Sunday 29 June 2014

Racing With Rochester

Eddie Anderson was more than an actor. He had a wide number of interests, only one of which was ever mentioned on the Jack Benny radio show. Anderson had a horse in the 1943 Kentucky Derby. The situation got so much publicity at the time, Bill Morrow and Ed Beloin felt compelled to plunk it in two of the scripts, managing to contrive a reason why an impoverished butler to a miser would have the money to own a thoroughbred.

Anderson’s numerous sports interests were outlined in ‘Wendell Smith’s Sports Beat’ column in the Pittsburgh Courier of April 21, 1951.

“Rochester” Has an Expensive Hobby . . .
One of the reasons Eddie (Rochester) Anderson is famous is because for the past fourteen years he has driving, via radio on Sunday nights, Jack Benny's broken-down Maxwell, a dilapidated, tempermental jalopy.
The fact Benny has refused to trade the hack in since he purchased it back in 1927 is evidence enough that Rochester is a leading candidate for a degree in master mechanics. He has kept the lizzy going down through the years and has driven his “boss” to fame and fortune.
Everybody knows about that and acknowledges the fact that without Rochester the famous comedian couldn't possibly have zoomed along the road of success as swiftly and smoothly as he has.
The Maxwell is so incompetent, in fact, that it has driven Rochester to distraction and, also, into the intricate field of automobile designing.
Last week, for instance, he exhibited his latest creation at a sports car show in Chicago. It was one of the most popular exhibits on display and Rochester was there in person to explain how and why he adopted such a unique hobby. He has always been a great sports enthusiast, but few people knew that his interests had invaded such an exacting field.
“I've always been mechanically-minded,” he explained to us, “and always been interested in custom built sports cars. Last summer I was in Europe with Jack Benny and saw so many of them, I decided I'd get one.
“But they couldn't deliver one to me for at least eight months, so I decided I'd design and build one myself.”
* * *
He Once Had a Horse In the Derby . . .
The fog-voiced radio star then turned and ran his hand over the sleek, cream-colored specially built car he was exhibiting. It is a luxury sports job with a Cadillac V-8 motor. Rochester designed the entire car and practically constructed it himself. The total expenditure amounted to more than $20,000.
“This car,” he said proudly, “is complete in every detail. It took eight months to finish it and now it’s ready to compete in any sports car race in the country. Its top speed will be about 150 miles per hour, which is fast enough for me.”
There were sixty-five custom and hot rod cars on exhibition for the auto fanatics who like models constructed on extreme lines.
Rochester's was the most popular of them all. Thousands of people stood around each day gasping at his “dream car.”
Rochester's interests are diversified, running from the automobile to the horse. The mention of the impending Kentucky Derby, for instance, made his familar eyes pop. A few years ago he has a horse that ran in the Derby by the name of “Burnt Cork.”
The nag's only distinction was that Rochester owned and nursed it. It lacked two tremendously important essentials, speed and the will to win.
Recalling “Burnt Cork's” efforts in the Derby, Rochester said: "I though the horse might get off and go places in the Derby, but that was just an idle dream. I don't even remember how he finished in the race because I couldn't wait around until he came in. When the first five horses finished, I looked around the track for “Burnt Cork” but he was so far behind I couldn't see him. I couldn't wait around all day, so I got up and went home. I understand, however, that he came in sometime before night fall. I guess he got hungry.”
“Burnt Cork” passed into the Great Beyond in 1944.
Rochester has four other horses in his stable now, the best of which is “Coloradito.”
“His name means ‘Little Red’,” Benny's favorite stooge said, “and he's a pretty good horse. He started nine times last year and finished in the money eight. He's too old for the Derby, but he's not too old to make a little money. He's seven years old.”
Rochester has always been an avid sports fan, and his favorite athlete is Billy Anderson, his 22-year-old son, who is now in uniform and stationed near the vault where they keep the gold at Fort Knox.
“He had a great future,” Rochester admitted modestly, “until Uncle Sam came along and grabbed him. He was a great halfback at Compton Junior College in California and held two junior college records in the high and low hurdles.
“If he could have continued, he probably would have been playing football and running on the track at either UCLA or Southern California. Maybe when he gets out of the Army he’ll still be young enough to resume his athletic career.”
* * *
His Fighter Looked Good . . . Outside the Ring
Rochester has never confined his sports interests to any single field. He is now interested in sports cars and horses. He was once a baseball fanatic and a manager of fighters.
“The fighters,” he said, “never went very far. They all looked good when I first signed them. They were tough and strong. They were rugged and sturdy. But that was outside the ring. When they got in the ring and faced an opponent, they were just the opposite. They were weak and feeble. After the bell rang I never watched the fight itself. I simply fixed my eyes on the canvas because that is where they usually ended up.”
His sports car hobby can be developed into a lucrative business. If he gets enough offers he plans to put the “Rochester Special” into full production and on the market. They will cost approximately $5,000.
“Right now, this is not a poor man's sport,” he said, “but the fad is becoming more popular all the time. When we can produce these cars on a mass production basis, they will go down in price and be available to almost everyone.”
He ran his hand over the car and smiled. “There's quite a difference between this and that Maxwell I have to haul Benny around in, isn't there?” he said. “But, if it weren't for that Maxwell, I wouldn't be the owner of a Rochester Special.”

Mike Kazaleh was nice enough to dig up pictures of Rochester’s car. Yes, it doesn’t quite look like the Maxwell.

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