July 28, 2008
Three Peter Barrett Stories
By David E. Petzal and Phil Bourjaily
One of the people I miss most is Field & Stream's former Executive Editor, Peter Barrett. He was the real deal: a master fly fisherman, expert shot, gun nut, hunter of wide experience, and fine writer. He was a true New England yankee, a man who loved his pipe, and a fellow of few words.
During World War II, Peter was a transport pilot attached to the Eighth Army Air Force in England. One evening, he was standing on the porch of the Bachelor Officers' Quarters, raving drunk, peeing over the railing for all he was worth. A brigadier general walked up behind him and bellowed,
"LIEUTENANT, JUST WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?"
Peter did a proper about-face, still peeing, and said, as he hosed down the general, "Going to the bathroom, sir."
He escaped court martial only because the Air Corps was desperate for pilots at the time.
When Peter was Executive Editor, I was Managing Editor and, being in my thirties, thought of myself as the full flower of manhood. But Peter called me "kid."
One day I said, "Peter, I ain't no kid."
So he said, "Kid, read this," and pointed to a framed letter hanging above his typewriter. It was his first "buy" letter from Field & Stream, and it was dated eight months before I was born. That was the end of the "kid" problem.
Back in the early '80s, network television used to run ads for ginsu knives, Popeil's Pocket Fisherman, Boxcar Willie record albums, and stuff like that. These things ran at 3 in the morning, and the rates were dirt cheap, so whatever genius was in charge of Field & Stream's circulation decided we would film some promotional ads to get people to subscribe.
Peter Barrett was tapped for the part of Uncle Ned, who was showing his "grandson" how to flyfish, and to play the part of the grandson, the ad agency picked some bratty kid actor who hated water, fishing, and Peter, although not in that order.
Peter had brought along a couple of very fine bamboo fly rods, and the kid actor was not treating his with the proper respect. Finally, he simply threw the rod in the stream and stood there glaring at Peter. Peter took in the situation, lit his pipe, took a few puffs, and in his most genial tones said:
"If you do that again, you little ****, I'll drown you."
The kid, sensing that he was in the presence of death, screamed, ran ashore, and that was the end of the commercial.