Sunday, December 4, 2011


Excerpt from the book:
"Other Days" (Published soon)
by Lee Alan

First Book "Turn Your Radio On"

Sometime in 1963 I was able to take my first vacation in memory. I was working at WXYZ radio in Detroit and had two weeks, so my wife and I took off and drove to Las Vegas. That’s right, we drove!
No freeways then right?
So there we were driving on what now is the fabled Route 66.

How did the words go?
“If you ever plan to motor west take the highway take the byway that’s the best. Get your kicks on Route 66”.

Well, the kicks were long but we made it in one piece and checked in at the also fabled Sands Hotel. I don’t remember much about the days we spent there except for one afternoon when I stood in the casino playing the quarter slot machine.

In those days the slot machine took real coins, in this case quarters and when anyone won even a few coins they made a loud crashing noise as the machine dumped them into the metal tray that caught them. You could hear that sound all over the casino and you could tell if someone was a big winner by how long the crashing lasted.

Also in the 60s the slot machines or one-armed bandits were not electronic like they are today. They actually get their name because of the handle on the right side of the machine that you had to pull to spin the wheels, One handle, one arm, one pull, one spin. All mechanical. One thing hasn’t changed. Electronic or mechanical you seldom win, thus the One Armed Bandit.

Also, the slot machines were only about chest high and they were back to back. You could stand at your machine and look directly at the person playing the machine in the next isle facing you.

So there I was pulling the handle with not much happening when this tall red headed smiling man stopped at the machine in the next isle facing me.

It was the great comedian Red Skeleton himself. He was the headliner that week in the Copa Room, the main showroom at the Sands. I pretended not to recognize him and just kept on playing my quarters. He was doing the same thing. Both of us pulling the handle and both spinning the wheels. There was one big difference.

When I pulled the handle it was disaster. Nothing! But it seemed that each time Red Skelton pulled the handle he’d win. Crash, clink, clink, clink I could hear his winnings dropping into the metal tray.

Soon people started recognizing who was playing and a fairly large crowd gathered to watch this marvelous red headed clown play the slot machine. And soon they started to laugh. I’d pull and nothing! He’d pull and Crash, clink, clink, clink quarters in the tray. The more I’d lose, the more he’d win, and the louder the crowd would laugh.

I mean every time Red Skelton pulled that handle, clink and crash, clank he’s a winner! It was really starting to get to me. I was about to quit, but when I looked up again Red was gone and the crowd was dispersing. I turned to go myself when I saw this wonderful and famous clown walking toward me in my isle.

“Sir”, he said with a smile so huge it would break anyone else’s face. “My name is Red Skelton”. As if everyone in the world back then didn’t know it. I mumbled something and he went on: “Sir I came to apologize. You see Sir, he said, I was having a little fun with you and I hope I didn’t embarrass you too much.”

By this time I was totally confused. He went on: “You see when we were playing the slot machines, every time you pulled the handle and lost, I lost too. The difference was that when I pulled the handle I had a handful of quarters. When the wheels stopped I threw them as hard as I could into the metal tray so they would make a noise loud enough for you to hear.

Red explained further: “The crowd wasn’t laughing at me at all. They were laughing at the frustrated look on your face when I won every time and you lost every time”.

“So Sir”, he said, “please be my guest for dinner and tonight’s show. I will have a front table waiting for you”. And with that, Red Skelton like his Clem Kadiddlehopper character, known to the world as the sentimental clown, looked at me, eyes sparkling, smiling, shook my hand, turned and left.

WXYZ Radio and Channel 7 television was located in a marvelous building known as Broadcast House in Southfield, Michigan. It had everything one could imagine including its own cafeteria in a separate small house on grounds.

One day, 5 years after the incident in Las Vegas I wanted lunch but didn’t want the hassle and same old conversation in the station cafeteria so I jumped in the car and went to a nearby Howard Johnson’s. It was mid afternoon and there was no one in the place except for me and another man sitting in a booth way at the back.

Right! It was Red Skelton. All by himself just having lunch. By this time in my career I had met almost everyone from the Beatles to Elvis. But I found myself approaching that table like a star struck fan to try and get his autograph in my notebook, and at the same time asking what he was doing here in this empty old restaurant. ?

Red Skelton was one of the greatest painters of clowns who ever lived. I didn't bother reminding him of our encounter years earlier in Vegas. How could he possibly remember anyway I thought. He said he was here to show some of his collection on a television show across the street at Broadcast House "With someone by the name of Marilyn Turner. Sure I’ll sign your book”. And he did. We exchanged some small talk, I thanked him and said goodbye.

I went back to the station and watched as Marilyn Turner, my friend and co host of Kelly & Company on Channel 7 in Detroit interviewed Red and showed his wonderful paintings.
I didn’t look at that autograph for a few days. When I finally opened the notebook I read what he wrote.

“Thanks, Best Wishes. . . . and May God Bless "
"Lee. if you ever go back to Las Vegas ....stay away from those quarter machines”.
He remembered the time in Vegas…………

The world lost this wonderful clown in 1997.
I never again met him in person
But through a strange set of ciscumstances our paths are about to cross once more.
Film at eleven.... and May God Bless.

Lee Alan

Saturday, August 20, 2011

When Norman Brooks brought Al Jolson to the Party

Excerpt from the Book: "Other Days" (Published Soon)
by Lee Alan


As a boy growing up in Detroit I was addicted to music, any kind of music. I was part of anything that was music at Cooley High School, singing with other high school people from all over Detroit every Saturday on “Make Way For Youth” a half hour show on CBS radio. At home, although most time wanting to be outside playing baseball or something, I was taking piano lessons and practicing at least a half hour a day. Music meant a lot to me and was a window to new adventures. Still is. And I loved musicals. Movie musicals.

One of them that kept coming back into the theaters was The Jolson Story and its sequel, Jolson Sings Again. They were the semi true stories revolving around the life of Al Jolson, arguably the greatest singing showman and entertainer of the first half of the 20th century maybe of all time. He had a stage presence and a rich voice like none other before or since.

Recently I watched Britain’s Got Talent; a TV show in England and like everyone else was floored when 47 year old Susan Boyle appeared in uncombed hair and a wrinkled dress saying she wanted to be a professional singer. You know the story. The judges and everyone in the audience laughed at her, rolled their eyes, and dismissed her as a mental case. Until she started to sing! Within a few notes everything changed. That voice! Like none other. At this writing more than 25 million people have viewed and listened on the Internet.

Only a few in musical history have been able to stun an audience like that. Al Jolson was one of them. He was the king of entertainers and the toast of Broadway. When he insisted that the Wintergarden Theater sacrifice a hundred seats and replace them with a runway from the stage out into the audience they branded him as nuts! His reason? He wanted to get closer to the audience. He wanted to see their faces. Touch them. Sing to them. He loved them and they loved him. I can understand that. In my own small way I have always felt love from an audience. Because all the other entertainers on Broadway were working their shows during the week they rarely had a chance to see Jolson. So typical of Al, he invited them all to the Wintergarden on Sunday nights when they were off. And they all came, the famous and, not so famous. And Jolson sang to them. Nothing else, no other acts, just Jolson singing on Sunday nights, and using the runway to get closer. House lights up to see their faces.

I must have seen The Jolson Story and the sequel a hundred times back then. Even today I watch them over and over whenever they find their way to cable TV or the Internet. Jolson sang in those movies, but when they were made he was already in his 60s and there was no way he could play a young Jolson on screen. So Larry parks, a young actor played the part, lip synching to Jolson’s singing.

There was one scene in the original movie where Jolson actually appeared as himself. It was the Wintergarden Theater. On that runway. Find it. Look closely. A long camera shot shows the real Jolson dancing, whistling, and singing “Toot Toot Tootsie”. Far enough away you can’t see his aging features. The voice was there though in both the movies. And what a voice it was.
I will never forget that voice. Never.

Many years later in 1959 as a very young radio personality on WJBK Radio in Detroit, Michigan I was doing the all night show. There was an emerging new singer by the name of Norman Brooks. The station had been playing some of his music on the air. He had a hit song. “Hello Sunshine, Goodbye Rain”. Actually Norman had a few hit songs and was well known on the night club circuit and some of the main rooms in Las Vegas.
His voice was a total clone of Al Jolson!
As I said, Jolson was a favorite of mine. I knew a lot about him and his career. And so naturally I was a huge fan of Norman Brooks.

A time came when Norman was performing at the Elmwood Casino in Windsor, Ontario a magnificent nightclub just across the river from Detroit. I knew his music, was amazed at his delivery, and so made arrangements for him to come to the studio after one of his late night performances for a live interview. I found him to be a delightful person. As we spoke that night I played a lot of his music on the air.

I asked him: "Norman, you have a terrific voice. You don't speak like Jolson (Jolson had a sort of drawling almost southern accent and Norman had a slight French Canadian accent) why is it that you always imitate Jolson when you sing?" I have never forgotten his answer.

He said: “Well Lee, fact is I don’t always do Jolson. You have never seen me perform in person. My records sound like him, but I do a lot more on the live stage." When the interview ended. We shook hands and he left.

I wouldn’t see him again for nearly 20 years.

I was in the advertising business then. Tom Navin, one of the sales people who worked for me met with Jack Douglas, an auto dealer in Chicago to sell him on our company and one of our creative campaigns for radio. Jack didn't want anything we had, but said he'd listen to any new ideas we might come up with. Tom showed me the the dealer's newspaper ad with a picture of the dealership. It was a beautiful building and out of place for Chicago. The caption below the picture said:
It gave me an idea.

What happened next would become a new chapter in my life.
After seeing the SHOWPLACE caption to that picture I thought of Al Jolson. What if Jolson could sing a commercial jingle about The Showplace for Chevrolet? Well, Jolson was not among the living. He died in 1950 so that was impossible.

Or was it?

Even though I hadn't seen or heard much about Norman Brooks in nearly 20 years his name came to mind.

I went into my studio and created a 5 minute tape with parts of 7 songs edited together, one after another. Two of them were Jolson. The other five were Norman Brooks!
I went to Chicago and met with the management team of Jack Douglas Chevrolet. There were 9 of them in the room. I asked them this specific question:


One said Sinatra. Two others said Elvis. The remaining 6 said Al Jolson. I then told them that I wanted to remind them of how Jolson sounded and I played the tape. They all enjoyed it, sang with it, and clapped their hands. One guy even got down on his knees like Jolson did when he sang his “Mammy” songs, etc. When it was over I said that I had forgotten to tell them that of the 7 songs they just heard; only two were Jolson. The other five were another voice.
They were astonished, didn’t believe me, and wanted to hear it again. I rolled the tape. Even then they were unable to identify the correct voices.

I told them my story about Norman Brooks some 20 years earlier and made a proposal to write a piece of commercial music entitled THE SHOWPLACE FOR CHEVROLET and do my best to find Norman Brooks to sing it, just like Al Jolson. It would be their commercial in Chicago. Al Jolson singing on the radio advertising their dealership!! They were excited, agreed and bought the concept, providing I could find Norman Brooks and also that he could still sing.

The search was on. It took me three months to find Norman.
He had disappeared. This was 1979. His hit records were a thing of the past and there was no sign of him anywhere. I thought possibly he had died.

I called every entertainment venue and talent agent available in the US. No one knew where we could find him. Some never heard of him. Then I remembered our original interview back in 1959 when Norman told me he was from Canada. I remembered that accent. For some reason I started calling talent and booking agencies in Toronto. Finally an old lady at one of them told me I should call someone in Montreal. I did. I found him.

We talked on the phone for the longest time. He didn't remember me; but it made no difference. He was down on his luck. Like so many of us his big time career was over or at least on hold. I told him of the Chicago project and proposed that he meet me in Memphis, Tennessee to produce the music and that I wanted him to sing it. We made the financial agreement right there on the phone.

I wrote the music, contacted my friends Garry Wells and Pete Pederson in Memphis, Jack Douglas at the dealership in Chicago and we set the date. Jack insisted on coming for the session and bringing his management team as well. They were curious and wanted to make sure of what I was telling them about Norman and his voice. Frankly I think they were a little suspect.

When I arrived in Memphis a week or so later I cornered Garry Wells my old friend and creative director of the William B. Tanner Company where I had been producing my music for many years.

Garry had been a singer in his earlier years, touring with bands, and recording music. His rich baritone voice was like new crystal. His range was like few others I have heard. He was the singer on possibly a hundred of the musical pieces that I produced there in Memphis; a man of great creative ability, empathy, and feeling for friends and people, and totally understood what I was trying to accomplish with Norman. We were trying to take advantage of nostalgia, memories, and a unique voice.

Garry Wells had a carved wooden plaque on his desk. It read:
“Capture their hearts……….and their minds will follow”
I have never forgotten that creative principle. I believe it to this day. Whatever the day is that you are reading this, even if I am long absent from the earth I still believe it.

Garry and I went over everything with Pete Pedersen the arranger. Pete might possibly have been the finest arranger and harmonica player ever. His musical background included, among other things, playing and arranging for Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats and the biggest harmonica hit of all time, “Peg O My Heart”. Pete was another of those geniuses that God has allowed me to know and learn from.

The instrumental session started about 7PM. Jack Douglas and his management team were there with us…..watching. Listening. And I must say, skeptical. The orchestrations were always produced before the singer did anything. First the rhythm instruments, then horns, strings etc. It took a few hours for us to build the band tracks. A limo was sent to the airport to pick up Norman. He arrived at the studio about 11PM, met everyone, listened to the tracks and we all went to dinner. Memphis Bar B Que. Best in the world. He was scheduled to sing the next morning.

Conversation among the musicians, producers, clients and us was cordial. It was just dinner. All were anticipating.
So many were there who would become valued friends. Musical geniuses all. Dee Barton performer drummer and trombone player for the Stan Kenton organization among them.

The next morning was something I shall never forget. The studio control room was huge and through a massive glass window looked a full story down into the music studio. I went into the control room with engineers and clients. Garry, Pete and Norman were down in the studio at the piano learning the song. The mikes were not on. We couldn’t hear what they were doing. Mouths moving, but no sound for us.

At one point the control room engineer turned the studio mike on and everyone could hear chords on the piano and Norman just sort of humming the melody and now and then trying the words; but softly, almost in a falsetto.

Jack Douglas and his guys were shocked. They thought what they were hearing was his real voice. They looked at me and said: "What is this? This guy can't even sing, let alone sound like you promised." I told them to relax. They were not happy. I knew what Norman had done in the past, but I must say after all these years even I was wondering.

A few minutes later the engineer rolled the tape with the full band track on the wall; meaning that it was playing through the speakers down in the studio so Norman could hear it. Now he was singing with the full instrumental track; but the mike was still off and we couldn’t hear him, just the orchestration.

After a few minutes Gary and Pete, still down in the studio were happy, climbed the stairs to the control room and told Norman through the talk-back that we were ready to try to record if he was. Standing in front of the mike and a music stand with earphones on he said he was ok and let's go.

In those days the Tanner Company, where this all took place, produced thousands of commercial jingles and music scores every year. They were never really excited about what was happening in the studios. It was old hat. Everyday same stuff. This morning was different. About a hundred people left their desks and offices and crammed into the control room. They all wanted to hear what would happen when Norman Brooks opened his mouth.

The engineer rolled the tape. The band track boomed from the speakers in the control room and Norman was on. Was he ever!

Like what I saw recently on television when Susan Boyle sang, jaws dropped. People turned white, laughed, gasped. All in disbelief. Jack Douglas and his people were in a state of shock. Norman Books was singing. He was at his very best. His voice was better than those old recordings I had played in Chicago. Deeper. Richer. And for the next 45 minutes or so it was more than anyone could have expected ....except for me. For the next 45 minutes Norman Brooks became Al Jolson. I knew what Norman could do all along.

When the recording session was over a few of us went to dinner. We spoke of many things. Careers. Music. Dreams for the future. The usual as I remember. And then it all turned to Norman. That's when I began learning about Norman Brooks, his life, and the path it had taken. Norman told us stories of his career and at its peak how he had even appeared in “Ocean’s Eleven”, the movie with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. We all looked at each other. No one believed him; not even yours truly.

Soon the subject of Jolson was the focus. I learned then how, although he was happy for the Jolson connection, in his heart he really just wanted to be himself. Earlier in the studio Norman became Jolson on the mike only. Not in appearance or with his movements. The physical excitement was not there. But the voice, the voice was there…. not the man.

There in that small restaurant he talked about Al Jolson. He started explaining to us how when George Gershwin wrote the song Swanee, he introduced it at a large outdoor party of a hundred or more people. As Norman told us about this he rose from the table where we sat in that restaurant and sort of backed up until he was on a small dance floor directly front of us, all the time talking and explaining about the song, his voice getting louder as he increased his distance.

As he spoke he seemed to change. Oh he was Norman alright but his spoken voice sparkled and his facial expressions became pronounced. His arms expressing thoughts. He was telling us that when George Gershwin introduced the song Swanee for the first time to the audience at the party he was playing the piano and singing it slowly with no meter or beat. He was singing it as a slow ballad.

Then at that point in the story Norman Brooks actually became Jolson before our very eyes. He looked like him, spoke like him. Moved and gestured like him.

He told us that Al Jolson was in the crowd at that party and when he heard the song he got up from his table, interrupted Gershwin loudly from the back of the crowd yelling something like:

"George.............George that's a great song. I know you wrote it and all that but you need to put some life in need to give it some George let me show you." Norman was gesturing and speaking exactly as if here were Jolson. Accent and all. We were all floored by this. He was Jolson. For the next few moments he was no longer Norman Brooks.

He was Al Jolson.

At that point, Norman said Jolson went through the crowd, grabbed the sheet music Gershwin had at the piano and started singing Swanee with great panache, a strong up tempo rhythm , and Gershwin soon followed accompanying him on the piano.

While he was telling us this story, as if he was actually Jolson, Norman raced across the dance floor in that little Memphis restaurant he was talking and motioning to an unseen Gershwin, acting out every word and then singing just as he told us Jolson had done. There was an old piano on that dance floor. Hearing all this...someone from the restaurant left his table, went to the piano, and played as Norman Brooks gave one of the most remarkable performances I have ever seen. All for the few of us. Others in that restaurant were totally blown away and didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.

When he was finished there was a silence in the room. The restaurant crowd didn't know what to do. Without warning they had just seen and heard something never before seen and never to be duplicated. We were all stunned.

Then as Al Jolson became Norman Brooks again, smiling and returning to our table there was thunderous cheering and applause. At least as much thunder as a small crowd can produce.

Norman left the next morning after our dinner and his amazing performance. I stayed another day to mix all the parts of the music we recorded and returned to Michigan on the red eye the next evening arriving home about 1AM. I turned on the television, fell asleep and suddenly woke up about 4 o'clock in the morning. The TV was still on and there, unbelievably in front of my eyes, was Norman Brooks on the screen singing. It was a movie. It was Oceans’ Eleven; and there he was just as he told us.

There’s a classic picture of Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Dean Martin, Peter Lawford and maybe others in Las Vegas standing in front of the Sands Hotel marquee. If you look past the photo at the sign you can make out the name in huge letters:

Jack Douglas Chevrolet, the Chicago client was happy with the music. It stayed on the air in Chicago for about a year.

A few weeks after we produced it I was addressing a seminar of auto dealers in St Thomas in the Virgin Islands. I played them a number of things including The Showplace for Chevrolet. They too were stunned and 6 of them invited me to visit them at their dealerships in various parts of the country. Meanwhile back in the Detroit, Michigan market I took the music to a friend who also owned a large Dodge Dealership. I asked him for advice. What should I do with this? He said "I want you to produce that for me". And that's how it all started.

I re-wrote lyrics for the same instrumental track for 6 dealerships, called Norman, and met him again in Memphis where he, Garry Wells, and I recorded six more of the same tracks each with new lyrics. We repeated this a few times over the next few months until we were in about 25 cities. Same commercial music, different dealers and lyrics. Norman Brooks was singing again and very popular with our clients. He and Garry became great friends. There was some talk of producing an album with Norman singing the songs Jolson would have sung had he still been alive. We all met at my house one day, Norman, Garry, Pete and I. We gathered around my beloved grand piano and worked at it. It never happened.
Years later I lost that piano; but that’s another story.

Needless to say Norman and I became close friends, frequently calling each other and sometimes just talking as friends do. During one of those phone calls I said to him: "Norman, I have a personal favor to ask."

He listened as I explained that in a few months my mother and father would be celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary and how I was planning to have a large surprise party for them at my home in West Bloomfield, Michigan. I went on to remind him that in the Jolson Story movie, when his parents celebrated their anniversary Jolson sang to them. He sang The Anniversary Song.
Remember the song? "Oh how we danced on the night we were wed..... "

I asked Norman if he would honor me and my parents, come to my home, perform at the party, and sing that same wonderful song to my mother and father.

Without hesitation he said: "Lee that's easy. The answer is yes".
The months passed. We recorded with him a few more times and then the big day arrived.

There was excitement and hope in Detroit that year in 1980; especially at our house. Mom and Dad were about to get the surprise of their lives. All of their friends and ours were invited. I drove to Canada to bring Evelyn Saunders one of their best friends they hadn’t seen in many years to the party. Dad was born in Dutton Ontario Canada and grew up with Eugene Saunders, the son of the family that owned the lumber mill there. They were schoolmates, athletes together and lifelong friends. Eugene had passed away; Dutton was a town of only about 1,000 people. My grandfather was the town blacksmith, but that’s another story too. Evelyn came to the party. I can still see her excitement when I picked her up in Dutton.

1980 was an election year. Jimmy Carter wasn’t doing too well and there were fierce political battles taking place throughout the land. The prime interest rate was nearly 20 percent. Hostages were being held in Iran. And at the same time our Golden Wedding Anniversary party was to take place, the Republican National Convention was about to open in Detroit.

I contacted the Governor’s office in Michigan, the President’s office at the White House, and the Republicans, and asked them for a letter of congratulations on Mom & Dads 50th.

The letters came. The Governor and President Carter’s letter bore signatures that were stamped. Ronald Reagan, the about to be nominee for President and who was in Detroit for the Republican convention, signed his personally.

I hired my old and dear friend Nate Rondell to gather a little band of musicians to play for the event. Nate was the finest Hammond organ player and keyboard player I have ever known. I met him when he was working in a music store and I was in the market for a Hammond organ. After I heard him play I was sold! I bought the organ and still have it to this day. Nate and I stayed in touch and I started hiring him to play at various functions. He played for me at so many venues I could never count them all including other parties at my home. His personality and smile were riveting and infectious. I can still see him at the organ in front of eight thousand people at Detroit’s State Fair Coliseum mesmerizing audiences at the annual Outdoorama Sport Show that I emceed for nearly 12 years.

Dad loved Dixieland music and Nate’s little band would play for the event.
I don’t remember now the names of all who were there to honor my parents, but there had to be one or two hundred.

The morning of the big day I drove to the airport to pick up Norman Brooks. Norman fulfilled his promise. He came to Detroit. As we drove back to my home in West Bloomfield, Michigan I realized that he had no suitcase; just a large briefcase. I was a bit worried. He was dressed in jeans and a comfortable, but rumpled shirt. No suitcase!
What was he planning on wearing to sing? The thought went away.
Too much to do, too little time.

The rest of the preparation that day is a blur to me now. As far as I know there are no movies or even pictures of the event. At least I don’t have them. So here is what I remember.

The house was frantic. My wife and her friends had made all the preparations. Nate Rondell and his little Dixie band arrived and set up in our attached garage. People were pulling up to the house; valets were parking their cars a block away so it wouldn’t look like anything was going on at our house. I took off to pick up Mom and Dad who thought they were just coming over for dinner or something.

When we drove up to the house there was no sign of what was about to take place. I opened the front door, Mom and Dad walked in and before them were a hundred or more people.

Surprise! Surprise! Shock! Laughter! Hugging!
And back in the garage a little Dixie band was playing. A moment in time and a day never to be forgotten by anyone who was there.

After all the greetings were over I looked around for Mom and Dad. Couldn’t find them. When I finally made my way to the garage there they were. Dixieland music playing and Mom and Dad holding each other and dancing. Cutting a rug as they use to say (even though there was no rug in the garage!). I shall never forget the look on Dad’s face. Mom’s too.

Like most of us they had come through very tough times. Mom’s terrible accident when she rolled off Dad’s speedboat years before all but killing her. Dad’s stroke ending his career as president of his own company and his depression that followed. Their personal conflicts with each other that somehow were resolved allowing them to get to this day, still together and celebrating. 50 years. Still married.

Well, to say the least there was hilarity in the hall that day. The people, food, music, gifts and so many friends.
But now the time had come for the big surprise!

After a good deal of rounding up we finally were able to get everyone outside and seated for what was about to happen. We had a wonderful yard with a pool and patio. There were two door walls leading from the house to the outside patio which was partially covered. Mom and Dad were seated in the front of all of their friends. As I started my presentation I realized that I hadn’t seen Norman Brooks since we returned from the airport.

Anyway as usual my words ran too long. Gifts were given and opened, the letters from the Governor, the President, and Reagan were presented to them.

Garry wells, my long time friend and producer from Memphis who helped me record all the Norman Brooks music was there with his Dad. Garry sang and thrilled everyone. He sang Danny Boy. There were tears.

It was then I started into my story telling them all about Al Jolson. The Chicago trip, The Jolson Story, the Memphis experience and finding the extraordinary Norman Brooks.

Rain was threatening and the little band was now set up under the patio overhang. Finally to great applause I introduced:

I shall never forget what I saw next. As I spoke his name I turned around hoping he was there. The door wall opened and out stepped Norman in the most immaculate, perfect, tuxedo I had ever seen. Was it in that little briefcase all the time? I will never know.

But there he was! The band was playing and Norman was dancing some steps and singing. Whistling as just as Jolson did on that runway at the Wintergarden.
Except it wasn’t Norman Brooks.
It was Al Jolson!

He sang, told his jokes. “You ain’t heard nothin’ yet” he said.

"Yesterday I heard a lover sigh, Good-bye, oh me oh my.
Seven times he got aboard his train
And seven times he hurried back to kiss his love again and tell her
Toot-toot Tootsie, goodbye.
Toot Toot Tootsie, don't cry. That choo-choo train that takes me
Away from you, no words can tell how sad it makes me.
Kiss me tooty and then do it over again.
Watch for the mail I'll never fail.
If you don't get a letter then you'll know I'm in jail.
Toot-toot Tootsie, good-bye. Toot-toot Tootsie, good-bye!"

Everyone was stunned, jaw dropping thrilled! He sang a dozen more.
It was then my dream for this day was fulfilled.
Jolson (Norman) looked right at Mom and Dad, spoke so kindly to them and then, getting down on one knee, sang only and directly to them. The Anniversary Song. Just as Jolson did on the movie ……

“Oh how we danced on the night we were wed
We vowed our true love though a word wasn’t said
The world was in bloom, there were stars in the skies
Except for the few that were there in your eyes
Dear as I held you so close in my arms
Angels were singing hymns to your charms
Two hearts gently beating, murmuring low
My Darling I love you so
The night seemed to fade into blossoming dawn
The sun shown anew, but the dance lingered on
Could we but recall that sweet moment sublime
We’d find that our love is unaltered by time"

As Norman neared the end of the song Mom and Dad joined hands, got up from their seats and danced as the music played and Norman sang.

It was raining now ever so slightly, but they were dancing now and were in their own world. A world without rain.

For a few moments they were young again. Aware only of each other.
Perfect. Just perfect.

I remember nothing of the rest of the day, but I will always have a picture in my mind of the sheer joy on Mom & Dad’s faces and the best of memories for all time. Of them.

Just after that priceless moment Mom hugged me, tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you.
No one ever had a party for me before.”

A few years later Pete died after a long illness. I believe that Pete was the greatest Harmonica player in the world.

Norman and I recorded a few more of those commercials and then I lost track of him.
Years passed. We spoke one last time on the phone in the early 90s.
Norman died at age 78 on September 14, 2006. I didn’t know he was ill.

Four and a half years after that marvelous surprise party on March 3, 1985,
Dad passed away.
Only 48 days later on April 17 we lost Mom.

Through good times Mom and Dad kept their vows. No matter what, they kept their vows. I will always remember. They stayed together.
They had been married 54 years.
I know I shall see them again in heaven.
May God bless them.

And may God bless my late friends Garry Wells, Pete Pedersen and especially Norman Brooks for his generosity, the precious memory, and the joy when finally there was a Golden Wedding Anniversary celebration for Mom and Dad.
When Norman Brooks brought Al Jolson to the party.

To hear the late Norman Brooks & "The Showplace for Chevrolet"
Garry Wells & a Jingle
Watch Pete Pedersen "The Worlds Greatest Chromatic Harmonica Player"
Go Here:

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


Excerpt from the book:
"Other Days"(Published soon)
by Lee Alan
Latest Book "Turn Your Radio On"

I once asked a little girl, which she liked better, radio or television. “Radio” she replied. “I like the pictures on radio better”.

The pictures.
She liked the pictures on radio. What did she mean?

As a boy I could sit by the radio and get lost in the programs. Yes they were programs. Whole stories. Nobody ever heard of disc jockeys in those days. DJs were at least ten years away. Radio was wonderful. It was filled with adventure, comedy, drama, heroes, and suspense. I would listen and imagine. The action, voices, and places were real to me. So real that there were pictures in my mind. I could see them all. Superman could fly. Not the television Superman, MY Superman, Grand Central Station was real; the creaking door of he Inner Sanctum was a hundred feet tall and filled with cobwebs. The Shadow was invisible…but I knew he was really Lamont Cranston and I could see him.

Programs with names like, The Green Hornet, Challenge of the Yukon, Blondie, Gunsmoke, Mr. Keen, Tracer of Lost Persons, Fred Allen with his Allen’s Alley. Anyone remember Senator Claghorn when he’d say: That’s the South Son, I say..I say The South!!”
There was even one called the Lux Radio Theater. Lux was the name of a soap. In those days the sponsor controlled everything, so the sponsor’s name was part of the program’s name. The Lux program recreated movies on the radio. That’s how powerful radio was. A movie on the radio with the original actors, can you believe it? Every week there they were. Actors like Humphrey Bogart, Bacall, Clark Gable Spencer Tracey, Gregory Peck, Peter Lorre, Rita Hayworth, all acting their movie roles on the radio. What pictures that made. Didn’t need the movie. There were pictures!

Jack Benny. Now there was a wonderful and unique character. I know very little about his career. Only what I heard on the radio along with millions of others. On his program Jack Benny had an entire cast of players each with their own personalities and each connected to Jack in some way.

On the program was Benny’s real life better half Mary Livingston whom he met at Macy’s department store. Don Wilson a rotund big voiced announcer, Phil Harris, Jack’s bandleader on the show was portrayed as a very hip guy whose band members were always hitting the sauce. Phil Harris, a wonderful talent in his own right and I think the originator of what today we call Rap. If you can find his recording of The Dark Town Poker Club you’ll see what I mean. Jack’s valet was known only as Rochester a very funny and smart addition to the show. Mel Blanc, the voice of Bugs Bunny and other comic characters was a continuing part of the cast. Mel played many parts and had a thousand voices. He was even the voice of Jack’s car, an old Maxwell that would rarely start. Dennis Day played the part of a young, shy, Irish kid with a wonderful tenor singing voice.

I hear that Jack Benny was one of the nicest and most generous of people and also that he was a fine and accomplished violinist. However, on his program he was portrayed as the world’s biggest tightwad. I guess cheap is the word. So cheap that he not only saved every cent, but stored all his money in a giant vault deep beneath his house in Beverly Hills, California. Also, on the program he was known as a guy who only thought he was a good violin player and told everyone that his violin sound was perfect, but when he picked up the instrument to play, everyone knew it sounded like fingernails on a chalkboard.

About every third show Jack would go down into the vault to visit his money. We would hear him walking down endless stairs, each step echoing as he descended. There was a moat to get across that was filled with man-eating crocodiles, gates that creaked open, locks unlocking, chains clanking, and finally the big door to the vault.

There was always a password and if I remember inside there was a guard who always had a question. Like: “Mr. Benny how is Mr. Lincoln? Did he enjoy the play”?. Or something like that. Benny would then survey his holdings and then make a withdrawal of maybe 25 cents and leave.

There is a very famous scene that describes Jack Benny’s radio reputation. Benny is walking along a city street. You can hear the footsteps and traffic noises when suddenly a voice says “Alright, hands up.” Jack says: “What?” The other voice says: “ This is a stickup. Your money or your life.” There is a very long pause. Maybe 5 or 10 seconds. All we hear is the traffic, car horns, buses. Do you realize how long that is? Go ahead; time 10 seconds on your watch. It’s a long time to have silence on the radio. Then the stickup man says “Didn’t you hear me? I said your money or your life….” Another silence. Finally, Benny replies:
“I’m thinking it over….!”

My favorite program was The Lone Ranger. Mom didn’t want me to listen to The Lone Ranger though. Too much “blood and guts” she would say. There were others on her no no list, but whenever I could I listened anyway.

The Lone Ranger was created and broadcast from WXYZ in Detroit. So was The Green Hornet and Challenge of the Yukon. You might remember that one if I told you it was all about Sergeant Preston of the Canadian Mounted Police and his Husky dog King. I can still hear him. On King…On you Husky… I had a perfect picture of all of them in my mind. They were absolutely real, bigger than life, stronger than anyone, and invincible.

One night my mom and dad took my sister and I out to dinner at a restaurant they frequented. A lot of Detroit movers and shakers went there. I think the owner was involved with the mob. He later moved to Vegas and was a pit boss at the Sahara Casino. His restaurant in Detroit was always jammed and this night was no exception. I can clearly remember my dad saying to me that The Lone Ranger just walked in. Did I want to meet him he asked? And then pushing through the crowd with me in tow my dad stopped at a table near the back of the restaurant. One of the men stood up and my dad introduced me.

I was devastated. I was hoping it wasn’t a joke. My dad was always a nice man and very kind to me so I knew it wasn’t. The reason? The man’s name was Earl Graser. He was the actor who played The Lone Ranger on the radio and he was short and fat!

The Lone Ranger…short and fat. My little world crashed that night.

The program originated from WXYZ radio. Earl Graser played the part on the air but he never appeared anywhere in person as The Lone Ranger. The program’s deep voiced announcer, Brace Beemer who stood 6’ 3”, was an accomplished horseman, a crack shot, and did the personal appearances. The actor who played Tonto never appeared in person as Tonto either. His name was John Todd. He was not an Indian. He was an older man, Caucasian, a Shakespearean actor, and a professor at Wayne University in Detroit. He looked nothing like the Lone Ranger’s faithful companion. I never met him. In a way that’s a good thing. To me he was Tonto.

Beemer was tall, slim, good looking and the perfect Lone Ranger. Graser was only the voice. Not long after that there was another terrible night. Earl Graser was killed in Farmington, Michigan when he fell asleep at the wheel and slammed into a parked truck. His voice was stilled. Strange though, I heard about it but never believed that the Lone Ranger was dead or would ever die.

In spite of Mom’s orders I found a way to listen to the next program after the crash. In it the Lone Ranger was wounded and couldn’t speak. It seemed like weeks before he recovered and we began to hear his voice again. Slowly with each succeeding program the voice emerged deeper, stronger, more resonant than ever.

This only confirmed my belief that the Lone Ranger was immortal. It was true that Earl Graser died in that crash, but the Lone Ranger didn’t. The new voice introduced to the radio audience ever so slowly was that of the announcer, Brace Beemer. He not only sounded like the Lone Ranger, but he looked like him. Dressed like him, owned an actual ranch in Oxford, Michigan just outside of Detroit and had horses there. One of them was a white stallion. The stallion’s name was Silver. Until his death in 1964 Brace Beemer not only played the part on the radio, he was the Lone Ranger. He believed his part. That was the year I finally came face to face with my boyhood hero when he visited WXYZ radio for an interview. There he was, standing just outside my office one month younger than my own father; he was now 63 years old.
To me he looked just like The Lone Ranger should look at that age. As I shook his huge right hand his left hand emerged from his pocket and he handed me a silver bullet. Two days later he died of a massive heart attack in his home in Oxford, Michigan. Brace Beemer was dead, but to this day all my radio pictures of the Lone Ranger are there.
I still have the silver bullet.

Many years later I received a call from Dick Osgood formerly of WXYZ radio in Detroit. Osgood, now in his 70s had recently published his book, part of which was about those halcyon days at that same Detroit station when Lone Ranger was being produced.

"Lee, we all got together last night and voted”, he said. “And you’re it”. “I’m what?”! I replied.

“There’s a convention of The Friends of Old Time Radio coming up in Newark” he went on. “They want us to do an episode of The Lone Ranger radio program live at the banquet dinner. Brace Beemer is gone. We want you to play the part of The Lone Ranger” in New Jersey”!

So there I was on a stage surrounded by many of the original Lone Ranger actors. And they weren’t playing games. The afternoon rehearsal was dead serious. Sound effects men performing live sound effects, someone playing the music from a transcription turntable, and the Lone Ranger announcer himself, Fred Foy. His voice was so powerful I don’t think he needed the microphone that accepted those ringing words:

“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. From out of the past come the thundering hoof beats of the great horse Silver. The Lone Ranger rides again….”

The actual performance took place at night for the final banquet of the convention. Fortunately my voice was deep and clear for a change and I had studied Brace Beemer’s diction and delivery.
I knew him.
He had been my companion.
At least on the radio.

The half hour flew by. As called for by their scripted lines the actors moved in and away from the microphone. They had all done this before. It was new to me and I was so thrilled at just being a part of this I actually thought I was The Lone Ranger. Just as I was a as boy with my ear next to the radio speaker.
The audience was mesmerized.

When we finished a small elderly lady approached me from the audience. “It was him!” she said looking up at me. “It was him. When I closed my eyes it was his voice, it was him”, she repeated as she thanked me.

Her name was Leta Beemer, widow of Brace Beemer, The Lone Ranger.
She saw the pictures!

A piano keyboard sits idle before you and says:
“ I can play any music ever written just press the right keys”
The microphone stands before us and says:
“ I can unleash boundless human imagination and a limitless panorama of images and emotions. You just have to know how to use me”

Radio has now become a sophisticated megaphone, a mere loudspeaker carrying words and music through various delivery systems to our ears.
Nothing more.

But "watch" what it can do.

What follows is the actual scripted opening of a weekly radio show entitled, Grand Central Station. Each week there was a different radio drama, but each week this was the opening.
Can you hear it? Can you see the pictures?





“As a bullet seeks its target, shining rails in every part of our great country are aimed at Grand Central Station, heart of the nation's greatest city. Drawn by the magnetic force of the fantastic metropolis, day and night great trains rush toward the Hudson River, sweep down its eastern bank for 140 miles, flash briefly by the long red row of tenement houses south of 125th Street, dive with a roar into the two and a half mile tunnel which burrows beneath the glitter and swank of Park Avenue and then...”
Crossroads of a million lives!
Gigantic stage on which are played a thousand dramas daily."
This was radio. . . .With pictures….Did you see them?

Why do we remember some air personalities decades after they have left radio and forget the others?
Why were they so popular ?  What gave them the unique ability to reach through the speaker and compel us to listen and love it ?    

Radio need not revert to dramatic stories and programs of old.
But just imagine what it could do if today's "suits" and those privileged to be on the air only knew how to use it. 

If you ever see one of them, tell them this:
"Creative is Everything"

Thanks for watching
Lee Alan

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Barney Ales - Motown & Thee Horn

Excerpt from
"Turn Your Radio On"
by Lee Alan
Now an Audio Book read by the author
Available at:

Barney Ales was executive vice president of the Motown corporation and Berry Gordy’s secret weapon to getting his music played and sold to crossover audiences.

Barney and I graduated from the same class and year at Cooley High in Detroit. He joined Berry at the beginning. He was there on the ground floor of the Motown explosion.
His timing was right, and his personality for sales of the Motown product was perfect. Barney laughed with everything but his eyes. His laugh was infectious, but his eyes always seemed to be probing and serious. An interesting trait for a salesman. And that’s what he was. A salesman.
Have you ever known someone who would look at you, talk to you but his sentences are fast and sometimes missing some parts so you’re not really sure what he actually said?
That was Barney. And those eyes! When Barney Ales asked for the order, asked for the close, it was automatic. Just look into the eyes and you couldn't say no.

We were not friends in high school. Didn’t even know each other. Oh I had seen him in the hallways for four years, but only for a “Hey, how ya doing”. Nothing more. We were into different things. Strangely enough I was the one who was into music, shows, entertainment. Barney wasn’t! Not at all.
Barney was tall, but way overweight for his stature, maybe 280 pounds or more. One of those guys who always wore the black leather jacket and hung out at “Zs”. Zs was a little restaurant near the school where all the bikers and their girlfriends were. Where all the greasers gathered.
There was always some kind of trouble at Zs. It always looked like a black leather jacket convention. In high school Barney was one of those.

Six years later while I was with WKMH I was approached by the music promoter from Warner Brothers Records, a six foot 2, very slim, dark haired, good looking Adonis dressed in an immaculate mohair suit.
As he was explaining that Warner brothers was not really into mainstream music and he really had nothing new to show me except for some Dixieland LPs I realized that I knew him from somewhere and looked at his business card.
His name was Barney Ales!
The leather jacket was gone and with it at least 120 pounds.

Barney told me that although he was making about 120 dollars a week with Warner Brothers, good money in those days, he had another offer for a third of the money from a young writer who needed help promoting his R & B music to the cross over community. Barney wanted my advice. It was a no brainer. The writer’s name was Berry Gordy. His fledgling company was Motown.

Now, years later Barney Ales was the millionaire Executive Vice President of the Motown Corporation. This time I was sitting in his office looking for his advice. I had an idea for a record. The more I talked about it the more he said he liked it. Three days later I was in the Motown studio not as a disc jockey, but as a recording artist. Well I’m using the word artist here loosely as you’ll soon see.

“Write it”, he said.
“Write it and I’ll get you a producer and time in the studio. Let’s see what happens.”
I wrote the song in about 20 minutes that night and delivered it to Barney’s office the next morning. “What’d   ya do, have this in the glove box the whole time?”, he laughed.  Minutes later Popcorn Wylie walked into Barney’s office. “Let’s put an arrangement to this.” Barney said to him. “See if we can get it done later this week.”
Popcorn and I had met many times.
Two days later I was in the studio that today is a museum. People come from all over the world to see where the Detroit Sound of music was made. It was in a comparatively small room with sound equipment no one today would even use. But, like all early inventions it worked. Did it ever!

About 15 people were in the studio. There was a short rehearsal and tape was rolling. Martha and The Vandellas were singing backup, Marvin Gaye was playing piano, "Little" Stevie Wonder was beating on a drum, Smoky Robinson was playing THEE HORN. And...Ahem..I Sang (if you can call it that).
When you hear it sometime, listen closely to my voice breaking up...they gave me one afternoon to do this and I think I had the worst cold of my life!

This was the "Song" Ha!


The record was only available from the station (WXYZ). Cost was one dollar and all proceeds went to the WMCA. They said it sold in excess of 50,000 copies.

I looked on E bay the other day. Someone sold two original copies of “Set Me Free” for $500 each. Hmmmm
Lee Alan

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Baseball and Sonny

Excerpt from the book:
"Other Days" (Soon to be Published)
by Lee Alan
First Book "Turn Your Radio On"
Available at:

In 1964 I got to play baseball before 50 thousand fans at Tiger Stadium in Detroit. The famous corner of Michigan and Trumbull I’ll have you know. Well I didn’t really play with the Tigers. I played between the Tigers. Tiger ball games that is. It was a double header and all the Detroit media people were invited to play there for four innings between games. What a scene that was!

On my team the pitcher was television sports personality and author Dave Diles,
The catcher, Don Zee the all night zombie who for many years followed me every night on WXYZ,
At 3rd was Dave Shafer of WJBK the then current Jack the Bellboy and a brilliant competitor on opposite me on WXYZ radio.
Ron Knowles, CKLW at short. Dave Prince at second.
Robin Seymour (Bobbin With Robin) at first. Bud Davies of CKLW in right.
Joel Sebastian in center field and yours truly in left.

Some of the guys on the opposing team were Bill Bonds, John Kelly, Sonny Elliott, Jac Legoff, JP McCarthy, some columnists from the Detroit News and Free Press, Mr. Belvedere ( We do good work!), and others. When the first game of the double header was over we were introduced one by one to the crowd. We all ran on the field pretending we were really ball players. Some of the guys were smiling and waving their hats. Others went right to tossing the ball around. Most of us were in awe of seeing Tiger Stadium from the perspective of the field and just looking at 50,000 people looking back at us. Awesome!

I want to say here, as you may have guessed, there was nothing spectacular about our playing of the game. I think the best player was Dave Diles. I was told Dave was a major league pitching prospect until he threw his arm out. However, there was one incident I shall never forget. I was standing in left field and saw the whole thing.

Diles was pitching, Zee was catching, and Sonny Eliot was up to bat. And, and usual Zee was clowning around playing the fool. Don would catch the ball, the umpire would yell something and Zee would throw his hat down on the ground, stomp on it for a bit and start off for first base with Sonny chasing him.

After a few of those antics Diles delivered what looked to be a slow curve ball for a strike. Don caught it. The umpire yelled Steeerrrike!!!! and in a fluid movement with no hesitation Don dropped the catcher’s mitt, took his hat off with his right hand displayed a face breaking smile, and waved and bowed to the crowd.

With his left hand Zee reached out and removed Sonny’s hat. And with a grand gesture let it drop to the ground. Along with Sonny's hat came his toupee still inside the hat! Fifty thousnd people at Tiger Stadium doubled up with laughter. Sonny’s head was beaming in the bright afternoon sun. No one had ever seen him without his topper.

Dave Diles fell to the pitcher’s mound laughing. Dave Shafer was pounding on third base. Robin Seymour just stood staring there with both hands on his cheeks. I gave the crowd my imitation of Jack Benny’s double take with hand on cheek. Everyone was in stitches; except for Sonny who, with no visible smile on hs face, promptly bent down, very slowly picked up his hat ....and its contents, dusted it off, turned with a red face (and head), said something to Don Zee that no one except Don could hear, and walked off the field.

Sonny didn’t return to the game. And to this minute I have never heard anyone mention the incident!

Many who were the “players” on that day are now in heaven.   Sonny.  A treasure, an institution in Detroit, a hero and former prisoner in the war with the Nazis was 90 years young.   If he ever played ball again you can be sure that Don Zee wasn’t catching.
UPDATE:  11/16/2012
Sonny died yesterday.  He was 91 years young.
Our team is nearly reassembled now. . . 
With fond memory and love of that game......and the one yet to be played
Yours truly, Lee Alan

Thursday, March 10, 2011


Excerpt from the book:
"Things I Forgot To Remember in My First Book" (Soon to be Published)
by Lee Alan
First Book "Turn Your Radio On"
Available at:

Radio, Music, Television, Film and anything related have always been in my blood. As a boy I listened to everything on the radio that Mom would allow. I don’t remember when it was that I first heard Dick Osgood on the air, but it makes no difference here. Fact is he was part of the chemistry that made WXYZ in Detroit the powerhouse that it was.

As a young man Richard E. Osgood was a bit part actor on Broadway. Like most performers he had what was called in those days a stage name. His was Elmer Cornell. The first name probably came from his real middle name, Elmer. Cornell is a mystery.

Somehow after his brief show business experience Dick found his way to WXYZ where they were originating wonderful programs that were broadcast on the network. The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet, Challenge of the Yukon and others.
Strangely I don’t think he acted in them, but instead became the program director and then a reporter of news and the “Show World” around Detroit. That was actually one of his programs. “Show World” with Dick Osgood was a big deal to listeners. Dick knew all the movie stars too. The studios knew how important it was to get an endorsement for their movie in Detroit from him so when the movie came out it was business as usual for the stars to come to Detroit and interview with Dick.
Sometimes he called it “Show World”; other times, like other programs in those days it would carry the name of the sponsor. Old enough to remember some of them?
“The Lucky Strike Program with Jack Benny”
“The Lux Radio Theater”
“The Texaco Star Theater with Milton Beryl”
For sometime with Osgood it was: " United Detroit Theater Tips"
I can still hear his programs from the 60s.

MUSIC: “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy

He always ended his programs the same way.
MUSIC: (Up and big finish)

He scripted every word of his programs. Everything was typed. Notice I said typed? No computers then Ha! So when Osgood walked into a studio everything was done. No adlibbing. He had that script. Even the final words were there. “DICK OSGOOD SPEAKING” And he always read them. Well, not always. Dick was a perfectionist and if he thought he had not done a good job with the show,if He didn’t like his performance he would forget the script for the last three words only and we would hear:


Dick Osgood was a name that everyone and I mean everyone knew and a face everyone recognized. I cannot write his biography here for it would take a few hundred pages I am sure.

By the time I joined WXYZ and met this fabled man he was already in his early 60s. It’s difficult to explain but the day after I started there a program meeting was held in the station’s huge conference room by John O. Gilbert, Vice President and General Manager of WXYZ. When I entered the room it was like seeing pictures in a book come alive and leap from the pages. They were all there. All those voices I listened to for so long but had never met in person. I mean these were the absolute best known and most seen and listened to personalities in Detroit. One by one they were shaking my hand and welcoming me to their inner circle.
Fred Wolf
Paul Winter
Joel Sebastian
Don Zee
Porter Bourne
Dick Osgood
Lou Gordon
And so many others. I shall never forget those hew moments.

Dick Osgood was still a strong voice and presence in Detroit media. A very detailed person, Dick kept a daily journal. Our offices in Broadcast House (the name of the station building) had glass walls facing a common area. We could see into every office except for the program manager’s which was private. Osgood’s journal was always on his desk and we all knew what he was doing. He was planning to use those notes someday to write a book. Years later he published "WYXIE WONDERLAND - THE FIFTY YEAR UNAUTHORIZED DIARY OF A RADIO STATION." It was over 500 pages and we were all in it.

In 1982 I learned that Dick was about to celebrate his 80th birthday. There was to be a surprise party for him at Chuck Joseph’s restaurant in a suburb of Detroit. More than a hundred and fifty of his friends were invited.

I decided to produce and record a taped tribute to Dick with as many of his friends and colleagues voices on it as I could get. It took weeks; but when it was done it was really something to hear. They were all in it. Even those who were unable to be present.

The plan was that the huge crowd of friends was to be crammed in to one end of the restaurant behind a sliding accordion wall. You seen them; the wall slides in on a track from each end of the room to form two rooms and locks in the middle. Dick Kernen and his wife were assigned to pick up Osgood and his wife Ann for what they thought would be a quiet birthday dinner, bring then to the restaurant and be seated at table up against the temporary wall.

The first sound on the tribute tape I had done for Dick was a WXYZ jingle and his theme song, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.” At a certain point after all were comfortably in place at Dick’s table I was supposed to start playing the tape at a very high volume. Dick would hear his music, wonder what was going on, the wall would then open, reveal all those friends, the tribute would continue to play and the Dick Osgood 80th birthday party would be underway. And that’s what happened. Well, sort of.

Everything went according to plan. All those people were behind the wall. Osgood and the Kernens arrived on schedule and were seated at that chosen table next to the wall and their drinks were served.

Meanwhile, behind the wall the huge crowd was quiet and just talking in hushed tones. Paul Winter, one of Detroit’s radio and television legendary giants with drink in hand was deep into a conversation with someone as usual. Please keep in mind that although Paul and Dick were the closest of friends they hadn’t seen each other in many months.

The Osgood group at the table was enjoying their drinks. Only inches from their table on the other side of the wall Paul Winter continued his conversation. Paul was always very animated when he spoke and at some point after making a sweeping gesture leaned against the wall which gave way and opened just enough to send an off balance Paul falling through the opening.

Paul Winter landed spread eagle on top of Dick Osgood’s table. All were in shock. There was Dick Osgood staring at a smiling Paul Winter whom he hadn’t seen in months and who had just come flying out of nowhere landing on his table in a restaurant.

What did Winter do?
He just looked up, raised the glass still in his hand and said:
“Hi Dick, nice to see ya”
Someone yelled at me: “Roll the Tape. Roll the tape, Paul just fell through the wall!” And the party was on.

There was a very special table at that party. Only if you’re from Detroit would you know just how special. Ed McKenzie the original Jack the Bellboy, Fred Wolf for many years the legendary king of morning radio on WXYZ, Paul Winter and of course the guest of honor Dick Osgood.

Fred retired from WXYZ in 1965 and enjoyed some years as owner of Eastland Bowl, an upscale bowling establishment in East Detroit. Occasionally we’d hear him on the air for a day or two filling in for someone; usually at WJR. A year or two before Osgood’s party Fred suffered a stroke affecting his right side mobility requiring that he use a cane, and of all unfortunate things he was unable to speak. All he could say was a very strange sounding word.
That was his total vocabulary. He knew what he was trying to say, but all that ever came out while gesturing with his hands and facial expressions was:
BURGEE BURGEE ! Never anything more. Ever!

I was standing at this “table of legends when Emily, Fred’s wife asked me if I would walk with Fred to the men’s room. So off we went. When we were ready to return to the party Fred was trying to communicate; pointing and gesturing, moving his arms like a golf swing, and making like he was holding a fork and eating. I realized he was actually inviting me to lunch with him at Lochmoor, the country club he belonged to in Grosse Pointe, a suburb of Detroit.

He was immaculately dressed in dark trousers and a hound’s tooth coat. Except for the white hair he looked just as I remembered him as my friend, colleague and the great television personality I had watched as a young guy growing up.

Just before we left the men’s room I put my hands on his shoulders and said:
“Freddie I am aware of what happened with the stroke, but you look absolutely terrific”

With a wave of his hand he looked at me and said:

I never heard him say another intelligible word.
I was privilaged to work among giants. He was one of them
I loved him and miss him.

Yours Truly Lee Alan

Friday, March 4, 2011


Excerpt from the book:
"Things I Forgot To Remember in My First Book" (Soon to be Published)
by Lee Alan
First Book "Turn Your Radio On"
Available at:

In 1963 I was riding high on WXYZ radio in Detroit. The station’s ratings were through the roof. I was on from 7 to midnight with somewhere around a 50 share (percent) of the radio audience listening to WXYZ. The sales force was made up of the most experienced guys in town. No one had to tell them what to do. They were selling the most popular radio product in this part of the country and trust me they sold it! Car dealers, retailers, food, and entertainment. Every commercial product was on our station, too many commercials really. Sometimes up to 15 minutes an hour.

The entertainment guru at WXYZ was Dick Osgood. Dick was probably already in his 60s by that time. An ex actor, Dick was the world’s first electronic theater and movie critic. In those days the movie theaters and their associations would trample each other to be part of Osgood’s “Show World”, a three- minute review of movies and live entertainment in Detroit.

Osgood was the dean of Detroit radio, on the air every morning with the legendary Fred Wolf. When WXYZ -TV Channel 7 in Detroit started and originally signed on from The Maccabees Building in Detroit, Dick was the very first face anyone saw. After surveying the Detroit skyline from the top of the building the picture dissolved to Osgood. There he was an old friend sitting alone behind a sort of news desk beaming at us. Also a columnist for The Detroit Free Press, when Dick panned a movie and said it wasn’t worth seeing the theaters in Detroit that carried it might just as well have pulled the plug.

The town believed Dick and loved him. I can still hear him saying: “Shop your Show or Save your Dough” and with his theme song from the overture of Gypsy, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” he would end with: “At the Movies or live on stage, it’s FUN to live in Detroit”.

When the stars came to Detroit they came to see Osgood. Because of Dick I met more movie stars in the 60s than most people have ever even seen on the screen.

One of them was comedian and creative genius Jerry Lewis.

Jerry Lewis came to Detroit on June 4 of ’63 to promote his just released movie The Nutty Professor. Somehow Dick Osgood arranged for the station to escort Jerry around town and he also directed that I was the one to go with him to all the theaters before the movie started, do a little warm up in front of the audience, get a few laughs and introduce Jerry Lewis.

Jerry was here for a full day and we had a lot of ground to cover. He was chauffeured from place to place in a limo. I followed in my own car. Things went really well. The theaters had promoted Jerry’s appearances and they were jammed. It was a short routine. Someone would introduce me, I’d go out and do my bit, run around the stage, answer questions from the audience, blow the Horn a few times, work everyone into frenzy and then bring out Jerry who would calmly thank everyone and then become the wild man everyone was waiting for.

Right there on the stage he became The Nutty Professor. This went on for a few minutes, the movie would start and we’d be off to the next showplace.

The last appearance was about nine o’clock at night at a drive in theater. There had to be five hundred cars already in place. Remember the drive ins? Cars would pull up next to a post with a speaker hanging on it, roll the window down, pull the speaker into the car, hang it on the window and roll the window back up.

The stage of a drive in theater had practically no room for anyone to stand or perform because it was just a support for the huge screen. Anyway, we followed the same routine. Someone introduced me and out I went onto the narrow stage trying not to fall off as I was given the microphone.

There was no applause. Well if there was any applause you couldn’t hear it because even though there were a thousand people out there they were all in their cars. Instead of applause there were horns. Hundreds of horns. No laughs. Just horns. All with bad tones I might add. And lights. Humungous spotlights on the stage and hundreds of bright car lights. .

A June at night in a drive in Movie Theater, about 80 degrees and June Bugs the size of fifty cent pieces. Millions of June bugs attracted by the lights swarmed the stage and me. The air was black with them.

Horns, bugs, lights, and heat. I wasted no time. I introduced Jerry Lewis and made a bee line (no pun intended) for safety.

Jerry made his way to center stage and went into his routine. He was only out there for about two minutes when suddenly he became the wild one again. Only this time he was flailing his arms, yelling at the top of his voice, and started running back and forth like some kind of insane person.

We all thought he was just being Jerry Lewis when finally yelling and screaming he turned toward my end of the stage and ran toward me. When he got within hearing distance we heard him. “Help me. Please help. Get this thing off me.”

Jerry Lewis fell to the floor and in front of the whole sea of cars and people, fell to the floor of the stage and passed out. When we realized it wasn’t an act some of us rushed out onto the stage.

The ambulance came.
He was at the hospital for about an hour.
The June bug they took out of his inner ear was about the size of a silver dollar.
I never saw him in person again.

Years later Osgood wrote a book, WYXIE Wonderland, the Unauthorized 50 year Diary of a Radio Station. When any of us would go with him to a book signing he called us his Characters from the Book. And we were!

A few months after the Drive In disaster he dropped a letter on my desk. It read:

“Lee – Don’t Bug me man – Jerry”
I still have the note….

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


Excerpt from the book:
"Other Days" (Soon to be Published)
by Lee Alan
Latest Book "Turn Your Radio On"

The first thing I learned at WJBK in Detroit was that I didn’t know a thing about radio. At least this kind of radio. There was a format. There were rules to follow and rules to be broken.

Play lots of music. Give the time, temperature, call letters, dial position, your name, promote the other shows, and play music. Lot’s of music! Play more music than the other stations and tell the audience you’re doing it..

“You’re Talking Too Much”


I was on the air from midnight to six Monday through Saturday. I followed
"A Guy".
"A Guy By The Name of Clay", as he used to say.
Tom Clay was on from seven to midnight. I’ll never forget him.

We broadcast from the same studio. Clay would close out his show and before the last bit of his closing theme song, "That's All" by Sarah Vaughn was finished he was up and out of there and I was in his seat ready to start. I would do the news at midnight and then start my own show.

Tom Clay was 35 years old, thin, good looking with long wavy blondish hair. His soft throaty deep voice fit the look. He wanted to be a movie actor. To me he looked like James Dean. At times he even talked like him. I learned later that’s exactly who he wanted to be like.

Clay was the number one night time air personality in Detroit with a huge audience. When he talked, every teenager and young adult in town listened. Tom Clay was their idol. One minute he was totally nuts on the air. The next he was swallowing the mike talking so softly you couldn’t hear him in the studio but on the air he was very close and very personal.

Tom Clay understood how radio worked, how to create pictures in the mind of the listener. How to pull at the heart strings, to evoke emotion from strangers on the other side of the speaker, how to make them love him. He also knew how to follow the rules, do everything the format dictated, and still do his thing on the air. He was without a doubt the best "in studio" production mechanic I have ever seen. The music would end, he'd turn on the mike and while he was talking he'd place the needle on the record again and undeard by the radio audience he would listen for an ecxact cue point. Music playing only in his ear while talking live on the air. Then start the music for an "encore".
I was fascinated just watching him.

Each night when I entered the studio there were two or three guys sitting there with Clay. Actually, no matter when I arrived at the station there always seemed to be a few visitors in the studio. Most of the time Clay would ignore my presence. Hey, I was the kid. The all night guy. But occasionally he'd introduce me to his guests.

I soon learned they were all from the music industry in the business of promoting records. Their job was to get people like Tom Clay and others on the radio who had large audiences to play the records owned by the companies they represented. Get the records played. That was their mission. Get the airplay. Not from all night huys like me, but from the big guys. And trust me Tom Clay was huge.

Almost every month Tom would prove to everyone just how powerful he was on the radio. There was a large armory on the east side of the city. The Light Guard Armory was owned by the state and used for National Guard activities. The hall would hold about three thousand people standing up. Every month or so Tom Clay would rent the Light Guard Armory and announce to his audience that there was going to be a "Big Old Ball" on a certain Saturday night. He called it "The Big Dance" and told the world he would be there in person. The record promotion people would bring any recording artists who were in town to the event and Tom would promote that as well.

Clay filled the place.
Every time he held the dance there it was jammed with teenagers who wanted to be part of it. Admission was a dollar, Tom paid the rent and expenses and kept the rest. A good legitimate business and proof that Tom Clay was King of the Teenage Hill in Detroit.

People still insist that they saw me sitting 70 feet in the air on a lighted restaurant sign near that armory one night waving at all the traffic on 8 Mile Road. The same 8 mile road that was recently featured in a movie. It wasn’t me. It was Tom Clay, the promoter, the inventor, a guy who knew what radio could do and how to use it.

The others on that station were very well known household names. Tom George, Clark Reid, Don McCleod. Good people with good careers. They were talented communicators who all loved what they were doing. The format was contemporary, and we played only the hits. The list was called "Forumla 45." Everyone played from that list and now and then we could play other records of our own choice.

Each week there was one record on the list that was selected by the station as a future hit that had to be played once every hour for a week. Those were orders from management. Play it once an hour around the clock.

In every city, town, and village across America the Disc Jockeys and other air personalities replaced the drama, comedy, and pathos of the old radio shows. Listeners considered them to be very personal friends, companions who were there with them in their homes and cars every day.

Compared to today there were only a few stations to choose from. All on the AM dial. Nobody listened to FM. Radios only had AM on them. FM would not become a factor until 1967 when the FCC forced it to happen. There were only a few stations and the personalities on them held the whole radio audience captive.

There were no computers. There was no Internet. Radio and television were the entertainment pulse of America. Everyone was watching. Everyone was listening.
What a target they could make for the politicians!
And that’s exactly what they became.
The target. Radio was the bulls eye.
There were three Detroit newspapers.

Tom Clay would soon make the front page on all of them.
More to follow............
Regards Lee Alan

Monday, February 28, 2011


Excerpt From the Book:
"Turn Your Radio On"
by Lee Alan

I Saw Frank Sinatra in person 7 times. Each time with more anticipation the last. Each time with more appreciation than before.

No need to explain here how his performances affected me. The world’s best popular music. Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Gershwin, scores of others. All played by the best musicians on the planet, led by the likes of Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Axel Stordahl Count Basie, and others with Sinatra center stage and the audience in his hand. His way always. And always in his total control.

People have asked me so many times:
“When you were on the air why did you always call him Mister Sinatra? Ha!

Well, the first time I met Frank Sinatra in person was at the Sands Hotel in Las Vegas. No, I didn’t go back stage or meet him in a casino. Nothing like that. Never could have done it. No one ever got back stage to see him. Not unless you were an insider. And I wasn't.

It was in the men’s room! That's where I saw him. That's where I met him. In the Sands Casino men’s room!

These four guys walk in and one of them takes his place at the urinal next to me. Now let's be clear about this and understand that in the men’s room, guys never look at the guy next to them. Never. I don’t know why, but this time I did.
Uh not down.. up. Looked right at the face of the guy.

And there next to me was Frank Sinatra going to the bathroom, proving that he was human! He was performing at the Sands with Count Basie, Nuff said?

I was a young smart guy in those days with no fear so when I looked over I said:
“Hello Frank.”

Without even looking at me he said quietly:
“The name is MR. Sinatra.”
I didn’t say anything.

Couple minutes later I was next to him again. This time washing hands. Two guys handed him towels. The other one gave him lotion for his face.
After his remark at the urinal I kept looking away. At least not looking directly at him.

It was then I felt a tap on my shoulder. When I turned around it was him with a face-breaking smile. And yes the eyes were totally the bluest.

I said something cleaver like:
“Nice to meet you Mr. Sinatra.”
He laughed, gave me five and said:

“Kid, to you the name’s FRANK.”

With that he and his entourage turned and left. When he got to the door he turned, looked at me and winked! You've seen that wink. Yes? There's never been another wink like it.

And so from that time forward when I closed thousands of radio shows with
"I Can;t Get Started With you" and more recently when I produced The Frank Sinatra Story in Las Vegas for radio syndication he has always been . . .MISTER Sinatra.
Regards, Lee Alan