Bonnie Franklin In the summer of 2011, I drove myself and four companions from Rome to the Le Marche region of Italy. That trip involves some serious mountain hills with the obligatory switchbacks and the occasional tunnel. As I rolled into the first tunnel, I was startled to hear from the back seat: “Whenever I feel afraid / I hold my head erect /  and whistle a happy tune /so no one will suspect / I’m afraid.” It was Bonnie Franklin, singing in a quick-step tempo with her eyes shut tight. “I’m afraid of tunnels,” she told us afterward, “so I sing that to take my mind off of  it.” And she did. Every time.

I met Bonnie in 1970 when I stopped by a New Jersey theater where she was appearing in A Thousand Clowns. She had already made a splash on Broadway singing and dancing the title song to Applause. I was there during the break between a matinee and an evening performance to talk to Hugh O’Brian, but he had taken ill and gone to a doctor. Bonnie, who was sitting outside with her Yorkie , Jobie, thought I looked confused. “Are you looking for Hugh O’Brian?” she said. And she told me what had happened.

Bonnie 2I thanked her and was about to leave, but she patted the concrete wall she was sitting on and said, “Sit down here and talk to me!” It was irresistible. Bonnie was irresistible. I sat, we talked. I came back a few days later and we sat and talked some more. We were close friends for 42 years after that.

My family and I became great fans of hers, because she was an outstanding actress, singer, and dancer. I used to kid her that latching on to her was my way to see the country, and we did travel to Manhattan, Nyack, West Hampton, New Hope, Mount Pocono, Pittsburgh, Ventura, Washington, D.C., Overland, Kansas, and some town in New Hampshire to see her perform. I’d pay plenty right now to hear her sing “How Long Has This Been Going On?” or see her in Shirley Valentine. My wife, Pat, says, and I agree, that once you’ve seen Bonnie as Shirley Valentine, you don’t need to see anyone else.

The relationship that evolved between Bonnie and my family was characterized by two qualities of hers: unconditional love and enormous generosity. She was passionate about what she believed. I learned this the second time we met: she was very agitated about the U.S. military campaign in Cambodia. She and I were largely simpatico, but inasmuch as I am a Roman Catholic deacon and she was a progressive Jew, we could disagree about some significant issues. This had no impact on our relationship, and that was because she had such an expansive heart.

Bonnie was very generous to me and to my family, not in a showy way but in a genuine expression of love. It became a running gag between us to see which of us could be first to tell the host at a restaurant not to bring the bill to the table. I told that to a host as soon as I arrived at a restaurant in Maine, and he said, “You’re too late. She beat you to it.” But I think I won the last round — at Joe Allen’s in New York.

Bonnie 5 More important was Bonnie’s generosity for those in need. I happily supported the organizations that were important to her, and she returned the favor to a fare-thee-well. I once told her in a casual conversation that a local nonprofit group I was associated with — to provide an annual festival for people with mental handicaps — was in financial trouble. A few days later, I received a personal check from her with a very large donation. On another occasion she traveled from her California home to New York for the sole purpose of giving a gratis benefit performance for another organization I was connected to, an association that builds and operates group homes for people who are both blind and mentally challenged.

A friend of mine who was a professional fundraiser for non-profits once showed me an article in a journal reporting that a survey of people in that field had found that Bonnie Franklin was perceived by the public as among the most trustworthy spokespersons for charitable causes. I wasn’t surprised. I doubt that a false word ever crossed her lips.

And she was funny. Just naturally funny. Every year on my birthday, I anticipated the phone call — I’m sure I wasn’t the only one — in which Bonnie would sing “Happy Birthday” to me. I wasn’t to speak until she was done, and there was always a second verse (“Get plastered, you bastard.”) Once when she was doing her incomparable cabaret act at the Algonquin Hotel, she wandered among the tables during one of her songs and gave me a hug. When I asked her afterward how she had found me in the darkened room, she said, “Easy. I just followed the smell of Old Spice.” She always took a pass on dessert when we ate out with her and her wonderful husband, Marvin Minoff. That is, she didn’t order dessert. She instructed me to order something chocolate, and then she ate half of it.

She was talented, she was witty, she was sweet, she was warm, she was profane, she was passionate, she was genuine. Now she’s gone. I’m a better person for having known and loved her, and I know I’m not alone. I hope heaven is ready.

My niece visited our house the other day and, as she was leaving, she paused to jot down our land line phone number, which she had lost. I told her the number and added, “Anyway, we’re in the book.” But I immediately recalled that Verizon and AT&T, among others, have been moving toward discontinuing phone books. Although phone books are a nuisance to have around the house, and although I can’t remember the last time I used a phone book instead of the Internet to look up a number, I’ll be sorry to see them go. I’m an avid phone book reader when I’m away from home. I study such things as how many people are listed with my surname and how many with my wife’s surname. There are seldom more than one or two – often none. Whenever I find one it’s like spotting cobalt sea glass. I also thumb through to see which name generates the longest list in that locale – Smith? Patel? – and which names catch my attention because they’re familiar or odd.

 

Icelandic phone book

 

Reading the phone book in Iceland, incidentally, is an offbeat experience, because most people in Iceland don’t have family names as such. Folks are listed in the phone book by their first names, patronyms, addresses, occupations, and then telephone numbers. The patronym consists of a person’s father’s first name and a suffix that indicates whether it’s a son or daughter. So the Icelandic singer would be listed as Björk Guðmundsdóttir, because she is the daughter (dottir) of  Guðmundur Gunnarsson, who is the son of Gunnar. If you look closely at the page to the left, you can see listings for several people who share Björk’s name.

 

CHARLES LAUGHTON

It was often said of the actor Charles Laughton that he could make an audience weep simply by reading the phone book aloud. That was meant as a compliment to Laughton, but I think I’d be reduced to tears if I had to listen to any actor read the phone book. I, on the other hand, will miss those out-of-town opportunities to read the listings to myself and provide occasional commentary to anyone without the sense to leave the room.

Meanwhile, my first thought after I told my niece that we’re “in the book” was that the expression “in the book” might disappear from our language if the trend to eliminate “the book” continues.

Although I know it’s an inevitable process – idioms coming and going – I always regret the loss of such expressions. I’m old enough, though, that “in the book” could last as long as I do. After all, the rotary dial started disappearing from telephones in the 1960s and has been virtually non-existent for several decades. And yet, many people still speak of “dialing” a number when, in fact, they’re entering the number with a keypad.

Come to think of it, I’m so old that I’m older than rotary dials.

 

 

 

 

“Can you hear me now?”

October 29, 2010

 

Image from Progresso ad

The recent series of TV ads for Progresso soup has got more of my attention than ad campaigns usually do. It isn’t the soup that interests me – although I like Progresso soup — especially wedding soup and escarole soup. No, it’s the gimmick that ties, as it were, the several ads together — the two-cans-and-a-string telephone.

When I was a kid, I loved to fool around with such a device. Anything that allowed one person to talk to another person over a distance was a source of fascination to me, and two cans and a string was in that genre. What I especially like about it — note the present tense — is that it is such simple and clear demonstration of the physical laws that make it work. In that regard, it is more elegant to me than the Blackberry now lying on my desk.

VICTROLA

The Progresso ads, in some cases, ignore the principle at work, because they show the string hanging slack or turning corners. In neither case would the device work, of course, because the string must be tense and unencumbered so that the vibration of the bottom of one can — caused by the sound waves of a voice — can transfer to the string and create the identical vibration in the bottom of the can at the other end. I was reminded of the beauty of this technical achievement a decade or so ago when the boyfriend of one of my daughters was visiting our house and asked about the 1927 model Victrola that stood in a corner of our basement. His question was in the vein of, “What is that?” I opened the lid, put a shellac disk on the turntable, wound the spring and released the brake, and showed the young man how the sound was transfered in turn from the grooves of the record, onto the needle, up a metal wire, onto the isinglass membrane of the head, through the hollow tone arm, and through the amplifying horn out into the air. The postmodern lad was delighted to see what once was done without electricity, never mind electronics.

Corbis Images

I remember who showed me how to put two cans and a string to such remarkable use. It was Frank Brady, both a friend of our family and an employee in our family’s grocery store. I don’t know if my grandsons have yet been exposed to the deeply satisfying experience of stripping the paper labels off two cans, puncturing the centers of both bottoms, inserting and knotting both ends of the string, and then stretching the line and achieving the technical miracle of remote communication.

I hope not. I’d like to be the one to show them.

MICHAEL SMITH

Planning a high school reunion is not, as Ed Norton might put it, “all beer and skittles.” The process, in which a small group of classmates and I are now engaged, forces a person to confront certain inconvenient truths, including the passage of time and his own age. Our class, the Class of 1960, had 299 members. Organizing a reunion makes us confront the fact that at least 44 of those classmates are dead. It makes us face the fact that the 22 or so we have not been able to locate in these 50 years probably are lost to us forever. And it forces us to accept the fact that many classmates don’t share whatever feelings make other classmates think of themselves as having something more in common than the date and place of our graduation.

MICHAEL SMITH

None of us believes that a man or woman has an obligation to continue any connection to the class. If anything, it makes sense to us that people have had far more experiences, relationships, successes and problems since high school than they had in the first 17 years of their lives, and that high school has become a relatively unimportant part of a bigger picture. In fact, it has occurred to me, at least, that those of us who persist in keeping this circle intact are driven by emotion and perhaps by an insecurity that makes us reluctant to put behind us the last stage of our lives in which we were not wholly responsible for our own fate. High school, for most of us, is one of the last places, as Robert Frost might have observed, that when you go there, they have to take you in.

MICHAEL SMITH

Still, there is another factor that must explain why some members of our class or any class turn their backs on the rest of us for good even before the recessional has ended. I started thinking about this last weekend while I was listening to a song called “Crazy Mary” that, it happens, was written by Michael Smith, who graduated from the same high school but in the Class of 1959. Michael, a folk singer who has lived in Chicago for many years, writes lyrics with a poet’s skill, and many of them can reach deeply into the psyche and the soul. “Crazy Mary” — not the Victoria Williams/Pearl Jam song — is about boys who torment a woman who lives in their neighborhood. The boys don’t understand this woman, so — like Scout and Jem Finch — they compensate for their ignorance by inventing explanations that satisfy their morbid, childish curiosity. When they no longer need her to entertain them, they forget her.

As I look through the yearbook, literally or in my mind, I can place my finger on the boys and girls in our class who were not treated well by the rest of us. Some of them suffered cruelty, some of them suffered ridicule, and some of them suffered indifference. Would they want to join us as we reminisce about those days? I remember the mother of one boy confronting a group of teenagers on the street and demanding to know why they had mocked her son. I was an adult and had children of my own before the recollection of that scene broke my heart. I wondered what had become of that boy; I never wondered when we were kids what would become of him.

This phenomenon isn’t confined to high school. Misunderstanding, or choosing not to understand, people who seem to hear drumbeats that elude the rest of us may be an inevitable part of growing up. There was an elderly man in my neighborhood when I was a boy who seemed to be perpetually angry and who would shout and flail at us kids if we came within  a perimeter that only he could see. We, of course, did our best to invade his space just enough to set him off. I wonder what became of him.

In the lamplight burning low
And dimly thru enchanted woods
We think about the sins that we commit
Along the green and golden paths of growing up
We light the fire
And say a prayer for Crazy Mary.

(Copyright, Michael Peter Smith)

The complete lyrics to “Crazy Mary” are at THIS LINK.

Biographical information, lyrics, videos, and touring schedule of Michael Smith can be reached through THIS LINK.

Poster from a previous Michael Smith concert

MARIE OSMOND

The news that Marie Osmond’s son, Michael Blosil, has “committed suicide,” is unsettling, as such stories always are. What I find particularly sad about a person dying in that way is the loneliness that seems to be a necessary part of the context. I don’t even like the term “committed suicide,” because it evokes the notion that the person involved was ipso facto guilty of wrongdoing, whereas he or she was most likely making a solitary decision to end the torment of fear or confusion or sadness, or perhaps an indefinable feeling that made life unbearable.

I am shaken whenever I hear of someone taking his or her own life, and I had plenty of opportunities to be shaken in that way in more than 40 years of newspaper reporting. My mind almost involuntarily imagines the path that led that person from the potential with which most of us are born to the mental illness or physical ailment or poor choices or bad luck or combination of factors that made only death seem reasonable.

BILL BIXBY and BRENDA BENET

I went through that exercise when I heard of the death of the actress Brenda Benet in 1982. About a decade before, I had interviewed Brenda and her husband at the time, Bill Bixby. I was struck by how animated they were and especially how charged up they were about their lives together. They both talked at once, and he paced back and forth so vigorously that a couple of times he paced right out of the room and into the hallway. They had struck a balance, they told me, between the intimacy of their marriage and the independence of their separate careers, and they were almost defiant in proclaiming it — so much so, that I began my account of the meeting by writing, “You don’t interview Bill Bixby and Brenda Benet so much as you defend yourself.”

They had a child in 1974 and were divorced in 1980, and the child – a boy – fell suddenly ill and died in 1981. Brenda ended her own life in 1982. How alone she must have felt with her grief.

WILLARD HERSHBERGER

News of suicide also reminds me of Willard Hershberger, who died by his own hand — when he was 30 years old —  two years and a month before I was born. I know of him because he belongs to a class of men who never die to memory — major league baseball players.

Hershberger, whose home town had the comforting name of Lemon Cove, California, had a distinction that he shared with only a few dozen others; he played for the 1937 Newark Bears. The Bears — who had no connection to the present team of that name — were a Yankees farm club and are reputed in baseball lore to have been the greatest minor league team ever. Their record that year was 109-43, and they finished 25 1/2 games ahead of Montreal. The lineup included Joe Gordon, Babe Dahlgren, George McQuinn, and Charlie “King Kong” Keller.

Willard Hershberger

It must have been an exciting experience for Hershberger, a catcher, who appeared in 96 games that season and batted .325 on a team that collectively batted .299 for the season. He was already 27 years old when he made his major league debut with the Cincinnati Reds in 1938. He was the backup to Hall of Fame catcher Ernie Lombardi. During the 1940 season — with the Reds in contention for the National League pennant — Hershberger was standing in for Lombardi when the team lost games on July 31 and August 2. Hershberger picked up a buzz among the players that they would not have lost if Lombardi had been in the lineup. Hershberger was distraught, and he expressed himself to manager Bill McKechnie.

BILL McKECHNIE

Hershberger evidently told  McKechnie that he felt responsible for the losses, mentioned that his father had taken his own life about a ten years before, and intimated that he might make the same decision. This was a private conversation, but accounts say that the manager thought he had calmed the young man. But Hershberger didn’t appear before the next day’s game, and he was found dead in his hotel room.

He was a member of a team, but in the end he felt that failure was his alone. Linda Loman could have been speaking of Hershberger when she said of her husband: “Attention, attention must be paid to such a person,” and I’m sure McKechnie second-guessed himself every day after Hershberger died. But I have had the experience of trying to help such a person and found, in the end, that the loneliness can be intractable, insistent, and that’s the most frustrating and the saddest thing about it.


“Peek-a-boo! I see you!”

February 13, 2010

animal.discover

I have become a voyeur.

Many men reach this stage at a younger and more virile age, but I was waiting for better technology. It has come with the marriage of the Internet and the live streaming web camera. Here’s fair warning: You can run, but you can’t hide.

I’m developing an addiction for the streaming web cam. I’ve spent far too much time searching for the better and better live images from all over the world. I don’t know what the attraction is; television has been broadcasting live images from around the planet for more than 50 years. But on television, we get what we are given. On the Internet, we increasingly are gaining the power to peek in wherever we choose, usually without the knowledge — and I guess this is the key — of those we are watching. We can watch them in real time, and they don’t know we’re here.

TIMES SQUARE

One of the most attractive scenes, of course is Times Square, which is alive at any hour of the day or night. The camera is mounted high above Broadway across the street from the Marriott Marquis. The sound feed is dominated by traffic noise frequently including screaming sirens, but the mike also picks up the voices of the stream of humanity that is always passing by the camera.

The TimesSquare Cam provides a larger image than many webcam sites do, so there are more details to examine. You can look in on Times Square at THIS LINK.

Some of the live images available don’t hold my attention for very long. Earthcam.com, for example, has a feed from a live camera in Ho Chi Minh City, but it’s a long shot of a skyline and traffic moving on a highway – there are no people visible.

St. PETER'S

Hotels around the world have taken to using live webcams to pump up their web sites. The Atlante Star in Rome is one of them; its camera shows about a half-dozen live images of scenes that can be seen from the hotel, including the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican and the traffic and pedestrians moving along the Via Vitelleschi far below the lens. This site, which is more interesting when it’s daylight in Rome, is located HERE.

I have also been misspending my declining years by watching two sea otters, Milo and Tanu, who live in the Vancouver Aquarium. Milo, the male, was born in an aquarium in Lisbon, Portugal, and Tanu, a female, was born in the wild, so to speak, in the ocean off Alaska. I spy on these otters at THIS LINK, which has a camera trained on their pool.

Sea otter at the Vancouver Aquarium

This site requires a little patience, because the otters are not always in camera range. When they are, though, they are very lively. The site includes interesting explanations of the behavior the otters exhibit onthe screen, which is a small image but has decent resolution.

I have found the streaming to be a little cranky on this site, and I have to frequently refresh the page to restart the video.

My favorite site for now is linked to a live camera mounted in a public square in Bydgoszczy, Poland, a city of about a third of a million people located up there just south of Gdansk. This camera pans the square, which includes rows of businesses and an outdoor ice skating rink.

BYDGOSZCZY

This site — CLICK HERE — has become an addiction for me. I find the square itself and the activity within it attractive and absorbing. I watch the passers-by and speculate about who they are and where they are going. I marvel at the strollers who  criss-cross the square regardless of the time. As I am writing this, it is 3 am in Poland, and there are people walking through that area and skating on that rink.

Another animal I visit on line is Lily, a black bear who at present is hibernating in her den in the North American Bear Center in Ely, Minnesota. Lily caused a flurry on the Web a few weeks ago when she gave birth a cub — an event that was caught on the camera that is trained on her lair. Lily has since gone back to sleep. You can see her live — sort of — at THIS LINK. I check on her now and then to make sure she’s still breathing. Of course, it’s like watching paint dry, or grass grow, or metal rust, or …. well, like watching a bear sleep.

monalisaAt my advanced age, I have had a new experience: I have met a person who has no sense of humor.

I won’t describe the circumstances, because I need to protect this man’s privacy, but I can say that repeated exposure to this phenomenon can be unsettling.

I’m not talking about someone who doesn’t kid around or appreciate jokes. I’m talking about someone who has no sense of humor. He never smiles. Never. If I make a casual remark — such as, “What are you doing up so early?” — he either stares at me as though I had spoken in Arabic or he takes the question literally and gives me a literal, mundane answer.

Red Skelton 1He has had occasions in the context of our relationship to tell me about incidents in which a third party had joked with him or with co-workers. He described these incidents in a monotone and with a deadpan expression. Clearly he saw nothing funny about what he was describing.

I have reason to believe that a specific pathology is responsible for this man’s demeanor and, of course, I sympathize with him if that is true. I also have realized, however, that his inability or disinclination to laugh, or even smile, is as much a problem to me as it may be to him. When someone refuses to be amused, I realize how important it is to me to amuse him — or, more precisely, to show that I can.

carol-burnett-cI don’t think I’m alone with this. It seems to me that each of us spends a lot of time and energy each day trying to get a grin or a chuckle out of those around us. It’s a contest we’re all engaged in, and we never stop trying to outdo our competitors. Under usual circumstances, this enterprise has its ups and downs, because the wisecracker for whom every word is a laugh line is a rare bird, indeed. Most of us anticipate that some of our gags will work, and some will not. We accept the plaudits and eat the duds.

But the Gloomy Gus I have run into is a whole other matter. I’m afraid there aren’t enough priests, ministers and rabbis in all the corner bars on the planet to crack that grim facade.

harpo1

 

 

CHLOE SMITH and WILLIE JEFFERSON / Copyright StoryCorps

CHLOE SMITH and WILLIE JEFFERSON / Copyright StoryCorps

The custodians at Memorial School when I entered kindergarten in 1947 were Charles Dunkerly, Archibald Brown, and George Schmidt. Mr. Dunkerly retired a couple of years later, and there was a tear-filled party for him in the lunchroom. He was replaced by Henry Knoblock.

While I was there, Memorial School mounted a production of “The Marriage of Tom Thumb” which, as the name implies, was a wedding in miniature. Staging this wedding was, I think, a popular diversion in schools at that time. It got its name from an historic event — the marriage in 1863 of Charles Sherwood Stratton and Livinia Warren Bumpus at Grace Episcopal Church in Manhattan. Both were diminutive performers who were employed by showman P.T. Barnum. Stratton’s professional name was “General Tom Thumb.”

CHARLES STRATTON and LIVINIA BUMPUS

CHARLES STRATTON and LIVINIA BUMPUS

The school program used the name “Tom Thumb” but did not otherwise allude to the 19th century ceremony beyond the fact that the whole wedding party and all the guests, not just the bride and groom, were little people — namely we kids. Jackie Carroll, who lived about six blocks from us, was picked to appear as my father, who was chief of the fire companies in our town. At that time, I was put off by that decision, but it has occurred to me since that whoever cast the wedding went to a neutral party rather than choose between my brother and me. They needn’t have bothered. I would have nominated my brother, who shared our father’s name.

My brother and I were chosen to appear as Mr. Brown and Mr. Schmidt — the custodians. I took that as a compliment, because these men were treated with great deference at school and they were very patient and friendly with me, even when I haunted their room in the basement. They gave me little jobs to do around the building — sometimes even getting me out of class to help with some project. With their warmth and self-assurance, they helped create, for me at least, an atmosphere of welcome and safety in that school. When I circulated my autograph book just before graduation, I made sure the custodians signed along with my other friends.

I thought of those men on Friday when I listened to the latest installment in StoryCorps on NPR. The subjects were Chloe Smith, 13-year-old girl who attends a Catholic school in Atlanta, and Willie Jefferson, a custodian she has known since she entered that school in kindergarten. Their conversation is sweet and its implications are profound. You can hear it at this link:

http://www.storycorps.org/listen/stories/chloe-smith-and-willie-jefferson

"Barber Shop" by Robert Cottingham / www.seavestcollection.org

"Barber Shop" by Robert Cottingham / http://www.seavestcollection.org

I conducted a wake service this week for a man who had operated a barber shop for more than 45 years less than a mile from here. His father operated the shop before that. I hadn’t known either of them, but I appreciated their story as soon as I heard it. Places like that barber shop have always interested me because of the role they play in a community that transcends the immediate purpose of their existence. When I go to the barber, even now, I listen in on the proprietor’s conversations with the Man in the Chair — not because I’m nosy, but because I enjoy being plugged in to this conversation — or, rather, these few links in a conversation that has been going on since, perhaps, 3500 BC — the Bronze Age — to which the oldest known razors have been dated.

I grew up listening to that conversation. There was a barber shop in the building my family owned and lived in, and I hung out in there perhaps a little more than the barbers would have liked. But the Mariano Brothers, Louie and Joe, had been cutting hair there since before I was born — they cut hair there for 62 years all told — and they no doubt thought of me as a small inconvenience within such a broad context. Perhaps, too, they thought exposure to the shop would improve my grooming — something that didn’t happen until I was in my 20s.

barber-shop_14277_smBy my estimate, the customers who contributed to the conversation at the Marianos’ shop were drawn from five generations. If it’s true that all spoken words are still floating around somewhere in the ether, and if it were possible to capture some of the links in the chain forged in the Marianos’ chairs, there no doubt would be observations about what Roosevelt promised Stalin at Yalta, whether the Cardinals would ever win another pennant, what was really going on between Jane Russell and Howard Hughes, why everyone didn’t just get off Nixon’s case, and whether ground beef at 90 cents a pound didn’t mean that the Whole Works was going to the dogs.

I was in the shop one day when a 10-year-old boy “getting his ears lowered” got into a heated argument with a customer-in-waiting, who was old enough to be the lad’s grandfather, over whether Rocky Marciano or Joe Louis had been the Bigger Deal. Anywhere else, the boy would have been thought precocious. But, you see, they were Two Guys Talking in a Barber Shop, so it was OK.

"The Barber" by Nikolaus Gysis (1880)

"The Barber" by Nikolaus Gysis (1880)

ED GAEDEL

ED GAEDEL

I once overheard an acquaintance of mine, who was 15 years old at the time, making a self-denigrating comment about her height. I told her, “If anyone had asked me to describe you, I might have said you were about five feet tall, but it would not have occurred to me to say that you were ‘short.’  You’re probably more self-conscious about your height than other people are conscious of it.” I said that from my vantage point a full foot above hers, but I’m sure the reality is that each person has his own standard – probably related to his own stature – for what height requires the adjective “short.”

Anyway, that conversation took place about three years ago, and it came to mind today when I saw a presentation on the Los Angeles Times web site regarding short people. It didn’t amount to much. It was the sort of thing newspaper companies put on their web sites in order to demonstrate something that itself has not yet been defined.

'LITTLE' JIMMY DICKENS

'LITTLE' JIMMY DICKENS

The Times said the feature had been inspired by an article in Pediatrics, a medical journal, about a study of the effect of short stature on emotional, behavioral, and social functioning. The Times explained, somewhat imprecisely: “This recent study from the journal Pediatrics, suggesting shorter 6th graders are not victimized any more than the average student, got us thinking: Aren’t lots of famous people really short?” This brief introduction was followed by photos of eight people whom the Times delicately described as “vertically challenged”: Voltaire, Charlotte Bronte, Edith Piaf, Andrew Carnegie, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pat Benatar, Wallace Shawn, and Gloria Swanson. The least tall of these was Edith Piaf at four-foot-eight; the tallest was Voltaire at five-foot-three. This information came a web site called Short Persons Support (www.shortsupport.org) which includes a list of 371 people ranging in height from Gul Mohammed at one-foot-ten and a half inches to nine persons (including Dustin Hoffman, T.E. Lawrence, and Horatio Nelson) at five-foot-five and a half inches.

ALBIE PEARSON

ALBIE PEARSON

I was surprised that I didn’t find on that list five-foot-five Albie Pearson, an outfielder who batted .270 in a nine-year major league career and went on to have a very active life in Christian ministry.

Nor did I see another major leaguer — three-foot-seven Eddie Gaedel, who walked on four pitches in his only time at bat — a promotional stunt engineered by Bill Veeck, then the owner of the St. Louis Browns.

And I missed four-foot-eleven “Little” Jimmy Dickens, an iconic figure in country music when it really was country music. I’ll let Jimmy sing us out with one of his own compositions, particularly appropriate to the topic:

A lot of folks have told me
I was pulled ‘fore I was ripe
A winter apple picked off in the fall
But even as a youngin’
I was not the bashful type
‘Cause I could yell the loudest of them all.

CHORUS
I’m little, but I’m loud
I’m poor, but I’m proud
I’m countrified and I don’t care who knows it
I’m like a banty rooster
In a big, red rooster crowd
I’m puny, short and little, but I’m loud.