Saturday, March 26, 2011

Liz and Me

Allow me to try your patience by adding a few more words to the millions already penned and processed on the death of Elizabeth Taylor.

First off, I would refer you to an article in the New York Times by the indefatigable Dick Cavett. As a brief personal take on the Lizanddick
era, it's worth a read.

Then there's the story-captured-in-a-caption in The Onion, an item that has challenged press critics as to its editorial appropriateness, even conceding The Onion's self-appointed role as edgy iconoclast.

And, finally, there's the story of Liz and me.

One of the great untold sagas of unrequited love in the last century was my own obsession with Liz. It got underway in wartime, the background of so many equally doomed romances. In 1944—when I was 14 and she 12—I emerged from the dark confines of our local movie palace having watched National Velvet, the stars in my eyes undimmed by the post-matinee sunlight, entranced by my first passionate crush.

Fast forward six years to the Hurricane Club, an upscale eating spot built on pilings in the shallows of Biscayne Bay between Miami and Key Biscayne well before the advent of the bay-spanning Rickenbacker Causeway. You could only get there by boat, and my ride that day was a 19-foot sailboat, helmed by my college roommate, Jack O'Leary. As we pulled up to the club's dock to tie up—a frosty Bud in mind—I glanced up, and there, leaning over the deck rail watching us, was the goddess herself. To say that I was stuck dumb at the vision is to stretch rhetorical understatement to the limit. She was accompanied by her then-boyfriend Glen Davis, the Heisman-winning "Mr. Inside" of West Point's famous "Touchdown Twins", of which Doc Blanchard was "Mr. Outside".

The couple was waiting for guests to arrive for a private luncheon, so the four of us were as yet the only patrons lounging around the deck. O'Leary and I, sophisticated, celebrity-immune New Yorkers that we were, pretended ostentatiously not to notice the glamorous duo, while they, used to such transparent pseudo-indifference, were of course well aware of our surreptitious glances. Lord, was she gorgeous! The countless words that have been written about her breathtaking onscreen beauty cannot begin to convey the punch-in-the-gut impact of an in-the-flesh encounter. At 18, wearing a violet bathing suit that mirrored the color of her eyes, her voluptuousness was simply beyond the descriptive ability of mere words, or, at least, of any that haven't lost their power through overuse.

Draining our barely-affordable beer, Jack and I reluctantly peeled ourselves away and re-boarded our boat. As I loosed the mooring line, the goddess, again leaning over the rail, asked me if I knew what time it was. SHE SPOKE TO ME! SHE ACTUALLY SPOKE TO ME! Still unable—Koothrappali-like—to utter a word in her intoxicating presence, I had, to my shame and chagrin, to leave it up to O'Leary to respond. As we set our sails, he shouted out a farewell so inane that it has haunted me all these years just to have been associated with it: "see you in the movies", he yelled, as I cringed in the cockpit. I've never forgiven him, nor forgotten her.

RIP, girl of my youthful dreams.




Monday, March 7, 2011

Public Broadcasting: Boon or Burden?

Regarding the latest Congressional assault on NPR and PBS, In These Times blogger Megan Tady writes,

"Congressional attacks on public media seem to come as regularly as NPR fundraising drives. Every year, as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) pleas for federal funding, some members of Congress denounce public media altogether, while others quietly vote to shave off another sliver of subsidies, rather than eliminate all funding. In the end, the CPB limps away still intact, but wounded".

As I write, the House has voted to defund CPB and the Senate is deliberating.

Given PBS's never-ending fiscal worries, one might well speculate that they should never have abandoned their original appellation, National Educational Television (NET), the banner under which they marched from 1954 to 1970. No doubt they wanted at the time to differentiate themselves from etv (educational television), a broadcast and closed-circuit platform that offered classroom-format telecourses on academic subjects to early risers before such programming was subsumed into NET and, subsequently, into PBS.

I suggest that any entity chasing government funding will undoubtedly find politicians more favorably disposed toward the term educational (as in NET) than toward the descriptive adjective public (as in PBS and CPB), a loaded word carrying socialistic connotations to conservatives already agitated over the perceived leftist slant of PBS and NPR. To briefly address that particular mind-set, I refer you to a UCLA/U. of Missouri study that found that the top-rated NPR news program, Morning Edition, is seen by the citizenry as more liberal than the average Republican and more conservative than the average Liberal. They must be doing something right.

Furthermore, in a Harris poll conducted in 2005, NPR was voted the most trusted news source in the U.S., while Roper polls commissioned by PBS have consistently placed that service as America's most trusted national institution.

Education is a topic much beloved by Congress. The last major federal education bill, No Child Left Behind, sailed through both chambers on roll call votes of 384-45 in the House and 91-8 in the Senate. An informed electorate has been a touchstone of our republic since the days of the Founding Fathers, and no matter your political ideology, the essential mission of educational television is, incontrovertibly, education. Studies conducted by the polling firm Knowledge Networks and the U. of Maryland found that "those who get their news and information from public broadcasting (NPR and PBS) are better informed than those whose information comes from other media outlets. In one study, NPR and PBS audiences had a more accurate understanding of the events in Iraq versus all audiences [emphasis mine] for cable and broadcast TV networks and the print media." While this finding may be more an example of reinforcement than of cause and effect, it seems a no-brainer to conclude that regular exposure to educational media doesn't make us any dumber and may even make us a bit smarter; a consequence certainly worth the $1.50 per capita that Congress is being asked to grant to CPB.

Even if the Senate and the White House are able to override the House's defunding of CPB, leaving it alive to fight another day, public broadcasting should nevertheless attempt to retrofit its mantle as an educational institution and consider pursuing some appropriate alternative form of supplementary underwriting. The media reform group Free Press suggests a Public Trust to be funded either by spectrum use fees, UHF auction fees or a nominal tax on consumer electronics. This would of course take years to accomplish, so CPB will have to continue dependent upon federal help to close the gap in the interim, a dependency that this Congress will hopefully recognize as a legitimate social benefit and loosen the purse strings accordingly. I would urge readers to contact their Senators to that end.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that, after a career in commercial network television, I was briefly employed by WNET/13 in New York, and one of my daughters currently works for WGBH in Boston.