Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Of Spock and High Flight

 All Photos: Michael Manning
This past Sunday found me running late all day. Who among us hasn't experienced this unintended human inconvenience? During brunch, I enjoyed a fascinating conversation with a local neighbor, 87, a retired physician who is keen on researching "The Mediterranean Diet", and we had a spirited conversation about nutrition and Leonard Nimoy's passing over twenty minutes. Afterwards, errands I fully intended to carry out with the best of intentions, were modified. One example is telling. 

My cardio day workout fell short, due to the closing hours of the facility that I frequent. So, I augmented this "truncated workout" by driving directly to the town square to fast walk for another 90 minutes as the sun was setting. 

Nearby, workers were busy dismantling an interesting display of cardboard birds, perhaps Loons, tethered to nylon strings.    

At Dusk
It strikes me as interesting that most of us are familiar with the sonnet, "High Flight" composed by the American Officer Pilot John Gillespie Magee, Jr. According to the U.S. Air Force public information portal, Magee was born in Shanghai, China in 1922 and was the son of missionary parents. His father was American and his mother was a British citizen. After arriving to the United States on a prestigious scholarship to attend Yale University in 1939, he enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force, graduated as a pilot and was transferred to England in July 1941 for combat duty. It is thought that somewhere between August and September, 1941 he composed "High Flight" and mailed a copy to his parents. 

Tragedy struck on December 11, 1941 when his Supermarine Spitfire, a British single-seat fighter plane collided with another aircraft. Magee died in the crash at age 19, and is interned in a church cemetery at Scopwick, Lincolnshire, in a county just east of England. Two points came to my mind. 

My recent magazine article was published in Lincolnshire, and in my previous post on Leonard Nimoy, I noted that he was a private pilot. Officer Pilot Magee's poem appears on the headstones of many aviators and astronauts in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. where I visited in 2005. That these words were created by a man only 19 years of age, still amazes me.  

High Flight 
By: John Magee
Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth,
 And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
 Sunwards I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
 Of sun-split clouds – and done a thousand things
 You have not dreamed of - wheeled and soared and swung 
 High in the sunlit silence. Hovering there,
 I’ve chased the shouting wind along and flung
 My eager craft through footless halls of air,
 Up, up the long delirious burning blue
 I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,
 Where never lark, or even eagle, flew;
 And, while with silent, lifting mind I’ve trod
 The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
 Put out my hand, and touched the face of god.

President Ronald Reagan, addressing NASA employees following the loss of the Space Shuttle Challenger crew in 1986, used the poem in a well-remembered line:

"We shall never forget them nor the last time we saw them, as they prepared for their mission and waved good-bye and slipped the surly bonds of Earth to touch the face of God."


Monday, March 02, 2015

Leonard Nimoy 1931 -2015

(March 26, 1931 - February 27, 2015) 
"A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP" (Live Long and Prosper).

--Leonard Nimoy's final post on Twitter 4 days before he passed away. 
When actor Leonard Nimoy died last Friday morning in Los Angeles, like millions of others, it saddened me. Outside of the late Orson Welles, I'm hard-pressed to summon another actor to memory who can truly be called a "Renaissance Man". 

His achievements are far beyond the scope of this blog post. Nevertheless, I encourage you to Google his biography. His life was well lived: Actor, Writer, Director, Producer, Musician, author of two Autobiographies, Poet, Photographer; he had  an abundant sense of humor, and was a generous contributor to the Arts. To wit, he and his wife Susan played a significant role in the restoration of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, and today, a theater at the Observatory site bears his name. Beyond Theatre, Film, and Television, Leonard was a Voice Over Artist, a man genuinely curious about life and space travel, and an actor who may not have taken himself seriously, but who took his craft seriously. A private pilot, he owned his own airplane, possessed a remarkable work capacity, and inspired NASA to "go further". He was driven by a curiosity in life that lent a magnificent authenticity to inspire the imaginations of so many others. Upon news of his passing, NASA officials paused and delivered a tribute in social media to Leonard for encouraging their efforts.

He rediscovered his Jewish heritage, and in 1991, he produced and starred in "Never Forget", a television movie based on the story of a Holocaust survivor who sued a neo-Nazi organization of Holocaust deniers. In fact, it was Leonard's religious upbringing that played a significant role in the character of Mr. Spock's split-fingered right-hand salute that was followed by the life-affirming message to "Live Long and Prosper". He introduced the greeting in a 1967 Star Trek episode on television, and 50-years later, he was humbled that fans would recognize him in the street and greet him with that same hand gesture-blessing. 

Photo: Terry W. Virts and NASA.gov/ public domain
NASA Astronaut Terry W. Virts, who is aboard The International Space Station, tweeted this photo of the hand gesture-blessing of Leonard as the space craft passed over his birth place of Boston. I submit that Leonard Nimoy left our world a far better place, by sharing his many talents, and allowing us to ponder, creatively and peacefully, how to serve one another. 

He will be missed. 


Friday, February 27, 2015

Magazine Article Rewind: Discovering a Big Bunny!

All Photos: Michael Manning
The story of how that lower left corner magazine from 1970 became a bigger story 
in 2015! This "organized mess" is a post-production office table at my home.  

Back when I as a little kid, I loved taking long walks after dinner with my dad and uncle. I was still fluent in my second language then-a mix of Macedonian and Bulgarian-and it was fun to listen to the two brothers give very strong opinions on just about every topic you can imagine! New homes were under construction in my uncle's neighborhood at the end of the block, and on spring or summer nights, we'd walk through these sites before dusk. My uncle was particularly animated when he spoke, and he'd mercilessly dish out his critique of shoddy construction practices he noticed. From concrete foundations to how wooden trusses were attached. If the work didn't personify excellence, look out! He was also a math whiz, and could spew out estimates on the square footage costs of concrete--whether it was poured correctly, or incorrectly. My dad was lower key in his personality, and would toss in an occasional thought or two. I was amused at all of this, and soaked it in like a sponge. It never occurred to me that I was receiving a lesson in project development! But the two brothers were very passionate about quality in everything they did, and tried to impress that upon me in my own work ethic. 

Inspiration for projects can come from millions of sources, for artistic and practical projects alike. This statement holds true for every artisan, filmmaker, musician, brick layer and body builder. Incidentally, of the latter, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger who had a tremendous influence on the design that ultimately became the AM General Hummer (later owned and marketed as an SUV by General Motors). Actor Harrison Ford's helicopter piloting skills proved formidable in saving civilian lives on more than one occasion, and making it into the international press. A magazine article may pale in comparison to custom home building, designing a unique SUV vehicle, or saving lives with a helicopter. But I submit that anything worthwhile begins with inspiration. 

The magazine in an antique shop that inspired an international article!

Last October I spotted a copy of VIP: The Playboy Club Magazine in an obscure antique shop in central Phoenix. In 1970, it sold for 35 cents. I snagged it for $12.00, read it cover to cover and set it aside for two weeks. It was a fine publication that detailed (in round-robin style) what notable guests and entertainers had appeared at over 30 Playboy Clubs in the United States. A VIP Interview with professional golfer Doug Sanders was also included. But the cover story kept pulling at me. Three beautiful models: Britt Elders, Shawn Ferguson, and Marsha Morris were prominently featured on the cover, "ready to welcome guests" aboard a new corporate jet that was planned with "months of painstaking preparations" (announced in 1967) to Playboy Magazine publisher Hugh Hefner's strict specifications. Several pages were devoted in color to the inaugural press flight from Chicago O'Hare Airport, to Burbank Airport in California (today renamed Bob Hope Airport in memory of the late comedian). Over and over I examined the photography of the custom cabin compartments, the lavish food and beverage service, and the fact that reporters and guests all seemed to be having fun. There was dancing taking place in one area of the plane, casual conversation elsewhere, and even a formal dinner served with crystal glasses and fine china. Hugh Hefner, as the host, looked completely confident and at ease. I studied his facial expression, and in that moment, I realized what had been pulling at me to write a fresh magazine article!  

Here was a project that was driven by a quest for excellence. Hugh Hefner had the overall vision for a special jet that would become an extension of the magazine's corporate brand. But what I saw missing in decades of many fine articles that I researched was a deeper background story. What was the passion behind selecting, acquiring and designing this jet? Who were the key advisers on the two year project? Where was the jet based and maintained? To that end, I interviewed fascinating personalities from Long Beach, California to West LaFayette, Indiana over a three and a half month period.       

As with my dad and uncle as a small child, I listened to my gut instinct and selected a subject that was so unique, it became an icon in American culture during the late 60's and most of the 1970's. Readers will be surprised to learn how the jet had its own brushes with celebrities. But there was also a very specific philanthropic mission the jet undertook, that involved the lives of 40 orphan children that I also discuss. 

Airliner World
The first image you see when you open the magazine.
Ultimately, I must have sensed that there was a further-reaching story that needed to be uncovered when I acquired the VIP Club Magazine. I'm glad that I followed my instincts. It's an intriguing story, to be sure. But for this author, it was just plain fun to look back at a project that was driven by the tenor of a decade (and yes, excellence). By the time I had "wrapped" the article, I reflected on the personalities I spent hours visiting with in two states. Each person was amazing, as they were enjoyable. For me, I couldn't have asked for a nicer experience. You could say it was an adventure that began with a visit to an antique shop in Phoenix, Arizona and ended up being shared on magazine stands worldwide. 

Have a nice weekend!


Friday, February 20, 2015

Hefner's Big Bunny: The Playboy Douglas DC-9

(Image: Boeing)

(Image: Airliner World)
The March 2015 Issue: Arriving at a Bookstore Near You! 
In all of corporate America, there has never been a more upscale, corporate jet than the American publisher and Editor-In-Chief, entrepreneur and philanthropist Hugh Hefner’s McDonnell Douglas DC-9-32, often dubbed "The Big Bunny". As the first DC-9 stretched series twin-jet ever converted into a corporate aircraft in the United States, the Playboy DC-9 became an extension of the corporate branding for Playboy Enterprises. 

Far beyond the considerations of featuring photography of "the girls next door", Playboy became a cultural icon in the "American Experience". The magazine that featured articles from some of the most influential writers of the day: from Saul Bellow, Ben Stein, Arthur Miller and Norman Mailer to Alex Haley has entered its sixth decade. The Playboy Jazz Festival, founded in 1959, continues to be an influential cultural exponent of the musical genre today. "The Playboy Interview" has similarly featured news makers and public personalities who have shaped world events--from the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and former United States President Jimmy Carter, to the reclusive actor Marlon Brando. The late expressionist painter LeRoy Neiman, whose works were a regular magazine feature, continues to be celebrated with exhibitions in museums worldwide. Articles and advice on apparel, health and fitness, automobiles--in short lifestyle and culture--soon became regarded as a veritable "handbook for the urban male".  Both the television series "Playboy After Dark", and the international chain of Playboy Clubs, featured the latest musical and comedic talents of the day. But my story is focused on a curious iconic symbol of this historical reality: the Douglas DC-9 selected by Hugh Hefner. 

Last summer, I discovered a 1970 VIP Playboy Club Magazine inside an obscure antique shop. The cover of the issue featured the unveiling of a remarkable aircraft that was created with imagination and verve. Grasping the iconic symbol of American ingenuity, during a period many refer to in the U.S. as "The Jet Age", my interest was piqued. As a commercial aviation correspondent and a broadcast news journalist before that, what intrigued me was the story behind the creation of this aircraft and all that it came to symbolize: taking risks, having a vision, and inspiring the "can do" spirit and fun that too is a part of life! While this story unfolded before many of us were born, I felt it was culturally relevant and that it needed to be preserved. 

In the March issue of Airliner World Magazine, I detail this story against the backdrop of American society in the late 1960's. Airliner World is distributed at Barnes & Noble Booksellers (US) and fine newsstands worldwide. Here is my tribute to what is arguably one of the most recognizable private jets to ever take to the skies. It's a pleasant story, and for three and a half months, I interviewed some of the most fascinating people I have ever met. 

Have a nice weekend!

(Image Boeing)


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Goals: Fitness and Life...

Yesterday, during my work out, a friend ran up to me and took off her iPod headset to say, "Hey, I thought about you yesterday!" I was surprised. It turns out that about two weeks ago, I mentioned a contact person to her about a project she was working on. I never heard anything further, so I forgot about it. Today, she is reaching out to my connection for information, and I hope everything works out great for her. Have you connected people together to help make a goal happen for someone else? It's a good feeling! Do tell.   

Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Soul of Flamenco in Chandler, Arizona

(Not my video and no infringement intended. For blog posting only)

As an Eastern European descendant, I was raised attending folk dances as a kid. Believe me, those dances could be impassioned and intense! On Saturday night, I attended my first Flamenco dance performance in Arizona, since I relocated here eight years ago. In a previous city where I lived, I attended Flamenco performances somewhat regularly. All of which is to say that while Flamenco has its roots in Spain, the "international language" of passion is truly a timeless celebration of life. 

With Flamenco, I'm forever amazed at the colorful attire, how two dancers can exercise the precision of turns, stomps, and taps with synchronicity. Whether a soloist or the entire dance group is performing, the heated intensity of the heel-toe work, and the expression of pride in the art form that is Flamenco becomes immediately apparent. All of which is to say that body language has no walls to take refuge from with Flamenco! Tall and strident, the dancer becomes the instrument that conveys all feelings. 

This was also my first exposure to Flamenco Vivo Carlota Santana, and their presentation, "The Soul of Flamenco". The dancers, the musicians, the lighting and stage all combined to deliver the perfect setting to express happiness, sadness, joy and sorrow. Inasmuch as these emotions transcend time, they also remind us that it is passion that ignites life in all art forms. Bravo! 


Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Good Workout...

Photo--Michael Manning

Had a very good workout last night for two hours. Returned home  for a small healthy dinner and felt a little lost in the kitchen...for now.