‘Oh yeah! I’ve seen that guy before!’ Character Actors – the Strangers We Know So Well


You’re deep into a movie or TV plot when enters a performer whose voice or face triggers something. You know you’ve seen this person um-teen times over the years, and often in the same kind of authority figure or eccentric role. That realization is fleeting, as your concentration is back on the plot or the big stars just in time to keep your disbelief suspended.

This person is a Character Actor. They are like the catalpa tree you zoom by on the way to work every morning and are momentarily curious about before the rush reasserts itself.

We don’t know their names. We know that voice lilt, that immaculate hair, that peculiar energy. The feeling passes quickly, but over the years and decades the sensual, if not name recognition of character actors accumulates. We know them and they are strangers to us.

Character actors may be told early in their careers they don’t have the sizzle or the physical stature to be heroes or heartthrobs, but after years of frequent, often brief appearances, their masterful facial skills and sooth, appealing voices make them not only recognized, but craved.

Whit Bissell, recalled by various genres as the ambassador in “The Trouble with Tribbles,” the base chaplain in “Gomer Pyle USMC” or a conniving U.S. senator in the political movie, “7 Days in May,” found that his ability to communicate tightly wired officiousness was his niche for lifelong success…


Click to see Whit Bissell in 7 Days in May (1964)

Bissell, the urbane and well-read son of a New York City surgeon, preferred the term “supporting player,” to “character actor,” said friend Bernie Shine, who wrote on Leonard Maltin’s entertainment web site about Bissell.

“He told me that when he was starting out he found himself on the opposite side of the desk of a famous Hollywood mogul who bluntly told him that he didn’t have what it takes to be a leading man, stating, ‘I don’t see any women burning with desire when they see you,’ ” Shine wrote. “Whit responded, ‘Perhaps not, but I do think I could make them feel other emotions, such as laughing, crying, or caring.’ ”


Reta Shaw, the daughter of a New England orchestra leader, once considered becoming a religious missionary. Though no such career ever happened, her persuasive, husky style proved perfect for playing people with connections to spirits of another sort. She is remembered as housekeeper Martha Grant on the 1968-70 sitcom The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, an acclaimed show based on the 1940s novel about a widow and her family who move into a seaside mansion which turned out to be haunted by the ghost of the sea captain who once owned it.

Prior to that, Shaw played Mrs. Halcyon Maxwell in Alan Rafkin’s The Ghost and Mr. Chicken. In Bewitched, she had a recurring role as Samantha’s Aunt Hagatha.

“People love to laugh,” Shaw said in a 1968 interview. “They love to be entertained. If I can bring a laugh, or please someone, I have accomplished something. It’s different from feeding souls in one way, but it’s feeding them in another way.”


Shaw’s movie credits include playing a singing domestic in Mary Poppins, and Mabel in the movie and Broadway musical The Pajama Game, a comic part she created. On TV, her roles included parts in Happy Days, the Odd Couple, That Girl and Here’s Lucy, Lucille Ball’s third sitcom.

In one of the most culturally inaccurate Lost in Space forecasts of the 1990s, Will Robinson is transplanted back to Earth, specifically the hamlet of Hatfield Four Corners, Vt., where Aunt Clara Simms, payed classically folksy by Shaw, is one of the isolated townspeople who refused to believe Will’s story (they use crank telephones and dress like geeks in a decade when real Vermonters gave the nation Bernie Sanders, Civil Unions and Ben and Jerry’s).

In conservative rural North Carolina, ironically, two Shaw characters were outside the cultural norms, though along very different tangents. On the Andy Griffith Show, she played Big Maude, who was beyond the bounds of the law and wistful and longing Eleanora Poultice, who was beyond the bounds of common sense in seeing her pupil Barney Fife as musically gifted, going with her heart instead of her ears.

Click to see Reta as Mayberry aesthete Eleanora Poultice

The absence of name recognition allows a Reta Shaw or a Whit Bissell to be more than one person in a fairly short time without spoiling the dramatic license.

A character actor’s ability to focus like a laser on sometimes just one or two scenes, then quickly move on to another production gives her or him a mobility that the wealthy screen idol can’t match. That helps keep casting and filming costs down, while giving steady income to a performer who hustles, and, of course is sufficiently lucky.

And just as the financial rewards grow only gradually due to a volume of work over decades, the ego gratification for a character actor isn’t huge for any single role, but accumulates from being able to succeed more by one’s bootstraps than studio promotion machines, a feat that may have eluded James Stewart or Mary Tyler Moore had they lived the existence of a character actor.

“I’m cocky enough, still, to say that the things I do best, there isn’t anyone in the business that can do them better than I,” character actor Edward Andrews said in a 1984 feature in Starlog magazine. “There are roles that nobody can play better than I. It seems awfully immodest, but I have no doubt about it in the world.”

Andrews is the burly, strong but mellow voiced master of combining charm and suspiciousness in more than 50 movie roles including Sixteen Candles, Gremlins and Tora! Tora! Tora! Andrews, the son of a Georgia Episcopal minister, began acting on stage at age 12 in 1926. After decades of performing in theater, Andrews became one of Hollywood’s most prolific character actors, sometimes appearing in three motion pictures per year in the 1950s and ‘60s.


In an equally packed small screen career, Andrews’ TV appearances included three “Love American Style” episodes, another trio of “The FBI,” and two each from “Bonanza,” “Bewitched,” (When Elizabeth Montgomery learned one of Andrews’ daughters was named Tabitha, she chose it for Samantha Stevens’ baby, mentalfloss.com reported) and “The Twilight Zone.”

In almost all his TV appearances, Andrews played different characters, but usually with a familiar mix of amiable magnetism and manipulative cageyness.

The same blend was apparent in the performer, not just his characters, Starlog’s Jim George wrote.

“Behind the ever-present trademark black frame glasses is a mischievous eye-twinkle which can shift from playful to nefarious literally in the bat of an eyelash. The slightest curling in the corners of one of those wonderfully wicked tight-lipped smiles can completely alter the tenor of a characterization…. One is never quite certain what is truly happening behind the sly smirk.”

To Andrews, and perhaps other character actors whose visits to movie sets are relatively brief, each line can challenge him like a whole movie does a star.

He acknowledged to Starlog that sometimes after telling directors he had come up with an idea for a line, he would manipulate them before stating the line, saying, “No, I’m not sure it would work” – priming their curiosity to make them more receptive to his suggestion.

“It’s a terrible, childish device,” Andrews said, “but it works.”

Click to see Edward Andrews in a 1981 TV commercial

…and in Broadside (1964), a short-lived sitcom

Like Reta Shaw going from ruffian abductor to sensitive music teacher in Mayberry, Allan Melvin was able to pull off a quick change in Astoria, N.Y. with minimal disruption to the All in the Family audience’s concentration.

Melvin was able to sell us on his being Archie Bunker’s neighbor and friend Barney Hefner, despite having played NYPD Officer Pulaski in a recently aired episode.

Melvin explained in an early 1970s interview: “I went in the same season from Pulaski to Barney Hefner. I think they make allowances for the fact that the audience will accept certain changes. I guess they figure since it was a one-shot I wasn’t that established. I’ve been Barney ever since.” This was from philsilversshow.com, a British blog on the great 1950s military comedy in which Melvin was cast as an army buddy of Sgt. Ernie Bilko.


Allan Melvin was recalled to duty as Marine Sergeant Charlie Hacker on Gomer Pyle USMC, and he played the (presumably) same army buddy to Rob Petrie in various Dick Van Dyke Show flashback episodes, though often with variant names. A blog called toobworld says Melvin’s always boisterous, full voiced character was Sam Pomerantz, Sam Pomeroy, and Sol Pomerantz, depending on the episode. The blog calls them the “Pom-Poms.”

The strong yet soothing Allan Melvin speaking style had a career of its own, as he also did cartoon voices of Magilla Gorilla, Sergeant Snorkel, Bumbler, Barney Google and Bristol Hound.

Melvin wed Amalia Faustina Sestero in 1944 and they stayed married until his death in 2008.

Marriage stability seems more common among the top character actors than the archetypal screen legend. Andrews also was married once for life, to Emily Barnes Andrews. They wed in 1955.

Shaw had one spouse, though her 10-year marriage to actor William A. Forester ended in divorce in 1962.

Bissell, after a divorce in the 1950s, was twice widowed, losing his third wife, actress Jennifer Raine, in 1993.

Character actors, or supporting players have sub-cultures of close followers, and the internet has boosted appreciation of their skills, just as it has made their obscure identities discoverable. Search terms of any show or movie the curious follower can tie them to, and the name or generic description of one of their characters therein will usually do the trick.

Comments on fan sites, or YouTubes sometimes flow like rivers, reflecting decades of pent up sentiment.

Some recent examples:

  • “I’ve often thought of Whit [Bissell] as something of a second-tier Hume Cronyn. I’ve always liked his speaking voice, which I think very rich, mellow, and distinctive.” (on Silverscreenoasis. com)
  • “Once again the phenomenal Edward Andrews leaves us all awestruck!!” (YouTube on a 1981 Bell Telemarketing ad)
  • “The subtle touches Reta employed in her performances are so evident in these clips.  She had the ability to make her “small-town” characters so authentic that I always felt as if I really knew her as a person.  And, boy, could she play a piano!”  (YouTube compilation Reta Shaw’s clips)

Another on Silverscreenoasis lavished praise on Bissell while summing up the value to the entertainment industry — and to us, the viewers — of the Supporting Player, or Character Actor genre to which he devoted his life:

“ ‘Character actor’ isn’t a good enough term to describe Whit’s talents, so, for many years now, I have referred to any reliable character actor that happens to pop up as a ‘Whit.’ It’s an honorific term, meant to notice and celebrate his and other actors’ contributions as support in countless films. Whether he’s a senator or a janitor, you can always bet that Whit will make a positive contribution to the film in question. What more could you want? … But anyway, he leaves a tremendous legacy. One of the pleasures of watching TV with friends in the 70s was to do ‘Whit-spotting’ and point him out to others. ‘Oh yeah! I’ve seen that guy before!’… was the usual response.”

             Brian Arbenz is a Louisville-based writer and researcher who’d rather be a character actor than a star. That’s just his way. 


Is our knowledge really empirical? Could it ever be? Here’s the ultimate test

Okay, it’s time for some of your assumptions to be jolted – prepare to let loose a few times with “C’mon,” and “No way!” and maybe even “this Arbenz dude’s not living in the real world!” uttered between raised eyebrows and a dropping jaw as you read six statements that are going to seem preposterous.

But hey, Brian’s not lyin’ when he tells you:

The US has had two bilingual presidents.

Montreal, Canada is farther south than Trieste, Italy.

An eyewitness to Abraham Lincoln’s assassination was interviewed about it on network television.

Beverly Hills, Cal. is only the sixth wealthiest city in Los Angeles County.

The only U.S. state whose legislature has had a socialist majority is North Dakota.

More Mormons live in Los Angeles than in Salt Lake City.

Still skeptical? That’s okay; these statements go against our understanding. Well, in fact, every one of them is true. Socialization plays perhaps a stronger role than empirical observation in our deciding what is factual. Here the doubtful half-dozen are explained:

THE MULTI-LINGUAL EXECUTIVE MANSION — Martin Van Buren (elected president in 1836) grew up in the Dutch speaking community of Kinderhook, N.Y. and began learning English at about age 7. Perhaps ironically, the world’s most widely used American contribution to the English language, the expression “OK,” was created by the only English as a Second Language U.S. president. During his presidential campaign, Van Buren referred endearingly to “Old Kinderhook” by using the initials. The term caught on, and 180 years later OK still is in constant use on many continents to mean positive, upbeat or stable.

Herbert Hoover lived in China in his 20s while working as a manager for a western mining company. While there, the future president and his wife Lou Henry Hoover became fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Though some accounts say the president was merely proficient while the First Lady was the fluent speaker, both conversed in Mandarin frequently while in the White House after Herbert Hoover’s election in 1928.

Another parallel: Van Buren and Hoover were defeated in bids for re-election after financial crises occurred within one year of their taking office — the financial panic of 1837, and the stock market crash of 1929.

NOT SO NORTH COUNTRY — Americans overwhelmingly perceive that Canada’s large cities such as Montreal are in the far north because of their deep winter freezes and heavy snowfalls, but their cold climates are due to how far inland Montreal and Toronto are, not how far north (to further dispel the “Great White North” myth, Toronto is even with northern Spain, and the southernmost point of Ontario is farther south than parts of California).


Montreal, Toronto and Ottawa are cold because Atlantic trade winds don’t moderate winters in inland places like they do coastal cities such as New York or Boston. The effect of trade winds is much more pronounced around the Pacific: The latitude of Portland, Ore. is three degrees farther north than that of far colder Windsor, Ontario, Canada, across from Detroit.

Seattle, which seldom gets snow, is farther north than Montreal. In fact, about 70 percent of Canadians would be north of where they live if they were sitting in the stands of a Mariners’ home game or sipping a latte at the original Starbucks.

WITNESS TO HISTORY – The amazing appearance by Samuel J. Seymour on “I’ve Got a Secret” in 1956 can be seen at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jgGX1v4YFo.

Seymour was days short of his 96th birthday when Garry Moore escorted him to take his seat on the popular game show. He had fallen in his hotel just before the live airing of this show and he resisted pleas to postpone his appearance. Seymour’s steadfastness was fortunate, because he died months later back in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., the city where on April 14, 1865, at age five, he and his godmother attended the play “My American Cousin” at Ford’s Theater

i-sawIn an article in The American Weekly magazine in February 1954 co-authored by the then 94-year-old Samuel Seymour and journalist Frances Spatz Leighton, Seymour said a shot rang out inside Ford’s Theater during the play, then an unknown man “seemed to tumble over the balcony rail and land on the stage,” prompting the five-year-old to tell his godmother, “hurry, let’s go help the poor man who fell down!”

Seymour wrote, “John Wilkes Booth, the assassin, had picked himself up and was running for dear life… Only a few people noticed the running man, but pandemonium broke loose in the theater, with everyone shouting: ‘Lincoln’s shot! The President’s dead!’ ”

An eerie foretelling of the horror occurred hours earlier as Seymour and his godmother, Sarah Goldsboro, arrived in front of their Washington hotel, completing the carriage ride from the Seymour family’s Talbot County, Md. Home. The Weekly story said that as Goldsboro tried to persuade the restless and obstinate boy to exit the carriage, he falsely reported he had torn his shirt in a bid to resist disembarking.

The godmother pulled out a large safety pin to repair the phantom tear, accidently sticking the jostling Samuel. In earshot of passersby, the boy shouted, “I’ve been shot! I’ve been shot!”

RICHER MEANS POORER — Beverly Hills has per capita income and housing values lower than considerably less wealthy but still upscale L.A. area communities such as Pacific Palisades and Redondo Beach, according to Census Bureau figures. That is because Beverly Hills has a larger percentage of residents who are rich enough to employ live-in servants. Census Bureau methods count the incomes of live-ins and consider most servant quarters in out buildings as separate residences, bringing the average income and home value down.

YES, THAT’S NORTH DAKOTA, NOT NORTH KOREA – Media who were baffled at Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign being popular out there in many parts of oh, so red state Middle America needed to do their homework.The Nonpartisan League, a socialist bloc of legislative candidates, won majorities in both houses of North Dakota’s state legislature in 1915. Two of the League’s reforms, the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and a state-owned mill and elevator to market and buy the grain from farmers, are still central to life in the agricultural prowess of North Dakota, and are quite popular.

“We’re both in existence today doing exactly what we were created for,” Bank of North Dakota president Eric Hardmeyer told Mother Jones in a 2009 story about alternatives to the Wall Street methods which had crashed the housing market and ruined the nation’s economy.


Back before Palmer Raids, the Taft-Hartley Act and the McCarran Act made hostility to socialism a required American trait (a trend helped along by the Bolshevik Revolution’s morphing into totalitarianism), Americans could judge a socialist movement on merits, not fear words, and grass roots resistance to corporate greed rose up in the Great Plains.

“Basically, it was a very angry movement by a large group of the agrarian sector that was upset by decisions that were being made in the eastern markets, the money markets maybe in Minneapolis, New York, deciding who got credit and how to market their goods. So, it swept the northern plains. In North Dakota, the movement was called the Nonpartisan League,” Hardmeyer said.

THE MATH ON MORMONISM — The relative Mormon population inside Salt Lake City’s limits is vastly larger than in Los Angeles — demographic sources’ recent estimates place the percentage of Salt Lake City’s population who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons at 35 percent and Los Angeles’ at 1.7 percent. However, the surprisingly small size of Salt Lake City proper of 191,180 residents (within its expansive metro area of just over 1 million) gives it fewer Mormons than Los Angeles, when L.A.’s Census figure population of 3.8 million is noted. That’s about 40 times the population of Salt Lake City, meaning a 35 to 1.7 Mormon ratio of the cities, even if that should be a considerable undercount, would mean more Angelino Mormons.

Brian Arbenz is a Louisville-based writer and researcher.

As once foreseen, Facebook becomes In-Your-Facebook

My nomination for everything wrong with Facebook activism, in one meme.

What I told a friend in November 2016 in a personal Facebook message:

“I’ve had it with a medium where the good fences that allow for good interaction don’t exist. Everyone is into everyone else’s mind, and in their faces.

“False news, twisted news, cherry picked numbers, quotes out of context in order to inflame people who don’t have time to check the information. Then, there are the reports from four-and-a-half years ago represented as breaking information. Mostly, though, I’m sick of the mass volume of stuff going by too fast to process it, even just the 20 or so percent of it that is valid. I am washing my hands of this whole mess. Of course, real life friends (such as him), yeah!”

Some saw a Facebook meltdown coming – way before there was Facebook, or the term “Internet.”

In the late 1960s, American futurist and social critic Lewis Mumford disagreed with some in his genre who were hopeful that interconnecting by computer would make for a “global village.” Mumford, in his book “The Pentagon of Power – the Myth of the Machine,” warned that if militarism and abject economic inequality continued unchecked, an internet would instead bring us “audio-visual tribalism” and an “electronic Tower of Babel.”

Painfully spot on.

In more recent years, it was apparent that Facebook’s staccato flow of unattributed and unverified information was breaking down good activism, not spurring it on.

A year before the false news anti-Hillary disinformation machine was revealed, I saw some of the best of Facebook-based efforts result in jaw dropping failures of actual follow through that spelled big danger ahead.

After five years of seeing Facebook groups with names like Progressive Kentucky and Take Back Louisville pop up with all sorts of promise that this technology could enable the people to take power, we saw a 30 percent voter turnout statewide in 2015 in the election for governor. Megalomaniacal right wing Republican Matt Bevin, who never led centrist Democrat Jack Conway in any poll and was still about five points down in the final one, was elected and has since been unleashing chaos and divisiveness from the governor’s office.

Don’t worry, that had to be just a fluke; Conway ran a stagnant campaign anyway. The next year, it was the electrifying Bernie Sanders who was gonna break up the nationwide corporate establishment, and there was a pro-Bernie Facebook group in Louisville seemingly for every millennial, and several for Hillary as well. A massive throng for Senator Sanders on the downtown Louisville riverfront hinted that his revolution was upon us. Then, on the day of the most energized Kentucky Presidential Primary ever, we had a 17 percent (you read right!) statewide voter turnout.

Once again, we just assumed that the dispossessed would actually vote, not just “click here” once an hour online through the year, boycott the proper products, tell Credo how to donate its profits and figure all that meant they already had voted.

And the famous false news epidemic as well has been brewing a while. In early 2016, legions of idealistic progressives reposted a video of a new crackdown on the First Amendment “documented” by the unedited footage of federal police arresting and removing people for refusing to stop singing a protest song at some place or other in Washington, D.C.

Just like the anti-government group which made the video wanted them to do, cyber activists, gaping mouthed with indignation, hurriedly passed this proof of our vanishing freedoms on. Urgency in saving free thought precluded taking the time to do any independent checking of this story – and that’s the problem. It turned out, this video was of people at the Lincoln Memorial being tossed out for repeatedly refusing to obey one of the posted rules: no singing or group chanting at this place meant for quiet reflection. That rule had been up since the 1930s, but this is Facebook, so enforcing it was easily representable as a “new” crackdown, leading to the chilling “what next?” mantra.

After the November election, a group using a similar hoodwink warned that a “new law” makes some forms of protest “economic terrorism!” Before you run for the hills and form a guerilla army, know that this is not any law, but just a bill – you remember from your Saturday Morning Schoolhouse Rock, a bill doesn’t become a law until passed by two houses, then signed. In this case, it would be signed by a governor, not a president, because it is a bill in the Washington State Legislature.

One member upset over anti-Trump marches in Seattle the fringes of which were destructive of property introduced it, and it would apply to protests that turn violent and impede commerce. A horrible and needless bill, yes, but it isn’t going to soar through. Yet, before the bill was even scheduled for a committee hearing, Facebook enabled this obscure legislative gesture in a far corner of the country to become a “new law” already bearing down on every American.

The overheated Facebook engine sometimes made me feel scalded by venom from, ostensibly, the left as much as the right.

As that Kentucky primary approached, I posted about my concerns that leftists declaring “never Hillary” could be being manipulated by the right. I suggested an alternate strategy of supporting Hillary as enthusiastically as Bernie should she get the nomination — with an eye of a Senate Democratic majority allowing her to remake the Supreme Court in the model of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer, so we could get rid of Money is Speech asap. That would be needed if we were ever to enact a progressive agenda like Bernie’s anyway, I suggested.

I was attacked with vulgarity you’d associate with Trump bigots, but it came from a Bernie Sanders stalwart. When I complained about this publicly, other Sanders supporters told me, essentially, grow up and take it. Yes, we were starting to lose friends through Facebook in 2016 as quickly as we had made them.

From some Trump troll? No, these Facebook comments were from a Bernie supporter, to another — me, over my alternate strategy.

I welcome criticism of my views, be assured, but vitriol and denigration are the destroyers of anything progressive, whether in house, or in the steady flow of hate and manipulation I saw from conservative and libertarian Facebookers.

From those quadrants, there is frequent gas lighting, ad hominem responses and other tricks to disguise a weak statement as a potent one. And from the left side, whereas there are some links of value, there are too many that amount to self-righteous scolds that break down unity into sectarianism and identity politics.

We are expected to trust that the writers of all those essays like: “10 Things a Monoculturalist Should Never Say to a Cisgender Who Recently Discovered Their BDSM Partner is a Narcissist” are people with any credentials whatsoever to broach this topic – or that these group identities have really been verified as sound social science and aren’t just today’s fashion.

Qualification is dangerously dismissed in this era when, “Anyone can edit an encyclopedia!”

Nuance on a complex issue, and gradients of feeling also are just not grasped on social media or the blogosphere. Everyone is polarized. Why do I constantly have to explain that while yes, some college students have been effectively “coddled” by a one-sized-fits-all application of trigger warnings and safe spaces, there are others genuinely in need of consideration due to past abuse.

Everyone seems to have rushed to one pole or another on complex matters such as those – calling today’s students “softies,” or critics of the federal mandate for campus safe spaces “heartless.”  No one wants to do the intricate work of sorting out wheat from chaff, calmly comparing views so we can realize, say, that the intent can be good, but the process too uniform.

Then, there are the trolls. I’ve seen misogynists who out of nowhere suddenly hijack threads following courageous and deeply thought out accounts by women of having been sexually assaulted, invalidating these bold attempts at personal healing with hostile and indignant “not all men” cries that absurdly distort who is the one who has truly been injured.

Racists similarly have de-railed posts and threads attempting to seriously discuss the difficulties of black communities. When I question whether these people have been to any black neighborhood, can name one black church in their city or know that Africa has had the highest economic growth rate of any continent for the last 10 years, reactions give me the feeling that Facebook is not the place for facts or depth.

I have gone from trying to correct social media nonsense to believing we should cede social media to the muck and work to get public discourse back to being based on emotional intelligence and valid information, wherever a medium for those may be found.

Facebook actually was good for my goal of developing friendships back in 2010 and ’11 when I became a regular user.

Today, too much too suddenly from too many sources where reliability is unknown and hidden agendas can’t be unmasked until long after the zealous readers have been prompted to spread misinformation unwittingly.

All this misdirection and ranting on social media is making me miss the days of the mid-1990s when this new next stage technology the Internet was called a chance for a “global village.”

I was doubtful of that claim in 1996 as I started using the Internet, but I still held out hope, if that hope was made sober by my just then having read Lewis Mumford’s insights from circa 1969 in the previously mentioned “The Pentagon of Power – the Myth of the Machine.”

The idea that the Internet was really going to free us from old archaic, controlling institutions and spread real democracy was so uplifting in what was a very burdensome time in my life. So, I sat back and imagined the “what if” best scenarios this new technology could bring. For the time being, I enjoyed the remarkable creativity offered by our being able to make our own web pages, for any purpose, premeditated or largely on a whim.

No central source or authority. An eclectic array of providers, choices and styles as fragmented and diverse as the world.

I learned of farmers in India better marketing their crops using the internet to improve their families’ standards of living, of businesses large and small cutting costs by taking competitive bids much faster from far more suppliers, and of self-employed journalists such as myself able to get comments from Greens, Socialists and Libertarians in minutes, enabling the end of the Republi-crat corporate political duopoly.

Using pre-internet journalist digging a few years earlier, I had located early 1960s comedy icon Vaughn Meader, whose groundbreaking 1962 “First Family” album parodying John F. Kennedy and his family with his pinpoint voice impression was the fastest selling and most buzzed about phonograph record ever, comedy or musical.

Newspapers and magazines weren’t interested in my doing a story on Meader, at the time living quietly back in his native Maine.

Then came the Internet, and I made my own “Vaughn Meader: JFK’s Myna Bird” site. Person after person out there sent me e-mails overjoyed at the memories the site unleashed—some of us became online pals. I was interviewed live on a Dallas radio station on the evening of a JFK assassination anniversary, and The Atlantic magazine described my site a few years later in a story on iconic anti-hero types.

This was the internet at its best – allowing motivated people, regardless of their levels of professionalism, to bypass an overemphasis on qualification and rise to whatever degree of success their work merited. Yet, there was patience involved in gradually attracting followers and the notice of national media professional enough to verify information independently before passing it on.

The Internet in its early days also united people in interests much more than it divided us ideologically.

My fascination with “2001: A Space Odyssey” grew, developed, and matured as I reveled in elaborate sites created by other fans of Stanley Kubrick’s unique 1968 movie.

Noting that the book version had the computer HAL created on Jan. 12, 1997 in a plant in Urbana, Ill. (a place chosen because writer Arthur C. Clarke had a colleague who had become a professor at the U. of Illinois in that city), legions of followers organized a “Birthday Party for HAL” there on the real 1/12/1997.

I was not able to make the trip, but for months leading up to that day, I along with thousands of others posted comments on the event’s site in a manner later to be called “blogging.”

Some were satirical (I did a Letterman-like “Top 10 HAL’s Dirty Secrets From the Set of 2001”) and many were serious looks at how computer technology could be good and bad as this new millennium approached, inspired by HAL’s dual movie role as holder of knowledge and killer.

Some of us may have had opposite political allegiances yet never known it through communicating on sites like these about deeper-than-partisan issues.

Same for the non-esoteric fun sites, like those of our shared favorite TV sitcoms. You could comment on the mix of cleverness and absurdity of Bewitched, Lost in Space or Mr. Ed, then jump right in and create your own site. Formats and parameters were wide open.

About 10 years later, Facebook came along. I gradually got into it and liked it, but worried that social media was just pre-fabricating what had been our array of choices for making web pages.

Today, I see those concerns borne out in “filters” that pigeonhole us into what can become echo chambers of agreement – all to make Facebook a way to deliver ads with far more pinpoint efficiency than could ever be achieved with even the smartest prior high tech marketing tools.

And regarding who can analyze our group memberships and even our individual statements and choices of emoticons, there are no boundaries and no permission needed; we make it public.

There is more, however, about what Facebook does to and with us that is not a matter of the information we choose to make public.

Facebook has admitted it manipulated selected users in 2012 by changing the number of posts considered “positive” or “negative” to see if the users’ comments showed that their moods were affected.

Washington Post digital reporter Caitlin Dewey wrote in 2014 that this experimentation, while “creepy,” was allowed in the fine print of our Terms of Service, “isn’t necessarily malicious, and it can improve your experience on the site.”

Isn’t necessarily. That’s another way of saying, “might be.”

Now read this portion of that 2014 piece by Dewey on the Facebook experiment:

“…Facebook’s control over the news feed gives it a profound amount of influence over the information you consume, particularly if you use Facebook as your main source of news. Recently, an article in the New Republic theorized that Facebook could swing entire national elections through newsfeed, if it wanted to.”

Ya think?

Brian Arbenz, of Louisville, is – as is obvious – a former Facebook user who is ready and chomping to fight the right during the Trump presidency.

Dear Mr. Trump: Not Being Presidential Means You Should Not Be President


The following letter was U.S. mailed to the president-elect, C/O The Trump Organization, 725 Fifth Ave., New York, N.Y. 10022

Dec. 2, 2016

Dear Mr. Trump,

By the procedures set forth in the U.S. Constitution, you have secured the electoral votes needed to become President of the United States on Jan. 20. To be president means much more than complying with the numeric requirements in the elaborate and tortuous Electoral College system, however. To serve the American people as their president means honoring the traditions and tone of the office of the presidency.

To undercut long established standards of American presidential campaigning is to diminish the presidency and to limit the significance of winning the office.

You chose tactics during the 2016 primary and general elections that did precisely that, to the detriment of American democracy. The nation may have suffered permanent damage due to your course of conduct this year.

You called on supporters at rallies to assault opponents, then offered to bail your backers out of jail, itself an acknowledgement that you were urging behavior worthy of arrest.

You have appealed to unfounded fears of Muslims as terror threats per se, calling for a temporary halt to all members of that faith immigrating to the United States, a nation which actually has an estimated 20,000 Muslim physicians.

You broad bush Mexicans as “rapists,” offering no basis for that description, yet you are soon scheduled to answer to a civil lawsuit accusing you of raping a 13-year-old girl.

There are many credible accusations against you of physically assaulting women – all of which you have denied, but which gain credibility from your own recorded statement in 2005, regarding a woman with whom you were about to be escorted into a studio: “I’ve gotta use some tic tacs, just in case I start kissing her… And when you’re a star they let you do it…. Grab them by the pussy…. You can do anything.”

In that conversation, you also said, regarding a prior encounter with a woman: “I did try and fuck her. She was married…. I moved on her like a bitch, but I couldn’t get there. And she was married.”

These statements reflect an outlook completely at odds with a president’s sworn obligation to faithfully execute the law to the best of his ability.

Worse yet, four contestants from the 1997 Miss Teen USA pageant have claimed that you suddenly entered their dressing room while they were changing. Mariah Billado, the former Miss Vermont Teen USA, said you told the contestants: “Don’t worry ladies, I’ve seen it all before.” Some of these contestants were as young as 15.

In a 1992 recording, you are heard initiating conversation with a young girl you spotted riding an escalator – her voice sounds like that of a child no older than 8 — then you immediately say, “I am going to be dating her in 10 years. Can you believe it?”

Also impeding your ability to serve this nation faithfully is your frequent use of distractions, ad hominem responses, trivialization and insults to evade facing up to your actions and others’ fair criticisms of them.

After Khizr Khan, the father of a Muslim-American killed in Iraq, gave a powerful speech before the Democratic National Convention condemning your proposal to bar Muslims temporarily from entering the U.S., you responded to his widely hailed and cogent speech with the pointless observation that his wife did not talk during the event.

That a person who relies on all these tactics could become president – albeit without winning the popular vote – bespeaks the descent of American culture into vulgarization in recent decades, a decline brought on by tabloid journalism and “shock-jock” broadcasting supplanting intelligent discourse.

The petition organized by Change.org calling on the Electoral College to defeat you has 4.6 million signatures as of today.

After considering your character as evidenced by all of the above and the ravages you would very likely visit upon the American system as president, I have signed that petition, in fulfillment of Alexander Hamilton’s rationale for the Electoral College: “This process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of President will seldom fall to the lot of any man who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”

If those words were for the ages, these by Hamilton would seem geared specifically for the demeanor displayed by Donald J. Trump in 2016:

“Hard words are very rarely useful… Real firmness is good for everything — strut is good for nothing.”


Brian A. Arbenz