Sunday, February 21, 2010
Woo-Woo! Catching Up with Norm Grabowski.
When Norman Grabowski got a medical discharge from the service in 1952, he, like most of the youth of America back then, wanted to build himself a Hot-Rod. Taking a '31 Model-A V-8 engine and slapping it into a mash-up of a '22 Model-T body with the bed of a Model-A pick-up, the T-Bucket or "Lightnin' Bug" was born. Notoriety soon followed, when the car was prominently featured in the April 29, 1957 issue of LIFE Magazine.
Catching the eye of several producers, the T-Bucket was in demand and for $50 a day you could rent it for your production -- most notably when Ed "Kookie" Burns got behind the wheel for 77 Sunset Strip, which earned the T-Bucket a new name: The Kookie Kar. As the legend goes, when the car was damaged during a shoot, Grabowski used it as leverage to get himself a job as a stunt-driver, which eventually led to a few bit parts in some Albert Zugsmith cautionary tales [High School Confidential, Girl's Town] and several of Walt Disney's live-action screwball comedies [The Gnome-Mobile, Blackbeard's Ghost]. He, and his easily recognizable mug and crew-cut, even got himself punched out by Elvis a couple of times in a career that netted him over 50 film and TV appearances.
His glorified cameo in The Cannonball Run in 1981 officially marked the end of his film career, but Grabowski is still in the customizing business, unveiling the Kookie II in 1994, and his hand sculpted shifter-skulls are in high demand. Now in his '70s, Grabowski can still be found, 'rodding around the country and appearing at all kinds of car shows and rallies. And when a friend of mine, both of us huge fans of El Polacko, said he was heading to Wichita for Darryl Starbird's 53rd Annual Exotic Car Show, in which Grabowski would be in attendance, alas, my schedule wouldn't allow me to attend. But, acting as my proxy, my buddy agreed to get his autograph for me.
$5 bucks says I was the only one asking him to sign a Lobby Card from Sex Kittens Go to College that whole weekend, and also upon my request, when my buddy, Bill Peetzke, asked what working with Mamie Van Doren was really like, Grabowski's answer was, basically, unprintable.