Christmas Markets in Germany

frankfurt_christmas_marketThe holiday season is upon us and traveling to Europe, in the late autumn gives opportunity to visit a Christmas Market. Many of the familiar customs of the winter holiday come from Germany and Nordic countries. The markets traditionally celebrate Advent of the Christian calendar, but over time have come to represent a more general holiday spirit and have become a tradition of their own as craft displays with entertainments and decorations, featuring their own particular local customs. There are very large markets in the central squares of major cities and quaint little markets in towns and villages. The markets open in late November and run just up to Christmas, though generally are closed Christmas Day or Eve. Some smaller ones are only open on weekends, the larger ones daily, or a combination. The main features of a Weinnachts Markt are Christmas themed crafts and goods of local artisans, culinary treats of local recipes, and traditional sweets of the region, mulled wine (Glühwein), and entertainments like skating rinks and performances. You might find singing angel choruses, or even Santa Clause on a high wire act.

bochum_christmas_marketThere are unusual Christmas markets in unique locations at monasteries on lake islands or underneath railroad viaducts. Major cities like Munich, Frankfurt in the “Old Town” square, Stuttgart or Dusseldorf might have more than one market. Medieval Christmas markets are some of the most atmospheric, with period costumed entertainers, strolling minstrels and jesters. The markets in the Black Forest region are picturesque, surrounded by the thick snowy conifer forests, in Freiburg, Baden-Baden, the Ravenna Gorge and Gengenbach where two dozen windows of the historic Town Hall are opened one by one each day, to create one giant Advent calendar, and Hohenzollern Castle, the ancestral home of the Prussian royal family has its Royal Christmas Market.

There are markets held in other medieval castles like Heidelberg and Konigstein in Saxony. In Martin Luther country in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, the statue of Martin Luther watches over the Christmas market and the famous church where he nailed his 95 Theses to the doors to begin the protestant reformation. The market of big cities can easily be experienced by train to avoid icy roads and even some airports have their own versions and many are located just outside major train stations. The market phenomenon popularity spreads beyond Germany, there are Christmas Advent Markets in Austria and in Switzerland, with their own particular customs, including a Santa Village overlooking Lake Geneva in Montreux and in the heart of the shopping street of Zurich.

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Surfing between Flights at Munich Airport

Final of 5th European Championship in “Stationary Wave RidingJust in time for Oktoberfest.  A little bit of Hawaii in Germany at the Munich Airport in time for Oktoberfest. From September 16 to until October 9, the world’s largest stationary wave returns to Munich Airport in the “Surf & Style” event, giving flying passengers on long stay-overs and visitors to the beer fest alike chance to surf the waves between the terminals at Europe’s most expansive covered outdoor area in the MAC Forum.

Appealing to those who crave climbing onto a surfboard and catching a wave but can’t make it to Malibu or Waikiki – from beginner to pro, can catch an artificial wave in between the runways at Munich Airport in September, one of the most active transit points for European travel is also one of the most active in providing entertainment and activities for airport visitors. So why not surfing! To make sure that all who want to surf can find the skill level that suits them, one-hour time slots are being offered throughout the day in three different skill categories for adults and children starting from 10.00 am. Beginners will be able to use a balance bar to help them get started. Anyone who has already had some practice on a surfboard can register for the advanced slots and seasoned surf enthusiasts can put their skills to the test in the pro category. The cost of a one hour slot is €19 for adults and €10 for children (ages 8 to 14 years). This includes a comprehensive introduction to surfing given by professional surfing instructors. Even the full equipment including a helmet, surfboard, neoprene and Lycra wetsuits – will be available to be borrowed for the experience. Reservations for surfing the waves can be made stating September 5th at . Photo Flo Hagena

Condor Airlines at Lufthansa Gates

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The Grand Tour of Switzerland By Train

Travel the eight most beautiful routes in Switzerland – with one ticket.

lucerne_interlaken_expressThe scenic vistas of Switzerland’s stunning panoramic rail routes never fail to fascinate visitors to this extraordinary land of snow-capped peaks and flowery meadows. The delights of this sylvan Alpine landscape can be enjoyed in any weather from the seat of a comfortable railway coach on one of the 8 scenic train routes of Switzerland. The Grand Tour, which originated in the 19th century, born when the romantic writers of the golden age of literature, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Lord Byron, Percy and Mary Shelley wrote of their travels and described the beauties they beheld, that the wealthy old Europe began to follow their literary footsteps (see Follow the Rhine By Rail Pass) and traveling by ship, rail and motor car to see the amazing sights. This Grand Tour can now be made easily by train on the world’s most efficient and convenient railway system.

The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland is one of the most unique travel experiences you’ll even enjoy. The routes extend over 1280 kilometers connecting the most beautiful panoramic routes across the country, taking visitors to all of Switzerland’s four language regions passing through magical towns and villages, past gleaming glaciers, sparkling lakes and rivers, and over mountain passes. From local departure points, the scenic routes connect with attractions and special local scenic trains and cable cars. This is a do it yourself tour, there is no prescribed travel direction or time, you just decide when you want to go, and the tour can be started all year round from any point All it takes is a Swiss Rail Pass, depending how long or detailed you want to make the tour. You do have to arrange your own hotels. You can find out about all the individual Scenic Routes  at Switzerland By Rail, which include the Golden Pass Route, the Glacier Express, the Bernina Express. For the romantics, explore the shores of Lake Lucerne with the William Tell Train and Lake Lucerne Cruise, and read the book of Frankenstein author Mary Shelley’s Secret Memoirs to find the locations where the romantic trio of the Shelley s spent their journey of discovery in 1814.

The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland can be travelled in four days or eight days. And best of all, with just one ticket – the 4-day Swiss Travel Pass or 8-day Swiss Travel Pass.

The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland in 4 days.
The 4-day Swiss Travel Pass (Flex)  recommended.

Route suggestion 1
1st day: Lucerne – Interlaken Ost – Zweisimmen – Montreux
2nd day: Montreux – Zermatt
3rd day: Zermatt – St.Moritz
4th day: St. Moritz – Tirano (Italy) – Lugano

Route suggestion 2
1st day: Zürich – Schaffhausen – St. Gallen – Luzern
2nd day: Lucerne – Interlaken Ost
3rd day: Interlaken Ost – Montreux – Zermatt
4th day: Zermatt – Visp – Zürich

Route suggestion 3
1st day: Lugano – Bellinzona – Flüelen – Luzern – Zürich
2nd day: Zürich – Schaffhausen – St. Gallen – Luzern
3rd day: Lucerne – Interlaken Ost – Zweisimmen – Montreux
4th day: Montreux – Brig – Domodossola (Italy) – Lugano

The Grand Train Tour of Switzerland in 8 days.

For longer stays the 8-day Swiss Travel Pass (Flex) is recommended.
1st day: Zürich – Schaffhausen – St. Gallen
2nd day: St. Gallen – Luzern
3rd day: Lucerne – Interlaken Ost – Zweisimmen – Montreux
4th day: Montreux – Zermatt
5th day: Zermatt – St. Moritz
6th day: St. Moritz – Tirano (Italy) – Lugano
7th day: Lugano – Bellinzona – Flüelen – Luzern
8th day: Luzern – Zürich

With kids,  the complimentary Swiss Family Card, children under the age of 16 travel free of charge if accompanied by at least one parent.

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200th Anniversary of Mary Shelley’s Creation in Geneva

Frankenstein: Creation of Darkness at the Bodmer Foundation Library

frankenstein_book_illustrationEver since the appearance of the 1831 published edition of Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein: Or, the Modern Prometheus”, the shores of Lake Geneva have been etched the history of Gothic Romantic literature as the locale of the invention of the horror novel with the story of the competition between the romantic poets gathered on a dark and rainy eve in the parlor of the Villa Diodati when the mad, bad Lord Byron proffered a bet they each write a ghost story amd Mary Shelley awakened from a dreamful reverie with a vision of science student bending over the being he had created from dead flesh and brought to life. At least that’s the familiar story.

While a number of myths and suppositions about the summer of 1816 have arisen in the 200 years since that time, an exhibit at the Martin Bodmer Foundation Library, just a short walk from the Villa Diodati, rented by Lord Gordon Byron for that summer in the Cologny district on the shores of Lake Geneva, has opened to celebrate the creation of the monster of Mary Shelley’s author’s imagination.

On the lower exhibit floor of the foundation library, a row of glass cases present 15 hand-written note pages of the first from draft version of the classic story beginning “I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created; he held up the curtain, and his eyes, if eyes they may be called, were fixed on me.”

The Villa Diodati has long been converted to private residence apartments, and not open to the public, but the gardens of the villa where then Mary Godwin (she wouldn’t marry Shelley until that December) and her pregnant step-sister Claire Clairmont might have strolled while Byron and Shelley were out exploring the lake, will be open for guided tours to the public during the length of the exhibit until October 9.

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel was first published anonymously in 1818, and one of the editions found in the exhibit is inscribed to “To Lord Byron from the Author”. Mary also wrote of the gloom of the weather starting early that summer and the exhibit features a weather report for June remarking on the late leafing of the trees. The weather has since been blamed on a volcanic eruption Mt. Tambora in Indonesia which created havoc with the climate across the globe that year, though at the time, it was only remarked as being unusually rainy, with the tree leafing early.

While in Geneva other Shelley sites that can be visited include the statue of the “creature” named “Frankie” on the Plainpalais where the murder of the Frankenstein’s son took place in the novel, the Hotel d’Angleterre (not the actual one the Shelleys stayed at but a block from the spot, the birth house of Jean Jacques Rousseau whose writing ignited the romantic literature movement and drew the English romantics to Switzerland, and spots around the lake visited by Bryon and Shelley, from the Chateau Chillon Castle of Switzerland which inspired the Prisoner of Chillon for Byron, and the Hotel de l’Ancre in Lausanne where he began to write the work for which he abandoned his original idea of a vampire that he turned over to Polidori whose “Vampyre” is also on display as one of the famous works from that Gothic Summer of the Romantics summer.

What you won’t see on display at the Bodmer are the Secret Memoirs of Mary Shelley, still privately held, revealing in much more intimate detail the origin of author Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and the journey of the romantics in Switzerland. But if you want to make your own journey of the discovery, get a Swiss Pass and take the Grand Tour by Train of the scenes and sights which inspired Rousseau, the Shelleys, and Byron or just get the new book of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein Diaries Secret Memoir.

Creation of Darkness May 14-Oct 9 Martin Bodmer Foundation


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Rail Europe Eurail Select Pass Options 2016

rail_pass_station_iceRail Europe and Eurail are making some changes in the Eurail Select Pass offerings and options for 2016. A couple of years ago they had eliminated some pass categories from the Select Pass program, but as of February 2016 are now offering a 2-country Select Pass for a selected list of countries and are returning the 3-country pass for sale.

They are also making long term travel planning easier by allowing booking of all Eurail Passes up to 11 months in advance. Until now the booking window was 6 months.

The Select Pass is the most cost effective of the Eurail Passes for longer stays in Europe allowing you to choose a limited number of countries in which you want to travel and the number of days you plan to travel. This is especially useful for longer stays where you want to spend some time in a city in a country and use the public transportation system or a short term car rental to get around, then travel a distance to another city, perhaps across borders, so you’re not paying for time when a Global Pass is overkill. With the return of the addition of the 2-country pass, the lower end of the spectrum is expanded, with the three country pass allowing a wide selection of crossing borders options.

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Downton Abbey Final Season Tour Packages 2016

highclere_castle_lawn2016 Marks the End of the Downton Abbey TV series. The cast are all starting to appear in other shows and on to movie careers. Lily James is the new Cinderella and caught in the Napoleonic Wars and Russian court of War and Peace, but the holiday touring based on the show’s popularity is likely to continue into the future. The now iconic grand baronial manor house of Highclere Castle will be the cornerstone of tourist interest, but other locations of the series will also draw. Frontiers International Travel is offering to Downton Abbey celebratory themed tours.

Highclere Castle Barge Cruise

Highclere Castle, the English estate which sits on five-thousand acres of land where the series is filmed will be a unique visit stop on a hotle barge cruise tour . On this holiday offered by Frontiers International Travel, Downton Abbey fans will experience Highclere Castle as part of a week-long barge cruise aboard the Magna Carta, an 8-passenger hotel barge that embodies old world charm and modern creature comforts  (think fine teak, mahogany and oak fixtures, under floor heating, a spacious Jacuzzi, gourmet cuisine, fine wines, and impeccable service). Each themed departure will include a guided excursion to Highclere Castle, visit to Cliveden (the magnificent mansion once owned by the Astor family) and Hampton Court Palace, (the Tudor residence of Henry VIII). Departures are set for March 27-April 2, April 3-9, May 1-7 and May 29-June 4, 2016. Prices start at $4,490 per person based on double occupancy.

Ritz Hotel & Egyptian Exibition

ritz_palm_courtThe Ritz Hotel in London has confirmed that the final episode of Downton Abbey will include key scenes filmed at the property. For a limited time, guests at the Ritz Hotel will have the opportunity to enjoy a 3-course lunch and wine pairing at Highclere Castle, followed by a private tour of The Egyptian Exhibition on display there, and a tour of the magnificent state rooms. The package includes a 2-night stay at The Ritz, dinner in The Ritz Restaurant that night and English breakfast every morning.  This holiday begins February 29, 2016 and includes a Private Coach transfer to Highclere Castle for a formal lunch in the state dining room (as often seen on the show), a private tour of the castle, a private photographer, and printed set of photographs to take home. This 2-night stay starts at $5,740 for deluxe room accommodations. Reservations are nonrefundable and must be prepaid and confirmed by January 29, 2016.

Contact Frontiers International Travel at 1-800-245-1950 for more information or visit Frontiers

Dundas Castle Scotland – Downton Experience

dundas_castle_viewFor an even more lordly experience other great manor houses contemporary to the fictional Lord Grantham and the Crawleys are getting into the act. Scotland’s Dundas Castle, an 18th Century grand manor, just 8 miles from Edinburgh, has launched its own Downton Experience for bereft fans. The  mansion features turrets, impressive staircases, sumptuous bedrooms and roaring fires. Popular for weddings and group events, the Castle features its own 600 year old keep, a private squash court and the spreading lawns and woods of the Estate.

Whether you want to live like a lord, cook like Mrs. Patmore or just learn how things were done in times gone by, the Downton Experience offers Castle guests firsthand experience of life in a grand house. As an exclusive use destination with 17 gorgeous bedrooms, the Downton Experience can be booked for a group including overnight stays, or as a daytime experience for 2 to 20 people.

Tailored to individual requirements, the package features downstairs activities including: learning how to make a bed like a housemaid; cooking with the castle’s owner, Sir Jack Stewart Clark’s private chef; and polishing the shoes or silver. Upstairs is much more sumptuous and guests can choose to live like a lord, enjoying: meals served by the staff in the stylish Croquet Room where the Stewart-Clark family dines; shooting tuition on the estate with a the Game Keeper; a private tour of the house with full details of life at Dundas; or just living the life of a lord or lady in the comfort and surroundings of one of Scotland’s finest stately homes.

The Downton Experience, more for those who truly want to live in the style of an Edwardian peer, starts from £2,500 for a day and can be tailored and extended to include overnight stays for groups and families according to their favorite Downton episode. Visit Dundas Castle for information.


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Conrad Pope Gets Golden Score Award

The Catholic Pope Francis was in Washington and Cuba the last weeks, making children smile and congressional leaders cry, but there was another Pope being awarded with accolades in Hollywood. A Pope named Conrad.

Conrad Pope, the unsung hero of many a movie blockbuster and man behind the baton, was bestowed the Golden Score Award for 2015 from the American Society of Arrangers and Composers in a ceremony at the Skirball Center attended by a who’s who of the Hollywood film and television music community. For the past two decades Conrad Pope has been the key orchestrator and arranger for the music scores of the a fistful of the major movies in Hollywood, from Harry Potter and Fellowship of the Ring and Hobbit movies to Jurassic Park and Star Wars movies. Conrad is also a composer, creating the scores for My Week With Marilyn, Tim’s Vermeer, and Pavilion of Women, his name does not appear on many of the scores he might otherwise have composed. Like many great artists and unsung heroes in Hollywood, a town that likes to pigeon hole, and typecast its talent, Conrad has been passed over by producers in place of more familiar names, some of who’s scoring work he has had to save in the recording studio.

In receiving the award for “continued excellence… and achievement in composing, arranging and orchestrating” Pope said he appreciated the award especially as coming from his peers, noting a bit of wisdom from his mentor, veteran orchestrator Arthur Morton “all arrangers can compose, but not all composers can arrange. It can be a thankless task.” The thanks is long past due.

Here’s a compilation of some of Conrad’s work.

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Santana – Humphrey Bogart & Lauren Bacall

A Cleat of Hollywood History

Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall Sail on the SantanaI was rummaging around looking for a missing item. I had put it away for safe keeping because it was a valuable piece of Hollywood history, wasn’t it? And like many important things put away for safety, I couldn’t find it. But, ah, at last like a mystical trick of the leprechauns, there it was, a t-shaped piece of wood, coated with water sealant thin varnish. A friend had given it to me along with the negative of a photograph to identify it. He had said it was a cleat from the sailing boat which belonged for a while to Hollywood movie icon Humphrey Bogart, the Santana. The photograph was of Bogart and Lauren Bacall, with Bogart smoking a cigarette, a fateful symbol of the throat cancer which would eventually take him.

Humphrey Bogart bought the 55 foot sailing yacht from actor friend, and fellow movie screen detective, Dick Powell in 1945, shortly after marrying Lauren Bacall. The middle-aged Bogie had famously met the 19 year Bacall while filming Hemingway’s “To Have and Have Not”. When Bogart made “Key Largo” in 1948 with his then wife, another boat played a significant role in the story, and if you have the pleasure to watch the film the next time it comes around on Turner Classic Movies, though never mentioned in dialogue,  you’ll note the name on the stern of the fishing boat is “Santana”. It’s a foreshortened contraction of “Santa Ana”, the name of a wind which blows off the California coast bringing clear weather and good  sailing.

Wooden Cleat from Santana Bogart's BoatThe sleek sail boat has a very curious history of its own beyond its movie trivia value. It was built in 1935 from a design by Olin Stephens, commissioned by William Lyman Stewart, Jr, the son of the founder of the Union Oil Company. Over the next few years the boat would change hands five times among Hollywood celebrities, passed around like a hopeful starlet. Stewart sold it to Charles Isaacs, the husband of Eva Gabor, sister of Zsa Zsa, in 1939. Then two years later, Isaacs sold it to George Brent, who had it converted from a schooner to an easier to handle yawl configuration, then sold it to Ray Milland, who sold it to Dick Powell. But when Powell married June Allyson, the boat had to go.

It was with Bogey and Bacall where the boat would find a faithful home. Humphrey Bogart fell in love with it, and the young Bacall took to the sailing bit with great enjoyment. They would own the boat for 12 years until Bogart’s death. He named his production company Santana and at his funeral in 1957, a scale model of the Santana was present in a glass case while John Huston gave the eulogy.

Bogart would reportedly run up a flag on the Santana for other weekend sailors to come aboard for a drink. A bit of film exists of a particular weekend of sailing where the Bogarts on their sail boat met up with Frank Sinatra on his power boat off Catalina, with British actors David Niven and Richard Burton, in a certainly alcohol fueled party weekend.

After Humphrey Bogart’s death, the Santana was sold by the estate to decorator Willis Short, and then to other owners and sailed in Trans Pac races, winning some. The Santana still exists, and it is here where the mystery of the cleat makes an appearance. If my cleat is from the Santana, how did it come to be a piece of memorabilia, if the boat is still sailing. Well, in 1999, the Santana sank in her slip. She had gone through at least two reconfigurations in her life, from schooner to yawl by George Brent and restored after being damaged in 1973 in a cross pacific trip near Pitcairn Island (famed for the Bounty Mutiny). She was completely refurbish by new owners, San Francisco architects Ted and Tom Eden. Then, when she was tied up at the St Francis Yacht Club, a bilge pump came on inexplicably and the boat sank. She was very nearly scrapped, but instead rebuilt by Keefe Kaplan Maritime in Richmond. She still sails on San Francisco Bay.

Whether the cleat I possess can be proven to have come from the Santana may be a bit of a challenge. The wood is the same as is said to be of the original construction materials and the shape is like some cleats visible in period pictures of the boat, though actual provenance may be a bit harder to establish. Maybe it’s a case for Sam Spade or Phillip Marlow, if only Bogie or Powell were still around.

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Patrick Macnee – John Steed You’re Missed

Patrick Macnee Autobiograpy Book CoverThis is a little belated obit. Patrick Macnee died in June of 2015. He was 93 years old and died of natural causes at his home in Rancho Mirage, in the California desert, with his family at his bedside. A good, long life, well lived. I was a huge fan of Mr. Macnee for his starring role as John Steed in the legendary British television series “The Avengers”. A show remarkable for its wit and humor, not to be confused with the overblown special effects goulash that is the Marvel movie series of the same name. Don’t get me wrong I’m a comic book fan as well, but the combination of clever plots, inventive storytelling, colorful guest characters and especially the chemistry of Patrick Macnee and his series of lady sidekicks makes me yearn whenever I see a news item about “The Avengers” only to discover it’s about a guy in a candy-colored iron suit.

The Avenegers Mrs. Peel and John SteedThe original Avengers TV series ran from 1961 to 1969, in various combinations of cast, with Macnee’s oh, so dapper, always impeccable dressed, Major John Steed in his bowler hat, lapel white carnation, and “brolly”, playing opposite beautiful but very intelligent leading ladies: first Honor Blackman for two seasons, who went off to be a foil for James Bond and most known now for her role as Pussy Galore in “Goldfinger”, then Diana Rigg as Emma Peel for several of the best seasons as the show hit its stride under Julian Wintle, moving from black & white to color and getting its signature opening bit of Steed’s calling card to his partner in spy crime “Mrs. Peel, we’re needed”.

Avengers Diana Rigg Patrick MacneeeDiana Rigg wanted to move off to more serious acting and also answered the siren call to become a “Bond girl” in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”. Linda Thorson as Tara King was not a completely satisfying replacement for Rigg, as the pairing with Thorson lost some of the raw romantic tension and iconic style between John Steed and Emma Peel. Thorson felt a bit more like Steed’s wayward daughter, but the plots and secondary characters got even more clever, and wryly mischievous, with the introduction of paraplegic spy chief “Mother”. Diana Rigg is now most familiar to modern audiences from “Game of Thrones”, though now as a graceful but tough grandma, Olenna Tyrell, rather than her sleek and ultra sexy-cool days as TV’s best female action hero in black spandex. It was Emma Peel who took care of the action with her martial arts, while Steed took a more restrained approach, with perfect timing and the rapier blade hidden in his umbrella. The Avengers was rare in TV and entertainment in general for its treatment of woman in its stories. It was the girl in that show who was the tough kick-ass.

The Avengers LogoA revival was tried in the 70’s, “The New Avengers”, with Joanna Lumley, but Steed was now in the sage advisor role and the magic was gone. It only lasted one season and what I remember most about that version of the show was the 12 cylinder Jaguar which replaced Steeds’ iconic supercharged ’29 Bentley from the 60’s show. The stories were not so memorable. They tried to make a movie of “The Avengers”, with Ralph Fiennes as Steed, but it was a hollow homage. There was just something about Patrick Macnee that had made that character work. He was not young, or especially model handsome, but there was just a charm and ease, combined with pure class and a droll confident certainty that made him one of the most satisfying spies of the time when the airwaves were filled with Saints and Secret Agent Men. “The Man From Uncle”, recently making its appearance in theaters as a hollow homage to that show, was the American rip-off of the Avengers success in Britain.

Macnee went on to many guest appearances in television and a few movies, making his own appearance in a James Bond film, “A View To A Kill” opposite Roger Moore, and as the leader of a pack of werewolves in “The Howling”. Patrick Macnee may be most familiar to audiences today for one of his very early acting gigs, showing up every year at Christmas season for his role as the young Jacob Marley in the 1951 version of “A Christmas Carol” with Alistair Sim, and a fireside introduction he filmed as a syndication wraparound.

Patrick Macnee 90I met Patrick Macnee several years ago. He was on a book signing tour for his 1989 autobiography “Blind in One Ear”. It was mostly about his growing up in a household of lesbians, and the title comes from misunderstanding a shopkeeper when he was a boy. He was walking with a decided limp of arthritis at the time, but was as charming as I could imagine John Steed would be. The autographed copy of his book is one of my prized objects of showbiz memorabilia. He signed it “Pat”. I have trouble thinking of John Steed as just, Pat. I met Diana Rigg briefly long ago when she was on stage in London, but she didn’t sign anything. Maybe I’ll still get a chance, but time is ticking. I have been to the location of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” in Switzerland at the mountain top revolving restaurant of the Schilthorn, where Rigg will live on as her svelt sexy 60s self, but for Bond, not the Avengers. My personal fan collection of “The Avengers” includes a box of video tapes of several seasons, but I don’t have a tape machine that can play them.

Patrick Macnee, you’re needed.

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TCM Hollywood Dreams Memorabilia Auction

Some Hollywood Dreams are Almost Forgotten – “A Farewell To Arms” 

A Farewell To Arms Lobby PosterSo, I’m watching some classic movies on TCM, Turner Classic Movies and an announcement comes on about an upcoming movie memorabilia auction at Bonhams in New York in November of 2015. TCM has been co-sponsoring these movie auctions for a couple of years now, alternating between the East Coast and Hollywood. The last one was about movie posters, this one is called “Treasures From The Dream Factory” and features the highlight items of a costume dress Judy Garland wore in the Wizard of Oz, some gowns worn by Marilyn Monroe, items from the estate of Natalie Wood, and a “Rosebud” Sled from Citizen Kane, that was given to the writer, Herman Mankiewicz, and handed down through the family of TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

The announcement was for people who might have entertainment memorabilia items to consign for sale to participate by contacting Bonham’s Auction House. So, I thought I’d see if I won the jackpot for one of my modest little collection (mostly from my own career). Some time ago I had come into possession of a screenplay copy for the David O. Selznick production of “A Farewell To Arms” from 1956. The script was in pristine condition, which may not have been a positive. I called the auction house to enquire about it, and they said that title doesn’t seem to do so well. They’d sold some items in a previous auction and didn’t think my script would come up to the $700 minimum. Not exactly a jackpot.

A Farewell to Arms

Script of A fare Wells To Arms from Selznick InternationalIt’s curious about this movie, with what should be a huge pedigree: novel by Ernest Hemingway, screenplay by screenwriting legend Ben Hecht, produced by David Selznick, Directed by Charles Vidor (who took over when John Huston left the project), starring Rock Hudson, Jennifer Jones and Vittorio De Sica, with Oskar Homolka, Mercedes McCambridge and Elaine Stritch, produced in glorious Technicolor CinemaScope on beautiful locations in the Italian Alps. Why wouldn’t this do better at an auction, it would seem there should be a matrix of fans? Well, even though the movie when it came out was nominated for at least one Oscar (for De Seca’s supporting role), was pretty much a box office failure, and even Selznick admitted wasn’t his proudest effort. It was the last movie produced by the Selznick Studio, which should make it even more historic, but instead seems to place upon it the stamp of the unwanted child.

Ruth Burch

Ruth Burch name in ScriptMaybe if my script copy was dog-eared and had been signed by Jennifer Jones, it would have been pricier. Instead, it is apparently an un-distributed casting copy, numbered 18 of what must have been over a hundred. Its main distinction was having the name of Ruth Burch written in pencil (how I know it’s a casting of copy). Ruth Burch was at first David O’ Selznick’s secretary, then his casting director and right hand assistant. She began her career in Hollywood as secretary for Hal Roach and having a hand at casting the “Our Gang” comedies, then working for Selznick. She is not credited on the film of “A Farewell To Arms”, or other Selznick films, except “Portrait of Jennie” from 1948, also with Jennifer Jones, but she worked for Selznick for almost 15 years and was instrumental in his projects.

Ruth Burch went on to be the casting director at Desilu Studios, when they moved into the Culver City RKO lot after Selznick closed down, where she had an even greater imprint on Hollywood, launching careers of TV stars. She was casting director on a long list of seminal TV hits, casting guest roles who went on to bigger things on “I Love Lucy”, “Make Room For Daddy” “The Andy Griffith Show”, “The Dick Van Dyke Show”, “Gomer Pyle”, “That Girl” and “I Spy” among others. She also cast plays for a theater company formed by movie stars Gregory Peck, Mel Ferrer and Dorothy McGuire: “The Actors Company at the La Jolla Playhouse”. I’ve had difficulty finding a photograph of Ruth Burch, except from a grainy image in a newspaper article, as she seems nearly forgotten, one of the many unsung heroes of a town where you’re only as popular as your last hit. She died at the age of 100 at the Motion Picture Home. She had no children, just nieces and nephews, but left a legacy you’d think was worth something at an auction of Hollywood dreams.

Desilu & RKO at Paramount

desilu_paramount_rkoDesilu, the studio started by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz expanded their television production into the former RKO stages at Paramount with the original Star Trek, where Mankiewicz and Orson Wells begot “Citizen Kane” with the infamous sled reputedly named after William Randolph Hearst’s secret nickname for Marion Davies’ fun bit (this salacious nugget launched into legend by Gore Vidal), is now part of the Paramount Studios lot. The studio can be seen on the TCM Hollywood Location Tours, with the unmistakable plaster RKO globe on the roof (minus the radio antenna). So, Ruth Burch and TCM come full circle, as so many bits of Hollywood history are connected by a degree of separation. If you want to read the Ben Hecht script for “A Farewell To Arms”, a copy I donated  is available at the Writer’s Guild Foundation Library at 3rd and Fairfax. If you want to buy mine…well, what am I bid?

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