(This is an encore column from the Curt Comments archives.)
When Elvis died it shocked me. Gone at age 42 a bloated poster child of what poor nutrition, drugs, and an opulent lifestyle can result. Now that was 39 years ago and many of us forgot. Some of the Justin Bieber fans may ask “Who’s Elvis??”
Then the passing of Shari Lewis (and I suppose by extension, her hand puppet, Lambchop). They were TV stars to a bunch of young Baby Boomers. I remember having a stuffed Lambchop toy in my early youth. I’d sit and watch Shari and the real(?) Lambchop on Saturday morning TV.
And then we lost, Buffalo Bob Smith host of —“Hey Kids, what time is it?”— (all together now) “It’s Howdy Doody Time!”. Those black & white TV heroes were colorful: Howdy Doody, Clarabelle the Clown, Phineas T. Bluster
And before then Roy Rogers. I always got a kick out of Roy’s sidekick Pat Brady and his old Jeep ‘Nellie Belle’. I remember, at that young age, hoping to grow up to be a sidekick like Pat: provide some comic relief and help Roy out of tough spots. Even now at most of our late-night music playing session, the 60-something pickers stumble through a version of “Happy Trails”.
I guess my first sober reality that I was growing up was when I learned that Dick “The Bruiser” Afflis had died.
While Mother didn’t really approve of me watching Championship Wrestling on Saturday afternoon TV, I would turn the sound down real low and hope she wouldn’t catch me.
But invariably, the excitement of seeing the bad guy whupping up on the good guy got the best of me and I’d shout out my encouragement to my TV wrestling ring heroes and my secret would be exposed.
“Why no, Mom, that wrestling isn’t fake. Why sure a 250-pound wrestler can jump from the top rope and land with his knee right on “The Bruiser’s” throat. And the only reason “Bruiser” can keep on wrestling is because he’s in such good physical shape.”
One time the Bruiser wrestled Cowboy Bob Ellis at the Crothersville High School gym for a fire department fund raiser. I was torn with emotion as I saw two of my Channel 4 heroes slapping and clawing and punching and kicking and doing their best to tear a limb off one another. Surely these two fellow hated each other forever.
It wasn’t until much later (probably because my tender age would not have comprehended) that I was told that following the local match Bruiser’s white Cadillac pulled up in front of what was then Pee Wee Inn, Bruiser & Cowboy Bob both went in and each got a beer to go and went on their way back to Indianapolis.
Walt Disney died more than 50 years ago but Mickey Mouse and the Disney amusement parks live on. Jimmy and Roy, the two leaders of the Mousketeers on the Mickey Mouse Club are no longer with us. And the darling of the 50’s Mousketeers— Annette Funnicello passed in 2013 after battling multiple sclerosis.
I guess the one thread that runs true throughout this fabric of our youth is wholesomeness. Shari Lewis, Roy Rogers, Buffalo Bob all portrayed what could be the good side of humanity. Even, Dick the Bruiser had his fair play, compassionate moments. Then some low-life scum-sucker would smack him with a folding chair and it’d tick Bruiser off and… well, we are all familiar with the rest of the choreography.
All of my childhood heroes are going to their reward. And I’m forced to look around and wonder who’ll come along to fill their shoes for the next generation. From my perspective after 60+ years, the outlook isn’t at all wholesome and pleasant. It’s more like that crazed look Dick the Bruiser got after being pummeled on the head with a metal fold-up chair.