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JULY 2012

I worked with Charlie Bronson on a couple of “Sugarfeet”. In “The Bullet and the Cross” we were trapped at the bottom of a mineshaft. Talk about your claustrophobia. Charlie was right at home. He was a former miner who preferred Hollywood smog to Pennsylvania coal dust. No western street. No barroom brawl. No dancing girls. Just
Charlie and me in blackface coughing at each other. We were shafted. Talk about your low budget. We should have titled this puppy ‘Cheep Cheep’ in honor of all the Canary birds sent down in mines to test for poisonous fumes. Charlie’s aces in my book. Tougher than T-bone, he’s low and slow on the drawl. He lets his fists do the talking. And once in a while he uses a gun. I saw “Death Wish” in Vancouver, Canada. I was up there ring-mastering a circus. The theatre was packed. Whenever Charlie pulled out his trusty Bronson cannon and plugged an ugly, I let out a ya-hoo!, clapped and stomped, popcorn flying. Horrified looks all around. Heh, heh. Reckon Vancouverans don’t rightly suffer under the yoke of gangbangers.

When I was a college frosh our dean of men admonished us not to grow up too fast. I’ve been following his advice ever since. I have a never-ending love for movie serials. Todaze kids don’t know what they’re missing of a Saturday afternoon. They lose the child in themselves all too soon. My first serial was “Flash Gordon”. Took place in the 25th Century. A guy with wings stood guard. When an enemy space ship approached from another planet, the winged guard blew on a long horn to warn the inhabitants of his planet to run for cover.

Jim Shoenberger.One of my favorite penpals, the late Jim Shoenberger of SERIAL REPORT fame, loved serials so much that he formed the Cliffhangers of Chicago. Jim flew me in for a club meeting at his house. That night the Cliffhangers congregated in the basement. I hid upstairs. I was the mystery guest. Jim read a clue to my identity, and my boots appeared full sight at the top of the stairs. No one guessed the owner of the sweet toes. Jim read another clue. Another step down revealing my slightly stained levi knees. And so it went until I reached the next-to-last step. Members could now see me in full cowboy regalia from neckerchief down. The headless horseman. I doffed my famous Stetson and lowered it into view, fluttering it jes’ a tad—hint, hint. Nothing. Jim read the last clue, summing up everything I knew about myself except name, TV western, and social security number. Al Fuzzy St. John?—no. Raymond Hatton?—no. Slim Summerville? He hanged himself. Just as I was about to fall off the cliff good ol’ Jim came to my rescue, just like in a serial. He joyously shouted above the silence, “And here he is, folks, up close and personal—Give it up for your favorite Sugarfoot! Will, come on down!” I felt more like going back up. I figure a lot of the members didn’t get our channel.

After coffee, cake, and chatter we Cliffhangers settled down for a chapter of Ralph Byrd in “Dick Tracy”. Rousing applause for the good guys, loud boos for the bad guys. Jim and I kept in touch over the years through the mail and at various conventions.

Hutch is the name, charades is my game. You don’t have to be good at charades to love it. In acting class I flunked mime—resorted to subtitles. No one plays ‘the game’ anymore. At parties now I nurse a drink behind a potted plant and watch all the fishies in the aquarium. Way back when, before laptops and lap dances, I’d organize charades contests at social gatherings. I’m a sore loser—used to cry at hopscotch. Our teams fought fiercely, closely approaching full-contact sport. All-out competition was our spur. If you haven’t ever been barred for live from a household, you haven’t played extreme charades.

“Stump the Stars” was charades on TV. Emmy winner Mike Stokey was the classy host. He chose me to be a recurring challenger to the regulars. A fly in the ointment, a burr neith the saddle. Confidentially, I annoyed.

One night at a raucous soiree at my ex-wife’s Laurel Canyon pad, I suggested watching charades instead of playing it. I turned on “Stump the Stars”. There was I trying to convey “The Trojan Horse” to my team mates. I acted out a horse okay. I got stuck on Trojan—nix on acting out a condom. The time clock cicked. I wildly tried to make my mates see that my word sounded like Toe Jam. I wasn’t getting through (at the party all eyes were on the TV screen). I was on the floor ripping off my shoes and socks, fiendishly devoring an imaginary sandwich, a ‘Toe Jam’ sandwich (the crowd roared). Regular Roger C. Carmel blurted during all this chaos, “No wonder your show was canceled!” Ouch! His sit-com “The Mother-In-Law” replaced mine on NBC. Double ouch! Here I was sweating and squirming, low on the floor, suddenly in a state of high dudgeon. “Okay,” I thought, “So that’s your game, is it, Roger C? Okay! Let’s have some fun—serious fun. Down and dirty-sportsmanship, respectability? Hah! Out the window. Charades caveman style. Let’s get it on!” Strictly Roger C. Carmel Vs. Ol’ Hutch—our enmity was palpable. (Meanwhile, back at the party, whoops and hollers echoed throughout the canyon—tears of appreciation. My best laffs ever. We all bore witness to a milestone in TV truth: Brutal Honesty!)

I mention all this because recently I’ve been nagged with thoughts of an experience of a lifetime, working on “Stump the Stars”, and of the day we cut out the baloney and cut to the chase. I thought again about Mike Stokey. The most genial of TV game show hosts. I wanted to write him a letter asking how things were going. I wanted to let him know how fondly I remembered his warmth and laughter and all the shenanigans he allowed this rascal. ESP? In the mail a letter from a former charades team mate containing Mike Stokey’s obit. I wish I’d written him a thank you letter.…We’ll Meet at the End of the Trail.

Adios