Friday, December 30, 2016

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher: a tribute to two blazing talents

Debbie Reynolds and Gene Kelly in
the film, "Singin' in the Rain."
Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds
will be featured Friday, Jan. 7, in
a lauded HBO special which was
moved up for airing after their deaths. 


Good morning, good morning,
We've gabbed the whole night through.....
Good morning, good morning to you.
Good morning, good morning, Sun beams will soon smile through
                        Good morning, good morning, to
                        you and you and you... (from
                        "Singin' in the Rain") 

others courtesy AP, Girl Scouts & Hollywood studios

I GREW UP with those wonderful, innocent, 1950s musicals. "Singin' in the Rain" was a family favorite. Debbie Reynolds was only 18 when the picture was made, but held her own with Gene Kelly and Donald O'Connor. Debbie's snappy time steps and my mother's tap dancing skills encouraged my lifelong love of tap dancing.
A young Debbie Reynolds proudly
displays her Girl Scout badges
IN 1969,  I WAS not much older than Reynolds was when she made that film.
That was the year Lee Newspapers chose me to interview Reynolds. I was sent to Wyoming in a snow storm as a cub reporter to cover her keynote speech at a Girl Scout jamboree. Long a Scout herself, Reynolds charmed the overflow house with witty show biz tales. Wyoming's movers and shakers gave her a standing ovation.
 A fellow Girl Scout on my first of hundreds of "star" interviews, I was thrilled to get 15 minutes with her. When I dropped my pen, she graciously returned it to my shaking hand.
Debbie Reynolds, Eddie Fisher and youngsters Todd and Carrie.
"Now be calm and confident and promise to write a good story," she said, "Scouts honor?" I still have her handwritten thank-you note.
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia.

DEBBIE SAID during the interview that she wanted to be the world's oldest Girl Scout when she died.  I don't know if she was -- at 84 -- but the Girl Scout blog is paying tribute to her for a life of artistic achievement, philanthropy and Girl Scout devotion.
Debbie's beloved daughter, Carrie, had just turned 13 when I interviewed her 37-year old mother. Years later, in an interview with Fisher in Phoenix, Az., I asked her what she might have been doing when I was interviewing her mother. (Her father was famed crooner Eddie Fisher, who left the family to marry Elizabeth Taylor when Carrie was a toddler.)
 Read about Cookie and her mother Ellen
Cookie (Christene Meyers) and her late mother,
Ellen Cosgriffe, also tap danced, sang and wrote.
Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher
photographed five years ago.
"Oh, I was probably misbehaving, or having lunch at Cary Grant's," she joked. Her self-deprecating charm delighted the audience at her one-woman show later that day. ("When I was a teen, my mother was concerned that I was experimenting with drugs.  So she did what any other mother would do:  she called Cary for advice.")
I loved her entrance in the Scottsdale Performing Arts Center. She came down through the house in a well worn house coat and bedroom slippers, which she kicked off. For 100 minutes on a cleverly chaotic set, she was mesmerizing. We laughed and cried at her touchingly told tales. The line between comic and tragic is a thin one as she proved in her prolific career as writer and producer.
Carrie Fisher performing her hit autobiographical stage show,
"Wishful Drinking" in 2009. She died at age 60 this week.

WE REMEMBER her brief marriage to musician Paul Simon and her role as Princess Leia in "Star Wars." Her most lasting contribution, though, which combined fine acting and writing, was her ability to enlighten us, giving us insight and compassion on the complex subjects of mental health and addiction.
My family has had its own share of both of the above, so I was moved to see Fisher's honesty and humor on the subjects of alcohol and drug use, bi-polar disorders, mothers and daughters and the relationship between mental turmoil and brilliance. What a mind she had, using her own knowledge of depression, alcoholism and creativity to share the vivid emotional landscape she inhabited.
Debbie Reynolds passed at 84. Here she is at her Las Vegas hotel-museum,
which failed to make it.  Some of  the star's costumes have gone to museums.
I'D HAVE LOVED to have interviewed the two of them together with my mother, Ellen, a huge fan of both women. We'd have spent an afternoon together, just the four of us. Even though I grew up away from Hollywood in landlocked Montana, I identified with Fisher's one-woman show. Her tumultuous adolescence and the challenges of growing up with privilege, in the shadow of two famous parents, had universal truth.   It couldn't have been easy, yet she described the pain, elation, loneliness and fear with elegance and self-effacing charm.
I drew understanding from her thoughts, which echoed my mother's descriptions of her challenges.
Debbie Reynolds in the lead of "The Unsinkable Molly Brown."
PHOTOS OF of Fisher and Reynolds together in recent years show Reynolds' pride and their mutual love and respect. The pictures also reveal a spirit of optimism.
I admire that, and their chutzpah. Both had it in spades. Both had multiple relationships yet persevered despite disappointment. While Fisher was signing books and touring her one-woman show, Reynolds was selling out her show at Bemelman's in New York's famed Carlyle Hotel. She continued her humanitarian interests and even tried her hand at the hotel business in Las Vegas.
When her husbands squandered her fortune, she kept her cool, appearing on TV and in productions of "Mame" and "Hello Dolly." There's a wonderful lyric from "I Ain't Down Yet," a great tune in another family favorite, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown." The film earned the unsinkable Reynolds an Academy Award nomination in 1964. The lyric goes:
Respect, admiration, optimism, courage: Debbie Reynolds
and daughter Carrie Fisher worked things out. Happy trails.

I'm goin' to learn to read and write,
I'm goin' to see what there is to see,
So if you go from nowhere
on the road to somewhere
And you meet anyone, you'll know it's me.

Thanks for sharing the road with us for a short time. Happy travels, you two stars. And keep an eye out for my mum. You three would like one another!

Keller and Cookie pause on a recent trip to Rome in front of the newly
renovated Trevi Fountain. Yes,they threw their coins with  their right hands
over their left shoulders. Imagine yourself where you want to be for 2017!

UP NEXT: Usher in the new year and salute it with all the style and energy you can muster. It's time to book that trip, master a new language, take tango lessons, learn to play the saxophone, plan the Alaska adventure you've talked about for decades. Head to Rome -- or another city you've longed to visit. Carpe diem and tempis fugit yourself into the new year, making your dreams into plans then reality. It can be done. We'll share some secrets that keep us traveling. Remember to explore, learn and live with
where we deliver a fresh look at travel and the arts around the world.

Friday, December 23, 2016

Welk Theater visit brings nostalgic memories of 1950s childhood

Lawrence Welk Resort, north of San Diego, California, offers housing options, restaurants, theater, golf and a charming little
museum with artfully displayed memorabilia from the long-running television show, here Welk's accordion. 
Cookie explores the grounds near the theater entrance.
It may be snowing elsewhere in the U.S., but SoCal is lovely.
Christmas under the palms and mesquites appeals!
"Plaid Tidings" ushers in the yule, at
Lawrence Welk Resort near San Diego.



ANYONE WHO grew up in the 1950s and had access to television, remembers "The Lawrence Welk Show."  When the final episode aired in spring of 1982, many families felt they had lost a friend and were saddened -- mine included.
The Welk Resort is an attractive, activity-focused hotel complex with 
luxury villas, a theater, golf course, and many other amenities.
Spending a pleasantly innocent hour with Welk's "Family," as he called it, had become tradition  There were "the lovely Lennon Sisters" with their precise and pleasing harmonies, Myron Floren with his dazzling accordion work, the warbling  "champagne lady" Norma Zimmer, singer and saxophone player Dick Dale, Larry Hooper with his bouncy baritone and Arthur Duncan, the dazzling tap dancer who wowed us with his triple time steps.  Of course, there was Lawrence Welk himself, dancing with the ladies and leading the band, signing off with that famous champagne-cork cheek pop of his finger in his mouth.
The Lawrence Welk Resort has a small but interesting museum in its
theater.  It promises to bring back memories of Welk's popular TV shows.
SINCE I BECAME a part-time Californian, I've wanted to visit the Welk Resort north of our San Diego home.This activity-focused hotel has a variety of housing options, including villas and a comfortable, pretty theater.  It is situated north of San Diego, on 450 acres and is only 15 miles from San Diego Zoo’s famous Safari Park. If you have kids or grandchildren, Legoland beckons, too, just over 17 miles away.
Keller takes a look at  one of the cameras from the long-running
ABC show, which taped its finale in 1982, but is alive and
well in re-runs on Public Television.
Theater buffs, we booked tickets to a winning production of "Sweet Charity."  We arrived in time to enjoy a beverage in the lobby, which is home to an engaging, small museum of Welk memorabilia.  We enjoyed the posters, display cases with musical instruments, and vintage posters tracing Welk's rise from Dakota farm kid to internationally known band leader.
Lawrence Welk's posters adorn the museum.
WE WERE delighted that the production of the Tony-winning "Sweet Charity" featured top-calibre dancing, snappy direction and fine voices.
We're looking forward to "Plaid Tidings" to celebrate the holiday, with a run that began Thanksgiving weekend and continues through to New Year's Eve.
A rousing production of "Sweet Charity" entertained Cookie and Keller.
A tuneful holiday show, "Plaid "Tidings," is on tap through the holidays.
The legendary Plaids, known for their close and "feel-good harmonies," return to planet Earth with a show guaranteed to spread yuletide the promo says, to spread yuletide joy with the greatest holiday hits of the ages. The new show offers the same format as the hit "Forever Plaid,"  featuring holiday standards that have all been “Plaid-erized.”  The harmonious quartet is called back to earth by a heavenly Rosemary Clooney, who tells them their harmonies are needed to help heal our discordant world.
Sprinkled among the yuletide offerings are audience favorites, including a three-minute version of The Ed Sullivan Show with the Rockettes, the Chipmunks and The Vienna Boys Choir, as well as a Plaid Caribbean Christmas that puts the "Day-O" in Excelsis! Sounds like a perfectly mixed holiday cocktail! Check out the holiday show at

Debbie Reynolds, left, and her daughter Carrie Fisher.
whereisCookie reflects on their relationship and contributions next.  
UP NEXT:    The sad news of Carrie Fisher's death, then her mother's, has left their fans -- including Cookie -- deeply
saddened.  Christene Meyers reminisces about Fisher's talent and courage, and her difficult relationship with her famous mum, Debbie Reynolds. The two talents and their complex lives moved millions, including Cookie, who interviewed them both -- 40 years apart. Remember to explore, learn and live, and check us out each weekend for an original take on the arts and travel.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Musical treats shower San Diego, ushering in a six pack of yule cheer

Horton Grand Theatre is a perfect venue for the delightfully rendered radio play version of "Miracle on 34th Street."
Jennifer Grimm, Colleen Raye, Sophie Grimm spin smooth
 three-part harmonies for yule entertainment at Northcoast Rep.

Girl Singers, 'Snow White,' 'Miracle' 'Dybbuk,' 'Snow White,' 'Radio Hour' deck the halls with holiday spirit in top-notch presentations

PHOTOS By BRUCE KELLER and courtesy theater marketers

IT'S BEGINNING TO sound a lot like Christmas here in San Diego. It's worth a plane ticket here to catch top productions for your holiday fix:
Northcoast Repertory Theatre, through Dec. 24: "The Girl Singers, Holiday Show of the Hit Parade." Three fabulous female voices serve up yuletide cheer, backed by a crack instrumental trio. If this show doesn't imbue you with holiday cheer, you are a true Grinch. Tight harmonies and solid voices deliver holiday songs of the 50’s including Eartha Kitt's “Santa Baby,” “Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree” by Brenda Lee, "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" made famous by Judy Garland, and classics “Winter Wonderland” and “Silver Bells.” A Wisconsin born show biz veteran and two talented daughters put their own stamp on songs made popular by sister acts -- the Andrews, McGuire and Lennon Sisters. There's a nod to Hanukkah with Tom Lehrer's comical "Hanukkah in Santa Monica," a lovely "Frozen" segment, sing-a-long medley and parody of "Twelve Days of Christmas." We tapped our toes through two happy hours of nostalgia at this delightful family show featuring Jennifer Grimm, Colleen Raye and Sophie Grimm.
Erin and Gary Lewis take their love
of the Broadway musical seriously 
at San Diego Musical Theatre.

San Diego Musical Theatre, through Dec. 23: "Miracle on 34th Street: a Live Musical Radio Play." SDMT is the dreamchild of Erin and Gary Lewis, who promote a successful "Broadway Series" at Spreckels Theatre. This production,at the lovely Horton Grand Theatre, a perfect space, is imaginatively rendered, true to the heartwarming 1947 film.  A department store Santa claims he’s the real Kris Kringle, prompting exploration of the meaning of the holiday and a Supreme Court decision. "Belief" makes all the difference in this iconic story, beautifully acted and directed with engaging live effects and original carols. Even the most cynical Scrooge will be touched.
Actor Ron Campbell gives a masterful performance,
portraying 18 characters in "The Dybbuk....."at the Rep.
Here, he portrays "Crazy Uncle Jerry" giving a toast. 
San Diego Repertory Theatre, through Dec. 18: (At the Lyceum, Horton Plaza.) "The Dybbuk for Hannah and Sam’s Wedding." The brilliant actor Ron Campbell teams with gifted violinist and composer Yale Strom for a story retold by the imaginative Todd Salovey. Campbell, a remarkable actor, portrays 18 characters during a theatrical Jewish wedding. The story -- based on an ancient tale -- revolves around a young couple on their marriage day. Mysticism, family loyalty and religion all play into the story. Campbell's artful presence and ability to transform himself with only small props insure an captivating theatrical experience. If you saw him in the Rep's beautifully done “R. Buckminster Fuller: The History (and Mystery) of the Universe" you will enjoy watching a master in top form.

Snow White and the seven dwarfs perform in a song-and-dance holiday take
on the story, with Madonna and Lady Gaga songs and veteran actors.
San Diego Rep, Lythgoe Family Panto and San Diego Theatres, through Dec. 24 (Also downtown San Diego, at the Lyceum):  "A Snow White Christmas." Wonderful acting, enchanting dwarfs, winsome dancing, a thoroughly wicked queen, pop tunes and an acrobatic court jester collaborate in a yuletide take on the familiar Brothers Grimm fairy tale. Director Chris Baldock maneuvers a seasoned, crack cast through the moves, with Neil Patrick Harris as the “Magic Mirror.” Jonathan Meza as the enchanting clown, Muddles, bends like a willow, and the oversized dwarf costumes are charming. Not a weak link -- from dimwitted but irresistible prince to the queen's suave and clever huntsman. We recommend it for families and children of all ages.

The beloved Dickens' tale of hope and redemption
is reimagined in an upbeat, affectionate Cygnet production. 
Cygnet Theatre: Through Dec. 24: "A Christmas Carol" features the always original writing skills of Sean Murray paired with Billy Thompson's upbeat score.
The beloved Dickens tale of hope and redemption is "re-imagined" as Cygnet offers new music, live sound effects, puppetry and grand costumes, all marked by Cygnet's and Murray's original stamp. Impeccable stage craft, amusing physical bits, winsome sound effects and likeable actors enhance the story while remaining true to its spirit of love, redemption, generosity and forgiveness.
New Village Arts has a lively WWII
musical radio show on tap.

New Village Arts, Carlsbad: Through Dec. 31. "The 1940's Radio Hour" blends the nostalgia of WWII with holiday favorites.  The era of "Strike Up the Band” and “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” are topping the charts as New York’s radio station WOV, prepares its final broadcast of the holiday-themed Mutual Manhattan Variety Cavalcade. Nominated for five Drama Desk Awards when it premiered on Broadway in 1980, the show features regional favorite singers, including pianist-singer Tony Houck as musical director and performer Zoot.
Cookie and Keller take a turn with Lawrence, as Bobby and Cissy did in the
1960s.  Cissy King and her dance partner Bobby Burgess were regulars.
UP NEXT: Continuing the spirit of all things theatrical, enter Lawrence Welk Resort. If you grew up in the 1950s or '60s, you may remember listening to the Welk show. "Plaid Tidings" is the latest hit production, a holiday take on "Forever Plaid." Book a seat and you'll see the polka maestro's legacy lives on. Welk Resort north of San Diego is a 450-acre complex among the boulder-strewn hills of the city's "North County." The popular destination offers a theater, restaurants, gardens, parks, and many types of housing. We were drawn to the theater and its lovely little museum, which pays homage to Welk and his dynasty. Millions of viewers tuned in to Welk's show both live in the 1950s and 1960s and on reruns since it became a PBS standard on Saturday evenings. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekends for lively arts-travel insights and features.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Celebrate Yuletide, 'Gatsby' style at Georgia's elegant southern style Tate House

A splendid Georgia mansion built of rare pink marble, known as "Etowah Pink Marble" is decked out for the holidays.
Through Dec. 21, the Tate House offers holiday tours, with a delightful luncheon or hors d'oeuvres presentation. 

Every room of the 2916 nmansion is decked out for the holidays, with
gorgeous trees, meticulously decorated, and each room in a color theme. 

STELLAR CREATION OF a land baron, philanthropist and tycoon, Tate House -- "the Pink Palace" -- is known throughout the south for its gorgeous pink marble patina and its exquisite Renaissance revival style.
It is a popular wedding venue and one of the most photographed privately owned homes in the south. It is indeed grand and glorious.
During a recent family reunion and birthday celebration, we discovered it is particularly beautiful in this yuletide season, elegantly decked out in glittering holiday glory.
Can you spot the imposters?  Cookie and her sister Misha
join carolers in the Tate House for a colorful tour and sing. 
During the yule season, nearly two dozen major rooms are lovingly decorated by volunteers and presented in exquisite form with Christmas trees, gifts, carolers, presents and dining tables ready for eager guests. The detail is spectacular.
COLONER SAM TATE built the 19,000 square foot marble mansion to show off his success and to showcase the enormous vein of rose-colored marble from the quarry behind his house. 
Elegance is the order of the day. One enters, feeling part of a bygone era. The gracefully curved stairway evokes F. Scott Fitzgerald and "The Great Gatsby," when the Jazz Age ushered in style and opulence.  The wealthy lived the high life, with lavish furnishings, free-flowing champagne and indulgence of every whim. 
One of the Tate House Christmas trees boasts more than 1,000 ornaments.
Tate's affection for Italian and English classical styles popular in the U.S. in the 1920s created a beautiful home which sadly fell to neglect.  It is once again gorgeous -- thanks to restoration efforts of Holbrook Properties.  Lois Holbrook and daughter Marsha Mann sunk a fortune into restoring the stately mansion and gardens, last occupied by immediate family in 1955. Colonel Sam, who never married, died in 1938 at age 78, 12 years after moving into the home. The home was neglected for two decades, and for a time unoccupied, until an Arizona woman, Ann Laird, purchased it and began a painstaking restoration.
OUR FAMILY event combined a reunion and travel-writing expedition with fashion, food and holiday finery. Like the other guests, we appreciated the opportunity Tate House offers to celebrate the season.
Tate House has a lovely dining room
for tasty lunch or appetizer parties.
 We joined others dressed in holiday style, treating family and friends to a lovely bistro lunch, complemented by historical highlights and tour.  Our party drove about 90 minutes from my sister's home in Duluth, Ga. It's only a 15-minute drive from Big Canoe, Ga., through a lovely wooded part of the state.
The Cosgriffe siblings at Tate House, from left, Christene (Cookie), Patrick,
Misha, Rick and Olivia.  The famous 1920s home is built on land acquired
by the Tate family in 1834. The home is a popular Georgia wedding venue.
Among its other kudos, the Tate House is on the National Register of Historic Places and was named one of the "must see houses in Georgia" by Georgia Magazine. 
If you can't make the holiday tours (a delicious bistro lunch or evening candlelight music tour), the Tate House offers breakfast, lunch and dessert tours during the rest of the year, for reasonable prices.
An all-inclusive wedding package is available for brides looking for an old-fashioned elegant southern wedding experience.
To book a tour later, or during the holidays -- a bistro lunch or candlelight music tour -- call 770 735-3122 or go to 

Horton Grand Theatre hosts a lively adaptation of the classic
"Miracle on 34th Street," a radio play adaptation in San Diego.

Erin and Gary Lewis founded San
 Diego Musical Theatre because of a
life-long love of the musical. The
The current show  is a  well done
 live musical radio play
 adaptation of the holiday classic,
 "Miracle on 34th Street."
Continuing in the spirit of all things yuletide, San Diego Musical Theatre presents a delightful musical, "Miracle on 34th Street:  A Live Musical Radio Play." The adaptation of the classic feel-good film is superbly directed and won a standing ovation Thursday. Remember the 1947 film?  A kindly bearded man is hired in an emergency at Macy's Department Store when the regular Santa shows up to work drunk. The real meaning of Christmas -- love and belief -- is delightfully told. Call 858-560-5740 for tickets, or go to Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekends for lively arts-travel insights and features.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Yosemite hotel celebrates a century of hosting travelers, the rich and famous

The Ahwahnee Hotel (now Majestic) in Yosemite National Park has a long, rich history hosting many famous guests.


The Yosemite scenery is world famous, a wonderland of wonderful sights. 


THE AHWAHNEE Hotel may have the best location of any guest house in the world.
Dreamed of nearly a century ago, this graceful landmark finally opened with a gala overnight party in the shadow of the Great Depression.
The opening was  1927 and officials at Yosemite National Park were proud of their hotel, which carried a then unheard of price tag of well over $1 million.
The Majestic Hotel's lobby combines rustic comfort with elegance.
Brain child of Stephen Mather, first director of the National Parks (often referred to as "the father of the national park system), the plans began more than 10 years before completion. Mather's efforts persuaded congress to implement the National Park Service, and he was instrumental in the plan to create an attractive lodge in his favorite part of Yosemite.
MATHER CONVINCED D.J. Desmond to convert an old army barracks into what has now become a multi-million dollar show piece of the national park system. Its name change has confused many people and,
Out the door of the hotel, magnificent waterfalls and splendid scenery await.
money is at the root of the trademark dispute, resulting in the change from Ahwahnee to Majestic. Ahwahnee means "deep grassy valley" in native language.  That seems fitting, for its facade is is the jewel of the Yosemite lodging, framed by the natural landscape that attracts millions of visitors each year.
 MADE OF stone and wood, the hotel is beloved for its grand public spaces featuring giant stone fireplaces, massive hand-stenciled beams, rich tapestries and elegant stained glass. 
A couple combines a sunny late morning rest with cell phone catch up.

The Majestic has entertained movie stars, European royalty and a host of international tourists. Among celebrities to stay are Judy Garland, Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., Joan Baez, Boris Karloff and Kim Novak. John F. Kennedy spent a night, as did Herbert Hoover and Eleanor Roosevelt. Royal visitors include Queen Ratana of Nepal, King Baudouin of Belgium, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, Queen Elizabeth, who overnighted with Prince Philip in 1983.
Set against spectacular peaks , this historic, landmark hotel is the leading lady on a valley floor with views of Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls. 
 AHWAHNEE IS derived from native American languages, and means "deep grassy valley" 
The hotel is just 1.5 miles from Yosemite Village, with shopping, a museum and restaurants. It has
The hotel preserves a woodsy feeling in its nature paths.
The Ahwaynee (now Majestic) has
a long string of awards and status.
 won "Premier Lodge" classification from National Park Reservations. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel (now its official name) is marked by a striking granite facade, magnificent log-beamed ceilings, massive stone hearths, richly colored Native American artwork and finely appointed rooms.  It stands, along with my Yellowstone National Park's Old Faithful Hotel, as a shining example of what we consider to be the most inventive of early national park lodging and architectural brilliance.

Tours with holiday meals are a highlight at Tate House in Georgia.
For more information, contact
UP NEXT: Elegant southern hospitality merges with holiday splendor at the Tate House in rural Georgia.  The historically famous home was built on land purchased in 1834. The structure was completed in the 1920s on an enormous vein of rare pink marble and came into its element in that decade, invoking the "Great Gatsby" era. Several incarnations later, present owners have restored it, with attention to detail. For Christmas more than a dozen rooms are decked out in holiday finery. Remember to explore, learn and live, and catch us weekends for lively arts-travel insights.