SEPTEMBER 2014Howdy! “When you’re young and you fall off a horse, you may break something. When you’re my age and you fall off, you splatter.” —Roy Rogers.
“Live so that you wouldn’t be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.” —Will Rogers.
Do ya’ll recollect, awhile back, George Gobel and his git-fiddle, plucking their way into our hearts with their rendition of Noel Coward’s “Mad Dogs and Englishmen Go Out in the Mid-day Sun?” Yep, sort of a Gobel warning. Babs and I are just as sophisticated as Sir Noel. Why, one April my sainted ex Antonia Christina came to visit us for five days. Her sis is Carol Burnett. After UCLA, Carol ventured to NY, NY, to seek her fortune. She found it. Before the bonanza, she lived at the Rehearsal Club, home of more starlets than there are in heaven. One blustery nightfall on a deserted side street, she was wending her way to her digs. No moon at all. Satchel Paige said, “Never look behind. Something might be gaining on you.” She looked behind. Something was gaining on her. A creepy guy. A big sonuva big fella. Danger, Carol Burnett! No place to hide. No one to run to. She wheeled. She drew herself up to full height. She tossed her curls and stomped her foot. Arms akimbo, she spat an imaginary wad of tobaccy. She sang out full throttle, “Ooooo-Kla-Homa! Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain!” The creep stopped dead in his tracks, all agape. “I ain’t messin’ with no crazy lady!” About face! And the creep crept back into the dusk. Atta gal, Carol! Street smart? I calls it street genius!
When I was a tad, cars looked like the ones gangsters drove in “Little Caesar”, “Scarface” and “Public Enemy”. The guy across the street had to crank his car to start it. My mom drove a tank-like Franklin. “Hardly uses any oil or water,” she boasted. After school we kids played kick the can in the street. ‘Twas safe back in the day. Stick shift cars took a spell to hit full speed, plenty of time for us to run for cover.
When I reached high school the depression was a not-too-distant echo. Teens couldn’t afford new cars—neither could their folks. Industrious teeners created their own cars—Hot Rods. Every morning before school we carless kids sat atop a wall and watched the parade of hot rods roll down St. George Street, poppin’ their motors. Sort of a mating call to the co-eds. If any kid dared show up in a car his daddy bought him, we’d hoot, “Stock! Stock!”
Nowadaze, those of the teen persuasion barrel down our avenue too fast, too noisy. Methinks, they doth protest too much. Boom boxes to the max. Boom! Boom! Boom! Hear any melody, any lyrics? All I hear is Boom! Boom! Boom! Kiddos, y’all are musically challenged. So are the Oscar songs. When was the last time you could whistle and sing an Oscar winner?
When I got my high school sheep skin my grandparents bought me a 1940 Plymouth coupe with white sidewalls (Stock! Stock!) Looked like Bogie’s wheels in “The Big Sleep”. They bought it from the estate of James Cruze, director of silent westerns “The Covered Wagon” and “Pony Express”. At college we had no garages, so I bought a red parachute to cover my wagon. Reckon my car got me into a frat. You could cram 15 undergrads into the turtleback. Good training for my career as a circus clown. If a gal didn’t like beer, she wasn’t one of our cramees. Our favorite haunt was Lupe’s up on Route 66. Beer was 60 cents a pitcher, and the Mexican food was to die for. The Board of Health made sure we didn’t.
One New Year’s Eve I was slowly driving down a dimly lit street in Santa Monica, looking for my frat’s party. Out of the dark and into the glare of my headlights strode a man, flagging me to pull over. Gulp! I recognized him. Richard Widmark—in person! He asked for a push. He was outta gas. He had a sedan full of family. “Sure thing!” I said. Our wee caravan proceeded onward. Wow! Richard Widmark (left)! Wait’ll my frat brothers hear about this! Shucks, piece o’cake. We Pomona College sagehens often gave pushes on cold mornings to start our cars by compression. Wellsir, I got Widmark to the top of a hill and let him roll, figuring he’d get started with no problem. “Happy New Year, folks!” I yelled, as his sedan rolled faster and faster down into the night. I felt like Santa Claus. I pulled a U-eee. At the frat party, all puffed-up at the egg nog bowl, I regaled some lovelies about my exploit. Hutch the conquering hero, rescuer of movie stars. TA-DAAA! Silence—someone coughed. Someone said, “Ahhhh, in order to start a car by compression, the car sort of has to have some gas in the tank, doesn’t it?” Rutt Roww! I oft times wonder what happened to the Widmarks that night. Did they roll down to another hill and roll up and back, up and back, until they came to rest in the middle of a street? I bet there was some pretty good cussin’ goin’ on in there. (I’ll never know.) Widmark gained world-wide fame as Tommy Udo in “Kiss of Death”; pushing an old lady in a wheelchair down a flight of stairs. I pushed him in a sedan down a dark hill. CARMA?!?! Hero Hutch? Hah! “Being a hero is about the shortest-lived professsion on earth.” —Will Rogers.