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Monday, May 18, 2015

                                              May City Beat 2015


We spoke with Lenny Bazemore, Manayunk’s unofficial mayor, about his gallery on Main Street, and whether being a businessman has affected his own work as an artist. Lenny, who rarely seems stressed, told us that the gallery has allowed him to expand his skills to use design as a medium in addition to his painting, sculpting, drawing and photography. “Having the gallery, gives me tremendous joy in helping other artists promote their work,” he says. “My focus on developing the gallery and working with other artists has diverted my attention away from doing my own art.  Now that I have a full-time sales person in the gallery, I intend on devoting more time to engaging in my own artistic endeavors.” Lenny sees The Bazemore as a “peaceful space where all people can come and experience diverse forms of art,” and says that this is reflected in the gallery’s programming. But while The Bazemore seems to have it all, what about longevity in a world where galleries close everyday? The answer may have something to do with ownership. “Owning the building,” Lenny says, “has helped us have a more sustainable business model.”  Be on the lookout for Lenny’s new endeavor, an organic juicery and café called The Juice Merchant. “We will serve juices, smoothies, salads, soups, sandwiches, wraps, hummus and specialty deserts. Our mission is to provide organic, healthy food options that are affordable.  The Juice Merchant team will be led by our head chef and manager  Monica Sellecchia. Monica is a holistic foods chef who trained at the Natural Gourmet Institute in New York City. Her speciality is in all-natural, vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free eating.   

  
  Can Love Park’s flying saucer building, or the Fairmont Park Welcome Center, be saved? In the 1970s this Mid-Century modern structure, then called the Philadelphia Hospitality Center, was a “first aid” station for stranded travelers who needed emergency cash and/or a one way ticket home. This iconic, quirky UFO building opened in 1960 and represented Philadelphia’s crawl out of Blue Law obscurity and downtown blight, when the City of William Penn boasted that it did not have a night life. City Officials today anticipate the reconfiguration of JFK Plaza but they’ve left the door open for bulldozers to level the Saucer if a new purpose for the building can be found. Mayor Nutter and Council President Clarke both say that the Saucer “may or may not be included in the final design.” That doesn’t sound hospitable to us at all.  

New York Magazine’s senior art critic Jerry Saltz had audience members howling at the normally sedate Barnes Foundation. The ex-truck driver’s salty critique of art and life included Zen advice bombs like: the worst thing any artist could do is to feel envy or jealously at another artist’s good fortune. It was while driving cross country that the self educated Saltz realized he could call himself an art critic. This was easy to do, he said, because the art world is so disorganized that nobody in it knows what they are doing. He mentioned the excessively macho and alcoholic Abstract Expressionists and Andy Warhol. Warhol described the Expressionists as “hard-driving, two-fisted types who’d grab each other and say things like ‘I’ll knock your f--king teeth out’ and ‘I’ll steal your girl.’ The toughness,” Warhol wrote, “was part of a tradition; it went with their agonized, anguished art. They were always exploding and having fistfights about their work and their love lives.” Despite his soft voice, Warhol never ran from a confrontation. This is why his pals dubbed him Drella, a name that was a mix of Cinderella and Dracula.
  

At UArts Art Unleashed 2015 we hung out with E-Moderne Gallerie’s Edward Fong who told us he needed to escape the bands of roving artists tracking him down for exhibition space. Fong joined us in an obscure nook near the kitchen where the food servers congregated. He told us he was looking forward to E-Moderne’s world class Haiti exhibit in May but expressed reservations about why Philadelphians buy the kind of art they do. International art doesn’t go over big in Philly, he said; what sells in Berlin or Paris stays unsold on the wall in Philly, but put up a casual art show and these popular pieces fly off the wall. “I don’t understand it,” he mused, just as another artist drew him out of hiding. What to say to this fine man from China besides hang in there, baby?  Will “Don’t flee to New York yet, Ed!” work?       


The National LGBT 50th Anniversary Celebration will culminate with a Constitution Center exhibit (Speaking Out For Equality). There will be panel discussions and festivities from July 2-5 near Independence Hall. The movement’s come a long way since the 1970s when protestors shouted down passage of the city’s first Gay Rights Bill with cries of, “Gays have rotten teeth!” We find it strange that most of the panelists like Bishop Gene Robinson, Judy Shepard, Marc Stein, Eliza Byard, Michael Long and Eric Marcus are out of towners. They may be substantive voices, but a “localized” event of this magnitude should employ a few locally based historians, activists and writers.  

 When Philly.com ran a story about a protest at a college lecture because of that lecturer's views on rape, we wondered why the protestors were angry.  Left out of the report was a crucial element:  what were the lecturer's views that made her so controversial?  How could any reporter miss such a thing? The reader finished the story not knowing what made the protesters angry.  We also have problems with what passes as "breaking news” these days.  Do we really need to know about every high school teacher who exchanges mash notes or who has a love affair with one of his or her older students? Are these really mega stories on par with the latest ISIS attacks? Journalism, it seems, has yet to find a respectable middle ground when it comes to this topic.

We headed over to the All That’s Jazz Art in City Hall exhibit to find more than a hundred people gobbling up chicken gumbo, French fries, cookies and boxed wine. This was Philadelphia at its grassroots finest, despite the Moroccan street bazaar atmosphere. Curated by Richard J. Watson, we were delighted when the dead poet Allen Ginsberg “returned” in the form of a Philly artist, Alan Ginsburg, with his “java Jive,” a coffee table sculpture, and a charcoal drawing, “The Piano Movers,” inspired by a crowded, impromptu happening in a performing space.   
  




Midnight Journey: With Sam and the Homeless Pretenders

The Local Lens



Published
Wed, May 06, 2015

By Thom Nickels

I’m walking through Center City with Sam, a man from Reno, Nevada. It’s 2AM, the bars are closed, and Sam doesn’t want to call the night quits and go back to his hotel to prepare for his 7AM flight home. He wants more of Philly.
"The bars are closed, Sam," I said. "This is it, unless you’re a member of a private club."

Five feet away from us a cab is waiting for customers. The driver overhears our conversation and adds his two-cents:
"In New York City the bars stay open all night!"

"They’re open in Reno, too," Sam said, alluding to Reno’s casino life. "Closing down at two seems awfully early."
The cab driver and Sam start talking and soon the driver says he’ll take Sam to the airport when the sun comes up. They exchange numbers and, as a bonus, the driver promises to give Sam a wake-up call.

I’ve been with Sam for a total of four hours and I already feel like we’re best friends. When he suggests that I hop into the cab and take it to Fishtown, I do just that. The El has already closed for the night, and this is a much better option than waiting for the shuttle bus. Twenty-five minutes ago Sam put a twenty dollar bill in my hand for a taxi because I told him that I missed the last El but that the shuttle bus was "just fine."

"No it’s not," he said.

Not only did Sam, "The Stranger," give me taxi fare, he bought me dinner at Moriarty’s Pub on Walnut Street. We had a lot to share in Moriarty’s but it was mostly Sam who did the talking. I had asked if everyone from Reno was that nice.
As I hop into the taxi, I give Sam a hug and watch as the seventh or eighth homeless person of the night comes up to him and asks for help.

"What’s he going to say to this one?" I wonder.

Let’s backtrack a little:

Five hours earlier I was hanging out with my friends Lena, Jane and Brad at an art reception at Freeman’s Auction House. After the show, we went to Cosi’s near the Academy House for coffee and dessert.

When Brad leaves Cosi, Lena, Jane and I start talking about the relative nature of sexual attraction. We’re getting into it, French-café style, when a well dressed passerby, a dark haired guy about 35, turns in our direction and says, "What’s this about attraction?"

This is more than just a random question. The stranger is really interested, so much so that Lena offers him a seat and suddenly it’s a four-way with a new friend. Sam tells us that he’s a software engineer from Reno, and that he comes to Philly once a year on business and that he looks forward to the trip like a kid looks forward to Christmas. Philly, he says, is positively the greatest city. This is all Jane needs to hear. She invites everybody up to her 36th floor condo so that Sam can see some spectacular views of the city.

Fifteen minutes later the four of us are staring out over the city lights on Jane’s balcony with its bull’s eye view of the roof of the Academy of Music.

Sam takes our little group by storm. He’s a one man charisma machine. He has us hypnotized; we are thoroughly under his spell. We linger a long time at Jane’s place, but when we disperse it is only Sam and I who wind up back at Cosi’s.
"Let’s get some dinner, dude," Sam said to me. "I’m starving."

While deciding where to eat—it’s not easy at 1AM—Sam tells me about a homeless man who asked him for money earlier in the evening. "There he is right over there," he said, pointing to a guy in a North Face jacket and white sneakers, scurrying up a small side street to pee.

"I was going to get him something to eat," Sam said, "but then he started saying how he only wanted money for his hungry kids, lying, talking about how starved they were, and how he was evicted from his place and then fired from his job and forced to live on the streets without food. It’s bullshit. He’s got money. Just look at those hundred-dollar sneakers. I’d have more respect for him if he just said he needed the money for beer or drugs."

Not soon after Sam tells me the man’s story, the guy waves to us and crosses the street. Suddenly, it’s high-five buddy-time. North Face wants to know what we’re doing, implying he’d be happy to tag along. Sam toys with him, asks him if he’s gotten food yet for those starving kids but the guy says no, he hasn’t gotten the money to feed them, or money to buy himself something to eat.

"So what you doin?" he asked Sam.

Sam says he’s on his way to eat, after which the man asks for money. "So what you guys doin’ later?" he asked.
In Moriarty’s, Sam tells me about his life as a foster child, how he was raised by a Catholic family, a Mormon family and then a Jehovah’s Witness family. He relates tales of alcoholism, abuse, drug addiction, and stories about how he used to have nothing to his name. Now he travels throughout the US with an expense account.

After dinner, we’re out on the street again because Sam likes to soak up the sights and sounds of Philly. Another homeless man approaches.

This one is all about "Hey, what’s up," but the good cheer ends at the mention of money. He’s an older guy, kind of doughy and soft looking, not tough at all. He has the look of a perpetual victim but underneath his sad eyes I detect a snake in the grass. He’s tall and big boned and looks extremely well fed.

Sam questions him. He lays it on thick. How did you arrive at this point in your life? What happened? The guy said he doesn’t have a job. His deadpan monotone is even more annoying than the look on his face. Like the first guy, his sneakers look brand new. I keep thinking Sam is going to give him something because of all the questions he asks, but this doesn’t happen. The guy doesn’t ask if he can hang out with us but shuffles off to the next person, his sad face even looking sadder than before.

Sam tells me about the time he was unemployed, although it wasn’t for a long time.

"These guys, you know," he said, "if they just put their willpower into finding work, any kind of work, they could do it. Even if that meant going down to the river and washing their face in the water in an attempt to get clean, then walking into a place and asking if there is anything they could do, sweeping floors, taking out the trash - anything, going from one place all day and never giving up and even going down to the river again and washing their face, over and over again, then looking for work the next day and the day after until something happened. They would find something if they did that. This kind of heavy focus would work. It would produce results but what happens with these guys is that they are not 100 percent serious. Panhandling becomes their career, and drugs or alcohol sidetracks them. Yeah, I like to play with them. I like to make them see themselves, but sometimes I will help them if I feel they’re real."

We take a walk up Latimer Street, then down Walnut and Locust and finally down 13th Street where we are interrupted by a skinny women in a ratty looking turban coming up the PATCO subway stairs. She catches Sam’s eye, and suddenly we are transported to the Wilma or the Suzanne Roberts stage.

"Guys, how you all doin? You know, this weather is nice but my husband beats me and my children have been sent away, and now I’m walkin’ around cause I can’t get home, everything’s been shut down, I’ve been goin’ around like this for hours, goin’ up and down these stairs, askin’ for help. I need to get back into singin’ and this band I was with…"
She mentions the name of the band but I am already not paying attention. I try to imagine her as a singer with a lily in her hair, or slanting a microphone sideways down to the floor as she belts out a jazz tune.

She unleashes more biographical information, but I have my back turned to her while gazing out onto 13th Street. The gay bars have let out and all hell is breaking loose. The quiet of the city has been broken. Sam and I walk up 13th Street, past Woody’s bar. Soon we are on Broad Street by the Doubletree Hotel, where Sam is staying. We stop and talk some more, getting philosophical now, when Sam notices another homeless guy sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk under a streetlight. "Who the hell would sleep there?" he asked. "Do you see the way he keeps bobbing his head up and down, like he never allows it to touch the ground?" To me it seems like just another Philly scene, but Sam is fascinated. "We don’t have anything like this in Reno," he said, "People sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk. It’s incredible. Do you think he’s a spy? Do you think these homeless people have a spy network? Is that why all these homeless people are coming up to me?"

"He’s not a spy, Sam," I said to him, "This is just…Philly."

When Sam suggests that we go over and talk to the guy, I say yes because I want to see where he’s going with this. Up close to the sleeper, I can see that this is a serious case, someone who’s been on the streets for a while and drugged or drunk into unconsciousness. He has his head flat on the sidewalk, as it turns out—the bobbing of the head was just a reaction to a drug. Sam leans over him and asks if he is okay. He calls him "brother" and keeps repeating that he shouldn’t be sleeping in the middle of the sidewalk.

"Hey brother, hey brother," he said over and over again.

Finally, the man rouses. He thinks Sam is an undercover cop or a big-shot restaurant owner who wants him off his sidewalk. He doesn’t know that Sam is just a well dressed pussycat (who poses as a killer-type) from Reno. The guy stands up obediently when Sam urges him to find a dark, private alley where he can be cozy and safe. The guy is so stoned it is hard for him to talk or walk, and his jeans are falling down. He wobbles towards the curb. He’s too out of it to say anything except to ask for money.

A few minutes later we bump into the North Face jacket guy.

"Hey, my friend," Sam said, "Did you ever find something to eat?" Sam knows he’s not after food.

The guys says no, and then, like a robot, adds, "what you doin? You got a dollar?"

Sam tells him that he’s spent all his money on me.

It’s a joke, of course, fit for a cheap laugh, but by the end of our walk around the city I lost count of the numbers of homeless men we met, these creatures of the night, or so-called "expensive sneaker people down on their luck." Men who can’t or won’t find jobs, and to whom it will never occur to go down by the river, wash their face off in a symbolic baptism so that they can try to get into a different groove.

Remembering Andy Warhol

Remembering Andy Warhol

Weekly Press
Wed, Apr 22, 2015

By Thom Nickels
Contributing Writer
It’s been an art-filled week for this columnist, first with a trip to the Barnes Foundation to hear Jerry Saltz, a former truck driver who became the senior art critic at New York Magazine. Saltz talked about the state of painting and sculpture in 2015. Then it was off to check out Art Unleashed at the University of the Arts, after which I was supposed to head into the Riverwards to check out Warren Muller’s new gallery show at Bahdeebahdu’s, but I never made it. Having to attend too many art events in one day is never a good idea. By the end of the week my head was spinning with multiple visual images although I found that I was mainly focusing on the work of Andy Warhol, probably because Saltz had mentioned Andy in his talk in connection with the New York Abstract Expressionists.

It’s been almost 30 years since Andy Warhol died in Manhattan’s New York Hospital on February 22, 1987. Since his death, Warhol’s star has not faded. His works still sell for unprecedented prices: In 2002, ‘Green Car Crash’ sold for 71 million; last year ‘200 One Dollar Bills’ was sold at Sotheby’s for a cool 43.7 million, and the artist’s 1963 work, ‘Eight Elvises,’ netted 100 million.

I saw Andy Warhol once on the streets of Manhattan riding his bicycle. The flash of white hair was unmistakable.
Ask anyone on the street today what he or she thinks of when they hear the name Andy Warhol, and you’re likely to get different responses. Some see him as the hedonist filmmaker of the 1960s and 70’s (Joe Dallesandro, where are you?); others see him as a mediocre artist who got lucky when he fused commercial and fine art and came up with his own artistic hybrid. Still others recall a manipulative artist who, while maintaining a rigid and highly disciplined work life, did nothing to "save" the hosts of men and women around him in the Factory who destroyed themselves with drugs in the name of "Art."

When Warhol’s diaries were published in 1989, the world saw that the most outrageous artist of the 20th century was really a very conscientious workaholic who went to Mass every Sunday. The same man who made movies entitled "Heat" and "The Chelsea Girls" didn’t believe in modern (non-monogamous) marriages, and was very nearly celibate as a gay man. If one expected to find in Warhol’s diaries an endless litany of sexcapades à la the Ned Rorem Diaries or Paul Goodman’s famous sex diary, "Five Years," they were sadly mistaken. The great artist might as well have been a Trappist monk with an occasional penchant for voyeurism. In life, Warhol only posed as a jaded debauchee. It was, as they say, a big act.

As an artist, Warhol is mostly known for the Pop phase of his work. He fused high art with low art. One of his major influences was Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school of architecture. Gropius believed that a "collective" of artists was necessary, because the arts had become "isolated" in modern times. To forge this new unity among the arts, Gropius founded (and designed) the Bauhaus School in Dessau, Germany, in 1925. Much like Andy Warhol’s New York Factory, the Dessau Bauhaus School was a hydra-headed endeavor. Students and teachers alike worked together on the design of buildings, furniture, teapots, wall hangings, table lamps, photography and advertising posters. Gropius’ vision of a synthesis of the arts, just as Warhol’s marriage of the fine and commercial art worlds, gave the world something brand new.

But Warhol left the world of painting in 1965 in order to make movies. The change was perhaps predictable, given that the prince of Pop art had worked with a diversity of media and styles. By 1965, he was calling painting "old fashioned". "I don’t paint anymore," he said in 1966. "I gave it up a year ago and just do the movies now. I could do two things at the same time but movies are more exciting. Painting was just a phase I went through." Warhol’s films, although they won awards in small artistic circles, never had the popularizing effect of his art. People did not line up for a Warhol premier.
Like many famous artists, Andy eventually felt trapped by the public’s expectations of him. The public wanted him to produce more images of popular culture, but at this stage of the game he was getting sick and tired of the non-stop parade of society portrait commissions that were coming his way. He was also beginning to grow bored with his life of nightly clubbing in Manhattan.

Warhol’s future as an artist might have been different had he not met Jean-Michel Basquiat in the fall of 1982. Basquiat, originally a street artist, breathed new life into Warhol’s love of the paintbrush, and exerted enough influence that Warhol quit making movies after he made "Andy Warhol’s Bad" in 1976. The artist Keith Haring once said that "…Andy trusted Jean even to the point that he would actually let him cut and sculpt his hair." Warhol took Basquiat under his wing. Soon the two men were doing everything together, including filling the Factory with sweet smelling pot smoke.
Before Warhol came on the art scene, the New York art world was ruled by the Abstract Expressionists. The Abstract Expressionists were exclusively male (women in that art world were relegated to making coffee or becoming lovers and mistresses of the Abstractionists). The Abstractionists were also excessively macho, alcoholic, and homophobic. Warhol, who was anything but macho, did however find much to admire in the work of Jackson Pollock.
A lot has been written about the Jackson Pollock crowd. In his diaries, Warhol refers to them as "hard-driving, two-fisted types who’d grab each other and say things like ‘I’ll knock your f--king teeth out’ and ‘I’ll steal your girl.’ The toughness," Warhol added, "was part of a tradition; it went with their agonized, anguished art. They were always exploding and having fistfights about their work and their love lives."

Pollack, who was very antigay, would greet every gay person he met with a sexual insult that cannot be printed in this newspaper.

But shy little Andy couldn’t resist annoying these beefy Abstractionist thugs. Despite his soft-spoken voice, he never ran from a confrontation. Perhaps this is why his friends called him Drella, a name that was a combination of Cinderella and Dracula. "I certainly wasn’t a butch kind of guy by nature, but I must admit, I went out of my way to play up the other extreme," he wrote of his time with these guys. Rejected by the Abstract Expressionists for being gay and for his love of commercial art, Andy had no choice but to cultivate an artistic life as a contrarian.

In the 1950s and 60s, Warhol made it his mantra to keep repeating that the "snobbish distinctions between fine and commercial (so-called high and low) art were no longer valid. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good," he wrote in "The Philosophy of Andy Warhol." Later, under the influence of Pollack and painters like Ellsworth Kelly, Warhol came to paint works of art like "Red Disaster," 1985, a painting which clearly demonstrates his fondness for the so called clean machine aesthetic. His so-called urine paintings, which were influenced by Neo-Dadaist artists and Pablo Picasso, caused him to paint with a sponge mop.

Sometimes art imitates life, and vice versa. After a death threat, Warhol went into a sporting goods store to buy a camouflage hunter’s hat and proceeded to paint a series of Camouflage Paintings.

A year before his death, he painted a series of self-portraits. He also began a rash of religious paintings, such as The Last Supper, and a slew of acrylic and silkscreen works like "Heaven and Hell are Just One Breath Away," "The Mark of the Beast," and "Repent and Sin No More." These last paintings of his show the influence of his childhood experiences of going to his Pittsburgh Byzantine Catholic church with its egg tempera and gold leaf icons.

In an old YouTube clip of Andy’s graveside service, one can see elaborately vested Byzantine priests swinging censers over the artist’s open grave.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

the pete dexter devil's pocket philly syndrome


The Local Lens




Published
Wed, Apr 29, 2015

By Thom Nickels

For a writer, the ability to entertain readers doesn’t require a pronounced accent or a certain pose while smoking a pipe. Raw talent can appear anywhere. It can even assume the guise of the so-called average man in a pickup truck.
Take Pete Dexter, for instance. Dexter is about as far from the "finely-cultured" literary gentleman as one can get. In personal appearances and interviews about his astonishing writing career, he usually appears in a baseball cap, sometimes cocked at an angle, with his hair uneven and spiraling out from behind his ears.

In YouTube interviews, Dexter doesn’t appear to be as tall as the people who interview him. I noticed something else about the man: he has eyes like Edgar Allan Poe. Poe, of course, had a highly dramatic personal life. Dexter’s life, especially when he lived in Philly, was also highly dramatic.

Like Poe, Dexter didn’t make Philly his permanent home. He was born in Pontiac, Mich., in 1943, did his undergrad work at the University of South Dakota. He eventually wound up in Philly because of journalism, arriving just before the Christmas of 1974 to churn out articles for The Philadelphia Daily News.

Before that, the Puget Sound, Wash., resident worked a series of menial jobs like mail sorter in a post office, car salesman and truck driver. He was once even a ditch-digger in Florida. This was before he landed his first job in journalism as a novice reporter for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. He lucked out one day when he saw a Help Wanted ad for a reporter in the window of the Sentinel, something that would never happen in today’s world. He got the job and worked as a reporter for The Palm Beach Post. He also started writing for magazines, but his real jump into the newspaper limelight occurred when he began working for The Daily News.

Two years after his arrival in 1974, Daily News Editor Gil Spencer would let Dexter try his hand at writing a column. By the time he left Philly in 1986, he was one of the city’s most famous columnist. But Dexter hasn’t always gotten along with newspaper editors—there’s a famous story about how he once allegedly threatened to push an editor’s head into a pot of chili during a holiday party.

These were the days when newspaper columnists produced two or three columns a week at 800-900 words per column. Newspaper columnists today appear once a week if they are lucky. Dexter likes to say that columnists who are published once a week can easily hide who they are, but when you write three or four or five times a week, you can’t hide who you are from readers.

"A pose exposes itself," he says.

Dexter likes to joke that he got his column at the Daily News because the editors there got tired of him pestering them about writing stories. But once he settled into the life of a columnist, he says it was one of the happiest periods of his life. His days as a Philly columnist were fun and reckless. He could be seen hanging out in—and closing out—bars like Dirty Frank’s, McGlinchey’s and Doc Watson’s in Center City. He had a penchant for pushing the envelope, getting into small fights, wrecking company cars and carousing into the wee hours.

Then there was his fateful column on December 9, 1981 about the efforts to combat drug dealing in the tough, often-violent Irish neighborhood of Grays Ferry, also called Devil’s Pocket, near Center City. Entitled, In Tasker, It’s About to Stop, the column mentioned the death of a 21-year-old male.

After the column was published, Dexter got a call from the victim’s mother, angry that he had called her son a "doper" in print. The victim’s brother, a bartender in Grays Ferry, was also on the line with the mother demanding that Dexter retract everything he wrote. Dexter refused to do that but offered to meet the bartender personally at his bar, where they could chat and iron things out.

The column began: "A couple of weeks ago, a kid named Buddy Lego was found dead in Cobbs Creek. It was a Sunday afternoon. He was from the neighborhood, a good athlete, a nice kid. Stoned all the time. The kind of kid you think you could have saved."

When Dexter went to the bar, he introduced himself to the bartender, making it clear he wasn’t going to retract anything. At this point, the scenario gets fuzzy. Dexter says that somebody hit him from behind, knocking out some of his teeth. Later reports have the bartender attacking him with a cue stick.

Dazed and bloodied, the columnist went home and contacted his prizefighter friend, Randall "Tex" Cobb, and a few others, and they all decided to go back to the bar and protect Dexter during another attempt to "reason" with the bartender.

But as soon as they entered the bar, Dexter would recall in interviews that an ugly, fat, red-haired guy ran out, and then came back with numerous men with tire irons, nightsticks and a baseball bat. Since you cannot reason with tigers, sometimes the only thing to do is strike while the iron is hot. But for Dexter, Cobb and friends, it was too late to defend themselves and spring into action. There were just too many people to fight.

The 38-year-old columnist was out cold on the sidewalk, and Cobb had been injured as well. The rest of the group took off. Dexter suffered a broken pelvis, a brain hemorrhage, a concussion and plenty of nerve damage to his hands. But his troubles were just beginning: During surgery, there had been a problem with the anesthesia, so that while it appeared that Dexter was totally unconscious, he was simply completely paralyzed. He could feel the surgeon drilling into his leg, but he was unable to do anything about it. What saved the day was the fact that his heart was beating furiously, alerting the surgical crew to his consciousness. After that, he was numbed sufficiently

Dexter said the horrendous pain he felt would have driven a lot of people to the nut-house. While recovering from the incident, he started work on his first novel, God’s Pocket.
The incident would pave the way for his move to Sacramento from Philly. In 1986, he wrote his last column for the Daily News:

"I have seen a pope. I have seen Julius Erving at the top of his game. I have seen a city administrator burn down a neighborhood. I watched Randall Cobb slowly realize he would never become heavyweight champion of the world. One night I almost watched myself die."

"And as moving as those things were at the time, they are not what endure. What endures are the people I loved."
"Somewhere along the line, this city has done me a profound favor. I glimpse it once in a while at night in the street, among the people who live there, or along the road. Hitchhikers. It cuts fresh every time.

"I recognize the lost faces because one of them, I think, was supposed to be mine."

In Sacramento, he started a new life as a columnist for The Sacramento Bee, then proceeded to write a series of ground breaking novels, beginning with Deadwood in 1986; Paris Trout, 1988 (which won the 1988 U. S. National Book Award); Brotherly Love, 1991; The Paperboy, 1995; Train, 2003; and Spooner, 2009. Three of his best newspaper columns were also included in Deadline Artists: America’s Greatest Newspaper Columns, which also featured the works of Jimmy Breslin, Will Rogers, and Walter Lippmann.

His years as a columnist paid off, because when he’d work on his novels, he would write two pages—or 900 words—per day, as per his erstwhile columnist routine. He admits his books are pretty dark, but he also says he doesn’t "walk around like that all the time."

His novel Spooner has been compared to Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel and even the works of Mark Twain. It’s not often that you hear the name Thomas Wolfe these days. Of course, it was the very tall Wolfe who used to write in longhand on long yellow legal tablets while standing up and using the top of his refrigerator as a desk top.
Wolfe would then take the completed manuscript—boxes of these legal tablets filled with his cursive scribble—into the office of his publisher, Thomas Scribner, who would then hand it to a secretary to type out.
Dexter likes to write at night, when it is quiet. He writes everyday, unlike some writers who can go for weeks and even months at a time without writing anything.

Regarding Spooner, Dexter says that he hates the word "memoir," adding that the novel is "more true than a memoir would have been," and that the story "kind of follows a lot of the places, characters, and events in my life." This includes the characterization of his stepfather, whom Dexter says he keeps dreaming about. In Spooner, there’s a saintly character named Calmer, an old South Dakota name, who, in many ways, represents the figure of his stepfather.  
In Dexter’s fourth novel, Brotherly Love, about a power hungry union boss with Mafia connections, the staccato prose style is reminiscent of the feel of a screenplay. The novel captures the underbelly thug-culture of the world of roofers and amateur Mafiosos. The prose is not for the faint of heart:

"A week to the day after Bobby is left in a garbage bag on the service road at the airport, Michael climbs through the kitchen window of a small brick tow house on Snyder Avenue—Leonard Crawley boosting him up, Monk already waiting inside—and takes the old Italian who lives there out of his bed, a confused old man who cannot see them without his glasses, and tapes him to the water heater in the basement."

"His wife finds him there, his socks sticking halfway out of his mouth, when she comes back from Levittown. She has been there visiting her grandchildren. The bats they used, stained with the old man’s blood, are still lying on the basement floor."

"Peter reads the details of the old man’s death in the Daily News. It says he was naked."

When writing a novel, Dexter says he has the feeling that he is not in control.

"When I start a book, it’s usually with just a character in mind, something small, and then I feel like I’m an observer, watching things. The book goes its own direction, don’t try to steer it … I’m not one of those people who outline plots."
Dexter believe that writers should write to entertain audiences—"If not, what is it for?"—but agrees that it’s impossible to predict the marketplace or what the public will like. In one interview, he came down hard on Dan Brown, who "sells a billion books, but can’t write a line." Dexter says he’s never walked into an airport or an airplane and seen somebody reading one of his books, whereas he’s seen people reading Dan Brown.

His encounter in Devil’s Pocket marked him for life. The experience changed his taste perception; alcohol, for instance, now tastes "like battery acid," so he sticks to just an occasional beer when he goes out with his wife, Dian. He says he doesn’t miss Philly when it comes to the traffic, the noise, and waiting in line.

"People don’t realize how much of their lives they spend doing that stuff," he said.

The perfect life, he says, would be to transport himself to Philly for three hours a day, get a soft pretzel, and then leave.

                              THE STORY OF UNITED AIRLINES FLIGHT 409



When United Airlines Flight 409 took off from Denver, Colo., on the morning of October 6, 1955, the 66 people on board, including five female members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and a number of military personnel, had no idea that the DC-4 propliner would never make its Salt Lake City destination.

Something happened as the plane flew over the Rocky Mountain Continental Divide to make it veer to the west, and then fly at a dangerously low altitude. It’s probably safe to say that the passengers never knew any danger, and did not experience any panic prior to the plane’s crash into the face of Medicine Bow Peak in the Snowy Range Mountains of Wyoming. The crash was that sudden.

The crash was the worst air disaster in the United States at that time. Evidence of the crash can still be seen on the face of the cliff, because it left a very large black stain at the point of impact. The sun-bleached cliffs of Medicine Bow Peak are daunting enough without the black stain, because the jagged peaks have a prehistoric look.
Standing at the foot of Medicine Bow, as I did at age 19 with Zane, the father of a high school friend, I studied the face of the cliff and inspected the stain above my head that stands out like a massive birthmark. I wondered how an experienced pilot could end up flying 60 feet lower than he should have been flying so that, at the last minute, he attempted to gain altitude before slamming the plane into the face of the cliff.

Observing the point of impact in that quiet, beautiful, desolate area put Zane in a meditative mood. It was the month of September, some fourteen years after the crash. I was standing on a large boulder while Zane faced me on another boulder. I was wearing tan desert hiking boots and Zane, who had driven us here from his home in Boulder, Colo., wore a white shirt and jeans. We were at the beginning of a road trip through Utah, Nevada and Wyoming, when he decided to show me Medicine Bow.

He called Medicine Bow a place of beginnings and endings. Zane was not a religious man; in fact, he hated organized religion, and he often criticized my family’s Irish Catholic roots. In many ways, he was an atheist who didn’t want to be an atheist; he knew that life’s mysteries couldn’t always be answered by science. He liked to quote Henry Miller while driving, and he also liked to tell me stories about his life as a young ranch hand who wrote detective stories and who had multiple affairs with waitresses who worked in diners on lonely mountain roads.

Standing at the foot of Medicine Bow, his reverence seemed to rival my grandparents’ attitude when I would see them kneeling in church. The man of many words had been reduced to silence.

Medicine Bow was sacred to him for many reasons: there was the sheer beauty of the place and there was the black stain on the face of the cliff, with its symbolic reminder of human mortality and the unpredictability of life. One could easily imagine filmmakers redoing Planet of the Apes here, or a western epic with cowboys and Apaches. It was also the perfect Sci-Fi environment, as one could easily imagine a UFO landing as space visitors emerged from the craft.
The sun was beginning to set as we continued to talk about life. Zane became very philosophical, talking about his life and about his meetings with Idaho novelist Vardis Fisher.

The "Great Atheist," as I used to call him, then started to pepper his comments with stories of Edgar Cayce’s teachings about reincarnation. At age 19, the idea of death seemed far off to me. This was the summer that I had foolishly allowed Zane’s oldest son to take me mountain climbing and then coax me into rappelling down a mountainside with just a rope and a spike driven into the top of the mountain as the only things standing between me and a fatal fall.
Zane was furious when he learned that his son had talked me into doing this because fatal mountain climbing accidents happen frequently near Boulder.

I wasn’t thinking about God or the meaning of life in those days—only about experiencing as much of life as possible. The idea was to go to extremes, then try to make sense of it all afterwards.
For Zane and I, the black stain on the face of the cliff represented death, and death was a nudging problem. Was life only about racking up experiences like a miser hoarding cold coins? Why was this black stain on the side of the cliff so annoying, and why did it silence Zane and give him, if only for a while, priestly air?
Talking about the plane crash in that early evening September light, I thought of the passengers, what they felt the moment they died, and where they were now.
Zane told me that the plane had wavered off course and was flying too low, and that the pilot could not see the face of the cliff because there were many low-lying clouds. The clouds had led the plane to its destruction.

On October, 7, 1955—a day after the crash—The New York Times reported:

"First rescuers to reach the scene said they had found about 50 bodies strewn along a 300-foot course down the face of the mountain. Only a tailpiece, part of the fuselage and a wing of the plane had been located at mid-afternoon by rescuers who fought snowdrifts and a howling wind on the 12,005-foot Medicine Bow Peak. The mountain is about 40 miles west of here in the Snowy Range. The front part of the split plane was believed to have fallen down the other side of the peak. Another rescue group went up the north face of the mountain from Rawlins. The operation was suspended this evening because of a snowstorm and darkness."

The report continued:

"The scene was marked by two huge patches of oil where the plane’s engines apparently struck about 50-75 feet from the peak. The wreckage then slid down the steep incline in two ravines, much of it coming to rest 300 feet down on a small glacier. I don’t see how there would be a chance of anyone surviving, said Capt. Conine, Wyoming Air National Guard jet pilot, who was one of the first to spot the wreckage."

After the crash, nearby ranchers approached the site then notified authorities but it took the Wyoming Air National Guard several attempts before they were able to locate the crash. They searched nearby Elk Mountain, but then as they approached Medicine Bow, they spotted the wreckage southwest of the highest portion of the peak.

When help finally arrived, many of the bodies had to be removed on horseback because of the inhospitable terrain. A number of Catholic priests were brought to the area to bless bodies and perform extreme unction.

In a popular YouTube video about the site, filmed within the last ten years, one can see an explorer rummaging through fragments of the wreckage. He finds scrap metal, part of a propeller and engine parts. Other hard-to-identify airline fragments turn up tucked into the crevices of rocks. The explorer even finds broken passenger shoes.

Initially, United Airlines wanted all of the wreckage fragments removed from the site, so the area was bombed. But how it was bombed is still a source of controversy: Some say that the military dropped napalm to destroy the crash remnants, while others maintain that explosives were placed into face of the cliff.

Whatever method was used, it proved ineffective. Remarkably, crash site hunters who have explored the area since then leave the wreckage parts where they find them. Stealing parts for personal archival use has, fortunately, not been a problem.

The history of Medicine Bow Peak illustrates another reason why the site is considered sacred. The name "Medicine Bow" came together because the name "bow" refers to the mountain mahogany wood that the local Native tribes used in the making of bows.

These bows, apparently, were rather exceptional and strong. The word "medicine" can be traced to the tribal gatherings that took place in the area once a year. Not only did the various mountain tribes make their bows here, but they held powwows, the purpose of which was to heal the sick and to prevent the tribes from contracting diseases. This certainly gives it a right to be called a sacred place.

I’ve thought of the Snowy Range many times since my only visit there as a kid. During moments of personal reflection, I sometimes envision the mountain peaks and recall the stark beauty of the place. Thoughts of Zane also surface, as he passed away over a decade ago. Sometimes I wonder why Zane didn’t encourage me to explore the base of Medicine Bow when we were there, and why he was so insistent about our not wandering too far from his parked car.
When I researched the area, a little more, I think I discovered the reason:

The Medicine Bow/Snowy Range area is home to many different kinds of wildlife, including moose, elk, mountain lion, black bear and bobcat. When famous American frontiersman Kit Carson was alive, he barely escaped the jaws of death when he wrestled himself away from two Bow grizzly bears.



Saturday, April 18, 2015

                                             ICON MAGAZINE CITY BEAT APRIL 2015
                                                                     Thom Nickels


   We fell down the Who’s Who rabbit hole at the Reading Terminal’s fifth annual Party for the Market fundraiser. Some sightings: Lynne Abraham, whose white hair recalled the bonnets of absent Amish and Mennonite vendors; the large, moon-shaped eyes of DA Seth Williams, staring fixedly into space and reminding us of Transcendental Meditation; and City Council-at-Large candidate Paul Steinke, who seemed to be surveying his old work site. The Market’s promise of unlimited food, drink and dancing held true even though we never did locate Molly Malloy’s Breakfast Buffet or the gypsy palm readers. Our cozy chat with Greta and Deputy Mayor Alan Greenberger (while munching a Hershel’s Mini Reuben) preceded two other sightings: Judy Wicks’ comet of long white hair and a Seth Williams redux, his TM eyes still dilated.  

Crowds at the Philadelphia Flower Show this year were rock concert thick. Ice, snow and sleet didn’t deter the armies of mommies with strollers, serenading couples, or the leg weary huddled masses camped out on carpeted corridors like stand by passengers at Philadelphia International. The public’s violent obsession for a spring flower infusion seemed to parallel Tennessee Williams’ quip: “The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks.” PFS has come a long way since its first show in 1829, the same year that Eastern State Penitentiary welcomed its first prisoners. At the PFS lgbt party we counted less drag queens and familiar faces than we did last year. The party’s guest of honor, Pam Grier, and host Josh Middleton’s on site interview could hardly be heard because of a botched sound system.

 At the opening of U-Bahn at 1320 Chestnut Street familiar faces dominated: AD Amorosi, Toni and Suzi Nash, Kory Aversa, Bobbi Booker, Nathan Lerner and I Am a Camera, HughE Dillon. The photo op extravaganza included lots of interlocked arms, group hugs, and bar-fueled smiley faces.  Introverts had no place to hide in this tight. German style subway bunker space. Dillon must have taken a million shots but only a few showed up on Phill.com, proving that even the best poses often wind up on the cutting room floor.  

     

  The annual Red Ball held at Memorial Hall’s Please Touch Museum to benefit the Red Cross attracted over 1400 guests many of whom rode the carousel or “drove” a faux Septa bus. We met the newly crowned Miss Philadelphia, Julia Rae Schlucter, 22, currently enrolled at Fordham University, and a dead ringer for Grace Kelly. Julia will go on to compete in the Miss Pennsylvania contest in June. We chatted with Jane and Roger Willig of Norristown and Center City, and told Lenny Bazemore of Bazemore Galleries that the only wine on hand was Barefoot Wine, a step up from Manischewitz and definitely low rent. “Tell them to come to the Bazemore,” Lenny said, implying that his wine wears good shoes. The mostly dessert-heavy ball had us wondering about diabetes and extra pounds, but with the Red Cross nearby, most opted to indulge.   

The Bach At Seven Cantata series (Choral Arts Philadelphia) is one of our favorite monthly events, transporting mini concert goers to the high gothic realms of the city’s most beautiful Episcopal churches. But how about switching Bach for Chopin At Seven; Baroque At Seven; Mozart At Seven; Stravinsky At Seven, or maybe even Wagner At Seven?  Choral Arts could even pair up with Moore Brothers Wine Company, the event’s libations provider, to do an all-Moore composer program: Carman Moore At Seven; the 18th Century composer Thomas Moore at seven; Australian composer Kate Moore at seven, or the award winning Dorothy Rudd Moore at Seven. This Moore on Moore action would surely make the snail’s pace after concert wine line move a lot faster.

We attended a lecture at the Athenaeum in Philadelphia’s Washington Square. The subject matter was the life of Saint Katharine Drexel, the Catholic saint canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 2000. The speaker was Cordelia Biddle, a direct descendant of Francis Martin Biddle, grandfather of Saint Katharine Drexel and Nicholas Biddle, president of the Second Bank of the United States. Cordelia was just getting into her  talk– expounding on Katharine’s wicked sense of humor, and explaining that before she enetered the convent  she was "the Paris Hilton of her time," when something unsettling happened..She stopped talking and put her left hand to her head as she slumped to the floor, landing with a thump. Gasps could be heard among the audience. There was a frozen feeling in the room as people in the front rows attended to the fallen speaker.  While the Athenaeum brass waited for the ambulance to arrive, the audience was ushered into an adjoining room for an early reception, where a mostly somber mood prevailed. Cordelia survived the fainting and is back on the lecture circuit.

Photos: Paul Steinke, The Red Ball, Barefoot Wine (Ugh!)

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Sunday, April 12, 2015

Harry and Me :Journalism School Radicals

The Local Lens

Published
Wed, Mar 25, 2015

By Thom Nickels

The world was a very conservative place in the 1970’s, the so-called Vietnam War years. If you were a student then, as I was, you belonged to one of two camps: the anti-Vietnam War people or the pro-war people. There were very few in-betweens. This was a time when everybody had an opinion on war.

I met Harry at the Charles Morris Price School of Journalism, near 13th and Locust Streets, in Center City. I’d gone to the Price School right after high school and was one of the youngest students in the school; Harry was 26-years old, which seemed old to me then. Harry lived with his parents in Huntington Valley and took the train to school everyday, while I took the Paoli Local in from Malvern and Frazer, where I grew up.

I was a shy and nervous kid who very often stuttered when I spoke. On the first day of journalism school, I was shocked to learn that one of the required courses was Public Speaking. I knew there was no way that I was going to stand in front of the class, stutter and possibly be laughed at. The only solution, I decided, was to cut Public Speaking class altogether by sneaking around the corner to a greasy spoon named Dewey’s, and wait out the class.

After cutting that first class, I headed back to school and noticed another student coming from the opposite direction. That student was Harry, who told me upfront that, like me, he had just cut class because he had a fear of public speaking. We bonded immediately as fellow stutterers. We made a pact on that sidewalk in front of the school that we’d cut Public Speaking together, and we’d use that time as an excuse to hang out at Dewey’s.

The school newspaper, at that time, was a small, mimeographed four-page newsletter called The Kite and Key. The name had a Benjamin Franklin connection, since the school was associated with The Poor Richard Club. The Kite and Key was a tame, safe, cute little paper. One could read it and come away without having any sense of what was going on in the real world.

The newsletter’s cuteness, and the fact that people called it "little," bothered Harry and me. During our breakfasts at Dewey’s, we decided that we wanted a far more daring publication for the school. We wanted a newsletter or magazine that wasn’t afraid to possibly offend the suit-and-tie wearing teachers and professors, who, by and large, were advertising, marketing and journalism professionals.

The editor of the Kite and Key was an amiable and professional female student in her late twenties. She wore sensible shoes, and it was easy to see that her one goal in life was to make a lot of money in marketing or public relations. Despite our feelings about her, Harry and I wrote "little" pieces for the "little" newsletter, never dreaming that anything would change—until the day we heard that the efficient editor with sensible shoes was graduating early, which meant that the "little" newsletter would need a new editor.

We decided to run for the position as co-editors, so we put together a plan for a much thicker, more diverse and controversial publication, which we christened The New Price Review. By changing the name to NPR, we were thinking of magazines like The Paris Review or even Rampart’s Magazine, which were popular at the time. Our NPR vision included the publication of short stories, poetry, commentary pieces, one-act plays, essays and even editorial cartoons. The only student competition for the editor’s slot was a marketing major, a young woman who happened to be a friend of the former editor.

The campaign for a new editor was like a mini-presidential race, although Harry was the one to make the campaign speech before the student body. He was less of a stutterer than I was, although when he gave his speech before the student body, his face turned a terrible shade of red.

Harry promised the students that we would give them something substantial to read.

While Harry was speaking, I surveyed the class and got the feeling that we would win the election. Our competition, the efficient marketing major, wanted to keep the name Kite and Key. She also emphasized the editorial value of entertainment and fun, and that the newsletter should stick to school topics.

The class voted by paper ballots. Harry and I were elected co-editors in a near landslide. We celebrated by going to Alvin’s Alley, an old-time, very dark and rustic Evening Bulletin newspaper bar for reporters at 13th and Walnut streets. Alvin’s Alley smelled of stale draft beer and cigarettes. It wasn’t a big bar, but a tidy, efficient hole-in-the-wall where women never entered. The bartender was an old guy who looked like a Noir character in a Glenn Ford film. Alvin’s Alley was my first introduction to beer and serious discussions in dark bars.

After the celebration came the hard work. Now we had to make good on a promise to the students.

We put out the first issue of NPR right away after collecting submissions from students, writing pieces ourselves, and holding editorial meetings at Journalism School Radicals over French toast. Since the magazine was mimeographed, we had to buy mimeograph stencil sheets that contained strips of blue carbon, and then retype the articles for publication on each sheet—a process that took many hours. Since Harry wasn’t one for this sort of task, I gladly welcomed the opportunity, because it meant that I could fill in blank pieces of pages with quotations or sections of books that I found interesting.

I’d spend entire weekends editing and then typing articles onto these long stencils on a typewriter lent to my by my father. Problems like stuck typewriter keys, botched or dried-up typewriter ribbon, typos, or excessive build up of White-Out often plagued these weekend work sessions. When Monday morning rolled around, I’d take the completed stencils to a printing place on Sansom St., where it would take the printer at least a couple of days to print out multiple copies of the 27-page magazine. Back at the school, Harry and I would collate the pages and then staple them. This process took hours, and was done after class.

Working on the magazine became our hands-on journalism experience. We were still cutting Public Speaking class and using that time to visit the city’s many old bookstores, obscure pizza cafés, or even Larry Robin’s original bookstore near 13th and Market Streets, where there was more radical literature than in all of San Francisco or Berkeley.
The first edition of The New Price Review was met with curiosity and excitement. It also put some professors on the offensive. The more conservative professors started calling us "The Berkeley Bunch," and the Dean, Mr. Kaplan, was rumored to be unhappy with the publication.

But this was the age of protest, and there was no stopping us. When the Poor Richard Club awarded Pennsylvania Supreme Court judge Michael A. Musamanno an award for Patriotism and "Love of America," we organized a petition drive and drafted a letter to The Philadelphia Inquirer. We protested Judge Musamanno’s characterization of anti-Vietnam War protesters as ill-intentioned and unpatriotic. The published letter in The Inquirer caused consternation among the faculty, but Dean Kaplan made no steps to pull the plug on NPR.

But it was the second issue of NPR that really got the school talking.

As thick as a small Yearbook, the second issue’s front cover was a collage with satirical references to LSD, Vietnam, LBJ, the CIA, God is Dead, Sex, Mount Airy hippies, and Clutch Cargo. The contents included the results of a student poll in which Philly was voted a dull city. By a slim majority, most of the students also supported the Vietnam War. Harry wrote a piece on the faculty’s perception of the NPR as "The Berkeley Bunch," while I wrote a one act play on Vietnam. There were stories on drug addiction, poems about The New York Times, and profiles of students and teachers. The profiles balanced out the perceived radical nature of the magazine.

As much as we hated to do so, we also published pro-Vietnam views to emphasize our belief in freedom of speech.
The second issue of NPR was so popular among students, they had to be told to stop reading it during class.
Long-suffering Dean Kaplan kept his nose out of the magazine the entire time Harry and I were co-editors. He could have squashed the magazine at any time, but he relegated his criticisms to short meetings with us in which he registered his concerns. Dean Kaplan passed away a while ago, but I can still see him clearly with his auburn-colored, Wise Owlglasses and bald head.

At our graduation ceremony at the Franklin Institute, Harry and I were shocked when the ceremonial MC (M.C. or emcee) announced that we had both won the Carrie May Price Award for Best Student in Journalism. We nearly fell through the floor. Among the crowd congratulating us was Mrs. Kearney, the Public Speaking teacher, who had mysteriously given us both a ‘C’ as a grade for her class—despite the fact that we never attended it.

Photos: Charles Morris Price School; Dewey's at 13th and Chancellor; Actor Anthony Perkins, a dead ringer for Harry.