The first time I talked to Ervin Ducommun, we chatted about Travis McGee.
About a year ago, Erv left an audio book of a Travis McGee novel on my desk at work with a note telling me that he thought I would enjoy the tape. I lost the note that contained Erv’s phone number, but a few months later, Erv called me. We talked about Travis McGee novels and about John D. MacDonald, who wrote the books. I mentioned that the late comedian Dan Rowan was a friend of John’s.
“Oh, I knew Dan very well,” Erv said.
Turns out that in the 1960s and early ’70s, Erv worked as a studio cameraman for all three major networks. One of the shows he worked on was “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In.”
Erv got the cameraman job with help from actor Michael Landon. See, before he was a cameraman, Erv worked for Paramount Pictures in the PR department, and one of the shows he worked on was “Bonanza,” which is how he got to know Michael Landon.
It took a while, because I kept losing Erv’s phone number, but last week I got ahold of him. He agreed to meet me for lunch at Thai Spice in Webb City so I could talk to him about his career.
From his position as a TV cameraman, Erv took a job with 20th Century Fox that allowed him to put his business degree earned at the University of Iowa and his graduate studies at the London School of Economics to work. At 20th Century Fox, he worked as a production manager of finance and product analysis. Part of Erv’s job was to keep major motion pictures on budget.
Throw in a hitch in the Marine Corps, marketing jobs with a number of hospitals and … oh, yeah … film work on the re-election campaign of former President Gerald Ford that required him to spend the last two months of the campaign traveling on Air Force One, and it’s pretty obvious that Erv has had an entertaining career.
The funny thing is, none of the things he did in his career were planned. In most cases, Erv just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
“I think if God has a plan, you should follow it,” Erv said.
Film work, for example, was the last thing he expected to be involved with. But after his studies at the London School of Economics, he got a call from Paramount.
“I was a farm kid from Iowa,” Erv said. “I didn’t know anything about movies.”
It turns out that Paramount was looking for marketing and finance guys like Erv, and with that, the farm kid from Iowa became a movie and TV guy from Malibu.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt to be a nice guy. It seems that many of the jobs Erv landed came from a recommendation from someone he used to work with or for.
When it came time to think about retirement, Erv opted to move his family to Missouri to be near three of his sisters and their families. Erv and his wife, Debbie, bought a farm in Ava where they finished raising their three children. About eight or nine years ago, they moved to the Joplin area.
Technically, at 73, Erv is retired, but only in the sense that he doesn’t have to do anything he doesn’t want to do. One thing he doesn’t want to do is sit still. He taught college for a bit, and he dabbles in real estate. In fact, while we chatted, a real estate agent called him several times wanting to talk about a possible deal.
After Hurricane Sandy, Debbie traveled to New York to work with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Erv went out to visit Debbie and was recruited to do film work for FEMA. This week, Debbie returned to New York, and in a few weeks, Erv plans to join her. He’ll probably wind up doing more film work. When I mentioned that it didn’t sound like Erv was retired, he smiled.
“If I actually retired, I think I would be dead,” he said.
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