A Night With Two Screen Legends!


My inspiration for this blog is the iconic actor Kirk Douglas who on December 9, 2016 kirkd-75turned 100 years old! As a teenager, my father took me to a theater production at the Marines Memorial Theatre in San Francisco starring two legendary screen actors, Kirk Douglas and Burt Lancaster. The play was a two-character comic drama titled “The Boys in Autumn.” It was meant as a pre-Broadway tryout.

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Douglas in title role of “Spartacus”

For those unfamiliar with these two legends, Douglas is No. 17 on the American Film Institutes list of the greatest male screen legends of classic Hollywood cinema. He is the highest-ranked living person on the list. Lancaster is No. 19. In the movies, Douglas was Spartacus, and Lancaster was the Birdman of Alcatraz! What an invitation my father had given me, a chance to see both these actors live and in person on a San Francisco stage!

Douglas has received three Academy Award nominations, an Oscar for Lifetime kirk_douglas_lust_for_lifeAchievement, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As an author, he has written ten novels and memoirs. He became an international star through his leading role as a boxing hero in Champion (1949) which brought him his first nomination for an Academy Award for Best Actor. He received a second Oscar nomination for his role in The Bad and the Beautiful (1952) opposite Lana Turner, and a third nomination for portraying Vincent Van Gogh in Lust for Life. (1956).

51pp43c1d1lThe other actor on stage that night was Burt Lancaster, nominated four times for Academy Awards including an Oscar and Golden Globe win for his work in Elmer Gantry (1960). Lancaster also won a BAFTA Award for The Birdman of Alcatraz (1962) and Atlantic City (1980) opposite Susan Sarandon. He played one of his best-remembered roles with Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953). The American Film Institute acknowledged the iconic status of the scene from that film in which Kerr and he make love on a Hawaiian beach amid the fromherecrashing waves. The organization named it one of “AFI’s top 100 Most Romantic Films” of all time.

Prior to this San Francisco appearance, neither actor had appeared on stage in over 10 years. Needless to say, it was an exciting evening, a sold-out theatre to see Kirk Douglas playing a senior Tom Sawyer and Burt Lancaster as Huckleberry Finn. The premise of the stage production was to see Mark Twain’s characters meet-up again for a reunion after 50 years apart.

When the two men took the stage, as you can imagine, there was huge applause – the audience was clearly excited to be in the presence of these two movie icons. The production itself, however, was not well-received and the two actors re-retired from the stage after the short San Francisco run ended. Still, I remember the distinct energy and voice of Douglas as he played his part, thinking “wow” the man who played Spartacus is right in front of me! Lancaster was much more low key in the production, even seemed a bit uncomfortable on stage – yet it was a joy to watch both of them act in person. It’s a night I still remember, a night where two screen actors of Hollywood’s Golden Age came to life.

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Legendary screen actors Burt Lancaster & Kirk Douglas at a San Francisco press conference.

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A Brush (or a few weeks) in London and Paris!


This is a rare post about a famous place (or two) instead of a famous person. It’s about my 1recent visit to the famed historic cities of London and Paris. For two weeks in September, 2014, after arriving via two flights from San Francisco, I explored these world-renowned cities by foot, tube/metro, bus, train, and on the water after cruises along London’s Thames and Paris’ Seine.

2Before I give my thoughts on the cities, here’s a list of some of the sites we (my girlfriend and I) visited. In London, after quickly spotting the iconic Big Ben and London Eye, we managed to tour the British Museum, Buckingham Palace (twice), Churchill War Rooms, Covent Garden, Harrods, Houses of Parliament, 10 Downing Street, Hyde Park, Kensington Gardens, Kensington Palace, Trafalgar Square, National Gallery, St. James Park, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and Windsor Castle.

We saw much more though thanks to the Oyster card we purchased. It’s a pay as you go3 smart card that comes pre-loaded with money allowing you to ride the London Underground (tube) as often as you like as long as you continue to add on and/or have purchased enough credit. London highlights were visiting Buckingham Palace’s State Rooms (open only in August and September while the Queen is on vacation), touring St. Paul’s Cathedral, walking through Kensington Gardens, having an ice cream cone in St. James Park, and riding the London Underground (tube) everywhere.

4Although we visited Kensington Palace, the Tower of London and Windsor Castle, nothing compared to the luxurious State Rooms at Buckingham Palace. The rooms are used for much of the year by the Queen and members of the Royal Family for official functions and events. Having toured the palace the first few days we were in town, we received an annual pass (free when you purchase tickets directly from the Royal Trust) and decided to end our trip a few weeks later touring this iconic England palace again.

Also, ironically enough, two of the most talked about tourist attractions in London are two 5of the best. Besides Buckingham Palace, we loved seeing the Crown Jewels at the Tower of London. The collective term Crown Jewels denotes the regalia and vestments worn by the sovereign of the United Kingdom during the coronation ceremony and at other state functions. We rode the moving escalator back and forth several times, viewing these spectacular jeweled crowns of past kings and queens.

6As for overall impressions of London, here’s one. Walking along the Thames River towards the Tower Bridge one morning, we found ourselves in a crowd of Londoners making their way to work. For the most part, they all were orderly, quiet, and briskly walking toward their respective place of work. In the fast-paced hurried city of London, there seems to be an organized social context unlike the other European city mentioned in this post. Speaking of that, here’s a list of some of the sites visited in “The City of Light” – Paris.

After arriving at Paris Gare du Nord train station via Eurostar, we eventually found the 7pre-arranged transportation company’s driver holding the sign with my name on it! As we exited the station and saw our first glimpse of the city in the afternoon sun, it immediately reminded me of a painting my parent’s had up on the wall during my childhood of a downtown Paris cafe surrounded by large buildings and narrow streets. It was surreal. I was in Paris! Sunday is not the best day/night to arrive in this tourist crowded city as it was bustling more so than it was mid-week.

8During our stay, we visited/toured the Eiffel Tower, Musee du Louvre, Notre Dame Cathedral, Arc de Triomphe, Place de la Concorde, Musee d’Orsay, Pont-Neuf bridge, Boulevard St. Germain, Moulin Rouge, Sacre Coeur, and made the obligatory train trip to the Palace of Versailles (and Marie Antoinette’s Hamlet) as well. Highlights were climbing the stairs to the top of Arc de Trioumphe, riding the elevator and experiencing the top level of the Eiffel Tower as well as sitting back and watching it light up at night, seeing the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, standing side-by-side with the Gargoyles atop Notre Dame Cathedral, and a night time cruise along the Seine River.

Also, key to our stay in Paris was the French bakery/café on the corner from our hotel, just9 two blocks from the Arc de Triomphe. Without it, I might have starved! However, fresh lasagna with salmon and spinach followed by the most delicious chocolate éclair made us return there more than once. Although the kind female employee spoke very few English words, after a day or two she knew exactly what I would order. More an adventure than a highlight was the Paris Metro. Soon after purchasing a Paris Trip Card at the Charles de Gaulle – Etoile station, I looked to my right to see a young man jump over the turnstile. No one was watching, and no one cared. That about sums up the Paris metro for me. We rode at least five different lines and used it quite a bit to get around the different zones of Paris.

10AOverall impressions of the “City of Lights” are that it is a crowded, chaotic city. It’s also a place with little to no visible security. The police presence seemed absent although you did see it at the major visitor attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe. My last night in Paris was spent on a night time cruise along the Seine River and also near the Eiffel Tower watching its light’s sparkle at the top of each hour. When we see England in the U.S. media, often we’re shown Buckingham Palace and the royal family. In Paris, you can’t ignore the marvelous Eiffel Tower. Visiting these iconic attractions were two of the most enjoyable and memorable parts of my European trip. Both final nights in each city were spent on water, cruising the Thames in London and Seine in Paris. Seeing these cities from so many different vantage points and seeing as much of them as I could, it fulfilled a dream, the dream to see two of the world’s most famous cities – London and Paris!

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Spending Time with the Legendary Lyricist Gerry Goffin


The recent success of “Beautiful – The Carole King Musical” inspired me to write about the1st times I spent talking with the legendary lyricist Gerry Goffin. In fact, we went to see one of the first “Batman” movies together back in 1989. For those of you unfamiliar with Goffin, he wrote seven Billboard Hot 100 chart-toppers, totaling 59 Top 40 hits.  It has been said that Goffin and his former songwriting partner and first wife Carole King were very inspirational to John Lennon and Paul McCartney in their formative songwriting years. McCartney has been quoted as saying that he wishes he could write as well as Goffin and King.

2nd gerry_goffin_jpg_4bac90376eTheir breakthrough hit was “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” recorded by the Shirelles. A few of their other number ones were “Take Good Care of My Baby” by Bobby Vee, “Go Away Little Girl” by Steve Lawrence (later a number one hit for Donny Osmond), and “The Loco-Motion” by Little Eva (later a number one hit for Grand Funk Railroad and a number three hit for Kylie Minogue).  Another huge hit of the duo’s was “Up on the Roof” recorded by The Drifters and covered by many including James Taylor in 1979 and Neil Diamond in 1993. They also wrote(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” That song, in addition to being recorded by King in 1971, has been covered by Laura Nyro (1971), Rod Stewart (1974), Bonnie Tyler (1978), Mary J. Blige (1995) and Celine Dion (1995).

Later top 10 hits composed by Goffin include “I’ve Got To Use My Imagination” by Gladys 3rd ClarksonKnight and The Pips, “Theme From Mahogany” by Diana Ross, “Saving All My Love For You” by Whitney Houston and “Miss You Like Crazy” by Natalie Cole. Goffin was also one of the first people in the music business to notice Kelly Clarkson whom he hired to do demo work before she auditioned and won American Idol.

By now, you might be asking how did I meet Gerry Goffin? It was in the late 1980s soon

4th - Felterafter I moved away from home into a large house in the Santa Clara County hills above the city of Milpitas. When I interviewed to rent a room, the landlord showed me a Sunset Magazine cover with the house featured on it! The view from my room there was spectacular. (See photo). It was through this same landlord, who lived upstairs, and his Armenian girlfriend Helen Minasian that I met Gerry Goffin. Helen’s daughter Ellen was married to him. The two of them, along with Goffin’s youngest daughter, came to the house to visit, rest, and relax at least a half dozen times while I lived there.

There were times during their visits where my roommates and I had opportunities to sit and visit with Gerry. We asked questions about his career and even talked about his 5th Gerry Goffinmental state. According to Carole King’s memoir, Gerry suffered from mental illness following ingestion of LSD, eventually undergoing treatment with lithium and electroshock therapy and was diagnosed with manic depression. During the period of time I knew him, it was clear he was on medication; nevertheless, he was honest and forthcoming when talking about it.  I asked him about the LSD which he admittedly knew had harmed him. He told me he studied chemistry at Queens College (while there he met and married Carole King). He said in a dry almost satirical tone that his study of chemistry along with the times came together and resulted in his LSD experimentation.

6thDespite the medication, Gerry was always lucid when we spoke about his career and his writing. He told me that writing lyrics as a career wasn’t considered a macho thing to do. It wasn’t manual labor, but simply writing down your thoughts and feelings. Still, it made him and King enough money to continue in music. We didn’t talk too much about the hit songs he wrote although he did say that Little Eva of “Loco-Motion” fame was his and King’s babysitter at one time.

One afternoon we must have been the only ones home as we ended up driving down the7th hill to go to a movie theatre to watch “Batman.” It was the first big screen movie of the cape crusader that since has had many sequels. Eventually, I moved out of the big house and found my own place. It wasn’t long after that, in 1990, that Gerry and King were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Following my move, I did visit my former landlord and roommates once or twice, but never saw Gerry Goffin again.

As I write this, Gerry is 75 and the dark hair he had when I knew him has all turned to gray. He recently was able to attend the Broadway 8thplay “Beautiful” – The Carole King Musical” where he met the star of the show Tony award-winning actress/singer Jessie Mueller. It’s ironic that when he first met King she agreed to help him write a play, and he was to help her write rock and roll songs. It’s nice to see the play finally arrive featuring many of the songs he wrote. If you’re reading this Gerry, take care and god bless. Your words – a lyricist’s words – touched us all.

 

 

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Shirley Jones, Shirley Temple, Gregory Peck, & Play by Play “King”


This post includes brief, but exciting “brushes” with the legendary Bay Area sports518haiBi8nL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_
announcer Bill King and iconic actors Shirley Temple Black, Shirley Jones, and Gregory Peck. Recently, I’ve read the outstanding biography of radio announcer Bill King, Ken Korach’s Holy Toledo – Lessons from Bill King: Renaissance Man of the Mic.”  King uniquely did professional sports play by play radio broadcasts for basketball, football, and baseball. Moreover, in his career, he was the voice of the San Francisco Giants, University of California football and basketball, Golden State Warriors, Oakland Raiders and Oakland A’s. His tenure with the A’s was the longest, lasting from 1981 – 2005. King is truly a radio legend and arguably the best play by play announcer of any sport in the history of U.S. radio broadcasting.

bill_kingI was fortunate to cross paths with King one night after a Golden State Warrior’s game. Those days, I was friends with the son of the producer of the Warrior’s radio broadcasts and went with him to several games. It was exciting arriving into the player’s parking lot, walking in the player’s entrance, and having great seats to watch the game. As I waited for my friend after a game one night, time passed and I couldn’t find him. I needed to ask someone associated with the radio broadcast if they knew where he was, so I found Bill King and politely asked if he had seen my friend. He knew his father and knew who my friend was. Not knowing me, this legendary broadcaster was polite, helpful, and couldn’t have been any nicer in assisting me. Wow! It was great to see first-hand that the man you grew up listening to the Bay Area’s most exciting sports moments was not arrogant in any way, but instead a down to earth, friendly helpful person.

Through the same friend, I also met the movie legend Shirley Temple (now Shirley Temple shirley-temple-young
Black).  Temple was a film and TV actress, singer, dancer, and former U.S. ambassador. She is No. 18 on the American Film Institute’s list of the greatest female American screen legends of all time. She was the top box office draw four years in a row. I knew who she was, having seen recent photos of her. It was during the time the Democratic National Convention was in San Francisco. My 1a66c314fdb57ba049773fad03aee3e9friend’s father’s company produced the radio broadcasts for the Commonwealth Club events, and he invited me to one of their luncheons where Coretta Scott King was the featured speaker.

As I arrived and tried to locate my friend, at one of the door’s I tried to enter, there standing in front of me was Shirley Temple Black! It was only a few minute conversation, but I was talking to the woman who as a child star was known around the world. I believe I asked her if she was in fact Shirley Temple. She smiled and said yes. She then assisted me in a very polite and friendly manner. Temple seemed like a sincere sweet person, like she portrayed on screen since childhood.

Finally, unbelievably, somehow I touched paths with movie icons Gregory Peck and Shirleyevent_246337342 (1)
Jones.  Both “brushes” happened at Mineta San Jose Int’l. Airport in what was at the time American Airlines Admiral’s Club. Often I would stop in at the Club before a flight saying hello to friends who worked there. Waiting for a flight one morning in the Gregory Peck colorclub, I suddenly saw a tall bearded man with glasses in a long coat slowly walk past me. I was speechless as I recognized him, the same man who appeared with Audrey Hepburn in one of the all-time classic films “Roman Holiday!” Peck starred in numerous classics like To Kill a Mockingbird and others. The American Film Institute has ranked him No. 12 among the Greatest Male Stars of All Time. Peck passed away in 2003, not long after I saw him.

Another time at Mineta San Jose Int’l. Airport at the same former American Airline’s PARTRIDGE-FAMILY-the-partridge-family-14666824-1834-2560Admiral’s Club, as I was leaving, the beautiful singer, actress, stage, film, and television star Shirley Jones walked in with her husband Marty Ingels. Having reached my early teen years glued to the TV watching the popular 1970s situation-comedy The Partridge Family, I immediately recognized Shirley Jones. Not only was she a TV star, but early in her career she starred in several great movie musicals, including Oklahoma, 1-the-partridge-family-shirley-jones-everettCarousel, and The Music Man. As she had just arrived into the club and was with her husband, I regretfully didn’t approach her. However, I literally was within feet of her for nearly five minutes as they checked into the club. Shirley Jones has since released a “tell all” book titled Shirley Jones – A Memoir. These brushes with legends are great memories I hope to never forget.

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Hiking Rim to River to Rim at the famed Grand Canyon!


This is the first “Brushed by Fame” blog that does not include a brush by an actual
Grand Canyon Top3famous person. Instead, it’s a brush with one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon. The Grand Canyon is 277 miles (446 km) long, up to 18 miles (29 km) wide and attains a depth of over a mile (6,000 feet or 1,800 meters).

On April 16, 2013 my co-worker and I hiked 16 miles from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back via the Bright Angel Trail. Most of the reports, park rangers, and on trail Grand Canyon Warning Sign -warning signs advise against attempting a “Rim to River and back” hike in one-day. I woke up that morning in Sedona, Arizona, a two hour drive or so from the Grand Canyon. Arriving at the Bright Angel trailhead around 8:30 a.m., it was cold atop the canyon. We wore beanies, gloves, and layered clothing as wind gusts blew. After a few photos, around 8:45 a.m., we headed quickly down the Bright Angel Trail.

Hiking down it was amazing to see the beautiful, natural wonder of the Grand Canyon. We passed a half dozen or so hikers who were hiking back up after spending the nightBright Angel Trail - view on way down at one of the campsites near the bottom. The weather, as it tends to do inside the canyon, changed and became warmer as we hiked down. Our plan was to hike 4.8 miles to the Indian Gardens trailhead before making a decision to hike to Plateau Point for a view of the river or continue another 3.2 miles down to the Colorado River. Although at my age I was a bit nervous about heading further down, my 22 years younger co-worker needed no convincing. I said if we’re going to do it, let’s get to the bottom ASAP as time is against us. Most reports I read stressed to give yourself two or three times more time going up than needed to hike down.

On the bottom portion below Indian Gardens, we ran into a few high-school or college aged girls who told us we were 1 ½ hours from the river. At that point, we were a bit Colorado River1discouraged. Regardless, in a half hour we had reached the river! They must have thought we meant how far to Phantom Ranch or maybe they were just slow hikers. Seeing the spectacularly beautiful Colorado River surrounded by the canyon walls was unbelievable. We were alone for a bit before four young men from the Czech Republic showed up. We had met them earlier on the way down the Devil’s Corkscrew part of the hike. The Czech’s were planning to hike back up also, but via a shorter steeper trail, the South Kaibab Trail (not advisable as it’s very steep, usually hikers go down South Kaibab and up Bright Angel).

After about 20 minutes of picture taking and fending off a squirrel going into one of our backpacks, I was anxious to begin the challenge of hiking back up. It was around Noon, leaving us with six or seven hours of uphill hiking before sunset. As we left, the young Czech’s were peeling off their clothes and jumping into the cold Colorado River Devils Corkscrew - lower  3+ miles of hikeobviously making the most of the experience. Soon, we were on the Devil’s Corkscrew, a steep winding uphill portion of the trail. I stopped for a break or two or three, but eventually made it up this treacherous beginning part of the hike up. After a few hours, we were back at Indian Gardens taking a lunch break. By now, we had hiked 11.2 miles and the steepest part up was still ahead of us. It was more than a challenge. It was a little scary having never hiked down so far before hiking up.

Plateau Point - back sideFrom Indian Gardens, my goal was to make it to the next suggested rest stop called the Three Mile Resthouse 1.7 miles away. Almost immediately, I took a break along the trail as for the first time I felt my inner left thigh begin to tighten and cramp. I knew failing to stop would result in further irritation, and I’d put myself at risk of not making it back up. After drinking some water and resting for five minutes or so, I felt better and moved ahead step-by-step. This pattern continued for hours as the leg cramps were not going away.

Less than 50 yards from the Three Mile Resthouse, I stopped for another break. It was disheartening to stop so close to the Resthouse, but with my leg still bothering me it was the sensible think to do. Once at this stop, a hiker from Colorado told us the nextBright Angel down into Canyon 1.5 mile portion up to the 1 ½ Mile Resthouse was the steepest part of the hike. I had already hiked 13 miles and developed leg cramps. Around this time, we began to see many of the day hikers who hike just a few miles down for a view of the canyon and to experience the trail. Many were very nice, especially those who stopped to offer me food or drink as they saw this weary hiker resting on the side of the trail. One man offered a “salt pill” as he said it would help with my leg cramps. I took it. Another couple said I could have anything I needed out of their pack. This encouragement definitely lifted my sprits.

It was at this point that we ran into to Ludwig and Gustav, two young men from Bright Angel Trail - Mile ResthouseSweden who had been in the U.S. for three months seeing the sites. After hiking down to Indian Gardens, the two Europeans were on their way back up. We saw Gustav moving quickly  up the trail, but Ludwig had two walking sticks and seemed to be taking rest breaks as often as I. My co-worker soon began hiking up the trail with Gustav and I hung back with Ludwig. With additional encouragement, more water and rest breaks, I finally made it to the 1 ½ mile Resthouse. My spirits continued to rise as we ran into a friendly family of four from Boston. I started feeling their energy and luckily the salt pill I took earlier might have kicked in as my cramping slowing started to go away. In fact, for the final portion of the hike, I passed Ludwig and soon caught up with my co-worker and Gustav.

Near the top, the wind gusts were strong and the weather became cold again. We casually walked amongst many tourists towards a popular Grand Canyon viewpoint behind Bright Angel Lodge. Maybe we were all too tired, but there were no high fives or screams of accomplishment. Instead, we just casually chatted and took a few more pictures before heading out. What a day at the famed Grand Canyon National Park!

David Sergio Colorado River

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In the Elevator!


When you stay in hotels as often as I have over the past 20 years, you find yourself taking a lot of elevator rides. I’ve been brushed by fame more than once inside this confined space. One of my most memorable rides happened in San Diego at what is now the Andaz San Diego. Once the door closed, I quickly realized the man standing next to me withlithgowlead a cap on his head was the actor John Lithgow. Lithgow, who received Academy Award nominations for Best Actor in a Supporting Role for The World According to Garp  and Terms of Endearment, was in San Diego performing on stage in the musical Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. In fact, he told me he was on his way to the theater to perform. Having watched him in the movies and television, I imagined him taller. But, most importantly, he was friendly and down-to-earth, a really nice guy.

A few years earlier, while waiting for an elevator at the same San Diego hotel, out walked California Governor (at the time) Pete Wilson. I’ve ridden in the same elevator with pg2_a_malone3_200several sports icons over the years as well. At the Hyatt Regency Sacramento, I found myself riding up with Utah Jazz (and later Los Angeles Laker) Hall of Famer Karl Malone. Nicknamed “The Mailman,” Malone was a two-time NBA Most Valuable Player and a 14-time NBA All-Star. Malone seemed quiet and kind of shy. I asked him a question just to make small talk, but that was it.

In contrast, as recently as last year as I rode the elevator down at a Ritz Carlton, the young Italian basketball superstar Danilo Gallanari of the New York Knicks and currently with Oklahoma City Thunder v Denver Nuggetsthe Denver Nuggets walked in. I mentioned to Gallanari about how my co-worker, an Italian, was a big fan and asked if I could take a photo with him. He did not forget. Once out of the elevator, the 6-10 giant stopped outside and waited for the photo. He seemed like a genuinely great guy.

beth-broderickI saw the beautiful actress Beth Broderick of Sabrina the Teenage Witch fame trip as she entered an elevator at New York’s JFK airport. Beth had a sense of humor about it though, later referring to herself in a Facebook message to me as a “graceful klutz.” I have to attest, she did trip gracefully! Also in New York, my ex girlfriend of seven years rode in an elevator with the King of Pop, Michael Jackson. She said Jackson seemed shy, but was courteous, polite, and very nice.

Finally, at the Millennium Biltmore Hotel in Los Angeles I was in the elevator alone when I got off at the top floor. Departing the elevator, directly opposite on the same floor, was the AMA'sactress Pamela Anderson and Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee. As the famed couple exited and walked directly in front of me, they turned left as I turned right on the way to my room. I saw Ms. Anderson two more times though, once in the lobby with members of Motley Crue as they waited to attend the American Music Awards and again the next day as she left the hotel. Keep your eyes open next time you walk into or out of an elevator. You never know who you may see!

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Youngest Guard on Alcatraz!


Spending my career in the travel and tourism industry, I’ve been fortunate to be touched Frank1by fame by many interesting people. In one instance, I was lucky to become friends with a great man who I continue to respect and admire. His name is Frank Heaney. At 21, he worked on “The Rock” as a prison guard. That made him the youngest correctional officer in Alcatraz history.

Before I discuss a few of my adventures with Frank, it’s important Frank2to know a bit about his background. From 1944-46, he served in the U.S. Coast Guard in World War II and from 1950-52 he served in the U.S. Navy on active duty during the Korean War. It was in between the Coast Guard and the Navy from 1948 – 1951 that Frank worked on the infamous island prison known as Alcatraz.

After returning from the war, Frank began a career as an Albany, California firefighter. HeFrank3 fought fires for 27 years before retiring in 1980. After retirement, Frank once again became associated with Alcatraz as a park ranger. It was that job that launched him into a new post retirement career as a spokesperson for Red & White Fleet (and later with Blue and Gold Fleet) which at the time ran ships to and from Alcatraz. It was during this time that I first met Frank Heaney.

"Alcatraz" Premiere Party and Screening on Alcatraz Island on January 11, 2012As a young guy just starting out in the travel and tourism business, it was welcoming to be around Frank. He has the warmest, friendliest personality of anyone I’ve ever met and a great sense of humor. Frank always likes to joke around and more often than not has a big smile on his face. I was fortunate to spend some time over the years talking to him about his stint on “The Rock.” It was fascinating to hear him share his first-hand stories about some of Alcatraz’ more infamous prisoners. For example, Frank told me stories about meeting George “Machine Gun” Kelly, Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, and Robert “Birdman” Stroud. It was Frank who told me that the “Birdman of AlcatrazRobert Stroud actually did not have birds in his prison cell as depicted in the Hollywood movie starring Burt Lancaster.

One afternoon on a trip to Alcatraz with a group of travel professionals, I received a mini Frank5personal tour of the island by its youngest guard ever, Frank! As we walked past the old hospital, Frank pointed out where he worked and talked about life on “The Rock.” He showed me the location of his sleeping quarters as well. My most vivid memory though is when I asked the former guard to make believe putting the cuffs on me as he would a prisoner. In fact, there is a picture of us in the Alcatraz prison yard where Frank is showing me how it’s done.

Frank6Today, Frank is 85 years old and still returns to Alcatraz from time to time to greet incoming boats and speak and/or autograph his book “Inside the Walls of Alcatraz.” All of us in the travel and tourism industry who became friends with Frank miss him dearly. Our thoughts are always with you Frank. God bless and keep smiling.

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