It was night in Los Angeles, and you know how weird that can be. The kids were rioting on Sunset Strip, as ever, and over at the Beverly Hilton Hotel the older crowd had assembled for the Bonanza Ball. The ball was for charity, which meant black tie, and it had a cowboy theme, which meant there was a stuffed horse standing near the bar. Ah, Hollywood.
Then, smiling into the spotlight, came Lorne Greene, television's biggest western star, the Ben Cartwright of Bonanza. He was wearing a tuxedo with tiny silver buckles latched over all the pockets, and, with his white hair and all, he shimmered. He began telling the warm-up joke he had rehearsed in the car coining over from Bel Air. Lorne Greene's joke:
"Boy, am I glad to be here tonight. I had this terrible nightmare last night. Dreamed I was in an airliner flying along at 35,000 feet. We got into trouble, and I had to bail out. My parachute wouldn't open, and when I looked down, there on the ground waiting to catch me was—
The ballroom exploded into laughter, with an undercurrent of murmuring, as husbands leaned over and explained to their wives, " Willie Davis plays center field for the Dodgers. They were in the World Series, see, and Willie dropped..." Then the wives all laughed.
Next the Dan Blocker Singers came on and did four fast numbers, clapping hands and stamping feet, and the place began to swing. Following them came a 24-year-old singer named Wayne Newton who also uses an alias, Mr. Excitement. He was listed on Greene's cue sheet to do 20 minutes, but 45 minutes later he was singing, You're Nobody 'til Somebody Loves You and had reduced the audience to emotional oatmeal. When Mr. Excitement finished Greene took the microphone again, squinted through the spotlight at one of the ringside tables and said, "What do you think of that, Jack? How'd you like him, Jack?"
And Jack Kent Cooke boomed out, "Great, Lorne. Magnificent!"
Then Danny Thomas came on to do his routine, and—Wait a minute. Stop the show.
Jack Kent Cooke. Not an entertainer. Not a producer or director. Jack Kent Cooke, one of California's most controversial millionaires; silver-haired and suave, the guy who buys sports franchises, who owns Jerry West, Gail Goodrich and Elgin Baylor, and who is soon to be responsible for so much more sport—ice hockey in winter and soccer in summer—that folks may run screaming from their TV sets. He is colossal, the Sol Hurok of sport. That's who.
Los Angeles is on a Jack Kent Cooke kick. Name in all the papers. A household word. Feared. Loved. The town sees him on a mental split screen. He is, depending on whom you talk to, a charlatan, villain, pirate or highwayman, a fearless plunger, financial swinger, or Horatio Alger—smooth but honest. Just words. Even if he is none of those things, he certainly is not dull, which in Los Angeles is unforgivable.