Back in 1972 I had recently sold my tire store on the Garces circle and was in-between occupations. For years I had thought about giving shooting lessons across the country, so I decided this would be a good time to try.
After attending a skeet shoot and doing some instructions in Florida, I boarded a plane in Miami for my flight back to Los Angeles. I was sitting second seat in from the aisle on the middle section, when I saw a very tall gentleman approaching me.
I mean tall, tall. Being an old film and television buff, I immediately recognized him as Ted Cassidy, who was most known for playing Lurch in the TV series "The Addams Family." I was really surprised when he stopped, tossed a bag in the overhead, and sat down next to me. I introduced myself, and said I knew who he was.
He thanked me for that, and said this was one of the few times when he always regretted being 6-foot-9. He noted that he always tried to get an aisle seat so he could stretch his leg out along side of it.
After taking off, Ted and I had one of the most interesting and refreshing conversations for the next few hours you could imagine. We discussed films, acting, politics, the economy, and sports.
He was as down to earth as anyone you could possibly meet, and you would never guess he was famous. He actually did not have that many film roles.
The two I remembered most was Hachita in "Mackenna's Gold," and one of Paul Newman's gang in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid."
He was famous for the line, "Rules? In a knife fight?"
He said most of his work involved doing voice-overs for animated films. He said it kept him pretty busy.
During the flight, I had told him about my skeet shooting career and how lucky I was to have achieved many of my goals. Ted mentioned that he had a 15-year-old son named Sean, and he wondered if I could possibly give him some shooting instruction the next time I was in L.A. for a shoot.
I said I would be delighted to, so he gave me his phone number and said to call him a week or two before coming south. A couple of months later, I was going to a shoot in Long Beach, so I called Ted and told him to bring Sean out to the club late Sunday afternoon when the meet was over and we would get together.
He sounded really excited and said they would be there. They showed up, and Sean and I shot a couple of rounds and had a great time. During the course of the round, I could see the look of pride on Ted's face as Sean would break some targets. I think I called him a couple of times after that day, but did not have any real contact with him.
I was shocked to read that he had died in 1979 at the age of 46 after having heart surgery. A real loss for the film industry.
Fast forward to present day. A few weeks ago I was just thinking about Ted after watching his role as Hachita on a TCM showing. I got a crazy idea, and with the help of a good friend and modern electronics, I discovered that Sean was an attorney in the L.A. area.
I found a phone number and dialed it. A man answered and I asked if this was Sean Cassidy. He replied it was, so I asked if the name Ken Barnes was familiar at all.
He said, "Ken Barnes. Ken Barnes. You know, it does ring a bell."
I replied, "I gave you a skeet shooting lesson when you were 15, with your dad watching."
He said, "Oh my God. I remember so well. What a great day."
I told him how sorry I was to hear about his dad's passing at such an early age, and how much I had enjoyed meeting him all those years ago.
The following personal quotes from Ted are taken from the Internet Movie Database website:
-- "If I'm up for a part if, I'm asked to play something, I really worry what I'm going to be because they always make fellows like me the big dumb galoot, the oaf who doesn't know anything, who trips over himself.
"We are apparently idiots, all big men. You end up never leading anybody to anything. You end up holding people, while the boss hits them on the face —scratching your head a lot wondering where all your marbles went. Well, that kind of thing doesn't appeal to me at all. I used to think that's how it was and I would do it, but I won't do it anymore.
"I turn down everything that comes along like that."
From a 1978 interview
When asked on the role he would most like to be known for playing, he replied, "None. None of them! I don't want to remembered for any of them because I don't like any of them. I'm not proud of any of them. I'm still waiting for the one role I will have pride in and want to be associated with down the years."