Monday, April 15, 2013

Petite Vallee Madeleine

Michael Feingstein's latest entry in his enjoyable and informational Great American Songbook series on PBS reminded me of a relatively brieft but highly memorable part of my life. When I first moved to NYC in the early sixites (I was the Marie Curie of U.S. middle-class runaways), the first job I had was as an intern recording engineer at the once great (but even then, shadow of its former self) studio, Empire Broadcasting.

Feinstein's latest was about the great days of radio and the part played by outfits such as Empire in preserving whatever bits and shards of sound that have managed to survive from that three-decade broadcasting epoch. By the time I arrived there, the place was reduced to recording things like stenography instruction tapes, remakes of the old Farting Contest comedy (?) record, and the occasional commercial for its one big remaining account, Robert Hall Clothes (do they still exist?).

In the course of this week's Feinstein episode, a discussion about the well-known overweening egomania of one-time radio superstar Rudy Vallee ensued. This, too, reminded me of Empire Broadcasting. To wit: One day on the job, I heard a loud commotion emanating from the reception area. It rurned out to be Vallee, arriving for a gig, and furious over our teen receptionist, and soon-to-be nunnery novice, not knowing who he was. Next, turning on his heels, the onetime highly famous (now not so much so) singer stormed out of the place and could still be heard shouting---even after the elevator doors had closed: "I'M RUDY FUCKING VALLEE!" Proof once more that, as C.B. DeMille remarked in Sunset Boulevard, "A hundred press agents working overtime can do horrible things to the human spirit." And that absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Empire was the only job from which I was ever fired. . .for general ineptitude. My sacking was topped off by Mrs. Kelaher, the owner, heaving a giant metal reel of two-inch recording tape at me as I made my final exit.

Michael Feinstein's "Songbook" series features much footage of him flying about the country in a private jet and digging through various obscure sound archives, all the way down to dumpsters, searching for precious aural artifacts. It's---as the saying goes---dirty work, but someone has to do it. If I could, I would. As Jim Ameche might have said: "Don't miss a single episode of this exciting program."


DavidEhrenstein said...

Ah Rudy -- the immortal Hackensacker III in Preston Sturges' The Palm Beach Story

And then there were songs like "Deep Night," used over the opening credits of Bonnie and Clyde and even more memorably HERE!

Unknown said...

Robert Hall! Sadly (?) the chain closed after 37 years in 1977.