Saturday, August 26, 2017

Ford Festival TV Show

A scene from "La Traviata" on James Melton's TV Show, Ford Festival (1951)

A couple of weeks ago CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a rerun of their show about the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and what happened to them after their parents were executed for espionage in 1953.

Robert and Michael were adopted by Abel Meeropol and his wife Anne. What does this have to do with James Melton, you may ask? 

About six months ago I was contacted by David Newstead, who is writing a biography of Abel Meeropol. Meeropol, under the pen name of Lewis Allen, was a songwriter and social activist. He wrote the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit,” and the Frank Sinatra song “The House That I Live In” …and he worked on my father’s TV show “Ford Festival.” In fact, he wrote the theme music for the show.

Life is full of amazing discoveries!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

1901 Frisbee "Red Devil"

Back in January I heard from Diane Davis in California, who was looking for information on the 1901 Frisbie Red Devil car that was in may father’s museum. She is a Frisbie descendant, and was in the midst of putting together a book about the Frisbie family of inventors.

Her project has come to fruition and the book is out! Red Devils & Penny Shooters.  (The Penny Shooters refers to the cast iron mechanical toy banks made by the J&E Stevens Company, owned by the Frisbee family.)

As Diane says on the back of the book, “Russell Abner Frisbie would create and manufacture gasoline motors, Frisbie marine engines, and take part in the birth of the automobile industry with the creation of his Frisbie ‘Red Devil’ car.”

I did find a small photo of the Frisbie that my father owned. The photo is only about 3”x5” and there is a date of 1949 on the back (meaning it was in the Melton Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut).  I looked at the sign in front of the car with a magnifying glass, and here is what it says:

1901 Frisbie
1 cylinder water cooled planetary transmission
Built in Cromwell, Conn. and presented to the Melton Museum by its builder R.A. Frisbee

Thursday, July 6, 2017

More on The Revelers

My email conversation with Craig Phillips continues. He’s the fellow, you may remember, who was a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The focus of his dissertation is The Revelers, the male quartet my father sang with in the 1920’s.  (See my July 19th, 2015 post.) The actual title of his dissertation is: The Vocal Arrangements of Ed Smalle and Frank J. Black: Seven Performance Editions of Songs for Male Quartet Made Popular By The Revelers.

Craig has just received his doctorate this Spring.  Congratulations, Dr. Phillips! He also writes, “I'm happy to report that this Fall I am joining the music faculty of the University of Oregon as assistant professor of voice and vocal pedagogy. It's a big move for my family (swapping coasts!) but a great gig.”

In the two years since he first contacted me, Craig has been able to locate a number of other Revelers’ descendants, and has found marvelous materials that he has generously shared with me.

Here is a rare gem, a live performance photo of The Revelers (circa 1930) performing in NBC Studio H, showing their orientation to the microphone, where the piano was situated, the audience in front and the orchestra all around. And of course they're all wearing tuxedos!

This photo is from the collection of Craig Arnold, who is the grandson of Lewis James, one of the Revelers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Helen Keller

Today is Helen Keller's birthday. Born in 1880, she would be 137 years old.

I am lucky enough to have known Helen when I was a small child, and to have at least one lovely memory of her.

The Meltons lived on a 40-acre hilltop gentleman's farm in Weston, Connecticut for the first eight years of my life.  We had an apple orchard, grape arbor, and a variety of fruit trees and bushes -- blueberries amongst them--as well as a large vegetable garden.  We considered Helen Keller and her companion, Polly Thompson, our neighbors, although their home in Easton was about 15 miles from ours in Weston.  Helen and Polly came annually  in mid-summer for a day of blueberry picking.
Helen's magnetism radiated so that even our dignified German shepherd, Caesar, usually slow to make friends, sat at her feet accepting loving pats.  It had somehow been explained to me,  age three, that Helen would "see" me through her hands -- not to be afraid, but just to stand still and quiet while Helen touched my face, my hands, my hair.  I remember standing there awed while this large shadow in slacks with a huge sun hat bent down to meet me.  Afterwards she said through Polly: "Beautiful!  Slender, pretty, lovely hair."
Then she and Polly and our dog would go off for the berries, while my mother prepared a lunch of freshly picked corn on the cob and hamburgers cooked to order on the outdoor stone grill.  Someone would ring the big old Navy bell on the back porch  to call everyone to chow.  Afterwards, Helen loved to wander through the vegetable garden, gently touching the sun-warmed tomatoes, bell peppers, squash.  They resumed their berry picking in the afternoon.
My logical mind now wonders:  How did she know which ones were ripe?Was her touch so delicate that only the ripes ones fell into the bucket on a string around her neck?  Or did she simply pick everything for someone else to sort out later?  Or didn't it matter?  Was it the sun and activity and a meal with friends that were the only important thing?

Monday, June 26, 2017


Many, many apologies for not posting here for such a long time. It's not for lack of subject matter. In fact, some very interesting things have happened in the last six months, with regard to both my father's musical career and his antique car hobby. Believe it or not, even all these years after his death (fifty-six years to be exact), people still remember. Stay tuned. More to come, I promise!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Merry Christmas!

I received a wonderful Christmas card from my friend Conway Stone (who helped me over the years with much research for my book). It features the front of my father's 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost.

I share it—and the wishes it brings—with all of you.  Cheers!  Margo

Thursday, September 15, 2016

2016 Glidden Tour

What a fun day I had yesterday!  Barbara Fox, Tour Director of the 71st Revival Glidden Tour invited me to attend their luncheon at the Mount Washington Omni Hotel in Bretton Woods, NH. I had a grand time meeting new friends (several of whom own cars of my father’s) and reconnecting with old friends. I shared a lunch table with Pat Swigart, whose late husband started the Swigart Antique Auto Museum in Huntingdon, PA.

As you may recall, in 1946 my father my father instigated and personally arranged a post-war revival of the Glidden Tour, a prestigious endurance test for autos in the early part of the century. Members of the Veteran Motor Car Club of America turned back the pages of history when they gathered on the morning of August 17, 1946, at 9 a.m. at Fifth Avenue and 59th Street, in front of the Plaza Hotel, to begin the revived tour’s first leg, the 151-mile journey to Albany. Cars had to be older than 1919 vintage. The original tours, funded by financier Charles Jasper Glidden, an ardent early advocate of automobiles as viable transportation, were primarily “reliability tours” to show that cars could complete arduous journeys with relatively little strife. They were held annually from 1905 to 1915 and were the most grueling tests for automobiles until the Indianapolis 500 Race was introduced in 1911. “We brought the Glidden Tour back again,” said my father, “not to test the performance of our cars, but more or less as an excuse to polish ’em up and take them out of the garage.”

Nineteen forty-six happened to be the Golden Jubilee of the automobile industry and the tour was partly to celebrate this milestone. So as not to be embarrassed by cries of “Get a horse!” tour officials arranged for two service vehicles to accompany the group on its 1,200-mile run. One of the major events that made the tour possible was a post-war agreement by Firestone Tire & Rubber Company to resurrect their old tire molds; that agreement, instigated by my father, literally put antique autos back on the road. He also negotiated with Firestone, Texaco, Ford, General Motors, Thompson Motor Products, and International Harvester for assistance to tour participants in return for suitable publicity opportunities. He’d done radio shows for several of those companies—Texaco Star Theater, The Voice of Firestone, and Harvest of Stars—and some years later would host Ford Motor Company’s Ford Festival on TV. His singing career and his car-collecting hobby were never far apart.