"Online since 1999"
It was the day after a terrible stormy night. Hurricane Betsy had visited the southern Louisiana area. It was a long night for the people of WDSU-TV who remained in the studio throughout the night and the next day to provide up-to-date information to the people of southern Louisiana. Every staff member was quick to volunteer for any assignment that would help get that info to the public. Mike Lala, a GNOBA Hall of Famer, was scheduled to film the flooding in St. Bernard Parish. I volunteered to go with him to help handle an outboard motor rig in which we would survey the scene in St. Bernard. We were able to launch the boat, with the permission of law enforcement officers, from the roadway on the St. Bernard side of the Judge Seeber Bridge over the Industrial Canal. We headed into the flooded area and, when we arrived at the railroad tracks at Jackson Barracks, the boat hung up on the tracks crossing the road in an area somewhat higher than the rest of the road. I jumped out of the boat on the right side (OK..starboard side) into the water to help push the boat over the tracks. Mike jumped out on the left (Awright awready! PORT side).and went straight down to the bottom of a canal which, of course was not visible since the entire area was flooded. Mike used to wear a little hat that some of the gang at Channel 6 teased him about (Winston Churchill fans can rearrange the last sentence so it does not end in a you know!). All I could see of mike for a little while was that hat merrily floating on the water. When he did surface, I was glad to see him. I was even happier that he didn't have the camera in his hands. While we were both soaking wet we did manage to tour the area and complete the assignment. Maybe you will remember the street sign indicating Flood Street sticking up about a foot over the flood water.
Now a part of the story Mike doesn't tell, but I will always remember him for his actions. When we got to Caroline Park where my mother's house and my sister's house (next door) were under water so high we were able to tie the boat up to the stink pipe on the roof of my mother's house. Mike and I dove and swam through the rooms of both houses just to assure me that everyone had gotten out before the water rose. They did. My sister and her husband had a boat in the carport and they took everybody in both houses to safety. Mike would not leave the area until he was sure that everyone had gotten out. Mike is a great guy. Everyone likes him. I guess I'll have to like his stupid hat.
Bob Howard was a popular WDSU-AM DJ in the fifties. He also appeared on the Ch. 6 program "Our House." In the Royal Street studios of WDSU-TV there was a section that was once reserved for the AM operations. It boasted of a windowed wall between the studio and a hallway leading into the TV studios. A few rows of chairs were in the hall to allow visitors to the studio to observe the DJs at work. For a while, the chairs began to be filled by some teenage girls form one of the city's parochial high schools. They seem to be fascinated with Bob Howard and showed uo almost every day to look at him through the window. One eventful day, an enraged father of one of the girls showed up in the hallway and threatened to shoot Bob through the window. Apparently his daughter had been keeping a diary and had entered some of her fantasies (absolutely fictional) concerning the good looking Howard. The police showed up and escorted the guy out of the studio. That was also the end of the chairs in the hallway and a new company rule that prohibited unescorted roaming about the facilities.
The Channel 6 program "Our House" was the 1950 predecessor of the long running and popular "Midday" program. "Our House" was hosted by Vera Massey and Claude Evans. Vera was a charming lady who suffered with multiple sclerosis. She was not able to walk. She was carried to her place in the set by her husband, Robbie Robinson, then a floor director at Channel 6. No one in the viewing audience was able to detect any sign of her illness. She continued with the show until she became too ill to go on camera. She will always be remembered by the WDSU-TV staff as most delightful and professional performer. Her husband also shares the admiration of the studio crew.
Submitted by "a Croatian kid from the lower "Nint" ward who loves radio and TV" ...
I thoroughly enjoyed scanning your shrine. I have had the honor and privilege of working with a great many of the radio and TV celebs mentioned by you and your contributors. The members of the N.O. radio and TV community, the living as well as those who have joined that great radio station in the sky (and sadly missed by yours truly) are some of the most wonderful people in the world and I am proud to call them "friends". I have included a few tid-bits of info your readers might find interesting.
I would like to note the the TV celeb "Jean the Weather Girl" was Jean Matkin, one of the first weather girls in the country and the first in New Orleans. She is married to Charlie Matkin, who was a staff announcer at WWL and later WDSU. I might also mention that Charlie has spent almost five years trying to garner support for a New Orleans Broadcast Arts museum...a facility that would allow youngsters of the future to hear and see the wonderful stars of radio and TV in the New Orleans area.
Your web site was introduced to me by Bob Grevemberg, Jr, son of WWL and WDSU-TV engineer Bob Grevemberg. Bob, the younger, started his working life as a New Orleans policeman. He is the nephew of the "Damn Citizen", Col. Francis Grevemberg, one-time head of the LA State Police ("Damn Citizen" was a feature movie about the Colonel's activities as head of the LA State Police). Bob became a news cameraman for WDSU-TV. He later went to Washington D.C as a cinematographer working for the BBC. Bob eventually became THE BBC in the U.S.
My friend, Tommy George, was both an announcer at WVUE as well as a St. Bernard Parish deputy. Most New Orleanians know him only as Chopsley. His silent comedy was a welcome feature of "MORGUS PRESENTS." He was seriously injured when a car hit his police motorcycle and had to wear a heavy metal leg brace the rest of his life. Although in constant pain, he loved to portray the mute assistant to the Master...Momus Alexander Morgus.
One of the "Morgus Presents" episodes featured the wonderful Wayne Mack. The comedy of this gentle giant combined with the comedic timing of Dr. Morgus left most viewers rolling on the floor laughing out loud. Kids loved him as "The Great McNutt" and sport fans considered him "their" sports expert. He was a delightful comedian to the moment of his death. Arthur Hardy, of Mardi Gras on TV fame, published Wayne's book about the NO. Saints.
Arthur received a call from the hospitalized Wayne Mack, who told Arthur to come to his hospital room...it was an emergency! Arthur said he would be there immediately. Upon his arrival, Wayne told Arthur: "Look, I'm dying (of cancer) and I am going to be cremated. I also have a number of outstanding traffic tickets. At my wake, I would like you to put these tickets in my coat pocket." At the wake, Arthur fulfilled Wayne's request and smiled knowing that Wayne loved to bring a little humor into the lives of everyone he knew. Arthur swears that his friend smiled, too.
The first Mardi Gras parade ever televised was telecast live from Lafayette Square across from the old City Hall (now, Gallier Hall). The announcer scheduled to narrate the parade was Woody Leafer, the second TV announcer in the state....the first was Gay (Gaines C.) Batson. The parade arrived at the camera location but Woody didn't! Later, he explained that the police wouldn't let him cross the street, so he watched the parade from the Gallier Hall side of the street. Meanwhile, back at the studio, Gay Batson...the announcer's announcer, narrated the entire parade without a script by watching the camera coverage on his TV monitor. And nobody knew he wasn't at the parade site.
Gay was well known for his narration of "The Meeting Of The Courts" (Rex and Comus) Mardi Gras night. The narration of Mardi Gras parades was eventually assigned to the Special Events Department of WDSU-TV and it's chief honcho, Mel Leavitt, who would become known as "Mr. Mardi Gras." Mel was not only a delightful narrator but was an expert bead and doubloon catcher...yelling: "Throw me something, Mister" with everybody else.
The wonderful puppeteer who brought life to Mr. Bingle and provided the snowman's voice was Oscar Eisentraut (the spelling may be off). To the sorrow of all Mr. Bingle fans Oscar died some years ago. What is really the saddest note is that Oscar is buried in an unmarked grave in the Charity Hospital Potter's Field. I wonder if it would be possible for your shrine site to start some kind of fund to provide a marker for this kind and gentle man who brought so much pleasure to the children of the New Orleans area.
Mrs. (Miss?) Muffin was in town Sunday, March 24, for a MIDDAY gang reunion, Terry is retired now and lives in Hancock, Maine. She is now Terry Rohe. Her husband is a member of a symphony orchestra in Yankeeland.
Many of the Pontchartrain Beach fans probably didn't know that the Beach management (Harry Batt et al) was in violation of music copyright laws in their use of the Pontchartrain Beach jingle "At The Beach." The original song was "By The Sea." ASCAP sued the Beach for unlicensed use of the tune...and for the even greater sin of changing the lyrics. The Beach was forced to discontinue using the jingle.
A few more broadcast tid-bits to do with what thou wilt:
John Kent, a fine announcer at WWL during the 50's and later at WDSU-TV was born to a fine old plantation family of Louisiana. His real name was Leon Soniat and he was raised at the Soniat Plantation, which in later years became the club house of the Colonial Country Club golf course.
Another fine WWL announcer, who also did the Blue Room announcing chores, was Charlie Lake. Charlie was also the featured pianist of the Fountain Lounge.
Still another of the fine voices at WWL many will remember was Bill Brengle.
I wonder how many of the radio fans remember WWL's "Poole's Paradise" starring Bob Poole. Poole featured sound effects to brighten up his daily mike stint....like letting a street car run through the studio. Poole was recruited by one of the networks (ABC...I think) looking for someone to compete with the "Old Redhead" of CBS, Arthur Godfrey.
Another network tapped another local DJ for the same role of Arthur Godfrey competition. They chose the all night man from WDSU... DICK BRUCE! Poole was able to sign a contract but Bruce somehow managed to cause a break in contract negotiations and return to New Orleans. Bruce married a daughter of the McKenzie Bakery owner and became the McKenzie donut chomping TV spokesman.
A WDSU-TV staff announcer, Ken Scott, a tall, good looking rascal, was a featured performer in the movie "Three Faces of Eve". Just as his movie career was about to blossom, Ken suffered a terrible accident. While making a movie in Japan, a co-star (I believe it was Edmond O'Brian) accidentally shot him (as called for by the script) in the face. The gun was loaded with blanks, but the blank load was enough to cause severe injury. Ken recovered well enough to continue his acting career with considerable success. He died, however, in December 1986.
The son of the man who made Lucky Dogs famous in the French Quarter was a floor director at WDSU-TV in the 50s. Steve Loyacano (might be an extra "a" floating around in my spelling) stayed with us for a while then left to try his luck in Hollywood. AND, boy, was he lucky! He became a writer for the "Loretta Young Show" and later became the Producer of the "Johnny Ringo" program.
Another floor director at WDSU-TV in the 50s was a big guy named Ed Nelson. Eddie left WDSU-TV and set out for Hollywood to seek fame and fortune. In his case, seek and ye shall find was a definite fact. He became a major player in the hit TV show "Peyton Place" starring as Dr. Rossi. Nelson also made several feature movies and was featured on many other network TV shows. He is retired now and has returned to his old home town, the Crescent City.
In the 50s and 60s there were two guys named Lala in the TV news camera business in New Orleans. Mike Lala, was a news camera man with Channel 6. He was just recently inducted into the Greater New Orleans Broadcast Association's Hall of Fame. Mike was the envy of some of the station's employees because he managed to show up in the studio with a different beautiful young lady on his arm every month or so. What was his secret in attracting the beautiful ladies? Mike is a delightful gentleman in every sense of the word. Mike was also one of the daring cinematographers who filmed portions of the Emmy Award winning program "Ku Klux Klan." The other Lala was Larry Lala, one of the first news cameraman at Channel 4 equally as nervy and daring as Mike. These guys were brothers!
During the civil rights crisis in the New Orleans area Mike and Larry found themselves speeding in a race to cover a story about a demonstration at a site having some trouble implementing the court ordered civil rights rules. Larry arrived on the scene first. He got out of his WWL-TV news-car and began filming the demonstrators who promptly turned on him and attacked him. They were trying to stop him from accomplishing his filming and putting there faces on the news. Mike arrived seconds later, jumped out of his WDSU-TV news-car and immediately ran to where the demonstrators were attacking Larry and began.....to film the crowd hitting and pushing Larry! When the events of the day were over, Mike and Larry went to their mother's house. She asked Mike: "Why didn't you help your brother?" Mike, ever-so-loyal to WDSU-TV replied: He's with Channel 4 and I'm with Channel 6. I had to get my film back to the studio before Larry got to his studio!" To this day, Larry, a forgiving man, still calls Mike "Brother." Larry later "graduated" from WWL-TV and moved to yankeeland to work with CBS news. Mike graduated from Channel 6 to become one of the city's well-known restaurateur as owner of the Quarter's Old New Orleans Cookery. Visit this Hall of Famer there!
The early days of TV in New Orleans provided the local theater and model communities with new opportunities for exposure. One of the lovely ladies who was chosen to appear in TV commercials was Gail del Coral. She was already well known for her "mechanical model" appearances. she appeared on many local TV programs displaying her art and was also featured on the "Tonight Show". Famous comedians, such as Bob Hope and Red Skelton, tried to break her up and make her laugh. Try as the might, Gail remained the mechanical robot through all of their shenanigans. Gail is owner of one of the top model and talent agencies in New Orleans.
Another beautiful lady, Veleka Grey, auditioned at WDSU-TV in the 60s for a role in a promotional spot to be videotaped at the studio. She got the gig and went on to be one of the top models in the U.S. She followed the path to Hollywood and appeared in several feature movies:
"I Love My Wife" - Universal
"Smack" - CM Productions
"Night of Bloody Horror" - Joy Houck Productions (a New Orleans based company - Houck was the owner of Canal Street's Joy Theater)
Making those movies might have satisfied some people but not Veleka. She was chosen to play feature roles in any network TV programs: Have a look at this beautiful lady's TV credits:
The Young And The Restless - CBS - Dr. Sharon Reaves and Ruby (Dual Role)
As The World Turns - CBS - as Lyla Montgomery
Love Of Life - CBS - as Mia Marriott
Somerset - NBC - as Vicki Paisley
As The World Turns - CBS - as Dolores Grey
How To Survive A Marriage - NBC - as Susan Pritchett
Love Is A Many Splendored Thing - CBS - as Laura Elliot
Divorce Court, "Lindsay vs. Lindsay" - as Mrs. Lindsay
Faith For Today, "Remembering" - as Vivian
The Mod Squad, "Welcome to The Human Race, Levi Frazee" - as Mae Colly
And she also was heard on network radio:
CBS Radio Mystery Theater - Himan Brown, NYC - 3 Episodes:
"This Deadly Fraternity" - as Helen Clark
"The Last Days of Pompeii" - as Julia
"The Better Half" - as Lt. Diana Pollock/Linda Stewart
AND, on top of all of that, she has been seen in dozens of network TV commercials.
Was that enough for Veleka? No it wasn't. She felt that she had to do theater to be a complete actress. Among her roles were:
"Toys In The Attic" - American Blues Theatre, Chicago - Albertine Prine
Murder Mystery Capers, Kansas City - Mrs. Claus and Eleanor Windsor
"Suddenly At Home" - David Merrick, NYC - Ruth Beschler
"The Wax Museum" - Roundabout Theater, NYC - Bingo
"Dylan" - National Tour - Thelma Wonderland
"The Brass Bed" - Hollywood - Diane Bryant
"No Exit" - Hollywood - Estelle
"Mike's Place" - Hollywood - Killer
"Gypsy" - New Orleans - Title role
"The Seven Year Itch" - New Orleans - The Girl
"Bye Bye Birdie" - New Orleans - Kim
"The Miser" - New Orleans - Marianne
"Enter Laughing" - New Orleans - Miss B
The gracious lady is back in our town and sharing her TV/Radio/Movie/Theater know-how with aspiring actors, students in her acting classes who must look at her and wish that they might get to be like her.
One bright and sunny day in the 50s, the guys at WDSU-TV decided to have a party. The old White Kitchen, which once stood near where I-10 Poydras St. exit lies, was the chosen locale for the soiree' which is a rather high class name for what might be called a "stag." Almost the entire male staff of WDSU-TV was in attendance. The gang was enjoying the entertainment narrated by a singer from the "Midday" show, John Gary, and a staff announcer/comedian, Dick van Dyke, who had a 15 minute daily show on Channel 6. Then it happened! The White Kitchen and the party was raided by the N.O.P.D. As the police began rounding up the startled TV guys, Dick van Dyke asked: "Why in the world do you guys want to break up a party of TV guys having a little fun?". The blue clad leader of the raid remarked: "TV guys? Hey, someone called us and said you were the Times Picayune. Go ahead, guys...have your party!" And the raiding party left and the party continued.
FYI...John Gary was making the enormous salary of $40 a show for his "Midday" appearances. Six months later, he was making $12,000 a week appearing at the Roosevelt Hotel in Hollywood. John's voice must have been created by Wurlitzer...it was awesome! Remember his recordings of "Yellow Bird" and "Malaguena." He eventually got a 13 week network show produced by the Smothers Brothers producers, Saul Ilson and Ernie Chambers. John also established the world's record for remaining underwater. He set the record in the salt water pool at the New Orleans Athletic Club on Rampart Street. He also was acknowledged by the Navy for his invention of an underwater propulsion device. Unfortunately, John's career was cut short by cancer while still a young man.
The staff announcer, Dick van Dyke, was a delightful. down to earth kind of guy. He and his brother, Jerry, a banjo player on the Playboy Club circuit, were wonderful comedians. I wonder whatever happened to them.
The first program produced at WDSU-TV studios for national syndication (via kinescope recording) was a 15 minute feature called "Do You Know Why". The program was sponsored by the Pan-Am Oil Company. The show answered questions about a variety of subjects including elementary science. Demonstrations by the host, Buddy Wyatta local actor, showed how things work. One show showed how a magnet based slug detector for a vending machine separated genuine coins from slugs. Another program demonstrated the levitation illusion staged by magicians. It should be noted that the latter caused some hard feelings among the members of the local magicians circle.
The shows were produced by David Cloud, commercial producer for the Fitzgerald Advertising Agency. Dave later became General Manager of WYES-TV. His assistant was Peter Mayer, destined to become the head of his own ad-agency. Peter was also inducted into the G.N.O.B.A Hall of Fame.
Dave stopped at nothing to get visuals for the show. He once bribed a bus driver to make an unscheduled stop, with a full load of passengers, at WDSU-TV so he could use the bus as a visual. He enlisted my aid in writing some of the shows and to build some of the demonstration apparatus.
Dave asked me to help him rig a system to detonate smoke bombs. He chose the roof of the Lee Circle Building (once the location of the Fitzgerald Agency) to test the system. They worked beautifully and incurred the wrath of the N. O. Fire Department who severely chastised us.
Another episode of "Do You Know Why" was to feature Buddy Wyatt narrating an appendectomy.his own! Film cameras were set up in the operating room of a local hospital and Buddy, having been given only a local anesthetic, watched the surgeons with the aid of a mirror and began relating the various procedures. It was only because Dave saw Buddy wince a couple of times that he ordered the surgeons to "knock him out!" Later, Buddy narrated the operation by watching the film on a TV monitor in the studio. It didn't hurt nearly as much as it did in the operating room.
One of the best tales of New Orleans advertising involves the Kottwitz Agency and Kirschman's furniture store and it was not about television or radio. Bob Kottwitz had suggested to Victor Kirschman that the store should run a full page ad in color in the Times Picayune newspaper. Victor agreed and the pair went to the newspaper's offices to discuss the proposed ad.
They said they wanted the color of the ad to be purple. They were told that they could not run a purple ad since that color was reserved for Katz and Besthoff drug stores. Not satisfied with that answer, they took their proposal all the way to the top and into the publisher's office. After all, Kirschman's had been spending big bucks with the Picayune for many years. Surely the publisher would recognize that and allow them to run their ad in purple. No, however, was the answer again. The paper could not let them have the color purple because purple was reserved for K&B. They could, however, have any other color the desired. Victor asked: "You mean if we select a color that color will be reserved for Kirschman's ads?" Kottwitz added: "And no one else will be allowed to use that color?" The answer was a definite "Yes." Without a pause, Victor Kirschman stated: "We want black!"
In the 50s there was no videotape recording systems at WDSU-TV or any other TV facility. The cost of producing a local commercial on film was deemed too much by many local advertisers who elected to use live studio commercials instead. In those days, many of the fledgling TV stations ran a feature movie following their 10 PM newscast (11 PM on the east coast, giving rise to buzz phrase "Film at 11"). The local commercials scheduled within the movie presentation were rehearsed throughout the evening.
According to Murphy's Law of Live TV CommercialsIf a live TV commercial CAN be screwed up it WILL be screwed up! In 1949, for instance, Director Irwin Poche' Jr. (the first TV cameraman in New Orleans and the first permanent TV director at WDSU-TV) rehearsed his first commercial several times. It was produced in WDSU-TV's one camera studio in the Hibernia Bank Building. The spot featured a major brand electric range and a company demonstrator who showed the features of the stove. Inside the oven was a pre-cooked ham. The lady was supposed to stand to one side of the range and open the oven door and said: "Look at this gorgeous ham!" It worked fine during rehearsals but on the air the oven door stuck and the demonstrator moved in front of the range to pull on the door as the camera was dollying in for a close-up of the ham. Instead, viewers saw the demonstrator's rear end as she commented: "Look at that beautiful ham!" Irwin quickly cut to a slide logo but the damage had already been done.
In the 50s, working with model Rita Monez (later Mrs. Paul Yacich) on a commercial selling a fold-a-bed for a leading furniture store, the 5 rehearsals clicked like clockwork 5 times. When the scheduled time slot arrived, Director Poche' cued Rita. The demonstration of the ease of storing and using the fold-a-bed began as rehearsed. But the bed wouldn't open. In another commercial featuring a used car, the front door of the car fell off when the spot hit the air.
Even network live commercials suffered the curse of Murphy's Law for Live TV Commercials.
The story of Betty Furness and a stuck refrigerator door in commercial scheduled in the highly acclaimed program called "Studio One" which was sponsored by the refrigerator manufacturer, is often repeated by the older members of the broadcast community (some say it was not Betty Furness, who regularly did the sponsors spots, but was a substitute model replacing Betty that day). The advent of videotape took all of the danger and the adventure out of television commercials.
In 1968, Betty White of the Mary Tyler Moore show and Golden Girls, as well as dozens of other featured appearances, came to WDSU-TV to videotape a series of commercials for a tea company. As director, I had prepared everything to facilitate a speedy session. I had set a glass of iced tea on a table in the WDSU-TV kitchen set. When Betty arrived, there was almost a party atmosphere in the studio. She was such a delightful lady and so entertaining to the studio crew that we lost all track of time. When we did get around to making the spot, Betty looked at the glass of tea, held it up to one of the set lights and commented: "I don't know how long this gentleman has been sick but he better see a doctor soon!" Now you know why the studio gang and I adore the wonderful and gracious lady.