By BOB VICKREY
At a recent informal memorial service for former Palisadian Mike Hartman, which was held on the grounds of the Palisades Recreation Center, one young man described Mike’s wardrobe when they first met.
“Mr. Hartman was wearing an ill-fitting dark suit with pants sagging well below his waistline. His white shirt was tucked into one side of his pants, but not the other.”
Pete Brotzen, a former law colleague, added that Mike showed up one day at the office wearing one black shoe and one brown shoe.
Neil Simon must have surely envisioned someone like Mike when he wrote the 1968 screenplay for “The Odd Couple,” with Walter Matthau cast as the unforgettably disheveled Oscar Madison. Simon will never know how close he came to describing our loveable, rumpled friend Mike Hartman.
Mike was a big man in stature who stood out in a crowd, and with his outsized personality, you always knew when he entered the room. He never took himself too seriously and possessed an endearing self-deprecating sense of humor.
The stories from those attending the November 26 gathering painted a picture of a kind-hearted man who had been a devoted and loving father to his three girls. Each of his daughters, Celeste, Joanna and Laura, entertained the crowd with comical and touching stories about their beloved dad.
William Michael Hartman passed away in Woodland Hills on April 14 after a battle with cancer. He was born April 1, 1943, in Waterbury, CT, and raised in Indianapolis. He graduated from Indiana University with a master’s degree in economics. He spent three years in Turkey in the Peace Corps before obtaining his law degree from the University of Southern California.
Mike and his former wife Lorraine raised their girls in Pacific Palisades where he was active in many local organizations, including the Optimist Club, in which he once served as president. The members performed in the annual Palisades Fourth of July Parade, while famously marching in their underwear.
He always participated in the yearly fundraising drive for The Salvation Army, while dressed in his Santa Claus outfit—and on these occasions, he wore matching black shoes.
He loved classic movies and old radio shows, especially the Jack Benny Show, and would often sit in his car in the family driveway at night listening to old episodes while smoking his favorite “Swisher Sweets.”
Mike was well known as a multi-tasker who didn’t sit still for very long. He loved his poker nights and his golf game and would have surely enjoyed them simultaneously if he could have figured out a way to do so.
He loved sports of all kinds and always took pleasure in filling out his NCAA March Madness bracket each year and making small wagers in various pools.
He coached his girls in basketball and softball, and often took them to Pauley Pavilion to see the UCLA women’s basketball team play.
Eldest daughter Laura later told him how much it meant to her that he took them to see women’s games. She said, “I’m really glad you showed us the importance of women’s sports and that we could do anything we set our minds to.”
Mike replied, “Oh, that’s not why we went. Do you know how much cheaper the women’s games are than the men’s?”
When the girls were little, Mike often took them on weekend outings to Travel Town, the pony rides and miniature golfing. They also made their annual trip to Disneyland.
They attended Cubs-Dodgers games at least once a year, where Mike would loudly sing “Root, root, root for the Cubbies” during the seventh inning stretch. Even though his daughters were initially embarrassed about his disloyalty to the hometown Dodgers, they eventually gave in and sang along with him.
He always tucked the girls in each night at bedtime and read a story before singing a song to them. One of his favorites was “Goodnight My Someone” from “The Music Man.” When they couldn’t sleep, he often sang “Summertime” until they nodded off.
Mike was part of our Monday Night Football group that began back in the mid-1980s. In fact, several of our MNF get-togethers were held in the Hartman home, and one of those occasions was particularly memorable when Mike was babysitting the girls while Lorraine was out of town.
As we were watching the game in the den while devouring our pepperoni pizza, the family cat suddenly came crashing through the back screen door and raced into the kitchen. We asked what that was all about, and Mike answered casually, “It looks like I forgot to feed the cat.”
I asked how long Lorraine had been gone, and Mike replied, “Oh, about a week.”
After the girls were grown, Mike moved to the San Fernando Valley where his law practice was located. He once brought a case before the California Supreme Court, and many of us wondered if his usual nonchalant approach regarding important matters might have hindered his performance that day.
But we all assumed he had hastily scribbled a few notes on an airline napkin during the short flight from L.A. to Sacramento, then presented his case to the judges, and subsequently walked out of the courtroom confidently declaring: “Nailed it!”
The last time our Monday Night Football group gathered, Mike wasn’t feeling well enough to attend. As we made small talk and ate our pizza, it didn’t take long for us to realize there was a marked difference in the overall atmosphere in the room that night. The big personality who had always been the life of the party was noticeably missing. The mood was far less festive and more somber without Mike there.
And for perhaps the first time ever, we were recognizing—in real time—what the time-honored phrase “He will be missed” truly meant.
Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns have appeared in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and was cited by the California Newspaper Publishing Association for column writing awards in 2016 and 2017. He lives in Pacific Palisades.