THEY CALLED ME "WORM"
When I was a kid, my buddies tagged me with the moniker “Worm.” No matter how much my mother hated it, she had to admit it was a better nickname than my best pal, “Slimy.” Actually, “Worm” was quite prophetic. I grew up to be a worm: a bookworm. I collect American classics. And, I love to read more than just about anything else. Some of my favorite books are written by friends. And, if they are PSBA (Personally Signed By Author), reading their very personal notes brings back lots of warm memories.
What started me on this subject was a new book written and signed to me by my friend of over 40 years, noted promotion maven, Shelly Saltman. Shelly’s recently published book, Fear No Evel, is a fascinating read. I met Shelly back in 1963 when MCA-Universal, the media giant that syndicated The Lloyd Thaxton Show, put him in charge of the show’s promotion. It was Shelly’s innovative promotion style that helped keep the show on top of the syndicated charts for all the years it was on.
Shelly’s career ranged from promoting Jack Benny, Andy Williams, Mohammad Ali, all the way to Evel Knievel’s highly publicized sky-cycle rocket car jump over Snake River Canyon in Idaho. After that attempt failed, Shelly wrote about it in his first book, Evel Knievel On Tour, to which Mr. Knievel critiqued by beating Shelly to a pulp on the 20th Century Fox movie lot with a baseball bat. Hence the title, Fear No Evel. It’s a fascinating read and reminds me of all the wonderful experiences Shelly and I had together (Fortunately, I was spared the bat).
Next on my shelf I found another one of my favorite “PSBA” books. In 1968 I hosted an interview show on KCOP in Los Angeles. It was a pilot program to work out the kinks for the show’s possible run at national syndication. I had to be in New York during one of the show tapings and Regis Philbin sat in for me. The guest that day was Margaret O’Brian, who was there to plug her book My Diary.
She signed her book, “To Lloyd Thaxton. Thank you for the rare opportunity of meeting Regis Philbin. Gratefully – Margaret O’Brien.” What a sweet thing for her to write.
My all-time favorite PSBA book is a classic little tome titled, The Chrysalis, written by the late Paul Francis Webster. If the name Paul Francis Webster doesn’t strike a note, sing a few bars of, “Secret Love” or “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.” Paul wrote these two songs with composer Sammy Fain and each song won an Oscar. The same with “The Shadow of Your Smile” that Paul wrote with composer Johnny Mandel. Add those three Oscars to Paul’s 16 Academy Award nominations, 20 Gold Records, and a Grammy Award for songs like, “Tender is the Night,” “April Love,” “I Had it Bad and That Ain’t Good” and “Somewhere My Love” (Lara’s Theme from Doctor Zhivago).
I first met Paul Francis Webster in 1961 on "Lloyd Thaxton’s Record Shop.” He appeared on the show to plug his latest movie sound-track album. The next time I met him, about a year later, it was during a miss-guided trip to the front door of his house in Beverly Hills.
My wife and I were invited to dinner by Sam Mannis, the 60’s “Furrier to the Stars” and creator of FursByMannis in Beverly Hills. To make it easier to find his house Sam told us to look for his Rolls Royce, which he would park in the driveway.
We spotted the Rolls right away, walked up the driveway and knocked on the door. But, when the door opened, instead of Sam Mannis, it was Paul Francis Webster. He didn’t seem to be surprised at all to see me. As a matter of fact, he said, “Hi Lloyd. Come on in.” I asked if Sam Mannis was there and Paul answered, “No. Sam lives up the street. Do you want me to call him?” I felt quite stupid. I should have known there might be more than one home in Beverly Hills with a Rolls in the driveway. When I told Paul that I obviously had the wrong house, he looked at me, his face revealing obvious disappointment, and asked, “Does that mean you’re not staying?”
Sounds like an old joke, right? No way. Paul was truly disappointed. We didn’t stay that time, but that very moment was the beginning of a wonderfully warm friendship that lasted for many years. Paul and his lovely wife, Gloria, had a perpetual open house. Regardless of the hour, they loved to have friends just “drop in,” And, drop in, we did, many times.
Paul was in his 80s at the time but he and Gloria became formidable tennis foes. Barbara and I called Paul, “The Artful Lobber.”
We’ll never forget the night we were discussing the technique of collaborating with other composers. We asked how it was to work with the highly prolific composer Sammy Fain, who collaborated with Paul on, “Secret Love, “Tender is the Night,” and “Love is a Many Splendored Thing,” Instead of giving us an answer, he went to the phone, dialed up Sammy Fain, and had him come to the house to join the conversation. He even called Doris Day, who lived next door. If she had been home, he would have invited her over to personally sing “Secret Love.” I have no doubts, knowing Paul, that she would have showed up.
For about two hours, Paul and Sammy sat at the piano (pictured below) and performed a rousing concert almost laying out their entire careers together. I was salivating for a tape recorder. It seemed unfair for just Barbara and myself, an audience of only two, to enjoy. But, that was Paul. He loved his friends and he loved to share his wealth of talent.
Thanks for all those lovely words Paul. Just like you wrote it, Love IS a many splendored thing.
An aside to all my boyhood pals: Please take note that none of the above distinguished authors called me, "Worm."