Reporter turns screenwriter

I got to know Dave Himmelstein because he worked for one of UPI’s client newspapers, the Portland (Maine) Sunday Telegram. I didn’t know that he was doing screenplays in his spare time, and one of them won an award that got Dave some attention.  He went on to write some successful screenplays that were made into movies (“Power,” “Village of the Damned,” “Talent for the Game”). It appears he’s out of that business now and living in Massachusetts. I saw a story in the Portland newspaper about his screenwriting, called him up and did this story on him for the wire. This particular clip was in the Chicago TRIBUNE early in 1986.


PORTLAND, Maine (UPI) – David Himmelstein, a reporter for the local Sunday newspaper, was lounging on a South American vacation two years ago when he received a telegram that changed his life.

When he wasn’t writing stories for the Maine Sunday Telegram, Himmelstein had been fooling around with movie screenplays. His first effort told the story of a baseball scout, and he entered it in a contest sponsored by the Screenwriters Guild of America.

The telegram informed him that the script, “Talent for the Game,” had won a prize. And the prize made life suddenly easier.

Agents Himmelstein had tried to see suddenly were seeking him out.

“That prize conferred a certain instant legitimacy, and agents began calling me for a change,” Himmelstein said.

The script was optioned by Paramount Studios. It has not been filmed, but the script made the rounds and it got Himmelstein’s name known in Hollywood. (Editor’s note: I do see that a movie called “Soul of the Game” was produced for television in 1996, and his name is attached to it. May be the same one.)

power pictureIt led to another script, and finally to a movie, called “Power,” starring Richard Gere, Julie Christie and Gene Hackman.

“Power” is about the consultants who package political candidates and make them come across attractively on television. It was a natural subject for Himmelstein, once a political speechwriter.

“My sense was that the candidates were becoming virtually interchangeable, and that the real players were the guys who shaped their media campaigns,” Himmelstein said.

After five rewrites, the screenplay was ready for review by director Sidney Lumet, who directed such films as “Dog Day Afternoon,” “Network” and “The Pawnbroker.” Lumet decided “Power” would be the only film he would direct in 1985.

Himmelstein, 38, said he probably would have stayed at the newspaper if he had realized the odds against succeeding as a screenwriter.

“I had always liked movies, but I really didn’t know anything about how you go about doing it,” he said. “I did it without even knowing what the format was supposed to be. The first thing I turned out was completely wrong.

“But the positive thing was that you are cushioned in Maine by this native ingenuousness that you really wouldn’t have if you lived in New York, where every cabdriver and waiter is writing screenplays,” Himmelstein said.

Maine Indians want some Baxter State Park land for reservation

During my working days in Maine, I enjoyed writing stories about the state’s Indian tribes – the Penobscots, the Passamaquoddys and the Micmacs. The big story about them (or at least the Penobscots and the Passamaquoddys – the Micmacs were excluded) was the Indian Land Claims Case. A sharp young lawyer in the 1970s found that a key treaty between the state of Maine and the Indians had never been signed by the state and, as a result, the two tribes had a legitimate claim to a huge portion of Maine’s land. The Indians had a great case and the state agreed to settle it (using federal funds – thanks, President Jimmy Carter), and the two Indian tribes suddenly became big players in Maine’s economy.

But there were other stories involving the Indians. In this particular story, the Wabanaki Confederation (made up of Passmaquoddys, Penobscots, Micmacs and Malaseets) wanted a new reservation that would include all the tribes, and they took a step in that direction by briefly occupying part of Baxter State Park. They didn’t get what they wanted, but they did draw some crucial attention to their cause.

I wish there was an Internet back in the mid-1970s. If there had been, I could have done a better job of researching this story. I would have learned that the Wabanaki Confederation was an organization that stretched back to the late 1770s, that it played a key role in the American Revolution, and that under the Treaty of Watertown signed in 1776, Wabanaki soldiers, even those from Canada, had the right to join the U.S. military, a right some have exercised as recently as the war in Afghanistan.

Not sure when this was written, probably around 1976.


INDIAN ISLAND, Maine (UPI) – One of the Indians who had camped in Baxter State Park for nearly a week said Thursday his group hopes the state will provide land for a new Indian reservation.

The Indians were members of the Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, MicMac and Maliseet tribes, but all belong to the Wabanaki Confederacy.

wabanaki mapStanley Neptune, who had spent six days at the park with 27 other Indians, said the Wabanakis hope to leave their own reservations and start a new reservation. He said the Wabanakis feel the present tribes are losing their culture, and the new group hopes to preserve the Indian ways.

Neptune also said the Indians left the park because they had accomplished what they wanted, and not because of pressure from park and state officials.

“Everything that happened was good,” Neptune said.

Neptune said the Indians had gone to the park hoping that part of Baxter could be allotted to them. Mount Katahdin, located within the park, is considered a sacred place by the Indians.

“Our idea was to have a place to live,” Neptune said. “We want a place for the Wabanaki Confederacy.”

wabanakiflagcolorNeptune said lawyers are negotiating with the state to see if some land, perhaps some of the state’s public lands, could be set aside for the Wabanakis.

“It was our hope at first to get part of the park, but we found we couldn’t stay there,” Neptune said. “It was a place to go to get answers, and we got answers. We left because it was time to leave.”

Neptune said the state agreed to drop illegal entry charges against nine Indians who were arrested when they tried to join the original group. He also said that tribal governors, who had opposed the action at the park at first, seemed to be changing their minds, and said a meeting between the governors and those who took part in the encampment at Baxter was set for Friday.

“The governors were against us, but now they are changing their thinking.” Neptune said. “We’re trying to save our culture. Not too far in the future, there won’t be any more Indian people.”

Another Indian who had gone to Baxter, Sam Sapio, said the Wabanakis had taken part in some spiritual events at Baxter, but he declined to elaborate.

“We went up there to do some of our traditional things,” he said. “I can’t tell you about that.”

Mount Katahdin has been a spiritual place for Maine’s Indians for many years.

“When they had trouble in the tribes, they would go there to meditate,” Sapio said.

Gov. James B. Longley, who on Wednesday said the state would remove the Indians by force if necessary, said he was glad they had left on their own.

“It is a fine example of how reasonable people can accommodate what is right without needless conflict,” he said.

Jud Strunk uniquely remembered by his sons

Jud Strunk was a well-known folk singer and entertainer who lived in the western mountains of Maine — right in the middle of ski country. His career had a couple of highlights; he had a hit single called “Daisy a Day” that did well on the pop and country music charts, and he spent a season as a regular on the hot comedy show “Laugh-In.” But mostly he was a talented Maine guy who never really wanted to leave his native state. In 1981, at the age of 45, he died when he suffered a heart attack while flying his vintage airplane near Maine’s Carrabassett Valley Airport. I didn’t know him very well, but I do remember drinking with him and a group of people at a bar in Winthrop, Maine in the late 70s. This is a story about how Strunk’s sons memorialized him several years afte rhis death.

Cross-country trip, film evoke folk singer’s windswept ways 


KINGFIELD, Maine (UPI) — Jud Strunk, a folk singer and a regular on the TV show “Laugh-In,” was best known around Maine’s ski country, where he played music and raised hell until a plane crash killed him in 1981.

jud strunk album picJust before his death, Strunk, 45, and his teenage son Joel loaded up a battered Volkswagen Thing and headed out on an 8,000-mile trip that took them to Colorado and Texas and a lot of places in between.

Twenty days after their return to Maine, Strunk’s World War II-vintage plane crashed in the woods near Carabassett Valley Airport in Maine’s western mountains.

Joel and his brothers, Rory and Jeff, wanted to find a suitable way to make note of their father’s life. After talking about the trip and about a poem Strunk had written entitled “Bury Me on the Wind,” they decided to re-trace the route in the same old orange Thing and scatter their father’s ashes along the way.

Jeff couldn’t make the trip, but Rory and Joel set out in the convertible, vowing to keep the top down throughout the journey because of their father’s love of the wind.

A videotape Rory made of the trip, entitled “Bury Me on the Wind,” premiered last month at a local ski resort tavern and has been gathering plaudits ever since. The video won second prize in a national contest sponsored by Sony, and also placed in the American Film Institute’s student video contest.

“After my dad passed away, we were listening to his music and we got the inspiration to retrace the trip,” Rory said. “He loved the wind, he loved flying, and we thought that scattering his ashes on the wind during the trip was a most appropriate way of saying goodbye.”

The original trip was part work, part play. Like many musicians, Strunk went on tour during the summer. During this tour, he and his son combined gigs with visits to places that had special significance to Strunk.

The memorial trip faithfully followed the route of the original tour, with the brothers scattering their father’s ashes at important spots along the way.

Scott and Helen Nearing

In 1973, I moved from Boston to central Maine, having been transferred by UPI to cover, among other things, Maine government and politics. I settled in a small, rural Maine town, Mount Vernon, a village of around 300 people. I soon learned that Mount Vernon (and many other similar Maine villages) had become the home of young hippies from all over the country who were searching for a simpler, back-to-the-land lifestyle. At the time I was unaware that most of these young people were following the teachings of Scott and Helen Nearing, whose 1954 book, “Living the Good Life,” was a handbook for simple rural living.

A year later, in 1974, I wrote to Helen Nearing at the Nearings’ home on the coast of Maine, requesting an interview. She invited me over.

This story resulted from that interview.

One thing I remember about that visit, something that didn’t make it into the story: At one point I gave the 69-year-old Helen a ride down the road in my Chevy Nova, which had a bad clutch throwout bearing and made sort of a grinding/screeching noise. When I shifted the car into second, she cocked her head and said, “Hmmmm. Sounds like a bad throwout bearing.”

This story was carried in newspapers around the country, but I found the old clip in the Connellsville, Pa. DAILY COURIER.

Ex-professor, 90, remains highly active with writing


HARBORSIDE, Maine (UPI) – Scott Nearing is 90 and his face is creased with age and from many cold New England winters. His eyes disappear when he smiles.

Nearing and his wife Helen, 69, have homesteaded in New England for more than 40 years, ever since they decided to leave the city and search out a simple life. First in Vermont, and now in Maine, they have grown their own food organically, have built their own buildings out of stone, and have cut their own firewood.

Nearing turned his back on Western civilization years ago, after being fired from teaching jobs at two colleges because of his radical political beliefs. He thinks Western civilization has been on the decline since the late 1800s.

“Western civilization is on the carpet, just like Nixon is now,” he said.

ScottNearing pic

Scott Nearing

Nearing’s day began as usual at 4:30 a.m., and he worked on his latest book until breakfast.  He had spent the morning working around Forest Farm and now was eating homemade soup out of a wooden bowl.

“I’ve been working on this theme since 1926,” he said. “It’s called, ‘Where is Western Civilization Going?’ It’s a social analysis of civilization. Almost no one has analyzed society objectively as far as social organization is concerned. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Nearing threw a faggot of twigs on the fire in the kitchen woodstove and went out to the woodshed, tugging a wheelbarrow full of saws and axes behind him. The Nearings burn driftwood and dead trees as much as possible, cutting down live trees only when they have to.

Helen led the way to a half-finished stone building at the foot of the hill, across the road from the bay. The building will be a library and garage and will stand in front of the Nearings’ new stone house, to be finished hopefully by next fall.

“I’ve done all the stonework,” Helen said. “If people stop by to help, they hand the stones up to me and I put them in place.”

Finding help hasn’t been hard. In recent years there has been a steady stream of visitors, mostly young people, who have read “Living the Good Life,” a book about homesteading which Scott and Helen wrote in 1954.

“Last year I kept a head count and we had 2,300 visitors,” Helen said. “This past year I stopped counting after 2,500.”

The Nearings have lived in an old frame farmhouse since they came to Maine 22 years ago, and they are looking forward to moving into the new stone house.

“This place isn’t our house,” Nearing said about the farmhouse. “It’s somebody else’s house.”

Helen ran through the snow to the house site and pointed out where the rooms would be.

“I’ll have a room in front, overlooking the water, and Scott’s room will be in the back with an east window,” she said. “He gets up early and he likes to see the sun rise.”

How Massachusetts Blue Cross audited hospitals

There’s nothing really exciting or interesting about this story except this: since I’ve been putting this blog portfolio together, I’ve been struck by how similar the news 30-40 years ago was to now. We’re still seeing stories about medical costs, insurance and reimbursements, not unlike this story from the early 1970s. Hospitals are still complaining about their insurance reimbursements, and insurance companies are still moaning about how much hospitals charge for their services. I found this clip in the Lowell (Mass.) SUN, which apparently didn’t know quite how to play the story — they ran it on the OP-ED page.


BOSTON (UPI) – Hospital costs in Massachusetts are audited to determine Blue Cross reimbursement rates, and the 37 men who do the audits are on the Massachusetts Blue Cross payroll.

The auditing procedure has been allowed since May 18, 1956. Chapter 176A of the General Laws says the state Rate Setting Commission can require that an audit be conducted prior to having Blue Cross reimbursement rates established at hospitals.

The Commission contracts Blue Cross to do the auditing. The auditors answer to the Rate Setting Commission, but are paid by Blue Cross and receive Blue Cross fringe benefits.

Blue Cross pays hospitals either what a given treatment costs the hospitals, or what they charge for that treatment, whichever figure is lower. The hospital’s cost of treatment is generally lower than what it charges, and that is usually the figure paid the hospital by Blue Cross.

The audit determines what the hospital costs are.

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The governor’s hole in the ground

Every state probably has one of these — a specially built and fortified emergency shelter in case somebody drops the big one on the State House. I found that Maine had such a bunker under the State Office Building, where the governor could take shelter in case of a natural disaster or A-bomb attack. The atomic bomb thing seems strange in distant Augusta, Maine, but the shelter WAS built to exacting atomic shelter specifications. It all seems a bit weird, but there it was … and is. I tried to find a picture of it, but couldn’t.


AUGUSTA, Maine (UPI) – Gov. James B. Longley’s office is warm and paneled and carpeted, with a broad desk and an ornate state seal hanging on the wall. But he has another office, little-known and stark, with a tiny desk pressed against a white cement wall.

This other office is the governor’s emergency quarters, buried in the sub-basement of the state office building, which was built in the late 1950s, at the height of the atomic bomb scares.

The office is in the center of the basement, next to a radio room.

There are no windows to the outside and the interior windows are of Plexiglas. The basement, headquarters for the state Office of Civil Emergency Preparedness (CEP), has a 1,000 rating against atomic fallout, the highest rating possible.

William F. Crowley, assistant public information officer for the CEP, said the basement could shelter the governor and 49 other people for two weeks. It could provide food, air and power without any contact with the outside.

“This place is virtually immune to any type of natural disaster,” Crowley said. “This whole basement can take care of 50 people for 14 days. We can generate electricity, we have our own water, food and dormitory space.”

“It is completely self-sufficient.”

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The man who married Norma Jean

I never thought that a move to Maine from Boston would lead to me writing about Marilyn Monroe. But in 1990, not long before I left my second tour with UPI, I heard that Marilyn Monroe’s first husband was living in Sabattus, not far from Lewiston. I found him, got in touch, and he was very friendly and willing to talk. Here is the story that resulted.


SABATTUS, Maine (UPI) – Joe DiMaggio and Arthur Miller may remember Marilyn Monroe, but James Dougherty thinks back to a schoolgirl named Norma Jean, who ended their marriage to become an actress, sex symbol and national obsession.

In 1943, the woman who was to become the nation’s favorite blonde bombshell was still Norma Jean Mortensen. She married Dougherty – her first husband – in their home town of Van Nuys, Calif.

He was 21. She had just turned 16.

“I never knew Marilyn Monroe and I don’t claim to have any insights about her to this day,” Dougherty said. “I knew and loved Norma Jean.”

A former Los Angeles police officer, Dougherty, 68, retired to Maine 11 years ago. He is married to his third wife, Rita, a Maine native.

His relationship with Norma Jean began casually. She attended Van Nuys High School and he sometimes walked her home after class.

“I had graduated from high school and I was working at Lockheed,” he said. “The war hadn’t started yet. Norma Jean was going to high school and I was taking her home, but I was going with a girl up at Santa Barbara High School, going up there on weekends.”

Norma Jean was 15 at the time, living with a foster family in Van Nuys because her mother had been committed to a mental institution. Her foster mother was a good friend of Dougherty’s mother. The two mothers began talking about a marriage between Dougherty and Norma Jean when the foster family began thinking about moving to another state.


Jim Dougherty and Norma Jean Mortensen on their wedding day

“They wanted to move back to Virginia, and they couldn’t take Norma Jean,” Dougherty said. “She would have gone back to an orphanage or another foster home, so her foster mother suggested I marry her.”

“I thought she was awful young, but I took her to a dance. She was a pretty mature girl, and physically she was mature, of course. We talked and we got on pretty good.”

Dougherty continued to see Norma Jean for the next year, giving up on the girl in Santa Barbara. A year later, the two were married.

The young couple lived in a Sherman Oaks apartment for a while and then moved back to Van Nuys, . I World War II, Dougherty joined the Merchant Marine and was assigned to teach sea safety on Catalina Island, off the California coast.

“She (Norma Jean) was just a housewife,” Dougherty said. “We would go down to the beach on weekends, and have luaus on Saturday night. She loved it over there. It was like being on a honeymoon for a year.”

Then Dougherty was sent overseas. Norma Jean got a job and moved in with Dougherty’s mother in Van Nuys.

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In the 70s, shortages were in the news

Many people remember the gasoline shortages of the 1970s, but not everyone may remember the other shortages during those years, at least some of which were traceable to the petroleum shortage. Not enough petrol meant rising gas prices and correspondingly higher prices on everything from food to manufactured goods. Anytime a “shortage” surfaced it was worth writing about. But who could have predicted a shortage of canning jars?



BANGOR, Maine (UPI) – And now, inflation fans, comes the Great Can Shortage.

If you thrilled to your chilly, oil-less house last winter, if you shuddered with excitement while waiting in line at your neighborhood gas station last spring, and if you quivered when meat prices went out of sight last summer, you’re just going to scream with pleasure when you try to put up those green beans from the garden this fall.

Walt Haueisen, , New England distributor for Ball Brothers Co., canning supply manufacturers, says there’s an acute shortage of canning jars this year, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better, in Maine and elsewhere.

Sound familiar?

Haueisen said the company, one of the nation’s largest, had to put strict allocations on production a year ago because of shortages in the tin plate industry.  And because the rising cost of food caused many people to plant gardens this year, the demand for canning jars has sharply increased.

“The garden upsurge in the past several years has greatly increased demand,” said another spokesman for Ball Brothers, Vern Schranz. “There are people gardening and canning now who wouldn’t have dreamed of it before.”

There are other reasons for the shortage. Soda ash, used in manufacturing the glass jars, is now used by soap companies because they can no longer use phosphates. And commercial production of the jars gets priority over the manufacture of jars for home use.

ball jar picJars can be used year after year. But the glass rings and rubber seal rings must be replaced each time they are used, and guess what Ball Brothers has coming out of their ears?

“Right now we have more jars than lids,” Haueisen said. We sent a limited supply up to Maine Monday. Priorities there are based on the amount purchased in past seasons.”

“No state has delivery priorities but you will find many more vegetable gardeners in Maine than, say, Massachusetts,” he said.

Retailers in Maine have reported that they sell out of the canning jars hours after they arrive. And the price has gone up from around $1.50 to as high as 42.75.

The alternative to canning is freezing, but many people don’t own freezers. And besides, there have been reports of shortages of freezer bags this year.

“The only real alternative to canning is freezing, but several stores have even reported slight shortages of freezer bags,” said Mary Ellen Cunningham, home economics extension agent for Penobscot County. ”Also, if a family has no freezer, there is that expensive initial purchase.”

The result of all of this is that some of the vegetables planted in home gardens this spring will either be eaten fresh or left unharvested.

“If I can’t find jars and lids,” said one Maine gardener, “I’ll have to start giving my crops away.”


Floating across the Atlantic

As I’ve said, Maine was very fertile ground for strange and unusual stories (and strange and unusual people, as well). But no story was stranger than when Richard Branson came to a Maine ski lodge to begin a transatlantic flight to Europe in a hot air balloon.  Branson’s balloon lifted off at a little after 4 in the morning and, even though the clipping indicates that this happened in July, I remember being pretty cold as we all huddled in the pre-dawn darkness on a mountain at the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett in 1987. We all thought the balloon may have been doomed when two large propane tanks clattered to the ground just as the balloon lifted off.  Branson’s adventure was successful, and this story (and others) appeared in newspapers across the country.



CARRABASSETT VALLEY, Maine (UPI) – The Virgin Atlantic Flyer, shoved along by the jet stream, soared past the old distance record for hot air balloons Thursday, just nine hours after lifting off from a Maine ski resort on a first-ever transatlantic trip to Europe.

The huge black-and-silver balloon carried its two British pilots, Richard Branson and Per Lindstrand, past the old record at around 27,000 feet, an altitude that allowed the balloon to take advantage of the jet stream while avoiding bad weather at lower altitudes.

A spokesman for the ground crew back in Maine said the balloon had been sailing along at 100 miles per hour or more since takeoff. The old distance record of 907 miles was surpassed in around nine hours, 18 hours less than the time necessary to set the old record.

ImageBut neither Branson nor Linstrand appeared too interested in the new distance record which they set just after 1 p.m., nine hours after the balloon left the ground at 4:15 a.m.

“There is a lot of ocean out there, the machine is complex, the weather forecasts are complex, and a lot of things can go wrong,” said Bob Rice, the project’s meteorologist. “They want to fly 3,000 miles, so 900 miles doesn’t mean that much.”

Branson told the ground crew by radio the flight was going smoothly, but said he was frightened at one point when he spotted a vapor trail near the capsule.

“When we arrived at 27,000 feet we hit very cold weather,” Branson said. “There was an enormous cloud behind us that created a massive vapor trail, and for a moment I thought the balloon was on fire.”

It wasn’t the only frightening moment for the two balloonists. As the giant silver-and-black balloon lifted off , two of the 12 large propane fuel tanks surrounding the pressurized capsule fell off and a cluster of sandbags failed to let go as planned.

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Journalism as history II — the Phoenicians in Maine

Earlier I posted a story I wrote about some ancient amphoras (jugs) that were found by divers on the sea floor off Maine. That story included some expert opinions that the amphoras came from ancient Phoenicians who had visited the Maine coast before the birth of Christ. Now, my rummaging around in my old files has turned up a second story I wrote in 1976 that claimed the stone etchings on Monhegan Island (and perhaps elsewhere) also had connections to the Phoenicians. I don’t recall the origins of either of these stories, so I don’t know if they came from the same source. But both of the stories were well played in newspapers around the country.


MONHEGAN ISLAND, Maine (UPI) – A few crude rock carvings on this craggy coastal island could force historians to take another look at who discovered America and where the American Indians came from.

The carvings, known as the Monhegan Inscription, have been studied since 1855. But they and other carvings in New England have taken on new meaning to archeologists and linguists in the past few years. And they may indicate that the New England coast was a busy trade center for Phoenician sailors as long ago as 200 B.C.

For many years the inscriptions along with inscriptions in Bourne, Mass. and elsewhere in the region have been thought to be the work of Norse sailors. The theory was that the Norsemen discovered America several hundred years before Columbus.

But now some archeologists, including James P. Whittall, director of archeology for the Early Sites Research Society in Boston, feel the inscription is written in Ogam script used by the Celts in the Iberian peninsula as long ago as 2000 B.C.

Whittall said the inscription was translated by Dr. Barry Fell, president of Boston’s Epigraphic Society, to read “Long ships of Phoenicia: cargo lots landing quay.” If the translation is correct, it could have been a message to Phoenicians who may have landed at Monhegan long before the birth of Christ to deal in fish, furs and minerals.

“When these inscriptions were found along the New England coast, some tried to apply them to the Norsemen because some of the symbols are the same,” Whittall said. “They forced the symbols into a Norse translation, so scholars ended up calling them a fraud.”

“They never studied Iberian script, because it then was very little known and not translated,” he said. “One of the problems with the Norse is there is a close similarity between Iberian and Norse runic script, and we feel runic script was developed out of Iberian script.”

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