Saturday, September 30, 2017

Remembering Monty Hall, and the Good ol’ Days of “Let’s Make a Deal”

Learning tonight that another cherished childhood icon, TV Game Show Host Monty Hall, had died today, my first words were, “Oh Monty, Monty, Monty.” What untold hours of joy and laughter and good, clean fun we enjoyed together throughout my childhood. The daytime afternoon TV show would come on my little black and white TV in my San Antonio living room and summertime was fun time whenever Monty was on the air, teaching me the true, unexpurgated “art of the deal.” Monty’s real name was Maurice Halperin when he was born in Canada, but he made a wise decision in changing it to Monty Hall.

I was not even a teenager when I started watching this NBC show, which debuted in 1963 and lasted all the way through 1977, pretty remarkable for a game show. I don’t consider myself a material person but I did learn early in life what things cost, what they were worth, and how much the possible acquisition of some of the “finer” things in life would cost me, should I one day be able to make enough money to afford them.

Each day, I looked forward to joining my friend Monty, and two new friends, one off-camera and one on-, (Jay Stewart and Carol Merrill, respectively), whenever the charming game show music began. Jay would say:

“These people dressed as they are come from all over the United States to make deals here in the marketplace of America, “Let’s Make a Deal!” And now here’s America’s top trader, TV’s big dealer, Monty Hall!”

And then I’d smile.

Onto the trading floor, the cameras would pan the festive and zany costumes with which individuals and couples would be all dressed up in hopes that their crazy wardrobe would attract Monty’s eyes. They’d scream, “Monty, Monty, pick me, pick me!” unabashedly and when Monty picked them, it was full joy mode with people jumping up and down like there was no tomorrow. They brought the strangest stuff you could ever think of to trade with Monty for a chance to play the game.

Now, you had to make choices as a contestant. You started with smaller first deals of the day, and then if you won enough in cash and prizes, Monty would invite you to keep what you had won or “to go for the big deal of the day,” hidden behind one of three curtain doors. Two finalists were selected to compete for the big deal and whoever won the most money and prizes that show got to pick their choice of number for the first curtain.

I learned that beautiful dress furs came from Dicker and Dicker of Beverly Hills. To a young girl in San Antonio, I could only dream of visiting Beverly Hills, or NBC Burbank studios, one day if I was very lucky, but I knew I’d want to have enough to visit Dicker and Dicker, ha. Then there was beautiful sterling silver from the Michael C. Fina Company.

If anyone ever doubts the value of branding, think again. Say you want to make your product a brand, a household name. Repetition works, and works, and works. Every time Jay Stewart said Michael C. Fina, I not only remembered the name, what it belonged to and Mr. Fina’s middle initial…and still do 54 years later. It’s either embarrassing or refreshing to admit what I can and cannot recall from childhood. The rivers in Texas were not half as fascinating as the possibility of winning Rice-a-Roni, the San Francisco treat, as a potential contestant who walked away with a bad deal, aka, a “zonk.”

How many catch phrases did this show add to our lexicon? Seriously? Let’s think

What’s inside the box?

“Do you want to keep what you have or go for what’s behind the curtain?”
“I’ll go for what’s behind the curtain!” “It’s the big deal of the day!” “Oh no, I was zonked!” “Monty, Monty, Monty!”

Jay Stewart still made it sound not too bad if we saw someone get zonked, and Carol Merrill showed us all sorts of appliances in the most graceful and beautiful fashion with her model-like hands and gracious ways of drawing attention to the true beauty of kitchen appliances. Now you are envisioning Carol’s hand and arm movements right now? Aren’t you? You know you are!

One of the most refreshing things about the show is that there was never cause to be embarrassed in watching because it was all good, clean fun. It wasn’t until Chuck Barris entered the game show circuit that the double entendre came into fluid use on game shows.

No, Monty was fun and he was G-rated and he was so kind, so very kind, when people lost and he would always spend time in the gallery above the trading floor at the end of the show. “I’ll give you $100 if anyone brought a paperclip, eyebrow tweezers, or a thermometer….”

I'm purposely avoiding the statistical discussion and math references to "The Monty Hall Problem" because it involves three unopened doors and gives me a headache to contemplate when I'd much rather just think about the game show. But yes, we're aware of it, haha!

People showed up with satchels and purses full of obscure “stuff” just in case Monty offered $100 to anyone who brought him something he called for. The first to have it and produce it went home a winner. Everyone won by watching “Let’s Make a Deal,” and it was a pillar of my early love of competitive games. I thought I had very keen intuitive powers as a kid, especially if you’d seen my track record of knowing what curtain the big deal was behind every day. But, you couldn’t be a contestant when you were 8, or 11, or 14. And so I had to wait.

As a joke for years as a kid, when people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I’d say “a professional game show contestant,” and I was only half-kidding. I loved the excitement of the unknown, the chase for the prize, and the thrill of victory and skillfully avoiding defeat. So, I became a chemist instead. Yes, the two fields are so close. If anyone every had to take organic chemistry, you know what a zonk is, and if you’ve ever passed physical chemistry, you know what survival is. Pretty much life is a game show and we’re all the happy contestants at different times of our lives or that’s how I rationalized it when I didn’t get to Television City for my chance at the bigtime.

(Above: Wayne Brady, Jonathan Mangum, Monty Hall; Below: Tiffany Coyne and Carol Merrill)

Today the show goes on, thanks to Wayne Brady and Jonathan Mangum. Now Wayne is one truly gifted comedian and singer, and a skilled, award-winning talk show host, and I know Jonathan from a few episodes of “NCIS” where he played a “replacement” special agent when Tony, Ziva, and McGee all turned in their badges, but frankly, it’s not the same. Wayne does his very best to continue the show into this generation and is convincing, kind, sings great with the contestants and gives away a lot of stuff.

But, there’s never going to be anything quite as perfect as the original, and the man in the sports jackets who hailed from Canada and was our faithful friend every day for many of his 96 years.

He is survived by his daughter, actress Joanna Gleason, and daughter, TV executive and producer Sharon Hall, and son, writer/director and reality show producer Richard Hall. Monty’s wife, Marilyn, passed away just three months ago in June, 2017. Marilyn was a TV producer (TV movie “A Woman Called Golda”) as well as a writer (one episode of “Love, American Style”), which rounded out the true Hollywood family, if one can verify all the IMDB information posted. The couple was married for 64 years, another part of the happily ever after story.

Thank you for adding to my childhood, Monty Hall (and co-creator Stefan Hatos) and for creating “Let’s Make a Deal.” You were such a fun part of the growing-up years of all Baby Boomers. I’m guessing that you chose curtain number one, and you’re very happy right now. "Jay, why don't you tell him what he's won!"

RIP Monty, Monty, Monty.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Reaching for the Sky, for the Sake of Dr. Ernesto Bernal

As a child, I had very few heroes. The fluidity of childhood meant growth and change, so there wasn’t a fixed amount of time to develop long-term trust in adults, save for their daily presence in your life. Thanks to Keystone School, all the educators placed teaching as their number one priority, so eventually I’d find many heroes throughout my years there.

To be clear, the founders were never my heroes; they were facilitators in my life. Aside from my mom, I do recall awarding the first title of “hero” to the future Dr. Ernesto Bernal, who taught English and Government to the high schoolers. At the time, he was known as “Mr. Bernal” or “Mr. B.” I trusted him implicitly, instinctively, and I was, and remain, slow to give my trust.

Keystone’s campus was a collective of old Victorian style homes in the Monte Vista District of San Antonio. Not only did it feel like home, it looked like home. Fireplaces in certain rooms, old-time radiators in others, a red plastic vinyl couch in the main hallway for children to sit on between classes, and a full-scale commercial kitchen smack in the middle of the building with amazing cooks preparing homemade lunches. The old carriage house was now a makeshift science lab with a classroom directly upstairs, accessed by iron railed steps. There was no gymnasium; we had an asphalt basketball court. Yes, we were home all right.

As a discerning child, clearly more skeptical than I realized until years later, I expected people to fall into one of two categories: ones who would do what they said they would do, and others whose word meant nothing.

One of the “grown-ups” I met first at Keystone was Mr. Bernal. He’d soared through Central Catholic High School and St. Mary’s University and when I arrived, he was teaching at Keystone, highly regarded as both teacher and friend by all my friends in high school. That last sentence might give you pause to doubt…a five-year-old with friends in high school? That was Keystone, though, and as diverse as we were in race, creed, and socioeconomic level, we were diverse in the ages of our friends. At the time, I was about 18 months younger than most of my own classmates. So, the high schoolers were fascinating to me, as they never talked “down” to me. Not one.

That’s how I was bold enough to address a “grown-up” and greet Mr. Bernal often, early in the morning when he arrived on campus and checked into the dining room to welcome the day. With his warm, loving smile, my eyes quickly found his and I went right up to him. He extended his hand and shook it firmly and bowed his six-foot-plus frame to meet me at eye level, without crouching down. His deep, rich voice resonated with his words.

Everyone received the same greeting, so I wasn’t any different than the others. He carefully studied all his “future” students. His senior high students adored him, and they considered him a mentor, friend, and almost equal, as he was really only about six years older than they were.

Later, Mr. Bernal would embark on master’s studies at St. Mary’s, while teaching. Although he ultimately left Keystone in 1966 to pursue doctoral studies full-time, it wouldn’t be the last time we’d see him. He’d come back occasionally to visit with some students who were now seniors themselves. Now, they addressed him as Ernie. He remained their friend and mentor, even if he wasn’t their teacher. And, St. Mary’s wasn’t that far away and we loved seeing him.

And, it wasn’t until Oct. 1, 2016, that I would learn the story behind how Ernie came to Keystone. I will quote directly from the beautiful words written by his wife, Carmen, and shared on the day of the unveiling of a most special honor, long overdue. As she writes,

“On the Monday after Labor Day, 1960, Ernie M. Bernal, a 22-year-old brand new graduate of St. Mary’s University, walked into Keystone School to start a job as high school English teacher and Government teacher. His job interview with Coach Edwin W. Eargle, Headmaster of Keystone, had been rather rushed and he was told, ‘Don’t call us, we’ll call you.’ Coach added, ‘WE have a lot of applicants for this job.’ Ernie answered, ‘Not like me you don’t.’ And he was invited to sit back down and chat a while.”

Of course, he was hired.

Just as every student basically was involved in as many extracurricular activities as possible, Keystone faculty wore more than two hats. Originally asked to help grade the entrance exams screening potential Keystone students, Ernie asked if he could reach out to expand the pool of scholarship students by calling colleagues and friends at every high school across San Antonio including all socioeconomic backgrounds to send their best to try out.

They immediately agreed. It was because of Ernie Bernal that Keystone truly became ethnically diverse and seamlessly so. Throughout my entire twelve years at Keystone it was always the most wonderful learning experience everyone enjoyed. It wasn’t simply tolerance for others’ beliefs, we embraced our cultural diversity and brought out the best in one another, always with respect. That’s to Ernie’s insight and credit plus others’ good judgment.

Keystone graduated more than the usual number of future scientists and doctors, but they educated everyone to be critical thinkers and even philosophers, ready to take on anything and everything with a passion. Debate was encouraged, opposing ideas always welcome. Independent thought among students was cultivated. Spirits of creativity abounded.

For six years, from 1960 to 1966, Keystone flourished with the presence of educator Bernal. But as a child, I never knew that. While teaching at Keystone, he completed his M.Ed. in Education and had risen to Vice Principal of the High School, while teaching English and Social Studies. I only knew Mr. Bernal greeted me every morning with a smile, a bow down to shake my hand, and a lovely wish to have a great day, along with a gentle admonition to work hard. I did so willingly, with his encouragement.

As you can see from some of the yearbook photos, Russian, German, Spanish, French, and Latin were the languages taught in addition to Chemistry, Biology, English, Math, Physics, and Music. You took as many classes as you could handle, with the permission of Mr. Bernal and Coach Eargle, who assessed each student’s future college interests and gave permission.

I couldn’t wait to introduce my mom to my friend, Mr. Bernal. One day he was on campus after school let out, and my mom came to pick me up after working her secretarial civil service job at a San Antonio AFB. When they saw each other, there was a warm recognition in both of their eyes as she said to me, “Dawn Lee, I’ve known Ernie for years, since he was a young man.” Turns out, he had a first job working at the executive offices of the grocery store chain for which my mother had worked, long before she met and married my dad. She’d proudly watched him grow up.

Later that night, Mom pulled out a copy of an old newsletter she’d designed for the company, showed me his picture and told me how he was one of the young people the company hired for the summer and how hard he worked. I had long forgotten that for decades until I saw that exact same photograph in Ernesto’s tribute video Sunday night. It nearly tore my heart out as I flashed back to being five years old again, when I had just first met Mr. Bernal, and the memories flooded through as did the need to cry, but I didn’t. Not then at least.

People weave in and out of our lives, just as the beautiful “Weaving of Words: Quotations and Tributes” that were shared Sunday night by Rose Catacalos and Kevin McManus, two of his dear friends. Keystone students’ quotes were among those included. One of the most beautiful was shared by Patricia (Jeski) Goodspeed, “He was the most influential teacher I ever had.”

I smiled hearing that, as I’d been the one to read one of the most beautiful tributes Patti wrote for him just a year ago, on the occasion of a beautiful brick paver being unveiled on the campus of Keystone School, an event he attended where he was fully aware of the love of all those who’d come for that very special day and others who shared their love via e-mail.

During the Life Celebration, my mind wandered during the lovely preservice music. I reflected on meeting Mary Carmen Tafolla, when she entered Keystone’s ninth grade, the final year that Mr. Bernal was at Keystone. Carmen was one of the kindest upperclassmen, adorable with a loving personality and a twinkle in her eyes.

She always had her arms piled full of books, foreshadowing her future as 2012 San Antonio Poet Laureate (first ever) and 2015 Texas State Poet Laureate. After Mr. Bernal left Keystone, eventually Jim Klaeveman would come to teach English and fill the void Ernie left, challenging students to express themselves. It was Ernie’s destiny calling him, and he had even more powerful accomplishments ahead.

When Carmen graduated, she went to Texas Lutheran College in Seguin, then Austin College and ultimately, like many Keystone women, she’d go on to earn her doctorate degree at UT Austin. She distinguished herself as a writer quickly. It wasn’t until many years later that the perfectly magical pairing of Carmen and Ernie would be created. Manifesting miracles happens with faith, and this was ultimately just one more example of that.

In his collegiate career, Ernie taught at St. Mary’s University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, California State University–Fresno, Northern Arizona University, and ultimately became Dean of Education at University of Texas–Pan American. Carmen wrote prolifically, and no one in the world was prouder or more supportive of her than her Ernesto.

The Bernals, Carmen and Ernie, shared 38 magical, loving years together, weathered the loss of their first child, Cielos, and the health challenge that Carmen refused to give into, emerging victorious from that battle. Carmen lost her beloved mother (age 99), in January this year. Yet, she remained brilliant as an author, writing while faithfully caring for their children and providing daily loving care for Ernie, who fought Parkinson’s through Stage 5 and beyond. Never once did Carmen complain. Ernesto’s love and the love they shared was sufficient to see her through the demands of her daily life. Keystone kids are multitaskers—we insist on it. But there’s a limit, yet Carmen soared above the limit.

She has always been a hero (she-ro) to me, just because she was a published writer. I loved seeing her when I’d return to San Antonio for Keystone reunions, formal and informal, with all the upperclassmen I’d admired growing up. We were only a few years apart and class year was never a barrier to being part of a Keystone family activity. For so many years, Tommye Brennan Howard ’63 hosted a gathering in her home, or we’d meet at Jim’s Coffee Shop for a reunion burger and fries and hours of coffee and conversation.

I remember once we all came together specifically to help “save” Keystone from (I’m searching for a kind word here) less-than-gifted leadership. Many alumni were so concerned that we met with Keystone parents and board members to determine whether we could be helpful.

Ultimately the leadership continued a few more years. Independently, a few Keystone alumni and Ernesto formed the Camino School concept, and the San Antonio Gifted Education Foundation was started. This school was described in one of Ernesto’s numerous peer-reviewed academic publications.

What I never knew, even until I heard it Sunday night, was the pioneer and cutting-edge researcher that Ernesto had become throughout his educational and academic administrative positions. He never spoke of it at gatherings; he was entirely focused on what we were all doing in our lives and careers, forever the encourager who believed in us unconditionally. We thought everything was golden in academe.

My heart broke to hear on Sunday night, from two of Ernesto’s academic colleagues, that because of his brilliance and innovation and the fact that he was a natural pied piper of future educational leaders, others—often in a superior administrative position—were jealous of him. They tried to find ways and means of quashing his light, but they were not the gifted and talented educator that Ernie was, and they failed.

That they tried, though, hurt so badly to hear. But as one of his students recalled, he was merely amused at their attempts. Because he was smarter, he considered the source of the discontent and projected pity for the purveyor. Yet, you know he felt the pain of interdepartmental rivalry. Academic egos are often so fragile, and there’s such competition for the spotlight that it’s commonplace.

Ernie’s brilliance and respect garnered among his peers, from professional colleagues to students, would dwarf any insecure person. Yet, academics is supposed to be the home of sharing, interacting, exchanging ideas and getting to the best ones. However, it’s also home base for those who would prefer to argue over the location of their precious parking space.

Although those colleagues no doubt caused Ernie to seek new academic positions elsewhere at times, from those trials came the opportunities to work with even brighter minds, interacting with new students and reaching out to an even larger audience through the new works accomplished. What we heard was how Ernie had encouraged virtually every student he interacted with to become an honors student, to work hard, give back, love life, and be a good community servant. Several private “good deeds” never before heard about Ernie’s life included spending consecutive weekends chopping wood and delivering it to homes in need for winter heat across town; early on, despite a tight budget, he shared generously and often helping families in need.

One future CEO wrote about how, when Ernesto was being pushed out of a department by a jealous superior, he made a phone call to assure that young faculty would have jobs, personally placing them around the country. One younger colleague remembers he said she’d be “just perfect” for a job in company of which she is, 25 years later, now the CEO. These individual stories, loving messages and diverse testimonials formed the portrait of a man we all loved without even knowing these things.

On the 50th anniversary of Ernesto’s teaching career, many of us from Keystone gathered among the crowd in Olga and Al Kauffman’s home. The Keystone kids included: Bruce and Suzi Hughes, Bonnie Ellison, Wayne Vick, and my beloved big sister/friend, Tommye Brennan Howard. We paid tribute to the man who’d changed our lives forever with his love, of us and of education. It was wonderful to meet Father Eddie Bernal, Ernesto’s younger brother, whom he’d badgered his mother —relentlessly—to bring into their lives.

In an adorable story told Sunday, Ernie so greatly wanted a younger brother, and he asked his mother all the time for one. As was shared, Ernie’s mother explained to him that she was now a bit older and the possibility existed that it was risky and that she might have a child born with two heads. That didn’t deter Ernie one bit as he said, in Spanish, that he would absolutely love a baby brother with two heads!! We all exploded with laughter, knowing how passionate he was about his causes. Fr. Eddie was another of God’s gifts to everyone as he was the light of Ernie’s life for so many years, until a heart attack took him on May 29, 2016. Still, we were all together for Ernesto's special celebration, as lovingly created by Carmen, Olga, and Al, for all of us to enjoy.

It didn’t seem that long ago we were all together at the Kauffman home, offering our thoughts and written tributes, visiting with each other like it was 1963. It wasn’t. Sadly, illness struck Ernie and it came in the form of Parkinson’s Disease. It was a challenge he battled bravely and with dignity. In late summer 2014, Tommye and I had planned a day to bring lunch and visit with Ernie and Carmen. Tommye was bringing the food (you knew that already) and I would be bringing the Bill Miller’s iced tea (you knew that already, too). Sadly, the night before our planned day, Ernesto was admitted to the hospital, so the visit was postponed. “Soon,” we said. “We’ll do it very soon,” we all agreed.

Didn’t happen. Just two weeks later Tommye suffered a heart attack, and while in the hospital, it was discovered that she’d had end-stage cancer that had gone undiagnosed. A week later she was gone. Not bringing this up to mark yet more sorrow but only to emphasize the fragility of life and to pound it into my head to never miss a day telling people who are important in my life that they are important in my life, irreplaceable, and loved.

In 2016, when we were celebrating Ernesto’s paver unveiling at Keystone, Carmen was still reflecting Ernesto’s modesty in sharing only some information about his pioneering career work, noting that he’d “published the first research on the gifted Mexican American child, and became a well-respected scholar in the fields of gifted bilingual education, psychometrics, and test bias.”

In fact, as we learned things we’d never known before on Sunday, Dr. Ernesto Marroquín Bernal required multiple individuals speaking to share just a few of his achievements. He had been chosen to deliver the inaugural address at the Escola di Marketing, Educació, y Administració in Barcelona, Spain, because of his role in organizational change. Imagine if you will a young man from San Antonio, Texas with a passion for life and education, able to change the world with his brilliant mind. That was Ernesto.

He developed the Division of Bicultural/Bilingual Studies at UTSA in the 1970s together with Dr. Albar Peña and Dr. Tomás Rivera. The Bernals together with former Keystone students created Camino, a bilingual school for the gifted and creative child. We knew about Camino, but we didn’t know that Ernie had been honored by the College Board for his work exposing them to the testing bias of their instruments. What he showed in his research was that minority children were being mislabeled “culturally deprived” and he shone a light on the gifted Latino child, which had never been done before.

National recognition and accolades were heaped upon Ernesto in his lifetime but still they only measured one aspect of his impact. If any one area of accomplishment should be highlighted, it was his ability to teach others when statistics were actually valid and reliable vs. when they were false elements used as weapons to boost misguided precepts.

There was beautiful music incorporated into Ernesto’s life celebration, including “Danos Paz,” offered by Chayito Champion and Steve Arispe, then “Here I Am Lord,” and “On Eagle’s Wings,” with Helen Lloyd on guitar leading the congregation and the conclusion was the Champion family performing “Sevillana — an Expression of Despedida,” a final farewell.

A moving rosary was held to conclude Sunday night’s observations and reflections on his life. On Monday, Sept. 11, the funeral liturgy was held at St. Timothy’s Catholic Church with a Mass of the Resurrection. In both services, a magnificent video was shared that was prepared lovingly by David H.B.T. Marroquín. Son Israel Bernal read “High Flight” in commemoration of Ernesto’s love of flying. The Rosary Recitation, presented by so many faithful friends, reminded us to focus on giving thanks to God for his life.

It is said that angels get their wings when they transition from the earthly existence to the next life in Heaven. I’m inclined to dispute the timing on that concept, in that, upon reflection, surely we had an angel here among us for some 79 years of his life and more than 50 years among ours. We do not grieve for Ernie, who is at last free of the constraints that prevented him from communication, except through his loving, knowing eyes.

We grieve for his family and for ourselves that we had to say goodbye, but rather than wallow in yet more pity and pain of loss, it would seem fitting that we can rededicate our lives and our daily activities to doing our best, being our best, helping strangers and friends alike, encouraging children we meet to become honor students, to live lives filled with passionate pursuit of “the best,” in whatever form they perceive it. For if we can do that, and keep Ernesto’s example uppermost in our minds, then we can reach for the sky, just as he taught us, and be our most authentic selves. God bless you, Ernesto, and thank you for your love of the Keystone kids. You’re still my hero.