My Old Kentucky Homesite

Johnny Depp and the Coal Industry

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 12/22/2009

Coming from New Yawk, which offers very little hometown rah-rah in its newspapers or on its local TV and radio stations, I find it difficult to understand why I should care if a notable or infamous person ever happened to live in my locality. Yet here in Kentucky, no opportunity is missed when it comes to announcing that an actor hails from these parts. Thus it was that about a week ago, I opened the entertainment section of my local newspaper, and saw a still from the famous flick White Christmas. In the caption, performers Bing Crosby, Vera-Ellen, and Danny Kaye were joined by “Kentucky native Rosemary Clooney.” An ad for a TV movie noted that it featured “actor and Lexington native Josh Hopkins.”

I’m guessing that this phenomenon is related in some way to the sports mentality that pervades my new home. Today, the local rag went nuts with the news that the U.K. Wildcats had won their 2000th game. That world-shaking information was on the front page and on the second page, although there’s a sufficiently big sports section – which, this morning, also managed to spread the good news. In Lexington, even during this holiday season, if Jesus Christ himself showed up in town, he wouldn’t make it to the headlines unless he’d managed to score a few baskets.

Apparently, here in Kentucky, the triumphs and accomplishments of complete strangers magically redound to the benefit of everyone who shares their two-letter postal abbreviation. The team’s defeats and embarrassments also reflect on us. And why not? It’s a proven fact, isn’t it, that if the locals don’t pray hard enough, if they don’t wear the right colored clothing, if they don’t shout sufficiently loudly, or honk their car horns at the necessary moment, or perform their daily ablutions in a distinctively success-producing manner, the gods will not allow the blue-and-white to vanquish their opponents. And then what would the rest of the world think of us, huh?

In this bastion of chauvinistic hoopla, the U.K. pennant (Go Wildcats!) is almost as popular as the American flag (U.S.A.! U.S.A.!) It is critically important to most Lexingtonians – who invest so much of their mental activity toward this goal – that the University of  Kentucky team win, win, win. Otherwise, the city’s entire population becomes despondent and/or angry. Many people in the region have been hard hit by the recession, but what does that matter if a bunch of overstretched athletes can sink a free throw? Go Wildcats!

I suppose that if the local team doesn’t come out on top –  O ye divines, protect us from such shame! – we can turn to our very own homegrown movie stars to buck us up.

That kind of irrelevant “pride” reminds me of those lists of famous Jewish celebrities that my parents used to love reading when I was a kid. In what way did it matter to me if Kirk Douglas, Tony Curtis, or Lauren Bacall were Jewish? Were any of them going to come to my house to deliver knishes?

So that’s pretty much how I feel about actors who just happened to spend a few childhood years in the same state in which I now live.  What’s it to me? Are they going to arrive at my doorstep with fried chicken? (I hope not, because I hate fried chicken.)

I did, however, look up some Actors from Kentucky on Wikipedia, the world’s greatest authority on everything. To be honest, many of the names included are meaningless to me. I’ve never heard of Becky Ann Baker (born in Fort Knox), Nicole Scherzinger (went to a performing arts high school in Louisville), or Rumer Willis (born, by happenstance, in Paducah – where  her father, Bruce, was making a film). I can, however, identify George Clooney (born in Lexington) and Johnny Depp (born in Owensboro), Jeri Ryan (went to high school in Paducah) and Ashley Judd (attended U.K. Go Wildcats!)

But in what way are my neighbors’ daily lives improved – or affected at all – by the fact that they may shop at the same grocery as did any of those people. I can’t imagine George Clooney picking up a 12-pack of store-brand toilet paper at my neighborhood Kroger, or Ashley Judd cutting out coupons for the latest Meijer special on Honey Nut Cheerios. But even if they did, how would those actions affect the bowls of any other Kentuckians?

My wife points out that Lexington is not unique in its hometown chauvinism. According to her, everyplace that isn’t New Yawk shares a sense of glee when a native son or daughter earns a positive mention on the news. But, I retort, I don’t have to put up with that kind of nonsense elsewhere. I’m here. If folks in Morgantown, West Viriginia want to brag about Don Knotts; if the citizens of Green Bay, Wisconsin feel that they somehow share in the glory of Tony Shalhoub; or if the denizens of Cheyenne, Wyoming choose to go crazy over Acquanetta: I don’t have to read or hear about it over my Cap’n Crunch. I’m not bothered by the nonsense found in other towns’ news media.

The problem with the parochial mentality – wherever it occurs – is that it extends into other areas of endeavor besides sports and entertainment, areas that affect us all. Every day, I read letters to the editor about Kentucky’s coal. The writers say, in essence: Who gives a crap if coal is bad for the environment? It’s good for our economy. People would lose their jobs, f’chrissake,  if governmental restrictions were applied. And just think of how much it would cost us to warm our houses in the winter or cool them in the summer if we had to convert to a cleaner, more efficient energy source. Screw the Earth. Coal is our friend. Go Wildcats!

Anyway, here’s what I really want to know about all those Kentucky celebs: Are they Jewish? What teams do they root for? And do they really enjoy the soot they’re forced to sprinkle onto their breakfast cereals?


7 Responses to “Johnny Depp and the Coal Industry”

  1. srsny said

    I beg to differ with you. Perhaps it’s because I went to the same Bronx Junior High School as Bernie Schwartz (Tony Curtis) and Sonia Hurwitz (Shari Lewis) – didn’t anyone famous go to your Junior HIgh?

    I also went to the same Washington Heights High School (George Washington) as Jacob Javits and Henry Kissinger. I’m sure there must be some famous graduates of Bronx Science whom you might have bragged about at some point in your life?

    And I know you must have been proud of the fact that our college Alma Mater also graduated the likes of Jonas Salk, Felix Frankfurter and Ira Gershwin.

    Come on – the Bronx gave us Anne Bancroft, Garry and Penny Marshall, Carl Reiner, Jerry Orbach, Robert Klein. Didn’t you ever feel a special connection with them or any of the countless others I can’t think of at the moment?

    And Even though they came from Brooklyn, I have always felt a special connection with Barbara Stanwyck and Susan Hayward. My mother and I used to go to City Opera – not the Met – because we could see Bubbles Silverman (Beverly Sills) – also from Brooklyn – (although, like your mother, I think mine was prouder about the fact that Bubbles was Jewish).

    Don’t tell me you didn’t think, “Hey, he’s from the Bronx,” when Colin Powell became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and later Secretary of State. He’s another City College graduate, by the way. And now that I teach in a Bronx High School – I can tell you that every kid in the Bronx is proud of Sonia Sotomayor.

    It’s human nature, Larry. I can’t explain it, exactly, but I know it’s just as common here in New Yawk as anywhere else.

  2. Srsny:
    Well, you certainly know your famous New Yawkers.

    Actually, my high school alumni include Daniel Libeskind, Stokely Carmichael, and Bobby Darin (Walden Cassotto). But I have no particular pride that they once may have scratched their names into the same desk that I did.

    I do agree that people are naturally fascinated with “neighbors” who have achieved great successes or, similarly, become infamous. (You left out, for instance, Lepke Buchalter, Durch Schultz, John Gotti, Bernie Goetz, the Central Park wilders, and Boss Tweed.) But I don’t remember The New York Times ever running a blurb for a movie or TV show in which the paper saw fit to mention that a star had been brought up in one of the boroughs. (“The Miracle Worker starring Bronx native Anne Bancroft,” or “I Want to Live with Brooklyn-born Susan Hayward.”)

    As far as Sonia Sotomayor goes, her background as a New York Latina was germane — some believed — to her appointment. The relevance was not because she came specifically from New York, but, rather, because her decisions (allegedly) might be colored by the fact that she grew up as a smart-ass street kid. I thought there was a lot of malarkey in discussing her personal history. But even if you thought it was germane, you still didn’t see a caption like: “Sonia Sotomayor, native of the Bronx, nominated for Supreme Court spot.”

    And I have to say: Even though I’ve adored Rosemary Clooney since I was a little boy, I don’t give a crap where she came from. When she sang “Come-on-a-My-House,” I doubt that she was talking about her old Kentucky home.

  3. srsny said

    Here are some excerpts from the Daily News Article I used at the beginning of the school year to spark a discussion about “The American Dream”:

    Obama’s Supreme Court pick Sonia Sotomayor never forgot her Bronx roots
    BY Michael Saul
    Updated Tuesday, May 26th 2009, 3:32 PM

    Sonia Sotomayor – who rose from the broken-glass streets of a city housing project to become the Supreme Court’s first Latina nominee – says she’s just a “kid from the Bronx.”
    “It is a daunting feeling to be here,” Sotomayor, 54, said minutes after President Obama nominated her to replace Associate Justice David Souter.
    The daughter of the Bronx recalled getting a tour of the White House after she was named an appeals court judge 11 years ago. “It was an overwhelming experience for a kid from the South Bronx. Yet never in my wildest childhood imaginings did I ever envision that moment, let alone … this moment,” she said….

    Sotomayor attended Cardinal Spellman High School in the Bronx, where former students described her as superbright…
    Jeri Faulkner, who attended Cardinal Spellman with Sotomayor and is the school’s dean of students, said Sotomayor was “very smart” and a “role model.”

    …”We’re thrilled; everybody is thrilled,” she [Anna Lehewych, anoher Spellman alumna] said. “She’s smart and diplomatic and we’re all very proud of her,” said Lehewych, 54, a Holbrook, L.I., school secretary. “She’s done the Bronx proud.”

    ‘Nuff said.

  4. Western Kentucky (Bowling Green) checking in here.

    We have a university that has gotten a fair amount of press for it’s basketball team (8th best win average OF ALL TIME in the NCAA) so there is a lot of pride here. BUT, there is a split of allegiance between UL and UK after that.

    It REALLY hacks people off around here when WKU is called a mid-major.

    Living in an even smaller city than Lex, I’ve noticed the Big Red Mafia. If you’re not a WKU (go Big Red) alum, you are on the outside looking in. If you are a Yankee (like me) even after 15 years, people still feel it necessary to determine my birthplace.

    Southerners are nice but they do have their over-blown pride.

    Coal? Yup, blow up the mountaintops.

    Just give me cheap electricity, a smoke, bourbon, a winning BBall team, meth and an animal to abuse, and happiness abounds.

  5. Srsny:
    OK, you got me on my last sentence. I was wrong there.

    But a couple of points:
    (1) Sonia Sotomayor may be a special case, as I pointed out in my comment. Plus — she’s not a movie or TV star.
    (2) Yeah, the Daily News is one of those exceptions to the “very little hometown rah-rah” comment. Like the Lexington Herald-Leader, it also appeals to the lowest parochial sports mentality: my team (city/state/country/religion/crime family) right or wrong! Go Wildcats! However, New Yawk is a world metropolis, a true big tent, with its eyes pointed outward as well as inward. I guess that’s what I’m really bemoaning here in Lexington, an attitude that the only things that matter are those events and persons from our little Podunk. That is most definitely not the overwhelming mindset in New Yawk, although you can find idiots there who think that way.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

    Southerners are nice but they do have their over-blown pride.
    I agree. But what I’m finding here in Lexington is something that out-overblows Southern regional pride. The near unanimous fixation on the city and state is something I haven’t experienced before, even in Florida. I’m always disgusted by constant cheer-leading; it’s almost impossible to make things better in a town when its critics are drowned out by the incessant noise of the oom-pah band.

    And the local response to even a minor statement of disapproval? “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” Go Wildcats!

  6. Evie said

    it’s almost impossible to make things better in a town when its critics are drowned out by the incessant noise of the oompah band.

    C’mon, Larry – when ya live in Heaven, what’s to fix?

  7. Evie:
    … what’s to fix?

    Well, for one, the incessant noise of the oompah band. Are you saying that heaven can be found inside the bell of a tuba? Is that image of post-death harp-playing incorrect?

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