Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Chased Cross Country

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.
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.
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.


  1. Replies
    1. Yes, definitely. Funny how our perspective changes things. When I first heard this story, I was much younger than Sam. That seemed so old.

      Now...seems so young. And it was.

  2. It might be just as well that the news didn't catch up to him - and allowed him to enjoy his "final tour" without worrying about "what the doctors found" - especially since they could do nothing to help.

    1. You're right, Iggy, the worry would have been awful. Plus having to make the decision to either get medical help far from home, or wait until the tour finally got back into town. No way this was going to be a good scenario.

  3. Replies
    1. And his life was really barely getting started.

  4. Oh, I 've been afraid this would happen. I didn't realize that Sam had an elongated frame. I'm prepared to be almost relieved that the message didn't catch him until he had had his last Ice Follies hurrah . . . especially if there was nothing to be done. Is there anything doctors can do today for the Marfan syndrome?

    1. I think it was harder on his family than on Sam, when they became aware of the situation.

      There have been a number of medical advances now that are yielding a positive outcome for people with Marfan syndrome. There is a Marfan Foundation dedicated to seeking medical answers as well as serving as advocate for those with the condition. Even within a couple decades of Sam's passing, there were medical advances making a significant difference in health outcomes. And I'm sure there is more research being conducted. Marfan syndrome impacts a complex array of health systems, so answers don't come easily...


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