DEAR JERRY: In the early 1950s, when we bought our very first television, we watched an early version of today's talent search shows.
This one may have been a local area production (New York) rather than a network program, but either way it wasn't around long.
I recall it as a talent competition between youngsters and oldsters. Most of the contestants were singers or musicians.
More importantly, one of those child singers was Connie Francis. Of that I am certain. This was many years before her first big hit and worldwide fame.
I scoured the internet, including Connie's bio and some sites about early TV shows, but there is no mention anywhere about what I have described to you.
You are my only hope!
Sherry Wolkowski, Merrick, N.Y.
DEAR SHERRY: Having discussed most of Connie's career with her over the years, there are some details she shared with me about those early years. Those, along with my own research, should fill in the blanks:
Circa 1951, with her accordion and still using the family name, Connie Franconero appeared on Arthur Godfrey's Talent Scouts. Singing “Daddy's Little Girl,” she won the competition as determined by measuring the applause of a live audience on a noise meter.
In early '52, Connie was invited to perform on “Battle of the Ages,” a DuMont Television Network program and the one you ask about.
Hosted by John Reed King at the time (DuMont), then later by Morey Amsterdam (CBS), the show pitted under-35 contestants against those over age 35.
Having dropped the accordion figuratively, not literally from her act, and replaced Franconero with Francis, Emcee King introduces her thusly: “Connie Francis, a little 13-year-old girl who sings like a real big girl. A wonderful television star, here she is. Connie, come on out here, I've been telling everybody about you! Connie was originally discovered by Danny Lewis, Jerry Lewis' father.”
After an energized version of the then-current Kay Starr hit, “Wheel of Fortune,” King prophetically declares “How about that? 13 years of age, Connie Francis. She's going places!”
Indeed she would, though not until 1958 and “Who's Sorry Now.”
During that six-year journey, MGM released nine consecutive singles by Connie, not one of which became a hit. Coincidentally, the title of the last of those 18 songs reflects the number of flops: “Eighteen” (MGM 12490).
The losing streak ended there, and the rest is history.
Because of their scarcity, those nine misses are more valuable ($30 to $40) than the many MGM hits that followed ($10 to $15).
DEAR JERRY: I wonder if I was hoodwinked in a quiz from a music loving pal.
My challenge was to guess how many No. 1 songs in 50 years (1950 through 1999) include the name of a state in the title other than Georgia! “California Girls”; “California Sun”; and “California Dreaming” first came to mind, then “Kentucky Rain”; “The Tennessee Waltz”; and several more.
The guy stopped me and said I'd already gone way too far, though I did get one right: “The Tennessee Waltz.”
Otherwise, he swore that in all 50 years there is only one other example: “The Yellow Rose of Texas.”
Is it possible in 50 years there are really only two (besides Georgia)?
Larry Trammel, Racine, Wisc.
DEAR LARRY: Very amazing, but the story is almost true. We'd have to add “Hotel California” (1977) to the short list, even if it is merely the name of a hotel.
Nearly as astonishing is finding three for Georgia, which is probably why your pal disregarded them: “Georgia on My Mind” (1960); “The Night the Lights Went out in Georgia” (1973); and “Midnight Train to Georgia” (1973). That is more than all other states combined.
The California and Kentucky hits you mention all reached the Top 10, but fell short of No. 1.
IZ ZAT SO? Before 1948, when CBS and ABC joined the fold, the only two U.S. television networks operating were NBC and DuMont. In 1956, after 10 years, the DuMont Network, owned by DuMont Laboratories, ceased operations. By then, some of their programming had already been picked up by CBS, including “Battle of the Ages,” though they cancelled it after just one season (1952).