Monday, June 26, 2006

"Great Times," Chapter 2

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.

All rights reserved.

Chapter 2

Ted Lane caught his breath when Eddie Cantor brushed past him.

Cantor was bubbly, congratulating everyone for a good performance. He stopped to chat with one person and then another.

One reminded him of “the time we worked together” and Cantor took time to sign an autograph for another.

Lane had almost asked Benny and Livingston for their autographs, but thought better of it as he remembered he was the newest WXBR staff announcer.

“Well, kid, that’s how it is done. Whaddaya think?”

Lane looked at the man who had sidled up next to him; the warm-up announcer who had dropped his drawers on cue to get the audience laughing for the start of The Beer Hour.

Again Lane tried to reign in his enthusiasm, but rather lamely.

“It was wonderful, Mr. Beck!” he gushed. “Do you think I’ll ever be ready to do The Beer Hour?”

“Relax, kid,” the clown said, blowing cigar smoke from pursed lips. “Do your job, learn all you can-and one more thing.”

Lane waited.

“Pray that I get laryngitis, have a heart attack, or that I’m hit by a truck!” Beck said, winking. “My mother’s waiting out front. I promised I’d take her to dinner. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

Lane didn’t hear the last sentence. About that time Barbara St. James and Eddie Adams walked by.

Adams stopped when he saw Ted and winked, smiling, as if the two of them knew something the rest of the world couldn’t know.

Ted couldn’t help but overhear part of the conversation between Adams and the girl singer.

“Eddie, don’t be mean!” she said. “I told you in rehearsal I couldn’t hit that high note.”

“Oh, Barbara, you just never get it, do you?”

Lane now understood why he never heard Adams speak on the radio, though he had listened for years. Adams had a lisp and simply sounded effeminate when he spoke! Nothing like the crooning voice that wooed so many women throughout 38 states and Canada.

Adams was also very thin, balding and looked almost spindly - a very unattractive man.

But if Lane could see into the heart and mind of the girl singer, he would know her attitude was much different.

Barbara knew she was in love with her singing partner and that was that.

Her platinum blonde hair hung shoulder-length. Her eyes danced in time with her thoughts as she spoke. She didn’t miss anything going on about her. Except one.

Eddie walked quickly down the hallways as they left the backstage area. Barbara, a good five inches shorter, had trouble keeping up with him. But she tried.

“Listen, Babs,” he lisped. -- She hated it when he called her Babs -- “Listen, Babs, it’s just no good. I’m taking that job in San Francisco and you’re staying here.”

“But, Eddie,” she whined. “What if I can’t make it here? I mean, I just can’t go back to the stage in Peoria!”

“I don’t care if you sing in Danville, in church or on the street corner, for that matter. I’m going to San Francisco on the train tonight and that’s final!”

Barbara threw back her shoulders and smiled at him with her whole being. She had a good figure-some said it was great-and the full package had charmed many boys in Danville High School.

But, it didn’t work on Eddie. Eddie Adams was different. Maybe that was what attracted her interest. He seemed impervious to her charms. While boys her age were easy, she had to work for his attention.

When she threw out her chest and made bedroom eyes at him, Eddie seemed to become ill at ease.

He heard her sing in a production on the high school stage in Danville, Ill., one night while on talent search promotion.

She didn’t know he was looking for a female singing partner when he introduced himself to her after the show.

She was flattered by his attention. She knew his voice from his appearances on Don McNeill’s Breakfast Club and she often listened for him. More than once she stretched a three-day bout with a bug into a week-long, stay-at-home influenza epidemic so she could listen to the radio.

The extra days were spent with the little radio next to her bed tuned into her favorite Chicago radio stations: Programs on the Mutual network from 720 WGN, the National Barn Dance on 890 WLS and other programs from 780 and 670 on the dial.

People only listened to the AM or short-wave radio bands in those days. FM was still experimental and would not be heard by many listeners for decades to come.

The call letters had real meaning behind them. WGN was owned by the “world’s greatest newspaper,” the Chicago Tribune. WLS was owned by Marshall Field's, the “world’s largest store.” The WBBM call letters were originally assigned to a station in Lincoln, Ill., about 100 miles south of Chicago and some 30 miles north of the state capitol, Springfield.

The wonderful sounds came from her bedside friend, a white tabletop radio in the Bakelite case.

She was careful to not drop the radio or let it be brushed off her nightstand. The Bakelite was heavy, but brittle, and it would shatter like pottery if dropped.

Plastic was still years off as far as many consumer uses were concerned. It would be many more years before the transistor radio would appear on bedside nightstands or in the pockets of businessmen hoping to catch the Cubs or White Sox while sitting in their downtown offices.