Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I doubt if many people in today's Orlando remember (or have even heard of) Homefolks Smith. He was to the automobile world what 'Mad-Man Muntz' was to televisions. The big difference was that 'Mad-Man' sold brand new sets where 'Homefolks' sold used - VERY used - cars. His luxury vehicle seldom was priced at over 250 to 300 dollars. Yes, I realize cars were much cheaper in the very early 1950's - but not as cheap as at 'Homefolks' used car lot.
The way I got to know about him was that I'd walk past his used car lot when I walked from my 'mom-and-pop' hotel room to work each day. If memory serves me correctly, his lot was somewhere around Magnolia and Concord or East Amelia. It was just a little lot - kind of a squatter in the midst of bungalow homes - but it was as unique as the dealership it represented. I might mention that in the more recent years when I lived in the Orlando area I tried to find any remains of the 'Homefolks' dealership with no success. But over the years a lot of things disappear. The last time I looked, he radio staion I worked
for (on North Orange Avenue just north of Colonial) was an empty lot. But somewhere between the hotel and the station was the most unique car dealership I've ever seen.
I really learned about 'Homefolks Smith' by writing and performing a program for him. It had to be real up beat - and loud. He would say, "Make it really loud and make the music fast -- none of that gushy love stuff." That's just what I did.
And it was fun. One of the things we'd do everyday was to have a race between the Orlando Police and 'Homefolks' manager Jim (imaginary name) when Jim came to work from his home outside Winter Park. Jim was accused of speeding in his 'Homefolks' special 1924 Model T Ford West Florida chopdown - thus the police escort into Orlando. Jim was home free if he got to the car lot without being caught - and he always made it. In the meantime the program was filled for a minute or so of old car sounds, sirens, and a play by play account as they passed the radio station studio.
One time 'Homefolks' offered a set of Model A Ford connecting rods for $29.95 and if you were the first one to show up at the car lot he would throw in a Model A Ford as a free incentive. "Push in your junker," he'd say, "and we've got a right good replacement for next to nothing. If that ain't the truth, may lightning strike me onthis spot." Obediently, the studio engineer (me) would play a sound effect recording of a massive thunder clap.
It was like no other radio program I can remember - either in the old days or nowadays - but it really broke up the monotony of the morning. "Homefolks" told me one time, "Boy, you slow this program down and I gonna cancel it sho as I'm settin' on this old porch." I was in awe of 'Homefolks' and never slowed down - and as long as I was at that station he never canceled."
Good memories of fifteen minutes of the most fun and hyper time I ever had.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
I never sat at the table with the adults. My dining place was on a drop-leaf front of a huge old Atwater Kent radio which was placed in the opening of an equally huge bay window. While the adults at the table talked about events of the day I listened to my programs. Especially "Uncle Don" Carney who might be considered the 'Captain Kangaroo' of the 1920's and '30's. For over 20 years he told stories, read pre-teen oriented poems, was a master at pig Latin, and was described as able to play the piano standing on his head while singing silly songs that little kids gobbled up. For instance, his theme song went this way:
"Hello, neighbors, nieces too, mothers and daddies, how are you? This is Uncle Don, all set to go; with a meeting on the ray-dee-o. We'll start off with a little song; to learn the words will not take long. For they're as easy as easy can be, so come on now and sing with me: Hibbidy gits has-ha ringboree. Honi-ko-doke with an ali-ka-zon, Sing this song with your Uncle Don."
Uncle Don would come up with special words describing the behavior of children: 'Crytearians', 'Leavearounders', 'takechancers', and 'scuffyheelers,' none of which Uncle Don wanted as members of his club. He sometimes would talk about children who did and said things wrong - especially scolding those who failed to brush teeth, cried at bedtime, and threw temper tantrums.
But the biggest thing of all was when Uncle Don would read a name of a child who had been good and was celebrating a birthday. He would say, "Now, I understand that little Brucie has been especially good this year and if he looks behind the piano he's find something very special just for him on his birthday. Seems to me that when Brucie looked behind the piano he found some special Uncle Don promotion but it was wonderful - Uncle Don had read my name out to everybody in our seven-state area and they knew I had been a good little boy.
I never thought about it at the time, but an old-time radio book says that all this was done in collusion with my mother or grandmother. But who cared at the time - Uncle Don was right there behind that Atwater Kent dial.
But wait - there is one more story about Uncle Don that may or may not have been true, It involves an announcers worst fear - saying something with a live microphone when he thinks he's off the air. It has happened to the best of them and was especially challenging when programs were live and not pre-recorded. The show ended. Uncle Don sighed, and said, "Well I guess that takes care of the little 'bzzxzxxzs' for another day." As I understood at the time, that also took care of Uncle Don and his program. He spent the rest of the years in denial.
Meanwhile, the Atwater Kent died, I grew in stature, finally was allowed to eat at the dinner table sitting alongside my real-life Uncle Ralph who over the years turned out to be a better friend than Uncle Don.
Wednesday, February 11, 2009
His name is Lewis Grizzard and he was the author of some wonderful books. How-to-do-it books. How to become Southern to be more specific. One of my favorite books he wrote was "Don't Sit Under the Grits Tree With Anyone Else But Me." (That title reminds me of the time one of our daughters convinced an exchange student that there was a spaghetti orchard down the road a piece from where we lived - and she believed it. But that's another story for another time.
I wish that Grizzard had been alive when I moved to Florida for the first time. Problem is, he was probably about five years old at the time and wasn't doing much column or sports writing at the time. However, I'm sure that he was gaining Southern Wisdom at that time that might have helped me develop an appreciation of Southern philosophy sooner than I did.
For instance, I will never forget my first breakfast at a tiny Mom and Pop cafe in Orlando.
I ordered bacon and eggs (sunny side up and well done). When they came the plate had a large pile of white glop with a big pat of butter on top. "What's THAT?", I asked. The counterman said, "They's grits - nobody in the south goes without grits in the morning." With some hesitation I put my fork into the grits (should I have used a spoon?) and took a taste.
And I loved them. And I have them to this day in one form or another. Of course real southerners would gasp at fried Mush with maple syrup but, hey, grits is grits. Butter, cheese, or just plain grits. And anybody who would write about a grits tree can't be all bad.
Over the years I have grown to love the South - and as I aged - and Lewis Grizzard grew up, I found that he offered great wisdom that has truly enriched my life with thoughts like these:
"When my love comes back from the ladies room will I be too old to care?"
"It's difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a home grown tomato."
Think about that one for a while -- it'll grow on you.
"I want to die in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming and yelling like the passengers in his car."
"Oh, you hate your job? Why didn't you say so? There's a support group for that. It's called EVERYBODY and they meet at Bobby Joe's bar." (Or, he could have said they meet at the
6th Primitive Baptist Church in the holler Sunday mornings at seven ayem.) But that was Lewis Grizzard and he was Methodist - or so he said.
"When I was a kid I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realized that the doesn't work that way so I stole one and asked Him to forgive me."
Finally, this little jewel: Before you criticize someone you should walk a mile in their shoes.
That way, when you criticize them you're a mile away and you have their shoes,
Years ago Phil Harris (a band leader in the Jack Benny comedy show) used to sing a song titled 'That's What I Like About the South'. And Lewis Grizzard shared a lot to like about the south as well.
By the way, I titled this bit "I'm Bereaved." And I DO think the world has lost a great philosopher and humorist when Lewis Grizzard passed away -- in March of 1994. Why did
it take me so long to realize he was gone? Or is that his writing and recordings carry forth his legacy even now?
And what will we leave for future generations?
Tuesday, February 3, 2009
I had a real interest in motion picture work and found a job with RKO Radio Pictures in Albany, New York. I'd ride a commuter train back and forth every day and my work involved cleaning the office area first thing and then wrestling cans of film that came in from theaters or addressing and shipping films to theaters in the area. I think the job only lasted one week. The only significant thing during the week was a B-25 bomber crashing into the Empire State Building with a number of lives lost and a lot of damage to the building. Unlike the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building continues to loom over New York City - but the memory remains.
The next few months I helped install lockers in a new frozen food plant, and then went to work in a gas station. My sympathy is extended to anyone who has to work under a car in the wintertime - it can be miserable.
In January 1946 my father finagled another job for me - this one in New York City where he was working for a bank. Through a friend who knew somebody who knew somebody else, he got me an interview with CBS when its headquarters was at 485 Madison Avenue. I was in awe of the personal department and was even more thrilled when they said they would try me out as a page boy..............in the CBS newsroom. But what was a page?
Ever hear of a gofur? It was an overstated name for an errand boy. Go get me some coffee.
Go get me some pencils. And even 'Would you deliver this to my wife at such and such address." But I got to wear an honest to goodness page jacket with CBS letters that I could flaunt all over the building -and even out on the street if I had an errand to run somewhere in the city. There wasn't much money involved but I was part of one of the biggest radio networks in the world. Wowee!
And to top even that, I was working with biiiiiig names in news - Eric Severeid - Bob Trout -- and my boss was Edward R. Murrow. Who cared about salary -- it was more than I could wish for just to be associated with people like that. And to pass celebrities like Arthur Godfrey in the halls.
One day I got called into Mr. Murrow's office. He said that personnel was going to change.The radio news staff was going to be reduced - including me. However, he said that I could stay
with CBS if I was willing to make a move to a new section that was being formed at Grand Central Palace - a department to be called CBS Television News. I'd never heard of anything like that and asked, "What would you do if you were in my position?" He reminded me that I had no college, little other experience in any other work, and he said, "Well, you might apply for a job with a country newspaper." That's how my time with CBS ended and how I ended up going to a small weekly paper not far from home. But that's another story.
Meanwhile, I wonder where I'd be and how my life would have worked out had I taken that
job in experimental CBS television news.