Sam Schmoe, Part 1...November 3, 1994
Here's another bizarre entry in the crazy chronicle of my "early daze" in television.
In the late 1940's - early '50's, TV talent was composed, generally, of people making the transition to the tube from radio. With fitting pictures to sound, there came a certain demand to find something different as the competition became more pronounced. That's why I purchased a loveable little chimpanzee to provide a touch of comic relief on a new early evening children's program.
We called the show "Hawthorne, Egbert and Sam". Egbert was the name for my camera and Sam Schmoe is what we called the chimp. Little did I know how much fun and frolic Sam would bring.
HAIL THE CHIMP....
Sam Schmoe was one of a group of chimpanzees known as "Cheetah" in the famous MGM Tarzan pictures. The Tarzan films had ground to a halt, so Sam was, as they say, "at liberty" --so I bought him for the show. This, by the way, was long before J. Fred Muggs, the chimp that was seen with Dave Garroway on NBC's Today Show.
Sam was said to be a loveable little animal, a joy for all to be around. Sam wasn't exactly all bliss, though. It was explained to me by Sam's owner/trainer -- AFTER I had acquired the chimp -- that Mr. Schmoe, as with all other of his species, had a little problem. It seems that a chimpanzee's brain grows, but unlike humans, the animal's brain cannot expand, as the chimp skull has no expansion capabilities.
Chimps development, mentally, then becomes a little erratic at about the age of three or four because the brain growth is so restricted. Sam, I learned after the owner/trainer turned him over to me, was six years old, going on seven. Sam, I learned painfully, had his problems.
HAIL THE CHIMP...
I made a deal with the TV station -- I'd buy the animal if the studio would provide a place for him to live. At first, I was under the impression that all we had to do was supply Sam with a nice cozy abode, give him a daily allotment of bananas and a modicum of tender, loving care. Then, obviously, Sam would perform his loveable antics on our new daily program.
The studio did build a nice comfortable home for Sam, right under one of the transmission towers on the grounds. However, there was one minor mistake -- the station forgot to put bars on the doors and windows of Sam's new quarters...
One of our staff lived near the station and offered to look after Sam until we could work out a schedule with a regular chaperone. The first night with Sam in his new home, we discovered a slight error in our appraisal. Sam "busted out" as Jimmy Cagney used to say in those old Warner Brothers gangster movies. Not only did Sam make a shambles of his new home, but he decided to climb the tower overhead and raise hell, screaming a Tarzan-like yell at the neighboring populace.
Our stopgap guardian chased him up the tower and Sam held him at bay, ripping off virtually all of his clothes during the melee.
CALL THE COPS...
"Monkey and nude man loose on a TV station tower in Hollywood," the LAPD dispatcher relayed to the bewildered Hollywood cops. Upon arrival, the officers, consummately summing up the situation, immediately got in touch with the station manager, who called me with the wonderful news. What happened in the next 24 hours could become a book unto itself, but I'll try and keep the narrative down to a couple of columns.
Next week, Sam's first appearance on the show, his physical on-air encounter with one of our writers, and why Les Paul, the guitar wizard and his lovely wife, Mary Ford, avoided me for weeks after their appearance on the show with Sam Schmoe and me. ©1994 Jim Hawthorne