Mort Sahl
Canadian comedian
Mort Sahl
Morton Lyon "Mort" Sahl is a Canadian-born American comedian and actor. He occasionally wrote jokes for speeches delivered by President John F. Kennedy. He was the first comedian to record a live album and the first to perform on college campuses. He was on the cover of Time magazine in 1960 where they called him "the patriarch of a new school of comedians".
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3 Things We Wish Bill Maher Would
Huffington Post - 22 days
First of all, a confession: I probably agree with 90% of Bill's Maher's political/ideological positions, so the piddling complaints that follow aren't the result of any fundamental difference in philosophy or political doctrine. As far as I'm concerned, Bill Maher's view of the world is very much in synch with my own. In fact, if he and I were to sit down at a neighborhood bar (I with a cheap domestic beer, he with a top-of-the-line reefer) and discuss politics, we could very likely go a whole hour without a single meaningful dispute. My beef is more "personal" than ideological, more about "style" than "substance." Alas, it seems that somewhere along the line Mr. Bill Maher has fallen hopelessly in love with himself. This has altered his act, and not in a good way. As a consequence of that high self-regard, he now comes off as some sort of a "latter day prophet" or elder statesman rather than a stand-up comic. With all due respect, here are 3 things I wish Bill would do: ...
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Huffington Post article
A Nation of Comedians?
Huffington Post - 3 months
"If Jesus Christ were to come back today, people would not crucify him. They would ask him to dinner, hear what he had to say, and then make fun of it." -Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) * * * If Carlyle thought we were wallowing in self-satisfied snarky humor back in the mid-19th century, he would positively flip his powdered wig over what's available on cable TV today. If I see one more slap-stick impersonation of Donald Trump, one more comedian doing his version of Trump's pomposity, or one more groaning send-up of Trump's speechifying, I'm going flip my wig. In no way is this to suggest humor is unworthy of us, or is inappropriate when applied to politics. No one is advocating the abolition of political humor, or urging people to take to the streets in protest of it. Humor is good; humor is salutary, ...
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Huffington Post article
Happy birthday to Mort Sahl, a comic without parallel
Chicago Times - almost 2 years
The greatest living comic in the world is Mort Sahl.
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Chicago Times article
Jonathan Kim: ReThink Review: When Comedy Went to School - Comedy History in the Catskills
Huffington Post - over 3 years
I've been a stand up comedy hobbyist and enthusiast for several years now, though I'll admit that I'm not terribly versed on comedy history, which for me started with listening to a cassette of Eddie Murphy's Delirious on the ride home from a Boy Scout campout. The clunkily-named documentary When Comedy Went to School traces the roots of modern stand up to a rather unlikely place -- the resorts of New York state's Catskill mountains (like the one famously portrayed in the movie Dirty Dancing) where Jewish families in the 1930s through the 1960s would flee New York City's heat and humidity during the summertime for the Catskills, which was America's biggest resort area at the time. It was there that comedy icons like Jerry Lewis, Jackie Mason, Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers, and even Woody Allen were able to work and hone material during weeklong stands in front of packed, tough crowds, creating the style and rhythm of what we now consider modern stand up comedy. Watch the tra ...
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Huffington Post article
Dr. Cheryl Pappas: When Comedy Went to School: The Movie That Celebrates Jewish Humor
Huffington Post - over 3 years
Before there was Prozac, there was Jewish comedy. There is only one fail-proof cure that I know of for enduring the trials of our times, and that is laughter. I know that people are not always in the mood to laugh, due to depression, the state of the world, and our own personal challenges. If only we could stay open to what is funny. The pharmaceutical business would have fierce competition from a substance that is free: laughter. Scientists say that laughing changes the biochemistry of the brain, at least temporarily. I'm not saying that trauma or long-standing biochemical depression can be simply treated or transcended. I am also not proposing that the grimmer realities of life be dismissed or denied. But I am wondering: is it possible to create a movement where laughter is used as a cure and sought as a true healing? When Comedy Went to School is a terrific movie to kick-start this endeavor. This brilliant new film showcases the roots of Jewish hu ...
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Huffington Post article
Kristin McCracken: When Comedy Went to School: The Catskills Were a Boot Camp for the Greatest Generation of Comedians
Huffington Post - over 3 years
Jerry Lewis / Credit: International Film Circuit The Borscht Belt, the Jewish Alps, the Sour Cream Sierras... From the 1940s to the 1960s, the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York (primarily Sullivan and Ulster Counties) were the place to be for the growing Jewish community in the Northeast. Each summer, families would visit one of the 900+ hotels in the region for relaxation, cultural camaraderie, food (endless amounts of food!), and entertainment. Out of this unique subculture grew what we now know as standup comedy. As audiences grew tired of vaudeville, and their tastes became more sophisticated, comedy had to adapt, and adapt it did. Aspiring comics honed their trade in the Catskills, which soon became a laboratory for modern comedy. Icons such as Jerry Lewis, Mel Brooks, Buddy Hackett, Carl Reiner, Jerry Stiller, Danny Kaye, Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar all got their start at these legendary resorts, learning from their predecessors what worked -- and what didn't -- ...
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Huffington Post article
Nato Green: Jews Reveal Our Secrets to Controlling the Banks (VIDEO)
Huffington Post - almost 4 years
A few months ago, I talked to San Francisco holiday shoppers about their true feelings about the age-old stereotype about Jews and money. I got them on tape, and even visited one of the many homes of the world's richest Jew, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison. Yet I didn't meet that many actual Jews. To get the Jewish side of the story, I paid a visit to the Purim carnival at the San Francisco Jewish Community Center to hear from Jews in their natural habitat. Shockingly, I found Jews who would admit to being willing to do anything short of genocide to get a good deal. I even found the Jews who control the banks, the ATMs, and the ice cream trucks. Check it out: The JCCSF's online venue 3200 Stories is also producing The Nato Sessions: Live Conversating & Podcastery with Famous Smart People on Mondays in April at 7pm at Stage Werx Theatre at 446 Valencia in San Francisco. Guests: April 8: Gerard Jones (author of the history of comic books Men of Tomorrow, comic bo ...
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Huffington Post article
David Macaray: Obama's $9 Per Hour Minimum Wage
Huffington Post - about 4 years
Legendary comedian Mort Sahl (who's still alive and kicking, by the way) used to tell this one during the Nixon administration. If a man were drowning 15-feet from shore, President Nixon would throw him a 10-foot rope. Then Henry Kissinger would go on television and declare that "the president had met him more than halfway." In his State of the Union speech, President Obama announced with great fanfare that he wanted to raise the federal minimum wage, in stages, from its present $7.25 per hour to $9.00 per hour by 2015. There are three ways to interpret this announcement: (1) The U.S. Chamber of Commerce way (i.e., as ruinous to our national economy), (2) the Jay Carney (Obama's press secretary), and Cody Keenan (Obama's speechwriter) way (i.e., as political dynamite), and (3) the minimum-wage worker's way (i.e., as a step in the right direction). Consider the numbers. If you're a full-time worker -- 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year, with no days off -- $9.00/hour ...
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Huffington Post article
Myra Chanin: Happy Birthday to the World's Weirdest Comic: Professor Irwin Corey, the Gibberish Maven
Huffington Post - over 4 years
At the ripe age of either 98 (per Wikipedia) or 100 (per his faded driver's license), Professor Irwin Corey, "The World's Foremost Authority," is still a man of many words, usually multisyllabic and unintelligible. No other comedian is so eloquent in his use of vocabulary and so incoherent through his abuse of it. Mostly self-educated, a voracious reader, still spry, hip, impish and still performing, albeit not as often as during his glory days, Corey built a thriving career on the synthesis of erudition and gibberish. Actually, he knows the meaning of every word he misuses. He appears on stage disheveled, wearing a cutaway, string tie, baggy pants and sneakers and wanders anxiously around. To remind himself why he's there, he removes some notes from his pocket, laughs silently at their hilarity, replaces them, pulls them out and reads them again before holding up his index finger for attention. He always begin by uttering the same word, However, followed by as many minut ...
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Huffington Post article
Len Berman: Top 5 Sports Stories
Huffington Post Sports - almost 5 years
TGIF everyone here's my Top 5 for May 4, 2012 from Len Berman at 1. Quick Hits Yankees star closer Mariano Rivera tore his ACL shagging fly balls in Kansas City. His career may be over. The Knicks lose an NBA record 13th straight playoff game, 87-70 to the Heat. Miami leads three games to none. Oklahoma City also leads champion Dallas 3-0. NHL playoffs: The Devils now lead Philadelphia 2-1, L.A. leads St. Louis 3-0. Junior Seau's death has been ruled a suicide. His family will allow his brain to be studied by scientists studying the long-term effects of head trauma. Tomorrow's the 138th running of the Kentucky Derby. 2. No Mo It could truly be the end of an era, in more ways that one. Mariano Rivera doesn't know if he'll pitch again and while fans ponder what the Yankees will be like without the best closer in baseball history, stop for a moment to think what the Yankee trophy case would look like if they never had him. Of all the Yankee ...
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Huffington Post Sports article
American Master
Tablet - over 5 years
It was 1982, and Robert Weide was 22 years old, when he first approached Woody Allen about profiling the comic in a documentary. Weide, a fan of comedy legends since his childhood, had already made The Marx Brothers in a Nutshell, an acclaimed film about Groucho and his brothers, but Allen politely turned him down. Instead, the filmmaker turned his focus to Mort Sahl, about whom he made 1989’s Mort Sahl: The Loyal Opposition, and Lenny Bruce, subject of his Emmy- and Oscar-nominated 1998 film, Lenny Bruce: Swear to Tell the Truth. Then he helped Larry David create Curb Your Enthusiasm, for which he served as executive producer for five seasons. When he approached Allen again, in 2008, the answer was yes. The result is Woody Allen: A Documentary, a three-hour, two-part film for which Allen granted Weide extensive access to his life. It premieres Sunday night on PBS, as part of the “American Masters” series. Weide joined Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to discuss why he makes films about c ...
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Tablet article
Something Happened
NYTimes - over 5 years
JUST ONE CATCH A Biography of Joseph Heller By Tracy Daugherty Illustrated. 548 pp. St. Martin's Press. $35. YOSSARIAN SLEPT HERE When Joseph Heller Was Dad, the Apthorp Was Home, and Life Was a ''Catch-22'' By Erica Heller Illustrated. 272 pp. Simon & Schuster. $25. ''Oh God, this is a calamity for American literature,'' Kurt Vonnegut said on
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NYTimes article
Can three comedians transcend the red-blue divide? - Salon
Google News - over 5 years
You wouldn't have asked that question about Mort Sahl, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce or George Carlin. Those guys are the Mount Rushmore of comedy. But they didn't create political and cultural currents. They responded to them. There's a saying I've heard
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Google News article
Nobody Mention the Culture War - Pajamas Media
Google News - over 5 years
... I described its literary stylings and doomsday forecast as a combination of Oswald Spengler*, the author of the influential Weimar-era tome, The Decline of the West mated to the riffing of the pioneering wordplay-obsessed comedian Mort Sahl
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Google News article
A life behind bars - Boston Globe
Google News - over 5 years
One of the longest-serving bartenders in Greater Boston, St. Paul has poured drinks for Miles Davis and Mort Sahl, catered to the Big Bad Bruins four decades ago, and watched the public's taste in alcohol change more than a banana in a blender
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Google News article
What's On Your Mind? - New York Daily News (blog)
Google News - over 5 years
His position on evolution brings to mind humorist Mort Sahl's old quip about Darwin being wrong. We have gone from Thomas Jefferson to Ronald Reagan (just change the name to Rick Perry). I realize I'm a bit late but... I have a beef Regarding the new
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Google News article
Learn about memorable moments in the evolution of Mort Sahl
  • 2011
    Age 83
    In 2011, the Library of Congress placed his 1955 recording, At Sunset, on the National Recording Registry.
    More Details Hide Details Sahl's humor is based on current events, especially politics, which led Milton Berle to describe him as "one of the greatest political satirists of all time." His trademark persona is to enter the stage with a newspaper in hand, casually dressed in a V-neck sweater. He would often recite some news stories combined with satire. He was dubbed "Will Rogers with fangs" by Time magazine in 1960. He would discuss people or events almost as if he were reporting them for the first time, and would digress into related stories or his own experiences. TV executive Roger Ailes said he saw him read the paper one day and after a few hours Sahl got up onstage with an entire evening's worth of new material. "With no writers, he just did what he had seen in the afternoon paper. He was a genius."
  • 2008
    Age 80
    Sahl does not drink, smoke, use drugs or use swear words, on or off stage. In 2008, Sahl moved from Los Angeles to Mill Valley, a suburb of San Francisco, where he became friends with comedian Robin Williams who lived nearby.
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  • 2007
    Age 79
    In June 2007 a number of star comedians gave Sahl an 80th birthday tribute.
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  • 1997
    Age 69
    In 1997 he married Kenslea Sahl and they divorced around 2009.
    More Details Hide Details He regrets their separation, saying "I'm sorry I divorced Kenslea; I'm still in love with my wife. If you love a woman it'll make her a better woman." In 1976, Sahl wrote an autobiography called Heartland. It is a bitter account of his rise in comedy, his obsession with the Kennedy assassination, and his decline in show business.
  • 1996
    Age 68
    They had one son, Mort Sahl Jr., who died in 1996, aged 19, from an unknown drug-related reaction.
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  • 1991
    Age 63
    The Monitor Channel broadcast a series of eight shows called Mort Sahl Live beginning in November 1991.
    More Details Hide Details From the 1990s on he has performed, but less often and mostly in theaters and college auditoriums. When Woody Allen saw him perform in 2001 at one of his rare New York club appearances, Allen told him, "this is crazy—you should be working all the time." Allen then called his manager Jack Rollins: "Listen, this guy is hilarious. We gotta bring him to New York." Sahl then did shows at Joe's Pub in Manhattan to standing-room only audiences. Sahl is #40 on Comedy Central's list of the 100 greatest stand-up comedians of all time, ranked between Billy Crystal and Jon Stewart. In 2003 he received the Fifth Annual Alan King Award in American Jewish Humor from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture.
  • 1988
    Age 60
    In 1988 Sahl was back in New York and performed a one-man Off-Broadway show, Mort Sahl's America, which, despite getting good reviews from critics was not a box office success.
    More Details Hide Details The New York Times stated, "History has returned Mort Sahl to the spotlight when he is most needed. His style has an intuitive spontaneity. His presence is tonic." But the level of success he once had now eluded him. One Los Angeles Times critic wrote, "Sahl is a man with a country but not a stage." A number of television specials gave him a venue to perform in front of live audiences.
  • 1987
    Age 59
    In 1987 he had a successful multiweek run in Australia.
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  • 1967
    Age 39
    In 1967 he married actress and model China Lee and they divorced in 1991.
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  • 1964
    Age 36
    His income dropped from $1 million to $19,000 by 1964.
    More Details Hide Details According to Nachman, the excessive focus on the Kennedy assassination details was Sahl's undoing and wrecked his career. Sahl later admitted that "there's never been anything that had a stronger impact on my life than this issue," but added that he nonetheless "thought it was a wonderful quest." By the 1970s the rising tide of counterculture eventually fueled Sahl's partial comeback as a veteran comedian, and he was included along with the new comedians breaking into the field, such as George Carlin, Lily Tomlin and Richard Pryor. In the 1980s he headlined for Banducci's new clubs in San Francisco. In the late 1980s he was trying to write screenplays, besides doing sporadic shows around the country.
  • 1963
    Age 35
    Following Kennedy's assassination in 1963, Sahl's interest in who was responsible was so great that he became a deputized member of New Orleans District Attorney Jim Garrison's team to investigate the assassination.
    More Details Hide Details As a result, Sahl's comedy would often reflect his politics and included readings and commentary about the Warren Commission Report, of which he consistently disputed its accuracy. He alienated much of his audience, was effectively blacklisted and more of his planned shows were cancelled.
    Numerous politicians became his fans, with John F. Kennedy asking him to write his jokes for campaign speeches. After Kennedy's assassination in 1963, however, Sahl became obsessed with what he saw as the Warren Report's inaccuracy and conclusions, and spoke about it often during his shows.
    More Details Hide Details This alienated much of his audience and led to a decline in his popularity for the remainder of the 1960s. By the 1970s, however, his shows and popularity staged a partial comeback which continues to the present.
  • 1960
    Age 32
    He was not fond of television news, however, which he blamed in 1960 for "spoon-feeding" the public, and was therefore responsible for the "corruption and ignorance that may sink this country."
    More Details Hide Details As a result of Sahl's popularity, besides getting on the cover of Time, he also became the first comedian to make a record album, the first to do college concerts and was the first comedian to win a Grammy. Robert Weide produced a biographical documentary, Mort Sahl: The Loyal Opposition, which ran on PBS in 1989.
  • 1956
    Age 28
    Along with his nightclub performances, he appeared in some films and on television shows, including his network debut on The NBC Comedy Hour in May 1956.
    More Details Hide Details His audience had also widened to include not only students and a "hip" public, but now even noted politicians sought out his shows. Some became friends, such as presidential candidate John F. Kennedy, who asked him to prepare a bank of political jokes he could use at public functions. Kennedy liked his style of political satire and what he described as Sahl's "relentless pursuit of everybody." Adlai Stevenson and Hubert Humphrey were fans, Humphrey stating that "whenever there is a political bloat, Mort sticks a pin in it." They valued the fact that he stayed current and took material from major newspapers and magazines. He kept his material fresh, wrote few notes, and entertained his audiences by presenting otherwise serious news with his brand of humor.
  • 1955
    Age 27
    Sahl has been married three times: He married Sue Babior in 1955 and they divorced in 1958.
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  • 1954
    Age 26
    Numerous celebrities dropped by to see his shows after they heard about the "new phenomenon," referring to Sahl's unique style of comedy. Woody Allen, who saw his show at the Blue Angel in 1954, commented that "he was suddenly this great genius that appeared who revolutionized the medium."
    More Details Hide Details British comedy actor John Cleese became immediately interested in Sahl's radical style of humor, and held him with the same respect that the Beatles once viewed Elvis Presley. He noted that all the previous successful comics dressed formally, were glib and well-rehearsed, and were always in control of their audiences. Allen said that Sahl's "very un-show business manner was one of the things I liked when I first saw him work." Sahl dressed casually, with no tie and usually wearing his trademark V-neck campus-style sweater. His stage presence was seen as being "candid and cool, the antithesis of the slick comic," states theater critic Gerald Nachman. And although Sahl acquired a reputation for being an intellectual comedian, it was an image he disliked and disagreed with: "It was absurd. I was barely a C student," he said. His naturalness on stage was partly due to his preferring improvisation over carefully rehearsed monologues. Sahl explained:
  • 1953
    Age 25
    In 1953 he began dating Sue Babior.
    More Details Hide Details When she moved to Berkeley to study at the University of California, Sahl hitchhiked there to be with her. He spent his time auditing classes and hanging out at local coffee houses. For income he wrote for a few avant-garde publications. He slept in the back seat of a friend's car since Babior was living with roommates. "Things were simple then," he says. "All we had to worry about was the destiny of man." He felt at home in the San Francisco Bay Area, commenting, "I was born in San Francisco." The three years he lived in Berkeley were a valuable experience, he said. He sought out any clubs where he could perform as a stand-up, and Babior suggested he audition for the hungry i, a nightclub in San Francisco. Its owner, Enrico Banducci, took an immediate liking to Sahl's comedy style and offered him a job at $75 a week, which became his first steady job as a stand-up comedian.
    Sahl spent his early years in Los Angeles and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area where he made his professional stage debut at the hungry i nightclub in 1953.
    More Details Hide Details His popularity grew quickly, and after a year at the club he traveled the country doing shows at established nightclubs, theaters and college campuses. In 1960 he became the first comedian to have a cover story written about them by Time magazine. He appeared on various television shows, played a number of film roles, and performed a one-man show on Broadway. Television host Steve Allen claimed that Sahl was "the only real political philosopher we have in modern comedy." His social satire performances broke new ground in live entertainment, as a stand-up comic talking about the real world of politics at that time was considered "revolutionary." It inspired many later comics to become stage comedians, including Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Woody Allen. Allen credits Sahl's new style of humor with "opening up vistas for people like me."
  • 1950
    Age 22
    Between 1950 and 1953 he tried to get jobs as a stand-up comedian in about 30 nightclubs throughout Los Angeles, but with no success.
    More Details Hide Details NBC, where he once auditioned, told him he would never succeed as a comedian. He even offered to perform free during intermissions for the chance to show his talent. He recalls that period: "Despite all the folklore about the faith of friends in the struggling young artist, my friends constantly discouraged me." He and a friend then rented an old theater, which they called Theater X, for "experimental," and he began writing and staging one-act plays. One of his plays was titled "Nobody Trusted the Truth." But unable to attract a large enough audience, they eventually closed the theater. For income, Sahl began doing odd jobs and writing. He worked as a used-car salesman and a messenger, and wrote an unpublished novel and short stories. He went to New York hoping to sell his plays, but only managed to earn about eighteen dollars a week. He recalls, "I couldn't get a thing going. I was working on a novel, I was out of work, and I was out of gas." As a result, he decided to try something different, by performing his plays as monologues. He felt it would be easier to do his monologue on stage instead of trying to sell it to others. "I knew that if I was going to get anything done, I'd have to do it myself," he says. He returned to Los Angeles where he appeared at some clubs but his new style of monologue comedy received little attention.
    He received a B.S. degree in 1950 with majors in traffic engineering and city management.
    More Details Hide Details He continued with the masters program but dropped out to become an actor and playwright.
  • 1947
    Age 19
    He was discharged in 1947 and enrolled in Compton College, followed by the University of Southern California.
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  • 1927
    Sahl was born on May 11, 1927 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, the only child of Jewish parents.
    More Details Hide Details His father, Harry Sahl, came from an immigrant family on New York's Lower East Side, and hoped to become a Broadway playwright. He met his wife when she responded to an advertisement he took out in a poetry magazine. Unable to break into the writing field they moved to Canada where he owned a tobacco store in Montreal. The family later relocated to Los Angeles, California where his father, unable to become a Hollywood writer, worked as a clerk and court reporter for the FBI. Sahl notes, "My dad was disappointed in his dreams and he distrusted that world for me." Sahl went to Belmont High School in Los Angeles where he also wrote for the school's newspaper. Actor Richard Crenna was a classmate. When the U.S. entered World War II after Pearl Harbor, Sahl, then fourteen, joined the school's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC). He won a medal for marksmanship and an American Legion Americanism award. Wanting to express his patriotism, he wore his ROTC uniform to school and in public, and when he turned fifteen, he dropped out of high school to join the Army by lying about his age. His mother tracked him down and brought him back home two weeks later after she revealed his true age.
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