Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Armstrong Awards

There have been a lot of famous Armstrongs.  I decided to rate the top ten because the world needs it.  We'll skip Fairbairn, the legendary founder of the Scottish Armstrong clan.  Supposedly, he lifted his king off of his horse with one arm during a battle to save him and was granted the distinguished and kind of simple name. True? Who knows? Not me.

10) Lance Armstrong

I know he is a fake, a fraud, a bad man, a cheater, a bully and a man who has made millions and dated beautiful women based on his artificially oxygen buoyed body.  But, he was still a great bike rider.  Yes, the blood doping gave him an edge, but, remember, many, if not most, if not everyone else (again, who knows?) was cheating too. I read an article recently by a well known man in another field who used to bike race a couple of decades ago. He stopped because he could not compete without doping. Anyway, Armstrong beat them all 7 years in a row. I'm not saying what he did wasn't bad and that blood doping doesn't help ruin the sport - it does.  But, if nothing else, his scandal gets him onto my list.

9) Robert Armstrong.

Remember the 1933 King Kong, the original, the one with Fay Wray? No. I saw it on tv when I was young.  Armstrong played the male lead, a movie producer who goes to film animals on a remote island.  Enter a lot of giant animals including King Kong. Jurassic Park long before there was a Jurassic Park.  But, that was hardly his only role and he was already famous at the time he made it. In fact, though he wasn't Fay's character's love interest, he was much more well known than the actor who played the guy that was. So, he ended up in the posters. He was in Son of Kong as the same guy and then in Mighty Joe Young, which I preferred to Kong. Made me cry, I think. He acted in movies between 1927 and 1964. Wikipedia says 127 of them. In most of them I glanced at on IMDB, it looked like he played a cowboy or some other type of gun fighter.  He played numerous roles on Perry Mason up to his retirement in 1964.

8) Curtis Armstrong

You probably never heard of this guy, have you? I didn't know his name until the other day. I was emailing back and forth with a friend who wrote to me "Sometimes you just have to say.....what the fuck......know what movie that line is from?" I did, I did. But I couldn't think of it. But I could picture this scrawny, scraggy sort of pompous little guy saying it. He told me - Risky Business - Tom Cruise's big breakthrough movie. Remember his scrawny, scraggy sort of pompous little friend - that's Curtis Armstrong in his first role. He has this unusual ability to play somewhat disconcerting but oddly sympathetic characters, I bet very few people know his name, but almost everyone has seen him in one thing or another. Here's a partial list of his movies and tv shows he's been in..

Risky Business
Revenge of the Nerds (second movie) and the other Nerd movies
Better off Dead (third movie - and one of my favorite early John Cusack roles)
The Clan of the Cave Bear
Moonlighting (he helped the famous twosome for three years over 37 episodes)
Murphy Brown
Lois and Clark
Suddenly Susan
Third Rock from the Sun
That 70's Show
Dodgeball (the Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn highly underrated vehicle)
Boston Legal
Curb Your Enthusiasm
The Closer
Hot in Cleveland
New Girl
American Dad! (obviously, voice only)

And dozens of others. Don't know him - here's his pic -

7) John Armstrong, Jr.

This was an honest to God, now mostly forgotten revolutionary war . . . not really a hero. Not even a general, then, anyway. Only a major. But, his dad fought in the French and Indian War where he befriended George Washington, was a revolutionary war general and posthumously had Armstrong County, Pa., named for him. Eventually, he was a constitutional convention delegate and other stuff, but this is about his son. I guess I could have chose him too. What John, Jr.  is known most for is almost single-handedly starting a mutiny in the Continental Army by writing anonymous letters encouraging the officers to take their lack of pay into their own hands. And it did get them riled up and cause a big problem. Washington defused it in his own way, famously taking out his glasses to put on because he had given his eyesight in the name of duty. That little dramatic move apparently took the air out of the mutiny. At least for the moment.

He soon left the army (the war was over) but that wasn't it for young John, Jr. He went home to Pennsylvania and was sort of a big deal in ways that won't impress you too much now. He ended up, like his father, at the constitutional convention, no small thing. He married one of the Livingston girls, one of the first families in America and moved to New York. There, when Jefferson became president, he became a U.S. Senator and was elected three time - not so shabby either. He became minister to France and then Spain and eventually, called back for the War of 1812, a general. But, that wasn't it alone. Madison named him Secretary of War. He was barely confirmed. As Henry Adams explained in his famous history of Madison's two terms, he was not a trusted man. Perhaps this can be dated back to the Newburgh Conspiracy, as it was not unknown he was the writer of the letters. And his federal service did not end well. When the British turned their attention to Washington, Armstrong did nothing to protect it. His actions were not much different than a traitor's would have been, though I'm not claiming that. He was just bad. It was a disaster. Madison had to flee and D.C. burned. 

6) Jack Armstrong

This is a true to life character from Abraham Lincoln's life. Abe, and this is not as well known as other facts about Lincoln, was an unusually powerful man. Even when in the White House he could reputedly hold a sledgehammer out at arm's length, bend his arm slowly in at the elbow and touch the hammer to his nose without breaking it (his nose, not the hammer). I wouldn't even try something like that. You have to wonder what idiot thought of that little test first. Anyway, one day young Abe meets a group of men known as the Clary Grove gang. He is tested by them, as they are the local toughs, and he wrestles a man named Jack Armstrong, either voluntarily or against his will. There are any number of stories about it, but it seems that there was at least a match of some sorts, and out of it, whether he won or not, he and the boys, especially Jack, became friends. Abe used to go to his house and hold Jack and his wife's little boy, William "Duff" Armstrong. And, much later when Jack was dying, that little boy, all grown up, was arrested for murder. And, Jack's wife called their old friend - Abraham Lincoln to represent him.

5) Duff Armstrong

What did he do to get on my list? He did not get convicted of murder. He was acquitted. He was the accused in the very famous Abraham Lincoln case where he proved the witness could not have seen the murder by moonlight because the moon had passed over the horizon.  There are actually arguments that Lincoln manufactured an almanac and his argument was false and fraudulent. Maybe yes, maybe no. I suppose I could research the hell out of it, but wealthy and famous men like myself have others do things like that for them.

4) Neil Armstrong

Pretty sure just about anyone reading this would know who Neil Armstrong was. First man to walk on the moon. "That's one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind" were his words. He claims he made them up after they landed, because he thought there was a 50-50 chance of success.  Originally it was believed that he forget to say the "a" before "man," but years later better equipment was able to pick it up. So I've read, anyway. 

I remember the landing. I was in summer camp and 9 years old. The people who ran the camp were clearly idiots, or maybe it was our counselors. They thought kids in my bunk should be in bed. So, by myself, I snuck out and walked down in the dark to where it was being watched. I was used to that. I was getting up early in the morning that summer to run at dawn (even then, I barely slept, but - ah, youth, and loved solitude). That night I found where they were all watching and looked through the door. Or maybe it was the back of the room. It was a long time ago and I can't really remember, to tell the truth. But, no one noticed me and it was pretty exciting.

So, who can beat out the first man to walk on the moon.

3) Henry Armstrong

When I was a wee laddie, I was very into boxing. I knew the name of every heavyweight champion and many other champions dating back to before the turn of the century. I might still know the heavyweights by name, but you'd have to read me their order. You can't remember everything. Of course, all that stopped after the 80s when I just completely lost interest in almost all boxing. Henry Armstrong was one of the all time great fighters. I would not say the best ever, but definitely up there. Bert Sugar, the famed boxing expert, puts him number 2 after Sugar Ray Robinson - which also means ahead of Joe Louis, Dempsey, Muhammad Ali and everyone else. I'm not swearing by his list as he also puts Duran (8) way ahead of Sugar Ray Leonard (25). But Ring Magazine also has Armstrong second to Robinson, who beat him in their only fight. Ring's is the better list in my opinion, if not perfect.  Perhaps Armstrong was no. 2 all time. Some argue no. 1.  I don't think either. But, up there. His career stemmed from 1931 to 1945 during which, unlike now, there were only 8 divisions and he managed to win three of them, something only 3 men had done before him (many have since, but there are many more closer weight divisions). At one point he held all three at the same time. He fought an amazing 181 times in much more punishing fights than are allowed now and won 150 of them with 101 knockouts and 10 draws, losing only 21 times. His reach was 3 centimeters longer than his height - only 5' 5 1/2" inches. Most of the people he fought we never have heard of now, but back then, you fought everyone you could. Whether he was no. 2 all time or should be lower (I think), or even number 10, he easily makes the top ten Armstrong list.

2) George Armstrong Custer

The runner up - well, he's sort of an Armstrong. His middle name was not a family name, but taken from a local minister, as George's father wanted him to go into the clergy. That didn't work out. If by some chance you don't know who he was (I don't know what young people know anymore), he was a celebrated Civil War General while still a young man, a cavalryman who came right out of West Point where he, a bit of a mischief maker, graduated last. But, after initially alienating troops under his command with his showy ways, he gained their admiration, fighting in the front of the battle and had some notable wins including just before and during Gettysburg a little outside the main battle area (I visited it during one of my trips to Gettysburg - - not much to look at now). After the war he went back to his regular lower rank and became an author and Indian fighter out west, gaining immortality by being slaughtered, along with virtually all his men who accompanied him into battle at Little Big Horn (aka "Custer's Last Stand") in 1876 against the Sioux Indians. He was a showy gamecock and perhaps a bit of a jerk. But, undoubtedly brave and generally a good soldier.

1) Louis Armstrong

What a remarkable man. Satchmo didn't invent jazz music, but he came to personify it to a large extent, starting out in New Orleans when Jazz was young and coming to rest on my own Long Island (where his Corona, Queens County house is a museum I have not visited). Although his career was quite long, he is most famous now for singing a few songs late in his career that are still memorable - Hello, Dolly, Mack the Knife and It's a Wonderful World (which for years I listened to almost every Sunday as some kind of bizarre but pleasurable ritual).

There's no point in my telling you about Louis. You have to listen to him. But, he was one of the most distinctive stylistic singers - including scat - and horn players in history. Here's my list of his best (obviously, my favorite) pieces in a grand finale:

10) Zat you, Santa Claus. It is only in the last few years I've heard this on the radio in the holiday season. It's fun and infectious.
9) St. Louis Blues. My favorite version is by my other favorite Louis - that is, Louis Prima (take a look at my Louis Prima posts on 5/16/08 and 12/10/07). Many would put this early jazz favorite higher, but I think it is just right here.
8) On the Sunny Side of the Street. An oldy, but . . . .
7) Don't Get Around Much Anymore - the first of four brilliant Duke Ellington compositions on the list. I picked this order, but they and all their work together is brilliant.
6) I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good). Slow, moving, perfect.
5) It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing).
4) I'm Beginning to See the Light. You won't find this Duke Ellington composition on a lot of Satchmo top ten lists, but it belongs there.
3) When the Saints Come Marching In. I personally like the duet he did with Danny Kaye. Watch the youtube video.
2/1 tie) Mack the Knife.
2/1 tie) It's a Wonderful World. If you can listen to this and not think it's a wonderful world, you either have a bad life or are depressed.

I know, I know, Cabaret and his duet with Ella Fitzgerald, Dream a Little Dream of Me, probably belong there too, but you can make your own list.

And, before I finish, there's a runner up Armstrong too, another John Armstrong, aka John of Gilnockie, a genuine Scottish Border reiver who was hung in 1530 along with many of his mates after being summoned to a parley under a safe conduct by King James V of Scotland (father of the more famous Mary, Queen of Scots).

Did I miss anyone? 


  1. Two come to mind: Billie Joe Armstrong, the lead singer for "Green Day", one of the very best rock bands of the last 20 years, and BJ Armstrong, starting point guard for the World Champion Chicago Bulls in the Jordan-Pippen era.

  2. Not bad. I did consider Green Day's lead singer and rejected him, but mostly because they aren't really for me (I can't think of a single song of theirs I know and the few times I heard them I couldn't understand what he was singing). But totally forgot about BJ Armstrong. He was very underrated just because of who he played with. Awesome 3 point shooter. He might have made the list if he had come to mind. Maybe a runner up to the runner up.

  3. Loved this one. When I started reading I thought to myself. "I hope he mentions Curtis "Booger" and "What the Fuck" Armstrong. Great job.

  4. If Don is happy, I am happy? Holey moley! I just realized I haven't blogged in a month! This weekend then.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .