Sunday, December 4, 2011
Excerpt from the book:
"Other Days" (Published soon)
by Lee Alan
First Book "Turn Your Radio On"
Sometime in 1963 I was able to take my first vacation in memory. I was working at WXYZ radio in Detroit and had two weeks, so my wife and I took off and drove to Las Vegas. That’s right, we drove!
No freeways then right?
So there we were driving on what now is the fabled Route 66.
How did the words go?
“If you ever plan to motor west take the highway take the byway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66”.
Well, the kicks were long but we made it in one piece and checked in at the also fabled Sands Hotel. I don’t remember much about the days we spent there except for one afternoon when I stood in the casino playing the quarter slot machine.
In those days the slot machine took real coins, in this case quarters and when anyone won even a few coins they made a loud crashing noise as the machine dumped them into the metal tray that caught them. You could hear that sound all over the casino and you could tell if someone was a big winner by how long the crashing lasted.
Also in the 60s the slot machines or one-armed bandits were not electronic like they are today. They actually get their name because of the handle on the right side of the machine that you had to pull to spin the wheels, One handle, one arm, one pull, one spin. All mechanical. One thing hasn’t changed. Electronic or mechanical you seldom win, thus the One Armed Bandit.
Also, the slot machines were only about chest high and they were back to back. You could stand at your machine and look directly at the person playing the machine in the next isle facing you.
So there I was pulling the handle with not much happening when this tall red headed smiling man stopped at the machine in the next isle facing me.
It was the great comedian Red Skeleton himself. He was the headliner that week in the Copa Room, the main showroom at the Sands. I pretended not to recognize him and just kept on playing my quarters. He was doing the same thing. Both of us pulling the handle and both spinning the wheels. There was one big difference.
When I pulled the handle it was disaster. Nothing! But it seemed that each time Red Skelton pulled the handle he’d win. Crash, clink, clink, clink I could hear his winnings dropping into the metal tray.
Soon people started recognizing who was playing and a fairly large crowd gathered to watch this marvelous red headed clown play the slot machine. And soon they started to laugh. I’d pull and nothing! He’d pull and Crash, clink, clink, clink quarters in the tray. The more I’d lose, the more he’d win, and the louder the crowd would laugh.
I mean every time Red Skelton pulled that handle, clink and crash, clank he’s a winner! It was really starting to get to me. I was about to quit, but when I looked up again Red was gone and the crowd was dispersing. I turned to go myself when I saw this wonderful and famous clown walking toward me in my isle.
“Sir”, he said with a smile so huge it would break anyone else’s face. “My name is Red Skelton”. As if everyone in the world back then didn’t know it. I mumbled something and he went on: “Sir I came to apologize. You see Sir, he said, I was having a little fun with you and I hope I didn’t embarrass you too much.”
By this time I was totally confused. He went on: “You see when we were playing the slot machines, every time you pulled the handle and lost, I lost too. The difference was that when I pulled the handle I had a handful of quarters. When the wheels stopped I threw them as hard as I could into the metal tray so they would make a noise loud enough for you to hear.
Red explained further: “The crowd wasn’t laughing at me at all. They were laughing at the frustrated look on your face when I won every time and you lost every time”.
“So Sir”, he said, “please be my guest for dinner and tonight’s show. I will have a front table waiting for you”. And with that, Red Skelton like his Clem Kadiddlehopper character, known to the world as the sentimental clown, looked at me, eyes sparkling, smiling, shook my hand, turned and left.
WXYZ Radio and Channel 7 television was located in a marvelous building known as Broadcast House in Southfield, Michigan. It had everything one could imagine including its own cafeteria in a separate small house on grounds.
One day, 5 years after the incident in Las Vegas I wanted lunch but didn’t want the hassle and same old conversation in the station cafeteria so I jumped in the car and went to a nearby Howard Johnson’s. It was mid afternoon and there was no one in the place except for me and another man sitting in a booth way at the back.
Right! It was Red Skelton. All by himself just having lunch. By this time in my career I had met almost everyone from the Beatles to Elvis. But I found myself approaching that table like a star struck fan to try and get his autograph in my notebook, and at the same time asking what he was doing here in this empty old restaurant. ?
Red Skelton was one of the greatest painters of clowns who ever lived. I didn't bother reminding him of our encounter years earlier in Vegas. How could he possibly remember anyway I thought. He said he was here to show some of his collection on a television show across the street at Broadcast House "With someone by the name of Marilyn Turner. Sure I’ll sign your book”. And he did. We exchanged some small talk, I thanked him and said goodbye.
I went back to the station and watched as Marilyn Turner, my friend and co host of Kelly & Company on Channel 7 in Detroit interviewed Red and showed his wonderful paintings.
I didn’t look at that autograph for a few days. When I finally opened the notebook I read what he wrote.
“Thanks, Best Wishes. . . . and May God Bless "
Signed: RED SKELTON
"Lee. if you ever go back to Las Vegas ....stay away from those quarter machines”.
He remembered the time in Vegas…………
The world lost this wonderful clown in 1997.
I never again met him in person
But through a strange set of ciscumstances our paths are about to cross once more.
Film at eleven.... and May God Bless.