America Is The Only Country That Went from Barbarism to Decadence Without Civilization In between (Oscar Wilde)
Couples, duos, partners, odd friendships. There have been plenty bizarro ones, some good and some bad. I don’t mean like Flavor Flav and Brigitte Nielsen bad and I don’t mean like Hall and Oates good (though I never appreciated comments of my similarities to John Oates…. Please…John is 5 ft 4 “, that is 1.64 meters for our metric friends and I am at least 8 centimeters taller.) No, I am talking about ones that don’t easily come to mind – like the Liberal Lion, Senator Ted Kennedy, and the Conservative Elk of the Rockies, Mormon Senator Orrin Hatch; American showman Buffalo Bill and the flamboyant Irish poet and writer Oscar Wilde; and the McDonald’s buddies, the Hula burger and the Filet-O-Fish.
Ted Kennedy was red faced and yelling at the top of his lungs. Orrin Hatch pounded the Senate desk and waved his finger at Kennedy in vitriolic disgust. Then the time for debate expired and the two combatants shook hands and exchanged jokes. Their laughter echoed in the chamber as they walked out slapping each others backs. Thus was a typical day for Washington’s odd couple which ended with Teddy’s death on August 26th, 2009 of brain cancer. You could not come up with more opposites: Ted Kennedy, Senator from Massachusetts, patriarch of one of America’s most powerful families, hard boozing, often embroiled in scandal, Harvard educated, and the shining star of liberalism. Orrin Hatch, senator from Utah, mormon, super conservative, non drinker, non smoker, attended what he called the “Harvard of Utah, BYU”, and a pillar of the Conservative movement. The press watched closely as these two titans argued, often compromised, and made many laws, as the two became unexpected best of friends. “One of my motivations for coming to the Senate was to fight Ted Kennedy”, Hatch said. In fact, Hatch said that to say Kennedy’s name was my very best fundraiser in the country, noting they were antagonists for years. Back in the day you were allowed to smoke during committee hearings and according to Hatch you could tell when the two were fighting by the amount of cigar smoke that Kennedy blew in the direction of the nonsmoking Mormon. He said they were forced to change in 1981 when Hatch became chairman of the Senate Labor Committee and Kennedy was the ranking Democrat. Kennedy said the two found they often wanted the same general end results and they actually admired each other and their families. Orrin sat with the Kennedy family when they buried the Kennedy matriarch Rose and Ted sat with the Hatch family when Orrin’s parents passed away. Orrin wrote songs for Ted’s second wedding and his funeral (one of Orrin’s songs is on the soundtrack for the movie Oceans 12). Orrin gave one of the many eulogies at Ted’s funeral and with a shaky voice he finished by saying “I deeply morn this great man and I will miss my Irish friend.”
William Frederick (we share similar facial hair and same first 2 names) “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Oscar Fingal O’ Flahertie Wills Wilde (we share nothing) could not be more different and are another example of history’s odd couples. Buffalo Bill was the real deal: Army scout (won the “Medal of Honor” before Congress changed the rules in 1917), Pony Express rider, wagon train driver, Freemason, buffalo hunter, fur trapper, gold prospector, showman, started the town of Cody, Wyoming, was good friend with Wild Bill Hickok and according to historical novelist Larry McMurtry (Lonesome Dove, Last Picture show, Brokeback Mountain) Buffalo Bill at the turn of the 19th to 20th century was the most recognizable celebrity in the world. Oscar Wilde: Flamboyantly gay Irish playwright, novelist (The Picture of Dorian Gray), poet, Freemason, known for his barbed and clever wit, spent 2 years in the “Big House” in England for being convicted of “gross indecency” – the term for homosexual acts in contemporary British legislation, was the most successful playwright of the late Victorian Age, and one of the great celebrities of his day.
Five years before Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee, Oscar came to America to lecture on Aestheticism and the Decorative arts. He saw Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and became a fan and a friend of Buffalo Bill. Oscar’s fame as the Oxford-articulated, effete intellectual allowed him to book nearly 150 engagements from New York City to Leadville, Colorado where a mine shaft was named in his honor (called The Oscar), and he was dropped by bucket deep into the shaft. Wilde said he hoped shares where included with the honor and to the surprise of the rough and tumble miners, he smoked cigars and drank their whiskey till morning light and was declared “a bully-boy with no glass eye”. It was speculated that Wilde’s success in America may have prompted Bill’s Wild West Show to go to England. On Bill’s impending visit Wilde wrote a piece called “the American Invasion” and wrote that “English people are always more interested in American Barbarism than American Civilization …The cities of America are inexpressively tedious…Better the far West with its Grizzly Bears and untamed Cowboys…This is what Buffalo Bill is going to bring to London; and we have no doubt that London will fully appreciate the show!”
Wilde introduced Cody to Henry Irving, a great actor in England and it was through Irving that Cody came to know the British Royals. It was also through Irving that Cody’s credibility was enhanced above the stature of a circus-master and the avalanche of invitations from British nobility and the upper echelons of the art world poured in Buffalo Bill’s direction. Cody was also an object of jealousy by Irving’s alleged lover Bram Stoker who would go on to write Dracula. Over the next several years, Wilde’s star rose as did Cody’s.
It would be interesting to know what old Bill thought of Oscar’s trial for homosexuality and his subsequent conviction. It started when he became seriously involved with Lord Alfred Douglas, whose Dad was the Marquess of Queensbury (yes, boxing fans, the guy who came up with the ” Queensbury Boxing” rules) Anyway, the Marquess didn’t dig Oscar hanging out with his son Alfred even though Oscar was married with 2 sons (the English Way). Lawsuits were filed, back and forth, and O was sure his fame would protect him. Nope, 2 years in prison and as you might suspect, prison did not serve Oscar well. Friends turned their backs, his wife changed her name, and Oscar died in obscurity in 1900 at the age of 46. One of his last lines were ” My wallpaper and I are fighting a duel to the death. One or the other of us has to go.” Wallpaper wins again.
Bill’s life worked out much better. He continued the Wild West groove and eventually wound that down. Didn’t really “Leave on top,” but pretty close. Died of kidney failure in 1917 at the age of 70. Upon his death tributes were made by King George V of the United Kingdom, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, and President Woodrow Wilson. Much better than battling it out with some wallpaper.
When Lou Groen opened the first McDonald’s in the Cincinnati area in 1959 business was tough especially come Lent. The area was 87% Catholic and on Fridays he would bring in a total of about $50-$75 which wasn’t covering expenses. So Lou came up with idea which he stole from the local Bob’s Big Boy of putting a piece of deep fried halibut and a piece of cheese between a couple of hamburger buns. Lou decided to take it to corporate. Back in those days it wasn’t difficult to get in front of the main man of McDonalds, Ray Kroc and Ray, being Ray, wasn’t pleased with Lou’s sandwich. “You’re always coming up here with a bunch of crap” he told Lou. ” I don’t want my stores stunk up with the smell of fish.” Anyway, I have a much better idea. It’s called the Hula Burger.” This was Ray’s brilliant idea of the meatless burger, just grill a piece of pineapple, throw on a piece of cheese, squeeze it between two buns and there you have it. After much arguing Kroc decided they would put the two together on the menu at selected locations on Good Friday 1962 and whoever sold the most would stay on the menu. Final tally: Hula Burger 6, Filet-O-Fish 358. So the Fish stays and the Hula is forgotten. They also tried for a mascot, Phil A. O’Fish, but like the Hamburgerlar, Phil was put to rest. Now Mac’s sells 300 million Filet-O-Fish a year with 23% sold during Lent. In the eyes of some it was sad to see the Hula Burger and the Filet break up, but one had to go.
I know all those sayings about the road to success (It’s not what you know, but who you know…or It’s not about who you know, but who knows you), but suffice it to say, I’d rather be sitting here with a cocktail watching the sun go down then humming an Orrin Hatch tune, eating a Hula burger, and getting into a knife fight with the wallpaper. Groove.