30 years later, his beard — and Bruins’ heartache — are history
NORWELL — Truth be told, those “playoff beards’’ the Bruins players grew during their recent Stanley Cup run were a little wimpy — just a two-month exhibition.
They pale in comparison to the long-term commitment of Lanny Lee Larason, a 72-year-old Norwell resident better known as Tom Larson, who spent almost 40 years as a television and radio broadcaster in the Boston market.
Larason was studio host for the Bruins’ telecasts on Channel 38 and his beard attracted a few negative comments from fans from time to time. At one point during the first game of the 1981 season, he made a vow not to shave off his beard until the Bruins won another Stanley Cup.
“I meant it as a rallying cry, a statement, a way to get closer to the fans,’’ he said. “When I first started wearing a beard, the Bruins were in it every season. Who knew it would take this long?’’
There were a few close calls for the beard through the years: The Bruins advanced to the finals in both 1988 and 1990 against Edmonton. But they won no Stanley Cup. Larson’s involvement with the Bruins decreased during the 1990s, but he stayed busy at NESN, working Red Sox postgame shows and as an in-studio host, handling play-by-play for several sports, documentaries, and the magazine show “Front Row.’’ He also had a long stint providing morning sports reports on WHDH radio. His career in the Boston media spanned a period from 1969 to 2007.
On Monday morning, at the Black Tie Spa and Barbershop on the Rockland-Norwell line, the beard finally came off, in front of his family and friends.
With the walls festooned with sporting memorabilia, aesthetician Caitlyn Russell of Hull, an ardent Bruins fan dressed in black and gold, had the honor of performing the long-awaited shave.
“The beard is older than the person shaving it,’’ cracked Pat Murray, owner of the shop.
Larason’s wife of 27 years, Van, had never seen him without a beard. Neither had their 18-year-old daughter, VyVy, who will enter UMass-Boston this fall; or 14-year-old son Tommy, a budding young baseball star who plays for the Seadogs of the South Shore Baseball Club in Hingham.
“He still looks old,’’ said VyVy, adding that she didn’t feel bad for saying it because he signed his notes TOG (The Old Guy).
Larason said that his face feels different. His biggest jolt came on Tuesday morning, when he got up and “looked in the mirror,’’ he said.
The event was filmed for posterity by Fields of Vision, a video production company whose principals include former NESN colleagues who worked with Larason for years, with Jim Carroll coordinating the filming done by Emmy Award-winning videographer Eric Scharmer. They plan to post the video on the company website and elsewhere as a tribute to their longtime colleague.
Larason grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Webster Groves, where one of his best friends was the late broadcaster Skip Caray, son of the legendary Harry Caray. Larason was an all-district guard on the basketball team (a fellow all-district pick was Mike Shannon, who went on to star for the St. Louis Cardinals and is currently a radio broadcaster for the club.
He was doing some radio and TV in the Midwest in 1969 when Channel 38 general manager Bill Flynn, looking for someone who could host a public affairs talk show, reached out to Larason.
After a name change to Tom Larson, he started doing a daily talk show. At the time, Channel 38 was the home of phenomenally successful Bruins telecasts. Commercial spots were sold out, and the only way to cash in on the money being thrown at the station was to start a post-game show. Larason was hired because he had a background in sports.
“The first hockey game I saw was the first game of the 1969 Bruins season,’’ he said. “A month later, I was on the air doing the post-game show.’’
The Bruins won Cups in 1970 and 1972, rinks sprouted up, and “Bobby’’ and “Derek’’ became more popular than ever as boys’ names. Larason’s close association with the madness of the Big, Bad Bruins of the 1970s was heady stuff for someone raised on basketball and who worshiped the ground the Celtics walked on.
With just six available television channels in the early 1970s — 2, 4, 5, 7, 38, and 56 — the Bruins telecasts dominated the airwaves.
“There were times when 75 percent of the TVs in the Boston area were tuned into our telecasts,’’ he said. “Try that today.’’
Just being associated with the aura around the Bruins had its side benefits.
“Every time I’d see Kenny Hodge or Johnny McKenzie, I’d tell them: I’ll never forget what you guys did for my social life in the 1970s.’’
Rich Fahey can be reached at Faheywrite@yahoo.com.