Total Eclipse of The Star

It’s Los Angeles. 

We cover celebrities. 

We’re used to this.

And so it was. We were in our morning editorial meeting ten years ago when the expected news came.  Farrah Fawcett had died.  Model.  Actress.  Pinup.  This is Los Angeles and this was big.  We did a breaking news alert on the air in Los Angeles and played the Farrah Fawcett obituary we had prepared days earlier knowing she was gravely Ill.

It’s Los Angeles. 

We cover celebrities. 

We’re used to this.

We started our reporters for the day including someone on the Walk Of Fame looking at the legacy of Farrah and her career and that famous red pinup poster.  Farrah got top billing one last time and was the top story.

It’s Los Angeles.  

We cover celebrities.  

We’re used to this.

In the early afternoon, we moved a reporter.  We were looking into a report that Michael Jackson was hospitalized. Nothing surprised us with Michael anymore. Trials. Accusations.  Hair on fire. Literally. It’s Michael.

It’s Los Angeles.  

We cover celebrities.  

We’re used to this.

Then we got the word this was far more serious.  We quickly moved ALL our reporters.  We went into wall to wall coverage on all the Los Angeles stations when we got the word that Michael Jackson had died.  Brother Jermaine Jackson would make the announcement: The King of Pop. Gone. How. We went into crisis coverage.

It’s Los Angeles.  

We cover celebrities.  

We’re used to this.

Until we weren’t.

My childhood came flooding back.  The Thriller album. The fan clubs. All those songs. The soundtrack of so many childhoods. Everyone has their own fan story I’m sure. Breaking news coverage would turn into DAYS of coverage.  From the Jackson family to the fans to the shock around the world.  From LA to Hollywood to Neverland Ranch. Where he died.  When he died.  How he died.  HOW.  And who was to blame.  WHO.

It’s Los Angeles.  

We cover celebrities.  

We’re used to this.

Until we weren’t.

Michael Jackson stole the stage that day. When he said, “This Is It” at the last tour announcement he must have said it with a cosmic assuredness that he would go out with a blaze of coverage the likes of which we’ve never seen. As for all of us in the news business, well we STILL owe Farrah an apology.  History treated her very unkind that day, a star having to share the stage and then get totally eclipsed by it.  She barely got 25 seconds on the evening news.

It’s Los Angeles.  

We cover celebrities.  

We’re used to this.

Until we weren’t.

We mark ten years since Michael Jackson’s death and also that of Farrah Fawcett.  Two legends in their own right.  One Los Angeles news day which will never be forgotten.

 

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My Introduction To BTS

My daughter has been singing the songs of BTS for a couple of years now.  She is one of the army members, the BTS Army, the amazing fanbase known around the world.  In a few short years, the KPOP sensations have found themselves from appearing at KCON in Los Angeles, to selling out shows at the Staples Center, to now filling the biggest outdoor concert venues in the country as they begin a new world tour.

Let me preface this by saying that I was supposed to be at The Rolling Stones next weekend at the Rose Bowl.  But they’ve postponed due to health issues.  So instead of seeing Mick and Keith, I found myself at the Rose Bowl for BTS seeing Jungkook, Jimin, RM, and all the members who make up BTS.  No question, I am of a different era.  This would be a show for my KIDS.  Or would it.

The first thing you notice at this BTS concert is the fact that 65,000 amazing fans are in their seats before the show even starts, singing to every single song, BEFORE the group even took to the stage.  The Rose Bowl is loud.  This was thunderous.  THUNDEROUS.

BTS took the stage and the BTS Army went crazy.  My kids went crazy.  CRAZY.  Light tubes synced to the music as everyone waved their lights in the air.  These guys dominated the stage.  No opening act.  Just them.  Fireworks.  Fun.  I decided to live tweet the show as much as I could on my twitter feed @wilgoren.  WiFi wasn’t great since a million of my newest and closest BTS friends must have had the same idea.

I’d post short video clips.  

Then photos.  

And more short video clips.

I watched the joy on everyone’s faces.  Even with stadium speakers at the Rose Bowl, it was hard to hear the group at times over the crowd who was singing every word to every song.  It was a shared concert experience for sure.

If there are a few words I would use to describe BTS to people who don’t know them, I would say “showmen”.  They put on an amazing show moving around the stage, bouncing up and down from different parts of the stage, at one point even flying over the crowd at the Rose Bowl.  That was very cool.

But “showmen” seems too simplistic.  

These guys who are just entering the height of their careers seem to be MORE.  This was a positive concert vibe that gave everyone a good feeling inside.  Even if you didn’t understand all the words to the songs (and there were many I didn’t understand), this was about how the music and the group made you FEEL.  And the crowd, myself included, was feeling really good.  

In between the songs, music videos played, they put up the tour name “Love Yourself: Speak Yourself”.  And it felt like that really WAS the message.  The group from South Korea has been traveling the world, and building their fanbase army, on a mission of positivity.  

Positivity.

My tweets, pictures, and videos would be shared more than a MILLION times and viewed many more.  People from South Korea, Taiwan, many other countries and across the United States as well.  At the end of the night, I thanked everyone for watching my live tweets.  I got many, many, many thanks in return including this one, “Thank you for the time taking those beautiful moments of the concert tonight and sharing them to the world.”  

And that’s what this really was.  It was a WORLDwide event from the Rose Bowl.  It was a group just hitting the peak of their success.  It was an affirmation for the many BTS Army members that this group is pretty amazing for a lot of reasons, and an introduction for newbies like me, that yes, this group is pretty amazing for a lot of reasons.

BTS addressed the Rose Bowl crowd for quite a long time at the end of the concert.  They called this one of the most important nights of their lives.  No doubt it was.  I had the feeling that I just witnessed something big.  Really big.

 

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The Lizard In Her Sneakers (a cautionary tale)

The middle schooler grabs her sneakers from the front porch and we race to the car— late for school as always— it’s Monday.  We’re driving and stop at a traffic light and as she puts on her first shoe she screams, “Oh my god, DAD!” “Oh my god”.  “DAD.  Lizard.”  OK I’m no expert, but nothing ever good has come out of the phrase “Dad.  LIZARD.” And I proceed to see a lizard jump out of her shoe and ON to the dashboard of the car.  Lizard.  Still at the traffic light and now I’m screaming like a baby.  I open the car door like I’m going to evacuate in the middle of the intersection.  She opens her door.  The lizard proceeds to run right to the crevice between the dashboard.  “Oh heck no.”  “Stop it!!”  “Don’t let the lizard get in there!!”  “We’ll never get it out!!”.  Green light.  Doors still open.  Close door.  Cars beeping.  Now the lizard is half way in the crevice with only its feet and tail sticking out.. the feet wrangling back and forth.  We bank a right turn.  Pull over.  Doors open.  Evacuate.  “Oh no, not you kid”. “Grab paper”. We need to get it out!!”  The lizard clinging on for dear life.. half way between the dashboard and being forever lost on the inside of the car… and sweet freedom two feet away.  Middle schooler gingerly grabs the tail.  Slight tug while I cower nearby.  I use a postcard to try and inch it back on top of the dashboard.  It’s clinging.  Still clinging.  Daughter moves in again and tugs slightly again.. finally.. finally.. the lizard relents.  Then there’s the moment with kid sitting there holding a lizard by the tail in the middle of the car as I yell, “outside the car.  OUTSIDE the car.  OUTSIDE.”  And she finally placed it outside on the grass.  Freedom.  To start a new life several blocks away.  We got back in the car.  She put on her other shoe.  We headed off to school.  Monday.

 

((**hypothetical picture of the lizard))

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Horse #22: The Power of Local News

A 22nd horse died today at the historic Santa Anita Race Track. 22 horses in what has become a disastrous season. But this was different than the rest. This was different because a local news reporter and crew were there and documented it all. Our team from Fox11 LA. The morning didn’t start out that way at all. We had actually set up a story with Santa Anita looking to do a piece on measures taken to keep the horses safe. We were given exclusive access this morning to speak with top trainers, to show the practice runs on the track, to use a go-pro on a jockey to show the perspective of rider and horse in unison on the track.

What happened was much different.  Much. Different.

In the middle of interviewing one of the most famous trainers in the business, the sirens wailed at Santa Anita. Our camera panned to the track. And right in the middle of that interview, right in the middle of the story on what’s being done to keep the horses safe, a horse broke both her front legs. She labored to breathe. She stood still. Other jockeys circled around. Green tarps were brought out to block the scene. The horse was eventually removed from the track. She had to be euthanized. She was number 22. Horse #22. Horse racing has been around for centuries. Like it or hate it, it has been a survivor. Horses have died in races before. Horses have died in practices before. But somehow this was different.

A colleague asked me if perhaps this was the industry’s “Black Fish” moment, referring to the reckoning that Seaworld faced a few years ago. I don’t know. But the difference today is that a local news crew and a local reporter were there today to see and document the entire thing. Despite best efforts to keep the horses safe, another went down.

Within three hours, Santa Anita issued what it called, “An Open Letter About the Future of Thoroughbred Racing.” In that document, track owners called the last weeks beyond heartbreaking and unacceptable and listed the most extensive changes coming to the business of horse racing in decades. Decades. The park itself called this a watershed moment, a seismic shift in how things will be done in the future. I know the trainers love their horses. I know they love this sport. Now comes the change. Horse 20 wasn’t enough to do that. Horse 21 wasn’t enough to do that. It was horse 22 that did that. Horse 22. The horse that a local news crew and reporter were there to see as she took her last steps.

I believe in the power of local news. Sometimes we shed the spotlight on a problem when we never expected to.

Today was one of those days.

A footnote: One day after we aired our footage, the Los Angeles County District Attorney announced her office has assigned investigators to work with the California Horse Racing Board to investigate the deaths

A second footnote: California Rep Judy Chu is now calling for a Congressional hearing into the horse racing deaths at Santa Anita and changes that need to be made across the horse racing industry

Here is a link to our news story.  Caution.  Some video is tough to watch but we felt it was important considering the national spotlight being shed on this issue.

 

https://www.foxla.com/news/394911227-video

 

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Panic! At The Parenthood

I looked over at my daughter and she was beaming. BEAMING. Every song was the greatest song. Every song touched her soul. Every song. And at some point during the concert, at some point it hit me, this was HER band. I was just a visitor.

After years of introducing her to my music: U2, Billy Joel, Coldplay, the Dead and so many more, SHE was introducing Panic! At The Disco to ME. She and 18,000 of her closest friends. I mean, I know the band. I know a bunch of their songs. I loved the concert.

But make no mistake, this band is HERS and I was just visiting.

It might seem minor but it actually hit me in a big way. She is growing into an independent thinker, with independent taste, passionate about what SHE is passionate about. And on one Friday night I was grateful she gave me that glimpse. U2 is my band. Panic is hers. And we can enjoy BOTH.

The passing of the torch occurred somewhere around 10pm when Brendon Urie of Panic At The Disco flew over the arena while playing his piano. It would be a pivotal moment.

 

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Mysteries of the Old Photo Album (part 4) Family Found!

I was speaking with a friend last night and we were talking about what happens to someone’s prized possessions and photos when those people are no longer with us. What’s priceless to one person, worthless to another. Memories fade with time. And so perhaps it was with the old photo album, relegated to a second hand table at a local flea market. I saw it last month and it really bothered me that pictures of Peter and Mary, love letters from the 1940’s, pictures from his time in the Navy, were being picked over for a profit. I went back last week and it was there again. I couldn’t pass it by. They wanted $25 for it. I bargained them to $20 and felt guilty doing it. Someone’s life summed up in the pages of a weathered, old photo album, and I haggled for a better price.

If you’ve been following the stories this week, you’ve heard about Peter and Mary. Tucked inside those pages, the story of a young couple in love. Peter in the Navy. Mary working at home. She’d write him all the time. Letters. Cards. A snap shot of a bygone era. There was a small piece of cloth from Pearl Harbor tucked inside. There was a western union telegram from his birthday. Air mail envelopes with a three cent stamp and the message, “win the war”. Pictures of their young boy.

And so I bought the album and did the only thing I know how to do in this social media era when it comes to finding someone quickly. I wrote a Facebook post, hoped it would go viral, and used the power of the Internet to help me in my search for Peter and Mary’s family.

People shared it. Friends of mine. My reporter friends. First a couple. Then a few dozen. Then a hundred or more. I wrote a second post. And a third. People contacted me from across the country, filling in little pieces of the puzzle. People contacted other folks hoping to find Peter and Mary’s family. I contacted the Navy, Navy historians, and countless wrong numbers. And then, someone contacted ME. “Peter and Mary are my grandparents”.

Family.
Finally.
Found.

“My grandparents were my life.”

And so today I hesitantly dialed her number and we spoke on the phone and I got to hear first-hand– even if briefly– the story of Peter and Mary. She’d never seen this album before, doesn’t know how it ended up in a flea market, and she was grateful that a random person thought enough of the album to retrieve it.

The little boy Peter and Mary spoke about in the album so many decades ago? He was her uncle. He died in Vietnam. It was rough on the family, especially for her grandmother. Their other son (born after this album)– her dad– also fought in Vietnam. He made it home. And recently they too have been looking into their past, tracing their family’s history of service in Vietnam.

I described the album’s rough and worn contents, a treasure trove of family memories. And then I prepared them for transit. Memories from Pearl Harbor to Southern California and beyond, memories of Peter and Mary and the life they made together, now headed via Fed Ex to their next destination, ready for a loving home and a family reunion. As for the next chapter? It’s now her’s to share.

Thanks so much for everyone who helped with the search unraveling the mystery of the old photo album.

Pete Wilgoren
pwilgoren@yahoo.com

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Mysteries of the Old Photo Album (part 3): The Story of the Greeting Cards

To Peter Cherney

A time forgotten is found again. Pete. Can I call you Pete? I know Mary did. I know while she waited for you to come home from the service, she called you Pete. After reading those letters and cards, and looking at those pictures, I feel like I know you more and more. Your service in the Navy. Your love for Mary and your little boy. WHERE did life lead you? WHY did your memories end up on a bargain table at a flea market.

I couldn’t leave them there.

And HOW did people not see the treasures inside. Pictures of you beaming with pride in your Navy uniform. Pictures of Mary. Pictures of your little boy. The letters we’ve spoken about already. Now, the greeting cards. The CARDS tell another story altogether. And if anyone bothered to peel open the cards, or carefully lift them off the weathered pages of the album barely stuck to those little black squares, they would have seen the OTHER messages Mary left to you in those early days of the 1940’s. I found them. A time gone by. YOUR time. Lost. Now Found.

That one card with a checkerboard blue and white faded fabric bow still tied to the side:

“this oughter make you better even if it’s junk”… and inside, this: “a crazy card and what’s it for.. well bet it helps to win the war”

When I carefully peeled the card back from the album, THIS message penned in cursive:

“Dearest Pete, I find I can spare three dollars right now and I know it isn’t much but it might help. You’d better get pen and paper and sit right down and write some letters to me, love Mary”

Then there was that other card saying, “while you recover from your operation”.

and in Mary’s cursive on back:

“Dearest Pete, I thought this card was cute. Hope you like it too. The guys sure teased me a lot today when I went back to work. They said I looked like I had a hard weekend. What do you think? Love Mary

one other card said simply “how ya doin’ sailor?” and inside Mary wrote, “Come on Pete, write a letter!”

There was that one card with little red elephants on it titled “about that letter I owe you”.. and inside the final line of the card “I will write soon, honest” to which Mary added in her own cursive, “I really am ashamed”

And one final one- the funny duck with the soft feather still attached after 75 plus years saying simply “Sick?” and inside Mary wrote, “sending you this card was Pepe’s idea. He picked it out and insisted on my buying it for you. Pepe & Mary”

I wonder what YOUR cards to Mary looked like. And how did you end up in San Francisco anyways. I’ve seen that small piece of fabric tucked into the album stamped “naval hospital, Pearl Harbor”. Did you suffer injuries in Pearl Harbor? Were you being treated for injuries at Ward 6 of the hospital in San Francisco where those letters were air mailed with the three cent stamps?

I’ve written now to media relations with the US Navy. I’ve also written to the Naval Historical Foundation hoping to uncover the missing pieces of your service.

Telephone numbers for relatives?
One was disconnected.
One was now a construction company. One had an answering machine!
Bingo!! I left a message and waited.

The nice man returned my call hours later and said he’d never heard of you.

In all fairness, I hadn’t either, until I picked up an old and worn and forgotten album. Now I can’t forget you.

From California to Indiana, looking to see where we can find your family, Peter Cherney, and reunite them with your history.

Pete Wilgoren
pwilgoren@yahoo.com

 

 

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