It happened twice on the same show. Apparently God was having a good laugh at my expense. Or God was trying to knock off two well-known entertainers and I was merely the medium of their demise. Or there is no God, or there is but that God has better things to do than to think about me, relegating these events to the category of random misfortunes. That would appear to cover all the bases, so I am moving on.
The show was called Everything Goes, a syndicated talk/variety show taped in Toronto, on which I participated as a writer and sometimes performer. (Of the hundred produced episodes, I performed in nine. I remember being good once, though I may be exaggerating.)
I was a member of a three-man writing staff, penning comedy sketches, often partnered with a fine writer named Ken, the third member of the staff being memorable almost entirely for his name, which was Londos D’Arrigo.
One of my strongest memories was of observing the man – actually, more of a kid – come in every morning, call up his answering service, and inquire, in a sonorous tone of unearned authority, “Anything for D’Arrigo!” A performance Ken and I would mimic mercilessly until the producer told us to stop.
(This was also my last job in Canada. When Everything Goes was cancelled, I moved to L.A., and stayed there.)
My first encounter with mortality – not my own, but another’s of considerably more significance – occurred when I was asked to drive to the hotel, pick up “Professor” Erwin Corey, a comedic anarchist who never failed to crack me up, and deliver him to the studio.
I just skated past the scary part, though regular readers will ferret it out immediately. I was being asked to drive someone someplace. Me, whose theoretical bumper sticker reads, “I Brake For Shadows.”
Me, who only recently, at the age of 27, had passed my Driver’s Test (after previously failing twice) during a televised segment of a Canadian network Public Affairs program, never certain if I had actually driven well enough to pass, or if the DMV guy had rubber rubber-stamped my performance so as not to destroy the happy ending of the broadcast by failing me yet again.
That’s who they were sending to chauffeur a performer to the studio.
Oh, and did I mention it was winter?
It was only two blocks from the hotel to the studio, but on ice-glazed streets, in the dark, because it gets dark early in Toronto in the winter, two blocks was distance enough for
Neophyte Writer Kills Double-Talk Comedian With Erratic Driving
Fortunately, we made the two-block journey in one piece. But, as a result of my unique style of driving, the “Professor”, whose hair was sprayed to stand straight up during his performances, arrived with his follicles already immobilized in the vertical position.
That’s the appetizer. Here’s the main course.
Another guest on Everything Goes was the old-time comedian/raconteur, Georgie Jessel, who was born in 1898, and the show was produced in 1974, so at our encounter, the man was seventy-six years of age.
Georgie Jessel’s career hearkened back to vaudeville and silent movies. (Jessel had rejected the deal to star in the first talking picture, The Jazz Singer, after headlining in the theatrical production on Broadway.)
Dubbed “The Toastmaster General of the United States”, Georgie Jessel was also famous for delivering celebrity eulogies, primarily for the “passed on” of the Hebraic persuasion. A story is told about Jessel once delivering a funeral oration, eulogizing some Jewish notable’s beloved pet, leading a guest at the event to subsequently observe,
“I had no idea how much that dog had done for Israel.”
We taped two episodes of Everything Goes per day, three days a week. There was an hour break between tapings. After the first show, Jessel, who would appear on both programs, creaked up to me, only because I was the one standing closest to him, and said,
“Young man. Do you know someplace where I can get a drink?”
I informed Mr. Jessel that there was, as Toronto calls them or at least did back then, a tavern, located a block south of the studio.
“Would you be so kind as to escort me there?”
I said okay. What am I going to tell him, “Find somebody else”? This was the Toastmaster General of the entire United States! Plus, a walking show business encyclopedia.
Not that he walked that well. Especially on ice.
In pitch-black darkness.
I retain to this day the indelible recollection of this seventy-six year-old trouper clamping onto my arm for support, as we gingerly traversed the slippery sidewalk and jay-walked across the equally treacherous thoroughfare, on our way to a side street that would take us to the tavern.
My dependent companion had been awarded a Special Oscar for Humanitarian Services. Returning me instantly to “Headline Mode”:
Academy Award Winner Breaks Both Hips In Toronto Fall.
Under which is written,
“Neophyte Driver Of Irwin Corey Involved Again.”
We took tentative, little steps as Mr. Jessel regaled me with stories of entertaining the troops during the Viet Nam war, informing me that he had recently been forced to jump from a helicopter before it landed, to avoid enemy fire. I was wondering if this adventure came to mind, because he felt equally imperiled by our trek to the tavern.
I led him unsteadily into the bar, and, after his double Scotch, led him even more unsteadily back to the studio. The only eventful moment occurring when my venerable charge repaired to the Men’s Room, and some curious denizens of the tavern came over to inquire who he was. I immediately replied,
To which they were duly impressed. As well they should have been, as Mr. Jolson had died twenty-four years earlier.
I am happy to report, as the movies do about animals, that “No Celebrities Were Injured During The Course Of These Stories.”
But I cannot in all honesty report that
It wasn’t close.