Archive for December, 2009


December 23, 2009



  “It’s a mouthwash for the brain!”  That’s probably the best way I’ve heard those New Year’s Day polar bear swims summed up.  After all plunging your body into the frigid waters of a lake or ocean isn’t exactly the sanest thing you would ever want to do, which is probably why I do it.


   Yes my name is John and for many years I’m a Polar Bear.  Don’t get me wrong, a great outdoorsman I’m not.  I enjoy skiing but I do it with enough layers of clothes to see an Eskimo family of four through the harshest of winters.


   So why would someone who gets cold stepping out of the shower choose to do this?  The rush, the experience, the feeling you get when it’s over!


   I was actually conned into doing this a number of years back when I worked in Atlantic City.  I agreed to cover a story on the local Polar Bear Club but I wasn’t sure whether or not I would actually go in.


   Oh I had all the common concerns, won’t you be cold, won’t you get sick, WON”T YOU DIE?  I was assured by the president of the club that no one has ever so much as caught a cold let alone went belly up.


   Even still I was leery as I headed for the beach that New Year’s Day.  I had my towel strategically positioned by the waters edge so that not a second of drying time would be wasted.  This brought a good laugh to the experienced polar bears.  They assured me that I would not only not need a towel when I got out but I would actually feel warm.  After questioning their sobriety I gave them the benefit of the doubt.


   As I stood nice and toasty all bundled up on the beach beforehand it dawned on me that the key was not to be warm but to be cold.  I had a flashback to my youth (they say that’s common before near death experiences) and the days when we would play in the snow for hours.  We’d be soaked but we wouldn’t feel it because we were already so cold.

my feet
my freezing feet

     As I stripped down to my bathing suit the wind chill was in the teens and the water temperature was 41.   On a count of three we went.  I ran in as fast as I could to lessen the shock (subscribing to the theory that a band-aid ripped off hurts less than the one removed slowly.) It didn’t work.


   After about twenty strokes the pain became too much and I quickly turned around for shore.  As I got out and made my pre-planned mad dash for my towel it quickly dawned on me those polar bear veterans were right, I wasn’t cold and much to my surprise I didn’t need my towel


   Your body, reacting to the fact that you just tried to turn it into one of Mrs. Paul’s newest entrees, is kicking out so much heat and adrenaline that you actually feel, well, warm.  It’s like a reverse sauna effect.  


   For six New Years Days in a row I did the Polar Bear Swim in Atlantic City, I also did one in Lake Erie. 

   The coldest temperature wise was Atlantic City in ’98, when the temperature was 4 degrees when I left my home in the Poconos.  Believe it or not the worst was 2003 when I jumped into Lake Erie, that’s because there was a rain – snow mix falling and the wind was blowing hard in off the Lake.  I got to my car afterwards and could not open the door with my keys because my fingers couldn’t move. (I still don’t think I’m warm from that one.)


   Many folks come back each New Year’s Day; others do it only once just to say they did it.   One thing’s for certain though, while your memories of the other 364 days in a year may one day fade, this is one day you’ll never forget.


Here’s the story I did on my very first swim in Atlantic City January 1, 1993.





“LET IT SNOW” Remembering Sammy Cahn

December 15, 2009
Sammy Cahn & Me three months before his death in October 1991

Sammy Cahn & me in October of 1992

At one point or another over the holidays you will undoubtedly hear the holiday tune “Let It Snow.”  The classic that rose to #1 on the Billboard charts in 1946 was written by the legendary Sammy Cahn.

Cahn wrote more of Frank Sinatra’s hits than any other songwriter with Sinatra recording 89 of Cahn’s songs.   Among his hits are “Love & Marriage,”  “All the Way,” “High Hopes,” “Come Fly with Me,” “Three Coins In A Fountain,” “My Kind of Town” and countless (and I mean countless) others.

As I heard “Let it Snow” recently I got to thinking about Sammy Cahn who died in January of 1993.  Three months before his death I was working in Atlantic City  covering the opening of a local chapter of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors & Publishers).

Burt Bacharach was there for the news conference and so were many other noted song writers.  I did my interviews and then went into the reception that followed.   It was there I spotted an older gentleman sitting alone at a table.  I thought to myself “is it him? No, they didn’t introduce him earlier so it couldn’t be. What the heck I’ll ask.”

So I went up to him and said “excuse me sir are you Sammy Cahn?”   His face lit up at the fact some 20-something reporter knew who he was.  I said can I grab a word with you? He said have a seat.

We were wrapping up our interview when I said to him that I recalled hearing a story behind “Three Coins” which won Cahn his first Academy Award in 1954.  With full showmanship a light went on, his smile widens and he says to me “We were doing a picture called Pink Tights, with Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe and Dan Dailey. We wrote one of the best scores we ever wrote,” recalled Cahn.  But it was music that would never be heard.

“When the picture’s about to start Miss Monroe runs off to Japan with some baseball player called Joe DiMaggio leaving us all there without anything,” said Cahn.  It’s a break that wouldn’t last for long.

“One day we’re hanging around and the door opens and the producer walks in and says ‘Can you fellows write me a song called three coins in a fountain?’” Cahn’s answer showed he was more than up to the challenge. “I looked at him and I said I can write you a song called “Eh.”

Cahn asked the obvious questions, “I said can we see the picture? He says you can’t see the picture it’s all over the lot.  I said can we read the script? The scripts in Italy,” the producer responded.   “Would you mind telling me what this picture’s about?” Cahn asked.  “Three girls go to Rome, they throw coins in a fountain and they hope they fall in love.”   And with that the producer left.

“Well we had a title, a pretty good clue,” said Cahn.  “I went to the typewriter and I typed three coins in a fountain, each one seeking happiness, thrown by three hopeful lovers, which one will the fountain bless.”

While the words came easy enough to Cahn, he knew that was only half the job.  “I gave the lyrics to composer Jules Styne.  Now you could spend a hundred years figuring out notes to these words,” he said.  But it would take Styne only about twenty minutes.

“We wrote that song in about an hour.  It went on to become one of the biggest hits in history and I never saw the fountain, never saw the picture,” he said proudly.

Well they had a song but now they needed a record. They first asked Cahn himself to sing it but since Frank Sinatra wasn’t doing anything, with their film on hold, Cahn turned to his old buddy and asked him.

“I said would you do it? He said sure,” said Cahn.  “So he came the next day and Jules Styne taught him the song and it became the theme for the film.”

The song would go on to become a big hit for Sinatra and The Four Aces, it would also win Cahn the first of his four Academy Awards.

On January 15, 1993, just about three months after we spoke Sammy Cahn died at his home in Los Angeles at the age of  79.  He was a one of a kind figure who brought joy to millions around the world through his songs and his words.  Cahn’s final words are the four he left to be inscribed on his gravestone…

“Sleep with a smile.”

This is the clip I ran on the news the night Sammy died with part of that interview.

Christmas Song Worth Catching; “O Holy Night”

December 1, 2009


Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip was a short lived TV show that followed the behind the scenes going ons of a fictional Saturday Night Live type show.

After Hurricane Katrina they featured a group of New Orleans musicians playing a classic that has quickly become my favorite.

If you like Jazz you’ll like the “City of New Orleans” ensemble and one of the most moving renditions of “O Holy Night” you’ll ever hear.