Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gracie Allen and the Veteran I Never Really Knew

I can still recall the corners of his mouth slowly fighting gravity, stretching into a smile, as he laid splayed on the couch like a rag doll. He sang the words "College Swing" barely above a whisper before falling quiet again for awhile. That was just a few months before dysarthria  completely robbed him of coherence.

That day we all watched Gracie Allen chase Edward Everett Horton and Martha Raye chase Bob Hope. I left the room before the movie ended, so I don't know if he ever sang those words again.

Uncle LSP loved classic movies. He influenced my taste in them, introducing me to the wit of Burns & Allen. When I was a kid, we would randomly sing songs and quote lines from any show or movie involving Gracie. Our uncle would do this in an especially loud voice in order to embarrass his nieces and nephews in public. That was his silly side.

In the ensuing years (his grown-up years we called them, because he was far less willing to do wacky things), we would see him only during holidays and reunions. He'd send us postcards, recommend books or look us up on social media sites. He was always traveling as part of his job, but that was our uncle - fiercely independent, never content to stay in one spot.

Uncle was always a lean man, carefully guarding his health for personal reasons and for his National Guard duties. So when the healthiest man in the family became ill, everyone was stunned. When the effects of brain tumors finally made his independence unwise, our young uncle stayed with relatives, much to his chagrin.

He indulged the nieces once when we offered to make a playlist of Burns & Allen radio broadcasts that he could listen to as he rested, but his interest in anything was waning. The time for frivolity had passed long ago. Some of us learned only after he had battled for his health (and lost) that Uncle LSP had been deployed to Iraq a few years ago without a word to anyone about it. He had a whole other life to which I was not privy.

Unfortunately, I knew only his silly side.

 Veteran's Day 11/11
A special thanks to all veterans in the U.S. Armed Forces.

5 comments:

  1. Java - Though bittersweet, your remembrance of your uncle is very moving. A fitting tribute this Veterans Day.

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  2. Java: I came by to follow up on the story that you had told me about your relative whom you had not known was a veteran. They are and were the true guardians of our heritage.
    If he also influenced you in the direction of classic films, he has served more than one cause.

    Gracie Allen is one of the few who makes me laugh at loud. “College Swing” is on Netflix, but not in download mode. I will order it. When my wife first looked at the stunning photo at the head of your site, she thought for a moment that it was Lizabeth Scott. I go back to the heyday of Deanna Durbin films, did not recognize her immediately. Then, of course, the film and the actress came to me. I know “Lady on a Train” fairly well but have not seen it in some time. That, too, as you surely know is on Netflix. Will add to queue. Interesting interlinking of thoughts here. Best. Gerald.

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  3. LadyEve,
    Thank you very much. I'm truly blessed to have fond memories of such a wonderful uncle.


    Mr. Pasha,

    About Deanna Durbin. You mention that you go back to Durbin's heyday. Do you remember the magnitude of her stardom being particularly pervasive?

    Perhaps that's the wrong question, but my research of her life indicates that she had an unprecedented level of influence throughout the world that hasn't been duplicated since by a film star.

    I guess what I'm asking is for any information about what it was like living during Deanna Durbin's zenith. I can't think of any movie star that well-liked and that powerful at such a young age.

    -- Java

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  4. Java: So many years have passed since the Deanna Durbin phenomenon -- but I do recall her as being a very large presence in her milieu at that time -- and movies were a major part of our lives. I was a boy in grammar school, and I was not yet much taken with pretty and talented young movie stars. (Boys at that age did not much care for females of any sort.) I do remember “Lady on a Train” being much talked about but perhaps that was because of the change in direction for her – and my growing older. I am sure my sister and mother were quite taken with Deanna -- however, I have nothing substantial to add from memory.

    My later years have been immersed in films -- and studying film history and studios enlightened me about those years when I had been blind to directors, producers, studios and gross receipts. I have a goodly number of mogul and studio books, but one I revisit often is Thomas Schatz’s “The Genius of the System.” He has rather good coverage on the Durbin years at Universal including personnel, costs and grosses. But, as you are an old Durbin aficionado, I suspect you likely know what he has covered.

    I am not knowledgeable enough to know if the Durbin cover story article in the recent “Films of the Golden Age” (issue 61) would help. I can scan and send if you would like. The pictures will not copy well (with my equipment) but the text should. Best. Gerald.
    (“Gordon Pasha” is an old sobriquet that I saddled myself with when I was new to the blog world.)

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  5. Gerald,
    Thank you so much for your input. I'm delighted that you think I'm a Durbin expert, but - as my blog title suggests - I'm merely journeying through her life, learning as I go along. Far from an aficionado.

    Thanks for mentioning the Schatz book; I will get a copy of it ASAP.

    Please do send me the Durbin cover story article. My email address is java-rush@hotmail.com.

    Thanks again.

    -- Java

    ReplyDelete

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