When I was a youngster growing up in South Central Los Angeles, this cowboy made it possible for my mother to buy me some new shoes for Catholic school.
, isn't it? They hooked my sophisticated, college-educated mother up with an agency to contact so she could make some extra cash money on Saturdays working for a Hollywood wife. One day, Mom came home and told me that she'd gotten an extra job. The woman who hired her, she calmly revealed, "...is married to Stoney Burke."
rodeo cowboy Stoney Burke on ABC just a few years ago! Mom gave me that "hold your horses" look and told me this was news to keep within the family. I do remember Mom calling me on a Saturday after finishing her part time work. She'd tell me to be ready. She'd drive home, get me and take me to Thom McAn's to buy me new shoes for school. My mother is now in her 80s and recovering in a good facility from a fall in her house. She had leg problems and another health issue. I visited her last weekend. Odd to see the nurse convalescing in bed and in need of a nurse's care. Mom and I talked for hours. It felt like an early Christmas. She was healing and in great humor. She brought up her brief time being employed by Marie Lord, Jack Lord's wife. Mom liked and appreciated her very much. She said that Jack Lord "...was very particular about how he wanted his shirts ironed. Starch in the collar." I'm older now too. I had to crash through some of the same color barriers that my mom -- and dad -- did as a black person in America. I have so much more respect for my mother taking that job with no sense of ego or vanity. In fact, in order to make that extra household money doing someone else's laundry, she tried to play down her educational background and skills. My mother had assisted doctors in surgery. Apparently, Mrs. Lord caught on when -- during casual talk about movies -- Mom mentioned how much she loved Simone Signoret in Stanley Kramer's Ship of Fools. Not only that, Mom thought it was one of her best performances since Room at the Top, the British film that brought her the Oscar for Best Actress of 1959. Mrs. Lord contacted the agency and confirmed that Barbara Rivers was indeed overqualified to be Hollywood help. Mom said that they then "just talked like a couple of women" and she explained to Mrs. Lord that she was on the brink of being a divorced working mother of three. Without alimony. When I worked on WQFM radio in Milwaukee, I used to put Mom on the air with me. Her warm, sweet voice with its good diction was a hit with local listeners. Her speech, carriage and educational background appealed to Mrs. Lord. She offered Mom a different job. "She wanted me to be her social secretary but I felt I just couldn't do it with three kids to raise." Life was changing for Mom. It would soon change for Mrs. Lord. "We're moving to Hawaii," she told Mom. The job of ironing Jack Lord's shirts came to a comfortable end because he had to move. He was relocating to start a new TV series for CBS: Hawaii Five-O.
The rest is TV history. Some of what came before it is Rivers Family history. I loved that tropical cop show. I'd watch Jack Lord as Detective Steve McGarrett and think "Wow, my mom used to iron his shirts. His wife was really kind to my mom." And my mother was really kind to do that extra work for us kids. She tried to make herself seem less than she was so she could do more for her children.