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Terry Dullum

Terry Dullum recently completed a nearly 40-year career as anchor, producer and reporter with WDAZ-TV in Grand Forks.  He was part of a newsroom that won a national Edward R. Murrow Award and an Upper Midwest Regional Emmy Award. He was the anchor and producer of WDAZ News @5.  More than eight hundred episodes of his popular video essay series, The Dullum File, aired on WDAZ and WDAY-TV in Fargo. A North Dakota native and a graduate of the University of North Dakota, he is also a popular speaker and emcee.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Fair Memories

When the Red River Valley Fair rolls around each year about this time in West Fargo, N.D., a rare moment of nostalgia sometimes comes over me. Sometimes.

Allow me to paraphrase Marilyn Hagerty each (and every) Christmas Eve. Excuse me, please. But I must go back. If only for five minutes and only in my thoughts, I have to go back.

When I think of the “Fargo fair,” I think of our band days. In this case, the band is the Hillsboro (N.D.) High School Band.

For some of us — me, anyway — band wasn’t just the best reason to go to high school, it was the only reason to go to high school. In no small measure because of the band trips.

The fair board used to invite a different area band to perform each day of fair week. It was a pretty easy gig, as I recall. We would march in our (wool) uniforms through the fairgrounds in the late morning or early afternoon, then do a short preshow concert in front of the grandstand in the evening. Something like that. This was when the fairgrounds was still in north Fargo, near Hector Airport.

The rest of the day, we were left to our own devices. That meant the midway. How we could spend an entire day on a carnival midway without boredom today seems mind-boggling. Then, it was no problem.

The fair wasn’t our only annual band trip. There were parades, community celebrations and each spring, the WDAY Band Festival, a huge, televised parade with upward of a hundred other high school bands.

And then there was the infamous Tom Jones scandal. Not Tom Jones, the singer. “Tom Jones,” the movie.

It happened on one of those band trips to Fargo. It may have been the band contest we competed in — and usually won — each year. Whatever it was, I remember we finished our band business in the morning, leaving most of the rest of the day free for shopping or whatever. It was that “whatever” part that caused the problem.

Some of us decided we wanted to see a movie. And not just any movie.

Although it would be tame by today’s standards, even something of a minor classic, then “Tom Jones” was considered by many to be naughty. Very naughty. This was 1963, understand.

We didn’t know it was supposed to be a classic, we just wanted to see how naughty it was. And if it lived up to its enormous, titillating hype.

That meant a fairly long trek on foot from downtown Fargo, where our bus was parked for the day, to Moorhead, where the movie was playing.

As it turned out, the movie wasn’t as “good” as some of us had hoped. Some of us left in the middle of the film in order not to be late for the band bus, which was scheduled to leave for home at exactly, let’s say, 4 o’clock. Some of us stayed till the end of the movie, running back just in the nick of time. And some of us stayed till the end, taking our time walking back, thinking the bus would never leave without us, no matter what.

The bus left. Some of us made it. Some of us didn’t. Our band director, James “Buck” Holo, held the bus for a few minutes. Very few.

Those of us left behind in the big city had the embarrassing task of finding alternative transportation home. Not to mention explaining to our parents what we were doing at “that” movie.

I don’t recall the exact punishment. I do remember something about written letters of apology. At any rate, we gave them something to talk about Monday morning at school.

Funny thing, not only did Mr. Holo remember the incident 20 years later at a class reunion, he remembered names!

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Most Frequently Asked Questions (About My Mustache)

Q:  Why — at your advanced age — did you decide to grow a mustache?
A:  I was asked to. It’s for my role in “Death by Chocolate,” the Fourth annual Firemen’s Ball on July 27 at the Mason Lodge in Grand Forks. It’s a fundraiser for the Fire Hall Theatre. I’ll be playing a detective, and everyone knows all detectives have mustaches.

Q:  I didn’t know you could act.
A:  Not everyone agrees that I can. By the way, that’s not a question.

Q:  Have you had a mustache before?
A:  Yes, back in 1973.

Q:  How did you look with it then?
A:  Stupid. But it was 1973, and we all looked stupid in 1973. All men, anyway.

Q:  How long did you have it?
A:  I can’t remember, but I think about six months.

Q:  Why did you stop wearing it?
A:  I was about to audition for a television job, so I shaved it in an effort to look more clean-cut. It may have worked because I got the job.

Q:  Anything surprise you about this one?
A:  Yes. It grew in faster and much more gray than I expected.

Q:  Does it itch?
A:  No.

Q:  Do you like it?
A: No.

Q:  Does Ginny like it?
A:  She says she does.

Q:  Can we see a picture?
A:  No.

Q:  Why wouldn’t you just wear a fake one?
A:  I don’t know.

Q:  Do you intend to keep it?
A:  Yes. For about an hour after the performance.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Giant Of The Senate

I’ve never been much for writing book reviews. Mainly because I don’t know how to write book reviews. Call this one an appreciation. (If you feel you have to call it anything at all.)

I noticed a lot of interest in “Al Franken: Giant of the Senate” on Facebook and elsewhere. So, here we go.

The new memoir follows Sen. Al Franken’s path from kid to comedian to politician to public servant. From somewhat humble (?) beginnings (he claims to be the first in his family to own a pasta-maker), to Harvard, then “Saturday Night Live,” Hollywood, more “SNL” and finally, the U.S. Senate.

For those who worry that Franken has lost some of his sense of humor in becoming Sen. Al Franken, don’t. He’s every bit as funny as he always was. In fact, over the past decade or so, he seems to have been saving it up.

For starters the book has some of the funniest footnotes ever. Pretty much all of them. Here’s an example. “A note on style from the author:  Because I’m a United States senator, I can’t use the word ‘bull__.’ Even though Washington is indeed awash in bullshit.”

(Apologies for use of the b-word. It will never happen again. On the other hand, it’s nothing you won’t hear on “Conan” every night. Anyway, the quote wouldn’t make any sense without the full word.)

The centerpiece of the book is Franken’s retelling of his 2008 Senate win in a particularly nasty (even by today’s standards) Minnesota election race against incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman. A race in which his Republican opponents tried to paint him as a “Tax-Dodging, Rape-Joking, Pornographer.”  The razor-thin win, the recount and the appeals process that lasted for half a year kept Franken from taking his Senate seat until July 2009.

There’s a chapter on how the comedian had to suppress his humor once he got to the Senate, so as to be taken seriously by voters and the press.

There’s a chapter on the mistakes he has made there, especially early on, about which he is brutally honest. He’s made some good ones. Like getting caught, while presiding over the Senate, rolling his eyes and smirking at remarks being given by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on C-SPAN. Not good.

There’s a chapter on how Franken made friends with Republicans once he got to the Senate. Real friends. His technique: First, make them laugh. Then make them friends. Those Franken friends include the likes of former senator, now attorney general, Jeff Sessions, of all people. I didn’t see that one coming.

There’s a chapter, that’s probably gotten the most press, devoted to Ted Cruz, not universally loved in the Senate, to say the least. “I like Ted Cruz more than most of my other colleagues like Ted Cruz. And I ‘hate Ted Cruz.”

Franken and friends have some pretty good reasons for their Cruz hatred. Among them, a freshman senator, two months into his first term, lecturing a 20-year Judiciary Committee veteran on the Constitution and calling McConnell a liar on the Senate floor.

Reading “Giant,” I actually learned some things about government in Washington. Like, how a bill becomes a law. How a bill “actually” becomes a law. (This is not your father’s political memoir.)

All in all, “Giant of the Senate” is far and away the funniest 400 pages I’ve ever read about politics and government. It’s a flat-out terrific read for political junkies and nonjunkies alike, from an exceptionally dedicated member of the Senate, a little short of infallible, but like his friend and political mentor Paul Wellstone, extremely long on heart and soul.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Top 10 Coolest People Alive

A new biography of David Letterman has reminded me just how much I miss those nightly Top 10 lists of his. So much so that I thought it might be fun to put together one. Not the ha-ha, funny kind. But for no particular reason,  a list of the coolest people I could think of.

My cool criteria is simple. It’s based mainly on achievement. To make my list, nominees also have to have displayed at least semblance of empathy and kindness for people other than themselves some time in their lives, not always easy for celebrities.

Honorary mention goes to the likes of Steve Martin, Benedict Cummerbach and Martin Freeman. Lots of others. Sorry, Kanye.

Admittedly, my list is a bit top-heavy with entertainers and more than a little thin on women. I’ll try to do better next time.

Like just about any list, it is more than a little subjective. It’s also subject to change at the drop of a hat by me.

There’s no need to critic the list. Just make one of your own.

Here we go.

10. Lin-Manuel Miranda. Anyone who can bring history to younger people and hip-hop to older people AT THE SAME TIME must be cool. I suspect with his talent and versatility, he is just getting started.

9. Bette Midler. About the biggest thing on Broadway right now, starring in a revival of “Hello Dolly!” At age 71, not too shabby. She’s also been a lifelong activist.

8. Neil Degrasse Tyson. Someone who would be good to have lunch with. The author of the new, best-seller “Astrophysics for People in a Hurry,” a book so popular it sold out on I know because we had to wait extra days for our copy. Anyone who can make science cool IS cool.

7. Willie Nelson. His choice in herbs may not be to everyone’s liking, but Willie Nelson has written simply some of the best songs of all-time, like “Crazy” and “Funny How Time Slips Away.” His career, creating music and fighting the establishment, has been perfectly consistent for decades. He gets extra credit for Farm Aid.

6. Jimmy Kimmel. Already the most likable of the late night comedians, Jimmy Kimmel’s level of coolness went through the roof for me a few weeks ago. Born with a heart defect, his son’s medical condition was still in jeopardy when Kimmel made an impassioned, televised plea for healthcare for every child. Cool.

5. Prince Harry. Not entirely unscathed by mild scandal as a young man, Prince Harry reached a new level of cool maturity for me recently when he pledged to devote the rest of his life to supporting veterans suffering from psychological injuries.

4. Barack/Michelle Obama. No doubt the most controversial of the list. Politics aside, if that’s even remotely possible these days, while leading the free world, they ran a scandal-free, stylish administration and raised two decent kids at the same time. Like another former resident of the White House who taught his colleagues how life-after-Washington is done, Jimmy Carter, I suspect the Obamas have a lot more to offer.

3. Paul McCartney. Another fine singer-songwriter whose music won’t be going away anytime soon. Think “Yesterday.” Still performing and recording at age 74.   Also, he was one of the Beatles.

2. Al Franken. A really good comedian. A really good writer. A really good public servant.

1. Tony Bennett. This one doesn’t need any explanation. I once heard Tony Bennett described as the coolest man in any room he happens to be in. It’s true. I’ve been in one of those rooms. No one’s life is quite as charmed as it seems from a distance, but his may really be, filled as it is with singing during work hours and painting in his “down” time.

Perhaps a state/local/regional edition sometime.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Mr. Warmth

Today is Don Rickles’ birthday. It’s also my mother’s birthday, but that’s another story and another post.

Don Rickles died a month ago. If you’re like me and you always wanted see him live but never did and you feel cheated, the next best thing may be to watch the terrific John Landis documentary “Mr. Warmth.”

Johnny Carson was the first to call him Mr. Warmth. It stuck. The Spanish matador music that signaled his entrance on “The Tonight Show” also meant we were all in for something good. Really good.

Like no one else, Don Rickles could say the most outrageous things to people in his audiences and somehow get away with it. Really, truly outrageous things about race, religion, war. And he kept saying them for almost 60 years. Few took offense. Many regarded a Don Rickles insult as a badge of honor.

He was also a pretty darn good actor, too. He did some good movies like “The Rat Race” with Tony Curtis and some bad (but popular) ones like the “Beach Party” movies.

He attracted friends of all ages, from Bob Newhart to Jimmy Kimmel.

He never stopped working, even at age 90.

It’s all in the documentary. Netflix it. Trust me on this one.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — 40 Years, Who’s Counting?

The picture above of Ginny and me was taken on a pretty cold day, as I recall, a little more than 40 years ago in downtown Grand Forks. Yes, it’s our engagement picture. Yes, we’ve been married for nearly 40 years. And yes, I know, I married “up.” Virtually every man does in my opinion.

When the topic of our anniversary came up with my rather youngish hairdresser the other day, she seemed stunned by the thought of 40 years together with someone. Getting married herself this fall, I think she was, in fact, rendered speechless for a second. To be honest, it’s a little hard for me to wrap my head around it myself.

Despite my many and varied flaws, I can honestly say Ginny and I have never had a fight serious enough for the word divorce to come up. Murder, yes. Divorce, no.

Ginny and I never go to bed mad at each other. We stay up until the problem is solved. Last year, we didn’t get any sleep until March!

Ginny and I are a team. I am not the captain.

I don’t try to run her life … and I don’t try to run my life.

And that’s enough of that.

OK, one more.

It’s not mine. It’s buddy Bob Zany’s. It continues to be a favorite. Introducing her at one of his comedy shows once, Bob asked Ginny how long the two of us had been married. Ginny answered with whatever the double-digit figure was at the time. Then, as only he could, Bob added, “God! Think of the sh*t she’s been through.”

We’ve never made a YUGE deal out of anniversaries, but we are going to be celebrating our “little” milestone (and a pretty big birthday for Ginny) with a cruise later this year.

In the meantime this weekend, we’ll have a quiet dinner together. That’s always the plan, anyway. When we set our wedding date all that time ago, we didn’t take into account our anniversary would land each year on what is for many area schools prom weekend. So, we’ve been fighting prom couples, many of them on their first dates, for restaurant reservations ever since. It’s almost become part of the fun.

We don’t usually exchange anniversary gifts with each other. We have enough stuff already. What we’d really like is another 40 years. Since that’s not likely to happen, we’ll settle for every single good day we can muster together.

To be sure, we’ve had lots of good days already, that pesky “in sickness and in health” part aside. No reason to think there won’t be tons more.

Oh, and thanks, Ginny, for going through all the sh*t with me.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — A Poignant Flood Story

This has never been a very easy story for me to tell. For that reason, I haven’t told it very often.

It had been a very long, very hard day. There had been a lot of April days like that during the 1997 Red River Valley flood. They were long days whether or not you were a television reporter.

It was about a week after the worst of the flooding had hit Grand Forks and East Grand Forks. That day we had covered President Clinton’s visit to Grand Forks Air Force Base, where hundreds and hundreds of people — with nowhere else to go — were being housed. It was late evening. I had talked with Grand Forks Mayor Pat Owens, who was halfway back from Grand Forks by now, into returning to the base so she could be part of a television news “live shot.”

I was shot. I was ready to go home. In this case, home was a camper parked along with a half-dozen or so others in the farmyard of a couple of our friends near Thompson, N.D. Most of us at WDAZ still weren’t able to return to our actual homes because of the high water.

As I was getting ready to leave, a young man, probably in his mid-20s, approached me and said something like, “Will you please help me? I’m trying to find my girlfriend. It’s very important.”

He wasn’t the only one trying to find someone. Hundreds of people, probably more, had been displaced from family and friends in the confusion of evacuating Grand Forks and East Grand Forks, the largest evacuation of people we were told later since the Civil War.

With the internet and even cell phones in their infancy then, in the most primitive way imaginable, we had been reading messages on television, practically around the clock for several days, trying to help people reconnect.

I asked this man to write down his message to his girlfriend on a piece of paper, which I put in my pocket. Somewhat reluctantly on my way “home,” I made a stop at the station and handed the note to one of the anchors in the studio. I didn’t think any more about it.

A week later, I was back at the air base, where hundreds of people were still living. The same man again found me. This time he said, “I want to thank you for helping me locate my girlfriend. I was able to find her about an hour before my father’s funeral.”

He had told me it was important. He just hadn’t told me “why” it was important.

In the months and years since, I have come to believe that that simple, little act, which required no talent whatsoever on my part, may have been the single-most important thing I’ve ever done on television. And with no intention of trying to be overly dramatic, I also believe that in some way it may be one of the most important things I’ve ever done in my life.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Meet Me At The Bates Motel

“Bates Motel” has been one of my very favorite guilty television pleasures for the past couple of years. The A&E series is a prequel, of course, to arguably Alfred Hitchcock’s most popular film, “Psycho.”

I saw “Psycho” back in the 1960s, when I was way too young. Apparently, they didn’t check IDs back then. Anyway, I was too young to have an ID.

Suffice it to say, after seeing the movie I was scared sleepless, maybe for more than one night. I wasn’t the only one, either. Grown women — and men —  stopped taking showers, presumably switching to baths, especially in motels and hotels after “Psycho” came out.

The A&E series has been a lot of fun. We learn a great deal about what brought Norman to his current state. Not without his problems, Norman has been in and out of a mental institution, for instance. And his relationship with his mother has been “complicated.”

It was a little disappointing to learn that, unlike the classic film, “Bates Motel” wasn’t shot on the Universal Studios lot in Hollywood, but rather the Bates Motel and the Psycho house were recreated outside Vancouver, B.C., where the series was shot. It’s cheaper that way, I guess.

In fact, with production of the show’s fifth and final season ended, the motel and house have already been taken down. So have another house and motel at Universal Orlando where several “Psycho sequels” were filmed years ago. The orginals remain as one of the most interesting parts of the Universal Studios Tour, however. The “Jaws” shark and the parting of “The 10 Commandments” sea are just not all that exciting from the tour’s tram.

Any who, the current series is hotting up, what with Marion Crane, no less, being introduced in the latest episode. Just in case you don’t know, Marion Crane is the Janet Leigh character who’s life is cut short, so to speak, in the original movie.

Pop star Rihanna plays Marion (beautifully), now a notary public in somewhat questionable, modern-day Seattle real estate firm.

If he weren’t dead himself, Hitch probably wouldn’t approve of the casting. He preferred to torment blondes like Janet and Tippi Hedren.

Unable to get a promotion or even a raise, Marion decides to walk away with a briefcase filled with $400,000 in cash — up from $40,000 in “Psycho” — that just happens to be floating around the office. She really needs the money, too, to pay for her very expensive business suits and the Mazda Miata convertible she drives.

We just know she’s headed for the Bates Motel. She makes it there, too. We know this because in the teaser for next week’s episode, we see her having a nice cup of tea with Norman in the motel office.

My advice, Marion, after you’ve finished your tea, go straight to bed. Skip the shower.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Prostate Cancer And Reggae Music

I look forward to it every year. What has become for me an annual visit to the UND School of Medicine and Health Sciences. This year was my first time in the school’s beautiful, new building, which opened last summer.

Also invited was Dr. Brent Williams. He’s a Sanford Health urologist in Fargo, a UND Med School graduate and a native of Cavalier, N.D.

We were there to answer questions from second-year medical students about prostate cancer. I used to have it. Dr. Williams knows what to do about it.

Dr. Williams fielded the heavier medical/scientific questions. I mainly got to talk about myself for an hour and actually have people listen.

In their first two years of med school, students will take part in 64 doctor/patient discussions like ours in weekly wrap-up sessions. I never fail to learn something about prostate cancer and myself from them.

The questions are always interesting. What were your symptoms? Answer:  none.  What was it like in the hospital? Answer:  good. What medications were you on after surgery? Answer: Sorry. I can’t remember.

To their credit, the students didn’t so much as smirk when I told them that at my lowest point, sick and depressed after surgery, the only thing that felt remotely good to me was listening to reggae music, which I spent hour after hour doing. Later, one of the doctors-to-be asked for a playlist. True story.