Seymour Hersh

I posted this link to a Guardian article about Pulitzer Prize winning author Seymour Hersh’s take on Obama, the NSA, and American media—newspapers and network news departments—but apparently not many read it. It is so worth reading that I’m posting it on INSIDE/OUT so that it won’t become lost on FB’s timeline.

I hope you’ll take the time to read it here.

In case you don’t know, Seymour Hersh is the journalist who first uncovered and wrote about the My Lai massacre in Vietnam, and the one who was the first to write about the abuses at Abu Ghaib prison in Iraq. Seymour has really big balls and gets really big stories.

Hersh is one of those figures—like Julian Assange, Chelsea/Bradley Manning, and Edward Snowden—who are unafraid, or at least undeterred, by the power structure. In fact, Hersh seems to enjoy pissing off politicians and fellow journalists with his revelations of abuse of power.

He chillingly insists that the Obama administration lies consistently and is actually much harder to write about than the Bush administration. He tells the Guardian, “The Bush era, I felt it was much easier to be critical than it is [of] Obama.”

He believes that journalists with the guts to be unpopular with their government sources hold the key to bringing about change, “I have this sort of heuristic view that journalism, we possibly offer hope because the world is clearly run by total nincompoops more than ever…”

I highly recommend you read this piece about Hersh in which he claims that the story of Osama Bin Laden’s death is “…one big lie, not one word of it is true.” Admittedly, he’s promoting a new book due out soon, but who would not want to read THAT story?

On a personal note, I flew over My Lai when I was in Vietnam in 1971. My helicopter pilots made a couple of low passes while I took pictures with my little Petri 35mm camera. That camera with the film still in it was confiscated by (oxymoron alert!) Army Intelligence after I was medevaced to Trippler Hospital in Hawaii. By then Calley had been convicted in a court martial, and the My Lai shit storm was still raging.

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The view from the gunner’s door of a Huey.

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We travelled in pairs when flying to the next fire station.

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The guys who fearlessly flew me around Vietnam.

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Bobby Bennett, my conductor, comrade, and tower of strength while I was in ‘Nam.

The photos here are courtesy of my Kiwi band leader, Bobby Bennett, who had the good sense to get his photos developed in Saigon. He gave me an extra set which the geniuses in Army Intelligence overlooked.

You can read the Seymour Hersh article here.

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Greyhound hugs and sloppy kisses

I spent the better part of the day at Hemopet in Garden Grove hugging greyhounds and getting more than my share of sloppy kisses in the bargain. Hemopet is a canine blood bank in addition to being a greyhound rescue facility. The greys donate blood and the funds from that help support the rescue mission.

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Arriving at Hemopet in Garden Grove.

Many of you may know that my dear Suave was an alumni of Hemopet, and since his passing Thomas and I have volunteered to walk, feed, water, pick up poop, hug, kiss, and generally spoil as many needlenoses as we can. One day we’ll adopt another, but for now we spread the love around every chance we get.

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Tony was a little shy at first.

The first dog I met today was Tony. He’s a very gentle boy who had just donated blood, as you can see by the bandages on his neck. Tony was a little shy at first and needed to warm up to me. Once he did though, I got my first kiss.

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Once Tony warmed up to me, it was love, love, love!

This little black and white girl you see giving me a smooch is named Muse. She is young and energetic. I mean ENERGETIC. We took her into the exercise run area and she chased toys until I was exhausted.

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Muse can’t wait to give kisses.

Then there was the handsome brindle named Roman, who definitely had a roaming Roman nose. That brindle coat makes him look like a wild animal, and he was very interested in trying to dig his way out of the exercise pen.

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The wild guy Roman!

And last there was handsome Nexus. He’s a big gentle fella who loved to walk around the grounds, and then thoroughly inspected my new iPhone.

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Nexus checks out my new iPhone.

If you have never been around a greyhound, I cannot recommend them highly enough. They have keen intelligence, sweet dispositions, and astonishing intuition. If you allow one into your life you will count yourself forever blessed. There is most likely a greyhound rescue near you. If not, you can contact Hemopet who can ship greys wherever there is love in this world.

Shave it

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I know the world’s going to hell in twelve different directions–Syria, NSA spying, Obamacare, unlabeled GMOs–but I’m on the warpath about something else right now: beards in baseball.

Yes, I know I’m going to piss off a few of you, but who is the Beard Zero that started this bumper crop of unkempt, mountain man whiskers? I suspect it might be Brian Wilson, now of the Dodgers, who grew that forest of dyed-shoe-polish-black chin shrubbery when he was with the Giants. I like Brian because he seems to be a true original, but I wish the Johnny-come-latelys to beard cultivation would find a new hobby. Apparently the beard growing fad caught on like a brush fire, because these days the benches of many major league teams look bushier than a nudist colony on a summer day.

Which brings me to another question: isn’t all that facial hair hot—especially in a summertime sport? Isn’t there a lot of sweating going on under there? Never mind, I don’t want to know.

I suppose there are many women who think beards are somehow sexy, but I’m not among them. I recall hearing that French women consider a kiss without a mustache to be like an egg without salt, so whatever tickles your fancy, I suppose. I just never found the pictures on the Smith Brothers cough drops packages a turn on.

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I’m willing to give a pass to Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. I run into Billy at parties in Hollywood and he’s a really lovely, sweet guy. And to Charles Darwin and George Bernard Shaw and Walt Whitman. But to the Boys of Summer—come on guys, trim that hedge a little.

Punishing the victims

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What an embarrassment we have become in the world, that we bluster and threaten to rain destruction on a country already in ruins in the midst of a civil war. Our justification is to punish a bully by killing his victims. Doubtless we will be told that our air strikes and cruise missile attacks will be precisely targeted surgical strikes.

This is bullshit.

Recall the surgical precision with which we showered Baghdad with “Shock and Awe” while killing thousands of civilians. Recall the surgical precision of our attack helicopters the Iraq war in Collateral Murder, or our drone attacks in Afganistan. I do not believe that we will do any better this time. There is no safe way to wage war. No matter our motives, civilians will die because we have suddenly become high and mighty.

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Or is there something else we want? Like control of a region bordering Turkey, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Iran—effectively isolating Iran. Or oil or natural gas? We always have a reason for being nobel.

Attacking Syria to punish Bashar al-Assad for the use of chemical weapons on his own citizens by killing more citizens positions American foreign policy directly on the cutting edge of hypocrisy. Our president, vice president, secretary of state, and the rest of the power structure want us to believe this is really complicated. That is how they stay in power. But ask any third grader if it makes sense to discipline a bully by beating up his victims and they will tell you the answer.

Of course not.

It is the futile gesture of a crumbling empire.

Johnny Grant, mayor of Hollywood

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Johnny and me at his 84th birthday party. Once a breast guy, always a breast guy.

Johnny Grant was looking down my dress from the stage at the Hollywood Palladium the first time we met. It was 1952 and I was dancing to Stan Kenton’s music with my date, Jack Dempsey, the former heavyweight champion of the world, 40-some years my senior. I looked up at the elfin little guy on stage and we exchanged smiles.

Though Johnny Grant died in 2008, he is still legendary in Hollywood, inextricably connected to the Walk of Fame. While Johnny did not create the Hollywood Walk of Fame, he recognized its potential. Originally begun in 1960, the Walk of Fame had fallen into disrepair and obscurity by 1968. Johnny, then a member of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce, began drawing attention to the Walk of Fame by requiring celebrities to attend their own presentation ceremonies. Worldwide press coverage began increasing and eventually, by sheer force of his personality, Johnny revitalized the Walk of Fame and Hollywood into first-rate tourist destinations once again.

In the process, the Hollywood Walk of Fame became almost as much a symbol of Johnny Grant as it was of Hollywood. He presided over the presentation of more than 500 stars, including mine. As the honorary mayor of Hollywood for more than 30 years, Johnny Grant was also a tireless organizing force around Hollywood’s image as the movie capitol of the world.

The night back in 1952 that Johnny was looking down my dress, he was a well-known radio personality in Los Angeles, hosting a live broadcast of Stan Kenton’s orchestra. He was the first radio disk jockey anywhere to intersperse live traffic reports and celebrity interviews with music. Moreover, he pioneered the new medium of television, creating the first Entertainment Tonight-style news program.

I was still dreaming about breaking out of the cocoon that was little Joanie Olander. It would be ten eventful months before Universal Studios signed me to a contract and created created Mamie Van Doren, but Johnny Grant would be a part of my life for the next 50 years.

Johnny and I dated often over the years. It was never really a romantic attachment between us. We enjoyed each other’s company immensely, perhaps for dinner and a show or dancing. If occasionally we necked a little, we both understood it was just for fun. Though he never married, Johnny was famous for always having a beautiful woman on his arm. If it wasn’t me, it would be Jayne Mansfield, Anita Ekberg, Angie Dickinson, or the latest and most voluptuous Miss Universe. (He was a breast guy, of course.)

Johnny spent much of his life bringing entertainment to service men and women around the world through personal appearances and USO tours. A few weeks before his death, Johnny made a tour to Iraq to entertain the servicemen and women. He asked me to go with him to Korea in 1956 with Bob Hope’s show, but my son Perry had just been born and was too young for me to leave. In the 1970s, when I fell ill in Vietnam during my tour to entertain the troops, Johnny helped me retrieve the belongings I had left behind when I was medevaced back to the states.

In February of 1994, a friend called to tell me that the L.A. Times announced that I was to be the recipient of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. It was a pleasant shock, and I immediately called Johnny.

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My star at 7057 Hollywood Boulevard, near Farrah Fawcette and the Beatles. Photo by Alan Mercer

“I didn’t want to tell you, Mamie,” he told me laughing. “I wanted you have the surprise of reading it in the paper.” He went on, “Some of us have been trying to get you on the Walk for years, but Bill Welsh kept voting against it. I don’t know what you did to Bill, but he kept shooting you down. Angie Dickinson sponsored you this time, and we got it past him.” (Bill Welsh was the president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce for many years and a local television personality. I have no idea why he developed a dislike for me. I barely knew him.)

I often spent hours on the telephone dishing the dirt with Johnny. Occasionally his roguish side would come out and we would have phone sex. When I told this story at a testimonial luncheon for Johnny, the audience was hysterical. Johnny merely nodded and smiled. “Yes you did, Mamie, it’s true.”

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Johnny laughs while I spill the beans about our phone sex.

Sitting next to Johnny on the dais that day and listening to the other speakers, I noticed that he had nodded off. When it was time for him to speak, he roused himself and addressed the room energetically for fifteen minutes. A few days after the event, I got word that Johnny was in the hospital. I immediately called and he started chattering like the old Johnny.

“Mamie, the battery on my pacemaker ran down,” he said, explaining why he dozed off at the tribute. “They had to charge me up! I could use a little of that dirty talk we used to do!”

In November of 2007 I hosted a series of gala events introducing a new line of wines bearing my name and picture on the label. I invited Johnny to attend the evening launch party in L.A. “Mamie,” he said, “I don’t usually go out that late anymore. By that time of night, I’m here in my rocking chair watching TV. But if you really want me there, I’ll do it.” I understood and told him to stay home, be comfy, and know that I loved him.

About a week after New Years in 2008, I called Johnny at home in his suite on the top floor of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. There was no answer, so I left a message. A few days later I saw on the evening news that Johnny had died. I called Ana, his secretary, and she explained that Johnny had retired early on the evening of January 9th. When he didn’t answer the door the next morning, the hotel staff went in and found him dead in his rocking chair, the TV still on. My message was still on his answering machine.

Johnny never tired of telling the story of our first date in his new Jaguar roadster. We were driving to Hollywood over Coldwater Canyon, the major thoroughfare to and from the San Fernando Valley before L.A.’s freeways were built. Coldwater climbs steeply over the Santa Monica Mountains before descending into Beverly Hills, and as we neared the crest, Johnny’s Jaguar began to overheat. He pulled into a gas station at the top of the hill, and I sat in the car while Johnny and the station attendant peered under the hood. The Jaguar had a firewall with large holes for the control cables to pass through. After a few minutes, Johnny came around to my side of the car and whispered in my ear, “Mamie, you’re going to have to get out of the car. The attendant won’t stop looking up your skirt through the firewall!”

Johnny always finished the story with his delightfully lascivious laugh, “Mamie was so hot she blew up my Jaguar!”

I’ll always remember that laugh. Certain people in this world have real magic. Johnny was one of them. Sleep well, Johnny.

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Onstage at the Pantages theater delivering a eulogy for Johnny’s memorial service.

Jerry Giesler, Hollywood’s glamor lawyer

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Jerry Giesler and me during my divorce from Ray Anthony.

Not long after I returned from my sojourn on Broadway, my mother was seriously injured when a drunk woman ran a red light at the corner of 8th Street and Harvard Boulevard and broadsided their car. Mom’s leg was badly cut and she would have bled to death had an anonymous serviceman not appeared and staunched the bleeding until she could be rushed to the hospital. We never found out the identity of her good Samaritan.

In those days before health insurance, the hospital bills were well beyond my dad’s ability to pay on his mechanic’s salary. Though I was still a teenager, I told my dad that he needed to sue the driver of the car who hit them to help pay the bills. I took the initiative and began looking for a lawyer. I didn’t have to look very far.

One of the most famous lawyers in Hollywood at the time was Jerry Giesler. He had gotten Errol Flynn acquitted in his famous statutory rape case, the lurid details of which my mother and I had eagerly followed along with the rest of the country. Giesler had also represented Charlie Chaplin, Robert Mitchum, Lili St. Cyr, and Busby Berkley among many others in high profile trials. Jerry Giesler was a household name in Hollywood.

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Jerry Giesler at the counsel table with Errol Flynn.

(Years later, he would represent Cheryl Crane, the daughter of actress Lana Turner, who was accused of stabbing to death her mother’s abusive lover, Johnny Stompanato. Jerry’s skillful arguments would convince the jury to return a verdict of justifiable homicide.)

Two days after Mom’s accident, while she was still in the hospital, I announced to my dad that I was calling Jerry Giesler to represent us. I was still Joan Olander, aspiring actress, and Daddy scoffed at the idea that a famous lawyer like Giesler would even talk to me, much less represent a traffic case. Determined to help my mom, I ignored him. And when I am determined to do something, there is no stopping me.

Before I phoned Giesler’s office I wrote a list of everything I wanted to say. I took a deep breath and called. His secretary took a message and said I’d get a call back. When the call hadn’t come by the next day, I tried again to no avail. By the third call I was sounding so desperate the secretary put me through.

After a few moments a soft voice came on the line, “This is Jerry Giesler.”

I gathered myself and explained the situation of my mother’s accident and her mounting hospital bills. “I don’t have any money, Mr. Giesler,” I ended, out of breath, “but maybe you could take a percentage of the settlement—” I had heard that lawyers did that—“and my mom and dad sure need the help.”

There was a silence, then Giesler asked if there had been a police report. I told him there was and that the police had found the drunk woman driver definitely at fault. “I’ll send one of my investigators to check out the skid marks at the scene and get the police report,” he said. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

Late the following day, Giesler’s secretary phoned to say that he wanted to see me. I dolled myself up and went to Jerry’s office. It looked like a a lawyer’s office on a movie set, darkly paneled and lined with law books. He motioned me to a chair at the corner of his large oak desk.

Jerry Giesler, like all great trial attorneys, was a consummate actor. He had a habit of squinting his eyes as though looking for something in the distance. It was disquieting, but I returned his gaze with all the calm I could muster. He looked at me that way for a long time, then said, “How old are you?” I told him and he smiled. “You are a very bright young lady. May I call you Joan?”

I nodded. “Will you take our case?” I blurted out.

“Oh yes. I will need your parents’ signatures on some paperwork, but we are ready to file against the woman’s insurance company.” I must have let out a loud sigh of relief. “It will be fine, Joan. My investigator found some very short skid marks at the scene—and a good bit of your mother’s blood still on the pavement. We have pictures. It looks like the woman barely hit the brakes before she broadsided them. How is your mother?”

“She lost a lot of blood. There were some bottles of beer in her lap they were bringing home. The broken glass cut her badly. Luckily the doctor had experience picking out shrapnel in the war. But she would have died if that soldier hadn’t been there to stop the bleeding.”

“Your mother is very fortunate,” Jerry said, “not the least because she has such a determined daughter. It will take a little time, but we’ll get her a good settlement. And I’ll let the hospital know that there is litigation underway, so they won’t be nervous about getting paid.”

Jerry stood up, signaling the interview was over. I got up and shook his hand. “Joan,” he said, smiling, “would you mind if I kissed you?”

My eyes got big and I was on guard. “Okay.”

Jerry kissed me on the lips, much the way Vivian Leigh kissed the young man in Street Car Named Desire—with a purpose, but endearing and chaste. Jerry took a $100 bill out of his money clip and pressed it into my hand. “You and your family may need this.”

I visited Jerry many times at his office during the trial, but that never happened again. He obtained a large settlement for my mother that made it possible for us not only to pay her hospital bills, but to move out of the rented house on Harvard Boulevard where we had lived for more than a decade and buy a new home in the then growing San Fernando Valley.

As fate would have it, our house in the Valley was a ten minute drive from Universal Studios, where I would be under contract in a few short years.

When I spoke to Jerry Giesler again I was Mamie Van Doren, this time with a manager I needed to get rid of. He laughed out loud when I told him I had been the brash young Joan Olander. Jerry would get me out of many scrapes over the years, and we remained friends until his death in 1962.

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Jerry Giesler with Marilyn during her divorce from Joe Dimaggio

Labor Day remembered

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Mother Jones and the Children’s Crusade

It is doubtful that many of the Labor Day celebrants jockeying for parking spaces in the street outside my house or making their way to the beach with folding chairs, coolers, and crying children actually understand the meaning of the holiday. The truth about the celebration of America’s (and Canada’s) labor movement is something that we are loath to teach our citizens, except that it is a time for drinking beer, barbecues, and getting sunburned.

Most of the world celebrates International Worker’s Day on May 1st every year. Americans, however, have traditionally celebrated Labor Day on the first Monday in September because of the Haymarket Massacre in Chicago 127 years ago. On May 4, 1886, police were attempting to disperse a peaceful demonstration by members of the Knights of Labor trade union striking for an 8-hour work day when a bomb was thrown, killing seven policemen and injuring many others. The remaining officers began firing into the crowd, killing four strikers and wounding as many as 70 others. Eight anarchists were arrested for the bombing, although the actual bomber was never found. In a trial conducted in an atmosphere of heavy bias by politicians, police, and the press against the defendants, all eight were convicted. Four were hanged. President Grover Cleveland feared that celebrating Labor Day on May 1st would become an opportunity to celebrate the martyrs of the Haymarket Massacre, so in 1887 it was established on September 1st.

The labor movement in the U.S. had always been suspect because of left-wing politics, but in the aftermath of the Haymarket Massacre, a full on red scare erupted. Efforts by the government and business to suppress the labor movement intensified. Private security forces like Pinkerton’s were hired to break strikes and scare workers into not organizing.

Despite the intimidation, membership in unions like the Knights of Labor increased. One of the Knights organizers was an Irish immigrant named Mary Harris Jones. Mother Jones, as she would later become known, was once labeled the most dangerous woman in America. After the death of her husband and children in a fire, she spent the rest of her life fighting for labor union causes. Mother Jones launched the Children’s Crusade against the abuses of child labor, and became a central figure in organizing the United Mine Workers fight against the exploitation of coal miners.

In 1958, not long after I returned from Italy, my drama coach Batami Schneider, a Russian who had studied with Stanislavski, invited me to a get together of some actors concerned with the direction of our union, the Screen Actors Guild. Listening to the speakers that evening, led by Robert Ryan, it was clear that the sympathies of the group were decidedly communist. Though what they said regarding worker’s rights made complete sense, I was not a political animal in those days. The blacklisting of Hollywood writers, directors, and actors was beginning to crumble by then, but there was still a great deal of prejudice against anyone whose politics were thought suspicious by the American Legion or Senator Joe McCarthy’s AWARE, Inc.

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Robert Ryan

I would like to report that I was as brave as Mother Jones when faced with this crossroads of my conscience. But newly divorced from band leader Ray Anthony, and with a young son to support, anything that might interfere with getting work was out of the question for me. I never went back.

I am thinking of that evening today and the sacrifices of Samuel Gompers, Mother Jones, and the Haymarket 8 who organized, risked life and limb, and even died to carry forward the labor movement in America. They have my gratitude. And I ask that you remember Labor Day as more than hot dogs and beer. Remember it as a celebration of human progress.