It was 9 a.m. and the "doctor" was off to his appointment. For Lee Haas, though, the mode of transport was RTD, not BMW.
"Doctor" Haas, a short, middle-aged Hawthorne resident garbed in a snazzy black sports jacket, shuffled five blocks to Hawthorne Boulevard, where he caught an empty No. 40 to Inglewood. There, he waited patiently outside the Pussycat Theater for the No. 212, arriving at his destination--Hollywood and Vine--about two hours after he had set out.
As usual, Haas, who bills himself as the "Doctor of Comedy," was in plenty of time to claim a front-row spot for the ritual that would begin at 12:30 p.m.
Camera at the Ready
The graying Haas is one of a handful of star-struck Southlanders who regularly attend Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremonies. Be it Ted Knight, Paul Anka, Joan Collins--or, on this particular day, Lorne Greene--whose star is about to be unveiled in the sidewalk cement, the doctor is on hand, camera in hand.
"I always go up early because if I don't, then I can't see much," Haas explained, as a tinny version of the theme from Bonanza blared forth in front of the Merv Griffin Productions building. "You know, it's one of the few times in life you get to see these people. And being slightly associated with show business, you know. . . ."
Haas has been "slightly associated with show business" for three decades. Indeed, his steadfastness as a ceremony-goer pales in comparison to his perseverance in his chosen profession.
Haas, it turns out, sells jokes by mail--advertising his business in magazines and newspapers and by placing index cards and stickers on buses, bulletin boards and benches whenever he ventures forth toward Los Angeles.
'A Dedicated Comedy Writer'
"I am a dedicated comedy writer," Haas writes in an advertising brochure. "I got my first laugh on my honeymoon night. My ex-wife said, ' Very funny !' "
While laughter may be the best medicine, it's not exactly an easy way of making a living. Haas, you recall, takes the bus.
But at age 55--and still seeking widespread acceptance in the mercurial world of show business--the doctor is neither perturbed nor disgruntled with his lot.
"I don't have much, but I don't owe anything to anybody either," the soft-spoken Haas explained. "That's a good feeling."
Over the years, Haas said, he has sold jokes to entertainers, including comedians Rip Taylor and Phyllis Diller and TV weather forecaster Maclovio Perez. He has also peddled his wares to non-show-biz types, including a banker from Iowa, an ex-Congressman from Arizona and a minister from New Jersey--each of whom was seeking to brush up on his repertoire before public speaking engagements.
Haas keeps more than 50,000 jokes on file (many of them used, it would appear) in a handful of time-worn loose-leaf binders in his studio apartment--the walls of which are cluttered with glossies of celebs ranging from Marilyn Monroe to Bruce Springsteen.
Choose a subject--from love to laundromats, from fat to Falwell--the doctor will post them to you for $5 a page.
Why would people buy humor from Haas if they can more easily purchase books of jokes?
"A lot of people never think about it, really," he said. "And if they want to close the libraries, it's all right with me."
Through the decades, Haas has supported his one-liner habit by tending bar on the Santa Catalina Island ferry and managing a Beverly Hills grocery store. He has also sought to serve as personal manager for up-and-coming stars. That, unfortunately, hasn't worked out too well either.
Currently, Haas has no one under contract--which in some ways is better than the time he did. She was a budding songstress, Haas recalled, who revealed after inking the pact that the periodic checks she had said were mailed to her by her "rich" family were actually piddling welfare checks--in other words, she was broke.
"I talked to Rip Taylor to get her on TV and she didn't want to be on TV," Haas said. "She got into me for $3,000 and (finally) I said, how would you like a job at Forest Lawn. She left town."
Haas says he has never had a strong desire to become a singer or actor himself. But he appears to be incurably fascinated by the aura of glamour, glitz and fame that surrounds the field of popular entertainment.
"I like to play it low key but I always liked to be associated with them backstage, you know," he said. "It's the only industry I know. I can talk their language. I'd be out of place with doctors, lawyers, you know."
At the Lorne Greene ceremony, Haas took his customary front row spot beside a second South Bay regular, Sam Scott, 39, of Carson.
(Scott, a part-time gardener, attends the ceremonies because "you normally don't see stars here except at an event and this is the most public event they have in Hollywood." Of Haas, Scott said, "He looks like an agent. He probably would get ahead quicker as a character actor.")