Remembering The Rat Pack

By Lucie M. Winborne,
ReMIND Magazine

 Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin Peter Lawford, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Dean Martin They sipped Scotch on the rocks and smoked with panache. Wore tuxedos and mohair suits. Made movies and spoke their own brand of slang. Chased women (or, as Joey Bishop said, had to chase them away!). Sold out shows at the Sands in Vegas, where audiences lined up for hours for a seat.

They were talented, they were hip, and, for a brief but golden period, they were the coolest of the cool.

They were the Rat Pack.

Five names are familiar today: Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Dean Martin and Joey Bishop, but their “founder” was actually Humphrey Bogart, who dubbed a group of his drinking buddies the “Holmby Hills Rat Pack” in the ’50s. Another story has it that Bogie’s wife, Lauren Bacall, upon witnessing the aftermath of her husband’s and pals’ carousing, told them they looked like “a pack of rats.” Whatever its origin, the name stuck, although Sinatra wasn’t too fond of it and referred to the group as “The Summit” or “The Clan.” Other original members included David Niven, Katharine Hepburn and Judy Garland.

After Bogart’s death in 1957, Sinatra became the group’s leader (“It’s Frank’s world; we just live in it,” Martin famously quipped), and in the early ’60s he and the boys charmed audiences at the Sands with their irreverent jokes, impressions and, of course, songs. They also made three films: Ocean’s 11, Sergeants 3 and Robin and the 7 Hoods. Noted Sinatra of these efforts: “Of course they’re not great movies! But we are not setting out to make Hamlet or Gone With the Wind. We are out to make films the people enjoy. It’s called entertainment.”

The group didn’t confine themselves solely to entertainment, though. In 1960 they publicly supported John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign, donating publicity, photo ops and even a new version of “High Hopes” from Sinatra that Kennedy would take as his campaign song. That summer, Sinatra, Lawford, Davis and pack “mascot” Shirley MacLaine sang the national anthem at the opening of the Democratic National Convention, forging a link between politics and celebrities that continues to this day.

Those seemingly carefree times couldn’t last forever, of course. Relations between Kennedy and Sinatra cooled, then Frank’s friendship with Peter Lawford soured as well. After just a few years, the heyday of the Rat Pack was over.

In 1988 Sinatra, Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. tried to rekindle the old magic with a “Together Again” tour that Sinatra felt would be good for Martin, who had not performed for several years, but Dean was forced to drop out due to illness after just a few shows, and Sammy was diagnosed with throat cancer the following year. In 2007, Joey Bishop, the last surviving member, passed away.

By present politically correct standards, the Rat Pack might seem hopelessly outdated, but “The Rat Pack & Friends” tribute shows, featuring member impersonators and a big band, still delight fans around the globe. For a memorable 90 minutes, old-style Vegas cool lives again.

Parent University offers workshops in Jackson

JACKSON – Parents who want to learn how to assist their children with an increasingly digital school workload will soon be able to attend workshops that will help them do just that.

The workshops will be sponsored by the Jackson School District.

Between January and April 2016, the district will host a series of workshops titled Parent University: Breakthroughs in Learning as a way to help parents and guardians become more acquainted with modern learning methods.

“We want to address some of the frustrations our parents may be having in trying to communicate with their child, especially when trying to help them with their schoolwork,” Jackson School District Title I Coordinator Lisa Koch said. “Even the best parent in the world can benefit from learning new ways to work with their child to get the best results, in both academics and behavior.”

According to district administrators, each workshop will consist of four sessions to be held in various schools. Each session will be open to parents with students in any grade level.

To accommodate parents’ schedules, Koch said workshops will be held during the day, on evenings and on weekends. Free child care will be provided.

Each session will be presented by author Sharon McCarthy, whose work focuses on parenting and its role in supporting child growth and development.

Koch said a light meal will be provided at each session to give attendees a “casual atmosphere,” as well as an opportunity to discuss challenges and experiences with their children and the digital age.

“This is not sitting and listening to someone talk to you about what you should be doing. These are fun, interactive and handson workshops designed to help parents develop better ways to reach their children and other approaches they may not have tried to help keep children organized, focused and inspired to learn,” Koch said.

Funding for the Parent University workshops was secured through the federal Department of Education’s Title I grant program, which aims to provide “local educational agencies and schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families help to ensure all children meet challenging state academic standards.”

Ultimately, Koch said, administrators hope parents from all walks of life will be able to better understand how pupils are receiving their education, while learning valuable skills of their own.

“The whole theme of Parent University is that learning never stops, this applies to parents, too,” Koch said. “We want to help our parents understand what is going on inside our schools and we want to help them so they can be better equipped to help their children.”

For information on dates and how to register, visit tinyurl.com/ouq9lya

Did you know …

 Eva Longoria Eva Longoria NBC will premiere its new half-hour comedy series “Telenovela” on Monday, Jan. 4, at 8:30 p.m.

Eva Longoria (“Desperate Housewives”) stars in this big, fun and flashy comedy as Ana Sofia, the star of a popular Spanish language soap opera. One problem, she doesn’t speak any Spanish.

Other problems: Ana must manage a new boss, jealous castmates and high-maintenance friends — and that’s all before her ex-husband is hired as her new on-screen love interest. Just like a real telenovela, this comedy is full of all kinds of drama. The cast includes Jencarlos Canela, Diana Maria Riva, Jose Moreno Brooks, Alex Meneses, Amaury Nolasco. Jadyn Douglas, and Izzy Diaz.

“Christmas with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Featuring Santino Fontana and the Sesame Street Muppets” will air Monday, Dec. 21, at 9 p.m. on PBS (check your local listings). This holiday extravaganza includes a rendition of the classic carol from Sesame Street, “Keep Christmas with You,” “Sing a Christmas Carol” from Scrooge and much more.

Brighten up the holidays with “The Andy Griffith Show Christmas Special,” airing on CBS Friday, Dec. 25, from 8 to 9 p.m.. Featured are two newly colorized episodes of the classic TV series. truTV will premiere its new half-hour comedy series “Almost Genius” on Tuesday, Dec. 29, at 10 p.m. This self-contained comedy celebrates the people, places and things that try so hard to succeed but come up just a bit short.

Hosted by April Richardson and Chris Fairbanks, the show features comedians and performers digitally inserted into viral videos to comment on and congratulate people for their bravery and ingenuity in snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.

Sons return home bearing gifts – loads of laundry

ARE WE THERE YET

Lori Clinch

Ah, it’s Christmas time. The smell is in the air, the music fills our ears and the lights dazzle us with gleaming beauty. Bounties fill the carts, love fills our hearts and if you do it right, quickly from the supercenter, you shall soon depart.

Our little Charlie, who isn’t so little anymore, begins counting down the days to Christmas on or around the first day of spring. For him, it’s not about the presents or the material things, it’s family and joy that makes it the reason for the season.

Just so long as he doesn’t get a lump of coal, Charlie loves every Christmas minute. At church last Sunday, Charlie looked at me as the congregants lit the third Advent candle and said with the same wild-eyed amazement he has had since he was little, “It’s Christmas.”

And it is.

As Charlie marvels at the lights and the joy the season brings, my mind races. I have to purchase this, wrap that, and heaven help me, will I ruin the Christmas brisket for the third time in as many years?

This weekend our three older boys will be returning from their campus homes for Christmas break. Their presence will bring a smile to my heart, joy to my ears and (as I take in their bounty of dirty laundry) it will take my breath away.

I’m so grateful. Yet, I still shake in my snow boots because I know what’s coming. It will be big, it will be smelly and reminiscent of Vernon’s first Christmas break from his college home back in 2007.

Sadly enough, I wasn’t aware at the time that when children come back home, they bring upwards of 18 loads of soiled laundry with them. Is it just me, or do you think this should have been explained in advance at college orientation?

Quite frankly, I had never seen anything like it. I was in the middle of my fa-la-la-laing, when I heard a beeping noise in front of the house and thought that perhaps a semi truck had mistakenly taken our front porch for a loading dock.

I ran out the door just in time to see our illustrious Vernon standing on the lawn holding two glow sticks in the air as he helped a buddy navigate his rig up to the front door.

Faster than you can say, “Shout it out!” three young men hopped out of the vehicle, loaded large black bags of soiled laundry on their shoulders like jolly old elves and were making their way to the washing machine post-haste.

It was like a bad Christmas movie with sinister Santas.

“For the love of mistletoe, Vernon!” I screamed as I trailed behind. “What are you doing?”

“Oh,” he said as he turned to greet me with his award-winning smile. “Merry Christmas, Mo-there.” It was then that I noticed he was dressed in his Sunday best and looked as if he were running for Congress.

“Dude,” exclaimed one brother as he changed into in a freshly laundered shirt. “What’s with the suit?”

“Yeah,” said another as he changed his socks. “Are you in a wedding, or attending a Christmas pageant?”

“Nah,” explained Vernon as he pulled his Sunday best off his body and added it to the smelly pile. “These were the only clothes I had that were still clean.”

“Perhaps it was a big misunderstanding on my part,” I said as I clutched an evergreen for strength, “but I could have sworn that university brochure said the dorms had washing machines and matching dryers strategically placed for easy use.”

“Oh, they do,” Vernon said as he pulled off his dress socks. “But I thought I would bring my laundry home anyway.”

Over the years, Vernon’s brothers followed suit. Upon every return from their campus homes, I am gifted with love, hugs and enough dirty laundry to choke a reindeer.

At least they think of me in their absence. They make sure they bring me something and as I ponder their return home this weekend, I know my Christmas stocking won’t be empty because they will be bringing me enough work to make Santa’s workshop look like a day spa.

Quite frankly, I think I would settle for a lump of coal.

Lori Clinch is the mother of four sons and the author of the book “Are We There Yet?” You can reach her by sending an email to loriclinch2010@gmail.com.

Mariah Carey directs and stars with Lacey Chabert in ‘A Christmas Melody’

By Kellie Freeze,

 Lacey Chabert Lacey Chabert Mariah Carey’s music is an integral part of the holiday season, and now the Christmas chanteuse is gifting her talents to Hallmark’s most musical holiday film. The singer/actress is directing her first film, the aptly named A Christmas Melody, premiering Dec. 19 on Hallmark Channel.

The film stars Lacey Chabert as Kristin, a young fashion designer who shutters her big-city boutique and moves back to her hometown with her daughter (singing sensation Fina Strazza, of Broadway’s Matilda) in tow. The duo face a tumultuous adjustment to small-town life, further complicated by Kristin’s highschool nemesis (Carey). But the plucky family braves each challenge with the help of Kristin’s aunt — a local coffee shop owner (Kathy Najimy) — and the hunky local music teacher (Brennan Elliott).

Chabert reveals that one thing she and Carey bonded over was their mutual love of the holiday season. “I never thought anyone could love Christmas as much as I do until I met Mariah Carey,” she says. “She absolutely adores Christmas!” The pair also chatted about their love of holiday tunes, and Chabert admits that she has Carey’s holiday CDs on a near-constant loop.

Chabert also delights in the scenes she shot with her director, where Carey gets to flex her comedy chops as a mean girl. “She was excellent at those scenes,” says Chabert. “I really enjoyed those scenes with her so much, because they are really funny and of course, because it is Hallmark, you know that nothing’s too mean-spirited.” The repartee in the duo’s scenes is the film’s funniest.

The film, part of Hallmark’s “Countdown to Christmas,” has all of the family-friendly trappings we would expect from the network’s popular holiday programming block. And, of course, Carey adds her impeccable taste to the film’s visual design. “She is Miss Christmas,” laughs Chabert. “She has such a great eye for aesthetics and knowing what looks best, and what looks flattering and beautiful. She really wanted to capture the Christmas spirit and I feel like the movie did that. She really is a fantastic director.”

In addition to directing and starring in the festive flick, Carey also lends one of her most charming holiday hits to the film’s soundtrack. Carey isn’t the one singing “Oh Santa!” — but the upbeat and cheerful Christmas tune is pure perfection when sung by young phenom Strazza.

When we spoke, Chabert gushed about her young costar. “She is amazing. Fina is remarkably talented and so smart for her age. I mean … I shouldn’t even say ‘for her age.’ She is so smart in general. Just a wonderfully talented child and it was funny all that we have in common. I was actually on Broadway in Les Misérables at the same exact age. and she has been doing Broadway’s Matilda.” She adds, “I looked at her and she is just so tiny and young and it was hard to imagine myself ever being that tiny and young and handling your responsibility of performing in front of thousands of people live every night. It was just kind of cool to walk down memory lane with her.”

Chabert also shares high praise for her other castmates, saying Najimy “is a doll,” and considering Elliot — with whom she recently costarred in Hallmark’s All of My Heart — “a good friend.” The actress adds, “It is really nice to work with people who you get along with so well.”

The cast’s chemistry is palpable, their talent divine, and with Carey’s attention to directorial detail and discerning eye, this Christmas charmer may enjoy the same longevity as her other holiday classics.

Students in grades 2-12 may enter poster contest

New Jersey’s soil conservation districts are now accepting entries in a poster contest designed to raise awareness of natural resources and related issues among young people. The theme for this year’s poster is “We All Need Trees,” according to a press release.

Students may compete in the following categories: Grades 2-3, Grades 4-6, Grades 7-9 and Grades 10-12. The winner in each category will receive $200. The secondplace finisher in each category will receive $100 and the third-place finisher in each category will receive $50.

The winners will be entered in the National Association of Conservation Districts poster contest.

The competition is sponsored by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture, New Jersey Association of Conservation Districts and the state’s 15 soil conservation districts, which work to conserve and manage soil and water resources in the state, according to the press release.

To find the local soil conservation district, go to the website www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/anr/nrc/conservdistricts. html. All entries must be submitted through the local district.

For more information and the entry form, visit the website www.nj.gov/agriculture/divisions/anr/pdf/conservationpostercontest. pdf

Tom Hardy delivers a master class

In theaters now

Director Brian Helgeland (L.A. Confidential) introduces viewers to the Kray twins in his new film, Legend. The identical twin gangsters, Reggie and Ronnie, were two of the most notorious criminals in British history. Their empire rose in London’s East End during the 1960s and they dominated much of the illegal activity there. Helgeland’s film is a close examination of the twins, both portrayed by Tom Hardy.

Reggie Kray was the quiet but merciless twin — feared and revered at the same time, as many gangsters have been throughout history. He fashioned himself into a club owner, and though that wasn’t his primary source of income, it had a more legitimate ring to it. Frances Shea (Emily Browning) caught his eye and he was willing to do anything for her, though the one thing he could never seem to do was to become a truly legitimate businessman.

Ronnie Kray had been in a mental institution due to his instability. Quick to snap, Ronnie was the less rational of the two, and after his brother had him declared sane — through threats, of course — he worked with Reggie in their rise to dominance.

Despite disagreements between the two, they were brothers so devoted to each other that, to solve matters, each looked past the other’s shortcomings. While Reggie often looked out for Ronnie, Ronnie also had his own way of looking out for Reggie. Together their rise was impressive and, yes, legendary.

Brutal, yet orchestrated like a carefully crafted symphony, Legend tells us a story with visually striking images that are disconcerting but necessary — necessary to relay the otherwise indescribable violence that took place during the Krays’ rise to prominence. Helgeland, in both writing and directing the film, is deeply invested in the portrayal and walks a fine line with Legend’s violence. It’s harsh but not gratuitous.

The real star of this film is Tom Hardy, who portrays both twins; it’s a master class in acting. He transports himself from brother to brother with seeming ease, all the way down to the simple physical mannerisms of each twin. It feels as though he totally embodies each twin for who they are and what they possess. There aren’t many other actors who could be counted on to display this level of nuance in these roles.

This Legend is worth the price of admission just to see Tom Hardy; the rest is a bonus. The film is beautiful yet violent, compassionate yet abusive — all at once.

Legend
Rated: R
Stars: Tom Hardy, Emily Browning,
Taron Egerton
Director: Brian Helgeland
Grade: B

St. Veronica School reaches 50th anniversary milestone

By JENNIFER ORTIZ
Staff Writer

 Sister Cherree Power and pupils at the St. Veronica School, Howell, display the papal blessing the school received from Pope Francis on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.  JENNIFER ORTIZ/STAFF Sister Cherree Power and pupils at the St. Veronica School, Howell, display the papal blessing the school received from Pope Francis on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. JENNIFER ORTIZ/STAFF HOWELL — Sixth-grader Faith Wittstruck was able to easily express her feelings when asked what she likes about attending St. Veronica School, Route 9, Howell.

“I like St. Veronica School because it feels like a second home to me, but also because we are allowed to talk about our faith, which you are not allowed to in other schools,” she said.

St. Veronica School is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. The school enrolls 205 pupils in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

“We are celebrating the changes we made to make our school a better place,” Faith said.

Principal Sister Cherree Power said the changes were made possible by the teachers, parents and wonderful spirit of the children, allowing the school to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

“I have the most wonderful parent-teacher association in the world. I ask for the stars and they give me the moon,” Power said. “But also the kids. This year in particular we had a school near us that closed and we have children who came from that school and we are trying to meld two schools together.

“Holy Family School in Lakewood closed this year and it was hard. The students lost their school, they lost their friends, they lost their teachers, and it was hard coming into a new school,” she said.

Power said the St. Veronica pupils opened their hearts and welcomed the youngsters from Holy Family into their new home.

“We have a very generous group of students. We talk about social justice and they do a lot to help the community in many ways,” the principal said. “Within our diocese we have the Propagation of the Faith where our students raise money for missions and this year we had a Mass in Trenton.

“Representatives from each school went and the bishop was there … and at that Mass we received a plaque because our students have given the most money for the missions. That was a big deal. The money is sent to poor countries to help, so they are very generous,” Power said.

St. Veronica will celebrate its 50th anniversary with events that include a dinner dance and an alumni reunion.

“I like how for 50 years we have fostered reverence, respect and responsibility,” sixth-grader Michael Lamastra said.

Power said is the motto of the school.

The school has received a papal blessing from Pope Francis.

“I am one of the Sisters of the Resurrection and I belong to an international community so our motherhouse is in Rome. I asked one of our sisters to go to the Vatican to request one and she went to get it for us,” Power said.

A typical day at St. Veronica includes prayer when students arrive and prayer at the end of the day.

“Once a month the students go to Mass together and we are so lucky because the church is connected to the school. At other times during the year we will have a special Mass or prayer service,” she said.

Sixth-grader Samantha Jose said she enjoys attending Catholic school and added, “It is just so nice to have Mass every month …”

Sixth grader teacher Carole Howell said a student who exemplifies a certain virtue is selected each month and recognized at the Mass.

Power said the St. Veronica students enjoy being a part of Catholic Schools Week.

“It is a special celebration of who we are as a Catholic school. It is a lot of fun, but it is also a celebration of our Catholic identity, of the fact we are Catholic, and it is something that does set us apart because it is different in a Catholic school,” she said.

Power is in her 24th year as the school’s principal. She taught at St. Veronica from 1980-90 and then left for two years to serve as a principal in New York. She returned to St. Veronica in 1992 as the principal and remains in her post today.

She said the dedication of the teachers, pastors, parish and parents has brought St. Veronica School to this milestone.

“Financially, it is a big strain on the parish and it is a big sacrifice for parents. They live in a town like Howell where the schools are excellent and they are making sacrifices and choosing to send children to our school. They have to pay (for private school) when they are paying hefty taxes as it is. It is the dedication and commitment of parents. Together, we make St. Veronica School a big family,” Power said.

— Contact Jennifer Ortiz at jortiz@gmnews.com

Students open up hearts with donations of books

By ANDREW MARTINS
Staff Writer

 Pupils at the Elms Elementary School, Jackson, pack up more than 1,000 books that were collected and will be shipped to students who attend the Pine Point Elementary School in Ponsford, Minn.  PHOTOS BY STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR Pupils at the Elms Elementary School, Jackson, pack up more than 1,000 books that were collected and will be shipped to students who attend the Pine Point Elementary School in Ponsford, Minn. PHOTOS BY STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER ERIC SUCAR What began as a book club at a Jackson elementary school turned into an effort that collected more than 1,500 books for a school in Minnesota.

A group of about 30 fifth-graders from the Elms Elementary School collected the books as a new student club, “Tiger Paws for a Cause,” got off the ground.

Teacher Donna Donner said the effort took wing after she mentioned that she knew a teacher at the Pine Point Elementary School on a Native American reservation in Ponsford, Minn., who had lamented about a lack of books for her pupils.

Donner said she connected with her fellow educator through a social media group made up of educators from around the country.

“We are so rich in books and our love for books at Elms,” Donner said. “When I mentioned that the school in Minnesota did not have as much as we did, the kids said they could not imagine not having books readily available.”

She said the pupils took the reins from the start. They talked about the book drive during morning announcements and at lunch. They asked their peers to donate books that were no longer needed.

After that, it wasn’t long before books began arriving at Elms.

“The kids started bringing boxes and boxes of books to my room,” Donner said. “Our community completely came together and everybody is so happy to send out the books.”

Principal Michael Burgos said, “This event is a wonderful example of Elms’ commitment and the teachers’ and students’ commitment to giving back to the greater good. This project started as something small … and it gelled into something a lot bigger. It’s about giving back.”

After school on Dec. 2, students, parents and teachers sorted the books by reading level.

Parent Amalia Ulrey said she was proud of the students and more than happy to support the book drive in any way possible.

“The kids are really what made us excited and motivated to get this done,” Ulrey said. “For me, it was an amazing experience to see the kids reach out and think of someone other than themselves.”

A donation from a parent will cover the cost of shipping the books to Minnesota.

Donner has remained in contact with her counterpart at Pine Point, although she has not told her fellow teacher exactly how the book drive at Elms turned out.

“[Pine Point] has no idea this is coming to them. They think they are getting a box of books,” Donner said. “I kind of want to tell her they need to build a bigger shelf.”

Donner said the Elms group has included a special request for the Minnesota school.

“If they become rich in books, we hope they would do the same thing for another school,” the teacher said.

Donner said the students will come up with another charitable cause in January. She said she knows the Elms pupils will leave a legacy at the school.

“This isn’t surprising at all because I just think these kids have never been given the opportunity,” she said. “When you open the door, let them walk through it and give them a little freedom in their thinking … that is how they get things done.”