Monday, 30 May 2011

Attaboy, Clarence.

Hollywood stars just ain't what they used to be.

According to today's gossip rags the cream of the crop in the entertainment industry are, er, not so creamy. Arnold Schwarzenegger is a sex pest. Lindsey Lohan is in prison again. Tom Cruise is a lunatic. Mel Gibson is a racist. Charlie Sheen is… actually I have no idea what Charlie Sheen is (Gee Note: Outside of WINNING obviously. By the way, what does that even mean? I don't get it. Is it some sort of code? Like in those old black and white movies where Richard Attenborough would pick up a receiver and a crackly British voice would tell him the geese had flown north? Is that what Charlie Sheen is up to? Sending out coded messages to his army of mole-people who will eventually rise up and overthrow us? Only it will take a while because, well, they're mole-people and they don't move around all that quickly? Somebody needs to put a stop to this.). Hell last year even loveable comedy rogue Rip Torn got so wasted he broke in to a bank with a loaded firearm believing it was his house, and promptly fell asleep on the floor until the police arrived and arrested him. In fact not a day goes by without at least one celebrity making headlines having been caught driving a scooter high on glue while simultaneously having sex with a donkey. Or a prostitute. Or a donkey prostitute. One of those.

It wasn't always like this you understand. In fact outside of the odd one here and there A-listers used to be a rather dignified bunch of folks. Take James Stewart for example. Stewart was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania on May 20, and studied Architecture at Princeton University (Gee Note: NJ in the hizz-ouse y’all). After completing his studies he moved to L.A. and started to make a name for himself in the world of cinema. He became famous for portraying everyman characters in such classics as Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, It’s A Wonderful Life, Harvey, as well as edgier roles such as the voyeuristic L.B. Jeffries in Rear Window. In all he was nominated for an Oscar on five separate occasions, and managed to scoop the coveted award of Best Actor for his work in The Philadelphia Story.

Which would be pretty damn impressive by itself. But in 1941 the second Great War came knocking on America’s door and Stewart felt compelled to enlist. He couldn’t make the height or weight requirements to join the army and so instead ended up in the air force as a private. Over the next four years he rose to the rank of major and led twenty “official” flights in to enemy territory (Gee Note: Rumour has it he made three more than that at least, but for whatever reason they weren’t recorded properly. Which must be frustrating. I should know. I’ve beaten Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson in tug-of-war SIX times now, but because no one else was in the room and Rocky pretends he’s never heard of me you won’t find it anywhere in the record books. What’s wrong Rock? Scared of my raw awesome power are you?).

photo via wikipedia.

After the war ended Stewart remained in the military, joining the Air Force Reserves. He eventually retired as Brigadier General Stewart in 1968, having earned a Distinguished Service Medal, two Distinguished Flying Cross awards, and the Croix de Guerre. Despite his exemplary service record Stewart would rarely talk about his war time experiences in interviews, believing instead that he was simply doing his duty as an American citizen. Compare that to the recent Haiti earthquake appeal that swept Hollywood and the results are startling. During that particular charity drive stars left, right and centre were popping out of the woodwork to tell reporters how much money they were donating. I mean Christ, Sean Penn even "moved" there to "help out". (Gee Note: Along with his personal photographer. And his stylist. Oh and an easy access route back to L.A. of course). In contrast James Stewart went off to fight Nazis just because he thought it was the right thing to do, and didn't even bother to use the publicity it would generate to boost his movie career.

See what I mean? James Stewart simply towers over today's poor excuse for cinema icons. In fact the only way he could be more awesome is if he, oh I don't know, once smuggled a Yeti's hand out of India in order to verify its authenticity or something.

Yeah. He did that too.

Allow me to explain. It all starts with a man named Tom Slick (Gee Note: Who sounds like a chap who wears a large black moustache and stars in many a 1970's blue movie. "Never fear ladies" he'll say "My name is Tom Slick and I'm here to fix that no good plumbing of yours") Slick, born in 1916, was an heir to a Texas oil business. As such Tommy had a ton of disposal income and way too much time on his hands. Rather than do what I would do in such a situation (Gee Note: Namely sitting on the sofa with no clothes on laughing about how rich I am, while rubbing wads of cash against my naked body), Slick decided he would put his time and money to good use. He learnt to fly. He tried his hand at inventing and was the founder of the Southwest Research Institute. He campaigned for world peace and even wrote a book about it entitled "Permanent Peace: A Check and Balance Plan". And then he decided to become an adventurer.

Slick wasn't content to be just any little rich boy with a compass and a trust fund, one who would head out to the jungle for two or three hours before being air lifted to the nearest penthouse suite. Oh no siree. Thomas wanted the full, balls-out, wildman of the woods experience, including sleeping on leaf covered floors and eating caterpillar dung to survive. More importantly, Slick was determined to bag himself a monster. He spent years trying to track the likes of Nessie, Bigfoot, and The Trinity Alps Giant Salamander, all with varying degrees of success. However, by far his greatest accomplishment was his quest to find Bigfoot's Asian cousin, The Yeti.

Slick took many expeditions to Nepal searching for the Abominable Snowman. On one of his first in 1957 he heard about a Buddhist monastery in Pangboche that claimed to have a genuine-to-goodness Yeti’s hand lying around somewhere. Two years later Slick approached the monastery and enquired if he could study the specimen. “Ummm yeah alright” said the monks. Tom and a member of the expedition named Peter Byrne were then presented with what looked like a large skeletal hand preserved in a piece of cloth.

The hand looked the part due to its size and structure, but both Slick and Byrne were wary. Only six years earlier the infamous Piltdown Man, the alleged fossilized remains of a previously unknown early human, had been exposed as a combination of a modern human’s skull with an orang-utan’s jawbone. Concerned that he too may be looking at a similar hoax our man from Texas was desperate to have the hand thoroughly examined.

Fascinated by this discovery but frustrated by the lack of necessary equipment available in Nepal, Slick put forward a request to take a sample of the hand out of the country for further study. To which the monks responded “Are you f***ing crazy? No way buddy” (Gee Note: It turns out that monks have worse potty mouths than sailors.). Slick pleaded with them to change their minds but the monks wouldn’t budge. “Not a chance Jack” they said. “The hand stays with us”.

photo via wikipedia.

So, Byrne and Slick put their heads together and came up with the only sensible solution. They decided they would steal the hand.

Not all of it you understand. Just enough to run a couple of tests. And with a plan in place, Byrne was allowed to look at the Yeti digits one last time. On this occasion however he swapped some parts out with human finger bones and gave it back to monks while whistling and trying to avoid eye contact. Then Slick and Byrne legged it like they were Scooby-Doo and Shaggy coming face to face with a caretaker dressed up us a ghost. (Gee Note: By the way did you know that Shaggy's real first name is "Norville"? Welcome to my world of AMAZING FACTS).

Arriving in India, Byrne soon realised they had a problem. Namely "What the Hell do we do now?". Even though this was the late 50's airport security was no joke, especially in India where things like human rights and the law were, shall we say, more like guidelines than actual rules as far as the authorities were concerned. So they called upon the one man who they could rely on.

On the back of a unicorn and with his shirt open (Gee Note: Not really) James Stewart arrived to save the day. Stewart, who just happened to be in India at the time with his wife, was a good friend of Slick’s. Largely because they were both flying enthusiasts and Slick was rich enough to hang around with movie stars. Byrne and Slick convinced Stewart to help them smuggle the bones out of India, and Stewart came up with the idea of hiding them in and amongst his wife’s underwear. The idea being that no security guard on earth would dream of asking James Stewart if he could have a quick look through his wife’s knickers.

It worked like a charm, and Stewart was allowed to board the plane without incident. After arriving in London, James duly delivered the Pangboche Hand back to Byrne and went off to on his merry way to train air force pilots and make brilliant pieces of cinema. Byrne wanted to confirm that the hand was worth all this trouble after all and enlisted the help of William Charles Osman Hill, a well respected Primatologist at London University. Hill was given some fragments of the specimen only to conclude that the origin of the relic was almost certainly human. However a year later Hill had convinced himself that he’d missed something and resumed his study of the hand. This time he concluded that while it represented features that were very close to human, the most likely match would be a Neanderthal.

Amazingly the hand was then largely ignored by the scientific community, possibly because it was pinched from a bunch of peace loving holy dudes. In fact this entire story was forgotten about until Loren Coleman unearthed it while researching a book on Tom Slick. Coleman treated such a fantastical story with cynicism, until both Byrne and Stewart himself confirmed it was true. And then in 1991 the television show Unsolved Mysteries obtained some samples of the hand from George Agogino, another member of Slick’s party. After rigorous testing it was concluded that these samples were “similar to but not human” and could only be defined as “near human” (Gee Note: You mean, like the cast of “Jersey Shore”?)

Sadly that’s where the story crashes to a halt. The samples provided by Byrne and Agogino have long since been lost, and what remained of the hand was stolen from the Pangboche monastery in the mid-90’s. Rumour has it the hand now rests in the possession of a private collector (Gee Note: Rumour also has it that Wales international footballer Ryan Giggs has... er... nevermind).

So we may now never know whether the Pangboche Hand was that of a real Yeti, or whether it was a clever hoax. But there is one thing I think we can safely say for certain.

James Stewart was a much better example of a Hollywood star than what we have now.

Monsters Inc. Pixar. 2001

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