I gave up trying to explain the appeal of my “crush objects” long ago. My fantasy figures, be they flesh-and-blood or fictional characters, have always been quirky types that never fit the traditional tall, dark, handsome, all-star, man-of-means mold. Such was the case with one of my earliest heartthrobs: Larry Storch. I’ve been in love with the guy from the first time I laid eyes on him: September 14, 1965, the date F-Troop debuted on ABC television. I remember watching each episode of that Western satire, sitting three feet away from our Westinghouse TV, ignoring Mommy’s nags of “Don’t sit so close! You’re going to ruin your eyes and need glasses” (as predicted, I’d be a four-eyed, gawky geek within two years), my heart fluttering with excitement every time Larry appeared on-screen as the show’s silly schnook, Corporal Randolph Agarn. I was slightly embarrassed, hoping my parents wouldn’t think their odd-daughter had sunk to new depths of strangeness. Mr. Storch’s Agarn was, after all, an unlikely object of affection, with his clownish facial expressions, plastered hair, and less-than-fit physique. Besides, I was a tomboy. I wasn’t supposed to get crushes on guys. But there I sat, googly-eyed. And, just as I’ve done with every crush object from Ringo to Little Steven, I fantasized about what I’d say when I finally met the man of my dreams.
Well, this past weekend, I got that chance, when I not only met, but KISSED, Lawrence Samuel Storch during his appearance at a Monster Bash convention near Pittsburgh PA.There he was, at age 94, a bit frail, but tidy and quietly attentive, signing autographs and posing for pictures with adoring fans. First off, I told him I loved him, and thanked him for his eight decades of service to the entertainment industry. Then, I went straight for the gags, rephrasing the classic F-Troop line, “Now, why does everybody say I’m so dumb?” He smiled and began to sign the photo I purchased from his tabletop display. “Make sure you sign it ‘with love,’” I said. He answered, “Okay, but shall I sign it ‘Larry’ or ‘Larry Storch’?” I told him to include his last name, in the off chance some philistine would see the picture on my wall and ask about his identity.
Then, I regaled him with my story of how I used to sit with my girlfriends, Kathy B. and Mary M., in a small lunchroom at our workplace in the 1980s, sharing F-Troop gags and singing the theme song. (Mary’s husband Majeed once bemoaned, “She makes me watch that show every night on Nickelodeon!” Hey, what better way for an intellectual from Saudi Arabia to absorb American high-culture?) Well, Mary’s F-Troop dreamboat may have been klutzy Captain Wilton Parmenter (played with pratfall-panache by the talented Ken Berry), but Kathy and I were staunch Storchers from day one. And we weren’t the only ones! As I was waiting in line to meet Larry, I overheard a woman gushing to him about the huge crush she had on him as a kid.
What can I say? Some of us just have highly-refined taste in men. We don’t dig the ones with the usual matinee idol looks (although, check out some early publicly stills of Larry; he was a hottie!) There was just something about that little guy. As Agarn, he was downright adorable in his yellow kerchief, red undershirt, suspenders, and oversized hat (he was the only one in the show who donned a white one; how nonconformist, I thought!) But his appeal had more to do with the lovable, relatable nature of his character: all bark and no bite, always late to grasp a joke or insult (“who says I’m dumb?”), a relentless hypochondriac, berating the cowardly troops of Fort Courage one minute and falling apart at the seams the next, burying his head in the chest of scheming Sergeant O’Rourke (the mighty Forrest Tucker) and tearfully wailing, “Oh, Sarge!” (For the record, I used to think Mr. Tucker looked a bit like my dad).
The tomboy in me longed to be Captain Parmenter’s sharpshooting, trading-post paramour Wrangler Jane (the late Melody Patterson, a 16-year-old cutie who lied about her age to get the part), strutting the wooden sidewalks with frontier fearlessness, in boots, fringed jacket, tight buckskin britches, and lasso gloves. But I figured I’d always be more akin to the hapless Agarn.
Eventually, I’d grow into a cynic, read “Catch 22,” and realize that stories about bumbling military misfits might be closer to real life than I’d like to imagine. As an adult I’d roll my eyes at the racist portrayal of F-Troop’s Hekawi Indian characters (who, nonetheless, were wiser than the soldier-dogs). But back when I was a child of six, the metaphors of a misfiring canon, a tone-deaf bugler, and a blind man in the watchtower were nothing more than gags.
Today, I wish I could view my misfit life, with all its misfirings, tone-deaf thoughts, and confusion along the watchtower, as a silly satire like F-Troop. Well, maybe it’s possible, if I can just march-step outside my cluttered Fort Fear of a mind and find some humor in my self-absorbed situations.
I see my encounter with Larry Storch as a type of wake-up call, as I trudge through a difficult phase of my life…my own personal war’s-end Reconstruction Period. He’s 94 years young, still spreading joy and inspiring playfulness. Today, I choose to embrace my inner-Agarn soul, with all its flaws, goofiness, and sweetness. I’m proud to be a humble little corporal, making the daily rounds through my own personal Fort Courage.
© Dana Spiardi, June 26, 2017
Okay, folks, let Agarn teach you to dance, in one easy lesson! Also featured in this clip are Hollywood legend Edward Everett Horton as medicine man Roaring Chicken, Italian-American character actor Frank de Kova as Chief Wild Eagle, and Forrest Tucker as Sarge.
And, because I know you’re just dying to sing along, here’s the F-Troop theme song from the show’s opening credits!