The big pink chair will be empty this Eagles’ season.
It was Uncle Curt’s chair for Eagles daytime games, when he walked over from his Center City apartment to mine, two blocks away.
Two things were certain: Uncle Curt brought a half-gallon of Diet Pepsi that he bought in the suburbs, to avoid Philly’s exorbitant tax. The second certainty was that he’d share the big pink chair with Nut Bag, my Shih Tzu mix who had fallen deeply in love with Curt Block, who we called Uncle Curt because of his relationship to the dog.
The dog’s affection was easy to understand because Curt was a likeable guy. Nut Bag (not his real name) likes all people, but there are a couple who make him almost jump out of his skin with happiness. Curt was one. Nut Bag’s joy was unrestrained when he saw Uncle Curt coming, all madly wagging tail and leaping up on a leg.
Curt was a dog lover, so he didn’t mind sharing the chair with my dog, not even when Nut Bag went from the chair to Curt’s lap. Curt would happily pet the mutt.
Curt was in my life longer than in my dog’s, a lot longer.
We met in L.A. in June 1980. I last spoke to him three days ago. He died in his sleep Saturday night at 83. It was completely unexpected, his weeping daughter told me on the phone.
In 1980, he was a network flack for NBC; I was a newly appointed TV critic for the Philadelphia Daily News, and I was critical. Some of us journalists were, others were mild, some bland.
The NBC PR crew was the most sociable. CBS was the most stiff, believing its reputation as the Tiffany Network. ABC was the youngster on the block, often paranoid because its success was achieved with shlock programming, sometimes called “jiggle TV,” as illustrated by Three’s Company.
I’d see Curt in January and June in L.A. — the semi-annual event when the networks show off their programming and make their executives and stars available for interviews. These sessions sometimes lasted up to three weeks, a long time to be away from home. Serious TV journalists worked 7 days a week, sometimes from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m., if they were filing stories from the coast.
A native New Yorker, Curt attended Hofstra — majored in journalism, and he could write — and lucked into covering sports (he had been a Knicks ball boy as a kid) for Armed Forces Radio as his military service.
He joked that his “hardship post” was Times Square.
During his brief radio career one highlight was interviewing Cassius Clay, as he was then known, and he worked with Howard Cosell, about whom he had many stories.
He jumped into TV and one of his early responsibilities was handling press for Saturday Night Live. He worked for Lorne Michaels, who was a genius producer, but lacked a sense of what would fly.
Such as when Sinead O’Connor tore up a photo of the pope on camera toward the end of the show.
Curt was there, live, on duty during the show.
The NBC switchboard received about 50 calls immediately after the show, Curt was told.
“Fifty? That’s not many,” Michaels told Curt, who had to explain that was 50 calls in the middle of the night and the story would explode the next morning when reporters got on the phone.
Curt was right. He knew a disaster when he saw it.
He was average height and weight, he had a great smile and a great head of well-styled hair. It was so good I asked if it was a toupee.
He said it was not, and the barber I sent him to confirmed that.
Curt had moved to Philadelphia in 2002 to replace a liver he had fried as a network executive heavy drinker.
The surgery was performed at the University of Pennsylvania hospital, and Curt decided to stay in Philly because he liked the city and both of his grown children lived in the suburbs, along with his four grandchildren.
With Curt living here, our friendship blossomed. It replaced the annual get-togethers in New York, in which Curt hosted me and Lee Winfrey, who had been the Philadelphia Inquirer’s TV feature writer.
Lee was a terrific writer, a Southerner with a Faulkneresque style. We all enjoyed a good alcoholic drink, something that Curt never again touched after he got his new liver.
When he and I went out, we were often joined by Chris, a former restaurateur, and we came across like the Three Musketeers, with me being the kid of the group.
Curt would often act as the referee to break up bickering between Chris and me. It wasn’t in his nature to join in the arguments. (I suspected he would have sided with Chris on politics, me on sports.) In the two decades he lived here, Uncle Curt became one of my closest friends. At this point in my life, I am losing friends who can’t be replaced.
He never broke the habit of reading several newspapers a day, supplemented by ESPN, because he never lost his love of sports. We made predictions of each Eagles game, never for cash.
He was going to be with me on Sept. 12, for the Eagles regular season opener.
Nut Bag is going to wonder why the big pink chair is empty.