[George S.] Kaufman was one of three panelists on a live, black-and-white TV show called “This is Show Business.” A performer would come on, tell the panel a problem of his, perform and then return to sit before the panel. Each panelist would then comment on the person’s “problem.” (There is a tantalizing glimpse of the great man on this show, on YouTube.)
On the memorable night, Pfc. Eddie Fisher--in uniform, looking about 16--laid out his problem. It was a complaint. He said he was appearing at the Copacabana night club and because of his extreme youth and boyish looks, none of the gorgeous showgirls would consent to go out with him. Then he sang, probably, “O Mein Papa” and sat down to receive the panel’s remarks and advice.
It began with “The Gloomy Dean of American Comedy,” as Kaufman had been labeled by someone. (My guess would be the wit Oscar Levant.) Kaufman’s dark countenance as he balefully gazed upon the juvenile Mr. Fisher promised something good--but what? Though I’m working from memory, the thing is so indelible in my mind that I can just about guarantee you that what follows is no more than--here and there--a few words off. At a measured pace, Kaufman began:
Mr. Fisher, on Mt. Wilson there is a telescope. A powerful telescope that has made it possible to magnify the distant stars to approximately 12 times the magnification of any previous telescope. [pause]
And, Mr. Fisher, atop Mt. Palomar, sits a more recently perfected telescope. This magnificent instrument can magnify the stars up to six times the magnification of the Mt. Wilson telescope.
(Where is he going?, I wondered, glued to the screen, back in Nebraska.)
As improbable as it would doubtless be, if you could somehow contrive to place the Mt. Wilson telescope inside the Mt. Palomar telescope, Mr. Fisher ... you still wouldn’t be able to see my interest in your problem.
(Pandemonium.)Oh, and while I have your attention, let me say that the latest installment of my serial novel, Forget About It, has been posted in mein blog.