Monthly Archives: February 2017

Cancer Chronicles

A friend told me about an experience she had recently with a friend and her eighteen year old daughter. The daughter, my friend told me, couldn’t decide if she wanted to be eighteen or eight. When she wanted to be eighteen, it was like they were girlfriends, my friend said, but when she wanted to be eight, my friend had to become a mother figure.
She had never dealt with anyone like that before. Then she felt as though my late wife Janet were by herself telling her what to do. Everything worked out just fine. Janet had spent her career as a probationer officer. The people she supervised had that same problem with growing up.
I shared Janet’s secret with my friend. She always said she treated her probationers, children and dogs the same way. Make them feel loved and safe but let them know they still had a collar around their necks and she wasn’t afraid to yank it. Of course, the collar around the necks of the probationers and children was figurative. When they heard her say “heel” they knew she meant it. Of course, she didn’t really say “heel” to the probationers or the children. (Well, once or twice she did slip up and tell the children to “heel”.)
I had to give my friend a hug for sharing her experience with me. It was another example of how cancer had failed to separate me from my darling wife of forty-four years. She’s in my heart and in the hearts of people around me.
Come to think about it, I think she pulled that “heel” trick on me a few times. Maybe she still is. I hope she is.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Eight

Previously in this book: John Wilkes Booth escaped death in the Virginia and took on the role of dark avenging angel punishing the people whom he considered responsible for the death of Mary Surratt. Here in the last chapter he has found his final victim, Edwin Stanton. If you have not read previous chapters. Go to February 2016 under Archives for chapter one.
Where’s the man that usually delivers my medicine?” Stanton asked in a huff.
“Oh, you must mean David Herold. He wasn’t available tonight. Your doctor sent a messenger to my boarding house to inform me I was needed to deliver your sulphate of quinine as quickly as possible.”
Stanton’s eyes narrowed. Zook was the last name of the janitor in the Executive Mansion basement. He always talked about a sister, though Stanton could not recall her name at the moment. David Herold was one of the conspirators hanged at Old Capitol Prison. And, he remembered, Herold was a pharmacy assistant sent to Seward’s house along with the big brute who was supposed to kill the Secretary of State. Why would this woman be throwing about these names?
“My dear Mrs. Stanton,” the woman said, staring into her face. “I can tell by looking at you that you are on the verge of collapsing from fatigue. You’ve probably exhausted every fiber in your being preparing for your Christmas festivities tomorrow and then caring for an ill husband.” She patted Ellen’s hand. “What we women are called upon to do.” She turned to smile at Stanton. “Don’t you agree with me, sir, that your wife should take to her bed immediately?”
His jaw slackened. “Why, of course. It is past our usual bedtime, isn’t it, my dear?”
“I would not think of such a thing,” Ellen said in protest, though her tone sounded rather tame. “In the amount of time we have spent discussing my fatigue, I could have taken the drops from you, Miss Zook, and administered them to my husband.”
The woman lifted her hand and cocked her head. “No more debate. You must retire to your bedroom. After I have applied the drops I shall let myself out.”
“Please, Ellen, do as she says.” Stanton wheezed. The tension made his asthma worse. “Let the woman do her job and be gone.”
“Very well.” She sighed and turned for the door.
Miss Zook followed her and carefully closed it behind Ellen. Next, she went to the window and shut it.
“Don’t do that,” he ordered in irritation. “I need the cold air to control my asthma.”
She ignored his request and removed the pillow, allowing his head to drop unceremoniously to the bed. Placing her hands on the sides of his cranium, she lifted on the neck and pulled back his skull so that the nasal passageways were now vertical. Stanton noticed her manner was very rough, quite a contrast to the usual touch of the doctor’s aide. He watched as she took a bottle from her bag and daubed the liquid on a cotton ball. With her finger, she thrust the ball into his nostrils. He stirred in apprehension.
“That’s too much,” he protested. “I’ve been given sulphate of quinine for years and that’s too much.”
“In discomfort are you?”
“You know very well I am.” Stanton felt his temper rise, which he knew, would exacerbate his condition.
“Don’t you recognize me, Mr. Stanton?” Suddenly the nurse’s voice deepened. “I’ve been around you for about two weeks now. Sometimes delivering groceries, sometimes as a telegraph messenger delivering your party invitations. I sat next to you at the function in the White House. The garrulous colonel from Indiana. Oh, I’m sure you don’t remember me. I could tell you were not interested in my story about the battle at Gettysburg. Another night I spilt a cup of hot coffee in your lap. I was dressed as a waiter that time, with red hair from Ohio. I do hope it burned your thighs sufficiently.”
By this time, the aide had returned the bottle to the bag. Clamping a firm, rough hand over Stanton’s mouth, the person drew a sharp knife from the bag. The blade glistened in the light from the fireplace. Stanton struggled to call out but soon realized his efforts were insufficient.
“All my disguises were very helpful. I learned quite a bit about your personal life. I learned the name of your doctor. He sends bottles of sulphate of quinine on a regular basis to your home. I learned—ironically through party conversation with your wife—that you two no longer share a bed because of your worsening asthma condition. With each of our encounters I deliberately made a point of irritating you, because each time your nasty temper grew, your asthma worsened.” Leaning down into Stanton’s face the nurse smiled, showing white straight teeth. “Don’t you recognize me now? I told you once I would return to kill you.” He nodded as he brought his knife up. “Yes, I am John Wilkes Booth.”
As he pulled the sharp edge across Stanton’s throat he added, “And you, sir, are no gentleman.”

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Seven

Previously in this Book:Nebraska small-town boy Hal Neely learns the trumpet, tours the Midwest with dance bands and ends up in California playing for the stars. At the outbreak of World War II he joined the Army Air Corps. He led the India-Burma-China theater military band and did a little recon on the side. After the war he returned to LA.

Mary and I got back to Los Angeles from Portland on September 26, 1946.
The morning of September 27 I re-registered at the University of Southern California under the G I Bill. I enrolled in a “special program”– there were 22 of us. We would go straight through– no vacations. To stay in the program I had to remain on the Dean’s List. Plenty of us completed the program. I earned three majors and earned three degrees: industrial engineering, industrial management, and business law.
I was attending USC on a scholarship when I first enlisted in the Army Air Corps November 11, 1942. Mary and I moved into an apartment at 1540 S. Hoover St. to be close to our old friends from Lyons, Nebraska. It was close to the USC campus. While I was in the military she worked as a secretary for Douglas aircraft in Santa Monica for a while, then moved back to our old apartment building on South Hoover Street to be close to our Lyons friends again.
Upon our return to Los Angeles the word immediately got out in the Hollywood music circles that I was back in town. On the eve of the 27th I received a call to play trumpet on a recording session at Radio Recorders in Hollywood the next afternoon the 28th. I had known and jammed with the Jack McVea Group several times in a “black club” on Central Avenue in 1942 prior to my enlisting in the Army Air Corps. His band was scheduled to record later that afternoon in another studio at Radio Recorders. After my session, I went into the studio to say, “Hello, I’m back in town.”
Ralph Bass–who later worked for me at King Records–was scheduled to produce the Jack McVea Band session for Mr. Paul Rheiner, owner of Black and White Records, an independent “race record company.” Mr. Bass did not show up–without a producer this session would be canceled; no one would be paid including the studio engineer. There was some discussion.
“I can produce this session,” I said.
“You can?” asked Mr. Reiner, a huge Jewish gentleman– not a musician or producer, but a money man trying to get into the independent record business.
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
The engineer knew I had never produced a session. I gave him a signal, he said nothing and cut off all the studio mikes. I went into the studio and told the guys to act like I knew what I was doing.
“Help me if you all want to get paid for this session.”
I had played trumpet on recording sessions before I went into the air corps service and knew the drill. In those days an “independent label” had to get its four sides in the three hours allowed by the AFM. They would put the best cut number one with the worst cut number four, back-to-back for its first release. If that did not “hit” they would release sides number two and number three back-to-back “hoping” for a “hit.” Mr. Rheiner had picked out for songs for us to record.
We got the first three sides down to their schedule– only had four minutes left.
“Guys, we are not going to get the fourth song you rehearsed, so do that funny song I’ve heard you do late at night in the club, the one that made your customers shout and ‘whoop and holler.’ Don’t stop for anything– I’ll wave the engineer to fade it.”
Ruben Tarrent, the drummer, sang the lead vocal. At 2:27 p.m. I signaled the engineer to “fade it” and told the guys not to wait for a “playback,” pack up, and take off. They would get their checks from the AF M Union.
Back in the control room Mr. Rheiner said, “Hal, that last song isn’t the one I picked.”
“No, sir, I switched it so we could get the fourth side down. Trust me, your customers will like it.”
There was no discussion concerning my fee or credits– nothing. Mr. Rheiner took the four “record masters” with him. Three weeks later– a Saturday morning– I got a call at home from Mr. Rheiner.
“You little son of a bitch, you told me you had produced records.”
“No sir, I said I could produce a record. You never asked me if I had.”
There was a long silence. “You know you are right. Come and see me today in my office in Hollywood.”
One of the cuts, “Open the Door Richard,” was a “pick” in Billboard’s “Soul Records” on Monday. I went to see “the man” and he paid me the regular producer’s fee of double scale– scale was $27– plus a 2% producer royalty. The record went No. 1 in the “Soul Records Category.” My first production.
More luck. “Right place at the right time.”
I got a call to produce “Cement Mixer Putty-Putty” with Slim Gaillard for Capitol Records, and then to produce “Little Esher” for another independent. My first three productions went No. 1 in the soul charts.
Hal Neely was now a producer. I did not really know what I was doing, but no one else knew it either. In years to come I would be credited with producing 29 No. 1, 61 gold albums, three Grammy award-winning artists, and three Academy Award winners. I recorded rhythm and blues, jazz, rock ‘n’ roll, pop, polka, sacred/gospel, country and blue grass. I conducted sessions in London, Paris and Germany.
The London Times once probably best summed up my production career in two words: “James Brown” for 41 years.
Among the other artists whose careers I was instrumental in were the following: Arthur Pysock, Little Willie John, Earl Bostic, Bill Doggett, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, the Five Royals, Trini Lopez, Billie Daniels, Roger Miller, Glenn Campbell, Nina Simone, Charles Brown, Patti LaBelle, the Manhattans, Albert King, Freddie King, Cozy Cole, Guy Mitchell, Snooky Lanson, Minnie Pearl, Patsy Cline, George Morgan, Faron Young, Dottie West, the Stanley Brothers, Reno and Smiley, Little Jimmie Dickens, Red Sovine, Hawkshaw Hawkins, Bob Kames, the Polka All Stars, and Milt Buckner.
In cooperation with Westrex in early 1946 I produced the first “stereo phono record master recording” with the famed Wannamaker Store pipe organ in Philadelphia played by Byron Smith. It was released in June 1946 at a press conference at the American Society of Engineers convention in New York City. I was the first to produce “for other than classical” recordings in New York’s fabled Carnegie Hall: Igor Gorin with Donald Voorhees conducting the Bell Telephone Hour Orchestra. Years later I produced Benny Goodman at Carnegie Hall in a special tribute to him.
While going to college from 1946 to 1948 I re-organized my “Band of the Stars” playing hotels, clubs, resorts, country clubs, officer’s clubs, colleges and one-nighters. I also fronted the Harry Owens Hawaiian Band and “Hilo Hattie” on several “gigs.” My band played the 1947/48 Rose Bowl Queen’s Balls in Pasadena and San Marino. In 1948 I marched with the Elks Parade Band in the longest ever Rose Bowl Parade: six miles.
I was in the class of 1948 at University of Southern California. I would graduate midterm in December. I was 26 years old. My business law professor called me into his office. I was top of my class.
“Hal, you would make a good lawyer, but you would be miserable out there in today’s world. You are a small-town kid from Nebraska with a good sense of right and wrong. You would have a hard time representing someone you felt was wrong. Stay in the music business where you belong.”
My law professor had arbitrated the case against Allied Record Manufacturing Company in Hollywood– the best independent record manufacturing company in the world and the general contractor for all United States government veterans’ programs –V discs – radio – TV broadcast – AFRS shows and programs – recordings etc. He recommended to Allied’s Daken Broadhead, CEO, and James O’Hagan, COO, they hire one of his students who had a reputation as musician/producer etc., a former captain in the Army Air Corps, scheduled to graduate in the USC class of 1948. Allied arranged with their appointment consulting firm for me to take a series of aptitude tests. Their recommendation was to “hire this man.”
Mr. Broadhead and Mr. O’Hagan met with me. They offered me a 10-year personal employment contract. Allied was owned by a group of Mormons. Mr. Broadhead had been an executive with the Mormons and their Safeway stores. Mr. O’Hagan–not a Mormon–had been an executive with Robershaw-Fulton Company in the East before moving to California and joining Allied. I would be a trainee to learn Allied’s business. To formalize the agreement, Allied placed me on a full salary during my last semester at USC. I would report to Mr. O’Hagan upon graduating.
Saturday morning January 4, 1949, after the graduation ceremony, I reported to Mr. O’Hagan at his home in Pasadena. He was in his front yard pruning his rose bushes.
“I saw where you graduated this morning. Ready to go to work?”
“Yes sir.”
“Good to have you on board. Monday, go to our recorders lab on Santa Monica close to Radio Recorders. You know where that is?”
“Yes sir.”
“Tell Dick Burgess, the lab’s manager, I sent you.”
Monday morning at 8 a.m., dressed in a nice blue suit, I walked into the lab’s office. I shook hands with Mr. Burgess. He did not know who I was or what I was doing there. Mr. O’Hagan had not called him. Dick went over to Allied two blocks away on Brewster Avenue and was back in a short time.
“Mr. O’Hagan said for you to learn our business and he will be in touch with you. Take this desk here and get comfortable. I suggest you go home, put on some work clothes and come back.”
I did. He took me around and introduced me to the workers and the rest of the staff. Recorders Lab was Allied’s small rush order and research plant. I was pretty much on my own. Allied’s compound mill was up on a side street. I worked from 8 a.m. until?? learning how to do every job in the plant, from processing the metal mothers and stampers to pressing the 16-inch transcriptions,10-inch and 7-inch records.

(Author’s note: Text in italics is taken from Mr. Neely’s memoirs and reflect his version of events.)

Time Not Money

Jessica Louise Antwerp sat in her front parlor fanning herself. Her grandson William Andrew Antwerp was late for his weekly visit, and she was aggravated..
She didn’t understand why she continued this ritual every Saturday morning. Most weeks her carefully planned brunch was for naught since he entered the local seminary. He always had some excuse involving an in-depth dissertation on the first chapter of Second Thessalonians or translating Revelations from its original Greek into Latin and then into Elizabethan English.
Any moment she expected a polite knock at the door from the grocer’s assistant who would be delivering a box of chocolates or a bouquet with a note, “So sorry to miss brunch, Grandma. Preparing to become God’s servant consumes all my time. You know you’ve always been my best friend. Love, Bill Andy.”
Jessica sniffed at the thought of the all-too-frequent last-minute gifts. She did not particularly like chocolates and generally she ended up giving them to the neighbor children. The benefit of her generosity was they had stopped stomping through her flower beds. And since the flowers in her beds were now in abundance she saw no need in William sending her ill-kept flowers from a store.
She had not been his best friend since he discovered girls at age thirteen. Under threat of being excluded from her will, William had continued his weekly visits through his public school education. Jessica could tell by the way he looked around the room and nervous laughter that he would have rather been somewhere else.
Jessica spent most of the Saturday brunch during William’s teen-aged years lecturing him on the importance of duty to family, God and the United States of America. William always nodded enthusiastically, but she doubted his sincerity.
“And for Heaven’s sake, forbid anyone from calling you Bill Andy. It sounds like you were raised among the cows on the High Plains. Your name is William Andrew.” After a pause she added, “The fourth. We have a long history of respectability and tasteful display of personal wealth in this community, and you have an obligation to continue that tradition.”
William’s warm smile never wavered. However his marks in school and disturbing reports on disquieting highjinks led Jessica to believe he was on the road to a life of dissolution. Therefore, upon her grandson’s high school graduation, Jessica summoned him and his parents to her parlor.
“It is obvious that you, William III, have failed as a father and as a result I am taking charge of William’s higher education. I shall enroll the young man in the local seminary to prepare for a life of service to the Lord.” She turned to stare into her grandson’s eyes. “You will learn discipline. You have a shocking lack of follow through in your endeavors, and the seminary will remedy that.”
A light tap at the door roused her from her troubled thoughts. She expected to see the delivery boy, but instead it was William Andrew, dressed in his best Sunday suit and with hat in hand. Jessica noticed his eyes were red and puffy.
“Grandmother,” he began contritely, “I wish to apologize for my recent irresponsible behavior. It was foolish of me to assume an expenditure of cash would make up for the lack of my presence at Saturday brunch. As of now, that conduct will cease. I will no longer spend money on you, but rather spend my time with you every week at brunch. I hope this meets with your approval.”
Jessica’s eyes glistened in triumph. “It certainly does.”
“That’s great.” He beamed. “Because I’ve decided to spend all my allowance on Lula Belle down at the cat house. We did it four times without stopping last night.” Bill Andy patted his grandma on the head. “So you were wrong when you said I didn’t have any follow through.”

Toby Chapter Seven

Previously in the book:West Texas farm boy Harley Sadler decided he’d rather make people laugh than grow corn. He toured with a melodrama traveling tent show, met and married the beautiful Billie Massengale. Ten years later he owned his own show, and everything was going fine; well, almost everything.

When the curtain went down on Act One, Billie went back to her dressing room to rest her head on the makeup table. Harley, on the other hand, returned to the stage and ordered the curtain to rise on tables of fabulous gifts from local merchants. Each was marked with a number.
“In a moment our staff will roam the audience with trays of Cracker Jack,” he projected in his best barker voice. “Inside some boxes are slips of paper with a number on them that correspond to numbers on each of the prizes on the stage. So buy yourself a box of Cracker Jack and you could be a winner!”
While cast and crew fanned through the crowd with trays of Cracker Jack, the band played a happy tune with an urgent tempo, encouraging the farmers to spend the last few coins in their pockets on a momentary thrill of the possibility of winning a new appliance or even a diamond ring. Harley split the proceeds with the merchants who donated the prizes. Everyone was happy: Harley increased his profit margin, and the merchants made money on a slow-moving item.
After the excitement of the sale and the disbursement of prizes, the lights went down and the curtain rose. The villain was up to his old shenanigans. The family was about to lose its farm. Toby and Susie were alone on the stage wondering if they had the courage to save the day.
“Gosh, Susie Belle, I know we should try to help the Goodheart family but I’m afeared that Mr. Hurtmore’s gonna do something bad to you.”
“Oh poo,” Billie said. “I’m not afraid of him.” She looked over Harley’s shoulder. “Here comes the Goodheart’s little girl Mollie.”
Gloria came on stage to oohs and ahs. A little trouper she didn’t pay attention to it. She went to her parents and clasped her hands together as though in prayer. “Please, Toby and Susie!” she begged. “You’ve got to help my Mama and Papa!”
“Aww, Mollie, what can we do?” Harley asked, shrugging. “We’re just ol’ country folk.”
Gloria fell to her knees. Her eyes were pleading, and her prayerful hands were up to her chin. “Oh please, Toby and Susie! You’ve just got to help my Mama and Papa!”
“Don’t worry, Mollie,” Billie reassured her. “We’re going to help you, no matter what Mr. Hurtmore does to us!”
The audience applauded. The young farmer on his first date turned his head away from the girl to wipe tears from his eyes. After the curtain closed on Act Two, Harley reappeared.
“As we wait for the actors to prepare for Act Three, we want to present some singing and dancing to entertain you. Our first act tonight is Louise Bright, daughter of Faye and Sam Bright, our heroine and villain, and—“he paused to beam with pride—“Gloria Sadler, the light of my life—oh, and the light of Billie’s life too.”
Everyone laughed as the two girls ran onto the stage. They sang and danced to an old song everyone recognized. Louise did a capable performance but she had to give way to Gloria who danced up a storm. Most of the cast came out to perform a vaudeville act of one kind or another, but no one’s applause ever matched the accolades heaped upon Gloria.
Eventually the last novelty act performed, and Act Three began. No one really feared the Goodheart family would lose its farm, but they wanted to pretend the worst was about to happen.
Billie and Sam waited in the wings for their entrances.
“Your timing’s off a little bit tonight, isn’t it, Billie?”
“What do you mean?” She was stricken by dread that her secret drinking was beginning to show.
Harley and Faye walked up.
“Harley,” Sam said, “I was just mentioning to Billie that her timing was off tonight. What do you think?”
Harley and Billie exchanged nervous glances.
“There’s your cue, Sam. You and Faye better get on. Come on let’s troupe.”
After they went on stage, Billie fumed, “I don’t know why Sam would want to attack me like that.”
“He wasn’t attacking you. Don’t worry about it, Billie.”
“I know what he was hinting at,” she continued in a huff. “And I wasn’t—“
“Of course you weren’t,” he cut her off. “There’s my cue.”
Harley went on stage, leaving Billie to deal with her feelings alone.
Faye acted dumbfounded. “Is it true, Mr. Hurtmore, what Toby told me? That there’s oil under the south ridge?”
“Would you believe that bumpkin instead of me?” Sam asked with a sneer on his lips.
“Now that’s enough of that!” a voice boomed from the back of the tent.
Harley and the other two actors jumped, startled. They peered beyond the footlights into the house.
“I’m gonna beat the tar out of you!” A cowboy, a young wrangler, charged down the aisle with Burnie coming up behind.
“I think it’d be good if you went back to your seat,” Burnie whispered as he gently pulled the cowboy away.
“Did you hear what that fella said?” He turned to look at Burnie with disbelief. Then he focused his attention again to the stage and Sam, waving a fist at him. “That so-in-so called Toby a liar!”
“Well, I don’t think he really meant it.” Burnie continued to guide him away.
“He better not have meant it, or I’ll beat the tar out of ‘im!”
Burnie at last lugged him through the entrance flap into the cool, prairie night air. After a brief moment, Harley picked up on the dialogue and the drama continued. The audience followed his example and calmly returned their attention to the action on the stage. Gloria and Louise remained unruffled during the hullabaloo because they intently studied their fathers.
“My father’s better looking than your father.” Louise raised her eyebrows as though her observation gave her some innate superiority over her little blonde friend.
Gloria, with a fixed smile upon her lips, continued to watch her father who had just said something on stage which made the crowd laugh.
“Yes. Your daddy is very handsome.” She paused for dramatic effect. “But my daddy is the boss.”

Cancer Chronicles

I just had a great evening. I attended a performance of a one-act comedy I wrote as a benefit for the Crescent Community Clinic in my hometown county Hernando, Florida. This is not free emergency clinic for homeless/totally broke people. It is a free clinic that provides ongoing health care for the indigent. It keeps them from having to make a run for an emergency room where likely their condition will be beyond help. The clinic has dentists, mental health counseling and many other services the rest of us take for granted.
At the suggestion of the people in charge of the benefit, I wrote a parody of the Real Housewives series on cable television called the Realish Housewives of Hernando County. Their TV show was the Wacky Wives of Weeki Wachee. (Weeki Wachee Springs was opened as a private tourist attraction in the late 1940s featuring an underwater show with mermaids. It became a state park a few years ago.) We had five ladies who really put themselves into the roles. One of the treats of being a playwright is to sit in the audience and hear all the laughter.
The best part, however, were the donations that came from the two performances. They really went a long way in paying part of the yearly budget of the clinic. The doctors, nurses and staff all offer their services free.
I already knew about the clinic when I received their call. My wife Janet as a probation officer often recommended its services to her probationers. Even though cancer took her away from me a year ago, I find new ways to honor her memory as an advocate to the downtrodden.
Everything I do is for Janet.

Booth’s Revenge Chapter Forty-Seven

Edwin Stanton’s entire body shuddered as he coughed uncontrollably. Damned asthma. His earliest memories were of lying in bed back in Steubenville, Ohio, with his parents hovering over his bed as he wheezed, his chest expanding and contracting dramatically. His lungs craved air, which struggled through the swollen bronchial tubes. He hated his body for not functioning up to his ambitions as he grew into a young man studying the law. He fought against his disability while he established a practice. His determination made him a valuable asset for large companies and for his years in government. Asthma never stopped him. Perhaps the struggle against the impossible made him more resilient and more intolerant of the weaknesses of others.
His wife Ellen tapped at his bedroom door before entering. She shuddered slightly at the frigid December winds blowing through the open window. Exposure to excessive cold was the first line of defense when an asthma attack began. Going over to his side, she placed her slender hand across his forehead.
“No excess perspiration,” she murmured, more as a comment to herself than a conversation with him. “That’s good. Perhaps we can control it this time without any undue stress.” Ellen looked down and smiled at him wanly. “I told you not to attend those holiday dinners, but you never listen to me, do you, my dear?”
Stanton’s wife was the only person allowed to utter gentle rebukes. He trucked no insubordination from anyone else. He did not even venture excuses for his heavy holiday season because they never held any sway with her. President Grant had just announced Stanton’s appointment as Chief Justice of the United States and therefore he had become the prized guest of honor in Washington social circles. He would not be sworn in until after January 1, 1870, so until then Stanton felt persuaded to bask in his newfound popularity.
“Of course, you are right.” Those were the only words he uttered before a new wheezing spasm convulsed his body.
She shrugged. “I must admit I enjoyed the conviviality of the Christmas gatherings after all those years of war and the terrible confrontation with President Johnson.”
“When will the doctor’s aide arrive with the sulphate of quinine?” Stanton did not like it when Ellen reminded him of his crimes and subsequent cover-up. “I don’t know how you allowed the household to be bereft of the only medicine that soothes me.”
“Each home we visited was insufferably hot and overly decorated with holiday greenery, don’t you agree? As soon as I started perspiring, I knew your lungs would begin to contract. And the fragrance of the evergreens overcame even my own senses.” She paused to pat his shoulder reassuringly. “Yes, I should have known better. I don’t know why but I thought I had another bottle tucked away in some cabinet or other.”
“Yes, you should have,” Stanton agreed petulantly.
“Edwin, dear,” Ellen said, lifting her hand from his shoulder, “Your life would be so much more pleasant if you weren’t so insufferably superior. Do you remember the man who sat next to you at the White House dinner? I thought he would never stop talking about his near-death experiences at the battle of Gettysburg. The look on your face was priceless. And then the party at Benjamin Butler’s house. That clumsy waiter spilt coffee in your lap. How you howled.” Ellen chuckled and then clucked him under his bearded chin. “And here I am teasing you about your discomfort. But you have to admit. Whenever someone of your temperament suffers a bit of humiliation—well, I must say, it is amusing.”
“A distinct rap at the front door echoed throughout the house.
“Ah, your medicine has arrived at last.” She left without another word.
A twinge of wistful regret momentarily replaced the numbing asthmatic pain in his chest. Yes, he told himself, the fact he would never be held legally accountable for his actions did comfort him. His being Chief Justice assured him of that, but he mourned wife’s alienation over the years. Stanton was sure she had no inkling that he had held the Lincolns captive in the Executive Mansion basement, nor that he masterminded a string of murders in 1865 or that he orchestrated the impeachment of Andrew Johnson solely to cover up his other crimes. Yet she must have sensed something was amiss. She was kind and nurturing in a motherly fashion, but Ellen exhibited no warmth or romance for him as her husband. She even moved to another bedroom after Lincoln’s assassination. Of course, her excuse that his chronic asthmatic attacks kept her awake was a genuine justification. Yet Stanton could not help but think the aura of guilt that emanated from his psyche must have repelled her.
Hearing voices in the foyer and subsequent steps up the stairs, he struggled to prop himself up on his pillow. Stanton anticipated a nurse to appear with a bottle of sulphate of quinine and to apply the nasal drops, a momentary respite from his discomfort. When the door opened, Stanton wrinkled his brow. Before him was a matronly, rather heavy-set woman in nurse’s attire. She wore thick-lensed glasses and clutched a small black doctor’s bag.
“Dear, this is Miss—what did you say your name was?” Ellen said.
“Cordie Zook, Ma’am,” the woman said in a distinct Pennsylvania Dutch accent.
“Yes, Miss Zook.” Ellen smiled briefly.

James Brown’s Favorite Uncle The Hal Neely Story Chapter Six

I was recalled to Calcutta. I would be in command to assemble 28 Army Air Corps musicians to serve as the headquarters military band for parade and reviews. We would be stationed at the Bengal Air Base a few miles north of downtown Calcutta. From this group I built a 16-piece “swing” dance/show band to back USO performers from the states playing our bases. I used some WAC singers, a comic, and Anglo-Indian girl dancers. I would act as the show’s master of ceremonies. At least one Saturday night each month the band would play at the Calcutta Air Corps officer’s club. Officers were allocated one bottle of booze per month which usually was put in the officer’s club.
In Calcutta, although I had regular quarters at Bengal, I was assigned, on a permanent basis, a room at the officers club in a large Calcutta hotel that had been taken over by the Americans. I had my own jeep and traveled back and forth on a regular basis between Bengal and downtown. It was good and happy duty. I made a lot of friends.
Another key area for us was our base at Yanshapore which was populated by “old English.” The parents of a young English girl singer with my show band lived there. We did two shows, and I stayed with her parents. The second night after the show the band bus and equipment left for Calcutta. I left late, alone, in my jeep. A tiger paced my jeep on a hill above me until I ran into an Indian demonstration in a small village. The road was blocked so I drove into an empty warehouse shed, closed the door, and sat there all night with my 45 ready. At sunrise, all was calm so I hit the road back to Calcutta.
We worked shows on a regular basis which took me into most areas of Eastern/Southern India. I got a special assignment to Bowanii Junction as a W-2 observer under the cover of investigating the area for a future show. Headquarters had information that Mr. Gandhi had called for an Indian demonstration there against the British railway system, which was operated with/by Anglo-Indians. I went in by jeep with a driver. There were thousands of Indians sitting on the railway tracks. The train came to a halt.
I watched as the English officer in charge of the training ordered his Anglo/Indian engineer to proceed through the crowd. The engineer refused. Mr. Gandhi was making his first “non-violent statement”. I returned to Calcutta and made my report.
All India was in famine and a cholera epidemic raged. People would lie down and die in the streets. Many of our troops suffered bad dysentery from drinking the water. I never drank the local water and always took my pill each day. My next D-2 undercover assignment was on May 15, 1945. The Indian province of Kashmir was on the Afghanistan border. It was beautiful with several lakes and populated by English families on “holiday”. I would join a British officer group, go through the Khyber Pass into Kabul, where we would join up with a convoy of Russian trucks headed south with grain, rice, etc. India was in famine. The Russians would exchange the grains with us for animals and weapons. The road stayed open all through the war.
The Burma Road from Chabua Assam, to Michinaw was now open. I was assigned to take the show on the Burma Road. We traveled in caravan with flatbed trailers for our stage. Gear, tents etc., in a bus. We headed down the road. Whenever we encountered a “working road crew” we stopped to put on an impromptu show. We did this all the way to Michinaw, stopping only at night with some crew to bed down. We played several shows in Michinaw. A C-47 flew us to our air base in Chintu, China, to do a show. Back to Calcutta.
On New Year’s Eve 1945 we put on a show at the Bengal Air Base in the huge B-36 hangar. It would be the biggest service officer party ever. I would open the evening with my band and play a 30-minute set, then the Navy Band would play a set. We would alternate sets all night, then for midnight I would produce and MC a big “show gala.”
The shindig started with a superb dinner and dancing. My band opened playing “swing.” Nobody danced. Then Navy Band came on. It was a better swing band than mine. Nobody danced. It was my second set. Something had to be done to get these people dancing. My guys were all good pros, so I decided we would play a set of old “Mickey Mouse sweet band ballroom dance songs.” All I needed was my trumpet and a rhythm section and the band would join in. The dance floor filled up. That Navy Band came back on playing “swing.” Nobody danced.
It was my set again. The ranking Air Force general and the ranking Navy admiral were sitting together at the head table. I was called over.
“Lt. Neely, it has been decided that you and your band will finish tonight here. The admiral will send the Navy Band to the NCO club for the rest of the night.”
Showtime came. Dinner was over, good booze was flowing. A “fun” time was being had by all.
That afternoon at rehearsal I had set up a series of special spotlights for the operators high up in the hangar’s back roof. We had a very good Anglo/Indian male dancer, a good WAC singing trio, and a good comic. All had worked shows with me before. But I needed a “gimmick” to close. It may get me sent home, but that would be great by me.
Three small, beautiful Chinese girl dancers, each nude, with only a white placard in back and in front held by a red ribbon around their waist which bounced a little as they danced were the last act. They would close the show. On the stroke of midnight all the hangar lights went black. There were a few seconds before pandemonium almost set in. Three pencil spots hit the girls who were turned to a crowd, their butts bare. They held up placards facing the crowd which said, “It ain’t so.” It was a big joke in the military that the vaginas of Chinese ladies were sideways.
The crowd, by now all well liquefied, went bonkers. The cheers and applause were fantastic and made it all worthwhile. The general, with his captain adjutant, came to the stand. My first thought was, “Oh shit. He will court-martial me, but so what? I’ll get to go home.”
He said nothing, took the captain’s twin silver bars off his tunic and put them on mine. He then shook my hand and said, “Well done, Capt. Neely.”
I got the battlefield promotion which was later confirmed.
There was jubilation in Calcutta on J Day, but more assignments for me. Our troops in China and Burma were all headed back to the Calcutta area for transport home. Not to be. All the available ships were going to Europe first, then the United States. One of my new additional responsibilities was morale officer and as such it was one of my duties to meet each plane coming in from China or Burma and tell them, “Men, you are not going home. No ships. We will try the best we can to make your delay tolerable. Please follow your leaders. That’s the way it is. I hope it won’t be too long.” There was some disappointment of course, but those were the orders and they were good soldiers.
Most Air Force officers were getting flights back to the United States. Not me. I had more than enough points, but had been declared “essential.” I did not want to fly home. The Air Force was getting short of officers. I caught another duty of being in charge of the warehouses and hangars which were now full of old Air Force gear, supplies, weapons… everything. We could not sell anything, dispose of anything, until it was decided by Gen. MacArthur what we should do.
I learned in a staff meeting that the first ship would be arriving in Calcutta. I got a call through to the general to see if I could get on the ship and go home. The general told me it was booked solid and good luck with getting on it. I had a good friend, a captain, a regular Air Force officer, who agreed to sign on in charge of all the warehouses. This would free me if I could work a deal to get on the ship.
The Navy troop ship was loading at the docks. I went aboard and asked to see the ship’s captain. The ship was crowded and overbooked. I made him a deal. I would bring as gifts to the Navy music, instruments, equipment and gear, build the band and show, and perform shows each day for the troops. It was too good a deal for him to turn down; plus, it would give him some entertainment on the voyage. The problem was that there was no place to bunk me. So I was assigned to bunk and chow down with the ship’s officers. It worked out great.
The ship’s schedule was to go to San Francisco, but it was changed to Seattle. Before leaving Calcutta I had sent a wire to Mary in Los Angeles, which she never got. By chance she was visiting with my parents who now lived in Portland. One morning in the newspaper she saw an item about a troop ship from Calcutta arriving in Seattle, listing a Capt. Harold G Neely. Could it be?
First thing in Seattle I placed a call to Mary, but there was no answer. Then I called my parents in Portland. Mary was there. She drove my dad’s car to Seattle to get me. But there were more problems. I had been assigned to take a train load of troops to Los Angeles where I had enlisted.
In luck again, always the “hustler,” I worked a deal to remain in the Air Force Reserve and get discharged at Fort Lewis in Seattle. Mary and I stayed in Portland for a week or so, then we caught a train to Los Angeles. Mary had an apartment near the University of Southern California campus and a new job near a lot of our old Lyons friends.

(Note: Chapters in italic indicate these are Hal Neely’s own words from his memoirs.)

Toby Chapter Six

Over the next few years, Harley Sadler worked very hard to make his promises come true for the Massengale family. Ordinary people who sweated and bled to pull a living from the West Texas prairie loved Toby. He represented them—good, kind, funny, loving but none too bright. They hated the villains because they were the bankers, the big bosses. The men in black suits could ruin lives with a smile and one single word. “No.”
Heroes were all right, but the farmers knew in their hearts that anyone born with good looks, healthy and strong bodies could beat up the villains. Of course, all the girls wanted to marry a hero. But these folks on the plains saw themselves in the mirror. They knew they were not handsome. They were not the boys who hit home runs at school baseball games. They were not the strongest. They just did not give up.
They were Toby. He was not smart, but he always came up with a plan to save the day. The hero got the credit, and Toby got the horse. Those farmers cried when Toby’s heart was broken, but Toby kept on smiling and kept on being kind.
And through Toby the loyal audiences loved Harley. Harley became their hope. He became their reward for being good even though there was not any money to be made by being good. A man could not feed his family just by being good.
Fortunately for Harley Sadler, he was paid very well for being good—good and funny. Mind you, this was not New York rich or even Hollywood rich. But it was a comfortable living for West Texas. And there was even enough to set aside a big hunk each month so he could keep his biggest promise to the Massengales. He bought his own show.
He marched down the main street of Comanche, Texas, carrying a huge drum on which read, “Harley Sadler’s Own Show.” Half of the cast and crew played instruments and the other half marched in costume holding banners proclaiming dates and times of performances and titles of the plays. Harley forgot to beat his own drum most of the time he was too busy waving and shouting at the crowd.
“Hell, J.B.! Your boy get out of the hospital? He feeling all right?”
He rammed his drum into Sam’s back, who was playing the cornet.
“Why Minnie Lou, have you heard from your daughter? How does she like living up north?”
Harley bumped into Sam again. The actor turned and wagged his cornet in the boss’s face.
“Harley,” Sam announced good naturedly, “you have to get someone else beat that drum, because you can’t wave and talk to people and beat the drum at the same time!”
The showman and the crowd laughed. The parade ended at the gazebo in Comanche town square. Harley put aside his drum, mounted the steps and waved his arms expansively at the crowd.
“Good to see all my friends here in Comanche. The 1927 edition of Harley Sadler’s Own Show will present Over the Hills to the Poorhouse starring the pride and joy of my life, Miss Gloria Sadler!”
Dramatically pointing to a convertible draped with bunting, Harley glowed. Inside the car were Billie, Gloria and Grandma Lou. Uncle Burnie sat behind the steering wheel. Gloria, who was seven years old, stood on the back seat and curtsied. Her golden hair was in sausage curls. Her dress was all ruffles and lace. The crowd oohed and ah’ed.
“Little Miss Gloria Sadler is leaving tomorrow with her grandmother Lou Massengale to start school next week in Sweetwater.”
After a polite round of applause, Harley continued:
“And, as usual, opening night is Ladies Night. That means all you ladies get in free if accompanied by a gentleman who pays full price.”
All the townspeople burst into applause as he picked up his drum and marched down the gazebo steps. The band began playing while the town’s children fell in right behind him. The convertible carrying Billie, Gloria and Lou slowly trailed behind. Two women in the crowd were entranced. One watched Harley and the children disappear down the street. The other craned her head to catch a peek at Billie inside the car.
“He’s the pied piper; don’t you think?”
“I said don’t you think Harley’s just wonder with children.”
“I guess.” The second woman sighed in frustration. “Can you see what Billie’s wearing?”
By the time the parade reached the show ground, the crew had already raised the tent and secured the lines. Claude Kelly, a large, bald middle-aged man with thick forearms, pulled a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his neck and brow. Harley wandered up and tugged on the guy rope to see if were taut enough.
“How’s it going, Claude?”
“Fine, Harley.”
“Were you able to check into that matter for me?” he asked casually, avoiding eye contact.
Claude looked around to make sure no one was close enough to overhear their conversation. “The local bootlegger runs a taxi.”
“I guess this rope isn’t too loose.” Harley stopped fiddling with the line and smiled. “Now all I have to do is keep Billie away from the taxi.” He began to leave, but stopped and turned back. “Oh, and about that other thing—“
“Word is there’s a poker game in the conference room of the bank every Saturday night.”
“See if you can get me an invite, won’t you, Claude?”
“Sure, Harley.”
Next, Harley walked in the main tent where happy children hurriedly set up chairs. “Good job, boys and girls. When you finish, go to the ticket stand and get your free passes.”
The youngsters squealed and jumped in excitement. Another voice boomed above his head.
“Hey, Harley!”
He looked up at the tent pole and the quarter pole at his side. Burnie was on the quarter pole doing the splits.
“Great trick, Burnie.” Harley cringed as he watched Burnie grin in pride. He was toothless.
“Thanks, Harley.”
“I might let you do that trick in the show sometime if you ever remember to keep your teeth in.”
Harley ambled out the main tent and wandered over to the ticket stand to see how business was doing. He stopped when he saw a young couple fussing at each other. The young woman was fairly good looking, but she was terribly skinny. She wore a dress that used to belong to a sister, mother or even grandmother, Harley surmised. The young man was not much older than the girl. He too was slim but he was straight and strong, wearing freshly laundered overalls and a faded blue shirt. His face wore a permanent sun burn but only half way up his broad brow. The top part near the hairline, which his hat shaded from the oppressive prairie sun, was as fair as a new-born baby’s unblemished bottom. Harley guessed from their posture and eye contact—or lack thereof—that they were not married but possibly on their first date.
“I don’t know why we have to get here so early,” the young man groused.
“Because I want to see Billie go to her dressing room, that’s why.”
Harley smiled to himself. No matter how much of an inconvenience Billie’s drinking was, he was pleased that every woman in every town on the plains adored his wife. She had developed into a very good actress; however, she preferred to play country girl Susie Belle who fell in love with Toby. If anyone was going to kiss Harley on stage, it was going to be Billie.
Night arrived, and the tent lights came on. Parents tried to control their children who insisted on squeaking and chasing each other between the rows of chairs. All the women—including the young lady on her first date, looked toward the back entrance, anticipating Billie’s grand appearance. When she finally arrived through the tent flap, Billie did not disappoint. Her hair was recently permed, she wore a fashionable navy blue dress highlighted by a large, sparkling brooch.
“Here she comes!”
“Doesn’t she look beautiful!”
“She’d be gorgeous in a potato sack!”
“I hear she buys all her clothes at those fancy Dallas shops!”
“My cousin said she saw Billie actually buy something in the Woolworth’s in Sweetwater!”
Anyone could tell by looking into her face that Billie relished the adulation heaped upon her by the country women. After she mounted the stage steps and disappeared behind the curtain, the audience became loud again. Within minutes the band members filed in and began to tune their instruments. Soon the curtain raised and the melodrama began.
Sam Bright, as he grew older, eased from the role of hero to that of villain. A few years earlier, he found himself a pretty, young woman named Faye who, like Billie, melded into the theatre troupe as the innocent heroine. Mike Henderson, who had played the sheriff in the old Fox company, was promoted to the hero. No matter how bad the acting or the jokes, the audience hissed and booed at the appropriate moments and hooted, laughed and stomped the rest of the time.
Harley Sadler was beginning to crack a bit around the edges. He was not the young eager sidekick he once was. But the folks who bought the tickets wanted to see him as Toby, and Harley always gave the audience what it wanted.
In return, the show goers obeyed the rules Harley set forth. If someone walked in staggering drunk, the men in the seats rose quickly and escorted the disruptive fan out. They fastidiously observed the big sign on the upright piano in the orchestra section:
“If the baby cries, please take it to the rear of the tent.”
Each night during the melodrama, Burnie walked the perimeter of the big tent to make sure all the stakes were sturdily hammered into the earth and the guy lines taut and secure. He paused to watch the last glimmering rays of light disappear below the horizon. Every time the audience erupted into applause, Burnie grinned broadly, revealing a mouth of bare gums. He forgot his dentures again.
Billie sat at her dressing table putting on the last of her makeup as Susie Belle, Toby’s girlfriend. Susie usually was the final main character introduced before the end of Act One. She liked it that way. If she had to be on stage at the rise of the curtain on Act One, she would be unnecessarily tense. If she were tense she could not remember her lines. Her ability to retain the script to memory was declining over the years.
Staring into the mirror to make sure the makeup was properly applied, Billie frowned at how unattractive her costume was. Harley may have enjoyed looking silly, but she did not. Her attention wandered over to a framed photograph of Gloria. She was going to be so beautiful when she grew up. Billie worried she would get stuck playing Susie with all her ugly clothes and makeup. Leaning over she reached into a small brown bag to retrieve a pint bottle of whiskey. She took a quick sip and returned the bottle to the bag under her dressing table.
“Decent?” Harley called out from the other side of the dressing room flap.
Billie jumped. “Come in.”
Harley, in full Toby regalia, entered and walked over to put his hands on her shoulders. “Are you ready? We go on in a few minutes.”
“Harley, honey, you don’t have to ask permission to come into my room. After all, you are my husband.”
“It’s just I’m so used to calling out at everybody else’s dressing room.” He smiled.
“Why, you’d think I had something to hide.”
“Now why would I think that?” Hint of sadness and weariness tinged his voice. He put his arms around her shoulders and hugged. Not waiting for an answer Harley went to the canvas flap to lift it and leave.
“Wait, Harley,” she called with urgency.”
“Make it real fast. We’ve got to go on.”
“Why can’t I go home with Gloria and Mama?”
“You can.”
“But I want to be with you.”
He shook his head. “I have to keep the show going. These people need their jobs.”
Before Billie could finish Harley cocked his head toward the stage. “Sam just left the stage. We’re next. Come on.”
After he left she put her face in her arms, then looked up and squinted into the mirror. “Susie,” she muttered, “you don’t look perky.” She patted on more makeup. “You have to look as perky as Toby.” Stopping abruptly, Billie threw down the makeup pad. “But I’ll never look as perky as Toby.”
She made it to her stage entrance, which stopped the show. Unlike her husband who worried everyone loved Toby but not Harley, she knew the audience loved Billie and didn’t care a hoot about Susie. Fort a brief moment while the stage lights blinded her and the applause assaulted her ears, Billie was happy.

Cancer Chronicles

Recently I was going through some old files in the garage from Janet’s probation office, and I found several thank you cards.
They all said pretty much the same thing. They appreciated her help to become better people when most of the world would rather throw them in prison. These were not likeable folk—sex offenders, spouse abusers, petty thieves, drunks, drug addicts—but she made them feel accepted and liked. Sometimes they went back to prison, but they never blamed Janet. They knew she did everything she could to help them, but they didn’t do enough to help themselves.
Now these were something I wanted to keep for a while. Most people want to be remembered for making money. Janet is remembered for mending souls. But by the time I had finished and tossed a bunch of junk in the garbage cans and rolled them down to the curb, I could not find those cards. I thought I had carefully set them aside, but I hadn’t. I’ve often said I’d lose my head if it wasn’t tied on.
After going back over every place I could have placed the cards, I finally made peace with myself, like I think I have made peace that cancer took Janet away. I did not need those cards to prove what a wonderful compassionate person she was. I know it. All those probationers knew it. That is what is important.