What if your breath was taken away in 1947?
What if your breath was taken away in 1947?
Eddie Van Halen received a phone call in 1982 from someone named “Quincy.” He didn’t know anyone named “Quincy.”
“Is this Eddie?,” the voice on the phone asked.
“Who the hell is this?,” a very suspicious Eddie replied.
“Quincy. Quincy Jones, man.”
Eddie Van Halen gulped and smiled to himself. “Oh! I’m sorry.”
The famed composer, songwriter and producer asked if Eddie would be interested in adding a bit of guitar to “punch up” a song that Michael Jackson was working on. “Michael Jackson?,” thought the guitarist, “The kid who sang ‘A-B-C. Easy as 1-2-3?'”
Eddie was game, although he had his doubts. What on earth could he do, as a white heavy metal guitarist, to help a guy who’s known for R & B pop songs? Regardless of how he felt, Eddie arrived at the studio and in just under an hour, cranked out an iconic 20 seconds of a fiery guitar solo that effortlessly fit into “Beat It,” Jackson’s early foray into the rock music genre. As Eddie was packing up his gear, the soft-spoken pop singer came into the studio. Eddie stood by silently as the technicians played the cut back for the two of them. Eddie thought that either he’d love it or Jackson would sic his bodyguards and have the guitarist tossed out. Happily, it was the former, as Jackson smiled from beneath his sunglasses and said, “Wow, thank you so much for having the passion to not just come in and blaze a solo, but to actually care about the song, and make it better.”
Eddie didn’t think much of this little piece of work or the song itself, for that matter. He didn’t want any compensation, nor did he accept any credit in the album’s liner notes. However, sometime later, Eddie was shopping at Tower Records in Hollywood when “Beat It” came over the store’s PA system. He overheard a group of teens giggling while pantomiming guitar actions. One of them blurted out dismissively, “Listen to this guy trying to sound like Eddie Van Halen!”
Eddie turned to them and said, “That is me!” He laughed and walked away.
Eddie Van Halen passed away in October 2020, after a battle with throat cancer. He was 65. He never made any money from “Beat It.”
What if Charlie Chaplin was the original jerk?
I’ve met a lot of celebrities and I have a basement full of autographed photos to back up my claim. I have been attending nostalgia conventions and autographs shows for about twenty five years, collecting photos and getting a one-on-one, personal interaction with some folks that I have only seen flicker across a big screen in a movie theater or flash across a small screen in my living room. Even after many years, it was still a little thrill when I got to meet (and sometimes shake hands) with actors and actresses from some of my favorite films and TV series I watched growing up.
Some of my encounters were interesting. I discussed baseball — specifically the chances the Anaheim Angels had at winning the pennant — with Jerry Maren, the Munchkin who presented Dorothy with a giant lollipop in The Wizard of Oz. I reminisced with the lovely Adrienne Barbeau about her recent performance in the touring company of Pippin when it made a stop in Philadelphia. When I met Dee Wallace, best known for her portrayal of Henry’s mom in E.T. – The Extraterrestrial, I told her a rambling story about spotting her at the LA Farmers Market. My wife and I were warmly greeted by Patty Duke and she hung on our every word as we talked about our well-traveled teddy bear. She even obliged us by posing for a picture with the little guy snuggled up to her face. Betsy Palmer was a delight when she discreetly offered me her commentary on the attendees at a horror film convention.
Some of our experiences were — shall we say — less than comfortable. Ron Palillo, known for playing “Arnold Horshack” in the 70s sitcom Welcome Back, Kotter, was a total obnoxious jerk, behaving as though his participation in an autograph show was beneath his thespian qualifications. Both David Naughton (from An American Werewolf in London) and Anson Williams (Happy Days’ own “Potsie”) were rude and dismissive. My meeting with Paul Peterson — Donna Reed’s son on The Donna Reed Show — nearly came to blows when I (admittedly) made a smart-ass comment that Paul didn’t appreciate in the least.
In 2013, I was genuinely excited when I saw that Johnny Crawford was announced as a guest at the upcoming Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, an annual event held just outside of Baltimore, Maryland. My wife and I had attended this gathering in the past and the addition of Johnny Crawford just boosted my anticipation more. I was a big fan of The Rifleman and I have seen every episode in repeated showings on retro TV network MeTV.
When the day of the show arrived, I was already planning my questions for the former child star. We entered the big convention room and I spotted Johnny immediately. Though he was 67 years old (at the time), he was still recognizable as “Mark McCain,” loyal son and confidant to Chuck Connors. There were some gray strands mixed in with his brown hair, but he still sported that sparkly smile that made him a heartthrob among teenage girls in the early 1960s. And Johnny couldn’t have been nicer! He was friendly and personable as we talked about his career. I asked him if he ever got confused on the set of The Rifleman when character actor John Anderson showed up. “Did you have to ask if he was playing your grandfather or a guy who has a grudge against your dad?,” I pressed. Johnny laughed and nodded in agreement of how silly the casting was. He went on to ask what my wife and I did for a living and seemed genuinely interested in our answers. I presented Johnny with a drawing that I did, depicting a “frozen-in-time” moment between him and his TV dad. As we talked, I selected a photograph for Johnny to sign. (We actually picked two because Mrs. Pincus and I couldn’t agree on which pose we should get.) Johnny charged the standard $20 per picture and we saw that price would leave us a bit lighter in the wallet than we expected. Mrs. P noticed that a sign on his table announced that Johnny accepted PayPal as a method of payment. As a longtime seller on eBay, Mrs. Pincus was very familiar with how PayPal worked. We soon found out that Johnny wasn’t. He told us that he wasn’t really set up for PayPal payments, but he would install the app right then and there. My wife happily guided Johnny through the process, answering his questions and instructing him where to click and where to scroll. After a few uncertain minutes, Johnny smiled and proclaimed that his first PayPal transaction was a success! He thanked my wife with true heartfelt gratitude. A few hours later, when we decided to start heading back to Philadelphia, we stopped by Johnny’s table to say “goodbye.” Again, he thanked us for our purchase and especially for my wife’s assistance with his new payment method.
A week or so later, my wife was checking her voluminous eBay email and came across a message from PayPal. It explained that an outstanding payment was still waiting for acceptance from its recipient. She clicked the link to reveal the recipient in question. She was surprised to see that it was Johnny Crawford. At the autograph show, they both watched the progress on the screen of Johnny’s cellphone. Evidently, the payment has to be “accepted” in order to complete the transaction. Johnny never did the final step. Our payment for two autographed photos — forty dollars — was hanging in internet limbo. Mrs. P dashed off a quick email to Johnny’s contact, a business address that he associated with his newly-created PayPal account. A few days went by without a reply or acknowledgement. Finally, Johnny replied, thanking us for the note and for letting him know that he needed to accept the payment.
Except, he didn’t.
Mrs. Pincus sent a follow-up email, reminding Johnny of what he still needed to do. The days became weeks and they soon became months. No response. Nothing. The $40 payment sat for quite some time — unclaimed — until PayPal added it back into our account.
In 2019, it was reported that Johnny Crawford was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease. On April 29, 2021 he passed away at the age of 75.
Thanks for everything Johnny — the memories, the autographs, the conversation and the great story.
What if Roger’s ancestor was framed as well?
Tall, lanky George Mann played center on the Venice Union Polytechnic High High School basketball team. He also served as vice president of the school’s drama club… and that was his true calling. He starred in a production of the farce What Happened to Jones?, along with classmate, future actress (and future mother of singer Jack Jones) Irene Hervey.
After high school, he teamed up with another classmate to perform as a dance team in the Los Angeles area. He split with his partner and signed on with a talent agency, at first as a single. Soon he partnered with dancer Dewey Barto (future father of comedic actress Nancy Walker). The duo played their pronounced height difference to humorous effect. George stood at six feet six inches and Dewey was just under five feet. They were offered a ten-year contract with notable show business representatives Fanchon and Marco Enterprises.
The team of Barto and Mann took vaudeville stages by storm, appearing the rave reviews across the country. They played packed houses in huge theaters, including Earl Carroll‘s Hollywood showplace. They even toured Europe in the summers before World War II. In the waning days of vaudeville, the pair joined the popular Hellzapoppin‘ musical revue. George and Dewey finally parted ways in 1943 when George began working for Douglas Aircraft Company providing entertainment for employees.
After World War II, George took fewer entertainment jobs, deciding to devote his efforts to photography. During his time in vaudeville, he took thousands of photographs, developing his artful technique and his composition skills. He tinkered with photographic equipment, eventually developing a looping playback device that became the forerunner to the 8-track tape machine. He also invented a 3-D viewer that would display the 3-D photographs he was taking with his 35mm Stereo Realist cameras. He photographed various scenes around Southern California. George was able to lease viewers to assorted business where people would wait for services, like restaurants and doctors offices. Every few weeks, he would switch out the images for a new set, including 3-D shots of Catalina Island, Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, Pacific Ocean Park, Watts Towers, Palm Springs and Las Vegas. Always enterprising, George supplied a regular rotation of nude photos to the viewers he placed in bars.
In the 1970s, George returned to an acting job of sorts. He signed with the Quaker Oats company to portray the mascot for their new cereal “King Vitaman.” For nearly a decade, George’s royal, though friendly, face appeared on cereal boxes, as well as in commercials for the product. After George’s death in 1977 at the age of 71, the company switched to a cartoon version of the mascot.
What if Bogey’s Betty was a threat?