My “Dyn-O-mite” Day with Jimmy Walker

Today’s radio chat with CHML’s Scott Thompson is, as Jimmy Walker would say, “Dyn-O-mite.” That’s because Walker himself figures in a great story or two near the end of the segment, which you can listen to in it’s entirety here.
But first, I worked in a preview of my interview earlier today with Air Farce legends Roger Abbott and Don Ferguson. They, along with the other five Farcers, take their final regular season bow Friday night at 8 p.m. on CBC’s Air Farce: The Final Flight.
You wouldn’t know it from Farce‘s stellar ratings this year (soaring close to the million mark most weeks as the show builds through the half hour), but maybe this is the time to get out of the goofing on politicians business–especially now that Parliament Hill has devolved ito its own political pie fight. Both Roger and Don said they had to tear up the script several times this week as the silliness ensued. The interviews are for the Dec. 27 Starweek cover story, saluting Air Farce‘s true final flight, that one last New Year’s Eve special. Prepare the chicken cannon!
Scott also congratulated me on one year of TVFMF (or TV “eff my eff” as cheeky John Doyle at the Globe and Mail calls it). Meant to give a shout out to Scott and CHML in the last post for permitting me to throw our weekly radio talk up on this site, it has added a nice aural dimension to the mix.
Walked Scott through my day with Erik Estrada this week (already detailed below), and then moved on to yesterday’s celebrity encounter from the ’70s–Jimmy “J.J.” Walker.
The veteran stand up comedian was in Toronto to shoot an episode of a show I’m apparently not supposed to blab about yet (so don’t go here to get more details). Suffice to say it is a new Canadian show about classic television,and its coming to a digital channel with five syllable’s that rhymes with “Stroumboulopoulpos.”
Walker is no stranger to T.O. He’s been coming up here since the ’60s, working everything from the Royal York’s Imperial Room to the opening of Yuk Yuks.
His big break, of course, came on the Norman Lear sitcom Good Times (1974-79). The Maude spinoff (itself spun off from All in the Family), originally starred John Amos and Esther Rolle, but it was Walker who broke out immediately as the gangly son with the chicken ranch hat and “Dyn-O-mite” catch phrase.
Both of which Lear hated, says Walker, who picked the goofy hat up in a store in his native New York. This was after he was rejected for a movie role because the casting director thought he wasn’t–get this–black enough! Walker left the audition, went straight out and bought the stupidest hat he could find, went back to the audition and landed the part.
He later wore the lucky hat on his way to his audition for Good Times, but took it off when he got into the room. “Where’s the hat?” asked director John Rich, a TV veteran who helmed dozens of episodes of The Dick Van Dyke Show and All in the Family before going on to co-produce MacGyver with former “Fonzie” Henry Winkler.
Rich insisted Walker wear the crazy cloth hat throughout the shooting of the pilot, even in the indoor scenes. This bugged the hell out of Lear–the most successful sitcom producer in the history of television–who was damned if he was going to surrender his socially conscious comedy to a cartoon character. Lear also hated Walker’s enormously popular catch phrase, “Dyn-O-mite!” another detail seized upon by Rich, who literally coached Walker on how to sell it, putting on the hat and mugging to the cameras in rehearsal.

Lear exploded when he saw the “Dyn-O-mite” rushes and tried to run Rich off the set (he had already canned one director–Perry Rosemond, the Canadian comedy legend who still directs Air Farce episodes. Talk about six degrees of separation!). Rich stood his ground and told Lear if he wanted a hit–which was all Rich cared about–the hat and catch phrase effin’ stayed. They did, and while disgruntled Rolle and Amos both bailed on the show half way through its run, it sold a lot of lunch pails and T-Shirts and lasted six “Dyn-O-mite” seasons.
Here’s the kicker–Rich only worked on Good Times for two weeks, splitting after he set up the pilot.
The hat? You can see it today in the Smithsonian, next to Archie Bunker’s chair and other Lear memorabilia.

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