Remembering Pal and Mentor Tommy West

Tommy West, a friend and inspiration — the reason I went into journalism, other than that I wanted to one day meet and interview Audrey Hepburn — was stationed while in the army at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, when Bobby Kennedy was assassinated and posted these observations about those times.

When it comes to reporters I have known, one stands above all others. To use those immortal words of Pulitzer Prize laureate Bernard Malamud from The Natural, journalist Tommy West was ‘The the best there is, the best there was, the best there ever will be.”

 

IT HAS HAPPENED SO MANY TIMES,

AMERICA FINDS IT EASY TO BELIEVE

By Tommy West

FT. HUACHUCA, AZ (June 7, 1968) — We awoke here this morning to learn that last night, less than 600 miles away, Don Drysdale had pitched his sixth shutout in a row and  Senator Robert F. Kennedy had been shot twice in the head.

Because even Dodger fans owe their first loyalty to the country that made their sport great, there was little to smile about this morning in the chilly darkness of the barracks.

Texas Newsman Tommy West

Texas Newsman Tommy West while at Baylor University (Paul Currier Photo)

There was once a time, not so very long ago, when the news that a major political figure of this country had been shot would have come as a resounding shock.

THERE WAS a time when America would have had to sit down in the fury of the moment and struggle to pull herself together.

It was that way five years ago, on that autumn afternoon in downtown Dallas.

“No,” everyone said. “Things like that do not happen in this country. I do not believe it.”

Then came Sunday morning outside the Dallas police station, and it seemed the world stopped for a moment and held its breath to wait fearfully for what would come next.

Calm eventually returned, and America groped for and found her reason. And the world turned once again.

IF WE LEARNED anything from the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, it seemed we learned we were not immune to the terrible, swift act of deranged social misfits and that even at this time, we too, can settle great issues with a sudden murder.

And so we began to talk of cure, because we had not talked soon enough of prevention. We talked about the Secret Service, and police protection, and about maniacs in our society. And most of all we talked about the quick and easy gun.

While we talked, cities burned. Would-be assassination plots were uncovered and young men committed unexplainable mass murders from beauty shops and university towers. We read about it all in the newspapers, and we shook our heads grimly.

THEN SWIFTLY and without warning, another assassin killed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Even as the nation quivered at the news, the talking began anew.

Now it has happened again. The airwaves crackled with the news this morning, and all over the nation giant newspaper presses rumbled about their gruesome business.

But somewhere along the way the shock has almost disappeared. In its void is an almost nauseating bewilderment, born of frustration and kindled by helplessness.

Your friend shakes you gently awake. “Bobby Kennedy has been shot,” he says.

THERE IS no disbelief, because if he had said instead that Washington was on fire and nuclear bombers were winging toward America, you know you probably would have believed it just as easily.

It is almost as if you went to sleep, and when you awoke, the quiet, unquestioned confidence you once had in the American scheme of things has gone.

What is there to do?

Talk? But everything has been said. Campaign for gun laws and a society more sensitive to street corner peddlers of salvation? That too has been done.

So you rise, slowly, put on your clothes, slip into your slot in the great society, the society of a country that seems somehow strangely different from the one you used to think about in the third grade.

And when darkness comes, you almost catch yourself wondering who will be next. Because with faith rapidly falling, you must resign yourself to the cold fact that apparently the lunatics and the guns in this country outnumber the great men.

 

Tommy West was a prominent Texas newspaper reporter and columnist who died in 1998 at the age of 55. West graduated from Baylor University — where he was editor of The Baylor Lariat — in 1967 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. He was born in nearby Bosqueville and began his career at 16 as a copy boy for the Waco Tribune-HeraldOver the years he wrote for newspapers in Philadelphia, Ft. Worth, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Cincinnati, Houston, Stephenville, and San Antonio. West worked as a reporter, columnist and editor for the San Antonio Express-News from 1980-1996. He penned well-read columns for the Express-News such as “Trails West” and “South Texas Spirit.” He was known affectionately there by his colleagues as “the Colonel.”

Looking for Hemingway

Young Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway pool side at the Davis family villa in Spain, La Consula, where the author lived for months in 1959. (Teo.Davis.muchloved.com)

Young Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway poolside at La Consula, the Davis villa in Spain, where the author lived in 1959. (Teo.Davis.muchloved.com)

IN THE FALL OF 1975, WHEN MY WIFE decided she wanted a divorce, I moved into a quaint though dilapidated cottage in an obscure rain forest corner of River Oaks, Houston’s poshest neighborhood, where our home’s only amenity was being awakened each morning by a family of raccoons rummaging through our kitchen.

The address was fittingly pretentious, 8 Asbury Place, and it belonged to a fashion writer named Peter Heyne, who through his connections at Women’s Wear Daily was forever entertaining young debutantes with double last names and lineages to names in Texas history books.

I was too depressed with self-loathing, pity and half-baked plans about moving to Paris in search of Hemingway or, at least, a reasonable facsimile of personal oblivion. To his credit, Peter didn’t try to dissuade me and instead indulged my delusion. His previous roommate who had inhabited my bedroom, he enlightened me, had once sat on Hemingway’s lap in some grand villa in Spain. His parents had been wealthy American expatriates who entertained Hemingway, his longtime literary pal A. E. Hotchner and the entourage that followed Hemingway for an enchanting summer of running with the bulls.

“His name is Teo Davis,” said Peter. “He was educated in Cambridge, married a contessa who later divorced him, and he moved in here with me.”

“So where is he now?” Yes, I wanted to know, where do mended broken-hearts go when they haven’t shot their brains out.

“Teo? Teo’s now in Hollywood. He’s out there writing screenplays.”

Having just seen Sunset Boulevard for the first time in my life, and with the image of slain screenwriter Joe Gillis in Norma Desmond’s swimming pool lurking in my head, this was not what I wanted to hear.

Teo Davis, though, would remain indelibly on my mind, if for no other reason than that he had left behind notebooks and parts of an unfinished novel. The most interesting of his notes were in Spanish: References to “Papa” and “Hotch” and “Málaga.” His handwriting was so bad, however, that making sense of his ramblings proved to be an exercise in fiction and futility.

51huzvrohyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_One afternoon, I actually found a library in Houston and checked out several biographies of Hemingway. To my surprise, what Peter had said was true. Bill and Annie Davis were rich, beautiful people in Málaga who, though they did not know Hemingway very well, had invited him and his fourth wife Mary to stay with them in 1959 at their elegant estate called La Consula. Their house was filled with a lot of servants and cars, and they were parents of a son and daughter. One of the biographies even mentioned Hemingway playing in the mornings with young Timoteo.

Peter didn’t seem to know much more. “To be honest,” he said. “I thought he might have been making it all up.”

Fifteen years passed. Instead of Paris, I decided to go to Spain. I don’t know whether I was searching for Hemingway or for Timoteo. I found neither. I wound up in Los Angeles. One day I finally sobered up. I was still alive, writing for an NBC prime-time cop show and sharing an office overlooking Sunset Boulevard. Peter had been right. When you’ve been to hell and back, you go on to Hollywood to make things up.

I moved into an old Spanish villa apartment in West Hollywood whose claim to fame was that F. Scott Fitzgerald had once lived there. I would soon learn that in Hollywood someone famous has always lived where someone not so famous now lives. It’s like reverse reincarnation: you were always someone famous in a past life. One day when we were in a story meeting at my office, a guy popped his head in the door looking like he had seen better days. He was there to paint our offices, he said, but he was the most unusual looking painter you will ever find. He was wearing a rumpled, navy Armani blazer, soiled linen slacks that none of us could afford, and he had a slight upper class English accent that was both unexpected and intimidating.

“My name is Teo,” he informed us like some waiter at LeDome, the elegant restaurant up the street, “and I’m your painter.”

I don’t believe Teo ever finished painting the office. He spent most days chain-smoking unfiltered Camels on our terrace overlooking the Sunset strip while we watched young actresses walking their composites and headshots to the agency across the street. Teo would regale us with reminiscences about Ernest Hemingway that, on the one hand, seemed implausible considering he was not even ten when Hemingway had spent several months under the same roof.

But who was to argue with a man from Eton. Peter hadn’t given him his proper props. Teo had been educated at Eton, not Cambridge, and he had married a woman of lofty status — not a countessa but the daughter of an English marchioness —  who had broken his heart. He also had vivid memories of the time Hemingway had visited. Hemingway had met Teo’s father in Mexico some years earlier, before Teo was born and when the author was still married to his third wife Martha.

Bill Davis’ given name was actually Nathan, an American of enormous wealth although Teo wasn’t certain how he had made his money. Or, if he knew, he never said. His father was a quiet, laid-back, balding man with a self-effacing sense of humor who was the complete opposite of Hemingway. He didn’t intrude on his famous guest, who at times treated his host almost like a servant. Hemingway called Bill Davis “Negro,” using the Spanish pronunciation, possibly because he had thick lips and swarthy features.

Davis accepted it as a term of endearing friendship and enjoyed playing chauffeur for Hemingway. Bill Davis loved to drive cars and in Mexico was driving a taxi cab, for inexplicable reasons, when he met Hemingway. Valerie Danby-Smith, who as a young Irish journalist in Spain had befriended Hemingway and later married Ernest’s youngest son Gregory, would recall that Davis “let the Hemingways use the house as if it were their own house. He didn’t do the big thing of ‘I’m the host, I’m hosting the Hemingways.’ He really took a back seat, and his wife Annie was just the most delightful person, just a wonderful, warm person.”

“We called him Papa — everyone did,” said Teo. “He was like a big teddy bear who was larger than life. When he was there, life revolved around him. Being quite young at the time, and a bit on the precocious side, I knew who Ernest Hemingway was — that he was an author of some importance — but just how important he was is something that I wouldn’t even begin to comprehend until years later.”

Teo Davis, top left on the wall with his young sister Nena and household staff from his family home, La Consula, and its 1959 guests, Ernest and Mary Hemingway. (Photo courtesy of the Estate of Teo Davis)

Teo Davis, top left on the wall with his young sister Nena and household staff from his family home, La Consula, and its 1959 guests, Ernest and Mary Hemingway. (Photo courtesy of the collection of Teo Davis)

Teo recalled that the day the Hemingways arrived at the La Consula, which was actually in the countryside west of Málaga, his mother had their cook make turkey sandwiches that his father had taken with him as a snack for the guests on their drive back from the port of Algeciras across from Gibraltar.

The Hemingways’ arrival at the estate had signaled a flurry of activity by the servants. Ernest and Mary had brought 21 pieces of luggage, and Teo remembered that for a few moments the entry of the estate had resembled a busy hotel lobby with servants acting as porters. The Hemingways were pleasantly surprised by what they saw. The Davis’ nineteenth century mansion rose gracefully behind twin iron gates. The doors alone were over fifteen feet high and were made of heavy carved oak. It was filled with Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko paintings and hundreds of first edition books. Outside the rich vegetation that included palm and acacia trees, pines, lilies and vines reminded the Hemingways of their finca in Cuba.

Hemingway did not sleep well and usually was awake before dawn, Teo recalled. Often he would find Hemingway at daybreak working at the stand-up desk on a veranda overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Malaga, the birthplace of Pablo Picasso, is Spain’s second largest seaport, and La Consula offered a panoramic view of the historic Andalusian landscape.

Hemingway was almost religious in his morning ritual of writing. He began work each morning around 6 a..m. and finished by 10 a.m. Later, Teo was to learn that in those first ten days at La Consula, Hemingway roughed out the preface for a new school edition of his short stories. But Hemingway had gone to Spain on assignment for Life magazine which had contracted with him to write a short article about the series of mano a mano bullfights between Antonio Ordoñez and Luis Miguel Dominguín, two of Spain’s greatest matadors.

From the Davis estate, Hemingway spent the summer travelling with the bullfighters to gather material for the article. Later, however, Hemingway’s article grew to some 120,000 words. Tortured over trying to shorten his work, Hemingway asked his friend Hotchner to help edit the piece. Eventually they cut the article to 65,000 words, which Life published as “The Dangerous Summer” in three installments in 1960. It would be the last work that Hemingway would see published in his lifetime.

For little Teo, the experience would forever influence his life. He became a writer because of Hemingway, whose few moments of fatherly-like attention lavished on Teo affected him enormously.

Some mornings, Teo’s childish squealing as Papa chased him down the long halls of the estate awakened the other guests, who delighted in seeing Hemingway’s increasingly grumpy demeanor soften, even if only for a few fleeting moments. For Teo, these were much-needed displays of emotion that were sadly missing from his relationship with his parents. Neither Bill nor Annie Davis were affectionate with their children, and Teo would lament that “I cannot recall my parents ever telling me they loved me.”

Mary Hemingway would later write in her memoirs that the Davises had indeed been unusual people. Annie Davis, she said, was “an American who had lived abroad so long she seemed to us European.” The Davises also did not permit a telephone or radios in their home, so their only means of communicating with the outside world was by mail or telegram.

Nonetheless, La Consula was filled with commotion the nearly six months that the Hemingways were guests. Teo recalled that life on the estate during that period centered around Papa. He loved Fats Waller, and the Davises always had Fats Waller songs blaring from their loudspeakers by the pool. Hemingway’s favorite was “Your Feets Too Big.” He did not really sing in tune but instead loved to encourage other people to perform.

Often the commotion was simply the departure and return of Hemingway and his cadre of friends and bullfight aficionados. With Bill Davis at the wheel, Papa was on the road often, following that season’s bullfights. At various times, the group chasing after the bulls with Hemingway included Noel Coward, Lauren Bacall, Ava Gardner, and Beverly Bentley who would later marry Norman Mailer.

That summer, Hemingway turned 60, and little Timoteo was awestruck by the extravagant birthday party his parents hosted on July 21. Mary Hemingway summoned guests from all over the world and arranged the party with fireworks, champagne from Paris, Chinese food from London, Spanish musicians and flamenco dancers.

When a fireworks display set a palm tree on fire, the local hook and ladder company — led by bullfighter Antonio Ordoñez, joined the party. Hemingway enjoyed himself immensely, but the celebration produced some indications that all was not well with him. Among them was a nasty flash of ill temper directed at his frontline friend from World War II, General Charles Trueman “Buck” Lanham. Having come from Washington, D.C., for the party, he left Spain certain that Hemingway was an extremely troubled man.

To all but a few, Hemingway’s public persona had become almost a self-parody. A child could be excused for not seeing it. Most in Hemingway’s entourage, however, either excused it or refused to see it. Teo took it all in, delighted with the bafoonish Hemingway acting out fits of anger, rage and neurosis as if in a cartoon.

Within two years, Hemingway would be dead.

“I remember learning that he had died,” Teo recalled, “but I don’t think it was until later that I learned how he had died. I don’t know if it matters. He had lived a long, rich life and obviously, from his point of view, it had reached its end.”

Today, in a sense, there is still a bit of that irrepressible Hemingway spirit in the young boy who once looked up to him in that enormous villa in Spain. The boy, in fact, has now become a man just a few years younger than Hemingway had been when he visited La Consula.

“I’ve been looking for Hemingway for so long,” says Teo, “for a sense of who he really was, that at times I feel as if I’ve almost become Hemingway. Does that make sense?”

To an entire generation, of course, it does.

 

EPILOGUE: Timothy Logan Bakewell Davis, known to his friends as Teo, died March 1, 2016, in Pasadena. He was 64. His sister Nena has set up a memorial at http://teo.davis.muchloved.com.

 

This story is part of a new biography of Ernest Hemingway, Looking for Hemingway: Spain, the Bullfights, and  a Final Rite of Passage, to be published by Lyons Press in November 2016. To pre-order, go to Amazon.com.

 

‘DiMag & Mick’ Now the No. 1 New Book Release in America

Screen Shot 2016-03-14 at 11.45.07 AM

http://www.amazon.com/DiMag-Mick-Sibling-Rivals-Brothers/dp/1630761249/ref=zg_bs_2447_39

‘DiMag & Mick’ Book Release Countdown: 2 Days

12832545_10154037924299201_1799555883979882586_n

Grant and Isabel Hayes of Dallas: “Picking up a copy of our cousin’s book! Can’t wait to read it Tony! Also check out tonycastro.com for more great reads!”

The American Dream is Alive and Well…

My friend Robert Pharr of Dallas, Texas, looks upon Lady Liberty on a recent visit to New York. (Copyright 2015, John Robert Pharr)

My friend Robert Pharr of Dallas, Texas, looks upon Lady Liberty on a visit to New York. (Copyright 2015, John Robert Pharr)

Dallas businessman John Robert Pharr, looking at the Statue of Liberty while ferrying around Liberty Island, shares the dreams of Americans inspired by the sight of Lady Liberty.

 

 

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays!

May the joy and peace of Christmas be with you during the holidays... The love of my life in a vintage card from the incredible artist Dennis Mukai.

May the joy and peace of Christmas be with you during the holidays… The love of my life Renee LaSalle in a vintage card from the incredible artist Dennis Mukai.

Of Heroes and Coaches, Fathers and Sons

WHEN I WAS A STARRY-EYED high school sophomore dreaming that I could be the next Johnny Unitas, I met a real life All American quarterback whose story seemed straight out of an inspiring Hollywood film, long before “Friday Night Lights.”

His name was Robert Duty, and he could have been the older brother of anyone on our team. He was in his early 20s, and he was a legend at our high school in Central Texas, having quarterbacked the school’s only team to ever win a district championship in a state where football is king.

Robert Duty in a sports media photo at North Texas State University, 1960.

Robert Duty in a sports media photo at North Texas State University, 1960.

He had gone on to play college football at North Texas State University, where he was good enough to be signed as a free agent by the San Diego Chargers of the upstart American Football League, which would eventually merge with the National Football League – and that’s where he had been that summer, toiling through the Chargers’ pre-season camp trying to make the team as a rookie.

So imagine our surprise when our high school’s two-a-day football workouts began and we discovered the much heralded high school hero back home where he had become his alma mater’s quarterback coach.

The story of how Coach Duty had wound up back home quickly got out, though not from his mouth. While in the Chargers’ rookie training camp, where he had been impressing the San Diego coaching staff, he got a long-distance call from home with bad news: His father had become seriously ill and might even die.

That day Duty left the Chargers’ training camp with the door open for him to return. He never did.

“Robert wanted to be home to help take care of his father,” our former head coach, Ira Conner, later told me. “Robert loved his father like no son I ever knew. His dad was the center of his universe. He credited him for becoming the athlete he became, and he was going to be at his father’s bedside now that he needed his son.”

The story brought a lump to my throat, as I’m sure it did to other athletes who heard it.

I must confess that I was hardly Coach Duty’s prize pupil.

“For a quarterback,” he once said to me, “you sure ask all the wrong questions.”

That was true. In fact, I never played quarterback for his teams, nor even graduated from that high school.

But it didn’t stop me from asking questions, questions that I’m sure Coach Duty didn’t want to consider.

Was he ever going back to the Chargers? How could he walk away from pursuing his childhood dream? Hadn’t he wanted to become an NFL quarterback?

“Son,” he said to me one day, after I had pestered him once more. “There are bigger dreams than becoming the next Johnny Unitas.”

That shut me up, but only for a while.

DutySnap

Quarterback Robert Duty calling signals in North Texas State University’s 1960 homecoming game against Hardin-Simmons.

A few years later, while I was a young sportswriter at my hometown daily, I was telling the story about Coach Duty giving up his shot at becoming an NFL quarterback to be with his ill father to my role model among sportswriters, Jim Montgomery, a columnist at the paper.

“You know, there’s something there,” said Jim. “Robert Duty had incredible talent. Who knows what he might have been had the stars lined up differently.”

Montgomery then told me that he had once interviewed Abner Haynes, an outstanding running back with the Chargers and other NFL teams in the 1960s who had been teammates with Duty at North Texas State.

“Abner Haynes said that Robert Duty was the best quarterback he had ever played with, bar none,” Jim said.

By this time Duty was head coach of his alma mater, University High School in Waco, Texas. One day I cornered him again, there to continue asking all the wrong questions, I’m sure he thought. His father had died two years after he left the Chargers’ rookie camp, and life had moved on.

Did he have any second thoughts? Being that talented and that close to achieving his childhood dream – some people might have looked on that as a tragedy.

We talked that afternoon, about childhood dreams, about fathers and sons, about heroes and rebels. We each had tears in our eyes. When he gave me a parting hug, it was as if I had hugged Johnny Unitas.

“Son, the only tragedy of my decision,” he finally said, “would have been if I hadn’t come home.”

A few years ago, when my own father died, I got a condolence letter I didn’t expect. It was from Coach Duty and said simply: “Nothing’s greater than a father.”

I had heard the same thing from my own childhood hero, Mickey Mantle, as I have from many other men whose lives would not have been the same without their fathers.

It’s so true.

Sadly, last week I got the news that Coach Duty, at the age of 76, had died there in Central Texas, not all that far from the high school and the football field where he became a legend.

And, in his own way, every bit as big as Johnny Unitas.