If only I could have found a more productive outlet for my creative juices.
Today, I finally learned the name of a man who was my inspiration. For a while, I wondered if maybe I hadn't really seen him --- that maybe it was something I had conjured up in a dream. But thanks to YouTube, today I was the 94th person to view the proof that he existed.
I wasn't dreaming.
I saw him on the evening of February 12, 1962, live on the television program, "I've Got a Secret!" I had just turned 13 the month before. It's a well-know fact among members of my family that I didn't take good notes in school -- and not at all while watching television. So I didn't remember his name. Today, I learned it: Stan Berman.
Why would I be inspired by a Brooklyn cab driver? It was because of his secret: --- he was a gatecrasher. I'd never heard the term before, but by the end of that TV program, I was already dreaming of the day I could be one.
I didn't remember the long, gatecrashing resume he had displayed in photographs that evening, except for one. I'll never forget seeing him sit with the Kennedy Family at the Inaugural Ball for President John F. Kennedy the year before on my 12th birthday, 1961.
No, I didn't make a career out of being a gatecrasher, but I never stopped thinking about pulling such a clever, albeit harmless prank. I will confess that, as a journalist, there were times when I used some of Stan Berman's inspiration to help me get closer to people I needed to interview, but I only did it recreationally one time.
And I consider it one of my greatest accomplishments.
It was at Burbank High School on a Saturday evening, when I was an 11th grader. As usual, I showed up early to an event -- this time earlier than anyone else, it turns out. It was in the auditorium. and it was slated to be a collection of musical performances by some popular music personalities. Most were probably on the downward side of their careers, but they were at least once-popular. The person I was bent on seeing live was a young folksinger who was very popular in Southern California, Tim Morgan.
I don't remember exactly when I decided to attempt the crashing of the gate, but I know when the action started. I was the only person standing in line at the ticket window. Nobody was even inside the booth yet. The custodian walked up with a set of keys and asked me if I was the ticket seller. I responded with a single word -- a word that would launch my own inauguration to gatecrashing.
A moment later, I was alone in the ticket booth and was able to "sell" myself a front-row, center seat. A moment after I placed the ticket in my shirt pocket, a pretty girl (who was pretty concerned) was knocking on the door to the booth. I opened it and she said, "What are you doing here?" Someone had once told me two rules to follow when caught red-handed: 1). Don't flinch. 2) Always answer a question with another question.
"What are YOU doing here?"
She said she was supposed to be selling the tickets. I said the same thing back to her, but I quickly suggested we split up the task. I allowed her to take the first shift. I'd come back later to relieve her, I lied. I knew I would never come back. Instead, I walked to one of the three or four entry doors to the auditorium. I almost handed off my ticket, but I started thinking that it had been too easy. I didn't want it to end that quickly.
I noticed that there was a second attendant at the door. He was handing out the program booklets.
"Excuse me," I told him. "We've run out of programs at the side door. Could I please take some of yours?" I took my half-stack to the side door and told the person there that he was to go cover one of the other doors. I was supposed to work this door now. Then I handed out the programs until I was down to just one. I carried it inside and took my seat.
Still too easy! I was front-row, center, but there were people with a better view: they were backstage. I watched one official walk through a door that led backstage, so I waited a couple of minutes, got up and walked backstage. I hadn't thought about what I would say if someone asked. They didn't, however.
Then I saw Tim Morgan sitting on a stool, warming up with his beautiful guitar. I had to talk to him. I walked up to him and said, "Hi, I'm with the school paper. May I interview you please?" He was happy to oblige me. Afterwards, I asked him if I could play his guitar. After all, the first four chords I had learned on my $7, used Sears Silvertone guitar were the chords to his cult-favorite song, "The Cat Came Back" (E-minor, D, C, B7 -- a most difficult chord to play). He handed me his guitar and I nailed the B7! He was impressed.
Then I wandered over near the light and curtain cage -- just off stage left. Nearby, the designated student "introducers" were reviewing the 5x7" cards someone had handed them --- cards with the introduction information for each artist.
At that moment, there was a crisis at the light and curtain cage. It seems that the custodian who had opened the ticket booth door for me was working the lights, but he was apparently drunk. I think he had just walked away, so there was nobody there to work the lights.
I volunteered and took over. It was a stupid thing to do because I didn't know the first thing about the lights or the curtains. The drama teacher, a former Marine named Miss Wolfson had been barking orders from the projection booth behind the balcony. I'd listen to the intercom and then look for something with a label that matched what she was saying.
Apparently I failed, because a few moments later, she was there at the cage and was chewing me out for screwing up the lights. "You were on the stage crew! You should know how to do this," she said. I didn't think it was a good time to volunteer the information that I had only been a volunteer for one production, "My Fair Lady," the prior year --- and, no, I never learned the lights. Anyway, she kicked me out of the cage.
That left me without a job, so I went up to the person handing out the "introduction" cards and asked for mine. Whoever it was giving them out didn't question my credentials, so I took my card and waited my turn.
Two performances later, I walked out onto the stage and did a pretty darned good job introducing singer Bobby Day singing his hit song, "Rockin' Robbin."
Then I retired as a gatecrasher. It's always good to undefeated -- sort of.
A postscript: After posting this, I found out that Stan Berman died at age 41. How sad.
Died. Stanley Berman, 41, Brooklyn cab driver and self-proclaimed "World's Greatest Gate-Crasher"; of a blood infection; in Brooklyn. No occasion was too exclusive, no dignitary too aloof for Berman, who posed as a waiter to demand Queen Elizabeth II's autograph during her 1957 visit, crashed J.F.K.'s Inaugural Ball in 1961, and had his finest moment in 1962 when he charged onstage to hand Bob Hope an Oscar in front of 100 million TV watchers.