• The Memoirs of an Amnesiac (with apologies to Oscar Levant)
  • Personal reflections on friends, acquaintances and others, living and dead, mostly admired.
  • (The heading above is from a weekly column I wrote over half a century ago. I've always liked the caricature, done for me by a long-departed friend, so I hope you'll excuse my vanity in reproducing it here.)

About Me

My photo
Formal education at the hands of The Sisters of The Presentation Order, the Jesuits and the Irish Christian Brothers. Informal education through travel, as well as successes and failures as actor, director, writer, soldier, management consultant, businessman, husband, father, grandfather and all the human drama involved.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Céad Míle Fáilte - Malachy McCourt

Céad Míle Fáilte
(A hundred thousand welcomes)

Malachy McCourt

In the late 1950’s, a dear friend named Bernie O’Rorke had a rather tiny apartment in the shadows of the Manhattan approach to the 59th St. Bridge. In fact, you couldn’t go much farther east without falling into the East River. Bernie and I both had recently been pushed out of the nest by the Irish Christian Brothers at Iona College in New Rochelle, NY and were now trying to inflict ourselves on society - Bernie as a writer/cartoonist (he had done the old caricature I use on this blog’s masthead), and myself as an actor. After making my daily rounds (auditions, meeting with other would-be’s in the theatrical bars on Manhattan’s west side), I’d occasionally travel east to the safety of Bernie’s cave where I could lick my wounds and recover from another day of rejection.

One evening early in 1958, after making the daily rounds, I repaired to Bernie’s and sat sipping a beer, while he started raving about this saloon he’d stumbled upon in the neighborhood and its bartender, an outrageous Irishman who’d recently been on the Jack Paar show. As Bernie talked, I recalled seeing this character recently on TV talking about his ConEd electric bill and how, rather than paying it, he’d use a rubber stamp to imprint ‘deceased’ and returned the bill unopened and unpaid. I was sufficiently intrigued so that, when Bernie insisted that he show me the joint, and introduce me to this bartender, I couldn’t resist.

So, we took a short stroll inland from Bernie’s private cave to his new public cave, a joint on East 58th Street called Clavin’s, a rather loud, rambunctious, and totally enjoyable saloon, with a bartender/ringmaster who was a rather loud, rambunctious and occasionally enjoyable character yclept Malachy McCourt.

As I followed Bernie into Clavin’s, my first impression was of a relatively dark place, not particularly large, but busy and boisterous. The drinks were dispensed by a husky Irish bartender and the steady murmur of conversation was punctuated fairly frequently by shouts or loud laughing, as often as not from the bartender himself, Malachy McCourt.

In those ancient days, Malachy was in the early stages of expanding his universe, progressing from a local curiosity to a full-fledged many-splendored character – dockworker, drinker, rugby player, bartender, drinker, innkeeper, raconteur, drinker, oddball, actor, drinker, author, drin… - oh well, you get the picture. His older brother Frank, who would later go on to his own fame and fortune after the publication of his best selling memoirs, ‘Angela’s Ashes’, was then in college so, the stage belonged entirely to Malachy.

Initially, the stage was provided by Clavin’s, with its clientele a mixed bag of locals and swells, celebrities and rich and not so rich ne’er-do-wells, swillers all, the perfect compost pile in which Malachy would start to blossom. He soon parlayed his growing notoriety and eventually, with the urging and the backing from two of Clavin’s regulars, flung open the curtains on his own stage in the spring of 1958 - an Irish bar on 3rd Avenue called Malachy’s. Now 3rd Avenue was a boulevard that contained many Irish saloons of note, estimable places like P.J. Clarke’s and Costello’s, but Malachy’s quickly established its uniqueness. In addition to the drawing power of the guy whose name was on the awning, there was a very important source of bait scarcely three blocks away, the Barbizon Hotel, a young ladies’ hostelry. The Barbizon’s female residents quickly found a welcome at Malachy’s, no need for an escort, no disgrace for a young lady to sit alone at the bar, and a cornucopia of young, virile males of varying degrees of accomplishment. Malachy had quite a following, including the likes of Peter O’Toole, Richard Harris, Richard Burton, Sean Connery and other Celtic and vaguely Celtic types who were known to have a drink now and then.

One of the crowd of fairly regulars (or irregulars, if you will) was Gig Young, a friendly and likeable alcoholic who’d made scores of films in Hollywood over the previous couple of decades and now was doing a lot of television. And yes, he was a serious drinker, a very serious drinker, a fact well known in the industry and which cost his career a lot of traction. We got to talking one night and discovered we had a few things in common, his birthday was November 4, mine November 3 (though he was about 20 years older than I) and a few mutual friends in television, two brothers who were cameramen at CBS and whom he had gotten to know while doing some TV work over the previous few years. Most important to me was the fact that, unknown to him, he was everything that this lower middle class would-be actor from the Bronx wanted to be, suave, sophisticated and employed. I enjoyed the many occasions I had to share a drink with Gig Young, but never was able to match his career as an alcoholic, let alone as an actor.

Late one evening toward the end of 1958, I was at Malachy’s standing alone with my drink at the end of the bar looking out to 3rd Avenue. Malachy was behind the bar, the crowd was beginning to thin out and we were talking about things in general, when he asked me if I were still making the rounds. I told him my theatrical career was over. After not earning enough in the last year to keep "Moms" Mabley in dental floss, the cache of nuts I’d squirreled away was severely depleted, leading me to decide that my passion for acting was only surpassed by a few other passions like food, drink and shelter. Ergo, I’d retired from the stage, was probably the only one who was aware of my retirement, put my tail between my legs and ran like hell away from it, and was currently seeking gainful employment in the business world.

Malachy was at that time also appearing as the character ‘Shawn Keogh’ in the Irish Players production of John Millington Synge’s comedy, THE PLAYBOY OF THE WESTERN WORLD. Sometime during our on and off conversation that night, Malachy told me that he might soon would be leaving the show. I don’t recall why he said he’d be leaving but it rang a bell in my scheming thespian heart. If he were leaving the show they’d need a replacement and why should that not be me?

Two days later I showed up, bold as brass, at the home of the Irish Players, the Tara Theatre on Madison Avenue near 30th Street. Fortunately, the delightful Helena Carroll, co-producer and co-star of the Playboy, was at the theater. She had no idea who I was, hadn’t yet discovered the reason for my unannounced visit, yet graciously consented to see me. We stood in the rear of the theater and I told her of my recent conversation with Malachy and the possibility that he might be leaving the show. She listened politely but said nothing. Summoning up all my courage, I announced my availability to step into the breach. She asked me the kinds of questions you’d expect, “What have you done before?” “What are you doing now?” “If indeed Malachy will be leaving us, and this being the first I’ve heard of any such intentions on his part, why should we believe that you might be a suitable replacement?”

Now the playwright Synge describes Shawn Keogh as “…a fat and fair young man” which, indeed Malachy was and to an extent so was I. Fair with hair of red, 5’10’’ and 190 pounds, not all being muscle. I almost began my song and dance, making exaggerated claims about all the wonderful things I had done, almost done or certainly could have done had I only been given the chance. Something stopped me, maybe Providence, more likely my own good sense not to repay her kindness with bullshit.

Instead, I said something like, “Miss Carroll, you’ve been nice enough to welcome me and spend some time listening to me. I’ll not return your generosity by wasting your time or feeding you a bunch of nonsense. Yeah, I’ve done some good work in some very good parts, but mostly in college, stock and community theaters, and some Equity Library. Nothing of much significance professionally. But I know I can do Shawn Keogh.” I pulled out of the copy of The Playboy of The Western World I had purchased the day before and had read and re-read and read again all the previous day. Helena Carroll, with whom I was about to fall in love, agreed to see what I could do. She sat down in the next to last row, bade me to sit with a space between us and instructed me to read the opening scene with her. I knew I could give her a good reading. I thought I knew the part pretty well, and I was a pretty good physical fit. My major concern was my less than authentic Celtic tongue and the fear that I might do grave injustice to the lilting poetry of John Millington Synge and clash with the mostly Irish-born cast.

The opening scene is between Shawn Keogh, a kind of bumbling Irish hayseed, simple but earnest, and Pegeen Mike, the young maiden Miss Carroll played in the show who was Shawn’s intended, or so he fancied and fervently wished. We did the scene and I’m happy to say that I did not embarrass myself. My self-satisfied happiness with my own performance turned to absolute jubilation when Miss Carroll said that, indeed, I’d make a good Shawn Keogh, that my reading was very good and that I did fit the part physically, 'though my attempt to sound like a true native Irishman would need some work but was doable. The delicious Helena Carter took my name and telephone number and promised to call me as soon as Malachy announced his departure. I floated out of the Tara Theater, walked the mile or so north and west to Sardi’s and treated myself to a late and liquid lunch. I never told Malachy that I had ratted him out.

The rest of the story is predictable. Malachy decided not to leave the show so a replacement was not necessary. My last ditch stab at acting went for naught but it did provide the soul-salving grace of providing someone else to blame for my lack of success. It wasn’t a question of whether I was good enough, whether I persevered or how hard I tried (or failed to try), it was all Malachy’s fault. If that son of a bitch hadn’t decided to stay with the show, Lord only knows how far I’d have gone, what artistic and commercial heights I might have scaled, what dramatic breakthroughs I might have achieved, what honors and awards I may have garnered. At least, those were the lies I told myself.

“Oh my grief, I’ve lost him surely. I’ve lost the only Playboy of the Western World.”

Well, I did go fairly far, albeit in another direction. Now, 50 years and several lifetimes later, in the final analysis, maybe I should be grateful to Mr. McCourt. I’ve had a decent and interesting business career, have a beautiful wife and family and a functioning liver, none of which I might possess had I persisted. I guess I should thank the son of a bitch, after all.


Fast forward almost 20 years later, sometime a week or two after Labor Day 1978. I was sitting against the wall at my table at Sardi’s Restaurant on West 44th Street waiting for someone who was joining me for lunch. (I began making Sardi’s my home away from home in 1954 and continue to this day.) As I sat with my drink, awaiting my guest, a familiar shape loomed over me and slid onto the bench against the wall immediately to my right. It was Gig Young, I recognized him immediately. I said hello, he looked at me quizzically, and it took a little while and a bit of reliving the past before he made any connection. We were both waiting for someone so we continued to chat. I mentioned ‘The Rogues’, a stellar TV series of the mid-1960’s in which he co-starred with Charles Boyer and David Niven, indicating that it was one of my all time favorites (it still is) and wondered if anybody were going to do anything with it. He said that it was all in the hands of Four Star Productions, the owner of the property and, while he’d love to see the show resurrected and would love to be a part of it, he doubted that either would happen. Our respective luncheon guests arrived, mine a male banker in a pinstriped suit and his an extremely attractive and animated lady of a certain age, and our conversation rushed to a rapid close. Several weeks later he used a pistol to kill his wife (I can’t tell you whether or not she was the lady that had joined him for lunch that day) and then turned that weapon on himself and blew out his brains.

So much for my suave and sophisticated role model.


Years later, as a big fan of the TV hit show “Cheers”, I often wondered whether there were any connection between the NY saloon Clavin’s and Cliff Clavin, the ‘know-it-all’ character played by John Ratzenberger in the Boston Bar Cheer’s.

Monday, February 9, 2009

TWO IRISHMEN AND A JEW MEET AT A BAR....(with Adolph Hitler's fork)


(with Adolph Hitler’s fork)

One fine spring early afternoon in the mid 1980’s, I was at one of my favorite saloons checking with one of my financial advisors (he was pouring me a Johnny Walker Black & water), and discussing the world in general with others of his clients similarly gathered. One such was a fellow-Irishman, John Van Buren Sullivan (then retired, since deceased) who had run New York’s most successful radio station WNEW, in fact the most successful in the country, and had gone on to be the first president of the media giant Metromedia. Further in his past, he had been a WWII wartime correspondent in Europe (I forget for whom - it may’ve been Stars & Stripes) and was with the Allied forces when they entered Berlin. Jack Sullivan and I had become quite good friends over the years and I enjoyed listening to him talk about his experiences working with the radio and television people, but I was always most interested in his wartime stories, particularly the one about Hitler’s bunker in Berlin.

Somehow, Jack had managed to be among the first people to enter Hitler’s bunker after it had been uncovered and der Fuhrer’s suicide announced to a grateful world. Knowing a good thing when he saw it and recognizing the opportunity to grab a piece of history, Jack was able to make off with a doormat emblazoned with the Third Reich’s symbol (the German eagle), along with about a dozen pieces of silver flatware (knives, forks and spoons) with der Fuhrer’s initials (A.H.) engraved on each piece.

So, years later on that spring early afternoon more than twenty years ago, Jack brought a small snapshot of the doormat and one set (knife, fork and spoon) of Hitler’s engraved silver to the bar at ‘21’ to show me what he’d been talking about. First he showed me the small color Polaroid he’d taken of the mat, an eagle with wings spread and standing with talons grabbing the Nazi swastika. It was a little frightening to recall what that symbol had stood for. Then he took a small velvet pouch out of his pocket and handed me the three engraved pieces. At first I was fascinated as I handled them, rubbing my fingers over the ‘A.H.’ that had been cut into each the shaft of each piece, wondering which one of history’s most murderous henchmen might have actually used the utensils I now held in my hands. Then I felt a chill as I realized that Hitler himself most probably had held them, or even Eva Braun, playfully feeding her ‘liebchen’ a forkful of spaetzle. I gave them back to Jack, thanking him for showing them to me, and he returned them to the pouch and pocketed them. I really didn’t know what else to say so our conversation soon drifted off into other subjects.

It was getting to be about one o’clock so I invited him to lunch with me at another of my favorite places, Sardi’s Bar & Restaurant in the theatrical district, a place he had also visited many times (The media conglomerate he had run, Metromedia, also published Playbill). When we walked into Sardi’s I saw that, not surprisingly, there were several people at the bar whom I knew. In particular, Bob Freeman, a close friend and long-time drinking companion with whom I shared ownership of the far left corner of the bar. Bob was a proud Jew, I was a proud Irishman, and we regularly traded insults about each other’s heritage and the prototypical predilections of our respective tribes. After Bob embraced me (he was a larger than life, emotional man) I introduced Jack Sullivan to him. They were both about the same age and, while I was Korea, they had both served in WWII, and I was sure they’d get on together. Bob told Billy the bartender to give us both a drink and, as we waited for the largesse, I fleshed out the introductions, giving some background on the Irishman to the Jew, and vice versa. Then, as we drank, I continued my description of Sullivan’s background, finally getting to Berlin.

At this point, I got cute, too cute. I told Freeman only that Sullivan had gotten into Hitler’s bunker and taken a few souvenirs. Without specifying anything, I asked Sullivan to give me his pouch. I slid out one piece (it happened to be a fork) and handed it to Freeman with no explanation. He glanced at the fork in his hand and looked back at me with a quizzical, “So?”. I told him it was one of Sullivan’s souvenirs from Hitler’s bunker and that he should turn it over and look at the engraved initials on the shaft. When he saw the “A.H.” and it quickly sunk in as to what he was holding and who else might have held it in the past, he shrieked and threw his hand in the air, the fork flying out of his grasp and clattering across the tiled floor, startling everyone at the bar as well as those in the foyer waiting for tables. I should have known better. Just a few hours earlier, as an Irishman, I had felt a chill as I began to realize what I was holding and who might have held it years ago in 1945. Freeman, the Jew, didn’t feel a chill, he felt the flames of hell. I was stupid not to realize that my Jewish friend just might have a more troubled reaction than I did.

Not really knowing what to do, I chased down Hitler’s fork, wiped it off with my handkerchief, and slipped it back to Jack Sullivan. Even my fellow-Irishman expressed his disapproval, giving me a withering look as he placed the fork back into the pouch and jammed it into his pocket and out of sight. Sullivan’s dirty look, on top of Freeman’s fevered reaction to what I’d done, made me realize how insensitive I’d been. It had been a mere 40 years since the defeat of Nazi Germany and, while the memory of history’s most inhumane gang of bullies and cutthroats still lingered, it was more like a fuzzy daguerreotype than a clearly defined digital image. Society at large, particularly the cosseted citizens of Fortress America (including myself), was quickly forgetting that evil does exist throughout the world and, like the poor, will always be with us. And, if my behavior was any indication, so would stupidity.

Happily for me, the disapproval of my Irish friend and the disappointment of my Jewish friend were both short-lived and slowly dissipated over lunch. I insisted that they both be my guests. Sullivan was ready to bolt but acquiesced as he saw Freeman hugging me, forgiving me and reaffirming our friendship (I did say that he was a more than slightly emotional human being). The three of us walked out from the bar, leaving behind an uncomprehending bartender and his extremely puzzled customers. We were led to our corner booth and, as equanimity slowly crept back into our little group, Sardi’s linguine with clam sauce for the two Irishmen, a Chicken Salad for the Jew and a bottle of wine erased the specter of Hitler’s fork.

I often think about that day and my own insensitivity, especially as I consider the significantly increased levels of complacency and denial that exist today. Some politicians too easily brand their opponents as ‘Nazi’s’, with no recognition of what that term really connotes. There are constant reminders of evil all around us and yet we find ourselves berated by the proponents of ‘moral equivalency’ whenever we dare cry, “beware!”

Forgive me for sermonizing. What started out to be a remembrance of two old friends, an illustration of how one man’s souvenir, through another man’s thoughtlessness, can become another man’s nightmare, has somehow morphed into a diatribe. However, in the final analysis, I’m sure both my Irish friend and my Jewish friend would appreciate this Irishman's sense of contrition and might be nodding their heads in approval.

Sunday, February 1, 2009




In 1975, New York City was practically insolvent. In response to the worst financial crisis in its history, the Municipal Assistance Corp. (MAC) was formed by New York State to sell billions of dollars in bonds to keep the city solvent. Though I had nothing to do with the crisis, either as a contributing cause or a possible cure, I was a participant in a banking industry meeting where the city’s crisis became the focal point. At the time, I was the partner responsible for the banking industry at a major consulting firm and was often asked to speak at industry functions. I’d been invited to speak at a BANK ADMINISTRATION INSTITUTE conference in New York whose original theme (new services for consumers and corporations) was jettisoned at the last minute, in favor of the more pressing financial matters facing New York City. However, even though the focus of the BAI meeting had undergone drastic change, for some reason, they kept me on the program.

Harrison J. Goldin, the Comptroller of The City of New York, had been scheduled to lead off as the keynote speaker and I was to follow him. On the morning of the day before the meeting, I received a phone call informing me that I would now be the opening speaker as Mr. Goldin would be in a critical early morning meeting with Felix Rohatyn, the Lazard Frères partner who was serving as chairman of MAC. This was the meeting that everyone had been waiting for, where Gotham’s fiscal future might be determined. Not only was I moved up, but they also requested that I be prepared to extend beyond the 35 to 40 minutes originally allotted in the event that Mr. Goldin might meet with further delay. So, not only was I to address an assemblage of desperate bankers who would be sitting on the edge of their seats awaiting Mr. Goldin’s report on his do-or-die meeting with Felix Rohatyn, with little or no interest in what I would have to say, I might also have to do a song and dance, vamping to fill time.

I did a lot of speech making in those days, and always felt comfortable no matter what I was asked to talk about. My philosophy was that, to the extent that I was an invited speaker standing at a lectern before any audience, a majority of them had to assume that I had something worth listening to or I wouldn’t have been invited and they wouldn’t be there in the first place. But this was different. In the final analysis, whether or not I knew what I was talking about or how well or poorly I spoke was not the issue. All this audience would want to hear was Jay Goldin’s report of what happened at the mountaintop, the newly developed plan for the city’s rescue. With Goldin waiting in the wings, the only thing they’d want to hear from me would be, “And in conclusion, -----“.

That evening, rather than going home to Connecticut, I decided to stay in town to work out changes in my speech to make it more appropriate to the evolving situation. I took a room at the New York Athletic Club and spent a futile few hours trying to figure out what to do, making no progress at all. At about 9 o’clock I gave up, deciding I’d have to wing it at the meeting and it really didn’t matter anyway, and went down to have a drink in the 3rd floor grill. At this time of night, the bar was usually not very busy and there was only one other customer. I ordered my Johnny Walker Black and water, reached for the pretzels, gazed over at my bar mate and found myself looking into a familiar face. It didn’t take long to realize that it was Forrest Tucker.

It would have been difficult not to recognize him – his career included a score of movies in the 1940’s and 1950’s (eventually AUNTIE MAME), television (especially F TROOP) and stage, both Broadway and national touring companies – plus, at 6’4” or so, he was hard to miss.

We introduced ourselves and started talking just as any two members of a club might do. He was older than I and quite famous in his own right, so early in our conversation I addressed him as Mr. Tucker. He shushed me and said, “Just call me Tuck, ..…like all my friends do.” When he found out I lived in nearby Connecticut, he asked me why the hell I was staying here at the club and not at home with my family. I explained the whole speech business and his reaction was simple. As close as I can recall his words and his tone of 30+ years ago, his advice went something like this.

“Just do what I do. When you’ve got an audience that ain’t listening, there ain’t much you can do. You can’t change the script, you can’t talk faster, you can’t talk louder. You just talk softer so they got to concentrate harder to hear you. And if they don’t even try, fuck ‘em, they don’t deserve you anyway. Say your piece and get the hell out of town.”

When I finally stopped laughing, I asked him why he was staying at the club. He explained that he’d just that day wrapped up rehearsals for the National Company of the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize winning drama THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON and would be leaving late tomorrow to start touring the country. He didn’t particularly like hotels and, besides, here at the club he couldn’t get into trouble. If he were out drinking in public at some bar or other, there was a good chance he’d attract attention and either do something unwise or, more likely as had happened to him several times in the past, be accused of doing something he hadn’t done. There was safety here in the all-male NYAC.

So, we spent the next two hours drinking and talking, and I found him to be a delightful companion, not at all impressed with his own celebrity. It was a rambling conversation, with my asking him about the people he had worked with (Gary Cooper, John Wayne, Hepburn & Tracy, et al) and while I only remember sketchy details about what he said, I do recall that he didn’t have a nasty word to say about anyone. As it approached 11pm, I made my excuses. I had to be up early to get downtown for the banking conference, so we shook hands goodbye and I left my new acquaintance Tuck alone at the bar, never expecting to see him again. I could not have been more mistaken.

The next morning I did my thing, made my mostly original, inappropriate for the occasion, only slightly altered speech as if nothing else mattered, recording it for later transcription. I also tried Tuck’s approach of speaking more softly but that didn’t seem to make any difference. After about 30 minutes of torture, my deliverance arrived. I caught sight of the event coordinator standing with Jay Goldin off stage to my left, and gesticulating for me to finish. I abruptly concluded my remarks, received a slight smattering of polite, though relieved applause from an audience that couldn’t have known (or cared) that I was more relieved than they. The coordinator walked out on stage, thanked me for my ‘insightful’ comments and announced that Mr. Goldin had arrived and would address the assemblage in about 10 minutes. As the audience started to take their comfort break, I began to unhook the tape recorder I had set up in the lectern. The coordinator asked me if I had a blank tape and, if so, could I leave the recorder in place so they could tape Mr. Goldin’s remarks. I had no desire to stick around any longer than necessary, just wanted to get back to my office, and agreed to leave my tape recorder for Mr. Goldin’s use as long as he promised to return it to my office within a few days.

I got back uptown to my office just before 11am and, by the time I got caught up on what I had to do, it was almost 1:30 in the afternoon. I left my office and walked down to Sardi’s Restaurant on West 44th Street in the theatrical district. As I strode through the front door and turned right into the ‘little bar’, I was greeted by the bartender, Croatian Freedom Fighter Jack Custera and by most of the people at the bar. (I had been there once or twice before). Surprisingly, I was also greeted by a very tall man called Forrest Tucker whom I had last seen less than 15 hours ago. He had a flight out of La Guardia in a few hours, heading for the first city on the national tour of THAT CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON, and decided to drop in at Sardi’s before heading out. He asked for an update on the morning’s proceedings and I told him that I followed his advice and the only thing that worked was “…say your piece and get the hell out of town.” At about 4 o’clock, we left Sardi’s together, he hailed a cab, dropped me at Grand Central Station for my commute ride home and continued on to La Guardia to catch his flight. Once more, I never expected to see him again and once more I was wrong.

Early the next morning, I flew from New York to St. Louis, to have lunch with the owner of a credit card processing company with whom I had done business over the last several years. He picked me up at the airport and, after brief tour of his new facility, drove me to a downtown restaurant where he was obviously well known. As we walked into the restaurant and the Maitre d’ enthusiastically greeted my host, I also received an enthusiastic greeting. From my left came a shout in a recently familiar voice, “Hey Jack. What the hell you doing here?” Forrest Tucker was sitting in booth against the wall, one long arm waving over his head and a big smile on his face. I tried to stay cool and nonchalantly waved back with a “Hey Tuck. Just had to get the hell out of town.” He laughed and winked and returned to his companions and I proceeded as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. My host was astonished and, as much as he tried to get me to explain, I pretended that nothing out of the ordinary had happened.

So, within the space of less than three days, I had three accidental meetings with Forrest Tucker in three different places in two cities a thousand miles apart. As he had suggested, both of us had said what we had to say and then got "the hell out of town.”

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

STRANGERS ON A PLANE - Charles Collingwood



The Saturday morning flight home from Mexico City was not the flight I had intended to take. I’d been commuting back and forth every other week between New York and Mexico City since September 1968 and now, in the Spring of 1969, expected to be doing the same for at least the rest of the year. My bi-weekly schedule was pretty well set. A late Tuesday afternoon flight on Air France from Kennedy to Mexico City (one of the best traveling, eating and drinking experiences you could ever imagine), three days in Mexico City overseeing an important assignment for the largest bank in the Republic and meeting with the client, and Friday night’s return flight to New York on Aeronaves de Mexico (not one of the best traveling, eating and drinking experiences you could ever imagine).

However, something came up. My regularly-scheduled Friday afternoon progress report to the chairman of the bank, had to be postponed until Friday evening, so I wouldn’t be able to fly out until the following morning. I was able secure a 1st Class seat on Saturday morning’s Eastern flight to New York and that’s when and where I had the great good fortune to meet Charles Collingwood for the first time.

We were accidental seatmates in the 3rd or 4th row on the left side of the 1st class cabin, he the window, I the aisle, and I recognized him immediately. Notwithstanding the early hour, when the stewardess offered coffee or tea before take-off, we both ordered scotch. Having thus established a basic commonality, we introduced ourselves, I handed him a business card and he reciprocated. His card was elegant in its simplicity: “Charles Collingwood – Chief Foreign Correspondent”, with the London address of CBS News - 100 Brompton Road - and a telephone number. (To this day, I still use this business card as a permanent bookmark in my copy of his excellent Viet Nam novel THE DEFECTOR.)

Charles Collingwood died in 1985 at the age of 68. Today, in the year 2009, many people may not recognize his name. However, forty years ago he was probably as well known as almost anybody on the planet, including most people on television, and infinitely more experienced, eloquent, polished, wise, witty and urbane than all of them. A Rhodes scholar at Oxford University in 1939, he was soon tapped by CBS’s Edward R. Murrow who was assembling a small group of on-air journalists, young men who would cover the fighting in Europe and who would quickly come to be known as ‘Murrow’s Boys’. Along with Charles Collingwood, the group included Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid and Ed Murrow himself, the cadre that would come to define ‘broadcast journalism’. Collingwood covered the fighting in North Africa, reported on the Normandy Invasion from Omaha Beach, the liberation of Paris and continued his international reporting with his many visits to and reports from Viet Nam. In addition to being CBS’s Chief Foreign Correspondent, he had also spent several years covering the White House, hosted Jackie Kennedy’s televised tour of the White House, and had stepped in for Walter Cronkite when Cronkite was overcome with emotion at JFK’s assassination. He also hosted CBS’s award-wining program, Eyewitness to History. All of which accounted for my shocked delight at the prospect of spending the next four or five hours in his company.

I tried to remember some of his history as we touched glasses and had the first of many scotches we’d share during this flight and several others. (He requested Dewar’s and, as they had no Johnny Walker Black on board, I had the same.) The remaining hours of our original flight together were an absolute delight. He was a storyteller and he most certainly had the stickers on his luggage to validate his stories. I was most interested in what he’d have to say about Viet Nam. He’d been covering that part of the world for several years and I remembered the CBS speciaI on Hanoi that he’d hosted about a year earlier. He was more than happy to talk about the time he spent in Hanoi, not only because of his reporter’s inclinations, but because his Hanoi-based novel, THE DEFECTOR, was about to be published. For some reason, what I remember most clearly was his description of the topsy-turvy nature of daily life in Hanoi; how, in reaction to the U.S. bombing in the daylight hours, most of the daily activities were conducted before sunrise and late in the day, the several hours before sunrise being the busiest of the day.

He seemed to really like the Vietnamese people, and was very knowledgeable of and sympathetic to their history – a century of French involvement ending with the Indo-China War followed by the awful situation in which they now found themselves, living in the midst of a battleground of political ideologies. But he never really felt that comfortable amongst them. Being a tall ‘round-eye’ he always was a curiosity to the locals and, being who he was, he was a focus of attention of the officials.

He was in his early 50’s, I was 37 and, as much as he was willing to share his experiences with this relative youngster, he also seemed genuinely interested in what I had to say. He had the reporter’s mind’s eye for detail and questioned me closely on my combat experience in Korea, limited as it was and insignificant when considered in respect to his having reported on the Normandy invasion from Omaha Beach. He was also very interested in my initial reactions to Mexico City. I’d mentioned that my first night there in September 1968, days prior to the opening of the 1968 Olympic Games, was spent looking down from the 16th floor cocktail lounge of the Hotel del Paseo on the riots unfolding on the Paseo de la Reforma below. I said that I’d felt like Dante looking down on Chaos below and was despairing as to how successful my next year in Mexico might be. However, over the next few months I grew to recognize Mexico City for the cosmopolitan place it was and enjoyed working there. He had many questions about how I was able to interact with the Mexican businessmen and I tried to describe to him exactly what I was trying to accomplish. Our conversation throughout the flight was non-stop. I was absolutely fascinated at whatever he had to say, realizing the depth of experience underpinning all of his observations. I was also touched that he expressed interest in what I had done, even though I recognized the possibility that his interest, in some part, may merely have been to make conversation. In the course of our conversation, we realized that there were several similarities in our schedules. We were both commuting back and forth from home (he from London, I from New York) to Mexico (he to Puerto Vallarta, I to Mexico City). While I was doing it every other week, he was doing it more or less monthly.

At the time, Charles and his wife, Hollywood actress Louise Allbritton, lived principally in London but also had a place in Puerto Vallarta and were very friendly with two other part-time inhabitants, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who had a place in the section of Puerto Vallarta that came to be known as ‘Gringo Gulch’. As a matter of fact, his novel THE DEFECTOR is a story that opens in Puerto Vallarta (or Puerto Secreto, as he calls it in the book) and ends up in Hanoi.

As we were getting ready to land in New York, we decided that, because we had similar schedules and seemed to be fairly compatible seatmates, there was a good chance we’d meet again on a future Saturday morning flight to New York. From that point on, we both looked for each other and managed to share three more flights to New York over the rest of 1969.

This last time we spoke had to have been in late November or early December 1969. I can mark the time because one of the things we discussed was President Nixon’s televised “Silent Majority” speech to the nation on November 3,1969. I remember the date of the speech precisely as it occurred on my 37th birthday. The main thrust of Nixon’s speech was his laying out a plan to end the war in Viet Nam through a combination of diplomacy, negotiation and Vietnamization, requesting the support of the ‘great silent majority’ of the American citizenry. But there were also allusions to secret channels of communications, secret meetings with the North Vietnamese and others using both official and unofficial conduits, all of which had been going on for some time.

I had wondered whether Charles might have been one of those conduits, or even something more sinister, but was hesitant to ask not wanting to stick my nose in where it might not be welcome. However, I am not normally reticent and, to the extent that we were experiencing a weather delay and had been in the air, drinking for about 5 ½ hours, I suppose I was even less so. As we returned to scotch after having had wine with the meal, I plunged right in with something like, “Nixon hinted at secret meetings with the Viet Cong using unofficial approaches. You’ve been in and out of North Viet Nam several times since he was elected a year ago. Have you been one of those sneaky types?” The drink that had loosened my tongue had done more to him. His initial reaction was anger and I was afraid I’d gone too far. He said something like, “Don’t ever ask me anything like that!” Then he quickly cooled and smiled and we moved on to something else. To this day, I don’t know whether it was that I had hit a nerve, whether he had done something clandestine and didn’t want it known or, was it just the booze after all. There were stories about his drinking, but in our few times together, this was the only time I was even suspicious that he might be showing the effects. At any rate, I was careful where I tread after that, not wanting to ruffle any more feathers and jeopardize an acquaintanceship I enjoyed.

After calming down, he reached under his seat, slid out a soft leather zippered case and pulled out a paperback book, his Viet Nam novel THE DEFECTOR. He handed it to me, possibly as a peace offering, and said he hoped I’d enjoy it. At my request he signed it for me, just his name, and after we landed at New York’s JFK airport and said our goodbyes, I never saw him or talked to him again. However, I did read his novel, a story about a well-known journalist employed by a large television network as its premier foreign correspondent who is recruited by a shady CIA type. The mission - to secure permission from North Vietnam to visit and report from Hanoi, and while there covertly approach and assist an important North Vietnamese official whom the CIA believes wants to defect.

Now, by nature I’m not constantly on the lookout for conspiracies, but there seemed to be just a few similarities between the plot of Charles’ novel and my question to him which was met with a brief, though heated, reaction. Nevertheless, I draw no conclusions and make no accusations, especially since he’s no longer with us to set me straight.

I wish he were.

Incidentally, a few years later, one of my wife's cousins from her birthplace in Italy was spending a few months with us at our home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. After having exhausted all the sight-seeing opportunities in Manhattan, we decided to take her to Washington, D.C. for a weekend and, to give her some sense of current events, we booked two adjoining rooms at The Watergate Hotel, a place which was all over the news in those days. On Saturday afternoon, October 20, 1973, we took a tour of the White House and Anna, my wife's cousin was fascinated with the place. The one disappointment was that we were not allowed to see the Oval Office, the only reason given was that it was being used at the time. It wasn't until a few hours later, back at our rooms at The Watergate, that a television news flash provided a fuller explanation. This was the so-called "Saturday night massacre" where President Nixon's Watergate scandal deepened with his firing of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, followed by the resignations of Attorney General Eliot Richardson and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus.

The other casualty of that momentous weekend was my signed copy of Charles Collingwood's book, THE DEFECTOR. When we returned home on Monday afternoon, we found about a foot of water covering the lower level of the house, the result of a leak in our water heater. Among the waterlogged items in the lowest shelves of the bookcases in my office, were my high school and college yearbooks and THE DEFECTOR. I was at least partially able to rescue the yearbooks, but Charles' paperback was destroyed. I replaced it with a hard cover copy. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to ask Charles to autograph it.

I wish I had.


Just as an aside (and only slightly concerning Charles Collingwood), in mid-1970 my wife Maria and I took a weeklong holiday split between Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta. We normally would spend at least two weeks on any holiday we took but I’d been away from home frequently over the previous 18 months and she’d just given birth to our second son in February. We decided we needed some time together and she certainly had earned a holiday. She was also curious to see what all my raving of Mexico City was about.

We spent a long weekend being shepherded around the Capital and surrounding areas of interest by several of the friends I’d made over the last year and a half. After three days, Maria had seen enough of Mexico City and we were both exhausted. Remembering Charles’ suggestion about hotels in Puerto Vallarta, I’d followed his advice and made reservations at the Camino Real. This was a new hotel in Mismaloya, the locale in which THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA was filmed, not far from downtown Puerto Vallarta. Maria and I flew over to Puerto Vallarta, checked into the Camino Real and spent a delightful four days relaxing in the sun on the hotel’s beach on the Pacific Ocean's Bahía de Banderas. We really had no desire to do anything but relax and, to the extent that I knew Collingwood was not in Puerto Vallarta but elsewhere either plugging his book or on some other mission, I was not particularly keen to leave the hotel grounds. However, on the day before we were scheduled to leave for home, I grew a little curious as to what the town might be like and figured that this might be the only chance I’d ever have to see it.

Maria was content to stay on the beach, she’d done enough sightseeing in Mexico City to last her for a while, so I found a taxi driver out front who claimed to know everything about Puerto Vallarta, and had him give me the tour. The town had been a backwater resort, well off the beaten path, visited mostly by vaguely creative types, poets, dreamers and homosexuals looking for cheap surroundings and kindred souls. Director John Huston’s filming of THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA there in 1963 changed all of that. The world press converged on the three-ring circus featuring the Richard Burton-Elizabeth Taylor extra-marital affair, the battles between the film’s stars, principally Burton and Ava Gardner, and the battles between the stars and the director. The sleepy little coastal town had become an international curiosity and was experiencing all the growth and development that came with the territory.

After a general tour of the town, my driver’s premiere destination was the Burton/Taylor house, a place called the Casa Kimberly. It was an enormous spread up on a hill beyond a church in a section of town that by now had come to be called "Gringo Gulch." The driver told me that the house had spectacular views of the Bay of Banderas, and the city of Puerto Vallarta itself. I declined his offer to go up the hill to get a closer look, asking him instead if he knew where the Collingwood’s lived. Obviously, Charles was not as big a draw as Cleopatra and her Antony, and the driver came up blank. But I did remember a bar that Charles had mentioned (I can’t recall the name now, 40 years later) and had the cab driver take me there and wait while I went in for a drink (he refused my offer to join me). Charles had said it was one of the best places in town to get a dry martini and one of the few places where they had Gordon’s Gin. The martini was bracing and, though it’s not my preferred poison, I enjoyed it and the specter of Charles’ company as I drank it.

I got back to the Camino Real late that afternoon and, after rejoining Maria on the beach, decided to take my last swim in the Bay. It almost turned out to be just that, my last swim, as I forgot about the warnings we’d been given about the Bay and the strong ocean-bound pull of the current. The next half hour or so in the water was a struggle to….….but, as Charles Collingwood might have said, that’s another story.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

IF YOU'VE GOT THE RIGHT TENOR - Robert Rounseville



Within a ten-minute span on a winter morning in 1972, I received two telephone calls in my office in Manhattan, across Sixth Avenue from Radio City Music Hall. When my secretary buzzed me about the first call, she calmly informed me that there was a call for me from the White House. I took the call and, I’m sorry to admit, it was not The Man calling for my advice on some particularly thorny national security problem. Rather, it turned out to be from a friend with whom I used to work at another consulting firm, bringing me up to date on his current government assignment. My secretary, who had only recently been assigned to me, was getting used to fielding some pretty odd telephone calls, and the White House call didn’t faze her. But the second call was another matter.

Right after I finished the conversation with my friend in Washington, there was another call. Instead of buzzing me, she dashed into my office almost breathless.

“There’s a Robert Rounseville calling you. Is it really the Robert Rounseville?”

I assured her that it was the Robert Rounseville and motioned for her to sit as I picked up the phone. I explained the situation to Mr. Rounseville, that I had a fan of his in my office, and asked if he’d be kind enough to say hello to her. He did, they spoke for a few moments and, from that point on, I had a secretary who’d walk through fire for me. The White House had gotten no rise from her. Robert Rounseville had taken her breath away

Captain Bob (he invariably wore a Greek fisherman’s cap) was a well-traveled and world-renowned tenor, appearing in operas, concerts, Broadway, movies and television long before The Three Tenors of current fame. My earliest exposure to him was in the movie THE TALES OF HOFFMANN in the early 1950’s, still one of my favorite movies of all time. Between then and a fatal heart attack in 1974 at only 60 years of age, Bob displayed an amazing range of talent. He starred in the world premiere of Igor Stravinsky's opera THE RAKE'S PROGRESS, as Mr. Snow in the film of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s CAROUSEL and in the title role on Broadway in the original production of Leonard Bernstein's CANDIDE, opposite another favorite of mine, Barbara Cook. He also appeared on television in several English-language versions of well-known operas and made studio recordings of other operas and operettas - and we’re not yet out of the 1950’s. Into the 1960’s he appeared in many revivals of operettas and musicals at the New York City Center, such as BRIGADOON and SHOW BOAT. In 1965, he was back on Broadway as the Padre in the original stage version of MAN OF LA MANCHA, a role he remained in for six years.

Initially, Bob and I had a nodding acquaintance arising from our both frequenting a few of the same watering holes in Manhattan’s theater district. We’d occasionally bump into each other, say hello, and even have small polite conversations. The first time we spent any time together was in the latter part of 1969 during a late evening ride on a commuter train traveling from New York’s Grand Central Station to our common destination, the town of Katonah in Westchester County. We were standing next to each other in the bar car and spent the hour-long ride drinking and talking. We found that we had several friends in common and, as Bob was in a garrulous mood and was an excellent storyteller with many an interesting story to tell, he did most of the talking and I did most of the listening. The only thing I remember saying that night was about when I had recently gone to see MAN OF LA MANCHA for the second time. I can’t remember who had the lead role of Cervantes/Quixote at the time (I had seen Richard Kiley in the original cast) but, that night, a replacement went on, an Israeli actor named Gideon Singer. I told Bob that it felt the same as if I were sitting through FIDDLER ON THE ROOF starring Desi Arnaz.

When the train finally pulled into Katonah NY, we both got off. I lived in Ridgefield, CT, just across the state line, about 20 miles away and had my car at the station. He lived in Katonah so I offered to give him a ride home. I was more than repaid for the favor when he agreed to my bold request for him to sing while we drove to his house. At the time, my wife Maria and I had one son who was almost two-years old and were expecting another in two months time, so I asked him to sing one of the songs he sang in Carousel, ‘WHEN THE CHILDREN ARE ASLEEP.’ He joyfully granted my request (he really did love to sing), I had a private concert from this world-renowned tenor and he had an even more committed fan. (I have to admit that I joined in, tentatively at first, making it a duet without the harmony.)

We became pretty close friends after that and he’d often call me at my office (to my secretary’s delight), I’d call him at his studio in Carnegie Hall or we’d meet for lunch or a drink. I even had him meet me at my office once, again to my secretary’s delight, as she sat chatting with us after the initial shock wore off.

I also went to visit him at his Carnegie Hall studio once, not too long before he died. Bob had often talked about a one-man show he was trying to put together, with the help of Bob Lipsyte, one-time sports columnist for the New York Times, now a well-respected author of fiction and non-fiction. He gave me a copy of a draft that Lipsyte had put together (it may be still somewhere in my files), asked me to read it and wondered if I could help him find financial backing. I contacted several people I knew who might be interested in such a project but, before I was able to drum up any real interest, Robert Rounseville died. That beautiful voice was stilled and that vibrant personality was laid to rest.

Captain Bob had died suddenly, August 6, 1974, stricken by a massive heart attack and collapsing doing one of his favorite things, teaching a singing class, in one of his favorite places, his Carnegie Hall studio.

As I said at the outset, my secretary was fairly new to me and, before Robert Rounseville called my office, probably hadn’t yet decided whether or not I was worth the effort. The call from ‘Captain Bob’ changed all of that. And for me personally, knowing ‘Captain Bob’, even for only the latter years of his all-too-short life, was a joy.

.....And the opportunity to sing a duet with him during a late night drive was a gift from the gods.


Tuesday, January 6, 2009




“Clive Barnes (1927-2008) ….A longtime drama and dance critic - at the New York Post for 30 years and The New York Times for 13 more before that – died yesterday at the age of 81. referred to him as the most powerful theater critic in the city. stretched that to the entire country.” New York Post, Nov. 20, 2008

Years past, when the theater was grander, the print media more relevant and Broadway the metaphor for barely reachable dreams, opening nights were the things of which those dreams were sometimes made. After the curtain came down on the final scene, the first-nighters, mostly friends of the producers, fellow-actors and other kindred souls, loudly voiced their huzzahs and clapped their hands until bloody while demanding just one more curtain call, all the time telling everyone within hearing how marvelous the evening had been. But those on the other side of the curtain, the working actors who long ago realized that they were in a profession where all jobs were temporary and that fame was a fickle mistress, knew that the opening night crowd out front was not the final arbiter. There was another audience whose voice would determine just how temporary their current employment might be - the Drama Critics from New York’s daily newspapers.

The drama critics, from Brooks Atkinson to Bosley Crowther to Walter Kerr to Clive Barnes, and all those in between, held the power of life and death and wielded it mercilessly but fairly. Their reviews were usually available within and hour or two after the opening night’s final curtain and all that the producers, players and other perspiring parties could do was wait. They mostly chose to wait at one of the theatrical district’s watering holes, particularly Sardi’s Bar and Restaurant, located next door to The New York Times, home of the most influential (read ‘powerful’) critic, who, for a significant period of time was Clive Barnes. When his review finally descended, shortly after midnight, from the Time’s premises above to the crowded oasis below, careers were enhanced or retarded, investments multiplied or erased, egos inflated or destroyed and, most importantly for the creative person, professional self worth was quantified and qualified, for better or for worse.

All of this occurred to me as I read Clive Barnes’ death notice and recalled one time when I was witness to one of his reviews, albeit not a formal one and not delivered after midnight to a waiting crowd at Sardi’s. While it was delivered in Sardi’s and it was a review from Clive Barnes, what was special was that it was delivered in the middle of the day, verbally and in person by Clive Barnes to an actor not expecting it.

The story is simple and I tell it only as a tribute to a dear old friend who died in January 2000. Alan North was a character actor (he hated to be called that) who had a long and busy career on stage and in the movies and television. He was one of those working actors whose name might not be particularly well known, but you know you’ve seen him before. Movies like Plaza Suite, Highlander, The Fourth Protocol, Lean On Me, Glory, See No Evil-Hear No Evil, Serpico, The Formula are examples of an impressive string of high profile films in which Alan would portray important featured characters and do it extremely well. He also did a lot of work on stage and television, with his most noticeable TV role in the early-'80s police spoof Police Squad, as Leslie Nielsen’s boss, Captain Ed Hocken. This show developed a cult-like following, especially on college campuses, and was the forerunner of The Naked Gun movies.

He was so well regarded that during the last decade plus of his career, as macular degeneration rendered him legally blind, he was still in demand. His wife June, an actress herself, would work with him on his scripts and accompany him on location, including Finland where they shot the opening scene of The Fourth Protocol and where she kept threatening to run off with Pierce Brosnan. On his death, the New York Times thought enough of him to run a very large obituary in the lead position of the obituary section. But, I do not think that he would have been completely pleased with obituary's heading, "Alan North, 79, Character Actor..."

At any rate, shortly after noon on a warm and sunny late Spring Wednesday, 20 or so years ago, Alan and I were standing on the outer edge of the Matinee day crowd packed in at Sardi’s Little Bar, trying to figure out where to enjoy a quiet lunch. We had just decided to flee the crowd and walk through Shubert Alley over to Patsy & Carl’s Theater Bar on 45th Street when a short, middle-aged man with a wispy sweep of hair reaching across one side of a high forehead and a wry, almost lopsided smile on his face, approached. He stopped in front of us and, as I looked on, addressed Alan as ‘Mr. North’ and politely asked to be excused for his intrusion, with more than a hint of Britain in his voice. It took me a moment to realize it was Clive Barnes, but Alan knew immediately, and as Mr. Barnes proceeded to explain his ‘intrusion’, my surprise turned to astonishment, as did Alan’s.

As a private, theater-going citizen, not in his official role as Drama Critic, he had recently seen Alan in a revival of a play that had always been a particular favorite of his, John Osborne’s The Entertainer. Alan starred as Archie Rice, the entertainer of the title, a music-hall performer in an age when the music halls had all but disappeared. Now shabby in middle age, Archie produces and performs in variety shows that could best be described as tawdry and desperate, as he hangs on and perseveres, a kind of heroic failure, a sympathetic figure. Both the play (1957) and the movie (1960) had Lawrence Olivier as Archie Rice and received many nominations and won many awards.

Clive Barnes was more than enthusiastic in his praise of Alan’s portrayal of Archie Rice, and indicated that he was pleased to have this opportunity to tell him in person. Then came the bolt from the blue. He went on to tell Alan that he rated his performance of the role superior to Olivier’s. Clive Barnes honestly thought that Alan North had been a better actor than Lawrence Olivier, at least in this one particular role. I could only imagine what was going through my friend’s mind as this bombshell dropped. Here was a working actor who had enough talent and perseverance to sustain a career throughout his adult life, enabling him to support his family while doing what he loved to do. He was now being compared by a legendary theater critic to the legendary actor, and more than favorably. It was enough to put an exclamation point to a career, to justify any actor’s entire existence.

Clive Barnes said his goodbyes, repeating his apologies for intruding, and continued on his way. Alan and I just stood speechless, looking at each other. I assume I had a look of shock on my face, but his was beginning to move from an expression of disbelief to unspeakable jubilation. He laughed out loud, attracting some puzzled stares from the bar crowd, then grabbed my arm and led me outside onto 44th Street.

We never did have lunch that day. He just wanted to be able to savor the experience. The two of us just walked around the theater district aimlessly for about an hour, Alan seeming to float at least 12 inches off the ground, myself just quietly riding shotgun.

In the years following, there were only occasional mentions of the incident between us and I was never sure how many people he might have told about it. After he died in January 2000, his wife June asked me if I would make a few remarks at a memorial gathering she had arranged upstairs at Sardi’s in the Belasco Room. I felt privileged to and concluded my remembrances that evening with this story. From the reactions afterwards, I could only conclude that Alan had considered that meeting with Clive Barnes so special and personal that he’d shared it with no one but June. And she was pleased that night that, finally, all of his friends would now know in what high esteem Alan North was held by Clive Barnes.

Now that these two professionals are both gone, it’s possible that they’re in close enough proximity to continue that conversation from years ago without having to concern themselves with being overheard by this amateur, this civilian.

November 23, 2008