The Nicest Star I Ever Met

Of course I wasn’t the first. He was a big deal. He knew that. It didn’t matter. He wanted to be nice right back and worked hard to make sure he was.

I’ve met a lot of famous people. That was especially true when I used to fill-in on Good Morning America&#185. Stars–real stars–were coming through that studio every day.

They were working. I was working. Often we’d just pass in the hallway or when they were placed in my area waiting to go on. I was the fill-in weatherman, not exactly a major player.

“Are those children’s drawings?” A short trim man with a deep Texas accent asked that one morning while looking over my shoulder.

“No Mr. Perot. They’re weather maps.”

Any respect I had for H. Ross Perot disappeared in that one instant! He was in the studio promoting a book he surely didn’t write.

I’ve already chronicled my biggest celebrity disappointment. I might as well tell you who was best.

First though, honorable mention to Ron Howard. Holy crap I watched this man my (and his) whole life. He could not have been nicer. He was promoting Apollo 13 and I’d just been with him two days earlier in Houston at the Space Center.

Under any other circumstances he’d be number one. He’s nice and a Renaissance man.

dennis franz.jpgThe winner is Dennis Franz. Remember him from NYPD Blue?

I can’t even remember what Franz was promoting, but he was walking down the hall near Spencer Christian’s dressing room (which became mine for the day) as I walked out.

He was paunchy and rumpled–just like TV! His accent screamed Chicago.

I introduced myself and told him how much I enjoyed watching him on TV. He thanked me for my kind words, but it wasn’t just a thank you. He was speaking as if I was the first person ever to say something nice to him. His response dripped of humility and sincerity.

Of course I wasn’t the first. He was already a big deal. He knew that. It didn’t matter. He wanted to be nice right back and worked hard to make sure he was.

I have never forgotten that short meeting. It is still vivid in my mind.

I’m sure I have been short with people who come up to me asking for an autograph or photo or just wanting to say hello. No one is perfect–certainly not me. But I always try and remember Dennis Franz and use him as my guide in how to be when someone has taken the time to give me a compliment.

It was a little tiny thing which took so little effort on his part and yet it was so meaningful.

Hey Dennis–I hope you get to see this. Believe me, the pleasure was all mine. I meant every kind word then and now.

&#185 – Still available. A decade between appearances isn’t that much.

Frost/Nixon–Tonight’s Entertainment

Obviously any account of the event will share facts, but this is scarily similar. Too similar. I suspect it entered heavily into Peter Morgan’s thought process as he wrote the original stage play.


The text above, from the New York Times, is a contemporaneous account of the Frost/Nixon interviews. I didn’t watch them in ’77. The pre-show buzz said it was long and ploddingly boring as I remember.

Helaine and I saw Frost/Nixon tonight. Excellent movie. Very compelling. Frank Langella is Nixon. I am a huge Ron Howard fan–that won’t change.

I was no fan of Nixon.

I turned against our Vietnam policy in ’66 or so (against our government’s policy not against our soldiers) during the Johnson Administration. I marched on Washington in the Moratorium and joined more peaceful protests while in college in Boston.

To my contemporaries and me Nixon poured gasoline on an already raging fire. Watergate then added insult to injury. And, as recon missions go, it was stupid. Nixon was going to win by a landslide anyway. Did they really need to know what was in Larry O’Brien’s office at Watergate?

It is difficult to understand the depth of distaste toward Richard Nixon if you weren’t there. Unlike Iraq, ‘Nam was being fought daily on TV. Death and injury were vividly seen. Bush-43 controlled the coverage much better than Nixon who watched public opinion shift away from him as the futility of the war became obvious. And, of course, Nixon was anything but a sympathetic character.

After the movie I wanted to read a little more from the period. Along with the Times article I found a long preview of the show from Time Magazine.

“He is back among us. And, as always, in a memorable manner, both painful and poignant, sometimes illuminating, usually self-serving. The once too-familiar face of Richard Nixon re-enters the homes of America this week for 90 minutes of dramatic television.”

What’s most interesting is this long Time article reads like an outline for the movie! Obviously any two accounts of this event will share facts, but this is uncomfortably similar. Too similar. I suspect Time’s treatment entered heavily into Peter Morgan’s thought process as he wrote the original stage play.

In the movie Nixon’s camp downplays David Frost’s qualifications to hurt them. I could be wrong, but that doesn’t ring true because of Frost’s association with “That Was The Week That Was“–a show whose American version was brutally critical of Nixon (and with this clip also brutally critical of PM Harold Macmillan in its British version).

Paul Winchell

Every time I write about a dead person I say, “no more.” And yet, so many interesting people continue to die. Maybe it’s something about being interesting that hastens death? In any event, I read about Paul Winchell’s death this afternoon.

As a kid I knew him as a ventriloquist; the straight man for Jerry Mahoney. The generation following mine knew him more as the voice of “Tigger” from Winney the Poo or numerous Saturday morning cartoons&#185. Paul Winchell is the guy who first said, “TTFN – ta ta for now” – an ad lib during a Poo audio session!

I also knew he had something to do with a few medical inventions, including heart valves and an artificial heart!

Today, I decided to read about what he had done. Who knew there was a Paul Winchell website? They’ll have to change the slogan, “A living legend.”

I read his story of the artificial heart and there’s something about it that makes me uneasy. Maybe it’s his participating in his own son’s tonsillectomy or surgeries at a research hospital in Utah… I don’t know, I’m just uneasy.

I’ve been an observer in operating rooms in the past. It’s not that he was there, but that he was involved. And yet, if my current attitude would have prevailed, his inventions wouldn’t have gotten out.

Anyway, let’s leave it with me being uneasy and calling it a day.

The bigger story with Paul Winchell has to do with typecasting. Sometimes it’s easy to look at someone who has defined himself to the public with his work and forget that what you know might only be a small subset of the total person.

&#185 – This is similar to the Anne B. Davis method of age estimation. If you look at a picture of Anne B. Davis and say, “Alice,” you’re under 50. If you look at a picture of Anne B. Davis and say “Schultzy,” you’re over 50. Simple. This can also be done with Bob Denver and Ron Howard.

Old TV Remembered

Here it is the middle of the night and I’ve just finished watching “Make Room for Daddy” on Nickelodeon. It’s been a really long time since I’ve seen MRFD and this episode specifically.

This was the episode that spun off “The Andy Griffith Show.”

I didn’t get there for the very beginning. I saw the credits and saw I missed Frank Cady (Sam Drucker from Petticoat Junction, Beverly Hillbillies and Green Acres) and Rance Howard, Ron Howard’s father.

Also missing was Don Knotts. There was no deputy in this episode.

Ron Howard was there. Judging by looks, he was around three or four years old. Compared to comparably aged Olsen Twins, he could definitely act.

Andy referred to the relative who took care of Opie as Aunt Lucy. Lucy wasn’t seen but Francis Bavier, who would go on to play Aunt Bea, played a down on her luck townie.

As pilots go, and I suppose this can be considered the “Andy Griffith Show’s” pilot, it was pretty well fleshed out and quite similar to what ended up on the air. All this, of course, because the show was built totally around Andy’s persona.

I should say a few words about Danny Thomas. He was an overacting, self indulgent, and sparsely talented comedic lead. That’s why Andy Griffith’s show is the one we remember and Danny Thomas’ has faded away.