Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Mighty Music Box

I recently learned of the death of Tom Delong  at age 75, on July 12th.  He wrote numerous books on old time radio (The Mighty Music Box), singers (Frank Munn) and  reference works (Radio Stars: An Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of 953 Performers, 1920 Through 1960).  When he was in the midst of writing Music Box, he interviewed my mother for details about my father’s career.  Later, after her death, he invited me to attend a celebration of the book’s publication in 1980 at the Pequot Library in Southport, Connecticut.  I loaned the library a portrait of my father for the occasion.  At the event, I also met some of my father’s radio colleagues—Maria Gambarelli (who performed with Roxy’s Gang), baritone Douglas Stanbury, and Arthur Tracy (also known as The Street Singer on radio).  All of this was long before I got the idea to write a book about my father, so I was less interested in these early radio legends than I should have been!  Nevertheless, Tom’s book The Mighty Music Box is well worth reading for anyone interested in old time radio, and I am sorry to hear of his passing.


Monday, July 19, 2010

More on "Half" and the boat...

My father had several boats (in succession, not all at once!) beginning with “Melody” in 1933, and ending with “Serenata.”

She's the only one I remember, since we had her in the 1950s. A 54-foot Annapolis, she was a great bargain, according to my father. The previous owner's steward, coming aboard one night when the boat was unoccupied, thought he smelled gas. He lit a match. He was right. It was gas. The entire bow was blown out. My father customized this “bargain” to the tune of $90,000. He put radio speakers in every cabin, there was a television and phonograph in the lounge, plus all the latest electronic equipment, ship-to-shore telephone, radar. On the afterdeck, we carried a 15-foot inboard mahogany-decked dinghy named “Irregardless.” (“Irregardless of what you've heard, I can build you an inboard that small,” he was told by the boat builder who finally undertook this challenging task.) There was also an automobile on the afterdeck: a custom-built, half-sized antique curved dash Oldsmobile weighing 400 lbs., whose license plate read “HALF,” in answer to the inevitable question. It could be swung over the side on davits, so that the family could putt-putt around various ports of call. The boat was moored at millionaire sportsman Briggs Cunningham’s private dock near the Pequot Yacht Club in Southport, Connecticut. During the winter, “Serenata” would be docked in Palm Beach. Summers we'd cruise Long Island Sound and up the East Coast shoreline to Nantucket, Martha's Vineyard and Maine. Our captain kept the boat stocked and ready to go, so there was never a delay in departing. My little Boston Terrier usually went along too; Captain Huggins having assured me that he was “a seagoin’ dog” and wouldn’t fall overboard. It was a heavenly getaway for all concerned.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Curved-dash Olds

This is a curious bit of ephemera from 1952 sent to me by a car-collecting colleague of my father’s some years ago.

While Daddy and I are featured on the cover of Auto Sport Review, there’s nothing about him, the car, or his collection inside the magazine, with the exception of a description of the cover shot. In fact, the entire magazine is about racing and sped records—hardly what our little Curved-Dash Olds was noted for.

Here’s what the cover explanation says: “James Melton and his six-year-old daughter, Margo, pictured in a half-size model of a Curved-dash Oldsmobile built by Dick Francis of Philadelphia, who is shown with them. The car was designed by Mr. Melton and Mr. Francis and built by Mr. Francis in his bicycle shop. It has a power unit Cushman motor—two speeds forward, one reverse, transmission with automatic clutch. Body built dos-a-dos with top-grain red leather—leather fenders—speed 35 miles per hour with two adults and two children. Weight 400 lbs. Mr. Melton had the car built to car on the lounge deck of his cruiser ‘Serenata.’”

Next blog, I’ll post a photo of the car on the deck of our yacht.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

1933 Chrysler Imperial

Back in May, I got a phone call from Dave Lachance, associate editor at Hemmings Classic Car magazine, asking about my father's 1933 Chrysler Imperial, now owned by Dale Fowler of Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I was able to supply a photo of the car in front of the James Melton Autorama in Florida, circa 1953, and some information from my father's book Bright Wheels Rolling.

That was the car my father drove when we were in Palm Beach for extended periods of time while he was getting the museum up and running. I think it was one of his favorite classic (as opposed to brass-era) cars. From it's gazelle hood ornament to its curved trunk, the car was eighteen feet long. That's only slightly shorter than the 1951 20-foot Daimler Green Goddess. (See my January 14th post for a photo of the Daimler.)

Dave's story on the car is in the August issue of Classic Car.