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I'm a cautious, rather boring person who seldom strays from his comfort zone. On those occasions I've done something out of character, I've been fortunate enough to avoid pitfalls that lined my path.

A recent rant started me thinking about one of the dumbest things I ever did, which I'll get to eventually. Since then I've recalled two other monumentally bad decisions I lived to talk about. All three are on my Do What I Say, Not What I've Done List.

The first two involved hitchhiking, a 1950s rite of passage for boys. Since then it has been taken up by girls. It's something that has had tragic results, for hitchhikers and for those who stopped and offered rides.

I knew the danger, but nonetheless tried it in 1956 while I was a freshman at Kent State University. Some friends had hitchhiked without regret, claiming a person could often get from Point A to Point B faster that way than if he took the train or bus, the primary modes of transportation available to me at the time.

So there I was, in January or February of '56, hitchhiking from Kent, Ohio, to Solvay, New York. The trip started well enough; I quickly caught a ride from Kent to Ashtabula, where I was let out on Route 20. (Interstate 90 hadn't yet been completed through northeastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. I'd pick it up when I reached the New York Thruway.)

BEGGARS CAN'T be choosers, so when a middle-aged man in a Studebaker stopped for me in Ashtabula, I accepted his offer. No, he wasn't a pervert, but for my purposes he became almost as annoying. He was a retired sailor who had become a traveling salesman. He was headed for the Rochester, New York, area, but unfortunately was in no great hurry. We'd only gone about 60 miles when he made a stop — for dinner, he said, though he ordered the liquid variety. And so I ate at the bar as he drank and drank, savoring each sip as though it might be his last.

I was tempted to thank him, then ditch him, but by then I had to consider the weather, something I had chosen to disregard a few hours earlier when I stationed myself along Route 5 in Kent and flashed my thumb. We didn't get much snow in Kent, but the area 40 miles north along Lake Erie (and later the stretch along Lake Ontario) was a different world. I had grown up in that world and should have known better, but I was unfamiliar with the term "lake effect." Thus this trip was a learning experience.

Even then I should have known enough to send the man on his way and hitchhike back to Kent. Instead I returned to his car with him and we headed east by northeast. Snow was falling, which made our slow journey even slower. Even when we reached the Thruway he could not speed up because by then the flurries had turned into a storm. Nothing the Thruway couldn't handle, but something most folks would avoid, if possible.

Eventually we reached the Rochester exit near Henrietta, about 90 miles west of my target, Solvay. The man and I parted company at the toll booth, but it was obvious even to me that I couldn't I couldn't resume hitchhiking, which is illegal on the Thruway and that night was extremely dangerous as well. Over the years I'd seen folks stand near the toll booths and get rides, but as I watched the Studebaker disappear into the snow-flecked darkness, I couldn't help but notice there was no other vehicle in sight. Only a fool would be out on a night like that. And this fool was beginning to look like his name was Frosty.

I hadn't advised my parents that I was headed their way, but at that moment I had no choice. I phoned them and my father answered. Needless to say, he wasn't pleased that his son had done something so irresponsibly stupid and that he had just been dragged into it. He, too, had no choice. He had to rescue me. The round trip from Solvay to that Rochester exit and back normally took a little over three hours; that night it took about six. They were the longest hours of my life, especially the last three.

I returned to Kent two days later – on a Greyhound bus.

Several years later, after I was twice married and the father of three children, I again was struck stupid in a hitchhiking situation, only this time I was the driver. I blame what happened on a short circuit in my brain, which over the years has had several brief power outages. So when I was confronted by three strangers in an unlikely place, I didn't respond the way I could have or should have. Had my brain been functioning, I would have avoided the situation altogether. Instead, I was outwitted by idiots.

It was sometime in the 1980s. I don't recall why, but I visited my mother by myself, leaving my wife and children at home in Rhode Island. On my return trip via the New York Thruway I stopped at a service area to use the rest room. As I left the service area building, I spotted three people in the parking lot, standing by my car. They could have been extras in a movie about Woodstock. And I never got along much with members of the Woodstock generation.

I could have doubled back to the service area and waited them out – because I knew what they wanted. They were hitchhikers headed for Rhode Island and were attracted to my car by its license plates. That's a weird thing about Rhode Islanders. They don't leave their state very often. There in New York State, about halfway between Syracuse and Albany, my license plates were a rare and exciting sight, like a painted bunting among a flock of sparrows.

Instead of ducking out of sight to enjoy some of that fine service area cuisine, I continued toward the car, unable to think of a convenient lie, such as, "I'm on my way to Cooperstown and I'm getting off at the next exit." Nor did I consider doing my Clint Eastwood impression. "Feeling lucky, punks? Then step away from my car!"

So I wound up sharing a long ride with three pot-headed strangers — two sloppy, smirking men in their thirties and their leader, a Grace Slick wannabe who spouted dialogue from a bad Peter Fonda film. All the while I'm driving, I'm wondering when one of them will whip out a gun or a knife and order me into a rest stop.

The two guys in the back seat eventually became invisible, leaving me to converse with the woman who was about my age, early 40s. On the Massachusetts Turnpike she started talking about religion and baseball, which was weird. She claimed to know major leaguer Richie Hebner, who was from Norwood, Massachusetts. A lot of her sentences began, "Do you know he really ... " And she'd make up some lie about Hebner's youth or his secret hopes and dreams. Like he'd rather have joined an ashram instead of the Pittsburgh Pirates. As if anyone cared.

Her boring monologue turned out to be the worst thing about the trip, which, except for my apprehension and regret at having been outmaneuvered, was uneventful. My passengers had no sense of shame — or gratitude. First they asked me to deliver them to an address in Providence, but I refused, saying I was exiting Rhode Island's Route 146 at Interstate 295 and wouldn't be going anywhere near the city. So I dropped them at that intersection. With a straight face, the woman asked for a handout, as though I owed them something for the pleasure of their company. "You've got to be kidding," I said, smiling. She returned the smile ... and I drove away, breathing a huge sigh of relief, but suspecting someday I might hear from them again. Luckily that never happened.

MY MOST FOOLISH adventure, however, was the only one of these three that I never regretted. It was something I shared in the spring of 1964 with a friend I had met at Kent State nine years earlier. I don't recall how the idea originated, but it must have come from the early '60s TV series, "Route 66."

My friend's name is Lynn Kandel, a native of Louisville, Ohio, who at the time worked in public relations at a Cleveland hospital. I lived an hour south, in Kent, and worked in Akron as the TV editor at the Beacon Journal. (For anyone who recalls the Beacon Journal in the 1960s, this clarification: I was called the TV editor because I edited and wrote stories for the paper's television magazine. The man most people considered the TV editor was columnist Dick Shippy, a terrific writer and a very good friend.)

Unlike most of our classmates, Lynn and I were still single as we each approached our 26th birthday. Until then we hadn't really spent much time together, except for a few double dates, but we did share one desire — to take a California vacation.

It was Lynn who came up with the plan to drive to California, then return to Ohio by plane. We wouldn't have to rent a car to do this; we'd deliver one.

So we looked at classified ads in the Cleveland Plain Dealer and found one that had been placed by a Chevrolet dealer in Oakland, California. One of their cars had been leased to a construction company in Philadelphia. Arrangements had already been made to drive the car as far west as Cleveland. What was needed was someone to drive it from Cleveland to Oakland. That was pretty much what we were looking for, though we would have preferred Los Angeles as the destination. But since we'd be given 10 days to complete the trip, we figured if we drove around the clock we could get to Los Angeles with almost a week to spare before we had to move on to Oakland. After delivering the car, we'd cross the bay and hook up with a former Kent State classmate who worked in San Francisco.

We answered the ad and were given the job. So far, so simple.

Our first complication was a pleasant one, at least for me. My boss told me the Beacon Journal would extend my California stay by a week if I could arrange celebrity interviews, which was no problem because networks wanted all the publicity they could get, especially about new programs on their fall line-ups. Isabel Silden, a publicist at the Hollywood firm of Rogers & Cowan, had been a terrific help to me in the past, and gladly put together an interesting — and full — itinerary. Lynn would fly back to Ohio from San Francisco; I would do so from Los Angeles a week later.

The second complication? Not so good. The car we were to deliver broke down during its trip to Cleveland. Our plan was to pick up the car on Friday and leave for California the next morning. But on Friday afternoon the car was sitting on a lift in a Youngstown garage. Lynn and I went to Youngstown to talk the mechanic into releasing the car. Our impatience led to a hasty decision.

The car could be driven, said the Youngstown mechanic, but he wasn't sure we could reach California without encountering more trouble. As far as he was concerned, the car was a piece of junk, having been badly treated and poorly maintained during its years in Philadelphia. It was early May, but the car was still outfitted with four well-worn snow-tires. We were advised to replace them, but were anxious to get the car to Lynn's Cleveland apartment that evening so we could begin our trip on schedule. One other thing: the car's speedometer didn't work.

Another complication surfaced when Lynn got into the car to drive it to his Cleveland apartment. The Chevrolet did not have a license plate, not even one of those temporary cardboard jobs. There was a tiny sticker on the windshield on the passenger side that indicated the car was registered in California, but you could hardly notice it. Proof of its registration was in the glove compartment. Proof that we were entitled to drive it? The would become problematical, but not until we we had driven about 1,600 miles.

Oh, yes, the tires. We didn't take a good, hard look at them until we packed up our stuff Saturday morning. We might as well have been driving on four inner-tubes. There was no tread. In some spots the rubber had worn away.

WE IGNORED common sense, pointed the car west and drove off, pretending we were in a Corvette, not a Bel Air, and chanting "I think we can! I think we can! I think we can!"

Buzz Murdock and Todd Stiles, original characters on TV's "Route 66," made several stops during their journey, lingering in each town long enough to find romance, a couple of fist fights and a problem only they could solve.

Lynn Kandel and Jack Major made only brief pit stops during their first 1,100 miles. One drove, the other slept and for both of us the first 24 hours was a blur. I do recall driving through St. Louis, though I don't know if Interstate 70 was in existence at the time. We made no stops, so it must have been. Somewhere in St. Louis we exited onto Interstate 44, or whatever the appropriate route was in 1964. We were aware of the Gateway Arch, which was under construction at the time, but I'm not sure we saw it or whether it was dark or light. We wanted to keep going.

And so we did ... until early Sunday morning, when we were past Tulsa and headed for Oklahoma City. One of our tires finally blew, which was no surprise. Whichever one of us was driving did a good job controlling and stopping the car. We'd been fairly certain something would stop us, though smart money was on a state trooper, curious why our vehicle had no license plates. (Really, neither of us thought we'd even get out of Ohio without having to explain our circumstances to at least one highway patrolman.)

We changed the tire. In those days cars carried real tires in the trunk. Not surprisingly, our spare was in slightly better shape than any of the four tires that had delivered us to Oklahoma.

THE SUN was rising and our concern was finding a service station open, both at that hour and on that day. For all we knew, businesses were closed on Sundays in Oklahoma. But we found an open service station tended by a teenager who must have been put there by God. In an act that may have gotten him fired later that day, the teenager installed four new tires and billed the California Chevrolet dealer — on our say-so. (In the movie version of our trip, of course, the teenager would have walked off the job, hopped into our backseat and accompanied us to California.)

Lynn remembers making a phone call to the California dealership, but I don't recall him getting an answer. After all, it was a Sunday morning and it was two hours earlier in California. Or perhaps he contacted them after the deed, I don't recall.

We were back on the road before noon. My recollection is we decided to spend Sunday night sleeping in a motel in or around Albuquerque, not in shifts in the automobile. I talked to Lynn recently and he's not sure we made such a stop, but this is my story and I'm sticking with it. Besides, logistically speaking, it makes sense.

Both of us agree it looked for awhile like we might not make it to Albuquerque, thanks to a pair of New Mexico lawmen who noticed what had escaped the attention of every other policeman who had passed us between Ohio and the New Mexico border. The sharp-eyed New Mexico state policemen pulled us over soon after we entered their state and asked why we had no license plates.

We showed them the pitiful sticker on the windshield and produced the documentation from the glove compartment. At first it seemed this wouldn't be enough ... because their expressions said they weren't buying our story. Turned out what their expressions were really saying is they couldn't believe any Ohio college could have accepted two guys so stupid. After making us sweat a few minutes, they sent us on our way.

Whether we spent a night in Albuquerque, for sure it was Monday morning that, at last, we began to think like Tod and Buzz and. We decided to take a detour and spend the evening in Las Vegas, something we hadn't even discussed until we had entered Arizona. Maybe our impulse was triggered by a roadside sign that said Flagstaff was up ahead. Those familiar with the song, "Route 66," probably remember the line, "Flagstaff, Arizona, don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino."

That song wasn't played on the TV program, but it was an obvious inspiration. It was in that spirit that we headed for Las Vegas. In 1964 Vegas may have been booming, but it still looked more like South of the Border, South Carolina, than the big city it would soon become. Alas, there is no story to tell about our visit. Lynn and I aren't gamblers. I may not be a penny-pincher, but I'm pretty tight with my quarters. I don't recall using any of the slot machines that lined the streets like an army of panhandlers. We could just as well have stuck to our original route and spent the night in Needles, California, taking its temperature. (Again, the movie version would be a lot different. We'd have been joined in Las Vegas by a good-hearted stripper on the run from the mob.)

ON TUESDAY morning we left Las Vegas over one of the most boring stretches of highway I've ever seen. Most of it was flat, which misled me into thinking we were much closer to sea level than we actually were. That mistake was corrected around Barstow, California, but I had no idea just how high we were, even when we got to Victorville, where there was snow on the ground, which struck me as unusual for early May.

Luckily Lynn was driving, because when we began our descent into the valley near San Bernardino I probably would have gone off the road. For me, it was one of those "WHOOAA!" moments. I felt like I was in the cockpit of an airplane that had abruptly come out of the clouds directly above its destination. The sight of that valley below was startlingly unforgettable.

When we got to the Gene Autry Continental Hotel on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood, we were tempted to kiss the ground, but decided to delay that ceremony until we delivered the car to Oakland. For all of our concerns, the car had done well, especially after Oklahoma City. And we'd gotten good at estimating our driving speed. I can't remember why, but while we were in Los Angeles I persuaded Lynn to do most of the driving.

(A word about our hotel. It had opened in 1958, but in 1966 would be sold and renamed Continental Hyatt House, nicknamed "Riot House" because it was popular with rock groups. Supposedly Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones dropped a TV out of the window in Room 1015. Jim Morrison lived there until, the story goes, he was evicted for hanging out a window by his fingertips. Lynn Kandel and Jack Major, on the other hand, were model guests.)

OUR STAY in Los Angeles was entertainment oriented. No surprise. It's not like we went there for a museum tour. Instead we attended an Emmy Awards party for the nominees, giving us an opportunity to mingle with a few celebrities, including singer Andy Williams. (See My Huckleberry Friend.)

Also there was Richard Deacon, who played Mel Cooley on "The Dick Van Dyke Show." He was the only member of the show in town that week, which is why he attended. He apparently thought Lynn and I were a lovers because during our conversation he invited us to another party, mentioning that one of the guests would be Rock Hudson. He also invited us to his Beverly Hills home. Lynn and I picked up on Deacon's vibe and he soon realized we actually were two heterosexuals hoping to meet starlets.

There was no harm done — and I did appreciate him spilling the beans about Rock Hudson — and two weeks later I interviewed him at his Beverly Hills home, which was neatly tucked against some huge rocks near the top of a steep, winding street. It was a great place to get away from it all. We had a nice talk about his career, especially his work on the "Van Dyke" show. He was from Binghamton, New York, and said that as soon as he heard my voice at the Emmy party he recognized the Central New York accent.

Deacon originally wanted to be a doctor and was working as an orderly in a Binghamton hospital when World War II broke out.

"I tried to join the Navy," he told me, "but they turned me down. The recruiter sent me across the street to the Army because he said the Army would take anyone. They did." He wound up in the Army's medical corps."

The actor reminded me a lot of a friend who went through basic training with me during our brief stint with the Army. (We were Reservists whose active duty was completed in six months.) My friend had attended parochial schools through 12th grade and had never had a physical education class. He was overweight and badly out of shape. Deacon was just as soft. Shaking his hand was like squeezing a bag of marshmallows.

After the war Deacon enrolled at Ithaca College, still hoping for a medical career, but was restless and found he had lost interest in being a student, so he moved to New York City and turned to acting. As is true with a lot of actors, Deacon supported himself by working as a bartender. His physical appearance, including his balding head, soon put him in demand as a character actor.

AT THE EMMY PARTY Lynn and I also met Irene Ryan, who had been nominated as best actress in a comedy series. (She correctly predicted Mary Tyler Moore would win, complaining just a bit that the industry had no respect for her series, "The Beverly Hillbillies.")

Ryan was surprisingly friendly and got along especially well with Lynn. She invited us to visit the set of her series, which was about to wrap up filming of its last episode of the season. The sitcom was a Filmways Production, but I can't remember where it was shot. Anyway, a day or two later Lynn and I visited the set, had a brief chat with Ryan, then watched her film a scene — during which she was bitten by a chimpanzee, probably the one known on "The Beverly Hillbillies" as Cousin Bessie.

Such incidents were not unusual for actors working with chimpanzees, and this one required that Ryan be taken to a hospital. As she was being driven away, she told her driver to stop. She rolled down a window, called Lynn and me over, and apologized for what had happened. It was an amazing gesture, though I had forgotten about it until I called Lynn recently to compare notes.

What I recalled more vividly was Buddy Ebsen's reaction to the chimp incident. He loved Irene Ryan and all that, but Ebsen was anxious to finish the season and begin his summer hiatus. Given his druthers, Ebsen probably would have strangled the animal.

Lynn and I visited a couple of other studios, including Universal and MGM. At Universal I met Cheryl Holdridge and Allyson Ames, who back in those days were referred to as actresses, not actors. I still think actress is usually more appropriate; certainly it was in this case because these were two lovely ladies, who at this point in their lives seemed more concerned with their personal lives than their careers. We chatted awhile in a recording studio where they were dubbing lines for an episode of "Wagon Train," in which they were two of the guest stars.

Holdridge was the better known of the two, a former Mousketeer who also had made eight appearances as a child performer on "Leave It To Beaver." She was 20 years old and had moved on to guest roles in several prime time series. She was preoccupied with her romance with Lance Reventlow, son of Woolworth heiress Barbara Hutton. Reventlow, usually described as a playboy, had recently divorced actress Jill St. John, a sore subject with Holdridge, who correctly predicted on the day we met that St. John no longer was in the picture; she and Reventlow would wed. Which they did six months later. Then she retired from acting, though she would briefly unretire in 1985 to make two TV appearances in "The New Leave It To Beaver." She also had a role in the 2000 movie, "The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas."

Reventlow's full name was Lawrence Graf von Haugwitz-Hardenberg-Reventlow. He also was the stepson of Cary Grant and of another of his mother's husbands, Prince Igor Troubetzkoy, an auto racer. Reventlow had been a friend of James Dean, sharing the actor's love of fast cars. Reventlow, also a pilot, would be killed in 1972 in the crash of a small plane. Holdridge would marry twice after that. She died in 2009.

Ames was considered a better actress, but her career came to an end soon after she she married producer-director Leslie Stevens, who worked on such TV hits "Outer Limits," "The Name of the Game," "McCloud" and "The Virginian." He also wrote and directed a 1966 horror film, "Incubus," that starred Ames and William Shatner. By the time the film was released Ames and Stevens were headed for a divorce. Their marriage lasted about one year.

I haven't found any biography of Allyson Ames on-line, but my recollection is she had been married previously and in 1964 was a single mother with two or three children. I may have her confused with another Allyson (or Allison), but I don't think so. During our conversation she joked that if I wanted an interesting look at the glamorous life of a young actress I should stop by her apartment for dinner, which I took to be a reference to caring for and feeding her children. Holdridge egged me on, as though Ames was asking me out, but I figured I was being drawn into a joke, the punchline of which would be "Gotcha!" Besides, a Hollywood-based wire service writer, Bob Thomas, I think, had already done a story of the hard life of Allyson Ames (or an actress named Allison) who was raising children on her own while she waited for her big break.

Our visit to MGM was far less interesting, though Lynn and I did visit a set where the movie "36 Hours" was being filmed. We saw Rod Taylor, Eva Marie Saint and James Garner, but I don't recall meeting them. I certainly would have enjoyed the opportunity to meet Garner, one of the all-time favorites, while my mother would have been thrilled if I had interviewed Taylor, who was one of her faves.

WHEN WE LEFT Los Angeles, Lynn and I made another dumb driving decision — we took an inside route north instead of driving the scenic Coast Highway, which would have been slower perhaps, but much prettier and about 20 degrees cooler. A week earlier we had encountered snow near Victorville; now, near Fresno, the temperature was in the low 90s.

However, it was cool and comfortable in the San Francisco area. When we dropped off the car in Oakland, the folks there weren't all that happy about the tire deal we had made in Oklahoma City, but were nice enough to arrange a ride for us from the dealership to downtown San Francisco where we were met by our Kent State friend, Kevin McTigue. (Every time I tell this story I have to explain that Lynn Kandel is a man, Kevin McTigue is a woman.)

Lynn and I stayed at Kevin's apartment. She was a Cleveland native, but had found work in San Francisco and became one of her adopted city's biggest cheerleaders. Her enthusiasm for the city wore on me a bit, so I told her what I liked about San Francisco is it reminded me a lot of Pittsburgh, a comment she didn't appreciate. (I was only half-kidding, because the Greater Pittsburgh Area includes several San Francisco-like hills. My favorite is Mount Washington, which, I believe, is still serviced by the Monongahela and Duquesne Inclines, notch railroads which transport people up and down the steep hill that overlooks the city at the point the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers meet to form the Ohio River.)

Kevin had to work the week we were there, but she let us use her car, advising us the brakes were soft, which made stopping an adventure at the bottom of those ski slopes that pass for streets in San Francisco.

I skipped out on Lynn and Kevin for a couple of days to accept an invitation from ABC to fly to Portland to watch how the network covered the Oregon presidential primary. The network's press department wasn't looking for coverage, simply a few bodies who'd wander around that night wearing badges announcing their newspaper affiliation.

Also accepting the invitation was writer Don Freeman of the San Diego Union-Tribune. We arrived in Portland the night before the primary. The next day ABC gave us a car and told us to do anything we wanted. We went for a drive through some beautiful wilderness along a river, probably the Columbia. At one point we saw a wildcat of some sort crossing the road. We also stopped to get a close look at a stream that tumbled down the wooded mountain, toward the river. I could understand how people fall in love with the Northwest.

We got back to Portland in time for dinner, then watched Howard K. Smith anchor the network coverage. At some point during our visit I interviewed Smith for a story I wrote when I returned to Akron.

I returned to San Francisco on Wednesday and a few days later Lynn flew home to Cleveland, I returned to Los Angeles and the Continental Hotel.

That week I had lunch with Mary Tyler Moore and her then-husband Grant Tinker. A week later she would win an Emmy as best actress in a TV series, an honor that was deeply appreciated because she was still hurting from early reviews of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" which had called her the program's weak link.

In 1964 she had no idea she would achieve even greater success with her own show. She said at the time her goal was to star in the kind of movies that Doris Day made. She had a few big screen opportunities, but would discover how sweet success can be on the small screen.

NUMBER ONE on my Must Interview list was Akron native Lola Albright, who had become a popular television star for her work on "Peter Gunn" (1958-61). She also appeared in several movies, including "Champion" (1949) and "The Tender Trap" (1955), though perhaps her biggest role was opposite Elvis Presley in "Kid Gallahad" (1962). A year earlier she had starred opposite Scott Marlowe, a very intense young actor in the James Dean mold, in "Cold Wind in August" about a 28-year-old stripper involved with a teenaged boy. It was a small, but controversial film which some thought should have earned Albright an Oscar nomination.

A few weeks prior to our meeting, Albright worked with Jane Fonda and Alain Delon in "Love Cage," a sordid tale that did nothing for the careers of those involved. "A big part of the problem," said Albright, "was the script. It was written in French and translated for an American audience by a woman from London who wasn't familiar with American slang. Much of her translation had a double meaning."

Our interview took place in a restaurant-bar run by her husband, Bill Chadney, whom she had met while working on "Peter Gunn." (He was the piano player in the jazz band that backed Albright, who played singer Edie Hart.)

At one point in the interview Albright told me her husband was eying me from behind the bar. "He's jealous," she said, smiling. "He's wondering who you are. I didn't tell him you were here to interview me." (Nothing happened, though the movie version would have Chadney confronting me, which would lead to a fight, which I would deliberately lose.)

My interview didn't prevent Albright from tending to restaurant business involving a ball-point pen and matchbook covers.

"My husband ordered 65,000 books of matches when he opened the restaurant six weeks ago. They're beautiful, aren't they? Expensive, too, thanks to this raised gold lettering. There's just one problem – they've all got the wrong telephone number."

So there we sat — me asking questions and Albright crossing out and correcting the telephone number.

TWO YEARS earlier, at an Ohio summer theater, I had interviewed Albright's first husband, Jack Carson, another of my favorite actors. He and Albright had divorced by then. It was his third marriage and lasted from 1952-58. (Albright and Chadney would divorce in 1975.)

Albright was working as a radio station receptionist in Cleveland when a talent agent spotted her and arranged an interview with scouts from MGM.

"I've never figured out how I got the contract," she said. "I was terrible. Absolutely terrible. It didn't bother me that I was terrible. The important thing was the contract.

"I wanted to be a good actress who worked a little, but I wasn't really interested in learning how to act. As a result, I was a bad actress who worked a little."

When she married Carson, she lost interest in acting. "I never really wanted to work again until that marriage broke up. After our divorce I took stock of myself and discovered acting was the only field open to me."

Finally, she set out to become a good actress and even took singing lessons, which prepared her for "Peter Gunn." She did her own singing on the show, even made an album or two. (A cable television station has been showing reruns of "Peter Gunn," and I'm pleased to report that Lola Albright, as Edie Hart, remains one of the television's sexiest characters. It's a program with ridiculous plots, but good music, great dialogue and the coolest private eye hero of them all.)

Going from the sublime to the ridiculous ... another interview that week prompted me to write a story that began like this:

The name on the office door said George Burns, but the man inside looked more like J. Fred Muggs. He sat low behind a desk that was several sizes too large ... and wore an old Ben Hogan-style golf cap that likewise was too large.

As expected, there was a big cigar in his mouth that blocked almost as much of his face as the cap. He removed the cigar only when he spoke – and then used the cigar as a pointer, waving or thrusting it in all directions to emphasize his words. His chain-smoking had given the office an odor that would make even downtown Akron seem like a fresh air camp.

His sport-shirt and trousers were loud, even by California's zany standards, but they obviously made him feel comfortable. He had on thick-rimmed glasses (the better to see through the cigar smoke, my dear) and the lines on his face made him look every one of his 68 years. Maybe older.

Burns was in the first stages of his career without his wife and partner, Gracie Allen, who had retired in 1958, for health reasons.

"The way I look at it," he told me, "I've only been working since Gracie retired. When we were a team she did all the work. I'd start a routine by asking, 'How's your uncle?' Then she'd talk for 17 minutes. It was great."

Our interview was to promote "Wendy and Me," a situation comedy he had created. His co-star was Connie Stevens. (Gracie Allen would die about a month before this show went on the air.)

"Wendy and Me" lasted only one season, but eventually Burns achieved tremendous success in the movies, winning an Oscar for best supporting actor in 1975's "The Sunshine Boys" (after he replaced Jack Benny, who was too ill to do the film and soon died). Burns also had a big hit movie in "Oh, God" (1977) and followed it with two sequels. He would die in 1996 at the age of 100.

ANOTHER NEW sitcom that failed in the fall of 1964 was "Mickey," starring Mickey Rooney. I met Rooney during my California visit, but didn't interview him. His program also featured his son Tim. And while the show lasted only one season, it did earn Rooney a Golden Globe as the best actor in a TV series.

Having better success with a new series was Bob Denver, with whom I had dinner one night. Well, Denver and his wife were among the folks at the table. Our conversation produced no story. At the time Denver was best known for playing Maynard G. Krebs on "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis." That would change in September when "Gilligan's Island" premiered. At the time of our meeting Denver looked as though he had fallen on tough times, which apparently was the case, as he would explain to me a year later in a telephone interview.

Turned out a series of delays kept "Gilligan's Island" from filming until August, a couple of months later than planned. Denver said things were so bad he was borrowing money to feed his wife and three children.

"Here I was, the star of a new television show and I was practically starving."

A few months later he and his family were living comfortably and eating well.

I DON'T RECALL who gave it to me – it might have been Richard Deacon, who had a role in the film – but at some time during my California visit I acquired a copy of the script for the movie, "John Goldfarb, Please Come Home." Several people I met in Los Angeles had high hopes for this comedy, which was based on a book by William Peter Blatty, who later would write "The Exorcist."

"Goldfarb" was a spoof about an American U2 pilot (and a football player famous for once running the wrong way) who crashes in the Arab country of Fawzia which is ruled by a king obsessed with putting together a football team that can beat Notre Dame. Richard Crenna starred as the pilot, Peter Ustinov as the king, with Shirley MacLaine playing an American magazine writer who goes undercover in the king's harem. The plot has Ustinov threatening to turn Crenna over to the Russians unless Crenna agrees to coach the Fawzia football team.

The script seemed funny enough, but, then, I had never read a movie script before. The comedy was a bit overdone but typical of the times, starting with the names of the characters, including Heinous Overreach (head of the CIA), Charles Maginot (secretary of defense), Stottle Cronkite (head of the United State Information Agency), Miles Whitepaper (a U.S. government official) and Sakalakis (the Notre Dame coach). MacLaine's magazine was called Strife.

"John Goldfarb, Please Come Home" turned out to be one of the worst films of the 1960s. Ustinov, a notorious scenery chewer, outdid himself. Deacon had mentioned the film during our interview — he played Charles Maginot — and claimed Ustinov's double talk as the Fawzia king inadvertently produced words some Arabs found offensive. Meanwhile, the most offended party was Notre Dame University. The school's defamation suit delayed the opening of the film, which would become a trivia lover's delight. It's not worth sitting through, but if you are truly desperate then see if you can spot Jerry Orbach, Teri Garr, Telly Savalas and James Brolin. (Hint: the unbilled Brolin plays the Notre Dame quarterback.)

I also met an agent who predicted super stardom for an actress named Anjanette Comer, a Suzanne Pleshette lookalike who was featured in two other films that would bomb at the box office — "Quick, Before It Melts" with George Maharis and Robert Morse and "The Loved One" (1965) with Morse, Jonathan Winters, James Coburn, Rod Steiger and Liberace.

And another agent cornered me to say he represented an actor who would be very, very big — Andrew Prine, whom he described as “Tony Perkins with balls.” (In all fairness to Prine, he is an excellent and interesting actor, but one who was always better suited to supporting roles.)

AND SO I bid California a fond adieu — as they used to say in 1950s movie travelogues presented between the Coming Attractions and the Featured Film. My flight to Cleveland was uneventful, though I wouldn't be surprised if one of the stewardesses (as they used to be called) still has bruises from the squirming gentleman in an aisle seat who kept sticking out his elbow, punching her hip as she walked by. That seat squirmer would be me.

Lynn Kandel, now a resident of Indianapolis, reminded me of a newspaper article by a Los Angeles columnist who had attended the Emmy party and noticed the two young men from Ohio. His article mentioned the public relations man from a Cleveland hospital. "I have no idea what he was doing at this party," said the columnist, "but he looked like he was having lots of fun."

Well, both of us had lots of fun. So much fun that a year later we took another road trip, in my '65 Mustang. We went to New York City, then north through New England and west to Syracuse by way of the Adirondack Mountains before returning to Ohio.

This time we did it right — with new tires, a speedometer that worked and license plates prominently displayed, front and back. And we made several brief stops along the way, just like Tod and Buzz, but without the romances and the fistfights.

 
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