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A Part Of San Francisco Just Died

Robin Williams RIPWhen I got the news yesterday evening it hit me hard. It hit a lot of people hard, but especially those of us who live in San Francisco when we got the news that Robin Williams had died.

San Francisco hasn’t had many resident celebrities in quite a long time, but Robin loved San Francisco. He had even said in the past that there was no other city he could imagine himself living in and for the people of San Francisco that was pretty cool. He had a mansion in Sea Cliff so it wasn’t unusual to run into him in the Richmond District and he would also frequent the Sunset on his way to The Other Cafe comedy club where he would frequently pop in just to see who might be the next new kid in town and sometimes, if you were lucky he’d just jump up on stage and take over the place. He brought a whole new side to comedy that all you could do is strap yourself in and hold on because you never knew what he was going to throw at you. I think sometimes he didn’t know what he was going to do when he got up on stage either.

For most of America we first met Robin Williams a long time ago when he caught our eye as that weird alien who made a guest appearance on Happy Days before he got his own spin off. Most of the world knew him as Mork from Ork, but even back then he was still Robin Williams, the stand up comedian for us in San Francisco.

It was pretty hard to live here and not run into him. I saw him all the time at the Other Cafe, but ran into somewhat frequently in the Richmond or Sunset Districts. The best part about him was he was friendly to all the people who could come up to him. I’d see him walking down the street and someone would walk up to him and he’d smile and shake their hand. I could never figure out how he could do it all the time without going crazy. Whenever I’d see him someone would be walking up to him, yet he didn’t seem to mind. I really wanted to ask him one of the times I saw him, but I only got to officially meet him once. I had a girlfriend who was very into comedians. I guess I should have taken that as a complement. We wouldn’t go out to nightclubs on the weekends, she drag me to the Other Cafe just about every other day of the week. She got a little giddy the first time she saw Robin Williams walk in and practically dislocated my arm dragging me over to meet him. She then pushed me in front of her to do the introductions because I guess that was my job. Hi Robin, I’m Eric and my girlfriend dragged me over so I could introduce her to you because she thinks I’m someone. We shook hands and she pushed me out of the way and out of the picture for the moment. All I could do at that point was say, you can throw her back if you’d like. I got a small hint of a laugh out of him. Subsequent trips to the Other Cafe when he would show up and I was with her he’d glance over and give us the thumbs up. I think the best part of it was she probably thought he was acknowledging her presence and I thought it was a non-verbal way of saying to me, still on that honeymoon? Who knows what he really meant by it. Robin was always like that weird uncle you had. You never knew what would happen when he was around but you were always waiting to see what it would be.

The best part about Robin was that he never lost his edge. That childlike craziness he had onstage or when he was Mork stayed with him. Drugs didn’t take it away, Alcohol didn’t take it away, Heart surgery didn’t take it away. We don’t know all the details yet, but so far it looks like it was a suicide. Robin died in his home in Marin. I remember him making jokes about people in Marin and how disconnected they were from the rest of the world. I’d just like to think that it didn’t disconnect him from the world that loved him.

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Barbary Coast Bunny

Barbary Coast BunnyI figured this would be a fun one to start the weekend off with. While I was looking for movies filmed in San Francisco I actually found a cartoon that was based in San Francisco and it was none other than Bugs Bunny himself. While they do use a few very NOT San Francisco phrases like calling it ‘Frisco it’s still a fun look at how cartoons viewed old San Francisco.

Here’s the story behind the cartoon according to Wikipedia:

Bugs is tunneling cross country to meet his cousin, only to run head first into a boulder which is a large nugget of gold. Bugs is considering keeping the gold safe, while Nasty Canasta sees this and sets up a simple stand claiming to be a banker who can safely store Bugs’ gold. The rabbit falls for the ruse. When Bugs decides to ask for his gold back, Canasta claims the bank is closing and traps the rabbit in the folded up stand while he rides away with the gold. Furious, Bugs vows revenge.

Six months later, Canasta has used his ill-gotten gains to start a casino in San Francisco which is shamelessly rigged in the house’s favor. Bugs enters the casino in the role, playing a hopelessly naive country boy who confuses a slot machine for a telephone. When Bugs uses it to phone his mother for some money, he hits the jackpot much to Canasta’s shock. Hoping to recoup this loss, Canasta convinces Bugs to stay for a game and thinks he is maneuvering the apparently easy mark into playing a game of roulette on the pretense of it being a game of marbles. To build his would-be victim’s confidence, Canasta arranges for Bugs to win on his first spin, but Bugs develops a winning streak on the same number (#23). Having nearly lost everything, Canasta covers #23 with a block of wood and sets the wheel up for the marble to stop on #00, but when it does his subsequent striking the table in triumph causes the ball to accidentally bounce and hammer into the knot of the block of wood, thus Bugs wins again.

Now desperate to win back Bugs’ now massive winnings, Canasta convinces Bugs to try playing draw poker and Bugs literally draws a picture of a fireplace poker. Bugs then pretends to misinterpret Canasta’s description of the importance of having the biggest hand to win by blowing up his glove into a giant balloon. Canasta loses his temper at his would-be victim’s obtuseness. Bugs threatens to walk out, forcing Canasta to grovel in order to coax Bugs to return to the game. Canasta soon regrets that when Bugs, after staking all his money, promptly wins with a Four of a Kind consisting of Aces (Two pair. A pair of ones, and another pair of ones), trumping Canasta’s Full House.

Now with his casino’s bank irreparably broken at the hands of this simpleton who seems physically incapable of losing, Canasta decides to rob Bugs at gunpoint on the pretense of it being another game of chance. Bugs, still keeping in character, naively spins the revolver bullet cylinder like a slot machine and a mass of coins inexplicably pours out the gun’s barrel.

As Bugs’ departs with all the casino’s funds and more, Canasta greedily tries to win money from his gun, only to shoot himself in the attempt and collapses. Bugs pops in and says to the audience (in his normal voice): “The moral of this story is: ‘Don’t try to steal no 18 karats [carrots] from no rabbit.'”

I was able to find a copy of it on youtube so here’s what Warner Bros. thought about old San Francisco. Enjoy!

Phyllis Diller and the Purple Onion

I shed a tear today when I discovered that Phyllis Diller died. Many of you vaguely remember her, but I as a young kid in the 60’s remember her well from her TV appearances. Here hair defined the term fright wig, but while she looked scary as hell she was always funny and it was that old school vaudevillian comedy.  I actually ran into her as a child when my Mom pawned me off to my Uncle Al. I was about seven. I think I screamed or wet my pants at seeing her in person because she was scary and loud.

While she wasn’t born in San Francisco, but she got her start here at a little club called the Purple Onion. A strange club that my parents used to tell me was at times secretly a gay club where one of the gay partners would dress as the opposite sex so as not to be so obvious. For a female comedienne with a husband named Fang, this was the perfect spot for her. It was quite a club with a bit of an odd bent to it. The Smothers Brothers recorded an album there, Richard Pryor did some of his earliest shows there, I believe Lenny Bruce even got arrested there for his obscene performance which didn’t involve anything more than talking.

It’s a dingy cellar club that had a kind of warm feeling to it like your local dive bar, it’s ugly and dirty, but it’s your place to call home. Beat poets would hang out there for the cheap drinks if Vesuvios was too packed. My old Uncle Al frequented the place with his buddy Larry Ferlinghetti I’m sure.

It’s changed quite a bit since it opened in 1952 unlike Phyllis who has had that crazy old woman look since I was a child. I miss her and am sorry to see her go, but I’m sure her there will be lots of shows on for us in the next few weeks to remember her.