These lives we live can be loaded with tranquility or resemble the roller coaster ride at Puritas Springs Park, not far from where I grew up in Lakewood, Ohio. If you tend to believe, as I do, that life is a series of easily recalled sets of time frames accompanied by dialogue exchanges plus the often ego-driven narratives of those we have come to know, then good fortune is ours.
At 86, I'm lucky to be able to remember many of the dialogues experienced plus the faces of nearly all who have influenced my life. Most of those recollections are vivid although the knife-sharpening man, who pushed his cart through the neighborhood during my childhood while calling attention to his talents by shouting something resembling "pape-ah-lags," continues to be face-less.
People with the ability to recall faces are now being singled out as "super-recognizers" and it's nice to know at an advanced age that I excel at something.
Speaking of faces, anyone ever around Nancy Joyce of Chicago's Station WTTW could hardly forget her. I couldn't and proved it a couple of month's ago. The words "bright" and "lively" couldn't do her justice 40 years ago. The unfortunate aspect of our relationship was that I replaced her as promotion manager of the Windy City's public television channel.
I had been offered her job by station manager Bill McCarter, an astute professional whose short-comings were a tendency to nit-pick and believe that every new key hire would somehow provide the kind of magic that results in large market shares. Joyce had not done a bad job but was the victim of unfortunate timing and thinking. Slated to leave the station, she stayed on after I asked her to do so. McCarter went along with that one, I eventually moved on to Field Enterprises (Chicago Daily News/Sun-Times) and I never saw a face-to-face Nancy Joyce again.
Enter Dick Hieronymus, a musician of considerable skills whom I met while living 14 years on the Fourth Corner's San Juan Island. Having moved to Bellingham eight years ago, I continue to communicate with him and was startled a few months ago when I received an email accompanied by entre to a most unusual You Tube clip.
Titled "I Have No Secrets," the 18 second bite consists of a man-on-the-street interview of an obviouslky harassed woman pedestrian who turned out to be an unidentified Nancy Joyce. The quite obvious Chicago locale was a few steps south of the Michigan Avenue bridge looking southeast. Dressed warmly for the Chicago winter and asked if her hat might be a secret to staying warm, Joyce replies: "I have no secrets. I'm mad, I have to go to work, I have to earn a living, I'd rather have a private income and get laid well and often."
You might look it up. My old public TV pal delivers the droll lines with the kind of brilliant flippancy endearingly reminiscent of actresses Betty Davis and Eve Arden. Judging from the clothing and Nancy's appearance, I'd bet the ranch she was on her way 40 years ago to a job at WTTW.
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I first met Dick Fales early in 1950 at the Cleveland Press where we worked as copy boys while anticipating a break that would provide more significant employment at the outstanding newspaper. Not long after my arrival, Fales made it to United Press whose offices were on the same second floor where Louis Seltzer and his bedazzling bunch brought news to Clevelanders. It was Fales who beat the Press to the Sam Sheppard murder case by filing the first wire service story on July 5, 1954.
By the time Fales' story (a re-write of a hastily-written piece by another staffer) had set off a five-bell URGENT in the Press newsroom, I had moved on to the nearby Lorain Journal and checked out the crime scene. Although the murder had occurred outside the Journal's circulation area, I attempted unsuccessfully to interview Sheppard's brother, Richard, in nearby Rocky River. Neither Fales nor I had anything more to do with what was arguably the country's second most significant murder case of the second half of the 20th century with top honors going to that of O.J. Simpson.
The next time I saw Fales was in 1957 in Atlanta where I had been transferred by TV Guide. Fales had moved to sales with UP and would remain almost exclusively with the organization until his retirement in 1988 and a move to the Pacific Northwest. Neither of us mentioned our one-day involvement in the famous murder case during our brief encounter in Atlanta.
My retirement a year later took Jan and I to San Juan Island (population 6,000 give or take) in 1990. The day a story about me appeared in the Journal of the San Juans was the day the phone rang with a voice asking for "Sandy," my nickname at the Press. Soon, Fales and I resumed a friendship that lasted until 2004 when my buddy passed away. I sometimes wonder what kind of odds were beaten when two one-time copy boys, once employed by a newspaper in Cleveland, would meet again 2,000 miles and 33 years away on a remote island and hoist cold ones at an American Legion bar to learn of each other's one day work history on the Sam Sheppard story?
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One of my St. Louis time frames involves Mary Chase who in 1956 was the latest in a long succession of public relations people who tilled the publicity soil for the Chase Hotel (now the Chase-Park Plaza) under the same name.
In the lobby where cocktails preceded a party honoring singer Nat "King" Cole, I ran into the very attractive Mary and it was during a time out in the men's room that pal/newsman/disc jockey Bruce Hayward indicated it was his firm belief that Mary Chase had amorous designs on me. Happily married seven years and something of a coward, I fled the hotel in spite of telling Mary I would return. One week later, I was transferred to Atlanta.
During the next three years, I was moved four times by the home office eventually landing in Kansas City where my regional responsibilities included St. Louis.
One evening, I entered the Chase Hotel and there, standing precisely where I had left her, was the woman I had stood up three years earlier.
"What took you so long?" she asked.
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It was Bob Cromie, host of such TV shows as "Book Beat" and "The Cromie Circle," who brought up Ernie Gann's name. I had asked Cromie with which of the many authors he had interviewed would he like to spend a lot of time? "He is truly one hell of a guy," was how Cromie put it.
"I'll tell you something interesting about Ernie Gann," observed Cromie. "His was the only interview I ever conducted in which the subject would not tell me where he lived. I asked him why and Gann replied: "If I tell you, you'll ask me what it's like and I'll tell you how wonderful it is. Members of your audience will then get interested in the place and they'll buy property and build homes and the place won't be the same. That's why."
Our conversation took place in 1985 shortly before Cromie retired. When five years later Jan and I moved to San Juan Island in the Fourth Corner, we discovered that two of its better-known residendt were Gann and wife Dodie. Ernie, author of 25 novels about aviation and the sea, numbered among his best-selllers "Fate Is the Hunter," "The High and the Mighty" and "Blaze of Noon."
It was in August of the year of our arrival that the the Ganns protected their 760-acre Red Mill Farm by donating a conservation easement to the San Juan Preservation Trust thus denying development. As Gann commented, "We have to do something to save this land. People need to stop thinking of money all the time, or the land won't be here." Jan and I became directect beneficiaries of the Ganns' thoughtfulness. Our home on Little Mountain overlooked the property, now a working farm of unusual beauty to all islanders. We could see nearly all of it.
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Another of my time frames involves major league baseball's only death on the diamond and the glove worn by the player who replaced Cleveland Indian Ray Chapman, the victim of a much-disputed pitch by the New York Yankees' Carl Mays, a highly successful submarine pitcher inclined to pitch inside. Mays' defenders believe shortstop Chapman, an outstanding bunter who tended to crowd the plate, leaned into the pitch.
The year was 1920, the season had but six weeks to go and the Indians brought up the Sewellbrothers, Joe and Luke, from the University of Alabama. It was a remarkable package of talent that also includedleft fielder Riggs Stevenson, eventually traded to the Chicago Cubs where his lifetime batting average of .336 is the 22nd best ever. Only mis-adventures in the outfield due to a football injury (he was A Crimson Tide quarterback) has kept him out of the Hall of Fame. All three became storied players who totaled 50 years in the majors with Joe Sewell making it to the Hall of Fame. His filling in for Chapman helped enable the Indians to win their first World Series. To paraphrase an old and popular song of the era, stars truly had fallen from Alabama.
Traded to the Yankees in 1930, Sewell gained his greatest fame in New York where the press made the country aware of his remarkable achievements. Sewell's career strikeout ratio: one in every 63 at-bats, and 115 consecutive games without a strikeout, still stand. Lovers of trivia are enchanted by the fact that Sewell used but one bat during his 14 seasons. He treated the bat during the campaigns by rubbing chewing tobacco into it with a Coca-Cola bottle, then buried it in his backyard for a little winterizing.
The arrangement with the University of Alabama also included Crimson Tide baseball coach Zen Scott who was given a sports department job with the Cleveland Leader now the Plain Dealer). His other "job" was keeping an eye on the kids. Scott, who lived in my neighborhood, gave me Sewell's black Rawling's glove when I was about six and I learned to play the game--sometimes under Mr. Scott's tutelage.
It was late in the season of 1933 when some of the Babe Ruth Yankees, including Sewell, made personal appearances at the Masonic Temple next door to my Cleveland suburb home. My parents encouraged me, seven at the time, to seek out Sewell to show him my glove.
"Where did you get that?" asked the astonished Sewell when I approached him at the end of the evening's festivities.
"Mr. Scott," I replied.
"Where is he?" pursued the future Hall of Famer.
"Down the street," I said.
"Let's go see him," suggested Sewell.
Scott had some years before left the employ of the newspaper and lost touch with Sewell after the trade to the Yankees. I soon had re-united two long-lost friends who had played roles in a rare piece of baseball history. I didn't realize then what I had done at age seven, but I carry with me such good feelings when I recall that moment.
The Sewell glove and my baseball cards eventually went the way of many cherished possessions, gathering dust before disappearing but leaving behind vivid memories. I still wonder when it was that the great ballplayer had used the glove in his pursuit of the glories of the game. For all I know, the glove may still be somewhere in the basement of a home at 1310 Summit Ave. in Lakewood.
Judging from the look on his face when I showed him what had become "my" glove, I like to think it was Sewell's first in the major leagues, perhaps one he bought or was given in his 'bama hometown of Titus, used at the University of Alabama and taken with him on the train to Cleveland where he helped the Indians win their first World Series.
I suspect that anyone who played 14 years of major league baseball with only one bat probably played with very few gloves.
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