Thursday, December 24, 2009

Text Color
Merry Christmas to all!

(This photo was used for the Melton's Christmas cards c. 1940)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas at the Melton's

Margo, age 5 (1950)

Christmases in the Melton household were always extravagant affairs.  One holiday I remember hearing about occurred when I was four.   The 10-foot Christmas tree in the bay window of the music room was decorated within an inch of its life and had an uncountable number of gorgeously wrapped gifts under it—for all of us—from friends, family, fans and colleagues.  Always there were half a dozen or so packages from the Sisters-of-this or the Convent-of-that—places where my father had done free concerts over the years.  These packages usually contained some beautifully handmade item for me—a crocheted sweater, a toy, or doll dressed in hand-sewn clothes.  I was getting more and more tired and cranky as the day progressed, overwhelmed by the sheer number of gifts.  But when my mother suggested a nap, a little rest, I cried: "Oh, just one more nun-please!"  (P.S. I still have the dolls in the picture, but I recently sold the Steiff horse (partially hidden behind me) to an antiques dealer.  Hard to think of my toys as antiques!)

Monday, December 14, 2009

Operation Brass Lamp

I recently purchased a copy of the October 1953 edition of Connecticut Circle Magazine on e-bay. It contained a story about Operation Brass Lamp, and my father's connection with the Bridgeport Brass Company.

One day in 1953, while driving his 1907 Rolls Royce down New York's Riverside Drive, one of the beautiful brass headlamps came loose from its moorings, fell off and under the wheels—damaged beyond repair. My father called his friend, Herman Steinkraus, President of The Bridgeport Brass Company, who agreed to help. The expert craftsmen were able to recreate the unusual self-generating carbide headlamp. "Operation Brass Lamp" culminated with my father presenting a free concert for all 13,500 employees, friends and families of the company in the Fairfield University band shell on the evening of July 28,1953.

They presented him with a replica of the headlamp made of flowers, part of which came loose, hence his rather unusual headband in the photo. The distinguished gentleman on the left is Herman Steinkraus.

Monday, December 7, 2009

James and Marjorie Melton on "Ford Festival"

In 1951 and 1952 my father had a TV variety show sponsored by the Ford Motor Company. It was only moderately successful, partly because he tried to do too much—both producing the show and starring on it. He really tried to engender cohesion by treating the cast and crew as “family,” often taking them out for a post-show supper. Director Garry Simpson recalls that often twenty or thirty people would go with him to a nearby restaurant. "Give us the best in the house," my father would command, and at the end of the evening pick up a thousand dollar tab.

As obsessed as he was with the Ford Festival family, his real family remained a priority, and appropriately enough, he made my mother feel very important, on Thanksgiving Day, 1951. Here's how she described her television debut (which was also her swan song):

Ten days earlier, Jimmie said to me in dulcet tones, "I think it would be wonderful to have you on the show next week."

"Me? Doing what?"

"We have a production number around the song 'The Most Beautiful Girl in the World.' I sing, while six chorus girls parade alluringly around me. I ignore them."

"Not possible," I interpolated.

"Quiet! I ignore them because my girl is on stage. I go to you, finish the song, and then sing 'Margie.' We take a bow together.

"What do I do?"

"Smile. Look pretty," he purred.


"Think what it would mean to your mother."

"It would be a terrible shock."

"And your relatives. And our friends. It would be great. I really want you to appear with me."

"No. I don't photograph well."

"Honey, by the time our make-up experts finish with you, you'll look great. You won't recognize yourself."

He was right. I didn't. Those eyebrows, that mouth, the hair, mine? I wore a black chiffon dress. The director, Garry Simpson, told me to 'Sit here.' Here was on a stool centered in a big gold picture frame, behind a curtain. I felt like Whistler's Mother. When the beauties left the stage, the curtains opened and Jimmie came to me still singing"...the most beautiful girl in the world, darns my stockings..."

No doubt about it. It was me.

The orchestra segued into 'Margie.' Jimmie was nervous because he knew I was nervous, and he skipped two bars of the song. Thankfully, the orchestra caught up in the next measure. We finished in a close-up—I was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. We did some dialogue which went nicely, and I was identified to the millions as Mrs. James Melton, not Whistler's Mother. Proud and happy, I didn't take my nice face off until 4:00 AM. Next day I awaited the glowing telegrams from my mother, relatives and friends. None. Everyone I knew was out in the kitchen that night picking at cold Thanksgiving turkey.