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  • With a bow to Hawkeye...
    I don’t keep journals. I take notes. Done it for years. In notebooks at first. And for a long time. Spiral-bound notebooks. Ring Binders. Folders crammed full of loose- leaf pages. Mom’s best typing paper. Napkins. Matchbooks. Torn sections of brown paper bags. Wafer thin Air Mail letter paper.

    “ Wait a moment. Air mail letters? Written on special paper?”

    “Wafer thin special paper. And Air mail Stamps applied to special Air Mail envelopes with their own logo. Even.”

    “You’re dating yourself with that one. Oldtimer.”

    I started taking my notes on 11” x 14” lined yellow legal paper in 1987 when I went to work full time for the Texas Renaissance Festival. The owner kept several clipboards of lists going at once. It behooved each of us who inhabited that well stocked but un-walled office to do the same. I had no problem taking notes. Taking notes served me well from grade school to college.

    At TRF I learned anew the phenomenon of one completed list generating at least one unfinished list of corollary chores, tasks or activities to be accomplished, paid for or ignored. I had not experienced that until I had my own desk at TRF, aka, The Twilight Zone. Each completed list would have spawned several others needing completion long before the first was finished.

    Each week I placed upon the King’s desk the Entertainment Director’s Report. The King, my Boss, the megalomaniacal entrepreneurial and artistic genius that created TRF from notes he took during his college days, had never had anyone with ten years of major market broadcasting experience working for him before. I was well versed in the production of slick, well presented Department Head Reports. The politics of broadcasting, the inherent personal and professional drama that is endemic to radio and television studios across the country regardless of the size of the market, did not exist at TRF. I enjoyed applying some of the professional conceits of the broadcasting office in the alternative, King’s court-like, creatively driven atmosphere of the Twilight Zone

    I answered only to the King. Himself. His own personal copy of the weekly Entertainment Director’s Report awaited him each Monday morning. The King’s personal secretary had her own copy, as did the other two inhabitants of the office, the Promotions Director and the Special Products Coordinator.

    The Television Show ‘That’s Entertainment!’ was hot at the time. I reckon it still is. I don’t watch TV. Didn’t watch it when I worked in television, back in the day. But I stole that line. I put it on every ED’s report I submitted to the King and he loved it.

    TV. The boob tube. The one-eyed monster. The Glass Teat.
    The last thing in the world I wanted after a 12 hour day of running sound on live local ladies talk shows, Jerry Lewis telethons and Crazy J’s Furniture Warehouse commercials was to turn on the TV.

    Don’t get me wrong. I dug working in television. I enjoyed learning how the ‘Magic of Television’ happens. It was a very different experience from working in radio. I was on the air by myself at a radio station. Regardless of format or time of day, radio was a solo gig once you sat down in the studio and flipped the mic switch.

    I was on headsets with three different rooms full of people when I directed TV audio. I was one voice among many. There was a pecking order and an order of importance, not generally the same thing. I didn’t have to write any copy or reports. My job was to roll the microphone volume up on cue, keep the meters from pegging and pot it down on cue when we bumped out of that segment.

    The best part of my job was miccing up the guests who appeared daily on the 90 minutes of live TV we produced at channel 26. I met all the people working the talk show circuit in the 1980s. Sammy Davis, Jr. Joey Bishop. Milton Berle. Ed MacMahon. Doc Severinson. The list goes on. And on. No big deal. Most of the time. The cool thing about those little brushes with celebrity was discovering which of your media heroes were stand up guys and classy ladies and which ones were jerks.

    Some of them were friendly. Some were not. Some were professional. Some were less so. The five guys I mentioned were classy, professional and friendly with the crew.

    Sammy hated to lip sync. He didn’t do it well. He didn’t want to do it. He didn’t enjoy it. He joked with the crew about how he’d prefer to sing a song with a simple piano accompaniment. We finally got a keeper after many painful attempts. Sammy kept his cool throughout the process.

    Doc Severinsen told a crony his version of an old, very blue showbiz joke as they sat on an empty set. Before he did Doc located the Host’s microphone, which I kept secreted between cushions, then kept his thumb and finger moving slowly over it until the joke was finished. As he said the final filthy word of the joke Doc let go the microphone. " What do you call that act? The Aristocrats!" Those were the only words I heard. The set was dark. One cameraman was present with Doc and his buddy. I was in the audio booth on the other side of the building. I had the mic opened but there is no tally light for audio like there is on a camera. Severinsen’s years of experience on television sets had taught him that there is no such thing as a dark set. I remain impressed with that kind of savvy. I made a note of it at the time.

    Milton Berle was very chatty with the crew. He smoked a big smelly Cuban cigar. Left it in the Green Room ashtray when it was his turn on camera. It was rescued and thumb- tacked to a production room pegboard. It turned out Mr. and Mrs. Milton Berle were celebrating their 30th wedding anniversary. The host of the lady’s talk show asked Mr. Berle for the secret to a long and happy marriage. He looked her straight in the eye as he waited a beat then replied in a textbook deadpan.

    “Separate bedrooms. Are you taking notes?”

    It flew far over the host’s well coiffed ‘do. The crew cracked up. Smitty the stage manager doubled over with laughter. He opened up his headset but could only giggle. Alone in the audio booth watching the monitors I spoke right up.

    “Words of wisdom from Unca Miltie kids. Take notes!”

    I did. After we wrapped up I sat in my ’65 VW Beetle at the back of the parking lot in the shade of a row of old Magnolia trees that draped over the fence blossoming around my car doors like lines from a Phil Harris song. I ate my lunch. I rolled and smoked a postprandial cheroot. I fished the daily clipboard from the glove compartment and took a few notes.

    And that’s entertainment.
    Script conference on the set of "Half Of Everything" at the Texas Renaissance Festival. 11/14/85 - Photo courtesy of Richard Alvarez
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