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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 — What’s My Line?

Even with hundreds of television channels, HBO and all the rest to watch, and Netflix, Amazon and Hulu to stream, sometimes there just doesn’t seem to be “much” on TV.

So, every once in awhile, Ginny and I like to watch “What’s My Line?” The 1950s and ’60s game show is seen currently in all its glorious black and white-ishness on the Buzzr network.

Many of us watched it originally Sunday nights at 9:30 on CBS as something of a ritual. One last weekend hurrah before another week of school would begin the next morning. Seeing it today reminds me just how much television has changed and how good it once was, even in its simplicity.

The game show was moderated by John Charles Daly. His day job the rest of the week was that of radio and television reporter and anchor. No slouch in that department either, he was the first national correspondent to deliver the news of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, among many other feathers in his cap.

The panel was anchored by Bennett Cerf, the founder and publisher of Random House, who introduced the world to fine literature by the likes of William Faulkner and works like “Atlas Shrugged.”

Arlene Francis was a New York actress better known perhaps for hosting radio and television programs, at one point becoming “the first lady of television.”

Dorothy Kilgallen was a hugely popular syndicated columnist who wrote about entertainment and politics. Rumors abounded at the time of her untimely death that she had information about the assassination of President John Kennedy. Questions about how she died linger yet today with a recent biography.

A fourth chair was filled with a rotating cast of panelists including Fred Allen, Steve Allen and others.

All of them were smart, urbane and witty. Mostly smart.

“What’s My Line?” was nothing if not classy. It made an effort to be. The men sometimes wore tuxedoes. The women made their “entrances” at the beginning of the show usually wearing evening gowns and often gloves.

Although they were funny, the panel seemed to take the game seriously.

The game itself was simple. After guests would “sign in” at a blackboard, they would whisper their “line” or occupation to Mr. Daly. Then panelists would ask a series of yes or no questions. “Does your work involve a product?” “Would this product be found in most homes?” For each no, guests would get $5.

Occupations were usually off-beat. A female big game hunter. The father of the Fischer quints. A clearly overweight female packager of “reducing” pills. Often the panel would come up with the occupations with just a few questions asked.

For the “mystery guest” segment, blindfolded panelists would try to guess the identities of people the likes of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Jerry Lewis and Colonel Sanders who would try to disguise their famous voices. Often they were movie and television stars “in town” to promote their latest projects. Usually, identifying them wasn’t much of a challenge for the panel, either.

Put all together, “What’s My Line?” was SOMETHING. It had a certain quality that’s hard to define and one that doesn’t exist much in television today. It was popular with people across the board. It was the longest-running game show in prime-time television.

Although several reincarnations of the show were done as late as the mid-1970s, I’d like to see a new version of “What’s My Line?”

My dream panel would include Craig Ferguson, Paula Poundstone (even though she already does the NPR game show “Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me”) and, maybe, Salmon Rushdie. Somebody like that. My first choice for moderator would be Peter Jennings. Since he is not available, maybe Charlie Rose.

On second thought, “What’s My Line?” might best be remembered as what it was. Something special.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — My Drug Abuse Problem

This is a cautionary tale. It involves drug abuse on my part, no less. Even though it was inadvertent and one time only. The drug in question here is a popular one, the sedative sold as Ambien.

After a surgery my doctor prescribed Ambien to help me sleep. I can attest that for me, it works like a charm. I wake up from a restful sleep, refreshed, ready to seize the day, more or less, with no side effects. When I take it correctly. Therein lies the rub.

Some people who have taken it report unexplained sleepwalking, sleep driving and performing other daily tasks like frying a batch of eggs for themselves while they are asleep, waking up in the morning without any knowledge of doing it.

I never did any of that. Until one morning. The morning I mistakenly took an Ambien instead of my usual blood pressure pill — just before work. That morning, Ginny had left the house before me for an appointment and was unavailable to monitor my movements.

Unaware I was Ambiened-up, I proceeded to drive myself to work. Thank God, I didn’t hit something like a tree, or worse, a young pedestrian on his or her way to school. And by thank God, I sincerely mean thank God.

By the time I arrived at work, I knew what I had done. But my modus operandi on Ambien I found out that day is simply to pretend everything is fine.

I was barely in the door when a co-worker said, “Are you all right?” I snapped back, “I’M FINE!”

Now at my desk, I didn’t feel sleepy. It’s just that from time to time I would “black out,” more or less, for periods of time ranging, I’m guessing, from a few seconds to something like the better part of a minute.

A day or two earlier, I had promised buddy Rob Kupec that I would be part of a radio trivia game he was hosting at the time on WDAY. Ambien or not, a promise is a promise. On the phone with Rob and one of his listeners, I remember being asked about every OTHER question on the air. Interestingly enough, my radio partner and I correctly answered four out of five of them, good enough for him to win a prize.

Later, when Ginny called, I asked, “What’d I say?” She said, “You were fine.”

Like a remorseful alcoholic, I spent much of the next morning making the rounds of the building, apologizing to colleagues for my “unusual” behavior the day before. I was especially concerned about what Rob would say about the radio thing. “You were fine,” he said.

When I recounted the episode to my doctor in his office a few days later, he, too, seemed less concerned about about my radio guest shot but very much concerned about my driving.  He said something like, “I think now is a good time for you to come off the Ambien.”

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Glen Campbell

After a long struggle with Alzheimers disease, Glen Campbell died this week at the age of 81.

Of all the celebrity interviews I’ve done, the two I did with Glen Campbell are among my very favorite. For openers, it’s always as surprise that a star of his caliber was willing to talk with little, old me.

For some reason, the first interview we did with him took place fairly early in the morning in advance of a show that night in Chester Fritz Auditorium in Grand Forks. Perhaps he wanted to hit the golf course, I don’t know.

After the interview, he invited us to have breakfast with him at the Holiday Inn coffee shop. I headed for a table in the middle of the room. But he said, “Let’s sit over here.” A table in the corner where he sat with his back to the room. I remember thinking that’s what fame is. Avoiding too much attention.

Having breakfast with Glen Campbell is not the worst way to start a day. He was especially proud of the lineup of his show that night, which included John Hartford, who wrote one of his biggest hits “Gentle on My Mind.” Also now gone. And Jim “Spiders & Snakes” Stafford,  another fine entertainer, very much alive in Branson, Mo.

The show was incredible. Did Glen Campbell ever do a bad one?

A couple of weeks later when tour was over, I got a handwritten note thanking me for the interview. Pure class.

Years later, I talked with him live on television when he was appearing at the Spirit Lake Casino near Devils Lake.

MTV had just aired a “warts and all” Behind the Music documentary. The warts included his drug abuse and the very public spectacle that could only be described as his tramping around the country with Tanya Tucker. I had no choice but to ask him what it was like to have that sort of dirty laundry aired so publicly. Now clean and sober for many years, his nearly perfect answer, “I know what I did. It’s between me and my God.” Next question.

I will always admire Glen Campbell’s openness and honesty. His talent and showmanship speaks for itself. A wonderful voice. A tremendous guitarist. A truly great entertainer.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Cutting Edge Of Protest

It’s amazing what you can run into on a daily walk. Today on 32nd Avenue South in Grand Forks I encountered firsthand an anti-circumcision protest group called “Bloodstained Men and their Friends.”

The core group is made up for four young men from places like Boston and California. They are criss-crossing the country on a 17-day mission to bring attention to what they consider to be the dangers of circumcision. (Now that I think of it, 17 days is the same length as President Trump’s “working vacation.” But let’s not read anything into that.)  Today, Grand Forks. Tomorrow, Fargo. On each stop, they are joined by like-minded locals.

They are handing out information on cards that measure 15-square inches, roughly twice the size of a standard business card. Or, they say, the size of “an adult’s foreskin.”

Here’s a little snippet.  “No medical organization in the world recommends infant circumcision.” Here’s another. ” The majority of the world’s men are intact, healthy and happy.”

I have no opinion.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Ernesto

The other day, I met a very nice young man who is immigrating to the U.S.

Let’s just call him Ernesto. Because that’s his name.

I’ve run into him at least a dozen times on the Greenway this summer. We’ve struck up a couple of nice conversations.

He’s getting a little bored. He’s been waiting for his green card so he can go to work in this country. He’s been waiting a year. Oh, and he speaks English. In fact, he teaches it.

Ernesto smiles a lot. It’s infectious.

One day he was wearing a plain, black T-shirt. On the back in large white letters was printed the word LATINO, in the same size and style you’d expect to see the word POLICE written. I don’t know why exactly, but I’ve been laughing about it, off and on, ever since. I like people who can make me laugh.

This week in one of the ugliest exchanges I’ve ever seen come out of the White House briefing room, administration advisor Stephen Miller seemed to become seriously unglued when reporter Jim Acosta asked if the administration’s new immigration proposals were in keeping with the spirit of the Emma Lazarus sonnet. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breath free.”  That one.

Using reasoning I’ve been unable to unravel, Miller maintained the poem was “added later” to the base of the Statue of Liberty. I’ve watched the video clip of the briefing a half-dozen times now, and for the life of me I can’t understand what possible difference that would make.

For me, Miller is easily one of the top three most unpleasant people in the White House. If I never lay eyes on him again, that would be fine. On the other hand, I could see Ernesto and me becoming good friends.

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.