#TBT The Devil Made Me Do It

It is 1980.
I am at UC Irivne. My Spanish class must write and perform skits in Spanish. I am absent the day of writing/rehearsing. I show up on performance day.
“Okay. What are we doing?”
“We’re doing the trial of a man’s soul before God.”
“OK. What do I play?”
“I’m the judge – that’s God. James is the man whose soul is on trial. Janet is the angel.”
“And I am..?”
She looks at me uncomfortably.
I have long hair, a moustache and a goatee. I have been told that I look like a young Albrecht Durer, the German Renaissance – era painter and printmaker.
“You’re El Diablo. You’re the Devil.”
I am a little disturbed by this.
“Why me? Why do I have to be El Diablo?”
“You weren’t here. I’m sorry. It just worked out this way.”
Then she pauses.
“Besides,” she adds. “You kind of look like the Devil.”
A few hours later, after we have successfully performed our trial en español, I head to my darkroom to develop the day’s photos for the newspaper. A group is gathered in the lobby of KUC across the hall. Several staff members – Vince Han, Michael Becchina, Michael Weinzweig, Jeff Schneidewind, Ken Spears, and others are orienting the newbies like Katrina Nourblin and Christine Suh on the station policies.
Then they begin discussing that most important topic, the ‘air name’ they must select for themselves. Staff members offer suggestions, bantering back and forth. Suddenly, Schneidewind turns to me, where I am watching from what I thought was a safe distance.
“You should be Diablo!” he exclaims.
Wha – WHAT?
I snap back. “WHY?”
He laughs. “You know. Deeble. Diablo.”
Well, that only makes too much sense. It’s actually pretty good. I’m pleased. And relieved.
“Besides,” he adds. “You kind of look like the Devil.”

#TBT When Bibliophiles Divorce

BooksFive minutes ago.

I am separating our books. We have been together for 12 years. We are both avid readers. We both had book collections. I had lots of shelves (IKEA!). I cleared books to make room for hers. Over the years our books intermingled on the shelves.

Amazon got a lot of business from us. So did the local used book stores. We saw ‘No Country for Old Men’ and read Cormac McCarthy’s book, weird punctuation and all. She wanted to read more. I got her everything he’d written up to that point for her birthday.

We had more books, but our youngest dog destroyed over a shelf’s worth.

She reads more than I do. She can read with the television on. They say that’s one of the differences between men and women. Reading is meditation for me. Sometimes I get into a book and want to take the ride straight through. I write. I savor words. Not that she doesn’t.

She always retains more than I do, even when she WAS watching television at the same time she was reading.

Saturday and Sunday mornings were spent reading and drinking coffee in bed, surrounded by the menagerie we affectionately referred to as ‘The Nature Channel’.

She can walk away from a book if she isn’t into it. I have a harder time doing that. So I’m more selective in what I read. I made a reading list for 2016 instead of New Year’s resolutions. She’ll go to a bookstore and just look at books, read the blurbs, looking for something interesting. And she always finds great stuff. I have a master plan that includes reading some books a second or third time.

She’s introduced me to so many new authors. I’m leaving her all the Michael Chabon, except for the book she gave me – at the end. Chabon’s comic book super hero. I haven’t been able to bring myself to read it yet.

I separate my books into keepers or donations to a book bank. As I pull volumes from the shelves I find old bookmarks and faded receipts.

I find a half-dozen Valentines, and several Anniversary cards pressed between the books.

I’m only half done.

Evolution of a Screenplay: Hitchcock’s ‘Shadow of a Doubt’

typewriter-726965_1280Alfred Hitchcock made over 50 motion pictures, beginning in the silent era and working into the 70s. He is a master filmmaker, and has been lauded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences with a special Oscar. He was honored by the American Film Institute. His work has seen a resurgence in popularity through the re-releases of his classics in theaters and on DVD and Blu-Ray. He directed the classic ‘North by Northwest’, ‘Vertigo’, ‘Rear Window’, ‘Psycho’ and ‘The Birds’, among many, many others. But of all his films, Hitchcock most often expressed his appreciation of ‘Shadow of a Doubt’.

Hitchcock had been on perpetual loan-out by David O. Selznick since they had made ‘Rebecca’, He had been working with different producers. His most recent film, ‘Suspicion’, had been produced by Jack Skirball. In 1942, Hitchcock was given a five-page treatment for his consideration by Margaret McDonnell, who worked for Selznick. The story, ’Uncle Charlie’, had been conceived as a novel by McDonnell’s husband, Gordon. He had come across a story in the news and wrote the treatment based on that story.

‘Uncle Charlie’ tells of an average family of four living in the small town of Hanford, in California’s San Joaquin Valley.The father is an employee of the local bank. Mother is involved in her women’s groups – there is great concern about social standing in the family according to McDonnell’s treatment. ‘The Girl’ seems hard, maybe a little edgy. Her ne’er-do-well boyfriend is viewed with concern by the community, who are quick to blame him for a local stick up.

In the treatment, the cold, dispassionate voice of the narrator describes the residents of the town the way Uncle Charlie describes people in the film, though in this case the perspective is that of ‘the girl’s’ boyfriend.

Mother receives a letter from her brother, the near-mythical Uncle Charlie, announcing that he is coming to visit. The children have not met him, only heard countless stories of their idyllic childhood and how wonderful Charlie is. After Uncle Charlie arrives, he meets and bonds with his niece. He showers her with gifts, but he doesn’t care for her boyfriend and tells her so.

You can read Gordon McDonell’s treatment for ‘Uncle Charlie’ here:


Hitchcock saw promise in the story, suggesting it would make an excellent basis for a screenplay. He hired Thornton Wilder, three-time Pulitzer prize-winning author and playwright. Wilder had written ‘Our Town’ and that was the feeling Hitchcock wanted – ‘Our Town’ with a serial killer plopped right down in the middle of it. It would be Hitchcock’s first ‘American’ film. Jack Skirball would produce once again.

Hitchcock, his wife Alma Reville and Wilder began developing the screenplay. The story was moved to Santa Rosa, California. ‘The girl’ in McDonnell’s treatment was fleshed out into Charlotte, whom everyone calls Charlie because of her strong connection to her uncle. The connection is demonstrated by the crossing of the telegraph messages from one Charlie to the other. And it is evident that her affection for Uncle Charlie is reciprocated.

But she is not the only character with such a close connection. The mother, Charlie’s sister, Emma, was developed into a believable counterpart to Charlie’s socio/psychopathology. She is emotional in the way Uncle Charlie cannot be. The scene in which Charlie presents the family members with gifts has a particularly telling moment when Emma opens her gift – framed photographs of their parents she hasn’t seen in many years. She is at once pleased to see them and to receive them but, at the same time, she is upset in the knowledge that Charlie had them, had kept them from her, for so long.

The screenwriters removed the character of the niece’s lowlife boyfriend. ‘Young Charlie’ became a nice girl who is just bored with life in a small town and looking for something to stir things up.

Hitchcock found working with Wilder so pleasant he added an effusive tribute to the screenwriter in the film’s opening credits.

Wilder left the project to join the Army. Writer Sally Benson was brought in to contribute additional dialog. Benson’s collection of short stories, ‘Junior Miss’, had been turned into a play that had just opened on Broadway. Alma and Hitch worked with Benson to finalize the screenplay. Benson was given full (shared) screenwriting credit with Wilder and Reville.

During shooting, actress Teresa Wright felt that the dialog in the scene in the garage in which she and Macdonald Carey begin to explore their relationship didn’t ring true. Actress Patricia Collinge, ‘Emma Newton’ in the film, had been published in the New Yorker and Hitchcock asked her to work with the actress to rewrite the dialog in the scene.

You can read a draft of the screenplay here:


#TBT It’s the End of the World As We Know It (It’s Y2K)

FireworksIt is Y2K minus six hours and change. I am in Washington D.C. at the Newseum, the museum of journalism, with Charles Perkins. The array of video screens shows celebrations on the other side of the world, starting with Fiji and working westward to Sydney, Paris, and all points in between. Each successive fireworks display is more spectacular than the one before.


Charlie, Janis Johnston, Karen Rugg and I are at the National Cathedral listening to Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Choirs and brass ensembles perform. It is an inspiring evening. When you hear a choir in a cathedral you understand that the architecture is not just about impressing the eye.


We are at the U.S. Naval Observatory on a hill overlooking Washington D.C. Underdressed in this crowd means you’re not wearing enough gold braid. We enjoy champagne as we tour one of the country’s two ‘atomic clocks’. It seems so appropriate to be here, the Greenwich of the 21st century. Here time is measured not in degrees, minutes, or seconds, but by the vibration of a Cesium atom.


Time is important in navigation. They offer a demonstration of time balls and time cannons. You’ve seen the time ball – every New Year’s Eve in Times Square. The ball and cannon were used to synchronize the chronometers on the sailing ships in harbors. The cannon was fired as the ball was dropping since light travels faster than sound.


The fireworks begin. This is a military fireworks display – these are trained professionals and I am fairly certain there is leftover ordinance from the first Gulf War going off over our heads. Below us, down the hill, the fireworks produced by Steven Spielberg on the Mall are interrupted when President Clinton decides to return to the White House early.


No one comes running from the observatory screaming anything about Y2K.

We drive home through eerily empty Washington streets. Everyone is stuck at the Mall waiting for the fireworks to resume.