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Mar 22, 2016

If you are determined to title your book Strange As It Seems, you damn well better deliver. Chip Jacobs does that and more in a loving, funny and well-written biography of his late uncle, Hollywood musical legend Gordon Zahler. What makes it so strange? Well, in 1940, when Gordon Zahler was a 14-year-old daredevil who believed more than most teen-aged boys that he could do anything, a misadventure with a high school gymnastics springboard landed him on his neck and severed his spine.

CHIP JACOBS podcast excerpt: "Some people scoff or give me a funny eyebrow scrunched look when them my uncle did these things that he did. He looked at his injury like some people look at a skin rash and said to himself, 'Deal with it. I want to go on my boat, take flying lessons, or... What about a safari?'"

Most everyone – classmates, doctors and family – presumed he would be dead in a matter of days.

For inexplicable reasons, Zahler survived. Scratch that: the quadriplegic thrived. He refused to roll over and die; instead, taking charge of his Hollywood composer father’s music catalogue to create the go-to music library for early low-budget TV and film producers.

All of the time and money his family devoted to him early on paid off; Zahler created a successful business with nothing more than a charismatic sales pitch. Eventually, he became friends and a business associate of “I Love Lucy” star and producer Lucille Ball, Woody Woodpecker creator Walter Lanz, and animal-oriented TV show producer Ivan Tors.

CHIP JACOBS podcast excerpt: "Some of the TV shows to which Gordon provided music were filmed at Desilu Studios. For some reason, Lucille Ball thought my uncle was that cat's pajamas. It must have been Gordon's non-pitying attitude. Lucille Ball would see him and yell, 'Gordon!' and come running up to him. She would hug him, chat him up, and bring over other stars."

Right about now you’re probably thinking this sounds like the plot to a Hollywood movie – Zelig starring Woody Allen, perhaps, or Forrest Gump with Tom Hanks. But it’s a true story, one that Zahler’s nephew, Chip Jacobs, lived first hand at the end of his uncle’s life and later researched and reported in Strange As It Seems: The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler.

Key interview moments:

• 3:00 Chip Jacobs gave him biography the subtitle "The Impossible Life of Gordon Zahler" because he knew his uncle's life sounded unbelievable;

• 19:20 Muriel Zahler, Chip's mother and Gordon's sister, recognized that her life was forever changed by Gordon's accident and the financial too it took on their family; she never forgave him but never abandoned him, either;

• 19:20 Gordon's outsized life intersected with many celebrities thanks to his music business, creating relationships with everyone from sitcom queen Lucille Ball ("I Love Lucy") and animator Walter Lantz (creator of "Woody Woodpecker") to "B" movie director Ed Wood Jr. (Plan 9 From Outer Space).

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