A couple of weeks ago I reached into the past for some vignettes of laughter either experienced by me or told this unremitting appreciator of hilarity.
The following are more of the same and provide, I believe, further proof that seriousness is something we should avoid at any peril.
Some of the best stories come from the world of golf and it could be that a game both wondrous and reviling has contributed more humor than any other pursuit.
I first met actor Forrest Tucker in Tulsa when he and Larry Storch were promoting "F Troop" and we met, again, 18 months later at Lakeside Country Club, a hangout for the entertainment industry in Los Angeles.
Tucker was a terrific golfer playing to a 2 handicap at Lakeside while belong to four other clubs including England's Wentworth. With skills honed in burlesque, Tucker gained considerable legitimate stage experience with impressive presence augmented by a highly commanding voice. He made nearly 100 action films although his ingratiating Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside role in Auntie Mame was likely his best.
One day I ran into Tuck on the back side of Lakeside where I had hooked a drive on a lengthy par four. The hole ran parallel to the one being played by the actor and he had pulled his shot so that his ball and mine were within a few feet of each other. We exchanged greetings.
In his foursome was singer/actor Gordon MacRae whose golfing skills were equal to those of Tucker. When it came to handicaps on the links, MacRae had two--the other being liquor.
"How you doing, Tuck?" I asked.
"Hey, Bob. I'm doing fine but Gordie's got a problem. He ran out of booze on the 11th hole and ever since he's been drinkin' the ball wash."
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Among my great good fortunes in living a life includes working at the Cleveland Press in the early 50s. I started off a copy boy and one of the delights of the job was being privy to the give and take that took place among the print troubadours who included stars, supporting players and supernumeraries of an enormously colorful newspaper.
Among the denizens of the paper's copy desk was a New York Irishman, Joe McCarthy, whose employment included the august Herald Tribune. Dour of disposition, McCarthy had an unhealthy look about him. It was as though the only light that had ever been cast upon him had come from a Budweiser sign. The word was that he was a reformed alcoholic.
One day McCarthy came back from lunch and I could see he was positively glowing. Demon rum was coursing through his veins as he returned to the copy desk; suddenly, he burst into a story about how he had put one over in the distant past on the Herald Trib's copy desk. The newspaper business in those days made Tom Sawyers out of, otherwise mature adults and the role of copy boy was similar to being a golf caddy where close proximity to country club players provided insight into human kind.
Covering a police court, McCarthy observed Puerto Rican Jose Rodriguez, new to this country, attempting to persuade a judge that an arrest for having fighting game birds was insensitive to those fond of the sport. Illustrative of Rodriguez's point of view was his bringing to court some caged birds. McCarthy turned in his story that "played one edition until some smart ass editor noticed the lede and killed it."
McCarthy then pulled from a tattered wallet proof of his stunt--a dog eared clipping of his triumph with a lede that read: "Jose Rodriguez, 27, of 1341 Bloch Street, strode to the stand with cock in hand."
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Helen Hayes and Charles MacArthur have been gone long enough that introductions make sense. She was one of our great stage actresses (Victoria Regina) who also performed splendidly on the screen (A Farewell to Arms) while he was a playwright whose work with Ben Hecht produced The Front Page eventually filmed a number of times with the Cary Grant/Rosalind Russell version (His Girl Friday) the best of the re-makes.
My favorite very touching romantic vignette is built aroiund their difficult early times, a park bench and a bag of peanuts. It was in 1928, shortly after their marriage that they shared a Central Park bench while communicating their hopes and dreams that eventually came to exceptional fruition. MacArthur offered his wife the bag of peanuts commenting: "I wish they were diamonds."
Many years later, the two acclaimed successes sat on the same bench that had become "their's." MacArthur offered his wife a peanut bag containing diamonds and observed: "I wish they were peanuts."
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There are a lot of people still at the party who believe Charles O. Finley was crazy enough to be institutionalized. Owner of the Kansas City Athletics midway through the last century (he later moved the team to Oakland winning three straight World Series (1972-74) and five straight division titles (1971-75), Finley was baseball's wild card with loopy ideas generated at a remarkable pace.
One involved "The Pennant Porch." Enormously frustrated because he felt the confines of his ballpark did not accommodate his largely left-handed long ball hitting lineup, Finley called upon a Conference of Carpenters who quickly erected additional stands in right field so that routine fly balls could become home runs.
Bizarre developments followed as Finley became baseball's all-time Machiavelli. Threatened by the American League president to tear down his creation, the devious Charles O. then had a three-foot alley sawed to the wall--a move of such flagrant deception that the press quickly called it a "Half-Pennant Porch."
Working for TV Guide in Kansas City, I read the magazine's advance piece about Finley's "creativity" written by Mel Durslag, an outstanding writer for the Los Angeles Examiner. The story extolled Finley's imagination and represented the first positive look at the highly unique team owner.
I called Finley, read him the story, and pitched him about doing a promotional spot for the magazine. He would be seen sitting in his half pennant porch while wearing an A's baseball cap.
A lengthy pause was followed by: "Well, Bob, that's a very interesting idea, but I can't do it."
"Well," said the man whose mode of transportation around an infield following home victories (accompanied by Looney Tunes music) was by mule, "it lacks dignity."
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George Davis was drama critic of the Cleveland Press when I worked there and a good one he was. Well into his 80s at the time, Davis liked to drink in his stocking feet while banging out theatrical observations. A tidy person, he was very inclined to create trails of newspaper pages which he followed while advancing to the conveniently located men's room. Decidedly old-fashioned in his attire, the critic favored buttons over zippers.
One evening in the midst of evaluating the night's entertainment, he took the paper trail and was gone an extended period. Working the 4 p.m. to midnight copy boy shift, I saw Davis re-enter the newsroom. The elderly newsman was bent over and couldn't straighten up.
"I can't figure this out," complained Davis. "I can't stand up, yet I don't feel any pain."
An examination of the puzzled reviewer revealed he had buttoned his fly to his vest.
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