THE KAREN HUGHES REPORT - GREAT LAKES NOSTALGIA CONVENTION, 2017
Friday, May 5
Mama, Daddy, Wrigley (their puppy) and I left Illinois at 3:45 and arrived in Kalamazoo a little less than five hours later. Lots of lovely people were already there: The All Ears Theatre troupe, of course, who graciously provided coffee and sweet rolls; Martin Grams, Bob Burnham, and the other vendors in the dealers’ room; Rick Johnston, a retired teacher who chatted with Mama and me; and lots of delightful nostalgia fans. Classic TV shows (featuring performances by this year’s celebrity guests, Beverly Washburn and Ivan Cury) were showing in the presentation room.
We talked to Steve Jansen and Chad Rinne, who are both incredibly smart, kind, and funny. Arte Conforti told us stories about his years at radio stations in Alaska. He mentioned that the last time he attended the convention, Hal Stone and Bob Hastings had been the guests. Andrea Smith reminisced about Bob Hastings. It was wonderful to see so many friends!
There was quite a stretch before the auditions. Mama and I took advantage of the time to explore Kalamazoo a bit. We were intrigued by the signs advertising the Air Zoo. Although we didn’t actually visit it, it is fascinating that such a thing exists!
Auditions for the re-creations were later in the afternoon. The re-creations this year featured episodes of Our Miss Brooks, The Falcon, Dragnet, Burns and Allen (with a Jack Benny excerpt!), and Suspense. It was hilarious to hear so many talented actors read lines written for Suspense’s Man in Black in their best Jack Benny voices. Daddy was cast in The Falcon (in addition to his role as an announcer in My Friend Irma, which was cast beforehand and performed by Randy Larson’s Those Were the Days Players), and Don Ramlow very generously cast me as Mary Livingstone in the Jack Benny sketch.
The first re-creation of the evening, which was directed by the delightful Mike Helms, was Our Miss Brooks. Beverly Washburn played the title character brilliantly, and Ivan Cury was a terrific Walter Denton. Karen Blasure did an excellent job of playing both the oldest character in the episode, Miss Davis, and the youngest, Harriet Conklin. This was followed by My Friend Irma, directed by the always-fabulous Randy Larson and starring Barb Alexander and Karen Lockwood. Daddy and Deb Piening were the announcers and Cavalier cigarette pitchfolks.
Once the re-creations ended, my favorite event of the whole convention (I fully admit my bias here) occurred: the annual trivia bowl, hosted by Daddy. He began by reading a beautiful letter from Meredith Granger. Meredith couldn’t attend the convention this year, as he is currently lending his brilliant acting talents to the Indiana Repertory Theatre for their production of Dial M for Murder, and he was sorely missed! Five teams participated, and Martin Grams and Terry Salomonson served as our brilliant judges. Categories included miscellaneous OTR, 1950s song lyrics, and first lines of novels. Our two celebrity guests played on a team with Joy Jackson and Mike Wheeler! The winning team, however, consisted of Paul Iverson, Arte Conforti, Rick Keating, and Charles Niren.
After an eventful day, Daddy stayed downstairs and socialized for awhile longer, while Mama and I went upstairs to do homework and go to sleep.
Saturday, May 6
The Kalamazoo Arts Council generously provided breakfast for everyone on Saturday morning. Mama and Daddy and I enjoyed talking with Steve Jansen, Chad Rinne, and a man who once met Jack Benny! as we ate. A very nice man told us about meeting Jack Benny once! We all talked about radio, of course, but also about the Turtles and other 1960s musicians. Nostalgia fans are fascinating people.
Once again there was a stretch of time before the re-creations, and once again Mama and I took advantage of it and went exploring. Kalamazoo is a neat city. Mama looked up the meaning of its name and learned that although a precise definition is unknown, it probably relates to water in some way.
The afternoon re-creations were Suspense and The Falcon. Beverly Washburn and Ivan Cury starred in Suspense, and The Falcon cast was made up entirely of convention attendees. Randy Larson played the title character. Daddy played a police officer who was murdered by his wife.
After the performances, Charlie Summers interviewed Beverly Washburn. Her stories were wonderful! Interspersed with clips from movies and TV shows in which she appeared (including a Jack Benny clip!), they gave a terrific overview of her career. She has done amazing things. She’s genuinely modest about all of her accomplishments, and she is truly admirable.
The Kalamazoo Arts Council provided a wonderful dinner that evening. Mama and I sat with Andrea Smith, Charles Niren, Arte Conforti, and Rick Keating. After I finished eating I went to Daddy’s table and heard terrific stories from Terry Salomonson. Before I knew it, it was time to run upstairs and change for the final re-creations of the convention.
Kalamazoo’s own All Ears Theatre presented an episode of Dragnet, starring Mickey Sykes as Sergeant Friday. Rick Fontaine stole the show as a crying baby. He followed this with an excellent performance as Jack Benny. I loved playing Mary Livingstone (thank you, Don!). I didn’t mention it earlier, but the terrifically talented Chad Rinne played music for almost all of the re-creations. The final show was an episode of Burns and Allen, starring Ivan Cury and Beverly Washburn.
And then the official festivities were over. Informal conversations lasted well into the night, however. Joy Jackson and Mike Wheeler brainstormed ideas for future conventions, and Chad all but dragged me into the hotel bar to talk to Beverly Washburn. She told us beautiful stories about working with Jack Benny. He was such a wonderful, kind, warm, humble, generous person! It was incredible to hear from someone who was a good friend of his.
On my way out of the bar, I stopped and talked about Vic and Sade with Daddy, Mickey Sykes, and Glynnie Fenn. It was a lovely way to wrap up the convention.
It all flew by, but another convention is in the books! Next year’s dates have already been announced: May 3 through 5, 2018. Mark your calendars now! To everyone I forgot to mention, please accept my apologies. Thank you to Jim McCuaig for documenting the whole convention with his marvelous photographs, Lindsay Curcio who posted regular Facebook updates, and everyone else who lit up the convention. Meredith, we missed you! Laura Jansen, we missed you, too! We can’t wait to see you next year.