Dan Valentine – Zehr gut!

May 22, 2010

By Dan Valentine

I checked my e-mail this morning. There was a message from my bestest friend, regarding a piece I had written. Two words. “Zehr gut!” Her dad was German, died when she was three. She has one remaining photo of him.

“Zehr gut”. I had to Google it. Wikipedia: “Germany has a 6-point grading scale to evaluate the performance of school children.”

“Zehr gut!” “Best possible grade!”

Thanks, Professor. I needed that.

We communicate by e-mail. My cell minutes ran out months ago. Back in mid-December, in fact.

A “good” friend of mine in Salt Lake used up much of them.

When I was in Nashville, he’d call on a regular basis. Usually from a bar. We’d been friends for quite some time. Going on 30 years. Ever since I first took over my dad’s column.

He’d call and ask, “How are you doing?” Then he’d shout (to whomever was in the bar.) “It’s Dan Valentine Jr. Got him on the phone.” As if anybody in the bar knew who in hell Dan Valentine Jr. was. Or cared. It had been some thirty years since my last column.

I’d say, “I’m homeless. In Nashville. I need a place to stay. Till I get on my feet. Can you take me in?”

When I had the column, and afterward, when I was living in D.C. and New York, I was welcome to stay at his place whenever I was in town. Once, I got in a cab at the airport, gave my friend’s address, and the cabby said, “Oh, you’re going to Valentine’s place.” Funny.

When you’re famous/rich, friends “want” you to stay with them. Oscar Levant, the great musician/wit/brains behind “An American in Paris,” sold his home and stayed with different friends the rest of his later life. Christopher (“The Sound of Music”) Plummer sold his home long ago and just stays the night/week with assorted friend. It helps to be famous/rich.

But, anyway, my friend would call. I’d tell him I was homeless. I need a place to stay. (He’s the proprietor of a very successful shop downtown.) It was Christmastime. He’d say, “This is our busy season.” Then, “We’ve got our house up for sale.” Oh, if he was calling from the shop: “Here, talk to the wife. But don’t tell her your homeless. It would upset her.”

Wouldn’t want to do that!!!

One night he calls while I’m tramping through sleet and snow. “How are you doing!”

“I’m doing fine, blah, blah. I’m going to make it here in Nashville if it kills me, blah, blah, blah.”

I soon came to the realization, it could very well kill me.

He calls another day. I plead with him to take me in. He’d been drinking. He’s a happy fellow when he drinks. Aren’t we all! He says, “Sure. I’ll tell the wife.”

I call him the next day to make arrangements. He’s sober. “It’s our busy season,” he says. “We’ll going to Vegas at the end of the month,” he says. “But,” he says. “Sure,” he says. “Uh,” he says. “You’re welcome to stay with us. You can get a job somewhere.”

Needless to say, I didn’t go there. Had a change of heart. Thanks but no thanks. He used up my last minutes leaving messages on my cell. Going, going, gone.

But just before they ran out, with just one or three minutes remaining, I got a call from my bestest friend. “I’ve been trying to get hold of you for days. Why haven’t you been answering the phone?” Then: “Come home. I bought a house. With a pool.” (She swims.)

Nicer words I’ve never heard. Except for maybe the two words: “Zehr gut!”

Dan Valentine – “I miss my Dad”

May 22, 2010

By Dan Valentine

Yesterday I wrote: “Everybody in Texas drives. They’d drive to the bathroom if the stall doors were wide enough.”

I borrowed that line from the script of Bob Fosse’s “All That Jazz” (1979): “I got a friend who bought a Mercedes just to get to the bathroom.” He lifted it (perhaps, perhaps not) from my dad’s “The Wit & Wisdom of Dan Valentine” (1974). Can’t remember off hand how my dad phrased it. There’s a copy of the book, along with all his columns, in the BYU Achieves. I’m in Ensenada.

I googled “drive to the bathroom” and came up with:

“If we Indians could drive to the bathroom, then we would do that.” (TIME Asia, Bryan Walsh, Hong Kong.

“We are a ‘car’ people and we would like to drive everywhere. We’d drive to the bathroom if we could.” (M. Timothy ‘O Keefe. “Guide to the Caribbean Vacation”.)

“The urban population, they are driving in cars everywhere. If they could drive to the bathroom, they would.” (David Kohn. “Getting to the Heart of the Matter in India.)

I like to think that my dad came up with the line first. But probably not.

The Salt Lake Tribune didn’t pay my dad much, tho’ for many in Utah it was the reason they subscribed to the paper. So he free-lanced to make ends meet. Sold a story here, sold a story there, sold a story to Esquire.

He wrote a pamphlet called “Pioneer Pete’s Utah Scrapbook,” off-beat tales of Utah history, geared to tourists and distributed at truck/tourist stops. It shot off the shelves. So he wrote “Pioneer Pete’s Idaho Scrapbook, Wyoming Scrapbook, Divorcee Scrapbook, Nevada Scrapbook, Hunter’s Scrapbook, Fisherman’s Scrapbook, the list goes on and on.

He published a soft-back collection of his newspaper columns, displayed and distributed in these same truck/tourist stops. One the columns was called “Dear World,” his thoughts and wish for me, watching his first-born traipse off to his first day of school.

“Dear World: My young son starts to school today. It’s going to be sort of strange and new to him for awhile, and I wish you would sort of treat him gently …” It’s been called a “newspaper classic”.

In 1969, Jerry Herman (Hello, Dolly/Mame) wrote a musical, starring Angela Lansbury, called “Dear World.”

A few years ago, I met Jerry Herman at the ASCAP Musical Theatre workshop. We had quite a long chat. Wonderful guy! Half-kidding, I told him that he had stolen my dad’s title. He didn’t deny it. He smiled and said, “Nice title.” I picture him in a restaurant, picking up one of my dad’s American Essay books, and getting the germ of an idea for a musical.

When my sister was born, in 1955, my dad wrote a column called “Hello, Little Girl.” He later included it in a book, sold in restaurants. I googled “Hello, Little Girl” earlier this morning. I knew what would come up. Wikipedia: “The title is reference to the Stephen Sondheim song ‘Hello Little Girl’ for the musical ‘Into the Woods.”

I like to think that Sondheim was thumbing through a restaurant table-copy somewhere and the title stayed in the back of his mind.

The first song John Lennon ever wrote was called “Hello Little Girl.”  I like to think – nah, impossible. But, then again …

The book, displayed at truck/tourist stops, sold so well that he wrote and published a series of booklets called the American Essay series, each geared to those on the road, eating at truck/tourist stops along the highway:

“What is a trucker driver?” He’s a big guy. He’s a small guy. He comes in all sizes and shapes. Short, tall, skinny, fat. Laughing, serious.”

“What is a veteran? He’s a man who looks the world in the eye. He’s a big man, he’s a small man, he’s a short man, he’s a tall man.” On and on. Corny stuff. But they sold and sold. So much so that he wrote “What is a father/mother/teacher/secretary/nurse/ minister/rancher/farmer/rancher’s wife/farmer’s wife/truck driver’s wife. He even wrote “What is a mortician,” for morticians to hand out to customers.

He once said, later in life, that he had ruined what little talent he had writing them.

He sold hundreds of thousands of them. “Sentimental classics designed to make the heart sing”.

In 2003, the 75th Annual Academy Awards were hosted by Steve Martin. He began his introduction: “What is a movie star?” Tremendous laughter. Immediate recognition. “A movie star is many things.” More laughter. “They can be tall, short, thin, or skinny.” More laughter, stars falling off their seats, as they say. It’s on YouTube. My dad would have loved it!!!

Most humor is identification, and most everyone in the audience, it seems, had stopped to dine in their travels and read one or two of my dad’s sentimental essays sold at truck/tourist stops throughout the west.

At Carnegie Hall, Andy Kaufman read my dad’s essay “This is a wife” to the audience and brought down the house. “A sigh in the night … A smile across a room of strangers … A tug at a sleeve in the middle of a sad movie.” People were falling off their seats. It’s on YouTube.

As Tony Cliff, Kaufman read “This is a wife” on David Letterman, bringing the house down once again. It’s on YouTube. It’s also reprinted in a book of best written humor ever with Kaufman’s by-line. My dad wouldn’t have been too keen about that.

During the Red Scare, in 1950, my dad hosted a local radio show in Salt Lake. One of his guests was Sen. Joe McCarthy who was traveling the country, spreading the word to one and all who would listen that there were “Commies” in our State Department. Heaven forbid! God save us all! One day the number of “Commies” was 205; another day, 4; next day it would be 81.

It was on my dad’s radio show that McCarthy first came up with the exact number of “actual card-carrying Communists in the State Department.”


My Dad: In other words, Senator, if Secretary of State Dean Acheson would call you at the Hotel Utah tonight in Salt Lake City–”
Sen. McCarthy: That’s right.
My Dad: –you could give him 57 names of actual card-carrying Communists in the State Department of the United States–actual card-carrying Communists?
Sen. McCarthy: Not only can, Dan. but I will.

Flip the calendar pages to 1962 and “The Manchurian Candidate”, starring Frank Sinatra and Angela Lansbury, based on the Red Scare and Joe McCarthy.

Mrs. Iselin (at meal time): I’m sorry, hon’. Would it really make it easier for you if we settled on just one number?
Sen. John Yerkers Iselin: Yeah. Just one, real, simple number that’d be easy for me to remember.
(Mrs. Iselin watches her husband thump a bottle of Heinz Tomato Ketchup onto the his plate)
Sen. John Yerkers Iselin (addressing the Senate): There are exactly 57 card-carrying members of the Communist Party in the Department of defense at this time.

I miss my Dad.

Typewriter of the moment: Jerry Lewis’s pantomime typewriter (with Leroy Anderson)

May 22, 2010

Ms. Fox’s class had a great time with this video — easy to see why, no?

From “Who’s Minding the Store,” a 1963 Paramount release.

I would have sworn I had a post on Leroy Anderson, but it’s not there to link to; you can check him out on PBS, though.  Another good topic to explore, an oversight to amend.

Jerry Lewis’s pantomime typewriter, always with the Leroy Anderson tune behind it, was one of his most famous comedic routines.  It was very popular in Europe, in both Germany and France.  It’s easy to translate.

Tip of the old scrub brush to Ms. Fox.

Progress run amok: No typewriters?

May 22, 2010

Pamela Bumsted sent the link to Boing! Boing!

The Writers Room is kicking out the guy with the last typewriter.

Writers Room logo on Facebook

Writers Room logo on Facebook

The Writers Room is a non-profit that offers cheap working space to writers.  In the old days, that meant a desk and a chair where a writer could use a legal pad and write longhand, or put a typewriter down to type a manuscript.

In 2010, there was just one guy left using a typewriter.  Everyone else had switched to computers.  Boing Boing said:

Greenwich Village’s Writers Room, a low-cost place for writers to rent workspace, has banned mechanical typewriters from its premises, giving Skye Ferrante, the sole remaining typewriter user the choice of switching to a laptop or going elsewhere. He’s not going to switch. Ferrante’s been using the Writers Room for six years, and is distressed at the news that he’s got to leave.

Skye Ferrante at his typewriter - now banned from the Writers Room

Skye Ferrante at his 1929 Royal typewriter - now banned from the Writers Room - photo by Hagen for New York Daily News

What’s this world coming to?

According to the New York Daily News (which probably has typewriters anymore only in its museum, if it has that):

“I was told I was the unintended beneficiary of a policy to placate the elderly members who have all since died off,” said Ferrante, a Manhattan native who’s writing children’s books. “They offered me a choice to switch to a laptop or refund my money, which to me is no choice at all.”

Ferrante was peeved, but not completely surprised.

A growing number of scowls had replaced the smiles that once greeted the arrival of his black, glass-key typewriter.

“The minute the sign came down, I realized there was antagonism from some of the new members,” he said. “They gave me an attitude when they saw me setting up the typewriter.”

Ferrante’s connection to typewriters runs deep. He owns at least five of the old-school machines, his devices of choice since his teens.

“There’s a different commitment when you know you’re making a mark on the page, when you strike a key and bleed ink on the page,” he said.

After being contacted by the Daily News, Writers Room officials told Ferrante he can continue working on his typewriter until the end of his term on June 30.

Heck, they might as well ban pens, pencils and paper.
Progress is okay.  This time, though, they’ve taken it too far.

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