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 Tribute

Published

 January, 2007

Synopsis

 Some of my favorite people down through the years

Unforgettable People

By Al Owens
I’ve always thought I’ve been very fortunate to have had many of the experiences I’ve had over the years. To have had an opportunity to meet people I would have never dreamed of meeting when I was a child. Those are the people I just call unforgettable characters.

I think just about everybody, to some degree, has had people who’ve touched them, made them think, gave them hope, made them laugh or gave them anxieties that stuck – and will cause us to think about them from time-to-time.
That’s how unforgettable characters paint themselves into our memories.

Here are a few of mine.
Morrie Berman: I met Mr. Berman when I was a young television reporter in Phoenix. My boss handed me a note with his name and telephone number on it. It seems Berman had recently retired and moved to the area, after more than a half century of working for the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph as a photographer. I called him, went to his home, and I immediately became fond of him.
Morrie Berman’s smile nearly took-up the entire bottom half of his face. His constant laughter could make you recoil. His storytelling (and there were lots of stories) were often about things that had gained him nationwide fame. If you’ve ever seen that picture of New York Giants quarterback Y.A. Title on his knees, with his head bleeding – you should know it was Morris Berman who took that picture.
He’d taken thousands of pictures. And I spent nearly a week rummaging through them so he could tell me about them. There was a picture Berman took at Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, of Clayton Moore (television’s Lone Ranger) holding a silver bullet in front of a little girl who’d dropped her crutch and was walking (perhaps for the first time) trying to grab it.
He’d also won many awards for his work. Like for his picture of some doodling on a table cloth. Not just any table cloth. This one was the terms of a union contract scribbled on them – when the negotiators broke for lunch. Berman, was resourceful, and to me, unforgettable.

J.O. Brown: He was my high school Problems of Democracy teacher. I don’t even know if he even liked me. All he did was spark me to stay after his class everyday and argue with him about politics. He somehow built in me a desire to learn more than I already knew about things. That’s what made him unforgettable.

“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler: I met him one day on the set of the television program “Punky Brewster”. He was the Middleweight Champion of the World, who was about to do a guest shot on the show. I was there to interview him about that. We both got there early. We spent much of the afternoon talking. Hagler was a nice guy, except for one thing. He really didn’t like Sugar Ray Leonard. The mere mention of the more popular Leonard got Hagler started. Hagler was probably as skilled as Leonard in the boxing ring, but he had none of Leonard’s charisma. Thus, Hagler couldn’t get out of Leonard’s shadow and he knew it.
The two would eventually meet in the boxing ring in 1987. Leonard won by decision. Hagler never fought again. I couldn’t help but think that day about that unforgettable meeting I’d had with Hagler.

Mile Davis: The very first day I worked as a reporter at Entertainment Tonight, I was sent to interview the enigmatic jazz musician. HE was a man who actually kept me laughing before, during and after the interview. I asked him about the supposed feud between him and the younger jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. (There was a lot of talk about there being bad blood between them)

Davis told me he really didn’t have anything against Marsalis. Although while Marsalis was winning all of those awards he was winning at the time, he wondered why he kept giving those long acceptance speeches. According to Miles, he’d go on-and-on-and-on. “Nobody wants to hear all of that. I wish he’d just take the award - say ‘thank-you’ and just walk off the stage”.

I happened to be watching the 1990 Grammy Awards and jazz pianist Herbie Hancock was paying tribute to Miles Davis with a long speech about Davis’ enormous contributions to contemporary music. Hancock was about to give Davis a Lifetime Achievement Grammy. When Hancock finished, Davis walked on stage. He walked up to the podium, took the award, said, “Thank-you” then walked right off stage. That’s why, to me, Miles Davis was unforgettable!

Edward Owens: Not Edward A. Owens. Edward “Jack” Owens. I first met him on October 17th, 1948 – the day I was born. He grew old on the outside, but stayed young on the inside until he died last year around this time. He’d been born on Christmas day in 1909. He suffered a massive stroke the day following Christmas in 2005.
Here’s what made him unforgettable to me. His energy! I’ve known nobody who ever enjoyed work more than Jack Owens. He’d sit around thinking up ways to fix things, even if they weren’t even broken.

He was remarkable in yet another way. He loved following politics. If I inherited anything from him, it was his deep sense of righteous indignation about the way things should be – but weren’t.

My favorite memory of my father during his latter years was on election night 2000. I was in the house during that event. He’d fly up and down the stairs with every new state count. He cheered when he thought Al Gore would be president, he felt otherwise when the results seemed otherwise. We spent the entire night and much of the morning rooting for the same outcome. To me, that’s what made him unforgettable.