Howdy! My granddad, Daddow, followed the horses, and the horses he followed followed the horses. One afternoon Daddow and cronies journeyed to Santa Anita racetrack to visit their money. “What nag do you like in the fifth?” asked the cronies. “Search me,” replied Daddow. “You think he has a chance?” Daddow harrumphed, “I meant I haven’t the foggiest.” “No, no,” they said. “Look at your scratch sheet—Search Me is a horse! He’s running in the fifth!” All was quiet. The grizzled gangsters were blessed to be in the mystic presence of the Mother of all hunch bets. They pooled their happy lettuce and sent Daddow off to lay it all on underdog Search Me to win. Daddow’s feet got colder as he approached the bettor’s window, and he bet the favorite across-the-board. Search Me won by a nostril, paying 50 to one. Point of this story is, when you get a hunch, bet it.
Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends. In “Shane” they ain’t. Alan Ladd, newly hired farmhand, browses the local mercantile store to buy a sodbuster outfit—pants, belt, two shirts. “Young man, that comes to two dollars and two bits,” says the storekeeper. Shane moseys on through the swingin’ doors, bellies up to the bar and orders a sody pop, much to the amusement of the dusty cowmen. Sure as shootin’, trouble ahead. Cowman Ben Johnson tosses some jibes Shane’s way, claimin’ he smells like pigs. Shane looks at him. “You speakin’ to me?” Ben tosses some whiskey on Shane’s new store-bought shirt by way of fumigation. Shane absorbs the humiliation, and Ben puts the run on him. ‘Course, a leetle later, Shane comes back, punches out Ben, and punches out the other cowmen to boot with fists of fury. Shane turns the barroom into a BA-ROOOM!
Did you see “Taxi Driver” with Bob De Niro? He plays Travis Bickle, a crazy cabbie. How crazy? He’s itchin’ for a fight. He challenges his own likeness in a mirror. “You talkin’ to me?” he asks himself. Wheweee! What I’m wonderin’, do you reckon Travis Bickle saw “Shane”? I have a hunch he did—I’d bet on it.
Will Rogers once told Joel McCrea, “Buy land—God ain’t makin any more.” Joel took Will’s advice and made the San Fernando Valley his home. I love watching old movies to see L.A. the way it was when I was a kid. Plenty of vacant lots. Vacant lots are getting scarcer and scarcer out our way on Long Island’s North Shore. Our pal Rick Smith attends town meetings and writes blasting letters to newspapers bemoaning big builders’ encroachments: bulldozing waterfront property, buying out long-time shop owners, putting-up penitentiary-like condos that block out the sun ‘n’ sky, cramming tenants like sardines, driving us all nuts like rats in a maze, driving us to the abyss to jump in like lemmings. Smith owns a huge building in Glen Cove, the Piano Exchange, containing the world’s largest collection of classic pianos.
One player piano belonged to the world’s greatest player, Babe Ruth. Time out for a 7th inning stretch. Ah, Bambino! You sprouted during baseball’s dead ball, spitball, dirty, lumpy ball era. You were as much a Hall of Fame pitcher as slugger. In 1916 you faced the Big Train, Walter Johnson, who pitched 417 career wins, second only to Cy Young. Babe, you beat Johnson six out of seven. Look at you in your baggy, wool uniform. No batting helmet with earflap, no batting gloves nor outer protective equipment. No sunglasses. You are the Sultan of Swat. Todaze batsmen are Sultans of Shots. Your drugs were booze, broads, and Bull Durham. You didn’t break records, you set ‘em. You changed baseball into Babeball—Sheesh! Imagine what you could have done if you’d been in shape.
Rick Smith’s digs are piled high with cans containing 16mm classic flicks. I love sitting on his couch with his cat Tiger Baby, watching them. Babs came up with an idea. Why not rent a theatre for a night of westerns, including a “Sugarfoot”? “Aw, Babs! All I want do is jes’ sit on the front porch, whittlin’, whistlin’, spittin’, cussin’ speedsters. Rick surfed Babs’ brain wave, sending out flyers. More folks turned out for Rick’s Wednesday night screening than for all the other presentations combined in Glen Cove’s Cineplex. First, a ‘58 newsreel followed by a Porky Pig cowboy cartoon. Then, a short featuring Gus Van warbling “I’m an Old Cowhand” in various dialects and costumes. Dick Powell crooned “Ride, Tenderfoot, Ride” from “Cowboy From Brooklyn”. We all joined in for a rousing singalong of cowboy songs, following the bouncing sagebrush. We all duded-up cowperson style. My turn—thanks, Babs—Here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten me into—yahoo! I play-acted mounting a fanciful horse and rode him down the aisle. “Whoa, I say! Aw, come on, hoss, Whoa!” Loud whinny—I dismounted, patted him, fed him a pocketful of oats. Next, a masterful display of rope and gun twirlin’ to heavy mitts. I would allow that my act woulda been better if I’d had a rope and gun! Babs joined me in a hearty rendition of “I Can See by Your Outfit That You Are a Cowboy”. I then intro’d the evening’s main attraction, “The Canary Kid”, an episode of “Sugarfoot”.
Back in my hayday, I told those gathered, Howard Hughes lived in Las Vegas where he owned a TV station. An insomniac, he’d often stay up all night to watch his station. If he was displeased with what he saw, he’d call up and tell ‘em to switch to his favorite flick, “Ice Station Zebra”. One of his girl friends had recently acted in “The Canary Kid”. Hughes wanted to see it. He called Warner Bros. to fly it to his station ASAP. Early that night, an airplane droned across a moonlit sky. A lonely pilot, his only companion, Sugarfoot in the can. Middle of that night, Hughes called his station and told ‘em to stop showing “Ice Station Zebra” and switch to “Sugarfoot”.
In the old daze I watched ol’ “Sweet Toes” at home on a small TV screen about the size of two postage stamps, a used Band-Aid, and Raoul Walsh’s eye patch. Whatta thrill for the first time to see my show bigger than life in vibrant sound with a large, appreciative audience. I was like a proud Daddow watching his grandson. The popcorn was good, too.