B. E. introduced all the boys to sport early (if one may put it so passively). They were, Roger says, weaned on the Bears, and a Chicago pro basketball team called the Gears. When school was out, B. E. took them hunting and fishing—to Canada, to Acapulco, Miami and the Bahamas. When school was in, he was there, watching their football games, basketball games, track and tennis meets. "He was interested—and demanding," Roger says. "He wasn't overly complimentary about what I was doing, but he was always there, and that means a lot to a boy."
Bensinger's own father had traveled a great deal when B. E. was young, and took B. E. with him. "I can remember catching Forellen near Baden-Baden when I was 5," Bensinger said, lighting a cigarette, "and I used to go with my mother and listen to band concerts all over Germany. I did develop a fondness for music, although I'm tone-deaf. I try to play the piano, and I played the mandolin and the banjo—very badly." ("He knows opera," his wife says happily. "All the other wives have trouble getting their husbands to go to the opera. Not me, and he tells me all the stories and sounds like Damon Runyon.") Also, when he was a little boy he underwent six weeks of being taken every day for four or six hours to the Louvre. He claims to be unscarred by this cultural advantage, but Roger observes that on a family tour of Europe in 1950 his father got through the Louvre at a sort of dead run, "and I was right behind him."
In the days before Brunswick mushroomed, Bensinger had been free to take his own boys on a number of extended trips, and this European tour of 1950 is remembered as the best of them. Bensinger packed the family into a big Lincoln and drove them everywhere to do everything; no cathedral in Europe, Peter says, has gone unsightseen. Linda had done a massive job of organizing that held up until they got to Spain, where it, and Linda and Mr. Travelletti, the travel agent, underwent something of a strain. "When we got to Spain," Peter recalls, "Mr. Travelletti had to make so many changes in our hotel space he nearly went out of his mind. Dad would say there's a better bullfight here, or there, and we'd have to go." Before the boys' first bullfight B. E. had insisted that they know what they would be watching. They read and read—of course, Death in the Afternoon from cover to cover—with the result that both younger boys went berserk from the first. They went to the apartado at 12 and were late for lunch. They went to bullfights, they took movies, they met bullfighters and went up to their hotel rooms. "Belmonte's a quiet, courteous man," Roger says. "Charming. And Ord��ez is very quiet. But Domingu�n! Flash! Really a flashy guy. I remember seeing him before he went out to fight a bull—he would straighten his jacket and his eyebrows." Roger pulled at his lapels and straightened his eyebrows, and there it was—a very flashy guy. "We spent the next whole summer doing nothing but going to bullfights. Peter was really crazy about it—we had to keep an eye on him or he would have been an espont�neo [i.e., a spontaneous or volunteer torero] and jumped into the ring. The Spanish newspapers mentioned him, the possible new North American torero, and all that. We used to practice. We bought capes and we bought banderillas, we looked in the mirror and studied angles, and every night we practiced passes. It was all a little hard on Mother," he added thoughtfully.
Linda just did what she always does about this sort of thing. She had a party. She loves to have parties. Her answer to B.E.'s hunting trips was, for example, to give the Duck Hunters' Ball, for which she decorated the Conrad Hilton in Chicago as a field. For the bullfight party she had an arena built on the lawn, got a band to play proper bullfight music and put a friend of Peter's into a bull costume. Bensinger, Roger and Peter got to be matadors, and a splendid picture of them in their suits of lights commemorates the occasion in the bullfight room. There were the Decoration Day parties, to which everyone brought something (Dr. Ralph Bettman once brought a cow, under the heading of beverages). There was the trout-fishing party, for which the swimming pool was filled with trout. No guest caught anything—Linda later decided the fish had been too recently fed—and the next morning, about 6, Peter and Roger sneaked out of the house and cleaned up.
The most marvelous party, however, was for Roger's sixth birthday. Evenings the boys used to gather around the radio and submerge themselves in the doings of The Lone Ranger. Just before the birthday Linda said to Roger, "Why don't you write to station WGN and send an invitation to your party to The Lone Ranger?" and Roger did, with what degree of confidence is not recorded. Came the birthday, the children were sitting in a circle in the yard, and with a thunder of hooves and cries of, "There's work to be done in the canyon!" who comes crashing through the bushes? B.E. Bensinger and Seymour Oppenheimer, that's who, though the boys actually did not know it until years later. "His suit was white suede, and he had guns and a mask and everything—it was gorgeous!" Linda says. Bensinger is tall and dark, an enormously handsome man; his white stallion reared and pranced and, as Peter recalls, "We were all petrified." Perhaps this prevented their observing critically that Tonto had a mustache. ("Tonto doesn't have a mustache," Linda had protested, but their friend Seymour Oppenheimer had said firmly that, well, this afternoon he would.) The Lone Ranger invited everyone to come up and ride with him, but the invitation was declined with terror by all but one little girl, and eventually Roger. It was a pretty dashing party, and one of the pleasantest recollections is probably Peter's, of his father's habit of coming home from work to listen to The Lone Ranger with them. Actually, he was boning up on his part—what caves The Lone Ranger and Tonto had been frequenting, and whom they were saving from what. It was in point of fact more a sort of homework for B.E. than the shared passion Peter recalls.
The Bensinger house in Highland Park where the boys grew up is described as Georgian, but it strikes one first as pure house. It is gracious and ample, ivy-covered and lived-in until furniture and carpets and wallpaper bespeak their quality by stoutly remaining this side of the shabbiness to which the Bensinger exuberance would have reduced anything but excellence. The upstairs sitting room seems filled with chintzes and curios, glass birds and antique dolls, an old writing desk and a modern telephone stand, a motley assortment of pictures and great warmth. Down the hall is the Bensingers' bedroom, overlooking the pool and the ravine, windows all the way around so that with the shades up it has the air of a sleeping porch. The boys' rooms have been done over. Teddy's is a nursery for the grandchildren, and the walls of what was Peter and Roger's have been painted white instead of the philosophical beige of the days when the boys bounced basketballs off them. The bookshelves remain intact: one finds Doctor Dolittle, the Oz books, Moby Dick and Arabian Nights. And Jules Verne, Robinson Crusoe, Andersen and Grimm, the Just So Stories and the Jungle Books. In the attic there are the built-in cedar closets full of hunting clothes and equipment. There are old ice skates hanging on nails, and boxes marked "Boxing Gloves" and several pairs of crutches. There are Lake Shore Country Club cups immortalizing swimming and tennis triumphs, and the magnificent Gin and Tennis Club Trophy. (The Gin and Tennis Club was begun by Linda and B.E., and involved gin and tennis. The trophy was contended for on the Bensinger court.) It is a steel mixing bowl, with the Gin and Tennis Club emblem, crossed racket and gin bottle, and the names of champions from 1938 to 1950 all emblazoned in red, green or white paint.
There are boxes of costumes, and boxes that say, "Red Christmas Smock," "Old Curtains," "Red, White and Blue Bunting and Silver Bell," "Mr. B. Old Fashion Bathing Suit" ("It's really his bathing suit," Roger's wife says), "Red Devil Hallowe'en Costume," "Royal Blue Feather Boa," " Red Cross Production Uniform," "Orange Goat—Maribou," and "Wedding Dress, Nightgown and Wedding Shoes." There are cribs and a dress form, and a closet with "Butler's Short Coats On This Side" and "All Ted's Summer Suits, October 1951." And an old steel Zeppelin two feet long and pictures of cowboys and cactus on the walls, proclaimed in a very youthful hand to be the work of "Peter B."
Outside, the tennis court lies along the cutting gardens, almost facing the kennels, where the retrievers, old Star and young Taffy and Amber, look out at even a stranger, hopeful of action. They haven't got a chance. B.E. isn't going to get in much hunting this year. He may get up to his lodge on his own seven miles of the Restigouche (to which Linda has enthusiastically relegated the deer heads, moose heads, birds and fish of 30 years) for salmon but, for the most part, he will just go on keeping too busy.
Bensinger claims he will retire at 60. If he doesn't, he will at 65, and by that time at least five grandsons will be ripe. The great outdoors would do well to be resting up.