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An evening with Art Donovan at Loyola High School

Bars and ClubsNewspapersCookingDining and DrinkingDavid LettermanBaltimore Colts

When my son James was a student at Loyola High School in the 1990s, I was active in the school's Fathers' Club, which was a collection of guys from all walks of life who enjoyed a good time and shared a connection at the Towson school.

One of the club's officers had the bright idea of starting a Sports Night, and within a nanosecond, it became my responsibility to furnish speakers for these evenings.

"You know plenty of people. Should be a snap," bellowed the always-genial Mike Kaiser, Fathers' Club president, who never took no for an answer.

The format was always the same. We met in Kennedy Lounge, where there were always plenty of steamed hot dogs, hamburgers, beer, potato salad, coleslaw and a selection of 5,000-calorie desserts that would alarm anyone's cardiologist.

This caloric bounty was followed by an informal talk by our guest. It was freewheeling, there was no pat format, and it always ended with a question-and-answer period.

When it was over, speakers often lingered over a beer or two while continuing the discussion. It was a lot of fun, and by 9 p.m., everyone was on their way home.

I immediately turned to my newspaper brethren whom club members had read for years on the sports page, and with whom they now had a chance to spend an evening.

John Steadman, who had seen more church basements than a cellar inspector during his years as a fixture on the rubber-chicken circuit, was our first speaker.

I told him we could not pay an honorarium.

"Don't worry about that, you know I'll be there, kid," he told me, when I asked him. John never turned down anyone, anywhere, any time, who asked him to speak.

Other guests during those years — some more than once — included veteran newspaper columnist Mike Olesker, a former sportswriter; Al "Goldy" Goldstein, The Baltimore Sun's nationally acclaimed boxing writer; Bill Tanton, Evening Sun sports editor; and the recently retired Kevin Cowherd. Even Peter Angelos came and had a good time.

And then came Artie Donovan.

The former defensive tackle for the Baltimore Colts, who died Sunday, had once lived not far from me in Riderwood. I was always running into him at the post office, Graul's Market and the Wine Merchant, where he loved to chat and could convene an instant audience.

One icy winter's day, his housekeeper had slipped and fallen in the lane that passed by my house. I ran out and picked up her up. She was shaken, but not injured.

I drove her to Donovan's Valley Country Club, and later that afternoon, a case of whiskey magically appeared on my porch. There was no note, but I knew who had sent it.

Sometime later, I called up Artie to see if he would come to our Fathers' Club meeting, and he instantly agreed. He did not ask about a fee and only said he needed a ride. No problem, I said.

I also promised him plenty of hot dogs and his beloved Schlitz. He said he'd be more than glad to come.

He was wearing an oversized Hawaiian shirt of outrageous design with two very large pockets, which would be put to good use later.

After old No. 70 put away about seven or eight hot dogs and a couple cans of Schlitz, he was ready to go.

He did not disappoint, and within moments, the room was rocking with laughter, as Artie went from one thing to another. Funnier and funnier. The four-letter words rolled off his tongue with ease, as did some of his politically incorrect observations.

No one minded. They roared even louder.

I lowered my head and put my hand over my eyes over some verbal gaffe or insult — which I have to admit was hysterical. I was just as guilty of laughing at them as everyone else.

The Rev. Thomas McDonnell, a Jesuit and a raconteur himself, said, "Fred, I have heard words come out of men's mouths that Arthur hasn't even begun to think about."

Then Artie revealed that the noted Johns Hopkins cardiac surgeon Levi Watkins had implanted a pacemaker in him.

"Before the surgery, this black guy said, 'Mr. Donovan, I want to be your friend after the surgery.' I told him, 'No, no, doc, you're my friend now going into the surgery.' "

I couldn't believe it. This roomful of presumably grown men were glistening with tear-streaked faces because they had laughed themselves nearly into delirium.

When someone asked whether he preferred being on Johnny Carson or David Letterman, he replied that he liked Carson because he had a dressing room.

"Yeah, and Carson always has that gorgeous blond broad from the San Diego Zoo on. I was on one time and said, 'Hey, what's a nice broad like you doing playing with snakes?' " he said

They roared even louder. I was convinced he could have gone on for hours. He had an endless supply of material, a sharp mind, and a sui generis way of putting it across to the delight of his grateful audience.

About those pockets: Before departing for home, he asked me if there were any hot dogs left over in the kitchen. I fetched five or six and a couple of chilled beers.

"Thanks," said Artie has he dropped the hot dogs into one pocket, and the beer into the other.

"A midnight snack," he said, with delight.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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