"REMEMBERING..." May 27, 1992
I lost a good friend the other day. I call him a good friend although we met only twice, both times were fleeting moments in two different lifetimes.
The first occurrence was in the late 1940's or early 50's in Santa Monica, California. The exact year is rather fuzzy now. Both of us were waiting to take our places on one of those conveyances being readied for a parade of some sort. The exact reason for the procession escapes me. It was probably some holiday function, or something like that. What doesn't escape me are the circumstances of making the first acquaintance of my friend. I was supposed to ride with a group of other performers on the back of a flatbed truck, waving to the cheering throngs, as we slowly drove past. When you're beginning in show business you take any means to get your name known. That's why I accepted the invitation to appear in this parade. I was just one of a group of three or four local deejays who were there. He, my soon-to-be-friend, was already well known in his chosen field and he experienced the adulation of a legion of fans. I had a fairly successful radio show, but not nearly the recognition he had. The average man in his position would have said a kind "hello" and gone about his business.
My new friend was different. My career was just beginning and he knew it. I had a minuscule following, nothing as vast as his. What made our friendship so instantly binding was his insistence that I ride in the parade in the lead convertible automobile with him, taking advantage of his proven success. He arranged to have me introduced by the parade announcers, right along with him. Otherwise, I would have probably been an "also ran." At best I would have had my name mispronounced as Hockberth, or some other aberration that only parade announcers excel at doing. Once I had one announce me as "that hilarious magician from the city of Hawthorne, Tim Harley." I'd never done magic tricks in my life. And I wasn't from Hawthorne. I'm sure the parade announcer this particular day had no idea of who I was, and probably didn't care anyway. But this parade was going to be different. I was going to be recognized if my new friend had anything to do with it.
In years gone by, possibly he had this "non-entity" experience himself and maybe that's why he went out of his way to take care of me and saw to it that I got what he considered proper attention. I don't know that for sure, it's just conjecture. Somehow my new pal had a quick sign painted that had my name in letters as big as his. The signs were attached to the car doors and we took our place in the parade. And wouldn't you know, we were in the lead car. He was THE guest of honor, the first in line. I was sharing HIS limelight. He made a point of being sure that I sat up on the back of the convertible with him. I waved to the people right along with him. I never forgot that gesture, nor never will I forget the man.
The second time I ran across my friend was nearly two decades later. We hadn't seen each other in the interim. His television show by then had become a super smash and had gained one of TV's top audiences. I was doing OK, but I was not as successful as I once was. I was visiting backstage at the network with an acquaintance of mine who had made the big-time. His name is Jim Hobson. Years earlier he was my cameraman on L.A.'s channel 13 on a late evening TV show that we did together. He was "Eggbert T. Camera," for those of you who may recall the program. After our show went off the air, Jim joined the production staff of my friend's TV show and by now was in a highly responsible position, the producer-director. He deserved all that success, too. He's a brilliant and creative guy. Back to my friend again. He spotted me backstage and asked me if I would sit in the audience so he could have me appear as a guest and introduce me. Obviously I said sure and that's what he did. He made me look great and saluted me in a manner that made me appear to be more than I really was. My ego needed boosting about that time. He knew it. The audience applauded---as audiences are prone to do--and I took a bow. It was a genuine thrill for me. But he was that kind of man.
After the show, I joined some of the people backstage for a cup of coffee. My friend went out of his way to introduce me to those in attendance who didn't know me. In short his actions gave me a boost that I needed at the time. He must have sensed this. In short, he was a gentleman, a master showman, but most of all, a warm, wonderful person. He was not only my friend, but a true household member of tens of hundreds of thousands of people in all walks of life who watched or knew him personally. I'm sorry I didn't know him better. It would have been a rich experience.
When I read about his death last week, tears came to my eyes. I was saying goodbye to an old friend, Lawrence Welk.
©1992 Jim Hawthorne