Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett is a legend and an icon. He's also a dear friend. He's helped me in many ways but especially when I had my stroke.

I met Tony years ago and found him to be a great and kind person.  I interviewed him a bunch of times while I was at CBS and that's where our friendship unfolded. It's so funny, me, the rock and roller, and Tony, Frank Sinatra's favorite singer, but the chemistry worked like magic.

I did a show on A&E called Live By Request.

Tony created it and had done it on radio and here's how it worked: someone would call in and tell Tony what one of his songs meant to them or where they were when they first heard it.  Maybe who they were with and stories of how a song had been so important to someone and their spouse. Then, Tony would sing that song.

A&E brought that concept to television (with viewers calling in), and wanted a female to host it. It was going to run on Valentine's Day and they thought the dynamic between she and Tony would be great. When they brought that idea to Tony, he said, "Mark McEwen should be the host." Three times they suggested a female host and three times he said my name. Tony finally put his foot down, and A&E relented.  That show won an Emmy, and Live By Request ran for seven years.

Tony got me that job.

He also paints. Every day.
Tony is very proficient in watercolors. It's not fair that someone who has a voice like his can paint so well. But that's just how it goes sometimes. One of my prized possessions is the painting of me that Tony did. It hangs in a place of honor in my house. If you look closely you'll see the name Benedetto at the bottom of the painting. That's Tony's given name. Anthony Benedetto. Bob Hope suggested Tony Bennett, and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I had my stroke, it was bad. I was in a coma for two days, intensive care for a week, in the hospital for a month. I could barely believe what had happened. I mean, you read about things happening to other people but never think they will happen to you. The immediate aftermath for this stroke survivor was tough. Rehab, rehab, rehab. Plus a change in lifestyle, exercise, eating healthy, and paying attention to things I never payed attention to before.

And through it all was Tony.

He would call a lot to check up on me. We would talk about all kinds of things, friend to friend, and those calls meant so much. It made me rehab even harder, it helped me to not give up. I wrote a book, Change in the Weather, and as I was finishing up the manuscript the phone rang. It was Tony. He asked me what I was doing and I told him. Pause. He said, "I'd be happy to give you a quote for the  book."

I was flabbergasted.

Tony wrote,"Mark's recovery is not only inspirational but also miraculous!" It's on the back of the book.

When I told my publisher that Tony had given me a quote, I said, "Do I say Tony Bennett, Singer or maybe Tony Bennett, Legend?" She said with a laugh, "I think if you just put Tony Bennett, they'll know who it is."

True that.

They say you know who your true friends are when the chips are down. I'd say suffering a stroke qualifies. Tony went nowhere. I'll repeat that. Tony went nowhere.

A dear, dear friend.

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

American Heart Month

February is American Heart Month.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says "cardiovascular disease -including heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure-is the number one killer of men and women in America." There is a big deal going on around the country in the month of February.

It's called Go Red for Women.

According to The American Heart Association, which created Go Red for Women, it encourages awareness of the issue of women and heart disease, and also encourages action to save lives.

A noble endeavor.

I've written about it before but this time it's Shreveport's turn. I was the keynote speaker in Shreveport at their Go Red for Women luncheon last year.  More on that in a second but first my adventure of a day.

I flew from Orlando to the big airport at Atlanta. We arrived late and if you've ever been to Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport you know it has escalators, a Plane Train, numerous terminals, and lots and lots of people. In 2014, it was still the world's busiest airport, and of course the gate where I landed was nowhere near the gate for the flight to Shreveport, so off I went.

At a gallop.

When I  finally got there I learned the flight was delayed an hour. Whew. I found a seat, prepared to wait out the delay with the rest of the crowd. With about five minutes to go...they cancelled the flight. The gate attendant did mention that there was a later flight, and at their Information Counter they'd be happy to put us on that.

The crowd went there en masse...

After waiting in line I got to the counter and was surprised to find out that I was already booked on the flight. Really? Really.  Relieved, I mentioned that I had checked a bag and was told not to worry, the bag would be on the jet. Before I knew it, I was on a flight heading to Louisiana. I had called ahead to tell them I'd be a bit late.  Long story short, at the baggage carousel at the Shreveport airport, a lot of bags came out but mine didn't. It was back in Atlanta.

Deep breath.

The airline said another flight was coming soon and promised to get my bag on it, and bring it to my hotel. Okay. I went to meet, and have dinner with, the women behind Shreveport's Go Red for Women event.

Dinner was great, they were great.

I had never been to Shreveport, but they treated me like I was from there. After a warm welcome and a great meal, I was driven to the hotel.

Time for an Epilogue.
The Women of Shreveport

I was worn out, it had been a long day, and as I checked in, I told the front desk that my bag was coming later that night and to keep it until morning. They assured me they would.

Around one in the morning the phone in my room woke me up with it ringing. It was the front desk telling me my bag had arrived. I can't repeat the words I muttered as I went down to get my luggage, I can only tell you that there I was, at the front desk, either way too late or way too early. You pick. I went back to my room, with my bag, and went back to sleep.

That, my friends, is quite a day.

I didn't know what to expect at the event, but it was better, way better than I imagined. It was a cavalcade of helping, of learning, of be healthy seminars, blood pressure screenings, and booths of all kinds. There were hospital booths, there were healthy eating booths, exercise booths, and on and on. The luncheon was packed, and there was a sea of red as far as the eye could see.

There were umbrellas hanging from the ceiling (a nod to my former life as a CBS weatherman), and there were festive centerpieces at each table. After a healthy lunch I spoke and talked about my stroke and what I've learned since then to help prevent another one. Regular exercise, healthy eating, no smoking, losing weight plus how I dealt with post stroke life. I talked about therapy, driving, controlling your cholesterol, controlling your blood pressure, and regular visits to your doctor.
Prevention is key and all the things I spoke about help you to have a healthier heart. I also said what I always say to stroke survivors, to never give up.

When I was done I'd made 400 new friends.
Lea Desmarteau (l) Chairman of the Go Red for Women Event

I have to say, the trip home was less of an adventure.  Shreveport will always have a special place in my heart. And Go Red's message of spreading heart healthy awareness should have a special place in your heart.

For more information on Go Red for Women

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Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Holly Hunter

It was 1993.

The year that gave us Jurassic Park, Michael Jordan winning the NBA Championship again, and "I Will Always Love You" as the top song of the year. I was in France that May for the 46th Cannes Film Festival. Cannes was full of red carpets, film critics, movie stars, and topless beaches. I was familiar with most of those...but topless beaches were a first for me.

I was new to this whole entertainment thing. I knew music; I used to be a rock and roll deejay on the radio, but the world of Hollywood was unchartered territory, and I had to really do my homework to learn it. But I learned it.

I was in Cannes primarily as the weatherman for CBS This Morning and to interview a few stars. Denzel Washington and Bruce Willis were two of them but it was someone whom I had never talked to, never even met, who was the star of the show.

Holly Hunter, the Oscar winner Holly Hunter, was the person, but her Academy Award had yet to happen. I liked Raising Arizona ("I want that baby!")  but I loved  the movie Broadcast News. It's one of my favorite movies of all time. She was in both.

They were screening a brand new film at 8 in the morning, in Cannes, and I went. The movie was The Piano and all I knew was it was set in the time of Abraham Lincoln. That's it.

Boy, was I in for a ride.

The place was packed and the movie began. Set in New Zealand, with a complicated love story, the movie was wonderful and Holly was great in it. Ten year old Anna Paquin played her daughter and you know how that turned out in real life for her, she won an Oscar. After it was shown, during the closing credits, the audience gave it a standing ovation. That's how good they thought it was.

On to the interview.

Our set was on a pier, with two cameras and two chairs. Holly arrived with one other person, the movie's publicist. I was taken by how shy she was and also by how smart she was. Very polite, very nice. During the course of the conversation I raved, on live television, about The Piano and said she would be nominated for an Academy Award for her performance. She demurred but I knew I'd seen something great and America had yet to see it.

Cut ahead to March 21, 1994 and the 66th Academy Awards.

Holly was nominated for Best Actress. Let's go over some winners...Schindler's List for Best Picture, Steven Spielberg for Best Director, Tom Hanks, Best Actor for Philadelphia, and when they opened the envelope for Best Actress it was...Holly Hunter. I bet if you ask her now, THAT night was a blur.

We sat down to talk afterwards and I didn't think she remembered me. I was wrong. Before we began she said in that Southern drawl of hers, "From a pier in Cannes to the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion."

Quite a ride indeed.

Holly Hunter overcame a lot to win her Oscar. I'll bet, also, that along the way somebody told her that her accent would hold her back. I'm guessing they tried to change her. People always try to put people in a familiar box. Well, sometimes people are right and sometimes they're wrong.

Holly stuck to her guns and proved them wrong.

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