By Dan Valentine
My dad’s dream was to be a reporter. His dad was one, for the Detroit Free Press. He adored his dad. His mom? That’s another story. He loved her, but, well, she was a Roaring Twenties flapper. But I’ll leave that tale for another time.
After the war, my worked for AP/UPI or both in a couple of mid-western towns.
Lincoln, Neb., was one. Got room and board at a minister’s home. Wasn’t much to do in Lincoln back then. After work, he’d buy a pint of bourbon and polish it off alone in his room at night. One problem: What to do with the empties? Couldn’t put ‘em in the garbage. It was a minister’s home, for Christ’s sake! So he hid ‘em under the bed, in chest of drawers, etc.
God knows what the minister thought or did with ‘em after my dad left.
He got a job at the Rapid City Journal in South Dakota–my dad, not the minister. Met my mom. Married. I was born.
My mom’s dad was so taken with my dad’s writing that he offered to support him while he wrote the Great American Novel. But, oh no, my dad wanted to be a newspaperman like his “ol’ man.” He applied for a job at the Denver Post and The Salt Lake Tribune. Got offers from both. Took the Tribune job. Who knows why? He had spent a couple of days in Salt Lake after the war and had gone on his way, unimpressed.
The year was 1949, the month June. I was going on two.
He loved his job, so much so that on the side without pay he began writing a weekly humor column called “Nothing Serious.”
It was so popular he began writing it daily, for free, all the while reporting full-time.
All this time, Jack Paar is writing him letter after letter telling him to come to New York. He’s got an idea for a late-night show.
But, oh no, my dad had a love affair with the newspaper profession.
Cut to: flipping calendar pages. November, December, 1950, 1951 …
An older, experienced reporter, Chinese-American, forget his name, took my dad under his wing. Taught him the business. Once the two were at the Utah State Prison. Some function. Lunch was served. My dad would dip his fork to take a bit and my dad’s mentor would kick him under the table. My dad dipped his fork again. Another kick. He finally got the message. Later, his mentor said, “You don’t know what inmates have put in the food.”
Another time they were covering a story at the Hotel Utah. Governor J. Bracken Lee was there, other VIPs. A luncheon. A waitress came around with a pot of coffee and my dad picked up his cup, which was turned down on the table, to have some. His mentor kicked him under the table again. My dad put the cup back, upside down.
His mentor whispered in my dad’s ear that if you left your cup upside down, it signaled to the waitress that you preferred whiskey–liquor being a major no-no back then). And, damned, if the waitress didn’t make a second trip, after serving those who wanted coffee, with a pitcher of bourbon for those with other tastes.
Cut to: the week of July 26, 1953. My dad calls some law enforcement agency to check a fact for some minor story. Gets put on hold. Gets put back on line and finds himself on a conference call with local police and the feds. At dawn, Arizona state police officers and others were going to raid Short Creek, a settlement of some 400 Mormon fundamentalists. He listens to all the details. Goes to the city editor. Tells him. The city editor goes to the managing editor. Tells him. And the managing editor assigns a reporter to cover the story. Not my dad. Some other reporter!
From Wikipedia: Short Creek. July 26, 1953. The largest mass arrest of polygamists in American history. 263 children were taken into custody. Big, big story, nationally, internationally
The result: My dad never wrote another news story for the Trib. To hell with ‘em! He concentrated on the column.
Where am I going with this? Victor Buono and my dad and their friendship and this website, believe it not.
To be continued …