You’ve probably heard it said, “News travels fast.”
Sometimes, it doesn’t travel fast enough.
By the time Samuel Bean had wrapped up his hour-long interview with Oakland Tribune reporter Wood Soanes for his August 7 feature story and left San Francisco for the next stop on the Ice Follies 1955 season tour, an urgent message regarding his last doctor’s visit began trailing him across the country.
In a time so similarly modern yet so vastly different from our own, Sam’s Bay Area doctor had no recourse in contacting him than to send a message trailing his tour route.
I remember Sam’s sister-in-law, Marilyn Sowle Bean, telling me about it. There were no cell phones, no email, no Skype or other online conveniences at the time, of course. Even long distance telephone calls, while available, were considered an extravagance and not commonly used. While telegraph services were still readily available, evidently sending messages after Sam only seemed to get to their destination just after the company train pulled out of the station.
Now that I’m so many years removed not only from the incident but from the person who told me about it, I find it hard to reconstruct the story. The more I think about it, the more questions it brings to mind. Suffice it to just let me lay out the story the way I remember it.
You probably remember my suspicions about why Sam lost his mother, Maud Woodworth Bean, so early in life. You may recall, also, my speculations about Marfan syndrome and how it may have been manifested in others in that and preceding generations of the Woodworth family. With a link that was genetic in nature—and evidenced by Sam’s own elongated frame—that Marfan syndrome was likely to strike yet another generation after Maud’s own passing at the age of thirty five.
According to Maud’s daughter-in-law, Marilyn, doctors found something they were gravely concerned about during Sam’s most recent check up. They wanted Sam to come back for a second look. While Sam’s Ice Follies troupe played city after city, that medical message chased him until he finally arrived back home in Alameda. At that point, Sam was taken into surgery to see if anything could be done for him—and then closed back up with the verdict that, no, there was nothing that could be done. While medical advances had equipped doctors to better be able to diagnose the problem now than in Maud’s generation, they had not yet provided the technology to resolve that problem.
And so, after the flurry of messages chasing the cheery entourage of the Ice Follies across America, and after the surprise rush to rescue yet another generation’s victim of Marfan syndrome, the family had to once again repeat the sad story of a premature goodbye.
In a footnote to the story of a life lived after choosing first to avoid that sense of being "hemmed in" by city sights, Sam was returned to his beloved Oakland Hills in his final resting place at Mountain View Cemetery, not far from the ranch where his career first began.BEAN—In Oakland, December 2, 1955, Samuel W., Jr., beloved son of the late Mr. and Mrs. Samuel W. Bean; loving brother of Earl R. Bean; nephew of Mr. and Mrs. William S. Bean and Mrs. Leona Grant; a native of California; aged 34 years.