GAFFES OF AN ICONIC NAME DROPPER – Garry Armstrong

About the title of this post: “Gaffe” sounds nicer than “mind-numbing stupidity.” On the other hand, “iconic” doesn’t resonate well with “name-dropper.” A bit of sarcasm, a hint of irony.

Just trying to make sure you’re really reading this one. I usually offer stories about celebrities I’ve been fortunate to meet in my 40 plus years, toiling in the cotton fields of TV and radio news. It’s always an ego boost for this retired old news fart to spin yarns about time spent with the likes of John Wayne, Mother Theresa, Katherine Hepburn, Robert Mitchum, The Boston Strangler, Queen Elizabeth, Presidents Johnson through Clinton, Whitey Bulger, Tip O’Neil and Princess Cheyenne, The Queen of Boston’s notorious “Combat Zone.”

How’s that for an eclectic bunch of names dropped? There are lots more to come depending on the retention power of my aging brain. Maybe it’s because of the fading hopes for my beloved Bosox who apparently won’t be chugging World Series Championship champagne this year. Maybe it’s the pollen and floating dog hair that impairs seeing and hearing.

It’s time for, as my former employers told me as they showed me the door after 31 years of faithful service, “To go in a different direction.”

A different direction. Instead of the heady celeb stories, how about some of the things that went wrong in my long, award-winning career (see, more name and fact dopping).  Lots of hinky stuff is stored in the locked chambers of my brain.

Figure it this way. If you do a minimum of half a dozen interviews a day, 5 or 6 days a week, 350 weeks a year, then spread it over more than 40 years. There are bound to be some stinkers, duds, and bombs mixed in with the celebrated stories. There’s no sequential order or grading of my gaffes. Just a handful to give you a glimpse into the not-always-successful days and nights of a TV/radio news reporter.

Embarrassing Gaffe 1

We were assigned to interview a couple who had been burgled and had their home invaded. The husband had chased the bad guys out with minimal injuries sustained. He was a hero. It was a “good news” story to sandwich in between the other “if it bleeds, it leads” stories.  Invited in, I quickly surveyed the house, looking for video possibilities to enhance the story which seemed to be “talking heads” and some file video of uniformed police responding to the initial 911 call.

I refocused my attention to the couple. He appeared to be middle-aged, maybe in his early 50s. His wife seemed to be in her 20s.  It was an immediate distraction, furthered by what also appeared to be a woman, well along in pregnancy. It set up an immediate log jam in my brain.

Before getting to the interview, I wanted to politely congratulate the couple. The words flew out of my mouth, unedited. “Let me offer you my congratulations – in the middle of this harrowing situation.” The husband stared at me. No smile. Just a very angry stare. “Mr. Armstrong, what do you mean by congratulations?  Is it because I chased the G.D. thugs out of my house? Punks! No guts, Mr. Armstrong. So, why congrats?”

I instantly sensed I was in hot water. I squirmed while offering my “nice guy” TV smile. The husband held his angry stare. I tried my best, “Um, er, I just noticed how your daugh–I mean your wife is absolutely glowing. These must be heady times for you”. The stare widened into anger. “Mr. Armstrong, are you implying my WIFE is pregnant?  If so, How DARE you? You reporters are all the same. No respect! My WIFE — is NOT pregnant – so what are you implying, Mr. Armstrong?”

I mumbled some apologies, visually telling the crew to pack their gear and get out quickly.  The guys were giggling and I was the joke. The husband was furious now, telling me he would call the TV station, their lawyers and his lawyer. “I’m gonna sue all your asses, especially yours, MISTER Armstrong” he fumed as we fled the house.

Long story short, back at the station, I pled ignorance, thought the wife (who looked like his daughter) was really pregnant. No, I never implied she was obese. No way.

The executive suits and the corporation lawyers had a field day with me. My “attitude” never sat well with them. However, the lawyers worked their magic and the threatened litigation disappeared like smoke from yesterday’s big fire story.  I never asked about it again. I may have been something of a smart ass but I wasn’t stupid.

Embarrassing Gaffe#2

Lunchtime at one of my favorite bars. Liquid lunch with a hot dog appetizer. I was on my 3rd or 4th Long Island Tea when a sultry voiced young woman struck up a conversation. The air was THICK with cigarette smoke, the jukebox was blaring Irish folk music that probably deafened all conversation including mine. Sultry voice complimented me on my clothing and said she was a fan of my work.

I nodded and repeated my thank you. I glanced at George, the bartender who owned the bar. He was leering — not grinning — at me. The sultry voice said she found me “exciting” and wanted to be alone with me.

I still hadn’t been able to see her through all the damn smoke. The one-sided, very complimentary conversation went on for maybe ten minutes as I ordered another drink from the leering George who was also giggling. I noticed some of the other bar regulars were staring at me and sultry voice.

I could finally feel the Long Island Tea working on me. I was repeating myself a lot. Sultry voice handed me a slip of paper with a seductive goodbye, “See you soon, honey.” She disappeared like Marlene Dietrich through the smoke. I still hadn’t gotten a clear view of her.

George came over to me, leaned over the bar, and spoke so I could hear him. He knew I had hearing problems. “Garry, my friend,”  he started, “Be CAREFUL, buddy”.  I stared at him — probably stupidly. George smiled a friendly smile, not a  leer.

George shook his head, “Garry, that’s a HE, not a she, Pal. Just be careful”.  I could feel the embarrassment shooting through my body. The impact of the Long Island Teas vanished as if I’d never drunk them.

I looked at my watch. Lunchtime had ended half an hour ago. I pulled out some money to pay my tab. George looked at me, smiling. “It’s on the house, Pal. Get back to work. Have a good day. Be safe”.

I returned to work. I did a couple of stories for the evening newscasts. No, I don’t remember anything about the stories.

Author: Garry Armstrong

As a reporter for Channel 7 in Boston for 31 years, I was witness to most of the major events affecting the region. I met a lot of people ... politicians, actors, moguls, criminals and many regular folks caught up in extraordinary situations. Sometimes, I write about the people I've met and places I've been. Sometimes, I write about life, my family, my dogs and me. Or what might otherwise be called Life.

51 thoughts on “GAFFES OF AN ICONIC NAME DROPPER – Garry Armstrong”

    1. Tas, you are right. Some days I wished I’d just turned over and went back to sleep. Certainly wish I had on THAT day.
      When we gather for our monthly Ol’ Farts luncheon, we are required to share some of those gems. No one is exempt. It usually results in gales of laughter. It’s easier to laugh now than back then. Golly, I couldn’t shed the embarrassment for weeks. My encounter quickly made it through the media. Of course, men never gossip.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Patricia, I guess you’re right. It balances the “good stuff” stories. I remember reading similar stories in books like “Three Bad Men” – the tome about John Wayne, John Ford and Ward Bond. Now, those fellas had some monumental bad days, many monumental bad days. But they had agents and staff to protect their images. A local celeb has no one protecting his “6”. You just deal with it and move on. I’m “glad” I was able to make people laugh. I guess that was some consolation.

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    1. Yes, dear Leslie. I survived and my mind won’t let go of those many low lights of my career. There were so many in the 40 plus years as a newsie. Just to soften the hard knocks to my skull here, I used to share some of my mishaps with celebs I though might appreciate my gaffes. Robert Mitchum laughed a lot during the afternoon we spent imbibing and swapping tall tales. He would respond to one of my anecdotes with, “Hey, I can go you one better..'” He always did. Mitch was one hell of a nice, down to earth guy. His giggles and laughs were infectious. Always made me feel better and less of a dolt.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. We’ve all had those “so how far along are you?” gaffes; fortunately, most of us haven’t done that on tape. Some of us have had he/she experiences – not quite like yours, of course, but even back then, they were around. Part of one of my earlier posts was about a client who was formerly a man but became a woman and was selling her house to a gay male couple ( https://cordeliasmomstill.com/2015/11/12/no-mom-i-am-not-a-realtor-re-blog/ , if I may be so bold). Today, ambiguous sexual orientation is not such a shock.

    One thing I really like about you and Marilyn, though, is that even though you’ve had many, many celebrity friends and acquaintances, you are still willing (apparently, happily so!) to converse with little people like, well, me. I’m grateful for that and hope someday to meet you both.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mom, here’s to our get together, sooner rather than later. I’m sure we’ll have many chuckles. Marilyn and I are always pleased that folks enjoy our stories. I’m always a bit concerned that people might think we’re bragging (some celebs, local and Hollywood big, are actually out to impress. It’s part of their routine when they guest on talk shows or do the required publicity interviews.) Our aim is just to entertain you with our hopefully interesting past/s.

      Thanks for the link. It looks interesting. I’ll make sure I put the coffee cup down.
      I have mixed emotions about today’s ambiguous sexual look. Yes, it’s no longer a shock and often very entertaining. But, as a dinosaur, I like folks who dress (I am struggling here) to “look good”. Dressing for entertainment sake and not political or social statements. I know dress/fashion is a great way to make a statement without saying a word.
      Mom, when we meet, you wear a tulip and I’ll wear a big, red rose. Do I have that mixed up?
      Mom, now I am really looking forward to a get together. Calls for a check in here and a google calendar search for a day and time that’s mutually convenient. Okay?

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      1. Sounds good, Garry, except that I don’t fly and for me it’s a really long drive to Uxbridge. Any chance you and Marilyn will be coming towards Buffalo any time in the future? Maybe I could meet you part-way. I can probably grab hubby one of the daughters for an overnight trip if it comes to that.

        (PS, I know you’re on fixed income now, but just FYI, I’m less than a mile from the Buffalo-Niagara Airport. Can’t offer accommodations at my still-being-updated house, but maybe could help with a brief hotel stay. Keep it in mind.)

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Mom, thanks for the invite. We’ll put it in our “to consider” file. I have a former colleague who lives in your area and it doesn’t seem like an impossible drive. Maybe to consider next spring or summer. Thanks, again, Mom. Here’s looking at YOU, kid.

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  2. I admit to chuckling. The difference between a gaffe from the ‘common man’ and a reporter, especially a TV reporter, is the level of celebrity I suppose. You were ever so much more VISIBLE and therefore your gaffes more noticed. I have mistaken a woman to be pregnant on three occasions, in only one case was I right. I went my way, chastened and red faced from the other two. No woman likes to be mistaken to be pregnant, especially if she’s a ‘larger’ woman. That girl in your story sounds rather silly and I wonder if she WAS really pregnant and the rather elderly ‘father’ just didn’t want a lot of jokes about his bedroom prowess. It sounds like the guy had a big chip on his shoulder and would have given anyone the same treatment he gave you. Thanks for sharing your names (you really interviewed the Boston Strangler??? FASCINATING! I hope you write something about that one some time) and your gaffes. And anyone who calls you “honey” in a sultry cigarette smoke voice is probably gender ambiguous. I’m glad you didn’t get a big surprise out of it..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Melanie. Anyone who works in the public arena (is a familiar face) should be ready for “hinky” scenarios. It goes with the territory. For every friendly autograph or picture request there’s a negative encounter with someone who doesn’t like your media personality. You just have to be ready to deal with it. I try to maintain a pleasant demeanor.

      I’ve written about my ‘friendship’ with”The Boston Strangler” . I’ll do another one soon — just for you.

      As for “sultry voice”. I think you’re right. I was very lucky. Thanks to my friend, George, wherever he is these days.

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  3. Your mention of the book “Three Bad Men” reminded me of a little story about Barbara Ford, John’s daughter. My daughter and I lived for many years with Stan and Olive Jones. He was the composer I mentioned to you before who wrote “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” the music for”The Searchers,” and many other films and some tv series. After Stan died, Barbara, who had been to the house often, called. When I answered,she said, “We all know how the widow is doing. I’m calling to find out how the best friend is coping. I went through that with Ward.” Ward Bond had been her real father figure, the one who was always there to depend on, who saw her through her teenage problems and tragic first marriage and everything else, her best friend. I think that is a side of Bond that few knew about.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Patricia, thanks for the reminder about Ward Bond. “Three Bad Men” really was an informative as well as entertaining look at Bond, Ford and Wayne — looking past the “print the legend” bios offered over the decades. Bond certainly had a prolific and durable career, right through “Rio Bravo”, his final film. I remember reading accounts of the reactions from close friends like Wayne, Ford, O’Hara, Dobe Carey and other members of Pappy’s film family. All were devestated.
      Again, thanks for the personal words about Wardell Bond.
      It must’ve been so interesting living with the Jones family. Were you around when they did their memorable film scores? Did someone sing the lyrics as they created the melodies? I love their work in “The Searchers”. The music is so seamless, changing smoothly with the script. That memorable last scene. The music – full volume – with Wayne striding ALONE out of the doorway, arms folded in tribute to Harry Carey, Sr. A very lonely hero, leaving the remnants of his family behind. So very, very poignant.
      I also loved the score for “Wagonmaster”. The music all but dominated the dialogue in the movie.
      Thanks, again.
      (FYI: We, last night, just finished watching the Ken Burns series “The West”. We- for some reason – didn’t watch when it first aired on PBS. Marilyn says she wanted to avoid the heartbreak given the treated we accorded the Native Americans. Marilyn was right. The series is excellent — beautifully photographed, written and voiced. Some of the shots of the flowing grass, hills and mountains, shrouded by fog — are simply breathtaking. Some of the Native recollections, especially the one in the final episode — the contemporary – middle aged man in a monologue about “coming to terms with history and the near extermination of his people by White men….’must come to terms with your life, the injustices, the revisionist history..or you wind up in an alcohol fueled car accident or suicide bullet to the head’. So heartbreaking — even for this lover of traditional cowboy movies. I just sat, hunched forward in silence for the final 10 or 15 minutes of the last episode.
      I tried to explain my feelings of awe and anger to Marilyn – mixed in with appreciation of the series’ production qualities. Marilyn already knew. I already knew. The series just again confirmed our knowledge of the DARK side of – How The West Won.)

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  4. I loved reading these stories, after all, misery loves company! I also like reading about your “celebrity” encounters. I’d be curious as to who your favorite President was of all the ones you’ve met…

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    1. Jim, I’d have to go with Clinton. We had the most access to him, his family and their Vineyard friends. I believe some of OUR Vineyard friends passed along positive vibes to the Clintons. I certainly enjoyed covering him more than the other Presidents although I had a fondness for LBJ who shared a political secret with me when I was on a Vietnam trip in ’67. I don’t think today’s reporters have the same access and trust that we had back then.
      When I had Washington assignments, I could always stop in Tip O’Neill’s office for a friendly chat and maybe some help in getting to a Pol who was inaccessible.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. fascinating, thanks for sharing. You’re right, I can’t imagine reporters having the kind of access it seems you had when you were a reporter. And while I’m picking your brain, I’d be curious what your reactions are when you hear the phrase “the fake news media”.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Jim, anger and exasperation — especially given the source of that comment. I don’t know how today’s reporters – on the White House beat – gird themselves to daily exposure of ridicule from 45 and his smarmy gang. We’re trained to hold our tongues – stay on focus and stick to the story. Gotta be hard these days.
          And, then, there’s the “enemy of the people” tag. Makes my blood boil.
          I just hope I’m around when karma pays an overdue visit.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I can feel your anger, and justly so. I hope the press will soon be vindicated (even thought they don’t need to be). They just need to keep reporting on the nonsense that is happening in D.C.

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            1. Jim, yes, they need to stay ever vigilant. Someone should slip 45 a cliffnotes version of the Ibsen play. Probably one with pictures.
              45 may have seen the Steve McQueen version of “Enemy of the People” and thought it was a western. Hey, smile when you say that, Pilgrim.

              Liked by 1 person

                  1. Okay, I know Marilyn and Jim are teasing me. Right?

                    Jim, did you read “”Ullysses”? The TRUTH, Jim.

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  5. I had a similar incident. I worked for the Loans Officer in a bank. A man and woman came to the counter and had an appointment I hadn’t been aware of. I walked to the counter and asked if the Gentleman and his mother had an appointment and how I could assist them. They looked at each other and frowned then stiffened. She was his wife (he was a good 25 years younger perhaps more) and looked to be 28 to 30 while she was clearly 60. I was suitably embarrassed at my mistake and the loans officer chuckled because he’d thought the same thing but had the paperwork in front of him which was the only reason he hadn’t said the same thing, lol. ooops.

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  6. Yes.. best never to suggest pregnancy until it has been affirmed first by the lady in question. This happened to my mom once. She was not amused. The Boston strangler? Okay, Garry. We gotta talk about this…

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    1. Fandango, a great question.

      There’s a scene in some John Wayne western where his rough demeanor and language are criticized by a stuffy Eastern socialite. Duke grins and replies, “Well, excuse me to hell, Pilgrim”

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