HEARING GEORGE RAFT – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

HEARD | THE DAILY PROMPT

Most of you who know me from these pages or my working days know I’m hearing challenged. It’s a life-long disability that’s gotten worse over the years. At this point, hearing in my right ear is all but gone. I still have about fifty percent hearing in my left ear — with hearing aids.

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I’ve had a bittersweet relationship with hearing aids. I hated them as a teenager. These were the primitive “portable radio receiver in a pocket with a cord in your ear” hearing aids. It was worse than being called “four eyes” when I wore the aids. There were lots of jokes, smirks and knowing winks at me. Oh, right, I also wore glasses.

hearing aids

I was short, wore glasses and hearing aids — and was one of a handful of black kids in my classes. I was also painfully shy.

Fast forward to college and my discovery of radio. College radio would lead to a wonderful career and brand new alter ego, the familiar TV News Guy. I turned my hearing disability into an asset. Friends pointed out diction problems, and speech therapy followed. Presto, I became the black guy with great diction. Amazing!

A few awkward social encounters convinced me to wear my hearing aids regularly. The new models were smaller and less conspicuous. Eventually, they would be invisible, all inside the ear.

My hearing problems gave me certain advantages. Court clerks would make sure I had a good seat for cases I covered. Judges would admonish lawyers to speak clearly so that all could hear. Ironically, I understood more testimony in some cases than my peers with normal hearing. Yes!

My disability provided many laughs in my career.

In the early 70’s, Boston Mayor “Kevin from Heaven” White started a new program to assist senior citizens. It was called “M.O.B.”. Forgive me, I forget what the acronym exactly meant, but it was a PR blitz for seniors. They needed a spokesman for MOB. Someone who senior citizens would easily recognize.

MOB? How about George Raft??

I got the call to interview the legendary old-time star of gangster movies on Boston City Hall Plaza. We met just after Raft had a liquid lunch with the Mayor’s people. The veteran actor, wearing his trademark fedora, greeted me with a grunt. A brief exchange about the interview, then we rolled cameras. I asked the questions. Raft grunted.

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George Raft

I asked Raft about “Bolero,” a film where he displayed tango expertise which earned his keep before he was called to Hollywood. “Call me George, pal” he rasped with a smile.

I called him George and he said “What”?

I figured he was kidding with me. I tried it again.

“What, kid?” was the reply. Back and forth several times. I could hear the cameraman giggling.

“George”, I tried again, pointing to my hearing aids.

“What’s up, kid”? Then, it slowly dawned on him. Raft pointed to his ears and gestured. Cautiously, I took a look. I thought for a long moment before speaking.

“George”, I said slowly and carefully, “You need to turn on your hearing aids.”

Raft gave me a long look, then that familiar smile which typically preceded him mowing down guys with a machine gun. He snapped his fingers. A crony walked over, reached in and turned on his hearing aids.

“Thanks, Pal”, George Raft smiled with relief.

I couldn’t resist the moment. I pulled out a coin and began tossing it in the air and catching it. Raft stared. We shook hands. He smiled over his shoulders as he walked away.

Just so you know, I was half an inch taller than the guy who used to duke it out with Bogie and Cagney.

Thanks, Pal.

“What?”

40 thoughts on “HEARING GEORGE RAFT – BY GARRY ARMSTRONG

  1. I always have to think of my dad when I see the name of George Raft. It was through dad that I ever got to know about George Raft. Dad always said he was a great dancer, Dad also had a fascination for the American gangsters and dad could not hear very well. He was on the heavy canons in the 2nd world war, which were very ear splitting noisy and worked his whole life on machinery in a factory. He eventually had his hearing aid, but rarely every used it. We just had to shout at each other, but mum’s family all had loud voices so it was no big problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Even with hearing aids, I find that I have to shout most of the time. Probably why I’m also hoarse.

      My mother always thought it was hilarious that we had a real gangster playing gangsters in the movies. My family all can hear fine, but every last one of us can’t see anything without several pairs of glasses 🙂 AND we all have bad backs and arthritis.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Mrs. Swiss, I’ve been hard of hearing most of my life. It’s gotten progressively worse with age.

      I was lucky to use my disability as an incentive to have a decent career as a TV News Reporter. It meant extra hard work on my diction.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story. I didn’t wear hearing aids or glasses in school and I am so white that I burn if I stay too long in the sun. But sweep all that aside for the moment and I am just like you- or just like you were. Painfully shy into my teen years, I had no close friends and hated summer vacation because there was never anything to do by yourself. Even now, I have no friends except for my wife, whom I first met online. What does this have to do with anything? I have absolutely no idea. Except I really did enjoy this way-to-short post. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Gorgeous. The black guy with good diction had fine diction decades ago. But I always wondered why “he” (and I) went into the stooopidest occupation on earth. Well, maybe second stoooopidest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Squirrel, I met Eddie Albert when he was shooting “Yes, Georgio” in Boston. He was sun bathing along the Charles River when I approached him for an interview. Irritation turned to smiles when he saw that I wore two hearing aids. We had a great gab session and laughed about the “What?” jokes.

      Like

    • And until Garry wrote this one, it’s one of the stories I never heard. We were talking about hearing aids It’s a hot topic around here … technology and affordability and financing … and out popped this anecdote about George Raft. I said: “You have to write that one. Now, before you lose it,” so he did. Garry has an endless well of anecdotes, but he doesn’t always remember them until something reminds him. The trick is to get him to put it down in words before he moves on to something else.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Spectacularly written. Totally enjoyed from beginning to end. I really enjoyed another peek into your world, the writer, the man, the thinker. As I’ve said to Marilyn often, you have some incredible memories. I have one real life friend. I was too busy raising my children to care about that end of things. Wasn’t interested in a druggy or alcoholic of which there were many so I remained single. There are reasons, but I won’t go into them here. Simply put, can identify with singleness.

    Liked by 1 person

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