Sunday, October 31, 2010

Doris Day, interviewed by Jonathan Schwartz

Here's the link to a very enjoyable interview with Doris Day; the interview aired today on Jonathan Schwartz's Sunday Show, on the New York public radio station WNYC-FM.  (Mr. Schwartz is also heard on Saturdays, on WNYC; his programs on the station are also carried on Sirius XM Radio.)

During the interview, which lasts a little over an hour, Mr. Schwartz also played several recordings by Ms. Day.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Likeable performers

I recently posted, on this blog, a video of Helen O’Connell, singing the song “Green Eyes,” from an early 1950s TV broadcast. Though I enjoyed her singing a great deal, in the video, I was also struck by this: how likeable Ms. O’Connell appeared. One becomes aware of this likeable quality the moment the video begins. She had a friendly and appealing demeanor, and looked to be enjoying herself, as she sang.

Here, too, are The Beatles, from the film A Hard Day’s Night, performing “I Should Have Known Better.” The Beatles routinely conveyed a sense of enjoyment, during their performances (as did, I think, Elvis Presley). It is an attractive quality, and one that not all performers share.

I think of a terrific singer/guitarist/songwriter performing today—KT Tunstall, who is from Scotland. She has a very likeable stage presence, and a very appealing vocal style.

Here is Tunstall singing “Suddenly I See,” on David Letterman’s show. The video is from 2006.

Please note, in the above video, a signature feature of Tunstall’s performances: she employs foot pedals—known, evidently, as looping pedals. She uses them to record brief sections of her performances—such as, vocal phrases, or beats tapped out on her guitar—and then plays them back moments later, as accompaniment. The pedals are used, for vocal purposes, at the start of her performance on David Letterman’s program.

Here is another performance, also from David Letterman’s program, during a broadcast from Chicago. The video is of Al Green, who has regularly brought a very likeable quality, and, indeed, a sense of joy, to his performances. (I am not sure of the year of the video—though it is perhaps from 1998, when the CD referred to by Letterman, during his introduction of Green, was released.)

And concerning the subject of my book: there were many performers in early television, it seems to me, who had about them a noticeably likeable quality, a number of whom are a part of my book: singers such as Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, Eileen Wilson, Russell Arms (all from the Hit Parade), bandleader Freddy Martin (who starred on his own network show in 1951, a show on which my mother appeared as a regular guest), bandleader Kay Kyser, and others.

I think it is probable that being likeable was an important attribute during early television. Americans were given, during the period of early TV, a new proximity to performers; they were now seen up close, in one’s home, one’s living room. I am guessing that being likeable, week after week, made the presence of such performers, within the home, that much more pleasing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

"Your Hit Parade," October of 1950

In the summer of 1950, on NBC, there were four experimental television broadcasts of the show Your Hit Parade. The Hit Parade had been heard on radio since 1935, and was now being tried on television. 

The experimental TV broadcasts were successful, and in October of 1950 (sixty years ago this month), the TV show began airing weekly. Its three singing stars were Snooky Lanson, Eileen Wilson, and Dorothy Collins. 

In February of 1951, my mother joined the program's cast. At first, she sang in the show's "extravaganza" commercials, for Lucky Strike cigarettes; the commercials were production numbers which featured singing and dancing.  She later became a featured vocalist on the program.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A response to a hostile--and inaccurate--comment left on a website

In 2008, a very kind review of my book was printed on the enjoyable “Geezer Music Club” website/blog.

This week I came upon a comment about the book review; it was left on the Geezer Music Club blog last month. The comment came from Steven Beasley, who came out with a biography of Kay Kyser in 2009.

Mr. Beasley, in his response to the book review, wrote about a section in my book in which I described the strained relationship between bandleader Kay Kyser and his comedy sidekick, Merwyn Bogue (better known as “Ish Kabibble”). Bogue, who was a cornetist in addition to being a comedian and sidekick, had been a part of Kyser's orchestra since the early 1930s.  The rupture in their relationship took place in the mid-1940s (several years before Kay Kyser's "College of Musical Knowledge" came to TV), and it continued for the remainder of their professional association. During this time, Kyser and Bogue were not on speaking terms.

Mr. Beasley wrote:

“I visited Kay Kyser’s widow (Georgia Carroll Kyser) recently, whom I have known for 15 years. I brought up the part in the LUCKY STRIKE PAPERS that says Kay and Ish werent on speaking terms offstage, and she completely poo-pooed the idea. 'Even our kids were friends', she said. That makes sense, as Kyser was a very organized and practical man, and would’ve cleared up any misunderstanding as opposed to acting childish and perhaps causing delays or pressure due to some unspoken feud. Could be it was an isolated incident Miss Bennett remembers, but NO, I dont think they excommunicated each other. My new book, ‘KAY KYSER-THE OL’ PROFESSOR OF SWING! AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN SUPERSTAR’ tells the whole story of Kyser and his gang. I have a 1980s interview w/ Ish, and he certainly didnt seem to diss Kyser in any way. People should check their ‘facts’ before printing them.”

Mr. Beasley suggested I check my “facts” before publishing them.  He should have actually taken the time to read the section in the book about Kyser and Merwyn Bogue, before criticizing it.

The rift between Kay Kyser and Merwyn Bogue was described to me by Merwyn Bogue himself, when I interviewed him in 1979.

Here is the section from the book:

I asked Merwyn Bogue—Ish Kabibble—about Kay Kyser. Kyser and Bogue were a team, on the air.

Off-the-air, however, the two did not speak with one another. Kyser used intermediaries to speak with Bogue, even when Bogue stood nearby.

AF: I had heard that you and Kyser had had a big rift.
Merwyn Bogue (1979): Oh, yes, we did.
AF: And you didn’t speak to each other much.
Bogue: That’s right. Well, I spoke to him, but he didn’t answer me.

Several years before [the TV show], while appearing on Kay Kyser’s radio program, Bogue had asked Kyser for more money. “I was getting I think $175 a week,” Bogue said in 1979, “which wasn’t much. And all the other comparable stooges, like Jerry Colonna with [Bob] Hope . . . all the stooges were getting a thousand a week. So I thought I ought to have a thousand a week. And I asked him for it, and he wouldn’t give it to me. So I said, Well, then, I quit. And he said Fine, so I quit. And after about three weeks he called me back, he said, O.K., I’ll pay it, and he did, but then he was so mad he wouldn’t speak to me. . . .‘Course I didn’t get wealthy on it because I got it for two weeks and then I got drafted in the Army. And I was gone for about a year.”

After the service, Bogue returned to Kyser’s radio program. Later, in 1949, he joined Kyser for his television program. Yet Kyser still did not speak to him.

AF: But you have corresponded with him in recent years.
Bogue (1979): Oh, yes. . . . No, we got over that. We correspond now.

Friday, October 15, 2010

"Deconstructing Dad," a film by Stan Warnow

Filmmaker Stan Warnow has directed and produced a documentary which has received much attention. The film, Deconstructing Dad, is about his father, Raymond Scott—the musician, composer, and bandleader, who was also widely regarded as an electronics visionary. (Though I have not yet seen the film, I am planning on doing so soon.)

Warnow’s film has had screenings at many film festivals (as well as music-oriented festivals), and it is now available on DVD.

Film critic and historian Leonard Maltin calls the film a “fascinating look at a musical genius and the way he lived his life. Stan Warnow allows us to share his journey of discovery as he pieces together the story of his father. I thoroughly enjoyed it.”

For more information about Deconstructing Dad, please see the film’s website:

Raymond Scott, as noted previously in this space, was the orchestra leader on the 1950s television show Your Hit Parade. He had been a very successful (and much admired) bandleader in the 1930s and 1940s.  In 1949, the orchestra leader on the Hit Parade radio show, Mark Warnow (Scott's brother), died, and Scott took his place on the program.  Scott continued as orchestra leader when the show came to television in 1950.

In the 1930s, Scott had played piano for (and contributed compositions to) the CBS Radio Orchestra, led by his brother. In order to avoid suggestions of nepotism, Scott (born Harry Warnow) changed his name. He found the name Raymond Scott in the phone book.

Stan Warnow was an editor and cameraman for the Academy Award-winnning film Woodstock, and has worked on many other films and television programs. Here is his biography, from the website for Deconstructing Dad:

To order a DVD of the film, please click on this link:

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Live broadcasts

In the previous post, concerning tonight's live broadcast of 30 Rock, I neglected to mention certain programs which today are broadcast live:  the very popular talent competition shows, such as American Idol, and Dancing with the Stars.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"30 Rock," "Your Hit Parade," and Studio 8-H

Other than Saturday Night Live, and news and sports programs, live television programs are today rare. On Thursday, at 8:30 p.m. (EST), the NBC show 30 Rock will be broadcasting live, from NBC’s Studio 8-H, in Rockefeller Center. 

Three of the primary stars of 30 Rock—Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, and Alec Baldwin—are very familiar with the studio, which has been the home of Saturday Night Live since the show began airing in 1975. Fey and Morgan starred on Saturday Night Live, and Baldwin has been a frequent host on the program.

Before the television era, Studio 8-H had been famous for being the radio home of conductor Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony Orchestra; Toscanini’s radio broadcasts had begun on NBC in the 1930s.

Near the start of 1951, when my mother joined the cast of Your Hit Parade, the show was broadcast from New York’s Center Theatre, near Rockefeller Center; the theatre had been converted to accomodate NBC television productions. In the spring of 1952, the Hit Parade left the Center Theatre, and moved to Studio 8-H.

In 1983, while doing research for my book, I spoke with the television and film director Paul Bogart. Bogart worked in early TV (and later became one of television's most prominent directors, of both drama and comedy; in the 1970s, he won an Emmy Award for his direction of the series All In The Family)He  remembered watching the Hit Parade at Studio 8-H, when the show moved there.

The following, about Bogart, is from my book:

He did not work on the [Hit Parade]; he was, at the time, a floor manager for other shows, yet he spent time at Studio 8-H and watched the show during rehearsals....

The Hit Parade, he said, “was a wonderful show. It came out of 8‑H, the big Toscanini studio in Radio City. It was the big studio, it had the big orchestra, it had lots of dancers, it had lots of singers. It was just plain fun. There were hundreds of people running around changing costumes all the time, it was like opening night of Broadway, you know, it was all that excitement. And I loved watching it. I used to hang around there all the time . . . .It had all that nice music going on, it was such sweet entertainment, so innocent. And lovely little bits of production.”

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Recommended Reading

The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present, a terrific encyclopedic work (referred to previously in this space), is by Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh, and is published by Ballantine Books.

It first appeared in 1979; there have been a number of editions since.

The 1979 edition was 849 pages long, and included information regarding 2500+ prime time network television shows. The most recent edition, from 2007, is more than 1800 pages long, and contains entries for 6500+ network and cable programs.

In preparing my book about early television, I consulted Brooks’ and Marsh’s richly detailed Directory often, over time.