When he passed away in 2012, Beano Cook left behind an unfinished manuscript and collection of stories that need one final push to the finish. John D. Lukacs, Cook's colleague and longtime friend, made completing that book his personal mission.
"Haven't They Suffered Enough?" was released in 2021 as a memoir of not only Cook's career in PR, broadcasting and media but also of college football's 20th century. Joe Paterno and Cook were huge influences on that century and shared a fascinating relationship.
In a previous Q&A, Lukacs described that relationship, along with how Cook (a long-time Pitt publicist) viewed Penn State. However, the last question of the interview deserved its own special mention.
Here, Lukacs shares a story involving Paterno, Cook and the movie Casablanca that underscores how the two really felt about each other.
How Did the Relationship Between Beano Cook and Joe Paterno End?
On a high note. I feel fortunate to have been present for both of their final face-to-face encounters. A few months after [former Penn State publicist Budd Thalman's] retirement party [in 2001], Joe broke Bear Bryant’s record for all-time wins, and ESPN wanted Beano to do a sit-down with Joe. Beano pointed out that the person who stole the show on national television after that game was Sue Paterno. He said he wanted to sit down with Sue, not Joe, and ask her about her life as the wife of a famous coach, how’d they stayed together through the ups and downs and raised a big family, what the record meant to her — an outside-the-box approach.
After some badgering by Beano, the folks in Bristol acquiesced. A few weeks later, while the crew was setting up in the living room of the Paterno home, Joe shuffled out from his study in his sweatpants and slippers to say hello. "Sit down and bulls--- for a minute, Joe," invited Beano. Joe demurred; he had film to watch. "It’s Indiana, for crying out loud!" Beano yelled. "You’re going to win by two touchdowns." [Cook was right; Penn State won 28-14].
"Beano, we don’t play a Big East schedule," Joe retorted. "I have to prepare!" At the end of the day, Sue sent me home with some delicious homemade cookies, and Joe made sure he shook hands with Beano and saw us out the door. The back-and-forth at their last meeting, another ESPN interview in 2008 which took place at Holuba Hall, was filled with much of the same. I saw two guys who were genuinely happy to be in the other’s company. It was just like — at least the way I imagined it — it was back in the 1950s before the Pitt-PSU rivalry shifted a gear into hate-mode in the mid-1970s, before conference realignment and before the money and egos took precedence over the laughs and relationships part of the game.
Fast-forward a dozen years to 2020, when I was working on the portion of the book detailing Beano’s relationship with Joe. I remembered some of the conversations Beano and I had about the scandal and how Beano took it upon himself to issue some statements in Joe’s defense that readers may be surprised to find in the book. It was at that point that I realized that a lot of what I thought I knew about these two people and their relationship had been colored by what I’d read in newspapers and magazines, and by the fans of both schools, natural results of a bitter rivalry.
While there were some real beefs and ruffled feathers over the years, it occurred to me the whole relationship was more like politics or pro wrestling than it was reality. In other words, outside observers have no idea what really transpires behind closed doors. Neither side can fathom any kind of role reversals between the heroes and villains, much less the notion that there aren’t actually heroes and villains. When I finally wrapped up this section of the book, I recalled one of my favorite lesser-known Beano stories.
It involves the time in the 80s when Beano was feuding with Penn State (or was it vice-versa?) and another of Beano’s closest old friends, then-Penn State Athletic Director Jim Tarman, informed Beano he was persona non grata in Happy Valley due to something Beano had recently said on the air about Paterno. That fall, it was announced that Penn State would be honoring a famous alum, screenwriter Julius Epstein, on the weekend of a home football game. Epstein and his brother, Philip, wrote “Casablanca.” That famous film, as most people familiar with Beano’s career understand, was his all-time favorite movie. He knew every line.
Well, lucky for Beano, Tarman and Paterno decided, to paraphrase the lyrics to “Auld Lang Syne,” that “old acquaintances should not be forgotten.” Tarman invited Beano up to State College for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet Epstein. A mild-mannered Epstein calmly introduced himself to Beano and said he enjoyed his work on television. Beano, on the other hand, barely able to control his excitement, blew through the handshake and blurted out, "Julie, how in the hell could you let Bogie let Bergman get on that plane at the end?"
The person who told me about the exchange had witnessed it first-hand and still enjoyed a good laugh relaying the tale. That person was Joe Paterno.
PENN STATE FANS: SI Tickets is your one-stop shop for tickets to a variety of Penn State sporting events, from football to basketball, hockey to volleyball. Need tickets to the Penn State game? Check out SI Tickets.
AllPennState is the place for Penn State news, opinion and perspective on the SI.com network. Publisher Mark Wogenrich has covered Penn State for more than 20 years, tracking three coaching staffs, three Big Ten titles and a catalog of great stories. Follow him on Twitter @MarkWogenrich. And consider subscribing (button's on the home page) for more great content across the SI.com network.