Monday, November 22, 2010

"Radio Once More," and Nov. 22nd

The Internet radio station "Radio Once More," about which I've previously written in this space, is, at the moment, in the midst of airing nine hours of radio coverage (both network and local) which took place on Nov. 22nd of 1963.

To listen to the station, please click on this link:

In addition, the station's Facebook link is:!/pages/Radio-Once-More/206726779589

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Boston radio program, 1953

My parents were married in Manhattan in 1949, several months after my mother’s New York television career had begun. My father, at the time, was in his medical residency.

At the start of 1953, his residency now completed, and having accepted a job with a Boston medical practice, my parents left New York, and moved to suburban Boston.

A couple of months later (her network career now ended), my mother began singing on a daily radio show on Boston station WEEI-AM. She was, at the time, pregnant with my brother. (I was born later, in 1956.)

The radio show, Beantown Varieties, was hosted by Boston personality Carl Moore, and she sang on the show with an orchestra. (I don’t know how many musicians the orchestra featured, yet I have long been struck by the fact that an orchestra would be part of a local radio show. It was, indeed, a different era.)

Here is a segment of a song she sang on the show: “Can’t Help Lovin’ That Man,” from the musical Show Boat (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II).,_segment,_1953.wav

Saturday, November 20, 2010

"David Susskind: A Televised Life"

There is a brief interview in my book (conducted in 1984) with David Susskind.  During the 1949-1950 period Kay Kyser's TV show aired on NBC, Susskind was an agent and executive at the Music Corporation of America; he was also an assistant to M.C.A. senior executive (and noted agent) Sonny Werblin. M.C.A. was the agency that represented Kay Kyser, and Susskind was the agent for a number of the performers on Kay Kyser’s TV show (including my mother). 

Susskind, in 1984, remembered that he and Kay Kyser Show writers Eddie Lawrence and Bob Quigley picked contestants, from the audience of New York’s International Theatre, for future broadcasts of the TV show. Eddie Lawrence, who also performed in sketches on the Kay Kyser program, later became well-known (on television, and on records) for his comedy character “The Old Philosopher." Bob Quigley, who also appeared in sketches on Kay Kyser’s show, later achieved great success as a producer (with Merrill Heatter) of such game shows as The Hollywood Squares.

In later years, of course, David Susskind became a prominent television talk show host, and producer. A biography of Susskind—David Susskind: A Televised Life—was recently released.  The book is by Stephen Battaglio, and is published by St. Martin’s Press.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Ted Fetter, and "Taking a Chance on Love"

In a recent post, I mentioned Ted Fetter, who from 1950 until 1953 was one of the producers of the Hit Parade television show.

Fetter is interviewed in my book about the program (and about early television in general). In addition to his work as a television producer, on the Hit Parade and other shows (he also later worked as a television executive, at ABC), Fetter was a songwriter—and is remembered, today, for being one of the lyricists of the outstanding (and much-recorded) song “Taking a Chance on Love.” The song was written in 1939 (with lyricist John Latouche and composer Vernon Duke), and it became part of the 1940 Broadway show Cabin in the Sky.

Here are two versions of the song, via YouTube. The first is by Benny Goodman’s orchestra, with vocalist Helen Forrest. The second version is sung by June Christy.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Additional hostility

There have recently been a couple of further attacks on a particular part of my book, by Steven Beasley, author of a Kay Kyser biography, in posts left on the Geezer Music Club blog. As I’ve previously noted, the Geezer site, which I enjoy very much, reviewed my book favorably in 2008.

I had responded to Mr. Beasley’s previous ill-informed comments, in a post on my blog October 19th.

In his initial posting in September, Mr. Beasley called into question the section in my book in which I wrote of a several-years estrangement between Kay Kyser and his sidekick and cornet player Merwyn Bogue (a/k/a Ish Kabibble). Mr. Beasley, dismissing the story, wrote:

“Could be it was an isolated incident Miss Bennett remembers...”

My mother, Sue Bennett, was indeed familiar with the estrangement between Kay Kyser and Merwyn Bogue. She was a featured singer on Kay Kyser’s TV program the entire time it aired on NBC—from December of 1949 until December of 1950—and in 1950 she recorded a number of records with Mr. Kyser’s orchestra. During that time, she saw, up close, the nature of the relationship (or the lack of a relationship, at the time) between Mr. Kyser and Mr. Bogue.

Yet my mother was not cited in the book, concerning the relationship between Kay Kyser and Merwyn Bogue; Merwyn Bogue was, via an interview he gave me in 1979.

In additional comments on the Geezer site, on 10/28, Mr. Beasley asked—skeptically—why Mr. Bogue would have spoken to me about an estrangement with Kay Kyser, while not mentioning the estrangement to other interviewers.

That is not something I can answer. I’m guessing the radio interviewers Mr. Beasley referred to either did not know about the estrangement, or chose not to mention it. And while in our 1979 conversation Mr. Bogue did not bring up the story himself, he confirmed it—unhesitatingly—when I asked him about it. (I do think it is possible that because Mr. Bogue and my mother had worked together, he might have felt comfortable addressing the issue with me—but that is simply a guess.)

Why, Mr. Beasley asked, did Mr. Bogue not mention the estrangement in his autobiography?

Again, I cannot say. Perhaps, because Mr. Bogue’s book came out in 1989, and Mr. Kyser had passed away just four years earlier, Mr. Bogue decided not to address the subject—admittedly a sensitive one—out of deference to Mr. Kyser and Mr. Kyser’s family.

In his snide and reckless posts, Mr. Beasley seems to be suggesting that Merwyn Bogue did not in fact describe to me, in my interview with him in 1979, a several-years estrangement from Mr. Kyser.

Mr. Beasley can believe what he wishes to believe. He didn’t interview Merwyn Bogue; I did.

Mr. Bogue said what he said, in 1979 (and part of it was said, it seemed to me, with a kind of good humor). In addition, as noted in my previous post about the matter, Mr. Bogue also told me—importantly—that he and Mr. Kyser had, at the time we spoke, moved beyond their strained relationship, and were again in touch with one another.

Let me also note the following:

In June of 2008, six months after my book was published (and more than a year before his book came out), Mr. Beasley wrote a post on a Kay Kyser-oriented blog he had on MySpace.

He wrote this:  that “there are indications that [Kay Kyser] had a temper, and that he could and did hold a grudge at times."

Mr. Beasley then told a story about the relationship between Kay Kyser and one of his musicians, in the 1940s—a story which, incidentally, did not appear to involve a grudge, but I’ll leave to the side that first story he told.

He then continued: “Another example of Kay's holding a grudge regards his TV show, which ran 2 seasons on NBC in 1950. According to a book called 'The Lucky Strike Papers', the author's mother, Sue Bennett worked on Kyser's show as a vocalist (true enough) and noted that Kay and Ish Kabibble spoke to each other only on the show, and would not communicate directly offstage. This might be related to a rumor I heard a few years back where Ish felt he deserved a raise, Kyser denied him, and Ish felt forced to issue an ultimatum that he would not be present for the next TV show if the raise wasn't forthcoming. No dice. Sure enough, Ish wasn't there for the next show, and it was stated to me that Kay never forgave him.

“Now, while both these examples [the 2 stories Mr. Beasley told in his post] have not been proven to be 100 per cent accurate, all it proves is that Kyser, a very bright and personable man, had high standards, and was a normal guy, with foibles and faults like any of us.”

So: Mr. Beasley’s tone and stance have now changed, markedly.

While in his 2008 MySpace post he was perfectly willing to accept (in part via a “rumor” he heard) the possibility of an estrangement between Kay Kyser and Merwyn Bogue, during the time Mr. Kyser’s TV program aired on NBC, he now rejects the idea (“Could be it was an isolated incident Miss Bennett remembers...”). Indeed, he now lashes out, repeatedly, regarding the story I reported (a story, once again, told to me by Mr. Bogue): that the estrangement, in actuality, took place over several years.

There’s nothing I can do about Mr. Beasley’s insistent disbelief. Nor can I do anything about his self-righteousness, and his ugly and arrogant hostility.

To read the section in my book which concerns the several-years estrangement between Kay Kyser and Merwyn Bogue, please see my previous post:

Here, too, is the link to the 2008 review of my book on the Geezer Music Club site; the posts left by Mr. Beasley appear after the review.

Friday, November 5, 2010

A Recent Presentation

I recently made a presentation about early television, to the “Pines Lake Seniors” group, located in northern New Jersey.

I had a wonderful time speaking with the group’s members (who welcomed me, I must say, with great kindness and hospitality).

There was, for me, a lovely surprise at the meeting. One of the event’s attendees, Muriel Wood, worked for several years on Your Hit Parade, beginning in 1951. (This was the same year my mother joined the program’s cast, although Ms. Wood and my mother, evidently, did not know one another.)

Ms. Wood worked for BBD&O, the Hit Parade’s advertising agency; she was secretary to the show’s producers, Dan Lounsbery and Ted Fetter, who also worked for the agency. (After Fetter left the program, in 1953, she continued to work for Lounsbery.) Bill Wood—whom she met at BBD&O, and whom she married later in the decade—also was closely involved with Your Hit Parade, working on the production of the show’s Lucky Strike commercials. Mr. Wood passed away in 1997.

It was a delight meeting her. She brought along a few Hit Parade-related mementos, thinking I might like to see them (which was indeed the case)—photographs, for example, of singers Russell Arms and June Valli. There was also a picture of Muriel and Bill Wood, taken at their 1956 wedding in New Jersey. The picture included the Hit Parade's Dorothy Collins, who sang at the wedding.

My thanks, again, to the Pines Lake members who attended the event—and my appreciation, too, to George Kick, one of the group’s officers, who extended, to me, the invitation to speak.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Musicians, singing

While in childhood, perhaps my early teens, my mother introduced me to an idea which interested me, and that stayed with me.  It was the notion of the “musician’s voice”: that there were certain musicians who, while they were not singers per se, nonetheless had singing voices which were very appealing.

I remember, for example, her enjoyment of composer and pianist Burt Bacharach’s singing, in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In television appearances at the time, Bacharach sometimes sang his own songs (songs he had written with the lyricist Hal David).

Bacharach’s singing (then, and remaining so today) perhaps does not have the polish of other vocalists. His singing often has a near-fragile, whispery quality; words, phrasings, are not infrequently clipped, unsustained. Sometimes he appears as if he is having difficulty reaching certain notes. Yet all of this is part of the appeal of his very beautiful, expressive vocal style. It is a style informed by great feeling.

In retrospect, I think that my mother’s appreciation for Bacharach’s singing offered me a lesson of some significance: that categories do not necessarily apply. If you were not, officially (as was she), a singer, if you did not have the familiar skills of a singer, this did not mean that your singing did not warrant attention. One could have much affection for—great admiration for—the singing of someone who was not a singer.

I think, too, of a record I learned about, years ago. In 1979, I made a trip to Nashville to interview singer Snooky Lanson, who in the 1950s starred on Your Hit Parade (it is an interview which appears in my book). During that time, he had a weekly radio show, near Nashville (co-hosted by a disc jockey at the radio station), which featured records from the band era, and I went with him to the recording of one of the shows.

During the broadcast he played a song I had not known of: “Gotta Be This or That,” a 1945 hit by Benny Goodman’s orchestra.

There is a brief part of the song during which Goodman sings. While Burt Bacharach, over time, has sung with some regularity, I do not believe that Benny Goodman sang often. I don’t think that his singing, on “Gotta Be This or That,” is necessarily flawless, yet this does not matter. What stands out (at least for me) is the charm of the singing; there is a hip and likeable quality to it.  And (as is the case when one hears Burt Bacharach sing), one feels a kind of privilege: being allowed to hear a great musician venturing into another musical realm.

Here are a few videos of Burt Bacharach, singing songs he wrote with Hal David.

First, a brief video from 2008, of Bacharach singing “This Guy’s In Love”:

And here, from 2009, Bacharach performs “Alfie,” at the 92nd Street Y in New York. At the beginning of the video, he recalls the years he grew up in, and worked in, New York, and pays tribute to his songwriting collaborators, including Hal David. The introduction to “Alfie” begins at about 2:37.

A final Bacharach video (which, in places, is a more energetic vocal performance than the performances above), is from a 1967 broadcast of the TV show The Hollywood Palace, with host Herb Alpert. (Herb Alpert, of course, sang on the original recording of “This Guy’s In Love,” which became a big hit the following year. Alpert—another musician who had not been known as a singer—gave a very lovely vocal performance on the record.)

At around 1:08, not long before Bacharach begins singing, Herb Alpert asks him: Who would you say you sing like?

BB: (pause) Beethoven.

HA: Beethoven?

BB: Beethoven.

HA: Burt, Beethoven wasn’t a singer.

BB: That’s right.

He then sings a medley of Bacharach/David songs (continuing until about 4:05). Other performers then continue the medley—including Sergio Mendes and Brasil ‘66 (singing “The Look of Love”—a performance which, while lip-synched, is a reminder of how beautiful their version of the song was), guitarist Wes Montgomery, and Liza Minnelli. The end of the video features commercials from the broadcast. (My apologies, for the slightly low volume on the video.)

Lastly, here is Benny Goodman, with “Gotta Be This or That.” Goodman’s singing begins approximately fifty seconds into the song.

(Photo above, of Burt Bacharach, The Hollywood Palace, 1967, via YouTube)