I would have given anything to sit behind the desk. Just once. Maybe I’d be good at it and they’d pay me to do it again. Or I would emulate Pat Sajak or Chevy Chase. I’d been a morning drive time radio announcer and thought I was funny. I wasn’t. My radio career was as successful as the electric fork. Even when I doubled the rating at my station in Tucson, Arizona, the jealous program director busted me back to afternoon drive time. I worked that shift for two weeks before jumping to television where I stayed for another 22 years.
It was at that first television job at KGUN, Tucson, where my talk show fantasy was exposed. I’d watched Steve and Jack and Johnny and even Joey…Joey Bishop. I love words. They each knew how to instantly choose the right ones. Not just the right ones to get laughs, but the right words and phrases as part of otherwise tedious repartee’ with starlets and harlots and egotistical actors and athletes. They were savants of the extemporaneous enunciation. Then there were the comedians who made their bones on those, and the Ed Sullivan shows. Woody Allen, Mort Sahl, George Carlin, Myron Cohen. Words. Perfectly lined up.
So it was the spring of 1980 when I found a guy named Franco Damonico. He worked at local car dealership and had broken the Guinness World Record for number of jobs held by one person. It was something like 367. That was a viable feature by itself. But Franco was more than a serial employee, he was a character He had bushy, salt and pepper hair and a personality that sucked you in so you couldn’t say “no.” To show you how well a car he was trying to sell you was taken care of, he’d flamboyantly pop its hood, remove the radiator cap and take a dropper from a bottle marked “Vitamin E” and drop some of the liquid, probably just water into the radiator. “See!,” he’d announce with his devastating smile. “We treat it with the love vitamin so you know it’ll love you back!”
Whatever. He was entertaining and made a good subject. So much so, for my grad school magazine writing class I decided to conduct a much more in-depth interview with him.
So we sat around for a couple of hours in his tiny office in a trailer at the dealership on Tucson’s busy Speedway Blvd. In the course of the interview we traded fantasies. His fantasy was to make as many people happy in the world as he could. That’s why he changed jobs so often–to meet people and make them happy with his always completely-full outlook on life. I mentioned I’d give anything to be the guest host just for one night on the Tonight show. Then we moved on with the interview and I never gave it another though. It was just two guys bullshitting.
About a month later an envelope show up in my mailbox. The return address was just a giant “Tonight.” Did someone send me tickets to the show? That would be cool.
Then I opened it to find the letter shown here. It was basically a very gentle rejection note thanking me for my interest in being making an “appearance” on the Tonight show and but after “consideration” I didn’t make the cut. I couldn’t figure out what was going on until I remembered my conversation with Franco Damonico. So I called him. “Yeah!” he laughed. “I told you. I like to make people happy and I wanted your fantasy to come true! Sorry it didn’t work out, you woulda killed!”
Well..I don’t know about that, but I would have taken that shot in a heartbeat. My first guest would have been Franco Damonico. Wonder what he’s doing. I hope it something that makes him happy.