I knew the man who discovered Roseanne — Trump’s favorite comedian — for the Tonight Show. Jim McCawley would be appalled by her today.
Roseanne Barr’s shocking racism and insane attacks on minorities and Blacks would shock the man who discovered her, a great Irishman called Jim McCawley I was proud to call a friend.
Back in 1972 and ’73 I struck up a friendship with a girl at Hunter College named Sharon Bloom. We were buddies. She told her husband, writer Jim McCawley, about me. He wanted to meet me. We became pals. He told me later he wanted to see the man who his wife was always talking about. Jim should have been worried because he had no competition from me because he was, well, a star.
At the time Jim was a freelance writer and published environment think pieces in the New York Times. He was a friend of Pete Seeger and was very involved with the building of Seeger’s sloop, The Clearwater, and the attempts to clean up the Hudson River. He even took me along for a Clearwater ride, one very chilly winter afternoon.
Jim loved words and show business. (He told me that what first attracted him to Sharon was that her last name was “Bloom” and what could go wrong with a relative of Leopold’s?) In fact, his one-bedroom apartment on Bleecker Street in Greenwich Village was covered with posters from plays he had worked on that had come through his native Washington, D.C. If I recall correctly, he worked in various capacities at the Ford Theatre.
We were very close friends for a couple of years and in the summer of 1975 after returning from one of my sojourns in Dublin, I was shocked to learn that Jim and Sharon had packed up and were moving to sunny California. He threw his belongings into his foreign car and was gone. We stayed in touch over the phone and when I was in California for business I stayed at his house.
Jim first worked writing news for KFWB, a local news radio station, but he soon returned to his first love, show business, when he went to work as a talent coordinator for various shows, finally stepping up to be the comedy talent coordinator for Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. In that capacity he won an Emmy in 1992 in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program category for one of Carson final shows featuring Robin Williams and Bette Midler.
While working for Carson, combing the comedy clubs of Los Angeles and elsewhere, he discovered many of the comedy talents of his era, including David Letterman, Ellen DeGeneres, Garry Shandling—and a woman named Roseanne Barr.
“Oh, Say Can You See”
After doing stand-up work, Barr had her own successful series, naturally called Roseanne, which ran from 1988 until 1997. She won both an Emmy and a Golden Globe for the show, which was purported to show how real America lived. One assumes, one of her fans was that well-known TV addict, Donald John Trump.
I seldom saw the show and to be bluntly honest, the sound of her voice was enough to get me to reach for the remote. So, basically—with all due respects to Jim McCawley—I paid little attention to one of his discoveries.
That was until 1990 when Barr “sang” the national anthem at a San Diego Padres baseball game. Propelling her comedic genius to new levels, Barr—apparently imitating a ballplayer adjusting his jock-strap—grabbed her crouch in the middle of the anthem.
On the recording you can hear the fans start to boo, which is not that surprising considering that the Padres always have had many sailors and soldiers from the surrounding Navy and Marine bases. There was a major uproar and then President George H.W. Bush called her performance “disgraceful.” You would expect that her career was done.
But this is America, the land that F. Scott Fitzgerald did not understand that well, because he famously said, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Man, was Fitzgerald wrong.
Fast-forward to Donald Trump’s America. And, guess what, she’s back!
President Bush, a war hero, thought her “disgraceful,” but President Trump, a five-time draft dodger, could not get enough of her.
And the adoration came in a Trump phone call to Barr after the relaunch of her show. “It was pretty exciting, I’ll tell you that much,” she told Good Morning America. “They said, ‘Hold please for the President of the United States of America’ and that was about the most exciting thing ever, and it was very sweet of him to congratulate us. We just kind of had a private conversation, but we talked about a lot of things,” she said. “He’s just happy for me. I’ve known him for many years, and he’s done a lot of nice things for me over the years. It was just a friendly conversation about work and television and ratings.” It’s amazing that with Russia and North Korea aiming nukes at the United States that the president would be so occupied with ratings of a television program.
Later Trump, working on his sixth or seventh infrastructure week in Ohio, praised Barr, and despite his current 40% Gallup Poll approval rating, said that his “movement” was catching on.
“Even look at Roseanne,” Trump told the crowd. “I called her yesterday. Look at her ratings! Look at her ratings! I got a call from Mark Burnett, he did The Apprentice. He’s a great guy. He said, ‘Donald, I called just to say hello and to tell you did you see Roseanne’s ratings?’ I said, how big where they? They were unbelievable. Over 18 million people. And it was about us.”
Funny, Trump failed to mention that the Stormy Daniels interview on 60 Minutes garnered over 22 million viewers. But why quibble?
A Ruthless Self-Promoter
The one thing that sticks out about Barr is that she will do anything for attention. Not getting enough love? Grab your crotch in front of servicemen at a baseball game. Still getting ignored? Talk about the size of former husband Tom Arnold’s tiny genitalia. Still not getting enough ink? Run for president, which she did in 2012, running for the nomination of the liberal Green Party. She was finally beaten out for the nomination by Dr. Jill Stein, one of Vladimir Putin’s favorite liberals. Not satisfied with defeat, Barr went on to run for president on the Peace and Freedom Party receiving 67,326 in the three states she was on the ballot. Ironically, Barr said she voted for President Obama. So, what was the point of running at all?
And with her new-found fame with the relaunch of her TV show and the love shown to her by Trump what was her next attention-grabbing trick?
How about child sex-trafficking rings and how Trump has heroically come to their rescue.
Yes, that should get some attention. “President Trump has freed so many children held in bondage to pimps all over this world,” she wrote on Twitter. “Hundreds each month. He has broken up trafficking rings in high places everywhere.”
Of course, it’s not true as David Weigel in the Washington Post pointed out: “Look again at the claim that came up again and again in the tweet thread, that law enforcement under Trump had freed more children from sex traffickers in one month than it did under any year of the Obama administration. It sounds incredible, because it's false, originating in a 2017 column by an obscure conservative writer named Liz Crokin.”
But why let the facts get in the way of a good Trumpian legend?
What Would Jim McCawley Think of Barr as Hitler?
But the renewed focus on Barr has bought back something from her past that I find more disturbing than anything that might be considered new and controversial. One of her attention-getting schemes was to dress up as Adolf Hitler and bake gingerbread Jews for a now deservedly defunct magazine named Heeb in 2009.
There she is, Hitler mustache and all, gleefully taking gingerbread Jews out of the oven.
Some of her supporters thought it a parody in the spirit of Mel Brooks hilarious “Springtime for Hitler.” But Brooks used parody to show us what pompous, evil fools the Nazis were. Barr’s misused parody reminded us what filthy hate existed in Germany to murder 6,000,000 Jews and how it should never be celebrated. Her portrayal of Hitler wasn’t in poor taste—it was in terrible taste.
Which brings me back to Jim McCawley.
Jim was a man of a liberal bent. He loved words and theatre. He loved Mother Earth and as an environmental expert wrote extensively on it. He was close to Pete Seeger, one of the great liberal activists of the 20th century. Jim McCawley, if he were alive today, would not be spouting Trump’s shameful lies and he would be a man, married to a Jew, who did not find anything remotely funny about Roseanne Barr doing an Adolf Hitler imitation.
Jim died in 1997 of lung cancer. If he were alive today I wonder what he would have to say about his famous discovery, Roseanne Barr? I can still see him at the Lion’s Head saloon in Greenwich Village, beer mug in hand, laughing through his blond beard. Perhaps that’s the best way to handle this reincarnation of Barr—laughter. But not with her. At her and her attention-getting ways.
Dermot McEvoy is the author of the The 13th Apostle: A Novel of Michael Collins and the Irish Uprising and Our Lady of Greenwich Village, both now available in paperback, Kindle and Audio from Skyhorse Publishing. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at www.dermotmcevoy.com. Follow The 13th Apostle on Facebook.