Friday, November 22, 2013

Random Thoughts About a Random Act of Violence

(Originally posted on February 4, 2009. I've added a few things--KJ)

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and think Oswald acted alone.

Other times I wake up and think that it was either the CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, the military-industrial complex, or some combination thereof.

Then there are the times I wake up in the morning and wonder:

Why the hell am I thinking about the Kennedy assassination? Don't I got enough problems in my life?

The President and the First Lady arrive in "Big D".

Here's a birds-eye view of Dealey Plaza. Maybe someone should have shown this picture to Kennedy before he decided to drive right through it with the top down. He would have taken one look and thought: Snipers Alley.

The Texas School Book Depository Building, where the Dallas police, the FBI, and a committee headed by a Supreme Court Justice best known for taking prayer out of school (which I don't have a problem with; remembering all the words to the Pledge of Allegiance was difficult enough) claim the one and only shooter shot from. A couple of thoughts. Were all the school books in Texas really warehoused in that one building? Doesn't look big enough to me. And what's with the Hertz sign? Is it on the building, or is it poking up behind it? I can imagine immediately after the shots were fired, a bystander pointing up to the building, and another bystander saying, "This is no time to be thinking of renting a car!"

 The building these days houses county administrated offices. The sixth floor (where Oswald allegedly fired from) is now a museum. The whole structure has been designated a Recorded Texas Designated Landmark.

More landmarks to come, designated or otherwise.

They've put an X on the exact spot Kennedy's limo was when it was hit. As you can see, it's now a tourist attraction. Just don't have your picture taken during rush hour, or you'll end up at Parkland Hospital.

Lee Harvey Oswald, the man thought by the Dallas police, the FBI, and the committee which had as one of its members a future president best known for pardoning the one that came right before him (thus ending "our long national nightmare"--ya think sitting on this committee he'd have some idea what a national nightmare is actually like) as the one and only gunman. Kind of a blurry picture, huh? If I wasn't for the rifle, I'd say he was posing for his driver's license (then again, this is Texas.)

Here's an even blurrier picture of Oswald from his days in the Marine Corp. That's him in the back, possibly in the kitchen, as he was on mess duty that day. That big dude sitting at the table is none other than screen legend John Wayne. He was filming The Barbarian and the Geisha in Japan and decided to make a quick visit to the Philippines, where Oswald was stationed. I know it's weird seeing the two of them in the same picture, but they had something in common. Like Wayne, Oswald was a main character in a violent Western, though his was for real, and for keeps.  

Of course, not everyone agrees that Oswald acted alone. Some feel that he either had an accomplice, or was completely innocent. They also think that some of the shots, maybe all of them, came not from the School Book Depository Building, but from an area across the street known as the "grassy knoll". A policeman is seen running in that direction, proof positive to some of a conspiracy. Too bad that cop, and several others who checked the knoll out, came up empty-handed. 

These days, the Grassy Knoll is NOT a Recorded Texas Designated Landmark. Nor is it a museum. However, there seems to be a concerted effort under way to change that.

Why exactly is it called a Grassy Knoll, anyway? Sure, there's grass, but what about all those big ass trees? Why not call it the Shady Knoll?

Texas Governor John Connally almost literally had a front row seat to history. He probably wished he hadn't. 

Abraham Zapruder. I always thought that name sounded like something out of a 1930s Universal horror film. Instead, he shot his own 1960s Dallas horror film, albeit unintentionally. I also find it amazing that of the 500 or so cameras--both still and moving--directed at the President's motorcade that day, he and only he recorded the actual murder. As valuble as this was to history, it proved to be a bit of a pain in the ass to the Warren Commission. It all should have been so simple. Oswald fired three shots. Three bullets went whizzing through the air. Kennedy gets hit first, then John Connally, and, finally, Kennedy again. 1-2-3. Like I said, simple. Until you view the Zapruder film. Here's the problem: the rifle left behind at the Book Depository Building (talk about leaving incriminating evidence) required 2.3 seconds between shots, about 1.3 seconds too many, and about 18 frames of film too few. Thus, the Single-Bullet Theory was born. What went through JFK ended up in Connally. It's also called by skeptics the Magic Bullet theory, due to the zigzagging trajectory the bullet would have traveled. Don't look to me for answers. I don't even understand the trajectory of Windex spray when it gets toward the bottom of the bottle. As for the shot that tore off part of Kennedy's head, everyone agrees that was a whole 'nother bullet. They just disagree whether it was the second shot, the third shot, the fourth shot, the fifth shot, the sixth shot, the seventh shot...

Outside Parkland Hospital. 

Officer J. D. Tippit, the other man shot and killed by Oswald that day. Unless you believe it's a conspiracy. In which case, I must ask: What in the world did the CIA, the FBI, the Mafia, the military-industrial complex, or some combination thereof have against Tippit? Did he once give J. Edgar Hoover a ticket for loitering?

Tippit's family. Though he may seem to be just an unlucky footnote to the day's events, he did have his own life, his own concerns

That's Lady Bird Johnson peeking out from behind the raised hand. See her?

Strip club owner Jack Ruby, with one of his employees.

A seemingly balder Jack Ruby (it's just the light, folks) wanders around a busy Dallas police station the night of the assassination. Ruby cultivated friendship with cops, so nobody was surprised to see him there.

Two days later, they were very surprised to see him there. Ruby reportedly felt sorry for Kennedy's widow.

Sometimes widows beget widows. 

Johnny, we hardly knew ye, either. 

Had John Fitzgerald Kennedy lived, he would have been 96 today. Really, though, he probably wouldn't be alive today under any circumstance. He was a sickly child, suffered crippling back pain due to an injury suffered during World War II, and had Addison's disease, all of which was carefully hidden from the cameras, ensuring a now eternal image of youth and vigor.

I was born in the final month of 1961. Though the assassination occurred during my lifetime, I was hardly aware of it at the time. I doubt if I was aware of The Flintstones at the time. Yet it was talked about quite a bit when I was growing up, both by people on TV, and by ordinary folks, my parents or whoever. So much so, I sometimes forget I have no direct memory of the event. I've always been fascinated by it. Hence, this post.

What about all the people born since 1963? There's a lot of them, and some could even be called middle-aged. They have no direct memory of the assassination, either. What was a shocking and tragic day for one generation, is merely a bit of history to another. Yet it all evens out in the end.

Some of those born after 1963 had a shocking and tragic day all their own.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I Got You, Abe

(This Tuesday marks the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. Someone else lived there before that. No, no, just kidding. Of course, I'm talking about Abraham Lincoln's famous speech. Wishing to mark the anniversary myself, albeit a few days early, I'm re-running this post from September, 27, 2008. I've added a few pictures this time around--KJ)

This coming February 12 is the 200th birthday of Abraham Lincoln. As absurd as it may sound, that actually makes me feel kind of old. When I was a kid, the Civil War was just about 100 years in the past. Now, to find out that war's central figure is having a bicentennial! And where exactly does that leave George Washington? All the way back to where the Pilgrims used to be?!

Wondering if I could connect at all with this almost prehistoric figure, I decided to take a look at something Lincoln wrote: the Gettysburg Address. I did this with some trepidation. I was afraid it might read like The Canterbury Tales, or something by Shakespeare: in English, yet you still need a translator. Turns out I didn't. The speech's first, and most famous, sentence is a bit daunting (I wasn't sure what he meant by "score". Was there a game going on? Or had a band played?), but after that it's smooth sailing. It could have been written yesterday (Thank God the Civil War wasn't yesterday. Our military's stretched thin enough as it is.)

So here it is, along with a few of my comments (which Honest Abe may or may not agree with.)

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation...

Less than a hundred years separate George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. I'm not sure if that should make me feel old or not.

...conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

White men, anyway. Lincoln fails to mention his own Emancipation Proclamation, which was significantly more dedicated to that proposition. Of course, as long as the war raged, the emancipation existed only on paper, so maybe that accounts for his modesty.

Now, we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

The Confederate flag was a campaign issue as recently as 2000.

We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field...

According to some historians, the organizers of this event weren't even going to invite Lincoln. But then they thought, well, he IS president. a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live.

3,155 Federal soldiers were killed in action, with 5,365 missing. 2,136 of the 14,529 wounded died. All together, a mortality rate of nearly 15%. As far as the Confederacy goes, estimates range from 2,934 to 5,750 killed or missing.

It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

Sounds here like ol' Abe is just giving lip service.

But, in a larger sense...

Oh, wait. He's got something up his sleeve.

...we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow--this ground.

According to a recent news story, some developer wants to build a casino near the battlefield.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated, far above our poor power to add or detract.

Edward Everett spoke first. His speech contained 13,607 words, and lasted two hours. Lincoln's speech contained 186 words, and lasted a measly two minutes.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here...

Edward who?

...but it can never forget what they did here.

Not to take anything away from what they did there, but one reason Gettysburg is more well known than, say, Antietam (where there was an even greater loss of life) is because of what one tall, lanky guy with a beard and stove top hat said there.

It is for us the living, rather...

I knew there was a catch. be dedicated to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom...

Did those who died at Gettysburg, or on Omaha Beach, or on Iwo Jima, really die for freedom or democracy, or did they actually die for a country that at the time just happened to be free and democratic? After all, people who have lived in dictatorships, or slave-based societies, have fought just as hard, and have died in as many numbers as we Americans. Freedom and democracy should be something more than mere synonyms for sovereignty and the homeland. Those high ideals can also be fought and lived for. How exactly do we do that? What are our weapons? Let's see, there's the ballot box, the soap box, the picket sign, the petition, and the letter to the editor. Maybe even blogs.

...and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Despite the best efforts of the all too many fools and scoundrels since Lincoln, it somehow hasn't perished yet.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Quips and Quotations (Role Playing Edition)

"Where's Papa going with the ax?" (p.1)

When I was growing up, one of the weirdest of the many weird things I did, was to cast movies I planned to direct, or rather, imagine to cast movies I planned to direct, based on books I had just read. Early on it would have been something like Charlotte's Web or Encyclopedia Brown, then when I was a little older, War of the Worlds or A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court. When I was in my thirties...Well, never mind that, you're probably wondering where I got my actors. Simple. I just poured through a TV guide for inspiration. Eve Plumb, who played Jan on The Brady Bunch, would have made a pretty good Fern Arable in Web, don't you think? Yes, I'm aware Dakota somebody played her in a recent film version, but I'm talking early 1970s. Plumb kind of resembled the Garth Williams drawing. Just dye her hair brown. Also, Fern's mother consults a child psychiatrist after her daughter tells her that animals talk. There were certainly times when Jan Brady could have used a good shrink. Though in her case more likely because she was upset that all the barnyard animals were paying more attention to Marcia. 

I'm also convinced that Russell Johnson, who was on Gilligan's Island, would have made a good Connecticut Yankee. I mean, if the Professor could somehow invent a lie detector machine with only coconut shells and bamboo at his disposal, just imagine what he could have done in medieval England. The possibilities are endless.

"I saw that I was just another Robinson Crusoe cast away on an uninhabited island, with no society but some more or less tame animals, and if I wanted to make life bearable I must do as he did - invent, contrive, create, reorganize things; set brain and hand to work, and keep them busy" (p. 53) 
  However, I found out later on that a filmmaker doesn't necessarily go through the mundane tasks of holding auditions and conducting screen tests all by themselves. An underling, appropriately enough called a casting director, does all that. The film's director (along with the producer and the the CEO of whatever corporation owns the studio) has the final say, of course, but that underling nevertheless serves a vital role, one that does not yet have an Oscar category all its own. A fellow by the name of Tom Donahue hopes to rectify that with an HBO documentary that came out last year called Casting By. Not long after the movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival, a well-known director penned  the following open letter to The Hollywood Reporter taking up Donahue's cause: 

In my case certainly, the casting director plays a vital part in the making of the movie. My history shows that my films are full of wonderful performances by actors and actresses I had never heard of and were not only introduced to me by my casting director, Juliet Taylor, but, in any number of cases, pushed on me against my own resistance. People like Jeff Daniels, Mary Beth Hurt, Patricia Clarkson and others who are people I was unfamiliar with. A number of discoveries and careers have been launched by the energies and resourcefulness of my casting director. Not only did I use Meryl Streep for a small part in Manhattan when she was a relative unknown, but at the best my casting director helped start the film career of Mariel Hemingway and Dianne Wiest, a stage actress completely unknown to me but known by Juliet Taylor. I’m particularly difficult in the casting area because the whole process bores and embarrasses me. If it were up to me we would use the same half dozen people in all my pictures, whether they fit or not. Despite my recalcitrance, Juliet has forced me to meet and to watch the work of many new people and to hire people on nothing more then her strong recommendation. Because my films are not special effects films and are about human beings, proper casting is absolutely essential. I owe a big part of the success of my films to this scrupulous casting process which I must say if left to my own devices would never have happened. I might add also, anecdotally, that despite my firm conviction that I could never persuade luminaries like Saul Bellow, Marshall McLuhan, Susan Sontag, Mayor Koch and others to work in my films, the confidence and insistence of my casting director proved more accurate and I wound up getting these unlikely notables.

--Woody Allen

All well and good, but I wonder, does Juliet Taylor ever use a TV guide?