Thursday, April 24, 2014

Man of many roles returns

Tim as a Cylon, circa 1978
PANAMA CITY — I grabbed a lunch break last week with a Cylon warrior, a SWAT team member and a genetically-superior soldier — all one guy, Tim Culbertson, who graduated from Bay County High School in 1963.

He lettered in football, basketball and baseball. But while at the University of Florida, he caught the acting bug as an extra on the set of “The Naked Ape,” which was filming scenes in Gainesville. Over the next several years, he completed his studies, did a two-year Army stint in Vietnam, worked a variety of jobs — and chased his dream of being in movies and TV shows by moving to Hollywood. In 1976, he got his start as an extra in “Two Minute Warning.”

His listing doesn’t tell the whole story of his experiences (many of which, due to the names involved and the activities they got up to, you’ll have to ask him about yourself). But the highlights are there: acting and/or stunts on two “Captain America” telefilms in 1979, “Hart to Hart,” “WKRP in Cincinnati,” “The Love Boat,” “Bob Newhart” and many more. He was in the finale of “Cheers,” and regularly played a Cylon on the 1978-79 “Battlestar Galactica,” an MP on “Baa Baa Blacksheep,” and a SWAT team member on “Hill Street Blues.”

“It’s been fun,” he said. “It’s anybody’s dream: today, you’re a Cylon, tomorrow you’re a cowboy, next week a gangster in 1935. As kids, we played all these kinds of things. Now you can be something different every day.”

On the big screen, Tim appeared as one of Ricardo Montalban’s henchmen in “Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan,” and can be seen holding actor Paul Winfield prisoner while “Khan” places a mind-controlling alien worm inside Winfield’s space helmet. He points out that Montalban, in his early 60s when the movie was made, was all muscle.

“He worked out and worked out,” Tim said. Pointing at a photo of him and Montalban in their movie costumes, he added, “That was all him. He was one solid guy.”

Culbertson also worked on “An Eye for an Eye,” “To Live and Die in L.A.,” “The Man Who Loved Women,” “Cheech and Chong's Next Movie” and “Cannery Row.” He was a Roman soldier in “History of the World Part 1” and claims Madeline Khan was pointing at him when she hit her high note (“Yesss!”) while choosing escorts.

“I’ve become friends with a variety of people with big names over the years,” he said, mentioning Henry Winkler and Tom Hanks as two of the “nicest, most genuine guys in the world.” He also praised Cindy Williams and James Garner, but he was careful not to resort to name-dropping. He had photos with nearly every one of these people while on sets.

As a background actor, much of his work went uncredited, but you’ll recognize his face from role to role — at least, whenever he’s not wearing a mask or body-doubling for other actors. For instance: “I was the real father of (Chicken George) on ‘Roots,’” he revealed, as he doubled for Chuck Connors in a violent scene Connors was reluctant to play.

Tim also appeared in numerous TV and print ads for products like Salem cigarettes, Schlitz beer and more. He joked with Tom Selleck that there would have been no “Magnum, P.I.” if Salem hadn’t let Selleck go and hired him.

Tim’s adventures have taken him across the globe, with stories of fishing the Aleutian Islands, attempting a climb of Mount Everest, searching for gold in the Amazon, and paragliding off Tabletop Mountain in New York State. But his life has been hard on his body, also: He jokes that, while he did stunts on “The Six Million Dollar Man,” he’s been rebuilt more times than Lee Majors’ character and must be worth $10 million by now.

Tim Culbertson, April 2014
Accompanied by his cat, Miss April, Tim is in the area to look at real estate, both for a home and for investment. He’s also looking up old friends and revisiting old haunts, remarking that the older he gets, the more important those ties become.

“I’m always thinking about getting a couple of Cubans at Tally-Ho,” he said, even as he finished a sandwich at the Captain’s Table. “I have never not stopped by — got to get my Tally-Ho fix.”

He’s also looking for a way to contribute locally by supporting area charities, as he has in years past with celebrity golf events: “You try to give back, to find a way to make some money to help people who don’t have the means. … I’m a Christian person, and I believe what I’ve been doing — especially in the last ten years — is more or less God-directed,” he said.


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Sample my upcoming new novel for free!

Image from
My latest manuscript was entered into this spring's Amazon/CreateSpace Breakthrough Novel competition, and has made it through the first two cuts (it's a quarter-finalist!). Which means you can now read the first 5,000 or so words for free by downloading the Kindle file (you don't have to own a Kindle device to read it; you can get a Kindle app for your smartphone or laptop or pad or desktop system for free from Amazon).

>>Go here to download the excerpt and see some reader reviews<<

I'm really thrilled by the reception it got from the judges so far. Two reviews by "expert reviewers" were posted to my CreateSpace account, and here are some of their notes:

"Beautiful writing, really terrific. Love the description of the car crash and its immediate aftermath.
Sweet character-building for Arthur Magus. ... Super beginning to what promises to be a great story. Really looking forward to reading it."

"The writing is great, it really shines. It seems like someone put a lot of time into perfecting it and it felt like part of a finished novel. ... I'm stumped. I can't find anything weak about it. ... This is a very well written piece. As long as the rest of the book is as strong as this excerpt, it could go to print right now and I'd want to read it. From the use of italics to the unhurried pacing and switching of story back and forth between characters, the whole thing is quite a treat."

Wonder how this tale evolved? >>You can read the story behind the story here<<

Some 10,000 entries (so I understand) were trimmed to 2,000 on the first cut, which is now at 500 (100 in each of five categories). The next cut will determine 25 semi-finalists, which will be announced on or about May 23. I'm holding on to hope that the tale will make the next cut. The final level will call for voting by Amazon users to determine a grand prize winner, so I'll let you know if that ever becomes a concern for me. The grand prize is $50,000 and a book contract; the four second-place winners will receive $15,000 and book contracts.

It's been an honor just to make this far. Seriously. "Caliban" is in the world now. People are reading it. That's something I dreamed about since I was a teenager. I hope they like him and root for him as much as I do. I hope you will too.


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Bring on the Dancing Horses

Michael Lowe | Photos by Patti Blake

PANAMA CITY — Lightning and driving rain kept the “blood moon” at bay early Tuesday morning, though a power outage brought the full effect of a lunar eclipse to life in the night.

Our ancestors quaked in fear on nights when the moon turned dark and red, interpreting the event as a warning of evil times or the anger of their gods. For me, at least, the reaction was mild disappointment at a natural spectacle passing invisibly beyond the cloud cover.

But now I have to wonder if it’s worse to know what you’re missing than to discover that you miss something only after it’s gone?

… Bear with me here as I search for the metaphor that will tie these concepts together.

Me, reading from 'Caliban'
Tuesday night, I participated at Writers Gallery, a monthly gathering of local writers at Chez Amavida coffee shop in Panama City. The event is an open mic night, with writers reading their recent work — poems, short stories, excerpts. In past months, the event filled the venue to capacity, but this week few people read or attended to listen.

A young woman remarked that Writers Gallery should be packed because the area is home to a number of writers in all genres, not to mention people who love to read. But Michael Lowe, a poet and fiction writer who has tried to promote the event, said he expected Writers Gallery to fade away soon because of flagging attendance.

“I’m no Nick May …” Michael suggested, referring to the young author who established Writers Gallery a few years ago, moving it from Joey’s Java Juice to other venues until settling at Chez Amavida; Nick and his wife, Kayla, moved to Pensacola recently to support a branch of Northstar Church, placing the fate of Writers Gallery in the hands of its participants.

Attendance has steadily declined since then, Michael said. With only three readers on Tuesday, the handwriting was on the wall.

From Wikipedia
About that time, the shop’s sound system — the background soundtrack for our conversation — began playing “Bring on the Dancing Horses” by Echo and the Bunnymen, a song that always seemed to be more about the end of an era than simple self-destruction.

(In retrospect, I’m wondering if it referred to those of us who nervously stood up to read as being little more diverting than dancing horses. “Shiver and say the words of every lie you’ve ever heard,” the song continues.)

But at that moment, I thought about signs and portents, which made me reconsider the eclipse. The “blood moon.” Harbinger of the end times. In case we didn’t get the message the first time around (or, as happened locally, the eclipse was called on account of rain) the gods have decreed four blood moons between last Tuesday and September of 2015.

These events are caused, scientists will tell you, because the orbit of the full moon takes it through the Earth’s umbral shadow, cast because the sun is at the opposite side of the planet at just the right angle for us to see the shadow envelope our heavenly orb. The red coloration appears because the faint ring of sunlight passing through the Earth’s atmosphere falls on the lunar surface like the crimson glow of a sunset.

There will be other chances to see these eclipses in months to come, just as there will be other chances to listen or share at Writers Gallery in months to come.

You know what you’re missing now. If you miss it in the future, it’s on you — or perhaps you can blame it on the weather. In either case, it likely won’t mean the end of the world, just the eventual absence of something some of us think is special.



Wednesday, April 09, 2014

How to support downtown businesses

(Contributed Photo)
PANAMA CITY — Have you been downtown recently? Besides the new businesses opening, there’s the sound of music in the evening air.

And it’s easy to support this springtime resurgence, as explained by Erin Haray of Estate Treasures, 500 Harrison Ave. Writing in this month’s Downtowner newsletter, she suggested three things locals can do:

l Find them on Facebook. Like the businesses’ pages, share their photos and events, comment on their posts. Social media is today’s “word of mouth” advertising.

“The more you interact with a business page, the more they will be seen by others and the more exposure they get,” she said. “You may connect someone with a small business they didn’t know about.”

l Shop downtown. This may seem obvious, but take a second to think about all the different kinds of businesses you’ll find: salons, galleries, dance studio, arts cooperative, cupcake shop, award-winning restaurants, antique stores, saltwater aquarium shop, boutiques, music stores, skate supply shop, theater and Civic Center, furniture stores, hardware and major appliances, and more.

“Downtown is a community in itself, and you will feel that when you are here,” Haray said. “Shopping in locally owned businesses ensures that part of the money you spend gets filtered back into the local economy. When you shop locally, everyone benefits.”

l Attend events. Friday Fest fills Harrison Avenue with food vendors, local organizations, car clubs, live bands and more on the first Friday of each month through November. Hogs & Grogs brings motorcycle enthusiasts to the street on the second Thursday of each month through September. Vintage Market, with its mix of antiques and collectibles, opens the first Friday and Saturday of the month through November.

Downtown also regularly hosts other events, like Festival of Nations, Oktoberfest, Dickens of a Christmas, concerts in McKenzie Park and more. (See our calendar pages and the online events calendar at for details.)

“In addition to attending events, find out about volunteering,” Haray suggested. “Some of the happenings downtown take quite a bit of setup, takedown, planning, organizing, etc. Get in touch with the Downtown Improvement Board ( and find out which events need volunteers.”

Multiple restaurants and shops downtown are now hosting live music nights under the “Music Matters” banner. The musicians are not being paid by the venues, however; they’re playing for tips, so don’t forget to “Tip the Talent,” as the signs at each venue suggest. For more info, check out online.

“Live local music talent is being offered at several venues on Wednesday nights downtown,” Haray said. “Go to as many as you can and let others know about them — that goes back to sharing on Facebook.”

As Haray points out, some of the best benefits of patronizing a small business are the personal touch and unique experience. The shops offer items you’re not liable to find in a big box store or an online retailer, and customers can count on receiving as much personal attention as they desire.


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Shield-slinging hero still stands tall

(C) Marvel Entertainment
The movie “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opened this weekend, with many reviewers touting it as “the best” of the recent run of Marvel Comics-based films. I’m looking forward to seeing it soon, as 2011’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” was my favorite of the Marvel films. (Yes, even more than “Iron Man,” and right up there with “The Avengers.”)

I’ve wondered about that, and I think I’ve figured out why.

It goes back to the fact that I’ve always been a DC Comics fan rather than a Marvel fan. For those of you who don’t know the difference, don’t worry. These days, there isn’t much difference between the two companies — but in the 1970s, when I was probably at my most impressionable comic book peak, they were very different animals.

DC is the home of characters like Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman — idealized personalities who were larger than life, self-sacrificing, brave, resourceful and stood for concepts like “Truth, Justice and The American Way.”

Whereas Marvel characters like Spider-Man, Iron Man and the Fantastic Four, however, were flawed (arguably more realistic) personalities who squabbled amongst themselves, wallowed in self-pity, and then rose above it all in the last possible moment to save the world.

As a kid, I admired those DC characters for being so steadfast, self-assured and above all, nice to each other. They were friends. “Super Friends,” even. It wouldn’t be until I became a teenager that I’d begin understanding and relating to the problems posed by Tony Stark’s alcoholism, for instance, or Ben Grimm’s self-loathing.

And then there was Captain America, created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby in 1941, a Marvel hero who always seemed like he was living in the wrong comic book universe once he had been transplanted to then modern day 1960s America in stories by Kirby and Stan Lee.

Subsequent writers tried to manufacture problems for Cap over the years, but really, he was the idealized patriot from the Greatest Generation — honor, fidelity and self-sacrifice were essential components of his personality from the beginning. As I read his 1970s adventures, his problems were more with what he saw America becoming — politically corrupt, corporately controlled — and not personal failings or flaws.

So Cap was one of the few Marvel heroes I followed even then, because he fit my notion of what a hero should be. When my son started collecting comics many years later, I was gratified to see him enjoying Captain America — probably the first monthly subscription comic he chose.

From the trailers and early reviews, “The Winter Soldier” apparently merges some of Cap’s storylines from the 1970s — which introduced his crime-fighting partner, the Falcon, and exposed Cap to the dark machinations of political insiders — with recent plots that resurrected a former comrade as a formidable enemy.

And yet, I’m confident Cap will overcome. He believes in America and what it’s supposed to stand for — which doesn’t include the politics of fear — and he remains a symbol of what the Greatest Generation achieved and why they did so. He will stand tall, and we will look up to him as an example of what heroes can be.