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RALPH NEVES (1916 – 1995) Jockey Who Died and Came Back to Life

In American History, Biography, California History, Horses, Movies, People, Uncategorized on November 29, 2019 at 11:07 AM

As the saying goes, when we get injured, we’re encouraged to “get right back on the horse.”  Ralph Neves really took that to heart. For him, that wasn’t just good advice; it was logical. He was a jockey, and there was a race to run with a big prize at stake. Never mind he had been declared dead just hours before.

ralphneves.jpg

Ralph Neves

 

Neves’ personality was full of grit and determination. When he was five,  his family moved from Massachusetts to California. Nothing is known about his mother. His father, who worked as a plasterer, allowed his son to do his own thing. Neves learned how to ride horses and dropped out of school to start earning money. He joined the rodeo and then did stunts for movies. The basic pay for stunt doubles was $10 a day, but Neves got $50 every time he fell off a horse. One day that added up to $200 because the director needed four takes to get the shot.

JUST HORSING AROUND           When Neves saw the potential for something that fit his temperament better, he made the transition from movies to horse racing. He won his first race when he was 18 years old. He signed a contract for $15 a month for three years, with $5 a month raises after the first year. Then Neves was picked up by Charles S. Howard, owner of the horse Seabiscuit, for $200 a month for two years. Howard wanted Neves to race in New York, but Neves jumped out of a bathroom window en route to get back to California.

Neves did things the way he wanted to, and that was reflected in his aggressive, reckless racing style. In 1935, a year after he started racing, The Seattle Times characterized him as a “…cocky, confident little youngster. When he mounts a horse, the possibility of failure never enters his mind. … He is a fearless rider and never hesitates to take a chance. Oblivious of danger to himself, he sometimes leans toward the rough side.”1  Neves was often fined for riding the horses too hard and whipping them too much. He was suspended for five to ten days at a time so often that once, to make their point, the track stewards suspended him for six months. Winning was everything, and he didn’t care what anyone else thought about him.

 DOWN AND OUT               On a spring day in 1936, Neves proved just how much winning meant to him. At the Bay Meadows track in San Mateo, California, Bing Crosby offered $500 and a gold watch to the jockey who won the most races in a multi-day meet. Neves was determined to win the prize. On May 8, he was in first place, only two wins ahead of another jockey. Riding Flanakins in an early race, Neves was leading the pack going into the far turn. For some reason, Flanakins faltered, throwing Neves into the wooden rail. He couldn’t get out of the way and was trampled by the horses coming up from behind.

In those days there was no ambulance waiting next to the track. Neves’ lifeless body was put in the back of a pick-up truck and taken to the track infirmary. He did not have a pulse, but the track doctor gave him a hopeful shot of adrenaline and had him transferred to the hospital and then to the morgue. Neves was wearing his ripped pants, one boot, and a toe tag to identify his corpse. The track announcer informed the crowd that jockey Ralph Neves was dead, and everyone stood for a moment of silence.

KEEPING HIS EYE ON THE PRIZE       Miraculously, Neves regained consciousness. When he realized what he was missing by being in the morgue, he walked out and took a taxi back to the racetrack. Neves was determined to get back on the horse, literally, and not let a near-fatal accident keep him from winning the meet. After everyone in the locker room recovered from what they thought was seeing a ghost, the officials refused to let Neves participate in any more races that day. The following day, however, Neves rode in five races. He didn’t win any, but he got enough second and third places to get the overall title for the meet and win the $500 and gold watch.

Neves continued his career as a jockey, interrupted for a short time by serving in the cavalry during World War II. And, he continued to sustain injuries. In the army he fell off a horse and broke his back at Fort Riley, Kansas. In 1959 he fell during a race and needed emergency brain surgery. Since winning was everything, Neves did whatever it took to win. In 1957 he had to go on a major diet to get down to 105 pounds to qualify for the Santa Anita Handicap, riding Corn Husker. He won by half a length.

While he’s best known for cheating death for the win, Neves was honored for his overall contributions to horse racing. In 1954, he received the George Woolf Memorial Jockey Award (named after the jockey who famously rode Seabiscuit to victory against War Admiral in 1938) for bringing recognition to the sport. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1960 with the nickname “Portuguese Pepperpot.”

Neves hung up his silks in 1964 at 48 years old. During a career that spanned 30 years, Neves rode 25,334 horses, winning 3,772 races and earning over 13 million dollars. When he started winding down, he took up golf and needlepoint. For all of the injuries he experienced, he made it to 79 years old. He was under treatment for lung cancer when he died the second time, in his sleep.

QUESTION:  What is something you’ve done that seemed impossible? How did you do it?

© 2019 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

1 Cronin, Brian. “Did jockey Ralph Neves die in a race accident and come back to life?”     LATimes.com, June 6, 2012. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-2012-jun-06-la-sp-sn-ralph-neves-20120606-story.html

Christine, Bill. “Former Rider, Now 70, Was So Tough That He Came Back From the Dead: Ralph Neves Was No Stiff as Jockey.” Los Angeles Times, October 29, 1986. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1986-10-29-sp-7878-story.html

Christine, Bill. “Long Ride Over for Jockey Neves : Horse racing: Declared dead after a race, he dies of cancer 59 years later.” Los Angeles Times  July 8, 1995.  https://www.latimes.com/archives/la- xpm-1995-07-08-sp-21661-story.html

Ralph Neves Bio, National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame.  https://www.racingmuseum.org/hall-of-fame/ralph-neves

Ralph Neves, 78, Hall of Fame Jockey by Associated Press New York Times Archive July 10 1995  Archived April 24, 2019.   https://www.nytimes.com/1995/07/10/obituaries/ralph-neves-78-hall- of-fame-jockey.html

Whirty, Ryan. “Jockey Ralph Neves’ strange tale” ESPN.com  May 5, 2011. http://www.espn.com/espn/page2/story/_/id/6486411/sportCat/horse

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ralph_Neves

https://www.jockeysguild.com/george-woolf-award/

Photo Credit: 

TenderFriend[CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D  https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Young_Ralph_Neves.jpg

 

 

 

 

SOPHIE BLANCHARD (1778 –1819) First Women to Fly Solo in a Hot Air Balloon

In adventure, Ballooning, Biography, Feminists, French History, People, Pilots, Uncategorized, women on September 15, 2010 at 9:34 AM

Sophie Blanchard

In the 1960s, The 5th Dimension sang, “Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?”  When Sophie Blanchard’s husband said that to her, she said, “Yes,” and they were Up, Up and Away.  Sophie felt most comfortable in the air, but what goes up must come down.

Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant came to the world’s attention when she married Jean-Pierre Blanchard, an inventor and pioneer in French aviation, specifically ballooning.  Other than the fact that she was born to Protestant parents in western France, almost nothing is known about her young life.

Blanchard was about 16 years old when she married, 35 years younger than her husband, becoming his second wife.  She was described as a small, nervous woman who startled easily when she heard loud noises.  When she started flying with Jean-Pierre, she felt more at home in the quiet, peaceful sky than on terra firma.

TAKING TO THE SKIES                Blanchard made her first balloon ascent in 1804 with her husband as a stunt to raise money.  Even though Jean-Pierre was the world’s first professional balloonist and had made demonstration tours all over Europe, he wasn’t a very good businessman.  They hoped that having a woman in the basket would attract more fans.  Blanchard wasn’t the first woman to ride in a balloon.  Three other women had gone up in tethered balloons, and two women had previously gone up untethered, but seeing a woman aloft was still a novelty.

In 1809, Jean-Pierre was flying over The Hague when he had a heart attack and fell from his balloon.  He died from his injuries.  He had adopted the Latin phrase Sic itur ad astra (“Such is the path to the stars”) as his personal motto.  Blanchard decided to follow her husband’s path and became the first woman to fly solo in a balloon.

Blanchard still needed to pay off the debt left by her husband, so her balloon of choice was a hydrogen-filled gas balloon.  The benefits of using gas (instead of hot air) generally outweighed the risks.  She wouldn’t have to tend to a fire to keep the balloon airborne and, since she was a petite woman, she could use a small basket about the size of a chair and minimal gas to inflate the balloon.

WORTH THE RISK                          Even though ballooning had been popular for almost 30 years, the inherent dangers still made it a risky endeavor.  Blanchard passed out during several flights because of the high altitude, and she encountered freezing temperatures when she cruised at 12,000 feet.  In 1811, she had to stay airborne for over 14 hours to avoid a hail storm.  And sometimes landing was just as risky.  One time her balloon made a crash landing in a marsh, and she almost drowned.

Blanchard’s husband had experimented with parachutes, dropping dogs out of the basket to demonstrate floating down to earth safely.  One time when flying solo his balloon ruptured, and he was grateful for the parachute as his only way to escape.  None of Jean-Pierre’s mishaps deterred Blanchard from her own desire to be a pilot.  When she had the opportunity to fly solo, Blanchard also tested the flotation devices using dogs, but she never had the occasion to need one herself.  When she flew exhibitions at events, she spiced things up by attaching small baskets of fireworks to parachutes to light up the sky as they were falling.

Engraving of Sophie Blanchard in 1811

GETTING OFFICIAL RECOGNITION      Napoleon was a big fan of Madame Blanchard, and he appointed her as the “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals,” making her responsible for organizing balloon demonstrations at official events.  In 1810, she flew over the Champs de Mars (today near the Eiffel Tower) in honor of Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria.  To commemorate the birth of their son, Blanchard flew over Paris dropping announcements of the birth.  One year later, Blanchard made an ascent over the palace Château de Saint-Cloud during the official celebration of the boy’s baptism, and she set off fireworks from her balloon.  There’s speculation that she also devised plans with Napoleon to use hot air balloons for an aerial invasion of England, which were never carried out.

Blanchard’s popularity outlasted Napoleon’s rule.  When Louis XVIII returned to Paris in 1814 to regain the throne, she participated in the official procession, making her ascent from Pont Neuf.  King Louis was so impressed by her performance that he named her the “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration.”

Blanchard was also known throughout Europe, and large crowds came to watch her.  For the opening night of the opera in Frankfurt in 1810, she was allegedly responsible for a poor audience, as most of the city turned out to see her rather than attend the opera’s debut.

AN UNPLANNED DESCENT          In 1819, when Blanchard was 42 years old, she made an ascent over the Tivoli Gardens (now the site of the Saint-Lazare station), an area she was very familiar with.  She was warned repeatedly about the dangers of using pyrotechnics in her exhibitions.  She had never had an incident, but on the night of July 6, she was uncharacteristically nervous.  She went ahead with the demonstration, wearing a white dress and white hat topped with ostrich feathers and waving a white flag.  There was a strong wind and the balloon had difficulty rising.  It bounced off a tree in the attempt.  Blanchard threw ballast overboard, reducing the weight but also jeopardizing her stability.

When she had cleared the trees, Blanchard began her show using “Bengal Fire” fireworks to illuminate the balloon.  While she was still rising, the hydrogen caught on fire and the balloon started to fall.  The wind carried her off course, and Blanchard continued to eliminate ballast to become lighter and keep from plunging to the ground.

The balloon drifted above the rooftops of the Rue de Provence where the hydrogen gas finally burned up, causing the balloon to drop onto the roof of a house.  Blanchard was tossed out of her small basket, fell to the street below and was killed.  Speculation after the fact determined that the pyrotechnics were knocked out of position by the tree the balloon hit on the way up.

The crowd was stunned, and the rest of the event was cancelled.  The owners of Tivoli Gardens donated the admission fees to the support of Blanchard’s children.  When they found out that she didn’t have any children, the money was used to build a memorial to her over her grave, which was engraved with epitaph “victime de son art et de son intrépidité” (“victim of her art and intrepidity”).

QUESTION:  How do you feel about flying?  Would you like to be a pilot?  Why or why not?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Blanchard

http://www.mindensoaringclub.com/int2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=115&Itemid=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Pierre_Blanchard

http://www.eballoon.org/history/history-of-ballooning.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_XVIII_of_France

http://www.latin-dictionary.org/Sic_itur_ad_astra

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2059

LARRY HARMON (1925 – 2008) Bozo the Clown & Businessman

In Biography, Bozo, Clowns, People, Trivia, Uncategorized, USC Alumni on September 7, 2010 at 9:01 AM

Larry Harmon

Larry Harmon was born Lawrence Weiss in Ohio, the older of two boys.  His mom worked in an office, and his dad took anything he could find, from handyman to salesman. These humble beginnings were no match for Harmon’s vision and determination.  When Bozo decided to run for political office, people thought he was just clowning around, but Harmon had a mission.  Making people laugh and learn was no laughing matter.

As a young boy Harmon stuttered, and he knew he would have to overcome that to be successful.  He figured he could help prepare himself for his destiny by imitating what he heard on the radio. Whenever his parents listened to a program, their ambitious son copied all the sounds and patterns of the voices, from speeches by President Roosevelt to opera. 

THE BEAT OF A DIFFERENT DRUMMER     Harmon had a keen ear, and he heard rhythm in everything.  Beating on things was a natural outlet for a kid with rhythm.  He started with the pots and pans, banging out patterns with spoons.  When he was six he wanted a more sophisticated sound.  His first drum set was made up of a wooden breadboard, a cast-iron skillet, a metal mixing bowl, and an empty coffee can.  For drum sticks he upgraded to his mom’s butcher knives.  For his safety, his parents finally gave him a pair of real drumsticks and lessons with the renowned Charley Wilcoxon. 

In eighth grade Harmon was captivated by listening to the USC marching band perform during the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.  The announcer described the drum major in his colorful uniform and commanding showmanship, and Harmon decided that he would be a drum major as soon he got into high school.  Never mind that had never seen one and the position was always held by a senior.    

Through annoying persistence, a trait that often served him well, Harmon convinced the high school band director to let him audition at band camp that summer.  To earn the money to go to camp, Harmon, only 14 years old, talked his way into a job at the local dry cleaners.  On the last day of camp, Harmon fell, tore a tendon and was in a cast for the audition.  He made up for his immobility with a grandiose ending that got him the job, the only freshman in the history of the school to be drum major.

After a stint in the army Harmon had another dream come true.  He was accepted to USC where he studied theater and became the drum major for the Trojan marching band.  When he graduated he was ready for a career in entertainment and started using the stage name Larry Harmon.  His first gig was as Commander Comet in a kid’s show on NBC.  Television was still in its infancy, and Harmon not only played the spaceman, he also did the voices for six puppets, read the commercials and booked the guests, including pilot Chuck Yeager.

As busy as the actor was on his first show, he also needed a day job.  During that time he worked as a private investigator, home decorator, manager of a wholesale brokerage company and, when his parents moved to California, he opened a jewelry store with his father.  At night he played with a jazz combo.

SEND IN THE CLOWN                                         In 1952 Harmon auditioned at Capitol Records to be one of the Bozo the Capitol Clowns in public appearances.  He got the job and felt as comfortable in the oversized costume as in a favorite pair of jeans.  For a few years he played Bozo and maintained his survival jobs until one night he had an epiphany.  He envisioned transforming Bozo from just a clown to the World’s Most Famous Clown.  In 1956, he negotiated buying the rights to the character at a time when the clown was losing his relevance for the direction Capitol was going.

Immediately Harmon revamped the character into its iconic image.  He made him smart and energetic with the wisdom of an adult and the wonder of a child.  He changed the voice and created a laugh that crescendoed with each syllable.  He redesigned the costume, replacing the mop-like wig with a red wig made from yak hair and coated with Krylon.  He traded in his shoes for a size 83AAA.

Bozo the Clown

Once the new character was set, Harmon needed a TV show for him to appear in.  It was too expensive to produce a program on a major network, so he decided to create a show for the local market airing in Los Angeles on KTLA.  He added other characters and hired a different actor to play Bozo so he could concentrate on the production aspects.  To round out the program, Harmon wanted cartoons to give Bozo the opportunity to do crazy things a live actor couldn’t.  He borrowed money and opened a small animation studio.

It didn’t take long for Bozo to become a hit, and Harmon started stage two of his business plan.  He franchised the show at local stations all around the country, allowing it to adapt to regional differences and giving the kids in each market the opportunity to participate in the audiences. Advertisers had the advantage of buying time on a show that catered to the customers in their area.

In 1959 Harmon started licensing the Bozo TV shows, and he traveled around the country to train hand-picked actors to play the character.  Eventually, over 200 men in the US and other countries, including Thailand, Greece, Brazil, Puerto Rico, Mexico and Australia, completed the rigorous training to learn the specifics of playing the world’s most famous clown.  And, playing Bozo launched at least one show business career.  In Washington, DC, Willard Scott wore the red wig and nose before becoming a celebrity weather man. 

FINDING OPPORTUNITIES                               Harmon occasionally played Bozo himself, and he used his alter ego to educate children as well as entertain.  This gave him the opportunity for some unique experiences, always in costume.  He flew in the zero gravity aircraft that trains astronauts.  He went scuba diving with Navy frogmen.  He threw out the first pitch for a Cleveland Indian’s baseball game.  He jumped out of a window while being chased by flames to demonstrate fire safety. 

Much of Harmon’s success was because he refused to take “no” for an answer.  Harmon persuaded an Australian bush pilot to drop the clown and a two-person film crew into the jungle of New Guinea so he could meet the cannibalistic aborigines and prove that laughter is a universal language.  When he came face to face with the chief, Bozo tried to explain that he came in peace, but he was at a loss for words.  After some tense moments, the two men discerned that they had something in common, an unusual headdress.  Then Bozo broke the ice with a magic trick which led to spending two days making friends with people the rest of the world feared. 

In 1984, Harmon was encouraged to use Bozo’s influence to get people to vote in the presidential election.  To do this he declared himself a write-in candidate for President of the United States and hit the campaign trail.  He had no delusions about winning, but some citizens feared his candidacy was more than symbolic.  There were three serious attempts to kill him. 

When Harmon was 60 years old he had a heart attack, the first in a long list of heart ailments.  He continued working on the business aspects of his enterprise for over 20 years supported by his second wife Susan. On January 1,1996 Harmon became Bozo for the first time in a decade to appear in the Rose Parade in Pasadena, California. 

In 2008 his heart gave out.  But even though Harmon has passed on, the laughter and lessons from Bozo live forever.

QUESTION:  What could you do if you refused to take “no” for an answer?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

Harmon, Larry & McKenzie, Thomas Scott, The Man Behind the Nose: Assassins, Astronauts, Cannibals, and Other Stupendous Tales. New York: Igniter Books, 2010.

http://bozotheclown.org/blog/

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0363528/bio

http://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=28022262

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Harmon