Historian Will Durant was once challenged to sum up civilization in half an hour. He did it in less than a minute, this way: “Civilization is a stream with banks. The stream is sometimes filled with blood from people killing, stealing, shouting and doing the things historians usually record, while on the banks, unnoticed, people build homes, make love, raise children, sing songs, write poetry and even whittle statues. The story of civilization is the story of what happened on the banks.”
Larry Bowman has spent his 26 years on Will Durant’s bank, which in this case is the working man’s suburb of Carrollton. Larry didn’t build his home, but he is paying for it. He and his wife Janet make love, raise children, and while they don’t sing songs all that much or write poetry or whittle statues, they keep busy and try to stay ahead of the bills. Larry is a mail carrier out of the Carrollton post office. He has a pretty good deal, he figures, because he gets to deliver half his route in a jeep instead of on foot. The Bowmans have two daughters, Deanna, 5, and Tuesday, who was born on a Friday a year and a half ago. They have their heads set on having two more, and they hope for boys. Postmen are not paid handsomely, so Larry is taking accounting at nights at Richland College. He hopes to do a little moonlighting as a tax man. Because of these pressures, Janet allows Larry a night or two with the boys. He plays penny ante poker with his friends now and then, but the big night is Thursday, when he bowls at Hart Alley in the city-wide post office league.
Back in August, WFAA-TV (Channel 8) launched a locally produced show called “Bowling For Dollars” with sportscaster Verne Lundquist as host. The idea was bought from Claster Television Productions in Towson, Maryland. The format proved irresistible. Every night from 6:30 to 7, Monday through Friday, seven people from the heartland hereabout come out of the audience at Forum Lanes in Grand Prairie to talk with affable Verne and try their hand at bowling for dollars. Each contestant gets two balls. If they get two strikes they take the jackpot. Missing that they get $15 for one strike or a dollar for every pin that falls. Each bowler must share his winnings with a pen pal who is watching at home. This builds up the interest at both ends. The bowlers rarely hit two strikes in a row, so the jackpot often bulges to several hundred dollars over a period of shows.
The productions are taped in advance every Tuesday out at Forum. The crew sets up at 6 a.m. The contestants and their families and friends gather at 9, and Verne Lundquist comes on at 10 to start the first show rolling. They tape until dark, until five or six half-hour shows are in the can. By the time it is over, Lundquist is as weary as a Dallas Cowboy after four quarters with the Pittsburgh Steelers. He has jawed on camera with 35 or 42 folks, prying from their modest mouths a little patter about their work and hobbies and families. It is stock stuff, as banal as the circumstance dictates, and yet somehow it is often touching and revealing. The people, if a little awkward, are not embarrassed. Hell, they are excited and expectant. They ask to be on. They send in cards and cross their fingers and watch faithfully and wait, hoping to be selected. So do the pen pals. Lundquist, as always, comes across as a good guy. He makes no pretense about it. It is money and exposure. It is not as lowbrow as a night at the wrestling matches, but it ain’t the 30 minutes of news it replaced.
This is where Larry Bowman, our Carrollton postman, came in. He filled out five cards and mailed them in September. The Plaster Television computer in Maryland scans the stuff and selects contestants to fit a system calculated to let the jackpot perk but not too long. Things like bowling average, age, occupation and sex are food for thought for the computer. Anyway, early in December it spewed out Larry’s name, and eight days before Christmas he found himself at the Forum, shaking Verne Lundquist’s hand and talking about being a postman and telling how, on Christmas Eve, he was going to dress as Santa and deliver candy to all the 300 households on his route.
He reached into a pot and drew the name of his pen pal, which Verne announced as Mrs. L.R. Gustafson, of 5215 Landino in Fort Worth. She would share half of anything Larry won.
Damned if he didn’t get up there and roll two strikes.
The jackpot was the highest it had ever been: $2,540.
His pen pal, Marie Gustafson, did not jump up and hit her head on the ceiling of her living room. Remember, the shows are taped. She knew nothing. She would have to wait until the show was aired on the night of December 26.
Christmas Eve came, and that day a Channel 8 crew filmed Larry making his rounds as Santa, delivering candy instead of mail. He watched himself on the night’s news.
The evening after Christmas, more fans than the Cotton Bowl can hold watched Larry hit the Jackpot bowling for dollars on Channel 8.
In Fort Worth, Marie Gustafson jumped out of her chair.
When the check for $1,270 arrived in the mail, she put a little in savings and spent the rest renovating her kitchen.
Larry Bowman spent all his paying off a loan company debt. Janet said all she got of it was a glance as he signed it away. No matter, Larry says, it was the coolest thing that had ever happened to him, next, of course, to marrying Janet. Now strangers at the bowling alley recognize him. The Postal Journal of Branch 132 featured Larry in a page one story along with two pictures—one of him and Verne shaking hands and the other of Larry in his Santa suit. He also got a mention in the Bowling News. One thing puzzles him though. He never got so much as a thank you from Mrs. Gustafson.