Charlie Parker's nickname is for the birds

Sunday, February 10, 2013

By Gary Clothier

Question: Charlie Parker was one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. His nickname was "Bird." What's with the nickname?

K.J., Roswell, Ga.

Answer: Charles Parker Jr. (1920-1955) picked up the nickname "Yardbird" early in his career. There are many conflicting stories as to how he got the name. One story is that he would listen to bands from the yard outside a club. Another is that he loved eating chicken, which was also called yardbird. Yet another version is that he practiced in a park so often that people would hear his sax and call him Bird. In time, Yardbird was shortened to Bird, a name that stuck with him for the rest of his life.

Question: The shirt worn by woman equestrians is called a ratcatcher. Why the unusual name?

M.W., Ashland, Ore.

Answer: At one time in Europe, rat catching was necessary to keep cities and towns free of diseases, especially the plague. Rat catchers often wrapped their necks with cloth to protect their throats from angry rats.

The ratcatcher shirt is a button-up shirt with a mandarin-style collar that resembles a turtleneck. Someone noticed the similarity between the two, and the curious name for the riding shirt was born.

At one time, ratcatcher was a British insult. It's not used much anymore, but it was made popular by Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet."

Question: You explained the meaning of a walk-off home run in a previous article. I first heard the term about two years ago. Where and when did the term first originate?

A.H.S., Torrance, Calif.

Answer: A walk-off home run is when a member of the home team hits a home run in the bottom of the last inning and wins the game. The term was coined by relief pitcher Dennis Eckersley. Most baseball historians say Eckersley first used the phrase after giving up a home run to Kirk Gibson in the bottom of the ninth inning of the first game of the 1988 World Series.

The term was first used to describe how a pitcher would have to walk off the field with his head down, but it is more celebratory now.

Question: When I was a young boy, my folks bought me an Uncle Milton Ant Farm. I loved it. When my sons reached the same age, I bought them the same toy. This Christmas, my grandchildren each received an ant farm. When were they introduced? What is the story behind the idea?

C.G., Milford, Pa.

Answer: After returning home from World War II, Milton Levine and his brother-in-law Joe Cossman started a mail-order novelty company in Pittsburgh. Do you remember the shrunken heads or the 100 soldiers for $1 advertised in comic books? They were from Uncle Milton.

In 1952, the company moved to Hollywood, Calif. During a Fourth of July picnic in 1956, Levine observed ants scurrying about and recalled his youthful days when he would catch the insects and put them in a jar. He went with the idea. Before long, the Uncle Milton Ant Farm was created. It was a success. Nearly 60 years later, it has sold more than 20 million units. Milton Levine died in January 2002 at age 97.

Question: I have a question about the 1950 film "Riding High," starring Bing Crosby, Coleen Gray, Charles Bickford, Frances Gifford and William Demarest. Crosby was a horse trainer who fell on hard times. Out of desperation, he relies on his horse, Broadway Bill, to win a major race. I love the movie! It seems eerily familiar though. Was this film based on another with a similar plot?

G.U., Spring Hill, Fla.

Answer: "Riding High" (1950) is a remake of the 1934 film "Broadway Bill." Frank Capra directed both films. "Broadway Bill" starred Warner Baxter and Myrna Loy. Raymond Walburn and Clarence Muse appeared in both movies.

Question: Maybe you can settle a dispute. I recently watched the 1943 movie "Girl Crazy" on TV. In it, there is a scene where Mickey Rooney plays the piano with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra. I watched it closely, and I think he is really playing the piece. My friend says it was dubbed in. Who wins?

G.H., Lockport, N.Y.

Answer: Mickey Rooney does play the piano, and he plays it well. Rooney really played along with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra in the song "Fascinatin' Rhythm."

Question: I have come across the term "bread and circuses" when describing an unpleasant situation several times over my many years of existence. I have no idea what the term means and how it applies to harsh times.

C.L., Alliance, Neb.

Answer: The term is said to have originated in the satires of Roman poet Juvenal as "panem et circenses," so it's been around for quite some time. In this instance, "circus" refers to the games of ancient Rome, like the chariot races. "Bread and circuses" is a term that describes the things that keep people happy and divert attention from problems.

Question: I heard part of the following quote, "Scars remind us of where we've been..." What is the rest of the quote, and who said it?

D.L., Beaumont, Texas

Answer: "Scars remind us of where we've been. They don't have to dictate where we're going." The line was spoken by Special Agent David Rossi (Joe Mantegna) to agent Emily Prentiss (Paget Brewster) on "Criminal Minds."

Send your questions to Mr. Know-It-All at or c/o Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.

Question: I have often wondered what happened to the old truck Jethro drove during the opening scenes of "The Beverly Hillbillies."

L.G., West Chester, Pa.

Answer: "The Beverly Hillbillies" aired on CBS from 1962 to 1971. Despite being panned by the critics, the show was a commercial success. The series lasted more than 270 episodes.

The truck featured in the opening credits was a 1921 Oldsmobile Model 46 Roadster. Famed car customizer George Barris combined a touring car body with the back of a flatbed pickup. In 1976, the producer of the show, Paul Henning, donated the truck to the Ralph Foster Museum at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo. The college is a few miles from Branson. You can view the museum's website at

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