A lot of outstanding individuals with one common link

Because I have never had any foot speed I have always admired the great track athletes.

Two of the best were Olympic champions Ralph Boston and Lee Calhoun.  Ralph broke Jesse Owen’s 25-year record in the event formerly named broad jump (now long jump) when he became the first man to leap past 27 feet.

Calhoun was also a jumper, but not in a broad sense.  He once tied the world record in the high hurdles, a race in which you have to run horizontally and jump vertically for 110 meters.

Kenny Payne was also a jumper.  But it was in a different sport that Payne became a pain for opposing jumpers.  Not coincidentally, it is another sport I could never play.  He was a hoopster.  At 6-foot-8, he had a fine college career at the University of Louisville and then a limited NBA career.  He is now the head coach at his alma mater.  Next week, ND will be jumping on a plane to Louisville, hoping to avoid a pain from Payne’s jumpers.

Clinton Portis did some jumping in his day.  His personal high school high jump best was 2.01 meters.  Meters don’t matter to me because I can’t meet the standard needed to measure it, so I can’t mete it out to you.  But, I did some calculating and came up with 6’6, a decent jump in most meets.  But his jumping in college and the pros was limited to jumping over defensive players.  He retired as one of the top 30 players in career rushing yards.

Jumping to another skill, I was thinking of Tom Lester, Ray Walston, and Diane Ladd. 

Tom Lester of “Green Acres” fame

Who the heck is Tom Lester?  His acting career is so absent of luster, I’m including a photo to lessen the chance his acting fame will be lost on you.  He was Eb Dawson on “Green Acres.”  I once had a near miss on bodyguard assignment with Eva Gabor, also on the show.  But I digress.

I liked Ray Walston.  He had hundreds of movie and TV roles, including some top movies and a starring role in a 3-year TV series.  He won a Tony as Best Actor for his role in “Damn Yankees,” a title I highly endorse.  He won two “supporting actor” Emmys for the TV series “Picket Fences,” which I have neither seen nor heard of.  Walston, as Orville Spooner, was married to Felicia Farr in a famous movie.  It was titled with the words Felicia spoke to him in the closing scene:  “Kiss Me Stupid.” 

Ray Walston in “My Favorite Martian”

But Ray’s biggest claim to fame, which typecast him and reduced his later career roles, was playing Uncle Martin in “My Favorite Martian.”

Diane Ladd was a fine actress. I loved her in “Chinatown,” the movie, not the location.  One of her husbands was a great actor.  Even though he usually played sniveling kinds of bad guys.  Bruce Dern.  He had an interesting movie distinction.  First man to kill John Wayne.

Diane was related to Tennessee Williams.  One of his top plays was “A Street Car Named Desire.”  The leading character in the play was Blanche Dubois (played by Oscar winner Vivien Leigh), supposedly from a small town in Mississippi. Blanche is famous for her final closing line, “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.” 

And then there is Marsha Blackburn, the Senior Senator from the Volunteer State of Tennessee and a former beauty contest winner. Stay with me and you’ll see how she fits in with this group of people.

While I am singing the praises of these singular characters, while seemingly jumping around, I have another person to add.  Leontyne Price.  She had yet another skill I fail to possess.  She could sing.  She was a Lirico Spinto Soprano.  I think it means that she sang high notes loudly.  Nor sure.  She was the first African American to be one of the leading performers at the Metropolitan Opera.  She won 13 Grammies and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Price is still alive at 97.

Ben and Erin Napier

One of my favorite TV shows is “Home Town.”  It’s been on HGTV for eight seasons and is one of the most popular home improvement programs on the channel.  I am hooked on it.  Ben and Erin Napier are a delightful and loving couple, who met at nearby Jones County Community College and later married while students at the University of Mississippi.  They feature restoring historical homes from their hometown, which is Laurel, Mississippi. 

So here is the kicker: All of the individuals I listed above are from Laurel.  And the fictional character of Blanche Dubois lived there. All of them from a town of only 17,000.

I have one more bit on Laurel. One of my research interests was early Colored Teams and the Negro Leagues.  From the late 1800s until the early 1950s there were a lot of teams featuring the great African American players of the day.  Many of these players would also appear in the Negro Leagues and some made it to the organized Major Leagues.  One team, which meets the “digressionizing” I am doing in this piece, was the Laurel Black Cats.  They were an early independent franchise of the Negro Leagues.  They played in the Queensburg neighborhood of Laurel, Mississippi.  It has been reported that future Hall of Famers Willie Mays, Satchel Paige, and Hank Aaron may have played for or against the Laurel Black Cats.  I spent several hours, on two different occasions with Hank Aaron, on his visits to Notre Dame.  But, of course, I digress.