Tag Archives: Excerpt

A Look at the Night He Disappeared

It was a cold and foggy February night in 1983 when a group of armed thieves crept onto Ballymany Stud, near The Curragh in County Kildare, Ireland, to steal Shergar, one of the Thoroughbred industry’s most renowned stallions. Bred and raced by the Aga Khan IV and trained in England by Sir Michael Stoute, Shergar achieved international prominence in 1981 when he won the 202nd Epsom Derby by ten lengths—the longest winning margin in the race’s history. The thieves demanded a hefty ransom for the safe return of one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world, but the ransom was never paid and Shergar’s remains have never been found.

In Taking Shergar: Thoroughbred Racing’s Most Famous Cold Case, Milton C. Toby presents an engaging narrative that is as thrilling as any mystery novel. The book provides new analysis of the body of evidence related to the stallion’s disappearance, delves into the conspiracy theories that surround the inconclusive investigation, and presents a profile of the man who might be the last person able to help solve part of the mystery.

In honor of such a gripping tale, we have included an excerpt from Taking Shergar below, which tells of the beginning of the mystery that is the disappearance of one of the most beloved champions of horse racing.

The story broke early Wednesday morning.
Julian Lloyd, a livestock insurance underwriter for the John Marsh Syndicate at the time, was staying at the Keadeen Hotel in Newbridge. He had an 8:00 a.m. appointment that day to meet a veterinary surgeon from Sycamore Lodge Equine Hospital, a clinic located at The Curragh. The two were supposed to visit the Aga Khan’s Ballymany Stud, just a mile down the road and situated between the hotel and the racecourse, to talk about a possible increase in insurance premiums. The veterinarian arrived in a rush as Lloyd was walking out of the hotel.
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Shergar winning the Chester Vase by twelve lengths on May 5, 1981. (George Selwyn)

“We’re in good time, Joe,” Lloyd told his friend. “There’s no need to hurry.”

“Oh, no,” the vet said. “Shergar was taken in the night.”

“What?”

“He was taken.”
“You mean he’s dead, Joe?”

“No, you eejit, taken. Someone stole Shergar!”
“Oh my God!”
Lloyd tried to piece together the story of what happened to Shergar, but information was scarce and nothing he heard made any sense. The first reports were brief and confusing. An armed gang? Shergar missing? The stud groom kidnapped? Ransom? The Irish Republican Army?

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Shergar with jockey Walter Swinburn and lad Dickie McCabe before his 10-length victory in the Guardian Newspaper Classic Trial at Sandown Park on April 25, 1981. (Miralgo Publications Photo Archives/John Crofts photo)

Tuesday, February 8, one of the coldest days in Ireland that year, started like any other for James Fitzgerald. A quiet man in his fifties, Fitzgerald had worked for the Aga Khan’s family for his entire life, ever since 1945, when he was sixteen years old. Now he was the stud groom at Ballymany, a job his father had held before him, and one of the most valuable Thoroughbreds in the world was his responsibility. Fitzgerald took the job seriously, but never in his wildest dreams did he imagine being asked one day to put his life on the line for “his” horse.

Fitzgerald lived with his wife and children in a house a short walk from the four-stall stallion barn. The house was isolated, situated at the end of a narrow, tree-covered lane well off the road running between Newbridge and Kildare Town. Security at Ballymany consisted merely of a heavy wooden gate with a simple latch at the bottom of the lane. A sign for visitors read: “please close gate.
Around 8:40 in the evening, a man wearing a long coat and peaked cap, the way a Garda officer might dress on such a bitterly cold and rainy night, walked up to James Fitzgerald’s house and knocked on the front door. Fitzgerald, who had just returned from checking on Shergar one last time before turning in for the night, was upstairs and one of his sons, Bernard, went to the door. No one expected visitors at that time of night.
Hearing the knock at the door and then a commotion from the front of the house, Fitzgerald hurried downstairs. He found chaos, a scene that he could not immediately comprehend. Bernard lay pinned to the floor by a masked man and two other men in balaclavas were shouting, waving their hands, and pointing guns at his family.“We’ve come for Shergar,” one of the men said.
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A Summer Under the Stars

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Cool summer nights, on a blanket, under the stars – there’s no better setting to watch a classic film. Conversations with Classic Film Stars: Interviews from Hollywood’s Golden Era is out now, and it is sure to help you bring these big-time silver screen stars back to life. With rare interviews from big stars like Margaret Hamilton. If ever an actor was defined by a single role—and loved for it through the ages—it was Margaret Hamilton, whose cackling voice and sharp features are vivid memories to generations of movie fans who remember her as the Wicked Witch of the 1939 movie classic, The Wizard of Oz. Hamilton was a veteran of Broadway theater, radio, and television as well as the movies, where she specialized in character roles. She might even have been remembered, if for nothing else, as Cora from the Maxwell House coffee TV ads she did in the late 1970s.

Setting the Scene

Meeting Margaret Hamilton was a real thrill for an old Wizard of Oz fan. It happened in January 1972. Hamilton was busy stealing scenes from Jean Simmons in the road company of A Little Night Music in Toronto, and I arranged an interview with her between shows. When I walked into the lobby of the King Edward Hotel for lunch with her, I suppose I was expecting someone who cackled and had a broom waiting in her parking space. Instead, I was greeted by a beautifully coiffed matron in a Chanel suit. Not once was she recognized by the other diners as one of cinema’s best-ever villainesses.

The Interview

BAWDEN: Does it bother you that everywhere you go you’re—

HAMILTON: The Wicked Witch of the West? Well, I wouldn’t get any work at my Hamilton_Wicked Witchage if I didn’t have that great movie as my signature piece. I mean nobody asks me about Mountain Justice [1937], The Gay Vagabond [1941], or Breaking the Ice [1938]. Why would they? But to have one film that’s still seen more than thirty years later? Well, it’s astounding.

BAWDEN: I keep hearing you were not first choice for the role.

HAMILTON: Mervyn LeRoy, who produced it, asked me to come in and test in full makeup. I worked with the designers on what I thought was a particularly foul-looking costume. I just thought of Halloween. I suggested the pointed hat and I found an old broomstick in a corner. Then I read in the trades a week later Gale Sondergaard had waltzed in and wowed them with a particularly glamorous interpretation. And she even announced she’d gotten it. I just shrugged and kept on working on my character studies. Then I was at a football game with my little son and Mervyn spotted me and ran over and said, “We’ve been looking for you everywhere. You got it! Report Monday for costume and makeup tests.” He offered me six weeks at $1,000 a week, which was manna for me. It eventually stretched out to twenty-three weeks. I asked him what had happened to Gale and Mervyn said, “Too pretty. We needed somebody who could scare the pants off children.”

BAWDEN: But the making of that movie wasn’t your fondest experience, was it?

HAMILTON: Working on it almost killed me. Buddy Ebsen, who was the original Tin Man, was rushed to the hospital and replaced by Jack Haley. The cause was paint poisoning and he was there for an awfully long time.

Supporting actors were not well regarded in those days. In one scene, I had to drop six feet through a trapdoor with the colored smoke all around me, and it was a close-up so there was no double. I was told to bend my knees and I’d land simply, but suddenly I was in flames. Somebody had prematurely touched the fire button. I was on fire! My broomstick went right up! My hat was on fire! I had to be hospitalized for second-degree burns for a month. MGM grudgingly paid the bills, but my face was seared, I had third-degree burns on one hand. I was in agony. My agent said if I sued I’d never work in this town again.

When I returned, I was told I’d be suspended in the air with a long pipe emitting smoke below me. I said no and they said I was a sissy and brought in the stand-in and she saddled up and the whole gadget exploded. She was badly wounded and spent months in the hospital.

BAWDEN: But surely there must be happy moments?

HAMILTON: Well, working with Jack Haley, Bert Lahr, Ray Bolger was heavenly. They kidded Judy [Garland] like crazy to keep her perky. Those Munchkins were Margaret Hamilton-Mae Westsomething else—a bad lot, I say, but they were afraid of me and kept their distance.

Watching Judy Garland perform was lovely. She had such energy. I didn’t realize it was all the Benzedrine she was being force-fed. They worked Judy to the bone. Saturdays, too, right up to the dawn breaking on Sunday morning. You know Judy was only sixteen and she was about to graduate from Hollywood High and I helped her pick the dress, but she had to do a cross-promotional Oz tour and only got back the day before her last day at high school.

I had my lovely little son, Meserve, with me one day in the commissary and [MGM studio boss] Louis B. Mayer waddles over and offered him a kiddie contract. “Don’t you dare!” I shouted and he ran off. I’d seen, up front, the awful things Hollywood did to little children.

Take a stopwatch and you’ll see I’m only around for less than fifteen minutes. It took an awful lot of effort to get those fifteen minutes. I became the real star of it because children always love to be frightened nearly to death. And little tots still recognize me on the street today. They point at me and shiver and laugh. It’s quite a compliment to think I still look a bit like that. . . .

BAWDEN: Were there any of the big stars you truly enjoyed working with?

HAMILTON: Oh, Carole Lombard would be right at the top of any list. I have to explain the star pecking order in those days. The stars had huge dressing rooms—many were suites complete with kitchens and even bedrooms—and portable ones on location. They were insulated from the rest of us. We were ensconced in a holding pen. I’d read, study my lines. But interaction was rare. With Carole, she came over and sat with us. She would be taking the lay of the land. She’d get her makeup done right there. An all right dame. And her mastery of screwball comedy was supreme. She was so lithe with a comedy line even Freddie March had trouble keeping up. I ran the drugstore in Warsaw, Vermont, in that one.

Eddie Robinson was the same way in A Slight Case of Murder [1938]. A sheer delight, very erudite. Bespectacled between the scenes. On camera, a whirling dervish, very competitive.

The year I did Wizard of Oz I also had a part in Babes in Arms with Judy Garland. The way Busby Berkeley mistreated her was awful. And Judy’s mom let him get away with this abuse. I was the aunt of one of the kids, name of Martha Steele, whom I loved. Judy asked me to sit with her in her dressing room. That way the mom couldn’t have a temper tantrum. I smuggled her in cookies because she was kept on a starvation diet. I told Busby off once about his foul language. He couldn’t really direct people. He could only devise those geometric shapes.

Years later during Judy’s Carnegie Hall triumphs I went backstage and she didn’t recognize me or Ray Bolger. He was in tears, saying she was on something. I did a Merv Griffin Show with her and her speech was slurred. I realized the sweet little teenager I’d known was long gone. . .

BAWDEN: In My Little Chickadee [1940] you had to contend with W. C. Fields and Mae West. How did that go?Margaret Hamilton

HAMILTON: Bill Fields walked in the first day, reeking of liquor. He came over and apologized to me. Understand, I was in awe of his talents. I said, “Mr. Fields, on you it smells like eau de cologne,” and he brightened up. A very sweet egomaniac. Ditto Mae West, who looked like an overstuffed mannequin. She said to me, “Margaret, can I help it if every man on this set is crazy in love with me?” Well, the love was one-sided, I can tell you. She was forty-eight and needed special lighting to wash out her creases. And Bill was constantly changing lines and she’d protest to director Eddie Cline, who told me he now knew how a wrestling referee felt.

Everyone seems to have seen this one, but it was considered a disappointment when first released. Mr. Fields never used bad language, although he was sorely tried when Miss West was in one of her moods. She kept saying, “I’m a solo performer. Please tell Bill that next time you find him awake.” Like all comics he’d try out a bit of business and then spend days refining it. He simply tried to add to his performance and she to hers. Mae would say, “Bill! Enough!” and waddle away and he’d mope for the rest of the afternoon. Thinking of that scene where he gets into bed with a billy goat still makes me laugh. But Mae wanted it out as being unrefined. . . .

What I want to explain is how grateful I’ve been. I could have spent all these years teaching kindergarten. I used to go out to junior grades to say hello, and all the kids would ask me to cackle. Which I always did at full throttle, and the little nippers would be cowering in their seats. We even had a few moist accidents. I’ve played hundreds of characters and I’m still up for more. Preston Sturges called me a “miniaturist” and that’s pretty wonderful as far as I’m concerned.

Afterword

Margaret Hamilton acted until 1982, when she played guest roles on two CBS series—Nurse and Lou Grant. She died of a heart attack, aged eighty-two, in Salisbury, Connecticut, on May 16, 1985. Predictably, the obituaries’ headlines all mentioned The Wizard of Oz.

It’s Earth Day Eve!

In a world filled with technology and innovation, it is so easy to get swept up in the motion of life. Fortunately for the world, Earth Day comes around every April to remind us where we came from and the primitive nature that this world once began with. One woman has kept her roots (pun intended) in tact over the years, becoming one of the most successful and influential activists in the field of agriculture. Of course I’m talking about Vandana Shiva, whose groundbreaking research has exposed the destructive effects of monocultures and commercial agriculture and revealed the interrelationships among ecology, gender, and poverty.

To celebrate Earth Day this year and the importance of agriculture in our lives, we have prepared an excerpt from The Vandana Shiva Reader, which how Shiva’s profound understanding of both the perils and potential of our interconnected world calls upon citizens of all nations to renew their commitment to love and care for soil, seeds, and people:

In 1984, a number of tragic events took place in India. In June, the Golden Temple was attacked because it was harboring extremists. In October, Indira Gandhi was assassinated. And in December, a terrible industrial disaster took place in Bhopal when Union Carbine’s pesticide plant leaked a toxic gas. Thirty thousand people died in the terrorism in Punjab, and thirty thousand people have died in the “industrial terrorism” of Bhopal. This is equivalent to twelve 9/11s. I was forced to sit up and ask why agriculture had become like war. Why did the “Green Revolution,” which had received the Nobel Peace Prize, breed extremism and terrorism in Punjab? This questioning led to my books The Violence of the Green Revolution and Monocultures of the Mind. Blindness to diversity and self-organization in nature and society was clearly a basic problem in the mechanistic, Cartesian industrial paradigm. And this blindness led to false claims that industrial monocultures in forestry, farming, fisheries, and animal husbandry produced more food and were necessary to alleviate hunger and poverty. On the contrary, monocultures produce less and use more inputs, thus destroying the environment and impoverishing people.

In 1987, the Dag Hammarjold Foundation organized a meeting on biotechnology in Geneva called Laws of Life. I was invited because of my book on the Green Revolution. At the conference, the biotech industry laid out its plans—to patent life; to genetically engineer seeds, crops, and life-forms; and to get full freedom to trade through the GATT negotiations, which finally led to the WTO. This led to my focus on intellectual property rights, free trade, globalization—and to a life dedicated to saving seeds and promoting organic farming as an alternative to a world dictated and controlled by corporations.

Having dedicated my life to the defense of the intrinsic worth of all species, the idea of life-forms, seeds, and biodiversity being reduced to corporate inventions and hence corporate property was abhorrent to me. Further, if seeds become “intellectual property,” saving and sharing seeds become intellectual property theft. Our highest duty, to save seeds, becomes a criminal act. The legalizing of the criminal act of owning and monopolizing life through patents on seeds and plants was morally and ethically unacceptable to me. So I started Navdanya, a movement that promotes biodiversity conservation and seed saving and seed sharing among farmers. Navdanya has created more than twenty community “seed banks” through which seeds are saved and freely exchanged among our three hundred thousand members.

Through our saving of heritage seeds, we have brought back “forgotten foods” like jhangora (barnyard millet), ragi (finger millet), marsha (amaranth), naurangi dal, and gahat dal. Not only are these crops more nutritious than the globally traded commodities, but they are also more resource prudent, requiring only two hundred to three hundred millimeters of rain compared to the twenty-five hundred millimeters needed for chemical rice farming. Millets could increase food production four hundred fold using the same amount of limited water. These forgotten foods are the foods of the future. Farmers’ seeds are the seeds of the future.
In addition to The Vandana Shiva Reader, Shiva has just recently published two new books:

Stolen Harvest: The Hijacking of Global Food Supply – In this book, Shiva explores the devastating effects of commercial agriculture and genetic engineering on the food we eat, the farmers who grow it, and the soil that sustains it. This prescient critique and call to action covers some of the most pressing topics of this ongoing dialogue, from the destruction of local food cultures and the privatization of plant life, to unsustainable industrial fish farming and safety concerns about corporately engineered foods.

 

The Violence of the Green Revolution: Third World Agriculture, Ecology, and Politics – The Green Revolution has been heralded as a political and technological achievement—unprecedented in human history. Yet in the decades that have followed it, this supposedly nonviolent revolution has left lands ravaged by violence and ecological scarcity. A dedicated empiricist, Shiva takes a magnifying glass to the effects of the Green Revolution in India, examining the devastating effects of monoculture and commercial agriculture and revealing the nuanced relationship between ecological destruction and poverty. In this classic work, the influential activist and scholar also looks to the future as she examines new developments in gene technology.

For more information on The Vandana Shiva Reader, click here!

 

The Radical Courage of Silent Movie Stuntwomen

We’ve been doing backflips this week for “Put The Girl in Danger!,” an excerpt from Mollie Gregory’s new book, Stuntwomen: The Untold Hollywood Story, that was published in the New Republic.

Read the preview below, then click over for the full excerpt.

Put The Girl in Danger!

10310641_10152652334666536_8793256011020349697_n Helen Gibson’s strong, handsome face and dark hair gave her the look of someone who would try anything. In 1915, while in her early twenties, she was doubling for the star of the hit serial The Hazards of Helen. In one stunt she was supposed to leap from the roof of the station to the top of a moving train. Years later, she called it her most dangerous stunt. “The distance between the station and the train was accurately measured,” she said, and she had practiced the jump several times while the train was standing still. But for the shot, the train would be picking up speed for about a quarter of a mile. “I was not nervous as it approached and I leaped without hesitation,” she recalled. She landed safely, but the rocking motion of the train rolled her straight toward the end of the car. Just before being pitched off, “I caught hold of an air vent and hung on.” Then, with a sense of the dramatic, Gibson let her body “dangle over the edge to increase the effect on the screen.” She brought the same strength and flair to scores of other action scenes.

Coming Spring 2015: MELLENCAMP: AMERICAN TROUBADOUR by David Masciotra

It’s Friday everybody! We’ve been working hard here at the press on our upcoming books and we just couldn’t wait to share one of them with you!

Mellencamp_final.inddThis post features one of our new favorites, Mellencamp: American Troubadour by David Masciotra. This book gives you an insider’s perspective on the life and music career of John Mellencamp and his path to fame. This book is an absolute must-read for music enthusiasts who are interested in the development of roots rock and Americana music.

We’ve including an excerpt here at the bottom for you to check out and tell us your thoughts. Don’t forget to check out the rest of our music related posts we’ve been doing all week, and we’ll see you back here tomorrow.

You can order the book here. Have a great weekend!

Introduction: No Pop Singer

From the American heartland came a voice as strong and restless as a tornadic
wind blowing up dust devils on a wide open prairie. In the beginning
that voice was given the unfortunate moniker of Johnny Cougar, and
its possessor would spend nearly a decade, from the late 1970s to the late
1980s, fighting to define himself as a man and as an artist, crawling out
of the shadow of his record company’s limited vision for his talent. His
manager and record company—Tony DeFries of MainMan Management,
which had a close relationship with MCA Records—found a brash, handsome,
and hungry young man from Indiana and offered him a record
contract because they liked his demo, but first and foremost because they
liked the way he looked. They envisioned a pop star brat who would make
girls swoon with his James Dean swagger and cause radios to light up
with the sonic styling of another Neil Diamond. When the record company
executives told the young man their plans and punctuated it with the
demand that he change his performance name from John Mellencamp,
his birth name, to Johnny Cougar, he protested. “No one’s ever called me
Johnny in my life,” he said before addressing the humiliation of a tag like
“Cougar.” The conversation ended abruptly when an executive brought his gavel down on the table: “You can be Johnny Cougar or you can go back to
Indiana and do whatever it was you were doing there.” What Mellencamp
was doing was making minimum wage working for the phone company in
his hometown of Seymour, Indiana. He’d come to New York City to get a
record contract and, in the spirit and tradition of the explorer, adventurer,
and artist, he was determined to meet the challenge of the task—a challenge
that ends with many people forced, without ceremony or even farewell,
to return to their hometowns to do whatever it was they were doing
there. Mellencamp signed the deal, and Johnny Cougar was born.
Fourteen years later, in 1989, after selling millions of albums and scoring
several top ten hits as both John Cougar (Johnny became John by the
early 1980s) and John Cougar Mellencamp (his surname first appeared
on a record in 1983), Mellencamp released a single called “Pop Singer.”
The song is a stimulative and hypnotic blend of funk and folk—the funk
foaming from a Sly Stone bass line and a Stax sisterhood of backup vocalists,
and the folk fomenting from the fiddle, imported from Ireland, and a
beach accordion. Mellencamp’s voice—car wheels on a gravel road of confidence—
begins a biography and commences a confession:
Never wanted to be no pop singer
Never wanted to write no pop songs.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Just wanted to make it real
Good, bad, or indifferent
That’s the way that I live and the way that I’ll die, as a
Pop singer

Wah Wah Jones (1926 – 2014)

Wah Wah JonesWallace “Wah Wah” Jones, the last surviving member of the University of Kentucky “Fabulous Five” basketball team, died this past weekend at the age of 88.

The UK legend, and only athlete in the school’s history to have had his jersey retired in both basketball and football, played under both coaches Adolph Rupp and Bear Bryant while in school. Besides winning an NCAA basketball championship in 1948 and 1949, Jones also won a gold medal in basketball for the U.S. at the 1948 London Olympics.

In tribute to this unforgettable player, we’re sharing an excerpt from the forthcoming book, Wildcat Memories by Doug Brunk; Wah Wah’s chapter may be the last interview he ever gave. Already cemented in the storied history of UK athletics, the Harlan native shared his remembrances and passion for his teams.

from Wildcat Memories: Inside Stories of Kentucky Basketball Greats by Doug Brunk:

I had dreamed about playing basketball at the University of Kentucky for many, many years. When I was growing up in Harlan in the 1940s, our family didn’t have a television set. We had a radio, but the reception on that was not reliable. Sometimes we’d get reception in the attic of our house, but often we’d pile in the car and drive into the nearby mountains to listen to UK basketball games on the car radio.

I was lucky to have been part of a winning basketball program at Harlan High School. Our team went to the state tournament four years in a row (1942 to 1945), and in 1944 our team won the state championship title. At the end of my high school career I had scored 2,398 points, which at the time was the highest total by a single high school player in the United States.

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Splendor in the Hollywood Hills

Tomorrow marks what would have been actress Natalie Wood’s 75th birthday. Beloved and celebrated for her roles in films such as Miracle on 34th Street, Splendor in the Grass, West Side Story, and Rebel Without a Cause, her life was cut tragically short at age 43 during a boating incident that remains a mystery to this day.

Natalie’s long-time friend, writer-director-producer Tom Mankiewicz, wrote a touching tribute in his autobiography My Life as a Mankiewicz: An Insider’s Journey Through Hollywood. Remembered by Mankiewicz as “fiercely loyal to her friends,” his memoir tells stories from happier times, like parties on New Year’s Eve, her love of Mel Brooks’ 2000 Year Old Man, and finding her lost dog, Cricket, in Bel Air.

Life Magazine has released a series of never-before-published photos of the star, a few of which you can see below. You can also read an excerpt on Natalie Wood from My Life as a Mankiewicz after the jump.

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