Sunday, March 22, 2020

Detroit's Movie Maven--Bill Kennedy


Bill Kennedy at the Movies with Sir Graves Ghastly. Sir Graves would riff on his monster movies and Bill would dish on Hollywood and the movie business.

Every Baby-Boomer from Detroit and Windsor remembers who gave us our extensive Hollywood movie education--Bill Kennedy. Bill started announcing on the radio professionally in the 1930s at WWJ - The Detroit News station. His deep voice resonated over the air waves.

In 1940, he embarked on a movie career and signed a contract with Warner Brothers Studios where he worked from 1941 until 1955. Bill had the voice but not the face. He didn't emote well on screen, so he was relegated to a series of flat supporting roles. He played mainly cops, bad guys, radio announcers (no stretch for Bill), newspaper men, and swindlers. In all, Bill Kennedy has 103 film credits.

In the post World War Two era, Kennedy appeared on numerous B-Western television shows including The Lone Ranger, The Cisco Kid, and The Gene Autry Show. Kennedy always spoke kindly of Gene Autry. Bill was over six feet tall and many of Hollywood's leading men were short and didn't like doing fight scenes with him. Gene Autry was short, but always had a job for Bill when he needed it. Autry told him once, "I like beating up bad guys on screen who are bigger than me."

Bill Kennedy playing a newscaster in a Superman episode.

What many of us in Detroit know that most people don't is Bill's was the voice behind the opening credits of  The Adventures of Superman--one of the most iconic introductions in television history. Bill received a one-time check for $350. He regretted not asking for screen credit which might have benefited his career. The show has been continuously running in syndication since 1952. A link to the Superman program opening is below.

In 1956, Bill Kennedy returned to the Detroit area to host an afternoon movie program called Bill Kennedy's Showtime, for CKLW-TV across the Detroit River in Windsor, Ontario. The show became a big hit. Bill talked about his jaded experiences in Hollywood's heyday and how he worked with many of the top stars. His deadpan delivery and sarcastic wit won the loyalty of viewers. He had an avuncular, self-deprecating manner--especially if talking about a film he was in. If the movie was bad, he would tell his audience.

The show opened with a tight shot on a picture of a woman smoking a cigarette with Bill's theme song Just in Time playing in the background. The photograph was from a magazine. I can see the model in my mind's eye with her elbows on a table and a smoldering cigarette in her right hand. Bill chose Just In Time for his theme song because his professional life was at a low point when he got the job with CKLW.

Bill wearing a hat to cover up his hair transplant surgery.
In 1969, Bill took his show to WKBD which broadcast out of Southfield, Michigan. The show remained essentially the same with a title change to Bill Kennedy at the Movies. Bill would interview celebrities when they were in Detroit and he took on-air phone calls which were sometimes more interesting than the movies. I enjoyed the live TV commercial pitches of Abe Schroe for his furniture upholstery business.

Abe and Bill always had lively repartee like they knew each other well outside of work. These two got along so well on air that it strikes me Bill was probably part-owner or an investor in Artistic Upholstery. Bill would take a break and Abe would go into his pitch. Nobody else made live commercials on Bill's show--not Ollie Fretter--not even Mr. Belvedere (Detroit inside joke).

In 1983, Bill retired to Palm Beach, Florida. He died of emphysema on January 27, 1997, at the age of eighty-eight. Rest in peace "young, old-timer."

The Adventures of Superman introduction: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q2l4bz1FT8U

Bill Kennedy's theme song Just In Time by Frank Sinatra. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIcQ26arWAs

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

"Why I Decided to Self-Publish"


On March 17th, 2020, I participated in a webcast on Authors Helping Authors discussing the topic "Why I Decided to Self-Publish Rather than Traditionally Publish," with host Martinique Y. Brown, debut author Amber Gardiner, and myself. The webcast runs for about an hour and ten minutes and starts six minutes into the recording, so move the time bar cursor to begin. I think you will find our conversation informative if you are on the fence deciding which approach works best for you.

Most writers would love to get a contract with one of the Big Five publishers (Penguin, Simon & Schuster, MacMillan, Harper Collins, and Hachette Livre) and live off the passive income of their brain child. Many of those authors who secure a professional writing contract never work off their advances, so their books never produce royalty income. Their books get backlisted after several months if they don't sell well. Then your hard effort gets buried in the book graveyard until your contract runs out. That could be as long as seven years.

"Choose wisely, my friends. All that glitters is not gold."

"Why I Decided to Self-Publish Rather Than Traditionally Publish" 

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Downriver Detroit's Vagabond Showman Nick Butsicaris

Rick Wiesend (Tim Tam) with Nick Butsicaris, Dan Wiesend, Earl Rennie, Don Grundman, and John Ogen.
I remember Nick Butsicaris best from sophomore gym class at Allen Park High School. I don't know who took more dodge balls in the face--him or me. But by senior year, Nick became an instant celebrity as a member of the singing group Tim Tam and the Turnons.

The Tim Tams teamed up with a local band of talented freshmen from Allen Park High named The Satellites. Together, they created a rock doo-wop sound reminescent of The Four Seasons. Their 1966 debut record "Wait a Minute" sold 30,000 copies in the first month of release charting #76 on Billboard's National Chart. In a 2019 national radio survey of "The Top 100 Songs of the 1960s," it was voted #40.

But timing is everything in the music business. Harmonic male singing groups lost favor with fans by the late 1960s who couldn't hear enough of the fresh new sound of the British Invasion that dominated the radio air waves. Alas, after several recordings, the Tim Tams became a one-hit wonder--neither the first nor the last.

When I ran into Nick fifty years later at a class reunion event, I had no idea he had been the manager of some of rock music's most iconic groups of the 1970s and the 1980s. After Tim Tam and the Turnons disbanded in 1969, Nick and his friend David Leone formed a startup company called Diversified Management Agency (DMA). The partnership launched Nick on a memorable show business career. Nick shortened his last name to Caris because it was "faster and easier to sign contracts and checks."

Nick began managing and handling bookings for many of the Motor City's high octane rock & roll acts like Mitch Rider, Ted Nugent, Bob Seger, and Alice Cooper at venues like Detroit's Grande Ballroom, the Olympia, the Masonic Temple, local sports stadiums, and university fieldhouses. When those acts hit nationally, DMA went from a local boutique agency to a national business.

Nick to the left again with bare chested Ted Nugent after a Cobo Hall sellout in the 1970s.

Nick toured with his groups throughout the 1970s and 1980s. His job was to interface with promoters and tour managers, manage his bands and their road crews, and take care of the tour's business arrangements. Fans pay to see a great show, but behind the scenes, the business was often a three-ring circus. 

When I asked him about the downside of the job, Nick was quick to respond, "Being on the road so much. Touring takes its toll on everyone and their families. Many of the performers don't get to see their kids grow up, and they miss many important events in their kid's lives.

"That's just one of the many costs of fame and success. Some people didn't survive the drug craze. Without a supportive wife and family, I might have been a casualty too. But I kept my priorities straight. I had a job to do and a family to support."

Nick said the high point of his career was standing on the California Jamfest stage on April 6, 1974 at the Riverside, Ontario Speedway in California--considered by many to be the last of the classic rock festivals before the corporate takeover of the rock business.

"Looking out over several-hundred-thousand screaming fans, I kept thinking 'Not bad for a kid from Detroit.' DMA managed most of the groups that performed at the original Cal Jamfest."

Nick gets his nephews a photo opp backstage with Kiss.

In the late 1980s, Nick left the Detroit rock & roll scene for the bright lights of New York City joining the William Morris Talent Agency managing headline groups like The Eagles, Nazareth, Journey, Styx, Foreigner, Steve Miller, Aerosmith, and many others. Nick left William Morris at the end of the Eagles' Hell Freezes Over Tour in 1994. Towards the end of his career, he managed tribute shows that traveled internationally, like The Australian Pink Floyd Show and The Music of Led Zeppelin--A Rock Symphony. During his successful management career, Nick has earned dozens of gold and platinum record awards--several went multi-platinum.

When asked if he missed the rock & roll business, Nick replied, "Every time I see MTV or VH1 and see music videos of bands I've managed, it's like watching a movie of my life. It's easy to get nostalgic for the good times, but the business has evolved and so have the movers and the shakers. It's been very exciting to be a part of show business, but I'm content to sit on the sidelines. Rock & Roll touring is a young man's game." Nick has returned happily to his Downriver Detroit roots.

"Wait a Minute" by Tim Tam and the Turnons, and Bob Seger and the Last Herd singing "East Side Story."

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Detroit Baby Boomer Kids Show Hosts

Poopdeck Paul, Milky the Clown, Captain Jolly, Jingles, Johnny Ginger, and Bozo the Clown.


Late in 1950, Twin Pines Dairy wanted to sponsor a children's show with cartoons, western movies, and a magic clown called Milky. The dairy owner had seen magician Clare Cummings perform in the Detroit area and offered him the job. Cummings created the Milky makeup and his wife made his costume patterned after the clown in the opera Pagliacci. Milky the Clown was born. Between commercial breaks, Milky performed magic tricks and hosted the day's movie. When he performed his tricks, Milky would always say the magic words "Twin Pines."

In the days of only four TV broadcasters in the Detroit area, Milky worked at all three American channels. Milky's Movie Party debuted on December 16, 1950 at  WJBK-channel two. In 1955, Milky moved to WXYZ--channel seven with the same show except with Little Rascals shorts. In 1958, the show moved for the last time to WWJ--channel four with a slightly different title Milky's Party Time. 

Party Time included a live audience and competitions between boys and the girls. Winners would chose a prize from the Twin Pines Toy House. Milky the Clown ended for Cummings in 1964 when he gave up the costume and makeup to make more money in industry.

Clare Cummings died on October 31, 1994, the same day as another noteworthy magician's death in Detroit in 1926--Harry Houdini. Cummings donated most of his magic tricks and one of his costumes to the American Museum of Magic in Marshall, Michigan. They are on permanent display.

***
In 1957, Windsor, Ontario broadcaster CKLW--channel nine purchased 234 Max Fleisher Popeye cartoons and they were looking for someone to host Popeye and Friends for their 6:00 pm time slot. Toby David portrayed Captain Jolly. Captain's Jolly's first mate was Poopdeck Paul portrayed by Paul Schultz, who worked the weekend slot. The show was popular but ended in 1964 when CKLW cancelled the show. Captain Jolly would address his kiddie audience as his "Chipmates" in his best, bad-German accent.
***


Jerry Gale was working as a stand-up comedian in Toledo, Detroit, and Windsor scratching out a living. In 1957, he auditioned for a new WXYZ program showing Three Stooges shorts called Curtain Time. The station manager insisted that Gale work under the name Johnny Ginger. Ginger's character was dressed as a stagehand in bib overalls. He would open the curtain and close the curtain for every show. Curtain Time ran from 1957 until 1960 when the show was rebranded under the name The Johnny Ginger Show, running from 1960 through 1968. Ginger changed his costume to a bellhop uniform and became a fan favorite.

***

Jingles in Boofland was purchased from a Fort Wayne, Indiana station by CKLW in 1958 for their weekly 5:00 pm time slot. Jerry Booth's character was a court jester and not a clown. He wore no makeup. His costume covered with bells jingled whenever he moved. 

Jingles lived in the mythical kingdom of Boofland--a play on Booth's last name. The show did not have a studio audience to compromise the fantasy of the medieval castle, the parapet, the archway, and several set pieces which allowed kids watching at home to work their imaginations. His two sidekicks were puppets, Herkimer Dragon and Cecil B. Rabbit. 

Herkimer, Jingles, and Cecil B.
Jingles played the straight man reacting to the puppets' eccentric behaviors. The rabbit was a bossy know-it-all. The dragon was a soft-spoken buffoon who did stupid things all the time. Occasional puffs of smoke would come out of Herkimer's mouth. Inside the puppet's head was a tube. Off-stage actor and voice of the puppets Larry Sand would light up a cigarette and blow smoke through the tube creating a fire-breathing dragon effect.

Jingles's comedy skits and running gags were wrapped around the Warner Brothers cartoons and Laurel and Hardy shorts that the program served up. Jingles in Boofland ended in the early sixties.

***

CKLW Detroit/Windsor Bozo--Art Cervi
The original Bozo the Clown was created by Alan W. Livingston in the 1940s for a storytelling record album. The character first appeared on TV in 1949. The rights to Bozo were purchased in 1956 by Larry Harmon. Harmon franchised the character across America, so every major television market had their own Bozo the Clown showing Bozo cartoons.

In 1965 when cable TV was taking hold, Harmon began to syndicate Bozo's Circus from Chicago and took the show to a national audience. Individual stations no longer needed their own Bozos, nor could they compete with the new format. In 1978, the show was bouncing off satellites and appearing worldwide.

Bob McNea was Detroit's first Bozo for WWJ from 1959-1967. Jerry Booth took over the role for CKLW but lasted only a month. Booth did not like putting on the heavy stage makeup or the anonymity of being Bozo. Art Cervi took over the role. He donned the red wig and clown suit from 1967 through 1979 when his contract ran out.

The above photo of Bozo needs some context. Bozo was doing a live appearance in Tiger Stadium. His makeup and wig are exaggerated so the crowd could see him from a distance. "Whoa, Nelly!" Normally, he wasn't that scary.

***


No survey of Detroit's kid show hosts would be complete without mention of the King of Detroit Kiddie Comedy--Soupy Sales. His show Lunch with Soupy ran at noon on WXYZ from 1953 until 1960.

I remember Lunchtime as a half-hour romp of slapstick, word play, and improvisation. Soupy's signature trademarks were the "pie in the face" and his dance the "Soupy Shuffle." No cartoons, just Soupy and his puppets White Fang, Black Tooth, and Pookie.

Most people are unaware that Milton Supman (Soupy Sales) held a master's degree in journalism. Soupy warrants his own post:

https://fornology.blogspot.com/2017/06/lunch-with-soupy-sales-in-detroit.html

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Lunch With Soupy Sales in Detroit

Soupy Sales was born Milton Supman on January 8, 1926, in Franklinton, North Carolina. His father Irving Supman immigrated to America from Hungary in 1894. He was a Jewish dry goods merchant. Later in life, Soupy would quip that the local Ku Klux Klan bought their sheets from his father's store.

Milton's nickname came from his family. His older brothers were dubbed "Ham Bone" and "Chicken Bone." The youngest son was "Soup Bone." Milton (Soupy) Supman enlisted in the United States Navy and served in the South Pacific. After the war, he earned a Master's degree in journalism. His oldest brother became a doctor, and his other brother became a lawyer. Soupy had little choice but to go into show business.

After graduation, Soupy worked as a morning DJ and performed a comedy act in nightclubs. In 1949, Soupy Sales began his television career on WKRC-TV in Cincinnati with "Soupy's Soda Shop," television's first teen dance program. The show was cancelled after a year. Soupy moved to Cleveland and did a late night comedy/variety program called "Soupy's On!" where he took his first pie in the face which became his trademark. After a couple of seasons, Soupy left Cleveland for health reasons. "The station manager was sick of me," he quipped.

In 1953, Soupy Sales relocated to Detroit and worked for WXYZ-TV Channel 7, the local ABC station. Soupy not only had the Lunch With Soupy program, he also hosted a Friday evening variety show called Soup's On, which featured musicians and jazz performers who were working one of the twenty-four jazz clubs operating in the Paradise Valley entertainment district in old Detroit. Top performers like Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Della Reese, Dinah Washington, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, to name a few, made guest appearances on Soupy's popular show. After an appearance, jazz artists would regularly sell out their venues.

Lunch With Soupy had a fixed kitchen set with a window, a table and chair to the left, and a door at center stage in the background that would interrupt Soupy mid-sentence with frantic knocking. Naturally, Soupy would stop, mug for the camera, and answer the door. Usually, Soupy played against only an arm and a voice appearing from the door jam.

Soupy wore a dark Orlon sweater, a white shirt with an oversized checkerboard bow tie, and a beat up top hat. Besides the pie-in-the-face running slapstick gag, Soupy was know for the Soupy Shuffle (his signature dance) and his Words of Wisdom like, "Be true to your teeth and they won't be false to you."

Pookie the Lion and Hippy the Hippo
If it was noon in Detroit and you were planted in front of a television set with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and Soupy was on, you knew you were in for a good time. Regulars on the show were hand puppets Soupy interacted with. He was the straight man for voice artist Clyde Adler who did the off-stage puppeteering and voice characterizations. The show's favorite puppets were:
  • White Fang, "The Biggest and Meanest Dog in the USA." He appeared from the left corner of the screen only as a giant white shaggy arm and paw with black triangular claws. White Fang spoke in unrecognizable grunts and growls which Soupy repeated in English for comic effect. White Fang often threw the pies when Soup's jokes bombed.
  • Black Tooth, "The Biggest and Sweetest Dog in the USA." She had a black shaggy arm and paw with white triangular claws. She had feminine grunts and groans, and always flirted with Soupy. Her trademark move was pulling Soupy off-camera and giving him big, noisy kisses.
  • Pookie the Lion appeared on the ledge of the window behind Soupy. Pookie was a hipster with a wicked wit. He lip synced novelty records or prerecorded bits. My favorite memory of Pookie was a routine called "Life Got You Down, Bunky?" It was a pep talk he gave Soupy every time Soupy complained about feeling blue. Comically, it was inspirational.
  • Willie the Worm, a latex accordion worm that popped in and out of an apple. Willie was known as "the sickest worm in all of Dee-troit." Willie had a perennial cold and an exaggerated sneeze. He read birthday greetings to Detroit-area kids. Sadly, Willie's health failed him. He did not survive the show's move to the Big Apple in 1964.
When Soupy took his show to WNEW-TV in New York City, it went into national syndication. This was the height of Soupy's popularity. His guest stars included the likes of Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Jerry Lewis, Judy Garland, and Sammy Davis. 

Soupy doing the Mouse dance

On New Years Day in 1965, to fill a few extra moments at the end of the show, Soupy made an off-the-cuff remark to the kids in his television audience. He suggested they go into their parents' rooms, find their parents' wallets, and take out the green pieces of paper with pictures of bearded guys and mail them to him. In return, Soupy said he would send them a postcard from Puerto Rico. The show was aired live and no transcripts or videotapes exist, so the exact language he used is not known.

Soupy's remark was an ad-libbed gag not meant to be taken literally, but an angry parent filed a complaint with the FCC. The way the press reported the story, it sounded like this was the biggest heist since the Brink's robbery. Some adults were livid that a TV personality would manipulate children for commercial gain.

Show business legend has it that the prank netted some $80,000. Soupy revealed publicly that he netted only a few real dollars which he donated to charity--the rest was fake money.

The station suspended Soupy. The outcry from Soupy's fans swamped the station's switchboards and packed their mail room with demands that Soupy be reinstated. Within a week, his suspension was lifted. Soupy worked for two more seasons before he gave up the top hat and bow tie and moved to Hollywood to become a panelist on many game shows including What's My Line, To Tell the Truth, Match Game, The Gong Show, and Hollywood Squares in the 70s and 80s.

Milton (Soupy Sales) Supman died of cancer October 22, 2009, at Calvary Hospice in the Bronx. He was eighty-three years old. Soupy Sales is best remembered by his many fans for his trademark pie-in-the-face gag, but in the comedy world, Soupy is remembered for his inventive, anarchic brand of riotous, television comedy. 

 Soupy and Pookie: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aB8e_uRzhMU

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Elusive Purple Gang Audio Now Available

Rich Miller
At last, the audio of my latest true crime book The Elusive Purple Gang: Detroit's Kosher Nostra is available from Amazon, Audible.com, and iTunes. I wanted a professional voice artist, recording on professional recording equipment. My publisher Wheatmark Inc. recommended Rich Miller and arranged for him to make a demo recording of my first chapter. I liked it.

I met with Rich in Tucson, Arizona, and discovered he has an acting background ranging from Shakespeare to modern theater like Damn Yankees and August: Osage County. He has worked in theatrical sound design and done voice over work in television commercials.

Now, Rich operates his own recording studio and acts out stories in front of a microphone. He is the creator and host of a podcast named The Audiobook Speakeasy aimed at narrators, offering them content from audio coaches, sound engineers, casting directors, and contract specialists. 

I chose Rich to narrate The Elusive Purple Gang because I wanted someone who could read my book in a conversational tone to make the storytelling more engaging for the listener. Rich's subtle voice characterizations make listening a pleasure.

Elusive Purple Gang Audio Link 

Rich Voice Productions 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Allen Park's Uniroyal Giant Tire--Fifty-Nine Years Old--Heralds Entrance into The Motor City



The original U.S. Royal Tire exhibit was a Ferris wheel attraction at the New York World's Fair of 1964/1965, held in Flushing Meadows Corona Park in the borough of Queens. The fair was open for two six-month seasons. In 1964, it was open from April 22th until October 18th, and in 1965, the dates were April 21st until October 17th.

The history of the U.S. Royal Giant Tire is pretty straightforward. Originally rigged as a Ferris wheel and powered by a 100 HP engine, it was over eighty feet high. It carried close to 2,000,000 people at the World's Fair, many of them famous world figures. There were twenty-four barrel shaped gondolas, each carrying up to four people for a total of ninety-six passengers paying a quarter apiece. 

At the fair's end, the tire was disassembled and shipped in twenty-one truck loads to Detroit and reassembled as a static display outside the Uniroyal sales offices in Allen Park, Michigan. It is one of the world's largest roadside attractions. The Uniroyal office has since moved, but the Giant Tire still stands.

The tire is not made of rubber, but sightseers don't notice the difference whizzing past the landmark at seventy miles an hour on Interstate 94. The tire weighs just under twelve tons and is anchored in twenty-four feet of concrete and structural steel. It is rated to withstand hurricane force winds.

When the Michelin Tire Company bought out Uniroyal and Goodrich in 1990, they renovated the landmark in 1994 with a fresh coat of paint, a modern looking hubcap, and neon lights for the Uniroyal lettering. Four years later in 1998, the Giant Tire was modified again to resemble a "Nail Guard" tire. An eleven foot long, 250 pound nail (world's largest) was sticking out from the tire to promote their new puncture proof product. The nail was put up for auction on eBay in 2003 and sold for $3,000, with proceeds donated to the Allen Park Historical Museum.

In 2003, the Giant Tire was once again renovated as part of the I-94 corridor revitalization. The neon lettering was replaced with reflective lettering and spotlighting. It has remained a Detroit landmark and an Allen Park roadside attraction for fifty-three-years heralding the entrance into the Motor City from Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Michigan.

It has been noted that the one thing the Beatles wanted to see on their American tour was the Giant Tire. Whether they stopped along the freeway to take a good look at it on their way into Detroit from Metro Airport isn't known, but when Paul McCartney and Wings were touring in 1976, the moment was commemorated.



For more detailed information on the Detroit's Big Wheel, consult The Giant Tire by Steve J. Frey: http://www.gianttire.info/?fbclid=IwAR2HT6p9Cva5dHSNZl-Ff0dRj053V6Eu--R5FuZtyauH3alhNuDMtladjkM