Go Set A Watchman

watchmanLike a couple of million other people who have pre-ordered the “new” Harper Lee novel Go Set A Watchman, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the book’s publication date next week. A couple million is no exaggeration, by the way. It is the biggest pre-order ever for HarperCollins. It’s being hyped as the biggest publishing event in several years.

Go Set a Watchman is just the second book to be published by the author of To Kill a Mockingbird which won the Pulitzer Prize and is generally considered to be an American classic.

Of course there has to be controversy to go along its the publication of Go Set A Watchman, this being America. There are questions about how the book’s manuscript was discovered and when, among others. How keen the elderly and intensely private author was to have her earlier work published. And whether Go Set a Watchman, which takes place about twenty years later, was a “first draft” of To Kill a Mockingbird.

The reclusive Lee hasn’t given an interview since the mid-1960’s. All of which adds to the mystery and, for me, the fun.

Earlier this summer I re-read To Kill a Mockingbird which was first published in 1960. I’m glad I did. The story of race and racism set in a fictional Southern town is at least as good as I remembered it. Maybe better. In fact, it brought tears to my eyes more than once. I don’t recall if that was the case the first time around.

The last time I read it I was in the 9th or 10th grade at Hillsboro High School. It was assigned for our entire class as part of our English curriculum. It was an eye-opener for kids growing up in North Dakota, me anyway. Race and rape are not easy subjects for high schoolers to absorb. At least they weren’t for me fifty years ago. But the book is also warm and appealing.

Maybe we’ll see starting next week if Watchman will be anything of an eye-opener for this generation of 9th graders.

Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


Once there were a ton of them, television variety shows.  Shows like The Dean Martin Show and the Andy Williams Show with big names and big production numbers. Then suddenly, they were gone. It was almost as if television executives had all gotten together to set the price of gasoline or something.

Much is riding on a new television variety show coming to NBC this fall called Best Time Ever starring Neil Patrick Harris.  If anyone can revive variety on television NPH can. He certainly can do everything else.

Believe it or not, I’m (just barely) old enough to remember a time when live variety shows used to tour the region. We’re talking the fifties and sixties here, boys and girls. But the shows were really something.

The biggest I ever saw was one starring singing cowboy Gene Autry at the North Dakota Agriculture College (now NDSU) fieldhouse in Fargo. It’s hard to underestimate what a big star the future owner of what would become the California Angels was at the time. The movies and television had made him famous. He came onstage to thunderous applause on his horse Champion. But not before sidekick and opening act Pat Buttram warmed up the audience.

In a joke I’ve remembered for more than six decade and which I have stolen and actually use to this day when I emcee events, Mr. Buttram said something this. “There’s a woman here tonight. She’s in the lobby.  Her name is Helen Hunt and she has found a set of car keys. Naturally, she would like to see them returned to their owner.  So, if you have lost a set of car keys, go to Helen Hunt for ’em.”

Except for that joke and Gene’s entrance, I don’t remember much about the rest of the show. But for six decades now I’ve heard stories about the infamous after party connected to it. The story certainly has legs.  Supposedly, it was a the party that went on for days! But that’s another story for another blog.

I remember being lifted on my dad’s shoulders to get a better look at the variety acts that were part of what I remember as a “home builder’s show” somewhere in the area.  Crookston, maybe. The audience was standing. There was no seating.

It featured the dancer Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates who had indeed lost a leg in a cotton gin accident at the age of twelve. Famous in his day for his 22 appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, he closed his well-received act that day by saying something like, “If I’d known you were going to like me this much, I would have cut off the other leg.”

The show starred the wonderful folksinger Burl Ives.  At least I think it did.  Years later, I interviewed Mr. Ives for a television news story. I asked him if he remembered the show.  He said he didn’t, but he did remember Bates’ act.  If it wasn’t Ives that I saw, someone had ripped off virtually his entire act, because he came out carrying a guitar and a stool, sat down center stage and sang “Scarlet Ribbons” and “Jimmy Crack Corn.”

I have a very, very vague memory of seeing what could only be called a minstrel show, yes, a minstrel show in the Hillsboro High School Gym. Even then I thought it was strange.  Perhaps a dozen or so performers, apparently in black face, were seated in a row. Heavy on banjos and tambourines, after each performer did a turn, he (I don’t remember any females in the show) and the rest of the cast would move down a seat from stage left to stage right.

A lot of jokes were told. I don’t remember any of them.  It’s probably just as well. In the new book Huck Finn’s America, Andrew Levy writes that even though Mark Twain, among others, was a big fan early in his life, minstrel shows were flat out racist. Young as I was, I remember thinking even at the time, what an odd piece of work this is!

Even WDAY radio and television personalities toured with a stage show decades ago. Again, I saw it in the high school gym. A young Lee Stewart, who in real life sold advertising for the stations, sang big band arrangements, wonderfully. Program Director Ken Kennedy emceed the show and closed it with a stand-up routine, in character as Ole Anderson.

Just like on television, there was music, comedy and even magic. I remember all of it and I remember it as being good. Really good.

Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Meat and Read

gumptionNot only is Nick Offerman one of my favorite actors and television talk show guests. Now it turns out he has become one of my favorite humorists. Some people are just good at everything. (Oh, how I hate people who are good at everything.)

His latest book, Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers, is part of my personal remedial summer reading program.

As its subtitle suggests, it is a collection of twenty-one short essays about bad asses, past and present, who Mr. Offerman considers to have moved the country in a positive direction with their lives and work, from George Washington to Conan O’Brien.

Another is Theodore Roosevelt, who North Dakota has adopted over the years as something of its historical father figure. With that in mind, I thought you might be interested, gentle reader, in what Mr. Offerman has to say about some of his summer plans this year, which include a trip to Medora.

     Among the many tributes to him in present-day North Dakota, including Theodore Roosevelt National Park, perhaps the most appropriate august recognition is to be found at the Pitchfork Steak Fondue, gleefully pointed out to me by that extremely well-traveled woman of letters, Sarah Vowell. Every evening’ ’round suppertime, the cowboy chefs load several raw steaks onto a pitchfork and fondue ’em, cowboy-style. This, of course, means they dip them in a barrel of hot cooking oil. Imagine my shame to have been caught unaware of this repast of glory sizzling in our midst. By the time you are reading this, I fully intend to have severally sampled this barrel-0fried beef in the town of Medora, North Dakota, especially after glimpsing this tantalizing morsel in a review on the computer web: “The Fondue is served before the musical.” Tickets booked.

Gumption is wildly funny, mildly profane and absolutely perfect for just about anyone’s summer remedial reading.

Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

19 Kids

pederWith all the attention being heaped on the now infamous Duggar clan and their “19 Kids and Counting” television series these days, it’s interesting to recall that large families were not always as uncommon as they are now.

Above is a picture of my father’s family that proudly hangs on our wall at home. I’ll save you the trouble of counting. My grandfather Petter (or Peder) Dullum and his wife Bertina had eighteen kids! Actually they had nineteen, but one child died as an infant. It must have been something of a miracle in those days that nearly all of the kids reached adulthood.

The family never had a reality show and they never had an abuse scandal. I’m pretty sure they never had much money either, but it would be hard to prove looking at the way they are all dressed in the photograph.

I never knew my grandparents. I was born too late. But I did know my aunts and uncles pretty well. Most of them, at least. All of them are gone now.

I once had a conversation with the Forum writer Dorothy Abrams. She told me, “I knew the Dullums. They had wonderful baseball games on their farm Sunday afternoons. They had enough kids for BOTH teams.”



jimbollmanThis has been a terribly sad week in Grand Forks, made all the sadder by the passing of Jim Bollman.

If you never got to hear Jim’s morning program on KNOX radio, I feel badly for you.  You missed something.

I know I’m dating myself when I say Jim’s work always reminded me of the legendary broadcaster and entertainer Arthur Godfrey’s.  Google him. Especially on radio, Arthur Godfrey always sounded as if he was talking to you, and you alone.  Jim had that exact same quality.  If it seems like it would be an easy thing to do, please believe me when I say, it is not.

Everyone seems to have a favorite Jim Bollman story.  Mine goes back to 1972.  I had just gotten out of the army and was looking for a job in radio. I went to see Jim who, I believe, was KNOX’s program director then.

He was very gracious with his time and after listening to my audition tape he told me I had an “adequate” voice for radio.

He didn’t give me a job, probably for good reason.  But over the years I never let him forget it.

Jim treated everybody the same.  He was friendly, funny and kind. The word classy comes to mind. I never heard him say an unkind word about anybody. Ever. And this is the gossipy world of broadcasting we’re talking about.

Jim’s contributions to the mornings of so many of us over the decades would certainly be enough to have earned him the status of icon, but he also worked tirelessly and cheerfully for his community, the Park District and his church.

The Jim Bollmans of the world are rare.

Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Summer Reading

My buddy Rose Brunsvold and I once agreed that for us going to prison wouldn’t be the worst thing.  At least we’d be able to catch up on our reading.

In that regard, it seems to me that summer is the next best thing to prison, a good time to read.

With the unofficial, official start of summer this weekend, here’s some of what’s on my list this year.  Yours?

go setlusitanialet himlincolnbookwrights

Tagged , , | Leave a comment


davidlettermanHe’s gone already, chief.

Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Mad Music

So, Mad Men has ended with a something of a whimper rather than a big bang.   The series ends with the lives of most of the major characters taking somewhat uncharacteristically positive turns.

The one exception was poor January Jones’ character who continues to die (beautifully) of lung cancer.  She also continues to smoke in her final scene, but what does it matter when you have just six months to live? A cautionary tale for the rest of us, perhaps.

On the bright side, no one in Mad Men had to go rehab (except in real life) and no one had to attend gender sensitivity training classes.

Ginny had long predicted that Don Draper would jump from a New York City skyscraper, mimicking the animated open of the show.  (Don did seem especially depressed in the final season. And that’s saying something.)

One of the things I will miss most about Mad Men is the music. A bit odd because throughout the series there seemed to be little or no noticeable “background” music in the show, unusual for a television drama. That is until the closing credits.

As the credits rolled and were shrunk into the corner of the screen small enough to be unreadable, we were hit with a different musical punchline each week.  In just the final few episodes, Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” and Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” were heard. Little musical codas that fit the mood of each episode perfectly and that must have cost the producers a small fortune.

MAD MUSICThankfully there is a whole slew of Mad Men sound track collections available with titles like “Mad Men: On the Rocks” and “Mad Men: Nightcap.” They would make good souvenirs of the series, for me, anyway.

Then, of course, there’s the final scene with DD supposedly meditating with a group at a California commune.  A smile comes across his face.  Cut to the famous “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” Coke commercial.  Who among us saw that one coming?

Tagged , , , | Leave a comment


I like to play with scammers.  You know, the ones who use Facebook messaging to do their “business.”  I find their story lines to be fascinating, even if their command of the English language leaves something to be desired.
Below is an actual scammer conversation I had today.  Enjoy.
Scammer:  Hello, how are you doing? I am doing good and everything is going on fine with me.  I have been trying to contact you on here.  I have a very good important news to share with you on here.  Have you gotten any notification on facebook from Miss Pamela Avey?
Me:  Why no, I haven’t.
Scammer:  She is the director of Dcsocial facebook promotion. which are doing promotion with facebook 10years program to benefit from the gain of the company Our name was picked randomly on Facebook here . I got $140,000.00 from them, did you get yours?
Me:  Oh, my gosh!!!
Scammer:  Are you serious you haven’t heard about it or got your own money cos UPS delivered the money to my door step and i did saw your name on the lucky winners list, also cos i noticed you are also entitled to get the money too,did you get yours?
Me:  That’s terrific.  No, I didn’t get the money.  Say, did you make it to Jane’s wedding?
Scammer:  wow really, i got my winner money from last week and so many people have been getting theyre winner money from them now,You need to add her on facebook here and claim your winner money from her,Her name is Pamela Avery add her or i will tell her to add you now.
Me:  OK, but did you make it to Jane’s wedding?
Me:  Opps, stupid me. I deleted it instead of confirming. Send it again, would you?
Scammer:  no i didnt make it, This is real i got my winner money from her last week.
Me:  OK, send it again.
Scammer:  Have told her to add you now
Me:  OK, but did you make it to Jane’s wedding?
Scammer:  no
Me:  Oh, that’s too bad. Where are you messaging from, by the way?
Me:  Opps! I did it again. Silly me.
Me:  Opps! Now I accidentally marked it as spam. What’s wrong with me today?
Sometimes our conversations go on for a long time.  I find they tend to strengthen my creative writing skills a little.  One ended in a very, very naughty closing scammer salutation.  Very naughty.
Tagged , | 2 Comments

Word Chipping

The following was written at the request of WDAY alum Larry Gauper for his excellent Wordchipper.com blog.  Larry has been instrumental in organizing monthly WDAY-WDAZ alumni lunches in Fargo.  They are a blast.  I always leave them laughing.

Larry asked me to chip away at letting people know a little bit about my shady past and my current state of mind for the May issue of Mike Notes Reprise at Wordchipper.com.  So, here goes:



My, how time flies! For me the last 40 years have whizzed by at warp speed. I retired from WDAZ-TV in October.

My first week as a reporter was spent at WDAZ in Grand Forks in April of 1975. I had just been fired from a job in Bismarck where I was told the owner of the company didn’t like “the way I looked on television.” I was happy to be working in television again. My looks hadn’t changed that much.

At the end of that first week in Grand Forks I remember driving to Fargo see WDAY alum Peggy Lee perform at the NDSU Fieldhouse. To this day she remains one of my favorite singers.

At the time I hoped the Grand Forks job would last three or four years. Now after four decades, it can be told. I had more fun at work than anyone should be allowed to have.

Who else in North Dakota gets to meet Tony Bennett, Martin Short and the Muppets, and get paid to do it? (Don’t get me wrong. I was happy to take the money.)

There was some serious work, too. None much more serious than covering the Red River Valley flood of 1997. I’m proud to say we won a national Edward R. Murrow award for it. To paraphrase Tom Brokaw, it’s one of the awards that “matters.”

My time at WDAZ ended on a high note last fall. Our newsroom won an Upper Midwest Emmy award for Team Coverage of the search of Anthony Kuznia, a little boy living with austism who wandered away from his East Grand Forks home. His body was found about a day later.

As sad as it was, Anthony’s story ends somewhat hopefully. After months of hard work, his family was instrumental in getting Project Lifesaver implemented in the region. People with autism and other conditions can now get radio-activated bracelets to wear. Should they leave the safety of their homes, they can be located almost immediately by authorities. In some small way, I feel our continuing coverage helped the family realize its dream of seeing the project realized locally.

These days I’m writing for the AreaVoices and Unheralded.fish blogs. I do speaking engagements with topics like “The Dullum File Live.” (In some circles I’m considered reasonably amusing.) I also speak on volunteerism, stress relief and dealing with the media.

Without anything that could be considered a real hobby, I also spend time reading, walking around in circles at the gym and, in the summer months, on my version of an activity I laughingly call gardening.

The best part of the last 40 years has been the wonderful people I’ve been lucky enough to get the chance to work with. People with names like Chuck, Norm, Marv, Boyd and Dewey. Memories of them and dozens of others I carry with me always.

Tagged , , | Leave a comment