CHAPTER IV: BY THE TIME I GOT
I had never been west of Denver and knew noting about the great southwest
beyond the pulp magazine stories I read occasionally. But at least it was
an escape from the terrible midwest winters. I had had it up to my earmuffs
with shoveling snow and firing furnaces.
After passing through the barren desert for a few days, I began to fear
that I had made a wrong decision. It looked like "The Land That Time Forgot."
From the train window, I could see no sign of human activity for hours.
Only at the railroad station did the world seem to come alive; cowboys
and Indians selling their wares excited me, especially at Albuquerque,
a name that was a real challenge for a Hoosier. I couldn't even spell it!
I arrived in Phoenix around 7 p.m. on March 1, 1921, and was met by
"Heine" Miller and his wife, Ruth, along with several of their close friends.
A couple of them were Indiana alumni. There was a dance that night, at
which I was introduced to many Phoenix notables and immediately felt the
beautiful hospitality then characteristic of the southwest.
Henry and Ruth insisted that I live with them rather than go to the
YMCA. Seeing all the sights in and around Phoenix was enjoyable, but the
desert was strangely different from the wooded and stream-covered land
Homesickness and longing to see Agnes was at first a little rough to
handle. My family sensed my situation, but insisted I give it a good try.
Even Agnes felt I would do all right and wrote me, saying, "Hurry, my darling,
and get a job! I can hardly wait to join you forever."
"Heine" was an attorney for an automobile financing company and hired
me to repossess cars. It was a god paying job but not a pleasant one. I
was a little too soft at first, and anybody with a hard luck story got
another chance. But "Heine" soon trained me in the art of collecting or
attaching automobiles and I seldom failed to do so thereafter. Around the
middle of the summer, we took a trip to Tucson, about 125 miles south of
"Heine" had a friend there who had graduated from the University of
Arizona law school and insisted that we be his guests at his large home.
He told us they were looking for a coach to assist "Pop" McKale, who had
been the only coach for many years. It was a beautiful campus with a high
scholastic and athletic rating, though only about 1,200 students.
During the tour, I met McKale who had read a lot about me during my
playing days. He also mentioned the fact that they were looking for a coach
to take over the line in football and be head coach for basketball and
track. He said, "If you are interested you might call on the president
while in town." I did just that.
The president, Dr. Rufus B. von Kleinschmidt, was serving his first
year there and later enjoyed a long career as president of USC. He had
come to Arizona from DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he
had seen me play against DePauw. He said, "I will go to work on the Board
of Regents and see what happens."
I decided that I had been a star boarder at the Miller's long enough
and should see Los Angeles. My dad sent me a pass on the railroad, but
I arrived there with little money and knew I would have to get a job to
stay long. I began reading the wand ads and called the Masonic Employment
Bureau. The first interview was for a bookkeeper in a bank. After a few
minutes with the manager, I knew I was over my head. The course I had taken
in bookkeeping was a pipe course for athletes to keep them eligible. Before
the manager could tell me that I could not handle it, I save him the trouble.
I said, "This is over my head -- thanks a lot." He was a football nut,
and said, "I will see if I can help you line up something."
Next day I got a call at my YMCA room from t he Los Angeles City Playground
Department about a job on the east side of town in Boyle Heights, a tough
neighborhood. It paid ninety dollars a month, and I had to ride a streetcar
and work from 9 to 6 every day. I knew I had made a mistake immediately.
It was just a place for parents to dump their kids, and the manager had
to ride herd on the gang of incorrigibles.
The Masonic Bureau called with an opening for a telegraph operator with
the Federal Reserve Bank. It was to be a temporary job filling in for vacationing
operators. It turned out that was a hitch. I had to be able to use what
operators called a "mill," -- a typewriter. I told them I was a "hunt and
peck" artist but not sure I could copy fast enough for this job, especially
since all the messages were in code. Large sums of money were being transferred
by wire from all the banks in the area that belonged to the Federal Reserve
System, so I had to be accurate. They said they would hold the job open
for two weeks if I though I could manage to use a "mill" well enough in
that time. It was a good paying job for that period, $250 a month, so I
said I would try.
I went to the main Western Union office in Los Angeles, told the manager
my plight and again showed my telegrapher's union card. He said he would
let me have a desk in the "boondocks" of the office. I spent about six
hours every day and evening practicing. I went from slow wires to faster
ones until by the end of two weeks I could copy as fast as I could read
the wires. Meantime, I was checked out as a security risk and approved.
By now it was May, and soon I worked in a secured office with a guard
at the door, a secretary, and a code book to decipher the messages and
route them to their destinations in the bank. It was a branch of the San
Francisco main office of the West Coast Federal Reserve System located
on the top floor of the Washington Building, Third and Spring Streets.
One day there was a parade, for an American Legion convention or something,
and a messenger with a locked bag stopped to watch it from a window. When
she arrived at the department with the message for a huge money transfer
back East, the eastern office had closed, and the money was delayed one
day. The interest on several million dollars even for one day was staggering,
so our office was in trouble. My book showed the messenger had signed out
in plenty of time to get the money on its way. I had just dodged a bullet.
On another occasion, there was no way to dodge. An earthquake hit Los
Angeles while I was locked up in this room. The whole building swayed and
glass went flying. The guard at the door panicked and ran for the elevator.
It was out of commission, but most of the people used the stairways and
fire escapes. I was not able to get out of this room for a while and had
to break a window to do so. When I reached the street it was all over,
so I went back to my office. Workers cleaned up the place as best they
could, and business resumed as usual.
About the first of August, I heard from the University of Arizona that
I could have the job as assistant coach to McKale. The bank had just about
filled its vacation schedule, so I asked to be relieved. Before settling
in Tucson, I wanted to go home for a special occasion. I was approaching
the age of twenty-one and was eligible to join the Masonic Lodge. My father
was now worshipful master of the lodge and my mother was worthy matron
of the Eastern Star. Most of my ancestors had been involved in Masonry.
In Tucson, I signed a contract for $2,500 per year, then hurried to
Freedom so I could join the lodge on my birthday. It was a great thrill
to be taken into the Masonry by my father, who was presiding, and especially
in a lodge among all the men that had known me since birth.
In 1971, I received my 50-year pin from Freedom lodge, No. 466, and
no longer have to pay dues. I never demitted from that lodge, though many
times it would have been more convenient. After World War II, I joined
the Scottish Rite and Shrine at the Murat Temple in Indianapolis as part
of the General Mark Clark class. Later, I demitted to Al Malaikah Temple
in Los Angeles, and am still a member.
Before returning to Tucson, I visited Agnes in Bloomington. She was
taking some post-graduate work and we had a wonderful time back on the
campus that had been so dear to us. Many "I love you, I love you's" ping-ponged
back and forth as we pledged our troth again and hoped soon to be together
forever. She was still beautiful and desirable. My parents insisted that
I should play the field in a new area and forget what they termed just
a college romance.
After all good-byes were dispensed with, I headed for Tucson with all
my worldly possessions in an old-fashioned box trunk, sweaters, blankets,
trophies, souvenirs and I-men awards.
McKale and I hit if off well. The chemistry between us was just right
and we became great friends with deep respect for each other and our jobs.
Arizona had an ample supply of football talent and the prospects for a
good team were bright. Soon after school opened, the student body held
its annual football rally. All the faculty, the townspeople, the boosters'
club, relatives, and friends gathered for the kickoff of the athletic and
About 6 p.m. that night, I received a phone call from McKale, who said,
"Jumbo, I'm not feeling well. Would you take over for me and make the usual
pre-season speech?" "Sure, Mac," I replied, "Anything you say." I believe,
although he never admitted it, that he did this in order to present me
to the student body and keep out of the limelight himself.
The auditorium was packed and the stage was filled with football players,
faculty representatives, the mayor and many other notables. This was the
first time I had ever faced a crowd of this size to make the main talk
of the evening. Complete panic seized me after I took my place on the stage
-- highlighted by cld sweat, chills, fever, and finally, numbness.
After the preliminaries, such as yells and cheerleaders' antics, the
student body president introduced the team, several honored guests, and
then gave me a tremendous buildup. Because my coach at Indiana was Jumbo
Ttiehm, and because of my size, he called me Jumbo. Subsequently, everybody
I knew in ARizona called me Jumbo, so it was easy to differentiate them
from Indiana people, who called me Babe. Thunderous applause followed his
introduction, and I suddenly became "ossified Roy" -- I just turned to
I managed to make it to the podium but displayed the frozen smile of
a zombie. I had tried to memorize a speech, but could not remember one
world of it. I finally put my arms up to quiet the applause. They paid
no attention. After a standing ovation, the band started to play Indiana's
fight song. I struck up my arms again, and they took off on Arizona's fight
song. After this long delay, I had gotten back most of my cool but not
All I could say was "Thank you," and that caused more cheering. The
master of ceremonies yelled for quiet until they went to the other extreme
of total stillness.
I offered McKale's apologies for being unable to "M.C." and expressed
my great privilege in being asked to fill in for him. Then I hit on the
idea of telling them about some of the great players that I had battled
against in my career, such as George Gipp of Notre Dame, who once drop-kicked
sixty-three yards. Also I played against Chick Harley, one of Ohio State's
greats and Duke Slater, the first black player in the Big Ten, who stood
6' 6" and weighed 240 pounds. Later he became a Superior Court judge in
Then there was the legendary Jim Thorpe, who coached one year at Indiana.
As an example of his great ability, he could stand on one goal line (and
he frequently did this between halves at games as an exhibition to please
the audience) and punt to the other one. I told of the time he held a hotel
clerk out an eight-story window by the heels for trying to break up a party.
My anecdotes made a hit, and I was now an official Wildcat. The teams at
Arizona were called Wildcats.
Taking my share of the coaching work from McKale gave him more time
to concentrate on strategy, and as I pounded line play into the linemen,
we came up with a winning team the first year. We beat all the schools
in the Southwestern Conference and vexed USC, which was under the coaching
of Gloomy Gus Henderson. The Southwestern Conference, of course, was Class
B compared to such Pacific Coast teams as Stanford, Cal, and USC. UCLA
hadn't blossomed yet, and was called the southern branch of the University
My basketball and track teams also won conference titles. My track squad
broke many of the old records at the university, and competed with USC
in a dual meet. Even though we didn't have a chance, we gave a good account
of ourselves and won praise from the legendary track coach Dean Cromwell.
The basketball team was also a winner, beating all comers the first
year. We went on a barnstorming trip during Christmas vacation, taking
only seven men and myself to hold down expenses. We played many of the
teams in the West Coast Conference, winning every game.
In Indiana, the first thing a dad ever gave his son was a basketball.
It was a way of life in Indiana, and still is. Because I came from this
hotbed of basketball, I introduced a lot of new ideas to the Arizona team
and it really blossomed. The bound pass, for instance, startled Arizonans
the first time they saw it.
The town got behind the university teams with great enthusiasm and organized
a booster group, called the Town Cats. We soon had to turn away crowds
of people that could not fit in the small old college gym. We moved to
the National Guard Armory downtown, and soon filled that up.
On one trip, we went to Roswell, New Mexico to play the New Mexico Military
Institute, an expensive place for difficult sons of rich people in the
East. The afternoon before this game, a group of the students from the
academy came down to our hotel to see if they could get some bets. Of course,
our kids were not well-to-do, and they didn't have extra money for wagering
-- or anything else. Besides that, they weren't the betting types. But
the cocky rich kids made a big deal out of our not having the guts to back
our team, and that rubbed us the wrong way. I thought we were going to
win the game; in fact, I was sure we would because we were hot.
I did a most unorthodox thing. I called the team together and told them
I would put up some money to match all their bets. They were overjoyed
that I had called the bluff of these kids.
I told the spokesman for the cadets that I would get someone to cover
all the bets (I didn't tell them I was going to do it). After we placed
the money with the hotel clerk, they raced back to school and raised a
lot more money, even to all of the nickels and dimes they could rake up.
Although I covered it all, I was suddenly seized with anxiety for fear
I was doomed if we lost. I had put up our expense money. Even if we won
and word leaked out about what I had done, I would have been fired. Our
kids knew it was our expense money and sore they would keep it a secret.
The academy team was keyed up and played like demons. Our kids were
over-anxious, and couldn't do a thing right early in t he game. They missed
shot after shot and made a flock of fouls. The first half ended with our
team ten points behind.
Between halves, I developed new skills as an orator. It seemed to do
the trick. We settled down in the second half and won by several points.
We cut up the loot equally among the players, but that ended my career
as a would-be gambler.
Life at the University of Arizona was exciting. I was now half way through
my first year and teaching a popular class, called "Pedagogy and Administration
of Athletics," under the physical education curriculum. I had a fair knowledge
of this from a similar class at Indiana University and had kept my old
notebook. With a little extra effort, I was able to keep a day or so ahead
of the class and do a good job. At least the head of the department was
satisfied, and students were eager to enroll.
We occasionally had debates and discussions which ranged far afield
from the textbook. We reviewed games we had just played and discussed those
coming up. It kept each sport alive, and everybody was interested, especially
in what was going on in the athletic department.
It was in this class that I met a beautiful girl who played the female
lead in my life at that time, Lillie Belle Talley. She was a junior and
a Kappa Kappa Gamma. I was not much older than she. For that matter, I
was younger than many of the students.
The dean of women also added me to the chaperone list. All dances, parties,
and picnics had to have one or two chaperones from the faculty, so I seldom
missed a week without chaperoning something and joined the social whirl
I was not too strict as a chaperone and consequently became popular.
One fraternity and sorority join picnic was scheduled for picturesque Sabina
Canyon several miles out of town. For some reason, I arrived quite late.
Few people were in sight. They had all scattered to secluded spots and
were having a good time pitching woo.
It took me some time to round them all up and get the picnic under way.
I doubt that the food would ever have been unpacked if I had not shown
up, but we made a deal among us that the dean wouldn't hear about my tardiness.
By this time, letters between Agnes and me had gotten increasingly rare.
A cooling-off had set in for no special reason other than the old wheeze,
"absence makes the heart grow fonder -- for somebody else."
I had several dates in the meantime among the students, the teachers
and some of the town girls who had already graduated. But Lillie Belle
really shook me up. She was the daughter of Bob Talley, general manager
of a large copper company in Jerome, and a football fan who attended most
of the big games.
I had danced with her a couple of times while chaperoning and it wasn't
long until I asked her for a date. She was a little older than most of
the students and had made a name for herself in mathematics. She was a
devout Catholic and introduced me to her religion. I had by now purchased
a new Model T Ford coupe, which I called the "Whoopie," for $550, and generally
felt I was setting on top of the world.
Meantime, word had gotten back to Agnes that I was going steady with
Lillie Belle. Agnes had a sorority sister at Arizona from her home town
who leaked the news. By the end of the year, it was all over between Agnes
and me. She returned my fraternity pin with great sorrow and regret, and
I never heard from her again. I was far from happy over this outcome because
first love is the greatest emotional experience one will ever have, but
soon Lillie Belle and I had eyes for no one else. She was tall, dark, beautiful,
loving and exciting to be with .Her exotic eyes and soft, gentle voice
gave me a feeling of really belonging to her.
My work as coach was successful, and I was happy in every sense of the
word. College life and all its facets suited me beautifully. It seemed
that the university, the town, and the state of Arizona put their arms
around me and made me feel needed, important, and appreciated.
I became fascinated with the desert, which mysteriously and stealthily
grows on one. It is so wide open and fee that it seems one can be a part
of the great expanse and hear the silent whir of eternity. Every plant
and animal is dependent only on itself for survival and development. The
desert is never monotonous because changes come rapidly, and no two days
are exactly alike. It can be cold, violent, almost cruel -- then suddenly
change to the most quiet, serene place one could imagine. To this day,
I am completely hooked on the desert as a place to live and shall spend
my remaining days drinking in its beauty.
When summer vacation came along, I had a most unusual opportunity. One
of the football players, Kirk LaShelle, and I had become close friends.
He was a 200-pound six-footer, agile and powerful, but almost totally deaf.
In the past, this had prevented him from making the team. (In those days,
before the huddle, signals were called by the quarterback after the team
lined up for the play.)
I hated to see such a good prospect sit on the bench, so I worked out
a scheme with the linemen whereby the end on his left would nudge him if
the play was to go through left tackle and the guard on his right would
nudge him if it had been called to go through the right side of tackle.
If it was a pass or an end run, he would get no signal and do a regular
blocking job as left tackle. We tried it out in practice for some time
and it worked I gave him a lot of individual attention and helped him all
I could with the fundamentals.
On defense, he was a terror. (Then players played both offense and defense.
The only time one left the game was on a stretcher.) Kirk could size up
an opposition play with uncanny skill. He not only made the first team
but All-Southwest tackle. On top of that, he was elected captain for his
It turned out that Kirk's father was a New York stage producer of great
renown. He had produced Owen Wister's The Virginian, among many
others. The leading man was Bernard Durning, a well-known Broadway figure
who had migrated to Hollywood and, after playing as leading man in several
movies, had turned to directing.
Kirk had known Durning practically from childhood, and suggested I might
have a chance to work in a movie with him during the summer vacation. He
was with the Fox studio and married to Shirley Mason, a big star in her
own right. Naturally, that sounded great to me. He told Durning to expect
a call from me when I got to Hollywood.
Durning invited me to the studio and introduced me to all the big stars
around the lot. Tom mix, Buck Jones, Slim Summerville, and many of those
old timers I got to know through Bernie Durning were sports fans and anxious
to meet people from the world of athletics. In later years, I attended
several parties at Tom's Hollywood mansion, where there was a sign warning
that all the many guns on display were loaded -- Tom's way of preventing
accidents with "unloaded" guns.
Durning was getting ready to leave for location in Yosemite Valley,
on a big production called The Yosemite Trail, an old-fashioned
Western melodrama. Dustin Farnum was the star, Irene Rich was the leading
lady, Frank Campeau was the villain, and Walter McGrail was featured. He
gave me a bit part and took me along with the troupe. That summer's experience
I shall cherish always. Here I was in movies, on location in one of the
most picturesque places in the whole world.
I got to know all the cast, cameramen and crew. William Wellman was
assistant director, and after I became an actor in Hollywood, I worked
in many of the pictures he directed, including Wings.
When the location ended, it was time to go back to Tucson and to my
coaching. My love affair with Lillie Belle was hotter than ever. We soon
became engaged and plans for our future were made in earnest.
I felt I could go on to great heights as a coach under "Pop" McKale,
who was idolized by all. He not only was a good football coach but his
baseball team was nationally known. He had been a baseball star himself
at Albion College in Michigan -- an unforgettable friend.
Lillie Bell thought I was wasting my time coaching and should be training
for a profession with more permanency. A few losing years in coaching might
end what started out beautifully as a great career. I tended to agree with
her and we decided I might make a good lawyer. Medicine was out of the
question because it would take too long. Arizona University had a fine
law school and perhaps I could have stayed on in the Athletic Department
in some capacity and completed the two years or so for a law degree. That
would have meant practicing law in Arizona, since the connections and acquaintances
one makes while going to law school are important.
That would have been all right, but Lillie Belle had a great desire
to live in California. She had lived all her life in Arizona but wanted
to be near the ocean where she had spent many vacations. Also her father
had a close friend who was the head of a big law firm in Los Angeles. If
I could come up with a law degree and pass the California bar examinations,
I was practically assured of a place in this large and well-known firm.
At the end of another successful year as coach, I submitted my resignation
with reluctance, and it was accepted with regret. I was offered a long-term
contract with a substantial raise in pay and was assured that if my plans
ever changed, I could always find a job there. The student body voted me
honorary life member of the Alumni Association, and I am especially invited
to the homecoming game every year.
"Pop" McKale passed on in 1973 at the age of 80. A huge building in
his honor, McKale Memorial Center, was dedicated the same year. He never
came to Los Angeles area without finding time to visit me. Mrs. McKale
was a wonderful woman who gave him two daughters, and "Mac" had a fine
life. The reason he came to Arizona is not generally known, but he had
asthma, which bothered him in Michigan at certain times of the year. He
moved to Arizona for his health and got a job teaching in Tucson High School.
His success there soon led to his university job.
During my second year at the university, I noticed that there were two
or three local fraternities without national affiliations. One especially
was strong socially, scholastically, and had several good athletes. Coincidentally,
they knew I was a Phi Delt and asked me to dinner with the idea of broaching
the subject of a Phi Delt chapter. I knew many of the national officials
of Phi Delta Theta and proposed that it give them consideration. An inspection
committee was sent to Tucson from the southwestern province of the fraternity.
They passed with flying colors and near the middle of the year, a charter
was granted. I presided at the installation. It was a proud moment for
me because ARizona University was a big part of my life, as was Phi Delta
Theta. The chapter is still going strong.
Years later, my son, Michael, entered the university and was pledged
Phi Delt, which was another proud moment for me. He had hoped to become
a journalist and his record in Harvard Military School as an all-around
athlete, high ranking officer, and good student gained him admission readily.