Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Patrick Flynn and Ronald Tipton, 2016.

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

-- Larry E.
Time II

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Paging Wild Bill and Frantic Frank

After finishing eleventh grade, my days of riding the school bus were over. The new consolidated high school was complete and stood on a hill one-quarter mile from my home. Now I could walk to school right across the neighboring field. If it was bad weather, I could drive. There were no more basement boiler rooms substituting for classrooms as at NORCO. We would be the first graduating class of the shiny new Owen J. Roberts Joint Junior Senior High School.
They laid a corner stone way back in 1957 after starting the foundation. We as a class put something in the time capsule. I no longer remember what that was. (They opened that corner stone on the fiftieth anniversary.) Dignitaries were at the ceremony, even the widow of Owen J. Roberts. Owen Josephus Roberts (pictured right) was a Supreme Court Justice named to the bench by Herbert Hoover. He was born in 1875 and died in 1955. He served in a lot of important offices over the course of his life.

The new school was a big deal, a real media event. It was the first new school to be built anywhere around Eastern Pennsylvania in a long time and was considered a showcase. It was state of the art on the outer edge of technology. Wow, we even had a nuclear energy panel in the Physics lab. Exactly what this did is beyond me. It was just a toy to show off. They held an open house and  showed off a lot of toys, such as the large and modern microscopes for our biology lab. Every desk had one of these beautiful instruments set upon it at open house. They locked away all the microscopes when classes started so students didn’t damage them.  The school was to be the centerpiece of life for the administrators and faculty. It was their job to prevent we students from smudging the walls or breaking the expensive toys.

First day it rained we found out the roof leaked.

I rebounded nicely from eleventh grade and finished my senior year with a 2.67 average, a solid B. I had a smattering of A’s sprinkled through every subject, except Physics. I was counting the days until I could be free from school, but at the same time I came to enjoy Twelfth Grade. One oddity was I had eleven study halls a week in Twelfth Grade. I never had homework because I was able to get it done during the day at school. In fact, I usually didn’t have enough homework to fill up my time in all those study halls.
The most ridiculous aspect of this was I had a study hall in eighth period every single day. Why? I usually had all my assignments done by the time of this Study Hall and it was the last period of the day. Why couldn’t we just go home?
You see, with educators it is much more important to put in the time than to put any knowledge in the pupils heads. Somehow being a clock watcher automatically drenches us in education.
.
Ray Ayres and I used to slip out of some of our study halls. I’m not sure what our excuse was, maybe we didn’t even bother making one up. Some of the teachers understood these study halls were a bit excessive and more like detentions. It never hurt to have reprobations of non-troublemakers in order to curry favor from teacher. Ray and and I were considered good boys.
We knew there were certain periods when we had study hall, but no one had music, so those were the times we picked to disappear and the music room is where we went. This was a neat modern rehearsal room built into the new school. The acoustics were excellent and even more important there was a record player in the music room. We would hole up in there and listen to Tom Lehrer songs. We both liked Lehrer as well as Stan Freberg and Bob and Ray.
Section 12c were a great group of classmates, but the school viewed us as a bunch of slackers. We were in Academic. There were three Academic Sections. We were 12c. I think the c stood for clowns. We were clowns. There were four people officially named as Class Clowns in the yearbook. All four were in my section. I should have been in that group, too, but I guess they wanted to limit it to two guys and two gals. To be honest, I felt a bit put out that I was not included as a class clown. Maybe, though, it was better that I was overlooked. All four of those elected class clowns are deceased. Richard Ray Miller, Ray Ayres, Betsy Fillman and Nancy Bright were the selections (pictured left) and every one is now dead.
Whenever you saw Ray and Richard in school that year you saw me, we were always together.
The school almost pretended Section 12c didn’t exist. We had committed a great sin. We elected General Math rather than Solid Geometry/Trigonometry. They offered General Math as an alternative. Why offer it if you don’t want anyone to take it? And why wouldn’t I take it? I considered myself brain dead when it came to math and I knew I wasn’t going to college; my parents had told me so. Why go into those more advance courses and get another D or maybe even an F? I may not have been good at math, but I was no dummy.
I still wasn’t a troublemaker either, but I did have a moment in one of those insufferable superfluous study halls. Because we had so many study halls the teacher of this one allowed us to talk with each other rather than pretend we had work to do. I forget who had that period, it was a woman teacher, one of the younger ones. Anyway, we could sit in little groups and chat as long as we didn’t get too loud, but our regular teacher was out sick one day and we got a substitute. She wasn’t on staff, just one of those itinerant teachers that fill in where and when needed. She sat at her desk reading a book while we gathered in our little bunches and were chattering as usual. Suddenly, she slapped her book down and said, “Stop this talking. I can’t even focus on my book.”
I replied, “Then you haven’t learned to concentrate.”
I expect a laugh from the class, but instead there was dead silence.
I don’t remember any dire consequences of that faux pas, beyond feeling foolish. I think someone spoke up and explained it was what our regular teacher allowed and the substitute just asked us to be a bit quieter.

Speaking of focus, classes were not the main focus to me, just incidental annoyances. I showed up, did as little as I could get away with and kept my mouth shut most of the time. Here is what I had and how I did.
I had Margery Kelz for Physics. She also taught Trigonometry, Algebra and Chemistry. She was a very bright lady. I don’t remember much about her classes. She wasn’t overly hard on us and we didn’t blow up the school. I wish I had her for Chemistry instead of Marlin Horne, I might have learned something. Even so, physics fizzled out for me, so I guess she proved less impressive to me than I've made her sound.  I started strong with a solid B the first semester, but all C’s with one D in the second half. I finished with a C. I guess I could now forget a scientific career with definite certainty.


I got a solid B in Problems of Democracy, straight across the board. It and Physics were the only subjects I didn’t get at least one A, though. We had an excellent teacher for this subject. Mr. Robert Lloyd was a bit geeky looking, but everyone respected him. There were no disruptions during his classes. He kept it interesting and brooked no nonsense. He had a sharp mind and an even sharper tongue.  He was one of those rare teachers all the students either liked or feared, but either was listened to him and didn't interrupt.

His son was in the senior class, but not my section. He was in the "elite" section, where he was considered, "Mt Personality". His name was Galen Lloyd and he was one of the heartthrobs all the girls wanted to date. Ha, you should see him now! Sorry, Galen, age wasn’t kind to you. That goes for me, too.
  

Left: Galen Lloyd 1959                                                                     Right: Galen Lloyd 1999


My unfortunate general math teacher was Cameron Myers. He was another fresh face right out of college. He didn’t get much respect and students didn’t pay attention and listen in his class. He often got very frustrated about it, but with teachers I think you either have it or you don’t. It was near impossible to learn in his class because of the noise and misbehavior, and then he'd get mad, but all he ever did was yell and bluster about it.
Granted, he was working with a handicap; he got us. I don’t mean that to imply we were bad seeds and miscreants.  As I said, the school didn’t like us of Section 12c  because we took General Math and they kind of had it in for us. Mr. Myers was an innocent
bystander caught in the crossfire. The administration didn’t even give us any math books. Mr. Myers was reduced to handing out mimeographed questionnaires for homework. He did all his classroom teaching on the board. How do you study math without a book? You don’t. It was another class I started strong, but sagged in the second semester. I had a B the first half, with even an A on my Midterm, but I dropped to Cs after that and finished with a C plus average.


In Art I got all Bs with one A thrown in. I was studying more advances lessons at home through a correspondence course and expected to do better in school than I did. However, Art wasn’t a great place to be that year. The problem with Art wasn't the subject; it was the teacher, Mr. Louis Gaston. I had him before and he was okay, but he misjudged an incident in twelfth grade that turned him into a mockery and he never got total control of the class after it, nor of himself. 


There was a hot rod thing that year. It was a put down that had grown as common as a cold. Guys would bark at your car, implying it was a dog. It was a way to say your car wasn’t cool, that it was ugly and it was slow, that it would be a loser in a drag race. Every time you turned about there would be barking in the air. It was utterly impossible to escape anywhere around guys with cars. Early in the year Mr. Gaston was parking upon arrival at school. There were students coming and going as well. As he got out of his car somebody barked at it. Woof! Woof! Mr. Gaston glanced about and saw two boys lounging nearby. He walked over and slapped the one boy.
He came to class and ripped into everybody that morning. He yelled about respect for teachers and how he had been personally insulted. After that we kids took him as a total buffoon. We knew what the barking meant and it wasn’t anything personal, it was mostly a joke. Nobody was disrespecting the teacher. It was a fad kind of thing we did to each other. He probably should have felt more honored he got barked at than disrespected.
The father of the boy Gaston slapped wasn’t pleased. Somehow he got Gaston’s address. He went to the house. When Mr. Gaston answered the door, the father slapped him. It was turning into a mess and a legal case.
Naturally for ever after, at least that year, when Mr. Gaston walked down the halls, somebody would bark. When he turned his back in class, somebody would bark. Where ever he went, somebody would bark. Instead of laughing it off or ignoring it, which would have gradually ended it, he got more and more infuriated. He would lectured us before class and give dire warnings about barking at him. He seemed to take it personal not understanding it wasn’t him, but his car that drew the barks. His constant paranoia just brought more mocking. It wasn’t a pleasant time to be taking Art.
I got my usual satisfactory in Gym. I had a great year in PhysEd for once. I had come into twelfth grade very apprehensive because they had always made the boys climb the ropes in their senior year. The ropes hung down from the beams under the gym roof. You were to climb up a rope, touch the beam with one hand, and climb back down. Besides feeling I didn’t have the upper body strength to pull myself up, I was much more afraid of succeeding and having to go so high in the air. I don’t know what happened, but we never got around to rope climbing.

I still sucked at basketball and couldn’t do the horizontal bar or the rings, but I shined in other activities, such as the pommel horse and tumbling. I went undefeated in wrestling. Ray Ayres was a champion wrestler both at school and at the YMCA. He was coaching me. My toughest match was against Phil Hahn who was my height, but probably outweighed me by fifty pounds. Halfway through our bout he caught me square on the nose with his elbow. My nose was gushing blood, but I still pinned him. As we finished Mr. Buckwalter was standing over us yelling, “Who got blood on my nice clean mats!” That Marine D.I. always came out.


One of the funniest things that happened in gym was the day Ray Ayres clobbered Mr. Buckwalter. Ray was also a champion gymnast. He was the star of the school’s annual gym show. We were working the equipment in gym class. Ray was performing on the parallel bars. There was one maneuver where he pushed up to a handstand, then threw his arms out to land on his shoulders and do a roll. Mr. Buckwalter was a bit too close when Ray threw his arms straight out and Ray caught him in the jaw. He knocked Mr. Buckwalter out. Everybody always wondered if it was really an accident.
I was also the boxing champ for gym that year. There was a round robin tournament of all the gym classes and I won it. I don’t know if practicing those boxing moves in the Manly Art Course helped, but they sure didn’t hurt. My real secret weapon was an ability to take a punch. I got knocked down right at the get go of my final match. I was angry about this. I beat the count to my feet and I just wailed into my opponent. I took total control and knocked him down till they stopped it and raised my arm.
In Tenth Grade I had a 2.75 average in French I. In Eleventh Grade I had a .50 and got a D. I just passed French II. In Twelfth Grade my French III average was 3.50 for a B plus that could have easily been an A minus. I had Mrs. Grim for French II and I couldn’t stand her. Apparently she couldn’t stand my French. In Tenth and Twelfth Grades I had Mr. Elliott. Mr. Elliott was always complimenting me. He kept telling me what a nice boy I was and how much he enjoyed having me in his class. Quite frankly, I don’t think my French was ever very good.

Near the end of twelfth grade Mr. Elliott had become very good friends with another boy in the class. The night of graduation, when the rest of us headed out to parties, this boy and Mr. Elliott headed out somewhere together. I have often wonder why I got such good grades and excellent in deportment from Mr. Elliott, but it certainly couldn’t have been my parle Francais. I wondered what that other boy’s marks were.
I don't want to make more of this than what I saw. I know nothing about where they went or did, just that it struck me as odd then and still does.

For English I had Mrs. Agnes Manser, my mentor. Yes, that's right, another teacher I could actually sing the praises for. Talk about counting on one hand, Miss Ezra way back in third grade, Mrs. Pollcok and Mr. D in Junior High and now Mrs. Manser. Add that librarian at Downingtown and these are the few people who encouraged this joker to keep on writing and striving. Mrs, Manser  certainly gets credit for making me a star in my senior year. I had friends by then, but Mrs. Manser made me popular. I had been nicknamed Frank for my horror literature; now thanks to her I was to also become Frantic Frank and Wild Bill, The Barber of Silly and Mr. Hearse.

I am not certain exactly how it came about. Some of the other kids bothered to her that I wrote poems and stories. Mrs. Manser asked me to bring in my poems and she would give me a period to read them to the class. I read 26 poems. Soon after that she asked me to do the same with my short fiction. I brought in a half dozen of my stories and read them. Everyone was very receptive and complimentary.
Not long after these reading, Mrs. Manser approached me about writing a piece for the school at large. The Seniors in Academic were going to perform this assembly in which the one of the other academic sections was acting out a parody of Macbeth. She wanted the audiance to have an introduction to William Shakespeare before the parody. She asked if I could write a funny play that would at the same time give a bio of Shakespeare and a history of the theater in his time. I took on the challenge, which much to my surprised succeeded. My play was simply titled, “Shakespeare and the Theatre”, but it got plenty of laughs, more than the professionally written parody. I played the lead, Wild Bill Shakespeare. The name Wild Bill stuck along with Frank. Peggy Whitely and Phil Hahn (pictured right during the play) also had featured parts.

The Macbeth parody almost ended as a true tragedy when Walter Marston (known to everyone as “Wally Segap”) nearly lost a thumb in the sword fight. They took him to the hospital for stitches. When you do comedy and they say leave them in stitches, this is not what they have in mind. They mean the audience, not the actors.
Two things developed from this assembly. Mr. Heinbach, who was directing the Senior Play that year approached me and asked if I could write a stand-up piece to fill in between acts. I wrote a routine called “Frantic Frank on Musick.” My first performance was on February 24, 1959 and I made a tactical error that opening night. When they introduced me I stepped on stage carrying my trumpet case. I was supposed to be a Jazz Musician. I set the case down, opened it and took out a sandwich that I began to eat. I feinted surprise to see an audience and then went into my joke routine. This was fine and dandy, except the first night I made a peanut butter sandwich. I took my bite and almost couldn’t talk. I made plain bread and butter after that. The picture is me in makeup. 


There was a minister in the audience who enjoyed my act. He came backstage after the show and asked if I would do it at his church. I did.I now found myself a stand up comedian on tour.
The second thing that happened was on March 6, 1959.  Ray Ayres and I began to M.C. school dances as Gravely and Hearse (a takeoff on two successful DJ rivals of Dick Clark and Bandstand named Grady and Hurst – pictured with their crew on the right). We told jokes, mostly in the mode of Roland, a late night host of Shock Theater, introduced the records and did our best to get the wallflowers on the floor.
In the spring the school did a Variety Show. It consisted of different acts, an accordion player, a tap dancer, a piano player, and so forth. Mrs. Doris Hunter,(right) who was directing the show asked Ray and I if we could put something together as a closing act. We enlisted Richard Ray Miller and the three of us created a skit called “The Barber and the Boy”. It was a three-character comedy, despite only two named in the title. I played the Barber, Ray Ayres was the Boy and Richard Ray Miller played the Man. It was basically sight gags and slapstick.
The Boy comes into the shop for a haircut. I show him to the chair. Just as he sits down in walks the Man. The Man proceeds to remove several coats, shirts, pants and hats. The Boy has a large lollypop. He goes and hands it to the man to hold. I do various things while cutting his hair. I snip off an ear with a hedge clipper (fake rubber ears, real hedge clipper), and then I lather up his face for a shave. Meanwhile, the Man gets up and does silly dances or other things. I cover The Boy’s head with a scorching hot towel. When I remove it the Boy is bald. He points a finger at me as if it is a gun. There is a loud bang and I fall to the stage, circle about on my elbow and then fall head first off the apron into the aisle where I summersault into a dead spread eagle position. I had to stay this way until the audience filed out.

It was risky business snipping off one of the rubber ears with the large and bulky hedge clippers. I imagine today our little act would have been banned as too violent and I would have been arrested as a terrorist for bringing hedge clippers to school.

We also wrote a second skit we did at the halfway point of the show. This was the “Flea Spray Ad”. Here it is in its entirety:
Two men come on stage to dance before the curtain. They spot a sexy French Girl in the aisle with a poodle. One man goes downstage to pet the dog.  When he returns he is itchy. The other man starts to help him scratch. A Third Man enters with a squirt gun. He sprays at the men and they stop scratching. The Third Man smiles and they thank him and the first two men exit. Then the Third Man gets itchy and falls onto the stage floor scratching. The other two men return and carry him off.

This was our cast:
1st Man                                                           Ray Ayres
2nd Man                                                          Larry Eugene Meredith
French Girl                                                      Jeanette Richards
Spray Man                                                      Richard Raymond Miller

Call it silly or corny, but these things got great audience reactions and made us water-ooler names in the class and around the campus. I had come a long way from invisible geek I was in Downingtown Junior High.


I had been doing some parodies of TV commercials about the schoolyard and these usually drew a bit of a crowd. Perhaps these were the things someone told Mrs. Manser about. I don't know, but here is an example of the kind of thing I was doing, a parody of a Peals' Beer ad campaign that was popular at the time. Two of my favorite Radio comedians did the voices in the ads, Bob & Ray.

DART LESSON

A PLAY IN ONE ACT

                 
(Harry Peals is playing darts and he knocks over a tall glass of beer setting on a table.)

HARRY
Oops.  I’ve knocked over Bert’s beer.  I hope he doesn’t come back for a while.

(Enter Bert.)
BERT:
Harry, what’s this mess on the floor?

HARRY
That’s your Peals’ beer, Bert.

BERT
What’s it doing all over the floor, Harry?

HARRY
I was just playing some darts and one slipped.

BERT
Well, get me another bottle of my Peals’ Beer, Harry.

HARRY
(Looking in cabinet.)

We seem to be out of glasses. Should I put it in a coffee cup?

BERT
No coffee cups in here.  Get some glasses.

HARRY
I’ll have to go see George.  Put on the live shot, Bert.

 (Exit Harry.)

BERT
There it is, folks.  Peals!  The cooled-brewed beer with the barrel of flavor.

     (Enter Harry.)

HARRY
George didn’t have any glasses either.  I brought a brandy snifter. Never mind, Harry.  I’ll drink it from the bottle.

HARRY
Maybe a wine carafe?

BERT
I’m burning your dart board, Harry.
Fade out.



EXCEPT FROM "FRANTIC FRANK ON MUSICK!"

Don’t snicker!

That’s nothing to shake an Elvis at!

My music must be beautiful, because people cry when I sing.  If they would only draft Fabian, I could be on top.  Girls scream when I sing, the only thing that worries me is they get up and run from the room.

I fugue if I could add a beat to a fizzing Alka-Seltzer I would have a hit.

I could be as great as Zebalon Keck.

Surely you’ve heard of “Kookie” Keck?  He wrote the great hit “I’m Singing Through My Nose 'Cause they Told Me to Shut My Mouth”.

I could have been on top now if it hadn’t been for “Kisses Sweeter Than Wine”.  They liked Jimmie Rodger’s version better than mine.  I still think mine had a nice sentiment:
  
Well, when I was a young man and never been kissed,

I fell down a well and was never missed.
So, I got me a rope and I climbed out and then,

And then, oh Lordy, I fell down again!


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