It started, innocently enough...Benita and I were asked to speak at a Bond drive in Wilmington, North Carolina, with the government footing the bill. Always happy to help, we flew cross-country with Howard Hughes, and had a wonderful time with very gracious people. The next morning was quite full, shooting both promotional pieces, and pictures with various civic groups, in a variety of dress and headgear associated with their organizations (I look quite silly in a 'Moose' headdress, by the way!) When the shooting was complete, we donned our own clothing, with the afternoon free.
De Soto had provided a prototype of their new model at our disposal, so I decided to treat Benita to a real treat...a seafood dinner at Calabash, North Carolina's world-famous fishing port.
The drive would take a couple of hours, through countrysides of tobacco and cotton fields, and lush forests. I was captivated by the beauty surrounding us, and Benita enjoyed my enthusiasm!
"Ronnie," she giggled, "I haven't seen you so excited since Juliet cut her first tooth!"
"Really?" I replied. "You're right, I am excited! I adore the Carolinas, with their rich farmlands, green meadows, and friendly people...It's an entirely different world than Hollywood, more peaceful, more serene..."
Benita suddenly touched my arm, concerned. "Ronnie, there's a police car behind us...he's flagging us to pull over..."
"Really?" I asked, puzzled. "Well, this is curious! He's passing in front of us...Let me see what the problem is." Stopping the car, I climbed out, as a very excitable, skinny deputy eyed me, suspiciously.
"You rich people in your souped-up sports cars are all alike," he said, matter-of-factly. "Never obeying the traffic rules, always thinking you're above the law! But it's your unlucky day, pal, running up against Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife!"
"I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage, sir, as I haven't a clue of what you're talking about!"
"What's with that accent? Are you from Boston, or something?"
"Boston?" I chuckled. "No, actually I'm from England."
"Yeah, where they drive on the wrong side of the street!" he said, smugly. "Maybe that's why you missed the 'City Limit' sign, and reduced speed limit!"
I was surprised. "I swear, I never saw any signs," I said. "Had I, I certainly would have slowed down! I'm well-known for my honesty; perhaps you've heard of me, I'm Ronald Colman."
Deputy Fife seemed to find this hilarious, which irked me, a bit. "You're Ronald Colman? Yeah, and I'm that guy Barrymore's monkey!"
"Well, actually, I do see a resemblance...but I insist, I AM Colman!"
"Then show me some I.D.!"
I dug through all my pockets, then had Benita check the driver's seat, fruitlessly. Then I realized what had happened..."I must have dropped it when the shooting ended..." I explained.
"That was an unfortunate slip of the tongue! What I meant was..."
Fife dove to the ground! "P-Put your hands in the air!" he shrieked. "I'm p-placing you under arrest, you...you gangster!"
And so, leaving our car on the side of the road ("Gomer will tow it to the station"), Benita and I got to experience a visit to the bustling community of Mayberry, North Carolina!
While I was incarcerated in a cell with a semi-permanent 'guest of the city', I instructed Benita to call my lawyer, Ben Matlock...and then posed for the last pictures I'd ever expected to have taken!
Anyone who believes Southern Justice is slow is in for a surprise...the next morning, I, and Benita, found ourselves in a courtroom, facing a Judge!
"Ronnie?" Benita gasped, "You know who that looks like???"
I nodded. "All small-town judges look like Andy Hardy's father," I explained. "I just hope he's as sympathetic..."
"Barney," the Judge said, "I'm in a particularly foul mood, this morning...where's Andy?"
"He's still at the Sheriff's Conference, your Honor," Fife replied. "I'm expecting him back, today or tomorrow."
"And this couldn't wait?"
"No, sir! I captured, single-handed, this notorious gunman...I even got a confession out of him!" His chest puffed up. "Just a typical day's work for me, y'know!"
"Oh, very well..." The Judge turned to me. "Do you have an attorney present?"
From the back of the room, a familiar voice called out, "Where's room service in this joint?"
It was GROUCHO MARX!
"Benita!" I hissed. "Are you crazy??? Where's Ben Matlock?"
"He's gone fishing with Bing Crosby...remember that trip you had to miss because of the Bond drive? Ben took your place..."
"When I called the house to check on Juliet, Groucho was teaching the babysitter French..."
"Groucho doesn't speak French."
"Well, he kept saying, 'Ooo-La-La! Ooo-La-La!', so I assumed..."
"When I told him what had happened, he asked me how much we paid Matlock, then said, 'The finest legal mind this side of Alcatraz is on it's way!' Did I do alright, dear?"
"I'm going to get the chair," I muttered.
"Excuse me, everybody," the Judge called out. "I hate breaking up this chummy little gathering, but this is A COURT OF LAW!" He stared at Groucho. "How does the defendant plead?"
With his inimitable walk, Groucho strode up to the bench...
"Glad you asked, Clyde! You like money, I like money...and Colman, here is loaded! Just say the Secret Word, a common word you hear every day, and we both can sip mint juleps on the plantation 'till Sherman marches in..."
"Are you suggesting a bribe?"
"Ah, the SECRET WORD!" Groucho blew a whistle, and from out of his pocket, he pulled a rubber duck holding a sign with 'BRIBE' written in block letters! "Where's Fenneman? Give this kid a hundred dollars!"
The Judge looked apoplectic! "In my FORTY-SEVEN YEARS on the bench, this is the most DISGUSTING, BLATANT act of criminal PANDERING I've EVER seen! GET OUT OF MY COURTROOM OR I'LL HANG YOU, MYSELF!!!!!"
With a gulp, Groucho backed away, and ran to my table.
"You're on your own, Colman!" he whispered. "I'll bake you a cake with a hacksaw in it..."
Then he charged out of the courtroom!
"Oh, Ronnie," Benita wailed, "What's going to happen, now?" An image of the next forty years came into my mind...
A tiny stone cell...a cellmate named Bruno...never picking up the bar of soap dropped in the shower...Johnny Cash concerts...
"Benita," I said, gently, "He'll probably let you off, lightly...you should divorce me, find someone else...George Sanders, maybe..."
"Oh, NO, Ronnie!" she sobbed.
"Your Honor, permission to approach the bench," a voice with a Southern twang called out, behind me...
The Judge brightened. "Andy! Glad you're back! Can you straighten this mess out?"
"I'm sure I can."
"Then please, take the stand!"
The Sheriff calmly took the oath, and was seated.
"This fella, here, he's Ronald Colman, the actor from Hollywood. He was in Wilmington promoting Bonds, and taking photos with different organizations."
"That's what HE says," Fife blurted.
"He was tellin' the truth, Barney. I was in one of the group shots, with all the Sheriffs!" He reached into his pocket. "By the way, Mr. Colman, you dropped this," and he held out my wallet! The bailiff handed it to me, and I nodded, in appreciation.
"But Andy, he ignored the Speed Limit sign!" Fife pleaded.
"WHAT sign?" Sheriff Taylor asked. "You mean the one you knocked over when you put the patrol car in reverse, accidentally, last week? The one YOU were SUPPOSED to put back up?"
Fife slumped in his chair. The Judge slowly shook his head. "It appears that there is no case, at all! Except..." he looked at me, "if you want to press charges against Deputy Fife for false imprisonment..."
I smiled, and shook my head. "And have to remain in Mayberry until another court date? No, thank you!"
"I understand completely, sir. CASE DISMISSED!"
Sheriff Taylor walked, meaningfully, up to Deputy Fife...
"Barn," he said, quietly, "If you ever pull another hare-brained stunt like this, I'll have you as a permanent Safety Patrolman at Opie's school...Understand?"
Fife nodded his head, vigorously!
All that was left for me to do was to pick up my belongings from the jail, and retrieve our car. I honestly felt sorry for Fife, who apologized to me, again and again! He even suggested to Sheriff Taylor that I be given some of "Aunt Bea's Preserves", as a token of his regret.
"Are you trying to KILL him?" Taylor replied.
I decided it was a very good time to leave!
THE RONALD COLMAN SAGA
"The Dinner Party for Erich von Stroheim"
"The Misadventures of John Barrymore's Cheeky Monkey, Clementine"
"The All-Star Surprise Party for Laine"
"The Classic Hollywood Long Beach-Catalina Yacht Race"
"The Ronald Colman Seance"
"My "Lost Horizon" Surprise!"
"A Night at the Hollywood Canteen!"
"But I Thought You Were..."
"The People vs. Ronald Colman"
"The Epic Hearst Costume Party..."
"The Monkey on Ronald Colman's Back Saga" (A 9-Part Adventure):
"A MAN, A MONKEY, the MOB, and RONALD COLMAN!" (A 5-Part Adventure):
"Introduction: Broadway, 1920..."
"Chapter 1: A LONG Memory..."
"Chapter 2: Barrymore's Reply..."
"Chapter 3: Barrymore in Cement!"
"Chapter 4: A Desert Grave..."
"SURPRISE PARTY for RONALD COLMAN!"
"The RONALD COLMAN Banner Collection"
Finally, if you'd like to 'go to the source', with over 200 photos of Ronald Colman's life and career, please visit Myspace.com/Ronald Colman...the page that started it all!