Happy 80th Birthday: Was Wolfman Jack "The Force" ?
This Sunday would have been Wolfman Jack's 80th birthday.
Brooklyn-born Robert Weston Smith, aka Wolfman Jack, passed away at age 57 in the Summer of 1995 almost forgotten after a period of blazing hot celebrity ubiquity the likes of which no deejay before or since has ever known. His ten-year run near the top of popular culture came with his cameo in AMERICAN GRAFFITI. A small film at the time, it was a runaway box office success and cemented the careers of many associated with it, "The Wolfman" included.
Despite paving the way one of the five most successful sitcoms ever, HAPPY DAYS, in pop culture lore AMERICAN GRAFFITI's status is entwined with its commercial success and the leeway that gave director George Lucas to assure the movie studio bosses to fund his next film, a goofy science fiction lark called STAR WARS. Ever hear of it?
When STAR WARS was going over budget and about to get the plug pulled, everyone in the corporate boardroom was reminded they were still cashing checks from AMERICAN GRAFFITI and allowed their auteur to continue on his pet project. Certain he would come to his senses after this sci-fi folly, they laughed at his reduced salary in exchange for something called "merchandising rights" to the STAR WARS universe; they laughed and laughed and let him continue... all because the proof was in the AMERICAN GRAFFITI pudding.
But was there more in AMERICAN GRAFFITI than just commercial success?
In STAR WARS we are told that one unseen "force" binds together the entire universe. In AMERICAN GRAFFITI there is a continual unseen force binding together the universe of the teenagers populating their small town: the radio. And behind that radio, choosing the songs and driving their spirits was one diabolical, yet reassuring voice... that of Wolfman Jack.
The hero of AMERICAN GRAFFITI is Curt Skywalker... just kidding. Richard Dreyfuss plays Curt Henderson, the hero in an ensemble cast. He becomes obsessed by a nameless, distant but flirtatious blonde (played by Suzanne Sommers). He hatches a plan to get her attention - knowing that she, like every other teen in town, will be listening to Wolfman Jack's radio show featuring nothing but rock and roll from the past decade (the film is set in 1962), he visits the radio station to ask the legendary DJ to announce on-air that this dream girl should call Curt. Armed with the number of a payphone, he finds only a helpless manager struggling with melting popsicles from a broken refirgerator who explains that all of the Wolfman's shows are sent in by tape. He politely takes the now-broken teen's phone number and Curt leaves, dejected.
But, suddenly, there is... wait for it... wait for it...
...there is A New Hope.
Curt spies the station's night attendant suddenly in the DJ booth, howling in the infamous scratchy baritone that could only be that of the elusive Wolfman Jack.
Curt's request is granted. The Wolfman makes the plea on his behalf over the air. The girl eventually calls him at the phone booth... but it is too late. He is leaving for college that morning. He flies off and just before the plane hits the clouds he spots the blonde's Chevy driving down a highway below.
In STAR WARS, Obi Wan Kenobi is notably older than everyone else on Tattooine. He uses "The Force". In AMERICAN GRAFFITI, Wolfman Jack is the standout "elder" with access to the controls of the radio station. He pretends to be just the manager. But it is revealed that he is the force. Was he handing Curt a lightsaber when he offered him a popsicle? Luke Skywalker and Curt Henderson both fly off their desolate planets, one beginning an adventure (audience in tow) with no regrets, one starting a new life with only a note at the end that he became a writer living in Canada. BORING. What if Curt had used what the Wolfman had offered: THE FORCE! Eschew college and tell the girl to meet at you at the phone booth later that night, dude, DUH!
Offered use of The Force, Luke Skywalker submits to it completely and defeats the Empire. After one interaction with Wolfman Jack, Curt goes with his feelings, he uses the force, he knows he is already connected to the girl through THE WOLFMAN ("The Force") but at the moment he is getting everything his feelings want, he looks ahead to the future (the worst thing you can do in Obi-Wan's opinion), he tells her he is leaving in a few hours and all hope is lost. Sure, Curt went on to have a boring life as a boring writer in boring Canada (more exciting than being Richard Dreyfuss, though, HA!), but he did not defeat any empire and he didn't get to bang Suzanne Sommers which, four years later after THREE'S COMPANY was a hit, all of America wanted to do. You shoulda used The Force, Curt.
MORAL OF THE STORY:
•If Obi Wan offers you a light saber, you take it.
•If Wolfman Jack offers you a popsicle, you take it.
•If you trust your feelings and use The Force, goddammit follow through and defeat The Empire or at least get in the backseat of Suzanne's Chevy.
•There is no try, either Use the Force or fly off to boring college.
•Sure Obi -Wan was a Jedi master (yawn) but Wolfman Jack IS THE FORCE.
RIP WOLFMAN JACK, 1938-1995 for his 80th birthday, January 21, 2018.