Sunday, November 22, 2009

As Thanksgiving approaches, it’s time to give thanks (and this is a good place to start)

movie poster 'Taking Chance'


I'm just going to say a couple things upfront:

I'm proud to be an American (like the song goes) but I don't own a big American flag, look for products made in America, or listen to Tim McGraw.  And when it comes to war, I'm not in favor of American troops in places like Iraq or Afghanistan, but I'm not necessarily against it either.  (A sad admission of not taking the time to learn more.)  

What I DO know however, regardless of where our forces are stationed, they deserve our full & unconditional support; and last night, I got a very good reminder of that with the film "Taking Chance".   I've seen a lot of movies, and I honestly cannot remember watching one that put a lump in my throat (and tears in my eyes) for the entire duration of the film.  

The movie is based on the true story of a Marine, Lt. Col. Michael Strobl (who loves his wife & kids so much that he's opted to work stateside behind a desk for most of his military career).  One morning in 2004 while glancing at the latest casualty list of soldiers from Iraq, he notices one in particular; not the soldiers name (PFC Chance Phelps), but his hometown (where Strobl had also grown up).  So he volunteers to accompany the body back to Phelps family for burial.

Chance Phelps


Never seen in the film, the real hero here:  PFC Chance Phelps who died in battle in Iraq


While he receives instructions on being a military escort, we witness Chance Phelps body being prepared for delivery to the family's funeral home.  Specialists gingerly wash the deceased, and carefully clean his personal possessions.  (His wristwatch, dog-tags, a wooden cross necklace.)  A full dress uniform is custom sewn complete with all medals and polished brass (even though, because of his injuries, it will be a closed casket).   Colonel Strobl is told that during the trip, from car to train to various planes across the country, he will stand at attention and salute the young soldiers remains at every entrance and exit point.

Saluting the soldiers remains


Kevin Bacon said that filming these scenes brought tears to both his eyes and the film crew


Along his cross-country trip (from Philadelphia to Wyoming), Strobl is taken aback by the respect shown to him, both civilian & from other branches of the military.  At one airport as he salutes the plane unloading, he turns to see the entire airport crew standing behind him, hands on their hearts.  On another flight, the pilot asks the passengers to remain seated after landing as there is precious cargo to be unloaded; a soldier killed in the line of duty.  Strobl seems the only one surprised.  The other passengers watch quietly as Chance Phelps container is wheeled off and saluted on the tarmac.

Michael Strobl


The real Lt. Col. Michael Strobl, who's report of the events surrounding his escort service inspired so many,  and eventually this movie


This is only part of the story, of course.  Along the way we learn more of Kevin Bacon (as Strobl) and his modest yet fierce dedication to not just PFC Chance Phelps body but to the grieving soldier's family.   (There is only one emotional scene by Bacon, who somehow manages to maintain a low profile while remaining the central character in the movie.)  

There is no great adventure here, no drama.  It is the voyage of one young hero's remains from the battlefield to his final resting place on a lonely Wyoming plain.

The movie isn't pro-military or even pro-America; just a poignant reminder on the goodness of dignity, humility & showing real respect.  Chance Phelps father (in an interview after the film) talked proudly of the visits, calls & letters his family still receives from other Marines in Chance's battalion, and says "These men fight for their country, but they die for their friends."                          Music by Greg Laswell - "Comes and Goes (in Waves)"

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Unsinkable Molly Webber (wait, that’s not her real name)

Can I share something silly here?  Haha!  I know, I know--when has that ever stopped me.  Okay, here's the deal; yesterday morning I am sitting on my sofa, eating a plate of microwave pancakes & waiting for the tape in my vcr (yes, I still own one) to finish rewinding so I can watch last night's episode of 'Medium'.   Meanwhile, I'm flipping thru the channels for anything good that may be on.

I click on TVLand, and see they're airing an episode of "The Brady Bunch".   Aw no--I admit to once being a hardcore Brady fan, but I've seen every one of these things at least 400 times and I'm pretty sure I cannot sit thru another one again.  I'm about to switch the channel when I realize this is the "Molly" episode, one of my top ten favorites--and strangely enough, the one I've probably seen the least.

For those Brady fans out there, you know the one I'm talking about--Season 3's "My Fair Opponent".   The girls in Marcia's class elect Molly Webber (a shy, homely girl) as a nominee for 'Banquet Night' as a cruel prank--and dammit, Marcia is going to make things right!

“Molly, try to walk without slouching so much; don’t you want to be noticed?”

In the days that follow, an amazing transformation takes place; Molly learns to walk with a book on her head, trades in her potato sack dresses for some groovy miniskirts and gets a cool shag haircut. 

(I always used to wonder who this girls parents were...) 

Unfortunately, Marcia discovers she's ALSO one of Banquet Night's nominees, but when she tells Molly she's going to drop out of the race, Molly tells her not to bother--she's a hottie now, and she's not worried.  Aghast, Marcia reminds her how she got there...

“It doesn’t make a difference how I got here Marcia; the point is, I’ve arrived!”

Whoops—Marcia’s created a monster!  But being the Brady Bunch, Molly comes to her senses, goes to the principal & tells him everything. 

She then gets Banquet Night's guest of honor (Colonel Whitfield, the astronaut!) to tag along with her as she goes to the Brady home to apologize to Marcia and let her know they BOTH won.  As they’re both so special, the banquet’s now going to have co-hostesses.

For some reason, this particular episode always fascinated me as a kid; I remember being amazed at her 'transformation', yet oddly attracted to BOTH versions of Molly.  Seeing this again...I suddenly felt inspired to find out just who this Molly Webber was (then & now). 

A search on the internet turned up her name (Debi Storm), birthdate (March 1958) and her acting biography.  I was surprised to see she had guest-starred in a variety of early '70s tv: shows like Bonanza, Marcus Welby, Emergency & of course, The Brady Bunch.  In the late seventies, she did commercials for Coke & McDonalds.

Did You Know Debi Storm was actually the first girl cast as Jan Brady—until the producers decided to go with natural blond daughters “like their mother…” 

Remarkably, she was also the original choice for 'The Exorcist', but turned down the role!  Well, that covered her acting career--but what about now?  And that's when I found her on Facebook.  

Her account was set to private, but I thought "what the heck" & sent her a brief message anyway.  I introduced myself & said that I'd seen her Brady episode earlier today & how much I've always enjoyed it.   And believe it or not, in less than 2 hours she wrote me back!

Debi Storm & her mom, 2009

She just couldn't have been any nicer.  She lives & works in Lakeland, Florida where she's both a realtor and mom to 4 kids.  She's very proud of her early acting career and credits her mom for keeping her grounded.   She thanked me for the letter & also told me that she's always been amazed at how many people remember her for that one guest appearance on the Brady Bunch. 

(Did you know that for her “transformation”, the producers instructed her mom to take her to a beauty shop & get a shag haircut.  Her mom couldn’t bear to have her daughter’s hair cut, so they went to a wig shop instead—and didn’t let on what they did!)
Well, this is one person I won't be forgetting anytime soon either.  Thanks for letting me share this little story here (and Debi, thanks for sharing your story with me).


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