Dawn Pisturino's Blog

My Writing Journey

My Sweet Lord – George Harrison

(George Harrison. Photo from Grammy.com.)

George Harrison, guitarist and songwriter for The Beatles, died of cancer in Beverly Hills, California on November 29, 2001. He was only 58 years old.

(George Harrison sings “My Sweet Lord.”)
Tribute to George Harrison: Billy Preston sings “My Sweet Lord” with Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George’s son Dhani, and other Rock-n-Roll notables.
~Rest in Peace~

Dawn Pisturino

November 20, 2021

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A Tribute to Actor Michael York

Michael York as Pip in Great Expectations (1974)

Last night, I was thinking about the 1974 movie, Great Expectations, and wondering whatever happened to British actor Michael York. Was he still alive? An Internet search showed that he is 79 years old, living in West Hollywood, and still very much alive.

In 2011, my daughter, lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino, was a member of the cast in the Long Beach Opera production of Cherubini’s Medea. She had a singing role as one of Dirce’s handmaidens. One night, after the performance, an average looking elderly couple came up to her and expressed their admiration for her performance. The man was so sickly looking, he looked like he was in the last stages of cirrhosis of the liver, pancreatitis, or cancer. His skin was yellow and dry, his hair limp and straw-like. He seemed very familiar to me, but I could not immediately place him. But the man had a very distinctive theatrical voice, and there it was — Michael York!

(Lyric soprano Ariel Pisturino in 2011 at the furniture warehouse converted to a theater for the LBO production, Medea. Photo by Dawn Pisturino. The production garnered a lot of media coverage because former director, Andreas Mitisek, had a reputation for staging innovative opera productions in unusual locations.)

Michael York and his long-time wife, American photographer Patricia McCallum, were so kind and gracious to my daughter! He encouraged her talent and career and wished her the best for all of her future endeavors. He did not come off as arrogant or condescending, but just a real, down-to-earth person. In other words, he is not one of those Hollywood snobs who thinks he’s better than everybody else. He is not an angry, loud, foul-mouthed creep like Alec Baldwin, who was forced to go to anger management therapy. He and his wife showed up in ordinary clothes. In fact, they were under-dressed. With his obvious health problems, it looked like he had fallen on hard times. But the reality is a little different.

In 2012, York was diagnosed with amyloidosis, a rare disease in which insoluble proteins invade parts of the body and internal organs, eventually causing the organs to shut down. It took three years to get the right diagnosis. He underwent autologous stem cell transplant therapy and has been doing well since. A classically trained Shakespearean actor, York now writes books, does voiceovers, and promotes fundraising and public awareness of amyloidosis.

It just goes to show that no matter how talented you are, how important you think you are, or how rich you are, bad things happen. And it’s how you handle those challenges which determines the kind of person you are.

(Ariel Pisturino [facing front] as one of Dirce’s handmaidens in the LBO production of Medea.)

I will always have the greatest respect for Michael York for encouraging my daughter in her career. His humility and graciousness touched both our hearts. And I wish him and his wife all the best. We never know how our lives are going to end up, but we can never go wrong with being kind to others, supporting others with positive affirmations, and encouraging their hopes and dreams.

Michael York’s website: http://www.michaelyork.net

Long Beach Opera website: http://www.longbeachopera.org

Ariel Pisturino website: http://www.arielpisturino.com

Dawn Pisturino

November 4, 2021

Copyright 2011-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Blvd, Los Angeles, CA, (866) 706-4826.

All photos by Dawn Pisturino.

The owners of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery had a vision to turn a sad, quiet place of rest into a thriving cultural and visitor center. Built in 1899, the cemetery is home to numerous Hollywood stars, directors, and other dignitaries. Visitors flock to the site to view the final resting places of famous people and walk among the beautiful gardens. At the south end of the cemetery can be seen the historic Paramount Studios on the other side of the wall.

During the summer, the cemetery features classic film screenings in association with Cinespia. People bring picnics and lawn chairs and hang out on the Fairbanks Lawn after sunset to enjoy the warm California weather. There’s usually a long line to purchase tickets and to get in.

The cemetery also hosts one of the largest Dia de Los Muertos festivals in America.

Every time I have been to Hollywood Forever Cemetery, I have enjoyed myself immensely. And walking among the headstones and mingling with the crowds is a fun experience and not scary at all – even after dark.

Did you notice the lipstick on Rudolph Valentino’s crypt? He still has a big following of swooning female fans!

Dawn Pisturino

October 6, 2021

Copyright 2008-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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For James Dean

Rest in Peace
September 30, 2021 marks the 66th anniversary of his death


For James Dean 
Welcome me, if you will,
as the ambassador of a hatred
who knows its cause
and does not envy you your whim
of ending him.
 
For a young actor I am begging
peace, gods. Alone
in the empty streets of New York
I am its dirty feet and head
and he is dead.
 
He has banged into your wail
of air, your hubris, racing
towards your heights and you
have cut him from your table
which is built, how unfairly
for us l not on trees, but on clouds.
 
I speak as one whose filth
is like his own, of pride
and speed and your terrible
example nearer than the siren’s speech,
a spirit eager for the punishment
which is your only recognition.
 
Peace! to be true to a city
of rats and to loved the envy
of the dreary, smudged mouthers
of an arcane dejection
smoldering quietly in the perception
of hopelessness and scandal
at unnatural vigor. Their dreams
are their own, as are the toilets
of a great railway terminal
and the sequins of a very small,
very fat eyelid.
                       I take this
for myself, and you take up
the thread of my life between your teeth
tin thread and tarnished with abuse.
you still shall hear
as long as the beast in me maintains
its taciturn power to close my lids
in tears, and my loins move yet
in the ennobling pursuit of all the worlds
you have left me alone in, and would be
the dolorous distraction from,
while you summon your army of anguishes
which is a million hooting blood vessels
on the eyes and in the ears
at the instant before death.
                                         And
the menus who surrounded him critically,
languorously waiting for a
final impertinence to rebel
and enslave him, starlets and other
glittering things in the hog-wallow,
lunging mireward in their inane
moth-like adoration of niggardly
cares and stagnant respects
paid themselves, you spared,
as a hospital preserves its orderlies.
Are these your latter-day saints
these unctuous starers, muscular
somnambulists, these stages for which
no word’s been written hollow
enough, these exhibitionists in
well veiled booths, these navel-suckers?
 
Is it true that you high ones, celebrated
among amorous flies, hated the
prodigy and invention of his nerves?
To withhold your light
from painstaking paths!
your love
should be difficult; as his was hard.
 
Nostrils of pain dawn avenues
of luminous spit-globes breathe in
the fragrance of his innocent flesh
like smoke, the temporary lift,
the post-cancer excitement
of vile manners and veal-thin lips,
obscure in the carelessness of your scissors,
 
Men cry from the grave while they still live
and now I am this dead man’s voice,
stammering, a little in the earth.
I take up
the nourishment of his pale green eyes,
out of which I shall prevent
flowers from growing, your flowers.
~ Frank O’Hara ~


BIO: James Dean died in a car crash on September 30, 1955. A coroner’s jury determined that he had been speeding at the time of the crash. His death shocked the nation because he had become a familiar face on the Big Screen. His most famous movie, Rebel Without a Cause, made him a Hollywood legend. He is still remembered as the troubled Bad Boy who just couldn’t get a break. Dean started his career in television, then got his big break in the movies. He also enjoyed playing on stage in Broadway and Off Broadway productions. He openly admitted to being bisexual and often used his sexuality to get special favors. He was only 24 years old when he died. 

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How the Paramount Decision and the Hollywood Blacklist Changed Hollywood

Rapid post-war changes in American society put downward pressure on studio revenues and profits.  But the Paramount decision and the Hollywood blacklist led to permanent changes that determined how Hollywood studios would conduct business from then on.

Once the Justice Department set its site on the Hollywood filmmaking industry, there was no turning back.  The first antitrust challenge by the Department of Justice came in 1938.  The Hollywood studios operated as trusts, and the Department of Justice was determined to break them up (Lewis 194).

Operating as trusts, the studios held almost complete control over the industry from film development to exhibition.  Studios released new films via a two-tier system.  Most first-tier theaters were owned by the studios.  Second-tier theaters, owned mainly by independents, were pressured by the studios into accepting certain terms if they wanted to screen first-run movies.  The studios used other scams to keep the theaters under their thumbs, such as “blind bidding (the licensing of films sight unseen) [and] block booking (the licensing of an entire slate of films in order to get access to one or two hit titles)” (Lewis 194-195).

After much legal wrangling, the Big Five – MGM, Warner Bros., Paramount, 20th Century-Fox, and RKO – signed an “interim consent decree” (Lewis 195) with the Department of Justice on October 29, 1940.  This decree allowed a system of arbitration to be set up that could resolve conflicts between theater owners and the studios.  But the decree did nothing to break up studio monopolies and end their monopolistic practices.  This led to the studios and the theater owners arbitrating a new consent decree in 1941 called the United Motion Picture Industry (Unity) plan.  The plan gave theater owners more leverage but did not go far enough to limit the power of the studios (Lewis 195).

The Supreme Court agreed to hear the Paramount case in 1948 (which also included RKO, Warner Bros., 20th Century-Fox, Loew’s-MGM, Columbia, Universal, and United Artists.)  On May 3, 1948, the Supreme Court ruled that the studios must divest themselves of studio-owned theaters across the country.  The Court reasoned that the studios had colluded to “restrain free and fair trade and to monopolize the distribution and exhibition of films” (Lewis 195).

On the plus side, the Court found the fines imposed on theater owners by the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] for screening films without a PCA [Production Code Administration] seal, unconstitutional (Lewis 196-197).

While domestic revenues and studio profits declined after the Paramount decision, “foreign demand for American films after the war” (Lewis 197) grew steadily.  The Cold War was in full swing.  “The Office of War Information . . . cooperated with the MPAA to establish for the studios an ideological and industrial presence abroad” (Lewis 197) which would ensure that American filmmakers would depict America in a positive light.

Within this climate of anti-Communism and competition with the Soviet Union, the Hollywood blacklist was born.  Fearing Communist propaganda and influence in Hollywood, nineteen studio employees were subpoenaed in 1947 by the House Committee on Un-American Activities.  Only ten were required to show up for questioning (called the Hollywood Ten.)  Noted playwright, Bertolt Brecht, testified in a closed session and later emigrated to East Germany (Lewis 197-198).

Members of the Hollywood Ten were generally uncooperative with the House Committee on Un-American Activities and were ultimately indicted and imprisoned for contempt of Congress.  At first, the MPAA publicly supported the Hollywood Ten.  Its president, Eric Johnston, declared, “There’ll never be a blacklist” (Lewis 200).  But shortly after he backtracked, saying, “We did not defend them” (Lewis 200).  After the Hollywood Ten were indicted and sentenced, the MPAA helped to institute “an industry-wide blacklist” (Lewis 200).

The blacklist benefited the studios financially because the contract system was slowly being replaced by “the union-guild movement” (Lewis 200).  The blacklist allowed studios to exert a certain amount of control over actors, guilds, agents, and lawyers.  At the same time, financiers in New York supported the MPAA and gave them more control over the Hollywood studios (Lewis 200).

As a result of the indictments and subsequent blacklist, the studios cancelled contracts and refused to pay members of the Hollywood Ten.  Civil suits dragged on for years.  Hundreds of “writers, directors, producers, and actors were blacklisted between 1947 and 1957” (Lewis 200), resulting in bitter feelings against the Hollywood studios.

Although the Hollywood studios lost financially when divestiture was ordered by the Supreme Court, they gained more power and control as a result of the Hollywood blacklist when the union-guild movement eventually replaced the contract system.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

January 9, 2018

Copyright 2018-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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The Rise and Fall of the Hollywood Studio System

1928 MGM Logo

The studio system has its roots in the principles of Henry Ford, whose success in the automobile industry led other industries to adopt his assembly-line production process.  The high risks and costs associated with making movies led the studios to adopt more controlled, streamlined processes.

After the Wall Street crash of 1929, the eight major movie studios developed the contract system (Lewis 102-103).  All people associated with making a movie (writers, directors, actors, technicians, etc.) worked on an exclusive contract with the studio.  Studio executives managed the production of the movie and the labor force.  It was a top-down style of management that included a General Manager, Executive Manager, Production Manager, Studio Manager, and individual unit production supervisors (Barsam 470).

“The studio used its contracts to control production costs and efficiently staff the production teams at work on its slate of films” (Lewis 103).  The result was a polished product which reflected the individual style of each studio.  These contracts only worked one way, however.  The employee was required to work for the studio according to the terms of the contract.  But the studio had the option of cancelling a contract at will.

The studios cranked out quantities of movies (538 movies were produced in 1937) (Barsam 473), but they were not so concerned with quality.  After World War II, the number of movies produced in 1946 fell to 370 (Barsam 473).

Three factors ultimately led to the downfall of the Hollywood studio system: studios had become such efficient production machines, they no longer needed big name central producers; the rise of the labor unions and the government’s interference in their monopoly over production, distribution, and exhibition; “the studios began to reorganize their management into the producer-unit system” (Barsam 474).

Additionally, the creative talent—writers, directors, actors, etc.—demanded contracts that would allow for more creative freedom and better quality of movies.  World War II profoundly impacted the number of personnel and film supplies available to make movies.  And finally, the invention of television created a new form of competition (Barsam 474).

The glamorous Golden Age of Hollywood was supported by the studio system, which controlled all means of movie production, distribution, and exhibition.  As the world and technology changed, the studio system was forced to change, too.

 Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

December 21, 2017

Copyright 2017-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

Works Cited

Barsam, Richard, and Dave Monahan. Looking at Movies, 5th ed. New York: Norton, 2016.

Lewis, Jon. American Cinema: A History. New York: Norton, 2008.

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The Woman with the Blue Tattoo

Olive Oatman

Photograph of Olive Oatman

Olive Oatman became famous in the 1850s for the blue perpendicular lines tattooed onto her chin. She called them “slave marks,” and people all across America wanted to know how and why she had acquired them.

On the afternoon of February 18, 1851, while camped along the Gila River in Arizona, Olive and her younger sister, Mary Ann, watched in horror as a band of Western Yavapai Indians massacred their mother, father, two sisters, and three brothers. Held back as captives, the two girls, fourteen and seven, were forced to walk barefoot through the rugged desert to the isolated Yavapai camp. For a year they lived there as slaves, fetching wood, hauling water, and gathering food, until traded to the Mohave tribe for two horses, three blankets, vegetables, and beads.

The Mohaves (Aha Macav, “along the river,”) inhabited a lush, fertile valley along the banks of the Colorado River, the traditional boundary between Arizona and California.

Chief Espaniole and his wife, Aespaneo, welcomed the girls into the tribe and adopted them into their own family. They were proud to have rescued the girls from the cruel Yavapai and vowed to treat them well.

The girls worked alongside the other women of the tribe, gathering wood, fetching water, and planting seeds. They soon learned the Mohave language and developed close friendships with other members of the tribe.

Olive was variously called “Ali,” “Aliutman,” “Olivino,” and “Owich (cloud),” the clan name of Chief Espaniole’s family. Mohave women inherited clan names passed down from their fathers, and bearing a clan name meant Olive was considered a full member of the tribe.

Facial tattoos were common among the Mohave Indians because they believed the permanent marks guaranteed a place in “Sil’aid,” the land of the dead. Tribal members who died without tattoos would spend eternity in a desert rat hole. Since Olive and Mary Ann belonged to the tribe, they were expected to undergo the tattooing process.

The girls lay quietly on the ground while experienced tattooers drew designs on their chins. Since the tattoos were meant to be decorative, they chose designs that would enhance the girls’ faces. Using cactus needles or sharp sticks, the designs were pricked into the skin until the wounds freely bled. The sticks were dipped in the juice of a special river weed, then into a powder made from a blue river stone, and applied to the pinpricks on the girls’ chins. The process took several hours to complete and several days to heal.

With this rite of passage, Olive and Mary Ann became permanent members of the Mohave tribe and the first white females in the United States to wear tattoos.

A terrible drought in 1855 brought famine to the tribe. Many people died, including Mary Ann. Olive soon fell ill herself. Aespaneo saved her life by feeding her gruel made from cornmeal.

In January 1856, a Yuma Indian named Francisco arrived at the Mohave camp with papers from Fort Yuma ordering the release of Olive Oatman. Chief Espaniole refused to release her. But Francisco persisted, claiming that five million white soldiers were hiding in the hills, ready to attack and destroy the Mohave village. The Mohaves reluctantly gave in.

Once again, Olive was traded for two horses, blankets, and beads. She arrived at Fort Yuma ten days later, tanned, tattooed, painted, her hair dyed black, and wearing only a bark skirt. She was nineteen years old. Her brother Lorenzo, who had survived the massacre, traveled from California for a tender reunion with his long-lost sister.

Olive became an overnight sensation. Newspapers all across America printed stories about “the white Indian” and her blue tattoo. The Evansville Enquirer reported on November 9, 1859: “She will bear the marks of her captivity to her grave. Her savage masters having tattooed her after the customs of their tribes.”

In 1857 Royal B. Stratton published the first book detailing the Oatman ordeal, Life Among the Indians, which became an immediate best-seller. Olive and Lorenzo traveled to New York, where Olive promoted the book with autographed photographs and lectures. She openly displayed her tattoo while relaying the tragic story of the Oatman massacre and her life as a “slave” among the Mohave Indians.

When not delivering lectures, Olive self-consciously covered her chin with her hands to avoid the staring eyes of curious people.

Olive married wealthy cattleman John Brant Fairchild in 1865, left the lecture circuit, and eventually settled down in Sherman, Texas. She became reclusive, hid her face behind a black veil, experimented with make-up to hide her blue tattoo, and refused to discuss her life among the Indians. She died of heart failure in 1903. Afraid the Mohaves would claim her body, John Fairchild had her coffin sealed in iron and covered her grave with a thick granite tombstone.

Dawn Pisturino

October 17, 2012

Copyright 2012-2019 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

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A Tribute to My 18th Cousin, Princess Diana

Princess Diana in pink silk suit

This photo of Princess Diana contains a flaw in the fabric of her jacket. My daughter and I haven’t decided yet whether it’s a food stain or an irregularity in the silk.  But, whatever it is, it represents a woman who was flawed herself — and all too human.

When she was six years old, Diana’s mother left the 8th Earl Spencer for another man. This scandal devastated Diana, scarring her for life. She felt abandoned, unloved, insecure, and alone. She tormented her nannies and mothered her younger brother, Charles. When her father re-married, Diana and her brother punished their new stepmother in every possible way.

Who knew that such a shy and gawky girl would one day marry Prince Charming? Diana always reported that she would grow up to do great things. She would not live an ordinary life. She knew instinctively that she would never become Queen of England. And, not long before her tragic death, she predicted that she would die in an auto accident.

Her life was brief. She was only 36 years old when she died. But she lived a full and remarkable life, in spite of her struggle with bulimia, her inability to find true love, and her deep-seated emotional problems.

The shy, gawky adolescent blossomed into a beautiful, regal, and charismatic woman. Always in competition with her husband’s long-time mistress, Camilla Parker-Bowles, she played out her revenge by becoming a great success in her own right.

Fashion icon. Humanitarian. Mother of the future King of England. One of the beautiful people — the rich and famous. Glamorous and charming. A world celebrity. Unofficial ambassador for Great Britain. Princess of Wales.

Diana had it all. But her position and wealth could not assuage her feelings of loneliness and betrayal. Diana was, after all, an incurable romantic who devoured episodes of the popular British TV show, “Coronation Street,” and the numerous romance novels penned by her step-grandmother, Barbara Cartland.

The fairy-tale wedding of Charles and Diana, viewed by billions of people around the world, morphed into a Grimm Brothers nightmare. And when reality set in, Diana discovered that Prince Charming wasn’t so charming, after all.

Sleep well, Sweet Princess, on your lovely garden isle. Dream long and deep. We salute your bravery and love you still.

August 29, 2017

Dawn Pisturino

Copyright 2017 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

In honor of the 20th anniversary of Diana’s death (August 31st) and the victims of Hurricane Harvey, please make a generous donation to the American Red Cross:

http://www.redcross.org

Thank you!

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