On October 19th, 1978 police found the bodies of Gig Young and his newlywed wife of three weeks Kim, dead in their New York apartment. Theories of suicide pacts, Triad murderers, and other shady underworld assassinations abounded. Although the police that investigated the double shooting have speculated that Young first shot his new wife and then himself, some people have never bought this scenario.
Author George Eells sets out to tell Gig Young’s less than idyll life story. From his beginnings as the youngest of three children (a “mistake” but apparently not a happy one) called Byron, whose successful father was hard pressed to give him the time of day.To the days leading up to the double shooting. Eells tries to leave no stone unturned and no relationship untold.
Gig Young made a career out of being the second lead in films. He was always the guy who “lost” the girl. He had a beautiful speaking voice and was always impeccably turned out in his films. The only real exception was the 1969 film ‘They Shoot Horses Don’t They?‘ in which he played the seedy and unpleasant owner/announcer of a dance hall who is overseeing a “Dance-a-thon.” This role landed him the only Oscar of his career.
Eells has been pretty thorough in his chronicling of Young’s life, paying special attention to his relationships with women. He reveals what each of Gig’s marriages were like and the reasons for their failures. It appears that he did not have a very good self-image and that he suffered from several types of mental “illnesses” that he was able to cover up for quite a long time with drink and pills. Later in his life he used both to excess and then tried to stop, most likely, too quickly.
Like most successful “stars” Young’s life reads more like a tragedy than a triumph. He was very adept at appearing to be the suave, sophisticated, amusing man about town, both on-screen and off. Reality was much different, here was a man haunted by demons and a feeling of not belonging or being wanted. These demons, in all likelihood, had been with Gig since childhood and his success as an actor could not save him from himself.
I only found out about this book while reading the meandering “tribute” to the late Elizabeth Montgomery. It is referenced at least twice. I decided to track the book down and read about this man who had fascinated me when he was alive and whose death confused me.
One of my favourite films when I was growing up was the Doris Day, Clark Gable film Teacher’s Pet. Gig Young played his usual second-lead role as Day’s boyfriend (or fiancé I don’t remember which) who loses her to Gable’s hard-nosed newspaper man. As much as I loved the film’s two “main” leads, it was Young who fired my imagination, especially after my mother explained that he, “Never gets the girl, even though he’s so handsome.”
I broke my usual iron-clad rule about Jane Fonda films (I never forgave her for being “Hanoi-Jane” during the Vietnam War) and watched They Shoot Horses Don’t They? just for Gig Young’s performance. It was easy to see why he won the Oscar. The last thing I saw him do was his small but important role in Sam Peckinpah‘s Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. He play the mysterious Quill; one half of a “hit man” double act who hire Warren Oates‘ character to find Alfredo Garcia. After securing his (Oates’) services for a very large amount of money, Oates’ character asks for their names. His slurred, sad, and weary response is, “Dobbs. Fred C. Dobbs.”
He still had the ability to breathe life into whatever role he played. Sadly, he would do only one more film before the incident in 1978. Eells tries very hard to figure out what went wrong both in Young’s life and the week leading up to the double shooting. The end result is a tragic retelling of a star’s life. A story that will leave you shaking your head and feeling, if truth be told, a little sad and depressed.
On the amount of detail that Eells has put into his book, I’d have to give it a 4.5 out of 5 stars. I’ve deducted a half a star for the overall sadness of the book and the conjecture raised about what happened the afternoon of the 19th of October, 1978. The only people who really know what transpired and lead up to the shooting are gone. They’ve taken their secrets with them and perhaps that is better for everyone involved.
- Twitch Upon a Star by Herbie J Pilato: Meandering Memories (mikesfilmtalk.com)
Tom‘s grandpa called him from outside his grandparent’s house. “Tom, come on out here. I want to show you something.”
Tom reluctantly tore his eyes off of the roller derby he’d been watching and stood up. It must be something interesting, Grandpa wouldn’t have called him otherwise. “Okay.” Tom shouted back. He switched the television off and glanced guiltily at his Grandma. She was sleeping setting up on the couch, but she had not even blinked when he’d shouted.
Grabbing his straw cowboy hat, Tom ran out the closer front door and crossed the porch with its covering of yellow grains of fly poison and dead flies. He knew that later Grandpa would sweep all the bodies and poison up and throw it in the ditch; he’d then spread new poison and remind Tom needlessly about not touching it.
Even though Tom was 12, he knew that Grandpa wasn’t treating him like a baby, he was just being careful. Something that Grandpa was very good at. Years before when Tom was about 5 or 6 Grandpa had worked at a lumber mill two towns away. He worked the big band saw that made planks out of trees.
“I was just standing there feeding the tree through the saw. It was stupid what happened. That damned old place was noisy as hell,” Grandpa paused and looked around cautiously for Grandma, she did not like it when he swore, she went to church every Sunday and would get really cross when he used foul language as she put it. “I heard a horn honk outside the factory on the main road. I glanced out the window and when I looked back, four of my fingers were laying in the sawdust on the floor. I don’t remember anything after that because I passed out.”
He stopped and pulled a machine-made cigarette out of his shirt pocket; put one end in his mouth and struck a match on the seat of his jeans. “They said it was damned lucky that I fell backwards when I passed out. If I’d fallen forward, I would have lost a lot more than my fingers.”
He always chuckled when he got to that bit while his eyes kept looking for Grandma. He never tired of telling that story, Tom knew because he’d asked him a least a hundred times how he’d lost his fingers. Grandpa always used to say that he learned all about being careful after his accident.
When Tom rounded the corner of his grandparents stone house, he saw his Grandpa standing in between the garden plot and the two rows of grapes in front of the barn. He held his .410/.22 over and under shotgun in his left hand. His right hand with a thumb, one half of a middle finger and all of his little finger rubbed his mouth; he alternated this gesture with licking his lips.
Tom found out years after his Grandpa had died that he had a drinking problem and that the rubbing and licking was a dead give-a-way that he wanted a drink. He went around the back of the house, skirting the ivy that grew on the corner of the house because it had a tendency to sway in the breeze and sometimes it would tap you as you walked near it. He glanced quickly at the stuff that was full of big black spiders and the odd tarantula; just looking at it made goose bumps dart up and down his back.
Grandpa was wearing his old grey work trousers and a snappy blue striped long sleeve shirt that he’d rolled the sleeves up to his elbows to ease off the explosive heat of the day. He also wore his grey hat, its brim was round and the crown had been fixed into a flat Arizona style that was pinched in the front from him taking it off and putting it on. He never used the brim to remove the hat, because as he put it, “It would make the brim droop so I couldn’t see very well.”
Grandpa smiled that perfect false teeth smile that Tom had grown up seeing, the one that made years drop off his face and had the curious effect of making him seem both kind and contrary. Thinking about it, that pretty much explained grandpa’s personality in a nutshell, kind enough and good-humoured, but, he did bite if you got him riled.
Tom had no idea how old his grandfather really was. His age changed from year to year. His birth records and the family Bible had been destroyed in a fire and he claimed to have no real idea when his birthday was. Mom said she thought he knew perfectly well how old he was but that it was his idea of a joke to keep changing it each year. Tom had to admit, he found it pretty funny. Grandma never said one way or the other how she felt about it.
“Come on up with me to the barn Tom,” Grandpa said. “There’s something I need you to check on for me.” He turned and started walking up to the gate that led to the barn. The chickens, which were fenced in by the barn along with their henhouse, started clucking and chasing each other around at the sound of the gate being opened.
Tom liked looking at the ground when the weather was this hot and dry; each time your foot touched the ground a puff of pale dust would drift lazily up, just like in a western where the horse’s hooves would make little dust geysers when they trotted across the ground. Tom wished he had spurs on his boots so they make that ca-ching noise while he walked through across the dusty ground. That would have been so cool.
“Stupid damn things think they’re going to get fed,” Grandpa said. He chuckled and closed the gate behind Tom. As they approached the barn the air seemed to get very still and a lot hotter. Grandpa took off his hat and pulled a bandanna out of his pocket to wipe his forehead. “The top of that barn is blasting out heat like a furnace, ain’t it?” Tom nodded and the old man finished wiping his brow and put his hat back on while the damp bandanna wound up back in his pants pocket.
“I need you to go up into the loft of the barn for me. You don’t need to stay up there it’s too damned hot to spend too long up there.”
“What do you want me to do, Grandpa?”
“I need you to tell me if you see a possum’s nest up there. Something has been stealing eggs and I’m pretty damn sure it’s not a weasel. A weasel would kill the chickens or at least worry the hell out of them. They’d be all bloodied up and spooked.”
They both arrived at the ladder leading to the barn’s loft at the same time. Grandpa was right, Tom thought. It was like a furnace in the barn and not just in the loft either. The heat made shimmery waves in the air as you looked up at the barn roof. Tom hoped grandpa had meant what he said about not being up there too long.
“Climb on up there boy and look for that nest. Tell me if you see anything.” Grandpa sat on a stump and pulled out one of his cigarettes and lit it. “Like I said, don’t take too long. It’s too hot.”
Tom went slowly up the ladder. He didn’t like heights and had a fear of falling. He gritted his teeth and went up; he wasn’t going to chicken out in front of his grandpa. He’d just concentrate on the barn wall in front of him and not look down.
As he went up he could hear the cicadas buzzing, the noise sounded angry and loud. The first time Tom had heard the sound he was scared. He’d never heard anything like it before. His dad had just laughed and said, “Don’t be scared of that. It’s just a jar-fly.” Dad had looked on the ground and found a dead one to show him. “It’s their wings that make that noise, I reckon. They’re pretty big so that must be why they’re so loud.”
Tom got to the top of the ladder and took a cautious step or two into the barn’s stifling loft. The buzzing seemed to be louder in here and sweat ran down his face and body. The hay in the loft made his skin sticky and itchy in seconds and you could see hay motes swirling in the air, despite the lack of breeze in the barn.
Suddenly Tom caught the whiff of something rotten. It smelt like the sulphur water at his friend Hank’s house only worse. Putting his hand over his nose and mouth he headed towards the smell. Looking down at the floor he saw a lot of eggs scattered around one corner of the loft. He picked one up with the idea that he would show it to grandpa, he then noticed that the smell seemed to be coming from the eggs.
He dropped the one he had been holding and it exploded on the floor by his feet. Instantly the smell got ten times worse and he started to gag. He whirled around and headed toward the ladder to get down. His eyes were watering so badly he couldn’t see properly and he almost walked right off the edge of the loft. He waved his arms for balance and then backed blindly down the ladder.
He was in such a hurry to get away from the smell that he actually fell off the ladder just before the bottom and he landed in a huge puff of dust.
Grandpa stood up with his mouth gapped open for a minute and then started laughing. “What the hell was that all about? Are you okay?” He stepped forward and stretched out his almost fingerless hand for Tom to pull himself up.
Getting to his feet, Tom used his hat to dust himself off. “There’s lot of rotten eggs up there Grandpa; all in one corner of the loft.”
“Did you catch any sign of that damned possum?”
“No, sir just lots of rotten eggs.”
“That’s where he’s taken em alright. I’ll have to come back tonight after dark and grease his skids.”
“What does that mean, Grandpa?”
The old man shook the gun gently, “I’m gonna turn him into a possum angel, boy.”
Grandpa walked off toward the house chuckling to himself and Tom followed after him. When they got near the ivy corner of the house, he suddenly veered off to the right and went behind his work shop.
There was another small fence behind the shop that didn’t have a gate, it was too low. Up against the back wall of the building were a bunch of strawberry plants; the smaller fence was meant to keep rabbits away.
Grandpa stood just outside the fence staring hard at the plants. He stepped carefully over the small fence and moved slowly towards the plants. Tom started to say something, but the old man held his hand up and he shut his mouth. It was almost like grandpa had eyes in the back of his head.
He put the gun up to his shoulder and clicked the safety off. Leaning forward he put the barrel of the shotgun down into the strawberry plants. Tom leaned forward and saw that at the end of the gun barrel was a possum. It was playing dead.
Grandpa shot it and a fountain of blood shot up in the air. He leaned down and grabbed it by the tail and slung it over the fence by the garage’s back door. He broke the gun open ejecting the spent .410 shell and quickly put another one in. With a quick flicking motion the he closed the gun back up and it was ready to fire again.
He stepped over the fence and poked the possum with the gun barrel. The animal whipped its head around and bit the barrel. The second the possum’s mouth closed down on the barrel, grandpa pulled the trigger again.
There was an explosion of blood, teeth and brain matter that flew over everything and everyone. To Tom the whole thing seemed to be in slow motion and the shotgun sounded ten times louder than when grandpa had initially shot the possum.
The old man stood with his chest heaving as he panted and reloaded the shotgun again. This time when he nudged the now headless animal it did not move. He leaned down and grabbed the tail again, this time slinging it into the field behind his workshop. He took out his bandanna and wiped the bloody mess off of Tom’s face and then his own.
“No more free eggs for that little bastard.”
Both Tom and grandpa jumped like they’d been shot. It was grandma and she was furious. “What have I told you about shooting so close to the house?” She was wiping her hands on her ubiquitous apron and moving quickly towards the two of them.
Grandpa just gestured to the spray of gore that was spread across the once white door of his workshop. “Varmint.” He broke the gun open and handed it to Tom. “Boy put that in the house while I go get the hose to wash this mess off.”
Grandma didn’t say another word and went back into the house shaking her head. Grandpa disappeared into the workshop and was moving things around looking for the hose. Tom stood staring at the mess and then he turned to look and see if he could see the animal’s dead body from where he was standing.
Nope, it was completely out of sight.
Grandpa came back with the hose and hooked it up to the faucet at the back of the house. He began spraying down the door with the water. The water ran red along the side of the shop and Tom could see the animal’s teeth moving along with the stream.
Years later when he’d killed his first man and the man’s teeth had exploded out of his mouth like shrapnel, Tom thought of his grandpa and the possum teeth that had floated down the rushing water like white and red rafts floating out to sea.
Shoving the gun back in his coat pocket he murmured, “There you go you little bastard, no more free eggs for you.”
Michael E. Smith copyright 28/01/2013
The old man sat in a row of empty chairs in the waiting area of the bus station. He was the only live occupant in an area filled with dust bunnies, cobwebs, and deserted candy wrappers. Every time the entrance door opened with a sigh, pushed by the swirling ubiquitous wind, the bunnies and wrappers would shuffle away from the door and then slide back when the wind died. The cobwebs moved, in a kind of sympathetic sway to and fro; shakily as if they were so fragile that to move too much would make them lose their anchor and sail away.
The wind did not appear to bother the old man. He sat looking at his hands. Hands that despite being wrinkled and liver spotted were huge. They were cracked with blunt sausage fingers, the nails were cut to the quick but still showing a touch of year’s worn grime under the nails themselves that no amount of scraping or brushing was going to remove. Sometimes he would make a fist. Both hands curled up like a bare-knuckle boxer. He would turn them this way and that, still scrutinizing them as though he had never seen them before.
The wind pushed the door open again and Sam behind the ticket counter looked up for what must have been the hundredth time. He seemed incapable of not looking. He would raise his eyes and cock his head quizzically and if he’d been a dog, one ear would have cocked forward. As his eyes drifted back down to the crossword puzzle in front of him, they detoured to the big old man who seemed so fascinated by his own hands.
Footsteps came up behind Sam and he spoke without looking. “Hey Leanne.”
“Hey Sam.” Leanne headed to the only other chair behind the ticket counter. “Slow day, huh?”
Sam nodded slowly, still concentrating on his crossword, which was almost finished. “Oh yeah; if it wasn’t for Mohammed Ali’s cousin over there, this place would be dead.”
“Who?” Leanne glanced over at the old man in the waiting area.
“The old man sitting over there with those big old boxer’s hands.” Sam nodded in the direction of the bus station’s only occupant in the waiting area.
“Has he come up to the counter,” Leanne asked.
“Nope,” Sam said, still more interested in finishing his crossword than talking about the old man. “I don’t even know when he came in. I just looked up and he was there. Made me jump, I don’t mind telling you.” Sam put down his pencil, “The next bus ain’t due for another two hours and he’s been here at least that long already.”
“Well, you know Sam, you could have tried asking him what he wanted.” Leanne’s tone was dry. “He might have grandkids coming in to visit or a son or daughter coming home.” She shook her head in disgust, “But I suppose that would have taken you away from your precious crossword.”
Reaching in his back pocket, Sam pulled out a handkerchief and blew his nose, loudly, and then spent a couple of seconds sniffing and wiping the end of his nose. “Well, if it was that damned important to him he would have said something wouldn’t he? Besides, he ain’t hurting anything and he’s been real quiet. He hasn’t moved from that chair. Just keeps looking at his hands like he’s never seen ’em before.”
Without folding it, Sam shoved the handkerchief back in his pocket. Glancing back down to his crossword, he scowled. “Hey Leanne, what’s a three-letter word for old sailor?”
Leanne and Sam both jumped as the old man said it again, “Tar.” They looked at each other, struggling not to laugh nervously; Leanne checking the crotch of her jeans because she could have sworn she’d wet herself just now. Sam nodded and said, “Thanks Old Timer.”
The old man grunted and went back to inspecting his hands.
Leanne leaned close to Sam and whispered, “Jesus, Joseph and Mary, he just scared the shit out of me!” Sam leaned back and putting his hands behind his head to crack his knuckles, nodded. “Me too.”
“Didn’t he sound kind of familiar? You know, like someone you know, or is that just me.”
“He just sounded old and gravelly. Like he has rocks in his throat or chest; in a few more years he’ll start sounding all wheezy and whispery. I mean look at him, he must be 90 if he’s a day.”
The wind blew again this time it was a real howler. Wailing and gusting aggressively the wind smacked the entrance door open. Sand, litter and the odd scorpion were blown into the waiting room. The dust bunnies and empty candy wrappers swirled up and away from the old man’s row and for a second looked like a miniature dust devil. The cobwebs strained against their anchored ends and held on. Clenching his fists, the old man did not move one bit. Even his clothes seemed to be unaware of the wind and dust that was swirling around.
“Leanne!” Sam pointed to the still open door. “Go close that damned thing before it breaks and put the latch on. There are two of us here now we can close up and watch for the bus. I don’t want to be stepping on scorpions and tarantulas in here!”
Leanne bolted from her seat and with her eyes squinted against the grit in the air she slammed the door shut and turned the bolt. “Is that good enough for you, your highness?”
Sam didn’t even bother looking up. “Great. Wonderful. Put yourself up for a commendation. I’ve got a whole drawer full of gold stars. Why don’t you pin one on your ass.” Leanne, shot him the finger and Sam chuckled. “Yes dear, I know I’m number one. Thank you for remembering.”
“George C Scott.” Leanne jumped and whirled around. The old man was looking at her with eyes that looked kind and tired. “That’s who folks tell me I sound like.” Leanne smiled. “That’s it! That’s who you sound like. My boy was watching some cartoon where he did the voice. You sound just like him.” He redirected his eyes to his hands and seemed to forget she was there. Leanne watched him for a moment thinking he might say something else, but he remained mute.
Spinning around she headed back toward the counter. Just as she reached the counter, Sam looked up and past her.
The old man rose slowly from his chair. As he got to his feet he reached behind him with both hands as though he were going to massage his back. His hands reappeared with two of the biggest guns Sam had ever seen. They made Dirty Harry‘s .44 Magnum look like a pea shooter.
Sam’s eyes widened, “Leanne, Look…” Sam’s face erupted in a geyser of blood and bone and flesh, his body toppled backward on the chair and only stopped when it met the floor. His pencil was still gripped in his right hand and it marked the floor a bit as he twitched once or twice.
Leanne felt someone punch her in the back, hard, as though she’d been hit by a baseball bat; she automatically looked down and saw a section of her spine blow out of her stomach. It was the last thing she saw as she lost consciousness and fell to join Sam’s lifeless body on the floor. The big old man walked slowly up to the two dead bus station employees.
He stood looking at them and put the guns back in his waistband behind his back. He leaned over Sam and cleared his throat. Sounding just like George C. Scott he said, “Shooter’s hands sonny, not boxers, shooters.” He turned on his heel and strode out the entrance leaving the door to swing in the wind.
Michael E. Smith copyright 2013-01-08
While figuring out what we wanted to make with the blasting powder and how we were going make a casing for it, we decided to experiment a bit with the blasting powder. We took one of Vinnies .223 cartridges and filled it tightly with the powder, we then crimped the end of the shell around a two inch bit of fuse. Taking this miniature bomb out to his back garden, we made a hole in the hard ground. After the hole was about six inches deep, we lit the fuse and dropped it into the hole. We scrambled quickly away and waited.
A geyser of dirt and rock shot into the air accompanied by a most satisfying boom. Rushing back to the hole we checked to see how far down it had extended after the explosion. We found a bamboo fishing rod and shoved it in the hole. We never did get to the bottom and the rod was well over six feet in length. We were suitably impressed.
Vinnie then showed me an aerosol can that he had taken the top off of without blowing himself up. This he decided was going to be the explosive’s casing mould. He just needed some lead to melt and pour into the can. That was where I became useful. My dad was a house builder. One thing he had lots of was lead. In those days when the plumbers made a base for a shower stall, the base was lined with lead. They invariably left tons of “off-cuts” laying around the site that was anyone’s for the taking. Since lead was cheap, we used it to make fishing weights. My dad had a “shed-load” of the stuff. I asked and got permission to use as much of it as we needed.
For weeks Vinnie and I melted lead and poured it into the can. This was a slow and boring process. When we finally got the whole can filled with lead, we then cut the can off to leave us with our bomb casing. This left us with a cylindrical object that was roughly three inches in diameter and seven inches long. There was no “hole” in the middle to put the powder in. But we knew just what to do.
Vinnie got out his dad’s heavy duty drill and fastened a one and a half inch drill bit to it. We then took turns drilling out a hole. This was also a long and boring task. We were about halfway through when a female friend from school dropped by. She wandered out to the garage and asked us what we were doing. We explained about the bomb and having to drill the hole. We also moaned a bit about the amount of time it was taking.
Looking at the half drilled cylinder she said, “Since you guys melted the lead to make it, why didn’t you put something in the middle and pour the lead around it so you didn’t have to drill one?” We both reacted the same way. “Huh! What do you know?” “That never would have worked!” She gave us both a disdainful look, tossed her red hair from her face and left. It was only after she left that we both had a face palm moment. Now why didn’t we think of that?
We finally finished the bomb and tried to set up a time for it to be set off. Vinnie’s dad had some land beyond the city limits and we both agreed that would be the best place to blow it up. All that was left to do was organise a time to get together. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come up with a time that was mutually beneficial. Plus, while we were building the thing, my family had decided to move.
Although we only moved a few towns away, I did not get a chance to hunt down my friend for a couple of years. I finally bumped into him while visiting my grandparents. The first thing I asked about, of course, was the bomb. “Oh yeah! Dad and me took it out to the farm. We dug a hole, put about a mile of fuse on it, planted it, then we lit it and ran like hell!”How big was the hole after the blast I asked. “HUGE!” Vinnie said with a grin. ” It left a crater about six feet across and about four feet deep! It was also so loud, I think they heard it in town!”
I think back to those days and wonder how in the world did we not blow ourselves up! I also marvel at the simplicity and naivety of the both of us. We never at any point thought that this was too dangerous a pastime. We also never realized that what we were doing might just be illegal. When anyone complains to me about today’s youth and how they spend too much time playing video games, I always think back on my childhood activities.
Sure video games can be time consuming and expensive, but at least they aren’t making bombs.