By Bud Lamoreaux
It was early in our odyssey across America. We hadn't yet reached Charles Town or Calder or the county fairs of our future. The rookie TV producer and the erudite baseball writer, turned actor, turned aspiring TV essayist were standing in a winner's circle. The words came fast and effortlessly. "So caparisoned," intoned Woodie Broun. I looked quizzically. He went on with his seemingly obscure description of a winner draped in a blanket of flowers. Except the word caparison had captured the moment. Heywood Hale Broun and TV were an instant fit.
The next piece of the puzzle was the jacket. He wore his first madras coat for a story at Gulfstream on Buckpasser. It came from the Broadway play Send Me No Flowers, where, of course, he played a cemetery plot salesman. The CBS bosses, more used to correspondents in pin stripes, were amused. A Broadway career was jettisoned and a TV star was born, although Woodie never thought so. Call him a good handicapper or a master of the metaphor and he would beam, but he never considered himself a star.
But for the next 10 years every Saturday night on the "CBS Evening News," Woodie Broun became almost as well known as Walter Cronkite and Charles Kuralt. In some circles, especially at the track, he would have won a popularity contest hands down.
He was a generous man, generous with his wisdom, his humor, and his friendship. He showed up at a racetrack and people perked up. "Hey, Mr. Broun, love that jacket." "Woodie, that Secretariat piece was terrific." His mustache would bob, as he replied, and everyone smiled. Those who engaged him in conversation were always rewarded with a bon mot or two cleverly wrapped in language that was easy to understand. He was like a kid in a candy store when CBS gave him a role on the Triple Crown broadcast team.
Once we were doing a story at Belmont on the New Yorkese of trainer Johnny Campo. In the last race of the day a 10-year-old claimer named Try Cash caught Woodie's eye. A laminated chart of the old campaigner's wire-to-wire victory earned a permanent place in the Broun wallet alongside a picture of Secretariat. He was a true sentimentalist.
He wrote three books and collected first editions. His acting credits included 14 Broadway plays, numerous early television programs, and a few movies, but his passion was racing. He owned horses including a recent stakes winner, Careless Heiress. He had a telephone account with New York Racing Association and once, not trusting the overseas phone lines, gave me his secret code so he could have a bet on the Belmont while he was in Ireland.
In his pre-teen years, his father, the columnist Heywood Broun, took him to Agua Caliente and exposed him to the science of handicapping. Summers in Saratoga got him hooked and soon young Broun had an account with the infamous bookmaker Frank Erickson. He loved telling the story of meeting John A. Drake, who, along with "Bet a Million" Gates engineered a betting coup, which earned Gates his nickname. Young Woodie asked a fatherly bookie about the dapper figure in the white linen suit and wide straw hat. "Why that's John A. Drake." "Does he still bet?" Woodie asked. "Only a few hundred for laughs, young man."
In his memoir of our television travels, Tumultuous Merriment, he wrote, "There are a number of absolutely fascinating psychological reasons for my devotion to horse racing, but...I'll spare you mine and simply say that every closet in my head is bulging with racing lore and racing memories." Of the racing stock in Charles Town, he wrote, "These old warriors have more mileage on them than a New York City cab...but I often think, when people speak scornfully of the 'leaky roof' circuit, that the detractors don't know what vast schemes and impossible dreams are hatched as the geriatric cavalry circles under the lights."
A few years ago, Woodie sent a pamphlet to his friends entitled Remember Me. It was, of course, a brilliant essay about life being too fast and people being caught up in personal success rather than good deeds. He wanted to be remembered, he said, not for his Broadway or TV roles, not for his books, but as one who put a smile on our lips. We're smiling, dear friend, through our tears. BUD LAMOREAUX is a senior staff producer for CBS and a four-time Eclipse Award winner for outstanding television coverage.