Sunday, January 30, 2011


I only knew him slightly, but once meeting and seeing David Frye perform in person, you could never forget him. His parody impersonation of Richard Nixon, with all the exaggerated gestures, became the image most people remembered almost more than that of Nixon himself.

Back in the early 1970s, he was a big star, with appearances on Johnny Carson and Ed Sullivan. I met him backstage at America's first comedy club, The Improvisation in New York. He was trying out some new material, and I was with a young comic I had written some gags for. David said he was trying to spread out a bit beyond his Nixon impersonation, and would I be interested in writing some material for him. I was and did, though he didn't use it much. Everyone--all the TV producers and nightclub owners--they all wanted him to keep doing Nixon. Talk about being typecast! And David wrote all his own material for those bits, lots of it, and it was very funny stuff indeed.

He was a gentle man, but very high strung. I visited with him at several clubs when he was about to go on, and he was sweating profusely and very twitchy until his name was announced and he walked on. It was easy for him to transform his own neurotic energy into that of Nixon, which probably helped him perform one of the most amazing acts of mimicry ever seen. He was so good, in fact, that he never was able to escape the typecasting. When his death was announced this weekend in Las Vegas, I imagine I was not alone in picturing him doing Nixon from his 1970s act.

He enjoyed his fame, his stardom--but I wonder if he ever regretted that it was so tied to the man he so brilliantly impersonated. I think we probably missed out by not getting to know David Frye himself.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


In my latest post on my other blog, I talk about what I see as the value of committing ourselves to come up with new ideas we've never thought or expressed before.
So I decided to follow my own advice and create a brand new weekly holiday:
Silly Wednesday. This day of the week can now be where we focus on sending friends and loved ones all the silly jokes, videos, photos that people are constantly emailing us--the cream of the crop we would like to share.

And to commemorate the inauguration of Silly Wednesday, I decided to do something I have never done before. I've written comedy for stand-up, and many, many cartoon gags for cartoonists, but I've never written an old-fashioned joke.

While this is not the funniest joke in the world, it is exquisitely mine--but you don't have to give me credit if you choose to share it. And certainly silly enough to qualify as the kickoff event in my ongoing commitment to Silly Wednesday.

Three attractive women in their fifties were sitting side by side under hair dryers at the beauty salon. Mary spoke first and said, "My husband is a stingy so-and-so. He never takes me out, he never buys me gifts, he rarely says anything nice to me, and in the bedroom, a real tightwad."

Next, Jessica said, "Oh, that's nothing. My husband has all of those shortcomings, but he also constantly tells me I'm fat, how much he hates my cooking, and that I'm turning into my mother."

Finally, Sarah joins the conversation by sharing, "Well, I can certainly sympathize with both of you, but I have found the perfect husband. He thinks I'm beautiful and never stops telling me so. He loves making love to me all night. He buys me expensive gifts that he spends lots of time picking out. And every moment I spend with him is a total joy."

And then Sarah bursts into hysterical weeping. Her friends don't know what to make of this, and Mary says, "What is it, is he sick?" Through her tears, Sarah says, "No, he's in perfect health." Jessica says, "Why are you crying then? He does sound like the most wonderful husband in all the world."
And Sarah answers, "He is, he absolutely is--the most wonderful, loving, generous husband in all the world. And he belongs to my best friend!"

So what new idea or thought or even joke can you come up with to celebrate this or any Silly Wednesday?

Monday, January 24, 2011


I know, I know--a very irreverant comment on the passing of an icon. But Jack LaLanne was a friend of mine and he would have appreciated it. What a man and what a life! When he died yesterday at the age of 96, it was the passing of an era, and thousands of fans can celebrate their being alive thanks to Jack's teachings.

But Jack didn't only live a long life, he lived it well and was lively and had a zestful energy that few younger people could keep up with. I first met him over 25 years ago at a National Speakers Association convention. But I remember most vividly a time in Las Vegas in 1994. We were both involved with an MLM nutritional company, which was selling some of his vitamin products. He gave one of his dynamic talks to the large gathering, moving constantly around the stage as he spoke. And then he signed books and chatted with fans for about two hours. My girlfriend and I wanted to get away from the crowds, so we picked an off-the-strip Italian restaurant a friend had recommended. Lo and behold, there were Jack and Elaine LaLanne at a table with a romantic candle glowing from a Chianti bottle.

Jack called us over to their table and insisted we join them. I was reluctant as I felt they were trying to have some private time together after being mobbed all day by fans. I told him I didn't want to interrupt his romantic dinner, and he and Elaine laughed. He said, "This is our post-romantic dinner--we made love in our room after the book signing, sit down." It was a delightful visit, though I was surprised that Jack and Elaine, both advocates of very healthy diets, had big Italian meat dinners. At one point, when Jack went to the restroom, Elaine confided in us that she was concerned about his upcoming 80th birthday, and what stunt he would pull to celebrate.

Jack was famous for his birthday feats of strength, usually involving fantastic stunts while swimming. Sure enough, a few months later we read that for his 80th, he had himself handcuffed and shackled, and swam the 1.5 miles from the Queensway Bay Bridge in Long Beach to the Queen Mary--while towing 80 boats carrying 80 people!
Many of these stunts are unlikely to ever be duplicated. And despite lifting weights two hours every day, Jack was not bulging with muscles, he did not resemble his friend Arnold Schwarzenneger in the least, but was probably stronger.

But what I most admired about the man was the romantic twinkle in his eye when he looked at Elaine, and the obvious very physical affection they had for each other. And he inspired many of us when, in an interview, at the age of ninety, he announced that he and Elaine still had a very active sex life.

He lived a full life doing work he loved, and reaching millions with his messages of exercise and healthy eating, and enjoy a storybook marriage. Yes, it's sad he's no longer with us, and my heart goes out to Elaine--but just thinking about him and that irrepressible energy, I can't help but smile.


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Tuesday, January 18, 2011


With social media now in such a preeminent position in our culture, it's probably time to redefine friendship and its meaning in each of our lives. Over thirty years ago, I wrote a book entitled, FRIENDS: The Power And Potential of The Company You Keep. In that book I talked about something I called "the supportive interpersonal environment," and the importance of creating an intentional family--especially since our traditional family structures were shrinking. When I was growing up, I shared a house with my mother, father, maternal grandmother and maternal grandfather, and my uncle, also on my mother's side. Cousins, aunts, uncles, and great aunts and great uncles were frequent visitors. My parents even belonged to a club composed of first, second, and third cousins, and it was a very congenial group indeed.

Nowadays, kids are often living with just one parent and perhaps a sibling or two. Friends fill in the gaps, but the nature of friendship has changed. My friends were a vital part of what kept me going during my 12 years in prison. Not all of my friends were there for me, not all of their love was unconditional. Several felt that they signed up for friendship with a successful author and motivational speaker, not a broke convict. A couple felt I broke our trust by going to prison--which I could certainly understand. But an amazing set of friends continued to write to me, send me books and magazines and quarterly food packages, and offer their prayers and good wishes.

When I was released in 2008, one of the first things I noticed coming back into society was how the nature of human interaction had changed. I would see two friends walking together and each would be involved in their own cell phone conversation with someone else. This was also true of couples. I also noticed a deterioration of social skills as kids seemed to prefer to text one another than talk on the phone or in person. The social media expanded on this by allowing someone to meet and greet hundreds of superficial friends in less time and with less effort than it used to take to make one acquaintanceship--the foundation for most deeper friendships.

So I think it's useful to take stock of our friendships and how rich they are in feeding us. In my book on the subject, I suggested that the friends we choose reveal a lot about who we are in the world. And that by looking at the quality of someone's friendships, one could quickly ascertain how successful that person was likely to be in life, love, and the pursuit of happiness.

I like social media, or at least some aspects of it. It's great for reconnecting with old friends you may not have been willing to take the effort to contact before Facebook, Twitter, Linked-In, etc. On several occasions, I have made contact with people from my past when I noticed them in the list of friends of other people I reconnected with. We have probably all had these experiences. This is real human contact and making use of the new technology to foster a wider sense of community.

On the other hand, an online friend today can be much more annoying and boring than an old friend who constantly talked about some subject you were totally uninterested in. Few people have ever liked someone who always seems to be trying to sell them something, yet social media participants often are posting links to their businesses or thinly disguised sales pitches. Or inviting others to participate in silly games, or "like" huge lists of things no functioning human being has time to check out, let alone like.

I remember, in a workshop I once presented, asking people to go back and forth in a pair and state what made them good friends to have. If I were to repeat that exercise today, I doubt many people would say, "I'm a good friend because I'm really good at playing Farmville." or: "I'm a good friend because I'm gong to tell you about a terrific MLM opportunity."

On the other hand, Facebook and similar entities do offer us countless opportunities to compliment and acknowledge each other. And especially for those who otherwise don't get to present their ideas and feelings in public, it can be quite a wonderful experience to have someone say, "Well said!" or, "Congratulations, you really did a good job."


Wednesday, January 5, 2011


Two events in recent weeks reminded me of a secret I've kept for almost forty years. As a former journalist, I've kept a lot of secrets over the years, and one of the recent events was the WikiLeaks controversy, which has gotten many people thinking about the nature of secrets, and whether some things should be kept under wraps, or should we aim for total transparency. Having grown up on Ian Fleming and the James Bond books, I usually side with those thinking it is necessary for some things to be kept secret. Not the sort of grand deceptions that my friend, Daniel Ellsberg, revealed when he released The Pentagon Papers, but the sort of embarrassing details about our diplomats' views of world leaders that WikiLeaks seems to be mainly composed of.

Would you want to negotiate anything with someone who, in private communications, had a negative or critical opinion of you--or someone who did not have the ability to guarantee your discussions would not be made public?

The other event was the Masterpiece Contemporary film, Framed, on PBS, about the flood-threatened British National Gallery art treasures being hidden in a mine in Wales while repairs were made--the same cave Winston Churchill used to keep them out of Nazi hands in case of an invasion during World War II.

What this all reminded me of was a time when I was a radio newsman in New York City, and my girlfriend, whom I'll call Ms. V, had a best friend, Ms. S., who was a curator for something called The Hirschhorn Collection. Her job was to catalog the thousands of paintings and sculptures, which were to form the basis of our first national museum devoted to modern art. So one quiet Sunday, Ms. S. took Ms. V. and myself down Hudson Street on the lower West Side of New York, just above Greenwich Village (where I lived at the time, further down a few blocks on Hudson). On that deserted street, there was a grubby storage warehouse, and Ms. S. unlocked a not-so-substantial door with a key she carried.

During the next two hours, we encountered one rather non-threatening guard, the only security I saw, though I imagined there was some kind of alarm system in place (or maybe not). Leaning against walls and boxes scattered all over the place on several floors, were countless masterpieces--Picassos, Matisses, Jackson Pollocks, sculptures by Alexander Calder and Auguste Rodin, and many, many others I was not familiar with. Ms. S. said they were worth tens of millions of dollars, but I suspect it was hundreds of millions even then, and certainly past the billion dollar mark now.

I've never gotten to The Hirschhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden at The National Mall in Washington, which opened about three years after my secretive journey to a warehouse in lower Manhatten. If I ever do, I wonder if I'll recognize any of the works of art I saw back then. I did have the thought at the time that it would make an amazing story, probably have gotten me a network position at least. But in those days, those more innocent days, there was a certain respect and regard for keeping secrets when one was asked to do so.

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