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 The book I was writing was based largely upon an unpublished manuscript by my mother—just as Joan’s book used an unpublished manuscript of her father’s. I was intrigued by how she intertwined her own memories with those of her parents.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)