One of Joan's favorite questions, after delivering a possibly inappropriate joke, was "Too soon?" Those last two words, in my opinion, describe her passing today. Too soon. I had the pleasure to first meet Joan in early 1968, just before she gave birth to daughter Melissa. She was headlining at The Riviera in Las Vegas and was a guest on one of the talk shows at our station, then with the call letters KSHO-TV (Channel 13). It was a cold early January day (Yes, it sometimes gets VERY cold in Las Vegas in January), and Joan entered the studio bundled in a heavy coat, accompanied by her husband, Edgar. The talk show on which she appeared was THE JOE DELANEY SHOW, hosted by my friend and Channel 13/Las Vegas SUN colleague,of the same name.
Joe had been manager of The Dukes of Dixieland, and an A&R (advance PR) man for RCA records. He was a New Orleans native, justifiably admired by every star who ever appeared on The Strip and downtown. Joan was one of those who admired ("loved") Joe, thus the appearance, even just three weeks prior to giving birth to Melissa. About fifteen minutes before her appearance, she, Edgar and I chatted during that time. Her demeanor was uproariously frenetic, the signature part of her personality, but far from rude. I was lucky enough to have conversations with Joan prior to and after her several appearances on Joe's show during the following two years, until I left Las Vegas for KSTP-TV in November, 1970. Joan was truly warm and the antithesis of her nightclub act, but that "act" was reflective of Joan's strength to just "go for it", regardless of traditional propriety, and Brava to her for so doing.
The next time we were actually scheduled to be together was in Washington, D.C. She was doing her act in suburban Maryland and was slotted to appear on my WJLA-TV evening weathercast, in studio, one night prior to her opening night, but a major thunderstorm flooded streets that evening and she was unable to make the weathercast. A few days afterward, I received a fun 8 X 10 photo from, and picturing, Joan, on which she wrote: "Dear Barry: I promise to be on your weathercast sometime in the future, if it doesn't rain!" She signed it and it's hanging on one of my basement walls.
We kept in touch occasionally thereafter, but had a wonderful in-person reunion for a few minutes of reminiscing in her dressing room at Mystic Lake when she appeared there last year. I reminded her of our "Joe Delaney days" in Las Vegas. She said, "Oh, I LOVED Joe. Those were the best days ever. And those of us who were starring on The Strip actually had coffee together often, after our respective shows, in some quiet little coffee shop. It's so sad those days are gone". Eye-and-earwitnesses to the conversation were one of my granddaughters (Maritsa, now in her late 20s) and her husband. My granddaughter idolized Joan and was devastated regarding today's sad news.
There's speculation among some friends with whom I spoke this afternoon that had she survived the horrific consequences of the throat procedure, she would not have been happy to be limited in performance energy. Joan even indicated that to Tavis Smiley on a recent television interview with him. She said she wanted to "die on stage, but only if the show was more than half over so Melissa would be able to receive the performance check". Joan also said on that program if the family knew she'd live life as a "vegetable" following some unforeseen life-threatening occurrence, she'd want them to "pull the plug", right away. That sadly became a self-fulfilled prophecy.
Her often irreverent, but always irrepressible stream-of-consciousness, free association, quick-on-the-trigger mind was a characteristic of her natural genius. She was also, when not doing her act or on television as a guest or hostess, as warm, caring, philanthropic and deeply analytical about life and living as anyone could ever be. It was an honor and privilege to have occasionally experienced personal times with that truly wonderful lady. She was the best and broke the glass ceiling for comediennes. Her passing is tough to swallow.
Thanks for taking the time to read these thoughts and memories and allowing me to share.
DON PARDO - Anyone who heard him up until what would be his final SNL announcing assignment this past May could hear he was as vibrant, strong and vital as ever. Announcing Saturday Night Live for 38 seasons (except the 1981-82 season), he preceded those career years as a perpetual "announcer's announcer", beginning in 1948 on New York City's NBC flagship station, WEAF (the call letters re-designated to WNBC in later years).Subsequently, prior to SNL, he announced for such national shows such as Jeopardy, The Price Is Right, Jackpot and others, including, for a time, NBC Nightly News. Except for iconic L.A.-based sports announcer, Vin Scully, still thankfully going strong at a very advanced age, Don (born to Polish immigrant parents in Westfield, Massachusetts) could legitimately be called the last of the great announcers and voices who were "special", so lacking, in my opinion, with much of today's announcing talent. He was one of those to whom one really "listened", because he made everything he uttered sound "important". He was the personification of what my former boss in Canada at the CBC affiliate, then CJLH-TV in Lethbridge, Alberta, stressed to those of us who were booth announcing and on-camera talent, circa 1959-1960, i.e., the importance of not "throwing away" what one was announcing. My boss's name was Sam Pitt. He had been Lorne Greene's understudy as Chief Announcer for the entire CBC network in the late 1940s and early 1950s, and had a voice that made the great James Earl Jones sound like a boy soprano. Sam was a perfectionist, and thank goodness for it. He said no matter what the content of a program, the announcers were the ones who set the stage for making what followed have meaning. He told us we were "the final product". Sam later went on to head Montreal's CFCF-TV and concluded his life teaching aspiring broadcasters at Windsor, Ontario's, St. Clair College. Sam passed away several years ago in his late 80s. Don Pardo passed away yesterday, as we're aware, but his professional legacy will never, and should never, pass, especially to any who aspire to being top-flight broadcast talent. (Regarding who might succeed...not replace...Don Pardo as SNL's announcer, the shoes will truly be less filled.)
LAUREN BACALL'S SON, STEPHEN BOGART, PAUL DOUGLAS AND ME - The first time I ever met my longtime friend, the StarTtribune's and WeatherNation's Paul Douglas, was when he was doing full-time weather stints at the Satellite News Channels, based on Shippan Point near Stamford, Connecticut. SNC was then ABC's answer to CNN. Paul was working there full-time and I was doing weather there on weekends, commuting weekly from Detroit for several months. Paul and I worked together on those weekends.
We had two producer "bosses". One was Stephen Bogart, son of the now late Lauren Bacall, and the other was Tom Capra, son of legendary Hollywood director/producer Frank Capra. Stephen didn't talk much about his famous parents, but was very serious about his work. It was the same for Tom Capra, whom I'd known when he was an executive with the ABC-TV Bureau in D.C. during my D.C. TV weathercasting days on ABC's Channel 7 there, 1974 through 1977. Although I never heard Paul express it, I personally thought it was ironic that sons of two gargantuan Hollywood families would both be news producers and our bosses at the very same time. Indeed, truth is stranger than fiction. Deepest sympathy to Stephen, who was justifiably proud of his late mother, and, of course, his long-since-deceased father.
STATE FAIR SENIOR DAYS - Next Monday, August 25th and next Thursday, August 28th, are Senior Days at The Minnesota State Fair. I'm happy to state I'll be hosting same from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. those days at the Labor Pavilion building and hope to see you there, too. As has been previously lamented at least once or twice in this space, those of advanced age in this country aren't, for the most part, given credit for still being vital, knowledgeable, useful and "with it" at a certain age, and in my opinion, and the opinion of many, it's a travesty, but hopefully, reversible to a significant degree. The United Negro College Fund's slogan, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste" certainly applies. If you agree, or even if you don't, I hope you'll stop by to say hello next week.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these thoughts and opinions.
ROBIN WILLIAMS - His apparent suicide yesterday robbed us of more of his brilliance, but to realize people of his mega-success in that chosen profession have demons, and most us will never understand why they exist. While I was Entertainment Editor for Channel 11 and in later years for my syndicated Hollywood interview show (HOLLYWOOD UPDATE), I had the pleasure to interview Robin three times, FOR CADILLAC MAN, GOOD MORNING, VIETNAM and MRS. DOUBTFIRE. For the first two mentioned, he maintained a very serious composure, but let loose with his stream-of-consciousness, uninhibited humor for the MRS. DOUBTFIRE interview. I still have all the tapes. He will be missed, to say the least. A tragic shock.
BIRTHDAY REMINISCENCES: A week ago today, August 5th, I reached my 77th birthday. For reasons I can't pinpoint, this particular birth anniversary has activated my thought processes like a ton of bricks. The thoughts have been mostly reflective about the countless unusually-blessed experiences I've lived in this life, but some of the memories and thoughts are not so pleasant, especially about the human race in general.
What especially triggered these bleak thoughts is the newest crisis in Iraq. Atop Iraq's Mount Sinjar, 40,000 innocent and peace-loving people were being threatened with genocide because they wouldn't succumb to the extremist group's demands of "convert or be killed". The extremist's movements make one wonder if we're living in a revival of the barbaric Middle Ages, or worse, reverting to bullyism and terrorism at its most egregious and outrageous levels, beheading children and burying innocent people alive. There truly are no words to express the disgust nor to describe an evil from which even Al Qaeda has divorced itself.
Having been born in 1937 and living through all of World War Two...John Daly's radio bulletin announcing the bombing of Pearl Harbor is my first memory, of anything...I, along with millions of others, were reminded daily of Hitler's, Mussolini's and Tojo's barbarism, as well as their boastfulness. Today's terrorists should read more books about empires and how foolishly those who envisioned their eternal power lasted only a few years and some only a few months, so what does all their maniacy gain for them, or anyone? A very learned European friend here stated to me a few days ago, "They destroy things and people only to state if they, the terrorists, can't have a comfortable and happy life, they want to make sure no one does." Interesting analogy, in my opinion, and also, possibly sadly very true.
One recent example in memory was Hitler's maniacal "thousand-year" Third Reich. It lasted 12 years. As I scribed here several weeks ago, one of the most fascinating people I was ever blessed to know was Hitler's chief chronicler and photographer, the late Stefan Lorant. Mr. Lorant passed away at The Mayo Clinic in Rochester a few years ago. When he was a guest on my Las Vegas television talk show in early 1970, he gave me a book he had written (with hundreds of priceless photographs) entitled, "Sieg Heil". He told me he had been invited to be one of the six original members of the Nazi party, but a week after the invitation, he said he realized Hitler was deranged (but never let Hitler know his thoughts, for obvious reasons) and asked Hitler if he could just be "The Fuhrer's" photojournalist biographer without being a Nazi party member. Hitler agreed. Lorant told me he knew Hitler's thousand-year Third Reich would conclude the way it did, i.e., as a failed disaster, thus wanted to be able to chronicle it's existence and demise from the inside, which he did brilliantly.
Today's Hitler-types don't care if they live or die, thus the equation has certainly turned an unimaginable corner which those who treasure the sanctity of life, and the credo to live and let live, must deal in these unprecedented times of unpredictability. The adage, "Man's inhumanity to man", has now reached epidemic status.
SMOKEY, THE BEAR - Last week, "Smokey, The Bear" celebrated 75 years of existence. Smokey's famous admonition, "Only YOU can prevent forest fires" was originally voiced by a Washington, D.C., morning radio show host named Jackson Weaver. I had the joy to know Jackson from 1974 through 1977 when we both worked for the same broadcasting ownership in D.C., occasionally appearing as a guest on his very popular radio show, called "Harden and Weaver", co-hosted by Jackson and his radio sidekick, Frank Harden. Jackson was the ultimate first-class broadcaster and the warmth of Smokey's voice truly emulated the richness and dignity of Jackson's human persona. Wonderful to have heard his voice again during the 75th Smokey, The Bear tributes a few days ago.
Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these geezer thoughts and memories.
MARTHA RADDATZ: I deeply respect ABC-TV's indefatigable and truly intrepid reporter, and sometimes THIS WEEK WITH GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS substitute host, Martha Raddatz. She has been, and is, one of this country's reporters most frequently embedded in the midst of this world's most dangerous landscapes and confrontations, for well over a decade. This past week, referencing the Israeli-Hamas conflict, the horrific downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, and all other chaos occurring more rapidly and more often than ever, Ms. Raddatz was asked by one of ABC-TV's anchors if she could ever remember any period of time in her career when global events were so out of control. She paused, and in an almost heartbroken manner, stated "No. I really can't. I've never seen it this bad". Ms. Raddatz is a tough, no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is reporter, and a credit to her profession. To see and hear her almost come to tears when stating what she did, certainly, to me at least, put an official stamp on how bad things really are in today's world. In that regard, what the late Peter Jennings told me in February, 2003, was prescient regarding what the world is experiencing today. I was honored to have Peter as a dear close friend and colleague from 1974 until his death five years ago. He kindly accepted an invitation to appear on my KYCR radio program in the previously-referenced year to help celebrate my then 60th anniversary in broadcasting. I still have the tape and MP3 of that interview. Among the things we discussed was the world, post 9/11. Peter had spent a great deal of time in the Middle East and was married to a Lebanese/Egyptian woman named Annouchka when Peter and I first socialized at a party in my Potomac, Maryland, house in 1974. (Those were halcyon days, to say the least.) I knew his encyclopedic and ubiquitous knowledge of Middle East mentality was deep, thus I asked him if he felt the Al-Qaedas of the world would ever not exist. He said, sadly, "No, sorry to say, I think events similar to 9/11 will never end and only occur with more frequency as time goes on." It was disheartening to have heard that, but perhaps recent events are evidence Peter may have been very correct in his assessment. My assessment is all the immature anger, frustration-to-extremes and need-to-vent (including domestically) stem from three of what I think may be the saddest words in the English language: Ego, power and greed. With those eliminated from human-nature and our lexicons, what a pleasant existence this would be. That thought also echoes the closing words, set to music, of a 1950s religion-oriented, syndicated television program entitled THE CHRISTOPHERS. That program concluded with these lyrics: "If everyone lit just one little candle, what a bright world this would be". Amen to that. Of course, it will never happen, as Peter said, but it's nice about which to muse.
ELAINE STRITCH: It was sad to learn this morning, Elaine Stritch, one of Broadway's giants and a movie talent of equally explosive and compelling performance abilities...for six decades...passed away last night. I met Elaine only twice, for television show interviews, but was interested to learn she had also acted a couple times on MISTER PEEPERS, the show on which I was blessed to have portrayed one of the students for two seasons (1952-53) and which has been referenced here in a previous blog or two. We "students" weren't on every Sunday's episode (understandably too expensive for the producers), but, regardless, it was fun for me to learn she'd been one of the actresses on the show, at least once. When she was here a few years ago in her great one-woman show, I spotted her walking downtown, stopped the car to exchange pleasantries and reminders of our two previous interviews. The conversation was warm and that was that. Born into a wealthy Detroit-area family, she was totally uninhibited, which propelled her to be the powerhouse multi-talented performer she was, and will be missed. As Alec Baldwin tweeted this morning (paraphrasing here) about her passing, "If God doesn't know she's on her way, He's in serious trouble". Tonight, all the Broadway theaters will justifiably dim their lights in her memory. Brava, Elaine.
Thanks, once again, and always, for taking the time to read my geezer thoughts.
THE VA - Obviously, it's been recently sadly proved there's been an overload of egregious occurrences at numerous VA Medical Centers regarding delayed patient scheduling resulting in numerous tragic and unnecessary deaths. Not so for yours truly regarding scheduling or any other element of VA visits or treatment. For more than 40 years, I'm among those who's had the privilege of receiving VA medical benefits, including treatments and major operations at the Minneapolis VA Medical Center. The experiences have never been less than excellent and successful nor cause a complaint to be filed or even of which thought. In my opinion, and the opinion of most recipient veterans, I'm certain, our VA Medical Center has to be among the highest-rated in the VA Medical system. I recall it was rated number one a couple years ago, for many good reasons. The doctors and nurses are, and have always been, thorough and first-class. In addition to having had a hip replacement five years ago, cataract surgery three years ago, two kidney stone procedures and much more, including regularly-scheduled checkup visits for various and sundry "geezer" needs, no delays were ever part of the equation for treatment. I feel badly for those servicepeople and their families who have suffered the ultimate price because of the alleged incompetence within parts of the VA Medical Center system, but I'd be more-than-surprised if our VA Medical Center's personnel are listed among the offenders. (FYI: I got my meteorology training in the USAF, enlisting at the very end of the Korean War. I never thought that training, or VA benefits, would help me once I was discharged. Obviously, I was slightly incorrect, thank goodness!)
HOWARD BAKER - Sharing several social occasions and lengthy conversations therein with Tennessee Senator and eventually Ambassador to Japan, Howard Baker, and his wife Joy, was truly a joy, no pun intended, during my D.C. TV days. Our first encounter was at a Washington Hilton party. I don't remember the precise reason for the party, but it was a happy occasion made even happier by the genuinely warm and non-pretentious interaction initiated by and with then Senator Baker and his wife. It was sad to see another statesman...because that's what Senator/Ambassador Baker truly was...pass away a few days ago. He was one of the stellar members of the Senate Watergate committee/panel but never full of himself or his position. His pedigree was in politics (the nice kind) because of his father's strong position therein, but, as stated, he was never pretentious, always honest and caring to a fault and an honor to call an acquaintance. Sadly, his first wife, the aforementioned Joy, preceded him in death by 11 years. Senator Baker remarried Kansas Senator Nancy Kassebaum a few years later. Bottom line: Whenever one was with Howard and Joy Baker, it was instant happiness, thanks to their great and genuinely positive personalities. They don't make 'em like Howard (or Joy) anymore, reverently and sadly stated.
THE MINNESOTA HIGHLAND GAMES - Even though of French and Ukrainian/Russian descent, I developed a strong interest in things Scottish in 1969, during my Las Vegas TV years. One of the people from the public television station there, who had a very Scottish name (still does), was visiting our studio as she had developed a fun cross-promotion for all the media in town and our station was a participant in what she called "The Super-Groovy Turtle Race". We became great platonic friends throughout the years, during which time I learned she had been born on the Queen Mary while "crossing the pond" with her mother and father between Southampton, England, and New York. Her Scottish father had co-founded the Chase Manhattan Bank with David Rockefeller, thus the lady, who shall be nameless, never missed a meal (still hasn't), but was a fanatic for her Scottish roots. I became a fan, too, thus, in the mid-1970s, during a visit to London, I discovered a shop named The Scotch House and decided to buy a kilt (Stewart Royal tartan), as well as jacket, sporan, bonnet, garters, proper socks, dagger and most of the other regalia. During a trip to Edinburgh, Scotland, about seven years later, I completed the fascination by purchasing a chanter at a shop on the hilly road leading to and from Edinburgh Castle. (For those not aware, the chanter is the wind instrument with holes that allow one to play a bagpipe. I still don't have the bags, but when I blow into that pipe with the holes, trying to make a semblance of music, our dog hits the ceiling!) This coming July 12th, I'll be one of those accompanying Minnesota kilt-maker friends Joseph and Lorie Croft, of Brooklyn Park's The Celtic Croft, at The Minnesota Highland Games in Eagan. Joseph and Lorie are fellow members with yours truly of Minnesota's non-profit St. Andrew's Society, which allows people of Scottish descent, and those just interested in all things Scottish, to be members. The philanthropic/charity games used to be held at Macalester College, but have now moved to the aforementioned Eagan. If you want to get a good laugh as I try to not let a strong wind get under my kilt, it would be a delight to visit with you there. Specific location information can be gleaned from Ye Olde Internet, lads and lasses. Will hope to see you there!
Thanks for taking time to read these geezer thoughts and reminiscences. Birthday number 77 is approaching soon. My thoughts will no doubt become "geezier"! :)