Lessons in the Dark – New E-Book Now Available

My latest e-book, Lessons in the Dark, is now available exclusively at Amazon. com. Why Lessons? Simply because watching movies for me has always been more than just entertainment. It was art, history and it was education. I have found many classic (old) films to still be  relevant to our lives today.  For example, my father always talked about how tough it was growing up during  The Great Depression. However, it was not until I watched films like Wild Boys of the Road and The Grapes of Wrath  that I truly began to understand what it was like. I also came to see how today many of these old films have remained relevant to our society and can teach us not to repeat our mistakes.

In this book I  have compiled a series of essays on films that reflect one or more of these themes. I hope you enjoy.  Below is a link to Amazon.


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Feelin’ the Bern…Rhodenbarr

Before Bernie Sanders there was Bernie Rhodenbarr, Lawrence Block’s expert thief and used bookstore owner. While Bern is good at his chosen profession, unfortunate situations always seem to occur, like an unexpected dead body showing up at the wrong time which forces our anti-hero to have to investigate the murder in order to clear his name.

I have been a admirer of Lawrence Block’s work for years now. He first came to my attention one day, during a lunch break from work, browsing the bookshelves in one of the local libraries. It was one of the his Bernie/Burglar books that caught my attention.

Bogart BlockBernie first appeared in 1977 with Burglars Can’t Be Choosers. With his second outing, the series settled in a series of titles beginning with The Burglar Who… With the third book in the series, The Burglar Who Liked to Quote Kipling, published in 1979, Bernie acquired a bookstore in Greenwich Village. Eventually, Bernie got a cat he named Raffles, a gift from his best friend and Village soulmate Carolyn Kaiser. After all, what second hand bookstore doesn’t need a cat?

In all, there are eleven books in the series plus a few short stories. There is not a bad one in the bunch. The last one, The Burglar Who Counted Spoons, was published in 2013 after a nine year hiatus. The books are chock full of sharp witty dialogue and  wonderful characters.

If you are familiar with Lawrence Block, you know that The Burglar books are just a small piece of his complete output of work. Block’s other great character is Matt Scudder, an ex-cop and recovering alcoholic who does “favors” for friends and clients. Scudder quit the force after accidently causing the death of a young girl. His life soon fell apart; he left his family and moved into an old hotel in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen area where he earned money working as a unlicensed P.I. doing those “favors” as he called them. The Scudder books, as you may have guessed,  are much darker but just as brilliantly written.

TombsIn 2014, an excellent adaptation was made of his novel, A Walk Among the Tombstones, with Liam Neeson as Scudder. Until this film, Block had not had much luck with his work being transferred to the screen. From Nightmare Honeymoon to Burglar, one was worst than the other In the latter film, Bernie was transformed into Bernice and portrayed by Whoopi Goldberg. Nothing against Ms. Goldberg, but who the hell thought  this was a good idea?

From what I have read Block has not expressed much interest in doing anymore Bernie books. Which for me and many fans is sad. Still, we can hope.

John Lennon and Bob Gruen

Bob Gruen is one of rock & roll’s finest photographers. Over the years, he has photographed many of the greats including The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin, Kiss, The New York Dolls and most famously John Lennon. Gruen met Lennon in 1971. They became both friends and business associates with Bob becoming  the former Beatles personal chronicler of his New York years. Many of Lennon’s most iconic images from this period including the rooftop photos with John wearing a New York City t-shirt and his holding up a peace sign while standing in front of the Statue of Liberty  were taken by Bob Gruen.

In 2005, Gruen published an excellent book, John Lennon: The New York Years, collecting the best of his Lennon photographs. I highly recommend any Lennon admirer adding it to their bookshelf.

Below are a few photos from the 1974 rooftop session. The first photo is the now iconic New York City t-shirt shot. The second photo is an interesting behind the scene polaroid of Gruen photographing Lennon during that now famous session. Finally, one of Gruen’s contact sheets from the shoot.




If you are a photographer like me or a Lennon admirer, there is a very good documentary on Bob Gruen that covers his entire career. It called Rock and Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen. Unfortunately, it’s not on DVD, however, it does show up on cable occasionally.

As John Lennon once said, “You shoulda been there.”

Dick Cavett’s Brief Encounters

Today with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Myers and so many others we, the audience, certainly have a bagful of choices on who to watch on late night TV. Out of all these choices no one has come along in all these years to fill the shoes of Dick Cavett. Cavett’s late night show went up against Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show and The Merv Griffin Show. It was a rare evening when Dick beat Johnny in the ratings war. Most evenings he not only ran behind Johnny but also behind Merv “Mr. Bland” Merv Griffin. Now I am not here to knock Johnny Carson. Let me say it right up front that I loved Carson’s Tonight Show. To this day, he remains the King of Late Night Talk Shows. Griffin I always found to be a bore. He was someone to watch when you had trouble sleeping. He was better than a sedative.  Cavett though was an alternative. His show lent itself to more thoughtful audiences and guests. Carson and Griffin rarely, if ever, touched on the more important or sensitive topics of the day. Cavett on the other hand, during his five years on ABC between 1969 and 1974, courted intellectuals like Gore Vidal and discussed controversial subjects like the Vietnam War. The following example is from Wikipedia which will give you a taste of just how controversial and fascinating Cavett’s show could be…

One particularly controversial show from June 1971 featured a debate between future senator and presidential candidate John Kerry and fellow veteran John O’Neill over the Vietnam War. O’Neill had been approached by the Nixon administration to work through the Vietnam Veterans for a Just Peace to counter Kerry’s influence on the public. The debate went poorly for the pro-war side, so angering President Nixon that he is heard discussing the incident on the Watergate tapes, saying, “Well, is there any way we can screw him [Cavett]? That’s what I mean. There must be ways.” To which H.R. Halderman, White House Chief of Staff answered, “We’ve been trying to.”

I recently finished reading, or more correctly I should say just finished listening to, Dick Cavett’s Brief Encounters: Conversations, Magic Moments and Assorted Hijinks. It’s a collection of essays that originally appeared in his weekly New York Times column. It’s filled with witty, intelligent, charming and sometimes outrageous insights and observations. His encounters with the famous included legendary folks such as Stan Laurel, John Lennon, James Gandolfini, Mel Brooks, Jonathan Winters, Groucho Marx and so many others too numerous to name. Along with all this name dropping, Cavett also addresses a variety of topics such as alcoholism, school reunions, politics, gun control, sex education and so much more. Cavett was the thinking man’s late night talk show host. Never shying away from controversial topics despite plenty of pressure from his network.

Cavett was also clairvoyant! In one 2013 article, he raves on about Stephen Colbert and prophetically suggests that CBS, upon David Letterman’s retirement, don’t blow it by passing up on the  host of The Colbert Report as Dave’s replacement to take over the New York based show which is exactly what happened on September 8, 2015.

If anyone reading this decides to pick up the book I highly recommend instead you get a copy of the audio book instead. It will give you the added pleasure of hearing Cavett speak. He’s a great conversationalist and listening to him in his own voice discuss these tales only enhances the experience. I tend to believe much of Cavett’s humor and insight comes across better when you are hearing it in his own voice. This is especially true when he imitates such greats as Stan Laurel and Groucho.  The audio book contains seven discs. Listening to it while driving to and from work or wherever will provide some excellent conversation to keep you company during those boring rush hour traffic jams.