Were it not for Paul Harvey, who passed away last weekend, I would never have had the great honor of writing for Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. W. Bush and many other leading Republicans from the early 1980s until the present.
Back in late 1983 the big cultural craze in America was Cabbage Patch Dolls. They were so popular that demand exceeded supply. As Christmas approached, parents actually got into fistfights in toy and department stores as they tried to grab the last few remaining dolls off the shelves.
Around this time the mainstream media — there was no other kind — were, of course, blaming President Reagan for most of America’s problems. I started to think that if CBS News anchor Dan Rather put his mind to it, he could come up with a way to blame the president for the shortage of Cabbage Patch Dolls too.
I cut out a photo of Rather from a magazine and drew a big cartoon bubble above his head. Within the bubble I typed a mock news story. Then I mailed the piece to Paul Harvey, thinking he might get enough of a kick out of it to put it on his bulletin board. It honestly never occurred to me that he would read it on the air, but on Dec. 13, 1983, his listeners heard him close off his broadcast this way:
Our “For What It’s Worth Department” comes today from Doug Gamble of Studio City, California. He has written a mock news story, a story telling how Dan Rather might report the shortage of Cabbage Patch Dolls this Christmas season.
“Good evening. Millions of American youngsters who had hoped to receive a Cabbage Patch Doll this Christmas will be disappointed. There simply aren’t enough to go around.
“Tonight, the following questions are being asked: What should the Reagan administration have done to make sure this critical shortage did not happen? Does the president’s inaction mean he is insensitive to the wishes of children at Christmastime? Do Mr. Reagan’s rich friends have Cabbage Patch Dolls while many ordinary Americans go without?
“Will the nation’s mothers become enraged at White House inaction on the crisis, further widening the gender gap? Should the president be relaxing at Camp David this weekend while so many children teeter on the brink of disappointment? Could the planes and ships used in the Grenada invasion have been used instead to bring more Cabbage Patch Dolls to the U.S. from their manufacturing plants in the Far East?
“And finally, is breaking the hearts of children at Christmas an impeachable offense? Later in this broadcast we’ll examine these questions in a special report — Cabbage Patchgate: Reagan Blunders Again.”
Mr. Harvey then added, “By the way, don’t ask me for a copy of this. I’m sending my copy to Dan Rather.”
Talk about fate. The broadcast was heard by Elaine Donnelly of Livonia, Mich., now president of the Center for Military Readiness. She tracked me down to get a copy and sent it to her friend Faith Whittlesey, then head of the Office of Public Liaison at the White House. Ms. Whittlesey asked me to submit humor that the president might use, which he started doing two months later as the election year got under way.
I was writing for Bob Hope at the time and never imagined I would someday have a career writing political humor, a career that would not have been launched were it not for a Paul Harvey broadcast and the thoughtful reaction to it of Ms. Donnelly, now a longtime friend.
I later wrote Mr. Harvey and thanked him for what he had unknowingly done for me. I thought he might be interested in “the rest of the story,” and his gracious reply indicated that he was. To go suddenly from obscurity to writing for the president of the United States is the kind of “only in America” story that Mr. Harvey loved. And this time, he was personally involved in making it happen.
Paul Harvey was a broadcast original, a true pioneer, and he will be missed by millions. He touched the lives of many Americans, and he certainly touched my life in a very significant way. I owe him a lot.
He is now reunited with his beloved wife Angel. And the other angels in Heaven? They’re standing by for news.