Another fine mess I got myself into

Weird things:  I skated with the munchkins, yes the real munchkins from the Wizard of OZ; wrestled for intramural championship at Stanford, and took third place (more on that later); rode with the Hells Angels; toked with Willie in his bus; and I could go on.  But yesterday was terrifying.

I decided yesterday morning I was going to go to a club on Open Mike night and do stand up.  There actually was an ulterior motive….more on that later.

I had been around comedy all my life; my father had Red Skelton and Lord Buckley as MCs for the Walkathon; I was at Roller Derby at the Pan Pacific in Los Angeles when Jack Benny, Mary Livingston, George Burns, Gracie Allen, Joe E. Brown, and Mickey Rooney were there; and of course saw most comedians in person later, from Bob Hope to Mort Sahl to Robin, Steve Martin, Billy Crystal, Richard Pryor, and on and on.  I became friends with Tom and Dick Smothers.

And lately have become comedy enthused again after seeing Torio Van Grol and the great comedy acts he has brought to Sonoma (tickets at Brown Paper tickets of course).  And along the way have established friendships with Kevin Pollak (the best impressions of Jack Nicholson, Alan Arkin and more) and Bobby (pitbull comedy) Slayton.

So I figured if I could get a decent opening and closing and didn’t screw up too badly, I might get away with it  (sample later).   So I wrote it out, put a bunch of things on a small cheat sheet and went over it   a few times.

There are three great clubs that have opened in Marin and Sonoma County the past five years called Hopmonk.  Really good food, great bars and outside areas, good music….and I was hoping to add them as clients for my employer, Brown Paper Tickets.  So I came up with his idea of why not go and perform at open mike night…..I can’t sing or play an instrument worth a damn.

And I figured if I did it in Sonoma a lot of my friends would show up and kindly laugh at anything……wrong.

I tweeted both Kevin Pollak (you know him from “The Usual Suspects”  the other attorney with Tom Cruise in “A Few Good Men”, Daryl Hannah’s boyfriend in “Grumpy old men” and many more movies) and Bobby Slayton (he  has been in a number of films, played the Casino manager in “Get Shorty”) asking for advice.

Kevin tweeted “Record it”…..sorry Kevin, not a chance.

Bobby was a little more down to earth:  “Since you are a senior citizen, the audience will be more tolerant when you fuck up”……gee, Bobby, why would you assume I would not be perfect.

So I went to the Hopmonk in Sonoma and signed up.  There were about 6 other music acts and one other comedian (I cringed at the name “comedian”).

It turned out the manager of  Hopmonk was BJ, an old friend, and we chatted and I guzzled down a merlot.  And then Allison Coats, the daughter of  PR friend Michael Coats, came over…..I was feeling better already.

After two really good singers and guitarists performed, the MC called my name….I don’t really recall walking to the stage.  I looked out and saw none of my friends had come to support me, but the twenty-somethings and others looked okay so I grabbed the mike and started in:

“Hi, my name is Jerry……I am a sex addict…….oh shit, is tonight Thursday?”

“When I was born, Hoover was President…..took me years to realize that a vacuum cleaner didn’t cause the Great Depression”

“But Americans are tough and resilient…look how well we have managed to exist without  Hostess cup cakes, Ding Dongs, and Twinkies”

“As  you may or may not know, James Gondolfini died today….what a a tragedy….and Boehner is already blaming it on Obamacare”

“Sorry for the cheat sheet (actually, I hadn’t looked at it!),  I usually write the notes on my hand but Sarah Palin still has the Sharpie”

Good response, happy faces, chuckles, laughs, and I am wondering how much of what Bobby had said was true…. it was not great stuff but it all came from my brain.

I then did a bit of family history, a couple of funny stories from Roller Derby times, some from my ticketing days, and explained I was now working for the best ticketing company in the world, not just for profit and community oriented as penance for being part of raising the service charges with BASS and Ticketmaster.

I then closed with “people ask me why you are able to function so well at your age; well I don’t smoke and rarely drink, exercise, take vitamins and I never eat anything that Michael Douglas does”      Huge laugh, leave the stage.     Whew.

So Torio asks if I will pursue this career.  Of course, right after I swim the Everest.

Oh, there were only two other wrestlers in my weight class (110 pounds).  I lost badly to both, but still got third place for valuable points for Encina West…we ended up being intramural champs….who was our best athlete in our wing?  Bob Mathias, Olympic decathlon champion.  Don’t tell me I didn’t have friends in high places.

looking back over my shoulder

When I look back on my life I have trouble believing it.   And it all seems so matter of fact.

I have made money, I have gone broke.  I have met the most wonderful people who have been friends all of my life and because I never had a real profession, I have been able to use my mind (not lose) in several different areas, often with good results, but not always.

I saw and worked with the greatest Roller Derby skaters of all time, from the virtual beginning to when the professional games ended.  And now I have met and continue meeting with the wonderful people who are in all aspects of the game, and most seem to admire me for having been around this long and advising them when I can.

I shook hands with Jack Kennedy, attended Bill Clinton’s inauguration, been backstage with Elton John in his Mozart outfit (him, not me), helped Reverend Cecil Williams in the production of his anniversary for Glide Memorial, toked with Willie on the Bus, produced two documentary films  (one got 4 stars from Ebert), headed up a group of Pro football owners trying to buy the Oakland NHL team, served on the Bay Area board of the American Red Cross for 2 years, started the BASS Ticket Foundation, which gave away over $1,000,000 in tickets to events that the underserved would not have been able to attend, worked on Benefits for Thunder Road, a teenage drug and rehab center, co-founded the Sonoma Film Festival and it is starting to get boring.

After 20 years with BASS Tickets, which Hal Silen, Peggy Brown and I started, I spent 10 years with Ticketmaster, helping to push Ticketron over the edge.  Then I was called on to consult with Rollerjam, a real lost opportunity for Roller Derby.

And now I am kept out of the rocking chair with a number of projects including events on smart phones and once again, Roller Derby.

In the 80’s Herb Cohen, an old Roller Derby aficionado, came to see me at Ticketmaster with a plan for a legitimate Roller Derby League.  He showed up so often that Fred Rosen thought he was an employee.  We struggled with it for a year but could not bring it to fruition.  Herb represented many Jazz greats, but he really believed this sport could happen.  After that, I kind of gave up on any revival, although David Sams called to see if we could replace the program with the alligators on ESPN.  I had been away too long and had no contacts even if I were interested.

So along comes today’s Derby. And like the bumblebee that scientists say should not be able to fly, they start legitimate Roller Derby, the game people said couldn’t happen.  And so many of the players knew the history of the game and contacted me, and although I have no official capacity, I feel I am part of it and try to help and advise and lecture when I can.  And these are great women and men who appreciate the story of this all-American (and now European and Asian and Australian) sport, and how if we all band together we are 786 leagues , 30,000 personnel, and 26 countries large and have nothing but a great future.  I will continue to push you all  in working and scheduling together, regardless of rules, leagues, associations etc.  I know it can be done.

Another step forward, flat track leagues skating on the banked track and vice versa.  Remember, under your uniforms, you are all Derby.

By the sea, by the beautiful sea in Seaside.

Photo by Veeka Be from

I think all of us are attracted to water, be it a lake, river or ocean.  And my best memories of childhood (and some recent years) are from time at all three locales:  the river at Zig Zag, Oregon; Crater Lake (the most beautiful blue lake in the world), and the Pacific Ocean at Seaside, a small oceanside town 70 miles from Portland.

As long as I can remember, we always went to Seaside in the summer.  My father had come ahead before our sojourn to Los Angeles and San Francisco for Roller Derby, and sometimes he brought managers and occasionally skaters.  Uncle Oscar would be there at the same time along with our cousins.  We would spend all day on the beach, running in and out of the Pacific; in recent years I put my foot in the ocean and it literally curled with the cold, but what do you care when you are little.

There is a wonderful picture of Sid Cohen (who used to work for the Mob) walking next to me in a shirt and tie on the beach, carrying my little beach bucket with his 6′ 4” 280 pound body next to my tiny frame.  And we would go fishing up in Astoria (this is where the robber baron John Jacob Astor made his money buying furs from the Indians) on the Columbia River and I caught a 35-pound Chinook salmon.   Unfortunately, you don’t catch Chinooks or almost any other salmon in the Columbia now.

My dad was always happy and relaxed at Seaside.  The main street, Broadway of course, was very honky tonk with a salt water natatorium up near the end of the road, a ferris wheels, bumper cars, and all the junk candy and other items you would expect to find at the beach.  At the end of Broadway was the turnaround, officially marking the end of the Lewis and Clark trail, with statues of both there, and the promenade (prom) running for a few miles north and south.  You could stroll on the prom, ride your bike, or just sit on a bench and look at the ocean.

Seaside has never been known for its weather; it generally is cool and damp, but I always loved it.  When the sun was out, it was truly spectacular.  When we were on the beach (this is before World War 2), we would look for the glass floats, generally balls, that held up the fishing nets in Japan and would break away and follow the warm current all the way to the Oregon Coast.  One of the reasons it so rarely snowed or froze in the area was because of the Japanese currents.  We also would go crabbing off the pier for Dungenes crab (no limit then) or at low tide go clamming for the razor clams which are only found in the northwest coast of the US.

My Dad and Mom (named Rose) loved that area and wanted to build a home there.  I did not know at the time that my mother was very ill, having been misdiagnosed and suffering with breast cancer which was virtually incurable at the time.  I found out later that he had taken her to the Mayo Clinic and other advanced medical centers in order to prolong her life.  She never complained so Gloria and I were unaware what was going on.  They bought a piece of property, about 2 and 1/2 acres right on the ocean just south of the city limits with a forest on the land.  It was just adjoining Tillamook head and was called the Cove.

I think my father knew that they would never build on the land, but felt it gave my mother something to look forward to.  I believe that in 1940 he paid $3000 for the site.

After my mother’s death and we moved to Chicago we of course had Lake Michigan nearby, but it was  nowhere near the same.  On our occasional visits back to Oregon we would take short trips to the beach.  Then after my Dad remarried and moved to Encino, he started going to Oregon again.  His wife Belle had a family house in Gearhart, a very quiet and small town north of Seaside.  I stayed there several times, but there was no talk of building anything in Seaside.  My father contacted the Holiday Inn people with the idea of them putting a hotel there, but they felt that the market was too small at that time.

After my father’s death in 1978 the Seaside land became Gloria’s and mine.  We then found out that because of restrictions on septic tanks, no new building was allowed in that area.  However, after a few years the entire district was annexed into Seaside, and Gloria and Ken and I decide to develop a street, build a house for both our families to use, and sell lots.  Her son-in law Bruce came up with the name of Keepsake Drive, which had at least one letter for each of our children and grandchildrens’ names.  I won’t bore you with all of them.

The lots were sold, our house was built (a Victorian theme) and a small lot in front was donated to the city by Uncle Oscar and us, to be developed into a park.  I was in LA with Ticketmaster and got a call from a very upset Gloria.  She told me the city council had decided that there wasn’t money to develop the park…..the only public location on the ocean….and they would build restrooms on half, and sell the other half for development.

At Gloria’s urging I flew up to Seaside, and we attended the meeting at which the park project was to be officially dumped.  I must say I gave a fiery speech, stating that my family did not give the land to Seaside to become a toilet.  The mayor, a very smart man, said fine, you raise the money, we will build the park.

So Gloria formed a 501.3C and we started fund raising.  She was a whirlwind whipping Ken and I and all the neighbors into fevered activity.  She found out where she could get benches which were recycled and we started selling them.  We sold hundred of bricks to family, Seasiders, friends to put their names on.  I got a hold of Willie Nelson’s manager, and he did two concerts for us, one in Astoria and a second in Seaside.

I had recently moved to Sonoma and become friends with Tom Smothers, and he and his brother played for us in Seaside.  All of the Seltzers and Weinsteins showed up, we dedicated the ground and today there  is a tiny, beautiful park in Seaside, just around the corner from the house we built.  There are warm showers for the surfers (one of the great surfing spots in the US; don’t tell anyone), and benches at the top of a small hill.  And one of those benches has the name Leo and Rose Seltzer on it, so don’t tell me they didn’t get to that beautiful spot by the Cove.

The name of the park?  Seltzer Park, of course.  please visit when in Seaside……just sit on a bench and look onto the ocean.

Willie and Waylon and the Hells Angels and me

It was impossible to live in the Bay Area in the 70’s and 80’s and not be aware of the Hells Angels. A number of them were fans and showed up at the Roller Derby games and never caused any problems.  Once when Charlie O’Connell promoted on our telecasts that he now had a bar in the East Bay Area a bunch of Angels showed up at his bar to drink and show support.  Charlie told them he really appreciated it, but it would scare away his neighborhood customers.   They understood, rode away and suddenly came back; “Charlie, would you like us to wreck the other bars around here?”  Charlie thanked them and said no.

After the Derby closed we were operating BASS tickets, a computerized ticketing service.  I was out making calls and forgot that I had made an appointment with Mr Griffin and Mr. Proudfoot that afternoon until I got an anxious call from my assistant that the two men were waiting patiently in my office in Oakland.  I told her to tell them I was sorry and would be there as soon as I could. When I walked into my office there were two fearsome looking men, members of the Oakland Hells Angels.  Oh my God, was I going to get shaken down?  They politely introduced themselves as “Fu” Griffin (because of his drooping mustache and slight beard) and Deakon Proudfoot, a mountain of a man with beard and hair in all directions.  Thus began a strange relationship that went on for several years.

They explained that Deakon was doing security for Willie and at a recent concert at the Oakland Auditorium the stagehands had shut down the lights and sound at midnight while Willie was still playing.  Deakon was offended and asked Willie what could be done.  There hadn’t been a large crowd there that night and Willie suggested that Charlie Magoo productions, a name that the Angels has created to honor a fallen brother, take over the bay area appearances.  So they had gone to their friend Freddie Herrara who operated the Keystone Berkeley rock club and he suggested that they ask me to work with them. Our biggest client was Bill Graham Presents, and I knew Bill was not the biggest fan of the Angels, especially after Altamount,  but BASS had made a policy of helping promoters and I offered them my services for 5% of the profit to BASS,  plus the service charge on all tickets. Having been a promoter, I immediately starting contacting all the radio stations to find out who would be the best to work with and not just on the basis of a station buy (similar to the way we worked with TV stations for Roller Derby).  We bought little flights of time on each country station and through our computer ticket sales saw who had the best results.

We had scheduled another concert at the Oakland Auditorium.  It turned out that KNEW radio was far and away above everyone else, so I made a deal with the station manager:  if he turned over all open time on the station, we would guarantee a certain amount of dollars as a buy and they would do all the interviews, the introductions at the concert (Willie did not like that) and use their personalities however they wanted. KNEW blasted away and before we knew it the Auditorium was virtually sold out.  I contacted Willie’s manager Mark Rothbaum (you will see him in almost every Triatholon event) and he was thrilled at my suggestion to move it to the Oakland Coliseum Arena which held 14,000 (now Oracle Arena).   The show sold out in advance and I told Deak and Fu that it would be best if all the Angels and their friends stayed in the backstage area.   They agreed and it was a double celebration as Sonny Barger had just been released from prison and there was a big party backstage.  I had arranged for a Marin company that had a hot tub on a truck to be there that night and it was widely used…….wherever I went knives were offered to me with some powder on the blade…..I politely declined.

We were able to duplicate our success with a sold out Waylon Jennings concert at the Arena and another sold out concert with Willie at the Cow Palace.  Then we put them together, added other acts and sold out Spartan Stadium (30,000 tickets) in San Jose at the then unheard of price of $25 per ticket.  Mark and Waylon’s manager and everyone was thrilled. We did more Waylon, Willie, Merle concerts over the next few years throughout the Bay Area, and Fresno.

We produced one more concert for Charlie Magoo that was the best.  Mark called me and said they had an open date but were playing in Tahoe immediately afterwards and couldn’t play in a facility larger than 3000 seats.  I was trying to figure out how anyone could make money with Willie in a facility that small, when suddenly I remembered an old friend, Claude Jarman.   Claude had been the head of the San Francisco Film Festival when my film “Derby” was entered and considered the best film in the Festival.   He now was in charge of San Francisco’s beautiful and ornate Opera House, the home of the Ballet and Opera. I applied for the date, and Claude carried the day through his board.  I really wanted it to be a special event and managed to get the San Francisco Symphony’s string quartet to play in the lobby.  Also, we held out the box seats by the Grand Tier for the Angels and their friends.  It was a secure area, usually the location of the blue bloods of the Opera association.  I requested of Deakon and Fu that all the Angels and their friends dress in formal wear.  Fu loved it, Deakon hated it.

On the night of the event, Deakon showed up in his coveralls and a tux tee shirt. The string quartet (two men and two women) were in western shirts and jeans, and were the hit of the crowd.   They were mobbed as they played Vivaldi, Hayden and Mozart, reaching an audience that probably had not heard this music before.  Just as the lobby lights were flashing, a roughly dressed bearded man came running across the area towards the seats, but suddenly stopped as if struck in front of the quartet.  He listened until they ended their performance and reached across and dropped a hundred dollar bill on the group.  “We have never had a tip before”.

The concert was amazing;  I can hear to this day how Willie sounded that night in the acoustically perfect Opera House.  One of the aged ushers who had been fearful of this crowd told me “this was the most respectful audience I have ever seen.  They spilled nothing and were very polite, not like the snobs we usually get.” Mark Rothbaum, Willie’s manager, told me Willie’s career really took off again after our promotions in the Bay Area, and they were kind enough to send me a platinum record of “Stardust” for my wall when the record had such great success. I saw Willie again at the BR Cohn benefit concert two years ago a few miles up the road from where I live.  The Angels who were doing security were happy to see me and quite friendly.

I personally promoted Willie again in Oregon (for a benefit for Seltzer Park in Seaside) and Willie, Waylon, Kris and Johnny (The Highwaymen) at the Paramount Theatre in Oakland in 1991 for a benefit for the BASS Ticket Foundation, an organization we created to give away over $1 million in tickets to the underserved in the Bay Area.  Deakon attended and obviously had some heart problems.  Fu had been killed some years before in an auto accident. Epilogue:  I recently found out that on July 4th 2009 Deakon was attending the fireworks in Jack London Square in Oakland when he suddenly died…..he was 70.  He had been told 20 years before he had a very bad heart and required surgery.  He didn’t do it and to my knowledge never did.  His funeral procession of Harley after Harley was one of the largest in the Bay Area, you can see it on You Tube.

One of my memories was the night he invited me to dinner at his house which was in an African American neighborhood  in Oakland. His neighbors were delighted to have him and the Hells Angel clubhouse (yes I had a drink there) in the area because they knew no one would cause problems with the Angels around.  The house was solid stone and two things I noticed when I went inside:  the huge portrait of Adolf Hitler on the wall with Nazi flags crossed over it and the most beautiful silver dog I had ever seen.  I asked Deakon what kind of dog and he just said “Wolf”.  We had a great dinner and I asked him about the color photo of him on the wall in which he was walking down the street.  He told me the Feds had given it to him. Deakon is not the kind of person you will ever forget.  My life was made a lot more interesting by knowing him. ( subscribe free to my blogs…..enter your email in the subscription box upper right and you will get ’em when I write ’em)

By the way, check out the comments on this page….you will find them very interesting as well as a video from a television interview of the past with Fu, Deak, and also me.