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Dad Seemed to Know Everyone
Dad taught me how to properly meet and greet people while acting at ease in any social situation.
He had grown up in downtown Los Angeles and was a big football star at Dorsey High School. Son-of-a-gun always seemed to know the right people when we'd go back to his neighborhood. That was my Dad!
"Wanna go see Ali box? I can get tickets from my friend," he asked me one day. He was referring to the upcoming heavyweight title match between Muhammad Ali and the champ George Foreman.
"Real funny, Dad. It's in Zaire. Now how are you going to do that?" I quipped. I was a skinny, too-tall for my age young teenager and sports nut.
"There's this new thing called a "live closed circuit broadcast" and the only place to see it on the west coast is at the Pantages," he said. (Black and white broadcast was the usual) The Pantages Theater was a beautiful old venue about a half mile east of Sid Grauman's famous Chinese Theater on Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood.
MEETING SOME NICE "GOOD FELLAS"
So we drove the family Ford Pinto to the back of a big warehouse off Vine and parked in a lot that was full of gaudy Cadillacs and Lincoln Continentals painted in unusual colors. After we had to be checked off of a list by a mountain of a man with a flat nose outside, Dad and I walk through this rathole of a door and into a warehouse full of about 30 cigar smoking men with a smattering of "dames" in too-tight dresses chewing gum with their mouths open.
Then the smallest, slightest man in the place approached us. He had a pale, waxy complexion and was one of the few smoking a cigarette. I remember his ivory cigarette holder. His right hand was permanently stuffed into his suit coat pocket.
"George! George! Howyadoooin'?" he said as he slapped Pop on the shoulder in a tough guy "accent" if there ever was one. He made sure we were served drinks from a wet bar (in a warehouse?) and I sipped my Roy Rogers while trying not to get into anyone's way.
Something was DEFINITELY different about these guys. All were in tuxedos or shimmering shark-skinned suits and big fur coats. The few women that were there appeared bored with their platinum blond hair and glittering evening gowns that had looked like they were spray painted on.
The air inside was a choking cloud of cigar smoke from the fattest stogies I'd ever seen. Guys had huge wads of bills in their fat mitts and were exchanging handshakes. A bookworm of a fellow was furiously scribbling on a small tablet while taking their money and handing it to a gorilla of a man.
"Dad! Who ARE these guys," I whispered in his ear "and how do you know your friend?"
"Oh, they just like boxing, son and I've known Clyde since high school," Pop said.
I saw the man finally pull his right hand from his pocket and it was horribly deformed. When I asked my father what had happened to him, he just dismissed it as "an accident."
ON TO THE EVENT AS A SPECIAL GUEST
So we all piled into our cars and headed on over to the theater. We in our family Pinto, they in their "land yachts." The parking lot attendant at the Pantages Theater stopped traffic to allow our entourage to find about a dozen front spots reserved just for us.
A motorist honked for us to hurry up. A gigantic man in a floor length black leather coat got out of one of the lead cars, walked over to the honking motorist and stuck his basketball sized head into the guy's driver's side window. Problem solved. No more honking.
Inside the theater we were treated like royalty from nervous and fast talking employees who seemed to know who we were. Ushers lead us to our seats and I couldn't believe we were sitting in the second row!
"First row is just too close, y'know fellas!" laughed Clyde as the group seemed to be on queue from this statement to laugh a bit too hearty and in unison.
George Foreman, the Olympic Gold medalist and current heavyweight champion, was an enormous man that usually outweighed his opponents by at least 20 pounds. He was undefeated and he didn't just win his matches, he literally pulverized his opponent. He'd never even been past the third round - ever!
Ali let Foreman "punch himself out" with his famous "Rope-a-Dope" style all fight. It was tough to watch because Ali just LET him pound away at him. Just as it looked like he (we?) couldn't take it any longer, he'd pop the champ in the kisser with a shocking blow that made the Goliath Foreman reel back.
But it just didn't look good for my hero. He was older, he was trying valiantly to stage a career comeback and everyone thought the end would inevitably come sooner rather than later. Little did we know "The Louisville Lip" was stalking his prey, feeling him out and wearing him down for when the time was just right.
I AM A WITNESS TO SPORTS HISTORY
The famous eighth round began and I recall whispering to Dad, "Foreman looks tired." The champ had NEVER been this far into a boxing match in his entire career. Ali assumed his position he had taken the entire night against the ropes with his arms up.
With the crowd chanting his name nearly the entire match, suddenly Ali comes to life, grabs Foreman around the back of the neck and says something to the crowd. It was time. A flash of punches like a rapid-fire machine gun explodes into Foreman's face! 1, 2, 3, 4, BAMBAMBAMBAM!!
The champion looked like a ridiculous rag doll as he flailed his arms, does a half circle backwards and collapses on the canvas for the first time in his life. KABOOM! Foreman looks as though he's trying to find the license number of the truck that just hit him. He has no idea where he was!
The ringside crowd roars hysterically and the entire theater audience leap to their feet! The noise was deafening as many in our entourage let go a booming string of cuss words that could curl my hair even today. Clyde's gang of guys are a mix of ecstasy and horror (obviously according to their bets) as a new champion is about to be crowned and the soon to be former champ is dazed, sitting on his butt.
Now, this is the first time I had ever seen grown men cry. A couple of (our?) guys were screaming through tears at the movie screen, "Get up, ya big &%$@in' lummox!!" Some were jumping up and down with jubilation. Well, you know the rest. Ali went on to reclaim his title in one of the greatest sporting events and comebacks of the 20th century.
What a night to remember! But I still have to ask... Hey, Dad... who WERE those guys?
Another time when I was an impressionable thirteen year old, Dad asked me if I'd like to go with him to see the L.A. Open (pro golf tournament.) Sure, why not, I thought. He had caddied at that same Los Angeles Country Club as a kid.
I insisted we follow "Arnie's Army." The great Arnold Palmer was well past his prime but his popularity never waned. Arnie always had a throng of hundreds of fans following him around the course as compared to the other golfer's groups which might have a few dozen.
He appeared to be genuinely enjoying just a leisurely round of golf with his buddies, laughing, talking and rather oblivious to the huge crowd studying his every move. You'd swear at any moment he'd take a pull off a beer and stuff the can back into his golf bag! He sometimes puffed on a smoke between tees.
On the eighth tee, The Great One blasted a drive down the fairway as the crowd cooed with amazement and roared their approval. When the applause had died down, my father yelled out, "Hey, Arnie! Come on over here!" The legend looked over at who said that and strolled on over to us with that constant smile upon his inviting face.
HOW TO SPEAK WHEN YOU'RE SPEECHLESS
Now, this is how I learned how to be amiable, how to meet strangers and also how to give respect to a celebrity while meanwhile treating them like just another "Joe." This is the correct way many celebrities actually enjoy meeting new fans because, after all, they're just people too. But, of course, everyone appreciates simple respect.
"Hi, Mr. Palmer! Glad to meet you! I'm George and this is my son, Dan." Pop confidently exclaimed. The Great Man shook Dad's hand, then mine, called me by name and said it was a pleasure to meet us. He was brown, tanned from decades on golf courses with smooth skin and a sort of raw-boned strength about him.
Fans around us just stood there silently in awe smiling or else with their mouths wide open, not bothering our conversation because clearly, it seemed as though my Dad actually KNEW him.
After making Arnold laugh and "talking shop" with my Dad for a few minutes, he wrapped up the conversation (and signed my program) by saying, "Well George, it was a pleasure to meet you and you too, Dan but if you'll excuse me... I have to get back to work now." He turned on one heel and merrily strolled down the fairway towards his next approach shot.
I stood there stunned and dumbfounded. I had just met one of the 20th century's greatest athletes. Truly one of it's most popular and beloved ones, too! People around us gazed at us with reverence and envy as though WE were the celebrity.
As I looked up from staring a long while at the autograph on my program, I asked Dad, "Do you KNOW him, Pop?"
"Oh, no. But I do now. Nice guy, eh?" he chuckled.
Dad was MY legend and I never will forget how to act in any social setting thanks to his proper example.
"Hey, Arnie!," my Dad said, "Come on over! Like you to meet my son." And HE DID!
I leaned over and whispered to my Dad, "Foreman looks tired." Ali saw it too and moved in for the kill
Arnold Palmer gives back the love his "Army" gave to him... a Vietnam Vet.
- Arnold Palmer has a special surprise for Vietnam veteran - YouTube
Another big crowd showed up at Bay Hill on Friday for the second round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational.