Dear Friends and supporters,
At my age, I approach each day’s obituaries with high interest, and a mix of sympathetic dread and secret, ignoble, survivor’s triumph.
Today I read of the deaths of 5 people who affected my life in some, at least glancing way. 2 of them were sports heroes of my youth; I’ll save them for last.
First let me do my worst: 2 folks I don’t mind missing: Hootie Johnson was the driving reactionary force at the Augusta (GA) National Golf Club, always defined as “the home of The Masters golf tournament.” Until Johnson’s adamant opposition was finally overridden in 2012, no women were allowed to be members of the Club.
This was 10 years after Johnson and his holey greens were publically challenged by KSFR’s own long-time commentator and feminist advocate Martha Burk. Martha led protests against the exclusion of women at Augusta National in 2002 and 2003, and forced CBS Sports to make a most curious decision: to broadcast its 2003 and 2004 coverage of The Masters without commercials. This was advertised as a way of protecting innocent sponsors from association with such a suddenly controversial event. Of course, CBS itself saw no need to modify its association with programming provided through the sponsorship of a declaredly sexist institution.
As for Hootie Johnson himself — although Martha Burk liked calling him “the Lester Maddox of golf,” after the one-time racist Governor of Georgia — he was regarded as something of a social pioneer in his hiring practices at his bank in Greenville, South Carolina. There he offered jobs to men and women, Whites and Blacks.
Curious that the one thing he felt he needed to protect from the presence of women was his putts.
I have less serious mixed feelings about the late film director George Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead was, when the viewer was properly medicated, an occasionally amusing film. But compared to the “classics” of the horror genre like Dracula, The Mummy and Frankenstein, not to mention the much more contemporary Hammer Films re-visits of the classics, “Night” was witless and inelegant, and worse, showed the way for decades of equally ill-plotted, poorly shot, virtually un-acted, but gloriously inexpensive horror movies (some of them made by Romero himself).
Also from Movieland, the late Martin Landau, the fine character actor who won an Oscar for his portrayal, oddly appropriate in this context, of Bela Lugosi, in the oddball inside-Hollywood movie Ed Wood. Landau made a great Hitchcock villain in North By Northwest. He also (the things you learn from an NY Times obit) got his first real-world job after graduating from Pratt Institute “at The Daily News in New York for five years, illustrating “Pitching Horseshoes,” a column written by the impresario Billy Rose, and assisting Gus Edson with the comic strip ‘The Gumps.’” Landau gave up pen and ink for the stage; a decision we all benefited from, especially his former acting student Jack Nicholson.
2 sports figures died this weekend. Vito “Babe” Parilli, was one of the first stars of the American Football League. Parilli was 3 times an all-star quarterback for the Boston Patriots, sort of Tom Brady before Tom Brady. Parilli was a player whose exploits I first heard of when he was an All-American at the University of Kentucky and I was still in single digits, advancing my reading abilities via the sports pages, a habit which persists. Parilli was part of a parade of great QBs from western Pennsylvania; in that sense, Joe Namath before Joe Namath.
Finally, there is Bob Wolff, whose career is included in the great Record Book — Guinness’. No one has ever broadcast sports as long as Bob did, from 1939 (at a CBS Radio affiliate in North Carolina) until quite recently (at a Cable TV outlet on Long Island). 75 years is the shorthand guesstimation of Bob’s sportscasting career. I remember hearing him when I was growing up in Richmond, VA, maybe even before Parilli entered college, as the TV voice of the Washington Senators.
The Senators’ Griffith Stadium (named for the team’s ingloriously racist owner) was at the corner of Florida and Georgia Avenues in Northwest DC; the team’s performance defined the intersection of Farce and Tragedy, forcing Bob to remarkable demonstrations of discretion. “I always gave the score,” he admitted, “but never said who was winning.” That’s because the Senators won so rarely.
My personal connection to Bob Wolff, beyond youthful fandom, was at the start of my own major-league play-by-play career. Through the intercession of another “late, great,” Marty Glickman, I was hired to do college basketball, and both NBA basketball and NHL hockey for Madison Square Garden Cable. Often, in the Garden Press Room, Bob would quietly approach me, pat me on the shoulder and say, “You’re doing a great job.” He kept his encouragement coming for years.
I can’t tell you how much that meant to me.
Like any journalist, a play-by-play broadcaster (and having done it a lot, I can tell you play-by-play is journalism), Bob was always proud of the 2 historic events he broadcast: The New York Yankees’ Don Larsen’s 1956 World Series “perfect game,” and the 1958 National Football League Championship in which the Baltimore Colts beat the NY Giants in sudden death overtime. That game is often called “the greatest ever played,” and Bob’s descriptions, while typically self-effacing, were more than equal to it.
In my personal Hall of Fame, Bob Wolff’s plaque will always read, “one of the nicest, most generous people I’ve ever known.” I miss him already.
Quite a week upcoming on HERE & THERE.
On Monday, our guest is Mark Bowden, a best-selling historian and journalist, whose Blackhawk Down is a recognized classic and whose new Hue 1968 has gotten rave reviews. Mark wrote last month in The Atlantic about North Korea and the few and terrible options its nuclear weapons program presents for the Trump White House. That’s what we talk about. Think 25 to 50 million South Koreans held hostage.
On Tuesday, Mary Otto, formerly with the Washington Post, talks about her recent book Teeth, which covers with force and eloquence, the dysfunctional state of oral health in America, its causes and consequences. It belongs on your bookshelf next to Elisabeth Rosenthal’s An American Sickness (check the Searchbox at davemarash.com for her HERE & THERE conversation.) In Teeth, Mary explains why, in America at least, medicine and dentistry, are among the “twains” that never meet, and what that costs us.
Wednesday, Lauren Villagran shares with us her 5-part series in my local paper, the Albuquerque Journal, about an important aquifer, the Mesilla Bolson, which lies under both the Rio Grande and the US-Mexico border. Surface waters, like the “grand river” and international borders are governed by lots of official rules, laws and treaties. The underground aquifer, a key water source for hundreds of thousands of people, not to mention thousands of acres of croplands on both sides of the border, has generated neither laws nor rules nor treaties. Except, alas, for the universal rule of greed, or as they call it on the border, “whoever has the biggest straw.”
Thursday, the remarkable reporter Tony Cheng of China’s English-language TV newschannel, CGTN, is back in Mosul and will bring us a late-breaking look at this huge and historic city from which ISIS has been almost completely expelled. We’ll look at 2 key questions about Mosul: “What’s left?” and “What’s next?”
Amy Marash, her vision and her digital artistry are back, illuminating our spoken texts. My favorite is “2 Nuts with Nukes,” a wonderful encapsulation of the US-North Korea perplex.
And please visit our davemarash.com website to catch up on, now close to 500 past podcasts.