Happy pre-Thanksgiving. Whenever I can luxuriate in my nightly regimen of watching the PBS Newshour, while eating supper, I do. Tonight, Tuesday, November 20th, the final piece on the program consisted of a preview of a program that will air tonight on PBS, entitled "Poor Kids". While downing a meal that would last a week for many poor kids in all the hemispheres, I stopped and watched, in horror, the unrehearsed partial segment about "Nutrition Clubs", this one featured at a selected grade school here in the U.S.
The school was attended by kids who had been identified and vetted as legitimately at or below poverty-level, and even featured an older teenager who was not a student at that school. Those identified as truly poor were given bags of nutritious food every Friday, that was to last them througth the weekend. The older kid's comments echoed what hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of our fellow citizens face each day: Having money, then losing a job, then not having money to meet bill obligations, then facing homelessness. He was speaking from the heart, to say the least, also describing the daily despair and depression that unemployment can bring. This is one roller-coaster ride no one wants to take. I've been on that ride more than once in my seven-and-a-half-decades, and it's no fun. However, I'd like to offer some illustrations that even if all is not always rosy for everyone, keeping mentally afloat, and "keeping the faith" will, more times than not, see one eventually emerge through the gates of living Hell into the sunlight. Here are those illustrations, focusing on some successful people I was blessed to know both socially and professionally, and who not many people knew were on the brink of homelessness and starvation. These revelations were made to me, sometimes on-camera, sometimes not, but if you think all well-known or successful people were born with silver spoons in their mouths, not so. Here are some of my favorite stories of encouragement that reflect, once again, as Norm Coleman's St. Paul mayoral office sign stated, "All Crises Pass":
WILLIAM SHATNER - Mr. Shatner told me, during one of several interviews for my former 1990s syndicated program, HOLLYWOOD UPDATE, about his fledgling days in show business. One of his early experiences was to play Shakespearean roles at Ontario's famous Stratford Theater, a cousin to the "Mother Ship" (no pun intended) in Stratford-Upon-Avon in England. He said he was so poor he couldn't afford to rent an apartment, so he often snuck into a nearby laundromat after the performances and slept in the utilities room, hoping no one would discover him there during the overnight hours. He told me he was never discovered, and breathed a sigh of relief every eatly monring when he had to "exit" the place.
GREGORY PECK - I was privileged and honored to have a long-term friendship with Mr. Peck, beginning in 1969. In one of the pictures in which he and I were together (taken in the desert just west of Las Vegas), he autographed it to me as his "Podner". For all the success he eventually had, and being born into an upper middle class family (his father was a pharmacist), when my "Podner" began acting on stage in New York, he, too, couldn't afford rent much of the time, thus was relegated to sleeping on benches in Central Park for at least two years prior to returning to his native Southern California to begin his rise to iconic-status film stardom. Perhaps those lean days in New York helped make him even more humble than his natural bent, as he was the most gentlemanly and quality person I've ever known. Greg could have taught us all how to "behave". "Class act" doesn't even begin to describe how exemplary and kind he was.
TONY RANDALL - Tony was like a father and mentor to me for over 50 years, from our acting-together days on MISTER PEEPERS (NBC-TV, circa 1952-53) until his passing in 2004. Difficult to comprehend it's already been over eight years since he left us. Among the many stories Tony told me were these two: He and Eli Wallach were in the U.S. Artmy together during WWII. They both ended their respective service obligations in 1945, when the war also ended. Tony, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was almost flat broke, so decided to try his luck at being a dramatic radio actor on a local station in Hartford, Connecticut. He was paid $25 a week, and he told me he was happy to get it. The other story is following Tony's success on PEEPERS and THE ODD COUPLE (the latter show which he co-owned with Jack Klugman and Abner "Abby" Greshler, Tony and Jack's agent. Mine, too in later years, thanks to Tony), he was asked to visit some theater-type folk in his hometown, Tulsa. He told me not only was nobody there to greet him, but everywhere he went. no one acknowledged knowing who he was. Either they were all living in caves or never saw a television set. Tony did NOT have an ego, but he told me to be slighted in his hometown was not pleasant.
The preceding anecdotes won't put food on anyone's table, but hopefully they'll serve to illustrate, in even a miniscule way, there are very few in this world...even those who have "made it"...who have escaped the angst of poverty, hunger and rejection, but still 'keep the faith" and eventually emerge as very strong individuals. People living with all the comforts, and taking those blessings for granted, without caring how many these days are struggling to just survive another day. should especially reflect on being thankful for everything they have on this annual special day, day-after-tomorrow, and every day. Again, Happy Thanksgiving.
Thanks for reading and sharing in my thoughts here, and if you're so inclined, please watch my SENIOR MOMENT webcasts at www.startribune.com/videos. The subject changes every Monday, as does my choice of cranberry sauce. :)