Now it can be told…
Jack, Stack and Dean Grennell
Never sit down at a gaming table without knowing the house rules.At the time, I was thinking that I was going to be lucky to have any sort of gunzine career after this was over.
The time was 3Q 1989, approximately nine tumultuous months after the cowardly and insane Patrick Purdy had walked into a school playground in Stockton, California and unloaded an imported Simonov Type 56 SKS on a yard full of young children. Whipped into an almost unparalleled hoplophobic frenzy by a slathering national media, Bush41 and his Drug Czar William Bennett were banning the importation of a large number of similarly functioning firearms1, Congressional leaders (led by, among others, John McCain) were talking a large "gun control" legislative package, William B. Ruger Sr. panicked and offered up a magazine capacity limitation as an alternative to a gun ban2, and it seemed like, as later actually happened in the UK following the "Dunblane massacre," gun-owners were without friends.
Even ace sporting shotgunner Robert Stack, who had a monthly byline on a smoothbore column in Jack Lewis' Gun World, had suddenly seemed "gun unfriendly" while hosting/narrating his weekly hour-long Unsolved Mysteries, an early "reality" series on NBC. I was so disturbed by some of the actor's narration and participation in the overtly anti-gun re-enactments, that I felt something had to be done.
I started by writing to a casual chum at the time, Dean Grennell, the putative Editor of the magazine:
I put that carefully constructed letter in the mail with a 25¢ stamp and sent it off to Capistrano Beach, and sat back, content that I'd done something positive in service to the All-American causes of Truth, Justice and the Second Amendment. While it wasn't anywhere near as courageous as the Chinaman who stared down a column of tanks in Tiananmen Square three months earlier, I thought it was the right thing to do. I mean, a year before we'd thwarted the ascension of knee-jerk Liberal Michael Dukakis in favor of "our guy," George H.W. Bush… who'd waited less than 75 days to back-stab gun-owners, before screwing everyone who'd supported him on the basis of his "read my lips - no more taxes" pledge, in June 1990.
September 14, 1989Editor Dean A. Grennell
Box HH, 34249 Camino Capistrano
Capistrano Beach, California 92624
Good Morning, Fellow Dean;
I write to ask your aid… whenever I've watched NBC's Unsolved Mysteries program narrated by your smoothbore columnist, I have constantly been annoyed by Stack's repeated "mindless readings" of scripts as they pertain to firearms, most frequently in the matter of citing whatever is on screen as an "automatic weapon." Now you and I both know that Stack is knowledgable about firearms, although he may not personally have much use for anything outside his beloved shotguns. But one of the biggest contributors of fuel to the continually surfacing anti-gun hysteria, is television. Programs masquerading as entertainment feature outrageously unrealistic and protracted shoot-outs with enough ordnance to mobilize a small revolution. And when the issue of gun ownership is directly addressed, we both know which way the debate is weighted.
Last season one of Stack's voice-over narratives identified a riot style shotgun as a submachine gun and on September 13th's show, he first stated that a murder victim was shot with "four .22 caliber hollowpoint bullets," then when the crime was re-enacted, the firearm (which Stack called "an automatic weapon") was shown to be an AR-15.
No big deal, right? But it all contributes to the anti-gun feelings that threaten to swamp us. And here we have one of our own guys aiding and abetting the other side ("Hanoi Bob?"). Seriously, Dean, I'm disappointed in Stack's failure to insist that gratuitously negative comments and images of firearms be stricken from his scripts. He certainly has the stature to wield such clout. And, no, I'm not suggesting censorship… just accuracy and fairness. It's only a little thing, but it would be, if not a reversal of something negative, then at least a neutralizing of just one more subtle anti-gun message.
I don't want to make a crusade out of this, so I'm asking you to share this idea with Stack and suggest in future script references to firearms, that no gratuitous, negative inaccuracies be permitted. I know that he probably "phones in" his narrative as the final element in the show's production, but if he were a little more aware of what's at stake for us'ns who do more than shotgunning, it could prove extremely beneficial to the pro-gun position, and perhaps even raise the level of consciousness and responsibility of some other people in the entertainment industry. Hey!, it's a start, and any assistance you might render in this matter….
While "Waldo" is "piling up" by-line and photo credits all over, I'd still like to do a piece for GUN WORLD. How about a feature on "The Little Colt That Never Was," the Firearms International Model D which was supposed to be Colt's Pony? I've got some fascinating (of course!) material on the gun (nee the Star DK) and the corporate concerns (did you know how FI started out and where it is today?) involved… would you like to see it?
As for the business with Robert Stack, that's just a private thing between a couple of Deans if you'd like. I don't wish to embarrass your columnist, so see what you can do with the fellow, will you?!?
Dean (for "Waldo")
A week later I heard back from Publisher Jack Lewis, not only asking to take a look at the article I'd pitched, but addressing the core of my message:
Dear Dean:Wow! Jack Lewis himself had taken the bull by the horns and was taking the issue up with his celebrated columnist! Double wow! I instantly envisioned it all unfolding before me… Stack slapping himself on the forehead, exclaiming "Of course! How could I have allowed myself to be duped as a pawn of Michael Gartner3 this way?!?" A personal letter of apology from the actor himself, perhaps even a mention on-air… national recognition beyond that of the "gun press," election to the NRA Board of Directors by acclaim, lip-licking heavy-lidded looks from long-legged women of dubious virtue.
Thls is in reply to your Letter of Sept 14 to D. Grennell:
I'm sendlng your note along to Bob Stack. Problem is, as with a lot of TV stuff, that he doesn't see the guns involved. All he sees is the script… but hopefully, he can work it out and improve the situation.
Plus Lewis wanted one of my articles! Life was good… and I sent him an appreciative note on 10 October.
Good morning, Jack;The envelope which carried that embarrassing little suck-up note… since we're lettin' it all hang out here… crossed in the mail with one from Dean Grennell from his home in Dana Point.
Thank you for your attention to the Robert Stack matter… I did not wish to make a big fuss about it and as I indicated in my 14 September letter to Dean Grennell, I was aware that Stack probably "phoned in" the narration for many of the segments… mayhaps, as you suggest, he can "improve the situation" in the future. I would not like to think that he is one of the gun owners who has been "split off" by the gun-grabbers and turned against military-style auto-loaders… I'm having some serious problems in that area with some cousins of mine as well as my ex-roommate from college (a veteran, no less!). These are dire times indeed!
Per your 21 September reply, I am enclosing my piece on the FI Model D "on spec," along with some photos.
Thanks for your interest… it's still something of a thrill to get even slight encouragement from so august a personage as Jack Lewis.
Dear Dean:Even though it now seems fairly mild for a "bitch-slap," as one might imagine, at the time I did some scrambling which would have done that milk-drinking Baptist Preacher's son, Francis Tarkington, proud, dashing off an apologetic letter for "any misunderstanding as to the intention of my original correspondence."
I'd intended to respond to your letter of 14 September sooner, but it got lost in the endless shuffle of paper across my desk and only recently resurfaced. Please forgive?
First of all, 'I want to say I've known Bob Stack for a number of years and would rank him way to heck and gone up the list of the nicest people I've ever met. He has served his country honorably and well and he has done more for shooters and gun enthusiasts than just about anyone I can think of. He has put in hard, effective work in the endless battle against the gun-grabbers and he has done so in the mass media, where such efforts are not all that popular. Nonetheless, in so doing, he reaches large numbers of the uncommitted and puts forth an image for our side that is favorable and constructive.
Stack and I both served as aerial gunnery instructors in WWII. He was in the USN and I was in the USAAF. If you were to refer to me as "Hanoi Dean," it would sit about as well as calling him "Hanoi Bob," even if it's intended facetiously. Calling him that, in my opinion, is unjustified, slanderous and utterly indefensible.
As for your original complaint, I understand they are getting a technical director to correct the obvious mistakes in terminology and coordinate the writing staff with the production staff. Recently, Unsolved Mysteries was given an F.B.I. award from William Sessions for excellence and the good of the American public. Personally, my wife and I regard it as one of the best shows on current television and it's one of the few for which I'll take time out from my usual projects and sit down to watch.
I didn't hear back from Grennell, but I did get a contract of acceptance from Jack Lewis for my "FI Mod D" article4.
Then, at the 1990 SHOT Show even bash host by Smith & Wesson, Dean Grennell ambled in and made his way to the beverage table. I thought that I'd better find out right then if I was marked "lousy" for all time, or had it been a finite thing.
I moved over to where he was taking a slug of his potion, positioned myself so he could easily see my name badge (he was as deaf as one might expect any septuagenarian who had been shooting his whole life with a couple of .38 Special cartridge cases as ear protection), offered my hand and smiled. He shook that hand, greeted me cordially, and motioned me close to him.
"You know I had to write that letter, don't you?" he said, almost apologetically. "Stack was so mad at the 'Hanoi Bob' thing he was ready to fly to New York and look you up. The letter seems to have headed him off."
Wow! again! I seem to have narrowly escaped a load of #8 shot!
That wasn't quite the end of it, however. Several days later I ran into Jack Lewis, in his usual posture… seated on a bench in the aisle on the exhibition floor in his regular SHOT uniform, a blaze orange field jacket with a black "GUN WORLD" emblazoned on the back, a cowboy hat and a small cigar with ash dangling from the end. I introduced myself with a friendly salutation, and was met with a fishy eye.
"So you're the trouble-maker, huh?" he said with a glower5!
It was some time before I got the rest of the story, but it came down to the fact that Lewis handled all the mail that came into his publication offices, and passed along to the actual addressee only what he deemed appropriate, and he deemed my letter worthy of Stack's attention, apparently not anticipating Stack, well, blowing his stack!
Now Robert Stack didn't actually write a regular shotgun column for Gun World… it was ghosted by Lewis himself… but agreed to appear on the publication masthead to lend "celebrity value" as a favor to his friend, Lewis.
When Stack went on the warpath over my letter, Lewis became concerned that the actor was going to sever their relationship. In his mind, it was all my fault, and we will likely go to whatever rewards await us with him harboring that conviction. It's nothing I could do anything about, and I've never ever tried. His check cleared for the story I wrote, and that about all I can realistically ask of a publisher.
Grennell and I remained on good terms until he passed away in 2004, a year after Stack. We always wrote back and forth given his profound hearing loss, and when he signed a letter (after the admonishment to appease Stack and Jack), it was always with an informal and stylized "Dino."
That was my personal relationship with the man. Professionally, I will always remember that, when every gunzine in the country, Gun World included, had a cover story on the finally released Bren Ten in the late Summer/early Fall of 1984, the very next issue of Gun World, October 1984 as I recollect, blurbed a cover story by Dean A. Grennell: "Reloading for the Bren Ten." Whatever the chambering, Dean could work up a load for it at the drop of a powder charge.
by , formerly famous gunwriter.
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Links 'n' Stuff
A younger Stack…
1.- Kalashnikovs, Uzis, Valmets, H&K 90-series, Galils, SIG 550-series, etc., 43 types of semi-automatic rifles in all.
2.- Of course Congress just took that alternative, made it even more restrictive, and incorporated it into the 1994 gun-ban "Crime Bill."
3.- The unabashedly anti-gun Gartner had been the president of NBC News from 1988 until he was allowed to resign in 1993 before being fired for his role in the faked footage of GM pickup trucks exploding aired on Dateline NBC.
4.- "The Little Colt That Never Was" appeared, not in Gun World, but in one of the Lewis-edited DBI Books.
5.- It's the same glower with which Lewis has eyed me ever since.
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