“In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History” by Mitch Landrieu— Confronting Racism

Landrieu, Mitch. “In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History”, Viking, 2018.

Confronting Racism

Amos Lassen

I am a proud New Orleanian. I was born and educated in New Orleans and it will always be my hometown even though I no longer live there. New Orleans is more than just a place, it is a state of mind and I find it interesting that Boston, where I now live, is much more racist than I ever experienced in the Deep South. Without doubt, there are New Orleans people who are racists and I have known some but by and large for a southern city, I found New Orleans to be okay. True, I taught in schools there where there were no white students and only a few white faculty members and I lived in neighborhoods that were predominantly white but I always assumed that was because of geography. Within two blocks of every white neighborhood in uptown New Orleans there is a black neighborhood and the all-black schools are located in all black neighborhoods. Of course, it is true that white flight from the inner cities has hurt the educational system of the city.

Mitch Landrieu is the New Orleans mayor who removed the Confederate statues and in this book, he confronts the racism that shapes us and argues for white America to reckon with its past. This is a “passionate, personal, urgent book from the man who sparked a national debate.” Landrieu tells us that, “There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence for it.” He said the same thing to the people of New Orleans in May 2017 when speaking about his decision to take down four Confederate monuments, including the statue of Robert E. Lee. He struck a nerve nationally, and his speech has now been heard or seen by millions across the country. Here, Mayor Landrieu discusses his personal journey on race as well as the path he took to making the decision to remove the monuments. He also looks at the broader history of slavery, race and institutional inequities that still exist in this country and he shares his personal relationship to this history. His father, as state legislator and mayor, was a huge force in the integration of New Orleans in the 1960s and 19070s. Landrieu grew up with a progressive education in a New Orleans that was then heavily racially divided and he had to relearn Southern history as it really happened.

This book is more than just a look at racism, it is a memoir, a history, and a prescription to confront slavery. This little book has a great deal to say about race in the conservative age of Donald Trump, at a time when racism seems to be resurging with approval from the highest levels of government and when too many Americans have a misplaced nostalgia for a time and place that never was.

Landrieu tries to deal with America’s sins while giving an optimistic and patriotic defense of cosmopolitanism as the source of American greatness. It is truly uncomfortable to think about slavery but we must do so if we want to live truthfully. Landrieu gives us a reconsideration of what it means to be a Southerner in contemporary America in this memoir/manifesto for a new and better South and a better America. Through a balance of humility and conviction, he shares his path to a more profound understanding of racial justice and explains how this journey led him to remove the Confederate monuments in New Orleans. We see clearly “how intellectual honesty can lead to moral clarity.”

“The Confederacy was on the wrong side of history and humanity. It sought to tear apart our nation and subjugate our fellow Americans to slavery. This is the history we should never forget and one that we should never again put on a pedestal to be revered.”

This is a thoughtful personal examination of race, culture, and politics in the city of New Orleans. We read of the biographical reflections and moral examinations that preceded the decision to remove the Confederate statues. Landrieu’s writing is earnest and it honestly feels like he’s trying to share his case for why the statues needed to be removed. This is also a fascinating look at public administration that shows the reality of how local politics work especially with the unique challenges facing New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina. Landrieu sends a message not only to Americans, but to many cities and countries where history is not yet being used for an inclusive future for all citizens. We can all hope that Mitch Landrieu will find his place among the national leaders of the American people. His local achievements are an inspiration for creating a better future for all and certainly much better than those that are running this country now.

“Social Media Central” by Kevin Klehr— Living in the Real World

Klehr, Kevin. “Social Media Central”, NineStar Press, 2018.

Living in the Real World

Amos Lassen

Have you noticed how much of your life you live behind a screen? So much happens while we are on our smart phones, our tablets and our computers and now our watches (yes, I have one of those, too).

We are moving towards a world where actually meeting someone is a rarity. In that world, everyone connects via Social Media Central for their social interaction. Tayler, however, leaves his home each day to go to work and he does not have a personal computer. Events lead to his entering Social Media Central where he soon has quite a following. Tayler learns quickly that while new and intoxicating, this world is not all what it seems to be.

One day as Tayler is sitting on a park bench, a beautiful woman with a bunch of groupies carrying some kind of devices walks by and he is quite beside himself even though he has no idea who she is. This stuns the guy who happens to be sitting on the same bench. The woman is Madeline Q and she is so intrigued by Tayler’s ignorance that she gives him her card. Tayler’s phone is just a phone. He has no web connection and therefore no presence on Social Media Central. SMC has reduced the internet into one interface and portal.

The story is set in Astra City which is dominated by empty steel and glass buildings because most people now work from wherever and there are no longer any schools since education is online through instructional videos. People do not visit each other or share meals because they can now ‘mirror meal’ whereby they each get the same meal, connect and eat in front of their computers.

You may begin to wonder who is this Tayler and where does he fit into this story. He is an anachronism as a person who actually prefers real contact with people. However, he is mystified by Madeline and decides to go to one of her affairs. He learns that she is a fashion icon with a huge following and whatever she does or wears starts a trend. It does not take long for Tayler to become swept up in her lifestyle. But then, somebody dies and Tayler, Madeline and two others are implicated.

I must admit that the whole idea of a world run by the internet is totally depressing. I hate the idea of reading an ebook because I believe a book is meant to be held and cherished. I rarely agree to read something electronically and then only for a select few writers will I do so.

There is something way too futuristic and too didactic in a world where we know each other via icons. Nonetheless, after having a bit of a hard time getting into the story, I soon found this to be quite a gripping read. I am sad that the plot is plausible but I enjoyed the bold characters who really have no idea just how without power they are. This is a thought-provoking read even though I found it troubling. I felt that George Orwell was hovering above as I read the powerful social commentary presented here.

Until now I have known Kevin Klehr as an LGBT writer and it is nice to see that he has branched out (yes, there is bisexuality here but it is not the core of the novel) into a story that is both something of a mystery and a thriller. His writing is, as usual, pristine and engaging and while the basic idea of the internet controlling us is abhorrent to me, I did totally enjoy the read. Just the fact that I could become so emotional about what I read is the sign of a good writer.

“The Vampire’s Angel” by Damian Serbu— Chaos, Revolution and Love

Serbu, Damian. “The Vampire’s Angel”, (“Realm of the Vampire Council)”, Nine Star, 2018.

Chaos,  Revolution and Love

Amos Lassen

There are about ten to twelve writers whose work I await and when there is a new book, I stop whatever I am doing to sit down and read. Damian Serbu is one of those writers and the strange thing is that I am so over vampire novels. After all, I come from the same town as Anne Rice and it seems that Lestat and I have aged together. So what is it about Serbu and his vampires? I have no idea except that his characters are unforgettable and I love his prose style. I am sure that there are those among my regular readers who are thinking that this is not a new title and that I have already reviewed this book and that is correct. I believe that I have reviewed all of Serbu’s books but this is a new edition of “The Vampire’s Angel” in which the book is streamlined and revamped. Serbu has a new publisher with Nine Star and I understand that they are going to republish all of his vampire books and will also publish those that are yet unwritten. It looks like the new home is comfortable for both parties.

“The Devil’s Angel” is set in Paris during the French Revolution and three lives come together. We meet Xavier, a priest, who is struggling to hold on to his trust in humanity but whose own faith is threatened by the desire he has for Thomas, a mysterious American visitor. Thomas fights against the Catholic Church to win Xavier’s heart and he is forced to hide the act that he is a vampire and this threatens the love he hopes to find with Xavier whose sister, Catherine, works with Thomas to bring them together while at the same time protecting the family fortune. She, however, becomes a victim of evil forces as the danger, the catastrophes and the deaths of the Revolution meet the “world of magic, vampires, and personal demons as Xavier, Thomas, and Catherine fight to find peace and love amidst the destruction” (and that is just the introduction). As Xavier and Thomas fall in love with each other, they both face their own separate demons. Thomas must learn to deal with his impatience and temper, while hiding that he is a vampire from Xavier who combats a devotion to the church and society, both of which are against his loving another man.

This is, in effect, a coming-out story but certainly not the usual that we get. Xavier’s struggle includes so much more than gaining acceptance at a time that this is not done—not only does he have to accept his homosexuality but he needs to find some kind of approval from his family, society and the church and his own faith. He also must face the reality of being the submissive half of his relationship.

Serbu gives us a Xavier who is vulnerable and filled with emotion. At first meeting, we see him as a pure man of faith something akin to what the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau had to say about man being born pure and then corrupted by society and I do not mean that homosexuality is corrupting but at the time this was written there were many that did.

We immediately sense his submissiveness. He is gentle, speaks softly and is a man of total obedience. He has chosen a life of serving others and this fulfills him. He is emotional to the point of tears and he needs a dominant personality to take care of him. Before he met Thomas, the church was his protection but that all changed along with the way he began to think about religion.

Thomas is Xavier’s total opposite and immediately knows that he wants Xavier as his life partner. He is domineering and self-confident, hot-tempered and can be violent if provoked yet Xavier has quite a calming effect on him. He wants Xavier but knows that to get him requires patience. He is also afraid that Xavier lacks the strength to accept who he really is.

Serbu writes emotion beautifully thus allowing us to know his characters inside and out. Xavier is the kind of character who seemed to be reaching out for direction and I wanted to tell him to take the plunge and be who he is. He is a very real character, so real, in fact that I wondered if Serbu was writing about himself or someone he knows really well.

Many vampire novels are filled with action but you will not find that here unless you consider actions of the heart and mind. What we really read about is learning to accept oneself. Yes, it is a fantasy but one with great truths.

I could go on and on but to do so would not be fair to those who have yet to read “The Vampire’s Angel”. I would just rater end here positively and encourage you to read not just this but whatever you can get your hands on by Damian Serbu.

 

 

“Sodom Road Exit” by Amber Dawn— Desire and Dread

Dawn, Amber. “Sodom Road Exit”, Arsenal Pulp, 2018

“Desire and Dread”

Amos Lassen

In “Sodom Road Exit”, we meet Starla Mia Martin, a 23-year old  intelligent and well-read young woman who has returned to her hometown of Crystal Beach, Ontario to live with her mother. She has been living in Toronto and enjoying life but now she has to live with a women with whom she does not get along.

Crystal Beach had once been home to a long-running amusement park but now that it is gone, it has become a ghost town. Because she had exhausted all of her financial resources after dropping out of college, Starla Mia must return to live with her overbearing mother in this community that has fallen on hard times. Suddenly, Starla Mia experiences strange occurrences—- sounds at night that she cannot explain and visions of places that pip into her peripheral vision. She is being haunted by unresolved traumas that haunt Crystal Beach. What makes this even stranger is that instead of being afraid of this, Starla is sexually aroused and feels lust and “queer desire”. Instead of running from the horror, she draws it closer in thus bringing some very odd characters to her and they all look for answers in the world that they are not a part of.

This is a queer horror-thriller filled with desire and dread and an unforgettable paranormal character as well. It is an important book for those trying to heal from childhood trauma. Just as Starla was possessed by queer love, I was possessed by this novel and actually read it all in one sitting because I simply could not allow myself to stop reading.

Now back home, Starla begins working as the night shift manager at The Point, a campground and RV park. Now this kind of job does not usually have excitement, but Starla has extraordinary experiences while at work. One would imagine that this job might entail some pickup around the grounds and a little downtime, but Starla’s experience is much more extraordinary. From the very first day, there are strange happenings at The Point. The ghost of a girl who died in Crystal Beach has a special interest in Starla and begins communicating with her from inside her head. Starla realizes that as she becomes closer to those who live at The Point, the ghost’s pull on her gets stronger and a strange sexual bond that the two have could hurt Starla in a way that those around her can’t understand or see.

We can only assume that Starla is queer as well as not well mentally. Writer Amber Dawn realistically portrays what Starla is going through. There are times when she can cope and from what I understand, writing about mental illness is very difficult because of its different forms and manifestations. We also have been told that PTSD and irregular moods can be difficult to manage on their own.

Amber Dawn writes with wonderful compassion and introduces us to an unforgettable cast of characters that are unforgettable. We watch Starla’s character evolve while she works at The Point.  Surprisingly, I felt good when I finished the novel and understood that I had read something very special. It is really difficult to write about “Sodom Road Exit” without giving away a spoiler and that is why I have not really gone into the plot. The complex cast of realistic characters, share relationships and deal with very real problems. At the heart of those relationships is “a parasitic queer ghost with control issues, a still raging sex drive, a wicked sense of humor, and anger management issues.”

It is impossible not to love this book— the prose is gorgeous, Amber Dawn is quite a storyteller and it crosses many genres. It is not just a read, it is an experience.

 

 

On a personal note: I have reviewed books published by Arsenal Pulp for the last twelve years. However, during the last two years, my requests for review copies have been ignored. Hopefully this review will make their office staff (I hesitate to call names) realize that I am still alive and still writing and there are Arsenal Pulp titles that I would have loved and even still would love to review.

“Parts Per Million” by Julia Stoops— The Personal and the Political

Stoops, Julia. “Parts Per Million”, illustrated by Gabriel Liston, Forest Avenue Press, 2018.

The Personal and the Political

Amos Lassen

It is always good to have a cause but we sometimes have a problem of knowing just how far to go with it. We sometimes forget that not every cause is a winner and when we become so involved that we cannot imagine losing, a cause becomes overly possessive. That question of how far to go is at the core by this new novel by Julia Stoops.

“Parts Per Million” is a suspenseful exploration of activism, friendship, and love. There are three main characters from whom we hear points of view and one of them, John Nelson (or just Nelson) is the focal point of much of the story. We learn that years before the novel begins, Nelson left his marriage and a good desk job to protest, and occasionally disrupt, threats to the environment.

Eventually, Nelson and his two fellow activists, Jen Owens and Irving Fetzer decide to leave direct-action environmentalism and just report on it. The three men share a home in Portland, Oregon, from where they run Omnia Mundi Media Group, which disseminates news on the environmental movement and airs a monthly radio broadcast about it.

Soon current events cause another shift in Omnia Mundi’s mission. On the eve of the Iraq War, a time of increased government surveillance under the Patriot Act, there were threats to civil liberties causing Nelson, Jen, and Fetzer to decide to broaden their media operation’s reach beyond just environmental concerns. They learn that local universities receive federal money for military projects that include developing surveillance technology, they are determined to uncover more information about this and then publicize what they find.

At just the same time, Deirdre O’Carroll appears on the doorstep of Nelson, Jen, and Fetzer. She is visiting the United States from Ireland and is quite ill and says that someone stole her money and plane ticket home. The trio offer to let her stay the night but she becomes romantically involved with Nelson and becomes part of the household.

Jen learns that Deirdre is a recovering drug addict and finds her to be a source of unneeded tension in the house. Deidre shares so little about her background, that there is suspicion and even as she emerges from her shell and shows warmth and kindness, we see that she has troubles and depends upon alcohol although we do not learn why until the end of the story. One of the conflicts of the story is Nelson’s trying to keep Deirdre from sinking into a downward spiral as he tries to stay sane.

Another conflict comes with news that Harry Lane University, Nelson’s alma mater, has received a large contract from the Pentagon—surprising, because the university is known as a “bastion of liberalism.” Under the contract, the university will help develop software allowing military and intelligence agencies to monitor surveillance video to separate suspicious activities from ordinary body movements.” Nelson, Jen, and Fetzer worry that this technology could be used in other places and at home.

They manage to put the news of the contract out to the general public. However as they dig deeper, they discover a bigger story and it is here that I stop summarizing the plot with the hope that I have made you interested enough to read the book.

Julia Stoops’s socially conscious novels blends the personal and the political into a very fast paced “Parts Per Million” is a psychological thriller that is also hard-boiled noir with characters that are “fresh, real and alive.” This is certainly not the kind of book that I usually read but I was held spellbound by the moral and emotional conflicts, the betrayals and the small acts of heroism the story of four activists in a time of war. The novel pushes us to face important questions— “how do we live ethical lives in the face of institutionalized greed? If the personal is political, how can we turn away from anyone in crisis?”

We are privy to the characters’ public and private lives and this makes them all the more real. We enter that grey area between ideals and reality as we see America through a different and disturbing lens. We confront the themes of being aware politically and involved, friendship and family, art, loneliness, risks, beliefs and modern life.

“How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays” by Alexander Chee— Man, Writer and Activist

Chee, Alexander. “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel: Essays”, Mariner, 2018.

Man, Writer and Activist

Amos Lassen

I fell in love with Alexander Chee’s novels “The Queen of the Night” and “Edinburgh” and I have now fallen in love with his “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel”, his first collection of nonfiction. I don’t know what I was expecting from Chee as an essayist but she sure knows how to pull a reader in and with nonfiction that is not always easy.

He writes of his adventures in life and literature and of course politics and how these topics come together. He also writes about the books he has read and how reading them have influenced both his life and his writing. He shares growing from a student to a teacher and how he deals with the various identities he has—- a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. Of course to reach those identities, he has had a life filled with experiences that he also shares with us.

In this collection of sixteen essays, Chee writes of the relationship between fiction and nonfiction and a life lived and lives created by writing fiction. While this is a look at writing, it is also part memoir by the author who sees himself as politically engaged. He has advice for us that he very willingly shares and this includes how to convey action and the use of verbs that say precisely what you want them to say.

As a writing and a literature professor, I have always thought that it is impossible to teach someone how to write. At best, I could furnish the tools necessary to be a good writer but talent comes from within and we, as teachers, can only hope to enhance it.

Chee looks at some of the main events of recent American history and writes how these have been formative parts of his life— the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that he had in order to support his writing, the actual writing of his first novel, the election of Trump and the more personal death of his father. I cite this because all of us were affected by most of these as well and I believe that it is safe to say that they also affected our writing as well. Chee asks us how we see and create ourselves in different ways and for different venues and professions and how we react and fight when what we hold to be true is attacked. (Interesting that I just read another review of this book and it says almost the same thing as the above sentence).

Chee tries to help us get to the core and heart of how we create and how we defend our identities to both ourselves and the rest of the world. I believe that understanding how we see ourselves is instrumental in understanding how others see us.

There is great wisdom in these beautifully written essays. Chee brings together activism and artistry and unites them with his deep exploration of the intersections of identities and experiences.

I had the chance to meet Alexander Chee at a Lambda Literary Workshop this year but got lost trying to find the location (I wonder if I will ever understand Boston neighborhoods and streets and why every town has at least one Washington Street) and never got there. This is a major regret. But now I have this book of essays and it sits in a very prominent place on my desk where I can consult it easily.

“Humpty Trumpty Hit a Brick Wall: Donald J. Trump’s First White House Year in Verse” by David Finkle— Opinion-Driven Satire

Finkle, David. “Humpty Trumpty Hit a Brick Wall: Donald J. Trump’s First White House Year in Verse”, illustrated by Roberta Granzen, Plum Bay Publishing, 2018.

Opinion-Driven Satire 

Amos Lassen

I knew that is was only a matter of time before we started to get satires about the man who now sits in the White House but I must say that it surprised me that it took so long. Perhaps it is better that we had to wait because the new satires are so very good. When we learned that Trump would be our incoming president, so many of us felt hurt and disillusionment that such a clown would rise to the most powerful position in the world and I really thought that he would hurt himself so badly that he would be gone before we knew it. Unfortunately that did not happen and as David Finkle sees it the man is “flabbergastingly unfit for office”. Finkle nicknames him “Humpty Trumpty” and has written an entire book of short poems, one for every day of Trump’s first year as American President (it so hurts to type that).

The poems are opinion-driven quatrains on that Finkle first posted on Facebook and they are filled with humor and wit and they are all collected in “HUMPTY TRUMPTY HIT A BRICK WALL: Donald J. Trump’s First White House Year in Verse” and are very cleverly illustrated by Roberta Granzen.

Since Trump assumed the presidency, so many of us are on edge and tense and almost constantly wondering what he will do next. Sure we can laugh at him but unfortunately that means laughing at what he has done and that can affect us adversely. It is much better to be able to laugh these poems that do not affect us and/or the rest of the world. Instead, they bring in a little sunshine on a very cloudy world. David Finkle’s poems are engaging and he leaves no stone untouched as he parodies (and tells the truth about) today’s presidential administration— heads-of-state, chiefs-of-staff, senators, congress, the FBI and others are included in both the writing and the illustrations.

Twitter, twitter, twitter, twitter—

Donald Trump’s a heavy hitter.

When he’s feeling crossed and bitter,

He dispenses all that litter.

Twitter, twitter, twitter, twitter

Goes that clearly nutty critter,

Causing all of us to titter,

“He just needs a baby-sitter.”

Add this to the Trump con list:

Making cash hand over fist,

Like that big DC hotel.

Tax returns? So far, no tell.

You will recognize “Humpty Trumpty”, Little Miss Muffet and a troll as well as so many others. Here is delightful satire that you do not want to miss.

“ENIGMA ROSSO”— Investigating Murder”

“ENIGMA ROSSO” aka (“RED RINGS OF FEAR” aka “TRAUMA” aka “VIRGIN TERROR”)

Investigating Murder

Amos Lassen

Young police detective, Di Salvo, is investigating the discovery of the body of a 16-year-old schoolgirl, found mutilated and brutally sexually assaulted on the outskirts of the city. His investigations lead him to a luxury villa where wealthy businessmen enjoy entertaining themselves with the murdered girl’s friends from school.

There is an unspoken bond of silence between the girls that comes out of the fear of being silenced by being murdered themselves. “Enigma Rosso” is a disturbing and explicit portrayal of the lengths that people will go to, to protect their name. Alberto Negrin’s film begins with a pre-credits sequence of a corpse, zipped up in a body-bag, is tossed over the side of a cliff from the back of a distinctive looking car. The body is that of a sixteen-year-old girl is later found and Inspector Johnny Di Salvo (Fabio Testi) is called in to investigate. He discovers that she had been violated with a blunt instrument.

The girl (named as Angela Russo) was a student at the exclusive St. Theresa’s girl’s school- St. Theresa’s. Di Salvo speaks to Angela’s mother (Helga Line’) hoping to shed some light on the girl’s death, but finds that Angela’s little sister, Emily (Fausta Avelli), who also boards at St. Theresa’s, has lots of information to share. She tells him that Angela was part of a clique at the school, a group of friends who call themselves ‘the inseparables’, and who never did anything without the others knowing about it. Di Salvo visits the school and meets the girls who are headed by a prim head mistress. He manages to come away with Angela’s diary, which Emily gets for him.

Meanwhile the murdered schoolgirl’s friends- the surviving members of ‘the inseparables’ (Franca, Paola and Virginia), have been receiving menacing notes from someone referred to as Nemesis. Then Virginia (Brigitte Wagner) nearly collapses from medical problem and the girls find themselves in real danger—– one of them nearly breaks her neck after a bolt is fired at the horse she’s riding. Di Salvo realizes that he has to employ underhanded ways to solve Angela’s murder, protect the schoolgirls of St. Theresa’s and dodge attempts on his own life while unraveling a seedy underground of deadly vice.

Alberto Negrin’s film works well as a giallo and the central mystery unfolds nicely with a shocking ending that makes perfect sense in retrospect.  It turns out that the girls have been moonlighting for an organization of rich businessmen, and have been attending various orgies in return for large amounts of cash and free clothing from a fashion shop owner.  At one of these orgies, one of the girls was assaulted with a huge dildo, and this event was the catalyst to the string of murders…..

Fabio Testi, as Inspector Di Salvo, is excellent in this film from his dogged determination in tracking down the murderer to his rage at the seeming indifference of the schools teachers who are more concerned about the reputation of the school than they are about the case being solved. 

“MABEL, MABEL, TIGER TRAINER”— Mistress of the Tigers

“Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer”

Mistress of the Tigers

Amos Lassen

Because she was so talented at training big cats, Mabel Stark was known as Mistress of the Tigers, so adept was she at training the big cats. Mabel was born into a poor family in 1889 but she found her way out of poverty by learning to tame tigers. By the 1920s, she was famous in her field and traveled all over this country with the circus. I am fairly sure that she was unknown to most of us but that all will change with director Leslie Zemeckis’ “Mabel, Mabel, Tiger Trainer” in which we are taken into Mabel’s world. That world included several marriages, fame, and multiple maulings by the tigers that she card so much for. In fact, Mabel has a love for animals that she suffered broken arms and legs broken, part of a deltoid muscle torn out of her right shoulder; she has a plate in her head, she had no elbow in her right arm and no flesh on her leg. She often stated that her only wish was “to be killed by my animals.”

Zameckis came across Mabel’s story while doing research in burlesque and learned that Mabel worked briefly in a “cootch” show before going on to train tigers. She was an independent woman who took up training the tigers after being told, “no woman could train tigers” and she fell in love with the animals and absolutely devoted her life to tigers. Mabel’s story is one of love and bravery with love being the stronger of the two. Even with having been mauled several times, she never blamed the cats—– it was always the trainer’s [her] fault.

Mabel found a place for herself with the circus at a time when woman had little influence. The circus was very hard work but she managed to find not just acceptance but love as well working there. The circus was a different world and she was well established there. She became the person that studios went to when they needed a double for films. She doubled for Mae West and others. What is important is that she forged her way and did what she did completely on her own terms.

She didn’t do it for fame and she worked with tigers because she was passionate and had found purpose. And when that was taken away . Zameckis wants us to see how much Mabel loved these animals. We also see the value of the circus as entertainment and education.

Mabel was a complicated, dedicated, and often tragic woman with humor and heart. She had had to deal with childhood abuse, a bad marriage, and she had to escape literally escaped a Kentucky asylum after commitment by her husband. In 1911, she found tigers at the Barnes Circus quarters and her life changed. She then made her way into male-commanded wild animal training, and became the star woman tiger trainer of her industry even before women were allowed the vote.

Mabel entertained millions of people with her death defying acts inside the cages of wild animals and we really see that the real story here is her love for the animals. Tigers were her career for 57 years and she handled 22 tigers at one time. When American circuses stopped having big cat acts in the 1940s, Mabel went on tour to Europe and Japan before she returned home and worked at Jungleland a wild animal theme park in California and she performed daily there into her 70s.

I was totally intrigued from the beginning to the end by both Mabel, the person and her passion and devotion for her tigers.

“SCOTTY AND THE SECRET HISTORY OF HOLLYWOOD”— Escort and Pimp to the Stars

“Scotty and the Secret History of Hollywood”

Escort and Pimp to the Stars

Amos Lassen

Scotty Bowers who is now in his 90s, Bowers wrote a book about how he supplied a ‘service’ to the Hollywood elite. He was a gas-pumping pimp and prostitute to the stars and according to Bowers, he had sex with everyone who was anyone…or, supplied some-body to someone who could pay $20.

He shares some pretty big names [those we know of and those we don’t] with neither reservation nor shame. His ‘stories’ are corroborated by his ex-employees and a few clients.

In Matt Tyrnauer’s film we only see what Bowers wants us to see. “Bowers is an inveterate performer/manipulator who has aged…disrespectfully, disgracefully, disloyally, irresponsibly.

During the Golden-age Hollywood, there was a great deal of homosexuality, infidelity, alcoholism, drug addiction and so much more that would upset the moving-going public yet the movie stars of the mid-20th century were presented as such paragons. Now we know better. Unmarried male stars and directors, weren’t necessarily just bachelors who hadn’t met the right girl. In 2012, Bowers published “Full Service,” a tell-all about his days running a gas station on Hollywood Boulevard in the 1940s, from where he provided male and female sex workers to satisfy the sexual needs of the film business from stars to set designers. Bowers claims to have personally serviced or provided companions for hundreds of people, many of them were the names you saw on movie marquees.

Director Matt Tyrnauer introduces us to a handsome young Bowers, fresh out of the army, who one day was picked up a at a gas station by Walter Pidgeon. It did not take long for Bowers to become Hollywood’s go-to guy for attractive young sexual playthings. (Bowers says that he was not a pimp because he never took money from anyone he procured).

We learn of three-ways with Cary Grant and Randolph Scott, and of the sexual appetites of Charles Laughton, Vivien Leigh and Cole Porter. Tyrnauer shares that Bowers was at Guadalcanal and in deadly WWII combat. Bowers discusses his sexual abuse —as a child, from a neighbor and from a string of Catholic priests after his family moved from the farm to Chicago. There will be those who will either not believe Bowers’ tales or who feel that it’s inappropriate that he’s telling tales about celebrities who are no longer around to defend themselves. (To the films credit, it leaves out some of the more nauseating revelations, like the very many inclinations of a certain legendary actor-director.) “Scotty” captures a fascinating era of Hollywood — the public-relations version and the real one, with its morality clauses and scandal sheets while at the same time examining a key behind-the-scenes figure. We get an understanding of who Bowers is and where he comes from, and why his current wife says that his desire to make others happy is compulsive.

Those who object to Bowers’ revelations may find themselves surprisingly empathetic to his life story— there is plenty of gossip to be found here, but there’s also no shortage of humanity.

Bowers opens his little black book as he tells about his scandalous life as a Hollywood escort and pimp to the stars but Matt Tyrnauer avoids making Bowers’ narrative one of tabloid fodder. There is novelty to this Hollywood insider’s portrait. Bowers is a good storyteller and a quirky character that offers scintillating stories about hooking up all sorts of A-listers with hot young men and women to please the stars behind closed doors. We can object to Bowers’ decision to reveal all at the age of 90 without being a member of the moral police. Bowers insists that his decision to out famous stars is an act of humanizing celebrities. And really, who cares if a celebrity was gay?

Tyrnauer is aware of this and includes a handful of objectors, including a hot debate of the book on the talk show The View in which Barbara Walters, Whoopi Goldberg, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck all dismiss Full Service as exploitative trash. Several characters in the film tell Bowers that it’s wrong to reveal personal information about people who are dead and cannot speak to the story themselves, especially since his relationship as a liaison between the stars and the hustlers was one of discretion. Of course, we see Bowers as someone cashing in on the secrets of the dead.

Far more problematic, however, is the way Bowers presents his own secrets. One uncomfortable scene features Bowers recalling the early days of his sexual prowess, which leads to an account of a sexual relationship with his adult neighbor, who pleasured him when he was only 11. Tyrnauer interjects and asks Bowers if he realizes that the act he describes is child abuse. Bowers refutes the notion that his neighbor’s actions were molestation. Tyrnauer revives the question in a later interview and asks if his profession might be the result of a latent trauma, but Bowers simply waves it off. He portrays the act as a beautiful experience. While convention cautions filmmakers and viewers to avoid judging their subjects, Bowers’ characterizations of his childhood leave one uneasy.

Tyrnauer finds strong material in the implications of Bowers’ bag of secrets as the documentary extends the conversation to the manufacturing of stars by the studios and how actors like Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, and Spencer Tracy compromised their personal lives for the escapist images we love.. Scotty’s personal history might have best been kept a secret, but one appreciates Tyrnauer’s ability to open the story up to Hollywood’s own checkered past.

The most striking thing about Scotty Bowers is that he is ordinary. He seems to be a harmless old guy in a messy house, checking his messages. But Scotty Bowers knows a lot. He was Hollywood’s “gentleman hustler,” but “he was never a pimp,” one of his employees insists. “He was a friend doing another friend a service.”