by Frank M. Roberts - October 2015
Frederick the Great - Part 1: From 1740 to 1786, he ruled Prussia, expanded its territories, and turned the country into a strong military power.
Fredric the great - Part 2: He ruled Broadway and Hollywood from 1920 to 1976, and was the only actor to win two of each - Academy and Tony Awards - for roles in movies and on Broadway.
Back - waay back - in the summer of 1943 he was my guardian and friend. Warnin' note. If you're not a senior citizen skip over to the sports page.
So - how did we become palsy-walsies? During the war years many, many farms needed help with their crops. Their sons and many of their workers were in uniforms supplied by Uncle Sam, so they looked for some younger kids to work in the summertime and help with the plantin' and plowin'.
We volunteered in groups of four. Many of us were city kids and didn't know a watermelon from a grape, but there were tough times 'down on the farm' and we were recruited. Each of us would spend a month on one farm, then the next month on the other. I thought I had an advantage since my mom planted a backyard Victory Garden, the size of a large fingernail. I think we grew - proudly grew - a tomato.
We were taken by the busload to a variety of east coast locales. We thought it would be fun-fun-fun. For four of us part one was anything but fun-fun-fun. We worked for a not too distant relative of Simon Legree. He was an executive with Johnson & Johnson. Later, I felt I would rather have a rash than use his baby powder.
The only thing I remember about him is that his last name started with a 'Z' although we thought it should have been a 'B'. That joker worked us like Russian farmhands. We knew this voluntary farm thing was a fat mistake --- BUT --- the second farm was fantastic.
It was a summer home, somewhere in Connecticut, owned by Fredric March, and his lovely actress wife, Florence Eldridge. We quietly wondered what working there had to do with the war effort. They grew cigar tobacco.
Both of them were there during our entire stay. (Ms. Eldridge and I were New Yorkers. Me - Queens --- her - Brooklyn. Mr. M came from Racine, Wisc.) We tilled the soil for about 20 minutes, then took a break - for about 20 minutes. They told us to relax on their porch and constantly kept bringing us lemonade, cookies, etc.
Of course - ahem!!- we talked showbiz. What a pleasure. He was one of the most respected names in the business, and seemed to have no ego problems - nothing at all like one of his roles - Mr. Hyde, of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" fame. By the way that role netted him one of his Oscars.
That was one very happy 30 or so days, and more than made up for our time at farm number one. We enjoyed them, and their Cocker Spaniel.
The actor's real name was too long for a marquee - Frederick Ernest McIntyre Bickel. He was a romantic lead, and a character actor. The University of Wisconsin grad began as a banker, but doing small roles in a number of plays whetted his appetite, and acting became a full-time job.
The Hollywood roles were small at first, but producers and the public recognized his talent and it paid off for him, and for us.
One of his earliest 'talked about' efforts was parodying John Barrymore in a touring production of that royal acting family. On screen he worked mostly for Paramount Studios. Then, he alternated - Hollywood - Broadway - and back. One of his best film roles had to do with returning WW2 veterans, "The Best Years Of Our Lives."
He made the cover of Life Magazine in his role in, "A Bell For Adano." And, there was a visit to the Kennedy White House. In Oshkosh b-gosh - there is a theater named for him at the University of Wisconsin.
And, there were teevee roles - quality productions (whatever happened to them?). Wifey was certainly no slouch. They often performed together. Both of them appeared in "The Swan." That is where they met and, unlike most showbiz marriages, it lasted until -- .
Their surviving children: Daughter, five grandkids, a great granddaughter, two brothers. A son passed away. The daughter and son were adopted. In addition to their summer home in Connecticut, there was a castle-like home in Bel Air - sort of a Hollywood suburb.
And, a bit of Hollywood trivia about a character who was heard, but never seen. Not Topper's friends, but The Invisible Man. He is - er - buried in New Hampshire. The 'gravesite' looks like a nice Fall day, including a forest backdrop. Both the 'Man' and his wife are under the sod there. Their graves are surrounded by - what else? - a white picket fence. As the old rock 'n roll novelty song used to say -- "it's a graveyard smash."