Posts Tagged holiday

STEM Tuesday’s New Year’s Celebration — Part Two

Partie Deux (Translation…Part Doo.)

Recap: We last saw Mike Hays, our STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post expert, in the barnyard with his trusty sidekick, Dr. Bull Loney,  attempting to clean his boot.

The Look (M. Hays 2020)

“STOP! Stop this recap! What’s with this ‘trusty sidekick’ bit, Hays?” screamed Dr. Bull Loney.

I turned to my bovine friend. “Doesn’t it sound awesome? Our hero and his assistant out in the world solving the great mysteries of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics?”

“No.” said the good doctor flatly. 

“We could be international men, well, man and bovine, of mystery and intrigue. I see a Netflix series coming on.”

“You’re an idiot. Everybody knows I’m the brains of this dynamic duo.”

I sat down on a hay bale and started scraping the cow poo off of my boot with an old piece of barn wood.

“Besides, you got it all wrong. It’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.” The tail swished back and forth impatiently. “That’s what STEM stands for.”

“Same thing that I said.”

“What you said makes SETM, not STEM.”

“Same thing.”

“Not at all.” Dr. Loney paused. “Hey, this brings up another problem. Precision.”

“I thought you are supposed to be introducing ‘Cow Poo’ as your STEM Tuesday 2021 theme?”

“I’ll get to that but this is important. Precision is important for not only doing proper STEM work but in presenting the STEM message to others.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“You think so? What good are discovery and innovation if all that discovery and innovation stays in the head of the discoverer/innovator?”

“Not much, I guess.”

“Right. The real value of discovery and innovation, the real value of STEM, is spreading that information to others and putting it into practice.”

“Makes sense. But where’s the precision part fit in?”

The bull lit up like a firework on New Year’s Eve. He was in his element. He was on a roll. 

“Precision, my friend, is the trust part of science. We all know consistency in your data builds trust in the data. However, precision is also important in the messaging side of things too. Without precision in presenting and teaching your information, trust devolves into confusion.”

“So when our message lacks precision, we can create more confusion than trust.”

“Precisely. It’s SETM vs. STEM. You only work to confuse people with SETM rather than the accepted acronym, STEM. Nobody really likes confusion except, perhaps, pigs.”

“Now I get it. That’s kind of like what we do at STEM Tuesday and what the great community of nonfiction kidlit writers does. Spread information through precision in messaging. Getting the best information that we can to the readers.”

“Hays, I think you are coming around. There’s hope for you yet.”

I fought the urge to flick the stuff from the bottom of my boot at him. “Can we  get around to your 2021 STEM Tuesday announcement now?”

“Of course. And you don’t have to be so snappy about it. You done cleaning that shoe off yet? I feel this is an announcement best suited for the sunshine and wide-open space of the pasture.”

We moved through the gate and into the brown grass of the pasture. We stopped on a rise overlooking the corn stubble fields stretched below us. The sunshine felt good and the beauty all around me on this late December day made me forget all about my boot mishap.

“Dr. Bull Loney, this is the perfect spot to make your announcement. But first, tell me why you think “Cow Poo” not only represents 2020 but is also the perfect word for 2021?”

“It’s simple. It’s a circle of life thing.”

“Wait!” I said, looking around at the pastoral setting with images of animated musical animals popping into my head. “You’re not going to start belting out one of those Disney songs, are you?”

“Not a bad idea, but no. Circle of life. The grass grows and the grain grows. We eat the grass and the grain. We absorb the nutrients and then we get rid of the rest in the form of poo. The poo fertilizes the soil and provides nutrients to the grass and the grain. See? Circle of life stuff.”

“What about methane gas?”

“All part of the process. There are positives and negatives to everything under the sun. We can’t ignore the fact that hardly anything in our universe is 100%. That’s why we have statistics.”

“Okay, you’re saying “Cow Poo” needs to be our 2021 word just because it’s fertilizer?”

“After the Cow Poo year of 2020, don’t you think a little fertilizing is needed in our future?”

“You have a point.”

“Precisely.”

“Okay Dr., make the announcement.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, I propose ‘Cow Poo 2021’ as the STEM Tuesday theme for the New Year. Keep the STEM faith as we navigate these tough and difficult times. We wish you the best and can’t wait to see what you’ll create fueled by your own means of fertilizer. Happy New Year from the MUF family and the STEM Tuesday team!”

As the wisdom of Dr. Bull Loney sunk in, I looked around at the beauty of nature surrounding me. With the challenges we face in 2021, a little fertilizer in our future is not a bad thing at all. We need it for our creative life. We need it for our discoveries. We need it for our innovation. We need it to make our world just a little bit better today than it was yesterday.

I only suggest we pay attention to what’s under our feet so we don’t accidentally step in something we don’t have to scrape off our boots. Also, I recommend checking out some books on poop (including a few titles below from STEM Tuesday contributors). It’s fascinating stuff! 

Who Gives A Poop? Surprising Science From One End To The Other by Heather L. Montgomery (2020)

Building With Poop by Jennifer Swanson (2018)

 

Happy New Year! May your life be fertile and productive in 2021.

 

Anya Adora [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

STEM Tuesday’s New Year’s Celebration — Part One

Part One: A Great Conjunction

Last year, I volunteered to do the STEM Tuesday New Year’s Eve post. It was full of shiny optimism with a hopeful eye to what was going to be a fantastic year in 2020. I was wrong. For this year’s post, I knew I had to do something different or else risk being exiled from the wonderful STEM Tuesday team. In an act of desperate redemption, I had to bring in an expert. With the upcoming Chinese New Year ringing in the Year of the Ox, I felt it appropriate to head to the ranch and consult with the expert bovine, Dr. Bull Loney. 

“Hello, Dr. Bull Loney. Did you enjoy the Great Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn last week?”

“Oh, it’s you. Yes, I found tracking the planets over the past few months absolutely fascinating and it’s been a fantastic show. The views we get here at the ranch are absolutely spectacular. Amateur astronomy is right up my alley.”

 

“Excellent. I bet you’re wondering why I’m here.”

The tail swished back and forth while he pondered my last statement. “Not really,” he said.

“Well, I need help.”

“Everyone knows that, Hays.”

“You’re not as funny as you think, Bull Loney.”

“That’s Dr. Bull Loney to you,” the bull replied. “Anyway, my fellow bovine appreciate my humor and wit.”

I didn’t want to head down the path of Dr. Bull Loney’s humor and wit so I got straight to the point of my visit. “I’m writing the STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post and need your help.”

“Ha! Why did they let you do the STEM Tuesday New Year’s Post again this year?”

“Quality, I guess?”

“Bahaha. Now, that’s complete humbug!“ The bull turned and sauntered off toward the feeder.

I followed. “Please help me?

“My guess is everyone else is on vacation and the STEM Tuesday Team found themselves, once again, in desperate straits.”

“Whatever. Can we just get to my idea? I was thinking about a STEM Tuesday Word of the Year to look back on 2020 and another word to look forward to 2021.” 

”You mean like last year’s ‘Optimism’? If a bull can laugh, I swear Dr. Bull Loney belly laughed. Thank goodness he’s a bull or else there might be milk-through-the-nose laughter happening.

“Are you going to help me or not?” I said, running out of patience.

“Let me defer to you, Nostradamus. Show me what you got so far.”

I walked away from the giggling bovine and faced the open pasture.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the 2020 STEM Tuesday Theme of the Year is—.” I froze in my tracks.  “Ugh! I stepped in cow$%@#!”

The laughter stopped.

“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Back it up a minute. What’s wrong with cow$%$@#, anyway? It’s a necessary part of being a bovine. And can you refer to it as cow poo? We do have certain standards at From the Mixed-Up Files…Of Middle-Grade Authors.” 

“Well, right now, cow poo is all over my boot.”

The bull looked at the bottom of my boot and turned away to hide its joy. “Ah, there’s 2020 in a nutshell.”

“What are you talking about?” 

“You stepped in cow poo. That’s about as 2020 as you can get.”

“I did not just step in cow poo on purpose. It was an accident. In fact, it’s probably your fault anyway.” I said standing on one foot trying to decide how to proceed.

“My fault?”

“Yes. You appear to be the only cow around right now.”

“Bull.”

“Whatever.”

“Bovine or Bos taurus will work also.”

“Whatever! The fact remains you are the only bovine in the barnyard so it has to be your, um…deposit that I stepped in.”

“That is so very 2020.”

“Can we stop with the 2020 bit and get back to the STEM Tuesday Theme of the Year?”

“I just did.”

“What?”

“I think cow poo is the perfect STEM word for 2020.”

“That is not an appropriate word to use.”

“It’s perfect.”

“It’s disgusting.”

“It’s perfect.”

“No.”

“Listen for just one minute, okay? Why did you step in it?”

“I wasn’t paying attention?”

“See? The perfect 2020 word.”

“And you neglected to warn me it was in my path so it’s your fault.”

Silence. I tried to avoid the death glare of a 2000 lb. bull by focusing on my soiled boot.

“My fault! You’re the one who wasn’t paying attention to the data staring you in the face, or, in this case, under your foot. You are the person who stepped right in it.”

“That’s ridiculous! Complete cow$!@#.”

“Poo.”

I thought for a moment. As much as I hate to admit it, Loney actually made sense. I wasn’t paying attention to the data in front of me. To make matters worse, instead of accepting my mistake and accepting responsibility, I threw the blame everywhere except where it belonged…back on me.

“You win. Cow poo is a good representation of 2020. You can make the official announcement.”

Dr. Bull Loney’s tail swished in delight. He pawed the ground and snorted just to prove his superiority. 

“Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for your efforts during this unforgettable year of 2020. I dedicate this Year of Cow Poo to all who trudge through these tough and difficult times. We wish you the best and can’t wait to see what you’ve created this past year and what lies ahead for each of you in the middle-grade universe.”

Loney walked over to me with the look of great accomplishment in those large, round black eyes. “How was that, Hays? An improvement over last year?”

I patted his flank. “You did well, Bull Loney.”

“That’s—”

“I know. I know. It’s Dr. Bull Loney.”

“Thank you, Hays.”

We walked to the barn side by side. 

As I slid the barn door open, the bull said, “Come to think of it, cow poo is also the perfect word for 2021.”

“I’m not buying it,” I said.

“Let’s get that boot cleaned up and tomorrow I’ll tell you why #CowPoo2021 deserves to be our theme for the New Year.”

To Be Continued Tomorrow...

Anya Adora [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]

Mike Hays has worked hard from a young age to be a well-rounded individual. A well-rounded, equal opportunity sports enthusiasts, that is. If they keep a score, he’ll either watch it, play it, or coach it. A molecular microbiologist by day, middle-grade author, sports coach, and general good citizen by night, he blogs about sports/training related topics at www.coachhays.com and writer stuff at www.mikehaysbooks.comTwo of his science essays, The Science of Jurassic Park and Zombie Microbiology 101,  are included in the Putting the Science in Fiction collection from Writer’s Digest Books. He can be found roaming around the Twitter-sphere under the guise of @coachhays64.

A Christmas Gift from Mixed-Up Files: Interview with Jimmy Hawkins, who played Tommy Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life

Hello Mixed-Up Filers!

First off, I wish you a very Happy Holiday season! And speaking of that, with today being Christmas Eve, we have a very special gift for you. If you asked everyone what their favorite holiday movie of all time was, I’m willing to bet that most people would answer, It’s a Wonderful Life. Well, I was beyond thrilled to get to speak to someone who was actually in the movie! 

Please help me welcome Jimmy Hawkins, who played Tommy Bailey in that classic film!

 

JR: To start with, thank you so much for joining us today. Looking at your credits, you have some impressive resume. You’re a writer, producer, actor with over sixty credits to your name. You started your career so young. You entered into it’s a wonderful life when you were only four. 

What do you remember about the process of being selected for the part?

JH: Well, my mom took me out to Culver City two or three times, and you’d go through the process. We met with Frank Capra and he never tested any of us kids, or had us reading. He just talked to us and then started matching kids up. Then, one day he called us out there and the four of us showed up and we were walked over to the stage at the RKO lot in Culver City. And then they brought Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed out, and they had the six of us and took a picture and said, That’s it, that’s the Bailey family. And that’s kind of how that process went.

JR: That’s amazing. What memories do you have with, about being on the sets?

 

JH: Yeah, they’re very vivid. I remember getting woken up really early. It was still dark. And we went on buses and street cars out to Culver city. A man walked us a couple blocks from where the streetcar let us off and onto the studio lot and over to the soundstage. There was like an anteroom where you could stand if they were shooting, and then you’d see the red light going back and forth. And when it went off, you could go in, and that’s kind of how it worked. They had real snow outside of the house. They had the whole facade of the house, the front, everything. Inside there was lighting and there’s the big Christmas tree lit up. And, oh my God, it was really something there. We are in July. It’s 90 degrees outside, and snow inside. 

Our part took twelve days to shoot. They would take us to wardrobe and then makeup. But, you know, kids didn’t really use makeup. They just powder us down a little and then we’d go to school, you know, there’s the teacher on the set, but since it was summer, we didn’t have to go in for three hours of schooling or anything. We were available most of the day to do the movie. And I remember when we were doing various scenes. Frank Capra would give us business to do all the time. Like he had that Santa Claus mask around me. And he said, “Now you hold the mask up and you’re trying to scare this man”, which was Jimmy Stewart. And I got on his lap and I started putting hairs on his head, because Frank Capra said to do that. 

And it was always improvising on the set. I’d go through the scene with my mom the night before, but then when we went on the set, it was all different. He had written new shots the night before, like the “excuse me, I burped” line. It was a gag that his family had, and his young son, Tommy, who was my age, would always tell that joke, “excuse me, I burped”. So, he always tried to put comedy in scenes to break up that drama. He thought the best way to deliver that message of drama was through humor. So, he gave the older boy the job to ask questions. How do you spell this? How do you spell that? And then the little girl was on the piano, pounding away. And I was, “excuse me, excuse me”. Always tugging at him. I remember when we left the living room and walked into the kitchen, he would stop everybody. He would tell Stewart and Donna Reed, everybody stop. Then, he came over to me, and squatted down, and said, “See where we’re standing here. Right here. I want you to be pulling on this man’s coattails.

When you come out of that other room, pull on his coattails and then say, when you get right here to this spot, say, “Excuse me.” He said, you’ll want to try that. Excuse me. But right here, don’t say it until you reach right here. And then they walked another couple of steps, and he squatted down again. “I want you to keep pulling on his coattail, but say, excuse me again right here. You can do that.” Then, a third time, and we rehearsed it and finally shot it. 

Years later, Frank Capra and I were at the Academy. We’re both members of the Motion Picture Academy. And he was there for a director’s choice, where people would go, and they’d show the director’s favorite movie. Then they talked all about it afterwards. People would stand up and ask questions while we were there. One of the questions I asked him, “What was the most difficult scene to direct in the movie?” And he said the one with you kids.

I asked if we did something wrong? He said, “No, you were great. It’s just that I had so much business going on. You know, it was a very depressing scene. Jimmy Stewart had his problems and then I have the other kid ask him, how do you spell this? The girl is pounding on the piano. You’re burping. And they could have laughed at the scene instead of with it. I wanted to make it like real family life in this house, and how people really act and react, but it was a very difficult thing to do.”

 I asked him if remembered asking me to do the excuse me line three times. He said, yeah, but the second time, I didn’t say it exactly at the right time.

I asked, “Why did you print that out?” And he said, because it was natural, it felt more natural. 

JR: That’s great.

JH: And when we were shooting the scene where I’m wearing the mask and on Jimmy Stewart’s lap, and he’s contemplating the loss of $8,000, and he pulls me into him. And when he does, every time he did that in rehearsals and on the take, that mask would hike up. And the inside of the mask was like a sandpaper and it scraped my chin or my cheek each time. And we did it like two, three times rehearsing, then two or three times shooting. And that’s like five, six times. And then I went, Oh my God, this has gotta stop. 

So, these are vivid memories that I had. It was a wonderful experience. Capra was happy with it and he got what he felt he wanted. And we went on our separate ways twelve days later. 

They also brought in another director in the scene where Jimmy Stewart goes ballistic and he starts kicking over all the work. Capra was shooting some other scene, and the cameraman and this other director filmed our closeups, reacting to the dad going bonkers. And the director would talk to us about our feelings and what Jimmy Stewart is doing. And that’s kind of unique. Not many people know that, that another director actually directed those closeups.

 

JR: What was Frank Capra like?

JH: Very nice, man. Very patient. Took his time with all us kids and explaining what we were to do and how we were to do it. Just very nice memories. 

JR: Later on you were with Donna Reed again in her series. Can you tell us about that experience?

JH: In 1958, I finished shooting the Annie Oakley series, but I was still going out on tour, to state and County fairs doing personal appearances. And Gene Autry was our boss at the studio. He produced the annual play series, and he would take me out on tour with him. We went out for ten weeks doing rodeos and stuff.

So, I was still doing that kind of stuff, but during this time, my agent sent me over to Screen Gems, Columbia Pictures’ television division. They were doing a new show called The Donna Reed Show, and they needed a boyfriend. So, I went over there on that interview and talked with them, and I got the part, and it was the very first episode. They started shooting the shows and this episode was about Shelley Fabares who played Mary Stone, and she likes this star basketball player at school. And she hung out at the library, because this guy worked there at the library and she was trying to get him to take her out. And so, she was telling her mom, I wanted him to take me to the dance and he won’t give me any time of day. So, she said, well, he’s in the library, so why don’t you get some books and then have him carry them home for you. So, she does. And the problem is, I fall for the mother and not the daughter. So that was the whole episode. And the first day, we were sitting around the table getting ready to read the script. The writers are there, and then you read it and see what works and what doesn’t work. Well, before we started, I saw Donna Reed at the other end of the table. And I walked down and said, “Excuse me, my name is Jimmy Hawkins. I played your son, Tommy Bailey in It’s a wonderful Life.” 

She said, “I know. They said that they hired you for this part.” And she said, “You know, we used to call you rip van Winkle. You were so cute. You could sleep anytime. And all this commotion going on, with lighting and everything, and you just fell asleep. And then when everybody got ready, they’d wake you up, and you’d be bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready to shoot. And it was just so cute that this little boy can sleep through all this. And that’s why we called you Rip Van Winkle.” And eight years later, I was still doing the show. 

JR: You had a friendship with her throughout her life as well, correct? 

JH: Oh yeah. Afterwards, you know, we’d go to lunch and stayed in touch by talking on the phone. Then, when Shelley Fabares got married, we were all together at her wedding.

Shelley and I stayed friends forever, I mean, she was my girlfriend on the Annie Oakley Television series. That’s when we first met in the middle fifties. But Donna Reed was just a great lady. I mean, no star time. She was very professional. Never said to anybody, anything negative, like, Hey, you’re supposed to shoot me this way. She was wonderful. Just the best. Like you see on the show. 

JR: And Jimmy Stewart?

JH: I’d run across Jimmy Stewart every so often at a party or something, and we would talk. Once, we talked about how they colorized It’s a Wonderful Life, when colorization first came in. He didn’t like it at all. No. He said it looked like a Walt Disney threw up on it. He was as nice as he appeared as well.

Paul Peterson and I wrote a book called the, It’s Wonderful Life Trivia Book. And so, I called Mr. Stewart and asked him if he would write the forward for me. And he did. And then, a couple of years later, I wrote the 50th Anniversary Scrapbook and sent a bunch of copies to him to autograph for charitable events. Shortly after, he passed away. But then they called me and said, come pick up the books. He signed them for you. 

JR: Oh, wow. 

JH: Yeah, he was very nice. 

JR: Have to ask. Were you terrified of Lionel Barrymore?

JH: Well, I didn’t have any scenes with him, but he was on the set, and I would ride around or stand on the side of his wheelchair and ride around the set. There’s a classic picture of all the major cast members from the movie that they took, and he’s in the wheelchair and I’m standing next to it. He was very nice man. 

I did Duel in the Sun with him later. And I also did Winchester ‘73 with Jimmy Stewart later. The very first line in Winchester ‘73, was spoken by me.

JR: Now I read how the film was not successful on its initial release and kind of fell out of the public eye for a while. When did it start making a resurgence?

JH: In the middle seventies, when somebody at the studio didn’t pick up the copyright and it went into public domain, which meant that TV stations could play it all over the nation for free. And they took advantage of that. And then it built, and built, and grew, and it just became more and more popular. TV made it a hit. I asked Sheldon Leonard about it, how it was a flop and now it’s such a big hit and isn’t that something? 

He said, “Well, you gotta remember one thing, Jimmy. The film never changed. The people changed. They needed that message more than ever. That was the same film he made in ‘46. And the reason that it bombed, the people weren’t ready for the message. But in the seventies, eighties, the nineties, it just kept growing and people just got the message of the movie that we’re all important. We all mean something. We can all make a difference. We can change lives for the better, if we choose. And that’s what that film tells us. You’re important. You, you, you, one person can make a difference.

JR: That’s absolutely true, and a great message. You know, before we did the interview, I went back and watched it again. And I’ve watched it often, and I knew what was coming and I knew what the ending was, and still, I bawled my eyes out.

JH: Yeah, everybody does. You can’t help it. You just can’t. It’s just, they’re so happy that all these people came to this man’s rescue when he was down. And he never thought he did anything in this life. But when he got to see what life would have been like if he had never been born and he sees, Oh my God, look at how Bedford falls turned into Pottersville. He was grateful to be back, send me to prison. Anything. I just want to come back right back.

JR: That message still resonates with people. How about yourself? Do you believe in guardian angels?

JH: Oh, sure. I believe that. I think there’s somebody out there that oversees us, and you know, of course, we have the choices to do good or bad. It’s up to us. You know, that’s why people say, well, if there’s a God, why would he do this? That’s what Jimmy Stewart said to Lionel Barrymore while he was making the film. He just said, you know, coming out of a war and seeing death and everything. This acting business seems like just nothing. It can’t compare to real life. And Barrymore told him, no, you’re very important. You speak to people for two hours in the dark and that’s very important. They listen to you, and you have a gift and you got to use God’s gift that he gave you. You can’t just go, well, I saw tragedy here. Well, you know, that’s what happens, but you’ve got to continue to do what you do. So, you can talk to people. They like you so very much. So, he stayed in there when he just wanted to go back home and help his dad in the family business in Indiana, Pennsylvania.

JR: He was right. Jimmy Stewart had a special quality to him. How often do you go back and watch the movie and what strikes you when you do?

JH: Well, you might be watching it Christmas Eve, especially wrapping gifts at the last moment. And you settle down and you say, “Oh, I like this scene.” Then that scene is over and then, “Oh, this one’s good, too.” And you’re sitting there at the end, crying. It just touches your life.

JR: So, you do go back and watch it frequently?

JH: Yeah, I watch it. Especially at Christmas time.

JR: You later became involved in the foundations for both Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed. How did that come about?

JH:  Shelley Fabares, Paul Peterson, and Donna’s husband took her Oscar back to Denison Iowa. After Donna died, she wanted to give the town her Oscar. So, they took it back and presented it to them. The press was all there. And all of a sudden, this town is cooking. Just like 7,000 people live there. And now it’s busy and people are so interested in Shelley and Paul being there, and they asked them when they were ready to leave, why can’t you come back? Is there any reason, anything that we can help you with or you help us with? And so, Shelley came back, and she called me, and she said, we’re going to have a meeting at Donna’s house. Could you make it?

https://www.donnareed.org

Yeah, sure. I’ll do that. So, there are four or five of us there and discussing how we could go back to Denison, Iowa. We came up with this idea of a festival, and what we’d do is, have students come and learn, no matter what they’re learning at school or in high school and going into college. We’re going to prepare them how to really meet people in the business. How to be prepared. So, we had the acting people. And then we brought writers from comedy shows and dramatic shows and all these people wanted to take these different classes, and most of them are from high school. And then we have this festival, and we give out scholarships to kids to help them go to college, so they could study the arts and follow in Donna Reed’s footsteps. But they’d be more prepared to actually go to Hollywood. 

And we had a casting director who actually was the casting director on the Donna Reed show. He came back and taught the kids how to make them a resume and a headshot, then be prepared to walk into meeting real people. The writers from Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island and writers from Brian’s Song, and dramatic series like Gunsmoke. That’s what we did for 25 years. We gave out scholarships to kids to go to college and had all these classes. And it was like a campus, and you’d go from class to class. The kids would take up different things that they wanted to do. So that’s how that came about.

 

JR: Very generous. I also read that you go every year to Seneca falls, which claims to be the inspiration for Bedford falls. They have a whole It’s a Wonderful Life festival. Can you tell us a little bit about that? 

JH:  Zuzu started it. Almost twenty years ago. Somebody asked her to come there and sign autographs, and the same thing. She started doing it for many years. And then I think on the 15th or 16th year, she tried to get me and Janie to go. I couldn’t get away, but then, on the 70th anniversary of the movie, which is now four years ago, I could make it. I’ve been there for three years and then this year helped them do kind of did a virtual festival. It’s on their website right now. And you can see live things or programs going on, different interviews and stuff associated with It’s a Wonderful Life. And there’s a whole program each day, where you can go from class to class. 

We’re always doing interviews, but we never take any credit for the movie because we were only on it for twelve days, but we’re the last people standing. People love the Bailey family. They want to talk to us about the movie, much like yourself. And we just carry Frank Capra’s message, since he’s not alive to do it anymore.

https://www.wonderfullifemuseum.com/

JR: I think it’s great that you do. 

JH: Well, we believe in the movie and, and the message. We’re all important. You know, people come up to us and said they wanted to commit suicide and they didn’t after seeing the movie and it really touched lives for the better. I think this movie, if it was a hit in 1946, it would never be what it is now. But something meant to be, that it was a flop then, but grew to be one of the greatest movies ever made. Not just that people say, Oh, it’s the greatest holiday movie. True. But it’s also one of the greatest movies. I mean, it’s just up there, and it would never have been like that unless those people made it that way. Capra, before he died, saw all this. He came out of World War II, hadn’t looked through a camera in five years, and now he’s on a set, doing this movie, and he was scared to death. He didn’t know if he still had it. And then the movie comes out and it’s a flop. Oh my God, he was devastated. Just didn’t understand it. He said, this is the greatest movie I’ve ever made. And look, it’s nothing. It’s just nothing. They were up for five Oscars, but not a hit in the box office. Lost half a million dollars and he was devastated. But he lived a long enough to see that he was right. 

JR: Some vindication for him. 

JH: Yes, absolutely. I asked him if he could change anything if he had to do it over again? He said, the one thing I would change would be the Donna Reed character, at the end, when she was a meek librarian. He said, I wouldn’t have done that. I would have made it a much stronger person. A now kind of person after World War II. Forceful. A woman who was that dedicated to fall in love and chase Jimmy Stewart until she caught him, would never be some weak little woman. She would have done something strong-willed. He said that that’s the only thing he would change. I talked to Donna about it, and she said, he told her that too. 

JR: Now, I read that there was supposed to be a planned sequel called, It’s a Wonderful Life: The Rest of the Story, whatever happened with that?

JH: Yeah, people have come up with stuff, but, you know, they say they have the money, but they don’t. They just talk and they get their publicity, and then they move on. You can’t remake that movie. The thing I’ve done that’s closest to it. I did an all-star PBS film special. A big charity event that I was putting on for kids with AIDS. Babies who had AIDS, and all the money went to them and their cause. And I sold it to PBS, and they filmed it. And PBS made a lot of money from it, for the cause, but it was the radio version. And not only did it entertain, but it educated the people that this is what we were raised with in the twenties and thirties, it was radio. It wasn’t until the late forties that TV came in. But before that it was radio. And so, I had a guy from the original radio show days, do all the sound effects. He was on the stage, right up front, to let the people see how they did all that. And I had a 14-piece orchestra playing the original Dmitri Tiomkin score. 

JR: Oh wow. 

JH: And people would sit in their chairs, until it was time to walk four or five steps to their microphone. And they did their part, and when they finished that part, they would go sit down again. Sally field did it. And Nathan Lane was Clarence. Bill Pullman played George Bailey. This was for the 50th anniversary. Christian Slater was in it. Jerry Van Dyke. Casey Kasemdid the announcing. Carol Kane, Robert Guillaume. It was a great thing. 

JR: Next year is the 75th. Any big plans for that?

JH: Yeah, there’s a lot of talk and things are in motion to try and make these things happen, but it will be something special. No doubt because it’s 75. 

JR:  I’m definitely looking forward to it. I’ll move on to a couple of other things from your career. I recently interviewed Margaret Kerry who starred with you in The Ruggles, one of the first television sitcoms. What can you tell us about that experience?

JH: Well, it was very unique. Back in the forties, nobody knew what television was. They didn’t know how to do it. They went like, well, this is the way we do it on radio. So, we just bring that to television. The series was live. We rehearsed all week and then shot it live. 

JR: Incredible. 

JH: We did that at night, and did fifty shows a year. And then we had a two-week vacation. 

Nowadays, they say, Oh, we’re doing a special night. It’s live! Yeah, that’s no big deal. We were told, don’t ever stop. If you don’t remember your lines, say something because it’ll come back to you, but you can’t just stop and go, Hey, what? I don’t know my line. You can’t do that. 

And we’d even do the commercials for our own show. The other twin, Judy Nugent, and me. And we we’d go up, and we’d start laughing. We couldn’t remember dog foods or chicken liver cheese or something, whatever chicken liver and what, and we’d just look at each other and start laughing. It was really something. I’m sure Margaret shared some stories with you.

JR: Yes she did. She was a great interview. Fantastic. Fascinating woman. Looking at your resume, you were on some of the most iconic TV shows. Ozzie and Harriet, Petticoat Junction. You made appearances on Leave it to Beaver and Kolchak, My Three Sons. Any anecdotes from those shows that you can share?

JH: Yeah. There was uniqueness between all the shows I did. They were shot the same. They were one camera. You’d rehearse a day and then you shoot three days and then that would be it. But there were two shows that were different. They didn’t do it that way. Gidget did it, Petticoat Junction did it, Leave it to Beaver. Just all of the shows. Did the read around, come in and shoot your day or your two days or three days. You know, if you weren’t a big part of the show, they’d just bring you in on the day you need to shoot you, they didn’t need to rehearse you. Most of the Donna Reeds that I did, were kind of written for me, so they’d wait if I was doing an Ozzie and Harriet we’d do that Donna Reed show later. You know, the next week or something. 

The two shows that were different were, My Three Sons, and Ozzie and Harriet. With Ozzie and Harriet, instead of just five days, they’d shoot six or seven days because it was his show. That’s the way he did it. He made a deal with ABC to deliver this for X amount of dollars. And he would do that. In fact, he would go home and watch the show when it was on Thursday night. And if he saw something he didn’t like, he’d go back to the studio the next morning while we were doing the show. And, because they had all the characters, the same Ozzy, Harriet, David, Ricky. So, if he didn’t like it, he’d reshoot it and then put it in for the rerun.

JR: (Laughs) That’s so funny. 

JH: Yeah. And then the other show that was unique was, My Three Sons. They hired you and would say, okay, February 18th, you shoot, and May 30th. You’d have to make yourself available for four months, five months later, finish the show, because Fred MacMurray had a unique deal, and he had to shoot all his stuff in three months. All 39 shows or whatever. And so, any scene that you were in with him, you’d have to be available in that three months period. The other part of that show that was different was, you were in scenes that he wasn’t. So that was unique. It was very interesting. I did over four hundred TV shows and about forty some odd movies. 

JR: My Three Sons was one of my favorites.  Have to ask this. I’m a huge Elvis fan, and you did two movies with him!

I went to MGM in ‘64 since they wanted to meet me for an Elvis movie. We’re sitting in one of these little casting rooms, shooting the breeze. They always say the same thing. Well, Jimmy, how’s everything going? What are you doing lately? I’ve been doing blah, blah, blah. And then all of a sudden, Joe Pasternak, the producer, says, were you on Petticoat Junction the other night? I said, yeah. And he turned to everybody in the room and said, he’s great. He can do anything. There are three characters in this movie with Elvis and I want you to meet with the director. He’ll explain the three characters and, you’ll pick one out. He turned to the room. He’ll pick out who he thinks he best can play, and then, that’s the part he’ll do. So, I got a copy of the script and I think the best part is Doc. So, then they wanted to test a girl. I was the first person to be signed to do the movie. And they were testing the girl to play opposite Elvis. So, they asked me, would you do this test? You play the Elvis part in this test with this girl. Yeah, sure. I knew the girl, and she was from New York. And so, the night before, she asked me to come over and run through the script together. We did, and then when I was on the set the next, she did a fine job, but she wasn’t the part at all, just all wrong.

They did the scene with the both of us. Then they went in for her closeup, so I walked off. I walked maybe two steps, and all of sudden in front of me, the director stops me. I look at him, and he says, tell me about Shelley Fabares.

Now, I knew exactly what he was saying. Shelley’s a friend since were twelve. The girl on the set is a friend of mine. I said, well, if this doesn’t work out, which I knew it wouldn’t. Not that she wasn’t good. She just was wrong. I said, if this doesn’t work out, Shelley is this part. He said, thank you, and that was it. And Shelly was signed. I’m sure they were considering her before. He knew I worked with her for four or five years. I mean, she’s so wonderful in the part. And then we did another picture together with Elvis. We did two of them and then she went on to do a third one. I said, how could you do one without me?

JR: What was Elvis like to work with?

JH: He was great. One day, we were sitting in my dressing room. They were lighting the scene for when we were actually doing the film. And we were sitting there talking, and all of a sudden there’s a knock on the door. We had the dressing rooms on rollers and they’re a nice size. You can sit there, and you got a chaise lounge. You could lay down or they can make you up in the room and all this stuff. And so, we look over at the door, it was open, and there’s standing Elvis. No entourage, just Elvis. He asked, “Can I come in?” What? Wow. So, he comes in, and I had a call that morning from the producer of a new pilot they were doing, and he wanted to come down on the stage and actually meet me, so be on the look-out for him. 

So, I’m sitting there with Elvis and his leading lady in my dressing room, and another knock at the door and the guy says, Mr. Hawkins. I said, yeah. And then he looks up and now standing in the doorway is this producer of this new series, the head of MGM studios, and the head of television, standing there. And they go, Oh my God, we’ll come back later. I said, no, no, no, it’s all right. And so, I excuse myself with Elvis and Shelley, and walk over. And we started talking, they explain the show, and asked, is that something that you’d be interested in doing?

I said, “Yeah, sure.”

And they left, and I thought, Oh my God, could, the timing have been any better? I wasn’t sitting in Elvis’s dressing room. He was sitting in mine! I just was blown away, not cocky or anything. Just how ironic that they would come at that time. Then look up and see who was sitting in my dressing room. And, Oh my God, they said, Oh, I’m sorry. We’ll come back. Uh, wonderful. And Shelley and I laugh about that till today. We just loved Elvis. Loved working on the show. Just had so much fun. Girl Happy was great. 

JR: What a great story! And you were also with him on Spinout.

JH:  I didn’t like that picture.

JR: You didn’t like Spinout?

JH: No, I didn’t. It wasn’t as much fun to work on. Elvis was always great, but Girl Happy was great. I mean, it was a good movie. Well-structured for fun. Well-directed, everything. The other was, I don’t know . . ..

I mean, how bad can it be? You’re working with Elvis and Shelley again and met Diana Bain and, so that part was great.

JR: True. It had been some years since I’ve seen Spinout. Girl Happy. I’ve watched more recently. I had wanted to watch it one more time before I spoke with you. Okay, the home stretch here, the last few questions. Since we’re a site devoted to children’s books. What was your favorite childhood book?

JH: Growing up? It was a thing called Sawdust in his Shoes. It was a book that I read while I was doing the Annie Oakley series.  I was twelve, maybe thirteen. I love this book. It was all about a kid who was in the circus and then his parents died, and he leaves the circus cause he’s so despondent. And he’s found by a farmer and his family. It was great story. Really, really good. Later on, I tried to buy it to make a movie out of it. And it was hard to find the writer and who owned the rights. It just got too convoluted, you know, but I always remembered, I thought it’d make a good episode of Little House on the Prairie.

JR: I’m going to look that up. Now, with so many people loving It’s a Wonderful Life, what’s your favorite movie? 

JH: I love It’s a Wonderful Life, but that same year, a picture was produced called, Best Years of Our Lives. I love that. That won the Best Picture over It’s a Wonderful Life, but isn’t that funny?

It’s what I said earlier, if It’s a Wonderful Life had won the Oscar that year, which it certainly could have deserved, no doubt. You wouldn’t ever have heard of it. I mean, what do you hear about Best Years of Our Lives? It’s been on television, but it’s not an event or anything like It’s a Wonderful Life. So, all that stuff happens for a reason. 

I believe you talked about it being spiritual, and yes, I believe that there are guardian angels looking after us. And, things happen for a reason. You know, I go, why didn’t that happen? Or why didn’t this work out for me, or whatever. And it was for a reason. And years later you go, that was a good move. I’m glad that didn’t happen for me or whatever. You know. I was up for a picture with Elvis called Kissin’ Cousins. I knew the producer, Sam Katzman from over at Columbia and now he’s over at MGM doing this movie. So, he said, Hey, I want you to meet the director of this picture. So, I got there and I’m meeting with the director, Gene Nelson. And he said, “Jimmy, were you having lunch today with Pam Austin?” I said, yeah.

He said, “You know, I thought you were Elvis having lunch.” 

I said, “Oh yeah. A lot of people mixed me up with him.” (Laughs) So, he said, “Well, Elvis plays twins in this, and you can’t have three Elvises.”

 And so I’m saying to myself, Oh, he wants somebody else in this part. He wants some friend of his. And I understand. So, I was disappointed that I couldn’t do Kissin’ Cousins, but then came Girl Happy and that was great. 

JR: Girl Happy is a much better film. 

JH: Oh yeah.

JR: How can people follow you on social media?

JH: I don’t know. I’m on Facebook, but I don’t really tell anybody. Some people find me and leave messages on there, and they’re very nice and it’s kinda neat, but no, I don’t advertise that I’m even there, but somehow, they find you. 

JR: They always find you. You’ve done several books based on It’s a Wonderful Life. Tell us about them.

JH: The kids’ book, It’s a Wonderful Life, did extremely well. Over the years, people always told me, I used to watch it with my parents, and now I have children and they watch with me. And I look at the kid, and they say they enjoy it, but it’s kind of hard about understanding about building and loans and stuff, isn’t it? So, I thought, I’m going to write a book that’s geared for them. I’ll do a book from their point of view, so that a kid their age goes through this and loses the money at school. And then he, he just wants to run away. And then he runs into this angel on the bridge. And not that he was going to commit suicide or anything, but it’s a way out of town, over the bridge and you’re out of town. So, I wrote it from the point of view of the character that I was in the movie, and I take him from four to about eleven, and he gets to see what life would have been like if he hadn’t been born. 

And so that’s the kind of approach I took. They see how important they are. That they mean something. So, don’t screw your life up and commit suicide because you’re depressed about something. It can get better. So that’s the approach I took, and they did extremely well. And, I’ve even been talked to about making an animated movie, but they could never come to an agreement. 

JR: Oh, that’s too bad. 

JH: Yeah, so I’ll wait. It’s only going to get more popular, so if it’s supposed to happen. It’ll happen.

JR: Mr. Hawkins, I thank you so much for doing this. It was an honor getting to speak with you. I enjoyed talking immensely.

JH: It was my pleasure.

 

Well, Mixed-Up Filers, I hope you enjoyed getting to visit Bedford Falls and spending time with the Baileys. On behalf of Mixed-Up Files, I wish you all a very Happy Holiday season.

Until next time . . .

Jonathan