A true American Idol

Somewhere way back in time, say, the late 80’s, I was a contestant in the Miss Hollywood contest.  Since my hopes were dashed that I would ever become Miss America, I set my sights on a much smaller piece of real estate.

And besides, I didn’t have to worry about wearing a bathing suit in stilettos or twirling a flaming baton.

The contest did include fitness (we had to perform a 30 second self-choreographed routine) while wearing a leotard and leggings.  There may have been a headband involved, but I’ve evidently blocked that memory.  There was also an evening gown competition, a live interview (wherein as you might imagine, I said something highly inappropriate), and my favorite, a live acting scene with Tony Franciosa.  With absolutely no prior rehearsal.  My own personal Actor’s Nightmare.

The experience was a great deal of fun, as I had just recently moved to Los Angeles.  My roommate was my very best friend going on nearly 30 years now (she won, btw) and I have wonderful memories of all the other girls in the competition and how stinking much fun we had.  And, as a starving actress, I was given free food the week of the rehearsal and telecast.

I have this piece of cinema history (viewed by about 15 people, most of whom were my poker buddies who watched the live event in my apartment because it fell on a Wednesday night) on a VHS tape around here somewhere.  One of these days I’ll unearth it and see if I can have it transferred to DVD for show and tell.

But there is one thing about the experience which I regret.

At one point in the competition, all of the contestants prerecorded a speech about what Hollywood actress they greatly admired and why.  The pool of actresses chosen were from the 60’s or 70’s.  And it wasn’t even our choice.  The selections were given to us, and the speeches were pre-written.

The actress that I was given was Jane Fonda.  The only thing that I knew of Jane Fonda was that she starred in the movie, Barefoot in the Park with Robert Redford.  A favorite film of mine.  I knew nothing of Jane Fonda’s involvement in the Vietnam war, and the detrimental affect she had on our veterans, particularly the veterans she betrayed who were imprisoned in North Vietnam.

It’s safe to say that in my 20’s, I was rather self absorbed and mostly politically clueless.  And since we were years away from the technological revolution, I couldn’t google her.

So on national television, as Jane Fonda’s picture was shown, I was heard talking about how much I admired her, and the phrase I spoke that haunts me was “she had the courage of her convictions.”

Many years have passed and I now am politically aware and active.  I only wish I had better sense in my 20’s, and had simply declined Ms. Fonda as my personal role model.  Since then I’ve read John McCain’s experience as a POW in the Vietnam war and I’m horrified at the treatment our military received both there and back here on our soil.  My own father, a veteran, confided in me some years later that he has never ever allowed himself to watch any movie or show that Ms. Fonda ever appeared.  Even to this day.

The reason all of this is swirling around in my noggin is because of something that recently crossed my email in-box.

The following story was written by the wife of a Vietnam veteran.  Her name is unknown:


Ann Margaret, 1966


Richard, (my husband), never really talked a lot about his time in Viet Nam , other than he had been shot by a sniper. However, he had a rather grainy, 8 x 10 black and white photo he had taken at a USO show of Ann Margret with Bob Hope in the background that was one of his treasures.

A few years ago, Ann Margret was doing a book signing at a local bookstore. Richard wanted to see if he could get her to sign the treasured photo so he arrived at the bookstore at 12 o’clock for the 7:30 signing.

When I got there after work, the line went all the way around the bookstore, circled the parking lot, and disappeared behind a parking garage. Before her appearance, bookstore employees announced that she would sign only her book and no memorabilia would be permitted.

Richard was disappointed, but wanted to show her the photo and let her know how much those shows meant to lonely GI’s so far from home. Ann Margret came out looking as beautiful as ever and, as second in line, it was soon Richard’s turn.

He presented the book for her signature and then took out the photo. When he did, there were many shouts from the employees that she would not sign it. Richard said, ‘I understand. I just wanted her to see it.’

She took one look at the photo, tears welled up in her eyes and she said, ‘This is one of my gentlemen from Viet Nam and I most certainly will sign his photo. I know what these men did for their country and I always have time for ‘my gentlemen.”

With that, she pulled Richard across the table and planted a big kiss on him. She then made quite a to-do about the bravery of the young men she met over the years, how much she admired them, and how much she appreciated them.. There weren’t too many dry eyes among those close enough to hear. She then posed for pictures and acted as if he were the only one there.

Later at dinner, Richard was very quiet. When I asked if he’d like to talk about it, my big, strong husband broke down in tears.. ‘That’s the first time anyone ever thanked me for my time in the Army,’ he said.

That night was a turning point for him. He walked a little straighter and, for the first time in years, was proud to have been a Vet. I’ll never forget Ann Margret for her graciousness and how much that small act of kindness meant to my husband.

Ann Margaret is someone that the middle aged me greatly greatly admires.  She is a class act and true American idol.

15 Responses to A true American Idol

  • My Daddy (also a Viet Nam vet) will still not watch a Jane Fonda movie, either.

  • This brought tears to my eyes… as a proud wife of an Air Force officer, and now seeing my teenager come face to face with not only his history lessons of WWII and the Vietnam War, and to experience both the honor and disdain (yes, disdain) shown to our military and their families… this story is a reminder that our men and women do not serve in vain, and regardless of your opinions on our current politics, we must honor those who serve. Thank you DeeDee.

  • This one has me in tears, Dee. My Daddy was a Viet Nam Vet as well. I’m sorry to say I didn’t totally understand the political stuff in my 20s either, but I’m much more aware now.

    Daddy died when I was 15, on Memorial Day. Two things I always remember he said were “We weren’t ‘fooled’; we volunteered to go because we believed in the mission and we were protecting our country.” He told me this when I came home from 5th grade quoting my teacher when she said “we were fools; we never should have gone to Viet Nam.” I cannot even imagine the hurt he must of felt hearing me say those words.

    The second thing; “If you don’t vote, you can’t gripe. A LOT of people, including many of my friends, died so you would have the right to vote. Don’t take it for granted.”

    I have voted in every election since I’ve been of voting age; including local elections/primaries. My nephew has been to every election since he was 3. He is about to turn 16. He not only knows HOW to vote; he knows WHY he should vote; and he knows the men and women to thank for that privilege.

    BTW… ever since I found out about what Jane Fonda said I have not watched any of her movies. Same thing with many actors/actresses/singers, etc. now.

  • My dad was also a Vietnam Vet. The only thing he ever told me about the war was that he had to change into his civilian clothes on the plane when he returned, because of the protestors at the airport. Jane Fonda’s name was a curse word in our home. He would never watch any of her movies. As an adult, we once visited the home of someone my husband worked with, and his wife suggested watching “Monster-in-law.” Having just met this woman and not wanting to offend her, I agreed and have regretted it ever since. I’m in school to become a social worker and when we were studying abnormal psychology, I was assigned a case study in PTSD. I watched segments of an interview with a Vietnam vet who suffered from PTSD. I balled like a baby. His symptoms were all things I had seen in my own dad growing up. My dad was an alcoholic and verbally abusive and I spent most of my life hating the man he had become, only to find out that it wasn’t him at all. I only wish I had known sooner and had more grace and compassion for him and what he must have suffered. He died in 2009 after and 8 year battle of Parkinson’s disease. My mom now receives government compensation because they have linked Parkinson’s to agent orange in Vietnam. In the end, that war was likely what ended his life, just 40 years after the fact.

    By the way…my daddy LOVED Ann Margaret. Thanks for sharing this story.

    • Kim, my dad is a Vietnam Vet. He is suffering from Parkinson’s now. Can you help me help my mom find out about the link and gov’t help?

      • Tara,
        My brother and sister-in-law both work for the VA in Carson City, NV. It was my sister-in-law who was aware of the paperwork (otherwise my mom would have never known). I will email her and see if I can find out for you. Can you send me your email address so I can forward the info on to you. My email is pkkskelzer@yahoo.com.

        Blessings to your family. It’s such a tough road…


      • Okay, well, I got an answer faster than I thought I would. Here is the message from my brother. Hopefully this helps and can set you in the right direction:

        Parkinson’s disease is what is called a presumptive disease for any in-country Vietnam vet. he would of haved to have served in country. The absolute best way for them to proceed would be to contact a Service officer rep at at VA hospital or Regional office such as AMVETS, VFW or DAV and ask for their assistance and assign them as their legal point of contact. The service officer reps are usually very knowledable of the entire submission process.


      • Hi again Tara,
        He just sent me another email:

        Kim- another way to actually get a copy of the VA application is to go on line and type in VA Form 21-526. That is the initial application form. To speed things along for the veteran, if he has been seen by a private physician for his Parkinson’s include copies of medical records to show the diagnosed disability and residuals of Parkinsons. Also, if he has any evidence of in-country Vietnam service such as his discharge papers, that would also help speed things along too.

        If you could find out where the person lives, I could provide them with the address of the nearest VA Regional Office.

        I hope all of this helps.

  • What a moving story!

  • I love Ann Margaret’s movies – particularly Bye Bye Birdie & Viva Las Vegas. Ann Margaret & Elvis? Yes, I believe I will, thank you. And I really loved her when I was younger because we red heads were kind of few & far between in the movies. But this makes me love her so much more.

  • I’m probably gonna catch some flack for this…but having followed Jane’s blog and story for some time now I feel pressed to share this and encourage a read or two….

    Not everything the media presents (even from 40-50 years ago) is true….and we all know that.

    God’s grace and redemption is true….and available to everyone, even Jane….and we all know that.

    And Ann-Margaret knows “her gentlemen” because she, as so well recorded in this story, is a quite a lady.

  • My husband can not and will not Jane’s movie either. This story is very touching. Thank you for sharing.

  • Well said. Very well said.

  • DeeDee you have the best commenters. Thanks, Kim!

  • What a moving portrait of actions speaking louder than words. Thank you for sharing this with those of us who know and love(d) Vietnam Veterans.