OTR Post-Convention Report--April 13, 2003--By Karen Hughes

We left for Cincinnati at around 4:00 Friday morning. I had gotten a total of perhaps three hours of sleep because Thursday was Opening Night of my school's spring musical. We made good time and the drive only took about four hours.

The hotel was terrific--larger than the Marriott and easy to find. Stephen Janssen was in the parking lot when we pulled in, and we chatted with him for a minute before running to the dealers' room. It was worth the year's wait to see all of the people who were there already. It was rather surreal. Of course I ran up to Derek Tague and Jim Skyrm, who are two of my best friends. Jim is sort of a surrogate grandfather and my writing mentor. He writes wonderful short stories and gives me ideas for stories to write. He is always smiling and he's so warm and cheerful. I gave Jim a few stories I had written, and over the next forty-eight hours he read them and gave me some suggestions (I'm working on dialogue, Jim!)

After greeting Jim, I ran over to Derek. Derek is wonderful. He gave me some wonderful books and newspaper articles and we chatted for quite awhile. He's so funny! He's very friendly and a lot of fun to be around.

The dealers' room seemed to be less crowded this year for some reason. There was plenty of room to look around and there were plenty of wonderful things to look at. I bought some "Vic and Sade" tapes, a Jack Benny movie, and several other treasures (including a "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" tape, because my father read me a Tom Corbett book recently, and it contained one of the most creative insults I have ever heard: "Damp your cords, you blasted space monkey!")

It was great to see everyone again. Hal (I'm afraid I don't remember his last name) had his usual treasure trove of pictures, sheet music, movie posters and t-shirts; Rodney Bowcock had some great Jack Benny movies; Hal Stone even had a table at which he was selling copies of his wonderful book (which everyone should read! It's absolutely fascinating. He has done so much in radio, on Broadway, and in Life in general. He's amazing!)

I got quite a thrill at one point, when I was chatting with a woman whose nametage said Ellen Schaden. It took a second for the name to click, and then I asked if she was related to Chuck Schaden. I grew up listening to his OTR show on WBBM, and when I was about seven or eight, my parents took me to Metro Golden Memories in Chicago to meet him. I was too shy to even go into the store for awhile, but I finally did go in and I was so excited to actually meet him. Now, a decade or more later, here he was again. I told him the story and am still excited to have talked to him.

At 2:00, Mama and I went to listen to the Blue Coal Trio (who turned out to be a duo, because their third member was visiting his new grandchild). We sat with Randy Story and Meredith Grainger (I apologize if I misspell any names), who are both delightful. They both have wonderful senses of humor and kept us laughing for quite awhile.

After the Blue Coal show (I must admit that we left about fifteen minutes early because we had to go wake Daddy up, since he was taking a nap in our room), it was time for the auditions. In the hall outside the audition room, we saw Steve and Renee Thompson and their son David. Steve and Renee are two of the most wonderful human beings alive. They are warm and friendly and thoughtful and talented, and it's a thrill to see them every year. They gave me a Jack Benny/Fred Allen record and a copy of George Burns' book I Love Her, That's Why!...autographed by Jack Benny. I thought I was going to faint. It was so generous of them, and I can't begin to say how thrilled I am.

The auditions were a lot of fun. Daddy was cast as the announcer in "Boston Blackie," Mama was cast as Mary, Blackie's girlfriend, and I was cast as Kelley, a girl who hires Johnny Dollar to get to the bottom of a case involving a softball diamond and a forged signature. The "Johnny Dollar" script, entitled "The Damiani Diamond," was written by Rick Keating, and it was for his 16-year-old cousin, Kelley (hence the name of the character). It was a terrific script, and I'm sure that she will be thrilled when she reads it.

The "Johnny Dollar" rehearsal was right after the auditions, so we stuck around. Hal Stone played Johnny, Bob Hastings played a police officer, and John Rayburn played the bad guy. Derek was also in it, and he played a snooty lawyer. With such a wealth of talent, the reading went very well, although I'm afraid I read Kelley very flatly (is that a word?) and not very well at all. I was disappointed, but Hal Stone saved the day.

Mr. Stone is, quite simply, an angel. There are not enough good things to say about him. He is what Jack Benny must have been like--and I don't say things like that lightly. He is friendly and warm and funny and brilliantly talented. He took me aside and went over several lines with me, giving me wonderful advice. He is amazing. I hope that my performance was better than the rehearsal and that he wasn't disappointed. I can't begin to express my gratitude for his kindness. I couldn't believe that Hal Stone--Hal Stone!--was taking the time to help some kid. He is wonderful.

Before the "Johnny Dollar" performance, the Boogie Woogie girls sang and then we got a special treat: Leo Jordan, the nephew of Jim Jordan, talked about his uncle and his experiences in radio. It was very interesting.

When the show ended, we realized that, having forsaken food for radio (which is much more important anyhow), we were hungry. Earlier, Derek had won two free meals at Ryan's, an all-you-can-eat buffet, and so he treated Rick to one and they let my parents and me tag along. We had a lovely supper. I haven't laughed so hard in a long time. It was great. We went back to the hotel at around eleven, and I put in one of my newly-acquired "Vic and Sade" tapes and drifted blissfully off to sleep, marvelling at the overwhelming goodness of all the people there.

Saturday morning we overslept--the clock in our room hadn't been changed at daylight savings' time, and we thought we had another hour. When we discovered the mistake, we rushed down to the convention as quickly as possible. Mama and Daddy had to be at the "Boston Blackie" rehearsal at 11:00.

I meandered through the dealers' room again, talking to Derek and Jim and all my other friends. When I first walked in, Derek was talking to Hal Stone. I smiled and greeted Derek as I passed, but was too shy to say anything to Mr. Stone. He said hi to me, though (Hal Stone said hi to me!), and I waltzed (not literally) happily through the room.

Jim gave me a great deal of wonderful advice about writing and college and life in general. He is amazingly perceptive, and he picked up on some things in my writing that I had never noticed before. He has no idea how helpful his suggestions were.

The afternoon show was great. Mama was a little nervous about being in the re-creation, but she gave a splendid performance. John Rayburn did a Spoonerism for everyone. He has a wonderful voice and is very talented. His Spoonerisms are so much fun to listen to.

Bob Hastings played the bad guy in "Boston Blackie," and he was fantastic (of course, he always is). He is hilarious. He can play any kind of character beautifully, and he's so friendly. He still looks exactly the same as he did in the pictures of him as a teenager in Hal Stone's book, except now he has a beard.

The dinner that night was the perfect end to a wonderful convention. I wore my 1950s sundress and my saddle shoes (I apologize if describing my outfit sounds vain or shallow; but hey, really like my saddle shoes!) I sat with Derek and Rick, and we had a great table that was right by the stage. The food left something to be desired (although the potatoes were pretty good), but we had a great time talking about Broadway and Leave It To Beaver and all sorts of happy things.

The re-creation that night was "Philip Marlowe," and it was great. Bob Hastings played Marlowe, Steve played a bellhop and a monkey, and Renee played a proper British lady who turned out to be neither proper nor British. It was fantastic. Afterwards Steve and Renee and my parents joined us at our table (and have I mentioned that Steve and Renee are two of my favorite people in the world?)

Finally, all the awards were presented. Chuck Schaden won two, Don Ramlow won one, and his wife, Mary, won one. Robert Newman's wife (I'm afraid her name escapes me at the moment) won one also. And after all the speeches were made, the convention was officially over.

Our table stuck around for awhile afterwards. I got my picture taken with Bob Hastings (Bob Hastings hugged me!) and Chuck Schaden came over and shook my hand. The whole weekend was like a fairy tale, and it still wasn't over. We talked to Steve and Renee and Derek and Rick for a long time. Sadly, the Thompsons had to go home eventually. I can't wait to see them again next year!

When we finally left the empty dining room, Derek and I headed up to Rick's room to watch his tape of the "Johnny Dollar" performance and drink really good ginger ale. After awhile, Derek joined a party with the Boogie Woogie Girls and Rick and I went with Daddy down to the hotel restaurant, where we talked with Steve and Laura Janssen until they kicked us out (well, the restaurant closed) at midnight. We had to face the fact that the convention was over for another year.

For some reason, I wasn't depressed at the end of the convention as I usually am. Maybe it was because the next morning we chatted with Rick again and took Derek to the airport. I don't know. But I know that I will stay in touch with my OTR family throughout the rest of the year, and I can't wait to see everyone again next year. I love you all! Thank you for being so wonderful!!

P.S.  Note from Dad--click here to read a story Karen wrote when she was 14 (she's 18 now).

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