Still Best in Show

We were wrapping up our regular Saturday morning breakfast Zoom meeting (“Marie Callendar’s in Exile”) today when the news about Fred Willard’s passing came through. 

I’ve had complaints about the number of dead people who’ve appeared in my blogs lately, so I’m trying to focus on the live ones I know, but I gotta put that on hold, because Fred was special. 

I thought back to January 30, 1975, when we put together an all-star concert at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. The lineup included the band I was producing, the Roto Rooter Good Time Christmas Band, my old college pal The Trumpeting Fool, Doctor Demento, and the Ace Trucking Company (pictured). 

I don’t remember how we able to snag the Ace Trucking Company. It was early in their career, but they were already great, especially Fred Willard. The show, of course, was a financial disaster, for a number of reasons that have long since passed their statute of limitations. But I claim it was a creative blockbuster, and no one is going to tell me different. 

I reminded Fred about that performance when I saw him at an event at the Gene Autry Museum a while ago. He didn’t remember the event as fondly as I did—it was clearly not a career highlight for him, but for others of us it had aged more pleasantly. 

I last ran into Fred after a Hollywood Bowl show by Weird Al Yankovic in 2016, when we, along with Fred and his wife Mary, were waiting to get on the after-show shuttle to the handicapped parking lot. We chatted during the ride, and I made sure not to mention the Wilshire Ebell evening, instead chatting happily about how much we’d enjoyed Weird Al’s show. Like Fred, Weird Al always delivered the goods. 

Fred’s appearances in the Christopher Guest documentary films were always best in show, especially in Best in Show. More recently Jimmy Kimmel, whose judgment is dependable, hired Fred to do a lot of hilarious sketch appearances on his show, simultaneously classing up the Kimmel show and keeping Fred busy. 

RIP Fred Willard, you were loved by many.