2004 Old Time Radio Convention Report
By Karen Hughes
Most people are under the illusion that Christmas falls in December. Of course, most people also think that there is some holiday on February 14 other than Jack Benny's birthday (if you can imagine). Fortunately, we in the Old Time Radio hobby realize that Christmas comes the third weekend in April.
The night of Thursday, April 15--Christmas Eve--was spent in Lafayette, Indiana with Grandma and Grandpa, who kept our dog, Maxwell Remley, while we were time-traveling in Cincinnati. We left at around 3:40 A.M.on Friday and arrived at the hotel atabout 5 'til 8. I was jumping around a bit while Daddy checked us in, and a voice called, "Stop dancing in the lobby!" I looked up and saw Hal Stone (HAL STONE!!!), who came over and hugged me (I was good; I didn't swoon). Could there possibly have been a better start to the whole delightful weekend?
After bringing all of our things up to our room and eating a quick breakfast, we headed to the dealer's room. We ran into Randy Story right away, and he looks marvelous. He is such a warm, friendly person (his nametag said so), and we are so lucky to know someone so delightful (WARNING: Phrases like that will probably be repeated throughout this report. Repetition of a phrase or sentiment does not make it any less true, I promise).
While we were talking to Randy, I saw a figure out of the corner of my eye. I turned and saw JIM SKYRM!!! MY JIM!!! He gave me a huge hug. I love my Jim so much and was thrilled to see him. He is my friend/writing mentor/adopted grandfather/comic relief (he sends me funny newspaper clippings at school) and is one of my favorite people in the world. We talked for awhile and I gave him two stories to read.
Most of the rest of the morning was spent running into other members of our beautiful OTR family in the dealer's room. We saw Mike and Leah Biel (Leah is majoring in radio and TV; isn't that neat?), Steve and Laura Jansen (Daddy had a great time telling Steve all about "Vic and Sade"), Hal Samson (the source of the vast majority of my Jack Benny posters), Meredith Granger (a terrific actor) and so many others. I got to talk to Chuck Schaden, which made me very happy indeed. I used to listen to his OTR hour on WBBM every weekend when I was little, so seeing him in person is always amazing (I just keep thinking, "That's the OTR man! That's the radio voice!").
Around noon we started to get hungry, so Mama and Randy and I had lunch at Famous Dave's Barbeque. We had a great time, but then, how could anyone not have a great time with someone as sweet as Randy? The food was pretty good, too.
After lunch we went to the auditions. While we waited for them to start, Steve and Rene Thompson came in. It is impossible to express how wonderful the Thompson family is. Their son, David, is a genius, and Steve and Rene are caring and funny and enthusiastic. We love them very much indeed. They brought me a fantastic (digitally altered) picture of me with Jack Benny, and it looks terrifically realistic. I was thrilled. I can't wait to hang it in my dorm room and see the look on my roommate's face.
During the auditions I sat next to a very nice man named Peyton (sp?), who also comes to the convention every year. Rick Keating came in after a little while as well, complete with his camera and his Alpha Smart (with the evil keyboard....). There weren't very many roles this year, but Daddy got a part in "Broadway is My Beat," playing a banker.
The Friday evening show was wonderful. The Boogie Woogie Girls opened with new outfits and a new song (along with a few old favorites), and then Hal Stone and Bob Hastings did several "Bob and Ray" skits and Rosemary Rice and Bob Hastings did "The Bickersons." They were hilarious. I am in awe of the fact that these wonderful people were actually a part of old time radio, and watching them perform is truly amazing. They are so talented.
There was also a new star this year for me to stare at awestruck: Will Hutchins. He played the announcer for "The Bickersons," and while that may not sound like the most fascinating role one might imagine, he had a lot of fun with it. He was very funny and full of energy and enthusiasm.
The show ended with a re-creation of "Pete Kelly's Blues," which was marvelous. Steve Thompson gave a terrific performance as a thug. He's one of those people who can do any voice or accent. Of course, Rene is just as talented, and she was the announcer for the show (she has a lovely voice).
After the festivities were officially over, Mama and Daddy and Rick and I went to Skyline Chili for a late supper. We had a ball. Rick is so much fun. Of course we missed Derek terribly, since he came to dinner with us last year, but we know that we can look forward to seeing him next year.
Saturday morning found us back in the dealer's room again. As soon as I walked in, someone called, "Karen!" I turned around and saw Chuck Schaden. He asked whether I'd be interested in writing an article for Nostalgia Digest entitled "Why I Love Jack Benny." Somehow I managed to unfreeze my stunned brain long enough to say yes without fainting. My gosh, now both days had started with truly exciting events.
The afternoon show was "The Saint" and the first half of "Broadway is My Beat" (featuring the extraordinarily talented Dan Hughes as the banker), as well as "The Bickersons" and the BoogieWoogie Girls. The man playing Danny Clover was great; he had a beautiful voice.
The dealer's room started to close up after the show, which was sad because it meant that my Jim was leaving. We had a very nice discussion about abstract art and the fact that when he was in Korea his laundry girl decided that his name was "Chubby-san Cool Daddy."
Daddy had a great time taking pictures of me with various people (Martin Grams, Rodney Bowcock, Jerry Williams, Charlie Summers, and anyone else he could find) to add to the "Karen Gets Hugged" page on his website. When he took the picture of me with Charlie Summers, he just went up to him and said, "Charlie! Hug my daughter!" Charlie blinked and said, "Isn't that illegal in some states?" He got back at Daddy after the dinner that night, when he had me take a picture of them hugging (Daddy told him afterwards, "You realize that if this picture ever gets out, neither of us will ever be able to run for public office").
At around 5 I changed into my 50s sundress and saddle oxfords and headed down to meet Rick, who had kindly agreed to sit with me at the dinner. We shared a table with Mike and Leah Biel and a very sweet couple whose names, I'm ashamed to admit, I cannot remember. They were from Pittsburgh and they were very nice.
Dinner was fun. I had the vegetarian meal this year, and the lasagna isn't quite as bad as the beef. I really shouldn't make fun of the food; it's actually not that bad. Besides, the point of the dinner is the company, not what you're eating.
Speaking of company, we were sad to discover that a family emergency made it necessary for Randy to leave early. We missed him, and we hope that everything is okay.
Mama and Daddy and Steve and Rene joined us for the evening show. The Thompsons had a photo album full of pictures of the Ghosts of Conventions Past, which were fascinating. The show itself was also wonderful. The Boogie Woogie Girls sang again (and somehow I managed not to cry when they did "We'll Meet Again"), and we were treated to another episode of "The Bickersons." The show closed with an episode of "The Six Shooter" starring Will Hutchins (the man is brilliant).
The awards ceremony was lovely. Gary Yoggy got the Dave Warren Award, and Tom Monroe, Rosemary Rice, Hal Stone, Harold Ziegler, and Will Hutchins all got awards. Will Hutchins' acceptance speech was one of the highlights of the entire weekend for me, if not the highlight: At one point he actually said, "I met a beautiful little girl today named Karen..." and went on to talk about keeping the hobby alive. I apologize if it sounds like I'm bragging, but I cannot begin to express how completely thrilled I was. Once again, I have no idea how I managed to keep from swooning.
When the last award had been given, Christmas was officially over for another year. However, we stuck around the banquet room for awhile and called Derek Tague. There was a line of people anxious to talk to him (he's just too popular!). We missed Derek so much this year, but we're very excited about seeing him next year.
After Derek's fan club finished talking to him, Mama, Daddy, Rick, Mike, Leah, and I talked to Will Hutchins for another hour or so. He is truly one of the kindest people I have ever met. He was full of wonderful stories about all of our favorite stars (including Jack Benny), and he was as excited to talk about them as a little kid. He was also very modest, but not in a phony way. He was enthusiastic and completely unpretentious and kind and funny and just absolutely wonderful. There are not enough good things to say about him--or about anyone at the convention, for that matter. Everyone who comes, star and fan alike, is so friendly and so devoted to this wonderful hobby.
We closed the weekend by hanging out up with Rick for awhile longer, and then Christmas really was over. It was one of the best conventions yet--but then, they just keep getting better. It was so exciting to see all our old friends and to meet new ones, and I'm already counting the days until I see my beautiful OTR family again.