My dad, James Whitmore, Part One

I was 12 or 13. I was drunk. Behind bars. The cop was asking me how to spell urinate. I was crying, pretending to be James Dean, saying “nobody understands me.”

I had been arrested for pissing in public view. In fact, it was, if memory serves me correctly, in the parking lot of the then-Hot Dog Show. A gathering place for rich white kids every Friday and Saturday night in the Pacific Palisades of Southern California. That’s where we went. Before going to the Hot Dog Show this particular night, I went with friends and drank alcohol. One of my friends, I believe he was from New York, warned me to use the bathroom if I was going to go to the bathroom. I ignored the warning.

When we pulled up and parked in the crowded parking lot. I got out of the car and proceeded to do exactly what i was warned against. I started pissing in the parking lot. And the cops came. A bunch of them as I remember. Surrounded me. Lights flashing. Hands on weapons. They were ready for anything. I was urinating. Drunk, punk kid.

My dad, actor and twice-nominated for an Academy Award, James Whitmore, came down to retrieve his wayward son. He was to do that countless times over the next nearly two decades until sobriety struck.

This is where the journey begins to pay tribute to my dad who never left me wanting and I, in return, disparaged his name. Sometimes, so his grandchildren could hear. I would say things like, “if it wasn’t for his money, I wouldn’t be around him at all.” He always had my back. I rarely had his.

i wanted to give him his due as a dad. And a great dad he was. If you read these following blogs, you will agree, this was a great dad. I am not going to deal with his many triumphs as an actor because that legacy is solid, frozen in film upon film upon film. He was a great actor. Also, he was a great dad. I didn’t realize this until near his death. I am always too late, it seems.

I heard a phrase in a movie once – I do love movies – where the lead character is speaking to his estranged daughter and he says, “I am not made well.” Boy, that hit home to me.

Please understand, I am not complaining or justifying my behavior. I have had a great life, as you will see, if you follow along with me. My dad did bail me out time and time again and long into sobriety. My dad bailed out my family.

This is not to say my mom wasn’t a great mom. She was. She bailed me out too. I hurt her, but she threw me a lifeline also. I just never thought she liked me. Why would she? I was a pain in the ass. I was an embarrassment. All I did was get drunk, lie, hurt others with my behavior and generally not be welcomed. I had a great family.

My dad never gave up on me. Never. Here is where the journey begins. A dad who loved his son, actually all his sons, more than he was given credit. He gets it now, for sure.

Eventually, the police let me go that morning after urinating in public view. I do not know what happened to the police report. Nor do I know what happened to the ensuing court appearance, which never came to light. My dad came and got me. I sat in the car, I am sure sullen. He loved me. I didn’t appreciate it at the time.

I do now. Part 2 to follow.


About stevewhitmore

Former award-winning newspaperman and broadcast journalist, both radio and TV, spanning three decades. Army-trained paralegal, court bailiff and prosecutor's lead investigator for the 8th Infantry Division's Judge Advocate General's Corp., Mainz, Germany. 1973-1975.
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