Tag: Biographies

As I knew himWhen Rodman Edward “Rod” Serling, died on June 28, 1975, he left behind a legion of fans who fondly remembered and loved his hit show ‘The Twilight Zone’.   The show is an American classic and every year on New Year’s Day, the Sci-Fi channel runs a full marathon.   The show aired from 1959 to 1964, and in those fives years, a legacy was created that shows no signs of slowing down.   The popularity of the show has resulted in fan sites, Instagram and Facebook pages, that pay homage to what many be the greatest science fiction show in television history.  Classic episodes such as Nightmare at 20,000 Feet starring William Shatner of Star Trek fame and Nothing in The Dark with a young Robert Redford are some of the author’s favorites among a vast collection of outstanding creative genius.  But who was the smooth talking man who appeared in a suit at the end of the episode with a cigarette in hand?  His daughter Anne answers these questions in this intimate portrait of the man she called her dad.

In this book, Anne tells the story her father’s life giving the reader a good biography of the late icon.  I personally learned several great facts about Serling including his military service in World War II.   His entry in journalism and then Hollywood set the path he would walk for the rest of his life.  Marriage and fatherhood shows us the man who was not just a suit but in reality a family man with a brilliant creative mind. His talents and success caused the relocation of his family several times and Anne is very candid about life living on more than one coast.  The beauty of the book is the relationship between father and daughter.  The love that existed between the two can be felt as the passages in the book are read.   Serling’s wit and unconventional personality lend an air of spontaneity to their lives and it seems as if even when the show was not on the air he was still in character.  Nonetheless, his ways of teaching and caring for his daughters are an example of the importance of a father in his daughter’s life.

Serling’s signature pose is with one arm up and a cigarette in hand.  His cigarette habit and health issues began to take their toll towards the end of his life.  The decline in his health combined with his unwavering addiction to smoking are two of the three tragic moments in the book next to his untimely death.   We can ask ourselves why he did not change his lifestyle but only Serling knows the answer to that question.  What we do know through Anne’s words is that his death devastated his family and to this day, I do not believe she has fully recovered from his death.  If I found myself in her position, I do not know if I would have recovered.  At age fifty, Serling would be considered young by today’s standards and could have possibly lived for another thirty to forty years.  His sudden departure precluded him from watching his daughters continue to mature, becoming a grandfather and living out his golden years after a productive and inspiring career in the television and film industries.  In death, he reminds us of the shortness of life and and our own mortality.

Many years have since passed since Serling’s death but his legacy is intact and more important with each year that passes.  Through the episodes of the Twilight Zone he was able to get his messages across about society and all of its problems.  And he did not hesitate to remind the world of the horrors of warfare and discrimination.  As a proponent of civil he dedicated several episodes to the topic of racism and the Holocaust inspired in part by his Jewish heritage.   Nature, space, religion and human nature were all explored in his writings and had he lived, I believe the possibilities were endless.  The saving grace however, is that we do have an enormous amount of material he created and this heartwarming and poignant memoir by his loving daughter, Anne.

ISBN-10: 080653673X
ISBN-13: 978-0806536736

Biographies

LemayOctober 1, 1990-General Curtis E. LeMay (Ret.) dies at the age of 83 at March Air Force Base in Riverside County, California.  The former General became a legend in the United States Air Force after reorganizing the Strategic Air Command and pushing for the development of the B-29 bomber which changed the Allied effort in World War II.  Satirically nicknamed “Bombs Away Lemay”, he developed a reputation as an extreme patriot willing to go to whatever length was appropriate in the protection of the United States.  And in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Dr. StrangeLove’, the character  of Jack D. Ripper is based on of Lemay.   Warren Kozak’s account of the life of the late General is the definitive account of LeMay’s life.

Born in Columbus, Ohio on November 15, 1906, the young LeMay would find his calling in the U.S. Air Force in a career that last through several Presidencies.  He was both lionized and feared by the oval office and subordinates.  His decision to drop the altitude of the B-29 during the firebomb runs over Tokyo caused Robert McNamara to remark in Errol Morris’ ‘Fog of War’ that if we had lost the war we would have been prosecuted as war criminals.  LeMay had also pushed for preemptive strike against the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis and said quite frankly that we should bomb the North Vietnamese back to the stone age during the Vietnam War.   When segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace ran for President in 1968, he convinced LeMay to be his running mate  and the decision would haunt LeMay for years to come.  Interesting Wallace had served under the 20th Air Corp under LeMay in World War II but had never met the General prior to the campaign.  LeMay’s decision to back Wallace confused and shocked many as Wallace was known to be a stanch segregationists where as LeMay had advocated for the fair treatment of all soldiers regardless of race.   As we now know, Wallace lost and LeMay faded away remaining retired and living a quiet life until his death.  Opinion about LeMay will always be divided but the fact remains that the late General, with his flaws, served his nation during World War II and was a patriot of the highest order.

ISBN-10: 1596985690
ISBN-13: 978-1596985698

Biographies

santiagoMarch 2, 1917- President Woodrow Wilson signs the Jones-Shahfroth Act granting U.S. citizenship to the residents of Puerto Rico.  And while it prevents residents of Puerto Rico from voting in U.S. presidential elections, it opens the door for the migration of thousands of Puerto Ricans to states throughout the nation.  New York City was and still is the number one destination for Puerto Rican immigrants.  Many settled throughout the five boroughs with strongholds erected in small neighborhoods such as Spanish Harlem, parts of the Bronx, Bushwick, Williamsburg and East New York, Brooklyn.  The relationship between the United States and its neighbor in the Caribbean is unique and conflicted. The island is officially designated a commonwealth that uses American currency and whose laws are sometimes subject to U.S. approval.  Its designation as a commonwealth has placed in a precarious position; it is neither a state or a country on its own and its fate is inextricably tied to America.  The iron of Puerto Rico is that its citizens have contributed to the well-being of the United States in ways which many are unaware of.  During the Vietnam war, more than 48,000 Puerto Rican men served in the military. I personally know one of these men who proudly served this country in Southeast Asia.  Today he is a grandfather living out his days comfortably at a retirement home as he deals with the rigors of aging.  His story is one of millions that tell the story of the Puerto Rican experience in the land of the free and home of the brave.   Among the many stories is this one by Esmeralda Santiago, who recalls her childhood and journey to New York as her mother searches for a better life for her growing family.

Born in the San Juan district of Santurce, her early life is typical of most families at a time when U.S. involvement in the island’s affairs caused both apprehension and resentment at the meddling of Uncle Sam in Puerto Rican culture.  Today it may be hard to imagine, but less than one hundred years ago, the majority of governors of the island were American and helped corporations and the government rule the island with an iron grip. For several years, English was the mandatory language to be spoken in schools making Spanish unwelcome and the act of speaking it, an offense.  During this climate of colonialism and culture suppression lived a young girl whose life was about to change in a most dramatic way.

Economic depravity, stressful relationships and social conditions force her mother to make the fateful decision to move the family to New York City, a place Santiago had never visited and only heard of.  Her arrival in the city that never sleeps proves to be a rude awakening and culture shock in comparison to the home she was forced to leave.  The dark and gritty side of city life becomes a reality and as she explains in the book, the people were unlike anything she could have prepared for.   Class and racial discrimination combined with pedophiles,deviants and her lack of ability to speak English, transforms her world and forces her to mature ahead of schedule. The highlight of the book  however lies in her discovery of her talent for the performing arts.  Through determination and faith, she rises above her language restriction and excels in high school. And later in life, she earned degrees from both Sarah Lawrence College and Harvard University.   Many years have passed since she was a young girl in a small section of Puerto Rico, but her words make us feel as if we went back in time following her every step of the way.

ISBN-10: 0306814528
ISBN-13: 978-0306814525

Biographies

20180603_0035370On May 24, 2011, police responded to calls reporting gunfire on a quiet street in Newark, New Jersey. Inside the basement apartment, they found a young man slumped over with several fatal gunshot wounds.   His name was Robert DeShaun Peace (1971-2011).  He was thirty years old.  Following his death,  friend and former college roommate Jeff Hobbs published this memoir  of the time he spent with Peace at Yale University.  On October 6, 2014, Antoine Fuqua, the director of the award-winning ‘Training Day’, announced plans to direct a biopic about Peace.

But just who was Robert DeShaun Peace? Well, he was born in East Orange, New Jersey and defied the odds, leaving the inner-city to graduate with a degree in molecular biochemistry from Yale University.   He was raised by a single mother and struggled with his feelings toward his father, who was incarcerated for the majority of his son’s life.  Fate and luck combined to give the young man from East Orange a golden opportunity.  And it was at Yale that he and Hobbs formed the friendship that produced this interesting yet tragic story of a brilliant mind taken far too soon.  Peace has been described as genius in the things that he did. Doors continued to open for him and life took him as far away as Croatia which produces some amusing anecdotes in the book.  As I read through it, I felt that the sky truly was the limit for him.  Post-graduation, he makes a fateful decision that sadly changes everything.  Robert decided to return to the very neighborhood he sought to escape.

The life of Robert Peace is a story that is tragically replicated in cities across America.  Millions of young black men fall victim to the very streets from which they come.  Some of them will progress and leave the inner city but others will not be so lucky.  The description of Robert’s early life reads like a typical report of the broken homes that plagued African-American households beginning in the 1970s.  His mother worked a variety of jobs and the absence of his father, cast over them a dark cloud from which Robert is unable to fully escape. By all accounts the odds are not in his favor but fate always has a way of intervening in our lives.  Perseverance, fortune and a brilliant mind transformed this young man’s life which held high promise.

Peace’s return to Newark and the actions that lead to his death force us to question why is it that an Ivy league graduate returned to the very streets which threatened his daily existence and engaged in activities that are prone to end in incarceration or even death?  Typically, graduates of Yale move on to cushy jobs in corporate America with well-paying salaries.  And molecular biochemistry is far from a layman’s trade.  There will remain many what if questions surrouding his life. He is no longer with us to explain his actions so we can only speculate as to where he saw his life heading.  Had he lived, perhaps he would have eventually earned the Noble Peace Prize or possibly much more.

This biography is without a doubt one of the most moving I have read.  I felt that I could relate to Peace, coming from a similar neighborhood.  However, I was forntunate to have both of my parents at home.  I do believe that if Peace’s father had been there, then perhaps some parts of his life may have turned out differently. Jeff Hobbs has produced a book that will remain with you long after you have finished it.  No matter how much time has passed, one of the first books I recommend to friends is always this story about the short and tragic life of Robert Peace.

ISBN-10: 1476731918
ISBN-13: 978-1476731919

Biographies