Thursday, December 30, 2010

Jack Benny in Duluth at first anniversary of Arena-Auditorium...

by Jim Heffernan
"When Jack Benny descended on Duluth in 1967 he didn’t seem that-all happy..."
Jim Heffernan (R) greets Jack Benny (9-13-67)
Photo by Charles Curtis–from Heff's attic

Don’t waste your time reading this unless you’re of a certain age, and it ain’t young. I don’t even want to guess at what age you might recognize all of the names. Well, my age, certainly

Don’t believe me? OK, Skitch Henderson. See what I mean?

But this is mainly about Jack Benny, who needs no explanation if you are old enough, although I once read a piece by Dick Cavett in which he wrote that he dropped Benny’s name to one of the Beatles – could have been John Lennon, no spring chicken himself were he still alive, but a Brit – and the Beatle asked “Who’s Jack Benny?”

Benny was brought to Duluth in 1967 to entertain at a civic celebration of the first anniversary of the opening of the Arena-Auditorium, which, at the time, consisted of the arena and the auditorium – nothing else. No Pioneer Hall, no Northwest Passage, no DECC moniker, no convention center and certainly no Amsoil Arena, having its grand opening as 2010 draws to a close. (Click HERE to view today's Duluth News Tribune story about the opening of the new Amsoil Arena.)

The revered comedian is pictured this week (Dec. 29) on the Duluth News Tribune’s entertaining web site blog, called the News Tribune Attic (click HERE), in which they cull old photos from the newspaper’s no-longer-used files (everything is electronically archived now). In a series on the early days of the Arena-Auditorium, the blog posting includes a photo of Benny cutting a large birthday cake commemorating the anniversary. Flanking him are Skitch Henderson (just Google him) and the late Monnie Goldfine of Duluth.


In the picture, Benny looks, at the very least, somber, even angry. Maybe he was not happy to be in Duluth, or not pleased to be cutting a cake, or not feeling that-all well. Who knows?

I wouldn’t bother to mention it, except that it brought back some memories for me. A News Tribune reporter at the time, I was assigned to cover the arrival of the great comedian at the Duluth airport – the old terminal, before they built the new terminal that they are now replacing.

So up to the airport a photographer and I went, with me giving the photographer strict instructions to be sure to get a shot of me interviewing Benny as a keepsake (not for publication). That’s one of the fringe benefits of newspaper reporting. And the photographer did. I have the photo – an 8-by-10 glossy of me in my tan raincoat standing beside Jack Benny, in a suit and tie, chatting, not posing.

In the picture, Benny looks, at the very least, somber, even angry. Maybe he was not happy to be in Duluth, or not feeling that-all well, or in no mood to be interviewed by the likes of me. Can’t say I blame him.

I don’t remember what he said, but I doubt it was funny. The next night I did attend his show in the Arena, and he was back in his old form. Never a laughing hyena, his style was subdued, with slow delivery and lengthy pauses as he folded his arms and looked to the right or left, himself the butt of his own jokes.

Checking Google, I see he was born in 1894 (I told you that you had to be old to care about this), so he was about 73 when he was in Duluth. He died in 1974 at age 80. Of course, to quote Benny himself, “Age is strictly a case of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

More about Zinsmaster...

Paul Lundgren of Perfect Duluth Day has done some good sleuthing to lend some interesting information about the Zinsmaster Bakery in Duluth. The Peerless Autobody business that tragically burned on Monday was housed in the old Zinsmaster Bakery building (see earlier post). The Zinsmaster Bakery was a prominent Duluth business and the founding family well known in Duluth's past. Check out Perfect Duluth Day to learn more HERE. Word has it that yet more information about this historic building and the people behind the business will appear in Wednesday's Duluth News Tribune for all of you who have interest in Duluth's history.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Old Zinsmaster Bakery Building Burns....

For all you former Duluthians who still have your hearts in Duluth....
A huge fire that began at 2:45 am Monday burned all day and destroyed the current (for 6 months) Peerless autobody building located on 29th Avenue W. and Superior St.  The building was originally the Zinsmaster Bakery, bakers of Master Bread and Hol-Ry for many years. The building housed several businesses since. The latest report indicates a possible arson. This apparent senseless crime ravaged both extensive personal and property devastation to the Peerless owner and his customers. Check out the story in today's Duluth News Tribune HERE.

I was attempting to pin down some of the history of the Zinsmaster Bakery in Duluth but memory fails me with the important details. I think that the Zinsmaster Bakery began the Master Bread brand, with a Zinsmaster Bakery also located in Minneapolis.  Harry W. Zinsmaster was a prominent Duluthian who was the vice president and general manager of the local bakery. According to a Rotary 25 history of the first 100 presidents of Rotary 25, his brother, William, was the president of the company and lived in Minneapolis. I'm assuming he headed the Minneapolis Zinsmaster firm but not sure.  A link to the Rotary 25 history places Zinsmaster as the 7th president of the Rotary organization (circa 1911-12). Check it out HERE. At that time Harry Zinsmaster lived at 20th Avenue East in Duluth but later–according to my memory and an old phone book–moved to 2 Hawthorne Rd (the corner of Hawthorne Rd. and Superior Street). This home, under different ownership, was used as a setting for scenes in the 1988 Jessica Lange movie, Far North, located in Duluth.

If any of you readers our there have some Zinsmaster Bakery lore to share, please feel free to add your information or comments.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Merry White Christmas from Jim Heffernan...

Our poor little decorative tree is now buried in snow.
No question... it's a "White Christmas" this year in Duluth Minnesota. May all of you enjoy a wonderful holiday with health and happiness in 2011!   Jim

Monday, December 20, 2010

Christmas cards: They just don't stick to the ribs...

By Jim Heffernan

Well, the holiday card exchange phase of Christmas 2010 is almost over for those who care if their cards arrive before the joyous holiday. In the past we always got our cards out the last minute, but this year we sent them out early for reasons that can’t be reasonably explained. It just happened.

Sending cards out early assures that you probably will get cards from recipients who had decided to – oh, what the heck -- drop you from their list this year. Then when they get your card early they hurriedly dash one off to you again. That’s a two-way street, by the way. Who hasn’t gone through that drill?

It’s not that you no longer care to warmly greet the folks you consider crossing off your Christmas card list, it’s that you have moved on from whatever relationship you had with them years ago when the exchange began. Then there are the more recently acquired friends and neighbors who never make it onto your list. Oh well, no harm done. It’s Christmas.

Does anyone actually remember anything about the Christmas cards they receive for very long? Christmas letters and poems can be fun at the moment, then quickly forgotten. Photo cards are nice to see, then file away, probably never to be seen again. Ephemeral, those Christmas cards that require so much organization, time and even expense. Oh well, no harm done. It’s Christmas.

I only remember two cards in all the years I’ve been involved in the Christmas card frenzy, and they weren’t even to me. They were satirical cards in Mad Magazine years and years ago – maybe 40 or more. But I think of them each Christmas season when certain carols are sung.

The first depicted a bleak, snowy scene outside a shuttered steel mill in Bethlehem, Pa., with pickets outside the gate, strikers milling about. Its message was simply, “Oh little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie,” and it was signed: The United Steelworkers of America.

The second purported to be from and pictured a smiling Liberace, the late pianist/entertainer known for his flamboyant outfits – gold lame suits, ermine capes and the like – whose manner was decidedly effeminate in an era when that persona was, um, snickered at in many quarters. The card’s message was simply, “Don we now our gay apparel.”

Oh well, no harm done. It’s Christmas. Incidentally, if you didn’t get a card from me (and you’d certainly have received it by now), have a merry one.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

UMD Bulldogs win national title...

Florence, Alabama...
UMD Bulldogs became the NCAA Division II football champs today in an exciting game witnessed by 4,000 some fans in Alabama and likely as many watching big and small screens in here in Duluth. Check out the Duluth News Tribune story HERE for more info. Congrats to the Bulldogs!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Beatlemania: When the Beatles were said to be in Duluth...

By Jim Heffernan
"One Sunday 1965, give or take a year in either direction, this incident occurred in a Lutheran church in Duluth’s West End neighborhood:"
The recent marking of the 30th anniversary of Beatle John Lennon’s assassination, plus widespread mention of what would have been his 70th birthday, has sparked a memory of the time the Beatles were said to be in Duluth. Emphasize “said to be.”

I recounted this many years ago in my column in the Duluth daily newspaper, but it bears repeating, I believe, just for the whimsy of the situation as well as the fact that only a couple of people would remember that earlier column, and I am one of them.

It was early in that era in America known as the time of Beatlemania, and it was manic where the “Fab Four” were concerned. The Ed Sullivan Show appearances, the national tours (including at old Met Stadium in suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul) all contributed to the frenzy remembered today only by folks now viewing with disdain some of today’s trends in popular music as they move inexorably into grandparenthood and beyond.

One Sunday 1965, give or take a year in either direction, this incident occurred in a Lutheran church in Duluth’s West End neighborhood:

Each Sunday, as the congregation was settling into the pews and choir members were clearing their throats to open the service with the somber “The Lord is in His Holy Temple,”  the minister, before mounting the pulpit, would review the day’s register of out-of-town guests and other visiting non-members who had signed a guest book in the narthex.

Then, during the announcements portion of the service, he would welcome the visitors by name and, in the case of out-of-towners, their home cities.

What the minister didn’t know on this Sunday was that some teenagers in the congregation had signed the four Beatles’ names into the visitor’s register and – no surprise here – the minister, then in his mid-60s, didn’t know the four Beatles from the Three Stooges, two turtle doves or a partridge in a pear tree.

So, come the less formal part of the service, announcing such things as upcoming potluck suppers, the minister also launched into his welcome of visitors from far-off Liverpool, England: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr.

It was one of those terrible moments for anyone speaking before an audience when some members of the audience burst into laughter and the speaker doesn’t know why.

I wasn’t there (hooky from church that Sunday) but it was described to me by family members who were. Wish I had been. Missed the guest preacher who repeatedly implored: “Make a noyful joys unto the Lord,” too. And the Sunday the minister – not the Beatles one – missed the chair behind the pulpit and fell head over heels backward, his robe flying.

I should have gone to church more often.  


Note: There's a new book out about the Beatles Minnesota concert: One Night Stand in the Heartland by Bill Carlson. Also youtube has footage of the Beatles MN press conference and you can check that out HERE.



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

That Special Christmas Place...

by Jim Heffernan     

It happens to everyone sooner or later, and this year it’s my turn. I lasted longer than most–not as long as some. This is the first year there will be no Christmas in the home I grew up in.

Many people my age–commonly called “middle”–have only memories of the home where they spent their first Christmas and Christmases thereafter throughout their childhood. Others lived in several places during those years–often in different cities.

But we’re a consistent lot, and our family home stayed intact for close to 45 years, in spite of the loss of my father a dozen years ago and the moving away and marrying of the two boys. This fall we lost our mother, and there will be no more Christmases in that home for us.

I have come to believe that part of the warmth of Christmas felt by most of us when we grow up is rooted in memories of childhood Christmases–happy memories made bittersweet by the passage of time and passing of the people who populated them. And I am coming to understand how Dickens chose ghosts in his “Christmas Carol” to represent his three Christmases.

In a stop last week at the old family home, bereft of holiday decorations for the first time, ghosts of Christmases past–dozens of them–shimmered before my eyes…the place in front of the window where we used to place the tree…the big mirror that used to be festooned with garlands…the dining room table that was always decorated with candles.

As I stood in the hall of the now unoccupied house–framed pictures of family members placed here and there in the main rooms–the sights, sounds and smells of Christmases past, even as recently as a year ago, rushed back for a moment. Our balsam, close to nine feet tall, was there in front of the window, its familiar ornaments shimmering in the colored lights. Gifts encircled its foot and were stacked knee high. The aroma of foods only prepared at Christmastime–Scandinavian sylta, potato sausage, fruitcake, special cookies–wafted from the kitchen.

The sounds of laughter, the tearing of wrappings and voices “Hey, just what I wanted!” “Thanks a million!” “I love it!” filled the room. And above the din, the sound of a well-played piano, full bass chords resounding, treble ringing, “O come, all ye faithful…” and later, a hushed “Silent Night.” We will never hear that piano played that way again.

This year Christmas is not calling on that home except in the memories of those of us who spent so many there that it will always be Christmas place for us no matter where we live.

In every life where Christmas comes at all, there is that one place from childhood where it will live forever. We were lucky to have such a Christmas place for as long as we did.

Originally appeared in the Duluth News Tribune on Sunday, Dec. 25, 1983 

                                                     and...
in my book, Cooler Near the Lake (2008), available for sale this Christmas at local bookstores and on line through Barnes and Noble, Amazon and Adventure Publications.

Friday, December 3, 2010

History's most boring day discovered; Jesus' arrival declared imminent...

By Jim Heffernan

"Twas the llth of April in ’54, a day declared a colossal bore…”

Yes, it’s true. Some computer whiz in England fed millions of facts into a giant computer – things that make news – and determined that April 11, 1954, was the most boring day in modern history. This according to National Public Radio, which broadcast an interview with the English gentleman, who sounded like no fool.

Nobody of note died on that date, no major governmental happenings occurred, no wars started or ended, no ships sank, Leslie Nielsen’s movie career was still fledgling, nothing much at all happened, making April 11, 1954, the least eventful and most boring ever.

The researcher, whose name escapes me, did make a point of saying he only analyzed “modern history,” and not all of history. So things like the death of Alexander the Great’s horse or the Battle of Hastings (1066) or Charles Martel defeating the Moors at the Battle of Tours on Oct. 10, 732 (date provided by the Gospel According to Google) were not included. Good thing. They didn’t have computers in those days anyway.

Modern history, that’s what we’re after here: April 11, 1954, BSP (Before Sarah Palin). I’m not sure how far back the researcher dipped in modern history. I consider the last 100 years or so modern history, although serious historians probably take it back further. I do not consider myself a serious historian but rather a secular humorist.

This might be a shocking revelation, but I actually remember April 11, 1954. Well, maybe not exactly that day in 1954 but I was around Duluth in 1954 – 14 years old going on 15. I do know I was checking my legs for hair, not very successfully. Swarthier boys in Lincoln Junior High seemed to be maturing faster than I, and it was of more than a little concern to me.

Of course, they wouldn’t have cared about that in England on April 11 anyway. I was also longing – I mean longing – to get my driver’s license, which you couldn’t get until age 15. A few lucky classmates – boys who were smart enough to flunk a grade or two before reaching ninth grade on hairy legs – were already recklessly driving jalopies to school that spring. Most are now dead.

On the national scene, Dwight D. Eisenhower was in his second year as president of the United States. Eisenhower was a calm president who golfed a lot, fished for brook trout quite a bit, and didn’t seem to do much to upset the apple cart, so I suppose April 11, 1954, was just another day around the White House with Mrs. Eisenhower (call her Mamie) presiding over an early cocktail hour, Ike (the president’s nickname) planning a coronary thrombosis in a couple of years, but not that day.

Everybody liked Ike, except maybe Adolf Hitler.

Here in Duluth, Mayor George Washington Johnson must have had a light day in City Hall, or else his successor George Donald Johnson had already taken over. My memory is fuzzy on this. This was during the Johnson period of Duluth history, which not too much later was broken by the likes of Mayor Mork, not from Ork.

Meanwhile, back in the future (now, today, early December 2010), a jeweler in nearby Superior, Wis., advertised a “second coming” sale (all jewels half price) to give customers time to stock up on gems before the imminent arrival of Jesus from heaven. Readers of this from elsewhere might think I made that up. I did not. The jewels are half price! Makes you wonder: “Will there be any stars in my crown?”

Oh, and Santa Claus’ arrival is imminent as well. What if they collided in mid-air? Oh, the tragedy. I don’t even want to think about it.

I wouldn’t look for the second most boring day in modern history this month, that’s for sure.