March - April 2001 columns

CONNIE MARTINSON TALKS BOOKS

4/24/2001

Ray Bradbury, say the name and you are speaking of an American literary treasure. Ray, in my estimation, gives Science Fiction a good name. From his typewriter comes worlds and ideas written in a superb literary style that blends poetic images with blank verse rhythm. When we talked he told me that it was Charles Laughton who encouraged him to write without inhibition in his own style.

Through the years I have talked with Ray Bradbury about specific books that had just been released, this time it was on his body of work for which a half hour barely suffices. Ray, who is the winner of The National Book Foundation Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letter, will be at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at UCLA on Saturday, April 28th. I did suggest that he rest his autographing hand until then, as he will be signing his books that day.

His classic, "Fahrenheit 451" (Ballentine Books $12.00) has just been re released. It is fitting that he should be at UCLA since this book was written in the basement at UCLA where students, etc. could rent a typewriter for ten cents an hour. Yes, Ray still writes on a typewriter, not on a computer. It is also apt that "Fahrenheit 451" is so pertinent for today when libraries are so in need of funding and support. Children are reading less, seduced by the television and the computer. We talked about the censoring of library books and the so-called sanitizing of books. I noted that one of his publishers had made note that not a word has been omitted.

Read any of Bradbury's works and note how the first sentence and first paragraph pulls you into his world. In "The Martian Chronicles" (Avon Books $16.00) the first sentence reads ,"One minute it was Ohio winter, with doors closed, windows locked, the panes blind with frost, icicles fringing every roof, children skiing on slopes, housewives lumbering like great bears in their furs along the icy streets".

In "Vintage Bradbury" (Vintage $13.00) he has chosen some of his favorite works; such as "Dandelion Wine", The Veldt", "The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit" which he turned into a play and "The Illustrated Man" whom he claims to have met when he was twelve and who told him that he had the eyes of the friend who gave his life saving him in World War I and from that moment Ray went home and wrote his first story and has not stopped since. He currently has a novel and a book of short stories ready to be published so this is the first of many more shows to be taped as my door is always open to his man, I consider a genius.

By the way I haven't even mentioned his concepts of cities which should inspire city planners, or his screenplay writing of "Moby Dick" or his non-fiction book and articles on John Houston. Want a teen-ager to read? Give him or her any Bradbury book.

I did ask Ray if , having lived through the era of LSD , if he had ever felt the need to use any aid to reach his imagination. He told me that Aldous Huxley had offered him some but he had refused fearing that the top of his head would blow off and out would march all these strange and forbidding animals that would never be able to be retrieved and the top of his head could never be replaced. For him, his high is writing every day. Long may he write.

4/17/2001

Strike One! It's that time of year when hotdogs and peanuts mean only one thing, baseball and Dodger Stadium. Steve Delsohn has written "True Blue" (William Morrow $24.00). Using the exact quotes, Delsohn tells, "The Dramatic History of the Los Angeles Dodgers Told by the Men Who Lived it".

In 1957 the Dodgers moved from Ebbets Field in Brooklyn to Los Angeles. This is a time that will live in infamy to Brooklynites. There are those who accuse Walt O'Malley of greed and those, in Los Angeles, who refer to him as a visionary. The Dodgers have drawn record crowds, won nine pennants and five world series.

It was a team that broke the color barrier when Branch Rickey signed Jackie Robinson in 1947. But by the 1950's O'Malley was stating that his team would play seven "home games" in Jersey City. The main problem was growth, there were only 700 parking spaces, attendance was down and Hollywood was beckoning.

Until Chavez Ravine was ready, they played in the Coliseum. 1959 saw the Dodgers under Walt Alston. Delsohn has comments from Maury Wills, Buzzie Basvasi, Mark Reese (Pee Wee's son) but not Sandy Koufax who still remains the recluse as far as interviews go.

I asked Steve Delsohn about the problems that faced Koufax because he had been a "bonus baby" and never had a chance to get a season in the minors. It meant that until he had played a few years his pitching arm was volatile. Delsohn gives a dramatic twist to the various feuds that ranged from the front office between O'Malley and Rickey and later between Tommy Lasorda and Bill Russell. If you love baseball you will want to read this book.

Along with the human side of the game, James Buckley, Jr. has written "The Visual Dictionary of Baseball" (Dorling Kindersley Visual Dictionaries $18.95). As in all DK books, the photographs tell the story. From the photo of the Louisville Slugger bat with an arrow pointing to the "Sweet spot: the best place to hit the ball" to slow motion pictures of batting and pitching, the book is terrific for kids as well as adults.

Bits of trivia information include that the Atlanta Braves, formerly known to some of us as the Boston Braves, are the only club to field a team in every season of professional baseball since 1871. And the name "Dodgers" came from Trolley Dodgers, the nickname for Brooklynites. As for the Boston Red Sox, the picture of their early uniforms tells the story, and the fans claim that the reason the team hasn't won a Series title since 1918 is because of their "cursed" trade of Babe Ruth in 1919.

4/12/2001

COLUMN NOT ON FILE.

4/5/2001

Jay Warner was researching his book "Billboards Book of American Singing Groups" when he came across the group called "The Prisonaires". Their story stuck with him and he decided to research further. He did and the result is a remarkable book about an extraordinary man, Johnny Bragg, who could neither read nor write, but who could create music that would make America sing. One of his songs is the title of the book, "Just Walkin' in the Rain" (Renaissance Books $24.95).

Johnny was born May 6, 1926 in North Nashville. Born blind, he did not have sight until he was six. Being Black in America at that time meant living in a world that would sooner judge one guilty of a crime than not. At sixteen when Johnny found his girlfriend having sex with another boy, he beat up the other boy very badly. The girl claimed that Johnny had raped her and her parents were forced by the authorities to press charges against Johnny. The police put him in line-ups and had other women claim that he had raped them. By the time the truth had come out about the original girl and her charges were dropped, Johnny had been sentenced to six life sentences by the Nashville courts.

Ten years later Johnny was still in Cell Five, Walk Ten, when he became aware of the better treatment that the Gospel singers received in prison. Johnny was a natural tenor with a solid C over high C. At that point the group he joined was unnamed. The group consisted of William Stewart, a baritone and guitar player, Ed Thurman, the lead singer, and Charlie Moore, a tenor. It was Johnny's idea to call themselves "The Prisonaires" and soon they were being invited to perform in prison variety shows, etc. Along the way, some dropped out of the group and they added John Edward Drue, Jr. and Marcel Sanders, a bass.

At the same time Governor Frank Clement was elected. He was a progressive who believed in prison reform and a human's ability to reform. He placed James Edwards as the warden of Tennessee's maximum security prison. It was Edwards who suggested to his friend, the Governor, that he use "The Prisonaires" for entertainment in the Governor's mansion. Fortuitous for Johnny and the group.

The Prisonaires have a photo of them in the book wearing the suit jackets they made for themselves in the prison workshop. They would leave the prison in their pirson clothes and change into the jackets for the few hours in which they became music performers, performing for such luminaries as President Harry Truman, Senator Al Gore, Sr. and, last but not least, Elvis Presley.

Elvis and Johnny's path had crossed when Johnny and the group were to make their first record for Sam Phillips' Sun Records. Elvis, a teen-ager at the time, was in the studio trying to get a record made to give his mother as a gift. He saw Johnny having a hard time with the words of the song, "Just Walkin in the Rain" and he offered to stay in the studio and mouth the words for him. It was the beginning of a long friendship.

As the years went by, members of the group would come up for parole. The first time Marcel Sanders was granted parole, he turned it down. He didn't want to leave the success of the group. They were now recording and making money. To alleviate the envy they donated, at Johnny's suggestion, 20% of their money to the inmates' fund. Even then, there were threats against them from other inmates. Eventually, Johnny was the only member not paroled or pardoned, which began to eat at him. He went to Governor Clement, with whom he had developed a friendship. He was told to wait.

Johnny, the only one left in prison, was forced to start a new group which was called "The Marigolds". On January 28, 1959 the parole board met and Johnny was granted his freedom. His life became a roller coaster, from performing at "The Grand Ole Opry" to Las Vegas to being re-incarcerated again.

When I talked with Jay Warner, he told me that Johnny is still alive. He had appeared in the television special, "Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock'n'Roll", standing outside cell five on Walk Ten which aired June 18, 2000. Jay is also known for his book "How To Have Your Hit Song Published" which has been in print for twenty-three years. Currently a successful music publisher who also lives in Beverly Hills, Jay knew of the column from the Beverly Hills Courier but not the television show which is seen in all of Los Angeles on LA Cityview-ch 35, Las Vegas, New York City and streamed on the internet thanks to San Francisco's government channel Citywatch, but not in Beverly Hills. So, thanks to the Courier, Jay sent me his book which is both a story of two exceptional men, Johnny and Frank Clement, and a sociological portrait of a time in America. This, too, would make an excellent movie.

Janis Cooke Newman has written of her and her husband's journey to Russia to adopt a baby in "The Russian Word For Snow" (St. Martin's Press $22.95). It is a journey of courage, perseverance and money and the vigil they were forced to keep in Moscow. It was not that they were willing to adopt any child, they had seen a video of the little boy who would become their son, Alex, and it was as if he had been meant for them. It's five years later and Alex is a very verbal first -grader so all's well that ends well but it was not easy.

I am a disbeliever but two very dear people have written of otherworldly worlds. They are Barbara Martin who has co-authored with Dimitri Moraitis, "The Kingdom of Light, Transforming Your Life With Spiritual Energy (Wisdom Light Books $39.95) which includes some interesting illustrations of the auras and displaced auras from negative thinking on our bodies. Barbara has co-founded The Center for Metaphysical Studies. The other is the charming, delightful Kenny Kingston, who always brings a smile to my face, even though I strongly doubt his reality that he writes about in "I Still Talk To…" (Seven Locks Press $19.95). Apart from the psychic encounters with Princess Diana, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, to name a few, I did enjoy his forwards to his adventures in the psychic realms. The book is also entitled "As Told to Valerie Porter". Even if it never happened, the book is fun to read. And, in this day and age, when it seems we are in a free fall without a parachute that opens, we an either laugh or cry, or read Craig Turchin, DC,MA's ":60 Second Mind/Body Rejuvenation" (New Horizon Press $14.95). The book has excellent exercises for relieving muscle pains from stress.

3/29/2001

Nuala O'Faolain is a name you'll be seeing on Best Selling Lists. Her first book of fiction "My Dream Of You" (Riverhead Books $25.95) is well worth every penny. It is a love story with life as only an Irish woman steeped in the works of James Joyce, G.B. Shaw and Swift could write. For her own life, she wrote the best selling non-fiction "Are You Somebody? The Accidental Memoir of a Dublin Woman". It's not hard to figure that she used incidents from her life in this fictional account of Kathleen de Burca, a woman turning fifty, never married, who is a successful travel writer.

When the book opens, Kathleen has lost her best friend, a gay man and fellow writer, who had become her family. Throughout the book, she will grieve for his death from a sudden heart attack. Kathleen is living in London in the same basement apartment for twenty years. She has been working for Alex, the head of TravelWrite syndicate for twenty years and , with the death of Jimmy, turning fifty, it all seems to much for her. She decides to take a leave from her travel writing and try to write a book back in her native Ireland.

Kathleen has kept the trial transcripts of an English divorce from 1856 of Talbot vs. Talbot, that her lover, Hugo, had given her. Of Hugo she wrote on the first page, "We lived on the mattress as on a raft. We gathered everything we needed or wanted around us on the floorboards, reaching out for things from under the quilt when it was cold, and in summer, sprawling across the sunlit sheets". But Hugo never introduces her to his mother.

Hugo is English, and running throughout the book is the antipathy and disdain that Kathleen feels from and to the English. This is probably why she has kept the transcript all these years. Talbot has accused his wife of adultery with the Irish stablemaster. Nuala told me that although the book is a work of fiction, the Talbot case is an actual case and that all the quotes from the trial are accurate and of record.

In writing the Talbot book within the book, I told Nuala that she has written a Rashomon version of the divorce. She laughed and said that she hadn't realized it but it was true. As Kathleen is investigating the divorce, she comes across differing testimonies that lead the reader to wonder what was the truth, which Nuala says is still unknown to this day. Did Marianne Talbot have a love affair for three years with Mulan before her husband found out? Or was it contrived so that he could have cause to divorce her and wed a woman who could give him a son and heir?

Kathleen's story is told like an onion being peeled. While living with Hugo, madly in love with him, she still had an affair with a fellow French student. Hugo caught them and that was the end of Hugo. Her life, as a writer, has been a series of one night affairs with few calls for a second night. Or as Kathleen says, "I always say 'yes'". In Ireland, she meets Shay who is in his late fifties. Nothing glamorous , even overweight, but he falls madly in love with her. It is as if this would be her last chance for love. Except that Shay is happily married, at least in Nuala the author's eyes. She has filled the canvas of her book with memorable characters and, in so doing, has come to terms with the Irish.

We talked about the radical changes in a prosperous Ireland, so different from the Ireland that she grew up in. It was an Ireland that could still remember the horrors of the potato famine, the swelled bellies of the starving babies, the injustices brought upon the tenant farmers by the English landlords. Nuala told me that when the English evicted a non-paying tenant, if they found shelter with a neighbor, the neighbor was evicted also. One might say that there are still vestiges of feeling inferior and angry in Nuala O'Faolain.

When I asked her how her first book had been received? She told me of it's great success in America, Canada, Australia ; but in England it had not done well. As for now, she admitted that the man who might have been a Hugo in her life with whom she had been involved for ten years, had written her a hostile e-mail about her first book accusing her of trying to make his wife and children miserable. Write on, Nuala! Your pen is mightier than any English sword. But then she turned and ruminated why she still thinks about him after all these years. So she is getting ready to brace the English press with this book. If they know what's good, they will embrace her.

Another country heard from. Bernard Slade, who wrote "Same Time, Next Year" and "Tribute", etc., was born in Canada. He has written "Shared Laughter" (Key Porter Books $29.95). The subtitle adds "Memories of "Same Time, Next Year"; "The Partridge Family"; Tribute"; "The Flying Nun"; "Bewitched"; "Same Time, Another Year"; and other Laughing Matters." He begins by recounting the evening of March 14, 1975 when "Same Time, Next Year" opened. He stayed in his suite at the Sherry Netherland Hotel, not attending opening night, a practice, he claims to have continued ever since.

He is funny about his parents having the worst instincts for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. They returned to England in time for the Blitz. Bernie was sent to live with a foster family in the North of England. They returned to Canada in time for the recession. Or as he writes, "My parents were attracted to disasters".

It was his exposure to the Christmas play of "Dick Wittington" that sealed his fate for theatre. He spent his twenties in Canadian stock theatre where a different play a week is standard. He still thinks that this is the best training for a writer to learn what works, how a three act play is constructed, what is natural dialogue, etc. It was here that he met his wife, Jill. In 1957 he submitted his first play to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, they dragged their feet about giving him an answer until they heard that an agent in New York at MCA had sold it to Matinee Theatre for two thousand dollars.

In 1964 the family moved to Los Angeles. The book is full of names of the people who created TV and with whom Bernie worked. From the late Danny Arnold, who hired him for "Bewitched" and his dear friend, Jerry Davis, to whom he dedicated "Tribute" because in many ways it was based on Jerry, who told him after seeing it that it was the play he should have written but never would, to his tennis playing partner Norman Lloyd who laughs about the Dead Famous People's courts on which they play.

Bernie tells the truth as he sees it about the actors who have starred in his shows. There are those of whom he writes that they suck the joy out of life and then there are stars like Jack Lemmon who make every working day a joy. So it all evens out. His stories of plays opening in New York, what succeeded and what closed, "Special Occasion" in one night ,truly share the laughter and the heartbreak. He was funny when we talked about the only friend he let invest in "Same Time, Next Year" was Dick Van Patten, "This was because Dick is an inveterate gambler, and I figured if he didn't put it in my play he'd only put it on a horse."

3/22/2001

How strange, one of the best written books on food and restaurants and there is not one recipe! Even without a recipe, reading Patric Kuh's "The Last Days of Haute Cuisine: America's Culinary Revolution" (Viking $24.95) will have you salivating. Yes, those were the days! Men in suits and ties and the women who lunched wearing hats.

How did it begin? Once upon a time in 1939 there was a World's Fair in New York City. Opening the French Pavilion' s restaurant was a man named Henri Soule, who would become famous for his elegant restaurant at 5 East 55th Street, Le Pavillon. Like viewing a painting Patric kuh takes the reader inside and table by table describes who was sitting there and what they might be eating, such as Joe Kennedy dining on his veal chops Orloff.

Patric was born in Spain and brought up in Ireland, writes in the book, "I write about the entrance through the service door because for many years that was how I entered restaurants, as a cook. The last kitchen job I had in France, before coming to America, was working at an all night brasserie in Paris on the Boulevard des Italiens." In America he worked at "21" where Chicken Hash was the signature dish.

Patric Kuh gives a brief history of how haute cuisine came out of the French Revolution but he adds that New York restaurants came out of Prohibition. I laughed as we talked because we mentioned some of the great New York restaurants that still survive including Gallagher's Steak House on west 52nd Street, my favorite. This brought him to the history of Restaurant Associates and Joe Baum and Jerry Brody, who would later own Gallagher's. Restaurant Associates would conceive of The Forum of the Twelve Caesars, and the epitome of a club for publishing, The Four Seasons restaurant.

He covers the era of great food critics and chefs, James Beard, Pierre Franey, whom I told Patric I had interviewed on one of my first programs, and Craig Claiborne. But the restaurant world in America today is ruled and influenced by two men, our Wolfgang Puck and Sirio Maccioni in New York. Both of them have branches now in Las Vegas, the new melting pot of food. Amazingly for a man trained to be a chef, Patric writes flowingly, but then he is married to one of the finest literary agents in America, Bonnie Nadel, and she could hardly be married to a man who did not have a silver pen as well as a silver palate.

Ask anyone in Europe what is America's contribution to music and they will invariably answer, "Jazz". Floyd Levin has written "Classic Jazz; A personal View of the Music and the Musicians" (University of California Press $37.50). Floyd was a business man with a passion for jazz. From the time Floyd and his wife first heard the music of Kid Orly, they were aficionados. Floyd began to write about the musicians and their music. His stories reveal the dimensions of people such as Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellington, Eubie Blake and his friend, Benny Carter. As a member of the Board of Directors of The American Federation of Jazz Societies, he created their Annual Benny Carter Award to honor distinguished jazzmen.

It was Floyd's idea to have a statue built in New Orleans to honor Louis Armstrong. He raised the money by charity concerts and Floyd, who is a man who brooks no nonsense, including correcting my mispronunciation of his name, "Levin" which no one had told me, names the musicians who refused to perform. It was thanks to Bing Crosby that the money was raised. Floyd told me that when he asked the sculptor why Louis had his trumpet down by his side, he was told that if he held it up to his lips the trumpet would attract every bird in the neighborhood which would eventually eat away at the metal.

The photographs in the book are terrific and the stories about Lulu White's Mahogany Hall in New Orleans and the fight at Beverly Cavern in Los Angeles between Papa Celestin and Kid Ory are wonderful. If you love jazz, you'll love this book. Be sure and put a CD on while you are reading.

An absolutely charming children's book with the most delightful illustrations is "The Very First Adventure of FULTON T. FIREFLY" (Margo Books) written by Laura & Noah Margo & Phil Margo with illustrations by Mitch Margo. So up to the moment it's hard to believe, due to blackouts, Fulton who loves airplanes rescues Captain Julie by getting his firefly relatives to line the air strip so that the plane can see to land. The paintings are adorable.

3/15/2001

Where do you live? Why do you live there? If you are single and work or have worked in the computer field, you are likely to be living anywhere you want. According to Joel Kotkin in his book "The New Geography: How the Digital Revolution is Reshaping the American Landscape (Random House$24.95), the Nerds of the country are living further and further out in what he calls "Nerdistans". They live by the computer screen.

And if they made a fortune in their dot.com's, they have moved families and all into small idyllic towns on the coast of Maine in order to get them away from the status seeking Silicon Valley. Like Vail, CO. or Sun Dance, UT. They are quickly followed by others, thereby ruining the town for the natives. They drive up the price of real estate and, suddenly in this off the beaten track, there are authentic sushi restaurants.

Unless the fracture in the stock market ruptures this pattern of behavior, it will be an on-going process, which leaves the inner city and local suburbs in a downward spiral. Tax levels go down and cities lose their financial support.

On the other hand, the sophisticated cities, such as New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles will find that the middle to upper-middle class single, who is waiting longer to marry, and possibly will never marry, choose to live where they can have theatre, sports and a choice of restaurants and activities. I did mention to Joel when we talked that many empty-nesters are returning to cities and to places such as the Wilshire Corridor for the same conveniences as well as in New York where they do not need a car. Safety is another factor that entices them.

The problem lies in who will educate the children of the less fortunate? Who will bring them up to date to the computer age? Our we living out Joel Kotkin's other book, "Tribes: How Race, Religion and Identity Determine Success in the New Global Age." As always, Kotkin is thought provoking, currently Joel Kotkin is a Senior Fellow at Pepperdine University's Davenport Institute for Public Policy and the Milken Institute.

In keeping with the idea of who will care for and educate the children, Peter Edelman has written "Searching For America's Heart: RFK and the Renewal of Hope" (Houghton Mifflin $26.00). Edelman is a man who tried to talk truth to power and when he was unsuccessful in convincing President Clinton not to sign the Welfare Bill in 1996, he resigned his position with the Clinton Administration where he had been serving as an expert on welfare policy and children.

Edelman and his wife, Marian Wright Edelman, the president of the Children's Defense Fund, had been long time friends of Hillary and Bill Clinton, so the rupture was even more difficult. Peter and his wife met through Robert F. Kennedy during the Civil Rights legal fights in Mississippi.

I agreed with Peter that Robert Kennedy became a different man after his brother's assassination; but I felt he had glossed over the man who had worked for Joe McCarthy, who was known for his temper and arrogance and who had permitted the FBI to wiretap Martin Luther King Jr.'s telephone. Peter did agree with me that Justice Arthur Goldberg never should have resigned from the Supreme Court. Peter had clerked for Justice Goldberg and it was he who had recommended Peter work for the Justice Department before going into private practice.

Edelman grants that the welfare rolls have been cut, but this does not answer the problems of the million single mothers who have neither work nor welfare help. Edelman went around the country visiting shelters in Boston, Chicago, etc. that are run for homeless women and their children who have nowhere else to go.

Edelman addresses the changing inner city where those who could have left. The inner cities are floundering with the lack of jobs, transportation, and the vacuum of community. Even if there had been too much welfare at one point, it doesn't change the current lack of jobs and paucity of education. Even more than racial problems are the problems of economic class advantages and disadvantages, which no one seems to be attacking.

I did ask him if he felt any positive reaction to President Bush's statement that "No child should be left behind"? He smiled, and said that if he means it, great, but that since that was the rallying cry for his wife's Children's Defense Fund it met with mixed feelings in his house.

A personal story, written beautifully, is Debra Dickerson's "An American Story" (Pantheon $24.00). Debra is an African-American woman who was born in North St. Louis to a wonderful mother and an abusive father. An exceptionally bright student she was chosen to go to a "white" school in light of the Brown vs. Board of Education decision. She told me of the fears of being an outsider as well as the jeers from her own neighborhood.

By chance she took the S.A.T. exams in which she excelled but since she had no idea what they meant she turned down the offers that came from various colleges. She did go to a local community junior college to learn how to be a secretary. Feeling the need to get away she joined the Air Force. Wherever she went, what ever she did, Debra was forced into a leadership role. I write "forced" because she swore to me that being a leader was the last thing on her mind or what she wanted to be. Yet, in the Air Force she became an Intelligence Officer and a Korean linguist.

When I asked her about bigotry in the service, she said that it did not relate to color but to her being a woman. In the book she writes of being raped by a fellow service man and the hostility she came against when she charged him with this. His commanding officer never forgave her. But she still rose to the rank of Captain, at which point she resigned and applied to Harvard Law School from which she was graduated. She began writing a column for the Law schools newspaper where she took the Black Law Students groups to task for snubbing the poverty stricken Blacks in Boston and spending their time in the rich enclaves of Martha's Vineyard.

Debra is the best advertisement for the benefits of education and someone who can and will make a difference. If they can make a film from Erin Brockovich's experience, someone should read Debra's book.

3/8/2001

Katie Arnoldi has written a first novel that is amazing. It is called "Chemical Pink" (Forge $23.95). This is a story that revolves around the women who enter body building contests. They train at Gold's Gym in Santa Monica and like sports today they need trainers, sponsors and "stage mothers". Judging is based on muscle delineation.

Aurora Jeanine Johnson, originally just Jeanine Johnson, who had won the Southern States Body Building Championship, has come to Santa Monica on vacation to train for two weeks with "the big kids" at Gold's. She has left her twelve year-old daughter Amy back in Georgia with her mother.

Scouting the new bodies at the gym is Charles Worthington, a man who lives by his obsession of training and owning the perfect body building winner. He had possessed a winner named May who had been so debilitated by the enhancing drugs that she had been forced to quit after developing masculine features such as facial and body hair and an extended clitoris which had to be taped in when she was posing.

These features could be hidden to a degree but when her thyroid refused to reactivate and she grew fat as a "walrus" she left California and returned to Florida. All due to the drugs that Charles still kept; Aldactone, Anadrol, Anavar, Clembuteral, Cytomel, Halotestin, etc. All waiting for the next candidate who was willing to sacrifice her all for that moment on the podium and the endorsements and commercials that might follow.

Charles is so taken with Aurora that he arranges a house for her and her daughter, he recalls the German trainer, Hendryk, and he starts the program to turn Aurora into a national star. Katie Arnoldi has written the book with chapters entitled "Twenty-One Weeks and Counting" with accurate information about what drugs a candidate would be taking at that point, what exercises she would be doing, etc. Along with Charles' obsession with the physical training , he also makes demands on Aurora that require her to playact sexually kinky games with him. This culminates at the end in the most horrifying but satisfying get-even act.

Katie Arnoldi is from Los Angeles, a graduate of the Westlake School, her family name was Anawalt. She is married to the artist, Charles Arnoldi. She showed me a picture of herself when she was a body builder. She swore that she never used drugs but she did know women who did. As for writing the book, she is definitely not Aurora. I told her that her portrait of Charles is etched in such a way that if there was someone she wanted to avenge, she has used "the pen is mightier than the sword" to perfection.

Ready to laugh? Nelson Aspen, who is also an entertainment reporter and a physical fitness instructor, has written "Let's Have a Gay! Dinner Party" ($14.95) with advice on whom to invite, what to wear, and what to serve. It's his comments that make the difference, including how to get guests to leave by offering them "goody bags" of left-overs.

Another laugh getter is Eric Garcia's "Casual Rex" (Villard $23.00). I had not read his first book "Anonymous Rex" but it's not necessary in order to find this book hilarious. "Rex" refers to those among us who may still be the heirs to T-Rex dinosaurs, who wear hand gloves to disguise their claws and who wear rubberized masks on their faces. The male T-Rex wears a phallus called a "Mussolini" which is the missing appendage that Vincent Bilboa, the private eye, is looking for. This part belongs to his landlord, a midget named Minsky. Vincent's partner, Ernie, is pining for his ex-wife, Louise, who begs Ernie to find her missing brother, Rupert. Rupert has joined a cult called The Progressives who have a big building on Hollywood Blvd. And who recruit by offering to "correct you".

Eric promises me that any similarity to any other cult is purely by his imagination. His imagination is not too different from Dave Barry's. Currently, Eric is completing the third book, "Hot and Sweaty Rex". Somehow the whole idea of dinosaurs among us who live by their ability to smell and who get high on basil herbs leaves me with a smile on my face. And the words he wrote in my book are so true, "Because a literate dinosaur is a happy dinosaur" Indeed.

Tim Cockey makes his "Cary Grant" hero, Hitchcock Sewell, heir and owner of Sewell & Sons Family Funeral Home, a delectable character. He returns in "Hearse of a Different Color" (Hyperion $23.95) with a dead body of a beautiful waitress on his doorstep as another wake for a dead medical surgeon is taking place. It's a small world after all and the two bodies will have a lot in common. Cockey places his funerals in Baltimore and he told me that most of the places he mentions are still there. If you have any ideas of future titles, there is a contest.

A book that makes one stop and wonder is Dr. Uzzi Reiss's book "Natural Hormone Balance for Women" (Pocket Books $26.95). His belief that Estrogen in the form of Premarin and given with Provera is dangerous to women is not new but it is always controversial. Dr. Reiss told me that he is adamant that horses' urine the basis of premarin is inconsistent with human biology. He believes in natural estrogen in the form of Estriol, Estradiol and Estrone, they all require a prescription but they should be given in different strengths depending on the woman's body structure. He prescribes this natural with natural progesterone.

In addition to his work as M.D./OB-GYN, Dr. Reiss is involved with prevention-oriented medicine with his Beverly Hills Anti-Aging Center. No matter the illness or the book I refer to my favorite book doctor, Dr, Isadore Rosenfeld and his books, "Symptoms" and "Alternative Medicine" and "Second Opinion". So if you find Dr. Reiss's ideas thought provoking, ask your own personal physician about natural hormones.

Katie Arnoldi "Chemical Pink", Nina Gelbart "The King's Midwife", Laurence Grobel "Above The Line", Burt Boyar "Sammy"and Richard Rayner "The Cloud Sketcher" will all be at The Kaufmann Brentwood Library on April 1st at 2:00pm for the Friends of the Library event which I will moderate for the fourteenth year. It's open to the public.

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