I’ll bet you’ve never heard of Leroy Fong. I don’t know why I thought about him today. Occasionally something just pops into my head and I can’t settle down until I get it out. Thank goodness for this regular newspaper column. It has saved me a fortune in therapy.
One of my memories of growing up near Atlanta in the ’70s and ’80s was listening to a radio program hosted by Ludlow Porch. That wasn’t his real name. But Ludlow was on WSB every weekday morning for years. He was a portly Southern humorist who was everyone’s crazy uncle. He talked about anything from fried chicken to getting squirrels out of the attic. Ludlow had a group of regular callers affectionately dubbed “the Wackos,” and indeed they were.
A balding man with extra-large glasses, Ludlow had a folksy streak of mischief. He fooled more than a few people with his “live” report of the annual Flip-Flop parade in Clarkesville, Ga. He once had a “government official” on his radio show who claimed that there was no such place as Montana and who argued with anyone who called in to correct him, even people from Montana. Another time, Ludlow Porch swore up and down that parsley caused various diseases. But the phone lines really burned up when he had on the phony chairman of the NCAA who insisted that because of copyright violations, UGA would have to change its mascot from a bulldog to a cocker spaniel.
Once, Ludlow got his step-brother — a fellow humorist named Lewis Grizzard — to pretend to be a Southerner who couldn’t stand the North. It didn’t involve much pretending, but as Homer Southwell, the comedian came on the showto promote his book, “Yankee Go Home.” The sequel was called “And Stay There.” Homer complained about Northern rudeness, cold winters, and sweet cornbread and claimed he always felt better each morning after reading the New York Times obituary column. It was edgy humor to be sure, but people who listen to talk radio tend to be a little on-edge to begin with.
Mr. Porch used to write letters to himself of the “Dear Abby” type, and he would read them on the air. One of them went something like this: “Dear Ludlow, I am engaged to a wonderful man. But unfortunately, I just learned that he is bipedal. I am having second thoughts and am wondering if we could have a normal life together.”
Later that evening, he got a call from a prominent Atlanta minister. It seems that a couple of ladies in his church had complained that Ludlow’s show was off color. The preacher was curious and asked, “What does bipedal mean, anyway?” Ludlow answered dryly, “It means having two feet.” There was a long pause on the other end of the line, and finally the preacher said, “Well, that ain’t dirty.”
But his reaction was mild compared to the time Ludlow went on the air and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, I have some troubling news. You know that I have always admired John Wayne as a great American hero. But I just learned today that he is a practicing thespian, and I thought you all should know.” Some callers played along with the joke, but one completely sincere woman phoned in crying and said, “I don’t care what he does in private — I still like his movies.”
So one day Ludlow opened his program like this. He said, “Today I’d like to salute one of my dearest friends, Leroy Fong. He is a real character, and I know a lot of you listeners out there have great Leroy Fong stories. So please call in and share any Leroy Fong trivia, or tell us about your collection of Leroy Fong memorabilia.”
There was no such person. Ludlow made him up. But all morning, the Wackos and other assorted callers phoned in with anecdotes and facts about Leroy Fong. One person pointed out that Leroy’s middle name was Ping. Another man recalled that Leroy coined the phrase, “No shirt, no shoes, no service.” Yet another caller revealed that Leroy Fong was the first person ever to faint twice in Providence, R.I. And then there was the time, so we learned, that Leroy sat on a hand grenade and then went to a Ferlin Husky concert. The stories went on for a solid three hours.
Ludlow wrote about all this in one of his books. I think it was called “Who Cares about Apathy?” He concluded that the Leroy Fong incident proved that “folks will talk about almost anything.” That applies to newspaper columnists, too.