We got up at 2:15 (not that any of us actually slept; the night before the convention is more exciting than Christmas Eve) and arrived in Cincinnati at about 8:30. Almost immediately upon arriving, we ran into Steve and Laura Jansen (we missed you, Laura!). Mama and I enjoyed the awesome hotel breakfast buffet (there is a wonderful lady named Ginger who works in the restaurant and has been there for years; she is warm and friendly and makes everyone feel welcome), and our table was right by Randy Larson and his friends. Don Ramlow came through and chatted with us for a moment, too.
After breakfast, we went to the registration table, where Lennell Herbert-Marshall and her husband, Edward, gave us a refresher course on getting people registered. It was very exciting to be there as everyone arrived! Bruce Raleigh showed us the beautiful scrapbook he made of pictures from previous conventions—he is quite an artist! Daddy took the annual facing-the-camera-then-backs-to-the-camera shots of Bruce and me, and then Meredith Granger arrived! Jim McCuaig arrived shortly thereafter. He always has a smile for everyone.
As the crowd coming through registration began to slow down, I walked through the dealers’ room. There are lots of wonderful movies and books and CDs and memorabilia (and, of course, the Jansens’ brilliant OTR-aoke!), and I bought several awesome homemade magnets from Jeff Bruce. When I came back out to the registration table, Meredith directed me into the room where Martin was showing clips of radio-related movies. A short promoting Charley’s Aunt (starring Jack Benny, of course) was running. It goes without saying that it was hilarious.
Back at the registration table, a group of fabulous Michigan actors arrived, including Justine McKenna, Mickey Sykes, and Rick Fontaine (whose name sounds like the hero of a detective or adventure show). George Wagner bought raffle tickets, and Rich Opp reminisced about past conventions. Jim Widner, who was also volunteering at the registration table, played me part of an episode of an obscure little show called Main Street Sketches. It took place in a train station, and it had some similarities to Vic and Sade. Meredith told me a wonderful story about starring in a play in college. Mama and Daddy and Edward told stories about living in the south in the 1960s. Daddy pointed out that a picture of Talullah Bankhead looked just like Laura Jansen. Charles Niren brought Daddy a CD with an episode of a show called Too Many Cooks. Shirley Coe, the talented ventriloquist, stopped by with her husband (also, we’re sending positive thoughts your way, Larry Youngbird!) It was a fabulous morning!
Another trip to the dealers’ room led to a very happy purchase: a CD with a recording of Father Flanagan talking about Boys Town! Bob Burnham had it playing on a speaker as I walked by, and of course I had to buy it right away. (Speaking of buying OTR shows, it felt very strange to go through the dealers’ room without spending hours poring over every CD, looking for the perfect show for every one of my studentlings.)
Auditions for the re-creations were at 3:00. They were, as always, vastly entertaining and full of amazing talent. It was fun to hear people “read” for the roles of a cow and a cat. Daddy was cast as several different characters in Suspense and the announcer in Dragnet, and I was cast as a rather ditzy woman in Dragnet.
There was approximately an hour between the auditions and the Dragnet rehearsal. Mama and I walked across the street to a gas station to get a super-healthy lunch/dinner of chips, coffee, and a hot dog, then came right back. Rehearsal went beautifully (I sat next to the lovely and talented Karen Blaisure, who chatted with me about teaching), and it was an honor to see Kathy Garver (Cissy from Family Affair) act. She is brilliant!
After rehearsal, Rick Keating arrived (with a package of delicious fudge—thank you, Rick!). Mama and I sat at the registration table again for a little while, and Chad Rinne talked to me about how wonderful Nebraska is (he has the extremely good fortune of living there). Chad, who is a gifted composer and pianist, will be playing all of the live music for each re-creation throughout the whole weekend.
The official evening festivities kicked off at 7:00 with the Dragnet re-creation, followed by the Chicago Group Players’ presentation of The Great Gildersleeve. The actors’ collective ability to capture the voices of the original stars of the show was truly incredible. Robert Maher made a fantastic Gildersleeve, and everyone else in the cast was amazing.
The final event of the night was the trivia bowl. Daddy spends weeks writing questions each year, and this year he really outdid himself. With topics like 1950s baseball, the top 10 radio programs of the 1941-42 season, and radio cowboys’ horses’ names, the questions were challenging and fascinating. The nine teams who competed all did well (and came up with wonderful team names!), and a new champion was crowned: The Radio Rememberers, whose members were Kathy Garver, Larry Albert, Fred Anderson, and Rick Fontaine.
Now it is time to finally get some sleep. Sweet dreams, everyone! More excitement tomorrow!
No fancy breakfast for us this morning—too many wonderful things to do! Mama and I walked over to the gas station that’s right at the edge of the hotel parking lot for a very nutritious breakfast of coffee and a cellophane-wrapped Danish. We returned to the hotel to find a mountain of Moon Pies on the registration table. Melanie Aultman, the sweet, beautiful lady who always has a smile for everyone, is in Ireland and couldn’t attend the convention this year, but she mailed a box of Moon Pies, since she always brings them to everyone. Thank you, Melanie!
Daddy had rehearsal for Suspense at 10, but after he was finished, he and Mama and I chatted with Mike Wheeler for a few minutes. (Mike, know that you are truly appreciated!) We saw Rodney Bowcock, and Bob Burchett arrived! Bob gives the best hugs. He is the reason this whole magical convention started, and it is always an absolute joy to see him.
Rick Keating stopped by the registration table and showed me how to use an abacus. Lennell and Edward told stories about their adventures at the Newark convention several years ago. The registration table is the best place to see everyone who arrives!
At 11:00, Martin Grams gave a fantastic presentation on Truth Or Consequences. He told several funny and touching stories, and he showed us many photographs that had never been released before. My favorite part was his discussion of the “Walking Man” contest, of course, since Jack Benny was the Walking Man, but the whole presentation was excellent. Martin recently published a book about Truth Or Consequences, and it has many, many more stories and photographs. It looks wonderful! (And Jack Benny is on the cover!)
The lunch hour gave me some more registration table time, and Edward mixed up the giant bucket of raffle tickets. I got to take a picture of the awesome group from Louisville, Kentucky (Charles Niren is so sweet!). Joel Klein, who is tremendously knowledgeable about Jack Benny, chatted with me for awhile and told me about seeing Joan Benny at a convention several years ago.
A few of the dealers started packing up a little early, and I made one last sweep through the dealers’ room. Daddy was playing music for Steve Jansen, and I sat with them for a little while and listened to stories about Steve Goodman. Before I knew it, it was time for the afternoon re-creations.
The first performance was an episode of Suspense about a man with catalepsy. Daddy played several roles, including a doctor and a police officer. It was followed by an episode of The Fat Man, which featured all three guest stars (Kathy Garver, Ivan Cury, and Larry Albert). Kathy Garver is such a brilliant actress!
There was a little bit of breathing room between the re-creations and the raffle drawing/auction. I talked to Chad Rinne, musician extraordinaire, for a few minutes, and also to Larry Albert (who is a terrifically nice person!). Daddy and I talked to Bob Burchett and the Coopriders (J.D. and Sharon) for awhile. Finally we headed into the room for the raffle. Daddy, as always, was a fabulous auctioneer, and it was fun to deliver all of the prizes to people. There were some terrific items this year: several books (A Pictorial History of Radio, Raised On Radio, a few books about vaudeville; lots of great reads), a few complete TV series on DVD (including Maverick and The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis), and of course the autographed scripts from all the re-creations, in addition to the usual treasures, such as CDs of OTR programs and books on tape.
We had about an hour and a half for dinner before the final performances of the night. Mama and Chad and Rick and I went to Bob Evans for dinner. Chad patiently listened to me rhapsodize about Omaha (it is fun to talk to a real Nebraskan!), and it was nice to have a real meal (although it had been fun living on gas station food).
There was just enough time to change into my saddle shoes and ’50s sundress before going back to the performance room. A newly-written episode of Suspense opened the evening’s program, and Joy Jackson and the rest of the cast did an excellent job. Next, Don Ramlow’s group from Kalamazoo, Michigan (All Ears Theatre) performed the pilot episode of The Magnificent Montague, which is an absolutely hilarious show. The final re-creation of the night was Our Miss Brooks, starring all three of our special guest stars. Once again, it was wonderful to watch them perform; Ivan Cury can play a teenager very believably!
When all of the shows were over, Mike Wheeler presented the Bob Hastings Award. The Bob Hastings Award honors people who have made a special effort to make the convention possible (officially it is for “Outstanding Contribution to the Preservation of Old Time Radio”). The first winner announced was my daddy! He spends months researching and preparing trivia questions, he runs the raffle and the auction, he gives awesome performances in re-creations, and he just generally helps keep the convention lively and fun. It made me so proud to hear his name called! The second winner was Charlie Summers. Charlie runs the OTR Digest e-mail newsletter, and he and his daughter interview the stars at the convention.
After presenting the awards, Mike discussed the future of the convention. He confirmed that he would no longer be coordinating the convention in its current iteration, but that he is planning on organizing a radio workshop weekend next year, at which there will be no dealers’ room or presentations, but there will be an intense focus on putting together several re-creations. Meanwhile, Don Ramlow is hoping to move the convention in its current format to Kalamazoo next year. The convention will live on. It might look a little different, but it will still consist of the wonderful people we’ve gotten to know over the past 20 years (did I mention that this was our 20th year attending?), and it will still keep OTR alive. Ultimately, those are the only two things that matter.
The very last activity was beautiful: Mike passed out copies of the lyrics to “We’ll Meet Again.” Chad played the music and Larry Albert, who has a magnificent singing voice, led the whole room in the song. I learned that it is still impossible for me to sing (or even listen to) that song without getting choked up and teary-eyed, just like when the Boogie Woogie Girls used to close the show with it years ago.
Even though the formal events were over, lots of people stayed downstairs to talk. I joined Daddy in the bar with Randy Larson (who told me about the time he directed Celeste Holm in a re-creation!), Ivan Cury, Penny Swanson, Karen Lockwood, and several other delightful folks. Randy sang “Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby” while Ivan accompanied him on harmonica. It was a lovely end to a lovely night.
Now it is time to start looking forward to the conventions that will happen next year! It is heartening to know that enough people care enough about this convention to keep making it happen, even though it is extremely difficult and stressful and expensive to arrange everything. To all of the amazing people who attend each year: Thank you for being wonderful! I love you all and am thankful to be surrounded by so much enthusiasm for OTR! I can’t wait to see you next year!