Mark Russell, the laughter of politics, on roasting “Charlie Brotman –
“Why did I want to get on? Because it was a roast and you must go on first. It’s an old rule of the Friars Club. The guy to say, mmhmmhm gets all the laughs. In Charlie’s case, there’s one obvious reference. I talked about how wonderful RFK Stadium was and that there’s no AstroTurf at RFK Stadium and the only AstroTurf there at all was on Charlie Brotman’s head. Referring of course to his magnificent hairpiece made by little old ladies in Iran.”
A Ockershausen: I’m Andy Ockershausen and this is Our Town. We have the distinct pleasure of talking to a Washington legend who is also a Buffalo legend and he’s my legend and his name is Mark Russell.
Mark Russell, WMAL and Bill Trumbull
Mark Russell: Thank you Andy. Thank you. You gave me my first job in radio, right in this building. WMAL, this was the first nonsmoking building in the city. It opened in the late ’60s, early ’70s and people said, that’s never going to work. You can’t smoke in the entire building?
A Ockershausen: That’s right, it drove Bill Trumbull crazy.
Mark Russell: I was on with Bill Trumbull and you gave me that job too.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Mark Russell: We were on Sundays. This was when WMAL carried the Redskin game so this was off season.
A Ockershausen: Right, I recall.
Mark Russell: Trumbull and I are on and we have a new sponsor, a billiard academy. Not a sleazy pool room but a billiard academy. We said, we want to welcome our new sponsor, fancy billiard academy, that’s what they call them now. Bill said, I don’t know how wholesome they are. He said, I was there the other night and I engaged two little old ladies in a game and I beat them and they took me out behind the place and broke my thumbs.
A Ockershausen: Only Trumbull. Didn’t we do something with you in a snowstorm too, had to pick you up somewhere?
Mark Russell: I was home and I couldn’t make it to the station. Again, it was a Sunday. Tremendous snowstorm and they gave me the names of the schools that are closed. Okay, read these names. This school is closed, this school is closed, this church is closed. I said, the Pixieland Day School, which was where my daughter was going, a little day school. Pixieland Day School will be open but the Pentagon will be closed. Well, the switchboard lit up. The Pentagon is closed? What do you mean?
A Ockershausen: Only you, Mark Russell.
Mark Russell: I’m surprised you didn’t fire me then.
A Ockershausen: Those were the great days of WMAL but we want to talk about you and your early days in Buffalo. Were you born in Buffalo, New York?
Mark Russell: Yes, I went to Catholic school.
A Ockershausen: Tenacious.
Mark Russell: I was 18 years of age before I knew that Protestants also played basketball. As a young man I dodged the draft, I did it my joining the Marine Corps.
A Ockershausen: I did not know that.
The Marine Corps
Mark Russell: After the nuns in Catholic school, Marine boot camp was a piece of cake. I enlisted during the Korean War, the forgotten war. I never forgot. I was wounded in that war. It was Tijuana but I was wounded.
A Ockershausen: Where did you go to basic in Camp Lejeune?
Mark Russell: No, I went to Parris Island, which was déjà vu going on these days.
A Ockershausen: It was tough.
Mark Russell: They’ve got a huge scandal now, a horrible thing. I was there. There were seven Marines killed back in 1953. They were drowned by this drill instructor who was busted down from Staff Sergeant to Buck Private. We’ve got this hazing going on now, which is tremendous.
A Ockershausen: Were you on the base?
Mark Russell: No, I was there before that. We had to shine our shoes, not this corps fam stuff.
A Ockershausen: You worked. Mark, I did not know.
Mark Russell: Yeah, it was in ’53, ’53-’56.
A Ockershausen: Of all my life, I never knew about that.
Mark Russell: I try to keep it quiet.
A Ockershausen: What war was on then?
Mark Russell: Korean War.
A Ockershausen: It was Korea.
Mark Russell: The Korean War ended and so I went to Camp Pendleton, California and then I went to Hawaii and Japan.
A Ockershausen: All with the Marine Corps to see the Marine Corps.
Mark Russell: I actually played the piano in Waikiki Beach next to the Muana Hotel. There was a little bar, the Waikiki Tavern. I snuck over there and played the piano. You weren’t supposed to have a civilian job when you were in the Marine Corps.
A Ockershausen: You were getting paid.
Mark Russell: I was getting paid.
A Ockershausen: All these years I’ve known you, Mark Russell, I’ve never heard that. That is a great story about you being a Marine. You went back to Buffalo when you got mustered?
Mark Russell: No, I was living here. We left Buffalo.
A Ockershausen: As a family?
The Early Years – Buffalo to Washington DC
Mark Russell: Yeah, my parents heard that Washington never had a depression and so we moved here. My father had worked for Mobil in Buffalo and so he managed a gas station, a Mobil station. The first Mobil station in the entire area at the corner of US1 and Fort Hunt Road. It comes down a hill there, Bell Haven Country Club.
A Ockershausen: I know it very well.
Mark Russell: That gas station is not there but my brother and I worked there and we spilled more gas than we got in the tanks. There were whistling gas tanks in Packards and Chevys I think. You could regulate the nozzle and regulate the tune so you could play Yankee Doodle or some little thing like that and we’d wait for cars with bigger tanks so we could play longer songs. Like a Packard had a 20-gallon tank. By the way, to fill a Packard with the 20 gallons cost four dollars. We could regulate that and longer songs. If you got two Packards, wow. That’s like a daily double. We played duets, we could play the Bach Concerto in B Flat Minor.
A Ockershausen: Did your dad own the station?
Mark Russell: No, he managed it.
A Ockershausen: That’s still, meeting people and being part of the community.
Mark Russell: That was my introduction to politics because people would pull in there and they’d want directions. Now, there’s no beltway, right?
A Ockershausen: Oh, that’s right. No Jones Point Bridge, probably.
Mark Russell: We heard that that bridge was going in and we heard references to a circumferential highway. What the heck is that? We had no idea. Anyway, people would come in, how can I avoid that city, that rotten city? Washington where that man in the White House, referring to Harry Truman. That was my first inkling of this political hostility.
A Ockershausen: That exists.
Mark Russell: That existed, yeah.
A Ockershausen: It’s even worse today, Mark. You know that. It’s made material for you.
Mark Russell: I got that in the Marine Corps. They would tell us in boot camp. We would bitch and moan and complain. They’d say, you’re not supposed to know the big picture. That stuck. That stuck. I spent the rest of my life trying to figure out the big picture. I’m not there yet. The other one was, don’t go having your mother complain to your congressman. They really feared that. That was their fear. The congressman thing. At the time, I know nothing about politics. My generation, don’t talk about politics or religion. They said that, they said, don’t have your mother writing to her congressman. They were afraid of that. That was my political science 101.
Creating Mark Russell Political Satirist
A Ockershausen: You certainly learned from that. After you left the Marine Corp, you came back to Washington. How did you get started, my first recollection of knowing Mark Russell was at a little hotel or little bar on Capitol Hill. Was it in the ’50s?
Mark Russell: Yeah, ’58 but prior to that. I got out in ’61. Between ’56 and ’58, I played some really subterranean toilets.
A Ockershausen: In our town?
Mark Russell: Yes. One of them was in 1400 block of L was a strip joint called the Maryland Club.
A Ockershausen: Oh, yes.
Mark Russell: The funny thing about the Maryland Club is right on that spot, right today is the headquarters of the American Medical Association. You could say that that spot to this day is devoted to the human anatomy, it was a strip joint and now it’s the American Medical Association.
A Ockershausen: In later years, they used to have clubs there like Don Rickles, they called him glass head, played somewhere along that street.
Mark Russell: He was on H Street, it was the Windsor Room, a guy named Matt Windsor. Rickles worked there for about six months.
A Ockershausen: He was almost permanent.
Mark Russell: People thought he was local.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, I know that.
Mark Russell: He did that glass head thing and it was a classic. It was kind of serious, you know. I talk about that with other people who knew him better than I did. I didn’t know him at all. He never did that anyplace else other than here. I brought it up, I met him maybe 10 years ago and I brought that up. He said, no, I just did it in Washington. We thought he was local, he was there so long.
A Ockershausen: The Maryland Club had a singer named Ronnie Darling or Dowling at one time.
Mark Russell: You know, before it was a strip joint, it was a jazz club. Oscar Peterson played there. The owner, Olivia Davis, she figured out that the way the neighborhood was going that it would be more lucrative. Strippers are going to out do jazz then and now.
A Ockershausen: Any day, that’s America.
Mark Russell: The other great jazz place was where the Loew’s theater is now, the Bayou. Before it was a strip joint, it was real jazz, New Orleans jazz, Dixieland. It was Wild Bill Whelan, John Eaton who still performs. That was a classic place. Then it became a strip joint and they Julie Gibson. Her act was the blushing bride and she would come out on stage in a full, formal wedding gown.
A Ockershausen: She was very popular.
Mark Russell: She would proceed to be an ecdysiast.
A Ockershausen: I recall her at the old Gaiety. You then went from downtown to uptown to Capitol Hill to the Carroll Arms, correct?
Mark Russell: Yeah, and I was there three years, from ’58-’61.
A Ockershausen: That’s where you were discovered. That’s where I discovered you by some people, I don’t know. Maybe Mo Siegel or people in the business said, you’ve got to hear this guy.
Mark Russell: It was very informal. It was the dining room of the hotel. When the National Shrine opened out at Catholic University, all of these Bishops in the country came to Washington for the opening of the National Shrine. The nearest hotel to Brookland to Catholic University was the Carroll Arms. It was pretty wild in there. There’s the lobbyist and the senators and the media guys.
A Ockershausen: Smoking.
Mark Russell: Smoking and drinking. I had ‘em community singing at 6 o’clock. That was the atmosphere. Here are these Arch Bishops in there. To a drunk, a Roman collar is a magnet. Bless me, father. These poor Bishops didn’t know what hit them.
A Ockershausen: You told us a great story, Mark about the big snowstorm on inauguration day in 1963. I remember it vividly, the city was locked down.
Mark Russell: It was ’60, ’61 rather. Kennedy was elected in ’60 and so he was inaugurated in ’61. The Monocle opened … By the way, we talk about the way the city has changed. I don’t like restaurants that specialize in good food. I like restaurants that have a soul, that have memories and sentiment. The Monocle has good food but the purpose is their locale and they’re on the Senate side and they opened the night of the Kennedy inauguration.
A Ockershausen: In ’61.
Mark Russell: There was a tremendous snowstorm and we had people staying around the corner at the Carroll Arms coming in for the inaugural and they’ve got their tuxedos on but there’s no way to get over to the National Guard Armory where the gala was.
A Ockershausen: The big show.
Mark Russell: They try to make the best of the night and they start ordering champagne. We didn’t have champagne. We’re a shots and beer place but the Monocle, very high tone, high class. I run around the corner and go, can you spare some champagne. They say, well yeah but we can only give you room temperature. I’m chilling the bottles of champagne in the snow bank out there in the parking lot next to the Carroll Arms.
A Ockershausen: Listen, there’s so many great stories. I love these names and I love these place because I grew up over there. Maybe I didn’t grow up but I lived over there for years. It’s great to have you here and do this about Our Town to talk about it. We’re going to be right back. We’re going to take a break here Mark and come back to Our Town.
[Commercial] This is Andy Ockershausen talking to Tommy Jacomo bragging about his restaurant, The Palm.
Hi, I’m Tommy Jacomo. I want you to come down and see me at the Palm Restaurant. I’ve been here for 43 years. We have great steaks, great lobsters, great food. Caricatures on the wall, it’s just a fun place to eat and drink. We’re located at 19th and N, just below Dupont Circle. For reservations call, 202-293-9091. That’s 202-293-9091. sww.thepalm.com. [End Commercial]
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ochershausen and we’re talking with Mark Russell about Our Town. Mark has told us some great stories about Capitol Hill and what went on in those days, they were so great, Mark. Then lo and behold, as I recall, Mark Russell moved downtown or maybe uptown but he had been downtown. He had moved to the Shoreham.
Mark Russell at The Shoreham
Mark Russell: The Shoreham and to me it’s always the Shoreham. People call it the Omni now, no it’s the Shoreham. The Bralove family opened it in 1930. The Blue Room had all the major stars. Then I was down the hall in the Marquee Lounge. We had no cover, no minimum. Bernie Bralove, the son of the owner who hired me. He wanted whatever money they had left over from being soaked in the Blue Room, they wanted the babysitter money, they wanted the cab fare. We would kick off our show. We’d leave the door open as people are coming out the Blue Room on the way to the front entrance. Let’s just duck in here and have a drink. You know, it’s no cover, no minimum.
The owner of the Redskins, George Preston Marshall, lived in the Shoreham. He had a big suite there and he was a very good friend of Bernie Bralove. We had a trio in the room, T. Carson. T. Carson was an African-American, his drummer was Black but he had a white bass player. George Marshall hit the ceiling and he goes to Bralove and he, you can’t have that. Either have them all Black or all white but you can’t mix them like that. That was George Preston Marshall but the ironic thing is many, many years later my wife and I take the grandchildren over to the Children’s Museum. The hands on Children’s Museum.
A Ockershausen: In Northeast.
Mark Russell: In Northeast and there’s a multilingual, ethnic, frolicking children of all stripes, race, creed, and color and their frolicking around in this children’s museum. There’s a plaque on the wall, welcome to the George Preston Marshall Children’s Museum.
A Ockershausen: George resisted the whole thing about getting good players because he had that Black problem. There was the supposed line that he said, Mo Siegel was with him at some thing and Adam Clayton Powell comes into the club, it’s the one on Wisconsin Avenue and he said something about not having any Black players and Marshall said you don’t have any white players with the Globetrotters or something to that effect. That was a quote from Siegel.
Mark Russell: Maybe it Siegel’s line where …
A Ockershausen: The Townhouse was the name of the place.
Mark Russell: In Georgetown.
A Ockershausen: Yes.
Mark Russell: My brother played piano there.
A Ockershausen: That’s right. We didn’t talk about your brother. He’s an accomplished artist.
Mark Russell: He was at the Mayflower for 30 years.
A Ockershausen: He got paid.
Mark Russell: He’s at the Prime Rib for lunch, he’s been there for about 15 years.
A Ockershausen: We haven’t been there in so long.
Mark Russell: He’s the one, I had the lessons and he had the talent. I still have three chords. If I was a Cajun musician …
A Ockershausen: It works for you. He’s very accomplished, I know. He’s been around town and done a lot of so-called gigs. Then also you decided to do something at Ford’s Theatre. Did somebody present you with that idea or was that yours?
Mark Russell: No.
A Ockershausen: At least around inauguration.
Ford’s Theatre | Come From Away | Museum
Mark Russell: Frankie Hewitt, she brought James Whitmore the actor who was doing a one man Will Rogers show.
A Ockershausen: Great actor.
Mark Russell: At Ford’s and so Frankie who had worked on the Hill. She worked for Lyndon Johnson years before that. She and Whitmore came in and she hired me. It wasn’t immediately. I didn’t start Ford’s until after I left the Shoreham. I left the Shoreham in ’81 and I first played Ford’s in ’81 or ’82 and I played there every other year until now.
A Ockershausen: You’d play a week, right? At Ford’s?
Mark Russell: Yeah, I would do four or five nights. September 19 of this year was or is, whenever we’re talking here is my last show at Ford’s.
A Ockershausen: I remember you had Mr. Brotman handling a little PR for you at that event for many years. He’s still angling to be the announcer for the president. He started in ’57 and never got a dime out of but he feels real good about it.
Charlie Brotman Roast
Mark Russell: You had a roast of Charlie over at the Les Halles, which is closed now, the french restaurant.
A Ockershausen: That was one of his clients.
Mark Russell: That was one of his clients. When you do a roast, you take the most obvious joke and you’ve got to be the first one to do it. I said, I want to go on now. I think you said, no you’ve got to wait, or one of your people, one of your people told my people, I couldn’t go on now, I have to go on with the rest of the speakers. I said, no I have to go on now because I have to be in Rangoon on Tuesday or something. Why did I want to get on? Because it was a roast and you must go on first. It’s an old rule of the Friars Club. The guy to say, mmhmmhm gets all the laughs. In Charlie’s case, there’s one obvious reference. I talked about how wonderful RFK Stadium was and that there’s no AstroTurf at RFK Stadium and the only AstroTurf there at all was on Charlie Brotman’s head. Referring of course to his magnificent hairpiece made by little old ladies in Iran. A Ockershausen: He loved it.
Mark Russell: He loved it, yeah.
A Ockershausen: You know, Mark we see Charlie quite a bit. He and I are involved in several events but he doesn’t wear the hairpiece anymore. A lot of people don’t even recognize him.
Mark Russell: Maybe I’ve seen him them.
A Ockershausen: Exactly.
Mark Russell: Yours looks great.
A Ockershausen: I borrowed it from him. Mark, in those years at the … Frankie Hewitt we know real well. She was close to our Tom Gauger and spent a lot of time working with him. That was a such a great, great thing for you, a great venue too because that was where history and you were part of history there.
Mark Russell: Yeah, it’s been wonderful. Paul Tetreault is doing a fantastic job. He’s got that museum across the street now, and the current play Come from Away is on an artistic level with Hamilton in my humble opinion. It’s unbelievably good.
A Ockershausen: Have you seen Hamilton? Did you see it in New York?
Mark Russell: Yes.
A Ockershausen: Is it playing here or is going to play here? I don’t know. People say you’ve got to see it. It just fit New York, they said.
Mark Russell: It’ll be a couple of years. I wrote a song about it. There’s an old Irving Berlin song you remember, maybe you and I are the ones called Alexander’s Ragtime Band.
A Ockershausen: Come on and hear.
Mark Russell: Yeah, come on and hear, come and hear, Alexander Hamilton. A Broadway show and did you know those founding fathers sure had fun. As they sang and danced across the stage, the British would attack. Only to discover that George Washington was Black as was Thomas Jefferson, a theatrical fact. It goes on like that.
A Ockershausen: That’s our Mark Russell and he writes all his own stuff, that’s brilliant.
Mark Russell: No, I print it.
A Ockershausen: I know you do. Ali gives you a lot of help. We love your wife and she’s such an important part of your life I know.
Mark Russell: She is indeed, we’re going on 40 years.
A Ockershausen: 40 years, it’s hard to believe, Mark. She put up with you for 40 years.
Mark Russell: Two of them were living in sin.
A Ockershausen: They were the good years though. We’re going to take another break and find out more about you and what your plans are because you still have a bright future.
Mark Russell: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: That’s what Andy Bright told me. We’ll be right back.
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Announcer: You are listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
Presidential Campaign 2016
A Ockershausen: We’re talking to a great, great part of Our Town, Mark Russell who has made a living with the political scene in Washington. Now Mark, I know you said people say this to you all the time, but you’ve got Trump, Clinton, and Bernie Sanders. You’ve got a lot of stuff.
Mark Russell: And, Gary Johnson, the Libertarian.
A Ockershausen: He’s on the ballot too.
Mark Russell: Remember, he got hung up recently on the word Aleppo. Aleppo to Gary Johnson was what potato was to Dan Quayle or what macaca was to George Allen. My reliable sources, which are two bartenders in Buffalo tell me that half of the American people believe that our best days are ahead of us, ahead us if neither candidate wins. They also believe that if both candidates were to take a simultaneous lie detector test, the polygraph machine would blow up.
A Ockershausen: That’s Buffalo and they know in Buffalo.
Mark Russell: We’re familiar with the famous lies in our culture, the check is in the mail, I’ll respect you in the morning, and things like that. The newest one to add to the list of lies is Mr. Trump wishes Secretary Clinton a speedy recovery. Pneumonia, right? My medical sources tell me that pneumonia is a disease that can cover up leprosy in an election year. Of course, there are many public figures that were never held back by less than perfect health. President Roosevelt was in a wheelchair, John F. Kennedy had Addison’s disease, and every time Dick Cheney’s defibrillator beeped, he invaded another country. We’ve seen that.
A Ockershausen: He got upset.
Mark Russell: Yes, he did.
A Ockershausen: Poor Dick.
Mark Russell: It’s interesting. I have this song that’s …
A Ockershausen: Mr. Bernie Sanders is in the mix here somewhere.
Mark Russell: That was a phenomenal thing. The young people loved him.
A Ockershausen: He had the turnouts.
Mark Russell: He have these 20 somethings flocking to a 74-year-old, which is a common case of common core math. I remember thinking, dare I say that if Bernie seduces many more young people, they could give him his own parish.
A Ockershausen: That’s our Bernie. Harry Jaffe says, how can a poor Jewish boy from Brooklyn end up running for President from Vermont. It’s a small world.
Mark Russell: That reminds me, we have a vacancy on the Supreme Court now, for too long a time since Justice Scalia passed away and the Republicans say, we don’t care who Obama nominates, we’re going to turn him down. We don’t care who it is, we’re going to turn him down. You get the idea that if Obama nominated Jesus Christ, the Republicans would say, well there are three Jews on the court already.
A Ockershausen: Mark, you’re sensational but you’ve got a make a living. These people are doing this and their serious, Mark. You make a living pointing out that they’re serious.
Mark Russell: It’s always been that way. Although this election is new ground, it really is. It’s a little frightening.
A Ockershausen: Wait a minute, we survived Jimmy Carter.
Mark Russell: That was nothing. What did they kill a rabbit?
President Jimmy Carter and Brother Billy
A Ockershausen: He was getting attacked out of nowhere. He’s doing well now. You know, Jimmy is still alive and going strong, unfortunately for Mrs. Carter but that’s the way it goes. Do we ever hear about his brother anymore? Remember his brother?
Mark Russell: Billy, yeah with the beer and all that.
A Ockershausen: That was something to talk, you got some good copy with that.
Mark Russell: I remember Billy was in the height of his fame and he was the main speaker at the Touchdown Club. Do they still have a Touchdown Club? Those were huge dinners. They weren’t just sports, it was a free for all of fun, a political night and Billy was all with the beer. He was actually a lobbyist for Khadafi in Libya, people forget that.
A Ockershausen: The real Khadafi.
Mark Russell: I go up to one of the photographers, I said, watch what I’m going to do and you’ll get a great picture. I went over to the bar, maybe I went up to the restaurant, whatever the hotel was, and I get a glass of milk. Then I put a little napkin over my arm like a waiter and then I sneak up behind Billy Carter and I offer him this glass of milk and he turns around and he has a horrified look on his face and we got that shot of Billy Carter.
I’ll tell you, this election there’s too much, too many things. For example, I have to remind the audience, this goes back to April, do you remember what Trump said about Ted Cruz’ father that he hung out with Lee Harvey Oswald. Do you remember that?
A Ockershausen: Oh, yes.
Mark Russell: That’s the one missing element in this entire Marx Brothers movie otherwise known as campaign 2016. The one missing element was Lee Harvey frigging Oswald. Then Ted Cruz had to go on television to deny that his father killed John F. Kennedy and we will never be 100% certain that Cruz wasn’t being sarcastic. People forget.
A Ockershausen: This campaign has been going on forever.
Mark Russell: They said, well he needs help with the women’s vote. So what does he do….he calls in randy Roger Ailes to help him out.
A Ockershausen: Randy Roger.
Mark Russell: Randy Roger.
A Ockershausen: He is, isn’t he?
Mark Russell: Yes.
A Ockershausen: Evidently, he missed the girl that’s got this, Megyn Kelly. She didn’t protest as the other girls did about Roger. Roger must have known something. He knows he got his 40 million dollars or whatever and said bye-bye.
On Satire – The Invisible Line Between Satire and the Original Event
Mark Russell: These are cases where satire dies. Meaning that the line between the satire and the original event is invisible.
A Ockershausen: Right.
Mark Russell: It was the great mathematician and satirist, Tom Lehrer who said that satire died when they handed the Nobel Peace Prize to Henry Kissinger or you could say the same thing, satire died when they handed the Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama for what the hell was it, he kept al qaeda out of Newfoundland, I guess.
A Ockershausen: There’s a lot to that, Mark. Sensational. What about your PBS series? That is going to be past us now. You’re not going to do that anymore?
Mark Russell: If you need any tapes, I’ve got boxes of them in the basement.
A Ockershausen: They’re so great, Mark.
Mark Russell: No, that ran out in ’04, it was a 30-year run. It was a nice thing on PBS.
A Ockershausen: You taped it in Buffalo.
Mark Russell: They were taped in Buffalo, my home town and I stacked the audience with relatives. People remember it. I had a guy a couple of months, he said, “We always used to watch your shows on PMS.” I said, “Thank you.”
A Ockershausen: Oh, Mark. You know why that went away because Brotman didn’t handle that for you.
Mark Russell: That’s right.
A Ockershausen: If he’d have been handling that, you’d have been doing the inauguration.
Mark Russell: You know, we were talking about restaurants that have a soul. Do you remember Maggie’s on Wisconsin.
Maggie’s Pizza and The Funny Fireman
A Ockershausen: Oh, don’t I. Maggie’s Pizza.
Mark Russell: You could go into Maggie’s and Sonny Jurgensen would be tending bar. Do you remember the fireman, Steve Pugh and he was a very funny guy. He was a DC fireman and he would sit there and hold court and regale us with these hilarious stories. And, it was . . . Steve you ought to do this. He was talked into performing at a benefit someplace. He stood up there in front of microphone and he was lousy.
A Ockershausen: He died.
Mark Russell: Yeah, sitting down at Maggie’s he was wonderful. He told a story, firefighters have great stories. There was a person passed away over in a broken down building, it had no elevators, on the fourth floor. They go up there and they got the gurney upended. They stretch the deceased out on the gurney. They can’t fit the gurney in the elevator so they get a chair, a kitchen chair and they put the deceased, the dead man in the chair. They go down a couple of floors and a lady gets on the elevator and she looks at the dead man in the chair. She says, he drunk again? Steven says, no he’s dead. She fainted and now they’ve got two bodies. Steve Pugh, the funny fireman. His billing was all set. That was Maggie’s.
A Ockershausen: Maggie’s was a great place.
Matt Kane and Bit O’Ireland
Mark Russell: There was one Irish bar in Washington, Matt Kane’s on 13th Street.
A Ockershausen: On 13th Street.
Mark Russell: Matt was godfather to my youngest son.
A Ockershausen: Is that right?
Mark Russell: Yeah. One St. Patrick’s day, which was their big day.
A Ockershausen: Big day.
Mark Russell: The next morning they find a pair of crutches. They ask around the wait staff, do you remember anybody with crutches? They said, no. They put an ad in the paper.
A Ockershausen: Is this a true story?
Mark Russell: True story. Would the person who left their crutches at Matt Kane’s on St. Patrick’s day, please call us. We want to know what you were drinking.
A Ockershausen: I went up several times with Budd Doggett because he was a friend of Kane and that was a thing you did on St. Patrick’s day. Somewhere along the line you went by.
Mark Russell: It was 13th Street right off Massachusetts.
A Ockershausen: Know it well.
Mark Russell: Matt brought back what he claimed was soil from the old sod, from Ireland. I said, come on. You just got a shovel out in your backyard and filled the dirt, you put the dirt. You were literally on Irish land.
A Ockershausen: He’s the one man I remember looked like Matt Kane.
Mark Russell: He really did.
A Ockershausen: He was Matt Kane.
Mark Russell: He loved Nixon and we had a little problem, not a falling out, but because during Nixon’s era, I couldn’t resist.
A Ockershausen: He was a piece of cake, right?
Mark Russell: The whole show was him. I make the same mistake now. I mean, Nixon resigned and I had to go back to writing my own material. People say, have you got a Trump song? I have a Trump medley. There’s just too much.
A Ockershausen: He’s got good material.
Mark Russell: Matt loved Nixon. The Washington Daily News, the tabloid, was across the street. When he opened at 10 in the morning, those guys were over there drinking at 10 in the morning.
A Ockershausen: Newspaper men.
Mark Russell: Newspaper men and they had their own plaque. There was a brass plaque on the bar where they sat and that was journalism.
A Ockershausen: The News was a great paper in its time. The Star bought the News and tried to make it more …
Mark Russell: They heard that there was going to be a subway system and that was going to save them. This was years before the Metro opened but they heard that this was going to happen.
A Ockershausen: That was news.
Mark Russell: They said, this is will be like New York City. The straphangers will hang onto the strap on the subway and hold the tabloid in the other hand but it didn’t …
A Ockershausen: It didn’t work. It didn’t work for the Star either, they couldn’t stay alive. Television killed them, Mark.
Mark Russell: Speaking of the Metro, the Department of Homeland Security did a study and they decided that if god forbid, terrorists were to blow up one of our Metro stations, the escalators would start working.
A Ockershausen: It’s so much to that, Mark.
Mark Russell: There was a study.
A Ockershausen: You could do the Metro every night forever, it’s never been right, it probably never will be.
Mark Russell: You heard it here first.
A Ockershausen: Like making fun of the Control Board, what did they control. They controlled the taxes, they raised them.
Mark Russell: I forgot about the Control Board.
A Ockershausen: Oh gosh, that was great meat for you.
Mark Russell: There were three of them, weren’t there?
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah. You remember Marion of course. We had so much fun with Marion.
On the Late Mayor Marion Barry
Mark Russell: I remember at his, I watched his funeral. It was on CSPAN and it was at the convention center.
A Ockershausen: Did they do it?
Mark Russell: Louis Farrakhan spoke. You know, at funerals there’s always somebody that gets a big laugh. There’s a lot of recollection. Louis Farrakhan tells about when Marion is busted at the Vista Hotel and he runs over there and the media is all there. They accost Farrakhan and they say, how can you come here to pay honor to a philanderer, a known philanderer who uses drugs? Farrakhan says, “Who are you talking about? John Fitzgerald Kennedy?”
A Ockershausen: Oh my god.
Mark Russell: The place erupted. I think it was Art Buchwald’s line, and we should mention Art. Barry is in the Guinness Book of Records being driven to his own inaugural in a limousine that he made the license plates for. That was Buchwald.
A Ockershausen: That was Marion though. We know that because Harry Jaffe was talking about Marion could get elected forever in that Ward he represented. No matter what he did, he was golden. He did a lot for the city at one time but he certainly was good copy for you.
Mark Russell: Early on, he was such a hero, remember?
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Mark Russell: The Post endorsed him over Walter Washington.
A Ockershausen: That’s what killed Walter Washington.
Mark Russell: He was for statehood. I always thought if I was going to run. You know, like we have a shadow senator. So, the idea is if we become a state, this shadow senator would become a senator. I’m going to run for shadow sheriff. If we become a state, I will be the sheriff of Cleveland Park County. These little neighborhoods will be counties.
A Ockershausen: That’s right. You know, that’s still alive of course. Muriel is pushing it and the city is pushing it.
Mark Russell: You know, say you go around the country and you talk about statehood. Well, we don’t want the bureaucrats to have more votes. I said, hold it. The bureaucrats live in Virginia and Maryland. That’s a racist thing you’re saying. We don’t want those people to have a vote. You’re not talking about the bureaucrats.
A Ockershausen: It’s incredible though that this city has come so far, Mark but you grace it in so many ways. For the most part, when you got out of the Marine Corps you grew up here. You became an adult here.
Sightseeing in Washington DC Metro
Mark Russell: I really love the town. I go sightseeing alone. I take people, when I was with PBS, we had a deal, we had a hotel deal and an airline deal. My wife and I would take them to dinner and then we would take them on a tour of things that normal tourists don’t go. We go to Mary Surratt’s boarding house.
A Ockershausen: You find Roger Mudd or whatever his name was.
Mark Russell: Samuel Mudd. Mary Surratt who was guilty, she was guilty. She ran guns. She ran guns to her ex-husband out in Surrattsville which is now Clinton, Maryland. There’s a wonderful little museum out there.
A Ockershausen: Is there really?
Mark Russell: Anyway, we take them to the Cogswell statue at 7th and Indiana of Henry G. Cogswell. It’s dedicated to temperance. There is a Cogswell Society that I belong to. We meet every first Friday. One of the founders was the late, great John McLaughlin.
A Ockershausen: A Jesuit.
Mark Russell: A Jesuit priest. At the time he lived at the Watergate. He had the freedom, he worked in the Nixon White House and he had the freedom that Jesuits are accorded from time to time. He lived at the Watergate so I always used to say, he observed his vow of poverty by only using the freight elevator.
A Ockershausen: Mark, it’s so great to have you back in Our Town.
Mark Russell: Thank you, Andy.
A Ockershausen: Are you going to do anything besides Ford’s Theatre. Do you have any other plans?
Mark Russell: In the area, no. When this election is over, I don’t care who wins, people will say, you’re going to have such a field day. No, I’m not. Here’s what’s going to happen. I believe that Hillary will be sworn in as President on January 20th. I also believe that the next morning, January 21st, the Republican majority will start the impeachment proceedings. At the end of the proceedings, Tim Kaine who will have been Vice President for 24 hours, will become President. But what’s the first thing we found out about Tim Kaine? That he was very, very fluent in Spanish. After Hillary is impeached, Tim Kaine is deported and along the line of, stay with me, the line of succession the President become a Republican, Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan. In the election year 2020, Paul Ryan will have a Republican opponent in the primary and that will be Donald J. Trump. What will happen after that? Frankly my dear, I don’t give a shit.
A Ockershausen: That sounds like a show and it’s a great idea. When they put Kaine on that ticket, there’s something behind that guy. I know his family. He’s the grandson, not the grandson but the son-in-law of the former governor of Virginia.
Mark Russell: That’s right, Holton.
A Ockershausen: Linwood Holton who was a peculiar guy. Great guy, I like him very much but he was not right for Virginia. He was too liberal. But, Mark, you have a face for radio obviously. You were fabulous when you worked at WMAL with Trumbull. You know, Chris Core is still alive and doing very well. He’s going to come on and talk about his Trumbull days. He’s got so many stories.
Mark Russell: Oh, I could imagine.
A Ockershausen: They’re sitting there together for that 25 years that they worked together.
Mark Russell: Yeah, that’s what it was.
A Ockershausen: How long have you worked with Brotman? That’s probably 25 years for that too.
Charlie Brotman, Julie Gibson and the Washington Senators
Mark Russell: I met him, you know we were talking, that stripper we mentioned, Julie Gibson. He arranged for her to be at a ballgame, the old Senators. When the Senators were the team, they’d have 30,000 people that day and the next day they’d have 4,000. Charlie thought it would be a wonderful idea to have Julie Gibson and Phil Silvers, the great comedian, was in town and I would be the emcee. All right? Sounded great. First of all, Julie Gibson shows up in not a seductive outfit, she’s got this tweed suit that looked like Miss Manners. The crowd starts booing that.
A Ockershausen: She didn’t look like Julie Gibson.
Mark Russell: I’m there standing with a hand held microphone at the pitcher’s mound. When there’s 4,000 people in that stadium, the reverberation, good evenngggggg, ladies and gennnnnnn. The jokes just bounce all over the place and it was a mess. It was a total mess. The players were ticked off because we’re taking up the space. They can’t go out and warm up. That was one of Charlie’s brainstorms there.
A Ockershausen: You had Sergeant Bilko with you too. Did he make an appearance?
Mark Russell: Yeah, he ran around. He didn’t know quite, looked a little embarrassed. What am I doing here? Rightly so. That was Charlie, thank you Charlie.
A Ockershausen: It was a good shot, he gave it a shot. He’s doing well. Mark, what about the political scene here. We’ve got a new police chief, nobody knows who it is yet but our old police chief is going to go take care of the National Football League.
Former DC Metropolitan Police Department Chief Cathy L. Lanier
Mark Russell: Does that mean she’s going to be Dan Snyder’s bodyguard? In which case, who much do we wish her?
A Ockershausen: There’s only one. But I think the players will now behave with Cathy in charge of the security.
Mark Russell: I heard that, we were out of town all summer long.
A Ockershausen: You were in Buffalo, right?
Mark Russell: Up at Chautauqua, Lake Chautauqua. She did a great job. I remember it was one of those dinners at the Alfalfa Club and a lot of people are from out of town in the big ballroom there at the Hilton. She walked in, Chief Lanier walked in to go up to the head table and say hello to all these dignitaries who all knew her. Obama was there, everyone like that. These out of towners, she dressed in a full policeman’s uniform and the armament, she’s packing heat and everything like that. These out of towners could not figure out this six-foot woman walking in, going right up to the President. A couple of them ducked under the table. It was hilarious.
A Ockershausen: They may have thought she had a warrant.
Mark Russell: She was great. You had Morris Cullinane on.
A Ockershausen: Yes, Cully is one of our guys. He’ll be with us. I hope you can come to our kickoff. It’s the launch party on Wednesday, the 21st of September. For your benefit, Cully will be there. Sonny will be there, Margo. All the names of people you’ve known over the years. Of course, Charlie and his entourage and Chuck Conconi, people that have written and following Mark Russell for years. I hope you can do it. Mark, this has been such a pleasure for us and our crew here. As you can see, we don’t have much of an audience but we have them right there. One thing about this podcast thing, it’ll be there forever. When you put it in the system, it’s there and you can go back in a day or two days or five years or whatever, it’s always going to be there.
Mark Russell: You’ve got to know, the only electronic device in my house I know how to work is the toaster. I can download toast, that’s about it.
A Ockershausen: Can you put the slice in?
Mark Russell: Everybody’s got to have the latest phone. iPhone 7, state of the art. Got all the bells and whistles, including a catheter.
A Ockershausen: You can’t use it.
Mark Russell: We’ve got a pretty good audience here, I must say
A Ockershausen: Cardinal McCarrick, you remember the Cardinal. Delightful man and he had a joke he played on me. I used to tell him all the time he’s not my favorite Cardinal. I said, Stan Musial is my favorite Cardinal. I asked him one time, are you a Jesuit? He said, no, I’m a Catholic. I don’t what he meant by that but McCarrick is still alive and kicking. We have a new Cardinal Weurl that you may have seen. He looks like central casting. You know, you call Hollywood and say send me the next Cardinal and they send him over. Like the Thornbirds. You know Cardinal Weurl.
Mark Russell: Yes, I have met him. Yes, indeed.
A Ockershausen: Delightful man.
Mark Russell: Yeah, he is.
A Ockershausen: Are you still tight with the clergy? We had the Pope here, you know.
Mark Russell: I know that. I like the Pope although sometimes it seems like he took a vow of ambiguity. We’re just trying to figure out what’s going to happen. I’m still hanging in there.
A Ockershausen: He’s the only Pope we’ve got, Mark.
Mark Russell: Well, yeah. There used to be a joke that said well, these two Popes are walking down the street. I said, that’s impossible. No, you can say that now because Benedict is still with us.
A Ockershausen: It’s true.
Mark Russell: I don’t care who I offend. I offended him about 10 minutes ago with the Bernie Sanders jokes.
A Ockershausen: No way. Listen, we had a ceremony here for our very dear friend, Joe Robert and they had two Cardinals attending the service. It’s unheard of in the city of Washington.
Mark Russell: That’s something.
A Ockershausen: You know, Joe started Fight For Children and did well with that. Janice and I got involved in a school you may have heard of, Don Bosco? It’s a Cristo Rey school, it’s Salesian Brothers.
Mark Russell: I remember Don Bosco.
A Ockershausen: Don Bosco is big all over the country. This is a special thing in Takoma Park of all places.
Mark Russell: People don’t know this about you Andy.
A Ockershausen: My beautiful, darling Janice got me involved in that and we love our life. Someday, I’m serious about this Mark, when I can pry you away because I know where you live, I’d like you to see our school just to see it and see what we’ve done from scratch.
Mark Russell: See that, I did not know this.
A Ockershausen: It’s a big school for the kids, the poorest of the poor. Something like 56 zip codes, not zip codes. What is it?
Speaker 6: Yeah, 53 zip codes.
A Ockershausen: 53 zip codes of kids go to this school in Takoma Park.
Mark Russell: Wow.
A Ockershausen: It’s all run by the Salesian Brothers and it’s all volunteer. The kids work, they perform jobs so it’s not free. Having you back here is great. I’ll be seeing you in the barbershop?
Mark Russell: Yes.
A Ockershausen: Our lady that works down there is gone, isn’t she? Whatever happened to her?
Mark Russell: Lydia?
A Ockershausen: No, Lydia is still there. The one, the big blonde. What was her name, Janice?
Mark Russell: Andrea. She went to Florida.
A Ockershausen: Oh did she?
Mark Russell: She moved to Florida.
A Ockershausen: She never came back?
Mark Russell: No. I saw her down there last year. She came to a show I did down there, yeah Andrea.
A Ockershausen: She had a great attitude. I loved to go in there and see Pietro. We have a lot of characters in this town. Several of them are gone. Jack Kent Cooke is gone and Siegel is gone.
Mark Russell: Yeah, Morrie Siegel, Trumbull.
A Ockershausen: Duke’s gone. The times at Duke’s.
Mark Russell: Remember, the Redskin game they came back. It was a night game and they’d be back in there filling up at midnight.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely.
Mark Russell: That’s the thing. People go home now. The idea of going out to dinner and then going directly home is barbaric. We do it but I feel guilty about it.
A Ockershausen: We miss going to the clubs.
Mark Russell: My first show at the Shoreham was at 10:30, first show. I’m in bed at 10:30.
A Ockershausen: How about 9?
Mark Russell: In those days, the last show I used to watch before going to bed was the Today Show.
A Ockershausen: They were the wonderful years, Mark.
Mark Russell: If the audience was right, I’d say good evening, ladies and gentleman. I’m Mark, I’m a recovering alcoholic, Irish Catholic, and former Marine but I repeat myself.
A Ockershausen: There’s only one Mark Russell and thank you so much Mark.
Mark Russell: Thank you, Andy.
A Ockershausen: It’s just not long enough but it never is but there’s always a spot for you at WMAL.
Mark Russell: Thank you.
A Ockershausen: These people need help, Mark.
Mark Russell: You better clear that with a few people.
A Ockershausen: This has been Our Town with Mark Russell. It’s just been super, Mark. Thank you for being here, we love you.
Mark Russell: Thank you, Andy. God bless you.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, season one with your host, Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town podcast episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. We welcome your comments and suggestions on how you like the show or who you’d like to hear from next. Catch us on Facebook at Our Town DC or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to WMAL radio in Washington, DC for hosting our podcasts.