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Remembering Shirley Temple Black and her contribution to Black history

Shirley Temple Black and Bill "Bojangles:" Robinson

Shirley Temple Black and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson are inextricably linked by cinematic history.

Shirley Temple Black, who began her acting career at age 3 and became a massive box-office draw before turning 10 (commanding an unprecedented salary of $50,000 per film), passed away today at the age of 85 of natural causes at her Woodside, California, home.

Her star shone brightest as a toddler, besting adult stars such as Clark Gable and Bing Crosby at the box office. Shirley’s career peaked from 1935 through 1938 as she gave hope to a the country muddling through the impact of the Great Depression. By age 22 she had retired from making movies but this was not the end of her turn in the spotlight.

Reinventing herself, she embarked on a new career as a foreign diplomat, beginning with serving as part of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations from 1969 to 1974. She was appointed U.S. ambassador to Ghana from 1974 to 1976, and served as U.S. ambassador to Czechoslovakia from 1989 to 1992.

Black led a remarkable life. It is ironic, perhaps, that one of the things for which she is best remembered is her on-screen partnership came with the great tap dance master Bill “Bojangles” Robinson; two of their four films, The Little Colonel and The Littlest Rebel, both were made in 1935.

As reported by thegrio.com, “The pairing of the elderly Robinson with schoolgirl Temple was a Hollywood milestone. In her 2012 Huffington Post piece “Shall We Dance? Shirley Temple and Bill Robinson: Hollywood’s First Interracial Couple,” Constance Valis Hill, author of Tap Dancing America, A Cultural History, referencing the staircase tap dancing scene in The Little Colonel:

“She took his hand and learned his steps, and they danced their way into cinema history as the first interracial tap-dancing couple, albeit a 6-year-old white girl and 57-year-old black man.”

They may have danced together on screen, but the relationship of their characters was in no way equal. As Ronda Racha Penrice noted in her piece on The Grio, “That Robinson comes across as a toy to Temple’s characters, only there to entertain and delight them, is a huge disservice and perpetuates the myth that black people are happiest when serving whites and, thus, are incapable of having feelings and thoughts beyond that purpose.”

Robinson may have played a subsurvient character in these films, but this did not reflect his real life, according to thegrio.com. For instance, he was notorious for refusing to allow restaurants to not serve him. He contributed to numerous black causes and was a founding member of the Negro Actors Guild of America in addition to co-founding the Negro Leagues Baseball team, the New York Black Yankees. On top of that, he was a member of New York’s famed 369th Infantry, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters, during World War I.

So let’s raise a Shirley Temple cocktail in honor of a woman who left an enduring legacy, and at the same time commit ourselves to supporting an end to racism in all its ugly guises, onscreen and off, during Black History Month and all year long.

Happy Christmas! A story of generosity in a time of tragedy.

Jenn and Erick before Erick's devastating diagnosis.

Jenn and Erick in happier times.

It has only been a few days since I discovered the story of Jenn and Erick, an engaged couple who had planned to marry in August 2014. Their plans came to a screeching halt on December 17, 2013 when Erick was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given less than a year to live. They contacted their wedding photographer, Shannon Grant of Shannon Grant Photography, to give her the news that the wedding was cancelled. Facing a financial crunch, they told her they were planning something like a quickie courthouse wedding. But that wasn’t good enough for Shannon, who wanted to see this sweet couple get the wedding of their dreams.

So Shannon took action on Facebook. She created a page, “Let’s Give Them A Wedding!” asking for help. Within hours, the generous wedding professionals of New England had stepped up with an outpouring of services covering everything you need for a wedding, and then some. All you have to do is to read the story of this couple and even if you don’t know them, you are moved and you want to help.

I am one of the vendors who is privileged to be participating in this venture. I have never met Jenn or Erick, nor did I know of Shannon before this all started – we had mutual friends in the New England wedding industry whose posts got me involved. Not only do I want them to have a day to remember, I want to be among those who capture the memories of these events so Jenn and her son can treasure them for a lifetime. I wrote this press release to spread the word and give more people an opportunity to participate in any way they can.

Wedding professionals often get a bad rap – take this recent New York Times article about the industry being ruled by the needs of “bridezillas.” I like to think that the response to Shannon’s call for help demonstrates the true generous nature of the wedding industry for those in need.

Christmas may come and go, but the season of giving really lasts all year. Take a look at the press release about this couple, check out their gofundme.com page, and donate if you can. You’ll be helping this deserving couple.  And you will be reminded to be grateful for your own health and count your blessings everyday. Your world can change in a second. In the words of the late, great Warren Zevon, “Life is short. Enjoy every sandwich.”

Happy 5774!

The Jewish New Year, which begins in the fall, always feels more like the “real” new year to me. When I was a little girl, my grandfather used to come and stay at my house (he lived with my aunt and uncle) so that he could walk to the synagogue to celebrate the holidays, just as he did every Shabbat. My parents didn’t attend synagogue all that regularly, but over the years their “senority” in the congregation improved and their assigned seats got better – in other words, closer to where the “action” was taking place, which made it easier for me to concentrate. I remember sitting with my parents and playing with the fringes on my father’s tallit, and I remember that the services seemed to go on forever (it was a Conservative congregation), but I don’t remember much else about my family’s new year traditions. We had a live-in cook and housekeeper, so there must have been brisket, and there was store-bought honey cake – nothing that stood out or that I have kept in my own cooking repertoire.

My husband’s family, although Jewish, was fairly unobservant until I joined them. Not so much in terms of attending services – my husband and I are the only ones who belong to a congregation – but in terms of celebrating Jewish tradition through food and ceremonial rituals. So we will have a meal together tomorrow night and light the candles and sing the traditional blessings and dip the apples into honey, and connect to our heritage in a way that is meaningful.

I am a pretty good cook and have a broad collections of recipes from various sources that I draw upon for the holiday meals. The perfect honey cake seemed to be an illusion. Every year, I tried something new and always got close but there were always leftovers. Until I hit the jackpot. I’m not sure how I happened upon it, but I found Marcy Goldman’s recipe for the definitive honey cake. It turns out that Marcy is an absolute maven of Jewish baking – somehow, I had never found her over the years – but now it is my go-to cake and I am always asked to bring it when we are invited out for one night of the holidays. When my friend Ilene invited us to dinner tonight and I asked what to bring, she said, “the honey cake, of course.”

It just came out of the pan and the smell is driving me crazy!

It just came out of the pan and the smell is driving me crazy!

So I decided to share the recipe as my gift to you, to make your holidays a little sweeter (and to help you end your own search for the perfect honey cake).

A couple of tips – I make mine in an angel food cake pan, well sprayed with non-stick spray, and the bottom lined with a piece of parchment paper – this is critical for getting the cake out in one piece. I have never added the whiskey, apples, or almonds, but given how good this basic recipe is, the additions might just take it over the top.

Wishing all my friends and followers a sweet, happy, and healthy year. As we say, “L’shana tova” – a good year. And with this cake we can say “b’tayavon” – bon apetit!

If it’s Tuesday, it must be Iceland…really

040510timessquare1CRJust returned from a week of meeting the media at the National Publicity Summit in New York City. The Summit was held in the Hotel Pennsylvania, right across from Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. The streets of New York teemed with people as usual, and I marveled at how people managed to avoid colliding with each other as they crossed paths at every intersection. Even the stores in the surrounding area seemed to be packed with merchandise, whether they sold souveiners or luggage or cameras or costume jewelry – or food. My goodness, I don’t think I have seen anything to compare with the “everything” food places where you can get anything from sushi to middle eastern to pasta to jerk chicken to split pea soup to beer and wine. I must say I had a wonderful stay at the Hotel Affinia Manhattan, which was a much calmer place than the Hotel Pennsylvania.

But back to the Summit – it was an exhilirating and amazing experience to “speed date” with the media – no more than 2 minutes and 30 seconds to make a pitch and have a discussion with representatives of television, radio, and print media. I got a fairly good reception and some definite interest, along with a lot of people that I need to follow up with – that’s called “building a relationship” with the media. I look forward to it.

geyserHowever, tonight I’m headed for Iceland for a few days for vacation. That’s right, Iceland. We take off at 9:30PM and arrive at 6AM Iceland time. My husband won tickets and managed to get us free hotel rooms (because he travels so much for business) so by this time tomorrow I should be soaking in the famous Blue Lagoon and getting ready to ride the Icelandic horses. They say it looks like no place else on earth, full of natural wonders including waterfalls, glaciers, and the original geyser in Geysir. So I’ll be back blogging next week with stories to tell of the green land of Iceland. I don’t think I could be going anywhere that would be more of a contrast to New York City.

So “bæ” and “sjáumst seinna” – that’s “bye” and “see you later” in Icelandic.

“Oh, Boston You’re My Home”

Boston1Maybe I wasn’t born here but I have lived here in Arlington, Cambridge, Winchester, and Lexington since 1980. Maybe I haven’t lived in Boston but I have worked in Boston. Maybe I haven’t run the marathon but I have been at the finish line to congratulate the runners. When people ask me where I am from, I say, “Boston.”

So what happened yesterday on Patriot’s Day at the Boston Marathon tore at my heart. This is my town and things like this shouldn’t happen here, but it did. We may have been knocked down but we will rise back up. After all, this is Boston. Our race is unfinished, and we will be back at the starting line next year. For a wonderful perspective and to learn why “Joy to all” could be the unofficial motto of the marathon, I suggest this wonderful article by Hugh Eakin.

As they say, Keep Calm and Love Boston.