Miles Kington: A harmonica-playing Yank at the wicket

'Did I ever tell you about the time I tried to explain the rules of cricket to Rachmaninov?'
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The Independent Online

In the weeks following the sad death of Larry Adler, I have received many letters of tribute to the late maestro of the mouth organ, and I think it only fair to print some of them in his honour today.

From Sir George "Gubby" Trotter

Sir, In all the farewell notices published since the death of Larry Adler, I have seen no mention of his abiding love of cricket. It might be though odd that a young Jewish American boy from the back streets of Baltimore should be an aficionado of the great English game, but as he once said to me, "George, I have been accused of indulging in un-American activities all my life, and one more isn't going to hurt anyone."

He told me that as a teenage virtuoso he had come to the attention of Al Capone in Chicago, and the gangster had taken a shine to him. One day, Adler had tried to explain the rules of cricket to him, but after listening for a while, Capone said, "Listen, kid, I tried to understand the rules of Prohibition once, and all I understood was that to get anywhere you got to break them all. Now shut up".

Yours etc

From Mr Donald Trelfitt

Sir, I would like to applaud the sentiments of the foregoing. I used to play in the same cricket team as Larry for a while, a group of Yankee exiles called the un-American Activators, and he was quite an accomplished spin bowler. He used to explain to me that the way you held a mouth organ was not unlike the way a spinner held the ball.

"You see, Don," he told me, "when I'm playing a concert I am also practising my spin bowling, and vice versa."

But what really made him a spinner sans pareil was his accompanying patter. He could get through an anecdote about himself, Gershwin and Albert Einstein in about the time it took to bowl an over, which tended to wear the batsman down, and his stories always tended to end the same sort of way, with him saying something to Albert Einstein, and Gershwin saying, "Only you could have said that, Larry !".

I remember once he cunningly came to the punch-line after the fifth ball of an over. Naturally, the batsman thought that as Larry had finished the story, the over was over and wasn't ready for the sixth ball, which bowled him.

He told me once that he had tried to explain the rules of cricket to Gershwin,who had listened for a while, then said, "Larry, I am going to predict something. This is one game they'll never write a musical about. And if they do, it'll close in five days, or before that, if it rains."

Yours etc

From Roger de Coverley (no relation)

Sir, I used to play with Larry in a 1960s cricket team of temporarily unemployed artistes called "No Business", and I once asked him why cricket appealed to an American Jewish star like him.

"It's actually a very Jewish game, cricket," he said. "More games of cricket end in a draw than any other sport. That's like ending with a shrug of the shoulders. That's very Jewish. You know the old thing about 'Why do so many Jewish jokes end with a question?', and someone says, 'Well, why not?'? Same with cricket. By the way, did I ever tell you about the time I tried to explain the rules of cricket to Rachmaninov?"

I hadn't. Just then, over was called, and we were parted. I met him again six balls later and he was saying, "So I said to Rachmaninov..."

Yours etc

From Mrs Sidney Paget

Sir, I used to make tea for a Showbiz XI called "The Raconteurs" in which Mr Adler played, and he often used to tell me stories of the old days in America. He said that one of the great things about being in the USA was that he was the only famous person there called Larry, but when he came to Britain there was already Larry Olivier. "Why can't he call himself Laurence, if that's his name?" he used to say.

"Is Larry the name you were christened with?" I once asked him.

"Honey," he said," they've done some terrible things to Jews over the years, but christening wasn't one of them."

He once told me that he'd tried to explain cricket to Einstein, and how long a Test Match lasted, and Einstein had listened very carefully and said: "You know, Larry, I used to think time was relative, but suddenly I'm not so sure".

Yours etc