Monday, February 28, 2011


This weekend Richard was watching the Yankees on TV in a pre-season game and, sadly, this weekend Duke Snider died.  As I mourn “my” boys of summer slipping away along w/ my youth, I thought I’d post a baseball memory piece I wrote over a decade ago for the New York Daily News sports section:


I came out of the womb thinking women were smarter than men.  There I was, ready to be born, when a male intern instructed my mother to cross her legs until her obstetrician could be found.  The result was an out-of-body experience for her and a difficult breech birth for me.

So, you think that’s where I got all my anger toward men?  Well, even I don’t hold a grudge that long!  Ever pragmatic, I chalked it up as one of life’s unsolved mysteries, until the night I was jolted awake by an epiphany – baseball.

In the dark I stared at the ceiling as an announcer’s voice echoed in my ears. “Sixth inning. 2-0 Brooklyn… Berra waits for Podres’ next pitch … CRACK … it’s a long, high fly ball to left … it’s going, going…. NO!  NO!  He caught it.  Sandy Amoros just made the catch of a lifetime!  What a heartbreak for the Yankees!  What a glorious day for the Dodgers!”

Childhood memories flashed on my bedroom ceiling like a home movie.  There I was, a little girl from Queens running home from school, my mother yelling out the window, “Brooklyn won!”  When my father came home from the game, we danced in the streets, my baby brother waving his Dodger pennant.  There was joy in Mudville, as my father’s heroes became mine: Robinson, Reese, Snider, Campanella, Hodges…

The following spring, joy deserted Mudville when I raced into my father’s arms crying.  “They” wouldn’t let me try out for Little League just because I was a girl!  I begged him to change the rules.  A liberated man for that era, he told me things would change and I could be or do anything I wanted… someday.  Then, as he watched the innocence fade from my eyes, replaced with the gestating look of a feminist, he held me closer and said, “Promise me you will always love baseball.”

One night sitting at the dinner table listening to my Brooklyn-Finnish grandparents and father loudly debate politics (a “Finnish” tradition in our house), I blurted out… “They can’t trade Jackie Robinson!”  Silence.  I turned to my father hoping he could fix it, but one look told me he couldn’t.  With my jaw set stubbornly I announced, “Men are so stupid!”  That belief hardened like cement the morning my heartbroken father read me the day’s headline:  “Bums Exit Brooklyn.”  To comfort him, I solemnly vowed I’d never root for the Yankees.

It suddenly dawned on me that throughout my young life, I’d always had one man who understood, who kept a balance between disappointment and hope… even if he couldn’t fix everything.  But I couldn’t hold on to that memory just as I couldn’t hold onto my father forever. 

I stood very still, dressed in my best Sunday clothes, my braids peeking out of my hand-knit bonnet.  My mother, wearing her black ‘dress’ coat, held my hand.  My brother, in his winter Sunday school suit, held her other hand.  My grandparents, bundled up in overcoats, sat on bridge chairs.  It was mid-March and the many bright floral arrangements stood in defiance against the bleak, half-frozen gravesite.  My brother left my mother’s side and placed his tiny hands squarely on the coffin. 

“Don’t worry daddy,” he whispered “we’ll never root for the Yankees.” (Finns are myopic people… probably because they come from too little sunshine and too much vodka, or maybe it’s just genetic.)

Without the Dodgers and without my father, summer and life would never be the same.  I took up tennis.

Years later when I met my writing partner, baseball re-entered my life.  He was wearing a Yankee cap.  I instantly became a devoted Met fan.  Despite the fact that he was a fanatic Yankee fan, we became partners, even got married and, like the Dodgers, deserted New York and moved to L.A.  Nobody’s perfect.

That first summer when the Mets came west, I found myself, the girl from Queens, sitting in Dodger Stadium talking to a Giants fan from the Bronx.  He dared me:  You wanna meet Roy Campanella or not?  Never able to refuse a challenge from a man, I agreed.  At the VIP level he turned on his Bronx charm and persuaded the security guard to let me through the cyclone fence.  As the gate closed behind me, he yelled, “Say, hey.”  Then, there he was looking frail, but beautiful.  Roy Campanella!  As he approached me in his wheelchair, I struggled to keep back the tears, remembering how devastated my father was after Campy’s career-ending accident.  Campy noticed a pin on my jacket.  “See you’re a Yankee fan,” he said. 

Horrified, I looked down and smiled.  I had thrown on my husband’s jacket.  “Never!” I told him and then showed him my vintage Brooklyn Dodger pin fastened securely to my tee shirt. 

“Ah, so you’re really a Dodger fan,” he continued.

I shook my head, “You broke my heart when you left Brooklyn.”

He nodded and asked, “But you still love baseball?”

I smiled again, as it struck me for the first time in years that I’ll always love baseball.  Now that Campy is gone, I treasure the fact that I got to tell him that.  I felt happy.  At one with the world.  Safe with the memories of my father, who taught me so many things in those few timeless summers.

Of course, I still believed women were smarter than men (Gil Hodges is still not in the Hall of Fame!).  But things were changing.  Girls can play in Little League and women were getting more respect.  My father knew they would… (He would have loved Hillary Rodham Clinton, three names and all)… And, at that moment, I realized why baseball made me a feminist.  Baseball introduced me to the inequities of the sexes, to prejudice, injustice and heartbreak.  How can you not love a game that did all that?

But I’ll still never root for the Yankees.

Friday, February 25, 2011



As Hollywood ends its last week of Oscar fever, the clarion call for racial and cultural diversity in film is still sounding across the land.  So, for all of you who are demanding your piece of the American pie and begging for your chance to fail at the American dream or simply to bring a more ethnic “face” to movies… I say, kippis! (Finnish for “skoal!”)  I’ve been there.

Growing up a second generation Finnish-American (just plain “Finn” in the pre-PC days) was a lonely lot… there were only 37 of us in the whole country: seven in rural Wisconsin (or was it Minnesota?) raising cows and making cheese, eight in Fargo, North Dakota running naked in the snow after their nightly sweat in the sauna, four in New England doing the cow and cheese thing… and, except for my parents, my brother and me, the remaining Suomilanders (all carpenters), including my grandparents on my father’s side, lived in Brooklyn in a section they called  “Finntown” (3 row houses, side-by-side off Sunset Park).  We lived in Bayside, Queens, where my schoolmates had last names like Ferraro, O'Toole, or Goldberg, along with the Jones, Smiths and Johnsons.  When I told kids my name was Ilona, they wanted to know what my first name was.
I yearned to be Italian --they had great food and their countrymen were always on TV in things like “The Untouchables” and “The Kefauver Hearings.” Or Irish – their food was not as good, but they were always in movies playing singing priests or dancing with mice.  Or Jewish – their food was terrible, but they, too, were always on TV in things like “Your Show of Shows” and “The McCarthy Hearings.”  I had no one to relate to or look up to, much like the groups protesting today.  Where were the Finnish Al Pacinos and George Clooneys to have a crush on, the Meg Ryans and Marisa Tomeis to emulate?  “What about Albert Salmi?” my mom would say.  “Who?” you ask.    Exactly!

Of course, there have been one or two world famous Finns: Sibelius, Nurmi (the flying Finn) and father/son Saarinens.  But a dead conductor, a dead runner and two dead architects didn’t exactly win a kid any bragging rights.  And the single thing we learned in school about Finland: it was the only country to pay the U.S. back for its WWII war debt.  I didn’t get a lot of mileage out of that one, either.  Once I commandeered my brother to sign my petition to get a Finn History course included in the curriculum.  In response, my class was assigned “Huckleberry Finn”(the pre-whitewashed version).

At Christmas, my grandparents arrived from Brooklyn with tons of presents and loaves of Finnish molasses bread from their neighborhood bakery.  I loved that bread and shared it with my friends, proud that it rivaled their soda breads and challahs.  This was part of my heritage they could understand.  It wasn’t until I was an adult that I found out that the Swedes in Finntown, who outnumbered the Finns 20-1, owned the bakery and laid claim to the bread.  For one brief moment, I wanted to be  Swedish.                                                                     
As I reached my teens and the health club craze took off, the Finns finally hit the jackpot.  Saunas!  I personally hate saunas, but here was something tangible, identifiable.  People actually stopped asking, “Oh, you’re Scandinavian?” when I would tell them my family (both sides) came from Finland.  The only problem is that no one pronounced “sauna” right and it’s my mission to rectify this:  sow (rhymes with cow)-na” NOT “saw-na”.

During those youthful years, I harbored a deep resentment that no acknowledged Finnish-Americans were ever seen in the movies (or even on television).  There were no movies studios in New York then, so I decided to picket the networks.  For days I stood in front of CBS’ New York headquarters in my mini skirt and Twiggy eyelashes alongside Moondog, the “Viking of Sixth Avenue,” who I considered a cold climate kinsman.  Dressed in flowing robes, Norseman’s helmet, holding his lance proudly, Moondog stood vigil on “network row” for many years and I was proud to share his corner as I held my sign of protest.

Some network 'suit' must have notice me, because soon after, Arte Johnson was playing the first Finnish-American character on television.  It didn’t matter that it was on “Laugh In” or that no one but my family could understand his “Finglish,” everyone just laughed because he was funny.  The Finns had arrived.  But, my victory was short lived. The show was canceled.  I decided the only way to erase our cultural anonymity was to become a Hollywood writer--- work to change the system from within.  I would strive to put Finland, hence Finnish-Americans on the pop culture map.  I would become a role model for all those young Finnish-American children milking cows at dawn in snow-covered barns in the midwest and New England, or those trying to pass as Swedes in the five boroughs of New York.                              

As soon as I arrived in Hollywood, I joined a mass petitioning effort by the four people who comprised the Finnish-American Film Community and we imported action director Renny Harlin to U.S. shores--- the rest is history.  Now, even limo drivers in L.A. can say Esa-Pekka Salonen.  Doors continue to fly open for Finnish-Americans.  I have two features films in development hell, just like Italian, Irish, and Jewish writers.  

So, for all you protesters out there seeking your slice of the American pie… keep it up.  You CAN change things… just like we did.  SKOAL! …    I mean kippis.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A GREAT PEARING - (Warm Pear & Green Bean Salad)

(Warm Pear & Green Bean Salad)

We’re about to start painting more rooms in our house.  Well, we’re not actually doing the painting – our painters are.  But before the crew arrived and flooded the house w/ the aroma of high gloss enamel peppered w/ a hint of latex flat, we planned one more dinner party.  A birthday dinner for a friend.   For the entrée, Richard decided to make halibut in garam masala which I lovingly blogged about before:

But, alas - no fresh halibut.  No biggie – there was beautiful fresh red snapper to be had, so, in a snap, the dish became red snapper garam masala and was just as delicious.

However, before our tongues touched this tasty dish, Richard served a salad.

What can you say about a salad?  A salad’s only a salad after all, right?  Something to have after appetizers but before dinner (unless you’re in Europe, then it’s often after dinner, but I digress…) and, something I don’t usually pay much attention to.  Full disclosure: salads are not my ‘foodie’ thing.  Well, maybe a warm chicken or shrimp Caesar – hail Caesar!  But, they’re ‘lunch’ salads – a least in my opinion… not ‘first course’ dinner salads…  In fact, I never really made a salad (tuna salad notwithstanding) until I was forty and Richard took a picture for posterity. 

(w/ cousin Linda)

I know.  I know. I’m digressing again – something I often do… 

For years, food discerning friends have been trying to convert me into a salad lover by adding roasted veggies or cheeses or nuts or all the aforementioned.  And I do find these salads more than palatable.  But I still resisted.  They’ve told me over and over again that there are salads and then there are salads.  But, again, I still resisted.

Well – the salad Richard made for our little dinner party the other night is definitely a salad.  Don’t get me wrong… I’m not a convert.  But I’m wavering.

Warm Pear & Green Bean Salad
Courtesy of Country Living Magazine
December, 2000

Vegetable oil cooking spray
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
2 pounds green beans, trimmed
4 pears, cored and cut into eighths
1 teaspoon sugar
½ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts
  (Richard used toasted sliced almonds)

2 tablespoons sherry wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced garlic
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Roast green beans and pears.  Lightly coat 2 roasting pans w/ cooking spray and set aside.  Richard used cookie sheets covered in tin foil in place of the roasting pans.

In a large bowl, whisk 2 tablespoons oil, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper.  Toss green beans well w/ this mixture and place in/on a roasting pan/cookie sheet.

In the same large bowl, whisk the remaining oil, salt and pepper and toss the pears.  Sprinkle pears w/ sugar and place in/on a roasting pan/cookie sheet.  

Place both pans/sheets in oven.  After 30 minutes remove green beans.  Roast pears 15 more minutes and remove from the oven.

Note from Richard:  Watch the pears carefully.  In our oven the pears were more than done at the same time as the green beans.

Dressing:  In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, mustard, and garlic.  Add olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly.  Stir in salt and pepper.   
Toss the green beans and pears w/ dressing in a big bowl...
  then serve.

 Your taste buds will thank you.

Makes 8 servings.  
Since there were just four of us, Richard simply halved all the ingredients.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011




Whoever invented the sticker is in big trouble.  You know the stickers I mean…  the ones you spend half the day trying to peel off fruit so you don’t eat them… or the ones on wine bottles or lipsticks.  Or, how about those ‘price’ stickers on a gift you need to get off before you wrap it?  I’ve broken more nails and ruined more kitchen knives trying to get them off.

But nothing compares to my ex-roommate’s story. 

Not long ago while in the midst of remodeling her home, she fell and broke her leg.  When she was finally able to hobble out of  bed to admire the new beautiful windows her contractor had installed… you guessed it.  Stickers!  On.  Every.  Pane.  Small.  And.  Large.

With soap and water and Windex she dragged her encased leg from window to window, upstairs and downstairs, methodically scraping them all off.

Exhausted, she collapsed on the sofa and looked up at the stars through her new skylight.  Or tried to.  What she saw weren’t stars, but a half-dozen STICKERS!  With a great deal of determination, not to mention grunting that would drown out Serena Williams, she got a ladder, somehow limped upward, step-by-step, higher-and-higher, and again started scraping.

She was working on the last one when a sudden clap of thunder startled her and sent her crashing to the floor.

Now with both legs in casts, she lies under her new skylight staring at the one remaining sticker, plotting a gruesome revenge.  And she’ll get it, too.  She’s the type who sticks to it.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

AL & ME - More Than A Dog Day Afternoon

More Than A Dog Day Afternoon

Broken hearts.  Who hasn’t had one?  Who hasn’t wallowed in the drama? 

I was a minute out of college, working at Epic Records and freelancing as a rock’n’roll writer… It was peace and love and my “Almost Famous” period, though my articles showed up in Teen Beat, not Rolling Stone.  My skirts were micro-mini, my hair was long and straightened and my eyelashes out Twiggy-ed Twiggy.  It was then that I met and, three months later, married a rock agent more than a decade older than I.  We spent our time covering acts at the Milwaukee, Detroit, and West Palm Beach rock festivals as well as the Fillmores East and West w/ a little of Chicago’s Kinetic Playground thrown in.  Then one Super Bowl Sunday, Mr. Older Rock Agent went out to buy a pack of cigarettes and ended up in London w/ his latest mistress.  I ended up a cliché.  I cried.  I wallowed.  I sulked.  I pouted.   Hell, I didn’t even get off my couch for a week – giving new meaning to couch potato- I could’ve peeled boiled and mashed myself.
 It was January, and when I finally left my apartment, the only place I wanted to go was to Jones Beach.  I love the ocean in the winter and a caring, also unemployed friend w/ a car would drive and commiserate w/ me.
  However, spending my days at a deserted beach staring at the Atlantic didn’t pay the rent.  And, freelancing a few rock’n’roll stories a year wasn’t going to pay it, either.  I needed a job, so I found one... assistant to legendary showbiz manager/movie producer Marty Bregman and his partner, Norman Weiss.   Marty’s clients were rich and famous… Barbra would call, Lainie would drop by, so would Woody and Faye, even Alan Alda.  Bette was moving from the gay ‘Baths’ to the stage and was in the office often.  But I didn’t care.  I sat at my desk and moped and wallowed and generally felt sorry for myself, especially if Faye called or showed up – one of Mr. Older Rock Agent’s dalliances (she once called my apartment late at night looking for Mr. Older Rock Agent, explaining she needed to talk to him – they were ‘sympatico’ – a pretentious word under the circumstances, I thought). 

Marty also represented other 'up and comers' like Bette.  One was Al.  He was short, had dark hair and had just finished a little movie ("Panic In Needle Park") directed by my friend Jerry Schatzberg which hadn’t been released yet.  But right then he was heartbroken, broke and unemployed and would come up and hang out in Marty’s office or out by my desk.   He moped.  He sulked.  He wallowed.  We were ‘sympatico.’   We rarely talked.  I don’t think he even knew my name.  And to me he was just Al who lost his girlfriend.  He did tell me I reminded him of that girlfriend who, years later, I found out was Jill Clayburgh.

Avoiding friends at lunch, I brown bagged it.  It was spring and we were having a 'dog days of August' heat wave.  It was too hot and humid to picnic outside by one of NY’s fountains, but I didn’t want to eat at my desk, so most days I went across the street from the office to St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, a beautiful old cathedral w/ stained glass windows and carved archways and altars, lecterns and high-back clergy ‘churchy’ chairs.  There, I’d eat my tuna salad sandwich on white and continue the wallowing, moping and sulking.  Unlike Catholic cathedrals there was rarely anyone else sitting in the pews praying or musing or lighting candles at an altar.  Soon after we wordlessly ‘bonded,’ in the office, Al would join me in St. Peter’s for lunch and I’d give him half my sandwich.  We’d sit there in silence and let the church ‘vibes’ wash over us.  I started making two sandwiches.  Some days he’d bring chips.

As I became bored w/ my wallowing, I also decided that I needed to change jobs.  Marty and Norman had hired me because they knew Mr. Older Rock Agent, didn’t care for him and definitely didn’t care for his Super Bowl trip for cigarettes that landed him in London, and though I was thankful for their help, it was time for me to start fresh somewhere else.

I found a roommate (I had a big two bedroom-two bath apartment and needed help w/ the rent), chopped off my hair and moved on.   The roommate did PR in the music ‘biz’ and, when I found a new job as an 'agent in training' at IFA (International Famous Agency) the predecessor to the world famous theatrical agency ICM (International Creative Management), she wrote a little ‘satirical’ piece about me for Cashbox magazine that gently shoved me into my new life w/ a smile on my face.

Six – seven years later, I had gone back to my maiden name, my hair was again long but no longer straightened, and I had moved on from ICM and was freelancing as a writer.  Once again, I found myself in search of a steady income. The word was out and I got a call from Marty Bregman’s assistant.  Al, now famous as Michael Corleone and Serpico, wanted to produce and was looking for someone to develop scripts, run his office and more or less take care of his life… would I be interested?  Why not? 

On the night of the interview it was pouring rain.  I had to be there at 7:00 and I knew I’d have to walk six long city blocks (you can never find a taxi in Manhattan when it’s raining), so I put on a great pair of Italian boots, jeans, a cashmere sweater, a Ralph Lauren hacking jacket, topped it all off w/ my Burberry trench coat, grabbed my Vuitton shoulder bag, my resume and an umbrella and went out into the storm.  I arrived a minute late, drenched – took off my trench coat and went into the office.  There, sitting behind the desk eating a corned beef sandwich on rye was the Al Pacino, Mr. Moviestar.  His demeanor told me that.  He wasn’t just ‘Al’ anymore… He was pushing 40 now (maybe already 40).  He looked good.  But he was still short.

We talked.  He asked me how I envisioned the job. He ate more of his sandwich.  I told him.  He had some cole slaw.  My stomach growled.  We talked some more.  He sipped a soda and took another bite of his sandwich.  I flashed on giving him half my tuna on white and wanted to grab half his corned beef.  I restrained myself.  He told me how much the job paid.  I told him it wasn’t enough.  Then suddenly he stopped eating and sipping.  I waited.  He stared at me - then asked, “Did we date?” 

I don’t think I stopped laughing for a full two minutes.  When I did, I explained.  He smiled. 

I didn’t take that job w/ Al and ended up working in production for David Susskind/Time Life Films/TV where I met Richard, the head writer of one of our television shows.  We became writing partners, fell in love and got married in the Louise Nevelson chapel in St. Peter’s on the old site where I shared my tuna lunches w/ Al.    
  The beautiful old cathedral had been torn down to make way for the CitiCorp skyscraper, and the beautiful new church w/ a theater, music rooms and chapel was built into the ground floor.  Pastor John Gensel, New York’s ‘jazz minister’ (and a Peter Jennings “Person of the Week”) performed the ceremony in front of our friends and family.  It was a beautiful September day so we all walked from the CitiCorp church complex back to our apartment to celebrate w/ food and wine... but no tuna sandwiches.

My very own happy ending.  Now, I no longer wallow, mope, sulk or cry.  Well, at least not from a broken heart.