Eddie Fisher Appears
[Editor’s Note: TheTentacle.com will be publishing excerpts from “A Redneck's Progress: A Memoir,” an autobiography Mr. Meachum has been writing for some time. Be aware that Mr. Meachum was a comrade- in-arms with the late pop singer Eddie Fisher during their U. S. Army days and after. Mr. Fisher passed away last week at the age of 82.]
The second autumn of the collaboration with the Military Personal Procurement Services Division; I was ordered, uniform requested; although new-Major Curry charmingly “invited” me – it was still an order, and don’t forget to bring O.D.s.
In the band auditorium, a skinny private first class shook my hand; he came unheralded and unknown – at least to me. His slow smile was charming, almost juvenile. Hugh Curry introduced us. By his side, a bald man named Milton Blackstone, his manager, smiled. The soldier was Edwin Jack Fisher, a South Philadelphia boy; drafted at the point his career took a dramatic upturn. His “Anytime” exploded on record charts shortly before, about the time he finished basic training. His presence made it even easier for the faltering radio networks to donate programs for Army and Air Force recruiting. His zooming popularity brought instantly a live half-hour Saturday show on NBC Radio, which I announced and wrote dialogue for.
For the next year and a half, band duties permitting, Eddie Fisher and I hung together in Manhattan, Washington and the Catskills where he started at a remarkable resort named Grossinger's. The founders and namesakes Jennie and Harry Grossinger were still alive, but I never felt warmth from either one. Harry was the family handyman who built real buildings instead of bird houses. I never sensed they had much of a marriage, aside from the fabled Sullivan County hotel that once boasted nearly 30 houses, cabins and varied structures from Harry's hands.
Back in New York City, we started off checking into the Algonquin Hotel; we were kicked out when girls unsettled the afternoon-tea ambiance. They were the younger sisters of the Bobby Soxers that drooled over Frank Sinatra, and just as noisy. Not all of them were young. Moments after the incident happened, Eddie told me somebody's mother grabbed his hand and stuck his middle finger in her mouth.
Commercial hotels, especially the Park Sheraton, replaced the Algonquin. They had larger staffs to fend off fans and several entrances to make it easier to slip out and in. We went to Manhattan for the guests that couldn't come to Washington. In Perry Como's case, much of the program was recorded in his Lexington Avenue office on a reel-to-reel tape machine. At that point, music publishers and their agents camped out where they thought they might catch PFC Fisher. Sometimes they descended on a bar or restaurant, only minutes after we went in.
In a totally different way, the singer listened to songs by new composers he wanted to meet; Jerry Ross and Larry Adler played their music on an empty Sheraton Park ballroom piano, while half-muttering lyrics; they went on to break box-office records and earn most awards in sight with “Pajama Game” and “Damn Yankees,” which became my very favorite. I might have heard the musical’s songs in the empty ballroom; I don’t remember. Both guys were refugees from South Philadelphia, like Eddie.
In Washington, we went to movies by days; my wife worked in the American Automobile Association’s research department. One memorable dialogue took place in Nedick’s Orange Juice bar, close to the RKO Keith Theatre, not far from the White House. I brought up the fascinating (to me) subject of the depression that followed directly after a public performance: a phenomenon I first noticed with Danny Kaye. The singer angrily denied it, of course.
When my son Thomas was born, at the Walter Reed Army Hospital, Eddie was generous in his gift to the new mother; He wanted to see the baby and traveled out to our Hyattsville apartment. He insisted on removing the diaper to see my son’s fresh circumcision. He laughed and said: “Tommy, they’ve made a good Jew out of you.”
Milton Blackstone chose the singer’s first car, a Ford, which Eddie drove to New York over the still building New Jersey Turnpike; fortunately Howard Johnson rushed to get its restaurants open. But it was weird to me, as in a science fiction film, to ride on the virtually deserted, unfinished highway.
Copyright 2010.Roy Meachum
[Mr. Meachum’s “journey” with Mr. Fisher will continue tomorrow.]