Before I became a successful comedy writer I didn’t have a car. I took the bus everywhere. During that time I became a member of the Hollywood Junior Chamber of Commerce (The Hollywood Jaycees), in the hopes somehow I might make contacts to get me into show biz.
Each year, in those days, for the Hollywood Annual Santa Claus Parade, members of the Jaycees would drive the vehicles that the Celebrities would ride in. Back then there were some really big stars riding in the parade. And one of the biggest TV Stars was Bob Barker. He was the popular star of “Truth or Consequences”, which eventually lead to his bigger fame as host of “Price is Right”.
I was the lucky Jaycee who was chosen to drive Bob Barker in the parade. My only problem (and I didn’t let the others know), it was over 2 years since I last drove a car. I figured I would have no problem picking up the skills of driving a car again. I mean what was there to forget.
Anyway I met Bob and his lovely wife Dorothy Jo at the staging area of the Parade. He was very friendly, and I told him that I saw him on the first episode of “Truth or Consequences”, when producer and former host TV legend Ralph Edwards brought him on stage for the very first time. Edwards announced that Bob Barker would take over from former host Jack Bailey on this new version of the show. Ralph said he was driving to his office when he heard Bob hosting a Los Angeles radio audience participation show and thought he would be perfect for the job.
Bob appreciated that he was going to be driven down Hollywood Boulevard by a dedicated fan. As I got into the yellow convertible which was supplied by a local car dealer, I started to have some concerns if I would be able to get the thing going. The last car I drove was my parent’s car and it was not an “automatic”. It was a stick shift. It had a clutch. I figured an automatic would be even easier. I put the key in the ignition, while Dorothy Jo adjusted Bob’s necktie. They were standing right next to the car. The engine started. That was a good sign. I looked at the letters on the steering wheel: “PRNDL”. I knew what “P” meant, since the car was initially in P-ark. I wasn’t certain what the letters RNDL were for. Well, I figured I’d try them one by one. I shifted into “R”. Much to my surprise “R” made the car go in Reverse. The car jerked backwards. Fortunately Dorothy saw me coming and grabbed Bob and pulled him out of the way. His right foot was barely missed by the tire.
Well, Bob was a bit shook up, as I explained I hadn’t driven a car for 2 years. He asked if I was certain I could “drive this thing”. I said it would be no problem at all. It was too late to switch drivers as the parade was about to begin. The Chamber official hustled Bob and his wife into the car. I jerked the shift into D-rive and started — forward, fortunately, to my relief. Bob and Dorothy clutched their seats for dear life as I drove them down Hollywood Boulevard, cautiously using the accelerator and brake, gaining my driving skills during the one-hour journey of terror for the Barkers. The fans were thrilled to see their favorite game show host. Bob and his wife sported big smiles and waved to them all. The night was brutally cold, and it was particularly chilly in the intersections and I remember Bob muttering to Dorothy how freezing it was. His teeth were chattering — but at least they were chattering from the cold and not out of fear of being driven by an incompetent chauffeur.
Bob survived the parade, but every time I would see Bob striding out on “Price Is Right”, during his decades of daytime stardom, I could only wonder if I almost destroyed his career that night on Hollywood Boulevard by almost running over his foot and turning him into a cripple.
As a side note, years later Bob was honored by the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce to be the Grand Marshall of the 2007 Hollywood Santa Claus Parade. For a moment I was thinking of showing up and volunteering to drive him again. But he was an old man and I didn’t want to be responsible for causing Bob Barker to have a heart attack.