Friday, December 28, 2012

Auction News of 2012

If you haven't been keeping an eye on auction items and bizarre historicals of the past, here's your chance to catch up.

John Lennon's tooth. Click to enlarge.
John Lennon's Tooth
One of John Lennon's teeth was expected to sell for $16,000 at an auction in England on November 5, 2011. It fetched 19,000 pounds (about $31,200)... twice the amount anyone expected. The late Beatle gave the tooth to his housekeeper, Dot Jarlett, at his Kenwood mansion in Surrey, England, in the late Sixties. He had originally told her to dispose of the tooth, but upon learning that her daughter was a Beatles fan, told her to give it her as a souvenir. Jarlett has previously sold other items connected to Lennon, such as the jacket worn by the songwriter in photographs in the sleeve of Rubber Soul

Lennon's molar is too fragile to be DNA tested to confirm it belonged to him, but the owner of the Omega Auction House, which listed the item, told CNN that because it was coming from Jarlett, they don't doubt the tooth's authenticity. A Canadian dentist claimed he was the winning bidder.

It was a molar, in case you were curious.

Violin from the Titanic
The violin from the music band that continued to play even as the Titanic sank has been found. The instrument was handed over to the musician's fiancée after he died on the ship. Tests are being conducted to check whether the violin actually belonged to Titanic band master Wallace Hartley, who died along with the rest of his band members, the Daily Mail reported. After the Titanic sank in April of 1912, the band leader was reportedly found with the violin strapped to his chest.But there has been no mention of the instrument after that, and its whereabouts remained a mystery ever since.

Hartley's fiancée, Maria Robinson, was given the instrument after the incident. The bodies of the band leader and two other musicians were pulled from the water by a search crew and taken to Nova Scotia, Canada. Violinist John Law Hume from Dumfries, Scotland, and bass player John Frederick Preston Clarke from Liverpool were laid to rest in Halifax. Hartley's body was repatriated to Britain and buried at Colne, Lancashire, where he was born.

Possessions like his clothes, spare change, ring, pen, silver matchbox, gold cigar holder, watch and chain, collar stud and a pair of scissors were handed back to Hartley's father, but the violin was not found. Maria Robinson never married and died in 1939. The unnamed owner now says Ms. Robinson retrieved the violin after Hartley's death. Ms. Robinson left a 1912 diary where she had drafted a letter to authorities in Nova Scotia thanking them for having sent the violin to her. The violin was stored in a brown leather case with the initials W.H.H stamped on it with an inscription which read: “For Wallace on the occasion of our engagement from Maria.” If the violin is proven legit, it may go up for auction.

Titanic items up for auction.
Titanic Items on Auction

The largest collection of artifacts from the Titanic went up for auction during the 100th anniversary of the original shipwreck. According to the Associated Press, there were more than 5,500 items in the collection owned by RMS Titanic Inc. The collection included fine china, ship fittings, and portions of its hull – with an estimated value of $189 million. The auction was held on April 1 at Guernsey’s, a New York City auction house. The location of the Titanic was unknown until 1985, when it was discovered by Dr. Robert Ballard and his team of marine explorers roughly 400 miles off the shore of Newfoundland, Canada.

According to a 2010 ruling, RMS was required to make the artifacts available “to present and future generations for public display and exhibition, historical review, scientific and scholarly research, and educational purposes.” The future owner of the collection must also abide by these conditions. In addition, the artifacts were to be sold as a complete collection.

The collection of some 5,500 artifacts were appraised at $189 million in 2007. But that doesn't include additional intellectual property – video of the dives, 3D images of the ship, and the first comprehensive survey map of the site – gathered from a scientific investigation in 2010.

Premier Exhibition, Inc, which sold the artifacts, pushed back the announcement of the winner with an unknown date. “The Company announced today that it is in discussions with multiple parties for the purchase of its Titanic artifacts collection. In order for the Company to settle on the most appropriate bidder and maximize the ultimate value of the artifacts for shareholders, it will conduct these negotiations and due diligence in confidence,” Premier Exhibitions said in a statement. The relics range from a 17-ton piece of the ships hull to china used to serve first-class passengers.

As of today, we still don't know who the winner of the auction is.

JFK's hearse went up for auction.
JFK's Hearse on the Auction Block
My wife, a tomboy at heart and a passion for cars came across this one. Anything related to John F. Kennedy, from a used tissue to the American flag pin on his lapel, is worth more than your average journalism or political science degree. For someone who has been dead for nearly 50 years, Kennedy remains a relevant and popular figure in our nation’s culture. Stephen King recently wrote one of the best novels of 2011 about an alternate history surrounding Kennedy’s assassination. (I'm still waiting for the movie.) Movies and documentaries about the former president and his family continue to attract the attention of millions. Conspiracy theories about the Kennedy family curse seem to never die, and neither does the market for Kennedy memorabilia.

According to Time magazine, the hearse that transported JFK’s body to Air Force One in Dallas was recently sold at the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Event in Scottsdale, Arizona. It sold for $160,000, (four times what it would typically be worth), relayed one collector car insurance company president to CNN Money, which reported the sale. A commercial real estate developer, Stephen Tebo, bought the vehicle, and will add it to his collection of over 400 cars. Even though the vehicle sold for a six-figure sum, it was once listed for $1 million on eBay, reported The Arizona Republic.

The hearse is just the latest JFK-related vehicle to be sold. In August 2010, a Kennedy White House limousine was auctioned for $390,000. And in January of last year, a 1963 Pontiac ambulance that carried the president’s body from Air Force One when in landed in Maryland was sold for $132,000. At the time, the ambulance was said to be a fake by historians cited by Jalopnik. The ambulance’s new owner, Addison Brown, was quoted by Reuters saying that she had “no doubt” the vehicle was real.

Stolen Moon Rocks
Stolen Moon Rocks
I don’t know how I missed this story, but a few years ago, a NASA intern was convicted of moon rock theft — specifically, he stole moon rocks so he could have sex with his girlfriend on them. No, I am not joking.

Author Ben Mezrich, who also wrote The Accidental Network (which was turned into the movie The Social Network), recently published Sex on the Moon: The Amazing Story Behind the Most Audacious Heist in History and you can find the book on

In brief, a few years ago, Thad Roberts, who was in love with his girlfriend of three weeks, decided to show her a grand, romantic gesture by stealing moon rocks so they could jam the rocks under their motel room mattress and have sex on the moon. Because Roberts was an intern at NASA, he didn’t have to go far for his moon rocks… but he had to circumvent NASA’s security system, a heist worthy of Ocean’s 11.

Of course, things went wrong for our sexonaut when he decided to sell the moon rocks on the Internet. “He really wasn’t a criminal,” said Mezrich. “He didn’t think through the after-effects. I asked him dozens of times over the year, ‘How did you think you were going to get away with this?’ And he said it just wasn’t part of the thought process… He only thought of it as a college prank; he thought, ‘Even if I do get caught, what’s the worst they’ll do to me?’”

What “they” did to him was send him to a federal prison for seven and a half years.

For the complete details of the heist, click here.

The General Lee Number One
General Lee (Dukes of Hazard) for Sale
The first car ever used in The Dukes of Hazard TV series, which can be seen jumping over a police car during the opening credits, pulled a disappointing high bid of just $110,000 over the weekend at the Barrett-Jackson auctions in Scottsdale, Arizona. My wife, who watches the Barrett-Jackson auctions on the Speed Channel and wishes she was a millionaire, said she would have paid more than that. 

“Lee 1” spent most of its life in a junkyard after being wrecked filming the famous flight through the sky. It still had a trunk full of cement ballast when it was purchased by the president of the North American General Lee fan club for less than $1,000 about a decade ago. Since then it has been fully restored to the original, imperfect condition the 1969 Dodge Charger was in when it was brought to Oxford College on Veteran’s Day in 1978 to film the iconic scene. Over 300 more General Lees would follow it during the seven-year run of the program. But to my wife, there is only one.

Added comment from the wife: Cars are offered at Barrett-Jackson with no reserve and no official pre-sale estimate, but a replica of the General Lee that was built for John Schneider, who played Bo Duke on the show, sold at the auction in 2008 for $450,000, setting a high bar for the original.
This time around, it couldn’t clear it.

The Green Hornet Car
Okay, so it has nothing to do with the fabled radio, TV, movie, and comic book character, but my wife brought this to my attention. “The Green Hornet,” was also a one-of-a-kind Ford Mustang that will be up for bid in Barrett Jackson’s January 2013 auction in Scottsdale, Arizona. Created as a prototype, the car nicknamed "The Green Hornet" was intended to be destroyed back in the 1960s. Instead it ended up being sent to performance specialist Carroll Shelby, who assigned it to his chief engineer, Fred Goodell. Long thought by car collectors to have been destroyed all these years, there’s no official estimate of what it will bring when the final hammer comes down.

The Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia
It is the biggest and the best privately held collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in the world. There are one-of-a-kind posters, rare serving trays, unique bottles, colorful jewelry, lighted signs, artistic clocks, antique delivery trucks, Santa icons and even the side of a barn. Altogether, there are some 80,000 items worth as much as $10 million.

It’s a collection that traces a large portion of U.S. history and includes early vintage pieces and iconic images. Who wouldn’t want to get their hands on a piece of this collection – a piece of history? Well, now you can. 

The Schmidt Museum of Coca-Cola Memorabilia in Elizabethtown, Kentucky, is divesting its vast collection which dates back to the 1800s and fills a museum and warehouse totaling 32,000 square feet. “A big portion of our life has gone into collecting these wonderful, artistic pieces,” says Jan Schmidt, who, along with her late husband Bill Schmidt, started the collection in 1972 when they went to an antique art auction and came home with a carload of Coca-Cola memorabilia. “We didn’t set out to accumulate the world’s largest (privately owned) collection. All we wanted to do was tell a story and put it on display.”

The Schmidt family collection has raised the awareness and prestige of the art and craftsmanship that has gone into Coca-Cola merchandising and branding. The quality of the work is unsurpassed by advertising standards, and the sheer volume is hard to fathom. While the Schmidts are proud of their collection and the way it’s been showcased, it is time for a change. “The collection has become inert,” says Jan, “and the way to keep it alive is to pass it on – to give others the opportunity to own and showcase the items they want.”

This soda fountain was part of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago. It became a part of the Schmidt museum in 1976. Bill and Jan Schmidt posed for this photo in 1983. The soda fountain was sold in the first auction.

“This collection is the best of the best,” says Allan Petretti, author of “Petretti’s Coca-Cola Collectibles Price Guide,” which is in its 12th edition and is filled with 645 pages of Coca-Cola merchandise. “The Schmidts defined collecting. The depth and breadth of their collection is beyond incredible. They have the rarest of rare pieces. They have things from every era and from every category – clocks, posters, toys, trucks, bottles. You name it, and they have it.”

The items of most interest will be sold at live auctions. “These will be events,” adds Petretti, “because the interest will be vast.” Plans are still underway for the first event, which is tentatively scheduled for mid-September. Each event will see about 1,000 items sold and will take place at the Schmidt Museum in Elizabethtown. Much of the collection will also be sold online in a typical bidding process or at fixed prices. Every item sold, no matter its value, will have a commemorative tag explaining its origin and significance. It will likely take several years to completely divest the collection.

Two pieces stand out, according to Petretti, and each is conservatively valued at $30,000 but could conceivably go for many times that. One is a large, bright-yellow poster, circa 1895, that was designed to be in a soda fountain for about six months then thrown away. This poster, which is in immaculate condition, is the only one of its kind to survive more than a century. Like most Coke posters, it features an attractive woman with a beverage in her hand. It reads, “Drink Coca-Cola. Delicious. Refreshing. Cures Headache. Relieves Exhaustion. At Soda Fountains 5 cents.” (Pictured below) 

The other crown jewel in the collection is referred to as the “Victorian Girl” serving tray and is one of only two known in existence. It’s a circular tray, 9 3/8" in diameter, and is made of lightweight tin. It’s circa 1897 and is among the first-ever Coca-Cola tin trays. Over the years, Coca-Cola produced more than 200 styles of trays, and the Schmidt Museum has the only complete collection. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Spending Christmas With Shirley Temple

December 21, 1933. 20th Century-Fox signs five-tear-old Shirley Temple. At the behest of the studio, her birth certificate is altered to make it appear that she is four years old.

Within a year, the Quigley Publications poll asked their readers who their favorite Hollywood actor was. Among the top ten was Shirley Temple, at number eight! In 1935, the same poll had Shirley Temple as number one! She stayed in the top spot every year in the same poll through 1938.

Under contract with 20th Century-Fox, Shirley Temple, among many Hollywood celebrities, posed for holiday photos used for publicity purposes. Naturally, many photos were taken over a period of years and for the holiday, my gift to you, here are a number of those shots. Take a good look at these, some like the shadow of Santa Claus are very clever. Enjoy!


Friday, December 21, 2012

Terry and the Pirates

Just a short time ago, an ultra rare pristine copy of Action Comics #1, the comic book that introduced Superman to the world in 1938, reached an all-time record when it was sold recently by's auction service. The comic was given an Overstreet Guide estimated value of $1,050,000 but ended up selling for more than twice that amount: $2,161,000. While the value of many comics have flat lined over the years (as a result of both internet sales and the idea of grading comics in clam shell cases changed the marketplace), the "Golden Age" issues that introduced such icons as Superman and Batman continue to escalate. People are not buying origin issues to read -- they are buying them as an investment. Adding intrigue to this auction was the fact that this issue had been stolen and was presumed lost forever - until surfacing in a Los Angeles garage recently.

About 100 copies of Action Comics No. 1 are believed to be in existence, and only a handful of those in good condition. The $2.16 million, by the way, was historically the most money paid for a single comic book. It was also the first time in recorded history that a comic book broke the $2 million barrier. That particular issue, by the way, had a newsstand price of ten cents.

Venturing from comic books to newspaper dailies, and with more affordable prices, I'd like to center our attention to Terry and the Pirates, created by Milton Caniff. The black and white newspaper dailies premiered on October 22, 1934, with the Sunday color pages premiering a few weeks after, on December 9. Originally, the Sunday adventure was a completely separate story arc from the dailies, but in August of 1936, Caniff merged them both together so a long, continuous flow was maintained.

Terry and the Pirates (Volume One)

Many years ago, Nantier Beall Minoustchine Publishing Inc., under their Flying Buttress Comics Library line, reprinted all of Caniff's Terry and the Pirates newspaper dailies, in two hardcover series. They also reprinted the strips in multiple paperback editions. These are available for various prices. But for those seeking a quality product and something of pride for their bookshelf, I recommend the version IDW Publishing put out from 2007 to 2009. (2007 marked the centennial of Milton Caniff's birth, by the way.) Six hardcover volumes make up the entire run of Caniff's fantastic art and story-telling and best of all -- the picture quality (and color for the Sunday funnies) is unsurpassed. Each hardcover book comes with a ribbon bookmark attached to the saddle-stitched spine and beautiful cover art.

As reviewed by The New Yorker, "In this ground-breaking adventure serial, a pair of eager Americans, a boy named Terry Lee and a young fortune hunter named Pat Ryan, land in China to search for an abandoned mine and quickly find themselves facing a succession of gangsters, warlords, pirates, and femme fatales up and down the coast. Period colonialism and chinoiserie occasionally combine for some awkwardly overheated depictions, but Caniff visualized his setup—Robert Louis Stevenson by way of the pulps—with a cinematic flair that remains thrilling because it is played straight. Ryan, a two-fisted, often shirtless he-man, exhibits an arrestingly sexual chemistry with various bad girl."

Terry and the Pirates (Volume Two)

Idea & Design Works, LLC (IDW) is the same company responsible for the recent Dick Tracy, Peanuts and Little Orphan Annie reprints. For anyone not staying in touch with the comic strip world, Captain Easy, Blondie, Superman, The Phantom and many others have been making a comeback in reprint form, chronologically, in bound volumes. I wish I had both the money to buy and the time to read all the reprints of the classics, having already spent money to buy all the Maverick, Cheyenne, Gunsmoke, Bronco, 77 Sunset Strip and Sugarfoot comic books (it was a private sale with a price I couldn't turn up) but just finding time to read Terry and the Pirates makes me wonder if I should start making time to begin collecting and reading other newspaper dailies.

Terry and the Pirates (Volume Three)

For a brief history lesson: Milton Caniff created Terry and the Pirates in 1934 and ceased art and story in 1946, shortly after the war. It was then that he moved on to another successful run of comics, Steve Canyon, and the artist that took over Pirates didn't have the art, the story plots or the know-how to continue Caniff's work. Many comic strip historians regard Terry and the Pirates as one of the best newspaper strips ever written, when one compares the intricate and clever plots to other comic strips of the 1930s and 1940s. (Although I find the late 30s and all of the 1940s Dick Tracy strips very addicting.)

Terry and the Pirates (Volume Four)

Pop culture fans are aware that Terry and the Pirates spun off a series of 18 television episodes, one cliffhanger serial through Columbia Pictures, and a radio program from 1937 to 1948. Like the newspaper strip, the U.S. entry into the war caused the radio program to revise the villains. Terry Lee and the gang battled secret agents, Germans, Japanese, fascists and the Fifth Column. Terry met up with the same characters from the newspaper strip, Captain Blaze and the Dragon Lady. The radio program featured three runs, the earliest began November 1937 and ran till March of 1939, under the sponsorship of Dari-Rich. Sadly, no recordings are known to exist of these early episodes. When the show returned over WGN in Chicago, October 6, 1941, Libby was the new sponsor. The second run concluded in May of 1942. An estimated 125 of the 170 episodes are known to exist. The third run began on January 4, 1943, with Quaker now the sponsor, until June of 1948. About 54 episodes are known to exist in circulation from this later run.

Terry and the Pirates (Volume Five)

Having heard over 100 of the radio broadcasts, reading the newspaper dailies helped provide answers to questions I had in mind. Such as, "Why is she called The Dragon Lady?" The answer can be found in the December 15, 1935 Sunday strip. Connie asked the Dragon Lady point blank and her response: "It's an ancient Chinese legend. When the last actual dragons were killed, their evil spirits were preserved in other living things." Connie asked, "You mean people like us might really be dragons?" Her response was tart. "I am a dragon!"

If you haven't picked up this series, start with volume one and let your education into the possibilities of a comic strip start there. The first volume starts with the Sunday color comics, which certainly lives up to the title, with Terry battling pirates and meets his arch nemesis... The Dragon Lady. But the dailies, I found, were more entertaining. After a slow build and a few intriguing story arcs, the speed and momentum pick up pace. But there's plenty to witness in the first volume alone. When Terry masquerades as a deaf and dumb native boy in an attempt to infiltrate Krunch's Mine, the villain turns and punches the youth in an effort to learn whether the boy really is deaf and dumb (October 18 and 19, 1935). Before you finish reading the last page in volume one, you realize the numerous adventures Pat, Terry and Connie have experienced. They were stood against a wall by a firing squad, half drowned in a typhoon, caught in a plague, hunted by pirates and shot at by bandits.

One also gets the impression that Milton Caniff created his characters based on the movies. When we meet the legendary Papa Pyzon, a notorious pirate with a gang of ex-convicts and cut throats in his mob, I get the impression that the character was inspired by Charles Laughton from Mutiny on the Bounty. Referring to his men as "dogs" and the artist rendition a mirror image of Laughton, it's hard not to assume this. In fact, I found myself envisioning the voices of iconic actors for the roles. Walter Tetley's voice for young Terry, Jean Harlow's voice for Burma... you get the idea.

In short, the first volume is a great introduction to the comics but the strip gets better and better as you continue reading them. The price for all six is a bit expensive (but remember you are getting quality for your money) but if you are not 100 percent certain you'll have the time to read them all (and believe me, that's a lot of reading), just start with volume one and decide if you want to continue after (and if) you finish the first volume. Reading two years of strips takes a lot longer than you think. Small note: IDW only publishes a limited run. Once sold out, the going price starts going up. Their Dick Tracy reprints, for example, volume 8 and 9 (which has Pruneface and Flattop) are not only out of print but going for astronomical sums of money. Check if you don't believe me. And finding someone with a copy still available is almost impossible let alone at a price that isn't competing against Amazon. If you delay getting Terry and the Pirates, you may wish you hadn't. Volumes four, five and six are already out of print so if you want all six, grab those three today. One bit of advice: the essays in the beginning of each volume are worth reading. But read all the comic strips first, then the essays. Why? Avoiding plot spoilers and references to characters you might not be familiar with. I read the essays before and after reading the strips. From experience, I found reading the essays afterwards is better.

Terry and the Pirates (Volume Six)

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

MANC Announcement: Video Streaming 2013

Shirley Jones takes a moment to chat with fans.
As old man 2012 exits stage left and the newborn 2013 starts to crawl on stage, one of the most exciting things I am looking forward to in the coming year is video streaming at the Mid-Atlantic Nostalgia Convention. Always thinking outside the box, the future (and possibly survival) of conventions will be dependent on new technology integrated and embraced. This September, radio re-creations, panels and slide show presentations at MANC are going to be video streamed over the internet. Anyone with access to a computer can watch the events live from the comfort of their own home. For years, internet radio stations have been broadcasting live from conventions such as the Cincinnati OTR Convention, the Friends of Old-Time Radio and MANC. If you tuned in to any of these live radio broadcasts, you know that even the radio hosts have repeated time and time again that there is nothing like being at the event while it is happening. While the service is free, I often feel the only radio listeners to benefit from that service were people who, for health reasons, could not make the travel. If their work schedule would not permit them to get off to attend the convention, that would be another reason. But you cannot see the photos during the slide show presentations. The good people delivering the slide show seminars have always had to describe the photos on the screen for the benefit of the radio listeners. You cannot see the hand gestures celebrities make when telling a funny story. This has been a problem that has plagued all radio hosts broadcasting from conventions.

While the technology for video streaming is not perfect enough to be described as looking through a glass window, the technology has advanced to a point where the possibility is now feasible. What we hope to do this September is place a video camera in the room and upload the picture and audio to the internet where people at home can simply push a couple buttons from our convention website and watch the events live as they happen from their computer screen. (Don't let the terminology turn you away. For those who do not understand what "video streaming" is, in simplistic terms it is the equivalent of turning to a TV channel and watching the evening news on your TV screen.) The image should be good enough that no one should have any complaints. While it is not "streaming" per say, it would be the equivalent, if not better, than watching a video clip on YouTube. 

The only stumbling block is the internet speed and connection viewers have at their house. The better the internet connection, the better the picture. An older computer versus a newer computer with more speed and memory, and dial up modem versus high speed cable will make a difference. That's the only obstacle we face at the moment, but we cannot tell the mainstream public that they need to have new computers, updated web browsers (Firefox is better than Internet Explorer, by the way) and superb internet connections. That's something they would need to find out for themselves. But we would be willing to help assist anyone in advance. Just this past year my wife and I discovered we were not getting the better internet speed (at the same price) so we called the cable company and upgraded. Boy, our internet speed is faster now! But most people should not have any difficulties. On Sunday morning, our local church video streams the services for people at home (especially on days where winter weather prevents them from leaving the house) so we know the same can be done for MANC.

James Darren and Robert Colbert during Q&A session.
Now imagine this is how it would appear on your computer
from the view of the video camera, if you watched this
Q&A presentation from your home computer.

Video streaming would have been done two years ago but we faced a number of obstacles. We want folks with both a PC and a MAC to access the video stream. We need to prevent computer hackers from causing malicious mischief. We took into account every contingency with the very few who will try to find loopholes. On a technical side, the entire operation is complicated. But we believe we have ironed out all the bugs. The procedure is costly and will amount to four-digit figures. To adjust accordingly, a small fee will be charged for access. At this moment, it is estimated that it will cost $20 per calendar day to access the video stream. In comparison, this is the same cost of admission if they were to attend the show personally. For people living in Alaska, Canada, England and California, this should be cheaper when compared to the expenses of hotel and airfare. But again, nothing will compare to attending and experiencing meeting everyone in person. 

By way of explanation, the rationale thinking was if we gave the stream away for free, we'd be giving people in the local area a reason to stay home rather than attend the convention. I feel certain the daily admission will not surpass $20. And I would like to state for the record that the access fee is not being proposed in an effort to make a financial profit. There is already enough people out there (non-MANC attendees) who are quick to speak negative about the event using such words as "profiteering" and "undermining." The purpose of the admission fee is to reimburse the costs of video streaming. If the technical costs are lower, the admission cost will be lower. We would even send a program guide via e-mail to paying attendees who choose to video stream from home, so they do not go empty handed. There may even be a few video specials in between the events during the down time... perhaps a panel seminar from last year's event?

Using photos to explain how this works, this fascinating slide show
presentation about Gypsy Rose Lee from the past year would be the
kind of entertainment you would see close up. Notice the video camera?

There will no doubt be a few bugs to iron out before the convention starts nine months from now. We plan to have the system up and running long before the convention so we can kick the tires and give it a test drive. We're a few months away from success. But once we get this up and going, we're prepared to share the same hookup system with others so hopefully it will become a trend at other conventions like SPERDVAC, REPS and the new Cincinnati Nostalgia EXPO. Perhaps old time radio clubs and pulp clubs will be able to video stream their monthly meetings. And we hope others who experiment on their own will keep the door open and be willing to share what they discover through trial and error. After all, everyone stands to benefit from this.

The big question that cannot be answered at this time is how many people will be willing to embrace the new technology and give it a try. I've heard dozens of reasons from people why they cannot attend conventions. Now with video streaming, we are can bring the convention to their home. Who knows? Maybe over time there will be more people watching the slide show seminars on the web than attendees sitting in the audience. For those who do not attend conventions, and know nothing more about conventions than the magazine articles they read, this is an opportunity to grasp the concept as it is happening first-hand.

Not just slide show presentations and celebrity panels, live
stage acts like Abbott & Costello would be video streamed!

Folks who missed past events can still purchase DVDs of past seminars but keep in mind that not all of the events were filmed and the cost to purchase a DVD is $10. With six or seven DVDs compiling the majority of the seminars for each calendar year, the cost of video streaming is still beneficial to folks who live far, far away.

The attendance at MANC has grown every year, becoming a huge venue for authors to promote their books, magazines editors to display past issues, national media coverage, web bloggers and website owners, and so on. Last year's attendance broke past 2,000. Since it is difficult to classify what type of convention MANC is (one-third old-time radio, old-third old movies and old-third nostalgic pop culture), if you were to consider MANC an old-time radio convention, statistically, MANC is the largest old-time radio convention in the country. Statistically otherwise, we are now the largest nostalgia event on the East Coast. For those questioning the 2,000 figure, our method of keeping count is relatively simple. We give away one 48-page program guide to every paying attendee. No more, no less. Attendees cannot buy extra copies. At the end of the weekend, we subtracted the difference from what was left over and we have our head count. This year we had 2,000 program guides printed up and we ran out of program guides by Saturday afternoon. My mother-in-law, Mary Ethel, and her friends Barb and Mary, who ran the front desk, asked me what they should do. "Just give them a wrist band and thank them for coming," I explained. There wasn't anything else we could do. Mary Ethel did try to keep a head count of people coming through after she ran out of program guides but she wasn't sure she counted everyone and I told her we would not count the extras beyond 2,000 anyway. So the official figure for 2012 is 2,000. We expect a larger crowd for 2013.

The dates of this year's event is September 19, 20 and 21, 2013. 
The convention website is

It is difficult to believe no one has video streamed seminars, panels and slide show presentations from other conventions. But we had discussions with a dozen people over the past year regarding video streaming to get their opinion. We consulted those who are experienced with such technology. Everyone has been enthusiastic and everyone, myself included, believe this might be the future of conventions and monthly club meetings. A year from now, we may know the answer.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Radio Comedians vs. the Vice President of NBC

Ed Gardner of Duffy's Tavern
During the seasonal holiday of December 1946, Duffy’s Tavern made the transition from Hollywood to New York. With the entire cast and crew flying to New York to broadcast from the East Coast, the West Coast censorship department of NBC, having censored many lines deemed “unsuitable” for broadcast, wanted to alert the East Coast counterpart. On December 31, 1946, Don Honrath in NBC’s West Coast Script Division, sent the following telegram to Richard McDonagh of the East Cost Script Division:


On January 2, 1947, McDonagh sent a reply, accepting Honrath’s offer. “I am notifying all concerned at this end and you may be assured that the show will stay clean or else.” The reason behind the network’s intense scrutiny was the result of Rep. Thomas Lane’s recent public argument over two of the jokes that, he felt, insulted the Catholic church. The radio program was singled out by name and the network felt this was bad publicity. The other reason was prompted by radio comedians, who were attempting to slip jokes of a taboo nature, past the network censors who reviewed each script before broadcast. For years radio comedians were upset that even the mildest joke was deleted from their scripts for reasons that seemed inane. In retaliation, script writers began slipping in jokes about the network and the executives in charge. When the vice-president of NBC initiated a new policy that said radio comedians would not kid radio on the air, the comedians took action.

Fred Allen on NBC Radio
The debate about comic censorship came to a pinnacle on the evening of Sunday, April 20, 1947, when NBC cut Fred Allen off the air briefly during a wisecrack about a mythical network vice-president in charge of overtime, who received his vacation by accumulating seconds from the ends of overtime broadcasts. NBC, days prior to the broadcast, had ordered to “fade” any jokes directed at the network. When Fred Allen discovered his program was momentarily faded off the air for a few seconds, he spoke to reporters. “Last week, we ran over our time and the last part of the program was cut off,” Allen explained. “I decided to use this in the program and build a joke around it. But NBC told me I couldn’t kid radio on the air. I don’t mind suggested changes in my script if it will improve the show any. But this didn’t offer any improvement. Of course, I refused to make the change. I’ve been on the air for 15 years and this is the first time anything like this has happened to me.”

J. Walter Thompson, the advertising agency representing Fred Allen’s sponsor, demanded the network reimburse money for the dead air time. “We buy and pay for half an hour’s time from NBC for this program. And that’s what we expect to get. Allen was cut off the air for about 35 seconds. So NBC is going to get a bill for the time we didn’t get. And, oddly enough, on that Sunday night spot, it’s a nice little chunk of dough.” NBC counter attacked by claiming they estimated the time at 25 seconds. Under contract, if the network had technical issues beyond their control, the sponsor was not obligated to receive a partial refund for dead air. What NBC did not realize until it was too late was their counter attack was also an admission of deliberate dead air and this mistake cost them.

Red Skelton
Two days after Fred Allen’s censorship, comedians Bob Hope and Red Skelton both had their radio shows censored on the air. Radio’s hypersensitive vice-presidents drew more public laughs than either of the gold-plated comedians. Hope was cutoff for about 15 seconds following his reference to comedian Fred Allen’s experience. During a discussion of Las Vegas, Nevada, Hope remarked, “You can get tanned and faded at the same time.” The fading reference was to dice, but Hope added, “Of course, Fred Allen can get faded any time…” and there the audience got the best of radio. The show faded from the air.

On the Red Skelton program, in the early minutes, Red said, “We might ad lib something to hurt the dignity of an NBC vice-president. Did you hear ‘em cut Fred Allen off Sunday…” Silence struck again. What the audience did not hear was, “You know what NBC means, don’t you? Nothing but confusion, nothing but cuts.” Then he came back on with, “…well, now we’ve joined the parade of stars.” Hope and Skelton were said to have referred their scripts to NBC censors, and both were reminded that ad-libbed material would not be acceptable. NBC had only the remark that the cut-out material was “objectionable.”

The silence was not by accident, because someone in the control room opened a push-button offensive, directed by Clarence L. Menser, vice president of NBC in charge of programming. Local offices of the broadcasting company issued the following statement: “Two of NBC’s comedians decided to have a little fun with the network tonight and both were cut off the air for about 20 seconds. Bob Hope and Red Skelton decided they would make some remarks about Fred Allen, and were told that if they did not debate objectionable material they would be cut off. But Hope and Skelton ignored the NBC order, and like Allen they were cut off for a few seconds.”

Dennis Day, comedian
The advertising agencies representing Bob Hope and Red Skelton followed the avenue of J. Walter Thompson and NBC issued credits to the sponsor accounts. On the evening of April 23, four comedians defended Fred Allen and his comrades. When Dennis Day’s radio girlfriend, Mildred, coming into the room, asked: “What are you doing?” 
    “I’m listening to the radio,” Dennis replied.
    “But I don’t hear anything,” she said.
    “I know it,” Dennis replied. “I’m listening to the Fred Allen program.”

Later that evening, Henry Morgan, on his radio program, said he had seen a movie, “Smash Up, the Story of a Woman.” He claimed it gave him an idea for a movie he’d like to make. “Cut-Off, the Story of Fred Allen.” Kay Kyser claimed the whole controversy was a build-up for his new show, a new type of quiz program and wanted to thank Allen, Hope and Skelton for the big send-off. “They were faded for their errors and that’s my new show -- ‘Comedy of Errors’.” Information, Please also jot in a jibe on the rival CBS. Ed Gardner jumped the bandwagon on Duffy’s Tavern, presenting a show based on a political campaign by Archie and the barkeep remarked: “I think I’ll get Fred Allen to make my campaign speeches for me during the times he is cut off the air. And then again -- I don’t think I will. I might want to be vice-president.”

Ed Gardner and singer Mary Martin
None of these comedians faced censorship because, hours before prime time programming, NBC announced that it had a change of heart in what the New York Times referred to as “its running feud with Fred Allen on the subject of vacation-minded vice-presidents in radio.” It wanted, said NBC, to forgive and, especially, to forget. Harried officials of the network most of the day sat around a long table in their office at 30 Rockefeller Plaza and in a complete reversal of form, decided to try to ring down the curtain on what Radio Row generally agreed was at best only a sustaining comic opera. An executive at NBC reported the network considered encouraging other comedians to make wisecracks about the matter, presumably on the well-substantiated theory that repetition was the quickest way to kill a joke on the radio. The four day skirmish between NBC and its radio comics came to a temporary end when the network agreed to turn the other cheek and invite the comics to say anything they wanted to about the network.

It was later discovered that NBC’s decision was swayed because of a substantial number of letters from listeners, mostly favorable to the comedian; a protest from the American Civil Liberties Union charging that Mr. Allen’s rights under the Constitution had been placed in jeopardy; and reports that Fred Allen made the front pages of the London press. Late that evening, Kenneth Banghart, while delivering the 11 o’clock news, mentioned Fred Allen. The program continued, loud and clear. He mentioned Bob Hope and Red Skelton, saying that he understood that all three comedians had been offered honorary vice presidencies, without duties and without vacations. To wit, the program continued uninterrupted until its scheduled close at 11:15.

“Seldom has the futility and silliness of unnecessary censorship been more vividly illustrated,” columnist John Crosby remarked. “The deluge of criticism which NBC had to take in twenty-four hours was far worse than anything Mr. Allen by himself could have done.”

Fred Allen on NBC Radio
The bizarre series of events reflected a situation which had been brewing for some months, if not years. Because, for better or worse, popular programs on the air were subject to varying forms of censorship on a pretty regular basis and the issue was neither as black nor as white as it might have seemed offhand. The most prevalent form of censorship was almost as old as commercial radio itself. Comedians on the air had been circumscribed in what they said because of the perennial fear of broadcasters and sponsors that some substantial group of potential customers might be offended. Ed Gardner discovered this with the two jokes that shocked a number of orthodox Catholics. Fred Allen got the last laugh, when, one week after the initial fade out, his half-hour radio show was broadcast without interruption. Allen closed his broadcast with, “Well, we got it all on tonight.”

When NBC thought that repetition was the quickest way to kill a joke on the radio, they soon discovered they were dead wrong. The jokes kept coming and comedians Jack Benny, Victor Borge, Milton Berle, and George Burns and Gracie Allen took advantage. The network kept its promise and avoided censoring the industry reaction to spoofing radio on the radio. This was, however, only a temporary solution. One year later, it was known that several top comedians were fed up to a point of seeking a shift to another network rather than continue under NBC’s strict and allegedly stuffy code. (CBS succeeded by purchasing Jack Benny and Amos ‘n’ Andy.) The network had begun another form of censorship: thou shalt not make reference to a rival network. Because Bing Crosby succeeded where no other comedian had before, transcribing his programs instead of a “live” broadcast, the network took offense when Crosby, formerly an NBC product, was now on ABC. The network once again nixed all mention of Bing Crosby’s rival network show and references to ABC, soon becoming another sore spot for the network.

In May of 1947, Ed Gardner came up with a gimmick that could close the door to vice-president gags. The “gimmick” required an appointment with Sidney N. Strotz (pronounced like throats), West Coast vice-president of NBC, where Gardner proposed to Strotz, in person, that the executive appear on a future broadcast of Duffy’s Tavern. A few months prior, at a special party for Jack Benny given by Edgar Bergen with assistance of NBC and Standard Brands at the Beverly Hills Hotel, Strotz was among the guests. He mingled, cracked jokes and won the hearts of the comedians in attendance. Since then, Strotz was known among the circles as the only vice president of the company to have a sense of humor. Knowing Strotz might not agree to appearing on a comedy program that could take advantage of the scenario, Gardner offered one stipulation. Strotz approve of every word of the script before the broadcast.

Jack Benny once commented that he wished his writers would have come up with the idea, acknowledging Gardner’s idea as "brilliant," apparently unaware that Strotz was a guest on George Burns and Gracie Allen’s radio program a year prior.

During the broadcast, Archie became a member of the “Top Ten Record Company” and record sales are so successful that Archie decided he wanted to be a radio comedian. To get a job at NBC as their next great comedian, Archie phoned NBC and convinced Sidney M. Strotz to come down to audition him. To ensure someone would laugh at the jokes, and not him, Archie asks Harry Von Zell to come down to the tavern and become a member of the audience.

VON ZELL: Well, I’m the next thing to a comedian. Every week I stand next to Eddie Cantor. [LAUGHS] Oh, I popped a corny!
ARCHIE: There you are, Harry -- a perfect example of what’s wrong with radio. You put a guy that ain’t funny in front of a microphone and what have you got?
EDDIE: Mr. Archie…
ARCHIE: Eddie! Watch your timing!
EDDIE: Sorry. I just wanted to tell you that Mr. Strotz is here.
ARCHIE: Oh, Von Zell, get up off your knees. Well, good evening, Mr. Strotz. Welcome to Duffy’s Tavern. I hope you’ll pardon the appearance of the joint.
STROTZ: Don’t apologize, Archie… I like the place. [BREATHES DEEPLY] Ahhh… this dead air… just like NBC.
ARCHIE: Yeah, huh? Well, we’ve all been waitin’ for you.
STROTZ: Yes, I’m sorry I was held up but I had trouble selecting my new office furniture.
ARCHIE: Trouble?
STROTZ: Yes. We Vice Presidents have quite a bit of trouble getting desks to fit our feet.
ARCHIE: Well, big job -- big feet. Say, how does a guy get to be an NBC Vice President anyhow?
STROTZ: Very simple. You start out as an NBC guide and then you wander into an empty office and stay there until a little man comes along and puts gold letters on the door.
ARCHIE: Hey, you really got a sense of humor. You don’t seem like the kind of a guy that would be annoyed by comedians.

To prove he is as funny as Jack Benny and Charlie McCarthy, Archie hands Strotz a list of questions and Archie delivers the punch lines. Old vaudeville jokes referring to “Mr. Bones” and asking Archie if he likes bathing beauties. “I don’t know,” Archie responds. “I never bathed any.” Strotz is not convinced so he decides to trade places: Archie will be a vice-president while Mr. Strotz becomes a comedian.

STROTZ: Wait a minute… I just thought of a joke.
ARCHIE: You did, huh? Is it clean?
STROTZ: Of course it’s clean. It seems that there was a traveling salesman who stopped at a farmhouse and he knocked at the door… [LONG PAUSE] …so the following summer, the farmer’s daughter showed up with a gold bracelet.
EDDIE: What happened to the middle of the joke?
ARCHIE: Sorry, Sid, but as Vice President I had to fade you off the air. We have to do those things, old man, even if it means cutting our own Strotz.

Ed Gardner on Duffy's Tavern
The broadcast may have also resolved the bout between comedians and NBC. During the first week of November, weeks after the new season of comedies premiered on the network, top comedians on the NBC skein are reportedly happy with the new attitude of management toward censorship of script material. The consensus of NBC comedians was that the network had at long last adopted a healthy approach toward censorship in which arbitrary rulings of the blue pencil boys were to be avoided in favor of a more reasonable policy of giving jokesters the benefit of the doubt.

Reaction of gagsters was brought into the open during the good-will mission of NBC programming vice president Ken Dyke, whose Hollywood junket was made primarily to consult with comic stars and hear their gripes. After a series of confidential talks with Eddie Cantor, Red Skelton, Art Linkletter, Ed Gardner and Jack Benny, it was learned that Dyke assured them that the web was operating under a new policy which would prevent recurrence of incidents similar to last season. Dyke reassured gagsters, however, that there would be no attempt to muzzle jokesters if material used is funny and free from dirt. Although none of the comedians divulged to reporters any details of their talks with Dyke, it was evident that the executive’s visit had done much to clear the air and erase ill feeling which existed prior.

Closing chapter to this story: In November, conferences were held with NBC talent, sponsors and agencies for the purpose of developing new methods to eliminate objectionable broadcast material which “might be offensive to American families listening to NBC programs.” NBC was receiving enthusiastic cooperation from all of the principal commercial shows and the new policy would be applied should it become necessary to fade a program because of objectionable script. First, NBC will inform both agency and client if any part of a script was found objectionable. Failing to obtain cooperation in the climination of objectionable phrases, both client and agency will be informed that the program would be faded for at least 30 seconds and the following announcement made on the network: “The National Broadcasting Company regrets the necessity of interrupting this program in order to delete which, in its opinion, would be objectionable to listeners in many American homes.” This cut and announcement would become standard, and NBC executives expressed the hope that with the better understanding now existing between NBC clients, agencies and talent, there would be few, if any, cases where it will be necessary to use it.

The above information is taken from the book about Duffy's Tavern from Bear Manor Media. Reprinted with permission.