Ron Onesti: The sport of showbiz kings
I always wondered what it was like to golf with those Hollywood legends who are identified with the sport almost as much as they are with showbiz!
I mean, I love to golf. Part of my daily workout routine is to hit a bucket o’ balls at the local public course, then a half hour of putting practice. You would think I am pretty good because of that sort of regimen. Let’s put it this way — my handicap is the fact that I play the game! I am far from good, but at least I don’t embarrass myself on the course (not very often!).
I am a player who goes out to enjoy the outdoors and the “get away from it all” aspect of the game, as well as the camaraderie with guys I play with. Who I am not is that focused player who hits a regular 300-yarder and gets upset with a bogey. I loved Bogey on the silver screen (especially in “Casablanca”) and I love him on the course, too (one shot over par on ANY hole is a huge win for me)!
I remember a couple of entertainers who never went anywhere without a club in their hand: Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. When I think about it now, it seems sort of strange. Whether it was on a television variety show or USO military Christmas tour, those two were always “armed” with a driver, and not the kind behind the wheel of a Jeep!
And they always dressed the part. Bing always wore that same Stetson hat, the era’s version of khaki pants, and a light sweater. Hope, always sporting a baseball cap, much of the time in tribute to a branch of the military.
One of my favorite pictures of the Great One, Jackie Gleason, shows him with his close buddy, golf legend Arnold Palmer (yes, the one who mixed lemonade and iced tea together). Jackie has a Newsboy hat on and that “… and awayyyyy we go” look on his face. You gotta be old (like me) to remember that!
Speaking of Gleason and golf, who can forget the timeless “Honeymooners” skit when Ralph is all dressed up in plaid and knickers, and Ed Norton is trying to help him learn how to swing? Norton reads from the book: “Plant your feet firmly and address the ball.” Ralph not understanding what is meant, Norton shows him what HE thinks it means. So Norton plants his feet firmly and says directly to the ball, “Hello Ball!” It never gets old.
Then there was the King of Cool, Dean Martin. I am lucky to be able to call Dean’s daughter, Deana, my big sister. And she would regularly talk about her dad and his daily game. He would never rehearse his television shows, playing 18 to 36 holes during the day instead. When he was in Vegas, he would try to get out of hanging with Frank all night, just so he could get on the course early the next morning. He loved it.
And who can forget Johnny Carson and his theme song? It was written by a legend who has become “Uncle Paul” to me: Paul Anka. Paul told me the story that “Johnny’s Theme” began as a song he wrote earlier in his career. When Carson contacted his friend to help him write a theme song for his new job, when taking over for Jack Paar on the “Tonight Show,” they collaborated and came up with the iconic tune. He and Johnny would make about $200,000 a year each with royalties on the song, and it was played about 1.4 million times during Carson’s 30-year stint, only to be retired when Johnny called it quits in 1992. And the song always ended with Johnny’s famous golf swing!
Fast forward to rock ‘n’ rollers who also love the game. Probably the most famous rocker/golfer would have to be Alice Cooper. As we grew up with this devilish demon of death metal from my era, it was hard for us young fans to imagine him in his top hat, a snake around his neck, on the ninth green. But the reality is he satisfied his addictive personality with the sport when he got out of rehab. He credits the game with saving his life. Pretty powerful stuff!
Other guys who have frequented The Arcada and also like to bang their balls on a golf course include my close buddy Bret Michaels, Vince Neil of Motley Crue, Robby Kreiger of the Doors, Don Felder of the Eagles, Vince Gill, Stephen Stills and even Dweezil Zappa! There must be a scientific connection between a guitar and a 5 iron.
Yes, golf and show biz go hand in hand. It has definitely helped me get through a few select times when my head was about to explode! As I get older, Titleist has gotten as cool as Fender.
And while all this pandemic stuff is going on and we have no ticket sales to speak of, the only green I see these days is the one I see at the driving range!
• Ron Onesti is president and CEO of The Onesti Entertainment Corp. and The Historic Arcada Theatre in St. Charles. Celebrity questions and comments? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.