By Peter Kates
It was just over three years ago that we lost our pal Doug Smith. I say “our pal” because Doug was one of those guys who was everyone’s friend.
Many readers will recall him as local television’s Cheap Gourmet, or Fun Ranger who, with his wife, Polly, at his side, would share recommendations on what to do or where to eat (on a budget, naturally) in Western New York.
A favorite Doug Smith memory of mine is seeing him and his pet, Mike the Wonder Dog, running in the annual YMCA Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot. Year in and year out, Doug would show up at the race dressed as Santa Claus. He was a sight, with Mike’s leash in one hand and a plastic bag in the other to pick up discarded bottles and cans from along the route.
This was way before we all were issued recycling totes. With each retrieval from along the curb, Doug would proclaim to all within earshot, “that’s 5 cents closer to retirement!”
He was one of a kind. I don’t think he ever really retired.
Doug also reviewed movies, and that’s among the reasons why he often comes to mind.
Back when Doug and I shared the same work address on Elmwood Avenue in North Buffalo – he at Channel 4 and me down the hall at WBEN Radio – I so enjoyed having daily access to a famous film critic with whom I could trade opinions and get recommendations. I recall once asking Doug, “What’s a great movie to rent this weekend?” In those days we all rented VHS tapes at Blockbuster Video. His answer, without a moment’s hesitation, was “Sullivan’s Travels.”
For the benefit of those who may not know this film, “Sullivan’s Travels” is a 1942 black and white American comedy written and directed by Preston Sturges, which means the dialogue is crisp and smart.
“Sullivan’s Travels” is a satire about a movie director known for his silly comedies, but who longs to make a socially relevant dramatic film about the downtrodden among us. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will share that the main character comes to realize that the work he’s grown to feel is meaningless, is quite meaningful to the lives of others.
It’s a wonderful movie. I own a copy.
“Sullivan’s Travels” offers a life lesson, a gut check, and a reboot for when one is questioning the worth of one’s contribution to the world.
Doug’s recommendation to me was simply for a great film to rent and watch with friends on a Friday night. But I have found several occasions over the years to pay his recommendation forward by referring “Sullivan’s Travels” to others when they’ve questioned the professional choices they’ve made.
It was just a few weeks ago that I told a very talented friend, someone whom I revere, and who was in professional crisis mode, that he MUST get this film from the library. Then, not believing he’d ever follow through, I purchased a copy online and had it delivered to his home.
I can’t think of “Sullivan’s Travels” without thinking of my friend Doug Smith, and the day he guided me toward this classic on the video store shelves. It wasn’t apparent to either of us that it was a life-changing moment, but it turned out to be one for me, and – I hope – for many others.
Peter Kates lives in Williamsville and is vice president of communications at Univera Healthcare.