Gone Autos Podcast #9: Florence Henderson & Bill Hayes-Let's Talk About a Rocket

Have you ever done work that you loved and are really proud of, but nobody knows about it?
Photo of Bill Hayes and Florence Henderson
Bill Hayes & Florence Henderson
circa 1958


That’s what has happened to show biz veterans Florence Henderson and Bill Hayes. When you see those names, you automatically think of The Brady Bunch and Days of Our Lives. But with the latest Gone Autos Podcast, I’d like you to think of something else: Oldsmobile.

Florence and Bill are eager to talk about a rocket in Episode 9 of the Gone Autos Podcast.

Even though it was more than 50 years ago, you can still hear how strongly these two feel about their work for Oldsmobile. And how highly they regarded each other’s talents.

It’s amazing how vivid their memories are. Download the podcast. You’ll see.

Photo of 1958 Oldsmobile dealer announcement show soundtrack album cover
Album cover for 1958 model year
dealer announcement show
Back in the 1950s/60s, Henderson and Hayes were nationally recognized as two of the brightest faces for Oldsmobile. They starred in splashy, expensive musicals that were performed exclusively for Oldsmobile dealers and salesmen. They appeared together in a musical show and a drama anthology show on TV, both sponsored by Oldsmobile. They did the Oldsmobile TV commercials for Patti Page’s TV shows, which were also sponsored by the makers of the Rocket 88.

They entertained with a smile while explaining marvels like Roto-Matic Power Steering and Vista-Panoramic Windshields.

Dealer Announcement Shows

But this podcast focuses mostly on the dealer announcement shows. These were the Broadway-style musicals created and performed exclusively for Oldsmobile dealers. These shows are almost forgotten today except for the soundtrack LPs that Oldsmobile recorded and handed out as souvenirs of the shows.

GoodNews-Side1WhoCould-Side1

Youre the Top-Side 1
And these rare vinyl records, which show up occasionally on eBay and through 3rd party Amazon vendors, were my reason for contacting Henderson and Hayes. I simply wanted to know more about these shows, because there’s virtually no other information about them. No photos. No film. No oral histories. No written histories. (There are great articles about industrial shows like Oldsmobile’s. I learned a lot from this one by Jonathan Ward.)

When it comes to memories of these shows, Florence and Bill did not disappoint.

FrankEgan
Frank Egan
courtesy of Margaret Egan &
Florence Henderson

They told me that these shows were produced by Oldsmobile’s ad agency D.P. Brother and organized by a gentleman named Frank Egan. Prior to his work for D.P. Brother, Egan had been a Broadway actor before and during World War II.

Most of the shows that Florence and Bill performed were modified Broadway musicals. In other words, Oldsmobile would buy the rights to do an existing Broadway show like Girl Crazy, which debuted in 1930. They would also buy the rights to modify any or all of the show’s music and lyrics. The result was a show that sounded an awful lot like Girl Crazy but was filled with Oldsmobile sales and product language.

Oldsmobile spared no expense on these musicals. They bought the best talent they could find on Broadway and paid them very, very well.

Max_Hodge
Max Hodge

The shows were written by TV writer Max Hodge. (Hodge is most famous for creating the Batman villain Mr. Freeze for the 1966 TV series.)

One of Hodge’s most acrobatic feats is the song Let’s Talk About a Rocket from the 1959 show Good News About OLDS. It owes a lot to Professor Harold Hill’s patter in Ya Got Trouble from The Music Man, but it’s filled with tongue-stumbling Oldsmobile product language. Bill delivers it with machine gun speed and car salesman confidence. It’s truly a masterpiece.

The podcast only contains an excerpt of the song, but you can (and should!) listen to the entire cut here.


GlennOsser
Orchestrator/Arranger
Glenn Osser

Max Hodge never gets any credit on the soundtrack LPs, but others do. Abe (Glenn) Osser, for instance, was the orchestrator and arranger. Florence and Bill talked about how quickly he could create complex and authentic arrangements.

Front cover
Incidentally, you can hear all of his skills on display if you can ever find a copy of the 1965 album called In My Merry Oldsmobile. The album contains 26 different versions of that one song, which was originally written as a waltz. I never imagined that song could be done in the flamenco style, but Osser pulled it off!

LutherHenderson
Luther Henderson
courtesy of The Luther Henderson
Scholarship Fund
Luther Henderson also got credit for his special dance arrangements. Make sure you listen to the segment in the podcast dedicated to Henderson. His jazz arrangements are outstanding, and they’re very different from the musical tone of the rest of the shows.

Carol Haney 3
Choreographer/Dancer
Carol Haney
Another person who really, really impressed Florence and Bill was choreographer Carol Haney. She was only 39 when she died in 1964, but she had quite a résumé. She won a Tony Award for The Pajama Game and helped Gene Kelly choreograph Singin’ in the Rain and An American in Paris. Having that kind of talent around is not too shabby when your sole purpose is to promote Detroit iron.

I was also very interested to hear Florence and Bill talk about Oldsmobile’s boss at that time, Jack Wolfram. Wolfram was the Chief Engineer of the team that developed the Rocket Engine, and he was the General Manager of the division from 1951 to 1964.

Wolfram was known as a taskmaster and a tyrant to his employees, but Henderson/Hayes remember him very differently. They recall a man who was terrified of public speaking. Wolfram actually forced himself to learn how to do it with Frank Egan’s help. They also told me that, despite his stern image, Wolfram loved actors, and he loved the Oldsmobile shows.

Television

Florence Patti-1
Florence Henderson & Patti Page
in the studio circa 1958

Courtesy of Tim Akers, Big Records Productions
We talked briefly about their work on TV. Henderson/Hayes had their own music program and drama anthology show, both sponsored by Oldsmobile.

Not only that, they did Oldsmobile’s commercials for Patti Page’s various TV shows. The commercials were both live and filmed. It’s no coincidence that Oldsmobile also sponsored Patti Page.

Speaking of Patti Page, here’s a 1959 Oldsmobile TV commercial featuring Henderson and Hayes. This was commercial was part of Page’s last major TV show sponsored by Olds: The Big Record Show.



If the song sounds familiar, that’s because it’s a revised version of Let’s Talk About a Rocket, the tune mentioned above that Bill Hayes described as “the epitome of show stoppers.” (It’s fun to actually see Bill and Florence perform some version of this song, but the best, most energetic version is the full recording from the announcement show soundtrack. If you missed it above, here it is again.)

And if that’s not enough, the Two H’s also starred in a musical version of Little Women on TV in 1957.

I asked them if they were joined at the hip during the Late 1950s. They didn’t deny it.

About That Song

And, yes, we talked about the song. The one song about Oldsmobile that everyone in the classic car hobby knows: In My Merry Oldsmobile. They had to perform it dozens of times in different styles. Bill Hayes says he never got tired of it, but I don’t know about Florence Henderson.

Incidentally, the characters that Hayes and Henderson played in the dealer announcement shows were always named Johnny and Lucille. We all knew why Florence was Lucille. It’s right there in the song’s chorus: Come away with me, Lucille / In my merry Oldsmobile.

But none of us knew why Bill’s character was named Johnny. After the podcast, I looked up the lyrics on the internet, and the answer is right there in the first verse: Young Johnny Steele / Has an Oldsmobile. (Do I need to go any farther?)

Big Finish

BillFlo_2
The best Gone Autos Podcast yet is now available for your listening pleasure. Download it now. It’s also available on iTunes. If you get it from there, please write a brief review, and tell me how I’m doing with the podcast. Your feedback helps me make better stuff. It’s that simple.

One more thing: if you’re a classic car fan, but you absolutely hate Broadway show tunes, DO NOT DOWNLOAD THIS PODCAST!! It’s filled with vintage excerpts from the Oldsmobile shows. They sound like Broadway songs, because they were written by Broadway people. If that’s not your cuppa joe, then get in your muscle car, and slowly back away.

However, for the rest of you, I hope you enjoy this history of Oldsmobile shows straight from the mouths of the performers who starred in them.

Who knew that Florence Henderson and Bill Hayes considered these shows some of the most satisfying work that they’ve ever done? Thanks to this Gone Autos podcast, you do.


Podcast
Podcast
Comments

Gone Autos Podcast #8: Tim Dye, extreme Pontiac collector

Tim Dye is a self-professed Extreme Collector. It’s on the cover of his book The Extreme Collector #1: Pontiac-Oakland Memorabilia.

Tim i
Tim_Dye
s a well-known Pontiac automobilia expert, and he earned that title by amassing an incredible collection that spans from the Pontiac Buggy Co. of the early 1900s through the Oakland Motor Car Company years to the end of the Pontiac Division of GM in 2009.

But what’s the difference between collectors like Tim and the hot messes you see on reality TV shows like Hoarders?

I think the major difference is that Tim has done the most important thing with his collection: he’s sharing it. He wrote a gorgeous book featuring dozens of items from his collection. And then he started a museum devoted to it.

Tim is my guest on Gone Autos Podcast #8. You can listen to it here, or download it to your iPod through iTunes.

(If you listen to this podcast through iTunes, please leave us a review. We’d love to hear your feedback. Plus, your reviews can help our iTunes ranking, which encourages us to bring you more podcasts like this one.)

----------------------------------------------------

My contribution: if you’ve listened to my previous podcasts or read a few of my blog posts, you know that I collect vintage car radio commercials, especially orphan brands. So I threw a few of my own Pontiac collectibles into the audio gumbo.

The first is a 1935 radio spot featuring America’s Ace of Aces, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. This recording is mega-rare and was
35 Pontiac label-side 1
distributed on a 33 1/3 RPM record at the dawn of radio commercial distribution. It would have been very expensive to distribute commercials this way, especially during The Great Depression. Only large companies like carmakers could have afforded it.

The record itself is notable, because it features two tracks that have X marks scratched throughout. I always wondered why, so I sacrificed a turntable needle to play those tracks. In between jumps, skips, and loud, rude noises caused by the needle dancing over those Xes, I learned that those tracks were mistakes. Captain Eddie would flub a line, and they would stop.

These days, you would simply erase those tracks. But back in the 1930s, the track was recorded live, all at once. The cutting needle was recording onto a master as Captain Eddie spoke into the mic. Since there was no erasing, all they could do was scratch X marks into the botched tracks to give DJs a clue about which tracks to play or avoid. I’ve never seen another recording from that era quite like it.

The second radio spot is really recognizable to 1960s Pontiac fans. The Breakaway jingle by Steve Karmen was a huge hit and was later used as the basis for a dance track in Britain.
69 Pontiac-Side 2


You can see from the label the jingle was recorded in several different styles. They’re all really entertaining to listen to even today. The music is so good that Steve Karmen took the song and recorded a pop version with soul singer Jimmy Radcliffe doing the vocals. Exact same music but with vocals and no Pontiac name check.

(I think Tim Dye would appreciate my geeky analysis of my own collectibles. We’re all alike that way.)
Comments

Gone Autos Podcast #4: Geoff Hacker with ForgottenFiberglass.com

Wanna hear "the best American car story never told?"

Then listen to Gone Autos’ interview with Geoff Hacker of ForgottenFiberglass.com. Geoff and his friend Rick
Forgotten-Fiberglass-logo
D'Louhy are on a mission to revive America's fiberglass-bodied sports car heritage.

Through dogged research and countless interviews with the fiberglass pioneers, Geoff is determined that someday you'll know as much about Victress, Glasspar, and LaDawri as you do about Corvette and Avanti.

It's an epic story of America's do-it-yourself fiberglass pioneers told by an amazing do-it-yourself historian. Do yourself a favor, and download this podcast now.

Listen to the audio-only version here.

For a video-enhanced version, click on over to the Gone Autos Podcast page. (You’ll need QuickTime for Mac or Windows to enjoy both sites and sounds.)
Comments

Gone Autos Podcast #3: "All Canadian Car" with Stu Chapman

Did you know that Studebaker released a comedy record in Late 1964? It’s strange. It’s rare. It’s true.
All Canadian Car label

In this podcast, you’ll hear the complete recording of a limited-release comedy sketch called All Canadian Car. Then Stu Chapman, Studebaker’s last Director of Advertising and Promotion, joins us to tell us what it was all about and why it was made.

Listen to the audio-only version here.

For a video-enhanced version, click on over to the
Gone Autos Podcast page. (You’ll need QuickTime for Mac or Windows to enjoy both sites and sounds.)
Comments

Gone Autos Podcast #2: Paul Niedermeyer of Curbsideclassic.com

If the only place you ever go to get your orphan car fix is car shows, then you might be missing some of the best sightseeing opportunities of all.

In our second podcast, Paul Niedermeyer of Curbside Classic joins us to talk about the ordinary, everyday classics that are still running, still driving, still serving a purpose. Every car has a story, and Paul tells us why those stories are important.

Plus, you’ll enjoy listening to Paul cough, gasp, sputter, dodge, weave, and obfuscate as he tries to say something nice about AMC! (It’s okay, Paul. Like you say, we all have our biases.)

Listen for yourself!
Comments

Gone Autos Podcast #1: Aaron Severson of Ateupwithmotor.com

Orphan car fans: you don’t have to restrict yourself to Hemmings Classic Car or Collectible Automobile to get your auto history fix.

In the very first Gone Autos Podcast, we’re happy to introduce you to Aaron Severson of
Ate Up With Motor.
Pasted Graphic

Cars aren’t collections of facts and data, Aaron tells us. They’re rolling stories about the culture that built them.

Aaron explains how he researches his stories, how long it takes to write them, what grinds his gears, and what the future is for ateupwithmotor.com.

Listen for yourself right here, or click on over to our Podcast page for some of our vintage Torq-O Podcasts.
Comments