Written by: Jennifer Kathleen Gibbons
When it was reported earlier this week that former KTVU personality Pat McCormick had died, I was wrecked.
Part of it was about Paris, but mostly it felt like another little part of my childhood died. I emailed Stereo Embers’ Alex Green and asked him if he wanted a tribute. He said yes.
I sat down and wrote for two hours. I wrote about McCormick’s start in Fresno, and then moved on to the Bay Area. I wrote about Charley and Humphrey, Snagglefoot, the catchphrases (“Glue! I need glue!” “Pow! Pow! Pow!”) and I wrote about “Dialing for Dollars” and how my grandfather faithfully watched the show. I took research breaks, and then wrote some more.
I finished it, did some light editing, and a few hours later, it went live.
I did my usual sharing on Facebook, Twitter, Google +, Reddit, the whole deal. I sent a link to a gentleman who runs a vintage TV website. I was very proud of myself because it was thorough, comprehensive and heartfelt.
So I figured that was that.
The next day I ran errands. I printed out some things at the library, answered emails, and applied for seasonal jobs. I needed to pick up some things at Target, so I hopped on the bus, reading Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. The title fit my mood; in troubled times, all you can do is carry on. I walked in with a cart when suddenly I heard a dinging on my IPad. I had several notifications on Facebook.
Ah, people were reading the tribute. This was great. Dare it go viral?
Instead, someone posted a link (the story has since been taken down): Pat McCormick wasn’t dead.
Not by a long shot.
I nearly ran my cart into a purse display. What? What the hell was going on?
I sat in the cafe’ that smelled like coffee and popcorn. I started to read Peter Hartlaub’s blog. Apparently KTVU contacted Hartlaub saying McCormick called them to let them know he was alive and kicking. A short time later, Hartlaub got a phone call from Pat McCormick himself. McCormick said that “…this was the mistake was the product of a ‘very embarrassing’ family situation.. I’ll take full responsibility for it.” Confused, Hartlaub called McCormick’s son Pat and Pat2 was stunned and started to cry. He explained to Hartlaub that he received a note from his dad saying he was terminally ill, and then another note from Pat1’s current wife saying Pat1 had died. Pat2 provided the letters to the Chronicle, but asked for them not to be published due to private info pertaining to the McCormick family.
So here’s how I felt: Thank God Pat’s alive! Now he can see how beloved he still is!
The second thing I felt: What.The.Hell.???!!!
I remembered all the people who changed their FB profiles to pics of Charley and Humphrey. I thought about all the tweets of people saddened about Pat1’s death, all the sentimental strings that were plucked, all the memories that came flooding back.
And for what?
People blamed Hartlaub and KTVU. I didn’t blame them. Hartlaub had a relationship with Pat1 dating back to 2008 when Hartlaub was writing a parenting blog and raved about Charley and Humphrey. Pat1 was touched and sent Hartlaub a DVD of the six remaining C&H PSAs, including the classic “Borrowing Without Asking,” then also did a rare interview with him. When Pat2 called saying his dad died, Hartlaub had no reason not to believe him. KTVU figured the same thing: Why would the son lie?
Yes, they should’ve triple checked the obits, phoned the supposed widow.
Oh wait–we got rid of fact checkers, didn’t we?
That used to be a job.
I don’t know what’s going on with the McCormick family. And you know what? I don’t want to. I’ve got enough drama in my life. I don’t need extras. There’s a meme that makes its rounds various times that says this: Sometimes you have to tell yourself, Not my circus, not my monkeys. The McCormick drama is not my circus. Ideally I would love for McCormick to come out of retirement and get out his old puppets–but that seems to be very unlikely.
So here’s what we now know.
It was a hoax.
Perpetuated by Pat McCormick.
He confirmed as much to Kelly House of The Oregonian: “It was basically a hoax…It was kind of an embarrassing thing, but I’m very much alive.”
Frustrated by a nearly thirty year dispute with his son, McCormick came up with a scheme to…well, we’re not sure what the scheme’s intentions were, but here’s the plan McCormick cooked up in his own words:
The retired TV host told House: “So one day I had this idea. A stupid idea.”
He wrote a letter to his son that said: “By the time you receive this, I’ll be dead and gone so go harass somebody else.”
McCormick’s wife Flora then contacted McCormick’s son to confirm the grim news that Pat was gone.
After his son alerted the media, then things started to pick up speed.
“The next thing we know, we’re getting phone calls that I’m dead,” McCormick told House. “It’s in the media, it’s on the Internet, it’s on television, and my god, if you don’t think there’s a mess.””I want to emphasize, I recognize the absolute stupidity of writing that letter…Whether he had exposed me or not, that was a dumb piece of business on my part. So what I managed to do is chalk it up to old age.”
Again, I’m not sure what McCormick’s motivation was in all this, but on the off chance Pat1 is reading this piece now, I want him to know this: Dear sir, I am so glad you’re still here with us. I hope you know you are still dearly loved by thousands of adults who used to be kids who adored you.
Give a big hug to Charley and Humphrey and be well.