A lot of you will remember the late Rodney Dangerfield, the perpetually paranoid comic whose catch phrase was “I don’t get no respect,” usually uttered while he ran his finger around the inside of the collar of his trademark white shirt, which was always accessorized with a red tie.
It was in the early 80s, when Dangerfield was at the peak of his career, that I spent an evening with him at, of all places, an LA Dodgers baseball game. Here’s how it happened.
I was in Los Angeles for business meetings and this particular evening I was going to the Dodger game with Anne Murray’s U.S. booking agent, Fred Lawrence, who also happened to represent Dangerfield. Fred and Rodney had a meeting in the afternoon that lasted longer than anticipated. When Fred said that he was going to the baseball game, which, as I recall, started at five o’clock, Rodney said he’d like to tag along. Fred had four tickets for the game, and as he and I were going to use only two of them, Fred invited him along.
Fred picked me up at the appointed time in front of my hotel and the three of us drove out to Dodger Stadium together. I should add that Fred had a great reserved parking spot that allowed us to enter the stadium just a few yards away from our seats, which were also fantastic.
Throughout the evening I was amazed to see that Rodney’s mannerisms in person were exactly the same as they were on stage or on camera. He continually ran his finger around the inside of his white shirt collar (he didn’t have his red tie on), used his handkerchief to wipe sweat from his brow, and seemed to be genuinely paranoid.
Throughout the course of the evening I learned a number of interesting things about this interesting man. For example, his real name was Jacob Rodney Cohen, he was the son of vaudevillian parents, he began writing comedy professionally at age fifteen, started performing on his own at age twenty, and had appeared on the Tonight Show over thirty times.
As Fred dropped me off at my hotel, Rodney said, “Lyman, I have a nephew that writes songs. If I get him to send them to you will you give them to Anne Murray?”
Closing the door of Fred’s convertible, I replied, “No wonder you don’t get no respect.”
As Fred pulled away I heard him say to Rodney, “I told you not to do that.”
Robert B. Dale-Harris
I first met Robert B. Dale-Harris (as he liked to be known professionally) in late March, 1968. It was my first day at the accounting firm of Coopers & Lybrand (now PwC) where he was the second-in-command of the Toronto office. The managing partner at the time was Ken Carter, the legendary head of the Carter Commission, which developed the last major income tax reform in Canada. Carter died shortly after I joined Coopers, and Dale-Harris became my boss and remained so until I left the firm about six years later.
I’d often noted Dale-Harris’ name on accounting studies and in articles about the profession, but had no idea what he looked like; I probably expected some timid little bespectacled bookkeeping stereotype. I definitely wasn’t prepared for an imposing (well over six feet and broad-shouldered), impeccably dressed (almost formally so, with vest, paisley tie and matching pocket square), exceptionally charming, individual whose personality was almost overpowering. And, as I knew he had been born and raised in Toronto, I also wasn’t prepared for the Oxford-accented greeting I received, which was “By Jove, young man, it’s a smashing pleasure to meet you. I’ve heard good things.”
I later learned that a young Toronto accountant by the name of Bob Harris joined the Canadian army during the Second World War and was stationed in England. There, he met and married Leslie Ruth (Dodie) Howard, the daughter of the great actor Leslie Howard (Gone With the Wind; The Scarlet Pimpernel; and Pygmalion, for example). He returned to Toronto as “Robert B. Dale-Harris” and sporting the English accent and mannerisms which he affected until the day he died.
On November 8, 1974, I was sitting in front of his desk while he reviewed some documents we were dealing with. His desk faced the door, so his back was to the window, out of which I had a perfect view of the CN tower, which, although nearing completion, was still under construction. I could make out a number of workers up near what would eventually be the public platform when suddenly one of them jumped off. “My God, Bob,” I exclaimed, “someone just jumped off the CN tower!” He didn’t even look up, let alone look around. He simply said, “Is that so?” and kept on reviewing the documents.
R.B. was indeed an interesting guy; and I’m absolutely certain he would enjoy being included in the same column as Rodney Dangerfield.
(The jumper, a steelworker by the name of William Eustace,
was wearing a parachute and was unhurt. However, he was fired and
fined fifty dollars.)