Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Kelly & Company's Marilyn Turner

 
Let's face it, folks! John Kelly was a Detroit television news second banana to Jac LeGoff at WJBK-Channel 2 and Bill Bonds at WXYZ-Channel 7 until he married Action News weathercaster Marilyn Turner. Together, they made Detroit television history when their popular morning show Kelly & Company ran for seventeen years. The live talk show was a mixture of show business gossip, fashion news, celebrity interviews, and the discussion of community issues of interest.

John William Kelin II was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1927. He served as a radioman in World War II and again in Korea. After his enlistment was up, he worked as a TV program director and production manager in Rockford, Illinois before moving to WJBK in August 1965. John changed his birth surname to the more mainstream Kelly and began working as a field reporter before becoming co-anchor of WJBK's evening news program with senior correspondent Jac LeGoff. The toughest part of the job was having to laugh at LeGoff's tepid sense of humor.

In the 1970s at the direction of parent company American Broadcasting Company (ABC), WXYZ began an agressive build-up of local news. Early in 1972, John Kelly jumped from WJBK-Channel 2 to WXYZ-Channel 7 and became co-anchor opposite Bill Bonds. Not long after, WWJ-Channel 4 fired Al Ackerman for editorializing on-air during his live sports broadcast. The popular sportscaster was swooped up by WXYZ. Then, later that year (October 1972), Marilyn Turner left WJBK to join the Channel 7 Action News team as a weathercaster five nights a week.

After seeing a newspaper ad referring to her as a weather girl, forty-one-year-old Turner let WXYZ management know she bristled at the weather girl label. "I don't believe any woman over 21 should be called a girl. You don't call a man a weather boy." The ad ran only once.

Marilyn Miller was born and bred in Windsor, Ontario across the river from Detroit. She was educated at Hugh Beaton Public School and graduated from Walkerville Collegiate before attending the University of Western Ontario at London where she studied psychology before switching to teaching. Subsequently, Marilyn married Dr. Robert Turner of Kitchener, Ontario. She began modeling and doing print ads for local retailers, first in Canada and then in the United States. In 1961 at the age of thirty, Turner became a weekend weathercaster at Detroit television station WJBK, known as "Miss Fairweather." She was still able to pursue her modeling and advertising career during the week.

While working at WJBK, Turner made a commercial that followed her throughout her years on television. She became the spokesperson for Carpet Center. Her ads appeared on all three Detroit television stations; they were broadcast on local radio stations throughout Detroit; and print ads appeared in local newspapers. One ad had Turner riding on a Persian carpet throughout the carpet warehouse. Her new contract with Channel 7 Action News prohibited their news personnel from making commercials, but her previous advertising work ran for many years, much to the annoyance of some viewers.

Initially, Turner was not a popular choice because she replaced familiar weatherman Jim Smith. Smith was Detroit's only genuine meteorologist and Turner had no experience except reading the weather from a script at her previous job. The outcry was so great that Smith made a public statement saying "Marilyn did what any person would do when they are offered a better job opportunity and more money." Smith quietly moved over to WJBK and took over their weather time slots.

Kelly and Turner met when they worked at WJBK, but it wasn't until Marilyn began working on the Action News team that they started dating. The couple kept their romance a secret as long as they could. They married on December 27, 1974 in a private home in Oxford, Michigan after their 6:00 pm newscast. The bride wore a salmon-colored, ankle-length dress and held a bouquet of roses and daisies. The groom wore a black suit with a gray vest. The newlyweds planned a Jamaican honeymoon between their next ratings period. Kelly (47) had three children from a previous marriage, and Turner (43) was married twice to Dr. Robert Turner and divorced him twice. She had a son from each marriage.

The triumph of hope over experience was a big enough challenge for the newlywed couple, but when the ABC network found out, the Kellys discovered there was a corporate policy against married couples working on the same TV news program. WXYZ had no such policy, but the chemistry of the new dynamic was palpable on the Action News set. The newspaper gossip cloumnists began referring to Kelly and Turner as the "Power Couple of Detroit." Even the station started to promote their news program that way.

But the wisdom of the policy was made apparent on Saturday, April 24, 1976 when Kelly moved into his own apartment due to domestic problems. Though the couple acted professionally on the air, the strain on the Action News team was perceptable. After fifteen months of separation and marriage counseling, John and Marilyn patched things up. He moved backed into their Farmington home.

Hoping to quell the persistent concerns of their parent ABC network, WXYZ pitched John Kelly the idea for a new type of live, morning program with a studio audience. At first, the Kelly & Company idea had no appeal for him. The rude awakening of getting up at 4:30 every morning was a deal breaker.

The station manager asked Kelly what it would take for him to change his mind. Kelly added terms to his contract he was sure would make his bosses look elsewhere for their daytime program host, but the station manager made Kelly an offer too good to refuse that included "more money, longer vacations, and out-of-state assignments." It was also a good move for his wife who was tired of doing the weather forecast.

When Kelly and Turner left Action News, John was making $175,000 as co-anchor and Marilyn was making $45,000 as weathercaster. Upon the debut of Kelly & Company on October 25, 1978, the couple signed a package deal for $500,000 a year. Kelly got $275,000 and Turner's salary jumped to $225,000.

The ninety-minute, live show was viewer friendly, community focused, and guest oriented. Co-hosts John Kelly and Marilyn Turner maintained an on-screen chemistry and lighthearted atmosphere that appealed strongly to women in the 18-40 year-old demographic. The show soon became first in its time slot, but in early June 1990, Kelly underwent emergency surgery for colon cancer and needed several months to recover. Turner stayed by her husband's side for two weeks while the station asked Rita Bell to fill-in with various co-hosts until her return. As a gimmick, Bell's co-hosts for the second week were five guys named John Kelly.

Kelly returned to the show and soldiered on for another four years until he announced on January 8, 1994 that he would be leaving the show on March 4th. At the age of sixty-seven, he was tired and had lost his edge. Marilyn, now sixty-three-years-old, would continue the show without him.

The program was quickly reimagined. Former urban reporter for WXYZ, Nikki Grandberry, was hired to co-host. The show was rebranded Company with Marilyn Turner and Nikki Grandberry. As hard as these women worked to make their show a success, the Arbitron ratings fell off sharply. Detroit Free Press media columnist Bob Talbert pronounced on October 11, 1994 that Turner and Grandberry "are the most unmatched pair on (Detroit) television." As the saying goes, "If it don't gel, it ain't aspic." At the end of their contract period, WXYZ uncermoniously cancelled the program. Kelly & Company was the last Detroit-produced, non-news program when it went off the air in 1978 after seventeen years serving Detroit's morning audience.

John Kelly passed away on September 18, 2016 at the Health and Living Center in Southfield, Michigan. Marilyn Turner, as far as I have been able to discover, died a year later in 2017 in Amherstburg, Ontario.

Marilyn Turner interviews serial killer John Norman Collins from Marquette Prison

Thursday, January 21, 2021

High Flying in Detroit with Leaping Larry Chene

Arguably the most popular wrestler in the Detroit, Michigan area in the early 1960s was Leaping Larry Chene--born Arthur Lawrence Beauchene on June 22, 1924 on Detroit's Eastside. He attended St. Bernard Catholic School where he played team sports. In the early 1940s, he took naval pre-flight training at the University of Iowa and the University of Michigan. Chene wrestled competitively in college before enlisting to fight in World War II. 

After the war, Beauchene started a trucking business which involved long hours and marginal profits. In 1951, Detroit wrestling promoter Bert Ruby needed someone to fill in for one of his injured wrestlers and approached Beauchene knowing he had a wrestling background. Ruby offered him $27.50 for wrestling a thirty-minute bout. He wrestled under a shortened, Americanized version of his real name--Larry Chene. Years later, he was quoted as saying, "This was the easiest money I ever made."

Shortly after, Chene shut down his struggling trucking business and learned the secrets of the squared circle. Chene wrestled in small, local venues five or six times a week for different small promotions while he developed his craft. Then in 1953, he signed a six-week contract to wrestle in Texas. He liked the steady work and the money. Chene had a growing family to provide for, so he stayed for several years developing his high-flying, Leaping Larry Chene persona.

Chene was a spectacular aerial performer whose signature move was the flying head scissors. He was a likeable "good guy" who fans related to when he took a beating at the hands of an assortment of uncouth villains. Unlike his opponents, Chene was personable and bantered with the referees and the crowd. He was always quick with a smile and an autograph when he met the public.

John Squires remembers back in the early 1960's "Dearborn High had a wrestling night in the gym. Larry, the Sheik, Bobo, all were there. Larry got thrown out of the ring and while he was laying in front of us, he borrowed my friend's penny loafer (shoe) and stuck it in the back of his tights. Chene jumped back in the ring and hit the Sheik in the forehead with it and the Sheik started bleeding. Not sure if it was fake or not, but it sure looked good."

Wrestling Promoter Bert Ruby

Chene returned to Detroit in 1960 a seasoned professional wrestler. He signed a contract with old friend Bert Ruby, who was looking for a star to headline his new Motor City Wrestling (MCW) television program which aired Saturday afternoons on WXYZ-TV Channel 7. Chene was featured and quickly became a fan favorite. The television show was essentially an advertisement for Ruby's growing wrestling promotions which were now happening at larger venues like the Olympia arena and Detroit's new Cobo Hall Convention Center. Big money was being made.

During a live Saturday afternoon match on August 26, 1961 to promote an Olympia event, Chene wrestled La Bestia (The Beast)--The Sicilian Sheep Herder. The Beast caught Chene from behind with a bear hug and shook him up and down while squeezing. Chene uncharacteristicly cried out and The Beast dropped him on the mat. The referee stopped the match and the program cut to a commercial break.

The MCW doctor on hand called an ambulance and transported the injured wrestler to Riverside Hospital in Trenton, Michigan where he was diagnosed with a torn stomach muscle requiring surgery and a lengthy period of recuperation. To keep his name in the wrestling public's mind, Chene did the color commentary for MCW until his abodmen healed. Meanwhile, a grudge match with The Beast was heavily promoted for a month before it was scheduled.

 

In those days, the matches were three falls. The Beast won the first fall and Chene won the second. In a rage, The Beast threw Chene out of the ring. The Beast's manager, Martino Angelo, promptly attacked Chene on the concrete floor. When the referee wasn't able to restore order, he handed the split decision to Chene after disqualifying The Beast.

During his career, Chene won more matches than he lost, and he held many championship titles and belts during his thirteen-year tenure delighting fans. Early in the morning on October 2, 1964, Chene was returning home from a match in Davenport, Iowa when his car went off the shoulder of Interstate 70 and flipped over near Atkinson, Illinois. Initial reports indicated Chene's car hit a telephone pole but that was found to be false. Illinois State Police reported finding a speeding ticket for traveling 92 mph issued to Chene five hours before he was found dead in his car. He was almost forty years old.

On Tuesday, October 6, 1964, services were held for Arthur Lawrence Beauchene at St. David's Roman Catholic Church on E. Outer Drive in Detroit. Beauchene lived in Harper Woods with his wife Mary and their six children. His body is interred in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. Edward George Farhat, the original Sheik, paid for the funeral.

Leaping Larry Chene match with post match interview

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Detroit's Lady of Charm Brings Home the Bacon


Edythe Fern Melrose, Detroit radio station WXYZ's Lady of Charm, and her business executive husband, Forest U. Webster, formed their own radio and print advertisement production company called House O'Charm Studios in 1941. This shrewd move put Edythe on a firm business footing which was rare for a woman of her time. Together, she and her husband produced her popular women's radio program and also made commercials for many of the products she used and recommended on her show. The Lady of Charm's seal of approval was money in the bank for advertisers, and sponsors were lining up to get her endorsement. It is difficult to overestimate her influence over women consumers in the Detroit area in the 1940s through the 1950s.

The Lady of Charm had long dreamed of the perfect kitchen, and she asked her viewers for their ideas. Once Edythe worked out what she wanted, she hired Ann Arbor consulting architect Walter T. Anicka to draw up the blueprints of her vision. Because Edythe was a savvy business woman, she took advantage of the tax benefits of dedicating a sizeable portion of the home to create America's first test kitchen home with a media production studio. She was masterful at product placement and literally set the stage for all cooking and fashion shows to follow.

The state of the art kitchen appliances and gadgets used in the home were donated by some of America's top manufacturers simply for promotional consideration. Everything used in the home inside and out was the most modern and finest available. The Lady of Charm was known for mentioning the brand names of the products she used whenever she used them. Her list of advertisers was impressive:

  • General Electric
  • Frigidaire
  • Hotpoint
  • Wrigley's Grocery Stores
  • Robinson's Furniture Company
  • Fisher Wall Paper and Paint Company
  • Palombit Tile
  • Restrick Lumber 
  • Hollywood Glass and Shower Door Company
  • Harold C. Southard--Designer and Builder
  • Grinnell Brothers (China and silver settings)
  • and many more
Their ads ran prevalently in the Real Estate and Property section of the local Detroit newspapers linking their products to the House O'Charm. This form of advertising was an early example of effective cross-marketing.


The House O'Charm was built on Lake St. Clair lakefront property in St. Clair Shores and doubled as the residence of the Websters--Edythe and Forest. The street view of the home appeared to be on one level, but the house had seven levels. The exterior of the home was light-faced brick. The entrance was a raised flagstone patio leading to a reception hall and gallery which the rest of the house radiated from. Straight ahead and a few steps down was a sunken living room with a black marble fireplace. Wide 6' by 9' expanses of thermopane glass windows flanking both sides of French doors, providing an impressive view of Lake St. Clair and leading outside to a flagstone terrace and sun deck facing the lake.

A fully-equipped kitchen to the right of the gallery was four steps above the living room level which included a dining room terrace and a breakfast nook . A stairway led down to a laundry and utility room. Another winding stairway led up to the maid's private apartment. A wide stairwell off the service entrance led down to the basement where the radio studio was located which included three production offices and a 13' storage wall. On the opposite end of the basement was a family recreation room.

Back on the ground floor, two spacious bedrooms, each with its own private his-and-hers bathrooms, were off the left end of the gallery. The master bedroom had a commanding view of the lake. The gallery was so long that each end had it's own fully-equipped, cleaning closet. This dream house also included an attached, two car garage facing the street and a boathouse on ground level facing the lake.

On November 28, 1948, the building was dedicated during a live radio broadcast when the Lady of Charm set the cornerstone. The Detroit News and the Detroit Free Press each featured full, front page articles in the Real Estate and Property sections of their newspapers about the House O'Charm, with artist renderings of the home and targeted advertising.

***

Edythe and Forest were frequent vacationers to the United States Territory of Hawaii and admired the way tropical homes opened to the outdoors for inside-out living. Edythe was inspired to create a tropical-style home adapted to the often harsh Michigan weather.

Using modern construction materials and imaginative design, their new, innovative concept house would also double as a test home for products Edythe would later recommend for promotional consideration--not only kitchen products but also building materials and services used in the home's construction. Shrewdly, she and her husband deducted a percentage of the home's footprint from their federal taxes while taking full advantage of donated materials and product endorsements as they had done with the original House O'Charm--now for sale.

The new house was built in Grosse Point Woods and christened the Tropical House of Charm on May 28th, 1955. Unlike its predecessor, which was occasionally used for WXYZ tours and entertaining purposes, this home was not open to the public and more of a private residence. Harold C. Southard of Charm Builders once again was chosen to construct the tropical home. Edythe and Harold Southard were to build two more homes together in Grayling, Michigan. Closer examination reveals that Harold was Edythe's son from her first marriage, and in the interest of full disclosure, Edythe's television kitchen helper was her daughter-in-law Gretchen both seen in the above photo.

Tropical House of Charm facing Lake St. Clair.

The living room of the tropical house had 14' ceilings and a huge, sliding glass, thermopane wall that opened on pleasant days onto a 56' wide flagstone terrace leading towards Lake St. Clair. Waterproof marine-grade mahogany was used for exterior paneling. Inside the home, there were 30' of built-in planters filled with tropical plants and pygmi palm trees lit by a series of skylights. Edythe even had a flowering banana tree flown in from the Islands. A specialized wrought-iron stairway led to three bedrooms on the second level. The master bedroom had a lanai balcony overlooking the lake. Cork floors were used throughout the living and sleeping areas. The home was wired for television, telephone, and an intercom system. 

The dream kitchen had a built-in refrigerator, a double oven, and a dishwasher. The double sink was equipped with a garbage disposal. A convenient cooking island containing counter-top surface burners with plenty of storage was conveniently located. House O'Charm Studios filmed segments in her spacious test kitchen for her weekly television program and produced syndicated shows for other television stations in Michigan and Windsor, Ontario. She and her husband also produced television and print commercials for the products she tested and gave her seal of approval to. 

From her WXYZ salary, extensive product endorsements, and speaking fees, it is estimated the Lady of Charm made close to $100,000 yearly. In the 1950s, that was an impressive amount. She was active in Detroit and national business organizations and chosen Advertising Woman of the Year four times by the Women's Advertising Club of Detroit. In 1963, the Lady of Charm won the Zenith Television Award "for excellence in local programming and distinctive service to the community and its welfare." 

Edythe Fern Melrose was a television trailblazer and a woman ahead of her time. Miss Melrose left such an impression on comedian Lily Tomlin, who grew up in Detroit, that she based her Tasteful Lady character on Melrose.

Lady of Charm biography 

Monday, January 11, 2021

George "The Animal" Steele in His Own Words

George "The Animal" Steele and his favorite snack.

William James Myers was raised a happy child in Madison Heights, Michigan until dyslexia separated him from his classmates. He was left behind in second grade because he couldn't read. By the time Myers was in junior high school, he was a year older and a year bigger than his peers, and he began to gain notice in school sports. By the time he began Madison High School, the coaches were waiting for him.

Upon graduation, Myers was awarded a full ride scholarship to play football at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan. All he wanted to do was play football, with little concern for the educational opportunity before him. Questionable judgements and bad knees kept him off the gridiron.

With the help of his newlywed wife Patricia, he was able to earn a bachelor's degree at Michigan State and a master's degree with a teaching credential at Central Michigan University in Mt. Pleasant. He was hired as a teacher and a wrestling/football coach at his former high school where he excelled. By then, Jim and Pat had three children and the Myers family was having trouble making ends meet on a teacher's salary.

Jim and Pat Myers

On the advice of a friend, he went to see Bert Ruby, a Detroit prowrestling promoter who sent Myers to Windsor, Ontario to learn the secrets of the squared circle to supplement his meager teaching income. He began to wrestle out-of-town matches wearing a face mask and wrestling under the name "The Student" to protect his privacy. The extra money came in handy.

In 1967, Myers was scouted by World Wrestling Federation's Bruno Sammartino and began working in the Pittsburg, Pennsylvania television market. Sammartino urged Myers to ditch the mask and change his ring name to George "The Animal" Steele. His finishing move became the flying hammerlock.

The "Animal" character was stooped over with a thrust forward shaved head. The thick mat of fur on his back fed into the promotion that he was the long sought after Missing Link. The Animal rarely spoke more than a grunt or a syllable or two and stuck out his green tongue at the crowd. He ate Clorets mints just before his matches. At least his breath was fresh.

Steele cultivated his menacing imbelcile routine in his promotional interviews often appearing with managers like Lou Albano or Classy Freddie Blasse to speak for him. He developed his wildman character by tearing up turnbuckles and throwing the shredded foam rubber at his opponents who stood by looking bewildered. His Neanderthal image couldn't be more different than the private man. 

In 1988, Myers was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. He retired from prowrestling and moved to Coco Beach, Flordia where he lived until his death on February 16, 2017 from kidney failure at the age of seventy-nine.

Before his death, Jim Myers made a candid and touching hour-long video expressly for his fans which tells his life story much better than anyone else can. For viewers interested mainly in Jim Myers' wrestling career, pick up the interview 34 minutes in. Anyone interested in the man, view the whole video.

A Walk Through Life with Jim Myers - AKA George "The Animal" Steele

George "The Animal" Steele vs. Randy "Macho Man" Savage

Friday, January 8, 2021

Detroit's Lindell AC Sports Bar Relish Tray Brawl

Lindell Athletic Club Bumper Sticker

It looked to Jimmy and Johnny Butsicaris like 1980 was going to be the Lindell AC's year. The Alex Karras/Susan Clark co-produced a Made-For TV Movie Jimmy B. and Andre which debuted on March 9th to strong reviews. Much of the movie was shot inside the Lindell, and the bar got lots of free publicity.

Sixty-year-old Jimmy Butsicaris also had a popular Sunday night radio program on WXYZ-1270 AM which aired 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm called Sports Talk: Live from the Lindell AC. Jimmy interviewed coaches, managers, and local sports heroes from Detroit's professional sports teams and their opponents from a booth set off in a quiet corner of the bar. A special phone line was installed so Jimmy could take questions from area sports fans to ask his guests on-air.

Then on April 29, 1980, some out-of-town trouble walked into their neighborhood sports bar. Two off-duty Pontiac police officers left a Tigers vs. Texas Rangers afternoon game early at Tiger Stadium that they attended with sixteen fellow Pontiac policemen. The game wasn't going well for the Tigers, so two of the officers left early. They tucked a note under the windsheild wiper of the church bus they had taken from Pontiac, Michigan. The note said they were at the Lindell and come by to pick them up after the game. Incidently, the Tigers lost that game 10-5.

The pair had a few beers at the ballpark before they walked several blocks to the Lindell.The brawl started when the police officers became loud and rude to some of the Lindell customers. Fifty-nine-year-old Johnny Butsicaris told them to tone it down. Then the pair began eating from a relish tray at a nearby table without ordering food. Johnny told them the relish tray was for people who bought hamburgers. The two men became obnoxious and threatened Johnny.

Johnny Butsicaris
 

Jimmy Butsicaris told the Detroit Free Press two days after the brawl, "Johnny took their beers and told them to leave. Then one of them grabbed a nearby beer bottle by the neck motioning like he was going to hit my brother with it. His partner wanted to get in on the action too, so I grabbed him and threw him up against a pole. That's when my bar's security stepped in and started pushing them out the front door.

"Then their friends arrived. Ten or twelve of them. They saw what was happening and jumped in. They knocked my brother John down and punched and kicked him until they broke his ribs. My tailbone is still bruised and my spine hurts. My foster son Andre Reynolds got hit hard on the head with a steel beer keg tapper, and my son-in-law David Jackson was hit in the eye with it too. When Andre went outside to write down the license plate number of the bus that the group had taken to the ballpark, one of the original trouble-makers pulled a concealed weapon and waved him off." 

Detroit police investigators discovered the rowdy bar patrons were off-duty Pontiac police officers. They questioned several Pontiac officers involved in the incident who claimed they were attacked rather than the other way around. When Jimmy heard from a reporter that the assailants were police officers, he was outraged.


Jimmy Butsicaris

"Thirty-one years I've been in the business, I never had anything happen like this and then to find out it was coppers. Cops are supposed to stop fights, not start them. I'm gonna do something. I want some satisfaction. They just can't come in here from the suburbs and jack up my bar. I'll never allow bus loads of people into the bar again. They're always zonked and make trouble. We don't run that kind of bar."

Beyond the bar fight, his brother Johnny was bothered by how the press portrayed their bar as a dangerous place to go. "Me and my brother worked hard to make the Lindell a neighborhood sports bar where Detroit fans might meet their professional sports heroes."

On May 2nd, officers Donald Weyer (34) and Raymond Felice (32) were suspended with pay pending an internal investigation. At the end of the month, the Pontiac Police Department released the findings of their investigation concluding that the incident was caused by "unauthorized consumption of peppers and pickles from a relish tray which caused unjustified and excessive harshness on the part of Lindell AC employees."

The investigation concluded that Officers Weyer and Felice "were not drunk anytime during the (two-minute) incident nor did they conduct themselves in a disorderly or unlawful manner." No mention was made of the gun Officer Weyer pulled on Andre Reynolds.

Jimmy was incensed. "The reputation of our establishment is hurt after this white-washed investigation. My brother and I promote the Lindell as a place where people can bring their families. We don't want the reputation of being a skid row saloon where a brawl can break out at any time."

Although Jimmy Butsicaris said there was no real damage to the bar, the brawl sent four people to Henry Ford Hospital. The Butsicaris brothers brought a $50,000 lawsuit against the Pontiac police officers and the City of Pontiac on June 5th. The suit asked that police pay for injuries he and his family sustained, their court costs, and their attorneys' fees. Any money beyond that would be donated to a church charity.

Sixteen days later, the two Pontiac police officers countersued the brothers for one million dollars apiece for assault and slander. Both lawsuits were settled out of court, but Jimmy was the victim of further collateral damage.

In July, Jimmy's radio program contract ran out. Operations manager Michael Packer at WXYZ-AM cancelled Jimmy's popular Sunday evening Sports Talk: Live at the Lindell AC after nine successful months on the air. The bad publicity from the brawl was more than the station bargained for, but Jimmy wasn't too broken up about it. Preparation for the Sunday night show took up a good part of his week, and he wasn't making enough money to make it worth his while.

Jimmy B. and Andre made in Detroit

Friday, January 1, 2021

Soupy Sales Late Night Detroit Variety Show


After serving twenty-six months in the United States Navy in World War II--twelve in the Pacific theater--Milton Supman took his G.I. Bill benefits and earned a master's degree in journalism in 1949. While attending Marshall College in Huntington, West Virgina, Supman
was bit by the show business bug and began working part-time doing standup comedy in local nightclubs and dee-jaying a morning radio show on WHTN-AM.

Supman moved to Cincinnati when he landed a television spot on WKRC-TV hosting a teen dance show called Soupy's Soda Shop--the first in the country. Supman worked under the stage name Soupy Hines. When his show was cancelled, a friend at the station told Soupy about Detroit station WXYZ-TV that was looking for live entertainers to round out its local programming schedule.

The unemployed, twenty-seven-year-old performer legally changed his stage name to Soupy Sales; took his young wife and baby to stay with relatives in Huntington, West Virgina; and drove to Detroit with $10 in his pocket. He auditioned for Channel 7 general manager John Pival to host a daily, children's lunchtime show. Pival was impressed and hired him. Soupy used his fast-talking, improvisational skills to good effect and soon made his program a success. Soupy wanted to show he had the talent to attract more than a kiddie audience.

When an 11:00 PM slot opened up unexpectedly two months later, program director Pete Strand reserved the time slot for Soupy to do an adult-focused, variety show of comedy and music entertainment. Soupy's On debuted on November 10th, 1953.

 

Unlike his lunchtime show which was roughly outlined and ad libbed giving it a spontaneous flair, the evening show was scripted and well-rehearsed. Soupy and his stage director Pete Strand wrote the nightly opening monologue and comedy sketches each afternoon for the evening broadcast. The show opened with Soupy doing a standup routine followed by a cutting-edge comic sketch and live guest performances by some of the best jazz muscians of the era.

Soupy was a jazz lover living in a jazz town. Detroit at that time was the home to twenty-four jazz clubs before urban renewal in 1959 wiped out the Black Bottom and Paradise Valley neighborhoods where most of the jazz clubs were located. Soupy's nighttime show soon became a scheduled stop for jazz performers like Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Billie Holiday, George Shearing, Della Reese, Charlie Parker, and Miles Davis, who was living in the Detroit area at the time.

Soupy's house band "Two Joes and a Hank" led by Hal Gordon had some chops too. Guitarist Joe Messina and drummer Jack Brokensha later became members of Motown's Funk Brothers. Rounding out the group was Joe Oddo, who played bass, and Hank Trevision, who played piano. Soupy's theme song was Charlie Parker's "Yardbird Suite."

Soupy portrayed an array of comic characters like belching Sheriff Wyatt Burp, European crooner Charles Vichysoisse, Colonel Claude Bottom, and Western cowboy hero The Lone Stranger. Other performers were Clyde Adler who played Indian mystic Kuda Dux and Mississippi gambler Wes Jefferson; character actress Bertha Forman, with fifty years of show business experience, played Soupy's mother-in-law; attractive blonde Jane Hamilton played ditzy literary critic Harriet Von Loon and hip-swinging floozy Bubbles, Soupy's on-screen wife.


 

Detroit's most recognized voice actor Rube Weiss--announcer for Detroit Dragway commercials and the official Hudson's department store Santa for many years--played Charlie Pan and the Lone Stranger's sidekick Pronto.

Rube Weiss

Soupy and his troupe pioneered late-night comedy shows and paved the way for programs like Saturday Night Live. His show was before the age of videotape and only one Kinescope segment (a fixed 16mm camera filming a TV program directly from the screen) survives from the show which is linked below. Soupy interviews trumpeter Clifford Brown at the end of Brown's performance.

The final episode of Soupy's On aired November 27, 1959. Soupy had done 3,300 morning and evening shows for WXYZ in six years when his variety show was cancelled. At the time, Soupy was the highest paid celebrity in Detroit television. When the station declined to renegotiate Soupy's contract, he was free to shop his talents in Hollywood.

In a statement to Detroit local media, Soupy took a moment to make it real. "I've been working in a state of exhaustion for years. My workday begins at 9:00 am and ends at 2:30 am. I get three hours of sleep at night and another two hours in the afternoon. You wear a little ragged after awhile. I see my fans more than I see my own family," Soupy said. "But let's face it. Here in Detroit, local live television is dying because the networks are producing more of their own programming and crowding out local talent."      

Soupy Sales relocated to Los Angeles and appeared in some television episodes and several movies but never became a television or movie star in Hollywood. He wasn't leading man material, and his face was too well-known for him to be a convincing character actor. But he recreated himself as a "TV personality" and made a steady living as a panelist on the game show circuit doing programs like Hollywood Squares, $20,000 Pyramid, To Tell the Truth, and What's My Line.

Here is the only surviving clip of Soupy's On from 1956 featuring jazz great Clifford Brown.

Lunch With Soupy 

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Washtenaw County Release of Double-Murderer Ralph C. Nuss

Washtenaw County Detectives Chester A. Wilson and Stanton L. Bordine taking Ralph C. Nuss for a ride to Ionia State Mental Hospital.

One of the most disturbing events in the history of the Washtenaw County Prosecutor's Office was the release of Ralph C. Nuss for the strangulation murder of seventeen-year-old Arlan Withrow of Ypsilanti, Michigan on October 16, 1966. His body was found on October 20 in a shallow creek near Port Huron, Michigan with a cement block tied to his leg. Nuss was also charged with the strangulation/shooting murder of eighteen-year-old Thomas Brown of Windsor, Ontario on November 10, 1966. A combination of prosecutorial delay and a change in Michigan state law regarding its "criminal sexual psychopath (CSP)" statutes combined to release Nuss on February 9, 1979 after eight years of detention without being charged. 

Thirty-year-old Nuss was arrested on November 14, 1966 on a warrant charging him with "gross indecency between males." During an early morning interrogation the next morning, Nuss tearfully confessed to Washtenaw County sheriff's detectives that he molested both youths after killing them. When asked for a motive, all Nuss said was "I just had to  kill them." Detectives said Nuss "wept so much that the tears flowed off his chin."

On November 16th, Nuss led detectives to a creek near Harland in Livingston County where they found Brown's body. Nuss initially told detectives that the Withrow murder occurred on federal property outside Milan Federal Prison, which brought a federal charge carrying a death penalty sentence. Nuss was held in the Washtenaw County Jail.

A glaring irony of this case was that Nuss was a respected supervisor at Milan Federal Prison where he managed the prison's work release program for eligible inmates. Warden Paul P. Sartwell said, "Nuss' confession is shocking to me and all of his fellow employees. He began working at Milan Prison on May 25th, 1965 and had an excellent work record during his tenure here."

Nuss' landlady in Augusta Township, Mrs. Dubik, told investigators that her tenant was "very polite and considerate. He took me to church every Sunday, drove me to the grocery store, and helped me around the house. He didn't smoke or drink either." Further investigation revealed Nuss attended St. Joseph Catholic Church in Whittaker, near Ypsilanti where he taught Sunday School catechism class. When Mrs. Dubik was asked if she noticed anything unusual about her tenant, she said he entertained male friends who sometimes left early in the morning. Dubik also mentioned that sometimes she visited her family for several days giving Nuss free reign of her home.

Nuss' admission of leading a double-life set off an Ypsilanti police investigation of a young-adult underworld in the Ypsi area. Nuss used the psydonym "Ken Nichols" and regularly associated with teens on the fringes of the youthful underworld he met on street corners and teen hangouts. Police say they uncovered drug trafficking, a car theft ring, a pornography market, and homosexual activities.

Nuss was acquainted with several youths involved in illegal activity. Investigators found that the name Ken Nichols kept turning up with some of Withrow's known associates. After a month-long investigation, Nuss was arrested for gross indecency on November 14, 1966 by Washtenaw County Sheriff detectives Stanton L. Bordine and Chester A. Wilson. Nuss used the pseudonym Ken Nichols when apprehended. 

Thirty-year-old Nuss admitted he met Arlan Withrow through a "mutual friend." He telephoned Withrow on the evening of October 16th after Withrow returned from a movie date with his girlfriend. Later that night, he met Withrow and drove him to his rented room on Tuttle Hill Road in Augusta Township. Nuss said Withrow fell asleep (passed out?) and he bound Withrow's hands.

Nuss initially told police that he took Withrow to a secluded area near Milan Prison and strangled him with a rope. Then he threw Withrow's nude body in the trunk of his car until the next evening when he drove the body outside the Port Huron area and threw Withrow's body into a shallow creek.

Twenty-four days later on November 10th, Nuss took Thomas Brown to his rented room and tried to bind him also. Brown struggled, so Nuss shot him in the head with a .38 caliber pistol. He stored the body in the trunk of his car and took it to Harland in Livingston County, 40 miles north of Ann Arbor and threw Brown's nude body in a secluded creek.

Nuss was six-feet tall and 190 pounds with a receding hair line. He looked frightened and confused at the arraignment for the Brown slaying. A plea of not guilty was entered on his behalf and an examination was scheduled for 9:00 am on November 25th. As Nuss was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs and restraints, he unknowingly passed Withrow's father and the slain youth's girlfriend who were standing in the crowd outside the courtroom.

Arlan Withrow's murder case was problematic from the start. On January 10, 1967, an FBI investigation revealed that Nuss did not kill Withrow on federal property. Now, jurisdiction fell upon Washtenaw County, but Prosecutor William Delhey took no action on charging Nuss with Withrow's slaying. On March 14th, Nuss' defense attorneys filed a petition in the Washtenaw County District Court for a hearing to determine whether Nuss was a criminal sexual psychopath (CSP).

On the same day in a different courtroom, Nuss' lawyers filed a Demand for a Speedy Trial motion. Two weeks later, the court declared Nuss a CSP and ordered him committed to Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. On June 21,1967, Nuss entered Ionia and underwent a thorough mental evaluation and participated in psychotherapy sessions.

On July 13, 1973, Nuss was pronounced cured by Ionia's medical superintendent and remanded back to the custody of the Washtenaw County Detention Center. Prosecutor William F. Delhey reinstituted the original Brown murder charge and charged Nuss with the Withrow murder for the first time.

In the case of the People vs. Nuss, the Michigan Circuit Court decided on May 3, 1977 that the state was barred from trying Nuss on the determination that Nuss recovered from his psychopathy and was no longer a menace to society. Nuss' defense lawyers argued the state law that Nuss was arrested under had since been declared unconstitutional and abolished, and the Michigan Supreme Court decision was retroactive.

Nuss' attorneys contended that the eight-year delay in their client's prosecution of the Withrow slaying was prejudicial to a fair trial for the following reasons:

  • the defendants' right to speedy trial was violated
  • the defendant was denied due process
  • original witnesses admit they could not remember many of the surrounding circumstances
  • Dr. Alexander Dukay, who examined Nuss in 1967, was now deceased

The United States Circuit Court denied the Washtenaw County Court's appeal. Michigan Secretary of State Frank Kelley and Washtenaw County Prosecutor William F. Delhey argued the case to the Michigan Supreme Court on March 7, 1978. The high court upheld the lower court's rulings. The law stipulated that no person designated a CSP could be tried for that crime after successful, psychiatric treatment and release. Nuss could not be tried on the Brown murder. The Withrow case was also dismissed on the grounds that Nuss was denied the right to a speedy trial.

The Michigan Supreme Court case was decided on February 5, 1979. Four days later, Ralph C. Nuss was released and driven to the bus station by the same two Washtenaw County detectives who arrested him. Nuss was given a one-way ticket to his home state of Pennsylvania, where he died in 1991 at the age of fifty-five.

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