The Dark Side of the Dream

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

Two Mexican brothers, Jose Luis and Francisco Salazar, and their families migrate to the U.S. shortly after the U.S. entry into World War II. The story depicts their struggles as they come to grips with a new, often hostile environment. Later, the family prominently figures in two of the most tragic, yet stirring incidents in Mexican-American history.

The first involves the all-Hispanic rifle company that as part of the Texas Volunteer Division lost its colors at the Battle of the Rapido River in Italy during the Second World War, when 156 badly-mangled Hispanic soldiers were ordered to cross the Rapido against a known German force of more than 3000 men. Only 23 U.S. soldiers came back, and of those, ten would later die. Yet before the war was over, that unit would win more medals for bravery than almost any other rifle company in all of American history.

The second incident came in the early 1950’s, when some 200 Mexican-Americans, African-Americans and Filipino migrants went on strike in the harvest fields of South Texas. Though the movement was washed away by the winds of history, within the seeds of that defeat were the victories that came a generation later in the San Joaquin Valley of central California.

It is in California that “America — The Promised Land” finally lives up to its billing, as a new generation of Salazars succeed in fulfilling the dream of enriching their lives in soul-satisfying ways.

Languishing in Lalaland*

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

HV(*Lalaland: Code for Hollywood, or a state of mind in which reality occasionally visits, but never stays for long.)

I had been in Hollywood for less than a week, staying in a Minus Two-Star motel on Santa Monica Boulevard when an ad in the Classified Section of the Los Angeles Times caught what was left of my ability to concentrate on any more newsprint.

For rent in Hollywood Hills. Five-room suite on bottom floor of small Mediterranean-style villa. Lavishly furnished, spectacular view. Breakage deposit. Seventy-five dollars a month. Call HO5-7541.

The ad seemed too good to be true, but even if it was a misprint, and the rent actually $750 a month, I could afford it, at least for a while. Worse-case scenario, the figure in the ad was correct, but the place had been rented.

A soft, cultivated voice answered the phone. “Good morning, how may I be of service, please?” Continue reading

John Wayne Vs. “Willie” Shakespeare

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

John WayneThe following tale is at least partially true, though the anecdote within the story might well be undiluted horse manure. The reader will draw his own conclusions. It happened many years ago on a snowy Christmas Eve in a small town in the high country of northern New Mexico.Shakespeare

I had been involved in the production of a CBS TV series called The Bearcats, which featured a couple of gringos (played by Rod Taylor and Dennis Cole) who roam around Mexico in a Stutz-Bearcat during the time of Pancho Villa and the Mexican Revolution.

The TV show’s cast and crew had been granted a furlough to return to LA to spend Christmas with their families, but since I had no family, I stayed on in New Mexico to save myself the plane fare. Continue reading

Hollywood’s First Choices

By Jeff Burkhart & Bruce Stewart (Crown Publishers)
Review by Alejandro Grattan

For those intrigued by both movies, as well as the mysterious ways of chance and fortune, this book is guaranteed to keep you up till the small hours of the morning. The book might well have been entitled: Know How to Make God Laugh? Tell Him Your Plans, for it is replete with literally hundreds of casting secrets (read: near blunders, destroyed designs and missed opportunities) behind some of Hollywood´s best known films. Continue reading

Hooray for Hollyweird

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

HollyweirdOver a film career that spanned several nerve-searing years, I met many world-class characters. Some were sad, like my actor pal who at age 81 was still waiting for his first big break; or impressive, like the famous thespian John Carradine, who knew Shakespeare so well he could answer any question with an appropriate quote from the Bard; or comical, like Peter the Hermit, who used to wander along Hollywood Boulevard in a long white beard, flowing robe and wooden staff like some bit player in a Biblical epic.

But for pure, uncut idiosyncratic antics, none matched those of a handsome, elderly gent I will call “Ronnie.” In his younger days, Ronnie had worked at Warner Brothers, specializing in “dialect dialogue,” and had written the Celtic-sounding dialogue for Bogart’s Irish character in the Bette Davis film Dark Victory and Indian-sounding words for Jeff Chandler in Broken Arrow.

By the time Ronnie and I met, however, he had been reduced to scribbling low-budget quickies Continue reading

Celsito – Among Paupers, a Prince

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

CelsitoAbout forty years ago (and seemingly in another lifetime), two friends of mine in Los Angeles were thinking of buying property in Ensenada. My wife, Janet, and I would often accompany them down from Los Angeles on weekends to scout out a suitable location for what they hoped would someday be their dream retirement house. During these expeditions, we always stayed at the picturesque Rosarito Beach Hotel, and it was there that I first met a young street urchin who has remained indelibly fixed in my mind and in my heart.

Celsito Casillas was about ten years old, and very frail of frame. Yet he had lustrous brown eyes and a voice deep as a bass fiddle. He was also a very handsome kid.

“Señor, I watch your car?” he asked me one morning in the hotel’s parking lot.

Nursing a hangover, and overly familiar with this sales pitch, I snarled, “Watch it do what?” Continue reading

IRAQ: Careening Toward Catastrophe

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

Eleven years ago this week, the US invaded Iraq. Total cost: More than 4,500 U.S. dead, tens of thousands of wounded (including PTSD), many thousands permanently maimed, 250,000 Iraqi dead, millions homeless and an $800 billion cost to the American taxpayer. No weapons of mass destruction were ever found. This editorial originally ran in El Ojo del Lago in November 2002, but still feels timely.

During the last presidential campaign, this column opined that George W. Bush was the least qualified Republican candidate in fifty years. The point was easily made when one compared him with far more seasoned leaders such as Eisenhower, Nixon and even Bush’s own father. Since then, nothing Bush the Younger has done has caused us to alter that evaluation. Continue reading

The Bogart Mystique

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

BogartOne synonym for the word “mystique” is magical, and it is indeed magical that today, some sixty five years after his death, Bogart is a bigger star than he was even in his wildly successful heyday in the ’40s and ’50s. More amazing is that his fans are currently comprised mainly of young people. For those who doubt these assertions, I offer the following exhibits:

* There have been more than fifteen books published about Bogart. Gable and Garbo rated two each. Brando and Monroe three apiece. Moreover, several of the Bogart books were written by highly literate and sophisticated men (e.g., Alistair Cooke and Nathaniel Benchley) who ordinarily had little interest in the history and/or high jinks of filmdom’s rich and famous. Continue reading

The Biggest Little Man in Mexico

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

NorbertoThe first time I met Norberto Mejia, he reminded me of the noble water-bearer in Rudyard’s Kipling’s immortal poem, Gunga Din. Hurried (and often faulty) typecasting of just about everyone I meet is one of my many mental aberrations; a carryover, I suppose, of the many years I spent in the motion picture industry. Yet as I came to know Norberto better, my initial notion deepened into absolute conviction. Today, there is no man whom I am prouder to call my friend.

Ironically, our friendship was first forged when I tried to take advantage of him. Continue reading

The Gunfight at the El Paso Corral

By Alejandro Grattan-Domínguez

corralI suppose the one question I’ve been asked as a former frontier newspaper editor more than any other is whether a worthwhile outcome was ever served by a newspaper deliberately misleading the public. Well, raking through the weed patch of what’s left of my mind, I can only think of one such possible instance, but as always, it’ll be for you, the reader, to decide.
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The year was 19-ought-6, the place El Paso—which for those who might have slept through their high school geography class was and still is located in the extreme western tip of the state of Texas. Now, despite snide rumors to the contrary, I was not then the editor of the El Paso Daily Gazette but rather a scrawny kid Continue reading