Thursday, October 27, 2011

Martin Grams's most recent book

Here's the amazon link for the latest book by Martin Grams, Jr.; the book concerns the 1955-1957 television series Science Fiction Theatre.

Martin was a guest, tonight, on my weekly "Radio Once More" program.  The show airs from 9 p.m.-midnight, Eastern time, on Thursdays.

The address of Martin's web site is:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Norman Corwin

He was often referred to as the "poet laureate of radio." Norman Corwin—writer, director, producer—died yesterday, at 101.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Snooky Lanson & Gisele MacKenzie, on 1974 "Mike Douglas Show"

The following is a segment of The Mike Douglas Show, from May of 1974. The guests are Your Hit Parade singers Snooky Lanson (who starred on the TV show from 1950-1957), and Gisele MacKenzie (who starred on the program from 1953-1957). The video comes from a Gisele MacKenzie-related YouTube channel.

During the segment, Lanson describes a mistake which occurred during his singing of “O Holy Night,” on the Hit Parade’s 1954 Christmas broadcast. The YouTube video includes (at 3:23) a kinescope segment; the kinescope footage (not part of the 1974 Mike Douglas broadcast) includes the error Lanson was describing:

Here, too, is the link for the Gisele MacKenzie YouTube channel:

Snooky Lanson passed away in 1990, at age 76. Gisele MacKenzie passed away in 2003, also at 76.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Recently published Kay Kyser biography

I’ve referred, in previous posts, to a biography of bandleader Kay Kyser, brought out in April by BearManor Media.

The book, Thinking of You—The Story of Kay Kyser, is by the late Raymond D. Hair, and by Jürgen Wölfer. kyser&product_id=241

I’ve only had the chance to read a handful of sections of the book, but wanted to mention a fascinating detail which appears in one of the book’s chapters.

The detail occurs in a part of the book which concerns the end of Kay Kyser’s television program (which aired on NBC in 1949 and 1950), and Kyser’s imminent retirement from show business.

By way of preface: in my own book about early television—a significant portion of which concerns Kay Kyser’s TV show—I noted that the orchestra which played on the New York-based television program was not made up of Kay Kyser’s longtime musicians; members of the New York musicians’ union were hired to play in the TV show’s orchestra. Popular Kay Kyser saxophonist Jack Martin and cornetist and comedian Merwyn Bogue (a/k/a Ish Kabibble) were the only longtime band members to become part of the television show (in addition to Carl Hoff, who had been musical director of the band, earlier in the 1940s; he led the orchestra on the TV program).

The new Kay Kyser book indicates (via an interview with trombonist Joe Howard, who was not part of the television show’s orchestra, but who had been part of Kay Kyser’s band in the 1940s) that there was regular turnover in the television band’s personnel—that band members were hired for only brief periods of time, and new musicians then joined the program. I was not aware of this; my impression was that there had been continuity in the TV band’s personnel.

The book also makes this contention: that the musicians who were hired to play in the television program’s orchestra were not especially enamored of Kay Kyser's talent.

“The musicians hired for the show in New York did not know Kyser,” the authors write. During the period of the TV show, the authors say, Kyser “wished to spend all the time he could with his family. He was at home every night. This was far different than it was during the days of the radio show when he was traveling across the country entertaining troops.”

The authors continue: “The New York musicians were not aware of what Kyser had done. They only knew what they saw while playing on the TV show. Due to that they didn’t recognize his abilities and felt he was overrated. Kay knew their feelings, but said nothing about it.”

I have no knowledge of the preceding paragraph’s details, regarding the musicians on the television show—yet the statements (e.g., the musicians “felt [Kyser] was overrated”) sound rather sweeping to me. I am a bit perplexed, too, by the suggestion that the TV show’s musicians would have been unaware “of what Kyser had done.” In 1949 and 1950, despite the decline of the big band era, Mr. Kyser was still regarded as a major figure in American entertainment.

Nonetheless: there is another detail in the book, concerning the end of Kay Kyser’s TV show (and the end of his show business career), which I find compelling.

The authors write:

The cancelation [of the television show] did not concern Kyser. He had long wished to leave the stress and physical demands of show business. This was a good chance for him to return to his beloved Chapel Hill. As soon as he finished his business in New York, he headed south.

Merwyn Bogue recalled, “It was Christmas day of 1950 that Kay sent us all a letter saying he didn’t want to talk to any of us down at his office in New York, and not to try to contract (sic) him about anything. He was retiring - goodbye - and like that. I went down to his office in New York…and he looked surprised when I came in the office.

According to Bogue, as reported in the new book, the following exchange occurred between the two:

He [Kyser] said, ‘I thought I said not to try to contact me’, and I said yes you did, but here I am.

It is, indeed, a distinctly chilly, and certainly arresting detail: I thought I said not to try to contact me.

The authors add:

Knowing how the New York musicians felt about him, Kyser had no desire to see any of them. Ish had been with Kay for 20 years, so Kyser decided to talk with him.

Even this concluding sentence, by the authors, is suggestive of a chilliness—suggesting what appears to have been a grudging decision, by Kay Kyser, to talk.

I had written, in my 2007 book, about an estrangement between Kay Kyser and Merwyn Bogue. The estrangement had begun—according to Merwyn Bogue, via an interview I conducted with him in 1979—in the mid-1940s.

Yet the estrangement had something of a one-sided quality to it, as described to me by Bogue in 1979 (Bogue passed away in 1994).

The following exchange appears in my book. I was speaking with Bogue about Kay Kyser’s television show, and his relationship with Kyser.

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.

(As noted previously, in this space, my description of the estrangement—indeed, the simple fact of the estrangement—was challenged last year, belligerently, by another Kay Kyser biographer, who pronounced the story not credible.)

In fact, the remarks by Merwyn Bogue, contained in the new Kay Kyser book, are—in their tone—very similar to the remarks Bogue made to me, in 1979. In the newly published remarks, and in his remarks to me, Merwyn Bogue told of efforts to communicate with Kay Kyser, despite the distance Kyser clearly wished to keep.

From my book:  Well, I spoke to him, but he didn’t answer me.

From the new book:  He said, ‘I thought I said not to try to contact me’, and I said yes you did, but here I am.


Here, as well, is the brief section from my book which concerns the genesis of the estrangement between Kay Kyser and Merwyn Bogue:

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.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Oscar Handlin

The distinguished historian Oscar Handlin recently passed away, at 95.

Here is an obituary, from The New York Times:

Here, too, is an amazon link to for his well-known book about immigration, The Uprooted: The Epic Story of the Great Migrations That Made the American People. The book received the 1952 Pulitzer Prize for history.