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An Autobiography: Chapter 6, Rhythm and Blues and Playing Cards

I was always interested in rhythm and blues music and the artists, and with the success of the “Pop Scrapbook,” I published the first of three editions of the “Rhythm and Blues Jazz Scrapbook” in 1952. I brought out editions in 1963 and 1966, and a second “Pop Scrapbook” in 1966. In 1956, I published “The All-Star Scrapbook,” which covered the fields of country, western, pop, radio and TV, etc. Periodically my scrapbooks, which originally sold for $1, come up on the internet, selling for as much as $100. Even copies of my Hoedown magazine, originally 25 cents per copy, have brought $100! All of my books had beautiful artistic covers, and the cover of the first R & B book brought many bravos.

Rhythm and Blues 

Norman Granz was a jazz music impresario ad producer, and an important figure in American Jazz, especially from 1947 to 1960. On the inside cover of my first R & B Jazz Scrapbook, I featured his picture with his impressive logo: Norman Granz; Jazz at the PHILHARMONIC.

The copy read:Norman Granz JATP has always striven to get the best jazz artists, using ability and deportment as the criteria.” In 1948, Granz received the Russwurm Award from the National Negro Publishers Association for his contribution to race betterment. I received a letter, postmarked Beverly Hills, May 28, 1962, from Mr. Granz, in which he gave me the address of the largest newsstand in Los Angeles, which he said did a tremendous business with Downbeat magazine. He had given the owner a copy.

Jazz at the Philharmonic 

This milestone publication featured artists like Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Nat Cole, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, “Fats” Waller (one of my favorites), Billie Holliday, Dinah Washington, Erskine Hawkins (he wrote “Tuxedo Junction,” made famous by Glenn Miller), Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and Duke Ellington.

Fats Waller 

“Fats” Waller 

Ella Fitzgerald 

Ella Fitzgerald 

Also featured with photos and bios were disc jockeys of the major R& B radio stations. Like my country/hillbilly scrapbooks, the vast majority of the more than a million books sold were because of the radio stations. When the announcers told their listeners, “Send $1 to Scrapbook, % of Radio Station WDIA, Memphis, Tennessee,” the dollars poured in.

I’ll never forget when Wilbur Steinhauser and I went to Chicago to meet with one of the top disc jockeys, whose name and radio station I can’t recall. This regal gentleman who had a great following in the Chicago area and beyond told us to listen and he would show us how to sell books. He took a copy, thumbed through it while playing a record and then went into his hypnotic spiel, telling his listeners about the book, calling it a “must” for every R & B fan, and saying that he personally endorsed it. He told them to send him $1, or said they could call and order it, C.O.D.

He had three telephone operators there, and the phones never stopped ringing. By the time we left, we had more than 100 orders! I am sure that station sold several thousand books, but we soon learned that C.O.D. was a big mistake, and from then on, all of our orders were sold prepaid. We discovered that when you receive a C.O.D. package, you can refuse it, which means it is sent back to the sender. We were astounded at the percentage of returns.

I never forgot my idea for the books on individual pop artists, and this finally came to fruition in a strange roundabout way. In 1953, we launched a monthly magazine called Hoedown for country fans. At that time J.M. Arnstein, Circulation Director for Esquire Magazine, was a legend in the magazine publishing business. Known as Joe by everyone, he was regarded as the foremost expert in the field of acquiring magazine subscriptions and renewals. His percentage of returns through his marketing plans for Esquire were way above every other magazine. How we got acquainted with him I cannot remember, but we became steadfast friends.

Esquire Logo 

Rare “Esky” paperweight. 

Joe helped us with Hoedown (asking for no pay), and one day, while talking about our Pop Scrapbooks, etc., I mentioned my idea for the individual artist books. Joe thought it was a great idea and said he would run it by the Esquire editorial people to get their thoughts. By this time I was calling these “Pocket Celebrity Scrapbooks.”

This was in 1954, and I gave Joe the script for a Perry Como book with a dummy layout. These were to be small books, 4¼ inches by 6 inch, 4/color front and back covers, 64 inside pages, 2/colors.

Perry Como 

Perry Como 

In a letter dated October 17, 1954, Joe wrote, “Yesterday I met with Mr. Blinder, our Executive Vice President, with the dummy of the Perry Como story and the script. His reaction was similar to mine; namely that we authorize you to write three more scripts of a similar nature about prominent entertainment personalities preparatory to our attempting to publish them. There will be a delay in the final decision because John Smart, our President, is away for three weeks.

Esquire agreed to give me $500 for each script on speculation, and the fourth check was received January 7, 1955. However, they eventually decided they should not publish anything else, but they told me they would secure a publisher for the books – and they did.

Pocket Magazines published five books: Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Rosemary Clooney, Johnnie Ray and Eddie Fisher. The books sold well, but not well enough to warrant further editions.

Pocket Books 

Pocket Celebrity Scrapbooks 

In the 1970s, I also produced several sets of “Picture Paks“ of pop stars, which was a set of 21 glossy 5-by-7-inch photos. Another “first” in the pop field was a deck of “Pop Music Playing Cards,” featuring a recording artist on each card.

Here are some of those featured:

ACE: Elvis Presley – Bobby Vinton – Ray Charles – The Beatles

KING: Chubby Checker – Robert Goulet – Frank Sinatra – Andy Williams 

QUEEN: Petula Clark – Connie Francis – Maxine Brown – Brenda Lee

Pop Music Cards 

In addition, I produced a deck of Elvis playing cards and a deck of “French Nudes,” featuring 54 exotic antique photos of French Ladies of the Night! These were “art” photos, you might say, and I will leave it to your imagination. Georgianna said what fun to be featured on one of those cards! One mail order company sold more than 100,000 decks.  

I also published three different Country Music decks. In one of them, Heather’s photo was on the Queen of Hearts. But my favorite deck of cards was the beautiful deck of “Composer Playing Cards,” featuring photographs of 54 major composers.

Here are some of those featured:

ACE: Tchaikovsky – Gershwin – Liszt – Wagner

 KING: Bach – Mozart – Beethoven – Brahms

QUEEN: Puccini – Massenet – Donizetti – Bizet

Composer Cards 

The Composer Cards were very well-received in the music world. I remember when I met the late Kenneth Schermerhorn, Director of the Nashville Symphony, I gave him a deck, and you would have thought I had given him a gold watch! They were sold in unique gift shops like the one at Lincoln Center, and a letter from the Hartt School of Music, University of Hartford, was typical of response: “The photographs were all well chosen. All in all they make an unusual gift, one that could very well become a conversation piece among the musicians.”

Don’t miss the next chapter: Jimmie Skinner RecordShop