Benny Goodman at the 1936 Junior Prom


May 3, 1935. Here’s an invitation and dance card for Haverford College’s 1936 Junior Promenade.


I love these little dance cards and have a few of them. Ladies would wear the card by the cord on their wrist and write in the names of guys who were to share each dance.  This ancient social tradition went back a century or so, but pretty much died out by the 1950s.

This particular card records what must have been a memorable Sunday evening for Swing fans, as the featured band was Benny Goodman’s.  Still in its earliest months, the band was soon to finish its’ featured spot on NBC Radio’s “Let’s Dance” series and hit the road for the first time.  This Philadelphia-area college gig was one of many that Benny did that spring.

Singing with the band that night were Helen Ward and Ray Hendricks, both of whom wrote kind greetings to Betty, the card owner.


Betty also got the band leader’s autograph.


Betty had a full dance card that night! 13 guys cut a rug with her, but Graham got the first, fourth and last dances, even with no last name.


It is fervently hoped that, as Helen Ward wrote, Betty always remembered the fun she had at the Junior Prom!

My Sister & I – Summer ’57


I don’t know what the official name for these are, but I guess photo viewers will have to do. Back in the day, when we went to bungalow colonies in the Catskills, itinerant photographers would show up occasionally to take pictures of the residents and their kids.  You could order printed pictures in any size,  laminated onto mirrors or encased in these little viewers. You’d hold it up to the light, look through the eyepiece and behold! There you were in living color – totally ultra-modern!

For the summer of 1957, my family stayed at the Maple Leaf Bungalow Colony in Ellenville, NY. I was 4 and my sister Gail had just turned 2.  I remember it being a nice, leisurely summer and we had a private bungalow with a screened-in porch.

ImageThe photographer must have come twice, as the first picture shows Gail and me in daytime togs. I don’t remember the picture being taken, but I do remember that colorful beach ball, which said “I’ll Drive You Crazy” on it.  I think it had some encased weights, so if you tried to roll or throw it, the ball would flop or bounce in unexpected directions. Hot stuff!

ImageI do remember the taking of the second photo – it was done in the evening, at the “Casino,” with all the kids dressed in their best outfits.  It was raining and I remember there were drops of water on the floor from a leaky ceiling.  I had skinned my knee earlier that day and Mom had written my name “DAVID” in big letters of red mercurochrome just above the knee – still visible in the picture.


STANLEY – a fascinating flop from the Golden Age of Television

Well, I guess I’m one of about three people who seem to be interested – I recently got the complete 3-DVD set of STANLEY, a mega-disaster half-year 1956 sitcom that came to NBC with impeccable credentials. Created by Max Liebman, written by Neil & Danny Simon, Woody Allen and Lucille Kallan (all alumni of YOUR SHOW OF SHOWS) and starring Buddy Hackett. By the fourth episode, his girlfriend, played by Carol Burnett, debuts and stays through the rest of the run. Broadcast live from NY, the show has Hackett as the guy behind the candy and ticket counter at a posh NY hotel. The show is loaded with appearances by Broadway people – Dick Gautier, Jane Connell, Dody Goodman, Patricia Hammerlee, Paul Lynde, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Mike Kellin, Norman Fell, etc. It’s also a kick to see the window cards for all the current shows on display at Stanley’s kiosk – THE MOST HAPPY FELLA, DAMN YANKEES, FANNY, MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT, MY FAIR LADY, THE PAJAMA GAME and others.
Though the show bombed, I am finding it quite delightful – guess it depends on your tolerance for Buddy Hackett. Carol is wonderful, even here at the very start of her career.  Reading original writeups in the NY Times, the show was pegged as a loser right from the start.  One critic even offered a sheet of Green Stamps to anyone who managed to sit through more than one episode.   On the set itself, writer Woody Allen refers to the show as a “disaster.”  But the live audience seems to love what they are watching. On the last few episodes, when Hackett makes several announcements about the imminent end of the series, referring to the thousands of letters that have come in protesting the show’s cancellation, he is drowned out by lengthy protests and applause. On one show he begs for quiet so can get in one last sponsor plug.

Like so many 50s shows, the regular sponsors are a strange combination – Bobbi Home Permanents and Pamper Shampoo (hawked by young Vera Miles) alternating with Pall Mall Cigarettes, with young couples singing and dancing about “the FUN of smoking.”

I had watched a STANLEY episode several years ago at the Paley Museum (all 19 episodes were kinescoped though the show was never rerun) and was quite taken with the live ambiance and the make-mistakes-but-get-on-with it style of the program.  Props don’t work, camera placement is occasionally off-kilter, Buddy Hackett sweats up a storm and ad-libs to the surprise of his co-stars, especially Carol Burnett, who keeps up with him masterfully.  The credit roll at the end gets stuck once and is then over-cranked to compensate. stanley adstanley3206176carolbuddystanleystanley buddy   carol-burnett-through-the-years-16 The background singers and announcer Don Pardo are occasionally off-mike.  Producer Max Liebman loved live TV and event programming and faded quickly away when the medium went to film and tape.

Events moved slower then – though STANLEY was canceled in December 1956, the show stayed on until March 1957, when it was replaced by a Western (what else?), TALES OF WELLS FARGO.

The first episode is available for viewing at – the DVD kinescope print is of better quality and even includes the audience warm-up by Hackett and Pardo that preceded the show, with a number of off-color Buddy jokes.

STANLEY – Premiere Episode, September 24, 1956

Troglytes & Periwinkles

A further thought on the 1939 Fair – the sleekly Deco-iconic Theme Center, the Trylon and Perisphere, were constructed of little more than pasteboard squares over a metal framework.  Mere months after the exposition opened, people were already remarking on the increasingly ratty, peeling appearance of the objects.  Perhaps they look better in photos and memories 1939fairthan up close and personal. Lamenting in the 1960s over their destruction, I can only imagine how they would have looked in 1964 had they been left standing. large planet of the apes blu-ray11

Whither Fair Flushing?

Since I was a kid, I was fascinated by the 1939 New York World’s Fair, starting after I attended the 1964 Fair as an 11-year-old.  Seeing pictures and family souvenirs of the earlier fair, I was bummed that it seemed way cooler than the plastique of the current one. It was the first time I fully realized that what was past was past and I’d never be able to experience the 1930s first hand. My increasing interest in the music of the Swing Era only increased those feelings of sepia-toned attraction for what had been. 1939NYWF_E In later years, books and documentaries have helped me to put those past times into sharper focus, what with color home movies showing up – was everyone shooting in Kodachrome in 1939? 1939MCNY7  1939 Worlds Fair 25_0 And yet, the increasing immediacy of these images has convinced me that I would likely be dissatisfied if I could wander back to 1939.  Things have been happening so fast in recent years that yesterday’s future seems like something of a drag. Would I really enjoy the General Motors Futurama’s wrong-headed vision of the world in 1960?  Or the Wonder Bread exhibit?  Or those ubiquitous baby incubators that seemed to appear at every Fair?  Going to the Apple store on 5th Avenue gives me today’s future and I’m liking it.

A blog is born!

Having recently turned 60, I think it’s about time I share some of the things I’ve learned. I haven’t learned as much as I could have in this span, but there should be a few nuggets buried in these synapses that could add something to the general conversation.