"Maurice is only happy on the edge of civilization -happy in
the space, happy in the wild. He has a Ph.D. in aerospace
engineering. He's the best traveled person in the world because
he's been out of this world. He's very literal-minded, but he
would love to be instinctive. That's the part that's missing. He's
in anguish over the fact that it's missing."
really embodies the best and the worst qualities of what it means
to be an American. And also, he's a bigot, but he's an equal
who's the ex-astronaut...he in many ways really sort of epitomizes
the marginal life aspect of Alaska itself."
day, Maurice decided to write his memoirs. He
started like this:
really nailed her this time. Chapter One: Three score and change
in God's green acre, I've decided to take time from the rigors
of daily living to look back over the years and chart the course
of a life whose challenges and achievements may serve as an
example and benefit to those who read these pages."
does a lad from Tulsa rise to fame as a United States astronaut?
How does he parlay that fame into a vast fortune? We'll meet his
early influences: his math teacher, his wrestling coach, his
mother. It'll be my contribution to space travel literature. I
envision "Book of the Month Club," main selection. I
see libraries, schools, maybe a film adaptation -tasteful, of
course- with George C. Scott in the later years."
had to claw myself up, all the way up the ladder. Rung by rung
by rung, all the way up to the top. The place where I grew up,
Tulsa. It wasn't a bad place. Nothing wrong with it. But I
always knew that there was a big world out there, waiting just
for me, and I was chomping at the bit to take a hold of it. Let
me have it! Let me get mine! I wanted to make something of
myself. I wanted to be somebody. No matter what it took."
talks about his family history:
1918. Thomas Jefferson Minnifield returns from the fields of
France. While recovering from a mustard gas attack, he wins the
hand of his nurse, one Nancy Perkins, a former Miss Tulsa.
Together, the two of 'em sink the family flag in 400 acres of
Oklahoma hardscrabble. You see the window up there? Arthur, my
father was born in that bedroom, then 20 years later, young
Maurice Minnifield drew his first sweets breaths of life."
(kilts) belonged to my Grandfather. We were MacAllisters on the
distaff side of the family. He was a royal highlander, 42nd
regiment, Black Watch."
can still smell his tobacco, cherry blend. After the war,
Granddad moved to the United States and bought a farm in northern Oklahoma. I used to spend my summers there. They were
the best days of my life. At night, he'd stand on the porch and
play these. The sound of the pipes, filling the heavy, still
father, Arthur Minnifield:
made airplane parts and he made money. The Spirit Of St. Louis
had some parts designed by my Dad in it. He used to invite Don
Douglas over for dinner on Sunday nights. The only thing we
talked about around our house was airplanes and flying."
Dad used to say that at the dinner table: "How was
school?" He'd talk about his works and then Malcolm and I'd
tell him about school. Of course Malcolm did most of the
mother, Bertha Minnifield:
know, every spring...my mother would clean the house from top to
bottom, she'd get the whole family involved. We'd all have to
pitch in. We'd take down the curtains and wash 'em. We'd beat
the rugs. We'd scrub everything, until it was, absolutely
pristinely clean. It was like...she was driven; she was
obsessed. She wouldn't give up until everything was so clean it
looked brand-new. I never understood that obsession...'til
brother, Malcolm, passed away about 11 years ago. Like Maurice,
he was also an aviator:
had a brother. Malcolm P. ...damn Minnifield. The last of the
sought appointments at Annapolis that year. What was it that set
me apart from the crowd? Was it the fire in the belly? The grit?
scout, class Valedictorian, state wrestling champion at 142
pounds. President of the Young Republican Club. None of that
could hurt that year."
loved Boot Camp USMC, Parris Island. Everybody else bitched and
moaned, but I loved it. Do you know why? Because you got to
start over. The Corps divested you of your civilian self. It
shaved your head, took away your clothes, tore you down, and
then built you up again. You walked in one man, and you walked
out another. Everybody should do that once in a while. When they
get stagnant. Trouble is, I'm too old for Boot Camp."
Valley dogfight. My first kill."
have 15 confirmed kills over Pusan."
served under Col. Gordon McKern's command. He was one of
Maurice's major influences and one of his heroes as well:
McKern wasn't an astronaut. He wasn't about to be stuffed into a
can and shot into space, not Col. McKern. He was an aviator. If
he couldn't drive it, he wanted nothing to do with it. He was
also my C.O. in Korea."
was a GM dealer in Houston, giving cars to all us Mercury boys.
I was gonna grab a Vet like everybody else. But Col. McKern
said: "Minnifield, at this moment in history you embody the
American dream. It's only right and proper that you DRIVE the
his military days, Maurice made some mistakes, and one day, a
former Russian spy, sold Maurice his dossier, which had
talking about my reputation. Listen to this: "Saturday,
November 3, 1959. After sexual intercourse, Minnifield bragged
to agent Furtseva that the Atlas Booster, a military rocket
modified for a one-man capsule was capable of 360,000 pounds of
thrust." This never happened!"
with a woman by the name of Linda who purported to be the desk
clerk at The Coconut Palm Inn in Key Biscayne, Florida."
a military man, born and bred. I know the meaning of classified!
I did not spill the beans here!"
A BONA FIDE AMERICAN HERO! I'm-I'm in books! I'm in museums
displays! People look up to me!"
Maurice knew it was true:
years ago... I... betrayed my country. In a moment of
braggadocio I... said some things that I probably shouldn't
have. Fortunately, there were no repercussions, and after a
time, I put it out of my mind."
a very important year in a life. That's the year that separate
the men from the boys. That was the year I made full
were like stallions in the desert. Coop, Shepard, me and Schirra.
In my 30th year, leaving the glory of our youth behind us and
embracing our middle years."
went on to became an astronaut:
was an astronaut, son."
if he ever went into outer space, Maurice said:
took my ride."
Maurice thinks that his Dad maybe wasn't too proud of him:
not really. Malcolm and my Dad had the right stuff. As far as
they were concerned, I was spam in the can."
also regrets he wasn't one of the original Mercury Seven:
know what I think of when I look at the moon? Al Shepard's feet
(chuckles). They were peculiar-looking things; long, and skinny,
and pointed like a stiletto."
"Most people, when they think of Al,
they think of the first flyboy that rode a rocket, Freedom 7.
Fifteen minutes of shake and bake, then splashdown. Hell, he
didn't even get into orbit. But he got his ticket punched for
"Apollo 14 should have been my ride. I was as fit as he
was. I was younger, but they wouldn't let me into the program. I
wasn't one of the original Seven, not like Al. February 15th,
1971, Shepard and Mitchell touched down on the Era Maura
formation. (Chuckles) I don't know how he even got fitted for
moon boots. But his footprints are there now."
always wondered, "Why Al? Why Al?"
Maurice became famous, and was treated like an American hero:
spent some time on the east coast. Mostly around Washington,
D.C., Satellite Beach, Florida. I've only been to New York one
time, for a parade. Tickertape. We went down 5th Avenue in the
back of an open Cady."
with a pioneering vision, Maurice moved to Cicely, Alaska:
so began my north country years. One of the pioneers of Cicely
was tavern master, Holling Vincouer. When I first met Vincouer I
realized I had found a kindred spirit. I walked into his
establishment and introduced myself: "Minnifield, United
States astronaut," I said. "My friend, together, you
and I are going to make this town a crown jewel in the final
I first came here 20 years ago, there was nothing but natural
surroundings, unseen by white man since, oh...before time began!
The first thing I did, I bought 15,000 acres of land. Second
thing I did, I started a radio station and a newspaper. Why?
Communications. If a man's got something to sell or something to
say, he'd better get it out there. And by Golly, I had it. And I
is it. This is Cicely. She and Roslyn founded the town 97 years
ago. Rumor and innuendo notwithstanding, they were just good
friends. A hippie passing through painted that picture on the
wall. He was so high on the weed that he forgot the apostrophe
"s". I had to squeeze that
has never lost his faith in making of Cicely an important city:
coming, son, it's coming! There'll be Burger Kings, shopping
malls, 31 flavors. It's all gonna be here. Maybe not today,
maybe not tomorrow, but it's coming. I can guarantee you
and I over the years established a very warm bond as men
sometimes do. But it was not without its tribulations. The
trouble was over a woman, as is often the case."
was the one who originally brought Shelly to town. I first met
her right after she was crowned "Miss Northwest
Passage." I was one of the judges. She was not the
best-looking one of the bunch, but she had this look about her.
You know what I mean?"
guess he (Holling) told you that story about Shelly, too? About
how she came into the bar one night and said "I'm yours if
you want me." That's bull. He was after her from the
beginning. With a vengeance! I never expected to be ambushed
like that. Especially by me best bud."
couldn't wait to introduce them. I thought we'd make the perfect
threesome...But he was just waiting to steal her. We'd done 500
miles on the Alcan and were looking for a quick bite before
heading home. Shelly had a headache from the long drive and was
having trouble opening a bottle of aspirin. I started to help
her, but Holling stepped between us, and took the bottle from
her hand. Then the die was cast. Just like with the picture. I
was blinded by my own trusting nature."
promiscuity's De Rigueur for rockstars, but do you have any
idea, ANY idea, of the amount of tail that astronauts have to
contend with? A lot! Now, yours truly usually refrained from
dipping his wick into the oil lamp, but Ingrid was one groupie
that I never had the wherewithal to say not to."
women when they see a man brave enough to blast off into the
darkness of infinity in a thinsulite suit...A lot of women get
talking sex here, pure and simple. Now, it may be a lot of
things, but it's not sweet. What Ingrid and I have is comparable
to a fully loaded X-15 firing at 57,000 pounds of thrust. You
may not understand that now. But when you get to be an old bear
like me...you will."
Duk Won, along with his mother Yong Ja and his son, traveled all
the way from Korea to Cicely, Alaska, only to meet his father, Maurice
problem was, Maurice didn't know he had a son.
checks out; letters, documents, blood tests. I acknowledge...He's my son."
was very young in Korea. I was sixteen. I forged my father's
signature so I could get in the Marine Corps. I was a boy in a
man's body. I did some foolish things."
had a lot of relationships with women in those days. I was
young, unattached, in a strange country. There was a place that
I used to frequent in Seoul."
Maurice couldn't deal with the idea of having a son who wasn't
my life I've dreamed of having a son. A little towheaded tyke I
could bounce on my knee, teach to ride, hunt, fish. What do I
get? A middle-aged Chinaman."
later, he realizes that Duk Won is a fine man, and tells Yong Ja,
how proud he is of both:
just want to tell you that you did a good job. It couldn't have
been easy without a husband, without a father figure. But you
should be very proud. Duk Won, he's a fine man. He's smart and
strong, very, very
of purpose. So dedicated. So thorough. That is a real pro. I'm in
love! (chuckles). It's
like when I first experienced weightlessness. I didn't know
whether I was gonna tumble up or down!"
thing about Barbara, is that she is just so much fun to be with.
I've always differentiated between men and women. To me, men
were comrades, friends, confidants. Women were objects of
desire, admiration, nothing more. But recently, with Barbara,
it's like we've become...(soul mates)."
Show tunes and
brought you some things from home. I'm not gonna be needing them
anymore. Pasta maker, cuisinart, souffle dish. From now on I'm
sticking to barbecue."
pot, I've had some good times with this baby. Let me just say
this! All the great chefs in the world were notorious womanizers,
real skirt chasers. You know what I'm talking about? Well, they
you like Judy Garland? How about Gwen Verdon? When I mention show
tunes to you, what image does that conjure up in your
mind?...There you go! Two deviants, whom I unsuspectingly invited
into my home, deduced from my things -things of beauty- things
that I used to get innocent pleasure from, that I was in fact, a
Minnifield has never had an impure thought about another man in
his life! Well, there-there was one unsettling dream where I was
wrestling with David Niven...but I swear to you: NOTHING HAPPENED!
I will not be perceived by anybody as anything other than a
me ask you something, hypothetically. Say, you've
known a man for many years. He's a leader in his community. Say
you find out about this guy, that he has fantasies about...oh,
women's undergarments, or nurses' uniforms, or even shoes. Are
you telling me you won't feel differently about him?"
others think and know about Maurice:
can I be frank? You're no good on the radio, your choice of
material is -um- well, it's awful. And your personality is
or olives, or a strong cup of coffee. It's -um- it's an acquired
got a furtive mind, Maurice. What I mean is: It's like the
waters of the big muddy. It's hard to see the bottom of it. It's
deep where you think it's gonna be shallow, and it's shallow
where it should be deep."
J. Minnifield, our generous host, friend and employer. I'm sure
I join everyone here in saying thank you for these very fine,
fine eats and drinks. You ARE a real American, you're an
ex-Marine and astronaut, you ARE America. You're rich, you're
rapacious, you're progress without a conscience, paving
everything in its path. You're five percent of earth's
population, yet consuming 25 percent of the earth's natural
resources. You pay a lot of taxes, you do a lot of charity work,
most of it's tax deductible, but your heart's in the right
place. One thing's for sure, chief: You have an impeccable taste
in the booze."
"Maurice Minnifield: Age 53. Two-inch birthmark in the
shape of Madagascar upper right trapezious; enamel replacement,
left lateral incisor; average rate of respiration while engaged
in sexual intercourse..."
thing you can count on: there's no hidden agenda with this man.
Maurice Minnifield is not gonna stab you in the back. No, you're
gonna see him plunge that dagger right into your belly, pull it
up and twist, and twist, until your guts spill right onto your
shoes. Maurice, my dear friend, you're a homophobe and a bigot,
but you have a marvelous aesthetic...and a truly superb
collection of Gershwin LP's."
thought he was immune to aging, until he had a coronary episode...
What the hell does that mean? Are you positive about this? I mean,
I've had indigestion that was worse than this."
have a check here from the Social Security
"Admini-Damn-stration" Did you put in for that? $284?
What the hell am I supposed to do with $284? I AM NOT READY TO
COLLECT SOCIAL SECURITY! I DON'T NEED IT! HELL, I DON'T EVEN
BELIEVE IN IT!
"Golden years" my ass! I don't need your old-age
benefits! YOU PEOPLE ARE TRYING TO KILL ME! ALL OF YOU! With your
special benefits, and your bonuses, and your--your...YOU'RE
STICKING PINS IN MY DOLL!
dreams: The truth about Tranquility Base.
you know why I really bought this place? Because I wanted a
family compound, kind of like what Jack Kennedy had in Hyannis
port. Touch football on the lawn, deal making on the porch.
Children underfoot. (Chuckles) Oh, well. A lot of my other
dreams came to fruition. "The tumult and the shouting dies.
The captains and the kings depart."
later, Maurice did propose to Barbara and she accepted with the
condition there would be no big announcement or splashy wedding. It's been about 6 years since we last saw them...We
can imagine that by now they have a little "towheaded
tyke," or as Chris said, a "mini-Maurice". We can
only imagine too that Maurice keeps trying hard to make of
Cicely the crown jewel in the Final Frontier.