Look at this guy in the photo above. Call him Johnny. He grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, and he played college football for Brown as an undergrad and for Penn as a grad student in law. 159 pounds of pure, uhm, gumption, Johnny played center. That was small for a lineman, even in that pre-1900, no helmet period of college ball.
Johnny’s real love, however, was acting. He had a deep, booming voice for someone who was fairly short and imperially slim. While still a high schooler, Johnny carried himself with somewhat of a theatrical air. His speech at graduation (he was the class valedictorian) was on The Dramatist as Sermonizer. Later, when Johnny decided to marry, he even married an actress.
He chose a career as a professor and, since he had played in college, a football coach. But acting and the stage never left his soul. During the off-seasons from his sport, he raised money for his teams by starting dramatic societies and putting on plays in which he often starred. One college paper at a poly-technical school at which Johnny taught gave a rave review of one of his performances, saying that, “He acted not like an amateur, but like the skilled professional that he is.”
His elocution and diction were perfect. His dramatic and even comedic timing was impeccable. His stage presence was riveting. Johnny used his not inconsiderable talents to win parts in some Broadway productions, and he acted in several plays off-Broadway as well. He toured with a southern dramatic company one summer, and eventually opened his own acting company and then, later, theatrical production company which both bore his name. His influence became so great that after his death from pneumonia at the age of 66, a musical was written about him and the rather odd mix in his life of football, teaching, and acting.
Oh, perhaps you wonder why you don’t know about this football player turned teacher and actor. Today, people around major universities and their supporters certainly know about him, but not for his acting abilities. In fact, there’s a major college prize, awarded yearly, that’s named after him, but it doesn’t go to the best collegiate actor.
No, it goes to the best collegiate football player.
It’s the Heisman Trophy.
Paris often hosted world fairs in the 19th century. The French prided themselves for being on the cutting edge of engineering, the arts, education, and technology. The world fairs in Paris showcased all these and more to an eager world. The 1889 world‘s fair was no exception.
The town of Orleans was named, of course, for the French family of royalty. The Valois-Orléans family provided several kings for France. But this post is about attacks on the town during two different world wars.
The first “world war” was, arguably, the Napoleonic wars of the early 1800s. Orleans was attacked by the British from the sea during this war, causing its inhabitants to develop a strong dislike for all things English. These British attacks destroyed property, livelihoods, and caused enough damage that it took several years for the area around Orleans to recover economically. In fact, in a war some 25 years earlier, the British had even captured the town—twice. So, hostility towards the British spanned several generations in and around Orleans.
Ironically, in one of the next world wars, the Great War, also known as World War I, these residents of Orleans found that the British were their allies in facing the Germans on the Western front of France. The Germans , like the English attackers before them, attacked Orleans by sea. The intent of the attack, apparently, was to destroy some supplies that have been stored in the town.
However, the shelling by the German guns didn’t do the damage the British had done almost 130 years before. The attack occurred on July 21, 1918. A German submarine shot its deck guns at the town and also destroyed a tow boat and some barges. Luckily, no fatalities were incurred.
Now, it’s possible that some of you may have spotted something curious in the paragraphs above that describe the attacks on Orleans. “Wait,” you might be saying. “Orleans France isn’t a coastal town. How could the British and then the Germans attack Orleans by sea?”
The answer is, of course, this post is not about the city of Orleans in France. And it’s not about New Orleans in Louisiana, either. No, it is about the Orleans (population +/- 6000) that is located on Cape Cod in Massachusetts.
Yes, the British captured the town twice during the American Revolution and caused damage during the War of 1812. These attacks are why the citizens chose the name Orleans; they wanted no English-sounding name associated with their town.
However, it was the attack by the German U-boat in 1918 that really put Orleans on the map. You see, it is this attack that is remembered in history as the only time Germany attacked the land of the United States during WW1.
True, it’s likely that the U-boat captain was only trying to damage the barges and tow boats in the harbor, causing some of his shells to miss their mark and land in and around the town. But, at no other time during World War I did Germany attack the soil of the United States—except at Orleans.
Harry traveled a lot in his business. Work took him to London and then back to the US quite often. It made sense, then, for him to by a little place “across the pond” for those times when he needed it.
This being the 1970s, and him being a man who enjoyed the cacophony of intoxicants available in that era, Harry found a place close to swinging London’s nightlife. And, having some money and being young-ish, he met several others in the same business as he. And Harry’s friends liked to crash at his well-positioned pad. Which was fine with Harry. He didn’t mind at all. In fact, when business called him back to the states, he would let friends stay extended periods in the one bedroom flat.
Ellen was one such friend of Harry‘s. She needed a place, short-term, because she was going through some changes in careers but had managed to land a gig in London theater district. You see, Ellen had enjoyed some success with a troupe when she was younger, but, now that she was 32, she wanted to strike out on her own.
That proved to be difficult for her. Ellen had a weight problem. No matter what she did, she never seemed to be able to be as thin as other girls in her branch of the entertainment business. She saw this new opportunity as a chance to start over. So, she was thrilled when her friend Harry let her stay at his flat while she tried to get her life together.
Sadly, after only her second performance, Ellen died in Harry‘s apartment. Years of being a large person, along with several crash diets, had damaged her heart. The autopsy revealed there were no drugs in her system; her heart simply gave out. Harry was deeply saddened by this. He always thought Ellen had talent.
Four years passed, and Harry still had the apartment. Another friend in the entertainment business, a guy named Keith, asked Harry if he could use the apartment for a few weeks. Harry wasn’t sure. He somehow felt that the apartment brought bad luck. He told this to Keith, but Keith shook it off and said something to the effect that there’s no way lightning would strike twice.
Like Ellen, Keith was working through some personal issues. However, Keith’s issues dealt with alcohol abuse. His doctor had given him medicine to help him combat the addiction. One morning, Keith, who was also aged 32, simply took too many of the pills prescribed by his doctor and died in his sleep in the same bed where Ellen had died four years earlier.
This was too much for Harry. He sold the flat. In fact, he sold it to a good friend of Keith’s – – a guy named Pete.
You probably know Pete. Pete Townsend? And Pete’s friend, Keith? You probably know him, also. Keith Moon.
Ellen you probably also know. She didn’t go by her birth name professionally, however. You probably know her as Cass Elliot – – Mama Cass.
And what about poor Harry?
As stated above, Harry was a partier. Even though he didn’t die in that bed in that apartment, he still died in his mid-50s because his body couldn’t take the overindulgence that he subjected it to over the years of being a rock ‘n’ roll musician.
At his memorial service, the proceedings were interrupted by a strong earthquake. Someone joked that Harry Nilsson must’ve made it to heaven and found out that there weren’t any bars.