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Remembering Furman Bisher

[The late Furman Bisher always wrote a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on Thanksgiving Day, citing things he was thankful for. Today we honor him with a repost from September 2015.]

When The Atlanta Journal-Constitution picked 50 people who have made the largest contributions to the city’s pro sports teams, a big name was overlooked.

That would be Furman Bisher, a fixture in the AJC and its predecessors for almost six decades.

A native of North Carolina, Furman joined The Constitution in 1950. Never one to let underlings eat up travel budget, he became Atlanta’s ambassador to big events and freelanced for national publications.

When politicians decided their city should be minor league no longer, Bisher played matchmaker. A deal to relocate the Kansas City A’s fell through. The Braves agreed to leave Milwaukee and play in Atlanta in 1965, but the move was delayed a year by the courts.

The Falcons also arrived in 1966. Furman backed Lindsey Hopkins to be the owner, but got behind Rankin Smith when the NFL awarded him the expansion team.

Both teams played at the new Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium. Furman was on the Stadium Authority board and unsuccessfully pushed for a MARTA stop.

At The Journal (he switched to the larger afternoon paper in 1955), Furman churned out columns, won national awards and ran the sports department in a non-endearing manner. He once called a reporter into his office and bellowed, “I’ve got an assignment for you. Find another job.”

Furman was eased out of management as the writing awards and Hall of Fame accolades piled up. He worked at the AJC well into old age, still popular with readers. (Think of him as a talent who could not be imitated, like radio’s Paul Harvey.)

Furman retired in 2009, unappreciated by bosses who cared more about agendas than readers. He passed away in 2012 at the age of 93.

For insiders: Selah.

For everybody else: R.I.P.

Paging Cindy Sheehan …

[The raging dishonesty of the media leads me to repost this as a reminder that the switch occurs overnight when a Republican enters the White House, or vice versa. It originally ran June 2.]

Remember Cindy Sheehan? The media couldn’t get enough of her in 2005 when she slept in a pup tent three miles outside George W. Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas, protesting the Iraq War, in which her son Casey died.

Actors, singers and civil rights types dropped in, knowing cameras would follow. She was called “the Rosa Parks of the anti-war movement.” Her peace tour of 42 cities in 26 states gained international attention. She wrote books and was arrested for demonstrating in front of the White House.

In 2008, things changed. Ms. Sheehan ran against liberal deity Nancy Pelosi for Congress, finishing second in a seven-candidate Democratic primary. After President Obama was sworn in, January 2009, Ms. Sheehan continued her anti-war protests. Not surprisingly, the microphones and notepads disappeared; talk about a Hollywood biopic evaporated overnight.

Charles Gibson anchored ABC’s “World News Tonight” at the time and got caught confirming the intellectual dishonesty of the Washington press corps, telling a radio show: “It’s such a sad story. Martha Raddatz [of ABC News] wrote a terrific book about one battle that took place in Iraq, and it was the battle in which Cindy’s son was killed. And you look at somebody like that and you think here’s somebody who’s just trying to find some meaning in her son’s death. And you have to be sympathetic to her. Anybody who has given a son to this country has made an enormous sacrifice, and you have to be sympathetic. But enough already.”

To me, this proves that anti-war protests are really anti-Republican protests, and always have been since the days of Nixon. Perhaps the likeable Ms. Sheehan will make a comeback. That could happen the next time there is a GOP president – and not one minute before.

Nobody much was scared

Back in the days of drive-in movies, low-budget horror movies were a staple of the double features on Fridays and Saturdays. Naturally they found their way to TV screens. In 1957 and 1958, a studio licensed the “Shock” and “Son of Shock” packages, encouraging local stations to use hosts to stitch the shlock together.

Station managers and film buyers saw merit in scaring 7-year-olds and selling products to beer-guzzling teenagers. When it came to a host, they didn’t bother to look much beyond their own building. Who knew that every station had a booth announcer, weatherman or production director who was a closet comic, ready to don a creepy costume?

So a genre was born – the campy horror movie host, still remembered fondly by people of a certain age.

Detroit had Sir Graves Ghastly, a/k/a Lawson Deming. Washington had Count Gore De Vol (Dick Dyszel). In San Francisco, Bob Wilkins broke out his extensive knowledge of monsters and movies and occasionally advised kids not to stay up too late because “this movie isn’t worth it.” (In fact, few were.)

Most of the hosts became so locally famous that they were called on to make personal appearances, in costume. In Richmond during the early ‘70s, the Bowman Body (Bill Bowman) tooled around town in a hearse sponsored by Arby’s. Bill’s old station, where he once was production manager, ran a tribute to him at Halloween last year.

Most of the shows, like Bill’s, have long been canceled. But some are still around, including Svengoolie in Chicago (originally played by Jerry G. Bishop, now by Rich Koz.)

Judging from the lists of hosts compiled at various websites, almost all were male, reflecting the ways of TV at the time. But the most famous one wasn’t. That would be Elvira, Mistress of the Dark.

In 1981, Cassandra Peterson beat out 200 candidates when KHJ-TV in Los Angeles was casting a horror movie hostess. With great looks, a shiny black wig, cleavage and a charmingly sarcastic approach, she rode the gig to international fame. (Sample quote, courtesy of IMDb: “And if they ever ask about me, tell them I was more than just a great set of boobs. I was also an incredible pair of legs.”)

Cassandra has a new book out, which includes more than 350 pictures of her. It and other merchandise are available at her website, Elvira.com. LA Weekly has a preview here.

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