Saturday, July 23, 2016

Post by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette

Here's a nice blog post by Marcel Chotkowski LaFollette, independent historian, and Research Associate at the Smithsonian Institution Archives.  The post, from July 19th, is about advances in technology, in the 1960s, which affected the coverage of political conventions. 

When I last hosted a radio talk show (it aired on a nostalgia-oriented Internet station), I spoke on two occasions with Dr. LaFollette.  On one of the programs, we discussed her excellent 2009 book Science on the Air: Popularizers and Personalities on Radio and Early Television (University of Chicago Press).  

On a later broadcast, we talked about her fine follow-up book, 2013's Science on American Television: A History (also published by University of Chicago Press).

Another of LaFollete's books--which I have on my shelf, but have not yet read--is Reframing Scopes: Journalists, Scientists, and Lost Photographs from the Trial of the Century (University Press of Kansas, 2008).

Monday, July 4, 2016

Samuel Francis Smith, and "My Country, 'Tis of Thee"

This is an old postcard, which I purchased on ebay. Though the precise age of the card is not known, the ebay seller noted that it was "pre-1920."  It pictures a house in the city where I grew up (Newton Centre, Mass.).

I passed by the house routinely, as a child (in the 1960s). It was located just after the last store on the main street of the Newton Centre business district, and was set back from the street.  It seemed mysterious, and, as I recall, a bit scary.  I'm fairly sure it was unoccupied, during those years, and I walked up to it a number of times, to look at it--though I don't remember when, in childhood, I became aware that it had been the home of Samuel Francis Smith, who wrote the words to "America" (a/k/a  "My Country, 'Tis of Thee").  As the link below notes, the house burned down in 1969, but I don't remember this happening (I was thirteen, at the time).

Here is the Wikipedia entry about the song:,_%27Tis_of_Thee

Here, too, is a brief video, from YouTube, of a performance of the song by Marian Anderson; it took place in 1939, during her famous appearance at the Lincoln Memorial.

Happy July 4th!

Friday, July 1, 2016

"The Jordan Rich Show," Boston's WBZ Radio

For two decades, Jordan Rich has been the weekend overnight talk show host on WBZ Radio, the legendary Boston station. He announced several weeks ago that he had decided to leave his weekend programs. 

This weekend's shows will be his last--though he will continue to be heard on the station, via recorded features: his daily "Connoisseur’s Corner" segment, as well as his "New England Weekend" feature. This Monday evening he will also--as in the past--anchor the station's annual July 4th special; the program airs from Boston's Esplanade, and features a concert by the Boston Pops. 

His weekday work as co-owner of Chart Productions, an audio production company outside of Boston, will continue.  He co-founded the company--which also provides marketing and voice-over services--in 1980.

His last Friday/Saturday show airs tonight, on WBZ, from midnight to 5 a.m.  His final Saturday/Sunday program can be heard from midnight to 3:30 a.m.

Jordan Rich is a terrific broadcaster--warm, funny, insightful, engaging.  Along with so many others, I will miss, very much, his immensely enjoyable weekend programs.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Harold Russell, and "The Best Years of Our Lives"

Tonight, as part of its Memorial Day Weekend programming, Turner Classic Movies will be airing the outstanding 1946 film The Best Years of Our Lives, directed by William Wyler.  Its stars included Dana Andrews, Myrna Loy, Fredric March, Teresa Wright, and Harold Russell.

The film earned eight Academy Awards in 1947, including the award for Best Picture.

Harold Russell,  Photo © 1946, MGM
Harold Russell, a World War Two veteran, had previously made only one film appearance; he was featured in a brief 1945 War Department film about disability and rehabilitation. Yet he received 1947's Best Supporting Actor award, for The Best Years of Our Lives. Director William Wyler said that Russell "gave the finest performance I have ever seen on the screen."

Russell was also given a second Oscar in 1947, an honorary award, for "bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans."

As The New York Times wrote, upon Mr. Russell's death, in 2002:  "After basic training [during World War Two], he volunteered to become a paratrooper, and he learned that skill as well as demolition.  The United States Army made him an instructor.  On June 6, 1944, while some of the men he trained were involved in the D-Day landing, Mr. Russell was teaching demolition work at Camp Mackall in North Carolina and a defective fuse detonated TNT that he was holding.  The next day what was left of his hands were amputated three inches above the wrists.

"Walter Reed General Hospital offered him a choice of prosthetic devices: plastic hands or steel hooks.  He chose the hooks, proved unusually adept at mastering them and eventually made a training film for soldiers who had lost both hands. The film, 'Diary of a Sergeant,' showed Mr. Russell in daily activities.

"Wyler saw the film after he had been asked by the producer Samuel Goldwyn to direct 'The Best Years of Our Lives.' Wyler urged Goldwyn to hire Mr. Russell, and after some coaxing Mr. Russell, who was then attending business school at Boston University, agreed to appear in the film."

The Best Years of Our Lives--and Mr. Russell's extraordinary performance in it--can be seen tonight at 10:15 (Eastern time), on TCM.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Julius La Rosa, and Arthur Godfrey

In October of 1953, singer Julius La Rosa--who died May 12th, at age 86--was part of one of the most interesting, and most peculiar, moments in broadcasting history.   He was fired--live, on the air--by his boss, television and radio giant Arthur Godfrey.

The show was Arthur Godfrey Time, a morning program simulcast on CBS Radio and TV--although La Rosa's dismissal, from the Godfrey family of entertainers, was not seen by television viewers. The TV portion of the simulcast had ended, for that day; the firing was heard only by Godfrey's radio listeners. 

At the end of the show--after La Rosa, at Godfrey's request,  sang the song "Manhattan"--Godfrey told his audience the following:

"Thanks ever so much, Julie.  That was Julie's swan song, with us.  He goes now, out on his own, as his own star, soon to be seen in his own programs.  And I know you wish him Godspeed, same as I do."

Andy Rooney, who wrote for the program, said, in an interview years later for A & E's Biography program, that La Rosa asked, after leaving the stage, "Was I just fired?"  

Godfrey later said that the dismissal took place because La Rosa had come to lack "humility."  

The relationship between Godfrey and La Rosa had deteriorated--at least in part--as a result of a couple of incidents.

Godfrey, during this time, had insisted that his family of performers take dance classes, to help with their sense of movement, on-stage.  La Rosa--who in addition to appearing on Godfrey's morning TV/radio show also appeared on the weekly TV program Arthur Godfrey and His Friends--missed one of the classes, due, he said, to a family matter.  Godfrey then suspended him for a day.

As Arthur J. Singer writes, in the biography Arthur Godfrey: The Adventures of an American Broadcaster (McFarland & Company, Inc., 2000):  "La Rosa insists he had gone to see Godfrey to tell him he had a family conflict and that Arthur had seemed to understand but told him to try to get back if he could."  

Singer continues, regarding the suspension:  "La Rosa was enraged.  He went over to the Lexington Hotel, where Godfrey lived, and had the operator ring his room.  He was told Godfrey was out.  But Julius had seen his car on the street and decided to wait for him to come down to the lobby.  Finally, according to La Rosa, Godfrey came down with two of his assistants and brushed by La Rosa without acknowledging him.  'I said to myself, Okay.  So I went and got a manager agent."

Godfrey did not want his "Little Godfreys"--as the performers on his shows were called, collectively--to hire agents or managers; he preferred to deal with his performers directly, and had made this known.  Soon, Godfrey received a letter from the agent, Tommy Rockwell, of General Artists; the letter, Arthur J. Singer summarizes, said that "in the future, all dealings with La Rosa would be handled through the agent's office."  In an interview, years later--seen on A & E's Biography--La Rosa spoke about the letter.  It was, he acknowledged, a "big slap in the face" to Godfrey.  Godfrey--with the approval of executives at CBS--decided to fire La Rosa; it was agreed the firing would take place on the air.  

The public firing, and Godfrey's subsequent remarks to reporters about La Rosa's lack of humility, were not well-received.  For years Godfrey had been known for his generally easygoing, genial manner.  His public image--as commentators have noted, over time--was certainly affected by the controversy; the episode, to many, suggested an unlikeable, perhaps imperious, side to his personality.  

Here is a YouTube video featuring part of the 1996 A & E broadcast of Biography, about Arthur Godfrey (its Executive Producer was Godfrey biographer Arthur J. Singer, referred to above).  The video includes the audio recording of the firing, as well as interviews with La Rosa, and others, about it:

Here, too, is an obituary about Julius La Rosa, from The Washington Post:

Monday, May 9, 2016

"The Girl on the Train"

Saw an ad on television, Sunday night, for the upcoming film The Girl on the Train. It stars Emily Blunt, and will be released in October. I loved the novel, by Paula Hawkins--was really taken by it--and hadn't known a film based on it was forthcoming.  Am looking forward to seeing it.

Here is the page about the film:

And here is the novel's amazon link:

Monday, April 25, 2016

Author Robert McLaughlin, Wakefield's Pleasure Island, and a new book

Robert McLaughlin is the author of two enjoyable books about a subject I have great affection for:  the theme park Pleasure Island, which was located in Wakefield, Mass. (1959-1969), not far from Boston.  To many New Englanders, Pleasure Island is legendary.

One of Mr. McLaughlin's books--titled, simply, Pleasure Island--was brought out in 2009, as part of Arcadia Publishing's "Images of America" series; its pictures (nearly 200) are in black and white. His follow-up book--Pleasure Island: 1959-1969--was published in 2014, for Arcadia's "Images of Modern America" series, and features 160 images, most of them in color.  (I wrote about Arcadia, and another of its authors, Boston historian Anthony Mitchell Sammarco, in a recent post.)

One of the best-known attractions at Pleasure Island--something I experienced, in childhood--concerned Moby Dick.  One rode in an open boat, and I recall, vaguely (and perhaps inaccurately; I was five or six years old), seeing a cove, of sorts, in the distance.  Soon, an immense Moby Dick facsimile rose from beneath the water. The experience terrified me; I've told people about it for years. (And spoke with Mr. McLaughlin about it; he appeared, twice, on an online talk show I hosted for a few years, until 2014.)

Moby Dick, from Pleasure Island: 1959-1969 (Arcadia Publishing, 2014)

In addition to researching and writing about Pleasure Island, Mr. McLaughlin--who lives in Wakefield, the town where Pleasure Island was located--is the President of the group "Friends of Pleasure Island," and gives periodic walking tours of the former site. (Please see:

Mr. McLaughlin has also written about Freedomland, the 1960s theme park in the Bronx, for Arcadia, and  his latest Arcadia title, about the Golden, Colorado theme park Magic Mountain, is being published today (April 25th). (All three of the venues he has written about--Pleasure Island, Freedomland, and Magic Mountain--were designed by the same firm, Marco Engineering, of Los Angeles.) 

Here are links to his Pleasure Island books:

(Please note:  the paperback edition, included in the above amazon link, is of Mr. McLaughlin's 2009 book; the Kindle version, part of the same link, is for the 2014 book.)

Here is a link to the paperback version of the 2014 book, from the Barnes & Noble website:

Lastly, this is the amazon link to Mr. McLaughlin's book about Colorado's Magic Mountain, released today: