Impressions of the 1999 Cincinnati OTR Convention

I arrived at the hotel noon Friday with my wife Kathy and daughter Karen after a 5-hour drive from Champaign, IL. We cruised the dealer room, and Karen bought some Jack Benny posters and cassettes.

At 4 pm auditions were held for anyone who wanted to act in the radio shows. Director Don Ramlow is a genius at picking voices quickly, and three shows were cast in about an hour.

Before the skits began, Don announced that sound effects man Barney Beck was ill and would not be there. Barney's wife Joan drove all the way (over a thousand miles, I believe) by herself to bring the sound effects equipment and to see all her friends. Joan is an opera singer, and she plugged her CDs into the car deck and sang all the way there. She also told me that Barney has Alzheimer's disease. There was a huge WE MISS YOU card passed around at the convention, and all attendees were asked to sign it for Barney.

At 7 pm the first program began with a performance by the Boogie Woogie Girls, followed by two Ethel and Albert skits back to back, then an episode of Have Gun, Will Travel. The performances were absolutely excellent.

Someone wondered in yesterday's digest why there isn't more variety in celebrity attendees. Personally, I never tire of Peg Lynch's skits, and I'm glad I had my video camera on a tripod because I would not have been able to keep it steady while laughing so hard. Especially at the skit where she gave a lady who was coughing in the movies what she thought was a cough drop but was actually a plant food pill.

Many of the actors hung around the hotel restaurant until all hours, and I had a ball talking and listening to these wonderful professionals. Pianist Ed Klute was just as free as ever with his horrible puns, and he and Professor Mike Biel were discussing ridiculously obscure OTR topics like matrix numbers on old 78's.

Mentioning Mike Biel reminds me of this: his 15-year-old daughter and my 14-year-old daughter were just about the only children at the convention. I sure wish folks who attend would drag along a child or grandchild, to help keep this wonderful hobby alive and to show kids there is more to entertainment than modern TV.

Saturday began with a buffet breakfast in the hotel cafe, again with many of the stars mingling with the attendees. By the way, if you plan to attend next year, here's a tip on booking a room: the convention rate was, I believe, $69 for a room with two double beds. But the hotel has a Family Weekend rate, where for $79 you get the same room and two free adult buffet breakfasts. So if you are going to do breakfast at the hotel, you can save a few bucks by doing the Family Weekend deal instead of the OTR Convention deal.

We buzzed the sales room again, and I picked up a record album by Gary Owens for two bucks.

At 11:30 we had a rehearsal for Suspense, and after the rehearsal we stopped by a nearby shopping mall, where I picked up a CD of George Gershwin songs for $1.25.

That afternoon we had another Boogie Woogie Girls show, another Ethel and Albert, and then the Suspense program in which my daughter had a bit part as a ghost cat and I had a few lines as a hotel bellhop (I was the one in the purple shirt and red tie).

We skipped the Convention Banquet ($90 is too steep for me), but we were able to see the performances after the meal. The radio show was an episode of Richard Diamond, and Bob Hastings was fantastic as the wisecracking detective. Rosemary Rice had a role in which she said just one word about half a dozen times, and each time it was more hilarious.

Awards were presented after the show, and as usual, the convention's head honcho Bob Burchett began crying as he talked of the wonderful people involved in this hobby.

I was able to talk at length with most of the celebrities. Clive Rice and his wife Betty Ann were warm and friendly. He was a child actor, and after his show went off the air he got out of acting. He was a Navy career man, and I guess somebody in the OTR world tracked him down somehow after he retired from the Navy and invited him to one of the conventions. Hope he returns to Cincinnati.

Rosemary Rice was in the TV series I Remember Mama, which was at one time the second-highest rated show on television. I asked her if she had ever met William Paley, and she looked at me in surprise and said, "Why of course!" He dropped by the set often, she said, and he was rather formal and she liked Dr. Stanton better.

I asked her about the loyalty pledges that actors were forced to sign in the 50's, and she told me that although she was too young to be involved, the adult male star of the show said often--and loudly--that he would not sign such a statement. She never knew, she said, if he changed his mind and signed, or if CBS let him remain on the show without signing.

Bob Hastings had some jokes--and was gracious enough to listen to a few of mine--and Peg Lynch had a hundred questions about my digital camera. Fred Foy was surprised when I told him that the rumor last year (as to why he wasn't there) was that he was doing a bit part in a movie in Hollywood. News to him, he said.

Director Don Ramlow was uncomfortable all weekend because he had a son graduating from college, and he missed the ceremony because he was at the convention. During one of the Boogie Woogie Girls performances, they dragged Don up on the stage and made him sing and dance with them. He was a good sport, and it was quite a hoot.

Sunday morning was the final chance to schmooze with the other attendees at breakfast. Dave Warren is a Cincinnati artist who does a dead-on Kingfish, and he entertained us at breakfast with his marvelous impersonations.

We had a fantastic weekend, and it was--as usual--the highlight of our year.

Dan Hughes, April 1999.