A fresh cup reminds us of stories from times past
On August 21, 1971, Sandra Sue Franklin and I declared our marriage vows. So, this year qualifies as our Golden Anniversary—50 years. In the last decade, most of our mornings together have been reading the newspaper and watching the news over coffee, usually Maxwell House, brewed by Mr. Coffee in a matter of minutes. That is apparently not unusual, given that Americans drink 400 million cups a day, and 79 percent of those are prepared at home. The thought of coffee and its role in our lives reminds me of two loosely related stories. I will try to connect the dots.
Although Sandy and I were friends in high school, we did not date until the fall of 1968, my junior year at the University of Tennessee. One night we went to see a movie, The Graduate, which had been released only a few months before. I have always been a baseball fan (almost three years later, Sandy had to endure a radio broadcast of Braves vs. Cardinals as I drove to Atlanta on our wedding night), and so I was intrigued by the reference to a retired baseball player in “Mrs. Robinson”, the movie’s theme song. The lyrics resonate with me to this day: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you…What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson? Joltin’ Joe has left and gone away. Hey, hey, hey.” We liked the movie and loved the song.
Although I am not quite old enough to have followed DiMaggio as a player, his legendary career earned election to baseball’s Hall of Fame. As a center fielder for the New York Yankees from 1936 to 1951—less three years in the military during World War II—he won three Most Valuable Player awards, celebrated nine World Series championships, was named an All-Star every year he played, and, of course, got base hits in 56 straight games, a major league record that has stood for the last 80 years. Sportswriters and fans in his day admired him for his dignified manner, both on and off the field. I do recall his highly publicized marriage to Marilyn Monroe in 1954. Although the marriage did not last, DiMaggio remained devoted to her throughout the remainder of her life and, ultimately, his own.
During the early 1970s, well after DiMaggio’s heyday, a man by the name of Vincent Marotta invented one of the first automatic drip coffee machines which he called Mr. Coffee. In order to make his invention known nationally, he believed that he needed a celebrity spokesperson. A former professional athlete himself, Marotta had always been a fan of DiMaggio. He flew to San Francisco and invited him to lunch. The two Italian-Americans clicked and, without agents or lawyers, made a handshake deal. With Joe’s public image and the power of television, the brand skyrocketed for in-home use. Joe, the star baseball player, became “Mr. Coffee” to a new generation.
In the meantime, Bill Holt, of Sevierville, married young and worked as a mechanic for Knoxville Motor Company before he decided to finish college and enroll in law school at UT. A musician, he also played guitar and sang in a rock band to supplement his income. I had always admired Bill for his talent and work ethic. His mother, who worked at my father’s store, kept me apprised of his progress, and I always attended his band performances when I could catch a ride. Ten years older than me, Bill was in his last quarter at the school when I was in my first. After passing the bar, he joined the Hailey, Waters, and Jarvis firm and moved wife Pat and their three boys back home. A year or so later he set out as a sole practitioner.
By then, Sandy and I had married, and she took a teaching job in Pigeon Forge. With a year to go at UT, I began to work part time for Bob Ogle’s firm in Sevierville, writing briefs and researching land titles for the princely sum of $3.50 per hour. Bill saw me in the Register of Deeds Office one Saturday morning (the courthouse was open until noon in those days) and asked me to search a title for his client, a chore many lawyers preferred to avoid. I agreed, completed the task, and met him at his office a week later. He paid me his full fee of $50, an astronomical sum for a newlywed struggling to make ends meet on Sandy’s teaching salary. While we talked, he offered a cup of coffee. I declined, explaining that I had not yet developed a taste. “That will change,” he responded, “when you get into this business full-time.”
Bill, a fine and respected lawyer, later distinguished himself as a Circuit Judge. And for some reason, I always remembered his comment about coffee. Sure enough, within a year or two, I began to start each morning at the Ogle firm with a cup of instant java, mostly to get the energy boost from the caffeine I needed for what became a demanding law practice. Before long, I was up to two a day. To put that in perspective, surveys indicate that 64 percent of American coffee drinkers consume an average of 3.1 cups per day. Bill was a prophet. Eventually, I replaced the instant brew at the office with DiMaggio’s Mr. Coffee, convinced, as I am today, that coffee and the legal profession go hand in hand.
Returning to the role of The Graduate film in this story, Paul Simon, the singer who wrote “Mrs. Robinson”, and DiMaggio met at a New York restaurant well after the release of the song. “What I don’t understand,” the former ballplayer posed, “is why you asked where I’ve gone. I haven’t gone anywhere. I just did a Mr. Coffee commercial.” “I didn’t mean those lines literally,” Simon replied, “I thought of you as an American hero, and genuine heroes are in short supply.” Shortly after DiMaggio died in 1999, Simon performed the song live at Yankee Stadium. He eulogized the man who popularized the Mr. Coffee brand with Baby Boomers like me: “We grieve for Joe DiMaggio and mourn the loss of his grace and dignity, his fierce sense of privacy, his fidelity to the memory of his wife Marilyn, and the power of his silence.”
Often, as I take my first sip of the Mr. Coffee brew each morning, I think of my friend Bill who, like DiMaggio, always conducted himself with grace and dignity as both a lawyer and a judge. On the morning of our noteworthy anniversary, I will propose to my bride a toast to Bill and Joltin’ Joe with “a cuppa joe.”