Let’s lighten things up a bit where the Don Harman tragedy is concerned…
While most viewers of Fox 4‘s popular morning news show knew only the bright, sunny side of Harman, I got to see a surprisingly different side of the affable weather wonk after covering a handful of his early exploits in my column in the Kansas City Star.
Let’s revisit those happier times, then I’ll share an anecdote with you about an encounter I had with Harman after writing those largely innocuous items.
It didn’t take long for Harman to draw my attention in 1999, given that he was a guy who had some pretty big boots to fill after Gary Lezak bailed for the greener pastures of KSHB TV, Channel 41.
In Harman’s column kickoff, largely biographical column, I asked him tongue-in-cheek if he’d be bringing any dogs on the set, a signature Lezak move.
"I am pet-free,” Harman replied. “But (viewers) shouldn’t watch the pet. You don’t get paid for the pet … unless you’re Gary.”
Did Harman – who was single at the time – even have any pets?
“Just me," he said. "I just caught seven crappie, but I let ’em go. They could have been my pets.”
A handful of months later, again in 1999, I asked Harman about a subject that had been quite touchy with a number of Fox 4 stationalities. That being that they were being required by the station to fly on Johnny Rowlands’ helecopter.
And Harman had been aboard when the chopper nearly crashed and had to make an emergency landing near La Loup, Kansas.
" (The helicopter) went into a drastic climb because the rotor was turning faster," Rowlands explained. "And it started shake, rattling and rolling. And I had no control of the rpm and it was thrashing around."
After safely – if nervously – bringing it down, Rowlands’ chopper started to take off again.
"I was going to bail out at that point because I thought it was possessed," Rowlands told me.
"Needless to say, WDAF weather geek Don Harman enjoyed the flight immensely," I added.
"I don’t know if the fact that I had no idea what was going on saved me from looking like a wuss or what," Harman said gamely. "Had I seen a rotor fly off or flames coming out of the chopper, my concerns would have gone up a notch."
A year or so later, Harman made my Watson’s Girl column, where she weighed in on local media celebs ranging from Jason Whitlock, Kevin Kietzman and Johnny Dare to Randy Miller, Art Brisbane and, of course, Dan the Man.
The proposition being for Jennifer to handicap which, if any, of the above dudes she’d be willing to date if push came to shove. When it came Harman’s turn, she said: "Great personality. Yeah, I could date him. But I think he and I would talk too much. Sometimes, you know, like all those Hollywood couples don’t make it because there’s too much competitiveness?"
That’s pretty much it, pretty mild, huh?
Now here’s what happened when I bumped into Harman at a movie screening or something a year or so later. Thinking everything was cool, I walked up to him and said hello.
And while I’m not particularly thin-skinned, I have to say, I was taken aback by what next went down.
Instead of an even halfway friendly encounter, Harman scowled and let me know in no uncertain terms that he was not happy with me. I can’t tell you, after all these years, exactly what he said, but it was a dark, angry experience.
I’m not a big early morning guy – let alone early morning local TV news – and nothing much about Harman crossed my transom thereafter. But that encounter ranks as one of the really rare, uncomfortable and inexplicable encounters I’ve had in more than 20 years of writing.
The only explanation I can conjure is that it’s not uncommon for comedians and really funny on-air personalities to be entirely different when they’re off-camera, off-stage or just plain off. Which goes along with the quote I ran yesterday about Harman from a prominent local counselor.
"When you find someone to be so energetic, funny and seemingly unflappable there is often a dark side."
Harman sure did brighten a lot of people’s days though and judging from the public outpouring, he will be missed.