Monday, June 22, 2015

This Is Now: Alex Katz Out of the Bag


The artist Alex Katz is mostly new to me.

When the High Museum of Art announced the summer exhibition "Alex Katz, This Is Now" would arrive in Atlanta this summer, my shoulders shrugged while asking, "Who?"

But during an afternoon with 60 works by the American painter, sculptor and printmaker, I can tell already tell that, though a new addition, Katz will remain on my "favorite artists" list for many years. What a great surprise!

Certainly my eyes previously spotted his works, starting with a view of "Wrecks 2" in the High's permanent collection, another dog feature at the Milwaukee Art Museum, and during visits to the Chicago Art Institute, MoMA and Tate. I also noted Katz painting cameos on the silver screen (example: Ben Affleck's law firm office in "Switching Lanes" tees up a "beach girl" monologue).

But the artist's name didn't stick.

The tipping point arrived while standing beside several enormous canvases -- with billboard measurements in some cases -- mounted at the High. In a word, fantastic.

Size and scale are part of why I didn't previously "get it" with regards to Katz. Looking at his monumental works on a small screen or in a book does not do the art justice.

The current exhibition focus is on landscapes painted by Katz, with a handful of portraits or small studies for larger works also on view.

While I enjoyed many of the outdoor scenes -- forests silhouetted by sunsets, wide views of lakeside residences, seashore landscapes and a few florals -- the exhibition left me craving more Katz close-ups of people engaged in thought, everyday activity or gazing at museum guests.

The exhibition begins with the 72" x 96" oil on linen "Good Afternoon" featuring a woman paddling a canoe toward the viewer. "Welcome to the exhibition" wall text is flanked by several small watercolored paper items, and a summer picnic scene eases visitors into the larger galleries.

I was most impressed with two canvases -- "January 3" and "January 4" -- featuring Katz's wife dressed for a 78" x 155" winter walk in the park. Around the corner from their wall space, the High presents an abbreviated version of the documentary film "Five Hours" in a side gallery of the exhibition. When recorded in 1996, the film captured Katz's in-studio craft and the creation of "January" for posterity.

See if you agree the film's laughter-infused soundtrack comes across as the artist's inner monologue while at work (more than one fellow-patron chuckled with my assessment Katz may be laughing his way to the bank).

The large floral canvases featuring white and red roses are beautiful but, for this writer, not as moving as, say, Georgia O'Keeffe blossoms. Something about their flatness does not resonate for me the way Katz's "Blue Umbrella 2" brought an immediate, nicely intimate viewer:subject connection (to the extent that a 96" x 144" canvas may be considered 'intimate.').

The works in the later galleries sort of left me hanging. But the exhibition inspired a hunger for more information about Katz and post-visit study of the exhibition catalog. This research also yielded a Katz wish list of works I will seek out in the future.

One such work is a Games-inspired 1976 serigraph titled "Olympic Swimmer" which appears to be available via several auctions and galleries. You, too, could own 1 of 200 copies for $2,000 to $4,500.

And while waiting for a few reserved library books to arrive for more reading, I'll ponder the notion that "Katz spotting" will be a favorite pastime at future museum visits.

According to the High website, "Katz described his goal as the pursuit of capturing 'quick things passing' in his work. Katz's monumental landscape paintings are executed in what is now considered a signature style characterized by flattened planes of color, shallow pictorial space, and lean, reductive but acutely descriptive lines. In them, Katz seeks to convey the appearance of things as they are both felt and perceived in the 'present tense,' the now."

Fleeting moments of daily life for people captivated me. Fleeting moments of sunset in the woods, though gorgeous, didn't arrest my attention the same way.

No matter. For landscape, portrait or "other" art lovers in Atlanta, now is the time to get to know Katz.
    
Photos by Nicholas Wolaver; "Olympic Swimmer" via this link.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Orange Is The New Black Olympic Ring

The patient wait is coming to an end.

At long last, season three of "Orange Is The New Black" arrives Friday. And I gots to learn what happens next.

On this "OitNB Eve," during lunch I took some time to review the final episode of season two just to get reacquainted with the cast members who are at once familiar but have not been top of mind in 11 months.

Though not surprising (given the blitzkrieg of entertainment news stories that appeared on newsstands and online this time last year), "Orange Is The New Black" preview reports are sparse compared to 2014's buildup to season two.

Not even the Netflix series' Emmy winner Uzo Aduba (a.k.a. "Crazy Eyes") got much press in recent weeks (her NPR interview last year is a great intro to this amazing actress).

According to this February 2014 interview during the Sochi Winter Games, Aduba practiced Olympic-style figure skating for more than 10 years (a skill she showed off sans stunt double in the show's first season).

NPR did tease season three with a Weekend Edition segment.

Last season's dark comedy will be tough to surpass. I found Piper's airplane monologue to be moving in a creepy-cool way; the tearful confession was performed by Taylor Schilling, born on July 27, 1984, the eve of the Los Angeles Olympics. She went there there and it was awesome!

I'm glad to see Piper's seatmate Lolly (Lori Petty) returning for the new season -- she's got the anger issues thing down. It will be fun to see what the recently promoted "Beer Can" warden and "Pennsatucky" (Taryn Manning) bring to prison. And who knows where Suzanne (Aduba) will go from the dramatic lows of season two's conclusion?

I would bet money that "Pornstache" has at least one cameo this season; if not, "That's a shot!"

And if the devotional candle-infused promotional materials provide a sign of things to come, viewers may get to know some of the Hispanic characters con más detalle.

Netflix announced Season Four will be produced for a 2016 debut, just in time for the summer of the Rio Olympics.

Until then, I look forward to the cell block tales of season three.

Images via Netflix

Post-binge-watch update (June 14, 2015): Turns out this season of OitNB unveiled an additional Olympic connection. As viewers learn in his back story, (spoiler alert) Caputo competed as a state-ranked high school wrestler. Later, during portrayal of his first day on the job at Litchfield, Caputo is drawn in to an Olympic wrestling match as the TV room is showing a binge-watch session of the Games. The Olympics are everywhere, even at Litchfield.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Mind Blown At Crystal Bridges







During more than a decade working at Edelman, one of the most challenging opportunities arrived when our team -- a small army of P.R. executives from multiple offices -- began work with a new client you may have heard of: Walmart.

At the time (2007-2010), the Atlanta-based team focused on new store openings in the Southeast and rollout of a health initiative (generic Rx launch) in Georgia and Florida. It was rewarding to represent the world's largest retailer.

Media monitoring was a daily task that put me in position among the first to read print and online reports of a new art museum planned for Walmart's home town, Bentonville, Ark.

Sam Walton's daughter, Alice, announced intent to build what was named Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, and as our team had recently wrapped up work promoting the expansion of Atlanta's High Museum of Art, I made a note "get CB as a client."

A few years and a lot of water under the bridge later, it was a sad day when -- after forgetting to pursue the opportunity -- I found those first news clips in a "new business tickler file" while packing to exit the big firm to start a freelance business. And in spite of the renewed awareness of the completed museum near my home state Oklahoma, there was not an easy opportunity to visit Crystal Bridges until one day last month.

Thank goodness for finding chances. I'm writing now to strongly recommend that family, friends and anyone with interest in art should drop everything and head to Crystal Bridges, a national treasure that is not to be missed.

On Mother's Day 2015 as I entered Bentonville and the museum grounds, I didn't know what to expect, and my plan was to stay an hour or two plus time for lunch.

Soaking in the breathtaking architecture by Moshe Safdie, I knew a very special treat was in store.

Man, oh, man. It took all afternoon -- six hours plus time for brunch beneath the dazzling, arched ceiling of Eleven (the café named for opening day 11/11/2011) -- to experience Crystal Bridges' expansive galleries, special exhibition space, extensive gardens and outdoor works, and to explore every corner.
 
The collection is so amazing, I stayed until after closing time and went through every indoor space twice for good measure and to savor and enjoy. Like the mountainside Getty Center in Los Angeles or the Chicago Art Institute, Crystal Bridges seems to go on and on and on with no end to the amazing architecture and contents.

Crystal Bridges is a superior, world class museum with an astounding permanent collection worthy of a special trip to Northwest Arkansas.

Get thee to Bentonville for the following visual delights:
  • Almost a dozen Georgia O'Keefe canvases, including the recently acquired "Jimson Weed" on view near a large and rare three-dimensional white-lacquered bronze by the artist.
  • Works from the Alfred Stieglitz Collection, including more amazing O'Keeffe works representing lower Manhattan skyscrapers, New Mexico landscapes, bones, masks and abstract paintings.
  • One of the biggest Andrew Wyeth paintings I've experienced; titled "Airborne" this egg tempera piece features a remote Maine island scene decorated with leaves and feathers in windswept chaos.
  • Several monumental works by modern artists of the last 20 years; Northern Wisconsin artist Tom Uttech painted hundreds of soaring birds enjoying a wilderness sunset on a 112-inch canvas.
  • Andy Warhol's portrait of Dolly Parton, Gilbert Stuart's version of George Washington (you may have seen this one in your wallet on the $1 bank note) and Norman Rockwell's depiction of Rosie The Riveter.
  • Works by Jacob Lawrence, Edward Hopper, Frederick Remington, Maxfield Parish, Winslow Homer, Roy Lichtenstein and even a pre-drip Jackson Pollock.
  • Roxy Paine's treelike, polished stainless steel "Yield" sculpture and several other outdoor wonders.
  • Opening soon, a complete Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Usonian home transplanted, with furnishings, to the museum gardens.
Other showstoppers included a bronze female nude holding aloft "The Bubble," an 1880s painting "The Indian and the Lily" and an explosive Lichtenstein sculpture, as well as a set of hand-drawn interstellar images captured through the eyepiece of historic telescopes.

And in a circular staircase beside the O'Keeffe installation, look up for a magnificent three-dimensional piece consisting of multicolored thread strung across the ceiling a few hundred times.

Be sure to view the Jeff Coons golden heart pendant in the aforementioned café.

The temporary exhibition included a Salvador Dalí canvas, Frida Kahlo self-portrait, a Franz Kline and an enormous Pollock drip canvas (a scale like the one used to dress the set in the film "Ex Machina"). Some current and upcoming exhibitions look great.

In the museum catalog, Alice Walton explained that an acquisition of the painting "Kindred Spirits" at auction was the moment that crystalized her goals for the museum.

"I remember us sitting in the room [at Sotheby's, during spring 2005] when we saw ["Kindred Spirits"]. It was a transformative moment for me in terms of taking this [museum] from what I perceived as a gift to the community to what I now think of as a gift to the nation."

She also explained the property on which Crystal Bridges was built was woodland she crossed en route to school as a youngster.

"My experience in terms of getting to where we are today is really about growth and development," said Walton. "I hope Crystal Bridges gives other people that same opportunity."

Crystal Bridges has a great ticket price: FREE.

If anyone from the museum's P.R. department reads this post, please let the powers that be know my hand remains raised to contribute to the communications team for Crystal Bridges, a new favorite art destination.

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver


Monday, June 8, 2015

Shannon Miller's New Book Scores 9.85

If you're from Edmond, Okla., like me, chances are good you may have a Shannon Miller story or two from her years growing up and meeting the world from right there in the Sooner State.

For many, introductions to the gymnastics champion took place during U.S. Olympic Festival '89, the U.S. Olympic Committee's version of the Games held in non-Olympiad years from 1978 to 1995.

For 10 days that July, Oklahoma City was in the spotlight, and Miller was one of the hometown favorites, a pre-teen with some international training under her belt.

By the time Miller made her first Olympic team in 1992, I was acquainted with her mother via a few Olympic pin trades.

And when Edmond's own Olympian returned from Barcelona with five medals, it was fun to volunteer as the town threw her a massive parade, presented a key to the city, and gave her a set of keys to a new car Miller was not yet licensed to drive.

These and many other small town memories -- and her many remarkable gymnastics feats -- are detailed in Miller's words on the pages of her recently published autobiography "It's Not About Perfect" now available from Thomas Dunne Books. A few book tour stops remain scheduled this summer.

A review of the book follows after a few more paragraphs of my own Shannon Miller memories.

Though we shook hands once as Miller signed autographs for Atlanta Committee for the Olympics Games (ACOG) staff during spring 1996, and though I cheered for her with the rest of America when the Magnificent Seven won gold in the Georgia Dome, after the Centennial Games there were fewer occasions when Miller gained attention.

The main reminders arrived when driving back into Edmond, where there are billboard-sized signs celebrating the hometown hero, and a section of Interstate I-35 is officially named the "Shannon Miller Parkway."

The city also installed a massive bronze sculpture of Miller atop a balance beam/globe in a park beside the Edmond Public Library, another occasional reminder, but only while visiting family there.

It took 16 years before Miller and I spoke for the second time at USA House in London. I'm embarrassed to admit that during the conversation with Miller and her husband, I had no idea she survived cancer (!!!) nor did I realize she was reporting from the Games as a gymnastics commentator.

So when the new book publicity team scheduled a phone interview and provided a review copy in April, I was thankful for the opportunity to inquire more about Miller's post-Olympics life now centered in Jacksonville, Fla. It took a few weeks to finish, but I enjoyed reading Miller's autobiography after that conversation from the parking lot of the Edmond Starbucks.

By phone, Miller explained her aspirations for what readers may gain from 'It's Not About Perfect."

"No matter what [one's] struggle is, I hope readers will take a nugget or lesson and find they are not alone," said Miller, who added that the book writing process was "therapeutic" and "cathartic" on many fronts. "Growing up, I did not stop to smell the roses along the way, and this 'real' book was fun to write, to look back."

Miller said the blog she started during cancer treatment, and the reader feedback she received from the e-book that followed, in-part served as the new book's starting point. To fill in more details, she spent time interviewing her parents and family, gaining new perspectives in her career from a time when she was hyper-focused on competition.

Miller's focus now centers on her two children and the business she founded with her husband, Shannon Miller Lifestyle.

"We started [the business] before my diagnosis, and being a [cancer] survivor reinforced our focus on health," said Miller.

The company presents kid fitness awareness programs aimed at combating childhood obesity, mostly in the local Jacksonville community.

Her writing aside, my take on Miller's work now is that she is all about the present and future in lieu of often looking back on her Olympic career. She often came back to parenting and juggling the many balls of running a business during the discussion.

When asked about her days competing in Atlanta, Miller said although she travels through the city often and has friends in town, her main memories are from 1996 Games-time and during two reunions with fellow Magnificent Seven members.

"We stood in the Georgia Dome and Centennial Olympic Park," said Miller of the gatherings. "It was [my] first real time to see it." 

Sculptor Shan Gray created the Shannon Miller bronze on view in the Olympic
champion's home town, Edmond, Okla. The version on left is a miniature cast
before the full-size statue was installed in a park beside the main public library.
Photos by Nick Wolaver


Miller also makes it to Edmond from time to time, most recently while in Oklahoma to promote the book, which I enjoyed reading on several fronts.

In addition to "filling in the blanks" on Miller's career and work between the Olympiads in which she competed, I enjoyed learning more about Miller's athlete:coach relationship with Steve Nunno, and the bonds she forged with several fellow athletes and supporters.

In the book, Miller and co-author Danny Peary, a sports writer with extensive film writing credentials, did a nice job weaving precise gymnastics results and stats with the gymnast's vivid recollections -- or at least her memories of critical moments from several competitive years.

Following a detailed section about winning the team gold in Atlanta, at the start of Chapter 27, Miller takes readers behind the scenes of her first golden evening of the 1996 Games.

"That night there was a whirlwind of activity that ended with a late-night party at Planet Hollywood. But in the back of my mind I heard Steve's words, "It's not over." Before leaving the Georgia Dome, I spent time with him and Peggy [Liddick], who were proud and congratulatory by also squeezed a few corrections into our conversation. It would be years before I truly understood the impact we had on the lives of others."

Miller follows up this team high with descriptions of the individual event struggles that followed, concluding on a fortunate higher note with her individual gold medal on the balance beam and score of 9.862.

Almost perfect.

 
Later in the book, many of the challenges and triumphs of Olympic and other international competitions helped Miller find her internal voice to beat cancer, and though the reading of Miller's gymnastics career injuries (nastiest: a dislocated shoulder) and chemotherapy treatments made me cringe a few times, I appreciated Miller sharing the internal monologue that helped her find inspiration from within to keep moving forward in spite of extreme pain, exhaustion and illness.

Like the title suggests, "It's Not About Perfect" isn't, but due only to minor faults.

In a technical points sense, the copy editors missed a grammar item on page 103, with Miller "sneaking peaks" at Svetlana Boginskaya" during competitions. This error of peeks certainly piqued my interest.

The other slight deduction came through omission of an element in Miller's game of life.

Though I understand the myriad reasons -- including likely non-disclosures or other legal terms of divorce settlements, not to mention the topic being as personal or even more personal than recovering from cancer -- it was surprising Miller did not delve more into struggles from her first marriage and what she learned during this challenging period of her young adult years. Readers learn about the celebrity appearances and higher ed work in Oklahoma and later Boston, where Miller may prove helpful for the 2024 Olympic bid (when and if they bid committee engages her as they should), but readers don't find much about the difficult choices made that ultimately ended a marriage.

Though Miller's book writing goal was not to educate younger Olympic champions on the perks and perils of living in the spotlight, and I "get it" why this was left out (except for a handful of mentions), the relationship regrets might have been helpful for a latter gymnasts now tumbling through post-Games choices. I also thought Miller's readers who may be struggling with a bad marriage might find words of inspiration. Not a major deduction but missed opportunity to score higher.

Overall the book is an excellent read earning a 9.85 from this blogger.

Given Peary's film background, it won't surprise me when and if "It's Not About Perfect" eventually turns into a screenplay. Miller's story as the most accomplished American gymnast and cancer survivor would make for a compelling silver screen version after we see what evolves as Miller's next big accomplishments.

Until then, I highly recommend the text version of "It's Not About Perfect" not only for Olympic fans but also for fans of living one's life to its full potential.

Book cover image via Thomas Dunne; Other photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Binge Watching for Olympic Connections

Binge watching shows on Netflix can be fun.

For this viewer, the trend in blocking out a weekend to devour a TV program by the season began on a holiday featuring back to back episodes of "24" a few years ago.

Every "Curb Your Enthusiasm" DVD soon followed, and, of course, "House of Cards" and "Orange Is The New Black" became favorites (did anyone else notice both series' most recent season closers involved the same white van?).

My latest binge arrived via the early May debut of "Grace and Frankie," the new series starring former Atlanta resident Jane Fonda with her "9 to 5" co-star Lily Tomlin.

Readers of this blog may recall my conversation with Tomlin on stage at Georgia Tech's Ferst Center for the Arts (a client) in 2008; looking back on that chat, I can't help wonder whether that gleam in Tomlin's eye was an early version of "Grace and Frankie" starting to take shape from Fonda's appearance at the same event.

"Grace and Frankie" is good stuff. Finished it in a couple of days, intentionally spreading the cheer over two lunch breaks and evenings at home.

It delighted me to learn season two was quickly approved for production (hooray!).

For the uninitiated, "Grace and Frankie" (Fonda and Tomlin) are the wives of two successful business partners (lawyers played by Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston) who, in the series' opening scene, announce the fruits of their labor also inspired their closeted, decades-long gay love affair.

Determined to approach retirement without secrets, Sheen and Waterston reveal their intention to divorce their wives and marry each other.

Their formerly even-keeled lives set adrift, Grace and Frankie -- a Los Angeles socialite and a free-spirited art instructor, respectively -- reluctantly form a partnership as roommates in the Malibu beach house their soon-to-be-ex husbands purchased as an investment property.

Their adult children (including a recovering drug addict and an adopted son) and many others, such as former convicts in Frankie's post-prison art classes, work to console the women and help them build new lives.

At its core, "Grace and Frankie" is a show about grief and its many stages. Here are two couples, four adults and their families who've suddenly lost their identities, each forced -- for better or worse -- to forge ahead.

I like the bone dry humor, and though laughter is the best medicine, I wouldn't call "Grace and Frankie" a 'happy' comedy; it's not a drama, but many of the topics are a step closer to dramatic than, say, episodes of "The Golden Girls" that dealt with 'serious' issues of people in their sixties or seventies.

Tomlin's hippie character steals the show almost every segment, but Fonda's uptight freak-outs crack me up, too. As the retired founder of a cosmetics company now run by her daughter, some of Fonda's best lines arrive in conversations about how to run the business now versus back in the day.

The ladies' experiments with social media and online dating are a riot -- confused by a (fictional) app that seemed to blend the best of Facebook pokes and Tinder swipes, Grace corrects Frankie that in search of a date she has emphatically "NOT been punching or fingering anyone" via her mobile device.

Frankie's special blend for personal lubricant also earned many belly laughs in later episodes -- for anyone who recalls "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" think of the lube as the 21st century answer to "grot."

Also enjoyable is the brainy chemistry shared by Waterston and Sheen. The latter seems to borrow from his folksy Southern lawyer character spotted dancing at the kitchen sink in "Catch Me If You Can." Perhaps their best shared scenes take place at their public 'coming out' event, which happens to be at the funeral for another longtime law firm partner.

I found Waterston enjoyed an Olympic-tied project as the actor narrated the NBC Olympic featurette "The Great Race" detailing a Winter Games rivalry. Regrettably, I missed the air date and binge-watching of the Torino 2006 Olympics as work took me to Italy for most of that event.

While describing "Grace and Frankie" to friends, I've cautioned the first two episodes can be heavy; the jokes and story seem to gain steam in episode three, and by episode five -- which sets up an interesting sort of flashback scenario -- the laughs are frequent and very funny. There are some very subtle, perhaps accidental, references to "9 to 5" scenes, and it won't surprise me one bit if Dolly Parton and/or Dabney Coleman show up in cameos during season two (we can hope they will).

Bottom line: "Grace and Frankie" is a binge-worthy series worth a look.

Images via Netflix and/or the 'Grace and Frankie' page on Facebook

Monday, June 1, 2015

Caitlyn Jenner Distances Self from Bruce Gender

Every once in awhile, someone asks my earliest Olympic memory.

The answer: Bruce Jenner.

Bruce is in the news today, not to mention breaking records via Twitter, for a new identity: Caitlyn Jenner.

But before writing about these headlines, a bit more on the Bruce background.

Vivid images of the Montreal Games decathlon champion on the family's Zenith screen also compete for 'first TV show memory' status in a field dominated by "Sesame Street" and "Mister Rogers' Neighborhood" segments, each viewed during the summer when I turned four in the Oklahoma City suburb of Edmond.

It was 1976, a year when watching anything but PBS children's programming and Saturday morning cartoons was verboten. As a treat, my sister and I did occasionally get to stay up through the opening credits to "The Rockford Files" since the show starred James Garner, a fellow Oklahoman.

Though I'm not certain the broadcast and competition timing (in an age pre-dating taped-delay), I do think the name Bruce Jenner stood out not only because of his gold medal feats, but also because we got to see his achievement on ABC's live broadcast of the decathlon competition during the day.

Those hot summer afternoons, my sister and I also enjoyed playing in the backyard swimming pool (one of those plastic kiddie pools purchased at TG&Y) donning our homemade bathing suits -- my mom, a seamstress, purchased fabric that closely matched the Team USA swim trunks and made us our own Olympic gear.

We didn't eat Wheaties, but we knew that guy on the box. And we got the joke when James Belushi parodied Jenner in a faux endorsement for "Little Chocolate Donuts" on SNL.

A few years later, I was reintroduced to Bruce Jenner when he got a role on my favorite show "CHiPs."

We also saw him on several TV specials, especially during the lead-up to the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984.

Until the last couple of years, that was the extent of my Bruce Jenner awareness. His noticed-by-me absence from the buildup to the 1996 Atlanta Games was something I chalked up to inflated appearance fees or a perceived over-exposure during the 1980s creating a long tail into the 1990s.

I deliberately opted to tune-out his reality TV appearances and the like, and didn't give much thought or credence to the tabloid coverage of Jenner's supposed quest for gender reassignment. But the recurring references, mostly observed in the checkout line at grocery stores, did remind me of a good film and introduction to transgender issues, "Transamerica," which I watched again with my girlfriend early in 2015.

Two powerful Atlanta NPR segments on WABE-FM aired, introducing the parents of a transgender child in Georgia and the many challenges they faced. The report informed me more about the concerns of a group of people including 700,000 transgender Americans (according to the national conversation introduced in the following sentence).

Like legions of other observers, I later tuned in to The Interview with Diane Sawyer in April, with the following takeaways:

-- Here is a person who is very brave. I was drawn in and agreed with Jenner's words, "I want to know how this story ends."

-- Here is a person who made some very difficult choices while looking to make smart, informed and honest decisions moving forward.

-- Here is a person who is looking to leverage his fame and influence for the better of many; I liked Jenner's words "[Now] what I'm doing is going to do some good" because his "whole life has been getting me ready for this"

-- Here's a person who is turning fear into a positive; I really dug the reference to using "fear as fire" and "finding a champion within."

-- Best line seemed to be Jenner's acknowledgement or revelation that the reality shows on which he appeared are drivel, and his frustration that "the one TRUE thing in the family that could make a positive difference [was there for the telling] and I could not talk about it."

-- Though I am generally not a Kanye West fan, it impressed me Jenner cited West for talking the most sense about Jenner's gender identity and being himself, and the extent to which it inspired West to be a better person within their family.

-- Also liked how Jenner cited transgender youth (more specifically, suicide statistics), and that although Jenner does not seek "transgender spokesperson" status, there was inspiration to "save some lives" through the transformation about to take place publicly.

Leading up to the interview, I struggled with how to write blog posts about transsexuality and its links to the Olympics via Jenner headlines.

But then I recalled previously covering the topic with Olympic ties.

Jenner's interview inspired conversations with several friends and family members, and it hit me the appearance with Sawyer worked, at least with this writer, for part of its intended purpose to inspire conversation. Each chat on the topic now seems to get easier, and here's hoping that healthy discussion will become the norm as more people gain an understanding of transgendered people.

With today's announcement introducing Caitlyn Jenner, I was excited to see teaser video for the Vanity Fair cover story hitting newsstands on June 9. Annie Leibovitz's involvement brought back my own experience working with the acclaimed photographer.

Many questions remain, with some answers anticipated next week but more to be resolved months or years from now.

As a public relations professional, I am dying to know who Jenner's publicist(s) may be (one mastermind, or an army?). The talking points they are writing are like gold, and Jenner seems to be sticking these points like an Olympic gymnast nailing the dismount.

As an Olympic fan, I wonder how Caitlyn will discuss the Munich and Montreal experiences of a two-time Olympian. And how will the U.S. Olympic Committee and International Olympic Committee reflect Caitlyn vs. Bruce in the Olympic record (at least as of June 1, 2015, the IOC still lists "Bruce" on their site while Wikipedia users already updated Jenner's page). My take on this, for now, is that Jenner's female personal preference, or name preference, should be considered, but the gender-specific results should remain male with at least a reference to "Bruce" (if only as a footnote). By letting the record show the 1976 details, that may invite conversation of choices made later in Jenner's life or what she struggled with as a champion living with a secret.

As a man learning about transgender issues, I wonder when and if Jenner will be approved for the surgeries that will change her sex organs (this is not a given, and since the Sawyer interview I suspected one or more psychologists who specialize in gender reassignment deemed Jenner's "coming out" interview and private conversations with family and friends as part of the lengthy list of mandatory requirements for surgery approval, a topic touched on in "Transamerica").

Wait, should that last line include the word womandatory?

No matter the answers, it may be inspiring to see where this Jenner story ends. And the world will not only have the uplifting Olympian accomplishments featured in "Ten for Gold" to celebrate, but also the story of her remarkable life making a difference for many.

Images via VanityFair.com, CorbisImages.com, Mirror.UK.com, Yahoo!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

David Letterman Rings Out

 
Reflecting on David Letterman's final episode, set to air later this evening, several favorite moments from the show -- including a few with Olympic rings -- come to mind.

Maybe not enough for a Top 10 list, but a few worth noting as the television milestone is here.

My earliest Letterman memories date to summer of 1986.

Though youthful staying up late was permitted years prior, that summer between seventh and eighth grades was my first with my very own in-bedroom TV, so I was more inclined to (and could get away with) keeping the tube on past midnight.

In those days, GE was the new owner of NBC, and Letterman made a lot of jokes about the "GE Guys" (I suspect most of this footage was purged from the archive when Letterman jumped to CBS). Encouraged by a reader letters segment, I hand-carved a candle with cartoonish "GE Guys" suitable for on-air burning (sadly it was never mailed -- never could catch the mailing address).

That was the summer they crushed items with a large press, and it was also the age of the "thrill cam"
and later a "tiger cam" attack on Paul Shaffer as a would-be big cat (a cleverly-placed boom camera) lunged across the audience in a few bounds to a terrified band leader. Very funny.

The ever-changing "home office" references sent me to the atlas several times.

Sort of lost track of Letterman during later years of high school, but picked up again whenever tabloid TV raved about specific episodes. Favorites: Cher proclaiming her hunch that Letterman was an {bleep}hole, and Drew Barrymore flashing her tattoo-covered bare midriff and other body parts.

The Sonny and Cher reunion the following year was must see TV. Maybe tonight Cher will perform "I Got You, Dave" as an homage to the 1987 clip of "I Got You, Babe."

In 1994, Letterman's Olympic coverage from Lillehammer was a nice break from Nancy Kerrigan vs. Tonya Harding coverage. And it was fun to see David's mom and technician Biff as Olympic correspondents again live from Nagano in 1998.

Of course, Olympic athlete appearances on the show were always fun to watch.

I'll miss Letterman but admit the "new blood" arrival of Stephen Colbert is appealing. Thanks to David Letterman for many funny five-ringed TV moments and lots of laughs.

Photos via CBS

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