Ace’d out by Henry Fonda


By James R. Van Liere

PREVIEW Columnist

As you may recall from my little story “It’s All Your Fault” published recently, I had gone to Jackson, Wyo., looking for construction work for the summer before my senior year in civil engineering at the University of Wyoming. After meeting a local contractor, Johnny, in a restaurant, he hired me to help him restore the Jackson Trading Post. The store had suffered a serious fire while the owners, whose daughter was Miss Wyoming, were in Atlantic City for the Miss America contest

Immediately I went to work with Johnny building partitions to form an office and storage area. In addition, I hung a heavy moose head on the wall, built a sign for the roof, set up a PA system and helped build shelving.

Once the owner’s wife learned that I was a senior in engineering school, she asked if I could tutor her daughter in algebra. Her daughter was in the 10th grade and was having trouble in her summer school algebra class. 

I told her I would have to check with Johnny to see if I could take an hour off a couple of days a week to do this. 

He said that would fine and I would still be paid. Her daughter was very nice and we got along just fine during her tutoring sessions. Once she got over a couple rough spots in her lessons, she succeeded in passing the course. However, her mother’s next request really surprised me.

She wanted to know if would escort her older daughter, who was Miss Wyoming, to the premier of the movie “Spencer’s Mountain.” 

The premier was being held in Jackson in two weeks and her daughter needed an escort. I was reluctant to commit to such an offering because I did not have any decent clothes with me to attend such an event. However, as she pointed out, the premier was not for two weeks and I could have my folks mail me a suit, which was all that was required for this premier. 

This seemed like a reasonable plan, so I made the commitment, even though I had never met Miss Wyoming. 

“Fine,” she said, “and I will make arrangements for you to meet our daughter, Miss Wyoming.”

A couple of days later Miss Wyoming came into the store and we were introduced. After some pointless conversation, we decided to meet the next afternoon (I got an hour off from work) and go for a cup of coffee and a snack. 

Unfortunately, once we settled in to a booth at one of the local restaurants, I sort of sensed that Miss Wyoming was not too enthused about being escorted to the premier by a construction worker. Upon learning that I was a senior in engineering at the University of Wyoming, she relaxed a little, and I suppose, decided to accept her fate. At any rate, things progressed smoothly enough that we agreed to go to dinner in a couple of nights. We had a nice dinner a couple of nights later, and a couple more snack dates before the premier and got to know each other enough to feel comfortable going to the premier together.

On Friday afternoon, the day before the big premier, Miss Wyoming’s mother pulled me aside and said, “Jim, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”

It seemed that Henry Fonda had been a little too friendly with his motel maid, and the powers that be declared there was no way that Fonda was escorting that motel maid to the premier. And, Henry Fonda’s wife said there is no way I am flying to Jackson, Wyo., to be with that two-timer. 

The bottom line was: Miss Wyoming would be escorted by Henry Fonda, and I was now out of the picture.

Of course, I was disappointed, but not so much about losing a unique date with Miss Wyoming, but the fact I would not get a chance to possibly meet Maureen O’Hara and Fonda. Like so many times in life, you just have to accept the inevitable, and move on. Did I continue to date Miss Wyoming? Nope; never saw her again. 

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