The Three Stooges

Living down the block from school as a kid in the late 1950’s and early 60’s enabled me to come home early enough to catch some quality afternoon tv for children. This was before the era of do-gooders trying to offer diversity-based educational stuff like The Electric Company or Sesame Street. We did have early education staples such as Ding Dong School with Miss Frances and Romper Room (“I see Jimmy and Mary and Bobby”) but a lot of it was electronic babysitting.
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Fat As A Fiddle

With wisdom comes age. Now, I know you think that it’s the other way around but it makes more sense my way. At least, the smarter I get, the less it does me any good.

Take doing exercise. In my youth, I played all the seasonal ballgames outdoors for a couple of hours at a time and did not feel tired out or end up complaining about injuries. In my twenties, I played softball, basketball and volleyball and did not get winded. I broke a bone or two but it didn’t stop me from getting around.

All that sweating and physical abuse didn’t protect me from shifting body weight thirty years later. I was not much of a jogger as I have flat feet but I used to do an acceptable double time. The hop, skip and a jump over the years dragged down to a slow waltz.
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Jack Benny and Dad

jack bennyJack Benny was in the top five of all-time show business personalities. As a kid in the late 1950’s and early 60’s , I watched his tv show and laughed like everyone else. Jack was beloved by all his peers which is unusual in a competitive world. His stage persona was that of a vain cheapskate. This was a scriptwriter’s dream and it did him well for close to sixty years. He died in 1974 at the age of eighty after pretending to be 39 for so many years.

My father celebrated his own eightieth birthday in October, 2002 by falling down and breaking both ankles. He had just left his car and had walked up the stairs to his townhouse. Once inside, he tripped in the foyer and that was that. Somehow my mother helped him into a chair and she called me to come over. I did and it was in the late evening time. A private ambulance service brought him to the hospital of choice. We waited in the emergency area and by 11pm the doctors had done their thing. They bandaged him up as best as possible and told me to take him home.
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History Is For People Who Live In The Past

My editor, an unnamed relative, says that History is for those who want to live in the past so I should write in the past- that is, past tense. My brother, I mean editor, doesn’t like me using what is called historical present when I do my storytelling. I ask him if he ever hears of Damon Runyon as the guy has made quite a living doing just that. He then throws out names like Saroyan, Benchley, Thurber and Perlman and said that they never wrote in such a mixed up way. So I tell him I am writing in the vernacular. He said it is more like the vehicular- with all my run-on thoughts.
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Going To The Movies

In the 60’s, I grew up in Austin on the far West Side of Chicago. We had the State Theater on Madison Street a couple of blocks east of Austin, the border line that separated us from The Village of Oak Park.

The Marlboro Theater was located two and a half miles east at 4110 W. Madison. It was twice the size of the State. The Marlboro opened in 1927 two years before The Depression and radio cut into film attendance as the main form of entertainment. It had a capacity of four thousand seats which was very difficult to fill even half way when television burst onto the scene in the late 1940’s.

By 1963, there were probably more rodents in the building than people watching movies. Still, I recall that going to the Marlboro meant I was going to see a classy, first-run film. After a series of arrests made by the police due to gang activity on the premises, the theater closed for good and was torn down a year later in 1964.

Between these two places was the Byrd Theater on the 4700 block of Madison, just east of the corner at Cicero. It was much smaller than the Marlboro but it became a safer alternative to go see a movie as the neighborhood east of it changed. Uncle Henry took me there to see two films- John Wayne’s Comancheros and a maudlin 1958 Disney film for kids called Old Yeller. Like all the other kids, I cried near the end at the appropriate moments. Uncle Henry as usual bought me pop corn and pop, sat next to me and proceeded to fall asleep. He always seemed, though, to know when the movie was over.

Dad took me to see second-run movies at the Central Park Theater, on the 3500 block of Roosevelt Road. There was a double bill of Robert Taylor swashbuckler movies. One title I remember was Ivanhoe. Seeing a movie in vivid color in the the late 50’s or early 60’s was breathtaking as television at home was dull black and white. I would ask Dad to explain what was happening on screen but he ignored me.

Another time, he took me to a double bill of Marx Brother movies- A Day at the Races and A Night at the Opera. It was the first time I was exposed to their humor and was in awe from then on.

By the mid 1960’s I was old enough to go to the State Theater with friends unchaperoned. The Men’s washroom was on the second floor and required walking up a steep narrow winding stairway. Groups of greasers would hang out there hogging the space by the washing sinks in front of the mirror combing back their oily hair. I’m sure these guys are all bald now.

One time I went with my older sister to see a flick called Experiment in Terror. We had no advance idea of what the movie was about other than it starred Glenn Ford. We figured it had to be a comedy, romance or western. It was, instead, a thriller. Once they took our money, I knew there was no way the manager was going to give it back to kids unaccompanied by an adult. We just hoped that the second half of the double feature was better.

One time my buddy Perry and I showed a little moxie (or stupidity based on your perspective). We rode our bikes south to the Olympic Theater in suburban Cicero. It was a block west of Austin Boulevard on Cermak, That was a three mile ride in each direction all on busy streets. Imagine today leaving a bike chained to a light post in front of a storefront today for a few hours. But they were there when we came back out.

In high school, I took a course in American Government and Politics (as if the two didn’t go hand in hand?). One time, our teacher announced that she was looking for volunteers to attend downtown in the Loop a series of Council on Foreign Relations meetings. The sessions were by invitation and students were encouraged to witness the political harangues. I was the only student to raise a hand so I went.

The first meeting was held in the Palmer House Hotel in the Chicago Loop. It was over around 2pm and I figured that I could not get back to the far north side and school until at least 3pm. So, why bother to go back? After all, I deserved a reward for taking good notes to present later in class.

I walked down State Street going north past Washington and noticed the movies listed on two Marquees. On the east side of the street was the Chicago Theater showing a movie called Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid. It starred Paul Newman and somebody named Robert Redford. I couldn’t imagine good old Paul as a cowboy even though he had played a left handed Billy The Kid earlier in his film career. On the west side of the street, where I was strolling, was The Undefeated at the State Lake with John Wayne and Rock Hudson. Naturally, I chose the more manly western and got back to school for the last class which started about 4:45pm.

Not long after, the Newman picture went on to become a cult classic and Redford becomes ensconced as a bona fide star. The John Wayne was another in a series of turkeys late in his career before “True Grit”.

I pick baseball pennant winners much better than I do Oscar worthy films. It’s a cinch. Every year, I go with the Cubs.

There She Went Miss America

I used to watch The Miss America as well as the Miss Universe beauty contests as a kid in the late 1950’s and throughout the 60’s. The Miss America contest would appear in the late summer and the entire family would look forward to it. It was a tv ratings blockbuster. I was too young and innocent to think much about the lure of seeing good looking women in bathing suits. As everyone else, it was a matter of pride hoping that the representative from my state of Illinois would win. There’d also be the endless wait for the moment Bert Parks would sing the signature song “Here She Is….”. And le’ts not forget the time-wasting Toni Home Permament commercials.
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Marilyn Monroe – Still an American Icon?

By Larry Teren

Back in the 1950’s and very early 1960’s, Marilyn Monroe was the reigning sex goddess and became an American icon. She was more than just someone whose picture had staples coming out of its navel as the centerfold in a girlie magazine. She could sing and act. At least, I think she could sing. That was her singing in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes as well as Bus Stop, right? And she did justice to Happy Birthday at President Kennedy’s bash.

Although a method actress, she was equally adept at comedy as well as drama. More than just a pretty face in Niagara, she held her own with Joseph Cotten. And she liked to be wed to educated and talented guys such as Arthur Miller and Joe DiMaggio. She was a most beautiful creature who earned her keep. Yet, her talent and adoring fans could not keep her away from the pitfalls of fame. She died for her own sins.
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Searching For Truth on Wikipedia and Google

As a kid if I wanted more than a simple answer on a particular subject matter, I was told, “go look it up in the encyclopedia. That’s why we spent the money on it.” So I pulled out the World Book Encyclopedia and rifled through page after page until I found what I needed to know.

I’m guessing that nowadays encyclopedia publishers have been put out of business by online fact treasure houses such as Wikipedia. Why bother to open a ten pound, five hundred page tome when you can type into a search engine input box a phrase of choice and get back several pages of results. More often than not, near the top of the results listing will be a link to Wikipedia.

What has happened, though, with instant online accessibility is that, as Jimmy Durante used to say, “everybody wants to get into act.” Besides an official-looking blurb from a prestige or reputable site, there will be several other links offering their take on the issue at hand. When you click on some of the links you find that they don’t always offer as promised.
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The Last Kennedy

Recently I read where Rep. Patrick Kennedy of Rhode Island retired from public office making him the last Kennedy in a line of sixty five years in a national level office. Some people, probably of the liberal persuasion, consider this a tragedy. Of course, that is a misuse of the expression itself. Others are grateful hoping that the future does not provide opportunity for a new streak.

Which side of the fence you are on has a lot to do with how old you are. Many of us remember when Ted Kennedy in 1969 left the scene of an accident that involved the death of a campaign staffer for his late brother Robert. Somehow the car Ted drove ended up at the bottom of a Chappaquiddick water channel with a young lady in it. A medical report asserted that Mary Jo Kopechne did not die right away but possibly up to two hours later while trapped in the submerged vehicle. No one ever got a straight answer from Ted as to why he did not report the incident immediately to authorities but rather, as he claimed, tried to help her with the assistance of two others who had been to the party he had just left. The tragic event killed his chances for running for President in 1972 because public opinion around the country- maybe not so much in Massachusetts- was that he could not be counted on in a crisis.
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Bleeding Cubbie Blue

If you don’t live around Chicago the expression, “die hard” is likely associated with a Bruce Willis movie. Otherwise, in the Windy City environs it refers to a person who needs to be put out of his or her misery- a Cubs fan. There is no logical explanation as to why a mature adult is willing to subject himself to yearly disappointment, abject failure and unrequited dreams of popping champagne after the last game of the World Series.

Cubs fidelity is genetic. My mother is a Cub fan; ergo, I am, too. My father was agnostic. He knew that there were major league baseball players on the city’s North Side but wasn’t sure why he should care. He held little interest in sports in general. It was Ma who taught me how to catch and hit a ball. Ma’s first Cub hero was Bill Nicholson back in 1930’s and 40’s. My allegiance didn’t germinate until the 1960’s. That’s when I took to revering Billy Leo WIlliams, the sweet swinging lefty from Alabama. (Lefties got to stick together.)

My first visit to Wrigley Field, perennial shrine of the Cubs, was in the early 1960’s. Ma and I sat on the first base side which was also where the visitor’s dugout was located. Ma conveniently pointed out to me opposing players as they stood on the on deck circle. Guys such as Jerry Lynch, Smokey Burgess, natural born Cub killers. It seemed like every guy who picked up a bat owned Cub pitching. If Mr. Wrigley told the general manager to go out and trade for a Cub killer, you could be sure that the guy would hit .220 for the time he spent with the Boys in Blue.

When I was eleven or twelve I had to give up my bedroom so that an older sister didn’t have to share with two other sisters and could have her own privacy. I was shifted to the dining room and slept on something that looked like a cot at night and resembled a couch during the day. To assuage my feelings I was allowed to pick a reasonably priced present. I chose a Cubs baseball uniform. That summer, even as I grew out of it, I proudly wore that uniform as many times as possible when I went to play ball with friends.

Until the late 1960’s there was not much to cheer about the Cubs. The most humiliating event was in 1965 as I listened late at night to my portable radio while in bed. Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers undressed my boys one by one systematically and pitched a perfect game. It seemed as if the announcer was presiding over a funeral in his glum description of each Cub batter muttering to himself while walking back to the dugout. There came a point where I didn’t care if the Cubs won or even scored. Just get one person on base, dammit!

I got my revenge the following year (like I was part of the squad). A buddy’s father was a cab driver who knew Barney Sterling, the Cubs official photographer. He wrangled a few tickets out of him and treated us to a very special Sunday afternoon, September 25, 1966, the day before my fourteenth birthday. We sat seven rows up from the backdrop to home plate. All that separated us from getting whacked by a 100 mile an hour fastball was netting.

Koufax and Ken Holtzman were dueling on the mound. Holtzman was being talked about as the next great lefty when Koufax would retire. Holtzman achieved his own fame several years later immediately after being traded by the Cubs. He helped the Oakland Athletics win three World Series in a row. Naturally.

Koufax and Holtzman both did not allow any hits into the seventh inning. Holtzman eventually outlasted the great Dodger and won 2-1. It was to be Koufax’s last lost in a regular season game. He retired after the World Series.

Like Woody Allen’s Zelig, I was there in person when several other noteworthy events took place at the North Side ivy-covered ballpark. Opening day 1969, I mulled leaving the park in the ninth after the bums blew a three-run lead despite a two homer performance by Ernie Banks. Slowly inching from the third base side of the stands toward the Addison Street section to the south, I looked around to make sure there were no Andy Frain ushers close by and casually sat in an empty seat just to the left behind home plate. The Phillies took the lead by a run in the top of the eleventh. Quickly, there was one man on and one man out for the Cubs in the bottom half of the inning. I got up and started to head towards the stairs anticipating the usual game-ending double play.

Pinch hitter Willie Smith, not known for his muscle power, came to bat. In an instant, his bat launched the ball into the right field bleachers. Just like that the game was over. The Cubbies had won out and it started a euphoric roller coaster ride. The talented group of young men- the entire infield went to the All-Star Game as well as Williams in the outfield- were managed by the legendary Leo ‘the Lip’ Durocher. They just had to win it all. It ended in deep despair not just for the players but also for a million and one half fans who were taken for the usual sucker ride.

On Sunday, September 8, 1985, I was at Wrigley the day Pete Rose tied Ty Cobb’s all-time hits record. Recently some baseball historians became convinced that Cobb’s record was overstated by one. So it was possible that I did see the record breaker. At that time, Pistol Pete was managing the Cincinnati Reds so he also controlled the lineup. The record-tying hit came early in the game and then it started to rain. Play was held up for quite a while. We left early because the rain delay took too long. We also figured Pete would anyway pull himself out so that he could get the chance to break it before his own home crowd two days later in Cincy. Pete did stay in the game when play resumed so that the commissioner wouldn’t get on his back. But, he did not get another hit that long afternoon. Stan Musial got his 2,000 and 3,000 hits at Wrigley Field back in the 1950’s even though he played his entire career for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Ironically, that same Sunday was the beginning of the NFL football season. The Bears were playing Tampa Bay. I looked up at the Wrigley Field scoreboard and noticed that the Bears were losing 28-14 at half time. I thought that it was also going to be a long football season. The Bears turned it around in the second half of the game and went on to win 38-28. It also turned out to be their most memorable season with a record of 15-1 and won the Super Bowl in a blowout 46-10.

More recently, I attended a night game where the Bear’s Superbowl coach Mike Ditka rushed upstairs to take his turn at singing “Take Me Out to The Ball Game” during the seventh inning stretch. Mike was winded and also rushed through the song off-key. The fans in the stands looked at each other not wanting to believe that “Da Coach” had embarrassed himself.

Another crazy night was when one of Ditka’s players from the 1985 Super Bowl Winners, Steve “Mongo” McMichael, was also asked to do the seventh inning cheering. Over the loudspeaker microphone, he threatened to beat up the home plate umpire who had made a couple of questionable calls. And he wasn’t kidding. He was quickly escorted from the ball park or the Cubs were told that they would have to forfeit the game.

I wasn’t at the ballpark for other “great” moments in Cubbie Baseball such as the “Bartman Ball” episode in the 2003 playoffs or the following year when Sosa uncorked a wild bat. They are mere pebbles in the sands of time that flow the mystique of Cub anguish. But, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Or Ma will take away my allowance.