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  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

(I originally posted this reminiscence on Facebook five years ago today, the 50th anniversary of the Beatles' first appearance on "The Ed Sullivan Show.")

My mother utilized one of those daily desk calendars, with two pages for each day. And one of the small but everlasting gifts she left us was that she kept them all rather than tossing each one at the end of that year. As curator of the calendars today, I can look up what was going on in the family on any given day, stretching back to the late '50s. For a long time, I've been meaning to check Sunday, February 9, 1964, and see if my mom made reference to the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. We didn't watch the show -- I would have remembered -- but it was still an important moment in modern culture.

I'm now looking at that date in the 1964 calendar. In the section where my mom noted TV programs she wanted to see, all she wrote was "Harold Arlen show?" A little Googling reveals that CBS aired a special in tribute to Harold Arlen two hours before the Sullivan broadcast. That was right up my folks' alley; a rock group from England (or anywhere else) would not have been.

So I missed the Beatles and didn't really catch up with who and what they were until after they'd broken up. Perhaps my mother sat us down a couple of hours earlier and we got a healthy dose of "Over the Rainbow" and "Come Rain or Come Shine." That's every bit as worthy.

The only other entry on the February 9 calendar that catches my eye is that a tile man came in the afternoon (on a Sunday!) to check on a leaky shower stall. Incredibly, I've been having that very shower stall retiled. It's almost finished. How little things change.

  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

Today is the 15th anniversary of the passing of my father, Milt Bernhart.

My mother Martie died in April of 1993. At the time we lost her, my dad had already agreed to emcee a Stan Kenton tribute concert in July at Centrum, the Port Townsend, Wash., arts center of which Bud Shank served as artistic director. I'm pretty sure my dad didn't want to go. It's hard enough to be engaging and funny and "up" on a stage in the city where you live, let alone a thousand miles from home. And you've just been widowed after 35 years of marriage.

But my dad kept his commitment. Getting out of town for a little while would be his grief therapy. The loving embrace of dozens of colleagues and friends could only help as he worked through his loss. However, when it came to the method by which he would get to Port Townsend from L.A., he went his own way, as usual. Instead of a plane or a train, he chose an automobile. He rented a car at Burbank Airport and was gone for the next two weeks: three days of driving each way between Southern California and the Olympic Peninsula, plus the week he spent at Centrum itself. I would have gladly accompanied him, but from the moment he told me the plan, it was clear he wanted to do it alone. Time to think, time to reflect, time to come up with jokes for the concert.

When he returned, my dad mentioned that he had narrowly avoided an accident with a truck on the next-to-last day of his drive back to the Southland. He was on Interstate 5 somewhere around Los Banos and decided he'd like to spend the night at the coast. Santa Cruz or Monterey it may have been, about a hundred miles to the west. And it was already getting dark. The only road linking that portion of I-5 with the coast offers just a single lane in each direction for stretches and is notorious for its head-on collisions. My dad never elaborated on the details; all I could do was feel grateful that I had no reason to regret not having insisted on going along.

Miss you, Hon.

  • Writer's pictureDavid Bernhart

Laurie and I recently saw "Bohemian Rhapsody," the biographical film about the band Queen and its lead singer Freddie Mercury. Rock-and-rollers are supposed to break rules, not follow them. Yet for all the differences in content and tone, biopics of today are fundamentally the same as those of the 1930s and '40s:

  • Hero shows promise.

  • Hero struggles to succeed.

  • Hero has groundbreaking ideas.

  • Hero is told "You can't do that."

  • Hero is vindicated.

  • Hero finds love.

  • Hero loses love.

  • If already deceased at the time of production, hero dies a noble death.

  • And of course, the movie's title must be drawn from one of the hero's best-known works.

In my younger years, I had difficulty accepting the liberties that filmmakers have always taken in portraying the lives of real people. I was offended by composite characters, made-up characters, telescoped timelines and events presented out of their actual chronological order, to mention only a few of my grievances. Instead of making a movie based on a version of a suggestion of a hint, why not just tell the truth?

My feelings began to change after I saw 1938's "Marie Antoinette," with Norma Shearer in the title role. I went to the screening knowing little about the picture and not expecting to like it. To my surprise, I got caught up in the drama with the rest of the audience as though we all didn't know how the story would end. And my appreciation of the film remained undiminished when I read later about its many examples of dramatic license. Yes, Marie still dies on the guillotine; otherwise her life is streamlined in the cause of plot advancement. But it works.

A further stepping stone for me was seeing "Rhapsody in Blue," the 1945 biopic of George Gershwin starring Robert Alda, resenting its fictional aspects, then reading a standard Gershwin biography. In his last days, the composer tried to push his chauffeur out of a moving car and later crushed chocolates that had been sent to him as a gift and smeared them all over his body. Mores of the times made their decision easier, but I realized the makers of the film still deserved credit for not pairing Gershwin's glorious music with an attempt at realistically depicting the effects of the brain tumor that killed him.

I'm happily reconciled to the fact that feature films will never be a place to learn the truth, despite movie trailers continuing to promise "the untold true story." Since coming around to this reality, I enjoy biographical pictures for the things they do well. The musical performances captured in "Rhapsody in Blue" more than make up for its historical inaccuracies, as does Rami Malek's portrayal of Freddie Mercury in "Bohemian Rhapsody." And if I want to know what really happened, that's what books are for.

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