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Volume 2734




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 I knew.

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 Phoenix.

"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 school season.

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 stone.

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 my speech.

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 Chicago.

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 of California.

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 wholeheartedly.

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 senior year.

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.

Coach of football squad
University of Arizona 1922

My winning track team ~ University of Arizona ~ 1923 ~ I'm at far right top row


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