini were returned to the United States on June 23.  James was honored with the dimming of the lights on Broadway on June 26.

Gandolfini funeral program
James Gandolfini's funeral was held on June 27, 2013 at the Episcopal Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in Morningside Heights, New York (program pictured).  Nearly 1500 friends and family members gathered to pay respect.  Among them was the entire crew of cast members from the Sopranos.  Also in attendance was Gov. Chris Christie and actor Alec Baldwin.  Among those who paid tribute to Gandolfini was the creator of the Sopranos, David Chase.  Chase recounted several memories of Gandolfini from the shooting of his landmark series, including one from early on in the first season when, between takes on a hot summer day, he saw Gandolfini sitting with pant legs rolled up, black shoes and black socks exposed, a damp handkerchief draped across his forehead.  It was, for Chase, an emblematic pose of working class Italian-American life, as if he were looking back through time at his own father or grandfather "It made me so proud of our heritage to see you do that.  I always felt that we were brothers."  "James was described as the most giving, generous person everyone here as ever known."

James Gandolfini was cremated following the services and returned to his family.  His place of rest is unknown.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Remembering Iron Eyes Cody April 3, 1904 - January 4, 1999

On America's first -ever Earth Day in 1971, he paddled his canoe up a polluted stream past a belching smokestack and walked to the edge of a busy highway strewn with trash.  As the camera moved in for a closeup, a single tear rolled down his cheek as a narrator said, "People start pollution and people can stop it."  The man that created that powerful message and is remembered for that "Keep America Beautiful" announcement was Iron Eyes Cody. The public service announcements  took place in the early 70's.  He was known as the "Crying Chief."

Iron Eyes Cody was born Espera Oscar de Corti in 1904 in southwestern Louisiana and was one of three children.  His parents ran a small grocery store in Gueydan, Louisiana until his father left his family and moved to Texas.  His mom remarried and had five additional children.  During Cody's teenage years, the three children joined their dad in Texas and shorted their last name to Corti.  They eventually relocated to California and began acting in movies in the early 30's.

Iron Eyes Cody claimed to be of the Cherokee-Cree ancestry and from an early age supported numerous Native American causes.
Earth Day campaign

He appeared in more than 200 films during his career that included "The Big Trail" in 1930 with John Wayne.  His first film was D.W. Griffith's "The Massacre" in 1912.  Other successful films followed that included "The Scarlet Letter," played Crazy Horse in "Sitting Bull," "Nevada Smith," with Steve McQueen, "A Man Called Horse" with Richard Harris and took on the role as Chief Split Cloud in "Ernest Goes to Camp"  He also played in numerous successful television productions that included "The Restless Gun" "The Tall Man" and "The Rebel."

Through his dedication to the Native American culture, Iron Eyes became very popular with many tribal chiefs as well as his close relationship with heads of government.  He became one of the most recognized faces of generations of Americans.  He touched the lives of virtually every actor who had appeared in movies during the era.

Iron Eyes Cody memorial program
He was known to provide costumes and props from his vast private collection of Indian clothing and artifacts.  He donated many of his works to various museums around the world and did so in honor of his late wife, Birdie, who was an archaeologist for several prominent southwest museums.

During the pinnacle of his career, it was revealed that Iron Eyes was not a Native American but instead of Italian descent.  The Native American community continued to honor him because of his charitable deeds and his dedication to the Indian heritage.  Iron Eyes continued to claim his Indian heritage up to his final breath.

That final breath occurred on January 4, 1999 following a series of strokes.  He was 94 years old.

Following his memorial service in the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles (program pictured), Iron Eyes Cody was laid to rest beside his wife, Bertha in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Remembering Salvatore "Sonny" Bono February 16, 1935 - January 5, 1998

"He had a vision of the future and just how he was going to build it, and his enthusiasm was so great that he just swept everyone along with him.  We didn't know where he was going, but we just wanted to be there."  -Cher

Sonny the Congressman
These were the words spoken by his former wife and singing partner at the funeral of Sonny Bono, the recording artist, record producer, actor, and politician whose career spanned over three decades.

Savatore "Sonny" Bono was born in Detroit, Michigan to Italian immigrants.  He was the youngest of three children that included his two older sisters.  Sonny attended Inglewood High School in Inglewood, California but did not graduate.

Sonny the performer
He always had a love for writing music.  Initially he wrote music for other performers.  He penned a popular song in 1965 called "Needles and Pins" that was recorded by The Searchers.  He also wrote "Things You Do to Me" for the late, great Sam Cooke.  He soon began performing with his then wife, Cher and the duo "Sonny and Cher" became a huge hit with such songs as "I Got You Babe" and "The Beat Goes On." He later was instrumental in Cher's solo career with the writing of songs "Bang Bang" and "You Better Sit Down Kids."  Bono co-wrote "She Said Yea" for the Rolling Stones and he solo recorded another song he wrote named "Laugh At Me" that rose to #10 on the Billboard Hot 100.

As their popularity continued to rise, they became stars on their own variety show on Sunday evenings called "The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour" that ran on CBS from 1971-74.  It was during that show that their daughter, Chastity was introduced to the world.  In 1974, Sonny and Cher's marriage faltered and the show ended.  Cher's music career continued to flourish after their divorce.  Sonny's life began to change direction. Sonny continued doing some acting doing small roles on television including "Fantasy Island" and "Love Boat" He also played a mad bomber in "Airplane II: The Sequel" and in the horror film "Troll"  He poked fun at himself on an episode of "The Golden Girls."  Sonny would eventually open two restaurants in the Palm Springs, California area. After having some difficulty with City Hall on zoning and other issues, Sonny decided to run for mayor.  He was successful when he was elected in 1988.  He soon aspired to a higher challenge in politics when he ran for the U.S. Senate.  He lost in the primaries but waged another campaign for a congressional seat in 1994 that resulted in him becoming Congressman Sonny Bono.  Sonny became very effective and was popular on Capitol Hill.  He remarried for the fourth time to his wife, Mary and they had two children.  While in office, Sonny championed the restoration of the Salton Sea that brought national attention.  He became good friends of Newt Gingrich and would often give Newt advice on dealing with celebrity status.  Sonny Bono remains the only member of Congress to have scored a #1single on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart.

Sonny was married a total of four times.  He had a daughter to his first wife, Donna and was married  twice after his marriage to Cher.  Sonny and his wife, Mary became interested in Scientology even though Sonny was of the Roman Catholic faith.

While vacationing on the Nevada side of the Heavenly Ski Resort, Sonny decided to take in some snow skiing on January 5, 1998.  While traveling down the slope, Sonny veered off course and hit a tree that proved to be fatal.  His wife, Mary claimed that Sonny was addicted to prescription drugs that caused the accident.  However, no drugs were found in his system during the autopsy and Sonny's mother and several friends disputed Mary's claim.

Congressman Sonny Bono's funeral program at prayer card
The 62 year old Congressman Sonny Bono's funeral was held on Friday, January 9, 1998 at the St. Theresa Catholic Church in Palm Springs, Florida (program pictured) under the direction of Wiefel's & Son Funeral Directors.  Among those who paid tribute to Sonny was his former singing partner and wife, Cher along with then Governor of California, Pete Wilson and the Honorable Newt Gingrich.  The funeral was nationally televised on CNN.  Gingrich said of his friend and colleague "In some way, Sonny was a living beatitude.  He walked up, you looked at him and you thought to yourself, "This can't be a famous person.  He smiled, he said something, and then you said to yourself, He can't be a serious person.  Four jokes and two stories later, you were pouring your heart out to him, he was helping you solve a problem, and you began to realize this was a very hard working, very thoughtful man who covered up a great deal of his abilities with his wonderful sense of humor."

Following Sonny's funeral mass, the funeral procession carried his remains to the Desert Memorial Park in Cathedral City, California to his place of rest after he was given military honors.

 Sonny's epitaph reads "And The Beat Goes On"

Friday, January 3, 2014

Remembering Conrad Nicholson Hilton December 25, 1887 - January 3, 1979

His autobiography "Be My Guest" is required reading for anyone going into the hotel management
business and his name is synonymous with quality and comfortable stay while traveling.  The man is non other than Conrad Nicholson Hilton, founder of the Hilton Hotels chain.  He spent six decades building one of the world's foremost business empires.

Hilton was born in San Antonio, New Mexico.  His dad was an immigrant from Norway and his mom was of American German descent.  As a young boy, Conrad helped his father who owned and operated a general store. He developed his entrepreneurial spirit during that time.  He attended the New Mexico Military Institute known as Goss.  He then attended the St. Michael's College (now known as Santa Fe University of Art and Design).  At an early age, Conrad took an interest in politics and became a Republican representative in the first New Mexico Legislature.  He then served two years in the US Army during World War I.  While in the service, Conrad's father was killed in an automobile accident.  Throughout his life, Conrad was a devout Catholic.  He often said that his mother was a huge influence on his life and always encouraged Conrad and his seven siblings on the
importance of prayer.

Conrad had plans of buying a bank during the oil boom.  Instead, he acquired his first hotel (Mobley Hotel) in Cisco, Texas in 1919.  The hotel was hugely successful.  Using his entrepreneurial spirit, Conrad continued to buy and build hotels in Texas.  Among them were the Dallas Hilton in 1925, Waco Hilton in 1928 and the El Paso Hilton in 1930.  He decided to expand his hotel empire outside of Texas in 1939 by opening the Hotel Andaluz in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  Soon came the great depression and Conrad was forced into bankruptcy and sold many of them.  Even though they sold, Conrad was retained as a manager and regained control of eight hotels.  He continued to develop and acquire hotels from California, Chicago, New York that included the famous Waldorf-Astoria and formed his company known as Hilton Hotels Corporation in 1946 followed by Hilton International Company in 1948.  He eventually expanded to 188 hotels in 38 U.S. cities.

Over Hilton's life, he received numerous degrees from universities.  He published his autobiography in 1957, "Be My Guest" and the book is still used today for training hoteliers.

His belief in the importance of charity and his duty to aid people in need led him to create what became one of the world's largest humanitarian funds, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

Hilton's autobiography and funeral card
He also founded the Conrad N. Hilton College that is a hospitality school at the University of Houston.

On Conrad's personal side, he was married three times including his second wife, Zsa Zsa Gabor.

His empire has now expanded to over 2000 hotels and properties around the world.

Conrad Hilton died at the age of 91 on January 3, 1979 in Santa Monica, California from natural causes.
Hilton resting place

A Mass of the Resurrection was held in the St. Paul The Apostle Church in Westwood, California (prayer card pictured) on January 5, 1979.

He was laid to rest in the Calvary Hill Cemetery in Dallas, Texas and his epitaph reads "Christmas is Forever."

Hilton epitaph "Christmas is Forever"