Dennis Hopper and the dwindling cast of `Rebel’

The death today of Dennis Hopper leaves only four known survivors from the most important film of my generation, “Rebel Without a Cause,” released in 1955 and starring James Dean. 

Hopper was a little known actor then, 14 years before he made “Easy Rider.”   He played Goon in “Rebel,” one of the gang members who sought revenge for the death of their leader Buzz Gunderson, played by Corey Allen.   Although Goon was a minor role, Hopper’s subtle portrayl won the viewer’s attention.  

Allen,  75, is the only central character still living.  His character, Buzz, was killed in the “chicken race”  with Jim Stark (Dean) when his jacket got caught in the door of his vehicle.  Buzz and car went over the cliff to their ends.  Buzz is best known for the knife fight with Stark at the planetarium.  Allen’s acting career petered out in the 1960s, and most of his later work has been in television.

Three other “gang members” are also alive, according to data taken from IMDb.  Beverly Long (Helen), now a casting director, Jack Grinnage, (Moose), age 79,  and Frank Mazzola (Crunch), 75.

The three stars — Dean, Natalie Wood and Sal Mineo — met tragic deaths.  Dean died before the release of “Rebel” in an automobile accident east of Paso Robles, California, in September 1955.  Wood (Stark’s girlfriend, Judy) drowned off the coast of Catalina Island in 1981, and Mineo was stabbed to death outside his West Hollywood, California, apartment in 1976.

Director Nicholas Ray died in 1979.  Screenwriter Stewart Stern still survives at 88.  Irving Shulman who adapted the screenplay died in 1995.

The status of two other of Buzz’s gang, Jack Simmons who played Cookie,  and Clifford Morris (Cliff) are not known.  “Rebel” was their one and only film appearance.

Other cast members and their year of death:

  • Jim Backus (Jim Stark’s father Frank), 1989.
  • Ann Doran (Jim Stark’s mother Carol), 2000.
  • William Hopper (Judy’s father), 1970.
  • Rochelle Hudson (Judy’s mother), 1972.
  • Edward Platt (Detective RayFremick), 1974.
  • Steffi Sidney (Mil), 2010.
  • Marietta Canty (Plato’s maid), 1986.
  • Virginia Brissac (Jim Stark’s grandmother), 1979.
  • Ian Wolfe (lecturer at the planetarium), 1992.
  • Robert Foulk (Gene), 1989.
  • Nick Adams (Harry), 1968.
  • Almira Sessions (old lady school teacher), 1974.

[Anyone interested in `Rebel’ should read the 2005 Touchstone book by Lawrence Frascella and Al Weisel, “Live Fast, Die Young:  The Wild Ride of Making Rebel Without A Cause”]


Not all steps are equal

In trying to walk 10,000 steps a day for health, I have found there are steps and then there are moderate steps.  Both are OK.  Moderate is better.

That’s what I like about my Omron digital pedometer.  It measures both. 

Moderate steps,  says quoting from a Canadian study, improve aerobic fitness and reduces systolic blood pressure (the upper number in a BP reading).  The study also found non-moderate steps can burn the same amount of calories and reduce “fasting” blood glucose and cholesterol.’

A moderate step is normal walking speed or one taken at a brisk pace.  That comes to 2.5 mph to 3.4 mph, according to my pedometer’s instruction manual.  Shuffling around the house won’t count as moderate steps.

Anyone who has ridden a treadmill knows that 2.5 mph is an easy pace for most, that 4 mph is slow jog and that 6 mph is running. 

Since we began a walking program this year, Nebra and I have take more than 1.4 million total steps.  Of those about 60 percent, or three in five, have been moderate ones. 

This month, for example, Nebra’s percentage of moderate steps is 63.6 %.  Mine averages 59.7 %. 

I refuse to get manic about this walking thing.  I don’t intend to overdo it.  And at times I resent the time away from reading books and writing.  I started the program in September of last  year, and it quickly became a part of my daily routine.

[For a record of my daily, monthly and yearly step count, see the Walking page.]

`Precious:’ That rare moment of clarity

My favorite part of the film, “Precious,” comes near the end.   Daughter and mother are seated in an office.  The mother, Mary, is being grilled by the child psychologist, Mrs. Weiss, who is attempting to get to the bottom of the daughter Precious’s home life.

Precious, at 16, is overwhelmed.   She has two babies sired by her own father.  One of them has Downs Syndrome.  She also is illiterate, obese, reduced to stealing food when hungry, carries no self-esteem and lives with a monster of a mother.  Her future is as black as her skin.

Mary’s days are centered around drinking liquor, watching TV and on occasion donning a hideous wig when the welfare worker comes to visit.  To her, Precious is little more than slave labor and a battering ram for Mary’s pent-up rage. 

But Mrs. Weiss is relentless and ultimately digs out the truth.  Mary, we discover, is more of a monster than we suspect.  She was complicit in the sexual abuse of her daughter, abuse that started when Precious was only 3 years old.

As the anguished words flow from Mary’s mouth in a rare moment of clarity,  I think back to other words earlier in the film.   Precious has just told her alternative-school classmates and teacher about her sordid home life, then she says:

“Now I wonder if everybody go through sumthin — sumthin that leaves a shadow in they lives.”

At that moment, Precious has nailed it.  Her problem is not unique.  The problem is universal.  And not only with girls.  We are all warped by our childhoods, by our inter-actions with parents, many of whom do not have a clue to parenting or the meaning of love.  But Precious, despite her horror-show of a life, has something most of us never attain.

After hearing her mother’s confession to Mrs. Weiss, Precious says to Mary:  “You know, I didn’t realize what you was until this day — even after all those things you did.  Maybe I didn’t know no better or maybe I just didn’t want to but I finally see you crystal clear for the first time. 

“And I forgive you too . . .  but I’ll never see you again.  Not even if you dead.”

Precious has had her moment of clarity, a moment of truth when your whole life flashes before you in 3-D.  And for all her misfortunes, Precious is one up on most of us who struggle through a shadowy life trying to make sense of what we are, how we got that way. 

With that piece of precious clarity, this daughter raised in hell now has a chance to go out into the world on her own, try to cope and become all she can be.

Profiling the car: An Arizona case

During the course of our conversation, my friend Harold described how on a recent trip to a nearby city south of Phoenix he was pulled over  by a sheriff’s deputy.  When done, Harold asked me, “Do you think that was profiling?”

This incident occurred long before Arizona passed the horribly misguided Senate Bill 1070, that illegal immigration law that has drawn criticism as excessive, racist, mean and unconstitutional.  It will go into effect later this summer. 

One of the obvious problems is that the law legalizes the long-standing practice of racial profiling by police in Arizona.  But back to Harold.

First of all, Harold is a U.S. citizen of Japanese heritage, his skin darker than the average white man’s.   Now in his 60s, he was born in Honolulu (no, birthers, I have not seen his birth certificate) and came to the mainland to work here in Phoenix.  He is married and receives pensions from both Motorola and the National Guard.

Our connection is baseball.  He is an avid high school umpire and a sports trivia nut.  About 10 years ago, Harold inspired me to join the local umpire association.  He quickly became my mentor and friend.  We were partners for a few of the eight years I stayed in umpiring.

If Harold has a fault it is penury.  He is several steps beyond thrifty.  He buys second-hand clothes.  Most of his umpire gear is hand-me-downs.  He used to steam off uncancelled postage stamps from envelopes and reuse them.  One of his favorite sayings is, “I beat the system.”

Harold’s tight fist extends to all areas of his life, including his automobile. He will not buy a new one.  I do not recall the model but his is an older sedan.  The last time I saw it several years ago, the cream-colored paint was badly fading.   Thus the problem with law enforcement.

Harold said he was motoring home from the bedroom city that is Maricopa when he noticed a sheriff’s patrol car following him.  The patrol car eventually flashed him to a stop and an officer approached, eyeing the sedan.  Of course he asked to see Harold’s papers:  proof of insurance, driver’s license and auto registration.  Harold was mystified.  He was traveling within the posted speed limit.

The officer’s only explanation was that he found a crack in the windshield glass, near the top.  He asked how long that crack had been there.  Harold replied a long time.  Harold asked how the patrolman could have seen the crack from behind him. 

“We’re trained to see those things,” the officer said, according to Harold. Soon, the officer left, leaving no citation but a still-mystified Harold. 

I took Harold’s story into consideration, believing he would not lie to me.  To it I added the context of the patrolman’s controversial boss, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, aka The Toughest Sheriff in America.  Arpaio, many feel, did not need a law to profile for illegals, and he has been under federal investigation for a while.  Rather than fight crime, Arpaio’s deputies spend a large amount of time in the immigration arena.

“Yes,” I told Harold.  “I definitely think you were a victim of profiling.”

There was another incident, Harold said, though it seemed less blatant. 

He had been driving his beat-up car in the southeast Valley early one morning when he was pulled over by a Tempe policeman who had noticed the light that illuminates his license tag was burnt out.  Again, Harold was required to show all his paperwork. 

Given it was a slow time of day for the police officer and the offense was a modicum serious, profiling was not clear-cut.  But still you wonder.

It appears then, no surprise, that Arizona law enforcement was profiling long before the law and would’ve continued to do so, law or no law. 

In any case Harold has taken matters into his own hands.  He will again beat the system, though this time his wallet feels the pain.  His sedan, he said, now sports a new paint job.

Obama affair: A non-story

Lurid headlines that can't deliver

Where there is political smoke anymore there is almost never fire.  More often the smoke is nothing more than the fumes of lies, fantasy and distortion, their purpose merely to advance political agenda or, in the case of tabloids, to make more money and swat back competition.   

Such is the case with the Canadian tabloid Globe‘s recent “revelation” that President Obama is cheating on his wife, Michelle.   

“Obama Caught in Hotel With This Beauty!” the Globe smears over its front page with photos and the following teasers:   “Cheating Scandal Erupts!” and “Secret video could destroy presidency” and “Eyewiteness Tells All!”

The “facts” of the Globe story: Limo driver dropped off Obama and a campaign worker, Vera Baker, now 35, at the Hotel George in Washington, D.C., on the night of May 17, 2004.  That’s it.   The unnamed limo driver is the “eyewitness” and, if he exists, only describes the hotel drop-off.  

As you read the story, those lurid headlines turn out to be lies and distortions. Obama was not caught at anything, there is no videotape and there is not even a hint of a scandal.  The facts would not even pass TV-grade circumstantial evidence. 

The Globe concoction is merely a rehash of a story that emerged from the depths more than a year ago.  The alleged meeting with Baker took place during Obama’s successful campaign for the U.S. Senate.  Six years ago

This story is clearly a matter for the Cold Case squad.   If it held water, it would be glaciated by now.  If it held water, those mean-to-the-bone conservatives who still pursue this story with zeal would have uncovered something more substantial.  Surely.

The only skimpy fact offered is a $353.81 disbursement by the Obama campaign to the Hotel George on the night in question.  The Globe does not cite whose name was on the hotel’s bill.  It could have been anyone in the Obama camp.

There is a current news peg, though it hangs by a thread, again no way implicating Obama in anything. 

The thread was the hiring of Baker by “one of Obama’s major supporters and political cronies, the junior Illinois senator, Roland Burris.   Burris’s office of course is not far from the White House.  It will be recalled that Burris was the Senator named to replace Obama by the discredited Illinois governor, Rod Blagojevich.  And it was Obama who opposed Burris’s selection after the state’s Democratic Party objected to the manner of the governor’s selection.

Anyway, the Globe reported Baker was named Burris’s Deputy Chief of Staff, according to the Senate Office of Public Records, and earned $76,355 before leaving the position in February of this year. 

The tabloid said Baker was “exiled” to the Caribbean island of Martinique by a jealous Michelle Obama who did not want the woman near her family.  Exiled? In America?   The Globe did not interview Baker but said  she “insists she went to the island of Martinique for love and got married.”

This story, as it appears in the Globe, is a stab in the dark, pure fantasy, a story fed to it by the right-wing who will do anything, anything, to tumble the Obama presidency.  Expect the Obama-Baker affair to be revisited many times before the 2012 election is in the books.   

This story has no more merit than did the Globe‘s fantasy earlier this year that love notes exist between former President George W. Bush and his then-Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. 

Perhaps over time such allegations will prove true.  Intelligent people do not act on whimsy and propaganda. 

But these stories play well to the biases of a dumbed-down America, to a citizenry which has lost any ability or desire to separate fact from fiction.  In the snap of fingers, presto-chango, fantasy becomes our reality.

Newspapers: The Oil Spill Connection

We are no longer the U.S.A.  We are the U.S.P.  The United States of Propaganda. 

Almost everywhere we turn, The Spin and The Big Lie face us.   Take your pick.  Left, right, TV, radio, film, newspaper, you name it.  At their very best when it comes to factual reporting most media outlets can be described as timid.   Truth has lost its way.  Opinion and propaganda have taken over.

It should come as no surprise then to those Americans who can still think objectively that the growth of Propaganda and the demise of the local, independent newspaper go hand in hand.  

The old-fashioned newspaper, for all its many faults, offered us our only chance at a search for truth in a world of nasty opinion-makers, a world of corporate smoke and mirrors.  Because many years ago newspapers abandoned their traditional roles in favor of profits this is what has happened:  Into the vacuum plunged Propaganda.   Dreamland in essence has become reality.

Take Michael Savage, the vicious ultra right-wing radio host.  Last Friday night, May 1, he floated a rumor that the Deepwater Horizon oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico was caused by a North Korean submarine.  He had no proof of course.  Only a suspicion.

Savage’s over-heated listeners soon pitched in.  One, sounding very much like a plant, suggested it was a U.S. government plot generated of course by Savage’s much reviled antagonist, the“radical, Communist, Socialist, dictator” Barrack Obama. That gave Savage the opportunity to say the assertion was beyond belief, to appear as the voice of reason, which he is anything but.

That is not to say that the oil spill was free of a deliberate act.  Perhaps in time we will know the truth.   In the meantime, the Olbermanns, the Limbaughs, the Hannitys and Mr. Savage will hold sway.

I pine for the old days, in the Seventies even, before Reaganomics and its corporate afterbirth sucked the heart and soul out of American newspapers.

Taking steps

10,000 steps a day can run into work

The average American will take well over one million steps a year despite a penchant to avoid anything physical.

That may sound like a lot, but a million steps comes out to a toe or two shy of 2,740 a day.  You can almost do that by lying on the sofa watching the tube and padding to the refrigerator and back 27 times.

To be fit, some believe, you must do almost four times that amount of steps.  The goal is 10,000 a day.   Or 3.65 million a year.  It’s harder than you think.

To reach 10,000 steps a day you will more than likely have to plan an extra walk or two.  Unless you are a waitress or construction worker.  Or an avid sleepwalker.  So you probably need something to spur you.

For me, the impetus to walk more was the purchase of an accurate digital pedometer, cost about $40.  With its magic, it spurred me to walk that extra block or two, to park the car in the farthest reaches of the mall’s lot and, if you become manic like me, to set personal records.

Take yesterday.  I needed 12,184 steps to average over 12,000 a day for the month of April.  Nebra required 9,961 to keep her average above 10,000.  We both went to extraordinary efforts to reach those goals.

Having whiled away most of the day in lethargy, I jumped on the treadmill at the Y for 53 minutes and closed out April with the big bang of 15,347 steps.  That left my monthly average at 12,105.  A personal best since I first began counting steps last September.

Nebra also found herself in a bind due to her office work.  She came home in the evening and walked along Central Avenue, until I picked her up for a late supper at Macayo’s.  Even then, she needed 2,000 steps.  So on the way home, I let her out of the car so she could walk back. In the end, her daily total was 10,381, leaving her daily average for April at 10,014. 

Both of us crossed the million-step mark for 2010 weeks ago.  Nebra on April 19, I on the 7th. 

At my present pace of 10,745 steps a day for the year, I’ll have 3.91 million by December 31.  Already, I can see a frantic Holiday period trying to reach 4 million.