Odd Westchester Questions Answered

Jean Harris’ murder defense; Captain Kangaroo, PhD; the bureaucracy of tribute band names, as told by Tom Schreck.

Q: Jean Harris, the famous convicted murderer of Dr. Herman Tarnower, the author of The Complete Scarsdale Medical Diet, died a little over a year ago. There have always been jokes made about how her defense was that she accidently shot Tarnower…four times. Was her defense any more plausible than it sounds? —Ed Tybur, Hastings-on-Hudson

A: It was more than plausible. Joel Arnou, her defense attorney, told me it happened something like this: Harris had had a long affair with Tarnower and became upset at his infidelity. On March 10, 1980, she went to his home in Purchase to commit suicide on his estate’s grounds, but decided to go see him one last time. When she entered his bedroom and saw another women’s négligée on a chair, she became enraged, changed her mind, and decided to kill herself in front of Tarnower. She stood, turned around, held the gun to her head, and attempted to fire. Tarnower put his hand up to stop her and was hit by the bullet between his thumb and forefinger. He went to the bathroom to wash off the wound and returned to the bedroom.

Harris picked up the gun and Tarnower grabbed her arm, causing her to drop it. He retrieved the gun and sat on the bed. She begged him to give it to her so she could kill herself. He went to call his servant with his uninjured hand and left the gun in his lap. Harris grabbed the gun, wrestling Tarnower, and it fired, hitting him in the shoulder. The shot forced him to release his grip on Harris and the gun went off again, this time hitting and breaking his collarbone and severing an artery. She fell backward with the gun in her hand.

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He got up and grabbed her arm near the gun. His hand was covered in blood and Harris mistook his thumb for the muzzle. It was pointed into her chest and she fired, hoping to kill herself.  That bullet hit Tarnower in the upper arm, breaking another bone, lodging under the skin, and causing Tarnower to fall in intense pain. Harris realized she was free to kill herself, put the pistol to her head and fired, but that chamber was empty. Confused, Harris held the gun down and fired to test it, discharging the remaining bullet into the nightstand. She then held the revolver back to her head and pulled the trigger repeatedly in a futile attempt to finish her suicide.

Of course, you’re thinking, Arnou was her defense attorney—what else is he going to say? Consider this: According to the book Coroner At Large by Joseph Dimona and Thomas T. Noguchi, seven forensic experts testified that Harris was telling the truth. Nevertheless, Harris was convicted of second-degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. She spent 12 years in Bedford Hills Correctional Facility, before being granted clemency by then Governor Mario Cuomo. She was released in 1993. 

Q: Is it true that Captain Kangaroo was a professor at the College of New Rochelle? —Marie Newton, Mount Vernon

A: Indeed, he was, and Mr. Moose was an All-American nose guard on the CNR football team.

Robert Keeshan, who played Captain Kangaroo on the iconic children’s TV show from 1955 to 1984, was on the board of trustees of the college and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1985. He never, though, held a true faculty position there.

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Q: In October, I saw a band called Tramps Like Us do a Bruce Springsteen show at Rudy’s in Hartsdale. Do they need permission from Bruce to use his song title as their name? Do they have to pay a royalty or some sort of fee?  —Bill Pickett, Yonkers

A: Hey man, can’t a lonely heart sweat it out on a street of a runaway American dream trying to make a living with his guitar doin’ somebody else’s act?

Well, he can, sort of, but The Man wants him to follow some rules. The Truth in Music Bill has been passed in 33 states. It came about because of bands adopting the names of famous groups without copyright ownership or without any original band members. The law states that a band has to have a legal right to use the name, have permission from the rightful owner, or label the performance as a tribute or salute.

Tramps Like Us is safe in that they’re not billing themselves as Bruce. They can use the Boss’s name in their advertising to describe their tribute, but the courts often interpret on a case-by-case basis whether a band can use the original’s trademark in advertising their tribute.

When it comes to royalties, music is licensed by organizations like the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and Broadcast Music, Inc (BMI), and it’s the responsibility of the venue, not the band, to pay for the rights to play licensed music in its establishment. Much of the law is up for interpretation, however, so tribute artists are always a little vulnerable.

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So for now, Tramps Like Us is for hire…even if they’re just dancing like someone else in the dark. 

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