SLOAN COLUMN: Grizzard leaves Darlington a Royal mess
A wonderful thing about column writing is that every so often a published column can give birth to another column. On even rarer occasions, the result can be multiple columns - twins, triplets, or – Heavens to Betsy – quadruplets.
Such an occasion occurred a few weeks ago. I wrote a column about legendary Southern funny man, Lewis Grizzard. Numerous readers responded about how much they enjoyed the column and added that they loved and missed Grizzard very much. Let it be noted that any and all commendations derived from my column can be directly attributed to the bespectacled and mustachioed newspaper scribe with “jaw-ja” drawl.
After reading the column, a young lady by the name of Sylvia Saleeby contacted The News Journal to let us know she had a story she’d like to share about Grizzard and a visit he made to Darlington in 1992. I’m about to share her story with you. This is one of those stories you simply can’t keep to yourself. Is it true? Let’s just say Ms. Saleeby has proof.
Grizzard received and accepted an invitation to be grand marshal of the TranSouth 500 NASCAR race at the “Track Too Tough To Tame” in the Spring of 1992. Ms. Saleeby, an associate with TranSouth Financial of Florence at the time, was assigned the duty of “escorting” Grizzard around town once he arrived. Maybe “keeping an eye on” would have been a better way to put it.
One responsibility highly emphasized to Ms. Saleeby by her superiors was to “keep him (Grizzard) away from the vodka” before he spoke at a Darlington Country Club event on Friday night. Without too much effort, she completed her task. The columnist was as sober as a preacher on Sunday when he stepped up the microphone. As always, his talk left audience members in stitches. The man, as he himself might have put it, was always a “real hoot.”
On race day, Grizzard performed his grand marshal duties without a hitch. He ordered the drivers to “crank them up” and then took a most eventful ride in the backseat of the pace car.
A few laps into the race, Grizzard headed for the Darlington Room, a VIP spot in one of the towers off turn three to write his weekly column. This time his escort was not Ms. Saleeby, but a bottle of vodka and his trusted Royal typewriter. For those who are familiar with Grizzard, that Royal was his trusted companion. He pecked out every one of his columns on its ancient keyboard.
Hours later, with both the race and bottle of vodka in the rear view mirror, Grizzard boarded his plane and headed for the newsroom of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, his home away from home. According to Ms. Saleeby, Grizzard’s condition as he left the raceway Sunday night was a far, far cry from his sober condition on Friday night. It seems there was no way to keep Ol’ Lewis from having a cocktail or two or ten on race day at Darlington.
Monday morning arrived and Ms. Saleeby received a phone call from someone at Grizzard Enterprises, Inc. Remember, by this time Grizzard was not only writing newspaper columns, but also writing books and making comedy records. The person on the phone told Ms. Saleeby what she already knew - their boss had imbibed a wee too much during his weekend visit to the raceway. In doing so, he inadvertently departed without his prized typewriter. The caller then begged Ms. Saleeby to return to the track and retrieve Grizzard’s Royal typewriter. To sweeten the deal, she was told there would be a reward.
Ms. Saleeby did return to the track and saved the day and the typewriter. She boxed up the Royal and shipped it by first class mail. It arrived at Grizzard Enterprises the following day.
A week or so later, Ms. Saleeby received her reward. Arriving in the mail was a package from Grizzard Enterprises. Among the items in it were four pieces of typing paper, upon which the apparently hammered Grizzard hammered out his column. The package also included a handwritten thank you note from the columnist, a signed copy of his book, “Shoot Low Boys - They’re Ridin’ Shetland Ponies,” and a copy of the March 30, 1992 edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution in which the column was first published.
Ms. Saleeby still laughs as she recounts her hilarious encounter with the famed and fabled Grizzard for probably the 5,000th time.
There’s no doubt many more hilarious stories involving my newspaper columnist hero are out there. I’d love to hear them. Any story involving Lewis Grizzard is gonna be a good one.