Archive for May, 2010

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

As far as I can tell, there were no wars in Oz…and I would imagine there would have been no need to memorialize those who lost their lives in war. But life on the real YBR is different. There have been wars…and we do set aside a day to remember those who did die while serving.

When I was a kid, Memorial Day was marked with a sense of sadness mixed with pride. The annual Memorial Day tribute in my hometown was the kind you see in movies (or the kind of movie you play in your head). And while there is only one living WWI American Veteran alive today, back ‘then,’ I remember seeing rows and rows of World War I veterans, many of whom were not much older than I am today.

I appreciate the sacrifices made by all the men and women in the armed forces who heeded (and still)  the call to serve, but in my heart-of-hearts I wish (and pray) that it wouldn’t be necessary…ever…for anyone from any nation to have to sacrifice their life in war.

To me it’s a puzzlement. It was also a puzzlement to the King of Siam who sang these words written by Oscar Hammerstein. I think they have relevance today:

When I was a boy
World was better spot.
What was so was so,
What was not was not.
Now I am a man;
World have changed a lot.
Some things nearly so,
Others nearly not.

There are times I almost think
I am not sure of what I absolutely know.
Very often find confusion
In conclusion I concluded long ago
In my head are many facts
that, as a student, I have studied to procure,
In my head are many facts..
Of which I wish I was more certain I was sure!

And then the King spoke indirectly to the subject of war:

Shall I join with other nations in alliance?
If allies are weak, am I not best alone?
If allies are strong with power to protect me,
Might they not protect me out of all I own?
Is a danger to be trusting one another,
One will seldom want to do what other wishes;
But unless someday somebody trust somebody
There’ll be nothing left on earth excepting fishes!

I can’t help but think about all that might have been had those who lost their lives had lived. How many contributions have we lost? How many gifts did we not get to see?

Regardless of your political persuasion or your attitudes about the military, I think we need to live our lives fully and  be the best that we can be for those who never had the chance to see another sunrise.


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Dorothy has a Twitter account.  She has 12,347 followers. Here are some of the ‘tweets’ she’s received:

“They’re coming! Hide the good silver!” – Paul Revere

“I’d like to have you for dinner. Toto, too. A bottle of Chianti would be  nice.” – Hannibal Lecter

“I’m in the house.” “Elvis

“Give me a call. No, give me a call. No, call me.” – Sybil

“How old did you say you were?” – Roman Polanski

“I suck. Thank, God.” Dracula

“I hate all my relatives.” – Albert Einstein

“Anyone who tells you ‘you have nothing to fear but fear itself,’ has never seen Franklin naked.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

“If you think my nine iron is hot, you should see my putter.” – Tiger Woods

“Thinking of going to the Empire Building. Hope the elevator is working or else I’ll have to climb up.” – King Kong

“Anyone know how the play ended?” – Mary Todd Lincoln

”                                                                                 ” – Marcel Marceau

“A bit tied up this evening. TTYL.” – Houdini

“Hot time in the old town tonight. Bring some marshmallows.” – Satan

“Just can’t figure a way to end this damn symphony.” – Ludwig Van Beethoven

“Has anyone seen my car keys?’ – Helen Keller

“Just hanging around. Wuz up with you?” – Nathan Hale

“I wonder. What if I had walked home?” – Rosa Parks

“I haven’t a clue who did what to whom in the library.” – Colonel Mustard

“My hearing’s not what it used to be.” – Van Gogh

“When I finish with the ceiling, I’ll start on the floor.” – Michelangelo

“I don’t know why I have this sinking feeling.” – Edward Smith (Captain of the Titanic).

“Click those heels one more time and I’ll rip those damn shoes off your feet.” Glinda

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Although the Tin Man made every effort to stay out of the rain because it would rust him, I believe the rusting might have paralyzed him, but his fear of water did not because he had his trusted oil can. (That’s not meant to undermine the Tin Man’s apprehension or to minimize his ‘fear’ of water, but to put it in perspective.)

Now, the Scarecrow’s fear of fire is an entirely different subject. Fire was his deadly enemy. It didn’t ignite his imagination, that’s for sure. It did exert control over how he lived his life.

What are we afraid of? As children we’re afraid of the bogey man, the dark, getting lost in a department store….As we get older, some of the fears we had dissipate or disappear entirely. But there always seem to be other fears that take their place. (I guess fear abhors a vacuum.) Some people are afraid to fly, some afraid to take risks and some afraid of change.

Whatever fears we have in our lives, we have to be careful because once our fears overcome us to the point that we are emotionally paralyzed, we will stop living full and meaningful lives.

Facing our fears and confronting their source is not easy because sometimes, even though we don’t want to admit it, we love our fears. Our fears sometimes give us an out. They provide us with a built-in excuse.

But of all the fears that we can have, I think we all have one in common: the fear of the unknown.

Dorothy and her traveling companions all had something to fear in their lives. (Toto, too…I would imagine.) But, they didn’t seem to fear the unknown. And why not? I think because they had hope. The kind of hope that came from within. They also had faith born of a belief that good things were possible.

But they were afraid, as evidenced by their trepidation when having to meet the powerful Wizard of Oz. However, they didn’t let their fear stop them from getting what they came to Oz for – a brain, a heart, courage and return passage home.

Despite the fact that their faith might have been shaken a bit when they unmasked the Wizard and Dorothy ‘feared’ she would never get home, hope and faith prevailed.

I don’t believe that means we will always get what we want. But, we’ll never know if we let our fears hold us back.

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(l) Alexander H. Cohen (r) David Merrick

Think about all the people you meet along the way on the YBR. Some of the people we meet over the course of a lifetime are in and out of our lives with the speed of a tornado. Other people we meet turn into friends we have for life. Some of the people we meet treat us like apples…once they get to the core, they throw us away. And while friends are undoubtedly more precious than people who spin past us, almost everyone we meet can, and more often than not does, make an impression on us.

Once such person in my life was theatrical producer and impresario, Alexander H. Cohen. He played a part in my life even before I actually met him. I was going to give an engagement ring to Patty the night we went into NYC to see the musical Words and Music. It was produced by Alex Cohen. Because Patty and I met while working on a musical at Marist College, I wanted our engagement to have a theatre connection…so I wrote a note to Alex asking him if after the curtain came down (and the audience left), if I could give Patty her ring on stage. Alex called me at home and told me that while he would have loved to have honored my request, the cast was going to be on stage going over notes since the play was still in previews. That was in 1974.

I didn’t get to meet Alex until 1981 when I was working on the Pan Am account and Alex wanted to do a tie in with the airline. I helped arrange the tie-in with the play 84 Charing Cross Road. (I even got to write four lines of dialog that were used during the Broadway run of the play.)

I won’t say that Alex and I became friends, but I did get to know a man who was the Wizard of Oz. He was often called the last P.T. Barnum. He lived big, talked fast, moved just as fast and was ‘darling this’ and ‘darling that’ with the biggest names in entertainment. I got to work with Alex on six Tony Award telecasts, two Emmy Awards and a number of star-studded spectaculars in New York and Los Angeles. I got to go to dozens of opening nights and met more celebrities than I can even count.

But even though Alex was bigger than life and held me spellbound, I never wanted to be him…or even be like him.  My own inner Toto pulled away the emerald curtain and I saw the real Alex Cohen, a man who could be debonair and ooze charm one minute and be venomous and vitriolic the next.

I learned a lot about the world of entertainment working with Alex. I learned that the world of grease paint was a bit darker and a whole lot more cut throat than I had ever expected.

Alex allowed me to see behind the Broadway curtain. He introduced me to a number of big Broadway players. One of the men I met was David Merrick, probably one of the most powerful Broadway producers…ever. Merrick’s nickname was ‘the abominable showman,’ because he was…well, let me put it this way. If he had to run over his mother with a tank to get what he wanted…he’d run over his mother. (I didn’t ever want to be like him.)

Alex Cohen and David Merrick were sworn enemies. They had a rivalry that was the stuff of a murder mystery. They were always engaged in acts of one-upmanship and would not hesitate to get the better of the other. Ironically, Alex and David died three days apart in 2000 (Alex on April 22 and David on April 25). The rumor around Broadway was that once David heard Alex had died, he didn’t want him to book the top acts in hell, so he died, too.

Oh, some of the people you meet on the YBR. And oh, some of the life-lessons you learn by those ‘chance’ meetings.

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An ass, is an ass is an ass – with apologies to Gertrude Stein

A missing chapter* from Baum’s classic Oz story was recently found in Chitennango. In addition to meeting a scarecrow, a tin man and a lion on the yellow brick road, Dorothy met a donkey. After only a few minutes of conversation, Baum had Dorothy say, “You’re such an ass!”

And why did Dorothy say that? Because the ass, I mean the donkey, said he had no need to go to Oz to ask the Wizard for anything because he was perfect in every way.  He believed he was a genius, a real Romeo and more courageous than a den of lions.

When Dorothy asked the donkey if he had always been a donkey, he told her, “No. Once upon a time I was a……..”
(You can fill in the blank with whatever word you want, e.g. politician, cable TV show host, college president, whatever.)

There is one word that suits the donkey….perfectly: arrogant.

Of all the negative qualities a person can have, arrogance is one quality that I can’t tolerate. Unfortunately, arrogance seems to be the characteristic of choice for a growing number of people. The dictionary definition of arrogance (overly convinced of one’s own importance) doesn’t come close to describing some of the arrogant people I’ve come across on my journey on the YBR. And I don’t care a bit of arrogance is a necessary characteristic needed to be a leader in the 21st Century.

Arrogance is like bad breath. And there’s no excuse for bad breath.

You would think that people would be repelled by arrogant people, but I’m not so sure about that. Today, arrogance seems to act like a magnet. It attracts people and turns them into arrogant people.

I went to college with one of the most arrogant people you’d ever want to run over with a truck. He turned his arrogance into a career…earning some $10 million a year.  And even though it would take me over 200 years to make what he make in one year, I wouldn’t have survived a day in arrogant skin.

Arrogant people believe they don’t have to answer to anybody for anything. They are not just haughty, they are horrible.

Even as evil as the wicked witches were, at least they were not arrogant.

Arrogance is pride on Prosac.

And while the opposite of arrogance…humility, is a far better characteristic, I don’t necessarily believe humility needs to be a person’s strong suit. (I believe it should be one of the cards in your hand, but it’s necessary to play it all the time.)

I think it’s time to restore pride to its rightful place.  Pride is defined as “a sense of one’s own proper dignity or value; self-respect.”

I like that. I’m all in favor of justifiable pride. I think we have a right to feel good about who we are, what we do and what we accomplish. I think we are also obligated to validate someone else’s accomplishments when those accomplishments have been earned after a degree of diligence and hard work.

Alas, I believe far too many of us were told pride was a bad thing. That wasn’t a lesson we should have been taught. Pride that borders on arrogance should have been nipped in the bud. But there’s nothing wrong with good, old honest pride.

*Baum never had a donkey in mind when he wrote Oz. But maybe he should have.

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Jillian Brianna Devine (age 4) holds Andrew Vincent Begley (age two days) while Brielle Kiera Devine (age 1) looks on.

Despite some of the setbacks in my journey on the YBR last year, I’ve come to realize that no one’s journey is without setback and some disappointments, too. And while I would do some things differently if I had the chance (as would most of us) there are more things that I wouldn’t change for all the proverbial money in the world.

And one of the things I wouldn’t change is the love of my life, Patty, a woman who has had to put up with more bumps during the course of our 36 years  of marriage. I also couldn’t have asked for better kids. Jennifer, Jeremy, Nick and Kieran have given me more joy than one person should be allowed to have. I am also blessed with Bryan, a great son-in-law, and two wonderful daughters-in-law, Sarah and Court.

And now I am experiencing the joy of being a grandfather. Jillian and Brielle (Jenn and Bryan Devine’s daughters) are two amazing little girls. They are worth more than a six-figure bonus. And just this past week I was blessed with my first grandson, Andrew Vincent (Jeremy and Sarah Begley’s first child).

My time on the YBR is…well, you know what I mean. Sometimes I wish I had been more successful financially because I would love to have the ability to help my kids out and provide something for my grandchildren. Unfortunately, that ship never docked in my port.

All I have to offer my grandchildren is an endless supply of love. I give it to them freely without any strings attached. And if I could put a few things in their buckets, I would add dreams, curiosity, compassion (and a hefty portion of passion, too), kindness and the ability to appreciate every morsel of life.

I would like to be able to help them put on their silver shoes and help them take their first steps on the YBR. I would ask the Wizard to give each one of them a head filled with wonder and awe; hearts big enough to both share love with everyone and the capacity to be loved; and the courage to do the right thing…always. And when they don’t do the right thing (as all of us have done), have the courage to admit they were wrong and the good sense to say “I’m sorry.”

And yes. I also hope they will be open to surprises, because life is filled with them.

That’s all.

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You didn’t read it in the book. You didn’t see it in the movie. But, after years of research I learned of a special holiday celebrated once a year in Oz. It’s AH Day. And AH doesn’t stand for Arthur Henry or Artichoke Hearts.

Every May 20th (the day the citizens of Emerald City took off their green glasses), the people of Oz take to the streets armed with sheets of stickers that say: You Are a Real AH on the YBR. All day long people peel off stickers and slap them on people they believe are AHs. No one suffers any consequences for their actions. Repercussions are against the law. The Law of Freedom of Expression is upheld.

At the end of the day, every citizen of Oz is required to stand in front of a full-length mirror and take a look at themselves. They have to face the truth and see the reflection in the mirror as a statement made by the people, for the people.

Why do the people of Oz celebrate AH Day? Because the people of Oz, once duped into wearing green glasses by the Wizard of Oz, vowed they would never go back to living a lie. And although the people of Oz are generally kind and considerate…to a fault, AH Day affords them an opportunity to tell it like it is.

It should come as no surprise that many high and mighty are weighed down by AH stickers. The arrogant are brought down a notch or two (or six or seven) when they look in the mirror and see how many people think they are a real AH.

Mind you, rarely does someone in Oz  escape a sticker or two because we are all someone else’s AH.

And do the people in Oz learn anything on AH Day? Some people do. Some people don’t. But that’s life.

Oh how I wish we had AH day in the real world. A day where we  could all call a spade a spade (or in this case call an AH an AH) without risking…our jobs.

I can tell you there are a few people I would love to slap an AH sticker on. And I wouldn’t be alone. Two particular people I have in mind (a really arrogant frick and frack team who rode into town two years ago) would be covered from head to toe with thousands of AH stickers. But, in their case, they are not only too arrogant to change, but too stupid.

I think we would all be better off if we could tell people what they really are…and we could learn something about ourselves, too.

Let’s hear it for AH Day.

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