Monday, October 17, 2016

Sound of Redemption

“Got me a movie
I want you to know.”
“Debaser,” Pixies
 Anthony Hobbs (middle) in Gary; photo by Ludeen Kilgore

On day two of the International Black Film Festival at IUN I saw a 15-minute film directed by 11 year-old Anthony Hobbs entitled “Naga Pixie.”  The synopsis, according to the program: “A pixie is always nagging everybody, and a group of friends [are] trying to figure her out.”  The pixie is the mischievous older sister of a young man played by Hobbs himself. Festival organizer Karen Toering brought Hobbs on stage and asked how he came to make such a remarkable short film.  A child actor at age 8, Anthony had trouble getting roles after he got braces, so he created his own film.

Next up was a moving was the documentary “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story.”  Reputedly the greatest bebop saxophone player since Charlie Parker, Morgan, like his idol, became hooked on heroin and spent considerable time at San Quentin for crimes committed to support his habit.  The director interspersed biographical information with a prison concert in Morgan’s honor that featured jazz greats, such as Grace Kelly, a protégé of Morgan, and gifted trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis.  A New York Times review called the film “a fond and forgiving tribute to the man, filled with music that moves beyond happy and sad, and toward something like brilliance.” 

In 1933 Frank Morgan’s father, guitarist Stanley Morgan of the Ink Spots, impregnated a 14 year-old prostitute, and Frank was raised by her boss, his grandmother.  At the Club Alabam in Los Angeles Morgan backed Billie Holiday, and his seductive playing brought tears to her eyes.  At San Quentin Morgan’s prison band became a tourist attraction.  As the tagline stated: “Frank Morgan was touted as the greatest saxophone player in the world, but if you wanted to see him, you had to go to San Quentin.”  On methadone the rest of his life (when not backsliding), Morgan resurrected his career in the 1980s with the help of artist Rosalinda Kolb, whom he married in 1988.  He overcame a stroke at age 55 and made a successful appearance at the 2004 Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in New York City three years before his death.
above, Morgan with Rosalinda Kolb; below, Richard Pryor

According to Scott Saul’s “Becoming Richard Pryor” (2014), the iconic comedian, like Frank Morgan, was the son of a prostitute and grandson of a brothel madam.  The book opens with six-foot tall Mama Carter sending young Richard outside to fetch a switch with which she will administer a beating on his bare ass.  Peoria, Illinois, Pryor’s hometown, was approximately the size of Gary during World War II with open vice, a corrupt city boss, and a boom economy due to Caterpillar Corporation and an influx of soldiers from a nearby military base. Peoria native Betty Friedan recalled with distaste that “bums cluttered [City Hall’s] steps and threw their empty bottles into the courthouse yard.” The author quoted a professional criminal connected to Chicago’s Al Capone gang:
  When I left Chicago, well, things had been pretty wide open, but they weren’t as wide open as they were in Peoria.  Which was something for me to look at – wide-open gambling, wide-open prostitution, everything running wide open.  With no interference from the law.

At my suggestion Post-Trib correspondent Nancy Coltun Webster interviewed IUN Spanish professor emerita Angie Prado Komenich, 85, for an article on the history of Gary’s Union Espanola, a voluntary organization formed in 1913 to provide members with social, cultural, and educational activities as well as medical insurance.  During the 1920s, a schism occurred over a beauty contest, resulting in the formation of a splinter group, El Centro Espanola.  
 Angie Prado Komenich; photo by Nancy Webster

The youngest of five siblings, Angie Prado was born in June 1931, the same month as the dedication of Union Espanola’s new hall, Spanish Castle, at 700 West Eleventh Avenue.  Angie’s parents, immigrants from northern Spain, ran a boarding house for steelworkers at 1076 Adams.  Lorenzo was a jack of all trades. Gimena joined an auxiliary of Union Espanola called Daughters of Spain, whose members would hold Friday fish fries.  Komenich told Webster:
  These boarders were bachelors, and they came to work and send money home.  My father fixed lunches for them to take to the steel mill and then when they came home he would have dinner for them.
  As I grew up, on Saturday nights, my mother would get us all dressed up and we would go [to Spanish Castle] for dances, performances and plays. My sisters were taught Spanish dances.  On Saturday nights the older parents would sit on chairs on the dance floor and watch the kids dance to Benny Goodman and Glenn Miller. Occasionally the parents would dance as they used to in their native regions.
 Patty Hearst as Tania

The Cubs split the first two games against the Dodgers, despite Rizzo, Zobrist, and Russell is hitting under .100.  In the opener Cubs pinch hitter Miguel Montero hit a grand slam HR on an 0-2 pitch after the Dodges walked the preceding batter to force Joe Madden to bat for closer Arnoldis Chapman.  Toni made a delicious surf and turf (lobster and steak) meal for Angie’s birthday.  LeSean “Shady” McCoy’s three TDs for Buffalo enabled Jimbo Jammers to defeat PAL – The Fire in Fantasy football.  McCoy was the Eagles’ all-time leading rusher but traded after the 2014 at the behest of bullheaded Coach “Chip” Kelly.

In “American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst” Jeffrey Toobin used the phrase “Nervous Breakdown Nation” to describe the country in February 1974, when a dozen misfits calling themselves the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped the 19 year-old Berkeley student.  Inflation was spiraling out of control, the Watergate scandal would force “Tricky Dick” Nixon to resign the presidency, and gasoline shortages were causing massive lines at the pump. Still, anyone who believed a revolution to be at hand was delusional.

Despite battling a cold, David Parnell did a clever, animated imitation of two religious factions arguing – moving the fingers of both hands up and down and making a high-pitched yakety-yak sound.  Pope Innocent III was unable to recruit monarchs for the Fourth Crusade because of wars and succession crises within Europe.  Parnell mentioned that the dashing Count Thibaut of Champagne, pronounced his name like Tim Tiebow, famous for kneeling in prayer after scoring a TD, and that he died suddenly, perhaps, David joked, “doing the Tiebow.”  Richard Lionheart suggested to Saladin a marriage between the Muslim leader’s brother and Richard’s sister on condition that the brother convert to Christianity first.  Not surprisingly, nothing came of the proposal. Student Brian Berger was excited to learn that one could buy a Pope Innocent III action figure.  I was tempted to mention the popular Pope Francis bobblehead.

Jeff Manes hoped I could get former Anne Balay to show up at Miller’s Gardner Center next month for his program.  Balay’s in Pennsylvania, so I’ll ask mutual friend Betty Villareal to read her lines.  Balay sent me a photo on her aboard the Queen Mary at an Oral History Association breakfast.

No comments:

Post a Comment