The Daffy Duo: The Larry Jackson And Bernie Lynam Story

Photo courtesy "World Ice Skating Guide"

"The average skater does his skating from the knees down; the figure skater skates from the hips down; but the comic must do his skating in all sorts of off-balance, bent-over backwards and awkward positions. We have to do the unorthodox type of skating to get laughs and without laughs, well..." - Larry Jackson, "Lockport Union-Sun and Journal", November 5, 1953

Bernard 'Bernie' Franklin Lynam and Lawrence 'Larry' Alvin Lynam were both born in Seattle, Washington to working class families - Bernie on November 18, 1918 and Larry on October 30, 1916. 
As children, both spent time living outside of the Seattle area - Bernie in Tacoma and California and Larry in Portland, Oregon. Despite the fact they were born in the same city and had a lot in common, their paths never crossed until they were adults.

Both Bernie and Larry were athletic young men who achieved success in multiple sports. Bernie won the amateur featherweight title of Seattle in boxing and the U.S. junior four hundred and forty yard title in speed skating. He also excelled in swimming, diving and figure skating. Larry's first 'real' taste of athletics was at the age of ten, when he became a horse jockey. He went on to play baseball, hockey and box lacrosse and was the one hundred and five pound amateur champion of the Pacific Coast in boxing in 1931. He later recalled, "My four sisters babied me. I came home with black eyes too often. So one day my father took me to the YMCA and told them, 'Teach this kid to defend himself.' The next step was to the Washington Athletic Club, of Seattle... My coach there was Stanley Frey, who had been a good middleweight prospect. His career ended while he was training with the loggers. He had his upper leg caught in a 'choker' hook which is used to lift logs... Frey was an excellent coach. He impressed me with the fact that a good big man is taken for granted, but that a little man must prove himself. I still remember the bout in which I won the title. I got hit in the Adam's apple in the first round, and I couldn't close my mouth, so I was breathing like a guppy. But I managed to put my man away in the second." He got his start on the ice thanks to a hockey player. "One of the hockey players [at the local rink] gave me my first skates. The only trouble was that I wore a size three and the skates were size seven, so I wore them over my tennis shoes. But it saved me time, anyway. A bunch of us used to go down to the skating rink early in the morning before anyone else was up. We found out that a certain window was left open so we would boost one guy up there and he would let the rest of us in. Then we'd play hockey for an hour before going home to breakfast. The owner of the skating rink never did find out but he always wondered why his light bill was so high." Soon, Larry became the locker room and 'stick boy' for the Seattle Sea Hawks.

Larry got his start in the skating world performing in between hockey games and in club carnivals in Seattle in the mid-thirties. Encouraged by Evelyn Chandler, he headed to Hollywood, where he met Bernie. They were both cast in bit parts in the Sonja Henie film "My Lucky Star". The story of how they teamed up to form the famous 'Daffy Duo' is wild. Larry recalled, "We had just finished making a picture - 'My Lucky Star' - with Sonja Henie and we were sitting in the audience at an ice show in San Diego. It seems all three of the show's ice comedians were out. One had pneumonia, another was injured and the third one was sick. We were asked to fill in. We were rehearsing the music with the orchestra as the people were coming for the show that night." Bernie added, "There was only one costume shop and all we could find there was a pair of old-time straw hats. So we thought up the idea of a rube number and it's been part of the act ever since. We went to the Goodwill Industries and the Salvation Army and bought some old clothes, then stopped at a music store for a stock arrangement of 'Yankee Medley. At 7:30, while the audience was coming in, Larry and I were up on the orchestra platform pacing out the steps while the director scored the music." Their last-minute effort earned them a standing ovation and five encores.

Following their performance in San Diego, Larry appeared in a bit part in the RKO Pictures film "Everything's On Ice". John H. Harris was looking for a comedy act for his upcoming skating tour and gave Larry and Bernie the job. They appeared in the very first Ice Capades show in New Orleans in June of 1940 and two Republic Pictures films based on the tour in the years that followed.

Bernie and Larry came up new acts for the Ice Capades every year. They appeared as clowns, in drag, as Davy Crockett's, Keystone Kops, silent film stars and hockey players and were wildly popular with audiences. In one of their best-loved numbers, they attached skis to their skates. Their rough and tumble antics led to many bumps and bruises. Larry had huge scars on both of his knees and claimed the one on his left leg came from Bernie and the one of his right came from Sonja Henie. Bernie once fell and hit his head on the ice, knocking himself unconscious. Another time he broke his leg. In an interview with Jack Laing in 1958, Larry recalled, "I broke Bernie's leg one night when I threw him, and he landed off-balance. He said, 'My leg! My leg!' I tossed him over my shoulder and carried him off the ice. The fans never realized what happened. Thought that it was part of the act. He was out for eight weeks. 

One time one of Larry and Bernie's gags backfired. They were wearing the khaki 'doughboy' uniforms of Great War soldiers and each of them were to wander into the crowd and loudly complain to audience members about the scratchiness of the fabric. Bernie asked a man, "Don't you have the same trouble, buddy?" He responded, "I certainly do, son." The audience member was famous General George C. Marshall, who served as President Harry Truman's Secretary Of State and Secretary Of Defense.

Bernie was the Ice Capades' top bowler and both he and Larry were huge fans of boxing and football. They travelled with a small television set they'd set up in their dressing room so they wouldn't miss any of the sports. Larry recalled, "We see fights every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and occasionally on Saturday. The fights and the football games occupy our spare time in the arena, when we are not on the ice."

The War temporarily interrupted Larry and Bernie's stint with the Ice Capades. Both Bernie and Larry had flying licenses and were recruited as bomber pilots in the Army Air Corps. After flying several missions in Europe, Larry was wounded flying over Italy, discharged and returned to America and the Ice Capades. While waiting for Bernie to return home, he skated a pair act with Patti Phillippi and a comedy duo with Leo Loeb, who later starred in the Ice Cycles tour. Bernie was stuck in Europe longer and skated in the shows at the Casa Carioca nightclub in Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a time.

Photos courtesy "National Ice Skating Guide"

Near the end of the War, Bernie and Larry reunited and resumed skating together with the Ice Capades. They retired from the tour in 1956, after entertaining audiences off and on for sixteen years. Larry took a job as the tour's advance man, travelling ahead of the tour to handle the publicity for the next show date. He recalled putting Catherine Machado and Ronnie Robertson on a plane in Los Angeles to compete at the I.P.S.A. World Professional Championships in England and picking them up three days later so that they could rejoin the Ice Capades. In the fifties - still the early days of commercial air travel - this was a really big deal. After his days working as an 'advance man' ended, he managed the Skate N' Spur nitery in Los Angeles with baseball player Jerry Priddy and jockey Ray York for a time before taking up part ownership in an industrial printing company. He remarried to a fellow Ice Capades skater named Alyce, having divorced his first wife Virginia in 1947. He had two sons - one from each marriage.

Bernie settled in Wilton, Connecticut and bought The Flower Pot at Crossways. He coached several local baseball teams and later became the general manager of the Greens Farms Ice and Golf Center in Westport, where Gretchen Van Zandt Merrill taught for a time. Though he'd married an Ice Ca'pet' named Carol Brown, he had a son with Nate Walley's wife Edythe. When Bernie and Carol got divorced, Carol married Nate. Both passed away in Los Angeles - Bernie on April 6, 1968 and Larry on October 10, 1981. Though their skating may have lacked the finesse of their co-stars, The Daffy Duo were true pioneers in ice comedy whose important contributions to skating history deserve recognition.

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