RIP Annette Funicello, 1942-2013

Annette FunicelloMy older sister and I used to play Mickey Mouse Club. She played Darlene and I played Doreen, mostly because we liked having cute matching names.

In our games, Annette was the popular girl who kept getting all of the good dancing and singing parts because Master of Ceremonies Jimmie Dodd liked her best. It was always just the two of us playing, so all the other characters were always offstage, so to speak. Our games always opened with one of us pretending to run into our dressing room, saying something like You’ll never guess what Annette just said!

Our stories usually had the same plot: Darlene would finally get a chance to star in a big musical number because Jimmie suddenly realize that she was a better singer and dancer than Annette. (Or sometimes because Annette broke her leg or something.) My role as Doreen was to be Darlene’s sidekick and backup singer, and to say things like Oh, Darlene, you’re way more talented than Annette and way less show-offy! Darlene would have moments of triumph but then somehow Annette would be back on top, so in the next episode Darlene would once again start as the plucky underdog.

We played this off and on for a year or more. It was an adaptable game — sometimes we played for an hour or two, with a lot of singing and dancing. Sometimes we’d just slip into dialogue for a few minutes, more like a private joke than a game. We usually played at home, but sometimes on car trips we’d whisper back and forth to each other, pretending to be on the Mouseketeer bus on our way to a special audition. We’d put the game aside for month or more and I’d think it was all over, and then one day my sister would look at me and say something like Annette is getting a special dressing room with her own swimming pool! and off we’d go.

Annette Funicello died today, and now I feel a little guilty because of the role we always gave her in our games. Through the last several years, I have read and seen reports on her declining health and she seemed to live with grace and courage. Rest in Peace, Annette, and I’m sorry I called you “show-offy” so many times. You couldn’t help being the star of the show.

RIP Chinua Achebe

I remember being deeply affected reading “Things Fall Apart,” “No Longer at Ease” and “Arrow of God.” I remember reading these as paperbacks on #30 bus home to my Columbus Park neighborhood from downtown Worcester, and having the delicious feeling of being worlds away from my everyday life. These books made me feel intelligent and empathetic. I felt like I understood Africa. I felt old and wise. But, in the words of Bob Dylan, “I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

I still think of Achebe as “one of my favorite authors” but I must admit I can’t remember anything specific about any of the books. This happens to me a lot now — many books that I remember as my favorites have faded in my memory so I no longer remember them, and when I reread them, I often find they aren’t anything like what I remember.

I’m sorry to hear of Chinua Achebe’s passing the way you regret the loss of a friend when you drifted apart years ago. Fortunately, I can reread his books to renew our acquaintance, and that’s just what I am going to do.

‘Things Fall Apart’ author Chinua Achebe dies at 82 — By Laura Smith-Spark and Faith Karimi, CNN

RIP Else Minarik

Else Minarik, author and illustrator best know as the creator of Little Bear, the first title in the I Can Read! series, has died at the age of 91.

Saturday I was at my favorite coffee shop, and noticed three little kids sitting at the counter together. Two were fooling around and falling off the stools, etc. The third, a little girl around five years old, was oblivious the other kids because she was totally engrossed in Little Bear. She couldn’t wait to see what would happen — to her the book wasn’t a xlassic, it was a pageturner! Little Bear was originally published in 1957, but the book feels just as fresh and new as ever.

RIP Jimmy Dean, 1928-2010

Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail

The Mount Pleasant Heritage Trail is a self-guided walking tour of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood in Washington, DC. I really like these historical markers, which combine a map and text with photographs and other images from various time periods. This one shows Jimmy Dean on the accordion: “After World War II, Mount Pleasant enjoyed a brief heyday as a ‘hillbilly’ (country) music destination. Singer (and later sausage salesman) Jimmy Dean found fame hosting a local TV show, Town and Country Time, but Mount Pleasant knew him first as Jimmy Dean and the Texas Wildcats, the house band at the Starlite Restaurant….”

I’m sure a lot of younger people don’t know who Jimmy Dean was, confuse him with James Dean or only know the name as a sausage brand. But to me, Jimmy Dean means just one thing: “Big Bad John.”

RIP Michael Mazur, 1935 – 2009

In 1976, I went to the Brockton Art Center. I don’t remember what the specific occasion was, but my then-husband, a musician, was playing there that evening, and I remember being excited to go with him. We had a baby and I didn’t get out much at the time.

I wandered around alone looking at the exhibit, Michael Mazur, Visions of a Draughtsman and remember being struck by the dark, powerful prints and studies from his Closed Ward series. And when I say struck, I don’t mean I thought “oh, how interesting.” I mean I was dumbfounded, shocked, dismayed, fascinated. These prints and drawings were based on Mazur’s observations of patients when he volunteered at a state mental institution, as I had done at Worcester State Hospital when I was in high school. His works brought back the emotions I had felt there: fear, sorrow, helplessness and just a little pride for forcing myself to come back week after week and act like it didn’t bother me. Looking at the patients in Mazur’s prints, I experienced the same surprising sense of tenderness toward these fragile, vulnerable men and women, and felt myself torn between not wanting to look at them, but being unable to look away. I bought the exhibition catalogue that night, and and have looked through it many times through the years. I still see the sorrow but also the humanity in the patients whose images he captured.

Since that night, I have followed Michael Mazur’s career through books, articles and exhibits, feeling connected to him by what I rather illogically think of as our shared experience. Michael Mazur died on August 18, and though I never met him, he touched my life, and I’ll miss him.

    RIP Gale Storm

    Gale Storm, best-remembered from her 1950’s program “My Little Margie,” died on June 27 at the age of 87.

    Born Josephine Cottle, her career began in 1940 when she won a national talent contest called Gateway to Hollywood. The official prize was a movie contract RKO contract under the name Gale Storm. She fell in love with contest’s male winner, Lee Bonnell, who she married in 1941.

    In the 1940s, Gale Storm appeared in many B movies but her big break came in 1952, when “My Little Margie” premiered as a summer replacement for “I Love Lucy.” Both shows were set in Manhattan and revolved around madcap women and their crazy schemes which often involved dress-up and deception, always backfired and both amused and exasperated the men in their lives.
    » Read more

    RIP Michael Jackson

    Hard to know what to say, what to remember, what’s better forgotten. But I do like this performance of the song “Ben” from the Sonny and Cher show. Here Jackson has outgrown the his role as the talented little kid with the Jackson 5, and not yet become the King of Pop…and all that came later.

    RIP Mark Fidrych, Ballplayer and Diner Guy

    I was saddened to hear the news of the accidental death of former baseball player Mark “The Bird” Fidrych yesterday. In 1976, Fidrych joined the Detroit Tigers. He was named the American League Rookie of the Year and was selected as the American League’s starting pitcher for the All Star game. For a short time, he was a celebrity. A 1977 New York Times article referred to him as “the legendary ‘Bird’ of the Detroit Tigers pitching staff and the biggest box-office draw in baseball in years.”

    But then he lost it all. His baseball career was cut short due to an injuries. He struggled to recover his pitching ability, and spent served some time in the minor leagues attempting a comeback. He ended his baseball career in 1983 at the age of 29.

    He went back to his hometown of Northborough, Massachusetts, where he married Ann Pantazis, whose parents owned Chet’s Diner. On weekends, he helped out at the diner, serving breakfast, washing dishes, doing whatever needed to be done.

    His mother-in-law, Nancy Pantazis, is quoted in the Boston Globe : “He loved it. Every Saturday he was there…He was a wonderful guy. I couldn’t ask for a better son-in-law, and he’ll be missed.”

    I never met him, but by all accounts he had a good life in Northborough, and didn’t allow his life to be ruined by regret over the way his baseball career had been cut short.

    In a 1999 interview, he told the Boston Globe : “I got a great life now…I got a family, I got a house, I got a dog. I would like my career to have been longer, but you can’t look back. You have to look to the future.”

    I’m sure he’ll be missed.

    Mark ‘The Bird’ Fidrych, 54; Pitcher Enthralled Fans — By Bryan Marquard, Boston Globe, April 14, 2009

    Chet's Diner