After piano on Saturday we went to Goodwill. Daughter wanted an ugly flannel shirt, as the kids are wont to desire these days, and I wanted dreadful old records. Success for both of us. When I approached the vinyl bin there were four huge thick chunks, boxed-sets from the Reader’s Digest collection.
Once upon a time, you see, magazines put out records. Not albums of new artists, or singles with some bright new talent - no, they repackaged the hits with studio musicians, assembled the results into lavishly packaged boxes, and sold them to people who wanted a music library in the same sense that they wanted a book library. Nice volumes with attractive spines, all the classics, sold by the foot, shelf-ready for the respectable house. I don’t know why magazines decided to sell records; I would love to know the inner workings. Someone had the idea and ran it up the chain, wondering if this was the thing that would brand him as an innovator or mark him as an impractical dreamer.
Our scene opens with the secretary, waving down her boss as he leaves his office for lunch.
Secretary: Mr. Johnson? Mr. Hanson wants to see you.
Johnson: What about, Miss Peterson?
Secretary:He won’t say. (hand over the receiver.) He sounds angry. (Hand off the receiver.) He’s on his way. Yes of course.
Johnson: He called you? His girl didn’t call?
Secretary: No that was Mary. But i could hear him in the background. Will you be coming back after the meeting or going on to lunch?
(Johnson thinks: Dear girl. I get fired, and she’ll just be here for some other fellow, some other cog, another soldier fed to the guns. )
Johnson: I’ll be back. (shoots her an index finger, winks) Hanson doesn’t scare me.
She smiles, but it’s wan. Hanson scares everyone, and she rather likes Mr. Johnson.
Hanson: Johnson. Come in. Have a seat. (pours himself a Grant. Does not offer one to Johnson)
Johnson: thank you, sir. (considers lighting a cigarette, decides against it)
Hanson: Johnson, what do we do here at Time-Life?
Johnson: I’m sorry?
Hanson: What. Do. We. Do here.
Johnson: we publish advertising. We come up with stories and pictures to put between the ads.
Hanson: That’s right. And what is this? (holds up an LP. Johnson’s heart sinks)
Johnson: it’s a record album.
Hanson: That’s right. And do you see any spots here in these grooves where the ads go?
Johnson: No, sir. But -
Hanson: Are you proposing that we put ads in between the songs?
Johnson: No sir. However, the -
Hanson: Are you proposing that we change the lyrics to sell Larks and Fords?
Johnson: No sir.
Hanson: So what, if I may ask, were you thinking?
Johnson: well, sir, if you look at the proposal - I’m sorry, as you no doubt saw in the proposal, it’s a way to use the prestige and legitimacy of the Time-Life name to establish new forms of revenue. As we are a trusted name in news, so we become a trusted name in entertainment. In books. Movies, perhaps. The numbers are solid - production cost versus expected returns, assuming a response rate half of the industry standard, there’s several million dollars in this venture over five years, with subscription lock-in.
Hanson: And you think it’s a good idea to use the Time-Life name to sell orchestra versions of Beatles tunes. All that yeah yeah yeah stuff.
Johnson: Sir, can I ask a question?
Hanson: fire away.
Johnson: My experience with this company tells me that unsuccessful product ideas are dismissed with memos, or languish and die on the 40th floor. This confrontational, scripted form of back-and-forth leads me to believe we’re in a TV drama, and it ends with you breaking into a wide grin and telling me it’s just about the best idea to come across your desk in years.
Hanson: Really. Is that so.
Johnson: I think so. In fact I think you didn’t offer me a drink so you could offer me one now and tell me I’m going places. You were going to end with telling me to clean out my desk, right? And then at the lowest possible moment in my professional career you’d say “because you’re moving up to the newly created records division as the chief of operations.”
Hanson: well I’ll be damned. Are we on TV?
Johnson: I think so. It’s not a very good show. See, that sort of theatrical reveal you had planned just isn’t typical for your level of management. And you’re played by the actor who was the husband’s boss on “Bewitched.”
Hanson: Damn. You’re right. In real life, I would have fired you, because Reader’s Digest had come out with their Pleasure Programmed Dynagroove collection while you were still coming up with still dragging your feet with our response. So, where should we go for lunch? It’s on me.
Anyway. Here's some Reader Digest box art.
It's mostly crap. It lacks the harrowing melancholy of the Longines collection, which we'll discuss later. Inside the box: the flap folds down with the album contents.
There's a booklet with some words about how much these songs meant to you, or your forebearers. Since it starts with tunes from 1900, it's doubtful this couple is listening to the music and remembering Precious Times.
In fact they seem quite sad about something - the loss of youth, the heedless passage of time, the sundering of their marriage. Something has fled their lives, and while they can try to recreate it together, somehow it remains private. In the end, there is only yourself, and the prison of the self.
Ten records. Two dollars.
A new feature for the next two weeks: Hindy Says! While looking through some old University of Ohio alumni magazines, as is my wont, I came across a series of ads for a box manufacturer.
This will make sense eventually. And by "make sense" I mean you may come to understand why there's an audience. I've dubbed the Cast-Off Mascot "Hindy. What else would she be called?
I almost suspect William Carlos Williams wrote her copy.
A grainy copy of a B-movie musical. Astor was a distributor; they bought the rights to other pictures and re-released them. It was originally made by Andrew L. Stone productions.
Sensations of 1945, it was called. Astor shaved that off when they released it in the early 50s. Starts with a number that just screams 40s:
Those crazy, jukebox-addled kids, showin' their knees to everyone! After the obligatory musical the audience settles back to see if there's a plot. There is. Eleanor Powell wants to be a press agent, there's a male press agent who doubts her because she's a woman, and of course she will succeed and of course he will fall in love and of course of course. No one cares. What matters are the numbers.
This guy, for example. The Drunk High Society Tightrope walker. Small excerpt:
In the movie he's . . .
The Great Gustafson was Hal Silvers, who changed his name to Hubert Castle, but whose real last name was actually Smith.
Mr. Castle could have a dark side. His closing trick was a back somersalt feet to feet thru a hoop but on occasion, like a batter in a slump, he would go thru a spell where he couldn't complete the trick.
Sometimes out of frustration after a miss he might throw the hoop up into the seats and on more than one occasion he would jump down from the wire and go after an usher or candy butcher that he thought had distracted him.
In the comments are people who knew him, thought he was a great talent, but rudd. Also, known for peddeness.
I wish that was a real work.
Now who do you think this might be?
The incomparable Cab Calloway. (The picture of the cat comes to life later.) The promoters project the performance on a building in Times Square, thus causing a sensation:
Hmm. Yes, the print's not very good. Doesn't matter. Because there's Dorothy Donegan at the piano:
I listened to this and then listened again and four times since. Don't think it's possible to get sick of this.
There's also a skit with W.C. Fields, somewhat paintful, and an extended number at the end that features a dancing horse for extra surreal quality.
That's it for today! See you tomorrow - with the Tale of the TVs.