In 1948, I was busy with the song books for toy pianos and xylophones, as well as other ventures, and I got involved in hillbilly music with my cousin Lloyd Baldwin, who was an announcer for radio station WZIP in Covington, Kentucky. The station presented a live hillbilly show on Saturday nights in 1949 at the Covington Public Library, and my very first publication in that field was a souvenir book they sold at the show.
That led to the first of 21 annual publications in the hillbilly/country field, the first in 1950. By 1953, we were selling tens of thousands of these books, and I thought it was then time to go back to my “popular music” ideas, so I published “The ‘Pop’ Scrapbook,” featuring photos and bios of more than 200 top stars. It had a fabulous art cover with photos, including Bing Crosby, Les Paul and Mary Ford, Nat Cole, Frankie Laine, Johnnie Ray and Peggy Lee.
That book was very successful and brought letters in from Dave Garroway, NBC ’s Today show, and a letter from Brad Smith, CBS Television, who wrote, “…. this has been very helpful to us in many of our press releases.”
I took copies to New York City, and there I met many of the artists who were featured in the book. I gave everyone a copy and received dozens of autographs in “my copy,” including The Perry Como Show cast, Arthur Godfrey and cast, Nat Cole (met him on an elevator!), the beautiful Mindy Carson, and the legendary Jane Froman. I was thrilled to meet Ms. Froman. The 1952 film, “With a Song In My Heart,” was based on her life.
And because I was a great admirer of George Gershwin and his music, I was almost speechless when I stood in front of Paul Whiteman. It was Whiteman who conducted Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” at the historic concert in 1924, with Gershwin at the piano.
My meeting with Mr. Whiteman was on Broadway in front of a theatre where a crowd was gathered. I was walking by when I saw Mr. Whiteman. I was reluctant o approach him, but I thought this may be my only opportunity of meeting the great man. He was very gracious.
I never had a lasting association with any of the pop stars, like I did with many of the country stars. But one star I did connect with was Patti Page, one of the top singers of the 1950s. I met her when she came to Cincinnati for a recording session during that time period. My good friend, R. Murray Nash, with Mercury Records, invited me to her recording session.
When Patti Page saw I was publishing “Scrapbooks” of the stars, she asked if I produced scrapbooks for pictures and press clippings, etc. She said she had searched in all her travels for a premium quality scrapbook and had found nothing.
When I went back to Zimmerman Printing, I talked with the art director and asked if there was something we could create for Miss Page.
Well, after many hours of work that day and the next morning, the art director and her co-workers had produced a fabulous scrapbook – complete with leather corner bindings, more than 100 pages, measuring approximately 14 inches by 18 inches, and weighing several pounds. It was truly a masterpiece of book binding. There was no cost to me since I wanted to give it to Miss Page as a gift. You can image how grateful she was. A little later I received a handwritten letter from her, written on stationery from The Thunderbird Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas. She wrote, “Yes, the scrapbook has worked out great. Thanks again so much. It was really nice of you … thanks again for your kindness.” Signed Patti Page.
I did have the pleasure of meeting three legendary singers through the years. My second publishing partner was Wilbur Steinhauser of Steinhauser Printing Company in Cincinnati. When we started producing our first country books, they were in financial trouble and almost ready to close. The success of our country publications, especially the edition in 1953 with Hank Williams, saved them.
Wilbur and I took a trip to Miami, and I saw in the newspaper that Lena Horne was appearing at a night club. She had always been one of my favorite singers, so Wilbur and I went to see her. I told him I had to meet her. He said that was impossible, but I just smiled. It seems, for some reason, I never had trouble getting backstage to meet artists. I don’t remember what my tactic was that night (I wish I could remember moments like this, but they are lost). After her performance, I went backstage and soon found myself in Lena Horne’s dressing room. She was very pleasant and signed a photo for me.
The second legendary artist I met in her dressing room was Judy Garland. This wasn’t too long before she died, when she came to Denver for a concert. Georgianna and I went to the concert, and I had a nice visit with Ms. Garland. She, too, signed a photo for me.
The third legendary singer and actress I spent time with was Ethel Waters. She was a blues, jazz and gospel singer, as well as a noted actress on Broadway and in films. Memorable films include “Cabin In the Sky” and “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.” Miss Waters appeared on Broadway in “Member of the Wedding,” which opened in January 1950, and ran for 501 performances. The film was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for Julie Harris, in her debut screen appearance.
In the early to mid-1940s, the Albee Theatre, on Fountain Square in Cincinnati was the premiere theatre where all the touring stage shows came, featuring the top singers and big bands. Deke Moffit was the house band and thought I had talent as a songwriter, and we became friends. I had the run of the backstage and the stars’ dressing rooms. I visited with Miss Waters several times. She was a fine lady, and I consider my moments with her precious.
Fountain Square in Cincinnati
Don’t miss the next chapter: Rhythm and Blues and Playing Cards