Call Jonathan Winters
crazy and you might find he'll agree with you.
City of characters navigates through the war years
I heard the voice of KTVU's Leslie Griffith in a teaser ad
saying, "We showed you their tearful reunions this afternoon, tonight
find out what these troops did on their first night home," I couldn't
help thinking, "Leslie, everyone knows what they did on their first
Returning soldiers are a part of the landscape now. While World War
II has been romanticized by popular culture over the decades into something
between Hogan's Heroes and Saving Private Ryan, the realities of war
in 2004 are as grim as the latter without any of the mirth of the former.
Caution: turn ahead.
At a luncheon in honor of the late legendary columnist Herb Caen at
Moose's last Friday, news circulated of the death by heart attack just
a few days earlier of one of Caen's top ten contributors, Bob Lacey
of Half Moon Bay. Memories of Lacey added an extra dose of sentimentality
to an already sentimental afternoon.
In the final months of Caen's life, the three-dot master had curtailed
his column, daily for almost 60 years, to three days a week. Lacey faxed
Caen to ask, "Are you still having your morning Shredded Wheat? I've
noticed that your column has been slightly irregular since you turned
"True," Caen responded in print, "But I hope to become daily, weakly,
very soon." Caen died on February 1, 1997. Lacey eulogized his friend
most eloquently, "Dots all, folks..." Cheers to two great characters.
My date for the Caen luncheon was hat lady Ruth Dewson, the mayor of
Fillmore Street who made a big splash in the political pool last month
when she decided not to jump into the race for District 5 Supervisor.
From a milliner to a millionaire: I found a couple of characters lunching
with Lee Houskeeper at John's Grill. Dennis Sanfilippo of Calaveras
County won $30 million in the California Lottery in 1992. Sanfilippo
looks like central casting as the roofer/biker who hit the jackpot.
He still does roofing occasionally, wears t-shirts and jeans, but his
jewelry is much bigger these days.
Sanfilippo is working on a book, "I'm Not Complaining: The Life of a
SuperLotto Winner." In it he explains how he kept from losing his head
- and his cash - by sticking with the friends he had while he was struggling
to make ends meet.
Sanfilippo is understandably big on numerology, especially the numbers
7 and 11. "Take the convenience stores," he says, "Do you think they
would have been so successful if they were called 6-Twelve? Sure, they
would have been open two more hours every day, but do you think they
would have been as big as they became?"
"But, Dennis," says his pal, Richard Segovia. "I think they're open
"Be that as it may!" says Sanfilippo.
Sanfilippo produces music by Gregg Allman, Eddie Money, Deacon Jones,
and members of Santana. His online outlet is big7productions.com.
On Russian Hill, Dr. Twist is quite literally a character. Ron "Born
on the Fourth of July" Kovic used the rock world personality as a character
in his novel "Around the World in 8 Days."
Dr. Twist once described the breadth of his girlfriend's navigating
skills this way, "She has three directions: Turn-right-I-think. Follow
that guy. And a panic motion, like she just saw Godzilla a mile up the
It seemed fitting to take in an advance screening of the original 1954
Japanese version of Godzilla with Dr. Twist, who is also something of
a restored classic. Godzilla plays at the Castro Theatre May 7-20.
Larry-Bob Roberts reports from NYC, where rock world figures and comedians
performed in a "Wed-Rock" benefit for gay marriage rights at the Crobar
on W. 28th Street. John Cameron "Hedwig" Mitchell appeared along with
Moby, Sandra Bernhard, Alan Cumming, Lou Reed, Bob Mould, and Sleater-Kinney.
Lady Bunny was the emcee.
The City's own Margaret Cho and Kimberly Guilfoyle Newsom were event
faves says Larry-Bob. Cho has created a web site dedicated to gay marriage.
Comedy icon Jonathan Winters is one of the great characters to come
out of San Francisco. When I saw Winters recently he was making an appearance
at City Hall to promote California Raisins.
Winters is 78 and has a mind like a pinball machine. His curious soliloquies
don't always make sense at first blush, but Winters' genius rings like
"Agree with the enemy," Winters told me out of the blue. Immediately he
adds, "A woman told me I was crazy once. She said, 'I know you; you're
crazy.' I said, 'Oh, yes, I am crazy.'"
(Winters had a famous melt down aboard the Balcutha in 1959 and was
one of the first major celebrities to talk openly about mental illness
He continued for several minutes, re-enacting how he told the unnamed
woman that life can be difficult when you're crazy, when people treat
you differently or you don't know where you are, and so on - and on.
At times he lost me, which I gathered was part of the point.
Finally, Winters tells me, "So she says, 'Well, I've heard a lot about
you.'" He pauses for the first time then speaks again very slowly, "And
I said, 'That's funny, because I've heard nothing about you.' So you
see, Hank, agree with the enemy. It's not a sign of weakness. As soon
as they put down their sword - kill 'em."
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