Saturday, August 26, 2017

Ford Festival TV Show

A scene from "La Traviata" on James Melton's TV Show, Ford Festival (1951)

A couple of weeks ago CBS’s “60 Minutes” did a rerun of their show about the sons of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, and what happened to them after their parents were executed for espionage in 1953.

Robert and Michael were adopted by Abel Meeropol and his wife Anne. What does this have to do with James Melton, you may ask? 

About six months ago I was contacted by David Newstead, who is writing a biography of Abel Meeropol. Meeropol, under the pen name of Lewis Allen, was a songwriter and social activist. He wrote the Billie Holiday song “Strange Fruit,” and the Frank Sinatra song “The House That I Live In” …and he worked on my father’s TV show “Ford Festival.” In fact, he wrote the theme music for the show.

Life is full of amazing discoveries!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

1901 Frisbee "Red Devil"

Back in January I heard from Diane Davis in California, who was looking for information on the 1901 Frisbie Red Devil car that was in may father’s museum. She is a Frisbie descendant, and was in the midst of putting together a book about the Frisbie family of inventors.

Her project has come to fruition and the book is out! Red Devils & Penny Shooters.  (The Penny Shooters refers to the cast iron mechanical toy banks made by the J&E Stevens Company, owned by the Frisbee family.)

As Diane says on the back of the book, “Russell Abner Frisbie would create and manufacture gasoline motors, Frisbie marine engines, and take part in the birth of the automobile industry with the creation of his Frisbie ‘Red Devil’ car.”

I did find a small photo of the Frisbie that my father owned. The photo is only about 3”x5” and there is a date of 1949 on the back (meaning it was in the Melton Museum in Norwalk, Connecticut).  I looked at the sign in front of the car with a magnifying glass, and here is what it says:

1901 Frisbie
1 cylinder water cooled planetary transmission
Built in Cromwell, Conn. and presented to the Melton Museum by its builder R.A. Frisbee

Thursday, July 6, 2017

More on The Revelers

My email conversation with Craig Phillips continues. He’s the fellow, you may remember, who was a doctoral candidate at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The focus of his dissertation is The Revelers, the male quartet my father sang with in the 1920’s.  (See my July 19th, 2015 post.) The actual title of his dissertation is: The Vocal Arrangements of Ed Smalle and Frank J. Black: Seven Performance Editions of Songs for Male Quartet Made Popular By The Revelers.

Craig has just received his doctorate this Spring.  Congratulations, Dr. Phillips! He also writes, “I'm happy to report that this Fall I am joining the music faculty of the University of Oregon as assistant professor of voice and vocal pedagogy. It's a big move for my family (swapping coasts!) but a great gig.”

In the two years since he first contacted me, Craig has been able to locate a number of other Revelers’ descendants, and has found marvelous materials that he has generously shared with me.

Here is a rare gem, a live performance photo of The Revelers (circa 1930) performing in NBC Studio H, showing their orientation to the microphone, where the piano was situated, the audience in front and the orchestra all around. And of course they're all wearing tuxedos!

This photo is from the collection of Craig Arnold, who is the grandson of Lewis James, one of the Revelers.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Helen Keller

Today is Helen Keller's birthday. Born in 1880, she would be 137 years old.

I am lucky enough to have known Helen when I was a small child, and to have at least one lovely memory of her.

The Meltons lived on a 40-acre hilltop gentleman's farm in Weston, Connecticut for the first eight years of my life.  We had an apple orchard, grape arbor, and a variety of fruit trees and bushes -- blueberries amongst them--as well as a large vegetable garden.  We considered Helen Keller and her companion, Polly Thompson, our neighbors, although their home in Easton was about 15 miles from ours in Weston.  Helen and Polly came annually  in mid-summer for a day of blueberry picking.
Helen's magnetism radiated so that even our dignified German shepherd, Caesar, usually slow to make friends, sat at her feet accepting loving pats.  It had somehow been explained to me,  age three, that Helen would "see" me through her hands -- not to be afraid, but just to stand still and quiet while Helen touched my face, my hands, my hair.  I remember standing there awed while this large shadow in slacks with a huge sun hat bent down to meet me.  Afterwards she said through Polly: "Beautiful!  Slender, pretty, lovely hair."
Then she and Polly and our dog would go off for the berries, while my mother prepared a lunch of freshly picked corn on the cob and hamburgers cooked to order on the outdoor stone grill.  Someone would ring the big old Navy bell on the back porch  to call everyone to chow.  Afterwards, Helen loved to wander through the vegetable garden, gently touching the sun-warmed tomatoes, bell peppers, squash.  They resumed their berry picking in the afternoon.
My logical mind now wonders:  How did she know which ones were ripe?Was her touch so delicate that only the ripes ones fell into the bucket on a string around her neck?  Or did she simply pick everything for someone else to sort out later?  Or didn't it matter?  Was it the sun and activity and a meal with friends that were the only important thing?

Monday, June 26, 2017


Many, many apologies for not posting here for such a long time. It's not for lack of subject matter. In fact, some very interesting things have happened in the last six months, with regard to both my father's musical career and his antique car hobby. Believe it or not, even all these years after his death (fifty-six years to be exact), people still remember. Stay tuned. More to come, I promise!