Monday, November 9, 2009

Ted - And Showbiz

Oh, I've seen some real pros working some hard rooms in my time. But the story about W.C. Fields working that beach - pretending to drown - that takes the cake.

I heard Phil Harris talk about growing up in a circus that played throughout the tank towns of the Midwest. He said back in the day, they paraded from the railroad to the fairgrounds, attracting a crowd as they went, then they played their first show that night. At the end of the show, they would tear it all down and load it up in the middle of the night - gone again. What a life.

One of my old buddies was Ted. He was a Polish Jew who grew up in a steamer trunk all over Europe. His mother and father were actors in Yiddish theater.

When Hitler invaded Poland, they happened to be in London. So, Ted spent his war there. Soon, he was recruited by the OSS because of his extensive knowledge of Slavic languages. He'd been, literally, everywhere during his childhood. Knew the customs, the dialects, the locations - a lot of the people.

So, he parachuted into various locations during his wartime service, emerging alive and very experienced at fighting.

Now, Ted liked to drink and drink he did. All day long and all night long.

He also loved women. Oh, how he loved women.

He had two of them - one on either side of U.S. 1 in Pt. St. Lucie, Florida. He had a Cadillac. He had problems. He was spending his time between women, liquor stores and jails, as it were.

I can just hear it now.

"Go! Schmuck! Go - run - to your whore, your yenta! You can never be happy with an honest woman, a righetous woman. Run away like a little boy! I'm going to call the cops, you asshole!" Then woman number one would make a run at him with the butcher knife.

Don't look at me. I have no idea.

One night he was apprehended by two of the local gendarmes as he mopped the ditches on both sides of the road with his Coupe de Ville.

While they were questioning him, one stood in front, the other behind him.

Now the one cop would push his chest with his finger and the other would shove him forward with his night stick from behind.

Ted flashed, then he went postal.

He whirled, put a karate punch right in cop two's larynx, and kicked cop one in the balls. Then he ran, screaming "Murder! Is there no peace for an old man? Murder!"

That's when he ran into a house through the screened-in porch beside the pool, through the den, and out the back door, through a hedge, across a drainage canal, then through another house.

It's all standard practice in the spycraft game.

Make a lot of noise. Attract a lot of attention. Then run to either a public building with multiple exits, or a private property with more than one exit. But keep moving.

They found him at the yenta's house, sleeping it off, the next morning.

He had been charged with assaulting two police officers. The one with the crushed larynx was in bad condition, hospitalized. The one with the crushed balls was wounded in his pride.

Ted was in trouble. Deep trouble.

If it hadn't been for his sense of humor, his gravitas, his theatrical airs, I don't think I would have survived. I think circumstances would have crushed me.

But Ted taught me a few things before he died. He taught me show biz! He taught me the things they taught him at a secret base in England. He taught me that he who survives the war is truly the victor.

I rejoice each time I think of the old ham!

The Legend

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