Harpooning The Harpooner
It was a very special evening at Greenwich Country Club for the Harpoon Club, an organization known for its mission to preserve the sense of humor of the residents of Greenwich. This time, however, the tables were turned: The Fall Guy, as the roastee is labeled, was none other than Ted Yudain Jr., the chief Harpooner whose act is eagerly anticipated each year by as many as 200 attending members and guests. Setting the tone for these occasions, Ted strums his guitar and sings a medley of ditties with his original lyrics before launching into the “Irish Washerwoman,” a patter song that miraculously includes the names of everyone in attendance. A lawyer by profession and a contributing thespian to Stamford’s Curtain Call, Ted appeared appropriately decked out as a Shakespearian actor.
The role of chief harpooner comes naturally to him. Ted Jr.’s father, Ted Sr., a former editor of Greenwich Time and Stamford Advocate, was one of the founders of the organization. He inherited his mantle from his uncle, the late beloved Bernie Yudain, a cofounder with his older brother Ted. Bernie was everyone’s favorite humorist with his well-read column in Greenwich Time, and he was the Harpoon Club’s head roaster for nearly forty of its fifty-seven years. But, if the club thought it had enough Yudains, who should deliver the most lethal, yet good-natured, assault on Ted Jr. but his own son, Ted III, third-generation pretender to the throne.
Now, if all this sounds a bit incestuous, we hasten to point out the wide range of famous (and occasionally infamous) personalities chosen over the years by the selection committee, known as the Dirty Eleven, in which this writer has the dubious honor of being a member. There were three state and three U.S. senators; five governors, including one with a hot tub problem, two police chiefs and a volunteer fire chief all named Robbins with two “bs” (there’s that incest problem again); three judges; and at last count, seven first selectmen, including John Margenot, who hogged five terms. Add to this a variety of corporate heads, a Catholic priest, a half-dozen publishers and editors, and several entertainers (politicians not included).
Speaking of entertainers, it’s safe to say that the most hilarious roast in recent years was the roasting of Victor Borge, or should we say Victor Borge’s spearing of the Harpoon Club. The comic concert pianist’s quick wit and incredible timing made a shambles of the committee’s well-prepared program, so we just tore up the script. We should have known. When Bernie Yudain went to Borge’s Belle Haven home to ask him if he would agree to be our next Fall Guy, he heard piano music as he waited at the front door. When Borge finally appeared and Bernie timorously introduced himself, Borge shook his hand vigorously and declared, “Yu Dane? Me Dane Too!”
Then there was Malcolm Pray, self-made auto mogul, philanthropist, Republican stalwart, car collector and one-time bon vivant. Malcolm was not known for a raucous sense of humor, so before asking him if he would agree to be our Fall Guy, we asked if it was true that he had no sense of humor. “Oh, I have a sense of humor,” said he, “it’s just that I don’t find many things funny.” As it turned out, he immediately got into the spirit and was well- prepared. He made his grand entrance in top hat, white tie and tails, driving a Styrofoam cutout of his trademark Delahaye Roadster he’d created for the event. To top off the evening, he even arranged a surprise visit by three gorgeous USO gals clad in red, white and blue miniskirts who led the Harpooners in service songs. If there were objections to this first-ever introduction of women to our all-male Hall of Infamy, they were greatly muted.
Members of the Dirty Eleven are not immune to being chosen as targets. Former First Selectman Tom Ragland, a native West Virginian, came in a hillbilly costume. “The town I grew up in,” he said, “was so small the town hooker was still a virgin.” There were other lines that brought down the house, but most are not totally suitable for publication.
The Harpoon Club is all about having fun and laughing at ourselves. Most of all, it adheres to the original vision of its founders in preserving a membership representing a true cross section of Greenwich people who look forward enthusiastically to each year’s harpooning.