Saturday, September 6, 2014

A P.S. to the Seal Cove visit

The trip to Seal Cove also gave me a chance to reconnect with Tina Weeks, daughter of Richard C. Paine, Jr. whose collection forms the Seal Cove Auto Museum.  I consider her something of a “soul sister” on account of our car-collecting fathers. Here we are in front of the 1913 Peugeot which belonged to my father, and then hers (with ownership by Dr. Sam Scher in between Melton and Paine).

Monday, September 1, 2014

Seal Cove Auto Museum

A little over a week ago I did a talk about and reading from The Tenor of His Times at the Seal Cove Auto Museum on Mt. Desert Island, Maine.  I had the opportunity to reconnect with Roberto Rodriguez, former executive director of the museum, now its chief curator, who had invited me to speak, and meet the museum’s new executive director, Raney Bench.

You may recall that in September 2010 I did a talk at the museum. That was before my book was published. (See posts from 9/15/10 and 9/29/10.)

Because it’s such a long drive to Mt. Desert (although worth every hour! I love Maine!) I asked my friend, Heidi Hoskin to accompany me, and we took a few extra days to make stops along the route—at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art in Brunswick, the Coastal Maine Botanical Garden near Boothbay, and the Farnsworth Museum in Rockland.  We had a wonderful time on the whole trip, and were especially delighted with the welcoming hospitality at the Seal Cove Auto Museum.

This is Heidi and me in front of the 1913 Peugeot “Skiff” that was previously owned by my father.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Hershey 1958

I had a nice surprise last week -- a photo taken at the Hershey meet in 1958 – sent to me by Alan Ballard.

He writes: "The photo shows our fathers standing next to a 1910 Thomas Flyer Flyabout that once belonged to my father. (The picture was taken by Ken Stauffer, a long time friend and past president of AACA who died earlier this year.) The person in the middle is Tom Lester, who bought the car from my father and is showing it for the first time. I believe your father once owned a similar Thomas.

As someone who also was "born" into the antique car hobby, I remember your father not only for his love of antique cars, but for his musical talents. I still recall his referring to his antique car friends as "squirrels'!

Best regards,
Alan Ballard"

It’s always delightful to hear from folks who actually knew my father!  Thanks for the photo, Alan.  And on the subject of "squirrels," did you know my father had a license plate that read SQRL?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Summer of 1927

I've just finished a fascinating book:   One Summer – America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.

I always like Bryson's work, and the subject of this book seemed particularly intriguing to me. My father, helped by a loan from several Nashville businessmen, arrived in New York City to seek his fortune in the spring of 1927.  

On July 4, 1927 my father made his New York radio debut as a member of “Roxy's Gang.” Roxy was impresario, Samuel L. Rothafel. “Roxy’s Gang,” which was on the air from 1922 through 1931, was broadcast on the National Broadcasting Corporation’s Blue Network, Monday evenings at 7:30. My father joined Gang regulars Douglas Stanbury and Maria Gambarelli. (Over the years, such performers as orchestra leader Fred Waring, tenor Jan Peerce, baritone Leonard Warren, and radio personality Kate Smith were guests on the program.)

My not-yet famous father isn’t mentioned in Bryson’s book, but I was fascinated to know how many other amazing things occurred during that spring and summer of 1927—from Lindbergh’s flight, to Babe Ruth’s home run record, the execution of alleged anarchists Sacco & Vanzetti, Al Capone’s activities in Chicago, the dedication of Mount Rushmore, and on and on. A great read!  And for me, great background on what was happening at the moment my father embarked on his career.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

1893 Custom Built Steam Stage Coach

 This is from the souvenir booklet for the Melton Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut (1949)

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." 

This is the car as it looks today. (Thanks for sending this, Mike.)

Back on April 2, 2012 I posted something about the oldest car in my father's collection, a 1893 custom-built steam stage coach.  Recently I had an email from Mike in Nevada, who is the current owner of this unusual vehicle!  One just never knows where cars formerly in the James Melton collection will turn up—and I'm always delighted to hear from their current owners.

This one, according to Mike, he bought five years ago. It had gone from Winthrop Rockefeller (who bought most of my father's collection from the Autorama in 1961), to Bill Harrah, to Bill Anderson, and now to Mike. 

Unfortunately, none of the sales records or inventories from my father's collection survived--so I don't know when my father bought the car, from whom,  or for how much.

I don't personally recall the car, as it stayed pretty much on display in the museum. Although I'm sure it ran; all of the cars in the collection did!  But it was not one of the cars my father drove frequently to meets, etc., like he did the 1907 Rolls Royce Silver Ghost and the 1913 Mercer Raceabout.  Those I do remember riding in frequently (and have photos to prove it). 

I wish I knew more about this unusual vehicle.  

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Melton Museum in Norwalk, CT

I've purchased many unusual items of Melton memorabilia on e-bay over the years, and even connected with a couple of cousins I didn't know about (we were bidding against each other on some item, and I e-mailed to find out who they were).  But my latest foray to the auction site yielded a Melton Museum souvenir catalog of cars in the Norwalk, Connecticut collection that has a reserve price of $1,500!  And a "buy it now" price of $2,500. Whoa!  I'd love to know if the seller gets any bids.  I have half a dozen of these catalogs in my collection. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nice review of my book

Here's another nice "bolt from the blue."  

Back in 2004 I had some correspondence with Jim Pegolotti, author of a biography of Deems Taylor (1885-1966)—the American composer, music critic and promoter of classical music.  I had enjoyed his book (Deems Taylor: A Biography, published by Northeastern University Press in 2003), and wrote inquiring if there had been any connection or interaction between my father and Taylor.  There hadn't. But Jim was kind and encouraging about my project.

At any rate, last month I had a nice letter from Jim, saying he had read my book, and here is what he wrote about it:

"You have written a uniquely compelling biography, for while your ostensible purpose is a chronology of th life of your father, you have written a fascinating story of three people: you father, your mother and you. A biography written by someone who lived with the subject provides a stronger emotional reaction on the reader than one written by a 'stranger.' With the exceptional letters of your mother covering the early years, the your recollections coming firmly in your father's final years, nothing could come closer to giving the reader the sense of a singer who ultimately lost control of himself. I suppose he gave in to the power of fame. And yet what a wonderful voice."

Thank you Jim!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Old Friends

I had a nice note (and book order!) from one of my far-flung correspondents this past week—Dave Strong from Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Our parents were friends and car collecting buddies from way back. Dave remembers being allowed to 'chauffeur' my father around Minneapolis in the Strong's 1915 Pierce Arrow.

Here's a photo of Dave's dad and mine, having what looks like a pretty serious conversation, probably taken in the late 1940s.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Lebendige Vergangenheit restocked

Good news:  Berkshire Record Outlet has just restocked the Preiser CD — James Melton Lebendige Vergangenheit (Legendary Voices). It's the best price around, only $5.99 plus shipping. If you like opera, you'll love this CD.

Here's what's on it:

By the way, I don't derive any monetary benefit from the sale of these CDs, produced in Austria in 2008. I'm just delighted that they are out there for us all to enjoy.

Here is the link to Berkshire. It should take you directly to the James Melton CD:

Saturday, February 22, 2014

JM on TV's "American Pickers"

James and Marjorie Melton in 1903 Stanley Steamer

Oh my goodness, one never knows where Melton-related bits will turn up.  The other night, I was watching “American Pickers” on the History Channel. (In case you don’t know, it’s about two guys who, as the website says:  “…are on a mission to recycle America, even if it means diving into countless piles of grimy junk or getting chased off a gun-wielding homeowner’s land. Hitting back roads from coast to coast, the two men earn a living by restoring forgotten relics to their former glory, transforming one person’s trash into another’s treasure…”)

More often than not, the treasures they find have to do with automobiliana—from old gas station signs to vintage oil cans and car parts.

Last Wednesday night, in amongst the stuff of interest to pickers Mike and Frank was a Stanley Steamer pressure gauge (as I recall). There followed a very brief ‘history lesson’ about Stanley Steamers and the Stanley Brothers. By way of illustration of Stanley Steamer cars, there were two photographs shown:  One was of a Stanley in front of our instantly recognizable Weston, Connecticut garage. The other was of my parents waving from a 1903 Stanley Steamer!!! (The photo above.)  Each photo was on the screen for a just few seconds, but they jumped out at me instantly. Of course, the people were not identified, just the cars.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Shirley Temple Black 1928-2014

James Melton, Shirley Temple, 
(does anyone know who the lady in back left is?) 
and my mother, Marjorie

It is with sadness that we note the death of Shirley Temple Black earlier this week at the age of eighty-five.

She and my parents lived next door to one another briefly in 1944, while my father was in Hollywood filming segments for "Ziegfeld Follies.  

For more details on their association, and a slightly different photo of Shirley and my parents, go to my blog post from January 28, 2010.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Risë Stevens, James Melton, Nadine Connor

Risë Stevens, James Melton, Nadine Connor

Just when I think I've exhausted all the Melton memorabilia to be found on e-bay...something else turns up. In this case the photograph above. It's dated December 8, 1952.

Here's what it says on the reverse:  

Non-operatic Harmony in New York—Risë Stevens, James Melton and Nadine Connor, stars of the Metropolitan Opera, sang for fun at a gala 25th anniversary dinner for the Community Concerts at the Waldorf-Astoria. Misses Stevens and Connor will take part in a performance of "Carmen" which will be televised from the stage of the Metropolitan Opera to theaters Thursday.  

A precursor to the Met in HD that's been so popular the past few years?

Although my father left the Met in 1949, he did sing with Risë Stevens earlier in their careers. In the 1943-44 season’s performances of Mignon starred Ms. Stevens and were conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. Ms. Stevens was pregnant at the time, she told me many years later. At first, my father’s strength allowed him to carry her limp body on stage as he rescued her from the fire in Act II, but as Risë began to rise, the lift got lower and, eventually, she had to limp on stage with his arm around her.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Gustave Haenschen and James Melton

More from Dr. Jim Drake. (He is President Emeritus of Eastern Florida State College, formerly Brevard Community College, and the author of several singers' biographies.)

 Back in November he e-mailed me as to whether I had any memories, or had unearthed any information in my book research, about the friendship, both social and musical, between conductor and recording industry executive Gustave Haenschen.

Regrettably, I had few memories of Gus and his wife Roxie, except that I knew they were close friends of both my parents.  So Jim filled me in, and I thought his remarks would also be of interest to those who follow this blog.  With his permission, I reprint some of them here:

Born near St. Louis in 1890, Haenschen became the Director of Popular-Music Recordings in 1919, when the Brunswick Record Company was formed.  In 1929, Haenschen left Brunswick to become one of the founders of World Broadcasting Services, which supplied pre-recorded musical programming for the burgeoning radio industry.  Haenschen continued to be a major figure in radio broadcasting into the early 1950s, when he retired.  Years later, in the late 1960s, he came out of retirement to co-direct the Metropolitan Opera broadcasts as an executive of the G.H. Johnston Company, which produced the broadcasts under Texaco's sponsorship.

I was fortunate to spend considerable time with Gus Haenschen throughout the 1970s, when I was a young professor and administrator at Ithaca College, where Haenschen was a major donor and long-time member of the Board of Trustees.  I also had the pleasure of co-directing an oral-history project that Haenschen funded for recording and archiving interviews with early radio and recording artists.

I recall vividly our many conversations about the friendship between your father and Gus Haenschen--not only their musical association (the two first met in 1926, Haenschen recalled), but also the time they spent together working on a number of your father's antique cars.  Haenschen was a mechanical engineer (he had graduated from Washington University's College of Engineering) and was also a metallurgist and metal-fabricator.  In his shop on the acreage of his estate on Old Rock Lane in Norwalk, CT, he fabricated missing or damaged gears and other metal parts for several of your father's automobiles.

He also spoke of the intense rivalry between your father and tenor Frank Munn, who was a "regular" on "The Palmolive Hour" and many of the other radio shows that Haenschen co-owned or produced.  Although Munn's ultra-light lyric-tenor voice had none of the fullness of tone nor the throbbing intensity of your father's range, Munn and your father had a mutual friend in Gus Haenschen--and on one occasion, during a chance encounter between the two tenors outside a Manhattan restaurant, Haenschen literally had to step between Munn and your father to prevent an escalating verbal incident from turning into an outright fistfight.  But throughout the twists and turns of the Melton-Munn rivalry, Haenschen managed to remain friends with both men, and was especially elated when your father was offered a contract by the Metropolitan Opera Company.

On a related note, I had the privilege of writing the biographies of Rosa Ponselle (first for Doubleday in 1982, and later for Amadeus in 1997, her centenary year), Richard Tucker (for E.P. Dutton, 1984), and Lily Pons (Amadeus).   All were genuine admirers of your father (including Tucker, who rarely spoke about any other tenors), and Ponselle spoke very warmly of your father as a singer and as a man.

...and in a follow-up e-mail to me Jim wrote:

 Both Roxanne and Gus had wonderful things to say about your parents, and all of the good times that they had together.  As you may remember, Gus was an exquisite pianist (in addition to being a conductor, arranger, and songwriter), and when your parents would come to the Haenschens for dinner, Gus would make his way to the piano, encourage your father to sing, and would accompany him on the Steinway.  

Regarding the Munn-Melton rivalry, to be candid about it, I never understood what would prompt your father to give a single thought to any other tenor, especially one who had--as Frank Munn had--an indistinctive tone quality, a notably small voice, and a very limited upper range (he rarely sang above an A-natural, and relied on the falsetto more often than not).  I could understand a rivalry between your father and (say) Richard Crooks, or Jan Peerce, or the young Richard Tucker, because they were American tenors, and they were on the Metropolitan rosters and were singing in the same general repertoire in which your father excelled.  But Frank Munn?

What made it even stranger was that Munn, according to Gus Haenschen, never thought of himself as a rival of your father.  Munn was contented with his weekly radio engagements, and had no aspirations beyond that.  Additionally, Munn was very sensitive about his physical appearance--for most of his career he weighed well over 300 pounds, and was reluctant to be photographed, let alone to make any personal appearances.  Your father, by contrast, was tall, trim, broad-shouldered, and looked like a movie star.  

Personally, I have always been enamored with your father's singing.  Although I never had the privilege of hearing him in-person, I "discovered" James Melton when I was in my early teens, and I acquired every recording of his that I could find.  Among my favorites was his Victor Red Seal of "I'll Take You Home Again, Kathleen," with "Oh, Dry Those Tears" on the second side of the disc.  And among his opera recordings, I consider his "Siciliana" from Cavalleria to be matchless--and I could readily list a dozen more. 

Thank you, Dr. Drake, for this wealth of information, and for letting me publish it here! 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"Great Opera Singers" blog post on JM


One of my resolutions is to be more consistent with my postings here.  I apologize for the recent three month lapse. I did a lot of traveling this fall and fell far behind.  Moving ahead....

I monitor Google Alerts for anything on my father, and this appeared today, much to my delight.

It's a very well-researched blog post that covers my father's life in quite a bit of detail, and with links to Youtube for accompanying sound-tracks (and some rare video footage). Dr. James A. Drake quotes from my book. He also includes a lot of additional material that I didn't have.  Life is SO interesting. You just never know what will turn up!!  Thank you Dr. Drake!

At any rate, check out this "Great Opera Singers" blog: