Art Linkletter, I really wanted him to live forever. . .
Art Linkletter was one of the reasons I became so interested in history, and in a real, very personal way. On his show called House Party he was known for his hilarious interviews with young kids, but he would also have on the occasional old timer.
It was about 1964 when he presented a lively old gentleman that was 105 years old at the time of the show; so this ancient time traveler had been born BEFORE the Civil War, BEFORE the first election of Abraham Lincoln. I was only 7 watching him on the show, but even then such a thing impressed me.
Mr. Linkletter had the old guy come up from his front row seat in the audience. He was thin as a rail and sprightly; in fact, to show off his good health he nearly bounded up the few stairs to the stage. He continued to demonstrate the agility belying his age by bending down from the waist and touching his toes, not once but three times. Now that was cool. I remember thinking, ‘Hey, getting old isn’t all that bad. LOOK at this guy!’
He wasn’t able to touch his toes with all his fingers however since he was missing two or three of them. He proudly held his mangled hands up to show off the missing digits—and the ones still there weren't looking all that good either; they had obviously been through the mill a time or two.
In a voice hoarse with age yet quick with wit he told Art the story of his youth, how he had gone to work while still a young lad in the 1870s to help build our up-and-coming intercontinental railway system. It was while doing that roughneck work in the days before machines took over all the more dangerous difficult tasks that he has lost the fingers. It was after seeing that fascinating old man, a living breathing testament of our past that I began to read biographies and history. I never stopped.
Whenever I’ve seen Art Linkletter over the years I’ve remembered that interview with the 105 year old intercontinental railroad builder. I was sure Art would live at least as long as that old fellow. The last time I saw Mr. Linkletter was about two years ago, I think it was on Larry King. Already well into his 90s, Art seemed just as sharp and with it as always. I know I shouldn’t be surprised and disappointed that a 97 year old man has passed on, but I really wanted him to live forever.