And then we stop. They hit the last line of the coda and I scurry back in line. I see the crowd applauding wildly! Fantastic! The crowd is cheering!
I must have been forty feet out of the band and now I am back in line. And next to me is Ernie Dunker, who is a superb marching sousaphonist. And Dunker says, “You!” I can hear him under his breath. We are going down to the center of the field. Pump,pump,pump. Pump,pump,pump. We’re going to make the great big block H now. Dunker says, “Oh, you! Oh boy, wait until Davis busts you, dad!”
I can see Davis’ back. The back of his neck is beet red. Beet red. They have rehearsed an entirely new formation. And where was I? Knocking down cheeseburgers in the Red Rooster. Knocking down the cheeseburgers. Drinking Black Cows. Setting up the biggest public humiliation of my life. Have you ever marched down the middle of a football field to twenty-five-thousand screaming people while the band is playing “Semper Fidelis” and you are whistling “Dixie”? You can hardly hide when you’re in a sousaphone. And who loused up? And don’t think for a minute the crowd didn’t laugh it up. They roared.
The rest of the evening went by in some kind of terrible nightmare. I’m sitting up in the stands. I don’t even see the game. Stinky Davis doesn’t say a word. He’s sitting three rows down below me. His neck is red—all the way up! Doesn’t say anything! Nothing!
The weekend goes by. Monday morning is hard and cold. That is the day our school newspaper comes out. Here, covering the whole front page, is a picture of the marching band playing “Semper Fidelis.” Right there. It says, SOUSAPHONE ACE MAKES BOO-BOO, and you see one sousaphone player in the upper left-hand corner heading out somewhere toward Nome, Alaska. The rest of the band is doing this beautiful cloverleaf formation. It says, “SOUSAPHONE ACE MAKES BOO-BOO. Crowd laughs it up. Friday night, at the big game between George Rogers Clark, a sousaphone player, seen in picture above, made the hit of the season.” Oh god, no!
Well, I can hardly wait for the seventh period. Which is band period. Yeah, I can hardly wait. Seventh period arrives, Shepherd drags in, looking sheepish, feeling like last week’s mashed potatoes, and Mr. Wilson is up on the stand. The band sits down. Ready for indoor rehearsal. Mr. Wilson starts out by saying, “That was the best half-time show we ever did. Whoever thought up that great comedy routine….”
Henry Morgan was a very funny, iconoclastic, satirical radio humorist who preceded Jean Shepherd’s days on the radio, and was somewhat contemporaneous with him—they knew each other’s work. He irreverently spoofed his sponsors. Most notoriously, he accused Life Savors of fraud for having holes in all their candies. As he later put it, “I claimed that if the manufacturer would give me all those centers,” Morgan remembered, “I would market them as ‘Morgan’s Mint Middles’ and say no more about it.”
NYT obit 5/20/1994. (died 5/19) Mr. Morgan earned strong critical notices when he used no script and a few notes and ad libbed his way through his broadcasts. He greatly admired the work of Fred Allen and Robert Benchley; he was unpredictable, iconoclastic, derisive about the media in which he worked….downright insolent and pointedly disloyal to his sponsors. Mr. Morgan always bit the hand that fed him.
HOW I MADE MORGAN LAUGH ON LIVE TELEVISION
Henry Morgan had his own live program in the early days of television. I was a young teenager, and would watch the show with my parents at the dinner table. His program was frequently preceded by an announcer’s voice:
“The ideas and comments on the following program
are not necessarily those of this station
or of any of its sponsors.”
On the program, Morgan would frequently complain about this–obviously, he’d say, the station was too timid to stand behind any but the most bland and inoffensive material. I sent him a letter about it. A week or so later, in mid-program, just before commercial time, he read on the air, word for word, my suggested response :
“The ideas and comments on all the other programs
on this station are not necessarily those of myself
or of any of my friends.”
Morgan laughed. The scene cut to commercials.