America’s Sweetheart of Song

Ruth Etting's Star on Hollywood Boulevard // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Back in the late 1920’s and early 1930’s my grandfather’s cousin was the top female singer in the United States. Her name was Ruth Etting and she started in a little club in Chicago, then starred on Broadway in the Ziegfeld Follies, and ended up in Hollywood. Early on she was known as the Sweetheart of Chicago, and then the Sweetheart of Columbia Records, and finally America’s Sweetheart of Song. She had over 60 hit recordings including multiple number ones. She was inducted into the GRAMMY Hall Of Fame, with “Love Me Or Leave Me”, which she introduced in the 1928, and for “Ten Cents A Dance”, from 1930.

Her star on Hollywood Boulevard is located at the intersection where Whitley Avenue crosses the Boulevard, right in front of a check cashing place. Classy!

So why have you never heard of her? Well she made one big mistake in her life – she married a guy in Chicago with ties to the mob – small time for sure, but still, not the best move on her part. And by 1937 she divorced him and then fell in love with her piano player. But her ex-husband was incensed by the new relationship, and shot the new boyfriend. The boyfriend survived and later became her husband, and the ex-husband went to jail, but Ruth’s career did not survive the scandal. She did a few minor projects after that, but the heyday of her career was effectively over. Hollywood came calling again in 1955, with an offer to make a movie about her life. Love Me or Leave Me starred Doris Day and James Cagney, and was nominated for six Academy Awards and won the Award for Best Story. Most people who have heard of her today, only know what the saw in the movie – they know Doris Day as Ruth, not the real Ruth Etting.

Why am I posting this today? Well two reasons! One, I’ve been combing through my archive for 2008 and trying to post anything that I hadn’t yet – and I shot this image back in May, so it was time! And two, because last night I republished, the site I maintain in her memory. I switched servers recently, and so the site was down temporarily, but it’s up now, so it seemed like a good time to plug it here!

Her style of singing today seems sentimental and syrupy and dated – it’s definitely an acquired taste! But she really was one of the premier singers of her generation and a true legend.



Even with chapped lips my nephew Nathan is a knock-out! And he’s a killer at Monopoly. He wins… every… single… time…


One of my favorite sensations… Being slightly sunburned – just arms, upper back and shoulders, and maybe a little on the cheeks – and then that same night, letting a chilly summer evening breeze blow across my hot skin, and give me shivers. It’s bliss.

I also love laying in the sun, at the beach, on a towel on the sand, and letting the sun bake down. Not for long, but for a few brief minutes, how much damage can you do?

I actually love the way my pale skin looks – I’m one of those rare people too pale to match most makeup brands, but I tan easily. But tanning makes me look older, so I avoid it… Pale is good, right? But this weekend, while moving, I ended up spending a lot of time in the sun, and came away slightly pink everywhere that wasn’t covered up – even the back of my neck got some sun – since I had my hair up.

As I was driving the moving truck back last night, traveling down Highway 101, right along the beach, and letting the cool night air give me chills, I just felt so fortunate and lucky and eager! And I was singing with the radio the whole way down. I only sing when I’m happy. It’s impossible not to sing, when I feel that way, it just comes out – at full volume! And when I’m not happy? Well I don’t sing. So I always sort of know, that if I’m in the middle of a change – big change, little change, any kind of change at all – and if I find myself singing, it’s an excellent sign!

I’m actually enjoying the night breeze again tonight – with my laptop out on the deck – perfect summer night! I’d never intentionally get sunburned – I’m too aware of how damaging it is – but it was accidental this time, and I see nothing wrong with thoroughly enjoying every sensation I can!

Iconic Portraits: Part Two

Yesterday I blogged about an iconic image – an image that I created – that defines me as an artist. It’s an image that defines my art, my business, and my style.

But I’m not always the one taking the photograph…

I think that everyone has a favorite image of themselves. I have several! And I want to share them, because if I have one wish for my business it’s that I hope to give my clients images they love of themselves as much as I love and treasure these images of me. Everyone deserves that! Everyone deserves a little magic – and the right photograph can give you that.

Cheryl Spelts

This first image is in my opinion, the best image ever taken of me! It was shot by one of my closest friends at the time – the incredibly talented Kevin Mann during his first semester in a beginning photography class. We were in my backyard, it was dusk, he had a cheap clamp-on lightbulb, and he insisted on spraying me with a hose. I thought it was a little nuts! But he believed firmly in what he was doing – and he was right – and he shot a magical portrait. He printed it huge, and it still hangs on my wall in my bedroom. When I think of myself, this is the image in my head.

Cheryl Spelts

This next image is my first real headshot – from my hugely successful acting career in LA. Not really… I took lots of classes – from a well-known teacher who had published a book on acting – he was the real deal. But auditioning in LA was very different than auditioning in San Diego, and I was just not ready. So I decided to take a break, moved back and started to study photography, so that I could shoot other actor’s headshots when I went back to LA. But I fell in love with photography, and never went back to LA. It was not the plan, and I never would have guessed I could love something more than acting – but I did and I do and I have no regrets. But I still love this headshot! It was shot by Willa Burns in Oceanside and I was 22.

Self Portrait with Tiara

And this one was shot by me! With a plastic camera, a big fan, a tiara, and some BBQ tongs so I could trip the shutter – really weird setup, but I love the results. I shot this in 2004 as part of a whole series of self-portraits – but this one is my favorite!

So those are the three iconic portraits of me. Everyone should have at least one!

Cheryl Spelts

This last one is not iconic – but it is fun! I found it as I was looking for my first headshot, and wanted to share it too. It was shot at the very end of my big acting career – right before I started to study photography. I wasn’t very happy as an actress at that point – and I think you can see that in my face. I just look a little off. But you gotta love the hair!

Provisional Voting

San Diego County Voting

I had an interesting experience at the polls today. When I first registered to vote, at age 18, I registered with one party – but I haven’t always voted for the candidates put forth by that party. I tend to pick my candidate based on who they are as a person, and what they espouse, and less on what party label they wear. So today, I once again was attracted to a candidate for president in the other party, but I realized it was the first time I’ve ever felt that way in a Primary Election – so I explained to the poll worker what I wanted to do, and asked how best to accomplish that – since obviously if they handed me the ballot for my “official” party, my preferred candidate’s name would not appear on it.

The poll worker told me first it wasn’t possible – that I should have changed my party affiliation before the deadline, and now it was impossible. So then I asked how to write-in a candidate’s name, and she said that I could do that, but it probably wouldn’t count. And I told her that was fine, I might still do it anyway! She was completely kind and helpful, but luckily another poll worker nearby heard the exchange and grabbed the policy book and looked it up and discovered that I could indeed vote under another party, using a Provisional Ballot. Yeah!

So I got my special little peach colored envelope and as they explained it to me, the guy in line behind me said he wanted to do the same thing. And we all kind of laughed over it. Here I was the first person all day with that question – and it was really late in the day – and now they had two of us in a row. So I went over to the little cardboard voting booths and filled in the little bubbles with a pen – no electronic voting in Fallbrook! And when I was done, and waiting to hand over the peach envelope with my provisional ballot, I noticed a bunch of people getting peach envelopes. Now they could have been people from other areas, people who have recently moved – there are lots of reasons to use a provisional ballot. But as I left I smiled at the poll worker who had helped me and said, “Wow, there are lots of us all of a sudden!” and she smiled back and said, “Yeah, you really started something!” and she gave me the OK sign.

It made me feel good to realize that I’m not the only one – and also to know that because I asked the question, it opened the door to other voters getting to vote for the candidate they truly believe in, rather than having to stick to their official party’s candidates. I have no idea who they all voted for – but I think it’s VERY cool they got to make the choice they really wanted to make!

Catching up…

Couple of things on mind today! First, it’s been an entire month since I gave up Diet Coke and it feels wonderful to no longer be in the clutches of that monster addiction. Okay, maybe it’s not a monster addiction compared to cigarettes or heroin, but since I’ve never done either of those two things, caffeine was my monster – and it’s official – I’ve slayed it.

So since it’s February first, I figured I was ready for a new goal, but I couldn’t decide which one to go for – so I’m picking two. One is simple, straight-forward and easy to determine if I’m sticking to it or not. The other is a bit more ethereal and harder to define if or when I’ve truly achieved it – but that’s okay, just the attempt is worth doing! So my goals for February are no more junk food unless it’s a special and social occasion. A hot dog at the fair, chips at a party, ice cream at a friends house – all good! Hitting the drive-through window for dinner because I’m so busy? Not so good.

The second, more ethereal goal is to catch more of the opportunities that flutter by… You know, the thought you have and never act on? I want to act on a few more than normal this month. I think as a rule, artists tend to grab more of those slippery little opportunities than the rest of the population – but hey, there’s always more, more, more!

This was in my fortune cookie last night – I’ll take is as a sign I’m on the right track!

On another topic, we named our Ultimate Rock Star at RBL – and the winner is also my personal favorite – Marty Casey. It’s been a fun ride the last few weeks, and the ending was great! David Goffin, executive producer of Rock Star stopped by to let us in some news about his next project – which sounds very cool! And then later, our Ultimate Rock Star himself, Marty Casey, stopped by to give a very funny and yes, heartfelt acceptance speech. Perfect ending to a really fun couple of months!

Edited to Add: Here’s a screenshot of the front of Marty Casey’s official site, with a mention of the win.

My Diet Coke addiction is no more!

Thank heaven! As of today, it’s been three weeks since my last Diet Coke, and the headache is gone, and I finally am starting to feel good again. Caffeine withdrawal does not cause a particularly bad headache, it’s relatively minor, but it hangs on for days and days, and the days turn into weeks. I shot the images below on Day 10, and you can see it in my eyes – you can tell I have a headache just by looking at me!

But the good news is that’s finally all behind me, and I feel so much better!

The last image I included just because I like it!

Looking back, and looking ahead to the New Year!

New Year's CardThe days leading up to New Year’s are some of my favorite of the whole year. Almost everyone is still in vacation mode, but the stress some associate with getting ready for Christmas is over, so everyone seems happy and cheerful and not in a rush. They smile at you in the market, and let pedestrians have the right of way on the roads, and you see lots of people in new clothes – and anyone in a new outfit automatically walks a little taller! New clothes are fun!

But the main reason I love the couple of days before the new year is because we all start to reflect on the past year, and I think that’s a really healthy thing to do. I think it’s important to examine what you accomplished in the last year – and take some time to celebrate it! I also think it’s important to think about where you want to go next, and make sure your life is headed in the direction you want. It’s so easy to get caught up in day to day stuff, and to neglect your big goals. And the flip side of that is to not notice how far you’ve come on a big goal – sometimes we don’t notice all the progress we make along the way. So stopping at the end of the year, and really looking back, and noticing everything is fun! And healthy!

I’m not a real big proponent of resolutions. Mine are always sort of vague – I want to do better in these three areas, healthy living, business, and love. That feels good – and do-able – to me.

New Year's CardBut specific resolutions like “I’ll never drink another Diet Coke again” are way too rigid for me. I may be hoping I can do that, but the fact is I love Diet Coke, so I probably will have one at some point during the year!

This year I sent out New Year’s cards instead of Christmas cards – it seemed fun and different, and I love New Year’s, so why not? The image I used is one I shot in early December and it features the railing on Elder House – which is a very distinctive part of the architecture, so it seemed appropriate for my first year here. It was shot with my favorite fun lens – a Lensbaby 3G– very cool!

Gingerbread Boy Day

When I was growing up my favorite Christmas tradition – other than getting a ton of gifts! – was Gingerbread Boy Day! But it started long before I was born…

My grandmother, Sophia Spelts, in the early 1950’s when her children were small, was heartbroken when she learned that the children in an orphanage in San Diego often didn’t receive anything at all for Christmas. She was an excellent cook and baker – in fact she worked in a bakery as a young woman – so I guess it was only made sense to her to try and fill that gap by baking! She would make dozens of Gingerbread Boys, decorate them with frosting and candy, back each one individually with a sheet of cardboard, wrap it up, and tie it with a big beautiful bow. And for some of those children, it was the only gift they got that year.

When her own children grew up and got married, she brought the new spouses into her tradition. On a Sunday before Christmas everyone would come to her house and decorate cookies for her to deliver to the children.

I was the first grandchild, and I remember vividly my first time at the table with a big butter knife and bowl of pink frosting and getting to decorate a cookie – although I think by then the orphanage had closed, and so that part of the story had ended – but Gingerbread Boy Day lived on as a family tradition. And the number of cousins participating grew and grew. I remember my Grandma had a real thing about monsters. If the decorating didn’t pass her standards, it was labeled a monster. Most of the boys made monsters! But the monsters tasted better – they had gumdrops for eyes, and big chocolate chips all over and maybe even coconut and red hots – all on one cookie. So yeah, not always very pretty, but definitely tasty!

Because I was the oldest and artistic, Grandma would always make one special cookie for me to decorate – usually it was a big tree, large enough for a small family to share – and I’d spend half the day making sure that special cookie was a masterpiece. I was also the first to put a paper skirt on a Gingerbread Boy, making it a Gingerbread Girl. I took a stiff napkin, pleated it, and used some frosting to glue it on – and it was cute!

After my Grandma passed on, we kept up the tradition, and through the years the frosting colors have strayed from her preferred pastels to darker more garish hues – she’d shake her head if she could see how bright the yellow is now! But I think she’d be thrilled to know that 23 years after her death, new family members are joining in, and that a tradition she started nearly sixty years ago is still going strong!

Gingerbread Boys

Getting started is always a little overwhelming. So many colors, so many choices…

Gingerbread Boys

Here’s a helpful hint in cookie selection! Make sure you grab the cookies with no visible flour on the surface. Flour is ugly! The only solution if you get stuck with a cookie with flour on it, is to cover the whole cookie with frosting. Thicker cookies usually taste better. And look for a cookie with a nice shape – one that’s waving one arm, or has a jaunty angle to his head is always good!

Gingerbread Boys

Josh showing off his work!

Gingerbread Boys

I think Nathan loaded this one with so much good stuff, it’s face is about to slide off…

Gingerbread Boys
Gingerbread Boys

Nathan watches my Mom stack finished cookies.

Gingerbread Boys

Hint number two! All Gingerbread Boys need a Gingerbread Girl… She has a little flour on her leg – obviously I wasn’t quick enough at grabbing the good cookies!

Gingerbread Boys

Josh is the artist in his generation. Whatever he does, it’s always beautiful.

Gingerbread Boys

You can see it in his hands as he works…

Gingerbread Boys

And here’s the finished product! I think this was the cookie of the day!

Gingerbread Boys