Wednesday, September 23, 2009


I’ve been reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success.  He posits that extraordinary people don’t just  “rise from nothing.’  Rather, they “owe something to parentage and patronage,” to where and when they were born, and to an innate ability to take advantage of opportunities.  Timing is a big factor.  Radio was in its infancy in the late 1920s when my father embarked on a singing career. Hollywood in the early 1930s was looking for known talent at the advent of “talkies.” And in the 1950s radio stars were making the transition to the new medium of television. He was able to take advantage of all three media. And conquer them.

 I’ve always liked to say that my father didn’t just have “lucky breaks”—he created them. He was a terrific networker before the term became a business buzzword in the 1980s.  He was gregarious and loved the attention and adulation of his fans. He rarely left a city where he had sung without staunch new friends.  He was a good correspondent with these new acquaintances—dropping them notes about cars or mailing items of interest.  (He couldn’t have done it without the help of his incredible secretary, Catherine Birmingham.) He truly enjoyed the connections, but these thoughtful gestures often paid off, too, in terms of cars or automobiliana for his collection, or special hospitality in far-flung concert venues. His Rolodex was bursting with contacts from every state in the union.

 In 1937, Dale Carnegie used James Melton as an example in one of his columns on “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  When my father tried to break into New York show business in 1927, he decided get a job with Roxy Rothafel, the King of Broadway.  The Roxy Theater not only put on elaborate stage shows and motion pictures, it was also the home of a weekly radio show.  When, after numerous tries, my father couldn’t get an audition with Roxy, he sang right there in the reception area.  As Roxy said, “You’ve got a million dollar voice and two million dollars worth of nerve.”

Dale Carnegie’s column put forth three principles for success:  Find the person who can help you; don’t get discouraged; and do something to get noticed.  That’s exactly what James Melton did, with Roxy Rothafel—and others— and it paid off!

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