Wild about Harry: Fender Versatile on Stage, Sports

Article excerpt

Old show-biz wiz Harry Fender, built like a linebacker and with a winning coach's authoritative voice, was a former song-and-dance man who had more than a passing fancy in sports and newspapermen.

The grand geezer, who ran out of downs last Monday just short of his 99th birthday, was a delight to listen to. If he hadn't had loftier ideals of a pen pal, I'm sure I would have done his biography before my own.

Over the years I shared many a dinner's conversation with Fender and his longtime lovely companion, Thelma Broderson, who made a good audience. She thought my stories were pretty good and, of course, she was wild about Harry's.

Believe me, Fender had the versatile, name-dropping background to have made a regional hit with his recollections and at least national indentations. After all, by his own modest acknowledgment, the big strong bloke had the ability to tell it as it was on the musical stage, to recount a second career as a St. Louis detective and as a television pioneer and yakety-yak radio man for two of his favorites, KPLR's Harold Koplar and KMOX's Bob Hyland.

Harry was also friend and foil for the late Jack Carney. Fender was Carney's rainy-day tease about the courtly gentleman's age. After all, Harry had learned that a hairpiece and tucked-in plastic surgery helped energize him even more than blessedly good health. And as many could attest, his rich voice and jovial approach made him the best Santa Claus this side of the North Pole.

But I linger longer than one of Fender's stories or mine. He liked sports and the men who wrote about them, notably gifted short-story writer Damon Runyon. As Harry recalled it, Runyon liked him because he was a singer who could dance and vice-versa. So Fender was a weekly ringside guest of Runyon at New York's Friday night fights at Madison Square Garden.

Fender also would recall one Runyon told about himself. Assigned by William Randolph Hearst to cover a warship's maneuvers, Damon was astounded that the one night's run down the Atlantic Coast shoreline would include a detour that strained one set of fresh laundry. …