This Bud’s For You…

In keeping with my present state of affairs as “bartender out of work”… I’m a customer now not a pourer… I thought I’d pull up a stool and share a story with you. It seems there are many things in my crazy past (my great and inglorious past) that might just carry this blog til I’m back behind the stick. But know this… while sitting here at the bar with you I promise to honor the Barland code by not ever being a gas bag, by not being argumentative, by being truthful at every turn without adding extra ketchup (well, maybe just a little!) and I’ll try to entertain as best I can. And if ever you find that I’ve failed “the code” by breaching any of its precepts, just ask the bartender to move your drink down the end.

So here goes, this is me as “guy on the stool” with a story.

A long time ago, when the world was young and so was I, I worked on a television game show called It Takes Two. Vin Scully was the host of the show and three celebrity couples made up the panel. I won’t go into just how the show worked, it would take up too much time (that’s me not being a “gas bag”), just know that I wrote up one of four acts produced in each day’s show, each one leading to a numerical trivia question. In other words, this wasn’t a typical Q&A thing like Jeopardy.

So one day my boss, a guy named Les Roberts who is now a successful mystery writer living in Cleveland, Ohio, where all of his stories take place, told me to write up an act about Bud Abbott. It happened that Bud was to do a guest spot and I had to write up some business to introduce him. Now for those of you not familiar with the name, Bud was half of a comedy team called “Abbott and Costello” (they were huge in the 40’s and 50’s) and Bud had played the straight man in the act to his rolly polly partner and genius, Lou Costello. And as far as what I could draw on when I sat down to write the script (thanks to the comedy gods up above) I had their classic baseball routine called “Who’s on First?” (you can find and view it on You Tube), which turned out to be the perfect way to introduce him..

So after Les had read my script and gave it his stamp of approval, he asked of me a rather unusual request. He said since Bud had recently had a stroke and was now confined to a wheelchair, would I mind picking him up on the day of the taping?

Would I mind picking him up? I thought. Why I’d push his wheel chair from his house all the way to the studio!!!  See as a kid I couldn’t have been a bigger fan of Abbott and Costello movies, now here I was not just writing for him (well not for him but about him) but getting to drive him to and from the studio. A fan’s dream!

So I drove up to Bud’s house, a modest but nice, ranch-style home on Redwing Drive in Woodland Hills, and there to greet me at the door was his wife Betty. Betty was a former burlesque dancer who actually performed with Bud before his Costello connection, who remained the love of his life for fifty five years. Betty led me through the door, she introduced me to the great Bud Abbott who was sitting in his wheelchair… frail of body but sharp of mind… and Bud and I shook hands and the gig was afoot. I then bid Betty good-bye, told her not to worry that I would take good care of Bud, then I wheeled him out to my beat up 66′ Mustang. I helped him into the passenger’s seat, buckled him into place, then we hit the freeway and headed for NBC. And all I remember looking back on that drive was me trying to act very cool, acting as though this was normal hanging out with legends. But I was terribly young and naive at the time and this was my way of trying to appear grown up. Pretty silly, huh?

When we got to NBC, a wonderful thing immediately happened when I wheeled Bud through the halls, as many of the old time stage hands who had worked with Bud in the old days (they were poker buddies when the cameras went dark), recognized Bud and ran up and shook his hand. This really meant a lot to Bud because he felt he was pretty much forgotten, and was only doing our show because he thought it might be fun just getting out there again. (And sadly because he’d get a Kelvinator refrigerator.)

So when it came time for his entrance after a short audio piece of “Who’s on First?”, Vin brought him on with my obvious line, “I can’t make heads or tails of this but here’s a guy who might just know how to explain it.”  Then the curtain slowly rose, there was Bud sitting in his wheelchair in front of a bunch of blow-ups taken from his movies, and the audience rose to its feet with a standing ovation. I mean a long standing ovation which brought down the house. No, Bud Abbott had not been forgotten which this audience clearly demonstrated, while the celebs on the panel (whose names escape me) ran to him in commercial emphasizing the point. It was more than mission accomplished, Bud was a hit!

As I was driving Bud back home, feeling now like the two of us had just won a freaking Emmy, I noticed a tear slowly making its way down his cheek. And he was staring straight ahead as if in a trance. One can only imagine what the thoughts were going through his mind, but I had no right to ask and of course I didn’t. Then fortunately Bud broke the silence and came back to earth.

“You know something,” he said, “it was pretty goddam nice of those people to stand up like that.”

“You mean the audience when the curtain came up?”

“Hell yeah, that’s what I mean. I guess they probably thought I’d already died or something.”

Well now it was time for me to drop the “cool” thing.

“Mr. Abbott,” I began, “I’ve got to be honest with you. I’ve been trying to act blase all day trying to appear professional, but this is the biggest thrill I’ve ever had. And I really mean it. As a kid back in Pittsburgh when we went to the Saturday matinees, and they showed an Abbott and Costello movie in the previews, we stood on our seats and jumped up and down and cheered. That’s how big a fans we were. And so I’m sure those people in the audience today were just like me… long time Abbott and Costello fans.” He smiled at that but the tear remained on his cheek.

When we got back to his house, a bittersweet moment occurred as we walked through the door, it was Betty yelling from the kitchen, “How’d it go at the studio today, hon?” Like it was still the good old days when he was actually coming home from THE STUDIO, and not appearing on a game show for a refrigerator!

“It went fine, dear,” he said, winking at me as he said it, “I actually got a standing ovation today.” I then chimed in and assured Betty this was true. Betty then asked if I’d like a drink, I accepted a glass of Coke, and Bud motioned me to the couch to have a chat. Now here’s where the story, to me, gets absolutely amazing.

I said, “Bud, I know you did it a thousand times but how did you ever keep track when you did “Who’s on First?”

“Are you kidding?” he said. “Lou was the one with the hard part, all I had to do was just correct him. Once I memorized the bases my part was easy. Here I’ll show you.” Then believe it or not, dear reader, after he walked me through “who was on what” he gave me his part to play, then he took Lou’s and we actually did the routine. Or at least a small part of it. And it was not unlike (given who I was and who was sitting across from me) doing a scene from Hamlet with Sir Freaking Larry!

And as if that wasn’t enough, after we’d finished he dropped this cherry on top. “Betty,” he called, “go on into the den and get me one of those records.” (One of those records!) Betty then emerged from the den holding a 78 LP of “Who’s on First?”. Bud took it from Betty, signed the label with a salutation, then told me there were only three of them in circulation. One he said was in Cooperstown in the Baseball hall of Fame, I forget where he said the second was (maybe in the Broadcaster’s Hall of Fame) and the third one was now clutched in my right hand. Can you believe it?

I thanked Bud profusely, told him again what a thrill it was to have spent the day with him, and just as I headed for the door he stopped me with this…

“Hey, kid, if you ever want to shoot the breeze or you want to stop by the house just give us a ring. You have our number now.” I got the feeling the day we had spent had awakened something in Bud, and he somehow wanted to keep that feeling alive. And the look on Betty’s face, without question, convinced me. Then she gave me a smile and out the door I went.

Now the bad news. I waited too long to take Bud up on his offer of getting together, he died before we ever could meet again. And the record he so generously gave me? It got lost somehow in my travels over the years. Absolutely shameful! But I’ll always have that day which I’ll never ever lose.

Oh, Bartender, I’ve talked for a pretty long time here, how about letting me buy these guys their next round!!!

21 Responses to “This Bud’s For You…”

  1. 1 Comradde PhysioProffe September 23, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Dude, what an amazing story! I felt like I was right there with you and Bud and Betty.

  2. 2 scribbler50 September 23, 2012 at 9:00 pm

    Comradde: Thanks a lot, my man, I felt like I was there myself when I wrote it. A real sweet memory!

  3. 3 unclevinny September 24, 2012 at 12:44 am

    You’re a champ, Scrib. I hope you’re working on a screenplay of your life!

  4. 4 M.Lane September 24, 2012 at 6:02 am

    Amazing! What an experience. Thanks for sharing it.


  5. 5 scribbler50 September 24, 2012 at 7:33 am

    unclevinny: I am working on something but not a screenplay. As long as it takes for a movie to get made I’d look like Bud Abbott by the time it aired. Or worse, they’d change the lead character to a barber with super powers or a bank robber from Guam!
    But thanks for the sentiment.

    M.Lane: Thanks, ML, the pleasure indeed was all mine.

  6. 6 MikeQ September 25, 2012 at 11:06 pm

    Great story, Scrib! Wonderful story! Man, that was a pleasure reading it!

  7. 7 scribbler50 September 26, 2012 at 12:22 am

    MikeQ: Glad you enjoyed, it was a pleasure for me going back there.
    Cheers, friend.

  8. 8 Irishirritant September 26, 2012 at 3:42 pm

    Thanks, outstanding pace recalling a marvelous chain of events. Bud was my guy, I even have a derby.

  9. 9 scribbler50 September 26, 2012 at 9:19 pm

    Irish: Love the derby part, thanks, man.

  10. 10 Pharm Sci Grad September 27, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    It’s easy to forget even the biggest stars among us are just people who share the same wants, needs, and desires as we do. Beautifully illustrated, Scrib, and nice to have you back at the stick – even if you’re sitting on the other side with us for a bit. 😉

  11. 11 scribbler50 September 27, 2012 at 10:31 pm

    Sci Grad: How nice to hear from you again, and nice to read your thoughfull comment as always. Glad you liked the post and, hey, just for the record… I’m enjoying being on your side of the bar. (hic-cup!)
    Cheers! 🙂

  12. 12 Jennifer September 30, 2012 at 6:24 pm

    Scrib! You’re back! And still in rare form, I see…

  13. 13 scribbler50 September 30, 2012 at 6:58 pm

    Jennifer: Yes I am, my friend, and your comment makes it official!

  14. 14 Anonymoustache October 2, 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Scrib50, great anecdote, man….goosebumps…
    I know it’s a different media circus nowadays but still….is it just me or were that generation of celebs cut from a different cloth?

  15. 15 scribbler50 October 2, 2012 at 8:06 pm

    Anonymoustache: They were definitely cut from a different cloth because back then there weren’t all these TV outlets and the Internet making them famous before they were ready. Not saying there aren’t brilliant comics today but the old timers paid their dues in spades back then. They worked the circuit for years and years, often in anonymity, then maybe they’d get a shot on the Ed Sullivan Show. Or The Garry Moore Show… a show which gave Alan King his big break. Anyway, if you want a taste of the old time pros go to You Tube and bring up the Dean Martin Roasts. Vintage stuff from vintage pros that still holds up.

    Thanks for the comment as always, my friend, and cheers!

  16. 16 Hornet October 19, 2012 at 12:44 pm

    Got a chill when you got to the part about actually doing “Who’s on First?” with the man himself. What a story! I don’t know if I could ever forgive myself for losing track of that record.

  17. 17 scribbler50 October 20, 2012 at 12:43 pm

    Hornet: Guess what? I STILL haven’t forgiven myself after all these years for losing that record. Beyond the word careless, it’s unforgivable!.

    Hey, thanks for checking in, it’s been a while.

  18. 18 Dr Ian Ellis-Jones January 14, 2014 at 4:38 pm

    Many thanks. This was a truly wonderful story about a man, and a comedy team, that have given me so much joy in my life. Until I read your post I had no idea Bud had made an appearance on TV as late as this one, on ‘It Takes Two.’ I have since read elsewhere that Bud’s appearance on the series was either in 1969 or 1970. Sorry to sound like a pedant, but can you recall which year Bud apeared on the show? Once again, thanks for sharing, in such a well-written and intimate manner, the kindness you showed to Bud in his final years.

  19. 19 scribbler50 January 15, 2014 at 6:24 pm

    Dr. Ian Ellis-Jones: Thanks for checking in and for the kind words. Now as to the exact year Bud appeared on our show, of the two you suggest I believe it was 1970.

  20. 20 Dr Ian Ellis-Jones January 15, 2014 at 6:28 pm

    Thanks for that. I am very grateful. All the very best to you from Down Under (Australia).

  21. 21 Lou Brock (not the baseball player, sorry) May 21, 2020 at 8:31 pm

    …and I do remember that particular show, where I believe the question that Vin Scully asked of the three couples, after the wonderful discussion of Bud and Lou’s movies, was “How many movies did Abbott and Costello do together?” (I’m pretty sure it was 1970.)

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