Fred Morrison and his future wife Lucille were fooling around on a California beach back in 1938 when Fred had a light bulb over your head eureka moment. The pair were tossing a cake pan back and forth when a bored bystander offered them a quarter for the cake pan. Fred started doing the math — it was pretty simple math — I sell a five-cent cake pan for a quarter and I get to hang out on the beach.
The Morrisons jumped right into their flying cake pan business, but before long a nasty war got in their way, including a stretch for Fred as a prisoner of war. It was the late 40s before he got back into the flying cake pan business. Cake pan prices had gone up but plastic was in, and so, in 1948, Morrison and a partner introduced a plastic disc they called “flyin saucer”to take advantage of the UFO craze.
Morrison designed a new model in 1955 called the “pluto platter,” and on January 23, 1957, he sold the rights to Wham-O. Later that year Wham-O added the name Frisbee. And eventually, the name pluto platter was put out of its misery.
Nothing in Moderation
He got his first job in television by showing up for an audition wearing a barrel and shorts. From there his career took off during a ten-year period that carried him from obscurity to stardom, the ride getting steadily wilder and crazier. Although someone else held the title Mr. Television, Ernie Kovacs, born on January 23, 1919, certainly left his imprint on the medium.
Often referred to as television’s surrealist, the cigar-smoking, poker-playing Hungarian-American comedian could be counted on for the unusual if not the bizarre in any of his many television outings, including It’s Time for Ernie, his first network series; Ernie in Kovacsland; and The Ernie Kovacs Show, featuring characters such as poet Percy Dovetonsils, bumbling magician Matzoh Heppelwhite, Frenchman Pierre Ragout, and the Nairobi Trio. He also hosted the Tonight Show twice a week and had a short stint as a celebrity panelist on What’s My Line?, where he strove more for humor than insight. (When Henry J. Kaiser, the founder of the automobile company, was the program’s mystery guest, and the panel had established that the mystery guest’s name was synonymous with an automobile brand, Kovacs asked, “Are you – and this is just a wild guess – but are you Abraham Lincoln?”
Kovacs was at the peak of his career when he was killed in a late-night automobile accident on his way home from one of the many parties that had become part of his life in California. The inscription on his tombstone reads “Ernie Kovacs 1919 – 1962 — Nothing In Moderation.”
Mama eu Quero, Part 5 (Conclusion): Goodbye Cuba
About the only warning the black-haired couple had of the impending disaster was the dancing of the olives in their martinis, a nervous samba in time to the music coming from the stage. It was gentle enough at first, but then the table that gave cadence to the martinis above and shelter to the young lady below shook as energetically as a table at a three-ghost séance. Delia was out of control. Carmen Miranda finished her song, the audience roared its approval and Delia jumped to her feet, sending the table and its occupants reeling backward into yet another table and another couple like so many genteel but helpless dominoes.
The room hushed as waiters bobbed here and there to repair the damage. Two large men left their posts at a doorway and headed toward Delia. So did Carmen Miranda, who reached her first and stared at her without speaking. The Brazilian Bombshell was a little older, a little heavier than the Carmen of Delia’s memory, but her brilliant eyes flashed – with anger, Delia thought. But then she grinned and said: “Zank you. You are boodifool.”
She kissed Delia’s forehead, darted back to the stage and resumed singing as though she were trying to divert attention from the embarrassed young woman now being escorted away from the stage.
Even now, forty years later, observed only by Fidel, Delia’s cheeks reddened at the recollection of her calamitous faux pas, a Cuban crisis every bit as important to Delia as the Bay of Pigs invasion years later. Jorge had interceded that night and Delia was allowed to return to her table for the rest of the performance. But she was watched carefully and escorted out as soon as Carmen finished.
Summer ended as abruptly as Carmen’s performance of “Mama Eu Quero” when her father was summoned back to the United States in late July. And although Delia had known from the beginning that her summer would end too soon, this shortening of it was somehow unjust, and she said so over and over, but to no avail. For she and Jorge, that last day together equaled any sweet sorrow of parting ever committed by a romantic to paper, film or television screen. It was filled with lovemaking, tears and promises – promises to write or phone, to return, to visit, to never forget – all that stuff that tries but can’t take the sting out of the word good-by.
In the plane, somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, Delia heard the words to a popular song:
. . .though other nights and other days will find us gone our separate ways, we will have these moments to remember.
And she knew, despite trying all she could to believe otherwise, that Jorge and the past two months would be memories and nothing else.
The last few days of July and the first few in August were endless hours of agony. Her young life had ceased, after sixteen and a half short years, to have meaning. She mostly listened to music – Latin and melancholy – and stared at the television set, not really watching. Not until that night when Jimmy Durante had as his special guest, straight from her triumphant Cuban tour, Carmen Miranda.
Delia, cheered for the first time since leaving Cuba, even doffed a hat of fruit as she sat cross-legged in front of the television, watching the interplay between Jimmy and Carmen. Delia may have been watching with 20 million other Americans, but only she a few short weeks ago had seen Carmen Miranda from underneath a table at the Tropicana, had been smiled at and called boodiful.
After the lights had dimmed at the Club Durant and the star of the show had bade goodnight to Mrs. Calabash, Carmen Miranda returned to her dressing room. There, shortly after midnight, at 46 years of age, she died of a heart attack.
Ah, look what you’ve done, Fidel. I hadn’t thought about that summer in a good long time. For a few months, I thought of nothing else; for a few years, often. For several Halloweens, I shamelessly dressed my daughter as Carmen. And for one Halloween, her little brother was you, Fidel. Delia laughed. The face on the television screen was now a stranger, but she continued to talk to it. Several years ago, we all watched that old movie on TV, and they laughed when I cried at the giant bananas. My husband says I should visit Cuba, but I don’t think that’s allowed. All because of my international incident at the Tropicana, probably. I hear the Tropicana is still there. I thought they would have torn it down at once. Jorge would have.
Good night, Jorge, wherever you are.
“Mama Eu Quero” originally appeared in the literary magazine Dandelion. It is included in Calypso, Stories of the Caribbean.