Don Draper, Dick Whitman, Peggy, Sally, Joan, Coke, Mad Men and Us

Don on pay phone2The farewell to Mad Men, at least on Monday’s morning news programs, was all about “the Coke commercial” (indeed a brilliant, brilliant presence in the episode) the 60’s, advertising, capitalism and a Don Draper not at all like the man he described to Peggy in this phone call:

“I messed everything up. I’m not the man you think I am…. I broke all my vows. I scandalized my child. I took another man’s name. and made nothing of it.”

or his physical transformation – messy hair, plaid shirt and jeans – that returned him, at least briefly, to the “Dick Whitman” he once was.  Even his expressions were those of a country boy with a squint.

Joan faye peggy2
Joan, Peggy and Faye in the elevator in especially poignant episode about the women of Mad Men

Preoccupation  with “the commercial” overrode discussion of how important Mad Men has been to women: not only those who were teenagers as Don ascended and for whom so many scenes brought back memories of the scandalous neighborhood “divorcee,” of the Women’s Clubs and Garden Clubs and all the other “activities” suburban mothers created —  but also for those who came after, for whom some of what they saw of women’s lives was just a relic but way too much was way too familiar.

Don Draper’s journey, from brothel to executive suite to Esalen, is very much that of America through the 60’s and beyond.   It was a traumatic, scary, strange and exhilarating time, and whether you were there or you arrived later, it’s clear that Don’s misery and confusion mirrored what many of us, and, even more so, our parents felt every day.

Oh, and that Coke commercial? It was so perfect I laughed out loud as it appeared: all that we had hoped for and dreamed of, laid out in an air-brushed, multicultural, Benetton panorama.  I don’t think we knew then how far we would be today – maybe forever – from that dream, but watching it now, it seems quaint how sentimental we were, even in our days of rage.  Just like Don.

My BB King Story – Farewell to Such a Lovely Man

BB King carried music in his hands and in his heart, joy at the sound of it and commitment to the making of it.  All you had to do was hear him for three minutes and you knew that.  And he faced down plenty to keep doing it. As the BBC tells it:

He played more than 300 gigs on the so-called Chitlin’ Circuit, the collection of performance venues in what were then racially segregated southern states where it was safe for black musicians to perform.

King said: “I have put up with more humiliation than I care to remember.

“Touring a segregated America, forever being stopped and harassed by white cops hurt you most ‘cos you didn’t realise the damage. You hold it in.”

I met him once, and the memory of that morning haunts me still.

It was, of course, when I worked at the TODAY SHOW (are you sick of those stories yet?)  I used to go in early to hang out in the green room when someone I admired was going to be there.  Of course, that included the morning BB was coming.  He arrived with his musicians – no entourage, no fuss.

That morning, the Canadian singer Anne Murray was also on the show, appearing earlier than Mr. King.   As we sat there quietly, watching the show, she told Bryant Gumbel that she was taking “a few months” off from her touring schedule to “recharge.”

King glanced up at the screen, looking sort of sad.  “A few months” he said. “I could never do that.  I can’t do that.” The disparity of income between blues musicians and the rockers they inspired was well-known, so much so that a foundation was established to help those who never made a dime from their royalties.

Even so, although he told the BBC in 2009, at the age of 83 “I can’t retire, I need the money,” I was never sure if his reason that day was money, or love of the road, but he said it with such longing, and with such an expression of regret, that I can see it right now.  Clear as day.

I will always love his music and love his spirit and humor and warmth, and be grateful for his legacy.    In my mind though, as he leaves us, it’s that peek into the life of a blues man – even a great one – as he made his way that I remember most.


Robert Altman’s 40-Year-Old “Nashville,” Keith Carradine, Lily Tomlin and a Song

Robert Altman‘s Nashville is a perfect movie. This very sexy song from the film, written and performed by Keith Carradine (currently playing Madame Secretary‘s (CBS) boss, the President of the United States) won the best original song Oscar in 1976.*

He is singing to Lily Tomlin, who plays a white gospel singer with two deaf children; despite her marriage, she is as isolated as the metaphor suggests.  Their attraction is clear and heady: as he addresses his performance to her it’s clear they will find a time  – just once – to be together.  It’s a lovely moment in a harsh story.

The film is political, angry and brilliant.  It would be remarkably relevant today; you could say the demagoguery and tea-party-like characters were “ripped from the headlines” if the film weren’t 40 years old.   See for yourself; in addition to a wonderful film, you’ll get to see Carradine and Tomlin knock your socks off.


*This iconic 1979 winner from Norma Rae , “It Goes Like It Goes”, never really got the attention it deserved either – and in some ways they’re so similar.

Prettiots! Just a Little Listen

I went to YouTube to hear (and see) these girls because proud papa Danny Goldberg posted them on Facebook and he never does that. He’s spotted so many talents and supported so many more that I figured I should at least take a look.

They’re adorable, ironic and so young. How exciting it must be for someone who has been spotting talent for – well — a long time, to find some so close to home.

Once in a while it’s good to remember that music — all art really — evolves.   We miss so much if we stick to our old favorites all the time.  There are always new folks adding to the adventure.

So for your pleasure, meet these three Prettiots.  Thanks for the introduction Danny, and all the other music you brought us, and congratulations!

So Much Pain

grief croppedAll women are sisters.  If you don’t believe me, write about a miscarriage and see what happens.  A week ago I described my own experience, now more than 30 years old — memories made fresh by a private newsletter conversation.

Two amazing (but not surprising) realities emerged:  1) This is one pain that stays right there – buried under daily events and worries and happy times — but not gone.  Never gone.  2) It is a gift to have a place to discuss or describe the things that wound us, change us, leave silent but permanent marks.   Offering that space is one particular gift women give to one another.  Here are three who shared my “place:”

Nobody ever talks about it but the reality is that many people have been through it (multiple times even) and I think there is comfort in shared grief.

I like to be tidy with emotions (I never am – HA!), but the grief I feel about these losses have a layer of guilt around them – as if I shouldn’t be so upset. But I am.

I am in tears! I was on Facebook, saw your post on miscarriage and just oh my goodness. I have had 2 miscarriages in the past year. It been hard, but it’s made so much harder that the whole subject has a weird taboo around it. It’s not like people won’t ask me when I’m planning to have kids. I’ve heard a thousand times “when are you going to have children?” and had to make light of a situation that I was still really sad about.

That’s all.

My Miscarriage: Memories that Don’t Fade

A Lost Possibility: Women on Miscarriage - from The Nib
A Lost Possibility: Women on Miscarriage – by Ryan Alexander-Tanner, from The Nib

NOTE: In a newsletter,  Nona Willis Aronowitz posted two stories about miscarriages.  As I began to respond, this emerged:

My sons are 40 and 35.  Between them I had a miscarriage.  She was a girl.  It was the first day I had told anyone I was pregnant and begun wearing maternity clothes.

It happened on Election Night 1978 and I was in the studio producing the “house desk” results.

When the pain got serious I raced home, lost most of the fetus in the bathroom, and called our OB.  We went immediately to the hospital; in the morning I had a D and C.   It was devastating.

Then came the reaction:
VP of News:  You work too hard.
Secretary to Pres of News:  What were you doing working all night?  Didn’t you want this baby?

On the other hand, I also got notes from people ranging from my aunt to a colleague, all with the same message:  “I’ve never told anyone before but I had a miscarriage (anywhere from 1 to 30) years ago.”  The pain for each was still real.

I was lucky though.  My OB was from Czechoslovakia.   He had a real (maybe European, maybe Socialist, maybe just father of daughters) respect for professional women and, as he had been in my first pregnancy was wonderfully supportive.  He ran a cell test to determine whether there was a distinguishable cause (there was – a serious genetic issue – although we didn’t learn that for months, it has been a comfort.)  He explained the D and C, urged us to take time to grieve but also reminded us that we were far from finished with efforts to have more kids, kept me in the hospital an extra day so I could pull myself together before I went home and had to tell our nearly-three-year-old son.

He wanted to know where the baby went.  I just couldn’t handle a literal answer so even though I wasn’t at that time religious at all I told him the baby was with God.  I needed him to understand that she was somewhere where she would be as loved as he was on 79th and Broadway.

Several years later when I worked at TODAY, with the support of our Executive Producer,  I produced a series about miscarriages.  The narrator was an OB himself, one of the TODAY stable of experts.  I’m not naming him because this is what he told me (to his credit:)   “Thank you so much for doing this series with me.  I’ve been an OB for 25 years and I never realized the pain that this causes women.”  Seriously.  I was grateful that he was emotionally available to admit this but can you imagine?  Never realized.

One more thing – partners are NOT sufficiently supported when this happens. They need FAR more attention than they usually receive.  My husband has said for years that he wished we could have had a funeral or some sort of service so he too could have a vehicle to grieve.

NONA thank you so much for raising this and for the links to those powerful pieces.  The graphic one was particularly evocative as it reminded me of small moments I’d forgotten.

For the record – our second son was born 2 years later.  Both my boys are fabulous men and exquisite spouses and dads.  I am grateful for them both and the sorrow of our loss is not in any way linked to how I define my unambiguous and grateful love of them.

Even so – the fact that, 32 years later, the silence and shame and insensitivity remains is a travesty.  Please share this with doctors, nurses, midwives, preschool teachers and others who are on the “front lines.”  Maybe we can help to break the chain.,

When You Ask Me About Smart Social Media – This Is IT!!!

The great Daniel Silva using the news of the day to subtly remind us, through this Facebook post, that his new book is coming (sort of) soon.  Nice job Daniel!

Billionaire art collector Steve Cohen, one of the most successful hedge fund managers ever, has become the unwitting catalyst in an alleged international art fraud stretching from New York to Monaco and Singapore.

The alleged fraud was uncovered during a New Year’s Eve dinner between Cohen’s New York art consultant, Sandy Heller, and Russian oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev — when Heller told his pal that Cohen had just sold a Modigliani painting, “Nude on a Blue Cushion,” for $93.5 million.     NYPOST.COM

Remember When Claire Underwood Was a Princess?

OK I know this is PrincessBride_buttercup350facile and a little silly maybe, but House of Cards starts Friday and when The Princess Bride theme slid onto my Spotify feed last week, I remembered that Robin Wright, (Princess Buttercup!) is now the notorious Claire Underwood: monstrous friend, cold manipulator and, of course, ruthless First Lady.

Claire underwoodArt imitates life, right?  This is a great reflection – hugely distorted and grotesque though it is, of what has happened to so many of us —  women and men –particularly but not only in public life.

We walk such thin lines most of the time.  We flee innocence and dependence in pursuit of ourselves.  We watch what appears to be the slow crumbling of every trusted institution.  We struggle to learn how to be — and remain, moral, whole adults, able to stand alone, able to love and share, able to support, able to seek and accept help when we need it.  And still, we feel – women and men and our country itself – that we’re losing what’s best in us.

Claire has jettisoned most of these qualities, if she ever had them.   The conspiracy she shares with her husband has tethered her to his malignant pursuit of power at any cost.  Their “arrangement” is beyond toxic; even a desired pregnancy must be sacrificed.  What would Princess Buttercup – or even the Dread Pirate Roberts – think of these two?

The Princess Bride was released nearly thirty years ago, in September of 1987.  It’s possible that was a nicer time.   The 5 top grossing films that year were 1) 3 Men and a Baby (corny/cute), 2) Fatal Attraction (boiled bunnies – not so cute), 3) Beverly Hills Cop 2 (bloodshed and mayhem amid the jokes – also not so cute), 4) Good Morning Vietnam (Robin Williams, war, music, grief and rebelliousness celebrated in the film but not so popular today), and 5) Moonstruck (love, family, fairytale new beginnings.)  Also among the top ten were the venal comedy The Secret of My Success (7), Lethal Weapon (see Beverly Hills Cop above) (9) and, perhaps a distant cousin to The Princess Bride, Dirty Dancing (class, romance, first love, politics, music) (10.)  Cumulatively not as dark a worldview as in House of Cards, but not all sweet little stories, either.  Even so, add Dirty Dancing to The Princess Bride and Moonstruck and 1987 offered us at least three fairy tales.  No fairy tales dare show their faces at the Underwood caucus, do they?

Even more interesting are the films IMDB denizens took the time to vote for that year.  1) Full Metal Jacket (more war), 2) Predator (Arnold Schwarzenegger), and, 3)The Princess Bride herself!  Behind her, The Untouchables (Costner as Ness), Lethal Weapon (see high grossing: cop comedies), RoboCop (robot – um – cop), and – again – Dirty Dancing.  Wrapping up the top ten, Spaceballs (funny space stuff), Wall Street (“Greed — is good.”) and The Running Man. (more Arnold.)  Probably Oliver Stone’s Wall Street comes closest to our current Netflix White House.

Last year, when the Underwoods took over the presidency, the highest grossing films, not a fairy tale among them, included six sci-fi/fantasy films including three from Marvel, a witch, a Hobbit and some Transformers.  The list concludes with two animations, an American sniper and one Dystopian teen rebellion.

Those garnering the most IMDB votes included eight sci-fi/fantasy films including five from Marvel, an end-of-the-world time/space and time travel adventure and two outer space monster invasions.  That list concludes with a fancy old hotel, icky, nasty Gone Girl and …  a different Dystopian teen rebellion.

Not altogether sure what all this means except that we’ve lost much of our 1987 capacity to cherish whimsy and gentle humor, Grand Budapest Hotel or not.  OH and that we need all that escape these days — really badly.  If I were to guess, I’d say what we’re escaping from is a world where, although certainly not in the White House, the Underwoods have taken over, for real.








My Friend Laurie: the Post I Never Wanted to Write

X Cindy and Laurie 2

“Inside you someplace” laughed my friend Laurie, “lives a 16-year-old boy!”  We were talking about cyber fiction; I was trying to explain my attraction to this geeky, otherworldly material to the only person who would really understand what I was talking about.

I’ve known her since the early 80s, when I produced her appearance on TODAY; she had come to discuss her masterful LA Times Salvadoran death squads series. Our friendship deepened in the years I lived in LA, her long-time home.  We were both major Web freaks.  After all,  both of our minds bounced around like the facts on the Web (often to the confusion of those with whom we were speaking.) We were struggling to, between us, get enough information to understand how this astounding Internet worked.  Laurie found The Electronic Cafe, an arts space in Santa Monica that hosted speakers ranging from the EP of The Legend of Zelda to the founder of Earthlink.  We were on our way. It was thrilling.

We never stopped talking when we were together – circling around topics, bouncing to other ones then back to the first — or third.  We never got lost and were always intoxicated by the messy exchange that was our conversation, sometimes joined by her husband Henry Weinstein and their daughter Elizabeth.

They were, Laurie called it, “a triad.”  From the beginning Elizabeth was an active partner in their lives; the “adult” events, the travel, the baseball, the cooking and, lucky for all of us, the time spent with parental pals.  The three of them were a beautiful thing.

When she decided high school journalists needed more resources, she founded, from sheer determination (i.e. with hardly any money) Associated Student Press, to help high school reporters learn the rules, skills and sheer joy of journalism.   I worked with her on a couple of their events, including a high school journalism convention, and it was so great; the kids loved it.   We did too.  I knew the depth of her affinity for teenagers because she had become a real friend and mentor, quite independent of us,  to our younger son.  It was a friendship he treasures to this day.  She and Henry came to his wedding.

Laurie Becklund died on February 8th of metastatic breast cancer.  She used every reporting skill she’d ever learned to locate experts, treatment and allies and I believe extended her life through her fierce determination.  In the past year, she applied that determination to advocacy for people with advanced disease and the need for “big data” tools to aggregate and parse new information and the effect of new treatments to help find trends and flaws in treatments, drugs and drug trials.  She also challenged researchers, in talks and in person  “We have the cells to help your research.  Use us.”  She called her campaign Use Us or Lose Us.

(I’m telling you about her post-newspaper years.  You can read about Laurie as an award-winning journalist here in this LATimes profile and other stories that will, I’m sure, keep coming.)

On the day she finally told me that her cancer had returned, Laurie sat in my car as we drove out of the driveway and said “Don’t put the sun visor down. I don’t want to waste any chances to look at the trees.” As I struggle to write this post, I think of that afternoon and her hunger for everything from a beautiful view to a cool new technology to visit to a new country to a personal story gleaned from a conversation.  She was full of courage and curiosity and loyalty; she was a gifted mother and wife and friend; she was — Laurie.

We are about to leave for Los Angeles for her memorial service.  I have been so haunted and sad; it’s very hard to write this.  I’m hoping to find some — some something — as we join what I know will be a crowd of people who Laurie, Henry and Elizabeth so generously included in their lives.  When I told one friend how sad I was, she wrote “I wish you comfort in your memories.”  Yes.

The traditional Jewish version is “May her memory be a blessing.”  That it certainly is.

The War on Science? Anti-Vaxxers Trump the Right

Vaccine chart lat
We’ve all been ranting about “The Republican War on Science: anti-climate change, anti-evolution, anti-God-knows-what-else: all those conservatives refusing to see what’s in front of them.

Well, my friend Erin Kotecki Vest, whose immune system is seriously compromised, posted on Facebook yesterday from a pharmacy where she’d gone to pick up a prescription.  Next to her was a man who had brought with him his son, who has whooping cough!  That’s kind of the equivalent of waving a gun at her.

Whooping cough (Pertussis) can usually be prevented through a DPT injection; although this kid’s vaccination status is unclear, the more people who  refuse to vaccinate their kids, the less safe the rest of us are.  This is not an observation, it’s an epidemiological fact.

Meanwhile, measles is haunting California, from Disneyland to affluent Marin County and other Northern California communities*.  And the folks fighting the science?  We have met the enemy and they are us:  Whole Food progressives who refuse to accept hard evidence that the “vaccines cause autism” research was a fraud.

Imagine how scary this is for those of us in California (which always leads the way for the rest of the country by the way, so don’t write this off as California crazy.) I have three grandsons under four; two of them are under 6 months old. They can’t have MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) immunizations under 12 months. So here we are: Daycare at the gym? Children’s concerts? Family restaurant dinners?  Story time at the library?  Would you go?

What I want to know is, if it’s wrong to deny the theory of man-made climate change and wrong to deny the theory of evolution – both of which have been repeatedly found to be true by researchers, why is OK to risk the lives of entire communities of kids when the decades of research have proven these vaccines to be safe and reliable?  What’s the difference?  And which side’s “war on science” is doing the most damage to us and our families — and threatening our children and grandchildren —  right now, today?

*The  chart above is from the Council on Foreign Relations via the LATimes.