TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — R.I.P. Ed Schultz

If he was gonna do it, Ed Schultz should have expired July 4. It would have fit his sense of theater. After all, he was a football All-America quarterback and in many ways reflected America itself — high achiever, pugilistic, self-centered, generous, mercurial, brilliant, reckless and fearless.

It was one of the few times Ed missed his mark. Then again, maybe he was just being his contrarian self. He didn’t need the Fourth of July. Ed was a walking fireworks display.

By now, there have been miles of copy written by former colleagues, competitors, friends and foes. Sometimes they could be one and the same. He was loved. He was reviled. You couldn’t be neutral on Ed Schultz. Switzerland didn’t exist in his world.

An introduction to Ed Schultz should have been delivered like a tornado warning. He burned more bridges than William Tecumseh Sherman. He never burned mine, although in his final few years, the bridge didn’t get used at all, mostly because I was disappointed when he went to work for R-T America, lending undeserved credibility to the state-funded Russian news operation. But then, so did Larry King. I didn’t call Ed because if the subject came up, I’d have to tell him what I thought.

There’s always been skepticism about Ed’s conversion from a capitalist conservative to capitalist progressive. I never doubted it, and if you’ve met Wendy, his wife, who opened his eyes on their first date at the homeless shelter where she volunteered, you’d get it. Wendy helped Ed discover his better angels. I’ve always thought she was one. Ed enjoyed the irony of being married to a psychiatric nurse.

I’m not sure there’s a definitive truth about Ed Schultz. There are only perspectives. One conversation stands out. Ed was talking quietly about the loss of his parents. “Sometimes I feel like an orphan,” he said.

We met nearly two decades ago when as the Chamber president, I invited him to speak at our annual banquet. During his introduction, I presented him with a muzzle and recounted a discussion with the chamber board about the gift. “Funny …” I said. “But who’s going to put it on him?”

Ed roared when I told the story. He and Wendy and I hit it off over beers afterward. Soon, I was guest hosting KFGO’s “News & Views” from a remote studio at the Ashley Tribune.

Shortly after he launched his national radio show, he called with literary agent Al Lowman on the line. There was a book deal in the works, but Ed didn’t want to work with some hot shot New York writer. He wanted me, and unless he got me, there would be no deal. They wanted a manuscript in six weeks. Six weeks! I balked, which drove Lowman crazy. What was it with these stubborn prairie dwellers? If I remember right, Wendy finally interceded and I signed on.

The way Ed told it was, “I said to Al, ‘You think the best radio talker in the country comes from North Dakota, right? Why can’t the best writer come from North Dakota?’” I’d like to believe this is one time Ed wasn’t exaggerating.

When I look back at “Straight Talk From the Heartland,” the first of two books we did together, Ed was prophetic about the direction of the country. He had remarkable political instincts. He’d tell me something I thought was outrageous and impossible, but it would come to pass. I started listening closer.

Suddenly the world is a whole lot less interesting.

Heart problems, they say. I don’t think so.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TERRY DULLUM — The Dullum File: Peg Lynch

I thought I knew everything. But until I read Mike Sacks’ terrific new book about comedy writing called “Poking a Dead Frog,” I had never heard the name Peg Lynch.  Even though in her day she was a huge star.

She was a comedy performer on radio and later television in the 1940 and 1950s. But her even larger talent was as a writer. She claimed to have singled-handedly written more than 20,000 scripts for her enormously popular series “Ethel and Albert.” That’s not a typo. 20,000.

At one point, she was writing two 15-minute shows everyday. (I got anxious just writing that last sentence.) Apparently, her bosses didn’t know the meaning of the word re-run.

A Minnesota native, Peg Lynch died Saturday at her home in Becket, Mass. She was still writing comedy at the age of 98.

Lynch graduated from the University of Minnesota, then worked for a local radio station in Rochester, Minn., where she interviewed celebrities such as Knute Rockne and Ernest Hemingway, who came through the Mayo Clinic where her mother worked as a head nurse. Peg wrote commercial copy and farm news and eventually entertainment programs.

In 1937 — long before “Seinfeld” — she, too, began writing a “show about nothing,” “Ethel and Albert.” Long on conversation between a married couple, but with less in the way of “action,” over the years it would be heard on ABC, CBS and NBC radio and, for a time, seen on television.

Unheard of today, of course, she wrote every word of every script herself. Peg Lynch was one of the first women to write, star in and own her own comedy series. It goes without saying, I guess, but she was something.

 

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Jim

This has been a terribly sad week in Grand Forks, made all the sadder by the passing of Jim Bollman.

If you never got to hear Jim’s morning program on KNOX radio, I feel badly for you. You missed something.

I know I’m dating myself when I say Jim’s work always reminded me of the legendary broadcaster and entertainer Arthur Godfrey’s. Google him. Especially on radio, Arthur Godfrey always sounded as if he was talking to you, and you alone. Jim had that exact same quality. If it seems like it would be an easy thing to do, please believe me when I say, it is not.

Everyone seems to have a favorite Jim Bollman story. Mine goes back to 1972. I had just gotten out of the Army and was looking for a job in radio. I went to see Jim who, I believe, was KNOX’s program director then.

He was very gracious with his time and after listening to my audition tape he told me I had an “adequate” voice for radio.

He didn’t give me a job, probably for good reason. But over the years, I never let him forget it.

Jim treated everybody the same. He was friendly, funny and kind. The word classy comes to mind. I never heard him say an unkind word about anybody. Ever. And this is the gossipy world of broadcasting we’re talking about.

Jim’s contributions to the mornings of so many of us over the decades would certainly be enough to have earned him the status of icon, but he also worked tirelessly and cheerfully for his community, the Park District and his church.

The Jim Bollmans of the world are rare.