Friday, March 6, 2015

Babe Ruth and Buster Roos

On the evening of April 13, 1946, Truth or Consequences attempted to provide short-lived joy to a young victim of cancer. Switching to Parkertown, New Jersey, via two-way set-up, a small town of about 400 inhabitants and home to “Buster” Leonard Roos, Ralph Edwards spoke with an eight-year-old boy who at Christmas time was given only three weeks to live and proven the doctors wrong; even with his right leg amputated at the hip and with his one and only lung infected with cancer. The child suffered from club-shaped fingers and toes; a swollen stomach and ankles. Buster, who rarely smiled since he was stricken in December of 1944, was assisted by an NBC engineer who also set up the equipment and microphone by Busters’ bedside, so that the child did not have to exert himself needlessly. During the broadcast, Buster told Ralph Edwards about some of the things he would like to have: movies of Mickey Mouse because he could not go to the neighborhood theaters; he wanted to hear Frank Sinatra sing; an entire freezer of ice cream; hear “Uncle Don”; see a big baseball game and meet Babe Ruth in person; a collie dog and a pony and a cart; and he wanted to see Roy Rogers and his horse, Trigger.

Buster Roos
After the interview, Ralph Edwards asked Buster to turn off the speaker to his radio for a minute because the next part was a secret. Assured by the engineer that Buster could not hear the next portion of the program, Edwards told listeners the truth about Buster’s condition and then made an appeal for help so that other children may not suffer the way little Buster has. Back in the Roos home, the speaker was turned up again and Buster was told that all of the things for which he asked would be his: even a ball team from New York Big Leagues will visit his home and practice a warm up outside his window; Roy Rogers will telephone Buster tonight and everything will come true for little Buster in the few weeks he may yet live… And Buster was officially proclaimed Honorary Treasurer of the American Cancer Society Drive for Funds. All of the radio listeners are asked to send contributions directly to: “Buster, Parkertown, New Jersey.”  If the amount of contributions reached $10,000 by next week’s broadcast, Buster’s mother would receive an additional $1,000 in cash to help with medical bills.

Within a week, Buster Roos’ cause for muted joy received a visit by Babe Ruth himself, two clowns (Charles Bell and Frankie Saluto) from the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Madison Square Garden in New York, Buster’s ride in a cart pulled by a Shetland pony, and seeing the better part of the town’s 400 residents on the lawn of his one-story wooden home. Even the truckload of toys, valued at $500, was delivered as Edwards promised. Babe Ruth showed the youngster the stance and grip he used in hitting home runs, but the boy was too weak to hold the bat. “I’m mighty glad to see you,” Buster told the mighty Bambino with a broad smile. It was fulfillment of a long-cherished ambition when he shook hands with Ruth, the pair chatted about baseball, and posed for photographs for the local newspaper.

Babe Ruth
The clowns did somersaults while a trick dog jumped through a hoop. Buster watched – and smiled tiredly occasionally. He never knew he was going to die and the news never broke to the youth. He also didn’t understand why so much money was placed in his lap. He didn’t utter a word, possibly because his breath was short. Even his mother, Mrs. Pearl Roos, couldn’t get anything from him. All he remembered was that he was kicked by a playmate in December 1944, and as a result his disease discovered; his leg amputated in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. A few weeks after the amputation he returned to school on crutches – but he collapsed. Cancer had spread to his lungs. At the time of the radio broadcast, he was down to one lung.

Despite his condition, Buster was an immediate celebrity – a poster boy for a good cause – and posed for newsreel pictures with money that poured in as a result of the national broadcast. “This youngster should have been dead months ago,” said Dr. L.R. Carmona, who had been treating the youth. “His pulse rate has been way above normal for the last six weeks. There just isn’t any hope for him. There’s no telling how long he’ll linger; it may be anywhere from three weeks to a year. This boy is one of many children who gives the lie to a common belief that cancer is only an older person’s disease. He won’t benefit by the money rolling in, but other people will.” One week following Buster’s radio debut, on the broadcast of April 20, an announcement was made that little Buster Roos had all of his wishes come true about the various things he wanted. Mrs. Roos also received the gift of $1,000 in cash, to help with the medical bills, because the donations sent to him for use by the National Cancer Society reached surpassed the $10,000 mark in one week’s time. 

By the time the public outpouring concluded, a total of $72,000 had been raised for the cause.

Four weeks after his wish fulfillment, on Sunday, May 19, Leonard Roos died. Buster had amazed physicians with his tenacity in surviving one amputation and the removal of a lung… accepting a fate that was never disclosed to him. When asked during the media sensation what he liked best – Babe Ruth, Uncle Don, the clowns, the toys or Roy Rogers giving him a ten-gallon hat – the youth said it was the postcards that brought sunshine into his life when things looked darkest.