Thursday, January 28, 2010

James Melton, Marjorie Melton & Shirley Temple
in 1910 Locomobile
Hollywood 1944

I am constantly amazed at where and when bits of Melton material turn up. I was perusing the biography shelf at the library when Shirley Temple Black's autobiography Child Star (published in 1988) caught my eye.  Checking the index, I found reference to James Melton on page 359.  In it, Shirley describes a "flirtation" she had with my father (more than twice her age) in 1944, when he was in Hollywood filming a segment for "Ziegfeld Follies," MGM's 20th anniversary extravaganza. She writes: "My first clue to his presence came one morning while brushing my teeth. Suddenly a love song came belting across from his open window.  Looking across from my basin I saw both his arms extended in a romantic finale."

The Meltons were renting Zasu Pitts' house. The Temple family lived next door, and Shirley went for rides in my father's old cars.  (My father couldn't bear to be separated from his cars for even a month or two, so he shipped half a dozen cars to California, including his modern Mercedes and my mother's new Cadillac.)  As it happens, I have a publicity photo of my parents and Shirley Temple riding in his 1910 Locomobile.  Anyone know how I can contact former Ambassador Shirley Temple Black?

(I'll say more about "Ziegfeld Follies in a later post.)

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Legendary Irish Tenors

Various Artists

2-CD Set  on for $5.00!

"Macushla" and "She Moved Through the Fair" sung by James Melton

It's interesting to me that whoever produced this CD set used my father's recording of "Macushla" rather than that of John McCormack, who made the song famous. Here's an amusing story from my files. There's a clipping from an unidentified  newspaper dated August 1, 1931: "Melton vs McCormack:  Most listeners didn't know it, but there was quite a battle on the air recently.  The contestants, one in New York and the other in the Hollywood Bowl, were James Melton, top tenor of The Revelers, and John McCormack...we mean the John McCormack.  It was bloodless but interesting.  Melton knew he had to precede McCormack on the air by an hour.  He knew, too, that his program would attract an audience almost as large as McCormack's.  Melton went on the air and stepped out of the quartet to do a solo.  He selected the song McCormack made famous, "Macushla," and did a beautiful job.  When the great Irish singer's broadcast came along later, "Macushla" was conspicuous by its absence from his program.  Plenty of talk about the Melton stunt for several days after and a lot of the radio folks quite frank in picking Melton as the better tenor."

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Green Goddess

in New York City around 1951

In the Spring of 2007, I was contacted by John Sweeney, then director of the Larz Anderson Automotive Museum in Brookline, Massachusetts, about my father's 1950 "Green Goddess" Daimler.  John owned one too, and wondered what I could tell him about the Daimler in my father's collection. I don't have any details about how or when my father acquired one, but a little research revealed that this outrageously oversized vehicle (it was 20 feet long) got 6-8 miles to the gallon, and cost $25,000 new.

As for John's car, an on-line update reveals that it was sold at a Bonham's auction in California last August for $249,000, following his untimely death in February 2009 at age sixty-four.

In the winter of 1951, Henry Ford II admired the James Melton Green Goddess when it was parked on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach, chatted with my father, and ended up taking a cruise on our yacht. He and my father made a handshake deal for a television variety show to be sponsored by the Ford Motor Company and hosted by James Melton. The show (Ford Festival) debuted in April 1951 and went off the air in July 1952.  So that car was instrumental in launching my father's TV career.

Friday, January 8, 2010

In 1951, James Melton's cars appeared in a children's book A Song for Arabella, by Marguerite Leslie (illustrations by Lumen Martin Winter).  The book was inspired by an 1899 Locomobile at the Melton Museum.  Although the car, named Arabella, is imaginary, there was a an actual steam car that performed the feats described in the book-climbing a steep chute at county fairs, and ascending the Capitol steps in Lansing, Michigan.

In August of 1901, Charles Yont and W.B. Felker completed the first automobile trip to the summit of Pikes Peak in Colorado in an 1899 Locomobile. Climbing 14,110 feet was quite a feat for this little car.

Marguerite Leslie was the nom de plume of Marguerite Kilmarx. She and her husband, Leslie, were friends of my parents in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Lumen Martin Winter (1908-1982) was a well known muralist. (One of his murals "Titans" is at United Nations Headquarters in NYC.) He also designed the medallion for the Apollo 13 space flight.

You can find a used copy of A Song for Arabella on for anywhere from $1.00 to $25.00.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

A Most Unusual Vehicle

We often accompanied my father to  antique auto events. In 1950, my father was given a car he dubbed the Packard-Pierce by a Mrs. John D. Gordon of Norwalk, Connecticut. It was a 1917 Pierce-Arrow limousine body on a 1937 Packard chassis (with only 3,000 miles on it)—and to me it seemed half a block long. The tonneau (that's a fancy name for the rear seating compartment of an automobile—and believe me this car deserved fancy names for its parts) had crewelwork upholstery, cut glass flower vases, and gold-plated hardware. The body was painted deep maroon with black fenders and had wide white-wall tires custom made by Firestone. My father gave the car to my mother, with the license plate MRSM. It carried my mother and me quite comfortably on long old car jaunts, while Daddy took the wind in his face in a sportier model. In those pre-seatbelt days, I could play happily with my dolls on the floor of the passenger compartment in the back as we traveled. I could communicate with the chauffeur (my mother), separated from me by a sliding glass panel, through the speaking tube. There was even room on the roof rack for one of my child-size electric cars.

By the way, yesterday, January 2nd, was my father's 106th birthday!!