Saturday, August 29, 2009

I just liked these stories

I just like this story.

In late 1947 the show Starlight Review opened on the West End in London. Its host was an Austrian turned American conductor named Vic Oliver. During one scene an American performer in his late 20s was making balloon animals on stage and asked if any kid in the audience wanted one. A little voice from the back said she would and soon the little girl in pig tails came on stage joined by Oliver. He asked her if she would like to do something for them and she did. She said she would sing Polonaise from a play, Mignon, and Oliver said, “Oh, lovely, just the kind of junk I like.”

And the little girl sang Polonaise. At the end, she hit something called F above high C, of which I have no idea what that is, but it’s high. The audience went crazy and cheered for, so it is said, five minutes.

The little girl, the product of a very dysfunctional family who had already toured with her, was, of course, supposed to come on stage. She had actually been cut from the show by the producer at the last minute, but he relented when her mother convinced him to give her a shot just before dress rehearsal. Good thing for her as and she blew the casts’ minds. She became a star. She’s not so little any more. Her name is Julie Andrews. I got the story from her biography by Richard Stirling and confirmed with some other sources.

I just like this story too.

The conductor I just mentioned Vic Oliver was already a successful performer. He was also the former son in law of Winston Churchill, but had divorced the famous man’s daughter. Allegedly, and I don’t know if this is true, as there are many Churchill stories which are apocryphal, the great man was at a dinner party at which Vic Oliver was also in attendance. Someone asked Churchill who he most admired and he said “Mussolini”

Naturally, someone asked him why.

Churchill responded, “Because he had the good sense to shoot his son-in-law.” I hope it’s true, anyway.

I just like this story too.

Remember the American on stage making balloons. His name was Wally Boag, an American name if there ever was one. He made balloon animals and sang and the usual Vaudevillian type stuff. He had been professionally dancing since he was nine. You’d think calling up Julie Andrews on stage and essentially making her career would be enough for one lifetime, but he did something else interesting which somehow hasn’t made him a household name.

After a very unimportant movie career (I believe he wasn’t even billed), he was touring Australia in the early 1950s when he met a singer name Don Novis. Novis asked him if he wanted to try out for a very short, very silly and fast moving skit he was going to be involved with back in America.

Boag tried out and got the job. He made a career making balloon animals, shooting squirt guns and other ridiculous bits. The show became so popular that according to the Guinesses Book of World Records, Wally and the show have the greatest number of stage productions of any show ever.

There is a relatively good chance you have seen the show and just not remembered his name. It was originally called The Golden Horseshoe Review and later the Diamond Horseshoe Review and has been thrilling audiences at Disney since 1955. Boag retired in 1982, but he is still alive at 89 years old.

I just like this story too.

A young Californian with the usual dysfunctional family started working at Disneyland when Boag was there in the 60s. He thought Boag was incredible and watched the show so many times he memorized it. He started doing his own version of Boag’s act including making balloon animals, playing the banjo and the like.

Eventually, the young man started the slow painful process of his own career, urged on by his comedienne girlfriend with the weird name of Stormie Sherk. They had a close relationship until she moved away to go to college and they grew apart. He continued his career nevertheless. He went to college too and majored in philosophy, but never graduated.

Later in the 60s another girlfriend got him a gig writing for a variety show – the kind they don’t have anymore – and one job led to another. He started appearing on stage too as opening acts for some pretty successful bands and singers.

Finally, he got his chance – to do a spot on the Tonight Show. His wacky comedy - animal balloons and all - was a success and now we’ve all have heard of Steve Martin.

But, if you listen to Martin’s interviews, he credits as inspiration a wacky comedian at Disneyland named Wally Boag. When you think about some of Martin’s routines’ – the balloons, the banjo – it’s clear as day.

I just liked this story too.

Did I mention Steve Martin’s young girlfriend, Stormie Sherk?

Unbeknownst to Steve, she had quite a difficult time growing up. Her mother was an unhospitalized schizophrenic who would sometimes lock Stormie in the closet for hours or days, depending on what you read. Stormie, although successful while young as a comic, a dancer and entertainer, and certainly beautiful (take a look online - and she is in her 60s), grew up feeling ugly and depressed. She even became suicidal, a feeling that followed her into her marriage.

Somehow Stormie survived. Like Steve Martin she appeared on many of the variety shows of the 70s.

I never heard of her until I started following this crazy chain starting with Julie Andrews, Vic Oliver, Wally Boag, Steve Martin and then Stormie. But, she is wildly successful and has sold millions of books. The reason I never heard of her, and probably not anyone reading this blog either is that we don’t read Christian literature, which is where she has made her millions, including such titles as The Power of a Praying Wife (many of the titles have the word Praying in them).

Not bad for a little girl locked in a closet. She’s happy, rich and apparently beloved by millions of fans. Is her success hard on her husband Michael?

I doubt it because . . . I just like this story too.

Michael Omartian, Stormie's husband, is another name I’ve never heard before until I started following this chain. As a young keyboard player he found himself in the Christian music world, starting a college campus tour, but he didn’t limit himself to it. He was a back up artist for groups like Steely Dan, Seals and Croft, The Four Tops and Loggins and Messina, all top groups at the time and his own group, Rhythm Heritage wrote and performed The Theme from S.W.A.T. and the theme for Baretta (I’m dating myself with these television show references, but kids my age know what they were).

His annus mirabilis was 1981 when the Christopher Cross album he produced, won three grammies. But, he was nominated for seven others that year. Of course, I’m dating myself again, but Christopher Cross was a big deal in the 80s.

One of music’s great achievements ever was getting together close to 50 top performers (they turned down even more) to sing on We Are the World, the title track of which was the first multi-platinum song ever recorded. Everyone knows that the project was produced by legendary producer, Quincy Jones. Even I know that. However, there was another name who almost never gets mentioned and that’s Michael Omartian, who co-produced it.

Omartian is one of those people who, if he decides you are good, you become a success. According to the Wikipedia article, his list of artists he has produced includes such performers as Michael Bolton, Whitney Houston, the Jacksons, Rod Stewart, Trisha Yearwood, Clint Black, Donna Summer, Peter Cetera, Amy Grant, and Steely Dan (among others I left out because I never heard of them, but that doesn't mean anything as I'm not very learned in the music world).

One more story I just happen to like.

Omartian’s group Rhythm Heritage was composed of a number of performers. One was a young man who had been a studio musician in Motown, playing with groups and performers like Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Barry White, Diana Ross, etc. He later wrote (he claims) one of my favorite pop songs from the era, You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, for which Leo Sayer got a Grammy. Parker said it was his first depressing moment in the business, because he got no credit for it. Parker had several hits with a group, Raydio, but, of course, we know Parker best for writing and performing Ghostbusters (“Who you gonna call - GHOSTBUSTERS!?”)

Ghostbusters actually has a stormy past because Parker was sued by Huey Lewis who claimed the song was plagiarized. They settled out of court and then Ray sued Huey, claiming he violated the confidentiality agreement by mentioning that Parker had paid to settle. I don't know what happened after that and don't care.

The part of Ray's story I like is that one day when he was at home at the age of 18, his telephone rang. A voice identified himself as Stevie Wonder and asked Parker if he’d like to go on tour with him and The Rolling Stones.

Naturally, Parker didn’t believe it and hung up. The phone rang again. Same guy. But Parker still wasn’t buying. So, Stevie sang to him – Superstition to be specific. That did it.

Parker’s memory of the tour with Stevie and the Stones: “Nothing like it before; nothing like it since.” I’m not surprised.

Anyway, I just like these stories. Bad reviews and corrections of possible inaccuracies are always welcome.


  1. I loved the Horseshoe shows at Disney. Never knew they hsad that much history.

  2. Then your education is complete.

  3. my favorite blog of yours, ever. I actually read the whole thing.

  4. Must be because of the Wally Boag. Who knew?

  5. I'm a big Michael Omartian fan who also loves reading his story of succuess through the 70's to the present. I never tire of it. Thanks.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

My photo
I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .