I guess anyone with a computer and a curiosity plays a game I call Whatever Happened to Whatshisname? I did it the other day and learned that Ray Tarrington left this great party in 1997. A rather lengthy obituary included his age, 71; the place of death: Washington, Kansas; and the cause of death: heart failure.
There was quite a bit in the obit I didn't know about him. Raised in Seattle, he played jazz trumpet, had his own band, saw U.S. Navy service in both Pacific and European Theaters including the D-Day Landings in Normandy, and was a graduate of Northwestern University. We were born within a few months of each other.
Ray Tarrington wasn't his real name but I'll use it out of respect for him. He was a helluva guy--easily the most enthusiastic person I've yet to meet. It was that enthusiasm that made him an outstanding sports broadcaster eventually enabling him to pursue radio management and other enterprises.
I met Ray in 1959 shortly after arriving in Kansas City having been transferred by TV Guide from a rather lonely outpost in the Quad Cities where the most exciting aspect of working for the magazine involved the printer and a reluctant press that broke down every month or so. Not to get too far off this story's main thrust but Ernie Somebody, who directed press operations during my 17-months tenure, once ran his boat aground very close to the bridge that connects Davenport and Rock Island. It was a bridge too close and enabled Ernie's out-for-a-drive wife to see her thoroughly besotted husband and a very attractive shipmate stumbling around the boat's deck. With authorities involved, a headline over a picture in one of the local papers proclaimed Ernie's efforts as one of being Scotched on the Rocks. I promise to write further about highly unlikely Quad City adventures.
I was deligthted to be in K.C.--particularly so because of Tarrington who showed me the town while introducing me to such people as former Mayor Roe Bartle, baseball's Charley Finley and singer Marilyn Maye. Bartle was a lot of fun, Finley was strange and Maye, then in the midst of an 11-year run at mid-town's The Colony, was eventually discovered by Steve Allen. With a record 76 appearances on Johnny Carson, she remains a singer of great taste and good enough, at 84, to play such disparate venues as Birdland, Feinstein's and The Metropolitan Room in New York.
Tarrington managed WDAF radio having earned his broadcast spurs while describing University of Missouri and University of Kansas football and basketball games. He had a solid relationship with Bill Bates, general manager of both WDAF radio and TV, and I quickly realized the childless Bates regarded Ray as the son he never had. The stations, originally owned by the Kansas City Star, were more of those embarrassment of riches with the newspaper another awkward handler of its electronic wonderkinds.
Sportscasters all have behind-the-scenes stories to tell about the business and Ray was no different. One of Bates' dictums was that all sports spielers should never allow three minutes to pass without revealing the score. One of Ray's prized possessions was a Bates' gift, an egg timer whose pouring sands reminded Ray to give listeners the score.
Early on Ray and I discovered a mutual fondness for golf and it wasn't long before we were spending goodly chunks of Saturdays at Blue Hills where Bates was a member. Our foursome was filled out by Bob Hanger, an advertising executive who had co-founded Jones & Hanger. Among the agency's accounts was WDAF. As related in a prior column titled Golf Linkage, we also played the south side's Hillcrest where our adventures once included the consumption of 64 beers after a round. The impressive tippling produced impairment of our marriages; one, Tarrington's, was irreparable. I learned years later than Hanger married Ray's ex-wife.
Ray's second marital venture involved a statuesque daughter of a very wealthy Phillips Petroleum executive. Although I never met her having been transferred by TV Guide to Los Angeles early in 1966, I did receive details from both mutual friends and Tarrington when we hooked up in L.A. that year. By that time, Ray had taken leave of broadcasting having decided to provide consul to athletes' general inability to deal with the media. That aspect of sports remains a problem today although contemporary jocks, spoiled by the remarkable amounts of money thrown at them, are inclined to simply become "unavailable" unless being the producer of, say, a walk-off hit--a certain curtain call for a broadcast interview. "Was it a fast-ball or a slider you hit into the right field stands?"
Ray's striking enthusiasm was a major factor in his ability to communicate with and teach people like Los Angeles Dodger shortstop Maury Wills how to work with the media. Among L.A.'s major buzzes back then were rumors that Wills and actress Doris Day had been having a fling since 1962. The story was told by Wills in his biography On the Run and denied by Day in A.E. Hotchner's look at the actress in Her Own Story. If true, I believe Ray would have confirmed the rumors. He didn't.
A decidedly open guy, Ray told me some great stories about his marriage to the stunning blonde who, by the time we re-connected, was an ex-wife once described by him as "looking like something wondrous from a Wagnerian chorus while being imposing enough to carry a sword." Ray had a way with both words and women.
It was not long after their marriage that Ray, having determined to sleep in one morning heard some strange and powerful mechanical sounds coming from his Kansas City backyard. More than a bit groggy from excessive libation the night before, a groggy "Tarrington staggered to a window where he observed a very large machine digging a humongous hole in the ground. The sometimes forgetful wife had neglected to tell him she had ordered construction of a wimming pool. Details, details.
Relations with her did not improve when the couple made the move to California. A trip to San Francisco produced another and final adventure when the twosome quarreled in what is now called the Westin St. Francis Hotel. When Ray awakened the next morning, he quickly realized the blonde bombshell had tossed every stitch of his clothing out a 10th floor window.
The day of the 1966 Academy Awards offered further insight into Tarrington's relationships with women. A noon-ish phone call I received was disturbing; it was from a friend of Ray's who said my name had been mentioned by him a number of times and she thought I would be a person to provide some analysis for what she believed was a frightening admission on his part. The woman was fearful Ray was considering suicide. I attempted to reassure her that Ray seemed in good spirits the last time I had seen him.
That year's Oscar awards was the one featuring wins for Julie Christie and Lee Marvin. In the company of the Guide's Joe Finnigan (he wrote the magazine's Hollywood yellow pages), I was positioned in the basement of the Santa Monica Auditorium near a small platform that enabled Oscar recipients to move from the photo op area to one created for print interviews.
Given her award on stage by prior year's winner Julie Andrews, Christie (she won Best Leading Actress for "Darling") and Andrews ("Mary Poppins") headed for the steps where I stood. At that time, Andrews was arguably the biggest star in the business and she appeared to be enjoying her fellow Brit's good fortune. Then I noticed Andrews' bemused smile.
"How quickly they forget," was my observation to her as she hung back on the tiny platform while Christie was enveloped by those anxious to get reaction from filmdom's new flavor of the year. Andrews laughed and we chatted a few moments while Christie was engaged by the media horde. The scene offered further suggestion that success in show business can be such a fragile matter.
Soon I was at a party at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel chatting with Angie Dickinson, seated at the end of a bar with then husband Burt Bacharach whose mind seemed elsewhere. Perhaps he was composing music in his head or, maybe, I was the 28th guy that night to strike up a conversation with his gorgeous wife.
My mind kept shifting back to the conversation about Ray Tarrington. I had handled the situation rather badly and was giving the woman's concern much more credence. In an attempt to assume some responsibility in the matter, I called Bates in Kansas City. It was about 1 a.m. back there and Bill was a bit disgruntled upon picking up the phone, then listened as I told him about the call from the woman and Ray's apparent threat to take his life.
There was a long pause at the other end. "Bill, Bill. Are you there?" I pleaded.
Long pause. "Yes, I am," he answered.
"What do you think?" I asked. "I mean about Jay killing himself."
"Well, Bob," replied Bates. "That's what Jay tells all the girls."