Monday, April 16, 2018

Friends are family you get to Choose

What's a BFF?

Once in a lifetime you connect with a person who becomes your Best Friend Forever. 

It was a chance meeting at the Circus Circus Reno showroom with a guy who was hired to be my opening act. I don't know what draws a comic magician to a ventriloquist, but it was an instant connection.

I became the "roper" to the "wise guy", the pitchman to the carnival lifestyle of Harry Anderson. Before the two weeks were up at the Reno gig we had hustled the pit bosses, played on the trapeze and cuffed the head of security with his own handcuffs. They closed the showroom after we left and turned it into a Keno parlor.

It was the crest of "Soap" for me, but Harry went on to become the star of "Night Court", "Disney's Absent-Minded Professor" and "Dave's World" as well as several network and cable specials, most of which I participated in either by producing or performing in or both. We co-wrote scripts, acts and I even wrote the introduction to a couple of his books. For a while we were developers for Macintosh software, and even converted a Mac program into an application we sold to Disney. 

But live shows were where we really excelled. We did annual Halloween shows and April Fool's shows and New Year's Eve shows at any venue that would let us do our thing, mostly during the rock and roll days of the Comedy Magic Club in Hermosa Beach. We would spend more time and energy in producing those shows than we did for NBC or CBS. 

After his series ended Harry moved to a Green and Green mansion in Pasadena. We converted his basement into a "walk through" spook house that took months to construct. For a party of special invitees one Halloween we tricked, amazed and scared a group of friends with every illusion we could come up with at the time. It was special enough that David Copperfield flew in, before we took it apart, for a command performance. After we tried to establish several companies together we realized that having fun together was much more interesting to us than trying to make a buck. My wife says, "Jay and Harry play together very well." It was Harry who coined the phrase that became the title to my Broadway show, "Jay Johnson: The Two and Only."

Harry moved to New Orleans where he opened a magic shop and nightclub called "Oswald's Speakeasy" dedicated to Lee Harvey Oswald. There was a drink called the "single bullet" and a "grassy knoll". The men's room was papered with the Warren Commission report. Harry's act was the main attraction. We made a deal that I would come into the club and do my act several times a year so he could go on vacation. The club was going strong for several months, and I was ready one week end to come down and survey the club for my show. I never made it. That very weekend the airport closed due to something called Katrina. The town was never the same, Harry closed the shop, sold the club and moved to North Carolina.

After 30 years of friendship it is not so surprising that he would fly across the country to celebrate my birthday a couple of week-ends ago. There were other friends there, but we could have had a great time just the two of us. As usual his toast was the highlight of the evening. His funniest line, "You have to remember, I knew Jay Johnson before he was what he no longer is today." 

My Buddhist friends say we are friends now because of our connection in a previous life. I don't know about that, but I hope we find each other in the next one. Harry always says, "Friends are the family you get to choose". I am godfather to his kids and he is godfather to mine, so I guess we made it official. 

I don't know why I feel compelled to write about this in the blog except to say this. Hold your friends dear, friendship is one of the great gifts we humans have been given. Don't let friends slip away even if they move across the country. In today's high tech world distance is no barrier. Make sure you tell the people close to you that you value the gift of their very existence. 

BFF is thrown around on the Internet like it was a :) or "sincerely" attached to a letter. Not to me... if I use it, I want to mean it. In this case it could not be more accurate, to me my BFF is a BFD. 

As you were,



MRich said...

I am so sorry to hear of his passing. You were the first person I thought of when I heard the news, remembering all your stories about your friendship. Thanks for the thoughtful words and advise...

Jim Salestrom said...

so sad for you Jay- We loved Harry and the geek / freak stuff he did-- we love you also! Jim and Pam

Ray Hubbard said...

I saw you perform at a function at the Cerritos Performing Arts Center some time after Katrina, and Harry Anderson was the Emcee. Having been to that venue before, I knew my chance to meet him after the show was better than average, and I approached him with a copy of his book "Games You Can't Lose: A Guide For Suckers". As per my request, he signed it: Sucker! Harry Anderson.

You, Jay, signed it as well at the page where you wrote the forward. The price on the cover is $6.95, but to me this is priceless. Thank YOU for being part of OUR lives, and may you take comfort knowing we too will always remember Harry. So sorry for your loss.

P. Grecian said...

JUST heard about Harry. You were the first person I thought of. I am so sorry, Jay. A true friend is a richness beyond compare. You have lost a fortune today. And, for the record, Harry Anderson always made me smile...and always will.

Creature Features said...

Jay -- It's Taylor White from Creature Features. My heart is broken into a million pieces. Your visits with Harry made keeping my doors open worthwhile for nearly 25 years now. Sad to say, we closed our Burbank shop two weeks ago, though without Harry, it would've never been the same anyway. He was a kindred spirit who inspired my life in more ways than I can count. I'm so grateful that he invited me to the final performance you two gave last July. It was a magical evening, now made bittersweet with his loss. Much love to you, his family and everyone whose lives he touched. Just so very, very sad.

Rockelle said...

My dear Jay - this is Rocky from the way back machine of the Comedy & Magic Club and of course good ole Richland/Anderson's Illusions. I am trying to process the fact that I will never get to see Harry again, and that is breaking my heart. You didn't know why you wrote the blog -- but I know one very good reason why as I sit here with tears streaming down my face after reading your words. Thank you so much for them, they are just right. Sending you and your family much, much love.

Danita said...

We had plans to see you and Harry perform in Abbeville, SC, but it was not to be. I met Harry on two occasions in Abbeville thanks to our mutual friend, Michael Genevie. I am so sorry for your loss and grateful to have known Harry.