DEAR JERRY: Years ago I heard an oldies DJ play Bill Haley's "Rock Around the Clock," followed by an intriguing piece of trivia.
The upshot of his comment was that it was a child who first came up with the idea of using the tune in "Blackboard Jungle." As we all know, it became the film's theme song, but if not for him the record would have sold about 20 million fewer copies.
Does this ring true with you?
Adam Delabar, Philadelphia
DEAR ADAM: Not only does his comment ring true, it grossly under estimates how many of the 25 or so million sold were rung up after "Blackboard Jungle." My guess would be all but a few thousand, but more on that later.
The young boy in the "Rock Around the Clock" story is not the only participant, but he definitely got the ball rollin' … or should I say rockin' and rollin.'
He is Peter Ford, whose parents were both in show business. Peter's father is the legendary actor Glenn Ford, and his mother is Eleanor Powell, a dancer who starred in some of MGM's most endearing musicals.
Having seen varying versions of this story, I didn't want to perpetuate any existing inaccuracies, so I went directly to Peter Ford.
He and his wife Lynda were especially understanding of my deadlines, and graciously welcomed my call, even though it was Christmas Eve.
"I grew up an only child in a 25-room mansion in Beverly Hills, with everything money can buy, but I had no real childhood friends and was very lonely.
"Instead of doing drugs, I took to music, and records became my passion. I loved going to the record stores and especially ones that carried R&B and doo-wop tunes by the Orioles, Ravens, Harptones, and the like.
"Believe me, in 1952 I was probably the only Johnny Ace fan in Beverly Hills.
"I was nine in 1954 when I bought 'Thirteen Women (And Only One Man in Town),' by Bill Haley and His Comets (Decca 29124). I recognized them from 'Crazy, Man, Crazy,' their 1953 hit.
"I first played 'Thirteen Women,' the designated A-side, but didn't like it at all. Then I flipped it over and heard '(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock' and that's when I flipped over it."
Had Peter not flipped over the flip side, not only would the history of rock and roll have unfolded differently, but the importance of that song, and Bill Haley's career in general, would be greatly diminished.
It's difficult to imagine now, but neither side of this single was even close to being a hit song. Recapping its chart activity won't take long:
July 3, 1954: "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" debuts at No. 36 on the Cash Box Top 50. It never appeared on any of Billboard's charts in 1954. Hardest of all to swallow is that I don't even see it on any of over 2,000 regional charts!
July 10, 1954: The record dropped out of the Top 50
July 17, 1954: "(We're Gonna) Rock Around the Clock" re-enters the Top 50 at No. 38
July 24, 1954: Once again, Haley's record disappears from the Top 50, this time for good at least as far as anyone knows then
From two separate one-week chartings, both near the bottom of the Top 50, neither Bill Haley nor Decca Records could have foreseen this flop would eventually sell 25 million copies. Not even in their wildest fantasy.
Meanwhile, back to the fall of 1954. A meeting takes place at the Ford family home between Richard Brooks, writer and director of "Blackboard Jungle," and Glenn Ford, the film's star.
"In order to discuss the film and talk about its production without distractions, Brooks and my father often met away from the MGM studios.
"During one such meeting, Richard heard me playing my records, one of which was "Rock Around the Clock."
"Seems they were looking for some contemporary music for the film besides two jazz numbers, 'Invention for Guitar and Trumpet' (Stan Kenton & His Orchestra) and 'The Jazz Me Blues' (Bix Beiderbecke and His Gang), so Richard borrowed my Bill Haley record plus two others.
"Assistant director Joel Freeman recalled that toward the end of production, in mid-December 1954, Brooks asked him to listen to some songs they might use over the opening credits and scenes.
"After playing my three records, they both agreed that Haley's 'jump blues' tune was the perfect choice.
"For a reported $5,000, MGM purchased the rights from Decca to use the song for up to three times in the film. It was later said that for $2,500 more MGM could have owned the song outright.
"My birthday is Feb. 5, but on Feb. 2, 1955, I got an early 10th birthday surprise. My father took me to the Encino Theatre in the San Fernando Valley to see a special preview of Blackboard Jungle.
"That was a night I'll never forget. It was the first showing of the film to the public. Dad knew that I would like it and told me to expect to hear 'that song' during the film. All he knew was that it was going to be heard at some point.
"I clearly recall my excitement as the film opened with the credits scrolling over a blackboard, all to the music of Bill Haley and 'Rock Around the Clock.'
"Wow! Not only were they playing the record Richard Brooks got from my personal collection, but it was really loud, just the way I played it at home. It was wonderful! I also liked the film, but it was the music that mattered most. There couldn't have been a happier kid in the whole world at that moment.
"I later learned that 'Rock Around the Clock' was the very first rock and roll song used in a motion picture.
"I remain thrilled to know I played a small but pivotal role in launching a musical revolution."
Thanks to a fortuitous series of circumstances, the musical passion of a fifth grader helped a once-failed recording become what Dick Clark dubbed the "National Anthem of Rock and Roll."
Not surprisingly, Peter Ford took up acting and appeared in numerous films and TV shows. He was also a fine singer, and in 1965 recorded the delightful "Blue Ribbons" (Philips 40336).
IZ ZAT SO? "Blackboard Jungle" opened March 25, 1955, and by July, "Rock Around the Clock" was No. 1 on Cash Box and all three of the Billboard Top Pop charts: Best Sellers in Stores; Most Played in Juke Boxes; and Most Played by [Disk] Jockeys.
And of course, regional charts everywhere.
In March of 1974, Bill Haley's original 1954 recording again made the Top 40, this time thanks to it being the theme used on the weekly TV sitcom, "Happy Days."