Friday, October 02, 2009

The Great Hollywood Boulevard Elephant Race
This is a picture taken, maybe 25, years ago. It is Richard Paul, an actor, a great friend and on this day Elephant jockey. This is about half a block from the famous intersection of Hollywood and Highland so the Elephant would be just past what is now the Kodak Theatre and in front of Mann's Chinese Theatre. In this shot, Richard is losing his balance and falling off the Elephant while racing it down Hollywood Blvd. They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How many is that already? I would say this one is worth twice as many. Here are just a few more.

Just at the edge of the right frame you can make out the posterior of another Elephant. The jockey riding that Elephant, the one in the lead, is me. Although you can't see me, at this point I am laughing so hard I am about to fall off my Elephant as well.

Now Richard Paul loved to laugh and eat and is generally known for his "portly character roles" in television and film. Click on his name in the previous sentence to link up with all his credits. You have seen him millions of times. His career is very impressive.

On this day, April Fools day to be specific, we were booked to do a publicity stunt in conjunction with Circus Vargas. We were to be the Celebrity jockeys for an Elephant race down Hollywood Blvd benefiting Muscular Dystrophy. I'm not sure how the MDA collected money from this event. For all I know there could have been para mutual betting on the out come.

Richard was a very funny guy and had a great laugh. It was that laugh that was always the prize. His laughter was so infectious it would make anyone around him laugh just as hard as he did. I can't even remember all things we did together or the places we went, all I remember is laughing until I was crying and hurting.

Back to the race. So I am out in front with my Elephant, but riding an Elephant is not a smooth ride. There is as much backward movement as forward as I now recall. I am holding on for all I'm worth because it is a long way to the ground. Richard, however, has more weight to manage and he begins to lose his "Elephant balance". From the rear I hear that incredible laugh punctuating moments of terror. I look back and he is sideways on the beast but hanging on dearly. The site of him hanging on that Elephant and that laugh makes me start to laugh hysterically. Richard, who did a killer impression of W.C. Fields, channeled him at that moment as he is yelling, "Beelzebub stop this monster. Godfrey Daniel. This a pachyderm on a rampage."

Of course all the trainers run to help Richard, which leaves my Elephant totally un- supervised. I have to tell you, the natural instinct of an Elephant, with a novice jockey and no trainer running beside, is not the instinct to continue straight down Hollywood to LaBrea and finish the race. My Elephant decides to head for the crowd of spectators on the sidewalk. The people scream and run, I start yelling for the trainers to come back and redirect my steed, but no one pays any attention to me because I am laughing so hard I can't make it sound like real panic. As my Elephant was reaching the entrance to the Chinese theatre one of the trainers finally gained control. Richard never fell completely off, but the race was declared over due to safety concerns for everyone.

In 1998 Richard died rather suddenly after fighting a very aggressive cancer. His wife Patty asked me to be a pall bearer and speak at his funeral. She asked me to recall some of the funny times we had. I pulled together my top five and prepared for the day I would bid a final goodbye to my friend.

That day in the church Patty came up to me before the start and said, "Thank you so much for remembering Richard like this... He wanted a show biz friend to send him off. I hope you are going to tell the story about the time you both raced Elephants down Hollywood Blvd. That's always been one of my favorite stories."

I was stopped short. Until that moment I had forgotten that story. It was not even in my top ten list of funny stories involving Richard. During my remembrances I said. "How many good times do you have to have with a friend when there would be so many that you would forget about the time you both raced Elephants down Hollywood Blvd." That was my friend Richard.

There is a passage from the Koran that says, "He deserves paradise who makes his companions laugh." I guess this paradise place must be a lot of fun with guys like Richard around.

As you were,


tnhibbard said...

Great story, Jay. I was one of Richard's pallbearers and I remember your eulogy fondly. Richard and I worked on a couple of television scripts together. The word "work" is used here rather loosely. We'd start with lunch at the Beverly Garland Hotel down the street, where Richard would, despite not being of senior citizen age, put on an act portraying himself as an old man for the entertainment of the cashiers. They always agreed to the senior citizen rate for us. Then, we'd go to work at his place on the script, but discussions of politics would interfere. He was a great debater and as soon as he knew your perspective on a political figure or public policy issue he would take the opposite stance. A hour's worth of "work" might well involve five hours of time.

I wrote a novel after Richard's death called "The Lobbyist." It was released on in March. In the book, I used Richard and Patty Paul as characters as a tribute to the good times we had together.

I don't know if you are a reader of novels, but if so I'd be happy to send a book to you if want to see the role that Richard and Patty played in the story.

Roomie said...

Mandy cannot believe that you are on the elephant oustide the pic, but we believe you...and that you and Richard were friends is a wonderful thing...what a funny man, and you are as well....would like to have been "a fly on the wall" or even in the room when the two of you got together and bantered back and forth.....kinda like you and Honey Bun, except better...
Carry on,