Rickie Fowler Untucks the PGA

AS SOMEONE WHO came to golf later in life, there’s a lot about the game I still don’t understand – like some of the inscrutable rules and the rigid and senseless dress code in force on the pro tour. Just how rigid and senseless was underscored last week when Rickie Fowler made headlines at Torrey Pines by daring to wear a shirt not tucked into his slacks, bucking the custom that has been in place for golfers since at least the First World War. The daring part is overstated; he had to ask permission first from the Lords of the PGA, who for some reason (Fowler has been ranked as high as #4 in the world) granted his request. Oh, let’s take a flyer on this one, guys. It’s California.

Predictably, golf’s hidebound clan immediately took to Twitter to decry this violation of country club tradition, dissing Fowler’s full-buttoned and collared Hawaiian-style shirt (from Puma) as “unprofessional.” Some said he “looked like a bum.” “I thought he had manners?” “What’s next, shorts?” Please. What’s “professional” about John Daly’s fashion-crushing outfits? Or the unsightly bulk of Trump stuffed into standard links attire. I guess by PGA standards ugly doesn’t matter as long as you’ve got all the extra yards of fabric tucked into pants cinched with a white patent leather belt that could have belonged to Pat Boone or the guys on “The Love Boat.” By the way, who made that the modern golfer’s uniform? Not Ralph Lauren or Tommy Hilfinger.

I THOUGHT FOWLER looked great, but then I’ve been waiting and waiting for someone on the tour to bust this move. It’s long overdue and likely here to stay because untucked shirts can not only be flattering but are cooler and more practical if you’re walking 18 in the Sahara summers of Texas. And who wants to keep tucking in a wet shirt every other hole?

It defies logic and common sense that businessmen in the great Southwest still adhere to the obligatory coat and tie in July, when temps soar into the sweat-soaking 100s, but at least they spend most of their days indoors. Golfers get no such shelter and, with enough sunscreen, could play naked. At least let them wear loose shirts that allow more air flow to the upper body.

ON PUBLIC COURSES around here some amateurs already wear their shirts outside their pants in the summer (not to mention shorts) but they occasionally get the evil eye from purists who view such behavior as disrespectful of “the royal and ancient game.” By the way, the royal and ancient game had its beginnings in Scotland, where too much clothing was never a problem in any season.

Tennis gave up its archaic all-white dress code at the 1972 U.S. Open. Forty-seven years later, Rickie Fowler is giving the untucked among us the encouragement of a top-ranked player to be cool on the golf course. I’ll take it.

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Who Is Jackson C. Frank?

WATCHING THE NEW Robert Redford movie, The Old Man & the Gun, a song popped up onscreen that sounded familiar. It recalled Fred Neil’s “Everybody’s Talkin'” from Midnight Cowboy: solo acoustic guitar, 2-finger picking, restless male vocal, spare arrangement. Eric Andersen? “Wherever I have played, the blues have run the game…” I liked it immediately and gave the director (David Lowery) points for picking a forgotten song that deftly underlined the story of a romantic outlier robbing banks (nonviolently) for the thrill of it, in Texas and other places, in the 1970s and ’80s. A tamer, older Sundance perhaps, with Redford, now past 80, looking comfortably crusty and dusty in the role, a mysterious drifter whose compulsive illegality is complicated by a chance encounter with a winsome ranch widow (Sissy Spacek).

But what was that song? The end credits rolled by too fast to I.D. it, and the movie’s official website and IMDB listing do not include the songs in the soundtrack. (What’s up with that, by the way?) Finally I found a website, filmmusicreporter.com, that showed the movie’s song list, followed by a reader comment, “At last, someone else has discovered Jackson Frank. Beautiful song from an underrated and tragic singer/songwriter.” That had to be it, and a trip to i-Tunes confirmed as much, along with discovering it’s used in one of the film’s trailers.

“Blues Run the Game” is the title, but who is Jackson C. Frank? Turns out I’d heard of him but forgotten. Born in 1943 in Buffalo, New York, he was a singer-songwriter who in his early 20s found his way to England about the same time as Paul Simon — both drawn to the rich folk scene there as the Beatles were conquering America. They became friends. (Robert Hilburn mentions him in his recent biography of Simon.) Frank recorded his only album there in 1965, which Simon produced, and it included “Blues Run the Game,” the cut that is heard in The Old Man & the Gun.

SIMON & GARFUNKEL recorded a version and almost put it on their Sounds of Silence album. (It’s included on a later collection, Old Friends.) Eric Andersen, as best I can determine, did not record the song, but many others did, including English folk icon Bert Jansch, Fairport Convention’s Sandy Denny, who dated Frank for a time. Many others have covered it — John Renbourn, Nick Drake, John Mayer and Counting Crows. The song was also used in a 2016 episode of the TV show This is Us.

So, yeah, I knew I’d heard it somewhere. Frank, sadly, is not around to enjoy his newfound fame as he died in obscurity in Massachusetts in 1999, at the age of 56 of pneumonia and cardiac arrest after years of schizophrenia, ill-health and a period of homelessness. This, according to Wikipedia. He seems to have led a hard life that could be traced back to surviving a furnace explosion in grade school that killed 15 of his classmates and left him with lasting injuries. You figure he could not have imagined his words and voice — and a song he wrote and recorded in England in 1965 — one day matched to the big screen face of the actor who played the Sundance Kid, Bob Woodward and so many other memorable roles.

It occurs to me that underappreciated ’60s folksinger Dave Van Ronk is someone who could have relished Frank’s posthumous recognition, but then he, too, died before witnessing his own cinematic redemption, as the model for the title character in the Coen brothers’ 2013 film Inside Llewen Davis.

One o’ dese days, an’ it won’t be long,
Call my name an’ I’ll be gone.
Fare thee well, O Honey, fare thee well.


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Arizona Phony

October 5, 2018

Senator Jeff Flake:

I am sorely disappointed by today’s news that you will vote to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, proving that your request for a further FBI investigation was merely a show, winning you some national attention while playing the American people for stooges. In the end you concluded the White House-constrained FBI investigation was “thorough,” when it is public knowledge now that significant leads were not followed and key witnesses not interviewed. It was a sham. So you are a liar as well as a showman.

Your brief and misleading turn as a putative hero in this crisis of partisanship threatening our democracy will be replaced permanently in chronicles of American history with the plain truth that you are, on the contrary, a profile in cowardice. You will indeed be famous—or, more accurately, infamous. I’m trying to imagine what that would feel like.

You had nothing to lose by voting your conscience on Kavanaugh, but that assumes that you have a conscience.


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Removing Ben Fountain from the DMA Recalls the 1950s in Dallas


ONE OF THE MOST jarring pieces of cultural news in Dallas this fall concerns something that is not going to happen. Ben Fountain, the distinguished local author of Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, will not be speaking at the Dallas Museum of Art about his newest book, Beautiful Country Burn Again as expected. According to published accounts, he’s been disinvited by the museum’s new director, Augustin Arteaga, because Beautiful Country Burn Again, a collection of essays about the 2016 presidential election written for U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, is presumed to be “divisive,” in Arteaga’s words, as quoted in D Magazine’s online blog that broke the story.

The book is not out yet, but its subtitle, Democracy, Rebellion and Revolution, plus the publisher’s synopsis were apparently all Arteaga needed to yank Fountain from an “Arts & Letters Live” appearance that coordinator Carolyn Bess had been planning with him. (Fountain has appeared at the DMA’s speakers series before.) “Ben Fountain argues that the United States may be facing a third existential crisis,” reads the advance advertising from Harper Collins, “one that will require a ‘burning’ of the old order as America attempts to remake itself.”

“The museum is all about inclusivity,” Arteaga said, by way of explaining his decision. Inclusivity that does not include Ben Fountain.

Is this a big deal? Let’s see. Ben Fountain is Dallas’ pre-eminent writer of the moment. His 2012 novel Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, an unmistakable literary achievement that got under the surface of Dallas, the Iraq War, Hollywood and the NFL all at the same time, was a finalist for the National Book Award and a bestseller made into a feature film by Ang Lee. If Arteaga, who came to the DMA two years ago from the Museo Nacional de Arte in Mexico City, is unaware of this, you’d think someone could tell him. Keeping Fountain out of the museum is likely to bring charges of censorship and timidity at the DMA, not to mention pissing a lot of people off.

MAYBE ARTEAGA (or someone who sets his salary) is afraid that Fountain’s unblinking views of America in the age of Donald Trump are going to piss off museum patrons and donors. Politics. Hard to escape these days. The museum has been in political controversies before, memorably in the McCarthy era of the 1950s when it was assailed by local citizens groups (one funded by oil baron H.L. Hunt) demanding that no works of art created by suspected communists be allowed on the walls – including Diego Rivera, George Grosz and Ben Shahn. Such was the fear in the air.

This is not quite the same – and Ben Fountain is a writer, not a painter – but removing or blocking him from the DMA’s popular Arts & Letters Live series raises the same issue of pre-emptive censorship at the museum, a public institution.

Unacknowledged by Arteaga in his spin-doctored rationale is that Dallas and the nation are already divided – as sharply and emotionally along partisan lines as anyone can remember – and that is likely a part of what Fountain explores in his reporting on the 2016 election. We expect our artists, visual and literary, to reckon with conflict and crisis in our midst, don’t we? Or would we prefer they look away and avoid it altogether?

Back in 1955 the museum’s critics and guardians of the public’s virtue worried that modern art was subversive and politically dangerous. Taking a cue from a Republican congressman’s assertions that art museums were agents of communist aggression, a group called the Dallas County Patriotic Council pressured the Park Board to cut off funding for the museum for “giving aid and comfort and prestige to [our] enemies.”

I remember some of this as a kid whose father was then the business manager of the museum, but the whole saga is chronicled in Francine Carraro’s 1994 biography of former director Jerry Bywaters for the University of Texas Press. It’s worth revisiting to remember how Bywaters and the museum stood up to that pressure. Bywaters rebuffed the Council’s demands to remove paintings by Rivera and others, and his board, headed by Stanley Marcus, backed him up with a statement that said, in effect, the citizens of Dallas were intelligent enough to view the offending paintings and make up their own minds.

THE FOLLOWING YEAR Bywaters and the museum took more flak ahead of the arrival of the traveling exhibit, “Sport in Art” – 85 works, four of them by artists with possible communist ties, including Ben Shahn, a Lithuanian-born American known for his social realism and left-wing views. His piece in the exhibit was a drawing of a baseball player. A prominent banker lobbied Stanley Marcus to have the four works removed, but Marcus pushed back. The show went up.

John Rosenfield, the respected Morning News art critic at the time, supported the museum in an editorial, quoting President Dwight Eisenhower, who at the celebration of the Museum of Modern Art’s 25thanniversary in New York had said, “Freedom of the arts is a basic freedom, one of the pillars of liberty in our land.”

Freedom prevailed against cant and fear in the art world of Dallas in the 1950s, in what looks now to have been a defining moment for the city, a demonstration of courage and principle that comes to mind as the museum today shows a different side of itself in closing the door to Ben Fountain. In the 1950s the attempted censorship was from outside the museum; this time it’s from within. It seems to me that is kind of a big deal.

Fountain will have other opportunities to speak about his book around town (publication date is Sept. 25), but that’s not the point. The point is that if the visitors to the museum were intelligent enough in 1955 to make up their own minds about art, surely they are capable of doing the same in 2018.

Editorial Note: I submitted a version of this column to the Dallas Morning News as an opinion piece for its Viewpoints page, and it was rejected — with the explanation that “the column makes an assertion that it doesn’t back up, that Fountain was censored by Arteaga or the board for political reasons.” Really? What other reasons would there be? 

Texas Monthly has a short interview with Fountain about the new book and his being disinvited by the DMA, in which he refers to Arteaga as “gutless.” Not sure if he meant that in a political way or some other way.





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Robin Leach Could Have Been in Trump’s Cabinet

Robin Leach, the British-born TV celebrity and host of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” died Friday at the age of 76 in Las Vegas. Here is my encounter with him in Los Angeles in 1985, when he was shrewdly legitimizing greed and envy as cultural values that also produced high Nielsen ratings.

AMERICANS ONCE were squeamish about displays of wealth and mumbled when guests inquired into the benefits of the new oil well being drilled in the back yard. But history may record that a trans­planted, low-born Englishman changed all that beginning in the third year of Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

Robin Leach, whose first job on these shores was selling shoes at Lord & Taylor in New York, was, even then, happy to be here. He is, conceivably, happier now. An inde­fatigable journalist whose instincts for satisfying a variety of the public’s deepest fascinations have served him well through the years, Leach has risen from the tabloid lowlands of the supermarket press to his current first-class window seat as the globe-trotting host of the popular, unabashedly titled weekly television show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

In the process he has done and is doing as much as any American (he remains, somewhat apologetically, British) to elevate the once slump­ing connotation of the word “rich.”

“The world would be a pretty sorry place without the rich,” says Leach. “We should be grateful for them. The museums, the charities…”

He expresses his gratitude every week, audibly. On the widely syndi­cated Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous (160 stations in the U.S. after one year on the air), Leach eagerly leads his camera crews past the iron-barred gates of mansions belonging to baronial entertainers and assorted world-­class entrepreneurs. Barbra Streis­and, Paul Newman, Ryan O’Neal, Lana Turner and Bunker Hunt swung open their doors to him in the show’s first year. For one of the upcoming shows of the new season, airing in February, he has scored what must be for him the ultimate story: the first extended TV inter­view with Adnan Khashoggi, the Saudi businessman and international arms dealer thought to be the world’s richest man.

“He’s a fan of the show,” Leach explains, with visible delight.

But the focus of Lifestyles isn’t so much the celebrities themselves as the loot they have accumulated – the customized swimming pools, multimillion-dollar yachts, palatial second homes, Swiss vineyards, Arabian stallions and retinues of servants. How many pairs of shoes does Cher own? Robin wants to know. The show is emblem and testament to the fruits of freeenterprise, luck or rapacity, de­pending on your point of view.

Leach, who is also the program’s executive producer, approvingly dubs it “a non-fiction version of Dallas and Dynasty.”

Unlike other celebrity interview shows that present three or four subjects in an hour, Lifestyles gallops through 12 to 14 segments in the same amount of time, taking in panoramic vistas of, opulence from the emerald lawns of Beverly Hills to the celestial penthouses of Houston to restored castles in the English countryside. And always there to read the price tags is Leach, whose punchy Fleet Street-­inspired commentary achieves a kind of secular reverence.

(He doesn’t actually do all the interviews himself, but back in the studio he adds his voice-over narrative to those done by assistants.)

“The voice, he admits, “is dis­tinctive or fascinating to Americans because it’s English.”

Yet for the record he makes light or his own television presence. His face shows up only in brief cut­aways from the splendor at hand. “My theory of Lifestyles is that it’s one of the first 60-minute shows without a host. I don’t think the people tune in to see me. They tune in to see the stars and their homes.”He says his staff jokes about the way he appears on camera. “They talk about my rumpled coat or my messy hair, but I feel you don’t see me that much. So why should I tart myself up with lacquered hair?”

True, his ears are a little expan­sive, his teeth a little thin, his hairline a little lofty by movie. Standards. But it’s possible that under the circumstances Leach’s looks might be perfect, accenting his role as the commoner invited to the royal wedding.

And not everyone would agree that he is quite so inconspicuous as he makes out. Saturday Night Live’s Harry Shearer has already taken notice of him in a recurring parody (Lifestyles of the Relatives of the Rich and Famous). Imper­sonations of Leach’s servant to-the­-manor hosannas have surfaced with a rising frequency at office and cocktail parties.

“I hear stories of people doing imitations of my voice on their answering machines,” Leach says with a hint of a smile. “I know that there is a club in Redondo Beach that every Sunday gives a Rich and Famous party where they all get into the Jacuzzi in tuxedos and evening gowns and sip champagne and watch the show.

“I know that we’ve become like a cult joke since the show has been on the air.” There is a note of resignation in his voice. “If that campiness is there, it certainly was never my intention to create that.”

“I don’t think he has much of a sense of humor,” says a colleague who has known him for some years. Robin takes himself very seriously.”

Leach prefers to think of himself as a dedicated reporter who takes his satisfaction from going after a good story and, especially, “getting an exclusive.” On Lifestyles an “exclusive” is more likely to be defined as the first televised inspec­tion of Marissa Berenson’s New York brownstone than an interview with the actress that anyone is likely to remember.

“The old Ed Murrow shows used to do this,” says the accommodating host on a morning in Hollywood when he was previewing some of the Khashoggi footage at the Sunset Gower Studios, the The West Coast home of Lifestyles.

“But their problem was they’d be sort of locked in position with three cameras for their remote, whereas with video technology today…with one camera, we can just go right through a house in five hours. And we can really peek into wardrobes, and we can really go in the bathroom and open up the medicine cabinet. I mean, I do it.”

Why do people let him do it? “I can’t answer that question. I just do not know that answer. Sometimes when I come off a shoot. I will go outside and go in the crew van and say. ‘Why on earth did they let us do that?’ ”

One reason, some think, is as simple as Madison Avenue. Whether a star is advertising her career or an entrepreneur his land holdings, exposure on Lifestyles is unlikely to diminish the value of either.

Leach has his own theory. “It may be a little cockney cheekiness that I have. Because I’ve been working in show business journal­ism for 25 years. Basically every­body trusts me. They know they’re not going to get screwed or roasted over. So if I ask somebody to get in a bathtub for me, they know that in the context of what we’re doing it’s not going to look like a cheap shot.”

It wasn’t from Edward R. Mur­row that Leach learned how to coax Morgan Fairchild into a tub with the cameras rolling. For almost as long as he can remember, he has walked a beat on the soft side of the news. And he has become as familiar to many entertainers as their hairdressers or psychiatrists.

“It’s tough being a show business figure. These people know that I care about them and their endeavors. They’re not all people who deserve to be hung and quartered. There’s a level of decency in all of us.”

“I don’t honestly think we’re doing anything different with this form of journalism than I’ve done all my life. Primarily “I’m a gossip and I don’t hide from the word.”

But the “gossip” on Lifestyles isn’t likely to make anyone recall Louella Parsons or even Rona Barrett. Any stars who might have been put off by Leach’s tabloid past have come around to seeing that on television he is up to no harm.

“I call it ‘soft gossip.”’ he says. “One can be sensational without being scandalous. I have a basic rule that you don’t hurt people in their pocketbook.”

UNTIL HE jumped ship to star in Lifestyles in August 1983, Leach’ was a roving reporter for Paramount Television’s Entertainment Tonight and before that for the Cable News Network. He left E, he says, because of creative differences. “My inclination, be­lieve it or not, has always been to stay away from the puffery of the business. To really get people to talk about how they live.” At “E.T.,’· he claims, he was asked to deliver “the serious side of the business” and “so we used to lock heads every now and then.”

On Lifestyles, a program that Leach created in collaboration withAl Masini (who also created Entertainment Tonight and Solid Gold), there is no such conflict.

“If you’ll notice, in the series we very, very rarely talk about people working. You’ll never hear an actress on this show sit there and say, “I want to stretch. I want to leave my 30-rninute-a-week sitcom on the network and go do Shake­speare.’ We’re only interested in bedrooms, baths” – he pronounces it baahths– what they sleep in, how they cook their breakfast, how they furnish their homes, what they choose to buy with their money.

The show has included “the world’s richest pet” (terrier bequeathed $12 million), “the most expensive penthouse in the world ($11.5 million) and a $3 million car. Financial superlatives fall like rain.

In one segment in the first season viewers were whisked to Midland, Texas, “home to more millionaires per square mile than anywhere in the world.” No millionaires turned up on screen. No people at all. As the camera panned across prairie skyscrapers and ranch mansions we simply heard Leach reciting a Dunn & Bradstreet profile of the town’s wealth.

“The American public’s appetite for this kind of gossip journalism­ – silk pajama journalism as I call it – is voracious. It just does not quit.”

One could assume that the appe­tite is shared by the man leading the video assaults on all these castles and mountain hideaways – a reporter, who, after all, has devoted much of his career to discovering what Mary Ann Mobley’s swimming pool looks like or how many rooms Paul Anka and his wife need to live comfortably. Yet Leach insists otherwise. “I have absolutely no persona interest in how famous people live their lives. None Whatsoever.” Then he adds, “Professionally I’m very interested.”

“That’s his stock answer,” says a Lifestyles staffer in the Los Ange­les office. “I don’t know why he always says that. I think he loves the whole celebrity thing.”

LEACH IS thrilled by the United States. He left England to come here when he was 21, after taking a hard look at the rigid salary scale dictated by British newspaper unions.

“Everybody has a dream, and America is the only country in the world where that dream is allowed to take seed and come to fruition, and you can be a winner. Americans forget that that privilege exists in this country It doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world.

“If only Americans realized how lucky they were to live in this country. Every time I run into a whining, sniveling American, I would love to be able to afford to send him on a trip to Europe. Not vacation – go and live there. And see what socialism has done. They’d come back in very short order.”

Yet curiously, Leach maintains that his primary motivation for creating Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, for tracking down the stars day in and day out, is not money.

“Money to me, I could give a damn about. I don’t make a lot of money. It’s not important to me.” Though he owns a piece of the show, which is likely to return him a small fortune some day, , in the meantime he is proud to point out that he pays himself only scale.

“My kick doesn’t come out of the paycheck. It’s getting inside the Vatican, getting permission from Buckingham Palace to let our cam­eras spend a night on the town with Diana and Charles.”

“Robin’s the most hard-working person I’ve ever come in contact with,” attests John Kalish, a director who worked with Leach on Entertainment Tonight. “He makes you feel guilty for taking time out for a sigh now and then.”

Leach, who is 42, spends a lot of time on airplanes, and when he is not airborne he divides his time between New York and Los Ange­les, where the show’s two produc­tion offices are located.

He owns “a very ordinary” house in Connecticut and rents a “tiny house” in the Hollywood Hills for the 10 days a month he spends here. He drives a Chrysler New Yorker when he’s back east and Hertz rent­-a-cars out here. He doesn’t want you to get the impression in other words, that he is becoming that which he covers.

“I wouldn’t want the worries these people have,” he says in an uncharacteristic disclaimer about life among the beautiful people.”

He is divorced, with no children, and is currently seeing soap opera actress Jackie Zeman. a regular on General Hospital. He is reluctant to talk about her or even to give out her name. “I’m old-fashioned. The hardest thing for me is to talk about affection for a woman,” says the man who has chronicled the couplings and uncouplings of countless “supa-stahs.”

His idea of a perfect evening is staying home and cooking a meal for “my lady and me.”‘

But such evenings apparently are rare because of his rigorous schedule. When he’s not on the road, he gets to the office, either east or west by 6 a.m., sometimes staying till midnight. Besides going on location on stories, he oversees the program and writes much of it himself. Lifestyles employs a staff of 30, including five segment producers.

He prefers New York to Los Angeles, where he has “never gotten used to people coming to work in tennis shorts.” He feels better in a coat and tie. Still, he comes here regularly in deference to the symbol of Hollywood and because about 40 percent of the people who have been featured on the show live in Southern Califor­nia.

Seated directly in front of a TV monitor that is unreeling pictures of the inside of Adnan Khashoggi’s private jetliner on this morning, Leach looks on studiously. Then, as the eye of the camera travels over a sable bedspread, he moves forward in his chair and with his index finger touches the screen where a gleaming buckle is visible in the center of a sash encircling the bed. “Gold,” he says.

HIS FATHER worked 40 years for a company that sold vacuum cleaners. “And when he retired, they gave him a gold watch,” Leach remembers all too clearly. “I de­cided that wasn’t for me. I wanted to be able to afford to buy the gold watch myself.”

By the time he was 10, he was already sending articles to the local paper in Harrow, the town outside London where he grew up. It is home to one of England’s most elite prep schools. “I went to the school at the bottom of the hill,” he explains. “Winston Churchill went to the one at the top.”

He headed right into newspapers at the age or 15, passing up college. ‘”I was the youngest reporter on Fleet Street.”

While still serving his appren­ticeship, he did an interview that seems to have changed his life. It was with Leslie Bricusse, the songwriter who had just written Stop the World – I Want to Get Off” for Anthony Newley.

Bricusse liked the article so much he invited Leach backstage on the show’s opening night in London in 1960. There the young man witnessed something he has never forgotten. “There had been thunderous applause, standing ovation and everything, and Tony Newley was backstage literally crying, saying he hadn’t given enough or what he wanted to give to that opening night. And it made me want to’ find out what made people tick in this business.”

“Then I started the movie page on the local newspaper. And from then on it was always show biz.”

In the U.S., Leach moved up from his job as a shoe clerk to covering show business for The New York Post. Rupert Murdoch’s StarThe Globeand The National En­quirer. For four years in the late ’60s he published his own nationally distributed rock ‘n’ roll tabloid, GO. He still writes a weekly personalities column that appears in the Star and 110 newspapers around the world.

Television, he has discovered, is much harder than newspapers. “It’s tough, tough work. The hours are much longer. The burnout factor in television is much higher than print. I mean, you fry people in this business.

If Leach is frying on the inside, he looks only soft-boiled in the dim light or the studio where he is screening the Khashoggi tapes and segments of two other celebrity specials the Lifestyles company has created for the new year. His excitement at the results in front of him is barely contained. “Good stuff,” he says out loud.

We are watching Brooke Shields (“a good friend”) on safari in Kenya. She is being introduced to a tribe or Masai warriors. The Masai are nearly naked and are carrying spears. “We’re going to get some flak on this one,” he predicts.

He’s prepared, as always. “I’ve been accused of white-washing people, of being sycophantic in the way I do interviews, that I’ve been morally bankrupt in my commitment to the profession of journalism. People are welcome to throw the barbs.

“I’m not ashamed of what we turn out for television. I’m proud or what we do.”

Robin Leach is proud of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.

This may come as a surprise to a network television writer I know who, during a discourse on the subject or Leach, told me, “I’m convinced there is an empire awaiting this guy. There are depths of cynicism in him that are profound.”

Harry Shearer, the comedian who has imitated Leach from time to time on Saturday Night Live, believes “The show is proof that envy is where we’re at in this country.”

Other critics have been less charitable, some even moved to observations along the theme that Lifestyles may be the strongest evidence yet that Western Civilization is finished.

If Leach sees the humor in such reactions he isn’t letting on. He claims he has received only two pieces of mail complaining about the show’s moral railings – both, interestingly, from Los Angeles.

If he has whiffed a stale odor near the Hollywood dream or considered the downside of being a billionaire, he’s keeping his misgivings to himself.

“Remember that we’re in the entertainment business,” he instructs. “People from all income strata love the show.

“We haven’t mocked what we’re doing. We leave it all to the audience to decide whether this is the right kind of lifestyle to like or dislike. We’re just Joe Friday. We just present the facts. No judgments. The public is the filial arbiter of taste.”

A common enough observation in television. So why does it sound fresh when repeated by Robin Leach? The PUB-lic is…the final AH-biter of taste. It’s more than the burbling tone, more than bottom-of-the-hill-at-Harrow accent that shapes the words. It’s what’s missing: the customary grumble of concession heard when this is repeated up and down Sunset Boulevard and over the hill in Burbank. From the lips of Leach it is not a concession. It is wisdom, warmly expressed. It is common, yet it is priceless.

Los Angeles Herald Examiner 1985

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Harry Dean and All Them

Henry Fonda in rehearsal at SMU

WATCHING THE OSCARS, I was reminded that Harry Dean Stanton died last year, followed by David Ogden Stiers just other day. What the two actors have in common is that both were members of the estimable cast of NBC-TV’s production of Preston Jones’ The Oldest Living Graduate, starring Henry Fonda, staged before a live audience at the Bob Hope Theater at SMU April 7, 1980 and broadcast in real time. No editing. It was promoted as the first of a series of Live TV dramas that would showcase the vitality of America’s regional theater, recalling of Playhouse 90 in the 1950s. A historic moment in Dallas theater, it went off without a hitch, directed by Tony-Awarded Jack Hofsiss, who is also gone now. Surely the best production of the play ever. The cast included, besides Fonda, Stanton and Stiers…Cloris Leachman, George Grizzard, John Lithgow, Timothy Hutton, Penelope Milford and Allyn Ann McLerie.

Fonda died two years later, after filming On Golden Pond. Grizzard died in 2007. The three actresses, Leachman, Milford and McLerie, are still alive, as are Lithgow and Hutton.

Graduate, part of Jones’ Texas Trilogy about a doomed West Texas town succumbing to the New World, was originally going to be broadcast from the stage of The Dallas Theater Center, where Jones, a member of the company, had written and developed the plays. But when the Theater Center insisted the network use DTC actors instead of a Hollywood cast, the NBC producers went down the street to SMU.

Sadly, NBC’s live theater project lasted only one more installment, with Sally Field starring in Tad Mosel’s All the Way Home, from Los Angeles in 1981. With 400 channels of dreck and dross clogging the screen, you’d think they might dare try it again.

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In the Beginning Were the Colt .45s

AFTER SPENDING 27 years in Los Angeles, I was rooting, along with my son and daughter, for the Dodgers in the World Series, but seeing the Astros win brought back memories of when they started, in 1962, as the expansion Houston Colt. 45s. I had a middle school baseball coach, Tom Adams, who had come to Dallas from the east coast carrying a lifelong allegiance to the NY/SF Giants. When the Giants visited Houston, he drove a carload of us down there to see the games, the first MLB games in Texas. The team was known as the Colt .45s for three seasons, 62-64, and played in a makeshift ballpark next to the site where the Astrodome was being constructed. They were overmatched in the NL but had some future stars in Rusty Staub, Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn.

Judge Roy Hofheinz, the owner, had promised MLB that he would build the nation’s first indoor, air-conditioned stadium because it was too hot to play baseball in Houston in the summer (though somehow the Houston Buffs, not to mention the Dallas Eagles, had done so for years in the Texas League). Hence, the Astrodome, which opened for the 1965 season, but during those first summers outdoors at Colt Park, MLB, in deference to the inhospitable climate, allowed the first Sunday night baseball games ever to be played. I was there for the very first one, June 9, 1963, and still have a certificate to prove it.

Dubbed “the eighth wonder of the world” and bearing the new team name acknowledging Houston’s space city identity, the Astrodome opened in the spring of 1965, and coach Adams took us down to see it. In addition to the oversized gaudy scoreboard that became a template for stadiums to come, I remember the field had real grass that first year. But not enough of it. When it became apparent grass would not grow indoors, despite the skylights in the roof, artificial turf (Astroturf) was invented.

IT TOOK DECADES for the Astros to get good and by the time they won their first pennant, in 2005, they had abandoned the Astrodome for the new Minute Maid Park (originally Enron Field — oops). With a retractable roof, the players in Houston once again had real grass underfoot even as they were forced to wear the worst uniforms in baseball.

So now after 55 years, the Astros, are world champions, the first Texas team to get there after the Rangers lost the World Series twice in 2010 and 2011 — to Tom Adams’ Giants and the Cardinals. A tip of the cap to them and their savvy management (compared to, say, the Rangers), but it’s still hard to accept that they came into the Series as the team from the American League. What? The Colt .45s and Astros were in the National League for more than half a century and got moved in 2013 by former commissioner and Milwaukee car dealer Bud Selig ostensibly on a whim, to even the number of teams to 15 in each league. But that put them in the same league and division as the other Texas team, the Rangers, violating MLB’s sensible tradition of keeping nearby teams in separate leagues (New York, Chicago, Bay Area, DC/Baltimore…) Why didn’t Bud move his Brewers back to the NL from whence they came? Not sure he’s ever answered that one and he’s now commissioner emeritus, sharing his wisdom about life and the game at Elks Clubs and Chamber of Commerce luncheons.

It may take another decade or so for the Astros to seem like they belong in the American League, and, looking at their young lineup of stars, by then they might have won a few more titles. God knows, the Rangers wish they could at least get them out of their division by the time they move into their own retractable roof stadium in a few years. It turns out it is also too hot to play baseball in Dallas in the summer, even at night (who knew?), but when the Rangers built their new ballpark in Arlington in 1993 that detail was somehow overlooked by ownership. Forget who that was.

FOOTNOTE: While the Astros seems a fitting name for a team from Houston, so was Colt .45s when you consider that east coaster Samuel Colt’s invention of the revolver in the 1840s went unwanted and unnoticed until the Texas Rangers discovered its usefulness against the expertly mounted and deadly Comanches. (Or so I learned from reading S.C. Gwynne’s epic history of the tribe, “Empire of the Summer Moon.”) If the Stros had remained the Colt .45s, then when the new North Texas team, the Rangers, came along in 1972, it would have linked them symbolically based on history – with one team in each league.

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Dick Gregory

I had a chance to meet Dick Gregory once, in college, and I’ve always remembered something he said to me. It was 1968, and I was a sophomore at Brown, serving on the class council that was bringing him to campus to speak. A couple other guys and I drove to the airport to pick him up. His stage persona was that of an irreverent black man making humor out of current events with an underlying theme of racism, so we were prepared for him to be prickly or I don’t know what we expected. I hadn’t met many famous people then. Basically we thought he was great, which is why we had invited him to the campus. But I recall he was not particularly friendly and did not seem at all interested in the admiration of the three earnest white college boys who had come to fetch him in a VW bug. If he smiled, I can’t picture it. He was angry, just like in his act. On the ride back we got to talking about the news, and when I quoted something I had just read in The New York Times, he turned and gave me a withering look. “The New York Times?” he said sourly. “You can’t believe everything you read in The New York Times.” Really? At 19 I thought you could. I had never heard anyone say that before, certainly not an important person. Plus I thought The  New York Times was “liberal,” and why would a well-known black entertainer choose to criticize it? I was at a loss to respond, my callowness as plain as my buttoned-down shirt.

In the years ahead, I would come to see the truth of his remark, which had sounded brash and radical to my ears at the time. Not that he would have remembered me, but I wish I could have run into him on the street in 2003 after the Times published Judith Miller’s war-mongering stories about Saddam Hussein possessing weapons of mass destruction. “Hey, Mr. Gregory,” I would have said. “It took me awhile, but I understand now. You were right.”



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John Vorhies, M.D.

SUNDAY MORNING I opened the Morning News and, after Doonesbury, looked in Metro for the obituaries, something I do more often than I used to. I scanned the gallery of faces — some in black and white, others in color, strangers — and sampled the religious content (“David went to be with our Lord God on August the 3rd…). Then, down the left hand side of the page, a familiar face caught my eye, with a name above it. No! Couldn’t be. But it was: VORHIES Jr. John Royal Harris MD. My doctor. Damn.

I had been thinking about Dr. Vorhies lately as it was getting to be time for my annual physical, and I needed to call his assistant, Roxanne, to make the appointment. I looked forward to seeing him, which I can’t say has always been the case with my primary care physicians through the years. When I moved back to Dallas from California four years ago, I suddenly needed a doctor before I had figured out how to pick one approved by my disorganized HMO. My friend David Searcy recommended Vorhies, telling me he was unorthodox, smart, worked with poor people in Latin America and would take cash.

I drove to his office on the back side of Preston Center, in a low-rise retro medical building that seemed frozen in time — that time being the 1960s. Oddly appealing. I discovered that he had a solo practice, with one nurse and a receptionist/assistant. The waiting room was not crowded. He was a tall, stolid man, a couple years older than me with a grave manner softened by a quiet, wry sense of humor. He had a bass voice that conveyed wisdom and authority without affect or pretense. I am reminded of that first encounter now. There was an honest austerity about him. No wasted words, yet he looked you in the eye and seemed to care. And he seemed interested in the world. He was aware of books and literary life. I liked him immediately.

I had a chest infection that required anti-biotics. My insurance situation was still unclear, but his assistant told me not to worry, they would work it out. She said $50 would cover the visit.

Over the next few years, I continued to see him occasionally and tried to select him as my PCP through United Health Care without United Health Care ever conceding that he was in their system — while his office said he was. It never got sorted out, and eventually I switched to another HMO that was able to find him in its directory. But all along he never seemed concerned, which marked him as unusual in the “concierge care” money-driven U.S. medical community.

I can’t say I knew him well, yet I was not prepared for him to go. Two years ago, he almost retired when his vintage office building was slated for demolition. He had been practicing internal medicine for almost 40 years, another way in which he stood apart from the swelling ranks of high-revenue specialists. I was relieved when he accepted an offer to partner with another general practitioner at Baylor. He was in his office on the 7th floor of the Wadley Tower examining a patient when his heart failed him last Wednesday. He was 71 and appeared to be in tip top shape.

I knew he was a rower, but not until I attended the memorial service for him at Lovers Lane United Methodist Church Monday, did I learn that he rowed almost every day after work with the Dallas Rowing Club at Bachman Lake, through all seasons and weather. He only took off Wednesdays for choir practice. An outdoorsman who grew up in Wyoming, he had rowed at Harvard and many years later got back into the sport in Dallas. During my physicals we talked about fitness and he offered advice and encouragement. When I told him I had stopped running and was trying out a water-rower machine, he smiled and told me he had one at home. He left out the Bachman Lake part or that he had won gold medals in his age division at the US Rowing Masters Nationals.

Members of the Rowing Club gave stirring remembrances of him at the service, as did his son, John, who is also a doctor, in California. Fighting back emotion, John remembered his father as the rock of the family, steadfast and calm through one crisis after another. From his father’s biography in the program, I knew that before John was born, his mother and father lost their first child to cancer. Once, when he was in medical school, John said, he was feeling nervous before an important exam in organic chemistry and called his father for advice. His father listened and then told him, “It’s simple: Just learn everything in the textbook exactly, and you’ll be fine.”

After these recollections and readings from Matthew and Luke, the long-haired Rev. Bruce Hearn asked the hundreds in the sanctuary to join in singing two short blessings the Vorhies family always sang before dinner, followed by a three-part round of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

It was a beautiful and fitting service, but it was not enough. The feeling persisted: How could he be gone? I saw no one there I knew, yet I know I was sharing that thought with many of them. Some had been his patients for 25 years and more. I only got the last four, but they were important ones to me. I got over the nasty chest infection and later monitored some aging aches and pains with him. When I weighed the pros and cons of moving back to Dallas, John Vorhies was at the top of the “pro” column. I clipped the obit from the paper and have it on my desk. I am looking at it now, reliving the shock of first seeing it Sunday morning. In the photo he is smiling beneath his big horn-rimmed glasses. High forehead and untrimmed graying hair. Striped shirt open at the neck. His lips are parted as if he’s about to say something. I can hear his voice. Damn.



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