This past weekend featured the departure from the CBS airwaves of Ken the Great. This season I’ve attended about a dozen farewell dinners thrown in his honor and learned a bunch of things about him I never knew.
Also, I’ve noticed over the last few years that Kenny Venturi is tight with only a few close friends, but recently, for some reason, he has been surrounded by thousands of idiots who appear to be tight with him. Damn, but that man knows a lot of people! I did a little math in my head, and if the seven degrees of separation thing is even close to correct, then the only person on the planet that Kenny hasn’t influenced is an 87-year-old one-legged midget Samoan man with bad teeth who now lives with the former Roman Catholic Bishop of Cheltenham, England, who is now a female wrestler. Kenny was never into wrestling.
Kenny is moving from Marco Island, Florida, to Palm Springs, California, or so the papers say. I think he bought the place in the desert just so he has somewhere to hang all the signed memorabilia he has received from people like Jack Nicklaus last week and Byron Nelson a couple of weeks ago. Not to mention stuff from Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Joey Bishop, and every other rat in the pack.
Bishop always called Kenny “Vinny,” and Kenny tells a story about the day after the 1964 U.S. Open, when he walked into one of the very dangerous Italian restaurants he used to frequent in New York City, to join “da boyz.” Bishop held Kenny’s face in both hands and said, “Vinny, we saw ya staggerin’ off da last green yesterday after yuh had won da U.S. Open and collapsin’ inta a heap and bein’ helped to yah feet an’ collapsin’ again an’ me an da boys just wanted tuh saytayah dat it wuz da greatest act dat we evuh saw!”
You should hear Kenny tell dat one. Or the one about how he got the job 35 years ago. Dr. Cary Middlecoff had the seat at the time but CBS had offered the position to Kenny, who could no longer compete because of his hands. Kenny told them that he didn’t want anything that belonged to someone else and that he wouldn’t take the job unless the good doctor gave it to him.
He called Dr. Middlecoff in his room at the Akron Towers hotel, asked to see him, and the two men sat down over a martini. Or seven. Dr. Middlecoff apparently didn’t like the way the affair had been handled, but saw instantly in Kenny someone with a sense of honor and decency, and so he shook his hand, and passed on the torch.
Funny enough a similar thing happened just a few months ago, when Lanny Wadkins was offered the seat. Lanny only took the position because Kenny wanted to go. This past weekend, Venturi leaves on his own terms, and yes, mistakes, he’s made a few, but he most definitely did it his way. Joni Mitchell added that, “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”
But just wait ’til you hear Wadkins when we get him lit up!