Monthly Archives: June 2013

Billy Pearson: Never Look Back

Billy PearsonYesterday I received feedback from a person who had read my 2010 review of the book Never Look Back, by jockey Billy Pearson. Pearson, famous in his day for 826 wins on the racetrack, was also an art dealer, and back in the 1950s his knowledge of art won him over $170,000 on the television quiz shows The $64,000 Question and The $64,000 Challenge. In The $64,000 Challenge, he matched wits against Vincent Price, and the competition eventually ended in a draw because neither one could be stumped.

Thanks to his wild ways, these winnings and the rest of his wealth slipped easily through his fingers. He boasted that he squandered a million dollars, and in an interview in Parade magazine (Jan 1959) he declared, “I am reconciled to the fact that I will never get out of this life alive, and while I’m still breathing, I’m going to live it up.” Indeed, he smoked, drank, gambled, married six times, and was always up to some kind of mischief. At least a remnant of his flashy lifestyle remains: one of the 17 homes that he bought and filled with his art went on the market last year for $15 million http://realestate.aol.com/blog/2012/05/07/house-of-the-day-jockey-billy-pearsons-la-jolla-mansion/.

My interest in him was sparked in 2010 when I was talking with my friends Silvia and Nena, who told me they had just attended the funeral of their cousin, Queta, who had been married to Billy Pearson. While Queta’s marriage to Pearson didn’t last, she shared his interest in art and helped him prepare for the game shows. She also bore two of his four children.

I went home and headed straight to the Internet, where I discovered and purchased his autobiography Never Look Back. As luck would have it, my copy was signed by the author himself, which made him even more real to me.  Pearson tells his story up until 1956, with his first win on The $64,000 Question. I can’t remember ever having had so much fun reading a book. Its pages are filled with amazing and preposterous stories. They stretch credulity, but even if one-tenth of them are true, he was arguably one of the most fascinating men of his time.

Here is the review that I posted on amazon.com back in 2010:

What a blast!

Never Look BackFor those who don’t know (and I was one of them), Billy Pearson was the professional jockey—also daredevil, high school dropout, and reform school graduate—who soaked up everything he could learn about art in his spare time between horse races until he became one of the most knowledgeable art historians and collectors in the world. He won the top prize on The $64,000 Question in the category of Art and Artists and was quite the phenom in his day. The book is autobiographical and tells his story up to his famous first win on television. It ends before his rematch with Vincent Price for The $64,000 Challenge, when millions of viewers were glued to their television sets as the two answered question after question over a period of many weeks and finally split the jackpot.
Billy (with the aid of co-author Stephen Longstreet) reports on his wild younger days with refreshing honesty, no holds barred, and no regrets in a delightful self-deprecating style. He tried just about everything, won and lost money like drinking water, and hobnobbed with the rich and famous of his day. He tells of pranks pulled on his good friend movie director John Huston, and of Huston’s delicious revenge. Did it all really happen? Some of the stories are hard to believe, but who cares? This book is a page-turner, and every page is fun.

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The lengths I go to for my dogs

S&S cut-out croppedI don’t anthropomorphize my dogs. I don’t dress them in clothes, paint their toenails, or put ribbons in their hair. I’m fully aware that kisses often mean “I’m hungry” rather than “I love you,” and that “home” to them is essentially a food palace—an elaborate silo designed exclusively to shelter them and protect their source of sustenance.

Still, I go the extra mile to make sure that Sunshine and Snow are properly cared for. Humankind has rendered them helpless. They depend on me to make the best decisions on their behalf, and I take that responsibility seriously.

My dogs eat a fully balanced moist grain-free diet supplemented with dollops or “real” food–meat, poultry, fish, green tripe, egg, yam, cooked carrots, squash, pumpkin, or other nutritious goodies—all of it laced with chicken broth or some other delicious juice. They get four outings a day, at least one of which is a mile-long walk. I minimize prescription medications and vaccines. I subscribe to the Whole Dog Journal and follow its advice almost religiously.

But with all this fussing, if you had told me three years ago that they would be getting a monthly massage and that I would consider it a good investment, I would have laughed out loud.

In January 2010, after a series of events that I will go into some other day, our vet prescribed massage for the two of them. That was the beginning of our relationship with Ann Montalto, canine massage therapist (http://www.healinghandscaninemassage.com/photos.html).

Ann & Sun C - smallAnn is a graduate of the Lang Institute for Canine Massage, a 675-hour program of study in massage techniques and acupressure for dogs that includes courses in canine anatomy, physiology, orthopedic pathology, breed characteristics, and gait and movement. In addition, she has years of experience using both cold and thermal lasers, dating back to her days as a registered nurse. She has been practicing canine massage for eight years.

At first my girls were skeptical, but soon they learned to love their monthly appointments. Now when I say “We’re going to see Auntie Ann!” they rush to the car and beg to get in.

The massages have transformed their personalities. They are more affectionate and relaxed. They are calm, easy-going, obedient, and rarely bark. By the end of the month, they begin to get a little antsy and I can tell they are ready for a tune-up.

So why do I go to all this trouble? They warm my heart and teach me about life. They are endlessly patient and forgive all my lapses. They are never mean-spirited. Their antics make me laugh. Their tongues heal my tears. They cuddle up beside me when I read or watch TV, and the heartbeat in those little bodies is one of the sweetest sensations I have ever felt. And who else on the planet would be so thrilled to see me when I come home?

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