Personal Notes

I returned home from L. A. last Wednesday limping badly, so I called and got an appointment at UConn Health this past Monday. They looked at Xrays of my hip and made an official diagnosis of arthritis (my chiropractor had already suggested this) and scheduled me for a cortisone shot in my hip this morning.

I was there for two hours but the procedure itself took less than five minutes. All is well, except that as whatever they used to numb the area is starting to wear off, and my leg is starting to ache, as they said it would. Back to normal activity tomorrow, but I have to keep monitoring how I’m doing and record the results in a diary until my followup visit with the doctor.

Having the injection is a stop-gap procedure often used to delay having a hip replacement done. I agreed that I’d want to postpone that for a while! Having this done means in fact that I can’t have a replacement done for three months, which is fine with me.

So I’m OK, and more than willing to take a day off just to rest. Back to my regular schedule tomorrow!

by Francis M. Nevins

   If you looked for a January column and couldn’t find one, the reason is very simple. There wasn’t any.

   Early in the morning of the day before Christmas I went into the hospital for something relatively minor and was told that I had suffered a silent heart attack and needed bypass surgery. As you can imagine, the news hit me like a ton of bricks. The operation was performed on January 3. I was told afterwards that I came very close to death. I was discharged from the hospital on the 16th of the month and since then have been recuperating at home. I’m getting stronger by the day but am still nowhere near 100%.

   Before my medical adventures began I had written much of what I thought would be my January column. A month later, here it is.


   It was more than half a century ago, either 1962 or 1963, an early Sunday morning around 1:00 or 1:30 A.M. I returned home from a date with the first love of my life to find my brothers still up and the TV tuned to the Late Show, or maybe the Late Late Show. The movie looked interesting so I sat down to watch the last 20 minutes. It was about a Nazi spy ring based in a Manhattan skyscraper.

   The spies are holding a young woman prisoner but she manages to get a message out. Feds raid the building. A couple of spies escape into a nearby movie theater. The gun battle with the Feds coincides with a gun battle on the screen. An unlucky moviegoer falls over dead. One spy gets out and into a cab and heads for the Battery, followed by the hero whom I recognized as Robert Cummings.

   They both wind up at the Statue of Liberty. The spy tries to escape again, crawls out onto one of the statue’s arms. Cummings reaches for him, grabs his coat sleeve. The spy starts to fall as Cummings tries to haul him in to safety. Then we get a close-up of the stitches at the shoulder of the spy’s jacket starting to give way. An unearthly scream. The End.

   Recognize the picture? It’s Hitchcock’s Saboteur, made in 1942, back when I was busy being a fetus, roughly twenty years before I caught the end of it on the small screen. Remember the name of the man who played the spy? It was a Broadway actor 27 or 28 years old named Norman Lloyd.

   Now let’s time-travel in both directions at once, forward ten years or so from when Hitchcock made that movie, back a decade or so from when I watched its climax. The year was 1952, or maybe ’53. My parents had recently bought their first TV set and already I was an addict. One Sunday afternoon I happened to be watching the cultural program Omnibus, which was running a made-for-TV movie in five (I think) weekly installments.

   The title was Mr. Lincoln. The voice of the actor playing young Abe was one of the most distinctive I’ve heard in my life: biblical, prophetic, patriarchal. At the end credits I learned his name: Royal Dano. An unusual name, easy to remember. (Trivia question: Anyone know who played Ann Rutledge? It was Joanne Woodward.) I don’t remember noticing who directed the film and the name wouldn’t have meant anything to me at age 9 but, as if you haven’t guessed, it was Norman Lloyd. A cut version is now available on DVD.

   Lloyd was born in 1914, when my parents were small children. His career began in the early 1930s with the left-wing Group Theater. Later he joined Orson Welles’ Mercury Theater and went to Hollywood with the company but returned to New York when the movie Welles was planning got cancelled. Had he stayed awhile longer, he would have had a part in Citizen Kane. As it was, his film debut was in Saboteur, and later he appeared in Hitchcock’s Spellbound (1945) and Chaplin’s Limelight (1952).

   His first television role was in one of the earliest TV dramas ever broadcast, an experimental program that dates back to 1939. In the late Fifties and early Sixties he served as associate producer on Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-65). He also directed several episodes, usually based on short stories by John Collier, Ray Bradbury, Stanley Ellin, or literary figures like John Cheever and Philip Roth. But he never stopped being an actor, and among today’s audiences he’s perhaps best known for his role as Dr. Auschlander in St. Elsewhere (1982-88) and for playing opposite Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society (1989).

   I bet you thought I’d next give you the year of his death. I can’t. He’s still alive today. At age 102 he’s the oldest working actor in the U.S. and probably in the world. For 75 years he was married to the same woman, who died in 2011, the same year my own wife died. Until recently he played tennis, the game which was his passion for generations. In the 1950s he played regularly with Charlie Chaplin and usually beat him, mainly because Chaplin was too vain to wear his glasses and often lost sight of the ball. His memory remains sharp as ever, and the Internet is full of reminiscences of him by himself and others. If ever there was a person with an awesomely long life and creative career, it’s Norman Lloyd. In the first months of this new year, let’s celebrate him.


   I can’t guarantee a March column but my health is improving so nicely that it’s far more likely than not that there will be one. They may never see the column you’re now reading, but my deepest thanks to all the people — doctors, nurses, family, friends – who helped me through this crisis.

   It was ten years ago today that my daughter and son-in-law got me started with a new way to spend my time: this blog. I didn’t have any particular goals in mind, only to use this space to talk about things that interested me, with a particular emphasis on mystery fiction.

   And as time went on, other items of interest came along. Check out the categories in the right hand panel, and you’ll see what I mean. Nor have I been the only one to have used this space. I’ve invited a small host of others to talk about whatever has interested them as well. I’m happy to have been able to do so. I’d have run out of things to say long ago if I’d left it to be done on my own.

   This is now post number 5525, and following those posts, 29,678 comments have been left. This does not include 8,564,846 spam comments no one has ever seen. For reasons that were important at the time, I almost shut this blog down at least twice. I’m glad I didn’t. Thank you all for stopping by as often as you have.

   I have bad news. My wife Judy died this morning. She had been living for the past year and a half in Arden Courts in Farmington, the next town over, a facility designed solely for patients with memory impairment issues. She was diagnosed with dementia two years before that, and her condition, while stable for long periods of time, gradually grew worse as time went on.

   I met her in Ann Arbor when we were both grad students in mathematics at the University of Michigan. She was born and grew up in New York City, I in a small town in northern Michigan, but somehow our paths in life converged at the right place at the right time. Our desks in the teaching fellows’ office were opposite each other. How lucky was that for two people who were meant for each other?

   Our first date was 52 years ago tomorrow, and you would never guess that it was at a hockey match. Michigan was playing Michigan Tech, where I went to undergraduate school, and the final score was 5 to 5. I didn’t really remember the score. I had to look it up online. I have often wondered what she saw in me to say yes when I asked if she’d like to go. She’d never been to a hockey game before in her life. (I don’t remember for sure, but I don’t seem to recall that we ever went to another one.) She must seen something in me that I saw similarly in her. As far as I was concerned, it was love at first sight.

   If we never went to another hockey match — it was the end of the season — we did go to movies and other dates together, more and more often that summer of 1964, and as things progressed, we ended up getting married in December later that year.

   Eventually we moved to Connecticut, where I started teaching at Central Connecticut State — that was in 1969 — while she found a position the following year at the West Hartford branch of the University of Connecticut.

   Two children came along, Sarah, a research librarian who lives in Illinois, and Jonathan, who has been splitting his time as a writer between here and Los Angeles the past few years. He is here with me now.

   There is a lot more to the story, of course. Memories of our life together, 52 years’ worth, have been coming back to me all the while she has been ill. We loved each other for a long time, and I will never forget her. My life would not have been complete without her.

I’ve leaving this morning for Michigan to visit my sister and her husband in Cadillac (100 miles north of Grand Rapids, 50 miles south of Traverse City). My brother and his wife will be driving over from London, Ontario, and we’ll all spend the weekend together. I haven’t checked the forecast, but while I have my fingers crossed, I’m prepared for anything. If we have to dodge raindrops, or even snowflakes, then so be it. It won’t matter at all.

I’ve decided to take a break from blogging at the same time. Look for me in this chair in front of my computer again on Tuesday. See you then.

   I started having problems with one of my three computers on Friday, the one with my scanner and photoshop program, along with my old WordPerfect files, so while I can get along without them, it’s not so easily done. It froze up almost immediately every time I logged in. It took me into the late evening hours to get access to my files and back them up, thanks to a helping hand from my son-in-law Mark who deals with computers all day long.

   And I don’t know how or why, but as soon as I got the backing up done, the computer decided that play time was over and went back to work, and I was able to post Walker’s column about collecting pulp covers on Saturday. But nonsense like this wears me out any more. I must be getting old.

   I’m going to take a couple of days off from posting. Plenty of other things that needed to be done didn’t get done this weekend, and I was going to be busy all day tomorrow anyway.

   Speaking softly so the one upstairs doesn’t hear me, but between you and me, I hate computers.

   As regular visitors to this blog will have noticed, postings have been much sparser than usual this week. It’s been a combination of factors, including some severe weather fatigue (I’m tired of snow!) and a backed-up ice jam in the roof (no serious damage done, I hope).

   I also had a Wednesday deadline for my annual trek to see our accountant. Judy and I used to be able to do our taxes ourselves, but with pensions, Social Security only partial taxable (I think) and an investment portfolio that I understand only one line of: Market Value, it’s far too complicated for me to handle any more.

   So I’ve had to take a few days off from blogging this past week. They promise me that yesterday’s snow storm will be the last one, and I’m going to believe them. Things should be back to normal in a day or so. There’s a large backlog of reviews and other posts to get caught up on, and I’ll be working my way through it as quickly as I can, starting in the morning.

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