Published On: Fri, May 2nd, 2014

Catalogs and old books…

Dear Editor:

One thing for certain, that even in this modern age of E-Mail is that we continue to receive a lot of catalogs by mail. Many years ago it was decided that the public should be afforded the opportunity to order by mail goods that may not be available in the area in which they lived, although, as we know, an unintended consequence was a lot of coal miners got fired, the postal service granted special reduced postage rates to encourage the mail catalog industry and a little known fact is that the postal service takes the information from the change of address request you fill out and makes this available to the catalog people, with the result that you may start receiving catalogs at the new address before you move in.

By the way, bill collectors can purchase the same information, so there is no escape. Since the passing of my wife, my mailbox hasn’t been quite as full with the exception of frequent mailings from Blair & Haband. Now they have begun to proclaim, “We haven’t heard from you lately, this may be the last catalog you receive.” Would that be true. I don’t mind the ones for foods and pastries, but even those don’t come as often as they used to, generally around the holidays. I guess that if I were to file a change of address card for my late wife with her earth bound address as Salinas, Puerto Rico Cemetery, the mailings might stop, but I really wouldn’t be surprised to get a phone call from the Superintendent there complaining of what I had done. My problem would be to explain in my broken Spanish that it was his turn to file a change of address form on her behalf. It didn’t work for me, perhaps it would for him.

At this point, I have to say that there are a couple of catalogs I do look forward to. Of course, anything about motion pictures and my special favorite, books that have been remaindered being offered at low prices before they begin their recycle journey to emerge as material for new books.

The end result is, as one might suspect, not unlike the television series “Hoarders.” I have accumulated more films than I will ever have the chance to see and my stack of books, as yet unread grows higher and higher. Recently I saw a film at Carnegie Hall about book stores that mentioned that we should all have a book at our side, that in the event of our passing, could be noted as our choice in literature, certainly chosen to impress. As you might suspect, I have two at my side, “Das Kapital” in German and “A Secret Life” – let my survivors figure it out.

Just by chance, I saw an autobiography written by a man I had worked with during my movie production career days as Secretary-Treasurer at Norwood Studios, Inc. – Nick Webster, “How to Sleep on a Camel.” This was an obvious title choice for a man who had literally grown up in the motion picture industry. His mother had been employed as a script girl for Metro, Golden, Mayer during the ‘30s and ‘40s, and this gave him free access to the lot and the many sound stages. Over the years he polished his craft, in directing many motion pictures for theaters and TV, such as “Walk In My Shoes” and “Gone Are The Days.” Perhaps his biggest job was the Ford Motor Co. advertising campaign of Ford vehicles making a tour around the world, which suggests to me where he got the title for his book.

My early contact with him was upon his return from India and Pakistan directing films to be used in documentaries. In shipment, the individual rolls of scenes had gotten mixed together in one box and as he explained, “You know that people of India and Pakistan don’t like each other, so I have have to make certain the two groups of film are separated from one another.” By memory, he ran the small scenes through a viewer and sorted them out. I particularly remember that during this time, his mother would call him and he would say, “You talk to her and tell her I’m busy.” I did and she liked to talk.

It became a routine that whenever Nick came into the office, in the day before cell phones, his mother would call and I would put my work aside for what I knew was going to be a lengthy conversation. Now learning of his autobiography, I had the idea that all things considered, I shouldn’t be surprised to find myself mentioned so rather than wait for a mail order, a quick trip to the folks at the “Open Book” to order a copy. Several days later it arrived and I flipped to the index and looked for the “B’s.” My name wasn’t there! There was “Batista,” “The Beatles,” “Bigfoot” and “Eva Braun,” but no “Ballard, Jack.” Gee, fame is fleeting, especially when it is only in your mind. Perhaps not by name but by comment, I looked for the name of the studio “Norwood” – again nothing. That is a lot of time left out of one’s autobiography so not having any other option I wrote to Nick care of his publisher. A little while later, l received a reply, “Mr. Webster is deceased.”

Another chapter closed and now whenever possible when involved in a conversation about film makers, I make an effort to steer the conversation about the many awards he had received, the stars such as Alan Alda, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, The “In Search of…” TV series, “East Side, West Side,” to name just a few and certainly that cult classic he directed, “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians,” starring Pia Zadora. I am an expert on Nick Webster because I used to talk with his mother. Got that, Nick?

Jack D. Ballard

Lewisburg