Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Lucky Strike Papers

A new edition of my book about early television will be coming out in the near future. The book will largely remain the same, yet will include some modest revisions, some additions, some elucidations (yeah, that sounds a little pretentious, but what the heck), and some corrections.

Updates about the revised edition will be posted in this space.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dorothy Mengering

Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman's mother--who was an enjoyable and memorable presence, over time, on her son's TV programs--died on Tuesday, at age 95.

New book about David Letterman

A good review, below, of what sounds like a good book:  Letterman: The Last Giant of Late Night, by Jason Zinoman:

Here is the book's amazon page:

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Upcoming book co-written by Martin Grams, Jr.

I was on amazon a few days ago, simply browsing--and looked up books by Martin Grams, Jr., who has been referred to a number of times in this space. (He has written many books, over time, about classic radio and television shows.)

I learned about a title he has coming out in November, written with Carl Amari: The Top 100 Radio Shows of All Time (Portable Press).  Am looking forward to reading it.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

"Breakfast with Music," WNBT-TV, 1952, and a recording of "Fugue for Tinhorns"

From October through December of 1952, after her time on the television program Your Hit Parade, my mother sang on a weekday morning TV show, Breakfast with Music, which starred comedian Morey Amsterdam.  It was a local show, seen on New York City's NBC station, WNBT-TV (now WNBC). The show also starred musical director Milton DeLugg, who oversaw a small ensemble of musicians, on the program, including pianist Dick Hyman, and bassist Eddie Safranski.  The show was seen for an hour each morning, after the Today show, which had begun airing in January of that year, with host Dave Garroway.

Breakfast with Music was the last television show my mother was affiliated with, during her New York career.  In January of 1953, my parents left New York for the Boston area.

Left to right: Milton DeLugg, Sue Bennett, Morey Amsterdam, 1952
(Photo copyright: WNBT/WNBC-TV)

After one of the Breakfast with Music telecasts, in 1952, my mother joined Milton DeLugg and the legendary composer and lyricist Frank Loesser, DeLugg's good friend (DeLugg and Loesser were also periodic songwriting partners) in a recording session; Loesser wanted to put on tape some demonstration recordings of his songs. Singer Stubby Kaye, who was starring on Broadway, at the time, in Guys and Dolls (the songs for which were written by Loesser; the play had had its debut in 1950) was also at the recording session.  

One of the songs recorded that day featured Loesser, DeLugg and my mother singing "Fugue for Tinhorns," from Guys and Dolls. (Stubby Kaye--as "Nicely-Nicely Johnson"--was, famously, one of the singers of the song, in both the play, and, later, the film.)

Forty years after the recording session, a CD was released, titled An Evening with Frank Loesser (DRG Records).  It featured demo recordings, over the years, of Loesser singing his own songs--from Guys and Dolls, The Most Happy Fella (1956), and How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961). The CD included the recording of "Fugue for Tinhorns" that my mother was a part of in 1952.

Here is the recording, via YouTube. The first voice heard on the song is Frank Loesser's; he is joined, in turn, by my mother, and then Milton DeLugg. 

In addition, here is the well-known performance of the song in the 1955 Guys and Dolls film. Stubby Kaye sings first, followed by Johnny Silver (seen at the right), and then Danny Dayton (at the left).  (A note, by the way, about a particular moment in the video. As Johnny Silver is about to sing, at approximately :30, he flicks his cigarette out of camera view. It is, I think, a nicely-executed gesture.)

I don't know the exact date of the 1952 "Fugue for Tinhorns" demo recording. Milton DeLugg would have been 33 or 34 years old, when the recording was made; he died in 2015, at age 96.  Frank Loesser died in 1969, at age 59. At the time of the recording, in 1952, he was 42. 

Morey Amsterdam, who died in 1996, at age 87, was 43 or 44 when the above Breakfast with Music photograph (which appears in my book about early TV) was taken.

My mother was 24 at the time.  She died in May of 2001, at age 73, almost sixteen years ago. A little more than a week ago, had she still been alive, she would have turned 89.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

"Jacks," "Jackies," and Allan Sherman

As mentioned previously, in this space, I was the host of an online radio talk show between 2011 and 2014.  During that time, I did a little (emphasis on "little") comedy bit on the program, once or twice (probably twice; I tend to repeat myself), about The Ed Sullivan Show. 

I said, on the radio program, that it seemed like most of the guests on Ed Sullivan's show, over the years, had either the name "Jack," or "Jackie":  Jackie DeShannon,  Jackie Wilson,  Jack E. Leonard, Jackie Vernon, Jack Carter, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Jackie Mason, Jack Jones--and so on.

Recently, I read a 1965 book, A Gift of Laughter (Atheneum Publishers), an autobiography by the supremely talented song parodist/comedian Allan Sherman. I enjoyed coming upon the following, in the book:

"Willie Weber [an agent] handled the careers of several dozen comedians, most of whom were named Jackie. Willie, as far as I could tell, had only one single show-business instinct: he was one hundred percent dead certain that the only good name for a comedian is Jackie. You couldn't argue this point, because he was making a fortune.  If a Sam, Alvin, Clyde or Montmorency walked into Willie Weber's office and signed a contract, he walked out under the name of Jackie, and somehow Willie kept his Jackies busy working all the time. Willie wasn't too happy when I insisted on remaining Allan, but he figured it would be real good if he could have somebody like me around to supply jokes and funny songs to his stable of Jackies, which included Jack E. Leonard, Jackie Miles, Jackie Winston and Jackie Gleason."

While writing this post, I went online, to see if there were other Jacks or Jackies I had forgotten--and found an enjoyable/interesting passage from a 2015 book by Kliph Nesteroff, The Comedians (published by Grove Press).   

Mr. Nesteroff wrote about the recurring names of comics, years ago: "There were guys like Buddy Lester, Buddy Lewis and Buddy Hackett; Joe E. Brown, Joe E. Lewis and Joe E. Ross; Joey Adams, Joey Bishop and Joey Forman.  An inexplicable number of them were named Jackie--Jackie Clark, Jackie Curtiss, Jackie Gayle, Jackie Gleason, Jackie Heller, Jackie Kahane, Jackie Kannon, Jackie Mason, Jackie Miles, Jackie Wakefield, Jackie Whalen, Jackie Winston, Jackie Vernon, Jack E. Leonard..."

Here is a link to the book, on amazon:

Here, too, via YouTube, are three Allan Sherman songs.

The first is Mr. Sherman's most famous record, 1963's "Hello Mudduh, Hello Fadduh." Mr. Sherman (who died in 1973, of emphysema, not long before he would have turned 49) was perhaps not a "trained" singer, but I loved his voice; he had a very appealing and distinctive singing style. And his lyrics (often co-written by Lou Busch, his musical arranger and conductor): they were entertaining, and very funny--and always scanned so beautifully. 

Another song--according to the YouTube video, the recording is from a 1963 live performance, in California--was titled "Overweight People" (to the tune of "Over the Rainbow"):

And lastly, from 1964, one of my favorites--"Shine on Harvey Bloom":   

Friday, March 17, 2017


I recently switched my car's main odometer to the "Trip" odometer. Forgot to switch it back to the main one, and as a result missed when it reached 100,000.   :(