Sunday, April 22, 2012

The guy who stayed home

Earlier today I was considering writing something about Dick Clark.

But a lot of other people have been writing about him, and I wasn’t sure I had much to add. I never watched “Bandstand” much, but I did watch a lot of “Pyramid” episodes and I had to admire his smoothness – not only with the celebs and contestants, but also with the crew.

One time I heard him telling the stage manager – on air – to tell the director (who’d wanted him to go to commercial instead of talking further with a contestant), that he, Clark, would “pick up the time” later.

In other words, “You do your job and let me do mine.”

All very smooth, without anger, without missing a beat.

But there didn’t seem to be much more I could say about Dick Clark.

That is, until a few minutes ago, when I heard that Alan Milair died.

I’m sure that, unless you've lived where I live, and have lived here a long time, you’re asking yourself who Alan Milair is.

Fair enough.

I guess you could say that Alan Milair is the Dick Clark who stayed home.

Alan Milair had a 30-year career in local radio and TV. During that time, I think he worked for only one station.

And he had a million-dollar voice. Smooth. Mellow. Rich.

If you were a program director in the 1950s, and if you needed someone to host a show geared for housewives who wanted a touch of romance as they did the vacuuming, fed the baby and did all the other things that they didn’t get nearly enough appreciation for, Alan Milair was your man. He could fill the time between records by almost caressing his audience with his resonant, oh-so-understanding voice.

Nothing in bad taste, mind you. No double entendres. The very essence of a non-shock jock.

He had a voice that belonged on a dessert tray.

And he was a member of that generation of broadcasters who had to know how to do everything -- spin records, do the news and weather, maybe even sweep the floor.

As far as television is concerned, if you’re my age and grew up in my town, you’ll probably always remember him best for “Monster Movie Matinee.”

“Monster Movie Matinee” ran on Saturday afternoons. It offered the usual assortment of monster/horror pictures, from old classics like “Frankenstein” and “Dracula” to newer and more cultish ones like “Bucket of Blood” and, of course, “Little Shop of Horrors” – anything in Roger Corman’s oeuvre was fair game.

And in a way, the Corman pictures, with their cheapness and tongue-in-cheek tone, were better suited to “Monster Movie Matinee” than the Universal horror classics.

This is because “Monster Movie Matinee,” in addition to having a budget that today would probably get you an order of fries at McDonald’s, did not take itself very seriously either.

To say the least.

The host of “Monster Movie Matinee” was a guy named Epal, who wore a beard and an eye patch. Epal was played by the late Bill Everett, who was also a lifer in local broadcasting. Everett also hosted the Popeye show, where he appeared as Salty Sam, and if you were really in the know, you knew that Everett’s real last name was Lape – Epal spelled backwards!

Epal was the assistant to a mysterious figure who was played by Milair and went by the name of Dr. E. Nick Witty. I can’t tell you much about what Dr. Witty looked like because we never saw much of him, though we did indeed hear him, as you can see in this clip from the show’s early days.

I suppose it’s possible that no one from a bigger station in a bigger market ever tried to woo Alan Milair away. But I’d have a hard time believing it, and if you just heard him in that clip, I suspect you’ll agree with me.

And it’s certainly not unusual for people from my area to go on to Bigger and Better Things in broadcasting. The director of a local children’s show eventually won an Emmy for directing Sonny and Cher. And I could name a couple of national TV reporters who used to work around here.

But I don’t think Alan Milair ever saw my town as a stopping-off place to the big time. I suspect he liked it here just fine.

I don’t mean to imply that someone like Alan Milair is superior to someone like Dick Clark or anyone else in broadcasting who moves on to greater fame.

But, as Willy Loman’s wife might say, attention must be paid to people like Alan Milair.

Willy Loman himself maintained that it was important to be well-liked.

But being well-liked was something Alan Milair never had to worry about. And I think that those of us who watched and listened to him will always like him all the more for sticking around here and amusing us kids on many a dreary Saturday.

1 comment:

VP81955 said...

As a fellow native Syracusan, thanks for the recollections. (And you are probably aware that Dick Clark was an SU graduate who did some work on Syracuse and Utica radio in the early '50s.) Now to go find some Schultz & Dooley Utica Club commercials (where most of the characters were voiced by Jonathan Winters).