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I Forgot how Good this Guy Was

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Vaughn Meader was terrific as JFK. One night when I lived in

LA I saw him sitting alone at the bar and restaurant Joe Allen's, so

I went over and talked with him. He was distressed at how his

career had been ruined by the assassination. He was a desolate

figure. Someone announced plans to make a movie about that, which

would be a good idea, but I haven't heard anything about it for a while.

He learned of the assassination (as I did) in Milwaukee. Meader

was riding a cab from the airport for an engagement. The cabbie

asked if he had heard about Kennedy in Dallas. Meader said,

"No, what's the joke?"

Edited by Joseph McBride
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Just after the assassination, Lenny Bruce did a gig that had been postponed that weekend out of respect.  The audience couldn't wait for his commentary.  Bruce came out, went to the edge of the stage, and stood a long time in silence, as if brooding.  Then he threw up his arms and yelled, "VAUGHN MEADER!"  Everybody cracked up in schadenfreude - the poor guy was over.

Edited by David Andrews
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10 hours ago, Joseph McBride said:

I heard it reported as "Phew -- Vaughn Meader," in a sadly resigned voice.

I've watched over 100 acts of Stand-up at the Laugh Factory in Hollywood - -including many young at-risk teens who spend summer months learning to put their difficulties and burdens into material for laughter. Any good stand-up puts it all out there, all the time. I can well imagine the  enormous mental and artistic pressure on Lenny Bruce to perform at that time - whether it was the day of or the week of, he had been booked, and the people that needed the fix of a good Stand-Up at such a time, were ready to attend.

What Joseph McBride "heard" should become the fact. I can just feel and see the anticipation, the wondering of how in G-d's name will he deal with this? And Bruce writing notes or bouncing thoughts in his head about what to bring into any observation on the events. That he  "sighed" and then said, Phew. Vaughn Meader, seems to me to be a brilliant opening, that tied together him and his audience  in their shared understanding of what constitutes a fix, at such a time.

As Mr. McBride knows so well--when the fact becomes the legend, we print the legend.





Edited by Robert Harper
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Maybe he did it twice on the road, two different cities, the way I heard it and the way Joe heard it.

Maybe also there was a Lenny Bruce imposter out there.

Yet a third version:

'And Lenny Bruce provided the perfect epitaph by opening his first performance after the Kennedy assassination with the line, "Man, is Vaughn Meader f****d!" The crowd reportedly exploded with laughter.'


Edited by David Andrews
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17 hours ago, Joseph McBride said:

I think "Whew, Vaughn Meader" is more droll. It lets the audience get

it and flatters their intelligence, while capturing the sad desolation of the day.

Is there any analog here between how we "want to" view Lenny Bruce and how we want to view the Kennedys?

For true pedants, Bruce's co-edited transcript of his routines in book form, The Essential Lenny Bruce, may contain the version of the gag that Bruce preferred to put out for posterity.  Albert Goldman and Lawrence Schiller's bio, Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce may offer its own version.

However, no account not audio-recorded or attested to by multiple witness can be called definitive.  If we start picking the one that humanizes and ennobles Bruce to our taste, then we're headed for tendentiousness.  And flattering ourselves.

Edited by David Andrews
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