Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Every Great Comic Trio Needs a Larry

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet."

So posited William Shakespeare in Act II, Scene 2 of Romeo and Juliet.  (I know, I know, the picture is from MacBeth, not Romeo and Juliet. I'll explain later, show some patience. I wonder why the witch on the right looks more like a pirate than a witch?)

"What indeed?" might ask Wild Bill Shakespeare aka The Kid aka Frantic Frank aka The Barber aka Hearse [or was he Gravely] aka Larry.

Yes, The Kid was blessed with the first name of Larry, and that was it, no Lawrence, Lorenzo or Lorenz. This being named essentially a nickname was to give The Kid some problems when he got into school and roll call was taken. Sometimes on the first of these daily routines the roll call would slip into an Abbott and Costello routine.

Pretend Bud Abbott on the left is a teacher and Lou Costello on the right is The Kid. Here is how roll call once went (honest).

Teacher: Lawrence Kid?

The Kid: Here. But it's Larry

Teacher: Yes, but your given name is Lawrence.

The Kid: No, it's Larry

Teacher: No, it's Lawrence now isn't it?

The Kid: No, it's Larry.

Teacher: I will call you Larry if you prefer, but for the record I have to have your proper full name. I am sure that is Lawrence.

The Kid: No, it's Larry.

Teacher: Your parent's did not name you Larry.

The Kid: I know what my own name is.

Teacher: Then what is your full name?

The Kid: Larry The Kid!

Teacher:  Okay, okay. What is your father's occupation? (What this had to do with roll call The Kid doesn't know, but the Teacher did ask.)

The Kid: Transit Expediting Engineer.

Teacher: What?

The Kid: A truck driver.

[The photo is of Larry Fine as a mural over a restaurant on Philadelphia's South Street near where he was born.] 

The "Larry isn't your given name" played over and over from class to class, although not as extensively as it did with that one teacher. Most were willing to except the truth more readily, but that one teacher never wanted to accept The Kid as just plain Larry.

The teacher wasn't a male, she was a woman and we will call her Ms Hurl, because she always made me want to. I had her way too often. Besides homeroom, I had her for English and one day out of a clear blue sky she began a lecture thus: "There is something ignorant about parents who would give their child a name ending in Y. The Y on the end of the name makes it a diminutive. Billy means Little Bill, Johnny means Little John, Timmy means Little Tim. Foolish parents who gives their child such a name causes that child to think of them self as little or insignificant."

Whether The Kid ever felt insignificant because of his name I would say not, but perhaps these silly confrontations honed his sense of the absurdities of life and led him into comedic roles in high school.

Now The Kid had some encouragement about his writing ambitions from the adult world, but not many. Certainly there was none from his parents, who felt this writing thing was on par with a child saying he wanted to be a cowboy when he grew up. Their view was it would pass with age and eventually The Kid would set my sights on a "real job".  There were some, though, such as his Third Grade teacher Miss. Ezra and the young librarian in town, who allowed him to use the library typewriter and critiqued his tales. It definitely wasn't the state guidance councilors who came to the school and told him he didn't have the vocabulary to be a writer; he should consider running a machine instead. They never specified what kind of machine. He did not have anyone you could call a mentor until his senior year and Mrs. M. opened up his words to a wider world.

Some of this late school success came as a single. He was given two public readings of his work, one of poetry and one of his short stories. Since most of this fiction was of the horror genre, he acquired a new nickname, Frank, short for Frankenstein, for he was a creator of his own little monsters. 

Perhaps this nickname led him to create the character, "Frantic Frank," the somewhat spaced-out musician persona he adopted for his stand-up routines. Yes, The Kid did stand-up comedy at his school and some other venues. That is Frantic Frank to the right. Little did The Kid suspect this was a vision of the future as far as the top of his head and his chinny-chin-chin were concerned, although both his fringes would be gray rather than dark in that distant future when The Old Goat appeared.

Actually, The Kid had appeared on stage as another comic character before "Frantic". It was that appearance that led to the opportunity to be "Frantic Frank" and it was an appearance engineered by Mrs. M. She asked him to write a comic assembly explaining Shakespeare. This piece became "Shakespeare and the Theatre" and was performed twice at the school. The three witches at the top of this page were from that assembly, although they were in a bit on Macbeth separate from The Kid's portion. The Kid appeared in the play as narrator and host, "Wild Bill Shakespeare". The success of "Shakespeare and the Theatre" resulted in a request from another teacher for The Kid to write a comic piece for an evening performance at the school, and so jazz trumpeter "Frantic Frank" was born to explain "musick".

But perhaps The Kid's biggest triumphs in high school came when he worked with two others as a trio, and as we know, every great comic trio needs a Larry.

Now The Kid had worked with collaborators before in his short literary career. In Sixth Grade he and his good friend Stu had published and sold a newspaper. Stu and he had also written some songs together, mostly humorous. And later in his teens, The Kid and Rich, his friend from up the road, had written several funny skits and interviews together using a tape recorder. So working with others was not new to the Kid.

It was somewhat new how he met his collaborators this time, though.

There were two, of course, this being a trio. There was Ray and there was Richard Ray and yes it can get confusing. The Kid had his friend Rich and his friend Ray and his friend Richard Ray and his long time friend Ron. When it came to friends, he was ready for some R & R...and R & R.

This triumvirate began before The Kid's senior year and was unusual because he was approached by someone not an outsider. Or was he? 

The Kid was the new boy in school and came with some trepidation after his experiences in the town where he had come from. He did not run into the harassment he had suffered before, but he did not make friends at the new school easily that first year, until some time in the spring when along came Ray. Ray was not someone The Kid would expect to sit down and break bread with in those days. Ray wasn't down there in The Kid's strata; Ray was up in the major leagues.

Although The Kid had improved in some sports, especially baseball, he was a long way from a major athlete. He was a good running back in pickup football games now and he seemed to have an odd ability in sports requiring hitting something over a net. He had finished in the finalists in a Ping Pong tournament back at his old school and he was a fierce volleyball and badminton player. He was also becoming fair at tennis. Basketball continued to elude him as did many of the type of things rolled out for indoor Gym. Apparatus was more likely to conquer him than the other way around.

One day, after bumbling something in Gym enough to draw laughs, The Kid was feeling a bit down. This Ray came up to him and told him not to take it so hard. Then Ray began giving The kid some advice on how to improve in whatever it was. After that day they became fast friends who were always together at school. How, The Kid wondered did this happen? Ray was on the A list, The Kid was somewhere around List Q at best.

Ray was on the A list quite literally; he tended to be a straight A student. He was well behaved and he did his homework, therefore the teachers liked him. This is usually anathema for a teenager with his peers, but in this case — not the case. Perhaps this was because Ray was a four letterman, excelling in every type of sport he decided to attempt.

[Now I must pause and give some explanation because of the passage of years and of generations. In my day and before it, when a person was said to be a three or four letterman it was a compliment. It meant the person was an excellent, outstanding high school or college athlete. A person would be awarded a "letter" if they met certain criteria in sports. The person would wear a letter sweater, which he might give to his sweetheart if they became pinned; that is a steady couple. Now I find in street slang today that the term "three or four letterman" is a derogatory one, evidently originated within the Navy, to mean a Gay man. They use "three letterman" as code for "Fag" and "four letterman" as code for "Homo".]

Ray, although only about five foot six, starred in basketball and track. He was an all-around in track, he ran the dash, the mile, did the pole vault and threw the javelin. He was a champion wrestler and the star of the Gym show, featured on the horizontal bar and the rings. But in one way he was an outsider. He had also been an outstanding football player, but he quit the team on principle. There were a few guys who threatened him for quitting the team, but nothing ever came of the threats. Heck, even the Greasers left Ray alone. He could handle himself.

And the girls loved him. He was cute. 

But for some reason Ray decided to befriend The Kid.

They shared a sense of humor. They found ways to get out of study halls and go to a place in the school where they could listen to Tom Lerher records. Soon they joined with Ray Richard as the three-headed class clown.

Before they became a writing, performing trio with Richard Ray, The Kid and Ray became a duo as DJs at school dances, introducing songs, telling jokes and prodding the shy boys to ask the wallflowers to dance. They parodied the name of a popular television team named Grady and Hurst, who did a Bandstand type show from Wildwood at the New Jersey shore each summer. The Kid and Ray became "Gravely and Hearse". It is no longer clear which was which, but maybe it didn't matter. Maybe they switched names occasionally as all part of the fun.

No matter, eventually the three boys joined up to write and perform comic sketches in the school's variety show.  There they were selling French perfume in the aisles or baffooning it up as The Barber, The Boy and The Man on stage, Richard Ray doing a strange striptease, The Kid slicing off Ray's phony ears with hedge clippers; Richard Ray breaking into an impromptu Polka, Ray slapping people around for trying to steal his giant lollypop and The Kid during a pratfall off the stage into the audience. 

There they were Larry and his partner Ray and his other partner Ray.

There they were The Three Students, Ray, Larry and Richard Ray.

There they were Ray, Richard Ray and Larry gittin' 'er done.

Because every great comic trio has to have a Larry.

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