The Great Hoax

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Many years ago I was living in Ft. Wayne, Ind. and was the program director for the CBS-TV station there. Among my many friends was a chap by the name of Jim Robinson. He was part of a little theatre group and we shared an interest in “Grand Opera”. Both Jim and his wife were very active in little theatre there and often we would get together and listen to opera recordings on my sound system and discuss singers and conductors. After a few glasses of wine the music always seemed to get better and more enjoyable.

One day Jim called and said his friend, a daughter of one of the Detroit Ford family, was having a party and wanted something special to entertain her invitees. It was decided that Jim would play the role of the Crown Prince of Liechendbourgh. His wife would be the Princess and he asked if I would go along as his aide decamps. I said sure, it sounded like a lot of fun.

Jim had a formal “Prince” costume tailored for the occasion and his wife and a dress made over to look regal. I had only to wear a business suit.

Jim had a problem, he liked his booze. I made him promise he would remain sober during the party so as not to give the hoax away to the guests. He said he would.

Two days before our departure from Indiana to Detroit, Jim asked me to come over and see his new costume. When I arrived he had already put on the “royal naval officer” suit, which was loaded with braid and medals. It was so overdone that he looked like the male lead in “Naughty Marietta”. He was a copy of Nelson Eddy circa 1936. I told him it was overdone and looked too stagy for a private party. He said he would eliminate some of the frills.

Now, Jim wouldn’t fly. So, the Ford family had their private railroad car sent to Ft. Wayne to transport the three of us to Detroit.

The rail car was something special, with all the executive furnishings one would expect with a living room, dining room and four private sleeping compartments with private facilities.

Also aboard the private car were an attendant and cook. As stated earlier, Jim liked his liquor and enjoyed the passing scenery through a wine glass. Again, I made him promise that when he was playing the “Crown Prince” role at the party he would stay off the booze. He said OK.

After part of a day and night coupled behind a passenger train, we arrived at the Detroit station on schedule. We were told that all should be in costume when we left the train because there would be an official greeting party waiting for us as we detrained.

There were about 12 men and women and the train platform dressed in their best to greet the “Crown Prince and Princess”. These were some of Detroit’s movers and shakers including the Mayor. I was already getting worried that this hoax might not go off believably.

Flowers were given to the “Princess” and the “Prince” was given an arrival gift and after a few minutes we proceeded to the waiting room of the station and on to the entrance where there were five or six limousines waiting to take us all to the Ford home in a very upscale suburb.

As we were getting into the automobiles a crowd had gathered and suddenly we were celebrities!

Upon arrival at the Ford mansion there was again a greeting line where each party attendee was introduced to the “Royal” couple. I simply stood nearby as the aide and answered many questions about the Prince and his province of Liechendbourgh. Jim had invented this principality which of course sounds like Liechtenstein which does exist.

So now the party is in full swing with everyone having a jolly good time. Everyone crowds close to the “Prince” for small talk. Jim is using his fairly good German accent.

His naval suit is still over braided and he has too many medals, but the partygoers don’t seem to suspect that anything is wrong.

After about two hours, I couldn’t see the “Prince” so wondered around the rooms and finally found him in the kitchen with a few people laughing and joking. His face had turned red, his hair looked a little out of place and he was drinking double martinis.

I also noticed that he was loosing his German accent.

As soon as I could I said that he had received an important message from the State Department and could I see him in private.

He broke away from the crowd and I met him in the toilet. I told him that he was already drunk and that he had lost his accent and his uniform was looking frumpy.

I said that he should invent a story that he and his wife were quite tired and would like to be driven to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.

He agreed and went back in the kitchen to resume the fun with his new found friends.

Before he could tell the guests that he was tired that Mayor suggested they all go to a very fine Italian restaurant for a late dinner.

Much to my disgust, the “Prince” said he liked the idea at which time the Mayor and Mrs. Ford made arrangements for many of the guests and the “Royal Party” to enjoy a dinner at 11 p.m.

Jim had another double martini and at that point I thought hard about departing for the hotel for escape.

I stuck around for the late dinner which was quite royal in its own way. Everyone was having fun, quite “oiled” and didn’t seem to notice that our “Prince” was loosing it.

Following the dinner the restaurant staff all lined up to shake the Prince’s hand and say hello to the Princess. Jim could hardly walk at that point and had to be assisted into the limousine for the drive to the hotel.

If anyone suspected the hoax it was never asked of Mrs. Ford and everyone thoroughly enjoyed being in the presence of “Royalty.”

Ken Brooks is a regular contributor to The Rim Review, writing this column and “Travel Talk.”

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