Saving Anne Frank

Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 2.28.35 PM

For two years, Anne Frank’s family hid in secret rooms in Amsterdam, knowing that a curtain left open by mistake, a wayward noise or a nervous conspirator’s phone call to the Nazis could land them all in concentration camps. Of the eight Jews hiding, seven died before the Holocaust was over, including Anne, whose diary was a testament to the horrors of the Nazi regime. She died of typhus at age 15 at Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany.

By Tony Castro

 

AS A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD schoolboy I grew up wanting to save Anne Frank.

Allow me to clarify that.

As a young man, the son of a World War II army veteran, I grew up wanting to save Anne Frank.

I’m still not clear, I fear.

As the son of a World War II decorated veteran who told me stories of the horror he saw at Nazi concentration camps, I grew up wishing there was some way I could go back in time and save the six million Jews killed in the Hitler holocaust. And when I read Screen Shot 2017-11-12 at 2.45.03 PMThe Diary of A Young Girl.  I wasn’t sure if I’d fallen in love with young Anne and wished I could save this damsel in distress or whether I simply wanted to save mankind.

I must confess that about that time I had also seen Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet and had fallen even deeper into a trance of fascination with Anne Frank, whom I saw personified in this beautiful young actress.

Anne Frank. Elizabeth Taylor. What can I say? I was a child of the 1950s. I knew no no young Jews in my hometown. I knew of Jews only through my religion, Catholicism, and its claim at the time that Jews had killed Jesus Christ, which I knew in my heart wasn’t true. Each Sunday at my church, with those enormous murals of the Stations of the Cross adorning its walls, I would see Roman soldiers leading Christ to his death and crucifying him. I didn’t see Jews hammering nails into his hands and feet.

So the only other Jews I knew about were those killed in the Holocaust from the stories I heard my father tell. They were more like confessions, as if he were trying to exorcise those scenes from his mind, to rid himself of the worst horrors he had seen in the war.

And, of course, I knew Anne Frank. I knew of Anne Frank. I was among the many millions touched by her story, her fears, her aloneness, her hopes.

She haunted me, her story and her photograph. She looked unlike any young woman I knew at that time. Of course, as I said, there were no Jews in my hometown, though that’s not correct I now realize. There were no Jewish people  who lived in my side of my home town, Waco, Texas. And, to be honest, for the longest time, I had no idea that my side was the wrong side of town, the poorer, working side of Waco where I felt out of place, as if I didn’t belong there or any other place. Like the Jews the Nazis had killed in Europe.

“Are we sure we’re not Jewish?” I asked my family at the dinner table one night.

“No, we are Roman Catholics,” my mother quickly answered me.

“But that bothers me,” I said. “Wasn’t it the Romans who crucified Jesus?”

“No, the Jews killed Jesus,” mom said.

“Who said so?”

“The church said so,” she said.

“No, they’re wrong.”

“The Bible says they did.” Mom was insistent.

“No, the Bible doesn’t say that,” I said. “It says that the Jews turned Jesus over to the Romans and left it up to the Romans to decide.”

“You shouldn’t be reading the Bible by yourself,” mom said. “Father Dols says you should only read the Bible with the guidance of a priest.”

“Why? What’s to understand that I would need a priest to explain?” I said. “Quod scripsi scripsi, Pilate said. What I have written I have written. Jesus was the King of the Jews, Pilate wrote, and Pilate’s Roman soldiers crucified Jesus.”

Mom looked at my father.

“Eat your dinner before it gets cold,” he said.

I looked at my little sister who appeared to be in another world.

“What are you day-dreaming about?” I asked her.

“I’m thinking about how I really love fillet mignon,” she said.

She was crazy, of course.

“This isn’t filet mignon we’re eating,” I said. “It’s spaghetti.”

“I’m imagining it’s filet mignon,” she said.

This was my family. Full of denial. My mom didn’t believe that it was the Romans who had crucified Jesus Christ. My sister wanted her pasta to be steak. And my father would have nothing to say if it weren’t about the Dallas Cowboys.

And I was in love with Anne Frank, a girl my age, once, whom I felt I knew better than anyone else in the world. For what was it she had written?

“Writing in a diary,” she had said, “is a really strange experience for someone like me. Not only because I’ve never written anything before, but also because it seems to me that later on neither I nor anyone else will be interested in the musings of a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl.”

One day all the world would wish it had saved Anne Frank.

 

Tony Castro is the author of  Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage.

 

The Baseball Presidency: The Making of George W. Bush

This story was originally published in Inside Houston magazine in 2001.

George W. Bush may have symbolized the perennial Baseball Presidency.

George W. Bush’s life and White House years may have best symbolized the perennial Baseball Presidency that has long existed in America.

GEORGE W. BUSH REMEMBERS THE most memorable experience of his freshman year at Yale being the April day in 1965 that he left the campus and boarded a flight for Houston. When his mother Barbara picked him up at Hobby Airport, she could barely contain her own excitement. She was treating her son to the first game to be played at the Astrodome, the world’s first domed stadium billed as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by the Astros’ original owner, Judge Roy Hofheinz.

“I’ve got the best seats in the house for us,” she told her son. Fittingly, some would say for the Bushes, a family with its roots in Connecticut, the Astros were playing the Yankees. The New York Yankees were the most storied team in baseball, and their aging superstar Mickey Mantle was one of George’s favorite players.

“Great, mom,” said Bush, who was then eighteen. “I can’t wait.”

“They’re called skyboxes.”

Today, Bush shakes his head when he recalls that day and arriving at one of the Astrodome’s 53 luxurious skybox suites. “We got up in the skybox,” he says. “It was the very top of the Astrodome. The players looked like ants. I said, ‘Mom, these may be wonderful seats, but where are the players?’”

It may be that the source of some of President George W. Bush’s greatest political strengths ­ — the unpretentiousness and mellow good nature that warm up voters and are serving him well in Washington –­ goes back to his childhood and to his unquenched and impassioned love of baseball, a game never so rhapsodized in the nation’s capital as it has been since Bush became the country’s 43rd president.

President George W. Bush throws out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game.

President George W. Bush throws out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game.

“Baseball,” Bush said in an interview during the 2000 presidential campaign, “has been a part of my life since before I can remember. It is a pursuit for optimists. To come to the park every day, you have to believe you can win.”

Perhaps it is the optimism built on baseball that, in part, explains how Bush became president, surprising critics who said he wasn’t smart enough, defeating a Democratic candidate who had been bred for the presidency, confounding journalists who almost universally opposed him in the sanctity of their own private voting booths. How else is this second Bush presidency to be explained? Had it been not a case of enough Clinton helping Democrat Al Gore’s presidential campaign or of too much Clinton personal hijinks in the public consciousness? How had Bush done what few thought he could do? And if this marks the end of what the historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr. once called the “imperial presidency,” as Washington pundits are saying, what will the Bush years be called?

Call it perhaps the Baseball Presidency. What Bush himself might say is that it just goes to show how far the America of soccer moms and hip-hop sports culture mentality has strayed from its traditional national pastime. The America that Bush grew up in ­ and the America that brought major league baseball to Houston and built the Astrodome ­ remains an America with an undying game that has been slowly reclaiming its place as a cultural expression of the national character. As cultural historian Jacques Barzun once observed about the country and baseball: “Whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”

Perhaps part of understanding Bush is understanding baseball — that the game has the image of stability and conservatism, that it is individualistic but still emphasizes teamwork, that it is anti-intellectual but cannot be won through sheer brute force or strength or emotion but through cleverness, thought, guile, and technical mastery of small details. “Baseball is, to be sure,” as American Studies expert Gerald Early has put it, “an American cultural Declaration of Independence… There is something about baseball’s checks and balances that mirrors those checks and balances of the Constitution.”

And baseball, in the famous words of Saturday Night Live’s mythical baseball great Chico Escuela, has been vetty, vetty good to George W. Bush. It has been, other than his family, the most important aspect of his life. Baseball made him a success after a series of business failures. Baseball made him rich, and baseball launched his political career. Baseball was his vehicle both for embracing a family tradition and for leaving his father’s shadow. Baseball also gave Bush a powerful, if intangible, asset: It made him what he always claimed to be: a “regular guy,” not a president’s son from Andover, Yale and Harvard, but a guy who spit sunflower shells in his box seat while hobnobbing with the on-deck batter.

Indeed, if ever a new American president itched impatiently for baseball’s traditional opening day with its red, white and blue stadium bunting and the innocent expectation of the long season ahead, the day when, as chief executive, he might stroll out to the mound at the heart of a lush, manicured diamond and from there throw out the first pitch of the season — that president is George W. Bush, who when he was the owner and managing partner of the Texas Rangers attended nearly every home game in the old Arlington Stadium, sitting in his front row seat in Section 109, Row 1, behind the Rangers’ dugout, with his cowboy boots perched on the railing, passing out autographed baseball cards of himself to fans.

“I want the folks to see me,” Bush said of his non-skybox persona, “sitting in the same kind of seat they sit in, eating the same popcorn, peeing in the same urinal.”

When he attended the opening day game at the Astrodome’s successor — the new retractable-roof stadium Enron Field

George W. Bush's autographed baseball collection, which once adorned the Oval Office, is now housed at the Bush Presidential Library.

George W. Bush’s collection of baseballs autographed by some of the game’s all-time greats, which once adorned the Oval Office in the White House, is now on display at the Bush Presidential Library.

with a full-size, detailed vintage locomotive that runs on 800 feet of railroad track beyond the left field wall ­ Bush had moved up from the skybox set. Last April 7, two days shy of 35 years since attending the opening of the Astrodome, Bush and his father, former President George Bush, were guests of Enron chairman and chief executive officer Kenneth Lay. It was a union made of money, politics and baseball. Enron, the largest supplier of electricity and natural gas in the United States, was the single largest contributor — more than $555,000 through its employees — to Bush’s political dream. Lay had personally given over $100,000 to Bush’s political campaigns, more than any other individual. He was also one of the “Pioneers” — a Bush supporter who had collected at least $100,000 in direct contributions of $1,000 or less.

Critics have long claimed that Lay and Enron have had Bush and his father in their hip-pocket, pointing to favorable treatment the company has received in deregulation legislation in Texas while Bush was governor and in what may be ahead for Enron’s interests in world markets. For baseball purists, more interesting than the charges of political favoritism may be the metaphor Bush used in dismissing the allegations on the day of the Astros’ 2000 season home opener. “The governor,” said Bush spokesman Scott McClellan, “is an avid baseball fan who has attended games his entire life. And we’re not going to swing at a political wild pitch that’s low and in the dirt.”

In a sense, Bush’s life has been one long baseball metaphor, his personal field of dreams, his connection to a happy childhood when he collected bubble gum baseball cards, played Little League baseball and, like other youngsters of his time, wanted to be Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. Baseball had also been bred into him. His grandfather, Connecticut Senator Prescott Bush, had played baseball at Yale. His father had been the star Yale first baseman who met Babe Ruth, and George W. attended his first baseball games as a baby when his father played for the Yale team.

As young Bush was growing up in Midland, Tex., his father helped coach his son’s Little League team. “It was the one sport my dad shared with us as kids,” says Marvin Bush, who is 10 years younger than George W.In Midland, young Bush spent long hours playing baseball in a field behind his house and became a catcher on his Little League team, the Cubs. Barbara Bush was the only Little League mother who could keep score at games, and she remembers her son as “the most enthusiastic player” who made the all-star team as a catcher. George Bush, in a letter at that time to his father-in-law, described “Georgie” as “so eager. He tries so very hard.”

“He had trouble,” says Fay Vincent, the former baseball commissioner and a friend of the Bush family who spent a summer in Midland in the 1950s. “I used to tease him about it. I remember him striking out a lot.”

“Well, he was a good catcher,” says his Little League coach, Frank Ittner. “But he was like his daddy. He couldn’t hit.”

George W. Bush played Little League Baseball in Midland, Tex.

George W. Bush played Little League Baseball in the 1950s in Midland, Tex., where his family knew future Commissioner Fay Vincent.

Young Bush didn’t have to hit. His future, financially at least, was secure. Though he might not have known it, he was a stockholder in father’s booming oil company. “Little George,” says Ittner, “had a million shares of letter stock, so he probably was one of the richest Little League players in Midland.”

More importantly, during this period, Bush gained an intangible quality from his family’s competitive nature and from having to overcome his limited physical talent to acquit himself as a Little Leaguer.

“The blind drive to win is a hallmark of the Bush family clan,” says Gail Sheehy, who wrote the controversial profile on Bush for the October 2000 Vanity Fair, claiming he suffered from undiagnosed dyslexia. “One thing that G.W.’s childhood friends told me repeatedly was that he has to win, he absolutely has to win and if he thinks he’s going to lose, he will change the rules or extend the play. Or if it really is bad he’ll take his bat and ball and go home. So I had very little doubt that he would win this election in the end, no matter how long he had to play it out.”

Like countless other youngsters of his time, Bush also collected Topps and Bowman baseball trading cards that came wrapped with a piece of bubble gum in the pre-collectibles rage era. Bush, however, went one step better. He sent cards with self-addressed, stamped envelopes to big league players, asking for their autographs. Most of them obliged and returned the cards. A decade later, he gave the cards in a leather-bound collection to younger brother Marvin. Later Bush tried to get them back only to be told by Marvin that they had been lost, “just to get him off my back.” When informed by a reporter that Marvin admitted still having the collection, Bush’s face lit up. “This is a breakthrough story! I finally found my Willie McCovey autograph!”

Bush’s great-uncle, Herbert Walker, was then one of the original owners of the New York Mets, so George W. and his brothers attended the team’s first spring training. Uncle Herbie even named his dogs Metsie and Yogi, after manager Yogi Berra, the former New York Yankee catcher and another of Bush’s favorite players. “George always wanted to buy a baseball team,” recalls First Lady Laura Bush, “to be an owner like his Uncle Herbie.”

Bush himself, however, was not destined to be even the ballplayer his father had been. At Andover, he still organized an intramural stickball league. At Yale, he was a pitcher his freshman year but didn’t stick with the team. After college, Laura Bush recalls that Bush coached a Midland Little League team through “quite the poor season.”

After completing a Harvard MBA, Bush, like his father before him, went into the oil business. Oil had made his father rich, but young Bush struggled. His oil company failed, and he had to be bailed out by relatives and powerful friends of the family. It was in the oil business, however, that Bush made the connection that would ultimately change his fortunes. In 1984, Bush merged his small company with the oil exploration operation of family friend William O. DeWitt Jr., whose father had owned the St. Louis Browns baseball team and later the Cincinnati Reds — and who later alerted Bush that the Texas Rangers were for sale.

Former President George W. Bush talks baseball with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

Former President George W. Bush talks baseball with new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred.

In 1989, as part of a consortium of investors, Bush became an owner of the Texas Rangers with whom he became the highly visible managing partner. Ultimately, however, what would transform the fortunes for the Rangers franchise was the $190 million Ballpark in Arlington, which replaced the team’s outdated minor league park in the same city. Bush became one of the leading campaigners on behalf of a local sales tax election that paid for two-thirds of the facility.

After he was elected Texas governor, Bush withdrew from the day-to-day operations of the Rangers and put his interest in a trust. With a presidential bid looming, the partners eventually decided to sell the team to Dallas businessman Thomas O. Hicks in 1998 for $250 million. Bush’s $606,000 investment turned into $14.9 million, mostly because of the new ballpark and because, through his original contract with his partners, Bush’s stake in the team went from 1.8 to 11.8 percent.

“He’s probably retroactively gotten a lot more credit for running the Rangers than he really did,” says Houston Chronicle sports columnist Mickey Herskowitz, who collaborated with Bush on his campaign biography but was later dumped and replaced by campaign communications director, Karen Hughes. “Bush was the front man, the PR man, the hand-shaker.”

During his years with the Rangers, Bush became particularly close to Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan, whom he had met on the campaign trail for his father in 1980. Bush helped to convince the aging pitcher to stay five years, rather than the single season Ryan had planned — in part because Ryan liked what he saw. “He promoted the ball club as much as anybody I’d seen,” says Ryan, whom Bush later appointed to a state wildlife commission.

“I enjoyed being a Ranger and getting to know (President) Bush and his family, finding out about his dad and what kind of baseball fans they were. I really respected the fact that he always sat in the front row at the ballpark, whether we were doing well or not doing well. Sitting with the fans, he didn’t hide, he always signed autographs and talked about the team.

“I think the fans realized he was a baseball fan and was committed to doing everything he could to make the Rangers a top-notch organization.”

Bush took something else away from the Rangers besides friendships and a small fortune. In his years with the Rangers, he also developed a management style that served him well while he was governor ­ and which has helped him in the first few months of his administration.

“I’m not so sure you can segue from baseball to a presidency,” Bush says of his management style, “but there are some lessons about management, about developing a strategy. Baseball is a marketing business. It’s a business of being able to relate to fans and convince fans to come out. This is a business about adding value.

“I do build teams. That’s what a president does. He builds an administration of people heading in the same direction with the same goal.”

Yankee legend Derek Jeter gets a congratulatory pat during his finale game in Texas from President George W. Bush.

New York Yankees legend Derek Jeter gets a congratulatory pat during ceremonies before  his farewell game in Texas from President George W. Bush.

In his young presidency, Bush has had one evening that aides say has stood out from all the rest. On the first Wednesday of February, not even the mid-day drama surrounding the capture of a gunman outside the South Lawn of the White House could sidetrack the president’s evening plans. George F. Will, the Pulitzer Prize winning columnist and intellectual laureate of conservatives, had arranged a relaxing evening for the new president with some people he regards as being among the most gifted individuals in America.

When John F. Kennedy was president, he hosted a dinner at the White House to honor Nobel Prize winners and welcomed the guests by saying, “This much genius has not been in the White House except possibly when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”

On this evening, President Bush would not be equal to that kind of wit, but then again Thomas Jefferson never won a Cy Young Award, managed four World Series champions, been named the American League’s Most Valuable Player, or broken Lou Gehrig’s Iron Man record.

That evening, Atlanta Braves pitcher Tom Glavine, New York Yankees manager Joe Torre, Chicago Cubs skipper Don Baylor, and Baltimore Orioles’ future Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, their wives and Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane were all getting their spring training sendoff. They dined with the president on veal chops and salad in the old family dining room, then had ice cream and cookies shaped like French fries and hot dogs for dessert.

“He was so gracious,” said Glavine. “He said, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like to show you around.’ We were looking at each other like: ‘Are you kidding me?’”

The guests got the presidential tour, although it was not the extensive one Bush wished he could have given them. For the first time in his nineteen days in office, Bush was struck with a tinge of regret that he had not yet brought to the White House the more than 250 autographed baseballs, collected since his childhood, that had adorned his gubernatorial office in Texas. The balls were signed by Joe DiMaggio, Mantle, Stan Musial, Ted Williams, and other legends of the game.

Bush had also left behind several baseball bats, including one from his beloved Texas Rangers with his name engraved and another from home run record-breaker Mark McGwire, wishing him luck in his presidential campaign. Bush, however, added to that collection that night, getting autographed baseballs from his guests and even putting his presidential signature on baseballs that some of the players brought with them.

“I never dreamed about being president,” Bush told his guests, rephrasing a line he has used often in talking about himself. “When I was growing up, I wanted to be Willie Mays.”

 

Tony Castro, a former Sports Illustrated staff writer who covered George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, is the author of the forthcoming biography, Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son (Brassey’s, Inc.).

Copyright, Tony Castro

Gehrig & The Babe

Gehrig and The Babe GALLEY COVER loRes

Remembering Pal and Mentor Tommy West

Tommy West, a friend and inspiration — the reason I went into journalism, other than that I wanted to one day meet and interview Audrey Hepburn — was stationed while in the army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and posted these observations about those times.

When it comes to reporters I have known, one stands above all others. To use those immortal words of Pulitzer Prize laureate Bernard Malamud from The Natural, journalist Tommy West was ‘The the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”

 

IT HAS HAPPENED SO MANY TIMES,

AMERICA FINDS IT EASY TO BELIEVE

By Tommy West

FT. HUACHUCA, AZ (June 7, 1968) — We awoke here this morning to learn that last night, less than 600 miles away, Don Drysdale had pitched his sixth shutout in a row and  Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been shot twice in the head.

Because even Dodger fans owe their first loyalty to the country that made their sport great, there was little to smile about this morning in the chilly darkness of the barracks.

Texas Newsman Tommy West

Texas Newsman Tommy West while at Baylor University (Paul Currier Photo)

There was once a time, not so very long ago, when the news that a major political figure of this country had been shot would have come as a resounding shock.

THERE WAS a time when America would have had to sit down in the fury of the moment and struggle to pull herself together.

It was that way five years ago, on that autumn afternoon in downtown Dallas.

“No,” everyone said. “Things like that do not happen in this country. I do not believe it.”

Then came Sunday morning outside the Dallas police station, and it seemed the world stopped for a moment and held its breath to wait fearfully for what would come next.

Calm eventually returned, and America groped for and found her reason. And the world turned once again.

IF WE LEARNED anything from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it seemed we learned we were not immune to the terrible, swift act of deranged social misfits and that even at this time, we too, can settle great issues with a sudden murder.

And so we began to talk of cure, because we had not talked soon enough of prevention. We talked about the Secret Service, and police protection, and about maniacs in our society. And most of all we talked about the quick and easy gun.

While we talked, cities burned. Would-be assassination plots were uncovered and young men committed unexplainable mass murders from beauty shops and university towers. We read about it all in the newspapers, and we shook our heads grimly.

THEN SWIFTLY and without warning, another assassin killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Even as the nation quivered at the news, the talking began anew.

Now it has happened again. The airwaves crackled with the news this morning, and all over the nation giant newspaper presses rumbled about their gruesome business.

But somewhere along the way the shock has almost disappeared. In its void is an almost nauseating bewilderment, born of frustration and kindled by helplessness.

Your friend shakes you gently awake. “Bobby Kennedy has been shot,” he says.

THERE IS no disbelief, because if he had said instead that Washington was on fire and nuclear bombers were winging toward America, you know you probably would have believed it just as easily.

It is almost as if you went to sleep, and when you awoke, the quiet, unquestioned confidence you once had in the American scheme of things has gone.

What is there to do?

Talk? But everything has been said. Campaign for gun laws and a society more sensitive to street corner peddlers of salvation? That too has been done.

So you rise, slowly, put on your clothes, slip into your slot in the great society, the society of a country that seems somehow strangely different from the one you used to think about in the third grade.

And when darkness comes, you almost catch yourself wondering who will be next. Because with faith rapidly falling, you must resign yourself to the cold fact that apparently the lunatics and the guns in this country outnumber the great men.

 

Tommy West was a prominent Texas newspaper reporter and columnist who died in 1998 at the age of 55. West graduated from Baylor University — where he was editor of The Baylor Lariat — in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born in nearby Bosqueville and began his career at 16 as a copy boy for the Waco Tribune-HeraldOver the years he wrote for newspapers in Philadelphia, Ft. Worth, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Cincinnati, Houston, Stephenville, and San Antonio. West worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for the San Antonio Express-News from 1980-1996. He penned well-read columns for the Express-News such as “Trails West” and “South Texas Spirit.” He was known affectionately there by his colleagues as “the Colonel.”

Adios, Lucy Casado: The End of an Era in L.A.

Lucy Casado, right, with Renee LaSalle, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and Tony Castro at a presidential campaign fund-raising event at Lucy's El Adobe in Hollywood. Photo by Ryan LaSalle-Castro

Los Angeles restaurateur Lucy Casado, right, at a presidential campaign fund-raising event at her El Adobe Cafe in Hollywood with friend Renee LaSalle, former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson and author Tony Castro  (Photo by Ryan LaSalle-Castro)

ON A PICTURE POSTCARD California evening, a group of Tibetan monks in cardinal robes and gold undershirts traipsed across Melrose Avenue in Hollywood from the direction of Paramount Studios and then walked into Lucy’s El Adobe Cafe. A diner in the famous Tex-Mex restaurant took notice but assumed what many others might have in Hollywood.

“Hey, Lucy,” the diner said to restaurateur Lucy Casado, who was nearby. “It looks like you’ve got some more extras from Paramount.”

Lucy rushed over and embraced each monk as if they had just won an Oscar. They were that convincing, possibly because they were real-life Tibetan monks — and friends of Casado and her  husband Frank, who had invited them to dinner to celebrate a new kinship that had developed over near tragedy and apparent fate.

Only weeks earlier, Lucy Casado had found herself frantically praying over the injured body of her oldest son, James, who had been badly hurt in a traffic accident — hurtled from his pickup near the top of Laurel Canyon as he drove home from the San Fernando Valley.

As she meditated before a makeshift altar covered with candles and religious icons in one of the bedrooms of her home, Casado had had a vision.

“I saw monks praying and chanting for my son,” she later recalled.

James recovered to full health, and the vision stayed with Casado, who soon sought out and befriended a group of monks who came to Los Angeles accompanying the Dalai Lama later that year.

That began a relationship between Casado and the Buddhist monks that spanned decades and  became a symbol of the role she came to play in the pop culture and political salon that often played out nightly for almost half a century at Lucy’s El Adobe.

Sadly, that era has ended. Lucy Casado, the Doña of Los Angeles, died Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospital where she had been battling cancer. She was 91.

Jerry Brown during his first term as governor with restaurateur Lucy Casado, his beloved friend who died Tuesday.

Jerry Brown during his first term as governor with restaurateur Lucy Casado, his beloved friend who died Tuesday.

Born in El Paso, Tex., Casado and her husband opened their restaurant in the 1960s and in 1968 played host to Senator Robert F. Kennedy during the California Primary of his presidential campaign, just 24 hours before he was assassinated. She would go on develop a close friendship with future governor Jerry Brown in the 1970s when he was on the Los Angeles Community College District board of trustees and then California Secretary of State.

During his first two terms as governor, Brown could often be found at Lucy’s El Adobe. It became a California political-cultural footnote that the Casados played matchmakers in the famous Jerry Brown-Linda Ronstadt romance of the late 1970s — a much-ballyhooed relationship in the news media which some political experts at the time blamed in part for derailing Brown’s 1980 presidential campaign.

Brown regularly used the restaurant’s west room for his virtual Los Angeles office as well as his rendezvous with Ronstadt, who once cruised in on roller skates to give Brown a loving kiss while he met with two suits who looked on enviously.

“Magic happens at El Adobe,” Casado would say of her restaurant. “I don’t make it or control it. It just happens.”

“Lucy is an original,” Brown said in one interview. “She is Mrs. California.”

Now governor for a second time, Brown told reporters this week that he is “deeply saddened by the passing of Lucy Casado.”

Lucy Casado surrounded by Mayor Eric Garrett, actor Robert Patrick, former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and a few Buddhist monks at the dedication of Lucy El Adobe Plaza on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

Lucy Casado surrounded by Mayor Eric Garrett, actor Robert Patrick, former City Councilman Tom LaBonge and a few Buddhist monks at the dedication of Lucy El Adobe Plaza on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood.

“She was friends to the famous and to those who lived nearby and to politicians of both parties,” he said. “I spent many wonderful and memorable evenings at Lucy’s El Adobe.”

The restaurant also became a Hollywood destination for liberal Democratic politicians, while mining for political contributions in California. A wall in the restaurant is covered in photographs of some of the most prominent names in American politics and pop culture — from the late Hubert Humphrey to Ronald Reagan, from Dolly Parton to Drew Barrymore, from Cesar Chavez to Steven Spielberg.

“Eating at Lucy’s and getting her blessing,” wrote Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez.” is almost a rite of passage in L.A. politics.”

Over the years, Casado and her restaurant have also been credited for their role in nurturing and feeding promising young musicians, including Ronstadt, Glenn Frey and Don Henley of The Eagles, Jimmy Webb and Jackson Browne.

One of the musicians on Lucy’s Wall of Fame is jazz saxophonist Mindy Abair who hit No. 1 on the jazz charts with a track titled “Lucy’s.” The night the song topped the charts, Lucy was dining with her friend Tom Selleck, who, upon hearing the news walked over and surprised Abair with his personal congratulations.

Abair, like many others in the music and entertainment industry, suggests that there was something mystical about Lucy’s El Adobe, some nourishing nectar beyond the margaritas and arroz con pollo that always brought success to most who make regular pilgrimages there.

In remembering Casado, Eagles founding member Don Henley recalled her as a fellow Texan and a source of inspiration.

Lucy Casado with songwriter and longtime friend Jimmy Webb at the restaurant. (From Philip Bailey's Facebook page)

Lucy Casado with songwriter and longtime friend Jimmy Webb at the restaurant. (From Philip Bailey’s Facebook page)

“Lucy Casado was a mother figure to much of the L.A. singer-songwriter community,” he said in a statement. “Beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s, she and her husband, Frank, along with their children, welcomed our rag-tag band of troubadours into their little restaurant on Melrose Avenue.

“It was a cozy, candlelit watering hole, where politics, food and music were often the topics of discussion, over a savory plate of mole poblano, washed down with the best margaritas in town. Lucy was as passionate as she was compassionate — a tough-but-tender little ball of fire from El Paso, Texas, who, like so many of us, made the pilgrimage to the City of Angels.

“She encouraged us in our struggling days and she delighted in our successes. We were all her children and we will miss her.”

Lucy was preceded in death by her Frank Casado, whom Republican political strategist Stuart Spencer called “a Mexican Toots Shor.” Frank Casado, who along with Lucy helped found the Mexican American Political Association, died in 1990. Lucy is survived by her daughter Patricia Casado and two sons, James and Darryl.

A memorial mass for Casado will be celebrated at Saint Victor Catholic Church in West Hollywood May 20.

Meanwhile, her tributes have only begun. Undoubtedly, some will be given at the El Adobe Cafe which now includes a piano room, with a baby grand whose keys have been played by the numerous artists Casado has befriended over the years. There is also a room adorned by statues of St. Francis of Assisi and St. Anthony as well as likenesses of the Virgen de Guadalupe and the Dalai Lama.

The piano was a gift from songwriter Jimmy Webb.

“He needed a piano when he’s in town, so be bought one to go here,” Lucy loved to tell visitors. “Every time he’s in town, he comes and plays and eats too, of course.”

Webb even immortalized the restaurant in music, including in the song, “Adios,” recorded by Ronstadt with Brian Wilson, and featuring the line, “Drinking margaritas all night in the old cantina.”

Lucy Casado watches Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala at her restaurant.

Lucy Casado watches Buddhist monks creating a sand mandala at her restaurant.

It is in this old cantina that Casado set aside two weeks each fall for the monks and their making of a colorful sand mandala, which always attracted a steady trek of visitors, much like any other Hollywood roadside attraction.

“The mandala is beautiful,” Casado said in talking about the ritual, “but the tradition is that sand will be returned to sand — to symbolize the impermanence of life.

“Life is like that. We can celebrate it, and we can be celebrated, but we all have a time that is measured, so we should treasure those each grain of sand we have given to us.”

 

Tony Castro books include the 2016 releases DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers (Lyons Press) and Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and a Final Rite of Passage (Lyons Press).

The ’92 Riots Changed Los Angeles and the LAPD

The videotaped police beating of Rodney King following a high-speed car chase on March 3, 1991 ultimately triggered the 1992 riots when a jury acquitted four LAPD officers. A witness, George Holliday, videotaped much of the beating from his balcony, and sent the footage to local news station KTLA.

The videotaped police beating of Rodney King following a high-speed car chase on March 3, 1991 ultimately triggered the 1992 riots when a jury acquitted four LAPD officers of assault and using excessive force. A witness, George Holliday, videotaped much of the beating from his balcony, and sent the footage to local news station KTLA.

 

SATURDAY, APRIL 29TH MARKS the 25th anniversary of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, but perhaps the true genesis to the violence that would forever change the city and its controversial police department dates back to little more than a year earlier.

On the evening of March 3, 1991, what should have been a routine traffic stop on a San Fernando Valley freeway escalated into an altercation whose image would be as ingrained in America’s social and political conscience as anything ever produced by Hollywood.

Unaware they were being filmed by an amateur cameraman, four white LAPD officers beat an African-American motorist named Rodney King. The 12-minute video was aired that night by a local TV station, giving Angelenos and the rest of the world a glimpse of shocking behavior from those sworn to protect and serve.

“That day put in motion the forces that changed and dramatically transformed Los Angeles, the LAPD and many of our institutions,” says Bernard Kinsey, who helped lead Rebuild Los Angeles, the economic redevelopment agency formed after the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

“The city would never be the same.”

Those riots erupted April 29, 1992, hours after the four officers charged with the use of excessive force were acquitted by a predominantly white jury in Simi Valley.

“Ultimately, the (minority) community felt that it needed to get justice and sadly, people took it into their own hands,” says Danny Bakewell Sr., a former civil rights activist who now is publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel.

“We don’t condone that, but we certainly do understand that. You can only suppress and oppress a people for so long.”

In three days of violence that spread from South Los Angeles to other parts of the city, 53 people were killed and nearly 2,400 were hurt. Looting, vandalism and arson resulted in an estimated $1 billion in damage.

In the midst of it, King made a public appearance and broadcast his now-famous plea: “People, I just want to say, you know, can we all get along?”

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5

‘A Dream of a Book’ – Chicago Tribune on ‘DiMag & Mick’

Screen Shot 2016-05-12 at 5.12.13 AM

DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers by Tony Castro, Lyons Press, 271 pages, $24.95

This is a dream of a book. Castro, author of perhaps the best biography of Mickey Mantle, “America’s Prodigal Son,” takes on the myth that in 1951, Joe DiMaggio, in his last season, snubbed the rookie who would replace him in center field for baseball’s greatest dynasty. Castro offers a revisionist history of the friendship of the two Yankee greats. Castro reveals a fascinating bond where others, over the decades, found no relationship at all. He also puts a fresh perspective on the fame of both Joe and the Mick, quoting Hollywood journalist James Bacon: “Joe and Mickey had more in common with Frank Sinatra, John Wayne and the idols of celebrity than they did with the life into which they were born … It’s what came with what they did so wonderfully well with the inevitability of their success.”

Castro has a fine eye for the revealing detail. Near the end of Mantle’s career at a Mickey Mantle Day at Yankee Stadium, DiMaggio, looking splendid in late middle age, “walked with his customary grace from the dugout on to the field.” Then, as he waved to the cheering crowd, the Yankee Clipper noticed Mickey’s mother, Lovell, standing off, almost ignored, to one side. DiMaggio unexpectedly cupped her elbow in his hand and escorted to where all the players and dignitaries were lined up along the infield grass.”

But DiMaggio’s dignity gave way to scorn a few minutes later when he saw Robert F. Kennedy in the Yankees dugout: “DiMaggio despised both Bobby Kennedy and his brother … for their romantic involvement with Marilyn Monroe.” Snubbing Kennedy, “DiMaggio turned his attention to Mickey and the fans there to honor him. ‘I’m proud,’ he announced, ‘to introduce the man who succeeded me in center field in 1951.'”

“DiMag & Mick” grants us insight into Mantle, quoting from interviews and letters of Holly Brooke, Mickey’s secret girlfriend in the 1950s. Ms. Brooke’s memories of Mickey should temper our own recollections: “Mickey just wouldn’t tell a lie. He would try not to hurt anybody. I don’t know how many people you can say that about.”

http://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/ct-prj-baseball-book-roundup-20160510-story.html

Donald J. Trump, the Presidency, and American Karma

091iAT 11:30 P.M. ON ELECTION NIGHT 2012, outraged at President Barack Obama’s re-election victory over GOP nominee Mitt Romney, Donald J. Trump tweeted, “We can’t let this happen. We should march on Washington and stop this travesty.”

Karma, of course, has its own cruel irony. The day after Trump’s stunning presidential triumph this week, tens of thousands of Americans unleashed their own outrage by beginning to march, if not on Washington, then at least on the streets of many of America’s cities, trying to stop the travesty they saw in his election.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-3-44-56-pmThose demonstrations on the streets reflect the feeling among millions in America unwilling to accept Trump’s victory, at least without some kind of protest – chanting their slogans “Not My President” and “Trump and Pence make no sense.”

Racist, sexist, and a homophobe. Correct or not, concerns over those allegations against the brash, outspoken billionaire have left the first days after his election full of doom and gloom for protesters and others mourning the bitter, unexpected defeat of Democrat Hillary Clinton.

In response, Trump supporters have taken to social media and denounced demonstrators as hypocrites or worse for not accepting defeat in a democratic process.

This is not new, of course, in American presidential history. In 1969, protesters assaulted Richard Nixon’s inaugural motorcade along Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington with smoke bombs, rocks and rotten eggs.

In 2000, thousands of demonstrators attended George W. Bush’s inauguration ceremonies in the nation’s capital where Bush’s limousine was hit by a tennis ball and an egg thrown from the crowd during the inaugural parade.

“Hey, hey, ho, ho, that son of a Bush has got to go,” chanted a cluster of protesters among a group of protesters along the parade route. Meanwhile, more than 10,000 protesters marched in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

And as far back as 1860, news of that year’s presidential victory by a Northern Republican led the state legislature of South Carolina to declare Abraham Lincoln’s election a hostile act and its intention to secede from the Union

Understandably, today the Obama White House is urging anyone choosing to protest Trump’s election, to do so non-violently.

“We’re Democrats and Republicans, but we’re Americans and patriots first,” Obama press secretary Josh Ernest cautioned Thursday, amid what some protesters were calling the dawn of a new fascism.

The concern is being further fueled by the fact that, though winning the presidency through an Electoral College majority, Trump apparently lost the popular vote to Mrs. Clinton, much as George W.  Bush lost the national vote to Democrat Al Gore.

Mrs. Clinton will have won the popular vote by a wider percentage margin than not only Gore in 2000 but also John F. Kennedy in 1960 and Richard Nixon in 1968.

Incidentally, Mrs. Clinton and George W. Bush are not the first candidates to have won the popular vote but lost the presidency, though the others date back to the 19th century.

In the 1824 election, John Quincy Adams was elected president in a campaign decided by the House of Representatives under the provisions of Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution after no candidate secured a majority of the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson had received the most electoral votes, but lost the presidency in the House vote.

Rutherford B. Hayes won the bitter 1876 presidential election despite Democrat Samuel J. Tilden of New York winning the popular vote. Even the electoral votes were in dispute but was resolved in a deal in which Democrats acquiesced to Hayes’s election in exchange for Republicans agreeing to withdraw federal troops from the South, thus ending Reconstruction.

In 1888, incumbent Democratic President Grover Cleveland of New York won the popular vote but was unseated by Benjamin Harrison in the Electoral College when Cleveland ailed to carry his home state where New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine helped defeat helped defeat him.

In all those instances, supporters of the defeated candidates have raised the question of electing a president in a way some see counter to traditional democratic rules.

screen-shot-2016-11-11-at-3-45-17-pm“If we really subscribe to the notion that ‘majority rules,’ then why do we deny the majority their chosen candidate?” asked a disappointed Jennifer M. Granholm, a Clinton supporter and a former governor of Michigan, in the wake of the most recent election.

Trump would appear to agree. Or he did, at least, in a Twitter post on the eve of the 2012 election when he called the Electoral College “a disaster for democracy.” At the time Trump believed that Romney, who he supported, had beaten President Obama in the popular vote. He hadn’t.

Today, the beneficiary of the unique indirect election of the American presidency put in place by the 1787 Constitutional Convention, Trump finds that his gleaming black leather size 12 Oxford is on the other foot.

Tony Castro, a former political reporter and columnist, is the author of five books, the most recent being Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and a Final Rite of Passage (Lyons Press).

 

Could Latino Discontent Doom Hillary Clinton?

Will Hillary Clinton offset a potential Latino voter protest by picking Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro as her running mate?

Will Hillary Clinton, should she be the Democratic presidential nominee, offset a potential Latino voter protest at the polls by picking Obama Cabinet member Julian Castro as her running mate?

AMERICAN POLITICAL HISTORY IS rife with presidential elections that were determined well before the year in which the campaigns were held.

The most prominent example in our lifetime may have been Jimmy Carter’s election in 1976 that likely was decided when his opponent, incumbent President Gerald Ford, pardoned his successor, the disgraced Richard Nixon, whose Watergate scandal brought down his presidency.

Four decades later, could that happen again? Has next year’s presidential election been determined by President Barack Obama’s broken promises for comprehensive immigration reform —  which has angered many immigration reform activists, including some threatening a boycott of the 2016 elections?

Could a low Hispanic voter turnout among traditionally Democratic-voting Latinos, caused by disappointment over the Obama failure to secure comprehensive immigration reform legislation, cost preemptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton the presidency?

There were renewed signs of that on Cinco de Mayo in Southern California when some Latinos — Union del Barrio-LA, MEXA de ELAC and the Los Angeles Brown Berets — protested Clinton’s appearance at a rally at East Los Angeles College.

“Organizers called Clinton an enemy of the working class,” LA Weekly reported. “They also argue that her Central American policies as secretary of state caused death, destruction and deportation.”

Last fall, members of a DREAMers’ organization confronted the former Secretary of State at a North Carolina rally over the Obama administration’s dismal record on immigration reform, raising the possibility that disillusioned young Latinos could threaten to urge the nation’s 25.2 million Hispanic voters to skip casting ballots in 2016.

Latinos boycotting the election would be payback for the foot-dragging by President Obama on immigration reform, which he promised in 2008 but has put off successfully championing in Congress and has only minimally executed through executive action.

Democrats in California today are still reeling from the likelihood that the notoriously low turnout among Hispanic voters in the 2014 off-year elections likely cost former Assembly Speaker John Perez the state controller’s election.

Perez, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s cousin, finished behind fellow Democrat Betty Yee by fewer than 500 votes, dampening the rising star dreams of the once politically powerful Perez, who had been a favorite to win the office.

Latinos make up more than one of every five registered voters — 22.7 percent — in California. But for Perez’s important statewide election they voted at a rate of just 6 percent.

Although Latinos historically have been low turnout voters, especially in mid-term elections, no one expected the dismally low turnout would cost Hispanics a statewide office and also raise questions about 2016, especially if immigration reform activists follow through on their boycott threat.

The reason for the President continually putting immigration reform on the backburner has been nothing short of playing politics. In 2014, Obama chose not to risk giving Republicans something more with which to rally their faithful in that mid-term year, fearing that the Democrats could lose control of the Senate in his final two years as president.

The GOP, however, captured the Senate anyway and, with control of the House of Representatives, virtually assured that the already sparse Obama legacy would have little more to showcase in his lame-duck years.

It has been theorized in recent years that not only could the ever-increasing Latino vote decide the next presidential election and those beyond, but it could shift the balance of power that will be felt negatively in 2016. A poor Latino turnout would effectively serve as a Hispanic voter boycott.

DREAMers and other immigration reform activists could potentially turn presidential politics on its ear.

“By mobilizing against Mrs. Clinton,” The New York Times reported last fall, “the self-named Dreamers hope to pressure her to commit to immigration change or risk losing critical Latino votes.”

Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, the largest national network of young undocumented immigrants, was even more direct in threatening to launch a campaign urging withdrawal of support by the traditionally Democratic-voting Latinos from the 2016 Democratic ticket.

“If you’re going to pick politics over our families,” said Jimenez, “you should know that you can’t take this constituency for granted.”

This is especially critical for Clinton, considering that the Latino vote could potentially be even more important for her than it was for Obama.

In 2008, it was the overwhelming Latino vote that helped Clinton almost overtake Obama in their bitter Democratic primary battle for the nomination. That year, in Super Tuesday’s 16 primaries, Clinton carried 63 percent of the Hispanic vote compared with 35 percent for Obama.

The question now is whether Democrats will take the threat of a Latino boycott seriously.

It might do them well to acquaint themselves with what amounted to a similar Latino boycott in Texas in 1970, a time when Hispanic voters in the Lone Star State were proportionately the biggest Latino group in America.

Disillusioned with the Democratic Party, young Latino activists urged Hispanic voters not to vote in the 1970 election but instead to sign a petition to get the Chicano movement’s Raza Unida political party on the ballot for the 1972 election.

Texas state laws did not allow voters to both vote in the elections and sign the petition.

Ultimately, the Chicano activists succeeded in getting enough signatures from Latino voters to qualify La Raza Unida for the 1972 ballot. In doing so, though, the low turnout of Latino voters had an unintended historic impact.

U.S. Senator Ralph Yarborough, the incumbent darling of Texas progressives who was seeking re-election, was upset in the Democratic primary by businessman Lloyd Bentsen in a defeat that many liberals blamed on Chicano activists and their Latino voter boycott.

For Clinton, her potential problem with Latino voters is now compounded by statements she has made in the past while attempting to support the Obama administration’s decisions delaying immigration reform — as well as comments about the tens of thousands of Central American immigrant children who flooded across the border in 2014.

“I don’t think she had any idea of how that response was perceived by a young Dreamer who is thinking, ‘Um, we’ve elected a lot of Democrats,’” says Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration group America’s Voice.

“Immigration is not the only issue, but it is the defining issue, and she will need to learn that the old lines and old dynamics no longer apply.”

‘Tony Castro’s Biography Is The Bible of Mantle Books’

This review originally appeared in the Cooperstown (NY) Crier, August 12, 2002.

By TOM CATAL

There are Mickey Mantle books  by the boatload, but there’s only one Mickey Mantle biography that Mick himself would ever personally bother to read — and endorse. And that’s Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son by former Sports Illustrated staff writer Tony Castro.

Tom Catal, owner and curator of the Mickey Mantle Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

Tom Catal, owner and curator of the Mickey Mantle Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

The book captures Mick as no other book ever has or likely will because Tony Castro knew him as few others ever have. They formed a personal friendship in 1970, not long after Mick’s retirement and right after Tony had graduated from college — and it was a friendship built not on Tony being some obsessed fan or even a prying sportswriter.

It was a friendship built on golf and them playing almost daily on golf courses around Dallas, Texas, where they were both living at the time. (Tony later wrote about that in his dual biography DiMag & Mick: Sibling Rivals, Yankee Blood Brothers.)

I was in business with Mick. I got to known him as we travelled on the memorabilia circuit, and eventually I opened the Mickey Mantle Museum in Cooperstown, New York, with the biggest Mantle collection in the world.

When Tony decided to write his biography of Mick in the years after his death, he reached out to me and spent years exhaustively researching Mickey, his life, his place in baseball history and his role in America, which is significant.

b10411_e2281795fe9e4f0ebcbba977693c73f2The result is the greatest baseball biography around, and I think I’m in an ideal place to judge as a friend of Mick’s, as a baseball collector and historian, and as a friend to countless other baseball legends. In fact, it was through one of those — Pete Rose, our mutual friend — through whom I met Tony in Cooperstown.

And I know Pete shares my sentiments. Mickey Mantle: America’s Prodigal Son is the unquestioned bible of Mickey Mantle books.

Tom Catal, owner and curator of the Mickey Mantle Museum in Cooperstown, NY, was one of Mick’s best friends and today owns the world’s biggest collection of his memorabilia.

Support Our Journalism

Ensure that mission-driven reporting and investigative journalism that exposes abuses, rights wrongs, and holds the powerful accountable will continue to survive at a time when we need it most. Thank you for your support of the Tony Castro’s America blog!

Donate