Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Milton DeLugg

I was very saddened to learn, yesterday (via Bobby Ellerbee's "Eyes of a Generation" Facebook page), about the death, on Monday, of Milton DeLugg.  

Mr. DeLugg, who was 96, was an enormously talented man--a bandleader, musician, songwriter, arranger, producer. 

I remain very grateful that I was able to interview him, for my 2007 book about early television.  We spoke a few times, a couple of years before the book came out.  He was extremely kind, cheerful, and gracious. 

My mother worked with Mr. DeLugg, in the fall of 1952, on Morey Amsterdam's local New York TV show, Breakfast with Music.  The show aired weekday mornings, after the Today show, on station WNBT (now WNBC).  Mr. DeLugg led the show's small musical ensemble.

Mr. DeLugg wrote a number of hit songs, in the early 1950s--including "Be My Life's Companion" (written with Bob Hilliard), "Hoop-Dee-Doo" (with Frank Loesser), and "Shanghai" (with Bob Hilliard).  "Orange Colored Sky," a hit in 1950, was written by Mr. DeLugg and Willie Stein.  

In a 2010 post, I wrote the following, about "Orange Colored Sky":

In 1950, DeLugg was the bandleader on (and was well-known for playing the accordion on) network TV’s first late-night hit show, Broadway Open House. He played “Orange Colored Sky” regularly on the program.

The star of
Broadway Open House, comedian Jerry Lester, recorded a version of the song, prior to the recording made famous by Nat King Cole and Stan Kenton. A version was also recorded by Betty Hutton.

In their book, The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows (Ballantine Books, several editions), authors Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh write that DeLugg’s frequent performances of “Orange Colored Sky,” on Broadway Open House, led to this distinction: that it was “probably the first song ever to become a hit through television exposure.”

Here is the song, as recorded (so beautifully) by Nat King Cole, and Stan Kenton's orchestra:

Here, too, is a video of Mr. DeLugg accompanying Al Jolson in August of 1949, during a Chicago appearance:  

According to the description of the video, on YouTube, Al Jolson's appearance in Chicago was part of a tour related to the release of the movie Jolson Sings Again, which starred Larry Parks, as Jolson; the film (released the same month as the Chicago performance) was the sequel to 1946's The Jolson Story.  Mr. DeLugg was seen briefly in Jolson Sings Again: he played the accordion, with a small musical group, during a Jolson appearance at an overseas military post.  Here is a link to the film; Mr. DeLugg is seen at about 28:30.

Please note not simply the skill, but the verve, and the swinging style, with which Mr. DeLugg played the accordion in the film's scene. Indeed, Mr. DeLugg told me that he sought to bring to the instrument--an instrument he began playing in his teens--something of the musical style, the musical feeling, of Benny Goodman's band. "I was so struck by that wonderful band, and the swing music, and I was trying to play accordion like that."

Here, lastly, is the Wikipedia page about Mr. DeLugg: