It is a rule universally acknowledged that when knocking out traditional newspaper obituaries, or even those obit hybrids called “appreciations,” the dutiful scribe should do everything possible to avoid speaking ill of the dead. (“No one brought more pride to a disheartened nation in so short a time as did Mr. Hitler.”)
So, Out There is happy to note that its writer is under no such fusty obligation when drawing attention to the passing of Carl Nicholas Karcher, 90, founder and chairman emeritus of the Carl’s Jr. restaurant chain. Mr. Karcher died Jan. 11 in Fullerton, Calif., and although he has been referred to as a “giant” of the fast-food industry, his particular accomplishments made life worse, not better, for those who eat out and those who come out.
Strange that two of the most gay-negative American figures of the 1970s would be connected to food: Karcher and Anita Bryant, the orange-juice flack whose robotically vicious “Save Our Children” campaign against gay rights empowered both gay-haters and their opposites.
The initial, misery-making success of Bryant’s efforts personally backfired, causing the saccharine singer to lose not only her big-bucks position with the Florida Citrus Commission — a national o-jay boycott had its consequences — but also her husband at the time, her manifold businesses, and her Little Miss Sunshine fame. She became despised, a national figure of fun.
Bryant succeeded, however, in normalizing the “no special rights” and “they recruit our children” arguments that continue to belch up in those sad and sobering online-comment threads. You still can’t adopt children in Florida, and many other states, if you’re queer.
I have read that the miscreant later apologized for her potentially self-serving bigotry, but any record of that crow meal remains, shall we say, fugitive: the “apology” heard ’round the block.
No one has published Ms. Bryant’s obit yet, though I bet a few, careful 800-word pieces are sitting in the computer files of well-run traditional papers and wires, ready and waiting.
Sins of the Fresh
Mr. Karcher committed two mortal sins, and Out There leaves it to faithful readers to measure their relative badness. The first? According to Nation’s Restaurant News, a remarkably on-the-ball trade rag, Karcher invented — or at least first instituted, in a balance-sheet manner — char-broiled chicken-breast sandwiches, self-service beverage stations, and, maxima culpa, the salad bar.
During the time giant reptiles and scaly raptors ruled the Earth, I wrote a column about why salad bars would be the death of salads. I am sure that present readers, whose Favorites Lists are pregnant with culinary blogs of every kind, will be able to recite as their birthright my now wearisome points. I must admit that at my last job, deep in Manhattan’s midtown, I occasionally opted for the salad bar’s scion, the “point and shake” plastic-bowl assemblies of greens, proteins, and salty bits, knit by a flavored mucilage called dressing.
Salad bar pluses? Ingredients a 7-year-old may never have seen. A lesson in do-it-yourself. A microcosm of community, a five-minute food co-op without dues or obligation.
Negatives? Gee whiz…how about “germ farm.” A substitution of promise for satisfaction, of choice for achievement. The permanent exile of seasonal pleasure.
Bad Mr. Karcher! (Rich Mr. Karcher.)
Briggs Goes Down
His plentiful lettuce, dear readers, funded something called the Briggs Initiative, or Proposition 6, on the California ballot in 1978. John V. Briggs was a queer-hating state assemblyman and senator from Orange County who wanted to keep gay men and lesbians from teaching in public schools because they were, every single one, “immoral.” He got his half-million signatures, and Carl Sr. threw his hamburger buns completely behind the strident effort.
According to the Advocate, Joan Baez, Harry Chapin, Holly Near, and Peter Yarrow raised $25,000 (not so bad then) at a sold-out benefit concert in Santa Monica to fight the proposal — already law in Arkansas and Oklahoma (which is where Anita Bryant withdrew). And then, former California governor Ronald Reagan, ready to run for president, quietly let it be known he was against the proposition, saying that as far as he knew, homosexuality wasn’t infectious “like the measles.” Briggs went down.
In 1989 (according to Bloomberg News), Carl Karcher agreed to pay a $664,000 fine to the Securities and Exchange Commission to settle charges of insider trading, with no admission of guilt attached.
A Horatio Alger Story
Left, Horatio Alger, Jr. at Harvard in 1853; right, the wildly successful author of Ragged Dick
You want something nice? In 1979, the businessman received the Horatio Alger Award, a solid recognition of Karcher’s bootstrapiness. It is very likely that no one at the teary ceremony mentioned the easily demonstrated queer, and criminal, subtext of Horatio Alger, Jr.’s novels, or, if you scour the records, that the real-life author was attracted to an assortment of Carl Jrs.: the frisky Cape Cod reverend was a pederast, a lover of boys. Of course, after Alger escaped to New York and became wealthy, he tried his best to make things better for male orphans and runaways.
Belated congratulations, and farewell, Mr. Karcher.
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In answer to the last post’s question, its poetic title “Handful of Clouds” comes initially not from dialog in Jimmy Cagney’s first film (as I had thought), but, according to S.F. Weekly’s irresistible restaurant critic and cineaste Meredith Brody, from a 1930 film “based on the Rowland Brown short story ‘A Handful of Clouds’ that I think introduced the concept or metaphor to Hollywood (it’s called The Doorway to Hell but A Handful of Clouds in England).” The Gay Recluse got it as well (see comment on previous post).
I grabbed the phrase from the also-1930 Sinner’s Holiday, in which the clattering Cagney character uses it as softener for death: “You don’t think I’m the guy who handed Mitch that handful of clouds, do ya?” (He shot Mitch.)
Who Do You Trust? was a 1960s afternoon-TV quiz show starring Johnny Carson, whose title gave high-school English teachers prissy ammunition and whose popularity shot the once-hayseed host onto nighttime NBC.
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