In evaluating an actor's work, a critic must take care not to permit his personal fellings to color his professional judgment. For this reason I have carefully weighed the many words I have written about The Panhandler.
I dislike the man because he is a liar and a cheat. He preys upon people by catching them off guard and by profiting from the almost universal human desire to assist a victim of misfortune.
Despite my dislike, I have grudgingly conceded that the man is a good actor-so good that his panhandling has provided him with a better income than is enjoyed by many who work on the stage instead of in the streets.
What I have criticized is his material. I is so contrived, so illogical.
"Excuse me, do you live (or work) around here?" is the opening. It doesn't make any difference how the sucker responds to thaat gambit. The actor has gotten his audience's attention for a moment. That's all he needs.
In the old days, he asked for busfare. Now he says, "I'm terribly embarrassed, but some teen-agers just drained 11 gallons of gas out of my tank, and today of all days I left my wallet at home. I fyou'd be kind enough to lend me a dollar or two so that I can get to work, I'd be very grateful to you, and of course I'll mail it bact to you tomorrow."
How does he know teen-agers took his gas? If he saw them, why didn't he stop them or summon the police? How does he know they took exactly 11 gallons" If he forgot his wallet, does that mean he has been driving around without a driver's license and registration card in his possession? If he has them, why doesn't he show them to identify himself? Instead of asking for your name and address on the pretext he will return your money, why doesn't he write down the license number of his car and then show you that his keys fit its loct and ignition? If he gives you the excuse that his car is several blocks away, why has he moved so far away from it to ask for money?
It is difficult to gauge just how much talent this actor has because he has been working with such poor material all these years. I have frequently urged him to find better writers.
But he has rarely changed his script, and that is mute testimony to its box office appeal. Perhaps 500 people have told me they gave this man money. At least 100 admitted-sheepishly-that they gave him $5 or more. They thought it would "look cheap" to offer him only $1.
Nobody-not one soul-has ever reported that he was repaid by this deliberate fraud.
I say "deliberate" because in my file is a detailed report from a man who had a long conversation with The Panhandler near the' Taft Bridge one day. The man said, "Look, fella, when I was a lot younger, I used almost the same hustle, and I made a good living with it. But after a while I couldn't live with myself any longer. I quit the hustle and got myself an honest job. Why don't you try that? With your talent, youc ould make more money on the legit."
The Panhandler responded, "Why should I work like a drudge from 9 to 5? I make a good living working just a couple of hours a day, and when I don't feel like working, I don't. If people are so dumb, why should I work? The money is out there waiting for somebody to take it away from them, and that's what I intend to do."
And he has.For well over a decade.
From time to time, I tell readers which locations are at that moment favored by The Panhandler. At present, he can often be found around 18th and Pennsylvania NW. Would Bank employees are special favorites of his. They're good for fives and tens.
This may be because they're responding to a new line in the script. After "left my wallet at home," the actor has recently been inserting: "I'7 Jack Halleck, manager of Anchor Inn, out in Wheaton." Gee whiz, how you can refuse to trust a man who has given you his name, and who holds a responsible position in a reputable restaurant that is now being run by the founder's grandchildren-a man who is inviting you to come out and have a free meal?
Be advised that the Anchor Inn and its management are embarrassed by all this. The Inn has received dozens of calls for Jack Halleck. But there is no Jack Halleck at the Anchor Inn. Nobody recalls there ever having been a Jack Halleck on the payroll. Not even as a busboy.
Are you the type that likes to help people? Here's a suggestion: You can help others by posting this column on a bulletin board where you work.