Driving and Biking in the Big City

Silliness and pseudonyms: The nexus of Inger Stevens and Kurt Russell

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I have a gentle secret in my background that is different from the narrative of my life as I usual tell it. I always say and am very proud of the fact that I’ve always made my living as a writer. It was/is a girlhood dream fulfilled. I’m not a famous writer or a famously paid author of a top-10 bestseller but, nonetheless, I am a paid and published writer who has been working in the same profession since my first job at a newspaper at 16 years old.

But, if you’ve read all these blogs, you know the truth. I held a job before my first newspaper job. This was back in the day when 14-year-olds could work and could get a driver’s license. I got to take advantage of the job part but didn’t make it to the car part. That law was changed right before I got there.

My first office job actually was as a telephone solicitor, selling siding to unsuspecting folks who answered their land lines in an era when everyone had a land line and answered it. Ewwww. Seems like a tough job on many fronts and I’ve gotten some unbelieving looks from the younger generation. But it’s true. And again, I was pretty good at it. In fact, it gave me an excellent background for all the telephone experience I would have later in life as a reporter – checking my traps, talking to sources, taking dictation, etc.

The siding sales manager knew, of course, that my credibility would be hampered if folks on the other end of the telephone line knew they were talking to a 14-year-old. So, he helped me slow down the pace of my conversation and deepen my speaking voice. Then, he told me to choose a name, my first nom de plume. I would be Mrs. Whomever to increase my credibility and make me appear older to the person on the other end of the line.

IngerStevensThat’s how my nom de plume as a telephone solicitor became Mrs. Stevens at age 14. I named myself for Inger Stevens, another suicidal blond actress from the ‘60s. Inger Stevens made her mark on my impressionably romantic psyche as “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a sitcom when I’d have been in elementary school. It was about a young Swedish woman who becomes the housekeeper for widowed U.S. congressman played by William Windom. Just like me, the teen-age me thought, smart and beautiful with tragically hidden talents.

At least I didn’t pick Ann Margaret, who was, of course, my favorite actress of all times until she was replaced by . . . well, I don’t think anyone ever replaced Ann Margaret for me. Even I knew that Mrs. Margaret wouldn’t do as a telephone solicitor.

Mrs. Stevens would not be my only pseudonym. Many years later in life, I would have to pick another pseudonym. This was long after my byline was sealed as Denise Bray Hensley. It so happened the hometown newspaper needed someone to cover sports at the local high school. It also so happened that my son played football on the hometown team and was a star player. Once again, I needed a credible nom de plume and this time without the Hensley last name so that folks wouldn’t necessarily know that Travis’s mom was writing the stories – even though his name typically made it into one of the top two or three paragraphs every time. Of course, he was that good and his plays needed to be reported. I never once came down from my skill as a highly objective newspaper reporter from the days when such reporters existed.

jack burtonThus, we find the nexus of Inger Stevens and Kurt Russell who played Jack Burton in “Big Trouble and Little China.” Jack Burton became the byline on my sports stories.

Jack Burton who is famous for his one-liners from the movie that I watched with my kids at least a dozen times.

“Okay. You people sit tight, hold the fort and keep the home fires burning. And if we’re not back by dawn… call the president.”

“Have ya paid your dues, Jack?” “Yessir, the check is in the mail.”

“I’m a reasonable guy. But, I’ve just experienced some very unreasonable things.”

“May the wings of liberty never lose a feather.”

And, once again, I couldn’t make my first choice my pseudonym. Like Mrs. Stevens was better than Mrs. Ann Margaret for selling siding; Jack Burton was better than Snake Plissken for a sports byline in a hometown newspaper.Snake


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