Byron Barr’s Long-Ago Regret

Idly wandering up the premium cable channels the other evening, I came upon a program in black and white. It had the hard edges of television, not the softer look of cinema, so I stopped for a few seconds while the program guide flickered onto the screen and told me I had stumbled upon an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

The Hitchcock show, as I recall (and Wikipedia concurs, noting that the show was also called The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) was an anthology of drama, mysteries and thrillers. It ran from 1962 to 1965 and was occasional viewing in our home. So I decided to give the show a few moments of my time.

The episode was about – I quickly deduced from the conversation on screen – two brothers whose father had been a gambler. Then I started paying attention to the voices: both were familiar, and as the younger brother turned around, I found myself looking at a very young Robert Redford. I looked a bit more closely at the actor playing the older brother, and I was pretty sure I knew him, too. Not being entirely certain, I Googled “Hitchcock, Redford, Marsden” (as “Marsden” was the fictional name of the two brothers).

I learned that the episode on my TV screen had originally been aired on September 20, 1962, and I was correct about the identity of the actor playing the older brother. It was Gig Young.

And that brought me back to early 1971, when the second semester of my senior year started at St. Cloud Tech High School. One of my new classes that semester was Journalism, where about fifteen of us delved for the first time into things like interviewing skills, the 5 Ws, the inverted pyramid and, among other things, the reason why reporters – at the time, anyway – put “-30-” at the ends of their stories.*

One of our projects during the semester was to get in touch with somebody famous and try to interview that person by speakerphone in the classroom. I’m don’t remember at all how many of those interviews actually took place, but I recall one of them. One of the young women in our class had decided to interview Gig Young.

Why Gig Young? One reason was his recent success: He’d won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his 1969 performance in the bleak but moving film, They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Just as important to our class, though, was the fact that Gig Young had been born in St. Cloud in 1913. He was Byron Barr then, and he grew up in St. Cloud. (Wikipedia says his parents raised their sons in Washington, D.C., but I have reason to believe that’s not the case. Read on.)

Looking back through the mist of more than forty years, the young lady from our class – I think her name was Carol – did a pretty good job interviewing Gig Young. As he talked of life in what was already a long-ago St. Cloud, he mentioned one regret: He said that he’d earned – for participating in a sport or in cheerleading – a St. Cloud Tech letter sweater but that his family could not afford to buy one for him. He told Carol and the rest of us listening that he still thought from time to time about that missing letter sweater.

When the interview ended and Gig Young hung up the phone in his southern California home, our teacher led us through a discussion. What did Carol do that worked? What could use improvement? Where’s the story in the interview?

We weren’t required to write stories from the interviews, as not all of the famous people to whom we wrote replied to us. I, for example, heard nothing from San Francisco Giants pitcher Juan Marichal. (And why I didn’t think to write to Al Shaver, the play-by-play announcer for the Minnesota North Stars, is a huge mystery to me.) But I think all of us who heard Carol’s interview with Gig Young would have started any story we wrote in the same way: the letter sweater.

Because about a week later, a couple of the students in the class organized a small fund drive. Carol called Gig Young’s home and talked to his valet/butler and learned Young’s jacket size. We all dipped into our pockets and raised the $30 or so that a letter jacket cost in 1971. (That would be about $160 today.)

We put it together the same way those of us who wore letter jackets put ours together: With a patch saying “Byron” on the pocket where it belonged, a patch with his year of graduation on the appropriate shoulder, the chenille tiger head on the front of the jacket, and the actual varsity “T” in a plastic envelope. (Sometimes we letter-winners would frame the “T” and hang it on a wall, but for some reason lost in time, in the 1960s and 1970s we did not put the “T” on our jackets.) And we sent the letter jacket off to southern California.

As we’d hoped, we surprised and pleased the former Byron Barr. We got a very nice letter in return, thanking us all for the letter jacket he’d earned but had not been able to afford so many years earlier.

And though I have no way of knowing how Gig Young felt about St. Cloud, here’s a tune that I would guess fit his life at least once in a while. It’s Delaney & Bonnie & Friends with  “Lonesome And A Long Way From Home.” The track closed the album Motel Shot, which was released in 1971, the year that Byron Barr finally got his letter jacket.

*What we learned was that during the early days of reporting by telegraph, reporters would use “XXX” to indicate the end of the transmission. That “XXX” transferred itself to any news story, possibly as a signal to the linotype operator and others. Somewhere along the line, a mischievous or too-smart-for-his-own-good reporter saw those three X’s as Roman numerals and put “-30-” at the end of his story. And that tradition held true for years.


3 Responses to “Byron Barr’s Long-Ago Regret”

  1. Yah Shure says:

    Great story, whiteray!

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