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MARCH 2013

Howdy! Thinking back to Howard Hughes’ “The Outlaw”—Recently, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS flick-critic Jack Matthews noted what shocked ‘46 audiences would be mere titillation today. Nowadaze the shocker would be the subtext, the jealousy-laden love triangle. Not Billy the Kid (Jack Buetel), Doc Holliday (Walter Huston), and the lady known as Rio (Jane Russell).  And  not  Billy,  Doc,  and the three-trick strawberry roan, Red. Now get this. Billy, Doc, and (are you ready?) Sheriff Pat Garrett for cripe’s sake (Thomas Mitchell). Sly ol’ Howard Hughes played a fast one. Billy to Doc: “You’re the only partner I’ve ever had.” Doc: “Gosh, do you really feel that way, son?” They hug and head for the door and the sunset. Sheriff Pat, all aquiver, rumbles at Doc: “Ever since you met him you’ve treated me like a dog!” The three gay caballeros, in turn, treat Rio like so much chopped liver. All this went over my adolescent head like a flaming arrow.

Neswpaper ad for "The Outlaw" starring Jane Russell and Jack Buetel.What still lingers for me is the acting (especially Doc), the wry humor, the surging music, the easy lopin’ pace, the mood and atmosphere, Gregg Toland’s beautiful cinematography, the dialogue. Doc: “Don’t you ever have to bother to take aim?” Billy: “Sure, I took aim.” Doc: “When?” Billy: “Before I drew.” Doc: “That’s a new one on me, aiming before you draw.” Billy: “I’ve got to.” Doc: “Why?” Billy: “My hand seems to be a little faster than my eyes.” Doc: “Well, ain’t that too bad?”

Mostly, I love the scenery. Who can resist that inviting warm valley, cozily nestled ‘twixt those two memorable, magnificent mountains?

Howard Hughes was a trencherman who hired henchmen. One of his fair ladies was a shy, pretty gal, Yvonne Shubert. She worked a “Sugarfoot”. At lunch time Hughes’ bodyguards rented-out a local restaurant. They stood silently as Yvonne dined alone. She was housed on-call in the Hollywood hills hard-by my digs. Oft’ times she’d see my mom watering our yard, and she’d amble over for a neighborly chat. She was terrible lonesome. Later, she made the headlines and her ultimate 15 minutes of fame. At a skeet shooting range she yelled “Pull!”, and proceeded to shoot and kill her date. Accident? We’ll never know. So ends my saga of Howard Hughes and his protégé Yvonne Shubert.

When I was a student at Washington Irving Junior High, TV had not reared its head. Movies, books, radio, newspapers were strictly censored. We had scant outlets for our raging hormones. Lucky for us there was the wonderful world of burlesque on Main
Tempest Storm! Street in beautiful downtown L.A. My pals and I saved our money, and on weekends caught the streetcar to our desire, the Follies and Burbank bur-lee-Q houses. We learned a whole lot more about life down there than in the school room. Yesireebob! We absolutely adored those striptease artistes. They went about as far as they could go. Betty ‘Ball o’ Fire’ Rowland, Tempest (Mrs. Herb Jeffries) Storm, Lily St. Cyr, Margie Hart, Ann Corio, Marie “Black Fury” Carlett. We loved ‘em all. The best job in the world? The drummer in the pit band. He was the heartbeat of the show. DUM dah-dah DUM, dah-dah DUM DUM DUM POW! Sam Rappaport was a pit drummer par excellence. He wore a perpetual smile as he gazed up at the earth-mothers writhing on stage, and they lovingly smiled back down at Sam as he flam-paradiddled his way into our throbbing hearts. Yes, Rappaport had rapport. Look out there in the first three rows. She’s winding up—Pow! There she goes!

Pearl Harbor and the Twin Towers are days that will live in infamy. Add 12/21/04, the J and J Jewel heist. ‘Round 4:00 pm a young guy entered J and J Jewels where my wife, Babs, works as a sales clerk. She’s the pretty lady with the big smile, duded-up like a cowgal. She can make you such a deal. The young guy claimed he was in the market for a diamond engagement ring. “Yeah, sure,” thought Babs. He looked one step up from bumdom. He carried a shopping bag from Barney’s, an up-scale department store. “Hmmmm,” thought Babs, “that doesn’t compute.” Genial store manager Tommy Renison patiently gave this odd fellow his full attention, showing him a counterful of sparklies. Came a lull in the shop’s holiday traffic—Babs and boss Barbara repaired to the back room for a java break along with subdued observations about the weirdo out front. Suddenly, the scruffy sombitch screamed, “Where’s the money?” followed immediately by five ear-shattering gunshots—Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Blam! Just like that. Babs is New York Street Smart. She rushed to the seldom-used heavy back doors. Push! Pound! Claw! Kick! Reluctantly, the old, old warped doors gave way to sheer adrenaline-charged panic. Up a snowbank scrambled the two Barbaras. They called the cops and called me at home. I laced-up my snow boots on our front porch and chuffed up the icy hill toward J and J, cursing and praying all the way. Our street of sorrow was lit up like Disneyland. Hovering helicopters with searchlights beaming down. I hugged my sobbing wife. “Babs, I don’t think we’re in Mayberry anymore.” The scumbucket had escaped with over 100 grand in hot ice. Our good buddy Tommy was dead. Why, God? Tommy was saint, a loving husband and father. He spent his life serving others. He spent his last half hour serving his murderer. Tommy might have given his life to save the two ladies by blocking the way to the back room. We’ll never know.

At the wake and funeral I witnessed the greatest outpouring of grief, compassion and love in my lifetime. The Nassau County homicide detectives swore they’d catch “The 24-Karat Killer.” I believed them. They have a 93% capture record. For the next few weeks Babs slept with her eyes half open, and I slept with mine half shut. She gave the police sketch artist a good description of the butcher, emphasizing his cold, light-blue eyes with the pinpoint pupils.

Then, at last, a banner day. 2/4/05. They caught the bastard. Please don’t call him an animal. It’s a disservice to animals. He’s 23 year old junkie Christopher DiMeo from our nabe. Local boy makes bad. He was holed up with his junkie gun moll in a cheap motel in Atlantic City. Later, his junkie Mom was arrested. She drove the stolen getaway SUV. Bonnie and Clyde and Ma Barker. All in all DiMeo robbed four jewelry stores, slaughtering three jewelers, two in Connecticut. He’d shaved his skull. When he came out with his hands up he looked like a shelled peanut. He didn’t look so tough without his stolen .40 caliber handgun. I expected him to shoot it out like the Cag in “White Heat”. A detective told me if he’d made one false move he’d have gone down in a hail of bullets like Brando in “Viva Zapata”.

I miss my Monday morning coffee klatch bull sessions with Tommy in J and J’s back room. A big chunk of our hamlet’s soul is gone. J and J is open for business again. You have to knock. We all look over our shoulders. We’re more aware. The lesson is to be more aware of the beautiful people in our lives—before it’s too late. Dale Evans would have loved Tommy Renison straight off. She would have spotted him as an angel unaware.

Adios—