Monday, September 3, 2018

The Original Amateur Hour—American Idol of the 60's





--> Maybe it was our age, thirteen at the time—perhaps it was the transformation that had taken place in our young impressionable psyches that Sunday night in February as we sat glued to our television sets—totally enraptured by a new group from Liverpool that Ed Sullivan had on his show—or just an overwhelming delusion; but for whatever reason, my young friends and I (along with thousands of other baby boomers at that time) had dreams of stardom.
Let’s face it, we were dreamers!

One hot summer day my friend Leslie sat reading one of her hundreds of comic books and came across an ad in the back for a Record Making Machine. The pages in the back of comic books in the 60's were filled with amazing products. (—that is, until they actually arrived in your mail box) But this ad was so convincing and just what we needed for our group at the brink of stardom!
(..well that may be a bit of an exaggeration. The truth is, we had made one public appearance— we sang at our graduation from elementary school to Jr.High.)
Our group was made up of four girls; Leslie and I and two friends from school, Ingrid and Judy. Ingrid and I played piano and we all sang.


We decided to send for the “machine.” When we emptied our pockets and put our money together we came up short; so we did just what we always did when we were short of cash—loaded up a wagon with empty soda bottles and headed up the street to the small mom and pop store on the corner.
The store sold a little bit of everything; fresh fruit and vegetables, cold cuts, canned goods and of course—soda. We walked home with just enough change to make up the difference.
We were set—only weeks away from being able to record our songs! We mailed in the money with the order form—now all we had to do was wait….and wait.

We had never seen a UPS truck—overnight delivery was something you might see on the Jetsons—fiction. We relied totally on the US Mail and if the ad said 4-6 weeks for delivery, it meant just that. That gave us a lot of time to imagine just how wonderful this product was going to be!

If this isn't the ad, it was one very much like it...looks amazing doesn't it?
Thanks Erik!

“A name! We need a name for our group to put on the record label!”
So we did what we always did when we needed information—opened the encyclopedia!

(Original artwork-all rights reserved)

This was equivalent in the 60’s to an Image search today.





Encyclopedia G—gems.
There were two full pages of beautiful colored gems, listed alphabetically. We looked over both pages.
"There's already a famous group named the Saphires and the Rubies—we’ll have to pick another gem. Hey—The Peridots!” (excuse me while I laugh out loud…)
A record making machine—perfect! We could just envision the label—The Peridots!

After watching The Original Amateur Hour one Saturday before our package arrived, Leslie and I came to the realization that our group could win the competition—at least we could get on the show.
“If that man could get on the show for playing his comb—and a girl for ringing cow bells—we could win for sure!”
Most contestants left the show just as they came, as amateurs; but stars were discovered. Ventriloquist Paul Winchell and pop singers Teresa Brewer, Gladys Knight, and Pat Boone were all discovered on the Ted Mack show.


I sat down at my dad’s typewriter and typed a letter to Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour requesting an audition and within two weeks—to my utter shock— received a response. We were given a date to appear in the studio at New York’s Radio City.
We had three weeks to prepare.

“Cool! We’re going to audition for Ted Mack’s! We’ve got to start practicing—every day after school!" And we did—working on the same two songs every rehearsal.
The first song was the one we sang at our graduation called “Turn Around.” It was a song originally used in a Kodak commercial in the 60's and we fell in love with it.

Where are you going, my little one, little one?
Where are you going, my baby my own?
Turn around and your two,
Turn around and you're four,
Turn around and you're a young girl
going out of the door.

Where are you going, my little one, little one?
Little dirnd'ls and petticoats,
Where have you gone?
Turn around and you're tiny
Turn around and you're grown
Turn around and you're a young wife
with babes of your own.
The second song we practiced was an original written by me. It was called Togetherness and I will spare you the words—but it was a song about falling in love...of course.

Two weeks before the date of the audition we realized—“We need matching outfits!
All the groups on the show wear matching outfits!"
We decided on collarless navy blue shirts with white trim—a surfer style in the 60’s. With our white pleated skirts and white tennis shoes—we must have looked like... the surfing cheerleaders!

And one final detail—“We need a ride to New York City!”

That’s where my dad came in. He was great—if this was something we wanted to do and felt we could compete, he would be happy to get us there.
(Oh...another minor detail...my dad had never heard us sing)

-->
We headed for New York City on a Friday. New York was about a forty minute ride from where we lived in Upper Montclair, New Jersey.

Four thirteen year old girls in a VW with my dad—on their way to a rehearsal for a television show.
God bless him!

We arrived with just enough time to go to the ladies room and get ready. We opened the door in time to catch the tail end of a practice by a group of young girls auditioning before us. They were dancing and singing dressed in these flashy sequined, amazing matching outfits.
There was nothing amateur about them—they were fantastic!
And here we were dressed like— the surfing cheerleaders.

-->
We decided to save our best song for last hoping we’d sing two songs—B-A-D decision.
The judges called us in. Ingrid played piano and Leslie, Judy and I sang Turn Around.
We were just preparing to sing our best song when…
OK girlsthank you for coming
If we decide to have you on the show you will receive a letter within a week or so!
….NEXT!

Well.. the letter never did arrive , but we did get a package in the mail the following week. It wasn’t a big package. Certainly not big enough to contain a machine!
But it was—our Record Making Machine. It consisted of a small attachment that hooked onto the arm of a record player. There were some blanks that looked like records and a small megaphone. After trying it once—following the two lines of instructions, realizing we'd been had— we dumped it in the garbage; concluding that we wouldn’t be needing a Record Making Machine after all.
We couldn’t even pass for amateurs!

A few days later....
"Hey, take a look at this neat little typewriter! We could send for it and type our stories on it and...."
(.....Our other dream was to become authors)

And as all Baby boomer know—sometimes dreams really do come true!


*As I think back now about this silly, embarrassing memory I realize again that ours was a gentler, kinder world. The "contestant humiliation element," was non existent as it is on the newer talent search shows.

....Can you just imagine what Simon would have thought of the Peridots?!We didn't make it to Ted Mack's but at least I got an A- on the story!

~Mamie






Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Family Camping-Are We Having Fun yet?


Family Camping....what a romantic idea! Bonding—building teamwork-facing challenges together–getting close to God's creation....economical... well...

Preparations for our first camping trip as a family in 1964— destination Lake George, N.Y.— were almost as exciting as the actual trip. Very characteristic of my dad, (Mr.Sawdust) we were going to do this right! One Saturday he escorted my six brothers and me to a large Army-Navy surplus store in Manhattan, a forty minute drive from our home in Upper Montclair, NJ. These stores were equivalent in the 60's to the sports outfitters of today. Each of us was fully equipped with a comfy flannel lined sleeping bag, a denim duffel bag, a compass, a whistle and a flashlight. Every purchase was multiplied nine times-the clerk was loving it! We filed out of the store wearing matching tee shirts and white sailor caps. ...Now if that wasn't a classic scene for the makings of a great family musical!
We had collapsible canvas water buckets, even a portable toilet with a curtain for the utmost privacy. All we had to do was dig the hole.
After careful consideration, figuring how much room the nine of us (..and the dog) would need for sleeping, Dad purchased a tent that would house a circus. Tents back then were not made of lightweight nylon. They were made of heavy canvas so this tent was not only huge but weighed a ton! I remember the center pole was about nine feet tall when the two hardwood poles were assembled. But not to worry—dad and the boys had built a car top carrier that was so big it would easily transport all we had purchased that day...and much more. It extended the entire length of the top of the Dodge wagon. My dad's excitement was contagious! By the time we returned home that night I felt like I had already been on vacation.
The actual camping trip turned out to be much more exciting than that trip to the city for supplies; in fact, it was far more exciting than Dad could have possibly anticipated. That "great family musical" was about to become a hair raising drama.
Dad was always proud to have the family together, crowded into the big Dodge station wagon, along with the family dog. Our basset hound, Boots accompanied us on this trip, claiming his spot behind the driver’s seat. He’d position his stubby hind legs on the edge of the back seat and drop a paw over Dad’s shoulder. Hanging his head out the window, he’d let his long, pendulous ears flap in the breeze. He would rest his head on Dad’s shoulder when the ride became wearisome.
“How many kids have you got there?” attendants would inquire curiously as we stopped for gas. “Seven! Six boys and one girl!” he’d reply. “She must be treated like a queen,” they’d inevitably respond.
It is remarkable how many times I heard that growing up. I guess it was, in fact, true. Taking my place in the middle of six boys, with the understanding that any mistreatment of the one daughter would result in an unhappy situation, made me feel like somewhat of a princess in a strong fortress. I’m sure my “special” position was resented at times, especially on nights when Dad found an interesting movie on television. I would sit up on his lap eating popcorn, slide down from time to time and run up the stairs. “Now, you boys go to bed! We’re downstairs eating popcorn.” I’d skip eagerly back down the stairs.
They loved that, I’m sure.
Yes, we were well equipped, no doubt, but totally unprepared for the violent storm that blew up and threatened to relocate our enormous tent in the middle of the night. I can still see my Dad leaning the weight of his entire body against the massive wooden center pole, in an attempt to keep it standing. The large canvas tarp that had been attached to the pole at the peak of the tent was being hoisted by the winds. Lightning flashes revealed our frightened faces as we sat clutching pots and pans to catch the dripping water.
Thoroughly exhausted from the night, we left the soggy camp site for a site-seeing drive the following morning. The day was damp and chilly and it actually felt good to be back in the crowded station wagon—dog and all. Dad still had his sailor’s cap on, pipe in his mouth, clenched securely between his teeth. He was no doubt a bit shaken by the storm, but didn’t show it. He was still ….on vacation! We drove until lunchtime. “Well, what do you say we head back to….wait a minute—I know where we are! We’ve got to stop up ahead. We’re at the Ausable Chasm!” There was that whisper of suspense in his voice.

Note: See the USA the Easy Way put out by Reader’s Digest describes the Ausable Chasm as follows:

“Here sheer walls of rock rise some 200 feet above the rushing waters of the Ausable River. A tour of the chasm includes a 3/4 mile hike on dangling suspension bridges and winding walkways, past plunging waterfalls and raging rapids, culminating in a boat ride through the swirling waters.


We received a few instructions. I was to keep the dog on his leash, Mom had my youngest brother Chris close by her side. Bruce, Jeff, little Wally and Carl were to follow Dad. We climbed carefully down some boulders, wet and slick with moss, not an easy feat for a basset hound. We could hear the deafening roar of the mighty rapids, rushing furiously due to last nights storm. Soon we could see for ourselves why Dad had made the stop.
It was breathtaking!

This great photo of the Ausable Chasm
by Bryce Koechlin, (AddVision Studios) is as I remember it!

As we stood together looking warily down into the chasm, I recall my Dad’s words, “I seriously doubt a man could fall in there and come out alive. Let’s head back.” With that, he turned to leave. Seconds later, my brother Bruce, who had been mesmerized by the water, was falling headlong down into the rapids. It was one of those moments in time when you are awakened with a jolt from a terrible dream, so relieved—but this was not a dream.
“BRUCE FELL IN!!” I screamed, straining to be heard above the water.
Without a moment’s hesitation, Dad made his way to the edge and jumped in. I could see Bruce’s arms flailing out of the water as he was tossed around and pulled under by the rapids. Within seconds, my mother made her way to the edge, jumped in and was pulled down the river as well. I grabbed as many little hands as I could and walked along the chasm, hoping to see all three, remembering all too well my Dad’s ominous words. Would they come out alive?
What a wonderful sight it was to see my Dad, sailor cap still on his head, and—I kid you not—pipe in his mouth, standing beyond the rapids in an alcove of rocks, embracing Bruce and Mom.
It was a very tearful, thankful, crowded ride back in the station wagon. Bruce cried the loudest however. Thankful, yes, he had not lost his life, but a comparable tragedy to him — he had lost his harmonica.
We sat quietly at the picnic table in the stillness of evening, humbled by the day. “Do you see this frail little mantle in this lantern?” Dad asked. We gazed in to see the delicate mantle providing the only light in the campsite. “That is how frail our life is. In one second, it can be taken away!”
We were dirty. We were tired. We were sick of being on vacation. But the following morning we filed into the nearest church we could find, just to say, “thank you” that we would all be heading home.



This picture of Boots and me was taken while swimming
in lake George-the day before the incident at the Ausable chasm.
*No wonder my teacher thought I was telling tales when I returned in the fall and turned in my “What I Did on My summer Vacation” essay....and hard to believe there would be a second family camping adventure.



Saturday, July 14, 2018

Mom's Cadillac






...It was big—it was real big. Shiny black with a white hard top—rounded fins in the back, rounded trunk—1953, a few years before the lines on the Cadillac became sleek and the fins sharp. It was very classy—but it was just too big.


Mom had learned to drive only the year before. Having grown up and lived in New York City until their move to New Jersey after getting married, she never had the need or desire to drive a car. When the older children were young, milk was delivered to the doorstep, our pediatrician came to the house, even groceries were delivered. But now, with growing children and a home in the country to manage, learning to drive became essential. She learned quickly, and before long was on the road, usually with a carload of kids. "Mr. Sawdust' was now bringing in a substantial income, and he wanted his Jeannie to ride in style.

As I said, the car was just too big for Mom. Maybe it was from where I was sitting in the back but it did appear that Mom looked through that great big steering wheel, rather than over it. She was a good driver, but as you might imagine this required her utmost concentration. And I do believe the car was as wide as it was long. Children in the back were merely 'assumed', because they couldn't be seen in the rear view mirror.

Seat belts had not even entered anyone's mind at the time, and our outings were very "relaxed." A little brother with a bottle hanging from his mouth would ride standing next to Mom, and another would occupy himself with a truck or two on the floor in the back seat. Of course there were not as many cars on the roads and not as many accidents, and we were young and oblivious to such things. I'm afraid we were not the only ones who were oblivious.

I had discovered the joys of an open window at high speeds. I loved leaning my head out and feeling the wind whip my pony tail just like a galloping horse. I'd pull it back in when I started to lose my breath. Then I discovered something even more exciting than that. I would very carefully stand up on the back seat, sit out the open window, hanging on to the roof for dear life. The view was wonderful from up there. I remember doing it several times and feeling quite safe. Apparently an off-duty policeman traveling behind us one afternoon, didn't have the same "safe" feeling. He was blinking his lights and motioning for my Mom to pull off the road. It took a while for her to realize he was behind her. When she finally pulled off the road, he ran over to the car and yelled, "Hey lady, do you want to lose that little girl?" Funny how his exact words have stuck in my mind to this day! Maybe it was that "Now I've seen everything" look that accompanied his words. He allowed me to sit up there just long enough for Mom to turn around and take a good look. She was stunned! I slipped down onto the seat and listened to the frantic conversation, but suddenly was hit with the realization that my Dad would be the next one to find out. This was not a good thought!

Only a few months earlier I had received a spanking from him that was still fresh in my mind. My dad rarely spanked me. It had to be a life threatening situation for him to do so. That casual stroll I took one afternoon with my two best friends, gathering flowers along the busy road in front of our house, was in his mind one of those situations. What would he do when he heard about this?

Funny thing, I don't remember ever receiving a spanking for my little joy rides. Certainly I was in much more danger than picking flowers along the roadside. Now I'm wondering if my Mom ever really told my Dad. I know he knew about it years later.

Maybe she decided not to tell him….for a little while.

….I'll have to ask her about that.

Update-August 12, 2013


 
My beautiful mother passed away March 23, 2012-a profound loss to me and my entire family.  This picture was taken at a car show in 2010 where mom discovered a Cadillac very similar to the one that she owned way back in the 50's!  She was so delighted, remembering the car and all the "fun" we had riding together!  I regret that I was not able to be with  her on that day-she spent the afternoon with her granddaughter Emily and great granddaughter Bella.  They had a delightful time!

(original artwork-all rights reserved)