Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Baby Margo Enters the Picture

According to English essayist Charles Lamb (1817-1834), everyone has two birthdays:  the day on which they were born and New Year's Day. Well, if this is true, then I have three birthdays.  November 17th, the day on which I was born, New Year's Day, and February 27, the day on which I was adopted by Marjorie and James Melton from The Cradle in Illinois.  In my book, that is certainly a day to be celebrated!

After seventeen years of marriage (my mother was 36 and my father 42), they embarked on the adoption process.  Considered by many agencies to be too old to adopt a child, they found a sympathetic reception at The Cradle in Evanston, Illinois.  Other celebrities had "Cradle Babies," among them most notably Bob Hope, Pat O'Brien and George Burns.  I wonder if my parents' friendship with the O'Briens (during my father's short movie career) had anything to do with my advent.  The process, once initiated, took almost a year.  But then, suddenly on February 16, 1946, they got the call to come to Chicago.   My father was on a concert tour, my mother on vacation with her mother at Hot Springs, Virginia.

Here's what my mother wrote in her journal:

"We couldn't meet - Jimmie and I - until February 27th.  Ten days - of dreaming, hoping, wondering what she was like.  Ten days of labor pains! As real as real ones, for I thought of nothing else, and was so tense as to be almost ill.  Jimmie and I talked daily by phone, conjecturing, naming her, planning.  I thought of that little life beginning and the momentous decision that would decide her future.  Was she ours or wasn't she?  I needed her so much that I knew she had to be."

They hadn't told anyone, not even family, that the adoption was imminent.  Imagine the relatives' surprise when my father sang a lullaby on his radio program a few days later, and then announced that it was for his new baby daughter named Marjorie Linda, to be called Margo.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Thanks to one of my faithful friends, I discovered a 1933 movie my father made with Bert Lahr.  The strangest thing is that nowhere in my voluminous press clippings going back to the early 1920s, do I find any mention of "Hizzoner."  I'd always believed that "Stars Over Broadway"  (1935) was my father's first film until my friend Don Peak in Hollywood clued me in and sent me a videotape.  This 20-minute movie's plot is pretty silly, as befits Lahr.  It's the handsome young "singing mayor" for whom all the women swoon (and vote) versus the inept policeman (Lahr) whom the backroom pols pit against him. Let me say, a little bit of Bert goes a long way, but my father at age twenty-nine looks pretty good!

If you're really interested, there's a videotape available at for $16.98 (plus shipping).  It's part of a tape called "Talking Comedy Rarities Vol. 1."

Wish I had a photo from this movie!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The MM&J Railroad

Among the playthings in our Weston, Connecticut backyard was a miniature steam locomotive attached to half a dozen open flatcars with seats for ten children (or five adults), which traveled on a quarter-mile of track meandering through the apple orchard. My father got the idea from Walt Disney, who had a similar setup at his Hollywood home. Both ours and his were large enough for the engineer to ride just behind the engine (on the tender) while taking passengers around the track.

Walt Disney's comfortable but not ostentatious house in the Holmby Hills district of Los Angeles, had a backyard steam train, 1/8 scale, the Carolwood-Pacific RR.  It stemmed from Disney's lifelong fascination with trains, which began when he was a teenager selling newspapers and candy on the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.  My father's fascination was with anything mechanical, trains included.