Thursday, September 30, 2004

Nobody Asked Me, But . . . (9/30/04)


I've never forgiven the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for a glaring omission in the 2002 Oscar ceremonies. Dorothy McGuire's name and image were not included in the annual "In Memoriam" tribute to stars who had died the year before. This sensitive, intelligent actress made 43 films in a film career that spanned 47 years--from Claudia (1943) to The Last Best Year (1990). She was nominated for a Best Actress award for her role in 1947's Gentleman's Agreement, but the statuette went to Loretta Young, apparently for mastering a Minnesota Swedish accent in The Farmer's Daughter.

The Academy claims that it makes room for 20 to 25 names, but only 18 artists were remembered that year. Peggy Lee, a 1956 nominee for Pete Kelly's Blues, also was slighted in 2002. Yet the Academy managed include singers George Harrison and Aaliyah, neither of whom were ever nominated for an Oscar.

Elegant was the word for Nebraska-born Dorothy McGuire. She came to New York in the 1930s and began her Broadway theatrical career as understudy to Martha Scott in Our Town, later taking on the role. After playing the lead in Rose Franken's Claudia in 1942, she went to Hollywood the following year to star in the film version. A sensation in her first film as a childlike wife, wholesomely pretty, soft-spoken Dorothy McGuire moved much too quickly into mother roles, beginning with the long-suffering mother in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1946).

In 1943 Dorothy McGuire married photographer and aviator John Swope, youngest son of Gerard Swope, Sr. That made her an aunt to David Swope, founder and owner of Club Fit in Briarcliff. With her husband, she was a frequent visitor to her father-in-law's estate, The Croft in Briarcliff. Through the generosity of the Swope family, the Swope estate became the nucleus of Teatown Reservation.

The 36-year marriage of John Swope and Dorothy McGuire ended with his death in 1979 at the age of 70. She died Sept. 13, 2001 at 85, only 11 days after the death of Troy Donahue, who played her son in A Summer Place. There is no grave site for fans to visit. She was cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea. Her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame is at 6933 Hollywood Boulevard.

Did you know? Osama Bin Laden was the major contractor in the building of the vast CIA-funded project, the extensive Khost tunnel complex in Afghanistan during the fight against Soviets. Osama bin Laden thus has the distinction of being someone created by the CIA now wanted by the FBI. In 1989, Khost was the site of the meeting at which the organization known as al-Quaida, "the base," was formed.

Future historians may look in vain for a college or school on College Hill in the eastern part of Montrose. In 1906, Edward L. Thorndike, a professor of psychology at Teacher's College of Columbia University bought a large tract and built a house. Later Professor Thorndike expanded his house by building another one quite close to the first. The name "College Hill" was applied to the area because fellow professors and faculty members purchased lots from him and built homes along College Hill Road, a private road. After the deaths of Professor Thorndike and his wife, the house was taken over by their daughter Frances and her husband Freeman Cope, both mathematicians.

Born in 1930, their son, Dr. Freemen Widener Cope, a U.S. Navy physician and physicist, became "the father of modern supramolecular biology." His research contributed to the development of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) that does not expose the patient to harmful X-rays. His 79-year-old mother died in May of 1982. Shortly after the government notified Dr. Cope that funding for his research and laboratory were being discontinued, he took his own life on October 20, 1982.

The current insurgent tactic of beheading kidnapped civilians in Iraq is barbaric. Yet we should not forget that each year Saudi Arabia, our supposed ally in the war on terror, beheads about 50 alleged criminals in public, giving government sanction to this uncivilized practice. Some ally!

Does anyone remember Drexel Street in Croton? It was a casualty of the building of the divided-lane highway that is now Route 9 between the Croton River and Peekskill that cut a wide swath through Croton. Drexel Street ran south from Clinton Street, crossed Benedict Boulevard to a dead-end above Croton Point Avenue. Also sacrificed was a large part of Croton's "Lower Village," the buildings clustered at the Lower Landing west of North Riverside Avenue at Grand Street.

In the Olympics the sorry performance of the professional players on America's basketball team makes one wonder whether the Olympic Games shouldn't again be limited to amateur athletes.

If the American military is stretched thin in Iraq, consider what is happening to the smaller British Army. Private Gordon Gentle, 19, from the Pollok section of Glasgow in Scotland joined his regiment, the Royal Highland Fusiliers, after only twelve weeks of basic training. Three months later, while on patrol in Iraq, a bomb exploded near his armored Land Rover May 29, 2004. In the bright light of the first morning of the new Iraq, his life ebbed away on a squalid, dusty Arab street in Basra. Back in Scotland, his elder sister Pamela, 21, mourning her "wee brother" (he was 6 feet 3 inches tall), complained bitterly, "He didn't have enough training to be sent out there." Fearing that it would undermine its plan to cut four infantry battalions from Britain's army, the Ministry of Defence refused requests from Gen. John McColl, British commander in Basra for additional troops to quell rising unrest.

Two investigations, one by the Pentagon and the other by an independent commission appointed by the President, have issued reports about the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal. They revealed that blame goes higher up the chain of command than what the Army characterized as "a few rogue elements." They also demonstrated the truth of the old Turkish proverb that "a fish starts to stink from the head."

Mark Twain got it right when he observed, "Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to."

Former Mayor Rudy Giuliani has formed Giuliani Partners, a management and risk assessment consultancy to advise corporations on protecting themselves from terrorist attacks. But it was Rudy who decided to put New York City's disaster emergency center in one of the WTC towers, instead of in an underground bunker. Moreover, the ill-placed emergency center's giant fuel storage tank only added to the resulting conflagration.

Four months from now, this country hopes to see elections held in Iraq, setting an example for what the Administration hopes will be the region's conversion to democratic ways. However, the current demeaning political campaign here at home in which millions are spent on bitter attack ads full of personal invective is hardly the example we should be setting for Iraqui society, already riven by bloody factionalism.

According to James Boswell, Samuel Johnson's biographer, on April 7, 1775, the good doctor remarked that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." Boswell assured readers that this was not an indictment of patriotism, only of false patriots. In 1911, Ambrose Bierce quoted Johnson's definition and added in his Devil's Dictionary, "I beg to submit that it is the first."


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