Saturday, May 19, 2001
Sheen's visit for a somber occasion is evidence of his generous spirit

By Joeseph X. Flannery

Martin Sheen is a class act.

When Jason Miller was filming his play, "That Championship Season," in Scranton in 1982, Mr. Sheen was in the cast. In that period, Jason and Mr. Sheen became friends.

Last Wednesday was a big day for Mr. Sheen, who plays the role of the president of the United States on television's "The West Wing." He had finished the last show of the season and had gone to New York with his wife of many years because her mother is dying and they want to be there with her.

The news that Mr. Sheen was in New York spread fast and he was invited by Regis Philbin to appear on his daily show on Wednesday. He accepted the invitation.

Understand, Mr. Sheen is now at the peak of his career. His television show has been a huge success, attracting millions of viewers every Wednesday night. But the last show was expected to draw even more viewers because Mr. Sheen, as the president, was expected to decide many tough questions.

However, he then learned that Mr. Miller had died in Scranton, and he knew instantly that he had to come here to attend the memorial Mass on Wednesday in St. Patrick's Church. So he got another person from "The West Wing" to fill in for him on the Regis show and he and his wife drove here and sat in the rear of the church.

There was an irony in Mr. Sheen coming here to say farewell to a deceased friend on that day. In the last episode of "The West Wing," he, as president, attended a religious service for his secretary, who had been killed by a drunken driver. In the privacy of the Washington cathedral, he shouted in rage at God for allowing the death.

Mr. Sheen said Jason was a good man with great talents whom he will remember forever.

Unlike many stars, Mr. Sheen did not try to escape the crowd that gathered around him after Jason's Mass. He signed autographs for scores of people, including many students from St. Patrick's School.

Jason's family had a brunch at the Radisson at Lackawanna Station Hotel after the service. Mr. Sheen was among the last to arrive because he stayed behind to sign autographs.

As I said, Mr. Sheen is a class act.

Perry Como was familiar face

Speaking of nice guys, singer Perry Como died recently at 88 at his home in Jupiter, Fla., a town many Scrantonians visit during the winter.

Before age slowed him down, Mr. Como was often seen in supermarkets, a Catholic church and on the golf courses.

When Mr. Como was 79, he was booked to perform his Christmas show in the Masonic Temple here and at the Kirby Center in Wilkes-Barre. But tickets ranging from $40 to $50 were a bit too pricey for that period. And maybe his age was a factor. In any case, the show was staged only in the Kirby Center for all regional fans.

On the lookout for purple cows

Two or more years ago, during one of my nostalgic periods, I wrote about the Purple Cow, a popular coffee and sandwich restaurant on the southwest corner of Wyoming Avenue and Spruce Street during the 1940s and into the 1950s.

I'm sometimes amazed when readers remember something I wrote far beyond my own memory. For example, John J. Valtos, 512 Keystone Ave., Peckville, dropped by to show me pictures he had taken of Purple Cow businesses while he and his wife, Pat, were driving across the country to visit their son, Jason, a labor lawyer in Seattle.

En route, they came across a gambling casino near an Indian reservation along Interstate 90 in Montana. Mr. Valtos got out of the car and took pictures of the Purple Cow sign on a casino and restaurant.

Later, in Seattle, the couple ran across another business named Purple Cow, and he took pictures of that, too. That business had the statue of a purple cow on its roof and specializes in espresso, soup and sandwiches.

The interior wall in the long-closed Scranton restaurant was decorated with paintings of purple cows. It also had a poem on the wall that I still remember. This is the way it went: "I never saw a purple cow and never hope to see one, but I can tell you here and now, I'd rather see than be one."

Coincidentally, Helen Gohsler of Scranton, one of the founders of Pennsylvanians for Human Life, read my nostalgic piece on the local Purple Cow restaurant. She rooted through a box of old photos until she found a picture of her and two friends standing in front of the restaurant.

That photo reminded me that there also was another poem and a painting of a purple cow on the outside wall. That poem said: "My Love, she is a purple cow, bright are her eyes and pure her brow, and, oh! how she can cook."

I loved the Purple Cow when it was part of a crowded and vibrant downtown. And while I miss it here, I'm pleased that the name still is being used on businesses in other parts of the country.

JOSEPH X. FLANNERY writes a column each SaturDay.