Friday, January 30, 2015

New Zealand's Hobbiton again on film as famed director continues Tolkien odyssey

We stopped for a spot of ale, after
touring Hobbit homes. Where else,
but at The Green Dragon?
A trek through Hobbiton in New Zealand's lovely South Island attracted our travelers to visit the Hobbit holes and homes.


Visitors from around the world come to be Hobbits for a day.

>>buy Lilian's Last Dance e-Book<<

WHEN SIR PETER Jackson found his ideal setting for "The Hobbit" movies, he was anxious to get moving.  The year was 1998 and he'd coaxed the Alexander family in the south of New Zealand's lovely north island into sharing their spectacular 1,250 acre sheep and beef ranch with show business. His lure to the ranch couple:  a long, paid vacation to anywhere!

 Just clear out and let him do his thing!
Jackson was so smitten with the scenery that he canceled other land deals, made the Alexanders that offer (which they couldn't refuse) and set to building his spectacular sets in New Zealand's verdant south forests.
BY 1999, earth moving machinery began constructing a road into the site and creating 39 Hobbit holes and homes, a double-arch bridge, elaborate gardens and footpaths, The Green Dragon pub and fabled Mill.
A stunning oak tree overlooking Bag End was cut down and transported from nearby Matamata. Authentic looking leaves were crafted in Taiwan, flown in and individually wired onto the spectacular tree. Few people can tell the difference.
This venerable oak tree, top right, is really
an oak brought in from nearby Matamata with
hand-painted fake leaves. No one notices.
"The set is maintained to keep the magic of the Shire alive," our guide said. At its peak during filming, 400 people were on site, including Jackson, actors Elijah Wood (Frodo), Sean Astin (Sam), Ian Holm (Bilbo) and Sir Ian McKellen, who played the wise wizard Gandalf.  "The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies" opened in theaters worldwide just days before Christmas last.
When director Jackson began filming 17 years ago, dispatching the Alexanders to a glorious months-long all expenses paid trip, he sequestered himself on the set,
Keller emerges from tea and crumpets in a Hobbit home.
appropriated their home for his quarters and built a movie studio for viewing dailies.
THE BUCOLIC film setting for the famed Shire, home of the Hobbits, has thus been immortalized and Jackson was knighted for his Oscar winning film work. Under his artistic direction, "The Hobbit" became a movie series of three epic fantasy adventure films based on the 1937 J.R.R. Tolkien novel.
The property-owning family is happy with the results: their land looks good and people don't mind the hour-plus drive from the nearest big city,Wellington. The farm is still operational and one of the Alexander sons runs the profitable tourist destination of Hobbiton, which has entertained thousands of Hobbit-loving visitors since opening its doors to tourists.

An uncle and one of his nephews greet visitors to a Maori village near Napier.
COMING UP:  The Maori people of New Zealand have their own magic -- in music, stories, weapons, games, dance, food (yes, cannibalism at one time) and their intricate tattoos.  Come with us to two Maori villages, where Cookie gets a tat and we sing, play games and touch noses and foreheads with our hosts, young Maori school children. Explore, learn, live and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at:

And watch for a new blog:
www.lilianslastdance,  about our new ebook, soon to be a paperback. We'll let you know book tour dates, signings and more!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Down the Hobbit hole into Middle Earth's splendor

Cinema's beloved Hobbit journey began in New Zealand's picturesque forest

The homes of the Hobbits are small, befitting the tiny, magical people made famous by writer J.R.R. Tolkien.

Hobbiton beckons visitors to New Zealand's South Island.
The new Hobbit movie is out, and here's where it was filmed.
  >>buy e-Book Lilian click here<<

I COULD almost see Gandalf coming around the corner. Frodo is waiting for him.  "A wizard is never late," Gandalf says. Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”
And so did we! We arrived in Hobbiton precisely as planned on a recent morning after leaving lovely Wellington, New Zealand, for the journey to Middle Earth.
We'd driven along New Zealand's gorgeous south coast whre Frodo and Sam reached the Gate of Mordor in the beloved J.R.R. Tolkein "Lord of the Rings" books. Now that the recent Hobbit movie is out ("The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies," opened in theaters Dec.17) we'd like to take you to where the movie version started.
Tourists, including Cookie and Keller, stroll through the pristine and well
maintained grounds of the Alexander farm in New Zealand, where
Sir Peter Jackson filmed the "Hobbit" movies, including the current release.
WALK WITH US through a beautiful forest into a world of movie magic.  Tiny houses, built into the hillside, well tended gardens and picket fences adorn the lovely acreage of Hobbiton, near Matamata, N.Z., about an hour's drive from Wellington.
Enter The Shire, with many a hobbit hole, and you'll be mesmerized by Middle Earth's ethereal splendors.
Director Sir Peter Jackson spied the "Lord of the Rings" location from his private airplane in 1998, when he was scouting locations for his adaptation of the classic 1937 Tolkien works.
Lord Peter Jackson made many friends
during his filming of the "Hobbit" movies.
JACKSON is known as a nice guy, easy to work with, amiable, friendly to all, considerate and well mannered.  He is respected for his tender care of the environment, and his desire to make things look real and natural.  He hired gardeners and landscapers, who continue to keep Hobbiton lovely, right down to the vegetable and flower gardens which are tended and pruned daily.
"We get to eat the produce," our guide told us. "It's all organically grown and very delicious!"

Bruce Keller finds himself invited to tea in a Hobbit home. 
COMING UP:  Find out how Kiwi born, Oscar-winning director Peter Jackson enticed the farm family named Alexander to give him the rights to film on their pristine land.  (Hint:  he sweetened the pot with a three-month paid  vacation.) He had to finesse the project, though, since he would be using earth movers to create a road, and building a huge set. Remember to enjoy, learn and live, and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at:

Jump to Cookie's Web site about Lilian and Theatre

COMING UP:  The Maori people of New Zealand have their own magic -- in music, stories, weapons, dance and their intricate tattoos.  Come with us to two Maori villages, where Cookie gets a tat and we sing, play games and touch noses and foreheads with the school children. Visit us Wednesdays and weekends at

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sample Sydney's glories from a ringside 'Magistic' cruise seat

Magistic Cruises' sleek catamaran
glides past iconic sights of Sydney. 



Artfully prepared salads and side dishes await diners, with beautiful
appetizers, main course entrees and decadent desserts as well.


GLORIOUS FOOD, fine champagne, terrific entertainment, and, of yes, the views.
You're gliding through the water in a quiet boat. You're in luxury's lap, enjoying views from the glorious waters of the famous harbor of Sydney, Australia.
To match your stunning views, you're sampling fine fare in a city known for quality dining.  We tried shrimp and crab by day, chops and filet by evening.
The sights, sounds and other boats typical of a busy harbor
make the Magistic cruises a delightful way to view Sydney. 
The champagne flowed and for a
break, we strolled on deck, glasses in hand.
YOU FEEL you're in heaven -- in a luxurious catamaran, dining elegantly, sipping not quite judiciously, reveling in first-class style.
Stroll back inside the plush dining area, as elegant as any of the popular seaside restaurants for which Sydney is renowned.
Sydney natives love the Magistic ships for celebrations.
The performance begins, with delightful dancers, show tunes, comedy sketches and a bang-up variety act.
WE JOINED 60 pampered lunch-goers, and 75 contented dinner guests, to see why this is Sydney's most popular cruise operation.
Magistic Cruises, the top-ranked Sydney Harbour operation, does everything expertly. It offers gourmet food, top staff, great views.
Since its $5 million luxury catamaran was introduced to Sydney Harbour, Magistic has enjoyed rousing success as the most impressive charter vessel on the harbor, hosting locals, dignitaries, movie stars and tourists.
The vessel was designed by leading marine Australian architects and built by Austal Ships in Fremantle, Western Australia. Its sleek nautical design features a contemporary decor.
The Magistic Cruise experience was majestic.
We've enjoyed more than 100 dinner, show and sightseeing cruises -- on oceans and rivers. In the U.S., we love our Hornblower vessels, and we always book a harbor or river cruise in Hong Kong, Oslo,
An artfully presented show with top
talent follows a leisurely dinner.
Amsterdam or Paris. "Sydneysiders" we met on our two Magistic outings said that the venue has become the preferred outing for locals. Our groups were about half-local, half-tourist -- both delighted, satisfied.
Customer service is expert, the meals are exceptional, the atmosphere welcoming. Everything inside the boat -- and outside -- is beautiful and dream-like.
The food is exceptional aboard the sleek Magistic vessels.

If you're headed "Down Under" and enjoy fine food and drink in a unique setting, live it up, mates! You won't be sorry.
We loved the fact that the chef came out personally to chat up diners and inspect the tables.  Everything is prepared onboard!

Hobbit fans will enjoy a trip to the magical setting for
the series of films about Bilbo, Frodo, Gandalf and friends.

COMING UP: If you're a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and "Lord of the Rings," come visit Middle Earth with us. We're off next to the beautiful south coast of New Zealand where "The Hobbit" films were made. It's a magical place, as you'll see. Remember to explore, learn and live and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at:
And don't miss "Steal Heaven," at San Diego Repertory Theatre, downtown in the Lyceum Theater, Horton Plaza. Gifted actor and writer Herbert Siguenza stars as activist Abbie Hoffman (in heaven) in a tour de force about politics, social change, responsibility, life, death -- and more. Two fabulous actors join him. Terrific theatrical treat. Last few days.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

'Gunmetal Blues' is stylish, campy fun film noir parody

Kevin Bailey is perfect as the Private Eye, the tough talking, hard drinking but vulnerable gumshoe in "Gun Metal Blues."
Sharon Rietkerk is also terrific as the sultry, mysterious blonde, and other characters in this snappy production. 

STORY By CHRISTENE MEYERS                                                         Click Link below
PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER and courtesy North Coast Rep       Buy Lilian's Last Dance

Three gifted actors portray several characters in "Gunmetal Blues."
From left are Jeffrey Rockwell, Sharon Rietkerk and Kevin Bailey.
SPOOFING an art form you love is a time honored tradition -- in comedy, theater, dance.  Doing it well calls for just the right touch.
Showing affection and respect for the original is important, and North Coast Rep does this with aplomb in "Gunmetal Blues."  The small, sophisticated venue does everything with style; this loving parody is no exception.
A jaded piano man Buddy, played by gifted musician and actor Jeffrey Rockwell, keeps the action in perfect tune with all the cliches we've come to love in those '40s films.
There's the tough-talking trench-coated private eye and the slinky blonde.  The piano player dons many hats as a cop, a cab driver, and more. The blonde makes quick changes, too, as a down on her luck street person (shades of "Stella Dallas"). Mostly, though, she's "The Blonde," who flits in and out of the action like a sultry fly on the wall.
  Jeffrey Rockwell is music director and piano
 player, and Kevin Bailey is the Private Eye.

 In the tradition of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet, the action takes place in the Red Eye Lounge. There, the wise-cracking, hat-changing piano player Buddy sets the tone for a laugh-filled evening -- with nods to "Sunset Boulevard," "Notorious," "Double Indemnity" and all those sultry, slinky, slightly sleazy movies we love to laugh about -- and see again and again. 
OPENING NIGHT'S packed house appreciated the snappy economy of the Scott Wentworth book.  High praise for the delightfully clever lyrics and music by Craig Bohmler and Marion
Playgoers enjoy conversation, coffee, wine before the show. 
Adler, who took a gracious bow before the show began, introduced by the Rep's able artistic director David Ellenstein.
Andrew Barnicle directs the accomplished actors. Jeffrey Rockwell's mastery of the piano is musical glue -- he's on stage constantly, and in top form tackling multiple bit roles. Backing him up is an able off-stage trio of woodwinds, percussion and bass.
SHARON Rietkerk does some fast changes with wonderful wigs and vintage costumes as "The Blonde" and more, and Kevin Bailey's hard-drinking but vulnerable Private Eye is just the right blend of chutzpah and susceptibility -- with an expressive voice.
Rockwell and Bailey play out a scene 
for laughs, but the dialogue is an
 affectionate parody of the film noir form.
THE DIALOGUE is fresh and funny, the  pace quick and rhythmic. The songs range from moving ballads to tongue-in-cheek ditties. All three actors are gifted singers and comics so the laughter is nearly non-stop.
The musical has been around since it debuted in New York in 1989. I saw it a few years back at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. The San Diego premier runs through Sunday, Feb. 15, so do yourself a favor, sweethearts.  Don't miss "Gunmetal Blues."  You'll be sorry if you do.  Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon........

Magistic Cruises offer fabulous entertainment, fantastic food,
lovely promenade decks from which to view Sydney's wonders. 
If you can't or won't climb the famed Sydney Harbour Bridge, your best viewing of this graceful city and its famed Opera House is from the water.  Two beautiful Magistic Cruise ships (yes, it's Magistic, not Majestic) offer top luncheon, dinner and sightseeing cruises. We feasted, gazed, strolled the ships' balconies and enjoyed fabulous entertainment. All we desired was more time on these gorgeous vessels. (And perhaps a sleeping berth!)  Enjoy, learn and live! Please visit us Wednesdays and weekends and tell your friends about


Friday, January 16, 2015

Sydney Opera House: controversial project sails proudly into architectural prime time


Tourists from around the globe tour Sydney Opera House, enjoy tastings and see plays, dance and concerts in many venues.  
After the tour, enjoy dumplings, oysters,
 shrimp; Below, the "sails" from under them.


IT RANKS with the architectural wonders of the world.
The Sydney Opera House is like no other building. Famous for its gorgeous shells -- resembling the ship sails which skirt and shift in the ocean below -- the building is far  more than an opera house, although grand opera is performed there.
It's actually a complex of theaters, rehearsal halls and more than 1,000 rooms of varying shapes and sizes.
Built on 4.5 acres for $103 million over a period of decades, the grand building is the product of a design competition in 1957.  The winner was Danish architect Jorn Utzon, who imagined a "living sculpture" that could be viewed from any angle, by land, sea or air -- with the roofs as a "fifth facade."
A windy day didn't stop Cookie and Keller. Here, to the right
of the Sydney Opera House, you can see the arc of the
famous Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The story is that the bold and controversial concept came to Utzon while he was peeling an orange, because its "sections" resemble pieces of the fruit.  This may be only myth, but it makes a good story.
Red steps lead to the Joan Sutherland Theater, one of the great opera houses in the world,
named after the great diva who was born in Sydney in 1926. The famed soprano died in 2010.  
WHAT IS true is that Utzon labored for years to bring the project to fruition, resigned in frustration, then after many more years was coaxed back.
Other facts:
* An Aussie design team finished the interior,  The completion of the pre-cast roof panels and "sails" was difficult to master.
* The opera theater, one of several performance halls, has had horses, donkeys and chickens on the stage.  The "Aida" production, however, used cut-out elephants. (A veteran guide told us that a chicken fell into the orchestra pit once, during "Boris Gudonov." The violinist shrieked but soon resumed playing.)
* Wedding receptions and parties can be staged in the complex.
* Australian born Joan Sutherland, a globally famous soprano, loved the venue and was honored a couple years after her 2010 death in the renaming of the opera house.
* This reporter saw the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti perform there in the 1990s.  Such memories.
WE LOVED our two tours, which included a stroll around the set for "Switzerland," a hit mystery play.  We marveled at the vaulted ceilings and pillar-free chambers. We felt elegant in the custom-made white birch chairs. And we feasted on sushi, prawns, dumplings and salmon as the sun set over Sydney Harbor.

Jeffrey Rockwell plays lively piano, Kevin Bailey is the
hard-drinking private eye, and Sharon Reitkerk is "The Blonde"
in "Gunmetal Blues" at North Coast Repertory Theatre.

The latest hit at North Coast Repertory Theatre is a sultry, slinky, fast-paced and amusing musical.  "Gun Metal Blues" lovingly spoofs the 1940s film noir classics we watch again and again.  Three gifted actors play out the action in the seedy Red Eye Lounge, where a jaded piano player, Buddy, guides us through the convoluted action with plenty of laughs and some beautiful tunes. See why we say "bravo," for this fresh, funny production.  Enjoy, learn and live! Please visit us Wednesdays and weekends and tell your friends about

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Sydney, Auckland bridge climbs provide thrills, chills, stunning views

The bridge climbing group wends its way carefully above the waters of Sydney, Australia's, world famous harbor. 


At the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Keller and
Cookie celebrate with a wave and a victory cheer.


I MUST HAVE been dream walking the morning I went on line to book two tickets to climb the Sydney Harbour Bridge. 
I sent a text to tell Keller I'd done it. He knew I'd been to Australia four times before, and declined the daring climb every time.  Now, with our trip days away, I'd committed to the adventure.
No more avoidance. Like Bert Lahr in "The Wizard of Oz," I was dancing down the Yellow Brick Road, determined to find courage.
"Wow" was the total of Keller's text back. He knew it was a daunting undertaking for me, a lifelong vertigo victim with a paralyzing fear of heights.
View from the bridge: Sydney Opera House near sunset.
Our next blog will take readers inside the iconic building.
The Great Wall made me dizzy. The views from the Eiffel Tower leave me short of breath.
A tenth story hotel room window makes my head spin. So what was I thinking?
IT WAS ALMOST year's end. I was tired of being a sissy, of sitting on the sports sideline.
Climbing the Auckland Bridge was a dream, much gentler
than Sydney's climb, with gorgeous views of  the pretty harbor.

Growing up in a family of dare devils -- skiers, swimmers, divers, high-jumpers -- I was the actor, musician, bookworm. I took my novel into the warming hut while a clan of expert skiers zipped by.  I learned play lines by the pool when everyone else went surfing.
But the year was ending. I would conquer old fears, defy demons.
I FELT SAFE once underway. Climb leaders are highly trained and your belt is fastened to the bridge as you move. On both climbs, I admitted my fear and was cheered on by the leaders and an international mix of friends.
We spent a day recently at the Sydney Opera House, touring the many
theaters, dining on salmon and caviar, and savoring the building's history.
THERE ARE three major bridge climbs in Australia.  We've reveled in the Sydney and Auckland climbs.  Both left us thrilled with the views.  We have the Brisbane bridge yet to climb, so that's up next when we return to the land Down Under.
Meanwhile, I'm living proof that you can teach an old reporter new tricks.  With the new year upon us, why not do something you've never done, or challenge a cliche about yourself -- and change it!
( and You can even bungy off Auckland's bridge.... next trip???

NEXT UP: The building of the gorgeous Sydney Opera House is a story as unlikely as the building itself. We've got the scoop about the Danish architect who won the design contest and the Aussie lottery that funded it.  Read us Wednesdays and weekends at:  Please tell your friends!

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Fairy godmother's passing means an era's end: long live 'Hannamama'


"The sun will rise and the moon will set
and we learn how to settle for what we get.
It will all go on if we're here or not,
so who cares, so what."
--  "So What?" from the score of "Cabaret"  
Hannelore Carter, left, her longtime companion and "son of the heart,"
Jason Webinger, and Christene Meyers, at a reception following a play.

SHE CALLED herself "your Hannamama." We were devoted to one another and I just received the sad news of her passing.
Although we shared no bloodline, we were connected by a mutual love of theater, travel, animals, literature and nature.  Her joie de vivre was contagious.  Folks said we had the same sparkle to our eyes and we both liked good gin.
I shared her love of the eccentric -- in both humans and animals. We enjoyed gallows humor, puns and the French language.
She loved the score of "Cabaret," in which we both acted, particularly the sardonic song "So What?" which she sang with gusto on and off stage.
Hannelore Carter was my "heart mother." After my mum died seven years ago, I leaned on her. "I shall be your fairy godmother," she said.
During our 47-year friendship, I wrote many stories about "Frau Carter" and her late husband, Constantine Carter.  We performed in plays together -- "Cabaret'' was a highlight, at Billings Studio Theater in 1977.  Hanna played Frau
Romance blooms, then is crushed,
in "Cabaret," in which Hannelore Carter
 played Frau Schneider. Here, the 
 receives a pineapple from Herr Schulz. 
Schneider, who runs a Berlin boarding house and falls in love with a Jewish grocer, Herr Schulz, during the Nazi rise to power. Bullied by the Nazis, the character declines marriage, betraying her heart and a chance for love.
Her heartfelt portrait of the "Cabaret" character was drawn from personal experience. Hanna, born in Germany on Jan. 4, 1926, came to America in 1952. She'd lived through Hitler's hell and knew the sacrifice of war. Her father was killed during an Allied bombing, and she lost friends as an adolescent in Bavaria growing up between two world wars.  Like many of her contemporaries, she was a Hitler Youth, although her parents were quietly "anti-party," and had strong feelings about Hitler's reign of terror. She became a champion of human rights, had many gay friends and a curiosity for all cultures and creeds.
Hannelore Carter's fondness for animals, and her clowning instinct,
came together at "The Chalet," where she received guests, including
Yorkies Nick and Nora.  It was a treasured retreat in the Beartooths.  
HANNA, AS HER American friends called her, loved to tell the story of meeting her future husband, a native New Yorker.  She'd come to America as an au pair girl and nanny, and was crossing a street near Central Park, pushing her young charge in a pram.  "I paused at a street corner, to consult my map," Hanna said.  "A neatly dressed gentleman approached me and said, 'Could I be of assistance?'  It was Con, of course. I said, 'Sir, I am not a pickup.' But I allowed him to walk me home."
They dated, married the next year and remained together nearly 48 years, while Con pursued a long, successful career in the hotel business, from The Big Apple, to Denver, then Billings in 1955. Con was a fixture at the Northern Hotel until the late 1990s. Hanna nursed him through cancer, in the same home on Parkhill Drive in which she passed early Tuesday.  Her 89th birthday was Jan 4.
HANNA COULD clown -- her letters to me often ended with "your sour Kraut" -- but she had a sweet, deeply serious side and won awards for her acting, at BST and other theaters.  Memorable to this reviewer are her leading roles as the eccentric medium, Madame Arcati in "Blithe Spirit," and as the formidable German grandmother in "Lost in Yonkers."  Another favorite role was as the title character in "Mother Courage and her Children," by fellow dramatist and German, Bertolt Brecht. But she ranked her "Cabaret" role as tops and cherished the guidance of director Skip Lundby.
"Hannamama" near Nye, with her hiking stick. From left:
Christene Meyers, Bill Jones and Jason Webinger. 
She was a tireless translator for German guests, including stranded or injured travelers whose lack of English presented a problem during Montana visits.  One middle-aged German tourist had a heart attack a few years ago while visiting Yellowstone Park.  Hanna navigated the red tape of his hospitalization, tended him and his wife daily, helped him recover and return to his homeland.
HANNELORE was an early-day member of Landmarks,  a Billings preservation and beautification society.  She was a talented gardener, terrific German cook, avid hiker, brilliant seamstress (no patterns), devoted swimmer, delightful letter writer and card maker, and creator of a playground of brick walkways and garden paths in her meticulously tended back yard.  She adopted abandoned animals, cultivating a fondness for orange and gray cats, and bestowing whimsical names. She loved our Yorkies, Nick and Nora, whom she referred to as "your fetching children."
Besides acting, translating and volunteer work, Hanna taught for many years at Rocky Mountain College.  She wrote short stories and poetry, including eloquent odes to both of my late husbands, Bruce Meyers and Bill Jones.  She referred to Bruce as "Bruce the Great," (he was the emcee in our beloved "Cabaret" when I was head of the bawdy Kit-Kat Band).  She called Bill "our Billy Boy," and penned a portrait to him for his memorial at High Chaparral in the Beartooths.  Hannelore's moniker for Keller was "your Prince Charming."  She is my only "elder" who knew well all three of my life loves.
Cookie's only photo of herself, her "bio
mum," Ellen, and her "Hannamama."
HER LONGTIME companion and devoted friend was Jason Webinger, who was with her when she passed Tuesday morning. "I promised her I'd be there until the end," he said, with emotion. He held her hand through her last night, administering the morphine hospice prescribed.  She called him "my son of the heart," and he was her confidant, dinner companion, traveling mate, power of attorney and, finally, her loving caretaker.  Jason called Hanna "my soul mate, my dearest friend."  He shared her father's Oct. 15 birthday, which they celebrated with great gusto.
Jason and Hannelore loved their hillside perch at "The Chalet," which they built together in Cathedral Mountain near Nye. There they hung their paintings, artwork and  treasures from lifetimes of travel. She hoisted a red, white and blue banner on the porch, proud of her nearly 63 years on American soil, which she celebrated on her 60th year here with a 2012 party.
Hanna was an only child, as was Con. They had one daughter, Heidi, who kept vigil with her mother and "adopted brother" Jason, these past weeks, traveling from her job in Iowa.
HANNELORE specified there be no obituary, but as Jason told me today, "Of course, she wanted you to write something." As a fitting memorial, I'll make a donation in her name to the Humane Society.
My heart is heavy, Hannamama.  Auf wiedersehen.  You told me, "It doesn't mean good-bye. It
The famed Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia is next up.
We photographed it, sailed under it and climbed up it!
means until we meet again."

COMING UP:  We bumped the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge features to pay tribute to our dear friend Hannelore Carter, who died Tuesday. We'll resume our travel and theater specials WEDNESDAY, giving this eulogy appropriate view time and Cookie a few days to mourn. Remember to enjoy, learn and live, as Hannamama did. Visit us Wednesdays and weekends at

Friday, January 2, 2015

Toasting a New Year of happiness, health, revels, music and kindness

Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga took the stage in Las Vegas to usher in 2015 with their unique vocal blend.

PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER                     CLICK HERE for Lilian's Last Dance

Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett complement one another
in a delightful show and world tour.
JAZZ SINGER Tony Bennett is a legend.  At 88 years old, he crooned in the new year with Lady Gaga at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas.  It was a packed house, a generous nearly two-hour performance without intermission. A standing ovation.
The sold-out concert was beyond my wildest expectations.  Off the charts.  I'm still floating.
Tony still has the pipes, folks.  And his blend with Lady Gaga -- who is nearly 60 years his junior -- just knocks this reporter out.  Each is a star, of course, but together, they are a musical meteor.  Gaga's showy gowns, perfect pitch, crazy wigs and delightfully coy way with the audience amuse Bennett, the old pro, a man of subtle style.
Thinking about this unique pairing, I'm convinced that Anthony Dominick "Tony" Benedetto has found the fountain of youth and is taking giant gulps of its elixir.
The famous Las Vegas Strip became a pedestrian mall for New Year's Eve!

WHAT KEEPS the guy going strong, approaching his tenth decade on the planet?
It can't hurt that he's a fellow Leo -- born August 3, 1926 -- but more than that must be the fact that he continues to love what he does best -- singing.
No American singer has changed with the times the way Bennett has.  He's a master of pop standards, show tunes, and jazz.
Gaga is, too.  Their chemistry is electric.  She brings him youthful energy.  He brings her mature elegance.
Nick and Nora: tired out after a week of shows in Vegas.

IT WAS A spectacular show and glorious walk with other revelers! We dressed to the nines (or tens!) and loved every note of the concert -- Cole Porter, Gershwin, Berlin, all the oldies.......jazz vocalizing supreme--- Lady G introduced her parents, Tony was dapper as always (living proof of aging well by keeping young, engaged and active -- the guy is 88 for lord's sake!!!)
Their blend is inspired. Gorgeous, precise phrasing......Gaga made six costume changes, Tony changed his tux accouterments from blue to red, the 18-piece orchestra (including two brilliant pianists) was superb!
Happy, healthy, fun filled new year's wishes to our friends and followers.
Wouldn't have traded a moment of it for a pot of gold, even though the tkx cost more than my first car! When they counted down the last seconds of 2014, I was verklempt!
But we dried our happy tears to head back to Bally's and walk Nick and Nora! We'll see six shows by week's end, each wonderful. Frank Marino's long-running Joan Rivers impression and his "Divas"show terrific. "Jubilee" the only old-fashioned girlie revue, still has the magic.
Our wish for all of us is for continued health, happiness, adventure, kindness, abundance, walks with nature, ocean breezes, Yorkie kisses, dancing, romancing, and a few glasses of a favorite beverage!

Cookie and Keller on the Vegas Strip at Caesar's.
Tonight's show is "Jubilee," the only remaining old-fashioned Vegas revue, with full orchestra (all the other shows are taped now, putting many musicians out of work I'm sure)..... feathers, boas, glitter, topless girlies, pretty perky titties..... in the beloved Busby Berkeley style. Have watched it change through the years since I first saw it in the long gone Sands Hotel. Which reminds me of the night we were

Frank Marino brings Joan Rivers to life in an affectionate parody.
watching Don Rickles when Frank Sinatra and entourage came in a side door. Everyone gasped and the spotlight moved from Rickles to Frankie. Without missing a beat, Don said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, Frank Sinatra. Frankie, make yourself at home. Punch somebody."
Brilliant. He reclaimed the audience in that moment. Sinatra bowed, blew Don a kiss and the spotlight returned to Rickles! Delightful memory.
If you're enjoying this, thanks. Someday I may consider pursuing a writing career.
"Heaven, we're in heaven......and our hearts beat so that we can hardly speak"...
New Year's resolution:  a new tattoo for Cookie? 

COMING NEXT: www.whereiscookie takes to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji with Maori rituals, and a tattoo for Cookie. Check us out Wednesdays and weekends, tell your friends.  And remember, carpe diem, so explore, learn and live.  And, okay, the tattoo was only temporary!  But I'm thinking.....