In 1995 I joined the ranks of Bay Area Classic Learning, an Elderhostel franchise held by David and Pat Kleinberg of San Francisco.

Elderhostel is a Boston-based enterprise that offers travel opportunities for those 55 years or older. Those who sign up months in advance for specific programs fly or drive to the hotel location, where they stay for the next five nights. Sometimes the groups are for three nights. During that time meals and rooms are provided as part of the package, and three different instructors appear three times each during the week. Subjects are designed to be "educational" but many are entertaining as well as informative. Most of the groups number 50. On the other hand, I have had some as small as 18 people and as many as 75.

David Kleinberg, with whom I had worked at the San Francisco Chronicle for more than 30 years, asked me if I would develop classes designed to reveal insider's information about the entertainment world. Since I had interviewed many of the stars of movies and television during my 33 years as an entertainment writer at the Chronicle, I was able to develop a large number of courses with my exclusive material. I try to give a brief overview of the 20th Century world of entertainment in the United States, and then focus in on specific topics or celebrities.

Since doing my first appearance nearly 14 years ago, I have made more than 1,000 appearances before the seniors of America, what I sometimes refer to as the World War II generation. They are the greatest and most appreciative audience one could ask to face. They grew up experiencing a newfangled thing called pop culture: motion pictures, vaudeville, popular music, radio, TV. If I describe myself as a teacher I do not think of myself as one. I feel that I entertain my audiences first, and inform them second. No doubt this came from my experience as a TV host for six years at KTVU Channel 2 in Oakland. Called CREATURE FEATURES, it was one of the most popular shows in the San Francisco-Bay Area with quality ratings. To maintain that rating, I learned the tricks of the trade about holding an audience.
For Elderhostel my attitude is informal and light, although underneath I try to be as prepared as possible, and pace my "lectures" so there is plenty of supplemental material, such as bites from movies and TV shows, and audio tracks. I've even brought in some human beings I sometimes use for show and tell.

These are the courses that I continue to present to current attendees:

THE GOLDEN CLASSICS OF THE SILVER SCREEN: This covers motion pictures from the coming of sound through the early 1950s. I deal with several genres, such as Westerns, Horror Films, Cliffhanger Serials, Musicals and the Propaganda Films of World War II. One of the highlights of this presentation is the development of John Wayne as an icon with clips from STAGECOACH, RED RIVER, THE QUIET MAN and HONDO. SHTICKS & STEINS: THE JEWISH CONTRIBUTION TO COMEDY.
My exclusive interviews with
JACK BENNY, GEORGE BURNS, SHELLEY BERMAN, MILTON BERLE, RODNEY DANGERFIELD and SID CAESAR highlight this very popular class - perhaps the most popular of them all. I also show a rare TV clip of MYRON COHEN, the dialect comedian. Others touched on are MARTIN & LEWIS, SMITH & DALE, LOU JACOBI, VICTOR BORGE, JACKIE MASON. I also have some fun with Yiddish expressions: "From this John Stanley makes a living?" is one of them. I love doing this course.

THE FRANK SINATRA SAGA: I leap in feet first and show both sides to the Sinatra persona: the happy face and the dark face. Chronologically I trace his history from his early days in New Jersey where his hard-edged mother taught him about power and influence, and his first meetings with the Underworld when he was Harry James' singer. Clips from his early films include THE HOUSE I LIVE IN and REVEILLE WITH BEVERLY. I especially focus in on Sinatra's involvement with the Kennedy family and how the singer was responsible for getting JFK into the White House - by whatever means called for. Plenty of cutaways to his classic songs, TV shows and best motion pictures. By presenting a fully rounded person, I think this class pleases those who like and/or dislike Sinatra. They leave feeling differently about the man.

ON THE ROAD AGAIN WITH HOPE AND CROSBY. This one includes my exclusive one-on-one interviews with Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and traces their individual histories as movie, TV and recording stars. But I also focus on their work together in the Road pictures, and other things (like golf and baseball) that brought them together. I especially spend a lot of time on the dark side of Crosby - the problems with the children and wife of his first marriage. Also included are my exclusive stories about Kathryn Grant Crosby, whom I had also interviewed for the Chronicle. She had her share of problems too but came out of it better. Tons of clips, radio show bites, etc. My coverage of Bob Hope doing USO shows for the military always draws a few tears from some of the old veterans.

FUNNY MOMENTS AT THE MOVIES. This was a tough one to put together because of so many different kinds of film comedy, but I probe outside the box and think I've come up with some unusual takes. Especially unusual is a Tex Avery cartoon, SYMPHONY OF SLANG, and my take on Neil Simon comedy in such films as THE ODD COUPLE and THE SUNSHINE BOYS. More traditional: THE THREE STOOGES (I have some exclusive Moe Howard material for this one), THE MARX BROTHERS, CHARLIE CHAPLIN, FRANK CAPRA, etc.

THE CATSKILLS: This is a 5-hour study of the Borscht Belt, the Jewish Alps - that tourist attraction in upper state New York that once was the training ground for such great comedians as BUDDY HACKETT, SID CAESAR and even GENE BARRY, who started out doing comedy long before doing "Bat Masterson." Plenty of classic film bites and behind-the-scenes stories of how some of our greatest comedians got started. Including Caesar in his lost musical, TARS AND SPARS. I have many other courses but most of them have been dropped from the schedules, and what I have listed here is current.

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