Book Review: Don’t Stop Believin’ by Olivia Newton-John

This longtime admirer and journalist of Olivia Newton-John (Grease, Sordid Lives, Xanadu, Two of a Kind, Summer Nights) read her new memoir, published this week, with intense interest.

The co-written memoir, Don’t Stop Believin’, which is both personal and light in substance and tone, contains many surprises, details and insights. The 70-year-old singer, whose career is marked by several movie performances, cultural milestones and an inspiring musical catalog and personal life, writes in the easy, natural and restrained but relaxed manner with which she performs. The woman knows her ability.

Olivia writes about every part of her life and career. Though the reader may be disappointed that she stresses people’s names at the expense of examining the songs, albums and songwriting for which she’s become a pop star, there’s also no chapter of her life untold. In this sense, Don’t Stop Believin’ is, like memoirs by Fred Astaire and Doris Day, a classic Hollywood memoir.

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In short, it offers quality, light reading from a rare, telling perspective. Don’t Stop Believin’ is loaded with clinical and treatment details about Olivia’s cancer (she’s recently been diagnosed again, as I wrote about here) which alone makes the book worth reading. Olivia spares no detail yet she never lets herself, her values or her privacy go.

Among ONJ’s disclosures: she was injured in a car crash on LA’s 101 freeway, experienced debilitating pain during her three-year residency in Las Vegas, has a tattoo, failed music and math and became self-educated, was propositioned by a movie star during her first visit to America at LA’s Universal City Hilton and faced Hollywood mogul Lew Wasserman during a contract dispute which she ultimately won — in court — gaining ownership of her master recordings.

Olivia traverses everything from her first marriage and divorce to miscarriage, pregnancy and parenting and neither goes deep nor shallow on any one topic. I think the Don’t Stop Believin’ reader will find himself wanting more or less of any given topic. The result, however, satisfies.

Olivia’s lifelong general advocacy for animals and the environment gets particular attention. Introspection comes in glimpses and fragments, with only an occasional indulgence from the disciplined performer. Whether recalling someone’s early career observation, which Olivia took as criticism, that she’s “ambitious” or her late sister or mother, the singer sails through the remembrances.

I adored my father and think more about him now than ever before, especially when I hear classical music, which was always playing loudly in our house. I close my eyes and see my father busily conducting each note as he smiled and drank his evening sherry.”

Some tales may surprise those who don’t know that Olivia Newton-John’s part of an extremely brave, intelligent family that, among other achievements, includes those who were awarded a Nobel prize for physics, helped to decode Nazi messages and invented the first portable iron lung.

Other tidbits include that Olivia sought emancipation from her mother after her parents’ divorce, recorded her first album while the Beatles were recording an album in the same studio and admires Andy Williams, Bob Hope and Dean Martin — with whom she made her first American appearance on television — all of whom she performed with during her youth. You’ll learn about Olivia spending the day with Dustin Hoffman (Kramer Vs. Kramer) during an audition for Tootsie and partying while vacationing with Sammy Davis Jr., Totie Fields, Carol Burnett, Steve Lawrence, Eydie Gormé and Helen Reddy.​​

In a memorable encounter, Olivia remembers seeing Gloria Swanson at a waterfront hotel during a film festival, recalling that:

I spooned sugar into my [tea]cup at the exact moment, in the South of France, the iconic film star … swooped up those stairs. There she stood in full makeup with a bright silk scarf around her hair and wearing a long, flowing robe with bangles on her wrist. She was absolutely gorgeous, and looking right at me . . . and the tray filled with treats. “Darling,” Ms. Swanson said as she approached. “Don’t eat sugar. It’s poison.” It’s amazing that she was aware of the health risks of sugar back then, and I should have listened to her. Now, it’s forty years later and I’m finally on a no-sugar diet. I’m a slower learner!

Imagine watching Elvis Presley cover your song live in concert at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1974 while sitting next to Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice — and then meeting Doris Day backstage. Or suggesting that a new fellow Australian actor named Mel Gibson co-star in your movie Xanadu with Gene Kelly, who’d give you advice for living before rehearsing a dance with you and doing all of his own skating for the movie because he said he loved skating when he was a boy growing up in Pittsburgh. In Don’t Stop Believin’, Olivia puts the reader there.

As noted, Olivia’s admirers (and I am one of them) are likely to be disappointed with a lack of depth and detail. She calls almost everyone she mentions her friend, drawing few distinctions. There’s an abundance of material on her spiritual beliefs but nothing substantial about certain seminal albums such as Have You Never Been Mellow, Physical, Soul Kiss and The Rumour. The memoir lacks an index and discography. When she does write about her music, such as the Nashville-tinged Back with a Heart, the perfect “Right Here With You” or Grace and Gratitude, it’s with a chapter title or brief reference. There are exceptions, such as her thoughts on Grease and “I Honestly Love You”. Olivia proves to be a good observer and storyteller though there is more material about her travels and various plants, animals and exotic voyages — with snakes, rhinos and Magic the Chinese kitten — than about herself and those she values.

Few are as strong — a word Olivia says she likes — as Olivia Newton-John, which I think astute readers, admirers and cultural observers will come to realize, know and appreciate. Olivia captures the wider scope of her life.

“Time is a wonderful healer,” she notes on the topic of losing her sister Rona to brain cancer, “but grief is like an ocean. I found it comes in waves and there are times when you are lost at sea. …” The woman who recorded Liv On, a trio album on grief recovery, also recalls what a friend who lost a child once told her: “grief is just proof that you loved.”

So, read Don’t Stop Believin’ to discover why Olivia declines to use the word remission — why she admires the late motivational author Louise Hay — and why she enjoys vodka in good measure. Reading this memoir helps one to know that Olivia wants everyone interested in her blend of innocence, sweetness, lightness, strength and harmony to know that she honestly loves (especially her husband) and is loved and that you should strive to find the comfort from inside, too.

And ONJ’s sense of play — including having a whipped cream fight with composer Paul Williams in a private jet — comes through. As she describes her first encounter with the late Joan Rivers when the comedienne came to help during a grueling charity walk along the Great Wall of China:

You’ve got your heels on, Joan!” I said in an amazed voice. I’ll never forget her words to me. Joan said, “Olivia, when you invited me, I thought you said the Great Mall of China!” She followed this by walking up a few stairs, turning around and asking, “Where’s the ladies’ room?” Later she told Martha Stewart on her show, “There was so much wind on the wall, I could have skipped my last two face lifts.” She also remarked, “The wall was built and rebuilt over the centuries. It’s had more work done on it than I’ve had on my face.” God love her.”

For sharing some of what is personal and for 50 years of good humor, grace and performing arts, may God bless the thriving and triumphant Olivia Newton-John.


Buy Don’t Stop Believin’ here


Books: A New Textbook of Americanism

Several intellectuals in the Objectivist movement have been called upon to a contribute to a new compendium of essays attempting to apply Ayn Rand’s philosophy to politics. The result is what its editor, hedge fund manager, author and TV analyst Jonathan Hoenig (The Pit), titles A New Textbook of Americanism. The paperback edition, which includes newly published writing by Ayn Rand, is a useful resource for sorting through today’s complicated and deeply confused political debates.

By picking up on what Rand (1905-1982) started in association with a motion picture organization in Hollywood before writing Atlas Shrugged, Hoenig’s idea to continue her effort to answer certain questions she formulated and intended to eventually answer with new essays is an interesting and inviting proposition. Each reader, whether he’s an Objectivist or not, can read these essays and make a judgment.

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That Hoenig adopts Rand’s take on the term Americanism is itself a departure from today’s loud, vacant discourse. So, the book, best read in bits according to one’s unique political confusions, interests and passions, challenges the left-right status quo.

By this, I mean that, in total, it’s easily distinguishable from either a conservative or a leftist manifesto. Each contributor, most of whom are academic intellectuals, and many of whom I know or am acquainted with, speaks for himself, not for Ayn Rand. To varying degrees their pieces are thought-provoking cases, essays and arguments about pressing political issues that relate to daily life.

For example, Hoenig writes:

If you give someone a wristwatch, does he become its rightful owner? Of course he does. He did not earn the money to buy the watch himself, but, upon you giving him the watch, it becomes his property. When a person who rightfully owns something gives it to someone else, that thing becomes the property of the recipient by virtue of the right of the giver to assign his property as he sees fit. An individual’s right to property, whether it is a wristwatch or an estate, includes the right to dispose of it.

The American founders identified life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness as man’s inalienable rights because they are a requirement of life. As Ayn Rand clarified, “just as man can’t exist without his body, so no rights can exist without the right to translate one’s ideas into reality — to think, to work and to keep the results — which means: the right to property.”

This example is an illustrative counterpoint to the prevailing opposition to property rights from leftists — including the swarm of leftist legislators such as Ocasio-Cortez or Warren — and from the new block of authoritarians on the right such as the first explicitly pro-eminent domain president Donald Trump. Many examples in the book challenge today’s false, toxic right-left alternative while clarifying or at the very least making a case for the Objectivist political ideal.

One scholar depicts America’s frontier history to provide proof that “Americanism heralded the natural aristocracy of ability, inventiveness, daring, and hard work.” Another points out that “a fortune made is always a fortune caused.” A philosopher writes that, contrary to the dog-eat-dog descriptions of capitalism as a ‘survival of the fittest’, literature’s Robinson Crusoe offers the more honest capitalist ideal because the stranded islander “…has to build shelter, learn to hunt, and make his own clothing. If he does not succeed in creating wealth, he will die. It is produce or perish.”

The author’s conclusion that the Industrial Revolution brought Americans unparalleled progress with “… the steamboat, the railroad, electricity, the telegraph, the telephone, the light bulb, refined oil, antiseptics, vaccines, the phonograph, the camera, the automobile, the radio” is undeniable.

Over and over, contributors credit the men who made these advancements possible with references to Jonas Salk, Fred Rogers, Ray Kroc, John D. Rockefeller, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Ayn Rand, Sam Walton, Jeff Bezos, George Washington Carver, Steve Jobs, Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie.

Not that Hoenig’s A New Textbook of Americanism is a history lesson. Instead, the collection of essays generally weaves historical and other data points into specific political thought. Author Don Watkins takes on charity as a right, concluding that “to establish capitalism will depend on [Americans’] willingness to confidently and unapologetically reject the notion that a person’s need entitles him to the property of others.” Economist Richard Salsman correctly observes that when the government “imposes tariffs on imported steel, and thereby restricts supply and raises the price of steel domestically, it does so to give domestic steel companies a profit they did not produce and do not deserve.“

The net effect of reading the book is a challenge to the reader to think for himself. Some of the essays are better than others, of course, in terms of the quality of writing and persuasiveness. Depending on one’s preference for and exposure to various media in today’s sensory-driven culture, some, perhaps many, of these arguments have been made better and/or often before. Other intellectuals, including those who are not in academia, might make more compelling cases.

But Hoenig’s reach for general American audiences and those who strive for understanding Americanism is laudable; as the thinker’s self-defense, A New Textbook of Americanism is on the right track.

And in what other new book will today’s discouraged, confused or disoriented American individualist, looking for guidance toward achieving the nation of the enlightenment, find Ayn Rand differentiating patriotism from nationalism in her 1974 talk to U.S. military cadets at West Point and this excellent excerpt from the third and most recent book by Leonard Peikoff: “All the key features of a capitalist state — its validation, its powers and limits, the prerogatives and interrelationships of its citizens — are unified, because all are derived from a single principle: the worldly self preservation of the individual.”

As Objectivism’s foremost author writes in his Objectivism: the Philosophy of Ayn Rand, “Objectivism is preeminently an American viewpoint…”

Recently, an article in the Atlantic divulged the depth of reflexive anti-Americanism in Germany, another nation which Dr. Peikoff has brilliantly studied and examined. It turns out that a reporter for Germany’s leading publication, Der Spiegel, a magazine featured as having an admirable goal in The Lives of Others (2006), “fabricated information in more than a dozen articles—most of which were meant to reveal America’s brutality.”

As one of those “ominous parallels” which Hoenig’s book points out, our own American president snidely condemns this nation with the question: “you think our country’s so innocent?”

Jonathan Hoenig’s compendium dispels both leftist contempt for America while answering the ignorant, anti-American president with an informed, intelligent reply: Yes…because it is—and this is why.

Whether you’re an activist, an influencer or an Objectivist, or any, all or none of these, you may gain knowledge in these pages. For example, that the estate tax was not fixed as a permanent part of American law until 1916 and that, “before that, any attempt to impose a tax on estates was treated as an aberration to help the government [weather] a temporary emergency.”

You may also be inspired, as I am, by Americans in their Americanism. As one intellectual observes in this volume, “Steve Jobs [once] said: “[W]e think the Mac will sell zillions, but we did not build a Mac for anybody else. We built it for ourselves. We were the group of people who were going to judge whether it was great or not. We weren’t going to go out and do the market research. We just wanted to build the best thing we could build.”

New Year’s Preview

Twenty Nineteen topics I plan to write about on this blog include an app for the Church of Scientology, a newly revised book by Thomas Sowell and a song by Smashing Pumpkins. After 10 years of writing this informal forum for my thoughts on movies, culture and ideas, with today’s media market getting thinner and dimmer and more fragmented, it’s time to focus on other forms.

Proposals and copy for aviation and military defense technology as well as uncredited fiction and non-fiction for screen and publication are among assignments I wrote last year. I also develop projects for customers in construction, real estate, movies, journalism and literature.

I regard the blog as advertising. Readership has increased and I’ve kept it informal, but the blog takes effort to sustain. Accordingly, I started a PayPal donation campaign to support my writing, including this blog. Please consider making a donation.

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What’s to come includes new movie, television, book and stage reviews. I’m looking forward to attending local theater productions in Southern California. I look forward to seeing and writing about a new stage production starring Psych‘s Dule Hill as Nat “King” Cole. I plan to review a show at the Wallis Center for Performing Arts in Beverly Hills this month. Comedienne Julia Sweeney will be staging another one-woman show, which I’m excited to see. The same goes for a new production of a play by Sophocles which one of my mentors calls one of eight great plays.

I also aim to write about apps, TV shows and, of course, classic movies. I’ll be posting an exclusive interview soon with screenwriter and director Robert Benton, with whom I recently met for an interview again, this time in Hollywood, to honor the 40th anniversary of his underrated Oscar-winning Best Picture, Kramer vs. Kramer and the 35th anniversary of his seminal film Places in the Heart. I’ve received positive feedback to my classic movie writings. There are more analyses to come. I am exploring possibilities to publish books of my interviews, reviews and other writings.

A few of my short stories are in contest contention. I continue to teach media and writing to adults in Southern California. Last year, I hosted an alumni networking event in a small venue near Hollywood. Current and former students met, mixed and talked about first-look deals, options, events, readings and tips, resources and platforms. I announced a new partnership and had the privilege to encourage fellow writers and sole proprietors. I’ve added another mixer next month.

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Ventures and endeavors for new media, books, movies, TV series and stories (mine and work for others) are in the works. I’m often busiest during the summer, but I’d like to attend 2019’s OCON. This summer’s event celebrates 50 years of Ayn Rand’s The Romantic Manifesto in Cleveland, Ohio. So, I’m enthusiastic about prospects for the new year. Feel free to reach out, inquire and/or donate.

Happy reading in the meantime.

Year in Review: 2017

This year was mixed for me, though I’ve made progress. I know that I’m grateful for the best readers, clients and partners. Though this blog is an informal repository for my thoughts, I covered essential movies, ideas and cultural points this year and I managed to find, explore and examine the good, even the best. But 2017 was the year of the purge, as I argued here, when men of ability, skill and reason, such as studio executive Harvey Weinstein, broadcaster Tavis Smiley and Judge Alex Kozinski, were, whatever their alleged crimes and flaws, prejudged, smeared and maligned due to a surge of groupthink based on faith in egalitarianism. This year, it became harder to find the good.

The year began with the death of a talented actress who embodied goodness, tact and restraint, Mary Tyler Moore. MTM was the best. An effort to restore one of Richard Neutra’s most cherished buildings gained my attention for an article published on the Los Angeles Times site. I did an exclusive interview with the writer and director of last winter’s feel-good box office hit Hidden Figures and I previewed a literary study of famous authors’ words and writing patterns, all of which I wrote about here.

The Neutra article led to an in-depth interview with the architect’s son on the eve of his 90th birthday. I posted about my time with Dion Neutra and other exclusive interviews (i.e., a new head of the Ayn Rand Institute and Lasse Hallstrom on his cinematic tribute to man’s best friend, A Dog’s Purpose) which I covered here. The interracial horror comedy, Get Out, merited a positive — not a rave — review. I reviewed the Oscars, probably for the last time.

Battlestar Galactica‘s original Captain Apollo, Richard Hatch, died this year. Hatch, whom I had met when I was a boy and, again, for an interview as an adult, was a passionate actor and a kind and decent man. Sam Smith and Ed Sheeran released new albums with melody and soul. Bill O’Reilly was fired from Fox News over claims of sexual impropriety, major media news which started a disturbing trend. I had already warned against jumping to conclusions over claims spread fast and wide via social media when I wrote some time ago about NBC News penalizing anchorman Brian Williams. I returned to the topic again in 2017 to forewarn that mass hysteria over Harvey Weinstein could spread far and fast, too, and not for the good.

Sadly, this is exactly what happened. Prejudice, jumping to conclusions and injustice compounds.

This year, I posted detailed reviews here about the LA TimesFestival of Books and Turner Classic Movies’ Classic Film Festival in Hollywood, which paid homage to TCM host Robert Osborne, who also died this year. I miss Robert O. every time I watch classic movies on TCM.

Unfortunately, cancer was caught again in Olivia Newton-John, who exudes strength, confidence and grace as she keeps recording, performing and healing. Anyone with cancer, or who loves one with this disease, should know about Olivia’s efforts, artistry and example. I wrote Southern California stories for the Los Angeles Times’ local editions on a new center for studying Los Angeles at Occidental College, a new leader in Ayn Rand’s philosophical movement and the shopping center targeted by the Hillside Stranglers, which I linked to and bundled here. I added a number of articles to my backlog, including three previously published articles on Walt Disney’s Bambi, taught my night classes on media and writing and a summer media series for seniors in the park, and posted a 30th anniversary review of Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, a review of his classic E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial and a 40th anniversary review of the filmmaker’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

In politics and government, Republicans and the president failed to repeal ObamaCare, so I criticized so-called free market intellectuals for not stepping in to help. To back it up, I offered a detailed proposal in a piece published on Capitalism Magazine about forming a proper starting point in seven steps to exit this monstrous health care law (read it here).

Christopher Nolan’s war movie, Dunkirk, was the year’s first serious best movie contender. I was also impressed with books, new and out of print, which I reviewed in detail: Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty, The Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany, biographies of a Soviet spy for Josef Stalin and George W. Bush, Bush, and broadcast journalist Harry Reasoner’s memoirs, Before the Colors Fade.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the publication of my favorite novel, Atlas Shrugged, so I posted my thoughts and a remembrance of my first reading here. I attended some events at an annual conference dedicated to studying and applying its author’s philosophy, the Objectivist Conference (OCON), where I found need for improvement and a reason to celebrate. I wrote about OCON here.

Pittsburgh is the setting for an extraordinary new television series, This Is Us, which I reviewed and recommend, especially for families and those with middle class values. More so for those dealing with cancer, bigotry and alcoholism. I also reviewed and appreciate Wonder Woman (the new Thor sequel, too) but the comics genre is fading. In the absence of great new romanticist works, I prefer the fresh and more subtle humor and thematically more realistic and uplifting stories in depictions such as This Is Us. Sundance TV’s gripping and intelligent microseries Cold Blooded aired this year, too, in what ought to become a new sub-genre of non-fictional true crime programming: a whole perspective which accounts for the lives of the victims.

This summer’s murder in Charlottesville, too, left widespread damage in its wake, and not just from the so-called alt-right or the so-called antifa movements on right and left. The Charlottesville protest was premeditated, coordinated, attacked and, in the aftermath of the president’s ignorant response and the often ignorant reaction to his response, silenced many reasonable Americans into not talking about politics, ideas or dissent about any serious topic. I think this self-imposed suppression of one’s thoughts, writings and speech is a grave mistake. What the West needs now is a more, not less, frequent and persistent exercise of speech.

On the blog, I posted several firsts in 2017. I decided to create a Christmas gift guide on the blog, which turns 10 years old next year. Read my first review of an Alfred Hitchcock movie here. Read my first reviews of Ernst Lubitsch films here and here. I took on the topic of technology’s aggregation — in news and in movie reviews — and I was the first to warn against a rising voice for theocracy, Roy Moore, and on the proper principle.

For the first time, I posted reviews of LA stage productions: The Rainmaker and Driving Miss Daisy. Both of these plays had long ago been adapted for the screen, the latter as Oscar’s Best Picture winner for 1989 (the subtly integrationist movie could never win in today’s lynch mob atmosphere). Other adaptations or revivals this year, besides Thor and Wonder Woman movies, include an entertaining screen version of Stephen King’s novel, It, which is the year’s most unanticipated box office success, Denis Villenueve’s Blade Runner 2049, Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour and the Dionysian Call Me By Your Name.

That last film, like Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water, does not depict a love story, contrary to its raving critics’ assertions. Like 2016’s Moonlight, which initiated this trend of overestimating moodily immersive movies of style more than substance, the visually striking or appealing movies lack depth and/or coherence. The same is true of another of 2017’s hit movies, Disney/Pixar’s animated Coco, and this year’s entry in the annual Star Wars debut, The Last Jedi.

Better, deeper movies this year focus on the individual of superior ability: the biting and judgmental (as against pre-judgmental), I, Tonya; the enjoyable Battle of the Sexes; the poignant Thank You for Your Service and the story of the young, principled lawyer who would become a judge on the U.S. Supreme Court, Marshall. Note that each of these films essentially dramatizes known, fact-based events in reality, i.e., naturalism. The more the faith, feelings and fantasy-based movies advance in the culture, the more pressing the need for great works of romantic-realist fiction.

2017 closes with the demise of the American male, amid the deaths of rock’s Tom Petty and Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, as a byproduct of clustered, disconnected accusations from an often nameless, faceless clan of claimants that break silence (and contracts) to come forth via publicity campaign, not in a judicial court assuring due process. The movement’s name is similarly flawed and amorphous: Me, Too.

For this year’s Me, Too-ing, few noticed that one of the year’s most popular cultural products, a mediocre Star Wars movie, is made possible by Hollywood’s most powerful woman, Kathleen Kennedy, who originated one of the year’s most ominous cultural acts. Kennedy, who runs Lucasfilm for Disney (currently subsuming Fox), called for creation of a new commission to establish work standards, on the condition that the standards be established by (her words, not mine) college professors, feminists and activists.

In fact, Hollywood’s powerful new women’s group, the Commission on Sexual Harassment and Advancing Equality in the Workplace, is in formation. The commission has designated its leader — law professor Anita Hill, who long ago accused a Supreme Court nominee of sexual harassment, assertions which were never charged, litigated or substantiated — and the new order for anti-sexual, anti-male rules of engagement is currently underway. Pressure on government to enact rules against speech, conduct and sex in the workplace (and everywhere else) is likely to expand, not contract.

Meanwhile, in lieu of catastrophic threats from jihadist states such as Iran and Saudi Arabia and North Korea, the proper role of government — defense, a judicial system, police — shrinks while the state’s improper role expands. For instance, the cost of government-controlled medicine, i.e., ObamaCare-compliant health plans, rises while access and quality of health care plummets. In the past 72 hours, government-controlled lights went out in America’s busiest airport and a government-run train derailed with deadly wreckage in the West. Soon, what you say and do at work could be regulated or influenced by a commission run by a law professor at Brandeis University — an institution which silenced an author who’s a feminist for speaking out against Islamic terrorism — or a government agency, crony or subsidiary.

So, those who think different and speak up face these and other obstacles in the year ahead, which means 2017 ends as a year in which disaster and darkness looms while silence spreads. More and faster than ever, as Ayn Rand forecast over 60 years ago, we are running out of time to save ourselves. This culture of fantasy and faith must be challenged, opposed and countered. This writer does everything I can do to offer tools, stories and fuel for the journey ahead.

 

Best Christmas Gifts 2017

Photo of LA’s The Grove at Christmastime by Scott Holleran

Making the most of Christmas commercialism means to me finding or letting in the joy of this marvelous season. I’ve decided to round up some of my favorite things to give or receive purely for the purpose of spreading the cheerfulness, happiness and goodwill that comes this time of year. I think benevolence is all around if you know why to look — for your sake — and never let life’s turmoil go down deep. Sometimes, things help. They remind you that you matter, that you’re capable of enjoying things. Things can become a person’s project and lead to an enterprise, discovery or way to living a renewed life. I hope these tips help you and those you value have a merry Christmas.


Coffee, Shaving and Elegant Correspondence

Two of the best made products for everyday basics are the Verismo coffee machine and Harry’s razor and blades. Both are simple, efficient and streamlined for functionality. When traveling, I like to use the Photocard application, which easily and masterfully makes and sends picture postcards to send with a note through mail and/or e-mail via my iPad or iPhone.

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Similarly, give boxed notecards as gifts, too, which encourage family and friends to correspond with short, handwritten notes, which may be more personal and meaningful than text or e-mail. I recommend Crane’s stationers and Papyrus for finding the highest quality blank and themed note and greeting cards. For gift cards, I know that getting and giving Amazon, Starbucks and Apple, such as iTunes, cards (and, of course, movie theater gift cards, too) brings happiness. You can also send an individual item, such as a favorite book (Atlas Shrugged), movie (La La Land) or song (“Hello”), in iTunes and other mobile apps.

Money is always welcome, of course, though I think cash or a money card is best presented with a thought expressed in writing or recording if you deliver via modern technology. PayPal, banks’ direct payment tools such as Zelle, ApplePay and others (Square, Western Union, Facebook) offer a range of options for gifting money directly to the individual.


Movies, Movies, Movies

If you want to give a movie, investigate the recipient’s preferred format, i.e., streaming such as Hulu, Apple TV or Netflix, DVD or Blu-Ray. I suggest giving a few films if possible as a batch in a selected variety — musical, comedy, drama, classic, action — centrally based on what you have reason to think the recipient enjoys and perhaps one of your own favorites (of course, with a line about why). If that’s not appropriate or possible, choose one favorite and explain in a blank Christmas card note or gift tag what you want the recipient to gain from watching the movie. Simply writing enjoy works, too.

So does bundling. For instance, if you know a dashing or romantic youngster who appreciates civilized man as a work in progress, consider sharing the charms of Cary Grant by gift wrapping North By Northwest, Gunga Din and Charade. Go for variety in your bundles, but look for common themes in the movies. Include gift receipts in case they already have that movie. Don’t forget other classic movie stars, such as Lizabeth Scott, Katharine Hepburn and Barbara Stanwyck. Look on Amazon.com or call used bookstores to find a credible biography or memoir of the movie star to add as a relational stocking stuffer.

Spielberg at his best

If you’re a true classic movie fan, these are some good themed movies for buying and watching together with one you love: naughty, light comedy in romance — So This is Love, Red-Headed Woman, One Hour With You; for epic, raging Westerns — Forty Guns, The Big Country, Stagecoach, Red River, The Virginian; warm, lush adventures from Steven Spielberg — Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Empire of the Sun, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial; really glorious, wonderful musicals by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein — The Sound of Music, South Pacific, Oklahoma! or others such as Minnelli and De Niro in Martin Scorsese’s New York, New York; movies about war — such as American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, 13 Hours; or give some of your favorites among Oscar’s Best Picture winners — Wings, On the Waterfront, Rocky, Schindler’s List, From Here to Eternity, Moonlight, Spotlight, Birdman, 12 Years a Slave, The Hurt Locker, The Artist, The King’s Speech, Chicago, or The English Patient.

Reflections on suppression

Movies perfect for home video gifts include family fare such as Zootopia, A Dog’s Purpose and Hunt for the Wilderpeople, all of which embed benevolent ideals in bright, gorgeously colorful films with bold yet simple strokes and a delightful sense of humor. Other good classic films for general audiences are Ted Melfi‘s Hidden Figures, Kenneth Branagh’s Cinderella and Walt Disney’s Bambi, The Jungle Book and Dumbo or his very personal and thoroughly enjoyable So Dear to My Heart, a fabulous movie which depicts the antithesis of today’s cynicism. Other movies which might be welcome to those contemplating and facing serious obstacles include Into the Woods, the Stephen Sondheim musical which skillfully depicts life’s fairy tale moments with depth and insight; Brokeback Mountain, a beautiful film (2005’s best) about secret, lifelong romantic love; The World According to Garp for its biting wisdom and incisive cultural commentary, which was way ahead of its time; and, for an uplifting and thought-provoking examination of the most radical thinker of our times, buy Michael Paxton’s Ayn Rand: A Sense of Life, now available on a new Blu-Ray edition. Mike Binder‘s Black or White, Jeff Nichols’ Loving and Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner are excellent movies about racial integration.

And these slavery-themed films make audiences think twice while moving them to searing emotions — leaving impressions which will last for years and prepare loved ones for forecasting, dodging and transcending what lies ahead: the artistic-themed The Lives of Others, the mythology-themed The Hunger Games, the historical epic 12 Years a Slave and the penetrating romantic tragedy We the Living.


Books

Every movie lover should own a copy of both Leonard Maltin‘s Classic Movie Guide and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, which are reliable and outstanding references to have on hand.

Learn from history

For new and recent accounts of why and how people come to believe in evil — and to understand why faith and force are the “destroyers of the modern world” as Ayn Rand wrote — read True Believer: Stalin’s Last American SpyThe Third Reich: The History of Nazi Germany and Leonard Peikoff’s The Ominous Parallels. To grasp why conservatives advance both destroyers, read the new biography of one of America’s worst presidents, the conservative who made Obama possible, Bush by Jean Edward Smith.

For portraits, memories and stories of man at his better or best, read and/or give The Pit, Harry Reasoner’s Before the Colors Fade and Patrick Henry: Champion of Liberty. For the reader who wants to be moved, think, grow, make money and challenge the world, I recommend Ayn Rand’s novels: We the Living, Anthem, The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged.


Music

Music is so personal that it’s hard to find the right gift. That said, I am fortunate that gifts of certain albums and songs to loved ones who’re facing certain problems add value and yield positive results. Some of my favorite gifts have been albums I never would have discovered on my own, such as favorite albums by Fleetwood Mac, Mark Knopfler and Johnny Cash. Cash’s daughter, Rosanne Cash, made a thoughtful, melodic and terrific road trip album, The River and the Thread, which I saw her perform up the Golden State freeway at the College of the Canyons Performing Arts Center in the Santa Clarita Valley. But, then, I like story-driven songwriters’ music, especially the British songwriters’ invasion.

ONJ and JT at play

To this end, I strongly recommend giving and listening to Divide by Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith’s The Thrill of It All (or Smith’s In the Lonely Hour, for that matter) Adele’s 25 and James Blunt’s Some Kind of Trouble and Moon Landing. Rock-n-roll and other songs by Pat Benatar, Neil Diamond, Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Stevie Nicks, Alanis, the late Tom Petty and his hero, Elvis, are worth considering, depending on one’s situation, tastes and listening habits. Also, think about giving music by pop female vocalists such as Melissa Manchester, Susan Boyle and Olivia Newton-John.

Olivia’s battle with cancer returned this year, which reminds me that whenever someone I love is diagnosed with any form of cancer, I find value and draw strength from listening to and giving one of her extremely enlightening vocal albums, A Celebration In Song. Olivia’s playful Christmas album with her Grease co-star, John Travolta, This Christmas, is a perfect tonic for the holidays, too. One of my favorite Christmas albums is the one created by pop singer Christopher Cross. It’s really blissful, though it’s hard to find. Other fine musical gifts include vocal and instrumental music by Fred Astaire, Ella Fitzgerald and Stan Getz.


Television

As gifts, TV programming can be extremely life-affirming. For history buffs and non-fiction fans, I recommend The Marva Collins Story starring Morgan Freeman and Cicely Tyson, the fascinating and brilliantly conceived and produced American Ballet Theatre: A History and the eye-opening documentary series by Ken Burns on two of the most damaging figures in American history, The Roosevelts.

HBO’s Path to Paradise dramatizes the first attack on the Twin Towers, which provides a uniquely informative retrospective of pre-9/11 U.S. appeasement and incompetence. History Channel’s Rebuilding the World Trade Center tracks the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack through an absorbing account of what they call a rebuilding which is, in fact, not what it claims but is nevertheless worth watching. Though it’s a motion picture, not a TV program, if you haven’t seen it, The Walk by Robert Zemeckis is the most exhilarating movie I’ve seen in the theater. It’s an exciting capstone to the existence of the World Trade Center (1973-2001) and a proper remembrance of what were the tallest skyscrapers on earth.

Objective reporting

NBC’s This Is Us is the best new show on TV. CBS’ Escape from Sobibor, dramatizes the only mass concentration camp revolt by Jews against Nazis. Fox’s Glee and Empire and NBC’s Frasier entice and entertain in their premiere seasons if you’ve never watched. For good comedy, Eight is Enough, The Andy Griffith Show, The Carol Burnett Show, I Love Lucy, Hot in Cleveland, and most shows created by Norman Lear afford reality-based laughs that don’t incessantly snicker at values. Cold Blooded, SundanceTV’s amazing documentary miniseries about the Clutter family murders on a farm in Kansas, made infamous and wrongly glorified by Truman Capote in his true crime fictionalization, In Cold Blood, is simply one of the best TV programs I’ve seen in a long time.


Experiences

Though it can be more expensive, giving experiences in advance can be the most joyful and best Christmas gift of all. Whether a handmade certificate for a day at the park or tickets to Disneyland, the opera or a gift card for ArcLight Cinemas, this gift marks a commitment of quality time or a genuinely thoughtful recognition of the recipient’s values. If someone loves gardening, for instance, consider a pass or membership to the botanical gardens. Same goes for other hobbies, interests and favorite sports, such as season or some tickets to the ballpark to see the National League champion Dodgers at Dodger Stadium, or the arena to see the Kings.

Whatever you give or receive, I think the best gift is the one which fits what the person wants. If you think about a favorite or deserving colleague, client, friend, contractor, neighbor or loved one, you probably know, have seen or have some general sense of what lights him up and makes him smile. The best gift could be treating the kids to ice cream, so a Baskin-Robbins gift card might be a good idea. It could be a new tie, scarf, print, beverage or floral bouquet or plant or new album, tool or machine. Consider giving dinner for two at a swanky restaurant to grant someone reprieve. Think in terms of his or her favorite places, wide-eyed tales of want and treasured experiences. Then, go for it.

Have a good time shopping if you can and do and here’s hoping my readers get what they deserve…and wishing you a Merry Christmas and the best of everything in 2018.

Books: Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’ at 60

My relationship with Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand began years ago. As most reading this may know, the fictional story of man’s mind on strike is Rand’s magnum opus. I read the mysterious tale, which struck me as both knowing and searching, one summer in Chicago. I recall thinking that it was at once epic, cautionary and glorious. When I finally finished, I felt exalted. I’ve read Atlas Shrugged, which was published 60 years ago today, several times since.

Buy the Novel

But that first time was indelible. I was confused, serious and young, still forming my thoughts and views and, frankly, wanting more from life than sometimes seemed possible. I remember reading Atlas Shrugged — in my apartment, while riding on the El or Chicago & North Western railroad or on the rocks on Lake Michigan’s shore — and thinking that this story was suddenly, strikingly very important and relevant. I had lived long and hard enough to know that its characters, plots and theme were true, though I knew I had more to learn.

Reading Atlas Shrugged was part of my lesson plan. It turned out to be much better than that. This is a plug, not a review. Yet writing even this brings back the searing emotions I experienced while reading Atlas Shrugged as a young man. I was caught up in the thrills, suspense and drama of everything from finding the motor to losing the lights of New York City. I hung on every page and thought about every chapter. I recall being stopped by passengers on the train. I was often harassed or scolded but I was also met, on occasion, with an abrupt interruption by someone who’d say something short, direct and oddly personal. They’d usually spot me reading. Then, before disembarking, they’d simply tuck a briefcase, newspaper or package of cigarettes away while coming to face me and say: “Who is John Galt?” I’d look up. We’d almost always part in silence with a nod or a smile.

Yet there’s loneliness while reading this epic tale. I experienced it that summer in Chicago, again when I re-read it years later, and again and again, as the world closed in, resembling the dystopian America Rand conceived, re-created and dramatized with romantic realism, power and a passionate love for life. The story of the woman of ability who runs a railroad in a rotting civilization and who is the ideal man breeds a sense of alienation, at least it did for me, while at the same time yielding a sense of clarity and peace. I am enlightened, soothed and uplifted when I read Atlas Shrugged. I am horrified, too, of course, and the libertarian movie trilogy narrowly and unfortunately focussed on that, but, mostly, I am exalted. Though it is fiction, this is the world in which I live. It is richer and more vibrant than the horror of a civilization coming to a grinding, screeching stop.

In Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand teases, sketches and distinguishes with literary brilliance what makes the world go. She does this eerily, compellingly and with grace, depth and grandeur. That I’ve found it takes a lifetime — at least it does for me — to contemplate, reflect and integrate the wisdom to be gained from its themes is less discouraging now than it was when Atlas Shrugged was in its 20s. I celebrated in Boston when Rand’s last published novel turned 35, ten years after its author had died, and again in Colorado when it turned 50. And again at the first Objectivist Conference (OCON) in Chicago and this summer at the world’s first OCON in Pittsburgh. I think of it when the lights go out, trains derail and Washington directives come down. I think of it when the manmade glows, rockets soar and the individual rises above the collective and for his own sake.

I think of Atlas Shrugged, too, when the best men fall, hide or stumble. The world is still confusing, though I am less confused, perhaps even more than when I read it when I was young. There is still so much about life that stings, saddens and looms, and, 60 years after it shocked the West and was denounced by the dominant thinkers, Atlas Shrugged is here to read, enjoy, think about, ponder and inspire.

In my general adult writing course, I recently read “All Summer in a Day” by Ray Bradbury and a draft of a short-short story I wrote called “Escape from Indigena”. Each student reads or listens and formulates what he thinks is the writer’s theme. This immersion in the writing process, which I call Writing Boot Camp, is a kind of mental fitness training for living in a world that still sometimes feels like it’s about to “blank out”, expire or has just plain gone bad. Atlas Shrugged is foremost a novel about what being alive means. It is poetic, serious and profound. I first read it because I passionately wanted to live. I write this because I still do. So, this is my 60th anniversary plug for Atlas Shrugged, which is to say — if you want to read a great and powerful American novel, especially if you, too, sense that something’s horribly wrong with the world and you want to know why so you can live and enjoy your life to the fullest, do something wonderful for yourself: read Atlas Shrugged.