A New Sybil's "WHO'Z DAT?"... MARGARET HAMILTON (December 9, 1902 – May 16, 1985)

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Margaret Brainard Hamilton (December 9, 1902 – May 16, 1985) was an American film character actress best known for her portrayal of the Wicked Witch of the West in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer's classic film The Wizard of Oz (1939).

A former schoolteacher, she worked as a character actress in films for seven years before she was offered the role that defined her public image. The Wicked Witch of the West was eventually ranked No. 4 in the American Film Institute's 2003 list of the 50 Best Movie Villains of All Time, making her the top ranking female villain. In later years, Hamilton made frequent cameo appearances on television sitcoms and commercials. She also gained recognition for her work as an advocate of causes designed to benefit children and animals, and retained a lifelong commitment to public education.

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Sybil Bruncheon's REFLECTIONS ON FUNERALS... on the occasion of George H. W. Bush's passing...

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But what about me... and my, um... eventual departure? Will anyone speak well of me at an 8 hour funeral or maybe TWO funerals?...in different STATES???... and TIME ZONES!....with dignitaries from all over the world, some of whom will completely ignore each other or shun each other... or even come to blows over how much they miss me, and ALL of them there to eulogize me! And what about one parade and procession after another?... from the funeral home to the church-- NO! THE CATHEDRAL!!... and then to the cemetery, but just to look at it because we've chosen a different, much better and fancier cemetery... with fountains and statues and elaborate multi-storied mausoleums with attached residents...or even resort hotels!... And the hearse! Should it be a Duesenberg or a Cord...or even a rare 1905 Isotta-Fraschini with a leopard-skin-lined (faux, of course) coffin...or SARCOPHAGUS!... or maybe I could just be taken in a deluxe Red Flyer Wagon drawn by dozens of musclemen clad only in loincloths... or maybe just a gaggle of llamas. And what about banquets before and after all the ceremonies... and then served al fresco at the grave site with dozens of courses of the most exotic foods and delicacies, many of which are named after me.

Be honest! Haven't I bravely served my fellow Americans daily with humor, charm, wisdom, patience, insight, tenderness, compassion,... and recipes, all delicious, nutritious, and some attempting to be low calorie.

Haven't I sung songs, recited poetry, detailed historical anecdotes, commiserated on the loss of parents and pets, instructed young and old alike on first-aid remedies, taught office and housekeeping skills, and congratulated complete strangers on litters of kittens, recovered friendship bracelets, reunions with former lovers, successful bankruptcies, promotions at petting zoos, and graduations from juggling school.

Haven't I spent years posting daily Birthday wishes with funny captions and amusing photos to literally thousands of people across our great nation and even overseas... personalized too with the recipient's actual name written in the heart-felt message? And haven't I been surrounded by adoring sparrows, grackles, and squirrels because of my nurturing nature, and haven't I terrorized presidents and pompous bullies with my implacable and justified anger?

Haven't I labored on in sickness and injury, through heartbreak and financial ruin, fulfilling my duties as Sybil Bruncheon with no complaint... or very little, and only on rare occasions, usually involving talking on the Amtrak Quiet Car or endless shlunking by non-paying customers at various Starbucks nation-wide. Haven't I jostled bingo balls, read endless trivia questions, and done hundreds of impressions of famous and infamous people, often indecipherable.

Don't I deserve some sort of fancy acknowledgement??... even a piñata shaped like a donkey, a cucumber, or the Hindenburg hung over my casket (open, please... or, if I've put on too much weight, draped in the flag of Greater and Lesser Marnier and the Triple Sec Islands). And if we can't have one military band or another play an assortment of Sousa marches and heart-felt hymns, can someone please remember to put on a nice medley of Patti Page, Eddie Fisher, and Connie Francis 45s on a cute little Zenith portable record player while the gay waitstaff lip-syncs?

Is any of this too much to ask?... or expect?... or hope for?

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Sybil Bruncheon's "Thanksgiving Tales From Far & Near!"...

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A little known fact about the famous von Trapp family from THE SOUND OF MUSIC; after their harrowing escape from the Nazis and their trek over the Alps to safety and freedom in Switzerland, the entire family continued on disguised as motorized figures in giant cuckoo clocks and oversized Hummels on music boxes. Amazingly, the trick worked, probably because most Europeans consider the Swiss incapable of irony or indeed humor. At any rate, the entire family arrived on American shores safely in 1945 and after being held on Ellis Island as suspected marionettes, they were released to begin life in Sunnyside Queens. Some of the older children as they grew up scattered to different parts of the country. They were well-known characters in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, and wanted to escape their notoriety, changing their last names legally. But it was the youngest and least known of the von Trapp children who were born after the family had arrived in the USA who decided to go into business in the NYC area. They were Weasil von Trapp (later arrested for pickpocketing and petty theft and Ponzi scams), Ganif von Trapp (notorious scam-artist and moocher off his siblings, Streudel von Trapp (alternately an anorexic and bulimic), and Anshul von Trapp (later gender-reassigned to become Yentyl von Trapp). These four children opened a drive-in diner named Der Wienerschnitzel on the corner of 41st Street and Greenpoint Avenue. It specialized in the eponymous weinerschnitzel, but also in burgers and fries, moo goo gai pan, and holiday leftovers. Their turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing, and yam open faced sandwich was a triumph! But only on Black Friday. When the Macy's Discount and Seconds Mart later closed next door, the von Trapp's were wiped out. Even as they tried to recreate the "Lonely Goatherd" motif at their breakfast counter! Complete with goat omelets for the Dominican and Haitian customers.

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Sybil Bruncheon’s “My Merry Memoirs”… Chapter 17; Magic and Vaudeville in Poka-Ma-Hontas, Idaho.

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Did I ever tell you about the first dollar I ever made as an actress? Well, it wasn’t exactly a dollar… I made a nickel, just 5 cents, for every performance at the Poka-Ma-Hontas Prairie Palace Of Pleasantries and Perfidy, and I wasn’t exactly acting. You see, a well-known magician on the Pawnee Bill Circuit named Bizmo the Baffling asked my parents if he could borrow me for a new gimmick he wanted to try out on a Wednesday matinée. The trick involved an old trunk that he rigged up with an ingenious trap door and hidden shelf system. He’d turn the trunk around on a small turntable in front of the audience, then open the trunk and tip it on its side to show that it was completely empty. He’d close the trunk back up again and, with a great flourish, run it through with a dozen different swords, rapiers, and scimitars that he’d picked up from junk shops in his travels. He’d open the trunk again, tip it on its side again, for the audiences to see that it was still completely empty but thoroughly skewered with blades from one side to the other. Finally, he’d tip the box back upright, close the lid, and then as he slowly withdrew all the blades, he’d tell the audience that he’d discovered the ghost of a little girl named Sybil who haunted the box, perhaps because of some long forgotten tragedy.

          This caused a hush to fall over the crowd. The thought of anything tragic befalling a child, either an accident or even a crime, was unexpected in the broad and bawdy theatrics of Vaudeville, and Bizmo deliberately left a vague, uneasy impression about what might have befallen his little “Sybil-Ghost”. As the lights dimmed, strange music wafted from backstage provided by the Philpott sisters on oboe, bassoon and a bongo. Bizmo, who had donned a somewhat threadbare turban in turquoise satin with a chipped cameo and some tassels, would begin to chant magic incantationss while waving a magic wand. He then would exhort the audience to summon little Sybil! “Call to her! Call out to her!” he would say. No one would, of course… they were too embarrassed to fall for such an obvious piece of tom-foolery.

            So, Bizmo would pull out a small brass bell with a quaintly carved and turned wooden handle. He’d show it to the audience and say that the bell had been the very one that summoned Sybil from the playground into the schoolroom where her favorite teacher, Mrs. Edelin sat. But the bell would no longer ring now that little Sybil was dead. (In truth, he had removed the tiny clapper, but didn’t show that to the crowd.) With another flourish and a great deal of gravitas, Bizmo placed the bell on the trunk’s closed lid and told the audience that he always knew when Sybil was close by. Whenever she had wandered back from “the other side” and was near… the bell, untouched, would ring, sitting right where he had placed it. That would make the audience lean forward, their giggling at calling her name forgotten now, and the more credulous looking one to the other, unsure suddenly about what was happening. The darkened room, the haunting music, and the expectant stillness… as they waited.

             Bizmo in a hushed voice now, husky with emotion, would again ask the crowd to call to Sybil… even a whispered entreaty might work… just whispered. And that’s when the first tremulous “Sybil” would come from some back row seat. The another… and another. People who had been too embarrassed to do so only a few minutes before, now began to murmur the name again and again… eyes wet with excitement, anticipation, even fear and elation… “Sybil. Sybil.. SYBIL!”… and then! The bell would tinkle… faintly. Sitting perfectly still on the old gnarled trunk, it’s sweet, silvery voice would tinkle faintly…as if from a great distance… or another dimension.

               And the audience! Oh, the audience would gasp, and maybe even let out small shouts of terror… or joy… or both. And then! The knock! Oh yes. Small, but clear… from INSIDE the trunk, perhaps on the side… or near the back… then another, and another, moving around the inside the trunk to the front! The FRONT! Facing the audience. Right in front of the audience… something was inside the trunk now and it was separated from the audience by a battered old wooden wall and nothing else! The ghost of a little girl named Sybil was inside the room, inside that trunk, and in front of the crowd where even the skeptics now sat transfixed, as the bell tinkled louder and closer and the knocks began to pick up speed and fury. The electricity grew and grew as the music reached a crescendo! And then… silence. No bell. No knocking. Silence.

                Bizmo with a great show of trepidation and caution slowly turned the trunk around on the turntable one last time and went to lift the lid! But at that moment, the lid would fly open with a huge boom sending the bell crashing across the room. Bizmo and the crowd would scream in terror as he flew backwards to the floor pointing in horror at the open trunk… and out would pop… a bunny!.. The crowd would roar! The bunny was followed by a squirrel, a dove, an owl, a ferret, a monkey, a puppy, all to greater and greater peels of hysterical laughter… until, after a long loaded pause…  and in gathering silence,  it peeked over the splintery edge, the “ghost” of little Sybil. Her curly auburn hair and green eyes shining, sparkling really in the twilight of a small pin-spot carefully tinted a pale blue to hint at her otherworldliness… her “ghostliness”.

               As young as I was, I understood enough to know how to follow all of Bizmo’s instructions carefully, how to keep all the animals calm and ready, how to make all the sound effects from inside the trunk and in complete pitch blackness, to knock on the walls, to ring the little matching bell, all of it. But as professional as he delightedly claimed I was, I remained the still thunderstruck child every time I peeked over the edge at those staring audiences out in the dark. I couldn’t see much past the first few rows beyond the footlights, but I could see enough… eyes and mouths wide open, handkerchiefs clutched in tight fists. And the sounds… yes, the chuckled relief when the first animals had climbed or jumped out of the trunk… but then, the tumble of gasps, ohs and ahs, and even words as I, Sybil the Ghost, showed herself to a stunned crowd. From that very first Wednesday matinée, I was hooked… a pathetically overjoyed addict to the magic, not of Bizmo’s trunk with its rickety trap-door and trick shelf, but to Bizmo’s real magic… the magic of making people, any people, even strangers, or your own parents, stare in wonder at you. Oh God, even at four, I would have sold my very soul to have done so. But I was lucky. A second-string magician with begged, borrowed, and perhaps even stolen Vaudeville props and a wonderful menagerie of patient little animals delivered me, soul intact and so very blessed into the arms of all those staring strangers.

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Sybil Bruncheon's A Tale for Thanksgiving Time: "SUBURBAN STORIES THAT STUN AND STUPEFY"...

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The warning signs had been there for several months. Mrs. Ruth Anne Snively of 1148 Pembroke Lane had complained to her neighbors of strange voices, coming at first from the telephone, the radio, the television where it seemed strange voices always might have been heard. Indeed, "Ruthie", as she was known to all the Girl Scout Troop mothers, had been known for her quick wit, her sparkling sense of humor, her quirky imagination, and for her desire to be a stand-up comedian in local clubs "once the kids have grown up" as she put it. She even managed a couple of tentative debuts at the local Kiwanis and Shriner's clubs where her little act was described by the local critics as "refreshing"....and "a charming bit of whimsical and timely fluff filled with social commentary and some recipes".

Perhaps it was no surprise when Mrs. Snively began to exhibit eccentricities like a growing diet of Hostess Ding Dongs, Pringles Potato Chips, and vegan "beef" jerky. Frequently, she would answer her front door with facial masks of Marshmallow Fluff and Peter Pan Extra-Crunchy Peanut Butter. Her dependence on increasing dosages of St. Joseph's Aspirin for Children did not go unnoticed at PTA meetings...And on weekends, she could be found incoherent in back alleyways completely drunk on cocktails of Tang ....and Woolite....and Maraschino cherries. After her husband Arthur left her taking the children to Chillicothe, her friends tried interventions and enlisting the aid of the Come To Jesus Society Of Sobriety down on Walnut Street... but nothing worked.

It was finally on that terrible day in January when Snively wandered into her kitchen and overheard all her appliances talking behind her back. Oh yes!..They quickly smiled and pretended to change the subject, but it was too late. She had heard the worst!...and the jokes at her expense.... comments about "that tired old apron", and her "water-weight gain after the Holidays".....It was all too much! TOO MUCH!...and so, lovely, sweet, witty Mrs. Ruth Anne Snively calmly went to her former friend the Sunbeam waffle maker, laid her perfectly coiffed head down on its non-stick surface, and slowly pressed herself into a fluffy breakfast treat for the police to find later in the afternoon. Her suicide note was found on the counter beside an unopened bottle of Mrs. Butterworth's and a virgin stick of Land 'O' Lakes lightly salted butter. (You know Land 'O' Lakes? The one with the Indian maiden on the front whose knees look like breasts??)

Well, Ruth is now being treated for first degree burns and minor cheek-dimpling at Flower Of Mercy Hospital downtown, and will be receiving a lovely re-contouring of her complexion while being housed in their newly opened Extreme Neurosis Wing. She's slowly being re-acclimated to Kitchen Chore duty.... but under strict (and loving!) supervision.... (she continues to wear earplugs to ...shut out.. "unwelcome" chatter"...)

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Sybil Bruncheon's "A Whole Month Of Thanksgiving!"...

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True Crime Stories For the Holidays!… In 1919, it came to the attention of local school authorities in the Murray Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, that little Stephanie Strothers had been exhibiting unusually cheerful, almost frenetic, behavior as the Holidays approached. Frequently sullen and even depressed throughout the Spring and Summer when most children are delighted, Stephanie would not eat for days on end, nor leave her room to see her playmates. But as the weather chilled, Stephanie began to... well... "animate". It started with decorating the house for Halloween, carving the pumpkins, designing and making costumes, first for her own siblings and then for several of the neighborhood children. As Thanksgiving neared and Christmas too, she took over all the preparations that her large family would plan. Sending out handwritten invitations in beautiful calligraphy to a dozen relatives, and coordinating the recipes and doing all the shopping, Stephanie at 12 years of age stunned the adults as she got everything "just right"!

It had been this way for years, but this particular Holiday season in 1919, several neighbors happened to compare notes, and it was discovered that Stephanie had been especially attentive to getting everyone their turkeys, pheasants, or geese, and in just the right sizes too. It happened that kindly old Mrs. Straycosh from East 36th Street walked in on Stephanie "hugging" a turkey in an alleyway behind the Lefkowitz Candies & Fruitarium. The little girl hadn't heard Mrs. Straycosh round the corner, nor did the elderly lady notice that the hugging had a slightly combative energy to it... at first. But when they both caught sight of each other, the strange glint in Stephanie's glaring eyes, and the growing horror in Straycosh's eyes as she tried to believe what they were seeing was too much. With a deranged yowl, Stephanie released the bird and swooped towards poor Mrs. Straycosh whose shriek of terror attracted the attention of Jamie O'Hanrahan and the Biggy Shamrocker Gang. They rushed the alley and managed to scare off Stephanie, now snarling and drooling heavily. Armed with their home-made truncheons, the boys chased her down Third Avenue and into the arms of two policemen from the 17th precinct who thought at first that the Shamrockers were trying to mug her. But NO! A crowd had formed led by the gasping Mrs. Straycosh who could barely get her tale of horror out without wailing and weeping. Someone carried the lifeless bird forward, and it was Stephanie's own continued writhing and gnashing of teeth that indicted her and convinced everyone of her guilt. The reporters gathering with their pads, pencils, and flash camera boxes immediately tagged her as "Stephie The Strangler" before her parents could even get to the precinct where the deranged mob had already gathered. Needless to say, that was the last Holiday season with any peace or comfort for the Strother family. Shortly after Stephanie was confined in the Bayonne Institute for the Emotionally Inconvenienced, they skipped town late one night, never to be seen again. Stephanie lived to be at least in her late 80s and was kept subdued and serene through most of her life. Her doctors prescribed a steady regimen of experimental drugs made from Madagascar orchids and provided Stephanie with a lifetime supply of second-hand Raggedy Annes and sock-puppets that she could strangle to her heart's content.

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Sybil's "A Whole Month Of Thanksgiving!"...

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"Housewifely Hints For A Happy Holiday!"... Ladies, (and I use that term loosely)... do you try to serve your Thanksgiving crowd a wide but still nutritious variety of side dishes with your turkey? Sure, who doesn't? But sometimes a new and untried recipe from a passing stranger, a resentful in-law, or an adulterous neighbor can turn out just terribly, can't it? Even our healthy and usually heart-friendly vegetable-dishes can suddenly become the stuff of hideous nightmares. I'm reminded of the time a supposedly prize-winning artichoke dip stood up on my beautifully laid dining table and, after kicking over the candelabras, proceeded to eat my Cousin Delia and her husband Carl, a perfectly nice aluminum-siding salesman who had never been to my home before. Well! You can imagine my embarrassment as a hostess, especially when the fire spread to adjoining blocks and killed 13. Ah well... my advice? Always, ALWAYS try out Holiday recipes a week or so beforehand. Why get caught at the last minute in a cuisine catastrophe? There'll be more suggestions in my new cook book/memoir, starting on page 312. Bon Appétit!!!

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