I Have a Short Snorter

I have discovered, among my father’s possessions, that I have inherited his short snorter. A short snorter is a single bill, or multiple bills that have been taped together and that, upon examination, are found to be covered with signatures.  It is a custom that apparently originated from or was popularized by Alaskan bush pilots and was eventually adopted by WWII aviators. 

As the custom goes, an airman passes around a banknote and asks those he is with to sign it. Then, if they should ever meet again and he is asked to produce the short snorter with the requestor’s signature and fails to do so, he must buy that person a drink (or snort). 

There are many of these around, some of them containing famous names. Marlene Dietrich collected one that contained 83 bills and over 1,000 high profile names including Ernest Hemingway, Irving Berlin and George S. Patton. My father, serving in the 8th Army Air Corps (448th BG), seemed most interested in collecting foreign currency as his short snorter consists of 14 bills taped together from a number of different countries: Portugese escudos, English shillings, French francs, German marks, Canadian dollars, Cuban pesos, and of course the US dollar bill. Each of them containing signatures of people unfamiliar to me but who, at one time, apparently played an important part of my father’s WWII history.

I can’t help but thinking that each one of these bills told a story to my father. I imagine he could not only remember each person whose signatures he obtained but the circumstances in which he collected them. (And I’m definitely sure he’d remember whether he ever had to pay out for leaving his short snorter behind in the barracks.)

But his short snorter is mine now. And if Lenny Burns, Arthur Bach, Eddie “Mulla Bone” Redlan, or any of the other dozen names from 1945 displayed on it should ever ask me to produce it, I’ll be ready.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

And Devil Makes Three

I love it when people bring in family treasures that they’ve inherited or found but have no idea what memories may be contained within them. It is a mystery that I can help to solve. Today, a woman brought in boxes from her home that contained reels of film, carousels of slides and envelopes of photographs. And tucked away in the bottom of one of the boxes were two 45rpm records  containing recorded messages along with a written letter that came from a soldier stationed in Germany in the early 1950s.

I’ve yet to transfer the audio but I glanced at the letters from 1952 that the soldier wrote home describing life in post war Germany. He was excited because Gene Kelly was in the area making a film and some of the Americans stationed there were going to be tapped to be extras in his movie.

Upon investigating, it would appear that the film in question was “The Devil Makes Three” which was made in 1952 on location in Germany and starred Gene Kelly and Italian actress Pier Angeli. The film was about a man who returns to Germany after the war to track down the German family who protected him when his plane was shot down. While there he uncovers a neo-Nazi group still operating in the shadows.

I don’t know if the writer of the letter ever appeared in the film. All I know is that he was excited that he might be among those chosen. I did find out why Gene Kelly was appearing in a film shot on location in post-war Germany.  It turns out that in 1951 the US Congress passed a law that allowed a significant tax break to any Americans who lived abroad for 18 months or longer. During that time those ex-pats would not have to report any earnings they received while out of the country.

Kelly was one of the first Hollywood stars to take advantage of this new law. The Devil Makes Three was the first of three films Kelly made overseas during this time. While some believed Kelly’s move was purely financially based, others thought that Kelly moved to get away from the McCarthyism running amok in the US at the time because his wife, Betsy Blair, was known to outwardly support several left-wing Communist causes and he felt he could protect his family better outside of the country.

While his film was not received warmly upon its release it has endured largely because it provides a real time perspective of post war Germany. Its final scenes were even shot in Hitler’s retreat at Berchtesgaden before it was demolished in 1953. 

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Voices of Yesteryear

June 11, 2020

Three vinyl records came into my studio the other day. These weren’t the commercially made rock or pop albums most of us grew up with. These were homemade disks recorded at 78 rpm that were made over 75 years ago. I know this because it was written on the label.

In the 1940s, there were dozens of “Voice-O-Graph” machines sprinkled up and down the Coney Island boardwalk. They looked like telephone booths and by inserting 25 cents, you could actually record your voice and have it scratched into the grooves of your own personal record for all of posterity.

The three records I received and transferred to digital audio files for their preservation had my client’s father crooning familiar standards and pop favorites in the style of Bing Crosby. What a wonderful treasure for the family to have. Sure, there are scratches and pops throughout the recording but that only adds to the charm of being able to hear voices from the past, recorded as they lived through what for them was their present. All three records were dated June, 1944… shortly after the D-Day invasion. The songs were upbeat, filled with hope and promise, with just a tinge of melancholy. I’d say it was a perfect capsulation of the mood of that time. I am honored to have been a part of preserving this personally impactful and historic moment.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Cover Fire

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2020 has to be the weirdest year ever. As one TV pundit put it, “It’s like we’re living through the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, the 1929 Great Depression, and the 1968 social unrest… all at the same time.”

Yesterday, in our quaint little community of Mount Dora, we were placed under curfew in response to the rioting taking place across the country. The word curfew is of French origin, derived from an Old French phrase “couvre-feu” which literally means “cover fire.” It was in reference to a 11th century law enacted by William the Conqueror which instructed people to cover or put out lights and fires at 8pm to help prevent the threat of spreading flames within and between the wooden buildings of their communities.

The flames that are currently burning in the hearts of so many; flames that are resulting in the wanton destruction of property and the putting of innocents in harms way – it is hard to imagine they would ever spread to my little town but I suppose stranger things have happened.

I understand the anger and the distrust so many feel. I don’t understand the violence and destruction taking place. I simply don’t see how that helps anybody’s case. True change, if that’s what people are seeking, will never come from external forces or pressure. It can only start from within. We must change ourselves first. Change the way we act; change the way we react; change the way we view people. We look in the mirror and make the deliberate choice to become the person we want others to be. If enough of us do that and, by leading from example, encourage others to follow, perhaps we’d be on the way to building a world that doesn’t provide us with so many cringe-worthy or heartbreaking moments.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

You Say Football, I Call It Soccer

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As we continue our semi-isolation, we are ever vigilant for some new, engaging television shows on which to binge.  My wife and I just recently finished the six episode mini-series from Downton Abbey creator Julian Fellowes. It’s called The English Game and it is currently streaming on Netflix.  It is an excellent depiction of the early years of the game the English call football. For some reason we, in the United States, call it soccer.

Based very loosely on historical events, the series follows the lives of its two main characters: Arthur Kinnard, an upper class gentleman and founding member of the Football Association (FA) which sought to provide rules and structure to a fledgling sport; and Fergus Suter, a working-class man who made his living as a stone mason who dared dream of a life playing the game he grew to love. These two individuals, who actually existed, did more than most to build the game of football/soccer into a global obsession.

Excellent character development, interesting historical elements, and dramatic pacing and flow make this a must-see show for those of us starved for entertainment diversions.  I heartily recommend it.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Memorial Day

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In observance of Memorial Day, we’re taking a few days off to reflect upon those who served and those we’ve lost.  We’ll be back in the studio on Tuesday. Until then, here’s a repost of a blog from last year about some of the military men in my family:

From left to right:

My father, Edward J. Ondrasik, who, with the Eighth Air Force, flew 24 missions over Germany as a bombardier during WWII. We learned afterwards that he flew each of those 24 missions without a parachute as he could not fit into the bombardier compartment with it on. He died in 2009.

My uncle, Charles C. Parish, served as Lt. Commander in the US Navy. Was a pilot of a #2 F-4J (Phantom) during the Vietnam War. He was shot down over North Vietnam and declared Missing in Action in 1968. His status was changed to Killed in Action in 1973. His name is among the tens of thousands engraved on the Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington DC.

My maternal grandfather, Herman O. Parish, who, as captain and commanding officer received the Navy Cross and the Legion of Merit for services rendered during WWII. He retired as a US Navy Rear Admiral. He died in 1989.

We honor their memory and thank them for their service and sacrifice. As we do all who have given service to our country.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

SAFER AT HOME – DAY FORTY-TWO

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May 14, 2020

I wonder if people 50 years from now will look back at some of the television spots we produce with the same level of bemusement we experience when we look at some of the stuff that aired back in the 60s?

I have long been a subscriber to The National Archives which has a mission similar to ours – the conservation and preservation of motion picture records. And every so often they let us take as peek into their archives and review some of the gems that are both fascinating and a little giggle-worthy.

Here’s one that I caught today of The Swingin’ Six as they explain the need for a Zip Code system within the US Post Office.

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It kind of reminds me of a radio PSA I wrote for a class project on the dangers of underaged smoking. The entire 60 second spot consisted of me trying to read from a published brochure they gave us while hacking my lungs out. Largely improvised (because I forgot to do the assignment), it was chosen from the class to be recorded and broadcast – pretty sure on AM radio (WINK were the local call letters).  If I only had the Swingin’ Six to help me out back then, it might have gone national.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

SAFER AT HOME – DAY THIRTY-FIVE

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May 7, 2020

We are living during some rather unbelievable times… but nothing that is unique to mankind. I’m not sure who wrote the following, but these words certainly provide a perspective that should give us all pause…

“We probably all think that it’s a mess out there now. Hard to discern between what’s a real threat and what is just simple panic and hysteria. For a small amount of perspective at this moment, imagine you were born in 1900.  Many would think that that was a pretty simple time of life. Then on your 14th birthday, World War I starts, and ends on your 18th birthday. 22 million people perish in that war, including many of your friends who volunteered to defend freedom in Europe. 

Later in the year, a Spanish Flu epidemic hits the planet and runs until your 20th birthday. 50 million people die from it in those two years. Yes, 50 million. On your 29th birthday, the Great Depression begins. Unemployment hits 25%, the World GDP drops 27%. That runs until you are 38. The country nearly collapses along with the world economy.   If you were lucky, you had a job that paid $300 a year, a dollar a day. 

When you turn 39, World War II starts. You aren’t even over the hill yet, but don’t try to catch your breath.  If you lived in London, England or most of continental Europe, bombing of your neighborhood, or invasion of your country by foreign soldiers along with their tank and artillery was a daily event.  Thousands of Canadian young men joined the army to defend liberty with their lives.  Between your 39th and 45th birthday, 75 million people perish in the war. 

At 50, the Korean War starts. 5 million perish. At 55 the Vietnam War begins and doesn’t end for 20 years. 4 million people perish in that conflict. On your 62nd birthday there is the Cuban Missile Crisis, a tipping point in the Cold War. Life on our planet, as we know it, could have ended.  Sensible leaders prevented that from happening. 

In 2020, we have the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands have died; it feels pretty dangerous; and it is. Now think of everyone on the planet born in 1900. How do you think they survived all of the above?  When you were a kid in 1965, you didn’t think your 65-year-old grandparents understood how hard school was, and how mean that kid in your class was. Yet they survived through everything listed above. Perspective is an amazing art. Refined as time goes on, and very enlightening. So, let’s try and keep things in perspective.”

Keep your chin up, your mind sharp and remember… we’ve gotten through worse times than this.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Safer at Home – Day Twenty-Three

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April 24, 2020

I spent much of the day running some 8mm and Super 8 film for a client in order to convert it to a digital form so it can be put on a DVD or USB flash drive. I would say that 95% of the film I receive in our studio is silent. The video cameras of the 1970s and 1980s that included a built in microphone were a bit pricey and most families opted for the more reasonable silent film option.

Which leads me to today’s topic… What is my favorite silent film?

There’s a lot to choose from. My favorite happens to rank #11 on the best silent film list on IMDB.com (international Movie Database). Not surprisingly, Charlie Chaplin directed three of the top four films. But my favorite was not a Chaplin film, although they are all worthy. Instead my choice goes to one of his contemporaries.

In 1926, the incomparable Buster Keaton starred in a Civil War comedy/action/drama called The General. It has long been recognized as a masterful example of its form. A mere 67 minutes long, it tells the story of a train engineer who tried to join the Confederate Army when the war broke out only to be rejected because he was too valuable in his job. But his sweetheart, Annabelle Lee, thinks him to be a coward. When his beloved train, “The General,” is stolen by Union spies with Annabelle Lee on board, he must move heaven and earth to rescue both.

Keaton is at his best here with his deadpan delivery making the amazing stunts and action sequences more humorous than we might expect. I heartily recommend it if you haven’t seen it. After all, being told to stay at home can have its advantages.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.

Safer at Home – Day Twenty-One

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April 22, 2020

It took 21 days but I finally looked into where we got the name quarantine.

Socially distancing contagious people has been around for a long time. There are records in the Bible of people with contagious infections forced to stay outside the city gates. People affected with leprosy, arguably the oldest of human infections, were kept segregated from the rest of the population, in colonies established on remote islands or on mountaintops.

The word itself was coined in the mid 14th century. The bubonic plague, aka The Black Plague, managed to kill one-third of the European population in the space of 3 years. During this time, a law was passed in the Venetian controlled port city of Ragusa (now in Croatia). Called trentino, which means thirty days, this law established a thirty day isolation period for any ship arriving from a plague afflicted area. No one was to board or disembark for those thirty days.

The law was quickly adopted by other cities and within the next hundred years, an additional ten days was added to the isolation and the practice went from trentino to quarantino, hence our English word quarantine.

The United States Congress, in 1878, passed the National Quarantine Act permitting the federal government to act during an outbreak of yellow fever. By 1921, the quarantine system was completely nationalized.

Michael Ondrasik and Home Video Studio Mount Dora specialize in the preservation of family memories through the digitalization of film, videotapes, audio recordings, photos, negatives, and slides. For more information, call 352-735-8550 or visit our website.