Yasiel Puig and the big show

yasielpuig

I watched yesterday’s Dodger game with interest as manager Don Mattingly pulled young Yasiel Puig from the game in the fourth inning. By all accounts Mattingly sat his young Cuban phenom down because of Puig’s behavior lately.

A flashback for those of you who do not follow baseball: Yasiel Puig is a massively talented 22 year-old Cuban defector whose meteoric rise through the L.A. Dodgers farm system landed him on the big team last June. The details of Puig’s escape from Cuba and his quick signing to a $42 million contract by the Dodgers in Mexico remain shrouded in secrecy worthy of an NSA surveillance scam. What is well known, however, is when Puig arrived the Dodgers sucked, floundering deep in the cellar of the National League West. Puig promptly went on a rampage with 27 hits in his first 15 games, tying Joe Dimaggio’s 1936 record and providing the spark to build a fire under the highly paid butts of the Dodgers roster.

Fast forward to today and it appears that some baggage has come along with Puig’s talent. His attitude has been cocky, at times arrogant, and by turns angry or lackadaisical. That was apparently the problem in yesterday’s game when Mattingly suddenly replaced him mid-game in right field with Skip Schumaker.

There is no way any of us can know what’s going on in young Puig’s head as he grapples with a new life he has been unprepared to live. Think of it: a 22 year-old from the confines of Cuban baseball thrust into not just the spotlight of major league baseball, but one of the two largest media markets in the world—Los Angeles.

I can relate. I was just 20 when I got my contract at Universal Studios. Suddenly I was no longer Joanie Olander, the girl from Rowena, but Mamie Van Doren, movie starlet. It was the big leagues and I was under a microscope, not only from columnists like the evil bitch Louella Parsons, but a studio full of critical executives evaluating my every move, scene, and audience reaction survey to make sure I was worth the money they were paying me.

It is a time to hope you can find an anchor. For me, it was always my mother who kept me in the real world, and Jimmy McHugh, my manager, who constantly advised me on the ins and outs of the business. “Always take care of your name,” Jimmy told me. “A good name is the greatest asset you can have.” Thanks to McHugh and mom, I was careful to avoid scandal and taking advantage of my celebrity.

westmoreandmamie
In makeup with Monty Westmore.

I had one other valuable mentor in Monty Westmore, of the legendary Westmore dynasty of makeup artists. Monty would apply my makeup every morning and regale me with cautionary tales of actresses and actors who unwisely dissipated their talents and bodies. Monty warned me of how unforgiving the camera was if you had been out late drinking–how difficult it was to hide the bloodshot eyes and dark circles in a closeup on a 40 foot wide screen. “There’s only so much I can do, Mamie,” he told me. “You have to treat yourself with respect if you’re going to make it.”

The temptations of having more money than you’ve ever had, more fame than you ever dreamed of, and more accolades than you might think you deserve is a deal made with the devil. If we’re in the arena in front of everyone, we each make our own deal. I’m hoping that Yasiel Puig—handsome and talented as he is, will make the right one.

Advertisements

Marching toward a dream

marchonwashington

“If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.” –James Madison

“We recognize, however dimly, that greater efficiency, ease, and security may come at a substantial price in freedom, that law and order can be a doublethink version of oppression, that individual liberties surrendered, for whatever good reason, are freedoms lost.” –Walter Cronkite

On the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington, D.C. you will search in vain for any significant crowds in our capitol celebrating the event. The National Mall is deserted today, in contrast to the masses of protesters gathered there in August 1963. The streets are not clogged with marchers carrying signs, and the air does not ring with We Shall Overcome.

A protest on the magnitude of the one in 1963 would be impossible today. What we once thought of as our democracy has declined to the point that real activism in the streets is inconceivable without police military violence to suppress it. In 1963 the District of Columbia police were terrified of what might happen with so many protesters on their way from all corners of the nation, but it happened more or less without incident.

While the mainstream news media celebrates the march’s anniversary with special programs and remembrances of Dr. King’s words, the fundamental purpose of the protest against black oppression in America has long since been obscured and co-opted by the popular culture. It is now used to keep us in line rather than to inspire.

If faced with a protest of that size today a red terror alert would be issued and martial law declared, legitimizing the president to order troops, tanks, and air support to seal off the city. We would be told that foreign and domestic terrorists were planning events that would threaten public safety. We would be regaled on the news with a couple of investigations, plots would be hinted at but never revealed for “security reasons.” Great lip service would be paid to the right of everyone to protest, even while regrettably they must be prevented from doing so for their own protection.

Citizens today are unable to hold accountable their government officials or the corporations that own them without being subject to savage reprisals. The fact is that the attacks on September 11, 2001 succeeded beyond Osama Bin Laden’s wildest dreams. Americans were driven so far into paranoia by that tragedy that they willingly gave up their liberties for the myth of security. The result is we live day-to-day under the scrutiny of a spy state deluded by the notion that safety can be had by clandestinely sifting through people’s private lives for key words and shared associations.

There was a time in 1950s America when any change to the white oppression of people of color was impossible to imagine. But Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ralph Abernathy, Bayard Rustin, and others dreamed that things could be different. And they took to the streets to make their dreams become reality. Today it seems impossible to imagine a change in the status quo of our oppressive, corporate-owned, dangerously obsessed surveillance state. But someone out there is dreaming right this moment of a different world. For the sake of all of us, may your dream come true.

Democracy, it’s been nice to know you

spying

That crashing sound you hear is the last vestige of our democracy hitting the wall of surveillance and fascism constructed by the corporate American empire. This morning Bradley Manning was sentenced to 35 years in jail for releasing classified documents that revealed our government was engaged in torture, wholesale killing of civilians, and abuses such as the one shown in the collateral murder video posted first on the Wikileaks website.

Then on Monday there was the detention by U.K. authorities of David Medina, partner of Guardian reporter Glen Greenwald, at Heathrow airport in London. This was clearly an act of retaliation against Greenwald for his reporting of Edward Snowden’s revelations about massive spying on US citizens by the NSA. Medina was in the transit area at Heathrow on his way from Berlin, where he had been working with filmmaker Laura Poitras, to his and Greenwald’s home in Brazil. Poitras has aided Greenwald in the Snowden releases and is making a documentary on the American surveillance state.

While the US government denies that they had a hand in detaining David Medina, they admit that they knew in advance it would happen. Medina was questioned and threatened for nine hours at Heathrow. His computer, cell phone, hard drives, and watch were confiscated because the British claimed he might be in possession of stolen material that could aid terrorists.

You can only stand by in horror at the sight of our government going street rat crazy with fear that we, the citizenry, have become aware of its brutally deceitful secret life. Like the discovery of a lover’s betrayal, the first anger and sadness gives way to an empty ache in your gut, and you wake in the morning light to wonder what new outrage the day holds.

Sadly for all of us, no claims by our government that we are now being told the truth can remove the persistent doubt that we are only being fed more lies. The fact is our government can’t be trusted.

This is not cynicism. It is vigilance.

Tearing down Hollywood

gardenofallahfront

It is possible to trace the periods of your life by the demolition of landmarks. I read a couple of days ago in the L.A. Times about a new development at the corner of Sunset and La Cienega boulevards that will add hotels and residences along with stores and restaurants to what has been an admittedly bland intersection. The Times breathlessly called it “part of the city’s plan to boost its appeal.” I don’t mean to be surly about progress, honest, but every time I hear about the gentrification of another place in the city where I grew up, I suspect that some spot I love is going to disappear. And it always reminds of how little the Entertainment Capital of the World loves its historic places.

There was the Garden of Allah, for starters. If you are not a student of Hollywood history you may not even know the Garden existed. The Garden of Allah was a hotel on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Crescent Heights in what is now West Hollywood. It had once been the sprawling mansion of silent movie superstar Alla Nazimova, who earned $13,000 a week in 1913—the equivalent of nearly $300,000 a week in today’s dollars—before there was income tax. She was openly lesbian and notorious for her parties at the mansion. Unfortunately, her career went into steep decline when talkies arrived and audiences discovered her thick, nearly unintelligible Russian accent. No longer in demand for movies and needing a new source of income, she turned her home into a hotel in 1927.

The Garden of Allah had a good restaurant and a dark, secretive bar where you could have an intimate drink with someone you should not be seen with. In addition to the rooms in the main building, it featured stand-alone bungalows of different architectural styles, each connected by winding paths discretely masked with thick tropical shrubbery. It was a home away from home for stars like Errol Flynn, the Marx brothers, Humphrey Bogart, W.C. Fields, Orson Wells, and Marlene Dietrich, who skinny dipped in the pool. Writers Robert Benchley, Earnest Hemingway, William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Dorothy Parker all stayed there. I used to meet Howard Hughes at the Garden of Allah when I was sixteen. It was a Los Angeles landmark and party central for Hollywood until it was torn down in 1959 and replaced by a bank and a strip mall.

garden of allah_2
Souvenir of a visit to the Garden of Allah.

Just a short walk east on Sunset, another landmark was wrecking-balled into oblivion—the famous Schwabs Pharmacy. Lana Turner was allegedly discovered the lunch counter (she was actually discovered down the street). Schwabs was home to the legendary Hollywood columnist Sidney Skolsky, who maintained an office with a curtain for a door on the pharmacy’s second floor. Sidney did most of his work sitting at the lunch counter, where it was de rigueur for movie stars to chat with Sidney over coffee and ice cream sodas to promote their upcoming movies.

schwabspharmacy

Sidney befriended me when I became a contract player at Universal. We shared a special friend—Marilyn Monroe. Sidney would share our exploits with each other, and, in the early days of my career, Marilyn and I often communicated with each other through Sidney. Since Sidney used the telephone at Schwabs for all his business, he gave code names to each of us so no one would know who was calling. “Just tell them you’re Miss Orleans,” he said. With a little persuading he told me Marilyn’s name was Miss Dunhill. Because Sidney did not drive, it was commonplace for him to hitch rides with Marilyn, me, or whomever saw him walking along Sunset. In fact, Sidney did his first interview with me while I drove us around Universal’s back lot in my Jaguar.

With typical Hollywood indifference to history, Schwabs and the entire 8000 block of Sunset was demolished in 1988 to make way for a shopping center and theater complex.

In every other country I have been in over the years, there is a kind of respect, even reverence for historic buildings and places. Some other parts of the U.S., notably the northeast and south, show some appreciation for their landmarks, but here in Hollywood, more often than not, there is a kind of scorn for what is old—be it architectural or human.

Erotica and the male brain

maewest

This post is dedicated to the memory of Mae West, on her 120th birthday. Mae paved the way for rest of us who would be glamorous. Her humor and intelligence have been an inspiration to me and I continue to do my part to keep her spirit alive. Mae was also the subject of scandal, rejection, and censorship and she was smart enough to make all of it work for her. She once said, “I’m all for censorship. I’ve made a fortune from it.” Happy birthday, Mae. Sleep well.

You may have noticed that guys like to look at porn. This is a unique feature of the human mind: using the imagination to titillate and encourage sex. Other members of the animal kingdom do it in a more direct manner: see or smell female in heat—chase down female—have sex with female—go to sleep. Simple, direct, and to the point. I never met a man that didn’t want it that way too.

But man is a strange animal. He is not only, as Mark Twain said, the only animal that blushes or needs to, he is also the only animal that will have sex with no one else in the room. No doubt this dates back to the dawn of our species. One imagines cavemen drawing pictures of nude cavewomen on their walls and jerking off by the fire in the corner. Centuries ago some of the world’s most artful pornography was created in Asia in the form of beautiful silk paintings of people having sex. The ancient Chinese and Japanese accepted this quirk of the male psyche and were early believers in the power of pictures to crank up a nice stiffy. Magazines like Playboy and Hustler are the heirs to this grand tradition. And, of course, the Internet opened up all sorts of new porn possibilities.

JapaneseEroticFantasies10

I never paid much attention to erotic pictures or literature. Most of the time I was too busy living it. But I have a unique view of erotica, having been the occasional object of it. I have been photographed nude, semi-nude, and fully clothed more often than any other actress, I think. And, according to the fan mail I get, my pictures and movies do the trick. I have been told soooo many times by male fans that I was their first fantasy, or that I, by way of one of my movies at a drive-in theater, was responsible for a couple’s shotgun wedding or love child. An awesome responsibility.

The advent of the Internet, even more than the invention of the VCR, brought porn into the home where it belongs. (The VCR at least got people out of those damp seats in the Pussycat Theater.) Because Dad or older brother didn’t need to hide a magazine in a sock drawer anymore, porn quietly slithered in through the Internet connection, grabbed a box of Kleenex, and made itself comfortable. And a populist movement was created in pornography. For better or worse, not only could anyone look at porn, but anyone with a cheap camera, computer, and a streak of exhibitionism could make porn.

Some religious folks think that all this looking at pictures is wrong, and that somehow if children get a look at those bared breasts, bottoms, and beavers it would mean eternal damnation for all concerned. If it really was wrong, you would think that they could have managed to stamp it out a long time ago, what with God on their side and all. Like the comedian Brother Dave Gardner said back in the 1960s (you can Google him; he was way, WAY ahead of his time comedically): “Let those that don’t want none have memories of not getting’ any. Let that not be their punishment but their reward!”

Men are more likely to enjoy pornography than women. Your brains are wired up in a fashion that transmits the emotion of a picture directly to your sex organ, often bypassing all notions of propriety or common sense. Women like sexy pictures too, make no mistake, but for the most part, we don’t make a hobby of it.

Mind you, I’m not saying that this is bad. I consider myself a feminist, but, unlike many others flying those colors, I don’t think that a girl getting paid for posing naked is necessarily being exploited. It happens, of course, but often the girls are the ones doing the exploiting, understanding that men will pay and pay for just one glimpse of whatever their particular fetish happens to be. Still, girls, like guys, allow themselves to be exploited for a variety of reasons from needing money for a drug habit to medicine for a sick baby to paying for college tuition to just for the fun of it. Shit happens.

Outright pornography has always been out of the question for me, but I love being photographed nude. There’s an attitude, a feeling that I get when I am photographed naked. I construct a kind of instant fantasy of my own for the camera, not unlike, I imagine, the fantasy that you boys construct when looking at pictures. Of course, if my fantasy is successful, the result is a photograph that transmits that fantasy to you. If yours is successful, the result is, well, sticky.

Rick Reichardt made baseball history—in a good way!

081613reichardcard
Rick’s Chicago White Sox baseball trading card.

Rick Reichardt is a good friend and also happens to be one of baseball’s most interesting characters. Rick was a so-called bonus baby for Gene Autry’s Los Angeles Angels in 1964, the same year as my ex-husband, the late Lee Meyers. Rick was the subject of one of the largest bidding wars at the time between Charlie Finley’s Kansas City Athletics (who would later move to Oakland) and Autry’s Angels. Though Finley was the high bidder, Rick accepted Autry’s lower bid and signed with the fledgling Angels team. During his career, Rick also played for the Washington Senators, Chicago White Sox, and Kansas City Royals.

Rick was the first player to hit a home run in Angel Stadium, and was regarded as a five-tool player—hitting for average, hitting for power, throwing ability, fielding ability, and speed. He is often compared to today’s L.A. Angel phenom, Mike Trout.

Rick is also unofficially credited with the creation of major league baseball’s player draft. After the bidding war between the Athletics and the Angels for Rick, the team owners created the draft so there would never be another “Rick Reichardt” bidding war. As a player representative Rick teamed with legendary attorney Marvin Miller to fight baseball’s oppressive reserve clause in player contracts, which kept players in virtual servitude to teams, even after their contracts had expired. The reserve clause was ended in 1975. Rick’s career was shortened by the loss of a kidney and he retired in 1974.

I have long been associated with baseball. In my autobiography, Playing the Field, I wrote about my affair with Bo Belinsky; my friendship with Cy Young Award pitcher, Dean Chance; as well as my marriage and breakup with Lee Meyers. And I will be writing more about baseball in my upcoming book, Secrets of the Goddess.

It is a source of pride to me that my baseball buddies treat me like one of the boys. Rick was kind enough to candidly answer some questions for me about his years in baseball and his thoughts about the state of today’s Great American Pass Time.

081613reichardtwithdisney
Before the days of bobble heads, Rick with Walt Disney and a Mickey Mouse/Rick Reichardt souvenir plate.

MVD: Rick, what are your feelings about baseball salaries today?

RICK: Salaries have exponentially exploded—supply and demand—but nobody in our society is worth that kind of money. The median salary at the end of my career was $35k. With the end of the reserve clause, it jumped to $250k within a few years. Today our country is out of whack and, like all societies thru time, on an ebb. Baseball reflects that decline.

MVD: How do you feel about being compared to Mike Trout of the L.A. Angeles?

RICK: Trout is an animal—the best all around player in the game—followed, in my opinion, by Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera. Athletically I did many things well in several sports, and there was legitimate interest in me. I was on my way until I lost my kidney in 1966, my first full year in the big leagues. Immediately after the nephrectomy I lost resiliency. My numbers through half that season were provocative. Though I recovered and settled in as a solid ballplayer with value, I eventually ran out of gas.

It was a different era, dominated by pitching. The strike zone was higher and the baseballs were not jacked as they are now. These two issues are seldom mentioned, but those are the facts. I was player rep and team captain for two teams during the strike years [1972 strike & 1973 lockout] and there is no doubt my career was short circuited by design. Marvin Miller, our counsel for the players association, wanted to sue on my behalf.

MVD: What are your thoughts about Steroids and Human Growth Hormones? How would you react to A-Rod if that happened when you were an active player?

RICK: A-Rod is a smug punk. For some people it is not enough to be great. He did not need to get that little extra. He was already the best. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig’s handling of A-Rod’s case and especially of Ryan Braun’s is weak. A-Rod gets to continue playing while he appeals his suspension, and Braun misses basically one third of the season and loses only 3 million bucks. Something else is going on here—maybe protecting brethren? I say if they get caught using PEDs, it’s one and done—and good riddance.

Steroids are dangerous. There’s no question that there are body changes, and it seems there are too many injuries to those who take them. And what are the long term effects? There has not been enough research in the relatively abbreviated time players have been juicing to know. Now there are high school kids using them who are not tested due to cost. In my day there were amphetamines—greenies, red juice, and the rest—not good but as bad. One potential hall of famer was notorious in their use.

MVD: Do you think Mike Trout is taking steroids?

RICK: I don’t see him often enough to make that observation. He is a thug and very compact. These guys all have trainers but I do seem to remember he put on 40 pounds over the winter. That bothered me. I am inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt, but I gave Braun that nod. I was wrong!

MVD: If you had a choice: A home run, a virgin, or an orgasm with someone you care about?

RICK: A home run is an orgasm. A virgin is nothing but work and trouble (except maybe a first love), so an orgasm in concert with genuine affection and caring is the winner. Me? I’m more of a cuddler—Swede right?—and when it comes to sexuality Swedes rank numero uno, then Canadians. That’s my take. Love the Svenska flickas.

MVD: Did sexual relationships disturb your playing on the field, and did too much sex affect your batting average?

RICK: I think sex is a great adjunct to playing well or whatever you do in life—homeostasis right? There were girls that ballplayers referred to as hitting pussy, and there were girls who were there during slumps. To me they were the ins and outs—forgive me—of the season. Obviously if one is happy with your day to day relationships, your work should benefit. From my perspective, the behavior of my teammates on the road—almost to a man—had to have some kind of deleterious effect, but I never said anything.

I was single for almost all of my major league career and enjoyed, like most, relationships on many levels. I dated two or three girls during those times on a fairly serious level. There was one engagement that was called off, thank god, at the 11th hour when I became aware of something I could not live with. My friend John Flynn, then NBC assignment editor, helped me weather the storm. There was only one pregnancy to deal with. To this day I regret the decision we both made. There were ramifications that she made me aware of over 20 years later. I now have the perfect wife and mother. I wish I shared her love of dancing and cards. We have four children and six grand kids to be proud of.

MVD: Would you do anything differently if you could climb into a time capsule?

RICK: I enjoyed my L.A. Angel years, save for Autry’s error in hiring Dick Walsh and Lefty Phillips, who were laughable. I enjoyed spending a year [1970] with Ted Williams [The legendary slugger was the manager of the Washington Senators at the time]. My teammates were mostly college educated, but it was a poorly run organization. I loved Chicago and Chuck Tanner and Roland Hemond, by far the best team I played for and the best big city on the planet, but even there an inept general manager and an owner in financial difficulty. As the player rep I took all the heat, even from company man Harry Caray [Chicago’s long-time play-by-play announcer]. He was a problem for all of us. We had six quality players with unsigned contracts testing the reserve clause at my and Marvin Miller’s direction.

When I signed with the Kansas City Royals I was released the 1st day of the 1974 season, in spite of having a two year no cut contract—unheard of in the day—a sacrificial lamb to the owners because of my involvement with fighting the reserve clause. I got a base hit in that game and hit two home runs the last day of spring training. My mistake was not signing a similar contract with Charley Finley and Oakland. Charlie could have given a shit about the other owners—no way would he piss away a player’s contract. That year Joe Rudi was hurt and I would have been Oakland’s left fielder in the world series. I try not to look back but…

MVD: Looking forward, what do you think baseball will look like 40 years from now?

RICK: Forty years from now baseball will be international. The next invasion will be from the Chinese and they will dominate. They are bigger and stronger than the other Asians and have a similarly strong work ethic. There will probably be major league cities in places like Tokyo, Mexico City, Beijing. Television broadcasts and advertising will be geared to different markets for every game. Salaries and revenues will continue to expand and there will probably be rule changes because of time zones and the extra travel times.

MVD: How much longer will umpires last before being replaced by robotic sensors?

RICK: I don’t see that happening. In a way the existing robotics are useful in keeping umpires honest. There is a strike zone, or at least there used to be. I mentioned the strike zone was lowered by design, but umpires now will be reminded after the fact if they are not compliant. So many umpires have their own idea of what the zone should be. Ed Runge extended the outside zone by several inches because he felt it would make hitters more aggressive—ridiculous. I remember him punching Roberto Clemente out 4 times in an All Star game, and, of course, Runge was an American League umpire. But, no, I can’t imagine a game with the winning run at 3rd, two outs, and a 3-2 count and a called third strike by a computerized system.

081613reichardtjoemaddon
Rick today with Tampa Bay Rays manager, Joe Maddon.

Sandy Koufax: one strikeout

Koufax

I had made a trip into weirdness at Leo Durocher’s house getting Sandy Koufax’s telephone number. Now my plan was a journey into bitchiness. To somehow avenge the mutually failed relationship with Bo Belinsky—clear my palette, so to speak—I would date one of the most successful pitchers in baseball—L.A. Dodgers ace, Sandy Koufax. What could possibly go wrong?

I called Sandy as soon as I got home, giving him a phony name just to see what his attitude was. We chatted pleasantly enough for a while and when we rung off he told me to call him back sometime. I did, a couple of times, finally telling him who I really was, and eventually making a date for him to come to my house for drinks.

I have written elsewhere that my bedroom is always the focal point of my home. This is not only for the obvious reasons, but because I happen to love sleeping. Consequently, I eat, work, make love, and sleep in my bedroom. The bedroom of my house on Rising Glenn Road in the Hollywood Hills had a large TV set, a dining table and chairs, and a bar in addition to a king-sized bed. So when Sandy arrived, I ushered him into the bedroom and we sat around the table making small talk over drinks.

After a while I suggested that we get into bed and watch TV. I flipped on the television and got into bed on my side. Sandy sat on the other side and began taking off his shoes.

Suddenly, Sandy exclaimed, “Oh!” and jumped up as if he had been shocked. He picked up his shoes and quickly strode out of the bedroom, out the front door, and jumped into his car. As he roared off down the canyon, I watched incredulously from the doorway, wondering what the hell happened.

I wandered back into the bedroom and looked around for an answer. My maid had done her usual good job and everything appeared to be in order—until I looked under the bed where Sandy had been sitting. There, tucked neatly under the edge of the bed was a pair of brown men’s slippers, right where Bo had left them.

Well, I thought, Bo had done it again. Bo was the first pitcher for a Los Angeles baseball team to pitch a no-hitter—May 5, 1962. Koufax would pitch his first no-hitter on June 30, 1962. And this time Bo had shut out Sandy. With a pair of bedroom slippers.

You win some and you lose some and some get rained out, but you’ve got to suit up for them all. –Satchel Paige