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.