The U.S. political party 2020 Presidential nominating conventions have officially selected their candidates in a unique somewhat virtual manner due to safety precautions deadly Covid-19 has necessitated. Take a deep breath and prepare for the unpredictable onslaught of campaign rhetoric. We must watch out for “truthiness” and those “alternative facts”, and be sure to verify statements presented as factual.
Let’s digress with a little upbeat dancin’!
A youtube commenter wrote the founder of this 70’s Grammy award winning group’s description of this funky tune’s origins. Fifty years later seems apropos now as we enter September.
“According to Maurice White, he got the idea for this song in an unlikely place: a hotel room in Washington DC while there was some kind of protest going on below. Said White, "There's all these cats screaming and throwing things and going crazy and this tune just evolved."
SEPTEMBER by Earth, Wind and Fire
Hey, hey, hey!
Ba-dee-ya, say, do you remember?
Ba-dee-ya, dancin' in September
Ba-dee-ya, never was a cloudy day
INCIDENTAL EXPERIENCES PART 4 continues....
This tale started some weeks ago with a simple idea of describing what a strange on-the-job training experience I had when I was hired in production for a live television talk show years ago that I described in this series first two blog posts. Related memories incidental to the story’s point unexpectedly began emerging in my mind which I have kept adding here for better or worse. I’ve also revealed recollections of our show’s host whose friendship was an interesting addition to my life for a number of years.
Writing in Part 3 about the previously described unglamorous meager comforts our TV station offered show guests triggered recollections of a few of those who graced our stage. A favorite of mine was comedian, native Ohioan, Phyllis Diller at her performing and movie stardom’s height then who appeared each time she was in town. She was performing at the area’s premiere night club, Danny Deeds Maramor, but always arrived for our TV show’s early morning hour by herself in a cab she asked to wait for her, then after her appearance she quietly and quickly left inconspicuously.
Another significant guest then, was Gardner McKay, a sudden heart throb star in TV’s “Adventures in Paradise” series created by Pulitzer prize winner James Michener, author of Tales of the South Pacific, a quite admired book in those days. The Broadway musical, then movie, “South Pacific”, also prompted by the book, were partially revered for a story line uniquely unheard of then with its frank treatment of racial prejudice -- still pertinent today.
Here’s “A nostalgic look at Tahiti and the schooner TIKI ... built especially for the TV series. Dorcas Cochran and Lionel Newman composed the beautiful theme music ... for a few episodes they collaborated with Henry Mancini.”
Handsome 6 ft 5 inches tall McKay rejecting acting celebrity left show biz when his series ended, unwilling to renew his contract, turning down a role with Marilyn Monroe despite her personal pleas. He chose to lead an unusual life you can read about in the McKay link above. In contrast to Diller, McKay, though pleasant, came to our studio with a surprisingly large entourage which may have reflected a new star’s initial reaction to fame surrounding himself with supporters.
The bigger the star, generally the nicer they seemed to be, the more likely to be alone or accompanied by only one other person. I recall then popular orchestra leader Vaughn Monroe, “Racing With The Moon”, who was exceptionally nice telling an aspiring young musician in our audience who unexpectedly approached him, to see him after the show when he then provided counseling as promised. Internationally known blind jazz pianist George Shearing who did have an assistant for obvious reasons who cautioned me not to ask Shearing for his signature which I wouldn’t have.
The Frank Sinatra impersonator whose name I now forget, but he could have fooled anybody and had our audience gasping when they first glimpsed him enter the studio, was another memorable guest; also entertaining trumpeter Wild Bill Davidson. There was laughter for all with comedians such as Henny Youngman who came out of vaudeville, famous for his one liners like, “Take my wife .... please!”.
Well remembered was good-looking popular singer Jack Jones who had women in the audience swooning; even the older ones who remembered his father actor, tenor Allan Jones. On the night of son Jack’s birth this father recorded his hit “Donkey Serenade”. Here are Jack Jones and Alan Jones on a “Love Boat” episode singing together many years later.
Jazz and pop song vocalist Nancy Wilson at her career’s peak was a local girl made good coming home to promote a friend opening a new club, The Sacred Mushroom, near the Ohio State University campus. Following world-renowned jazz musician Dizzy Gillespie’s appearance my husband and I enjoyed his night club performance though we were surprisingly part of only a very sparse audience in a small nondescript rough little place with unpainted wooden bleacher-type seating located in the city’s minority community.
Then there was talented international stage and movie actor Walter Slezak who strained my talents by asking me to sew a button on his raincoat. This necessitated my racing all over the station trying to find a needle and thread ... of any color ... anywhere ... we didn’t have a costume department!
I can’t forget blustery broadcaster Arthur Godfrey “the old redhead”, who successfully transitioned from radio stardom to become top of the nation’s television viewer popularity heap for several years until he instantly fell out of favor on the network and with the viewing public for unexpectedly firing much-loved singer Julius LaRosa on the live show. (Read this Awkward Moments link describing TV’s vagaries.)
On our show’s air Godfrey had accepted our host’s unthinking offer of a cup of hot tea causing me to have to scour the station to finally come up with one old tea bag not even in a protective cover, stuck in a crevice at the back of somebody’s desk drawer – heaven only knows how long it had been there, or what it would taste like. Then I had to find some office with a pot brewing hot water.
I finally had the brew, returned to the studio, was then gestured to present the hot tea – probably less hot by now -- to Godfrey on camera. I named the decades long-associated tea brand he promoted when I handed him the cup. Wouldn’t you know, seems he’d had a falling out with them, but he rose to the occasion, elaborating on that fact to all, then quickly promoting his new tea brand without chastising me for such a faux pas.
Then there was Canadian Lorne Greene of TV’s western “Bonanza” fame who was serious and appropriately all business. Unassumingly quiet shy sweet tiny little Sylvia Sidney who successfully transitioned from the silent film era into early talkies leading lady stardom guested. She continued to act for decades more to have an over 70 year career.
Ms Sidney had reportedly come to town to visit an old friend who worked for her beginning in her early Hollywood movie days. Loyalty and even affection runs strong, whatever the hierarchal professional relationship, once trust is established for most of those performers in the entertainment business has been my impression and experience.
Currently popular at the time was the Four Freshmen vocal group, also a favorite of mine I’d seen perform several times prior to working the TV show, once with the then notable Stan Kenton orchestra. Meeting Freshmen leader Ross Barbour delighted me though he was more than a little disappointed we didn’t have their latest album. Upon his learning this I could hear the tension and irritation building in his voice as he spoke to me but checked himself before berating me. Unlike radio stations that received free promotional records TV stations didn’t, so we didn’t have a library of recordings or any albums.
Instead The Freshmen were stuck with lip syncing one of their older but most popular tunes, “It’s A Blue World” from one of my personal albums our show’s producer/director had requested I bring to the studio. Interestingly to me was that Ken Albers, one of the group’s various replacement vocalists from their original foursome was a personal friend of our director -- perhaps the two of them should have addressed the record issue.
Here are the Hi Lo's singing A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square.
The TV show’s guest list continues with current at-the-time and older major stars of the day – but those are just a few personalities who immediately came to my mind, possibly not some of the major guests or individuals others would have vividly recalled. Guests weren’t all professional entertainers, could be government officials, sports figures, politicians, persons of interest from any walk of life, including occasionally the musically talented trying to break into show business.
We periodically promoted what might be considered public service interview segments for worthwhile groups such as one struggling to provide care for babies with spina bifida, for whom there was little treatment in those days, such babies were often expected to die, a neglected group. Numerous artists, other interesting people were featured, both legitimate and otherwise, like Alan Abel who wanted to clothe animals because, he said, nude, they were immodest. Years later Abel finally revealed he was an international hoaxer but that’s another tale.
Once the artist entered the live show studio they could at least monitor the on-air conversation and activity so when finally introduced they could enter into the show’s flow with dialogue having some continuity. Unfortunately, the studio audience could see them off-camera, so most “star” guests had to be kept in the other barren studio and just go on the show “cold”, so to speak.
Well-known guests and star artists would be recognized immediately, once the studio audience saw them, and could become a distraction. They could unintentionally cause a studio audience massive collective “g-a-a-a-s-p,” or loud “Oh-h-h!” which would go out over the air confusing viewers at home since it would have nothing to do with what was happening on-camera that viewers were seeing. That interruption then generally required the host to offer a brief explanation which wasn’t always convenient depending on what they were in the midst of doing. Viewers weren’t as tech savvy about TV operations behind the camera to know what was happening then as we’ve all become during the ensuing years.
My host friend, Jack Denton, toiled in the entertainment business as so many do, without national fame, but enjoying his work. He never achieved making an appearance on the Johnny Carson Tonight Show which had been one of his goals. He had been on the original Dating Game years prior to the subsequent versions before hosting our TV show. The years after he left our show I didn’t see him in most of his film or TV appearances as listed on the imdb site, many roles quite brief, some non-speaking. He hadn’t mentioned them or asked that I view them.
Jack’s best known role in several different productions, like “Annie”, was as FDR (click to see photo link). He especially relished the part because he was a major admirer and fan of former U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. I first recall unexpectedly seeing his FDR image in a limited non-speaking appearance on PBS TV’s 1987 American Playhouse “Eleanor: In Her Own Words” starring Lee Remick’s one-woman show speaking Eleanor Roosevelt’s words. He recreated his FDR roll when he toured in a road company of the Broadway show “Annie” which had precipitated his becoming so angry with me for not attending which I described in this blog post series Part 2.
As most actors do, I’m sure many roles he took were to gain experience and to pay the bills with the hope he would make some connections leading to more work and bigger parts. Of course, he had only entered into the acting scene when he was older. He may have had scenes or lines in some shows that ended up on the cutting room floor. Some movies may have turned out to be quite different from what he thought they would be when he took the role. Perhaps some vehicles and roles he may have preferred to forget. I recall thinking that about one film when I heard his voice as I was surfing TV channels and stopped to watch that movie which would have been better left unviewed. Fortunately, he later had some more appealing vehicles.
I really thought this would be the end of my tale, but I’ve recalled an unusual serendipitous incident, somewhat related, which you might find of interest. What’s one more final week to start the new month before ending this epistle!