Frank and Leo
Frank and Leo
(Fact - Based on Memory)
(Fact - Based on Memory)
My Rumpole Set
I often wondered why I liked Frank Cormack so much. He was the attorney people hired to make their opponents’ lives miserable. He was loud and boisterous. He was often overly dramatic. He had a quick wit and reservoir of stories to meet any situation. His cackle of a laugh could often be heard echoing through the court hallways; usually he was laughing at his own jokes. He claimed to have been married four times, divorced as many, and never to have paid a penny in alimony.
Frank looked like Phil Silvers: bald head, dark rimmed glasses, and an expanding waistline. He was not a high roller of an attorney, not a “Big Fee” guy. He ran a solo practice out of Quincy. While more polished professionals looked down on Frank with disdain, viewing his antics as clownish, those who hired him got their show during courtroom hearings and negotiations. Frank’s voice was always the loudest.
But the thing about Frank was that he had a good heart. He yelled, but he held back the piercing barbs that bring so much pain. He blustered, but he did not inflict personal damage on the opponents. Unlike some of the large, highly respected law firms in downtown Boston, Frank never litigated anyone into bankruptcy by overwhelming them with unnecessary depositions and constant document requests. He was too big hearted to be a legal “hit man”.
Frank’s persona reminded me of the eponymous character created by John Mortimer in his book Rumpole of the Bailey. The book and its sequels follow the adventures of the crusty old English barrister Horace Rumpole, who refers to his wife Hilda as “She Who Must Be Obeyed” and is known for dropping cigar ash down his vest, quoting Wordsworth, never prosecuting and never letting his clients plead guilty.
The BBC produced a television series based on Mortimer’s books with Leo McKern in the lead role. When they were finally shown here in the U.S., I recall asking Frank if he was watching the series. “Watching it?!” he answered, “I got a call from Leo just yesterday!” He went on, “We had a nice chat. The Mad Bull Judge Bullingham has died and She Who Must Be Obeyed has had a stroke. Leo’s in good health. He has his diabetes under control. He is working on the next Rumpole series right now.”
I was nearly speechless with disbelief, although I suppose I should have known someone like Frank would be on a first name basis with his stage double. “Frank,” I said, “you’re joking me. You are pulling my leg. There is no way Leo McKern called you yesterday.” That famous cackle started roiling up from within and Frank just looked at me with delight written all over his face.
The next day, Frank showed up with a tape recording of the phone conversation. I still have it. There they were, Frank and Leo, chatting away about the Rumpole series, their health, Leo’s daughters and the acting roles his daughters were involved in.
Leo McKern so fully embodied the character of Rumpole it is hard to imagine one without the other. Frank was not quite in Rumpole’s league as a lawyer, especially when it came to questions of bloodstains at which Rumpole excelled. Nor did he have Rumpole depth and subtlety. However, he had Rumpole’s sense of commitment to his clients and Rumpole’s proclivity for dissecting – and skewering - judicial attitudes. Cormack, also like Rumpole, was not above using tactics, chest pains perhaps, to get that crucial continuance. And they both knew the burdens of the day-in and day-out struggles of the practicing lawyer. Even though they each grumbled constantly, they relished every minute of it.
They seemed like kindred spirits, Frank and Leo/Rumpole. Perhaps they were.
New!!! Edited Audio of Frank and Leo