Apr 19

arthurgodfrey.jpg“For free, take; for buy, waste time.”

So said Arthur Godfrey, a popular TV show personality back in the 50s and the inspiration for the ego-maniacal “Lonesome” Rhodes (Andy Griffith) in the classic film A Face in the Crowd. And while the wisdom of “The Old Redhead” is more than questionable (the man played the ukulele, for starters), he really nailed this one.

In a controlled study (wouldn’t you like to see, just once, an uncontrolled study?), people were given a choice between two products, one clearly superior to the other but more expensive by 25 cents. El Cheapo was 10 cents, Brand Better was 35 cents. Happy to part with their hard-earned quarters, people sprang for Better. 

But then . . . both products were reduced by 10 cents. Brand Better was cheaper than before, but El Cheapo was cheaper than cheap: it was FREE! Guess what happened. Yup. Just about everyone took the freebie — and I’m guessing you would too. We all take things we don’t want, don’t need, and can’t even think of anyone to give them to, just because they’re free.

Then there’s a free ride: a glitch in my Metro Card last month caused the turnstiles on New York City busses to read ERROR and the drivers would just wave me through. The card hadn’t expired, and I had paid for it, so I wasn’t trying to travel for nothing. But hey, for free . . . I took. After a while, drivers started giving me dirty looks. champagne.jpgPassengers, too. They thought I was one of those freeloaders who never seem to pay for anything. Uncomfortable with this kind of attention and starting to feel a little guilty around the edges, I got a new card and I’m back to being a law-abiding, pay-for-the-bus kind of gal.

Champagne Tastes . . .
But all this reminded me of a time, way back, when I fell in briefly with a group of semi-professional freeloaders. (I was young and needed the caviar.)  I met one of them at a party at the Russian Embassy, where the champagne was as free as the Crosstown bus.

And that wasn’t all . . .


. . . On An I-Can’t-Even-Pay-For-Beer Budget
These people, I found out, belonged to a loose network of similarly inclined skinflints and out-of-work types who knew where the parties were and exactly what you could expect to get at each one of them.

The Embassy was the real deal, but good pickings were to be had at many corporate affairs and charitable events. Hey, check out the smoked salmon (real Nova!) at . . . I forget where. Maybe it was the Friends of Norwegian Fishermen. Whatever. The point is, that every night, all over town, cocktail parties were being held where you could eat and drink. For free. The WASP affairs were the worst, because although the booze flowed freely, the hors d’oeuvres were mostly Cheez Whiz and Ritz Crackers, not worth shoving in your purse for later. Messy, too.

It would be hard to get into these events today, what with all the security checks. But in the era of Free Love, you could also get free food and drink, if you played your cards right. All you had to do was look the part.

windsortie.pjg.jpgThe women wore simple black dresses and pearls, the men, blazers, grey pants, immaculate white shirts and expensive-looking ties. One guy looked just like the Duke of Windsor, knot and all. He wore the same outfit each time I saw him, which wasn’t very often, because I soon tired of these people and this scene. But it sure as hell opened my eyes to another side of society I had never dreamed existed. I thought of writing something about it, but never did until now.

So what is it about “free?” According to David Ogilvy, Confessions of An Advertising Man, it’s the best possible word to use in ad copy, and who am I to say him nay. Besides, I have experience with getting stuff for nothing. And we know how well this worked out. If you don’t, check out

But what’s your “take” on this:

Do you take things for free just because they’re, well, free?
Anything? Even a ukulele?

And what do you end up doing with them?
Remember, writing a comment is free, too,

For info on the whole Arthur Godfrey/Lonesome Rhodes thing:


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