Michael Schuman

Works

Halle Berry: "Beauty Is Not Just Physical"
Beauty, wealth, and an Academy Award -- it seems as if Halle Berry has it all. Yet her life has been anything but a fairy tale. But she springboarded from beauty pageant winner to model to Oscar-winning actor.

Christmas at Colonial Williamsburg
Forget your plastic Santas and tangles of multicolored lights. When Colonial Williamsburg gets decked out for Christmas, it is in full 18th century regalia. The buildings wear garlands of green embellished with pineapples, pine cones, holly berries and other fruits and decorations.

Kid stuff in Vegas runs from magic to hammerheads
The Boston Globe
Kid stuff in Vegas runs from magic to hammerheads

By Michael Schuman, Globe Correspondent | April 18, 2004

LAS VEGAS -- Surely, Bugsy Siegel couldn't have envisioned roller coasters and walk-through aquariums a short stroll from his dens of gambling and topless showgirls. Yet today the Las Vegas strip is rife with themed casinos and such diversions as a perpetually erupting volcano and a refuge for white tigers. About a decade ago, there was a crush of coverage about this town becoming a family resort. Not long afterward, we were all reading just the opposite: Vegas was never meant to be for children.

So is Las Vegas a family destination or not?

The plain fact is that, on any given day, one sees plenty of families with rugrats in tow, strolling the strip.

Still, Gina Cunningham, editor at the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau news bureau, says, ''Las Vegas is an adult city. The whole 'family destination' idea was created by the media. As far as the Shark Reef or the roller coasters and venues like that, most are inside or on the property of casinos."

Many casinos, she said, ''are trying to bring out the kid in people. Maybe we can say the city is soliciting the young at heart."

I recently took my daughters, 7 and 9, to Las Vegas, where we spent most of our time on the strip. They eschewed body-shaking roller coasters and the motion manic ''Ride to Atlantis" at Caesars Palace and still found plenty to keep them busy. Vegas does indeed have much for the young. Following is a lucky seven list of attractions and activities on or near the strip that kept two children smiling for three days.

Circus Circus. This veteran resort may not have the cachet of say, Bellagio, but with its 123-foot-tall clown marquee, live circus acts, and cacophonous arcades, it's still the best place on the strip to stay with youngsters.

Since it opened in 1968, this Vegas stalwart has been offering free circus acts on its Carnival Midway. In 1993, Circus Circus also became home to the Adventuredome, an indoor theme park with 23 rides and attractions, including a boat trip with its own waterfall and a double-loop, double-corkscrew roller coaster. Despite such high-tech wonders, the children liked watching acrobats jump rope while in the form of human pyramids, and playing carnival games on the midway mezzanine, a superb place to remove spare change from your pockets and wrinkles from your wallet.

Guinness World Records Museum. A woman stood here in an outline of the body of the fattest man in the world, not realizing that the floor was a scale. ''Mom, do you know everyone can see your weight?" her daughter called out, as the digital numbers flashed on a screen for all to see. Whoosh, she was off the scale faster than a blackjack dealer can flip a card. She duly avoided that gallery from then on, but it didn't matter, since the children by then had started watching a videotape of the world's greatest domino drops.

There are other Guinness museums in places such as Niagara Falls and Gatlinburg, Tenn., but this one has things they don't, such as a collection of 7,000 refrigerator magnets and a gallery devoted to Las Vegas itself. Inside are dozens of facts to delight the Cliff Clavins of the world, such as: the biggest loss on a single bet was by a Saudi prince who said goodbye to $1 million at the MGM Grand.

Magic. Prestidigitation is no rarity here. We caught Lance Burton's show and were left wondering how children could ever express themselves if the word ''cool" were removed from the English language. Some of the ''coolest" feats the handsome magician accomplished, according to the children, were making a car fly and splitting two people into eight parts, each reappearing in the other's clothes. Children were in abundance in the audience and Burton used them in his act. One boy vanished from the stage with Burton, then drifted down with him on a chandelier five minutes later. ''Cool," isn't it?

M&M's World. A splashy four-story salute to commercialism and chocolate, M&M's World combines the latest in special effects with 26,000 square feet of merchandise devoted to one of the world's favorite snacks. The audience dons 3-D glasses and watches a clever mini-movie called ''I Lost My M in Vegas," before heading out to an M&M's megastore. Here, one can buy everything from candy dispensers to the little round candies in a multitude of colors you've never imagined. While there are a few exhibits, one shouldn't expect extensive displays like those at World of Coca-Cola in Atlanta or Kellogg's Cereal City in Battle Creek, Mich.

Liberace Museum. Mr. Showmanship's showplace, while located a few blocks off the strip, celebrates the life and possessions of the man whose name was synonymous with the strip for decades. So what if today's children think Liberace is a type of pasta? The world's most luxurious cars, keyboards, and outfits, studded with rhinestones and other frills, are eye fillers for youngsters. Thanks to a big expansion completed in May 2002, visitors also can see a re-creation of Liberace's master suite from The Cloisters, his Spanish-style hacienda in Palm Springs, Calif.

To our 7-year-old, the pianos and clothes were ''sparkly," while our 9-year-old found Liberace's pink ''Volks Royce" (a Beetle purchased in the '70s energy crunch and customized to look like a Rolls) an engrossing creation. A budding pianist, she found a videotape of a Liberace performance on the Queen Mary an inspiration to continue her lessons.

The Strip by Day: lions and tigers and sharks, oh my! The strip has always been a bit of a zoo, but in the last several years, that statement has become literal. More accurately, the strip is full of mini-zoos. The MGM Grand has a lion habitat, the Tropicana and Mirage have tigers, and Mandalay Bay has sharks and other marine life.

We journeyed into the Secret Garden of Siegfried & Roy in the Mirage, still open in spite of Roy's injury, where grand white tigers stretched and rolled like house cats on a living room sofa. Handheld audio guides filled us in on fun facts about the animals. The Mirage also maintains a dolphin habitat where Atlantic bottlenoses at times play ball with visitors walking past.

''Hands on" rules at the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, where a touch pool accompanies the main aquarium complex. Youth report: The shark and sea stars felt rough, the sea cucumber and stingray were slimy. A word of advice: Most of these animal experiences don't come cheap.

The Strip by Night: pyrotechnics, fake lava, and dancing waters. This is when the party animals come out. Still, walking the strip at night is safe, despite the pirates, dragons, and volcanoes.

The neon jungle can be seen by driving in the bumper-to-bumper parade. For more thorough enjoyment, park the car and take the young ones to the free nightly outdoor special effects spectaculars. For example, the Mirage Volcano, amid palm trees and a lagoon, spews smoke and fire 100 feet into the air. Want something a bit less strident? The fountains in front of Bellagio dance nightly to the music of masters such as Pavarotti and Sinatra. Treasure Island recently replaced its G-rated pyrotechnic pirate ship battle show with a more sensuous pyrotechnic battle show called ''The Sirens of TI," complete with sultry sirens seducing pirates. Decide for yourself if you want your children to see it, but suffice it to say it is no Super Bowl halftime presentation.

Michael Schuman is a freelance writer who lives in Keene, N.H.



Imagine, if you will... an episode from Rod Serling's childhood "Zone"
Michael A. Schuman is a free-lance writer based in Keene, N.H.

San Diego Union-Tribune 16-May-1999 Sunday

Everyone has to have a hometown. Binghamton's mine. In the strangely brittle, terribly sensitive make-up of a human being, there is need for a place to hang a hat, or a kind of geographical womb to crawl back into, or maybe just a place that's familiar because that's where you grew up.

When I dig back through memory cells, I get one particularly distinctive feeling, and that's one of warmth, comfort and well-being. For whatever else I may have had, or lost, or will find, I've still got a hometown. This, nobody's gonna take away from me.

—Rod Serling

Submitted for your approval: the tangible ghosts from the life of the late, esteemed screenwriter and "The Twilight Zone" creator Rod Serling, manifestations found in the upstate New York town of Binghamton. One need not penetrate the fog of any grotesque zone to encounter the shadows of Serling's past; they can be visited by anyone with access to the key of imagination.

In Binghamton's Recreation Park is a carousel. To the eyes of a "Twilight Zone" fan, it's where Martin Sloane fell and permanently injured his leg. That's Martin Sloane the elder and the younger, who if you recall the classic "Zone" episode, were one and the same.

As a child, Serling rode this carousel, within walking distance of the bandstand on which both young Serling and Martin Sloane carved their initials. The park was the setting for "Walking Distance," which, according to many critics, was the acme of the entire "Twilight Zone" anthology series.

"The Twilight Zone," which ran on CBS from 1959 to 1964 and has aired in reruns ever since, was beyond science fiction, beyond melodrama, beyond fantasy. It has achieved cult status and is still a part of our world four decades later.

Consider, if you will, the fact that a new generation is getting to know Serling via videotape at Disney MGM Studios' "The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror" ride in Orlando. To this day, the show's premise, along with classic episodes such as "The Eye of the Beholder," is periodically lampooned on "Saturday Night Live." "Zone's" premise is used in television ads and comedians' jokes. And that eerie theme still raises thoughts of the weird guy you knew who is now likely living in a cabin in the wilds of Montana.

In "Walking Distance," 36-year-old, harried Manhattan ad exec Martin Sloane returns to the small town of Homewood, where he grew up. Nothing has changed in 25 years. It's a sweet summer afternoon, with laughing children and a musical carousel. The metaphor is clear: childhood as a carefree summer day.

Martin chances upon himself as an 11-year-old boy carving his initials on the town bandstand. He then visits the home where he lived as a child and encounters his parents, who think this grown man claiming to be their son is a lunatic. Martin later tries to confront his young self once more, on the carousel, frightening the boy who runs and falls in agonizing pain; simultaneously the adult Martin feels the same wrenching pain.

His father finds the adult Martin and tells him that he doesn't belong here anymore. But why? His father answers, "I guess we only get once chance. Maybe there's only one summer to every customer."

Martin Sloane's Homewood is Binghamton, mid-1930s, and on the floor of the bandstand is a marker commemorating this famous "Twilight Zone" episode.

Boyhood friend

Robert Keller, of Binghamton's non-profit Rod Serling Foundation, was a boyhood friend of the writer. They ate dinner at each other's houses and pretended to be Greek shepherds in a local cemetery. "The mausoleums looked like Greek temples to us," Keller remembered.

Keller led me on a summer Sunday afternoon to Recreation Park, past the carousel to the bandstand on which Serling carved his initials more than 60 years ago.

On this day, I rode the carousel as its brassy sounds entertained me. At 3 in the afternoon, a band concert began, and the live sounds of big-band and swing music that young Serling once heard penetrated my ears.

Ice cream was sold from Good Humor and Mr. Softee trucks. Yet the marker that reads "Rod Serling Walking Distance" needs cleaning and seems ignored. Keller sadly notes that his hometown has yet to promote Serling the way that Fairmount, Ind., does James Dean and Lowell, Mass., honors Jack Kerouac.

"It's like that quote about a prophet who is without honor in his own home," Keller said.

The Rod Serling Foundation is the main force behind keeping Serling's legacy alive. The foundation is at the forefront of a major lobbying effort to create a commemorative postage stamp in Serling's honor.

The foundation also maintains a display titled "Diary of a Playwright" in the lobby of the Forum theater downtown. Visit, and you can see boyhood photos of the future television icon riding a motor scooter at age 8, posing with his mother, Esther, and brother Bob and assembled with his Hebrew school confirmation class.

You will also see a teen-age Serling with the staff of his high school newspaper, Panorama, circa 1942, and in his Air Force uniform somewhere in the Pacific on V-J Day, 1945. And you see the writer as playful father and husband, with his wife, Carol, and two young daughters in 1959.

Peruse the exhibit and you learn that Serling had a respected writing career well before "Zone." His dramas from the infant days of television, such as "Patterns," "A Town Has Turned to Dust" and "Requiem for a Heavyweight" are today regarded as gems from the mine of television's Golden Age.

Yet "The Twilight Zone" stills raise the most memories from the recesses of visitors' minds. On view here are stills of innumerable "Zones," including Art Carney as Santa Claus in "Night of the Meek"; a then-unknown Robert Redford as Mr. Death in "Nothing in the Dark"; a young William Shatner as the petrified airline passenger in "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet"; the legendary Buster Keaton in "Once Upon a Time."

Near the theater are the landmarks of Serling's life. His boyhood home at 67 Bennett St. still stands a few blocks from Recreation Park. Privately owned, it's a handsome, white wood-frame house with dark shutters, in a neighborhood filled with other old, well-kept homes.

There is no historic marker at the house, but there is one at Binghamton High School, where as editor of Panorama Serling wrote pieces supporting the allies in World War II and condemning Nazi persecution. These may have planted the seeds for classic "Zone" stories about the hell of war and the shame of prejudice, such as "The Purple Testament," "Judgment Night" and "Deaths-Head Revisited." Today, the high school is the home of the Rod Serling School of Fine Arts.

Close by is the Walk of Stars, where entertainers with a local connection are honored a la Hollywood Boulevard. Serling has his own star, as do cartoonist Johnny Hart ("B.C.") and Richard Deacon (who played Mel Cooley on another '60s television classic, "The Dick Van Dyke Show.") There is another exhibition, four miles away at Binghamton Regional Airport. It is considerably smaller than the one at the Forum, and it shares space with a similar tribute to Hart. But this is the place to see Serling's high school yearbook.

It is also here that young writers read a Serling quote offering solace: "I collected forty rejection slips in a row. Nobody but a beginning writer can realize just how crushing this is to the ego."

I can relate. I always wanted to be Rod Serling. As a young writer, I regarded him as my hero. I wanted his creativity. I was a television-radio major in college, and I wanted to someday create my own "Twilight Zone." In time, I realized I'd never be Rod Serling.

But not even Serling could be Serling. Yes, he did go on to write the movie "Planet of the Apes" and have spotty success in the early 1970s with another anthology series, "Night Gallery." But as Bob Keller says of his friend, after "The Twilight Zone" "he had gone into a type of a writer's block. He may have exhausted his ideas. The trend he started had been copied to the point of being cheapened."

Then there was hounding from critics. Why couldn't he write more "Twilight Zone"-quality material, they asked.

Rod Serling died in 1975 of a heart attack at the age of 50.

Like Martin Sloane, maybe the stress had gotten to him, maybe he was vainly searching for the band concerts and carousels and the summer of his youth, not in "The Twilight Zone" but in very real Binghamton, N.Y.

If you go:

Rod Serling's hometown

* The exhibit "Day of a Playwright" is in the lobby of The Forum at 236 Washington St. Hours: weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. during theater season (September through May), sporadic hours in summer. Call in advance; one can also make an appointment to see the exhibit. Free. Call (607) 778-2480.
* The exhibit at Binghamton Regional Airport north of town is open 24 hours daily.
* The Walk of Stars is at the corner of Court and Washington streets.
* Binghamton Central High School is at 31 Main St.
* The carousel and bandstand are in Recreation Park off Beethoven Street. Carousel rides are free.

STAYING THERE

* Best Western Regency, 225 Water St., (607) 722-7575, doubles: $75-$82.
* Holiday Inn, 2-8 Hawley St., (607) 722-1212, doubles: $90-$175.
* Comfort Inn, 1156 Front St., (607) 722-5353, doubles: $65-$71.

INFORMATION

Contact the Rod Serling Foundation, P.O. Box 2101, Binghamton, NY 13902, or the Broome County Convention and Visitors Bureau, P.O. Box 995, Binghamton, NY 13902. Call (800) 836-6740.

Preserving the Prairie
There is something mystical about the prairie. It extends forever, belying the Earth's natural curves. It evokes migration. The famous overland trails were named for places beyond the prairie: the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon Trail. It seems that the prairie was never a destination. It was the obstacle to be crossed to get where one wanted to go. Even today, many Midwesterners view Kansas as the hell you have to cross to get to Colorado.

Cowtown USA
Travel back to 1849. A troop of soldiers is ordered to northeast Texas to protect settlers scattered along the wild southern plains. One soldier writes, "Buffalo all around. There were more panthers than I have seen before or since. Antelope without number, and wild turkeys in every tree."

The soldiers proceed to build a fort and name it in honor of Maj. Gen. William Jenkins Worth. Fort Worth, Texas, is born.

Charles M. Schulz: Cartoonist and Creator of Peanuts
For 50 years, the Peanuts gang shared wit and wisdom with fans around the world. “It’s tough to be a kid,” recalled Charles Schulz. Through his comic strip, Schulz revealed truths about love, hope, faith and failure. This young adult biography takes readers on a journey into Schulz’s life.

Bob Dylan: The Life and Times of an American Icon
Bob Dylan catapulted to fame as an American folk singer and songwriter in the 1960s. The man who wrote and sang "Blowin’ in the Wind” has been an icon of popular culture ever since. From his early days in Greenwich Village to his role as music superstar, Dylan’s life is controversial and fascinating.

52 Connecticut and Rhode Island Weekends
Written for those in search of weekend fun, this guide offers a fresh experience for every weekend of the year, taking you to castles, 18th-century seaports, beaches, and special events for each season from spring to July 4 to Halloween to Christmas and Hanukkah.

YA Biography
She overcame both an abusive father and racism from all sides to become an Academy Award-winning actor.
Travel Feature Articles
Where "roasting chestnuts on an open fire" is a literal thing.
A lucky seven things to do with kids on or near the Las Vegas Strip
Visit the ghosts of "The Twilight Zone"'s Rod Serling in his hometown.
There is just one stretch of tallgrass prairie left in the United States.
A trip to the birthplace of the American cowboy
Non-Fiction Books
The story of the shy boy who created a cartoon empire.
A look at the life and times of one of America’s cultural legends.
Travel Books
This book offers a trip for each weekend of the year in southern New England.

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