In Tune with June!

She’s an actress, a producer, and director – and she’s good-looking, too. I first became aware of Natalie Portman when she won her first Oscar six years ago as the dysfunctional ballerina in the 2010 “Black Swan.” Of course, since then, there’s been a long list of prizes and nominations. However, when I researched Natalie Portman, I found her background interestingly enough to be the subject of a movie. Portman was born in Jerusalem to an Israeli father and American mother. They moved stateside when she was three, living in Maryland and Connecticut before settling on Long Island. She started acting at age eleven but was encouraged to live like a conventional middle-class striver. She studied at Harvard and told a reporter, “I’d rather be smart than a movie star.” I’m sure that didn’t fit well in Hollywood. She turned out to be both and probably regrets that comment. All of the above came to my mind when I watched her starring in the movie “Jackie.” She revived Jackie Kennedy on screen and it’s a story of resilience. In the film, there’s a jarringly intimate portrait of Mrs. Kennedy’s life after JFK’s murder. Coincidentally, Jackie was 34 at the time of the assassination; Portman is 35. Recreated in the movie is Kennedy’s White House Tour TV special from 1962. I remember watching it. As Jackie, Portman gives us the hurts, bewilderment, and cunning. It would seem impossible but she also was able to replicate Kennedy’s unusual mid-Atlantic dialect, marked by discordant, rounded vowels and a hushed breathing timbre. There’s riveting scenes of the Jackie of the White House: alternately bemused and tormented, vulnerable and self-willed with her own towering vanity. In 2001, the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute exhibit included a book “Jackie Kennedy – The White House Years” by Hamish Bowles. Natalie Portman is famously private when it comes to family. She is married to French choreographer Benjamin Millepied with whom she has a five-year-old son and is expecting a second child in the Spring. She is set to play Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a crusading ACLU lawyer fighting for gender equality before the Supreme Court in the seventies. It’s something to look forward to.
For the Bayonne Senior Orchestra, it was a real musical happening. We were scheduled to play for a seasonal concert at St. Anne’s Home in Jersey City just as we’ve done for several years. However, this year was made very special. It all came about as a result of my attending a luncheon honoring Peppi Morreale at the Catholic War Veterans’ Post on 23rd Street in Bayonne. It was great to see every table packed with family and friends of the pianist and to see Dorothy Moreton from the Healthy Bones Class sitting opposite me. At that celebration, Peppi played and entertained with stories of the celebrities he met in Las Vegas. I was happy to be introduced briefly to him and his multi-musical family. Casually, I mentioned that the Bayonne Senior Orchestra would be entertaining the very next week. That was all. However, much to my happy surprise, his daughter arranged for him to come to join us at St. Anne’s and, indeed, he did. Quietly, I relinquished the baby grand to him. He sat down and played three songs without any fanfare, and without any sheet music. His arrangements of “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” and two other songs were original and superb. So, I’m writing this to say thank goodness that Peppi Morreale is back in our town making us all, musically speaking, very happy.
My favorite American poet, Robert Frost, says “Half the world is composed of people who have something to say and can’t, and the other half, who have nothing to say and keep on saying it.” That quote kept going through my mind as I watched television’s “Gilmore Girls.” Its initial run was from 2000 to 2007. One of the story lines, with their rapid-fire repartee, is back. Netflix has released a new four-part miniseries. It stars Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel back as mother and daughter. Watching it with my friend, I found that he was less than impressed. I was already familiar with the town, Stars Hollow, filled with enthusiastic but talent-challenged townspeople. It’s a sentimental family drama, but those who didn’t watch it in its first run find it hard to follow. Mother and daughter are best friends in contrast to Lorelei’s relationship with her mother, Emily. Lauren Graham has written her memoir appropriately titled “Talking as Fast as I Can.” And the witty banter speeds on. Here’s a quote from William Shakespeare: “Talking isn’t doing – words are not deeds.” So true – I find myself saying that almost every day.
Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett sing Cole Porter’s song “Anything Goes” (I wrote about it last month) – “Good authors who once used better words, now use four-letter words writing prose.” And that was written in 1934. These days, it’s impossible to watch a sitcom without those four-letter words. In 2017, there’s no washing a kid’s mouth with soap if he uses those words. It seems as if everyone swears. So how can anyone teach a child that it’s forbidden? Well, there are two new books that examine the linguistic, neurology, sociology, and just plain fun of cursing – although personally I don’t find it fun. Well, you first have to know what counts as profanity. Benjamin K. Bergen’s book is titled, “What the F – What Swearing Reveals About Our Language, Our Brain and Ourselves.” He’s not sure what the reader wants to know. The scholars who know the most about language have mostly shunned dirty words as a subject. Bergen points out that there is no evidence that exposure to profanity harms children although he acknowledges that slurs directed at people because of their racial, ethnic, and sexual identity are measurably harmful. The historical linguist, Michael Adams, in his new book, “In Praise of Profanity” sets out to catalog “the many benefits – personal, social, and aesthetic” – of cursing a blue streak. Really?! The linguist admires it for giving voice to anger. He states that profanity can be “useful, expressive and even artful.” Frankly I never toss around what I refer to as four-letter words. This author fears a future in which “nothing will be obscene, nothing profane, and nothing taboo.” Perhaps the beleaguered parents who tell their kids not to say off-color words in public might not really know why they shouldn’t. When the last prohibition fades away, so will the power of the words. Remember when Rhett Butler in “Gone With the Wind” said to Scarlett, “Frankly I don’t give a damn!”? Well, I do!
You can e-mail June Sturz at

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