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Jim Lange, and a Warner Bros. Director/mentor back-story

  • Blog Post by: Barry ZeVan
  • March 2, 2014 - 8:59 AM

JIM LANGE - It was personally sad to learn St. Paul native, Jim Lange, passed away at his home in Mill Valley, CA, this past Tuesday. I was excited when, as Entertainment Editor for KARE-11 in the early-to- mid-1980s, the station had me do a series of features spotlighting famous celebrities who were Minnesota-born. One of them was Jim Lange. I was especially excited because I and some broadcast colleagues had collectively heard him pull a stunt on KGO radio in San Francisco we thought was a classic (which it was), but also got him fired the next day, to wit: In 1958, after one of my TV weather broadcasts in Missoula, MT, I invited some station colleagues to my apartment for snacks. One of the colleagues, named Bob Conger, was from San Jose and said he liked to listen every possible weeknight after work to Jim Lange, labeled "The All-Night Mayor of San Francisco", on KGO radio in that city. KGO's reach was similar to WCCO's here, i.e., all over the map. Conger asked if we could listen, and I responded in the affirmative (and even said "Yes"!) :) That night was Jim's last on the air at KGO, which, of course, we, and Jim, didn't know would be the case. It was his last night because he played and re-played the song "The Witch Doctor" over and over for at least three hours, saying, "Let's hear that again!", and spin it he would. We all thought it was great hearing "Oo-ee-ooh-ah-ah,ting-tang, walla-walla-bing-bang" incessantly, but apparently the KGO bosses didn't think lightly of it, and that was the end for Jim on KGO. When I met Jim for the KARE-11 interview at his home (in an L.A. suburb, at that time), the preceding story was the first thing I told him, prior to our interview. He said he loved it, and getting fired from KGO actually became a blessing in later years, because it freed him to eventually host "The Dating Game", for which he became most famous nationally, and internationally. His home was as warm and welcoming as Jim's personality, with three or four orange trees in the back yard, from one of which he gave the producer and me some sample oranges. It was a great couple hours. Jim still has relatives here. Condolences to them and all who had the privilege to enjoy his genuine warmth and great sense of humor. Wonderful man.

DELMER DAVES - Somewhat relevant to this Oscar weekend, and his films nominated for at least three, one who kindly took me under his wing for almost 14 years was Jack Warner's favorite Director, Delmer Daves. Mr. Daves told me he was the only Director Jack Warner ever signed to a lifetime, no-cut, contract. Del, as he liked to be called, also told me he gave several future stars their first parts, not the least of whom were Suzanne Pleshette, Debra Paget, Troy Donahue and John Forsythe, the latter in DESTINATION TOKYO, circa 1943. Del was also a brilliant screenwriter. He told me he and actor Ward Bond, close friends in their fledgling Hollywood years, as actors, once flipped a coin to determine who would pursue only acting and who would become a Director. Obviously, Bond won the toss and became one of film and television's most revered and durable actors. Television's WAGON TRAIN should strike a familiar chord vis-a-vis Mr. Bond.  Other personal memories of my privileged times with Delmer Daves surfaced several weeks ago when TCM aired the film BROKEN ARROW, directed by Mr. Daves, which starred, among others, Jimmy Stewart and Jeff Chandler (nee Ira Grossel). When I saw the opening title on screen, it evoked an appreciative smile, reminding me I had seen that very piece of opening title stretched-deerskin affixed with the title, in person, masking the opening of the fireplace in Director Delmer Daves's West Los Angeles home office the first time I visited him there (107 North Bentley Avenue, three blocks east of the 405 and second house from the corner, on the left, north of West Sunset Boulevard). BROKEN ARROW was one of his favorites, although he didn't write it, because he had spent several years in his youth living among the Hopi and Navajo in Northern Arizona. It was the first of many times I'd visit with him in that wonderfully-rich-in-film-history office, Proving not all of Hollywood's elite are unapproachable, Mr. Daves was the ultimate opposite, and I was privileged to have his kind and genuine friendship from 1963 until his passing in 1977. How it happened: When working for KID-TV and KID-AM/FM in Idaho Falls, Idaho, from 1960 until 1965, as weatherman, kids show and talk show host, I was assigned in the spring of 1963 to get as many interviews as I could during the press conference and premiere week for the film SPENCER'S MOUNTAIN, directed and co-written by Delmer Daves, in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where it was filmed and just a two-hour drive from Idaho Falls. After the press conference, Del asked if someone would have the time to be his driver during the week. I volunteered. It was smart (one of the few times in my life I'd made a good decision) because it also allowed me exclusive and lengthy interview times with Maureen O'Hara, Henry Fonda, James MacArthur, Bronwyn FitzSimons (Maureen O'Hara's daughter) and others. I still have the reel-to-reel audio tapes of those interviews, as they were done for radio. In addition, because of my association Mr. Daves, "the boss", I was the only "outsider" invited to a private party that week with the preceding list in attendance, at Laurance Rockefeller's house in Jackson Hole. Art Linkletter, with whom I'd spent significant time in previous years and about whom I've written here before, and his HOUSE PARTY announcer, Jack Slattery, were also in attendance. It was the most lavish spread anyone could ever imagine, but suffice it to say, a very special afternoon and evening, especially during a conversation with Mr. Fonda. At the conslusion of that special week, Del told me to keep in touch and visit whenever in the L.A. area. I did. He also knew I'd started part of my eclectic career as an actor, and during one visit told me when he directed DEMETRIUS AND THE GLADIATORS, starring Victor Mature (a sequel to THE ROBE), that Mature wasn't fond of animals, thus refused to be close to any of the lions, even though caged. (I don't blame him!) During that visit, which included his wife Mary, he said he'd be willing to give me a screen test at Warner Bros., surmising I'd make a great Middle Eastern-type villain. That was in the autumn of 1976. He said because of schedules, if I could wait a few months, I'd be on the docket for the test by Autumn, 1977. Del passed away the following summer and the test apparently wasn't meant to be, but the memories of time spent with him are among those for which I'm most grateful. Apologies for the details and length of this segment, but hopefully fun for those of you who are film fans.  (Sidebar: Del's works are now a major part of his alma mater's archives at Stanford University. Because of his years with the Hopi and Navajo, and his knowledge of my fondness for the American West, he recommended I subscribe to the magazine of the same name, THE AMERICAN WEST, in the 1960s. I did, and for any U.S. Western history aficionado, those magazines were the creme-de-la-creme, but, sadly, no longer published. I still have every one of them and remember why.)

Thanks, as always, for taking the time to read these geezer memories, hopefully occasionally relevant additions to your day or evening. Next time: Sid Caesar.For now, forward, March!

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