Friday, May 10, 2019

Photograph


















This is a photograph of my mother, which she used professionally. I believe it is from the late 1980s or early 1990s.

Wednesday was the 18th anniversary of her death.  She died in 2001, at age 73. 

Sunday, May 5, 2019

Singer Eileen Wilson

I learned, recently (with sadness), about the death of Eileen Wilson, one of the original stars of television's Your Hit Parade.  She died last September 9th in Washington state, where she had lived for decades.  When she died, due to Alzheimer's disease, she was 95 years old.  

Wilson was a superb singer--on radio, television, records, and in films.  She had a lovely, assured, beautiful voice.

In the 1940s, Ms. Wilson was a big band vocalist--with Skitch Henderson's orchestra, and with Les Brown's--before joining the Hit Parade radio show in 1948.  During part of her tenure on the radio show, she starred with Frank Sinatra. 

Snooky Lanson & Eileen Wilson, Your Hit Parade, summer of 1950
In 1950, while she sang on the radio show, the program also came to television.  Four experimental telecasts of the Hit Parade aired on NBC during the summer of 1950.  At the outset, Wilson and Snooky Lanson were the TV show's primary singing stars; singer Dorothy Collins also starred.  

In October of 1950, the TV show began its weekly broadcasts, starring Wilson, Lanson, and Collins--along with the Hit Paraders choral group, the Hit Parade Dancers, announcer Andre Baruch, and the Lucky Strike Orchestra, led by Raymond Scott.  

Ms. Wilson sang on the television program through the end of the 1951-1952 season.  

 





Eileen Wilson, 1951 TV magazine

During the 1950s, there were three incarnations of the TV show.  The first lasted for much of the decade--airing from 1950 to 1957. Its best-remembered vocal cast, no doubt, featured Dorothy Collins, Snooky Lanson, Russell Arms, and Gisele MacKenzie, who starred together from 1953-1957. In early 1957, MacKenzie announced she would leave the show after the 1956-1957 season, to star in her own NBC program. Her departure led to the second incarnation of the TV show, airing from 1957 to 1958. A new vocal cast--a group of younger singers--was brought in to replace the previous stars; a new bandleader also took Raymond Scott's place.  The program then returned briefly, in 1958 and 1959; its stars were Dorothy Collins, and singer Johnny Desmond.

Before she died, in September, Eileen Wilson had been the only surviving vocal star from the show's 1950-1957 period.   

Ms. Wilson's husband was Ray Kellogg--who, like Wilson, had been a singer with the Skitch Henderson and Les Brown bands; he had also sung with the Sonny Dunham orchestra. Wilson and Kellogg married in 1948.  Later--from the 1950s until the 1970s--Kellogg worked regularly as a television and movie actor. He died in 1981, after a lengthy illness.

Top photo:  Eileen Wilson and Ray Kellogg, 1951 magazine article by Wilson about her life, and Your Hit Parade.

I interviewed Ms. Wilson in 1983, by telephone. It had been a year and half since her husband's death.  She missed him very much, she told me.  She also remembered, with affection, her years as a singer and performer.

From my book: 

Before the Hit Parade TV show, Wilson had appeared as a guest on Pantomime Quiz, a charades program, when it was a local California show.  She had been on the program with her husband, with bandleader Les Brown, and with a record company executive.  She was nervous before appearing on the show, but then "it was just so fast and you were so excited, you didn't even know you were on television."  Nor, later, was she fearful performing on the Hit Parade.  "There was just no big trauma in moving into [the television program], because everything was just so planned out," she recalled...

AF:  There was no great fear, for you.

Eileen Wilson:  No, none at all, absolutely none.  
I just think it was because of the production staff....
The production staff just pulled that thing together....
Here we were, we have our talent, our talent is singing, 
tell us what you want us to do, move us here, move us 
there, give us our costumes.  It was all planned out for us. 

The television show, she told me in 1983, was "one of the highlights of my life."  It was, she said, "a perfect show--I'm just so lucky and thankful to be able to have done something like that." 
 
Here is a song by Ms. Wilson, on Decca Records, with Sy Oliver's orchestra;  the recording was made in 1951, during the time she sang on the Hit Parade.  It is of the 1939 song  "I Thought About You" (music by Jimmy Van Heusen, lyrics  by Johnny Mercer).


(The song was recorded later by her radio Hit Parade co-star, Frank Sinatra; it appeared on his 1956 album, "Songs for Swingin' Lovers!")

Ms. Wilson was also known, during her career, for her work in films.  Over time, she dubbed the vocals for various actresses.

Here, from YouTube, is the song "Don't Tell Me," sung by Wilson for Ava Gardner, in 1947's The Hucksters.  The film also starred Clark Gable and Deborah Kerr.


Here, as well, is a 1946 recording of Wilson's husband, Ray Kellogg, singing the song "Where or When," on the Ginny Simms radio show:


Lastly, while the visual quality of the following YouTube video is not very good, the audio quality is fine.  In it, Ms. Wilson sings the song "If," during a 1951 telecast of Your Hit Parade:

Sunday, April 21, 2019

More about "There There," by Tommy Orange

In a March post, I cited a passage from the 2018 novel There There, by Tommy Orange.  I wanted to say a bit more about the novel.

The book, Orange's first novel, is a beautiful, rich, grim, deeply moving work of literature.  

(On April 15th, the 2019 Pulitzer Prizes were announced. The fiction award was given to The Overstory, by Richard Powers. Two additional books were listed as finalists; one was There There.)

Orange grew up in Oakland, California. As his biography notes, he is an "enrolled member of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma." The novel takes place for the most part in Oakland, and its central characters are Native Americans--"Urban Indians," as Orange writes.

One of the (many) facets of the novel  I am drawn to is the following (granted, it is perhaps not the most important aspect of the novel, yet it is, to me, striking and compelling nonetheless):  it is a periodic, particular kind of locution--poetic, repetitive, echo-like.

The prologue to the book, for example, has this epigraph, from Bertolt Brecht:  "In the dark times/Will there also be singing?/Yes, there will also be singing./About the dark times."

Orange writes this, in a chapter about the character Dene Oxendene, who is seated on a train: "Dene only realizes he's been stuck underground between stations for ten minutes after ten minutes of being stuck underground between stations."

From There There's "Interlude," mid-book: "We get used to everything to the point that we even get used to getting used to everything."

From the character Edwin Black:  "The trouble with believing is you have to believe that believing will work, you have to believe in belief."

Of the character Orvil Red Feather, Orange writes: "He doesn't want to know what he knows but he knows."

About the character Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield:  "That's what Opal had been doing. Closing her eyes and ears to the closing of her eyes and ears."

(This past week I was reading the book A Zen Harvest: Japanese Folk Zen Sayings, compiled and translated by Sōiku Shigematsu [North Point Press, 1988].  I came upon the following saying, in the book, which put me in mind of the above phrasings by Orange:  "Given it up, you say?/But what have you given up?/Very well, you've given up/The idea of giving up.")  

There is also, of course (regarding echoes, repetitions), the novel's title itselfThe title (as noted in the book) comes from an often-quoted remark by Gertrude Stein, who spent much of her childhood in Oakland: "There is no there there," Stein said, of Oakland.  Orange writes, of his character Dene Oxendene, that Oxendene  had "looked up the quote in its original context, in [Stein's] Everybody's Autobiography, and found that she was talking about how the place where she'd grown up in Oakland had changed so much, that so much development had happened there, that the there of her childhood, the there there, was gone, there was no there there anymore."   

Dene Oxendene finds broader meaning in Stein's phrase, regarding Native American life, and history. Writes Orange: "The quote is important to Dene. This there there. He hadn't read Gertrude Stein beyond the quote. But for Native people in this country, all over the Americas, it's been developed over, buried ancestral land, glass and concrete and wire and steel, unreturnable covered memory. There is no there there."

Here is the link, on amazon.com, to Orange's extraordinary novel; in May, the book will be released in paperback.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Copies available

Copies of the Revised Edition of my book about early television are now available at my website.

Please see the information at this link:

https://andrewleefielding.com/purchase

Saturday, April 6, 2019

"Radio Collectors of America" conversation, and fifteen-minute television programs

It was a great pleasure being interviewed by Mel Simons, on March 28th (by phone), during the monthly meeting, in Quincy, Mass., of the "Radio Collectors of America," the New England Old-Time Radio and nostalgia group (see prior post).  We spoke about the revised edition of my book.

Mel, the group's Vice President, asked terrific questions.  I also had a brief, but enjoyable, conversation with Bob Forrest, the group's President.  Forrest was a longtime Boston radio personality; he retired from radio several years ago, after having been on the air for more than thirty years at stations WEZE-AM and WROL-AM.

My thanks to the Radio Collectors members, for having me as their guest, and for their hospitality.

One of the subjects I spoke about with Mel, during the interview, was the routine presence, in early television, of fifteen-minute programs (often music-oriented).  The fifteen-minute program was a popular early TV format; singers Roberta Quinlan, Perry Como, Dinah Shore, Jack Leonard, and many others starred in such shows.  In 1951, my mother sang regularly on singer and actor John Conte's twice-weekly fifteen-minute musical program on NBC, Van Camp's Little Show (also known as John Conte's Little Show).  For several months, in 1949, she sang weeknights (with The Alan Logan Trio) on the fifteen-minute DuMont Network program Teen Time Tunes.  In 1954 and 1955, her network career behind her, she had her own weekly fifteen-minute musical show on Boston station WBZ-TV, The Sue Bennett Show.

In the brief question & answer period which followed the interview, Bob Forrest addressed, further, the subject of fifteen-minute programs. While I had emphasized the musical focus of the fifteen-minute shows, Forrest noted, importantly, that early TV's prominent news programs also employed the fifteen-minute format. CBS's nightly newscasts, anchored by Douglas Edwards, were fifteen minutes long--as were NBC's telecasts, with John Cameron Swayze. (The CBS and NBC fifteen-minute newscasts continued, indeed, until the early 1960s.)

In early television,  hosts, guests, and programmers were able to achieve much within the time span of the fifteen-minute telecast. The fifteen-minute shows I have seen--I am again thinking, here, of the musical programs of the time--did not seem hurried (as one might assume, given the short time frame). To the contrary:  the programs I've watched (preserved via kinescope) were relaxed, easygoing.  The stars of the shows, perhaps, sang a handful of songs, introduced a guest performer, or highlighted permanent cast members (such as a vocal group). The shows I've seen had, about them, a sense of fullness.

Attention spans, in our time, have of course become notably diminished.  One wonders if the fifteen-minute format could, as a result, make a return--in both the news and entertainment spheres. Perhaps one of the networks could cordon off thirty minutes--somewhere, for example, in the overnight hours. The half hour, perhaps, could start off with a fifteen-minute news roundup. This could then, say, be followed (considering the late-night time period) by a low-key fifteen minutes of music--perhaps featuring a singer and a small musical ensemble (or even just a singer and a pianist). I would think the brevity of these kinds of programs might, today, be an appealing addition to a network schedule. I'd enjoy seeing attempts made at such programming.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

"Radio Collectors of America," in Quincy, Mass.

In March of 2008, a few months after my book about early television was released, I spoke, long-distance (via speaker phone), with members of the "Radio Collectors of America," an Old-Time Radio group in Quincy, Massachusetts; the conversation (which was very enjoyable) took up part of the organization's monthly meeting,  I was interviewed, first, by radio personality/entertainer/author Mel Simons, the group's Vice President--Mel and I subsequently became friends, that year--and then answered questions about the book from members of the group. 

Tonight, I'll be making a return visit, by phone, to speak about the Revised Edition of the book. I'll once again be interviewed by Mel, and will then take questions from members of the group, if they are so inclined.  I'm looking forward to the conversation.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

"The Morgan Show," WBZ NewsRadio

Last week, my friend Morgan White, Jr. became the host of Boston radio station WBZ's two weekend overnight shows. The Morgan Show now airs Friday nights/Saturday mornings (midnight to 5:30 a.m.), and Saturday nights/Sunday mornings (midnight to 3:30 a.m.).

For several years, Morgan has been the host of a Saturday night (10 to midnight) talk show on WBZ; that show ended last week, with the beginning of his new weekend overnight assignment.

Since 2016 (after longtime WBZ host Jordan Rich retired as host of the overnight weekend shows), Morgan has been one of the rotating hosts of the programs--at first, hosting the shows every third week, and, more recently, hosting them every other week.  I'm delighted, for him, that he is now hosting the overnight shows every weekend.

He has, indeed, been a significant presence on WBZ for more than twenty years, as a regular guest host on the station.  His guest hosting on the station will continue--including this coming evening (Sunday night/Monday morning), when he sits in for host Bradley Jay.

Friday, March 8, 2019

From the novel "There There"

This is a passage from the exceptional novel There There, by Tommy Orange (Alfred A. Knopf, 2018). The voice is that of one of the novel's characters, Edwin Black:

    Lately I've become a little obsessed with the brain.  With trying to find explanations for everything as it relates to the brain and its parts.  There's almost too much information out there.  The internet is like a brain trying to figure out a brain. I depend on the internet for recall now.  There's no reason to remember when it's always just right there, like the way everyone used to know phone numbers by heart and now can't even remember their own.  Remembering itself is becoming old-fashioned.

https://www.amazon.com/There-novel-Tommy-Orange/dp/0525520376/ref

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Revised Edition, "The Lucky Strike Papers"

The revised edition of my book about early television, The Lucky Strike Papers: Journeys Through My Mother's Television Past, is now available on amazon.com, and other online sites. 

https://www.amazon.com/Lucky-Strike-Papers-Journeys-Television/dp/1629334081/ref

BearManor Media originally brought the book out at the end of 2007.  BearManor has now published the revised edition of the book, which is available in both softcover and hardcover.

Copies of the book will soon be available at my website (www.andrewleefielding.com); the books are now being shipped to me, and I will follow-up, in this space, when I have the copies on hand.  The book can also be purchased at the BearManor Media site (www.bearmanormedia.com).

Please note: used copies of the original edition remain available on another amazon page.  If you decide to purchase the new edition of the book, please make sure you see the word "Revised," in green type, at the bottom of the image of the front cover. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

January 30, 1969; the rooftop concert

I didn't realize that this very notable anniversary (the last live performance by The Beatles, fifty years ago today, on the London rooftop of the Apple building) had arrived, until seeing today's Washington Post piece about it, below. (In fact, I thought the event had taken place in 1970.)

The rooftop concert lasted forty-plus minutes. The piece in the Post includes a video of the group performing "Don't Let Me Down." 

https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2019/01/30/beatles-played-london-rooftop-it-wound-up-being-their-last-show/ 

Here, too, is a longer version of the concert (twenty-plus minutes), which includes images of Londoners listening from the street, and watching from other buildings.

https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x59304b

The Beatles by the way, were accompanied, during the rooftop performance, by the keyboardist Billy Preston.  Preston played with The Beatles near the end of the group's career.  He is heard on various "Let it Be" recordings--such as "I've Got a Feeling," "Get Back," "Dig a Pony," and "Let it Be." He also played on two "Abbey Road" recordings: "Something," and "I Want You (She's So Heavy)." 

Preston also played on the recording of "Don't Let Me Down," which was the B-side of the 45 version of "Get Back."  The 45, at the time of the rooftop concert, had not yet been released.  Wikipedia notes:  "In April 1969, [the] single 'Get Back' was credited to 'The Beatles with Billy Preston', the only time such a joint credit had been given on an official Beatles-sanctioned release (as distinct from an unsanctioned reissue of some Hamburg-era recordings on which they were the backing group for Tony Sheridan)."

On February 9th, by the way, it will be fifty-five years since The Beatles first appeared on Ed Sullivan's Sunday night program.  At the time, in 1964, I was eight.  Watching The Beatles' television appearance, that night, was not simply an exciting experience; it was utterly thrilling.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Today, of course, has been the holiday honoring the life of Dr. King.

On his birthday, January 15th, he would have turned ninety years old.  When he died, he was thirty-nine.

The following is the conclusion of the last speech he gave, on April 3, 1968, in Memphis; the next day, in Memphis, he was killed.

Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop.

And I don't mind. Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land! 

So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man! 

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord! 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QcJWWBIro00

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Mary Kay Stearns, and "Mary Kay and Johnny"

In late 1947 (which can be regarded as being not simply part of the period of early television, but very early television; this was the year before Milton Berle came to TV), Mary Kay Stearns, and her husband, Johnny Stearns, became TV stars--through their Mary Kay and Johnny program on the DuMont Network.  The show was a live, weekly situation comedy--"one of the earliest network situation comedies," television historians Tim Brooks and Earle Marsh have noted.

The New York Times wrote, this week: "The show, which at various points in its run was 15 minutes or a half-hour long, told gently humorous tales of the fictional Johnny, a banker, and Mary Kay, a homemaker. Mr. Stearns, who wrote the episodes, often drew from the couple’s lives for inspiration."

The program left the DuMont Network in 1948. It soon became an NBC show,  and then, for a time, aired on CBS. For part of 1949, when it returned to NBC, it was seen five nights a week.  The show remained on the air until 1950.

Johnny Stearns died in California in December of 2001, at age 85.  The New York Times reported this week that Mary Kay Stearns died in November, in California.  She was 93. 


In The Complete Directory to Prime Time Network and Cable TV Shows, 1946-Present (Ballantine Books, several editions), historians Brooks and Marsh wrote about the popularity of the Mary Kay and Johnny show:

"That sponsors were quite uncertain of the effectiveness of TV at this early stage...is illustrated by the following.  A few weeks after the program premiered, the sponsor, who had no way of knowing whether anyone was watching (there were no audience ratings), decided to conduct a test by offering a free mirror to the first 200 viewers who wrote in their comments on the program. Just to be safe, the company ordered an extra 200 mirrors so as not to disappoint anyone..." Brooks and Marsh wrote that 8,960 letters were received from TV viewers.