Norma Jean's Dad on the Radio
We Couldn't Believe What He Said
Although Norma Jean Salina's mom was initially suspicious of this 16-year-old high school dropout her 14-year-old daughter seemed interested in, she eventually began to accept me as part of the family — and even had me over for dinner a couple of times.
One night I was asked to stay after dinner to listen to a radio broadcast, along with the family and some invited neighbors — except for Norma's dad who had gone to Hollywood to see the show in person.
"What's The Name Of That Song?" was one of my favorite shows and I only wished Norma and I could have gone with her dad to see it. But he only had one ticket.
The show's premise: contestants from the audience would try to name the tunes played by the orchestra. Whoever named one in the shortest time would be invited to identify a more difficult tune and win even more money. The winners then got a chance at the "Mystery Melody" which was worth $100. And if you could sing a few lines from the song, you'd win the "Grand Jackpot."
Personally, I didn't care all that much about the contest. As a music lover, I just enjoyed playing along to see how many songs I could name.
But imagine our collective surprise when Mr. Salina was chosen as one of the contestants. And imagine our excitement when he actually worked his way up to the Mystery Melody.
Norma's mom took the phone off the hook as we all crowded closer to the radio. The Mystery Melody was familiar, but none of us could name it. Well, Mr. Salina named it almost immediately: "The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down." I don't know who was cheering louder — the studio audience or us. I even found myself hugging Norma Jean (right there in front of everybody).
All he had to do now to win the "Big Jackpot" was sing a couple of verses. But there was an awkward silence when the MC asked if he thought he could.
Norma's dad had a slight Italian accent, but he seemed to be laying it on kind of thick when he finally said, "Sure, I can sing-a the song, but before I do, I'm-a want to dedicate it to my son, whose-a home listening to your show. You know what I'm-a want-a my son to be when he grows up?"
The MC, who seemed caught off guard by this response, said, "Uh, no — what do you want him to be?"
"I'm-a want him to be just-a like-a you when he grows up — a big important radio announcer — that's-a what!"
By now he was sounding just like Chico Marx, and had the studio audience laughing their heads off.
"Okay, about that-a song. I'm-a not-a know-a the words in English, but I'm-a know them in Italiano. That's okay, isn't it?"
We were as flabbergasted as I'm sure the MC must have been. But he finally said, "Well, yeah, I guess that's all right. We've never done that before, but — yeah, I guess it's okay. Sure, go ahead."
By now the studio audience was in stitches, and they began cheering loudly as Norma's dad started singing in Italian. And he didn't settle for just a couple of verses — he sang the whole song.
The only trouble was — it was all gibberish — with an Italian accent.
Norma's mom spotted it right away, as she explained to the rest of us, "He's just making that up. He really doesn't know all that much Italian — just a few phrases."
But he won the jackpot and the audience must have broken the applause meter that night. I never heard so much cheering and clapping.
Pair of Jokers
That's when Norma's little brother, Stevie, came up with what he thought was a great idea. "When dad gets home," he said, "why don't we pretend we forgot to turn on the radio."
At first Stevie's suggestion was met with surprised looks and silence. Then someone said, "Hey, why not?" Finally, everyone agreed.
I could barely keep a straight face — and couldn't help but feel sorry for Norma's dad when he bounded excitedly through the door, only to be greeted by a bunch of blasť faces.
"Oh, you're home, honey. How was the show?" his wife asked in a matter-of-fact, almost bored, tone of voice.
"How was the show? What do you mean, how was the show? Don't tell me you missed the show! How could you miss the show? I was on the show! I was the star of the show! How could you not have heard the show? Here — look at all the money I won."
"You're kidding," said his wife with just the right amount of surprise in her voice. "We forgot to turn on the radio. Tell us what happened."
"I can't believe you didn't hear the show," he said with a look of total exasperation. "Okay — well, here's how it went. I got picked right away to be a contestant, see — and you know how good I am at popular songs. Well, I knew the first one right off the bat. But when they got to the Mystery Melody — I knew the title — but I couldn't think of the words."
"So guess what — I pretended I knew them in Italian — and they let me sing it that way. Only I made the whole thing up — and they never knew the difference. But first I buttered up the MC by telling him I wanted my son to be just like him. You should've been there! You really didn't hear it? I can't believe this. And I even won a lot of money."
Then one of the neighbors, who apparently couldn't hold it in any longer, said, "Yeah, and that young sailor did pretty well, too."
"The sailor! You did hear the show! Hey — what's going on here? How could you do this to me?"
"Well, dear," said his wife, "we just thought maybe you'd like to tell us about it in your own words."
He didn't know whether to be mad or glad, but he seemed on the verge of tears as everybody gathered around to congratulate him. He got hugs from everyone in the room as we were all laughing and doing Chico Marx impressions. It was quite a night. I didn't even feel badly that there was no opportunity to kiss Norma Jean goodnight before going home.
Well, no — that's not true. I missed that a lot.