Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Thanks for running the letter from the late Gene Pitney. It's good to finally know why his “Liberty Valance” song is not heard in the film of the same title.

Now I'd like to know about “The Great Imposter,” which has always puzzled me.

I rented the movie expecting at some point to hear the Fleetwoods hit song of the same title, but never did.

“The Great Imposter” would have been very appropriate playing during one of the scenes with Tony Curtis and Joan Blackman, if not during the film credits.

Speaking of the Fleetwoods, I have another question:

On their Dolton “Runaround” album, the liner notes on the back cover state:

“Like their namesake in one of the world's finest automobiles, the Fleetwoods purr softly, gently, and smoothly, with the ability to give out with a burst of power when a powerful performance is required.”

However, one of my music books indicates they chose the name based on their telephone exchange. One of these accounts must be wrong. Right?
—Jewel Buckman, Racine, Wisc.

DEAR JEWEL: Right, one's wrong — but let's begin with your first question:

“The Great Imposter” situation is nothing like “Liberty Valance.” About all they have in common is both are hit songs and also film titles. Moreover, all four came out within a few months of each other.

“The Great Imposter” film came along in 1961, with all of its music scored by Henry Mancini, including the infectious “Theme from the Great Imposter.”

A couple of versions of this instrumental were issued on 45s, one by the Piltdown Men and another by Dick Jacobs and His Orchestra, but neither charted.

At the same time, the legendary writing team of Sharon Sheeley and Jackie DeShannon came up with “(He's) The Great Imposter,” a vocal that has nothing whatsoever to do with the movie, other than a very similar title. To create some separation in that regard, the parenthetical “He's” is added specifically to distinguish it from the recordings of the film music. In fact, not once in the lyrics is the line “he's the great imposter” heard.

“(He's) The Great Imposter,” became a Top 30 hit for the Fleetwoods — Gretchen Christopher, Barbara Ellis, and Gary Troxel — in October 1961.

For the definitive story behind the trio's name, I spoke recently with Gretchen on your behalf. As the founder and manager of the Fleetwoods, who better to ask?

Gretchen recalls how it all came about:

“Barbara and I were playmates, even before we attended grade school — but then more as acquaintances than close friends. My family moved to the country when I was eight; so I didn't see Barbara again until we were freshman cheerleaders at Washington Jr. High. Then she went on to the new rural high school, North Thurston, and I went into town, to Olympia High. She came there, too, in our senior year.

“When I first wrote “Come Softly," I sang my melody and lyrics and Barbara harmonized, but then we met Gary and added his part, his doobie-dos and dum-dums.

“We recorded it a cappella on my dad's home tape machine, and I took it to Bob Reisdorff, a Seattle-area record promoter. Upon hearing it, he said it would sell a million. Fortunately he was right.

“At first we called ourselves Two Girls 'n' a Guy, but Reisdorff thought that was a horrible choice. He said we needed “something more distinctive, like Fleetwood,” saying the name of our telephone exchange, which he'd just asked the operator to dial long distance to call me. I said, “Well, what's wrong with that? How about the Fleetwoods?”

“Later, we ran it by Barbara and Gary, and they liked it, too. So that's how we became the Fleetwoods!”

For those unfamiliar with telephone exchange names, that system existed until the mid-'60s when the nation switched to seven-digit numbers, just as we still use.

We even heard the change reflected in pop music, jumping from “Beachwood 4-5789” (Marvelettes) in late 1962 to “634-5789” (Wilson Pickett) by early '66.

As for the text from the back of that “Runaround” EP, about “their namesake in one of the world's finest automobiles” (the Cadillac Fleetwood), I read it to Gretchen and this is her amused reaction:

“That's funny, especially from our own record company. There were so many groups in those days named after cars (i.e., Cadillacs, Impalas, Fairlanes, etc.) that someone at Liberty/Dolton or whoever wrote the liner notes apparently didn't know the true story and made up what seemed like a logical connection.”

IZ ZAT SO? “Come Softly to Me” is surely the only No. 1 hit to be simultaneously sold on two different labels, as well as both monaural and stereo 45s.

First issued as Dolphin 1, then as Liberty 55188 (mono) and 77188 (stereo).

The Liberty release came about when the Dolphin people wisely opted to become Dolton rather than litigate the matter with someone else claiming the Dolphin name.

Between 1959 and '65, Dolton released 21 singles by the Fleetwoods, with 11 of their tunes making the Billboard charts.

From the beginning of record charts, in the late 1800s, to 1973 (Tony Orlando and Dawn), the Fleetwoods are the only mixed-gender trio to have more than one No. 1 hit.

Here are those trios and their No. 1 hits in order:
1958: Teddy Bears - “To Know Him Is to Love Him”
1959: Fleetwoods - “Come Softly to Me”
1959: Browns - “The Three Bells”
1959: Fleetwoods - “Mr. Blue”
1963: Rooftop Singers - “Walk Right In”
1969: Peter, Paul & Mary - “Leavin' on a Jet Plane”
1971: Tony Orlando & Dawn - “Knock Three Times”
1973: Tony Orlando & Dawn - “Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree”

“Come Softly to Me” and “Mr. Blue,” both million-sellers in 1959, also made Gretchen, Barbara, and Gary the top singles group of that year.

These two recordings even became the first and second Gold Record award winners for a northwest label act.

The Fleetwoods are the only group from late 1956 (Platters) to late '62 (4 Seasons), with two No 1 hits in the same year, regardless of member configuration.

Special thanks to Gretchen Christopher, who remains not only a Fleetwood but is still purring softly, gently, and smoothly.

Gretchen is also hard at work on a new album, “Sweet Sixteen! (Suite 16),” and probably could have accomplished a lot more this week had I not consumed about two hours of her time.

For the latest on this exciting project, as well as some excellent Fleetwoods coverage, visit this wonderful lady's site: as well as

Gary Troxel also has a nice web site, which is loaded with Fleetwoods information:

Return to "Mr. Music" Home Page