I was just six years old when “The FBI” starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., first premiered on television in 1965, but I vividly remember watching nearly every episode over the next nine years because of the things I associate with the program; it was broadcast on Sunday nights and my family spent nearly every Sunday having dinner at my Grandma Ewing’s home.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

FBI Director Robert Mueller and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.

When I think of the show, the vision that springs to mind is my dad sitting upright in Grandma’s recliner with a TV tray in front of him, spooning hot chili into his mouth (while never taking his eyes off the TV), Mom sitting on the corner of Aunt Mabel’s old worn chair, and the five of us kids sitting cross-legged on the floor adding oyster crackers to our own bowls of chili and hanging on “Agent Lewis Erskine’s” every word while Grandma kept poking her head into the living room long enough to ask if everyone was getting enough to eat.

Each week’s episode closed with the same voice announcing, “This has been a Quinn Martin Production.”

In the years following the series run, I never gave much thought to whatever happened to Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., and certainly had no idea that once his “fictional” show ended he’d continued his relationship with the FBI, participating in charity events and helping raise money for families of agents killed in the line of duty.

Today’s FBI Press Release showed me just how busy Mr. Zimbalist has been. During yesterday’s ceremony at the Los Angeles Field Office, FBI Director Robert Mueller presented Zimbalist with an honorary special agent badge for embodying the qualities in the FBI’s motto: fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

The FBI says Zimbalist inspired a generation of real-life FBI special agents, and I don’t doubt it for a moment. That’s not counting the number of other FBI-inspired television series over the past four decades.

I’m thinkin’ J. Edgar Hoover would’ve been proud.

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Where for art thou Nick Nolte?

On March 11, 2009, in Miscellany, by Jody Ewing

Okay. So I’ve been safeguarding this 1956 Benson High School (Omaha, NE) yearbook for some time for Bill Bowley, a close family friend. Bill attended Benson High with Nick Nolte, who (as most of you know) went on to become one helluva actor. (One of my favorites, in fact.) Bill, on the other hand, went on to own and manage a very successful roofing company — until Parkinson’s Disease forced him into early retirement several years ago.

Nick Nolte signature in yearbookIn 1956, both Bill and Nick were high school sophomores. Nick was the kicker for Benson’s football team (according to Bill, Nick was “the starring quarterback”) and they also shared some good-ol’-boy times in gym class and on the basketball court.

Nick signed Bill’s ’56 Benson High School annual, and though they both graduated in 1959 and will celebrate their 50-year high school class reunion(s) this year, here is where the road gets muddy.

Bill swears both he and Nick graduated from Benson High in ’59, and Benson’s Wikipedia page indeed lists Nick under notable alumni. Further research, however, indicates Nolte was kicked out of Benson High for “digging a hole and hiding beer before practice and then getting caught drinking it during a practice session.” After Nolte’s expulsion from Benson High, according to the actor’s Wikipedia page, he attended Westside High School in Omaha, and that alumni roster also shows Nolte as one of their graduates.

Additional online research produced these same details, over and over again.

Nick Nolte

Nick Nolte

So why does it matter, 50 years after the fact, which of these two high schools is Nolte’s true alma mater? Simple. Because his former friend and Benson High classmate, Bill Bowley — who recently underwent a brain implant to help control some of his advanced Parkinson’s disease symptoms — wants to attend his 50th high school reunion this June 5-6, and he’s got his heart set on linking up and visiting with his old friend Nick.

I’ve promised Bill I’ll do my best to track down Nolte and ask if his summer plans include a Midwestern high school reunion, even though I suspect Westside High School (whose 50th class reunion is Aug. 28-30) most likely lays the bigger claim to one of Omaha’s most popular and successful sons.

But, who knows. Despite the actor’s current shooting schedule (“King Shot” in production) perhaps he’ll work in a two-day break to catch up with friends who-knew-him-when. Based on the Nolte movie trivia questions Bill often poses to me, I suspect some of Nick’s old friends may indeed include some of his greatest fans.

Nick wrote the words in the yearbook, but now it’s time for Bill to say them. “Hope to see you in the summer.”

Goodbye, Johnny

On January 24, 2005, in Entertainment, by Jody Ewing

I join the rest of the world today in mourning the loss of the beloved Johnny Carson. And yes, I was one of those 50 million who watched his last episode and hated to say goodbye, even then. There never will be another Johnny Carson. That look. Those eyes. That stare that said it all. He made us laugh for decades, but today he makes us cry.

I always felt proud to consider Johnny a “neighbor.” In Iowa one can get away with that sort of reasoning. After all, he was born just southeast of me, only a two-hour drive from my Onawa birthplace to his in Corning. And he grew up even closer, just across the river in Norfolk, Nebraska. I couldn’t attend a Norfolk trapshoot without thinking of Johnny.

When he established the Carson Regional Cancer Center there in 1988, I’d just begun working as a correspondent for the Sioux City Journal. Though he dedicated the treatment center in memory of his parents, Siouxlander’s in this tri-state region also were reminded how much he loved his native boyhood home. The facility – the first of its kind in the surrounding area – made it possible for patients to get treatment close to home at a time when it most mattered.

But, that was Johnny. It was the neighborly thing to do.

We’ll miss you here, Johnny. Some will thank you for all the laughs. Others will thank you for their careers. And many will thank you for their lives. You were the best kind of neighbor.

Jody

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