It has happened again this week.
And, as always, I feel like I should come up with some amazingly clever April Fools column — something that would have all of you certain that it was true until you remembered the date.
George Plimpton did it in Sports Illustrated in its April 1, 1985 issue with a story called “The Curious Case of Sid Finch.”
In his 14-page article, Plimpton told of a young man who came from an obscure small town and who was full of idiosyncrasies. He was a practicing yogi. He loved the French horn. And he could pitch a baseball 163 miles per hour (60 mph faster than anyone ever) with perfect control while wearing only one shoe, a heavy hiking boot.
Plimpton said that the New York Mets had discovered Sid Finch and were secretly working to sign him to a contract. So convincing was the ruse — complete with dummied-up photos — that several national newspapers picked up the story.
To my mind, it was the mother of April Fools journalistic hoaxes.
A year later (actually April 2, 1986), I tried it.
My particular April Fools whopper featured Doreen Gentzler, fetching young anchorwoman on Channel 3 news in Cleveland from 1983 to 1988. She was charming, vivacious and very pretty. Everyone in northern Ohio knew who she was. Dick Feagler (who got his start as a journalist at the Sandusky Register) was doing news commentary on the same station.
So I wrote a column in which I claimed that I had run into Doreen Gentzler shopping at a Cleveland mall. We talked. I told her about the column I write. And she told me that Dick Feagler was planning to retire. She encouraged me (I claimed) to apply for his job. In fact, she said she would put in a good word for me.
And, since I was making it all up anyhow, I got the job!
I announced on April 2, 1986 that within a few weeks I would be leaving the Reflector to do the news commentary on Channel 3.
I ended the story with a not-so-subtle hint. Something like: “Of course, don’t forget I wrote this story yesterday, April 1.”
But hardly anybody caught it. In fact, people were coming up to me for days afterward to congratulate me on my new job.
A night or two later I was watching the 11 o’clock news. The weather guy was saying something like “... it is currently 47 degrees in Medina, 46 in Vermilion and 45 in Norwalk…” In the background, I could hear laughter.
“What’s so funny?” asked the weather man. “They have weather in Norwalk.”
Cut to Doreen and Dick Feagler. “Of course they do,” Doreen said. “We’re just laughing because some guy in the paper out there pulled an April Fools hoax that involves us.”
That caused me to sit straight up in bed because, of course, the jerk they were talking about was me.
The next day, I called the station and asked to speak to Doreen. “She’s not available at the moment,” the switchboard person said. “Would you like to leave a message?”
“OK,” I said. “My name is Jim Busek and I…”
The woman cut me off, saying: “We know all about you, Mr. Busek. People have been calling here for two days, asking if it is true that you are going to be doing commentary on Channel 3.”
Okay, it is not as good as convincing most of America that I had found a guy who could pitch 163 mph. But, still, I had convinced plenty of folks in Huron County and had gotten the attention of the staff of a big city television station.
That’s a pretty good April Fools column.
Doreen Gentzler was actually in Norwalk a few weeks later, and I got to meet her. She was sweet and charming and forgiving. In 1988 she moved on to Philadelphia and finally to Washington, DC where she can still be seen anchoring the news every night in the nation’s capital.
As for me, I have not tried for another April Fools hoax since that one in 1986.
That long record of objective journalism is probably why Doreen called this morning to ask if I would consider working as her co-anchor.
I declined but gave her Sid Finch’s phone number.
Jim Busek is a free-lance writer who lives in Norwalk. He can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] hotmail.com.