No one should have to suffer from cancer as Art did in his final six months. Ironic that such an energetic guy who enriched so many people's lives should pass quietly, with only 15 people at his Holy Cross Cemetery services in Los Angeles, July 23, 1992. There, clearly, passed one of the most loving, unforgettable, charismatic, chaotic, brilliant, geniuses of our era.
It would be fitting if the Los Angeles Kings took to the ice this fall wearing black armbands honoring one of the most pioneering forces in amateur hockey in the Los Angles area. (Note: They did honor Art on their season opening game at the Forum)
Art could as well be honored, by the Jazz Heritage Foundation or at some Jazz benefit performance for being my nominee at least as the number one Jazz fan in Los Angeles over a span of 30 or 40 years. For 25 years or more he supported every Jazz event that solicited advertising or contributions. Art introduced me to a great many musicians whom he knew personally. He would jab away at reminiscing with them backstage pulling frequent references from his phenomenal memory.
I first met Art in 1966 at the Norwalk ice rink during a little kids hockey game. He had come there, 45 miles from his home on a Sunday morning to plan some hockey tours for older boys. He was 51 years old then and that was a normal thing for him to do on a Sunday. He was so energetic, in fact, never stood still, that I thought he was about 42. He was a little guy, had never been a great athlete and had a fervent love for hockey.
We were drawn together since our childhood infatuation with the game began on the same pond situated between our hometowns of Arlington and Belmont Massachusetts. About 6 years after the Sunday morning meeting we collaborated on some hockey programs and I helped Art with his equipment business.
Art, mngr of the Burbank Juveniles 16-18 yrs, '66-'67 season Doug Goad next to Art, then Chan Figarow. same yr, same club, Art on left as Peewees mngr, to his right, Bucky Waterfield, then Johannes Spriegel. Goalie is Allan Dietz. coach Larry Galvin, far right beside Fred Fiedler 'Director'.
He was an unofficial uncle to my kids as he was an unofficial father or uncle to thousands of other hockey and skating kids. He brightened the lives of so many of them. It was a treat to see him walk into an ice rink. Kid after kid would shout or run up to him. He remembered thousands of names and maintained a rapport with thousands. It was incredible to witness. He located his business in an ice rink and added figure skaters to his coterie. He never had any kids of his own. Art was love. He loved kids and they knew it. Many were well off with nationally known family names, others drifted into the rink and the police were happy if they stayed and found something legal to occupy themselves.
Art used to say, "Put it there" Tommy, Sammy, Linda or whatever and kid after kid would slap his outstretched palm. He used to ask them about school work or their behaviour or how their parents were, not 'did you win?'. Genius with children, sheer genius. In all the haranguing and discussion that has to take place to organize youth sports programs, the kids had a spokesman in Art.
In hockey organizational matters he was never overbearing. His manner was to roughly outline what was going to happen and let it go. There was always, without fail, a little chaos. Art thrived on it. He would take center stage and with his rapid speech get things moving. Often his heavily 'bawstin' accented quotes became 'quotable' around ice hockey.
In the hockey equipment business Art created so much so fast that no one could keep up with him. It took several years to find a suitable partner and get things under control. The early years were hilarious.
Art had friends all over the United States with hockey teams and careers and would always get into a discussion about 'how's it going' while the main purpose of the call, an equipment order, was being scribbled on note paper. Before that order could be formalized, another call would come in from Ontario, Alaska, Boston, whatever. Well, naturally, some orders got neglected. The help I could provide was using a Watts line available at my job with Dart Industries in West Los Angeles to expedite these forgotten orders. Using his name always got me to the 'right guy' at the suppliers, sometimes the owner or a retired big name, Gerry Cosby, Woody Dumart, etc.. They all, without fail, would inquire earnestly about how Art was doing. They liked the guy. Rules were waived, shipments were accelerated, promise of payment honored. Art even supplied me blank signed checks in order to expedite orders. I used to find insignificant things holding up orders. Once with Rawlings it was some football sox. Art said vehemently, 'I never got those and I'm not paying for them.' It was a few dollars and as a result a huge shipment of hockey equipment was being held with daily charges in an L.A. warehouse. I mailed a check to St. Louis and the store was flooded with the team jerseys for which coaches were screaming. The turnover in inventory was so fast at times it bordered on the chaotic.
Lots of us remember the great inventory taking, shouting, counting, lists, boxes all over the place, shades drawn, Art saying, 'we're closed, who's that?' when knocks came on the door. There were lost order panics almost every day. The most common for some obscure reason were for custom racing or figure skates. The skater would come in to fit their $80 skates and they hadn't even been ordered. Art would call me with a dramatic hushed 'emergency favor' tone in his voice. I had a list of suppliers, including retailers who were friends of Art, and I always was able to have a substitute pair shipped UPS blue label that same day. One custom figure skate boot maker used to laugh and say he always kept a few nearly finished boots handy for such situations. Suppliers loved to hear the latest Art stories. We never had to tell the customer that he had forgotten. Finally we decided to have standing orders for the popular sizes of racing skates.
We always said if someone could have wired Art, instructed him to take on all prospective business and several of us maintained a computerized order and inventory system Art would have been a millionaire in the 70's. We expanded into retailing the first in-line street skates in L.A., hockey schools, hockey camps, buying dealer left overs of NHL colors as they changed, selling custom made professional jerseys for fans, carrying a line of street hockey equipment, etc. In the '70's my sons, their friends and I had played 'ball hockey' in our athletic shoes and pads on the South Junior high tennis courts in Anaheim. There was even a rink and league for that in Buena Park, California about that time. I recall watching some games there.
Until 1999 I was unaware that Ralph Backstrom had become commissioner of Roller Hockey International. He, Maury Silver, the late Art Guiney and I attempted to introduce in-line skates in Los Angeles in 1971-72. We were at least 10 years too soon. I can recall Ralph first trying out the skates in the alley behind Art's store in Santa Monica. Maury gave it a good try, had boots and wheel assemblies shipped to his assembly place in Santa Monica but I believe finally sold out his inventory to a major shoe line. His main business was golf shoes in Beverly Hills.
The following paragraph is from Joe Pelletier's Legends of Hockey Network
"It was in California that Backstrom first began experimenting with the first inline skates. "A friend of mine, Maury Silver, had a concept back in 1971 when I was playing for the Kings," recalled Backstrom. "His idea was to put wheels on the bottom of my skate boot instead of the blade. I remember taking my blade off and trying out the wheels. As a matter of fact I would train during the off-season with the so called super street skate." Backstrom and Silver's "Super Street Skate" was the forerunner to the inline skate. While neither were involved in the evolution to the inline skate, Backstrom would later go onto be a big part of the success of Roller Hockey, serving as the commissioner of Roller Hockey International."
Those who were familiar with the old store in Santa Monica will remember how difficult it was for Art to close for the day. First the phone would not stop ringing and someone always promised to be there before five or noon on Saturday. Then the phone would ring again. After we drew the shades and started to lock up, there was always someone knocking on the door and calling to Art. Always someone he knew well. He could tell by their voice. They usually had driven from the v-a-l-l-e-y, (spoken in Art's inimitable Boston lingo) and could not be turned away.
A highlight of those years was to go to a Kings game with Art. He would always be delivering equipment to someone he promised to meet at the Forum. Exactly where and at what time at the Forum was never certain. I can remember one Saturday, he was juggling goalie pads for Doc Warden as we crossed the parking lot from his favorite parking place, across the street so he could clear out quicker at the end of the game. Inside the lobby he was trying to write down something someone was ordering and hold a hot dog and a coke. I spotted Doc and he and I went back out and put the pads in his car. I rejoined Art and headed for our seats as the first period was underway. Several people called to us and Art stopped and waved up into the stands at whomever we thought had called. Seated he looked at the hot dog and asked, 'What did I buy this hot dog for? It's too cold now."
Just as each period got underway it was common for Art to be seen, walking backwards on a passageway, hot dog and coke in his hands, still engaged in conversation, nodding his head affirmatively, promising an order to someone.
Art had the quick mind of a comedian. I remember at a hockey league meeting we were finally asked to vote after a vehement argument between opposing parties. The room was tense and Art said, "I don't know what I'm voting for, but I'll vote yes." Everyone laughed and the tension was gone. I know that Bill Puckey from Chatsworth, President of the Greater Los Angeles Hockey League in the 60's loved Art and thoroughly appreciated his contributions. Bill has a great sense of humour and he and Art could have been a comedy team with contrasting backgrounds and mannerisms
Art, however, never joked when he was listening to Jazz. His jaw would slacken and the musicians and his friends knew that those super keen listening abilities were tuned in. Anyone who talked to him during the music was persona non grata. With no training in music, nor playing any instrument he could pinpoint the slightest errors. Not overly critical however, he was enraptured by the best performances.
But for female vocalists he said flatly, "I don't like the lady warblers." He referred to them as something among which the musicians had found some talent, notably, Sarah Vaughn. However in about 1986 he and I ventured on one of our sojourns to an obscure club to hear a marvelous singer named Elanie accompanied by her husband. Whether it was Elanie Elias or not I'm not sure. He had befriended the couple somewhere in L.A. and promised to 'be there', when she performed in a bar restaurant somewhere around Norwalk. She was delighted to see us since the place usually featured western music. He assured her, 'we love ya' traded a bunch of stories and we had a good time.
When you went to a jazz or major league sports event with Art you had better not be overawed by celebrities. It was a natural thing to hear, 'Hi, Art, how are you doing?' from Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Henry Mancini, Nat Pierce, Frankie Kapp, Terry Gibbs, Parnelli Jones, Dick Enberg, any of the Los Angeles Kings, players or staff, many of the L.A. Raiders, etc. At the Burbank rink one Saturday morning he introduced me to Bob Waterfield and pointed out that the lady over there was Jane Russell, both friends of his. In Santa Monica, Andy Williams and Bob Mitchum's wife would say 'Hi, Art.'
Art had worked in the studios for many years as a film editor and had gotten to know many celebrities. However he confided in me that he knew many from AA meetings. I think his tale of why he joined AA was one of his greatest. He had loved music clubs and had often got up and sung. These were drinking places and the driving penalties were not as severe then. One night when he was going from one club to another in Van Nuys a policeman stopped him and took him in for drunk driving. Art was destined to spend the night 'sobering up' until during the booking procedure the desk sergeant commented that they had the same place of birth, Arlington, Massachusetts. There ensued a chummy conversation about Arlington, when they had come to the west coast, their Irish heritage, etc. The sergeant said, "It's a good thing you didn't hit anyone driving in the condition you were in." He released Art the next morning with a verbal warning. That was close enough for Art. He went to the first AA meeting he could locate and never touched, nor even sniffed a drink again. He told me he always clearly remembered that Sergeants words.
We spent hours, over the years, reminiscing about Cambridge, Arlington, Belmont, jazz, hockey and our 'love lives'. Art was 16 years older than I and 13 years younger than my aunt who was the youngest of the four Nixes who also grew up in Arlington. He pal'd around with many of the same families that my aunt, uncles and father knew. He graduated from Arlington High in 1932, the year I was born.
Go to Art Guiney Part II 1916-1992 R.I.P.
Copyright, Joseph P. Nix, 1999-2013
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