My mother was a torch singer from the 1940’s. My father was an attorney and industrialist here in Ohio. Music was very important in our household. The piano was well-used, a fabulous state-of-the-art stereo played opera and show tunes on L.P. records, and I was introduced to the symphony at age nine. As a fifteen year-old teenager, I rented a hall and booked a high school band.
As sophisticated and international as my parents were, they were very cloistering and protective of their children.
For example, one day after I turned 16 and had obtained my drivers license, my father turned up in the driveway with a slightly used silver Cadillac convertible with red leather seats. He had seen it for sale on somebody’s lawn and bought it on the spot. His reasoning: if his little chick was going to learn to drive he wanted her encased in the most metal carapace he could afford, just in case she hit an obstacle.
Further telling of their caution was the fact that they had never left their children alone without a sitter. One day, my parents announced they would be going to Cleveland for a banquet and would be spending the night. I was to be in charge of my two younger brothers.
The minute they walked out the door, I ran into my room, dawned a cute pair of pedal pushers and a ton of make-up and grabbed the car keys to the “Silver Cloud” as we referred to the convertible. I put the top down and raced downtown to the grand opera hall Stambaugh Auditorium where Herman’s Hermits were to be playing in concert. I cruised past the brass doors at the entrance level. Locked tight as a drum as the concert was well underway.
Disappointed, I turned around and headed to the main parking lot and slowed down as a couple of men walked past me. What was that I heard? A British accent! I jammed the brakes.
‘Where are we going to feed the lads after the show?’
I heard one of the gentlemen say. I carefully backed up the car and interrupted their conversation.
‘There isn’t anywhere. Heck this is Ohio, they roll up the sidewalks at 6pm. The only place I know that might be open is a Howard Johnson’s Restaurant out by the Ohio Turnpike and they close at 11pm.’
‘Oh my, what are we going to do?’
Well, I offered, ‘I have a freezer full of steaks and you are welcome to come to my house for dinner.’
A short while later, the entire band, plus their manager Harvey Lisberg was packed into that convertible. It was all legs and arms hanging out of that car. How we did not get stopped by police on the way back to my house is a miracle. We were minus Peter as he was still ailing. I believe having been shoved into a window at the airport by screaming fans.
Shortly all burners on the stove were hot and laden with steaks and batches of French fries, as I tossed a Caesar salad.
The band members were lounging around on the massive couches, fiddling on the piano and messing around with an out of tune mandolin. One of them even followed my little brother to the neighbour’s swimming pool for a midnight dip. I was in heaven.
When all of a sudden my parents appeared at the kitchen door. The one time they trusted me and a parents’ worst nightmare.
My father normally quiet and peaceful man bellowed “What are all of those men doing in my living room? Get them the hell out of here!”
I raced up to him shushing and pleading.
‘No Papa, these are the famous Herman’s Hermits band from England. I am just cooking them dinner because there was no place else for them to go.’
My mother realizing the situation took my father by the elbow and steered him towards the bedroom. ‘Joseph, let’s go talk about this in the other room . . . ‘
The Boys were allowed to stay and finish their dinner and we took them back to their hotel as dawn was coming up. Harvey and I exchanged phone numbers. I came in late to school that day with a note that I was entertaining international celebrities. The Principal gave me a week’s detention.
Harvey and I remained in touch by phone and mail.
. . . But wait there is more. A little back story here . . .
Chuck Stanley’s Happy Hour started out as a daily radio show in the 1930’s on WMBC in Detroit, Michigan. My mother Toni Simon sang on the show with the likes of the very famous Danny Thomas and Rosemarie Clooney. Her friends all headed to Hollywood and I have pictures of her in Beverly Hills as she daringly drove her convertible roadster out there. Her friends beseeched her to stay and join them.
Her ‘day job’ at the time was with Crane Photographers who specialized in corporate portraiture and she had promised them to open the Youngstown, Ohio location for them before heading out West to seek fame and fortune. The company had sublet some office space from Attorney Joseph Sheban in the Realty Building.
The week my father asked my mother to marry him the fanciest nightclub in Detroit offered Tony the position of house singer. She was on her way to stardom. My father said, “It is me or your career.” On their second anniversary he bought her a grand piano and said she could be his songbird.
Some years later, when Danny Thomas had become a household name in the entertainment industry, he resolved to make good on a promise he had made to St. Jude that if he interceded with God and the entertainer’s career became successful Danny would build a shrine to the saint. He eventually contacted my father to enlist other Lebanese businessmen to contribute to this illusive project.
One night in Chicago, Danny tapped my father to write, on the spot, the by-laws and the constitution for the parent corporation which instituted the new prolific St. Jude’s Children Hospital. He said, “Sure Danny, I will have it to you in a couple of weeks.”
“No Joe, I need it by tomorrow morning so we can vote on it.”
My dad told me, “I found another attorney and a fellow who could write fast and we spent all night.” At 7am my father walked into the coffee shop of the Sheraton Hotel waving the paper above his head.
Danny stood up at a table across the room by the window and proclaimed, “Joe, Joe I know you could do it. What can I do for you?”
It was known that Danny preferred to drive between comedy engagements across the country, instead of fly, so my father replied, “You owe me nothing . . . but the next time you are passing through Ohio, come and have dinner with us.” The star later admitted he assumed a church basement hall with sixteen people.
To the crackle of short-wave radios that fateful day in 1958, the mayor of the city, a hundred people on foot, a flower girl and a police escort met Danny Thomas’ car at the Ohio Turnpike Exit 16. The stunned man was taken to a packed venue. My parents financially guaranteed the ballroom, its dance floor, and the caterer at Idora Park Ballroom in Youngtown, Ohio, and held the first dedicated black-tie fund-raising banquet for the proposed hospital, which was just still on the drawing board: St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. There was standing room only for a hundred dollar a plate dinner to raise funds for a charity nobody ever heard of. That would be equivalent to $1,000 per person today. At which point Danny had essentially an architect’s drawing and the promise of some industrial development land found for him by a priest in Memphis, the man sat on the dais and just cried.
That night when my father went to hand Danny that check, “No Joe, not yet, please come with me to Cleveland tomorrow where I am meeting with a group of prominent businessmen.” They listened to his pitch then the men suggested that this was too early stage for them to promote this charity; “Come back when you are more established.” My father waited until all had their say, then stood up and said, “Youngstown presents you with $34,000 for your St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital.” In awe, and not to be overdone, Cleveland pledged $150,000. Then Chicago not to be outdone pledged $250,000, and then on and on.
Not too much later, in my Girl Scout uniform, I trudged through a blizzard with snow up to my knees, going door to door and watched people drop pennies into the little yellow canister. I was part of the first door to door canvas for this newly-minted charity. My mother and I sat in our recreation room, at an eight-foot trestle table, in front of two-foot-high piles of mostly pennies, stuffing spare change into paper coin rolls.
My mother’s brothers had become quite successful in the tool and die industry back in Detroit. Not to be outdone, they too jumped on board with this nascent charity.
The stated Purpose of this St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital was to conduct research and aid in finding a cure for the childhood blood cancer of leukaemia. At the time it was a desperate as this disease attacked and killed young children and teens.
My aunts and uncles decided to launch a Teen Drive for young people to get involved to help other young people. George and Joe Simon and their wives Penny and Renee rented out the massive Cobo Hall in downtown Detroit with its 12,000-seat capacity.
It fell upon myself to provide the reward for the young people who raised funds, a concert where they would come and their admission was to turn in their collection monies for the hospital.
I called Harvey Lisberg in England and explained the situation.
On 26th June 1965, Herman’s Hermits played Cobo Hall in Detroit, Michigan. The teenagers raised $20,000 which would be around $178,000 today.
Within a record breaking few years, they achieved an unheard rate of remission of 60% for childhood cancers of the blood. Prior to the 1960’s Leukaemia was pretty much a death sentence.
Today, the remarkable results of these nascent efforts, St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee costs about $2.8 million a day to run, but patients and parents are charged not a penny for healthcare, travel and food. In the more than fifty years since St. Jude’s opened its doors, the amazing research and care has pushed the survival rate for the children from 20% to 80%.
So, in conclusion, I wish to congratulate you Harvey Lisberg on this your 82nd birthday. We never know how a seemingly small event a long time ago may have helped to ignite a major success. I will never forget the other teenagers standing in front of the stage in that gigantic building responding to Herman’s Hermits in glee for their efforts. Plus, the evening helped to bring a visual visceral reality unlike time in boardrooms and on phones, to the adults who supplied behind the scene efforts towards pushing this embryonic charity.
You never know what a handful of dedicated people can accomplish. Now for all of your amazing successes in this realm, that one little concert should go down as a magnum opus.
Happy Birthday Harvey Lisberg.
Thank you from thousands of thriving teenagers!
Lucky S Beckett
2nd March 2022