Readers of the Salt Lake Tribune in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s probably recall the work of Dan Valentine in his daily “Nothing Serious” column. Don’t they?
A friend recently sent an old piece of schmaltz from Valentine, “I trust you’ll treat her well,” about sending a daughter off to the first day of school. It was misattributed to Victor Buono (now you start to see my interest).
Valentine’s column was a rambling collection of not-serious observations about people the newspaper covered and events in Utah and the Intermountain states. Occasionally he would write about some event in a memorable fashion — the first day of school for his daughter, the first day of school for his son — and occasionally he’d do a tribute to some underappreciated profession, like truckers, waiters and waitresses, young mothers, secretaries. In those tributes, there was almost always a line like, ‘She’s America’s [future (teachers), heart (nurses), breakfast-tomorrow-morning (truckers)] with a smile on her face!’
Old columns appeared in paperback print collections sold in every truck stop and diner in the west — at least, that’s what it seemed like when the University of Utah debate squad travelled, and found the things everywhere we stopped. Standard breakfast behavior was for someone to grab the sample and perform one of the columns, for sport, to irritate the other debaters — but often enough to the appreciation of other breakfasters who found Valentine’s columns appropriate and touching, rather than out of place and out of time in the Vietnam era, especially at breakfast.
Dan Valentine passed, and his son, Dan Valentine, Jr., took over the column briefly. Valentine joined our writing team with Orrin Hatch for a brief time, too, later.
Query — Does anyone know: Are those collections of Dan Valentine’s old columns still available anywhere? (I don’t find them on Amazon as currently published.) Does anyone know where Dan Valentine, Jr., is these days? If any reader knows, please put a note in the comments.
Looking around, I found the column below, written a few days after the Montana-Yellowstone Earthquake of August 1959. On one hand it makes one shudder at the thought of producing a humor column in such a natural disaster (there weren’t many attempts for Hurricane Katrina, for example). On the other hand, you can see the reason Valentine’s stuff hit home, especially in his closing line (Valentine was steadfast in his opposition to communism; can you tell?).
RUMBLE OF EARTHQUAKE CAN’T OVERCOME AMERICAN SENSE OF HUMOR
By Dan Valentine
Even sudden disaster can’t stop American laughter . . . even crushing catastrophe that strikes in a spilt second can’t dull the American sense of humor.
A California woman, Mrs. James Pridgeon, was in the center of the Yellowstone earthquake. She stopped off in Salt Lake City Wednesday with some light side notes on the shattering quake.
Mrs. Pridgeon, her husband and son were in a cabin near the Old Faithful Inn when the quake hit Monday evening.
“There was a roar and a rolling,” she said, “then there was a deathly quiet . . . the next thing I heard was the high-pitched voice of a woman in a cabin across the way who yelled to her husband, ‘Henry get up, there’s a bear outside shaking the cabin.’ ”
Mrs. Pridgeon, who is the wife of the superintendent of schools at Chula Vista, Calif., said the Yellowstone Park bears didn’t seem to mind the quake at all.
“They just went about their business as usual,” she said, adding, “Which is more than I can say for some of the people.”
Two park visitors not ruffled at all by any of the earthquake commotion were two farmers from Iowa.
Tuesday morning at breakfast, one of the Iowans came up to Mrs. Pridgeon, his eyes aglow with excitement.
“I tell you, Ma’am,” he said, “I wouldn’t have missed this for the world. Last night alone was worth the $3 I paid to get into the park.”
The morning after the quake, the restaurant at Old Faithful Lodge was jammed with customers asking for coffee to settle their nerves. The coffee demand must have been too much for the cup supply–because customers were being served hot coffee in water glasses.
Mrs. Pridgeon reports that one waitress approached an elderly man with a glass full of steaming coffee.
“Sir,” the waitress said, “do you mind drinking coffee out of a water glass?”
“Young lady,” the man answered, “after last night, I’m just happy to be drinking at all . . .”
On Monday evening, several hours before the first shock waves of the earthquake, Mrs. Pridgeon attended a lecture given by one of the park rangers.
Over and over again the ranger emphasized, “Don’t throw anything in any of the geysers . . .”
Mrs. Pridgeon said “The ranger warned us of all sorts of dire consequences if rubbish or trash were thrown in a geyser . . . and, when the first shake was felt about 11 o’clock that same night, one of the ladies who had attended the lecture said, ‘I’ll just bet somebody threw some trash in one of the geysers.’ ”
Mrs. Pridgeon said one of the most humorous comments during the entire upheaval came from a grizzled old fellow wearing fishing boots.
He was standing near the lodge, and when the earth started to shake he said to no one in particular, “I hope this shakes some of those gol darned stubborn bass out of the stream . . . Lord knows I ain’t been able to get em out.”
One of the truly disappointed people in all Yellowstone Park Tuesday morning was the Pridgeon’s 11-year-old son, Jimmy.
He slept through the entire quake.
“Sure I felt some rattling and some shaking,” Jimmy admitted the next morning, “but I just thought it was the usual bedsprings you find in a tourist cabin.”
Mrs. Pridgeon said it was “sort of inspiring the way the people could laugh and joke about the sudden disaster.”
She said the morning after the earthquake, she asked a tourist from Texas if he planned to leave the park right away.
“Not on your life,” he said. “I paid three bucks to get in here, and I’m aiming to see my three dollars worth before I leave.”
Mrs. Pridgeon admits with a tired smile that she and her family got more than their money’s worth!
How could Russia ever defeat a people who can laugh and joke through an earthquake?
[Salt Lake Tribune; August 20, 1959]
Three dollars to tour Yellowstone! A bargain, even in 1959.
Dan Valentine, where are you?