He was my running buddy back in the days of early teenage hood when I was young and innocent and Paul was a whole lot more sophisticated about the ways of the world; how to get around New York City and find the cool stuff (like THE MEMORY SHOP movie memorabilia joint) and girls. And most importantly, puppets!!!
(Me, Rowlf, Jim Henson, and Paul on the set of A SUMMER PLACE on CBS circa back in the day)
As everybody knows, I'm a puppeteer and have been since I could stick my hand over the crib. Paul was once a puppeteer too. That's how we met.
To New York City people of my generation there were a few truly magical names. Names like Sandy Becker, Soupy Sales and especially Chuck McCann. These guys had local TV shows with puppets and cartoons and they were on everyday and we all watched them. Some of us were adventurous enough to leave our living rooms and head to the TV studios where these heroes did their shows. I did. And so did Paul.
(That's Paul working the Paul Ashley puppets during a break at Chuck's WPIX-TV11 show LET'S HAVE FUN)
One day, at Chuck McCann's LAUREL & HARDY FIX-IT SHOPPE SHOW, our paths crossed. I went to Channel 5 and saw Chuck, who said I had to sit in the viewers booth today. So I climbed the lonely stairs and there behind the glass window sat a handsome boy about my own age with nicely-combed hair, wearing a well-tailored blue suit, with a pretty girl friend on his arm. When I walked in he turned and said to me "what the hell were you doing down there?" Well, I liked Laurel and Hardy and since I was Chubby I assumed the role of Ollie and said "Well never you mind!" Then skinny Paul began to cry like Stanley. And right at that moment we became life-long friends. We put together a Laurel and Hardy act. . . . . . and eventually performed on The Joe Franklin MEMORY LANE TV Show!
We learned "Who's On First" and did it for anyone who would listen.
(with JOEY FAYE in the hallway of WOR-TV9 prior to a JOE FRANKLIN appearance)
(with Jack Burns from Burns & Schrieber)
. . . met celebrities and even put out a magazine called Celebrity Post!
New friends came into our lives and we went our several ways. Sometimes losing touch for years as craziness kicked in and yet? We never left each others hearts.
We reconnected in a more or less permanent way these past 10 years, talking a couple of times a month, a week, sometimes a day. The last few months were rough when Paul got sick, and then when I received an email from his sister Amy that he was taken to the hospital, I knew I had to visit him. But not just me. Remember earlier when I mentioned the name of kid show host Sandy Becker? When Sandy passed away Olga and I inherited his puppets, and one of Paul's and my favorite was a feisty little German named GEEBA GEEBA. When I walked into his hospital room, he was not alert. Amy rubbed his chest and brought him to consciousness and told him I was there. He struggled to open his eyes and when I caught his attention, I told him I brought someone to see him, and pulled Geeba Geeba from my black bag, put him on my hand and had him say:
"Hello dere Paul! Remember me? I remember you ven you used to be black und vite."
And he smiled. And they talked. And through Geeba, Paul and I reminisced about the highlights of our life together. He held Geeba's little hand and hugged him. When it was time to pack Geeba away, Paul struggled with his hand and signaled us closer. Geeba and I leaned down and Paul smiled and whispered to us "Thanks for the memories."
Paul, I want to say thank YOU, for the memories. You will always be part of my story.