As this is being written before the end of the Trump impeachment trial, comments on that will have to wait until next week.
Today I would like to tell you about Lucky Pierre the racing snail.
In the area of publicity, it isn’t often that you get to pass off a fictional story as heard news. In the case of Pierre that is exactly what happened.
The story began in the late ‘60s when Walter Ramage, the manager of the Mapes Hotel, called me into his office to tell me about an event that was an annual celebration in San Francisco. It was held on the opening day of the opera season in the City by the Bay. The event consisted of an afternoon of cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at a French restaurant named Le Trianon.
Highlight of the afternoon was a snail race which took place in a tabletop configuration called “The Snailadrome”. It was a miniature piece of work that resembled the coliseum in LA. On the base it had several indentations in which the wheels of tiny chariots were placed. The chariots had a small wire loop which fit over the neck of the snails. The setup could accommodate five chariots at a time. Additionally, the tracks were greased with a combination of water and sugar to enable the snails to move at a little faster pace. The event usually saw a good turnout of the Bay Area press and other celebrities who happened to be in town.
When I asked Ramage what the event had to do with the Mapes, he said that the hotel had been invited to enter a snail in the contest. He then asked me to figure out how we could publicize an imaginary snail. After a half hour brainstorming session, we decided to kick off the story by having owner Charles Mapes, through a connection in France, purchase the French champion snail whose name would be Lucky Pierre.
As it turned out, the first part of the story made the wire services and much of the Bay Area press. Our next installment had Pierre arrested in London because he did not have the correct papers to pass customs. That chapter got us a wire photo of a crying snail behind prison bars. The third installment had US officials gaining Pierre’s release and the champion’s non-stop flight to the Bay Area. Once there, he had a rendition of the Eiffel Tower painted on his shell.
When the big day arrived, I went to SF to make sure our snail was well taken care of. Even with the help of the greased rails the snails only move about an inch an hour. At one point in time while watching the action, I heard a familiar voice behind me saying, “This is the first race I have ever seen where the entries become entrees.” When I turned I recognized the speaker as Ed Sullivan of TV fame. We had a brief visit recalling the time about ten years prior when his show had a remote from the Mapes SkyRoom featuring Paul Anderson.
Because we had purchased the largest snail from the restaurant, Lucky Pierre was named the official champion of the annual snail races.
DOWN MEMORY LANE. Last week I happened to catch a 1933 flick, The Prizefighter and the Lady, on the TCM channel that starred a most unlikely leading man. His name was Max Baer, the 1934-1935 heavyweight boxing champion of the world. The reason the film got my attention was that I had the pleasure of introducing Baer some 26 years later when he was the guest speaker at the Annual Sportswriters Organization Dinner.
In the aforementioned film, Baer’s leading lady was Myrna Loy and the cast included actors like Walter Huston (John’s Dad), and Otto Kruger. Baer more than held his own in every scene and seemed to enjoy kissing Loy on numerous occasions. While he was most adept at the boxing sequences, I was surprised to see how well he did in a long musical number with a bevy of chorus girls. In addition to singing, Baer proved to be a credible dancer, jump roper and performer on the high rings.
In the final boxing match of the film, his opponent was the well-known Primo Carnera. The film finished on a high note with the final bout being declared a draw. When Baer was in Reno, he was here to honor University of Nevada boxer Ted Contri, who was named athlete of the year.
Harry Spencer is a 75-year resident of Nevada and a freelance writer living in Reno.