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Jack Waite's Final Words to his Internet Friends | Jack Waite's Encounters with Celebrities
Jack Waite's Encounters with Celebrities
The Christophers in New York
I really enjoyed working in New York City (for a Catholic organization called The Christophers) in 1966.
I was the personal assistant to the founder of The Christophers, Rev. James Keller, M.M., who was a prolific writer of newspaper columns and books.
The Christophers had a syndicated television program which was shown early on Sunday mornings throughout the country.
Many famous celebrities, including movie stars, television stars, politicians, sports figures, etc., would appear, for free, as guests on The Christophers television show.
I mean celebrities like Bing Crosby, Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Jeanette MacDonald ... these were not second rate performers!
One of my jobs at The Christophers was working as the greeter at these filmings.
The Christophers would rent a television studio, and film many different shows ... enough shows for an entire season ... during a single period lasting about three or four days.
The celebrity guests would be scheduled to arrive at different times of each day.
My job was to recognize them as they emerged from their limousines or taxi cabs, butter them up with compliments, and rush them as fast as I could to the makeup department.
As soon as they were made up, I had to get them in front of the cameras just as quickly as possible ... I had to keep things moving along at a fast pace, because, although the celebrities worked for The Christophers for nothing, the camera crews were getting paid...high union wages.
And, so the sooner we got each guest's show completed, the quicker we could begin filming the next guest's show!
I was to rush these celebrities as fast as I could, while at the same time making them happy and comfortable!
I accomplished this by assuring them of how wonderful they were to be doing this, and how long I had been a fan of theirs, etc.
I met some pretty famous people in this way.
I also handled Rev. Keller's correspondence.
It was impossible for him to handle all of his mail personally, so I was authorized to answer most of his mail, under his signature.
Also, although Rev. Keller loved to give awards to others, he was not interested in taking time out from his busy schedule to accept the many awards which he, himself, received. He was totally and completely devoted to his Christophers work, and he felt that going out to awards ceremonies was a waste of valuable time.
So, whenever some award was presented to him, he would delegate me to go to the ceremony, and accept the award in his name.
When I was first hired by Rev. Keller, he explained to me that he could not afford to pay me very much.
He suggested that I could save a major expense by actually living in his office building.
In this way, I would not have to rent an apartment.
I agreed, and Rev. Keller gave me one of the offices, to live in.
A cot was installed, and a wooden clothes tree served as my "closet."
Actually, living alone in that building was fun.
But, it did have some decided disadvantages.
Drug addicts used to come up on the fire escapes at night, and break in through the windows, in order to steal typewriters or anything else they might be able to re-sell in order to obtain money to buy drugs.
I slept on the 4th floor, and outside my window was the fire escape.
The druggies broke into the room directly above me, on the 5th floor, and also on a different occasion, they broke into the 3rd floor, just below me.
I did not even know they had broken in until the next morning, when the work day began, and it was discovered that still more stuff had been stolen.
The Christophers was an easy mark, because Rev. Keller would NOT allow anyone to notify the police about any robberies, because he did not want any negative publicity!
For that reason, it was very tempting for the thieves to break in repeatedly.
Luckily, no one broke into MY room, because if the theives had broken in and had seen me, they would have realized that someone could identity them, and they would not have hesitated to murder a potential witness.
Once the working day came to an end, all the lights in the building were extinguished, and the heat was turned off, so a small electric heater had to be placed in my little room. There were no eating facilities, so I had to eat three meals a day in cheap restaurants. There were no bathing facilities, so I had to get my showers at Grand Central Station.
I believe I paid about one dollar per shower, and I know I got Athlete's Feet from standing on those public showers floors!
I was paid $70 a week, which even in 1966 was an impossible wage in New York City.
But, I readily agreed to it, because I loved working for The Christophers.
And, I also loved living in New York City!
Here I was, living and working right in the very heart of Manhattan, just a five minute walk from Rockefeller Center and Saint Patrick Cathedral!
Every day, as soon as work ended, I was out investigating the endless attractions of Manhattan or one of the other New York boroughs!
This was a fun job, which I truly loved!
But, alas, it came to an abrupt ending, when a rich fan of Rev. Keller offered to give him a newer building, located a few doors from his original building...the one in which I was living.
Of course, Rev. Keller accepted the offer, but when it became known that I was living in the building (which was against the law) I was told that I could not live in the new building.
On my $70 salary, it was not possible for me to rent an apartment, and so I had no choice but to resign from The Christophers, and return to my home in Philadelphia.
But, I will never regret that year!
It was really a memorable experience.
Jeanette MacDonald and The Christophers
Many of the best Christopher filmings had taken place long before I ever worked there, of course.
These old films were preserved in a storage section of the building. (There was a projector, and a screen in the room, along with all the cans full of films.)
Now, I have already explained that I lived in The Christophers building.
So, that meant that after everyone else went home, once the work day had come to an end, I remained in the building, because the Christopher building was where I actually lived.
So, I asked Father Keller for permission to amuse myself, by watching the hundreds of Christopher films which were sitting on those shelves in the storage area.
Keller said, "Sure...go ahead."
So, in that way, I got to see many of the programs which had aired years earlier ... films which were now just sitting in their film cans, slowly rotting away.
One of the programs I watched, all by myself, after every one else had left the building, featured the movie star with whom I had fallen in love ... as a very young boy ... Jeanette MacDonald.
Jeanette MacDonald, was, of course, the gorgeous singer who made all of those movies with Nelson Eddy.
Jeanette MacDonald had one of the most beautiful smiles ever seen in the movies. I had seen Jeanette MacDonald many times in person, at various concerts and plays, and I even got to meet her once.
So, of course, I wanted to see the film she had made for The Christophers!
While watching that movie, it became obvious to me, that while the general content of the film had been discussed, before the actual filming had begun, the actual conversation between Father Keller and Jeanette MacDonald was entirely ad lib.
At one point, during the filming of the movie, Father Keller asked Jeanette which song she planned to sing.
Jeanette smilingly replied that Father Keller knew very well what she was about to sing!
She also remarked that she wondered why he was asking that question.
Father Keller said that what she just said was not true...how could he know which song she had chosen to sing? (Or words to that effect).
Which comment started an on-film argument between the two of them!
Jeanette was arguing that Father Keller had known all along that she was going to sing such-and-such a song; while Father Keller kept denying that he had known anything about her choice!
Both tried to retain their tight smiles, but each was very obviously very much annoyed with the other.
It has been many years since I viewed this film, and I doubt whether the film still exists, today. Because, the film was exactly that ... film.....and film, stored away in cans, deteriorates and eventually disintegrates.
So, I would not be surprised if that was not the fate of this particular film, and of all the other Christopher films, which were made before they began using video tape.
Anyway, I do not remember just what song Jeanette actually did sing, on that program.
A Meeting with Bing Crosby
The two occasions on which I met Bing Crosby, the most popular singer of the 20th Century :
I once worked for a friend of Bing's, the Rev. James Keller, who was the founder of The Christophers.
Bing Crosby had appeared, gratis, on The Christopher TV show several times. But, these appearances always took place in California, not in New York, which was the city where I worked for Rev. James Keller. So, I had never had the opportunity to meet Bing, who was my lifelong idol.
After I left The Christophers, I went on a vacation to California, and came up with the idea that I ought to try making a phone call to Bing's office!
My plan was to explain that Bing Crosby and I had a mutual friend (Rev. Keller). And, to see whether that fact might possibly open the door for me to meet Bing Crosby in person. This was early in December 1968.
I managed to get a phone call through to Bing's manager, whose name was Leo Lynn. But, Mr. Lynn told me that Bing would not be in the office for at least a week. Because, Bing was rehearsing at the Hollywood Palace for that year's Christmas show, along with his entire second family.
I was very disappointed, and I guess Mr. Lynn realized it. So, he suggested that I actually GO to the Hollywood Palace. And, that I should give the doorman the message that I had been sent there by Leo Lynn.
The manager said that there was a chance that Bing might come out to talk to me as a favor to Mr. Lynn. (I believe that Mr. Lynn also phoned the Hollywood Palace, in advance of my arrival.)
When I got to the Hollywood Palace, it was around noon. When I told the doorman that Leo Lynn had suggested that Bing might be willing to come out and talk to me, the doorman told me to wait. The doorman then went inside and he evidently spoke to Bing about me, because in a few minutes, the doorman came back out, and said that Bing would say hello when he came out for lunch, within the next few minutes.
Bing finally came out, wearing a hat to cover his bald head ... and, in those days, he was still smoking his pipe, so that he looked exactly like the famous Bing Crosby character, who appeared in the movies, and on radio and television.
Bing had a gorgeous blonde on his arm (and, to this day, I have no idea who the blonde was) and I have always been curious. Because, Bing's wife, Kathryn, and his second brood of children, were all inside the theater, rehearsing the show with him, and none of them came out with Bing.
Anyway, Bing saw me, and came over to me and shook hands. He said, "So, you're a friend of Father Keller, eh?" We talked for a few minutes, but to be honest, I do not recall the conversation, because I was too excited!
Here I was, actually talking to a man I had admired from the day I first listened to him, crooning on the radio, when I was little more than an infant!
Somewhere in the conversation, though, Bing asked me whether I would like to attend the final dress rehearsal and the actual taping of the Christmas show, which would be taking place in a couple of days.
Of course, I was thrilled.
So, Bing gave me tickets, and after we said goodbye, he, and his gorgeous blonde friend, jay-walked across Vine Street and went into a restaurant together.
It was only then that I realized that I had completely overlooked asking Bing for his autograph!
So, when the night of the final rehearsal and the actual taping came around, I showed up with a little black notebook, and a red Bic pen.
I attended both the rehearsal and the actual taping.
Bing could not remember the words to several of his songs, including "White Christmas!" But, this did not bother him...when he forgot the words, he would simply stroll away from the other performers, and hum the song while murmuring the words until he finally got them straight, and then would come back and do the songs over again. He would then crack some jokes about the situation, the audience would laugh, and everyone had a good time. Bing apparently did not get in the least upset about goofing up on stage ... and, indeed, he acted as though this were the normal thing for him.
Although Bob Hope did not appear in the actual Christmas show, he did make an appearance with Bing at the end of the taping, for a promotion of a future show that they were going to do together.
Two of Bing's sons, from his marriage to Dixie Lee, were in the audience, seated a couple of rows in front of me. But, they were merely spectators, just as I was. They were not in the show. After the show, Bing beckoned for those two sons to come up on stage to talk to him, but they both ignored Bing's invitation. Bing finally left the stage, and came down into the audience to talk to the sons. They all shook hands. Gary was not there.
I left the theater, and went around back to the stage entrance. I waited for Bing to come out, hoping to get an autograph. One other adult .... a man, accompanied by several of his children ... was also waiting.
Bob Hope came out first, and he was alone. As Bob Hope approached us, the man's children ran over to Hope, all excited, asking for his autograph. Bob Hope walked right past them, as though he did not even notice them. So, this turned me off against Bob Hope, whom I had previously admired greatly, and I did not even attempt to approach Hope.
Finally, Bing and his wife, Kathryn, came out...none of their children were with them. I walked up to them, but it was obvious that Bing did not remember me from a couple of days before. Bing was about to walk right past me, even though he could see that I had my little notebook in my hand. But, Kathryn saved the day for me, and said, "Bing, I think this man wants your autograph."
Bing then took the book from me, and asked me for a pen. I handed him the red Bic, and he signed a page in the book for me. He was not in the least enthusiastic about doing so ... and I am certain that if Kathryn had not asked him to sign, he would simply have ignored me, just as Bob Hope had just ignored those children. I was grateful to Kathryn, and I asked her to sign my book. So, Kathryn signed right under Bing's signature, and she gave me a knowing wink and a smile. And, what a smile she had! Perfect, beautiful teeth, and a twinkle in her eyes. Kathryn's wonderful smile could easily have lit the entire dark street that night! So, that is the story of my two meetings with Bing Crosby.
An Encounter with Boxer Jack Dempsey
Boxing is a brutal "sport," and one of the most brutal fighters ever to become the world heavyweight champion was Jack Dempsey.
Dempsey fought before the Queensbury rules were enforced, so that once he knocked an opponent down, he did not have to retreat to a neutral corner, but was permitted to simply stand above his downed foe, and punch him back to the canvas as soon as he made an attempt to regain his feet.
Those were the rules.
I met Jack Dempsey at his Broadway restaurant several times in 1966, while I was living and working in New York.
You could not wish to meet a nicer man.
I guess he mellowed with age.
In fact, he even told me that occasionally a drunk would take a punch at him in his restaurant, just so that the asshole could tell all his friends that he took a sock at the greatest boxing champion in the world....and that he (Dempsey) did not retaliate, because it was all part of the game, now that he was in public relations in the restaurant business.
If you go to the two links below, you will see one of the autographs I got from Jack Dempsey in his restaurant, along with photos of the infamous Dempsey vs. Jess Willard "fight" which took place at Toledo, Ohio, on July 4, 1919.
As the bout began, Willard, 6 feet, 6 inches tall, and weighing 250 pounds, was the world heavyweight champion. He had won the championship by defeating the very first black champion, Jack Johnson.
Jess Willard, a giant, laughed at the comparatively tiny Dempsey, when they entered the ring.
Dempsey proceded to massacre Willard, right from the opening bell, knocking Willard to the canvas seven times in the first round! Dempsey did not hear the bell, which had saved Willard from a first round knockout. Dempsey thought he had won the fight, and left the ring. His manager had to call him back, and explain that the fight was not yet over. Dempsey then proceded to batter Willard to a bloody pulp in the following rounds, and thus became the heavyweight champion of the world.