EXTRA! EXTRA! Wishing Johnny Mathis A Happy 75TH Birthday: Connections (#28)

Borders on the night of Johnny Mathis’ CD signing event

I made it a point to go to Borders Book Store in West Los Angeles last week. I had read in the L.A. Times that Johnny Mathis would be there to sign his new DVD, so I thought I might be able to do a little catching up.  Fifty years to be exact.  Having just turned twenty and under the legal age to drink alcohol in New Jersey, I was the house Stage Manager at the Latin Casino Theatre Restaurant in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  It was a gigantic venue, perhaps the largest nightclub on the Eastern seaboard.

Johnny Mathis performed there  at the height of his career.  “That magical voice singing “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “The twelfth of Never,” “Wonderful, Wonderful,” with a large orchestra under the musical direction of Allyn Ferguson, still echos in my ears.  Over the course of his career, Ferguson also served as musical director for Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme and Julie Andrews.  Sadly he passed away on June 23rd of this year.

Mathis began performing at the Blackhawk nightclub in San Francisco in 1955 with a sextet led by Virgil Gonsalves, a local baritone saxophone player.  The co-owners of the club, John & Helen Noga, were so excited about this talented your black man that they became his managers and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, back at Borders a crowd of about three hundred people were in line waiting to meet Johnny Mathis.

 

 

 

Fans wait to meet Johnny Mathis

I decided to wait until after the DVD signing to introduce myself to him.  By then, Johnny was tired from signing autographs, posing for pictures and glad handing his fans.  I told him we worked to get at the Latin Casino fifty years ago,  he seemed to remember, a glimmer of recognition as he shook my hand and smiled, then he was whisked away by his handlers.  I’m glad I went to Borders last week, because another fifty years is just too long to wait to see him again.

Johhy seated at table at Borders

Johnny Mathis signing his new Western Music CD

Happy birthday Johnny!

EXTRA! EXTRA! Wishing Johnny Mathis A Happy 75TH Birthday: Connections (#28)

Borders on the night of Johnny Mathis' CD signing event

I made it a point to go to Borders Book Store in West Los Angeles last week. I had read in the L.A. Times that Johnny Mathis would be there to sign his new DVD, so I thought I might be able to do a little catching up.  Fifty years to be exact.  Having just turned twenty and under the legal age to drink alcohol in New Jersey, I was the house Stage Manager at the Latin Casino Theatre Restaurant in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.  It was a gigantic venue, perhaps the largest nightclub on the Eastern seaboard.

Johnny Mathis performed there  at the height of his career.  “That magical voice singing “Chances Are,” “Misty,” “The twelfth of Never,” “Wonderful, Wonderful,” with a large orchestra under the musical direction of Allyn Ferguson, still echos in my ears.  Over the course of his career, Ferguson also served as musical director for Steve Lawrence & Eydie Gorme and Julie Andrews.  Sadly he passed away on June 23rd of this year.

Mathis began performing at the Blackhawk nightclub in San Francisco in 1955 with a sextet led by Virgil Gonsalves, a local baritone saxophone player.  The co-owners of the club, John & Helen Noga, were so excited about this talented your black man that they became his managers and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, back at Borders a crowd of about three hundred people were in line waiting to meet Johnny Mathis.

Fans wait to meet Johnny Mathis

I decided to wait until after the DVD signing to introduce myself to him.  By then, Johnny was tired from signing autographs, posing for pictures and glad handing his fans.  I told him we worked to get at the Latin Casino fifty years ago,  he seemed to remember, a glimmer of recognition as he shook my hand and smiled, then he was whisked away by his handlers.  I’m glad I went to Borders last week, because another fifty years is just too long to wait to see him again.

Johhy seated at table at Borders

Johnny Mathis signing his new Western Music CD

Happy birthday Johnny!

EXTRA! EXTRA! EXTRAS: Hollywood’s Wrath: Connections (#27)

Jeff and Susan Markowitz at Nicholas Markowitz's grave site in West Hills, CA

Ten years after her son was murdered in the hills outside Santa Barbara in a plot schemed up by a reputed drug dealer looking to settle a debt involving her stepson, Susan Markowitz has written a book about the life and death of the boy she called Nick.

“My Stolen Son: The Nick Markowitz Story” (Berkley, $7.99) recounts Mrs. Markowitz’s journey from joyful mother-of-one to a woman who on at least 16 occasions in the last six years attempted suicide to escape the despair brought on by the loss of her 15-year-old to a world fueled by drugs.

Nicholas Markowitz

“Nick was my purpose. He was the reason I did what I did every morning,” Mrs. Markowitz, 51, told the News-Press by phone from her home in Santa Clarita. “When he was gone, I found that I was completely lost.”

On Tuesday, Mrs. Markowitz will sign copies of the book, which is secondarily billed as “The True Story Behind the Movie ‘Alpha Dog,’ ” at 7 p.m. at Borders, 900 State St.

A makeshift headstone carved into a large rock by Nicholas Markowitz's father marks the location where the teen was killed on West Camino Cileo

Nicholas was shot dead at a place called Lizard’s Mouth, off West Camino Cielo, on Aug. 9, 2000. Hikers found his bullet-riddled body in a shallow grave several days later.

The mastermind of the crime, Jesse James Hollywood, was sentenced to life without parole. The trigger man, Ryan Hoyt, who turned 21 the day after killing the boy, is on death row at San Quentin. Two others involved in the kidnapping and murder served time and are now free.

The events gave rise to a book called “Stolen Boy” — the nickname Nicholas earned from some of the people he encountered during the final days of his life — and later the movie “Alpha Dog.”

Mrs. Markowitz said her story was 10 years in the making — and it won’t be over in just one book.

“It’s basically my journey.”

So, why write it now?

“It just feels right.”

Prior to her son’s murder, Jesse James Hollywood, 20 at the time, was an unknown to Susan Markowitz. Nor had she ever met the 17-year-old Goleta resident who dug her son’s grave, Graham Pressley.

In Oct. 2002, Mr. Pressley was convicted of second-degree murder. He was held in a California Youth Authority facility until 2007, when he turned 25, and has since been released.

The two others associated with Nicholas’ kidnapping and murder came into his life in casual ways.

William Skidmore, 20 at the time, was the son of a woman who cleaned house for a friend of Mrs. Markowitz. He was charged with kidnapping and robbery. As part of a 2002 plea deal, he was sentenced to nine years in state prison. Mr. Skidmore was released last year.

Jesse Rugge, 20 at the time, and now serving life with the possibility of parole for aiding in the kidnapping and execution of Nicholas, “wrestled around under a Christmas tree (with Nicholas) at Hannukah one year when he was about 13 or 14,” recalled Mrs. Markowitz.

“He was Nick’s best friend’s brother’s friend. That’s how Nick kind of knew him and that’s where Nick was given a sense of false security.”

“He, in my opinion, is why Nick is dead,” Mrs. Markowitz added. “He led him to his grave. Nick never felt that somebody who knows you is going to do something so awful.”

Mr. Rugge’s last parole bid, in 2006, was denied.

Nicholas’ murder grew out of an attempt by Mr. Hollywood to collect a $1,200 drug debt from Ben Markowitz, Nicholas’ older stepbrother.

On Aug. 6, 2000, Nicholas was kidnapped in a ransom attempt. Over the next few days until his killing, he was held in various locations on the South Coast and plied with alcohol, drugs and girls. It’s during this time that people started calling him the stolen boy.

No one tried to save him, and by all accounts, more than 30 people could have done something, a fact that still angers Mrs. Markowitz.

A parent must take some responsibility for the way his or her kids turn out, and Susan Markowitz is no different.

“There’s a time when Ben, my stepson, had been getting into some really deep trouble, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘I’ve gotta get (Nick) out of this.’ But I didn’t want to put him in the same situation that Ben and Leah (Ben’s sister) were in, and that was a divorced household,” she said.

“I loved my husband and I still love him 26 years later, but there isn’t anything you could do worse to a child than to break up the unit, and I didn’t want to put him through the same situation.”

Ben ultimately got some help and Mrs. Markowitz hoped it would rub off on Nicholas.

“But around that time there was a gut instinct that I should have done something, or gotten out,” she added. “Then again, who knows what trouble Nick would have gotten into because he would have been rebellious because he was in a divorced household.”

As the cases against the various participants worked their way through court, along came Nick Cassavetes, the man behind what ultimately became the 2006 movie “Alpha Dog.” It stars Emile Hirsch as the character based on Mr. Hollywood and  Anton Yelchin as the boy who forgets he’s been kidnapped.

Mrs. Markowitz finds it a bit too “Hollywoodized” — as in the place, not the man — but says she found in it messages for parents and teens.

Others apparently are similarly moved.

“I receive letters from all over the world from people who say that after they saw that movie, and then found out it was real, they have changed the direction they were going,” she said.

In 2009, the man whose grudge gave way to Nicholas’ killing, was found guilty of kidnapping and first-degree murder with special circumstances that could have resulted in the death penalty.

Instead, he will never again walk free.

“I was very relived that the jury was able to convict Jesse James Hollywood without parole,” said Mrs. Markowitz. “Going to an extra parole hearing every two to three years would be very stressful.”

Asked what she’d say if she were to sit across from him now, Mrs. Markowitz took a deep, thoughtful breath.

“He was almost like a robot during the trial. He was trained for so many years prior to the actual trial what to say, so I don’t know that I could believe anything he was saying.”

From 2000 to 2005, Mr. Hollywood was on the lam, ultimately being captured in Brazil.

“That day was the biggest relief for me,” Mrs. Markowitz said. “I drove around in a red Navigator with those magnetic billboard signs, ‘$50,000 reward,’ ‘$20,000 reward,’ whatever it was at the time. But when he was captured, I didn’t have to pass out fliers anymore, I didn’t have to look in my rear-view mirror at a fast-food restaurant and think, ‘Is that him?’ “

“All of a sudden I just collapsed, I just started crying at the actual realization.”

With the death of her son weighing on her — it still does — Mrs. Markowitz flirted with suicide.

“He was my life. I lived for him,” she said. “All I ever wanted was a baby. There are some women that just have to have a baby, and some that just don’t have that feeling.

“I didn’t feel complete without one. I was so depressed before having one.”

Her husband, Jeff Markowitz, has been a rock during the worst times, not to mention the numerous hospitalizations, she added.

“I couldn’t do this without him.”

Writing the book, with help from Jenna Glatzer, has also helped.

“It made me feel like it was going to help me make it to the next day. It kind of gave me hope.”

When people ask, “Why not just move on with your life,” she added, “I say, ‘Well, I am moving on. I’m happy to be here.’ What makes me feel happy is feeling like I’m doing something out of something so yucky, something so tragic.”

“He was a good kid,” said Mrs. Markowitz. “He deserves to be honored properly.”

This isn’t about money.

“It’s about getting the story out there, and that’s why the book is in the form that it is, mass paperback, $7.99, as cheap as you can get,” she said.

“I want the story to never die. This can’t happen again. People have to step up and listen to that gift of fear.”

While writing keeps her in touch with the memory of her son, Mrs. Markowitz admits there are times when it seems like he’s there with her — and in a most unusual form.

“On the day we found out that Nick was murdered, a praying mantis came,” she recalled. “It stayed with us the whole week until the day we buried him and it died that day. Now every year, without fail, on the anniversary of his death or around his birthday, a praying mantis comes, and not to just me (but) family throughout the states.”

Loss being such a personal journey, everyone chooses his or her own way to deal with it, to make it livable. For Susan Markowitz, it’s seeing in a praying mantis something more.

“I choose to believe that bug is him,” she said. “I used to, like, cry, but now it’s, like, ‘Hi, Nick. There you are.’ “

“It’s silly. I never saw a praying mantis, except for one time, when Nick was about 7 years old, in the backyard with him,” she added. “So, for a praying mantis to be in my life several times a year since he died, just makes me believe.”

“The more I believe, the more I see.” Copyright © 2010 Santa Barbara News-Press

This article in the Santa Barbara News-Press had a profound effect on me, and caused me to reprint the above story published on Friday, September 10, 2010.

In a previous Blog EXTRA! EXTRA! Hollywood Given life: Connections (#4) I spoke a little bit about my involvement with the motion picture “Alpha Dog,” directed by Nick Cassavetes.

EXTRA! EXTRA! PASSINGS: Cammie King Conlon, 1934 – 2010 Actor played daughter in ‘Gone With the Wind’: Connections (#26)

 

Cammie King Conlon with Clark Gable in "Gone With the Wind"

Cammie King Conlon, who jokingly lamented that she was famous for an experience she barely remembered, portraying Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler’s ill-fated young daughter in the film “Gone With the Wind,” has died. She was 76. Conlon, whose brief movie-acting career included voicing the fawn Faline in “Bambi,” died Wednesday of cancer at her home in Ft. Bragg, Calif., said Bruce Lewis, a friend. At 4, she was cast as Bonnie Blue Butler for her resemblance to her film-screen parents — Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable — but her memories of making the  epic 1939 Civil War saga were vague, more like “snapshots,” she often said.

Cammie King Conlon in "Gone With the Wind"

‘She had adored the black Shetland pony that she rode and recalled how perplexed she was when she spotted what looked like a little girl, dressed exactly as she was, smoking a cigarette on the set. The actor was an adult male, a little person who was her stunt double when Bonnie Blue falls from her pony, which causes her death and a pivotal plot point — Rhett’s profound depression.  In the death scene that followed, she couldn’t keep her eyelids from fluttering and wore a death mask when Gable picked her up. She was so frightened when the mask was being made, her tears left visible imprints on it, Conlon later said.  She also recalled how director Victor Fleming had lectured her to remember her lines.  He said, “Cammie, I have a daughter your age and all these men here have families, too, that depend on them to work here.  They need to feed those children.  But if you don’t say your lines, they can’t work,” she told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat in 1998. Conlon — billed as Cammie King in the movie — said she never flubbed another line. She fondly referred to Gable as a “father figure” who looked out for her. “If they were doing a lot of takes of a certain scene, he would say, ‘Come on, fellows. Let’s wrap it up — the baby is tired,’ ” she told the Orlando Sentinel in 2003.

As an adult, she appeared regularly with other actors from “Gone With the Wind” at retrospectives and events honoring the movie.  In a blog promoting her memoir “Bonnie Blue Butler,” Conlon said she was one of 10 surviving cast members. “Whenever she could, she used her fame to raise money for causes,” Lewis said.  “She did it in a very light way. She wasn’t full of herself at all.

She was born Eleanore Cammack King on Aug. 5, 1934, in Los Angeles. Her parents divorced around the time “Gone With the Wind” came out. Her mother, Eleanore, was a columnist for the Los Angeles Examiner and in the late 1940s married Herbert Kalmus, a scientist who founded the Technicolor Corp. Conlon graduated from USC with a bachelor’s degree in communications in 1956 and went to work as a production assistant on “Climax!” a CBS-TV anthology series.

Her first husband, with whom she had two children, died of cancer. She later remarried but divorced in 1976.  In 1980, Conlon moved to Northern California and had a long public-relations career that included working for the Mendocino Coast Chamber of Commerce.   After “Gone With the Wind,” she had one more role, voicing Faline, who frolics with the title character in another classic, the 1942 Disney film “Bambi.” “All I really remember is crawling around on the floor of…a sound booth. And probably that was to get me to giggle, because that’s what I mostly do” as the character, Conlon said in 2005 on National Public Radio.  Cast in another film in the early 1940s, Conlon came down with chicken pox the day shooting was to begin. “That was the end of my show biz career,” she told The Times in 1967, but she later said her mother had wanted her to have a “normal” childhood. Of her part in one of the greatest films of all time, Conlon liked to say: “I peaked at age 5.”

She is survived by her two children, Matthew Ned Conlon of Chicago and Katie Conlon Byrne of Hawaii, and three grandchildren.

A service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 22 at St. Brendan Church, 310 S. Van Ness Ave., Los Angeles.’ Copyright © 2010 Los Angeles Times

The story jogged my memory because I worked in the early 60’s at Rick Spalla Video Productions, on the Samuel Goldwyn Studios lot, with a gal who said she fell from the horse in “Gone with the Wind.” But she said her name was Cammie Pollack.  I searched a zillion websites and found nothing referring to Cammie Pollack.  But, then, there it was — an obscure website told the story.

‘Cammie King Colon is survived by one son, one daughter and three grandchildren. Her first husband, Ned Pollack died in 1965 and her second marriage to Mr.Conlon ended in a divorce in 1976. She worked for the Mendocino Chamber of Commerce and also started its film commission. Last year she published her book ‘Bonnie Blue Butler: A Gone With The Wind Memoir’.’  Copyright © 2010, Thaindian News