Off The Press

February 2, 2010

By Bob Taylor

Bob Taylor Press sports editor

I remember meeting my first celebrity several years ago. The occasion was in Al & Ernie’s Grocery Store, which had just gone through a massive remodeling. To celebrate the renovation, the owners, Mssrs. Al and Ernie, held a grand opening.

In hopes of attracting customers, the owners hired Kirby Grant, known to television viewers in the 1950s and 1960s as Sky King, to sign autographs.

The problem Al and Ernie soon discovered was that Grant was no longer a big attraction, even in the small southwest Washington community of Battle Ground. Families were flocking to the store but not to Sky King.

Grant’s Sky King series, a sort of airplane western, had been shown in reruns on Saturday afternoons for almost seven years. Most farm kids were no longer interested in a cowboy who flew a Cessna 310B that was named the Songbird. Batman was the popular show these days.

Any youngster who walked into the store was urged by the owners to meet Grant, who was sitting in the far corner of the store at a table with a stack of photos. Since I was interested in acting and actors at the time, I walked back to where Grant was sitting. He looked very bored and very lonesome.

I walked up to his table, not knowing what to expect. Would Grant be a snobbish television actor? As I discovered, Grant was very warm and friendly. We talked for a long time, mainly because no other youths were showing up. The first celebrity I met was a real nice person.

For many years, Grant was the only actor I had met until Danny Kaye. Kaye, one of Hollywood’s biggest stars, was then one of the owners of the Seattle Mariners, and I was a baseball reporter for the old Journal-American newspaper.

One afternoon when I walked through the Mariners’ clubhouse, manager Darrell Johnson, another great guy, asked if I would like to meet Kaye.

“Sure,” I said — or at least I think that was my reaction. When I entered Johnson’s office, there was Kaye, looking at me and smiling. Darrell said, “This is Bob Taylor, one of the reporters covering the team.”

Kaye reached out to shake my hand, and this young, somewhat flabbergasted reporter responded, “Nice to meet you.” Kaye just grinned before starting up a conversation. We talked for a few minutes, and then I went out to the Kingdome field to watch batting practice.

The next day when I was watching batting practice, Kaye walked up to me and said, “How’s it going Bob?” He remembered my name! Because my wife was a big fan of his, I asked Kaye to autograph a sheet of paper from my notepad for her. He did it gladly. Danny Kaye — another celebrity who was kind and friendly.

Over my 35 years as a reporter, I’ve had the opportunity to interview and meet many celebrities — mostly from sports. However, during my first year as a reporter, I met Emmy Award-winner Al Swift, who then was director of news and public affairs for Bellingham’s KVOS television station.

The meeting took place in a restaurant often frequented by reporters. My editor, who was lunching with Swift, invited me to sit down at their table. Swift looked at me, and then said, “I seldom ever read sports stories, but I read your column this week and I liked it.” Swift, who later became a U.S. representative, was another kind and friendly celebrity.

In sports, I have interviewed such Hall of Fame players as Earl Averill, Yogi Berra and Carl Yastrzemski. When I was on the M’s beat, I often chatted with future Hall of Fame announcer Dave Niehaus. What a group of great guys!

And this brings me to another celebrity — former Seattle SuperSonic broadcaster Bob Blackburn. The Issaquah resident, who died recently, was without a doubt one of the nicest and kindest people I have ever met in sports.

Yes, there are kind celebrities in this world.

Bob Taylor: 392-6434, ext. 236, or bobtaylor@isspress.com. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.

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