Archive for June, 2009

Good Night Ed McMahon.

Ed and Me before a show.

Ed and Me before a show.

We all woke up this morning to the news that Ed McMahon had died at the age of 86.

It was like hearing your favorite uncle had passed away.

For thirty years he was the guy who sat next to Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show couch.

Today you will hear much about him.  You’ll hear he was a patriot who served his nation as a Marine fighter pilot in two wars.   He retired at the rank of Colonel.

You’ll hear about his long association with Carson.   How they met doing a game show in Philadelphia.

I don’t think there were two guys ever more suited to be with each other than Johnny and Ed.   They had about as close to perfect timing as you can get.   Their affection for each other was transparently genuine.    Too bad they couldn’t have married each other. They would have saved a couple of fortunes.

He hosted his own shows and was the country’s premier pitchman.   Selling everything from dog food to beer.   Knocking on doors and giving people millions of dollars for Publishers Clearing House.

To me Big Ed was more than all that.   He was a great a guy to have a drink with.   A great guy to get advice from.

He was a great Saloon Guy.

I first met Ed back in the late eighties.  I was working in Los Angeles for Inside Edition.   Michael King who owned King World Productions  produced the program.   Michael asked me to get involved in one of his favorite causes.   The American Ireland Fund.  I was happy to do this for a number of reasons.   I am Irish, I was always concerned with Irish causes, Michael paid my salary.

The big fund raiser that year was a black tie dinner in honor of former President Reagan.   McMahon was the MC for the evening.   He was great, Reagan was great, both of them telling great Irish stories and jokes. Reagan making McMahon the butt of many of the Irish drinking jokes.   Of course Ed greeted all of them with that hearty laugh and great humor.

After the gala King invited us all to Jimmy’s in Beverly Hills.  The only real Irish Saloon in town.   I took a pass and escorted my date home.   On my way home I had a change of heart and went to Jimmy’s to join Michael.   One of the best decisions I ever made.

When I walked in there was Ed McMahon and Michael sitting at the piano singing Irish songs.   I joined them for one drink.   It was one of those great Irish nights when one drink turns into four hours of laughter and song.   All of it led by Ed McMahon.

He and I hit it off right from the start.   We had a lot in common.   Both of us were Irish Catholics.   Big guys with big personalities. Both of us known to enjoy a bit of grape.

I will always remember how taken I was with him.   He had a bigger than life personality and a magnificent wit.   He was the epitome of class.   All of his jokes were not only well told but they were all appropriate.   Nothing foul.

He was dressed impeccably. Perfect tie, tailored tux, great cuff links.

He was dressed like man is supposed to dress.

At the end of the night I asked Ed if he had any advice for me career wise.   He asked me if I was a good actor.   I of course told him I wasn’t.   He put his hand on my shoulder and said “ just be yourself, that‘s all you have.”

Through the years our paths crossed many times.   When I was hosting the morning show on the Fox station in San Francisco Ed would be a guest whenever we were in LA or whenever he was in San Francisco.

We never became more than, Hi Ed…Hi Steve friends, but I know we shared a kindred spirit.

One time Ed was in SF to sell something.   We did the program from the Penthouse of the Fairmont Hotel.   It was a spirited program that day.  We had a bunch of viewers dressed in pajama’s.   There was a live band and all kinds of fun.

We had a lot of laughs, no booze was involved, but we still had a lot of laughs..

During one of the commercial break Ed leaned over to me and said “ you know Steve we are a couple of lucky guys, we both get to make a nice living in Show Business by just being ourselves.”

I reminded him of the advice he had given me at Jimmy’s many years earlier.   He said “ your a natural, you would have figured it out own your own.”

Having Ed McMahon tell me I was a natural is like having Jack Nicklaus say “ nice swing.”  A sentence I am not in danger of hearing anytime soon.

I never wanted to be one of those old guys sitting at the end of the bar yelling at the young kids about how great things used to be. Truthfully, there are plenty of people who make me laugh and who I think are great entertainers performing in the industry right now.

However , it was never better than having Johnny and Ed book ending the likes of Bob Hope, Dean Martin and George Gobel.

Laughing and kidding and making us all feel like we were right there hanging with all the cool guys.

He had a long and wonderful career. Holding his own, on a nightly basis, with the titans of the industry

He did by just being himself.

Good night, Ed.

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No Weasels in this Saloon.

I hate weasels.   Just the sight of them make my skin crawl and my blood boil.

Now, before you PETA  types get your collective  panties in a bunch, I am writing about the two legged variety not the fuzzy little predators.

Weasels also come in human form.   They too are predators.

Human weasels are those people who prey on others.   Like their counterparts in the animal kingdom they always prey on the weaker smaller victims.    When they are attacked back they run and hide.   The human version usually tries to turn themselves into the victims.   Sort of what David Letterman did this week.

I call that the Weasel effect.

I first learned of this from my cousin Gus Sosa.   Gus was an all time great Saloon Guy.   He worked as a psychologist in the New York City Public Schools for thirty years.   He would know about human behavior and misbehavior.

Gus and I were in the Village one night when we were accosted buy three young fellows who first asked and then demanded money from us.   Big mistake on their part.   When we challenged them, and backed them down, they turned themselves into victims and claimed that we misunderstood.

We misunderstood nothing!

Their intent was clear they just picked the wrong two guys.   After they ran off with their tails between their legs Gus looked at me and uttered one word that explained it all,  “weasels. “

We have all come across human weasels in our life.   At work, in our families and certainly in the Saloon.

At this point in our history there are some really big weasels dominating the world Saloon.   Men like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who bears a striking physical resemblance to a real weasel, and his buddy the Ayatollah.    Kim Jong Il the dick-tater of North Korea.   Hugo Chavez the Venezuelan strong man.   All weasels.

Kim Jong Il is threatening to test another nuke.   Sending this one within five hundred miles off Hawaii.

Chavez is about to close down yet another television station that criticizes him on a regular basis.   When he does that there will be zero independent press in his country.  Unless we can depend on the accurate reporting of Sean Penn and Danny Glover.

At this hour the two headed monster that is the leadership of Iran is trying to steal an election.   At least that is how tens of thousands of Iranians feel.   They are so convinced that they are being cheated out of their freedom that they are putting their lives on the line by demonstrating on the streets of Tehran.

A few months back President Obama sent a video message to the Iranian people and the government of Iran.   He extended the hand of peace.   He also explained that our nation wanted a partnership with the Iranian government and people but it would have to be a partnership that was not based on threats.   He asked for a new beginning.

This was delivered just a few months before the election in Iran and seemed to be a clear message to the Iranian people that a change in leadership, a leadership that was not steeped in intimidation and threats, would be the way to bring about this partnership with America.   Of course the President did not come out and say exactly that, he couldn’t, but he clearly put the seed of change in the minds of the Iranian people.

Many feel the Iranian people responded by electing a moderate.  They now feel that election is being stolen.   The Iranian people, men, women and children,  are on the streets demonstrating.

We are silent.

President Obama has been measured, at best, in his response.   That is his style and his plan.

However, I am afraid that his inexperience is showing.   I don’t think he has ever had to deal with a weasel, at least not outside of Chicago politics, so I offer this advice.

This is not a time to blink.   The only way to deal with a weasel is to look him in the eye and tell him to finish his drink and go.   Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out, Mahmoud.

The people of Iran who are showing so much courage need to know that the President of the United States, who had reached out to them and asked for a new partnership and a new beginning, has as much courage as they do.

I am not looking for military intervention.   However, I am also not looking for diplomacy.   You cannot negotiate with a weasel for one very good reason

They lie.

At this point all we can do is show support.

Mr. President support these Iranian dissidents with all the international influence your office provides you.

Support them with the eloquence and civility that has become your most effective weapon.   This is your “tear down that wall“ moment..

Support them loudly and directly.   Not in measured tones but in direct and unequivocal support.

It is the least you can do.   You offered the hand of peace and friendship on behalf of the American people, now shake that hand.

In Memoriam: Tim Russert and Tommy Coughlin.

It was one year ago today that Tim Russert sadly passed away.

Russert of course, was known to most as the host of Meet The Press and the Chief Political analyst for NBC News.   He was widely respected and loved by his colleagues and his family and fans.   His temperate voice is sorely missed on the tube in these very high pitched days of political debate.

I did not know Tim Russert well but I felt I did.

I have a very good friend in San Francisco named Marty Lindstrom.   Marty is the son of a Chicago saloon keeper and quite a character in his own right. He went to college with Russert and would regale us with stories of he and Tim and their pals having a jolly old good time at John Carroll University.   The stories usually started with the same sentence ” one night we were drinking.”

That’s another great thing about being a Saloon Guy, you always know someone who knows someone.

One story is that Marty went to the Kentucky Derby and took fifty bucks from Tim to bet on a horse.   Marty being the fellow he is never made the bet, spending the money on more valuable things like booze and loose women.   The horse won.   Not only did he not pay Tim his winnings he never gave him the original fifty back either.   That was a laugh they would share for decades.

Whenever Tim would be in San Francisco he would always find out where Marty was tending bar.  As soon as he walked in, before any greetings, he would bellow in his best Buffalo Bills fan voice ” where’s my money.”

The only time I ever met Tim was, oddly enough, in a bar.   I went to Elaine’s one night to meet some friends and Tim was at the bar with his wife , the writer Maureen Orth.   Just the two of them sitting at the bar laughing and enjoying each others company.   They looked like a couple on their first date.

I called one of the waiters over and gave him a fifty.   I told him to tell Tim it was from Marty Lindstrom.   The waiter complied with my request and when he gave Russert the fifty he lit up like a Christmas tree.   His eyes darted a around the room looking for his old friend.   I thought that I had made a mistake and that he would be disappointed when he realized it was not his old pal,  just a friend of a friend.

He reacted to the absolute contrary, when I told him how I knew the story, he thought it was great.   He told me the whole story from start to finish.   We sat together for about an hour and he was just as you would expect him to be.   Approachable, funny, inquisitive to me and my career, very concerned about his friend Marty who had fallen on some hard times.

He was Tim Russert being Tim Russert.

When it was time to end the night. I told him to keep the fifty and I would get it from Marty back in San Francisco.   He would have none of it.   He just put it on the table and said ” if I take the fifty it will ruin the story.”

 A true journalist.   It’s always about the story.

Tim Russert was a great guy to meet in a Saloon.

I have just received word that another great Saloon Guy has passed away.   My old friend Tommy Coughlin.

Tommy grew up and lived most of his life in Inwood, an Irish Catholic neighborhood located on the northern tip of Manhattan. Inwood is well known for having a Saloon on every corner, with two or three in the middle.

As a young man Tommy was a federal agent who felt he could really best serve his country by leaving government employ to open a Saloon.   He and his old pal Richie ( Cheech) Shinnick bought an old dive bar and turned it into Doc Fiddler’s one of the most fun and successful gin joints in the neighborhood.

That is saying something in Inwood.

I met Tommy when I was nineteen.  He was a different kind of guy.  Very cerebral, very well read and very well informed.   He also had the driest wit and could break me up with just a look.   In an area where being a tough guy was a badge of honor Tommy was atypical.   He was not a tough talking kind of fellow he was a very gentle man who chose to use his intellect as his most lethal weapon.

After he sold Doc Fiddler’s he and Richie bought a bar in Riverdale.   A rather toney area of The Bronx.   It was called The Tenderloin and it was a steak house.   I worked there on Sunday nights.   I should have never taken the pay.   Tommy kept me in stitches all night long.

One Sunday after closing,  Tommy, Billy Glenn, who has the main bartender and I went bouncing around Riverdale.   At about two o’clock in the morning we had run into some young ladies who wanted to have a little fun.  Tommy suggested we reopen the Tenderloin so we could have the whole place to ourselves to do whatever came naturally.

After about a half an hour of partying, the front door flew open and four cops with guns drawn burst into the place and told us all to raise our hands.   In defense of the cops, the place had been locked tight an hour earlier and now they see a bunch of people partying, they had no idea who we were.

One young cop tells us not to move.   Billy Glenn who was standing behind the bar tried to explain things by saying ” hey it’s no big deal, I work here, I am the bartender.”

The young cop says to Billy ” prove it”.

Billy retorts without missing a beat ” prove it!  What do you want me to do make you a fucking Whiskey Sour.”

Tommy shoots me one of those looks and the two of us literally fell off the stools laughing.   I thought we were going to get shot.  We tried to compose ourselves but every time I looked at  Tommy he would just whisper ” a fucking Whiskey Sour” and the laughter would start all over.

The cops, much to their credit, found the humor in the situation and since there were no laws broken whished us well and off they went.

I would like to tell you that some bacchanalian orgy ensued but to be honest we could not stop laughing all night long.

Rest in peace my old friend.   I hope they serve Whisky Sours in heaven.

8/7/2009

Update:  It is with great sadness that I say good bye to my pal Marty Lindstrom who I mentioned in the Tim Russert story.  Marty was a true Saloon Guy who would rather be at the end of the bar with some good friends than anywhere else in the world.

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Good night to the self proclaimed “Worlds Nicest Human.”

On tonights show… Stupid Letterman Tricks.

I am a great fan of humor. I think laughing is the most pleasurable thing you can do with your clothes on.

I cultivated my humor hanging out in Saloons all around the world and I have hung around in enough of them to know that you have to have a bit of a thick skin.   Sometimes Saloon humor can be a bit hard and personal.

No one is safe from the ball breaking save for one group.

You don’t go after someone’s kids.

The other night David Letterman did not just cross the line with his comments about Sarah Palin’s daughters he took a flying leap over the line.

In case you missed it.   Dave , in his monologue, commented on the former Vice Presidential candidates attendance at a Yankee game over the weekend by saying that “ during the seventh inning  A Rod knocked up her daughter.” 

Bad move David.

The daughter who was with Sarah and her husband Todd was their fourteen year old, Willow.   This provoked an understandably angry reply from the Palin family who pointed out there is something untoward about a sixty -two year old man making sexual comments about a fourteen year old girl.

No argument here.

Letterman has been getting fried on the cable news channels and he responded last night with the most veiled apology I have ever heard.

First he did the predictable  saying  he is “just a comedian” and he just made a cheap joke.  Claiming that’s what he does, cheap jokes.

He went on to say that he would never make a comment suggesting anything sexual about a fourteen years old.

Well you did, Dave.

He then went on in a very unapologetic way to insinuate that he was referring to the Palin’s older daughter, eighteen year old Bristol.

For God’s sake, Why does that make it okay???

What has Bristol Palin done to deserve to have her reputation dragged through the mud on national television.   Is it because she had a child out of wedlock as a teenager?   I think she and her family have handled her situation with great grace.   She has stepped out and spoken about how hard it is to have a child when you are a child.  She has spoken out about how she loves her son but would really have rather had the child latter in life.   She has also spoken publicly to other young women about being careful and being smart.   She has taken responsibility and is not hiding from her situation.

Last night Letterman hid behind the mask of comedy.

It is not fair nor funny of Letterman to paint Bristol Palin, or for that matter, all young women who have gone through a teen pregnancy, with the broad brush of promiscuity.

The truth is that Letterman just hates Sarah Palin.   He has taken cheap shot after cheap shot at her ever since she was named as John McCain’s running mate.   That is all fine.    She is fair game .  However, I guess Dave never heard the old barroom adage.   Never hate your enemies.   It clouds your judgment.

That is why I think what Letterman said is so despicable.   It was not born out of humor.   It was born out of hate.   Hateful humor is never funny.   I assure you, it is never ever funny.

I grew up listening and watching Bob Hope and Johnny Carson make fun of every politician possible.   They made fun of Gerald Ford’s clumsiness.   They mocked Reagan’s speech patterns and hair color.   They laughed at Jimmy Carter’s “lusting in his heart” for other women.   They were never mean and they certainly never went after the kids.

Using someones kids as the butt of a joke is never funny.   Especially a child who has gone through the type of personal and emotional situation that Bristol Palin has.   You would think that Letterman might be a bit more sensitive to this considering he has a child who was born out of wedlock.

I am not sitting in judgment of that .   As a matter of fact, there but for the grace of God, and dumb luck, go I.

However there is a word that describes a child like that.  

How would Dave like it if some wise ass comedian came on his show and said “ Hi Dave, how’s the wife and the little bastard?”   He would not be pleased and he really would not be pleased if all the kids at Harry’s school picked that up and started calling him
“Letterman’s little bastard.”

That is why kids are off limits.   Using them for the purpose of a punch line is beyond the pale.   It puts them in an unfair jeopardy.

I know that we have progressed as a society to the point that any suggestion of using violence to solve a problem is unacceptable.

However, there are some times when I long for the good old days.

Imagine being in a Saloon.  The resident chuckle head says:

“Hey Steve I hear you took your kid to the ballgame, did she get knocked up during the seventh inning stretch.”

“ Easy boy, I took my fourteen year old”

“ Sorry, I was talking about the eighteen year old, the one who has already gotten knocked up once”.

In most Saloons I have hung out in, you would hear only two sounds.

Me hitting him, him hitting the floor.

A Saloon Guy at the Tony Awards.

It was great fun last night watching a Saloon Guy at the Tony Awards.

Most of you know James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano.   However, many years ago Big Jim was the manager of one of New York’s most popular Saloons.

T.J. Tucker’s was on First Avenue and 59th Street, it was owned by the great Tommy O’Neill and Tucker Fredrickson.   In the eighties it was the place to be in New York.   Fredrickson was a former NY Giant and O’Neill was a producer for CBS Sports.  The place was always full of Show Business, Sports, and Wall Street types.   Gandolfini was a college friend of T.J. Tuckers General Manger Jerry Rubacky aka Cement Head.

He was called Cement Head because his head strongly resembled a block of granite.

Jimmy worked on weekends mostly in the summertime.   I always remember him as a very nice guy, always very accommodating to the regulars.   Very smart guy who was always a gentle man.  I also remember that he was not to be messed with.   He had this look that he would shoot at anyone who was  out of line.   Most logical people backed down in a heart beat.   Especially those who wanted their heart to continue beating.

He is really a big guy. Even bigger than he seems on TV.

I remember when he was leaving to go to LA to pursue his career.   He sat next to me at the bar and told me what his plans were.   I tried to talk him out of it.   Telling him what a horrible industry Show Business is and how he is going to suffer.   I tried to talk him into staying at Tucker’s telling him he was so good at what he was doing.

I guess you can officially file that under really bad advice.

Those of us who knew him when he worked at  Tuckers have enjoyed his success.   It is always a great kick to see one of your own do well .   He was one of our own.  He totally understood the whole  Saloon mentality.  There was great pride in watching him at the Tony awards last night.

He was nominated for Best Actor in a Play, for his role in God of Carnage.   He did not win but he did have one of the shows best lines when he stated that he was not related to Shrek.

Because I do consider him one of our own I take great exception to the way he is treated by some in the media.   In today’s New York Post  Cindy Adams takes a number of shots at him because he was not accommodating to her request for an interview.   It seems Cindy scooped everyone on Jim’s divorce a number of years back and he has not forgotten how smart ass she was about it.  Then again she is pretty much a smart ass about everything.   He also gets baited by those jackasses at TMZ who insist on hurling some stupid derogatory Goomba question at him when he walks through an airport.   He does not suffer fools lightly and he protects his privacy and his personal space.

Good for him.  I like guys with long memories.   It is a real good Saloon trait.

A few months ago I was sitting at a table at Elaine’s.   Jim was with a number of friends a few tables away.   I was going to go over and say hello but they were in the middle of dinner.   Most famous people are more than willing to be cordial but it really is rude to interrupt anyone who is in the middle of a meal.

He and his group got up to leave before I had the chance to approach him.   On his way out he walked past my table.   I stood up and extended my hand.

Me. “ Jim, I’m Steve McPartlin we knew each other when you worked at T. J Tuckers with Tommy O’Neill and Jerry Rubacky”.

He to me. “ I remember you, you were the sports guy. Do you still see Tommy”?

Me. “ Sure all the time”.

Jim. “Tell him I said hi” he takes a few steps towards the door and turns back and says “ if he remembers me”.

If he remembers him! 

Gandolfini  is one of the biggest stars in the world and he is concerned that an old boss might not remember him.

I found that last comment, and the smile that crossed his face when he said it, to be incredibly humble.   He was not being cheeky he really did not take it for granted that Tommy or anyone else for that matter would remember him from years ago when he was just a part time manager of a Saloon on First Avenue.   It was a very real moment.

From a very real guy.

Susan Boyle, fame and the whole damn thing.

Susan Boyle had me from the start.

Not just because she came across as the ultimate underdog shutting up the smug judges on Britain’s Got Talent with that beautiful performance. While that was amazingly enjoyable, it was not the seminal moment in my appreciation for her. She won me over with the answer she gave to Simon Cowell when he asked her if she had ever sung in public before.

“ Just for the lads at the Pub” was her answer.

How much fun would it be drinking in her favorite Saloon in her hometown of Blackburn, Scotland.  It is a place called The Happy Valley Hotel.  

I am positive Susan would rather be there this day than where she is.

As I write this, it is a few days after she finished second in the competition, losing to a young dance group. Her second place finish, while a surprise, should not by an stretch of the imagination be considered a failure.  She was a long shot going in and she lost in a photo finish.   This should be just the beginning of the happiest time in her life.

Today she woke up in a hospital suffering from emotional exhaustion.  There have been reports of her being on the fringe of a nervous breakdown. Her brother has blamed the pressure of the program and her new found fame.   He is being nice.

I shed a tear when I watched her first performance and today I shed another tear hearing the news about her current situation. Here is a lovely woman, by most accounts, who has been thrust into the limelight and as quickly as the media and fans of the show built her up, they lined up to tear her down.

She learned the lesson very quickly that fame sucks.

First she had to listen to all the comments about her appearance which certainly played into her success story.   She did not look like her voice.   However, is it really fair to constantly refer to her as “frumpy” and “ our hairy angel”.   That is just flat out mean spirited.  I would love to know what the people who have been using those comments  look like.  I am sure it would not be  pretty. 

I have some experience with having the press comment on my appearance as opposed to my ability.   When I was hosting a TV show in San Francisco there was one TV critic who would always refer to me in print as “ the beefy Steve McPartlin”.   I had been in the business long enough not to let it bother me, although I did find it kind of odd that the fat bastard who was writing this outweighed me by about thirty pounds.   I guess he did not have a mirror or a scale in his hovel.

Here is some advice for the media. Figure out who the bad guys are and who the good guys are.   Go after the bad guys and celebrate the good guys.

When I worked on the television show A Current Affair we had the chance to do a very petty story about a famous person but our boss Peter Brennan put the axe to it. When I asked him why he told me that “ no one likes watching you piss on the parade, mate”.

Amen to that my friend.

Pissing on the parade has become sport both here and in Britain.  There is a nightly TV show called TMZ.   As far as I can see it is a group of people with no discernible talent mocking people with talent.  

It is the lowest form of TV possible.  

The show employees camera guys to confront celebrities and ask the most stupid and personal questions hoping to provoke the celebrity into some sort of untoward behavior.  The ring leader is a smirking gnome named Harvey Levin.   His talent would be best described as chief muckraker.    Which I am sure he is very proud of.

I know that Susan will be back and she will be successful. It has been reported that Simon Cowell will sign her to a huge recording contract. I just hope she learns that the money and success will have the same pitfalls as fame.  There will always be people, both in the media and on the street, who will be looking to tear her apart.

I hope to God that Susan Boyle is strong enough to come back and once again give the one fingered salute to her detractors.  I hope she once again finds great pleasure in entertaining people with that wonderful gifted voice.  Whether that be on the largest stages of the world or just “for the lads” back at the Happy Valley Hotel.