Thursday, December 27, 2012

174: The Self-Empowered Woman: Rudolph and Robert L. May

Dear Followers,

Sorry to  have not posted a blog during most of December, but--as a good friend just reminded me--the holiday season has a timetable of its own. Now that all the celebrating and socializing have come to an end, I wanted to share a special story with you.

Everyone who knows me is well aware of my fondness for "underdog" stories. I love nothing more than seeing overlooked or underestimated people triumph (13: More Than Meets The Eye).  So when I received this story from my (wonderful) late father-in-law's widow, Helen Willison, I just had to share it with all of you.  Even though the Christmas china had already been packed away and the Season's photos placed in the album, reading this story made everything feel like Christmas Eve all over again.  Hope you enjoy this as much as I did...

** True Story of Rudolph**

A man named Robert L. May, depressed and brokenhearted, stared out his drafty apartment window into the chilling December night.

His 4-year-old daughter Barbara sat on his lap quietly sobbing because Bob’s wife, Evelyn, was dying of cancer. Little Barbara couldn't understand why her mommy could never come home. Barbara looked up into her Dad's eyes and asked, "Why isn't Mommy just like everybody else's Mommy?"
Bob's jaw tightened and his eyes welled with tears because her question brought waves of grief, as well as anger. It had been the story of Bob's life. Life always had to be different for Bob. Small when he was a kid, Bob was often bullied by other boys. He was too little at the time to compete in sports, and he was often called names he'd rather not remember. From childhood, Bob was different and never seemed to fit in.

Bob did complete college, married his loving wife, and was grateful to get his job as a copywriter at Montgomery Ward during the Great Depression. Then he was blessed with his little girl, but it was all short-lived. Evelyn's bout with cancer stripped them of all their savings, and now Bob and his little daughter were forced to live in a two-room apartment in the Chicago slums.

Evelyn died just days before Christmas in 1938, and Bob struggled to give hope to his child, for whom he couldn't even afford to buy a Christmas gift. But if he couldn't buy a gift, he was determined a make one – a special storybook!

Bob had created an animal character in his own mind, and he told the animal's story to little Barbara to give her comfort and hope. .Again and again, Bob told the story, embellishing it more with each telling. Who was the character? What was the story all about?

The story that Bob May created was his own autobiography in fable form. The character he created was a misfit, outcast just like he was. The name of the character? A little reindeer named Rudolph, with a big shiny nose. Bob finished the book just in time to give it to his little girl on Christmas Day.

But the story doesn't end there.

The general manager of Montgomery Ward caught wind of the little storybook and offered Bob May a nominal fee to purchase the rights to print the book. The store went on to print, "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," and distribute it to children visiting Santa Claus at their locations. By 1946, Wards had printed and distributed more than six million copies of Rudolph. That same year, a major publisher wanted to purchase the rights from Wards to print an updated version of the book.In an unprecedented gesture of kindness, the CEO of Wards returned all rights back to Bob May.

The book became a best seller, and many toy and marketing deals followed. Bob May—now remarried with a growing family—became wealthy from the story he’d created to comfort his grieving daughter.

But the story doesn't end there either.

Bob's brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, made a song adaptation to Rudolph. Though the song was turned down by such popular vocalists as Bing Crosby and Dinah Shore , it was recorded by the singing cowboy, Gene Autry.

"Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" was released in1949 and became a phenomenal success, selling more records than any other Christmas song, with the exception of "White Christmas."

The gift of love that Bob May created for his daughter so long ago kept on returning back to bless him again and again. And Bob May learned the lesson, just like his dear friend Rudolph, that being different isn't so bad. In fact, being different can be a blessing.

Looking forward to your comments…

Sunday, December 9, 2012

173: The Self-Empowerred Woman: Sally Field

Dear Followers,

The new movie "Lincoln" is already receiving a lot of Oscar buzz, and Sally Field's performance as the troubled Mary Todd Lincoln (for which she gained 25 pounds) has been called "unforgettable."  So what better time to take a look at one of Hollywood's legendary Self-Empowered Women?

Sally Field was born in Pasadena, California, on November 6, 1946. Her mother (Margaret Morlan Field) was an actress in B movies, and her father (Richard Dryden Field) was a captain in the U.S. Army. They divorced in 1950 (1: No Paternal Safety Net), and her mother later married actor and stuntman Jock Mahoney.  Her stepfather was volatile (and she was afraid of him), but Sally has credited Mahoney with forcing her to learn how to survive.

Sally described her unsettled childhood to Oprah Winfrey this way: "...we were working class....It was an insecure existence, we lived in the Valley, but one day someone came and took all our stuff away....My stepfather never came to grips with the idea that what you have today might not be here tomorrow."

Sally attended Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, California, where she was a cheerleader.  Her class voted her "Class Clown," and one of her fellow was Michael Ovitz, who later became her agent.  Her career began when, as a teenager she was chosen to star in the TV series "Gidget" (1965-66), which was about a teenage girl who lived alone with her father. Next came "The Flying Nun" (1967-70), which Sally didn't want to do, but her stepfather warned her that if she didn't accept the offer she'd never work again.

During this time, Field sang "The Flying Nun" theme song, and she made it to the Billboard Hot 100 with her single "Felicidad." She also sang on the soundtrack for "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning" (9: Music). 

In 1968, she married Steven Craig, and they had two sons, Peter and Eli. At this point, Field struggled to break into movies but she had been typecast as merely a "cute" actress.  Talking about her looks, she told Playboy magazine "...I was raised to think that a certain type of woman was sexy and any other kind was not.  It took me a long time to understand that my sense of myself is sexy, and that is doesn't have to be like Jessica Lange's...Jessica is the kind of woman who used to make me feel how unsexy I was.  It took me a long time not to be intimidated by her kind of sexuality" (6: Life is Not a Beauty Pageant).

As an indication of how her "industry" respect has risen, consider that in 1965 she was paid $500 per week for filming Gidget.  For The Flying Nun (1967) she earned $4,500 per episode.  For the 1984 movie Places in the Heart, she earned $1,500,000, and for each episode of Brothers and Sisters , she earned (at least) $100,000 (8: Turning No Into Yes).
When Sally's agent told her that she wasn't "good enough for movies," she fired him, and she also divorced her husband (14: Selective Disassociation).  She got angry that producer after producer wouldn't audition her, so on a dare she auditioned for the bad-girl role in "Stay Hungry," and the rest is history (13: More Than Meets the Eye).  Her list of hit movies spans from Sybil (1976) to Forrest Gump (1994) to this year's Lincoln.  She has won two Academy Awards, three Emmys, two Golden Globes, the Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actress, and been honored at the Cannes Film Festival.  She will be honored by the Palm Springs International Film Festival with its Career Achievement Award January 5, 2013.

She has starred with James Caan, Michael Caine, James Garner, Tommy Lee Jones, Tom Hanks, Mark Harmon,  Paul Newman, Burt Reynolds, Robin Williams and, of course, Daniel Day Lewis.  For years after her first divorce she was romantically involved with Burt Reynolds.  But in 1984, she married film producer Alan Greisman; they had a son, Sam, in 1987, and divorced in 1993 (15: Forget About Prince Charming). 

Just like her character Nora Walker on TV's Brothers and Sisters (2006-11), Sally has been a deeply involved mother, and received the 2012 Human Rights Campaign Ally for Equality Award for her efforts on behalf of gay rights issues.  The presenter was her youngest son, Sam Greisman, who is openly gay.  She once spoke about what loving fathers her two older boys are, and commented: "To raise children who go on to be great parents is an accomplishment--that's the Oscar moment in life" (16: Intensive Motherhood)

Obviously, Sally has cared deeply about the art and craft of acting.  She explained her "You like me" Oscar speech (for 1984's Places in the Heart) by saying "...I'd achieved what I'd always wanted--which was to do good work and have that work be recognized" (7: Magnificent Obsession).

Looking forward to your comments...