Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Passing Parade of 2016

At the end of a year the media traditionally lists notable deaths from the preceding 12 months. 2016 was no exception. Most of us feel a connection of some sort – usually from afar - to many of the deceased. My own memories of the departed were a subjective bag of near and far. 

Ali – Muhammud was a passer-by when we were changing planes. He liked people. Maybe he understood that a short Irishmen deserved a nod and a big smile to brighten his day. In any event that's just what he gave me. Muhammud disappointed by refusing to serve his country in uniform, still, let's credit The Champ for being loyal to his beliefs.                                

Jim Clements – a near-legend in the publishing industry and lover of all sports, he played many of them with excellence. Clements lived in Darien, Connecticut, but his heart was always in Manhattan. No one loved The Big Apple more than Big Jim.

Bud Collins, for decades we showed up at the big tennis tournaments, he dressed in outfits that blistered our eyeballs. Bud brought tennis out of the private clubs to be viewed by the masses via TV. He was a great reporter and actually a pretty good tennis player.

Bob Elliott had an office with Ray Goulding in the Graybar building during my days at J. Walter Thompson. Radio was the perfect medium for that duo, a highlight for me were reports from that peerless correspondent, Wally Ballou.

Joe Garagiola was one of the first professional athletes who switched seamlessly from sports to broadcasting.  In those days he was with NBC while I was flacking for TV Guide magazine so we walked the same corridors.

Zsa Zsa Gabor reigned over a half century that included Mae West, Dagmar, Jayne Mansfield and Dolly Parton. Zsa Zsa was a trifecta with perennial sex appeal, humor and a delightful accent that became more pronounced with the passing years even as she amassed a record-breaking number of husbands.

John Glenn whom we admired from very, very, far away was the former Marine Corps fighter pilot who made us all proud by his pioneering adventures in space.

Kitty Kallen an ex-Big Band singer from Philly who staged a career comeback with a top selling recording of “Little Things Mean a Lot”. Her uncle was a medical doctor I admired very much. She dated a pal of mine who was some years her junior.

Julius LaRosa – I remember when this young sailor came on the scene singing for Arthur Godfrey.  And certainly recall Godfrey firing him because “he lacked humility.” What an irony coming from a master egomaniac. Julie had the last laugh however as he was still rolling along singing his songs decades after Godfrey had passed on.

John McLaughlin long before his years as a controversial talk show moderator, John-John was a rebellious Jesuit priest in Manhattan driving the Archbishop nuts.  He valued my counsel (!) as to the proper angle he should wear his homburg.

Gardner Mulloy a tennis idol of mine who remained 39 years of age almost forever. When Mulloy passed on he was well over 100 but still under 40.

Hugh O'Brian former Marine turned television hero who made a wholesome star out of Wyatt Earp who in real life was no paragon of virtue.

Arnold Palmer – even if you are not a golfer (that's my group) you knew his name and admired this man. Way beyond his accomplishments on the links, he left a legacy of personal graciousness for everyone who came in contact with him.

Nancy Reagan  when Joan and I met her at The White House she was far from the cool and distant image so often portrayed in the media. She endured years of negativism and ultimately triumphed as a charming, courageous and caring lady.

Debbie Reynolds – you can like a screen personality for that alone. We never met her, but Debbie played that likable girl next door for more than 60 years after “Singing in the Rain.” It worked for us.

Grant Tinker – I suspected his marriage was on the rocks when I spotted him in Grand Central night after night scarfing Uneeda hot dogs when the rest of us were going home to Connecticut. Grant was that rare bird who actually changed television programming for the better.

Morley Safer  chatting with him between airline departures, I wondered about that bassett hound look which masked his charm, finally deciding he was overworked and dead tired.

Kay Starr – a long time Big Band singer who took another turn in the spotlight with her recording of “Wheel of Fortune”. That song was played endlessly in tribute to two of her relatives who were in my Army detachment serving in blistering hot Texas.

Pat Summit – The all-time winning basketball coach, male or female, and role model for her personal fight against disease even as she led her teams on the court. Never met the coach, but watched her on TV time and again. She was truly inspirational.

William H. “Bill” Wilson – with his dashing good looks and outgoing personality, Wilson was the epitome of the gentleman/sports figure. A national squash champion many times over, he was a class act in victory or defeat.

P.S. To read more of my columns on “View from the Observation Deck”, please click on:

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