Tag Archives: melissa fitzgerald


This past week, there was another palindrome granted to us by the calendar gods (Do geese see god?)

Barring the creation of the immortality pill (Will you please get on this, Eli Lilly!), this will likely be the last 11-11-11 we will experience in our lifetimes. (Of course, at the rate I’m going, if I do happen to make it to November 11, 2111, I’ll just about be finished with my degree and the back yard).

This type of timekeeping symmetry is just what I needed to rouse me back to the keyboard to share updates on some of the “DD” posts for the non-palindromic past.

I promise you’ll hear from me again before 12-12-12.


I’m giving tours at Warner Bros. these days. One of the places I like to point out (especially if I have a graying group along for the ride), is the intersection between the Mill building and Stage 16. This was the place where Pink Floyd’s iconic 1975 Wish You Were Here album cover was taken over 35 years ago.

As part of a new Why Pink Floyd? marketing campaign, last week EMI re-released WYWH as both a 5-disc “Immersion” edition and in a 2-disc “Experience” format.

Speaking of Pink Floyd, 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon passed a major cultural milestone this past June when it charted on Billboard for the 1000th week!


Speaking of milestones, Deadwrite’s Dailies will pass 75,000 views for the year sometime in the next day or so. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by for a peek.


It’s a bit after the fact, but October 12 was the 40th anniversary of the passing of rockabilly legend Gene Vincent, who is buried in Newhall’s Eternal Valley Cemetery. My family and I pass by this cemetery a couple of times a day driving on the Antelope Freeway and often call out a “personal Hi Gene” to the late legend.

I learned an interesting fact around the time of the anniversary. I had always thought that Gene had died at the Henry Mayo Hospital in Newhall back in 1971. It turns out, that hospital hadn’t been built yet, and thanks to some great investigative work from my friends Chris Bouyer and Tony Newhall, the real location was found to be what was then the Inter-Valley Community Hospital at 21704 Golden Triangle Road in Saugus. The place is known today at the Hillside Professional Center (and it looks kinda creepy).


I don’t know if you caught this or not, but President Obama recently authorized the deployment of a small contingent of troops to Uganda to help fight a brutal guerrilla force known as the Lord’s Resistance Army. The LRA, under the leadership of Joseph Kony, has been carrying out a campaign or murder, dismemberment, and kidnapping in central Africa for decades.

This was welcome news to African activists all over the world, including our friend The West Wing actress Melissa Fitzgerald, who has been campaigning for the citizens of Uganda for years. Well done.


BTW – Congrats to the late, great cowboy hero Roy Rogers, who would have turned 100 on November 5.

Twenty years ago on November 7, Magic Johnson made the stunning announcement that he had the HIV virus. Magic, glad you’re still with us and going strong!

So long to the Western Black Rhino, which was due to poaching, was declared extinct last week. (When are we actually going to learn to live on this planet?)

On a personal note, my second book will hit the shelves tomorrow. It’s called Griffith Park and was co-authored with Hollywood historian Marc Wanamaker. The book covers the story of L.A.’s “Central Park,” with tons of photos of some of the hundreds of films that have been shot there. Keep watch for details of upcoming lectures and book signings.

July Stories

(Before July 2011 passes into the history books, I want to highlight some of the “Deadwrite’s Dailies” type of anniversaries that take place over the last half of the month.)

Ginger Rogers – b. 7/16/1911

Happy 100th birthday to the late, dancing great Ginger Rogers. Born Virginia McMath in Independence, Missouri, she was said to be able to dance before she could walk. She teamed up for the first of nearly a dozen films with Fred Astaire in 1933’s Flying Down to Rio. In death they’re still partnered: both are buried in Oakwood Memorial Cemetery in Chatsworth.

Ty Cobb – d. July 17, 1961

Hell got a bit more crowded 50 years ago this month when Ty Cobb died. Cobb – one of America’s greatest baseballers and most rabid haters – was also the game’s first millionaire. He tried to use some of his fortune to rehabilitate his reputation before his death, but it just didn’t take.

Bobby Fuller d. July 18,1966

23-year-old musical sensation Bobby Fuller (I Fought the Law) was found dead in his car in Los Angeles 45 years ago on this date. His death was ruled a suicide, but questions remain. some have speculated that Fuller was murdered by the LAPD and possibly even by Charles Manson.

Lizzie Borden b. July 19, 1860

We all know the gruesome rhyme about hatchet-wielding Lizzie Borden’s naughty night when she delivered 40 whacks to her father and 41 to her mother. (In truth, the number was 11 and 19, respectively.) Lizzie may not actually have been the “whacker.” Some have speculated that she took the fall for a younger sister. Another theory claims that Lizzie did the deed, but was unaware of it as she was in a PMS-induced “fugue.” BTW, the house where the killings took place in Fall River, Massachusetts is now a bed-and-breakfast.

(An additional shout out to our pals Martin Sheen and Melissa Fitzgerald, who were in Washington on the 19th to rally in support of Drug Courts, which focuses on rehabilitation rather than incarceration for drug-addicted offenders.)

Bruce Lee d. July 20, 1973

32-year-old martial arts movie master Bruce Lee died suddenly on this date in 1973, just six days before the release of Enter the Dragon, a worldwide box office hit. His son Brandon would follow him into films and a premature death when he was killed on the set of The Crow nearly twenty years later.

Basil Rathbone d. July 21, 1967

Most famous for his series of Sherlock Holmes films in the 30s and 40s, Basil Rathbone served as a British intelligence officer in WWI and later put his proficiency in fencing to work in swashbucklers like The Adventures of Robin Hood.

John Dillinger d. July 22, 1934

Depression-era bad guy John Dillinger was gunned down by G-men on this date in 1934 outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Famous for his numerous breakouts, he once got out of the Crown Point (Indiana) jail with a wooden gun that was smuggled in by his attorney. Dillinger was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis, near the grave of Hoosier poet James Whitcomb Riley, who also died on July 22nd, eighteen years previously.

U.S. Grant/D.W. Griffith/Vic Morrow d. July 23

Savior of the Union and two-time president Ulysses S. Grant died on this date in 1885, having finished his memoirs just a few days earlier. Film pioneer D.W. Griffith passed away on this date in 1948, and screen actor Vic Morrow was tragically killed on the set of Twilight Zone: The Movie on this date in 1982.

Peter Sellers d. July 24, 1980

Eccentric funny guy Peter Sellers died on this date in 1980 at the age of 54. July 24th also marks the 65th anniversary of the creation of the popular comic team of Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin in 1946. Ten years to the day later, they would split up.

Harry Warner d. July 25, 1958

One-quarter of the four brothers who founded the media empire where Kimi and I are currently employed, Harry Warner was for decades the president of Warner Bros. until losing control of the company to his brother Jack. The inter-familial shenanigans caused Harry to have a stroke, which eventually killed him on this date in 1958.

Robert Todd Lincoln d. July 26, 1926

Son of President Abraham Lincoln, Robert had the misfortune of having a father assassinated and then being nearby when two other American presidents were murdered. He lived long enough be present at the dedication of the Lincoln Monument – a tribute to his dad.

Bob Hope d. July 27, 2003

Comedian Bob Hope triumphed in every medium available to him – film, television, radio, theater – and had an amazing run at longevity as well, living past 100. July 27th also marks the 15th anniversary of the bombing at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Jackie O b. July 28, 1929

Former First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis was born on this date in 1929. July 28th is also the anniversary of the founding of the city of Miami in 1896 when it was incorporated with a population of 300 – roughly the same average attendance figure for Florida Marlins games.

Cass Elliot d. July 29, 1974

Yes, singer “Mama” Cass Elliot died on this date in 1974. And no, it wasn’t because she choked on a ham sandwich (it was a heart attack). Born Ellen Naomi Cohen in Baltimore in 1941, Cass was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 along with the rest of The Mamas and the Papas.

Claudette Colbert d. July 30, 1996

Saturday marks the 15th anniversary of the passing of French-born actress Claudette Colbert. After a 60-plus year career, which included a Best Actress Oscar for 1934’s It Happened One Night, Colbert passed away at the age of 92 at her retirement home on the island of Barbados.

Andrew Johnson d. July 31, 1875

Andrew Johnson was the first man to ascend to the presidency because of an assassin’s bullet, and the first to be impeached. He was also the first man (presumably) to be sworn in as Vice-President while falling-down drunk.

(See you in August!)


Voices of Uganda & Hollywood, Part Two

The media has a disheartening habit of bombarding us with minutiae about celebrities whose primary goals appear to be conspicuous consumption and making bail.

That’s why it was so refreshing meeting actress and activist Melissa Fitzgerald, who behaves the way you wish every celebrity would act  in real life.

Melissa made a name for herself on television by playing Carol Fitzpatrick for seven seasons on the enormously popular and the critically acclaimed television series The West Wing.

She comes from a privileged, politically-connected family in Philadelphia who always preached the value of “giving something back.” She took the message to heart and has been involved with an impressive list of humanitarian efforts dating back to 1995. In that year she co-founded Voices In Harmony, a theater-based mentoring group that partners professional actors in L.A. with economically disadvantaged at-risk teenagers.

Today, we talk more about the time Melissa spent volunteering in Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in Uganda in the second part of an interview that my wife Kimi and I conducted.

DD: Tell us about the play you put on at the camps.
MF: We designed a specific curriculum to implement with the teenagers in one camp where they already had a drama club. We worked with fourteen teenagers and took along a professional playwright with us who helped them write two plays on any subject that they wanted to talk about. They chose HIV/AIDS and peace building and reconciliation, which are things that really affect them.

When it was time to perform the plays, we built a stage inside the IDP camp and about 1000 people came to see it. It was incredible.

DD: That must have been incredibly inspiring for them.
MF: It was incredibly inspiring for them and us! The thing that was so moving was that these plays were fun, and funny, and entertaining, but they also had a message to them. One of the boys who performed told of how both of his parents are HIV-positive. He said, “I am going to be an orphan, and I don’t want other kids to go through what I am going through.”

These kids were there from 8:30 in the morning until 4:00 in the afternoon volunteering and working very hard just to tell their stories. And every day, this one boy in particular showed up in a pressed shirt. Do you have any idea what it takes to iron a shirt without electricity? He had to have a heavy piece of iron and then heat it up in a fire just to press his shirt.

These kids were so sweet, kind, and loving, and many had been abducted by the rebels and forced to do horrific things, yet here they were on the other side of it saying, “I want to help my community.”

DD: What is the best way that people in the West can help in this situation?
MF: A great way to help is to go to the website www.resolveuganda.org and get on their alerts which will let you know when to contact the members of congress on behalf of northern Uganda. I have seen it work. I have been in their offices and they have told me, “I want to help, and it is great to know that the people in my district want me to do this.” You can also reach them from our www.voicesofuganda.org website, where you can see a trailer from the film.

DD: Do the tireless efforts you make on behalf of the Ugandans ever get overwhelming?
MF: Sometimes it’s kind of hard, because we have been working really hard on this project for well over a year. We have decided not to get paid so we can put everything into the project and our advocacy efforts, and I have basically put my acting career on hold. And there are times when I sit in my apartment and think, “I’m so tired, and I have no social life, and we don’t have enough money to finish the film,” and then I think, “Wait a minute. I’m in my apartment in Santa Monica, and no one is shooting at me, and I don’t have to worry about getting cholera or malaria.”

And then I’m reminded of the people in the camps. They have been suffering unspeakable horrors and most of the world has no idea what has been happening to them. It’s like they’re screaming and no one can hear them, and I can’t imagine a worse thing.

If we can have even a small impact in letting people know what is happening to them and asking people to take action to bring it to an end, how can I walk away from that opportunity? It’s a privilege.

DD: Does any single memory stand out from the camps?
MF: There was this group of little kids that I met who were so sweet, and they wanted to give me something. They had very little, but they gave me what they had. They ran over to me as I was leaving, and with big smiles on their faces, they gave me pebbles. It was beautiful.

UPDATE: In 2010, President Obama signed legislation aimed at ending the LRA’s reign of terror. Despite this effort, Joseph Kony continues to wage war in Uganda and neighboring countries.

Voices of Uganda & Hollywood, Part One

As anyone knows who has ever sung along to Pride (In the Name of Love) by U2, today is the anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.  (“… Early morning, April 4, shots ring out in the Memphis sky … .”)

In remembrance of this man of peace, for the next two days we will honor another peacemaker by reprinting excerpts from an interview my wife Kimi and I conducted with actress Melissa Fitzgerald.  (This article was first published a couple of years ago in African Vibes Magazine.)

Melissa would never call herself a celebrity, but seven seasons playing Carol Fitzpatrick on the popular and critically acclaimed television series The West Wing made her one. But rather than simply trying to keep her face in the tabloids, Melissa uses her fame to help bring about peace in an overlooked area of the Third World.

After The West Wing ended its run in 2006, she journeyed to Africa and spent several weeks working in Internally Displaced Person (IDP) camps in northern Uganda. Over a million refugees have been herded into these camps due to one of Africa’s longest-running conflicts – a 25-year struggle between government forces and the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which is led by religious leader Joseph Kony. Melissa later chronicled the plight of these refugees in a film called Voices of Uganda.

We spent part of a beautiful Santa Monica morning with Melissa discussing the problems of far-off Uganda over iced teas and Arnold Palmers. It’s hard to imagine a friendlier or more approachable person, or a more dedicated advocate for the Ugandans – a  people who pronounce her name “Militia,” a term with which they are sadly familiar.

DD: How did you first get involved with helping Africans?
MF: I was a volunteer with an AIDS organization a few years ago in South Africa and had been very moved by that experience. I think the thing that got me to want to do that was that I had just gone through a very painful divorce, and a friend suggested that I write down three things every night that I was grateful for; three simple things, like: I have a car, I have gas in my car, I have running water. And that exercise was really great for me in terms of having gratitude for what I did have, rather than for what I was losing. And I thought that I wanted to go where those simple things that we take for granted are not a given.

DD: Why did you choose Uganda?
MF: Uganda really spoke to me because of the situation there. At that time they were in the middle of a 20-year struggle in northern Uganda which was especially hard on children. As a matter of fact, the rebel army there is made up of between 80 and 90% abducted children, and this conflict has the highest rate of atrocities against children. And since I had worked with teenagers here in Los Angeles, this situation just spoke to me.

DD: When did you first go there?
MF: 2006. I was there for almost a month, mostly in northern Uganda. Then I went for a short time to a camp in the southwestern part of the country and worked on a sexual- and gender-based violence prevention program for the refugees there, who are mostly from the Congo.

DD: In 2007 you went back to Uganda to film “Voices of Uganda.” How did that come about?
MF: I think the situation in northern Uganda has been allowed to continue because of lack of knowledge in the West. Since it’s not an international conflict, and not in the news, it has been a forgotten war.

When I came back to America, I felt it would be great to go back over with a real camera crew, and not with just my own video camera that I had bought for a trip to Italy (laughter). So, I talked to a bunch of my friends who are actors and filmmakers, and we agreed that if we were to go back and do this, we wanted it to be used. We wanted to inform people about the situation there and to use the film to end the war.

DD: Was the situation in the camps better or worse than you imagined?
MF: Over a million people live in these camps, and over 1000 die every week. In the beginning, these camps were set up by the government to protect the people, but no one ever imagined that the war would be going on this long. They are overcrowded, unsanitary places that have themselves become a danger to these people’s lives.

Yet, in the face of these inhuman conditions, I also couldn’t imagine finding such hope, kindness, and generosity. It made me want to really do more on behalf of the people there.

(The article continues tomorrow.)