Six Brief Profiles of Awesomely Iconic Men.
About five miles east of the French village of Romagne-sous-Montfaucon, in a sprawling meadow cooled by silent mistrals riding down from the hillsides, lies the body of a boy from Phoenix. A boy, but a warrior in full.
Frank Luke Jr. is buried in France, but his accomplishments in the theater of battle immortalized him in Arizona, where his name graces an Air Force base, numerous statues and plaques, and the border town of Lukeville. His distinction: The 21-year-old was perhaps the most fearsome fighter ace of World War I.
Born to German immigrants in Phoenix on May 19, 1897, Luke was an athletic, hard-nosed kid. He bare-knuckle boxed for fun, honing the lightning-fast reactions that would later serve him in the air. In April 1917, he enlisted in the U.S. Signal Corp’s aviation section – the precursor to the U.S. Air Force – to receive pilot’s training. Little more than a year later, Luke was flying sorties over France in his SPAD XIII biplane, dispatching German fighters and heavily-defended observation balloons with such icy aplomb he earned the nickname “The Arizona Balloon Buster.”
Luke – both admired and reviled by his comrades for his arrogance and authority-bucking ways – would not have a long career. He scored his first kill on September 12, 1918 and was himself shot dead on September 29. But in that brief span, he recorded 18 victories – 14 balloons and four fighters, a flurry of aerial punishment unmatched by enemy or ally. For his accomplishments and sacrifice, Luke became the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor, and his heroics served as a vessel of pride for a young state craving national prestige.
“He was the most daring aviator and greatest fighter pilot of the entire war,” fellow airman Eddie Rickenbacker said. “His life is one of the brightest glories of our Air Service. He went on a rampage and shot down 14 enemy aircraft, including 10 balloons, in eight days. No other ace… had ever come close to that.”
The Scottsdale Culinary Institute graduate was a twentysomething greenhorn who had never so much as tasted foie gras when he went to work for culinary legend Patrick O’Connell in Virginia. Four years later, Binkley was O’Connell’s trusted right hand, which in turn led to a coveted position at Napa’s French Laundry. In 2004, he returned to Arizona and launched Binkley’s Restaurant. Today, the perennial James Beard nominee and his three self-titled restaurants are synonymous with cutting-edge fine dining in the Valley.
How do you stay on the cutting edge?
I do a lot of work for free. I always try to evaluate myself each year... So last year I embarked on a baking program. I went over to MJ Bread and went to work with him for a few weekends, because [owner Michael John] is the best.
What’s a Binkley-mad-scientist creation that didn’t work so well?
One that stands out was when we started aerating things with an immersion blender. It creates epic foam. Anyway, we got carried away and did this slow-cooked piece of black cod with a mushroom broth foam on the bottom and it kind of freaked people out. People had no idea there was fish under there. So we had to change that one off the menu.
Is operating a locally-minded restaurant in Arizona difficult?
My first impression was that... nothing can grow there. Then I was pleasantly surprised to learn that we have the longest growing season in the country. We have English peas in February, but they’re not getting those until June in Napa. And the farmers here are so fanatical and innovative. [Bob] McClendon uses uses air flow and shadow to grow year-round. I’ve tried to showcase that.
It’s safe to say the Cardinals wouldn’t have made it to Super Bowl XLIII without you. How close did you come to signing with another team?
For me, it was really all about playing. Obviously, not a lot people would have picked Arizona in terms of championships and success, but after my experience in New York (in 2004), I wanted to go somewhere I could play. There were some other options, but they weren’t as good in terms of getting on the field. It all worked out pretty well.
Why did you stay in Arizona?
We fell in love with the city and climate. And this is home to our kids and that was a huge factor. The third factor is that we have an established fan base and that’s a huge help with the [Christian-based First Things First Foundation]. You always want to be where people support what you do.
Ever think about getting into politics?
I’m not naturally political, but I like the idea of positively impacting people’s lives. One hangup is that politics is so much about money. It gets to that point that [politicians] have to put their values to the side to cater to those who give them money. If it ever came to a point where I could [run for office] without having to compromise, maybe, but I’m not sure we have that system.
HENRY FOUNTAIN ASHURST
Barry Goldwater receives most of the lionizing prose showered on bygone Arizona politicians. But who did Goldwater lionize? This loquacious son of a gun.
Known variously as “Five-Syllable Henry” and the “Silver-Tongued Sunbeam of the Painted Desert,” Ashurst – one of Arizona’s first two U.S. Senators, holding the office from 1912 to 1941 – was such a prolific orator that Goldwater later compiled 14 of his speeches in a biographical book: Speeches of Henry Fountain Ashurst.
“I love auriferous words,” the former prosecutor told Collier’s in 1937. “And nothing delights me more than to pluck gems from the dictionary that otherwise might never see the light of day.”
Broad of shoulder and jaw, Ashurst used his gifts of communication and charisma to steer opinion in Congress’ upper house. He was a proud flip-flopper, reversing course on issues like Prohibition and Supreme Court restructuring as expedience demanded. The “withering, embalming vice of consistency” was never one of his vices, he later admitted.
Known both for literary smarts and natty attire, Ashurst was the ideal representative for Arizona in her early years – the sort of cultivated charmer that baffled Washington’s frontier-state expectations. Stricken from office in 1941, Ashurst delivered a final lesson in eloquence: “When you are here... worrying about bills, I shall possibly be enjoying the ecstasy of the starry stillness of an Arizona desert night...”.
The list of people who have worn a page-boy wig on a daily basis and interviewed the Dalai Lama for a professional news organization is a short one; in fact, it might be Pat McMahon alone. Beloved as the villainous dandy Gerald on Valley-produced kiddie TV program The Wallace and Ladmo Show, McMahon has also authored a prestigious career as a newsman and talk show host. The KTAR and AZTV7 personality is perhaps the last of a pre-Dish Network breed: the homegrown TV star.
What’s the deal with Gerald? Is he a cross dresser? A Quaker?
Oh, no. The Quakers would never claim him. He was the lace-collared Little Lord Fauntleroy who wanted everyone in the audience to know he was richer, more intelligent and more privileged than they were. One of his favorite lines was “Go back to your tract-home jungles and get out of my life!” He was my favorite character because he got to say stuff that no one could say.
How many characters did you do on Wallace and Ladmo?
[A fan] one time wrote me and said he counted 107 characters including historic characters that would come out of the show’s time machine: Attila the Hun, Columbus, etc. It was a lot of fun. Saturday Night Live for kids.
Were you trained in theater?
I certainly was. My parents were in show biz. They were dancers who did a variety act, so I grew up on the road. It was me and Mom and Dad – three gypsies traveling everywhere. I had no concept of home. It was fabulous.
What is your dream project at this point in your career?
My dream project is simply to go to work on Monday and talk to fascinating people. You’ve heard of the five-year plan? I’m really heavily into the five-hour plan.
Even during his outlaw street-artist heyday, Lalo Cota (lalocota.com) was never much of an outlaw – the most he managed was a trespassing citation. Today, the painter and muralist – who started out expressing his surreal visions on derelict buildings, slumbering rail cars and other large vertical surfaces – is manifestly above the law. His work appears at Barrio Café, Sky Harbor Airport, Renegade by MOD, and the Sheraton, and hangs in high-dollar foyers across the Valley. But that doesn’t mean the godfather of Phoenix street art doesn’t like to go rogue from time to time.
When did you become art-conscious?
I remember a time when my uncles took me to the Rose Bowl in California. And I think that’s when I saw lowriders for the first time. They looked like rolling canvases. It inspired me to look at art seriously.
How did you make the leap from the street to the gallery?
That was a gradual thing. In high school, I would do backdrops for plays and design T-shirts, things like that. But it really came together when I started working at Rosenbaum Fine Art. [I learned] if there was no market for you, then you create one.
And you’ve done that? You and other Phoenix street artists?
Well, for the last six years I’ve been able to live. Things have gone pretty well for me. I’m not driving a Range Rover, but I’m able to live.
Do you think the mural revolution can spread into, say, Goodyear?
Sure. What’s happening here in Phoenix is happening all over the world. Ancient cities were all muralled up and decorated, and we’re headed back in that direction. I don’t know when it got all gray and tan.
Do you ever go out and do non-authorized art like in the old days?
Yeah, I still do. The other day I painted a boom box mural Downtown and didn’t have permission. But no one cares. It’s so acceptable these days. [The cops] see me with my ladder and equipment and they figure I’m legit.
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