OLD JAZZ VOICES

Louis Armstrong had a sold-out gig at Northrop Auditorium at the U of Mn.. The band drifted in from the bus for the sound check, but no Louis. The road manager told me that Mr. Armstrong didn’t take the bus and would be along shortly. I relayed this to Eddie Drake, the Comptroller of Concerts and Lectures. Eddie checked at the end of sound check and did not like it that Armstrong had not made it yet.

Come half-hour and still no Louis. Eddie Drake was getting nervous. The road manager told him no sweat, Louis would along.

The opening act went on and still no Louis. By now Eddie was beyond nervous. The last thing he wanted was to have to call off the show and return the money for the full house. The manager assured Eddie that Mr. Armstrong would show up soon.

The opening act was were playing their encore and Drake was standing in the wings signaling them to stretch it out when I got a call from the Head Usher.

She told me Mr. Armstrong was in the front lobby and asked if I could come up and bring him backstage. If he was still there when the audience broke for intermission they would mob him for autographs.

I told Eddie and he signaled the act to keep stretching.

Drake was waiting when I escorted Louis backstage. He was livid. Normally, after he has a glass of water and vodka, his nose takes on a red glow. The glow was redder than usual and even his cheeks were looked like they were on fire.

He glared at Armstrong and asked why he was so late. But he didn’t wait for an answer. He made a crack about professionals arrive on time.

The manager walked over and reminded Drake that he told him Louis would be coming. And nobody calls Mr. Armstrong unprofessional.

‘Well, Eddie said, looking up at the manager who stood a good half a foot taller than Eddie, ‘Maybe unprofessional is too strong. I should have said it was inconsiderate. He should have been here for sound check.’

Louis, who until then, answered laughingly, ‘Oh, I know how those boys sound. And those boys know how is sound. Sound does right for them, it’ll be right for me.’

‘Mr. Armstrong doesn’t need to be at sound check,’ the manager said,.‘Besides I told you he had things to do and would come when he was finished.’

Drake said that an act should be in the theater at half-hour.

Louis laughed again and said the first half-hour call was for the opening act. He showed up at the half-hour before he had to go on.

I tried not to laugh. Eddie was so angry, even his high forehead was red.

The manager took Louis by the elbow to walk him away; but Eddie wasn’t through. He continued his rant. Louis stopped and turned back to him.

It was evident that Louis Armstrong was having fun. He had that familiar smile on his face and a glint in his eyes.

Eddie threw out what he considered his biggest reason why Armstrong should have been in the Hall with the rest of his band. “What if your instrument didn’t arrive? When you come this late it would be impossible to get you another one in time for the show. Did you ever think of that? Huh? Huh?’

‘Well then I’d just blow one of the boys’ extra horn,’ Louis replied, reaching into his shirt pocket and pulling out his mouthpiece.

‘It’s not the horn, man.’ He held up his mouthpiece. ‘It’s the mouthpiece. Fits my lips good. Always carry with with me so I don’t lose it. Had it since I was jamming on the street for nickles. This is the instrument that counts. Put it in any horn and old Satchmo is ready to blow.’

‘Tell you what,’ Louis continued, ‘Get me an empty peach can. I’ll cut a hole in the bottom, stick my mouthpiece in the hole, and I’ll go deep, seriously deep.’

Eddie shrugged his shoulders, threw up his hands, and went back to his office. He needed another glass of his special water.

Louis turned to the road manager and laughingly asked, ‘Something I said, you think?

‘Yeah, I wonder if you’ll be laughing if he comes back with an empty peach can,’ the manager said. ‘I know I will be.’

PS: The audience got what they came for that night. What a concert! Mr. Louis Armstrong gave us what we wanted to hear… even if he was fashionably late to the theater.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

If James Lombard, the founder and ‘Impresario’ of the Concerts and Lectures at the U of MN, had his way the season would be nothing but classical and operatic soloists, artists he looked up to; but the Regents decreed that there be one jazz concert each season. The season after Louis Armstrong, had, in my opinion, two main acts in one concert, Wes Montgomery, great jazz guitarist, opened the concert, followed by Cannonball Adderley on alto sax. Eddie Drake told me it was a package deal. Only nine musicians total in the two groups. He said they alternated as to who opened and who followed.

Wes Montgomery opened. He had broken into mainstream jazz a few years before. He was backed up for this concert by his two brothers, Buddy and Monk and an organist. They didn’t disappoint. Instead of the usual 30 to 45 minutes for the front act, they played a full set, with encores, almost an hour and a half. No jealousy from the ‘main’ act. Most of them were in the wings enjoying the Montgomery boys.

The sad thing was that a few weeks after this concert, Wes Montgomery died of a heart attack.

(Six years later I worked a Duke Ellington concert at the Guthrie, and the Duke died shortly after.)

Cannonball Adderley had also been adopted into mainstream jazz a few years before. He had his brother, Nat, on coronet. Nat was the one constant in any of Cannonball’s quintet. The other three positions fluctuated musicians over the years.

At intermission I was surprised when I saw James Lombard stride in backstage. He never came for concerts he considered beneath him. Later, Eddie Drake told me that Lombard showed up because he was curious to see any one who was named Cannonball.

Lombard always looked the part of an impresario, the man in charge. Tall, broad shouldered, distinguished gray hair. Suits that cried they were too expensive for most men.

He always walked as if all eyes were on him and with his height advantaged he looked down on most everyone he talked to. If you looked up the word pompous in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of James Lombard.

I was waiting for Lombard to come up to me when Cannonball Adderley tapped me on the shoulder.

‘Hey, man,’ he said, ‘Who do I see about the bread? Never play a gig without the bread upfront.’

I brought him over to where Lombard had stopped. Then since it was a money talk, I walked away, but I didn’t get far before Lombard called me back.

‘Don,’ he said in his low bass voice, ‘Would you send one of your crew to Dinky Town and bring back a loaf of bread? Mr. Cannonball says he has to eat before he goes on.’

Cannonball looked at me and slapped his forehead.

I explained to Lombard that Adderley didn’t want bread bread. Bread was jazz talk for money. He meant he wanted the money upfront before they played.

Lombard stiffened up and said, briskly, ‘He should have said spoken in English. Bread! Bring him down to see Drake. I don’t have time for this nonsense.’ He gave a loud haroomph and walked off stage. He got what he came for. He met the man named Cannonball.

‘Hey, man, is that cat for real,’ Cannonball asked me, ‘Or is he jiving with me?’

I told Cannonball there wasn’t a jive bone in that man’s body. He was born with the stick up his…

‘Cat needs to loosen up,’ Cannonball said. ‘I got some gooooood stuff…bet that would mellow him out.’

PS: Another great concert even if Lombard didn’t hang around to listen.

In these days of darkness, I suppose the method of mellowing out prescribed by Cannonball is a favorite among many people. As for me, I found that my day goes better if I start it out by listening to Louis singing…

WHAT A WONDERFUL WORLD

I see trees of green

red roses too

I see them bloom for me and you

and I say to myself

What a Wonderful World

And that is a wrap for today. Please, please, listen to the medical experts and Stay Safe.

Oh, if you want to read a tale of a famous musician that didn’t make it to the theater on time, here’s one you might get a kick out of:  https://donostertag.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/screamed-james-brown/

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UNCLE ELMER’S GOAT

billy-goat

The Old Hand: Another Back In the Day

 

Most Christmas gag gifts are forgotten by New Year’s. Some however last a lot longer. My great-uncle Elmer and his old friend, Gene, kept one going for years.

A couple acquaintances of Elmer wanted to give their children a pet and they settled upon a cute little billy goat kid. The problem was the kid outgrew his cuteness very quickly. He became a real problem for the parents and the children who wouldn’t even go outside unless the goat was tied up.

Since nobody answered their ad offering a free goat, they did the only thing they could think of to get rid of the animal; they took it out to Elmer’s farm and gave it to him, knowing well he was too nice to refuse it.

I image that the goat had been given a name by it’s former owners, but uncle Elmer named it Goat. He never was too imaginative about his names. He had a border collie that was the best cattle dog I ever saw. Elmer called the dog, Dog. He had several horses with the same name, Horse. He had about twenty cows with the name Cow, except for the one he called Bull.

His first child was a boy and was given a normal name, which not too many people remembered over the years. Elmer nicknamed his son, Boy, the first time he saw him, and the name stuck all the rest of Boy’s life. As their family grew, Aunt Amanda, laid down the law, no more of those silly names, and the other kids grew up being called by their given names. But since Amanda never cared what he called his animals, Elmer gave them names he thought was appropriate.

Elmer got a lot of teasing about being such a softy and taking Goat. He just laughed and defending his action by saying, ‘You can’t look a gift goat in the mouth’. Although there were many times, he wished he had.

That animal was foul-smelling, obnoxious, mischievous, contrary, mean, ornery, and the list went on and on. In fact, if you look up some of the aforementioned words in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of Elmer’s goat.

The one thing nobody ever did twice was turn their back on Goat. It was as if the critter saw the seat of a person’s pants as one big target. Ram! Bam! And after he played his little joke on the poor sap, you could swear there was a smile on Goat’s face.

Of course, Goat never tried anything with Elmer, one big reason was Dog. Not only was Dog a great cattle herder, he was also a darn good goat trainer. Dog could actually make Goat behave. But, if by chance some poor unsuspecting man turned his back on Goat, Dog was known to look the other way. Dog would never allow Goat to accost a woman or a child though, and Goat never tried to after Dog nipped him a few times for even thinking about it.

Gene, one of Elmer’s best friends had a farm a couple miles down the road from Elmer’s. The two had a lot in common, especially teasing and playing practical jokes on each other.

I  loved  Elmer telling the story about Gene hearing drinking goat’s milk was good for arthritis. When Gene found out that Elmer had just been given a goal and  he offered to buy Goat from Elmer. Elmer had that goat sold until some loud-mouth told Gene that Goat was a billy, not a nanny. ‘Yup,’ Elmer would laugh, ‘I’d a paid money to see the first time Gene tried to milk it.’

After almost getting taken by Elmer on the sale of the goat, Gene teased Elmer about the goat every chance he got. ‘Hey, if you want to get Elmer’s goat, just ask him about his Goat.’  Or when Elmer would stop in at the VFW for a euchre game, and Gene was there already, Gene would holler, ‘Hurry up and close the door. Must be a goat outside. I sure can smell it.’

It was the second Christmas of Elmer having the goat that Gene came home from Midnight Mass and saw lights on in the barn and his pack of dogs barking up a storm at the barn door. When he opened the door there was Goat in the box stall with the team of horses. Goat was helping himself to the hay and the two horses were standing as far away from the intruder as possible.

Around Goat’s neck was a large red ribbon and bow. It didn’t take much to figure out who the Santa was that left the present. Thinking back, Gene should have figured something was up when he didn’t see Elmer at Midnight Mass.

Like Elmer, Gene never looked a gift goat in the mouth and accepted it with a laugh. The only thing was Gene never called the goat, Goat. He renamed it Elmer. If Elmer the goat had any ideas that life would be easier without Dog around, he was wrong. While Gene didn’t have a dog like Dog, actually nobody did, Gene had a pack of dogs that managed to keep the goat in line.

And then come the next Christmas and there was no Gene at Midnight Mass, so Elmer wasn’t at all surprise to open the barn door and see Goat, nee Elmer, standing there with the big red ribbon and bow around it’s neck. Dog jumped around and actually licked Goat’s face. Elmer laughed and commented later that at least Dog was happy to have Goat back.

This ritual went on and on. Whoever it was that was going to get the goat made sure he went to Midnight Mass to make it easier on the giver. The red ribbon and bow was an important part of the gift so it was always kept in a safe place. They couldn’t trust it just hanging in the barn for fear the goat might eat it.

The goat, Goat or Elmer depending on which farm he was spending the year, matured thanks to age and to Dog and Gene’s pack of dogs as trainers. It became actually a pet. The two men found a pony harness and cart at an auction and broke the goat to be hitched up and pull it. Whenever kids would come to the farm where the goat was, it was drive-the-goat cart time. The goat and the cart and the kids were also big attractions in the parades at the various fairs and get-togethers during the summers and falls. And although the red ribbon and bow was also an important part of the goat’s wardrobe, the only time he wore it was Christmas Eve.

It was in the summer of a year when Elmer the Goat was living at Gene’s farm that Gene had the fatal heart attack while milking the cows. The day after the funeral Elmer told Gene’s widow what he intended to do and she thought it a good idea. Later that day Elmer came and took the goat, the harness, the cart, and the red ribbon and bow back to his farm – for good.

Every Christmas Eve, Elmer put the red ribbon and bow around the goat’s neck before Midnight Mass and took it off right after. If the goat missed Gene and Gene’s pack of dogs, he never showed it. He seemed content to live at just the one farm and didn’t seem to mind that no one ever called him Goat or Elmer anymore. From the time he came at Elmer’s to stay for good he went by the name, Gene.

 

Published BB and Word Press 2/13/17

BUSH & THE BEACH BOYS

Bush

During the Memorial events for President H.W. Bush, the TV picture always had a banner running across the screen proclaiming him to have been a President and a Patriot. Both titles are embedded in history below his name.

But the themes of the eulogies were memories of the man. His kindness, his warmth, his friendship. The following is a story of these attributes of this man told to me by a friend and union brother, Steve.

At this time, Steve was the head rigger for the Beach Boys. He was responsible to see that the sound and lights were hung safely in the best positions possible in the venues, and for setting up the portable stage for outdoor events.

In the early 80’s, the Beach Boys played the July 4th concerts on the National Mall in Washington D.C. A few days prior to one of those concerts, the band was invited to give a mini-concert for the Bushs and some friends at the Naval Observatory House where the Vice President lived in D.C..

Steve drove the rental truck with a small set up to the front of the house. He went to the front door knowing full well that it would be opened by a butler telling him to go around the back to unload. He was surprised when Vice President Bush, himself opened the door, introduced himself to Steve and the other hands, as if that was needed, and told Steve to bring the equipment through the front door. Closer to the ballroom, he explained.

When the crew went into the ballroom, Bush introduced them to the house electrician Steve had requested. Best the house electrician do the electrical hook-up. The last thing Steve wanted was to have an electrical outage in the V.P.’s residence.

Then Barbara came into the room and once again George made the introductions. Barbara told the men that there was a buffet with a chef standing by down the hall for whenever they wanted a meal or just a snack.

‘Catering, Honey,’ her husband teased. ‘Catering is show business talk for food. And there’s also a full bar and a bartender in that room too, guys.’

‘Thanks, Mrs Bush,’ Steve said, ‘But we have to setup first. The band will be wanting to do sound check in a couple hours.’

When they did go into the catering room for a meal, the first thing the chef asked was how do you want your steak? And the bartender looked a little disappointed when the hands that drank just wanted beer. Sure beat what the rock promoters considered catering.

Steve said it was less like working a gig and more like being invited to a friend’s house. Everybody was so friendly, especially the Vice President. Even the Secret Service men in their customary dark suits, had occasional smiles as they handed out the stickpins with the head painted the color of the day. These ID’s had to be pinned where they could be seen.

 

Vice President Bush was in the ballroom almost all the time. He watched the crew setting up everything and had a million questions. ‘If I learn how to be a roadie, will you hire me?’ he kidded. ‘You know, this being a Vice President really stinks. Worse job I ever had.’

‘You’re hired,’ Steve said. ‘How’s your golf game? We play a lot to golf on our days off.’

‘My kind of men,’ the Vice President said. And naturally the talk turned to golf.

Steve asked if Mr. Bush had ever played Willie Nelson’s golf course outside Austin. When the Vice President said no, Steve proceeded to tell him about it. ‘Only course where it is all rough. Strict rules: Like no more than 12 to a foursome. No bikinis or see through dresses – unless they’re worn by women. Drinking and smoking is not allowed – unless it is shared.

‘Next time I go to Austin, I will have to play that course,’ George said. ‘I’ll tell Willie that I am a friend of the Beach Boys crew. I miss my Texas. This job wouldn’t be half bad if I could do it down in Texas.’

When the Beach Boys arrived they were greeted by the Vice President and Barbara and where showed the room where they could tune their instruments. And also told about the catering and the bar.

“Now where’s Dennis? George asked. ‘They told me I could always tell who Dennis was because he always wore a Texas hat.’

‘Sick. Something he ate didn’t agree with him,’ was the excuse that was given. Dennis Wilson had a grave alcohol problem and the band didn’t want him to embarrass himself in front of the Vice President. Dennis died a few years later. He was was drunk and went scuba diving alone.

‘Oh! Oh! Guys, I got something to tell you. I got talking with your crew about golf. They said they got Monday off so I gave my country club a ring. All you have to do is tell them you’re the Beach Boys and crew and you can play a round on me. They said they would work in you in throughout the day. And the nineteenth hole is on me.’

It was evident that as the actual concert approached, Vice President Bush was feeling mellow. He met each guest, about 50 all toll, encouraging each on to ‘have a drink’. When the concert started he sat in the front row tapping his feet to the music and mouthing the words of the songs he knew or thought he knew.

After about six songs he stood up and went up to the band. ‘In honor of my wonderful wife, Barbara,’ he said pointing to her in the chair next to the one he just got out of, ‘Play my favorite of the Beach Boys. BARBARA ANN.’

Almost as if on cue, Mike Love, and Al Jardine quickly joined Carl Wilson at the front mic.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann. Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann.’

By now, Vice President George Bush had got to the mic and grabbed the mic off the stand.

‘Bah, Bah, Bah, Bah Barbara Ann,’ he sang, drowning out the startled entertainers. His voice left a lot to be desired but not his energy. The only words he knew where the chorus which he kept repeating over and over until one of the singers started a verse. Then George stopped. Only to jump right in with the chorus when the verse ended.

It was probably the longest rendition of the song ever. The audience and the band and the crew were all smiles. The only one in the room that wasn’t smiling was Barbara Bush, who sat still with her hands folded on her lap. At last George stopped singing to his lovely wife; not because he thought he reached the end of the song, but rather because he was out of breath and wanted a drink. As he sat down Barbara slapped his knee and shook her head.

The concert went on and when it ended they played BARBARA ANN as their encore. They signaled to have the Vice President join them and the audience applauded. George Bush got up, went to the mic, and sang his favorite line several times.

‘You know, gentlemen,’ he said, ‘That is the best song you ever wrote. On behalf of myself, Barbara, and all our guests, I want to thank you all for a great time.’

The Boys, the band, and the crew applauded their thanks. Nobody told him that they didn’t write BARBARA ANN. It was a do-wop song by the Regents.

The next Monday the band and crew played golf courtesy of Vice President George Bush.

In April of 83 the Beach Boys were forbidden to play July 4th on the National Mall. The least popular member of the Reagan Cabinet, James Watt, Interior Secretary, declared that rock and roll bands were not welcome anymore on the Mall because of the element they attracted. Drunken rowdies and smokers of illegal substances. He wanted somebody more patriotic like Wayne Newton, who was a big Republican donor.

Vice President George Bush led the outrage against Watt’s decree, declaring, ‘These men are my friends!’ First Lady Nancy Reagan declared herself to be a mega-fan of the Beach Boys. Mike Love argued on behalf of the band by saying they played a lot of patriotic songs…like SURFING U.S.A.. Watt lost.

There was an attempt made to get the Beach Boys back to play the Mall but it was too late. The publicity made the band the hottest item in the country and they were booked at Atlantic City on the 4th to the largest crowd in the history of the event. And the Beach Boys began to be called America’s Band.

As for James Watt, a few weeks later he made what he thought was funny, racist terms about a committee that opposed his Interior agenda. Watt lost his Cabinet position and went to teach in a university out west. Both he and the band give credit for starting the uproar to Vice President Bush declaration that ‘These men are my friends.

And whenever the Boys were in the D.C. area, George Bush made it a point to see they could play a round of golf at his country club.

Like the banners proclaimed ‘President and Patriot’, and as the eulogies said, ‘friend and a wonderful human being’.

R.I.P. George Bush

True and fearless Patriot

Sully the service dog of former U.S. President George H.W. Bush in his final months lays in front of Bush's casket at the funeral home in Houston

His Friend

THE FALL – ACT III

the fall

QUE SERA, SERA

BRAIN SURGERY!!! I compared the Pace Maker insertion and aftermath with a walk in the park. Well, brain surgery and aftermath was more of a walk in ankle-high mud.

The ride from the doctor’s office to the hospital where the brain operation, if needed, was to take place was the same as the ambulance ride to where the Pacemaker was inserted was the same, except it took longer, and for the most part there was silence.

A few attempts at conversation was made by Gina, my wife, to our oldest son David who was driving. David answered in just a few words as possible. As for me, I was left to my own thoughts. Deep breathing and playing the radio in my mind.

An old time paratrooper taught me about playing the radio in my mind. Before the jump we would fly around an hour, maybe two. Packed like the proverbial sardines, couldn’t move. The noise of the plane so loud you couldn’t talk to the man next to you. If I managed to fall asleep, I would dream. See the trombone movie shot of the fall in the movie VERTIGO. Wake up in a sweat.

I noticed during the flight how Sgt. Estes would be sitting with eyes closed, breathing deep, bobbing his head, and tapping a boot. I asked him about that one night when we were having a beer in Fayetteville.

I listen to my radio in my head. You know how a song plays in your mind sometimes and it drives you goofy after a while. Well you can change the station. Think real hard on a song you want to hear and pretty soon it’ll come on. Do that and you won’t be thinking about what is going to happen outside that plane door.

‘Thinking about what’s going to happen gets you worrying. Pretty soon get you antsy. Doesn’t change the results any. Could cause you to make a mistake when you do jump.

‘Better to just breath deep and listen to the radio in your head and relax.’

So riding to the hospital to see about the fluid in my head, I listened to the radio in my head.

The year I graduated, 1956, the movie THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH premiered and the song that figured so prominently in it was a big hit for Doris Day. It also spoke to me at a time I was now in charge of making the big decisions of my life. It was old fashion music, far removed from the Elvis revolution; but I liked it.Still do. The cheerful styling of Doris Day. Her cheerful smile.

That was the song I tuned to in my mind as we went to the hospital.

QUE SERA, SERA

What ever will be, will be

The future’s not ours to see

Que Sera, Sera

Eyes closed. Deep breaths. Listened to the music and in my imagination I saw the noble brain surgeon, James Steward, working to heal me.

And wiping the sweat from his brow was Alfred Hitchcock dressed as a nurse, performing his required cameo in his movie.

My daydream helped relax me.

I had no more gotten into the hospital gown in my new room, which looked like my old room except it was a floor higher, than they transported me to the Cscan room. Nothing in the room had changed since I was here last, five weeks before, except the results of the scan. But the fluid had still remained the size of a ‘clemetine’ and had not grown to the that of a full blown orange.

Back in the room it was check the vitals time, but before I got in bed I went to the rest room. I didn’t see a ‘hat’ and went back out and told the nurse. She laughed and told me they didn’t measure output on this floor. Nice to get the ground rules out of the way. Then I asked if nurses went from floor to floor. When she told me no I was relieved. It meant Nurse Mini-Ratched would not be one of my problems.

My vitals checked out. And I didn’t catch diabetes since I was here last. I mentioned that I had not had breakfast or lunch. An aide called down to have some food sent up for me. I asked not to have a turkey sandwich butI wouldn’t mind a tuna sandwich, a couple cups of that green Jello,and a cup of coffee. No coffee was on my food approval form, I was told.

It was a cloudy day for me. I wasn’t in LaLa Land, but I wasn’t fully awake. I knew that the next morning Gina had to take a stress test in conjunction with her nose operation coming up in the fall. I asked David to take her home. Kissed her and wished her the best with the test. She didn’t look happy when she left, promising to come back as soon as the test was over.

I don’t remember much about that rest of the day and night. I know there was a ballgame on TV but I didn’t bother to turn it on. I imagine the night was filled with checking the vitals etc.. I woke up when Gina kissed my forehead. She said her test went well. My mind was cloudy. Que Sera, Sera. Then the darkness came.

And the bad dreams!

They came after the operation. They came when I was slowly coming out of the anesthesia. General, not local. No LaLa Land.

Thanks goodness I don’t remember most of them. The two I remember are bad enough. Nightmares!

One was that all the dreams I was having were on a film loop that would play over and over. Every time I fell asleep from here on.

And the one that really got to me was the cougar attack!

When I mentioned a dream about a cougar, naturally one of my sons laughed. I told him not the kind of cougar he was thinking about.

This was an attack by a cougar, puma, mountain lion, catamount, panther, painter- a very big ferocious pussy cat. I heard the painter scream! It came flying through the air at me! I smelled blood on it’s breath. It stopped, suspended in air, inches from my face.Then it disappeared into the darkness.

I must have had some very bad reactions to that dream because I could feel hands on me and hear Gina’s voice telling me ‘Relax, relax, it’s just a dream, nothing to worry about.’

‘Honey,’ I warned her, ‘Please get away from me. If the cougar comes at me again, and I have to fight, I don’t want to accidentally hit you. Please get away from me!’

Naturally, she didn’t heed my warning but continued to try and sooth me. The cat didn’t come back and I did not have to fight it off.

The nightmare was perhaps triggered by a cougar out west attacking two bicyclist, killing one and injuring another a few weeks before. But the cat in my dream was not the recent killer, but one from my past, my early years, the Autumn Cat.

This particular cougar had been sighted around Mendota in the early fall for several years, always leaving behind a partially eaten carcass of a calf, once a spring colt. It was always about the same time of the year that it’s migratory circle brought it back to Mendota.

I had heard it called many things, cougar, puma, painter, panther, catamount, so one day I went up to the room in the Grandpa’s workshop where Fred LaBatte lived. Fred was a French/Dakotah old-timer who worked sometimes as a hired man for Grandpa. I told him all the names people were calling the Autumn Cat, and wanted to know the right one. Fred told me the animal went by all those names and more.

To the East, the Old People have a name for it that means, ‘Fire Cat that screams from the bottoms of Hell’. The animal does not growl, only screams. And, young Donnie, if you hear the painter’s scream, it may be too late already.’

It was an early fall eve. I was bringing a sauce pan of warm milk to the ferrets we had in four cages in the old barn down in the far corner of the barnyard. Hobo, my dog and my shadow was walking beside me; but he started acting strange as we neared the old barn, low growls followed by whimpering, hitting his body against my leg. Walking along the said of the shed, he actually stood in front of me and growled when we got close to the Dutch door. I peered around and saw the top half was open and the bottom half was hooked shut, as usual. If there was something inside it had to be an owl or maybe a hawk, something that could fly in the top of the door.

I kneed Hobo aside and was about two feet from the door when I heard the most godawful scream’! Both Hobo and myself turned to stone.

A large tawny blur erupted though the open part of the door. I felt the wind as it flew past my face. The Autumn Cat! I had heard the painter scream and prayed it wasn’t too late already.

It hit the ground running. It cleared the fence by a good two feet and kept going across the hay field, disappearing in the woods on the other side. Thank goodness!

Hobo had given out a little bark and took a step to chase it but I yelled ‘Stay’! He looked up at me and wagged his tail. I think he was thankful I had given him a reason not to chase the cat.

Had the cat waited a beat or two before it screamed, I would have been standing in front of the door when it leaped out.

I opened the bottom door and waited a bit for my eyes to adjust to the dusk. When I did see what the cougar had done, I went outside and vomited and Hobo whined.

All four cages were ripped apart, destroyed, and on the ground were the remains of the ferrets.

The cat continued to make it rounds for several more years; but I never saw the cougar nor heard it’s scream again…Until my nightmare!

It was nine hours from the time I left my room until they brought me back. It wasn’t until the early afternoon the next day that I was able to sit up and carry on a conversation. Oh, what a relief to know I could carry on a conversation. It was one of the things I worried about ever doing again prior to the surgery.

‘You sure talked a lot when you were coming to,’ Gina told me. ‘Loud! And sometimes you were even funny.

‘Everybody laughed when you hollered, “If you can’t do your f…ing job, get a f…er that can do the f…ing thing.” Only you used the complete word. I was so embarrassed.’

The two women in white uniforms standing by the bed laughed.

‘Sorry, honey. But at least I didn’t hit you.’

‘Oh, no,’ Gina said, ‘But you sure scared me. You and your cougar nightmare!. You made me cry.’

‘You had me scared too,’ said the taller, younger of the two nurses. ‘I was trying to calm you down and then you warned us you might punch somebody.’ She had a soft soothing voice and a nice smile.

‘Oh, Don,’ Gina said,’ you never met Dr. Angelique, your brain surgeon.’

Could have floored me when the tall young ‘nurse’ smiled and took my hand. I would have pegged her for student nurse, maybe an intern; but never a full fledged doctor and a brain surgeon to boot. She looked much too young.

She must have been a child prodigy, the kind that 60 Minutes likes to do a piece on. The youngster that has enough credits for a BA, but not enough years to take Drivers’ Ed.

And if she was in civilian clothes a body would think she belonged on a fashion runway, or maybe walking down the Red Carpet…Never in an operating room.

Gina had thought the same thing when she first met Dr. Angelique. I had been prepped and ready to be operated on when this tall, willowy, woman walked into the PreOp room. She had on a reddish dress that certainly wasn’t something she could have bought off the rack at Macy’s. And she was wearing matching shoes with high stiletto heels. Gina first thought was what was a fashion model doing in this room. And then when this ‘model’ began to ask questions and give orders…

One of the nurses, seeing the look on my wife’s face, mouthed the words, ‘She’s the surgeon.’ Gina said all she could think of was the high stiletto heels and hoping the doctor would operate with different shoes on

And when Dr. Angelique went to change, the same nurse told Gina how lucky I was to have her as my surgeon. ‘She’s the best,’and another nurse agreed.

Standing there in my room, the surgeon explained she had three choices concerning the fluid in my brain: do nothing, drill holes and drain it, cut open my skull and take the fluid out. The first was out of the question. The second was iffy at best and prone to infection. So she took the third, drastic but the best option.

‘In a day or two, you can touch the staples I put in your head. I take those out in a week or so. The stitches I used will dissolve by themselves. Oh, l your Cscan shows all the fluid is out. The procedure was a success.’

Even though she looked too young to cut open my head, her voice was such I had complete trust in her judgment and her work. Her parents must have had a premonition when they named her Angelique…Little Angel.

I asked her how long it would be before I could have some coffee. She said right away and called down to the kitchen to bring me up some coffee. And she told them that from now I had no more restrictions on coffee.

Once when a young man was collecting my food plates he asked how the coffee tasted. I told him it was okay. He laughed and said that was good to hear. They were laughing in the kitchen about me ordering coffee when I was under sedation.

He said he heard I ordered it about three times and finally I hollered they could stick their coffee. It tastes like horse piss anyway.

‘Gosh, another embarrassing thing I said when I was under the gas. Tell them in the kitchen I really apologize for what I said. I shouldn’t have compared it to horse piss because I honestly never tasted horse piss in my life.’

I spent five days in the hospital all toll. Things were pretty quiet after the operation. The nurses and nurses aides were nice and caring. Dr. Angelique checked in often to see how I was doing, along with the hospital doctor du jour.

There were two physical therapists that worked with me a lot, a young gal and an older woman. The young’un smiled a lot and was content to tie a belt around my chest and we walked around while she held onto the belt in case I fell. The older one at first asked me questions and made me memorize things and tell her later what they were. She liked the fact my brain was functioning; but not as much as I did. If things had gone south on me, could tolerate physical problems, but not mental problems.

Both of the women wanted me to use the walker instead of my cane. I tried to explain that a walker was not the thing for getting around in our house. It has four levels with six or seven steps to navigate to a different level and none of the levels were big enough to warrant a walker.

The younger one understood when I proved to her the stairs were no problem. There were handrails on each one. And she saw for herself when she took me in a ‘gym’ that had a seven stair mockup, which I had no problem going up and down. I explained I could get around walking upright with my cane better than walking hunched over using a walker.

Not so with the older therapist though. She demanded I use the walker instead of the cane. My explanations fell on deaf, stubborn ears. She thought I should go spend a few weeks in a half- way house to rehab before I went home. And I should sell my house and move into a one-level apartment.

Sell our house! Sure someday we will have to do what she says but now is not the time. I began to say something I would probably regret saying. She might insist I had to spend time to a half-way house before she would sign off on me. I bit my tongue and went along with her.

Sure, we would buy a walker. I knew they had them at the Good Will for a nice price. We could sell the house and move into a one-level dwelling. Then I could buy an exercise device. Something small, like maybe a Stair Master. I said I heard they were very good and asked what she thought about them. She agreed.

I wanted to say if that machine is so good to use, why aren’t the stairs in my house any different, but I caught myself in time. Silly ditz!

She stood there smiling while I told her what she wanted to hear. If I told her what I really was going to do she wouldn’t have been smiling.

She gave her okay for me to leave the hospital and didn’t mention anything about wanting me to go to a half-way house for rehab.

Both the hospital doctor and Dr. Angelique gave me the okay to go home on the 5th day. What a relief to go into my son’s car. The walk from the car to the house took a lot out of me, I’ll admit; but I was home. I sat at the kitchen table and drank a cup of coffee while I looked out the French doors.

I watched the rabbits hopping around and the squirrels climbing the trees. The small song birds flitting around. Looked out to the pond and saw wild ducks and geese swimming about. I knew if I stayed there long enough I would see the herd of deer that always came out of the woods and maybe see the flock of wild turkeys. An owl or a hawk would fly in and land on limb and the little birds and critters would hide until the raptor left. If the trees weren’t in the way I would be able to see the Nature Park and Mud Lake across the road. And to think the boss therapist wanted me to sell our little bit of paradise.

I watched JEOPARDY and while I wasn’t as good at it as I was say five years before, I was as good as I was before the fall. I made a request to Gina, would she make some of that green jello to go along with supper.

We both had a lot of doctors’ visits and tests, and Gina had her nose operation coming up, (She came out of it with flying colors. She’s tough. Sweet and loving, but tough.); but what the heck it looked like, thanks to my good doctors, that I was coming out of the fall only a little worse for wear than I was when it happened. Oh yes, I lost a lot of the summer, due to doctor appointments, and living in Minnesota, summers are precious times. Winter is coming and in Minnesota, winters are for the young. And come tomorrow, well… all I can say is:

‘What ever will be, will be.

End Act III. Curtain Closes to the sound of

Doris Day singing

QUE SERA SERA

BIG VAUDEVILLE (BOB)

hOPE IN VAUDEBILLE

Bob Hope walked down the steps of the Winnebago and asked us a question, and cracked us up.

In a previous post, BIG VAUDEVILLE (RED), I said that it had been my privilege to have worked two of the top stars of vaudeville. Red Skeleton was one. Bob Hope was the other. The steps they took to become household words in entertainment are quite similar. As far as my working them, I only worked them once, and I never threw a chair at Mr. Hope like I did at Mr. Skeleton.

Leslie, (Bob), Hope was born in a town just outside London, England. When he was four, his parents immigrated to Cleveland, Ohio. His father was a stone mason. His mother, a cleaner, had been a light opera singer and dancer in England, and gave young Hope a foundation in song and dance, which he used at the age of twelve to raise money by entertaining people on the city buses.

He entered amateur dance contests while in his teens; and, after a short career as a boxer and other assorted jobs, he decided to try professional show business. His career lasted eighty years, and garnered over 1,500 awards from US President, the U.S. Military, Hollywood, numerous Social organizations, honorary college degrees, awards from Foreign governments, a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth, and another from the Vatican.

He began with a partner in a song and dance act. Tragedy hit when the partner ate a bad piece of coconut pie and died. It was suggested to Leslie that he change his first name, go it alone, and stress comedy. He developed a routine of one-liners in which he usually was the brunt of the joke. He spent the early years on stage and in vaudeville where he became a top name after many of the established stars left to work in films. He tried to get into the movies but failed the screen test. This blow to his ego made him work harder in vaudeville and in Broadway productions.

The year 1934 was an important one in his road to fame. He landed his radio show which lasted into the 50’s. He realized that he needed more than just a quick wit and delivery to make it go. He hired a talented group of gag writers and paid them out of his own salary. Unlike Red Skeleton, who created and portrayed the characters that populated his show, Hope hired characters like Jerry Colonna and Barbara Jo Allen to work off of. He also surrounded himself with guests like Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, and his close friend, Bing Crosby. As the Golden Age of Radio waned, he switched to the new form of entertainment, television. His weekly shows were hits and he augmented them with his popular Christmas Specials.

The carefully thought out, business-like approach that he used to insure his radio show would be a hit, became a Hope trademark in all his career moves both in his entertainment moves and his financial investments, which were often done in partnership with Bing Crosby. When Bob Hope died he was considered one of the wealthiest men in Hollywood.

His work in film started also in 1934. He made six comedy shorts that bombed. Walter Winchell, an important newspaper columnist wrote about one of them, ‘When they catch John Dillinger, they are going to make him sit through it – twice’.

Hope’s big break came about when Jack Benny turned down a role in the film THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1938 and it was offered to Bob. It came with a contract with Paramount so he moved to Hollywood. His work in the movie gave the studio faith in his being able to handle bigger roles.

This was his first time working with Dorothy Lamour who later would become an important part of six of the successful ROAD pictures. In another bit of irony, Bing Crosby, his co-star in the ROAD series, got his start in THE BIG BROADCAST OF 1932.

The movie also gave him his theme song, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES, a duet he sang with Shirley Ross. The melody was used as his walk-on music and also to close out his his shows. The melody remained the same but the lyrics were often changed by his writers to suit the situation.

He stuck to a tried and true formula in the films that followed. The self-effacing humor that marked his stand-up routine was expanded in his film roles, and he usually played a likeable coward. Two of the songs he introduced in the movies, THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES and BUTTONS AND BOWS went on to win Academy Awards for Best Song; and while he had a pleasant voice, he realized it’s limitations and never tried to compete with the ‘singers’ like Crosby and Sinatra. Both Crosby and Sinatra started out in movies doing light comedy, but both eventually attacked heavy dramatic roles and won Academy Awards in acting. Not so with Bob Hope. He stuck with his standard comedic roles.

The film work he did in the 40’s was his best. The first six ROAD pictures cemented his standing as a legit movie star. He made 54 feature films in his career, but not much of his later work matched his early works in the 40’s.

His fame in Hollywood came as much from his 19 times as host of the Academy Awards as from his films. His main shtick was the fact he had never been nominated for an acting Oscar. It worked and was funny – for a while, but it grew old and became the object of biting jokes by other comedians. The Academy did award him 4 Honorary Oscars, and the important Humanitarian Oscar.

When WWII broke out in 1939, Hope was on the liner, the Queen Mary. He volunteered to entertain the passengers to keep their minds off the bad news. His first USO show took place six months before Pearl Harbor. There were 57 USO tours he headlined to entertain the troops, a few in peacetime, but most in our wars from WWII through the Persian Gulf War of 90. In all, 50 years of entertaining our military personnel.

His hard work during WWII, both for the morale of the troops and the War Effort at home, did not go unnoticed or unappreciated by America. Our taking part in the U.N. ‘conflict’ in Korea was not as popular in America, and Bob Hope’s tours dropped in popularity at home; but certainly not among our military troops fighting and freezing in Korea. And then came Viet Nam!

There was a strong anti-war sentiment when we first entered this war, and it grew greater every week we were there. The criticism extended from the politicians that were responsible for bringing us, and worse, keeping us in this civil war in the jungle, to the troops that were doing what their country demanded of them.

The USO shows had lost their appeal back home. Hope’s USO tours were paid for by the government, but also by by his sponsors and his TV network, NBC, which aired them later as Specials. Facts that were not lost on Bob Hope’s growing critics. It became harder and harder to convince entertainers to go with him. By the time of the Persian Gulf War, he had to enlist his wife, Dolores, and granddaughter to accompany him.

His marriage to Dolores was one of the longest in the history of Hollywood. It began in 1934 and lasted until his death in 2003, albeit it had several shapely road bumps over the years. The Hopes had four children, all adopted, and several grandchildren. Bob died in his 100th year. Dolores lived to be 102. They lived in the same house for almost all their married years. I wonder if anyone has tested that house’s drinking water.

He could always keep his material up to date in everything he did; but because he used the same old schtick to bring it to his audiences, his popularity as an entertainer was not bringing in new fans. The young had no ‘memories’ to thank him for, and using a golf club as a trademark prop didn’t exactly excite them. The comedians that were taking over did it by using language and subjects that were offensive to the older generations of both audience and performers. Bob Hope was old hat.

When I worked Bob Hope, he worked mostly benefits, conventions, and in this particular case, a birthday party. And of course, played a lot of golf.

One of the local billionaires was turning 80 and was going to turn over the reins of his privately owned empire to a person to be announced at the party. His two daughters put together a real gala. They rented the St. Paul Civic Center for a week, put the matter in the hands of Paul Ridgeway, who was just coming off planning and supervising a Super Bowl festivity and the visit of the Pope John II to Denver.

Paul, one of my favorite people to work for, had about 20 local stagehands working about 16 hours a day, for 5 days preparing for this birthday party. And he hired Bob Hope to attend.

We were fine tuning everything for the event to start in a couple hours, when a Winnebago ‘dressing room’ pulled in backstage. The driver came down the steps and then held Bob Hope’ arm to help him down.

His appearance was a surprise to us stagehands, as it would be to the party goers, except for the family. Shadow Show Business. Celebrities come into town for a private function. Do their bit without the press or the general public aware that they are in town. In! Out! Pick up a nice paycheck. Over the years, I worked many in this Shadow Show Business, from oldies like Chubby Checkers to current big timers like Elton John. And of course, Bob Hope.

Hope, like Red Skeleton, had a reputation in the business for being a friend to stagehands and the other workers that made the business go. That day was no different.

Hey, guys,’ he hollered to us, ‘Got a question. Do any of you know the name of this old fart that I am suppose to be best of friends with?’ He cracked us up and then continued to entertain us.

They tell me you have been working day and night for almost a week to put this thing together. When I heard this, I figured I had better make sure the check cleared the bank. Wouldn’t be the first time I got stiffed on a gig. But you stagehands know all about that kind of stuff, don’t you?

This hoopla’s got a bigger budget than the ROAD pictures Crosby and I use to do. At least that’s what Crosby always told me, “just a small budget, Bob, didn’t have much left over to pay the actors a lot. I always got enough from each picture to splurge and get a new set of golf clubs. And Crosby would come and pick me up to go golfing after each picture, and he was always driving a brand new car. You don’t think…Naw, not Bing.

This morning the two daughters, a blond and a brunette, and the blond’s husband came up to my room for a Q & A session on what kind of thing I was going to do for their father, you know, my ‘old best friend’.

I said I would lay out some golf jokes. Everybody likes golf jokes. The son-in-law agreed. His wife smiled. The other sister, the brunette, said her dad doesn’t golf. Well, then how about some political jokes. Again the son-in-law agreed. His wife smiled. And the brunette said her dad didn’t like politics or politicians. I can do some movie jokes, I told them. Always goes over big at the Oscars. The son-in-law agreed. The blond smiled. And the brunette said she can’t remember her dad ever going to a movie much less watch the Oscars.’

Hope threw up his hands. ‘What does this guy do for a hobby?, he asked us.

Makes money,’ one of the hands hollered. We all laughed, including Bob.

Well,’ so the son-in-law said, ‘Just do what you want and when everybody laughs, so will Dad. He won’t get the jokes but he’s too nice a guy not to go along with the others.”

So I agreed, and then I said maybe for a throw in I’ll sing a couple old songs. He must like old songs. And the brunette pipes up and says, “If we wanted singing, we would have met Sinatra’s price”. So much for thinking I was their first choice.’

I was sitting backstage with a headset on so I didn’t hear any of Bob’s routine, but the audience must have enjoyed it by all the laughter and applause during it.

After the big announcement that the son-in-law would be the new head of the empire, the band began to play and the audience danced and took advantage of the many open bars. Bob Hope came through the curtains. We were trying to get ahead of the long Out, that couldn’t really start until the party goers left, by quietly tearing down what we could back stage.

Before Bob got in the limo, which had replaced the Winnebago, he thanked us and shook our hands.’I admire you guys,’ he said, ‘ You do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. Not like me, getting paid for doing some old, old jokes and lying about being a good friend to the birthday boy. But heck, that’s Show Business.’

When he got into the limo, he rolled down the window and said to those of us close by, ‘It was no big surprise to anyone that my newest old best friend made the son-in-law his successor. He’s too old- school to trust his company to a woman, even if she is his daughter. But I will lay you odds that in less than a year, that nice son-in-law quits and the brunette takes over.’

Hope was right. He could read people just like he could read the FINANCIAL TIMES. The son-in-law wanted out and the brunette took over; and it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, except maybe her father, that she did so good and even enlarged the empire. And over the years she hired us stagehands for all her big public functions; and each time I saw her, I thought back on the time, I got to work Bob Hope. And when I think back I hear a song in my head, a song which countless of our military hear whenever they think back on having seen Bob Hope:

THANKS FOR THE MEMORIES

BOB HOPE

APTITUDE/ATTITUDE

250px-2009-731-MN-Cretin-Dehram

Back in the day when Cretin High School was it’s complete name, and it’s only students were teenage boys, and it was affordable to working class families, and the great majority of it’s teachers were Christian Brothers, the school had a program to help steer the students toward a good vocation in later life. This program was the bailiwick of a kindly, soft spoken, elderly Brother we fondly referred to as Brother Aptitude.

During your first three years of schooling, Brother Aptitude would periodically pop into your Home Room and give aptitude tests. During your last year, he would have three private sessions with you in which he would explain the results of the aptitude tests and combined with your academic achievements, would try to steer you towards a good vocation in life that would also interest you. I never got passed the first few minutes of the first session with Brother Aptitude.

I often thought that if I had completed the program, I wouldn’t have wandered from job to job until I finally found a good paying one I was suited for and interested me. Like the one that I worked at for 45 enjoyable years, some of them past the time I could have retired.

And why didn’t I complete this important program? Because I was a smart-alec who spoke before I thought!

For three years I had looked forward to my enlightening sessions with Brother Aptitude. I liked him and his tests. I liked his smile when we passed in the hall. I admired the old man. And finally when the day of the first private session came, I was so excited.

Brother Aptitude’s ‘office’ was in a far corner of the Principal’s outer office. Like all the desks of the Christian Brothers, his sat on an 8” riser with the front of the desk about 6” from the front of the platform. The building’s wall was the his back wall. His one side wall was the wall of the main office, with enough space between it and the platform to allow for entrance and exit. The front and 4th side were just bamboo screens. It wasn’t much of an office, but it did provide a small measure of privacy from the work that went on in the rest of the main office.

At the first of my sessions, Brother Aptitude met me at the outer office door and escorted me to his private domain. I sat in a chair on the floor in front of the platform and his desk, which was piled high with stacks of aptitude tests. He began by telling me what the tests showed what I was most interested in.

I placed highest in ‘literary appreciation’, which was no surprise. I always like to read books and write stories. Next he pointed out that I also placed high in ‘music appreciation’, which was also no surprise to me. It was the 50’s, the beginning of Rock & Roll. Not only did ;we teenagers have tour very own music, there was actually radio stations dedicated to play it. Elvis was King and the Top 40 our playlist.

Brother Aptitude made note of the fact, that I even though I liked music, I was not in the school band. I said that I was into sports. Plus, I had never learned to play a musical instrument.

He argued and told me that I shouldn’t be modest about not playing an instrument just because I might not play one as well as I would like. And he asked again what instrument did I play. This time he was much more forceful.

‘Well, Brother,’ I answered, with a smart-alec quip, ‘I do fool around with the phonograph.’

‘There now,’ he said, looking down at his notes on me, ‘I knew you played an instrument. Now if you are going to get anything out of…’Suddenly it dawned on him what I had actually said.

‘A phonograph!’ he shouted. For such a soft spoken old man, he sure could yell when he wanted to. ‘A phonograph!’ he shouted again.

He leapt to his feet and slammed his hands on the desk, trying to push his chair back at the same time. The slap was more of a push and the front legs of the desk fell off the platform which caused the stacks of papers to spill all over the floor, which caused more yelling from Brother Aptitude, which caused me to stand and jump backwards, which caused the screen behind me to fall over, which caused the side screen to follow suit, which caused the principal’s secretary typing away behind the big office counter to scream and jump up, which caused the principal to rush out of his office, and stand there, hands on hips, staring at the mess.

Poor old Brother Aptitude. His face was beet red. He wasn’t screaming anymore but he was stammering trying to explain his anger. The secretary brought him a glass of water, which caused him to cough and choke and spill on his robe as he tried to get it down.

I just stood there shivering, afraid that my action might trigger a heart attack or a nervous breakdown in the old man. I glanced sideways at the principal waiting for whatever he had in store for me. Corporal punishment and/ or tons of homework were a way of life in the school. Finally, the principal spoke in a calm, low voice. He told me I had better go back to my home room. Then he took Brother Aptitude’s arm and led him slowly into the Principal’s office.

Needless to say, my first session to help me find my vocation, ended. And needless to say, the other two sessions never happened. And needless to say, it took me years to find a vocation I was suited for. Three years of taking aptitude tests right down the drain. I never did receive any type of school punishment for my actions except whenever I happened to meet Brother Aptitude in the hall, he looked the other way. That hurt. I really liked the kindly old man and I never even got a chance to apologize to him.

It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, I must admit, that my smart-alec tongue got me in trouble. Sometimes you live and you still never learn.

Published – BB and Beyond  3/12/17

One of the readers wanted to know what occupation I worked at enjoyable for 45 years. Stage hand.  I figured it out that I had worked a mixture of thousands of happenings in those years, most of them in the field of arts and entertainment, although there were some that were in the fields of politics and athletics. In addition I worked on some movies that were filmed locally and did a bit of touring. While I would never say that everyone of those events were enjoyable, as a whole it was an occupation that I liked very much. And Brother Aptitude did steer me the right way when he said that my interests were in literary and musical appreciation.

There was one big downside, the long hours, the having to work weekends, robbed me of watching my  5 sons grow up. I was so fortunate to have a wife who raised them right, with so little help from me.

There was one big upside though, as soon as they reached the age of being able to work as stagehands, I got to work with them, teach them, learn from them, both as a father and a coworker. The 3 oldest paid their way through college as stagehands and have excellent professions. The 2 youngest stayed in the business, their specialty is high steel riggers..

In addition to working with my 5 sons, I also worked with a daughter-in-law, 4 nephews, and a young cousin. Like they say, nepotism is alright as long as you keep it in the family.   

BIG VAUDEVILLE (RED)

Red Skeleton

 

Red Skeleton joined a medicine show at the age of ten. In his late teens he began his vaudeville career. When Red was in his late 20’s he began a successful career in radio and movies. He pioneered in television starting in his late 30’s.

He was in his 70’s when I threw the chair at him.

Red Skeleton was one of the two BIG vaudeville stars that I was privileged to have worked.

 

American vaudeville reached it’ peak in the 1880s. It began it’s decline in the early 1900s, the dawn of movies. At first, when the films were very short, some vaudeville theaters incorporated a film in with the live show. But the films grew in length and in popularity.

The release of D.W. Griffith’s epic THE BIRTH OF A NATION sounded the death warning of vaudeville as America’ favorite form of entertainment. Running over three hours, this film could never be a part of the vaudeville format.

An old stagehand told me how his father, one of the first movie projectionist, toured the movie from city to city. Sometimes there would be a live vaudeville show during the day and a showing of BIRTH at night. Sometimes, depending on how big the city was, the vaudeville theater would simply turn the theater into a movie house and play it for an extended run.

The popularity of movies caused an exodus of the top vaudeville stars. They realized that they could make more money in films with a lot less work and travel. In a very short time, names like W.C. Fields, Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, and many others left and made their names in the movies.

Another entertainment phenomenon was the birth of the Golden Age of Radio. Actually radio was more popular than movies, because it reached a greater audience, it was free. Some vaudeville stars like Edgar Bergen, Fanny Brice, Burns and Allen, etc., became big stars in radio but never really made a hit in the movies.

When the vaudeville circuits had lost that first wave of headliners, two things occurred. Another wave of talent filled the gap at the top and helped vaudeville survive for another few decades. Names like Jack Benny, Bob Hope, Abbott and Costello, Judy Garland, and Red Skeleton and others headlined the bills and became household names.

The second occurrence was these greats and many of their routines were filmed for posterity. I have never really enjoyed, or perhaps learned to enjoy, much of what passes for today’s comedic movies; but I never tire of my dvd collections the Marx Brothers, W.C. Fields and others of that era.

 

Richard, (Red), Skelton was born two months after his father, a grocer and prior to that a circus clown, died. His mother lost the store and the house shortly afterwards. Red went to work before he was 7, selling newspapers, to help his mother out. Barely 10 years old, he left home and joined a traveling medicine show, sending money back to his mother, a practice that continued until her s death.

If anyone personifies the entertainment in America in the 20th Century, it would be Red Skelton. Discovering that he had a gift to make people laugh and he could get paid for it, he followed his work in a medicine show with work in a minstrel show, followed by work on a riverboat. He joined a dramatic stock company but he was too comedic for drama. He was 16 when he worked as a clown and sometimes lion tamer with the circus his father had worked for. He worked as a comic in a burlesque theater. He became a popular emcee for dance marathons. And this was before he was even 18.

He fell for a contestant in one of the marathons, Edna, who worked as an usher in a Pantages vaudeville house, and the two were married. He was almost 18 and she was just 16. She ‘home-schooled’ Red and he got a high school diploma. They worked up an act for clubs and toured some theaters in Canada, where a vaudeville promoter offered Red work in New York if he got some different material.

Again Edna to the rescue. She watched how different coffee drinkers dunked their doughnuts and helped Red develop the skit, Doughnut Dunkers. This show of Red’s ability for physical comedy led to more of the same, and he began to create his cast of characters which would grow in numbers and in popularity over the years. He became a vaudeville celeb in 1937. Soon he was too big for vaudeville, and began doing his skits in Broadway musicals.

He got his first radio show gig in 1938, again with under the direction of Edna working out vocal skits and new characters for him. He got his own radio show in 1941. His radio skits numbered well over 300 and his show was so popular, hundreds of people were unable to get seats for each show.

Red had failed a screen test in 1932 but in 1938 he did make two shorts, but no more film offers. In 1940, Mickey Rooney saw Red perform at F. D. R.’s birthday celebration and convinced both Red and MGM to resurrect his short film career. At first he was used as comic relief, but soon began playing leads. He was usually cast as a good hearted, naive, bumbler who saved the day and got the girl.

During these years, his mentor and good friend was a king of physical comedy, Buster Keaton. In later years, Red developed a friendship and collaborated with the great classic mime, Marcel Marceau.

America’s world erupted in 1941. Red was married with children and was undraftable. Like many show business celebs in the same boat, he devoted a great deal of time selling War Bonds and working at places like the Hollywood Canteen entertaining our Service people.

Red’s world erupted in 1942. His wife, Edna, told him that she would stay on as his adviser and money-manager, but not as his wife. He didn’t believe her until the divorce papers were served. Now he was unmarried and he got drafted. Because his birth dates had been juggled many times over the years, both MGM and his radio sponsors tried to keep him out of the Army by claiming he was too old to be drafted. Red gladly accepted being drafted.

He wasn’t placed in the Entertainment Corps but the Regular Army. During Basic the officers pulled rank and he did his required work during the day and entertained the officers at night and on the weekends. A cruel schedule!

He finally got transferred and became a more than full-time entertainer. Alone, no cameras or dancing girls, just Red and his ‘cast’ of his familiar characters toured in both the U.S. and Europe. Sometimes he stayed in one place and one audience was replaced with another. Sometimes he was sent from one sector to another the same day. Shows night and day. There was times he did ten shows in one day. The longest he stayed in one country was in Italy when the fighting was the fiercest.

The constant work, the constant moving around, the constant stress, coupled with his problems with Edna, and the fact that a woman he became engaged to married someone else, all this took his toll on his health. He developed a stutter and throat problems that had to be operated back in the States. He was given a medical discharge and had to undergo months of strict rest.

That early discharged bothered Skeleton and several years later he used his dark time to tour Korea and Japan. Again, no hoopla, no cameras, but his time he took an emcee, Jamie Farr, along with him.

Farr had worked on Red’s radio show before being drafted in WWII. He was on Active Reserve when he toured with Red. Little did Farr know while touring Korea that that country would serve as a backdrop for M.A.S.H., a TV show that would make him a household name. He never would have gotten if it wasn’t for Red. Farr had decided to drop out of show business to support his recently widowed mother. When he told Skelton that, Red gave him money and hired him under a private contract. Farr was able to stay in show business and eventully got the big break playing Corporal Klinger in M.A.S.H.

Red was one of the first to realize the impact TV would have; but because MGM’s contract would not allow him to go on TV, he had to wait until 1951 when the contract expired to make his leap into the new medium. For 20 years his show was a must-view for most of America. From a half hour to a full hour, from black and white to pioneering in color, from basically a vehicle for Red and his ‘cast’ of characters, it became a full blown variety show with the biggest names in the business lining up to be his guest stars.

Then some executive-suit at CBS decided variety shows were old-hat. Red got the bad news while perfoming in Vegas. His, and other popular shows like Ed Sullvan’s and Jackie Gleason’s got the axe.

 

For years afterword Skeleton was in a funk. He devoted his time to writing fiction and to painting his popular clown portraits.

Finally, he remembered his love of entertaining live audiences. He began to tour, bringing his cast of characters to his older fans and to his new fans. It was during this period that I got to work performance of the great entertainer

 

It was at Northrop Auditorium at the U. of Mn. I was head props. My nephew, Mark, had been props for Red a few months before at the State Fair. He told me about a bit that Red did. He asks for a chair. The prop man brings out a folded chair and throws it at Skeleton.

The punch line is as the prop man leaves the stage is, ‘I guess maybe I never should taken his girlfriend out for supper last night.’

Prior to the show, Red explained the schtick to me. ‘Come on stage so the audience can see you. Look mad. Then throw the chair so it lands about ten feet from me. Throw it hard. Don’t worry about it hitting me. Once it hits the floor it slides and I just stop it with my foot. Look mad. The madder you look the bigger the laugh.’

I played the game, but something happened! When the chair hit the floor, instead of sliding, it bounced right up again. It continued to fly toward Red. For a brief second I thought perhaps this happened sometimes. But the look on Red’s face told me this was not something that happened ever before.

One of my favorite comedians. I loved his TV shows. More importantly, my mother loved his TV shows. She would sit in her big chair in the living room and actually watch the entire program without falling asleep, or she would argue, ‘I wasn’t sleeping. I was just resting my eyes.’

And now I am going to be responsible for harming him!

Red remained still, watching as the chair flew toward him. Then at the last second, he reached back to his youth and made like a bullfighter, turning slightly, leaning slightly, and allowing the chair to sail harmless pass past him. It hit the floor but stayed onstage.

I gasped along with the audience. Red ignored the chair. Ignored the punch line. He stepped center stage, crushed his hat and went into a Clem Kaddilehopper skit.

He did several other bits, still ignoring the chair, and finished his show. He came back to acknowledge the standing ovation. For an encore he did his popular Pledge of Alligence. He bowed and finished with his familiar sign off line, ‘Good night and God bless.’

When the house was clear, I went and picked up the chair. I thought I found the reason why it bounced back up. Instead of just small rubber tips on each leg, there were large rubber boots. I presumed it hit just right and the boots caused it to bounce.

When Red went to leave, he stopped on stage to tip the spot operator. Then he came to me. I started to apologize and explain why I thought the chair did as it did. He just miled and waved it off. ‘Thanks God,’ I said, ‘Your got out of the way in time.’

‘And thank Buster Keaton for being such a great teacher,’ he laughed. ‘I never liked that shtick. My agent’s nephew thinks he’s a gag writer. Now I have a reason to drop it without hurting anybody’s feelings.

‘You know,’ he continued, ‘first time I forgot a punch line. The very first time. I’m getting old, son.’

He shook my hand and palmed off a $20 bill into it. And then he said,

‘Good night and may God bless.’

 

 

 

AH TWO

lawrence-welk

AH ONE, AH TWO

I never saw Bubbles again, but I did get to work her father years later. He brought his show to the Twin Cities out at the Met Sports Center. He had neglected the area since he had made it big; but it was very important to him in his early years. He had gone to music school in Minneapolis, led a house band for a local radio station, over the years played regular gigs at the Marigold Ballroom, which he considered Big Time compared to his roots in the rural dance halls of the Dakotas, Iowa, and Minnesota.

The Met was a big arena, but every seat was filled in spite of the snow storm the night before. His old fans, who had loved his band in person, and his new fans, who discovered him from TV, came to enjoy the show, even if there wasn’t room to dance to his music.

The show was coming up from Des Moines and the snow had hit the south of us hard; so although us local hands were there on time, we weren’t surprised that none of the road crew was. We went up to the catering room, had some coffee and doughnuts and waited.

About a half hour later, the orchestra truck showed up. Dutch, the driver asked if Mac, the road manager, had showed up and was disappointed when we told him no. After Dutch had a couple cups of coffee, he decided to back the truck in and get it unloaded at least. Mac was the one who set up the orchestra. Dutch told us that Mac was the road stage manager, tour manager, trouble shooter, Welk’s right hand and whipping boy, and drummer. ‘Oh yeah,’ Dutch laughed, ‘He’s also the Old Man’s son-in-law.’

I thought about asking him if Mac’s wife went to Marquette and was called Bubbles. But I didn’t.

We off-loaded the truck in no time. Everything was marked. We sent the wardrobe to the dressing room hallway to wait for the road wardrobe mistress and the local wardrobe crew. Then we unlocked the boxes for the stage, and waited for Mac.

Dutch got nervous. He said he didn’t know how to set up the orchestra. Mac always did it. He said how the soundman and the lighting man needed it set up so they could do their thing. They were in a bobtail truck about an hour out. If they got backed up everything would get backed up, and the Old Man would take it out on Mac.

‘I’ve known Lawrence all my life,’ Dutch explained. ‘He and my dad grew up on neighboring homestead farms. Best friends. Both stubborn Germans. Lawrence is my godfather. The only employer I ever had. Keeps me busy all year long. As much as I respect him, I learned the best way to stay on his good side is to stay away from him. Mac is a good guy, but he takes a lot of guff from the Old Man. And no matter what excuse Mac might have for being late the Old Man will still jump all over him. I’d hate to have him for a father-in-law.’

I told Dutch if we had the orchestra plot and we’d set it up. I suggested looking in Mac’s road box. Sure enough, it was in a drawer. We set up the orchestra in no time and then took coffee while we waited for the lights and sound.

Mac finally showed up. He was about my age so I figured he probably married the younger of the two Welk daughters. He apologized for being late. The plane departure was delayed. Then when he got the Old Man to the hotel, there were a lot of messages that he had to answer. Some fires from upcoming gigs had to be put out. He was thrilled that the orchestra was set up. Dutch gave the credit to me and my crew. ‘Oh,’ Mac added, ‘I had to also call home. The wife said the car died and had to be towed to the garage. I told her we should just get a new one. I told her that a year ago. But no- go! She’s as tight with a buck as her father.’

I thought about asking Mac if his wife had gone to Marquette and was called Bubbles. But I didn’t.

‘You wear too many hats, Mac. Too many hats.’ Dutch waved his hand at Mac and went to get some sleep in his sleeper-cab.

The audience loved the show. Wonnerful! Wonnerful! You could tell that the show was exactly the same as it was when the tour started and would be the same at the end. The band would make the same movements, the performers the same presentations, Lawrence would say the same words, even the ‘ad libs’ would be the same. Tight show! I would bet each show timed about just minutes apart.

As soon as the audience left, Dutch backed the truck in while Mac supervised packing the cases. Then he left the loading of the truck to Dutch and he got Welk to come with him to the office and square away the money end.

They took a slight detour and came over to me. Mac introduced me to Lawrence as the steward responsible for getting the orchestra set up because he was late getting to the arena.

‘Tank you! Tank you!’ Lawrence said, and he shook my hand.

I thought about mentioning to Lawrence that I might have met his daughter way back when at Marquette. But I didn’t.

As the two disappeared down the hall, Dutch came over to me laughing. ‘Wow! He came to you! Two tank you’s and even a hand shake. You ought to feel honored. That’s the biggest tip I ever seen old Mr. Penny-Pincher give anyone. And you being a union stagehand on top of it. Never thought he would ever talk to a union stagehand again, let alone shake one’s hand.

‘Last year we were doing our usual gig at the Avalon Ballroom on Catalina Island and during the out, the Old Man decided to come on stage and order the hands around. Don’t ask me why. Anyway, the union steward asked him politely to get off the stage. He had narrowly missed getting hit by a road box already. If he got hurt, the insurance wouldn’t cover it.

‘So Lawrence puffs up and gets right in the steward’s face. “I’m Lawrence Welk! You can’t order off this stage.”

‘Wrong thing to say. No more Mr. Nice Guy Steward. “I don’t care if you’re Richard frigging Nixon,” says the steward, and he points his finger in Lawrence’s chest. “Now, I asked you nicely to get off the frigging stage, now I’m telling you, get your frigging ass off the ‘frigging stage, now!”

‘The old man took the hint and stormed off, muttering words in German that he would never say in English.

‘Ever since, he has gone out of his way to avoid any union stagehand. And he hasn’t come on a stage while the hands are working since, except for just now.It took a lot for him to shake your hand and give you two “Tank You’s”.’

Driving home that night I thought about how easy the day had been. Music, not exactly my style, but easier to listen to than usual heavy metal. A couple nice people to work with. Just one semi and one bobtail. In at 8 A.M. Out before 11 P.M. Sure beat the usual arena rocker with a dozen or more semis. In at 5 or 6 A.M. one day. Walk away at 3 or 4 P.M the next.

Granted I didn’t get the customary tee shirt, but I did get two Tank You’s and a handshake from a real icon of Americana.

Oh sure, he was known to be fiscally conservative. A true son of the Depression. And he had a stubborn streak and Old World values like religion, hard work, and family. A true son of an immigrant father.

His German parents immigrated from Odessa in the Ukraine. They settled on a homestead in North Dakota. First winter lived in an upturned sod-covered wagon. Raised 8 children, Lawrence was the 6th, on a hard-scramble farm. The kind of people that were the foundation of America.

Lawrence became a very rich man, not because somebody left him money, and not because he screwed over people; but because he got paid for his talent, his use of his Arts, music and dance, to entertain, to create memories, rays of sunshine on cloudy day.

And I would be willing to bet, that even if Lawrence never got paid to perform, he would have played his music for free.

Roll out the barrel, and we’ll have a barrel of fun

Roll out the barrel, we’ll have the Blues on the run

WUNNERFUL! WUNNERFUL!

AH TWO is a continuation of the previous post;

UNCLE ELMER’S GOAT

billy-goat

The Old Hand: Another Back In the Day

 

Most Christmas gag gifts are forgotten by New Year’s. Some however last a lot longer. My great-uncle Elmer and his old friend, Gene, kept one going for years.

A couple acquaintances of Elmer wanted to give their children a pet and they settled upon a cute little billy goat kid. The problem was the kid outgrew his cuteness very quickly. He became a real problem for the parents and the children who wouldn’t even go outside unless the goat was tied up.

Since nobody answered their ad offering a free goat, they did the only thing they could think of to get rid of the animal; they took it out to Elmer’s farm and gave it to him, knowing well he was too nice to refuse it.

I image that the goat had been given a name by it’s former owners, but uncle Elmer named it Goat. He never was too imaginative about his names. He had a border collie that was the best cattle dog I ever saw. Elmer called the dog, Dog. He had several horses with the same name, Horse. He had about twenty cows with the name Cow, except for the one he called Bull.

His first child was a boy and was given a normal name, which not too many people remembered over the years. Elmer nicknamed his son, Boy, the first time he saw him, and the name stuck all the rest of Boy’s life. As their family grew, Aunt Amanda, laid down the law, no more of those silly names, and the other kids grew up being called by their given names. But since Amanda never cared what he called his animals, Elmer gave them names he thought was appropriate.

Elmer got a lot of teasing about being such a softy and taking Goat. He just laughed and defending his action by saying, ‘You can’t look a gift goat in the mouth’. Although there were many times, he wished he had.

That animal was foul-smelling, obnoxious, mischievous, contrary, mean, ornery, and the list went on and on. In fact, if you look up some of the aforementioned words in the dictionary, you would probably see a picture of Elmer’s goat.

The one thing nobody ever did twice was turn their back on Goat. It was as if the critter saw the seat of a person’s pants as one big target. Ram! Bam! And after he played his little joke on the poor sap, you could swear there was a smile on Goat’s face.

Of course, Goat never tried anything with Elmer, one big reason was Dog. Not only was Dog a great cattle herder, he was also a darn good goat trainer. Dog could actually make Goat behave. But, if by chance some poor unsuspecting man turned his back on Goat, Dog was known to look the other way. Dog would never allow Goat to accost a woman or a child though, and Goat never tried to after Dog nipped him a few times for even thinking about it.

Gene, one of Elmer’s best friends had a farm a couple miles down the road from Elmer’s. The two had a lot in common, especially teasing and playing practical jokes on each other.

I  loved  Elmer telling the story about Gene hearing drinking goat’s milk was good for arthritis. When Gene found out that Elmer had just been given a goal and  he offered to buy Goat from Elmer. Elmer had that goat sold until some loud-mouth told Gene that Goat was a billy, not a nanny. ‘Yup,’ Elmer would laugh, ‘I’d a paid money to see the first time Gene paid to milk it.’

After almost getting taken by Elmer on the sale of the goat, Gene teased Elmer about his goat every chance he got. ‘Hey, if you want to get Elmer’s goat, just ask him about his Goat.’  Or when Elmer would stop in at the VFW for a euchre game, and Gene was there already, Gene would holler, ‘Hurry up and close the door. Must be a goat outside. I sure can smell it.’

It was the second Christmas of Elmer having the goat that Gene came home from Midnight Mass and saw lights on in the barn and his pack of dogs barking up a storm at the barn door. When he opened the door there was Goat in the box stall with the team of horses. Goat was helping himself to the hay and the two horses were standing as far away from the intruder as possible.

Around Goat’s neck was a large red ribbon and bow. It didn’t take much to figure out who the Santa was that left the present. Thinking back, Gene should have figured something was up when he didn’t see Elmer at Midnight Mass.

Like Elmer, Gene never looked a gift goat in the mouth and accepted it with a laugh. The only thing was Gene never called the goat, Goat. He renamed it Elmer. If Elmer the goat had any ideas that life would be easier without Dog around, he was wrong. While Gene didn’t have a dog like Dog, actually nobody did, Gene had a pack of dogs that managed to keep the goat in line.

And then come the next Christmas and there was no Gene at Midnight Mass, Elmer wasn’t at all surprise to open the barn door and see Goat, nee Elmer, standing there with the big red ribbon and bow around it’s neck. Dog jumped around and actually licked Goat’s face. Elmer laughed and commented later that at least Dog was happy to have Goat back.

This ritual went on and on. Whoever it was that was going to get the goat made sure he went to Midnight Mass to make it easier on the giver. The red ribbon and bow was an important part of the gift so it was always kept in a safe place. They couldn’t trust it just hanging in the barn for fear the goat might eat it.

The goat, Goat or Elmer depending on which farm he was spending the year, matured thanks to age and to Dog and Gene’s pack as trainers. It got so was actually a pet. The two men found a pony harness and cart at an auction and broke the goat to be hitched up and pull it. Whenever kids would come to the farm where the goat was, it was drive-the-goat cart time. The goat and the cart and the kids were also big attractions in the parades at the various fairs and get-togethers during the summers and falls. And although the red ribbon and bow was also an important part of the goat’s wardrobe, the only time he wore it was Christmas Eve.

It was in the summer of a year when Elmer the Goat was living at Gene’s farm that Gene had the fatal heart attack while milking the cows. The day after the funeral Elmer told Gene’s widow what he intended to do and she thought it a good idea. Later that day Elmer came and took the goat, the harness, the cart, and the red ribbon and bow back to his farm – for good.

Every Christmas Eve, Elmer put the red ribbon and bow around the goat’s neck before Midnight Mass and took it off right after. If the goat missed Gene and Gene’s pack of dogs, he never showed it. He seemed content to live at just the one farm and didn’t seem to mind that no one ever called him Goat or Elmer anymore. From the time he came at Elmer’s to stay for good he went by the name, Gene.

Published BB 2/13/17

WHERE’S ‘EDDY’?

            Stagehands come in all shapes and sizes. They come from vastly different backgrounds and educations. Some specialize in one aspect, such as sound, lighting, building sets etc.. Some take pride in being jack-of-all stagehand trades. Some are content to push boxes, pull cable, work in trucks, etc.. Some try to learn as much as possible about the show or project they are working on. Others are content to concentrate only on what concerns them at the time.

            The last group puzzles me and very often gives me great amusement.

 

Joey B and I were on spotlights for a rock concert. The cue caller told Joey to swing over and pick up the bass.

“What?”

“The bass player. Pick him up!”

“Look,” Joey, who was a second generation stagehand with over thirty years in the business, explained, “I know a piano and drums and a guitar. I don’t know nothing about basses.”

“Okay,” the called sighed, “Pick up the ‘black guitar’. Ah, forget it! His solo is over.”

From then on, he used me on the solos.

 

I was working a spotlight at Orchestra Hall for one of the Oldies group.(Four Lads, Four Freshman,?) Hollywood, another stagehand, was on the other spot. Dick N was backstage working the light board. Since the group didn’t bring a cue caller with them, they gave Dick a cue sheet and asked him to cue the spots. Instead of cueing them as they came, Dick just read all the cues to us before the show started.

For the most part, they were simply fade out at the end of the song. Count to three and come back up. They did have one special cue though. During a certain song, when the quartet hits the bridge, the spots were to switch the gels to red and then to switch back to white at the end of the bridge.

“Dick,” Hollywood asked, “Where’s the bridge?

“How do I know?” Dick answered. “You can see the stage. I can’t.”

“Well,” Hollywood said, “There’s  gap between the key’s platform and the drum platform. Do you think that’s what they call the bridge?”

“Sounds good enough for me,” Dick said.

I cracked up. Since my mic was off, neither Hollywood nor Dick could hear me laughing, but customers sitting in the seats in front of my lamp could. They turned around and glared at me. Luckily, I got control of myself before the show actually started. Between Hollywood and Dick, they had some sixty years in the business and had no idea a song had a bridge. Basically, it is verse, chorus, verse, chorus, – bridge – chorus again.

The song came. I counted the verse and chorus twice and went red. Hollywood looked over at me, gave me a dirty look, and stayed in white. Since the quartet never did go to the gap between the two platforms, he never did switch to the red gel.

 

The-Beach-Boys In fairness though, there are some cues given stagehands that make no sense. For instance, Jimmy R came in to run a spot for a show of the Beach Boys at the Guthrie. He wasn’t there for the In, or the sound check. It was that dormant period where the Beach Boys were no longer hit makers and had not yet been designated America‘s Band. Jimmy was too young to have been a fan.

Cue caller – ‘Spot 2, (Jimmy), stand by to pick up Carl.’

Jimmy – ‘Which one is Carl?’

Cue caller – ‘He’s the one that was wearing the cowboy hat at sound check.’

 

Of course, it’s not just some stagehands that have tunnel vision in doing their work, some actors operate in the same manner.

One of my favorite actors was Ollie C. He excelled in taking a small role in a play at the Guthrie, and getting all he could out of it. He never fluffed his lines; but he never bothered to read any of the play other than his own part. And I doubt if he ever read much of anything else, like books or newspapers.

For instance, he came bounding in to the rehearsal for BECKETT, in which he had a small part as usual. ‘Guess what!’ he said to the director, ‘Do you know Beckett was a real person?’ The director just smiled and thanked him for telling him that fact.

Ollie’s cameo in KING LEAR occurred in the early part of the play and then he left the theater, never bothering to stick around for the curtain calls. One matinee though, he came up in the lighting booth and sat in the chair next to my lighting board.

‘I never saw it through to the end,’ he explained. ‘You don’t mind if I watch it from here, do you?’

‘Of course not,’ I said. And then I wisecracked, ‘Spoiler alert! He dies.

At the end, Lear dies. Ollie jumps up and looks at me. ‘He does die!’ he shouts. For the life of me, I never thought that Ollie, with all his years in theater, had had no idea of what happens to Lear.

 

To get back to Dick N. Dick was a very funny person, only he didn’t know he was funny. He was such a nice guy that you didn’t want to laugh when he came out with some wild statement and hurt him.

For instance, Dick and I were sitting in the stagehands’ room and Terry, Orchestra Hall’s sound man, walked in. Dick asked where he had been for such a long time.

‘I was down in the smoking room,’ Terry said. ‘Had a cigarette and then played some Solitaire.’

‘Playing Solitaire – by yourself!’ Dick said.

Each summer, the Minnesota Orchestra holds a Sommerfest. This particular year the theme was Vienna’s music. An Austrian flag was hung on the stage right and left wall of the orchestra shell. In the second week of the festival a patron pointed out that the two Austrian flags were hanging wrong. The imperial eagle’s head was at the bottom of the body. Tim E. told Dick to rehang the flag the right way. He showed Dick a picture of how the flag should look, the same picture he showed Dick when he told him to hang the flags in the first place.

‘I don’t remember seeing any flags with eagles on them when we toured there last winter,’ Dick commented. The Orchestra had made a tour of Australia the previous January.

‘Dick,’ Tim explained. ‘We went to Australia. These are Austrian flags.’

‘I know,’ Dick snapped. ‘I still don’t remember any flags with eagles on them in Australia when we were there.’ Then he muttered, ‘Eagles! You think they’d have kangaroos on their flag. I seen plenty of them down there.’

 

         gorme_320x245The recent death of Eydie Gorme got me thinking about the stories in this post. I have always enjoyed her singing ever since I first saw her on The Tonight Show starring Steve Allen. 

        She came to Orchestra Hall for a benefit. Dick had gone down to the smoking room after we had the stage set up; and either he smoked a whole pack or he took an afternoon nap, because he was gone for quite a while. He looked out on stage, where Eydie was doing sound check, and then he marched into the stagehands’ room.

         “Where’s Eddy? What’s that woman doing out on the stage? Get her off! Tell Eddy to get out there and do his sound check! That goofing around and we’re going to miss our supper break.”

         Dick needed his supper break. When he was just an ordinary stagehand, his supper was always two or three whiskeys and waters. Since he got the steady job at the Hall, he got refinement. He switched to vodka martinis.

         “Dick! She is the main act.”

         “Where’s Eddy? He get sick?”

         “Her name is Edyie. She’s the main act. Look, Dick, go take your supper break. We’ll take care of things here. If she takes too long, we’ll send out for some food.”

         “Oh! Okay.” He changed his attitude and put on his jacket. “She doesn’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me. Probably short for Edna or something. I have a cousin we call Phil, short for Philomena.” He was almost out of the room when he stopped. “But my cousin looks like a Phil. That girl on the stage don’t look like an ‘Eddy’ to me.”

         The show went well. The audience finally came in from drinking in the lobby and bidding on the silent auction. There was the usual speeches and awards that are always a part of a benefit. Finally, Edyie came on and sang like an angel. She was only on for about 45 minutes. The audience still had to go across to the Hilton and dine and dance.

         Edyie and Dick had spent a long time waiting for her to go on and sing. On the Out, Dick did nothing but talk about what a nice person ‘Eddy’ was. A real nice person!

         “We talked and she asked me what we did up here in the winter. So I told her how we go deer hunting and snowmobiling.”

         Dick was one of very few stagehands who ever went deer hunting. And his idea of snowmobiling was to transport his sled and ride on his favorite trail. It was his favorite trail because it was never more than a 15 minute ride to the next bar.

         Somehow I don’t think that Edyie was interested in either deer hunting or snowmobiling. And, if she sat there and listened to Dick going on and on about them, she must have been the ‘real nice person’ that Dick thought she was.

         “So, Dick,” I said, “Did you ask her if ‘Eddy’ was short for Edna?”

         He frowned at me. “Of course not,” he said belligerently. “You think I want to embarrass her?”