Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Face in the Mirror

A Face In the Crowd,  the 1957 film that made Andy Griffith a star, left me  fascinated and nervous.  It was in the '50s  that televsion was replacing radio as the major home entertaimment medium. The story came too close to home for many of us in the broadcasting industry.  That was a time when many highly successful network radio artists failed to make it into televsion, while some small town radio performers went on to become huge TV stars. One of them was Johnny Carson.  I do not recommend  screen writer  Bud Schulberg's tale to anyone who likes to think of  Andy Griffith as the sheriff of Mayberry or Lawyer Ben Matlock. It's nothing like that.

Andy Griffith was a natural for the role of Lonesome Larry Rhodes, a folksy, down home country boy with a gift of gab that people loved .  As “Deacon Andy Griffith,” he had recorded his big selling comedy monologue, "What it was football” four years before the film's release. That recording still gets laughs today. As one who understands nothing about football, I love it when Andy wonders why those fellows on that cow pasture are fighting over the punkin' and trying to see how much they can kick it without bustin’ it or steppin’ in somethin’.

 Lonesome Rhodes is a drifter, discovered in the rural Arkansas town jail by a woman who works at the local radio station. She sees possibilities in him, puts him on the air and he catches fire. Listeners love him and his home grown stories. He kids one of his sponsors who cancels the account but is forced to take him back when the sales soar.  I wondered if  Bud Schulberg was thinking of Arthur Godfrey when he wrote that. Godfrey was one of the broadcasting industry's most powerful radio and TV performers. He was a master  of the folksy style, famous for mercilessly kidding his sponsors.  At the height of his popularity he was responsible for more than a quarter of the CBS Network’s advertising revenue.

Lonesome Rhodes moves from Podunk radio to bigger stations, to regional TV and all the way to the top on National Network TV. Schulberg's  script has several refrences to Will Rogers, the  legendary performer and folk philosopher of the  early twentieth century.   The inference seems to be that Lonesome Rhodes is destined to become the next Will Rogers.

A scene that hit me between the eyes and just about knocked me off my chair was the "Lonesome Rhodes Cracker-Barrel show" on TV.  As an adjective, cracker-barrel means excessively folksy, corny, down home style or content. Near the end of my less than spectacular radio career, the boss complained that my style was too cracker-barrel. When I tried doing news, the news director ordered me to quit the folksy introductions and just read the srories. I might have been imitating my idol, Arthur Godfrey. Folksiness didn't work anymore and it was near the end of the line for Corny old Clif. I still have an old letter from a listener who was sent right up the wall when I played with words and pronunciations as Arthur did.
At least I didn't go as far down as Godfrey did. A 1975 book about the CBS Network called him the forgotten giant. He died a bitter old man in 1983 after  failed comeback attempts following  a long recovery from serious surgery.   Times had changed and folksiness didn't work for him, either.

Lonesome Rhodes couldn't handle the  power. He went nuts, aliented fans and friends. Judging a cheerleader contest, he chose a  blonde who gave him the eye,  played by 22 year old Lee Remick. Rhodes dumps the good woman who had discovered him and been his mentor through his rise to fame and marries the girl. He displays his young trophy wife with her baton twirling act on his TV show.

 I  spent some broadcasting time in the Great Northwest  at Havre, Montana. I suppose I was a local star. As master of ceremonies for the Miss Havre Scholarship pageant, I had a favorite and she knew it. Most fortunately, I had no power to influence the judges. She did not win. I don't recall what her talent was, but I remember her red dress. I remember the winner, too. She had green eyes. Should there be a female person reading this and thinking, "You men are all alike," what can I say. Show business, with its fame and power,  is a slippery, tempting slope.

It was the early '60's when I was in Montana. I went to work there after getting  the pink slip from W-DOG
in Marine City, Michigan. It was 1957 when I moved to W-DOG, the same year that A Face In the Crowd
hit the theaters.  I didn't make that up.  There really was a W-DOG. We even had a Miss W-DOG. That was my idea. Marine City is on the St. Clair River, across from Sombra, Ontario, Canada. We had a young guest who looked across the river and asked, "Is that England over there?

A nearby community is Muttonville, hardly the most euphonious name for a town. That village became infamous when W-DOG's popular country singer and deejay was murdered in his Muttonville home, shot in the head by a jealous husband. Lonnie Barron is said to have come from a one room cabin in Louisiana, the son of a cotton farm sharecropper. After some years of driting, he joined the service and was stationed at Selfridge Air Base near Marine City. He had a show on W-DOG, which I believe was still WSDC when he started there. He became very popular, worked on a country show on WJR, a 50,000 Watt station in Detroit,  made  records and was on his way to big time country music fame. He was about to be signed by Columbia Records when he was cut down at Muttonville. During the shooter's trial, his wife admitted an affair with Barron. Her husband said he went to Barron's home to get letters his wife had written and that Barron taunted him. More than three thousand fans viewed Barron's body, dressed in a white gabardine cowboy suit. 


In the final scenes of A Face in the Crowd, Lonesome Rhodes has totally lost it and become a screaming maniac, threatening to jump off of a building. So now you know why I became more than a bit uncomfortable watching that film. As did other broadcasters that  I know. If I had made it to the top,  could I have handled the pressures and temptations?  How far down that slope might I have slid? I don't like to think about that.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Deviates Anonymous

My septum is not the only thing that is deviated. Some of my deviations from normalcy are best not described here but I have it on the authority of a man of God that my idea of what is funny is more than a bit off base. On a silly local yokel TV show that I was involved in, I told this wonderful true tale about a Catholic Cat. He was left on the doorstep of the St. Felix Nunnery in Chicago, found his way across Lake Michigan as only a cat could do and became my yellow and white feline, "Sunshine." Inspired by that great polka song, "Who stole the Kishka," Sunny was spotted going down the road with a purloined Polish Sausage in his mouth, pulling the tire we tied him to. He got caught, repented and went to St. Michael's where he confessed to Father Hack. Sunny chose St. Mike's because they have a large Polish membership, even an annual Polka Mass. I thought this was all pretty funny. The good father's comment was, "You have a devious sense of humor."

Men Don't Get It

It must be frustrating to be a woman. We men are real dumb about the women who love us. We just don't get it. We don't even get what it is that we don't get.

Oops, this was supposed to go in my "Farting Around" blog. Canary Feathers is dedicated to media and communication. Oh well, communicating is one more thing we don't get so I will leave it here.

Who is that voice?

The woman who waited on me in the store recognized my voice and knew my name. That happens a lot even though I have not been on radio since the '90s. If I were to let my ego run wild, I might say that's a tribute to my magnificent set of pipes.

Actually there's only one pipe. One of the old vocal cords got killed when my esophagus went away. It is quite amazing how many body parts we can get along without. I expect to keep on keeping on as more parts are removed, quit working or fall off. But I digress. I wander. I meander.

If recognition of my voice is a tribute to anything, it is to the powerful and intimate role that radio once played in our lives. We who lived through radio's golden age still hear favorite voices in our heads. When I hear them on a recording it's old home week. I have found a long lost friend. Maybe recognizing my voice does something like that for the old folks in my town. I hope so.

Face to Face with Facebook

I find Facebook unsatisfying. That's probably due to my age. I am more than 4 times the age of that Social Network's youngest users and 2 and 3 times older than those in the fastest growing demographic. That puts me in a very different place in life from those who are caught up in today's breakneck pace of living. I fully understand that there is no time for more than a quick stop to see what their friends have posted. I'm disappointed to hear that Social Networking is replacing e-mail, the last vestige of traditional letter writing. Remember pen pals? Then there was "taperespondence." First we did it with little 3 inch reels, then cassettes came along. Talking letters. What fun that was. Things are moving too fast for this old man.

Monday, October 05, 2009

A Face In The Crowd

Thanks to Turner Classics, I have finally seen A Face in the Crowd.
There's a powerful personal and emotional impact in it for broadcasters who were in the business in the '50s. It was a lot like that. I need to sort out my memories before I can say more. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Melody Malady

I saw my shrink today. She is an unlikely but fascinating combination of Mother Angelica,beloved foundress of the Eternal Word Televion Network and Dr. Ruth Westheimer. (Foundress? Is that what you call a female founder these days?)
Anyway, this shrink lady's cat, Henry, sleeps on her desk. Therapy consists of asking, "How do you feel about that" to whatever I say and asking Henry what he thinks about it. She says I not only have Associative Thinking Disorder in which everything reminds me of something else, but there is a new aberration on the books that fits me perfectly. It's Melody Malady. I get obsessed with certain songs until they make me crazy.

Comcast Ain't All Bad

The Comcast digital box is a nice warm place for Amy the evil queen to snooze.
The Comcast people have taken their lumps. Literally. One of their offices got trashed and smashed by a hammer wielding old lady who was not happy with their service or lack thereof. Maybe that's why their commercials now tell us how much they love and value their customers.
I am now prepared to heap richest blessings upon Comcast and Ted Turner for his Classic Movie Channel. I can catch up with the great old films that I never saw or forgot if I did.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Toselli Trauma

He did it again. Harry jabbed my ATD (Associative Thinking Disorder) button by reminding me that The Golbergs radio theme music was Toselli's Serenade. All kinds of references and reminders of that haunting melody are coming at me with such force that I am obsessed, possessed and distressed. I'm way off the deep end, on the verge of getting all weepy. All due to the main claim to fame of the hot blooded Italian pianist and composer, Enrico Toselli. Get out of my head, Signore Toselli.

Rod Serling: Big in Binghampton

Too bad I did not pay more attention to The Twilight Zone 50 years ago. On its golden anniversary, Rod Serling's creation is hailed as one of the greatest things to happen to TV. School kids in Serling's home town, Binghampton, New York, have a course about the show and what it teaches about morality. J. J. Abrams, creator of Fringe and Lost, says Serling's show had a major impact on him. He made up excuses to stay home from school so he could watch it.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Wonderful Town

Yet another story about Flint, Michigan, the town that made Michael Moore and me famous. OK, so he is a lot famouser than I am. But I was a pretty big hot shot deejay back there. Anyway, the Flint Musical Tent was actually closer to Clio, hometown of the bedazzled fan who decided to marry me. I don't know how Clio got its name, maybe from some god or goddess of something, I forgot what. Maybe from Clio, Alabama. I know the best commercials get a Clio award. It's pronounced with a long "I," not Cleo.
So the Musical tent show of "Wonderful Town" about the sisters who leave Ohio to make it in the big city, has a great song near the end when they decide to go back home. "Why oh why oh why oh did we ever leave Ohio. Maybe we'd better go
O H I O ... maybe we'd better go home. That lent itself to a grandly fortuitous parody for the Flint/Clio show: "Why oh why oh why oh did we ever come to Clio. Maybe we'd better go O H I O ... maybe we'd better go home. That one will never be forgot by anyone who was there. It brought the house ... I mean the tent... down.