Archive for September, 2008

Movie Legend Bette Davis Came to Columbus During World War Two

September 19, 2008



Bette Davis Memorial Stamp (Courtesy: USPS)

  The United States Postal Service’s stamp commemorating the 100th aniversary of the birth of the late movie actress Bette Davis, which went on sale yesterday, triggered my memory of when I saw her in person. It was just a glimpse. She was being escorted into Memorial Stadium in Columbus, Georgia to attend the Georgia-Auburn game. She came to Columbus to be near a friend who was training at Fort Benning during World War Two. The Sunday Ledger-Enquirer, my memory tells me and I hope it’s right, ran a front page picture of her and her soldier friend sitting with some Columbus big-wigs watching the game. I didn’t see the game because the tickets cost too much. After my family and I saw her going into the stadium, we left and listened to the game on the radio at home.  

  The famous star, who was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won two, performed for a local audience once during her stay in Columbus. She drew a huge crowd to Memorial Stadium where she sold War Bonds. My memory says that the Commanding General of Fort Benning also spoke and the Fort Benning Band played for the event. Not only did she raise money for the war effort by selling bonds, but also from ticket sales to the event. My mom and dad thought the tickets were a little too expensive so we didn’t go, but we did ride by the stadium, and, if I remember correctly, heard her speech on the radio, though I couldn’t swear to that.

  She performed at a number of war bond rallies around the country and was the founder of the famous Hollywood Canteen, a night club for soldiers in Los Angeles in World War Two. She persuaded other stars to join her in that effort and many of them made personal appearances at the Canteen to entertain and show their support for the soldiers.  The female stars would thrill the soldiers by dancing with some of them. Davis also starred in movie musical made about the Canteen.

  There have been a number of stories told about her brief Columbus stay, but they could be apocryphal. One was that the late Charlie Frank Williams, a successful contractor, built a night club in the basement of his Greek Revival home on Hilton Avenue in order to entertain her in his home. Another was that the soldier she came to be near would visit with her at a cabin on a lake provided by another prominent Columbus businessman.  I don’t know how true are either of these stories. She was married four times, but I don’t know if the soldier ended up being one of the four.

  I do know that, even though I was a little boy at the time, probably 12 or 13 years old, I was very impressed that she was in Columbus. She was at the peak of her stardom during the 1940’s, said to be the highest paid woman in the world at the time.

  I am going to have to talk with some people a little older than I about that visit to see if they can remember more details.


The Fruits of Ignoring the Economic Lessons of the Past

September 18, 2008

    Now we are staring the big green monster in the eye and seeing what Mr. Greed can do to us…again. Mr. Greed has been very successful in transferring billions of our tax dollars into his coffers, and he continues to get away with it.

  He took big lending risks in order to rake in big profits, and he did. Now his risky practices have come a cropper and he is being bailed out with our tax dollars. Some of his mammoth financial institutions are now nationalized, but what does he care? He’s already transferred the billions he has made, including golden parachute millions, into Swiss bank accounts.

  How did this happen? Simple. Deregulation. He was able to change the government’s rules in order to take big chances with other people’s money.

  Yes, history does repeat itself, mainly because some do not take heed of what happened in the past. What happened in 1929 is happening right now. Easy credit and risky loans encouraged consumers to go deeply into debt.  When consumers stopped buying in order to make payments on their loans, demand plumeted, businesses failed, out of work consumers defaulted on debts and financial  institutions went under.

  This Great Depression caused a rebirth of government regulations to prevent this disaster from happening again. But, the deregulators took  power again, and here we go again.

  I said the rebirth of regulations because they really started in earnest in 1906 when Republican President Teddy Roosevelt decided to take on big business, breaking up a lot of monopolies. The pro-monoply crowd regained power and we’ve had a lot of mergers in the last few decades. So, in that area, here we go again, also.

  The powers that  be are now trying to prevent another depression by having the  government step in and bail out the banks and those who insure loans. Let’s hope it works. This didn’t have to happen, though. Poper regulation could have prevented it.

  Santayana and Anonymous got it right when they said:

  “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
George Santayana 

  “History repeats itself  because no one was listening the first time.”

Big Band Jazz at the Liberty: The Atlanta Seventeen

September 17, 2008

  I had barely come down from the high provided by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s inspired Beethoven concert Saturday night at the Bill Heard Theater, when I was lifted right back up there by the Atlanta Seventeen Sunday night at the Liberty. The locale was appropriate, since the Liberty, back when it was a “colored” theater in old Jim Crow days, featured the great big bands of the 1930’s and 40’s like Count Basie and Duke Ellington. The Atlanta Seventeen played some of the Basie arrangements during the concert.

  It was a totally different type of music from what we heard Saturday at the Bill Herd Theater, but that swinging big band had something important in common with the CSO: it was also inspired. 

Borden Black)

Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

  What’s more, it was exciting.  As the program states, “To experience this dynamic, well rehearsed ensemble in action is a delight for big band enthusiasts of all ages who identify with the kind of exceitemnt generated only by precision playing.” 

  I wish I could describe the way the music affected me, and judging by the thundering applause, everyone attending the Columbus Jazz Society sponsored concert, but it’s something that words just can’t convey. As the saying goes, “You had to be there.” And you really did, because there is no replacing the emotional impact of live music. As good as sound systems are, they still cannot match “being there.”

  While the band is made up mainly of Atlanta area professional and business types – one of its saxophonists is a dentist –  it has a large percentage of former high school and college band directors. Bob Greenhaw, who played with my late nephew Jack Gibson in the Columbus High Band, the teenage rock group “Abstracts,” and the Auburn Knights big band more than 40 years ago , is the leader.

  Greenhaw became a high school band director, teaching at Richards Middle School and than at Hardway High School in Columbus. He finished out his career as director of the music program at Valdosta State University.

Borden Black)

Bob Greenhaw, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

  When I spotted Paul VanderGheynst sitting on the second row, playing trombone, I thought the retired Columbus State University director of the school’s jazz music program had been brought in to fill in for a trombone player who couldn’t make the trip. Wrong. Though he still lives in Columbus, he is a regular member of the Atlanta Seventeen.  “If I want to play regularly I have to go to Atlanta, Dick. There is nothing here.”  Well, we do have the Cavaliers big band, but they don’t perform a lot.

  The current director of the CSU jazz program, which features an outstanding jazz big band, was sitting in for the Atlanta Seventeen’s pianist, who couldn’t make the trip.  Shirantha Beddage plays incredible jazz piano. He also specializes in saxophone.  He also brought some student musicians with him. They played jazz combo music during the jam session which featured local musicians during the Atlanta Seventeen’s break. He is also president of the Columbus Jazz Society, sponsor of this memorable concert at the LIberty Theater.

  The emcee and president of the Seventeen, Fritz Siler, also taught at Spencer High in Columbus.

Borden Black)

Fritz Siler, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)

   Cecil Wilder taught at Rothchild Middle School and Kendrick High School.

Borden Black)

Cecil Wilder, Atlanta Seventeen (Courtesy: Borden Black)


   So, you can see that Columbus is well represented in this truly impressive big band.

  Having been a drummer for a couple of big bands many years ago, I always pay close attention to the drummer.  Tony McCuthcen, the Seventeen’s drummer, was truly impressive, especially when he played the late, great drummer Buddy Rich solos in the concert’s finale “Mexicali Nose.”  I figured he was probably another Atlanta businessman, but Stiler cleared that up for me. McCutchen is the director of percussion for the University of Georgia’s music program, which includes the more than 300-piece Red Coat Marching Band.    

  If you like jazz, I strongly recommend that you join the Columbus Jazz Society. It’s annual membership fees are reasonable, only $35 for an individual, $60 for a family, and $20 for seniors and students. For that you get to attend the monthly jazz sessions at the Liberty.  Believe me, if you like live jazz, you’ll enjoy these sessions. Also, it’s a friendly crowd. After all, they have something in common; they love music, especially when it is jazz.

Great Orchestra, but Where Were the People?

September 16, 2008

    What a weekend. The Columbus Symphony raised the musical roof Saturday evening with one of the greatest warhorses in classical music, Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Then, on Sunday night, the Atlanta Seventeen blew everyone away with Count Basie-Buddy Rich-type big band jazz charts. 

  First, the Columbus Symphony season opener.

Columbus Symphony Orchestra

Courtesy: Columbus Symphony Orchestra

  As we sat on the front row of the balcony soaking in Beethoven emotion, I decided that the front row is not a good place to be in the balcony. You have to lean foward in order to see over the rail. We moved up to the second row after the intermission where the view was better. There was no problem moving almost anywhere you wanted in the balcony because there were plenty of empty seats.  

  What a shame. We have a first-rate orchestra, thanks to conductor George del Gobo, and all of the fine musicians, many of whom come from out of town. It was doing Beethoven justice – really outstanding performances.

Columbus Symphony Orchestra)

George Del Gobo, Musical Director, Columbus Symphony Orchestra (Courtesy: Columbus Symphony Orchestra)

  But where were the people?  Looking down from the balcony, I could see that the orchestra level had a lot of empty seats, too. But, that’s not as bad as it sounds. As the CSO’s Executive Director J.J. Musgrove said, “There are about 150 empty seats [on the orchestra level] , but that doesn’t represent a loss because they belong to season ticket holders.” He suggested that when season ticket holders can’t come, it would be a good idea to give the tickets to someone else so that they will be exposed to the symphony and maybe decide to buy a ticket in the future.

  Actually the symphony is doing right well in this economic downturn. Musgrove said the orchestra went against the national trend and had a budget surplus for the last two years. It was only $1,500, but that’s better than losing money. Also, the orchestra is not truncating its season the way a lot of big orchestras are doing right now, some cutting their season in half.

  No symphony orchestra can make it on ticket sales alone. Only 19 percent of the CSO’s budget comes from that. The rest comes from contributions by individuals and foundations. There is a small but generous corps of contributors for the Columbus orchestra.

  I asked Musgrove if symphonic music is losing its audience. He said, “We’ve been debating that one for a few hundred years.”  He did admit that keeping people coming depends greatly on their being exposed to the music when they are children, and he is concerned that elementary school music programs are the first to go any time there is a school budget crunch.  Also, a big factor is if they have ever played an instrument. He said studies have shown that about 70 percent of symphony concert audiences have played an instrument at some time in their lives.  I’m part of the 70  percent. Percussion was my game.

  You know, what he said makes me reflect back to my childhood. I don’t think I really heard any symphonic music until I was in the 4th grade at Wynnton  School. Up until then I was only exposed to popular music, vocalists like Bing Crosby, Wee Bonnie Baker, and Kate Smith, and big bands like Sammy Kaye, Glenn Miller and Kay Kyser. 

 My fourth grade teacher brought her own small record player to class and played some symphonic records for us from time to time. I was sitting on the other side of the room when she explained that she couldn’t turn up the volume any more because it might disturb other classes. She asked, “Is there anyone who can’t hear this well? If so, and you really want to hear it better, I’ll let you move closer to the record player.” I held up my hand.  I guess I didn’t look very cultural because she seemed really surprised that I wanted to hear that long-haired music better, but, she seemed pleased that I did and let me move closer. I wasn’t doing that for show. I really liked it and wanted to hear it better.  

  I never got over really liking it, and the first time I heard a live symphony performance I was really hooked.  I was in the Jordan Vocational High School Band at the time. Our band director Bob Barr said, “The whole band has been invited to attend the Three Arts League concert by the Pittsburg Symphony.” When questioned about who paid for the tickets, he said, “Some rich lady. She doesn’t want everyone to know who she is.”  My guess is that it was the late Virginia Illges, a primary backer of the League. She was instrumental in starting the Columbus Symphony and asked Barr to be its first conductor. Whoever it was, she also paid for the Columbus High Band to go. What a great gift. We were sitting right on the front two rows and when that grand orchestra cranked up, it was magical.    

  It does pay to provide musical education, because appreciating great music gives one pleasure all through life, especially when you can hear it live and played by a good orchestra.  Speaking of live and by a good orchestra, tomorrow  I’ll tell you about the wonderful evening of music provided by the Columbus Jazz Society on Sunday night. Stay tuned.

Taking Pictures Like a Pro

September 14, 2008
  Millions of people take millions of photos all over the world every day, but very few of them make money at it, or do it as an art. Herb and Jim Cawthorne of Columbus, Georgia, are among the very few who make money at it. Both of them take pictures for Camera 1. Lee Brantley, V.P. and General Manager of WTVM-TV, makes a a little money at it, but he does it mainly as an art form.                                                 
  Herb was working as a stock broker in Columbus when one picture changed his life.  As a freelance photographer, he covered the Auburn-L.S.U. game in 1972, shooting this picture. It won the 1972 AP Best Sports Photograph award.   

 Auburn-LSU 1973, Associated Press Best Sports Photo Award Winner, Courtesy Herb Cawthorne, Camera 1

           Courtesy: Herb Cawthorne, Camera 1  

  He says he enjoyed that experience so much that he decided to become a full-time professional photographer, teamed up with Spencer Garrard and they opened Camera 1, which has been in business since then.  Eventually, Garrard, who now teaches at Columbus State University, sold his half to Herb, who recently turned over the business to his son Jim, though Herb still shoots for Camera 1 and has an office there. 

  Both of them love their work, just as the millions of amateurs love to take pictures. But, they make money for doing it. What separates them from the amateurs? Herb says,  “I’m better at it than most people.  Just as our professional designation indicates,  CPP is ‘Certified Professional Photographer.’ We put in a great deal of study and passed a professional standards examination, just like CPA’s (Certified Public Accountants), to get this designation.”

  He also does it because he like to record history, illustrated by this picture of the old Muscogee County Court House sitting in front of the new Columbus Government Center. The old courthouse was demolished and only the Government Center is left.

 Herb Cawthorne, Camera 1)

Muscogee County Courthouse (Courtesy: Herb Cawthorne, Camera 1)


Son Jim says, ” The satisfaction is the photography itself.  It is always interesting, never boring and rarely the same.  I have been photographing seriously since the age of 16 and have never tired of  the excitement or challenges.  You meet a wide variety of people and get to experience an even wider assortment of life.”

  This is one of his most satisfying shots. He took it at a training exercise at Fort Benning.  Jim said, “This soldier was the top gunner in his class and he got to shoot the real Javelin. The other students got to watch from a distance.  He hit the tank at about a mile away.  I got my photo by a combination of preparation and pure luck.”

Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

Javelin Missle Firing (Courtesy: Jim Cawthorne, Camera 1)

  The picture is going on permanent display at the new National Infantry Museum when it opens in March of 2009.

  Lee Brantley does a different type of photography. He does occasionally sell some of pictures at art shows, but he shoots them for the personal satisfaction. He is not just an amatuer photographer, though.  He has a degree in Commercial Art from Auburn University and started his career as a graphic designer.  

  “Over the years,” he says, “my art interest focused on photography. My graphic training and tendency can be seen in my photography as I tend to shoot details and odd perspectives, not landscapes and pretty scenery.”

  As we look at some of his work, we get the feeling that he is “painting” with a camera.

Lee Brantley)

(Courtesy: Lee Brantley)


 Lee says, “I enjoy showing at a local or regional show occasionally and I have several ‘Best of Show’ ribbons to show for it. I even sell a photo or two at most shows. I also do my own matting and framing.”

Lee Brantley)

(Courtesy: Lee Brantley)

  He reluctantly switched from film to digital photography. “I recently donated my traditional chemical darkroom to The Britt David Studios and finally made the digital transition by assembling a ‘digital darkroom.’ ”

  So that gives you an idea of what separates amateurs like us from the pros and the artists. Well, now, wait a minute. Back in my early days of TV reporting, I shot thousands of feet of 16mm movie film,  and I got paid for it so that makes me a pro too! So there!

The Gas Price Cycle

September 12, 2008

  Just think about the cycle.  You buy gasoline at $3.69 a gallon. Your car pours carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  This helps fuel global warming. One of the products of global warming is more and stronger hurricanes.  The hurricanes close down coastal oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Gasoline goes up to $5 a gallon. The hurricanes pass through. The refineries reopen. Gas prices drop to $4.50 a gallon…maybe.


Hurricane Ike from International Space Station (Photo: NASA)

  Solution: stop pouring carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. How?

  There are lots of answers to that. But, they all take time to come on line. So, we have to ask, what do we do now?

Well, EcoDriving tells us there are a few things you can do right now to cut down on your fuel consumption by fifteen percent.

– Stop driving like a bat out of hell.  A steady 60 mph is, for most vehicles,  the optimum speed on the Interstate

– Properly inflate your tires.

– Get your engine tuned.

– No more jackrabbit starts.

– Keep rolling by not coming to a complete stop unless you just have to. It takes more gas to start from a compete stop.

– Plan your trips. Go to the store once a week instead of every day, for instance.

– Don’t leave heavy things in your vehicle. The heavier the vehicle the more gas it takes. For instance, don’t leave your golf clubs in the trunk of your car.

  This is all stuff that everyone can do right now and if everyone does it,  it will save millions of barrels of oil every year, cut down on air pollution, and bring down the price of gasoline.

Who Benefits From Ron Paul’s 3rd Party Endorsements?

September 11, 2008

  Former Georgia U.S. Representative Bob Barr lost an important endorsement when Ron Paul endorsed all of the third party candidates for president but him. Instead of sharing in Paul’s endorsement, he invited him to run on the Libertarian ticket as Barr’s Vice President. Paul’s not interested, and was not happy at Barr when he didn’t show up to share endorsements with Ralph Nader, Green Party candidate Cynthia McKinney, and Constitutional party candidate Chuck Baldwin.  His absence caused Paul not to endorse him.

  How could Paul endorse people like Nader, McKinney and Badlwin? For one thing, the Atlanta Journal reports, they all signed statements saying they support limited government, personal liberties, bringing U.S. troops stationed abroad home, and for an investigation into the Federal Reserve.

  It would be interesting to know how many Paul supporters also support Ralph Nader and Cythia McKinney. I would not think many. It would also be interesting to know how many will still support Barr? Where do they have to go if they don’t support Barr? Baldwin?

  Glenn Beck got a pretty good interview with Paul about this and the Freddie Mac-Fannie Mea government bailout.

What a Bear and I Have in Common

September 10, 2008

  I learned that country music radio personality Bear O’Brian and I have quite few broadcasting career things in common. For one, we just kept coming back to Columbus. Some people have been critical of Bear for moving around so much, but they just don’t understand the dynamics of being a local broadcasting personality.

  In my view, it’s a good idea to move around in the early stages of becoming a broadcast personality. For one thing, it’s the quickest way to get your salary up to a decent level. For another, and this is especially true if you move to larger markets, you learn different, sometimes better, ways of doing things. And once you have proved that you can cut it in bigger markets, you are more appreciated by management when you come back home.  That translates to higher pay.

  No matter where you work, it’s a good idea to have a good relationship with your boss, and part on good terms. You can’t always do that, but it’s good when you can. You could say that Jim Martin is to Bear what the late Jim Woodruff, Jr. was to me. Both Jims hired us at least three times. 

Jim Martin, Gen. Manager PMB Broadcasting; Bear O’Brian, Kissin 99.3
  Friendship with the boss counts for a lot, but what counts most of all, though, is whether you can attract an audience. Ratings rule. I was fortunate in that area, and so is Bear.

  Another thing Bear and I have in common is how someone convinced us to change our names. Bear said the progam director at his first station, WRNZ in Wrens, Georgia, told him that Wade Collier is not a good braodcast personality name. He suggested Bear O’Brien. “Now,” says Bear, “the only people who call me Wade are my mother and some relatives.  My wife calls me Bear.  We were both working at the same station when we met and I was going by Bear by then.”

  My name change wasn’t quite that drastic. My mentor at WDAK, the late Ed Snyder, convinced me that Richard McMichael, which is what my family and everyone else called me, was too formal, he said. He suggested Dick. (He let me keep my last name.)  It’s been Dick, outside my family, since 1948. The only people who still call me Richard are the few relatives I have left. 

  Bear’s back doing his morning thing, this time on WKCN-FM, Kisssin’ 99.3, from 6 to 10 on weekday mornings.  He’s working for a different company this time, but not a different boss.  Jim Martin left Clear Channel Radio and now owns, with a few other people, PMB Broadcasting.  Bear worked for him when both were at Clear Channel.

 Bear’s show went on the air Monday. He said there was a delay because his contract with WBAM-FM in Montgomery had a non-compete clause in it and the management of both stations had to work out that before he could go back on the air. They did and he’s back. Over the years Bear has done some wild things on the air, I’m told, but he says he is doing a family-friendly show and even includes a 5-minute religious segment. His goal, he says, is to not only entertain, but build trust with his audience. 

  To be honest, I am not a devoted country music fan.  I do like it, even going to Nashville once to attend the Grand Ole Opry, but it’s not my favorite music.  I’m basically a standards, jazz, and classical music guy.   I have made appearances on a few of Bear’s shows when he was in town before. We had fun. I like him.  Welcome back, Bear.

Georgia Electronic Voting Machines Have a Major Glitch: No Independent Paper Trail

September 9, 2008

  Considering the history of voter fraud in its different forms, I am skeptical about the reliability of touch-screen voting machines that leave no independent paper trail. Without that trail there is really no way to conduct an honest recount when results are contested. Georgia’s machines do not leave an independent trail. In other words, they cannot be independently audited.

  The group Voter Georgia brought suit against the state calling the state’s electronic machines illegal and unconstitutional because they do not provide voters with a record that shows their votes were counted properly. A Fulton County judge ruled in favor of the state, and now Voter Georgia says it will take its case to the Georgia Supreme Court.

  Though the judge accepted the state’s claim that the machines are reliable and there have been no documented cases of fraud, all one has to do is look to Ohio to see what can happen. While Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel is satisfied with the state’s machines, the Secretary of State in Ohio  Jennifer Brenner is suing Premier Election Solutions, formerly Diebold, seeking damages for fraud and breach of contract. As ARS Technica reports, “The suit blames faulty software for losing votes in 11 of the 44 counties that use Premier machines.”

  Georgia’s machines were purchased from the same company.    

                                                               courtesy Georgian's for Karen Handel, Inc.

    Karen Handel, GA Sec. of State, speaking
to 2008 Skidaway Island Republican Dinner
(Photo: courtesy Georgians for Karen Handel, Inc.)
 Georgia’s Secretary of State Handel is not opposed to an independent paper trail but cites the multi-million dollar price tag for changing the machines as a reason for not doing anything about it. She told me recently, “It would be nice, but it’s so expensive and there are other priorities.”

  Sorry, but, in a democracy, what can take priority over making sure that our votes are properly counted, when it comes to elections? I can’t think of one.  She trusts the machines. After learning about the problems other states have had with them, and that electronic voting machines are not impervious to tampering, I am skeptical. I would be a lot more comfortable with touch-screen voting if the machines were able to be independently audited. In Georgia, they are not. The record of human behavior is clear: many people will cheat if given the opportunity, especially when it comes to obtaining and maintaining power.

Let’s Hope Gov. Perdue Doesn’t Mess with FDR State Park

September 8, 2008

  Since I have so many fond memories of Franklin D. Roosevelt State Park atop Pine Mountain, I am glad to know that maybe it won’t be affected – though it could – by the new round of state budget cuts. According to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, FDR State Park is not losing money.  Last year it was 2nd only to Vogel State Park in making money, ending up in the black by $220, 884.  

F.D. Roosevelt State Park

CCC built stone cabin, courtesy: F.D. Roosevelt State Park

  The top money loser was Amicalola Falls and Lodge, ending 2007 in the red by almost $700 thousand. Tallulah Gorge State Park was second to the top, losing almost $500 thousand.

    The Georgia Board of Natural Resources has agreed to cut hours or even close six state parks and seven historic sites. It’s part of Governor Perdue’s call to cut $1.6 billion from the state’s $21 billion budget. The natural resources department plans to make cuts that will add up to about $2 million. This means cutting down on hours and perhaps days that parks will be open, and reducing personnel that operate and police them. This has already happened to a number of sites. 

  Maybe the state government needs to consider why FDR is such a charming park. It’s rustically beautiful stone welcome center and museum, which, for years was an inn with cabins and a restaurant, and impressive stone Liberty Bell-shaped swimming pool that is filled with cool spring water, were built by the Civilian Conservation Corps, or CCC, in the 1930’s. It was constructed as part of the Roosevelt administration works program to provide jobs for Americans. The state is cutting jobs at a time of economic downturn.  Maybe they need to read a little history.