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Paul V. Coates--Confidential File

August 22, 2007 |  3:37 pm

Paul_coates_2 Aug. 22, 1957

Desmond Slattery--actor, naturalist, man-about Googies--paid his annual visit to my plush offices yesterday.

And, of course, I'm glad he did. Because it means that he won't be around for another 11 months or so.

But don't get me wrong.

Personally, I have nothing against this fast-talking, nerve-racking gentleman. He's really quite charming.

It's just his weird involvement with animals that frightens me.

He first came to my attention by conning me into writing a story that he owned the only Irish wolfhound in Los Angeles.

The day the column appeared, dozens of irate Irish wolfhound owners phoned in their protests.

Another time he sold me on an utterly ridiculous story about his car being attacked by a Jersey cow.

And a year ago, Desmond came by to inform me that he had gone into the firefly business. He claimed to have 15,000 fireflies at Knott's Berry Farm, in crates.

That, of course, was just too much. I tossed him out of the office and dismissed him from my mind as a hopeless liar.

1956_0707 But curiosity gnawed at me. Finally, I couldn't resist calling Knott's Berry Farm.

"Did a man named Desmond Slattery leave 15,000 fireflies with you?" I asked, half-apologetically.

"Yes," an exasperated voice replied, "and we wish he'd come and get them. We don't know what to do with them."

So when he came in yesterday, I treated him with a new respect.

Immediately, without speaking, he plucked a black object from his necktie and placed it on my desk. He chuckled, hoarsely. "Looks like a tie-pin, doesn't it?"

I backed away in terror as the tie-pin began to walk toward me. "It's alive!" I cried.

"Certainly," he replied.

Then he added, "It's a cricket. One month old today. And in my bathroom are 2,000 more."

"Wonderful, Slattery. Hadn't you ought to get back..."

"My goal," he interrupted, "is to take the cricket off the street and put him in the home where he belongs."

I remained a safe distance from my desk. And picked up a bookend.

But Slattery only smiled. "Bad luck to kill them. For centuries they've been good-luck symbols. And I'm the only licensed cricket-raiser in the country."

His insect began a slow crawl toward tomorrow's Mash Notes [Coates' name for his columns of readers' letters].

Again, he smiled. "How about that? And only a month old. I think--before you become a skeptic--I should tell you that I've already sold 10,000 of them in California alone. Wonderful pets. Anyone who wants luck wants a cricket."

"People don't actually buy them" I challenged.

"Complete with imported cages--small, medium and large. In three weeks I'm leaving for the Orient to build up a pattern of production to supply a national market."'

He was grinning. "Already they're calling me 'Slattery, the Cricket King.'

"Anything a man can get a monopoly on, he can make a fortune on. I control the crickets and so far I control the cages. If somebody else tries to import cages, he'll need crickets. He'll have to come to me.

"And," he added on a note of triumph, "I won't sell them to him!"

The flaw was obvious. "And what," I asked, "if he goes off into the fields and collects his own crickets?"

"Wild ones? Sell wild crickets?"

He had me there.

"It's foolproof," he persisted. "I have taken--you should excuse me--the bugs out of it."

As the man stepped forward to recover his crawling pet, my mind was idly plotting devices by which I might drop "my old Cricket King friend Des Slattery" into future Hollywood party conversations.

But then it happened.

The insect leapt happily toward its master. It misjudged the distance.

And a pleasant crackle sounded from under Slattery's left shoe.

I smiled, sympathetically.

"Bad luck, eh Slattery?" I purred.