Rudy and his wife Ruth were invited over to our quaint little home on Veteran Avenue in West Los Angeles. Tell Bobby (!!!) what you do, my mother purred, and Rudy said he worked at the Bel-Air Country Club. So what, I thought, but said what do you do there?
He said he worked in the clubhouse. He kept shoes shined, picked up towels left on benches after a shower and in general did just about anything asked of him. An ass-kisser then, my father blurted out. Ignoring him, Rudy told me, winking to my mother, that he and Ruth were probably invited over so he could tell me about all the movie stars he knew. Ok, now we're talking. I sat up straight.
The Bel-Air Country Club was, at it turned out, just up the street from our home, on the other side of Sunset Blvd. One entered the west gates off Sunset and into smothered-in-luxury, saturated-in-movie-stars Bel Air. It had been a private social club on Bellagio Road since 1925, featuring an 18-hole course, tennis courts, a gorgeous dining room and beautiful grounds providing peace and serenity. Fabulous. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day-O'Connor would one day describe the community of Bel-Air itself as guilty of excessive beauty but the appellation applied just has handily to the club. It was the course that Howard Hughes once landed his plane on to attract Katharine Hepburn's attention as she golfed and one of the holes had Alfred Hitchcock's home perching on a bluff above it.
In time we saw Rudy and Ruth quite a number of times. Rudy was full of himself... of that there could be no doubt. My father liked to remind him he was still some hick from Peoria but I drilled him for movie star stories... anything, tell me anything. And he did. And one thing he said was that I should become a caddy!
After picking myself up off the floor and reminding him that I knew nothing about golf and wasn't sure I wanted to know anything, Rudy said I was a big, strapping kid (I was 15 and 6'5") and could easily become a caddy. Nothing to it. He said I wouldn't get out on the links all that much, adding there were regular caddies whom regular golfers requested but sometimes the B-team got a chance. Wouldn't it be something to caddy for Fred Astaire or Randolph Scott? I know them both and remember, I have some influence around here. And if it doesn't work out, hell, just hang around, stay out of trouble and see some of your favorite movie stars. Rudy could have had me believing he owned the joint.
Again, I didn't know a scratch golfer from a mulligan or a 9 iron from the 19th hole but Rudy worked with me and taught me the basics. He was way more impressed with my progress than I was. I was impressed with seeing Astaire or Scott and others... one might even say I saw them in ways most of the public never did. Rudy would teach me things as we were shining shoes although it was difficult to concentrate with these movie stars prancing about. Just give them the clubs they ask for. Keep your eye on the ball when he hits it. You'll be fine.
|Where I hung out,,, the clubhouse|
I was so nervous on the first day I caddied for someone that I, well, er, um, wouldn't say I pissed myself... dribbled might be a better word. I was also very shy in those days, sometimes painfully so, and while I knew it, I was afraid it would get in the way of being a good caddy. (You can ask my friends and family and they would assure you I have been in complete recovery from my shyness for a considerable number of years.)
I caddied successfully for a few people, none of whom I knew. One hot summer day I heard my name called to caddy for Mr. Andes, who turned out to be B-movie hunk Keith Andes. He only played nine holes and gave me a pretty decent tip as I recall. He even took the time to chat with me as we returned to the clubhouse. He was surprised I knew who he was.
One night I stayed late for a benefit of some sort that Bob Hope was in charge of and also emceeing. I was not dressed properly but managed to hang around a large tented area where the show would go on and managed to see most of it. I still remember how off-color Hope's humor was, a far cry from television or movie cameras. Rosemary Clooney sang as did Helen O'Connell. I remember seeing Alice Faye and Phil Harris, Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis and Steve Allen and Jayne Meadows and throngs more. All the stars were glittering that night... in the tent and in the heavens and I alternated between both.
Rudy was right when he told me I would do more waiting around than I would caddying. One day Clark Gable asked me if I was new. He was a good friend of Rudy's apparently and was chummy after he heard that I was too. Mickey Rooney entertained me from afar with his antics. I saw Robert Taylor, Johnny Weismuller, Bing Crosby and one day a handsome, quite animated young actor named Robert Wagner.
I had also seen Robert Young several times. He was never a particular favorite of mine in films and I thought he seemed a tad unfriendly and disagreeable. Rudy told me that everyone was like family at the club. There are no egos. Everyone gets along fine. Despite the persona he had on the popular TV show Father Knows Best and in years to come, Marcus Welby, MD, he didn't impress me as family. I would find ways to start up conversations with most of these people but I avoided Young.
Why does life sometimes take these turns? All these years later I still sometimes find myself bemused at turns of events. Like this one. There were three of us in the clubhouse that morning but only I was there at the moment Rudy yelled out. A caddy was needed right away for whom? Yep, Robert Young. Well, time to buckle up, abandon the attitude and get out there, ye young, strapping caddy.
He was playing in a foursome. I met them and three other caddies just as they were about to start playing. He didn't welcome me in a
particularly friendly matter and I considered, despite Rudy's prior purrings, that he had brought his ego along. Nonetheless, I soldiered on. It seemed odd to me that I was so obviously a last-minute idea, but off we trotted.
First hole. Great. Second hole. A lot more banter among the players than the first hole. Great. Third hole. Oh-oh. I handed him the club he asked for, he assumed the position, did his little golfer strut setting up the shot and wham... WHAM... off that little white thing went. POW. Gone. Thank God Young would know where that ball went because, although I knew it was my job to keep my eye on the ball he hit, I was flummoxed. Poof. Dunno. Ooops.
Where'd it go I heard a familiar voice say, obviously to me? I wanted to die. I started sweating before I could get a syllable out of my mouth. I don't know I said as I spoke faster and faster, pointing to some mythic piece of sky, adding I last saw it right there. He glowered at me. Bud and Princess and Kitten never got that look.
A few more pores opened and I felt sweat dripping down my sides. This was grave. The others were looking at me as though David was about to slay Goliath. The other players looked baffled and the caddies looked so snooty. What was this ignorant upstart doing on their field of glory? Did any of you see where the ball went I blurted out. Silence. No, paralysis. I guess one just doesn't do that. Bad form or something. Oops. Then a few chosen words cracked the silence like a whip.
Get out of here. Put the bag down. Get out of here. Go back to the clubhouse and have another caddy sent out here. We're on hole #3 in case you don't remember. Mr. Young had spoken.
He was right, of course, but I was so embarrassed by my poor showing and the thought of confronting Rudy right then caused me spasms so I simply got on my Schwinn and hightailed it out of beautiful Bel-Air. Mr. Young, didn't get another caddy due to any of my efforts. Rudy never held it against me but he wasn't the type to do that. We just move on he would always say.
I've certainly moved on. I haven't been on a golf course since.
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