THE KAREN HUGHES REPORT -
THE CINCINNATI NOSTALGIA EXPO, MAY 2014
We left Illinois at around 3:30 Friday morning. Needless to say, by the time we arrived at the hotel, we were feeling a little loopy. It was a good kind of loopy, though! Mama and I had breakfast at the hotel restaurant while Daddy buzzed around the lobby to see who was there. At breakfast we saw the Creighton baseball team (from the heart of downtown Omaha—go Blue Jays!), but that was not nearly as exciting as spotting Steve Jansen, Chad Rinne, and Randy Larson at a nearby table.
After breakfast, the lovely Lennell Herbert-Marshall ran us through the registration table orientation. Her organization skills are incredible. She also gave me a folder full of fascinating information about New York’s Museum of Television and Radio, complete with a huge Jack Benny section! Thank you, Lennell!!
Working at the registration table is so much fun. It’s wonderful to see all of our OTR family members arrive. Bruce Raleigh came and we took our annual front-and-back pictures. We met a wonderful man named Bill, who had never attended the convention before and had come to see Jon Provost. Bill was an extremely enthusiastic fan of Lassie, and he was thrilled to meet its star. Charles Niren arrived and bought lots of raffle tickets (he cleverly brought a sheet of address labels with him so he wouldn’t have to write in his information over and over again); the sweet and delightful Melanie Aultman brought Moon Pies and decorated the raffle prize table with balloons; Don Ramlow rushed through the lobby to complete his re-creation preparations. JR Cooprider chatted with us for awhile and updated us on some of our other OTR family members (congratulations to Dr. Ryan Ellett on graduating with his PhD! Congratulations to Derek Tague for just generally being awesome!).
Daddy called me into the dealers’ room after awhile to take a picture with Jon Provost. He is a very kind person. After the picture it was time to call school and check on my studentlings. My seniors were excited because it was their last day (the rest of the kids still have about two weeks left). They assured me that all was well and told me to have a good time.
Back in the dealers’ room I took advantage of Jerry Randolph’s fantastic deal bin (only $1 a disc for tons of shows!) and bought presents for my friends and co-workers. Then it was back to the registration table, where the always-fantastic Meredith Granger appeared and asked me a Jack Benny trivia question to which I did not know the answer (“What was Professor LeBlanc’s son’s name?”). Larry Youngberg joined me at the table and told me some fascinating things about ventriloquism and showed me some beautiful pictures from his trip to the Grand Canyon.
At 1:30, Charlie and Katie Summers interviewed Jon Provost. Mama and I went to the interview, and it was very interesting to hear him reminisce about his career. He certainly has some wonderful stories! The interview ended just as it was time to get ready for the auditions. In the hallway, the talented Dr. Bob very generously gave me a DVD containing episodes of Burns and Allen (I plan on showing them to my studentlings on the last day of school).
There didn’t seem to be as many people as usual at the auditions. The room was full of wonderful talent, though, as always, and it was fun to hear all the different voices. Daddy was cast as a psychiatrist in an episode of Let George Do It, and I was cast as a waitress in Zorro and a little girl in Lassie. We got our scripts and were very excited to read them. Being in the re-creations is always such a thrill. It is humbling to work with so many talented people.
Rick Keating arrived and gave me a very nice photograph he took. I went back into the dealers’ room and chatted with Steve Jansen for a few minutes. We miss seeing his sister Laura, but she was off starring in a play this year. She’s a wonderful actress.
The shows Friday evening were great. There was a funny episode of Let George Do It that starred Ivan Curry in the title role. It also featured a very talented young woman who played an elderly lady very well. It was followed by an episode of The Magnificent Montague, presented by the Chicago Group Players and directed by Randy Larson (and featuring the acting talents of Don Ramlow!). I’d never heard of that show before, but it was very funny, and of course the cast was fantastic. Chad Rinne provided live music for all of the shows throughout the weekend. He is very talented and has released an album of original piano compositions. We’re lucky to have him help brighten the shows! Penny Swanberg, Joy Jackson, and Mary Ramlow worked magic in the sound effects booth.
The evening’s festivities concluded with Daddy’s trivia bowl. This year he wrote questions in a wide variety of nostalgic categories, such as 1950s music, I Love Lucy, and of course Old Time Radio. One category was Beverly Washburn, and another was Lassie; Ms. Washburn and Jon Provost both attended. The brilliant Martin Grams and Terry Solomonson served as judges. The winning team, Meredith Granger, Randy Larson, Jim Widner, and Bill Oates, was the Tom Mix Ralston Straight Shooters. They dedicated their win to the memory of Chicago broadcaster and old-time-radio re-enactor Don Stroup.
Saturday began with taking Mama out for a belated Mother’s Day breakfast. The Zorro rehearsal began at 10, and once again the talent of the cast amazed me. They effortlessly brought Daryl McCullough’s lovely script to life with beautiful Spanish accents (I didn’t attempt an accent, opting not to make myself sound ridiculous by comparison). While Zorro was in rehearsal, Gary Wetstein gave a presentation on the careers of George Burns and Gracie Allen. I wish I could have seen it! Mama said that it was terrific.
Bob Burchett was out in the hallway chatting with people in the afternoon! It made me so happy to hear his beautiful laugh and to give him a hug. I love Bob!
There was roughly an hour between the end of the Zorro rehearsal and the beginning of rehearsal for The Whistler (directed by the awesome Mike Wheeler, without whom none of this would have happened). Daddy played a bartender and I played a maid in The Whistler. We wrapped up in time to buzz through the dealers’ room again and chat with Steve, Rene, and David Thompson! It always makes me so happy to catch up with them and hear about all of their adventures. I also got to take a picture with Beverly Washburn! She told me that Jack Benny was one of the nicest people she’d ever met.
The afternoon shows began at 1:30. We started with Zorro and then saw Have Gun, Will Travel, featuring all three of our guest stars (Ivan Curry, Jon Provost, and Beverly Washburn). Rick Fontaine played a crow and also played Phil Silvers. Rick has to be one of the most gifted, versatile radio actors I have ever seen. He can do any voice, any accent, and any character. It is always a delight to watch him perform.
Daddy began the auction and the raffle drawing at 3:30. A book of Zorro short stories, autographed by 16 of the 17 contributing authors, brought in almost $300! Autographed scripts from all of the re-creations were auctioned off, as well as a Jack Benny biography generously donated by Meredith Granger (who stumped me with two more Professor LeBlanc questions!). Mike Helms, Frank Boncore, Bruce Raleigh, Charles Niren, and lots of other wonderful people won prizes donated by the magnificent people in the dealers’ room.
had to duck out of the prize drawing early to go to the Lassie rehearsal. It was fun to play a little girl. Don Ramlow cleverly tied two 15-minute episodes together with a brief dialogue in which it was established that these two shows had been brought home on records by a father who worked at a radio station. (Side note: The premise of the Lassie radio show was very odd indeed. Lassie was billed as an actor, and he played other canine characters in each episode. Bizarre!)
The time between rehearsal and the evening shows was the longest stretch of free time we’d had yet. Mama and I walked to a nearby gas station and bought some snacks for dinner, then came back to get ready for the night’s shows. The performances began at 7, and the shows opened with The Whistler. This was followed by the All Ears Theatre’s presentation of Dangerous Assignment, which once again featured the talents of many fantastic people (Karen Blazier, Glynnie and Mickey and Ron, whose last names unfortunately escape me, Rick Fontaine, and many others—you were all wonderful!). The final show of the night was Lassie, again featuring all three of our marvelous stars.
After the re-creations were over, Mike Wheeler presented the awards. He began with the Dave Warren Award, which went to the much-deserving Joy Jackson. This was followed by the introduction of a brand-new honor: the Bob Hastings Award. It was created to recognize people who helped with the Nostalgia Expo. What a wonderful idea! It was awarded to Bob Burchett, Martin Grams, Don Ramlow, Lennell Herbert-Marshall, and, posthumously, to Tom Monroe. With that, the official festivities drew to a close.
Although everything on the formal schedule had wrapped up, Meredith Granger still had a wonderful treat for us: he had obtained copies of the questions used at “Jack-pardy,” a Jack Benny trivia game played at a semi-recent gathering of the Jack Benny Fan Club. I was one “team” and Mama, Daddy, Randy Larson, and Steve Jansen were the other team. Rick Keating kept score, and Mel Simons and Chad Rinne watched. It was so much fun!
Daddy stuck around to chat with everyone in the hotel restaurant after the Jack trivia. I talked to Derek Tague on the phone (hi, Derek! We missed you!!), and then Mama and I went upstairs to get some much-needed sleep. I had planned to crash and was already in my pajamas when Daddy called and told me to get dressed and come back downstairs. Mama and I joined him, and we had the unbelievably good fortune of listening to Jon Provost tell stories of his life and career for over an hour. What an amazing man! He studied psychology and special education, in addition to all of the other incredible things he has accomplished. Wow. He even gave me a hug!
The next morning we had breakfast with Rick Keating, Steve Jansen, and Meredith. It was wonderful to wrap the magical weekend up with good friends. I can’t wait to see everyone again next year!