March 5, 2012
Odd as hell, that. Strange place with odd trivia for each President.
Presidents Park, Williamsburg, VA
February 20, 2012
Posted with permission of Shelby M. Gregory The story of Jimmy Van Heusen, aviator.
Jimmy’s first job at Lockheed was kicking dummies rigged with parachutes out of the belly of a B-17. From the number of chute failures during the test drops, Jimmy became a life long advocate of “staying in the plane.” In Jimmy’s vision parachutes were a bad choice, “even with very large flames licking my ass” bad. These thoughts would come to haunt him the day he was to fly co-pilot in a C-60 (Hudson). By the turn of fate, Jimmy’s friend Willie McConnell was chosen for a P-38 test flight. Seven Ryan trainers had just landed and were taxiing at the far end of the field when Willie hit the throttle. He roared down the runway while Jimmy watched from the edge of the field as Willie lifted off. A sharp “pop” and a puff of smoke came trailing out of one of the engines. In a frozen flash Jimmy watched in slow motion as Willie lost the moment to compensate and the P-38 ground looped. Upside down and on fire, Willie plowed down the runway incinerating the P-38, the seven Ryan Trainers, and all the helpless pilots and mechanics frozen in his path.
“I was at Lockheed more than 2 1/2 years and I was scared shitless all of the time.” Jimmy said.
Apparently the “It Cafe” at the Knickerbocker wasn’t the only spawning ground for the 125 Lockheed test pilots. As a diligent test pilot, Jimmy checked out the entire airframe during his inspections and preflight checks. Jimmy started to hatch a theory after finding ladies’ panties in the tailboom of a P-38, that there was a lot of unauthorized riveting going on at Lockheed. How in the world do you make love in a tailboom of a P-38? Jimmy saluted this extra effort on the part of moral, but found his own Methodist roots in his rejection of this poor quality control. All these Rosies the Riveters and hot-blooded test pilots were now becoming a form of sexual sabotage of the war effort. During a ground inspection of the empannage, a huge rattle revealed an entire metal lunch box riveted to the inside of the aircraft. Jimmy felt these women’s peccadilloes were dangerous to the safety of the aircraft and pilots. Perhaps he was right, as about 10% of Lockheed’s test pilots were lost in this time frame.
“When I was at Lockheed, I thought I was going to be killed everyday and when I got home from that day, I’d drink with both hands.”
During the war Jimmy continued to churn out hit after hit song for the Hollywood studios, crafting major hits for Bing Crosby and Bob Hope for their famous “Road to…” movies. When flying in the morning, he would write songs in the afternoons. Jimmy’s house was party central for test pilots and songwriters. Jimmy’s days were filled with the wild blue yonder, his nights were an assault on all that was holy. Few have had the pleasure of having their feet on the ground, and their heads in the sky.
Jimmy quietly continued his patriotic duty as a Lockheed Test Pilot during the war. He was presented the Academy Award for Best Song for “Swingin’ On A Star,” and Jimmy Van Heusen was the Prince of Tin Pan Alley.
An interesting fun fact: Lockheed and Army has no record of Jimmy Van Heusen or Chester Babcock ever being a test pilot. The photos and flightlog and tail numbers tell a different story. Odd, That. If you want to see more about Jimmy Van Heusen, visit www.jimmyvanheusen.com
Posted with permission of Shelby M. Gregory
THE LOOMING WAR
The looming war hung over Jimmy’s head, and the possibility of being drafted. It wasn’t enough to just write hit songs, so you had to have an angle to avoid being a foot soldier. Jimmy had always said. “I’ll fly through this war!” He was keeping up on his ratings, racking up hundreds of hours, instrument ratings, and finally qualifying as a Pilot Instructor. All the while Jimmy was planning to use these qualifications to volunteer as a Ferry Command Pilot. He figured, with all these flight hours and training, if Uncle Sam called, Jimmy wouldn’t walk, he would fly through WWII.
Jimmy had a love of women and booze, but the one thing that his late night Hollywood pals never knew was his one true secret love that kept him straight and focused, flying. Flying was better than booze, altitude and airspeed are their own drug, the one true love, aviation. Being a Ferry Pilot meant not being a foot soldier, it meant not walking across Europe carrying 125 pounds of iron on your shoulder.
The dry air of Palm Springs and Hollywood dismissed Jimmy’s blinding sinus headaches. It was Hollywood of 1940, and Jimmy was in heaven, but the dark clouds of war were coming to Hollywood. At cocktail parties, there was talk of war, but the music and women played on and on. Once the war started Jimmy knew he had to be on the right side of the machine of war that was starting to grind, to pull Hollywood in. There were those who had much to lose including their stardom and their lives in defense of Liberty. Soon Clark Gable would be in uniform, John Ford would be wounded at Midway, and Jimmy Stewart would be flying combat over Germany in a B-17. Hollywood was going to war, and Jimmy would be in it too, soon.
Jimmy knew that writing hit patriotic songs wouldn’t make you bulletproof, so maybe Ferry Command didn’t look so bad. Only one problem, how do you remain a hot Hollywood songwriter while you are ferrying aircraft all over the place? Ferry Command meant the death of Jimmy’s songwriting career. How do you “fly thorough the war” if you can’t take your piano with you? Jimmy decided that his draft could beat him, but they couldn’t kill him. There had to be a better way. How do you keep your hands on a beautiful woman all night and fly a hot aircraft all day? Become a Lockheed Test Pilot!
In those days the local spawning grounds for Lockheed Test Pilots was the bar at the Knickerbocker Hotel in Hollywood. This fortuitous watering hole was where Jimmy first met Lockheed’s finest fliers, and since he always picked up all the checks and chicks, the Test Pilots soon followed. After the wartime ban on private flying grounded Jimmy’s private airforce from the California coast, he moved his flying circus to Phoenix: the Luscombe, a Stinson Voyager, a Ranger Fairchild, a Stinson 5M8A with a Jacobs engine (the bucket of bolts).
Jimmy was now faced with the dilemma that would lead him to Lockheed, and his secret life as a Lockheed Test Pilot: Edward Chester Babcock. While working on the music for the movie “Road To Morocco” with Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, Jimmy had to keep up on his flying hours to maintain draft status. His sinus problems were luring him to Phoenix where he could fly, work on music, but the studios wanted him in Hollywood, so no long-distance composing. Problem was wartime restrictions meant no flying around Hollywood, and no flying hours meant walking across Europe with 125 pounds of iron on your shoulder. Not me, “I’ll fly through this war!” So how do you please either the Hollywood Studios or the Draft Board? How do you do both?
By now, Jimmy held 25 hours in Aerobatics training, a commercial pilot’s license, an instrument rating, an instructor’s rating, and 1,000 solid hours on the logbook. As a practical man, and a patriot, Jimmy presented himself to the Hollywood Recruiting Office to join the Army Air Corps. At the age of 26 1/2 Jimmy was told simply, he was over the hill, too old, not young enough. His only means to avoid ground pounding was Ferry Command, forming up in Long Beach. Ferry Command loved Jimmy Van Heusen, loved his ratings, his hours, his availability.
Meanwhile, back at the “It Cafe,” the infamous spawning grounds of the Lockheed fly boys, Jimmy fell into the company of two hard drinking, music loving characters maned Elmer McLeod and Steve Parker. As Jimmy played the piano and paid for all the drinks with “music money.” the conversation turned to aviation. Not only could this charming guy play killer piano, he was a flyer! Steve Parker was the Assistant Chief Pilot for Lockheed for P-38s. Steve’s charming friend Elmer was “Chief Pilot” at Lockheed, and together they hatched an idea. What was the life of a Test Pilot like? It was quite obvious that Steve and Elmer were living proof that Lockheed Test Pilots could, #1 fly hot planes all day long, #2 chase beautiful women all night long, #3 drink all manner of cultured spirits, and #4 Walk on water. Jimmy was in. This was his kind of crowd! These guys were going to be a lot more fun to hang out with than Bing Crosby, and “Moax” Mitch Miller.
Pearl Harbor had not yet happened, no movie studio would ever allow him to fly, and by now, Ferry Command had all the allure of being a bus driver. Even the name Ferry Command couldn’t compute in Jimmy’s songwriter’s brain, it just didn’t sound cool. Being a Test Pilot would be more fun than being a sycophant to Bing Crosby. No long trips, lots of flying hours, hot planes, hot women, Hollywood all night long, not so bad. Thus, Jimmy Van Heusen’s secret life was born. He walked in to Lockheed as a piano player and walked out a “Lockheed Test Pilot: Edward Chester Babcock,” 1 of 125 pilots.
February 19, 2012
posted with permission of Shelby M. Gregory This is a true story about Jimmy Van Heusen, songwriter/pilot
Jimmy Van Heusen had a wild ride, with beautiful airplanes, and fast women. A rebellious poet, a genius at the keyboard, his famous hit song “Come Fly With Me” deeply expressed his love of aviation. JVH was more than just talented, he was restless, carnal, and so charming he served as Frank Sinatra’s wingman in some of the wildest escapades in Hollywood history. A private pilot, Jimmy also felt the urge to serve his country in wartime, and was forced to hide his secret status as a test pilot at Lockheed from the eyes of the Hollywood studios.
Sometimes songwriters held a critical contempt for one another’s’ talent, a natural result of competition in the Old Tin Pan Alley days, but Jimmy Van Heusen was different. Everyone loved Jimmy, for his talent, humor, and grace. He was a smooth man, a total hit with the ladies, and the leader of his own pack. A pilot’s cool, with a poet’s heart, a focused control over his airspeed and tempo. He learned te art of a light touch on the controls, be that a P-38, a piano, or a beautiful woman. Jimmy was adored by women, and he adored them, all of them, every single one of them. He maintained a gentleman’s fair play by remaining a bachelor until his late 50’s.
THE EARLY DAYS
The Headmaster of the Cazenovia Seminary, the Reverend Charles Hamilton said it plainly to Mr. and Mrs. Babcock in 1930. “Chester was a talented boy, but his talents had been perverted somewhere along the way. A Backslide Boy. And don’t bring him back!” Chester Babcock had been skipping school to make money playing the piano on the radio, and that was why he was expelled. Perhaps it didn’t help that Chester had been playing Doctor with many of the more playful young ladies of the town. Chester had already seen the writing on the wall, if you play the piano and write songs, you get all the chicks. That was it, Chester was going to New York to become a songwriter. No parental protestations were given, his farther said. “Chester is a genius.”
By the time he was 25 years old, Chester Babcock, aka Jimmy Van Heusen, had penned his first big hit Moonlight Becomes You, and used his royalty check to buy a two seat Luscombe Silvaire. Jimmy parked his plane at Floyd Bennett Field, where he took his first flying lessons. Jimmy’s love of flying must have been a passion indeed, as his acute sinus problems sometimes made his fling problematic. At times the pain was so great he would suffer terrible headaches. At 26 years of age Jimmy was his own force of nature in Tin Pan Alley. I t wasn’t long before JVH landed a hob writing music for movies in Hollywood, a perfect place for clear skies, clear sinuses, and good hunting. Booze, broads, money, and music; it was all he could dream of a s he daylight short-hopped his Luscombe Silvaire across America. Theis was his first real-time away from home, away from New York, alone in his airplane, looking down at American’s fields and homes far below.
While last year’s visit to the College World Series was an amazing achievement for the Commodores, it has hurt the team to some extent. Friday was the season opener for Vanderbilt, playing an out of conference team, Stanford. Usually it’s more difficult to prep for nonconference games. Not a lot of film or reports available so the coach’s mentality is to play “our” game and adjust as needed. Being the first series of the season, both teams had ample time to research individual players, offensively and defensively.
The difference is Vandy lost 12 players to the MLB draft, so an opponent, like Stanford, can focus like a laser on Vandy’s small core of hitters. Kemp, Gomez, Reynolds, Gregor –the guys that can get on base every game, the veteran players. Last year’s trip to Omaha had many teams looking at Vandy closely and keeping track of key players.
Vanderbilt started this season away. That, in and of itself, is not a huge deal. Fifty percent of NCAA Division I teams start on the road. Coach Corbin choice to start Ziomek was the right one. Ziomek may or may not be Vandy’s number one pitcher. To start a road series with a freshman pitcher first game (yeah, I know there was a fall series) goes up against the Appel is not ideal. No matter the outcome of the game, starting a veteran makes sense. The debate will rage for some time between Ziomek and Beede camps. It’s a long standing debate with Vanderbilt. Every year the # 1 and #2 pitchers are equal in my opinion. It’s how they handle a different set of circumstances that allow each to step up.
Game 1 Recap: Stanford 8, Vandy 3, Nuf said. (Note: I don’t regurgitate game stats. Odd, that.) Ziomek’s command was shot from the get go. The first inning saw Z launch26 pitches. Behind in the counts frequently, he was laying heat at the numbers for a Third On Third Situations. First two outs were textbook, but that third inning ending out was a struggle. Stanford is a smart club. Batters stayed off everything off speed and targeting corners. It turned out to be a short night for Z (3.1 innings, 66-ish pitches, 5R, 6H).The defense was jittery as well, miscommunication and errors is not the norm for this Vanderbilt club.
Offensively, it was an interesting game. The top of the line produced little offense, very odd, that. The bulk of offense was done by the freshmen. Chris Harvey was phenomenal for his first college game, a pair of doubles. He’s an interesting story –Early high school grad, entering Vandy as a truly true freshman. He’s a big boy 6-5/215lb – catcher. Preseason concentration was on hitting, so no big surprise Harv was DH. It’s a good introduction to NCAA baseball. The bottom 4-5 players all did very well offensively. The question of the year: are they that good or just not documented as well as the veterans. Remember there are a lot of reports on Vanderbilt veterans.
Was last year a fluke? I don’t think so. Vandy is an elite powerhouse. This year’s freshman class is extremely talented. It might even be said to be the “most” talented class. Vanderbilt has a tremendous team-rebuild to accomplish this year, but has great players, fantastic coaches, and the taste of Omaha.
February 11, 2012
What most don’t realize is Nashville isn’t new to the hockey market. Hockey teams have called Nashville home long before the Predators came along. Way back in the early 60s there was minor league team Dixie Flyers(note the yellow jerseys) which had a good nine season run. Then, there were the South Stars, the Knights, the Nighthawks (Ice Flyers) all played at the Municipal Auditorium, which basically sucks as a venue. Ice hockey took a nap after the Knights left. Yes, there was still hockey but it was hardly a calendar event for Nashvillians.
When the NHL announced Nashville as an expansion city for the league, many Nashvillians were stunned. Investors had just finished the new NFL stadium for the Oilers. The regional sports teams were already nervous. College sports, as the only game in town, per se, are just as popular, and a huge money makers, as pro teams elsewhere. There are only so many “entertainment” dollars a family can spend. Nashville is a huge sports city, even though many teams are 3-4 hours away. Nashvillians support Vanderbilt, University of Tennessee football and basketball programs, (probably UK teams, too), Atlanta Braves, and the Houston/Tennessee Oilers/Tennessee Titans. Introducing an ice hockey team into that mix was a risk. Many people thought the team would not make it because history seemed to be determined to repeat itself. The difference was one small, seemingly unrelated factor – Western Central Division, dominated by the Detroit Red Wings.
In the 1990s an automobile manufacturing plant came to the farm community of Spring Hill, Tennessee. The Saturn plant hired many workers from Red Wing country. This was the start of Nashville’s NHL ice hockey fan base. Yes, there were pockets of die-hard hockey fans closer to Nashville, but this was a huge block of potential fans. The majority of plant workers didn’t care about college sports like the rest of Tennesseans did. The new Tennessee residents had bucket load of “entertainment” dollars waiting to be spent. Why not on a NHL hockey franchise?
The first season of Predator hockey were interesting to say the least. Everyone sat quietly watching the games like a tennis match, politely clapping when Preds scored. There were a few fans, me included, that would yell at the players and the refs. We’d get dirty looks from the spectators for yelling mild profanity at the players. During one game, the D-man failed miserably on clearing the puck on a penalty kill that ended up in our net. As he skated to the bench, I yelled, “you suck.” It was so quiet in the arena the player heard me and gave me a death stare. As the season went on, the marketing wizards decided it would be good to teach fans the game of hockey. During intermission, and before the games, there were “lessons” on various aspects of the game. I still snicker when the Preds go on the power play. “The Predators are…on…the….POWERPLAY”. Early on Cellblock 303, nickname for section 303, played a huge role converting “spectators” into fans. All the crowd chants originated in section 303. Check them out at www.cellblock303.c0m
Two major things happened along the way. The biggest boost to the fan base occurred in 2004 when GM bought Saturn. When these automotive workers came to town, they were, and many still are, hardcore Detroit Red Wings fans. Having Nashville in the same division as Detroit was pinnacle to further developing the division rivalry. When the Red Wings are in town, Nashville becomes The Biggest Hockey Town in North America. Win or lose, it’s always a great night for Predator hockey.
The other major aspect was subtle and in existence from the beginning of Predator hockey, like a deep water current. It is the culture and philosophy adopted by the Nashville Predators’ front office. Nashville is a city of change, but only after a great deal of thought. Being so close to Atlanta, we have seen what hyper growth can do to a city. Nashville is a large city, but still hold onto its small town roots. Unlike many NHL teams in other markets, the Predators bought into the slow, but forward moving attitude the city embraces. The Predators have had only one coach, Barry Trotz. How many teams can say their coach has been around for 13 seasons? Our first ever draft pick (2nd overall), David Legwand, is still on the team. Nashvillians want to be able to see the same players every year and develop a fan-ship with those players. This is the key for any professional team’s success in Nashville.
Those are the main reasons why Predator hockey is successful in Nashville. The team fits the Nashville culture perfectly. People are puzzled that we would give our team a standing ovation after a second round playoff loss to the Vancouver Canucks. They don’t see the beauty of a sea of yellow in the stands. They don’t understand that Predator hockey is a different type of hockey. It’s unexpected comebacks, versatile line juggling, heart in your throat hockey…every game … for the last 13 years. I hope it never changes!