BOOK REVIEW: The Lucky Strike Papers by Andrew Lee Fielding   13 comments

A little over a year ago, I wrote a piece about the early days of television that I titled Did Rock and Roll Kill Your Hit Parade? I’m not sure I actually provided much of an answer at that time, but that’s just one of many questions that are covered in an outstanding new book by Andrew Lee Fielding, The Lucky Strike Papers.

As you might guess from the secondary title of the book, Journeys Through My Mother’s Television Past, Fielding has a unique perspective, and he also has an insider’s access to many of the people and materials from the early TV era. But don’t make the assumption that this is just a sentimental tribute to his mother, even though his affection for her memory – and pride in her career – are obvious. It is instead a treasure trove of early TV history.

Sue Bennett was a featured singer on several early TV shows in addition the one in the title, The Lucky Strike Hit Parade (Your Hit Parade). Her son – who is a professional journalist with features in some of the biggest Eastern newspapers – has spent many years crafting what is obviously a labor of love.

Beginning with his own childhood memories and drawing on those of his mother, he also had access to some of her memorabilia and gradually added more from various sources. In addition he found that his mother’s name allowed him to interview many early TV personalities – including some pretty big names – in their retirement years. Merv Griffin, Morey Amsterdam, Arthur Penn, and many of the stars of Your Hit Parade are among those who took time to reminisce.

The result is a rich history of the early days of TV, complete with lots of pictures and trivia, and a number of delicious inside stories — some that will surprise you, even if you think you might remember a lot about an era when DuMont was both a TV network and a manufacturer of television sets.

Suzanne (Benjamin) Fielding, performing as Sue Bennett, was never a major singing star but she was a featured singer on several early TV shows, and along the way garnered quite a bit of respect for her musical talent. (Song sample here.*) She was also an eyewitness to the early history of television.

In the late 1940’s, TV was still very new to the American public, and those new-fangled TV sets were few and far between. In a poll taken in 1949, over 56% of respondents had never even seen a TV, and they were so expensive – with prices up to $1000, a year’s salary at that time – they were often only found in places like bars. But people were fascinated by TV, and over the next few years prices started coming down and the private ownership of sets skyrocketed, even though it was still a major purchase for most families.

Young Sue Bennett, fresh from college and with a desire to sing professionally, began to appear on some of those early programs originating in New York, including one hosted by bandleader Vincent Lopez. An even bigger name provided her first starring opportunity when bandleader and entertainer Kay Kyser brought his College Of Musical Knowledge to TV and she became one of the main singers. He’d been a huge star for years, and his orchestra and comedy bits were customer favorites, especially his routines with comedy sidekick, Ish Kabibble (whose real name was Merwyn Bogue). One of the interesting inside facts in the book that came to light via the author’s later interviews, is that Kyser and Bogue were not on speaking terms offstage for some of their time together.

Sue’s career included singing on some other shows too, but it was her time spent on Your Hit Parade that provides much of the material for the book. The TV program was modeled on the successful radio version, but with an important difference. As the top ten tunes were performed by the singers each week, they also acted out a little mini-play or story about the song. TV historians have called it the forerunner to MTV.

Sue was not one of the main stars – names such as “Snooky” Lanson and Dorothy Collins come to mind – but in the early days of the program she was one of the featured singers, often performing solos. She was also part of the group singing and sometimes filled in for Dorothy in the Lucky Strike “bullseye” that opened the show.

But again, the book is not really about Sue as much as it is about early TV, and it contains an amazing amount of information that includes not only facts and trivia, but also backstage gossip and examples of professional jealousy and feuds that were still alive even in retirement. Early TV was a fascinating world, and reading about it is the next best thing to having been there.

*Sound sample courtesy of Lost Gold Entertainment, Inc

Book available at Amazon and other sellers.

Advertisements

13 responses to “BOOK REVIEW: The Lucky Strike Papers by Andrew Lee Fielding

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. We didn’t have electricity until the spring of 1948 so I never heard any popular music before that. One song I heard on the Hit Parade and will never forget was I’ve Got a Lovely Bunch of Coconuts. We used to listen to Vaughn Monroe and the Camel Caravan too. Some songs from that era were: The Old Master Painter, Mule Train, Cry of the Wild Goose, Lucky Old Sun, ad infinitum. I never much cared for that stuff, I was more into Hank Williams and Ernest Tubb. Then Came Elvis, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard and Bo Diddley. And I heard. And it was good.

  2. I ordered a copy of the Lucky Strike Papers by Andrew Fielding and have lost his email address, so I can let him know how I liked the book. Please give me his email address if at all possible. Thanks, Stuart

  3. Merwyn Bogue is the extremely distant cousin from the woman from Colorado whose mother’s maiden name is Bogue and she died very unexpectedly. Merwyn Bogue was cremated, while his distant cousin is also as well.

  4. I visited Kay Kyser’s widow (Georgia Carroll Kyser) recently, whom I have known for 15 years. I brought up the part in the LUCKY STRIKE PAPERS that says Kay and Ish werent on speaking terms offstage, and she completely poo-pooed the idea. “Even our kids were friends’, she said. That makes sense, as Kyser was a very organized and practical man, and would’ve cleared up any misunderstanding as opposed to acting childish and perhaps causing delays or pressure due to some unspoken feud. Could be it was an isolated incident Miss Bennett remembers, but NO, I dont think they excommunicated each other. My new book, ‘KAY KYSER-THE OL’ PROFESSOR OF SWING! AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN SUPERSTAR’ tells the whole story of Kyser and his gang. I have a 1980s interview w/ Ish, and he certainly didnt seem to diss Kyser in any way. People should check their ‘facts’ before printing them.

  5. Note to readers. A response to the previous comment is posted by the author of The Lucky Strike Papers on his website. You can read it HERE.

  6. Regarding Fielding’s response to my ‘hostile’ (?) comments about the Ish Kabibble/ Kay Kyser ‘cold war (lol)’, I do have a couple of questions for him-
    How is it that Ish never mentioned the rift anywhere else but in your (Fielding’s) interview, including his own book? I have several radio interviews w/ Ish, and that seems like a pretty strong point to ignore in an interview situation, but it’s never mentioned by Ish or the host(s)in any of these interviews. I also spoke with Ish’s daughter, Janet, and she too, along w/ Kyser’s widow, were incredulous regarding this whole subject.

    Finally, your reponse quotes Ish as saying this happened right before he went into the service. I wouldnt expect you to know this, but Ish and Kay ended up playing together for service personnel in the pacific region for several months- in hot and humid, insect-ridden hospital tents, together 24 /7. And Kay didnt speak a word to him the whole time, right? Please…

  7. Fielding’s website blog doesnt offer the chance to respond (unlike this one), which seems a little one-sided to me, but it’s his option. Doesnt matter, he’s mistaken anyway. Perhaps he doesnt want anyone else to know…

  8. In his most recent comments about my book, on the Geezer Music Club site (see above), Steven Beasley noted that I don’t accept comments on my blog.

    He then said, about me (concerning the issue he has raised, in previous posts on this site): “Doesnt matter, he’s mistaken anyway. Perhaps he doesnt want anyone else to know…”

    Mr. Beasley of course neglected to note that I reprinted his initial diatribe–in its entirety–on my blog, as part of my response to him. Guess that wasn’t good enough for him.

    In the next couple of days I will be posting an additional response to Mr. Beasley’s angry and misguided comments about my book.

  9. In reading this blog, I was quite interested because Mr. Fielding, I have read your book and enjoyed it.
    I remember those days as if it were yesterday. As I have been reading these posts however, I am
    a bit disappointed because your last post implies that your readers cannot read for themselves.

  10. Im not angry. I havent read your book. You’re just incorrect about the Kyser/Ish thing. I look forward to seeing any proof otherwise.

  11. Mr. Brewer:

    I’m very pleased to learn that you enjoyed the book.

    Also: thanks for your comment about my prior post. I did not mean to suggest that readers could not read for themselves—but had simply thought, for clarity’s sake, that I would restate what had previously been written. Perhaps I did so to an unnecessary degree.

  12. I have posted, on my blog, an additional response to Steven Beasley’s comments above.

    The post can be found at this link:

    http://andrewleefielding.blogspot.com/2010/11/additional-hostility.html

  13. Well, after Fielding’s rather longwinded reply (once again on his own site where no one can refute him) I will again say this-
    1. Where’s the proof? Perhaps he should post the audio segment in question, so everyone can hear.
    2. He neglected to respond to my statement that Kyser and Ish were in the Pacific region during the last days of WW2, performing together for military personnel stationed there, and endured the heat, filth and dangerous conditions. They were together 24/7 for a couple of months, yet Fielding implies Kyser never uttered a word to Ish. Ridiculous.

    It’s been an interesting sparring session, but there’s no real point in responding further to his courtroom-style nonsense. Just some proof, please. If anyone else would like to read my myspace blogs on Kay Kyser, they’re available at http://www.myspace.com/officialkaykyser. They’re also available in my Kyser book.

NOTE: Comments are moderated before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: