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: