By Dan Valentine
Victor Buono and my dad were friends. Drinking buddies, on at least one occasion. He was in Salt Lake, appearing as Falstaff in “Henry IV” at the University of Utah. The year was 1964.
One evening after a performance, they painted the town, as they say. Upon leaving a private club, Buono stepped to the curb for a cab. Upon seeing one, he turned to my dad and said, “What sneaking fellow comes yonder?”
He stepped into the street to flag it down. “Hark! Do you not hear the people cry?”
The cab stopped and he turned to my dad, opening the back passenger door for him. “Enter Troilus.”
A year later he appeared as “Captain Hook” at the Music Valley Music Hall in Bountiful. Believe me, when I say, there has never been a better Captain Hook. Ruta Lee was Peter Pan. He got me an autographed picture of her in her costume. It’s somewhere in a dump in Houston, pigeons pecking away at it. Just one of the many things I had to trash when I became homeless again.
Victor Buono, 1953
On the day my sister Valerie started school, late fifties, somewhere thereabouts–she was born in 1955–my dad wrote a column, his best, a “newspaper classic”, to the world.
“World, I bequeath to you today one little girl in a crispy dress with two blue eyes … and a happy laugh that ripples all day long, a batch of light blonde hair that bounces in the sunlight when she runs. I trust you’ll treat her well …”
I Googled it. The results: hit after hit, if that’s the right word. Many minus my dad’s by-line. Some have changed “two blue eyes” to “two brown eyes.”
Many have Victor Buono as the author. He first read the piece on The Joey Bishop Show. When he read it one night as a guest on the The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson–I think the year was 1967–the result was countless letters from viewers pleading for a copy.
Buono called my dad. He wanted to make a 45 of it. My dad gave his okay.
It had been read many times on television in the past. Tennessee Ernie Ford read it on his show, Art Linkletter on his, Garry Moore on his.
There is a picture of the 45 on a site called “Victor Buono Fan Page.” No date.
Not much came of it. I don’t even think it got as far as the distribution part.
A copy could very well be in a Houston dump. When I was tossing box after box, I couldn’t look at the contents. It was too painful. There may be a copy in the BYU Achives. That’d be nice.
Victor Buono came to town and visited my dad several times. At the time, we were living up by the University of Utah. Butler Avenue. My folks had bought a sorority house. I’m not kidding. Can’t remember the name of the sorority. They got kicked off campus. The reason: the sorority members couldn’t keep their grades up or the birth control pills down. That was the often-told joke. For months after my folks bought it, frats would walk into the house without ringing, look around disappointed and say, “Where’d all the girls go?”
Three stories, a trillion rooms, one bathroom with rows of stall showers and toilets; a huge dormitory. My folks put a pool in the basement. My dad’s mom lived with us in the Sorority Mother’s quarters (living room, bedroom, kitchen.)
I loved my grandmother. I called her “Mom Mom.” She was my second mother. Her name was Marie. And she was a piece of work. Was she ever! She’d been a Roaring 20s flapper. She loved to party. I mean, she LOVED a party.
Picture Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard and that’s my dad’s mother. She wore a turban like Norma Desmond. She sported a long, long cigarette holder like Norma Desmond. She wore dark sunglasses like Norma Desmond When she drank, she WAS Norma Desmond.
I’ll never forget the last time Victor Buono visited. He and my dad and mom would be talking and my grandmother, after a few martinis–no, a lot of martinis–would do her best to change the conversation. “Victor, don’t you think I still look young-young-young?” “Victor, don’t you think I’m beautiful?” Funny/sad. Very embarrassing.
Can’t remember him stopping by after that.