Paul Newman

MARCH ON WASHINGTON – Part Two

Charlton Heston, James Baldwin, Marlon Brando -- in D.C. March

 

 

Martin Luther King’s March on Washington was scheduled for Saturday, August 28, 1963, and several of my bosses from Washington National Airport’s Operations department would be on duty. I jumped at the chance they offered me to blend in with the celebrities, and I invited my good friend Harriet to go along. In the early ’60s, especially around Washington, women got dressed up for events and even shopping; it was a more formal time and T-shirts and jeans were not appropriate attire. Harriet and I knew exactly what to wear—high heels, stockings, and a dress. I don’t recall if we wore hats; usually hats were for church.

California, where most of the famous folks were coming from, had been declared the home of “fruits and nuts.” As an Easterner, I was ignorant about almost everything but the term “Hollywood” and knowing somewhere out there was the magical Disneyland.  Harriet and I probably took along our white gloves, which were the ultimate extra touch when dressed up. I recall my three-inch-high beige heels, but I don’t remember the dress I wore. It was probably a sheath of some kind that looked business-like.

Harriet and I were very excited about the day, but had no idea what to expect as we climbed the stairs to the second floor lounge at the Butler Aviation terminal. It was full of people milling around, most of them casually dressed. I gawked as I saw a fully bearded Paul Newman, fresh from filming the comedy, What a Way to Go; he played an obsessed painter married to Shirley MacLaine. In the middle of the room was the handsome Sidney Poitier talking to Dianne Carroll.

One wall of the lounge was almost entirely glass and looked out upon the airfield. I walked toward the window to see if any planes with more stars would be landing.  I felt tall and imposing as I stood there in my heels—I was about 5’10” in my “spikes.”  Two diminutive black men came and stood on either side of me, neither of them taller than my breasts. On one side was the multi-talented actor-singer Sammy Davis, Jr.: on the other was renowned author James Baldwin. I tried to act nonchalant as they talked. I was probably too nervous to eavesdrop. In any case, I have no idea what they said.

Not long afterward, someone announced a private plane from Southern California was landing and would soon be taxiing to the Butler Aviation gate. All of us were encouraged to go downstairs and outside to greet them. Harriet and I followed along and wondered who the new arrivals would be. While we were waiting, I overheard some cynic say, “Here come more of the fruits and nuts of Hollywood.”

Within minutes a small passenger plane taxied toward us, engine still roaring. I put my hands over my ears and looked up into the smiling face of Moses himself—Charlton Heston. “Loud, isn’t it?” he intoned with that unmistakable, powerful voice. I beamed at him and nodded my head.

As he turned away, Harriet leaned in. “Can you believe that was Charlton Heston?” She was grinning with excitement.

The plane’s engines quit and the door opened. Men and women began to descend the stairs and I noticed how differently they were dressed—tanned women were wearing loose clothing with flashy jewelry; men were in white shoes and colorful shirts. Out the airplane door sauntered someone I knew from television: handsome James Garner. Photographers and reporters were there to cover the story and the dark-haired Garner didn’t disappoint. Right away he waved and played to the crowd, starting some fascinating repartee I no longer remember. But I couldn’t forget his charming easy smile.

Some years later when I had moved to California and became part of that laid-back lifestyle and sunny climate, I would remember my historical hint of things to come, courtesy of Dr. Martin Luther King.  I saw an older James Garner in person at a shopping center: he was asleep in an overstuffed chair, probably waiting for his wife. I told a Californian friend, who knew Charlton Heston, about my minor encounter, and he was always intending to tell “Moses” about my thrill, but he never did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Victoria Giraud

Author — Melaynie’s Masquerade

historical fiction adventure listed on Amazon Books

Book of short stories in progress

Editor  —   85 books in all genres

Blogger —  Words on My Mind

 

FUNERALS OF THE MOVIE STAR KIND

Strother Martin in Cool Hand Luke

Movie stars are people too—they live, enjoy some fame and notoriety and eventually die, like we all do!

Character actors, like Strother Martin, are oftentimes the more approachable kind of person in the movie trade. He and his wife Helen had lived near where I lived and worked in the Conejo Valley (Agoura Hills, Westlake Village and Thousand Oaks) for years.

Strother and Helen were active in the community. Helen was an enthusiastic member of the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District (TLVRCD), which dealt with the Santa Monica Mountains—the western boundary of the Conejo Valley. Coincidentally, Ronald Reagan’s first political job was his election to the Board of the TLVRCD: having a ranch in the area in the 1950s was the reason he got involved. We all know what that position eventually led to!

Strother had an active career in film. Who can forget his famous words as the prison camp superintendent of “prisoner” Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke? “What we have here is a failure to communicate.” He and Newman did several movies together—Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Slapshot among them.

Considering himself a member of the community, Strother volunteered to be part of the local chamber of commerce’s Christmas celebration at the Calabasas Inn one year. I believe he read something from Dickens, and we all felt honored to hear his dulcet tones.

I was the editor of the Acorn, a local weekly newspaper, in the early 1980s and had decided to do an interview with Strother. He was an interesting subject, especially since had made a movie not long before with John Wayne and Katherine Hepburn: Rooster Cogburn. He gave me some publicity shots from the film and then mentioned he was due to host Saturday Night Live on NBC. It was April 1980 and it was one of his last jobs.

Shortly after my story was published, I got the news that Strother had had a fatal heart attack. He was only 61. Helen informed their friends in the chamber of commerce about the funeral plans and we were all invited to attend. As the local newspaper editor, I was an active member.

The service and burial were scheduled for the famous Forest Lawn Cemetery; this one is in the Hollywood hills. I distinctly remember following Ernest Borgnine’s expensive car into the cemetery. I knew it was him by the personalized license plate.

Sitting in the small chapel, we chamber members were among some of Hollywood’s elite. I noticed Lee Marvin and Jimmy Stewart, both favorites of mine. Paul Newman, I was told, couldn’t attend but had sent his daughter. It was strange to see the once vital and entertaining Strother in an open casket as we filed by for the obligatory viewing.

After the funeral, a few of us (no one famous) were invited back to the Martin’s house. Helen let us know she was surprised and honored when President Jimmy Carter called personally to give her his condolences.

For a few years afterward I would see Helen Martin, who kept herself busy with the community and the Topanga-Las Virgenes Resource Conservation District. One night I was invited to accompany her to a play at the Ahmanson Theater at the Music Center in downtown L.A. She drove us in her huge yellow Cadillac.

At intermission, she introduced me to Strother’s former agent, whose name I don’t remember. What I do recall was that the man also represented Richard Dreyfuss, who had gotten married at the agent’s Beverly Hills home.

In Southern California it can be both odd and exciting to meet and perhaps be a small part of the lives of those you’ve admired on the silver screen.

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