'Wow, what a long engagement that was!'
Sunday, June 27, 2010
The way Henry Schalizki tells it, his second encounter with Bob Davis came in 1945, when his fellow serviceman arrived in Hawaii to entertain the troops with the USO.
"You can be a little more elegant about it," Bob interjects. "I was starring in a play -- not entertaining the troops! The play was 'Room Service,' and I had the pivotal role."
They'd met three years before at a little restaurant in the Providence Biltmore Hotel. Boris Karloff was also there, but the two spent the evening talking to each other.
When a poster went up advertising the play's run in Hawaii, Henry recognized the photo of Bob. During intermission, he went backstage to reintroduce himself, and invited Bob out for a drink. Bob agreed and, once the curtain fell, hurried to remove his makeup and get to the lobby.
Fifteen minutes passed, then 20. No Henry. "I was very toasted that day," recalls Henry, now 88. "I walked out on his show."
"And I've never really forgotten that," says Bob, 89. "I was so good in the second act!"
Still, three years later, when Henry walked into a Baltimore bar where Bob was sitting alone, they quickly retraced their acquaintance. Bob had just moved to town for a job as a personality on a fledgling television station. Henry had grown up in Charm City and returned after the war to take a job with the B&O railroad administration.
When Henry learned Bob was staying at a seedy boarding house, he invitedhim to stay the night in his guest room, saying, "tomorrow we'll find you something."
But that never happened. They fell in love, and Bob "stayed and stayed" -- through good times and bad, sickness and health, through Stonewall and Vietnam, through the terms of 12 U.S. presidents, starting with Harry Truman. Through the loss of more friends than they care to count. They stayed together long enough to witness what they thought was impossible: Last Sunday, they exercised their newfound right, exchanging vows on a rooftop overlooking Pennsylvania Avenue, turning their six-decade relationship into a marriage.
"Wow, what a long engagement that was!" Bob said to their guests. "Sixty-two years! Something had to give."
"We needed each other," Bob said recently from a wingback chair in their Chevy Chase penthouse.
From the beginning, they traveled and socialized and spurred on each other's early passion for the theater. In his childhood, Henry had escaped an impoverished, dysfunctional life on the afternoons when his grandmother took him to a Baltimore matinee. Bob, always looking for an audience, began acting as a boy, working his way up to community theater and trying to make it in New York before becoming a broadcaster. Now they were devoted patrons, hitting every opening in town.