What's All This Then?

commentary on the passing parade

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Monday, June 06, 2005

There are many ways that nature lets you know that you’re on the downhill slope of life, but one of the ways that I get confirmation that my days are dwindling down to a precious few is to open my morning paper and read of the death of a friend or a former colleague, but in either event someone I think of as a contemporary even if they are a few years older or younger than I am.

It happened again over the weekend. It was someone who I haven’t seen or spoken to in over 40 years, but whose death shocked and saddened me as though we'd been together just a few days ago.

This is personal. It’s still a comment - albeit a very personal one - on the "Passing Parade" which is the major theme of this blog, but it won’t mean anything to those of you who didn’t know me in my television days, and/or never worked in TV broadcasting in Chicago. Still, you’re welcome to share these few thoughts about my old colleague Richy Victor.

Richy was a director at WBKB-TV (now WLS) in Chicago when I first went to work at the station. I wouldn’t say that we ever became personal friends, but we were friendly and in some ways kindred spirits. Richy could see humor in almost any situation and had little patience with those who couldn’t. In that way, we were very much alike.

The late fifties and the sixties were exciting times at channel 7 in Chicago. Bob Newhart, not yet "discovered" was running around the station with tape recordings of some of his now famous routines, asking what we thought of them. William Friedkin was honing skills that the world later applauded with his direction of The Exorcist and The French Connection and Hugh Hefner was recording the Playboy show in studio "B" - a fun show that I loved to work.

A few months after I started at the station, I became the creator, editor, chief editorial writer, gossip columnist, op-ed maven and general assignment reporter for a company newspaper, named The Pioneer. I have mentioned it briefly in the past when I published a short work of fiction that I once used to fill the back page of the paper for three issues.

I have four issues of that ancient paper that I managed to preserve all these years. Copies of other issues may be around somewhere but I’ve never been able to track any down - and I doubt if there’s anyone left at WLS-TV who would remember the paper or who would know where any copies could be found. But as soon as I read of Richy’s demise, I went looking for my four old copies, because he was a character whose comments and activities were frequently mentioned and I was pretty sure I would find some memories of Richy there. I wasn’t disappointed. He was in all four issues.

There in the December 1960 issue was this comment in a gossip column titled "10 to 12" - referring to the days when Channel 7 occupied only three floors of the State/Lake building:
"Richy Victor thinks the producers of "The Apartment" are doing him wrong. In the first place they didn’t get permission to use the name and so far he hasn’t received one royalty check…"

Incidentally, if you haven’t heard Rich "Directing" World War Three yet, you’re missing the comedy sensation of the year. If we’re real lucky and if Richie can remember his own routine- we may get to see it in print.
If you remember the theme of the 1960 movie "The Apartment" starring Jack Lemmon, Fred MacMurray and Shirley McClaine, you can get a hint of how wonderfully offbeat Richy was. No, he didn’t loan out his apartment for sexual dalliances by the ABC bosses, but it was just easy and natural to associate him with such a nutty idea. As for his "Direction" of World War Three, I don’t think it ever made it to print. Not that it matters. It wouldn’t have been the same without Richy playing himself.

I was a smoker in those days and so was Richy, but I guess at least one of his favorite brands was "OP’s" - "Other People’s" - and I guess I must have ribbed him about it in print because in May, 1961, Richie wrote to me about it:
Dear Editor:

First of all, I do not think it’s fair for your publication to malign, slander and libel me, outwardly and openly in print in front of my fellow employees, both my superiors and inferiors.

Since publications of the stature of Time, Life, Nabet News, Lincoln Belmont Booster, Fortune, Daily Forward and Sunshine and Health Quarterly have never made libelous statements such as "if the price of cigarettes goes up it won’t bother Richie," and "hasn’t bought a pack of smokes since World War ll." and such offhand remarks as "his "T" zone stands for thievery," this semi-monthly house organ printed in a basement on company time should not have the audacity to make the above remarks in somebody’s basement.

For your information I work for the Frank Kish Independent Research and Fundraising Foundation of Greater Chicago and Berwyn Inc., and serve in the capacity of their chief researcher for cigarette temperance. Therefore, I do not bum, borrow or steal cigarettes - or mooch. It is all in the interest of science.

The F.K.I.R.F.R.F.G.C.B. employs other researchers in the same field in other geographic locations, i.e. Elfman’s, City Hall, Marshall Field’s, Cubs Park and The Archer Express - and these men of science all look like me. That’s how the Frank Kish Foundation wants it. So please refrain from mentioning my name in your rag which is printed in a basement on company time.

Your Friend,

Richard Victor

To which I appended the following:

Editors Note:

Mr. Victor’s stirring note has not gone unnoticed and we refer you to the comments contained in the "10 to 12" section.

And in that section of "The Pioneer" I noted:
"And we wish to take this opportunity to tender our sincere apologies to Richard Victor for belittling his efforts on behalf of scientific research. There are those who are headline seekers and then there are the "back room boys," dedicated men of science who go about unobtrusively, doing their bit for the good of all mankind without any thought of reward or recognition. Such a man is Richard Victor and it shall be our undying shame that we failed to recognize the true nobility of this fine humanitarian and cigarette mooch."
Knowing Richy, it would be hard to think of him growing old and gradually wasting away and he didn’t disappoint. Hit by a train while on vacation in Portugal at the age of 80!!! That sounds like the Richy I knew those many years ago. I’m sure it was accidental, but I’ll bet Richy would have approved of the nuttiness of his demise.