College Walk

 
 
 
  Craig Larotonda

Pat 'n Leather

Pat Boone ’58GS gets paid to sing, but he sure loves to talk. On the phone the other day, Boone, who is 73, expounded upon his youth in Jacksonville, Florida, his rise to pop stardom, the proximity of his movie-lot dressing room to those of Cary Grant and Elvis Presley, his friendship with ghoul-rocker Pat ’n Leather Alice Cooper (“I have to call him ‘Coop,’ I can’t refer to a man as ‘Alice’), his support for the war in Iraq (“The critics of the war are going to eat their words by next November, mark my words”), his conservative Christian beliefs, his big band CD of heavy-metal clas-sics, his friendship with Vice Presi-dent Dick Cheney (“He does the job out of love for his country; he certainly didn’t need the money”), and, yep, his days at Columbia, without forgetting a name, missing a beat, or failing to mention that he likes to talk.“Please, forgive me. I’m loquacious,” says Mr. Boone.

Few would argue with that.

“After I won The Ted Mack Amateur Hour in 1954 and then went pro that same week on The Arthur Godfrey Show, I got signed to Dot Records,” Boone says, when asked how he ended up at Columbia. “Although I had been studying at North Texas State, I was making constant trips to New York to record. In ’55 I had my first million seller,‘Ain’t That A Shame,’ and my wife, Shirley, and I moved to New Jersey, and in the midst of making records, I enrolled in the School of General Studies. I had the notion to study Greek, so I could read the New Testament in its original form, but I ended up being an English major. How I managed to be a student, have a family, do The Arthur Godfrey Show, and study acting with Sandy Meisner is anybody’s guess. Of course, it helps to have a 170 IQ. Yep, I had it tested. I had the ability back then to open a book on the subway up to school and be well prepared for a test. What a wonderfully crazy life it was back then. I’d be cramming for some test on a movie set, then do a scene with, oh, Gina Lollobrigida! Lots of people were giving me grief around this time. They’d say, ‘Pat, most people go to college because they want to get a good job. You already have a good job, so why the heck are you going to college?’ Well, not only did I want a superior education, but at the time, I had millions of impressionable fans. I was a role model. I hate it when stars today say they aren’t role models. So, I went partly to show my younger fans that education is important. By the way, I graduated magna cum laude.”

Boone had six million-selling records in the ’50s, among them, “Ain’t That A Shame” and “Tutti Frutti.” Viewing a clip of the sport jacket-clad Boone snapping his fingers just slightly off the beat while crooning Little Richard, one appreciates the wisdom of his decision to become, in the late ’50s, a balladeer like his hero, Bing Crosby. The clean-cut Boone also gave a nice, understated performance alongside James Mason in Journey to The Center of the Earth, and had the enviable task of playing Ann-Margret’s love interest in the movie musical State Fair in 1962. But there’s no question that the ’60s, with its Beatle-driven artistry, long hair, and “that burn your draft card mentality that I never cared for,” were not always kind to the Nixon-friendly father of “four beautiful and intelligent girls.”

The next decade was a lot more Boone-friendly, however — and not just for Pat.

“I made the decision in the ’70s to tour with my daughters,” Boone says. “I knew what kind of trouble there was in this world, so I thought, better that they travel with me than maybe end up married to a bad guy or in some sort of trouble. Eventually some decent guys did break through my defenses and married my girls.” In 1977, daughter Debby released the inescapable “You Light Up My Life,” which became the best-selling single of the decade.

“We played state fairs and broke all sorts of attendance records,” Boone recalls. “People thought I did nothing but record Christian music during this time, but in ’71, I did an album in the pop/country field that I’m very proud of, called July, You’re A Woman, though I did have to change some lyrics to the title song so they weren’t so salacious. I just wanted to people to know I wasn’t simply some Holy Joe, that I liked pop. Of course, I also made a number of best-selling gospel albums during this period. In fact, I’m proud to say I’m in the Gospel Hall Of Fame.”

Genre crossing has always been part of the mix for Boone, but when he went off in 1997 and cut In a Metal Mood — perhaps the world’s first heavy-metal big-band record — his Christian fan base revolted.

“I must have known that my fans would freak out over my association with Coop,” Boone says, “but I thought people would see me at the American Music Awards and know I was just being ironic.”

That might have been naïve. The sight of Boone, dressed in a sleeveless leather vest, leather pants, and a dog collar, had a traumatic effect on Christians and headbangers alike. The result? Boone was banned from Christian stations until he sent a letter to all of the “major evangelical leaders, telling them that I had researched the tunes, which were often biblical in nature — especially the Megadeth one. I was eventually reinstated. But not before I went on Regis and Geraldo and did my heavy-metal act and had a ball.”

With a new book called Pat Boone’s America: 50 Years and a recent record of soul songs with help from Smokey Robinson, Boone remains on the lookout for his next creative challenge.

“I’d like to follow in the footsteps of Bing Crosby and do something powerful and dramatic, like he did in The Country Girl [a movie based on a play by Clifford Odets]. Of course,” Boone adds, chuckling, “because of my views, I haven’t gotten even a nibble. Lots of people don’t want to work with Pat Boone. They think I’m a nut, an extremist. But you know something? I’ve had an incredible career. I said recently to Shirley, ‘Let’s start enjoying the fruits of my labor, instead of me working so hard. Let’s enjoy them now, while we still can.’”
Peter Gerstenzang ’82GS, ’85SOA

 

 
 
 
  Laurie Luczak

Airfare for the Common Man

“I have a very strange life,” Namira Salim ’96SIPA said recently while in transit between her homes in Monaco and Dubai. “I never plan things — I literally follow my dreams.” This January, for instance, Salim flew to New York, then to Punta Arenas, Chile, then five hours to the ice-blue base camp of Patriot Hills, Antarctica, and then another five hours to her bitter, barren destination. In so doing, she became the first Pakistani woman to reach the South Pole.

Collecting “firsts” has become a habit with the Karachi-born artist and peace activist, who last spring made an expedition in the other direction. No Pakistani woman had ever reached the North Pole until Salim arrived there on April 21. Acting as Pakistan’s Honorary Ambassador of Tourism, Salim, a striking woman with long black hair and an ambassadorial smile, planted several flagpoles into the melting permafrost, their banners bearing the colors of Salim’s various addresses: Pakistan (green and white), Monaco (red and white), the European Union (blue and yellow), and the United Arab Emirates (red, white, black, and green). Salim also hoisted a rainbow- colored Peace flag. Later, she told reporters that the rippled formations of the Arctic tundra reminded her of the sand dunes of the desert near Dubai — a comparison, one imagines, that few could make firsthand.

But where else to go once you’ve conquered the ends of the world?

The answer came last spring, when Salim saw an article on the Internet about Virgin Galactic, a space tourism concern established by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group of companies, which include Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airways. Hoping to go where no venture capitalist has gone before, Branson planned to send private citizens into the void as early as 2009.

Salim promptly called Virgin Galactic’s offices and, with the help of her family, became one of the first 100 people to purchase a $200,000 ticket, securing her spot alongside such luminaries as actress Victoria Principal and theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking in the top-tier “Founder” category of Virgin Galactic leisurenauts. She also assured herself of becoming the first Pakistani woman to leave the earth’s atmosphere.

Salim will take off from the Mojave Spaceport in the Mojave Desert in the prosaically named SpaceShipTwo (SS2), currently being built by aerospace guru Burt Rutan, who also designed Space- ShipOne, the world’s first privately developed and manned reusable spacecraft. (SS1, which first went up in 2004, is now docked in the Smithsonian.) The ascent will be brisk. At an altitude of 50,000 feet, SS2 will separate from its mother ship, ignite its hybrid rocket, and climb to 360,000 feet in 90 seconds — roughly three times the speed of sound. Visibility through the ship’s large windows will be 1000 miles, meaning that a flight over New York would afford a view of Florida. During the twoand- a-half-hour journey inside SS2’s roomy cabin, Salim will experience four minutes of the pièce de resistance of space travel: free fall. Four minutes to float and do astronaut somersaults might seem painfully brief at such prices, but the whole trip will last a small eternity by the standards of suborbital flight. The entire 1961 voyage of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, took just 16 minutes.

Not everyone is fit for the pressure, physical or mental, of suborbital flight, and Salim’s ability to tolerate and adapt to increasing gravitational forces was at the heart of her training regimen last fall. Ensconced in the STS-400 Simulator, a 25-foot arm centrifuge housed at the NASTAR Center in Philadelphia, Salim withstood the same g-forces as Alan Shepard himself.

“If you go to the Hall of Fame at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the first thing you see is Alan Shepard’s life-size bronze bust,” said Salim, noting that you don’t have to go to the moon, or even into orbit, to earn your wings in space. “It’s not Neil Armstrong at the entrance. It’s Shepard.”

As a teenager in the 1980s, Salim would stay up all night peering at the sky through her telescope. Back then, the surest way to make it to outer space was in a NASA flight suit; for a young Pakistani girl, a distant dream indeed. Now, thanks to technology and entrepreneurship, a trip to space requires not the right passport, but the right gold card. Salim believes that today’s $200,000 ticket holders are paving the way for affordable space travel, just as the wealthy airline passengers of the 1920s facilitated the cheap commercial flights of the future. “It’s an investment,” she said. “The birth of the private space-travel industry has already taken place, and sooner or later it will be available for the common man.”

Salim makes no apologies for her own uncommonness, having always used her advantages to promote a utopian global vision. Aside from being an Arctic explorer and artist (her bejeweled creations, inspired by European decorative art, have been exhibited at humanitarian summits of the UN and UNESCO), she’s the founding president of the International Association of Students in Economics and Business Management, a student-run nonprofit that promotes peace and cooperation through corporate and cultural exchange programs. It’s a far-flung resumé that promises to become even more expansive.

But as much as Salim relishes the role of pioneer, she would not be the first woman who attended Columbia to make aeronautic history.

In 1919, an adventurous young Kansan came to the University to study for pre-med. She quit after a year, and then returned in 1924, only to drop out again. In 1928, she became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic, though she didn’t pilot the plane. “Maybe someday I’ll try it alone,” she said. Four years later, Amelia Earhart did just that.

Of course, Namira Salim doesn’t see herself as an aviator — or even as an adventurer. “Perhaps I’m a risk taker,” she said, then reconsidered. “Actually, I think I’m more of a dreamer.”

Paul Hond

 
 

Smoke Rising

Sam Dana had been listed as dead for nearly 34 years before the National Football League realized that he was alive. By then, the former professional football player was 100 years old.

The next four years would all but make up for his premature death in the record books.

The origins of the error go back to February 1945, two decades after Dana played alongside Lou Gehrig on the Columbia football team and as a wingback for the 1928 New York Yankees in the fledgling NFL. Dana, a lady’s man who was among the few people he knew who owned a tuxedo, was finally getting married at age 41 and he wanted a name for his children that didn’t sound like salami.

No one ever told the NFL about the name change. Decades later, Dana’s son, Bob, and grandson were flipping through the NFL encyclopedia, Total Football, when they saw an entry for Sam Salemi. “There’s Grandpa,” Bob Dana’s son said. “Look, Dad. He’s dead.”

That Sam Salemi from Brooklyn died on July 9, 1969, three months before Sam Dana retired as a special agent for the Internal Revenue Service. In March 2003, Bob Dana faxed the Pro Football Hall of Fame to say that his dad was “most definitely not dead and, in fact, we’re celebrating his 100th birthday on August 7.”

“I just wanted to make sure the history books were corrected,” Bob Dana says. “I wasn’t looking for anything else, but lo and behold, everything went crazy.”

Overnight Sam Dana became more famous than he’d ever been as a player. He was, it turned out, the oldest living alumnus of the NFL. The Buffalo Bills, his hometown football team since 1949, gave him a jersey with the number 100 on it. NFL Films captured the moment. The National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame in Chicago said it would include him in its time line of famous Italian-American players.

A past that had been erased came back to life, and Dana enjoyed telling stories of football’s early years to a wider audience.

In 1920, when football was fast growing from a sandlot game into a profession, Dana starred at New Utrecht High School in Brooklyn, where he earned the nickname Smoke. “I started running with the ball, sidestepping and twisting and turning,” Dana recalled in an article by Jeffrey Miller of the Professional Football Researchers Association. “Sambo Scheher, one of our linemen, said, ‘That’s smoke for ya.’ The name stuck.”

According to the 1932 alumni register at Columbia, Dana was a nongraduate of the Columbia College Class of 1925, having entered in 1921, a year after the NFL was founded. Dana played two years of football at Columbia, staying close to home as a concession to his father, a Sicilian immigrant who worked his way from a bricklayer to own a dry-goods store. Dana made the varsity squad his sophomore year as a reserve running back. He adopted the technique of running with his knees high, mimicking his teammate Ben Roderick, who went on to play two seasons with the Buffalo All-Americans.

Once, Dana lent teammate Gehrig a dollar for a craps game, but Gehrig never repaid him. Another time, while playing on South Field, Dana tried to tackle the future Yankee first baseman.

“I was told that Gehrig was strong as an ox and that you should be careful how you tackled him,” Dana said once. “Well, I was pretty cocky, so one day at practice I decided to try to take him headon. He hit me so hard he took a chip out of my shoulder and I couldn’t play for two weeks.”

Dana never graduated from college. He played pro football for the Hartford Blues under an assumed name because he was also a student playing for the St. John’s University Red Storm. He then played one season for the Canisius College Golden Griffiths before dropping out to work in his father’s store, D. Salemi & Sons, in Brooklyn.

Just before the 1928 season, Charlie “Cash and Carry” Pyle, a theater promoter turned sports agent and team owner, hired Dana as a halfback for his New York Yankees football team. The two struck a deal: Dana would keep $100 for every game and Pyle would keep $25 for expenses but would return the money at the end of the season.

Dana played in five games. He scored one touchdown in a 12–6 loss to the Providence Steam Rollers, sustained one concussion during a 19–0 win against the Chicago Cardinals, and intercepted one pass in a 34–0 loss to the Detroit Wolverines. After their 4–8–1 season, the team folded and Dana never saw the rest of his money.

“I would have played the next year but the Yankees went bankrupt,” Dana said. “I didn’t want to play away from New York, and the Giants were all filled up, so I forgot about it.”

Dana stopped playing but he continued to follow the game. On October 28, 2007, while watching an uneventful 13–6 win by the Bills over the Jets, he turned to his son Bob and said, “It’s a beautiful game. I always loved it, and I still do.”

He died the next day. His family buried him in his tuxedo bearing his NFL alumni pin. Hundreds of mourners attended his wake. Papers around the country covered the news. “Sam Dana, 104, Oldest Former NFL Player, Is Dead,” declared the New York Times. New Utrecht High held a moment of silence.

Dana’s family refers to the last four years of Sam’s life as his “resurrection.” Dana himself put it more modestly to a gathering of reporters just days before his 100th birthday.

“I didn’t even know I was missing,” he said. “But I’m glad they found me.”

Jeremy Smerd ’03JRN


 
 

The Commission

Rube Goldberg met with Cupid in an alley,
said “Look, I’ll help your broken arrow get
to where you want it. First off, let’s forget
a mountain’s any different from a valley —

we’ve never heard of obstacles. Next thing,
I’ll need a quiet place to work, some room
where I can’t hear the roaring traffic’s boom.
This attic’s perfect. Job well done. Now bring

me earplugs and a crate of beer, then scram.”
Cupid obeyed and flew back to his cloud
as Goldberg rolled his sleeves up, and a shroud
of secrecy descended ... Leeks, a pram,

dining-room tables and a duck were seen
entering the attic on a pulley
while the paparazzi dutifully
cluttered the corridor where they had been.

Days passed—or were they weeks?—time was a blur
in this electric climate of creation,
just say time passed, when hoots of celebration
coming from the attic caused a stir

among the small dogs on the street below.
Goldberg got Cupid on the phone and said
“I’m going to take the top right off your head:
come quickly to my room so I can show

my latest masterpiece to you....” Quaking
with highest hopes and sheer fear, Cupid paced,
put on his darkest sunglasses and raced
into the teeming city, his wings aching,

his mind afire, his nerves completely raw.
He took the elevator to the ninth floor
where, beaming, Goldberg met him at the door
and let him in. And this is what he saw:

metal and feathers rose up in a narrow
shaft that ended in a triangle
part plywood and part leafy vegetable;
Goldberg had made a statue of an arrow.

Cupid knew Goldberg wasn’t serious;
the real contraption waited in the wings!
But when he realized the plain truth of things
he raised his arms and cried out, furious,

“I wanted you to steer a fragile dart
through shark-torn waters and crow-blasted skies
to where my icy-cold beloved lies,
not mock it with this stiff, this ghastly art.”

“But frozen sorrow offers such a thrill,”
Goldberg replied, “to those who caused the pain
that motion’s loss will be persuasion’s gain.
If this doesn’t melt her, nothing will.”

“Oh Goldberg, Goldberg, would that it were true.
I also used to feel deep in my gut
that works of love could cure indifference, but
I’ve given that dream up, and so should you.

I wanted rockets surging from the ground.
I wanted pyrotechnics and not planks.
Your artistry’s beyond pathetic; thanks
for a great big nothing. See you around.”

But Goldberg, not one to be silenced, spent
the next day polishing a marble bow,
and marveled at how Cupid could have so
misunderstood what moving really meant.

Rachel Wetzsteon ’99GSAS Wetzsteon’s most recent collection of poems, Sakura Park, was published in 2006.