True Stories That
Should Be Movies
Reading today’s headlines is undertaken at one’s own peril. The increasingly dire news is filled with a seemingly never-ending glut of brutality, corruption, and disease. Fortunately, there are always the movies to provide a distraction from the wicked, wicked world.
Although the entertainment industry isn’t immune from the chaos and destruction of the coronavirus, sweeping changes are now taking place that includes production safety measures and how movies are being released to the public.
For now, large crowd scenes are gone. The same goes for any steamy sex encounters (unless the actors are already a couple off-screen). However, history remains a valuable goldmine of untold stories that would make great movies — even if they star sock puppets or filmed entirely in clay animation.
10. Un-Brotherly Love
Formed in Manchester in 1991, Oasis would emerge as the kings of Brit-pop (although Blur fans will vehemently disagree) with several chart-topping hits, including “Wonderwall,” “Don’t Look Back In Anger,” and “Champagne Supernova.” The same relentless drive that propelled the band’s success also nearly ended in fratricide.
Throughout their meteoric career, the brothers Gallagher created a legacy marked by booze, brawls, and belligerent banter that usually involved the C-word. One of the more infamous disputes involved a live performance of MTV Unplugged at London’s Royal Festival Hall in 1996. Claiming illness, younger brother Liam pulled out at the last minute only to turn up with ‘refreshments’ in the balcony to heckle his bandmates during the performance.
Although Oasis hasn’t played together in over a decade, rumors have recently swirled of a possible reunion. Music fans probably shouldn’t hold their collective breath. Regardless of whether the lads ever decide to mend old fences, this script has already been written, and you can bet your [bleepin’] arse it’ll be [bleepin’] good theater.
9. Josh Gibson
He was dubbed “The Black Babe Ruth” and widely considered the best player of his generation. However, Negro League star Josh Gibson did something “The Bambino” never achieved: smack a home run out of Yankee Stadium. More impressively, the blast wasn’t even the power-slugger’s most impressive feat.
For baseball fans, stories of Gibson’s diamond heroics abound. Whether or not some of the tales are apocryphal is irrelevant — Josh Gibson possessed the kind of rare talent in which anything seemed possible.
Born in 1911 during the Jim Crow era in Georgia, Gibson’s family later relocated to Pittsburgh, where his prodigious baseball skills were honed. The solidly-built catcher spent his entire baseball career in the Negro Leagues, Mexican and Caribbean Winter Leagues, starring for elite teams such as the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords over a 17-year career.
Gibson routinely out-performed white opponents in exhibition games throughout the 1930s and ’40s. Baseball historians estimate that he hit more than 800 total home runs that includes crushing a ball 600 feet during a 1941 Winter League game in Puerto Rico.
In 1943, Gibson fell into a coma and was later diagnosed to have a brain tumor. He refused medical treatment and continued playing despite suffering from recurring headaches as his condition grew steadily worse. At the age of 35, Gibson died of a stroke on January 20, 1947 — just three months before Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.
Although Robinson’s historic achievement can never be diminished, most old-timers agree that he wasn’t the best African-American player. That honor goes to Josh Gibson, who would posthumously be inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972.
8. The Winning Ace
Sgt. Keith Chisholm had already earned ace status (five or more kills) and the Distinguished Flying Medal when fate took a near-fatal turn on October 12, 1941. The Australian fighter pilot was shot down over the English Channel and later taken to a POW camp in Germany. Relying on his wits and sheer determination, he would eventually escape. Twice.
Originally from Petersham, New South Wales, Chisholm had trained as a dentist when war broke out and soon joined the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). He was assigned to Squadron 452, the first Australian squadron formed in Britain during World War II. The Spitfire unit featured several other outstanding pilots, including “Paddy” Finucane (more on him later), and became one of the war’s most successful squadrons.
Chisholm was initially held at Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf in Silesia, which is now part of southwestern Poland. The airman managed to escape after swapping identities with another prisoner to join an outside work camp. Although he was later caught, Chisholm pulled the same stunt again. This time it worked.
For nearly three years, Chisholm cleverly evaded the Nazis while also collaborating with the resistance in Poland and France. His schoolboy athleticism also came to the fore during an incident in which the Aussie used a rugby tackle to push an official into the Vistula River. He eventually made his way back to England and later returned to Australia, earning the Military Cross for ‘his dogged persistence and careful planning’ in successfully escaping from the enemy.
7. Dr. Pat
Irish-born athletes have a long, illustrious tradition with the hammer throw, earning gold in five out of the first six Olympiads. According to ancient folklore, the mythological hero, Cú Chulainn, was said to have hurled a chariot wheel great distances. Fittingly, a modern-day legend became the first athlete to win an Olympic gold medal for the Free Irish State at the 1928 Games in Amsterdam.
In previous years, Irish champions but had been forced to compete for Great Britain or had immigrated to America. But a medical student from County Cork would change that. Although he stood only 5-foot-11, Pat O’Callaghan relied on his explosive power and quick feet to become the best in the world. Four years later, he yearned for another chance at Olympic glory — and would travel 5,000 miles to get it.
The 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles featured plenty of sunshine and glamour at its modern Roman-style Coliseum. Athletes from 37 nations participated in the Summer spectacle while hobnobbing with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars like Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and his equally famous actress wife, Mary Pickford. But the real drama would star a shamrock-clad Irish doctor in search of gold.
Unbeknownst to O’Callaghan, the arena’s throwing surface was unusually hard and ill-suited for his long spiked shoes designed for grass. He struggled as a result until a teammate helped him perform minor surgery with a hacksaw and file down the doc’s spikes. Despite trailing throughout the competition, O’Callaghan unleashed an enormous effort on his final throw to grab victory and raise the Tricolour once again.
While in LA, MGM boss Louis B. Meyer offered O’Callaghan the role of “Tarzan” which the good doctor turned down. After all, he had patients to see back home in Ireland. But that didn’t stop “Dr. Pat” from celebrating his well-deserved win in Prohibition America.
As the story goes, O’Callaghan had smuggled a few bottles of poitín (Irish moonshine) in his suitcase for the long voyage ahead. Upon arrival, a customs official had questioned him about the clanking bottles. The fast-thinking Irishman replied, “Medicine. I’m the team doctor.”
6. Golden Eagle
Lilli Henoch didn’t merely win — she dominated. Coming of age in Berlin during the 1920s, she displayed a natural all-around talent in several sports, making her accomplishments even more impressive considering the few opportunities available for female athletes at the time.
Henoch joined the Berlin Sports Club (BSC) in 1919 and wasted no time making an impact. She helped pioneer their women’s athletics program and became the first female to receive the “Golden Eagle” — the prestigious club’s highest award. Between 1922 and 1926, the superstar set five world records in athletics and won ten German championship titles, competing in the shot-put, discus, long jump, and BSC’s 4 x 100-meter relay.
Unfortunately, she was denied competing in the Olympics during her prime because Germany wasn’t allowed to send athletes in 1920 and 1924 as punishment for WWI. She would also be persecuted for being Jewish — a crime that eventually resulted in fatal consequences.
As the Nazi war machine kicked into high gear, Jews were forcibly removed from their homes, and all non-Aryan schools became shuttered. Despite her status as a national icon and well-respected coach, Henoch soon found herself laboring as a harvest worker outside of Berlin. In early fall 1942, she and her mother, Rose, were put in a livestock railcar and deported to Riga, Latvia.
The journey from Berlin lasted three days. Records show them listed as “missing” on September 8, 1942. They were most likely murdered by Einsatzgruppen death squads and buried in the mass graves outside of Rumbula.
The memory of Lilli Henoch has been honored with various landmarks around Berlin, including a small brass-plated stone known as a Stolperstein (“stumbling block”). The tribute is one of the 60,000 similar engraved memorials placed across 21 countries in Europe that serves as a poignant reminder of Nazi crimes.
5. Spitfire Paddy
As the Battle of Britain raged during the summer of 1940, the Allies were in desperate need of courageous pilots and a bit of luck to stop the German onslaught through Europe. The Royal Air Force (RAF) would get both with “Paddy” Finucane (pronounced FIN-NEW-KIN), who quickly emerged as a top ace and eventually became the youngest wing commander in RAF history while flying his shamrock-adorned Spitfire.
Born in Dublin in 1920, Finucane later relocated with his family to London as a teenager. He joined the RAF at the minimum age requirement of 17 and a half and went on to record 32 kills in operations over the English Channel and Nazi-occupied France. He also earned the Distinguished Flying Cross with two bars and the Distinguished Service Order and was personally decorated by King George VI at Buckingham Palace. The Irishman’s story is even more remarkable when considering his father once fought against the British during the Easter Rising of 1916.
Fearless, personable, and good-looking, Finucane became a worldwide celebrity when the war’s outcome still hung in the balance. He even found time for romance and became engaged to an attractive young woman named Jean Woolford, who lived on the same street as the Finucane family. Sadly, the ace pilot’s story and the ‘girl next door’ would end tragically when his Spitfire crashed in the English Channel in 1942 and vanished into the sea. He was only 21.
An outpouring of grief spread across the globe as military personnel, friends, family, and admirers mourned the loss. A gathering of over 2,500 people attended his memorial at Westminster Cathedral, and Finucane’s name was later inscribed among ‘The Few’ on the Battle of Britain Memorial on London’s Embankment.
4. Noir Christmas
The perennial holiday favorite, “White Christmas” sung by Bing Crosby remains the world’s best-selling single, selling more than 50 million copies. Although the song’s lyrics evoke memories of more innocent and happier times, the popular crooner real life reveals a much different tale replete with gunsels, dames, and dimly lit, smoke-filled rooms.
At the peak of his fame, Crosby was easily one of the most beloved — and well-paid — entertainers in the world. But his wholesome image as a golf-loving, family man stood in stark contrast to a darker side plagued by his addiction to gambling and alcohol.
The dangerous combination would lead to alleged connections to the mafia that required a bailout from his Rat Pack pal, Frank Sinatra. Crosby’s shadowy shenanigans would result in the FBI keeping tabs on him, files that later revealed ties to mobster Bugsy Siegel, and two of Al Capone’s top henchmen, Frank Nitti and Jack “Machine Gun” McGurn.
Following Crosby’s death from a massive heart attack in 1977, the song and dance man’s reputation received another black eye with the release of a tell-all memoir by his oldest son, Gary. The scathing book, Going My Own Way, depicts his father as a physically and psychologically abusive tyrant — the polar opposite of the benevolent priest character that earned the elder Crosby an Academy Award for Best Actor in the 1944 film, Going My Way.
3. The Human Howitzer
More than ever, America needs heroes as a reminder of the sacrifice that made the country great. Men such as Al Blozis, an athlete-turned-soldier, who stood 6-foot-6 and weighed 250 pounds of solid muscle. His larger-than-life persona would even warrant three nicknames: “The Human Howitzer,” “Jersey City Giant,” and “Hoya Hercules.”
The son of Lithuanian immigrants, Blozis grew up in New Jersey, where he broke 24 high school records in track and field. He later accepted an athletic scholarship to Georgetown University and also starred on the football team while establishing several world records in the shot put.
As the nation’s top thrower, Blozis set his sights on winning gold in the Olympics. Worldwide conflict, however, would lead to the cancellation of both the 1940 and 1944 games. He made several attempts to enlist but was turned away due to height restrictions. Instead, the multi-talented sportsman signed with the Giants and enjoyed immediate success in the NFL as an All-Pro defensive end.
He eventually convinced Army officials to lift their size ban and reported to Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia. There, the modern-day Hercules added to his legend by tossing a grenade nearly 95 yards. Before shipping out to Europe, Blozis joined his Giant teammates in the 1944 NFL Championship against the Green Bay Packers at the Polo Grounds. It would be the last game he ever played.
The Army assigned him to the 110th Regiment, 28th Infantry Division, near the Vosges Mountains in France’s Alsace region. During an evening snowstorm on January 31, 1945, Lt. Blozis went looking for two soldiers from his platoon after the men had failed to return from a scouting mission earlier in the day. Despite facing a well-entrenched enemy, pitch-black darkness, and freezing conditions, he set out alone to find them. The towering champion never returned and was later declared KIA.
A simple white cross memorializes 1st Lt. Al Blozis at the Lorraine American Cemetery in Saint -Avold, France. The serene, lush grounds of Europe’s largest US WWII cemetery sits peacefully in a region now known as the Grand Est (The Big East) — a fitting tribute to a true American hero.
2. Bird is the Word
When news broke in 2009 that former Major League Baseball (MLB) pitcher, Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had died in a farming accident, the sporting world mourned the loss of one of its most unforgettable characters. His brief, injury-prone career lasted only five years, but his first year in the Bigs is the stuff of legend.
The year is 1976. Rocky tops at the box office. The American bi-centennial is on full display everywhere. And a gawky right-handed pitcher for the Detroit Tigers became an overnight sensation en route to winning Rookie of the Year. His triumphs on the mound and boyish charm made him a massive fan favorite, a budding superstar who freely admitted that if it weren’t for baseball, he’d be pumping gas back home in Northborough, Massachusetts.
With long, shaggy hair, the free-spirited hurler thrilled the Motor City with his quirky on-field theatrics that included talking to the ball during games. During one remarkable stretch, he won back-to-back 11-inning, complete-game victories. Astonishing. He was later named the American League’s starting pitcher in the All-Star Game and finished the season 19-9.
In 1977, he started the season strong and appeared poised to continue his success until experiencing the first of several arm injuries. An un-diagnosed tear to his rotator cuff would ultimately derail his promising MLB career that ended in 1980.
Fidrych then retired to Northborough, where he and his wife raised a family on their 107-acre farm. Over the years, he occasionally appeared at old-timers games in Detroit, but preferred his quiet, rural lifestyle and being just another blue-collar worker, husband, and father.
Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is heavily steeped in nostalgia and enduring memories that slowly fade but manage to endure the test of time. That said, true aficionados will never forget that magical summer of ’76 and still hear the crowd’s echoes, chanting “We Want The Bird, We Want The Bird.”
1. Non Stop Go-Gos
The eponymously titled 2020 documentary, The Go-Gos, explores the rise and fall of the first chart-topping, all-female band to write their own songs and play their own instruments. While informative and engaging, interspersing old footage with recent interviews by all the band members, the presentation is missing a crucial element that only a feature film could properly deliver: drama. And more specifically, the topsy turvy rollercoaster ride of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll taken by these legendary ladies.
The story opens in the late ’70s in LA, where a teenaged girl named “Dottie Danger” aspires to be a singer in a punk rock band. She later meets a few other like-minded gals and starts gigging in local seedy bars and clubs. While hanging out at the infamous ‘Rock and Roll Denny’s’ on Sunset Blvd., the group settled on the name “The Go-Gos” and soon broke away from their punky persona to a more radio-friendly, power-pop sound.
Belinda Carlisle, having ditched “Dottie” for her real name, now fronted the new lineup, featuring Jane Wiedlin, Kathy Valentine, Gina Schock, and Charlotte Caffey. After signing to a major record label, the band released their debut album in 1981, Beauty and the Beat. Hit singles followed, including “We Got The Beat” and “Our Lips Are Sealed” — both smash hits that helped propel the album to number one.
Shortly afterward, the real fireworks began. Fame and boodles of money quickly led to non-stop partying and lurking troubles. While cocaine was clearly the drug of choice for Carlisle and the others, lead guitarist Caffrey developed a crippling heroin addiction. Nonetheless, the band managed to soldier on, selling-out arenas worldwide to frenzied crowds. Along the way, Carlisle also became romantically involved with the LA Dodgers’ first baseman, Mike Marshall. Home run!
But alas, what goes up must come down. The band’s third album, Talk Show, underperformed as the band slowly imploded (aka “creative differences”). By 1985, nasty in-fighting fuelled by jealousy and increased drug abuse eventually took its toll, and the Go-Gos called it quits and went their separate ways.
Carlisle would have a successful solo career despite continually powdering her nose for nearly 30 years. Incredibly, she even took part in a late 1980s anti-drug commercial — which is kinda like a pathological lying narcissist making a public service announcement about the virtues of honesty and humility.
Fortunately, the story does get a Hollywood ending. The group later buried the hatchet and got back together to perform and record new material. Also, Head Over Heels, a musical featuring the songs of the Go-Go’s, enjoyed a recent successful run on Broadway at the Hudson Theatre.