Sunday, February 28, 2010

Superman: flash in the pan

Passing through Metropolis, Ill., a small town with a big name on the Illinois-Kentucky border on our way south this winter for our annual six-week sojourn in Florida, my wife took this picture at a filling station/tourist trap devoted to the Superman saga. We're close enough to Alabama that we were wishing we had our banjo on our knees, but it's been a troublesome period weather-wise. "It rained all night the day we left, the weather it was dry, the sun so hot we FROZE TO DEATH..." Well, you know. Once again, "Superman turned out to be flash in the pan." Back to Duluth in a couple of weeks.

Monday, February 22, 2010

A walk on the beach...

By Jim Heffernan

The surf was up and the clouds were low as I walked briskly down the Gulf beach on a windy afternoon. Hardly anybody in sight – just a fellow diehard or two to see the “flung spray, the blown spume and the seagulls calling.” *

A lonely walk like that, on a day like that, in a place like that, can set your mind adrift like a small boat loose from its moorings and tossed about by the angry waters. I might have been on the Gulf of Mexico, but an ocean, a sea and a gulf all look and act the same when viewed from the beach.

So on I trudged, into a lonely remote stretch, -- my mind in wide-ranging mode, tapping into the brain’s imagination corridors -- when up ahead – could it be? – a group of young people surfing, playing volleyball, dancing around in the sand.

Hold it, it’s Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon and their crew of surfers playing beach blanket bingo. “Annette,” I said. “I remember you when you when you were a Disney Mouseketeer.”

“Long time ago,” smiled the lissome brunette who had learned how to stuff a wild bikini since her Disney days. She tossed a beach ball to Frankie, who threw it to me.

“Boy, what’s happened to you, man?” I said to the kinky haired teen idol. “We haven’t heard from you in a coon’s age.” Frankie just laughed it off. “I’ve been busy,” he said.

Busy getting old, just like the rest of us, I was thinking as I continued on down the beach, past some dunes nearly touching the water’s edge at low tide. Atop one dune I looked down and spotted a man and woman in swimming suits in mad embrace at the water’s edge, the surf crashing in behind them.

“Burt…Burt Lancaster, and you, Deborah Kerr,” I said. “Pretty steamy for 1953, don’t you think?”

“Don’t worry, Jim boy (somehow he knew my name),” Burt smiled, “this romance ain’t going anywhere from here, unless it’s to eternity.” Deborah, demure in a one-piece black suit, said nothing. She just glanced down at the sand and the swirling waters at her bare feet.

I high-tailed it out of there, not wanting to interrupt anything so intimate, and continued on, the surf still high, waves crashing.

I glanced out over the water to get my bearings and to my astonishment an armada of Navy ships loomed on the horizon. Soon gunshots zoomed over my head and hundreds of landing craft headed shoreward, the occupants debarking before hitting the beach and wading ashore, dodging bullets.

“Hanks? Tom Hanks? It can’t be you.”

“It’s me all right,” the affable actor in full battle gear and carrying a carbine, huffed as he crouched behind a barrier.

“What the heck are you doing here on the Normandy beach?” I exclaimed. “This is dangerous.”

“Here to save a Private Ryan,” he grunted.

I shook my head and got out of there as quickly as I could.

Things were more peaceful as I trekked on, and with the wind subsiding I suddenly could hear a woman singing – beautiful voice singing something about a new day. Up ahead a man was standing by the water’s edge, a terrycloth robe protecting him from the slight chill brought on by evening.

“Hi,” I greeted him. “Pretty singing.”

“Yes, lovely,” said the slender middle-aged man with a slight British accent. “Loveliest thing I’ve ever heard. She’s a born star.”

“You’re James Mason, aren’t you,” I said. “And that’s Judy Garland singing up in the beach house, right?”

“Yes, that’s right,” said James. “And now I’d like to be alone, if you don’t mind.”

“Not at all,” I said, moving on, haunted by the encounter. But just a few yards down the beach, I glanced back. James was no longer there and the surf had engulfed a white object in the water. It was his terrycloth robe.

Bummer, I thought. How could he leave Judy that way.

I was beginning to get weary and thinking about turning back toward home when once again I heard the sound of gunfire, roaring cannons on the decks of battleships that suddenly had appeared off shore. And just like at Normandy, landing craft were unloading their cargoes of Marines, rifles in hand, hitting the beach.

“Follow me, men,” a tall, husky sergeant yelled to his squad as they scampered up the beach, dodging bullets. I ran after them to the edge of the beach where foliage protected us.

“Where are we?” I gasped to the sergeant.
“These are the sands of Iwo Jima, son,” said the sergeant, who bore an amazing resemblance to John Wayne. Hold it, it WAS John Wayne.

“Mr. Wayne,” I said, “just let me say I have the greatest respect for you, but I want to warn you, don’t go up there on Mount Suribachi.” We were huddled in a sand bunker created by a heavy shell.

“Gotta take that hill, pilgrim,” Wayne smiled as he signaled his men to keep climbing.

I wasn’t there when the Marines raised the flag on Suribachi, but John Wayne was, until right at that moment he took a sniper’s bullet to the heart.

The beach stretched on, untold stories unfolding on its shifting, drifting sands, as some old song put it. But I headed home, muttering to myself, “this beach is lovely, wide and steep, but I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep. And miles to go before I sleep.” **

* John Masefield
** Robert Frost

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Duluth Olympic connections...

I don't know about you, but I've been caught up by the Winter Olympics held in Vancouver this week. The excitement of all that hard work by the Olympians, their fulfilled goals as well as personal trials come together to give the viewer a fine look at individuals as well as their sports. We have Duluth connections at this year's Winter Olympics as well and that adds to the hype.
"The Olympics is pretty special... I think there are a lot of people who could make it here, but the ones who do make it here are the ones that are willing to do what no one else will do." Jenny Potter, former UMD women's hockey standout and a four-time US Olympian on the US team, as quoted in a story in today's NY Times. The Times story gives a personal look at what it's like for Potter to be a mom and an Olympian. The link to the full story is HERE.
"The Neighborhood Curling Team," written by John Branch in today's NY Times is another interesting read about our local curlers representing the US in the Olympics. John Shuster, Jason Smith and Jeff Isaacson grew up together on the Iron Range and were boyhood friends. They later lived together in a Duluth apartment and curled at the Duluth Curling Club. Branch gives a nice profile of boyhood friends who live, eat and curl together.

Duluth's Chad Salmela is one of the NBC biathlon commentators at this year's winter Olympics. There may be other area connections to the Olympics that I've missed. Please feel free to add to the list.'s the US facing Canada in tonight's Olympic hockey match. I know of some Canadians and US folks vacationing here on the gulf shores who will be watching that game together. Should be more Olympic fun.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Duluth's boundaries defined at last...

I wanted to call your attention to my letter to the editor in today's Duluth News Tribune. (Click HERE to read the letter.) A woman reader wrote in to finally define once and for all the true boundaries for Duluth's "West End" (Lincoln Park is today's teminology) and "West Duluth." So many newcomers to Duluth mistakenly mix up the two geographical areas... and also misname our main downtown streets.

Monday, February 15, 2010

'Twas the day before Valentine's Day....

By Jim Heffernan

With the warmth of Valentine’s Day still on our backs – if not our hearts – here’s a scene from the day before – Saturday, Feb. 13.

Our scene takes place in a large chain drugstore in Florida, the greeting card section, the area in that section marked off in red: valentines. The cast consists of one woman, likely in her late 20s; two uniformed deputy sheriffs, armed to the teeth with service pistols and taser guns, and two ordinary blokes, one of whom was me.

We all jockey for position before the vast array of valentine sentiments ranging from the sweet and simple to the elaborate over-the-top expressions bordered in faux lace, and everything in between, including the vulgar.

The young woman broke the silence, addressing, I thought, me, in particular.

“My father sent me here to get a valentine for his wife, and I don’t know what he should say,” she blurted out. Her father’s wife, it was clear, was not the woman’s mother.

“The funny valentines are over there,” I said, pointing to the south end of the display.

We both giggled, melting the reserve of one of the deputy sheriffs, a stocky man (you could even say portly) whose pistol belt could have been in the 50 inches range.

I spoke to him first. “Kinda close to the deadline, ain’t we?”

The husky lawman smiled and agreed, as he examined a teddy bear-valentine-candy combination handily placed next to the simple and elaborate cards. We all continued to jockey for position, the quieter, slimmer deputy never breaking a smile, and the other ordinary bloke not joining in at all.

Finally, the corpulent deputy chose the combo (not taking any chances) and wandered over to the magazine section to browse while his partner continued to peruse the valentine selection, brow furrowed, mouth unburdened with anything approaching a smile. He could have been confronting a wrong-doer.

Shortly (but quite fatly) the larger lawman returned with a periodical devoted to women’s weight problems, its cover displaying a svelte model that any woman could resemble if only she’d read this magazine.

“Maybe I should give her this,” the deputy laughed, showing us the cover.

All but the other ordinary bloke giggled, imagining the reaction of the deputy’s spouse – or possibly main squeeze -- to receiving a diet magazine as a valentine.

In the end, the woman in search of a valentine for her father’s wife, each deputy and I found a valentine, but as I walked toward the checkout counter, the other civilian was still staring at the array of valentines before him, moving from silly to syrupy without a decision. I know how he felt.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

NorShor Theatre remembered...

The NorShor Theatre picture (above) is one of the pictures given to me in the 70's by George Brown, then manager of the theatre. This picture and others in my collection have been widely circulated. Note the marquis for the first movie shown in the theatre after the remodeling of the Orpheum (original entry and facade on the avenue) was transformed into the NorShor: Hold Back the Dawn with Charles Boyer and Paulette Goddard. 

Paul Lundgren contributed a short history of Duluth's NorShor Theatre in the Perfect Duluth Day blog. The Orpheum building (former Orpheum Theatre) that houses the NorShor turns 100 this year and that inspired Paul to write about it. Check out the PDD site HERE for more from Paul about that history.

Tony Dierckins, local publisher and historian, commented on PDD about the vintage pictures of the NorShor I shared with him and also with Laura Ness who compiled a NorShor history piece for the Zeppa Foundation a few years ago. Tony hopes to publish some of those pictures on his web site soon so stay tuned at his site,, to see those pictures.

Here are my comments on PDD reflecting more on the old NorShor...
Yes, Tony D. has my cache of interior and exterior pictures taken at the time of the grand reopening when the Orpheum became the NorShor; also interior and exterior shots of the Orpheum before it was remodeled. The photos were given to me by the late George Brown, long-time NorShor manager at the time of his retirement in the 1970s. A couple of the shots are of the premiere at the Norshor in the late 1940s of a movie set in old Duluth called “Woman of the North Country.” Filmed in Hollywood with matte-drawing backdrops of old wooden ore docks, It starred Rod Cameron and Ruth Hussey, and the photo shows Cameron alighting from the airplane in Duluth, not Charles Boyer or either Paulette Goddard or Olivia DeHavilland. They didn’t come to Duluth for the opening of the Norshor, but Boyer and Goddard were stars of the first movie shown in the newly remodeled theater, “Hold Back the Dawn.” Tony D. might want to correct that. One star of the Boyer, Goddard, DeHavilland magnitude did appear in person at the Norshor: Ingrid Bergman. She came here to sell war bonds during WW II and gave a sales pitch from the NorShor stage before motoring to the Riverside shipyards to speak to workers. As Paul Lundgren points out, it’s all in those old Duluth News Tribunes on microfilm at the library. Also Duluth Herald. Remember that?”

Here's an anecdote going back to the building's Orpheum days (1911-1940): I once came across a Duluth newspaper review of a popular stage play of the early 1930s, "The Barretts of Wimpole Street," playing at the Orpheum, that listed Orson Welles among cast members in the role of a juvenile. Welles was born in 1915 (thank you Google), so he must have been 16 or 17 when he toured with the play, including its stop in Duluth.

Note: In my book, Cooler Near the Lake, I include a column about the NorShor–a memory piece about what it was like to see a movie at that theatre in its heyday.

winter in Duluth....

Our son sent us a picture of our home just now. We've been vacationing in the Gulf for about a week in our longish winter vacation and it was a stark reminder that winter exists. It's been chilly here in the panhandle of Florida/Gulf Shores of AL... but I guess we don't have snow! Sorry to see Janna's Market and some other business down here no longer in business. Change happens. More from vacationland another time. Until then, stay warm everyone!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Everything from soup to nuts...

By Jim Heffernan
Many people ask me exactly what I did in my former storied career as a distinguished journalist. “What exactly did you do in your former storied career as a distinguished journalist?” they ask.

I tell them I wrote editorials – the opinion pieces newspapers publish so that the waiting public will know what to think about stuff – for many years.

“What did you write editorials on?” is a frequent follow-up question.

I tell them on everything from soup to nuts.

To further elucidate this matter, I offer here a couple of examples.

There is entirely too much soup consumed in American society, and also in France. Some people eat soup -- or drink it, if you will (slurp it is most accurate) -- each and every day for lunch. This induces grogginess and lassitude when they go back to work.

Two kinds of soups – cream-based and water-based – predominate in restaurants, many of which offer a “soup du jour,” which, contrary to the beliefs of many innocent diners, does not mean soup in a jar. It is French for “soup of the day,” to say nothing of the night. What the French do at night is their business and not a matter of our concern.

One of the more popular soups is called “French Onion.” This is a water-based soup filled with onion chunks and covered over with cheese. It is almost impossible to eat -- or drink, if you will -- French Onion soup and retain decorum. Frequently the cheese must be cut with a knife, causing fellow diners and companions to wonder about you. Peas should be eaten with a knife, never soup.

Another problem with soup is that most diners forget that the proper way to eat it -- or drink it, if you will (slurp is most accurate) -- is to spoon away from the body (generally in an easterly direction), and not toward it. This was established decades ago by Emily “Saturday Evening” Post, doyenne of good manners. What Emily did on Saturday evening was her business and not a matter of our concern.

The bottom line: Soup is undermining our Democratic society and should be banned.

Nuts have been given a bad name in our culture, and that must stop. We (that’s the editorial we) ask why people whose behavior is erratic are called “nuts,” besmirching the excellent legumes that propel the white corpuscles so vital to good health?

Peanuts are a good source of exercise. Getting the part that is eaten out of the shell manually will limber the fingers but not shiver the timbers. Many people are baffled over how they get the salt in “salted-in-the-shell” peanuts. So are we (the editorial we).

Little wonder that people wonder. Research shows that nobody knows how they get the salt in salted-in-the-shell peanuts. It’s high time we found out.

Rather than spend billions trying to conquer Mars, when Hershey is just as good (except for peanut M&Ms), the United States government should fund a study through the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Soup, Legumes, Firearms and Dynamite to determine how the salt gets in there, and come clean with the American people.

There are many kinds of nuts, of course, not only “pea,” all of them beneficial to the human race. Macadamia nuts, often associated with the Sandwich Islands (a.k.a. “Hawaii”), are known to enhance brainpower when ingested with a peanut butter sandwich. Ask Don Ho. Furthermore, more professors in academia consume macadamia nuts than smoke Camels.

In brief, and in summary, let’s find another label for those persons who behave erratically in public and who give nuts a bad name (may we suggest re-employing “goofy” or “goof”?), and eat more real nuts.

As the American general in the Battle of the Bulge put it when asked what he liked to munch with his evening cocktail: “Nuts.”
These are just two examples of what we used to call “advocacy” editorials. There are also “commentary” editorials, which we (the editorial we) will visit on another day.

Thank you very much.