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Here's What Made San Francisco Laugh

HERB CAEN'S STRANGEST ITEMS

 

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Herb Caen, Pulitzer-winning lead columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, was the most beloved and powerful man in San Francisco for almost sixty years. At his funeral (2/7/97), 2,500 mourners packed Grace Cathedral. The service was carried live on channels 4, 5 and 7, and shown on several giant screens around the city. The eulogies were delivered by

 


San Francisco Mayor
Willie Brown,


Robin Williams
 
A Mystery Gentleman

I was that Mystery Gentleman. I'm Strange. de Jim. Herb had made me famous by using me to express his uniquely San Francisco sense of humor. I loved Herb Caen, so I had to open my eulogy with a frank admission:

"My Name is Strange de Jim, and I'm a Herbaholic ...

"In 1972 I sent Herb Caen a note saying, 'Since I didn't believe in reincarnation in any of my other lives, why should I have to believe in it in this one?' Herb printed it. So I sent him another item. And another. And another. It turned into one of those codependency things. He ran over three hundred in all.

"When San Francisco was having water rationing, Herb reported how silly I felt saving up water for a rainy day. Herb confided that I attended the Democratic National Convention wearing a Mondale supporter, and that my sexual preference was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. He gave you my theory that monogamous is what one partner in every relationship wants it to be.

"Because I was 'that guy from Herb Caen's column,' I got to meet people I otherwise wouldn't have. So Herb got to report my verbal exchanges with folks like Jack Nicholson and Elizabeth Taylor, Jane Fonda and the immortal Armistead Maupin. Herb and I both got a huge kick out of our relationship.

"And now, a quarter century after we started, Herb is gone.

"So, once again, I'm Just Plain Strange.

(Removes pillowcase.)

"As you can see.

"Thank you, Herb, for everything. I truly love you."

Click here for the interview with yours truly in the next day's Chronicle.

A Chronological Sampling of Strange/Herbal Items

9/17/72 - Strange de Jim reports: "since I didn't believe in reincarnation in any of my other lives, why should I have to believe in it in this one?"

3/25/73 - Maura Lee, watching Greta Garbo in Ninotchka on the tube: "Golly, she sure looks young." Strange de Jim: "That's the advantage of making a movie a long time ago."

11/25/73 - "An aphrodisiac," defines Strange de Jim, "is a drug two people take and then both pretend it worked."

11/10/74 - "Do any of your readers know where I can get some acupuncture needles?" inquires Strange de Jim. "I already have a thimble."

12/17/74 - "The thing I like about meditation," adds Strange de Jim, "is that it makes doing nothing respectable."

10/24/75 - . . . . In that department, "I refuse to buy suits at Wilkes Bashford," pouts Strange de Jim. " I don't like my clothes to look better than I do." [That's Wilkes on the right in the photo.]

 


11/27/75 - . . . Or if that doesn't turn you on about 400 degrees, consider the plight of Strange de Jim: "If I can't get my oven fixed in time, I'm going to have to face this Thanksgiving cold turkey."

1/5/76 - It was at artist Satty's party for Jack Nicholson that Strange said to the star, "I saw you in Gone With the Wind, and you were just great." Jack, very straight: "That was Clark Gable." Strange: "Same difference." (Nicholson is not ready for Strange de Jim, but who is?)

4/28/76 - The first question in a Psychology and Contraceptive Methods true-or-false test given April 21 at UC-Berkeley: "A man can produce sperm until he dies," to which Strange de Jim could not resist appending, "At least it's more fun than getting killed crossing the street."

6/10/76 - Mary Ann Singleton to Strange de Jim: "Do you believe in a Supreme Being?" Strange: "Not since Diana Ross left."

9/19/76 - Another fabulous filler in the old Chron: "By law you have to turn your headlights on when it's raining in Florida." To which Strange de Jim replies irritably, "All right, but who's going to let me know it's raining in Florida?"

10/26/76 - Sorry about that, Harry Reams. Harry is the actor who could go to jail in darkest Tennessee for his part, as it were, in the porno film Deep Throat, and Strange de Jim is properly sympathetic. "I'm sure," says Strange, "that he didn't realize he was being asked to stick his neck out as well."

3/2/77 - Vital Juices Despite the Drought Dept.: "Remember the good old days," laments Strange de Jim, "when the only moral decision you had to make when you took a shower had nothing to do with wasting water?"

4/14/77 - "I suppose this rationing is necessary," muses Strange de Jim, "but I for one feel very foolish saving up water for a rainy day."

8/12/77 - Now then: "I think," ventures Strange de Jim, "that we're trying to solve our ecological problems the hard way. Why don't we send up the Goodyear Blimp with a reminder for God: 'How Long Has It Been Since You've Cleaned the Cage and Put in Fresh Water?'"

1/19/78 - "Well, I've found the secret of San Francisco," whispers Strange de Jim. "Steam beer turns people gay!"

1/29/78 - "A true friend," defines Strange de Jim, "is one who says, 'You're getting so thin!" without adding 'on top.'"

3/7/78 - "I like Mexican food," confesses Strange de Jim, "but only from the waist up."

6/11/78 - Wilde talk: "I'm going to write a book about a dragon that goes flaming through San Francisco," said Armistead Maupin. "Makes sense," nodded Strange de Jim. "Early works always tend to be autobiographical."

10/11/78 - "I'm voting no on Proposition 5," comes the long- awaited announcement from Strange de Jim. "Today they ban the smoking of cigarettes at jazz concerts. Tomorrow they'll try to tell me I can't smoke dope in church."

10/22/78 - "Speaking of waking up in a cold sweat," gasps Strange de Jim, "last night I dreamed there was a Sammy Davis III!"

10/25/78 - During the "Yes on No on Six" benefit at Chez Jacques, Strange de Jim was asked his sexual preference, and I'm afraid he replied, "The Mormon Tabernacle Choir."

10/26/78 - Headline in the Chron: "Girls Reaching Puberty at 11." Leaving Strange de Jim sighing: "Unfortunately I go to bed at 10:30."

10/29/78 - "I discovered the sound of one hand clapping," says Strange de Jim, in a mordant mood, "and it only cost me an arm."

11/3/78 - "I am so unprejudiced," confides Strange de Jim, "that I never notice a person's race or sexual orientation until it is much much too late."

4/24/79 - From L.M. Boyd's Grab Bag column last Sat.: "Q. How many moles does the average person have? A. About 40." Murmurs Strange de Jim: "I don't have a backyard; so I have to keep mine in a window box."

5/18/79 - Beware: Here's Strange de Jim with Only in San Francisco Nos. 586 and 587. 586: "Scandal in the toy department at Macy's! Two mornings this week Barbie has caught Ken coming out of the closet of Gay Bob." ... 587: "About the soprano in the Gay Men's Choir who is dating a baritone in the Lesbian Chorus—I don't care what they do in the privacy of their own choir stalls, but it's an entirely different matter when they flaunt it in public."

8/1/79 - Whatever happened to Strange de Jim? Here he is: "My life has been in turmoil. I just moved, and now I'm going to have to move again—the bar downstairs keeps complaining about the noise."

9/2/79 - Strange de Jim's definition of a San Francisco party: "One where you have to go to a doctor Monday morning and ask to be turned rightside out again."

9/7/79 - Pollyanna lives in the weird form of Strange de Jim, who trills, "Look on the bright side. Why, right this instant prices are as low as they're ever going to be."

12/18/79 - Only in S.F. No. 8576, as overheard by Strange de Jim: "Oh wow, you should see the beautiful Christmas tree in the window of the porno store!"

1/29/80 - Words of advice from Strange de Jim: "If it does become necessary to kick the cocaine habit, get your nose out of the way first."

(The Golden Gate and Bay Bridges began collecting double tolls, but in only one direction)
3/2/80 - "I don't get it," a visitor said to Strange de Jim. "You can leave town free, but you have to pay a bridge toll to enter San Francisco." "Right," beamed Strange proudly. "We're the only major city with a cover charge."

3/31/80 - Onward: "I won't say justice in Iran is harsh," comments Strange de Jim, "but I understand the penalty for being proven innocent is death."

3/2/81 - "Sex is simple, once you realize it's just like riding a bicycle," offers Strange de Jim. "In both cases, the hardest part is learning not to fall off."

6/2/81 - "Last week I really got burnt," admits Strange de Jim. "I went to a discount massage parlor, and it turned out to be self-service."

10/26/81 - Our native witz: "I won't say the de Jim clan is up to date," says Strange, "but our family crest does have fluoride in it."

5/27/82 - At the next table a diner produced a cigarette and asked Strange de Jim, "Do you mind if I give myself cancer?" "Certainly not," replied Strange, "as long as you don't smoke while you're doing it."

3/6/83 - Item in L.M. Boyd's Grab Bag: "Spiders weave their webs half an hour before dawn." Appends Strange de Jim: "Or when dey have to go to da baffwoom."

4/13/83 - Bottoming out: Strange de Jim claims to have discovered the real reason Liberace never married: "What!? And give up one of my rings!?"

(Voters were deciding whether to recall Mayor Dianne Feinstein)
4/27/83 - Strange de Jim, about to enter the voting booth yesterday morn, asked a polling official: "I want to be sure I have the rules straight. Do you have to recall the whole Mayor or can you specify just the hairdo?"

6/6/83 - "I've found out why I'm not losing weight," confides Strange de Jim. "My body retains not only water, but solid food as well."

7/29/83 - Lurching on: "I've never understood food stamps," confesses Strange de Jim. "I didn't know poor people had that much food to mail."

12/1/83 - Further religious note: Upon reading the headline, "Nuclear Prayers Urged by Pope," Strange de Jim surmises, "I guess His Holiness is determined to make God listen."

(The Democratic Convention at Moscone Center)
7/20/84 - Hello, Strange de Jim: "Have you met the short delegate from Iowa? It's the first time I've seen grain elevator shoes." Byee.

7/23/84 - "The reason I felt so popular and so safe at the Convention," purrs Strange de Jim, "is that I was wearing a Mondale supporter."

Photo of yours truly and State Senator Quentin Kopp (right rear) Kopping a feel from topless pioneer Carol Doda at Herb Caen roast.

11/22/84 - Our longtime pet purveyor of one-liners, the matchless Strange de Jim, has turned philosophical. His latest peroration: "All you need in life is one great shining delusion. Mae West firmly believed she was 20 until she was well into her 80's, and then died happy, never suspecting her mistake."

12/10/84 - "I think Grandma de Jim's beauty book is much more practical than Raquel Welch's," writes Strange de Jim. "Grandma's morning facial, for instance, consists of picking up a large fluffy towel and draping it firmly over the mirror."

4/24/85 - "I won't say Grandma de Jim lacks fashion sense," tattles Strange de J., "but her latest ensemble got her arrested for 'leaving the scene of an accident.'"

7/15/85 - Strange de Jim at the Old Poodle Dog: "I won't eat snails—I prefer fast food."

(80-something Cyril Magnin, San Francisco's Official Greeter, had attended Steve Silver's local musical comedy extravaganza several hundred times.)
7/27/85 - Strange de Jim's strange ambition: "I want to be there the night Cyril Magnin realizes he's already seen Beach Blanket Babylon."

9/5/85 - Pressing on: "Oh dear," sighs Strange de Jim. "Now that Ruth Gordon is gone, I guess all her parts will go to Liberace."

2/3/86 - "Monogamous," foolosophizes Strange de Jim, "is what one partner in every relationship wants it to be."

(Gertrude Stein didn't like Oakland"because there's no there there.")
2/18/86 - Strange de Jim explains that he likes San Francisco because "there's so much here here."

5/6/86 - Scene: At 3 a.m., the flicker of flames through the Levelors alerted Strange de Jim to the possibility that the house was on fire. Poking his head out the window, he discovered it was the downstairs neighbors dancing around naked and waving sparklers. Spring is here!

5/15/86 - Carol Channing to Strange de Jim: "Well, the Soviet reactor fire is out." Strange: "Really? And what's in?"

6/26/86 -Strange de Jim, upon reading about a crab called the sand bubbler that breathes through its legs: "It must be imitating Joan Collins."

10/3/86 - Beverly Hills scene: Liz Taylor polishing her diamonds and purring to Strange de Jim: "See how domestic I can be?"

12/2/86 - Strange de Jim: "Next thing you know, Reagan will be selling arms to the Venus de Milo."

1/21/87 - "No wonder I was always so confused in church," pens Strange de Jim. "I assumed the Lord of Hosts referred to Johnny Carson."

 3/15/88 - Hello, Strange de Jim! "Wouldn't Divine be mortified to find out he died of 'natural causes?'"

3/15/89 - Sporting Green headline: "Giants Lose An Ugly One." Strange de Jim: "Who'd they trade now?"

5/1/89 - Strange de Jim: "Ah yes, Morton Downey, Jr., sad evidence that evolution works much faster in reverse."

6/20/89 - Now Then: At Saturday's closing of Maud's, the longtime lesbian bar on Cole St., Strange de Jim showed up wearing a T-shirt inscribed "It's Not PMS - I'm Always Bitchy." When the ladies of Lesbos failed to laugh, he asked, "That time of month?"

6/23/89 - Did you take your medicine, grandma?: "Just think," muses Strange de Jim. "We're the first society to kill off our old people with childproof caps."

6/1/90 - Jane Fonda to Strange de Jim in L.A.: "Do you realize Soviet food prices haven't gone up since 1954?" Strange: "That's reasonable - it's the same food."

Herb Caen Roast at the Mark Hopkins Hotel, September 21, 1990. Herb is standing with Mayor Willie Brown. I'm sitting next to Supervisor Molinari.

10/10/90 - Search for royalty! Strange de Jim yesterday slipped into the mail an envelope addressed simply to "The Queen of San Francisco," explaining, "I'm letting the post office decide among Charlotte, Ann Getty and Harry de Wilkes."

(After the Academy Awards)
3/28/91 - And no matter what Strange de Jim says, the Oscar was not named by an MGM starlet after Mr. Mayer's wiener.

9/16/92 - Straaange de Jim is back! Quote: "The Red Cross' $40 first aid/CPR course is a good deal. If you save just one loved one's life, the class has practically paid for itself."

11/9/92 - At Moose's, actor Martin Hyland looked up from his perusal of Madonna's book, Sex, and said, "But there's no penetration!" "I know," sighed Strange de Jim. "Not in the photos, either." [This photo is of Ed Moose and yours truly with a picture of Herb Caen.]

2/1/93 - Strange de Jim asks poignantly: "Where do homeless people go to have 95 percent of their accidents?"

5/12/93 - Since my boiling point is getting lower and lower, maybe I'm ready for the Irritable Bowel Syndrome Self-Help Group that meets on the first Thurs. of every month at the Cal Pacific Med Center. "I imagine it's the kind of group," suggests Strange de Jim, "where everyone keeps moving for adjournment."

5/17/93 - "We're all just batteries waiting to be included, " philosophizes Strange de Jim, who adds for no reason at all, "You could plumb my depths and never even get your plum wet."

5/26/93 - Strange de Jim confesses he was thrown out of the Army for contributing to the delinquency of a major.

8/23/93 - Shall we give the last word to Strange de Jim, for old times' sake? He says, "I've been invited to a vampire baby shower at Dracula's Daughter, the underground bar on Castro. Do you know where I can buy a death rattle?" No, Strange, but we can arrange to produce one. Love ya!

8/30/94 - People keep asking "Whatever became of Strange de Jim?" and I think we have the answer. Drew Marshall reports sighting him in the Castro one day last week wearing a "Nobody Knows I'm a Lesbian" T-shirt.

12/9/94 - Strange de Jim doesn't believe the caddish Major James Hewitt ever had an affair with Princess Di. "I just read his book," says Strange, "and nowhere does he mention that funny little sound she always makes at the end."

1/19/95 - Dame Edna Everage on the horn to Strange de Jim: "I've started having orgasms every time I sneeze." Strange: "Good Lord, what're you doing about it?" Edna: " Well, right now I'm lying naked in my freezer snorting pepper." Strange: "God bless you!"

3/7/95 - Foodies, concluded: Strange de Jim to Jeremiah [Tower] at Stars, "This mushroom soup tastes like shiitake." Jeremiah didn't know how to take that so he walked away.

8/31/95 - Here's Straaaaange de Jim: "I went to the bathroom 20 times in one hour last night before I realized I was watching a program called 'The World's Funniest Commercials.'"

11/16/95 - Strange de Jim's pronouncement on the Federal shutdown: "So far the improvement in service has been negligible."

Herb Caen Day

In April 1996, Herb Caen turned 80, got married and won a Pulitzer. A month later he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer. In June, San Francisco celebrated Herb Caen Day. I was given my own car in a parade down Market Street, and then found myself on a huge stage set up in front of the Ferry Building—seated beside Willie Mays, directly behind Walter Cronkite and in front of Armistead Maupin and Don Johnson. It was a wonderful celebration, and, luckily, Herb was still well enough to enjoy it.

Herb's Last Column


1/10/97 - In One Ear: Know who and what fell between the cracks with the new street-corner cameras to shoot red-light runners?  Motorcycles, which only have license plates in the back and whose jockeys are anonymous inside their helmets. "However," notes Strange de Jim, guru di tutti guruskies, "natural selection takes care of bikers who run lights"
. . .

Letters to the Editor
San Francisco Chronicle
, 2/12/97
(After I Delivered One of Herb's Eulogies)

To Editor -- What do you do when you encounter a man with a pillowcase over his head at your father's funeral? Christopher Caen just said, "Thank you for being here, Strange."
And that's why I love San Francisco.

Just Plain Strange
(Formerly Strange de Jim)
San Francisco

Strange Interview on KRON-TV

Producer/Reporter Craig Franklin: "What would Herb Caen's column have been like if it had never had you in it?"

Strange: "Wow. I'd never thought of that." Then the truth occurred. "He'd probably have won the Pulitzer about ten years earlier."

In the Green Room at Grace Cathedral
Before Herb's Funeral

Robin Williams (practicing his eulogy): "U.S. Ambassador to France Pamela Harriman died in Paris at the health club at the Ritz."
Me: "Where she exercised everything but discretion."
Robin: "Good one, Strange."

At the luncheon after the funeral I told Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik that Robin Williams had shown me a photo of his parents, and I'd said, "They're wonderful, Robin. Uh, which one's your Mom?" Leah said she'd be afraid to print it.

E-Mail Received 4/22/99 From
San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown

Strange de Jim:

It is great that hundreds of your comments from Herb's column are preserved and accessible on the web.

Best regards.

Mayor de Brown

 

In the Years after Herb

1. Chronicle columnist Scott Ostler tried to tell the readers that I didn't see what all the fuss was about. I'd always enjoyed discharging gays in the military. Scott was censored and scolded for the first time in his career.

2. When George Michael was arrested in a men's room at Will Rogers State Park I told Chronicle columnist Jerry Carroll that I didn't know whether it was the actual restroom in which Will Rogers never met a man he didn't like. Jerry printed it without the punchline.

3. Dame Edna revealed at a tribute to Liza Minnelli in New York that when she was just starting out she landed a small part in the all-black musical Cabin in the Sky, but was fired for not blending in. As she was being consoled by the sweet director Vincent Minnelli he was carried away by her fine bone structure, and nine months later Liza was born. They told poor dazed Judy Garland Liza was hers. In San Francisco at the opening night party for Jean Stapleton's one-woman Eleanor Roosevelt play, Jean told me I could quote her as saying it was true. She'd been present when Dame Edna gave birth. Socialite Denise Hale, Liza's stepmother, said I could quote her as saying Vincent had confessed the truth on their honeymoon. And I e-mailed author Po Bronson who said I could quote him as saying that would explain why the hair Liza sits on is royal purple. The Chronicle columnist didn't run it because it hadn't actually happened.

Oh well, I still managed to get a quip or two published. Click for my media mentions since Herb's death.

My Books and Recommendations


What's the secret of True Love, and does it really conquer all? Billions of Virgins in Ecstasy. How many do you need?

 

Exercises for opening your heart, lighting up your chakras or energy centers, and believing your dreams into reality.

Click for free text of Visioning as promised in Billions of Virgins in Ecstasy.

 

The Strange Experience has photos of a hundred friends happy to tell the public I gave them a blindfolded mystery massage. Only 5,000 copies were printed in 1980, and then the plates were destroyed.

The photo history San Francisco's Castro shows how a blue collar Catholic neighborhood peacefully added "World's Gay Mecca" to its list of attractions. If you want to use the same principles to bring about World Peace, feel free. Click here for free historical photos from the 1880s to the present.

 

Here's San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom moving my camera strap from in front of my lens before obligingly posing with a copy of San Francisco's Castro.

 

Strange

Recommendations

Here are books, CDs and DVDs I've found good and/or funny and/or spiritually helpful

Click for spiritual recommendations.

Click for good and/or funny recommendations.

 

Amazon.com Current Humor Book Recommendations
(Unless the circuits are busy and you get generic links to the various Amazon.com product categories.)