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 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!

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!


Saturday, May 5, 2018

The 50's-When Dogs Were Our Heroes-II

(Story continued from HERE)

The beautiful hand painted sign at the end of the driveway was different now. Our family name was painted over and replaced with the words "For Sale." The moving van was almost packed—the final pieces of furniture being carried out the front door—all of my Dad's treasures, built by him —especially for this house.

In order to fully understand the impact of this move on our family, you need to picture living in a rural neighborhood in the 5o's. There were about a half dozen homes, each situated on an acre of land; acres of woods and fields were left undisturbed behind the yards where we spent our days exploring—building forts, hiking bridle paths. Moms stayed home and neighbor mothers knew us almost as well as our own mothers.

We had tremendous freedom as children to go where we wanted. We were free to visit friends a mile from the house, out of our parent's sight much of the time. There was little traffic and child abductions were unheard of at the time. It's amazing what we've learned to accept as a "normal" part of life.

My two little friends next door were like sisters to me and I loved their mother as I did my own.

It was a tough decision, but my dad (Mr.Sawdust) was leaving his job as a salesman for AMF, for a new job in Pennsylvania. This was the only home I had ever known—my parent's "dream house"—a ten room colonial built by my Dad. When I said goodbye to my two little friends next door, I realized that this was the first time I had ever said goodbye to anyone.

Our home in NJ built by Mr.Sawdust in the early 50's

Our new house outside of Lancaster was situated in the middle of three cornfields—the ramifications of that fact not fully "appreciated" until the spring planting when the manure was spread generously on all three fields! But now it was fall. Chestnut Hill could be seen looming in the distance out our dining room window. Dad thought it was beautiful—to me it appeared dark and scary.

It was a long walk to the bus stop the next morning—our first day in the new school— around two cornfields now brown and dormant. The first day of school is always awkward, no matter how well adjusted a child might be, but starting school in a new state, not knowing anyone borders on terrifying!

The second day was cold with an early frost, Flash at our heels wanting to see us off. Perhaps he slipped out the door—dad and mom distracted by all the commotion of us getting ready to leave.
However it happened, Flash was determined to watch out for his "kids."

Four brothers and I stood eagerly watching for bus number nine. As was his custom back in Morristown, Flash chased a squirrel across the road— but this road was bustling with traffic.
A tanker truck screeched to a halt, but too late—we heard a thud—Flash was under his front tire.
He looked up at us, tail wagging, and then closed his eyes.

We screamed all the way home, and within minutes stood banging on the front door— my parents inside, only hoping we were all accounted for.

"Flash is DEAD!" we cried pounding our fists on the door.

We huddled together and cried and cried and cried. For the first time in my life, I was seeing my Dad cry too.

I remember a feeling finally settling over us and over the house that day. It left us with a message Dad conveyed to us often with few words, at serious times as a family—certainly this had been one. Yes, we had left our familiar and beautiful home, our friends, and here we were, in a strange new place; a place without the years of memories and good times attached. Yet, all nine of us were safe together. We still had what was most important—our family.

Dad did not leave the house at all that day, except for the unpleasant task of burying Flash. He carried him over his shoulder, up to a spot on Chestnut Hill and returned home that night exhausted.

Dear Mrs. Bechtel,
Please excuse Mary for being absent on Monday. Our German Shepherd was hit by a truck and killed. Mary was very upset.Sincerely,Mary's Mom

"Mary, come up to my desk."
I walked to the front of my new third grade class—all eyes on me —and saw my mother's note on the teacher's desk.

"Class, Mary's dog was hit by a car yesterday and she stayed home from school. That was no excuse to miss school!
You may sit down now, Mary.
Now, let's get our red pencils out-we are going to correct papers."

In that one moment of time, I learned more than I would learn the rest of that year. I knew that this teacher could teach me nothing; and the day before—that tragic day in the life of my family, had taught me more about life than she had learned in her 40+ years.

Not long ago my mother shared a letter with me, written by my dad to our family following that difficult year. It was attached to the front of a large family photo album he was putting together.The fact that I had never seen it, confirmed to me that although I was quite young, the impression left on me was real- and that some of the greatest lessons in life are not taught by words.

Dear Children,

It seems to me that I should have something to tell you.

This writing will probably outlast me, though I'm entering the primary class of middle age, and I can imagine a time when you may gather together, in later years, and say, "I remember when Dad was putting this book together."

I hope you do remember--but there's more to this book than a collection of pictures. What we have here is a sort of record of love and understanding. That "times," for the moment (a very long moment!) were not so good for us--and our greatest consolation was each other.

This is no attempt to write a history of our family. I do not wish to. But we have learned so many things which should never be forgotten:

1) We have learned the valuelessness of material things.
2) We have learned the pleasure of time spent together.
3) You have come to know the greatness of your mother.
4)You have learned the meaning of "the tie that binds" and the closeness of family.
5) You have found some of the compensation that comes from and hour of creative effort.

These are not small factors in a person's life. Remember them, and increase their importance in your minds as years go by.

Trust in man, even though it pays you little. The occasional friend you gain through such a trust is worth it. Don't judge your friends. If a friend must be judged he is not a friend. Like a rose, "a friend is a friend is a friend." A friend comes into your life, and continues through your life--not by your design or his. Each man is allotted only a very few true friends in his entire life. Cherish each one, whatever else you do.

A good friend, like everything else, is a gift of God. Just as a man is alone without a sincere trust in God, so then is a man alone because he has no God given friends.

You have always been loved greatly by your mother and myself--and this love will increase as the years go by. But this love is not enough. You must have the love and friendship of others, outside the family. Keep your hearts open, smile with your eyes, as well as your mouth. Speak only the truth, even if it hurts you.....................

Most important, through all her days, love your Mother. God wants it that way.

FLASH...a once in a lifetime pet!

We knew we would never replace Flash-that would be impossible!
But three years later my dad wanted another dog—

and it had to be....... a Basset Hound!

...but that's another story.