Sunday, November 22, 2020


I think I was about nine when I visited a newspaper office for the first time. It was the editorial department of the Wapakoneta Daily News, my hometown paper. I can’t recall the occasion, but I clearly remember the scene—a small office bay crammed with standard desks. It was an off-hour when one shift was over and the new one had not yet begun. The desk-tops were littered with notes and typed sheets as well as paper cups stained with black coffee, some still half-full, the coffee gone cold and oily. There were ashtrays jammed with butts on some desks. Utilitarian manual typewriters were the centerpieces of each work post, some with pages still in the roll. Windows at the back let in slats of light through Venetian blinds, and the stagnant coffee and stale tobacco combined with the all-pervasive and pungent smell of printer’s ink to create what was, for me, a fragrance more delightful than that of any fine Parisian parfum. It was instinctive. A very clear thought that this was where I wanted to be.

On assignment with Argentina's Coast Guard, 1987

Even before I started delivering newspapers when I was twelve, I had been reading them for several years—the WDN and the Sunday edition of The Lima News, published in the nearby industrial city of Lima, Ohio. I was also delighted when our teachers introduced the Weekly Reader into our school curriculum as a current events aid to our social studies courses. This was a news magazine for children in glossy newspaper-like format—an Ohio invention, as it turns out—designed to open a window to the world for kids through compelling stories developed for a variety of age groups.

I eventually would read the papers that I delivered—first the Dayton Journal Herald, and later, The Lima News. On Sundays I was treated to the weekend editions of some of Midwestern America’s most traditional dailies—The Toledo Blade (for which, as fate would have it, I would write op-eds about South America for a couple of years in the 1980s), The Columbus Dispatch, and the Chicago Tribune among others—as a member of a motley crew of newsboys working for Russell McLean, who owned Wapakoneta’s only newsstand (which, because of its unique nature in town, was called just that, The Newsstand). I would read a few pages while stuffing supplements in the backroom of The Newsstand before starting my Sunday route, and finish my perusal of this paper or that sitting on the porch steps of one or another of my customers’ houses, when I knew the family to be away at church.

My interest was piqued still further by the fact that, from the time I was nine until I was twelve, we lived on the west end of Wapakoneta’s main drag, Auglaize Street, and our big old turn-of-the-century house in the seven hundred block was cattycorner across from another large house from about the same period, half of which was rented by the then-managing editor of the Wapakoneta Daily News, Mr. Summers. His daughter Mitzy was friends with my sister Darla, so if I accompanied Darla across the street to see her friend, I might see Mr. Summers coming or going (he always seemed to be working). But although I wanted to be able to corner him and ask him what it was like to earn a living writing and reporting, I was too shy to ask—a problem I would have to overcome even as an adult when I actually got my first job in big-city journalism. And Mr. Summers was, himself, a quiet, rather taciturn man who limited his response to a perfunctory greeting whenever I waved and said, “Hi, Mister Summers!” Plus the fact that Mitzy mostly came over to our house rather than the other way around.

Despite my shyness, it wouldn’t have been above me to make friends with older people. Already from a very young age, I had gathered a collection of friends from my grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ era, like a septuagenarian couple called John and Pearl who had moved to town but still lived a country lifestyle in their little house across from the place where we had lived before moving to West Auglaize Street, or an elderly retired justice of the peace whom everyone knew as Judge Kent, or another lady in that neighborhood whose name was Bonnie, and who, so I thought, was as beautiful as movie actress Loretta Young and just as distinguished. They were all adults with whom I could while away hours asking endless questions and listening to their anecdotes of other times, since I was always a sucker for a good story, which made me a natural for writing and reporting.

But when, delighted by her drawling Southern accent, I once got “talky” with Mrs. Summers on the phone when she called to talk to my mother about something and I thought maybe that would give me an in with the editor, she later asked my sister who the yackety person was whom she’d gotten on the phone when she called.

“My little brother Danny,” Darla told her.

“Brother?” she said to my sister. “Huh, he sounds like a little girl with mush in her mouth!”

So scratch that contact. However, I did end up inheriting a typewriter from Mr. Summers. What the circumstances were, I have no idea, but my mother, Reba Mae, who was a really deft typist and perhaps wanted to practice so as not to lose her skill, bought a used Smith Corona portable that Mr. Summers was selling for five dollars, and I almost immediately commandeered it to write stories on. I was still using that bulky “portable” typewriter in high school and my first and only year at Ohio State before I joined the Army and, only after Basic Combat Training, bought myself a more modern Olivetti because I needed a much more portable-portable to drag around the States and Europe with me.

From the outset, I was a news junky. From that tender age, when we lived on Auglaize Street, I was already hooked not only on papers and magazines but also on TV news. My two TV news heroes of those times were Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite, both of CBS Television. Although most of us never knew it, my two idols—and those of just about every other would-be newsman—were also bitter rivals for most of their lives.

Murrow already had a reputation as the unofficial “dean of American newsmen” by the time he reached television due to his high profile as a war correspondent during World War II. His first glimpse at fame was largely a fluke since until the outbreak of war, he was not on-air personnel. His job at the time was to develop contacts for the CBS Radio news division that was trying to expand its influence in competition with NBC. He had been doing this job since 1937, when, in March of 1938, Adolf Hitler led Nazi Germany’s annexation of his native Austria.

Edward R. Murrow during World War II
Murrow had by that time hired a reporter, William Shirer, who would be the first of a group of newsmen dubbed “the Murrow Boys” to develop CBS coverage in Europe. Shirer was in Austria but the Nazis were censoring any information being reported through state radio facilities, so Murrow sent him to London where he was able to report on what he had seen. Shirer also received news from other reporters in Austria and read their stories over the airwaves from London in an innovative pool type operation.

In the meantime, Murrow chartered a plane on CBS’s dime and traveled from Warsaw, where he had been working, to Vienna and there found a way using short-wave technology to make a live broadcast. In a style that was novel for its day and immediately popular, Murrow’s first lines from Vienna were: “It’s now nearly two-thirty in the morning, and Herr Hitler has not yet arrived.”

From that point on, and based in London, Murrow, Shirer and the rest of the Murrow Boys newsmen would provide some of the most dramatic coverage of the major events of World War II. Murrow would begin his broadcasts with, “ London...” and ended them with what was to become his signature sign-off, “Good night, and good luck,” something Londoners often said to each other in the days of Hitler’s blitzkrieg on that city, since with constant bombings they never knew if they would see each other again once they parted.

Pulitzer Prize-winner Marguerite Higgins
As an aside, let me just say that I use the term “newsman” advisedly. Like in just about every other field, women would have to strive harder than any man before them to make their mark in hard-news journalism. In TV news, they would have to wait decades for professionals like Susan Stamberg, Jessica Savitch, Barbara Walters, Leslie Stahl and Katie Couric to smash through the glass ceiling of what was basically a boys’ club up until then. And while women war correspondents like Pulitzer laureate Marguerite Higgins—who reported authoritatively on World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam—or Martha Gellhorn rank among some of the most courageous, professional and incisive of writers on twentieth-century wars, one is hard-put to find a list of Greatest American War Correspondents that includes them. Indeed, Gellhorn is much better known for her tempestuous five-year marriage to novelist Ernest Hemingway than for having covered virtually every major world conflict that took place during her sixty-year writing career. Hemingway, meanwhile, had no problem creating a veritable legend around his stints as a correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, or during World War II, which, by all accounts, Gellhorn shamed him into covering.

But when I was fantasizing about my future as a writer growing up, those who reached national stardom were indeed “newsmen” and while “journalist” would have been a far more politically correct and inclusive a term, those who ran the show still clung to Mark Twain’s alleged dictum that “a journalist is a newspaperman who’s out of work.”

Veteran war correspondent Martha Gellhorn

Walter Cronkite also first made his name as a World War II correspondent. Not, however, in broadcast journalism. He was a writer—a fact that shone through when he later wrote the scripts for his documentary programs, You Are There and The Twentieth Century. Throughout the war he was a correspondent for United Press International (UPI). And it was during this time that he and Murrow had their falling out.

It seems that Murrow had become aware of Cronkite’s extraordinary skill as a reporter and craft as a writer and decided to try and recruit him for the Murrow Boys. He offered Cronkite considerably more money than he was earning at UPI and, at first, the reporter agreed to join the CBS team. But the UPI management wasn’t willing to give up a reporter of Cronkite’s talent and stature without a fight. They offered him a raise, not equivalent to the CBS offer but apparently the best that a news agency could do, and Cronkite, a writer at heart, backed out of the deal with Murrow and decided to stay at United Press. Murrow never forgave him for it. Even less so when, after the war, Cronkite finally came into the CBS fold and became Murrow’s rival for the top billing among the network’s viewers. Their clashes are legendary among broadcast historians.

Nevertheless, both men had similar reputations and styles—paragons of truth, ethics and right-mindedness. Although I was quite young, I remember watching Murrow’s deadpan yet drama-charged editorials and his grave delivery. It was radio-turned-television, austere, honest, bereft of props. Unfortunately, by the time I was old enough to understand the issues he talked about, Murrow’s See It Now show was already suffering from slipping ratings as TV turned to entertainment over information in the post-war years and a quiz show called The Sixty-Four Thousand  Dollar Question started knocking his prime time slot for a loop.

Murrow in the fifties.

But I never missed documentary re-runs of his best reporting and found him the quintessential newsman. As soon as I was old enough to understand the phenomenon of McCarthyism, I gained even greater respect for Murrow, since, at a time when everyone in the media was terrified of being touched by the “red scare” and being branded a “communist” by the then-all-powerful Un-American Activities Committee, Murrow did what was right and systematically opposed political and ideological persecution as being against everything that the United States stood for.

Although many brave people took a stand against Senator Joseph McCarthy and his political witch-hunt that ruined the lives of so many Americans, and particularly of those in the arts, no one did it more effectively than Edward R. Murrow. He hammered away at the topic and at McCarthy until he was able to swing the tide of American sentiment from an unreasonable degree of fear of a “communist takeover” toward an even greater and entirely logical fear of the loss of civil liberties in the face of Orwellian state intervention in people’s right to freedom of conscience and expression. Murrow saw it for what it was—a modern-day version of the Salem witch trials. And he had the moral authority to take McCarthy down.

When I was about ten, Murrow resigned from CBS. I didn’t know it then, but President Kennedy offered him a job that he considered “a timely gift”. This was in January of 1961, as soon as JFK took office and the post was as the head of the United States Information Agency (USIA), which would later be renamed the United States Information Service (USIS). Kennedy had first offered the job to the president of CBS, Frank Stanton. Stanton turned it down and suggested the president offer the post to Murrow. In the Cold War era, it was a smart suggestion and a smart move to have a tried and tested newsman at the head of the agency instead of a corporate executive, and may well have been the difference between having a government news agency that was really about news gathering and having one that was merely an American version of the Soviet Union’s Tass, which at the time served merely as a propaganda mill.

The USIA had gotten a bad reputation during the McCarthy era of persecution and false patriotism, and Murrow was seen as a breath of fresh air to get it back on track. To show that he knew why he was there, one of the first things he did was to re-hire veteran journalist and writer Reed Harris, who had been sacked during the McCarthyite purges.  His passage through the USIA was clearly transformational and long-lasting. His “regal” reputation in the world of journalism additionally gave the agency a higher profile and garnered it more government funding for improved coverage.

But Murrow’s stay was short-lived if durably influential. A chain-smoker who had averaged three packs a day throughout his career, he was already suffering the symptoms of lung cancer, and although Lyndon Johnson asked him to stay on at the agency following JFK’s assassination, he was already too ill to continue, resigning in 1964 and dying in 1965, two days after his fifty-seventh birthday.

I had the good fortune to work on several occasions as a special correspondent for the now-defunct USIS in the late nineteen-eighties and early nineties. The influence of Murrow and other news professionals who followed him was still in evidence. When I was first approached about an assignment, it was by Andrew Lluberes, who accumulated a four-decade long career in state communications under presidents from Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. But despite his long government service, Andrew was more newsman than bureaucrat and it showed in his treatment of the reporters who worked for him.

Lluberes said that I had come highly recommended by a former boss, the award-winning journalist and editor, Robert Cox. He understood that I’d left my post as managing editor of the Buenos Aires Herald and was now free-lancing. Would I be interested in doing some work in South America for the USIS? I told him that I appreciated the call but that I didn’t do government work. A guy who was nothing if not straight-forward—he began the conversation by asking if Cox “had taught me to drink”, to which I answered that, after three years in the Army, I had come to Cox with an already well-developed elbow—Lluberes asked me why the hell not? 

“Because I’m a newsman, not a government agent,” I said.

“Dan,” he said, “take my word for it. It’s just like working for any other news agency.”

I was dubious. “You mean, if I write a story that might put the country or the administration in a bad light, you guys won’t censor it?”

“As long as you’ve got your facts straight and are doing the assignment we sent you to do, your story will stand. We don’t do censorship,” he said.

The per diem rate that the agency paid was better than any private media firm had ever offered me for free-lance reporting, so I decided to believe him. It was good money. Mostly it was very straightforward reporting: a press conference by some US dignitary in Buenos Aires, an inter-American drug-enforcement conference in Montevideo hosted by the president of Uruguay, and so on. It was only on my last assignment for the USIS that I got to test what Lluberes had told me. At an international conference of defense ministers, held in 1994 at a luxury hotel, just across the lake from the home I had just moved into in Patagonia, I asked US Defense Secretary William Perry about news that had recently broken regarding a chapter on torture—and how to perform it—that was included in a training manual at the country’s military School of the Americas. This facility was already known in South America as “dictator school” since many of the leaders of coups in the region had, at one time or another, trained there.

Perry was taken by surprise, especially since the question came from a conference-accredited USIS correspondent. He said that he had only recently heard reports about this and that the matter was being investigated. (Subsequently, both the manual and the training program were revamped under the Clinton administration). I wrote a terse, facts-only news story, quoting Perry and detailing the nature of the controversy, and submitted it, figuring that it would never go on the wire. I was wrong. Just as Lluberes had promised, the story ran. And the only reason that it was my last reporting assignment for the agency was because Lluberes was tapped to run its radio operations at Voice of America, and no longer was assignment editor for the print division.

Walter Cronkite as UPI war reporter
Unlike Murrow, who, for my generation, was a legend from the past, Walter Cronkite was a household word, and a guest in our home throughout my childhood and youth. After his stint at UPI as one of America’s top reporters on World War II, Cronkite had all the credentials he needed to land a major post at CBS. He had made a name during the war by delivering some of the most trenchant copy available on Operation Torch on the Northern Africa front. He was one of only eight war correspondents chosen to fly on bombing raids over Germany with the US Army Air Corps. He boarded a glider to land with the 101st Airborne during Operation Market Garden launched in The Netherlands and also covered the history-making Battle of the Bulge. Following the war, he continued working for UPI, first covering the Nuremberg Trials of Nazi war criminals and later serving as the agency’s bureau chief in Moscow.

His career at CBS began in 1950, when he took a job reporting for the network’s affiliate TV station in Washington DC. From 1951 to 1961, he anchored a fifteen-minute Sunday night newscast that followed the wildly popular quiz show, What’s My Line, hosted by John Charles Daly.

But already in 1952, his face and voice were connected with major US events. He anchored coverage of the 1952 presidential election for CBS. And he handled election coverage for the network for the next decade. In the 1964 elections, CBS decided to try some new faces and handed coverage over to a team formed by Roger Mudd and Robert Trout, but ratings proved it to be an error of judgment. People trusted Cronkite and he was once again the iconic face of CBS coverage for many elections to come.

I vaguely recall—just flashes of scratchy black and white images—some episodes of Cronkite’s You Are There, which ran until 1957, when I turned eight. And I remember how at the end, he would always say, “What sort of day was it? A day like all days, filled with those events that alter and illuminate our times ... and you were there.” But that’s about it. What I recall much better was his Sunday evening program called The Twentieth Century. It was an historical series made up almost entirely of documentary film footage with Cronkite scripting and narrating the stories. It was a hit for nearly a decade, and I tried never to miss it, unless it meant fighting Whitie for control of the TV because he was watching some sporting event. If Jim Brown was Whitie’s favorite quarterback, Cronkite was mine, but the TV belonged to the ol’ man.

Over the years from the fifties to the eighties, it was Cronkite’s voice that announced major historical events to a majority of Americans. He anchored the first trans-Atlantic broadcast that hosted a collage of video images from the US and countries throughout Europe. He reported on the first manned flights to outer space from Cape Canaveral Florida. We Ohioans listened to him to know how our state’s native son John Glenn had faired when he became the first astronaut to orbit Earth. And we Wapakonetans were glued to the TV screen as Cronkite covered our hometown boy Neil Armstrong’s first step on the surface of the moon.

Cronkite announces JFK's death
When President Kennedy was assassinated, it was Walter Cronkite who told us that he had been shot in Dallas, and he too who broke the news that Texas Governor John Connally had also been wounded. And when the president was pronounced dead, it was Cronkite who, in his clear, authoritative voice broke the news, before stopping, swallowing hard, wiping his eyes and only then putting his glasses back on and continuing with his ever-detailed and professional reporting. It was in his clear and distinctive voice too that we learned that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had also been felled by assassins’ bullets. He added nothing new to the extraordinary reporting in Washington Post and New York Times coverage of the Watergate scandal that led to President Nixon’s resignation, but Cronkite pulled all of the reports together, boiled them down and made sense of them for Americans who depended on prime time news for their understanding of current events. But perhaps the hardest truth ever for the US also came from Walter Cronkite’s lips, when, after traveling to Vietnam himself and finding a very different story there than the one the government was trying to sell us, he returned home and told Americans on nationwide television that the war was unwinnable and that perhaps it was time to bring American boys home.

Cronkite reporting from Vietnam
I had a local hero as well, Don Wayne of Dayton’s WHIO TV. WHIO was owned by the Cox media empire, begun by James M. Cox, owner of the Dayton Daily News and WHIO Radio, who governed Ohio in the early part of the twentieth century. Cox also famously ran for president in 1920 with Franklin D. Roosevelt as his vice-presidential running mate. He lost to fellow newspaperman and Ohioan Warren G. Harding of Marion.

Wayne was a former dance band drummer who had later become a WHIO Radio personality. When James Cox Jr. (son of the former Ohio governor) first opened WHIO TV in 1949, his news team was headed up by an anchor who insisted on reading the news with a pipe in his mouth, thinking, perhaps, that, like Murrow’s ever-present Camel cigarette, this prop was his trademark. The management told him that viewers were having trouble understanding him and that he would have to lose the pipe during newscasts. The anchor refused and Cox fired him and his team. Don Wayne’s increasingly popular radio personality made him a shoo-in.

So at the turn of the decade, Wayne found himself being the “entire team” at WHIO TV News, Dayton. And he would continue to be the sole representative of the TV station’s news department for nearly a decade. Like all newsmen of old, Wayne wasn’t a “news reader” but a jack of all news trades, reporting, writing and delivering the news to his audience.

Don Wayne on WHIO Radio
As it turned out, he was a natural, and quickly became a newsman that locals trusted. He was, furthermore, a TV pioneer in Ohio since, when he took over the news anchor’s spot at WHIO, there were hardly more than four thousand TV sets in the Dayton area and surrounding counties. Fortunately, in TV culture, Whitie, my dad, was also a pioneer and had one of the first sets in town. I never remember a time when we didn’t have TV news, since I was born the same year that WHIO began transmitting, and Whitie already had a television set by then.

Cheryl McHenry, who would years later be part of the WHIO news team—by then well-established under Wayne’s leadership—once said that Don Wayne’s voice was “equal to Cronkite’s” in the minds of local viewers. “Just the way he carried himself, there was something very reassuring while being very credible,” McHenry said. “He asked questions when he felt something wasn’t clear and he wanted to make sure his delivery was clear.” Wayne’s pioneering honesty and straight-forward delivery helped mold WHIO’s news team into one of the most respected in the state and the region.

I remember when I was about ten or eleven my father coming home from work at the Teddy Bear restaurant that he and two of his brothers owned and saying, “You’ll never guess who came in for lunch today. Don Wayne!”

We couldn’t have been more surprised if he had said Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne. It was as if he had served lunch to royalty, and I was upset that I hadn’t been there to witness it and was only getting the story second-hand.

Wayne was WHIO’s news department until 1958, when the station started building a full news team. Wayne was first accompanied by Chuck Upthegrove, with whom he covered not only local stories but also traveled to Europe and Vietnam on special assignments. Upthegrove became another veteran of the WHIO team, remaining at the station for thirty-eight years.

Don Wayne (left) hosting a visit from Cronkite

For two years, Don Wayne was accompanied on the WHIO news desk by Phil Donahue, who would later go on to boast a long career as one of network television’s most popular daytime TV talk show hosts. Wayne retired in 1988 after nearly forty years as the face and voice of WHIO News.

Over the long years of my own career as a journalist and writer, in which I’ve had the honor of writing for some major US and British publications and reporting for national network radios in both countries as well, the lessons that these and other great newspeople have shared by their example have helped me to forge my own code of ethics and my own democratic principles. They’ve imbued me with an insistence on putting facts before “beliefs” and the story as it is above the story as I might rather it would be. Thanks to them, and to other great journalists that I’ve met along the way, doing the right thing as a news professional has never been hard. You either do what’s right in describing current events to your readership or audience, or you find something else to do with your life.

In a broadcast that was to prove the death knell for the McCarthy era, Edward R. Murrow left Americans with this thought:

 “We can deny our heritage and our history, but we cannot escape responsibility for the result. There is no way for a citizen of a republic to abdicate his responsibilities. As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom, wherever it continues to exist in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.”

That was his credo, and as a journalist and writer, I’ve always made it my own.

Never has that been truer than it is today. 


Saturday, November 14, 2020


Today is my little brother’s birthday. I’ve always called him that, my little brother. It isn’t just because he was my kid brother—I’m almost five years older—but also because I was always big and he was always small.

Jim in his forties
He would have been sixty-six today. I distinctly remember the day Whitie and Reba Mae brought him home from the hospital. I’d had to stay overnight at my grandparents’ house half a block up the street and wasn’t particularly happy about it. But I was really excited when they got back the next evening because Grandma Alice had told me that they’d be bringing me a new baby brother when they came. Why they’d had to go to the hospital to get him, I had no idea. Mysteries of the adult world.

It was already dark out and seemed like the dead of night to me since my bed-time was about nine, but it must only have been around six when they arrived. My sister Darla and I weren’t allowed to “fuss over him” right away. A quick look and Reba Mae whisked him into the other room to change and nurse him and then let the little guy rest. We could see him later.

Arthur Godfrey’s prime time TV show kept us entertained later into the evening. But as bed-time drew near, even with the special reprieve Darla and I got, I wasn’t at all sure I was going to get a good look at my new baby brother before I had to turn in. Finally, however, once the excitement had died down, my mother took me to have a look at him where he slept in his crib—which had been my crib and Darla’s crib before him. He was tiny, still a little purplish, and a bit grumpy-looking.  He had a noteworthy crop of dark-red hair. Reba Mae let me touch it. I petted his head and the hair was silky and his soft-spot was warm and tender to the touch. I had a feeling of seeing something almost holy.

The first thing we did was rob him of his first name before he was even old enough to protest. Whitie had wanted to call him Rusty because of the color of his hair. Luckily, Reba Mae nixed that, since it wasn’t long before that red baby fuzz changed to his real hair, which was almost as blond as Whitie’s. Compensation enough for Whitie—a boy hewn in his image after the first one turned out to be a dud.

Darla Hood

But Reba Mae’s naming skills were never anything to write home about either. Darla got the best of the lot since at least it was a fairly unique name. But she was named, not after some famous heroine—say feminist flying ace Amelia Earhart, or pioneering women’s rights advocate and early abolitionist Lucretia Mott. No, Reba Mae named her after Darla Hood, the pretty little girl that all the boys were crazy about in the Our Gang movies—better known to our generation as “The Little Rascals”.  

Me, I was named after a sappy Irish song, Oh Danny Boy, so that I would ever after have to explain, for any legal purposes, why I was a Danny and not a Daniel. To say nothing of the fact that with my middle name, Norman (after Whitie), and last name, Newland the whole mess had a distinctively mocking nah-nah-nah-nah-nah sound to it when you said it aloud. Danny might have been cute for a little kid, but didn’t she realize I might grow up some day?

So applying these same discerning criteria, she decided that my little brother would be called Dennis James, the name that was unabashedly engraved on his birth certificate. This was in honor of a game show host and sports announcer, who, on the Arthur Godfrey show, a favorite of hers as well, was also the announcer for one of the show’s sponsors, Old Gold cigarettes. She seemed to think Dennis James was the king of cool, so that was my new little brother’s name.

Show host Dennis James
But nobody stopped to think that the poor little guy probably wouldn’t be addressed formally all the time as Dennis James, and by the time he came home for the very first time, Whitie was already referring to him as Little Denny. And, oh crap!  Wait! Denny-Danny-Danny-Denny, the two names were almost identical (especially if the person saying them was from Cleveland)! Who knew? Too late to start calling me something else, and they couldn’t just refer to me as “Hey You”, so something had to give, and “Little Denny” suddenly became “Little Jimmy”. It wasn’t until he started going to school that he became Dennis again—for everybody but the family who would call him Jim for the rest of his life.

Turns out it wouldn’t have been all that necessary after all, since after ruining his name for him, when I was in about sixth grade and he was in first, I decided I wanted to be addressed as Dan. From then on, only the most stubborn of classmates and family members kept on referring to me by my given name.

Although in just about everything else I had a reputation for eccentricity, when it came to Jim, I was, unfortunately, pretty much the typical big brother. I made fun of him, kidded him, played tricks on him and even occasionally beat up on him. It was so much “fun”, because he was such an irascible, flighty, extreme little kid that it was easy to send him into an insane tantrum of screaming and head-banging and all manner of craziness, to our mother’s ever-lasting exasperation.

Darla, Dennis and Danny

But feisty little guy that he was, he never took these things lying down. He had a memory like an elephant and would find a way to get even. Like the time I’d been teasing him all morning, only to eventually get bored and leave him alone. Then, as he sat quietly by himself on the living room rug, drawing pictures and humming, I walked past and, zap! He sank a well-sharpened pencil into my thigh halfway up to the eraser and took off running.  Or another time when I thought all was forgotten, and when I walked past, he hurled one of Whitie’s glass ashtrays and nailed me in the back of the head with it.

Many years later when we were laughing about some of these squabbles, he reminded me of times when he would take vengeance and then I would chase him to try and get him back and he would almost always manage to lock himself in the bathroom, since I was way too slow to catch him. He said, “I’d be in there scared to death while you were yelling and banging on the other side of the door, and I’d be thinking, ‘Man, I sure hope this lock can hold that big moose back!’” We were in our thirties at the time and he said it like a joke, but it was the first time I realized he’d actually been scared, really, genuinely scared of me back then.

We were sitting at his kitchen table having a beer when he said it and I stood up and went over and hugged him tight against my belly where he sat, because it broke my heart. He said, “Christ, Big Guy! Lighten the fuck up! We were just kids doin’ what kids do.” I wasn’t convinced and I still die a little inside every time I think of that tiny kid cowering and scared of his big brother.

And he was little. Darla once said, “In grade school, I think Jim weighed thirty-five pounds for, like, four years!” Hyperbole aside, he remained little until about junior high, when he suddenly sprouted. By the time he graduated high school, and after several years of running cross-country in track and field, he was average height, well formed, highly coordinated and fast enough on his feet that he could have made a helluva junior welterweight. But although he never backed down from anybody, he was definitely a lover at heart, not a fighter.

I didn’t just torment him as kids, though. We also played together, a couple of super-heroes joining forces against invisible enemies. Coal miners trapped in a shaft and looking for a way out, when rainy days limited our scenario to under the table with a blanket thrown over it on the screened-in back porch. A sheriff and his deputy on our palomino and buckskin stick-horses. Two detectives on the case to find a client’s missing daughter. And when we played with the other kids in the neighborhood—inevitably some variation of war—Jim and I were always on the same side and finding a way to make sure we were the winners and the ones who “saved the day.”

I also helped him fight some of his battles. It wasn’t that he was a wimp. On the contrary, in a fair fight, he was more than game. But he was just so little that he seemed to always be out-gunned.

What he lacked in size, however, he made up for in his sense of vengeance and justice. Like, if I ever picked a fight with one of his older enemies, it was my own doing, because if he knew about it, he wanted to be in on it. He wanted them to remember who he was. Like when a guy my same age was picking on him all the time until we one day lay in wait, bushwhacked the guy and I held him while Jim beat the living crap out of him and then punctuated it by kicking him in the groin. Obviously, the guy didn’t mess with him anymore after that. Or another time that a much older neighbor was bullying him until he and I got together, took our B-B guns, waiting around the corner of the guy’s house and, when he turned into his driveway on his bike, opened fire as fast as we could cock and shoot. I still remember the kid’s squeals and the sound of our missed shots pinging off of his bike fenders as he tried to cover the long driveway as quickly as possible and get to cover in his garage. Again, no more bullying after that.

But inevitably, I discovered girls and books and music and he discovered friends...and girls...and friends...and girls, and got way too cool to hang with a nerd like me, and I too sophisticated to be distracted by a kid brother. From the time I was in junior high on, about all we shared was a bedroom, and wouldn’t even have shared that if Jim had been successful in getting Reba Mae to let him have Darla’s room after she left for college. But our mother was adamant. Darla’s room would remain her room until our sister decided she was done with it.

But although he still had to put up with my sleeping there whenever I was home, from the time he was about fourteen, the room was basically his, since I was off to South America for the first time when I had just turned nineteen, and then went to Ohio State for a year before joining the Army and going away for another three years, before being gone for good.

“You know,” Jim said once, “when you first left, I was like, ‘good riddance!’ It wasn’t until later that I started missing my big brother.”

At first, whenever I was back from South America, where I lived from age twenty-four, our visits with each other were pretty much limited to family get-togethers at our parents’ house. And while we were glad to see each other and to play cards together and chat, the two of us with our respective wives present, there was a shyness. Like we were somehow strangers with a shared past who knew nothing about each other’s present. But then one year, he suggested a family trip to Traverse City, where we had often taken a daytrip as kids during our summer vacations at Lake Manistee in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Darla was working and couldn’t come, but Jim and his wife and I with mine along with Reba Mae and Whitie made the journey, and then, on a whim, made the trip up to Manistee as well and stayed in some rustic cabins like the ones we’d frequented as kids.

It was the first time that Jim and I had found some down time alone just to chat about old times, to share confidences and to drink oceans of beer together. After that trip, we were no longer just estranged brothers. We had become close friends. And that friendship just kept on growing for the rest of his life.

Jim was a hard worker, meticulous in everything he did, and ambitious in every job he had. He held executive positions in several companies and owned a business of his own before his personal life got the better of him and he decided he was done striving. He once said, “If I’d have been the kind of hyperactive kid I was back then in today’s world, they’d have had me on prescription Ritalin for sure.” And that was the impression he gave, of having energy to spare, of needing to calm down, to take the edge off. Which tended to make him a real party animal all his life.

He saw humor everywhere. I remember going out drinking with a favorite cousin of ours and his new bride once when I was in my forties and Jim in his thirties. After saying good night to our cousin, Jim said, “Mind stopping off at Walmart? I need a few things.”

We were both drunk enough to actually enjoy our shopping experience. I looked at things, picked them up, read their packages, wondering what they were good for, while Jim browsed for the things he needed. We also picked up snacks and more beer. This party wasn’t over yet.

Anyway, we go up to the counter and Jim starts placing the stuff in front of the cashier, a pretty young woman. A twelve-pack of Miller Highlife, a bag of mothballs, a bag of tortilla chips, a can of spray starch, a can of WD-40 oil, a potato-peeler, a block of sharp cheddar, a box of fish food, a bottle of Kero corn syrup and a carton of Marlboro Ultralights. When he sees all the items together there on the counter, it suddenly strikes him funny, and he looks at the girl and says, very confidentially, “Don’t worry, I’m not going to use them all together.”

The cashier looked puzzled. She had no idea what he was talking about. But he and I were tickled to death and couldn’t stop laughing. We laughed until our sides ached. And then we went back to his place and got a whole lot drunker.

At my mother’s funeral, two years before Jim himself died, I saw a relative neither of us had seen in ages. He was somebody we’d both liked, a fun kind of guy that many described as “having a drinking problem”, but who for us was more like what our own sister (who was a substance abuse expert) had described Jim and me as being—namely, functioning alcoholics. Anyway, this other guy had met a girl, who was an evangelical, gotten himself “saved”, shaved off his cruel little mustache and gotten sober.

After chatting with the guy for awhile, I went over to Jim and said, “Hey, did you see that so-and-so’s over there with his new wife?”

“Yes, I saw that.”

“Did you talk to him?”

“Yeah, briefly, but, y’know, I liked that sonuvabitch a lot better when he still drank.”

The last woman in Jim’s life really took a toll. She had a batshit crazy husband who had been a flight-deck commander in the Navy and now mostly devoted himself to his cocaine habit. The guy threatened Jim so often when he was high that my brother finally had to change his phone number and slept with his .357 magnum in the drawer next to his bed.

Shortly before Jim died, after she had up and left him from one day to the next, he said she had once, in a fit of depression, said through hysterical tears, “My ex is crazy! Do you think I made him that way?”  To which he had answered, “Of course not, honey. Don’t even think that. The guy is just damaged goods.”

“But you know,” Jim says to me then, after she was gone, “I wish she’d ask me that again. I’d say, ‘Yes, you drove him nuts! It’s what you do. You drive men crazy.'”

Jim and Whitie

I think so much about all these things whenever his birthday and this season of the year come around, because he died only a month after his fifty-first birthday, just in time for the holiday season. My sister and I spent the night before Christmas Eve in a hotel in Tennessee in the middle of a snowstorm, with Jim’s ashes locked in the trunk of his car. We were driving him back to Ohio from Florida where he had died. As things worked out, the celebration of his life was held on New Year’s Eve Day at the United Methodist Church in our home town of Wapakoneta.

When it was my turn to speak, it was hard to make a sound around the lump in my throat, but at one point something struck me funny looking out at all of his old buddies sitting in the pews. How ironic, I said out loud, with the way he loved a good party, that he got us all to turn out here together on New Year’s Eve.

He couldn’t have done it better if he’d planned it.

Happy birthday, Little Brother, wherever you are.  


Saturday, November 7, 2020


 I was thirteen when I asked a girl out on a date for the first time. She was my same age. We were in junior high band together. I had started watching for her after school and asking her if I could carry her books for her and walk her home. She let me. I never knew what to say. On my best days, I was able to kid her or talk about things that had happened at school. But a lot of times, I just walked her home, said, “Well, see you tomorrow,” handed her back her books and walked on to my house.

Connery...Sean Connery

I had started doing all of this with a purpose—trying to work up the courage to ask her to go out with me. But, hey, why would she? And how would my already fragile ego survive if she told me no and asked me not to walk her home anymore? I wasn’t the most appealing guy around, a skinny, gawky, bespectacled nerd with an aversion to sports and to just about any other popular activity in which “normal kids” took part. About the only thing I had going for me was that I was an incipient drummer and had recently started playing in a rock and roll band that sometimes played at the local teen center, called The Wigwam (but better known as The Rec), where we got a percentage of the gate—which worked out to about two or three bucks apiece.

But that wasn’t my only source of income. I had money. I don’t mean I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. But I delivered papers and did odd jobs—mowed lawns, raked leaves, shoveled snow, painted fences—and some weeks made as much as fifteen dollars or so, which meant I was pretty successful and pretty flush for a thirteen-year-old of those times. So it wasn’t like I didn’t have the money to ask her out. I just didn’t have the guts.

I don’t know how long it took me to finally ask her, but it was a while. Finally, one glorious blue and gold autumn afternoon after school when I walked her home, feeling tongue-tied the whole way, I screwed up my courage and blurted out, “Wanna go to the movies with me Friday night?”

Luckily, as soon as the words were out of my mouth she said, “Yes!” as if she’d been wondering how the hell long it was going to take me to make a move.

I really couldn’t have cared less what was on at the Wapa Theater in my hometown of Wapakoneta that Friday night. What was important was the girl I was taking—actually that it was a girl I was taking.

Bond...James Bond
When we got there, I found out what we were seeing was a new picture called Dr. No, about a British Secret Service agent called Bond...James Bond, code-named 007, the double aught meaning he had “a license to kill”. I had no idea at the time that what I was witnessing was the birth of a whole new cinema genre. There had been spy versus spy movies before but never anything like this—action-packed, sexy, spectacular, full of high-tech gadgets and early special effects—and it would open the gates to a whole culture of high-action, high-budget espionage movies that would flourish throughout the rest of the Cold War era and beyond.

But on this particular Friday night, the whole first part of the film was simply background for my rising anxiety. The entire time I was watching, all I could think about was when it would be appropriate to reach over and take my date’s hand. I wanted to take her hand. I thought there was a good chance that she expected me to take her hand. But at the same time, I didn’t want her to think I was like “all the other guys” who thought they had some right to take what they wanted whenever they wanted. I liked her and respected her and I wanted her to know that.

So I sat there tense as a fiddle string thinking and rethinking how I might be so bold as to just reach over and grab her hand. While I was thinking about this, I kept discreetly glancing her way whenever I thought she wouldn’t notice. She was gazing at the screen, lips slightly parted, in apparent concentration on the plot and images.

About the time I was on the point of making my move, Ursula Andress walked out of the ocean half naked under the gaze of this tall dark and handsome Scot called Sean Connery, whom few of us knew, and I thought, “Nah, not now.” It was way too on the nose, so I desisted. 

But when I glanced down, by the flickering light of the picture, I witnessed how she unfolded her hands, which had been lying clasped together inertly in her lap, and moved the left one over so that it was lying flat on her pleated wool skirt just over her knee, as close as she could get it to my right hand that was lying on my corduroy trouser leg, just above my own knee. Our pinky fingers were within an inch of each other.

Was it a sign, I asked myself? Or was she just trying to get more comfortable? Then our little fingers brushed and she took my hand in both of hers and laid the trio gently on her knee. And it was as if a Roman candle had gone off in my head.

For the entire rest of the film, our hands remained entwined, sometimes mine holding hers, at others hers holding mine, until they grew sweaty and until my entire right arm had gone to sleep. But still, we clung, and how her hand felt in mine was about all I could think about until the house lights came up and it was time to leave the cinema.

Dr. No, then, was a kind of symbol of my coming of age and I couldn’t think of Bond...James Bond without linking the Sean Connery character to the feeling of euphoria that discovering romance brought me. I went back and saw it again with a buddy who hadn’t seen it yet, and this time was able to focus on the action and I was hooked. I came out of the Wapa wanting nothing as much as to be Bond...James Bond—or more specifically, Connery...Sean Connery. And the more of Connery’s films I saw, the more that feeling grew. So much so that even today, at any moment, I can expect Virginia, my wife, to look at me reprovingly and say, “Oh please, you’re not quoting from ‘The Untouchables’ again, are you?”  

Connery five years ago at 85.
So news of the death of Sir Thomas Sean Connery in the Bahamas at age ninety this past week was yet another mile-marker for the end of an era that was mine. Particularly because that first experience with a Bond picture turned me into such an immediate fan that I also became an avid reader of the Bond books as well as being a fan of the movies. And that prompted me to also look into the life of their flamboyant author, Ian Lancaster Fleming.

Connery must have had to work hard on toning down his normally dense Scottish brogue in order to play Bond, since it’s pretty clear that Bond was Fleming’s alter-ego (sort of Fleming on steroids) and the writer was a very “upper” sort of English chappy. From thirteen to eighteen, he attended Eton College, one of the oldest and most exclusive boys’ schools in Britain. He later was enrolled at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy, also furthering his education at the Universities of Munich and Geneva. During World War II, Fleming was a Naval Intelligence officer involved in the planning of Operation Goldeneye (which, in itself, sounds like the title of a Bond book) and in the planning and oversight for two British Intelligence units—the 30th Assault Unit and T-Force.

After the war, and before becoming a novelist, Fleming worked as a journalist. And his time in Naval Intelligence as well as his brief career as a newsman combined to provide him with some stunning ideas for his spy novels. His first Bond novel was Casino Royale, published in 1952. It was an instant success and his career as a writer took off from there. Before his death in 1964, Fleming’s eleven 007 novels had become some of the world’s best-selling serial fiction and, as of today, his books have sold more than a hundred million copies.

"Big Tam" of Fountainbridge
Connery, for his part, grew up in the rough and tumble Edinburgh industrial suburb of Fountainbridge. His father was a factory worker and truck-driver and his mother worked as a cleaning woman. As a youth, Connery worked delivering milk door to door. In his teens, his friends called him “Big Tam” because of his size—six-foot-two by age eighteen. Connery once said he’d lost his virginity at age fourteen, during the Second World War, to an adult woman wearing an Auxiliary Territorial Service uniform. Like Fleming, Connery was in the Royal Navy (1946-1949), but as a common seaman in a gunnery unit on the HMS Formidable. During that time he got himself two discreet and thoughtful tattoos—one that read “Mum and Dad” and the other, of course, “Scotland Forever”.

Speaking of which, for all of his playing the part of Mother England’s favorite killer-agent, Connery was a Scot through and through and was passed over for knighthood twice by the queen’s counsellors before finally being knighted in 2000. Objections to his inclusion in the Queen’s Birthday short list were always due to his rabidly Scottish politics and his siding with Scotland’s independence movement. The honor of being a knight of the British Empire probably paled in the actor’s mind compared with a 2004 survey that described him as "The Greatest Living Scot", or another one that garnered him the title of "Scotland's Greatest Living National Treasure". He was a member of the center-leftist Scottish National Party, whose Scottish independence campaign he at one time helped support financially through personal appearance events.

Sir Thomas Sean Connery

The ads for the Bond movies often said, Sean Connery is James Bond. And as he starred in one after the other in the series, that became way too true for the Scottish actor. In an interview, he once complained that people saw him on the street and said, “There goes James Bond.” But the Fleming character was making his career as an actor, and making him wealthy. He reportedly only made twelve thousand pounds (less than twenty thousand dollars) for Dr. No. But by the time he did Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, he was pulling down a million pounds. And for his final role as Bond, he reportedly received 2.3 million pounds. It was hard to turn each new role down.

In total, Connery played Bond six times pretty much in a row: Dr. No (1962), From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), You Only Live Twice (1967) and Diamonds are Forever (1971). After a twelve-year hiatus and other roles in between, he delighted his fans by coming back in 1983, at age fifty-three, to play Bond one more time. The movie took its title from his earlier refusal to play any more Bond roles and was called Never Say Never Again.

Author Ian Fleming was still alive for the casting of the first movie and was asked to weigh in on the candidates. He wasn’t at all sure about Connery for the part. The brawny Scot was nothing like the elegant “Commander Bond” that he had imagined. He was thinking more along the lines of the ever suave and phlegmatic David Niven, or the refined and iconic Carey Grant, but the writer was ultimately convinced by his girlfriend that Connery had a singular tall-dark-and-handsome sex appeal and animal magnetism that couldn’t be overlooked. So Connery it was. And the thousands of fan letters that came in from women after Dr. No proved Fleming’s girlfriend clairvoyant.

Although numerous other actors would play Bond in nearly a score of other Bond movies, none ever managed to overshadow the original. Sandwiched between Connery’s last two pictures in the first string, George Lazenby (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service) seemed like a lame attempt to find a Connery ringer. The movie was a one-off. Tall, blonde and awkwardly comic Roger Moore played Bond seven times, but changed the franchise into more of a theater of the absurd than a series of clever spy versus spy action films. Timothy Dalton tried to bring back the Bond action hero in his two attempts but only served to provide a lackluster, unconvincing parody of the Connery character. In the nineties and at the turn of the century, Pierce Brosnan made, perhaps, the most successful bid to compete. His four Bond films created an entirely new Bond, perhaps more the David Niven type character that Fleming had had in mind. Watching him, one thought, “This is fun. Not James Bond, but fun.” And the latest James Bond (Daniel Craig) has created an entirely new James Bond that has little or nothing to do with anything Ian Fleming ever imagined, but who makes for a great, all-new highly adult action series of five films to date.

Connery’s first six Bond movies, however, have garnered the title of iconic classics. And in the minds of most people over the age of fifty, he still is James Bond. The American Film Institute has dubbed his James Bond—and his James Bond only—“The Third-Greatest Hero in Cinema History”.

Perhaps the single most important attribute with which Connery has imbued not only Bond but all of his action characters from The Man Who Would Be King to The Untouchables is that there is little need for viewer suspension of disbelief. Connery convinced you that he could do what his characters had to do. Why? Because he could!

The Man Who Would Be King

As a young man in the mean streets of Edinburgh, Connery got on the wrong side of a local gang. When the gang boss sent a couple of goons to mess him up, “Big Tam” surprised them by grabbing one by the throat and the other by the arm and cracking their skulls together, knocking them unconscious. Nobody messed with Connery after that.

In the early 1950s, Connery was hard into bodybuilding and even competed in a Mr. Universe contest, in which he won a minor trophy. But he said that after seeing the American bodybuilders who eschewed all other sports in order to ensure that they didn’t lower their enormous muscle mass, he realized it wasn’t for him, since he loved soccer and was good at it. In fact, avid footballer that he was, he worked his way up through the leagues and had a shot at one of England’s world-famous teams but, in the end, turned it down. He was already doing some minor acting and liked it. A footballer’s days were numbered. Thirty, and you were over the hill, but acting was forever.

Still, the sleek yet muscular body that he had built and maintained helped him land acting parts. In the meantime, he became a male model for artists and photographers to make ends meet. Friends in the theater business—including a young Michael Caine, who became Connery’s life-long friend—helped him make his way in stage productions, TV and movie bit parts. They also helped him improve his locution and taught him how to walk and dress and carry himself with elegance and taking advantage of his natural physical grace.    

But still, his muscles were never just for show and his streetwise toughness never left him. Before the days of the Bond films, Connery was in Another Time, Another Place (1957) with Lana Turner. Based on a World War II romantic drama by Lenore J. Coffee, and set in London, the film tells the story of Turner’s character, Sara Scott, who is stuck in a love triangle with Connery’s character, a British reporter called Mark Trevor, and her rich American boss (played by Joseph Cotton), who has asked her to marry him.  Very likely as a result of a publicity ploy to build box-office pull, a rumor was leaked of an actual affair between Connery and Turner during the filming.

Johnny Stompanato
At the time, Lana Turner was carrying on a high-profile, real-life affair with Los Angeles gangster Johnny Stompanato, who worked as a bodyguard/hit man for mad dog mafia kingpin and former boxer Mickey Cohen. As news of the alleged affair between Turner and Connery spread, Stompanato grew insanely jealous and one day showed up on the set of Another Time, Another Place in London. When he saw Connery, Stompanato pulled a gun. There was no time to find out if he meant to shoot Connery or simply threaten him at gunpoint, because before the mafia goon knew what hit him, the actor had disarmed him and decked him with one blow. Stompanato got a police escort off the set and to the airport, where he was put on a plane to LA and told not to come back.

Mafia kingpin Mickey Cohen
It was a real embarrassment for an alleged tough guy like Stompanato, and even more so for his boss who’d had one of his chief muscles for hire get his ass handed to him by a movie actor. Connery indicated that he received threats after that from the Cohen organized crime group. But the following year, Stompanato was again, and for the last time, famously in the news when, in the midst of beating Lana Turner within an inch of her life, he was stabbed to death by Turner’s daughter, Cheryl Crane. Tough guy? Not so much. It was ruled justifiable homicide.

Before Bond there would be Spike the small-time hood in No Road Back, Mountain McLintock in the BBC production of Requiem for a Heavyweight, rogue truck-driver Johnny Yates in Hell Drivers and a minor role in a major thriller called Time Lock. Unrecognizable as the future 007, he also co-starred in a Walt Disney movie about leprechauns called Darby O’Gill and the Little People. I saw it a few years earlier, long before my teens, in the same movie theater where I had my first date, and never would have been able to guess that the guy in Darby O’Gill and the super-agent James Bond were one and the same person.

Despite how iconic Connery’s 007 was, however, it was only the start of an extraordinary film career in which he would bring to life some of the most memorable characters in motion picture history. To wit, and in no particular order:

 - William of Baskerville, a medieval detective-monk, sent to a remote abbey to solve some mysterious deaths under the shadow of the Inquisition, in the movie adaptation of Umberto Eco’s novel, The Name of the Rose.

 - A tough space cop out to investigate corruption and murder aboard a planet-mining space station in the 1981 thriller, Outland.

 - Straight-arrow Dustin Hoffman’s ex-con father Jessie McMullen, who is proud of his criminal past and, fresh out of prison, starts vying to involve his grandson (Matthew Broderick) in the Family Business.

 - A hardened criminal out to pull off the crime of the century in Sidney Lumet’s production of the Lawrence Sanders novel, The Anderson Tapes.

 - Barley Scott-Blair, the head of a publishing house who, while giving a talk in Moscow on closer ties between East and West, becomes involved in a story of espionage and intrigue, and falls in love with Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Katya, in the film adaptation of the John Le Carré novel, The Russia House.

 - The closet-dissident captain of a Russian submarine in the film version of the Tom Clancy novel, The Hunt for Red October.

- A dangerous hardened criminal and lifer con who is the only one who can bust into Alcatraz and save the world from a covey of seditious Marine officers holed up there with weapons of mass destruction, in The Rock.

 - Major General Roy Urquhart, commander of the British First Airborne in the epic World War II picture, A Bridge Too Far.

 - Mulai Ahmed el Raisuli, the flamboyant leader of a band of Berber insurrectionists who kidnap an American citizen and incur the wrath of Teddy Roosevelt, in The Wind and the Lion.

 - A rogue British Army NCO who, with his buddy (Michael Caine) sets off from late nineteenth-century British India in search of adventure and ends up in faraway Kafiristan, where he is briefly taken for a god and made king, until local politics intervenes and he loses his head, in a 1975 film version of the Rudyard Kipling novella, The Man Who Would Be King.

 - Henry Jones, renowned archeologist father of adventurer archeologist Indiana Jones in an installment of the stunningly successful Steven Spielberg franchise called The Last Crusade. 

And this barely scratches the surface of an incredible legacy that includes at least sixty-seven film credits.

In every one, Connery embodies his character and makes him unique, but without ever losing the tough charm and charisma of the actor himself. Still, in such a long career, it’s hard not to do things you wish you hadn’t. Like, say, the 1975 Zardoz, or the picture that pretty much did it for Sir Sean and decided him on retiring, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. But hey, even icons can have a bad day.

I’ve been saving the two best for last—Finding Forrester and The Untouchables. The former is actually the latter, if you see what I mean, but let’s start there.

It’s a movie after a writer’s heart so naturally I fell hard for it. In it, sixteen-year-old Jamal hides his light as a writer under a bushel and fritters away his time with his buddies on a basketball court in the Bronx. The court is overlooked by the apartment in what was once a better neighborhood, of reclusive writer William Forrester, whose one published work has become a classic all-time bestseller, while the writer himself has become something of an urban legend. Jamal’s friends dare him to sneak into the apartment, but Forrester surprises him in the act and chases him with a knife. Jamal is so terrified that he abandons his backpack inside Forrester’s apartment when he flees. Days later, Forrester drops the backpack onto the street, and when Jamal retrieves it, he finds that Forester has edited the writing in his journal. In short, Jamal asks Forrester to tutor him, and ends up being the protégé of one of America’s best loved authors.

Connery plays Forrester with range and pathos, painting the strengths and demons of a poetic soul and demonstrating the growing nexus between a master and his disciple.

Tough cop Malone
But my all-time favorite is Connery’s best, and best-known post-Bond role as an aging, jaded Irish cop called Jimmy Malone on the streets of Chicago in the times when the power that mobster Al Capone wielded there made many wonder why they didn’t just make him mayor. Connery reluctantly decides to tie his destiny and streetwise experience to the mission of Treasury Agent Elliot Ness, mainly because he is fed up with the mob and how—as he so eloquently puts it—the town “stinks like a whorehouse at low tide.” He thinks Ness might just be the one to clean it up, and ends up mentoring the straight-arrow Fed in how to do things “the Chicago way” if he really wants to get Capone. His constant question to Ness is, “What are you prepared to do?” And he nudges the Treasury agent (Kevin Costner) to do whatever is necessary to take Capone down.

Connery brings Malone alive. He’s not a super-hero. He’s a flawed Irish cop whose heart is in the right place, and Connery has both the strength and the range to make you believe his every move and word throughout the entire film.

In that small-town cinema nearly six decades ago, he was the man I wanted to be when I grew up. Now, having gotten word of his death and pondering his life, I realize he’s still the man I want to be when I grow up. Connery...Sean Connery.