Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Flashback: A Beer With the Mayor

Note: It's hard to believe it's been almost 18 years since I wrote "A Beer With The Mayor," about Tim Kaine, for Richmond.com. It was published on Fri., Sept. 29, 2000. At that time I was writing about politics on a regular basis for them.

*
As an observer of matters political, when I learned of Tim Kaine's interest in running for lieutenant governor, it got my attention. Having been favorably impressed with his performance as mayor of Richmond, I was curious about his plans. To get some answers, and to get a feel for Kaine as a player, I asked him to set aside some time to meet with me and spend a few minutes talking politics.

The busy councilman/attorney was kind enough to agree to get together on what is familiar turf for me -- the Baja Bean at Friday happy hour.

Kaine and I sat down at a small table and the waitress took our order; a Rolling Rock for me and a Miller for the mayor. I was glad to see, as a good Democrat, he ordered a beer and not a Slice -- the soft drink he has been seen shilling for in local television commercials.

Once we got past the normal exchange of introductory folderol, I asked him why he wanted to be lieutenant governor. He pointed out that he hadn't officially announced his candidacy, but conceded he was looking hard at running. Then he cut to the chase: He admitted that his long-range sights are on the governor's chair.

He went on to say that for a number of reasons, the lieutenant governor's job seemed like the best move for him to make at this time.

Most of us would probably agree that in politics, little - if anything - is more important than timing.

In July, the sudden withdrawal of state Sen. Emily Couric of Charlottesville - the presumed Democrat nominee for lieutenant governor - threw the door open for Kaine, as well as two others who are reportedly testing the waters: Del. Jerrauld Jones of Norfolk and Del. Alan Diamonstein of Newport News.

Taking On The GOP

Essentially, Kaine indicates he also likes the looks of the part-time position of lieutenant governor because it would allow him to move on - he thinks eight years on City Council will be enough - and up, yet stay in Richmond. He puts value in being able to remain in his Richmond home, to spend time with his wife and three children, ages 5 through 10.

As far as his agenda is concerned, Kaine points to education as his chief interest and what would surely be at the center of any campaign of his for statewide office.

"Virginia is deeply underfunded in education, K through 12," says the mayor with the assurance of a man who can back up what he just said.

He explained that Virginia's Republicans - in order to strike the populist pose of tax-cutters - have shifted a greater portion of the burden of the cost for public education to the localities. They did this by cutting local taxes, such as the car tax, rather than income taxes. So while we are in a time of general prosperity, the cities and counties are hurting for revenue even as the Commonwealth remains flush.

Beyond education, Kaine is already on record as a supporter of tougher controls on access to handguns and other common-sense measures to restrict exotic weapons. As well, he intends to run against the death penalty. In his view, taking what I'd call a progressive stand on these issues will play better across the state than some would argue.

His Republican opponent, should Kaine secure his party's nomination, will likely characterize those positions as liberal. But Kaine doesn't flinch at the prospect. It is his reading that such positions on guns and the death penalty are consistent with mainstream thinking in Virginia today.

Running On Beliefs

Cheerfully, he told me it's his intention to run on what he believes. He hopes to win. If he loses, he'll be happy to go on to live the good life of a successful attorney and family man. I gathered that he wants to be governor one day, but he doesn't need to be governor at all costs.

"I like public service. And I think I'm good at it," Kaine says.

When time permits, he plans to stump for Chuck Robb. He'll put off any official announcement concerning his own running for office until after November's general election.

I do have one bit of free advice for Richmond's savvy and genial mayor: He should make that silly Slice commercial the last of its ilk. Although it may have seemed harmless when the prospect was pitched to him, as it appears on TV, the gesture comes off as bush league (not a whit of reference to anybody named Bush is intended), even if it's not inappropriate.

Maybe an eager police chief, even a small-market mayor, does it for a laugh. But in my view, it's not the sort of thing a Virginia governor does.

Or, maybe I'm being a stick in the mud.

Nonetheless, I suspect Tim Kaine has a bright future in politics. His grasp of the circumstances in which he is operating sounds sure. His natural confidence in his own view of the political landscape strikes me as refreshing. He comes off as a man who does his own thinking, and his sense of purpose seems genuine.

If Tim does get as far as the governor's mansion, I hope he'll still find the time to have a cold beer and talk politics at happy hour.

-- 30 --
-- My illustration (2004). 

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Chuck Wrenn: Rock 'n' Roll Impresario

FiftyPlus, October 2002
By F.T. Rea

 Note: This magazine feature was written 16 years ago by yours truly.

Detail from a postcard-style invitation to Chuck Wrenn’s
40th birthday party on the James River. My art (1985). 

Twenty-two years ago, when it was generally accepted that large-scale outdoor rock ‘n’ roll events couldn’t be staged in Richmond, Chuck Wrenn put three fully-amplified bands, including the impeccably authentic Memphis Rockabilly Band, on a flatbed trailer in the cobblestone alley behind his back yard. It was the fourth edition of High on the Hog, Church Hill’s live music and pork-worshiping festival.

The 1980 event featured a serendipitous, career-defining moment for Wrenn. It began raining. Rather than lose momentum by shutting off the electricity and waiting out the downpour, host/emcee Wrenn broke out rolls of heavy-gauge transparent plastic. Soon, with the help of many happy hands, he had improvised a canopy to protect the stage and cover part of the yard. In effect, he wrapped the whole shebang.

Yes, the show went on. With electric guitars wailing in defiance of the chilly rainstorm, the sense of common purpose felt by one and all was remarkable. And, Richmond’s best-known bartender and most indomitable impresario was emerging as the arbiter of what was valid to a generation of Richmond’s musicians and nightlife aficionados. 
  
To this day, when it comes to rock ‘n’ roll, Chuck Wrenn remains Richmond’s kahuna.

*

Charles E. “Chuck” Wrenn began his love affair with show business in 1964 at the Cary Street Coffeehouse, with its open microphone for folksingers and the like. Then a senior at Hermitage High School, Chuck eventually slid into playing with an amalgam of enthusiasts known as the North Pine Street Jug Band.

Pat Jagoda, organizer of a couple of reunions of the coffee-house gang, was also in high school (Douglas Freeman) when she discovered the small folkie scene emerging in what is now Carytown. Today, Jagoda books talent for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts' fabulously successful live music series called Jumpin’, a concept that Chuck helped set in motion in the ‘80s by booking the bands for its first three years.

“Chuck has remained true to those very first experiences and brought an amazing group of people into the musical circle for audiences to experience,” Jagoda says. “What has become even stronger since those early years is his passion for music.”

Next, as a fine-art student at Richmond Professional Institute (RPI was the predecessor to Virginia Commonwealth University), Chuck became fascinated with the shifting breeze of popular culture coming from San Francisco, particularly the seminal psychedelic shows at the Fillmore Auditorium. On August 4, 1967, to present their own version of a Happening with music and lights, he and two friends rented Tantilla Gardens on West Broad Street.

The band, put together for the occasion by Ron Courtney, was called Actual Mushroom. The light show was essentially Chuck and fellow art student Eric Bowman using an overhead projector with various props. Chuck’s underground-comix-style art on the handbill touted the promised spectacle as the “first psychedelic dance in Virginia.”

“We sold out, but we lost money,” recalls Chuck. “Yep, been losing money ever since.”

Chuck worked construction jobs and served 3.2 beer in student dives on Grace Street to make money during college. Then, in a Fan District garage, he started a business assembling custom-made stretched canvases called the Square Deal Stretcher Shop.

*

After VCU, Chuck and his wife, Myra, lived on Cape Cod for about a year. He took work as a maintenance man at a seaside national park while she learned to be a bartender, a trade difficult to pick up in Richmond. The concept of serving cocktails, or what had been coined “liquor by the drink,” was still new to Virginia. People had been accustomed to doing their away-from-home drinking in exclusive clubs, neighborhood beer joints, and shot houses (unlicensed bars on the wrong side of the tracks).

When he re-turned to Richmond in 1972, Chuck signed on to become one of the original staff members of the Biograph Theatre, located a block from the VCU campus. Having been chairman of the student film society at VCU, the role of assistant manger at the town’s new repertory cinema fit like a glove. Chuck’s promotional savvy contributed much to the establishment of the midnight show as a staple for the plucky Biograph over its 15-year run (1972-87).

Myra took a bartending job at Poor Richard’s, the city’s first downtown watering hole that had a Georgetown air about it. In the fall of 1973 Wrenn left the movie business to become his wife’s trainee, hoping to learn what he saw as a useful skill in changing times.

Today, Chuck’s first wife and bartending instructor, Myra Daleng, is director of dance in the University of Richmond's Department of Theatre and Dance.

A year later Chuck became head bartender at J. W. Rayle, where he eventually began booking local rock ‘n’ roll bands, hoping to attract customers. It worked. Wood-paneled, with lots of stained glass, Rayle (located at Pine and Cary Streets, on the site of what is now a VCU dormitory), was a huge hit. But it came and went like a comet (1974-77).

In 1978 Chuck began renovating a 100-year-old house on East Franklin Street, which connected him to a new part of town and a lively set of baby-boomer neighbors, who the year before had staged a small neighborhood party they dubbed High on the Hog. Chuck’s band, Faded Rose, graced the second edition, also attended by a small contingent of neighbors and friends.

Chuck’s self-styled role with High on the Hog -- booking bands, serving as emcee, and fronting his own group (later the Megatonz) -- was essential to building what became a mammoth annual party. Anticipating the seventh edition of High on the Hog in 1983, it became clear to its planners that the party had outgrown its location in the alley. But the event had become so popular that it was time to go legit. So with the City’s blessing, it moved across the street to Libby Hill Park.

After nearly a decade of frowning on mixing amplified rock ‘n’ roll with fresh air and beer, Richmond’s official stance had changed. Thus the door was opened for Jumpin‘, Friday Cheers, and the other mainstream music events that are now commonplace in Richmond.

Among the many acts to have appeared on High on the Hog’s stage in the public park, three notables are Billy Price and the Keystone Rhythm Band (1983 and ‘85), NRBQ (1987), and Marcia Ball (2001). On October 12, 2002, High on the Hog No. 26 will feature Julie Johnson and NRG Krysis, plus others. Admission, as always, is free.

*

In 1982 Chuck began a 14-year partnership with friend Barry Gottlieb. In character as Rockin' Daddy (Wrenn) and Mad Dog (Gottlieb), they wisecracked and gave out the scoop on entertainment essentials to 2,500 callers per week, via recordings on a bank of telephone answering machines. The enterprise was known as the Rockline.

“We normally did it [the three-times-a-week tapings] in the morning,” says Gottlieb, now a San Francisco-based writer. “Remember, he usually closed whatever bar he was working at, so he came in after only a few hours sleep. We were efficient, goofy, had fun, rarely if ever did a retake.”

In the mid-‘80s Chuck began putting shows together (in various locations) for Duck Baker, a chum from his Cary Street Coffeehouse days and today a world-class jazz guitarist. Because Baker (still not a rich celebrity) was living in San Francisco or various parts of Europe, those gigs helped to pay for his trips home.

Similarly, while working at Bird in Hand, a Shockoe Bottom restaurant/club in the late-‘80s, Chuck began presenting reunion shows of the Good Humor Band near Christmastime. During the late-‘70s and early-‘80s, that Richmond-based group was one of the most popular touring rock bands on the East Coast. In 1983 they disbanded, and most of the musicians relocated to Nashville.

“I moved from Richmond nearly twenty years ago,” says Mike McAdam, the band’s lead guitarist and founder. “Whenever I visit, I always see my Mom, and I always go have a beer with Wrenn. It confirms the fact that Richmond is still my home. Come to think of it, my Mom and Chuck are nearly the same age. Jeez, I hope they didn’t date in high school, or anything.”

*

In 1992 Chuck became a partner in a new Shockoe Bottom venture called the Moondance Saloon. Due to the stresses of the nightclub business, the original partnership soon fell apart. He took a beating, money-wise, but new partners appeared, Chuck shrugged off his losses, and the show went on.

Manny Mendez, one of the new partners, ran the Moondance kitchen until he left to open his own restaurant, Kuba Kuba, located in the Fan District. Of working next to Chuck for years, Mendez says, “He made it fun! You’re having more fun than the people you’re serving. He never has anything mean to say.”

However, even Chuck’s determination and expertise couldn’t reverse a trend that had the Bottom evolving into a loud, randy, and youth-oriented milieu that intimidated many of the graying music lovers who had made up a significant part of his crowd.

On top of that, the two-headed monster of red tape, the City’s and the Commonwealth’s (ABC Board), persistently hobbled his gritty efforts to keep what was the favorite stage of area musicians from going dark. When the Moondance closed in 1999, Chuck was lucky to get out with his shirt.

Fortunately, at the same time Michael Britt, owner of Poe’s Pub, was looking for a bartender with a following. Since then Chuck has worked at Poe's, located at the foot of Libby Hill Park, doing basically the same thing he’s done for more than twenty-five years: pouring drinks and booking bands. Now he can walk home from work.

Ever the optimist, Chuck took his third trip down the aisle on April 1, 2002. And, for the first time he has become a father. Chuck's wife, Hollie, gave birth to their daughter, Eliza Marie Wrenn, on May 9.

“Chuck has taken like a duck to water to fatherhood” says Hollie, who received an art history degree from VCU in 1995. “He keeps her when I need a break, or go to work. He probably changes more diapers than I do.”

Hollie worked as a waitress at the Moondance and upon Mendez’s departure ran the kitchen. She says Eliza has already been to several live music shows. “Eliza, like most babies, I think, loves music,” says Hollie. “She listens to everything I do, from the Ramones to Mozart. She gets very excited and kicks her legs and moves herself all around.”

Chuck’s reaction to midlife fatherhood? He answers, perceptively: “Rather than changing my life, it’s been a wonderful addition.”

*

How does a silver-haired, bushy-eyebrowed 57-year-old who got his show biz start in a jug band keep up with the latest? Must he follow Britney Spears’ latest warblings, or which titles are climbing the hip-hop charts?

No, he doesn’t. “I book and promote what I understand, what I like,” he says with a smile. And so it continues. The region’s veteran musicians, whether they play rhythm and blues, bluegrass, or an esoteric genre of rock ‘n’ roll, can hardly remember a time when they didn’t rely on gigs that Chuck provided, in one way or another. Craig Evans and Billy Ray Hatley are two of them.

“I don’t know a musician around who has a bad word about him,” says Evans, who plays with The Taters, “which is quite a testimonial for someone in his position.”

“Without Chuck there are a lot of people and bands that would not have gotten their first gig,” adds Hatley, of Billy Ray Hatley & the Showdogs.

Mike McAdam, who has recorded and toured with a number of nationally renown acts says, “He has single-handedly kept true rock ‘n’ roll alive in Richmond.”

When Chuck started putting bands on stage at J. W. Rayles in the mid-'70s, there was no rock ‘n’ roll scene in Richmond, only garage bands playing at private parties. Good musicians left town. In the years since, no one has done more to change that than Chuck Wrenn.

But for his efforts, it’s unlikely he’ll ever get the key to the city.

Chuck shrugs off his triumphs and defeats by snapping off a telling quip about his near legendary career managing Richmond’s night life: “Every night was Saturday night, every morning was Monday.”

Thursday, April 5, 2018

About the Byrd Theatre

Note: In December the Byrd Theatre in Carytown will celebrate its 90th birthday. My own memory of that much-loved movie house goes back over 60 years. The nonprofit Byrd Theatre Foundation took over operation of the theater in 2007. Essentially, its members saved the Byrd. Prior to that, in 2004 I wrote the brief history of the Byrd that follows for a local tabloid, FiftyPlus.

The Byrd Theatre: 1928 Movie Palace Faces Its Future
by F.T. Rea
The rising water posed a stark threat. Yet, the cliffhanger wasn’t flickering on the Byrd Theatre’s 16-by-36-foot movie screen.
No, the action was down in the depths of the cavernous building at 2908 West Cary Street. There, an underground spring had swollen out of the chamber that routinely contains it and was lapping at the base of a mammoth three-phase blower motor that circulates seasonally conditioned air throughout the building. The pumping system, designed to carry off excess water, wasn’t functioning because the electricity was out.

Hurricane Isabel’s wet fury [in 2003] had unplugged much of Central Virginia and most of Carytown.

Dissolve to a plot-twist a Hollywood producer would cherish: a generator and pump were located at the eleventh hour and the threatening water subsided.

“I can’t imagine what it would have cost to replace that motor,” said Todd Schall-Vess, the Byrd’s general manager, looking back at that time of peril.

The antique movie theater has dodged many such bullets during its 76-year history. Now, the good luck in the Byrd’s future will come by way of a little help from its friends, if it is to continue its remarkable run - which began the night of December 24, 1928.

A registered national landmark since 1979, Richmond’s Byrd Theatre was named after Richmond’s founder, William Byrd. It is one of the last American movie palaces - most of them built in the late 1920s - still in operation as a privately owned cinema. That it remains an independent operation with a single 1,396-seat auditorium makes its longevity all the more noteworthy.

Strikingly, it cost about $900,000 to build the opulent Byrd. Amenities included fountains, frescos, marbled walls, arches adorned with gold leaf, a richly appointed mezzanine, and red, mohair-covered seats. A two-and-a-half ton Czechoslovakian chandelier, suspended over the auditorium by a steel cable, dazzled patrons with thousands of crystals illuminated by hundreds of colored lights.

Four main players established the Byrd Theatre on what was then called Westhampton Avenue. Visionary owners Walter Coulter and Charles Somma set it in motion. They hired Fred Bishop as architect/contractor, as well as the manager, Robert “Bob” Coulter, Walter's brother.

They all had to be optimists. In placing such a plush cinema in a developing area far from the downtown theater district, they took an enormous risk.

The first feature presentation at the Byrd was Waterfront, a light comedy that used the experimental Vitaphone sound system; accompanying 78-rpm records had to be synchronized on the fly. The film starred the vivacious Dorothy Mackaill and elegant leading man Jack Mulhall. The program opened with organist Carl Rond playing “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

In the mid-1930s, a change came about. Neighborhood Theatres, owned primarily by real-estate man Morton G. Thalhimer and managed by Sam Bendheim, Jr., assumed the running of the Byrd. Neighborhood was then in the process of establishing itself as the region’s dominant chain. With Bob Coulter staying on as manger, the Byrd served as the flagship of the Richmond-based chain’s operation until 1970, when it opened the Ridge Twin Cinemas in Henrico County.

A 1952 Richmond News Leader article on the history of Richmond’s movie theaters, written by George Rogers, offered, “Robert Coulter at the Byrd is the dean of managers.”

As late as the 1960s ordinary people still routinely dressed up to go to the movies. An evening’s show at the Byrd would include a newsreel, a cartoon, a comedy or travelogue, and a live set by the ever-popular Eddie Weaver at the Mighty Wurlitzer.

Rising up from a dark pit before the screen, Weaver worked furiously at the pipe organ’s console. By pushing various buttons, keys, and pedals, the maestro could also play a harp, a piano, drums and more - real instruments, some of them visible to the audience, up in the wings.

After a short set of rousing tunes, Weaver would descend back into the pit. Then, from the projection booth, the sweet chattering sound of one of two heavy-geared 35mm movie projectors could be heard pulling a leader through its gate. Presto! The ancient carbon-arc lamp would project a stream of light through the moving celluloid strip, and an image would burst onto the screen.

Today, the Byrd uses that same pair of 1953 Simplex projectors.

Weaver’s regular performances at the Byrd spanned twenty years, from 1961 to 1981. For the last seven years Bob Gulledge has been sitting on what was Weaver’s bench.

As for Coulter, he retired in 1971, at age 76, and died in 1978 - although according to his 2004 counterpart, Schall-Vess, a ghostly presence said to resemble Coulter has been spotted over the years, sitting in what had been his favorite chair on the cantilevered balcony.

In the 1960s and 1970s America’s cities saw unprecedented growth in their suburbs. New multi-screened theaters began popping up like mushrooms in shopping centers. More screens under one roof meant expanded customer options. In the process, single-screen houses without parking lots gradually lost their leverage with movie distributors.

That process undermined urban cinemas everywhere. The list of darkened screens within Richmond’s city limits over the last three decades includes evocative names such as the Biograph, the Booker T, the Brookland, the Capitol, the Colonial, the Edison, the Loew’s, and the Towne.

Into the mid-1970s the Byrd continued to exhibit first-run pictures. With business falling off, the region’s distributors eventually decided it was no longer worthy of commanding exclusive runs of the most sought-after titles. By 1983 Sam Bendheim III, who by then was managing the Neighborhood chain, could no longer justify keeping the Byrd open. As well, Samuel Warren bought the building.

To the rescue came Duane Nelson, an assistant manager in the Byrd’s last days under Neighborhood’s auspices. Unable to bear the thought of the screen going dark, Nelson, who had studied the development of historical properties at VCU, lined up a partner: Jerry Cable, creator of the Tobacco Company, in some ways the most significant restaurant in Shockoe Slip since the late-1970s. Together, in 1984, Nelson and Cable secured a lease and set about revitalizing the West Cary Street anachronism.

For five years they struggled with little success to establish the theater as a repertory house, facing the booking and film-shipping nightmares posed by offering a steady diet of double features for short runs. Recognizing that changes had to be made, the partners eventually parted ways, and the Byrd has been under Nelson’s leadership ever since.

Nelson’s role in shielding the Byrd from the wrecking ball, or from being converted into a flea market or some other less-than-appropriate use, is commendable. Over the last fourteen years his policy has been to offer bargain-priced, second-run features. And this strategy has resulted in a certain measure of stability.

Film-rental fees come out of box-office receipts in the form of a percentage; distributors generally take between forty and seventy percent. Consequently, most movie theaters, including the Byrd, lean heavily on revenue from their concession stands. On the other hand, by showing second-run movies the Byrd is not obliged to charge its customers the steep price of admission that distributors insist upon for first-run releases.

The $1.99 ticket scheme works as long as the crowds are large enough to buy plenty of popcorn. Because of the traffic this formula brings to the area, Nelson’s fellow Carytown retailers are smiling about the Byrd’s customary long lines.

The Nelson formula also includes special events. Live Christmas shows have featured high-kicking chorus lines, and every spring the VCU French Film Festival takes over the Byrd for three days. More than 16,000 tickets were sold for the 2003 series, which the French government formally recognized as the largest French film festival in the United States.

As Nelson sees it, the city itself provides some of the most frustrating obstacles for the Byrd. “We’re competing against [multiplexes in] the counties. Richmond’s theaters pay a twenty-five-percent utilities tax, a six-percent food tax, and a seven-percent admissions tax that they don’t have to pay.”

Nelson has company. Without exception, Richmond’s entertainment-industry veterans decry the seven-percent grab - off-the-top - that the city demands from ticket sales.

Still, the show goes on. And if the Byrd’s survival is to be assured well into the 21st century, it will probably be due to the efforts of people like Bertie Selvey and Tony Pelling.

Selvey was a longtime supporter of TheatreVirginia, the live stage formerly in operation at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (1955-2002). And now she is a driving force behind the Byrd Watchers, a group of volunteers that she founded to raise money for preserving the theater.

“I need a cause,” explained Selvey. “The Byrd is an endangered species.”

Why endangered? As Nelson admits, although the Byrd has been taking in sufficient revenue to stay afloat on a day-to-day basis, putting away reserves to restore the building properly - or perhaps withstand the next hurricane - remain out of reach. In recent years the current owners of the property, heirs to the Warren estate, have been quite flexible in their rental demands. But clearly, something needs to be done. Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, Nelson seems ready to pass the torch.

Rather than wait for a crisis, a group of supporters has devised a plan to secure the Byrd’s future. It calls for the theater to be operated by a not-for-profit foundation, thus putting it in a position to accept broader community support and to take advantage of some attractive tax advantages.

Accordingly, the Byrd Theatre Foundation was established. Its aim is to purchase the property and to assume responsibility for the theater’s management. Pelling, a retired Under Secretary from the UK Civil Service, assumed the role of the Foundation’s president, a volunteer task, in January of this year. Although he and Selvey have had little experience in the art of selling movies to the public, in truth, they join a long list of important players in Richmond’s movie-theater history who had little in the way of credentials before taking the plunge.

In 1928 posh movie palaces opened in cities coast-to-coast. Most have not survived. As it has before, Richmond’s Byrd Theatre has somehow managed to imbue its current stewards and a growing list of civic-minded contributors with enough of that same Roaring ‘20s optimism to keep the light on the screen.

[sidebar]
A Grand Plan for the Byrd

The Byrd Theatre Foundation intends to purchase the Byrd Theatre. The ultimate goal is to restore the theater to its original splendor and to operate it much as it has been in recent years: playing popular fare, mostly as a second-run discount house. The price tag on that dream is $3.5 million.

The Foundation has its 501(C)(3) status, which means that donations are tax deductible. Once the theater is purchased, it will be owned and operated by the Foundation.

Immediate needs include a new roof, refurbished seats, new carpeting, repair of the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, and a thorough cleaning. It is also hoped that the 1930s neon marquee will be restored. The estimated cost of these projects is $2.5 million.

[sidebar]
Movie Theater Mania

There are records of an exhibition of “moving pictures” presented at The Academy (originally called the Mozart Academy of Music) at 103-05 N. Eighth Street in 1897. Built in 1886, that venue was generally considered to be Richmond’s most important and stylish theater - until it burned down in 1927. It is said that in 1906 the Idlewood Amusement Park held regular screenings of “photo dramas.”

However, one showman, Jake Wells, has been credited with being “a theatrical proprietor, impresario and father of Richmond movie houses” (according to George W. Rogers, writing in the Richmond News Leader in 1952). Wells was a former-major league baseball player (1882-84), who had served as the manager of the city’s entry in the Atlantic League during the Gay Nineties.

In 1899 Wells opened the Bijou, on the northeast corner of 7th and Broad Streets. Offering family-oriented fare, the venue thrived. Encouraged by his success, Wells began to expand his influence. With his younger brother, Otto, he opened the Granby Theatre in Norfolk in 1901. Eventually they built a chain of forty-two theaters throughout the Southeast. A second version of the Bijou was built for Wells in 1905 at 816 East Broad, on the site of the legendary Swan Tavern.

By the early 1920s the feature-length movie had been established by Hollywood as a cash cow. Theaters were being built that were designed to be cinemas primarily, rather than multipurpose stages. America was caught in a veritable explosion of popular culture. The influence of national magazines was at an unprecedented level and commercial radio was booming. It was the Roaring ‘20s, and more theaters were needed.

The Byrd Theatre and the Loew’s (now the Carpenter Center) both opened in 1928. Most of their counterparts, styled after grand European opera houses, were also built just before the Depression. Coincidentally, at the same time talkies were revolutionizing the movie business.

The next thrilling episode of the Byrd’s story calls for a cast of thousands to stoke the wonder of the theater that puts the “town” in Carytown.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

A Lucky Break

The 1981-82 Biograph Naturals, CBA champions.

During the month of March, each year, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is a blessing. The surprises and suspenseful moments of the games help get basketball junkies, like me, through those last tedious days of winter. Every March, as my favorite teams are eliminated and my brackets crumble, I cling to the notion that by the time of the two Final Four games, at least the warm weather will have arrived..

Of course, to be a junkie in full bloom one must still play the game. Since I quit playing basketball in 1994, I suppose I’ve been a junkie in recovery. Yes, I’ll always miss the way a perfectly-released jump shot felt as it left my fingertips. Nothing in my life has replaced the satisfaction that came from stealing the ball from an opponent, just as he stumbles over his hubris. It's especially nice when you get to shoot an uncontested layup, as a result -- providing, of course, you don't miss the snowbird.

The years I've spent covering college basketball, as a writer, have helped to soothe my basketball jones. Since the improvisational aspect of basketball has always appealed to me, from a seat on press row it's fun to watch particular players who have a special knack for seizing the moment. If it's a player you've seen plenty of, sometimes, from the expression on his face, you can sense what he's about to do.

While basketball is in some ways a finesse game, injury-wise, if you play enough of it there are some brutal truths it will inevitably serve up. Although I’ve heard people claim that we can’t remember pain, I have not forgotten what it felt like to dislocate my right ankle on the afternoon of April 20, 1985; I was undercut finishing a one-on-five fast break layup.

While I'd love to say the ball went in the basket, I don't remember that part. What I do remember is flopping around on the hardwood floor, uncontrollably, like a fish out of water. Take it from me, dear reader, popping your foot off the end of your leg hurts way too much to forget -- think James Caan in “Misery” (1990).

But this story is about another injury. On March 4, 1982, my then-34-year-old nose was broken during the course of a basketball game. In that time, the Biograph Theatre, which I managed, had a men's team in a league called the Central Basketball Alliance. Other teams were sponsored by the Track, Soble’s, Hababa’s, the Jade Elephant, etc. Personnel-wise, the CBA was an off-shoot of the Fan District Softball League, with some of the same characters.

The morning after my nose was bashed in by an opponent’s upwardly thrust elbow, while I was coming down from a failed attempt at snatching a rebound, I went to Stuart Circle Hospital for treatment.

My nose wasn’t just broken, it had been split open at the bridge in three or four directions. The emergency room doc used Super Glue and a butterfly clamp to put it all back together. This was before such glue had been approved for use in this country, so he asked me not to tell anyone what he had done; I hope the statute of limitations has run out.

Then, after getting an X-ray the next day, I was waiting around in the hospital lobby to sign some papers and my grandmother -- Emily “Villa” Collins Owen -- was wheeled by. She was stretched out on a hospital bed. As I grew up in her home and was still very close to her, it had the same panic impact as seeing one’s parent in such an abrupt context.

We spoke briefly. She said she was feeling a little weak from a cold and had decided to spend the night in the hospital. She lived just a few blocks away. Pretending to ignore my gripping sense of panic, I calmly assured Nana (pronounced Ny-nuh) I’d be back during visiting hours, to see how she was doing.

That evening I took my then-12-year-old daughter, Katey, with me to see Nana. The doctor came in her room and told us she’d be fine with a good night’s rest. Katey and I spent a half-hour making our 83-year-old Nana laugh as best she could ... feeling a little weak.

Six decades before this she had trained to be a nurse at that same hospital, which has now been converted into condos. Nana died later that night; it was in the wee hours of the morning that followed.

Had luck not interposed a fate-changing elbow to my beak, Katey and I may not have had that last precious visit with Nana. Knowing my grandmother, I'm not at all sure she would have let anybody know she was in the hospital. At least, not right away.

Which means I have to say the palooka who elbowed me in that basketball game did me a favor. Perhaps in more ways than one.

You see, in order to keep playing in the Biograph’s games in that season, I needed to protect my nose while it healed. So, I got one of those protective aluminum nose-guards I’d seen players wear. It was a primitive version of the clear plastic masks in use today.

As a kid, I saw future-NBA great Jerry West wearing such a broken-nose-protector when he was playing his college ball at West Virginia. It impressed the 12-year-old version of me to no end; I marveled at how tough and focused West was.

So, wearing what was to me a Jerry West mask, I played the rest of the CBA season -- maybe five more games. Now I believe that period was about the best basketball I ever played. Not wanting another whack to the nose made me a little more careful, maybe more purposeful. Which, apparently, was just what my game had been needing. 

Our team didn’t lose another game that year; the Biograph Naturals won the league’s championship. In looking back on those weeks after my grandmother's death, I can easily see that in testing my nerve, in a fashion after the way West had tested his, in the spring of 1982 I was living out a boyhood dream. Some of the game's lucky breaks can only be detected in the rear-view mirror.

-- 30 --

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Blood Isn't Just Red

Each time we ask the same sort of questions: 
  • Did the mayhem stem from a humiliating rejection? 
  • Why is it almost always a young white male? 
  • Was it video games that made an already disturbed person into a crazy shooter? 
  • Maybe it was the Internet? 
  • What role did his family life play in bending his mind? 
  • Were some careless words of irresponsible celebrities rattling around in his head? 
  • Did a dog tell him to do it?
Sorry, I don't know, either. But pretending people do noteworthy things, even strange or unbelievably things, for a single reason doesn't usually get us closer to the truth. So searching for the overriding motive for the spraying of projectiles into a schoolroom or a movie theater doesn't usually lead to any sort of satisfaction.

Nonetheless, in trying to cope we always look, anyway, even if in most case we'll never really understand how anyone could do such a thing. Still, since most other countries don't seem to have the same problem to the same degree, our common sense tells us there's something in America's culture, in particular, that's been contributing to these massacres. And, of course, the National Rifle Association likes to remind us that easy access to firearms made specifically for warfare has nothing to do with the massacres.

The piece that follows was published by the Richmond Times-Dispatch on May 1, 1999 (thanks to the OpEd editor at that time, Robert Holland), which was shortly after the Columbine HS shooting spree in Colorado. The point it makes about the long-term effects of repeated violent images on television still seems apt to me.
Blood Isn’t Just Red
by F.T. Rea

Television has dominated the American cultural landscape for the past 50 years. A boon to modern life in many ways, television is nonetheless transmitting an endless stream of cruel and bloody images into everyone’s head.

However, if you’re still waiting for absolute proof that a steady diet of video violence can be harmful to the viewer, forget it. We’ll all be dead before such a thing can be proven. This is a common sense call that can and should be made without benefit of dueling experts. Short of blinding denial, any serious person can see that the influence television has on young minds is among the factors playing a role in the crime statistics.

How significant that role has been/is can be debated.

Please don’t get me wrong. I’m as dedicated to protecting freedom of speech as the next guy. So perish the thought that I’m calling for the government to regulate violence on television. It’s not a matter of preventing a particular scene, or act, from being aired. The problem is that the flow of virtual mayhem is constant.

Eventually splattered blood becomes ambient: just another option for the art director.

My angle here is that in the marketplace of ideas, the repeated image has a decided advantage. The significance of repetition in advertising was taught to me over 25 years ago by a man named Lee Jackoway. He was a master salesman, veteran broadcaster, and my boss at WRNL-AM. And, like many in the advertising business, he enjoyed holding court and telling war stories.

He had found me struggling with the writing of some copy for a radio commercial. At the time he asked me a few questions and let it go. But later, in front of a group of salesmen and disc jockeys, Jackoway explained to his audience what I was doing was wrong. Basically, he said that instead of stretching to write good copy, the real effort should be focused on selling the client more time, so the ad spot would get additional exposure.

Essentially, Jackoway told us to forget about trying to be the next Stan Freeberg. Forget about cute copy and far-flung schemes. What matters is results. If you know the target audience and you have the right vehicle to reach it, then all you have to do is saturate that audience. If you hit that target often enough, the results are money in the bank.

Jackoway told us most of the large money spent on production went to satisfying the ego of the client, or to promoting the ad agency’s creativity. While he might have oversimplified the way ad biz works to make his point, my experience with media has brought me to the same bottom line: When all else fails, saturation works.

Take it from me, dear reader, it doesn’t matter how much you think you’re ignoring the commercials that are beamed your way; more often than not repetition bores the message into your head. Ask the average self-absorbed consumer why he chooses a particular motor oil or breakfast cereal, and chances are he’ll claim the thousands of commercials he paid no heed had nothing to do with his choices.

Meanwhile, good old Lee Jackoway knows that same chump is pouring Pennzoil on his Frosted Flakes because he has been influenced by aggressive advertising all day long, every day.

OK, if repetition works so well in television’s advertising, why would repetition fail to sell whatever messages stem from the rest of its fare? When you consider all the murders, all the rapes, all the malevolence that television dishes out 24 hours a day, it adds up. It has to.

What to do?

I have to believe that if the sponsors of the worst, most pointless violent programs felt the sting of a boycott from time to time, they would react. Check your history; boycotts work.

It’s not as though advertisers are intrinsically evil. No, they are merely trying to reach their target audience as cheaply as possible. The company that produces a commercial has no real interest in pickling your child’s brain with violence; it just wants to reach the kid with a promotional message.

If enough consumers eschew worthless programs and stop buying the products that sponsor them, the advertiser will change its strategy. It really is that simple.

As we all know: A day passes whether anything is accomplished or not. Well, parents, a childhood passes, too, whether anything of value is learned or not.

Maybe television is blocking your child off from a lesson that needs to be learned firsthand -- in the real world where blood isn’t just red, it’s wet.
Whether we do it wittingly, or not, most of us choose to expose ourselves to thousands of images every day. The images that are repeated over and over are tattooing our brains. Speculate as we might about how that is affecting us, there's no way to remove those tattoos.     

-- 30 --

Friday, December 16, 2016

Don't Say 'Queen of Claptrap"

If you write about certain figures it can bring on reprisals that can be startling. When I took an assignment to write a column about Dr. Laura for Richmond.com in 2000, I got a lesson I've kept in mind since. The title of my column then was "Queen of Claptrap."

Shortly after the piece went online I began receiving an avalanche of nasty threatening emails from an organized national group that apparently did that sort of thing to any writer who criticized their queen. I was being Freeped by people who were afilliated with a group known as Free Republic

Hey, if you've never had some 500 hate-driven emails land on you in a couple of days, let me tell you it can be scary. Here's the 16-year-old piece:
Anybody who thinks the job of an opinion writer is easy should think again. Yes, everybody has opinions. That part is easy. What I'm referring to here - aside from the small task of gathering an opinion and converting it into an essay - is research. In order to put this piece together, I had to watch and listen to Laura Schlessinger.

Yes, the same Laura Schlessinger who is better known as talk-radio's Dr. Laura, the acerbic, self-styled adviser to the forlorn who has ridden a wave of controversy to a new syndicated television show.

To be fair with the reader, I have to admit that I have no patience with the entire confession-driven genre of programming to which Dr. Laura's television show belongs. I'm talking about the likes of Jerry Springer, Montel Williams, Ricki Lake, and so forth.

However, Schlessinger has been deliberately pushing buttons to move the stories about the views she voices on her broadcasts from the entertainment section to the news and editorial sections.

Thus, Dr. Laura has become a topic for OpEd columnists to consider. After a sampling of her product I have to say a little bit of the supercilious Dr. Laura goes a long way. For my money, she may well be the most obnoxious of the daytime talk-show hosts.

From what I can tell, her formula combines the hard-edge political and cultural outlook of the typical right-wing AM radio windbag - Rush Limbaugh being the most obvious example - with the lonely hearts advice of an Ann Landers.

Dr. Laura's frequently expressed judgments on homosexuality - notions that some would call antediluvian, while others plainly see as hateful - have provoked an anti-Dr. Laura movement that is making news as well. For more about that, check out stopdrlaura.com.

Dr. Laura, in spite of her startling throwback opinions, is a modern gal when it comes to making money; so she's got a Web site, too: drlaura.com.

"Do the right thing" is Dr. Laura's oft-stated slogan. Well, I can't argue with that. Who can? But the rub is who's defining what "right" is?

Dr. Laura's tonic is basically a dose of Pat Buchanan's political and social agenda, served up with Bobby Knight's bedside manner. The sad part of it - maybe even the scary part - is that some pitiful soul might take her mean-spirited blather to heart, because it sounds bitter and medicinal.

The burgeoning movement to protest her bashing of gays and other people she sees as immoral is gaining momentum. With quotes such as, "a huge portion of the male homosexual populace is predatory on young boys," being attributed to Dr. Laura, it's easy to see why.

While I can't say I'm prepared to endorse everything that's being said and done to "Stop Dr. Laura," I can say with enthusiasm that I'm a great believer in the time-honored tactic of boycott.

Apparently Procter & Gamble got the message. It, like a string of other would-be national sponsors of her TV program, such as Verizon, RadioShack Corp., Kraft Foods, and Kimberly-Clark, have decided to back off.

It won't surprise me if the television show - aired locally at 4 p.m. weekdays by WRIC TV 8 (Ch. 8 broadcast and AT&T Ch. 10 Comcast) - runs into trouble in the Richmond market. Virginia's particular brand of conservatism is baffling to people from other states.

Yes, Virginians are happy with right-of-center politics on many issues. Yet, they aren't comfortable with extremes in any direction; especially those extremes that are blatantly tacky.

Ask Ollie North: In spite of his far-right beliefs, his 1994 $25 million cakewalk to a Senate seat turned out to be a fall from grace. Ollie, with that checkered blue shirt and his self-serving lies to Congress, was just too gauche for Virginians to stomach.

By the same token, Howard Stern's radio show didn't last long in Richmond, either. Although it had plenty of listeners, the big local advertisers weren't comfortable being associated with it. What some of Stern's fans failed to grasp was it wasn't so much his lefty politics that got Howard in trouble in this market; it was his style.

It will be interesting to see whether WRIC will be able to run the commercials of major local advertisers such as Ukrop's Super Markets or any of the big banks in or adjacent to the Dr. Laura show.

With the anti-Dr. Laura movement picking up speed, I wonder how many Richmond companies are going to be willing to write off the entire gay and lesbian market for the sake of riding Laura Schlessinger's publicity wave. Beyond the organized alternative-lifestyle groups, the controversy that is swelling up around this talk show has bad vibes.

In ad jargon, it's going to be too easy for local agencies to buy around the Dr. Laura telecast. That simply means that roughly the same audience is readily available to an advertiser through other vehicles, so Dr. Laura and her hefty baggage can easily be avoided.

Bottom line: My hope is Dr. Laura will get canceled before I have to write any more about her. Just the thought of having to watch her on television again gives me the willies.
There you have it. That's all it took to set off a bunch of creeps. When I read about the threats that are being hurled at anyone who challenges the darlings of the organized right-wing it sometimes reminds me of this episode.   

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Downside of Banning Fake News

by F.T. Rea

Since election day most of the concern about fake news has been focused on the role such off-brand political stories may have played in tilting the presidential race. However, the bizarre Comet Pizza story about a pitifully gullible, assault-rifle-toting vigilante -- claiming he was aiming to rescue captive children -- bodes of more crazy-sounding real news stories to come. 

Happy new year. 

Speaking of craziness, most folks know it's quite likely there are more wannabe vigilantes waiting for just the right provocation. So, dear sane reader, I'm wondering if we may be about to see a snowballing of paranoia over what troubles fake news could animate. Given all the propaganda and misleading advertising we have absorbed the irony of such a national panic would be noteworthy. 

All of which could be seen as an opportunity for some players inside the beltway. Goosed on by a muscular Trump administration, Republicans in Congress might just imagine it's their duty to shield the citizenry from counterfeit stories masquerading as curated news, crafted and published by sources you can find and hold accountable. Accordingly, those emboldened legislators could opt to outlaw forms of fake news deemed to be dangerous.

What fresh hell would facilitate such an Orwellian development? 

More breaking news stories, a la Comet Pizza, but with corpses strewn about the crime scene. In 2017, if planted bogus news is viewed as having played a significant role in a couple of spectacular bloodbaths, one can almost hear a cacophonous chorus of cries for action.

Twelve months from now, picture a Saturday Night Live skit being busted, in progress. In this scenario, it would be for presenting a satirical news item about the White House being painted gold, President Trump quibbling over the deal, cheating the contractors, etc. If this were to happen, SNL cast members would go down in history as the first comedians arrested for violating the new ban on disseminating fake news stories about certain government officials. 

It wouldn't be a matter of putting the kibosh on a comedic performance testing obscenity laws, such as in Lenny Bruce's dirty-talking days. This would be branding satire as illegal when it constitutes a threat to order by transmitting words, sounds and images depicting deliberately false information about specific protected officials. 

In this case, the fake news cops would be protecting a sitting president who may be more thin-skinned than any of his predecessors. What limits on his power Trump will accept are yet to be known. He's already blustered aplenty about how he will curb the "lying press," once he's in power. Furthermore, it's hardly a reach to suggest that President-elect Trump now appears to believe he's got a blank-check mandate to do what he pleases about vexations from the mainstream media. 

After inauguration day on Jan. 20, no one should be surprised if protest marches denouncing the Trump administration's policies are confronted with a more robust response than did those in the days after election day's surprise. No doubt, Trump's "strongman" style is going to be appreciated and emulated by some in the law enforcement/security business. 

Hey, don't say it can't happen here. I'm old enough to remember Selma in 1965 and Kent State in 1970. Our American history is replete with displays of black-boot tactics to quell dissent

Sure the feds ought to pursue criminal hackers and spies, but it would be a mistake for us to ask the government to solve our current fake news problem. The last thing this country needs is a new police force dedicated to imposing a solution. 

If the battered fourth estate and we the befuddled people don't soon find a practical way to solve this problem, one of our favorite forms of push-back humor -- satire -- may be in for a rough ride with Trump in the Gold House. As satire has often been used more effectively by the left than the right, there are surely some Trump advisers already licking their chops at the prospect of scaring lefty satirists out of their wits. 

Meanwhile, the legit news people in the mainstream media have to recognize that their routine mashing up of news and entertainment, a dumbing-down trend that's become more prevalent over the last decade, helped to pave the way for this dilemma. It's on the industry itself to establish and adhere to some rules -- new reliable standards that draw a bright line between a calm reality and attention-getting exaggeration, even hokum

Then the rest of us need to think about the inherent peril of living in an echo chamber that reinforces preconceived notions and makes us more gullible. On Facebook, maybe we should take more care not to share those unverified click bait stories and trashy memes. 

Furthermore, the trending notion that there's no such thing as truth, today, should be rejected. Our media culture -- both mainstream and social -- needs to evolve to where the whole scamming mindset of misleading headlines, doling out fake news and trolling for hire, or just sicko amusement, etc., becomes as uncool as it gets. 

Kaput! 

Promoting that simple concept is a worthwhile cause for 2017. Happy new year, again. What could be cooler than saving satire? 

 30 –

Monday, December 12, 2016

A Seasonal Story, of a Sort

by F.T. Rea

With the recent passing of the 36th anniversary of his death, I couldn't help but wonder what the founder of the Beatles — John Lennon, a master of word-play and sarcasm — would have to say about today's music, art and politics. It would be anybody's guess. After all, in his nearly 20 years as a public figure Lennon’s knack for changing before our eyes was dazzling. There's no reason to think such a restless soul wouldn't have kept on changing ... and commenting.

In February of 1964 the Beatles made their initial appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show. Those two Sunday nights were less than three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Surely, the somber mood of the nation, still trying to regain its balance, had something to do with why those fresh sounding Beatles tunes cut through the fog of melancholia with such verve. Notably, there's been no explosion in American pop music since then equivalent to the impact of Liverpool’s Fab Four.

Then, on Dec. 8, 1980, the murder of moody John Lennon had an impact on the public few would have predicted. It was as though a world leader, or a family member, had been gunned down on the street in Manhattan.

Lennon’s obvious contributions as a songwriter and musician were huge. Yet, it was his sense of humor and delight in taking risks that really set him apart from many of his celebrity counterparts, some of whom toyed with politics and social causes as if they were hairdos or dance crazes.

With the Vietnam War still underway in the early-'70s, President Richard M. Nixon looked at Lennon and saw in him a charismatic working class hero with the power to galvanize a generation’s anti-establishment sentiments. Fearing such potential, the Nixon administration did everything it could to hound Lennon out of the USA. The details of that nasty little campaign are just as bewildering as some of the better known abuses that flowed from the Dirty Tricks Department in the White House during those scandal-ridden days.

With so many years of perspective on Lennon’s death, it seems to me now that even if that particular gunman (a person I choose not to name because I refuse to add in any way to his celebrity) hadn’t pulled the trigger, it could easily have been another one. Like the comets of each generation are bound to do, sometimes Lennon burned too bright for his own good.

Accordingly, with assassinations in mind, I’m reminded of a news item that ran in the Nashville Banner on Feb. 24, 1987. The article's lede was this:
Two Nashville musicians remained free on $500 bond today after they went on a magazine-shredding tear …to protest People magazine’s current cover story.
The two musicians were Mike McAdam and Gregg Wetzel. As members of the Good Humor Band they were fixtures in Richmond’s rock ‘n’ roll scene in the late-'70s/early-‘80s. By the time the story mentioned above was published the pair had moved on and established themselves as respected sidemen in Nashville — McAdam on guitar and Wetzel on piano.

In a nutshell, Mike and Gregg became incensed at seeing the magazine with a cover story about John Lennon’s murderer. They felt spotlighting the killer in that way might encourage another deranged wannabe to take gun in hand to hunt down another comet. So the boys fortified themselves with an adequate dose of what-it-takes — legend has it they were drinking out of an Elvis decanter — and set out on a mission to destroy the cover of every copy of the offensive publication they could find on the strip.

Naturally, this sort of endeavor is best undertaken in the wee hours. In the course of their fifth stop, at a Nashville convenience store, the avenging angels were apprehended by the cops and charged with “malicious mischief.”

Shortly afterwards, in a interview about the incident, McAdam said, “If another guy like [name withheld again] sees that, he might think he can get on the cover of People magazine by killing a politician or artist.”

Bravo!

Primary among the reasons John Lennon was selected and stalked by his murderer was that Lennon did indeed have a rare ability to move people. In that sense, he was slain for somewhat the same reason as political figures such as Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. Two thousand years ago, wasn't Jesus H. Christ taken out of the game for much the same reason?

It's always been dangerous to challenge the established order. To risk changing. To give peace a chance. Indeed, we may be entering an era in which questioning the wisdom of the powers that be will become increasingly more dangerous. Wouldn't it be fun to hear what Lennon would have to say today about our rather mock-worthy President-elect? 

Although Nixon miscalculated Lennon’s intentions, the soon-to-be-disgraced president was probably right about his potential to focus the anti-establishment sentiments in the air. What Nixon didn’t grasp was that mischief streak aside, Lennon was generally more interested in promoting peace than fomenting revolution.

To flesh out the 29-year-old magazine-cover-shredding yarn, Wetzel recently added, “The cops looked at me and McAdam, decided we weren’t exactly flight risks and entrusted our transport to the pokey with an attractive female officer, all by her lonesome. On the way to the hoosegow, Mickey hit on the cop. True story.”

Peace.

-- 30 –

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Wilder the Ringmaster

As a former-governor of Virginia and former-mayor of Richmond, L. Douglas Wilder knows a thing or two about campaigning. At 85, he's still at it. Last night (April 6, 2016) in a jam-packed hall on the Virginia Union University campus, Doug presided.

My guess is Wilder woke up one morning, looked out his window and saw a circus passing. It was a line of Richmond's mayoral hopefuls that went on, and on. His first thought was – that circus needs a ringmaster! In other words, the Doug Wilder that Richmonders of all ages and persuasions have learned to have strong feelings about – one way or another – still can't resist jumping into the fray.

So he invited all of the declared and supposed mayoral candidates to subject themselves to questions and of course -- a bunch of free exposure. Why wouldn't the media turn out to cover the circus?

Wilder didn't hesitate to assert his point of view on several matters, although he sometimes cloaked it in the form of questions. Bob Holsworth acted as Wilder's sidekick. All in all, Wilder was roughest on the three candidates who are currently serving on City Council -- Jon Baliles, Chris Hilbert and Michelle Mosby.

The crowd on hand was lively. There were several times when they laughed or hooted. The two biggest crowd reactions came from remarks by Joe Morrissey and Chad Ingold. They both got laughs for timely quips. Alan Schintzius also provoked a few good chuckles. Most of the others played it pretty straight. Maybe some of them would have been better off loosening up a bit, but it was the first forum. We'll see how they evolve.

To sum up I'm going to assign a grade to all 12 of the folks who answered the call to appear on Wilder's stage as candidates, or in Hilbert's case – a guy still thinking about it.

The grades assigned are meant to characterize how well they represented themselves. Which means the quality of the content of what they said, and how clearly they made their points. That, and their quickness on their feet, their poise, and so forth. For this post I'm not going to get into who might be the most qualified candidates. Nor am I going to speculate about who stands a better, or worse, chance of winning.

No one scored an “A.” None of those who endured the inquisition knocked the ball out of the park. As well, no one deserved an “F” for embarrassing themselves. They are listed in what I hope is alphabetical order:
  • Four earned a “B.” They are: Jon Baliles, Jack Berry, Chad Ingold and Joe Morrissey.
  • Four earned a “C.” They are: Lillie Estes, Michelle Mosby, Alan Schintzius and Rick Tatnall.
  • Four earned a “D.” They are: Brad Froman, Chris Hilbert, Bruce Tyler and Lawrence Williams.
Bottom line: The whole shebang went over so well, it's hard to image that Ringmaster Wilder didn't thoroughly enjoy himself.

-- Art and words by F.T. Rea