When I was a child, my grandmother, Miz Lena, told me, "Honey Baby, life by the inch is a cinch. Life by the yard is hard." Wish I'd listened to her. I could have saved myself some misery. Up until a while ago, I "broad-jumped" my way through most of my adult years.
I'd already had a good run in radio and TV. I was ready to make my mark in the entertainment business. I headed for la-la land. Bright lights, big city. Hollywood, where everything glitters.
It was the late 1970s when I finally landed in Los Angeles. I got a job with Marty Ingels. He was married to Shirley Jones at the time. She was a sweet lady. Marty was a failed stand-up comedian who'd had just one TV show, "I'm Dickens, He's Fenster." It starred Marty and John Astin. They only lasted a season.
Nobody could figure out why Shirley was with Marty. He would have been on the Top 10 list of the most despised men in Hollywood. Up toward the top. Be that as it was, Marty showed me the ropes, and — shazam! — just like that, I became a celebrity broker. Turned out, I was a natural.
The whole job was talking celebrities into endorsing companies and products. Rather than go through their agents, we called the celebrities direct. Some of them were worried about what kind of public image they would portray doing commercials. They thought it might make them look like they were out of money or needed work.
When I got around to telling them the monetary offering, most of them stopped in their tracks, and I became their best friend for the moment. Their agents still got their 10% cut.
I enjoyed working with so many different famous and gifted men and women. It was really quite something for a country boy, like myself, to have the privilege of lunching with Elizabeth Taylor and her hairstylist, Jose Eber, or chatting it up over cocktails with Orson Welles or Robert Wagner.
I often played singles tennis at the Beverly Hills Hotel with Gene Wilder, Doug McClure or Edd Byrnes. Edd was a great guy. You might remember him as the character Kookie on the TV series "77 Sunset Strip."
Every once in a while, I played doubles for $100 a set with Ed Ames, Charlton Heston and the original Buck Rogers, Kem Dibbs, at some rich guy's house just below Kenny Rogers' Beverly Hills estate. They were all much older than I, so I ran them all over the court. I kinda felt guilty taking their money.
After my divorce from my son's mother, I dated actresses almost exclusively. Some of them well-known and several of them just getting started. I would describe those days as crazy on steroids.
There was almost always a function or a party going on. Mostly at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Merv Griffin's Hilton, the Beverly Wilshire Hotel or at someone's home.
My first A-list, Hollywood party was an "after-party" at Bob Hope's home in Toluca Lake, just behind Universal and Warner Bros Studios. Everybody who was anybody was there. Earlier that evening, Mr. Hope had performed to a sell-out crowd at the Universal Amphitheatre.
Mr. Hope's home was beautiful. Old Hollywood. Walled and gated. Huge. Two swimming pools. Several guesthouses. The old stables were converted to a garage for his luxury-car collection. Larger-than-life topiary hedge figures of horses, an elephant and a giraffe bordered his very own par 3 golf course out in his expansive backyard. All his housekeepers were Japanese and dressed in kimonos.
I remember reflecting on just how differently lives are lived. I thought of the black housekeepers who worked for my grandmother and practically raised me, Elizabeth and Dimple. I sure loved them. No telling what they would have thought.
My favorite actors were and are the old cowboys. Growing up, all us kids loved the Saturday morning cowboy TV shows. Hands down, my favorite was Lash LaRue.
His calling card was a black bullwhip. He dressed in black, rode a black horse named Black Diamond and holstered two pearl-handled pistols. Although he usually subdued the bad guys with his fists and that whip, if he was forced to, he'd shoot the gun out of their hand. Nobody ever died.
There's a famous Old Hollywood watering hole called the Musso and Frank Grill. In the late afternoons, I liked to stop in and down a couple.
Once, I remember sitting at the long bar. Couldn't have been more than a dozen people in the place. In walked a white-bearded, dapperly dressed guy in his 60s. I was probably 30. Even though there were plenty of empty barstools, he sat down right next to me. I ended up buying him a drink. He reciprocated and so on. We got pretty lathered up. He told me that his name was Al.
I told him my stories, and he told me his. How he grew up in tough little towns in Louisiana, worked for the circus for a while, then moved to Los Angeles to pursue acting. I didn't recognize him, so I figured, like so many other dreamers, he hadn't made it.
It wasn't until we were three sheets to the wind that he revealed to me that he was the one and only Lash LaRue. I was thrilled to meet him. I asked him a million questions, and he was only too happy to answer them.
Three young stocky guys were sitting at a table just behind us. They were loud. Two or three times, one of them picked up their drinks at the bar and bumped into me. I finally said something to one of them. He put his hands on me, and it was on.
This idiot threw a punch at me, missed, and I popped him a good one. He stepped back, holding his mouth and didn't act like he was gonna do anything. All of a sudden, just like in the movies, Lash was off his bar stool, fists up. He hollered out, "How many of you are there?"
Here came the other two. Lash hit one of them five times before the guy knew what happened. I smacked the other one. Somehow, with all the hoopla, we switched opponents and kept on punching till the two of them were laid out. The third guy fast-stepped out the back door.
The bartenders helped the other two to their feet and told them, "Get out and never come back." Lash and I sat back down and finished our drinks. What a way to meet an idol.
Lash and I met up several more times. Then, like it is in Tinseltown, we went our separate ways.
I heard he got religion and actually did some preaching but never stopped drinking. I can't say that it surprised me. During our drinking sessions, we talked some about God. Both of us were believers.
I remember telling Lash that I felt guilty drinking booze and talking about God in a bar. He reminded me that all those Christians in biblical times drank wine "till the cows came home." He told me, "If it wasn't for us drunks, God wouldn't have much to do." He'd lift his glass in toast and say, "To the Last Supper."
Lash LaRue was my favorite cowboy, and he was quite a guy.
Through the grace of God, and support from my wife, Jana, I stopped drinking and brawling years ago. I assume the Almighty has had a lot more time for others.
If you have a drinking problem, please get some help.
Email Bill Stamps at email@example.com. His books "Miz Lena" and "Southern Folks" are available on Amazon.