Chris Schenkel, the mild-mannered sportscaster who seems to carry about him a faint odor of vanilla, said he certainly did not see the humor in the old line "How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen the farm?" All through childhood Schenkel saw the farm, and as an adult he returned to it often for R&R. Now he is back to stay, except for brief expeditions to the Olympics, the Indianapolis 500, NCAA football, NBA basketball and other major sports events on behalf of ABC. "I love the Indiana farm country," Schenkel said in the demulcent baritone that seems to rise effortlessly from his size 14½ Adam's apple. "I'd never go back to New York City to live. But don't say anything bad about New York. New York was good to me."
Don't say anything bad about New York. Also, he requests that you don't say anything bad about the sports Establishment. Or officials. Or coaches. Or those wonderful young men down on the field giving their all in this glorious setting for this magnificent game right here in beautiful Collegetown, U.S.A. "Sometimes Chris Schenkel comes across like a junior high school cheerleader," said one of his early critics. "But there's less to him than that."
There's more, too, but Christopher Eugene Schenkel, in his 50th season of life, seems determined to let his critics go unanswered and his career speak for itself. Years ago he hit on certain rules for broadcasting success: Don't upstage the event you're covering. Don't out-mouth the color man. Don't talk the listeners' heads off. Keep a low profile and work hard, and one day you'll be a millionaire. It worked, so who can argue? Certainly not some of the logorrheic announcers who started out with Schenkel and now sell encyclopedias door to door while Schenkel continues to slip into your parlor once or twice a week, invited or otherwise, as he has for nearly three decades.
After so long a career, awards can be misleading, but if sheer poundage of trophies and plaques is any criterion, Schenkel must be considered far and away the best in the business. One whole room of his new home in Lake Tippecanoe, Ind. is jammed with them, and dozens more are in packing boxes. There is hardly a sportscasting tribute Schenkel has not won, except the most prized of all, the Emmy, and ABC is pushing hard to bring that one home for Schenkel this year after four previous nominations.
January 22, 1973
Emmy winner or not, the pencil-shaped, hazel-eyed Schenkel remains the archetypal Hoosier—and proud of it. He is a world-class name-dropper, but of a disarming sort. He doesn't give you the sly look and the studied nonchalance followed by, "Oh, yeah, I know the Chief Justice. Burgie and I go 'way back." His name-dropping is rather of the innocently idolatrous variety, much less common in sporting show biz. "Jack Nicklaus!" he'll say. "Now there's a great guy! How lucky can I get, to be personal friends with somebody like Jack Nicklaus. What a lovely person!" He goes on for hours about the color announcers he has worked with and how they enriched his life. "Men like Byron Nelson, Bud Wilkinson, Billy Welu, Bill Russell—why, do you realize they were all the best in their fields? These are great people! And they've stayed friends. Isn't that great? To have friends like that? In a million years I could never repay the industry for giving me a chance like this. How else could a guy like me have met people like Gene Cernan and John Glenn?"
Schenkel is so irrepressibly and enthusiastically upbeat that he sometimes makes constant listeners want to throw up. He seems to be broadcasting perfect events in a flawless world; unseemly developments are simply ignored, and the positive is accentuated with gusto. He refers to the flag as "Old Glory," and when the colors are marched into the stadium before a game he says, "Oh, what a beautiful sight!" His favorite all-purpose remark is "I love it!" which he applies to motherhood, the Protestant ethic, fidelity, beer, the work of Winslow Homer, conservatism in politics and anything customarily regarded as old-fashioned. His best friend, Indiana dairyman Rodger Nelson, says, "Old-fashioned values are the greatest things in Chris' world. Like consideration for others. When he doesn't point out a missed tackle, it's not because he's a Pollyanna or because he's a dummy, it's because he knows that player's family might be watching, and Chris is just not gonna single the kid out for criticism. That's old-fashioned courtesy. Chris is an Indiana farm boy in the best sense of that term."
The student of Chris Schenkel, searching for cracks in the nonpareil's character, might fix on the fact that he drinks an occasional drop of gin or Scotch and Jeroboams of beer, and that he occasionally says "hell" and "damn," even though he sounds as though he were trying to imitate the big kids when he does. "Profanity just doesn't come that naturally to me," he says, "and I hate hearing anybody use bad language in front of women, even though that's in vogue now. It really bothers me." At a Nebraska football game Schenkel reacted with premature horror when he saw two students waving a long streamer. "What a relief!" he said when it turned out to read HUCK THE HUSKERS. He dislikes broadcasting from the Los Angeles Coliseum because "you get this smell of marijuana and every once in a while one of those California freaks drops his pants in front of everybody. They think it's clever, but, gee, I wish they wouldn't do it in front of ladies." He disapproved of the old-world ambience at the Winter Olympics in Grenoble: "All those dirty Communists, and the French people smelled like they didn't bathe enough." So it develops that the quiet man has active dislikes; he just tries to keep them to himself for fear of undercutting the gaiety of nations and hurting somebody's feelings.
Like all such paragons, Schenkel manages to ruffle an occasional feather, but never intentionally. Once he hyped up a speech with a completely fictitious anecdote about Bob Cousy, the former Boston Celtic who suffers from a very slight speech impediment that turns an occasional "r" into a "w." Looking for a laugh, Schenkel told how Cousy came to him for elocutionary assistance. "So I told him to repeat, over and over, 'Russell/Ramsey/Rogers rarely rode a railroad train really,' and several days later Cousy told me, 'It worked! Gee, thanks, Kwis!' "
At a subsequent banquet Schenkel and Cousy (the real Cousy) listened as ABC Sports President Roone Arledge launched into the same story, featuring himself and ending with the line, "Gee, thanks, Woone!" Schenkel turned as red as the Communists of Grenoble and wound up apologizing lavishly. Cousy thinks the incident was funny, but Schenkel remains chagrined, to the joy of certain of his critics. There is something disturbing about moral perfection.
Chris Schenkel was brought up in the Indiana village of Bippus (pop. 275) between the Wabash and Eel Rivers. It is a community so thoroughly rustic that it was once described as "akin to a painting by Millet." Bippus is vintage James Whitcomb Riley, where the fodder's in the shock and fat pheasants loiter in the fields waiting to fly into your game bag. Prize hogs preen and graze in front yards, mistaking themselves for French poodles, and farmers vote the straight Republican ticket and grumble about the leftward drift at the state capital, Indianapolis, 85 miles to the south.
Chris Schenkel glories in Bippus, takes his friends there to show it off and expresses deep hurt when he learns that you don't know where Bippus is, don't care and have no intention of finding out. "Why, Herb Shriner got some of his best lines in Bippus!" Schenkel says proudly. "He used to say things like 'Bippus had a beauty contest and nobody won.' Whenever he got a little short on material, he'd come down to Bippus and talk to Glen Rittenhouse—'Ritt the barber.' Ritt's known all the way to Fort Wayne for his humor. What a great guy! What a friend he's been!"
For a time Schenkel engaged in a one-man campaign to put his hometown on the map, but not much came of it. "People would say, 'I heard you mention Bippus on the air. What's a Bippus?' I'd say, 'A Bippus is a hick town. That's a town where they call the cows by their first names.' It's true! I used to know every cow in our pasture."
Huntington County, Ind. was settled by no-nonsense immigrants, mostly Amish and Dunkard, who sought religious freedom and a few acres, and Schenkel was brought up on a strange admixture of Low German and broken English in a neat farmhouse just down the road from the church where Lloyd C. Douglas once preached. The area has changed hardly at all, except for signs in Bippus proclaiming it HOMETOWN OF CHRIS SCHENKEL NATIONAL SPORTSCASTER. The slightly embarrassed Schenkel is lionized throughout the region. An elderly maiden lady keeps a Chris Schenkel scrapbook with his name in gold on the cover. The owner of Beebe's antique shop in Pierceton says, "Chris Schenkel? You know him? Is he all right?" The last words of Dr. Floyd B. Mitman, beloved local GP, were said to be, "I just wish Chris would get off cigarettes."
What philosophy did the young monument pick up in Bippus? "Work, work and more work," Schenkel says. "Up at six, milk the cows, feed the animals, walk to school, come back home and start right in on the afternoon chores. Every day. Once in a while I'd go fishin' in Pony Crick—Pony Creek—and my father'd get upset. He thought fishing was a waste of time. A wonderful man, my father. He was a fanatic about two things—work and baseball. I had baseball shoved down my throat every Sunday—we'd have to go watch semipro teams. Maybe that's why I've never done much baseball. If I'm not interested in something, I can be bored quicker than anybody you know, and baseball has really bored me ever since childhood."
Schenkel has no nightmares about his rigorous upbringing. "We didn't think we were put upon," he said. "Hell, every kid in Bippus lived exactly the same way. In the Depression my brothers and sisters and I'd split a candy bar six ways, and I'd have to separate the cream from the milk and take it to the town store to get enough money for groceries. We never went hungry. Our clothes were always patched, but they were always clean."
For a time Schenkel and his little brother Phil made a local name as The Harmony Cowboys, with 12-year-old Chris on guitar and 5-year-old Phil standing on a chair picking a mandolin. The Harmony Cowboys were on radio's National Barn Dance and had professional bookings in the Midwest, but the stern parents thought matters were getting out of hand and made the boys stop. By that time Chris had decided to become an announcer. "My imagination was fired by listening to Ted Husing. He made football sound so exciting, and horse racing, even golf. Listening to Husing you could visualize everything that was happening." The family had a console radio that made acetate recordings, and Schenkel practiced on guests. A cherished old photograph shows him decked out in overalls and a sharply raked farm-boy hat polishing his "man-on-the-street" technique down at the local grain elevator.
At 15 Schenkel covered his first live basketball tournament. "I conned Wilfred Bunce, the telephone man, into stringing phone-lines from the Bippus gym to a P.A. system in front of the drugstore and Ritt's barbershop. It was illegal, but we did it." To the locals, weaned on Plattdeutsch, it sounded quite natural when Schenkel shouted into the mike, "There's the gun, and the game is all!"
Later Schenkel went to Purdue and other sports events. In his down-on-the-farm manner he covered a chicken-plucking contest at a county fair. "The contestants are ready! It's mighty innerestin', folks! There go the chickens into the boil-in' water! Oh, my, feathers are flyin'!" One night he was squeezed into the stands, broadcasting a basketball game, when a woman behind him took umbrage at one of his remarks and walloped him across the earphones with her purse. "Oh, jeez!" Schenkel says, "I'll never forget that! What a crack!" Inevitably someone heard him on one of his better nights, and the country boy from Bippus went to a radio station in Rhode Island—simultaneously apprenticing as a race caller at Narragansett Park.
Billy Ames, the track's P.R. director, had his own ideas of how to teach the race-calling business. He set Schenkel to work walking hots, mucking stalls and making color charts showing the silks of every stable. "There was one problem," Schenkel says. "My color perception is off, and that's how you cover a horse race, by color. So I had to work extra hard. Maybe there'd be three horses in the backstretch neck and neck and all the jocks were wearing red and green, and I always had a hard time with those two colors. So I had to look for things like a white bridle, bandages on the rear legs, a short bobbed tail. That's helped me to this day, in all sports. Those six years at Narragansett laid a foundation. If you made a mistake the criticism was immediate, because people were betting. If you called a horse in the wrong position you could hear the boos—right while you were doing it. That trains you fast."
From Narragansett Schenkel went to New York for radio coverage of the football Giants, and from there to boxing and bowling and all the rest. But not without difficulties. "Right off, the ad agency man wanted me to change my name," Schenkel recalls with disdain. "He said, 'Listen, I think you ought to be Chris Cross or Chris Reynolds.' I didn't change my name because it would have been phony and also I was scared to death of my dad. He'd have killed me. Chris Cross! Can you imagine that?"
Working in the big city, Schenkel had to learn to move his voice out of his nose and into his voice box for resonance, and to excise ruralisms like "messure" for measure and "unnerstan' " for understand. Some of his Indiana pronunciations were so tenacious that they remain; he still says "arrite" for all right, and he has a tendency to drop t's, as in "kep" and "baskaball." In common with other citizens of Bippus, he turns words like "known" and "school" into two syllables, and he accents "automobile" on the third syllable. Also in common with the natives, he speaks in the accent known to language subdividers as General American, as differentiated from New England and Southern. The General American accent falls gently on the average ear, which may help to explain Schenkel's professional longevity.
"Along the way I've pulled some real lulus," Schenkel says, modestly failing to note that every sportscaster has pulled real lulus in a profession where one stands alone and helpless, bereft of editors and copyreaders and other backup support. For years his specialty has been accidental spoonerisms, as in "Here's the coss of the toin." Once he announced breathlessly, "Notre Dame won the Cross." Since then he has been saying "flip of the coin" or "coin flip," and he has not yet blurted out "floin kip" or "kim floip," although it would not surprise him if he did.
Under extreme stress Schenkel has even managed to forget his name. "Doesn't everyone?" he says hopefully. The last such embarrassment was at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968. "I was so tired," Schenkel says. "We'd been doing four shows a day, live, and I'd just read a billboard—you know, something like 'The Olympic Games are brought to you by Texaco'—and I was concentrating so hard on the billboard that I came on camera and said, 'Good evening, I'm—I'm—.' Roone was in my car, via earplug, and he started laughing, and I started laughing, too. He said, 'Hey, your name is Chris Schenkel!' Those guys in your ear, they can get away with anything. Sometimes they tell me dirty jokes right in the middle of a football game. No wonder I lose the thread once in a while."
Schenkel's alltime slip of the tongue—the one that still makes him shudder—came in a Giants' laugher with the Washington Redskins. "It was the game where Y.A. Tittle threw seven touchdown passes to equal the NFL record, and Pat Summerall and I were whooping it up in the booth. When Del Shofner made a great move on the defensive halfback and scored, I announced, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Del Shofner has just faked Claude Crabb out of his jock.'
"Pat almost fell off his chair. He whispered in my ear, 'Do you know what you just said?' I said, 'No.' He told me, and I announced, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I'm afraid that I used a little bit of locker room language, and I apologize.' " That was back in 1962 when a man wouldn't say "jockstrap" in polite company if he was wearing three of them, but Schenkel rode out the temporary storm. He winced a few days later when he opened a letter from Fred Bowman, then president of Wilson Sporting Goods. "Chris." Bowman had written, "you must remember that the correct nomenclature is 'athletic supporter.' "
Schenkel learned from the painful incident. "It taught me that when you make an error, you should admit it. So now I speak right up and penalize myself 15 yards. You can't kid the viewers. They've become too sophisticated. I know all the famous stories about announcers fooling the listeners, but if you tried to lateral a horse nowadays you'd be laughed out of the business."
There is another reason why Schenkel, unlike most announcers, is quick to acknowledge his fluffs on the air. Out in television land lurks a legion of Schenkelphobes, many of them newspaper columnists, who relentlessly monitor his broadcasts for the sheer delight of catching him in a rock. Their motivations are varied. Some are perfectionists. Some are jealous, as in the case of certain writers who gripe aloud that Schenkel has built a six-figure income on a five-figure talent—a conclusion with which the party of the first part doesn't necessarily disagree. Some of the critics are downright sadistic and revel in the fact that attacking Schenkel is like attacking a nun—the assailant is either ignored or forgiven.
Whatever their motivation, Schenkel's detractors have been loud and active ever since the lady hit him with her purse. The late Dan Parker almost made a career out of lambasting him in print. Says Schenkel, in a rare outburst, "If I mentioned Bippus on the Monday night fights, you could count on it: the next day Parker would write, 'Who cares about Bippus? What's it got to do with boxing?' Well, maybe it had something to do with a kid from a small town who was on the program. But Parker would just clobber me. The big phony!"
In those early years, Schenkel came in for frequent criticism for his pro-Giants cheer leading style, "but there was nothing I could do about that. Mr. Mara would say, 'Look, we're trying to build up pro football.' At the time the Giants had sold maybe 5,000 season tickets, and pro football was nothing. Anyway, I traveled with the Giants and they were my best friends, my brothers. I was the Giants' announcer, not the Steelers', and I cheered for the Giants because I loved 'em. But, oh, how the columnists ripped me!"
Somewhere along the line Schenkel managed to invent an art form: "Schenkelese" Rick Talley, writing in the newspaper Chicago Today, defined Schenkelese as "the ability to convey meaningless words with sugar on them."
A cornerstone of the technique is the ultracomplimentary interview in which hardly anything is actually said, as in:
"Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, congratulations on a great game."
"You've always been a fine player."
"Thanks a lot."
"And Wes Unseld—what can I say, Wes? You just looked fine today."
"A real credit to the game, ladies and gentlemen. Wes Unseld, a wonderful player and a great guy."
After a typical Schenkelese interview, one columnist inquired in print, "For this they pay him $100,000?" The answer is no. They pay him $250,000. Plus.
Another aspect of Schenkelese is the grandly irrelevant addendum, intoned as though it were Holy Writ (an art that Schenkel's ABC colleague, Howard Cosell, has taken over and lowered to new depths). Someone will make a 98-yard run, and Schenkel will announce, "And he did it against the wind!" Or Walt Frazier will run on court, and Schenkel will say, "Here comes Walt Frazier, who was born on March 29, 1945."
Some of the naysayers would have one believe that just plain stupidity is another hallmark of Schenkelese, citing his famous lines, "While Escalera comes from San Juan, Puerto Rico, he can speak Spanish well," or "There are so many trees here that Joyce Kilmer must have surveyed this course before she wrote Trees." Schenkel, who is not prone to debate, calls these mere "slips of the, tongue," and one would have to be unreasonably cynical to doubt him. Anybody who speaks a couple of Anthony Adverses' worth of words into a microphone each year is bound to unleash an occasional galloping gaffe, and Schenkel's record is better than most.
Whatever whips and scorns he may have to take from his hecklers, Schenkel is held in almost universal respect by his peers in the television business. The public knows only the image and the voice, but the insiders know about the commercial pressures, the incessant voices in the ear, the delicate timings and schedulings, the spotting difficulties, the sponsors' importunings and all the other exasperating minutiae that make sportscasting far more difficult than it appears to the viewer. Schenkel has been named Sportscaster of the Year four times, and colleagues like Bill Flemming and Bud Wilkinson appear ready to do battle at the slightest denigration of their hero. Says Flemming, a close friend off-mike, "Some of the things you hear about Chris are enough to make you sick. There's a papier-m√¢ché image of him as a pleasant, naive, harmless type who hung around for 30 years and lucked into some good jobs, and with a name like Schenkel he's probably Jewish and therefore he's got a lot of friends on Madison Ave. putting in the fix. Nothing could be further from the truth. Chris is just about the most accomplished sportscaster in the business, and not only because of what he does on the air. I'm talking about the four-hour luncheons with sponsors, the all-night flights after speaking to a sales convention somewhere, the night-clubbing with important people when he despises night-clubbing. I'm talking about the whole package."
Says Wilkinson: "The great thing about Chris is that he's the total pro. He's unflappable in any situation. You can never program the trouble out of live television, but Chris is always totally on top, always cool, always thoroughly kind and, above all, professional. And a fine human being on top of it."
Another reason for the high regard in which fellow broadcasters hold Schenkel is his willingness to ignore his own ego and play the fool in situations involving himself and experts. He does this with the touch of a good Hamlet downplaying his own lines to accentuate the gravedigger's. "The experts are there for a purpose," Schenkel says. "I try not to upstage 'em." He adds slyly, "Also, I'm not afraid for my job. I know several sportscasters who worry every telecast that somebody's gonna replace 'em. I don't feel that way."
Says Wilkinson, a regular beneficiary of Schenkel's generous style, "With all the different sports that Chris has covered, with all the knowledge he's accumulated, he can't come on as the totally knowledgeable expert that he really is, simply because it would be too difficult to accept him. The average person just couldn't believe what this man knows about sports. So Chris just keeps his mouth shut and lets me do the experting."
Schenkel is also respected for his prodigious preparation, going all the way back to Narragansett. "I guess I just got in the habit," he says. "I don't feel comfortable unless I've thoroughly researched the subject myself. One time I was doing the Kentucky Derby and Tomy Lee came in first and there was an inquiry. I had to fill for 20 minutes, and it was easy, because I'd prepared. When I was doing the Monday night fights we used to broadcast an hour of prelim bouts plus the main event 52 weeks a year, and I personally interviewed every fighter, made up a file on each one, so I'd know something about them. You have to do it. The other Thursday morning a man came up to me and said, 'What time are you leaving Saturday morning for the football game?' I said, 'In about an hour.' I don't think he believed me, but that's pretty routine in a sportscaster's schedule: two full days of preparation for a game. I don't respect anybody who tries to do it the easy way. Years ago one of our color men wouldn't prepare; he would wait till I went out for coffee before the game and then go through my material. I just don't understand cheating like that."
By far the most controversial of Schenkel's techniques is his dogged, persistent benignity, dating back to those early years with the Giants when he would have been fired for a sour note. "I try to put myself in the player's place," he explains. "In sports you should point out the good things, because people can see the bad things for themselves. In a college football game those players aren't playing for pay, they're representing their colleges, and I don't see why I should put the rap on them for a clip or a face-mask. I don't think anybody at home cares to hear their names and numbers, either. Especially their families."
As Schenkel is fond of explaining, "I always try to remember what I was told by Harvey Foster when he was head of the FBI office in New York. I was feeling a little down, and Harvey said, 'What's the matter?' I said, 'Well, I keep doing the same things week in and week out and I just wonder if I'm contributing.'
"Harvey said, 'Just remember, maybe there's a little 9-year-old kid somewhere, and if you can turn one athlete into that kid's hero you might keep the kid from doing something he shouldn't do later.' I always think of that. That's why you'll never hear me say, 'A 15-yard penalty, face-mask violation, and they called the foul on Fred Turner.' I'd never do that. I still see sports heroes as heroes, and I think the audience sees 'em the same way."
As befits one with such a reverential attitude, Schenkel tries to hold his own words to a minimum, giving the contestants the full stage whenever possible, an approach that is growing increasingly rare on network television. There has been an undercurrent of competitive resentment between ABC's high-pressure Gifford-Cosell-Meredith team and its homier Schenkel-Wilkinson-Flemming team, and one knows exactly what Schenkel means when he says, "Sports announcers cannot get bigger than the game. The stars of the show are down there on the field, not up in the booth. Listen: an announcer is a necessary evil. He should watch the monitor 70 percent of the time and he should strive to write captions that'll add another dimension. That and the basics: down and yardage, time of game, the score, things like that. That's all he should try to do."
If this intentionally understated approach brings Schenkel tons of flying fertilizer, it also brings his share of raves. President Nixon picked up his sports hot line and congratulated Schenkel for his Olympic coverage last year, and Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska inserted his own review into the Congressional Record: "...by the time ABC completed its near 65 hours of Olympic Games coverage...I felt sure that if I was to knock on one of the doors on my street I would find that Chris Schenkel lived there. He has that quality of neighborliness that brought the Olympic spirit home." By Schenkel's own reckoning, the kindest remark of his career was relayed by Jim Plunkett, quarterback of the New England Patriots. Schenkel recalls, "Jim's parents are blind, you know, and one day he told me that his mother had asked to be remembered. She said, 'Tell Chris it's always a pleasure to see him on television.' That answers those critics who say, 'When a message flashes up on the screen, why do you insist on reading it aloud? Don't you know we can read?' Well, Mrs. Plunkett and thousands of others can't."
There are two schools of thought about Schenkel's future: the boobirds who worry that he'll go on for another 30 years, and the admirers who are afraid he'll crack under the most hectic pace in broadcasting. "His greatest asset is also his greatest liability," says Bill Flemming. "He can't say no." Echoes Schenkel's beautiful wife, Fran Paige, a former Copacabana dancer, "It's a good thing he wasn't born a girl."
The Schenkels have been married for 18 years, and Fran thinks it's time her husband slowed down. "But it won't happen," she says with mock mournfulness. "The Bippus Tornado had so much respect for his own father, he'll never quit working hard. Old Mr. Schenkel was supposed to be in full retirement at 80, but he'd sit at the window and watch the men work and then go out and do it himself on the tractor. He just couldn't retire, and neither can my husband."
"Fran raised the kids," Schenkel says apologetically, "and she did a great job." (Christina is 17; Ted 14; John 9.)
"Thanks a lot," says Fran, "but I'm getting tired of hearing them call you Uncle Daddy."
For a time close friends like Flemming and dairyman Rodger Nelson hoped that the purchase of a handsome lakefront home and a 208-acre Indiana farm would slow Schenkel down, but instead he bought a $250,000 airplane, the better to zip around to more and more games, conventions, ribbon-cuttings, board meetings, sales conferences and luncheons. On the family's first night in the house, Schenkel dropped in on them at four a.m. from a speech date, then emplaned two hours later for a meeting at ABC headquarters in New York. "That's O.K.," Fran says wearily. "I'm used to it. Our honeymoon lasted one night. Then he had to go do a fight."
Schenkel, like many other American businessmen, seems aware of the problem but incapable of doing much about it, although he is constantly resolving to change. "I try to save myself a little bit by staying off the party circuit as much as possible," he says. "Like the night before a Saturday football game, I'll have a couple of martins [sic] and dinner and go to bed. I used to go to pre-game parties, but I just can't keep up. And I hate party talk anyway. I'm one of those. Can you imagine anything duller than a drinking party with a bunch of sports announcers and sportswriters?"
Jumping from time zone to time zone, he occasionally indulges in a little help from his friends, e.g. Seconal, but one night in California he learned the danger of mixing barbiturates and alcohol. "I had to make a sales pitch early the next day," he recalls, "and I had a Seconal on top of three or four Scotches. All of a sudden I started blacking out and coming back, blacking out and coming back, and then I began to gag. A doctor had to give me a shot."
"I just plain worry about him," says Flemming. "He's six feet tall and he weighs 140 pounds and he smokes three packs a day and drinks a quart of coffee to keep going. Now what's he gonna use for reserve if he gets hit by something like pneumonia? It's gonna take him right out."
"Aw, shucks," says Schenkel, "I wish they wouldn't worry so much. All I want to do is relax and play the organ in our house and raise purebred cattle."
"When I get tired of sportscasting."
When will that be?
"Well, I don't know," Schenkel says, obviously less than thrilled with the subject of relaxation. "Right now I love my job as much as I ever did. You have to have a lot of ego to enjoy this business. I still love to see my name in print. Some people hate to sign autographs, but I love it. I'll stand there all night if that's what the people want. I learned this from Arnold Palmer. I've seen him lose by a stroke on the final hole and then sign autographs right down to the last kid in line. That to me is part of being a great champion, a great human being. Arnie's a real hero. Nicklaus is the same way. I can't see enough of people like that. Wonderful people! Terrific people! I love 'em! That's what keeps me going."
Pressed, Schenkel admits that he has absolutely no intention of slowing down and no target age for retirement. He just plans to roll along until his life is all, and by the looks of his ratings the television audience plans to roll along with him. Plainly there are benefits in the low-key approach, in handing away the best lines, in trying to follow the famous dictum that less is more, at least over the years. As Howard Johnson learned, you may offer the public 28 delicious flavors, but the biggest seller is still vanilla.