Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving!

My parents harvesting pears from our Weston, Connecticut orchard

My father loved to cook—I think not so much for relaxation as to impress guests with his culinary prowess in an era when few men entered the kitchen. He also liked to take over when Southern cooking was required, making spoon bread or grits or Southern fried chicken. Our Thanksgiving turkey always had two kinds of stuffing—traditional bread stuffing in the front of the bird, and cornbread stuffing in the rear. There was always a friendly battle over which guests would prefer which stuffing, with most guests diplomatically opting for some of each.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Wartime Transportation

The Met’s opening night for the 1942–43 season was November 24. James Melton, newly signed to the opera company, but having yet to make his debut, drove down Broadway to 39th Street with IBM founder Thomas J. Watson Sr. and his wife in a 1922 Detroit Electric he had reconditioned for use during gas rationing. 

In February of 1942, as the last civilian car rolled off the Ford assembly line, my father had 76 cars and one “A” ration book (limiting his weekly fuel purchases). The ancient buggies all ran, but he certainly couldn’t drive them during the war, except the steam cars and the electrics. The electrics became so popular in Fairfield County that my father supplied a number of friends with cars from his collection "for the duration."

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Great Brass Era Cars

A couple of weeks ago I went to a really delightful luncheon at the Woodstock, Vermont home of Curt and Pat Blake.  Curt was one of my father's car-collecting buddies, and has remained a friend of mine to this day.  The luncheon was a gathering of the FARTs -- Friends of Ancient Road Transportation--and there were about twenty-five gorgeous brass era cars in attendance.  During lunch Curt regaled the attendees with stories of car collecting, including the fact that it was my father who, after WWII, got Firestone to resurrect their old tire molds, and quite literally helped put these ancient buggies back on the road. I also had a chance to meet Richie Clyne, who currently owns my father's 1917 Winton House Car. (See my blog from November 5, 2009.) The housecar resides in Las Vegas. What a fun day!

Friday, August 24, 2012

Restocked Melton CD

Berkshire Record Outlet has just restocked the Preiser CD Lebendige Vergangenheit (Legendary Voices) James Melton. If you like opera, you'll love this recording. And it's only $5.99 through Berkshire.  It's got arias from Don Giovanni, Magic Flute, Lohengrin, Meistersinger, Manon, Carmen, Martha, Tosca, Butterfly (w.Licia Albanese) among others. 

Berkshire also offers CDs of Melton in Madama Butterfly (with Albanese) and Mignon (with Rise Stevens).

Go to http://www.berkshirerecordoutlet.com/search.php?row=0&brocode=&stocknum=&submit=Find+Item&text=james+melton&filter=all

By the way, I get no financial remuneration from any of these recordings. My vested interest is only in seeing my father's voice circulating as widely as possible!

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Student Prince

James Melton and co-star Barbara Meister

In the summer of 1960, mostly because he needed the money, my father signed to do a traveling summer stock production of Sigmund Romberg’s The Student Prince. He sang seven shows a week for seven weeks. A killing pace when he was in his late fifties and in poor health.  He was cast as Dr. Engel, the tutor of the student prince, but the role was expanded to have him sing several duets and trios (with the prince and his lady love) so as to take advantage of his celebrity.

Recently I was contacted by Chic Silber, who was a stagehand on those shows in 1960!

Here’s what he wrote:

The summer of 1960 when I worked for Guber Ford & Gross for their chain of tented theaters was just prior to my starting an apprenticeship in the stagehands union (IATSE)

During rehearsals for The Student Prince I met your father and instantly became in awe of him and his presence. For some reason he encouraged an acquaintanceship. During a discussion of his bringing the Winton "General" [ Ed. note:1917 Winton housecar, see my blog post of 11/1/09] on the tour of the show for publicity. Somehow it became clear that I was both eager & capable of driving it. He entrusted me to drive it
from tent to tent during the run of the show.

Chic, by the way, went on to fame and fortune as a theater engineer, creating special effects and props for circuses here and abroad, and Broadway productions (like Wicked and Dracula and Amadeus).  I'm delighted to have made his acquaintance fifty-two years later!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Glidden Tour 1952

I am constantly amazed at the Melton Memorabilia that continues to turn up. This photo of my father in his 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost was found on Cherryland Auctions, primarily a postcard dealer. Many thanks to my friend Conway Stone for spotting it.

The photo credit on the reverse indicates it was taken in Washington, D.C. That would coincide with the passengers in the car.  That's me in the passenger seat, with the Confederate army cap my father insisted I wear when we were anywhere near the Mason-Dixon Line.  In the back seat, behind Daddy is his sister Virginia Cain; next to her (mostly hidden) is my companion Agnes Pazdan; then Virginia's daughter and my sometime playmate, Kathy; and finally, my mother.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

James Melton on Vermont Public Radio

This Saturday (July 7th), on "A Passion for Opera," Peter Fox Smith's hour-long program on Vermont Public Radio Classical, he will be doing a program on opera singers of the past.  He will be including two selections sung by James Melton. The program is from 12 noon to 1:00 pm, and you can listen to it live on the radio, or on-line at http://www.vpr.net/music/classical/

In the fall, Peter and I will be doing a program on James Melton.  Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Melton and Berle

Although it's nowhere near my November birthday, I'm posting this photo of Milton Berle and his daughter Vicki, and my father and me, at the celebration of my sixth birthday backstage at Daddy's TV show "Ford Festival."  Both those Steiff animals we're riding were mine -- and I only sold the horse that Vickie is riding a couple of years ago; it was considered an "antique." Yikes!

Monday, June 4, 2012

A "Kiddie" Car Returns

I'm not sure of the story behind the photo of my father with this toy car.  But I was thrilled some months ago when the actual toy was returned to me by Carol Moore, who was my kindergarten teacher in Weston, Connecticut!  

By the way, I just checked e-bay and an incomplete car without the box is selling for $50!

Friday, April 27, 2012

The Revelers

As I am about to head off on a brief European vacation (Paris for a week), I thought it appropriate to post a photo I found of my father with The Revelers on their European tour in 1928.

The Revelers were born in 1925 from an older group called the Shannon Quartet, so named because Irish songs were very popular 1918 when they first came together to make recordings for the Victor Company. Until 1925, they were only heard in recordings and on the radio, but in the summer of that year they started making concert tours, including one to Great Britain where they sang for the Prince of Wales and Princess Mary. The original group consisted of Lewis James and Charles Hart (tenors), Elliott Shaw (baritone) and Wilfred Glenn (bass). In 1925, Charles Hart left the group, and was replaced by Franklyn Bauer. In due time he too left to pursue a solo career, and the quartet went in search of another tenor. In 1927, Dr. Frank Black became their accompanist and arranger. And they hired James Melton as first tenor.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Easter 1948

The Easter when I was about 3 years old we were in Los Angeles, staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is where this photo was taken. (It may be one of the few times when my father was the photographer, rather than having a professional on site. It's also a print made from a 60+ year old color slide, which may add to the blurriness.)

In the Easter Egg Hunt sponsored by the hotel, my egg-hunting partner was Candice Bergen (yes, that Candice Bergen, a.k.a. "Murphy Brown.") She's about six months younger than I. Wish I had a photo of the two of us kids. My father and Edgar Bergen were colleagues and friends; Edgar appeared on my father's TV show "Ford Festival" in 1951.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The oldest car in the Melton Collection

The oldest car in the Melton collection was 1893 custom steam stagecoach, which looked rather like a horse-drawn carriage with engines added front and rear.

This photograph of my parents is actually from the December 7, 1942 issue of Opera News. That was the date of my father's debut at the Metropolitan Opera as Tamino in "The Magic Flute," conducted by the legendary Bruno Walter, and starring Ezio Pinza and Jarmila Novotna.

The other illustration is from an undated newspaper clipping.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Piano Lessons

Marjorie, Margo and James Melton in Greenwich, c. 1955

When I was growing up, there was not the intensity of planned lessons and activities for children that there is today, and I was left to amuse myself much of the time. But I was rarely left alone, as my father had an almost paranoid fear of my imminent dismemberment or death. (There was always a governess or companion in my life until I was about eight years old.) As a result, I never learned French or how to play the piano, nor did I become an accomplished tennis player, sailor or equestrienne...though I dabbled in all of the above on my own terms. My father bought me a half-size violin, which I never played. He gently pushed me to take piano lessons. But living with a father who played by ear, I was not content to start from ground zero with scales, for heavens sake, and gave up very early in frustration. The photo above is wishful thinking, shall we say.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hollywood Walk of Fame

Did you know that there are two stars on Hollywood's Walk of Fame for James Melton? One for radio (at 6300 Hollywood Blvd.) and one for recording (at 6564 Hollywood Blvd.)

If any of you get to LA in the near future, and could send me a photo, I'd really appreciate it!

Monday, February 13, 2012

Melton as ad pitchman

During the 1950s my father appeared in a number of print advertisements. Whether this was an attempt to bolster the family exchequer during a time of dwindling musical engagements, or an effort to keep his name and face in front of the public, I'll never know. Probably some of both. Some ad endorsements made sense, like those for Gulf Oil or Purolator Oil Filters and other car related products. But some of them were for Mayflower Movers or Murine. My mother even got into the act in an ad for FTD. I've known about these ads, and collected them largely via e-bay, over the years.

But my friend in Maine, Conway Stone, found an ad from 1935, in Popular Science magazine, which has my father endorsing Carborundum Sharpening Stones which aid in keeping his tools sharp for making the model of his boat Melody. I knew he had a scale model of the yacht, but I certainly didn't think he constructed it himself! The Melody model (whoever made it) traveled with the Meltons to California in 1936 when my father was called back to Hollywood by Warner Brothers to make "Sing Me a Love Song" and "Melody for Two."

Marjorie & James Melton with "Melody" model

Thursday, February 2, 2012

James Melton & Jack Benny

While doing research for the biographical memoir of my father, I was drawn to Joan Benny’s biography of her father, Sunday Nights at Seven. The book I was writing was based largely upon an unpublished manuscript by my mother—just as Joan’s book used an unpublished manuscript of her father’s. I was intrigued by how she intertwined her own memories with those of her parents. Plus, there was the fact that my father had been on Jack’s radio show a number of times in the mid 1930s; he and Jack shared an affinity for antique cars; and the Meltons and the Bennys each had adopted a baby girl. I felt a special bond with Joan.

On a very personal level, Joan’s recollections of growing up were remarkably close to mine in many ways. The Meltons and the Bennys both impressed upon their only daughters how lucky we were to be adopted, because we were “chosen”—that made us special.

We shared the enigma of our parents’ relationship to each other, especially the separate bedrooms. This was always explained to me as a result of my father’s erratic schedule, often necessitating the need to sleep until noon, while my mother had to be up early to get me off to school.

As children, Joan and I both liked our milk served warm rather than ice cold. Joan says in the book it’s because in the 1930s it was believed that cold milk was bad for children. Whatever the reason, I too grew up liking warm milk.

Although Joan appeared on her father’s television show, the closest I ever got to show biz was an occasional appearance on the concert stage when my father needed a little girl to whom he could sing “Surrey With the Fringe on Top” from Oklahoma. (See my 9/5/09 blog post)

Jack sized up TV as a “man-eating monster” which gave performers too much close-up exposure and lead to audience disinterest quicker than radio. How true! My father’s TV show, “Ford Festival,” lasted only two years, while his radio career lasted for twenty.

Here’s a bit of Benny-related trivia. In the mid-1930s my father made three rather forgettable movies for Warner Brothers. In “Melody for Two” my father plays a band leader who has career ups and downs due to professional and personal jealousies. Predictably, it all comes out right in the end, he gets the girl and the conniving music arranger gets his comuppance There's a brief appearance by a black janitor who supplies the success-producing hot swing arrangements—the latest thing from the Harlem clubs. It sure looks and sounds like Eddie Anderson, Jack Benny's gravel-voiced sidekick "Rochester," but he's not named in the credits. (See my 5/13/10 blog post)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

More about the Autorama

As a result of the historical piece about the Autorama that appeared in the Palm Beach Post back in October, I was contacted by Jim Inglis who sent me the attached photo. Here's what he wrote about it:

"The history of the signs, as I understand, is that your Dad commissioned them in 1952. He had someone (or a team of someones!) research every different make of American automobile manufactured up to that time (pre internet!!!) and had the names painted on these 2 signs at a cost of $3,000 1952 dollars!!! - probably close to the cost of a new Cadillac at the time. When the museum closed, a local car collector purchased them, and when he passed away in the '70's, the signs went to his son. The son had an auction about 7 or 8 years ago, which is when I acquired them."

I personally don't remember the signs (nor are there Autorama photos of them), but it is just exactly the sort of thing my father would have done. He was so very proud of the American automobile industry — although he collected French, German, British models as well. I'd love to know if anyone out there has any more information on these boards.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Another word about the mural...

from the Autorama brochure extolling the mural and its artist

Just a bit more about the Autorama and the America the Beautiful mural:

While on concert tour, my father had discovered the artist, Bernard Thomas, in Montana and commissioned him to paint a cycloramic three dimensional mural, to be housed in its own circular room, depicting the history of the United States. Recorded narration was provided by Daddy’s good friend, radio commentator and explorer Lowell Thomas, and musical accompaniment was supplied, of course, by James Melton. As the brochure enthused, “Picture yourself in the soft-lighted Mural Room...America the Beautiful being sung by the nation’s favorite tenor...America’s most renowned commentator is telling the story of America the Beautiful, unfolding scene after scene, until song and story have completely swept you through 300 years of our nation’s history.”

My father invested not just his money but his heart in the Autorama. He welcomed people to it as if it were his home. While researching the book about my father, I received a letter from George Roberts of Middletown, New York, which tells such a story: “As my family and I were walking around the museum, we came upon Mr. Melton's office. The door was open. We waited until he got off the phone. He was very cordial. I said how enjoyed his singing. He was surprised that someone so young knew of his music. I started to sing one of the songs from a record I had, and he sang along with me. Then he arranged for us to be taken for a ride around the grounds in an old Dodge touring car. After our ride, he recommended a friend’s restaurant to us for dinner. We went there and were given a warm welcome and great service at the mention of James Melton’s name. We were so impressed with the warmth your father showed us that day that after forty years I can still remember him with fond memories.”

Saturday, January 7, 2012

America the Beautiful Mural

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Civil War section of the mural

The article(s) in the Palm Beach Post on the Autorama have led me to some information about Bernard Thomas, who painted the America the Beautiful mural there.

As you know, the Autorama closed in October 1961. Someone bought the 153-foot mural to decorate a bar, but when they were unable to obtain a liquor license, the mural vanished. It was found in 1979 behind a real estate office in Boynton Beach, Florida. Gene Moore, the attorney who discovered it, contacted Bernard Thomas, then living in Boynton Beach, and asked him to restore it. Thomas restored it over the following six months. He and the Boynton Beach Rotary Club donated the mural to the Boynton Beach Womens Club, to be housed in their Addison Mizner-designed clubhouse.

Thomas, born in Sheridan, Wyoming in 1918, became a camouflage technician at the outbreak of WWII. Later he served in the US Army in Europe. At the recommendation of General George S. Patton, Thomas studied at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Upon his return to the USA, he became known for his Western art and documentary murals. Thomas died in 1992.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy Birthday!

Today, January 2nd, would be my father's 108th birthday.

Here's a photo of Daddy and me in about 1950. I think it was taken on the grounds of The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Florida where we often stayed.