Friday, May 31, 2019

LEGENDARY PERFORMERS: still touring after all these years

Barry Manilow last week in Las Vegas, at 75, singing, playing, engaging with
the audience. 
He returned to Broadway in 2019, to critical acclaim
and will encore his popular Las Vegas Westgate show later in 2021. 




IN THE LAST few years, we've seen a host of aging entertainers in live performance venues.  Each one was satisfying. All received standing ovations. In 2020, we joined a packed house at the Westgate in Las Vegas to watch Broadway bound Barry Manilow. Sprightly and now 77, he endeared himself with a generous 95-minute show, playing his own tunes and a
Bette Midler does specialty performances,
including this one at the Academy Awards. .
Elton John at 72 still tours,and
will return to his  Las Vegas gig.
Chopin prelude that inspired one of his hits. Bette Midler at 75 proves herself still "Divine." She gave three encore numbers, donned a mermaid costume and displayed her usual sexy chutzpah when we saw her at Caesar's a couple years ago. Mick Jagger, 77, couldn't quiet the crowd for the whistles and cheers at his desert concert in 2018. Cher, 74, rocked the Vegas house both times we saw her -- oozing charm with two dozen costume changes. She's planning a 2021 tour.
TONY BENNETT headlined with Lady Gaga in a world tour at 90 and despite Alzheimer's, plans a 2021 concert tour.r Gordon Lightfoot at 82, Willie Nelson at 87, earn consistent ovations. Soon to turn 92, Bob Newhart's one-man comedy show charmed at Harrah's Rincon. Rich Little, 82, delighted us at the Laugh Factory in Vegas. Paul McCartney turns 79 in June of 2021 -- still composing and occasionally taking the stage.
Elton John, a kid at 73, is still touring, although tapering back on his energetic Las Vegas shows. We're EJ groupies -- four times at Caesar's.
Jazz pianist Marian McPartland was in her late  70s when she
played a Billings, Montana, concert.  Here, center, with writer
Christene Meyers and marketing specialist Corby Skinner. 

WHY DO THESE aging stars continue to perform?  Because they like it and we like them. They draw huge crowds, perform with enthusiasm, connect as they entertain. We've grown older with them, so it's charming to see them age gracefully, bowing to standing "Os."
When we were coming of age, in the early days of rock and folk music, our parents were listening to Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the amazing Tony Bennett, whose popularity spans decades and generations. Rock and folk music were unifying cultural forces. Now those rockers and folk artists are growing older. But they still rock out, perhaps with a little more delicacy.
Willie Nelson is still a crowd-pleaser.  We see him at Humphrey's Concerts by the Bay here in San Diego, and 25 years after I interviewed him in Montana. With his signature red bandana, his throaty but tender style and self-deprecating wit, he's a joy to behold and still has the chops. At 86, Nelson's voice is weakening, but, he still picks a mean guitar and is sharp as ever.
Willie Nelson in an interview during a tour
that took him to Big Sky, Montana. He is  

Although she was a youthful "60-
something" when we saw Angela
Lansbury in "Sweeney Todd," she
played Madame Arcati in "Blithe
"Spirit" when she was 91. She is 93. 
Tony Bennett plans a summer 2021 tour despite Alzheimer's.
Who knows if he'll tour again, but he has a new record out. 
I LOVE seeing performers I grew up with, ones my parents and even grandparents loved.  I had the good fortune to see Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole,  Marian McPartland, Barbara Cook, Rosemary Clooney,  Alberta Hunter and other greats. Seeing the marvelous Bobby Short twice at the Carlyle in New York was a highlight.  He was in his mid-70s, still brilliant. The king of longevity is Bennett, who turns 95 in August and is just out with a new album. We've seen him five times (three times with Lady Gaga, twice solo). Magnificent. Ringo turns 80 in 2021. Johnny Mathis will be 85. Angela Lansbury was 62 when I saw the actress-singer take the Tony for her Mrs. Lovett role in "Sweeney Todd"; 30 years later, we saw her in "Blithe Spirit" in Los Angeles. Other legendary stars: Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks....  Leonard Cohen toured until a year before his death in 2016. McPartland did her wonderful "Piano Jazz" National Public Radio show into her 90s and was 95 when she passed in 2013. be 95. 
NEIL YOUNG, a mere 70, is still recording and performing. Bob Dylan, elusive at 78, continues to keeps a low profile as we know from his rejection of the Nobel Prize.
Leonard Cohen at 77 was still touring, but ill health forced
 tapering back, to mostly recording. He died at 82 in 2016.
I last saw Billy Joel when he was 66. At 70 now, he's still a kid. Rumors of another tour are out.  It's not the money. Most are  financially secure and could quietly disappear into a life of golf, travel, reading or lazing about. But they thrive on performance; they need the connection.
THIS WAS  obvious when we saw Manilow last week in his fabulous show.  He did his hits, dressed the crowd, shook hands. Grace. That's what these veterans share. Bravo, brava. May it continue thus.

UP NEXT:  Montana is calling -- and we answer! Come with us to  Big Sky Country, where the deer and the antelope play.  We'll take a few sidetrips to Red Lodge, Livingston, Cody, Wyoming, and more, and share some of our favorite photos of real cowboys and the true wild west.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us each Friday when we post a novel look at the arts, travel, nature and family. We welcome your feedback at

Friday, May 24, 2019

Pearl Harbor Memorial takes on special Memorial Day meaning

Millions honor the fallen on all sides at the USS Arizona Memorial, where the valor and sacrifice of WWII is remembered.


Photographer Bruce Keller puts down his photo
equipment for a perch aboard a torpedo.


A VISIT TO the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu is a must for anyone interested in history, culture and the complex results of war: death, violence, disruption, prejudice, fear, determination, recovery.
We chose a half-day tour with Roberts Hawaii, and were met by the company's trademark green bus and a jovial driver-guide who calls himself Cousin Dave.
He picked us up at the historic Ilikai Hotel, an easy half-block from our digs at Hilton Hawaiian Village Waikiki Beach Resort. We drove the eight miles in less than 20 minutes to the resting place of the sunken USS Arizona. There, at Pearl Harbor, 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines killed on Arizona are honored in their graves within the sunken ship. They were among the casualties when the Japanese engineered a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, "a date that will live in infamy," as FDR said.

A young Japanese man studies the sad story of the
internment of thousands of innocent Japanese
 Americans during the WWII years.

THE MOOD was quiet and respectful as we joined an international queue with fellow tour members, including a Japanese couple our age from Tokyo.  It was interesting to travel with them, and glean their take on the memorial.  For while the U.S. suffered grievous losses, Japan suffered destruction of two cities and Americans of Japanese descent suffered loss and humiliation in the internment camps. One is in Wyoming, not far from where I grew up in south-central Montana.
Docents  with expertise in history give insightful
commentary as Navy sailors pilot us to the Arizona grave.
After checking our bags and backpack, we entered the nicely designed complex, which includes spacious walkways, museum buildings, artifacts, sculpture, a theater and visitor center. Besides the interesting boat ride to view the Arizona Memorial, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park is part of the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center. The Bowfin, a fleet attack submarine, fought in the Pacific during WWII and helped to make famous the term, "Silent Service." Bowfin was launched on Dec. 7, 1942, exactly one year to the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
One strolls the grounds past well marked torpedos, missiles and other instruments of war, with fair-minded commentary and attention to suffering on both sides of the story.
WE ALL KNOW THAT the attack was a pivotal moment in U.S. history, which propelled the U.S. into World War II with the backing of Congress and support of the American people.
The Bowfin may be visited on the museum grounds.

The monument also preserves and interprets the story of the internment of Japanese Americans, the battles in the Aleutians and the war's ending with the dropping of the bomb on two Japanese cities. There are other nearby attractions.  Both the battleship U.S.S. Missouri Memorial, on whose decks the war ended, and Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum are on nearby Ford Island. a quick bus ride away.
A sculpture to peace makes a stunning backdrop for photos.
The Missouri side trip interests many because the Japanese surrendered on board the Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945, early on a Sunday morning, the same day of the week on which Pearl Harbor was bombed. The Aviation Museum hosts a aviation exhibits directly relating to the attack.
On our boat trip to the Arizona, our elderly historian guide told us that three survivors of Pearl Harbor remain, all in their late 90s.  They have been honored at the Arizona Memorial and have visited the 45,000-ton Missouri to pay their respects.
IT IS NOT possible to go on board the Arizona at the moment, because of structural concerns. Repairs are scheduled to be completed by early next year.  But our ship circled the memorial slowly so all 120 of us had ample time for photos and reflection.
    We were pleased to see so many students and people from all over the world at the memorial, quietly honoring those who gave their lives and the thousands more who suffered. Perhaps we are learning not to repeat the horrors.
The Navy owns the land and the memorial is run by the National Park Service. We recommend Real Hawaii Tours.

Singer Willie Nelson is aging with grace and still
on tour.  His guitar prowess is still sharp. 
UP NEXT:  Willie Nelson remains an engaging, entertaining performer, well into his 70s.  This week, we took in a concert by the energetic singer-songwriter.  The Humphreys Concert By the Bay in San Diego is one of two dozen on Nelson's current tour which began on the west coast, crosses the country and ends in Ohio. We take a look back at Nelson's career, his impressive endurance and his newest recording, out soon. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, the arts, nature, family and more.

Friday, May 17, 2019

John Wayne's Newport Beach yacht celebrates The Duke's legacy

The Wild Goose had a well traveled past when actor John Wayne bought it and made it his traveling hotel.  Now, Hornblower Cruises invites the public to enjoy Wayne's yacht for a limited time through birthday dinner cruises with a gourmet meal,  theee hours of sailing and full access to the private quarters of the vessel.


John Wayne's card room and den have been preserved by Hornblower.


STEP ABOARD a luxury yacht, surrounded by John Wayne's movie memorabilia and personal effects from his film career and seafaring days. Hornblower Cruises offers a unique experience to commune with the spirit of actor John Wayne aboard the boat he captained.
While the star died in 1979, his spirit lives on aboard the Wild Goose, the yacht he bought, pampered and entertained on for  17 years. Wayne said she was his
John Wayne aboard the Wild Goose.  He loved
to navigate, and 
proudest possession.  He loved taking her to British Columbia and Mexico's coastal towns. He'd play cards, read and fish in stylish comfort, surrounded by magnificent woodwork, resting in his artful master bedroom and keeping an eye on his kids, whose bedroom was just down the hall.
MARION MORRISON was born May 26, 1907.  Known professionally as John Wayne, and nicknamed "Duke," he passed away on June 11, 1979. Besides being a much loved American actor and filmmaker, he was a Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. He was also an accomplished seaman and spent his last days on his luxury yacht, a converted mine sweeper which saw service in World War II. After she was decommissioned, she was purchased by a private owner who a few years later sold her to Wayne.
For nearly 18 years, between movie shoots, the actor piloted the former Naval ship.  Because he was 6'4," he raised the ceilings in an elaborate remodeling project. He took his family and close friends to Alaska, British Columbia, Mexico and Catalina. When he filmed his last picture,
Wayne piloted the Wild Goose through Newport's colorful
harbor, making his way to Mexico or British Columbia. 
"The Shootist," in 1976, both he and his aging gunfighter screen character were dying of cancer.  Wayne spent quiet time resting aboard his beloved "Goose."  His last interview -- with Barbara Walters -- was aboard the boat.  Among his memorable quotes is one that fits his handling of illness: "Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway."
The Wild Goose is available for charter, for private events up to 125 people. She is also open for John Wayne dinner cruises May 24-25, May 31, June 1, 7 and 8. It's lovely to move through the waters Wayne loved to navigate, beverage in hand, imagining former guests -- Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Rock Hudson, Frank Sinatra, Henry Fonda, Sammy Davis Jr., and other celebrities who shared Wayne's love of the water. Wayne's own custom designed bar is fully stocked and if you'd like Wild Goose momentos, check out the t-shirts, mugs and a lively book written by the ship's former captain, Bert Minshall. "On Board with the Duke." It's a fun read with anecdotes of travels on the ship with Wayne and his family and friends. 
Beautiful woodwork and carvings
adorn The Wild Goose.
The master bedroom is kept much as it was during John
Wayne's times aboard, including the nautical painting.
Besides the status of a National Register of Historic Places listing, the boat has the cache of having served as a playground and relaxing hideway for a legendary star.  Having access to the entire vessel including Wayne's private rooms, enhances the feeling that you're in the company of "The Duke" himself. It's a unique, pleasing time with a fabulous meal expertly prepared and served in several tasty and eye-catching courses.
From left, Cookie, Keller and their
friends Sue and Bob Hulbert, who
grew up around Newport.
Wayne enjoyed nautical paintings, and several of his own
collection are on the boat now. Portraits and posters of
the legendary star were added by Hornblower.
Wayne's family sometimes joins diners and movie buffs aboard Wild Goose. Daughter Marisa Wayne says it's satisfying to see that fans remember and appreciate her dad's movies. "His longevity is amazing.  He is still so loved and respected by so many people this many years after his death. I wish he was around to give me advice....or have a drink."
Cost is $103 per person, including a four-course gourmet meal, glass of  champagne and the incredible access to the entire yacht. Go to (and select Newport Beach).

Fallen sailors and Marines are forever beneath the waves and the
Arizona Memorial is directly over the sunken ship.
UP NEXT:  We remember Pearl Harbor with a visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu.  We toured the impressive complex and came away moved. The memorial complex pays careful attention to present both sides of the story, from the horrors of the 1941 bombing to the internment of Japanese Americans and the bombs that ended the war.  Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, the arts, nature, family and more.

Friday, May 10, 2019

'Godfather' Country: on the trail of the famous movie in Savoca, Italy

The hilly drive to Savoca, Italy, takes you to the town where Francis Ford Coppola shot the film, "The Godfather."   
 Chiesa di Santa Lucia was the setting for the
famous wedding scene in "The Godfather."
  When Francis Ford Coppola filmed "The Godfather" in Savoca,
the scenes were shot looking away from the stunning view.




YOU WILL be an honorary Sicilian, ready for a glass of red wine, to toast the Corleone legacy upon your arrival in "Godfather Country."  The hike up the hill to the setting for the famous movie is not for sissies.  But the sleepy village of Savoca is worth the journey, though. past fragrant citrus orchards and healthy fields of cactus climbing up the hillsides from the sea below.
Though little known to Americans, Savoca has much to offer. 
Located near the prosperous coastal resort town of Taormina whose train station was used in "Godfather III,"  Savoca was chosen by director Francis Ford Coppola as a stand-in for the real village of Corleone in his 1972 movie.  He chose Savoca because it was relatively untouched by progress, had fewer issues than Corleone with mafia and would be easier to maneuver in because of its uncrowded atmosphere.
LOCALS THEN and now are tough and hard working. For centuries, they've made a living by farming on neatly designed terraces overlooking the sea. We found them friendly and happy to talk about their pastoral life, growing citrus trees and cactus.  Farm wives make their own limoncello which they sell in little corner stands much like the lemonade stands we had as children.So the area is a perfect backdrop for the story of a Sicilian family who migrated to the U.S. and made it good, mafia style.
Our journey took us back in time to this lovely corner of Italy, perched above the Ionian Sea.
"The Godfather" has brought a certain prosperity
and minor fame to Savoca, with souvenirs aplenty.
Here life goes on in a typically Sicilian way – leisurely, never too fast. Savoca, unlike inland Corleone, looks to the sea from its lofty perch.  It is a pretty little village which thanks to the movie, now makes much of its living through tourism.
WE MADE our way in a small touring bus up sun-blasted hillsides, admiring the occasional old stone farmhouse and stopping for photos of a scattering of contented goats. Once in the village, we climbed up the sloped and curving streets. 
Bar Vitelli, near the town's entrance, is where Michael Corleone meets
his future wife, Apollonia.  A hike up the hill is the Church of
 San Nicolo, where their wedding would take place. 
Like "The Godfather" characters, locals and
visitors alike enjoy a glass or two of vino rosso.
We'd signed up for the tour because I was sentimental about a long-ago trip to Savoca when I was an invited member of the press corps of film reviewers. We interviewed director Coppola and members of the cast of "The Godfather" then spent a few days in the beautiful area. So it was fun to revisit the locations of the legendary movie shot as Coppola was rediscovering his own Italian roots.  His heritage lured him back to the area. After scouting the southern part of the country, he decided on Savoca for the scenes set in Corleone. Most involve the young Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino. Coppola loved Bar Vitelli, scene of the meeting between Michael Corleone and his future wife's father, who owns the cafe. Bar Vitelli is still in business. We sipped a beverage there before continuing on to the Church of San Nicolò, where the wedding between Michael and Apollonia was officiated.
BEYOND THE cinematic attractions of Savoca, we admired buildings of medieval and Renaissance origins, as well as Baroque architecture to contrast with rural buildings from the early 20th century. Among intriguing relics are the ruins of the Castle of Pentefur, once belonging to the founders of Savoca; the Church of Santa Maria in Cielo Assunta and its crypt, complete with mummies, and remains of ancient walls and town gate dating to the 18th century. A more recent attraction at the entrance to the village features ceramic panels in bas-relief placed by Messina artists Salvatore and Giuseppe Zona in 1989 to recount the history, art and  traditions of the area. A fun meander, best done with a glass or two of local vino.

Wild Goose was John Wayne's beloved yacht which he sailed to Vancouver
and south to Mexico, from its southern California base. Passengers may step
aboard the vessel and enjoy artifacts, posters and photos of "The Duke's" life.

UP NEXT:   Legendary California resident, actor John Wayne loved the sea, and his proudest possession was a wonderful yacht, the Wild Goose, which he sailed far and near from its Newport Beach base. His beloved boat was acquired by Hornblower Cruises, and passengers may enjoy a remarkable opportunity to spend a few hours aboard the "Goose" with a gourmet dinner, access to treasured memorabilia, and chance to roam the vessel. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Remembering: Poet's Garden honors legacy of a fine teacher

Flanked by Andy Schoneberg's bronze of Bruce Kemp Meyers, his widow Christene "Cookie" Meyers
welcomes an overflow crowd to the first of 10 "Bruce Bash" festivals honoring the late professor, in May of 1993.
Famed poet Allen Ginsberg christened the Bruce Meyers
Poets'  Garden in May of 1993, singing, accompanying
himself  on several instruments, appearing at Writer's Voice.



ON A BALMY spring day in May of 1993, poet Allen Ginsberg helped celebrate the life and legacy of Bruce Kemp Meyers.
The famous beat poet paid homage to the popular actor and teacher who once took a workshop from him and taught his poetry for a quarter-century.  It was a day I'll never forget, full of talent, emotion and love.
When my husband, Bruce Meyers, died suddenly of an aneurysm in February of 1992, I vowed to honor his life and contributions to culture and education in some unusual way.
WE WERE in Las Vegas on President's Day weekend, about to interview and photograph Frank Sinatra when he developed chest pains.  He died in Las Vegas at Desert Springs
Hollywood special effects master Andy
Schoneberg and Christene Meyers
at the dedication. Schoneberg did
the bronze of Bruce Meyers. The three
 acted in several theatrical productions.
Hospital on Flamingo Road, not far from where we were staying at our favorite Sands Hotel (imploded to make way for the Venetian.)
As therapy, for 15 months after Bruce's death, I designed the Bruce Meyers Poets' Garden on the campus of Montana State University-Billings.  Bruce taught creative writing and English there for 25 years, after receiving his MFA at Kent State University and "going West, young man."
Architect Ted Wirth, left, and then college president
Bruce Carpenter confer as the Poets' Garden took shape.
WE MET IN 1967, the same year he began his teaching career, at a dinner party hosted by his colleague and my friend Sue Hart, now also sadly gone.  Sue knew we were both musical and enjoyed acting and theater. She hoped we might hit it off.  She was right.  Our 25 years together included global travel and hundreds of plays. Together we acted and performed in more than Billings 50 productions, from "Cabaret" to "Our Town," "Man of La Mancha," "Play It Again, Sam" "Promises, Promises," "I Do! I Do!," "Annie," "The Pirates of Penzance" and many others at Billings Studio Theatre, der Schwartzwald Dinner Theatre and the old Fox, now the Alberta Bair Theater.
Our endeavors helped raise the $6 million to save that building.
Poet Allen Ginsberg with, from left, sisters Christene Meyers,
Robbie Cosgriffe Townsley and Misha Kelly Minesinger.
My musical family and our large circle of theater and arts-loving friends adored Bruce, so I had no trouble assembling a stellar cast 15 months after Bruce's death to christen the garden.  I designed it with the help of celebrated architect Ted Wirth, in consultation with Bruce Carpenter, president of the college and a member of the faculty poker club which met monthly, sometimes at our home.
THE GARDEN took shape, with Ted's creative design incorporating both formal and natural elements -- benches, river rocks, aspen trees, the aspen trees my late husband loved.  I wanted open areas and places for students and faculty to stroll, sit and ponder.  A grassy area would welcome professors and their classes to create art and writing, as Bruce had done with his students in that very spot for many years.

The Cosgriffe clan assembled at Corby Skinner's home
during a reception for poet Allen Ginsberg, who extended
his Billings Writer's Voice stay to be part of the dedication.

I wanted poetry, Bruce's passion when he wasn't acting or teaching. Ted loved my idea of  incorporating engravings of several of the poems on marble and granite.  Sculptor Lyndon Pomeroy would create a metal sculpture of our beloved airedale, Gandalf. Finally, I wanted a bust of Bruce.  I called our mutual friend, now noted Hollywood special effects wizard Andy Schoneberg to do the bronze.
"It was an important way for me to say farewell to Bruce," Schoneberg recalls, explaining how the lifecast he'd made for Bruce was critical to his crafting of the bronze. Schoneberg's lifecast was used by Bruce for 17 performances of the Der Schwartzwald production of "Annie."  Bruce played the role of Daddy Warbucks and Schoneberg made a
Corby Skinner and Christene Meyers finalize the introduction
of poet Allen Ginsberg at the dedication of the Bruce Meyers
Poets' Garden on the MSU-Billings campus, May, 1993.

lifecast to use in crafting a durable latex baldcap for Bruce’s character. "I used that cast later to take key measurements to sculpt the MSU-B bust," Schoneberg said in an interview. He is proud that the bust is on the Smithsonian Institution's Art Inventory.
The Bruce Meyers Poets' Garden
 photographed before flower planting
this April. Geraniums petunias will follow. 
--photo courtesy MSU-B Foundation 

AS THE DEDICATION approached, family and friends made plans to fly in from all over the U.S. A wonderful ensemble of actors, poets, playwrights, singers, dancers and instrumentalists performed for a two-day fete, highlighted by Ginsberg's readings and musical presentations. Writer's Voice Billings liason Corby Skinner recalls, "He wanted to spend a couple days in Montana. We took him to a ranch, and had a wonderful reception at the Castle.  When he heard about the Bruce Meyers garden dedication, he immediately wanted to be part of it."

On the "Godfather" trail in Savoca, Italy, are Cookie and Keller, aka Christene Meyers
and Bruce Keller.  The town is still relatively quiet, but now relies on tourism 
as well as farming for its income.  It also honors Coppola in a dramatic sculpture.
UP NEXT:  Join us on the trail of "The Godfather," in Savoca, Italy, where  the Sicilian towns of Savoca and Forza d'Agro outside of Taormina were used for many of the scenes in Francis Ford Coppola's award winning film. Coppola is remembered fondly by the locals of this still quiet village, which stood in for Corleone, now much too developed to pass for the quiet little "Godfather" town depicted in the film. We'll visit Bar Vitelli and the church Michael was married in. Remember meanwhile to explore, learn and live, and catch us Fridays for a novel look at travel, the arts, family, health and nature.