I was happy to be recently asked to go into the ABC Studios at Collinswood in Adelaide to appear on the radio program Afternoons with Sonya Feldhoff. The program airs daily on 891 ABC Adelaide. Sonya had asked me to come in to discuss empathy. I arrived, as instructed, 20 minutes before air time, which was to be after the 3pm news. A security guard promptly escorted me in the elevator up to a waiting area. I was then invited into the control room, and asked how I pronounced my surname. Obligingly, I told the producers, but stressed that whatever way Sonya said it would be fine with me (I’ve heard many fascinating variations). Once Sonya wrapped up a segment, she came out, introduced herself, and asked if I’d like to stand or sit (the desk can be adjusted to either position). Desperately trying to downplay the prima donna label I imagined my Uniqlo jacket conveyed, I told her I’d be happy with either. A little bit of off-air conversation during the news, and we were ready to go!
I really enjoyed being on the show. Sonya had done her homework and, from my point of view, we had an engaging chat. We covered a whole range of topics, including the meanings of empathy and sympathy; how we use our past experiences to understand others; emotional contagion (feeling as if you have taken on another person’s emotions); and the problems one might encounter from having a lack of empathy. I got to quote Atticus Finch; the good one, not the racist one. I even attempted to explain some of the physiological processes associated with empathy. I’m just glad that I didn’t point at my head as if to say, “Thoughts come from here”. Given it was a radio broadcast, that could have been a lot of dead air.
The time flew, and I was glad to be asked to stay a little longer after the 3.30 news. Here’s the link to our June 1 interview if you’d like to listen.
Of course, if you can’t spare a half hour, perhaps you’ll like this shorter discussion between Mark Ruffalo and Murray of Sesame Street about empathy. I love it.
My friend, Fredrik, swears I resemble Mark Ruffalo. I don’t necessarily see it, but he’s insistent. Actually, (the very friendly) comedian Eddie Bannon was finishing up a segment at 891 just as I sat down in the waiting area. He walked toward the elevator, stopped when he got close to me, and asked if I’d ever seen the video of a guy discussing the word “djent”. Supposedly, I looked and was dressed like a very talented man named Steve Terreberry. I had dressed very buttoned-up for my radio debut, so perhaps there’s something there. Like one of my favourite childhood authors, Marvin Miller, would advise, “You be the jury”.
It’s pouring down. I wonder if a good litmus test for whether someone has crossed the threshold into adulthood is what they think when looking out of a window during a storm. If it’s along the lines of, Oh wow, I can turn the sprinklers off and save on the water bill, you’ve not just crossed the threshold, but performed a little pirouette on it. I’m certainly at that point. Maybe not a pirouette; I’ve never been that physical.
I’ve wanted to write a little update for a few weeks, but needed some down time. Turns out that I developed shingles. When I told my friend, Karl, he was incredulous. “Shingles?” he asked. “What are you, Victorian?” Well, it’s true that sometimes I wear my shirts done up right to the top button, but alas it’s a virus. It’s not really contagious (a point I’ve bellowed as friends ran screaming out the door), but lies dormant in anyone who has had chickenpox, waiting for the right time (in my case, probably stress) to come up and make itself comfortable. You might say that I “manifested” it. Isn’t that what Oprah encourages? Well, I have a pretty powerful mind and all I got were these lousy spots on the right side of my torso…yes, you get them on only one side. Symmetry is no longer á la mode, it seems.
When I went to the doctor, I didn’t expect to find out it was shingles. I thought that my spots and feeling like I was sunburnt (that’s how I would describe the initial feeling) were the result of working out too hard at the gym and not wearing a suitable t-shirt. It turned out that my bursts of running on the treadmill while watching The Chaser or reruns of M*A*S*H weren’t the cause. Friends and strangers told me that they were surprised someone my age would get it. The first few times I heard this, I thought they were trying to flatter me, and I would playfully throw back my head á la Blanche Devereaux. Turns out they weren’t flirting because, well, who wants to flirt with the shingled patient.
The worst of it has now passed. But this episode has made me evaluate the ways I handle stress and anxiety. It also gave me some time to slow down. I’m rarely bored, but days and nights on the couch with itchy spots and a pricking sensation in my spine started to wear thin. I did start watching Nashville after planning on doing so since it started in 2012! We also watched the really lovely Boy Meets Girl starring Michelle Hendley and Michael Welch. In these days of fearmongering regarding trans issues, I thought it was a sincere and charming film. I hope Michelle makes another movie soon; and I was pleased to reacquaint with Michael Welch, whom I loved watching in Joan of Arcadia but hadn’t kept up with. I’m glad to reacquaint with him.
I also started researching three new interviews (the interviewees are really being patient with me), as well as continuing work on a long-term project. When I haven’t been able to work, I’ve been inspired by creative friends who have completed exciting projects. Bob is doing a great job hosting his Sunday Sleep In on Three D Radio. Another Bob, Bob Evans, has a new album, Car Boot Sale, and podcast, Good Evans, It’s a Bobcast! Simon Williams’ jewellery label, USE, is making its way to international fashion festivals. Nat Luurtsema, who wrote the delightful memoir Cuckoo in the Nest, has a new book coming out very soon: a young adult novel called Girl Out of Water. In the U.S. I believe it will be called Goldfish, and who knows what the translations will be in other countries (well, I saw on Amazon that the French title will be Moi et les Aquaboys, which is really so fabulous). She has also completed a short film called Three Women Wait for Death (replace “women” with “men”, and you’ve got my social activities covered), which I was happy to be able to help along in the final stage with a little Kickstarter money. Karl Geary has inked a deal with publisher Harvill Secker for his first novel, Montpelier Parade. Like Nat, Karl’s a beautiful writer and filmmaker, and I’m so pleased for him. Patrick Harvey is co-starring in a new horror film named Scare Campaign with Ian Meadows and Meegan Warner. I love a horror film. Speaking of horror, Matthew Currie Holmes, who is well-known for his horror movies (remember him as the director, M, in Wrong Turn 2?), is in post-production for his writer-directorial debut, Traces, starring Pablo Schreiber, Rick Springfield, Sharon Leal, and Sosie Bacon. Matthew is a music aficionado (making music, himself), and music will play a big part in this story of a record-store flunky and former one-hit wonder given another chance at the big time. And Donna Loren has a new pictorial biography coming out, Donna Loren: Mover and Shaker in the Center of a Mid-Sixties Pop Maelstrom. Do you like candids of people like The Supremes, James Brown, and Jerry Lee Lewis, as well as the sets of Batman, The Monkees, and the Beach Party films? Well, it’ll be quite the coffee-table book in beautiful black and white and far-out colour. I have so many people around me who inspire.
Well, that’s all for now. Back to research, writing and, with any hope, sharing some new projects with you. The picture above is a rainy day in Tokyo. I loved the design of the umbrella. I tried to bring it back, but it wouldn’t fit in my suitcase, and I didn’t think the Japanese would have been fond of my Emma Peel impression if I carried it as hand luggage. Right now, I’m reading up on reflexes in infants for a developmental psychology presentation I’ve been asked to give. I’ve come across one I’d never heard of: the asymmetrical tonic neck reflex. It’s also known as the “fencing reflex” because the infant’s head, arms, and legs resemble the position taken by a fencer. Maybe that’s the sign you’ve crossed the threshold from childhood to adulthood: when the tonic neck reflex is replaced by the tonic and gin reflex – the sudden urge when confronted by limes and ice to fix oneself a highball. Bottoms up, I say!
“Eventually man, too, found his way back to the sea. Standing on its shores, he must have looked out upon it with wonder and curiosity, compounded with an unconscious recognition of his lineage. He could not physically re-enter the ocean as the seals and whales had done. But over the centuries, with all the skill and ingenuity and reasoning powers of his mind, he has sought to explore and investigate even its most remote parts, so that he might re-enter it mentally and imaginatively … Moving in fascination over the deep sea he could not enter, he found ways to probe its depths, he let down nets to capture its life, he invented mechanical eyes and ears that could re-create for his sense a world long lost, but a world that, in the deepest part of his subconscious mind, he had never wholly forgotten”.
Water and sunsets – are there any two other things that are so consistently awe-inspiring? In the past year since moving house, I have seen many beautiful sunsets from my front lawn. However, we don’t live close to water, and I don’t think that there is anything better than a sunset experienced on the beach. A few weeks ago we decided to be spontaneous and drive down to the beach for a relaxed dinner. It seems counterintuitive to me to write that we “decided” to be spontaneous. I’m reminded of Maude Flanders (from The Simpsons) going away to Bible Camp to learn to be more judgemental. Certainly, ours wasn’t entirely a spontaneous decision. We had agreed that we would leave Saturday open and see what we’d like to do, but the beach had been thrown around along with my suggestion that I lie on the couch for the evening and bemoan the fact that the wine bar Bin 273 on Rundle Street would be a perfect place to go; had it not closed years ago and become a Thai restaurant and then an upscale boutique. Every so often I like to let a night take you where it will, but I also derive comfort from at least having a rough skeleton or starting point. That’s why, on the way there, I kept debating internally – and much to Bob’s mild annoyance, externally – whether or not I should ring the Largs Pier Hotel for a booking. I didn’t, and we were lucky to get a table. This put me on edge. However, after dinner when we could walk on the beach, the ball of nerves that is a considerable part of my day-to-day experience receded from the shore.
There is a lot to be said for spontaneity and trusting one’s decisions. In a five-part series (see, I told you) of articles for Psychology Today, Leon F. Seltzer writes that spontaneity is likely linked to the psychological concepts as mindfulness (being in the present moment) and the immersion that comes from the mental state known as flow, which Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi described as “joy, creativity, the process of total involvement with life”. Marine biologist and researcher Wallace J. Nichols would suggest that one of the best places to facilitate a mindful state is by water. Dr. Nichols came up with the concept of Blue Mind, which he sees as “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment”. He believes that “it is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion. It takes advantage of neurological connections formed over millennia, many such brain patterns and preferences being discovered only now, thanks to innovative scientists and cutting-edge technology”. So, perhaps without realising it, my decision to be spontaneous at the beach wasn’t a bad choice after all. Plus, we got to see whales swimming not ten metres from where we walked on the sand; and cute puppies walking the beach with their companions.
Of course, spontaneity need not be only achieved at the beach. From what I’ve read, spontaneity is a bit like a muscle that should be exercised. That isn’t always easy. Funnily enough when I started to draft this post, my friend Madeleine texted me to ask us to lunch the following day. We already had plans. She understood, and told me that she was just trying to be spontaneous. I appreciated her effort because I increasingly find that by the time I’ve come up with a list of people I’d like to catch up with because it’s been to long, or things I’d like – or feel I have – to do, there isn’t really much room for spontaneity. However, last Sunday, after successfully mounting an internal case (Perry Mason would have been proud) for not going to the gym to face the dreaded rowing machine, we were at a loose end when an afternoon birthday party was cancelled. I suggested that we see a movie, and so we looked up the listings and decided on Hail, Caesar! The film wasn’t on until seven o’clock, which left us with a few hours. On a whim, we texted our friend, Beth, and asked her out for a drinks at a nearby pub. Good conversation over beers followed: now that can be flow, as Professor Csikszentmihalyi would agree.
I’m glad we acted on a whim to catch up with Beth, and then to see the film. Hail, Caesar! was a delightful wink to the studio system and a Hollywood of time’s passed with the inimitable touch of the Coen brothers. Film aficionados will enjoy spotting the inspiration for various characters, subplots, and flicks made by the fictional Capitol Pictures. I thought Alden Ehrenreich, an actor I was not familiar with, was excellent as the studio’s oater star, Hobie Doyle; and that Channing Tatum as a song-and-dance man was a revelation, at least to me. There are treatments of faith, Communism, and moral ambiguity, but I’ll avoid spoilers for the recently-released film. Also, there would be a lot of ground to cover, and while I’d like to explain to you the many intertwined stories, to take the words of Hobie, “Would that it twere so simple”. The Palace Nova Eastend cinemas also offer wine in three pouring sizes: standard, feature length, and epic. The actual film runs a little over 1 hour 40 minutes, but the film within the film is an epic, so, you know…I don’t think anyone will judge you for getting the epic-size option.
In preparing to write this article, I started to wonder if spontaneity or doing something on a whim is related to the personality dimension openness to experience. Robert R. McCrae and Paul T. Costa, Jr. are very well-known for their work on the Five-Factor Model of Personality, with openness to experience one of the five traits, along with conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Two acronyms that I wish I had learnt years ago to aid remembering these traits are OCEAN and CANOE. Aren’t they really too perfect for the point I’m trying to make here? Interestingly, I came across the notion of aesthetic chills, defined by Professor McCrae as “transient emotional responses to music or other experiences of beauty”, and which are strongly associated to openness to experience. Avram Goldstein published some early work on chills in 1980. He called them “thrills”, perhaps because this was the ‘80s and in the era of Reagan everyone was looking for a few. In that work, commonly reported stimuli that caused thrills were great beauty in nature or art, as well as musical passages (the most frequently endorsed); scenes from movies, plays, ballets, or books; physical contact with another person; climatic moments in opera, sexual activity; and nostalgic moments. One of the stimuli that endorsed less frequently by participants was parades. I understand – unless the parade is being preceded by “raining on someone’s”, I’m not usually that moved. I’ve probably had more than my share of chills from sunsets and water. Perhaps they come from that feeling of anticipation and that anything is possible, which I have found comes from looking at an infinite ocean, listening to a great piece of music (in fact, that anticipation and possibility is how I described Teddy Geiger’s album The Last Fearsalmost three years ago), good conversation over moreish food and drink, or a spontaneous day of activities. Where better to get the chills than at the beach? Perhaps avoid recreating that roll in the waves by Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. I imagine you’d end up with sand everywhere.
The pictures in this post are from my night at the beach. If you do decide to use them elsewhere, you may attribute the sunsets and water to God and/or science, but please credit the capturing of those moments to me.
I’m sad to write that Ken Delo, one half of the comedy duo Delo & Daly, passed away in early February. If you were in Australia in the early ‘60s, Americans Ken and Jonathan Daly were among the biggest stars on TV. They arrived in 1960 and began appearing on GTV-9’s In Melbourne Tonight and The Graham Kennedy Show. Delo and Daly also had their own specials sponsored by Shell, Heinz, and other companies, which led to interesting titles like In the Soup; in fact, their Australian TV debut was on The BP Super Show. Eventually, Ken and Jonathan had their own series, The Delo & Daly Show on HSV-7. Ken and Jonathan’s shows and specials aired nationally, and so they were truly among the first stars of the burgeoning medium.
Delo & Daly were also very successful on the nightclub scene all over Australia, with a legendary stay at the Savoy Plaza on Little Collins Street (it’s still there; I stayed at the now Vibe Savoy in October last year), as well as appearances at Chequers and Lennons Broadbeach Hotel (sadly, neither remains, although I believe the building for the first is still on Goulburn Street in Sydney).
After the team returned stateside in 1964, Jonathan went on to appear on Bewitched, Petticoat Junction, and a raft of other series and movies, while Ken had a long, successful run on The Lawrence Welk Show. In recent years, he wrote a science fiction-horror novel, The Frozen Horror, and the heartwarming, The Ugly Little Christmas Tree.
I interviewed Jonathan last year for a retrospective of his career. I was hoping to do the same with Ken.
During my preparation for Jonathan’s interview, I had the pure joy of watching several of Ken and Jon’s The Delo & Daly Show episodes held by the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra, and sent over to Adelaide for me to view at the State Library of South Australia. In glorious black and white, I got to watch Ken and Jonathan perform in fast-paced comedy sketches and parodies, the extended regular segment “Let’s Talk”, duet on popular songs, of which “Teamwork” was naturally one, and enjoy themselves as much as the audience.
Ken was a beautiful singer, and as Jonathan told me “a masterful straight man” in their double act. When Ken started one of his many solo performances and I heard those distinct lines, “The loveliness of Paris seems somehow sadly gay/The glory that was Rome is of another day”, I got chills. Who hasn’t left their heart in San Francisco?
From all accounts Ken was a very lovely man, loving husband to Marilyn and loving father to their two children, and a friend of Jonathan’s until the end. Ken left an indelible mark on television in this country. Perhaps his words when describingThe Ugly Little Christmas Tree reflected his philosophy for life where, “The story proves that in the right place, at the right time, and if you go for it, you can succeed”. When I was in Melbourne late last year, and right in the middle of writing my article, I imagined the Melbourne of another time, with Ken and Jonathan rehearsing at the HSV-7 Teletheatre on Johnson Street in Fitzroy, or writing together at the flat they shared in Toorak down the road from where the famous nightclub The Embers once stood.
Thank you, Ken, for making sweet music and timeless comedy.
With thanks to Jon Daly. Susie Gamble, who provided many of the photos for this post, runs a Facebook Group devoted to The Go!! Show, a production of D.Y.T., which was also responsible for Ken and Jonathan’s Channel 7 shows.
Can I still say Happy New Year in February? I’ve certainly found myself saying it to rather tanned people who have just returned from extended holidays. I only took one more week leave than usual, but I enjoyed this extra time off from work; especially since Bob and our friend, Mark, also had holidays. It was fun to have a friend from Brazil, Thiago, visit us. Visitors from overseas give you the chance to become unofficial ambassadors of your city or state. You may even visit for the first time attractions or parts of the city that hitherto were not on your radar. I find that I talk up random bridges (“Ooo, look a lovely bridge!”), gardens (“Ahh, a splendid garden!”), and even statues (“Look, it’s…well, actually I don’t know who the hell that is. But look, he’s near a lovely bridge”). There were also several Christmas newborns to meet, beaches to walk, and a helpful, if somewhat judgemental, Netflix offering me a long list of potential film and TV options based on previous viewing.
Bob and I tried a lot of the lunch bars and cafés that have sprung up all over the city, but are only open during the day. This endeavour got off to a shaky start when the two of us and our friend, Carlo, eagerly joined a line outside of one eatery. Our frustration at being told that it was hard to say how long the wait would be because “people eat food at different speeds” eventually gave way to bemusement when we noticed that people were sneaking past the confused waiting staff to sit at recently-vacated tables. Felled by this culinary war of attrition, fought with retro knives and forks, we retreated and ended up at a fast-food Mexican joint.
Even when keeping busy, the end of one year and beginning of another is often a time for self-reflection. Psychologists Shelley Duval and Robert A. Wicklund proposed in their 1972 book, A theory of objective self awareness (New York, Academic Press), that while attention can be directed inward or outward at any given time, we’re usually more outward focused because “the environment is normally a strong enough stimulus to draw attention to itself”. To put it another way, we’re the “subject” of our existence and everything and everyone else is an “object”. Please don’t take this explanation to mean that I’m objectifying you all; and frankly, on more than one occasion, I’ve made enough of a spectacle of myself to warrant your scrutiny. In psychology studies stemming from this theory, mirrors or recording people on film and then playing the tape back to them are often used to move a participant’s attention from the environment to himself or herself. I think a new year is just as effective a prompt for looking inward.
While I’ve never really been one for New Year’s resolutions, I am not immune to the focused self-reflection that comes with this time of year. Or any time of the year, really. You want to talk about me in August? I’m your navel-gazing man. What is it about the impending start of a new year that drives self-reflection, and the want to end or begin chapters? I suppose we think in terms of beginning-middle-end with many things, and years are no different. We reflect on what we did, what we haven’t done, and what we’d like to do in the future. More than anything, though, I think that a new year is such an alluring prospect for many people because of the promise it offers of putting a line in the sand; of breaking away from self-imposed boundaries, or the boundaries that we allow others to put around us. No one likes being put in a box. And yet, we have mental containers for everything.
One of the first topics I teach when introducing social psychology to undergraduates is the concept of schemas. It was one of the first social psychology topics I probably learned from my own lecturers: Lyn Leaney, Brian Gerner, and others; as well as texts such as Social psychology (Pearson/Allyn & Bacon) by Robert A. Baron, Donn Byrne, and Nyla R. Branscombe. Schemas are structures that organize our knowledge and assumptions about something (e.g. situation, person, social role), and are used for interpreting and processing information. For example, when we visit a restaurant we expect to wait for a table, to be seated, to be given a menu and a few minutes to choose an order, and so on. We are also likely to have schemas that organize our knowledge and assumptions about doctors’ visits, sitting in a library, shopping, and so on (these are event schemas or scripts). These schemas not only help us to know what to expect, but also direct our behaviours in these situations. We have schemas for ourselves, other people we know, “types” of people (the prototypical waiter, doctor, and librarian), occupations, social roles, specific social groups…you name it, we are a virtual Howard’s Storage World.
Schemas make life easier. They tell us what to look for or how to size up a situation or another person. But they can cause problems for that very reason because they don’t give anyone much wiggle room. Our impressions of others, in particular, are likely to persevere. Boxes by their very nature can store a lot of baggage. It reminds me of the LGBT metaphor of the closet being for clothes, and not for people. I agree with that wholeheartedly, unless it’s an Ikea closet; in which case, it can be used for clothes storage and to cause major rifts in any solid relationship, as you scream, “Why have we only got six of those screws? Oh, we’ll never put this KVIKNE together!”
We started watching Sensitive Skin starring Kim Cattrall and Don McKellar on Netflix in late December. In fact, we couldn’t wait and squeezed in watching the final episode of the first season before heading to a New Year’s Eve party. This television show really spoke to my point. Kim plays Davina, a former model who works part-time at a gallery. Davina is trying to figure out who she is, and grappling with whether you can make big changes in your life. I loved what the series said about the drift of life leading you a certain way versus going out and trying to get what you want; or at least trying to figure that out. Davina’s dilemma is really how to be free of both the gaze of others and their reflected expectations, and to be honest with herself about whom she is and what she wants so that she can act on it. In one episode, Davina tells her neurotic writer husband Al something that she’ll come to realise relates to her as well: “You’ve got a perfectly good brain, but it’s blind. It’s full of nerves and doubts and fear … Just be the Al you want to be, and you’ll be him”.
Perhaps Davina doesn’t fully realise the parallels with her own situation, but she is right about Al. Psychology research tells us we often infer who we are and how we feel by what we do. But this intense soul searching to figure out who exactly we are can be difficult. Duval and Wicklund believe that self-directed attention can result in negative emotions if we find our behaviours and other parts of our self fall short of our own standards. When we experience negative pangs as a result of discrepancy, we may try to change our behaviours to fit with our standards. This may play out in the push to shed a few kilos, an unsatisfying job, or a relationship; give up smoking; travel; or perhaps – if there was a video camera at the New Year’s Eve party – not to ever fall into the punch bowl again. We may also come up with new standards, or avoid self-reflection all together. Psychologists would say that humans are rather averse to adverse emotions, and so it’s understandable why we may choose the final option.
I’ve found that at times of self-imposed or externally-driven self attention, my conception of who I want to be or who I see myself as is not exactly where I would like it. My tendency, like many other people, is to feel shame, and avoid that painful mirror. Or, I lure myself into that false sense that I have achieved a homeostasis in personality and evolved to an end-point where, I’m not that person anymore. But if I did make a New Year’s resolution in recent years, it was to be more honest with myself and try to figure out what I really wanted. On my navel gazing this year, I found that I was closer to where I wanted to be, and there didn’t have to be such an upheaval of self-concept. I think that is in big part due to this blog. Anytime I feel in a box, I find writing helps me to shake it off. Writing is a very satisfying creative outlet for me, as well as a way to figure out exactly what it is I’m thinking.
I would like to thank my 2015 interviewees: Gavin Harrison, Patricia Florio, and Jonathan Daly. They gave freely of their time and really did what I have written about. Self-reflection can be challenging, difficult, fun, and a whole range of other things. I appreciate the effort they put into it. I hope that it was as useful to them as it was to me. I would also like to thank Bobby Vee and his family for support of my writing about their family in my If I Needed You post; and those who participated in my Sunday, You’re Looking Neat in Your Tidy Attire Q&A: Rutanya Alda, Simone Buchanan, Gabrielle Carteris, Cazwell, Tim Ferguson, Tim Matheson, Breckin Meyer, Lucas Neff, Chris Noel, Tatum O’Neal, and Billy Warlock.
I’m working on a couple of new projects and look forward to sharing them with all of you when I can.
Sometimes I write all day or even over an entire weekend. I love being in that type of flow. However, I find that I can start to act just a little bit bizarre and need some actual human interaction. I found this to be the case a couple of weeks ago, and was pleased that Bob, our friends Julie and Carlo, and I choose to go to one of our favourite pubs known for its friendly atmosphere and extensive beer list. We listened to a lovely singer perform original pieces and covers. One of her originals was about an elderly man. After the song, she intimated that she may be killing him off in a sequel unless the audience had other ideas. Buoyed by courage (and probably our tab at the bar), a sense of duty compelled me to fish for a stay of execution for her fictional protagonist. At the end of the singer’s set, I excitedly went up to her and offered, “Perhaps…he could go to Europe!” She was very sweet, but I sensed that she was thinking, He has two Hefeweizen, and all of a sudden he thinks he’s Carole King.
In writing this, I decided to return to one of my favourite theorists: Gordon W. Allport. I considered his trait theory at length for one course I completed in my first year as an undergraduate. In his 1955 book, Becoming: Basic Considerations for a Psychology of Personality (New Haven, Yale University Press), he wrote, “there is also much growth that takes place only with the aid of, and because of, a self image. This image helps us bring our view of the present into line with our view of the future”. I guess what I take away from all this New Year reflection is strive to be who you want to be. You just can’t be Carole King – that’s already taken.
If you ask Jonathan Daly to describe himself, he has a few choices. He is an actor, most often in comedy; a writer, of nightclub acts, television series, plays, and more recently, screenplays for films; a director; and a producer. He has often combined these roles at the same time and, at one time or another, done all of them in spades. Jonathan’s initial prominence and popularity was in front of an audience. On U.S. television, Jonathan is well-known for co-starring roles in the final season of Petticoat Junction (1969-70) as Orrin Pike, Bobbie Jo’s (Lori Saunders) suitor, and in 1970s series The Jimmy Stewart Show as Peter Howard (Jimmy’s character’s son), and then C.P.O. Sharkey, playing Lt. Whipple, the superior of none other than Don Rickles. He was a familiar face in guest parts on The Flying Nun, Bewitched, The Ghost & Mrs. Muir, The Courtship of Eddie’s Father, and The Partridge Family. There were also films: among them, The Young Warriors with James Drury; Out of Sight which included a who’s who of rock and pop musicians; and Disney’s Rascal and Amy, which were Jonathan’s favourite films, and two of seven pictures he made at that “wonderful studio”.
There was a time before these series and films when Jonathan was known somewhere else, and by a whole nation no less who had only recently come to television. With a partner named Ken Delo, and an act that initially started as a “Martin and Lewis thing”, but became much more, Jonathan set out for Australia. It was early 1960 when producer Norman Spencer brought Delo and Daly to Melbourne. They had been working together for only a couple of years. In that time, as Jonathan explains, the focus was on building a relationship rather than the act. Viewers, and the press, likely did not know what to expect from the comedy team when they made their Australian television debut Saturday April 2 at 8pm on Melbourne’s GTV-9 on the nationally-aired The BP Super Show. Very quickly Australia took the duo into their hearts and homes. GTV-9 would be their home for several months, as an initial four-week stay (some papers said six) turned into six months. At GTV-9 Jonathan and Ken found supportive colleagues and good friends. It was there they appeared regularly on In Melbourne Tonight and The Graham Kennedy Show, the version of IMT for national consumption that also meant the duo became well-known interstate. The legend of the show’s host, Graham Kennedy, has grown over the ensuing decades, but Jonathan found in him a collegial colleague with whom he shared the stage many times. IMT’s roster included Bert Newton, Panda, Joff Ellen, and appearances by the very special Elaine McKenna, with whom Jonathan worked often, and shared considerable chemistry.
It was the time of the nightclub in Melbourne – and, indeed, much of the country – with Delo and Daly becoming a sensation wherever they went: the Savoy Plaza in Melbourne, Chequers in Sydney, and Lennons Broadbeach Hotel in the Gold Coast, amongst them. They did not, however, appear at the very famous nightclub The Embers, with Jonathan tasked with telling formidable club owner, Jimmy Noall, why his establishment was not suitable for comedy.
By the time the team left Australia, after filming two specials, their “acceptance by Australian TV audiences … set them apart as being by far the most successful of the U.S. TV comedy ‘imports’” (The Age, Radio and Television Supplement, October 6, 1960), with the pair later described as having “had the biggest success of any overseas act on Australian TV, and what was planned as a limited stay in 1960 turned into the longest for any imported variety act” (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, May 31, 1962). Colin Bednall, head of GTV-9, knew a good thing when he saw it, and he offered Jonathan the chance to write and produce. An appealing prospect, Jonathan and Australian wife Marlene Duff returned from the U.S. for Jonathan to work at GTV-9 for a year. In a nice tie-in to his very first appearance in Australia, he was assigned The BP Super Show. The BP Super Show was the network’s prestige program, “the channel’s show window” (The Age, Radio and Television Supplement, April 7, 1960). Indeed, in the month before Jonathan took over the reins, the star of the February episode was Ella Fitzgerald in a special filmed performance – at The Embers of all places!
Jonathan’s stint with The BP Super Show began with an episode starring Lorrae Desmond, Jerry Vale, French acrobats The Dandinis, Kamahl, and Tommy Hanlon Jr. Horrie Dargie compered and his quintet were featured on this show, which went to air February 11, 1961. On March 25, The VW Show began. This show, sponsored by Volkswagen, alternated with The BP Super Show, so that every two weeks viewers received either a BP or VW instalment. For this first production, Horrie Dargie compered a show featuring Alan Dean, Ray Hastings, Kathleen Gorham and Robert Pomie, Dorothy Baker, the Coral Deague Dancers, and the GTV-9 Orchestra conducted by the maestro, Arthur Young. The shows showcased new talent, overseas talent, Australian stars, vocalists, comedians, dancers and acrobats. Take a BP show from April 8, 1960 that featured The Allen Brothers act: Chris and that Boy from Oz, Peter. In many ways it was also a showcase for Jonathan’s many talents, as he would increasingly move across performing, writing, and producing.
It became a bit of a habit for Jonathan to be about to board a plane (once literally), or to actually board a plane back to the U.S., before being asked to do something else in Australia. After his time with the BP and VW shows was over, he moved on to HSV-7. It was there that he compered Daly at Night, a forerunner to night time talk shows on Australian TV and an introduction to “the authentic Tonight format” (Australian TV: The First 25 Years, ed. Peter Beilby, 1981). The show was a D.Y.T. production, with Horrie Dargie, Arthur Young, and John Tilbrook having set up their own production unit. Described as a “controversial discussion show” (The Australian Women’s Weekly, 13 November 1963), critics didn’t completely take to Jonathan behind the desk and his panel and team that included Vikki Hammond, Horrie Dargie, Arthur Young, Frank Thring, Kitty Bluett, and Lou Richards. The Wednesday-Friday series did, however, produce plenty of memorable moments and ran for a year; starting March 7, 1962 and ending on March 29, 1963.
In many ways, the team of Delo and Daly had cast a long shadow on Australian television. In the time that the team had largely been off of TV, which was some two or so years with the exception of a special at GTV-9 called In the Soup in 1961, momentum was building for a return. After the stage lights of Daly at Night dimmed, Jonathan returned to the U.S. When his plane back to Australia landed on May 5, 1963, Ken was with him. At the time of their arrival to a “welcoming committee” at the airport including Norm Spencer, now at HSV-7 as assistant manager production, Horrie Dargie, John Tilbrook, Kitty Bluett, Julian Jover, and Joe Latona, Jonathan declared, “It’s wonderful to be back!” (TV Times, Victoria edition, May 15, 1963). That’s high energy after a rather lengthy flight between continents!
The negotiations between D.Y.T. and HSV-7, the search for sponsors, and other details of the show “created more press speculation since it was mooted than any other” (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, June 6, 1963). TV Week reported that “Delo and Daly have planned their show with Cape Canaveral-type security” (South Australia edition, June 29, 1963).
The Delo & Daly Show launched on HSV-7 in Melbourne on September 3, 1963. It eventually had “a six State ‘web’” with New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia carrying the program (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, January 23, 1964). I imagine for viewers tuning in to the first episode that it was a thrill to again watch Ken and Jonathan, as they walked together on their set’s distinctive checkered floor toward the camera. It was a thrill for me when I watched a tape of the first program earlier this year.
The Delo & Delo show was variety in every sense of the word. Ken and Jonathan sang medleys, sometimes with their guest stars, and Ken also typically sang solo. The two engaged in fast-paced skits, involving take-offs of commercials and other popular forms. In between skits, The Delo & Daly Girls would try to keep straight faces as they set the scenes. In one skit in the first episode, an excited Jonathan is Ralph, a hiker about to start a monumental trek from the corner of Bourke and Exhibition streets in Melbourne across the entire continent. It’s just too bad that he’s not good at crossing a road, and it’s over before it begins. In another as part of the regular “Let’s Talk” segments, Superman (Jonathan) asks his interviewer (Ken) to call him “Soup”, and he talks of how at 21 when most of his peers got cars or boats, he got a cape; as well the problems of leaving his suits unattended in phone boxes.
In a skit from the second episode, Jonathan is an optimistic prison warden who doesn’t “like to use the word ‘escape’”; instead preferring to “just say they’re away” when his inmate count reveals some deficits.
Jonathan put a premium on quality. During a visit to Adelaide early in the show’s run, he was quoted in TV Week (South Australia edition, October 5, 1963) as stating, “To make a really good show you need writers and time … time to rehearse and money to pay the artists, technicians and musicians during rehearsal. Writers need time to prepare well ahead of each show, and while they are preparing they must be paid”. As Jonathan rightly points out all these years later, The Delo & Daly Show – and, in fact, all of the shows he was associated with – included wonderful performers, such as Kitty Bluett, Bill Bain, Joe Hudson (also a producer on Delo & Daly), Lewis Tegart, Addie Black, and Vikki Hammond, as well as The Joe Latona Dancers (Julie Dawtry, Chris George, Steve Buge), the song-and-dance quintet The Take Five (Annette Fisher, Pauline Whalley, David Ellis, Barrie Stewart, and Wally Ruffe), Jimmy Allan and the HSV-7 Orchestra, and many others. Behind the scenes were director Norm Spencer, writers Jonathan, Ken, and Hugh Stuckey, producer-choreographer Joe Latona, and art director George Havrillay – all masters committed to their craft. The Delo & Daly Show won the Logie Award for Best National Variety Show in 1964. When I mentioned to Jonathan that I had watched the 2015 Logie Awards on Channel 9 a couple of weeks before our chat, he told me that he thinks he still has the statue, and that “We were very honoured” to have received it.
Writing and fronting The Delo & Daly Show was a demanding task, and one which Jonathan devoted himself to fully. Eventually, Ken and Jonathan started a weekday afternoon show, called simply enough, Ken and Jonathan, which ran April 27 to July 24, 1964. Julie McKenna was their hostess.
All good things must come to an end, and on August 26, 1964 the final The Delo & Daly Show aired. Ken and Jonathan returned to the U.S. soon after. Of course, that was not the end of the story. Ken would go on to a long stint in the U.S. The Lawrence Welk Show. Jonathan would return to Australia many times, including in No Sex Please, We’re British. He then began other iterations of his career: his U.S. television and movie career, and playwriting. Jonathan has been married to Kacey for over 30 years, and he has three children: producer Jules Daly, actor Rad Daly, and Kathryn.
I spoke to Jonathan about his time in Australia. His time here was a highlight in many people’s professional lives. When Norm Spencer left HSV-7 in 1968, “he said the happiest and most satisfying period spent at HSV-7” was producing Daly at Night and The Delo and Daly Show (The Age, TV and Radio Guide, January 2, 1969). For Jonathan, it was a time that he remembers fondly, and it was a joy to listen to him light up when speaking of old friends and a country still close to his heart. I have a feeling that if he were to come back, this time we wouldn’t let him go.
Adam: What led to your coming to Australia in March, 1960? Jonathan: Our agent booked us there for four weeks for In Melbourne Tonight. It was funny because we didn’t really have enough material for that four weeks so we were kind of faking it. And then they held us over and they kept holding us over. I don’t know if you remember the act, but it was a lot of adlibbing anyway. That served us well because if we had had to have formal material we wouldn’t have been able to keep going on.
Adam: I found a TV Week article (Adelaide edition, December 14-20, 1960) where you described the schedule during your first six months in Australia. You said, “With an average of 16 performances a week, 10 in night clubs and six on television, we were always working … We arrived in Melbourne with enough good material for eight performances a week and ended up doing twice that number”. Jonathan: [Laughs] That’s right.
Adam: If I may backtrack a little bit, how did you meet Ken Delo? Jonathan: That’s a simple story. I was in charge of the Fifth Army Entertainment Division and it went from Chicago to Denver, Colorado. The idea was I had to produce shows because they were recruiting shows and we would travel, but I had to do a show at my home base every Saturday night if I wasn’t on the road. The problem was it was an Officers’ Club and it was the same audience every night, and so I didn’t have any material. I found a singer, Ken Delo, and I said, “Listen, you’re going to have to not only sing, but you’re going to have to do kind of a Martin and Lewis thing because you’re going to see the same audience every night”, and so our adlibbing started out of necessity there. Adam: That would’ve been in the late ‘50s? Jonathan: Yeah, probably 1958, yeah. Adam: Was that around the time when you also went on a USO tour to Alaska? Jonathan: You’ve done your work. We did a Bob Hope tour up there and froze. Everything we were doing was forming more of a relationship than an act and that’s what I think was actually the secret of our success – that the audience accepted the relationship.
Adam: In my research I came across pieces and listings in The Age newspaper announcing that Ken and your first television appearance in Australia would be on April 2, 1960 on The BP Super Show hosted by Horrie Dargie. The star attraction was Carolyn Maye of The Music Man, and also appearing with you were Fred Barber, a mimic and comedian; Jimmy Wheeler, a comedian; vocalists Baby Jane and Dorothy Baker; a French acrobatic dance team, Les Vincent-Cardinal; The Dargie Quintet; and, of course, the Channel 9 Orchestra and Ballet. Jonathan: You mean it was before In Melbourne Tonight? Adam: Yeah, supposedly that was the first one and then soon after you did IMT for the first time. Jonathan: Isn’t that funny, I don’t remember that at all.
Adam: In one short piece announcing The BP Super Show and IMT appearances, the two of you were described this way: “They are said to specialise in a brand of comedy which has won them a certain amount of popularity among teenage audiences in U.S.A.” (The Age, March 24, 1960). Was that the case? Had you performed for teenage audiences? Jonathan: No, they’re not even close. You know something, honestly we had not performed that much before we had come to Australia. The whole idea of Australia was simply to get us some more experience. We did that Alaskan USO tour but we hadn’t played that many places – it was very fresh. Adam: And the TV landscape here at the time would’ve allowed you to try out some of that, almost test the material? Jonathan: Yes.
Adam: As you said earlier when describing IMT, were those shows predominantly adlibbed? Jonathan: Yeah, we would come up with a premise and Ken was wonderful at going wherever I went; he was a masterful straight man.
Adam: Watching you and Ken, it really is the relationship that comes through. I don’t think you can fake that sort of thing. Jonathan: No, and it even worked in, there’s an interesting titbit. We were supposed to play Jimmy Noall’s nightclub in Toorak, which was called The Embers. That was part of the deal that we would do IMT and the nightclub. But when we went to see the club I said to the owner, who I didn’t know was a gangster, “I’m sorry but this place doesn’t work the way it’s set up for comedy; it’s not a good place for comedy, it’s a jazz place”. The Oscar Peterson Trio was playing there at that time, and the shape was perfect for jazz. The owner told me, “Oh no, we’ve had comedians play here”, and I said, “Well they must’ve died”. He agreed that they didn’t go very well, and I told him, “Well that’s because it’s not built for that”.
When I spoke to Norm Spencer at GTV-9, he told me, “Well there’s a club I can show you at the Savoy Plaza, but they don’t have a floor show”. I said “Well, let me look at it”. We went there and I thought that it was a perfect nightclub for a comedy team because of the way it was constructed. So we opened there. They’d never had anybody entertain on the floor and we became very successful very quickly and you couldn’t get a table. It just worked out absolutely beautifully.
Adam: How big was the nightclub scene in Melbourne at the time? Jonathan: I guess it was big although from what I heard then, it was never as big as what happened with us – we kind of exploded. It was that wonderful mixture of they would see us on television and then able to come and see us live. I think we were as big as you could get then but I can’t remember the others. There was a place called Mario’s and there were some Italian singers from America who would go in there, and I think they did very well.
Adam: Did you ever perform at Chequers in Sydney? Jonathan: Oh my God, yes. We were the talk of the town in Sydney. They had a very funny owner named Denis Wong. How old are you? Adam: Thirty-three. Jonathan: How come you know all this stuff? Adam: I just love the time and so I enjoy doing the research into these places that I never experienced. Jonathan: Well, you would’ve loved Chequers because Chequers was a real nightclub and it had some huge names, big names.
Adam: I think you also went up to the Gold Coast in Queensland and did Lennons Broadbeach Hotel. Jonathan: We opened that, literally opened it. A man named Oliver Shaul who was the head of the hotel chain that also included the Savoy Plaza came to us and said, “We’re opening a hotel. We don’t know if there’ll be an audience because it’s brand new. I’ll give you anything you want so would you come up and open for us?”
Adam: Returning to talking about IMT, Hugh Stuckey described working with Graham Kennedy in this way: “Graham doesn’t need a writer in the same sense as others. He doesn’t need completed script, only ideas fed to him … His big problem is that he won’t let you mentally near him” (The Age, October 11, 1962). In your experience, was that an accurate assessment of Graham? Jonathan: Actually, I had a very strange, wonderful experience with him. I understood – and Huey and I have talked about this – Graham was distant, but one day we were in the hall and he asked, “How’s it going and have you found a flat?” We were talking and I said, “Listen, you should come over for dinner some night”. Everybody said, “He won’t be coming to your house, forget that, that isn’t going to happen”. Well he did; he came and it was a very unusual experience – I guess because people told me he never did that. Graham and I got along very well, and I think we had a personal mutual respect for how hard it is to do comedy. Adam: The other thing was he had a lot of pressure on his shoulders, television was relatively new over here and just exploding – I guess in the same way that you and Ken did as well. Jonathan: Yes, and instead of him being jealous of our success on his show he was enormously supportive.
Adam: When you first came over to Australia were you living with Ken? Jonathan: Ken and I had a flat. It was near Jimmy Noall’s nightclub so I guess that would’ve been in Toorak.
Adam: It seems that the audience took you both in fairly quickly. Did it feel like that, like everything was kind of, you came over here and it was like bang, bang, bang we’re on our way? Jonathan: Yeah, and you know something, for years, in fact to this day, I am stopped on the street. I live in Waikiki and Australians – the tourists are over here a lot – will stop me and say, “How are you?” To this day I discuss with them how amazing it was and I still don’t know why they took us into their homes and hearts so quickly. It was so fast, it was within two or three appearances, so there was something in us that they accepted quickly.
Adam: Was there any sort of animosity or jealousy from Australian performers when you guys came over to work here or was that not an issue? Jonathan: One of the nicest things that ever happened to me was on the very first night we were in GTV-9. Joff Ellen came up to me and he said, “If you ever need anything, from one comedian to another, I will be there for you, you come and bother me, ask me anything, I will be as helpful as I can be”. Joff Ellen was one of the nicest people I ever met. I thought they would resent us but it turned out to be, you know something, there must’ve been some quality in Ken and me that put the Aussies at ease, they didn’t feel threatened or they didn’t feel we were imposing or trying to be a big shot, never had anything but love.
Adam: That’s wonderful. Towards the end of your first stay in Australia, two specials were filmed. The first screened was produced by Rod Kinnear, and was said to have captured “two-thirds of the available audience in Melbourne” (The Age, October 6, 1960), so that one did incredibly well. Jonathan: Yes, that was a big hit. I remember that I was in a last-minute rehearsal for one of our specials when I was summoned to the office of the boss to meet someone. I was unhappy at being interrupted but thrilled when I found out who had come to GTV-9 specifically to meet me. It seems Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies was a huge President Kennedy fan. He thought I looked like Kennedy so he came to meet me as a fan. It knocked my socks off!
Adam: That’s a great story! Then there was A Party with Delo and Daly, with Norm Spencer producing. The plot of that one was Ken having a party and Elaine McKenna suggests that he hire you as the butler and drink-waiter. Jonathan: That’s it.
Adam: I read that in the special was your flea act, where you had a flea called Leroy. I don’t know if you remember that? Jonathan: [Laughs] Yes, I do. That was the dumbest single act in the history of nightclubs. It was just so stupid that the audience went along with it. Adam: That was from your nightclub act and you brought it on to the TV show? Jonathan: I started that at the Officers’ Club in the Army. In the act, I had a flea who did acrobatics. Of course, nobody could see anything, and eventually the flea in doing the triple disappeared and we lost my precious flea. The whole idea of it was that later in the act as we were walking around entertaining the people who were sitting by the floor I would go, “Hold it”, and I would go over to somebody as though I had just found my flea. But the punchline was that after putting my fingers in this poor man’s hair I would say, “Oh sorry, that’s the wrong flea – that’s not Leroy”, and so we would insult whoever the celebrity was who was ringside. We’d use that in our nightclub act and then I think we used it on A Party with Delo and Daly. Adam: I think it sounds quite funny. Jonathan: Well it was funny because the audience was in on it. I mean they knew we were being total twits so they loved the fact that we were being so stupid.
Adam: You worked with Elaine McKenna many times. What do you remember of Elaine? Jonathan: Elaine and I were very close. We connected well for the audience. They kind of felt we were dating. It was a working relationship, but we loved each other. I went back several times, as you probably know, to Australia over later years and was very saddened to hear that she had passed away. I am still in touch with her sister, Julie McKenna. Adam: Who you also worked with a few times as well. Jonathan: Yeah.
Adam: When you and Ken left GTV-9 in 1960, Rod Kinnear wrote in the notes for The Best of Delo and Daly record, “I have tremendous respect and admiration not only for their extraordinary talents, but also for their personality and character as people. They have become very great friends of everyone at GTV-9”. You came back solo soon after to Australia and GTV-9. What led to that? Jonathan: We were leaving after having been there for quite a while and Colin Bednall, the head of the network, came up to me and said, “Would you consider producing and writing shows?” I said, “Sure, absolutely,” and so we created another show called The Volkswagen Show which alternated with The BP Super Show.
Adam: That makes sense because I couldn’t find as much on The Volkswagen Show. I could find information on The BP Super Show, but not so much on that one. Jonathan: I think we did them every two weeks. Adam: Was that similar to The BP Super Show? Jonathan: It was the same show, but sponsored by Volkswagen. Adam: So it was essentially the same format just a different name? Jonathan: Oh yeah, I did exactly the same show.
Adam: Do you have any memories of favourite guests or episodes of The BP Super Show or The Volkswagen Show? Jonathan: Well, I can tell you a story. I used to use a lot of opera singers and ballet dancers – it was very classical. I had a booker who was from Europe and I would use his talent. At the end of my contract I came in to the head of the network and I said, “I need a little extra money”. I was walking down Collins Street and this little European booker came running up to me and he said, “Jonathan, Jonathan, I’ve got for you Andrés Segovia”. Well Andrés Segovia was the greatest guitar player in the history of humankind, he was brilliant. I said, “Are you kidding me?”, and he said, “No, because you’ve been so nice to me you can have him on your show”. So I needed a little extra money and I went to the network. They said to me, “No more Spanish dancers”. And guess what, I quit. That was the end of The BP Super Show and The Volkswagen Show. It’s also one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. I didn’t even bother to tell them that Andrés Segovia was not a Spanish dancer. I mean, it’s not their fault; Segovia was not popular in Australia so it was understandable that they hadn’t heard him.
Adam: Is this when you directed and starred in Come Blow Your Horn? Jonathan: Yes, again I was leaving and Garnett Carroll, the owner of the Princess Theatre, sent his son, John, to the airport. He told me, “There’s a play on Broadway by a new writer named Neil Simon and we have permission to do it. Would you direct it?” I couldn’t find anybody to be in the lead, so I did it. Adam: That’s impressive to hear, the up-and-coming writer Neil Simon.
Adam: After 12 months producing for GTV-9, as well as the play, you left, but then you came back for Daly at Night on HSV-7. You hosted, and had a panel with Vikki Hammond, Arthur Young, and Horrie Dargie. Jonathan: Horrie was my right-hand man, he sat next to me.
Adam: I’ve never seen Daly at Night, but I read it described as a “controversial discussion show” (The Australian Women’s Weekly, 13 November, 1963). Why do you think that was? Jonathan: [Laughs] Well, it was very simple; it was controversial because the audience was used to seeing me making faces and getting a pie in the face, and being a clown. In Melbourne Tonight was a variety show, it wasn’t a talk show. Daly at Night was the first talk show, and so the audience wasn’t sure what the heck was going on because there was a comedian sitting behind the desk, as Graham did; but it was some serious, some funny, and there weren’t any acts, it was just talking. At first they didn’t get it, but by the end of the year – and I could only stay for a year – they were loving it.
Adam: I guess that would’ve been even before The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson or anything like that, so that sort of thing wasn’t really being done anywhere. Jonathan: No, Carson was already playing. Steven Allen started The Tonight Show, and then Jack Parr, and then it went on. Adam: Oh, of course. Jonathan: That’s what I was doing, I was doing The Tonight Show. No-one had ever done that in Australia.
Adam: I researched some of the guests. Did you have Henry Fonda on Daly and Night? Jonathan: Yeah, I sure did. It was funny because I had done a show in America called The George Gobel Show, and he and I did The George Gobel Show together. That was in 1954 or 1955, something like that. And then he came over and did Daly at Night with me. Years later I played Jimmy Stewart’s son on The Jimmy Stewart Show, and Hank Fonda was Jimmy Stewart’s best friend. So Hank came in on the set one day and he said, “You and I have to stop meeting like this”. When he was on Daly at Night he was absolutely fantastic and we spent the next few days together. He was a wonderful man. So eventually to work with his best friend, it all tied in very nicely.
Adam: I’d love to find that Daly at Night episode. I don’t know if they’re around but that would be something to see. Jonathan: Do you remember a man named Frank Thring? Adam: Absolutely, yes. Jonathan: Well, Frank was as openly gay as you could be in those days, and he would come on the show and he was hysterical. All of our humour – see that’s what the audience, they were a little thrown by it because we didn’t have acts, but we had funny conversations. If you could find Daly at Night, oh my gosh that would be great. I’m sure they burned it because they didn’t know what the heck we were doing. Adam: Frank seemed to be definitely one of a kind. Jonathan: He was fantastic, great guy.
Adam: When you were producing and then when you were on Daly at Night was there pressure or people wanting Delo and Daly to reunite? You did do a one-off special screened in May, 1961, In the Soup, and I know Ken came back to Australia for a solo stint on IMT in 1962. Jonathan: Well, we stayed in touch and we kept talking about doing it, and then when Daly at Night finished, then there was pressure, “Can you get a hold of Ken? We don’t want to lose you”. I was very lucky because every time I’d start to leave they’d say “What else do you want to do?”, so that was pressure to get Ken to do The Delo & Daly Show.
Adam: It seemed every time you were about to get on an Ansett plane they kept sending you back. Jonathan: That’s right! In fact Reg Ansett called me and he said, “Where are you going?” I told him, “I’m leaving” and he said, “No, no, no, no”. As you know I came back later and did No Sex Please, We’re British, and Ken and I also did Bert Newton’s show together, and so any excuse to come back. I love Australia.
Adam: Did you work with Bert Newton on IMT or was it later that you worked with him? Jonathan: We only worked with Bert in his role that he had with Graham, but then when he had his show they brought us back to do that. Adam: I did find a picture from 1984 of Bert with you and Ken for Tonight with Bert Newton. Jonathan: Oh yeah, that would be it. It was that wonderful director Peter Faiman; he directed Bert’s show and he contacted us. Adam: I saw Bert Newton last year on stage in Grease, and before that he was in Wicked playing the Wizard of Oz. Jonathan: He has had quite a theatrical career, hasn’t he? Adam: Yes. He had a morning show here in the ‘90s and 2000s Jonathan: Right. Adam: And then once that wrapped he’s been doing a lot of theatre. Jonathan: I’m glad to hear he’s still working.
Adam: Did Daly at Night finish because you needed to go back to the U.S.? Adam: Yes, and again the same thing happened. I think they started to figure out that it was a money ploy because I’d say, “No, I’ve got to go home” and that’s when they suggested, “How about if you get Ken and we team up the old team again?” I said, “I don’t know. If you want to do this it’s going to cost you a lot of money. We’ve got to hire a writer, we’ve got to get a bigger orchestra, we’ve got to have sets, and we’ve got to have guest stars”. Norm Spencer, he muscled the big shots at Channel 7 and they pulled it off.
Adam: The Delo & Daly Show took a while to get moving. From reading some of the articles of the time, it seems that there was a lot of negotiation going on before you actually shot the first couple of shows. Jonathan: Sure, absolutely, they were terrified. Have you seen the show? Adam: Yes I have. Jonathan: OK, I’ll give you an example of that. I wanted a big black and white checkered floor and no permanent sets. I wanted to do it in a very sparse way, but then once in a while use realistic sets. One of the negotiations was about the floor. You won’t believe this, but that black and white floor cost a fortune. We would constantly negotiate.
Adam: It was a fantastic floor. Is it true that up the front of the floor were really big pieces but as you went further and further back they were little ones, and it was to give the perspective of depth? Jonathan: Yes, it was a perspective.
Adam: It was a very modern set for the time. It was fantastic. Jonathan: People raved about the look of it. I knew what I wanted, but I knew it was going to cost them a fortune. I remember spending hours with Keith Cairns, who was the head of the network, saying, “Come on, come on, give me a little more money”. Adam: [Laughs]. Jonathan: [Laughs] But then it was a hit.
Adam: Did you ultimately feel that you got the time and money needed to make the show you wanted to make? Jonathan: Oh absolutely, absolutely. They were just amazing to us and that’s how I got Hugh Stuckey to come aboard, and Hugh is as good as you get.
Adam: Did you already know Hugh at that point? Jonathan: Yes, Hughie was writing for Graham when we were on IMT and so I knew him. I called him in to our offices at D.Y.T. and said, “Listen Hugh, we’re going to do this big variety show and I’m going to need all the help I can get”. Hughie and I just had a fantastic relationship. I could say something and he would go from there. He was a wonderful, wonderful writer. We’ve stayed very close, incidentally. Adam: That’s wonderful to hear that you still speak to him. He wrote for A Country Practice, which is one of my favourite programs. Jonathan: Have you ever interviewed Hugh Stuckey? Adam: No I haven’t, he would be a fascinating person to interview. Jonathan: Oh my God, he covers the whole gamut of Australian television between IMT and Neighbours, A Country Practice. You should talk to him; he’s a gem. Hugh’s a good friend, he even came to Hawaii once and we had a wonderful time together.
Adam: The show was filmed in Fitzroy at the old Regent Theatre, which became the HSV-7 studio. Jonathan: The Teletheatre, yeah. Adam: Was that a good place to film? Jonathan: Oh yes. When I first saw it they told me, “This is where we’d like to shoot it”. I thought, Oh my God, this is a dump. But they assured me, “No, no, we’re going to come in here and redo the whole thing”. They really did a great job.
Adam: I watched a few episodes at the State Library of South Australia. The guest star on the first program was Maggie Fitzgibbon, who was appearing in the musical Sail Away. Ken tells you to stop clowning around and introduce her, and so you start your introduction with “Maggie Fitzgibbon first joined the Communist Party back in 1946”. You then get cut off by Ken who says that she has nothing to do with the Communist Party. Jonathan: [Laughs] Adam: The comedy holds up just incredibly well; it’s a ball to watch those shows. There’s a skit in that show where Ken is interviewing Superman, who is played by you. I don’t know if you remember that one? Jonathan: No, no. Adam: You’re telling Ken that you have to claim your suits on income tax because every time there’s an emergency you’ve got to leave the suit in the phone booth, and so you’re losing all these suits. Jonathan: [Laughs] Adam: There was a skit in another episode where you were a prison warden and Ken’s interviewing you. During the conversation the lights kind of dim and you say, “Oh my gosh, Ralph,” and you realise that you forgot to stop the execution. Jonathan: [Laughs] I don’t remember these things but you have to understand that we did a lot of those shows and we would adlib a lot in the sketches, and then once we would finish that show we didn’t remember anything.
Adam: What was the weekly routine that you had while you were doing The Delo & Daly Show? Jonathan: I don’t remember the night we taped, but let’s say we taped on a Friday night. Adam: I think it might have been. Jonathan: We would have the weekend off and then we would meet at my flat with Joe Latona, who was the choreographer and producer, and Hugh, and we would come up with what we were going to do and then we’d give that to whoever the music people were. If we taped on Friday night we probably rehearsed on Thursday and then did the show on Friday.
Adam: Was the show essentially what you did most of your time, or were you involved with other things? Jonathan: I was writing 24/7. I remember going to mass, and on the way up to Communion I thought of something. I turned around and left the church! So it was a constant; a lot of work. It was a huge show to do every week.
Adam: Did you write with Ken? In a TV Week (Adelaide edition, September 7-13, 1960) you described a scene of one of you at the typewriter and the other pacing up and down. Was that the case for The Delo & Daly Show, or did you write more by yourself? Jonathan: I did most of the writing and Ken did all the music. I had a tin ear, I didn’t know what I was doing musically but he made me sing and he protected me because he knew my limitations. So he did all the music and I did most of the writing; what writing there was, it was more structured stuff that I’d come up with and then we’d go from there. Hugh wrote a lot of the stuff we did.
Adam: Can we talk a little bit about people you worked with on The Delo and Daly Show? You worked with Vikki Hammond on Daly at Night and then she came over to The Delo and Daly Show as well. Jonathan: She was wonderful. Adam: I know she went into acting but I haven’t seen anything of her in a while. Jonathan: Somebody told me that she kind of pulled out of the business, I don’t know. I’ll tell you when I did see her. When we went back in 1984 to do Bert Newton, Van Johnson was there and I knew him and we had lunch with Vikki, so that was in 1984 and I got the feeling then that she was not in the business any more but she came to lunch.
Adam: Another person who you worked with quite a bit, and who was on Delo & Daly was Kitty Bluett. Jonathan: Yes, Kitty was on The Delo & Daly Show. Adam: Did you enjoy working with her? Jonathan: Gosh yes, she was one of the funniest people and she had a wonderful husband. Kitty was just funny. You know there’s some people who are comedians but they’re not necessarily funny, she was just naturally funny.
Adam: You worked with her husband, Julian Jover, as well. Jonathan: Yes.
Adam: Then there was Bill Bain. Jonathan: Oh God, yes. [Laughs] See we had really funny people. Adam: He was quite a character as well, wasn’t he? Jonathan: Yeah, I’ve always felt that you’re only as funny as the people around you and it’s better to have them get laughs because it helps you, so we found Kitty Bluett, Bill Bain, there was a little old lady, I cannot remember her name and we would put her every once in a while, she was hysterical. We liked character actors.
Adam: There was Joe Hudson, who was in The Horrie Dargie Quintet. Jonathan: Oh gosh yes, we used him a lot. Adam: And Addie Black. Jonathan: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. This is fun to hear.
Adam: Sounds like it’s good memories. Jonathan: Wonderful memories because they were wonderful people.
Adam: And I think there was Lewis Tegart as well? Adam: Oh my God, you are amazing! Yeah, absolutely.
Adam: Like you said before, there was Norm Spencer who was the director, and then The Joe Latona Dancers. Jonathan: And The Take Five.
Adam: When you were on Australian TV, you worked with a lot of the same people over multiple programmes. Was that deliberate or was it just a random thing where everyone was working? Jonathan: This is a very strange thing to say but there weren’t that many jobs for that many good actors, so if you got on a roll, which I was lucky enough to do, then you kept running into the same good actors. All the directors knew each other, all the casting directors knew each other and I was very pleased to keep running into good friends. It’s actually a pretty small community because there really aren’t that many shows you know.
Adam: The person I forgot to mention was Jimmy Allan who was the conductor of the HSV-7 Orchestra, which was on Delo & Daly. Jonathan: Yes. You probably don’t know this but Jimmy Allan was a very funny person, he was a comedian. Adam: No I didn’t know that. Jonathan: Oh God, he was so funny.
Adam: Jimmy was married to Panda, wasn’t he? Jonathan: Yes and she was a delight. Adam: Did you work with Panda on IMT? Jonathan: Yes. Adam: I think she’s come back to live here. Jimmy and Panda lived in the U.S. for many years. Jonathan: They lived in Vegas. Adam: Did you see them over in Vegas? Jonathan: No I didn’t, but are you in Melbourne? Adam: I’m in Adelaide. Jonathan: If you ever can find Panda please pass on my love to her.
Adam: Did you have any favourite guests on The Delo & Daly Show? Jonathan: Yes. Dickie Valentine, he and I did a sketch, if you can find it it’s very funny. Dickie was a big star in England and I asked him, “Are you willing to do an almost totally adlibbed sketch? I know you’re a star, you’re a big shot – are you willing to risk it?” He said, “Let’s do it” and it turned out to be very funny. He was a wonderful guy. You know we had so many – Oscar Peterson was fantastic. Oh I’ll tell you who one of my favourites was, Jack Benny.
Adam: Was Jack Benny on the show or was he on something else that you did? Jonathan: He wasn’t on Delo & Daly? Adam: I’m not sure. I didn’t see his name in episode listings at the National Film and Sound Archive, but I did see his name on something else you and Ken did. You did the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal so I don’t know if that was a telethon with Jack Benny? Jonathan: Maybe that was it. Adam: He could’ve been Delo & Daly, but I didn’t see any reference to it. Jonathan: I bet we did the telethon with him and stole five minutes with him to put it on The Delo & Daly Show. I bet that’s what it was.
Adam: That might be it. What was he like to work with? Jonathan: It was funny because I knew this before I met him; he was the most famous comedian in show business in America for being the best audience, he laughs at everything a comedian does, he’s very supportive, wonderful, wonderful man. Adam: That sounds like a tremendous experience. Jonathan: Oh yeah, loved him.
Adam: Was there anyone that you were really sort of star-struck by, or was it just business as usual because you did this every week and didn’t have time to be star-struck? Jonathan: I’ll tell you, when I left Australia I moved into movies and television, so I’ve worked with almost every big name. I worked for two years with Don Rickles on C.P.O. Sharkey, and that’s when you have to stay sharp every minute of every day. I would’ve thought he was going to be intimidating but he was not. So of all the stars I’ve ever worked with, I’ve never had a bad experience. Adam: He wasn’t intimidating? Jonathan: Oh no, he was a pussycat. He was a very gentle, loving, almost timid soul; you’d never believe it’s the same person. I thought I was going to be intimidated by Jimmy Stewart but it turned out that he became like a father to me. I’ve never had anybody that spooked me.
Adam: When you were on Delo & Daly were there any mishaps? Jonathan: Yes every night, every night. Adam: [Laughs] Jonathan: We were so lucky that we were capable of adlibbing because we had a lot of things go wrong: doors that wouldn’t open, props that didn’t work. We taped the show but in essence it was live because we didn’t stop. The audience was there so we just ploughed ahead.
Adam: While you were doing The Delo & Daly Show, you and Ken did an afternoon show for a little while. Was that a split show, where you did half of it and Ken did the other half of it? Jonathan: That’s so funny because Julie McKenna asked me that and she said, “You know, I was on that show with you”, and I said “You were?” It’s so embarrassing but I can’t, I bet you’re right, I bet Ken did “Name That Tune” and I did “Who Do You Trust?” Adam: I think that’s exactly what it was. Definitely don’t feel bad about memories, I’m asking you to recall things that, I mean, you did a lot back then. Jonathan: Well, I’m amazed at how much I have remembered so far, yeah. Adam: I think that I have a clipping with a picture from The Delo & Daly Show, and underneath it mentions that you both announced Julie as a co-host or the hostess of the afternoon show. I will send that to you. Jonathan: Oh wonderful, send that to me please.
Adam: When did the playwriting come in? Jonathan: Well, the reason I stopped Delo & Daly was because I didn’t want to perform. I wanted to be behind the camera but the problem was when I got back to L.A., I became successful in television and movies. I didn’t like acting, and so what happened was as I was doing and becoming known in television and movies, I started to tinker with writing plays. Eventually I had my own theatre in Hollywood, and I would write plays and direct them. I made a lot of money because the plays started to go out on tour and I would put stars in them. That became my livelihood and, now, because my daughter is a producer of movies, I’m writing movies.
Adam: Wow that’s fantastic. When it came time to leave Australia was it a mutual decision? Did Ken want to go as well? Jonathan: He wanted to go, but he wanted to keep the act going and I did not. Adam: Was that a hard thing to tell him? Jonathan: Yes. I didn’t realise how hard it was. I thought he was okay with it but I don’t think he was too happy with me. I just didn’t want to perform anymore and then I ended up doing all of that. We were very lucky as a comedy team.
Adam: And you’re still in contact with him now? Jonathan: Oh yes, absolutely. Adam: I guess after experiencing something like that with someone, the two of you experiencing what occurred during that time. Jonathan: Yes, because it’s a gift and we were appreciative of it, and we’ve stayed in touch over the years. He was my best man. Adam: That’s great. He was on The Lawrence Welk Show afterward. Jonathan: Right.
Adam: You came back to Australia a few years later for the play No Sex Please, We’re British. Jonathan: When you asked about mishaps on Delo & Daly, I can’t think of a specific thing, but I can tell you when I did No Sex Please I broke my arm. Adam: Was that a work-related injury? Jonathan: Oh yeah, yeah, I broke it several times. It was a very physical show. They flew me to London to meet Michael Crawford who was in No Sex Please in London, and he said to me, “You’d better be in good shape, you’re going to get killed in this”. And I did, I got my arm broken twice. When my arm was broken the first time, the St Kilda football team was in the audience. After the show they wanted to meet me so they came back with the coach to the dressing room and asked, “What happened?” I told them, “When that door came down, I broke my elbow.” I was told to come the next morning to the Football Club and the trainers would be put at my disposal, and they’d have me back on the stage that night. So every single morning I would go to the St Kilda Football Club and the trainers would work on my arm and they got me through the play.
Adam: Was it Harry M. Miller that brought you back for No Sex Please? Jonathan: It was Harry Miller. When I broke my arm the second time it was because the stage hands were on strike and they had substitute stage hands. They were supposed to put a mattress in place when I went diving through a window and the mattress wasn’t there. I broke my arm and I left the next day. I left Australia and Harry Miller was livid; he said he was going to kill me! But I didn’t have any more limbs I could break so I left. The author of No Sex Please, a man named Anthony Marriott who also directed the play, found out that I walked out on his play and cost him a lot of money. The funny part is a year later I was living in London and I ran into Anthony on Piccadilly. I thought he was going to hit me! Well, we became best friends and he and I wrote plays together.
Adam: I came across an article written when you were on C.P.O. Sharkey with Don Rickles. Your schedule for that show was from 10 in the morning to six at night, and then you would go to your theatre on Hollywood Boulevard and stay there until 11. You’d then get home after midnight and do some writing. The theatre group rehearsed plays for weeks and then performed them. Weekends were sort of family time and leisure, but you were still writing during that time. It seems like you’re someone who always had a very heavy load when it came to work. Jonathan: I’ll tell you a funny story, my daughter has produced some really big movies, and she’s very successful and she works 24/7. About a year ago, I said “I’m worried about you, you are back and forth, you’re always on an aeroplane, you’re working 24/7; I’m very concerned about your work schedule”. She looked at me and she said, “Daddy, shut up”, and I shut up, and she said, “You must never say one word to me about a schedule because when you were raising me you were working. You had to be in makeup at 6.30 in the morning, and you didn’t leave the theatre until 11.30 at night. Don’t you ever say a word to me about working too hard”. I said, “Okay, that’s it, never another word”.
Adam: I guess looking back at that, is that a regret? Jonathan: Well, it’s a regret in that it cost a marriage and it cost time with my kids, but to be honest with you I’ve come to terms with the fact that creative people are in fact slaves to their talent. It’s what you do, you know, it’s a way to make a living.
Adam: I think sometimes people have this idea about creative people that you just wait for the inspiration to happen, and that’s when you’ll write or that’s when you’ll act or sing. Jonathan: [Laughs] There’s no waiting for it to happen, it just happens. The most frightening thing in the world, and I’m sure you know this, is an empty page. There’s nothing more terrifying than a blank piece of paper. Adam: Absolutely, I understand that one. The thing is if the inspiration’s not coming you need to get working anyway until it comes; and maybe it will and maybe it won’t. Jonathan: Yes.
Adam: Do you still write on yellow legal pads, or is it computer now? Jonathan: No, I still do it and then my wife puts it on Final Draft, a computer program.
Adam: Was one of your biggest plays A Good Look at Boney Kern? Jonathan: That probably lasted the longest. I think we got 15 years out of it. I’ve had other plays that came closer to Broadway, but they didn’t last as long.
Adam: Do you have a favourite? Jonathan: Yes I do, my favourite is called Mind If I Join You. It starred Dan O’Herlihy, who was an Oscar-nominated actor, an Irish actor. Greer Garson produced, and she almost got it to Broadway. I think that’s my favourite. Although I got very close to Don Knotts when I was doing Boney Kern, and then Gary Burghoff did it after. When you say your favourite, the experience with Don Knotts was we became very, very close friends and so that all becomes part of it. Adam: It’s not just the play itself, it’s what goes along with it. Jonathan: Not just the play itself, exactly.
Adam: I was going to focus mostly on the Australian work and the plays, but Bewitched fans are probably going to kill me if I don’t at least mention it. Do you remember working on Bewitched? Jonathan: Yes of course, I did several of them.
Adam: Was that a good one to be on? Jonathan: Oh yeah, because we became good friends, Aggie Moorhead and I, do you know the show? Adam: Yeah very well, very well. Jonathan: Okay, well Elizabeth would sit between Aggie Moorhead and me and try to keep peace because Aggie and I would argue about religion. Finally Elizabeth said, “I give up, I can’t follow either of you”, but we had a wonderful time on that show. I spent a lot of time there. I did two or three of them but I also was shooting other things near their soundstage so I stayed in touch.
Adam: Was Elizabeth Montgomery a good person to work with? Jonathan: Oh yeah, her father was a pro’s pro and so she was naturally very professional and very warm and had a great sense of humour.
Adam: I know people who like that show, and there’s a lot of them out there, will enjoy hearing that. And Agnes Moorhead, was she a fundamentalist, I can’t remember what denomination she was. Jonathan: Oh no, she just – her whole thing was if you don’t believe in God but then you find out that he existed you’re in trouble, so she said “I’m just going to go with the fact that he exists”.
Adam: What about The Ghost & Mrs. Muir where you played a newlywed with Yvonne Craig and go to the haunted house? I think I saw that on TV again so they keep on. Jonathan: Oh that was great, that was family. Adam: With Hope Lange. Jonathan: Yeah, she was a great girl. I had a lot of fun on that show because Charles Nelson Reilly was on and he was really funny. I got to know Eddie Mulhare who turned out be Dan O’Herlihy’s good friend, and Dan O’Herlihy ended up doing my play. I ended up going on Petticoat Junction as well. It’s wonderful the fact that they’re still going.
Adam: Returning back to Australian television. I guess for someone like me who wasn’t there, what was the TV climate in Australia like at the time? Looking at what was available, there was the international content and also a lot of the old movies, but it seemed to very much be a time of the variety show. Jonathan: Somebody told me that the last big variety show was our variety show, is that possible? Adam: After you guys left, IMT continued for a few years after that, but with the exception of probably Don Lane’s show, I can’t think of too many more. Jonathan: I think Hughie, Hugh Stuckey, said to me fairly recently that the variety show as we did it was kind of the last one. It was a budget thing, a show costs a lot of money. You know who I’ve been in touch with is Olivia Newton-John. I’ll tell you a story, a friend of mine said, “I want you to come over to my house. I want you to hear a little girl sing in my living room,” and I said, “Oh dear God, no, don’t do that to me”. He said “No, no, I just want you to give her a little encouragement”. So I went over and she sat on a stool and she sang for me. I said, “You’re very good, you know what you should do? There are things called coffee houses here in Melbourne and you should go to these coffee houses and you should sing. You will get some experience so you’ll get some confidence singing in front of people; and if you do that, I’ll come to the coffee house”. “Oh, would you do that, would you do that?” “Absolutely”. She became one of the biggest stars in the history of Australia. Adam: That’s fantastic, what a story. Jonathan: I just had an email from her about six months ago. In fact she thanked me on some television show years ago and she said, “There was an American comedian over here and he told me that I should…” I knew her sister, Rona, very well.
Adam: Another person from your time here, who still performs every now and then, is Toni Lamond. Jonathan: She came over to America and did pretty well. Adam: I don’t know if Denise Drysdale had started when you were here, that might’ve been a bit later on? Jonathan: No, I didn’t know her but I’ll tell you who I just talked to, Helen Reddy. She was at a hotel here in Hawaii and we had a little chat. I really miss and try to stay in touch. Obviously Helen is still around and Olivia is still around. Is Toni Lamond working again in Australia? Adam: From what I know, she does the occasional cabaret show. Jonathan: There’s nothing for them; there really isn’t a variety show now is there? Adam: No, there isn’t and that’s the problem because I think a lot of them still would like to work. Jonathan: Why is there no variety on television now? Adam: It just seemed to change, and I think after probably the ‘80s where you had Don and Bert. The landscape changed, and even now the biggest thing is not even drama series anymore, it’s really reality TV. Jonathan: Oh yes, isn’t that a crime? What do the young talented singers and comedians do, where do they go? Adam: There’s not really a lot for them to do, I mean live music is still fairly good and I guess that’s the closest that you’d have to the old sort of nightclub acts, but in terms of TV there’s not a lot. Jonathan: That’s so sad, wow. Adam: It’s a shame that it hasn’t kept up. It is a shame because so many would probably want to keep doing it and I think we’re poorer for having this kind of experience.
Adam: What are you working on at the moment? Jonathan: I’m currently writing screenplays for my daughter. So far only options, but we press on.
Adam: And finally, how do you look back on your time in Australia? Jonathan: I look back on Oz as some of the happiest days of my life. I made lifelong friendships and loved going to work every day.
Jonathan’s IMDb page is here. With thanks to Rad Daly, Jonathan’s son, for putting Jonathan and me in touch; and the staff of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, State Library of South Australia, and State Library Victoria. Top photo from No Sex Please, We’re British program.
I’ve loved Bobby Vee’s music for as long as I can remember. If I had written that opening sentence without the word “music”, and maybe referred to his dreamy hazel eyes, it could just as likely have appeared in an article from 16 or Teen Screen in 1961 when Bobby was firmly in teen idol territory. What started for me as an affinity with his early ‘60’s songs like “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “Rubber Ball”, both mainstays on Saturday Night Jukebox-type radio shows when I was a kid in the ‘80s-‘90s, grew over the years and he is probably my favourite male singer who started a career at that time. I emphasise started because while he may be best known for the almost 40 Billboard Hot 100 chart hits that he had from 1959-1970, he never really stopped recording and performing. Along the way, Bobby became a legend.
Another Bob was actually the impetus for my writing about Bobby Vee. Well, not technically a Bob. Bob Evans is the name singer-songwriter Kevin Mitchell uses for his solo work. But I’m sure Mr. Vee will forgive me. After all, he was born Robert Velline, just as Italian-Americans Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell weren’t born with those names; and Fabian and Dion did once have surnames! In Bobby Vee’s case his lineage is Scandinavian (Norwegian on dad’s side, Finnish on mom’s). I heard the song “Sitting in the Waiting Room” performed live at Kevin/Bob’s April 2013 Adelaide show, and again shortly after on the beautiful and lush album from which it came, Familiar Stranger. In “Sitting in the Waiting Room”, Kevin sets the scene of a doctor’s office where a man and woman, most probably a couple, are passing time waiting to be seen. He is watching TV and she is reading magazines that, while he doesn’t say it, I imagine being out-of-date and well worn. The female protagonist is likely picturing all the sick people who have read those magazines and just knows that she’s going to catch something. Maybe that’s just me. It is a scene we are all familiar with, one where those nursing colds, sporting injuries or just needing general check-ups sit quietly alongside those awaiting potentially life-changing news. The problem of this pair doesn’t seem to fit the first category, and it may or may not fit the second. They are scared and apprehensive; as he puts it, “And I don’t have the words to make it right”.
Eventually they are with the doctor, and while she talks, he is silent, all “helplessness and fear”. The couple eventually emerge from the office and exit back through the waiting room. He comes to realise it is not words she needs, but someone to be there in times like this when you have no choice but to “let the unknown forces take control”. We don’t know the outcome of their visit: “Walking out the waiting room/My eyes are white, the skies still blue/Now there’s other stuff to do”. Life goes on; even it has seemingly changed in an instant. Besides the big things to think about, there are still the little things.
I thought a lot about this song as I prepared to listen to an album by Bobby Vee, The Adobe Sessions, released in February 2014. Yes, it’s September 2015 and this is long overdue. I had heard about the album, but for some reason I had missed a post on Bobby’s blog from April 2012. In the letter from Bobby and his family, he began, “As my buddy Fabian says, getting old is not for the meek. I think he may be right. A little over a year ago I was diagnosed with the mild stages of Alzheimer’s disease”.
I don’t really know the Vellines, although we’ve had some interaction online and I’ve found them to always be friendly. I was even able to send Bobby a card. But it was the image Kevin Mitchell painted that came to mind when I read Mr. Vee’s letter to his friends and fans. Later Tommy Vee, Bobby’s son, said, “We were all in the room when they gave the diagnosis and it was a devastating thing to sit and hear that”. Bobby comes from a generation of musicians that are much more accessible to their fans, but it would have been understandable if the Vellines chose not to disclose the diagnosis. Son Jeff wrote in an article for the magazine Care ADvantage in spring 2014, “For 50+ years, Dad had bared his heart on a stage night after night: ‘Here I am; this is what you get’. He ultimately reminded us of this when he chose to go public with his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease in 2012: ‘Look, here I am, this is still me… I am here!’” Jeff continued that his father “was resolved about going public—he knew what was best. It was an act of grace and courage”. And, in his father’s words, “You work with what you got”.
I have had very little direct experience of dementia. I think those of us who haven’t cannot really understand, although we can of course empathise at some very general level. Most important, though, we can listen to those who are experts by experience: the families of those with dementia and, perhaps more importantly, the people with dementia themselves. Since being diagnosed, Bobby himself said in his letter, “This past year has truly been life taking its own course without words that can describe the mystery and conflict that none of us can know. So without a song or a script I am stepping onto a stage that we all share: The mystery of life”.
When Bobby received his diagnosis, the family set out on a road trip from their home in Minnesota to Tucson where Bobby and his wife Karen had built a hacienda. It was father, mother, sons and daughter, as well as the grandchildren. As Bobby wrote, “Together we explored the depths of our reality… the depths of my reality. With very few words, no solutions and a lot of heart, we did what we do. We shared time. We shared laughter, tears, stories, meals and music. We shared thousands of miles of hi-way as familiar to us as the pillows on our beds. As if nothing had changed, as if everything had changed… simultaneously”. From the garage, Bobby described in the album liner notes, “mud adobe walls still radiating warmth from the days’ desert sun”, the Vellines did what they had always done: they made music. As Bobby wrote “We made music every day for a week… just for us. For the joy of making music. For the joy of being together. For all of the reasons I ever picked up a guitar or sang a tune in a Fargo, ND garage back in ’59. I have truly come full circle!”
Besides making new memories, I am sure that Bobby’s mind wandered to his more than five decades in music. He was a 15-year old in Fargo, North Dakota desperate to join his brother Bill and Bill’s pals, Jim Stillman and Bob Korum, during their jam sessions: “I played saxophone in the high school band … but I wanted to rock out.” Bill eventually relented and Bobby could tag along with his brother, “if I would promise to keep quiet”. I had a good laugh recently when I was looking through some old newspaper articles detailing Bobby’s early years in music. One paper recounted a version of this story, with the more colourful description that Bobby was allowed “to sit in during practice sessions with the proviso that he would ‘shut up’”. Underneath a beaming photo of Bobby is the caption, “Bobby Vee … He didn’t ‘Shut Up’ …” (Cedar Rapids Gazette, August 7, 1966). I’m glad he didn’t. Besides enthusiasm and $30 Harmony guitar, Bobby had an ace up his sleeve: he knew the lyrics to the songs the guys played.
In an often-told story, and one Bobby has been asked to recount many, many times, it was the deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, The Big Bopper, and pilot Roger Peterson en route to Moorhead, Minnesota via Fargo that led to Bobby’s debut. The young men on that flight weren’t much older than Bobby, Bill, Bob, and Dick Dunkirk (replacing Jim Stillman). There was a call for local talent to fill in at the Moorhead Armory show that the three musicians would never attend. As recounted at The History of Rock ‘n’ Roll website, “The boys [Bobby and the band] had three hours to come up with an act. They knew six songs maybe. After the quick rehearsal, on the way to the armory, they stopped at J.C. Penney’s and bought black peg pants with tight cuffs and sleeveless sweaters accented with angora ties”. It was at the event, Bobby recalled a few years later in the liner notes to his 1963 LP I Remember Buddy Holly, “We hadn’t even named the group up to that time, so we gave ourselves a name on the spot, calling ourselves ‘The Shadows’”. Until then, in Bobby’s words, “I was the lead singer … of Fargo’s first nameless garage band”. While the show that night started Bobby’s career, had he not performed that night, I can’t imagine that Bobby Vee wouldn’t have been ‘discovered’ elsewhere. No matter what, he would have become a star.
Shows around the traps, their first paying gig on a makeshift stage, which half-way through the show came apart, were a prelude to the worldwide travel Bobby would be doing within a couple of years. In the liner notes to The Essential and Collectable Bobby Vee (1998), Bobby begins his story with, “The date was June 1, 1959 and I was barely 16 when I recorded my first record, ‘Suzie Baby’, at the Kaybank Studio in Minneapolis, MN. By September it was #1 in the upper Midwest and I signed my first recording contract with Liberty Records”. Maury Dean, in his book Rock ‘n’ Roll Gold Rush, described “Suzie Baby” as “not just a good record – it is a great record”. When I listen to that record some 55 years after it was recorded, Bobby and his band absolutely kill me.
After “Suzie Baby”, a hit with B-side “Devil or Angel” in 1960, after a couple of misses, led to Bobby’s initial five-year contract with Liberty. God bless the B-sides! At Liberty, it was with company founder Si Waronker’s “love of music and steadfast desire to create quality product he placed 21 year old Snuff Garrett in charge of A&R production and with Snuff’s seemingly endless string of hit records Si’s dream became a reality. Liberty Records became one of the most successful record companies of the sixties and very happily, it became my musical home for over fifteen years” (The Essential and Collectable Bobby Vee liner notes). I am familiar with Si Waronker’s work through my friend, Donna Loren, who was married to Si’s son, Warner Bros. Records president Lenny Waronker. In fact, Donna and Lenny’s son Joey played drums on Bob Evans’ Familiar Stranger.
In his songs, Bobby often dealt with lost love, two timing girls, and even best pals who end up with his girl. In one song, Bobby gets “A Letter from Betty”. Sounds innocuous? He opens that letter: “She said, dear, Bobby/Just a line to say hello/We’ve been such good friends/You should be the first to know/I fell in love/My dreams have all come true/And, Bobby, he’s so much like you”. Like what?! The listener often wonders how someone so good can put up with all of this. When Bobby sings the first few lines to “Punish Her” and comes to “Punish her, kill her”, you’re likely to spit out your soda from the Malt shop. Until, of course, he finishes this advice to punish and kill her “with kindness”. That’s our Bobby!
While Bobby may seem a pushover in some of the songs – he even refers to himself as being like a “Rubber Ball” – I like to think he knows his worth. Through it all, Bobby can only wish these girls well and hope that if they only realise what fools they’ve been, they’ll return. “Run to Him”, a song in this vein by Gerry Goffin and Jack Keller, reached #2 on the Billboard chart. I think the public kind of liked it when Bobby misbehaved just a little to give some back to the Suzies, Barbaras, Bettys, and Robins. On his #1 “Take Good Care of My Baby” by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, Bobby’s lost the girl because he was untrue; but he hopes he’ll win her back. And on his #3 “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” (Weisman-Wayne-Garrett), where he suspects his girl of being a “run-around lover” he mischievously eludes to the fact that two could play at that game. Of course, he wouldn’t, but you know…
Some of my other Bobby favourites are “More Than I Can Say” by Sonny Curtis and Jerry Allison, “It Might as Well Rain Until September” again by Goffin and King (where Bobby has the girl, but she is away), and the later beautiful “No Obligations” by K. Walker. I say later, but Bobby would have only been around 26!
What to make of this good guy persona? It seems to have been pretty close to reality. In articles from the ‘60s, Bobby was described as “handsome, shy, young” (The Emmetsburg Democrat, July 13, 1961, p. 3) and “soft-spoken” (The Lima News, August 8, 1963, p. 17). In an article in the Clearfield Progress (July 28, 1964, p. 9), he is described in this way: “Now he is the hottest name on Liberty Records, has made millions of fans among teenagers and adults, appeared on all the top television shows and is weighing a half-dozen more motion picture offers. Through it all, Bobby Vee retains the same shy, soft-spoken qualities that made him a favorite among friends in Fargo, N. D., where he was born on April 30, 1943”. More recent profiles describe him as “self-deprecating” and “a great guy”.
Wait for another Bob. Bob Dylan wrote in his autobiography Chronicles (2004) how, as a young Elston Gunnn, he met Bobby: “His band was called The Shadows and I had hitchhiked out there and talked my way into joining his group as a piano player on some of his local gigs, one in the basement of a church. I played a few shows with him, but he really didn’t need a piano player and, besides, it was hard finding a piano that was in tune in the halls that he played”. Dylan felt that “Bobby Vee and me had a lot in common, even though our paths would take such different directions”. For Bob – er, Elston – Bobby had “a metallic, edgy tone to his voice and it was as musical as a silver bell”. Dylan goes on to describe how at the time of “Take Good Care of My Baby” in 1961, he wanted to see Bobby again: “He was on the top of the heap now. It seemed like so much had happened to him in such a short time. Bobby came out to see me; was as down-to-earth as ever, was wearing a shiny silk suit and narrow tie, seemed genuinely glad to see me, didn’t even act surprised”.
Bob Dylan never forgot his “old friend and fellow performer”. At a 2013 show, Dylan introduced a song he was to perform with a tribute to Bobby. “I’ve been on the stage with most of those people” explained Dylan referencing the likes of Madonna and Mick Jagger, “But the most meaningful person I’ve ever been on the stage with, was a man who is here tonight, who used to sing a song called “Suzie Baby”. I want to say that Bobby Vee is actually here tonight. Maybe you can show your appreciation with just a round of applause. So, we’re gonna try to do this song, like I’ve done it with him before once or twice”. And with that, Suzie had another shot of life.
In real life, Bobby may have been the teen idol, but perhaps the girls were indeed hard to find. Listen to the song “The Idol” by Bobby’s regular songwriters, Gerry Goffin and Carole King, and you get the idea. In an article for a section of the Van Nuys News called “Teen Talk” (September 30, 1960, p. 8-B), it was written that “Bobby has been so active this past year that he has had little time to relax and enjoy things other teenagers of his age usually do”. This included making new friends or meeting girls. What did Bobby look for in a friend or girl? The article explained: “‘The first thing I look for in a friend,’ says Bobby, ‘is a kind of sincerity that you can’t fake’. As for girls, Bobby admits to a wholesome and typical 17-year-old enthusiasm but also reveals he likes his dates ‘quiet types, not gigglers or gabbers. I also prefer a girl with a sense of humor’”. In the liner notes for The Adobe Sessions describing “Love Must Have Passed Me By”, originally written by Bobby in the ’50s and first recorded just after “Suzie Baby” (but not released at the time), it is described how Bobby was asked by singer-songwriter Rosie Flores “How does a 15 year old write such lyrics?” He replied, “I just wanted a girlfriend so damn bad!” Those 15-year old-feelings held up well enough for Rosie to want to sing that song on her own 2012 album with Bobby providing harmonies (and the collaboration made its way onto Bobby’s Adobe Sessions as well).
However, the guy who wanted that girlfriend “so darn bad” (actually Bobby said “damn”, but the slightly more wholesome “darn” just seems to fit better when imagining a 15-year-old Bobby) would meet the love of his life soon enough, Karen Bergen. The two were engaged July 1, 1963, and married December 28th of that year. Together they raised four children: Jeff, Tommy, Robby, and Jenny. Karen reflected on their marriage in 2014: “I think we’ve both led our own lives and led life together … We supported each other in what we were doing. We both had careers, and we both enjoyed the other’s career. He participated in mine sometimes, and I participated in his. Raising the kids together and having common goals and common values. And we had a lot of fun”. In recent years, Karen had significant health problems, including undergoing a lung transplant. True to the Vellines, they were open with fans, and the children turned outward continuing works started by their parents to benefit the arts and music programs. In looking at photos posted on Bobby’s website and elsewhere of Karen with her children and grandchildren, I am reminded of the phrase writer Margaret Talbot told her readers was one of her mother’s. Like Margaret’s mother, you can tell that Karen’s family “made her heart sing”. Bobby and Karen Velline remained together until Karen’s passing on August 3, 2015.
What the Vellines have left for us, besides of course a lifetime of music that continues with the next generation and beyond, is as Bobby and family wrote in the liner notes of The Adobe Sessions “our little family scrapbook”. After recording in Tucson and realising they had enough material, this album was born. Bobby provides the vocals and, of course, acoustic guitar, and the Vellines and friends perform the tracks, many of them written by the family.
It is an album about new love, long-lasting love, memories. There are songs that have meant much to the Vee family. Some link with Bobby’s own past such as “I Like It Like That” by Smokey Robinson and Mary Taplin that Bobby first recorded in 1968. There is “In My Baby’s Eyes,” by – you guessed it – Goffin and King that Bobby released his original version of long, long ago (another B-side!).
Others Bobby has performed live for years, such as “Save the Last Dance for Me” or “The Man in Me” by Dylan. “The Man in Me” and two songs by Hank Williams that Bobby has known, loved, and performed for so long are fresh and different here. While the essential truths of these and other songs remain the same, in Bobby’s hands their meanings change and deepen with time. There are Velline family favourites, “I’m Just a Country Boy” by Fred Hellerman and Marshall Barer and “Walls” by Gordon Lightfoot, the latter of which was a family road trip favourite. There is Daniel Lanois’ “The Maker” with monks of Saint John’s Abbey Schola providing a Gregorian chant. As Bobby writes in the liner notes, “Unforgettable”. And with his vocals – you still kill me, Bobby.
It is probably a false dichotomy to separate songs on the album into those Bobby has performed/recorded before, and those that have been part of the Velline family’s life. After all, with the Vellines music has been a way of business and a way of life. Robby Vee and his mom, Karen, wrote one of my favourites on the album, “Father to a Son”. As they write and Bobby performs, “It’s who you love and how you love in all the special ways/That’s all you take with you and the rest fades away”.
In preparing to write this, I read album notes, watched old Scopitone films on YouTube (music videos of the ‘60s) that really are a trip, and looked at photos. Some of my favourites were of a young Bobby in Rome, the newlyweds, the family, and of course Bobby on stage over time. I thought about memory. Jeff Vee wrote in his Care Advantage article about the need to always make new memories, “The road ahead is indeed murky. We think about it, but it does not rule the day. Life is about right now—trite, perhaps, but true. And we are all better people for this. We have the scrapbooks to prove it!” Another writer, Kate Swaffer, came to mind. Kate Swaffer is a fantastic writer and scholar. I actually was one of her lecturers when I was a PhD student. She was diagnosed with younger onset dementia. She wrote, “When my mind is not bursting with memories, which it is more prone to these days, I try not to neglect it, or to ignore it, but to fill my being, my life, my belly, with laughter, love and tenderness, and friendships, and most of all with caring for others, so that it is possible to see I am not alone, and that there are others also experiencing their own grief and pain, and loss and sadness… none of us are really alone, even though we can feel that way some days”.
While Bobby Vee has retired, and we the public may see less of him, he is still here. Thank you, Bobby, and the family Vee. We love you more than we can say.
The Adobe Sessions is available at Amazon.com, CD Baby, iTunes, and your usual online or bricks-and-mortar stores. Likewise, Familiar Stranger by Bob Evans is available online or in-store, including through iTunes.
Can you believe we’re approaching August? This year a lot of friends have mentioned how they feel the days and weeks seem to be flying by. Last Saturday on our way into town for dinner, Bob and I saw three young men dressed in festive sweaters heading to what was probably a Christmas in July soiree. It was a very cold night, and I can only imagine that this trio felt very wise indeed in their warm garments as they crossed Pulteney Street. We both wondered out loud where exactly they had bought their Rudolph sweaters with bright red pom-pom noses. Then it started to rain and the traffic became the focus of my attention. Please tell me if this isn’t specific to my city, but I get the distinct impression that Adelaide drivers experience a type of Gremlins effect when it rains. Just like little Gizmo in the film who gets wet and spawns some ballistic creatures, the ability to drive or act in any rational way on the roads seems lost when even a few drops fall.
I emailed my mentor and friend, Professor Emeritus Rosalind Cartwright, at the end of 2012 about how the last couple of years had seemed to fly by. I must have given her the impression that I had been drifting along, rather than using my time and talents effectively. Writing back just a few hours later, Professor Cartwright advised me to “spend your young adulthood wisely so that in the following decades you will have something valuable to do that lasts”. And her reply ended with “I saw promise in you that needs to be a focus so that time does not continue to slip away”. I return to her email often. It really was the start of three years of more productive work in my day job, as well as the start of this blog.
Professor Cartwright’s words echo whenever I resist the urge to do what I love the most: write. Two other psychologists, Hugh Kearns and Maria Gardiner, discussed procrastination and time management among other topics in a series of seminars I attended last year. They’ve also written some pithy columns on these issues for Nature, including “Waiting for the Motivation Fairy” and “Turbocharge Your Writing Today”. Their take home point regarding time was that you are never going to have more time than you do now. Hugh also had some cool visual props, but I keep their trade secrets fresh for attendees. From these seminars, I learnt to be really honest with myself as to when I was procrastinating and avoiding writing, and when there wasn’t enough time for everything I wanted to do, which meant some things had to go to make way for others.
And so I write to you after not posting here since May. Being honest with myself, there has been maybe 5% procrastination and 95% of what feels like a faster-ticking clock than usual involved. Procrastination is peculiarly strong in writers. Anyone who writes for a living or a hobby (and I do both) will tell you that writing is the hardest part of writing. Odd given I’d be concerned if a teacher told me the hardest thing about teaching was teaching, or a doctor telling me it was, ah…doctoring. Wait, that’s forgery, right? Which a good doctor would never do, unless it’s one of those “based on a true story” TV-movie doctors who someone like Judith Light or Melissa Gilbert has to bring to justice.
Like those doctors, a lot of writers believe they’ll be discovered for the frauds that they imagine themselves to be. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes came up with a memorable title in their psychology research for this tendency: impostor phenomenon. I rarely see 200 lightbulbs of recognition go off so consistently than when I introduce this concept to psychology undergrads. My other consistent mental patterns are overgeneralizing and catastrophizing. If I can’t come up with a new idea, a coherent way to get my point across, or if I write a piece that I am not happy with, I start to think I’ll never write again, I’m a bad writer, and I’ll never write a piece as good as that last one. Although that last time was pure chance you impostor, you.
But I don’t only operate on a diet of procrastination, fear, and tapas alone. There are also more practical reasons for finding it hard to write. Since returning from Japan in late April, work has been incredibly busy and, more to the point, mentally taxing. Usually I write for the blog at night, but I haven’t had the energy after days of particularly complex and difficult research. It’s been all I can do to sit in front of the TV and watch MasterChef while thinking, Why can’t you cook like that 23 year old, you impostor… But I’ve had to realise sometimes it’s OK. I also made the decision to put on hold some initial ideas for articles as I work on three very large projects for the blog. The first is an interview conducted in late May, and is now in the writing-up stage. The second and third are two articles I am researching on actors who have passed away, but who left big impressions and much love for them behind. Although I do wish that I could increase the speed of my progress, I relish the research phase.
What do I do when I have ideas but not the time to write about them? I have notebooks all over my home office with the beginnings of articles. These may be a paragraph or two; sometimes even just an opening line. Some of these will be completed and others may fall away. But I find so long as I write them down, put the notebook to one side, and return to it every now and then, I will finish these initial ideas at some point. For those occasions when I don’t, I usually realise that’s OK, too.
There are lots of ideas in those notebooks. One of them is reflecting on the end of Mad Men in May, specifically critiques of the final episode. A lot of reviews centred on how much of a conclusion the final episode was to the series and its lead character Don Draper. Many of the shows I loved growing up didn’t have finale episodes. Often they had already been off the air for almost 10 or 20 years by then, and finales weren’t really the done thing when those shows were made. My favourite, Bewitched from 1964-72, certainly didn’t. Another favourite, M*A*S*H* (1972-83), did. It was even released on video. When I found it in Video Mania, I rented it, watched excitedly, and ran (not really, it was a distance from our house and I didn’t really run anywhere in those days) back to ask the 15 year old behind the counter if they had the last episode of Bewitched. He looked a little surprised, but to his credit he did type it (or something) into the computer. To this day I don’t really expect a show to have an end episode, although cancelling a show on a cliffhanger was done to maddening effect a few years back for my friend Paul with Kyle XY, and for me with the reboot of Dallas just last year.
I was happy with the way Mad Men did it. There was a good balance of the change required of central characters in a fictional narrative and the continuity of personality and behaviour in a person that is real life. Don would get up the next morning and his life would go on, whether he learnt to develop trusting relationships with his children, friends and co-workers, and a partner; and whether he returned to advertising. I think it was a good choice in the final season to have Don work at the real-life McCann Erickson, an agency that had existed in its merged form for 40 years when Don entered it, and which is now in 2015, 85 years old. We know that the agency would go on with or without him. When I left my first university job, I walked down the corridor, past the room where I had taught (and was, before that, a student) and almost expected the walls to come down. Metaphorically, at least – I’m sure the structure was sound. It’s like the episode of The Simpsons where Homer becomes the voice of a cartoon dog named Poochie and advises the scriptwriters, “… whenever Poochie’s not onscreen, all the other characters should be asking ‘Where’s Poochie?’” I had to realise that’s not the way the world works, and Don had to do the same. Mad Men stops telling the characters’ stories in 1970. I am sad that’s where I leave them. But, come what may, I wish them all well.
I was also pleased with a nod Mad Men gave to Bewitched in one of its final episodes. They have done this many times before. I’ve always felt that inspiration for Don Draper and co. was drawn from their adman predecessors in Bewitched. I guess since Mad Men is set in the ‘60s and briefly in the ‘70s, Darrin, Samantha, and Larry Tate from Bewitched are actually contemporaries of Don, Betty, and Roger. I’m sure it was no coincidence that that decision was made to film part of the Mad Men episode “Lost Horizon” at the Warner Bros. Ranch, formerly Columbia Ranch. On this lot is the neighbourhood known as “Blondie Street” that is home to the facades of a whole range of shows, including Bewitched. It is here that Don’s attempts to track down the mysterious waitress, Diana, end. He rocks up at the home of her husband, which was used 50 years ago as the home of Samantha and Darrin’s nosey neighbours, Mr and Mrs Kravitz! Well, The Partridge Family house if you prefer dreamy Keith Partridge. When Don leaves, Samantha and Darrin’s house can be seen across the street! I like to think Samantha was at home at the time, waiting for Darrin to come home from a hard day at his office on Madison Avenue.
I haven’t started a new show since Mad Men finished. However, I have been engrossed in Donna Tartt’s novel The Secret History, which has also given me some ideas for a piece. In fact, about how quickly time feels like it passes. Of course, I went away to Japan in April and I should really write about that. But I know if I try to write about all of these things while I am so busy, I will probably end up writing about none. Ah, my old friends anxiety and catastrophizing, we meet again.
I am actually sitting down to write this on July 24. Some 46 years ago the Apollo 11 mission ended with the safe return to Earth of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins. The date was one I remembered from school, but I was reminded of it after watching a story on TV about the discovery of an earth-like planet, Kepler-452b. What a title. Guess “Earth” was already taken, but still.
I’ve just put on the record player an LP of The Walker Brothers before I go to get ready for my friend Adam’s birthday in the city. I usually prefer original albums to buying compilations or “greatest hits” on record, but this one was on sale. One of my favourite songs is “Stay with Me Baby”, and besides their version being included there are other great tracks. Right now “Make It Easy on Yourself”, the lead from their album Take It Easy with the Walker Brothers, is on. All right I see what you’re doing Scott, John, and Gary Walker. I’ll take it as easy as I can as I navigate the rain soaked roads, and likely more Gremlins.
Thanks to David Pierce for verifying that I did, indeed, see the Kravitz house on Mad Men. I was more focused on Samantha and Darrin’s.
One of my favourite opening lines in a novel is from The Go-Between (1953) by L. P. Hartley: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there”. In a later introduction to the book from August 1962, Hartley wrote about what shaped his story of an older man reflecting on his past. It was largely one summer in 1900 that left such “a mark on my memory” at only four-and-a-half years of age: “From then on, for many years, I always hoped that the long succession of hot days would be repeated, but unless my memory betrays me it never was, in England at any rate, until 1959”. He concluded that, “I didn’t want to go back to it but I wanted it to come back to me, and I still do”.
Patricia Florio would likely understand that sentiment. She has written a memoir, My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes. My Two Mothers tells the story of a girl raised by two women in Brooklyn in the 1940s and ‘50s: Patricia’s mother, Millie (actually Amelia), and Millie’s sister, Jennie. Patricia writes that “Mama got her ideal situation – and so did Aunt Jennie – a daughter for her childless sister, a daughter to dote on so Mama could fulfill her need to work “outside the house” content that her youngest daughter was safe and well attended to”.
The book originally came from Patricia’s MA thesis at Wilkes University. Theses and dissertations are often destined to languish in library basements. In this case, publisher Gina Meyers of Serendipity Media Group thought that Patricia’s work could make a book. In line with Gina’s interests in cooking, she felt that the book should also contain some of the recipes from Patricia’s growing up in an Italian-American house in Brooklyn.
The result is the addition of actual recipes to a memoir already filled with food: the J&M Grocery store that Jennie and Millie opened, with the tomato cans stacked in a pyramid; the “smell of fried meatballs [that] wafted out of the windows on Sunday mornings” in the largely Italian and Irish neighbourhood on and around Union Street; and family gatherings – be they for holidays, birthdays, or a death – that “began and ended around a kitchen table”. It is a wise move, for food holds such memories for people, particularly (in my experience) children of Italian immigrants.
In addition to the rich characterizations of the Prano sisters, other family members, and neighbours like singer/songwriter Teddy Randazzo and his group The Three Chuckles, Patricia says that there really is one other character in the book. That is Brooklyn, New York. Brooklyn seems to be one of those places very much representative of a collective past, even for those who have never lived there. Perhaps it is the nature of a place that was inhabited so largely by people who all left different pasts and foreign lands to start a common future (in my brother’s genealogy research, even some of my own family). Children of these people, and their children’s children, may have left long ago but many seem to still carry Brooklyn with them. In Walt Whitman’s poem “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” Whitman speaks to imagined future commuters (fifty, a hundred or many hundred years from him) on the ferry between Manhattan and Brooklyn:
It avails not, time nor place—distance avails not, I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence, Just as you feel when you look on the river and sky, so I felt, Just as any of you is one of a living crowd, I was one of a crowd, Just as you are refresh’d by the gladness of the river and the bright flow, I was refresh’d, Just as you stand and lean on the rail, yet hurry with the swift current, I stood yet was hurried, Just as you look on the numberless masts of ships and the thick-stemm’d pipes of steamboats, I look’d.
When I visited Brooklyn a few years ago, I looked across that water and, in particular, up at the very tall apartment buildings. My mind wandered not to the future, but to the past, and all those who had lived, loved, fought, and broken bread there. Those who had felt as Whitman had.
In this interview with Patricia, I asked her to reflect on researching, writing about, and grappling with family history; nostalgia; the changing face of Brooklyn; where her writing has taken her; and, of course, good old Italian cooking.
Adam:My Two Mothers was your Master’s thesis. What led you to choose your topic of growing up in Brooklyn within a large extended family? Patricia: “Write about what you know”. This is a simple suggestion, one that most writing professors encourage their students to take seriously. So I did. Sometimes I thought of my family as Damon Runyon characters, like from Guys and Dolls, each one a distinct character from the other. Thinking that way put me in touch with my feelings, sights, smells, sounds and tastes for the old neighbourhood in Brooklyn and my family members. I sincerely thought Brooklyn could be a character in and of itself. It has so many definitions: home of the Brooklyn Dodgers; Nathan’s Famous in Coney Island; Coney Island beaches; the Cyclone, Thunderbolt, and the Parachute Jump; and the aromas of all of the above. How could I not write about such an eclectic past? Some of the best writers come from Brooklyn, and I certainly wanted to be remembered as one of the good ones.
Adam: Tell me a little about the house on Union Street. How long was the house in the family? Patricia: The house on Union Street was a gathering place for “la famiglia”; a fun place, not only where I lived with my parents on the third floor, but where everyone came to see grandma, the holidays were spent, tomatoes were grown in the backyard for the Sunday sauce, and where grandma had her basil bushes and fig trees. It was also where we connected to our neighbours: Philip, my best friend, and his family; and the Sconzos on the other side of us who had a contingency of family and friends bigger than ours. The house always evoked festivities. And to tell the truth, it still does.
The actual construction of the house was red brick facade, grey concrete steps, and beige/pink stone balusters. It looked like a mini fortress. There were windows in the front and back of the house. The front windows overlooked Union Street, a busy traffic street, and the windows at the back of the house overlooked backyards of neighbours and the steeple of St. Agnes Catholic Church on Sackett Street.
There were only two apartments in the early 1900s, where the entire Prano family lived in and slept. When I was born, there were three apartments: Grandma living in the basement apartment, Aunt Jennie and Uncle Frank on the second floor, and then up a steep staircase was our apartment. At one time, the apartment my Aunt Jennie and Uncle Frank lived in before I was born were the bedrooms for Grandma Petrina and Grandpa Giovanni’s children (my aunts and uncles, of which there were nine altogether that lived. Grandma miscarried a set of twins later in life). I lived with my sister and brother, who were older than me, and my father and mother, of course. Some of the hallway decor I still possess today: beautiful frames and pictures of early Americana, and one of the Rialto Bridge in Venice.
Adam: Your book wasn’t originally a food memoir. How did it become one? Patricia: Gina Meyers had the idea to insert recipes into My Two Mothers, creating the new edition that you’ve read. I first sent her a version of what I called Cucina Amelia, a celebration of food and family. It was a hardcover cookbook that I made for family and friends with a local printer, using standard 8 by 11 typing paper and old pictures of family members from my parents’ photo album. Gina loved it and utilized some of my grandmothers’ and mother’s recipes. She selected the recipes that are in the new edition of My Two Mothers: A Memoir with Recipes. Eventually, Cucina Amelia became my next project for publication.
Adam: How were the family recipes passed down to you? How did you choose which recipes to include in the book? Patricia: Since the only time I spent with my part-time working mother was as she prepared our meals around four o’clock in the afternoons, I learned my cooking skills from watching her. The house on Union Street and all the family members celebrated the holidays as one entity every year for as long as I can remember. My mother and her sisters prepared all of those meals, and some of the stories of those holiday events are the head stories in Cucina Amelia. Again, watching and assisting in preparing the dishes, I picked up tips, influences, and the art of cooking for my own family after I was married.
Adam: What was good about choosing to write a family history? What was not so good? Patricia: When a person chooses to write about family history, it’s kind of scary. I remember that I pitched My Two Mothers as my thesis in this way: what if a woman who has a sister who cannot have children decided to give her unborn daughter to her baron sister, on loan that is, would you read that story? My classmates and professor wanted more. And I embellished, or got creative, about how to tell the story. The original thesis has more pages in it than the memoir that was published. There were some things that I didn’t feel I had the right to tell, even though most of the people had since passed. It’s the Italian guilt left attached to the psyche that did me in!
Choosing to tell this family story, even abbreviated, as it was, for me kept my mother and Aunt Jennie alive a bit longer. It’s a bittersweet story, one I enjoyed telling especially during the time the women went into the grocery business together, and when I had them to take care of in their old age. I feel as if I had such a rich childhood, even with its depressive days, that I wanted to share these two women, Millie and Jennie, with the world.
Adam: Italians (I know) are notoriously guarded with the family secrets. There’s the whole “don’t let the neighbours see” attitude. Was this an issue or barrier when you were writing the memoir; both in terms of other family members finding out and for your own creative process? Patricia: Yes, I’d have to say I was guarded, especially about their younger brother, whom I called Uncle Sly Fox in the book. His daughter, one of my favourite cousins, and I had always been friends up until the time she aided her father in taking Aunt Jennie away from my home and never bringing her back. I haven’t been too forgiving about that. My mother yearned for her sister; they should never have been separated. It’s still painful, even as I write these words. I allowed my creative process to go so far. I believe I didn’t cross the line. Yet, when I look at my bound thesis, there is a painful aspect of my mother dying that I didn’t put into in the book you read. She (Millie) died in 2004 at 95 years old. Jennie died in 2006 at 99 years old. I agonized over how painful it was for me to write. I just made a decision at the last minute that the book was going to the original publisher to leave that out and summarize the ending. But I can’t say it stunted my creative process. I’m sure it didn’t.
Adam: I’m interested in the allure of nostalgia, and how we may remember a time through rose-coloured glasses. How did you manage this natural human tendency while writing? Patricia: I am a nostalgic person, but I don’t live in the past. I just embrace it. I have a wonderful present life with my husband, children and grandchildren, and several good friends. I live in a beautiful section of the Jersey Shore with the Atlantic Ocean 50 steps from my front door. It has given me poetic license to dream and think and focus on my writing. But I loved Brooklyn and my family growing up there, both sides of my family, even though I’m more aligned to the Sicilian roots inside me. I love to listen to the aria “Nessun dorma”. Different arias give me the vision of what used to be, how Italians celebrated life. The culture born inside me I allow to flourish whenever I come in contact with people. I love people. I love company. And I have plenty of it during the summers living in a beach community. I embrace the old ways, yet I’m as modern a woman as my mother and Aunt Jennie were. Nostalgia fills me on certain days and I allow it to enter into me. I don’t chase its warmth away.
Adam: What was your family’s reaction to the memoir? What did your two mothers, Millie and Aunt Jennie think of it? Patricia: There are several reviews on Amazon, a few from my family members. My brother said, “You killed me”, when we first spoke after he had read my story. My writing caused his emotions to flow. Others thanked me for the memories. My brother’s daughter Christine said, “My father won’t tell you this, but he felt like he abandoned when you needed him most as a child”. Those years that separated me from my sister and brother were like a whole other generation; they are 14 years and 10 years older. My sister married when I was six years old. My brother went into the Air Force when I was eight. In essence, I was an only child.
My mother and Aunt Jennie had both passed when I wrote My Two Mothers. I think my mother would have been extremely happy knowing how much her life impacted mine. We weren’t really friends until my mother was about 80 years old. I have to admit I was closer to Aunt Jennie. I had taken Aunt Jennie’s infirmities and loss of two husbands, Frank Richmond and Nick Coniglio, as my job to handle. That’s why it was so hard for me when she went with her younger brother: the fact that she allowed them to lure her, to go and live with them and abandoned my mother. It took a lot of praying on my part and years for me to get over it.
Adam: Tell me about your participation in the Fellowship program at the Norman Mailer Center. How did this come about? Patricia: Norman Mailer was on the board of trustees of Wilkes University’s Creative Writing programs. He helped get the courses accredited with its founders Dr. Bonnie Culver and Dr. J. Michael Lennon. Dr. Lennon is Norman Mailer’s official biographer. Mr. Mailer had a stake in all of its students/writers. And we in turn had a stake and an opportunity to be mentored after graduating with our degrees by other faculty and professors from across the country. These scholarships and fellowships were set up by the Norman Mailer Society or the Norman Mailer Center, I forget which one, and anyone around the world could apply by sending 30 or 40 pages of a project that they are working on. I did this on two occasions. In 2012, I was a fellowship finalist and went to Provincetown to Mr. Mailer’s home for my memoir workshop. In 2014, I was granted a scholarship and went out west to Utah for my week’s workshop.
Adam: What are some of your other works? Patricia: On my website, patriciaflorio.com, I have some of my other works that I’m proud of. One called Theresa is about my sister-in-law Terry. Phyllis Scott published a lot of my short stories. I’m especially proud of how I entered into the writing world via newspaper travel pieces and commentaries being published by local and major newspapers. I covered the Scene Page for the Two River Times, a Red Bank weekly newspaper, for a couple of years. I’ve written for stripedpot.com, a travel e-zine and my work can be found in numerous anthologies and literary journals.
Adam: Brooklyn has undergone tremendous change since your grew up there. To you, what is the most noticeable change? Patricia: Ah, Brooklyn, to me it has never changed, although I know it has. The face of my grandmother’s house has been modernized. Obviously, that’s especially noticeable. But nowadays, the people in the neighbourhood where I grew up, now called Carroll Gardens, are rich or at least well-to-do! We were poor white Italian-Americans and Irish-Americans, struggling to better our lives. Now, I guess the neighbourhood is considered gentrified; people are tagged as nouveau riche.
Ebbets Field is no longer there, where the Brooklyn Dodgers were nicknamed the Brooklyn Bums. Brooklyn people loved the Dodgers when I was growing up. The “Boys of Summer” from 1955 when they beat the New York Yankees, will never be again. Brooklyn Heights is still upper class. I go there often to look out across the river and marvel at the skyline. My mother-in-law still lives in Brooklyn, downtown, as it was referred to in the good old days, so I still have plenty of opportunities to eat in restaurants that I had eaten in as a kid.
Adam: As you’ve gotten older, have your memories become less dependent on the physical house on Union Street, or do you still long to be in that place? Patricia: My memories are not dependant on the physical house on Union Street. That’s why we have memories. I can conjure them up anytime I want. I don’t long to be in that place anymore. I can be anywhere where my husband is. We were just married 43 wonderful years. My life and his are joined at the hip. Well, that’s what a lot of people say about us. We were in the same career for almost 30 years as court reporters. I still have occasion to transcribe his notes from the District Court at Newark, NJ, when things get hairy and he’s on a long trial.
Adam: Do you have any recommendations for people wanting to document family history? Patricia: I think documenting family history is a fun thing to do if you’re up for the job. I spent several months researching my family’s history from Palermo, Sicily to the United States, the ship they came on, etc. I even went on a trip to my father’s parents’ village in Avellino, Naples. I think I found the right spot where my Prato grandparents came from. I’ve learned a lot of interesting things going to Italy and reading other authors’ books about Italy: recipes, culture, their holiday traditions, and so forth. I’m none the worse for all the reading.
A few interesting facts: my parents Amelia Prano and Rocco Prato, almost the same last name, were both born on August 16, five years apart. My mother’s name Amelia is similar to my father’s mother’s name Amalia, whom my sister Molly is named for. Both of my parents had nine brothers and sisters.
Adam: What are you working on at the moment? Patricia: At the present time, I’m working on what I’ve entitled Confessions of a Court Reporter. It’s a book that starts out about a young girl who tells a very potent lie to her father when she is 10 years old. It also weaves in some of the cases I’ve worked on as a court reporter and/or transcriptionist. I’m not giving away any more of the story. The first half of the book is now revised and is being edited, while I continue to work on the second half. This is definitely a labour of love that I’ve been toiling over for the past two years and have workshopped at the Mailer Colonies. It even contains some poetry.
Excerpts from The Go-Between are from the 2002 edition published by The New York Review of Books (New York, NY). Excerpt from “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is from Leaves of Grass, available through Project Gutenberg.
There have been some changes around these parts. I am still trying to figure out where exactly these parts are. In late February, we were notified that our landlord was selling the house and the lease would not be renewed. This was not welcome news. We had a long-planned trip to Japan scheduled for early April, and I had a lengthy work promotion application due the day we were to leave. It also became apparent that I couldn’t buy us an additional couple of months with subtle hints or out-and-out flattery. Flower shops don’t sell “Please Don’t Evict Me” bouquets or potted pink quill bromeliads. Logistically, we would have to move out of one house and find and move into another before leaving for Japan. That and I wanted to learn some functional Japanese words and phrases for the trip. Friends assured me the most important would be sumimasen – sorry or excuse me. I’m still not sure if that was general advice, or advice specifically tailored to me.
It was not only all the tasks before us that overwhelmed me. I was bereft. I loved that house. Work getting the property ready for sale started around us. There is dissonance in caring so much for something that doesn’t belong to you. At the same time, as one friend pointed out, landlords may not always realise you’ve made their house into your home. This is the great landlord-tenant divide. It’s hard to have workmen coming into your home, praising the doorknobs that, over night, are no longer yours.
After about a week of silent (or not so silent) grief on the couch, I sprang into action. We looked at new places, slowly packed non-essential books and records, and ticked off an every-growing list of things to do. We found a place, and the application process was extremely efficient. Now it was time to pack in earnest and move on.
It’s funny how when it’s time to leave a place, you develop affection for things that were hitherto disliked. There is a gargantuan gum tree on the property. It’s the kind of tree that engenders admiration from most visitors. That’s unless your visitor is Italian. Whoever amended Julius Caesar’s much-referenced phrase to the Roman Senate from “I came; I saw; I conquered” to “We came; we saw; we concreted”, describing the perspective of European migrants in Australia (and perhaps elsewhere) was only half-joking. At its worst, a bin could be filled in five minutes with all the leaves and twigs the tree had dropped. Musician and poet Chad Sugg wrote, “Love the trees until their leaves fall off, then encourage them to try again next year”. Maybe so, but I often pictured the tree being replaced by a replica of Laocoön and His Sons, a statue unearthed in Rome and considered by Dr. Nigel Spivey “one antique sculpture [that] furnishes us with the prototypical icon of human agony”. What seeing that depth of human emotion through the kitchen window every morning would do for a house’s feng shui, or my general disposition, I had no idea; but I made no secret I detested that tree. If you are interested, the tree is the backdrop to my picture on the About Adam page. Remember, I said I hated it; not that I can’t spot a good photo opportunity. But I did find myself making peace with the tree, even taking a series of photos when the sunlight shining through it was most splendid, and the honeyeaters and lorikeets on its branches plentiful. You tend to cling to the old and ill-remembered when faced with change.
Moving into a new place is all about new things: learning where the closest supermarkets and takeaway eateries are, memorising the litany of street names, and finding a new way to travel to work. Then there’s the actual house. Playing Tetris with furniture largely bought for one home was not the most difficult. It is actually adjusting to the little things, such as where and how bright the indoor lights are, the water pressure of the shower, and even where to fold out the clothes horses when the weather isn’t right to use the outdoor clothes line. Necessity is the mother of invention; but it all felt a little weird.
Once we had moved in, we still had the old house for a couple of weeks. A friend remarked to me one day how quickly a home becomes a house. The furniture was gone; pictures on the walls were taken down. On the last day, everything had been ticked off the lists and the final inspection complete. I took the last packing box in my hands and walked out the back door. I thanked the house. I think we used it well. The one thing I would have changed was using the house more with friends. It was a great entertaining house. Two days later, we jetted off to Japan.
It may seem odd to write largely about moving house when the most exciting thing to have happened recently would be the trip to Japan. This will, of course, come later. We only returned home last week. I’m still processing all I saw of those beautiful people and their country. This is more of an explanation of why there hasn’t been a post here in a while. While I didn’t post during the move, I was still deep in research for some interviews. One involved looking through old 1960s Australian newspapers, which had not yet been digitised, at the State Library. I hadn’t used a microfiche reader since high school. The readers are much updated, with the ability to save a newspaper page as a JPEG or PDF. It was a lot of fun, so much so that I found myself saving articles not only relevant to my subject. Pages I copied included one with photographs by Cecil Beaton of the Royal Family and infant Prince Andrew; another detailing an 18-year old dress maker’s apprentice spitting at Marlene Dietrich at the Park Lane hotel in Dusseldorf; and still another with reviews of three new books about Japan. Closer to home, there was an advertisement for Shelley Berman’s show at the Palais Theatre in St. Kilda, Melbourne. Another story covered a worrying trend, for some, of poodles being treated at beauty parlors. Mrs. A. Davies, poodle shop proprietor, felt that, “People are pampering poodles and making fashion fools out of them”. I didn’t realise treating poodles to “roses, pink toe nails, bows and jewelled collars” was a relatively new trend. One or more poodles had already “been shaved, tinted and shampooed” at a beauty parlor (The Age, September 5, 1963, p. 3).
It’s time to settle into the new house. More posts are on their way. It’s also time to catch up on TV we missed while in Japan. I was late to the party in starting Mad Men, a fact many friends found outrageous given my love of the ‘60s. We started watching shortly after moving into the old house. One night after watching three back-to-back episodes of Season 1, I went onto eBay and bought a vintage wooden lamp. Unfortunately, it didn’t come with a lampshade, and finding a lampshade with the spider fitter has proven a bit difficult. Consequently, the lamp sat on a sideboard for most of our time there. Mad Men finishes its run soon. Strangely, paying the old house’s last electricity bill a couple of days ago made that chapter final. Now that the show is coming to an end, maybe it’s time to get the lamp rewired and dressed.