Saturday, April 23, 2011


She’s 5’ 2” with eyes of green and she’s America’s Sweetheart.  You’ll never forget her as Tammy Tyree or Molly Brown or Kathy Selden.  She introduces herself as Princess Leia’s mother from when her daughter Carrie Fisher was in “Star Wars.”  Over five decades, she has amassed the largest private collection of Hollywood memorabilia and is putting it up for auction on June 18 at the Paley Center in Beverly Hills, California.  Her marriage to Eddie Fisher ended in scandal when he strayed into Elizabeth Taylor’s arms as he consoled her over the death of her husband Mike Todd.

Of course, she’s no other than Debbie Reynolds, who appeared recently in a stunning royal blue sequined suit, looking vivacious at a mere age 79, at Sacred Heart University in Fairfield as part of their American Legends series.  Discovered at age 16 when she won a beauty contest, she fell into show business and was never formally trained.  Always a “talker,” she worked hard to be a dancer, with five teachers, eight hours a day, for her big break as Kathy Selden in “Singin’ in the Rain” opposite Gene Kelly and Donald O’Connor.

Of her fifty movies, her favorite is “the Unsinkable Molly Brown” and unsinkable has been her motto, especially in her marriages which have never ended well, with wealthy husbands leaving her in debt.  She quipped “if there’s a bad guy around, I find him.”  Her song “Tammy” from “Tammy and the Bachelor” earned her a gold record and won the hearts of all who heard her when she sang it a cappella for the Sacred Heart audience.

Charming and full of vinegar, she advised the audience “if you have 2 bucks, you can rent me for the weekend,” referring to her long and rich film career.  Imitating such stars as Bette David, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Ethel Merman, Katherine Hepburn and even Barry Fitzgerald, she delighted her fans with her versatility with voices.

A beautiful, funny movie star with boundless energy, she is also impish and mischievous, finding it within herself to forgive Liz in later years.  She reconnected with Ms. Taylor a decade ago when she did a television film written in 2001 by her daughter Carrie Fisher and  Elaine Pope, “These Old Broads,” that also starred Shirley MacLaine and Joan Collins.  She feels Liz and Eddie are together again in heaven and deserve each other.

Debbie Reynolds devotes her time raising millions for mental health causes for children and adults through an actors group called The Thalian Club, which will have a ball later this month.  Her own daughter’s manic-depressive, bi-polar condition inspired this work.  This year the money being raised will go to veterans groups.

She finds live performances “wonderful, challenging and exciting, with the hum of the audience and immediate love.”  Film is “not nearly as rewarding until it’s over and you see it done.”  Yet she claims to “love them both…it’s the ham in me.  I love to entertain.” 

And entertain she does for the last 65 years.  As for her next goal, after her auction of 4000 Hollywood costumes and props that she has been collecting since 1970, to tell the history of the stars, it’s a simple one:  “I want to die being the oldest Girl Scout,”  Hopefully that won’t be for another 65 years at least.

Jodi Picoult Shares Her Writing Techniques

 Jodi Picoult shared secrets and insights about her best selling novels recently at Sacred Heart University, revealing how enjoyable and rewarding her research is before she ever writes a word.  Having penned eighteen novels to date, starting in 1992, she delves into her topics systematically and devotes weeks, if not months, to getting her subject matter thoroughly investigated.

Picoult illustrated her detective-like procedures by using the specific examples from a trio of her books, starting with her favorite “Second Glance,” a ghost story, that was triggered by a newspaper article about the Abenaki Indians and a plot of land, a burial ground, that they were trying to protect from being developed.

 That story led Picoult to goggle the “Vermont Eugenics Project” from the 1930’s where a group of seemingly intelligent people decided they wanted to preserve the purity of Vermont stock.  These white Vermont Yankees tried to rid their state of “degenerate society” by passing sterilization laws that affected the lives of thousands of Abenaki Indians and French Canadians.  This shameful behavior came to a halt when Hitler applauded their efforts.

 Her research carried her to Rhode Island where she actually accompanied three “ghost hunters” on their missions, met with Abenaki Indians and heard their stories and interviewed a woman who wrote her doctorate on this disgraceful period of Vermont history.

 In “Second Glance,” her research is translated into the story of Ross Wakeman whose fiancĂ© dies in a car crash and his valiant attempts to find and communicate with her ghost.  Can the supernatural heal his heart?

Her second example of researching was “Nineteen Minutes,”a book about the post-Columbine shooting when schools still pretend bullying doesn’t exist.  Picoult shared an incident when she was thirteen and at her school locker.  A bully came by and slammed her locker door, breaking three of her fingers.  She never reported it.  Adolescence is a time about fitting in and the fact that in high schools there is almost always bullying taking place.

 Picoult went to Littleton, Colorado, the site of Columbine, and spoke to parents, teachers and students as well as the police who admitted they did everything wrong that day.  She also went to St. Cloud, Minnesota and talked to survivors of their school tragedy.  The important fact to realize in any community is that it can happen here.

 Picoult identified that for every school shooter there are incidents of teasing and bullying, possibly accusations of being gay, the suffering of a personal loss, attacks for being different and access to guns or to the internet.  She determined “if a kid wants to commit an act of violence, he will.”  Picoult believes that the media glorifies the shooter and gives him his fifteen minutes of fame and, rather, should concentrate on the victims instead.  Kids and teachers need to decide their responses together and her book “Nineteen Minutes,” about holding a magnifying glass on a boy who is so tired of being harassed that he commits an act of violence that threatened to destroy him, his family and his community, is a good starting point.

 She applauds Connecticut for being the first state to use “Nineteen Minutes” in its school curriculum and it is the one novel she would like to see made into a movie, but she doesn’t feel any studio is “brave enough to tackle it.”

 Her third example of the critical role of research is “House Rules” about an eighteen year old Jacob Hunt who has a form of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome.  Picoult has a cousin David who is profoundly autistic and his situation pointed her to the need to investigate this disorder and how it affects the family.  The role of autism and childhood vaccinations is still unclear but she cautions that spacing the vaccines further apart is a good precautionary measure.

 Jacob Hunt has a passion for crime scene analysis that is helpful to the police until his own tutor is found murdered.  Suddenly the hallmark behavior of Asperger’s, recoiling at being touched, not being able to look anyone in the eye and not being able to be in social situations becomes suspicious to the police and Jacob is accused of the murder.

 Picoult talked to fifty kids with Asperger’s and found them “really smart,” with a passion for specific things, slavish to routines, not understanding social clues and without the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes, to have empathy.  Parents of such a child may never hear that child say “I love you.”

 Jodi Picoult is known for writing about medical and ethical issues, in such a way that even a King Solomon would have difficulty balancing the scales of justice.  She writes in many voices, alternating chapters as she views an issue from a mother, father, child, attorney or friend’s perspective.  Her novels often have a surprising twist in them, that catches her off-guard herself. “I know the beginning and the end but I don’t know the path it will take and, oh my god, I am often taken by surprise.”  Her characters “arrive in my head and I get paid to hear their voices.  I see them.  It’s organic.  But they make decisions on their own and I can’t stop them.”

 Picoult knew she was going to be a writer in fourth grade when a teacher she “really hopes is dead now” assigned that dreaded “what did you do over summer vacation?”  She wrote from the point of view of the piano she practiced on every day and got an “F” for her efforts.  Her mother had her teacher changed and she went on to get degrees from Princeton and Harvard.  She wrote her first novel “Songs of the Humpback Whale” while pregnant with her first child.

 Her novels, eighteen to date, have been translated into thirty-four languages, in thirty-five countries.  Her latest “Sing You Home” will be released this March and is about Zoe, a music therapist, and the issue of gay rights.  It will be accompanied by a CD of music and songs to accompany each chapter.  Most of her books take nine months to produce, much like the gestation of a baby.  Picoult admits to being a New Hampshire farm girl who “writes as a mom and wants to do justice (to her characters) and give them a voice…When I write, I am writing for me, a story I need to tell, not for my readers.  I want to ring true as a storyteller.”

 Picoult considers her books “a love letter to New England…to celebrate small towns and that charming lifestyle.”  She once complained to her mother that she had no anguish, drama or incest in her life so how could she become a writer?  She realized quickly that she couldn’t write what she knew because she “knew absolutely nothing.”  Lucky for her readers she successfully tweaked that axiom into “write what I am willing to learn.”  As Jodi Picoult has learned and researched, her readers are the beneficiaries of books that are heartwarming, thought-provoking and excellent reads.

 Thanks to that fourth grade harridan, the teacher who by giving a young and precocious Jodi Picoult an “F,” set her on a writing career path to inspired greatness.  Let’s hear it for talking pianos everywhere.

Leonardo Challenge : A Reflective Event

As far as luminaries go, Leonardo da Vinci was a true Renaissance man excelling in the fields of science and the arts, an inventor, botanist, cartographer, engineer, anatomist, mathematician, architect, aviation pioneer, geologist, painter, sculptor, writer and musician.  He envisioned such marvels as the helicopter, military tank, calculator, solar power, submarine and parachute as well as being hailed as one of the greatest painters of his time, having created works such as the Mona Lisa, The Last Supper and the Vitruvian Man.

Why wouldn’t the Eli Whitney Museum in Hamden name its unique fundraiser for this talented man, in tribute to his achievements?  For the seventeenth year, the Leonardo Challenge will take place on Thursday, April 28 from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 915 Whitney Avenue, Hamden with “fine food, festive spirits and resplendent imagination” available in abundance.

Each year an object is selected as the theme for the amazing artistic creations that are made.  In past years, ice cream spoons, checkers, pencils, playing cards, keys and rulers and tape measures have been used to spark the imagination.  This time it will be “Reflected Creativity” with mirrors being the material of choice.  The mystery of the mirror with its reflective surfaces will be the current challenge for the one hundred artists who have been invited to participate from all across the country.

According to Sally Hill, the museum’s associate director, artists are encouraged to go wild with each year’s new material.  The funds raised at this year’s April 28th gala dinner will provide scholarships for children who otherwise could not afford the year-round and summer camp programs the museum sponsors.  The entries will be bid on by silent auction and will be on display until Sunday, May 22.

Ms. Hill, who always contributes a lamp and a second entry, said this year’s material “has a quality we haven’t had before, reflections and reflecting, and I anticipate an interesting range of solutions.  My lamp is reminiscent of Don Quixote and may be called “Knight of the Mirrors” and could be very whimsical or tacky.  Contributions will range from concrete to abstract and mirrors will allow a lot of freedom.  Every year it is exciting to see how artists tackle the topic in such diverse and creative ways.”

For tickets ($55), call the museum at 203-777-1833 or online at  Museum hours are Sunday noon-5 p.m., closed Monday and Tuesday, open Wednesday-Friday noon – 5 p.m. and Saturday 10 a.m. – 3 p.m.

Let your imagination fly as Leonardo da Vinci continues to cast his creative spirit centuries into the future. 

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Jodi Picoult is the best selling author of more than a baker’s dozen novels that usually grapple with medical or ethical issues and are stuffed with characters who tug at your heart. She crafts her scale of justice that even a King Solomon would find difficult to balance.

Picoult has the skills and insights to speak in many voices, like the five perspectives she assumes in her first novel “Songs of the Humpback Whale,” where she captures a mother Jane, her daughter Rebecca and the trio of men who influence and direct her journey of self-discovery.

In “My Sister’s Keeper,” which has been made into a movie, Picoult tells the story of two sisters, Kate who has a rare form of leukemia and her younger sibling Anna who has been conceived for the sole purpose of saving Kate’s life.  Their story is also told from the perspective of the people closest to their world and the unthinkable moral questions that are raised.

The consummate storyteller, Picoult delves into infidelity and religion in “Keeping Faith,” where a seven year old girl named Faith may be dealing with delusions or something much greater and potentially threatening or profoundly miraculous.  The fate of a child is also explored in “Handle With Care” when Willow is born to Charlotte and Sean with a severe bone disorder that is crippling.  Is Charlotte willing to sue her ob/gyn, who is also her best friend, to recover the money needed to pay for Willow’s medical care, especially if it means stating in court that she would have terminated her pregnancy if she had known the risks in advance?

If Jodi Picoult is your writer of choice, you have the unique opportunity to hear her speak on Monday, January 24 at 7 p.m. at Sacred Heart University at the Edgerton Center for the Performing Arts, 5151 Park Avenue, Fairfield (exit 47 off the Merritt Parkway).  Tickets are $15 (open seating, with doors opening at 6:15p.m.) and may be ordered by calling 203-371-7846 or online at

Perhaps she will talk about her newest novel “Sing You Home,” which comes with a CD of songs to accompany each chapter, in the voice of Zoe, a music therapist and the main character, that will be released in March 2011.  Ms. Picoult might share her personal insights into “House Rules” about a teenage boy with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and his inability to express himself in social situations.  Yet Jacob Hunt does have a special skill, the ability to interpret forensic clues at crime scenes.  Jacob is great in directing the police to finding the guilty party until his tutor is found dead and Jacob is the one accused of murder.

Whatever is the subject of Jodi Picoult’s talk on January 24, you can be sure it will be compelling, intelligent, spell-binding and brilliant. 

Urinetown the Musical Comes to CT Rep at Storrs

Remember that red haired, freckle faced pixie who captured your heart singing about a sun shiny tomorrow?  Well, Annie is all grown up and Andrea McArdle is ready to wow you once again as Penelope Pennywise in "Urinetown: The Musical” flowing freely into the Jorgensen Auditorium on the campus of the University of Connecticut until Saturday, April 30, courtesy of the Connecticut Repertory Theatre.

Imagine a twenty year drought, where private bathrooms are illegal and corporate greed is healthy and strong.  In order to pee, you have to pay for the privilege and, thus, Urinetown is born.

Andrea McArdle is a fierce Penelope, the  proud and strict proprietor presiding over Public Amenity #9 that serves the poorest of the poor.  When her assistant Bobby Strong (Ken Clark) stages a courageous revolt against the harsh laws that hit the destitute the hardest, he and his cohorts are forced to hide in the sewers.

Bobby’s father has been dragged off by the police, Officer Lockstock (Robert Thompson Jr), who doubles as the narrator, and his partner Officer Barrel (Kevin Coubal) and Bobby is seeking revenge against the Urine Good Company that controls all the waterworks.

UGC’s head honcho is Caldwell B. Cladwell (Bob Walton) who feels he must maintain strict water conservation rules, as long as his pockets are lined with green.  He brings the house down with his hysterical song “Don’t Be the Bunny” as he tries to convince his idealistic daughter Hope (Alison Barton) that his work is noble.

Playwright Greg Kotis conceived the unusual theme for the show while traveling as a college student on a budget across Europe and facing the obstacle of pay-toilets.  With musician Mark Hollmann, they tackled topics such as city politics, corporate greed and the environmental need to conserve resources.  With tongue-in-cheek, they openly satirized the Broadway musical in general and “Les Miserables” in particular.

Narrator Officer Lockstock warns the precocious urchin Little Sally (Alexandra Perlwitz) that this is not a happy musical, but it still vibrates with wild and wonderful choreography by Gerry McIntrye and great songs like “Follow Your Heart,” “Look at the Sky,” “Run, Freedom, Run” and “I See a River.”  Paul Mullins directs an inspired cast, dedicated to the principle that “It’s a Privilege to Pee.”

For tickets ($6-$35), call the CT Repertory Theatre at 860-486-4226 or online at  Performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30 p.m., April 27 and 28, Friday and Saturday, April 29 and 30, at 8 p.m. and Saturday at 2 p.m.

Have fun paying coins and homage to the throne, porcelain pot, clapper, urinal and seat of honor known as the toilet.