Monday, March 31, 2008

Do you remember Lestoil? Perhaps the cleaning solution made an impression on me because I knew it was made in Holyoke, MA, in a factory on Main Street that had a giant bottle sculpture out front.

As a kid I was always impressed when I discovered products that were made something I knew. I was thrilled whenever Tom Terrific would exclaim, " Holy-oke, Massachusetts, Manfred!" to Manfred the Wonder Dog.

Last year at the Hadley Flea market I picked up a little promotional children's book produced in 1958 and written and illustrated by one Virginia Flint Kuniholm. There's no price on the book so obviously it was a give-away of some sort. the back cover reads "This Lestoil book has washable covers – merely wipe with Lestoil and a damp cloth."

Ah, huh.

Inside are three animal tails in which baby animals save the day by washing something or themselves with Lestoil.

Lestoil is still being made, although I haven't seen it on store shelves in a while. Apparently Clorox just bought the cleaner from Proctor & Gamble, which wanted to get rid of "nonstrategic brands." It's considered suitable for general cleaning and floors. On their Web site, it says nothing about laundry, puppies or igloos.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Animation Sundays

Here's part of a storyboard that I published in an edition of Animato way back when. A Las Vegas-based writer named Christopher Kindred wrote two great pieces on the first Batman animated series for me and was able to get all sort of art from the show courtesy of Paul Dini. Thanks to both of you!

I loved this series as I thought it was doing something that few other animated superhero series ever did: it treated the subject matter with respect and style. When I was at my college p.r. job that I hated I had an odd Mac computer that allowed me to watch television as I worked! So at 4 p.m. each day I usually tuned into a Batman re-run as I churned out some fodder for the press.

I was never a fan of the Hanna-Barbera school of super-heroics. While Space Ghost is great fodder for parody it was a lousy formulaic show as was such tripe as "Super Friends," "Birdman", etc.

The first Batman series cleverly brought to it artistic influences from the Tim Burton films and Frank Miller's Dark Knight as well as the Fleischer "Superman" cartoons. it was an animated superhero show that could appeal to both kids and adults.

Over the years there have been several series that have used the first one as an artistic foundation. And I think it's still the best.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, March 29, 2008

It was a cute little house – the kind of home you could imagine as a "starter" home for a young couple or a place where an empty nester could go to downsize.

Now it's just going to be another abandoned property.

There have been three fires this week in our area – one on I 91 when a tanker carrying a full load of diesel fuel had an accident and burst into flames. it shut down the highway in both directions for hours and there were deaths. Another tore through a retail complex shutting down five or six businesses.

So what happened on my street, two doors down was small potatoes. It is the kind of thing that consistently plagues us who live in urban areas such as Springfield. A house is abandoned, kids, homeless, drug dealers see an opportunity for a playground, a shelter, or a business location and before you know it there seems to be a fire.

Now the issue will be for the city to make sure this building is secured, the property owners notified and the apparently cumbersome machinery that will determine the ultimate fate of the structure will be set into motion. My guess is that it will stand there to rot until the city takes it for back taxes and then it will be added to the lost of properties the city will try to sell at auction.

Right now it's wide open. We look looked through the broken windows and saw walls covered with graffiti. It has been some one's club house for a while.

It didn't have to burn. If the owner had secured the building after the last tenant, perhaps this could have been avoided, but he didn't.

The owner, according to city records, is Thomas Morrell who resides at 15701 Leather Leaf Lane in Land O Lakes FL. I couldn't find a phone number on line for him or I would have called him. Perhaps I'll try directory information. He should know what he has done to this neighborhood.

It didn't have to burn. If the city had heeded the concerns of neighbors who called the police to roust the kids from there. The police would come, tell the kids to go and that was that. I'm not blaming the police, but did these concerns get transferred to city departments that might do something? The mayor has a new quality of life flex squad but so far no action has been taken.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

I'm doing a little re-formatting of this blogging effort of mine. Despite my best intentions to separate out my life – local stuff, film, animation, the life of a reporter – into several blogs I just can't maintain them all. Therefore while the older blogs will be up for a little while longer, I'm just going to put everything onto one blog – this one – but try to have designated days for the various subjects.

Part of my blog's problem is that is neither fish nor fowl when judged against successful blog. The blogs that receive the most traffic are those that are either about one topic or they reflect the varied viewpoints of a well-known person. This blog reflects the varied views of a non-famous person. Although literally thousands of people read my stuff every week, I do not claim any element of celebrity. I'm just a working class guy doing a job.

But I hate to be tied down to just one topic and therefore on Wednesdays and Sundays, expect posts on animation. There will be a day of the week for movies and the rest will be on local news and comments.

I've held off posting a lot of stuff about animation, especially Fleischer material, because I don't want to post everything that will hopefully be in a book one day. But there's plenty of stuff that I'm going to start scanning and posting. here goes the first Wednesday animation post:

Marjane Satrapi, whose autobiographical novel about the Islamic Revolution, “Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood,” was adapted into an Academy Award-nominated animated film of the same name, will speak at Smith College at 7 p.m., Thursday, April 3.

The lecture will be held at John M. Greene Hall and will be followed by a book sale and signing. It is free and open to the public.

Satrapi’s visit was scheduled in connection with the selection of her book as the 2007 summer reading assignment for incoming students, and it follows the national release of her movie, which received an Oscar nomination for best animated feature film.

The graphic novel was selected because of its simple-but-effective documentation of the growth of a young girl amid the birth of the Islamic Republic. It was the first time incoming Smith students had been assigned a graphic novel to read.

In her story, young Marjane and her family experience the overthrow of the Shah of Iran, which at first seems to be the longed-for beginning of a free and democratic future for their country. With the election of a conservative Islamic government, however, the little girl finds her life changed dramatically as increasing political repression and the restriction of women’s freedom lead her parents to the decision to send Marjane to Austria to complete her education.

Since it was published in 2003, “Persepolis” has gained international popularity. The book was included in Time magazine’s Best Comix of 2003 list and won the Angoul√™me Coup de Coeur Award at the Angoul√™me International Comics Festival.

Satrapi, who lives in Paris, continues to write graphic novels, and writes and illustrates children’s books. “Persepolis” was originally written in French and was translated into English by Satrapi’s husband, Mattias Ripa, and Blake Ferris. The story is continued in “Persepolis 2.”

For information about disability access or to request accommodations, call (413) 585-2407. To request a sign language interpreter specifically, call (413) 585-2071 (voice or TTY) or e-mail All requests must be made at least 10 days prior to the event.

I'm trying to set up an interview with her for the newspapers, but I've been told that is doubtful. Now I'm willing to bet I'll probably be the only news outlet here to ask for an advance, but... anyway I'm planning to attend the presentation, buy a book and give her one of my mine.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This week took a toll on me with long days and a lot of writing... therefore little blog activity. I know, I can hear my friends playing the world's smallest violin. I know here I can find "sympathy" in the dictionary...

Anyway, I try not to write too much about national events as what draws people to the newspapers I edit is the local news. I'm sick and tired, though, of what is happening nationally and the media's constant coverage of trivia instead of substance. At this point we're in the third quarter of the presidential election news cycle with all of the truly interesting stories (other candidates, other ideas) having been under-covered, ignored and just plain squeezed out.

Not even did the five-year anniversary of of the Iraq War get the coverage it deserved in the national press. I just laugh at this idea of the press being leftist.

I used to apologize for my beliefs in order to be acceptable to people who think otherwise. Whether it's the grind at work or the sickening slide of this great country to third world status (a debtor nation that imports most of its manufactured goods with foreign investors taking over more and more of he financial infrastructure), I just can't be polite any longer.

This is what I spewed about in my column this week:

It may be great fodder for the radio talk shows and the parade of pundits on television, but I really don't care if Senator Clinton is playing some sort of mind game with Senator Obama about the possibility of picking him to be her running mate, even though he is in the lead. This is not a real issue.

The two Democratic candidates have spoken very little in the past few weeks about the things that really matter to Americans. Instead, we've had Clinton attacking Obama and Obama continuing his hope and change rhetoric. It's just a lot of noise.

It's driven me to consider voting for Ralph Nader.

I keep waiting for one of them to talk about the war in Iraq, the home mortgage crisis, the energy crisis or the decline in the dollar's value. Or how about saying what they would do to re-build New Orleans and the Gulf Coast and how they would keep jobs here in this country.

For me, the issue of jobs is the key to the nation's success. To re-build the middle class, we need good jobs. To have a pathway from poverty, we need jobs.

While doing the research for my book on Springfield, it became more and more apparent to me the city's slow slide to its present state came from the erosion of its manufacturing sector. As early as 1954, when the Indian Motorcycle Company stopped production, the city has lost jobs.

Consider these blows: the closing of the Armory in 1968 followed by the closing of Westinghouse in 1970 and American Bosch in 1986.

With each of these closings the firm middle class in the city became weaker and weaker. How would these well-paying jobs be replaced? With positions at Wal-Mart? McDonald's?

Consider a city like Chicopee when it lost the Uniroyal tire plant. There was not only the loss of jobs from the factory itself, but also the ancillary income that went to retail shops and restaurants.

Without the ability to make a decent wage, how can our standard of living be maintained? How can we fight hunger, infant mortality and the other ravages of poverty?

Mike Dukakis once had a vision when he was governor that Massachusetts would replace its manufacturing jobs with high-tech jobs and the Commonwealth would have an economy split between high tech and service jobs. This was back in the heyday of Digital, Wang and other computer companies. It never happened, did it?

I guess it was a good thing he didn't become president.

We need a diversified job base. We need to reverse our trade deficit by making what we need here, not in China. We need local agriculture. We need local energy development.

Why aren't the candidates talking about these issues? Because it's easier and safer to spout off about stuff that doesn't matter, but makes a great headline in a news cycle.
Hey, I got my Social Security statement the other day. Did you get yours?

You know what I mean? That cheery little newsletter that lets you know how much money you're going to get when you retire?

Does it depress you? It did me. Now my wife and I have other retirement accounts, but I have to say that in order to get my maximum benefit, I'll have to work to 70.

I guess 70 is going to be the new 65.

And based on what I'm getting I better get used to the taste of cat food on Ritz! I'll just tell my friends it's pate ! Although Lucky the Wonder Bichon's food looks and smells better than the cat food.
© 2008 Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

As I get older, I realize that the tag of "liberal" that has applied to me is increasingly in accurate. I'm much more a populist and the one writer who consistently reflects my viewpoint is Jim Hightower, whose column I carry almost every week in three of our four newspapers.

I would like to think that populism could be a bridge between the liberal and conservative religions if both crowds actually gave it a chance.

Jim was in the area last week an naturally the local press, except for me ignored him. He's got a new book out and I know I'm going to pick it up.

Here's the piece I wrote:

Jim Hightower knows what he's going to do with his economic stimulus check he gets in May: he's going to give it to an organization such as the Apollo Alliance that is trying to help the recovery of the middle class.

Hightower is the populist writer whose column appears in most of the weekly newspapers produced by Reminder Publications. The late columnist Molly Ivens once described him as the child of Will Rogers and Mother Jones "mad as hell with a sense of humor."

Hightower's column is seen in newspapers across the country and his radio commentaries are heard on 150 stations. His newsletter "The Hightower Lowdown" is read by 135,000 subscribers. He spent two days in Western Massachusetts last week promoting his eighth book "Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go with the Flow."

On Wednesday evening he spoke at Mount Holyoke College and on Thursday afternoon he appeared at the Springfield offices of the AFL-CIO on Page Boulevard.

Hightower's new book, which he wrote with Susan deMarco, is "pretty uplifting," he told Reminder Publications in an exclusive interview. He said the book tells 50 stories about people who have rebelled against the corporate system and "found new ways to do it and are doing well by doing good."

Among the stories in the book are those of Martin Dunn of Brooklyn, N.Y., a real estate developer who is focusing on housing middle class families and Chris Johnson of Austin, Texas, who started MedSavers pharmacy, catering to people with no health insurance.

Hightower explained the book is divided into three sections dealing with activism in business, politics and life. Each profile has extensive contacts so readers wanting more information can go straight to the subjects of the chapters.

Hightower hopes the books will give people confidence to "step out there" and start something themselves.

He believes the stories are no anomalies, but this kind of grassroots activism is happening all over the nation.

"These are not stories you hear about in the New York Times and the nightly news," he added.

While Hightower isn't pleased with the way corporate media reports news, he said, "Rather than wringing my hands, I'm joining hands with the progressive press."

The recently announced economic stimulus package that will give some Americans $300 and other $600 is "embarrassingly pathetic," Hightower said.

"It's so sad to see [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid negotiate this with Bush," Hightower said.

Hightower said the stimulus package means the nation "will borrow $168 billion from China so we can go to the Wal-Mart and buy stuff made in China."

"It's an economic stimulus for China," he added.

If the government was serious about an economic stimulus, Hightower suggested they start repairing the infrastructure of this country.

"The Democrats and the Republicans have callously and cravenly failed to take care of the national house," he said. "There are trillions of dollars in arrears."

Hightower explained the repair and renovation of bridges, roads and other parts of the infrastructure would provide many jobs and give people necessary job training.

Elected as the Texas Agriculture Commissioner twice, Hightower sees local agricultural efforts as part of the nation's economic recovery. He said that many farmers are barely staying afloat due to policies written to help middlemen.

What Hightower sees as succeeding are "local people who create a good food economy."

Whether it is farmers markets, micro-brews or school systems buying locally grown produce, Hightower said there is "a rebellion against corporate food that is changing the whole food economy."

Even the large food distribution SYSCO is now buying locally grown and made products, he said.

This year's presidential contest has encouraged Hightower who believes the Democratic candidates, under the influence of John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich, are actually "talking about issues that workaday people care about."

He noted the increase in enthusiasm about the process of selecting a candidate from young people and the huge turnout for the Texas primary an election in which both people and caucuses vote.

Despite having a procedure that is "as confused as a goat on Astroturf," Hightower said that at his ward 500 people turned out to vote this year, as opposed to 16 in 2004.

It was a "most encouraging outpouring," he said.

To learn more about Hightower and his new book, log onto

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, March 10, 2008

Wow, am I tired! That book was much more complicated than I thought it would be! I thought I'd have a couple of days of happy lounging, but my butt never hit the couch! Or the movie theater seat! Damn!

Hey, are you old enough to remember when Popular Science et al (the following ad came from Science and Mechanics, the April 1950 edition) was filled with such ads? There were 50,000 ways to make money by getting training in electrical work, radio and television repair, shoe repairs, sharpening saw blades, air conditioning repair, heating installation and much more.

"How to make money with simple cartoons" "Learn meat-cutting" "Learn to mount birds and animals" "Learn watch making, jewelry repair" "Draw Me! Copy this girl and try for $1,200 in prizes"

There seemed to be the attitude that you could learn and then earn your way to a better life back then. I'm sure some of them were doubtful schemes. My favorite involves growing frogs in your backyard for a New Orleans concern that canned frogged legs.Yummy!

Today informercials want you to buy real estate systems to teach you how to buy and sell houses without risking any money. Yeah. The pathways to the middle class seems to have been grown over.

Interestingly enough in the Springfield area there are about 300 positions in the area's precision tooling companies that are going unfilled because there aren't enough trained people for those positioned. The area manufacturers have actually worked in collaboration with area trade school to create programs that would produce a group of young employees to go onto paid apprentice programs.

And I've been told repeatedly there are many jobs in the healthcare field here that go unfilled as well for the same reason.

Where has the drive to want to succeed gone?

I meet young people whose ambition impresses me and who I know will be a success in their chosen field. But then there's the group of kids who hang out at the house next door, smoking those fruit-flavored blunts (yeah) and talking trash. What is their future?

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Sorry, but I took the whole day off from writing yesterday.

My Thursday post elicited four comments, two from my friend Mark Not the Race Car Driver about my point. I'll try to define it better here.

I expect our elected officials to address the issues that are creating our economic mess. I haven't heard much of that from the crop of candidates we had earlier in the year and I don't here it now from the final group. That's my point. They and too many of their supporters are too involved in the dogma of their campaigns because dogma is easy.

Part of the problem is the national media covering these races. They seem more interested in who is going to win than why someone is going to win; that "why" being their positions and solutions.

The top presidential news today is that Obama's unofficial foreign policy advisor quit after it was revealed she called Clinton a "monster." So what? That's news? The Bush Administration announced this week that 63,000 jobs were lost in February, the greatest monthly job loss in five years.

That's news.

From the report on NPR: "These are very weak figures and reinforce fears that the economy is in, or is falling into, a recession," economist Ken Mayland told NPR.

"Mayland, president of Clearview Economics, said losses were heaviest in construction, manufacturing and retail, all consumer-driven industries, suggesting a recession may continue well into 2008."

So why aren't the candidates talking about this? Why aren't they talking about the basic failures of the economic policies of the last 30 years? Because these are difficult issues that challenge the status quo of the corporate control of this country.

America was built on the premise that manufacturing jobs and unions were the gateway to a better life. That premise has been systemically destroyed through the union-busting started by Reagan and the decision to increase profits not through better products and competition, but by shipping jobs overseas where workers can be paid substantially less.

Are the candidates grappling with: The weakened dollar? The energy crisis, real or contrived? The home mortgage fiasco? Spiraling credit card debt and its implications? How to turn around the deficit caused by the war in Iraq? How to build new entry-level jobs in this country that might lead to something other than a promotion to fry machine?

FDR had to put in place a number of programs in place that enraged the Big Money Boys back in the 1930s and he could do so only because the crisis of the Depression had given him the political clout. People were demanding, pleading for positive results. What scares me today is that people seem willing to accept out situation.

That's my point. I don't see our new potential leaders talking about this stuff. And too many of the talking head pundits or the columnists or the talk show hosts – I have to make exceptions for Thom Hartman, Ed Shultz and Rachel Maddow – are talking about these issues. It's easier and a lot more fun to stir the pot with dogma.

At this point I truly believe the country will be sinking further with any of these people in the White House unless the winner grows a spine after the election.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Okay first read this. Now I know folks who think everything is hunky dory won't want to have their faith questioned, but I'm feeling evil. When you're done with that now read this.

What am I thinking? The folks I want to read it, won't. I'm asking you to do so and that's like a double dog dare you. You suspect foul play!

As I've said many times, political belief is religious. You stick with your faith because questioning it causes you to question your own judgement and few people like to do that.

However I had hoped people would question the status quo but we have a group of candidates that seem to be retreads of the same old stuff. McCain wants to keep us in an illegal, immoral and ineffective war. Clinton wants to build a dynasty with the help of the Big Money Boys and Obama really doesn't want to talk much about specifics.


© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Ever since I introduced Steve Bissette to Cinefest in Syracuse one of our rituals has been to sit down and go through literally a dozen milk crates of movie stills offered by one dealers. Now this habit has been abated by the realization of just what we're going to do with the stills, the appearance or non-appearance of the dealer – a very nice guy who must get tired lugging all of this stuff to shows– and our ability to sit for hours scanning stills.

As the years have passed I find that a couple of hours or so of this activity at a time is about all I can handle before my knees begin to howl, my back aches and my mind wanders. Such are the pains of the collector!

Quite a while back I had periodically posted some of these stills on this blog and since I'm attempting now to blog every day, I thought this could be fun for film fans.

Today's still is from a tawdry but oddly compelling exploitation film, "The Fiend of Dope Island." Subtle, eh? The gentleman shown is Bruce Bennett who by 1959 was reduced to appearing in crap such as this film. Bennett had been in "Mildred Pierce" and "Treasure of Sierra Madre." Hey, everyone has to pay the rent.

Here he plays the fiend who rules a little island with his whip. The film is available from Something Weird Video.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

I've watched the Academy Awards since I was in high school and getting seriously interested in film. Admitting that you actually look forward to the Oscars in some film circles is akin to pulling the hayseeds out of your hair – it's not a sign of sophistication.

The Oscars, as we all know, are tremendously flawed. First, the very concept that one film is actually better than another in a measurable way is pretty ridiculous at the level of "No Country for Old Men" and "Let There be Blood." We all know it's a matter of taste. And winning an Oscar can be a product of a marketing campaign, a political statement or acknowledgement of a long career.

But I watch them out because of what they represent to me personally – a sign of community. In the 1970s it was easy to be into sports or cars, the interests that seemed to be stereotypically linked to young men, but not something like the movies.

When I was going to junior high, high school and college I lived in a small Massachusetts town called Granby. It's the type of place that was close enough to be the target of white flight types from Springfield seeking a "country" lifestyle and yet in the 1970s still small enough not to have its own grocery store.

If you were a kid living on a small farm with obligations especially in the summer, going to the drive-ins or year-round theaters was a rare treat rather than the norm. And your development as a movie fan was definitely held hostage to what kind of programming your local television stations had.

Thankfully WWLP had movie shows presided over by a local uber-fan named Hal Stanton, who ran a lot of classic comedy. And the NBC affiliate in Hartford had a Saturday night horror film show that was lame – its host was a voice over who was only seen through a series of slides! – but showed a ton of Universal horror.

None of my friends were into movies the way I was and when I began a fanzine it wasn't an effort to seek local readers as much as it was to plug into the network of fans who published other 'zines.

I haunted the newsstands for copies of "Variety," various monster magazines, "Sight and Sound," "Films in Review," and "Larry Ivie's Monsters and Heroes." What I couldn't afford I would read as much as I could before I had to leave.

And despite the fact the Oscars wouldn't never have had Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing or Vincent Price as presenters – my interest in horror films manifested itself pretty early – I watched them because they were a mainstream symbol of something that seemed to me to be almost underground: a love of film.

So despite the fact that many many years since then I've groaned at the silly production numbers or wondered why someone has to be near death before they give him or her a special Oscar, I watch them.

Which leads me to this year's winner for best animated feature. In a perfect world the Oscar should go to a film that advances the industry. And while I loved "Ratatouille," it should not have received the award. "Persepolis" should have.

In this case, while "Ratatouille" was an wonderfully animated and realized film that actually had some good laughs, it didn't push animation into any new place and "Persepolis" did so with a story that was a genre-breaker and highly stylized animation that was expertly done.

We need genre-breakers in animation if we ever want to see the medium used to tell different kinds of stories. Hey I love funny animals, but I also love surprises.

As long as I'm posting on animation, let me just say the extended director's cut of "Beowulf" with "violence that couldn't be shown in theaters" is a move worthy of Barnum. The difference as far as I could tell is about a minute of running time and while one minute can be enough time to show an image that packs a nasty punch, I didn't see anything. Did you?

And in the extras, no one refers to animation. The phrase used to described how the film was made was "performance capture." What a crock!

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs

Monday, March 03, 2008

So I'm writing the introduction of the Springfield post card history book and I come across this piece I did in '99 for Steve Murphy's late and lamented – at least I lament it – V Mag.

Hey two postings in one day...I think it's my personal best!

When I attended UMass in the mid-Seventies, Bill Cosby was working on his graduate degrees, and the buzz around campus was a legitimate famous guy was indeed walking around just like one of us. I never saw him nor did any of friends, but we kept hearing about sightings down at the tennis courts. It was like my belief in the Loch Ness Monster. I didn't have to see the beast to have faith in the reports I read, and I did believe that Fat Albert himself was dodging the falling bricks from the library like the rest of us.

You just don't expect to see celebrities in your backyard. I don't why people are always confounded to find out that so many famous people have a connection to western Massachusetts. I suppose it's the notion that nothing ever happens in your home town, and all the celebrities must come from Los Angeles or New York.

Here's an example. I was standing in the Montague Bookmill last fall and I noticed a woman who appeared very familiar. When she began to speak I knew who she was...television actress and slut monkey Golden Girl Rue McCalahan. I snuck over to my wife and our friend and furtively told them. We all then peeked and made a determined effort to allow her to buy her used books without gawkers hanging on her move.

I should know better. Famous folks do get their start in the real world. He routinely reports on people such as Uma Thurman, John Shea, Paige Turco, Taj Mahal, Bill Pullman, and even Richard Gere (who attended UMass and dropped out his junior year).

The most interesting Favorite Daughter, in my opinion, is Springfield's own June Foray whose family left their home on Orange Street and traveled to California where she eventually became the voice for Rocky in Rocky and Bullwinkle and a dozen other characters.

But what about those who came before them? Western Massachusetts is practically crawling with connections to famous dead people, and at this time of year, it's appropriate to discuss a few of them.

Some, of course, are tenuous. Springfield has an interesting connection to the great swashbuckler Errol Flynn. Flynn's last girlfriend was indeed a girl. Beverly Aadland was only 15 when she met Flynn. They made a very bad film together, Cuban Rebel Girl, a pro-Castro drive-in epic, and created a lot of nasty headlines before his death in 1959. The western Massachusetts connection? Aadland lived in Springfield in the late Sixties as she pursued a supper club singing career. Although one interviewer believed "a single girl couldn't settle down in a small town Like Springfield," Aadland said that "at my house Springfield swings." Aadland's whereabouts today are not known.

Okay, so that one is not unlike the Six Degree of Kevin Bacon. Here's the real thing.

My good friend Dave Mackie once told me of an illuminating moment in his high school career well over twenty years ago. As he was sitting in a class in the long-gone Classical High in Springfield, he noticed that among the graffiti carved in his ancient desk was a name. "Timothy Leary...1938" read the inscription. Much to Dave's surprise the fact was later confirmed that indeed one of the founders of the counter culture had been a graduate of Classical High.

Many people in Springfield didn't realize Leary's connection with the city until he died and the Union-News dutifully hunted down some of his high school classmates who all had good things to say about him. Unlike Dr. Suess, the most famous Springfield native son, no one in officialdom seems too comfortable with Leary's legacy and there's no talk of a Leary Memorial here. Too bad, it might pull more people off of I-91 than an IMAX theater on the riverfront.

We all know about Emily Dickinson's and Robert Frost's connection to Amherst, but what about William Cullen Bryant, the poet who made his home in Cummington? Or the fact that Moby Dick author Herman Melville was a resident of Pittsfield? While horrormeister H.P. Lovecraft was practically a recluse in his native Providence, a trip to Monson to visit a huge boulder that had been the site of colonial church services gave him inspiration for some of his stories.

Look back into old newspapers from twenty-five years ago and you'll find the Paramount Theater in downtown Springfield had a different name. Known as the "Julia Sanderson Theater," the performing venue had been re-opened and named as a tribute to Twenties and Thirties Broadway and radio star Julia Sanderson who hailed from Springfield. The theater later reverted to its original name.

Next time you're in a video store, check out such classic musicals as Born to Dance, Broadway Melody of 1940 and you'll see another Valley Girl, Eleanor Powell. The beautiful and athletic dancer was a native of Springfield and was a star at MGM. She was married to actor Glenn Ford for a number of years and by the end of her life she turned her energies to religion.

What about dead Presidents? Northampton was home to Calvin Coolidge, the Vermont-born lawyer who was mayor of Northampton, governor of Massachusetts and than president. You can still see his law office door in the same building as Fitzwilly's.

Lawrence O'Brien, Kennedy family supporter, postmaster general, head of the Democratic Party, and commissioner of the National Basketball Association, was another Springfield boy. His father had a tavern where the Springfield Civic Center now stands and he received his law degree from Western New England College.

So cut this story out and carefully fold into your billfold for quick reference the next time some wiseacre from Connecticut or New York yaks about nothing ever happening here. And remember, this list will grow really impressive when in another twenty-five or thirty years some of today's famous western Massachusetts folks head off to the big Happy Valley in the sky.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs
It's Monday morning and I haven't blogged for over a week. Conditions at work for the last two weeks have been challenging and coming home and trying to come up something interesting for readers of this blog has been a task I've not taken.

However I'm home this week finishing the Springfield postcard book, so my goal is to blog each day.

I like writing about the media and what goes on because no one in this market does that. I know I question what I do and what my staff does all the time. The pressure of trying to put out newspaper products that are original, more complete and, hopefully, compelling is one that bears down on me all the time.

I just don't want to go through the paces and I see so many of our colleagues/competitors in this market do just that.

For instance, I hate the "man in the street" interviews that have become a staple of television news here. Take any topic, go to the Wal-Mart parking lot, find people who have the fewest teeth and ask them their opinion on a subject they don't know much about. Their answers don't provide any insight. They just fill time. And it's cheap.

That isn't news.

In fact, watching how the majority of television reporters work most of the time – there are exceptions – what people see as "news" on television barely qualifies as such. TV reporters are notorious for arriving late at a story staying for a short length of time and then leaving before the event concludes.

I wonder just what is the point other than providing an advertising vehicle.

Anyway, here's more behind the scenes stuff.

Here's another episode of backstage at the newspaper and why I'm grey and can't find a cure for my stress.

No one in journalism school ever tells young reporters about the need to acquire the ability to wait. Yes, interviewing, note taking and headline writing are all subjects one must master to make it in this business, but waiting is another.

Patience isn't just a virtue in this business, it's a requirement.

You have learn how to make a dozen calls to a dozen people for a dozen stories because writing stories is like trolling for fish. You have to cast your net wide. That's because sometimes the fish ain't biting.

You wait for those call backs, and wait and wait some more. The boss might think you're goofing off, but you're not.

It's always good to have a messy desk in this business to confuse the boss who might come snooping as well as having a couple of notebooks opened to scrawled pages. Rustle the papers, scowl at your notes, rinse and repeat until the supervisor has moved on to torture someone else.

Sincere disclaimer: Reminder Publications honcho Dan Buendo has never done this to me. Really. I've been in this business a long time and have worked for some true beauties. Dan is not among those.

Inevitably the person who calls you back first is the person you need the least. Because you're on the phone with that person you miss the call of the folks you really need. Now it's time for the second round of calls and staying a while in voicemail limbo.

It's rumored that reporters get some sort of karmic dispensation for all of the time we spend in voicemail. I certainly hope so.

A basic rule of thumb is the greatest demand to speak to an elected official about something is correlated with their lack of availability. Sometimes they're not ducking you, but sometimes they are.

And another real world rule is that elected officials basically only want to talk about things that benefit them. So you can't be surprised if they really don't want to comment about some screaming match they had with a city councilor. It's human nature, but as an elected official they are supposed to be accountable and candid about such matters.

That's right, this is "Zen and the Art of Reporting."

Today, I'm dashing out this column in sheer panic, thanks to the Finance Control Board in Springfield gotta make those deadlines, folks. I think I could easily gather up a tar and feather mob out of the reporters who were patiently waiting for the Thursday meeting to start.

Scheduled for 12:30 p.m. for the speak-out portion, the show didn't start until nearly 3 p.m. City Clerk Wayman Lee had the thankless task of conveying the periodic messages to the people waiting for the meeting that it would be conducted in another 30 minutes, 45 minutes, 15 minutes, etc.

Now Ray Hershel of ABC40, the acknowledged dean of the Springfield press corps although perhaps Sy Becker at TV22 could also have that title marshaled up all of his considerable influence and asked the minions if the FCB could give us a reasonable idea of when they would start and if they could talk about the juicy stuff first, such as School Superintendent Joe Burke and how the School Committee seems to think they are a force unto their own.

Even Ray couldn't move them. I thought sending in John "Binky" Baibak of WHYN for a second attempt would only irritate the beast. We would only use Binky in extreme cases.

So we chatted among ourselves, went to lunch and talked more with the folks waiting to speak.

Finally the FCB convened the meeting with a sincere apology from the chair, Christopher Gabrieli.

Now this isn't the first time the FCB has held up a meeting by having a closed-door executive session before the public meeting and I suspect it won't be the last. I just hope they appreciate the test they are giving us.

© 2008 by Gordon Michael Dobbs