Sunday, July 16, 2006

"Great Times," Chapter 15

Copyright 2006, Terry F. Phillips Sr.
All rights reserved.

Chapter 15

Ted reported to Mr. Howard’s office bright and early the next morning. He saw no Connie in the apartment building, on the bus or on the Ell. Nor did he see her at the station, but he was determined to stop by Mr. Howard’s office about the same time she sat in for his secretary the day before.

“Ted, how are you?” Mr. Howard asked, when Ted opened his office door. “Did you find a place to live, yet?”

“Yes, I did,” Ted said. “Got settled in yesterday afternoon. I’m ready for work.”

“Good, good!” Mr. Howard enthused.

Ted had to wonder if part of Howard’s joy was due to the fact that he had brought this raw talent to Chicago to save the company or if he were genuinely interested in him.

“Have you met Mr. Beck? He’s in charge of all the announcers. His office is in the basement. You can’t miss it. I think he has plans for you today.”

Ted found Beck’s office with no trouble.

“Ready to work?” the short man asked. “I’ve got a job for you. Ever hear of ‘Beauty Parlor Bingo’? Hmm. No, probably not. But I bet the women in South Shore have!”

“South Bend,” Ted said, correcting him.

The South Shore was a railroad, not the city where he lived.

Beck’s enthusiasm was carrying him away but Beck was too small to carry Ted with him.

“Great show on our daytime schedule!” Beck said without a break, obviously ignoring Ted’s interjection.

“We take a recording machine into a beauty shop and have the women guess things about the other women in the shop - just to see how nosy they are. You know!”

Ted’s enthusiasm was rising a bit.

“You want me to host the show?” he asked.

“No! Eddie Adams is going to host it! You’re going to be the announcer!”

Ted remembered Eddie as the lisping, questionably male singer who fought with Barbara St. James, offstage and after The Beer Hour the night Ted arrived in Chicago.

“Have you ever heard Eddie, Mr. Beck? I mean, when he wasn’t singing?” Ted asked.

“Of course not!” Beck said, never slowing down. “But the women are cra-azy about him! That’s enough for me. It’ll be a great show!”

“I thought you said it is already on the air,” Ted said.

“It was, it was,” Beck said, then lit a cigar that looked as big and fat as his pudgy little hand. “But something didn’t work. Hoopers were terrible. We came in dead last in the ratings when we ran that show last year. We ran up against the Breakfast Club over on ABC.

“But it can do better - much better. I know it can. I know you and Adams can make it happen.”

“OK,” Ted said, obviously disappointed. “When and where do we get started?”

“That’s it!” Beck said, trying to lay a short arm on Ted’s shoulder and making it as high as his shoulder blade. “No day like today and the present is as good as any. We can’t do it last week, can we?”

“No, not last week,” Ted said. “I wasn’t here then.”

Beck burst out laughing, as if it was the best joke he heard in his life.

Ted soon found out the little man laughed loud and long several times a day.

Just as if he were in his right mind, Ted thought.

Scooping up some papers from his desk, Beck took Ted through a different door than the one the young announcer entered. It led to a large recording studio and beyond it was a small room outfitted with a sound mixing board, a desk, typewriter and various paraphernalia.

Ted waited to find out what they were doing in the small room.

“Here we are!” Beck said, winking at Ted. “ ‘Can’t do it last week because I wasn’t here, yet.’ That’s rich!” and Ted was concerned Beck would start laughing again.

“Now, here are your lines, Ted” Beck said, holding the sheaf of typewritten pages up so Ted could see them.

“You have this to read,” he said pointing to a spot at the top of page 1. “And this, and this and this break before and after commercials. We haven’t sold the commercials yet, but we will - hopefully.”

Ted was disappointed. He hoped to be part of a big-time, live show; maybe even a network production. Not only was he not going to serve as host of the show, but he wasn’t even going to meet the contestants.

The fact he wasn’t going to work with Eddie Adams was almost compensation.

“So, you want me to cut these lines,” he said, evenly. “Then what happens?”

“Then, when our engineer brings the recording disks in from the beauty parlor, he will mix recorded music with Eddie’s work and throw in your lines. Eventually, the show will air in early afternoon. I’m trying to convince Howard to put it up against ‘Wendy Warren and the News’ on CBS. I think it will beat the pants off Doug Edwards.”

Then, as he remembered who Eddie Adams was, Beck said, “I mean - well, you know what I mean.”

Beck took off his coat, loosened his tie and sat down behind the mixing console.

“Now, Ted, you step up to that mike and wait for my signal. Then we’ll do a level check.

Ted spent the rest of the morning working with Beck. He quickly learned Beck was a demanding person who knew the exact inflection he wanted.

Patient as he was demanding, the time flew by as Ted cut break after break.

He noticed that the breaks were very much generalized and so he doubted if he would be asked to do much more on the show.

Then he remembered Eddie’s words to Babs as they were fighting in front of Eddie Cantor and Jack Benny.

Adams said he was going to San Francisco.

Was that a dodge to dump Barbara, hoping she would head for Peoria or even Danville, Ill.? Or was he convinced to stay on in Chicago?

What would convince a singer to give up what had seemed a sure gig on the West Coast? The industry was moving west, so everyone said. Very few network shows were originating from Chicago, anymore. Los Angeles was the movie capitol and television held great promise.

Ted heard rumblings that the movie studios were going to start using their facilities to make television shows. They might even open their vaultts and sell old movies to TV.

The sunny weather - even in January, February and March-would make California an attractive place to make TV shows as it was to make movies.

Ted remembered the story about Walt Disney and his brother moving to California after starting in Kansas City years before.

Maybe Ted should think about going west.

“Not if it means working closely with Eddie Adams,” he thought.

He almost said something to Beck about Eddie’s plans, and then thought better of it. Ted was the announcer on the show. If the show went on the air, and Eddie wasn’t going to do it, then Ted already had his foot in the door.

Ted kept watching the clock on the wall as the morning wore on.

Connie would relieve Howard’s secretary at noon. At 12:30 the secretary would return and Ted didn’t know where to catch her after that. It didn’t seem he could talk to her at the rooming house. Especially if the tall, think mustachioed gent was there again. Ted remembered Connie’s apparent delight and fascination with him.

Finally, at 12:1five p.m., Beck seemed satisfied with the recordings and called it done.

“Ted, what are you doing for lunch?” Beck asked, reshuffling his copy of the unbound script. He put a cigar stub back into his mouth and stood up. Pulling on his coat, he said, “How about eating lunch with me?”

Ted started to protest that he had other plans, but then realized he shouldn’t refuse his boss on his first real day on the job.

“OK, Mr. Beck,” he said with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.

The cigar smoke burned his eyes, throat and nostrils. He didn’t think it could be very good for the electronic equipment, either.

“I know a place over on La Salle Street,” Beck said. “Best steaks in town!”

Patting his stomach, he looked at Ted and grinned. “Let’s go!”