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Columns | "A Balloon In Cactus"


by Maggie Van Ostrand
Maggie Van Ostrand
For those of you sick of the negativity on television news shows, and wish we still had Andy Rooney's humor on 60 Minutes, maybe you'd like to know what he was really like off-camera. First though, you have to hear about Carol Burnett and John Foster Dulles.

When Carol Burnett was very young, she sang a song called, "I Made A Fool of Myself Over John Foster Dulles." She sang her heart out about her infatuation with Dulles, who was not only the Secretary of State, but Time magazine's Man Of The Year. The song ended with "... I'm simply on fire/with desire for John Foster Dulles."

I remembered the song because I, too, had found myself all fired up, not over John Foster Dulles, but over Andy Rooney.

I didn't care if he was married. I didn't care if he was over 50. I didn't care if he was a curmudgeon.

I didn't even care if his eyebrows entered a room five minutes before the rest of him. He was the guy for me.
Andi Rooney
Andi Rooney

Want to know why? He called me up. I'm not kidding. He called me up. I simply flipped out and got all warm and fuzzy at the sound of his gravely voice in my ear.

And I didn't understand why. After all, I'd been around the block a time or two. I actually met Cary Grant at a premiere once and it hardly fazed me. I didn't get overly excited about racing my Mustang against Paul Newman in his battered old red VW bug down Sunset Boulevard at midnight. He cheated. It had a Porsche engine.

And I didn't get this excited when Wilford Brimley scooped me up and plopped me onto the rear of the horse he was galloping on without even slowing down. (I've always regretted that he didn't use a saddle; I was picking horse hairs out of my butt for a week.)

And nothing happened when I danced with Jimmy Stewart. Well, I didn't exactly dance with him but I was at a charity ball, and in an accidental partner switch, his wife ended up with my date, and I ended up with Jimmy.

I'd had phone calls at home from ageless hunks like Michael Douglas and Bob Barker, but nothing prepared me for a call from Andy Rooney. Never mind that he was returning my call, I'm counting it anyway.

What happened to lead up to this? A reader of my column had emailed me several Andy Rooney jokes he got from the internet which he thought I'd like to use for a story. Here are a couple of samples of what he sent:

"Have you noticed that they put advertisements in with your bills now?

Like bills aren't distasteful enough, they have to stuff junk mail there with them. I get back at them. I put garbage in with my check when I mail it in. Coffee grinds, banana peels. I write, Could you throw this away for me? Thank You."


"My wife is from the Midwest. Very nice people there. Very wholesome. They use words like Cripes. 'For Cripes sake.' who would that be, Jesus Cripes? The son of Gosh or the church of Holy Moly? I'm not making fun of it. You think I wanna burn in Heck?"

When you repeat somebody's words in a media piece, you'd better be sure everything is correctly quoted and credited to the right person.

So I sent the jokes to the 60 Minutes public relations guy, said I'd like to do a piece about Andy Rooney's sense of humor, and wanted to be know for sure if Andy Rooney had written these humorous bits himself. Responsible journalism, dontcha know.

Mr. P/R sighed and said alleged Rooneyisms appear to be a cottage industry which Rooney himself had nothing to do with. He went on to say the ones I sent, however, did sound enough like Rooney to be checked out at the very top.

He forwarded everything to Rooney, who subsequently called me. He'll never know, since I forced myself to sound sophisticated and professional on the phone, that his little old call resulted in a resurgence of my teenage emotions. I acted as though the call was no big deal. But it was.

I didn't want him to know that his call made me feel all warm and fuzzy with out-of-focus eyes. It's none of his business. Besides, it was for his own protection.

I particularly liked that he had a different opening on the phone than other people have. Most of us, when the person we're calling says, "Hello?" reply, "Hi, this is So-and-So." Not Andy Rooney. No sir. He only used the important words and dispensed with the junky, unnecessary, politically correct stuff. I said, "Hello?" and he said emphatically, "Andy Rooney!!" - and he said it like he meant it.

He said it like he knew how good he was but he was humble at the same time. He didn't have a staff member call you back, he did it himself. It's very American, the way he did that.

This country should've given him a medal: Andy Rooney, Gruff American.

Turned out that Andy Rooney had nothing to do with any of the bits my reader had sent me, and he pondered why people would take the time to sit down and write such good jokes and then not take the credit themselves but instead, use his name instead of their own.

He said the ones I sent were better than the ones he usually got. Gee, Andy Rooney thought mine were better than theirs. (sigh) I was immediately uplifted.

John Foster Dulles never phoned Carol Burnett at all that I know of, and she may still be all hot and bothered over him, even though he's dead and gone for over 50 years. She didn't mention him once in her award acceptance speech the other night at the Golden Globes, so one never knows how long these infatuations might last.

I asked Andy Rooney if it was okay to use the alleged Andy Rooneyisms in my column. There are those who may think that "I love you" are the best words to hear, but I maintain that the best words legitimately came from the mouth of Andy Rooney himself, when he growled, "Go ahead and use 'em."

I choose to think the gruff-but-kindly way he spoke those closing words was really his version of affection. And the fact that he didn't say "goodbye," but grunted instead, well, I call that a real turn-on.

© Maggie Van Ostrand
"A Balloon In Cactus" - January 8, 2019 column

Maggie Van Ostrand's "A Balloon In Cactus"

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