Current events have got me thinking about my dear late friend, George Englund, odd enough, as I scan the supermarket aisles and read about people stocking up on all available supplies of toilet paper.
I noticed that two New York Times reporters, bemused as I was, set out to find out whether there really is a toilet paper shortage. Turns out there isn’t — no surprise — they just don’t stockpile a lot. One of the manufacturers put it this way:
“You are not using more of it. You are just filling up your closet with it,” said Jeff Anderson, president of Precision Paper Converters, a paper product manufacturer with 65 employees outside Green Bay, Wis. “What happens in the summer when demand dries up and people have all this extra product in their homes?”
George, who died a couple of years ago, would have loved that. He surely would have had something to say about it too, and probably would not have gone out to buy large quantities of toilet paper.
The son of Mabel Albertson (Darren’s mother on the old TV show, Bewitched) and stepson of Ken Englund (a well-known screenwriter of the day), George was a child of Hollywood in the glory days. Himself an actor, producer and director (The Ugly American), he was lifelong friends with Charlie Chaplin’s sons, especially Sydney. George recalled one summer day early during World War II that as teenagers he and Sydney and Charlie Jr. were walking back to the Chaplin estate in Beverly Hills when Charlie Sr. called to him from the house: “George, let’s play some tennis.”
It was a nice day and George had no problem. He was tall and lanky, loved to play and could probably win. George was the only one around that would play with Charlie, who was mean to the kids, cheated and got angry when he lost. That didn’t bother George – if he won a match, he wouldn’t have to suffer the consequences. This wasn’t his father.
So George, already wearing sneakers and shorts, ran up to meet Charlie on the tennis court.
“George,” said Charlie, “would you go into the cabana room and grab us some tennis balls?”
George dutifully followed instructions and went into fetch a can of balls. He was confronted with pallets and crates of tennis balls, floor to ceiling, barely any room to move. It was wartime and balls of course were made of rubber, a controlled substance, obviously in short supply for the duration. George figured that Charlie—one of the richest men in the world and probably the most famous at the time—had somehow cornered the market. He probably had more tennis balls than any person on earth.
When he got over the surprise, George broke open a box from the hundreds and pulled out a can. As one does, he stuffed two into his pockets and started bouncing the other one with his racket back out onto the court.
“George!” yelled Charlie angrily. “Stop bouncing that ball. You’ll wear it out!”
Charlie would never be able to use a fraction of all the tennis balls he was hoarding. But who knew? If things got bad, he’d still always have a fresh ball. Or if the market crashed again, he would have the edge on tennis ball futures.
So, unless there are other uses for toilet paper I haven’t heard about, anybody want to join me down on MacArthur Boulevard and see how much we can get hawking toilet paper? I don’t have any, bring yours.