Love this story and the chance to meet these awesome women.

thespinstersclub

Last January, I flew to Los Angeles for an eagerly anticipated meeting with Kate Lee’s daughter in San Diego.  While I was waiting for the flight to board, I told a man flying home to his family how I had come to find Kate Lee’s letters on ebay, how a chance decision to sign up for a writing class in Asheville led to meeting Kate Lee’s great niece, and how a series of emails and phone calls led me to fly across country to meet a complete stranger I was more connected to than people I have known for years.

Kate Lee saved EVERYTHING.  The pictures Mrs. Elzea gave her of Douglas when he was a baby, the paper she wrote “Mary Had a Little Lamb” on while the plane she flew climbed to 30,000 feet, the heartbreaking letter Kate Lee’s future husband wrote her the day she left to tell Douglas it was over, unsure that she…

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Please help fund research into this fascinating and important story.

thespinstersclub

Help Research Kate Lee’s Story…wasppilots

Being a writer is a discouraging business. Everyone has an opinion about what you should write, how you should write, or if you should write.

Finding time to write is another matter entirely, and thinking about the years it can take to complete a novel, or a screenplay, can be overwhelming. I have been working on the story of the WASP, in one form or another, for two decades now, and my passion for the subject has become an obsession.

Discovering Kate Lee’s letters, watching her grow from an idealistic young woman so determined to marry a complete stranger that she handed him the power to decide her future, into an accomplished pilot who made history, from a woman who planned her life with one man, but lived her dreams with another, has in truth, been a hugely frustrating experience. As captivated as I have…

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What an AMAZING story. I can’t WAIT to see how this all turns out!!!!!

thespinstersclub

kate lee harris1I am a great believer in serendipity.  I have to be.  Because serendipity touches my life frequently.  Recently it did more than that.  A few weeks ago, it exploded into something so remarkable I still marvel at how developments unfolded, and how the universe hand delivered the rest of Kate Lee’s story to me in ways I would never have imagined.

After cataloguing Kate’s letters in chronological order, I realized that most of what Douglas had been telling her about his involvement in the war was a complete fabrication.  He was involved in something so secret that he couldn’t tell her.  And that secret cost him the only woman he would ever love. Suddenly, I had the kind of story writers can only dream about dumped in my lap with a great big fat bow tied around it.

kate's first soloI decided I needed help in shaping the story, so I joined…

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Love this story.

thespinstersclub

kate lee

I met the woman who would change my life through an ebay auction.   She died in 2002, one of a handful of remarkable women who accomplished great things for our nation during World War Two, yet who have been largely overlooked by our country for reasons I still have yet to understand.

jackie cochranThe Women’s Air Service Pilots were formed in 1942 by renowned aviatrix Jacqueline Cochran, who lobbied General Hap Arnold to allow women to train as ferry pilots in order to release male pilots serving in the United States for combat duty overseas. Of the over 25,000 women who applied to the program, less than 1100 women eventually earned their wings.

Despite the overwhelming success of the program it was abruptly deactivated in 1944 to make room for male civilian pilots who hoped to avoid the draft.  Little was known about the WASP until 1977 when they were…

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Screenwriting 101 Or Why Writing a Screenplay is Much Harder Than It Looks.

20140321_142244I am beginning to think I may be the luckiest girl on the planet.  Things just seem to work out for me, even when it seems like I am standing in the bottom of a well, and the longest rope anyone can find to throw down to me is still three feet too short and a typhoon has just leveled the hardware store.

Fifteen years ago, when my art career was skyrocketing, and I was at a major crossroads in my personal  life, I was in Delray Beach, Florida looking for someplace to eat after supervising the final details for my one woman show at a popular art gallery. I was there alone, my sixteen year relationship in ruins, still reeling from the discovery that the man who raised me was not my biological father,  and with parents who said I’d known about him since I was six and had just “forgotten” about him.   I passed a restaurant with a handful of people in it, when something in me made me turn and go inside.  I sat at a table next to a pair of delectable men who turned out to be friends celebrating a mutual decision to relocate on opposite sides of the country. Richard had just moved to Palm Springs and Mark had just moved to Palm Beach.

20140226_114511My biological father lived in Mentone, California, so I had just decided to move to Palm Springs myself.  Richard and I exchanged phone numbers and the next day, I called my friend Daniel to give him the good news.  What I didn’t know, is that Daniel had only recently realized he needed a change in his life as well,  and was moving from Santa Fe to Palm Springs himself.  A few weeks later, I found an ad online for a house in Palm Springs, and called the landlord.   Since I was the first to call about the house, Jon agreed to hold it for me until I could find someone to look at it for me.  Richard was the only person I knew who lived nearby, so I called this complete stranger and not only asked him to look at the house for me, when he called back and told me it was perfect, but Jon needed a $1000 deposit, I got a blank cashiers check for the requested amount and mailed it off to him.  Richard delivered the check to Jon and took it upon himself to make sure that the house had new paint, new carpet and new kitchen and bathroom tile.

20140321_142853A month later I showed up at the house for the first time with some friends who agreed to help me move in.  The house, while far from posh, was huge.  Four bedrooms, (one with a fireplace), three bathrooms (one with an oversized tub for nice long soaks in the winter), a fenced yard, a pool with a waterfall and a garage.  I had room for a studio, a guest room, an office, and a library, which I filled with remarkable finds from dozens of thrift stores, and when I wasn’t getting ready for an art show, I was  “taking the waters” at the Spa Hotel and Casino, or driving backroads to Idyllwild to buy myself lunch and take a walk through town, or combing through  bookshelves at a second hand store in Joshua Tree.  I had a wonderful life, with great friends, and a successful career.  But when my father died in a car accident, I decided it was time to see what else was out there.  To “shake things up a bit”.   So I sold everything I didn’t absolutely need, packed up, and headed East.Denise & Red

I hadn’t been to Palm Springs in years, and this weekend, I am housesitting for Daniel, who is off to London and Paris with his boyfriend, Kenny.  Being here reminds me of so many things, not the least among them the sleek red dog I got as a pup, who hated the swimming pool, ate a hole in the carpet, and loved his girlfriend, Katie in equal measure.  It floods me with the memories of meeting my friend Tom Tyler (who was an extra in SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON), and dinner parties at Colin Webster Watson’s (a sculptor from New Zealand who had everyone from former Broadway stars to a couple who wrote for DYNASTY as his guests), of working for photographer, Michael Childers and  film director, John Schlesinger, meeting David Hockney, and Stephanie Powers, and Franco Zefferelli, and Steve Zaillian, and Michel LeGrand (who still owes me for the bowtie I bought him before the Palm Springs Film Festival!).  The six years I spent here were among the best years of my life, and being here this weekend reminds me of the people and places I loved, but it reminds me as well that I am making new memories, and reconnecting with old friends, that everything (and nothing) has changed, that the stars have lined up to give me a second chance at seeing the dream I’ve had of “making it” in Hollywood played out one way or the other.

20140312_143050I used to drive through Palm Springs in early April, when the weather was perfect, and the sky was so blue it hurt your eyes, and declare to the universe that I was “the richest woman in the world”. And you know what?  Despite how hard the last few years have been, being here again reminds me that I still am.  I have the support of a wonderful man, generous friends, and the memories of how things used to be as the inspiration I need to make the most of this opportunity.  I am writing my heart out, and learning things about screenwriting I only thought I knew.

But that shouldn’t surprise me.

After all, I am the luckiest girl in the world.

oprahbagI suppose most people would say I am too ambitious for my own good, but I think life goes by too quickly to waste time thinking about what I want to do.  I have a short list of regrets and I’d like to keep it that way. When I am faced with an opportunity, or something that looks like an opportunity, I ask myself “is this something you might even remotely regret not having done some day?”  I didn’t go to Japan as a foreign exchange student when I was in college and to this day I still wish I had,  and despite having been told a million times that some of the things I want are out of reach, I never persist in thinking, if Dale Chihuly can reinvent glass art or Erin Brockovich can have a movie made about her life, then I can, and should, go after what I want.  I honestly believe you never know unless you try, and you don’t know what the answer will be unless you ask.  After all, I only get this life to go after my dreams.  I might as well make the most of it, even if the word “no” becomes an essential part of the journey.

WASPA few months ago I applied for a screenwriting scholarship at the New York Film Academy.  I applied on a lark, since the screenplay I wrote about the Women’s Air Service Pilots never got any farther than placing in the top twenty percent with the Nicholls Fellowships (which are offered by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences).  That’s a significant accomplishment considering the fact that they had over 5000 entries, but when I got my “thanks but no thanks” email from The Write Room competition designed to promote the works of women writers, with female themed topics, I was beginning to wonder if the dream I have been chasing since I was 24 was even worth pursuing.  I love movies, but I struggled mightily with writing when I was younger.  Every word I wrote was painful, and even though I understood story structure, character development and theme intellectually, I could never seem to marry what I felt with what I knew into a screenplay that was worth a hill of beans.

The original draft of LUCKY 13 was completed in 1992, but it wasn’t until this past winter that I felt I actually knew how to write it.   The idea is as fantastic as the women who  trained at the only all female airbase in American history, and who went on to fly military aircraft in World War Two. After completing it  I was told repeatedly that it would never be made because of the predominantly female cast. Statistics on women in Hollywood both behind and in the front of the camera bear this sad fact out, but since I am never one to give up without a fight when I believe deeply in something, I decided to submit a story for a screenwriting scholarship through The Writers Store just a few days before the competition closed.  The scholarship offer was predicated on the idea that contestants would submit a story idea to be developed into a screenplay if they were chosen to participate.  The original offer was six scholarships (later increased to eight) and out of over three hundred submissions, I was selected along with seven other writers for an eight week screenwriting intensive.

Bessie StringfieldThe story I chose to submit was about Bessie Stringfield, the first African American woman to be inducted into the Motorcycle Hall of Fame.  Bessie was a Jamaican orphan adopted by a wealthy Irish woman in Boston in the 1920’s.  Bessie’s adoptive mother gave her everything she ever wanted, so when Bessie laid eyes on her first motorcycle, her mother bought the bike for her and the stage was set for a long and remarkable life as a motorcycle stunt rider, World War Two motorcycle dispatch courier, and long distance rider with eight cross country trips and three overseas trips to her credit.

20140210_162354I have also decided to turn LUCKY 13 into a TV series and hope to pitch it to some  old friends who still work in the film industry while I am in Los Angeles.  In the meantime, I am also hard at work on a collaboration with James Mellozzo, a highly respected guitar maker who sent me a telecaster, and a stratocaster, to turn into art pieces for the New York Guitar Show and Exposition in April.   The first guitar is close to completion, while the second will feature a pack of timber wolves on the front and  back of the guitar.

The Handbag A Day calendar helped bring my work to the attention of the Tassen Museum in Amsterdam, which boasts the largest collection of handbags and purses in the world.   Considering the fact that the Handbag A Day features over  a hundred of the Museum’s best bags, I am over the moon to be included in such a prestigious collection.  handbag calendar

I have no idea if any of the opportunities I have been blessed with in recent months will lead to the career or life I ever envisioned for myself, but I do know that once I’ve had the chance to take advantage of this screenwriting scholarship, my dreams of writing a really good screenplay will have come full circle, and whether THE MOTORCYCLE QUEEN OF MIAMI ever gets made, or LUCKY 13 winds up on a shelf, or I find myself on stage at the Kodak Theatre with an Oscar clutched to my breast, at least I will know that I gave it my all.

I used to be quite the guerilla marketer in the days before the internet and social media.  After selling a gourd for $20,000 several years ago, I approached anyone and everyone I could think of to carry a story on the sale.  I sent press releases to every newspaper and magazine under the sun, and press kits to everyone from Katie Couric to the Carol Duvall Show.  I discovered, days after it had been published, that the Wall Street Journal ran a small (and admittedly snarky) article on the sale, and several months after that, I received a letter from Carol Duvall, informing me that she wanted to do a segment on my work.  I was thrilled of course, but when her production team called to ask if they could interview me in July, in Palm Springs, for their fall season, I wasn’t quite as over the moon.

It’s 108 to 118 degrees in Palm Springs in the summer, but of course, I said yes.  I had to make four or five gourds in various stages of completion to make it look like I had created the work they focused on in one afternoon, and when the team finally showed up at my house, their equipment kept blowing the circuit breaker, so I had to turn off the air conditioning then act like it was as cool as a summer breeze on the Oregon coastline the rest of the day.  After all was said and done however, I think the production team did an outstanding job.

A few weeks ago, I started work on one of the first new gourds I have done in years.  I decided to photograph each stage of the process, then edited it to show how much work goes into creating a single piece of artwork.  I hope you enjoy the short video I did on it.

I was struck by a quote I ran across from David Hockney a few weeks ago, and I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind because, for the first time in my life, someone was finally able to put words to the powerful and unquenchable thirst that motivates and drives my soul, a drive that, as time goes on, is becoming even more pronounced.David-Hockney-painting-Th-005

“I think I’m greedy, but I’m not greedy for money – I think that can be a burden – I’m greedy for an exciting life. I want it to be exciting all the time, and I get it, actually. On the other hand, I can find excitement, I admit, in raindrops falling on a puddle and a lot of people wouldn’t. I intend to have it exciting until the day I fall over.”

At 76 years old,  Hockney  has a show at the de Young Museum in San Francisco entitled “David Hockney: A Bigger Exhibition” that features 398 master works, most of which was produced in the last decade alone.   “This is a man who is very active, very energetic, but we are in a period where every day counts, and I sense that with this desire to work all the time. However, the idea of old age and old age style is something that when you look at Hockney’s recent work, you’re sort of dumbfounded, because these look like the work of a very young man: energetic, exuberant, vital, optimistic” says Fine Arts Museum director Colin Bailey, in remarks based on art historian Kenneth Clark’s essay on aging and the arts.

It’s true that David Hockney is filled with the kind of relentless quest to stuff as much life and living into his remaining years as possible, and I know this, because I had the opportunity to spend and afternoon with David Hockney many years ago at a Boxing Day celebration at the home of film director John Schlesinger and his long time partner, Michael Childers.

Mr. Hockney had just completed a documentary after years of study to discern how the great masters produced such incredible detail in their portraiture, and he was eager to talk about his discoveries with anyone who would listen.  I knew David Hockney’s name, of course, and I knew he was famous, but I’d worked in Hollywood for many years and met lots and lots of famous people, not many of whom were kind to a “complete unknown” such as myself.

I think the only other major figure who ever treated me with that sort of respect was the great film producer, Ray Stark, who I met at a Prince concert when I first started working at the William Morris Agency.  I was sitting alone at a huge table waiting for the rest of the agent trainees and assistants I’d come with to return from the bar, when this man came sailing up to me to say hello.  Once he realized he didn’t know who I was, he left for his table, just as my friends all arrived.  One trainee asked how I knew Ray Stark and I said, “would you like to meet him?”  Everyone looked at me like I was nuts, because at this point, a line of influential Hollywood A listers had lined up to pay homage to Mr. Stark.  I got up and walked over to him, and said, “Mr. Stark, would you mind coming over to say hello to my friends?”  He left the A listers standing there while he came over to my table to meet my friends, and while they  were impressed that I “knew” Ray Stark, I was even more impressed that he treated me so kindly once I figured out who he really was.

It was the same with David Hockney.  Shortly after we were introduced, he grabbed a mirror and my elbow and guided me to a wall near a huge floral display and proceeded to explain, at length, how the mirror enabled him to create a precise reverse drawing of the display, and how the great masters used mirrors to capture their subjects in such incredible detail. Later, when my uncle told me he had a rare copy of a book by David Hockney, I sent the book to Mr. Hockney to have him sign it for my uncle, and he did.

When I read his quote about money and an exciting life, I couldn’t get it out of my mind, because that’s exactly how I have felt since I was ten years old.  I have wanted more money than I have ever had, because I have  wanted the kinds of huge adventures I thought being wealthy would afford, but I am old enough now to realize two things;  I am on the “other side” of the years I have left to cram as much living as I possibly can into a single day (and I do), and that not having the kind of money I have always wanted to go on a safari (for example) or stay in a five star hotel just because I could, or to make the dreams of people I run across every day of my life who have far less than I do come true, because I have the money to do it (which is as much a part of the adventure as sky diving or weeks spent on the Orient Express) is one of the reasons I have had the adventures I have had in the first place.

I have had to get very creative about how I live my life because I don’t have a lot of money, and paying attention to things like the bright flash of red I saw in my yard yesterday as a male cardinal darted past, or waiting at the corner of 81st and Central Park West in the freezing cold for the Macy’s Parade to start, is all part of the wonderful adventure of my own remarkable life.

I will never stop striving, never stop reaching for the stars, never stop challenging myself to drink in every moment I possibly can, even when I complain that I don’t have enough or the things that I want aren’t happening fast enough to suit me, but I have come to embrace the fact that my incredible impatience to stuff as much as I can into a day is all part of my charm.  I don’t have forever and there is still so much to be done.  The time to live, is now…..

For more information on the David Hockney exhibit, which is in San Francisco through January 20 at the de Young Museum click this link.

Now get out there and play…..

street1It’s next to impossible to explain the experience of participating in one of the most famous parades on the planet, especially when it is the culmination of a bucket list experience crossed with a childhood fantasy.

Before leaving for New York, I watched the Wizard of Oz and Miracle on 34th Street like a prize fighter preparing for a championship match, but nothing could compare with the moment I found myself standing on the corner of 81st and Central Park West watching Cirque Du Soleil performers practice their routine on a gorgeous pirate ship while beautiful girls dressed in dark purple coats swirled on motorized umbrellas in the street to pass the time, and grown men with scruffy beards dressed as fairies waited with people dressed as Vikings, firemen, Keystone Cops and clowns for the parade to start.

waiting

The morning began early outside the New Yorker Hotel.  We got up at 3:45 and drove into the city from my friend, Kim Hendrickson’s house in Pearl River.  It was an easy forty five minute drive, and we were in line by 5:30 Thursday morning.  Long lines of balloon handlers and character volunteers waited on either side of the hotel to be admitted to the costume staging area on the fourth floor of the hotel. This year they divided the balloon handlers into groups according to which street your balloon was on, and when it would enter the parade line. Since we were the fifteenth balloon we waited until almost seven o’clock to get into our overalls and head for the buses that would take us to the Natural History Museum, where the giant balloons are located.

buses

Part of the fun of the parade are all the behind the scenes moments we get to experience as part of this remarkable adventure.  Adults dressed as seahorses or bacon and eggs mingle with people dressed as cue balls, members of a marching band, clowns, elves and characters from books, like the ones from “The Wind in the Willows”  burst from the side doors of the hotel into the early morning light, while someone yells “All the boxes, this way” from the crosswalk where girls dressed as wrapped presents wait to be ferried to the parade line.

seahorse

street

the gang

michaelandfairy

Once we arrived at the flight line, an entirely different scene unfolds.  The last time we did the parade, very few floats were lined up on Central Park West, but instead, were waiting on side streets to feed into the parade at designated intervals.  The crowd of spectators started at 81st and Central Park West, and acts would feed onto the street in a staggered formation; a band would start down the street, then a float would  come in behind them, and a giant balloon behind the float, like an assembly line.  This year, the floats commanded Central Park West from 81st to uptown,  all the bands lined one side of the sidewalk in the order they would feed into the parade at the starting line, and all the character acts (like the clowns) lined the opposite side of the street, so standing on the corner of 81st and Central Park West, I could see the visual chaos of the event in all its glorious color and motion, and because I was part of the parade, I had the freedom to wander among the floats and balloons while barricades restrained the crowds of people who gathered to witness the spectacle for themselves.

cirque kimandmewizThe balloons are kept under nets until an hour before the parade starts.  We all crawled under the nets to find a “dog bone” which is wrapped with rope and attaches to the balloon to make it possible to maneuver and control it.  I made a mad dash for the front of the balloon, only to find all the dog bones had been claimed.  The parade consistently overbooks volunteers to ensure there are enough handlers and character acts, since people drop out for all sorts of reasons.  The weather was so questionable up until the very last minute that one newspaper reported that the giant balloons had been grounded.  We received an email from parade officials a few hours later ensuring us that the decision to ground or not would come the morning of the parade, and implored us to all show up, so there were plenty of additional balloon handlers to help manage the basket the wizard was in thanks to occasional wind gusts.  Kim and I wound up in the front row of the balloon, and traded the dog bone back and forth along the parade route, which allowed me to actually LOOK at the parade this time.

There is absolutely nothing like stepping out onto the street the first time, and seeing crowds of people, sometimes twenty deep, on either side of the street, and then, looking up and seeing people in office buildings, apartments and hotels, gathered at the window, or on the balcony or roof, watching the parade, while hundreds of police officers and what seems like an equal number of people wearing press badges stick giant cameras in your face, while people yell “Happy Thanksgiving” enthusiastically from the sidelines.  Up ahead I could see the high school band that Macy’s outfitted with munchkin costumes playing their hearts out along the parade route, and in front of them, a float carrying the Goo Goo Dolls.  Because our balloon was celebrating the 75th anniversary of the release of The Wizard of Oz, we were accompanied by a woman dressed as Dorothy (she looked more like Little Red Riding Hood for most of the parade, since she was wearing a red cape to keep warm) and four characters with giant balloon heads who were led down the street by young women dressed as characters from the Emerald City.  The Cowardly Lion’s head slowly started to deflate, and the Witch got so far behind us that she was loaded onto a golf cart and whisked away.  The Tin Man gave up the ghost at one point and had to be driven to the “Parade Quiet Zone” where each balloon or float waits until they are called before the cameras for their 30 seconds of glory.  The Cowardly Lion’s balloon head was filled with helium again just before it was our turn to be on camera, and out of nowhere, someone got Dorothy’s cape and gave her a dog who looked like Toto.  We passed the cameras on cue, only to discover that Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthry were sitting with their backs to us so the cameras could show us passing behind them.

withthewizardWhat most people don’t know is that the parade ends the minute we pass the cameras.  Macy’s officials and police officers wait at the end of the street to direct us to our respective finish lines, so bands go down one street, floats go down several others, and all the giant balloons all march to a giant red net laid out on the road where we help deflate them and put them in a storage bin.theend

The trouble is, the helium release vents on the Wizard of Oz balloon are on TOP of the balloon, instead of being strategically placed on the underside of the balloon the way Spiderman and Pokeman are.

deflatingspidermanThe balloon handlers for How to Train Your Dragon, Spiderman, Pokemon AND the Macy’s Star, all had their balloons deflated before we figured out we needed to roll our balloon down to reach the vents.  Once the balloons are completely deflated, they are rolled up, and placed in a large laundry style cart.  The floats are dismantled and loaded onto flatbed trucks, and back at the hotel, costumes like the ones worn by the Tin Man and the Wicked Witch have been loaded into large carts, sealed, labeled and stacked into moving vans.

withmichaelI can’t imagine ever getting tired of being part of the parade.  It’s such an amazing experience that I hope I will still be doing it when I am 90.  And I suspect I will feel like a six year old every time I do….

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