TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Empire Turns 20

In a few days, a week of events will mark the first two decades of the Empire Arts Center in Grand Forks. A 20th Anniversary Celebration Concert on April 21 will open the week that will also include an open mic night, a movie night and more and conclude with the Empire’s annual dinner and dance.

The Empire is such a big part of Grand Forks it seems as if it has always “been.” But it hasn’t. It must have been a struggle to open the Empire just a year after the 1997 flood. And it’s taken a lot of dedication, fundraising and just plain hard work to keep the doors open ever since, the front door and the stage door.

It hasn’t always been the Empire Arts Center. The Empire’s original life was that of a movie theater, beginning in 1919.

The last film I can remember seeing there may have been “The Wrecking Crew” in 1968. I was a college kid, home for the summer, when a friend dragged me off the street and drove me against my will — more or less — from Hillsboro, N.D., to Grand Forks to see what must have been one of the last movies in the Matt Helm series, a James Bond-like knockoff vehicle for Dean Martin. My friend was a fan of Dean Martin’s acting. Me, not so much. Let’s just say the movie wouldn’t be an Oscar contender that year.

Flash-forward a good bit and for several years running I would emcee First Night shows at the Empire on New Year’s Eve, introducing acts like the late, great local vocal group Marcoux Corner. We often did “live shots” from the Empire on First Night for WDAZ News.

In the early First Night years, ice sculpture gardens were a big deal near the Empire. I believe it was my idea to ask the ice sculptors to create an ice news desk for us, from which to broadcast live, an idea I would come to regret. Sitting at an ice desk for a half hour in subfreezing weather may look cute, but it’s not exactly pleasant for the anchor boys and girls.

A few years ago, I was asked to narrate “Peter and the Wolf” as part of a Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra children’s concert. I loved it. A few years before that, I “conducted” the symphony, having won its “Make Me a Maestro” fundraising contest.

Never one to play it very straight, for my conducting stint I concocted a “bit” in which I  ordered, had delivered and ate a pizza on the stage after having kicked off the orchestra’s version of “The Stars and Stripes Forever.” Sometimes a person can have too much fun. Or at least, just enough.

Ginny and I have been in the audience for many great shows, including concerts by Leon Russell, Maria Muldaur and John C. Reilly & Friends.

The point is I feel at home at the Empire. On the stage and in the audience. And I’m not the only one. Hundreds of performers and audiences do, too. So congratulations to the Empire staff, board, performers and audience members on its first 20 years. Here’s to 20 more and another 20 more after that.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — You’re Fired!

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was fired this week. Being fired in the Trump administration has become commonplace, but the means by which Tillerson was “let go” was new. Secretary Tillerson learned of his dismissal by reading a @realDonaldTrump Tweet. Seems a little distance for someone whose television catch phrase was “You’re Fired!”

I was fired only once, from a television job in Bismarck. The year was 1975. The time and place were a little odd. The news director had asked me to join him at a Mandan, N.D., coffee shop. It was about 10:30 on a Sunday night.

After more than two years on the air, I was told the owner of the station “didn’t like the way I looked.” That is a direct quote. I remember it as if it were yesterday. I didn’t particularly like the way I looked either, but what can you do?

Years later, a friend said, “You should have sued their asses. You could have owned the station.” I don’t know about that. But I don’t think that line, or that line or reasoning, would work today.

In light of the Tillerson tweet firing, I asked some Facebook friends if they’d ever been fired in any odd ways. Oh, yeah. A few examples follow.

As one story goes, once upon a time there was a television station manager in Fargo who fired reporters by taping dismissal notices to the windshields of their cars, which makes my TV firing kind of lame.

One Facebook friend was fired by memo.

After 10 years of employment, another friend writes he was seen on a date with another guy by a worker who immediately informed his foreman. He picks up the story. “The next night I was called to the office and told ‘your being fired for unethical, immoral, indecent and inappropriate behavior, and you, are violating my religious right by even existing.’ Then the man proceeded to out me to my welder co-workers, and my family, some who did not know.”

And yet, another. “I was fired from my waitress job at a piano bar. They took me off the schedule but no one told me. I went to work at my regular time and someone else was doing my job. Turns out I was fired for not sleeping with the bartender. I guess my replacement had lower standards.”

A large number of FB friends say they have never been fired. To which I would say only, sorry you missed out on so much of the “fun.”

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — There’s No Business Like (Halftime) Show Business

One thing about the Super Bowl is that if you’re not disappointed by the outcome of the game, you can be disappointed by the halftime show. This year it was Justin Timberlake’s turn to disappoint.

Part of the problem is that we’ve set the bar for the game’s show unreasonably high. Also, everybody is a critic, myself included.

To begin, there was Timberlake’s outfit: a camo suit, a T-shirt with an image of two deer on it, a red kerchief and, earlier, a fringe leather jacket, There’s your wardrobe malfunction, right there! A nod to Minnesota’s hunting season, perhaps?

Then there was the sound. To say the least, muddy. Part of the problem might have been the new stadium’s acoustics, which the Star Tribune calls notoriously “bouncy.”

The show had its moments. The “Suit & Tie” marching band segment was killer. Turning Minneapolis streets into a purple glyph electronically was not.

What JT’s show didn’t have (besides the rumored Prince hologram) was a finish. A fan selfie? Really? That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?

I like Justin Timberlake, I really do. A lot. He’s a great entertainer and very, very funny. But I don’t think he was well-served by the producers of this show. It wasn’t a train wreck. We’ve had enough of those lately. It was just a little disappointing. And like I say, everybody is a critic.

It’s just too bad Prince himself wasn’t around in his hometown to outdo his own 2007 Super Bowl show. He would have, too. That would have been something. There wouldn’t have been anything left of the new stadium once he got through with it.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Art Of The Scam

Visitors to this blog may recall that I like to scam scammers. You know, the ones who steal a Facebook friend’s identity and use FB messaging to try to get you to send them some of your hard-earned money.

I like to fight back in my own little way by writing back. Wasting as much of their time as possible.

I suspect Mrs. Anderson, who taught me the basics back at Hillsboro High School, wouldn’t approve of the way I’m using my writing skills. But I can’t help myself. Back-scamming is like crack cocaine to me. I find it oddly rewarding.

So, here we go again. Remember, the conversation below is real.

Scammer: Hello Terry, How are you doing ?

Me: Great! You?

Scammer: I’m doing good. I often think of you and always uplifting you in prayer dont know if you have heard about the good news yet ?

Me: No.

Scammer: Have you heard about Covenant Services Group winning program assisting retired, workers, youth and disable with the support of Department of Health

Me: No. Where is Mary right now?

Scammer: I’m so happy i received $350,000, from their benefit they are helping Disabled, Employed and Unemployed Workers, Retiree, veteran, I also found out you are also entitled to this benefit also

Me: That’s nice. Is Mary there now?

Scammer: Yes do you want to chat with her ?

Me: Yes, please. Put her on.

Scammer: Okay and You will need to get in contact with the online director in charge so he can direct you through the processing. do you know Muriel Gragg on Facebook ?

Me: No. But I bet she’s very nice.

Scammer: You have to add him as friend and also message him that you wish to request about your prize.

Me: OK, OK. Put Mary on.

Me: Wait! Muriel is a girl’s name!

Scammer: Nope thats the claim agent name on Facebook

Me: Huh! It’s a funny world sometimes, isn’t it? OK. Put Mary on already!

Scammer: Okay

Me: OK.

Scammer: Hi Terry

Me:  Hi, Mary! Is that you?

Scammer: Yes, how are you doing ! Happy weekends

Me: Happy weekends to you! Mary, I’m a little worried about Wayne. He thinks he won $350,000 in the lottery. Or something.

Scammer: Yes he did i was so worried too before he receive the check

Me: Really! Say, Mary, do you think President Trump is going to build that wall he’s always talking about? $25 billion is a lot of money.

Scammer: I’m so happy the program is real

Me: What program? The wall isn’t real yet.

Scammer: The Covenant Services Group winning program.

Me: Oh, that.

Scammer: Yes.

Me: Getting back to the wall, it sure seems like a lot of work.

Scammer: Yes but the government know how to handle that thats a lot of money.

Me: I suppose. Say, put Wayne back on, will you? I’d like to know what he thinks of the wall.

Scammer: Wayne said you won too

Me: I don’t know. I never win anything.

Me: Put him back on. I bet that wall will be something to see when it’s done. Don’t you think?

Me: But, Mary, I think Wayne should have a check-up. He thinks he won the lottery. That’s not right.

Scammer: i got my check already and it has been cleared in my bank you need not to be nervous about this, I told you about this because I was trying to help you I saw your name on the winners list when the delivery team got my winnings to me that was why i had to contact you on facebook to tell you about it, this is real and legitimate I promise you that you will never regret doing this.

Me: Is that you again, Wayne? I’m getting a little confused as to you (whom?) I’m talking with.

Scammer: Yes.

Me: Wayne, what do you think about President Trump’s wall? Somebody told me that when it’s finished we’ll be able to see through it. That doesn’t sound much like a wall to me.

Scammer: what will happen after trump make the wall ?

Me: You tell me, Wayne! I voted for the other one. The girl.

Scammer: Oh sorry

Me: I shouldn’t call her a girl. She’s 40 if she’s a day!

Me:  ell, this has been fun, Wayne. But I have to go. We eat dinner at 4. Seems early but that’s the way they do it here at Happy Dale.

Scammer: That’s nice.

Me: Yeah, it’s nice. But I don’t like the way they do peas. They’re always so mushy. I hope we’re having something else tonight.

Me: Wayne, you still there?

Me: Wayne?

Chat Conversation End

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Ben Bradlee

Meryl Streep just picked up another Academy Award nomination this week, her 89th. Something like that.

This time it’s for her role as Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham in The Post. Tom Hanks, who plays the Post’s editor, Ben Bradlee, was snubbed, as they say.

The story revolves around the newspaper’s publication of the Pentagon papers, classified documents detailing U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, embarrassing to the government, to say the least.

I interviewed the real Ben Bradlee for television once. My experience falls under the category of never aspire to meet your heroes. Sometimes that adage applies.

It was 1977, a few years after the Post’s “other” big story, the paper’s coverage of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal.

We met just before Bradlee spoke at the University of North Dakota, on the eve of a series of lengthy television interviews the former president would do with British television “presenter” David Frost. It was reported that Nixon was being paid $600,000 to sit down with Frost. (That was a lot of money then.) The whole thing was a much-anticipated and highly hyped event. No one knew if David Frost would get the better of “Tricky Dick” or vice versa.

I asked Bradlee what he thought was going to come of the interviews. “He’s not going to get anything out of Nixon. David Frost is an entertainer.” A few days later, I would see nearly the same words of Bradlee’s in print somewhere.

True, David Frost was an entertainer, but he was also a journalist and a skilled interviewer. The Nixon-Frost interviews would become Nixon’s conversation of record on Watergate. “I gave them a sword” would be the closest the disgraced president would ever come to admitting guilt in Watergate.

Part of Bradlee’s reluctance to even acknowledge that Frost would be successful is that it was a different time. Unlike today, when Washington Post writers and reporters regularly appear on cable news outlets like CNN, print and broadcast journalists then barely acknowledged the others’ existence, much less cooperated on bringing information to the public.

Later, to his credit, shortly after the Nixon-Frost interviews aired, Bradlee changed his tune completely, admitting that, indeed, Frost had done a fine job interviewing the former president.

But sorry to say, that night Bradlee was as dismissive of me and my line of questions as he was at first of David Frost.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Scammin’

It’s been awhile, but it’s time once again, boys and girls, to play what I call Scammin’ the Scammers. Here’s how it goes.

We message a real Facebook scammer, in an effort to waste as much of his or her time as possible.

We had a lot of fun with this one over the course of a couple of days. So let’s begin:

Scammer: Hello Mr Terry Dullum.

Scammer: How are you doing and your lovely family?

Scammer: Am from Facebook HQ Base in USA.

Me: Oh.

Scammer: Am in contact with you just because I have a good news to share with you from Facebook.

Scammer: Am pleased to share with you the result of the just concluded Facebook annual give away group in cash promotion.

Scammer: I want you to talk to me now?

Me:  Talk.

Scammer: Your Facebook username was selected among the 20 lucky winners who has just won the sum of $1 million each.

Me: Gosh.

Scammer: Congratulations Mr. Terry Dullum.

Me: Thanks.

Scammer: The online draw was conducted by a random selection of emails,you were picked by an advance automated random computer search.

Me: Will I get paid in bitcoins?

Me: Pesos, then?

Me: I’d prefer cash. If you catch  my drift. Wink, wink.

Scammer: Yes your money will be delivered to you in cash.

Me: Great!

Scammer: When are you making the payment?

Me: What payment?

Scammer: For the shipment of your package to your door step by the FedEx delivery company.

Me: No one said anything about a payment, bro.

Me: How much?

Me: In pesos?

Scammer: Premium Express (24 hours Delivery) $550, Special Express(2 days Delivery) $450, Economy Express (3 days Delivery) $400.

Me: And in pesos?

Scammer: What do you mean?

Me: Pesos! Pesos!

Scammer: You have to change it and make the payment in United States dollars. You have to make the payment in dollars.

Me: But I get paid in pesos.

Scammer: Yes

Me: Yes.

Me: Oh, good. Pesos it is! How many?

Scammer: When will you be making the payment?

Me: What time is it now?

Scammer: What do you mean?

Me: What time do you need the pesos?

Me: We could meet somewhere.

Scammer: No you will be required to make the payment through the FedEx cashier.

Me: Do you have plans for dinner?

Scammer: When will you be making the payment?

Me: I could make it when we have dinner? Do you like Chinese?

Scammer: I want you to know that am not here to play or joke with you, OK?

Me: OK. How about Burger King?

Scammer: You have to let me know when you will be making the payment so I can inform the FedEx delivery company to get your package ready for delivery.

Me: OK. If you don’t like burgers, we could do Italian?

Scammer: Will you want your winnings to be decline?

Me: No, I want them in pesos.

Scammer: Your package will be delivered to you in cash at your door step by the FedEx delivery agent.

Scammer: Will you want your winnings to be decline?

Me: No, I want them in pesos.

Scammer: Your package will be delivered to you in cash at your door step by the FedEx delivery agent.

Me: Great! Are you sure you don’t want to have dinner? I’ll buy.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Havana By (Classic) Car

I’ve never been much for bucket lists. But if I were, I’d have been able to check off a big one earlier this month. That is to see Havana, Cuba, from the backseat of one of the country’s classic American cars from the 1950s and ’60s, still operating on the streets every day.

The importation of new cars — and lots of other things — has been rare in Cuba, ever since, you know, the revolution.

But there are thousands of classic cars throughout Cuba. If you have a car here, you have a job in the country’s thriving tourism/taxi industry. Another cottage industry has sprung up around the cars with what must be dozens of shops that produce otherwise unavailable parts to keep them going.

The cars are practically the first thing tourists notice about Havana. Actually, we are not tourists anymore, we’re told we are travelers. Each of us with a special new “people to people” visa. The application for ours changed two, maybe three times before we got here. But enough about politics.

Ginny picked out “our” car from a row of classics, a 1952 Pontiac Chieftain, red and white with a ton of chrome. It was our driver and our guide in the front seats, Ginny and me in the back, sitting on what looked like the original red leather.

We’d spent the morning tooling around Old Havana and elsewhere in the city, taking in the sights like Revolution Square, where two guides got into a slight argument as to whether Fidel Castro’s last speech was two hours long or four hours long.

We’d see the U.S. Embassy, where the most recent unpleasantness has been some sort of mysterious audio attack on the people who work there. Or rather, who used to work there. The parking lot looked nearly empty.

We drove past the Floridita Hotel and Sloppy Joe’s, two of writer Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes, unchanged in the least by time. Later, we’d stop for a quick mojito (white rum, club soda, lime juice, sugar, crushed ice and lots of mint leaves) at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, not one of Hemingway’s favorite watering holes. And at the “most important” of Havana’s four major cemeteries, and one of my favorite stops, we’d see a large monument to Hemingway’s favorite bartender, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, whose life is celebrated annually by other barkeeps from around the world who come to Cuba each year to remember him. In life, he must have worked very, very hard for Papa Hemingway.

A very funny older woman showed us around the cemetery. At one stop, she told us we were standing, more or less, on the grave of Christopher Columbus, unmarked and covered over by a street. “After all,” she said, “Spain lost the war.”

All in all, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time — sitting up.

At one point, our guide asked me what I thought of Havana “so far.” I said I felt like I was in a movie. Not “watching” a movie, but “in” a movie. I’ll never forget how he threw his head back and laughed —  for quite awhile.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Tropicana

For me, a trip to Cuba earlier this month would not have been complete without experiencing the Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Its cabaret show is considered among the top three shows in the world (by people who decide these kinds of things, I guess). After seeing it, I believe it.

For openers, Havana’s Tropicana nightclub shouldn’t be confused with the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. I stayed at the Tropicana on The Strip once. I loved it. What I remember most, in addition to the hotel’s beautiful collection of tropical birds, was the mirrors on the ceiling above the beds. For me, a first. And another story for another time, perhaps.

People still arrive at Havana’s Tropicana in those beautiful vintage cars from the 1950s and ’60s everyone thinks of when they think of Cuba. Also tour buses. But it’s the classic cars that make people feel they’ve just stepped out of a time machine.

You’re handed a (Guantanamera Cristales) cigar at the door, if you’re a man. Women are given flowers. Champagne is poured at the tables (very slowly, for some reason). Later, a bottle of Cuban rum arrives at each table. Still later, cans of Coke. Cuba Libres are mixed by the customers themselves.

The real show is the show. Backed by huge orchestra with conga drums up front and strings to the side, the cast, according to the guide books, features 200 dancers, many of them fully clothed at different points during the evening. Actually, there is no nudity. The Tropicana is now owned by the government. Fidel used to bring his guests here.

Sitting on the aisle, Ginny got to bust one or two of her best moves with one of the dancers who hung around our table long enough for the three of us to take a selfie.

There’s no special scenery in this show. And aside from the lighting, no special effects. But lots of talent. Four or five male and female singers are insanely good!

One production number flows seamlessly into another nearly nonstop for two hours. It is spectacular!  If Desi Arnaz had appeared in a tux and straw hat, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s like that.

Supposedly the show changes every 15 days, but as a whole, I doubt that it looks much different than it did back in 1959, when American celebrities (and mobsters) visited the Tropicana. And that’s the fun of it. It is what a nightclub should — and used to be. Exotic, exciting and fun. They don’t really exist like this in very many places anymore. Except here. Not even in Las Vegas.

Entertainers like Liberace and Josephine Baker have been a part of the show over the years. Nat King Cole was so popular he was asked to return the next season. He did, but only on the condition that he be allowed to stay at Havana’s Hotel Nacional de Cuba, something he had been denied during his first visit because of the color of his skin. Just as he and others had done in Las Vegas, he helped break the “color barrier” in Cuba. Today, there is a statue of Nat King Cole in the hotel’s museum which doubles as a bar.

Cuba loves its cabaret shows. I heard someone say there are more than 200 of them throughout the island. But the Tropicana is king, and considered nothing less than a national treasure by the locals. It’s as simple as that.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Santa Claus Is Comin’ To Town

As a kid, a lot of stuff confused me. Some of it centered on Santa Claus and Christmas. Part of it was the usual confusing kid stuff. How can Santa and the reindeer fly? How does Santa get down the chimney? How does he get UP the chimney? What if we don’t have a chimney?

My confusion wasn’t helped at all by the Christmas song “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” popularized when I was young by my favorite cowboy star Gene Autry. Not to date myself, or anything.

What troubled me was not the mildly threatening line, “You better watch out, You better not cry, Better not pout, I’m telling you why …”  Or the one that seems a little creepy, even to some adults. “He sees you when you’re sleeping, He knows when you’re awake.”

What disturbed me was the title itself. Especially the “to town” part. You see, when I was very little my family lived on a farm, in the country. There was a big divide between the country and town. It was a big deal to go to town, to shop or to see a movie. “Town” seemed far away from our house some times, even though, physically, there was only about seven miles between the two.

So, my reasoning went like this. If Santa Claus is coming to town, does that mean he’s not coming to our farmhouse in the country?

It was troubling. To this day, I don’t like the song. At all. If I hear it on the radio, I’ll turn it off.

Ginny thinks it’s part of the reason I should spend some time on the couch, in therapy.  She’s usually right about these things.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — What’s My Line?

Even with hundreds of television channels, HBO and all the rest to watch, and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to stream, sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be “much” on TV.

So, every once in awhile, Ginny and I like to watch “What’s My Line?” The 1950s and ’60s game show is seen currently in all its glorious black and white-ishness on the Buzzr network.

Many of us watched it originally Sunday nights at 9:30 on CBS as something of a ritual. One last weekend hurrah before another week of school would begin the next morning. Seeing it today reminds me just how much television has changed and how good it once was, even in its simplicity.

The game show was moderated by John Charles Daly. His day job the rest of the week was that of radio and television reporter and anchor. No slouch in that department either, he was the first national correspondent to deliver the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, among many other feathers in his cap.

The panel was anchored by Bennett Cerf, the founder and publisher of Random House, who introduced the world to fine literature by the likes of William Faulkner and works like “Atlas Shrugged.”

Arlene Francis was a New York actress better known perhaps for hosting radio and television programs, at one point becoming “the first lady of television.”

Dorothy Kilgallen was a hugely popular syndicated columnist who wrote about entertainment and politics. Rumors abounded at the time of her untimely death that she had information about the assassination of President John Kennedy. Questions about how she died linger yet today with a recent biography.

A fourth chair was filled with a rotating cast of panelists including Fred Allen, Steve Allen and others.

All of them were smart, urbane and witty. Mostly smart.

“What’s My Line?” was nothing if not classy. It made an effort to be. The men sometimes wore tuxedoes. The women made their “entrances” at the beginning of the show usually wearing evening gowns and often gloves.

Although they were funny, the panel seemed to take the game seriously.

The game itself was simple. After guests would “sign in” at a blackboard, they would whisper their “line” or occupation to Mr. Daly. Then panelists would ask a series of yes or no questions. “Does your work involve a product?” “Would this product be found in most homes?” For each no, guests would get $5.

Occupations were usually off-beat. A female big game hunter. The father of the Fischer quints. A clearly overweight female packager of “reducing” pills. Often the panel would come up with the occupations with just a few questions asked.

For the “mystery guest” segment, blindfolded panelists would try to guess the identities of people the likes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jerry Lewis and Colonel Sanders who would try to disguise their famous voices. Often they were movie and television stars “in town” to promote their latest projects. Usually, identifying them wasn’t much of a challenge for the panel, either.

Put all together, “What’s My Line?” was SOMETHING. It had a certain quality that’s hard to define and one that doesn’t exist much in television today. It was popular with people across the board. It was the longest-running game show in prime-time television.

Although several reincarnations of the show were done as late as the mid-1970s, I’d like to see a new version of “What’s My Line?”

My dream panel would include Craig Ferguson, Paula Poundstone (even though she already does the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me”) and, maybe, Salmon Rushdie. Somebody like that. My first choice for moderator would be Peter Jennings. Since he is not available, maybe Charlie Rose.

On second thought, “What’s My Line?” might best be remembered as what it was. Something special.