Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Operator, This is Howard Cosell

He was standing backstage and reading through his notes...quickly. He would glance at the page and turn it. He went through about 9 pages in less than a minute. And he remembered everything.

That is the power of a photographic mind, which that day took the form of Howard Cosell. He was one of the most colorful, pompous, intelligent, and popular personalities in professional sports broadcasting because most fans couldn't stand him...and he didn't care. With his prolific memory and self importance, Howard would pontificate on almost any topic at the drop of a dime. He was 'always on'.

If you were born after 1977, here's a classic clip of the classic on air banter between Howard and 'The Champ".

Back to the story.

Howard was a guest host on The David Frost Show, which itself was, on paper, a brilliant idea. By that time, I was also the cue card writer on the show, but he didn't want any cue cards. He was very nervous and we could all see it. This wasn't a broadcast booth or radio studio. The great Cosell was not broadcasting a fight or football game, he was interviewing movie stars on a stage. He was out of his element.

The show was less than entertaining, and like elective dental surgery, we were all glad when it was over.

I was sitting with some friends in the dressing room after the show and Howard walked in. I am sure he did not notice us. He went straight into the make-up room, and sat down in the big 'barber's chair' that was surrounded by mirrors. He looked in the mirror, tugged at his hair, and loosened his tie. The make-up room became what he didn't have on stage....a broadcast booth.

He threw off his coat, sat back in the chair and picked up the phone as if it were a microphone. Then, without missing a beat, boomed into it as if he were broadcasting Monday Night Football,

"Hello Operator, THIS IS HOWARD COSELL."

And it wouldn't have suprised me a bit if the operator responded with..."Yeah, sure you are".