Tommy Dix in the 1943 movie version of "Best Foot Forward"

Tommy Dix in the 1943 movie version of "Best Foot Forward"

I’ve always been fascinated by chance encounters that permanently influence the mind, the heart, or the course of one’s life. The development of relationships with neighbors, at school or in the workplace is one thing. These tend to unfold through the natural course of daily events and are therefore expected and maybe even routine. But the random intersection of lives that results in an enduring human connection is truly providential. Serendipitously meeting a kindred spirit is much like picking the correct number on the roulette wheel. It’s a rare occurrence, but over a lifespan it’s bound to happen from time to time.

Since entering the art fair business I’ve been fortunate to experience such a convergence on more than one occasion. At one of my earliest shows an older gentleman entered my exhibit looking for elephant photos. He was short in stature, but larger than life in every other way. His booming baritone voice, kindly manner and outsized personality instantly marked him as an extraordinary person. He purchased an elephant shot, but requested a mat color that I didn’t have in my print bin. Since the gentleman – one Mr. Tommy Dix – lived locally, I offered to deliver the photo directly to his doorstep.

Entering Mr. Dix’s home was, in many ways, like walking into my own. His love for African wildlife was an obvious common interest, and the book titles in his extensive library closely matched those on my shelves. But there were differences. His hallway was lined with 1940s vintage show business memorabilia … all of which featured a youthful, fresh-faced Tommy Dix.

Tommy, originally from New York City, had been a singer since adolescence. While still a youngster, he’d even written a tune to support the newly created March of Dimes charity initiative … and his composition was eventually adopted by the campaign as a sort of unofficial theme song.  Through his own perseverance and a series of fortuitous events, Tommy actually sang his creation for President Roosevelt in the early 1930s. In the opening years of the 1940s he landed a singing role in a Broadway musical entitled “Best Foot Forward.” His performance in that role, and particularly his inspired rendition of the tune “Buckle Down Winsocki,” earned him a lead role in the 1943 Hollywood movie version, which also featured Lucille Ball, Harry James and future luminaries like June Allyson and Nancy Walker. Before his show business career progressed further, he was drafted into the Army and was severely injured in a stateside training accident. This misfortune may ultimately have saved his life, because the unit to which he was assigned was later decimated in the Battle of the Bulge.

Although he’s a few decades older than yours truly, Tommy Dix and I never run out of subjects for discussion. Our interests in politics, poetry, history and literature are very much in parallel. A few days ago, he presented me with my own copy of his favorite book, Will and Ariel Durant’s “Lessons of History.” The personal, heartfelt inscription is as valuable to me as all the lessons described by the Durants. It says …

“To my friend, Billy Dodson …

It is often said that we ignore the past at our peril.

Since there could be truth in those words, this little book may be an interesting and useful intellectual companion and a valuable beacon to the searching mind in the poorly charted seas that lie ahead.

It is a condensed microcosm of the hard lessons gathered during their lifetimes by two historians whose skills, dedication, objectivity and scholarship are seldom equaled – and it is a companion to the Durant series already in your personal collection.

I will occasionally revisit it to reset the anchors of my human perspective and to recalibrate my values.

In the years ahead, long after I shall have departed this veil of wrath and tears, your passing glance may fall upon this book. Hopefully, in that second or two, you may be prompted to remember your old friend, Tommy, and the civilized thoughts we once exchanged.

With respect and affection,
Tommy Dix”

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