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SEPTEMBER 2018

Johnny Western (below right) and I used to be a hot act at Western conventions. He strums, hums, and sings the “Sugarfoot” theme song, and I act it out. When Johnny sings, “Sugarfoot, Sugarfoot,” I lean low, touch my boot, and lick my fingers. Yummers. OK, so I flunked mime 101. OK, so Bob Fuller cringes when he’s a member of our captive audience. I tellya folks, you really shoulda been there. When Johnny sang, “Ridin’ down to cattle town,” I’d hold my nose—heh, heh—and so does Bob Fuller.

Johnny Western.One October in Newark, NJ, at a Friends of Old-Time Radio convention, Johnny and I co-starred in a re-creation of a classic radio show. Bet it was a Western. Later, Johnny emceed a panel of singers and musicians who talked about their careers in wafting pretty melodies out over the airwaves during radio’s Golden Age. Johnny intro’d a stunning star of the Steinway. She elegantly took a bow. She wowed ‘em. “Folks,” said Johnny, “It’s hard to believe this lovely virtuoso of the piano has been tickling the ivories for most of her 92 years!” Suddenly, La Diva’s face froze in horror like an eerie Halloween mask. She started to crumble like Margo, escaping her Lost Horizon. My wife Babs and Johnny’s wife Jo sat together. Babs tried to stifle a snicker. Jo looked at her—bad move. Jo tried to stifle a snigger. No go. The more they tried to gather themselves, the more they lost any semblances of composure. Slowly they sank, lower and lower, hands muffling snorts, cackles, giggles, shrieks, sobs—a helpless heap. Shades of Mary Tyler Moore at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown.

Johnny and Jo Western! You’re aces in our book. Remember the dinners, the jokes, the concerts, the après concerts, the camaraderie? We sorely miss your “Filmland Horsemen” in WESTERN CLIPPINGS, Johnny. Hi Ho–And so it goes.

Will and Penny.Recently Babs and I had a couple of horsie thrills. We chanced upon a TV re-run of the “F Troop” pilot. The highlight for us was Melody Patterson’s galloping up to the camera, astride my favorite steed Penny. He carried me safely through three plus seasons of “Sugarfoot”. Melody and Penny looked mighty happy. At last, Penny had someone aboard who cut the mustard. Once, I sent Melody a signed 8x10 of Penny and me. It was returned. Melody, if I knew your address, I’d send it back.

A few nights later, we watched Boyd Magers’ favorite western, “The Tall T”. Here came badguy Richard Boone galloping up to the camera. Babs gasped. “That’s Sickle!” And so he was, the hoss I rode most of ol’ Sweet Toes’ first season. Ah, Sickle. He looked happy too. Way out thar on location. Cactus, prairie, mountains. Far from the WB back lot, where if you ever got up to a full gallop, you had to pull up Pronto! Lest you run into the fence with the guy in the Taco truck on the other side.

Johnny Crawford.Our sweet pal Nancy Ressetar once attended a celebration near Baltimore put on by Martin and Michelle Grams. Nancy kindly sent us a CD of Johnny Crawford and his dance orchestra, “Sweepin’ the Clouds Away—Early 20th Century Dance Band Arrangements”. Johnny handles the warblin’. He signed the cover to us. He’s sportin’ tails. I love to dance to his music at home. Babs won’t go near me. She has happy feet. She was a professional dancer well into her 30s. Then, snap, crackle, pop, she wrecked her left knee during a rehearsal for “Anything Goes”.

T’other night, we attended a dinner-dance at our local American Legion hall. The boys in the band struck up “Blue Suede Shoes”. I got out there like a shot. Elvis woulda wanted it. Babs followed sheepishly. I was a whirlin’ Dervish. Ooops! Pratt fall. The smiling guy who helped me up said, “Be blue tomorrow.” Yep, next morning Babs took a gander at my keester, “It’s blue alright. It’s also black, green, and puce.”

I once worked with Jim Backus on the “Blondie” TV show. Jim played Dithers, I played Dagwood. Dagwood lost. Jim recalled working with George Raft in “A Dangerous Profession”. They had a scene in a car, Jim at the wheel. Backscreen projection. Rehearsal went fine, but Raft goofed take after take. Director Ted Tetzlaff told Jim to look Raft straight in the eyes or he’d lose concentration. Backus said, “Yeah, but I’m driving. I have to keep my eyes on the road.” Tetzlaff said; keep your eyes on Raft, or we’ll be here all night. Jim faked it, looking Raft straight in the eyes with quick side glances ahead to preserve the illusion of driving a car. They got the scene. Here’s another: George Raft made Humphrey Bogart a star by nixing “High Sierra” and “The Maltese Falcon”. He grew weary of his lot on the lot. He was a disruptive force. Jack L. Warner offered to let him out of his contract. “How does 10 grand sound to you, George?” “Sounds fine to me,” and Raft sat down and proceeded to make out a check to Warner Bros. for $10,000. Col. Warner said that he practically ran to the bank to cash it, before Raft changed his mind. Warner meant to give Raft 10 grand.

 

                                        —Adios