Howdy Herb Jeffries! The Bronze Buckaroo. The man who stops time. The Flamingo Kid. That’s his theme song—“Flamingo”. Babs and I have a flamingo lawn sculpture. We call it Herb. We first crossed trails a few years back on Catalina Island. We were celebrants at the 100th birthday party for Hal Roach and Oliver Hardy. Sons of the Desert cavorted there. I didn’t know their names, but their fezes were familiar. I asked Herb, “What do you put into your fountain of youth? Bat blood, lizard gizzard, eye of the Newt?” He smiled, looked deep into my eyes, and whispered, “It’s God.”
One summer afternoon back in the ‘50s, a pal of mine, BJ, was sitting at a table in his favorite haunt, a saloon next to the Chicago Theatre. He liked the bartender. Every night at closing time he’d announce, “You don’t has to go home, but you has to leave here.” BJ was taking lunch (beer and a bowl of peanuts). Up at the bar, Herb Jeffries perched on a stool, nursing a drink, sweet talkin’ a pretty gal. The side door to the alley was open, and so was the stage door across the alley. Herb was the headliner that week. BJ listened to the whir of the overhead fan, the clink of ice cubes, Herb’s soft murmurs—then, the familiar strains of “Flamingo” wafted across the alley into the hot ‘n’ humid saloon. Herb only heard the young lovely’s lilting laughter. Pause. The boys in the band struck up again—louder—a tad frantic—“Flamingo!” Herb kept cooing—“Fla-Ming-Go!!” The lady leaned over, sultry-eyed, wet lips parted. “That’s your cue, hon.” Oops! Herb was off like a shot. One more time. “Fla-Ming-Go!” and the show was on—whew! The lady, the bartender, BJ, they raised their glasses in a toast to the dear departed. Here’s looking at you, Flamingo Kid—Herb Jeffries! Whatta guy.
A few 4th of July’s ago Babs and I found ourselves in the middle of a Pennsylvania fairground in Amish country. We signed photos at a table ‘neath a canvas covering. The heat was in tents. I coulda used a fan magazine. The trick was not to drip onto your pictures, lest you smear the ink—the 8x10 glossies were going like hot cakes. Too bad they weren’t going like 8x10 glossies. The hours crept by like wounded snails. While I hustled my likeness, Babs got plenty of rest—she fainted. Despite the heat it was a swell weekend.
We sat next to wonderful William Windom. He admired my brown suede cowboy hat with a buffalo nickel on the band. I’d worn that puppy for a whole bunch of years. It was kinda molderin’—looked like condemned veal. I offered him my cowboy hat providing he’d recite the poem “Barbara Fritchie” to us. “Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, but spare your country’s flag.” (or something like that). I heard him deliver it when he portrayed James Thurber on his TV series “My World And Welcome To It”. He reeled out said poem magnificently, with gestures, to an applauding gathering that quickly scattered when we resumed hawking our wares. Between sales I easily could have read WAR AND PEACE in toto. I chose to bask in Windom’s wisdom. We talked of boots and boats and bee’s wax, of cauliflowers and queens.
We talked of mutual friend Angus Duncan. I call him Angry Duncan for his fierce, competitive nature on the field of golf. More than once out at Griffith Park officials would pull up in their electric cart and warn us to cut out the yelling or get off the course. Windom confided that Angus is a genius—Huh?! In 40 years he never told me! Windom said Angus will be forever remembered for striking a blow for actors everywhere. One day Angus was ushered smiling into a casting director’s office. Angus was all spiffied up—new suit, freshly showered and shaved. He knew he was perfect for the part. The casting director looked all of 17. He was seated, legs on desk revealing dirty sneakers. Holes in his jeans’ knees. His sweatshirt, a mosaic of food and coffee stains. Long, scraggly hair. Outcroppings of goatee and mustache. Nary a hello, hand clasp, nor ‘sit down.’ A mere glance at Angus, a long look out the window, a sigh. Finally, “Well, what have you done?” Without blinking, Angus blurted, “Nothing—it smelled like this when I came in.” He didn’t get the part. Angus Duncan! Hero…
Toward the end of our sojourn Windom told me another story I’d like to pass on to you good folks. The father of a friend of his practiced medicine back in the ‘30s on Venice Blvd. Near the beach out in La La Land. One afternoon the doctor gave his nurse an envelope containing happy lettuce. “This is for your daughter. Now hurry or you’ll miss her graduation.” “But, doctor, you have a new woman patient due at 5.” “Now, now, I can take her medical history as well as you. Scat! Oh, give your daughter a big hug for me.” And off she went. The new patient was late. “Sorry, doctor. We worked overtime.” The doctor’s jaw dropped. “Myrna Loy! What an honor! Please come into my office,” and he locked the front door. They got along fine—laffin’ ‘n’ scratchin’. She answered all his questions about MGM, Gable, Mayer, Garbo. He told her about some of the bizarre practical jokes he pulled at medical school. They were a long way from a physical exam. He looked at his watch, “Holy smoke, Miss Loy, it’s six o’clock! Usually I’m home by now working on my first martini. Look, I’ve got all the fixin’s right here in this cabinet. Won’t you join me?” “Why, doctor, I’d be honored.” The good doctor was in the throes of mixing a brew to curl one’s toes, when all of a sudden there was a loud knocking at the front door. “John, John! I know you’re in there. I can see the light. Open the door!” The doctor began putting glasses and bottles back into the cabinet as fast as he could. “That’s my wife!” he said. “Quick! Miss Loy. Take off your clothes!” Ah, William Windom! Whatta guy.