Wednesday 2 October 2019

Relaxing With Cranberries

Fred Allen’s sudden death on a sidewalk of New York in 1956 was mourned far and wide. Allen was appreciated for his clever turns of phrase and his humanitarianism.

Allen rose through vaudeville and went into radio when networks screamed for comedy/variety shows in the early 1930s.

If Allen had his way, he would have been a writer. No sponsors to interfere (just editors, perhaps), no limits of the clock to stick to. He wrote two books, one dealing with his early life and the tribulations of trying to make the big time in vaudeville called Much Ado About Me.

A newspaper writer in Allen’s home town of Boston added a little personal postscript to Allen’s book at the end of 1956. This story appeared in some editions of the Globe on December 26th.

One Story He Left Out of His Book
Fred Allen Gag Idea--Sell Cape Water

The book-reading public is making quite a to-do about a new book entitled “Much Ado About Me,” which has been on the book stalls for the last few weeks. The author of "Much Ado About Me" is, of course, the late Fred Allen, whom many people consider the greatest natural comic of our times.
Mr. Allen does a bit of journalism wandering down memory lane in “Much Ado About Me” but he leaves unmentioned a little incident which happened at Harwich on Cape Cod which was a pure stroke of Allen genius.
It happened in July, 1953.
The Allens—Fred and Portland—invariably put up for the month of July at the swank Belmont Hotel at West Harwich.
The Belmont was an ideal vacation spot for the Allens. The cuisine is excellent, the bathing is among the best on the Cape and the location is such that it lends itself either to social butterflying or isolation exactly as the mood seizes one.
That Summer I was covering the Cape for the Boston Post and in no time the word came over the grapevine that Fred was doing his annual slow burn under Cape suns.
I went over to the Belmont one Saturday afternoon. It was a lush July day. The sun was dripping with infra-red rays and the sky was as blue as the backdrop for a Hollywood musical.
Fred was out on the beach in a bathing suit. His back was propped against the wall of one of the beach houses on the periphery of the Belmont's private bathing beach.
He was reading a book. He put it down as I came up. It was an English version of Proust a “Remembrance of Things Past.”
“No place like the Cape for catching up on your Proust,” he said.
He looked trim and fit after two weeks among the dunes and the cranberries.
“This is the life,” he explained, “Nothing to do but to get healthy. I started coming here too late. Now the government's got my money and I've got high blood pressure. If Uncle Sam had taken 80 percent of my blood pressure instead of my dough, that would have been something.”
The surf was coming in from Nantucket Sound in long, lazy rollers. It was a day for dreaming.
“You know, I'm working on a sort of package deal in Cape Cod vacations. Just think of all those land-locked lubbers out in Chicago who never get to know the magic of a real, bona fide Cape Cod vacation.
“My idea is to bottle Cape Cod sea water and market it to those duffers who can't spend a few days down here.
“Imagine a gent in Chicago opening up a drum of pure Cape Cod sea water and dunking himself in his bath tub on a hot Saturday afternoon. Almost like taking a belly flopper off one of those diving boards out there.”
Portland Hoffa drifted by on her way back to the hotel.
“I'll be along in a few minutes,” Fred said. She trudged off through the sand.
“We could send out a balloon of Cape Cod air, a jug of sea water, a carton of sand, a stuffed sea gull and a cranberry.
“Our Chicago friend could swish his feet around in the water, walk through the sand and then puncture the balloon. All the comforts of a Cape Cod vacation and at a very nominal fee. And then our friend could get the cranberry's point of view and listen to the complaints of the sea gull. What a package deal!
"We could even ship half bottles of pure Cape Cod sea water to those who prefer to get in at half tide and empty bottles for those who like to thrash around at low tide. It's a great idea.”
Fred admitted he'd spent a lot of his time on the Cape that Summer studying the cranberry.
“I've been hiding out behind a friendly sand dune with no company but a cranberry. Nobody has ever bothered to get the cranberry's point of view. I think it's high time somebody did.
“Cranberries know just how much to relax. That's a great danger to the visitor to Cape Cod relaxing. You get so you over-relax and you never do get up enough energy to go home. That's what makes natives down here.”
A youngster wandered over to where Fred and I were chatting. He was about 10 years old.
“Well, sonny,” said Fred, “what can I do for you?”
“You're Fred Allen, aren't you?” the youngster asked.
Fred laughed that funny, little laugh of his that so many radio and TV fans knew so well.
“Well, I think so,” he said.
The youngster looked back to the group he'd just left. “I want to be an actor like you,” he blurted out, “and my mother told me I should come over here and ask you how I do it.”
“Oh, she did, did she,” said Fred. “Well, I'll tell you just what you should do. You find yourself a cranberry and study that cranberry.” The youngster looked awfully bewildered.
Fred laughed again.
“Are you staying here, sonny?” he asked.
“Yes, I am,” the boy said.
“Well,” said Fred, “you come over to my table at dinner tonight and I'll tell you all about how you should go about becoming an actor.”
That was a Saturday afternoon in July, 1953.
I went all through Fred Allen’s “Much Ado About Me” but I couldn't find a single, solitary word about that Cape Cod package vacation deal.
As Fred described it three years ago, it sounded like a great idea.

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