Over the years I’ve met and interviewed an interesting mix of folks ranging from pool hustler Minnesota Fats and Dallas Cowboy quarterback Roger Staubach to World War II Hiroshima bomber pilot Paul Tibbets and Vice President Spiro Agnew.
However, during my years as a newspaper reporter and PR practitioner I’ve never met a personality as interesting, entertaining, talented and enthusiastic as Don Poynter who– if he already hasn’t been — should be a topic for the Reader’s Digest “Most Unforgettable Character I’ve Ever Met” series.
I first heard about Don some five years ago when current City Commissioner and Palace bartender Johnny Miller called urging me to come to North 3rd Street’s Karibrew, where he was bartending at the time, to meet what he said “….is one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever talked to.”
Sitting across the bar from Mr. Miller at that time sipping on a pint of stout was Don Poynter, the father of Karibo owner and current City Commissioner Tim Poynter.
I couldn’t make it that day, but I finally caught up with Don at Karibrew Monday, April 10 at the invitation of Commissioner Poynter.
In a nutshell Don is an entertainer, an athlete, an entrepreneur, an inventor, smart, witty and that’s just scrapping the surface. He’s also 93-years old and looks and acts 30 years younger.
While the Cincinnati resident sipped a pint of stout, I sat mesmerized as he rattled off some of the most fascinating stories I’ve ever heard. How fascinating? Well, I had my five-year-old grandson, Luke, in tow and that evening he repeated to his parents and my wife, Linda, some of the stories Don told during our afternoon session. Normally a five-year-old has the attention span of a gnat, but Luke knows a good yarn when he hears one.
The only problem was asking questions, because Don is about as deaf as a stone. But hey, he’s 93.
Anyone who has met Don’s son, Tim, knows the City Commissioner can be scrappy, outspoken, funny and supports his arguments with facts and a smile, making you feel comfortable even though you may have just lost a debate with him. He comes by those traits honestly.
You have probably seen Tim’s dad on TV, at a sporting event, heard him on the radio, or seen or purchased one of his inventions, or maybe played on one of his golf courses.
A few years ago Life Magazine published a special edition featuring 40 of its most memorable photographs over the years. One of them was of the late busty blonde actress Jayne Mansfield in her swimming pool in 1957 surrounded by Jayne Mansfield Hot Water Bottles that were invented and designed by Don.
“I stayed six weeks in California sculpting her for the mold,” he told me. “I could have done it in two days but thought — why rush it?”
Personally, I recall the Jayne Mansfield hot water bottle and a number of other whacky and highly successful novelty items conceived inside Don’s creative brain including whiskey-flavored toothpastes, a variety of Match Box toys, such as the “Steer-And-Go” car — and my all time favorite — “The Thing”, a black box with a hand that came out and punched a button that turned the vibrating box it housed off and then disappeared back inside. It evolved into a hand that snatched coins from a slot and took them inside the box, and was eventually used as the model for “Thing” the hand in the Addams Family TV series. More than 13 million of the original “Thing” boxes were sold. Don also created another novelty item that was used on that show called Uncle Fester’s Light Bulb, a bulb that turned on when you inserted it in your mouth or ear.
Other successful novelty items he created include a toilet seat that says: “Move over you’re blocking the light,” when someone sits on it; crossword puzzle toilet paper; a “creeping golf ball” that edges its way to the hole; an “Arnold Plumber Putter”, made out of pipe fittings that a young Tim Poynter and his sister, Molly, were put to work at home assembling. He has well over 100 patents but has never bothered to tally the exact number.
In the early 1960s while working with an advertising agency that eventually became the worldwide ad and branding giant Young & Rubicam, he created the iconic “melting wax” that adorns the top of Maker’s Mark whiskey bottles, making that brand easily recognizable from the rest of the look-a-like bottles on barroom and liquor store shelves to this day.
He says he still plays around with ideas and not too long ago produced a project for Ripley’s Believe It or Not that involved creating small cars driven by ants. The only issue with the ant-driven automobiles was getting the ants to cooperate, a problem he solved by gluing them to the driver’s seat.
“The Internet changed the novelty business,” he says.” At its peak there were more than 2,000 jobbers and today there are probably two left.
Don and some of his inventions have appeared on or in “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, “Good Morning America,” “Late Night with David Letterman,” “The Jack Parr Show,” “What’s My Line,” and “Life” and “Time” magazines, among others.
But bizarre novelties are just part of Don’s varied and unusual professional background.
Following military service he served as the University of Cincinnati’s drum major and before graduating with a Business degree in 1949, was ranked as one of the nation’s best baton twirlers, a talent that led Harlem Globetrotter founder Abe Saperstein to hire him to entertain at halftime performances where he traveled the world twirling flaming batons and machetes while riding a unicycle. (Hey, folks, I’m not making any of this up!) Oh, while in college he supported himself by performing as a ventriloquist and doing magic shows, talents he perfected while in the US Army.
Along the way he met Eva Peron and Monaco’s Prince Rainer; produced a stage show starring Basil Rathbone; considers Doris Day a good friend, and produced a Saturday morning radio and TV show that I used to listen to and watch as a kid called “There’s No School Today” featuring Big John & Sparky.
Did I mention that while in high school he worked as a radio actor earning $50 a week, more than many adults of that day were paid, or that he built five golf courses and created the world’s smallest working record player that sold along with 39 tiny records that he recorded with live orchestras, Well, he did all of that and more.
He was also sued for $10 million by the creator of the Dr. Seuss books and won in a landmark case that’s still used in textbooks today.
I can hardly wait for Don’s next visit to Fernandina to visit son Tim so I can catch up on the rest of this amazing man’s amazing life.
We Scooped The NY Times! When the Amelia Island News-Wrecker scoops the New York Times, then the Old Gray Lady has a problem deeper than its liberal bias. Good neighbor, friend and fun liberal sparing pal Christine Harmon rang our doorbell the other day and handed me an April 21 copy of the Times that featured on its front page a photo of an iceberg sitting off the coast. Well, the coast of Newfoundland, but so what, the Wrecker had a story last May that featured a photo of an iceberg sitting off the coast of Fernandina’s Main Beach. And speaking of the News-Wrecker it’s scheduled to be on “new stands” on Amelia Island just in time to poke fun at the annual Shrimp Festival celebration, the city and county commissions, sea turtles, Concours d’Elegance, and anything else Amelia Islanders consider sacred. Look for it starting May 5 at local restaurants, bars and shops.
Jumbo Fun! We took five-year-old grandson Luke to his first professional baseball game April12 to watch the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp play the Chattanooga Lookouts at the Ball Grounds in Jacksonville and the entire experience confirmed my opinion that there isn’t a better sport anywhere than minor league baseball.
We had terrific seats behind third base with our five of them costing just $52 and even witnessed a grand slam home run to ice the game for the home team, 7-1. The stands were sparkling clean to greet a record breaking opening day crowd of some 10,500 enthusiastic and well behaved folks. The food and drink prices were more than reasonable and the crowd appeared to revel in the new team name.
Luke left the stadium a baseball and Jumbo Shrimp fan, sporting a Jumbo Shrimp cap and a ball courtesy of team give-a-ways. Where else can you buy a two dollar hot dog and on Thirsty Thursdays get beer for a buck? So far fans are flocking to games with the team setting attendance records for a five-day home stand. The Shrimp are at home against the Mobile BayBears tonight, tomorrow, Sunday and Monday. Check out their schedule at www.Jaxshrimp.com.
Speaking of minor league baseball and team names, in a new book about legendary Hall of Fame player and manager Casey Stengel, called appropriately enough, “Casey Stengel,” author Marty Appel writes about Stengel’s first minor league team, in Kankakee. Originally called the Kays, the team’s home field sat next to the Illinois Eastern Hospital for the Insane where its residents watched games from their windows some 107 years ago. It wouldn’t happen in today’s politically correct environment but the team eventually became known in newspapers and through word of mouth as the Kankakee Lunatics. Stengel, at 19 was the Lunatics’ cleanup batter and centerfielder.
Today my favorite all-time minor league team name is the Lugnuts of Lansing, Michigan followed in order by the Hartford Yard Goats, Toledo’s Mud Hens, Jumbo Shrimp opponent Montgomery’s Biscuits, Akron’s Rubber Ducks (also owned by Jumbo Shrimp owner, Ken Babby) the Albuquerque Isotopes and the Savannah Bananas. The Savannah Sand Gnats moved to Columbia and became the Fireflies, where former University of Florida Quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow now plays. The team I assume, retired the name “Sand Gnats.” That was a mistake as I was in US Army Basic Training at Fort Jackson, SC in Columbia in the 1960s and can personally attest that the Sand Gnats would be more than appropriate.
In My Opinion….: Former IBM colleague and friend Bill Shaffer sent me this interesting observation by Paul Bedard writing at WashingtonExaminer.com, April 23:
A new Washington Post poll that declares President Trump as “the least popular president in modern times,” waits until the second to last paragraph to reveal another tidbit: . . . [Hillary] Clinton would still lose to the president, despite the high disapproval ratings and problems with his first 100 days detailed by the paper. It reads: “The new survey finds 46 percent saying they voted for Clinton and 43 percent for Trump, similar to her two-point national vote margin. Asked how they would vote if the election were held today, 43 [percent] say they would support Trump and 40 percent say Clinton.”
Bill adds the following: “But remember, lads: Surveys measure verbal behavior. They are called opinion polls for a reason. Opinion doesn’t pay the freight. Behavior does. It is my opinion that I am perfect. My wife knows better because of my behavior.”
Random Thoughts: I’ve never met a woman named Blanche or Beulah or a guy named Elmer or Percy, even though those names are common in films and novels. *** The NCAA authorizes its teams to play games in Cuba and China but says they can’t play in North Carolina due to human rights violations there.
Liberal Gasbag: “I believe natural gas is a good, clean, cheap alternative to fossil fuels,” says Nancy Pelosi, who obviously doesn’t realize that natural gas is a fossil fuel.
Drinking, Dining & Dancing: PJD’s, the 12 South 2nd Street neighborhood craft beer bar that’s the brainchild of Pajamadave Voorhees and his pretty blonde fiancé, Zan Maddox, is coming along nicely and from everything I’ve seen and heard will be open in time for the May 4 Shrimp Festival parade. I sat on the patio area in one of the new chairs and high tops watching Dave and Zan busily scurrying about and enjoyed a soft summer breeze as I chatted with passersby and predict this will be one very busy and fun location. Joey Ledet at the Surf has perfected the art of making the muffuletta, and that’s because a relative of his owns the famous Central Grocery in New Orleans, the home of the original, thus giving Joey an advantage in obtaining the correct ingredients and honing his muffuletta making skills. But I hear that Karibo may muscle in on muffuletta making with Theresa Poynter offering them year around. Normally she puts them on the Karibo’s limited Shrimp Festival menu but demand has dictated that she keep them there. We’ll see. Kevin Dooner, Michelle Seder and Hez Houze, the personable trio behind the new Sandbar & Kitchen (formerly Sandy Bottoms) are converting the coveted on-the-beach bar and eatery with an “under-the-pier” look and have gutted both the interior and outside and are awaiting more city permits to keep going. The outside bar is a huge 30-seat oval that offers its 15 or so east side patrons a great view of the waves crashing onto the beach as well as the bikini-clad gals. An upstairs bar looking out on the ocean seats a dozen or so and will also be in much demand. The inside will also feature additional doors opening onto the patio and a serving bar to it as well as a unique wine cellar that enables customers to read labels and gives the impression that the wine is sitting in an aquarium. These are just a few of the changes planned as they attempt an early summer opening that I believe will have folks waiting in line to snag a seat. Stay tuned. The Al Waldis and T.J. Pelletier owned downtown Salty Pelican has upped its peel-and-eat shrimp price to $10 from $8.00 for a half pound, but it’s still the best price I’ve found on the island or nearby and well worth the visit. There no better way to spend a Sunday evening than sitting on the Pelican’s upstairs deck at sunset peeling shrimp, quaffing a cold beer and listening to musicians Dan Voll and Michelle Anders. The “If you can’t find it here, it probably doesn’t exist” Bodega BuyGo, founded by Randy Bowman and Michael Smith, will be moving in July to space in the empty Fred’s the corner of South 8th Street and Ash, a location that puts it within easy walking distance of many downtown B&Bs, hotels and homes. I suspect it will be one of the busiest places in town with its wide selection of wines, tastings, coffee bar, groceries, etc. The second Sounds on Centre of 2017 featuring Skip Towne & the Bounty Hunters, will be held this coming Thursday following the 6 pm Shrimp Festival Parade.