My lifelong pal, Bob Arbogast (Arbo) (right), grunted and groaned his way to many a tennis triumph for the John Marshall High School Barristers. The Marshall campus had no room for tennis courts. The Barristers took their shots in Griffith Park. What a wonderland was there! All your favorite sports from cricket to ping pong, bocce ball to horseshoes, archery to shuffleboard. Victor McLaglen and his motorcycle troop trained there. Mighty mite Mickey Rooney cavorted there. Park director Mrs. Maynard cast me in summer pageants there. I saw the great Kenny Washington play semi-pro baseball there—he caught a ball in center field and whipped it to the catcher, all the way in the air, nailing the runner from third. BS (Before Steroids) I saw Arbo play Tommy Cook there. ‘Twasn’t Arbo’s gamesmanship, his grunts and groans that hassled Tommy. ‘Twas my uproarious guffaws. Tommy told me to cool it. I cooled it. I don’t mess with Little Beaver.
Griffith Park was a terrific backyard to grow up on. Saturday matinees at the nearby Atwater Theatre were big occasions, punctuated by Arbo’s grunts and groans during tender love scenes. Part of an usher’s job description was showing Arbo the exit.
Arbo was the funniest guy in my lifetime, a free spirit. He was allowed to ride his bike to the L. A. Coliseum. I was just getting the hang of roller skates. Once, up on Glendale Blvd., Arbo pretended to be a newsie on crutches. A crony came along. A loud argument ensued, drawing onlookers. The crony grabbed a crutch and proceeded to clobber the cowering newsie, who ran out onto the street, pursued by his flailing friend. The timing was perfect. Along came a streetcar. Arbo ran onto the tracks and tripped. The speeding tram neared, Arbo rolled over, the tram rolled on, Arbo rolled back onto the tracks, one leg tucked under, as if he’d just lost it. The gathered crowd gasped, women screamed, children cried, a Nanny swooned. Presto! Arbo jumped up and bowed to his audience. Ta Da! Healed! The two pranksters hopped onto their Schwinns and rode away.
Chumming about with Arbo increased our I.Q.’s (Imagination quotients). We didn’t climb trees—we climbed masts of pirate ships. We hurled hand grenades, not dirt clods. Our bikes were horses. You’ve never played kick-the-can until you’ve played it Arbo style, co-ed rules. I joined DeMolay because Arbo was a member. Sort of a Junior Masonic organization. Every Monday night we lads would show up at a musty hall in, ugh! coats and ties. Our mentor, dad Mason (fitting name), dished out a whole lot of lecturing about shaping-up for life’s journey, followed by a whole lot of ritual—Buzzaw! One parent’s night, Roger Skinner played Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee”. He was so good we didn’t think about “The Green Hornet”. Arbo sat on stage, facing us, perfectly still. Suddenly, it happened. It had to—Arbo’s eyes moved, following the flight of the bumblebee all over the room. Roger kept ticklin’ the ivories, and Arbo tore Rimsky’s corset off. We heard Sabu was being considered for membership. SABU! Star of one of my all time top 10 flicks, “Thief of Bagdad”. Whatta thrill! But! DeMolay was an organization of Young Christian Gentlemen—No Hindus allowed. Sabu was black balled! Arbo quit. I quit. Be careful when you join anything. ‘If a man don’t go his own way, he’s nothing.’
Arbo took the road less traveled. At grammar school little Bobby Arbogast was sports editor of our paper, THE BUGLER. Later, his son Pete Arbogast sportscast USC football on radio. In Austin, TX, the Trojans were scumming The Longhorns—the stadium emptied. Pete observed, “Folks, the fans are dressed like seats.”
In the ‘80s Babs and I attended a Fest o’ the West up in Sonora, CA. A gent approached and handed me a wrinkled black and white snapshot of Bud Wehrly, Tommy Weirick, and me playing touch football circa WWII. Greeting me when I looked up, the gray-eyed twinkle of Bob Arbogast. He introduced us to his pretty wife Jan. She wrote him a fan letter when she was 15. He wrote back. Uprooted from LaLa Land, they transplanted in Mariposa, CA. We kept in touch. I gave them a replica of Bogie’s Black Bird, The Maltese Falcon, along with a Swiss Army knife—“Scrape away,” I said. “You never know.”
Before all this, Arbo served in the Navy and majored in journalism at the home of the U. of Arizona Wildcats. His whirlwind career began and whisked him from Tucson to Kansas City, Chicago, San Francisco, and L. A. radio stations as a gag-meister par excellence. What old-time Angeleno can forget the bawdy writing and banter on Dick Whittinghill and Gary Owens’ DJ shows? Who doesn’t remember such cult TV classics as Criswell, Korla Pandit, Liberace, Vampira, and my favorite, The Arbogast and Margolis? Arbo’s comic delivery was unique, well-suited for voice-overs on commercials, “Roger Ramjet”, “The Jetsons”, “Smurfs”, “The 13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo”, etc. etc.
In March ‘09 Babs gently called me to the phone. Jan Arbogast. Arbo had passed on thru—we reminisced in laugh tempo about this grand fellow in our lives. She told me Bob was the inventor of the Answer-Question gags. His first: Answer—Daisy Mae. Question—Would Daisy? Carson’s Carnac the Magnificent and “Jeopardy” borrowed Arbo’s brainchild. He had a lot to do with initiating phonics on “Sesame Street”. Arbo was a man of infinite jest and mystery. He helmed a tight ship of success. Arbo was the right stuff. He showed up. His greatest gift to his pals was being there. He opened-up to Jan during their last three weeks together. At last, Bob Arbogast in toto. Ah, Arbo! You’re the guy who explored the other side of the coin. You had a five smiles life. All your pals gathered at the Griffith Park Tennis courts for your memorial service. Jan says you’ll always be with us. We’ll look up at the moon, two or three days before it’s full. We’ll see your face looking down on us. Bob Arbogast is the man in the moon.