The famous and faux pas

My life’s work took me into a world I never expected to see. Behind the scenes of radio and TV broadcasting I had many contacts with people I would never have otherwise met.

In my earlier days recording abilities were very limited. Celebrities would often tour the country, stopping at radio and TV stations to plug their latest movie etc. I shook the hand of Bobby Kennedy, while he was in the studio campaigning for the presidency, just a few weeks before he was assassinated.

I remember operating a studio TV camera when Bishop Fulton Sheen visited the station doing his broadcast from there. I have a picture of the studio crew, including myself, and Bishop Sheen, taken after the broadcast. While I am not Catholic, I always enjoyed his talks.

We had an elderly woman, who hosted an afternoon TV show in which she interviewed celebrities who were in town plugging their latest whatever. One day as she was interviewing a number of celebs, She turned to this world famous gentleman and said, “And Mr. Borge, what do you do?” Oops.

For those of you who don’t remember, Victor Borge was an internationally popular, pianist, and comedian. As I recall, he reacted very nicely, and calmly told her who he was, with no embarrassment to anyone. Some of his shows are still aired on PBS.

In the early days of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, we did it all live in the studio. Celebrities would come from all over the country to appear, and do their thing. We in the studio would be busy all day and all night. I recall one night about 2 a.m., I was standing near the studio entrance when Lorne Green came in. He was the father in the TV western show “Bonanza.” On “Bonanza,” he played an authoritative father figure.

As we were on the air around the clock, with people coming and going, the studio was not very tidy. In fact it was a mess. As he entered the studio, he saw a large TV monitor on wheels nearby. Lying atop the monitor was a small lapel microphone holder. Greene noticed the mike holder on the TV monitor, pointed at it and asked me, with irritated authority, “What is that?” I replied. “It’s a microphone holder.” Greene came back angrily, “Is that where it belongs?” As if that was the only thing in the studio that was out of place. “I guess not,” I replied, as I picked it up and put in a bin on the nearby wall. He must have been hell to work with on the “Bonanza” show.

When Ed Rath was the Erie County Supervisor, he was in the studio. During a lull I happened to be standing near him, and to make light conversation I told him when he wrote his biography he should title the book “The Greats of Rath.” (The Grapes of Wrath) He didn’t seem to get the pun, but maybe he’d heard that before. I once did worse than that.

When I was the manager of engineering, I sometimes went to NBC in New York City, along with all the chief engineers from NBC Stations east of the Mississippi. We were there to become informed on future technical updates, and NBC distribution changes. The affair was hosted by an NBC VP. During a break, he was roaming and getting acquainted with each of us. He told me his wife was having trouble getting him a Christmas present, as she felt he already had everything.

Attempting to be lighthearted, and without thinking I replied, “Doesn’t she know what you give the man who has everything?” “No,” he said, “What is it?” Too late to quit now I replied, “A shot of penicillin!” Oops.

Talk about putting your foot in your mouth. He was about as stone-faced as Ed Rath. Oh well, you can’t win them all. May God bless America.

Richard Westlund is a Collins resident. Send comments to