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paper soldier hat & wooden sword

Chapter 2 (1) (2) (3)

Singing in an Opera at the Los Angeles Shrine Auditorium

Comic Books, Radio, Milton Berle, and Holloway Milk Duds

Dress Rehersal

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Anyway, the day of the dress rehearsal finally arrived, and I did feel a little conspicuous riding the streetcar downtown wearing a paper hat with a wooden sword held in place by a red sash tied around my waist.

But the excitement of seeing all the other colorfully costumed performers on stage at LA's Shrine Auditorium and being able to see and hear the whole opera being performed it its entirety more than made up for any misgivings I might have had.

The dress rehearsal was exhilarating—but on the day of the actual performance, when I peeked through the curtains and saw an auditorium full of real live people, I started to get cold feet. But when I heard the opening strains of the overture, I began to feel a little better.

Yet when it came time to march out onto the middle of the stage and turn to face the audience, I found myself getting nervous all over again. In fact, for one frightening moment I was sure I would just freeze up and stand there like a misplaced stage prop. But to my amazement I found myself singing the number all the way through, without having a heart attack or forgetting any of the French lyrics.

Oops...

But about half way through the chorus my voice cracked on a high note. horrified This surprised me, and horrified the director, who now had an anguished look on his face as he watched anxiously from the prompting box. Still, I kept on singing. However, before the Boys' Chorus had ended my voice had cracked two or three more times and the director looked as if someone had put a dagger in his heart.

And my voice continued to crack backstage as I tried to apologize for my fractious performance. Well, what had obviously happened was that my preadolescent voice had finally decided to change—but it would have been nice if it could have waited another 20 minutes or so. Anyway, I haven't been able to sing worth a darn ever since.

I've long since forgotten most of the French lyrics I had so carefully memorized—but, strangely enough, if I ever happen to catch Carmen being shown on PBS I'm amazed at how easily they come back as I find myself crackling along with the Boys' Chorus and marching around the living room brandishing a make-believe wooden sword.

And how many people can say they once sang in a real opera?

It would be years before I would actually buy a ticket to go and see an opera (or a ballet or a concert of any kind) but in the meantime there were the movies. Television was still several years away, so going to the movies was the big entertainment event in those days. Saturday matinees at a neighborhood theater were my favorites because they would always show a Western double-feature, a serial, and at least a couple of extra cartoons.

Movie House with its Own Brand of Candy

Holloway Milk Duds Our nearest local theater was the Holloway on Sunset Blvd. And my favorite yummies at the snack counter were Holloway Milk Duds. This was just a small neighborhood theater, and I found it very interesting that they were able to put out their own brand of candy—and, in my humble opinion—a very good candy at that.

I was surprised when, on rare occasions, I was able to go to another theater and would find Holloway Milk Duds available there, too. After finding them in a few other theaters I began to wonder if they weren't making more money manufacturing candy than they were showing movies.

It took a few more years for me to figure out that the name on my favorite candy and the name of my local movie house happened to be the same merely by coincidence. It was a little disillusioning—but it didn't keep Milk Duds from being my favorite munchies for many movies to come.

(Yes, I know that Hershey eventually bought the company and that there are no more "Holloway" Milk Duds.)

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My other two favorite forms of entertainment were radio and comic books.

Batman and Robin

My favorite superheroes were Batman and Robin. I especially liked them because I could identify with Robin—I was sure he was exactly my age. I was positive of that when I first started reading the comics at about age nine, and I was still convinced he was my age when I was fourteen or fifteen.

However, I never cared much for Superman. I just couldn't accept that everybody was so stupid they couldn't see that Clark Kent and Superman were the same person just because of a pair of glasses.

Superman

I Was Pretty Sure Superman Wouldn't Last

Nor did I think the comic strip would last too long. I mean, how many stories can you come up with about a guy that nobody can hurt—who can stop speeding locomotives with his bare hands—who can fly through the air—and who has x-ray vision (among other things)?

Where's the suspense-where's the drama?

At least Batman and Robin could be knocked unconscious—or tied up and thrown in a river—not to mention being stabbed or shot. You could write millions of stories about them—but to me Superman was a one-story idea (unless, of course, someone had some Kryptonite). Nah, it would never last.

old radio And oh how I loved radio in those days. My favorite afternoon adventure serial was Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy.

Like Robin, I figured Jack and I were the same age and I could just see myself doing all the daring things he did.

Sometimes I even caught myself listening to Superman. Since you couldn't see the glasses he used to supposedly hide his superhero identity, it had to be done with the voice. On radio, Clark Kent always spoke in a sort of half-apologetic near-falsetto voice that would suddenly become deep and masterful whenever he stepped into a phone booth and said, "This is a job for SUPERMAN!"

At times I wondered if they used two different actors for the voices, but discovered that with a little practice I could make my voice do the same thing. I couldn't sing for sour apples, but I could do a pretty good Clark Kent to Superman imitation.

The Green Hornet

Another adventure show I enjoyed was The Green Hornet. The show was about the "crusading newspaper publisher Britt Reed" who would don a mask and become the Green Hornet whenever he was pursuing criminals.

Originally, he was always accompanied by his "faithful Japanese valet "Kato"—but after Pearl Harbor he suddenly became his "faithful Philipino valet Kato."

Another favorite was The Lone Ranger (who had a faithful Indian companion named Tonto). Tonto always addressed the Lone Ranger as "Kimosave."

A popular joke at the time went, "Why did the Lone Ranger get mad at Tonto?" Answer: "One day he found out what Kimosave meant."

And of course there were the radio comedies (too many to mention here) but one of my favorites was the Milton Berle Show.

Anybody old enough to remember the early days of TV knows that "Uncle Miltie" had one of the first major weekly variety shows, and can visualize him starting each show wearing some outrageous costume (frequently a feminine one, such as a Carmen Miranda take-off, complete with a fruit basket headgear).

Milton Berle Caricature Uncle Miltie Was Funny on Radio, Too.

Milton Berle was a very funny guy before TV came along. His life in show business actually began in vaudeville—but I first came to know him on his weekly radio show in the mid-1940s.

On radio Berle got laughs by painting outrageous visual images in our minds. A favorite routine was bringing on a "guest" with an introduction like "...the internationally known body-building champion, Mr. Atlas Strongheart.

However, the voice that said, "Thank you, Mr. Berle" was that of a henpecked-sounding Casper Milquetoast, who would then go on to say, "Do you mind if I sit down, Mr. Berle? I'm pooped."

When asked why he was so tired, he'd reply, "On the way over here, I saw a peanut on the street, and I stopped to pick it up."

"But Mr. Strongheart, a peanut isn't heavy," straight-man Berle would say.

"This one was salted," would be the exhausted reply.

A variation would be stopping to pick up a pair of dice.

Berle: "But dice aren't heavy."

Strongheart: "These were loaded."

Another routine that would crack me up no matter how many times I heard it was "Sam and Martha."

Berle would always begin it with something like, "Oh no—here's that pesky Sam and his wife Martha. I hope they don't see me."

But of course they did see him, and loudmouth Sam would always launch into a non-stop monologue like, "Hey, look who's here, Martha—Milton Berle. I was just saying to Martha that I was hoping we'd bump into Milton Berle today. Isn't that what I was just saying, Martha?"

Martha's reply was a prolonged, nasal "Yessssss" that can't possibly be described in print.

Martha would be fed a dozen or so similar lines and would reply to each one with the same twangy "Yessssss"—and it was all she ever said.

The studio audience would howl each time, and I suspect it was Berle who was actually doing Martha's monosyllabic reply. But that was radio—so I guess I'll never know for sure.



If anyone remembers any of
Milton Berle's old radio routines,
I'd surely love to hear them again.

Thank you!    

Don

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Prologue   Ch.1 Alameda - Los Angeles 1939-40   Ch.2 Echo Park 1943   Ch.3 Virgil Jr Hi 1944   Ch.4 Le Conte Jr Hi 1945-46
Ch.5 Gower Gulch 1946   Ch.6 Hollywood Hi 1946-47   Ch.7 Drop Out 1948   Ch 8 Norma Jean Salina 1948   Ch 9 Fort Ord 1949
Ch.10 Fort Belvoir 1950   Ch.11 Korea 1951   Ch.12 Back to Civilian Life 1952   Ch.13 Cornet Stores 1953   Ch.14 Puerto Rico 1955
Ch 15 Signs by George 1956   Ch 16 Mexico 1958   Ch.17 Fullerton 1960   Ch.18 Fallbrook 1973   Ch.19 Costa Mesa 2000


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Since I have no personal photos from my youth, I've used pictures found on the Internet to help illustrate some of the stories told on these pages. In a couple of instances I've used photos of people who just happen to closely resemble someone I once knew. However, if it's found that I'm using any images in violation of someone's copyright, please let me know and appropriate action will be taken.
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