Friday, June 24, 2011

I Was Wrong!

Larry Fine
In my last blog, Is It Just Me?, I asked, “Is it just me or do men appreciate the brilliance of the Three Stooges much more than women?” Based on the feedback that I received, evidently it was indeed just me. Judi, Jayne and Sharon all made it a point, that in no uncertain terms, they not only appreciated the brilliance of the Stooges, but also were all longtime fans.

By no means am I exaggerating when I use the term longtime, especially with Jayne. She has been a fan of the legendary comedy act since she was a child. In fact, she had the privilege of meeting one of her idols at a young age.

When she told me this, I asked if she would be able to send a recap to tell me about her experience so that I could use it in my blog. Her response was, “But of course! Anything to promote my guys!”

Here is Jayne’s touching tale:

I was but a mere child, around 12 or 13 years old. My stepdad was the manager of the Winnebago County Fair, and we lived in a big old house on the fairgrounds itself.

Every year my stepdad would let me see the “list” of acts within the price range that were available to appear at the fair. One year the Three Stooges were on that list! Woo hoo! I mean, woo-woo-woo!  With a tiny bit of encouragement, he arranged for their appearance.

The day of the show arrived, and I was working the grandstand as an usherette, as I did every year. It was a sunny day, about an hour and a half before show time and I was sitting alone in the huge grandstand, about halfway up. There were very few people there yet, so I was just hanging out, watching the workers putting their finishing touches on the stage on the field down below.

It was then that I noticed this funny little man climbing up all those steps toward me. He was wearing a suit, and had curly, fuzzy hair sticking out of his head. There was no mistaking him for anyone but LARRY!!! It was Larry Fine of the Three Stooges!

I couldn’t believe my eyes. I knew he was heading for me, as I was the only one in the area. He had a lot of steps to climb to get to me, but he was agile and it didn't take him very long.

I was extremely shy back then (yes, really I was), and I mean extremely. He smiled at me as he sat down right next to me. I was mortified. It was just Larry and me. I was so taken aback and embarrassed at myself that all I could do was giggle. I was speechless.

He just kept smiling at me. And when I didn't say anything and continued to giggle, he started laughing too and asked me “Are you laughing at me or with me?” I finally got the courage to speak and said, “With you!” Then I asked him if my stepdad had put him up to this and he admitted that he had, pointing out my stepdad down below. Who was of course laughing, too.

We shook hands, exchanged pleasantries, and said it was nice to meet each other. And then he was on his way back down the steps. The whole thing only took a few minutes, but I could tell during that brief encounter that he had the mannerisms of a very kind and gentle man. What a guy to do that for a kid. He made my day!

Thanks for sharing that heartwarming story, Jayne.

Remarkably, Jayne wasn’t the only person to send me a recollection of a personal experience with one of the Stooges. Believe it or not, Mike also had an encounter with Larry Fine. Thing is, this story isn’t nearly as uplifting. In fact, it might be better if Jayne doesn’t read it.

I will let you judge for yourself. Here’s what Mike had to say:

First a little background, my friend Bob and I were longtime phone pranksters. We almost always worked as a team, from our early teens well in to adulthood. We had a pretty impressive body of work. Several celebrities that most people have heard of were among our victims.

We hit Larry Fine circa 1973.

Bob was a close friend of longtime radio personality Chicago Eddie Schwartz and because I was Bob's oldest friend, Schwartz and I sort of became “friends-in-law”. When he did the all night show at WIND, Bob and I would often bring our dates up to the studio at 625 N. Michigan, hoping to impress them and Eddie would let us sit in on his show.

Due to his closeness with Schwartz, Bob got the telephone numbers of various celebrities that Schwartz had interviewed. Um, big mistake, Eddie.

One evening, Bob and I decide to call Larry. He was living at a “home for retired actors” and was very easy to get on the phone. Bob and I decided to play a little prank on the famous Stooge.

My role was to get him on the phone for a fake "radio interview". Bob was playing the role of a representative from the B’nai B’rith who was bestowing an award on Mr. Fine.

The prank call went something like this:

Fine answers. His trademark, nasally voice was very distinctive. It sounded the same, but in slow motion. I replied in a booming, morning-zoo like radio demeanor, “Hey, it's an honor to have the great Larry Fine with us on the air tonight. Good evening Mr. Fine, I'm Bob Rouse.”

It was the first name I could think of. Rouse was the assistant manager of the bowling alley I patronized in Chicago. I went on, “With me is Sid Meyers and he has some wonderful news for you, Larry”. I wanted to use a Jewish name and I thought of Sid, a security guard at the Polk Bros. store that I worked at in high school.

Bob then took over. “Larry, it’s great to talk to you. I’m a longtime fan of you guys, except for Curly Joe. Anyhow, Larry, it's my great privilege to tell you at this time that you are the winner of our organization’s Golden Age of Comedy Award and we would love to have you receive it in person at our annual banquet in September”.

Larry finally spoke. Slowly, but distinctly he said, “I’m afraid I can't travel, I’m in a wheelchair.” Bob, without breaking stride, came right back with, “Larry, not to worry. We are sending you two first class round-trip airlines tickets for you and your caretaker. And, oh yes, Mr. Fine, I almost forgot. There is a $10,000.00 honorarium that comes with this award.”

Larry immediately changed his tune and replied, “Really?!? Okay, send me the details, I’m definitely going to make it there!” Bob then told him, “A registered letter will be sent out to you on Monday.” He paused and suddenly blurted, “Larry, excuse me, please hold on for a second. It seems that Bob Rouse has to do an FCC thing.”

My friend Bob handed me the phone because he couldn't control his laughter anymore. It didn't help when I said, “It's 8:00 pm straight-up here in the Windy City. I’m Bob Rouse here with Larry Fine. It's 83° at Midway and 16° at O'Hare.”

At this point we both lost it and went in to convulsions, laughing hysterically. We ended up just hanging the phone up on Larry Fine. He was probably sitting in that wheelchair until the day he died wondering when his plane tickets were going to arrive.

I warned you that Mike’s remembrance of Larry Fine wasn’t quite as cheery as Jayne’s.

Maybe I was wrong about women appreciating the Three Stooges, but there is no questioning their popularity. Hopefully these two very personal accounts satisfied the many requests for more Stooges.

Until next time…from the booth.


Jayne said...

Mike's story had me laughing, no doubt...but I feel bad for poor Larry. It would've been much funnier if done to Moe. He was not as nice as Larry!

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

I thought that the two stories contrasted nicely. Thanks for contributing, Jayne.

Jayne said...

Yes, they did contrast exceptionally well :-) ...I didn't mean your blog would've been funnier, I meant the prank itself would've given me greater satisfaction if done to Moe instead. He truly was cranky that day when I saw him!

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

I know, Jayne. You got to meet Moe as well??? How about Curly?

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

I know, Jayne. You got to meet Moe as well??? How about Curly?

Anonymous said...

Think you have a little 'competition' with Mike and Jayne !

Paul E. Vagnoni said...

Ya, think? :)