Three-Minute Memoir

April 2, 2017

The Boys of Summer, 1954

By Jim Sizemore

1954sketchbookI’m in my bedroom, lights out. It’s my mother’s third-floor apartment on Linden Avenue, two blocks south of North Avenue. Ernie Harwell’s words seem to float to me out of the glowing orange dial of my tabletop radio. The small fan next to it is set on high with scant effect in the humid heat. Ernie is telling me—play-by-play—that our new Baltimore Orioles are losing another game at Memorial Stadium. But that’s okay, at last we finally have a big league team. Thank goodness the radio is loud enough to muffle the voices of my mother and her new boyfriend, William “Wild Bill” Denton. They are in their bedroom arguing about money.

Ernie1Meanwhile, I peer out of my window at the couple across the street in their second floor apartment, rolling around on what appears to be a daybed. It can’t be a regular bed, because it’s low enough to fit just below the lip of the windowsill. They’re covered by a white sheet, out of which an occasional pale body-part juts. I guess they’re trying to catch what little cool air there is. My one wish is that if I watch long enough, the sheet will magically work its way off and slide to the floor. They must believe—like radio’s Lamont Cranston, aka The Shadow—that they have “the power to cloud men’s minds,” making them all but invisible.

(Click images to enlarge.)

In the summer of 1954 I was sixteen, my seventeenth birthday due in early October. When I was twelve, after many years of violent conflict, my parents had separated. Over the next four years I was farmed out to various relatives in Maryland, Virginia and Kentucky—mostly my three half-sisters’ families. But now I wanted to control my own fate and had worked my way back to Baltimore to share my mother’s home. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

It wasn’t long before I realized that “Mr. Denton,” as I called the small and wiry Wild Bill, was a problem. With regular construction work, he treated my mother and me pretty well. But a slack time in the building trades became an invitation to booze-ville for Mr. D. He needed my help with expenses, and seemed to resent me for it. I didn’t mind helping because I sold lots of newspapers out of a large green newsstand where North and Linden Avenues met—a dynamic corner with several streetcar and bus routes converging. I easily earned enough to help with food. At times I even managed part of the rent money. In fact, there were weeks when the only cash coming into the apartment was from my newspaper sales. I loved being able to help my mother financially. That summer—for the first time in my life—I felt like a grownup.

That said, I was edgy about our living arrangement. My mother was right back in a situation similar to the one we had experienced with my father, and once more I felt powerless to protect her. At some point, concern about the fights with Mr. Denton must have overcome what common sense I had, and I bought a large hunting knife, complete with scabbard. “Just in case.” One sweltering evening, during an extra-mean fight when he grabbed her—or at least grabbed at her—it all happened too fast for me to be sure—I wound up face to face with Wild Bill. It was all very confused; I was in some sort of frenetic daze. Mostly I remember forcing myself in between them, he and I spitting out blasts of profanity. Despite my bad case of the shakes, I somehow found the courage to pull my shirttail up to display the weapon, and at that the action slowed to a sweat-like trickle. Then my mother’s desperate pleas from the sidelines shut our little scene completely down.

The very next morning, my mother sat me down for The Talk. We quickly agreed it was time for a change—that I had to move on again. My only good option was the military, but since by law I was still a minor, she had to sign so I could enlist. And of course she did. My induction date was set for early October—all I needed do was to survive the rest of that summer.

On the nights my Baltimore O’s were far behind, I’d turn the radio off and go to sleep. Other times I’d leave it on, very low, and let Mr. Harwell’s southern-accented voice lull me to sleep. And there were those nights—the Orioles ahead or behind—when I was just too wound-up to nod off. BS bs-md-backstory-1127-p1.jpgThen, inspired by the drawings of the Morning Sun cartoonist, Jim Hartzell—especially his animated Oriole Bird sketches—I’d try to make up a cartoon about the game I’d just heard on the radio; the drama and frustration and elation of it all. I’m sure the images—the best of which I would eventually find the courage to send to Ernie Harwell—were crude and amateurish, little more than sketches, doodle-like. But I worked hard to make the ideas better than the visuals—and I hoped, funnier. Of course they were never near the professional quality of a Jim Hartzell cartoon. Up to then, my only art training had been finger-painting in elementary school. When I sent my first batch of “work” to Ernie Harwell, care of WCBM, I didn’t expect much. I certainly didn’t expect Ernie’s voice, a day or so later, saying my name on the radio. He praised my cartoon idea and even the drawing. I was shocked.

After I’d mailed in more drawings, Mr. Harwell shocked me again. Again he spoke to me by name and praised my work. But this time he also invited me to visit Memorial Stadium. He even gave me a phone number to call for my free pass to the game of my choice. Plus the biggest prize of all—a special pass that would get me into the broadcast booth. On the appointed day I remember being at the stadium, walking the steep ramp to the upper levels, running down the hallway to the broadcast booth. I knocked on the unmarked door and 57:typingwas admitted, out of breath and in an emotional fog. I know I spoke to Mr. Harwell, his partner Bailey Goss and a radio sound tech guy, but I don’t remember what anyone said. When the meeting was over—it seemed to have gone by so quickly—I do remember Mr. Harwell announcing to his radio audience: “This young man is going into the army in October, and I’m very proud of him, as we all should be.” Then, winking at me, he smartly saluted.

57:SFAirborn60+ years on I view the summer of 1954 as a mash-up of bad and good. Sure, I lost the dream of a fresh start with my mother, but on the other hand I learned that—to coin a cliché—growing up simply means moving on. And yes, the Orioles lost 100 games that first season, winning only 57. But, thanks to those O’s being there for me, and Mr. Harwell’s encouragement, and discovering the cartoon work of Jim Hartzell—plus moving on to three years of interesting military experiences—I gained a glimmer of several career possibilities. Even today I’m still on the path to—to what? Well, for one thing, I think I’m smart enough now to know that it’s always too soon to speculate about what may come next. The one thing I do know is that I’m really curious to discover what it may be.

Copyright © 2017, Jim Sizemore.
This is an edited re-post.
Thanks to Florence Newman for her expert help on this essay.
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Three-Minute Memoir

September 29, 2013

My Long Journey to Korea

By Floyd Douglas Sizemore

DougLeeKoreaOn November 3rd, 1948, less than two months after my 17th birthday, I enlisted in the “new peacetime Army” at Fort Holabird, in Baltimore, Maryland. That “peacetime” part sounded pretty good. Being just a kid, I had no idea where Korea was—I doubt I’d even heard of it, and at the time I’m sure I couldn’t have quickly pointed to it on a world map—so it was not something to which I gave any thought, and I sure didn’t see a war coming around the corner.

The army, though, was exciting to me from the start. I grew up poor—my family never had much of anything—but right off the bat the military supplied me with all these new clothes: shirts, pants, shorts, t-shirts, boots—everything—even a pair of shiny black dress shoes. I also liked the food (my favorite was the creamed chipped beef on toast, a.k.a. “SOS”), but didn’t manage to gain weight, at least at first. During basic training we ran everywhere, so I actually lost weight, down from my enlistment weight of 110 pounds to 95. But after basic I quickly packed it all back on, and then some.

After finishing the eight weeks of basic training at Camp Pickett, Virginia, in January 1949, I was assigned to the 11th, AAA BN, at Fort Bliss, Texas, where I was trained on M19 Twin 40s mounted on a light tank, and the M16 Quad 50s mounted on a halftrack. In November 1949, the 11th AAA, and me with it, was relocated to Fort Lewis, Washington, to continue training. Up until then, my impression of military service had been formed, for the most part, from watching B-movies at neighborhood movie theaters, where I guess I got the idea that if you were smart enough, you could get away with a lot of stuff—like not saluting officers. I tested that theory several times and found myself walking extra guard duty around the Fort Lewis prison.

After a 15-day leave in January 1950, I was put on orders for Japan. Then, six months later, I was told to report to Camp Stoneman, California. I remember thinking that since I had already served over a year in the army, any tour of duty in Japan would be a short one. So I was in a pretty good mood when our Sergeant marched us to the front gate of Fort Lewis and used a lantern to flag down a passing train. I was surprised when the train actually stopped right outside the gate to pick us up. It was an overnight ride from Ft. Lewis, WA to Camp Stoneman, and I reported there on June 23. Then came the big surprise—North Korea invaded South Korea. Suddenly, things didn’t look so good, and to make matters worse, I would soon learn that Korea was just across the narrowest part of the Sea of Japan.

In early July 1950, we boarded a ship and sailed out of San Francisco Bay headed for Japan, or at least that’s what they told us. But instead, a few days later, we sailed into Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington. Later, we found out that they needed our ship to transport the 2nd Division directly to Korea, so we spent a week at sea making a huge circle—or was it an oval? Talk about “hurry up and wait.” In Seattle, they put us up in a naval barracks on Pier 91 for several days, organizing us into something that the army called “packets.” I was in packet 13.

At McChord airbase in Pierce County, Washington, we boarded C54s for Japan by way of Alaska and the Aleutian Islands. We landed in Yokohama about three days later. After about a week, most of the men were assigned to the 24th and 25th Divisions in Korea. Some of us were sent to northern Honshu, Japan. We took a civilian-packed train overnight. After arriving at Camp Hargen around the first of August, I was assigned to B Battery, 865th AAA BN, located at Misawa airbase. I spent the remainder of 1950 in routine training.

KoreanWarMap1I was beginning to like Japan, thinking that my tour of duty would soon be up and I’d be on my way back to the States for discharge. Then came June 1951, and our outfit was put on alert for Korea.  Our equipment was upgraded, and on July 19, 1951, around midnight, we were loaded on an LST manned by a Japanese crew. There were crazy tides in the Sea of Japan, which accounted for using local crews who knew the area, and we spent six days on the water. We had to stand up to eat at a long metal table. Breakfast was hard-boiled eggs and we slept on cots on in hammocks. One night we hit some really rough weather with 30-40 mph winds. The next morning the seas were still choppy, and I remember watching a hard-boiled egg roll down one of those metal tables. Strange, the images that stick in your mind.

We arrived in Inchon, Korea on July 25, 1951, and the next day at Kimpo airbase, northwest of Seoul, to relieve the 50th AAA AW BN. All positions were occupied and by 0800 we went on alert. Our job at K14 was defense of the airfield. At first, we were issued live small arms ammo, but our commanding officer in B Battery took it away, saying, “I don’t want you guys acting like you think you’re John Wayne.” Each evening, around sunset, we were harassed by a pesky PO2 reconnaissance aircraft. Some clever guy gave the pilot the name, “Bed Check Charlie.” In August, “Operation Rat Trap,” an attempt to shoot Charlie down, was put into place. But as far as I know it never worked. By the time we scrambled and got to our gun positions, he was on his way back up North.

Once again, my mouth got me in a bit trouble when I complained about how ineffective operation “Rat Trap” turned out to be. The commanding officer, a captain, called me into his office and remarked on what he termed my “bad attitude.” As I recall, our little chat went something like this:

HE: Sizemore, you don’t like the way I run this outfit, do you?

ME: No sir.

HE: Well, would you prefer to go to the front instead?

ME: No Sir. I’m too close as it is. Send me to Pusan. (Pusan is in the southern part of Korea, close to Japan, and at that time was far from any of the action.)

HE: I’m sending you to D Battery. (That was on the other side of the airfield, still at Kimpo.)

In September 1951, I heard through the military grapevine that my brother Lee was in Korea, somewhere around Seoul, and I asked my sergeant for permission to go visit him. I failed to mention that I had no idea exactly where Lee was, and that I’d just have to trust to luck that I would find him. “Take off,” the sergeant said, “we’ll cover for you. All we’re doing is just setting around waiting for something to happen.” So I hitchhiked both ways, and asked around, but no luck. I told some of the guys if they ran into him, to let him know I was looking for him.

Two days later, back in D Battery, I was sitting on my gun position when I spotted a guy walking up the road toward me, and something in his gait looked familiar. Sure enough, it was brother Lee. We had a great reunion, including a lunch that I remember featured—of all things—“snowflake” potatoes. After lunch, as he was leaving, Lee told me he was scheduled to rotate home soon, and that he’d see me back in Baltimore. Then, only a few days later, he showed up again—this time with a surprise birthday gift (I turned 20 on September 13, 1951).

“I thought you were going home,” I said. Lee smiled. “I brought you a little present.” Then he pulled a 38-caliber revolver from the waistband under his shirt, and handed it to me. It was absolutely beautiful, with pearl handles, just like the one General Patton carried in WWII. I patted my 40mm and protested that I didn’t need a pistol, but he insisted. “For when you’re walking guard duty,” he said. “Just a little extra protection. You never know.” When we parted company that day, Lee’s last words to me were, “Take care of yourself.”

In early December 1951, our gun crew was moved to Outpost #4, nine miles northwest of Kimpo, on the Han River. We had a Marine artillery crew to our right. Our orders were to fire at anything that could be used as an observation post—houses, barns, even humps of high ground on the bank of the river. After about a week, we had turned the landscape and the village below our gun position into rubble. Then our outfit was relieved and we pulled back to Kimpo. Later, we had a great Christmas dinner, and then our biggest show came on New Years’ Day 1952, soon after we were again put on alert. Every gun position from Kimpo to Seoul was ordered to lay down blanketing fire for ten minutes in an attempt to “open up” the surrounding areas. It looked like the 4th of July, but it also seemed to me that the fireworks were called off almost as soon as they started. They never told us the results of all that firepower, if any.

In March 1952 I was assigned to the 1st Platoon Command Post and promoted to the rank of Corporal. After one year in Japan and eleven months in Korea, I had accumulated enough “points” to return to the States. In June 1952 I took a 14-day sea cruise—this time directly back home to Baltimore.

Copyright © 2013, Floyd Douglas Sizemore

One-Minute Memior

March 13, 2013

Pike’s Peak, Summer, 1956

tourists

Climbing Pike’s Peak wasn’t challenge enough for my U. S. Army 77th Special Forces Group. The gung-oh outfit — aka The “Green Berets” — designed a training exercise that involved climbing the 14,000 foot tourist mountain in Colorado, and they decided it would be a good idea to begin by climbing two other 13,000 foot peaks on the way. (Click the image above for a larger view.)

The exercise was part of a Summer Military Mountaineering course at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs. The slog took three days, and we spent two nights in sleeping bags, no tents.Coffee2 But the weather was fine, sun during the days and cool nights, so the sleeping bags were not the problem. The problem for me — a picky eater in those days— was that we “dined” only on military “C-rations.” As anyone who served in the army back then will tell you, C-rations consisted of tasteless canned meat, stale crackers, and weak Sterno-heated coffee. In the snapshot, my tepid brew is being sipped from a can recently emptied of its sliced peaches for breakfast.

On the first night out, my buddy Pluchek and I slept under an arrangement of huge boulders, so situated as to create a small cave-like shelter. The idea of nesting there was to avoid the heavy dew that settles in the mountains each morning. Our plan didn’t work. Abundant moisture collected on the tops of the boulders and ran in rivulets to the underside, where it dripped onto us. The next morning, we crawled from under the rocks like human slugs and dosed ourselves with some of that wonderfully bad coffee. pluchekrockAfterwards, during the “hurry-up-and-wait” military routine before the order to move out came, Pluchek used his rucksack for a pillow and napped on a warm rock like a lizard.

We made our target summit the next afternoon after a third long hike in as many days. We didn’t have to actually “climb” the mountain. To me, mountain “climbing” means a hand over hand struggle using ropes and pitons and such. (Rock climbing was another of our Summer Military Mountaineering courses, but I’ll save that for another blog post.) Since we were already at altitude, we simply walked up the rest of the way to Pikes Peak, strolled to the 14,110 foot summit as you would on any other hike. To be honest, the experience was rather anti-climatic — pun intended. We were greeted by tourists who had opted to take the scenic cog railway. After a cigarette break and extra time to enjoy the view, we loaded onto two trucks for the ride back to Fort Carson. pluchek2In the shot of Pluchek at the summit, you can just barely make out Colorado Springs in the distance through the morning mist.

As we moved to the trucks, I spotted a cute girl posing for a snapshot by the Pike’s Peak summit sign, and assumed the older man taking the picture was her father. She was a typical 1950s bobby-soxer, bobbed hair, tan “car coat,” rolled up blue jeans to show off her white anklets, and what appeared to be classic penny loafers on her feet. The man noticed me and turned just as I was about to snap a final frame with my box camera. I love the blur that resulted from the smiling man’s movement — it creates a dynamic foreground element that serves to frame the girl and the sign — an example of what I’ve come to think of as photographic serendipity. Dumb luck, in other words.

When we returned to Fort Carson and were told about our class for the following day, it turned out to be another activity that raised questions in my naturally non-military mind. As we were briefed, my thoughts went something like this: Unless we are going to be prospecting for gold or silver in the Rocky Mountains, why in the world do we need to learn how to pack mules?

Doodlemeister is looking for short memory pieces up to a thousand words, on any subject, in any style — as long as it happened to you. Whatever the subject, we have a bias for the lighthearted tone. And we’ll help you to edit and/or cut your piece. If you’d like to submit a story, please contact us at jimscartoons@aol.com

Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.
This is an edited re-post from August 20, 2009.

The Falconer Building

October 17, 2009

Bats, Bugs and Drunks

Miss Rita, the middle-aged woman at the desk next to mine, is asking personal questions. That’s something she does every night. I’m 22 years old and this is my first serious job since being FalconerBldgdischarged from the U. S. Army, two years ago. The inquiring Miss Rita and I are clerks in the Social Security Administration — I’m a new hire and she’s my trainer. We are working the 4:00 P. M. to 12:30 A. M. shift on the seventh floor of the Falconer Building at 414 Water Street in downtown Baltimore, two blocks from the harbor. The year is 1959, deep summer, and I’ve made a new friend.

The windows are open, three huge floor fans blowing at full power. If the temperature in the Falconer Building rises above 90 degrees, we’ll be sent home. This happens often during the day shift, less so after the sun goes down. Miss Rita and I sit in the cross-ventilation and flip SS-5 cards and scribble name and date-of-birth changes into huge metal-covered ledgers, delighted with each other’s company. Form SS-5(This photo of an actual Form SS-5 shows a Miss Apgar requesting that her name be changed to Mrs. Lake. Click images for larger views.)

The evening passes to the rhythm of turning pages: flip, flip, scribble, flip, flip, scribble, scribble, flip. Against the background of dirty brick walls scores of other clerks’ bend to the identical task. The oily aroma of Baltimore harbor wafts in the windows and, when the wind shifts, more pungent odors come from the nearby wholesale fish market. The whirring fans cool our necks and blow the occasional card from desk to floor — or out a window. The strange sound of bat wings flutter in one window and out another. There is a gentle rustling noise as rat’s forage for sandwich crumbs in waste baskets, and the buzzing of blood-sucking insects foraging for us.

At the moment, Miss Rita’s job is to introduce me to the mysteries of entry-level clerking in the Numerical Register Section of SSA — and, it seems, to trade work information for personal tidbits. With anyone else her intimate prying might be offensive, but, somehow — I guess because of her odd sense of humor — it’s just harmless fun. Miss Rita’s constant stream of chatter, spiced with sexy double meanings, makes the long evenings of repetitive work bearable. In fact, they are downright entertaining. Anyway, there is not much of a private life to expose — I ‘m still in the process of trying to develop one. Somehow I manage to keep Miss Rita interested by making up outrageous but plausible tales about my exploits. She seems to especially enjoy the lies (these days we might call them “creative non-fictions”) that I tell about the erotic adventures of my mother, a born-again Christian, who would have been shocked if she knew that her son used her straight-arrow life for creative inspiration. Perhaps Miss Rita identifies with my fictions because she and my mother are about the same age.

On my first night in the Falconer Building — one of several rental properties which comprise the original 1936posterSSA headquarters — Miss Rita gives me the grand tour. She points out the freight elevator which, she says, I can use at peak load times during shift changes, when the passenger elevator is often overwhelmed. She shows me the stairs and mentions in passing that they are handy because the freight elevator only goes to the 5th floor. She doesn’t comment on the empty booze bottles in the stairwell, nor does she explain the sleeping drunk. Our “cafeteria” is located by the elevator door on the 4th floor, Miss Rita says. That is, at 9 o’clock each evening an old man gets off the elevator and stands there selling cold sandwiches out of a large cardboard box. Finally, Miss Rita gives me a booklet explaining what is expected in terms of production and conduct. The publication also has a small map showing the location of the men’s room and fire exits. I can use the restroom anytime, Miss Rita says, provided it isn’t too often. “Two often” and it will reflect in my “rating,” whatever that is.

The Falconer Building is clean, at least compared to the steel mill in which I had worked prior to this job, and there is even a bit of external entertainment. As we young male clerks arrive early for the evening shift, we often gather to watch strippers sunbathing on the low roof of the nearby Gayety Show Bar, the keystone of Baltimore’s infamous “Block” of sleazy nightclubs clustered nearby. When the women are up there relaxing between shows we all go a little crazy. The younger clerks in the Numerical Register Section — male and female — are friendly, and I am quickly drawn into a sort of loose-knit social club. After our shift finishes at 12:30 A. M., few of us want to go home to bed — we’re still too primed with youthful energy — so most nights a meeting is called for a party or card game at someone’s home or apartment. Or we go out on a sort of group date, which usually involves bar-hopping, the only form of entertainment available at that hour. Some nights we simply cruise the city and talk until dawn at an all night diner. Often, I drop into bed at first light or later, sleep until two in the afternoon, then get up to start the work/play cycle again. Some of my new friends have been living this way for several years, but the fun will last only a few months for me. I have “EOD’d” (Entered On Duty) at the end of an era. The whole of SSA’s scattered downtown headquarters is scheduled to consolidate in a modern complex in the western suburbs of Baltimore in January of 1960, only a few months hence.

Well before we leave the city, though, it comes to pass that my social life is greatly enriched as a direct result of information provided by Miss Rita. She tells me that a particular young lady, another Numerical Register clerk, is interested in me beyond mere friendship, and before long I am involved in my first “adult” relationship. I reward Miss Rita by continuing my stories, now more fact than fiction, and much more titillating than ever. I even expand the scope of the tales to include many of my young and ever-horny (at least in my telling) coworkers. And I notice that Miss Rita’s interest in our escapades become more intense the closer I stick to real life, which I take as a literary lesson. So as I become a better clerk, I also sharpen my narratives. Miss Rita especially likes to hear my juiced-up versions of our nocturnal forays to various “hillbilly” bars and other hotspots around town, and the house parties that follow into the wee hours, many of them ending in sleep overs. These stories require scant embellishment.

All of this happened a half century ago, late summer until the end of 1959. I spent 29 years with the Social Security Administration, taking an early retirement in 1988. Not long after the SSA headquarters moved to the suburbs, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life flipping pages and scribbling in ledgers, so I took advantage of the Korean G. I. Bill and enrolled in evening art classes. That led to a temporary job in SSA’s drafting department, which in turn got me through what I called “the back door” of their large art department —where my first assignment was to help produce the original Medicare Handbook. Living and working in the suburbs was O. K., but I never again had an experience quite so rich in character or characters, or that made such an intense impression on me, as those early nights in downtown Baltimore, flipping SS-5 cards and trading punch lines with Miss Rita.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

A much longer version of this personal essay was published in the October, 1978 issue of OASIS, a magazine distributed monthly to Social Security Administration employees nationwide.


From Here To Eternity

September 28, 2009

Classic Scenes from Classic Films

Kerr-Lancaster-Kiss

If I were asked to pick a perfect movie I’d quickly name From Here to Eternity, starring Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. The 1953 drama was adapted from the best selling novel by James Jones, screenplay by Daniel Taradash, and directed by Fred Zinnemann. I consider this film cinema gold from start to finish, but for the sake of brevity I’ll focus only on the relationship between the Lancaster and Kerr characters. Sergeant Warden and Karen Holmes’ love affair is the spine of the story and is introduced and developed by screenwriter Taradash in two perfect scenes, both of which come in the first twenty minutes of the film. Neither of them involve sand, sea or sex — at least not graphic sex.

Of course, anyone who knows anything about vintage movies is familiar with the erotic scene of Sergeant Warden and Karen kissing on the beach, the one with the wave breaking over their bodies. It’s an iconic film image, and the video is very popular on YouTube, even with people who have never seen the movie. Unlike couples in most movies, this wet duo enmeshed in a torrid embrace did not meet “cute.” You might even say they met “ugly,” or at least not very “pretty.” For me, their first scene together, which comes about ten minutes after the opening credits, is sexier than the beach scene by at least a factor of ten. No blatant fireworks, but there are sparks, a subtle display of sexual tension, mixed with an interesting undercurrent of dislike, even distrust. In that short scene there is strong attraction but also implicit conflict between the characters, and conflict, as we know, is the lifeblood of drama. For me, at least in dramatic terms, conflict is sexy. The smoldering and somewhat sarcastic banter between Karen and Warden in the scene foreshadows adultery to come. Karen, we quickly learn, is married to Warden’s commanding officer.

I’ve transcribed the two scenes by using a combination of Daniel Taradash’s second draft script, which I found on the Internet, and the movie. Both scenes as shot differ somewhat from the script, and I’ll point out how the first one is changed after we read it. In that first scene we discover Sergeant Warden in front of the company supply room talking to Leva, the supply clerk (as played by Mickey Shaughnessy in a great character rendering). They watch as Karen arrives in the area looking for her husband.

LONG SHOT KAREN HOLMES FROM WARDEN AND LEVA’S ANGLE as she walks toward them. She is at a considerable distance. Karen is about thirty. She wears a sweater and skirt. She is aware the men are studying her.

MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT WARDEN AND LEVA watching Karen.

LEVA : Shooish! — her and them sweaters.

LONG SHOT KAREN FROM WARDEN AND LEVA’S POV as she continues toward them. Warden’s and Lava’s voices, loud at first, get softer and softer the nearer Karen gets to camera. At end of the shot, as she is only a few yards away, they are practically whispering.

WARDEN’S VOICE: I’ll bet she’s colder than an iceberg . . .

LEVA’S VOICE: Not her, Top, she knows the score like I been tellin you.

WARDEN’S VOICE: (sarcastic) Is that right?

LEVA’S VOICE: Listen, not around here, but I was back at Fort Bliss with Holmes. I heard plenty about this lady then. Plenty.

WARDEN’S VOICE: You did, huh?

LEVA’S VOICE: Okay, not me — but I know some of them she played ‘round with, so don’t tell me.

WARDEN’S VOICE: I ain’t tellin you. You’re tellin me.

Karen stops a few paces from camera.

KAREN: Good morning, Sergeant.

WARDEN: Morning, ma’am.

MEDIUM SHOT. Lava watches, listens avidly but discreetly in background. During the dialogue, Karen seems irritated by Warden, who looks at her coolly, appraisingly, physically.

KAREN: I’m looking for my husband.

WARDEN: Captain Holmes just went in town, ma’am. On business.

KAREN: Oh. He was to have left some things for me; do you know anything about them?

WARDEN: No I don’t, ma’am. Anything I can do for you?

KAREN: No, thanks.

WARDEN: I’d be glad to help. Ma’am.

She makes a slight move to go, then pauses.

KAREN: My husband’s been telling me a lot about you, Sergeant. He says you’re very efficient.

WARDEN: Yes, ma’am.

KAREN: What is it that makes you so efficient, Sergeant?

WARDEN: I was born smart, ma’am.

Karen laughs suddenly, quietly.

KAREN: I love that. Well goodbye, Sergeant.

Karen turns and walks back toward her car. Warden and Leva watch her. When she is out of earshot Leva speaks.

LEVA: Man, she sure is one, ain’t she?

WARDEN: One what?

LEVA: One woman.

WARDEN: (unconvincingly): I’ve seen better.

As performed, the first scene in the movie between Karen and Warden differs only slightly from the Daniel Taradash second draft script. Most of the tweaks involve a word change here and there, changes that perfectly sharpen and clarify the dialogue between the characters. The first scene is an excellent example of what experts agree are the three things an effective dramatic scene should do: Advance the story, develop (deepen) character, and establish (and/or deepen) conflict. I would add a fourth thing. A good scene should also “entertain.” The entertaining aspect may be the result of the quality of the writing or the performances or, as in this case, a combination of both. In From Here To Eternity I believe we’ve given all four elements in just about every scene throughout the movie — and that, in my opinion, is what makes it a great film.

SceneKerr-Lancaster two between Sergeant Warden and Karen also has several departures from the draft script. These changes are more extensive. In fact, several lines of dialogue are cut from the end of the second draft version. I’ll talk a bit more about that after we’ve read the scene as filmed, which comes at about the twenty minute point in the movie:

EXT. BACK PORCH OF HOLMES’ HOUSE. DAY. MEDIUM CLOSE SHOT WARDEN standing outside in the rain. He wears a GI rain hat and coat. He pauses, then knocks briskly on the door of the screened porch. Karen opens the kitchen door onto the porch. She is in shorts and a blouse.

KAREN: Well, if it isn’t Sergeant Warden. You better step inside or you’ll get wet.

INT. PORCH OFF KITCHEN – DAY MEDIUM SHOT She opens the screen door and he steps onto the porch. He removes his rain hat, shaking off the raindrops.

WARDEN: I am wet.

KAREN: If you’re looking for the captain, he isn’t here.

WARDEN: (taking the long chance) And if I’m not looking for him?

KAREN: (unsmiling) He still isn’t here.

WARDEN: (quickly) Well, I’m looking for him. Do you know where he is?

KAREN: I haven’t the slightest idea. Perhaps he’s in town on business. That’s the way you put it the other day, isn’t it?

WARDEN: (fishes in his pocket, brings out papers) I got some papers it’s important for him to sign.

KAREN: (turns) I’ll try phoning him at the Club. Maybe he’s there.

WARDEN: Don’t do that. I never like to disturb a man when he’s drinking. I could use a drink my self. Aren’t you going to ask me in?

Karen finally smiles, faintly. She goes into the kitchen, leaving the door open. Warden follows her.

INT. KITCHEN HOLMES HOUSE – DAY MEDIUM SHOT The kitchen is small and undistinguished.

KAREN: (gestures): The liquor’s there, Sergeant — in the cabinet.

Warden takes a whisky bottle from the cabinet and pours a straight, stiff drink, puts the bottle on the table. He puts the papers down and drinks. Karen leans against the sink counter.

KAREN: You’re taking an awful chance, you know. My maid is liable to be home any time.

WARDEN: No she won’t. Thursday’s her day off.

KAREN: You think of everything, don’t you, Sergeant?

WARDEN: I try. In my position you have to.

KAREN: (goes to table and picks up the papers) Are these really important?

WARDEN: Yes. But not important they get signed today. Tomorrow’s okay.

Karen suddenly, deliberately, rips the papers in half, then crumbles and throws them into the wastebasket.

WARDEN: I got copies at the office, so it won’t be much work to fix them up.

Warden’s control has begun to affect Karen’s now. She is losing her poise.

KAREN: That’s what I like about you, Sergeant. You have confidence. It’s also what I dislike about you.

WARDEN: It’s not confidence, ma’am. It’s honesty. I just hate to see a beautiful woman goin all to waste.

He moves close to Karen, is on the verge of embracing her. Greatly tempted but greatly disturbed, she turns away. During her monologue she pours herself a drink. Her tone is no longer brittle. It is bitter.

KAREN: Waste, did you say, Sergeant? Now that’s a subject I might tell you something about. I know several kinds of waste, Sergeant. You’re probably not even remotely aware of some of them. Would you like to hear? For instance — what about the house without a child? There’s one sort for you. Then there’s another. (Karen takes a drink) You’re doing fine, Sergeant. My husband’s off somewhere, it’s raining outside, and we’re both drinking now. But you’ve probably got one thing wrong. The lady herself. The lady’s not what she seems. She’s a washout, if you know what I mean. And I’m sure you know what I mean.

WARDEN: You gonna cry?

KAREN: (turning away): Not if I can help it.

Warden takes a drink and puts the glass down on the table, hard enough for her to hear.

KAREN (turning back to him): What are you doing?

WARDEN I’m leaving. Isn’t that what you want?

KAREN (slowly) I don’t know, Sergeant. I don’t know.

They stare squarely at each other, both puzzled and a little afraid of their emotions. This is something neither had counted on. He goes to her and they kiss. Music up. The camera pulls back and out the window, into the rain.

FADE OUT

Now that’s one sexy scene, the sexiest in the movie, in my opinion. It’s much more erotic than that sea-soaked episode on the beach, the one that everyone remembers. Toggling back and forth between the second draft script and my tape of the movie was a revelation. I came to appreciate even more the writing skills involved, but also the contributions to the project that Kerr and Lancaster make — how subtly the nuance of facial expression, gesture, and body language communicate and reinforce emotions only hinted at on the page.

And remember that section of dialogue KerrLancaster2I mentioned that was cut from the second scene — removed either by the screenwriter in a later draft, or perhaps by the director as he shot the movie? In the Daniel Taradash second draft there was no kiss. In its place there is the following exchange, which comes after Karen says, “I don’t know, Sergeant. I don’t know.”

WARDEN: I know a beach near Diamond Head. Nobody ever goes there. The cars on the highway pass above and they never know it’s there. You feel like you used to feel when you were a kid, hiding by yourself in a cave, watching the others hunting you.

Karen turns, goes to the sink, puts the whisky bottle back in the cabinet.

KAREN: Maybe . . . why not?

WARDEN: How about Payday?

KAREN: You don’t have to spend money on me, Sergeant.

WARDEN: I just like to have some on me when I take out a woman. Can you get away?

KAREN: Maybe.

Warden grins. He goes to the door to the porch, pauses there.

WARDEN: I’ll be in Kuhio Park. Say, nine o’clock. Payday.

Karen leans back against the sink, watches him go out to the porch. A moment later the sound of the door is heard as he leaves. She turns on the faucet, starts to rinse the glasses they have used. Suddenly she turns the faucet on full force, watches it pound into the sink.

FADE OUT.

What is wrong with this second draft version of the scene? A more apt question is, What’s right with it? Take the blatant symbolism of the faucet water pounding into the sink, that’s downright corny. And the dialogue is too explicit, from Warden’s crude planning of their first “date” and it’s useless (to the audience) details. It’s all pure exposition that lacks even a suggestion of emotional nuance. Nothing is left for us to think about. Worse still, we feel nothing. We have been talked down to, led by the hand (nose) so that every thing is made perfectly (awfully) clear. Basically, we are disrespected and our intelligence is demeaned. We are insulted by being given TOO MUCH DIRECT INFORMATION.

You don’t have to be a professional screenwriter to figure out which of the two versions of that second scene between Karen and Sergeant Warden is best. It’s simple. The cuts and word changes made by the screenwriter and/or the director, enables us to connect to the story in a personal way. The same is true for the complete film. Throughout we are shown, not just told. We are allowed to feel our way into figuring it out for ourselves. The filmmakers permit us to collaborate in the creative process, and that’s what makes these two scenes — and the rest of the movie, all of which is treated with the same artful craft — so powerful. As I say, it’s a perfect film.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

If you have a classic scene from a classic movie that you’d like to share with the world, write it up (500-1,000 words) and send it along to jimscartoons@aol.com. I’d like to consider it for publication on the blog. Failing that, I’d at least like to know what you think of my choice in this case, pro or con.


Pikes Peak

August 20, 2009

Summer, 1956

Tourists:2

Climbing Pikes Peak wasn’t challenge enough for the U. S. Army’s 77th Special Forces Group, home-based in an area called “Smoke Bomb Hill” at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Coffee:2When my gung-oh outfit — also know as the “Green Berets” — designed a training exercise that involved climbing a 14,000 foot mountain in Colorado, to make it interesting they decided we’d begin the slog at least two 13,000 foot peaks away.

The Pikes Peak exercise was part of the Special Forces Summer Military Mountaineering course offered at Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, Colorado. The march took three days to complete, which meant that we had to spend two Pluchek:Rock:2nights in the Rocky Mountains in sleeping bags, no tents allowed. We had fine weather, with sun during the day once the morning fog burned off, and cool nights, so the sleeping bags were not the problem. The problem for me — a picky eater in those days— was that during the operation we dined only on field rations. Military “C-rations,” as anyone who was ever in the service will tell you, consists of tasteless canned meat, stale crackers, and weak Sterno-heated coffee.Campfire:2 In my case the tepid brew was sipped from a can that had recently been emptied of its sliced peaches for my breakfast. (The nineteen-year-old version of me is on the left in the photo above. Click any image for a larger view.) When you wake up on a cold and damp morning in the mountains under a big pile of rocks, the C-ration coffee is plenty good enough to take the chill out of your bones.

On the first night out my buddy, Pluchek (military types call each other by last names only) and Tarras&Rice:2I slept under an arrangement of huge boulders. They seemed to have been placed on the slope of the mountain in such a way as to create a small cave-like shelter just for us. The idea of nesting there was to avoid the heavy dew that settles in the mountains each morning. Our plan didn’t work. Abundant moisture collected on the tops of the boulders and ran in rivulets to the underside, where it dripped onto us like water torture. Pluchek:summit:2The next morning we crawled from under the rocks like human slugs and dosed ourselves with some of that wonderfully bad coffee. Afterwards, during the “hurry-up-and-wait” military routine before the order to move out came, Pluchek used his rucksack for a pillow and napped on a warm rock like a lizard.

On the second night we camped in a pine grove in a small valley between Mountain Number Two and Pikes Peak. We relaxed around the campfire like boy scouts, telling stories, snacking, and goofing off. (That’s me at the right in the photo, sitting with a guy named Schmitz. Schmitz is drinking c-ration coffee. I’m the whittler.) We slept in the open that night, no tents and no boulders. The next morning, day three, we washed up and brushed our teeth and combed our hair using our canteen cups as basins.

We made the summit of Pikes Peak the next morning after our third long hike in as many days, this one all up hill. We didn’t have to actually “climb” the mountain. To me, mountain “climbing” brings to mind a hand over hand struggle using ropes and pitons and such. (Rock climbing was another of our Summer Military Mountaineering courses, but that’s another blog post.) As it was, we simply walked up Pikes Peak, strolled to the 14,110 foot summit as you would on any other hike. To be honest, the experience was rather anti-climatic — pun intended. We arrived at the summit to be greeted by tourists who, smarter than the average soldier, had opted to take the scenic cog railway. After a cigarette break and extra time to enjoy the view and take snap-shots, we were marched off and loaded onto two-and-a-half-ton trucks for the ride back to Fort Carson. (One of my favorite pictures is of Pluchek at the summit, in which Colorado Springs can be glimpsed in the distance through the morning mist.)

As we moved to the trucks, I spotted a cute girl posing for a snapshot by the Pikes Peak summit sign. I assumed the older man about to take her picture was the young lady’s father. She was a typical 1950s bobby soxer with bobbed hair, hip-length tan “car coat,” rolled up blue jeans to show off her white anklets, and what appeared to be classic penny loafers on her feet. The man must have noticed me and turned just as I was about to snap a final frame with my Kodak box camera. I love the blur that resulted from the smiling man’s movement — it creates a dynamic foreground element that serves to frame the girl and the sign — an example of what I’ve come to think of as photographic compositional serendipity. (In other words, dumb luck.)

When we returned to Fort Carson and were told about our Summer Military Mountaineering class for the following day, it turned out to be another activity that raised questions in my naturally non-military mind. (After two years in the army I was still not fully on board with the military logic of there being a “right way, a wrong way, and an army way” of doing things. That may explain why, after just one three-year enlistment, I happily left army life behind for good.) When briefed on our next assignment, my thoughts went something like this: Unless we where going to be prospecting for gold and silver in the beautiful Rocky Mountains, why in the world did we need to learn how to pack mules?

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.


Speedball

May 9, 2009

An Ink-Stained Memory

The cover of my copy of the 17th edition of Speedball Text Book by Ross F. George, coverpublished by the C. Howard Hunt Pen Company in 1956, has my last name scrawled in the big yellow letter “S” in the title — proof of ownership by a much younger me. The 6″ x 9″ booklet cover is dog-eared by use and abuse over time and, at the bottom of the subtitle text, there is what appears to be spilled India ink on the words “Poster Design for Pen and Brush.” (Click images once or twice for larger views.)

In 1956 I was 19 years old and serving the second year of a three-year enlistment in the U. S. Army. I doubt that I owned the booklet then, but once I left the military — in 1957 — I became a serious art student with the help of the Korean G. I. Bill. Despite having been an avid doodler and tracer of comic book panels and Sunday newspaper comic strips as a kid, Speedball-1I had had few formal art classes in elementary school. Instead of going to high school I attended two years of “commercial art” training in a city vocational school, to which I was sent after failing the eighth grade. In those days “problem” students — very much me at the time — were given the option of repeating the failed grade, learning a trade or — in a case like mine, because of some problems with the law — going to reform school. For me, the study of art of any kind was very seductive, so it was an easy choice. Later, though, I would discover that what I had signed on for was really a sort of “bait and switch” scheme. (More on that later.)

“Tools for Lettering,” on page 1 of the “Speedball” text, Speedball-2provides a clue as to when I may have acquired the booklet. If you look closely at the “Style C” pen point section you’ll see my faded rubber stamp running vertically up the page — another ownership tag. My address at the time, 3811 Mayberry Avenue, was where my new wife and I lived in the early 1960s. During those years I became something of a “speedball” myself, over-committed in life and in art, trying to make up for lost time and a truncated education. (I had completed high school by scoring well on the General Educational Development test while in the service.) In the span of only a few years I became the father of two sons, was working full time as a clerk for the Social Security Administration and also Speedball-3doing part-time seasonal work in the mail order department of Montgomery Ward (stocking shelves in the toy section). I was also attending evening art classes at the Maryland Institute of Art. And, as if that wasn’t enough, during the same period I signed up for a course in “Editorial and Commercial Cartooning” offered by a correspondence school. Speedball-6It was around this time that I began to collect a modest library of “how-to” art books, with which I planned to master the mysteries of what I hoped would somehow become a career. My simple and — as it turned out — unrealistic, dream was to quickly make big bucks as some sort of artist, in the same way many of my male relatives had become master carpenters and managed to support their families. From the very beginning I figured that art was something I could do, perhaps the only thing I was suited for, and at which I just might be able to make a living.Speedball-20

The Speedball booklet impressed me because of the mix of visuals and beautifully hand-lettered copy. One example of the practical quality of the illustrated craft tips is on page 2, where “Three Points of Contact” of the pen or brush hand in the proper lettering position is demonstrated with a photograph (brush) and in a line drawing (pen). Until I owned the booklet I didn’t know from “Roman,” “Gothic,” and “Text” lettering styles (see page 3). Or that Roman letters could best Speedball-36be made using “C” or “D” Speedball pen points, etc. And that in all lettering, to quote the copy, “Time and effort will be minimized by using the size and style of pen or brush which will form the different letters of any given alphabet without subsequent remodeling of the strokes.”

Now back to what I termed the “bait and switch” of vocational school. The four semesters of half-days I had spent there consisted of the endless practice Speedball-80of basic “show-card” brush strokes (the other half-day devoted to “social studies” and other “academic” subjects). Show cards are those hand-lettered broadsides you still see in the windows of small neighborhood grocery stores, announcing the current sale price of milk and eggs. They were training me to become a sign painter! We students used water-based black or red poster paint and practiced the simple letter segments using old newspapers turned on their sides so that the print columns became uniform guidelines. The exercise was much like the illustration of basic pen strokes shown on page 6 of the Speedball Text Book.

Meanwhile, on page 20 of the booklet, illustrations of pen points were shown stroking Roman letters. Speedball-82Simple, all you had to do to master the basic letter forms was to allow your eyes to follow the direction of the tiny numbered arrows. (There were even microscopic arrows showing where you should “twirl” the point to make a curved section.) As good as those illustrations were, and despite my hours of practice, I never became much good with a speedball pen or red sable lettering brush. I quickly realized that I’d have to develop other skills if I hoped to make a living at a drawing table. It seemed that because of my bipolar-like low boredom threshold and short attention span, Speedball-83and my rush of ambition, I simply didn’t have the patience to practice lettering. Anyway, I was more attracted to what the Speedball booklet taught me about the arty “moods” letter styles convey (see page 36); layout theory (pages 80 to 82); and how something as simple as line direction could convey important information to a viewer (page 83). The beauty part was I came to understand that many of these lettering “rules” also applied to drawing cartoons, a subject that holds my interest to this day.

The beautiful line drawing on page 92 of the booklet, “Early Morning in the Snow,” done with a “C-6” pen point by Charles Stoner, is an example of the aesthetic versatility of at least some of the Speedball products. For many years my personal preference was the “B-6,” with which I did balloon lettering and my rather crude cartoons. The stick figure examples shown on page 94 are close to my drawing style at the time, and they cleverly demonstrate the human body when in a balanced position. The booklet text explains: “Notice also that the supporting foot is directly under the center of gravity.” Other pictures demo the off-balance body, showing a figure actively attempting a broad jump. On other pages in the bookletSpeedball-92 I learned about the use of basic shapes (circles, triangles, rectangles, squares, etc.) with which to begin designing layouts and drawings, along with strategic placement of blacks to direct the viewer’s eye movement left to right, top to bottom through the panels and the pages. Again, these tips have great value for executing all levels and kinds of art, “commercial” and “fine,” not just the lettering on posters and show cards.

Overall, what did I take from my study of the Speedball booklet and similar texts so many years ago — I mean beyond the useful tips and exercises? Speedball-94Well, most importantly I think, I came to reluctantly accept the idea that given my late start in the graphics game I would likely never be able to do any of it at the “master” level. What I did get from “Speedball” and other similar texts, though, was enough new knowledge about the craft and business of lettering and cartooning with which to earn a modest living, something for which I’ve been very grateful. So here I am after all these years, still hard at it, still learning new things every day. And still laughing at myself and my false starts and outright failures. Still trying, despite the odds, to become really good at something.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

To mark this first year anniversary of DoodleMeister.com (initial post published May 7, 2008), I wanted to post something to which fellow cartoonists’ and other commercial-type ink-slingers of a certain age might relate. And lo, the other day I happened upon my well-thumbed copy of Speedball Textbook. Perfect.