Henrietta LacksHenrietta Lacks was a poor, young, black mother of five in rural Virginia. She was diagnosed at Johns Hopkins Hospital with cervical cancer. Dr. George Gey soon discovered “that Mrs. Lacks’ cells were unlike any of the others he had ever seen: where other cells would die, [her] cells doubled every 20 to 24 hours.”

This NPR story explains: “For the past 60 years Lacks’ cells have been cultured and used in experiments ranging from determining the long-term effects of radiation to testing the live polio vaccine. Her cells were commercialized and have generated millions of dollars in profit for the medical researchers who patented her tissue.”

These incredible cells— nicknamed “HeLa” cells, from the first two letters of her first and last names — “are used to study the effects of toxins, drugs, hormones, and viruses on the growth of cancer cells without experimenting on humans. They have been used… to study the human genome, to learn more about how viruses work.”

Rebecca Skloot is the author of the 2010 book The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. She writes about the African-American woman who passed away on October 4, 1951, at the age of 31. Yet her cancer cells are one of the most important cell lines in medical research.

But Skloot also addresses “the collision between ethics, race, and medicine,” especially for Henrietta’s family, who, at the time of the book’s publication, could not afford health insurance. The writer founded The Henrietta Lacks Foundation in 2010, which has awarded more than 50 grants to many qualifying members of Henrietta Lacks’ immediate family for “health care and dental assistance, tuition and books, job training…” It has “also awarded education grants to the family members of the survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Studies.”

And in June of 2018: “A lawyer representing the eldest son and two grandsons of Henrietta Lacks, whose ‘immortal cells’ have been the subject of a best-selling book, a TV movie, a family feud, cutting-edge medical research, and a multibillion-dollar biotech industry, announced … that she plans to file a petition seeking ‘guardianship’ of the cells.

“The question we are dealing with is ‘Can the cells sue for mistreatment, misappropriation, theft and for the profits earned without their consent?'”

For ABC Wednesday

questionAbout twice a month, I link to a bunch of articles. I’ve SAID that I would say more about them if I had enough time, but that’s not entirely true.

When I write anything, I need an angle, a POV that isn’t exactly the same as everyone else’s. I shan’t be posting, “I too think that murder is bad.” I mean, I DO think so, but it seems self-evident and not really adding to the conversation.

At some level, I think that’s why I gently follow Quora, in case I can answer a question, assuming the query isn’t so inane that it’s not worth the effort.

I’ve even corrected people on that platform. Someone asserted that the writing credits for A World Without Love, the #1 hit by Peter and Gordon, was attributed to the pseudonym Bernard Webb. No, it was Lennon–McCartney, though Paul was the writer.

On the other hand, Woman, not to be confused with the much later John Lennon song with the same title, WAS credited to Webb, “to see if the song would be a success without the Lennon–McCartney credit.” I did not need to look that up, BTW; the weird stuff that’s stuck in my brain…

Anyway, my Quora experience led me to the conclusion that y’all COULD ask me inane questions for Ask Roger Anything, such as… well, I won’t help you with that. Or you could have me explain what I was thinking when I included a particular link. Did I agree with it, or did I just think it was interesting?

By my self-imposed standard, I would be required to respond, generally within the month, to the best of my ability. Obfuscation is allowed, though, truth to tell, not used very often.

Per usual, you can leave any of your questions, either inane or cogent, below or on Facebook or Twitter; for the latter, my name is ersie. Always look for the duck. If you prefer to remain anonymous, that’s OK, but you need to SAY so; you should e-mail me at rogerogreen (AT) gmail (DOT) com, or send me an IM on FB and note that you want to remain unmentioned; otherwise, I’ll assume you want to be cited.

There was an August 2018 article with Olivia Newton-John and John Travolta dancing together, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the movie Grease. The stars have been great friends in the intervening four decades.

It’s weird that, for some reason, I never saw Grease in the movie theater, and it was a massive success. In fact, I’m not sure to this day that I’ve ever seen it in its entirety, though my daughter has watched the film on video

And it wasn’t just the movie that might have drawn me in, it was the music, with three Top 5 singles by Travolta and Newton-John in 1978. I have seen a high school production of the musical i the past couple years.

I’d forgotten that she was born in Cambridge, England. I did recall she was raised in Melbourne, Australia. She was a country artist early on, had some massive “middle of the road” hits before Grease.

But in 1980/1981, she transformed her career. Just as Sandy in Grease changed from goody-goody to being clad in spandex, Newton-John was inspired to do the same metaphorically. As a result, she had her largest hits in the US, Magic, and Physical.

I believe that, for the time, it was constitutionally illegal not to play Physical on the hour, unless you were on one of the two Utah radio stations that banned the single from their playlists. It was ranked by Billboard as the biggest song of the decade.

Her breast cancer had been in remission from 1992 until its metastasis was discovered in 2017. She’s become an advocate for better eating, animal rights, and the environment.

Yes, I have my one Olivia Newton-John greatest hits album, which I play every September. She shares a birthday with my late father.

Listen to:

If Not for You, #25 pop in 1971

Honestly Love You, #1 pop for two weeks, #6 country in 1974

Have You Never Been Mellow, #1 pop, #3 country in 1975

You’re The One That I Want, with John Travolta, #1 pop in 1978
Summer Nights, with Travolta and cast of Grease, #5 pop in 1978

Magic, #1 pop for four weeks in 1980

Physical, #1 pop for ten weeks, #28 R&B in 1981

My wife and I are probably the perfect demographic, a teacher and a librarian, for a movie such as The Bookshop. And note the protagonist’s surname. The story takes place in 1959 England, where a determined widow Florence Green (Emily Mortimer) decides to open a bookstore in a coastal town.

She does this with little help, save for a schoolgirl named Christine (Honor Kneafsey), and in spite of the keen opposition of Violet Gamart (Patricia Clarkson), wife of a general (Reg Wilson). But she has a fan in Edmund Brundish, a reclusive book-loving widower (Bill Nighy), to whom she introduces the works of Ray Bradbury and Vladimir Nabokov.

There is also a slick, morally unmoored character Mr. Keble (Hunter Tremayne), who slithers in and out of scenes.

The Bookshop is based on Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel and directed by Isabel Coixet (Learning to Drive). I think my wife enjoyed the film as “an elegant yet incisive rendering of personal resolve, tested in the battle for the soul of a community.”

Alas, I found it rather bland and often lugubrious. Some critics believe it hewed too closely to the source material, which we had not read.

Moreover, the business librarian in me couldn’t understand why Florence was so determined to have a bookstore at all. “Is there a place for a bookshop in a town that may not want one?” Know your market, any business adviser would recommend. Nor could I really discern why Violet was so gung-ho for a community center in the venue instead.

That said, the film was a moderately interesting study of power dynamics, and how the system can be manipulated. And speaking of power, I always loved it when Nighy’s Edmund was on screen; he had a presence.

I can’t really recommend The Bookshop, but my wife would. As usual, we saw it at the Spectrum 8 in Albany.

Falco as Noonan

Edie Falco as Polly Noonan in The True

These are a couple things that are Albany connected, the latter, very tangentially.

The new play “The True”, written by Sharr White, “examines — and hypothesizes about — the affections shared” between long-time Albany, NY mayor Erastus Corning 2nd (d. 1983) and his confidant Dorothea (Polly) Noonan (d. 2003).

There was an article in the local paper, the Times Union, with some relatives and/or friends of the pair complaining that no one had approached them about whether all the facts were correct. As with most movies about famous people and events, I’ve never felt it necessary for the story to be I-dotted, T-crossed factual.

BTW, I didn’t move to Albany in 1979, and Corning who was first elected in 1941, was STILL mayor. The Democratic machine, which still exists in a modified form to this day. Trivia fact: the tallest building between Montreal and New York City is the Corning Tower, the 43-story building on the Empire State Plaza.

“Edie Falco and Michael McKean star in The New Group production of “the True”, which opens September. 20 at the Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City. Falco, for one, didn’t know there really WAS a Polly Noonan.

Noonan’s granddaughter — Kirsten E. Gillibrand, “once a little-known congresswoman from the Capital District — was selected to fill the United States Senate seat held by Hillary Clinton, who had been named Secretary of State.”
***
I watched a LOT of Burt Reynolds. I remember him first as the “half-breed” Quint on about four dozen episodes of the TV series Gunsmoke (1962-1965), the detective show Dan August (1970-1972), then a whole bunch of movies when he was box-office champ, usually prompted by Susan, my first significant girlfriend after I first moved to the area in 1978.

We saw Smokey and the Bandit I and II, Rough Cut, Starting Over, Hooper, and the underrated The End. Later, I watched the series Evening Shade (1990-1994) and the movie Boogie Nights (1997), plus a variety of guest appearances. Sally Field, who was in at least four of those films, said that Burt “never leaves my mind.”

Here’s Jerry Reed performing “Eastbound and Down”, from Smokey and the Bandit.

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