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The shteegan on Fred Saxon

Fred Saxon, mensch. Rest in peace.
Fred Saxon, mensch. Rest in peace.

The ringer was still in movie theatre mode when I awoke last Friday to find four messages. To paraphrase comedian Richard Lewis, that many calls so early in the day means one thing: death in the family. Fred Saxon, a colleague, a consigliere, and above all a cherished friend, died of a heart attack Thursday night at his home outside of Detroit. From what I gather, his parting was instantaneous; here one second, gone the next. He was 76.

Had I known that Fred was going to leave us so soon, I would have taken better notes. With the exception of a few dates borrowed from Alexander Nguyen’s obit for NBC7, what follows is distilled from an 18-year friendship. The Detroit native is survived by a daughter and granddaughter. Fred had at least two siblings, twin brothers, both jockeys, Bob and Jerry Kotenko. Bob raced in the 1972 Kentucky Derby. According to a video posted by Fred Roggin on May 22, 2017, at 72, Bob is, “still out on the track, training horses in Pennsylvania.”

Fred knew more about showbiz protocol than anyone I’ve yet to encounter. “Never tell someone who makes their living in front of a camera that they’re better looking in real life,” was one of the first lessons passed down by Fred. “If they’re somebody, treat ‘em like nobody, and if they’re nobody, threat ‘em like somebody” was another of Fred’s favorite precepts. I have never deleted an email Fred sent. Who needed television when one hour on the phone with Fred delivered more laughs and showbiz perceptivity than most sitcoms do in a season?

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His career covering the entertainment scene spanned 25 years. First stop, a plum gig as CNN’s debut entertainment reporter. Before that, Fred was unemployed, living in Atlanta, and in debt to various people for upwards of $10,000. He relied on food stamps to eat, and I remember him telling me in no uncertain terms how terrified he was. With nowhere to go but up, Fred did what he did best: slapped on a happy face and got out there and sold himself.

He started calling around. Out of those phone calls came a lead, which a year later turned into an opportunity, and ultimately, a job on television reviewing movies and interviewing film stars. (Fred’s video archive houses interviews with everyone from Lucy and Jimmy Stewart to Denzel Washington.) “Before I made the phone calls I was a failure,” he wrote me. “No money, no job, in debt, and afraid. What did I have to lose? The lesson for me was, ‘If you’ve got nothing to lose, you can’t lose.’”

Fred worked as entertainment reporter for KUSI from 1991 to 2000, first on “KUSI News at Ten,” then on the “KUSI Morning News.” From 2002 to 2005, Fred’s cheery voice started the day for viewers of the now-kaput XETV-Fox 6. “Tabloid Tuesday,” as it came to be called, found Fred cherry picking bits from the rags so that we didn’t have to. Somewhere between the two stations, Fred landed a half-hour arts and entertainment program at KPBS produced by David Copley. He was recognized by his peers with a pair of Emmys.

We first met outside the Landmark Hillcrest in 1997 while I was in town vacationing from Chicago. The title of that night’s movie escapes me, but I do recall speaking with Fred about our mutual love of Albert Brooks. He was one of the first friends I made after moving to town in 2000.

Fred could neologize with the best of them. Perhaps it was the connection to the racetrack that contributed to his colorful Damon Runyonesque vocabulary. “If I tell you something, do you promise to keep it on the shteegan?” he once asked, his voice dropping to just above a whisper. “Sure,” I lied, “but first tell me what’s a shteegan.” “You never heard of shteegan?” he shot back. “It means hush-hush, on the down-low.” I have yet to find confirmation of the existence of such a word either online or in daily usage.

I was always taken aback when people used the word “corny” to describe Fred’s sense of humor. Fred loved to work blue as evidenced by his classic telling of the story of Benny the Boil-sucker. Fred delivered the goods with as much gusto as Gilbert Gottfried putting his spin on the Aristocrats. When the venality finally reached its scatalogical punchline, Fred slapped on a grin and, without a hint of irony, punctuated the filth with, “Isn’t that cute?” All he asked in return was that I entertain him with my spot-on impersonation of “Dirty” Dolores Hope.

As both friend and mentor, Fred was generous to a fault. A few months after leaving Fox6, Fred actually called to suggest that I audition to be his replacement. He wrote, “Thing is, you’re much better than I ever was — or will be — with movies. You care more than I ever did — or will — about movies. I have the utmost confidence in you.” What a gift. For a business known for its narcissism and covetous one-upmanship, Fred was first and foremost loyal to the bone.

He moved back to Michigan what seems like a year-and-a-half ago, and we continued to speak on a regular basis. Fred took care of himself, and in spite of the return to a colder climate, he sounded happier than ever. It’s going to take some doing to re-accustom myself to a life without him. I declined delivering eulogies at my parent’s funerals, making this the hardest piece I’ve ever written. The floor is covered with Kleenex and a pair of windshield wipers for my glasses would sure come in handy. God bless you, my friend. See you on the other side.

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Fred Saxon, mensch. Rest in peace.
Fred Saxon, mensch. Rest in peace.

The ringer was still in movie theatre mode when I awoke last Friday to find four messages. To paraphrase comedian Richard Lewis, that many calls so early in the day means one thing: death in the family. Fred Saxon, a colleague, a consigliere, and above all a cherished friend, died of a heart attack Thursday night at his home outside of Detroit. From what I gather, his parting was instantaneous; here one second, gone the next. He was 76.

Had I known that Fred was going to leave us so soon, I would have taken better notes. With the exception of a few dates borrowed from Alexander Nguyen’s obit for NBC7, what follows is distilled from an 18-year friendship. The Detroit native is survived by a daughter and granddaughter. Fred had at least two siblings, twin brothers, both jockeys, Bob and Jerry Kotenko. Bob raced in the 1972 Kentucky Derby. According to a video posted by Fred Roggin on May 22, 2017, at 72, Bob is, “still out on the track, training horses in Pennsylvania.”

Fred knew more about showbiz protocol than anyone I’ve yet to encounter. “Never tell someone who makes their living in front of a camera that they’re better looking in real life,” was one of the first lessons passed down by Fred. “If they’re somebody, treat ‘em like nobody, and if they’re nobody, threat ‘em like somebody” was another of Fred’s favorite precepts. I have never deleted an email Fred sent. Who needed television when one hour on the phone with Fred delivered more laughs and showbiz perceptivity than most sitcoms do in a season?

Sponsored
Sponsored

His career covering the entertainment scene spanned 25 years. First stop, a plum gig as CNN’s debut entertainment reporter. Before that, Fred was unemployed, living in Atlanta, and in debt to various people for upwards of $10,000. He relied on food stamps to eat, and I remember him telling me in no uncertain terms how terrified he was. With nowhere to go but up, Fred did what he did best: slapped on a happy face and got out there and sold himself.

He started calling around. Out of those phone calls came a lead, which a year later turned into an opportunity, and ultimately, a job on television reviewing movies and interviewing film stars. (Fred’s video archive houses interviews with everyone from Lucy and Jimmy Stewart to Denzel Washington.) “Before I made the phone calls I was a failure,” he wrote me. “No money, no job, in debt, and afraid. What did I have to lose? The lesson for me was, ‘If you’ve got nothing to lose, you can’t lose.’”

Fred worked as entertainment reporter for KUSI from 1991 to 2000, first on “KUSI News at Ten,” then on the “KUSI Morning News.” From 2002 to 2005, Fred’s cheery voice started the day for viewers of the now-kaput XETV-Fox 6. “Tabloid Tuesday,” as it came to be called, found Fred cherry picking bits from the rags so that we didn’t have to. Somewhere between the two stations, Fred landed a half-hour arts and entertainment program at KPBS produced by David Copley. He was recognized by his peers with a pair of Emmys.

We first met outside the Landmark Hillcrest in 1997 while I was in town vacationing from Chicago. The title of that night’s movie escapes me, but I do recall speaking with Fred about our mutual love of Albert Brooks. He was one of the first friends I made after moving to town in 2000.

Fred could neologize with the best of them. Perhaps it was the connection to the racetrack that contributed to his colorful Damon Runyonesque vocabulary. “If I tell you something, do you promise to keep it on the shteegan?” he once asked, his voice dropping to just above a whisper. “Sure,” I lied, “but first tell me what’s a shteegan.” “You never heard of shteegan?” he shot back. “It means hush-hush, on the down-low.” I have yet to find confirmation of the existence of such a word either online or in daily usage.

I was always taken aback when people used the word “corny” to describe Fred’s sense of humor. Fred loved to work blue as evidenced by his classic telling of the story of Benny the Boil-sucker. Fred delivered the goods with as much gusto as Gilbert Gottfried putting his spin on the Aristocrats. When the venality finally reached its scatalogical punchline, Fred slapped on a grin and, without a hint of irony, punctuated the filth with, “Isn’t that cute?” All he asked in return was that I entertain him with my spot-on impersonation of “Dirty” Dolores Hope.

As both friend and mentor, Fred was generous to a fault. A few months after leaving Fox6, Fred actually called to suggest that I audition to be his replacement. He wrote, “Thing is, you’re much better than I ever was — or will be — with movies. You care more than I ever did — or will — about movies. I have the utmost confidence in you.” What a gift. For a business known for its narcissism and covetous one-upmanship, Fred was first and foremost loyal to the bone.

He moved back to Michigan what seems like a year-and-a-half ago, and we continued to speak on a regular basis. Fred took care of himself, and in spite of the return to a colder climate, he sounded happier than ever. It’s going to take some doing to re-accustom myself to a life without him. I declined delivering eulogies at my parent’s funerals, making this the hardest piece I’ve ever written. The floor is covered with Kleenex and a pair of windshield wipers for my glasses would sure come in handy. God bless you, my friend. See you on the other side.

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Comments
1
  1. Never knew of him. Now I wish I had.
  2. Also a fan of Richard Lewis and Albert Brooks.
  3. Well, shteegan SHOULD be a Yiddish word. Mel Brooks and Bette would embrace it.
  4. Sorry about your loss. Can I buy you lunch?
Oct. 4, 2018

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