By Art Gallagher
This story in the New York Post about how Ethel Kennedy, widow of Robert F. Kennedy, messed up the lives of her children, according to biographer Jerry Oppenheimer, reminded me of the day some 37 years ago that I met Ethel and two of her sons.
When I was in college I had a part time gig as the mascot for the Washington,DC professional soccer team, The Diplomats. The costume was Philly Phanatic/San Diego Chicken like. The Diplomaniac looked like a bear or an aardvark with blue fur. It had a soccer ball at the end of its long nose that was connected to an elastic strap so kids could pull it. Big white soccer shoes, a red jersey and a beanie with a propeller on top.
It was insufferably hot inside of that costume whenever the temperature was greater than seventy degrees. But it was a fun gig.
In addition to entertaining the crowd at the soccer games, I was hired to do public appearances. I did the weather on the local NBC affiliate station with Willard Scott who was then the Washington weatherman. There was a luncheon at The Gridiron Club where I got to hangout backstage with the Redskins cheerleaders. During the work week, the team’s marketing director would send me to downtown DC at lunch time to entertain the masses in Franklin Square and hand out ticket coupons.
During most of my visits to the park, dressed as a blue aardvark, a street preacher was literally standing on a soap box shouting fire and brimstone at the top of his lungs while office drones tried to enjoy the sunshine in the park during their during their 30 minute lunch break. He was a skinny white man in his twenties and always wore a white shirt, black pants that were a little baggy. He had shaggy brown hair, a little goatee and wore dark framed glasses. I would entertain the crowd, dressed as a neon blue bear with a big belly and a propellered beanie, by crossing my arms, shaking my gigantic blue head and tapping my over-sized shoe while the preacher condemned me to hell. It was pretty funny.
One miserably hot Sunday afternoon my Diplomaniac costume and I were sent to a fundraiser at Hickory Hill to entertain the children of celebrities and political elites who were going to Ethel’s house with their parents to raise money for a charity that I don’t remember. The only celebrities I remember recognizing through the mesh eyes of the gigantic blue head I was wearing were Art Buchwald, the great American humorist who had a column in the Washington Post and Gary Coleman, the midget actor.
Coleman got upset that my character was stealing the show with the kids and started causing a scene. Ethel had my character (with me in it sweating profusely) escorted away from Coleman and the kids into a cool shady room where two of her sons were hanging out with some other teens.
My impression at the time was that the sons were messed up and that they and the other teenage boys present were into things that they shouldn’t have been. But as I look back on it 37 years later, maybe the kids were just freaked out because they had never before seen a blue aardvark take his head off and ask for water.